Fall Harvest!

It’s the best tasting time of the year! The weather is perfect and the trees are beautiful, but my favorite thing about fall is the flavors! Everything is bursting with pumpkin and cinnamon and apple and it’s just the best! As I’m gathering recipes for this season, I wanted to share some of my favorite recipes from last fall! I can’t wait to try even more fall flavors this year!

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Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls

Pumpkin Cheesecake Muffins

Caramel Apple Cookie Tartlets

Pumpkin Cookies

Caramel Apple Cheesecake Bars

Pumpkin Cheesecake

Apple Apple Pie

 

What fall recipes are you trying this year?!

 

 

Fall Bucket List 2012

After six years as a barista, I will always define my seasons by Starbucks seasonal drinks. Now that Pumpkin Spice Lattes are out, I’m officially allowed to start blogging about fall! Fall is my absolute favorite season. October first is my favorite day of the year, pumpkin recipes never get old and you simply can’t beat the weather!

Right along with the change in weather this year is my change of local! I recently moved to a new neighborhood in Chicago that is absolutely beautiful. I live by some of the best patio restaurants, wine bars and extraordinary window shopping in the city. Now that I have this whole new turf to explore, on top of all the other fabulous fall activities, I feel like I need to make a 2012 Fall Bucket List.

I hope that fall inspires you to explore your neighborhood and go out and do cute things! (And yes, don’t worry, there will be a Go Do Cute Things – Fall Edition coming out soon!) Here’s my top 10 things to do this fall. I will keep you posted every step of the way.

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1. Visit a Farmer’s Market (often).    
There’s a Farmer’s Market just up the street from me and all I want to do is wear a cable-knit sweater, sip my Caramel Apple Cider and peruse the tents full of produce. And then buy a huge bouquet of fresh flowers to walk home with and put in a vase on the kitchen table.

2. Try my hand at pie crust for a completely homemade apple pie.  
I’ve attempted homemade pie crust once before and failed miserably. As a recipe blogger, this is a task I MUST accomplish. I figure if I fill it with fresh apples, even if it totally sucks it won’t be that bad. 

3. Visit a local bar for a pumpkin inspired beer. 
I thought I accomplished this goal last Halloween at Fountainhead, but it turns it out it was just beer that was served out of a pumpkin, and wasn’t actually pumpkin flavored. I hear that there are several pumpkin ales and I’m excited to try at least three of them.

4. Build up my fall wardrobe with scarves, sweaters, flannel and boots!
Can you believe I’ve never owned tall, brown, leather boots? I couldn’t either! I am desperately in need of a pair this season! I know that fall attire has been in the stores for the past month, but I’ve been trying desperately to hold off on buying it all until I had a crisp, fall saturday afternoon to spend doing so. It will be a very expensive, very fulfilling, very fantastic day I just know it!

5. Not get last in my first-ever Fantasy Football Team. (Let’s go Oak Street Jenny MacAurthors!)
I’ve only really gotten into NFL football over the past two years, but when my fiance asked if I wanted to be on his league, I was extremely excited! I asked if EmJoyable was an appropriate Fantasy Football team team and it turns out that it’s not. So I opted to pay tribute to my favorite character on The League. I was an NFL columnist for a college sports website for a while, so hopefully that counts for something. I don’t expect to win, but I would just really, really like to not get last.

6. Make pumpkin seeds that don’t suck. 
I tried them last year and they were really soggy. My goal this year is to make delicious, crispy and salty pumpkin seeds that someone might actually want to eat.

7. Eat brunch outside.
And if we’re being honest, also eat lunch, dinner and dessert outside and as often as possible. My neighborhood is lined with trees and floral arrangements and I can only imagine how beautiful it will look when the leaves start to turn. Plus, I am surrounded by brunch places with cute patio seating outlined with rod-iron fences and strings of white lights. I could eat brunch on a different patio every weekend till Christmas.

8. Make a killer DIY R2D2 halloween costume.
No one seems to believe me when I say that this costume is going to be adorable, but I promise that it is! And it’s going to be easy and cheap! I hope you’re as excited about it as I am.

9. Host a fall-themed party (and make a few friends to invite to said party). 
I’m not exactly sure what this means. All I know is that I bought six wine glasses, so that will clearly be involved. There will certainly be pumpkin flavored snacks, a craft table (yes, like Mrs. Dunphy on Luke’s birthday on Modern Family) and probably a screening of “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.” I just know it will be great.

10. Blog about ALL of these things!
I know I’ve been a total slacker lately and that makes me very sad. So I am making an honest vow to be better! No one likes a blogger that doesn’t blog. Let’s have a great fall together!

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What things are you hoping to do this fall?!

Caramel Apple Cookie Tartlets

I have a hard time accepting compliments on my baking. It’s not that I’m particularly good at baking, I can just read and follow directions. The only thing that I have going for me is that I’m not easily intimidated and I’m always willing to try new things. Sometimes, I might not have the exact recipe for what I want, so I have a tendency to take a couple recipes that are close to what I want and combine them.  

Sunday morning, when I was trying to decide what to bake for the day, nothing was hitting me. I was about tapped on pumpkin things, but it was too soon for anything peppermint. I remembered a post I re-blogged a few weeks ago that I’ve really been meaning to try: cookie cups. So I used that as my inspiration and combined it with my passion for fitting everything in my life to the season, and decided that I would make Caramel Apple Cookie Tartlets. I would use peanut butter cookie dough to make a cookie tart shell, and then fuse that with a fall classic, caramel apple pizza, to come up with the perfect fall treat. Let me know what you think of my idea!

Shell
1 package Pillsbury peanut butter cookie dough 

Peanut Butter Filling (inspired by this Caramel Apple Pizza recipe)
1/2 brick of cream cheese (4 ounces
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup peanut butter
1 tablespoon milk 

Cinnamon Filling (inspired by this Caramel Apple Pizza recipe)
1/2 brick of cream cheese (4 ounces)
1 tablespoon Brown Sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon vanilla 

Topping
1 Granny Smith apple
2 tablespoons lemon juice
caramel ice cream topping 

Start with a roll of pre-made peanut butter cookie dough and a madeleine pan. 

Flip the pan upside down and press a thin layer of cookie dough on top of each madeleine shell. 

Bake at 350ºF for about 9 minutes or until golden brown. They will spread a little bit in the oven, so as soon as you take them out of the oven, take a butter knife and cut along the edges of each to separate. After five minutes, use a butter knife to loosen cookie cups and set on a wire wrack to cool.

Meanwhile, make your fillings. I couldn’t decide between cinnamon or peanut butter, so I made both. (If you would like to use one filling for all the tartlets, double the filling recipe for whichever flavor you prefer.)

For the peanut butter filling, combine brown sugar, cream cheese, peanut butter and milk. 

Blend until smooth, and then put in a separate bowl. 

For the cinnamon filling, combine cream cheese, brown sugar, cinnamon and vanilla. 

Blend until smooth. 

Take your fillings and place each in a Ziploc bag. Set aside. 

Quarter a Granny Smith Apple and then cut off the seeds and core. 

Slice the apple into very thin wedges. Put the apple wedges and a few tablespoons of lemon juice in a Ziploc bag, leaving some air in the bag. Seal it and shake to coat all the apples.

Cut the corner off of each filling bag to make a 1/2 inch opening. Pipe the filling into the cookie shell, alternating between cinnamon and peanut butter. Top each tartlet with two apples slices.

Drizzle with caramel sauce. Serve!

Enjoy!

Amish Adventure

I’ve always been one to explore other cultures — partly because I find it intellectually stimulating but more so because I think it’s just plain fun. It might be the journalist in me that is fascinated by what I don’t understand, but I think it’s mostly for the same reasons that I like wearing cowgirl boots in Nashville and Toms to indie-rock shows. Luckily, I have friends who are equally fascinated by certain other cultures, and we get to explore them together! And let’s be honest, that’s where the real fun begins.

This weekend, we take to the Amish lands of east-central Illinois, and by “we” I mean two of the most delightful ladies I know. These girls know cute and adventure very well. The one is my very best friend in the entire world who is more honest, supportive and loud than I will ever be, and I love her for that. The other is her very best friend growing up (and recently a friend of mine due to our mutual best friend), who happens to be the most fun, inspiring and adorable girl I’ve ever met — and I’m talking featured-in-Brides-magazine adorable.

We each have our own reasons for being fascinated by the Amish. I can’t speak to theirs, but I can talk about mine. My interest took root last fall while I was writing an in-depth feature story for my journalism independent study in college. I knew that not far from the University of Illinois was the largest population of Amish in the world, and thus I knew that I wanted to write about it. I met a darling girl there named Martha who told me her life-story. She gave me the ins and outs of the Amish culture, religion and lifestyle. I had never met a person with more honest and unyielding devotion to her faith. You can check out the story by clicking below to view the rest of this post.

I’m interested to see how this trip is going to go. As you probably gathered by the description of my friends, I’m probably the least outgoing of the group. I fear that I’m probably going to get pulled into some situations I wouldn’t normally put myself in, like stopping a passing Amish family in buggies and asking for rides or chatting with the locals about the details and reasons behind their religion. Don’t get me wrong, I love that my friends pull me out of my comfort zone, but sometimes it just makes me a little nervous at first. So I’m excited to see what exciting stories I have when I come back.

I’m most excited about this trip, because it’s such a fall thing to do, which is why I’m writing about it in my this-is-how-we-do-things blog. Despite my personal fond memories of last fall in Amish towns working on my story, the whole atmosphere makes for a darling fall experience. Here’s why:

1. The Views

What’s lovely about visiting the Amish in Arcola, IL is that it’s a good 40-minute drive from the hustle and bustle of the UI campus, so you have drive into the heart of the country side, which at this time of the year is full of breathtaking views.

2. The Food

Fall wouldn’t be complete without apple butter, pumpkin pie and a few other perfectly selected baked goods, and straight from an Amish kitchen the best place to get it. It’s so fresh and delicious, but there’s also so much to chose from that it’s impossible to leave empty handed.

3. The Great Outdoors

The best part is that you have an excuse to spend a day enjoying the fresh fall air. There’s something about being outdoors in the country side that is like a whole different world. The air smells crisper, the sun is brighter and the trees are brighter are swear. It’s nice to have a reason to spend a day outside soaking it all in. 

Amish Life

Martha is beautiful in the purest, simplest of ways. She stands at five and a half feet tall on her petite frame. Her solid blue eyes are bright, but grounded. Her skin is pale, clear and fresh, a perfect complement to her warm voice. She carries herself with a subtle air of confidence, unintimidating and friendly. She’s young, at only 20 years old, and it shows in her high cheekbones and the frequency of her laughter. She’s topped off with a head of golden yellow hair, smoothly pinned back and tucked into a crisp, white bonnet.

Martha’s life is simple, too. Born into the Amish faith, her life revolves around her family, her church and her community in the small town of Arthur, Ill. She was raised to be in the wider world, but not of it. She has a sewing machine instead of a Mac Book. She has a bookshelf instead of an iPod. Her parents are still married and one of her nephews, at 11 years old, works in the fields daily without complaint.

“I might not have all my wants, but I have all my needs,” Martha said, matter-of-factly and without an ounce of disappointment in her voice.

She lives her life among people who share her values and beliefs in a pocket of faith tucked away in the countryside less than 10 miles from the bustle of Interstate 57. Her home looks strangely similar to many of the other houses along the country road she lives on with her parents in a white farmhouse that overlooks acres of the crispy remains of the recently harvested corn crop. Her garage is home to boxy, black buggies with neon orange reflective triangles on the back. Her backyard is spotted with old wooden barns with droopy cobwebs that fall from the ceiling and are alive with chickens, cows and horses. She has two nieces and two nephews who live with her brother and his wife in a matching farmhouse literally 10 feet away. The only phone for either house is located in a shed smaller than her bathroom in the backyard.

Martha’s life is an interesting blend of old and new. Her hand-sewn blue cotton dress falls well below her knees and is fitted with barely visible silver pins. She’s kept warm by a simple store-boughtblack sweater. She wears black Crocs to Rockome Gardens and rubber boots when she works on the farm.

Her home is a time warp. There are no light switches. Rooms are lit by flipping a lever that releases enough gas to start a ball of fire that lights the room just as well as an incandescent bulb. Her basement pantry is lined with jars upon jars of homemade canned peaches, green beans and applesauce. Just outside, her young nieces and nephews clad in suspenders and aprons chase a kitten while shabby cats drink from a tin full of cream. Her bedroom is decorated with a full-length mirror framed in hickory that was built specifically for. She has her own China cabinet full of exquisite China and “tiny drinking glasses” decorated with vacation destinations that she or her friends or family have been to such as Florida and Pennsylvania.

“I love to travel,” she says. “A lot of my friends say that I’m spoiled because I’ve been to so many places.”

In Martha’s family, the bible is their most treasured possession and the word of God is the sole governing body over all that is said and done. As a result, material objects in many cases are seen as a pathway to distractions from faith. The Amish lifestyle, free from many modern technologies, is meant to minimize want and avoid “keeping up with the Jones’” competition in order to devote the most attention to God.

It’s not that the Amish people are anti-technology, as they are often pegged. Their biggest concern is the way that technology imposes itself upon people’s lives. They fear the fast-paced world of technology will create a conflict with their values and morals that are built around family and community.

“We move at a human pace,” Martha says.

Her days are busy and selfless. She works at Rockome Gardens, a tourist attraction inspired by the Amish lifestyle, and gives all of her earnings to her parents, who use the money to help run the household. When she turns 21, she will be responsible for her own finances. When she’s not at work, she’s working at home helping her family with the daily chores such as gardening, cleaning or contributing homemade canned goods to the walk-in pantry in the basement.

“Our regular lifestyle is busy, but we can have fun,” she says. Her favorite pastime is reading, which explains the bookshelf in her room that is lined with

colorful novels. Christian books are her favorite, but she’ll read anything. She’s currently halfway through A Wedding Quilt for Ella, and loves it. She also loves playing volleyball and going to birthday parties. On Sunday nights, she and other youth in the community gather together to sing songs of praise and socialize, which is one of Martha’s favorite times of the week.

But, at the end of the day, her faith is the most important thing.

“To me, faith is to believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God and he died for our sins,” Martha says. “And I believe that, and that is the most important thing.”

Religion was a part of Martha’s upbringing, but it was never something that was forced on her. She chose out of her own free will to dedicate her life to God within the Amish faith. At 18 years old, she became a member of the church.

“When I was 16, there were lots of things I wish I had, but now, I joined the church and said I’d give it up. Some people have a hard time with that.”

She was not one of those people.

Since joining the church is not required of children growing up in Amish homes, she’s seen many people leave the faith. Martha’s friend, Sarah, grew up Amish, but did not join the church.

“It makes us sad,” she says. “We wonder, ‘What did we do wrong?’ We still respect them as people and respect their faith. We just have to consider that is their thing, and we do ours.”

Martha’s thing is prayer. Her days begin and end with prayer. Her father starts each day with a devotional reading from scripture and praying as a family. She helps prepare breakfast and then spends her days helping her family run the dairy farm or at her job at Rockome Gardens. She tends to her nieces and nephews, works in the family’s garden, sews clothes and many other household tasks. When the sun goes down, the family gathers around the solid wood table in the airy kitchen, thanks the Lord for their food and enjoys a homemade meal as a family. Before bed, the family gathers for an evening prayer.

On Sunday mornings, when the sky is clear and the air is quiet, she looks out onto the horizon, never doubting that God is present and that He created this world.

The Battle Royale of Pumpkin Milkshakes

Despite our differences, at the end of the day my mom and I can always come together over plaid, decorating for the seasons and crusty bread and butter. Actually, we have very similar taste on a lot of things when it comes to decorating, activities and desserts. 

This weekend, I went home to spend some time with my friends and family in sweet home, Rochester, Illinois. My mom and I spent half the day on Sunday running a few errands, including getting the materials for yesterday’s Pumpkin Cheesecake Muffins. So while we were out and about on a beautiful fall day, we passed a Culver’s sign boasting it’s new Pumpkin Spice Shake. The sight of it reminded my mom that her friend had said that Sonic had the “best” Pumpkin Pie Shake she’d ever had. Given our similar taste in fall and dessert, it took us less than a minute to decide that a challenge was in store. 

So we stopped by Culver’s and then scurried over to Sonic. We sat down at a bench outside, both contenders sitting side by side with two straws in each and looking all official.

We started with Culver’s Pumpkin Spice Shake, and at the same time, we each took one big sip. With a powerful pumpkin taste, it was unanimous that what we tasted was straight-up pumpkin pie. Everything from the richness of the custard to the spice combination screamed “Thanksgiving.”

We then reached for the Sonic Pumpkin Pie Shake in its shiny silver cup, took our perspective straws and took equally large sips. This sip crunched — it was chock-full of bits of cinnamon-y graham cracker pieces. This one really hit the consistency nail on the head. The pie shake was just like a pie from the crust to the whipped cream. 

But once we stopped chewing the pie shake, we realized that we couldn’t actually taste the pumpkin in it. It was so weak in pumpkin flavor in fact that we almost took it back up to the cashier to be sure that we got the right order. Even just looking at the color of each shake, you could tell that the Culver’s one had significantly more pumpkin in it. As disappointing as that was, we kept drinking it because the texture was so appealing. 

It wasn’t long until we realized that if we took a sip of one, then another quick sip of the other and swished it around our mouth, it was the perfect combination of pumpkin flavor and crunchy crust. 

Looking back, we realized that we probably should have tried the Sonic one first. Since it followed the Culver’s shake that had such a strong flavor, it probably got robbed on a completely fair evaluation.

But what was done was done and we were serious about our taste test, so there had to be one official winner. This time, it went to Culver’s Pumpkin Spice Shake! [Que Applause] There was just no getting past the superior taste, even if Sonic had the better texture. So next time you’re out on a beautiful fall day and are in the market for a twist on an autumn classic, we have to recommend Culver’s Pumpkin Spice Shake. 

Crafty Apples

I’m a firm believer that there are very few things short of chemical engineering that I can’t learn with a few free hours, YouTube and a decent internet connection. There’s no better testament to this than my recent adventures in being 80 years old — i.e. my love of crocheting. I had attempted to crochet once a few years back, but ended up with nothing but a half-finished scarf that was starting to look more like a really tall acute triangle than a rectangular scarf. I decided to pick up crocheting again a few weeks ago while I was in the process of moving from Champaign, IL to Chicago. With at least five round trips slated in a one-week period, I figured I’d try to keep myself busy. I ended up with this: my first scarf. 

By the time I finished my scarf, I started to realize that there was probably nothing made of fabric that I couldn’t crochet, given the time and right color of yarn. My first plan was to try my hand at placemats…which inevitably led to matching coasters and napkin rings. Next, I branched out to cozy cups (I think that’s what they’re called —those things that keep cans of beer cold), which I personally thought were pretty darn cool! After that, I kind of went on a coaster kick — I made circles, I made squares, I made pumpkins, I made snowmen, I made country flags, and of course, I made my fall favorite: apple coasters.

In the spirit of my favorite season, I want to share with you my favorite craft. It’s possible that I’ll share my snowmen come December and something bright and colorful by May, but let’s focus on the present for now. I started taking pictures and video of myself as I made my autumn table gear, but decided I should probably leave that in the hands of the teachers that taught me. So follow my step-by-step guide, complete with links to the tutorials I used. 

You will need:
White/off-white yarn
Red, green or yellow yarn
Brown embroidery floss
5.5 MM crochet hook 
Brown pipe cleaner 

1. Using the white yarn, crochet a spiral out to 3 complete rings. Follow this step by step guide here. I found it incredibly easy to follow — easier than most videos on crocheting a spiral. There are just a couple terms you’ll need to know. Chainslip stitchdouble crochet (dc) and half double crochet. They’re super easy if you watch these short videos.

2. Pick any stitch of the circle as a starting point. Use your red, yellow or green yard now and half double crochet around the whole circle following the pattern of 2 half double crochets in every fourth double crochet stitch. When you get two stitches away from your starting point, do one last half double stitch, followed by a slip stitch as a final stitch.

3. Finish your project. I follow this video, but use my hook instead of the needle. 

4. Cut 6 pieces of brown embroidery floss about 6 inches long. Tie a double knot in the middle of each strand. Tie each on onto the yarn with the double knot in the front. Trim ends on the back.  

5. Cut a piece of pipe cleaner about 2 inches. Bend a little at the top and twist around the yard to make a stem. 

And you’re done!

Fave Fall Fashion: TIGHTS

I am a lot of things — but “fashionista” has never been one of them. Despite some of my best attempts to be fashionable, I very rarely stray too far from my skinny jeans and a solid top. But when the air gets crisp and trees burn red, it’s hard to come between me and a good pair of tights. I LOVE tights. (I find this only kind of odd considering one day as a child, I actually threw away every pair of tights I owned because I wanted nothing to do with them — I’m sure glad I got over that.)

Nothing pairs with a Starbucks caramel apple spice from better than a silky pair of tights, adorable heels and a flowy skirt. And I always dress to the occasion! While I do carry tights into the winter months, I prefer to get the majority of my tights wearing out of my system early. Not because I get sick of them, but simply because I hate being cold. As cute as tights are, they’re definitely not the most practical thing to wear when there’s snow up to your knees (and let’s be real, I live off Lake Michigan — that happens, alot). So I try to capitalize on my favorite trend between the temperatures of 35 and 60 degrees. I’m a fair-weather tights fan, I suppose.

So you can image my delight when I turned on Gossip Girl Season 1 last year (because I’m way behind in pop culture) and saw that the lovely Blair Waldorf adorned tights on a nearly weekly basis! Jackpot! I was officially “in.” And lucky for me, tights have been trending for the past few seasons, so I can only hope I’m still up to par this fall. But either way, I have every intention of wearing them every other day regardless.

I sported my second favorite fall outfit to work today. A high-waisted black skirt (Miley Cyrus’ line to be exact), solid black tights, my all-time favorite flats (courtesy of the lovely Kayiu), and tucked-in plain white T. Why my second fave outfit, you ask? Because Saturday is October 1 — my favorite non-holiday day of the year. It’s my annual day to idolize fall and all of its loveliness…straight down to the tights! So I’m saving my number one for Saturday. But more on that later!