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Enjoying February:
The Present-Month Project

It’s February. The luster of the snow has faded, winter continues in its third month, Valentine’s Day over-hype can be grating … maybe it feels like there’s a reason it’s the shortest month. So what is there to enjoy about February? I’m glad you asked! Here is this month’s Present-Month Project post about enjoying February.

Enjoying February - Present Month Project

Similar to January’s post, there will be sections of “Taste”, “Listen”, “Do”, and “Learn”.

taste

– Chocolate is huge in February. And not just for Valentine’s Day – there are a whole assortment of national chocolate-related days in February. But really – does it actually have to be National Chocolate-Covered-Nut Day to enjoy chocolate? I think not. But it is really nice that your favorite coffee shop will probably be featuring specialty chocolate drinks this month, and all sorts of varieties of chocolates will be on sale after Valentine’s Day. Hot cocoa is so nice this time of year when you’ve had to spend time out in the cold. Or if you’re looking to create a chocolate treat at home, here’s something I came up with this month. I love the combination of chocolate and peppermint – so I baked a chocolate cake, and added in a few drops of peppermint extract. I got whipping cream to beat into whipped cream, and added peppermint extract to that as well. And then, using an idea my husband came up with, topped it off with crushed peppermint candy canes in a spice grinder. It was a glorious chocolate peppermint experience. But, if that’s not enough – you can also melt chocolate chips, white chocolate, and peppermint chips on top of the cake as well.
So, enjoy! (But don’t over-do it. Bear in mind that February is also host to National Toothache Day.)

Chocolate Peppermint for February

listen

– February might tend be the month where cabin fever sets in the strongest. So, for those days where you might be indoors more than usual, this is a perfect time of year for listening to a book being read aloud as a family. As Emily Dickinson said, “There is no frigate like a book to take us lands away.” I’ve been reading Snow Treasure aloud to our kids this month, and they have been loving it! And it’s a fun experience for me, too, both enjoying the story, as well as the excitement I see on their faces as we read the book together. Tonight after reading a chapter of the book aloud, my eight year old said something along the lines of, “Isn’t it amazing how a book can take you places?” A similar thought as Emily Dickinson! So pick a book, and have someone in your family read it aloud – or do it yourself! Do voices for the characters, get into the story. Snow Treasure is a book I remember reading as a child myself, all about children in Norway helping to sneak gold out of the country on the sleds, past the Nazis. It’s definitely a kids book, but still very neat, and it’s the perfect time of year for it!

Snow Treasure - February Read Aloud Book

do

– I remember when I did NaNoWriMo (November’s National Novel Writing Month, where you write a novel in a month), I thought to myself – “Why November?? That’s such a busy month, with holidays and travel! February would be perfect – there’s nothing much going on then.” And while there are legitimate reasons for NaNoWriMo to be in November, the argument still stands that February is a good get-something-big-done month. One year in February, I participated in a group project called “Thing A Day”, where the challenge was that every day in February, you were supposed to make something. It didn’t have to be anything huge, or take tons of time each day – but just the goal of making something everyday, and then posting a picture of what you made on the site. It was a fun project – sometimes it was something as simple as a doodle, or it might be that you baked something, or sometimes it was a bigger art of craft project like making a piece of jewelry. But it was really neat to look over your own pictures and see the different things you made in the month. The site is no longer up, but even so, I found myself kind of mentally noting this month what things I made. I wasn’t doing the full challenge, but even just noting the little accomplishments of things I made this month, whether a meal for my family or something artistic for my shop was a fun experience – even if I wasn’t intentionally setting aside time to make things. Late in the month this year, I started using the hashtag #makingfebruary on Instagram as a simple way to note some things I made this month. Even though it’s not as official or large scale of a challenge as Thing a Day was, it’s still fun to see progress and little accomplishements – especially in a month where it can seem like we’re just trying to get through. But whether you want to do a large scale project, or just enjoy the small everyday things, February is a great month for making things.

Making things - Febrary

– Speaking of making things, I want to share an idea of what my family did for Valentine’s Day growing up. I am intentionally not including much in this post about Valentine’s Day. It seems to be one of those holidays that gets so over-hyped that is becomes either a big pressure and high expectations, or depressing, or any number of things, which are pretty much the opposite of this post. Also, February is much longer than Valentine’s Day. However, what my family did growing up, I thought was really neat, and we’ve just recently started doing it in our family. For Valentine’s Day, we all would make homemade cards for each other person in the family (you know, construction paper and drawings and what-not) and made a big envelope for ourselves. Then at the end of the day, we gathered at the table to put our cards for everyone in their envelope, and we would maybe have made some sweet treats to eat, and we would all sit together and open our Valentines from each other. It was really fun and sweet, and an expression of love for each other. The cards were often funny, or clever, or artistic – I still have ones from my family tucked away, including some hilarious ones from my brother who has since passed away. Of course, you don’t need a holiday to tell people you love them, obviously. But if there’s a holiday about love that is unfortunately stressful or overrun by high pressure for lavish gifts and expensive dates for couples, feel free to reclaim it as a simple and happy time to let your family know you love them.

Non-stressful approach to Valentines Day - The Flourishing Abode

learn

– While February might feel like the season of cabin fever, you might be surprised to learn what all might be in your area to go and do out and about, even in the depths of winter. We, for the first time this year, were able to attend a big winter festival here in our city, which happens every year in February! Some friends of ours also found a February winter festival near their town. I’ve heard that Quebec has a huge winter carnival through much of February. I think various communities that experience cold winters realize that February could use some winter cheer, and you never know what you might find in your neck of the woods. And while you might not find something as winter-specific as that, at any time there might be jazz concerts, or craft nights at the library, or quirky vintage markets, or an art gallery opening, or any number of other things. And it is good to find ways to get out and enjoy something out and about, even when it’s cold! Search your city’s name and calendar of events, and find out what pops up. Here’s a few shots of the WinterFest we went to here in Lowell – I’m so glad we found out it was going on in our area!

WinterFest Lowell - February on The Flourishing Abode

WinterFest Lowell

WinterFest - Enjoying February

– There are also great individual or smaller-group things to do outside in February. Sledding or skiing or snowtubing can of course be great for this time of year – but also stargazing! It’s often in the early months of the year that there are the most interesting things to view in the night sky. And you don’t have to stay out all night (and freeze) to enjoy a little stargazing – but bundle up with blankets and hot cocoa (and I even made a printable stargazing chart for kids in a past post), and on a relatively “warmer” night clear night, head out to a low light area and see what you can see for even just a little while! You can check astronomy sites online to find out when and where events like meteor showers, the northern lights, or visible planets might be happening, to find a good opportunity as well! Stargazing is just one of those things that fills me with wonder, and this is a good time of year for it.

gostargazingphoto heavensdeclare printablechalkboard

I hope that gives you some happy February things to think about or do. This being a leap-year, we have an extra February day, so I hope you enjoy it! Any unique ideas for what to do on a leap-year day? What are your favorite February things to do? Let me know by clicking here to leave a comment below the post, I love to hear from you! :)

Enjoying January:
The Present-Month Project

As much of the east coast is blanketed in white blizzard drifts, even though it is late in the month, it seems an appropriate time to post about January! And whether the thought of snow-days already fills you with images of steaming mugs of hot tea while watching the snowflakes flitter past the windows, or whether your mind first goes to thoughts of cold toes, this post is for you: a post about the things to enjoy in January. This is part of the Present-Month Project, focusing on the joys of each month as it comes.

What to enjoy in January

Overall, January is new and fresh. A time to make new goals, to step back and evaluate. A time that is less hectic, after the holidays. A time for renewal and freshness. Even the ground is often covered in clean, white snow.

January is also, in my mind, the purest Winter month. December is wrapped up in the holidays, February is heavily themed in Valentine’s Day, and March is looking toward Spring. January is a wonderful time to truly appreciate the slower, cozier side of winter, full of thick blankets, fresh snows, steaming mugs, and good books.

This post will largely be a list of ideas, centered around these themes. The categories: TASTE, LISTEN, DO, LEARN. As you scan it, and find which parts you like, I hope it gives you a variety of pleasant connotations to the month of January!

taste

TO TASTE:
January suits itself well to fresher, brighter tastes … especially after the richness of the last couple months’ turkey dinners, egg nog, and sugar cookies. I love foods in January that are still cozy, but not so heavy.

– Ginger and Cranberry. This is a flavor combination I started noticing a lot last January, and immediately fell in love with it. We had cranberry-ginger bagels, cranberry ginger-ale, cranberry-ginger anything I could find. It is such a fresh and clean and delicious combination, and just feels perfect after the richness of holiday foods. Keep your eyes open for it in January, or concoct your own versions at home.

– Citrus. There’s something so nice about that cheerful splash of brightness that in-season citrus brings us on the grey days of winter. I like to keep a bowl of clementines readily available for January noshing.

– Soup. There is nothing quite like having a pot of homemade soup bubbling away on the stove on a winter’s day. There is an absolutely endless variety, as well, just pick a favorite! I tend to like simpler flavors in January, like chicken and vegetable with dumplings.

January is National Hot Tea Month

– January is National Hot Tea Month! I love hot tea this time of year. A delicious steaming mug to wrap my hands around on a cold January day is simply perfect. And unlike coffee or hot cocoa, where I limit to maybe one or two cups, I can drink hot tea pretty much all day. And there are so many delicious options- green teas, black teas, herbal teas, you name it. Tea bags are convenient, and what I often use, but there is something beautiful about the ritual of brewing a pot of hot tea. (And it’s very easy. My favorite way? In a French Press!)

Here are a few of my favorites teas:
(and I do recommend a splash cream and sugar!)

Hot tea and other things to enjoy in January - The Flourishing Abode

– Harney & Sons: Boston. This is a black tea that was gifted to me and became an instant favorite, with its caramel and floral notes.

– Twinnings Irish Breakfast. A rich, malty tea, Irish breakfast features my favorite type of black tea, Assam. Assam is notably dark, sometimes called “the coffee of teas”.

– Republic of Tea Ginger Peach. Ginger is a favorite flavor of mine in January, and pairs deliciously with peach in this tea. One of the few fruit teas that you can have with cream.

– Cinnamon Plum. I rarely drink teas that can’t take cream (the fruit would curdle it), but this one is worth it. With the combination of warm spice and bright fruit, this is a refreshing but cozy flavor combination- which fits January perfectly!

listen

Classical Music and other things to enjoy in January

TO LISTEN:
– I think January is an excellent time for classical music. In general, I tend to listen to a lot of modern indie music, but classical music resonates with me this time of year. There is something beautiful that is a mix of somber and sweet that just fits the feel of January, at least in my mind. My husband took me to the symphony this month, and I can’t imagine a better time for it! I also stumbled across a Winter Classics album on Google Play Music, which I have been listening to and loving. (In fact, while writing this, it is playing, and I am sipping hot tea. Yes, it’s lovely.) Plus, I do like to have our children grow up experiencing beautiful pieces of culture like classical music.

Classical Music in January.jpg

Some favorites for January:

– Vivaldi’s Winter. This is a perfect choice, for obvious reasons. Music written specifically to capture the beautiful essence of winter? Yes, please. Do look for all 3 movements of “L’inverno” (Winter).

– Peter and the Wolf. Beautiful music and story. This, in my book, calls for both watching and listening. There is a very beautiful stop motion film made of Peter and the Wolf. It has no dialog, only the classical music, accompanied by the visuals of the story, and sound effects such as wind. It is set in a rather grim winter setting, and much like European desserts tend to be more bittersweet than their sugary American counterparts, this film it certainly more European in feel as a tale. Some people might not like it for their children, as it does have some bleak or dark aspects to it. Our family very much enjoys it, though, it is a January tradition in our house.

– Dvorak’s Cello Concerto. This is one of the pieces we heard at the symphony and has become a new favorite of mine. Three richly beautiful movements featuring a soloist of one of my favorite instruments, the cello.

– Gustav Holst’s Jupiter. One of my favorite pieces of all time. This is one very warm and powerful section in the middle which is the music I walked down the aisle to in my wedding. But the piece overall has a fascinating colder feel to me, perhaps tied into the outer space theme of the Planets suite. Regardless, I love all the dynamics of it from start to finish, and feel it is very fitting in January.

do

TO DO:
– Plan a long project. Especially if winter seems to go slowly to you, pick a big project that you want to get done before winter is over – one that you’re not sure if you can get done in that timeframe. I have a children’s book about winter that I’m wanting to write before Spring – and I don’t think I’ve ever known of a winter that has seemed to be rushing by more quickly. Because instead of the end of winter seeming distant, as each week passes, it seems like too short of a time to get my project done! Plus, slower snowy days can lend themselves well to indoor projects.

– Go sledding. It’s fun, it’s active, it’s only available part of the year. Bundle up the kids and go do it. Make sure you go down the hill yourself, too!

January - a good time for reading

– Read books. Go to the library and stock up. Read books aloud to your kids. Read books yourself. Put books and blankets around where you can grab them just as easily as your phone! Have a reading party where all the family piles up pillows and blankets in the living room, and have mugs of tea and stacks of books, and everybody enjoy reading together. It’s so cozy to be warm and snuggled with a book in your home while the January snow swirls around outside.

– Make goals. Not just resolutions that are going to be given up before the month is even over, but more substantial goals. As a new year has begun, it is a good time to ponder. While this post is about more light-hearted things, don’t neglect the more important things. Ecclesiastes is a good book to study this time of year, in thinking about perspective. (There’s a separate post on that coming later.)

– Light candles. It’s pretty, it’s cozy, it’s warm, it’s lovely, it’s perfect for January. Need I say more?

Board games and other ideas for snow days

– Play games as a family. This is the perfect time of year for board games with your family. Even simple ones – I’m not one to get excited about jigsaw puzzles, in general, but this time of year when we’re more homebound, spread out the puzzle pieces (and maybe some mugs of tea and a bowl of clementines) on the table, and before long you’ll find I gravitate to it, and we’ll be chatting and putting the puzzle together. Just pick and game and set it out on the table. A favorite of ours this January has been Suspend – it’s a building game, similar to Jenga, but with wires balanced on a post. Simple but fun. Whether it’s a new game like Suspend or Splendor, or old classics like Battleship, games are a great way to spend a snowy afternoon with family.

learn

– Learn about what other cultures do in the winter-time for fun. That is the basic concept behind our January WinterFest celebration. We pick a different theme each year and plan fun January activities, food, and puzzles about that theme. But you don’t have to build a holiday around it – just find a couple good ideas that other places do to make winter-time lovely, and try adopting them. Here are a couple fascinating articles to get you started: one about how the Norwegians enjoy all of winter with koselig, and one about the hygge approach to winter in Denmark (disregard the alcohol references). These are fascinating examples of how people in places that have even longer and colder winters than the US, don’t see winter as something to put up with, but rather something to enjoy.

Enjoying January on TheFlourishingAbode

I hope this has given you some pleasant thoughts about January! If sipping a cup of hot tea while curled up in a blanket reading a good book to your family sounds like a pleasant way to spend a snowy afternoon, then I call it a success. What are some of your favorite things to do in January? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

A Fall Favorite – Spiced Tea Recipe

I love seasonal foods. Fresh strawberries sliced onto oven pancake in the spring, homemade chocolate ice cream in the summer, rich white chocolate “snowball” cookies in the winter. And in the fall, spiced tea. One of the reasons I love spiced tea is because you get to enjoy it in two different ways. First, as it simmers during the day and fills your home with the delicious aroma of cinnamon, cloves, apples, and a touch of citrus. And then, of course, as you wrap your hands around the steaming mug and get to sip the cozy autumn flavors.

It is very easy to make, and just creates a really nice atmosphere to have simmering as guests arrive for a fall gathering. Basically, it is a matter of throwing a lot of things in a pot, and enjoy the aroma and the taste. I also sometimes put in in the crockpot to keep warm and serve.

Below is the recipe I use. You can click here (or on the image below) to get the printable PDF version. Enjoy! :)

What are you some of your favorite autumn foods? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

My Plan & Progress! Look Good Despite the Holidays

Last week I kicked off a new challenge series: Looking Good .. Despite the Holidays. I’m very excited about it! A little while back I emailed myself a list of smaller goals and habits that I wanted to aim for to help me along the way, and I wanted to share that list with you. As you will see, there are a variety of different types of things on my list. The exercise related goals are in red, the style related goals are in blue, and the food related goals are in gray, so there is definitely a mix.

This is certainly not a one-size-fits-all kind of list, this is just my personal list. And it’s really just a list of things I need to do better about, not everything I need to do. For instance, I thought about including “put on makeup in the morning” – but I already do that, typically, so I didn’t add it to my improvement plan. So each person’s list would look different. However, having some smaller quantifiable goals I think can help achieve a more nebulous goal, like “looking better”.

And I’m feeling especially good about it now that I’m starting to see progress. As I mentioned before, this is not a weight loss advice series … however, I personally have been needing to lose some weight, and over the last few weeks of working on my list, I’ve lost 10 pounds. WooT! I’m starting to be able to fit back into some clothes I couldn’t wear before. I still have more progress I want to make (and not just on losing weight), but I feel like I’m on a much better trajectory now – and one that I can stick to, even after the holidays. Although I definitely haven’t done perfectly on my list … I think now that I’ve shared it with you all, though, I’ll feel much more accountable to it! I’m still really bad about drinking enough water. *sigh* Some of the goals we might end up talking about in more details in other posts.

So, what do you think of the idea of having a list of mini-goals?
What might be some things on your list? Things that are the same or different than mine – I’d be curious to hear either way! Leave your thoughts and comments below. :)

Put it in a pumpkin! Shepherd’s Pie

I decided to make shepherd’s pie recently for our family and some friends – and one of my friends suggested putting it in a pumpkin! Apparently this is something that others I know have done, but I had never heard of it. But, you know me, if it’s unusual and quirky and delicious sounding, I’m up for it!

You can use whatever shepherd’s pie recipe you like (I tend to cook off-the-cuff, not measuring or anything – I think I had about 15 spices in mine!) but cooking in a pumpkin called for a little different strategy than a normal shepherd’s pie. Here are some info tidbits and tips for cooking it in a pumpkin:

– First cut out the top of the pumpkin, and clean out the guts. I found that a serrated melon ball scoop worked GREAT for this.

– Don’t cook it with the lid on top. I tried first cooking the pumpkin alone (unfilled) and leaving the lid on the pumpkin. After baking it at 400F for about half an hour, with a little water inside to steam it, I took it out to check on it – and the water inside was cold. So I took the lid off, and baked it for about another half hour at 450F with much better results.

– Once the pumpkin is started to be little more cooked (though not completely soft), use a fork to “fluff” up the sides of the pumpkin. You’ll get an effect similar to spaghetti squash. Do this all around the pumpkin so that pumpkin will be able to mix into the shepherd’s pie – but leave enough of the wall intact for the pumpkin to still be sturdy.

– Pour in the base of the shepherd’s pie mixture (I recommend having it a little more heavily seasoned than usual to balance with the pumpkin), and then top with mashed potatoes. Put back in the oven – if you have time to cook it longer at a lower temperature, the flavor will be better. Or if not, it will still be good, but the leftovers the next day will be better than the first meal, because it will have more time to meld together. Put cheese on top of the potatoes a few minutes before it comes out of the oven.

-Consume! Preferably with friends – it takes a lot of shepherd’s pie to fill a pumpkin, so it is a good autumnal meal when you have a lot of mouths to feed.

After doing this meal, it definitely made me curious to try cooking more foods in edible “bowls”. Have you ever done this? Or have any other ideas? Share them below! :)

Tomato Cream Sauce Recipe

I was at a restaurant a while back and I ordered an omelet – it came with a rich and creamy tomato sauce on top and plenty of fresh basil. I looooved it! The omelet was good too, but the sauce was spectacular, so I went home and experimented to make this recipe to be served on pasta instead – a thick and creamy tomato sauce.

My family loves it, and it is so easy to make! Unlike regular marinara sauce which often needs to cook for a long time to get a good depth of flavor, this sauce develops a rich and full flavor immediately. I hope you’ll enjoy it!

Tomato Cream Sauce

4 Tbsp. Butter
3-4 Cloves Garlic, Finely Minced
5 Tbsp. Flour
2 ½ Cups Half and half
1 Tbsp. Dried Basil
½ Cup Parmesan Cheese
24 oz. Tomato Sauce
Pasta of choice
Fresh Basil and Mozzarella to garnish (optional)

1- Melt butter in a deep skillet over medium heat. Add minced garlic and sauté briefly, taking care not to burn the garlic.
2- Add flour to the butter and whisk together to make a roux. Allow roux to brown just slightly, continuing to whisk.
3- Slowly add in half and half, whisking continually to thicken. Add Parmesan cheese. Mix in basil. Cook and whisk for about 3 minutes.
4- Once the mixture has reached a creamy thickness, add in tomato sauce. Allow to cook at least 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
5- Serve over pasta of your choice (I recommend angel hair pasta!) and garnish with minced fresh basil and mozzarella, if desired.
6- Enjoy! Generously serves 4-6.

This recipe is definitely in my arsenal of quick dinners that can be thrown together at the last minute. And I’m always interested to add more recipes to that category! What do you like to make when you’re running behind on time?

Tomato Basil Pie: perhaps my favorite food

I really should have posted this recipe a little while back when fresh summer tomatoes were so plentiful! This is one of my favorite dishes (especially in the late summer) which I learned about from Lori and her mother … although, truth be told, I do make this even when tomatoes are less in season. Just don’t tell Lori. ;)

I mentioned recently, too, the amazing and simple pie crust my friend Lindsey makes. So we’ve had a great trade-off where she makes pie crust and I fill it with Tomato Basil Pie and our families enjoy dinner together! I wanted to share this recipe with you, too, because it is just soooooooooooo good … and a little of the beaten track. I know it is an idea I never would have come up with myself!

Tomato Basil Pie

Crust:
3 oz. of cream cheese
1 stick of butter
1 cup of flour.

Let the cream cheese and the butter come to room temperature, then blend ingredients together. Roll out dough. Put in pie dish, and bake, about 10-15 minutes at 350F.

Filling:
1 ½ c. grated mozzarella cheese, divided
Fresh tomatoes. The original recipe I think called for about 7-10 roma, but I sometimes use more and/or other tomatoes, depending on how many people I’m feeding, and whether we are using Lindsey’s deep dish pie dish (in which case I also loosely double the rest of the ingredients)
1 c. loose fresh basil leaves
4 large cloves of garlic
½ c. mayonnaise
¼ c. Parmesan cheese
1/8 t. ground pepper

1. At some point earlier in the day, cut up the tomatoes into fairly thick slices and spread out on a dish cloth or paper towels to allow the tomatoes rest and drain off some of the liquid.
2. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of the mozzarella into the baked pie crust.
3. Lay out the tomato slices over the mozzarella. (as shown in first photo)
4. Mince the garlic and basil, and toss together. Sprinkle this mixture on top of the tomatoes.
5. Mix together the mayo, Parmesan, remaining mozzarella, and pepper. Dollop this mixture on top of the pie, and spread around.
6. Bake about 40 minutes at 350F. I like to add one last sprig of fresh basil on top just to make it look pretty.
7. Gobble it up!

I’d have to say this is one of my family’s favorite foods. I sometimes add in a handful of grilled chicken, or serve with a salad. But that is mostly just to stretch is – honestly, all we really want is the pie itself, such a beautiful mix of fresh tomatoes, basil and garlic, meeting creamy cheesy richness. It. is. so. good.

What do you think? Sound good? It’s a recipe I never would have thought of on my own, but I loooove it. In case you can’t tell. ;) What are some of your family’s favorite dishes?

Un-Recipe Apple Pie + the Best Crust EVER

I don’t know who came up with the phrase “simple as pie”. Does that mean as simple as it is to make pie .. or as simple as it is to eat pie? Because the former is definitely not always easy … largely because of the fact that pie involves pie crust.

However, my friend Lindsey recently made some *amazing* pie crust that has absolutely changed my view on crusts. For one thing, pastry is usually finicky and you have to be really careful on how you handle it. But this was SO low maintenance, easy to roll out and work with – it simply amazed me. It was 3 oz. of cream cheese, a stick of butter, and 1 cup of flour. Let the cream cheese and the butter come to room temperature, then blend it all together. And it is ABSOLUTELY DELICIOUS. Best tasting and easiest crust ever, at least in my book. Talk about win/win. Although, I don’t think I can really claim it is healthy. ;)

Once you have a good crust, I’m sure you can think of a ton of types of pie fillings, but this time of year apple pie is just so fitting. I tend to not measure things (so when I share recipes on my blog, I have to go and cook it first and measure as I go so that I know how what info to give you!). This one, though, I’m calling an “un-recipe” because I’m not giving you any very detailed info, just a general idea. I made this at home and we loved it. The goal is pretty much to make the apple pie as apple-y as possible. I grated up apples, and put them in a skillet. Maybe a little butter and brown sugar, but largely for the gooey part, add apple juice or apple cider to the skillet of grated apples and let that simmer down and reduce. For spice and, of course, more apple, add generous dollops of apple butter. Of course you can add more spices if you wish, too. But the combination of apples, apple juice or apple cider, and apple butter made a delicious and very apple-y filling for the pie.

It’s especially good when made from apples you gathered yourself from going apple picking with your family, of course. ;)

What is your favorite kind of pie?

Summer-Thyme Pita: Coleslaw meets Waldorf Salad

I don’t know about you, but when we’re in the middle of a summer heat wave I don’t feel like turning on the oven and eating a hot and heavy meal. Something cool and refreshing sounds soooo much better. This meal idea is something my sister-in-law served one summer while I was visiting, and it fit the bill for a delicious meal on a hot summer day so perfectly. It’s kind of a coleslaw-meets-Waldorf-Salad-meets-chicken-salad dish, with a refreshing flavor mix of lime and thyme that my family has nicknamed Summer Thyme Salad. I’m including a printable of the recipe at the end of the post.

The base of the salad is cabbage, like coleslaw, which makes it quite economical as well. We don’t have a garden at our apartment, but a friend with a garden recently gave us a HUGE head of cabbage. I knew right away that we would be having some Summer Thyme Salad! But it was more cabbage than would even reasonably fit in my big serving bowl. If you have more cabbage than you want to use in this salad, go ahead and shred it all up, and put the extra in a bag – now it’s handy and prepped for another meal later.

You can chill the entire salad together, but I like to make the salad part of it ahead of time, and let it chill and marinate together, and add the chicken and herbed butter right at the last minute, so that the salad is cold but the chicken is warm. It makes a nice contrast – just like the tangy lime sauce contrasts nicely with the mellow savoriness of the thyme. That is partly why there is a fair amount of butter with the chicken … the thyme and herbs infuse the butter and send all those earthy flavors throughout the salad. The fruit in the dressing is reminiscent of Waldorf Salad … usually I do apples and grapes, but you can substitute the grapes with other fruits, especially if it’s something tart like dried cranberries. Which is handy if, like me, you forget to buy grapes. ;)

Just click the recipe below to get the PDF file. If you trim the recipe out of the page after printing, it comes to a handy 5×7 size:

What are your favorite cold meals for hot days? Leave your thoughts and comments below, I love to hear from you!

I’m ready for fresh produce! – Vegetarian Tacos

I’ll be upfront – I’m not a vegetarian. But once spring and summer come around, I am craving fresh fruits and veggies, and frankly, meat can take a back seat then sometimes! Not to mention the fact that meat is more expensive and often more time consuming to cook. So sometimes I feel like making a meatless meal, and I wanted to share an easy vegetarian recipe I came up with recently: cilantro and lime black bean tacos. Nothing ground breaking, but it is easy, healthy and delicious!

Vegetarian Tacos:

For the filling (instead of meat):
– About 3 cups of black beans, cooked and mostky drained
– 1-2 teaspoons of cumin (to taste)
– 3-4 tablespoons fresh chopped cilantro
– Dash of lime juice
– Salt to taste

Toppings:
– Diced red pepper
– Fresh salsa (diced tomatoes, diced onions, diced fresh pineapple, cilantro, lime juice, diced hot chilies if desired)
– Cheese of your choice
– Cilantro
– Sliced jalapenos
– Sliced avocados, or whatever else you feel like!

It’s delicious served with fresh pineapple.
Enjoy!

Is anyone else like me and crave fresh veggies this time of year?
What are your favorite simple meatless meals?
Share your thoughts in the comments below!