a celebratory brunch (and hike)


Earlier this month (it is still December, right?), I had a birthday. Yes, I did, we all do, and this particular year I transitioned from the mid-twenties bracket to the late-twenties bracket, the early-something one now far behind me. I don't know about you, but I think we have milestone birthdays all wrong. Sweet sixteen (I guess?) maybe, and over-the-hill fifty jokes will probably always be in, if you work for a greeting card company, that is. But why no mention of the big 2-6? I may be onto something here. Stay tuned for a revolution.

Big birthday or small birthday, I've decided they're all worth celebrating in some way. This year, we took a drive up to one of our favorites in New Hope, Sprig & Vine, for Sunday brunch. They actually only do brunch on Sundays, which worked out perfectly for us.

Now, we've visited S&V before for brunch, and this 100% vegan fare, whether it be sweet peanut butter and jelly French toast or a savory scrambled tofu burrito, never disappoints, and this visit was no exception. We started out with some pickled seasonal vegetables, a favorite that they always do just right, and the halved grapefruit brúlee. I mean, you caramelize some sugar on top of a perfectly sweet and sour grapefruit, and you win. 

What comes next, I can hardly talk about, the goodness runs that deep. Pardon me while I take a proverbial deep breath to tell you that you have never had chocolate chip pancakes this good. I know, I know. But all the small-town diners I've visited? Ones made with real butter? My grandma's?! Nope. I hate to break it to you (and yet, sort of love to at the same time) that Sprig & Vine is serving up real-deal, fluffy, big-as-your-face chocolate chip pancakes with vanilla bean butter and maple syrup. Shut the front door. Your life will change. AND, make no mistake, this is no stingy, tiny stack. My plate came with three. THREE, two of which remained completely untouched.

Cute Colin got on board with the cranberry-apple French toast, a perfect blend of tart and sweet, rich and satisfying, with cardamom, red wine, and cinnamon cream. 

With our bellies full but not too full, we made our way up up up to start our hike. I'm not sure what came over me, but for some reason I had a feeling in my 26-year-old gut that this was going to be the year of the hike. And on this overcast yet surprisingly not so chilly day, we made our first trek up the rocky path.

Our next visit to Sprig & Vine, for a full circle effect, will be for New Year's Eve dinner. Tomorrow!


birthday breakfast for susan


This year, my mom's birthday (that's Susan) fell on the Friday after Thanksgiving. Since my sister was in town and I now conveniently live down the road from my grandmother, I decided to debut our new apartment for some early morning birthday breakfast and time together. (How did you #blockfriday this year?)

Birthday Breakfast Menu

Pumpkin Mini Donuts (some Cinnamon-Sugar, some Plain)
Baked Stayman Winesap Apples with Maple Brown Sugar
Steel-cut Oatmeal with Spiced Cranberry Sauce and Fresh Pomegranate

For the baked apples (picked them up a few days before at Stockton Market), picking a more tart, flavorful apple will yield the best results when cooked, much like when you choose the right apples for pie. Think Granny Smith, Pink Lady, Stayman (a little mulled spice hint), or Black Arkansas.

Simply rinse and core. Place in a deep-dish baking pan with about an inch of water at the bottom. Pour maple syrup (the real stuff, come on) into the cored area, and sprinkle with dark brown sugar and cinnamon. Bake for 40-45 minutes at 400 degrees, checking often. (Bigger apples may take a little longer, smaller ones less, etc.) They're ready when you can stab them easily with a paring knife.

And a happy birthday to YOU.


baked pumpkin mini-donuts


'Tis the season to bake 'til you drop. Am I right?

Well. If you particularly like baking (as I do), then yes. It is indeed. And yes, these are my actual and adorable measuring cups, and no, I am not sorry.

Though I've only had a handful of attempts under my belt this season, I would agree with King Arthur Flour blogger PJ Hamel: "If you're going to bake just ONE THING this month (or this week, or today, choose your preferred frequency) .. Let it be these pumpkin-cinnamon doughnuts."

That, and the two cans of pureed pumpkin I had on hand, were all I really needed to be convinced. 

I originally decided to make these over the weekend (I also again just a few days later for my mom's birthday breakfast, coming soon!), in a joint effort with a co-worker to "food bomb" our office. ("Food bomb," undefined and unrecognized by the bulk of society, is basically just swarming your office with doughnut-sconey-cookie goodness. Happy Holidays, indeed!) And, bonus, these little beauties have all the appearances of a stand-up donut, but the baked-not-fried aspect is what really brings the whole thing home. (Second-bonus, if you don't own a donut pan and don't want to, Hamel says a muffin tin will work, though she may shun you for it.) 

What, how am I doing this and taking a picture at the same time..?!

To begin, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Then, add the following into a mixing bowl. (We don't have our KitchenAid yet, ahhh, mostly due to what-color-will-we-choose constraints, but I am living proof that hand-mixing is just as okay in this recipe's case.)

1/2 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups pumpkin purée (canned pumpkin)
1 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

Beat all of these ingredients together until smooth--I found it helpful to whisk the eggs separately before trying to incorporate.

Now, add 1 3/4 cups + 2 tablespoons of unbleached all-purpose flour. Mix it up.

Lightly grease your donut pan. I used butter, but a cooking spray is definitely easier for making sure you didn't miss any spots. Fill your pan to about 3/4 of the way full; Hamel recommends using a tablespoon for exact measurement. I prefer to live more on the edge. (She also notes that if you're using, tsk tsk, a muffin tin, 3/4 of the way full is the way to go here, too.)

Now, here is where PJ and I differ. She recommends to bake each batch for 15-18 (for muffins, 23-25) minutes. This could be my mini-donut pan speaking, but my donuts were perfectly cooked in 9-10 minutes. Our oven is also super-wonky on the temperature reliability. You've been forewarned: act accordingly.

Once a cake tester comes out clean, remove the donuts from the oven, but leave them in the pan for 5 more minutes. Trust me, trying to remove them any sooner is a literal hot mess. After those 5 unbearable minutes, transfer to a cooling rack.

When the donuts are still warm but no longer too delicate (after about another four minutes), gently shake them in a bag with cinnamon-sugar. (Hamel provides no rules for this ratio, so I went a little heavy on the cinnamon and a little light on the sugar. Just enough added spice and crunch, HELLO.)

The only thing to do from here is wow your taste-testers with this crowd-pleasing recipe. But a final note: unless you're going to freeze these minis, store them in a bag or container that isn't completely sealed to avoid any sogginess.

A good cook always taste tests, duh.


a pandowdy party


Everyone knows that apple-picking, and the inevitable fact that you have about 10 to 20 pounds more than you know what to do with, involves dessert-making in some form or  another.

Now, normally you'd expect a pie, maybe a crisp (HEAVENS), possibly even a batch of lopsided dumplings. Are there any other kind?

Oh no. Not this time, we said. We need something on the slightly unconventional side, something with a funny-weird name (have you ever had a buckle? a grunt? a SLUMP?) -- so, as per the King Arthur Flour Baking Companion's suggestion (this encyclopedia-sized book, originally bought for the elusive Banoffee Pie recipe, covers it all, from bagels, to the perfect pie crust and everything in between), we went the route of the pandowdy, a deep-dish spiced apple dessert known for its molasses and rich crust.

So despite the big unknown of pandowdy, we figured it would be pretty damn difficult to go wrong with fresh Granny Smith apples, cinnamon, etc. You get the picture.

It's time to preheat your oven to 425 degrees.

To get started on this traditional American dish (which dates back to the 1800's, so claims Arthur), which is said to be a cross between a pudding and a pie, follow your favorite piecrust recipe for one double-crust 9-inch pie. We just followed Arthur's recipe for a medium-flake piecrust and substituted whole wheat flour for regular white.

Divide your dough into two pieces, one slightly bigger than the other. Roll out your bigger piece to fit the bottom of a casserole dish, about 9x9-inch. (Ahem. We are newly married and though our kitchen is pretty stocked, we have yet to buy ourselves a casserole dish and, frankly, I'm not sure we ever will. We used a pie pan, which may or may not have pushed this closer to the pie side of the pudding/pie comparison. Nonetheless, it was glorious.)

Cute Colin's cute hands.

While cute Colin made sure the edges were all neatly tucked, I was hard at work coring and peeling our apples. You will need 7-8, preferably on the bigger side, or about 9 cups in total. When they're all peeled, you can cut them into quarter-inch slices. 

In a big bowl, toss your apple slices with 1/2 cup granulated sugar, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, and 1/4 nutmeg. I admit I snuck a slice or two (or five) when they were in this state. Sooo good.

Scoop your apples into the bottom of your pan (or casserole dish, or really any ovensafe dish you have handy). Next, mix together a quarter cup of water with a half a cup of either molasses or maple syrup. (We went syrup!) Pour this mixture over your apples. Then dot with three tablespoons of butter, cut into bits and evenly dispersed.

It is now time to roll out your second piece of dough (if you haven't already), and fit it over the apple mixture. Brush the edge of the bottom crust with milk, and squeeze together the edges of both crusts. Also brush the top crust with milk, and sprinkle with sugar, if desired. We desired, as you can see.

So, I know what you're thinking: that looks an awful-lot like a plain ol' pie. And, you're right. It totally does. So if the main thing that separates the pandowdy from the pie is the shape of the pan in which it's baked, well. Beats me why we don't just call it all by the same name. However--there is one final post-bake step when things get a liiiittle crazy, and a little more pandowdy-ish. Hang tight.

Bake in your oven for 45 minutes, then decrease heat to 325 degrees and continue to bake until crust is "well browned." King Arthur notes that the initial forty-five may be enough to complete this mission to brown, but that each oven is different. Thanks, Art, you're a pal.

After about 40 minutes, our guy looked like this:

I know, I know. Still a pie, still a pie. BUT, we're almost to the good stuff. Let your pandowdy cool for about five minutes upon removal. Then! Take a knife and "slash, in a random pattern, all the way through the pandowdy. With a fork and spoon, gently lift pieces of crust from the bottom and submerge pieces of the top crust; in effect, you're really messing the whole thing up." Well, I'll say we are! But it was actually sort of, well, fun. You get to bake a fake pie, play with it, then eat it. Who's complaining?

The bottom pieces of crust are super sweet from the baking, and the top pieces (now submerged) begin to absorb what's left of your syrup/molasses mixture, all while incorporating with the cooked apples, bringing it to that pudding-texture earlier described. All in all, a successful dish, and one we will have to try again when the proper (pandowdy) pan is available.


kale salad 101


Being a vegetarian, as well as the daughter of a produce man (ah, lucky girl), you would guess (correctly) that I've had my fair share of fruits and vegetables. When everyone was bringing glossy Red Delicious apples to school, I was bringing, sigh, something eternally Greek, figs. When friends came over for dinner, they always commented on the variety of vegetables before them, often asking things like "What's that?" about prickly artichokes or a bright bowl of chopped bell peppers. This felt normal to me, to constantly be surrounded by an array of fresh, seasonal produce, always overflowing from the refrigerator to the kitchen countertops and even to the garage when the weather got cold enough. Every winter you can be sure to find a box of the most amazing oranges you've ever had, tucked in between a box of tools and a broken stepladder.

Still, despite my openness to all of these foods (except for watermelon, which I can't be sorry about, and at one time sweet potatoes, but I'm over that now), I never had tons of experience in the greens department. Salad was usually based around cold, damp iceberg or pale green hearts of romaine. And every so often my dad would cook down a (literal) 5-pound bag of spinach, reducing it to one, dense bowlful that might make even Popeye turn up his nose. Still, that was the extent of the greens I got to know, despite the fact that there were so many out there to from which to choose: peppery arugula, beautiful rainbow chard, watercress, collards, just to name a few.

As an adult, however, though I've now had my fair share of these nutrient-packed vegetables, one green powerhouse I have only recently (as in within the last five years) met up with is kale. Leafy, curly, with a slightly bitter taste, kale is easy to dismiss as an add-this-to-soup vegetable or something only taken in juice form, a task that is not for the faint of heart. While kale is, in fact, AH-MAY-ZING in both of these methods, it also shines at the center of the dish, and is a versatile base for any number of combinations for one kickass, healthy, superfood salad.

First things first, wash your kale. Wash it twice, even. Greens have tons of nooks so check carefully. After a thorough washing, pat dry. (The leaves are most likely too dense/big for a salad spinner.) Take the greens in small bunches and chop. I usually roll up a few large leaves and go to town.

The thing about kale is it has a natural toughness to the leaves, which is what normally deters people from eating it raw. The trick, however, is to break that tough texture down using a combination of acids (whether through citrus juices or vinegar) and time dedicated to massaging your greens. More on this in a moment.

After your kale is chopped, depending on the amount you've prepared (keep in mind that what looks like a lot while shrink down soon!), now is the time to add your acidic ingredients. My favorite to use is straight-up lemon juice, but I've also tried apple cider vinegar and a combination with clementine juice. Different amounts will work faster/more efficiently to marinate your kale, but trial and error is the best way to find out what you like best. For a large bunch of kale, I usually use the juice of one medium-sized lemon. If you've got a citrus reamer, it will come in especially handy for this: get out ALL the juice you can. You're going to need it.

Now, after thoroughly washing your hands, for the second time, because you already did that right?!, comes the fun part. Get ready to roll up your sleeves and massage this bowl of leafy green goodness. I know, I know, just meeting kale for the first time and you think this is weird? Well, that's because it is. But it's arguably the best way to break down the fibrous leaves of this superfood, so get past the I'm-not-sure phase quick. (Okay okay, you CAN leave your kale to marinate, massage-free, from 2 hours to overnight. If you must.)

There is no right or wrong way to massage. Just get started and you'll find your rhythm. Some massage the kale dry before they even chop it or add any liquid, some do both, and some massage it yet again after adding a little olive oil (that someone would be me). Do what feels right, and have a taste test. It's the best way to know!

What happens next is really up to you: add-ins! Kale is a pretty hearty vegetable and pairs well with many other flavors whether they be bright, sweet, sour, or creamy. My favorite combination of additional ingredients include chopped radishes (French breakfast, purple, white, the more color the better!), chickpeas, bell pepper, shredded carrots or beets, and Granny Smith apples. Just a little sweet, just a little tart: perfection. But seriously, there are no rules. I usually mix it up and just add whatever other vegetables I have handy, and it still always comes out truly tasty.

Oh, and adding a ripe avocado to the top is an awesome way to balance out the bite of the lemon juice with this naturally creamy omega-3 fruit. YES: fruit!