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.