Brown butter cinnamon apples with walnuts

Cinnamon apples

I don’t always have my stuff together.

As much as I’d love to be the sort of person who preps meals for the week on Sundays, moving deftly through the kitchen wielding a knife and storage containers, it just never seems to happen. I can’t blame being busy for this; I mean, we’re all busy. The truth? I just don’t make the time.

In an effort to attack our grotesque grocery bills, though, I’m trying to get better about meal planning — and limiting the number of dinners and lunches we eat out. I started keeping a budget sheet at the beginning of September just to get an idea of where our funds are going, and it’s definitely been enlightening.

Apples

Where am I going with all this? Using up. Consolidation. Waste not, want not. When Spence grabs the big bag of apples at the grocery store for $5, I look at them warily . . . because until recently, most of them went into the garbage. They’d go bad before we’d have a chance to eat them — and having to toss money (er, food) into the trash feels awful.

I noticed quite a few of the apples on our kitchen table were getting to the end of their shelf life yesterday . . . so I did what any budget-conscious lady would do: I hurried up and cooked them. With a little inspiration from the Food Network, I whipped up some pan-fried apples that tasted delicious and soothed my guilty conscious.

Spencer happily declared that they “taste like fall,” too, so there’s that.

You know I’m all about that.

This dish comes together quickly, uses ingredients you probably already have on hand and would be a great alternative to a more traditionally sugary dessert. The result is a warm, tasty side — but if you’re feeling bold, you could certainly add brown sugar or up the amount of walnuts. Despite all that butter in there, I was trying to err on the side of healthy.

You win some, you lose some.



Brown butter cinnamon apples with walnuts

Ingredients:
Six medium red apples, cored and diced
4 tbsp butter
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
Pinch of salt

In a medium-sized skillet, add butter and cook over medium-high heat until melted. When the butter turns a golden brown (about 5 minutes), add apples, cinnamon and vanilla. Cook apples until softened but still firm, about 10 minutes, and add chopped walnuts. Cook together an additional 3-5 minutes until apples are fork tender. Serve immediately; refrigerate any leftovers. Serves 4.


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Taking a bite

Apple

I took this photo Monday afternoon.

Why? you might think. Why waste your time taking pictures of food, especially when it’s half-bitten?

I’m not sure, honestly. I take too many food photos. It’s  my thing; a compulsion, really. I feel like I can’t enjoy a meal until I’ve documented it, and my need to capture food comes as naturally as breathing.

Three weeks into my weight loss program, it’s had its tough moments — but I’m doing better than I ever thought I would. My cousin’s baby shower on Saturday was the true test of my self-control — and I’m happy to say that I (mostly) passed. The spread was absolutely fantastic, and one of my all-time favorite dishes — strawberry pretzel salad — was out in all its gleaming, sugary, delicious glory. I calculated points and had a serving about half the size of my palm, y’all, and my hands are small. (Um, pretty much the only small thing about me.)

But the point? I had a taste, and then I quit.

I had one of my grandmother’s famous homemade peanut butter cups.

I had one cream cheese mint.

I had two white chocolate-covered pretzels.

Absolutely none of the awesome book-shaped cake.

A taste. And then I quit.

It wasn’t easy. In my more ungenerous moments, I look at others eating whatever they like and I feel hungry and tired and I think: I don’t want to do this anymore. I’m sure I will feel that way next week, and next month, and next year. But I also know I’ve committed myself to something bigger than myself, and though I’ve only lost 1.8 pounds so far? Well, it’s 1.8 pounds no longer dragging me down.

So yes: the apple. I’m not the sort of person who bites into apples. I’m the calculated type, the careful type; the person who slices her fruit into equal pieces, devouring them one at a time. I’m someone who worries about food on her face, about getting her desk messy, about apple getting wedged in my teeth.

But I bit it anyway.

Because the little plastic knife I was battling with wasn’t cutting it — literally.

And because, for the first time in a long time, I’m feeling in control of what I choose to eat. Or not eat. And I’m just going for it.

It’s a winding road ahead, but if it’s paved with juicy apples? I know I’ll figure it out.


Healthy apple ‘pie’: Half a recipe


We’re in Apple-topia over here.

After last weekend’s trip to the orchard, we drove home with sore feet and bags of apples. My boyfriend is quite the winemaker these days (and even won “best in show” at the county fair this year — woo!); apple brew is one of the concoctions on his to-be-made list. So much of the fruit will be broken down for that.

But the rest? That’s for us. For desserts and snacks and dinners. We’ve been chopping up chicken and apple sausage for dinner, sauteed with slices of apples. I’ve been cutting them up as “dessert,” which isn’t nearly as appealing as, you know, chocolate — but in an effort to cut down on calories, I’m learning to live with it.

And then I found this recipe, which is really just half a recipe. There’s no cooking or real preparation involved. It’s succinct — but tasty. Here we go:


Cut an apple in half, removing seeds, and bake until soft. Top with 2 tablespoons of low-fat or fat-free vanilla Greek yogurt, a dash of cinnamon and one crumbled reduced-fat cinnamon graham cracker.


That’s it.

And it. was. delicious. No butter, no oil, no sugar (except from that solitary graham cracker, but that barely counts). For someone who craves a little sweetness after dinner, this was a treat. Okay, it’s not really pie, but the graham crackers allow me to pretend. I like pretending.

Since we have about 47 more apples to use before they spoil, I have a feeling it’ll be showing up in a kitchen near me quite soon.



The pretend orchardist


Sometimes I like to pretend . . . I’m not me.

Maybe it’s the mindset of a writer. Or, ah . . . maybe I’m just a little quirky. Either way, I like stepping outside myself occasionally to think about life in other places, other environments. That means taking a break from being a 27-year-old suburbanite who spends her days with words — in columns; blog posts; newspaper features — to become the a girl with dirt-stained jeans at work on a family farm. Or the wizened old farmer patiently churning apple butter over an open flame. Or the energetic country kid climbing a hay stack that stretches into the sky.



Having lived in the same town since I was two, it’s fun to imagine life elsewhere. I’m always peppering my boyfriend with questions as we cruise through far-flung places: “Where do you think people work around here? How do they have fun?”

On Sunday, I thought about being an orchardist. The grove was quiet as we climbed the hilltop, away from the din of the festival below — a sequestered spot in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Far from home. Out in the country, away the hubbub and the chaos . . . well, it just feels easier to breathe.



In keeping with my recent farming obsession, Graves Mountain Farm in Syria, Va., was a hay-scented playground. I thought about Amanda Coplin’s novel as we walked the rows of near-barren trees, feeling a cool breeze on my sunburned face. Though I know nothing about crops, I can appreciate the serenity of nature — and feel at peace in the mountains.

When we crested the hill in the orchard, I was so fixated on looking for apples that I didn’t bother turning around. I didn’t look back to see how far we’d come. But that was the best view: of the working farm and silos below; the crowded festival in the distance; the lodge on the hill. Mountains rising up beyond, lightly dotted with the colors of autumn. Lone apples in the branches just out of reach.



Serving up a little Waldorf salad for the holidays

Growing up, I used to get really excited when someone would mention “Waldorf salad,” that creamy, delicious and fruity concoction that was a staple on the buffet where my family would often go for dinner. Growing up in Waldorf, Md., it was years before I realized that the side dish wasn’t named for my hometown but the Waldorf Hotel (later the Waldorf-Astoria) in New York City, where it originated.

Wednesday was my office’s Thanksgiving potluck, an annual tradition that serves as a warm-up for the main meal to come next week. All the staples were there: sweet potatoes with crunchy marshmallows; moist turkey; glazed ham; greens and potatoes and pumpkin pie. When I went to sign up, most of the foods we associate with Thanksgiving were already “claimed” by my coworkers — and I wasn’t sure what to bring.

“How about fruit?” Sandy, my friend and officemate, suggested.

Fruit. Fruit at Thanksgiving? I’m all about the rich, hot, creamy and fatty foods. Fruit seems like the unwanted distant relative who crashes the party and gets ridiculously drunk, you know? The one who then shares all the family secrets. “What is he doing here?” you think. “Who invited him?”

Well, I invited Waldorf salad — and let me tell you: it hit the spot. Awash in a sea of heavy foods, the Winter Fruit Waldorf Salad — courtesy of my main lady, Betty Crocker — was a highlight at our potluck, and I wound up giving the recipe to a few coworkers.

I’m actually embarrassed to call it a “recipe,” friends, because it’s nothing if not simple. The most challenging part of creating the salad was my having to get up at 6 a.m. to make it before work. It’s not something you want to let sit, so make it fresh — and have it ready to go. I cut all my fruit up first and let that sit until just before the main event, where I spooned my fruity dressing over top.

As we all gear up for family, friends and feasts next week in the U.S., consider adding a refreshing treat to your table. I had a tough time finding chopped dates at the grocery store, so I added way more walnuts than the recipe originally called for to compensate. It turned out delicious!


Winter Fruit Waldorf Salad

Recipe from BettyCrocker.com

Ingredients:
2 medium unpeeled red apples, diced
2 medium unpeeled pears, diced
1/2 cup thinly sliced celery
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup chopped dates
1/4 cup mayonnaise or salad dressing
1/4 cup Yoplait Original 99% Fat Free orange crème yogurt (from 6-oz container)
2 tablespoons frozen orange juice concentrate
8 cups shredded lettuce
Walnut halves, if desired

Directions:

1. In large bowl, mix apples, pears, celery, raisins and dates.

2. In small bowl, mix mayonnaise, yogurt and juice concentrate until well blended. Add to fruit; toss to coat. (Salad can be refrigerated up to 1 hour.

3. Serve salad on lettuce. Garnish with walnut halves.