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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Gratitude and gourds

Pumpkins

We know I’m a crazy fall nut.

It’s one of my defining characteristics, I’d say — this obsession with changing leaves, apple cider and my beloved pumpkin spice lattes. When this love affair with autumn began, I really couldn’t say . . . but it only seems to intensify from year to year.

But this year? For as excited as I am about the months to come (read: very excited), this is the first time bidding adieu to summer feels bittersweet. I’ll miss my flip-flops and ice cream, gardening and running out in tank tops, but most of all? I’ll miss the farmers’ markets.

We have quite a few nearby, and our favorite is filled with Amish produce and goods that takes over a library parking lot on Saturday mornings. Spencer and I have driven out for tomatoes, zucchini, onions and breads (delicious, delicious breads) many times since late spring, and I felt the changing tide last weekend.

Gone were the colorful hanging baskets filled with flowers, the watermelon, the cantaloupe . . . in their place were gourds and Indian corn, fat pots of mums and sunflowers. It was a cool, misty morning, and I saw summer slipping away like sand between tanned fingers.

It makes me happy — and it makes me sad. It feels traitorous to autumn to admit that, but here we are.


Corn


This morning it was cool enough to need a jacket — bringing to mind all those early school days when I could finally dig out the sweaters and boots I’d lovingly selected back in the summer. Given it often stays hot here through the end of September, all the back-to-school duds my sister and I would pick out in August couldn’t be worn until October.

We waited and waited, gazing longingly at our cute cardigans and corduroys with their tags in the closet — hoping the temperatures would dip enough to unveil our fall wardrobe. There was nothing as disappointing as wearing old summer tops in a fresh new year — back when each September was a chance to reinvent yourself, begin anew.

September still feels that way for many of us, I think. Though my budget doesn’t allow for a reinvention of the ol’ wardrobe these days, I am looking forward to reorganizing my closet to find beloved pieces packed away since last year.

I want to focus more on what I have instead of seeking more — a feeling I’ve toyed with often since January, when I resolved to use up and make do instead of investing in additional stuff.

Gratitude and gourds . . . that’s what I want fall to be about.

Well, that and corn mazes. And cider. And ghost stories . . .

Who says we can’t have it all?


Five things on Friday

photo

1. Are these or are these not the most adorable stamps you’ve ever seen? We know I’m a mail nerd, so it should come as no surprise that I’m positively geeking out over them — but really. Sunflowers and vegetables and adorable baskets on a stamp. I just sort of look at and pet them, and then I put them on love letters. Or letters to my grandma, ’cause that’s how I roll.

2. I’m in the middle of no less than three books right now (one on Kindle; one print; one audio), but that didn’t stop me from starting Gabrielle Zevin’s The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry because Patti recommended it and y’all gushed about it — and what can I say? The power of persuasion. Though I started my other reads days or weeks ago, I’m almost finished with A.J. — and have thoroughly enjoyed it! Very charming.

3. We haven’t done much cooking lately, but have somehow been feeding ourselves . . . I’m thinking mostly off of frozen skillet meals, leftovers and the occasional dinner out (with more leftovers). But we did make slow cooker beef stew on Tuesday, and it turned out quite delicious. I took zero photos, though, so you’ll have to take my word for it? Sorry about that. #bloggerfail

4. Now that the library is coming along and my books are nestled in their new nook, I’m preoccupied with finding the perfect comfy reading chair. I was standing in the doorway last night, trying to picture this piece of furniture or that while cradling my laptop, and I’m pretty sure this is the one since I keep thinking about it. I want the vibe in there to be fun, funky and colorful — like all the spines of our books — and think it will fit well? But I’m so gun-shy about actually ordering it. Another adult milestone I have yet to cross: buying furniture. (Everything we have was passed along by family or purchased by Spencer pre-marriage.)

5. It’s almost craft fair season, y’all! Is that a thing where you are? Here in Southern Maryland, firehouses, churches and halls will soon fill with crafters selling home decor, jewelry, candles, Christmas stuff . . . and I will love every second of it. Hitting the many craft fairs is a family pastime in the fall, and I actually have a place for my craft fair finds these days. I don’t want to be broke, either, but I’m ridiculously excited about it.

Happy weekend, friends!


Moments over math

Sunset

For someone who has always believed she’s terrible at math, I sure crunch a lot of numbers.

Cost of gas.
Cost of groceries.
Sale price at 20 percent off.
Number of minutes to work.
Number of minutes to my parents’ house.
Number of minutes on my lunch break.
Number of miles on a road trip.
Cost of that latte.
Cost versus just making that latte at home.

The numbers are everywhere — all around me. Admittedly, I spend most of that “number-crunching” time calculating how long it’s going to take me from Point A to Point B . . . because I’m punctual.

Sometimes too punctual.

I grew up believing tardiness was akin to laziness — and disrespectful. With a military grandfather and parents who just generally worked hard to make sure we showed up on time, I don’t tend to suffer lateness gladly as an adult.

There are exceptions, of course. Living in the D.C. area, we’re acutely aware of how quickly traffic can derail an otherwise flawless plan — and a five- or ten-minute delay is understandable. No big deal. I don’t sit in a restaurant tapping my watch and stamping my feet; I know things happen, and it’s cool.

But a half hour? An hour? A text message with an “I forgot”? Forget about it.

Generally speaking, it takes me 15 minutes to get anywhere in or around my hometown. Fifteen minutes to and from work; 15 minutes to the grocery store; 15 minutes to Lowe’s, where we spend about half of our waking hours these days. Fifteen to see my grandparents. Ten or 15 to see my sister. And on it goes.

Nothing is “close,” exactly, but nothing is far. Downtown Washington is about a 45-minute drive, and we can get nearly anywhere in the vicinity in about an hour. In fact, that’s a carrying joke: Annapolis, Solomons Island, Lexington Park, College Park, D.C.? About an hour.

So I do a lot of math. Calculate times, mileage, Google Maps directions. I don’t like having to rush, and I’d much rather be early than late.

Rushing doesn’t work for me.

At the ripe ol’ age of 29, I’ve already figured out how much I hate having to hurry. If I’m going to feel rushed through a meal or event, I’d rather not go — period. I hate having to constantly check the time, and despise the pit of anxiety that opens in my stomach when I realize I’ve gone over an hour-long lunch break.

It’s a weird quirk, but it’s real.

As an East Coast girl through and through, I’m used to over-scheduling and piling on too much responsibility — sometimes calculating my day down to the hour, to the minute. Before work today? I wrote (most of) this post, edited a batch of photos, started packing for a weekend trip, drank way too much coffee, fixed some code on my dad’s website, answered emails, showered, dressed, etc. — all in about an hour.

About an hour.

Though it feels good to be productive, that “must do this NOW” feeling makes my stomach hurt.

My mission lately — and heading into fall — is to work on slowing down, absorbing, enjoying the moment. Nothing I haven’t pondered before, but now that we’re settled in the house, crossing projects off the list and looking forward to the fresh season?

I want to soak it up. Worry less about constantly being on time and just work toward enjoying that time.

Planning less, hanging more.

Less math, more moments.

A good trade.


Spreading fall to the hall

I held out as long as I could.

With kids lined up for buses on every other street corner this morning, fall is definitely in the air. I woke up looking at the golden light with a sense of excitement — the same one I mentioned last week — and pulled open the front door to let a cool breeze in as Spencer was leaving for work.

We got so much done around the house this weekend. Two months into homeownership, we still have boxes tucked into nearly every room . . . but Spencer finished the pantry, friends, and it is glorious. I know I sing the praises of my handy husband all the time, but trust me when I say that every word is true. The guy is awesome.

As a side note, we apparently have tons of sauerkraut, taco shells, grape jelly and canned corn beef. So if you’re hungry?

Finishing the pantry created a domino effect: we could then finish unpacking all the bags of canned goods, kitchen appliances and other food-related goodness because the contents of the cabinets could be shuffled to the pantry. That means I could continue emptying the boxes in the future library, which has been operating as a makeshift pantry.

Which means I’m one step closer to having a library.

My reunion with my books — now languishing in boxes for three whole months — will be a joyous one.

But back to autumn, the most fantastic of seasons. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t imagining pumpkins in every nook and cranny back when we were just looking at the house in March. As soon as August rolls around, I’m usually dreaming of cool temperatures and county fairs and boots, and this year is no exception.

And I have a whole house to scatter with gourds. This is so happening.

In my pursuit of only buying pieces for the house when I have a “clear vision” for the space (ha), I finally broke down and bought a console table for the hallway. It’s kind of funny to be decorating when you have boxes and stuff everywhere, but whatever. We’ll get there.

I wanted a little table and found a little table, but that little table was just so . . . barren.

It needed pumpkins.

But what doesn’t, really?

I know it’s late August . . . and that I’m quite possibly jumping the gun. But I’m just so pumped and totally in the “pumpkin everything” camp. From drinks to designs to just the burnt-orange color itself, I’m all about fall and gourds and happiness.

And now I can spread that to the hallway.

Seems only appropriate.


The gradual fade to gold

We’ve reached the tipping point, I think.

Though this summer never reached skin-melting level here in Maryland, the air has already taken a cooler turn. The mornings are crisper — weather typically reserved for late September. The small tree outside my office window has red in its highest branches, and fallen leaves skitter across streets and parking lots.

This is premature, I know; it’s still August, and not even late August. But the store shelves have already been ransacked by nervous students. Pumpkins, witches and ghouls adorn seasonal aisles. Halloween candy beckons at the grocery store, and costumes will soon follow. Early-morning marketing emails remind us to “take advantage of summer before it’s gone!” (and buy their coconut-scented lotion, of course).

I can’t say I’m sad, exactly . . . we know autumn is my absolute favorite season, and I can’t wait for boots and scarves and holidays with friends and family. I keep thinking of this quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald, then feel a twinge of longing for all that’s to come.

But there’s something bittersweet about knowing our flip-flops will retire soon — that our warm days and humid nights will fade to crispy-brown golden afternoons. Though I love autumn intensely, I’m never so aware of the passage of time as when we say goodbye to this season.

Maybe because so many look forward to it for so long: mornings where we dash out without coats, running with bare arms and legs . . . free and unencumbered. Vacations, cook-outs, toes in sand.

Maybe because I fear another awful, never-ending winter — a frosty season that stretched for months and months last year. Buried under snow piles, the world slick with ice and salt.

But time continues, pushing us with it. We carve pumpkins, watch beloved TV specials and march on.

And how could I ever be sad in a world with pumpkin spice lattes?

As proof that I am nothing if not predicable, I discovered I wrote a very similar post almost a year ago to the day . . . on the Monday before local schools start up again. Fall brings this out in me!