I’m on the hunt for new twists on Thanksgiving traditions. There’s a strange place between when a family has little ones to instruct in traditions, and when the little ones grow up but haven’t quite begun new traditions. That place is where experiments can happen, and that’s where my family is right now: Trying new recipes, new twists, not changing too much of course because my sentimental heart would splinter into a million pieces if it wasn’t held together by familiarity, but a little change is fun, exciting, sometimes a flop, but always interesting. We’re all old enough to have our traditions firmly planted, loved, and ready to spring back out at a moment’s notice of sentimentality, but we’re also ready to explore new territories and make new stories to say “remember when we tried…” regardless of how that sentence is finished: “oh yeah! Let’s do it again,” or, “oh yeahhh, never, never again.”
I tried this recipe for an apple tart with homemade caramel sauce as an alternative to apple pie. It was lighter than a usual pie, but because the apples were open-faced while they were being cooked instead of under a comforter of dough, the apples dried out a bit. Drizzle it with caramel though and it was pretty delicious. If you’re a fan of apple pie but kinda peel off the crust as you eat, the tart is perfection: thinner crust, more apples, and coated with caramel to finish. There was plenty of caramel left over too for coffee, or rolls, or…
I’m so excited to show you my idea for a Thanksgiving centerpiece, it’s pretty much free and absolutely gorgeous, just wait!
Phyllo dough is a strange and wonderous thing. It’s a huge pain, pre-cooked looks like you should never ingest it, but post-baked: yum, yum, yummmyyyyy. If you’ve ever worked with phyllo you’ll know what I’m talking about, but if you haven’t, it’s sort of like baking with really bad, really thin toilet paper. When it turns out right though, it’s such a nice change from heavy, thick crusts: This strudel got wrapped in 9 layers of phyllo sheets and I can proudly say I ripped not a single sheet. It was the first time I was patient enough to let the dough thaw instead of rip it to shreds from it’s frozen roll, trying to force it into some recipe I left myself 20 minutes to prepare instead of the required 2 hours. This time though, I took my time, let the sheets thaw, left them under plastic and a damp towel to keep them from cracking while I worked, and carefully added sheet by sheet, layering in butter and sugared nuts in between each layer and it turned out fantastic.
1 cup apple juice
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate
1 tbls. brandy
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
Boil juice in saucepan until it reduces to 1/2 cup (about 6 min.). Remove from heat, add chocolate and let stand 1 minute. Whisk until melted then stir in brandy and vanilla. Cover and chill until ready to use.
**this is pretty much my new favorite chocolate sauce, who knew brandy was so awesome??**
1 cup plus 2 tbls. apple juice
1/2 cup white wine
3 whole star anise (or 1 tsp. ground cloves)
1 cinnamon stick
1 vanilla bean (or 1 tsp. vanilla extract)
1/3 cup dried cherries
2 cups apples, peeled and cut into small cubes
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 and 1/2 tbls. cornstarch
Mix juice, wine, anise (or cloves) and cinnamon in a new saucepan. Scrape seeds from vanilla bean and add bean (or extract). Simmer and remove from head, let stand 10 minutes. Add cherries and cover and simmer until fruit is plump. Remove anise, cinnamon stick and vanilla bean. Mix in apples and sugar until apples are tender and liquid is reduced to about 3 tbls. (this took about 50 minutes for me). Mix in cornstarch to the filling and stir over heat until it thickens and boils (about 3 to 4 minutes. Cool, cover, and chill.
2/3 cup hazelnuts (toasted, husked)
1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs
3 tbls. sugar (white)
9 sheets phyllo dough, thawed
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter a large baking sheet and set aside. Blend nuts, graham cracker, and sugar together in a processor until the mixture is finely ground. On a dry kitchen towel, place a sheet of parchment and then 1 phyllo sheet. Cover remaining phyllo with another piece of parchment and a damp towel overtop that (to keep the thawed phyllo from drying out and cracking). Brush phyllo with melted butter. Top with another sheet and brush this one with butter PLUS sprinkle the second one with the nut mixture. Repeat this process with 6 more phyllo sheets, buttering in between each sheet but only sprinkling the nut mixture every two sheets. Top with one last phyllo sheet, brush with butter and then spoon filling on top of the sheets starting 2 inches from one long side and 2 and 1/2 inches from each short side. Then, fold over each short side and starting at the long side closest to the filling, start rolling up the strudel. Put the log seam-down on the buttered baking sheet. Finally, brush with butter and bake until golden brown. I baked mine for 25 minutes and then covered the log with a piece of foil and baked it for another 10 because the crust was getting too brown but I wanted the inside to cook and it turned out perfect:
A few Novembers ago, i started getting a little tired of apple pie. Sometimes a big ‘ol slice just kinda makes you sick after a similarly huge meal, but apples have to be eaten in the fall and this lovely little strudel log is my new apple-baby this year I think. It’s got so many more flavors than normal apple pie…plus, it has chocolate, brandy, fruit, spices, and perfectly, perfectly layered phyllo sheets that crunched and flaked like I’d been phyllo sheetin’ for years. It’s going in the recipe box for sure.
I can’t wait to share some scenes from my long weekend but I hope you’ll excuse me as I roost for one more day! I couldn’t get 395 pictures focused into my favorite few to share so I’m taking another day to get organized and get used to being back in a “normal” schedule. Wow it’s hard.
I failed on my promise to keep in the loop with a little Instagramming but by some glorious accident I was in a no-service, no wi-fi, no absolutely-anything-zone for the entire trip and I didn’t look at my phone a single time. I couldn’t check my email, update anything, text, tweet, post, or filter and it was so, so, so perfect. So perfect in fact I’ve begun to toy with the idea of repeating such a weekend once a month…at least the going off the grid part: purposely signing off and spending that time exploring, reading, writing, or just being with a few people who deserve 100% attention instead of a scattered collection of moments in-between Google searches, social media updates, picture edits, texts, and frantic planner-checks to ensure the current week, and the next week, and the next week…are mapped out with dates, deadlines and every hour used to full efficiency. I think escape weekends are going to be my new monthly vacation and I can’t wait for my next one. Now if I could just find a free weekend to schedule another roost…
images via That Funny Feeling | Breakfast at Tiffany’s | Pillow Talk | An Affair to Remember
Pulling off pumpkin is kind of tough! There’s a shade between Halloween-orange and garish-bright that is hard to find but doing sweaters like Sandra, Audrey’s bright coats, Doris’s accessories, or Deborah’s scarf is a pretty easy formula to follow for making this October color work. **I’m insanely jealous of that handbag behind Doris Day. Doris, where did you get that? Help a purse-desperate girl out?**
I’m going to ask all my lovely readers if they would be patient with me this weekend. I’m heading out of town and won’t be in the proximity of the wonderful world of the web to update VMMV. I could of course plan out some posts and have them timed and ready to publish in my absence, but I’m so looking forward to shutting every connection down that I’ve been sustaining for oh-so-long that I’m not even going to do that. I am planning on snapping as many pictures as I can though to document my expedition and I might be convinced to do a little Instagramming, so, if you’re a follower you can see where I’m off too and if you’re not, follow me!
I’m really really looking forward to the break. It’s going to be a serious mental health vacation and I’m rather looking forward to unplugging even though lately blogging hasn’t been high enough on my priority list. dang it. After work and homework are done, I haven’t yet figured out how to keep my brain creative enough to maintain my usual blog schedule. This break I’m hoping will jumpstart me again though and also will get me closer to when I can share something so very exciting that I’ve been keeping quiet. Stay tuned! I can’t wait to share and if I wasn’t escaping I might just slip…
I’ve been feeling a little silly sketching out Fall posts, pondering pumpkins, trying to firm up my schedule for the new season, and thinking wistfully of how many more cool weather outfits I have than summer-I’d-rather-be-naked-than-wear-clothes-in-this-heat sad outfits I settle on, but with this the last weekend of August, I’m starting to feel like the change is coming: August was giant vegetables and beach weekends, icy treats, back to school to learn new things, and transitioning from a brain on summer-sleep to thinking about real issues. It was hot and busy yet held some pretty fantastic moments and of course, it was the month this new space was launched so in the end August was truly a great month!
I’m a little nervous about what the Fall will hold. I can’t wait for the weather to turn and the holidays to come, (how oh how are we already here!!) but with my schedule getting more tight, I’m trying to work out in my head how to squeeze everything in and I will have to admit that some things just might not fit. Forgive me in advance if it’s occasionally rather quiet here, I think once I have a few weeks behind me, the muddle in my brain will work itself out into a well-oiled machine—but I’m not there yet, it’s still pretty fuzzy and crowded and my brain minions are working some serious overtime to get everything back to a more organized state. I promised myself I wouldn’t print one single syllabus, mark one single deadline in my planner, or give one second of thought to my own looming back-to-school date until after this long weekend is over. I think that’s the difference between undergrad and post-grad. You finally learn where to draw the line between academics and life…but then, school hasn’t started yet so I may be speaking too soon.
Happy three-day weekend everyone! This week also marked the third full week I’ve been at this new space. I honestly haven’t had much time to explore, learn, and tweak a few things, but I’m ok with it. This next year is going to be about juggling and if I have to throw one ball up higher and let it float a bit before catching it again, well, that’s just how it’s going to be. I’m a list-crosser-offer. Seeing strong black lines striking through all my to-do’s is a thing of beauty and when a to-do gets carried over to the next week instead of struck down in the last week *gahhhh!* it’s truly rather painful. Adaptation I think will be September’s word of the month. I’ve got a whole week of chocolate recipes waiting in the wings and the cutest DIY I’ve done yet so wait and see!
Sweet, sweet summer, why did you run away so suddenly? Any last remains of lazy freedom from this past weekend at the beach house with my ladies, definitely evaporated instantaneously Monday: there’s nothing like a 108 degree first day of school and a fourth grade room full to capacity to smash those moments.
Those moments really were so very glorious though: cinnamon rolls every morning, the most girly of girly movies and a little terrifying Cillian Murphy thrown in with four ladies smushed together under blankets on the most comfortable couch in the world; **How do couches get so much more deliciouslysoft on vacation?** A nap on the beach; Having nothing to do at any certain hour, and doing anything a heart could desire at every hour; Laughing until we cried over spritzers and too much coffee, and a slightly completely horrible decision to rent a four-person bike and utterly terrorize the tiniest of tiny beach towns with our screams. They didn’t really deserve that…
…just as a tip, if there’s four ladies, four sets of pedals, and four seats but only one steering wheel and one brake, any way you add or subtract those numbers, they create a really, really bad solution: We squealed our way up and down that town, argued over how close we were to parked cars and how we would survive through a busy intersection. We apologized to the people we nearly ran over, gave pleading, pitiful glances to the cars we cut off, and, to appease irritated, strolling vacationers by appearing as if we were as annoyed with ourselves as they were with us, we feigned anger and disgust at our brake that began, about half-way through our rental hour, to screech at a pitch I didn’t know could be reached. At last, we returned our four-seated machine of terror twenty minutes early, slightly wet with the sweat of nerves, and fear, and with aching quads unprepared to propel four girls up streets that threw off their disguise of being flat while we had walked them on foot and suddenly reared up to San-Fran-like street angles as soon as we were strapped to a bike. Whew. Lemony Snicket has nothing on that ride, we were a series of unfortunate events…but on wheels.
Perhaps the tension mixed with laughter, the terror mixed with joy, and the feeling of being out of one’s element while simultaneously feeling completely natural on our bike ride was preparing me for the new school year. It’s a very similar mix of emotions that come with entering a classroom, and while I at times want to get off the bike/run out of the room, and at other times I feel like I could ride forever/feel so at home with the students, it’s always a new adventure, a new challenge, and I’m very excited to see what a new year brings. My last day of summer came and went this year but guess what? Biggest teacher bonus in the world: endless summers to come in the future.
Before I bid adieu to October completely, and since I promised a view of my procrastination pumpkin-carving-product, here’s a last peek at some of my favorite things of October. Also, a quick homemade treat if you’re feeling domestic without feeling like you have the time to satisfy your kitchen cravings:
Since this month was largely spent wishing for rain and getting sunshine instead, I celebrated the last day of the unusually warm month with a summer-treat: ice cream sandwiches. They were super easy to make and turned out stupendous.
Home-baked items are quickly becoming a thing of the past. Even when I make boxed cakes and brownies for a last-minute party gift, the three-ingredient, not quite from scratch, goodies are met with rave revues. With life going at a constant light-speed, it’s no wonder people wonder when you have time to turn on the oven.
You don’t have to be a June Cleaver to pull this off though.
Chocolate chip cookies, made a little flatter and bigger when you plop them on the cookie sheet, and a scoop of slightly melted ice cream squooshed in between two cookies. Done. Delicious, yes?
I wrapped each of them in a little wax paper and tucked them into their own individual Ziploc bag just to ensure the ice cream didn’t make a mess, or the sandwiches end up tasting like freezer after a night in the dark dungeon of frozen-ness.
October was sublime. I still haven’t gotten my fill of Pumpkin-Spice yet, but there’s always November for that and hopefully, then, I’ll be wrapped three-layers deep in sweater goodness.
Hope your October left you with some sweet memories.
October is swiftly coming to a close, can you believe it? I always want to hold on to these last few months at the year’s end. Call it nostalgia or call it just the January-blues, but regardless of what the previous year held for me, I’m never ready to see it drift away and watch the new one come into view. October is like a security blanket. It’s as if everyone does a collective sigh from the year’s ups and downs and finally remembers to look around and enjoy each other.
Maybe you have a different experience. Maybe the end of the year festivities fill you with dread and give you a sense of being overwhelmed by trying to get everything just right. It doesn’t have to be just right though. It doesn’t even really have to be close. In honor of making some easy memories without too much time to plan, and with a weekend staring us straight in the face full of moments to make memorable, here are a few musts for your October-end:
Drink far, far too much coffee:
Decorate at least ONE table in your house:
ok, maybe two: Read a novel:
Indulge in Pumpkin-Spice-everything: Come December I am so over Pumpkin-Spice, but for October and November I enjoy it without even a splash of guilt:
Find an excellent pumpkin-patch… …and someone special to carry the pumpkins for you:
Happy weekend everyone! Hope you can make some memories and enjoy the beauty that is October.
Plain Jane: “It is not everyone who has your passion for dead leaves”
-Jane Austen, in Sense and Sensibility
Fall, fall, fall, fall, fall. Its my season, I’m obsessed, enthralled, in love with it…give me a cloud, a book, and a sweater and I have reached supreme happiness. More coffee please, I’ll be here for awhile, contemplating the beautiful, dying leaves that predict my favorite weather…ever.