A is for Autumn, Autumn is for Apple Cider Cream Pie

Apple Cider Cream Pie w. Cinnamon Whipped Cream

Apple Cider Cream Pie w. Cinnamon Whipped Cream

When autumn rolls around, some people (the internet would have you believe only 20-year-old white girls) look forward to pumpkin-flavored everything. While I love their salty, crunchy seeds, pumpkins — even baked into a pie — don’t do much for me.

Instead I am all about apple cider. I love it in any form, freshly pressed, warm and spiced, made into caramels or mixed with booze. When the leaves start to turn, you can bet my fridge is full of cider — it’s as much of a guarantee as death and taxes.

And while I tend to mostly enjoy it straight up and ice cold, I’m more than willing to experiment with it. So when my co-workers decided to have a staff pumpkin carving party yesterday, I had the perfect sweet treat in mind to contribute, this apple cider cream pie.

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Heart on a String: A sweetly simple sign of love

It’s funny the way that holiday decorations can instantly bring me to a happy place. In December, the stress of holiday traveling melts away when I see my childhood stocking (made by my mother years ago) hung over the fireplace. In college, I remember the sense of connection and solace when my friends and I would do silly things like paint Easter eggs together or decorate our dorm rooms with hand-print turkeys. It made being away from home a little easier.

Vase of Pussy Willows

Seeing this vase makes me feel like I’m home.

This is how I feel every February when I go up to my grandma’s house for my birthday and see a familiar white vase on the table, full of pussy willows and dangling red heart candies. I feel like a kid again, like I’ve come home from camp or a weekend slumber party.

Logically, it doesn’t make much sense because growing up I was never at my grandparents’ house this time of year — I was always in school. Instead they would fly to Alaska (on alternate years) to visit my brother and me for our birthdays. I was oblivious to the whole pussy willow/candy heart tradition until I was living in Portland and began spending my birthday weekends with them in Tacoma. Yet, there’s still a nostalgic feeling attached to those little gummy hearts.

Maybe it’s because the story connected to the vase and its enticing sweets is so familiar. Every year I hear about my uncle, who in his younger days used to pull all the hearts off their strings, leaving behind the empty circles of thread as evidence. My grandma loves to tell me this story and honestly, every year I enjoy hearing her recount the memory. It makes me feel connected knowing that traditions (along with having a sweet tooth) remain a constant in my family.

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A tropical breakfast to warm up the chilliest of winter mornings

10-grain cereal with pineapple, coconut and cashews

10-grain cereal with pineapple, coconut and cashews

I’m still going strong on the Bon Appetit Food Lovers Cleanse and I have to say that the best part has been breaking out of my breakfast rut. For the past year my weekday breakfast has involved the same routine: a whole grain English muffin, toasted, slathered with peanut butter and a bit of honey. And it’s done me well — it’s a nice mix of protein, carbs and sweetness to get my day started.

But over the last 10 days, not being able to indulge in refined flours, I’ve had to mix things up.

My first experience with a breakfast from the cleanse resulted in the awesome discovery of quinoatmeal. After I polished off the last of that, I moved onto a new porridge in the form of Bob’s Red Mill 10-grain cereal. This is a blend of everything from millet and barley to brown rice and oat bran. It all cooks happily together in a matter of ten minutes or so.

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Quinoatmeal: A protein powerhouse of a breakfast

Apple Pecan Quinoatmeal

Apple Pecan Quinoatmeal with Almond Milk and Cinnamon

As far as cleanses go, the Bon Appetit Food Lover’s Cleanse is an easy one for me to follow. They know their audience well — the 14-day eating plan allows for four cocktails a week and gives the exception for a morning cup of coffee. Which is good news for me because two weeks without caffeine would lead me into a deep dark place that even sprouted lentils couldn’t save me from.

I’m also very thankful that the recipes that Bon Appetit included in the cleanse are (so far) very good. I made this lovely and filling quinoa-oatmeal for Day 4 and was incredibly happy with how it turned out.

The quinoa is rinsed and left to soak overnight with steel-cut oats, reducing the morning cooking time. The next day, the mixture is brought to a boil. Add in some almond milk, cinnamon and salt and after 10 minutes, breakfast is ready! I topped my bowl (as recommended) with toasted pecans and half a cup of shredded apple for sweetness.

Apple Pecan Quinoatmeal with Almond Milk

Apple Pecan Quinoatmeal with Almond Milk

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It’s January, cue the new year’s resolution clichés!

Butter bean salad with red pepper relish and roasted veggies

Butter bean salad with red pepper relish and roasted veggies

Eating healthy is the most common new year’s resolution in the country*. It’s probably also the first one to fall by the wayside (I blame you leftover Christmas cookies!). That doesn’t prevent me from making a little extra effort to watch my eating habits after the holidays though. All of that gluttony (pork belly, cookies, and marshmallows, oh my!) has a way of making me look forward to salads and vegetables.

Though I indulge in my fair share of beer and foie gras, I actually tend to eat fairly healthy year-round — my meals include a lot of farro, raw veggies and chicken. But the thought of doing something like the Whole 30 is just not really my speed — too much pressure.

However, a few weeks ago I read about the Food Lover’s Cleanse, a 14-day eating plan that Bon Appetit publishes every January. And since you all know how much I love BA, it seemed like the perfect thing for me to try, especially since I only have to stick to it for two weeks!

The basics are no refined sugars or flours, very little dairy (wah!), plenty of lean proteins, veggies and whole grains. Honestly the dairy is the hardest part for me — I love yogurt, cheese and milk. But considering how much cheese I packed away in the month of December, two weeks without it is probably not a bad thing.

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Christmas Peking Duck: When no traditions lead to new traditions…

Peking duck, steamed buns and accompaniments

Peking duck, steamed buns and accompaniments

Usually there are many traditions that I look forward to at Christmas. There’s the smorgasbord my family puts out on Christmas Eve where I double up on the potato sausage and avoid the pickled herring. There’s deciphering my grandma’s occasionally evil gifts (sometimes she makes us translate Swedish or sends us on treasure hunts) and seeing who found the almond in the rice pudding, earning themselves a year of good luck.

This year, with the way the calendar worked out, it made more sense for me to visit my family the weekend before Christmas. On Sunday afternoon we set up the smorgasbord — loaded up with all of my favorites — and opened our gifts to each other. There were Christmas cookies, card games, my mom’s cranberry bread and plenty of wine. It was lovely.

And when it was over, it felt like Christmas was over — even though it was only Dec. 22.

With family and traditions over with, my husband and I spent our first Christmas ever home alone. Deciding to make the best of it, we thought we’d take a less traditional route to our Christmas dinner: honey glazed Peking duck, steamed buns and roasted pork belly.

After all no matter where you are and who you’re with, good food is a must for any holiday.

We started the process by air-drying our pekin duck for two days. (note: Pekin duck is a breed, Peking duck is a dish.) Basically this means we left it unwrapped on a rack in our fridge for a few days. This dries out the moisture in the skin allowing for more crispy goodness — the best part of any duck.

Air-dried pekin duck

Air-dried pekin duck

Next we brushed the inside and outside of the duck with a glaze of honey, soy, ginger, five-spice and Mandarin orange juice.

Brushing on the glaze

Brushing on the glaze

We let the duck come to room temperature for a few hours before putting it in the oven. It roasted for an hour or so, getting a fresh coat of glaze every fifteen minutes until it looked like this:

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