just a drop of simple sunshine


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For the love of apples.

It’s no secret that fall is my favorite time of year. From the chilly days to the changing leaves, I just find the entire season so peaceful, and I grow to love it more and more each year. For me, fall officially begins after the last full week of August, when the Lorain County Fair is over & as a child I’d head back to school; another summer’s worth of 4-H meetings done with & the marching band season just beginning.

The elementary and high schools of the small district I attended are at the bottom of Apple Hill, an orchard and bulk food store I still head to every visit home. Every member of my family has worked there for at least some amount of time – my mom worked the store and did the Johnny Appleseed talk to visiting children for a few years, my dad helped out with the U-Pick apple stand on the weekends for a bit and my sister worked there throughout high school. I think I probably worked the least; only a six month stint before I gave it up for a job working food service at a local retirement center (I learned so much about food at that job; I’ll probably talk about it later), but something about that place – & the humble apple – has rooted itself firmly in my heart.

I cannot stand grocery store apples – they don’t taste like anything! Whenever I read about or hear someone say “it tastes like an apple,” I know they’ve never really had good ones. And there is NOTHING like a good northeast Ohio apple. I can personally never keep straight which apples are good for what (I really ought to have my mom write it down for me), but I love the names: Gala, Cortland, Macintosh, Braeburn, Jonathon, Jonagold, Winesap, Melrose, Northern Spy, Golden Delicious, Granny Smith… I’m a mac & golden delicious girl myself, but I think if one more person tries to get me to try a honeycrisp I’ll throw it at them. I did try one once, after hearing all the hype, and decided that it was BORING.

In my completely biased opinion, people who like the honeycrisp have never had an apple from their local Apple Hill equivalent. Give me an old school apple ripened to perfection from an old orchard on a chilly October day over available-year-round flavorless junk any time. I’ll wait it out. And last Friday, I did just that. I stood in the chilly October sunshine on Apple Hill with a gigantic smile on my face while I bit into a (not-washed! the horror!) fresh-from-the-orchard yellow delicious confection and enjoyed every bit, the nostalgia as good as the flavor.

I might have even headed across the street to the football stadium if it hadn’t been an away game.

If you eat seasonal for no other reason, do it because there’s always some delicious fruit about to hit its peak. And eating it at its peak is really the only way to do it. After the apples, we’ll have pomegranates, then clementines & Florida citrus & fuzzy kiwis to look forward to for the long winter. Yeah, I purchase the odd container of strawberries, but there really is nothing like the surprise of seeing the first cherries of spring show up at the farm market and knowing it’s going to be delicious.

But anyway! Back to apples – my favorite way of eating them, besides raw or in cider, is as apple crisp. As with so many things in the culinary part of my life, this too had to be re-thought. Although oats can be gluten-free, they can still be problematic and I just don’t really want to tempt fate, you know? So I’ve whipped up a few batches here and there, & I think I’ve got a winner!

One of the beautiful bits of apple crisp is that you can make it with a lot of apples, or with only a few. I used almost an entire half-peck of apples (I honestly couldn’t tell you how many that is), but the apples were on the smaller side (not being the scary giant-sized apples found in grocery store aisles), so my guess is that there were a lot. I also used a variety, which is what I recommend as well. Use some sweet, some tart, a few crisp and a few soft – it makes for a better flavor palate. As for which varieties to use, well, that’s up to where you’re located and what’s available. Talk to the farmers at your local orchard, or call up my mom! It’s what I do.

I used a lot of almonds, but feel free to try other nuts and nut meal! I think this might be heavenly with hazelnut meal. You could also try using coconut oil to make it vegan, or lessen the sugar content. But this is what I did, and received the seal of approval for!

Apple Crisp

gluten-free, grain-free

What you need:
Apples:

  • 1/2 peck apples; cored, peeled, & diced
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds
  • 1 stick butter, melted
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg

Topping:

  • 1 stick butter, melted
  • 1/3 cup sliced almonds
  • 1/3 cup flax meal
  • 1/3 cup almond meal
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon

How to do it:

  1. Preheat oven to 350° & grease a large pan.
  2. Combine apples with all ingredients, tossing to coat. Add to pan.
  3. Stir together all topping ingredients thoroughly. Using fingers, sprinkle mixture evenly over apples.
  4. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour; serve warm with sharp cheddar cheese or vanilla ice cream!

 

As always, enjoy!


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Late Summer Salads

Over the summer, I’ve really tried to take advantage of the local in-season produce, which around here is just fantastic. There’s really nothing like a perfectly ripe tomato eaten within 30 minutes of it being on the vine! I’ve eaten quite a lot of pickle cucumbers, zucchini, yellow squash, green peppers, basil, cilantro, candy onions, tomatoes, nectarines… the list goes on, & it’s been fabulous. I even had some adventures with truly fresh garlic & cute little patty pan squash! I’d post recipes, but to be honest, I haven’t really been cooking all that much – just throwing yummy things together with a dash of olive oil & enjoying.

Here in northeast Ohio, we’re headed into the last few weeks of really good produce, & my last trip to the farm market was pretty epic. I don’t have enough space in my kitchen to undertake preserving the harvest, so I’m going to savor every last bit that I can. Early in the summer I enjoyed my salads with lettuce, but lately I’ve been eating it sans greens, simply throwing sliced & diced veggies into a bowl & tossing with olive oil & balsamic & a bit of salt & pepper. Summer will be over before we know it – savor it while you can!

Late Summer Salad

local, seasonal

  • tomato
  • pickle cucumber
  • carrot
  • onion
  • green pepper
  • black olives
  • fresh basil & cilantro
  • dash of sea salt & freshly ground pepper
  • olive oil & balsamic

 

Mix everything together, adding seasonings to taste. Add crumbled goat cheese & roasted chicken breast, as desired. Enjoy!


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Apple, Bacon, & Gouda Salad

I did a bad, bad thing: I bought apples in May.

“But Sarah,” you say, “What’s wrong with that?”

Apples in May are… well, they’re as bad as tomatoes in February. Especially when compared to mid-October Ohio apples, which are unbelievable. I’ll never understand what the big deal is about Washington apples. Same with California strawberries – our Ohio produce is amazing.

Which is why my craving for apples was a bit bizarre, but I went with it. I picked up four apples at the farm market, & although the flavor wasn’t fabulous, I enjoyed every bite. Thing is, right I’m just waiting. Soon there will be lots of delicious in-season local produce, but right now… ugh, it’s killing me. So I don’t really feel so bad, especially since I stumbled into this fun little salad.

One of my favorite meals is the classic hunk of cheese, hunk of meat, bit of fruit, & hunk of bread (sounds glamorous, doesn’t it?). Personally, I blame this on the epic quest fantasies I read as a kid (Mariel of Redwall, anyone? I swear the backpacks where they’d keep the vittles must’ve been bottomless!), but in any case, I love it. I often do this for breakfast, & did so this week. I threw some pre-cooked (by me, of course), crumbled bacon, a cut up apple, & some chunks of gouda into a container with some banana bread, & ran out the door. When I got to work, I proceeded to eat my breakfast, & realized that the combination of these three ingredients (gouda, bacon, & apple) was just perfection. I’ve eaten it three times this week, & loved it each morning. So I thought I’d share!

Apple, Bacon, & Gouda Salad

What you need:
Approximately equal amounts of:

  • chopped apple
  • crumbled bacon
  • diced gouda
  • squirt of lemon juice

 

How to do it:

  1. Throw a squirt of lemon juice on your apples to keep them from browning.
  2. Toss ingredients together. Best eaten when at room temperature!

 

Most people would probably tell you to ruin it by tossing this with some sort of dressing or sauce, but don’t let them fool you. The crisp sweetness of apple paired with the buttery taste of gouda & saltiness of bacon is perfection all on its own. Methinks I’ll be eating this quite a bit come fall.

Enjoy!