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Dad's dried apple slices

Dad’s dried apple slices. (The red apple in the picture is not one of my parents’ apples.)

Sometimes things get lost in my cupboard. The dried apple slices made by my dad are one of those things. The other day I saw the bag peeking out from behind other bags and boxes, and, all of a sudden, I thought, “Perfect!”

I’ve seen the teething bagels and cookies at the store, but these apple slices are the perfect shape, size and texture to act as all-natural teething rings!

Apple tree blossoms

My parents’ apple tree blossoms, early May.

The apple tree was there when they bought the house more than 25 years ago. Although they brought apple and tree specimens to numerous botanists, no-one has been able to identify the type of apple. And the tree produces lots of them, year after year.

They are relatively big and round apples, rather tart, better for cooking and baking than for eating out of hand. My dad makes them into cider, apple sauce, dried apple slices, and gives them away. My mom stocks the freezer with sliced apples, and makes apple pie and apple crisp.

I get a regular supply of dried apple slices. My dad makes them crisp rather than soft like most store-bought ones. And they have flavour, unlike most store-bought ones!

Baby chewing on a dried apple slice

Baby chewing on a dried apple slice.

Baby loves them! They keep her busy for a while. She tears at the rings with her two little teeth and then sucks on them until they are soft. It makes me happy to think that Baby is getting all that love and goodness from my parents’ backyard.

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Baby Chef

Pursuing one of my favourite pastimes with Baby.

Since Baby arrived my priorities, aside from taking care of her, have been getting exercise and fresh air and eating right. Just like Baby, I get grumpy and tired if I don’t eat regularly and properly. Also, it’s no secret that I love to eat and cooking is one of my favourite activities.

No surprise then that before having Baby, I was already thinking about how to nourish myself once she arrived, knowing that I’d be regularly occupied with her and, for a while at least, less mobile. The arrangement we came up with worked well and we’ve continued to prepare and enjoy satisfying meals!

For the first three weeks after her birth, the deal was that David, who was off from work, was responsible for food and making sure I ate properly. He did the cooking and didn’t even use any of the meals we’d prepared in advance. Then my mom visited for two weeks and took over the kitchen. She spoiled us with her excellent cooking and baking. She actually added to our freezer stores.

We’ve even tried some new recipes, all of which are keepers:

Last week, we started our new routine of weekly menus. It starts with a meal plan – a tried and tested tool! – using what we have on hand. We cook at least one weekday meal on Sunday, making sure there’s enough for at least two lunches (a hearty soup is easiest). Then we dip into our freezer stores for one meal per week and gratefully accept grandmaman’s offer to cook dinner on Thursdays.

The days we cook fresh, the meal is prepared bit-by-bit whenever I have a moment throughout the day.  By the time David gets home from work, it’s ready to cook. Often I’ll do the cooking myself, because it gives me a break from Baby – as much as I love her, I welcome a break by that time of day! – and the satisfaction of doing something I enjoy. We’re not cooking superheros though, and have also resorted to take-out several times in the last seven weeks.

Last night this tart, a fall favourite,  followed a meal of homemade soup. Making it was a three-day affair: I made the dough and lined the cake pan the first day, blind baked it the second, and finished the tart on the third. That’s not unusual these days – whatever it takes to get it done!

Recipe: Alsatian Apple Cream Tart

Alsatian Apple Cream Tart1 recipe pastry dough
4 apples, peeled, cored and cut into eighths (use apples that will hold their form during baking; I used Cortlands)
2 tbsp lemon juice
4 tbsp sugar
1 cup cream (either 15% or 35%; the latter will give a richer, creamier result)
3 egg yolks (I’ve also made it with 2 whole eggs; using yolks will give a richer, creamier result)
1 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup raisins
1 pinch salt

Heat oven to 375°F. Grease a 9″ cake pan.

Prepare the pastry dough. Roll it out to 1/4″ thick and line the cake pan. Weigh it down and blind bake it for 10-15 minutes. Remove weights and continue baking for another 10 minutes until lightly coloured. Remove from oven. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F.

In a bowl, toss apple slices with lemon juice and two tablespoons of the sugar. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, combine cream, egg (yolks), vanilla, raisins, the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar, and salt.

Arrange apple slices on tart shell. Pour cream mixture over apples. Bake for 50-60 minutes or until apples are done. Allow to cool slightly before removing from cake pan.

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Early morning fall colours along the Ottawa RiverAlthough the exuberance of fall with its bright colours and crunchy leaves has already passed, the colourful fall harvest is still readily available. I like this time of year. The flavours become somewhat “heavier,” more concentrated, yet they’re still fresh and crisp. Apples and cranberries are among the iconic fall produce.

Apple crates at Dupont Circle market in Washington D.C.

Apple crates at Dupont Circle market in Washington D.C..

Cranberries

Sea of red… cranberries!

Apples and cranberries are also a classic seasonal combination. Here they are in a muffin, which combines fresh and dried cranberries, and also incorporates healthy hemp hearts.

Recipe: I ♥ Fall Muffins (aka Apple-Cranberry Muffins)

Apple-cranberry muffinHemp hearts have a delicate nutty flavour and are a good source of Omega 3 and 6 essential fats. Health food stores are most likely to stock hemp hearts; a popular brand is Manitoba Harvest.

Wet:
1 egg
¼ cup milk
½ cup yoghurt
¼ cup vegetable oil
½ cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 ½ cups apple, coarsely grated (2 medium apples)

Dry:
2 cups flour
1 tbsp baking powder
½ cup hemp hearts
½ cup dried cranberries
¾ cup fresh cranberries
pinch salt

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line/grease 10-12 muffin cups.

In a bowl, combine all wet ingredients. Combine all dry ingredients in a second bowl. Pour wet ingredients into dry, and blend until flour mixture is just moistened.

Fill muffin cups. Bake 20-25 minutes or until golden brown and tester comes out clean.

Apple picking sign in Rougemont, Quebec

U-pick apples in Rougemont, Québec.

Cranberry bogs in Richmond, B.C.

Bird’s eye view of cranberry bogs in Richmond, B.C..

Fall colours in the neighbourhood

Fall colours in my neighbourhood.

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