While not all of us are ready for shorter days and cooler temperatures, there is something nice about a cozy sweater, colorful leaves, pumpkins, football, and a pot of hot soup－and maybe some candy corn and a scary movie or two!
Happy October! Before we launch into this month’s favorites, I wanted to mention that I’ll be back in November with our annual holiday edition. Late shopper that I am, I usually post this collection in the first week of December. Knowing that sooner might benefit the early shoppers among us, however, I am beginning to compile that list, with the hopes of including a little something for everyone. If you have suggestions that may offer wide appeal, don’t hesitate to email me or leave a comment below. This is also a wonderful opportunity to think of how we can brighten the day of someone who may be alone during what will undoubtedly be an unusual holiday season. ❤️
📺Favorite TV Show of the Month
From the creator of Survivor, World’s Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji documents an 11 day expedition in Fiji that pushes 66 four-person teams to their limits. It’s a nonstop race in which teams trek through mountains, jungles, and oceans with little sleep. Hosted by Bear Grylls, the series is a revival of an Eco-Challenge series that ran from 1995-2002. The personal stories of the various team members and the stunning scenery provide reason enough to watch this show. The actual challenges are rather impressive, too!
👗Favorite purchases of the month
Aprons. Despite my tendency to make a mess, I tend to skip the apron most days. But I’ve filmed a few cooking videos lately where I needed to wear one. Problem was, my current apron “collection” consisted primarily of branded giveaways and a cheerful Santa Claus apron that never fails to get me in the holiday spirit. A friend recommended Hedley & Bennett aprons, and I ordered their 1972 Denim Apron (pictured above). It’s durable and comfortable, and this particular design has the worn-in look of your favorite pair of jeans.
Because many of us are cooking more these days, I figured other people may enjoy an apron upgrade, too. (By the way, now that I have an apron I really like, I’m actually wearing it!) I discovered this great overview of top rated aprons via the NYT. The collection offers a little something for every preference, and the aprons were judged by people who put aprons through their paces day in and day out. Much as I like my denim apron, I’ve also been eyeballing this crisp, striped linen number. And though I’ve never worn a smock apron, this loose-fitting pinafore apron offers good coverage and looks very comfy. Paired with a simple shirt and a pair of leggings, it could make a rather cute outfit!
🛍Favorite Product of the Month
Steepwell Tea Co. is a Lancaster-based company that strives to deliver “the world’s best tea” in an environmentally-friendly way. A dear friend of mine is a bit of a connoisseur, and I have frequently given him gifts of tea. Steepwell is now his top-rated choice. He prefers black tea and says the Serengeti black is the best of any he’s tried. Steepwell does not have a physical store location, so I order it online. Since I live nearby, they hand deliver it, although they will ship anywhere. For those who may be interested, they have a wide assortment of black, green, and herbal teas in both loose and bagged varieties.
👩🍳Reader Favorite Kitchen of the Month
While some readers took issue with the pale yellow or the robin’s egg blue, most approved of the cheerful color scheme. One reader echoed the sentiments of many when she commented that she loved this one, considered it “soothing” but thought the bar stools looked a tad uncomfortable.
🤪Funnies of the Month
🍓🥦🍝Favorite Recipes of the Month
I’m not one to rush the seasons, so at summer’s end, I tend to cling to the the last of the sweet corn and peaches, knowing it will be months before we enjoy them again. By October, I’m ready to embrace the transition to fall favorites like pumpkin and cabbage along with comforting soups, roasted vegetables, and tried-and-true recipes like Brussels sprouts salad and apple cake.
Of course, there’s nothing better than dipping into soup or mopping up pan juices with a piece of hearty bread. Baking bread at home has received so much attention since the quarantine began, but that often leaves the gluten-free eaters among us empty-handed. As well as cup-for-cup, all purpose substitutes work for cakes and quick breads, they tend to come up short where yeasted breads are concerned.
Last spring, I challenged myself to create or find a viable option. After several attempts, I found it in a slight modification to a recipe by Kim at Let Them Eat Gluten-Free Cake. To date, it’s the best gluten-free focaccia bread that has emerged from my oven, and my family didn’t notice it was any different than my “regular” focaccia recipe. (Click here for that one; it’s the bonus recipe at the bottom of the page).
The key to success is using Kim’s bread flour blend, which has a different composition than the standard gluten-free, cup-for-cup substitutes. (Specifically, the blend calls for protein in the form of whey, pea, or soy protein, which conveniently accommodates those who needs a dairy-free alternative.) Kim also recommends using a kitchen scale to weigh the ingredients, and I second that recommendation. A kitchen scale may seem intimidating, but if you try I think you’ll find that you can prepare recipes quicker and with more accuracy compared to using measuring cups.
If you follow the link above and want to incorporate my variations, they are as follows: I baked half the dough in a 9-inch cake pan (20 minutes), topping with 1T each chopped fresh rosemary and grated Parmesan and ¼t sea salt. I also used 2T olive oil on the bottom of the pan and 1T on top. (This will all make sense when looking at the recipe!) As an added bonus, the recipe makes two loaves, and Kim pointed out that the dough will keep in your refrigerator for up to 7 days. I waited 6 days and the second loaf was still very good, although I would likely wait no more than 3-4 days the next time.
🎃A few more favorite recipes…with a Halloween theme
When my boys were young, Spooky Spaghetti Stuffed Peppers always made for some dinnertime laughter－and I still make them on occasion because they really are fun at any age! Clementine Jack-o’-lanterns offer a tasty snack and a fun activity. For a festive meal that also doubles as a great project for kids (good for hand-eye coordination, too), look to Threaded Hot Dog or Sausage Spaghetti (aka “Spider Dogs”). Any leftover hot dogs can be put to good use with Corn Dog muffins or cornbread. And if trick-or-treating happens this year, Candy Bag Brownies (pictured below) are a must for the chocolate lovers among us. No candy? No worries. The basic brownie recipe is delicious as is or with the simple addition of chocolate chips, chunks, or walnuts.
Finally, if you carve pumpkins, save those seeds and follow this technique for crisp, lightly salted pumpkin seeds. They make a satisfying snack…and might make you want to carve a few more pumpkins!
It’s always fun to read your favorites. I especially liked your apron ideas. I gave an apron to my brother-in-law for Christmas and shopped at Christiane David’s gallery on Prince Street in Lancaster for it. He loves it and her vibrant paintings give a completely different vibe to an apron.
The favorite Brussel sprouts salad sounds wonderful, but I can’t eat Brussel sprouts, or other cruciferous vegetables. What would you suggest I substitute for them? The cruciferous really limits what fall salads I can make.
Hi Karen, Christian David’s art is striking, and I can imagine the apron is fabulous. As for the salad, you could use chopped Romaine, and I was thinking it would be fun to try it with zucchini or even sweet potato or butternut squash “noodles.” All of the salad ingredients would complement those vegetables well. If you try any of these options, please report back. Perhaps I should further vet out some of those ideas for those who are in the same boat.