Pumpkin Pie Bars

pumpkinpiebarsI have a pumpkin-everything obsession.  When it hits October, I’m drinking pumpkin spiced lattes (homemade of course read here), pumpkin beer, eating pumpkin infused dishes and desserts.  I wanted a pumpkin pie dessert without all the crap in it so I decided to make my pumpkin pie this year into bars (for portion control) also vegan and gluten free.  I have to confess that the first batch was a bit of a failure not because it didn’t taste good but the proportion of the spices were off and the filling was too watery.  I tweaked a few things here and there and I can proudly say that these pumpkin pie bars will not have you missing the excess sugar and butter.  It was successfully taste-tested by my family who didn’t know it was vegan and gluten free.  I’m sort of thinking that I might not go back to the traditional recipe laden with butter, cream, and sugar.  After all, the holiday season is upon us and we don’t want to miss out on our favorite desserts.

Ingredients:

for the crust:
  • 2 cups gluten-free graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/4 cup virgin coconut oil, melted
  • 2 tablespoons coconut nectar syrup (I found it at Whole Foods)
for the pumpkin filling:
  • 1 (14-ounce) can pumpkin puree
  • 1/3 cup natural cane sugar
  • 1/4 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup full-fat canned coconut milk
  • 2 tablespoons almond milk
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1.5 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • pinch of ground cloves
  • pinch fine grain sea salt

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F and lightly grease an 8-inch square pan.
  2. Prepare the crust: In a medium bowl, combine the graham crumbs, melted coconut oil, and sweetener until the crumbs are thoroughly coated in the mixture. Scoop the mixture into the prepared pan and smooth out evenly. Make sure you press firmly so that the graham cracker mixture sticks together.
  3. Pre-bake the crust, uncovered, for 10 minutes at 350F.
  4. Prepare the filling: In a bowl, combine all the ingredients and whisk together using a hand-held blender until completely smooth, scraping down the bowl as needed. When the crust has come out of the oven, immediately pour this filling on top of the baked crust and smooth out as evenly as possible with a spatula.
  5. Bake, uncovered, for around 40-45 minutes at 350F or until the filling has darkened slightly. The filling will still be a little soft. Place on a cooling rack for about 60 minutes and then into the fridge to set overnight.
  6. Slice into squares and serve with a dusting of cinnamon and chopped walnuts.
  7. Store leftovers in the fridge for later.
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5 Things Laura Loves

5things1{Change}

I love the Fall in New York.  I love the changing leaves, the crisp air, wearing layers, and all the fun Fall activities.  The last couple of weekends have been magical.  I’ve been heading up North to the Hudson Valley and discovering quaint little towns that all offer something special.  There have been yummy brunches, flea markets, art museums, and awesome hikes just to name a few.  It’s amazing the beauty you can find an hour away from the city.  This weekend, I’m looking forward to sleeping in a little, taking longer walks, and doing some leaf peeping.  I hope you all have a wonderful weekend!

5things2{Learning something new}

5things3{An almond chocolate croissant with brunch is always a good idea}

5things4{Cold weather accessories | Photo Source}

5things5{Outdoor dinner | Photo Source}

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Sweet Potato and Kale Soup

fallsoup1It’s Fall and it’s getting cold outside and even though I’m not a fan of the cold weather, I get by with a little help from my friends like soup and warm drinks like chai lattes.  I love making homemade soup because my recipes are easy and healthy.  This is one of my favorite soups, sweet potato and kale soup with a little spice from chipotles.  I add black beans for a little bit of protein.  It’s the perfect solution for a busy work week.

fallsoup2Ingredients: 1 can of black beans | 2 cups of kale | 2 sweet potatoes | 2 ribs of celery | 1/2 white onion | 2 chipotles | 2 sprigs of thyme | 1 quart of chicken broth

Directions:

  1. I spend about 15 – 20 minutes to prep all the ingredients. I rinse and wash the black beans and the kale. I peel the sweet potatoes and dice them into small cubes. I dice the onion, chipotles and celery. Lastly, I take the thyme leaves off the sprigs.
  2. In a dutch oven or large pot, I heat extra virgin olive oil over medium heat. I put in the onion and celery and cook until transparent. I add the sweet potatoes and cook them until they are tender.
  3. I add the black beans, chipotles and the chicken broth. I add the kale and thyme to the broth and bring the soup to a boil. I simmer the soup for an additional 20 minutes.

fallsoup3

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A Flea Market and a Farm

fleamarket1

I was never into vintage shopping, antiquing or going to flea markets but I’ve always taken a look. I love that every item has a history in time and the previous owners’ lives. My feelings about “old stuff” started to change when this past Summer, I went to an estate auction up in Maine with my best friend. They were auctioning off things like a 200 year old dining set with 10 chairs for $1,000 or furniture that they just don’t make any more for nothing.  At the same time, I was beginning to furnish my new apartment and realizing that these vintage pieces were worth more but selling for less than what you would find at West Elm.

I thought this was a great opportunity for me to flex my home decorating muscle and to mix some of my new home décor with cool vintage finds that have some history behind them.  I’ve read about Elephant’s Trunk in New Milford, CT which is this amazing flea market that doesn’t just have people’s junk but antiques.  My mom, who loves flea markets, and I decided to make it a mother/daughter outing.  I never realized how hard core flea markets can be.  They offered an early riser special where you can pay $20 to enter at 5:30am and get first pick.  The flea market opens at 7am so when we arrived at 10am, I thought we were already behind the game.  Three things I learned about going to a hard core flea market are:  1) Make a list of the things you are looking for this way, it’s easier to focus and be time efficient 2) Bring cash and 3) Bring water and a snack because you won’t want to stop when you’re in the middle of it.

For my apartment, I really wanted a coffee table that wasn’t a traditional table and a side table for my bedroom.  The search began with a couple of promising pieces.  I’m the worst at haggling but luckily for me, my mom is great at it.  She also has no shame.  In three hours, I found a cool Southwestern belt with real turquoise stones and silver, a mini-globe for my shelf, and a vintage steamer trunk.  I thought the steamer trunk would be an awesome coffee table if I put a tray on top.  The guy who sold it to me said that it’s from the late 1800’s with its original key.  I was so excited about this purchase you would’ve thought I found buried treasure.

After hours of searching and bartering, we were starving so I found this cute brunch spot on the way home literally off the highway called Purdy’s Farmer and the Fish.  They serve fresh fish and fresh vegetables from their farm.  The restaurant and adjacent farm store is in an 18th century house that is so warm and charming inside.  We decided to eat at the bar since the wait was over 2 hours which ended up being the perfect spot because it was buzzing with energy.  Mimosas were flowing, peanut shells were flying on the floor, and oysters were being shucked every minute.  We had East and West coast oysters, the farm salad, and I had the lobster hash which was the best thing I’ve ever had and my mom had the breakfast burrito.  After brunch, we took our mimosas outside for a walk around the grounds which was gorgeous.  There are wild flowers everywhere and the farm in the back creates the perfect back drop.  It was the perfect way to spend a weekend day with my mom.  In addition to eating an amazing brunch and scoring a one-of-a-kind trunk, I learned the art of haggling from a pro, my mom.

fleakmarket2{Fall foliage}

fleamarket3{I spotted the steamer trunk}

fleamarket4{Scouring the flea market}

purdys1{Purdy’s Farmer and the Fish in an 18th century house}

purdys2{The Farm Shop}

purdys3{Fresh vegetables from the farm}

purdys4{East and West Coast oysters}

purdys5{Lobster hash}

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Pretty Pumpkins

pumpkinflowers1What do you do on a rainy Saturday?  DIY projects of course!  I am in full blown Halloween and Fall mode.  My sister and I went apple and pumpkin picking two weekends ago and with our apples I’ve been making yummy apple recipes like this one.  This past Saturday was rainy and depressing and even though I could’ve watched a netflix marathon, I really wanted to do crafts.  I know…I’m a nerd.  Last year, I made these pumpkins (via this post) but this year, I wanted to do something different.  I wanted to make pretty pumpkins ones that would make my apartment look prettier.  I think mission accomplished.

pumpkinflowers21. Make sure you clean the pumpkin from dirt and that it’s thoroughly dry.

pumpkinflowers32. With a sharpie, draw a circle around the top so that you know where to cut.

pumpkinflower43. After you cut the top, take out the insides of the pumpkin.

pumpkinflowers54. Paint the pumpkin with white acrylic paint. I didn’t need to do a 2nd coat but it did take all day to dry.

pumpkinflowers65. When the paint is dry, fill the pumpkin with water and arrange flowers to your liking.

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5 Things Laura Loves

5things1 {Indian Summers and sitting on a stoop}

I love Fall in New York, the crisp air, the Fall activities, wearing sweaters and drinking pumpkin spiced lattes.  Except last weekend felt more like Summer than Fall.  It was one last hoorah before packing up my Summer Wardrobe and seeing my tan fade away.  I’ve never gone apple and pumpkin picking in a tank top and sweating pr0fusely but oh well such is Indian Summer as they call it.  Even though the Summer has ended I don’t see it as an ending per se or get in a funk but rather the beginning to an exciting season of great festivities.  So get out there this weekend and do some fun Fall activities!  Happy Weekend!

5things2 {Pinterest worthy apple orchard at Fishkill Farms}

5things3 {Jeff Koons at the Whitney Museum}

5things4 {Temporary gold tattoos are the new arm candy}

5things5{Pumpkin picking}

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The Easiest Baked Apple

easybakedapple1After you go apple picking, you always ask yourself what do I do with all these apples?  I had all these grand plans of making a French apple tart or one of my fancy pies (read here) but during the week, ain’t nobody got time for that!  I created this baked apple recipe to remedy the craving for something sweet after dinner that’s easy, delicious, and not as bad for you as other desserts.  There’s nothing that says Fall more than the smell of baked apples and cinnamon.

easybakedapple2Recipe makes 4 apples

Ingredients

  • 4 apples, with 1/4 of the bottom cut off to keep them stable, cored
  • 2 cups of quick oats
  • 1/2 cup of chopped pecans
  • 3/4 cup of melted butter
  • 4 tablespoons of brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt
  • 1/3 cup apple cider or apple juice

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and prep the apples. Place them in a shallow baking dish.
  2. In a bowl, combine the oats, pecans, butter, sugar, cinnamon and kosher salt. Stuff the apples with the oat mixture. Pour the apple cider or juice into the baking dish so that the apples don’t dry out.
  3. Bake for 40 – 45 minutes or until the apples are soft. Serve a la mode with vanilla ice cream.

easybakedapple3The perfect afternoon involves reading about dream trips and eating dessert

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The Perfect Fall Day

fallday1_coverWhat do I want to do on a perfect Fall day?  Go on an amazing hike and discover the Hudson Valley of course!  Last weekend, I wanted to get outside and be in nature.  It felt more like Summer than Fall because it was 80 degrees outside.  None-the-less, the leaves were already changing and I couldn’t think of a better way to spend a Saturday than being active and doing fun Fall activities.  Here was my itinerary for the perfect Fall day…

1) Getting there:  You can take the Metro North train from Grand Central to Cold Spring, NY or drive to Cold Spring which is what I did.  It was about an hour and a half from Manhattan.  You can walk from the train stop to the beginning of the trail.

2) Pick up some provisions for the hike at the Cold Spring General Store.  I got this amazing handmade farmer’s granola which was a great snack on the hike.  It’s such a cute store you have to visit.

3) I sort of went unprepared for this hike.  I didn’t have a map and I didn’t really know much about it other then it’s a strenuous hike and there were amazing views.  Luckily, there was a guy at the beginning of the trail who was super helpful.  He told me to follow the white trail to the red to the yellow and the whole loop should take between 2 – 3 hours.  I have to say, it’s not for the novice hiker.  There were some rock scrambles where I thought to myself, I better not fall.  It was hands down the prettiest hike I’ve ever been on in the Hudson Valley and totally worth overcoming my fear of heights.

4) Head back to Cold Spring for brunch at Hudson Hil’s which is located in a cute house with a porch.  All of their ingredients are sourced from local farms and food artisans.

5) After lunch, I really wanted to go apple picking so we went to Fishkill Farms which is only 10 miles from Cold Spring.  It’s a gorgeous farm with rolling hills, orchards, and mountain views.  I happened to go when my favorite apples were ready to be picked golden delicious and macouns.  During the weekends, they have harvest festivals where there’s live music, hay rides, cider donuts, and pumpkin picking.  Um…can we say Fall fun?

fallday2{Cold Spring General Store}

fallday3 {View of the mountain}

fallday4 {View of Bannerman Castle}

fallday5 {Just started the hike}

fallday6 {Off to pick apples}

fallday7 {Picturesque view}

fallday8 {The yummiest apples}

fallday10{Pumpkin picking}

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Charleston

charleston1When I turned thirty, two years ago, I realized I was able to accomplish my dream of traveling the world.  I hit so many places on my bucket list but I realized that I rarely traveled to US cities.  In particular, cities in the South. With friends and family scattered all across the US, I thought it was a great excuse to start discovering these cities and spend time with friends and family.  Killing two birds with one stone.  This year, I wanted to go to Charleston because I heard there is a huge food scene, the architecture is gorgeous, and my cousin lives there with his family.

I’ve only been to two other Southern cities before New Orleans and Austin.  What I loved about my experiences there were the Southern hospitality and the ease of everything.  The easy going pace of life is something that you won’t find much in New York.  Charleston is very much the same way.  Everyone including the man sitting next to me on the flight, our taxi driver, to the random man on the street chimed in on what I should do and wanted me to love their city just as much as they do.

When you walk through downtown Charleston, it looks like a movie set with streets lined with palm trees, bright pastel colored houses, and the perfectly manicured grounds.  It’s also an immaculately clean city for being so old and super quiet for being a major city.  I couldn’t believe how serene the city was.  My sister and I spent hours getting lost in the streets winding our way through looking at gorgeous homes which the majority of them had plaques saying that something major happened there.  I won’t go into the details here but A LOT of stuff happened there.

Let’s now talk about the food.  On any given weekend in the city, my go-to brunch places always have some kind of Southern flare.  I love eating eggs, grits and cheese, and biscuits.  Much to my delight, at most breakfast places in Charleston, grits and biscuits are staples.  My absolute favorite places for brunch were Hominy Grill and Poogan’s Porch for both the food and ambiance.  Dinner was more on the farm-to-table side.  We had an amazing 4 course meal at McCrady’s which for Charleston is on the fancier side.  I loved everything about Husk.  I loved walking into the big house and walking upstairs to our table.  I loved the food and that you knew where each and every ingredient was from, and I loved the ambiance of the place.  I have to admit, after 3 days of eating Southern food, I needed to eat Asian food.  When you walk up upper King Street, new and inventive restaurants are popping up everywhere.  We went to Xiao Bao Biscuit which is located in an old gas station.  The best way to describe the food is Asian fusion which sounds so cliché.  It was really good and a nice change from eating biscuits everyday.

If someone was to ask me what is the one thing you have to do when you’re in Charleston, it would be to see the Avenue of Oaks at Boone Hall Plantation.  Boone Hall is where Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds got married and is featured in the movie The Notebook.   We don’t have oak trees like that in the North East.  These trees are hundreds of years old and are magnificent to see in person.  My sister and I spent 3 hours at Boone Hall taking a tour of the house and grounds.  We learned a lot about what life was like on a plantation hundreds of years ago.  Even though the plantation is beautiful, there was a history of slavery there that you can’t ignore and that they do mention.  Boone Hall is still a working plantation today offering locals farm fresh produce.  Walking down the Avenue of Oaks takes your breath away and it’s a must do when you’re in Charleston.

Charleston was probably one of the prettiest cities I’ve ever been to.  It has everything you want in a great weekend, great food, beautiful sites and friendly locals.

charleston2{Charleston’s many colorful streets}

charleston3 {Hominy Grill}

charleston4 {Southern breakfast at Hominy Grill}

charleston5 {Bermuda-style colored houses}

charleston6 {Picturesque home}

charleston7 {Fort Sumter-Site of the start of the American civil war}

charleston8 {Husk restaurant}

charleston9 {Duck at Husk}

charleston10{Olive oil macaron at Christophe’s chocolatier}

charleston11{Charleston’s cobblestone streets}

charleston12 {Shrimp and grits at Poogan’s Porch}

charleston13 {Chicken and waffles at Poogan’s Porch}

charleston13 {Avenue of Oaks at Boone Hall Plantation}

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Red Hook, BK Update

redhook1The first time I went to Red Hook, Brooklyn was in April 2012 before Hurricane Sandy (read here).  It was a part of Brooklyn that I had never been to and it was an up and coming neighborhood.  When I went in 2012, it felt like I was miles and miles away from the city like I was in a small seaside town.  Red Hook felt more spread out and deserted than Williamsburg or Brooklyn Heights but then you would see a huge Ikea and Fairway on waterfront property.  Space is something that Red Hook has that most neighborhoods in the city can’t afford.  Van Brunt, which is the main drag in Red hook, has enough restaurants, bakeries, and bars to lure in all the foodies from the city.  There’s more than meets the eye.

I heard that they have revitalized Red Hook and it’s better than ever.  I went last Saturday with my girlfriend Susie to check out the scene post Sandy.  I found out that there’s a free ferry that leaves every 50 minutes from Pier 11 on Wall Street to the Ikea in Red Hook on the weekends ($5 on weekdays).  I think traveling by ferry is the best way to get to the other boroughs because it’s usually the fastest way, there’s no traffic and you can enjoy the beautiful scenery.  We arrived at the Ikea dock and went straight to Brooklyn Crab for lunch.  The scene at Brooklyn Crab looks like you were transported to a seafood shack in a small seaside town.  There’s plenty of outdoor seating and corn hole, my absolute favorite outdoor game!

After lunch, we wandered along the waterfront and found some interesting things along the way like street art, Steve’s Key Lime Pie (relocated from their original location), Red Hook Lobster Pound, and Red Hook winery.  Susie and I LOVED Red Hook winery.  They grow their grapes in the North Fork in Long Island and Seneca Lake in the Finger Lakes which Susie and I are familiar with since we’ve been to both places (read here and here) together.  The wines were all delicious and unique in their own way but the tasting room alone is worth visiting.  It’s that kind of place where you want to cozy up with all of your friends with a nice bottle of wine.  In my opinion, this is my kind of walking tour, finding art, eating lobster rolls and key lime pie and drinking some wine.  After a long day of gallivanting, we went to Ikea so that I could buy a lamp and then we were on the ferry back to Manhattan.

When we arrived at Pier 11, we truly felt like we went “away” for the day.  Even though the ferry ride is only 10 minutes, you feel like you’re in a completely different locale.  Red Hook offers a lot more than the other neighborhoods in Brooklyn.  I mostly appreciate the quirkiness about it and that it still feels like you’re walking through an abandoned neighborhood with hidden treasures along the way.

redhook2{The ferry}

redhook3{Brooklyn Crab}

redhook4{Seafood steam pot}

redhook5 {Outside decor}

redhook6{Red Hook winery}

redhook7 {The cozy area in Red Hook winery}

redhook8 {Steve’s Key Lime Pie new location}

redhook9 {Sunflowers on the street}

redhook10 {Maine style lobster roll at Red Hook Lobster Pound}

redhook11{View of the freedom tower}

redhook12{Ferry ride home}

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