I love the Midwest. One second you’re going out in shorts and a tank top, barefoot and sipping cold brew (I was legit obsessed), watching your toddler play with the hose. Then suddenly the trees are on fire, the sidewalks crunch beneath your boots, and pumpkin and apple cinnamon seems to be sneaking into everything.

Fall is synonymous with so many food memories. Watching scary(-ish) movies and sipping mugs of hot cider. A dozen fresh donuts at the cider mill. Huge stockpots of chili and soup, and happy people gathered.

This will be the first year I can remember without my mom’s chocolate chip cookies, or apple cider donuts at the orchard. And honestly, it’s an emotional thing. But I’m learning that it’s okay to feel the losses. Mourn them. Then pick yourself up, shake the dust off your shoes, and dive into something that makes you happy.

It’s so empowering to focus on what you CAN do. To look at the necessary changes as a space for invention and creativity. I know, easier said than done, but we do our best. Phil is as supportive as any person could be. He reminds me constantly that we’re not missing out. We’re creating new traditions that will become just as memorable to us, just as sweet.

A few weeks ago, we went to Eplegaarden’s orchard on the south side. It was awesome–$14 for a bag you could fill with as many apples as you could fit. We ended up with 36. Seriously. That bag was close to bursting.

Making friends at the orchard.

We picked all baking apples, without really thinking. They were great for pies and sauces and muffins! But for munching on? Not so much.

Thankfully, I had been yearning for an excuse to dive into the fall baking adventure! In the past month, I’ve gone apple crazy. Apple butter, apple muffins, apple pie and chunky cinnamon applesauce. I’m sharing my favorites below, in case anyone else is looking for fall baking inspiration! (Pictures to come, as soon as I have them.)

Apple Pie Muffins

This one has already become a fall breakfast classic for us. I threw this together based on the Cup4Cup blueberry muffin recipe here. These muffins seem to get even better the next day . . . or maybe I just craved them more! Sweet, super moist, and healthy(-ish).

2 cups Cup4Cup wholesome flour
2/3 cup white sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 heaping teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of nutmug
1 cup skim milk (or whatever milk you have on hand)
1/4 cup canola oil
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups finely chopped apples

Simple glaze (substitute with a different topping if you’d like):
Confectioner’s sugar, milk or water, and a touch of vanilla extract.

1. Preheat oven to 400 and line a muffin tin with paper liners, or spray with gluten-free nonstick spray.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients.
3. In a large bowl, whisk together the skim milk, oil, eggs, and vanilla.
3. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Add the chopped apples and fold in (gently)!
5. Spoon the batter into 12 muffin cups.
6. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.
7. Let cool for five minutes (or as long as you can bear to wait), remove from pan, and then whip up the glaze. Drizzle over the muffins with a spoon.

Slow Cooker Apple Butter

This was my first time making apple butter. It turned out AMAZING, y’all. Naturally gluten free, simple to make, easy to customize. I used this recipe, with one change: I totally left out the white sugar, and just used 1/2 cup of packed brown sugar. It was perfect. (Note: You need a food processor or blender to get the nice smooth texture.)

Apple Cider Toddy (alcoholic) 

We’ve been making these for years! So sweet and soothing. This year I switched from bourbon to brandy. I know bourbon is supposed to be gluten-free, due to the distillation process, but we decided to play it safe. These are perfect for cuddling up by the fire, or a game night, or really any time you need to drink something warm and delicious.

Ingredients (for one drink):
6 oz cider
Cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 oz brandy

Mix the first four ingredients in a saucepan and bring slowly to a boil. Cook for a few minutes on low to medium heat, then pour into a mug with brandy and stir. Garnish with an apple slice or a little sprinkle of nutmeg or whatever else inspires you!