Home Cooking: Amazing Apple Pie

The first apple pie I made was when I was 18 years old. I went out in the middle of the night and picked apples off the tree just outside my college dorm (which we had been warned not to do) and stayed up to bake my pie in the kitchen on our floor. My roommate, friends, and I quickly devoured the pie the following day, and I’ve stuck to the recipe ever since, a crust filled to almost overflowing with sliced apples, topped with a simple mixture of flour, sugar, and cinnamon and a few butter slices over everything.

This year, however, I wanted to try something different for our Thanksgiving dessert, so I read what seemed like a hundred recipes trying to find a new recipe for apple pie. Most of the one I read were similar to my old standard, but I also kept coming across one called Apple Pie by Grandma Ople, enough times that I finally decided this was the one I had to try.

The big difference in this recipe is that apple slices are topped with a boiled mixture of butter, flour, and white and brown sugars versus the traditional mix of sugar, flour, and cinnamon topped with a few slices of butter under the top crust. I used tart Jonathan apples on my first try at Thanksgiving, but any tart apple variety will do, and I went with Granny Smith for my second go-round at Christmas and thought they made for a much tastier pie. The Jonathan apples were also a bit small – I used eight but another four would have made it better. My crust was a premade one from Aldi; however, the top crust is too small for my pie plate so K cut out shapes and we layered them over the top. Also, I like cinnamon in my apple pie so I added about a 1/2 teaspoon to the butter-sugar mixture and that was just enough for me and not enough to bother people who don’t care for cinnamon.

Overall, this pie was easy to make, and the result? Ooh la la! I can’t imagine ever making an apple pie any other way.


  • 8 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and cut into slices – I cut my apples into 12 slices, not too thin, not too thick.
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 3 TBSP unbleached flour
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 white sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • optional: 1/2 tsp cinnamon (or to taste)
  • 1 9″ double pie crust

Preheat over to 425 degrees.

In a small saucepan, melt the butter. Sprinkle the flour over the melted butter and blend in, stirring to form a paste, Cook for around 1-2 minutes until it smells buttery, then add both sugars and the water, and stir until everything is blended together. Bring to a boil and simmer for 3-5 minutes, then remove from the heat.

Fill the pie crust to heaping with the sliced apples. Use the top crust to form a tight lattice, or use cut out shapes from the top crust to cover the apples.

Slowly and gently pour the butter and sugar mixture over the top crust, making sure it seeps into the pie. A bit of the syrup can also be brushed on top, making sure it doesn’t go down the side.

Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes, then lower the heat to 350 degrees and bake until the apples are soft, around 35-45 minutes. If the crust edges are getting too brown, cover them with strips of foil until the pie is done.

Let the pie cool, and enjoy warm or cool with ice cream if desired. Makes 8 slices.


Home Cooking: Incredibly Easy Dulce de Leche

One of Brett and my fondest food memories from our travels was sharing a delicious, generous bowl of dulce de leche in Buenos Aires following a meal of empanadas. Dulce de leche is carmelized milk, created by heating sugar and milk over low heat for a long period of time. It can be used like caramel, or eaten on its own, like we did in Argentina.

Making this treat never seemed like something I’d have the time (or inclination) for, but in late November a reel showed up in my Instagram feed showing an incredibly easy way to prepare dulce de leche. And, when I say easy, I mean EASY! I gave it a try and the results were fantastic.

Only two items are needed to prepare dulce de leche this way: a slow cooker and a can of sweetened condensed milk. That’s it! The process takes all day, but the results will last for up to a month in the refrigerator, and are creamy, sweet, and full of delicious caramel flavor.

Here’s how to make it:

  • Remove the label from a can of sweetened condensed milk. DO NOT use evaporated milk – it doesn’t work.
  • Set the can on its side in a slow cooker and cover with at least two inches of hot water. You can cook more than one can if they can fit in the slow cooker without touching.
  • Cook the can(s) on low heat for eight hours.
  • When cooking is done, remove from the crockpot and LET THE CAN(S) COOL COMPLETELY BEFORE OPENING. Trying to open while the can is still hot can cause it to explode.
  • Store the dulce de leche in the refrigerator for up to a month. It should be removed from the can for storage.

That’s it! We enjoyed it with apple slices a few evenings for dessert, and a small spoonful on top of apple pie one night. It’s yummy stuff.

Home Cooking: Oatmeal Shortbread

K gives these cookies two thumbs up – easy to make and delicious!

I used to bake a LOT of cookies. A LOT. I baked them for the holidays, for our kids’ lunchboxes, to send to Brett when he was deployed at sea, to have at home. However, with just Brett and I around to eat them these days, I rarely bake any more – we just don’t need the calories, and both of us can easily go through a batch of cookies in record time. However, I’ve recently started baking with our granddaughter and last week I thought these shortbread cookies would be easy and fun to make with her. I had everything we needed on hand, including a small amount of leftover chocolate chips.

Well-blended but still somewhat crumbly dough
Pressed into a jelly roll pan, ready for the oven

This easy recipe comes from Sunset Magazine’s Favorite Recipes cookbook. I like this recipe it because it makes a very tasty, buttery cookie, and because it uses only four ingredients, ones that are almost always on hand in the pantry and refrigerator. The finished cookie is thin, and slightly almost like a cracker, but it melts in the mouth. Many years ago, this shortbread was my go-to recipe when the cupboards would be almost bare at the end of the month, but we enjoyed them so much that they became something I made fairly regularly. They always disappear quickly.

Chocolate mini chips growing soft and glossy on the hot cookies, ready to be spread

While the shortbread is delicious all on its own, it can be kicked up a notch with the addition a few chocolate chips, about 1/3 to 1/2 cup. Right after the pan of cookies comes out of the oven, immediately sprinkle the chips over the not, uncut cookies and let them set for around a minute or even less. The chips will become glossy and soft and can then be spread over the cookie as a thin frosting. Cut the shortbread as soon as they’re frosted; the chocolate will harden as the pan cools.

Still warm shortbread topped with chocolate, cut into pieces and cooling in the pan.


1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2/3 cup quick-cooking oats

1 cup softened butter or margarine (2 sticks)

2/3 cup firmly-packed brown sugar

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Combine the four ingredients in a large bowl and mix until well-blended, but still somewhat crumbly. Press firmly and evenly into a lightly greased jelly roll (10″ x 15″) pan. The batter will be thin. Bake for 45 minutes, and then cut into squares or bars while still warm; let shortbread cool in the pan (I cannot stress this enough – trying to cut them when they’re cool creates a BIG, crumbly mess!).

Eating & Exercise: Getting the Ship Turned Back Around

A tasty, healthy dinner, courtesy of Trader Joe’s: air-fried vegetable spring rolls, steamed chicken shu mai, and organic coleslaw.

As we both feared and somewhat expected, the eating and exercise regime Brett and I created in Hawaii fell apart when we started traveling again, and we were never any place long enough to set a consistent routine and stick with it. Restaurant meals, airport food, and delicious and affordable local cuisine in Mexico changed how we we ate the past four months. Hot and/or humid weather, dealing with San Miguel de Allende’s higher altitude, and sometimes uncomfortable walking venues kept exercise opportunities inconsistent or impossible at times. We did our best, but always knew we could do better.

Surprisingly, we gained very little to no weight. We had learned to keep our portion sizes small, so large lunches or brunches in Mexico meant we would skip dinner. I thought all the delicious bakery items we enjoyed in San Miguel de Allende would do us in, but they came with less sugar and fat than they would have in the U.S,, and that seemed to help keep things on an even keel. We’re both out of shape though when it comes to walking and moving around. My hips are stiff again, and the heat and humidity knock me out in short time. There are no refreshing ocean breezes here to keep us going like they did in Hawaii but I can and will acclimate.

It’s time for both Brett and I to get serious again with our health. We’re settled now, we have an abundance of sources to supply us with fresh, healthy food, and a dog that needs to be walked a few times a day. Our apartment complex has an air-conditioned gym with treadmills we can use on super hot, humid or bad weather days, so we have no excuses for not exercising every day.

I am once again keeping a daily food diary. We’ve added meat back into our diet, but only occasionally and in small portions. For the most part our diet is still mostly vegetarian/vegan. We’re eating more fresh fruits and vegetables again, drinking several big glasses of water each day, and we’ve stopped buying sweets other than something small to enjoy after dinner each evening. Both of us have new walking shoes on our shopping list. Brett walks Kaipo several times a day, and I go with them for a long walk every evening. As time goes on, the distance we walk will increase.

Beginning next week I’m going to start the weekly eating and exercise posts back up again – they were a big help to me before and will be again. Brett’s and my efforts in Hawaii made a genuine difference in our health before and it’s important we get this ship turned around and heading in the right direction again. We can do this!

Brunch Every Friday: Panio

We had every intention of enjoying a Middle Eastern brunch last Friday. There’s a highly recommended restaurant right down the road from us and on the way to the supermarket, and after reading their menu and checking out the prices we were looking forward to it.

And then on Friday morning the housekeeper showed up an hour and a half earlier than expected. We were both still in our pajamas, but we welcomed her in, quickly got dressed, grabbed our shopping bags, and headed out the door. About half way down the hill I turned to Brett and said, “You know, I really don’t feel like eating Middle Eastern food this time of the morning.” He agreed, and after a short discussion we decided to head to Panio instead, the nearby French bakery, figuring at the least we could get a delicious pastry and a good cup of coffee before heading to the market.

Panio has a small dining room at the side of the bakery

To say we were surprised by Panio’s breakfast menu would be an understatement. We were presented with a full page of breakfast dishes, from omelettes to Eggs Benedict to Mexican specialities to pancakes and French toast, all at reasonable prices. After going through everything and with a little back and forth, Brett decided on the French toast (his favorite breakfast) and I chose the banana-walnut pancakes with bacon.

My pancakes came with banana and pecans instead of walnuts – I almost felt like I was back in Hawaii – and with four big, smoky, crisp slices of bacon! Brett’s French toast came with whipped cream and berries (so I gave him two slices of my bacon). We each had an Americano, perfectly made, hot, and absolutely delicious.

The cost for this glorious, filling breakfast was $20.50 USD, including the tip. My pancakes and bacon breakfast was only $6.54 USD, less than what I’d probably have paid in the U.S. for just the four slices of bacon!

Walking into Panio is like entering a bakery in Paris.

It was a good thing we’d eater before we shopped the bakery or we would have left with a lot more than these four items! We were tempted though.

Following breakfast, our tummies full, we perused Panio’s bakery selections and left with a bag of meringues, a bag of the best butter cookies we’ve ever had, some wine crackers, and two blueberry tarts to enjoy Saturday morning.

We’ll do Middle Eastern this week.

PANIO ATELIER DU PAIN: Salida a Celaya 67-69, Zona Centro, 37700 San Miguel de Allende

Dining Out Is In Again In San Miguel de Allende

The food was delicious and affordable at this restaurant but we disliked the ambiance. The “drenched burrito” above was $7 USD and so big Brett and I had to share it.

One of the things we love most about traveling is enjoying the cuisines of different places we visit. Although we cook most of our meals “at home” when we’re on the road, no matter where we go we make a point of having enough in our monthly budget to eat out at least once a week.

Our typical monthly allowance for dining out is $150 – $175/month for the two of us. In some places we’ve visited that’s been more than enough to enjoy incredible meals in upscale restaurants, like steak in Argentina or charcroute in France. However, we typically enjoy the adventure of finding lower cost restaurants, and we love dining on street food or specialties from small stands, which help us balance spending more one week with less in other weeks without damaging our budget. For example, in Japan we may go to a restaurant for big bowls of noodles or a tonkatsu (pork cutlet) set one week, then balance that expense the following week or two with stops for karaage (fried chicken) or takoyaki (octopus dumplings) from neighborhood stands that we can bring home and eat. It’s a system that has worked well for us.

Treats are affordable as well: Two cups of hot Mexican cocoa and six freshly made churros for the two of us or four huge scoops of gelato that tasted like we were back in Italy were only $6 USD each.

Our time so far in San Miguel de Allende has turned all that on its head though, and the low cost of eating out here frankly shocked us at first. We quickly discovered we had a choice to make: stay with our once a week eating out and save, or eat out more often and enjoy the variety of dining choices and low prices. The latter choice has won out, and has meant that we’ve sometimes eaten out three times in a week, all without going over our monthly budget. Meals for the two of us, tip included, are rarely over $20, and all the meals we’ve eaten out so far when averaged out come to less than $15. And, for that amount we’ve eaten some pretty terrific food.

Our Father’s Day outing was our most expensive meal yet: $30 USD including tip. However, the food was absolutely delicious and the servings were HUGE. My order came with seven jumbo coconut shrimp (each took four bites to eat) and Brett got enough freshly cooked and shelled crab to feed a family.

We’re constantly surprised by the amount of food we get for our money here and have yet to leave a restaurant not feeling completely full, sometimes to the point where we have no desire to eat the rest of the day. Portions have consistently been large or even huge (for us) and a great value for what we’re spending (unlike back in the U.S. where I usually leave a restaurant feeling like I could have made it myself for less). For the most part we’ve enjoyed the ambience of the restaurants we’ve eaten at and there are a few we hope to visit again before we leave. We’ve had a lot of fun reading reviews and choosing new restaurants we want to try, especially for brunch every Friday. We’ve stayed away from dining out at night not just because of the cost but because I don’t want to be walking on cobblestones in the dark. However, there doesn’t seem to be a price differential between lunch and dinner. We also have yet to try a taco stand or buy tamales from a street vendor, but that’s coming up soon.

We could spend more here if we wanted because there are restaurants that charge a LOT more than what we’re willing to pay. We know though that we don’t have to do that in order to enjoy some very delicious and beautifully presented food. We also know all this culinary goodness will end when we’re back in the U.S. where we’ll once again rarely eat out or even pick up take out. But as long as we’re here in San Miguel de Allende we plan to enjoy ourselves and continue to let others do the cooking a couple of times each week.

Brunch Every Friday: El Pegaso

I chose El Pegaso for our brunch location this week after searching for a place in San Miguel de Allende for chilis rellenos, possibly my favorite Mexican dish. El Pegaso went to the top of the list, not only for their menu selections but because of its location in a convenient, easy-to-walk-to downtown location.

The restaurant seemed full when we arrived, with lots of local and other Mexican families and couples dining. However, we were fortunate that the owner was standing in front chatting with a friend, and he stepped up and asked if we’d mind eating up on the rooftop terrace. We of course said yes! and were soon seated at a table with lovely views.

My bolillo, still warm, disappeared soon after I snapped this picture!

Service was prompt and gracious, and we were first presented with a basket containing warm, fresh bolillos, a sort of French bread roll found all over in Mexico. Brett decided he would have Eggs Benedict this time, and he was again asked how he would like his eggs cooked (soft, medium, or hard), something we’ve never experienced in all our years of ordering Eggs Benedict in the U.S. I asked the waiter if it would be possible to order chilis rellenos, and he suggested I might like to try chilis en nogadas. I had no idea what those were but thought, why not?

El Pegaso’s chilis en nogadas

Chilis en nogadas turned out to be one of the most delicious meals I’ve ever eaten in my life. The dish consisted of two big, roasted poblano chilis which were stuffed with picadillo, a seasoned meat hash made with tomatoes, potatoes, and raisins. The stuffed chilis were covered in a walnut cream sauce, topped with pomegranate seeds, and served on a bed of lettuce at room temperature. The colors of chilis en nogados – red, white, and green – represented the colors of the Mexican flag, and the dish is apparently most popular during late August and early September during Mexican independence festivities (and when pomegranates appear in the markets).

Brett’s beautiful presented and perfectly cooked Eggs Benedict

Brett’s Eggs Benedict were again perfection, and he especially loved the spiced fried potatoes that came along on the side. We stuck to our usual drinks of coffee for Brett, iced tea for me.

Our meal at El Pegaso was our most expensive brunch yet, coming in at $28.02 USD with tip included. The chilis en nogadas alone cost a whopping $13.73 USD. Would I spend that amount again to eat El Pegaso’s chilis en nogadas? Yes and without hesitation – they were that amazing.

EL PEGASO: Corregidora 6, Centro, San Miguel de Allende

Brunch Every Friday: Lavanda Cafe

After foregoing two weeks of dining at Lavanda (we were too tired to go one week, and they were closed for vacation the next) we finally were able to dine there this past Friday. Often voted the #1 brunch location in San Miguel de Allende, Lavanda (“lavender” in Spanish) proved to be worth the wait.

We’d heard we might have to stand in line outside to get a table, but that may happen only during the high tourist season as we arrived a little after 11:00 a.m. and were seated on the rooftop patio in less than five minutes. The cafe was fairly full though. Once seated, Brett had a view of church roofs and domes over the patio wall, while I looked out on the patio, where we were seated at one of three tables available. Although the sun was shining brightly we were covered by a canvas shade and stayed cool throughout our meal.

Besides offering top-notch dining, Lavanda also offers a large menu of coffee and tea drinks, including some infused with lavender. Brett and I both ordered lavender coffee (I had already had one of their lavender lattes which was very tasty) and we agreed it was the best cup of coffee we’d enjoyed so far in San Miguel de Allende.

Lavender coffee is brewed with lavender, which adds a very, very subtle flavor

When Eggs Benedict appear on any menu, I order them, so what I was having for brunch was a foregone conclusion. My two perfectly poached eggs came topped with a lovely Hollandaise, along with thinly sliced bacon, toasted brioche, steamed spinach, and sliced avocado. Brett chose Eggs Toscano for his meal, two perfectly poached eggs served with fresh mozzarella, sliced tomatoes, fresh basil, and toasted ciabatta bread. If you look closely in the pictures of Brett’s meal it’s possible to see the eggs were poached in a pouch to give them a distinctive look, something we’d never seen before.

Eggs Benedict for me . . .
. . . and Eggs Toscana for Brett!

We rate Lavanda 10 out of 10 with its wonderful service, delicious food and beautiful presentation, all in a lovely setting in which to enjoy it. It did turn out to be our most expensive dining experience so far, $22.24 USD including tip, but worth every penny in our book.

Before we left, we debated whether or not we should buy some of the coffee we had enjoyed with our brunch. However, as we left the restaurant and checked the board when we saw the price, $1450 MEX ($70.91 USD), and we passed. We assumed that was the price per kilo, but how ever much coffee it was at that price, there was no way we were ever going to fit that into our budget. We’ll just have to stop by again and order another drink some day.

LAVANDA CAFE: Calle Doctor Ignacio Hernandez Macias 87, Zona Centro, San Miguel de Allende, 37700, Mexico

Brunch Every Friday: Raices

Once again Cafe Lavanda had to be scratched from our brunch plans – on our walk to Centro last week we noticed a sign on the door stating they would be closed this past Friday, apparently part of a week’s vacation. So, once again we had to come up with a difference place for our weekly brunch date.

We hit the jackpot with Raices, a small outdoor restaurant located close to our apartment that had been independently recommended by two of our neighbors. Raices, we were told, served Oaxacan-style dishes and did a great breakfast. Servings there would be generous, the prices low, and the service gracious.

The patio roof at Raices

We went out to eat a little bit later than usual on Friday because our housekeeper’s schedule had been changed to later in the morning. Situated on a small covered patio between two other restaurants, Raices has only ten tables (ranging in size from a couple of two tops to one six top). We were greeted warmly and seated immediately a couple of rows back from the sidewalk, for which we were grateful because our table was shaded. There didn’t appear to be any other expats or visitors during our time there; all the other patrons seemed to be local. Not long after we arrived every table was full.

The menu at Raices is simple, just two pages, with drinks on the back of the second page.

The menu was simple; just two pages of dishes available for order and a third page with drinks. I ordered a fruited ice tea sweetened with piloncillo, unrefined pure cane sugar native to Mexico. Brett ordered a lemonade made with fresh peppermint (herbabuena). Both drinks were very delicious and very refreshing.

I would return just to have these drinks again!
Brett ordered the chilaquiles embarazados . . .

Our meals at Raices were AMAZING. Since we were eating close to noon, I chose enchiladas verdes (chicken enchiladas with green salsa), and Brett decided on chilaquiles embarazados (“pregnant chilaquiles”), a traditional breakfast dish made from fried tortillas, salsa, shredded chicken, cheese, and onion. Both of our dishes were topped with pickled red onion and beautifully presented. Initially I told myself there was no way I was going to finish the four enchiladas on my plate, but they were so good I had to eat all of them and left a nearly clean plate. Brett polished off his chilaquiles in a similar way. We saw a couple of other tables order a stack of pancakes for dessert, and at one table guests ordered a second round of main dishes, but we were satisfied and full by the time we were through.

. . . and I had the enchiladas verdes.

While we were at the restaurant, a few people wandered in off the streets, some selling something, some asking for money, and even one man who came in with a guitar and sang a couple of songs (poorly) and then left. Other than the guitarist they were all quiet and respectful. We gave some coins to a small (adorable) boy asking for help, and others dining there were also generous with him, but for the most part the vendors and requests were ignored, and the people quietly left without incident or complaint.

The total for our incredible brunch including a tip was $17.30 USD, and once again we left full, happy, and with no desire to eat again until later in the evening. We can’t wait to go back and try more of the delicious cooking that happens at Raices. The waitress hoped we would make Raices our second home and I think we may take her up on that offer!

RAICES: gas Mobil, Salida a Celaya Frente a 5 de Mayo, 37700 San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico

Food Shopping In San Miguel de Allende

Feeding ourselves in San Miguel de Allende is costing us a lot less than we imagined. Today, along with going out to brunch, Brett and I did our food shopping for the coming week. We stopped at three places today: the fruteria (produce store) down the hill from us; Panio, a French bakery located a short distance away; and La Comer, the big supermarket that reminds us of a cross between Target and Costco. As this was a somewhat normal week of purchases for us, I thought I’d share what we spent (in US$) and what we got.

We actually stopped at the fruteria on our way to brunch, and purchased a large honeydew melon, a bunch of five bananas, four mangoes, and two limes. Total for everything: $4.09USD.

After finishing our brunch we headed down the street a short distance to Panio, happy that our stomachs were full so that we would hopefully not be too tempted by their wares (it didn’t work). Panio is owned and run by a French-trained pasty chef, and walking into the bakery we both felt like we were back in Paris. Even though we were not hungry in the least, we left with a big bag of meringues, a big bag of butter cookies, two pain aux raisins, two pain au chocolat, and one large brownie for us to share. The total cost for all this goodness: $23.04USD (actually more than we had just spent on brunch). The pastries are for breakfast tomorrow morning and the day after, and the brownie or a few cookies will be for dessert this week. The pastries are, to put it mildly, exquisite, and we promised ourselves we will make an effort to stop at Panio every week going forward.

Then it was on to La Comer. We had a short list, but it contained two non-food items we hoped to find, a potato masher and an inexpensive pitcher. Our front balcony gets sun almost all day and I’ve been wanting to make some sun tea out there, but had nothing to brew it in. We easily found both items – a plastic Rubbermaid pitcher and a hefty masher, for approximately $5 each. Otherwise we bought a large package of sliced manchego cheese, a can of tuna, a small jar of mayonnaise, a loaf of whole grain bread, a box of herbal tea bags with lemon, two big bell peppers and two carrots (I want to make sweet & sour tofu this week), and two large boxes of Kleenex tissues. Our purchases at La Comer came to $29.79USD. The potato masher will go with us when we leave (along with our olla frijolera) but we’ll leave the pitcher behind for future guests.

A total of $56.92 bought us a whole lot of goodness today, both high quality food and two useful non-food items. We typically make a second trip for groceries on Tuesdays or Wednesdays to fill in, but have yet to spend more than $30 on any of those trips. I can’t remember the last time I spent less than $100/week on groceries, certainly never while we lived in Hawaii. Spending so little and getting so much for our money has turned into another wonderful thing about staying in San Miguel de Allende!