Pumpkin spice is in everything these days

This is the season for everything pumpkin spice. It is in our coffee, candles, pastries and other foods. However things go a bit too far when pumpkin spice toothpaste, soap, potato chips and pet shampoo start appearing on the store shelves. Our obsession with the flavor started in 2003 when a well-known coffee chain started offering pumpkin spice lattes and it seems that the products containing it can’t get any wackier. I’m for choosing the path less traveled. There’s some surprising flavors out there that are still in the spirit of the season.

Spice up your coffee with apple cider and maple syrup

Apple cider and coffee actually pair well together and adding a touch of maple syrup spices things up. That’s right, apple cider in your coffee. The cider can be sourced locally and benefits the economy. Maple syrup is also a domestic product, so why not give these flavors a chance since they haven't been shipped thousands of miles and across oceans. I'm sure there's some imports, however, it is easy to check for the country of origin and shop accordingly. You may be able to even help out hometown farmers if you live in an area where these are produced.

apple maple muffins

Apple and maple treats are easy to make

Apples and maple are a great combination for breakfast muffins too. The recipe I used is 1&1/3 cup of all purpose flour, 1 cup of quick oats, 2/3 cup of sugar (I used no calorie monkfruit sweetener) 1 tablespoon of baking powder (mix these dry ingredients together. In another container mix 1/2 cup milk, 1/3 cup melted butter, 1/4 cup maple syrup and one egg. Mix well with a fork, you don't need a mixer for this. Add to the dry ingredients and stir to mix well. Add 2 cups of diced apples. I left the skins on mine. Stir to mix well and fill 12 muffin cups. Paper liners make clean-up easy. Bake for 18 minutes at 400F. Cool and drizzle icing. Mix 1/2 cup of powdered sugar and about 3 tablespoons of maple syrup...it will be thick. Add a few drops of milk and stir to thin. Scoop into a baggie that you've cut one of the corners off and drizzle over the cooled muffins. These muffins aren't overly sweet and I really liked the texture and flavor.

If you want to try this no-calorie sweetener, here's a bag of monkfruit crystals that you use just like sugar.

Apple maple pork chops

For a main dish, apple/maple pork chops bring out the best flavors of the season with little fuss. I took some boneless pork chops, marinated them overnight in apple cider. The next day browned them in a combination of 2 tablespoons of butter and a splash of olive oil. As they were browning, I seasoned them with sea salt and fresh ground black pepper. After about 6 minutes, I removed the chops and added two sliced apples and a large sliced onion to the pan. I drizzled about 2 tablespoons of maple syrup over them and reduced the heat to medium. When they had softened some, I returned the chops to the pan, drizzled another couple tablespoons of the syrup over everything and covered it to cook for another 10 minutes. When I removed everything from the pan, I added another ¼ cup of syrup and cooked until it was reduced to a thick sauce. I served this lovely mixture with roasted rosemary potatoes and carrots.

Here's a quart of organic, sustainably sourced maple syrup right from Vermont.

Make you own apple cider (or wine) with this classic, hand operated, wooden fruit press.

maple apple pork chops

Caramel is another alternative to pumpkin spice

What about caramel? You can add caramel topping sauce to your apple cider coffee, froth up some almond or oat milk and have the equivalent of a caramel apple latte. A touch of nutmeg is also a tasty idea for both of these flavors. Caramel by itself is another option. These are flavors that are rich and easily created. If coffee isn’t your thing, why not give your hot chocolate a boost with whipped cream drizzled with caramel sauce? That’s so easy, kids can do it. Hot or iced tea is also kicked up a notch with the addition of apple cider or maple syrup.

Here's made in USA, all natural caramel sauce for dipping and drizzling.

caramel coffee

Holiday scents from your garden and the supermarket

Most people like to create a holiday atmosphere with scented candles. There are so many choices, its hard to decide. Commercial air fresheners and petroleum based candles often contain harmful ingredients, so natural is better. I’d rather not spend money on fancy candles or essential oils either, I turn to my garden and spice rack. A saucepan on the stove or a mini crock pot do great for this easy scent hack. Lemon slices with rosemary is a wonderful, clean scent. To give your holiday party and authentic aroma, break some fresh pine or cedar needles to release the oils and put them in the pot. Lime, thyme and fresh ginger also make a lovely scent this time of year and you can always add a splash of vanilla to any of these to kick it up a notch. It’s easy, safe and economical, just remember to keep the water in the pans filled so that they don’t scorch. Burned spices will undo all of the lovely fragrance.

Explore new scents and tastes for the holidays.

However you celebrate the season, there's room to be adventurous. Pumpkin spice is nice. The warm scent and flavor is definitely a favorite. However, mixing things up a bit might be a way to discover new flavors and traditions. I do think cinnamon and nutmeg simmered on the stove with a splash of vanilla is heavenly. However, the clean scent of rosemary and lemon, or fresh pine or cedar needles is fresh and crisp. Just remember to use fresh needles instead of dry. The scent is much better. If you have maple syrup in the pantry, use it for something besides pancakes and apple cider has many more uses besides drinking it 'straight'.

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