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It Was The Best of Seasons, Almost the Worst of Seasons, and Now…

For those of us on the East Coast, today has brought a return to summer weather…but as WBAL-TV just reminded me, this is the first time in 18 days that the temperature at BWI has reached 90 degrees. That’s right 18 days! Those of you who have endured Baltimore/DC summers know just how rare a streak that is in late July and early August. This past week has brought rain, thunder, and more rain…but it was the week prior which had the most surprising weather. I walked out the front door one morning and was met by an unfamiliar feeling: cold. Not cold enough to go back in and change…but chilly compared to the warm, humid mornings I’d become accustomed to. The breeze in the air and the need for a light sweater had me suddenly overexcited for what I affectionately refer to the most wonderful time of the year: fall.
The best things happen in fall: a new school year, crisp mornings, jeans and cozy sweaters, crunchy leaves, corn mazes, apple-picking, candy corn, and of course: all things pumpkin. Now candy corn is long gone from that list and I’ve made my peace with that. But the one thing that has plagued me since the day they said no more dairy, soy, OR corn syrup was, “How in the world will I face fall without pumpkin spice lattes??”. When I say that I love them, it’s an understatement. I count down the weeks until October arrives…and some years I even break my own self-imposed rule and let myself get one in September. (Apparently they released them August 1st in most locations but I say that’s just crazytown!! August is SUMMER, not fall.) I save up my Starbucks gift cards all year for October and November. I treat myself once a week. (At least) And it’s not simply a taste thing. Yes, they’re delicious…but it’s more than that. Some of the best conversations I’ve had with friends have been accompanied by a pumpkin spice latte. From Philadelphia to DC to Birmingham to South Bend, and of course in Baltimore, many a life chat has taken place during a cool, brisk walk with a warm pumpkin spice latte in hand. It’s not just a drink, it’s an experience. 
That’s right. One year, we went to 2 Starbucks because one ran out!

 During my year teaching 3rdgrade, even my kids knew about my profound love. We had a weeklong series of grammar warm-ups about it, they practiced their knowledge of cups, pints, and quarts in math class to help me “create” one, I was even the protagonist of many a creative-writing assignment, probably my favorite of which was “The Mystery of Miss Burke’s Disappearing Pumpkin Spice Latte” (it’s as if he knew what the future had in store for me!!). Yes, my love is well-known. This was most recently evidenced by the number of people who sent me this ecard when it surfaced on pinterest.

Courtesy of http://www.someecards.com
Well, I’ll be honest….this year, I’ve been having mixed emotions about the impending seasonal change. You’ve probably been there: that feeling when you’re facing the first holiday without a certain loved one or in a new place that isn’t traditionally where you celebrate. Or maybe the feeling when you’re about to return to your college campus, your old high school, or even an old neighborhood where you grew up knowing full well that it won’t look the same and that the faces you see there will be unfamiliar ones. It’s a feeling of excitement dampered by trepidation; a feeling of wanting to find joy but knowing deep down that some level of disappointment is inevitable. That pretty much summarizes my sentiments toward Fall this year.
My plan was to spend the summer perfecting an allergen-free pumpkin spice latte (and all other things pumpkin: muffins, donuts, etc.). But summer had other plans and here we are in August, just a few short weeks from my favorite season, and if my calendar is any indication, time is already running short to do so. I expressed my momentary panic about this to my mom on the phone just the other night as I finished up a run in the unseasonably cool weather.
Well, mark your calendars. Today, August 9th is a day which will forever be an important one in my life. After an unexpectedly stressful afternoon, I was ready to head to my 3 o’clock shift at the hospital. I knew I needed a coffee fix to right my attitude for the afternoon so I stopped at my favorite Baltimore coffee joint: Baltimore Coffee and Tea. I really believe just the scent that meets you at the door is enough to turn your day around. 
If you haven’t tried Baltimore Coffee yet, PLEASE do yourself a favor 🙂

As I waited to pay for my large coffee, I noticed the woman in front of me was buying a bottle of pumpkin spice syrup. “Great, just what I needed today” was my first thought, “a reminder that fall will never be the same”. Then I stopped myself and thought “Wow, who is this negative Nancy and what did you do with Katie??”(Yep, life is pretty entertaining inside this brain.) So on my way out the door, I stopped at the syrup shelf. I picked up the pumpkin spice bottle thinking  “Well, I guess I’ll see what’s in it and do my best to recreate it minus the corn syrup”. And that’s when the world stopped turning for a moment. And unlike all the other times this year, this time it was stopping because I was so happy I couldn’t believe my eyes. PURE CANE SUGAR!!! NO HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP! I committed the company who makes the syrup to memory and walked out the door thinking it had to be too good to be true. I drove to St. Joe’s, settled in at my desk, and held my breath as I googled away. And here is what I found:
WOOHOO!!!!
That’s right: gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan (that means no eggs to worry about!!!) and simple ingredients. I even called to double check that none of those flavors somehow involve corn: so far so good!! It was like the weight of the world flew off my shoulders. Forget the grumpiness I had been feeling just moments ago…I was flying high. And as I sit here looking up milk steamers and planning my now-much-easier pumpkin spice latte using coconut milk and Moninsyrup, I’m finally looking forward to fall the way I usually do: with unbridled excitement. 
I’m already dreaming of the life chats I’ll have with friends over my new and improved pumpkin spice lattes (most likely in my kitchen this time since I’ll be making it from scratch)…or packed up in our to-go mugs so we don’t miss out on the “walk in the crisp air” component. I’m imagining walking out into a cool, crisp morning with my thermos of coffee and a quick pump of pumpkin syrup as I head off to another day of school. I’m once again excited by the prospect of picking apples, baking pumpkin-flavored treats, and bundling up in cozy sweaters (the corn maze I may skip…potentially hazardous being completely surrounded by the enemy). The best part is once I saw what is in those Starbucks syrups, well let’s just say I’m not so crazy about the idea of drinking one anymore anyway. Do yourself a favor, don’t look it up. Just wait for my recipe…or better yet, come visit and try one for yourself 🙂
This fall, I’ll recreate this with my own coffee mugs. That’s right, Starbucks, I don’t need your high-fructose corn syrup!! (But don’t worry, I do still love your plain coffee 🙂 )

So, soak up these last few weeks of hazy, hot, and humid summer days. I know I will be. But I’ll also be experimenting to find the perfect Monin syrup to coconut milk to spices ratio…and once I do, I’ll be posting the recipe here, just in time for those crisp October mornings. Or maybe late September if I’m anything like my 8-year-old self who had to give out Christmas gifts the day they were chosen and wrapped (even if it was Dec. 15th.). Until then, I’ll be sitting here dreaming of fall…and basking in the happiness I found knowing that not even my crazy list of food allergies can take away my favorite season of all.

And thank you, Monin and Baltimore Coffee, for turning a not-so-great day into one of the best days I’ve had all year 🙂

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