Thursday, November 10, 2011

Fall has fallen.

Fall has fallen. We've turned the clocks back (almost all of them) and I'm slipping into the mild melancholia that always accompanies this ritual. I am not surprised and only slightly disconcerted by it this year; I embrace it and pull it up around my ears like a cozy blanket. It wards off the chill from the sudden drop in temperatures after our Halloween heatwave that flushed Alice's cheeks inside her plush giraffe costume.

I baked my first batch of pumpkin bread over the weekend, tucked up warm inside on a rainy Sunday after making hay while the sun shone the day before. Actually, on Saturday, Jon busted up one of the free hay straw bales that has been decaying in our backyard since Alice's birthday party. He spread the straw across the newly seeded expanse of dirt that we hope will soon sprout and grow into a thick carpet of grass where Alice can play. While he worked, Alice and I took an usually painless trip to the fabric store and bought a yard of purple corduroy and one and a half yards of denim. I wore her in the Ergo on my back, the first time I'd ever attempted it out alone. Later, while Alice slept, I stitched the denim into a pair of little jeans for her winter wardrobe. I was finally trying my hand at Made By Rae's Big Butt Baby Pants pattern. I was impressed with the pattern, with my success, and the speed and ease at which I was able to comprehend crotch geometry and whip up a pair of actual pants.
Eli supervises everything.
please ignore my sewing imperfections, if you can notice. this was a trial run.
It's dark when I ride my bike home from work now, and cold. I use my head and tail lights. I wear gloves (to keep my wedding ring from falling off) and a pink beanie under my helmet (to keep my ears warm). I pedal fast and try to work up a sweat, and think of making legwarmers from the sleeves of sweaters I don't wear anymore (because my cats ate holes in them - I knew I saved them for a reason). I ordered a puffy coat in white so that I'm not just a shadow in a black jacket (and I got it at an awesome price, thanks to the sale Jon caught with a Google search, just in time). While I ride, I decide to finally buy myself a nice pair of boots; they'll keep my legs warm and will go with my new goal weight wardrobe, when I get there. I shop online, my credit card ready, looking for the perfect combination of shaft height (tall, for warmth and glamour) and heel height (low, for pedaling and standing all day); of slouch and polish; of price and quality. I look at more than one thousand boots - literally - and cannot find ones I want. I resign myself to a trip to the mall to see if it helps to see anything in person. Maybe this weekend? There is ice cream there.

I count the cars that go my way, it's never more than a handful and they are surprisingly considerate. I almost prefer riding in the dark because the headlights announce the cars before I would hear them otherwise, and then my shadow leaps out long in front of me and skews sideways as they pass. I ride through pools of light and pockets of air scented with fireplace smoke, warm laundry, and dinner. I try to deduce each dish by smell but my nose is too cold to work properly and I ride too fast, and it all bleeds together into an olfactory buffet. The exercise and the aromas whet my appetite for the meal I will cook when I get home, and I wonder if my cooking will entice any passersby.

And I have been cooking. I always cook but lately, the flavors are new. We try to eat less meat. Rather, Jon tries and because I do the cooking, I try too. But he knows this means he must learn to appreciate and enjoy new vegetables, new tastes, new cuisines; to expand his palate further than he already has since I've been cooking for him. And so, I get to be more adventurous in the kitchen. I collect recipes via Pinterest and tell Jon he should follow my pinboard and let me know what sounds delicious. We both step outside of our comfort zones. Most attempts are successful, some more than others. We've never had to order a pizza in defeat. Here is what we've been eating. (Note, none of these photos are mine as I do not have the energy or the light to style my food, nor the restraint to delay my dinner.)
orzo with caramelized fall veggies. recipe & photo: Faith Durand
Orzo is Jon's new favorite pasta. I wasn't sure how the flavors of these caramelized veggies would meld but the whole was certainly greater than the sum of the parts, finished perfectly with grated parmesan. Jon hasn't cared for sweet potatoes in the past and had never willingly/knowingly eaten a mushroom but I think this dish may have been a turning point. He has since expressed desire to try a portobello mushroom burger.
(left) cannellini bean "no meat" balls. recipe & photo: Cookin' Canuck. (right) spaghetti squash lasagna. recipe & photos: Skinny Taste
Jon had also never eaten a spaghetti squash. My mother always served them like spaghetti but I thought this lasagna dish might be an even more accessible introduction to the vegetable. Jon proclaimed it to be delicious and suggested that spaghetti squash would be a fine substitute for pasta. We both agreed that the extra effort to layer the vegetable into a lasagna wasn't necessary. We had it again last Sunday night with these cannellini bean "no meat" balls. They tasted great but I think I was overzealous with the food processor and nearly pureed the bean mixture into a hummus. Thus, the meatballs were creamier than I would have liked as I was hoping they would have a texture closer to actual meatballs. We saved the leftovers for the next night and after a day in the fridge, bathing in sauce, and a turn in the microwave, they had a nicer, chewier texture. So maybe make them in advance if you want a firmer "no meat" ball with a better bite.
roasted tomato soup with broiled cheddar tops. recipe & photo: Smitten Kitchen
We like exactly one kind of packaged, processed tomato soup (I guess that's kind of a lie, as Jon likes the Campbell's condensed version, but I refuse to eat it). The soup we like is not available at the new market we're shopping at and we're too lazy to experiment - and too wary of disappointment - to try any of the brands they carry. I had a total "aha!" moment when I saw Smitten Kitchen's recipe for roasted tomato soup with broiled cheddar tops. Of COURSE you should combine tomato soup and grilled cheese a la French onion soup! Of COURSE I can (and should) make my own tomato soup! So we did. And it's delicious. We had the soup once with the grilled cheese tops (like with French onion, toast the bread in the oven first - I forgot that step) and once without. It takes only slightly more effort to slice open three pounds of tomatoes than to open a can of soup, and obviously a little more time to roast said tomatoes than to heat up soup in the microwave or stove, but you just have to plan ahead a little more. The investment of effort pales next to the reward of this fresh, homemade soup. And if you put in a little extra investment up front and roast double the tomatoes, you can freeze the tomato puree to use as a base the next time you need some quick soup.

To accompany the toast-less soup, I decided to try my hand at socca, a chickpea crepe or flatbread traditionally enjoyed as street food in Nice, France. I was tempted when I first saw the recipe in The Sweet Life in Paris and was tempted again when it popped up on The Kitchn recently. And I was in luck because while our market does not carry our preferred tomato soup, they do carry Bob's Red Mill chickpea flour. The recipe is pretty foolproof; flour, water, a tablespoon of oil, a dash of salt and cumin, and hot cast iron in the oven. Believe me, I tried pretty hard to fool it. My batter wasn't room temp and my pan wasn't hot enough and the first round still came out delicious. If you over salt it, like I did, you may even find, like we did, that it tastes like the best parts of fried chicken without the grease and guilt. I'll have to make my way to Nice someday to try the real deal but I'm sure this is a decent facsimile, and a quick and reliable trick to have up one's sleeve.
socca. recipe: David Lebovitz, photos: Faith Durand
That's how we've welcomed fall at our house, how about yours? Are you enjoying any new or favorite fall flavors? Confused, depressed, or delighted by the end of Daylight Savings? Are the long, dark hours making you cozy and lazy or are you knitting and sewing and generally preparing for winter?

5 comments:

  1. Yum, I say, yum.
    I'm waiting to adjust to my new work commute, but once I get settled, I'm hoping I'll find the time and energy to make my favorite fall dish (chicken pot pie) and get back to my knitting. Also I have a big pile of YA novels I can't wait to tackle.

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  2. Your commute, although chilly, sounds peaceful. Charlie missed the memo about setting his clock back, because he continues to wake up early. It doesn't help that the sun shines right through his bedroom window bright and early now. But his sister jumped right on the daylight savings train and adjusted perfectly.

    I have been trying new recipes - more failing than winning, unfortunately. We have some strict guidelines to stick to though. Charlie is allergic to dairy, eggs and peanuts. And Kyle is lactose intolerant. I try to cook with almond or soy milk instead of cow's milk, but it the meal doesn't usually end up tasting that great. I buy soy cheese every now and then, but we usually just opt out of using cheese in general. However, we do pastas, soups, meatloaf and rice dishes very well! Your tomato soup sounds devine :)

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  3. I am totally going to make that chickpea crepe. It's gluten free and looks delicious!

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  4. my first comment on your blog and it's the saddest comment ever- la creamery is no longer at the americana!!!

    i live and work nearby and spent many many many visits enjoying their honeycomb or salted caramel ice cream.

    sorry to be such a debbie downer. :)

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  5. Amy! We were at the Americana over the weekend and were so sad that LA Creamery wasn't there! We had even checked the website to look at the flavors, no mention that the store was gone! How disappointing. As my husband said, it was too good to be true; a good product for a good value in a good location...

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