Posts Tagged ‘fall’

Why they call it fall…

Here in middle Tennessee, we have enjoyed warmer-than-usual temperatures for the past several weeks. Last night I smiled as I followed a toddler down our church’s hallways – it was nearly her bedtime and she was perfectly comfortable in a sleeveless sundress. It’s just one of the many examples of why I love living in a mild climate. (In contrast, South Dakota and Wyoming have already seen a blizzard. Brrr.)

Perhaps this year’s extended fall is nature’s way of making up for a slow warm-up this spring and a summer than never really heated up. But whatever the reason, it looks like it’s time for the seasons to change. There’s no such thing as a truly graceful fall, and so it is with our weather:
october weather
Today and tomorrow we’ll hit close to 80 again – probably for the last time this year. In two days we’ll be lucky to hit 70, and the day after that we’ll be in the mid-60s. The extended forecast shows us bumping along in the 60s and low 70s throughout October, and the temperatures will continue to drift and tumble downward.

It’s time to trade out the sleeveless tops for something with a bit more coverage.

No complaints here – the marked change in seasons gives me the perfect excuse to change our family dinner menus and decor along with my clothing choices.

Later today I’m hoping to take advantage of this last gasp of summer weather to work outdoors and finish refinishing our kitchen table and chairs. And then it will be time to start winding things down for the season…and winding up for the next one.

Happy fall, y’all.

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O Blogger, Where Art Thou?

My blogging muse up and left. Abandoned ship. She went AWOL and MIA. All. Summer. Long.  It wasn’t that I didn’t have stuff to write about. It isn’t that I didn’t have time. I just couldn’t find the words.

A lot of things conspired against my efforts to blog during the past several weeks (err, months.) But I think (hope!) I’m ready to get back in the saddle, or swing, or whatever.

Here’s the upshot of how I spent my summer:

  • We moved Swimmer Girl into her first dorm room in August.  That was an experience filled with growing pains for mom and daughter, but after some shaky days, things have started to steady out. She’s been home once and I’ve been down for a visit once. It gets easier, right? Right???
  • Mr. Official and I discovered we both like hot yoga, so on Tuesday and Thursday mornings you’ll find us at a local yoga studio for an hour of balancing and contorting in sauna-like conditions.
  • My routine mammogram turned out to be not-so-routine. Everything is fine, but it was a wake-up call. More on that later. Suffice it to say that October is breast cancer awareness month, and I have a little different perspective on it this year than in year’s past.
  • The fall TV lineup started without me. I have no clue what’s on these days. But I have caught up on a lot of movies lately. Some new, some repeats, some three-peats.
  • I’ve actually READ a couple books lately, and I’ve started back in on a daily Bible reading program. For now, it consists of reading through 1 John (all 5 chapters) every day for a month, plus each day’s chronological Bible reading I’ve been doing on-and-off all year. Curious? We’ll talk.
  • I’ve added a few (really, just a few) pieces to my new and vintage Fiesta collection, raising eyebrows from family members who mutter things like “hoarder” and “intervention” “how many pieces do you need?” under their breath. I think I just need to learn to intercept the FedEx and UPS trucks before the telltale packages hit the doorstep.
  • UT football is in full swing.  This was us at last Saturday’s game.

    Go Big Orange

    Go Big Orange!

It’s good to be back, and I hope I can catch up on how everyone else’s summer went.

Happy Monday,

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I know, I know…it’s been a month of Sundays since I last posted a weekly recipe.  And I am not guaranteeing there will be one next Wednesday.  It isn’t that I haven’t cooked.  It isn’t that I haven’t tried new recipes.  It isn’t that I’m hoarding all the good ‘uns for myself.  It’s just been a (lack of) time thing.  And a run of new recipes that didn’t quite measure up to my pass-along standards:  if I wouldn’t fix a recipe again, I’m not touting it to my friends.

And this recipe is not one that I created.  I can’t take credit for having spotted it, either.  To tell the truth, I didn’t even make it.

But I ate it and found it scrumptious and worth sharing.  And I will make it sooner than later because it’s a great holiday or weekend breakfast centerpiece.  My mom gets full credit for spotting it, realizing its potential and making a double batch for us last weekend.  Thanks, mom!

Notice it is singular – THE pancake, not pancakes, plural.  It combines the high-rise qualities of a Dutch baby with a quivering custard base and cinnamon-apple goodness.  If you don’t have a well-seasoned cast iron skillet, any oven-proof dish will do as long as it can withstand a 400-degree oven.

THE Apple Pancake

3 cups chopped apples (2-3 medium apples, Granny Smith are preferred)
4 tablespoons white sugar divided (3 tablespoons + 1 tablespoon)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/3 cup unsalted butter, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
3/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
5 eggs
Powdered sugar or cinnamon sugar, optional

Heat oven to 400. Peel, core and quarter and slice apples to yield 3 cups.  In a small bowl, combine 3 tablespoons sugar, cinnamon and ginger; set aside.

Place butter cubes in deep 8-inch cast iron skillet or 8×8 baking dish.  Place in oven for 3-4 minutes or until butter melts.  Remove the pan from the oven and sprinkle 1/3 cup brown sugar over the melted butter.  Spread the apples on top of the sugar/butter mixture.  Place the pan back in the oven to soften the apples and caramelize the sugar; the sugar should be bubbling around the apples.

Meanwhile in a separate bowl, whisk flour with remaining tablespoon of sugar, along with the salt and nutmeg.  Gradually add the milk and whisk until smooth.  Beat in vanilla, then the eggs one at a time.  Beat by hand for two minutes or until foamy.  Let the batter rest for five minutes.  Carefully remove the pan from the oven and pour the batter over the top of the caramelized apples. 

Return to oven and bake for 20 minutes or until center is set and the sides are brown and crisp. The pancake will rise dramatically but slump as it cools.  Serve with powdered sugar or cinnamon sugar if desired (or plain – it is plenty sweet.)

Makes 3-4 servings. If doubling, use two separate pans – do not try to make it in a larger pan. Original recipe and mouth-watering photos are here.

(If you read the backstory found within the link, you’ll know we also owe a debt of gratitude to the Original Pancake House for inspiring this new breakfast favorite.)

Happy cooking,

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Charleston in October

As some of my past posts hint, I love (love, love, love) South Carolina, and most especially Murrells Inlet and Charleston.  There are a few cities that have captivated my heart and spirit, mainly New Orleans and New York.  And most recently, Charleston. All three have some things in common:  they are all old cities, by American standards.  They are all large, prominent cities.  One is ultra-modern, one is a rich blend of classes and customs and cultures.  Charleston is a charming blend of old and new – Kings Street offers shopping on par with the best and funkiest boutiques in SoHo, while one block south is Meeting Street, which except for the occasional powerline and fire hydrant, might be mistaken for pre-Civil War era.

Maybe it is because it blends old with new so effortlessly.  Maybe it’s the palm trees that grace the streets without being overbearing.  Maybe it’s the walled gardens, which give you a glimpse into each resident’s tastes and gardening prowess. Maybe it’s the food, which is comfortingly familiar to my southern palate, but yet rich, decadent and unique in its own right.

Whatever “it” is, it had me at hello and hasn’t let me go.  When I visit my other favorite vacation haunts, I take my leave full and satisfied. Not so with Charleston. Every time we visit, I find new places to explore and a new litany of excuses to return.

We did not make our annual spring pilgrimage to the Low Country and I had resigned myself to skipping a year.  But Mr. Official offered a South Carolina football weekend getaway:  the only catch was hitting the road at the uncivilized hour of 3:30 on Saturday morning so we could make opening kickoff in Columbia by 11:00 a.m.  I agreed and we did.  After coming achingly close to closing the deal against USC, we wiped our eyes and drove on into Charleston.  We arrived before dark in time to discover the city damp after a day of dreary drizzle, courtesy of Hurricane Sandy.  A leisurely dinner at Cru Cafe and a stroll along East Bay Street with the winds whistling through the palms found us back at our hotel where we turned in earlier than most of the Saturday night crowd.

In the morning we found a new favorite breakfast place in Toast of Charleston. (How can you not love a place that dares to stack a poached egg on a crab cake on a fried green tomato and cover the whole mess in remoulade?)

Fortified, we wandered around the Charleston City Market where for the first time I noticed the Daughters of the Confederacy sign on the upper level:I darted into a favorite little Christmas store and picked out this year’s keepsake; a spun glass pineapple will join two other Charleston mementos on our Christmas tree this year.

After I oohed and ahhed my way through the flea market type stalls, we hopped on a carriage ride with Freddie pulling us along for an hour. It was a leisurely and lazy way to learn more about some of the grand residences on the southeastern tip of Charleston.  The rest of the afternoon was spent strolling around the streets near Battery Park, camera in hand before .  As the sun settled low in the sky, we made our way back to the hotel, soaked up a few more minutes of sunshine in the courtyard then darted to Magnolias just in time to keep our dinner reservation.  As I drifted to sleep, contentedly full of sights, sounds and savors of this wonderful city, my mind was already making plans for the next visit, which can’t happen too soon.

And can you blame me?  These snapshots are just a sampling of the pictures I captured and the sights that captivated me.  If I thought Charleston was beautiful in the spring – and it is – I know now it is equally glorious in October.

While the memories are still fresh, I think I’ll try my hand at making some tasso for hearty winter and holiday meals of shrimp and grits, jambalaya and red beans and rice.  Maybe they can keep me warm this winter, until I have a good excuse to return to this amazing and gorgeous city.

Happy Tuesday,

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A few weeks ago, I started a weekly countdown of six things I am most thankful for, each of which begin with the letters of the word “THANKS”.   So far, I’ve covered:

Necessities and niceties
Kith and kin

This week, I am thankful for one final thing I’m thankful for, and that is the…

I’m thankful for each of the four seasons that distinctively divide our lives each year, each one segueing gracefully to the next just like clockwork.  But I’m especially grateful for this season, when we can take time to reflect on the blessings we enjoy, and to be grateful for them.

The word itself is ancient, rooted in the idea of having a time of year for sowing, followed by the natural ripening and aging process, which creates sweetness and delicious and complex flavors in foods.  Which is probably why it is also intertwined with a second meaning in modern usage; to flavor food with seasonings.  The onset of the cool months are when we welcome the flavors and aromas of many delicious spices and herbs:  cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, cardamom play important roles in desserts and other sweet foods, while thyme, rosemary, sage, oregano and  peppers are indelibly linked to many savory foods we associate with this time of year.

Solomon was a truly wise man, and in Ecclesiastes he gave us timeless words of advice for putting everything in our lives into proper perspective:

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted”

This is the season of harvests and thankfulness and graciousness. I wish it lasted all year ’round, but maybe because it only comes once a year, it makes us appreciate it more.

nearby cotton field in late October

‘Tis the season.  Not for giving gifts and decorating trees and cookies – not yet.  But it is the season for welcoming friends and family, and sharing with them the customs, traditions and foods that have been passed down from past generations to us, and from us to our children.

In this and every season, may we all enjoy the day while it is called today, our own measure of health, our abodes, our many material blessings, and the rich blessings of friends and families.

Happy and blessed thanks-giving,
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Yesterday was the annual day to roll back our clocks, and that extra hour makes for a super-sized day.

It couldn’t have come at a better time – instead of getting back from Knoxville at 11:30 Saturday night, we could tell ourselves it was only 10:30.  Reverting to standard time comes with its own adjustments to psyche and Circadium rhythms, but early morning rising will be a little easier – at least until the newness of the time change wears off.

I was mentally patting myself on the back yesterday morning, since I knew I had all the ingredients for a “souper” Sunday with vegetarian chili for dinner.  Then I remembered that lunch comes before dinner.  Eeek!  Fortunately, we had enough tag-ends left over that we all enjoyed something: pasta e fagioli, homemade pizza and tuna fish were up for grabs, along with a gameday bowl of creamy refried bean dip scooped up with big corn chips.

With the mealtime dilemmas out of the way, my afternoon was clear to accomplish some tasks.  For starters, I won this soup tureen on eBay:

Less than $5.  Woot!

I’ve been scouting vintage tureens for years.  And this one was pretty AND dirt cheap – that’s a tough combination to beat.

After I scored the tureen, I turned my focus on the kitchen:  middle son recently requested monster cookies.  A big batch of these oversized monstrosities was in order, before our family devoured the huge bag of M&M’s I bought especially to make them.

And I wanted to try a batch of apple cider caramels (most of which are going with Mr. Official to work today.)  So it was a pleasantly busy, home-centered afternoon, which suited me to a “T.”

I think we are settling into a habit with this weekly routine, and not only did I hit the grocery store just once last week, I managed to stretch out the time between visits to ten days.  Granted, we ran out of milk a few days before I went, but it’s now an optional drink for us, not a necessity.  And our foodbill was well under $100 for the week, due in large part to the stockpile of meats and other more expensive items I already had on hand to incorporate into the week’s menu.

It struck me recently that we have not eaten a dinner out in quite some time, which can be attributed to  a combination of eating in on Sundays and football season, which consumes our Friday and Saturday nights.  That might change when we are no longer chasing after high school and college football games on Friday and Saturday nights, but for now, our food budget is heaving a huge sigh of relief.

I don’t know how many more Mondays I’ll blog about our weekly day of rest, although with the upcoming holidays, I may find us wrestling with time constraints that test my resolve to avoid shopping on Sundays.  But for now, a few simple, deliberate choices have created a new, enjoyable weekly routine.  The next step will be to re-introduce some form of hospitality on Sundays, either hosting a midday or evening meal occasionally.  

I hope you’re intrigued or inspired just a little and considering trying a Sunday of respite, away from the hustle and bustle of eateries and shopping.  It’s nice to not feel pressured to go anywhere, or do anything in particular one day a week.  

Like the 1970s Life cereal commercials told Mikey, “try it – you’ll like it!”

Happy Monday,

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Okay, this week’s recipe is technically not pumpkin-based.  However, you *could* make it from pumpkin.  Although if you’ve ever tried cutting a raw pumpkin into chunks, you know why sweet potatoes are a whole lot easier, and they are really very similar in taste and texture once they’re cooked.  Close enough.

And I wanted to include at least one savory recipe in this little recipe series.  They’re pretty scarce, so this may be the only one.

I spotted the original recipe in a Penzeys catalog.  It was for a filling (without tomatoes) to stuff into flour tortillas for enchiladas; it sounded pretty good but I was looking for a sweet potato chili recipe to try on my family, and the ingredients  attracted me because of the unusual way of cooking the sweet potato chunks.  You’ll see.  And trust me when I say it’s worth the extra step – the apple cider vinegar and soy make the sweet potatoes much more flavorful.  This is one way to get your pickiest eaters to eat some super-nutritious sweet potatoes on the sly.

I provide some either/or options below so you can adapt it to your family’s preferences and what you have available.  For example, I have a bottle of dried shallots from World Market that I want to use up before they lose their flavor, so I tossed a generous handful in with the potatoes while they cooked.  If you don’t have dried shallots, a small onion or a couple leeks (which is what the original recipe called for) browned with the sausage will be just as tasty.

It’s not often I declare any recipe a “winner” the first time out of the chute. This one has that distinction, so without further ado, I’m happy to share it with you.

Sweet Potato and Black Bean Chili

2 or 3 sweet potatoes, peeled and diced into bite-size chunks (1/2 to 1 inch)
1/3 cup soy sauce (I used light/low sodium – regular would also be fine)
1 cup apple cider vinegar, divided
2 tablespoons dried shallots or two leeks or a small sweet onion, diced fine
1 pound chorizo sausage (Not ringing any bells?  See my notes below)
5 cloves garlic, minced or 5 teaspoons diced garlic-in-a-jar
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ancho chili powder
2 teaspoons chili powder
1/2 – 1 teaspoon cayenne (more or less, to taste)
2 cans black beans, drained
2 cans Rotel or (1 can Rotel and one can plain diced tomatoes for tender palates)
1 cup beef broth (more or less to achieve the desired consistency)

In a medium saucepan, place sweet potatoes, soy and dried shallots (if using) and 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar.  Bring to boil and reduce heat and cover, simmer for about 20 minutes or until the potatoes are fork-tender and most of the liquid is absorbed.  (Keep a close eye on it – don’t allow it to dry out and scorch.) Set aside.

In a Dutch oven (recommended) or other soup/chili pot, brown together the chorizo and garlic, and leeks or onions (if using instead of dried shallots.)  When browned, remaining apple cider vinegar, cumin and chili powders, beans, tomatoes and beef broth.  Gently mash the sweet potatoes, leaving some lumps.  Add to other ingredients and simmer for 20 minutes or until hot and bubbly through.  You can add more beef broth if it gets too thick.  Serve with sour cream, grated cheddar cheese, and corn chips or saltines.

Makes 6 servings.

Footnote:  in case the word “chorizo” stopped you in your tracks, here’s a picture of the brand I used (and would recommend). Unless your only option is chorizo links, look for bulk chorizo – it will be located near other sausage “chubs” in your grocery store.  If you have to use links, try to find a package labeled “fresh chorizo” and slice open the casing (yeah, that is as gross as it sounds) and scrape out the sausage into your skillet or pan, discarding the casings.  You don’t want sliced chorizo links in this dish unless it’s your only option. 

Happy cooking!

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