Awkward foodie confession time, guys: I’ve never had a fresh fig before. That’s right. If you were wondering who in the U.S., south of the wild Alaskan tundra, could possibly have never tasted a fresh fig before October 2012, well, that would be moi.
Dried figs, you bet. Fresh, not so much.
It’s not for a lack of wanting, believe me. They’re really, really hard to find in my area. Not even my Kroger — which regularly stocks Asian rambutans and dragon fruit, fer cryin’ out loud — does not carry good old American fresh figs.
Every now and then, some “friend” will tell me, ‘oh, hey, so-and-so has fresh figs,’ and I will drop everything, shove old ladies and strollers the hell out of my way, outrun the coppers in my zippy Cougar, and blast through the front doors of whatever store is rumored to have them, squealing and arm-waving, only to find (a) no figs, and (b) no sign that there ever were figs (i.e., not even an empty slot in the produce aisle).
(After a while, one must start to suspect that the peeps are messing with her for the sheer entertainment value of it all.)
So, gobsmacked was I, strolling the farmers’ market just 5 minutes from my house, minding my own beeswax with spaghetti squash and decorative gourds in tow, when I came across a table lined with Black Mission figs. In the flesh, so to speak. Honest to goodness fresh figs, picked that morning, dark purple tinged with green.
I just knew that people in Ohio had to be holding out on me, growing figs on their property and not sharing. I knew it!
Why oh why oh why is pasta the perfect autumn comfort food? Why do I crave pasta above every other carb (even bread — gasp)?
I can eat plain pasta right out of the bowl — absolutely plain, no butter, no salt, no nuthin’. Is that weird?
The kid in me wants to eat pasta out of the bowl all the time — two-fisted, left-right-left-right — but my adult sensibilities know that responsible people use utensils and temper carb overload with lots and lots of veggies.
It’s all good: carbs, fall veggies. And together — a la autumn vegetable pasta — equals one amazing meal.
All at once, it seems, the leaves are beginning to turn. October has settled in and brought with it bright pops of red and yellow where only green once stood. Letting go of summer has been hard this year, in part because it felt like we were cheated out of a proper July, too blazingly hot and humid to do much outdoors. But, I think I’m ready.
Last night brought the predicted first frost, so I spent yesterday harvesting the last of the basil — which likes frost not at all — to whirl into pesto for future, comforting meals at the end of long, dark days. Sitting on the deck, chilled despite the low-slung sun, I plucked the fragrant leaves while contemplating the week’s list of projects. The season of growth and sustenance may be fading, but opportunities promising new adventures have timely arrived at the door of October, even as we head into the stillness of winter.
The outside chill and a stubborn reluctance to fire up the furnace makes hovering over the stove a fine activity for a Sunday afternoon, especially when risotto is the reward for the effort. Earlier in the summer, I purchased a puzzlingly large amount of red lentils (curious, as it was sweltering July, with the stove on forced hiatus), which have been sitting in a large canning jar, bright and patient.
The foresight was magical, as I have been craving lentils since the calendar turned to September. With a little savoring up of the standard risotto, lentils seemed the perfect companion to rice. And indeed, they were.
I wrote the title of this post in near disbelief. It’s October. Four days into October, in fact. Summer is not only in the rear view mirror, it’s a tiny speck in soft focus, just visible and fading fast.
Where did summer go?
When the realization hit me on Sunday that September’s end was here, I moped around the house for a bit before grabbing my camera and wandering out to the gardens. Summer crops are winding down while fall’s are coming into their own. Some, such as carrots, leeks, and parsley are happily well-established and ready to hold steady for on-demand winter harvesting. Others, such as fennel and broccoli and a second planting of green beans, are maturing at a nice pace. Garlic and French shallots will be going in the ground in the coming weeks for their long winter’s nap. Rosemary, celery, and scallions will be transplanted to containers and moved indoors, along with my blood orange tree.
A quick survey of the yard made me realize there’s nothing to be mopey about. The garden’s not “over,” it’s simply changing.
When you’re a four-season gardener like myself, there’s always life in the yard, even when it’s covered in snow.
This recipe still has me shaking my head. In surprise and amazement, that is. It shouldn’t, I suppose — this isn’t the first time I’ve tried crazy ingredient replacements with great results (my dad was gluten-free for many years, before gluten-free had its own spot on the grocery store shelf — mad ingredient substitution ruled the kitchen in those days).
I just wasn’t expecting whole chickpeas to make such amazing chocolate chip cookies. Yes, the stuff of hummus taking the place of flour in a thick, rich chocolate chip cookie pie, with cocoa and two types of chocolate chips.
It’s not gross. I pinkie swear.
Around this time every year, as I finish preserving tomatoes and ponder the results with equal parts satisfaction, gratefulness, and relief (it’s hot work, people, hot!), I become sort of possessive and protective of my tomato larder.
All that work, and I don’t want to use any of it. I want to hoard it, save it for when the snow flies and I really, really need an injection of summer memories.
So between now and then, I look for tomato sauce alternatives to serve over pasta or gnocchi, like this quick, easy and flavorful butternut squash sauce, for a weeknight-doable dinner. Normally, butternut squash sauce can be mildly sweet and just a tad bland, but ingredients borrowed from Thai cuisine pump up the flavor without masking the inherent squashness of the butternut.
Even though I do have to admit that I’m not ready to let go of summer veggies and those fresh, raw dishes that shine with things plucked straight from the garden, I am ready for soup. Cold soups are delicious and refreshing, but they’re just not the same as a big bowl of steaming hot goodness.
So, our newly chilly weather has me back in the kitchen, brewing up old favorites and experimenting with new combinations. This makes me ear-to-ear-smilin’ happy, because one could say I’m rather fond of soup. Addicted, even.
A slideshow on the New York Times website recently caught my eye. Entitled “The Perfectly Fried Egg,” it shows a step-by-step of Spanish chef, José Andrés, frying an egg in a pool of oil.
Like french fries. Or doughnuts.
Equally repulsed — an oil-immersed egg? “Perfect?” Seriously? — and intrigued, I had to try it for myself. And compare it to my family’s long-standing tradition of frying an egg flat in a cast iron pan.
It’s September 19th, and I don’t think I can procrastinate any longer. Despite mustering up my very deepest reserves of denial and avoidance, the inevitable has caught up with me: Summer ends on Saturday. So this, the last full week of summer, finds me a bit brooding and energy-drained.
It’s suddenly still dark at 6:30am, my normal waking time, and I stumble around the house getting ready for the day, stubbing toes, stubbornly refusing to turn on a light. Just yesterday, it seems, the sun was low on the horizon at this early hour, pink and full of promise, but now he’s no where to be found. And worse, the evenings are full on dark before I even finish cleaning up after dinner. No more puttering in the garden late in the evening, swatting mosquitoes and collecting the day’s ripe goodies, like the sweet little pimento pepper I picked on Saturday (above).
However, like June, September has some fantastically beautiful days, and this past weekend was a showcase of Nature’s most perfect weather: bright blue skies, sunny, warm with low humidity. It would be beyond ridiculous of me to give into a pouty mood and miss out on some outdoor joy. So, I didn’t. It was a good weekend, full of outdoor shopping and quality time with loved ones … and tomatoes from the garden.
I’m sorry. I’m sorry I’m practically pelting you with salted caramel. I apologize for getting in a rut and dragging you along with me. You deserve better.
But. It’s salted caramel. I can’t help it.
When I get into cooking ruts, it’s normally a red flag for me to keep it the heck off my blog, lest I write about nothing else for weeks. (I spared y’all from my zucchini obsession earlier this summer — you’re welcome. Although I should’ve shared the zucchini butter because it was totally groovy.)
But I sort of feel okay about the salted caramel. It’s just so dang awesome, both in pies and cakes.
And, of course, licked right off the spoon in all its various cooking stages. (Quality control, people. Qua.li.ty con.trol.)