a season's soul.
And you'll notice the calendar on the wall is slowly turning, away from scarecrows, on toward tree lights and mittens. And that the days are darkening earlier, each and every one. I tried to squeeze in all the last bits of all things fall before the Christmas music started to play and I start the slow burn of wearing my family out with insentient Christmasing. So I took a last moment to take in this final push of fall-time in Ohio. We ate hot soup around the table with an extra chair brought over. I took pictures and walked in the woods, because I suppose that's what your hearts asks of you when you find yourself in a place where so much beauty bangs up against so much quiet.
Still, fall is getting ready to fly the coop. I realize we've another month or so before it's official, but we all know a season's soul doesn't much mind the datebook. Ginko, oak, pear, sweet gum: your stamina pleases me no end. You are, I've learned, the final act, and you don't take your duties lightly. Under any other circumstances, your flamboyant crimson-amber-gold would be gaudy, but in quickening, dark November? Spot on. A final riot to ready us for winter's monochrome.
So long, filigree trees, stained glass leaves, filtered light from threadbare canopies. Good bye, actually, all you leaves. You've filled my boots, my days, my heart. I've decided each season comes equipped with its very own abundant beauty... fall's leaves, winter's starkness, spring's awakening, summer's sun. Dear Mother Nature: Excellent planning, and well done.
We've got one final rake to do, then it's time to move snow shovels to the head of the class. Bye for now, pleasant weather and shirtsleeve afternoons. We've been flirting with freezing, all month long, but we've also enjoyed a stupendous November. Several days in the sixties, a a few red letter seventies. But there's this palpable shift, brisk to bracing, that happens here, we've already dabbled in the lower thirties, Hello Indian summer.
Farewell, zinnias. You rocked my garden for months, early July right through the first frost. But crisp doesn't suit you in the least. Let's re-seed next spring.
Dear ancient roses, how do you do it? You're this neon spark in an otherwise-brown landscape. You, and those industrious orangeity-orange daisies. I may have fresh flowers on my counter, yet. Fingers crossed...
My week leading up to this one was, uh, wrought with emotion. As you may have gathered. I found myself in one of those pockets of time and space where life was pressing down just a bit too hard. Me, I wanted to pause a moment, say a proper goodbye to fall. I'm in need of a little eulogy. No, better, a commemoration. Maybe both.
To autumn, then.
It's been swell.
Butternut Squash Soup + Caramelized Apple Croutons
Butternut Squash Soup
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
fresh ginger, 1 thumb-size knob, roughly chopped to equal 1 1/2 Tablespoons
1 apple, peeled, cored and chopped
1 butternut squash (2 1/2 lbs., give or take), peeled, seeded and cubed
4 cups chicken broth
1/2 tsp. nutmeg, freshly grated
1/4 tsp. aleppo chili, or to taste
1/2 tsp. salt
1-2 tsp. sugar
1 plump lime, juiced
4 Tablespoons cream
To garnish: chives, sour cream, salted pumpkin seeds, apple "croutons" (recipe below)
In a large sauce pan or small dutch oven, warm olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and ginger, and sauté until translucent, 8-10 minutes. Add squash, apple, broth, nutmeg, chili, salt and sugar, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low-medium, and simmer, uncovered, until squash is falling-apart tender, 20-30 minutes. (This is a fine time to make the apples.)
Blend soup to a smooth purée, 60-90 seconds in the pan with a stick blender. Stir in lime juice and cream, and taste for seasonings. I'll usually adjust salt, sugar and heat (chili, nutmeg) at this point. When the soup is warm, vivid and bright, accessorize to your liking, and enjoy.
Caramelized Apple "Croutons"
4 medium apples, peeled, cored, and diced into 1/2" cubes
2 Tbs. butter
1 Tbs. sugar
pinch of salt
In a large skillet, wide enough to hold apples in a mostly even layer, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the diced apples, sugar and salt, and shake the pan to coat apples with butter and seasonings. Cook over medium-high heat 4-5 minutes, undisturbed, until apples are going gold along the bottom. Shake or stir to re-distribute, and continue to cook another 4-5 minutes. Shake again, and judge doneness. When apples show good color on many sides, gold in some spots, bronze in others, they are ready.