Friday, September 10, 2010

Autumn Awakening

It’s well after sunrise, but you couldn’t tell it by the thick, rolling clouds which hang on the air and the cottony wisps of mist swirling around the parking lot. The air is opaque, filled to the brim with a chilling moisture which chills your lungs and burns your sinuses. Across the lot, I can see the gymnastics studio still has their outdoor lights on, and each car which arrives to work has their headlights still on.

The leaves which hang on the trees are still green, yet wilting as though they struggle to hang onto the last gasp of summer before it fades. Some have already given up the ghosts, their still-green carcasses littering the ground, muffling the sounds of my footsteps. Down the street, the bakery has their ovens on, and when the wind hits just right, the hearty aroma of baking bread hits my nostrils and conjures up distant memories of hearth and home.

I clutch my vest tighter around my chest – a midweight fleece usually reserved for October and beyond – and shiver in the chill. There’s no mistaking it, autumn has arrived, sweeping in over the weekend and plunging us headlong into the end of the year and dare I say it? Holiday season.

Suddenly, I’m craving fall foods and spices. I stumbled on a recipe for butternut squash soup last week (thank you, Euan), and now it’s all I can think about. Pumpkin bread…heck, any bread at this point…hot coffee, spiced apple cider, potatoes, rosemary, thyme, stuffing, cornbread, chili… It’s time to break out the warm, rich, spicy comfort foods.

(Okay, look, I’m just going to be honest here. For me autumn and winter are really all about the delightful recipes that they bring. Which probably explains the extra pounds hovering around my belly and thighs, doesn’t it?)

Tomorrow is the Mystery Wine Walk. You see, I live in one of those small towns where the community comes together several times a month for an event – be it a cancer benefit, food baking/eating contest, music festival in the park (which is really a corner lot that has grass and a gazebo on it), or a street fair. We have wine walks every few months, which is essentially a ploy to get you to wander the town’s streets and stores with a glass of wine in your hand and an open wallet. This one, there’s a mystery element where you answer trivia (about Rhubarb, actually, we’re the Rhubarb Capital of the US. I kid you not).

E and I are going – I’m mainly going to see all of the storefronts decked out in their autumn décor. I was driving by my favorite store and noticed a row of jack o’ lanterns glowing across the window pane. Yes, my friends, autumn has arrived. Earlier than usual, but it’s here all the same.

So, tell me, what is your favorite thing about autumn? You already know that my autumn weakness is food, what’s yours? Share with me a memory, a recipe, a song that reminds you of the season…heck, tell me what leaf color is your favorite.

To start things off right, here’s the soup recipe that has been haunting me. This weekend, I tell you, I will make it. I’ve been told that you can substitute the cream/yogurt with vanilla soy and it comes out brilliantly.

2 tablespoons butter or extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes, with liquid
1/4-1/2 cup roasted garlic tomato paste
2 cups vegetable or organic chicken stock
2-2 1/2 cups butternut squash, peeled and diced
Salt and ground pepper to taste
2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 to 1 1/4 cups nonfat half-and-half or nonfat yogurt
Several dashes of Tabasco or other hot pepper sauce

In a large saucepan, saute onions and garlic in butter or oil over medium-low heat until soft and golden. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, chicken stock, butternut squash, salt, pepper, basil and thyme. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat. Partially cover and simmer for about 30-35 minutes, or until squash is fork-tender. Puree the soup in a blender, then pour back into the saucepan. Stir in nonfat half and half or yogurt, splash in the hot pepper sauce, and taste for seasoning. Heat the soup just to a boil, then ladle into bowls. Garnish with sliced basil leaves or minced parsley.
Serves 6.

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