And suddenly, it’s fall. I find that realization always comes not so much with the dates on the calendar as it does the leaves on the ground, the first crank of the heat in the morning, the dusky light on the way home from an evening run. Because we were gone on the train for nearly a week, I feel like fall happened here in Seattle during that very time. I left town eating tomatoes and corn and returned to find squashes and pumpkins in the market. It was that quick. And so, it only seemed fitting that I make this soup, one that has graced the fall table of each and every apartment (and now house) I’ve ever lived. In fact, I’m surprised that I hadn’t yet made it for you here, and delighted to share it with you today.
I told you about our train trip on the last post and I wanted to share a few more pictures with you here. I ended up flying home from New York, as planned, and Sam took the train home, stopping over in New Orleans for gumbo, beignets, bananas foster french toast and Sazeracs. As you do. I picked him up from the train station Friday late afternoon. He was sporting a new haircut he’d gotten from an old-timey Chicago barber, we picked up a coffee from Analog coffee and headed home.
We fell quickly into our long-distance relationship routine of sending each other photos of our feet and the scenery around us, and Sam sent me postcards from many of the small stations where he stopped.
Many of you wrote me emails asking questions about the train, and I started to think how funny it is that so many of us may have traveled on trains overseas, but never in the U.S. I’m not quite sure why this is. I suppose it’s our get-there-quick culture, but I will say the train was much more comfortable than a plane (far more space and larger seats that actually recline almost fully), and yes there is a dining car with real silverware and linen. I had roast chicken one night that was actually pretty good, the coffee was strong, and the oatmeal I dare say was fantastic. When the dining car is closed, there’s a little cafe car with coffee, bottled water, chocolate bars and the like and a large viewing car with expansive windows that go almost to the top of the car itself. It has chairs facing out towards the landscape, so you can just sit and watch everything go by. Perhaps with an aforementioned coffee and chocolate bar. And a good book.
There were many stops where you have a mere few minutes to race out of the train and see what North Dakota air smells like. And then, much like in the movies, they yell “All Aboard!” and you have to race right back in or they will absolutely leave you behind. The train does not wait. Nope.
So while seeing a good chunk of the country on the train was an entirely new experience, it was nice to return back to our house, too. To a place that doesn’t necessarily have a rotating roster of interesting folks to talk to at breakfast or different landscapes each morning, but to a place that now very solidly feels like home.
I’m not sure I know a better way to celebrate being at home together than having folks over for dinner. We’ve had a houseguest for a few days and it was her birthday Sunday evening, so we went to the market that morning and picked up a few things to make this soup. A good baguette from Tall Grass Bakery, a hefty squash, a few local apples, a pint of huckleberries and dinner was made. We invited another friend over to join us, Sam played records, we drank good wine, and had lively discussions on everything from The West Wing to the state of the publishing industry. Sam makes this wonderful cornmeal custard on occasion, and we spent some time tweaking the recipe using whole grain flours and natural sugar, hoping it could be a contender for the cookbook. We folded in local huckleberries and a bit of cream. It’s a winner. Tara confirmed it was just as good the next morning as it was that evening.
This soup is from The Healthy Kitchen by Andrew Weil and Rosie Daley, a book my mom gave me when I was in college. Most cookbooks that I’ve had for that long have found their way to Goodwill, but this one has moved with me through many states. I mainly keep it for this recipe, although I’ve tried a few others and have always been pleased. It’s a book that focuses on healthy recipes using whole foods, and it came out far before many of my current favorites like this one and this one and especially this one. It’s the kind of book that contains lots of great basics, but doesn’t necessarily wow you with intereseting flavor profiles or ingredients. Sometimes you need that. It’s as simple as roasting squash, apple and onion together and pureeing them with glugs of broth and a few spices. And it’s enough to make you realize that you really should invite folks over for dinner more often. We’re already in talks to have a bi-monthly gathering. And for these fall months, I vote soup.
*Most of the landscape images above were taken by Sam with our trusty new camera
Fall Soups from A Sweet Spoonful:
- Moroccan Carrot Soup (I really, really love this soup)
- Hearty Minestrone
- Curried Lentil Soup
- Roasted Tomato Soup
- Gingered Sweet Potato and Coconut Soup
- White Bean, Barley and Kale Stew
Fall Soups From Around the Web:
- Mixed Mushroom Soup – 101 Cookbooks
- Parsnip Soup with Leeks and Parsley – Sweet Amandine
- Broccoli Soup with Lemon and Ricotta – Turntable Kitchen
- Fretwell (Italian Vegetable) Soup – Orangette
- Butternut Squash Soup with Caramelized Apple Croutons– Remedial Eating
For the soup:
For the Cilantro Walnut Pesto:
To make the pesto: Preheat the oven to 350 F and toast the walnuts for 5-7 minutes, or until fragrant. Allow to cool. Put walnuts in the food processor and grind until fine. Add the cilantro, garlic, salt, vinegar, and olive oil. Blend. If the pesto is too thick, add water, 1 teaspoon at a time, to make it smoother and the consistency you’d like. Taste and add more salt and pepper if necessary.
To make the soup: Increase the oven temperature to 400 F. In a large roasting pan, toss the squash, onions, garlic, and apples with the oil to coat. Season well with the salt, pepper and chili powder. Roast, stirring every 10 minutes, until the vegetables are fork-tender and lightly browned, about 40 minutes.
Put all of the vegetables into a big soup pot and blend until smooth with an immersion blender. Alternatively, blend the soup in batches in your food processor or blender. Return pureed soup to a large soup pot. Add more broth if the soup seems too thick. Taste and adjust the seasoning as you see fit. Serve hot in bowls with a dollop of walnut cilantro pesto.
It turns out that returning from a sunny honeymoon to a rather rainy, dark stretch of Seattle fall hasn't been the easiest transition. Sam and I have been struggling a little to find our groove with work projects and even simple routines like cooking meals for one another and getting out of the easy daily ruts that can happen to us all. When we were traveling, we made some new vows to each other -- ways we can keep the fall and winter from feeling a bit gloomy, as tends to happen at a certain point living in the Pacific Northwest (for me, at least): from weekly wine tastings at our neighborhood wine shop to going on more lake walks. And I suppose that's one of the most energizing and invigorating parts about travel, isn't it? The opposite of the daily rut: the constant newness and discovery around every corner. One of my favorite small moments in Italy took place at a cafe in Naples when I accidentally ordered the wrong pastry and, instead, was brought this funny looking cousin of a croissant. We had a wonderfully sunny little table with strong cappuccino, and, disappointed by my lack of ordering prowess, I tried the ugly pastry only to discover my new favorite treat of all time (and the only one I can't pronounce): the sfogliatelle. I couldn't stop talking about this pastry, its thick flaky layers wrapped around a light, citrus-flecked sweet ricotta filling. It was like nothing I'd ever tried -- the perfect marriage of interesting textures and flavors. I became a woman obsessed. I began to see them displayed on every street corner; I researched their origin back at the hotel room, and started to look up recipes for how to recreate them at home. And the reason for the fascination was obviously that they were delicious. But even more: I'm so immersed in the food writing world that I rarely get a chance to discover a dish or a restaurant on my own without hearing tell of it first. And while a long way away from that Italian cafe, I had a similar feeling this week as I scanned the pages of Alice Medrich's new book, Flavor Flours, and baked up a loaf of her beautiful fall pumpkin loaf: Discovery, newness, delight!
I always force myself to wait until after Halloween to start thinking much about holiday pies or, really, future holidays in general. But this year I cheated a bit, tempted heavily by the lure of a warmly-spiced sweet potato pie that I used to make back when I baked pies for a living in the Bay Area (way back when). We seem to always have sweet potatoes around as they're one of Oliver's favorite foods, and when I roast them for his lunch I've been wishing I could turn them into a silky pie instead. So the other day I reserved part of the sweet potatoes for me. For a pie that I've made hundreds of times in the past, this time reimagined with fragrant brown butter, sweetened solely with maple syrup, and baked into a flaky kamut crust. We haven't started talking about the Thanksgiving menu yet this year, but I know one thing for sure: this sweet potato pie will make an appearance.
This time last week I was up in the Skagit River Valley sitting in the early fall sun eating wood-fired bagels and chatting with farmers, millers and bakers at the Kneading Conference West. I made homemade soba noodles, learned the ins and outs of sourdough starters, and sat in on a session where we tasted crackers baked with single varietal wheats. It was like wine tasting, but with wheat and the whole time I kept pinching myself, thinking: THESE ARE MY PEOPLE! I don't get the opportunity to be a student much these days -- usually on the other side of things teaching cooking classes or educating people at the farmers markets about whole grains and natural sugars. So to just sit and listen with a fresh (red!) notebook and a new pen was surprisingly refreshing. I miss it already. Thankfully, this cookie recipe has come back as a memorable souvenir, and one that is sure to be in high rotation in our house in the coming months.
Strolling New York City streets during the height of fall when all the leaves are changing and golden light glints off the brownstone windows. This is what I envisioned when I bought tickets to attend my cousin's September wedding earlier this month: Sam and I would extend the trip for a good day or two so we could experience a little bit of fall in the city. We'd finally eat at Prune and have scones and coffee at Buvette, as we always do. Sam wanted to take me to Russ and Daughters, and we'd try to sneak in a new bakery or ice cream shop for good measure. Well, as some of you likely know, my thinking on the weather was premature. New York City fall had yet to descend and, instead, we ambled around the city in a mix of humidity and rain. When we returned home I found myself excited about the crisp evening air, and the fact that the tree across the street had turned a rusty shade of amber. It was time to do a little baking.
I am writing this on Saturday afternoon on a day when we had big plans to conquer pre-baby chore lists, but Sam's not feeling great and my energy's a little low so it hasn't been quite what we'd envisioned. My goals for the morning were to repot a house plant and make some soup and I've done neither. I will say that the sweet potato and fennel are still sitting on the counter eagerly awaiting their Big Moment -- it just hasn't come about quite yet. Sam and I were both going to attempt to install the carseat, but it started to look really daunting so we abandoned ship; it's now sitting proudly in the basement, also eagerly awaiting its Big Moment. So it's been one of those weekends -- the kind you look back on and wonder what it is you actually accomplished. At the very least, I get the chance to tell you about this hearty cranberry cornbread. I know maybe it feels premature in the season for cranberry recipes, but hang with me here: slathered with a little soft butter and runny honey, there's nothing I'd rather eat right now on the cool, crisp Seattle mornings we've been having lately.