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.
Glimpses of Spring
We returned home from San Francisco on New Years Eve just in time for dinner, and craving greens -- or anything other than baked goods and pizza (ohhhh San Francisco, how I love your bakeries. And citrus. And winter sunshine). Instead of driving straight home, we stopped at our co-op where I ran in for some arugula, an avocado, a bottle of Prosecco, and for the checkout guys to not-so-subtly mock the outlook of our New Years Eve: rousing party, eh? They looked to be in their mid-twenties and I figured I probably looked ancient to them, sad even. But really, there wasn't much sad (or rousing, to be fair) about our evening: putting Oliver to bed, opening up holiday cards and hanging them in the kitchen, and toasting the New Year with arugula, half a quesadilla and sparkling wine. It wasn't lavish. But it's what we both needed. (Or at least what we had to work with.) Since then, I've been more inspired to cook lots of "real" food versus all of the treats and appetizers and snacks the holidays always bring on. I made Julia Turshen's curried red lentils for the millionth time, a wintry whole grain salad with tuna and fennel, roasted potatoes, and this simple green minestrone that I've taken for lunch this week. Determined to fit as many seasonal vegetables into a bowl as humanly possible, I spooned a colorful pesto on top, as much for the reminder of warmer days to come as for the accent in the soup (and for the enjoyment later of slathering the leftover pesto on crusty bread).
It turns out shopping for wedding dresses is nothing like they make it appear in the movies. Or at least it hasn't been for me. Angels don't sing. Stars don't explode. Relatives don't cry. There isn't a sudden heart-stopping moment that this is, in fact, "the one." To be honest, I always knew that I wasn't the kind of gal for whom angels would sing or stars would explode but I did think I'd have some kind of moment where I could tell I'd found the best dress. Instead, my mom flew into town and we spent three (yes, three!!) days shopping for dresses, and since then I've been back to the stores we visited -- and I'm more undecided than ever. Tomorrow morning I'll return with my friend Keena to try and tie this business up once and for all. Cross your fingers.
When I was single and living alone in the Bay Area, I made virtually the same thing for dinner each night. I ate meals quickly while in front of the computer. Or even worse: the television. This most often included what I call "Mexican Pizzas" which were basically glorified quesadillas baked in the oven until crispy. Sometimes, if I was really feeling like cooking, I'd whip up a quick stir-fry with frozen vegetables from Trader Joe's or a mushroom frittata using pre-sliced mushrooms. Mostly, though, it was Mexican Pizzas -- a good four or five nights a week. Today, thankfully, dinner looks a lot different. Meals in general look a lot different. How would I explain that difference? I think that ultimately how we feel about our life colors how we choose to feed ourselves and the importance that we place on preparing our own meals.
Today was 75 degrees in Seattle and it seemed the whole city was out and about drinking iced coffee in tank tops and perhaps not working all that hard. When we have a hit of sunshine like this in April (or, really, any time of the year), we're all really good at making excuses to leave the office early -- or, simply, to "work from home." I just got back from LA last night, unpacked in a whirlwind this morning, and took Oliver to meet up with three friends from our parents group at the zoo. The only other time I'd been to the Seattle zoo was once with Sam a few years ago when we arrived thirty minutes before closing and ended up doing a whirlwind tour -- sprinting from the giraffes to the massive brown bear to the meerkat. The visit today was much different: we strolled slowly trying to avoid the spring break crowds and beating sun. I managed to only get one of Oliver's cheeks sunburned, and he even got in a decent nap. A success of an afternoon, I'd say. Coming home I realized we didn't have much in the fridge for lunch -- but thankfully there was a respectable stash of Le Croix (Le Croix season is back!) and a small bowl of this whole grain salad I made right before I left town. It's the kind of salad that's meant for this time of year: it pulls off colorful and fresh despite the fact that much of the true spring and summer produce isn't yet available. And for that reason, I make a few versions of it in early spring, often doubling the recipe so there's always the possibility of having a small bowl at 1 p.m. while the baby naps in the car seat, one cheek sunburned, windows and back door open -- a warm breeze creeping into the kitchen.
On Monday our little family of three is headed to the airport at 6 am to board our first with-baby cross-country trip. We'll be visiting Sam's family in New Jersey for a few days, then renting a car and driving over to meet up with my family at my mom's lake house in the Adirondacks. Sam's younger sister and her kids have yet to meet Oliver; my grandpa has yet to meet him, and Oliver has yet to take a dunk in a lake, see a firefly, or spend quality time with energetic dogs -- of which there will be three. A lot of firsts. This week my family has been madly texting, volunteering to make certain meals or sweets on assigned days while we're at the cabin and it got me thinking about really simple, effortless summer desserts -- in particular, ones that you can make while staying in a house with an unfamiliar kitchen and unfamiliar equipment and still do a pretty bang-up job. I think fruit crisp is just that thing.