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.
The Thanksgiving Table
Today is a different kind of day. Usually posts on this blog come about with the narrative and I manage to squeeze in a recipe. But sometimes when you really stumble upon a winning recipe, it speaks for itself. We'll likely make these beans for Thanksgiving this year. They're one of those simple stunners that you initially think couldn't be much of a thing. And then they come out of the oven all sweet and withered and flecked with herbs. You try one and you realize they are, in fact, a pretty big thing.
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.
It has begun. Talk of who is bringing what, where we'll buy the turkey, what kind of pies I'll make, early morning texts concerning brussels sprouts. There's no getting around it: Thanksgiving is on its way. And with it comes the inevitable reflecting back and thinking about what we're thankful for. And about traditions. The funny thing about traditions is that they exist because they've been around for a long time. Year after year after year. But then, one Thanksgiving maybe there's something new at the table.
I didn't expect green beans to bring up such a great discussion on traditions, sharing of poems and how a piece of writing can linger with you. So thank you for that. Your comments pointed out how important people and place are and how food takes the back seat when it comes right down to it. Even if you feel quite warm towards Thanksgiving and are looking forward to next week, reading about recipe suggestions and meal planning online and in magazines can start to feel tiresome right about now. Why? Because I suppose when it all comes down to it, in the big picture it doesn't matter what we all serve anyway. Next year, you likely won't remember one year's vegetable side dish from another. What you'll remember are the markers that dotted the year for you: whom you sat next to at the table, a toast or grace, and the sense of gratitude you felt for something -- large or small.
I got a text from my mom the other day that read: demerara sugar? I responded back with a question mark, not sure what she was referencing. It turns out she was experimenting with a new pie recipe that called for the natural sugar and wasn't sure why she couldn't just use white sugar as that's what she's always done in the past. A few days later we talked on the phone and she mentioned she'd let me take charge of the salad for Thanksgiving this year as long as there was no kale. No kale! And I wanted to do the mashed potatoes? Would they still be made with butter and milk? In short, we're always willing to mix things up in the Gordon household. Whether it's inspiration from a food magazine, friend or coworker, either my mom or one of my sisters will often have an idea for something new to try at the holiday table. But what I've slowly learned is that it can't really be that different: there must be pumpkin pie, the can of cranberry sauce is necessary even though not many people actually eat it, the onion casserole is non-negotiable, the salad can't be too out there, and the potatoes must be made with ample butter and milk. And while I was really scheming up an epic kale salad to make this year, there's a big part of me that gets it, too: if we change things too much we won't recognize the part of the day that comes to mean so much: the pure recognition. We take comfort in traditions because we recognize them -- because they're always there, year after year. And so today I present to you (mom, are you reading?): this year's Gordon family Thanksgiving salad.