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.
Healthy Comfort Food
People describe raising young kids as a particular season in life. I hadn't heard this until we had a baby, but it brought me a lot of comfort when I'd start to let my mind wander, late at night between feedings, to fears that we'd never travel internationally again or have a sit-down meal in our dining room. Would I ever eat a cardamom bun in Sweden? Soak in Iceland? I loved the heck out of our tiny Oliver, but man what had we done?! Friends would swoop in and reassure us that this was just a season, a blip in the big picture of it all. They promised we'd likely not even remember walking around the house in circles singing made-up songs while eating freezer burritos at odd hours of the day (or night). And it's true.
Oliver is turning two next month, and those all-encompassing baby days feel like a different time, a different Us. In many ways, dare I say it, Toddlerhood actually feels a bit harder. Lately Oliver has become extremely opinionated about what he will and will not wear -- and he enforces these opinions with fervor. Don't get near the kid with a button-down shirt. This week at least. He's obsessed with his rain boots and if it were up to him, he'd keep them on at all times, especially during meals. He insists on ketchup with everything (I created a damn monster), has learned the word "trash" and insists on throwing found items away on his own that really, truly are not trash. I came to pick him up from daycare the other day and he was randomly wearing a bike helmet -- his teacher mentioned he'd had it on most of the day and really, really didn't want to take it off. The kid has FEELINGS. I love that about him, and wouldn't want it any other way. But, man it's also exhausting.
I just finished washing out Oliver's lunchbox and laying it out to dry for the weekend. My favorite time of day is (finally) here: the quiet of the evening when I can actually talk to Sam about our day or sit and reflect on my own thoughts after the inevitable dance party or band practice that precedes the bedtime routine lately. Before becoming pregnant for the second time, I'd have had a glass of wine with the back door propped open right about now -- these days though, I have sparkling water or occasionally take a sip from one of Sam's hard ciders. Except now the back door's closed and we even turned on the heat for the first time yesterday. The racing to water the lawn and clean the grill have been replaced by cozier dinners at home and longer baths in the evening. You blink and it's the first day of fall.
I'd heard from many friends that buying a house wasn't for the faint of heart. But I always shrugged it off, figuring I probably kept better files or was more organized and, really, how hard could it be? Well, I've started (and stopped) writing this post a good fifteen times which may indicate something. BUT! First thing's first: we bought a house! I think! I'm pretty sure! We're still waiting for some tax transcripts to come through and barring any hiccough with that, we'll be moving out of our beloved craftsman in a few weeks and down the block to a great, brick Tudor house that we wanted the second we laid eyes on it. The only problem: it seemed everyone else in Seattle had also laid eyes on it, and wanted it equally as much. I'm not really sure why the homeowner chose us in the end. Our offer actually wasn't the highest, but apparently there were some issues with a few of them. We wrote a letter introducing ourselves and describing why we'd be the best candidates and why we were so drawn to the house; we have a really wonderful broker who pulled out all the stops, and after sifting through 10 offers and spending a number of hours deliberating, they ended up going with ours. We were at a friend's book event at the time when Sam showed me the text from our broker and I kind of just collapsed into his arms. We were both in ecstatic denial (wait, is this real?! Did we just buy a house?) and celebrated by getting chicken salad and potato salad from the neighborhood grocery store and eating it, dazed, on our living room floor. Potato salad never tasted so good.
If your house is anything like ours, last week wasn't our most inspired in terms of cooking. We're all suffering from the post-election blues -- the sole upside being Oliver's decision to sleep-in until 7 am for the first time in many, many months; I think he's trying to tell us that pulling the covers over our heads and hibernating for awhile is ok. It's half-convincing. For much of the week, instead of cooking, there'd been takeout pizza and canned soup before, at week's end, I decided it was time to pour a glass of wine and get back into the kitchen. I was craving something hearty and comforting that we could eat for a few days. Something that wouldn't remind me too much of Thanksgiving because, frankly, I can't quite gather the steam to start planning for that yet. It was time for a big bowl of chili.
Porridge is not the sexiest of breakfasts, it's true. It doesn't have a stylish name like strata or shakshuka, and it doesn't have perfectly domed tops like your favorite fruity muffin. It doesn't crumble into delightful bits like a good scone nor does it fall into buttery shards like a well-made croissant. But when you wake up and it's 17 degrees outside (as it has been, give or take a few, for the last week), there's nothing that satisfies like a bowl of porridge or oatmeal. It's warm and hearty and can be made sweet or savory with any number of toppings. The problem? Over the years, it's gotten a bad rap as gluey or gummy or just downright boring or dutiful -- and it's because not everyone knows the secrets to making a great pot of warm morning cereal. So let's talk porridge (also: my cookbook comes out this month! So let's take a peek inside, shall we?)