The Heralding Day of Autumn

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I woke up last week and discovered that magically, in the deepest black of the night, autumn had subtly made her arrival.  The morning sky was grey and foggy, sprays of yellow and red crept into the verdant tree line, and the air was cool, intoxicating, and begging for me to inhale it all voraciously.  I smiled and my soul laughed.  This is my season and regardless of whatever storms are brewing, I feel my most powerful, most grounded in the autumn.

I took LM out to a local park on this glorious day.  He enjoyed exercising his physical limitations on a playground while I watched in awe of how strong his little body has become and how eagerly it collects every bit of mud and dirt it can possibly find.  We walked around the lake looking for deer and observing the new colors of wildflowers dancing in the brown, summer-burned fields.  They are not as ornate as the spring wildflowers yet are lovely in their own right.  The forest was anything but silent as acorns made their descent from towering branches.  They “pop” as they hit limbs and twigs on their gravitational ride downward; their tiny percussions echo, piercing the woods with an elegant staccato.  Then, as if enticed by the little symphonic beats, the rain began to fall pattering the leaves and puncturing the glassy lake with rippling little circles.

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The rain was still drizzling by the time we arrived home a little muddy yet invigorated.  Hot cocoa was in order as was baking something autumnal.  This impromptu baking urge required something simple and comforting.  Ah – Apple Blondies!  A household favorite enjoyed only once, or twice, a year.   Imagine buttery blondies with their thin, crunchy exterior giving way to a soft, melt-in-your-mouth interior with sweet apple in each bite – perfect for the heralding day of autumn.

 

Apple Blondies

½ cup + 1 tablespoon Butter, melted and cooled

1 cup All-Purpose Flour

1 teaspoon Ground Cinnamon

½ teaspoon Baking Powder

½ teaspoon Salt

¼ teaspoon Baking Soda

1 cup Sugar

1 Large Egg

2 Large Apples, peeled, cored, cut in half, and sliced

Use one tablespoon of the melted butter to grease a 9 x 13” baking pan**.   Whisk together the flour, cinnamon, baking powder, salt, and baking soda.  In another bowl, beat together the sugar, egg, and melted butter until pale, about two minutes.  Fold in the flour mixture.  Pour the batter in the pan and spread to the corners.  Place the apple slices on top of the batter, overlapping slightly, and pressing gently into the batter.

Bake the blondies in a pre-heated 350°F oven for 30 – 40 minutes.  The blondies will be lovely golden all over and the apples just starting to brown at the edges.  Cool the pan on a wire rack for half an hour and then cut into bars.

 

– Martha Stewart (Original Recipe here)

 

*When it comes to baking, I usually prefer McIntosh or Granny Smith. For these blondies, being they were a made on a whim, I used Galas.  They aren’t as strong in flavor as the other apples but do just as well and hold up nicely.  Do you have a favorite baking apple?

** The original recipe calls for an 8 x 11″ pan.  I do not own one and find a 9×13″ with a shorter baking time is fine.  If you want a thicker blondie then try out the smaller pan and aim for the full 40 minutes.

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Standing Still (And Metaphorical Scones)

River

I’ve been a bit melancholy lately.   I blame it on the impending equinox. I feel restless.  I’ve made up my mind to quit this blog about five times.  Every morning I want an adventure but feel like staying home.  I want to wear sweaters and run through piles of leaves but am mourning the ending of our sunshine-filled days by the poolside.  I’ve gone through my closet three times already and have started a donation pile based on colors I don’t like anymore.

My solace is that the weather is also being moody.  Cool grey mornings followed by muggy afternoons with sunny rainstorms.  I have no need of mirrors anymore, I just look out the window.

Transitions are hard. As a child constant change was the norm, we moved every few years and sometimes to a completely different country – Germany.  Also inculde Texas in the category.  During my childhood, nomadic adventurism wrote itself into my genetic code.  Then one day I stopped moving, fell in love, and decided to call one place home.

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I am grateful for this standstill, for the opportunity to lay down roots and nurture a life for my family.  It is a life I always imagined as a little girl, having a physical home, family and friends close enough for holidays and weekend gatherings.  However, as I begin to pull out boxes of sweaters and put away straw hats,  my brain and my heart begin colluding without my permission.  They start whispering, nagging “Shouldn’t we be going somewhere? Doing something life changing? Something spectacularly terrifying?”

I have no idea how to stand still while the world around me changes, how to be a constant amid fluctuation.  I am a novice in accepting small changes, such as the shift in seasons, without becoming impossibly capricious, dramatically introspective, and turning every detail into a miniature life-crisis.  Not all great things in life need to be significantly life-altering, although they often are.  The little things grow into monumental milestones and journeys cannot be had without thousands of individual footsteps.  I am learning how to embrace these little things, the simple and quiet things of my life, in a grandiose way.

I’m sure my funky mood will last for a few more weeks.  My restlessness will have me thinking about deleting my Facebook account once or twice, throwing out the couch because it takes up far too much room, and getting bangs, which I already tried this year and hated.  I think my best defense is to replace these these urges with positive action.  And so,  I am taking the recent advice of one of my dearest: to enjoy life, stop over thinking, and “cook your heart out.”

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The kitchen is a calming place for me.  With every move, my mother always first unpacked the beds and then the kitchen.  Any place could begin feeling like home once you had a place to lay your head and fill your belly.  There is something grounding about cooking and baking, despite whatever significant or insignificant thing is on my mind, the kitchen is where I am again cohered.  All I have to do is follow a recipe, new or beloved, and I get a pleasurably predictable result.

I decided to make a favorite recipe: scones also caught in the cross-hairs of the seasonal transition.  (I always love  metaphorical food.)   Strawberry Rosemary Scones are a wonderful combination of summer-y sweet strawberry and autumnal herbaceous rosemary.  Unlike heartier scones – which I enjoy – that require some clotted cream and tea to balance out, these scones are tender and sweet; perfect for enjoying with a cup of hot tea or cold milk depending on what the weather calls for.  Moreover, they are perfect for diverting me from re-arranging our bedroom on my own.  Again.

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Strawberry Rosemary Scones

2 cups Flour

½ cup Sugar

2 teaspoon Baking Powder

1 tablespoon Fresh Rosemary, finely chopped

¼ teaspoon Salt

6 tablespoons Cold Butter, cut into pieces

1 cup Heavy Cream

1/3 cup Strawberry Preserves

In a food processor, pulse flour, sugar, baking powder, rosemary, and salt to combine.  Add the butter pieces and pulse just until crumbly.  Transfer mixture to a bowl.  Slowly stir in the heavy cream to form a dough.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough to 10” circle about ½ “ thick.  Use a 3” cookie or biscuit cutter to cut out the scones.  Place the rounds on a parchment-lined cookie sheet, an inch apart.  Gently bring together leftover dough, roll out again, and cut out more scones.  Discard any remaining dough.

Using the back of a teaspoon, press an indentation into the center of each scone.  Fill each indentation with a teaspoon of the strawberry preserves.  Bake in a 375°F oven for 18 to 20 minutes, the edges of the scones will be golden.  Cool on a wire rack before serving.

This makes about 14 scones.

 

Recipe from Giada De Laurentiis  (The original recipe has a glaze for the scones.  I prefer mine without.)

 

 

 

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Photo Credit – The picture of LM smelling the flowers was taken by my friend, JB, at the Dale City Farmer’s Market.

Autumnal Farewell

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‘Your eyes that once were never weary of mine

‘Are bowed in sorrow under pendulous lids,

‘Because our love is waning.’

 

And then she:

‘Although our love is waning, let us stand

‘By the lone border of the lake once more,

‘Together in that hour of gentleness

‘When the poor tired child, Passion, falls asleep:

‘How far away the stars seem, and how far

‘Is our first kiss, and ah, how old my heart!’

 

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Pensive they paced along the faded leaves,

While slowly he whose hand held hers replied:

‘Passion has often worn our wandering hearts.’


The woods were round them, and the yellow leaves

Fell like faint meteors in the gloom, and once

A rabbit old and lame limped down the path;

Autumn was over him: and now they stood

On the lone border of the lake once more:

Turning, he saw that she had thrust dead leaves

Gathered in silence, dewy as her eyes,

In bosom and hair.

 

‘Ah, do not mourn,’ he said,

‘That we are tired, for other loves await us:

‘Hate on and love through unrepining hours;

‘Before us lies eternity; our souls

‘Are love, and a continual farewell.

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I am emphatically captivated by autumn:  The gold and crimson leaves shocking the grey skies;  the smell of nutmeg and roasting squash filling my kitchen; brisk morning walks invigorating the body and awakening the spirit; dark evenings spent reading  a good book.   As of late, Yeats has been my read of choice, rekindling my love for poetry.  “Stolen Child” is has always been a favorite.  I’ve read and re-read it so many times that the words have rooted into my memory, and yet, I still always cry a little at the end.

However, this year “Ephemera,” has entranced me, emphasizing another aspect of my beloved autumn: Growth and Renewal.   I find this season of celebrating life and harvest irrevocably intertwined with the acknowledgment of death as its partner.  As the leaves fall, making way for impending winter, I remember that to grow with dignity and evolve with grace I must accept the ending of things with just as much elegance and fortitude as preparation for future challenges.  Whether it is a habit or expectations that I lay to rest, a relationship, or a chapter in life, I can never realize my greatest potential by carrying with me all of my past.  Our memories should propel us to greater things ahead, never should they imprison us in the shadows and ghosts of a long-gone reality.  Before us lies eternity, and as we move toward eternity, we must live presently in our continual farewell.

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Even if it is a little mourned, a farewell should be celebrated.  I prefer to celebrate with cake.   Perhaps you find it odd that I discuss poetry, philosophical musings, and then proceed to  cake as though it all goes together.  Is this comprehensive?  Does it all flow?  I’ve given up on order and structure a long time ago – not only is it boring, but is an expectation that is rarely fulfilled.  Life is moves rapidly, chaotically, one most bathe in every depth and dimension of it.  Soak in the color of the autumn!  Vow to self-refinement!  Read intelligently!  Love ardently!  Celebrate in the little things, trinkets, and tidbits of time that connect the dots of our existence!  Eat cake!

This Pumpkin Cake is a celebration in and of itself.  It  is anything but pretentious, reveling in its own simplicity and brilliance.  You could serve it plain with a dusting of sugar, but the Brown Butter Frosting is a religious experience, transforming this cake from delicious to transcendent.  I actually broke into a little fit of enthusiastic, and for some reason, slightly diabolical laughter when I first tasted it. The Brown Butter adds a smooth, nutty, buttery fullness that plays well  with the cotton candy-like sweetness of the frosting complimenting perfectly the simplicity of the cake.  This is best served with strong coffee and stimulating conversation.

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Pumpkin Cake with Brown Butter Frosting

For the Cake

8 tablespoon  Unsalted Butter, at room temperature, plus more for the pan

1 2/3 cups  All-Purpose Flour, plus more for the pan

1 teaspoon Ground Cinnamon

¼ teaspoon Ground Nutmeg

¼ teaspoon Ground Allspice

½ teaspoon Salt

½ teaspoon Baking Powder

½ teaspoon Baking Soda

1 ½ cups Sugar

2 Large Eggs

1 cup Pumpkin Purée, canned or fresh

½ cup Whole Milk, warmed (110 degrees)

Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Butter a 9” round cake pan and line with parchment.  Butter the parchment and then coat the pan with flour, tapping out any excess.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, salt, baking soda, and baking powder.  Set aside.

In a separate bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Add eggs and beat until combined.  Add pumpkin purée and milk, beat until combined.  Add the flour mixture, beating on low speed until just combined.

Pour batter into prepared pan.  Bake for 40 – 55 minutes, until the center is springy to the touch or cake tester comes out clean.  Transfer the cake to a wire rack to cool and let rest in the pan for 20 minutes.

Unmold the cake onto a plate and let finish cooling before frosting.

For the Frosting

8 tablespoon Unsalted Butter

2 cups Confectioner’s Sugar, sifted

2 teaspoons Pure Vanilla Extract

2 tablespoons Whole Milk

Place a tempered bowl in a fridge to chill.  In a small saucepan, melt butter over low to medium heat.  The butter will begin to foam then crackle, turning brown and develops the nutty aroma.  The whole process takes about 10 minutes.  Pour brown butter  into the chilled bowl and set aside.  (You can complete this step earlier in the day, keeping the brown butter at room temperature until you are ready to make the frosting.)

Pour the brown butter into a mixing bowl, add the confectioner’s sugar, 1 tablespoon of milk, and the vanilla.  Beat on medium-high until smooth.  Adding the remaining tablespoon of milk, little by little, until a spreadable consistency is achieved.  Use immediately.

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– Original Recipe from Martha Stewart (here).  For everything you need to know about making Brown Butter, view this post from one of my favorite blogs, Poires au Chocolat.

 

 

-This poem is titled “Ephemera” (1895) by William Butler Yeats.

Time Travel

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Time is not linear or progressive.  It bends, flowing chaotically, moving us from place to place, from moment to moment.  Sometimes you can travel through the minutes and years with an instantaneous thought, recalling sensations and intimacy of a forgotten existence.  Sometimes you need a time machine.  They really aren’t that hard to come by, you just need to know how to find them.  We all have our own, particular to us.  They surround us, always ready for use, patiently waiting to bring us through worlds past and present, remembrance of things good and bad.

My latest time machine was a purchase.  Usually they are free, but sometimes you need to buy one.  This one was small red box decorated with pictures of animals.  I originally bought it for my son, as a little surprise, unaware of its transmutable power.

There we were, my boy and I, sitting on a blanket I had laid out on the floor.  He rubbed his eyes, still sleepy from an afternoon nap, and his wispy blonde hair stuck up on one side of his head.  I sipped Earl Grey.  Tea time.  One of my favorite moments in the day.  I placed the red box in the middle of the blanket.  His eyes opened with curiosity.  I pulled up the lid, revealing a brown waxy package crimped at the top.  A sugary aroma mixed with wheat and cardboard drifts upwards as I pull apart the edges and exotic creatures begin their escape.

I no longer exist in the now.

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I am pulled and replaced.  My hands are small, fingers long but still a little chubby, poking through a metal framework of squares.  My knees are up to my chest, making room for boxes of spaghetti, cans of soup, and a bunch of bananas also residing in my space.  My mother and brothers are nearby, but I do not see them.  Right now I am obsessed with the same red box, being held by a thin, papery, white string looped around my arm.  There is a circus in my little purse.  I stop poking my fingers through the side of the cart, reach inside, and pull out a ridiculous monkey with a banana.  He is ridiculous because all monkeys are.  He runs along my knees, attempting to jump through one of the little metal squares, but today is not his day.  I devour him, head first of course.  That is the merciful way to do it.  Next, I pull out an elephant, who was quite furious that the monkey was let out first, until he, too, realized his fate.  One by one, giraffes, hippos, and lions leave in my ultimate enjoyment, until the only crumbs and a few limbs remain.

I begin to move.  Traveling forward, my pasts intertwine, where glimpses of my life move through a zoetrope of space and time progressing faster and faster.  Memories blur, seconds collide.  Faster and faster until I – STOP.

Playtime

My son has his hand deep in the heart of the circus and pulls out a giraffe.  He laughs and knowingly bites off the head first.  He is not old enough to time travel yet, but I know I’ll be back here one day – sitting with him and watching his sheer pleasure over his first box of animal crackers.  I’ll tell him about it.  The day he tamed lions, ate a giraffe, held an elephant in the palm of his hand, and danced around with ridiculous monkeys.

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