Getting Ready to Give Thanks & Roasted Brussels Sprouts & Sweet Potatoes

There is a light at the end of the Blahvember tunnel. Dull or shining, that light is Thanksgiving and it will be here in just a few short weeks. Nothing beats Thanksgiving for inspiring both gratitude and conflict. Think about it. What other holiday inspires joy in some while unleashing fear or dread in others? Host or guest, it doesn’t matter – contrary feelings persist around tables across America.

Thanksgiving fans embrace the day. A good many of them love to cook. For those that prefer life outside the kitchen, they have workarounds like potlucks and restaurants. No matter the circumstance or place, Thanksgiving fans are absolutely delighted to spend the holiday with a tableful of friends and family.

To both borrow and mangle a line from W.C. Fields, Thanksgiving detractors would rather be in Philadelphia. For them, Thanksgiving is a highly combustible gathering of gripes and grumbles. Siblings, cousins, ex-s and in-laws, these relationships can be fraught with rivalry, disdain or both. Add a few too many glasses of wine and an explosion of one kind or another is more or less guaranteed.

Now, it’s upon us. Whether you meant to or not, you raised your hand over Labor Day weekend and agreed to host Turkey Day. That means, it’s time to get organized. And no, you can’t go back and pretend you were kidding or swatting a nonexistent mosquito.

Start by letting everyone know that Thanksgiving is still on and you’re still hosting. Give them an arrival time and turn a deaf ear to complaints. It’s an age-old fact, no matter what time you choose, afternoon – early or late – or wait until evening, some big football game will kick off at just the wrong minute. Ignore the complaints, cue the DVR and have a lovely dinner. By the way, it’s always nice to encourage your guests to bring along any Thanksgiving orphans.

Invitations done; the menu is next. Unless of course, you have one of those families. You know the type. They insist on the same menu every year. A few might even admit that they don’t really like great-grandma Annabel’s stuffing or great-great-aunt Betty’s yams. They just like the sense of tradition that a decades old menu brings.

My family is one of those types. If it wasn’t on Nana’s Thanksgiving table, they don’t particularly want it on theirs. Except for me. Makes you wonder; was I somehow switched at birth? Anyway, I haven’t exactly ignored them – just reinvented an old dish or three. Okay, maybe I have ignored them but I like to think of it as gently nudging my nearest and dearest out of an antiquated food rut.

My reinventions are not all that dramatic. Instead of boiling, I roast the vegetables and have amped up the decadence on the smashed potatoes. No one but no one is complaining about the spuds. That said, although he loves my Roasted Butternut Soup, my brother is still accusing me of heresy for dropping Mom’s stuffing. On a more positive note, everyone seems delighted that pumpkin cheesecake has replaced pie.

If you’ve hesitated to change things up, stop worrying. While they may threaten, your family won’t disown you over a few Brussels sprouts.

Happy planning, happy cooking and bon appétit!

Roasted Brussels Sprouts & Sweet Potatoes

Brussels sprouts and sweet potatoes were not part of my childhood Thanksgiving. However, I like them as does about half of my family. So, last year, I added them to our Thanksgiving table. Enjoy!

Serves 8

  • 12 ounces thick cut bacon, cut in small pieces*
  • About 2 pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed and quartered
  • About 2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut in 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon thyme
  • 1 teaspoon sage
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1-2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • About 1/2 cup chopped walnuts, toasted

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Heat a skillet with over medium, add the bacon and cook until it starts to brown. Remove from the pan and reserve. Reserve the rendered bacon fat as well.

Put the Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes and onion in a roasting pan, drizzle with enough equal parts bacon fat and vinegar to lightly coat and toss to combine. Sprinkle with thyme and sage, season with salt and pepper and toss again.

Tossing at the midpoint, roast the vegetables at 375 degrees for 30 minutes. Add the bacon, garlic and chicken broth, toss to combine and roast for 15 minutes. Give the vegetables another toss and continue roasting until tender, another 10-15 minutes

Transfer the vegetables to a serving bowl, sprinkle with toasted walnuts and serve.

*  If you have a few vegetarians at your table, you may want to skip the bacon. Instead of bacon fat, toss the veggies in olive oil. Along with the toasted walnuts, sprinkle with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and serve.

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Blahvember & Curried Cauliflower Soup

Oh my, it’s that time of year again. It’s one of my two least favorite months – November. (The other is April by the way.) Also known as Blahvember because, well, look outside. All those brightly colored leaves, the ones that bring fame and tourists to northern New England, they’re lying in soggy piles on the side of the road. Day in and day out, it’s one gray, drizzly day after another. Hmph, I feel like one of those hapless kids stuck in a Dr. Seuss tale.

There doesn’t seem to be a whole heck of a lot to do or even look forward to. Halloween is in the rearview mirror and Thanksgiving doesn’t come until the very end of the month. To top it off, if you missed the time change, well, for the past few days, you’ve been early to work or the gym or wherever you spend your mornings. Think of it; just when we need it most, we’re no longer saving daylight. Then again, once bedtime and waketime rearrange themselves, the change doesn’t seem so bad. Afterall, it’s light or almost light when the alarm goes off.

As an early morning walker, I appreciate the earlier sunrise. Then something happens. Once a week, twice a week, I wake to a deluge or have an early morning appointment. No big deal. These little inconveniences can’t keep me from my daily tour of the lake. I simply postpone until afternoon. That’s when, heading into the homestretch, it becomes miserably apparent that it’s dark at 4:30. Yes … dark, as in dark as night … at 4:30 … in the afternoon. Ugh!

So, what can you do about it? There’s always sulking or a Hallmark Channel movie marathon. Then again, how about that list of chores that never seem to get done? If your list is anything like mine, it’s not very motivating.

It might be more productive, make that more fun, to get a jump on holidays. You know, get out the knitting needles or your favorite crafty supplies and make stuff. An afternoon in the kitchen is always a pleasure or at least it is for me. Stir up a pot of soup or marinara sauce. Speaking of holidays, my butternut squash soup is perfect for Thanksgiving and freezes beautifully. Or you could bake some Christmas cookies and tuck them into the freezer. Cooking is a lot more fun than cleaning the garage; warmer too.

Skiers, snowshoers and other outdoor types can bring it in and out of the rain. Think about signing up for one of those super-duper fitness classes. It will help you get your abs, gluts and quads in shape. (If that sounds like I know what I’m talking about, don’t be fooled.) Oh, and by the way, signing up is fine but to make it work; you actually have to go to the class and participate.

Alternatively, November might be a good time to take up tai chi or yoga. While not as hardcore as boot camp or whatever those high-powered conditioning classes are called, both will build flexibility, strength and balance. Keeping your balance on an icy sidewalk is always a good thing. An added bonus, meditative exercise is a great stress reliever.

Wishing you a happy and boredom-free November. Bon appétit!

Curried Cauliflower Soup

Cold, gray, drizzly November, is the perfect time to stir up a kettle of soup – or two. Get an early start on Thanksgiving preparations with my Roasted Butternut Squash Soup and/or try something new with a little spice. Either way or both – enjoy!

Makes about 4 quarts

  • 1/2 cup or to taste curry paste (recipe follows or use your favorite store bought)
  • 2-3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 1/2-3 pounds cauliflower, trimmed and broken into florets
  • 1-2 Yukon gold potatoes, about 8 ounces, peeled and quartered
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 1 large onion, cut in eighths
  • About 2 quarts chicken or vegetable stock or broth
  • About 2 cups unsweetened coconut milk
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Cilantro-Lime Chutney (recipe follows)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Put the curry paste in a small bowl, add the vinegar and oil and whisk with a fork to combine. Put the vegetables in a large roasting pan, add with the curry paste mixture and toss to coat.

Stirring and tossing once or twice, roast the vegetables at 375 degrees for about 30 minutes. Add 4 cups of stock, reduce the heat to 350 degrees and return to the oven for 15 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Remove from the oven and cool for about 30 minutes.

Working in batches, puree the vegetables with a little stock and/or coconut milk in a blender or food processor until smooth.

Put the cauliflower puree into a soup pot, add the remaining stock and coconut milk and the bay leaf and place on the stovetop. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, reduce to low and simmer for 15 minutes.

If you have the time, cool to room temperature, cover and refrigerate for several hours or overnight. Reheat on medium low.

To serve: ladle the soup into bowls or mugs, swirl a dollop of Cilantro-Lime Chutney into the soup and serve.

Curry Paste

Makes about 1 cup

  • 4 tablespoons curry powder
  • 2 tablespoons coriander
  • 2 tablespoons cumin
  • 1 teaspoon or to taste chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 6 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 (2-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
  • About 1/4 cup olive oil

Put the spices in a small food processor and pulse to combine. Add the garlic and ginger and pulse to chop and combine. Add the olive oil and process until the mixture forms a smooth paste.

Can be made ahead, covered and stored in the refrigerator.

Cover and store leftover curry paste in the refrigerator.

Cilantro-Lime Chutney

Makes about 1 cup

  • Zest and juice of 1 lime
  • 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 scallion, sliced
  • 1/2 or to taste jalapeno pepper
  • 2-3 cups roughly chopped cilantro – leaves and tender stems
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup or to taste extra-virgin olive oil

Put the vinegar and lime zest and juice in the bowl of a small food processor, add the scallions, garlic, jalapeno and cilantro, season with salt and pepper and pulse to chop and combine. Add the olive oil and process until smooth.

Let the chutney sit for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Can be made ahead, covered and stored in the refrigerator. Serve at room temperature.

Cover and store leftover chutney in the refrigerator or in the freezer.

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All Hallows Eve & Vegetable & Rice (or Noodle) Bowls

There are holidays and, then, there are HOLIDAYS. Thanksgiving and Christmas tend to top the charts but Halloween has to be an ever-so-close runner up. So, why does Halloween beat all the other movers and shakers? Think about it, kids get the day off from school on Columbus Day – in spite of a ton of controversy. On the other hand, All Hallows Eve, is loads of fun but no one gets the day off.

Then again, Halloween is not without controversy. Over the past several of years, some Halloween costumes have found themselves in the news. Instead of fun fantasy or scary spookdom, some disguises are nothing short of offensive. So, here’s some simple advice, when it comes to Halloween, don’t be a yahoo.

In case you are wondering, what’s a yahoo? Say the word a few times, out loud with enthusiasm. Now, think about the kind of person who might fit that description and you’ll get the picture. If you’re still not sure; it all boils down to this – don’t choose an offensive costume. Traditional or inventive, have fun with it but show some common sense. Show some common courtesy.

As I understand it; there are some politicians, pundits and their fans out there who are getting tired of political correctness. With or without air quotes, politically correct has somehow or other become an insult. But wait a minute there; back up the train. Accusing someone of political correctness is like accusing them of common courtesy. How or why would anyone suggest that being polite is a bad thing?

I don’t know about your mom but Mrs. Nye didn’t raise her kids to be rude. She didn’t raise them to be bullies or to offend people that didn’t look, act or talk the way they did. No, Mrs. Nye raised her kids to be pumpkins and fairy princesses, clowns and super heroes, witches, vampires, ghosts and goblins.

Which brings us back to the initial question, why does Halloween beat all those other holidays in the top of the pops charts? Easy – it’s the costumes. It’s fun to dress up. It’s fun to pretend you are someone or something else. It’s fun to give your imagination free rein and come up with an amazing costume. It’s fun to show how clever you are. Dress up is part of being a kid and being a kid again.

So have a ball. Throw caution to the wind; let your imagination run wild. Be silly, be scary, be surprising. One of my favorite costumes of all time was a group effort. Three or four friends dressed up as a construction site. One put on a yellow slicker, reflective vest and hardhat while the others dressed up as traffic cones, complete with flashing lights. At least for me, it was clever, funny and memorable because – how in the world do you come up with such an idea? To be a traffic cone, a TRAFFIC CONE, for Halloween?

This year and every year, forget stereotypes. Black face and Nazis are more outdated than your great-grandfather’s fedora. However, a fedora could be the start of something interesting. Or maybe a bowler? Anyway, if you are unsure about a costume, ask yourself, “What would my kids or grandkids or future kids or grandkids think?” Would they laugh? Or, would they squirm uncomfortably and, then, shrug, sigh and admit that, as much as they love you; you’re a yahoo.

Happy Halloween and bon appétit!

Vegetable & Rice (or Noodle) Bowls

Everyone likes a cozy dish on a chilly night. These spicy vegetable bowls are quick and easy at the end of a busy day – or after trick or treating! If you like, add tofu or shrimp or slices of leftover chicken or pork. Enjoy!

Serves 4

  • Vegetable oil
  • 1 pound broccoli, cut in bite-sized pieces
  • 1 pound mushrooms, sliced or chopped
  • 1/2 onion, finely chopped
  • 1-2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1-inch piece ginger, peeled and minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons or to taste sriracha
  • 2 tablespoons tahini or smooth peanut butter
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 12-16 ounces tofu or leftover chicken or pork (optional)
  • 1 cup rice or 8 ounces Chinese or udon noodles
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 1/4 cup peanuts, toasted and finely chopped or toasted sesame seeds
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions
  • 1/4 cup roughly chopped cilantro

Lightly coat a large wok or skillet with vegetable oil and heat over medium-high. Add the broccoli, mushrooms, onion and carrots and tossing frequently, cook until the onion is translucent. Add the ginger and garlic and, tossing frequently, cook for 2 minutes more.

Stir in the sriracha, tahini, vinegar, soy sauce, fish sauce and sugar and toss to combine. Stir in the chicken stock. If using, add the tofu, chicken or pork, toss to combine. Bring to a simmer, reduce the heat and simmer until the broccoli is tender-crisp, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the noodles or rice according to package directions.

Transfer the noodles or rice to a large platter or individual bowls. Stir the sesame oil to the vegetables. Top the noodles or rice with vegetables, sprinkle with peanuts, scallions and cilantro and serve immediately.

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We’re Better Than That & Another Peanut Butter Brownie

Feeling achy and slightly dizzy from a head cold, I was stunned last Thursday to learn that Elijah Cummings had died. As head of the Oversight Committee in the House of Representatives, clips of him at work were regularly featured on the morning and evening news. Elijah Cummings had been in my kitchen cross-examining Homeland Security officials while I cooked dinner. He had been in my bedroom speaking with Michael Cohen as I got ready for the day.

I have little if anything in common with Representative Cummings. He was a child of south, the son of sharecroppers. He was a brilliant student, a member of Phi Beta Kappa, who went on to become a lawyer and statesman. I have no ties to Baltimore or Maryland. I’m a child of the northeast, of suburbia, who now lives in rural New Hampshire. My dad was in sales; my mother a homemaker. There was never any question that I would go to college. My career path has had its twists and turns – teaching, business and writing. In college and beyond, I have always done well. However, I have rarely, if ever, been accused of brilliance.

Even with so little in common learning of his death took my breath away. He was so young. I come from long lines of octogenarians and nonagenarians so sixty-eight seems barely middle age. Today, life expectancy in the United States is 78.7. Why, he was still in his prime with more battles to wage and win. Along with relative youth, he was an inspiring orator. Through his words, he brought compassion and humanity to the Hill.

In particular, I was taken by two things he said in the last year or so. The first was to Michael Cohen. At the end of a hearing with Cohen, Representative Cummings passed along words that were both moving and empathetic. He challenged all of us, “When we’re dancing with the angels, the question will be asked, in 2019, what did we do to make sure we kept our democracy intact?”

It is a fascinating question. One that doesn’t just apply to 2019 or to the current chaos in Washington. Perhaps, when that day comes, when we are dancing with the angels, we should all ask ourselves, “What did I do, to make the world a better place.”

I’m sure that each and every one of us has a laundry list of good deeds. For a few of us, not me, some of those deeds are huge – saving a life, rescuing a damsel in distress or puppy from a storm drain. For most of us, our good deeds are quite small. Perhaps you made someone smile today or picked up trash along the road. Maybe you spent the afternoon baking brownies with or for a loved one. No matter how small, never, ever think of these deeds as inconsequential.

The second quote, this one I’ve heard more than once. It was a comment made anywhere and anytime that lawmakers seemed to have forgotten their humanity. That’s when Representative Cummings would assert, “We are better than that.” There are variations on this theme, including “We can do better.”

We all have our evil twins. Most of us do our best to keep that part of ourselves hidden. If, or perhaps I should say when – When you feel yourself slipping into that mean persona, gently pull yourself back and remember; I am better than this. It’s easy to fall down a rabbit hole of negativity, even cruelty. Don’t; instead, always remember – you are better than that.

Rest in peace Elijah Cummings. Thank you for helping us find our better selves and bon appétit!

Another Peanut Butter Brownie Recipe

I baked these brownies for my niece and her boyfriend a week or two ago. We drank tea, ate brownies and read old love letters. Letters that my grandfather had written to my grandmother from France during World War I. All in all, it was a wonderful afternoon and, once again, proved an event doesn’t have to be big to be special. Enjoy!

Makes 24 brownies

  • 2 1/4 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  • 12 ounces semi-sweet or milk chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9×13-inch baking pan.

Put the flour, baking soda and salt in a bowl and whisk to combine.

With an electric mixer, beat the peanut butter, butter and sugar on medium-high speed until creamy. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until smooth.

Reduce the mixer speed to low, slowly add the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Fold in the chocolate chips.

Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan. Bake the brownies at 350 degrees until the edges begin to pull away from sides of pan and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached, about 20 minutes.

Cool in the pan, cut and serve.

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Life in a Small New England Town & Pumpkin-Sausage Ragù

A bunch of years ago, some friends were visiting from Switzerland. It was the Summer of the Gnus. I did what everyone else in town did with guests that summer. I took them on a walking tour of Main Street to see the colorful cows. It was a lovely day, warm and sunny. We parked at the top of the town green, stopped for coffee along the way and turned around at the farm. We chatted and admired and chatted some more.

About the time we turned around to head back to the car, Bob remarked, “At least a dozen people have greeted you by name.” I’m pretty sure he was exaggerating but he continued, “I could walk up and down the Rue du Rhone all day and not see anyone I knew.” Or maybe he mentioned the Rue de l’Hotel-de-Ville, it was a while ago. Anyway, there is nothing anonymous about living in a small town. No, not everyone knows your name but a good many do. And for those that don’t, there’s a pretty good chance they know someone in your family.

With or without houseguests, October is a wonderful time to meander up and down Main Street. Just about now, the foliage is at its peak. It’s cool enough to wear a sweater but you don’t need to pile on a parka and heavy boots. If you grew up in New England, a sweater has got to be your favorite piece of clothing. Southern girls can have their fluffy, flowery dresses, Californians – their bikinis and let those Midwest farm girls wear their jeans or overalls or whatever. Gimme a cozy sweater any day. Cotton, wool or cashmere, they’re all good.

Today, only a handful of gnus continue to strut their stuff on Main Street. The majority were adopted and are now hidden away in backyards. Luckily, October brings a brand new diversion – the invasion of the Pumpkin People. So please, you must take an hour to wander up and down Main Street. If you want; you can make a few stops along the way and support the local economy. Buy yet another sweater or sip a coffee in the sunshine. It’s all good.

If you’re feeling particularly energized, you can take it around the bend. There are a few more Pumpkin People on Newport Road. While nothing was up as I rushed to meet my deadline, the hospital can usually be counted on for a nice display. For anyone counting steps, the round trip from the top of the Town Green to the hospital and back is about three miles.

It’s more than worth the trip. The creativity of our merchants is impressive and you will be absolutely charmed by the Cub Scouts’ delightful display. From Dorothy and her three friends sashaying down the yellow brook road to Cookie Monster and Elmo, there something for everyone.

As important, you’ll see lots of smiling people. Real people that is, not the pumpkin head kind. There’s a very good chance that at least one real person will compliment your sweater. The combination of wonderful foliage, pumpkins and smiles will remind you of why small New England towns are so special.

Happy fall and bon appétit!

Pumpkin-Sausage Ragù

This cozy, country-style ragù is great with pasta on a chilly night. Enjoy!

Serves 8

  • 2 pounds eating pumpkin* or winter squash, seeded, peeled and cut in small dice (3-4 cups)
  • Olive oil
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 large onion, cut in small dice
  • 1 1/2-2 pounds Italian sausage – sweet or hot or a mix, casings removed and cut into small pieces
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh sage
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 2 cups or more chicken broth
  • 1-2 tablespoons cognac
  • 1 cup or more half and half
  • 1 pound hearty short or long pasta, try rigatoni, fettucine or tortellini
  • Garnish: grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and/or Pecorino Romano cheese

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Put the pumpkin in a large skillet, drizzle with enough equal parts olive oil and vinegar to lightly coat, sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss to coat. Roast for 15 minutes.

Add the onion and sausage to pumpkin and toss to combine. Return to the oven for 15 minutes.

Add the garlic, herbs and nutmeg to the pan and toss to combine. Stir in the white wine, 1 cup chicken broth and the cognac and return to the oven.

After 15 minutes, give the ragù a stir, add more chicken broth if necessary and return to the oven. After another 15 minutes, stir in the half and half and return to the oven for a final 10-15 minutes.

Meanwhile cook the pasta according to package directions.

Reserving a little of the pasta water, drain the pasta and return it to the pot. Add the ragù and toss to combine. If the pasta seems dry, add a little of the pasta water or more chicken broth or cream. Cover and cook on low for 1-2 minutes.

Transfer the pasta to a deep platter or individual shallow bowls and serve with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and/or Pecorino Romano.

* The pumpkins you carve for Halloween are stringy and tasteless, not good for eating. Try a sugar, cheese or peek-a-boo pumpkin. Then again, you can’t go wrong with butternut squash.

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Turn on the Heat & Maple-Ginger Apple Crisp

The autumnal equinox assured one and all that fall was here. It’s only been a few weeks, but the weather has not been particularly fall-ish. Although there’s been a couple of frosty mornings and a few cool days, for the most part, it feels a lot like August. I tend to let my early walks gage the change of season. It is an annual cycle of shorts to leggings to double leggings then back to a single pair and shorts again. Except for a one-day blip, I’m still in shorts.

The shift to leggings is only one of a good many sign of the changing seasons. A few fall indicators, maybe more than a few, kick off before the equinox. I’m not sure if that’s quite right but who am I to judge. Anyway, there is a long list of clues to let you know it’s fall. For some, it’s the first flash of foliage. For others; it’s when Halloween candy hits supermarket shelves. Football fanatics loudly applaud the first game and, yes, preseason counts – ask any fan.

Then again, perhaps the first pumpkin spice drink is your harbinger of autumn. In case you are wondering, no, I don’t imbibe in pumpkin spice lattes or pumpkin spice martinis. Yes, I know they are wildly popular. But don’t look to me to embrace all things fall with a frou-frou drink in one hand and a pumpkin in the other. I need both hands for the pumpkin.

That’s not to say that I am without wicked indulgences. I bake a fabulous (if I do say so myself) pumpkin cheesecake every Thanksgiving. And yes, it’s packed with traditional pumpkin pie spices plus a tablespoon of cognac. If you don’t have cognac you can substitute rum.

Anyway, after a summer in shorts and T-shirts, most fall firsts are about cooler temperatures and getting cozy. While I stick to my basic skim-milk-no-foam latte, I do look forward to the first fire in the fireplace. I’m also happy to slide the first plump chicken into the oven to roast. Of course, I’m delighted to bring home the first local apples and bake up something wonderful. I’d be remiss if I didn’t include stirring up the first pots of soup and chili as well as marinara and/or Bolognese.

As much as I love cozy, there is one first I do my best to avoid for as long as possible. That’s the first time I put on socks. As for chilly evenings by the lake, well, I’ve been known to sport naked ankles while wearing a down parka.

Perhaps the toughest fall first decision is WHEN TO TURN ON THE HEAT. I avoid the inevitable acceptance that it is no longer summer or Indian summer or early fall for as long as possible. It was easier when I lived abroad in rented apartments. True or not, the rumor among expatriates was that the Swiss powers-that-be had decreed a standing date. Every October, it might have been the third Monday or the twentieth or sometime around then, the heat came on.

September could be record breaking cold or October unseasonably warm; it didn’t matter. The radiator began to clang right on schedule, never a day early and never a day late. Make the mistake of timidly asking for heat before the designated day and the landlord would simply tell you to put on a sweater. Too hot? Well, open the window.

Back in New Hampshire, I have no landlord to regulate the thermostat. My bank balance determines when I finally click the heat on. For now, I’m putting on a sweater.

Have a cozy fall and bon appétit!

Maple-Ginger Apple Crisp

Everyone loves apple crisp and (pardon me while I pat myself on the back) my latest version is incredible! Enjoy!

Serves 8

  • Crumble Topping, recipe follows
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 5-6arge, firm-tart apples – I like Granny Smith, peeled and chopped
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1 (2-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2-3/4 cup (more or less depending on your sweet tooth) maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons calvados or apple jack or rum

Make the Crumble Topping. Refrigerate the topping while you prepare the fruit.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Generously butter a 2 quart baking dish.

Put the apples, raisins and ginger in a large bowl, sprinkle with the spices and toss to combine. Drizzle with maple syrup and calvados and toss again until well combined.

Transfer the apples to the prepared baking dish and sprinkle with Crumble Topping. Put the dish on a baking sheet to catch any drips and bake for 1 hour or until the top is brown and the apples are tender and bubbly. Serve warm with vanilla or ginger ice cream.

Crumble Topping

  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger
  • Pinch nutmeg
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) cold, butter, cut into small pieces
  • 3/4 cup quick-cooking oatmeal

Put the flour, brown sugar, salt and spices in a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse corn meal. Add the oatmeal and continue pulsing until the topping comes together in little lumps.

I like to make a triple or quadruple batch of Crumble Topping and freeze the extra. For a last minute dessert, I prep fruit and sprinkle with topping. It’s in the oven in minutes.

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Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2019

Tell Your Story & Grilled Broccolini with Tahini Vinaigrette

I don’t know about you, but I missed Grandparents Day this year. It was a few Sundays back. Before you get your knickers in a twist, Grandparents Day isn’t just another excuse to send a card or flowers. Instead, it’s about connecting across generations. It’s about spending time, not cash.

I was extremely lucky to have all four of my grandparents around until I was well into my twenties. Even when I was little, most of my friends had one or maybe two grandparents. In addition to the fearsome foursome, we were blessed with a great-great aunt and a couple of my grandfather’s cousins. Knowing these amazing oldsters was a true gift.

If you are a grandparent, make the effort to share your story with your grandchildren. If you’re not, then share your story with nieces and nephews or the kid next door. Senior family members are important links between past and present and the world around us. Personal stories put historic events in human context and make them real.

Don’t be shy; sharing your personal stories can be surprisingly easy, especially when you have a willing ear. Write them down if you want. If not, take a walk with your favorite kids. As you mark the miles, tell them about your childhood, your school days, your first job … the list is more or less endless. Even if you think they aren’t interested, give it a try. They’ll probably surprise you.

And by the way, don’t worry about keeping everything in perfect chronological order. It’s okay to share a tale about your first day of college today and, then tomorrow, skip back in time to childhood games on the ice. Eventually, all the bits and pieces will come together. In spite of the jumbled time line, a pretty good picture of the various people, places and events in your life will shine through. Your loved ones will get a sense of how all these pieces came together to create you.

What to tell? If you remember a certain person or event; if the memory makes you smile or laugh or cry, it’s probably meaningful. Focus on information that can’t be found in the history books and, yes, details matter. Pertinent details will bring your story to life but be careful. Irrelevant details will bog down your story and might even make it tedious.

Where to start? Why not with your nearest and dearest. For example, my dad was very close to his grandfather and loves to tell stories about him. Born on the same day as Abraham Lincoln’s inauguration, my great-grandfather was a carpenter. As a teenager, he left home to learn his trade. Earning a pittance as an apprentice, he signed up for the night shift at the fire department to have a place to sleep. From that inauspicious start, he became the epitome of the American success story. He built a business and a good many double-deckers. A formidable patriarch, most of the family was afraid of him. Knowing full well that he put his socks on before his shoes, his daughter-in-law, my grandmother, refused to be intimidated. He loved her for it.

A few fun facts, Great-Grandpa Nye had two wives, a bunch of girlfriends, grew gladioli and drove big sedans. He adored my dad, his only grandson, and made a point of taking him along on his various adventures, wheelings and dealings. That’s the tiniest of mini-snapshots. Dad has the details so you’ll have to talk to him if you want more.

Bon appétit!

Grilled Broccolini with Tahini Vinaigrette

Broccolini makes a delicious first course as a substitute for a leafy green salad. It is just as good as a side dish. Enjoy!

Serves 8

  • About 2 pounds broccolini, trimmed
  • Olive oil
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat the grill to medium-high heat.

Put the broccolini in a large bowl, drizzle with just enough equal parts olive oil and vinegar to lightly coat and toss. Season with salt and pepper and toss again.

Arrange the broccolini on the grill and cook for about 5 minutes. Turn and grill until tender and lightly charred, 2-3 minutes more.

Transfer to a serving platter or individual plates, drizzle with Tahini Vinaigrette and serve

Tahini Vinaigrette

Makes about 1 1/2 cups

  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1-inch chunk red onion
  • 1/2 teaspoon or to taste harissa
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • Juice and zest of 1/2 lime
  • 2-3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup tahini
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2-4 tablespoons water

Put the garlic, onion, spices, lime juice and zest and vinegar in a small food processor and pulse to combine and finely chop. Add the tahini and olive oil and process until smooth. A tablespoon at a time, add the water and process until smooth and creamy.

Let the vinaigrette sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes or longer in the refrigerator to combine the flavors. Bring to room temperature and give it a good shake before serving.

Cover and store extra vinaigrette in the refrigerator.

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Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

Do you have stories to tell? What’s holding you back? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2019