For Thanksgiving this year, we’re headed to Chicago to spend the long weekend with Kevin’s family. We alternate years between celebrating Thanksgiving with my family and his. On my family’s years, tradition is king. We head to Minnesota, where my parents’ dining table is set with the holiday china, and the kitchen counter-turned-buffet is laden with, for the most part, the same dishes year after year, perfected over time. I know that I can pitch in with chopping the celery or the onions for the stuffing, and that my grandma will peel the apples for the same. And I know that my mom will handle the gravy.
I know that a thud of sharp knife meeting a rutabaga will punctuate the morning at some point. I know that my sister will sleep through much of the cooking. I know that my step-dad will man the turkey on the charcoal Weber on the back deck, and that my grandfather will slice the bird with the old electric knife. I know that I will help myself to an immodest amount of mashed potatoes, and I know that I’ll make the pies. I know that we’ll pose for a family photo on the front steps, shivering from the late November chill in the air.
Since I was here last, it seems a whole autumn has unfolded. In my last post, I complained about the dreariness, which was a drag, I suppose, but then so is complaining. I’m happy to report that in the weeks that have elapsed, I’ve learned to appreciate fall in Seattle. The problem, I think, is that I was expecting the Midwestern version of the season, with its lingering warm temperatures and golden sun and clear blue skies and bursts of flame-hued colors.
To be sure, I still missed all of those things. But, at the same time, there is something to be said for the way the colors on the trees here in Seattle look against a thick grey sky. I came to that realization when I took a jog around Greenlake one recent Saturday morning, with fog hovering in a ring around the lake, and mist rising from the lake’s surface. As I rounded the lake, sprays of red and gold leaves continued to materialize through the fog. It was gorgeous—so moody and somehow cozy.
I know I shouldn’t complain (already!), especially because Seattle did spring and summer so right, but the fall here in the PNW has left a little to be desired. There has been a lot of rain and the skies have been mainly gray. I suppose I should get used to it. The other day, someone commented on the “winter so far,” as in winter is happening now. It was October 2! Of course, there have been a couple of golden sunlight-drenched days here and there (like the day I took these photos), and we’ve tried to take advantage of them as much as possible.
On the other days, my cooking has gotten heavier and heartier. As in beef stew heavy/hearty. And I’m feeling drawn to the oven again. We don’t have air conditioning in our home (it’s really rare in Seattle, apparently), so I did almost no baking this summer. But the cooler air has given me the itch again.
We have three pieces of luggage, and all three of them are absolutely packed to the brim. For a four night trip. Traveling with a toddler, I tell you, is not for the faint of heart. We’re headed to a wedding in Park City this weekend, but I couldn’t leave without telling you about this roasted corn dish, which was hands-down the best summer side I made this year. I’m probably already too late for corn. But in case you’ve still got access to the good stuff, you really need to make this to send summer off right. Otherwise, next year! Definitely next year.
We were in Minnesota over the weekend, visiting my family. On Friday night, my mom had plans to make her famous bucatini with sausage and peas. A family friend was joining us and bringing a salad. And, on a whim, I decided to throw together some bruschetta, using the cantaloupe in the fridge and the slices of prosciutto that my stepdad had brought home from the Italian deli. There’s nothing new about the cantaloupe-prosciutto combination, but—for some reason—it’s been sounding wonderful to me all summer.
I gave half the melon a small dice and fried up several slices of the prosciutto, which I had cut into thin ribbons. While a sliced baguette toasted in the oven, I quick-pickled a large shallot that I’d thinly sliced, using my go-to brine, with its healthy pinch of red pepper flakes. I stirred together the diced melon, most of the fried prosciutto (I reserved about a quarter of it to scatter on top of the plate, so it would stay nice and crisp), the shallots, some thinly sliced basil, a splash of the pickling liquid, and a good swirl of olive oil. I heaped the mixture onto the toasted bread slices, and topped it all with the reserved prosciutto.
It was gorgeous and delicious … and all I had was my iPhone … and I hadn’t taken very good notes of what I was doing as I went along. I feared that I would lose this recipe to the place where on-a-whim, unrecorded recipes go to die. To avoid that fate (and before melon season is too far gone!), I snapped a camera photo (above) and pulled together an approximation of the recipe (below).
On the cusp of a new season, I’m usually pushing ahead to the next one, eager to flip the page, like Avery zipping through her board books. Spring has its obvious lure out of winter, ushering in light and warmth and new growth and asparagus (!). But autumn normally has an equally compelling pull for me, all fresh, new, and crisp, not to mention its gourds and apples.
But this year, as Labor Day has come and gone, and as August has slid into September, I don’t feel that same pull. Maybe it’s that this was our first full summer with Avery. Maybe it’s that this summer has been so good. Maybe it’s that I’m fearful of the unknown—I haven’t lived an autumn or a rainy winter in Seattle yet, and I don’t know what to expect. Whatever it is, I’m just not ready to move on.
I wish I could tell you that we ate this meal under a setting late August sun, the table set with beautiful linens and the candles lit and the conversation care-free. Instead, we ate this meal amid Cry It Out, Part II (The Bedtime Sleep Regression Edition!). Sweet Maria. Send help. Or wine. Actually, send help and wine, and cross your fingers that our champion little sleeper returns soon.
But you’re not here to read about our toddler trevails, so instead I’ll tell you about when I first started cooking this dish. It was when we lived in DC after college, when Kevin and I each lived in tiny studio apartments an eight-minute walk across Dupont Circle apart. My kitchen was a slim and shallow galley, featuring two electric burners, a small square of counter space, and electrical outlets that weren’t to be used unless a blown fuse was your thing. But it had a garbage disposal and it was mine and oh! did I love it.
We didn’t take one big, long summer vacation this year. Instead, we had many long-weekend visitors, and took a few weekend trips of our own. In some ways, it made the summer feel like one big long vacation, in and of itself. It’s been pretty fantastic. So, it’s really saying something when I go as far as to proclaim Saturday afternoon’s boat ride on Lake Union, which we took with my parents and sister who were in town visiting, a highlight of the summer. We had such a lovely time. There were refreshments:
I’m sure I’ve mentioned this, but since we moved to Seattle, I’ve been working from home. The situation is a little odd—my colleauges are all in Chicago and my daughter naps in the room right next door. And in some small ways, it’s challenging. I keep central time zone hours, so my day starts very early in west coast-terms. And I can no longer pop next door to bounce an idea off a co-worker, or grab lunch or drinks with friends from work. Worse yet, when Avery cries or giggles, I can hear it and ache to be there for it, but I try to stay out of the way of her and her sitter. But all of these things have upsides, too—my day ends early in west coast-terms, I have a lot of autonomy (and my commute is a dozen steps down the hall), and I get to pop in on Avery throughout the day.
I concentrate on those upsides as much as I can, and I also try to appreciate the many other benefits of my current arrangement. When it’s lunchtime in Chicago, I can easily head out for a jog or do yoga, smack-dab in the middle of the work day. The other day, I ran along the shipping canal that connects Lake Union and Puget Sound. I stopped to stretch at the point where the canal spills into the lake (or is the other way around?), and the sun threw sparkles across the lake as float planes took off and landed, and boats cut through the water. I felt so grateful.
If you walk out our front door and take a right, the road quickly dead-ends into a street that climbs a steep hill, wide enough for only one car to pass, with houses on one side and a thick wall of trees and bushes on the other. A month or so ago, I noticed that many of those bushes were suddenly bearing not-yet-ripe berries. They were still small and pale, but I suspected that they were blackberries, which grow wild all over Seattle. A few warm weeks later, the berries have plumped and turned a deep, inky purple. They’re ripe, as they say, for the picking.
When we learned of our neighborhood’s annual block party, which was held a couple nights ago, I wondered what to bring to the party to share, and my mind quickly turned to those blackberries. I settled on a pound cake, and determined that I would thread a ribbon of blackberry puree throughout it.