The Most Wonderful Time of the Year…

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For a moment, a certain sadness takes hold that the bright and sunny days of summer are over…but then soon, I find great joy as the breathtaking autumn transformation in nature begins.

As a gardener with a love of cooking, autumn is the season I always find enjoyable for more than just the obvious reasons…walking through a blanket of colorful leaves on the ground, that crunchy sound a part of the interruption of the woodsy stillness…digging the last of the potatoes…planting cool season greens…pulling seed & pods for next season…raking the vibrant leaves in tones of amber, rusty red and burnt orange from the gravel driveway into the wooded areas filled with azaleas…gathering firewood…all prompts an autumn inner instinct of hunter-gathering!  It’s time to finish the harvest and get ready for winter…as nights grow longer and colder, I welcome time spent making warming soups with gathered butternut squash, or pumpkin or sweet potatoes…and spicy fresh applesauce…hearty whole grain bread and so much more!

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Golden Autumn Days…the bounty of autumn treasures:img_3588 natural finds, drying blossoms, seed heads and pods, grasses and the late season burnished colors of fall dahlias…all inspire wonderful ideas and new ways to treasure and preserve them.

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An Indian Summer’s Day…golden yellow finches dart about the garden as the late afternoon sun settles a warm light on a special group of blooms covering a spot near the roses, imparting a richness and dramatic intensity to their autumn colors. Almost all of the plants in my garden are perennials but many years ago I discovered dahlias blooming in my grandmother’s yard near the front porch. I was amazed at the size and colors of the flowers on the ‘bushes’ growing with odd bamboo stakes holding up stems filled with incredible beauty. As a 10 year old learning about gardening-if one could actually describe it as such in those days-from a woman I dearly loved, it was an experience and discovery never forgotten. Dahlias, at that moment, found a permanent place in my heart along with hydrangeas, lilacs, roses and lilies, all I had discovered growing around the old farmhouse.

A return of an old-fashioned classic…The growing needs of dahlias are very few. Typically grown as annuals in most gardens, the tubers will grow and flower easily in almost any decent soil and good sunlight. I refer to them as annuals because dahlias are frost-sensitive tubers and must be dug up every late fall, stored in a cool dry spot and then replanted the following spring. Sounds like too much work for some?? Maybe, but true gardeners will adore the late summer into fall blooms these flowers offer…so perfect for cutting and displaying on the fall table. There are thousands of dahlias available in as many colors, shapes and sizes of bloom…I love the old-fashioned huge flowers in deep fall colors, of course!

Here you see a glimpse of the many charms of the fall season…

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A Seasonal Table…celebrate the harvest abundance with family and friends.Savor the flavors of roasted root vegetables, savory pumpkin risotto and spicy pumpkin pies and cakes, maple sponge cake and caramelized pears, figs roasted over dried lavender cuttings, and kitchens filled with the smells of nostalgia:cinnamon, nutmeg, mulled cider and fresh-baked sweet potato pie! Ah, the wonders of our Thanksgiving Day…

fullsizerender77         “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well…”

The day after Thanksgiving…may be a great shopping extravaganza for some, but at my house, for many years, I continued the traditions passed down from my mother and grandmothers…an entire joyful day spent “working” in the kitchen! A celebration of time spent baking and cooking and preparing food treats and gifts for family, friends and neighbors…the proverbial fruitcakes, fudge, steamed puddings, cookies, gingerbread men and bourbon ball bites!

Memories and Traditions of Thanksgiving will stay forever…For years, older children came home to celebrate the holidays in the traditional manner, but, the time soon comes to be realistic. Our children are no longer children.  Many family members are no longer with us and our children often live in different parts of the country carrying out their own traditions in their own way…and, that as our lives change, we must begin to rethink everything. When it comes time to let go, be ready to begin a new time of tradition with some new adventures. I gave my special handmade Christmas ornaments made in the 70’s to my daughters…sharing these sentimental treasures gives me a sense of continuity among the generations. Even though I no longer put up a Christmas tree, I still enjoy the twinkle of tiny white lights outlining my porch, a special grouping of some candles, orchids, ivy and herb topiaries and pots of fragrant freesia decorating my dining table… my simple pleasures. And, something new…I will get in my Highlander, my sweet Holly in the backseat, and we may just travel for a while!

img_3592 New Fall Favorites At the Table…truly an unusual take on pizza!!! Caramelized fennel, sweet potato slices, creamy goat cheese [or other soft cheese] and chopped walnuts and a few herbs atop a whole-grain pizza crust. AND, since sweet potatoes..or possibly pumpkin… are so beneficial to healthy eating…you might enjoy a new take on risotto. I made some last night to which I added two small shredded sweet potatoes as I was cooking the arborio rice. Then some Parmesan and creme fraiche’ at the end…truly sublime! Oh, and, honey, bacon, buttermilk biscuits…just made some using maple syrup for a fall treat…hmmm, they were divine.

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Make Yourself at Home…time to lay a fire to warm the evening, out in the garden…

firewine     Or inside by the fireplace.

All the while feeling so much…

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From Holly and me, remember…Thanksgiving, to be truly Thanksgiving, is first Thanks, then giving…

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FALL…the year’s grand finale!

img_3991The soothing weather of fall lures us outdoors…the turning of leaves marks the seasonal shift! Nature dazzles us with foliage, fruit, produce and cool days. Morning light casts a golden glow through the leaves…

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A perfect spot for morning coffee…

The crunch of leaves beneath my feet…cool, crisp weather finally sets in…

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Welcome the abundance of autumn…brilliant foliage, charming pumpkins, mums and gourds, the quintessential symbols of the season. Rich colors and soothing scents of spicy fall pies, robust soups and stews, and seasonal fruits.

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Dress the patio or porch for autumn…and place baskets of fall foliage and flowers on the doors to welcome home family and friends.

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Pumpkins gourds and winter squash…Nature’s seasonal message! Arrange a colorful display along with rosemary and decorative cabbages as a rustic reminder on the walkway or stone path.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Use fall foliage, seasonal fruits and vegetables and herbs for a striking centerpiece for the table…Colorful gourds and just picked pears in a copper bowl make a charming centerpiece for the autumn table…

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The rich seasonal shades and scents of autumn are short-lived…so I encourage you to enjoy while you can. Close your eyes now, imagine…indulge your senses! Cinnamon sticks in a mug of steaming mulled wine, grated nutmeg on mashed butternut squash, the tangy zest of a just peeled clementine, grapes-jewels of the vine-bursting with sweetness, the freshness of pine branches in a basket by the fireplace. These wonderful tastes and aromas make the very best ingredients for autumn to winter indulgence.

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As daylight hours dwindle, I look forward to a cozy evening outdoors by the chiminea…or fire pit for some. Flashes of copper capture the brilliance autumn as it gradually gilds the trees…

Juicy thoughts of fall...
Juicy thoughts of fall…

Apples…crunchy , juicy, divine eaten raw or made into applesauce and pies.

Cooking with autumn flavors offers a wealth of alluring aromas…roasted squash with root vegetables, warming potato soup, country ham with apples and walnuts, figs and goat cheese, pears poached in red wine, pumpkin pie and so much more.

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A new favorite fall flavor…fig and balsamic jam with a soft French cheese, red wine and a good fresh baguette. I’ve made several jars of fig jam already, very simple to do…here’s the recipe from Thomas Keller. Combine 5 lbs chopped ripe figs, 1 1/4 C. balsamic vinegar, 2 C. sugar 1 Tblsp black peppercorns in muslin sachet bag…place in large saucepan…I used my French copper pan. Bring to a simmer over medium high heat, then lower heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cook, stirring often. When jam reaches a temp of 215-220 F, remove from heat. Take out sachet and stir in some fresh squeezed lemon juice. Spoon the jam into sterilized jars and let cool to room temperature, then place covers on jars. Please refrigerate…will keep for 6 weeks or so.

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This superb wine…Ampere, from Pine Mountain Vineyards, is a Cabernet Sauvignon and is wonderful with the fig jam and cheese as well as many other autumn flavors. Very special vintage…sold online.

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Time to get our ducks in a row…the garden calls. More garden notes soon…

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Enjoy the glorious days and season of harvest…

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Holly loves to roll in the leaves…

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