autumn

October, I love you

This is the best. I'm reclining on the couch next to our jubilantly flowering begonia tree (?) with a near-bottomless mug of tea and the late afternoon light is all golden and violet playing on the buildings down the street and illuminating the intense yellow of the birch leaves overhead. The rabbits are quietly nibbling hay, the husband is puttering in his workshop, and the cat is out of sight but almost certainly lounging on the doorstep like she owns this end of the neighbourhood.

I've had some time off, which may account for this good mood and this first blog post in five months (!). I suppose I could say we've been doing exciting things and visiting everyone we miss in the daily grind of working life. But mostly that wouldn't be true. It is such a relief to finally have time for ourselves. Things like Enough Sleep, baking, painting, cooking real food... these have been enough, so much enough that I want to wallow in them and never go back to the hectic busy life. It is so good to see the light move across the house and garden at different times of day. To mostly not wear a bra. To stay up until midnight painting ten paintings at once and listening to an audiobook because I squeezed too much paint onto the palate and because I could.

I don't have a recipe today, only a heartfelt recommendation of the quiet life, of stepping back and slowing down, of spending a day pulling weeds and listening to birdsong, and of walking in the rain under dripping trees and coming home to make chai and chilli and biscuits, or whatever is easy and fulfilling. Also, I get awkward about blogging when I let too much time elapse between posts, and had meant to write something quite different but here we are and it's good to be back.

almost

I wish I could do this every day. I'm sitting in a sunlit, clean house with a mug of tea and a jar of water and a square of dark chocolate. The birch tree out front has almost completely turned yellow. I've already wandered the garden several times (two raspberries!), tidied up and made a nest for our elderly cat, and tossed yet more onions and tomatoes in the oven. I feel - almost - at peace. We've been enjoying a long weekend (yay!). Yesterday I spent all afternoon painting white rabbits and yellow aspen on scraps of wood while listening to a charming audiobook, fed on a pleasant diet of tea and fresh caraway raisin bread that Jeremy started the day before.

I went to a lovely friend's lovely wedding reception recently, with the best bunch of friends. The weather was stormy, but delightfully so. The whole day was one long happy moment.

It's funny how moments like these can coexist, or at least be contrasted by those reigned by the less fun feelings. I have been so exhausted lately that the lovely moments seem few and far between. Sunday I spent curled on the couch, again with tea, and read. I feel very lost and frustrated when I think of how I spend most of my time at a job I really don't enjoy. It is a perfectly decent job, I'm sure, but somehow manages to be both the most boring and most stressful job I've experienced. At the reception it was so nice hearing about how my friends are following their passions and have found or are creating meaningful work. Over here at whine central (but without the wine), I have yet to figure that out for myself.

Still, there is plenty of good to celebrate. I made this pear tarte Tatin several weeks ago, and have been meaning to post about it ever since. I'm a little late for Canadian Thanksgiving, but it's a tasty way to end most any meal.

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Pear Cardamom Tarte Tatin Recipe: Choosing and Using Spices. Pastry: Terroirs de France, un million de menus

1/4 cup (50 g) butter, softened 1/4 cup sugar seeds from 10 cardamoms 1 tsp + ground cardamom 225 g (8 oz) puff pastry or use pastry recipe below +/- 4 ripe pears (the number of pears will depend on the size of the pears and the size of your pan)

1. Preheat oven to 425°. Spread the butter over the base of an ~8" cast iron skillet (or ovenproof pan or stoveproof cake tin). Spread the sugar evenly over the butter, then sprinkle the cardamom and cardamom seeds over the sugar. On a floured surface, roll out pastry to a circle slightly larger than the pan. Prick pastry lightly and set it on a baking sheet and chill.

2. Peel the pears, cut them in half lengthwise and core them. Arrange the pears, rounded side down, on the butter and sugar. Set pan over medium heat until the sugar melts and begins to bubble with the butter and the juice from the pears. If any areas are browning more than others (you can carefully lift a pear to check), move the pan, but do not stir.

3. As soon as the sugar has caramelized, remove the pan from the heat. Place the pastry on top, carefully tucking the edges down the side of the pan. Transfer to the oven and bake for 25 minutes until the pastry is well risen (for puff) and golden.

4. Leave in the pan for 2-3 minutes until the juices have stopped bubbling. Invert the pan over a plate and shake to release the tart. (Put a large plate face-side down over the pan. Keep one hand flat on the center of the plate to hold it in place while the other hand lifts and flips the pan in one smooth motion. The hand on the plate needs to keep pressure on it and move with the pan.) It may be necessary to slide a spatula under the pears to loosen them. Serve warm.

Pastry (pâte brisée) - the high butter content of this recipe makes it a tasty substitute for puff dough 200 g flour 100 g chilled butter 50 + g ice cold water pinch salt Stir together flour and salt. Cut butter into small cubes, then cut into flour with a pastry cutter. Add enough water that you can form dough into a ball, then let it repose in the fridge for 30 minutes. This recipe makes slightly more than is needed for the tarte Tatin, so save the extra in the fridge for spontaneous weeknight baking, or something.

the butter

This is a post that was almost lost to the havoc a rabbit's fuzzy feet can wreak on a keyboard. My cavorting Zephyr, I love you very much, and you will teach me to save my work. We happened to mention scalloped potatoes, one of us to the other, and they immediately claimed a space in our weekend, our supper (two nights in a row, now), and our bellies. It was decided that Julia Child should be the voice of authority on the matter, and a very good decision that was. I will say this, however: the butter! I know she has a reputation for her love of butter, and so do I, truly, at least among family and friends. But the quantities! I get a little anxious when our butter supply runs low, and though generally generous with the good stuff, even I voiced concerns of it being excessive and threw in a few "Oh Julia!"'s for good measure. What follows is a rough rendition of what we ate.

As I'm writing this, the fire is burning slow and bright in our fireplace; this first fire of the season. It emits a warm glow that stretches faintly toward our single-paned windows. Jer has been industriously plastic-sealing them for the winter, and though not attractive, it is a little less drafty in here.

Two Sunday nights ago (ages, I know, but I meant to exclaim about it): the moon! I hope you all saw it if you had the chance. It was steeped in an autumnal blush from all the reflected sunrises and sunsets of the world. We watched the light crawl back up into it from below and sensed that we really were seeing something. Somehow all the preceding eclipses (ever) skipped us by, either due to late inconvenient timing or cloudy skies, so this one seemed especially striking.

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Scalloped Potatoes adapted lightly but interpretatively from Julia Child, Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle's Mastering the Art of French Cooking

- an ovenproof dish about 10" across and 2" deep (we used a 9x13 pyrex dish, but we did have extra potatoes). - 1 clove of garlic, cut in half. Rub the baking dish with the cut garlic. (we sliced up the garlic after and put it in with the potatoes) - 4 tbsp butter (it seemed like so much more when Jer had a great hunk of it looming on the counter and being dispersed freely in great lumps- he may also have measured rather generously) - 2 lbs "boiling" potatoes (we used 3lbs Yukon Gold but that may have been too much as it cooked slower than expected. We did end up with a pleasing amount of leftovers. I didn't peel the potatoes and they turned out delicious, but I suppose you could if you felt you had to.) Slice the potatoes fairly thinly (no thicker than 1/8") and place in cold water for now. - 1 cup milk, heated until it boils - 1 cup or so grated cheese (we probably used more like two cups, mostly Parmesan and some mozzarella because that was what the fridge contained) - salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 425°. Drain the potatoes and dry them in a towel (or skip the whole water step above if you work quickly). Spread half of them in the bottom of the dish and cover with half of the cheese, butter and salt and pepper. Arrange the remaining potatoes on top and cover with the second half of the cheese and butter and seasoning. Pour on the boiling milk. Place baking dish over heat and when simmering, set in upper third of preheated oven (we completely missed the stovetop step but I imagine it is helpful for cooking the potatoes quicker). Bake for 20 to 30 minutes or until potatoes are tender, milk has been absorbed, and the top is nicely browned.

we drove

IMG_8374 We went on a road trip last weekend back to the mountains. Our destination was Nelson, nestled in a narrow valley with a long lake-river running by. I had a list of places I wanted to have coffee or get food at and tea blends and favorite products to buy. There were friends to visit, a few stored possessions to collect, and I wanted to see the splendor of the fall colours and say goodbye to the house that we are selling.

It rained heavily the morning we left our island home. From the ferryboat, the mist hung heavy on the shorelines we passed, long tendrils of cloud clinging to the tall conifers. I glimpsed a bald eagle through sheets of sideways rain.

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And then we drove, and drove and drove, for hours. Mostly Jer drove while I read aloud to him. I drove a long winding section through high country, bright reds, oranges, pinks and yellows sweeping by under now-blue skies.

Next, a magnificent landscape of Ponderosa pines and rolling hills; sagebrush; magpies; dry crumbling mountains laced with silver, gold and copper; the shimmering Similkameen, shallow and wide, rolling on down over rounded river rocks.

It was raining when we drove into Nelson, the beautiful lake peaceful, but the excitement of the day had been lost to the kind of dream-shattering conversation that sometimes only long hours in a vehicle can bring. The placid water and yellow-leaved cottonwoods then served as a backdrop for us to build new plans and dreams over subsequent drives along the lake shore that weekend.

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