Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Welcome, Fall, or, I'd Forgotton These Colors Exist In Nature

It's a sticky day in Chicago, one of those days where the air has the weight of its humidity on display, making everything clear and mysterious at once. I remember walking into work on a day like this in Providence, RI and a girl who was really into Bauhaus and Joy Division gleefully exclaimed "Did you see that CREEPY mist?" Days like these always look much colder than they are, so you do things you haven't been in the habit of doing all summer; things like put on pants, consider long sleeves, and find beautifully colored leaves on the ground. The leaf above seemed fake when I found it; all of the colors of a tree leaf in one laying on a grey sidewalk.

Naturally when autumn arrives, those of us who eat food turn to thoughts of soups and stews and braised meats and preserves we've made over the summer. And we remember the summer we just came through. And it's been a full, if tumultuous summer:

The obligatory farmer's market visits yielding all kinds of great produce, like these greens, tomatoes and radishes:

...and these Purple Haze Carrots:

...cooking brunch for some old, dear friends, I served a salad straight from my friend's CSA box of raw sweet corn (Yes, raw! Try it without cooking it!), green and yellow wax beans, tomatoes and summer squash:

...and a fritatta with caramelized onions, garlic, chard, parmigianno and fresh torn basil:

...I opened up a cross-country dialogue with an old chef buddy and my brother about carnitas, and our thoughts on it essentially being a "pork confit" to capture the truest essence of pork, basically braising pork butt in pork fat, while I took it in a bit of a different direction and made more of a pulled pork, braising the pork butt a friend gave me in achiote paste, oregano, RC Cola, Squirt, lime juice and chicken stock:

...and making pico de gallo, black beans and rice to serve it with:

...without forgetting the fresh tortillas:

...baking tart cherry and blueberry crostadas in walnut crusts for a bake sale:

...loading up fresh pasta with a bunch of zucchini and dill and onions and feta cheese (lots of vegetables for such a carnivore, huh? Reminds me of a time I did a 5-course tasting for a restaurant I intended to work at--afterward, the chef said "That's the most vegetables I've had in the past month!"):

...a great trip to Portland, OR, full of top-notch beer, mustard and coffee, not to mention the wonderful Voodoo Doughnut:

...and downtown Portland's food truck scene--a flavor for every taste:

...and a lot of undocumented meals (such as last week's summer send off, an unknowing wake of sorts for a summer that never fully arrived, full of pork ribs, mac and cheese, corn bread, and never ending glasses of the "goes-with-absolutely-anything" champagne), epic dinners, and culinary experiences that can only really be retold over yet another meal. And let's not forget the pie-off. The wonderful pie-off.

So, as we enter fall, let's get those ovens turned back on; let's start kneading some dough and baking and enjoying what we preserved of the summer; let's get some pots simmering with the rich aromas of slow cooking meat; let's remember that Meryl Streep is not Julia Child; let's drink some hearty red wines and strong beer; let's enjoy the fading wink summer is giving us and take lots of early evening strolls through cascading leaves on their way to crunch under foot; let's smell the first fires of the season, work on our pie dough for Thanksgiving, and get an order in for a great heritage turkey. And mostly, let's cook and share meals with friends and loved ones, and appreciate not only the end result, but the journey to get there.