Oh blackberry tart, with berries as big as your thumb, purple and black and thick with juice, and a crust to endear them all, that will go to cream in your mouth, and both passing down with such a taste that will make you close your eyes and wish you might live forever in the wideness of that rich moment. (Richard Llewellyn, How Green Was My Valley, p. 85)
Holy smoke. Autumn is here. How did this happen? I apologize for missing summer, but so did the weather. Of course, this doesn’t mean that the various around the world political machinations went unnoticed. Mostly, a cause for discomfort if not downright despair. The one highlight for me was Obama’s speech. I haven’t cried since 2012 but this speech moved me to tears. One phrase is seared in my memory: The audacity of hope. (Barak Obama, July 27, 2016).
And this is what autumn is for me- the audacity of hope. The freshness of the air, the promise of new beginnings. Look around. What do you see? Kids heading back to school, often decked out in something new. Parents smiling…in the secret joy of liberation. Work is in full gear. After the stops and starts of summer, everyone is back, energized, full speed ahead. My sister once told me that most of the work on the planet is accomplished between September and Christmas. Shops are stocking up on new autumn and winter styles.
What do I see? Warm, bold, burnished colour- the flowers all decked out in oranges, golds, reds.
There is not a single pear on my once prolific pear tree, but the apple trees are laden.
I can hardly wait to make Ina’s APPLE CRISP…but we’ll get to that in a moment. I’ve been working on a couple of paintings. Some of you who have been in my kitchen will recognize this one from an earlier version.
I am calling it Apples Reloaded, because I have doctored it up as a result of reading Carol Marine’s book Daily Painting. I discovered it on Penny German’s website, a well known artist who sends out email alerts of her daily paintings. I learned about Penny’s work a few years ago in Country Living magazine and was so taken with it, that I attended one of her workshops in Northampton back in January. The other painting currently in progress is called ‘Out to Pasture‘ (Those of you who live around here will recognize it). It will be in the next blog. .
My daily walk is now a contest between getting the heart rate up to the requisite pace, and being waylaid by the bumper crop of blackberries. Not to mention the need to pause in sheer awe as various bushes and trees compete in their lavish displays.
Slow Gin is definitely on the menu this year!
Well, as you know, I do a lot of thinking on these ‘excursions’ into the countryside. Lately, I’ve been thinking about the power of ‘naming’, the central importance of vocabulary, emotional vocabulary in being able to articulate our deepest feelings and experiences. I don’t know about you, but for me, when I am having a badly chopped carrots moment, such as- Ok, the scene is lovely, but I’ve seen it all before. What’s new? I’m bored- it helps to talk to a friend. Because boredom is often a signal that something else is going on. Something inside that needs attention. Most often, it’s my friend in Los Angeles to whom I talk. What is it she does that helps? First, I know she cares about me-unconditionally. We’ve known each other 30+ years and seen each other through thick and thin. So I trust her. Second, she listens so deeply that she can hear and name for me what I am feeling, what’s at the core of what’s bothering me. She gives me words to describe to myself what I haven’t yet been able to name. And then, there is a sense of ‘aha’ -that’s it- and something shifts inside of me, lightens up. The air clears a little. I can move on.
I’ve been involved for several years in a process called Focusing which helps to do this same thing when I am all alone with my badly chopped carrots roommate. You can find out more about it at www.focusing.org.uk.
Of course, it’s also about the power of connection which I want to talk to you more about and get your thoughts on in my next blog Because that’s really the purpose of the blog- to connect with you and hopefully, you with me. I have to mention to you right now, two people with whom I do have contact pretty regularly. They represent for me the essence of autumn -new beginnings, reinvention. They always inspire me to action. One has single-handedly helped me move from potential couch potato to a member of the fully mobile species (mostly). Lina Verseckaite is a coach, personal trainer, zumba teacher, marathan runner and a project worker with Ceredigion County Council. There is nothing she cannot do. Check her out on Facebook as her posts have profound messages.
For many of us, our ‘badly chopped carrots moments’ often involve health issues. Anthea Wilson, , scholar, nurse, friend and colleague has created a brief on- line course called: Navigating the Health Information Jungle. Please check it out at: www.udemy.com. Informative, reassuring, empowering.
‘For now, there is very little that a half a pound of butter, three cups of sugar and some fruit won’t cure. Those of you who know me, also know that I am crazy about Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa, and I know this would be her recommendation. I love her style, her recipes, and most of all, her joy. Oh, and of course….her favourite sayings like: How BAD can that be?
So, in homage to Ina and because I have so little time, due to blackberry harvesting and writing you this blog, I am going to make for dinner, one of her fastest, easiest and supremely delicious chicken dishes. Oh, I know, I promised you the apple crisp too.
Lemon Chicken Breasts (From:The Barefoot Contessa. How easy is that? 2010)
(Serves 4- I divide it in half)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (this is pretty much the only olive oil I use for cooking)
1 tablespoon minced garlic (she uses three. I like it lighter)
1/3 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest (two lemons)
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 ½ teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves
Kosher salt (I use coarse sea salt) and freshly ground pepper
4 boneless chicken breasts (skin on)
(6-8 ounces each)
Pre-heat a oven to 400F/200C/180Fan
Use baking dish approximately 9×12 that you can also heat on top of the stove (I use le Creuset)
Warm olive oil over medium low heat, add garlic and cook for just 1 minute but don’t allow it to turn brown. Off the heat, add the white wine, lemon zest, lemon juice, oregano, thyme, and 1 teaspoon of salt.
Pat chicken breasts dry and place them skin side up over the sauce. Brush the chicken breasts with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper (I know these are Ina’s instructions, but it is a bit much on the salt so I skip this iteration of salt). Cut the lemon into 8 wedges and tuck it among the pieces of chicken.
Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, depending on the size of the breasts, until the chicken is done and the skin is browned. (I’ll be really honest with you. I have done these without the skin on and they are still delicious)
Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil and allow to rest for 10 minutes. (this is one of the most important things I have learned from Ina. Cover the meat and let rest. It makes such a difference to moistness and dare I say-flavour.)
Serve hot with pan juices.
OK. Here it is. APPLE CRISP!
Old Fashioned Apple Crisp. (from: Barefoot Contessa. Parties! 2001)
(serves 10- I divide it into half and usually freeze some after its cooked. It works.)
5 pounds McIntosh or Macoun apples. (I use Granny Smith)
Grated zest of 1 orange
Grated zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice. (of all Ina’s ‘innovations’ I think its her use of lemons and oranges in so many cups her recipes that makes all the difference!)
½ cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
For the topping
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup granulated sugar
¾ cup light brown sugar, packed
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup oatmeal
½ pound cold unsalted butter, diced (I warned you didn’t I?)
Pre-heat oven to 350F/180C/160F/
Butter a 9x14x2-inch oval baking dish
Peel, core, and cut the apples into large wedges. Combine the apples with the zests, juices, sugar and spices. Pour into dish.
To make the topping, combine the flour, sugars, salt, oatmeal, and cold butter in bowl of electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment. (I use my fingers and rub together until crumbly and the butter is the size of peas.) Scatter evenly over the apples.
Place the crisp on a sheet pan and bake for one hour until the top is brown and the apples are bubbly. Serve warm. A scoop of vanilla ice cream nestled up in your bowl of crisp and melting slowly into the sauce, does not go amiss!
Autumn is a time of ‘hunkering down’, cosying up, lighting the first fires of the season. It is a time of Hygge, a Danish word for all that autumn evokes. Check out www.hellohygge.com.