Fall is the time of changes, of transition and letting go, and this year, well, perhaps the transitions are rougher and the letting go harder for some of us.
For my part, the changes have been concrete and exhausting, as I spent the months of September and October finally ripping up my deep roots in Los Angeles. Not only did I sell my home of 12 years (after having a tenant for the last two), I liquidated furniture and possessions I’ve carried with me since my early 20’s, remnants of a past life that wasn’t so much let go as it was wept away.
There’s been a lot of surreality lately, but there’s not much that’s stranger than sitting amidst your own furniture, paintings, muffin tins, candles and cameras, all bearing a price tag — as though there were a monetary value to memories.
But I believe change is good, a necessary and healthy consequence of assessing our lives and values, and adjusting our circumstances to reflect them.
When I returned to Oysterville (with my cat and my mother, who’s making a transition of her own), I saw that Oysterman’s parents had given us a bucket of apples from their tree, and a neighbor had left us a big paper bag of chestnuts.
These are the other gifts of fall — proof that from change can come bounty.
But what was I going to do with a bag of chestnuts and a bucket of apples?
First off, my only experience with fresh chestnuts is from childhood Christmases, when my parents would buy a bag just so I could “roast” them on the “open fire” of our fake fireplace. I’ve never actually eaten a chestnut unless it was disguised as Nutella.
As far as the apples, I’m an inconstant baker. I love baked goods so much that I can’t have them around, much less create them on a regular basis. So while occasional miracles occur, I’ve never developed a pastry specialty (other than being able to eat pie for breakfast seven days in a row).
So to start, I figured I’d knock off a few pounds of apples with a batch of slow-cooker applesauce. I peeled about 4 lbs. of the apples (variety unknown), carving out the soft spots and bruises that made them beautiful, in a wabi-sabi kind of way.
I tossed them in a crock pot with about a 1/2 cup of water and cooked them for 5 hours on low. I didn’t bother with sugar or a blender, I just smooshed them with a wooden spoon and served the warm applesauce on the side of this Roast Pork Loin from foodnetwork.com.
A few late potatoes from our garden, and green beans roasted with garlic and the last of my summer thyme completed a perfect homecoming meal.
For the rest of the apples, I wanted to try a galette — a pastry that’s as rough and loose as a Pigalle prostitute (but probably more, uh, delicious?)
The occasion was a visit by some new and old friends, always welcome during the darkening days of fall in our remote finger of civilization.
I found this Country Apple Galette by Jacques Pepin for Food and Wine, and it was the perfect finish to a casual meal of steamed oysters with garlic butter and spicy turkey chili.
At the last minute, I realized I was short on flour (how Paleo of me), but I had some buckwheat flour hidden away. As is often the case with kitchen improv, it turned out to be serendipitous. The buckwheat added a nuttiness and crunch that perfectly complemented the rustic fall tarte.
Sweetened with just a sprinkle of cinnamon sugar and a drizzle of honey, this not-too-sweet dessert lets the flavors of the apples come through. I served it with whipped cream, but créme fraiche or vanilla ice cream would work sublimely. Oysterman declared it to be his favorite dessert ever.
This will be a go-to recipe that I’ll try with peaches, pears and rhubarb. (For my version, substitute 2 Tablespoons of buckwheat flour for 2 of all-purpose.)
I was lucky to be in SoCal during the wettest October on record for the Peninsula (over 15 inches of rain). But the first few days of November were a reprieve from the rain that we used to take advantage of wintering over our garden. (That sound you hear is my mother laughing at the idea of me wintering over anything. Or gardening.)
We plucked out some “fall surprise” vegetables, I weeded and trimmed the last of the herbs. We put the beds to sleep, draping on thick layers of eelgrass from the bay — bountiful after the autumn storms. By planting time, our garden beds will be delicious and nutritious for the seeds we sow.
All that yard work whetted my appetite for the chestnut recipes I’d been researching — Dan Roman’s Buttery Roasted Chestnuts, The Kennebunk Inn’s Chestnut Bisque, Martha Stewart’s Chestnut Stuffing, just in time for Thanksgiving.
But furniture needed to be moved, cats needed to be settled, Thanksgiving came and went, and the bag of chestnuts was still sitting in our hallway.
And then THIS happened….
Our first trip to Italy — a week-long tour of the Tuscan countryside, with the in-season bounty of wild boar, white truffles, and CHESTNUTS.
They were everywhere. If I couldn’t find inspiration to use up eight pounds of these brown baubles in Tuscany, I’d be hopeless.
There were roasted…
…and my favorite, Castagnaccio — a traditional Tuscan cake made with chestnut flour, olive oil, pine nuts and rosemary.
Maybe I’ll make that chestnut cake for Christmas, as a dessert to Taglietelle with truffle butter and a romaine salad with truffled anchovies.
But by then it will be winter. For now, I choose to be grateful for the full bounty of fall — the recognition that changes can bring abundance of all kinds — time, family, opportunity and home.