Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Signs of Autumn

Autumn comes with all its coziness, my favorite time of year. I always mark the beginning of the heart of Autumn with my mom's birthday on September 20th. I consider her birthday the first of many holidays/birthdays/made-up holidays (Autumn Day).

The past few days have brought us many signs of fall:


We celebrated yesterday with a family dinner at our house. Katie and I had fun decorating and preparing beforehand. Some of our pictures tell the story...

Amie with her Eric, one of our newest family members! My Uncle Eric also had a September birthday, and I love to honor his brotherhood to my mom as well as the closeness of their birthdays by using a couple pieces of his china. My mom ate off of one of his plates, and I ate off of the other. (It works out okay to set the formal table with two of his plates, because when I registered for my china, I registered for a couple of settings from several different collections....all of them go together, but are unique).

Katie places the candles in the "Crazy Cake" (really its original name and a family favorite).

Dinner with family.
Katie picks sage from our garden to use in our meal. We made a ham and mushroom rigatoni bake with a nutmeg-spiced white sauce; a butternut squash gratin layered with sage-walnut pesto and romano cheese; spinach salad with Julian apples, raisins, pepitas (small pumpkin seeds), and Point Reyes bleu cheese (Point Reyes is a special place for my mom and for me); and Crazy Cake.

Katie finishes some of the decoration and prep work by placing her collection of party hats on the table.

I love to celebrate my mom because she deserves it. I could never find a better mom for me anywhere.

Happy Birthday, Mom!


On Sunday we all (Bill, Katie, Eric, me, Amie, and Boppa) went up to Julian, CA for apple picking season. I had a tip from a friend that Raven Hill Orchards was quite abundant this year, despite a springtime frost hurting many of the other orchards. Excited, we packed up early in the morning and took the long and winding road to the mountain town. I love the drive to Julian, the barren landscapes---which are beautiful to me. How many colors of green and nuances of brown are there in this amazing world? We saw horses and cows and birds soaring on this clear and autumnal day. One of my favorite memories was all of us (except Eric, who was asleep) singing "Build Me Up, Buttercup" together. Katie, Bill, and I all singing together with our voices mingling...the windows rolled down...the scent of the brush...the crispness of the sky. A perfect moment.

We picked for awhile at Raven Hill, and then went into town for lunch, browsing, and pie!

Picking apples with Eric.

Katie picks apples for her bag.

Apple picking day! Did I mention that I love, love, love fall???

III. Apple Treats

With so many apples, it is time to start becoming creative with them in our kitchen. Katie and I spent much of today experimenting and planning how best to use them all.

We decided our first two projects would be baked apple chips (thin slices baked low for an hour) and a savory apple tartlet recipe I made up a few years ago.

Holding our tartlet pans and an apple and ready to cook.

After making the pate brisee, Katie helped to roll in out and press it into the tins.

Adding the balsamic vinegar to the onions. We carmelize apples and onions in balsamic vinegar and brown sugar. (A sprig of fresh thyme is nice here, but we can also use dried). This forms the base of the tartlet, which is then topped with roasted chicken pieces and, today, bleu cheese. I have used gruyere in the past and enjoyed it, but I had bleu on hand today.

Rolling the pie dough.

The great thing is, we only used half of our pate brisee for the tartlets, so we already have another half of chilled pie dough ready to go. I am thinking we will make an apple dessert out of it...either an apple crumb pie or something else.

APPLES!!!! YES!!!! And Autumn!!