Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

The Very Last Day of Summer

IMG_0341-2The announcement came early in the day. I was at the row of mailboxes at the bottom of the hill. Sandra had tucked it into her pocket, waiting for a moment like this where she could share the news. “This is the last of it,” she said. “This is the last of the hot weather. It’s going to rain on Saturday.”

And it did. The rains came on the heels of a hot, smoky, too dry summer that had over stayed her welcome. And with the rains came the inspiration and promise of autumn. On that last day of summer, the mercury rose to 90 degrees. My lips couldn’t soak up enough Burt’s Bees. The dog lay sprawled on the cool, hardwood floor, not really interested in walking our usual trail, dusty from the months of unrelenting heat. On that very last day, after I returned from the mailboxes, I began to think about what I would do with autumn.

I thought about apple butter simmering for three days until it became thick and brown, the spices permeating the air, IMG_0364smells creeping from the pot on the stove to the floors and rising to the ceiling, filling the house with scents of clove and cinnamon. I dreamed about mums and peppers, gracing the front porch for another month, the last of flowers, a flourish of color and glory that would segue into brown and grey when winter frosts came.

I moved quickly, stealthily into the autumn promise, knowing that the announcement my neighbor Sandra had given me was true and certain. By Friday, I’d collected apples–honey crisps, red delicious and gala, for the large stainless steel pot where later in the week they would begin their transformation. I planted peppers in the remaining containers on the front porch and I defrosted chicken for the soup I would make on Saturday morning.

What if the rains didn’t come? What if it was another false alarm? What if autumn was cancelled this year and we were doomed to live only summer from now on? Oh I can hear the climate change deniers now, telling me this would somehow be good for business, that it would increase the bottom line. But the rains came and washed all those thoughts away. Another fall. Another change of seasons, and I was grateful and prepared to celebrate.

Friday night my husband came downstairs excited. “Come on,” he said as he pulled me by the hand. He took me outsideIMG_0352 where we stood on the deck as the rain was staring. We took in the smells and let the water drops splash on our hands and our faces. We raised our arms toward the sky and said, “thank you.” We sat down for a while, before the rain got heavy and talked about how wonderful the moisture felt, about how beautiful our oak tree was. Her branches spread out over us, keeping us sheltered as she dropped leaves that gently floated to the deck and swirled about our feet. The great grand oak of our valley, the one we imagine to be the grandmother of all the oaks that live here. That’s the story we have made up and delight in telling ourselves.

On Saturday, chicken soup simmered on the stove. A basket of apples sat on the chair awaiting their mission in life. The fireplace warmed the chilly living room and outside the ticking of rain on the grape arbor leaves sang the new season into being. It’s here. It came with flare and fanfare. I will never grow tired of the changes, the anticipation of the shift.

It is as if everything around me, everything inside of me relaxed. Last night found my husband and I sitting on the covered front porch in the dark. I wrapped a blanket around me. The dog lay down between us. And all of us listened to the rain, tilted our heads toward the sky, breathing in the time of decay and shedding that autumn brings, saying goodbye to a summer whose very last day was behind us now. Oh for the love of the seasons. Oh for the love of change.IMG_0353

Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

Autumn Apple Butter

20140926_143652_resizedAutumn is a delight to the senses: The feel of cool mornings that beg for sweaters and fuzzy slippers; the smell of painted leaves collecting on moist ground, a decay that feeds the forest from its floor; low hanging clouds and grey skies that wrap around the afternoons; and the taste of squashes and apples, ripe from a summer of sun.

One of my favorite autumn rituals over many years past has been baking apples. That has to be one of the all time great smells that can permeate a house. Red delicious, in my opinion, makes the best baking apples. Since this year marks my first autumn in a new town, it seems fitting to forge some new memories. When I heard about making apple butter in a crock-pot, I was eager to try. And the idea of sharing apple butter with my neighbors is equally compelling.

20140928_085208_resizedSo here is my journey, and honestly it turned out pretty well! I carefully chose 14 organic apples of a mixed variety– honey crisp, red delicious, granny smith and galas. As with many recipes that I find, I adapt them to my personal bend, so I did not peel the apples–after all the vitamins in the skin. My 4-quart-crock pot holds about 14 apples, cored and chopped into chunks and it is overflowing. As the apples cook, they reduce, so it’s not like you are going to wind up with 4 quarts of apple butter.

 

12-14 cored and chunked organic apples — don’t bother to peel ‘em
1 cup of organic apple juice (No Sugar Added)
½ tsp. of nutmeg
½ tsp. vanilla
1 heaping tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. ground cloves

Put everything in the crock-pot and slow cook for 10 hours. After 10 hours, cool things off until you can easily pour the contents into a good blender or a VitaMix.  Blend until smooth and then transfer back into the crock pot.  At this point I suggest that you put the whole pot into the fridge and go to bed. The next morning, put the crock-pot back on and cook again for two to three hours. The darkness and thickness depend upon how long you cook. Leave the lid slightly ajar to avoid splatters. When things are cool enough to touch, ladle the apple butter into 4 oz. jars and screw on the lids. Unlike “canning” that allows you to create a shelf life for your wares, this apple butter should be refrigerated and will keep for up to two weeks in the fridge. Let people know that if you give any away. I came away with ten little jars and enough left over to indulge my husband and myself in a really good taste–something akin to licking the frosting spoon.

Serve on muffins, toast, waffles or pancakes. Share with neighbors and friends so everyone gets to enjoy and you don’t end up being a little piggy.20140929_103116_resized

This is my new autumn ritual and I think it’s a good one! Do you have autumn rituals that you look forward to each year–or ones you would like to instate?  Feel free to share…I’d like to hear them.