My favorite time of year has come, once again. I looked out my window this crisp fall morning and the first thing I saw was a scarecrow, witch and a giant fake tarantula on my neighbor’s front porch. I have done similar porch décor over the last several years, but this year I opted for the simple, single giant pumpkin. There were a few years where I put out hay bales, but though it looks cute, it makes a huge mess of hay on the porch, which my dear husband is not too fond of when it comes time to clean it up and put them away in the shed.
All that aside, as quintessentially Autumn as we have the potential to be here on the California Central Coast, the real reason I get a little more involved in my projects, a little more chipper, a little friendlier to those around me (I’ll bet you know what I’m getting at), is because I absolutely love fall cooking!!! Everything changes for me in the fall. I say goodbye to summer squash and gazpacho, bid adieu to chilled summer corn soup, as I welcome pumpkin, butternut and acorn squash, and other seasonal gourds into my kitchen. The smell of roasting squash brings me to a place of bliss where my sensory memory falls in love with food smells all over again. It’s like that sweet feeling when you hear a song that reminds you of your first crush, and just for that moment, you wish you could stay there forever.
To prepare for Thanksgiving dinner is a ritualistic obsession that I plan for and welcome with open arms each year. Summer was so hot this year, that I completely forgot fall was around the corner. Last week, however, I woke up in the early hours before light, and before the birds began their daily cacophony, and it was actually cold in my bedroom. It was then that I remembered, and knew that it was time. Time to start making those lists that I learned how to make so well from my mother. She used to make lists of things to order from the Sears catalog (“5 white t-shirts, 5 pairs white socks, 5 blue, 5 underwear”), lists of home improvement ideas, groceries to pick up, etc.
I, on the other hand, make list after list in preparation for Thanksgiving dinner. The guest list, the menu- in list form, the grocery list, a week by week “to-do” list, and others that I cannot remember, or have not yet been created. Since we are talking about lists, I’ve always had a sort of “bucket list” idea for Thanksgiving dinner. I usually have dinner at 2. People start arriving around 1, have light appetizers, a glass of wine or whatever else they are in the mood for, and chat with family and a few close friends as college football adds to the chatter and hum of holiday noise. Dinner is served at 2, dessert a while later. Coffee is served up to order as evening draws near.
Mind you, this is all very traditional and beautiful, but I’ve always had a secret plan to have a more formal, elegant Thanksgiving dinner. Long tapers lit at the table, beautiful holiday china and stemware to fit the occasion as we all sit together at the table, savoring the fall flavors and smells that surround us, and have lodged themselves in my clothing and hair since 6 am.
For now, let’s get back to the list. The decisions to make (to brine or not to brine, what kind of stuffing, how to showcase seasonal produce in a salad). This is the ritual that I love so much. This is what gets me going, makes me happy, and what makes fall my absolute favorite time during this and every trip I make around the sun. Stay tuned for recipes!!!