Thanksgiving Day Tips and a Recipe

I thought I would pop in today since this is the last weekend before the big dinner with some tips and a recipe!

I almost always take the week of Thanksgiving off; for me it is a time to relax, take long walks in whatever daylight may be available, and of course, cook and bake. It’s a little odd to think of preparing for days for just one meal, but I love it. For a few years, I visited my grandmother in New York, with my cousins and other family. Wednesday night was always pizza, the best you’ll ever have. But I did no cooking, so the holiday always felt different. While those days were filled with family and lots of laughter, I also missed preparing and cooking dinner.

Since I refuse to be frazzled when I cook this year’s meal, I’m going back to my own tips for preparing for the big day and thought I would reprint these again for those who may have missed them the first time around. Some of these tips may seem elementary, although to me they make the actual battle of getting everything ready all at once easier. I have to admit, some of these aren’t original, just things I’ve collected through the years that work for me.

• This goes without saying, but prepare some items the day before or even two or three days before. Squash can be made Monday or Tuesday, rolls can be made a week ahead of time and can be frozen until Thursday morning. They can even be made this weekend. Make and bake your pies late Wednesday evening, that way you’re not trying to jockey for space in the oven with your turkey the next day.

• On Wednesday, take out your china and all serving bowls and utensils and assign dishes to each one. This saves a lot on the “what bowl is the stuffing going into?” questions when you have some ravenous people hovering at your elbow in the kitchen. I put the assignments on scraps of paper and place them inside each bowl or plate, which I find helps me immensely the next day. All china and linens also are cleaned and ready to go, so all I have to do Thursday morning is set the table.

• Create a timeline. I take my menu, figured out how long the turkey was going to cook and what I have to do when it comes out of the oven. So I have everything down to the time, “9 a.m., turkey in the oven; at 12:45 see if it’s almost done and start the potatoes” etc. This allows me to easily whisk around the kitchen and allows for everything to be done pretty much at the same time (fingers crossed!). This method also is good for any meal you’re cooking while entertaining, as I have a habit of forgetting things once the door opens and the guests arrive!

• A small, old-fashioned relish plate as an appetizer. So many times I’ve made a couple of appetizers, which fill up your guests before the meal. How about some carrots and celery sticks, a bowl of black olives, and cornchicons? Just a little something light to tide everyone over before dinner. Sliced fennel with a little bit of olive oil and salt and pepper is another tasty treat.

• Instead of putting all the dishes on the table, finding room among the arms and elbows, I set up the kitchen counter as a buffet, so people can fill their plates and return to an uncluttered table. While it doesn’t paint the Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving feast, I find this to be a much nicer way to eat, so you aren’t surrounded by people plus dishes!

• If you want some additional quick recipes, check out Mark Bittman’s fantastic “101 Tips for the Big Day” from the New York Times. This is well worth reading and printing out; I always refer to it this time of year; Bittman is the king of quick tips and simplicity and is always so helpful.

I pulled out my Essential New York Times Cookbook when planning this year’s meal. Since I have some little ones in my life who love bread and any form of it, I thought I’d make some rolls. I love Parker House Rolls, but decided to go with the more aristocratic-sounding Astor House Rolls. I made a test run on these a couple of weeks ago; easy, instructions are crystal clear, and they were really yummy, especially right out of the oven! I was thinking since you put a little bit of butter in the roll before cooking, that some minced garlic and/or herbs would be a nice touch. Next time.

Happy little buns.

Astor House Rolls
From The Essential New York Times Cookbook, by Amanda Hesser, p. 652

1 packet active dry yeast
1/2 cup lukewarm water
About 6 cups all-purpose flour, or more as needed
4 teaspoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 cups whole milk scalded and cooled to lukewarm
7 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon colt unsalted butter

1. Dissolve the yeast in the lukewarm water and let stand until foamy. Put 5 cups of flour in a large bowl (you can use a mixer with a dough hook if you want) and make a well in the center. Add the yeast mixture, salt, sugar, softened butter, and milk and stir, slowly incorporating the flour from the sides. Then stir and beat the mixture until a ball of dough has formed. Pour the dough and any remaining flour onto a work surface and gradually knead in the remaining 1 cup flour.

2. Put the dough in a clean bowl, cover, and let rise until light and fluffy and almost doubled.

3. Punch down the dough and knead until it is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes–you should need very little, if any, extra flour for this step. Return to the bowl, cover, and let rise until doubled in size.

4. Punch down the dough and divide into 22 pieces. Shape each piece into a tight round (see ** at end), keep the other pieces covered with plastic wrap while you work. Beginning with the first round, flatten each roll, seam side up, to 1/2-inch thick. Place 1 teaspoon butter in the center, lift one edge of the dough, and pull it up and over the butter, forming a turnover-shaped roll, and pinch the ends firmly closed to seal in the butter. Arranged rolls 3 inches apart on nonstick baking sheets (or baking sheets covered with parchment). Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise until almost doubled, about 1 hour.

5. Heat the oven to 425 degrees.

6. Bake until the rolls are puffed, golden, and cooked through, about 16 minutes. Cool on baking racks.

Makes 22 rolls.

Originally published in the New York Times, October 27, 1878: “Useful Hints for Housekeepers.” Recipe signed Lillie.

** To shape rolls, follow the instructions of Nancy Silverton in her book Breads from the La Brea Bakery: “Shape the dough into balls by cupping your hand lightly around the dough and rounding it against the friction of the work surface to form a smooth bun. Begin slowly and increase speed as the ball becomes tighter and smoother. Use as little flour as possible to prevent sticking.”

Happy 100, My Vermont Kitchen!

Even though I’m sad to say goodbye to summer, the outside light this time of year is always incredible.

One hundred posts. I can’t believe it! To think when I began this blog, it was the winter of 2011, I was stuck indoors with a March blizzard, and my first post was my lunch, Matzo Ball Soup. In 18 months, I’ve brought you pies, soups, book reviews, more soups, salads, and everything in between. You read about me creating the best apple pie for a pie contest (I didn’t win),  my Julia Child 100th birthday dinner (the electricity went out), and tips for cooking and hosting a (somewhat) stress-free Thanksgiving dinner. You’ve been inside the kitchen with me when it’s been so hot I can’t even look at the oven and so cold I want to get in the oven! Through the seasons I’ve tried to bring you recipes that are the essence of the months, while being on the healthy and easy side for each meal.

I try to bring you the best of the best. But believe me when I say, dinner at home isn’t always delicious or homemade; many a dinner is just spaghetti and canned sauce! And while this sounds lovely, there have been gaffs through the months and with that I say, mea culpa. Like when I gave a recipe for bean soup, and completely left them out of the recipe. Or when I gave a grave error in measurements for matzo balls. Or when my pie crust was a heart attack in a pie plate; in this case, too much butter.

Some weeks I wonder what in heaven’s name I’m going to write about. Other weeks I have too many recipes on my plate (no pun intended!). I wonder with each upcoming season if I’m going to have enough creative energy to keep going, have enough recipes to fill a season. But at the end of last winter, I drew up a list of about ten recipes I have yet to write about. So the possibilities are endless indeed.

I thought in celebration for old fans and new readers, I’d give you my best ten recipes that I’ve posted throughout the months. I had a fun time selecting recipes to highlight, and came up with a list longer than ten! But I chose to go with some old-time favorites, family recipes passed down, and some that are my own. A lot of these are the top ten from my house that make the rotation whichever month we’re in.

So thank you so much for reading, commenting, and sticking through my creative cooking process! Here’s to 100 more!

Baked Artichoke Dip
: Wherever I take this dip, it is always a hit! A bit on the fussy side, but it’s definitely worth the work!

Creamy Cheesy Cauliflower Soup à la Irene
: I’ve made more soups than I can shake a stick at, but since we’re getting into fall, this is a perfect weeknight supper soup that is warm and comforting.

Gigi’s Chicken Salad
: This is a summertime staple in our house. Adding some walnuts adds some great protein, too.

Main Dishes
Scallops with Tomatoes and Olive Vinaigrette
: Whenever scallops go on sale, this is on the menu! It is a great and simple dinner which can also be made for a special occasion.

Pesto: I make a batch of this about once a week in the summer and place it in small containers to freeze for a pinch of summer in the colder months.

Vegetarian Spring Rolls: While all the chopping and slicing gets a bit old, this is so healthy and delicious, it’s worth the work when you bite into one of these!

Side Dishes
Farro with Brussels Sprouts and Beans
: I had forgotten about the recipe, but when I saw it, I’m happy we’re getting into Brussels Sprouts season!

Crumbly Peach Pie
: I make this at least once a summer. The butter, sugar, and nutmeg is heaven on a plate. And only one crust to make!

: Check out my friend Deb’s recipe for quick pickles and dilly beans and make some before this summer’s crop is gone!

Granola: Forget store-bought granola, make your own! That way you know what you’re eating, a healthy blend of grains and nuts. I’m sure it’s a bit on the high calorie side, but just a little bit in yogurt is all you need.

A Look Back and Forward (Plus a Recipe)

“Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Dear Family, Friends, and Readers,
As we close 2011, I look back on the year with great appreciation that you have found my little corner of the cyberworld. And that you have stuck with me these past eight months, through errors I’ve made in recipes, my sometimes rabble rousing on food issues, and perhaps (I think) one too many soups. I hope you have tried some of my recipes, and I’m always appreciative when someone comes back with a tip or comment. Please know, I, too, learn from your experience as well!

I always get excited with the start of the new year; the landscape seems so open to possibilities. At the end of each year, I sit down and write not necessarily resolutions, but what I call goals on things I’d like to work on in the coming year. Stepping out of my box is what I say, and 2012 will be no different. Along with life goals, I also have goals in the kitchen so, fingers crossed, once a month I will do a recipe I’ve been wanting to try and which will be a challenge; something out of my usual realm. A couple of years ago I did this and had a blast. The first month I made Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon (rich and delicious), the next month a five-course Chinese New Years dinner for four (total success except for one dish!).

So in that same vein, remember the saying, “be careful what you wish for?” One of my wishes this holiday was to have The Essential New York Times Cook Book, by my idol, Amanda Hesser, under the Christmas tree. Santa heard my wish. With more than 1,000 recipes and about 20 pounds (following my surgery, I’m not supposed to be lifting anything more than a milk jug; this is very close to my 20 pound limit; to read, I have to prop it on a pillow!), you won’t be following “Chris and Amanda” this year, but I am going to tackle dozens of these recipes, all except veal and lamb. Chapter One is “Drinks, Cocktails, Punches, and Glogg,” so this can’t be anything but fun! I am making a pledge, though, to be faithful and follow the recipes to a T, none of my usual straying. Stay tuned, I’m sure you’ll see some recipes from this cookbook in 2012!

And so ends another year. Again, my heartfelt thank you for everything this past year. And for a little something extra, enjoy the recipe for Tortiere. This French Canadian holiday meat pie is a New England staple, Vermont and New Hampshire in particular, at tables this time of year. I take no credit for this pie; I asked my friend, Kathie Glasserman, for her mom’s recipe. This is authentic, really delicious (it got lots of compliments!), and extremely easy. Listen or read the story on National Public Radio that they did on Tortiere last Friday if you are interested. Serendipity, I was making my pies when the story was on!

Enjoy and Happy New Year!

Tortiere (a la Mom Burke)  
If you are pressed for time, you can do this in two steps like I did; make the mashed potatoes the night before, and the pies the next day. And also, this is easy to double, which I did.

3-4 large potatoes
1 small onion, diced
½ pound ground beef
½ pound ground pork
1 ½ cups water
Ground sage, cinnamon, and/or cloves, to taste
Pie crust, two, for top and bottom

1. Wash and peel the potatoes. Cook them up as you would if you were making mashed potatoes. Place in a large bowl, mash, adding nothing, and set aside.
2. Heat a little bit of oil in a large skillet and add the onion when warm. Add the water, then meat. Make sure there is enough water to cover the meat. Bring the meat mixture to a boil. Cook 20 minutes or until the water is mostly absorbed. Add the mashed potatoes and stir. Add the seasonings, plus salt and pepper, to the taste you like. (Unfortunately, I didn’t have any ground sage, so I made it with just cinnamon and cloves and it was delicious.)
3. Add to the prepared pie crust, place the top crust, and add some vents to allow the steam to rise. Bake for 10 minutes at 450 degrees, lower the temperature to 350 and bake for 40 minutes.

Cook’s note: I made these Friday evening, baked them, then had them in the fridge for a couple of days. Heated at 300 for about 30 minutes on Christmas day, they were perfect. You can also freeze, then bake.

Eat More Kale!

You may have heard about the fight with Vermont artist, Bo Muller-Moore, who is being sued by the fast-food company Chick-fil-A over his phrase, “Eat More Kale,” which is similar to their slogan, “Eat mor chiken.” (Don’t even get me started on the non-sensical, incorrect grammar of that slogan. Apparently cows wrote it. Seriously.)

I’ll be honest, I’ve seen the Eat More Kale bumper stickers for years and thought it was a band. Anyways, kale is one of those “miracle greens” in my opinion. I always feel healthy after I eat it, although I’ll admit sometimes it can be incredibly bitter. But if you pick that just right bunch, it can be wonderful and sweet.

The other night, I pulled out some local kale and cooked it up to serve with some cod and brown rice. It was perfect.  It even got a thumb’s up from the picky kale eater in the house!

Sauteed Kale with Garlic
This recipe is one you can substitute any dark green: Swiss Chard, beet greens, even spinach. Even if the greens are looking a bit sad, you can still follow this and they will be tasty. It can be served as a side dish, or if you prefer, mix it with some pasta, mashed potatoes, or even some chicken or other protein. It’s very versatile, so adding it to anything you decide will be delicious!

1 bunch dark leafy green (kale, chard, beet greens), chopped into bite-size pieces
Some good olive oil
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
Crushed red pepper
Squirt of lemon or vinegar
Salt and pepper

In a wide pan, saute the garlic in olive oil. When they are just the hintest of blond, add the greens. It’s helpful if you’ve just washed these, don’t worry about the extra water. This may also take two steps, depending on the size of your bunch of greens. With a spatula or tongs, move the greens around in the pan, until they start to “melt.” Add the rest of the greens, if necessary. Add a little bit of water to the greens, about a quarter cup, cover, and cook at low heat for about ten minutes or so. (You can even leave them longer, if you like. Nothing will go wrong with cooking them even longer, unless you are using spinach, which is more tender and cooks more quickly.) By the time you come back, the large bunch of greens will now be reduced considerably. Add crushed red pepper and/or additional olive oil to taste, if desired, and a squirt or two of lemon juice. Salt, pepper, and serve!

“Food” for Thought

I thought I would share this little tidbit that was published the latest newsletter from my co-op. Despite my love of cooking, it is not beneath me to buy a frozen meal for lunch or the occasional frozen pizza when I’m home alone for dinner (this is one of my indulgences).

Eat Food
These days this is easier said than done, especially when seventeen thousand new products show up in the supermarket each year, all vying for your food dollar. But most of these items don’t deserve to be called food–I call then edible food-like substances. They’re highly processed concoctions designed by food scientists, consisting mostly of ingredients derived from corn and soy that no normal person keeps in the pantry, and they contain chemical additives with which the human body has not been long acquainted. Today, much of the challenge of eating well comes down to choosing real food and avoiding these industrial novelties.
Michael Pollan, Food Rules, An Eater’s Manual

Finally . . .

I wish everyone the happiest of holidays with you and your families! 


The Wonders of Miso

When a friend and reader asked me to do a post on miso paste, I happily obliged; miso was on my grocery list and miso soup was on this week’s menu!

Miso paste is used in Asian cooking that is made from rice and/or soy and can be used as the base for soups and dressings. A 13 ounce tub can be on the pricey side, I paid a little more than $6, but I buy a tub one about every two years, so you never have to worry about it going bad. It adds a nice nutty flavor to whatever you are cooking. It is fairly salty, so be sure to taste before adding any additional salt. You can buy it in white or brown rice; I usually buy white or yellow, but this time I bought brown, since the only difference on the label was a lower sodium content.

I used miso in my recipe for Asian Chicken Salad, found here. It adds a really nice flavor to the chicken, pasta, ginger, and scallions.

Another recipe I make with it is salad dressing. Many a summer evening when we’re starving and need to eat NOW, I place some cooked steak or chicken on top of some greens with tomatoes and scallions, and whisk up the dressing to put on top. Mince some garlic and place in a bowl, add about a teaspoon of miso paste, and the juice of a lemon until it is thin. Add freshly grated pepper and taste test to make sure the flavors are all balanced. Serve and eat!

But of course, the most popular way to use miso is to make soup. Here is a recipe given to me by a co-worker years ago. It’s always been my go-to recipe when I’m in the mood for this soup. This recipe is incredibly inexpensive, flexible,  and forgiving; I usually mince my ginger, and frequently leave out the seaweed. You can add other veggies if you want or leave out the veggies and just add onion and tofu. Or leave out the tofu completely and just have veggies. Any way you make it, it’s going to be delicious and warm on a cold December’s day! And this is the last soup recipe, at least for a couple of weeks!

Miso Soup
Place two or three strips of wakame (or other kind of seaweed) in very hot water to soak. Gently simmer 6 cups of water and two tablespoons of tamari (soy sauce can be substituted. Use gluten-free tamari if needed). Add 1 carrot julienned (you can cut baby carrots into fourths), 1 teaspoon of grated fresh ginger, and 1 cup thinly sliced onion. Add diced tofu, if desired. Drain wakame, chop, and add to broth. Gently simmer for 30 minutes.

Using two tablespoons of miso, make a paste with a small portion of the broth. Add the paste to the soup and stir. Continue to simmer gently for a few more moments. Added touches: chopped fresh scallions, roasted sesame seeds just before serving.

* * * *

Any of you who have read the page about my favorite cooks know I adore Mark Bittman. So imagine my surprise when I read he was in Vermont on Black Friday! He was in Burlington with Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders at the Intervale, a community supported farm. He writes about his experience here. A dream of mine is to cook for Mr. Bittman, so maybe next time he’s in town, he can come south about 30 minutes!

Such is the Month of December…

A time to eat lightly during these dark days that bring us lots of delicious sweets and treats during the daylight hours. Once Thanksgiving rolls around, I try to eat more rounded meals during the month of December, because exercise isn’t a regular after work activity, people around you are getting colds and I tend to get run down due to the lack of light and sleep, and sugar is to the maximum. This to not in any way say I am above eating a package of homemade cookies–there are just some holiday treats I can’t–and don’t want–to say no to. I won’t say you will never see any sweet holiday recipe this month, stay tuned, there will be plenty! But for lunches and dinners, I try to load up on healthy vegetables and fruits, and create meals based around these.

So this past weekend, in an effort to start the month off right, I decided to make yet another soup (are you tired of soup recipes yet?) for the week’s lunches. In perusing the fridge, I came across some leeks and potatoes in the vegetable bin and thought about a potato leek soup, warm and yummy. But then I found tucked away some sad-looking carrots and some broccoli stems. I’m always ashamed to throw away these away, it seems like such a waste. So I save them and usually do a quick pickle that is tasty and crispy. I defrosted some leftover chicken stock from the freezer and created a delicious yet filling and warm soup full of veggies. You can of course leave out the carrots and broccoli stems and add extra potatoes for a more traditional meal!

Vegetable and Potato Leek Soup
You can definitely omit the milk or cream out if you prefer a dairy-free soup. I would just up the chicken stock to make it a bit more creamy.

2 teaspoons olive oil
2 large leeks, cleaned and sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 carrots, peeled and diced
2 broccoli stems, diced
4 small to medium potatoes
3 cups liquid, either chicken or vegetable broth or water
½ cup milk, cream or additional broth if dairy free
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in a soup pot of Dutch oven. Add leeks and garlic and sauté until soft. Add carrots and broccoli stems, sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. Add potatoes, stir and cook for an additional 5 minutes or so or until soft. Add broth and bring to a boil. Cover, turn to low, and cook until all the vegetables are extra soft. This is the best part, you can virtually forget about this for at least half an hour, no damage will be done by overcooking! With a potato masher, mash the vegetables together, and in batches, place in a blender and puree until smooth and repeat. (*Note: You may need to add a bit more liquid, mine was too thick to blend. I also found once it sat and I took some out to eat, it had thickened. Warming it will make it thinner, and you can always add a little bit of water.) Add milk, or additional broth, stir and add salt and pepper to taste.

Food For Thought
For more than 20 years, every Sunday evening I watch “60 Minutes.” Rarely is there a segment devoted to anything food-related, but I thought I would share a story that was on this week’s show, about “flavorists,” or scientists who create artificial flavors to mimic the real thing. To me, this takes food creation to a whole new level. Interesting and scary all at the same time; a variety of specific raspberry flavors (jammy, sweet, floral) or chicken (crusty fatty chicken anyone?). Michael Pollan is famous for saying “don’t eat anything your great-great-grandmother wouldn’t as food.” I wonder what  my great-grandmother, who was a home cook and lived to be 100, would think about buying flavor in a bottle that you could pick from a bush?

“60 Minutes” November 27, 2012

A Few Tips for the “Big Day”

I’ve been a cook for two and a crowd, as well as  a guest on Thanksgiving Day. A couple of years ago, after a hiatus from cooking Thanksgiving dinner, I had to step it up to plan, organize, and cook a meal for seven. I developed some advice to make each holiday meal a little bit easier and thought I’d share them in advance of Wednesday this week.

Of course, you feel like a juggler to make sure everything goes smoothly; your guests are enjoying themselves with something to drink and a little something to nibble on so they aren’t dying of hunger in the living room, while the cook is in the kitchen, stirring items on four burners and balancing a turkey! Of course, the goal is to have everything–and everyone–ready to go before the meal gets cold. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t. But when you sit and relax with a nice glass of wine and a delicious dinner, everything will taste delicious, so in the end it really doesn’t matter!

Some tips may seem elementary, although to me they made the actual battle of getting everything ready at one time much easier than in years past. I have to admit, some of these aren’t original, just things I’ve collected through the years that work for me.

• On Wednesday, take out your china and all serving bowls and utensils and assign dishes to each one. This saved a lot on the “what bowl is the stuffing going into” questions when you have some ravenous people who are hovering in the kitchen and want to eat soon! I made labels of the side dish and put them inside each bowl or plate, which I found helped me out immensely in the long run. All china and the linens were also cleaned and ready to go, so I didn’t have to do with the table anything Thursday morning except set it.

• A time-table. I took my menu, figured out how long the turkey was going to cook, what I had to do when it came out of the oven. So I had everything down to the time, “9 a.m., turkey in the oven; at 12:45 see if it’s almost done and start the potatoes” etc. For me, this allowed me to easily whisk around the kitchen and wasn’t as frazzled as I could have been, and allowed for everything to be done pretty much at the same time. This method also would be good for any meal you’re cooking while entertaining, as I have a habit of kind of forgetting things once the door opens and the guests arrive!

• A small, old-fashioned relish plate as an appetizer. So many times I’ve made a couple of appetizers, which fill up your guests before the big meal and usually aren’t particularly healthy. How about some carrots and celery sticks, a bowl of black olives, and cornchicons? No dip, that would add extra calories and fill you up. This was just a little light something to tide everyone over before dinner. Sliced fennel with a little bit of olive oil and salt and pepper is another tasty treat.

• This goes without saying, but prepare some items the day before or even two or three days before. Squash can be made Monday or Tuesday, as can rolls, which can be frozen until Thursday morning. Make and bake your pies late Wednesday evening, that way you’re not trying to find space in the oven with your turkey.

• Instead of putting all the dishes on the table, finding room among the arms and elbows, I set up the kitchen table as the buffet table, people could fill their plates and return to an uncluttered table. I found this to be a much nicer to eat, as you weren’t surrounded by people plus dishes!

With all the great tips I’ve cultivated through the years, there is one thing I’m going to continue to work on–being in the kitchen less and enjoying my guests more. I always find when entertaining, as I am always the cook, that I am tucked away in the kitchen, but don’t get to enjoy our guests until dinner time.

If you have any great tips, I’d love to hear them, and add them to my repertoire!

Happy Thanksgiving to one and all! I hope everyone has a glorious meal and something to be thankful for this year!

It’s Autumn!

Note the miniature hunter's moon!

Although we’ve only had two evenings of a hard frost, it definitely is autumn in Vermont. It’s dark when I awake and turns dark soon after I return home from work. Long early evening walks have been moved to weekend days. The foliage is a brilliant orangey-yellow this year, yet with some rainstorms, the leaves are slowing falling. It’s time to make an appointment to put on the snow tires.

So with the change of seasons, comes a change in the kitchen. Dinners and lunches are soups, stews, and hardier meals. Gone are the days of salad suppers, the oven is now on and we’re eating food to warm the heart and soul: curried chicken, vegetable soups, lots of roasted root vegetables. So turns the page to another season, and another way of looking at–and cooking–food. Below are small pieces on two of my favorite fall foods, apples and homemade doughnuts.

Apple Salad a.k.a. Waldorf Salad
Every Sunday afternoon, from September through November, you can find me at our apple orchard a couple of miles away, selecting a week’s worth of apples, cider, and in October, my favorites, Concord grapes. This year my favorite apples are Greenings, a slightly sweeter version of a Granny Smith. With a little bit of peanut butter or cottage cheese, they are a perfect snack. But I usually tuck a couple of Macintosh apples in my bag for a salad.

Sometimes, I tire of the usual green salad accompaniment for dinner, or for dinner, and I whip up a quick apple salad, especially this time of year, since apples are plentiful. The only thing that takes time is cutting the apples, and if you don’t peel them, it takes even less time. Tossing everything into a bowl, mixing in the dressing, and you have a bright and nutritious fruit salad. And you can make it for one eater or ten!

I fixed this for a luncheon potluck one winter and it must have been memorable, because I received a request for the recipe more than six months later! I think of it as more of a fall/winter salad, but it truly is delicious any time of the year, as long as your apples are fresh!

In a mixing bowl, combine:
— Chopped, diced, unpeeled apples (although can be peeled if you prefer)
— One to two stalks, chopped celery
— A handful of chopped walnuts or almonds
— A couple of handfuls of raisins or currents

Add a choice of:
— mayonnaise
— mayonnaise and sour cream
— mayonnaise and plain yogurt

Mix until combined. The dressing should lightly cover the ingredients, just a couple of tablespoons each, it shouldn’t be heavy and thick. Chill in fridge, then serve!

Doughnut Days
When the calendar turns to September and October, the days start getting shorter, and there is a crispness in the air, it means one thing in my mom’s house: time to get out the large cast iron skillet and make some doughnuts! This fall tradition has been around as long as I can remember. Now, although our family is even bigger, we still gather together for an afternoon of making–and eating–doughnuts.

This year, the tradition continued, although we were missing a couple of family members. I never miss this day; as many can attest, I am not a sweets person, but I do love doughnuts!

The big wooden cutting board is pulled out, and Mom rolls out the dough and then cuts each one carefully. No dough gets wasted, and my favorite doughnuts are the holes and pieces, because they are crisp, yet soft. The first batch goes in, and a few minutes later are draped onto a paper towel. I usually burn my tongue because I can’t wait to eat one from that first batch; it’s always the best.

Although I’m constantly watching my waistline, I brought a small bag home that I promptly stuck in the freezer for later eats. Relaxing on a Sunday morning after a long walk with dark coffee and a homemade doughnut is about as good as it gets!

“Are You Goin’ to … The Fair?”

I thought I would give you a small sliver of Vermont life in August this morning.  

I usually attend two to three fairs each summer. Yet I find the older I get, the less tolerance I have for dust, crowds, heat, port-a-lets, and just the general ambiance. This year, I  may end up attending just one. When the days get a little shorter and there is just a hint of fall in the air, we make our annual trek to my favorite: Addison County Field Days. A county fair, where vegetable and baked goods receive blue ribbons, and vendors sell everything from Cabot cheese, to farm equipment, to taxidermy, to religion, all under one roof. You’ll see animals everywhere, with young girls in braids wrangling their young calves in front of the judge. An old-time tractor parade Tuesday evening welcomes the start of the new year. A two-night demolition derby that for some people is as exciting as Christmas (and of which I admit I’m one of them). The rides, the Ferris wheel, The Zipper, and the merry-go-round. And of course, it goes without mentioning, the food.

Our start every year is my favorite aside from the animals, the home and garden building, where everything from vegetables to artwork to knitted wear are judged. But my favorite is the baking contest. I scan to see what kind of cookies and pies people made and who received the blue ribbon. Every year I download the entry form with thoughts I will enter something, but it’s always just a thought, it never comes to fruition.

The sights and smells are the same every year, catching up with friends and the usual events. For me, it doesn’t matter what evening we go, I know what my dinner will be. I am a creature of habit, and every year I order my spicy sausage from Tony in his little wooden booth. They’re inexpensive and delicious. Just the right amount of peppers and onions with yellow mustard on top. This year we passed on our usual basket of crispy and flaky onion rings which I said was because I was full, although, truth be told, I couldn’t find our favorite vendor.

The deep-fried sticks of butter and butter sculptures I heard about at the Iowa State Fair aren’t present, but there is still plenty of food to eat. Smoked turkey legs, funnel cakes, candied apples, cotton candy, burgers, hot dogs, and pizza. The first evening every year, they have a Vermont dinner, where your entire dinner is made of Vermont food: chicken, ham, vegetables, coffee and milk, and dessert. But you can walk off  a lot of your  consumed calories by going from the cow barns to the horse stables and sheep tent.

Every time we go to Field Days, it never feels like an entire year has passed. The familiar sights are just that, too familiar to have had 12 months go by; that long winter is just a faint memory, mud season and the rains of June forgotten. But it has, and like always, it will. And so we end another year with the twinkling of the Field Days lights as we round the bend toward home.