What is sometimes called a  
   tongue of flame
or an arm extended burning  
   is only the long
red and orange branch of  
   a green maple
in early September   reaching
   into the greenest field
out of the green woods   at the
   edge of which the birch trees  
appear a little tattered   tired
   of sustaining delicacy
all through the hot summer   re-
   minding everyone (in  
our family) of a Russian
   song   a story
by Chekhov…

-Grace Paley (“Autumn“)

This post is my tribute to fall. I sometimes can’t help but feel that this season–a season during which life, despite our wishes to the contrary, inevitably slows down–is full of so many treats. Pumpkins.  Pecan pumpkin butter pancakes (just add pumpkin butter to your favorite pancake recipe). Butternut squash. Fennel. Apples. Apple cider. Not to mention time for reflection (a la Chekhov), mulled wine, quiet nights in huddled under blankets, fleece and, if you’re as silly as me, a former East Coaster who shivers like a fool when the fog rolls in, maybe the occasional moment with your feet hanging off the bed next to your little heater.

In the spirit of this favorite season of mine, I bought a butternut squash last weekend and all week I was wondering how I might use it. I turned to the Food Bible, aka The Essential New York Times Cookbook, and, lo and behold, there was more than enough inspiration to go around. While I really would have loved to have tried Thomas Keller’s recipe for Butternut Squash Soup, I took Amanda Hesser’s warning about the care required to make it quite seriously; while I was sure that the end result might be worth it, I knew that I’d lose a whole day’s labor to the process. And on a day when laundry was calling my name, I had to say no to Keller. Fortunately, however, the great thing about this cookbook is that if one recipe is overly labor intensive, you can simply flip a few pages and find yourself with yet another take on almost the same recipe–and one that, though much simpler to prepare, will still please your taste buds. In this case, I decided to go with the Butternut Squash and Apple Cider Soup. Besides the tedious job of cutting and peeling the squash (the Greek rose to the challenge beautifully), it was easy to make: a little chicken broth, a shallot and garlic meet the cubed squash. The softened vegetables then go into the food processor. Sour cream and apple cider are added; some sliced apples serve as a garnish and, voila, you’ve got the beauty of fall in a bowl. Although I will say that I liked the soup better the second time around–with sour cream swirled into it and topped with walnuts.

Plus, inspired by the above link, I made some vegetable stock with the squash skin and innards, as well as some bay leaves, carrots and pepper. And as there was more than enough squash to go around, we also roasted it with olive oil, the other half of the apple that was used to garnish the soup and another shallot. I’ve come to hate waste in the kitchen; if I can think of a good way to use something, it’s going nowhere near the garbage can.

This fine season has also inspired some great Slavic department gatherings. This past weekend, the majority of the graduate students assembled at a second-year’s house to learn the art of making khachapuri, or “Georgian Cheese Bread.” It was a lot of fun to stand around with my friends and colleagues, diligently taking notes while the evening’s master chef taught us the art of his native cuisine. As we had all enjoyed Georgian food at some point or another while we were in Russia, this was a real treat; I plan on sharing the recipe here (I’ve been given permission to do so), but I’m going to have to test it first–to see if I can do it myself (so many family recipes seem like they work only within the family; give them to an outsider and strange things can happen). But just knowing that I now have the tools for making khachapuri will help me sleep more soundly at night. Yes, that’s just how I feel about cheese bread.

The other activity that’s been keeping me busy is thinking about the spring. Ironic, isn’t it? But, you see, yours truly is planning a research trip to Helsinki for March…Not only will this be my first trip to Europe since 2008 (and does Russia really count? That’s half the point of my whole dissertation, although, let’s not kid ourselves, the question has already been asked many, many times), but it will also be the first true vacation I’ll have had in years. There will be time to relax and sightsee; I’ll see a dear friend whom I haven’t seen since 2006 (we write letters to each other, however. Somebody has to keep the postal service in business). And I’ve been reading a lot about Scandinavian food: Scandi Foodie has a great blog (who doesn’t like the sound of Cauliflower and Goat Cheese Soup?) and so does Scandilicious. Trust me when I say that, although I’ll be spending a lot of time in the archives reading old newspapers and hopefully finding something that will make my dissertation seem exciting again (both to me and to my readers), I’ll also be taking some kind of a cooking class; I’m not returning home until I’ve learned the secret of Hot Spiced Blueberry Juice and Mackerel with Plums. In short, I’m excited. I think it will be good for my work (culinary and academic alike) and also just plain good for me–to leave Berkeley for a bit and to breathe different air. Best of all, the Greek is even thinking he might join me for spring break. And I haven’t even told you about the reindeer races in the Lapland yet.

I recently made a recipe that the friend I will be reunited with in about 6 months (where does the time go?!) made back in my first year of graduate school for our marathon viewing session of the bad adaptation of Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita. I baked cupcakes (lemon blueberry) and she brought marinated mushrooms. I can’t say the two went terribly well together, but since the movie was about 6 hours long, there was more than enough time to balance out the tart and sweet cupcakes with the tangy, garlicked and herbed mushrooms.

Marinated Mushrooms

barely adapted from U.H.
Makes about 3-4 servings

I recommend eating the mushrooms as a side dish for fish, or even to mix them into a salad. If you like salty things, they’re also good to eat while standing in front of the refrigerator.

230 grams of mushrooms, cleaned and chopped

For the marinade: 
2 cloves garlic, chopped finely
1 Tbsp. chives, chopped
2 Tbsp. freshly chopped dill
2 Tbsp. freshly chopped parsley (you can also use basil)
1 Tbsp. honey (I used buckwheat honey)
1 1/2 Tbsp. Balsamic Vinegar
3/4 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp. sugar

-Clean and chop the mushrooms.
-Add the garlic, chives, dill and parsley to a large bowl.
-Add the salt, pepper and sugar and stir to mix.
-Add the honey, Balsamic and olive oil and mix well.
-Cover and refrigerate–either for a few hours or overnight (overnight tastes better, but for those of you who are impatient, a few hours will work, too).

5 thoughts on “The Many Faces of Fall: From Pumpkin to Marinated Mushrooms

  1. Oh, that sounds amazing! I just bought a ton of mushrooms last night to make a mushroom and gruyere tart, but I will make this next…and will probably also eat it while standing in front of the refrigerator:) I am glad you are having such a lovely fall! It is finally a bit chilly here today, and it rained a little, so I feel a bit more at home 🙂

  2. @ Krug, does this mean Eric has come around to mushrooms? 🙂

    @ Lemon, thank you! Given the vast quantity of food, it made for a few days worth of good meals!

  3. just needed to revisit this post yesterday to get up the energy & commitment to peel a butternut squash to make soup…glad you were able to provide the necessary encouragement….definitely not mis-spent exertions….

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