WHIDBEY RECIPES: Fall fell fast this year

Did fall come sneaking around the corner far too fast and with little warning? It seems to me that one day we were running around in shorts and T-shirts, hearing talk of record temperatures in a few spots. The very next day, we’re shivering in our sweatshirts and searching for those heavy sweaters we tucked away only a couple of weeks ago.

Did fall come sneaking around the corner far too fast and with little warning?

It seems to me that one day we were running around in shorts and T-shirts, hearing talk of record temperatures in a few spots. The very next day, we’re shivering in our sweatshirts and searching for those heavy sweaters we tucked away only a couple of weeks ago.

Indian summer was glorious, while it lasted. (I don’t know if it’s politically correct to call it that now, but those golden, unexpectedly warm weeks of September will always be Indian summer to me.) How I love those hazy, hot “extra” days of summer weather, especially when we had far too little of it this past summer season.

Tomatoes in the garden went from faintly orange to ruby red virtually overnight, and even our laggard zucchini showed signs of making up for everything I said about them a couple of weeks ago.

Plums finally made it to “pick me now” and, wonder of wonders, we picked the first figs from the fig tree John planted with such high hopes two years ago. The night after he picked them, we had roasted figs with Gorgonzola and walnuts, and I wish I could describe how delicious those tasted. (Recipe is below, if you have access to figs.)

Today? Well, today is another story altogether.

The sun has been behind haze and clouds for two days (probably four or five by the time you read this), with more of the same to follow, according to the weather gurus, and even our daytime high temps haven’t come near 70, let alone the upper 80s we seem to have left behind.

Our furnace, inactive for quite some time, has been turning itself on in the wee hours lately, and I can’t remember where I stuck away my flannel pajamas. Right now, I’m huddled at my laptop, with a fleece vest over my sweatshirt because I work in the lower level of our split-level house and it’s always chilly down here. (Insert grumbling here.)

My personal weather forecaster, Benedict, has buried himself under several inches of bark under the rhodies in our back yard, and shows no signs of emerging, probably until next June if this cool continues.

Benedict is a Russian tortoise, about the size of a Big Mac, and he’s also very grumpy when he’s chilly. He has several small burrows in various spots in our enclosed yard, and over the months he’s been living there, I’ve found I can tell by which burrow he heads for each day whether it’s going to be hot and sunny or whether we can expect some drizzle or dampness. Now, however, Benedict has gone into full tortoise hibernation, and this is not good news for any possible return of real warmth.

Some people make it almost a ritual to launder, fold and stash away their summer clothes, then haul out, air and reacquaint themselves with their winter woolies. Does anyone wear pure wool anymore, I wonder?

I’ve never been that organized when it comes to my clothes and/or my closets, but I do have my own version of making peace with summer’s end and fall’s invasion.

I’ve carefully put away my “Cold Soups, Summer Salads, Frozen Desserts, Fresh Fruit Desserts, Outdoor Grilling, etc.” files and rummaged through my voluminous storage bins for my “Hearty Winter Soups, Pumpkin and Squash, Halloween Treats, Holiday Specialties, Winter Casseroles, Crockpot Delights, etc.” and just the act of revisiting some of my beloved old winter recipes makes me feel better about being chilly. I’m planning my first hearty pot of fall soup for tonight, in fact. Too bad Benedict can’t enjoy it, but he’s not interested in eating when he’s hibernating, unlike some of us who tend to think mostly of food when the weather drives us inside our shells.

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven; a time to be born and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to pluck up that which is planted …” And, for me, “ time to grumble about being chilly, and a time to make soup.”

RECIPES

John spotted this Kathy Casey fig recipe three years or so ago in one of those “other” newspapers and, knowing he was going to plant a fig tree, he saved it.

Imagine his pleasure when he picked ripe figs from that tree, was able to find the recipe, and we ate these.

If you have access to fresh figs, this is a unique, outstanding but easy treat.

ROASTED FIGS

WITH GORGONZOLA & WALNUTS

4 oz. Gorgonzola cheese

¼ cup chopped walnuts

1 pint fresh figs

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a small bowl, mix the Gorgonzola and walnuts.

Stem the figs and cut in half lengthwise. Place figs, cut side up, on an ungreased baking sheet. Top each piece with about 1 t. of the Gorgonzola mixture. Roast figs for 6-8 min., or until heated through and cheese is hot. Cool slightly; serve. Makes about 2 dozen.

I’ve had this recipe for Winter White Chili for years; it’s always among the first

I pull out for a chilly fall evening’s soup. This is, by the way, a great recipe for working moms/dads because you can put it together in a hurry, feed as many as necessary and it won’t break the bank. Throw together a salad and slice off some Italian bread.

WINTER WHITE CHILI

1 large onion, chopped

½ lb. boneless pork loin, cut into 1-inch cubes

1 t. olive oil

½ t. ground cumin

¼ t. garlic powder (I also mince a couple of cloves of garlic to add)

½ t. celery seed

1 cup cooked brown rice (I use what is called Harvest Medley, a mixture of brown, wild and red rice)

1 can (16 oz.) Navy beans, drained

1 can (16 oz.) chickpeas, drained

1 can green chilies, drained and diced

1 can (16 oz.) white kernel corn, drained

1/8 t. hot pepper sauce, optional or to taste

1 can (14.5 oz.) chicken broth

Chopped parsley or cilantro, for garnish

Heat the oil in a large soup or saucepan; saute the onions and pork in the oil over med.-high heat until onions are soft and pork is lightly browned. (Add minced garlic here if you’re using it).

Stir in remaining ingredients except parsley. Cover and simmer about 20 min. Ladle out the soup, garnish with parsley, if desired, and I usually also sprinkle on some freshly grated Parmesan or Asiago cheese. Serves 6.

Here’s another hearty and really quick “take the fall chill out” soup (more like a stew, actually) that takes advantage of frozen ingredients to make this super easy.

ITALIAN

MEATBALL SOUP

1 jar (12 oz.) purchased meat gravy

1 can stewed tomatoes, don’t drain

¾ cup water

¾ t. dried thyme

1/8 t. pepper, or to taste

12 oz. frozen fully-cooked meatballs (about 2 dozen meatballs)

1 pkg. (16 oz.) frozen vegetable potato mixture

Chopped parsley, for garnish

Combine gravy, tomatoes, water, thyme and pepper in a large saucepan; bring to a boil. Stir in meatballs and vegetable mixture, reduce heat. Cook for about 15 min., or until the meatballs are heated through, stirring occasionally. Serve, garnished with chopped parsley and/or a sprinkle of grated Parmesan, if desired.

Serves 4.

Margaret Walton can be reached at falwalcal@msn.com.

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