High on my list of things I’ve always wanted to do but finances, scheduling or partner interest always got in the way was going to some small town for a rustic fall weekend, even though it risked cementing my unconditionally yuppie status. I mentioned this to my delightful husband a month ago, in a “maybe we could pull it off this year” kind of way and a day later, he had the whole thing booked. Cue: swoon.
And a leaf-peeping — in a borrowed Jetta, no less — we went! Alex and I headed up to Hadley, New York on Friday evening, to stay at an adorable 1885 mansion converted into a yellow, orange and aqua-exterior and rose-filled interior B&B in the early 80s. It’s now owned by a gay couple, formerly of the Upper West Side, one who cooks and paints awesome Hopper-like light-shaped oils and the other who keeps the place up. Needless to say, I immediately decided I wanted a B&B, if only so I could get up early and bake everyone scones and just-picked apple compotes.
The first morning, our bellies filled with Richard’s Grand Marnier French toast and freshly-squeezed orange juice, we set off to Lake George to wander about as well as Prospect Mountain and as many farm stands and antique stores as I could get in before my husband started rolling his eyes. He held out an impressively long time. The foliage was perfect; I suppose a lot of people would have considered Columbus Day weekend the “peak” but I prefer the rusts, garnets and oranges that come a week later, as well as the thinned-out crowds. The air was something fantastic, with the whiff of a far-off campfire and a clarity that immediately filled our apparently-deprived heads with bounds of fresh air.
Fingers wrapped around warm mulled cider, we took quick tour through Saratoga Springs before heading home on Sunday with the feeling we’d been away for much longer than was the case; I think it was the whole getting-up-and-out-before 10 am thing, so foreign to our weekend routines. Once home, I made us a quick crumble with a quarter-peck of Macoun apples we’d bought at a roadside stand from a woman who explained how we could turn goose-necked squash into birdhouses.
Trying to keep in the foliage-tinged mood for as long as this temperate October will permit, I also concocted an acorn and butternut squash soup last night. Now, I should confess something here: I’ve been looking for a butternut squash soup, not laden with cream or sugar or cinnamon or any of the other things that raise something inherently sweet to a saccharine level, for some time and have had little luck finding “the one.” The confession part is that there’s simply no reason I shouldn’t have made this already, with or without a recipe. I knew exactly the way I wanted it to taste, I just lacked the confidence to experiment, which is a shame. But, this recipe called to me.
Once you are done with the laborious task of peeling, seeding and hacking up the uncooked squash, the bulk of your work is done, and the base flavor leaves ample room for tweaking. I ix-nayed the sugar and some of the cream, seasoned it heavily with salt and pepper and shifted the flavors slightly with dried ginger and cumin. It was… almost exactly what I was looking for. That said, I encourage you to go out on your own ochre-tinted, leaf-crunching walks in no particular direction, come home and give this a try with whatever beckons you from your spice rack, as I think it could wear any number of flavors with charm.
Winter Squash Soup with Gruyere Croutons
Adapted from Bon Appétit, December 1996
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 large garlic cloves, chopped
3 14 1/2-ounce cans low-salt chicken broth
4 cups 1-inch pieces peeled butternut squash (about 1 1/2 pounds)*
4 cups 1-inch pieces peeled acorn squash (about 1 1/2 pounds)*
1 1/4 teaspoons minced fresh thyme
1 1/4 teaspoons minced fresh sage
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 cup whipping cream
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter
24 1/4-inch-thick baguette bread slices
1 cup grated Gruyere cheese
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
1 teaspoon minced fresh sage
For soup: Melt butter in large pot over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and sauté until tender, about 10 minutes. Add broth, all squash and herbs; bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until squash is very tender, about 20 minutes.
Working in batches, puree soup in blender. Return soup to same pot. Stir in cream and bring to simmer. Season with salt and pepper. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Chill. Rewarm over medium heat before serving.)
For croutons: Preheat broiler. Butter 1 side of each bread slice. Arrange bread, buttered side up, on baking sheet. Broil until golden, about 1 minute. Turn over. Sprinkle cheese, then thyme and sage over. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Broil until cheese melts, about 1 minute. Ladle soup into bowls. Top each with croutons and serve.
* If you are not confident in your knife skills or lack a very very sharp one, I’d suggest roasting the squash, halved and seeded, on a baking sheet coated lightly with oil at 425 until soft, scooping it into the pot, and cooking it the rest of the way there. Peeling, seeding and chopping raw squash is not the easiest endeavor. Alternatively, you could buy butternut squash already peeled and chopped in many stores. Haven’t seen acorn yet.
Deb’s Apple Crisp/umble
Or, evidence of why recipe-writing is not my forte.
1 deep pie dish, or frankly, any old dish you feel like baking in
1/4 peck of your favorite apples to bake with, or whatever the lady is selling that day
1 tablespoon flour
1-2 tablespoons sugar, or to taste
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
A pinch of allspice
Peel, core and chop all of your apples, dropping the pieces in the baking dish as you go. I find that the quarter-peck fills a deep dish pie mold nicely; you might need more or less depending on your dish. Stir the dry ingredients together in a separate bowl, sprinkle over the apples, and toss until the apples are evenly coated.
5-6 tablespoons unsalted or salted butter, your choice, melted
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 cup dried oatmeal
Up to 1 cup all-purpose flour
Mix the brown sugar, cinnamon and oatmeal into the melted butter. Now, here’s where all of your personal choice comes in. You could:
- Add 1/3 of a cup of finely chopped almonds, pecans, walnuts or hazelnuts.
- Toast them first to deepen their flavor
- Whirl the nuts in a food processor to get a fine meal, so they mend with the flour better and are less crunchy on top
- Replace some or up to 1/2 the flour with whole wheat flour
- Add more spices
- Add more sugar – the amount I suggested will make it mildy, subtly sweet
Add flour a couple tablespoons at a time until the mixture forms a dry crumble. I find the more I add, as long as I don’t add so much that there is flour that can’t adhere at all, the better it comes out. Taste a clump, and adjust the sugar and spice to taste.
Sprinkle this over your apples and bake at 400 degrees for about 45 minutes, or until the top is golden and the apples underneath are bubbling in their thickened juices. If the top browns before this happens, cover it with foil until the apples are done.
Serve alone or with ice cream, whipped cream, creme fraiche, plain or vanilla yogurt or dusted with powdered sugar.