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Autumn has opened wide its gullet and swallowed me whole, but I’m okay with that. While I am a child of summer, I’m willing to embrace the darker sides of life, the more subtle beauties that make you work to appreciate them, making them in turn, all the more valuable.

Last year around this time my two dear girlfriends and I decided to hike the Inca trail in Peru, high up in the Andes. It was a magical experience and while we were there, they both had birthdays! We didn’t really get to celebrate either properly because of altitude sickness and lack of running water. However, this year we decided to honor the memory of the trip and celebrate their birthdays by heading out to Long Island’s north fork wine region. We rented a cottage and a car and we were off to the land of grapes, pumpkin patches, sunflowers and much to my surprise, ospreys and white herons!

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We left work as soon as we could on Friday and got to the house in the darkest part of night. There are no lights in a nature preserve surrounded by the dark blue ocean. After a brief discussion about spirits and haunted houses we went to bed with our eyes wide open. When I woke up in the morning, I realized that although my birthday was in the summer, I too had a gift waiting! The BEST. KITCHEN. EVER!1-DSC_0652

Before getting to work on fall birthday pancakes for my girls, I took a moment to make some coffee and sit outside to observe the beauty of the Long Island Sound.1-DSC_0684

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Then I played with my camera a little bit and checked out all of the stainless steel utensils the house had waiting for me. The farm stands all around were stocked with all the beautiful fall squash, so although I’ve featured squash in my last two recipes, I saw this as an opportunity to demonstrate its versatility. I decided to make fall squash birthday pancakes. I adapted the recipe from Mimi Thorisson’s beautiful blog Manger. They are a perfect homage to the season and they have such a beautiful celebratory color. Perfect for birthdays!

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Butternut Squash Pancakes Adapted from Mimi Thorisson’s Manger

Ingredients

  • 1 1/3 cup butternut squash, peeled and chopped
  • 1 ½ cup plain flour
  • 1/3 cup milk (I used skim-her recipe calls for crème fraîche)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • A pinch of salt
  • olive oil, for frying

Directions:

First, cut the butternut squash into 1/2 inch cubes after peeling it and removing the seeds. This is the longest step. Saute in a pan with a little bit of water for about 10 minutes to soften it. When it’s soft, use an immersion blender or a food processor/blender to make a puree out of it.

In a bowl, mix the egg, cooked butternut squash purée, and milk. Add grated parmesan if you’d like (optional), salt, flour and baking powder until you get a smooth batter. Lightly grease a frying pan with butter or oil over a medium heat, and cook pancakes – flip them over when the surface starts to become bubbly. Pancakes should be golden brown. Although, I like mine almost burnt.

Serve pancakes with a drizzle of compound butter with herbs or a shake of confectioner’s sugar, or maple syrup.s on top. It is also delicious served with a poached egg.

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A hearty breakfast made it easy for us to hit the wine trails with a full stomach. A full day of drinking calls for a good breakfast. The vineyards were stunning. We learned so much about farming and grape growing. My brother used to work in a vineyard where we grew up so he had taught me some of what we were learning, but this was a true education. We tried musky grapes, tart ones, yeasty ones, flesh, skin, hulls, pulps, young grapes, old grapes, masculine and feminine, all of which were then converted to wines both dry, crisp, fruity and bold.

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After a day in the fields, as the sun set we went back to the water and watched the beautiful orange hues reflect off the silver water, red wine on the lips and withdrew into our own reveries.

I spotted a grill at the cottage and I wanted to cook family dinner in that kitchen. Scallops immediately came to mind as I stared into the sea. As for a side, my friend Darya the mind behind Tortore over in France, had just posted an incredibly easy, tasty and seasonal Middle Eastern side dish called Habb rumman. I wanted to try it. Her Lebanese dish features fruit and veggies halfway between summer and fall, just like we are in this very moment with warm days and cool nights. Eggplant simmers gently with bright orange lentils melting into a thick stew. Garnished with olive oil, garlic and cilantro then crowned with pomegranate arils, it creates a creamy, thick puree that warms the gut on a cool night. Summer scallops and eggplant, fall lentils and pomegranates. And a salad, among other vegetables I bought throughout the day at the farms.1-DSC_0674

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Split Yellow Peas and Red Lentils

Darya’s Eggplant, Lentil, Pomegranate Stew

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium (red or yellow) onion, finely chopped
  • 4 oz lentils, picked over and rinsed (if needed)
  • 1 medium eggplant 
  • 2 garlic cloves (or 3 if using small ones)
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • Arils of about 1/3 of a pomegranate
  • A handful of cilantro or parsley leaves

Direction:

In a medium-sized pot, heat one tablespoon of olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the chopped onion, and cook until transluscent. Add the rinsed lentils and top with about 1 1/4 cups of cold water. Bring the water to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, and cook the lentils for about 10 minutes.

While this is happening, cut the eggplant into cubes. Add the cubes to the lentils after they have cooked for about 10 minutes. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the eggplant melts into the lentils. It will turn into a thick, brownish stew. The whole process should not take more than 30 minutes, but it will depend on the lentils you use.

Meanwhile, peel and chop the garlic very finely. In a small pan, heat the 2 remaining tablespoons of olive oil. Add the garlic and fry for a few seconds until it just starts to turn golden (do not brown or burn the garlic, as it will become bitter). Immediately remove from the heat. It cooks extremely quickly. Add to stew.

Add the salt. Squeeze in the lemon juice. Stir well. Serve hot in a shallow plate sprinkled with pomegranate seeds and cilantro.

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Sea Scallops

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb sea scallops
  • 1 lemon
  • salt, pepper, dill
  • olive oil for sauteing

Directions:

Cover a large skillet with a thin layer of olive oil. Season the scallops with fresh dill, salt, pepper and add to skillet. Squeeze the juice of half a lemon over it. Cook for about 5 minutes until brown then flip. After about 10-15 minutes on medium to low heat they should be ready to eat.

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We enjoyed dinner among friends who become like family, stars and planets peaking out from behind the clouds and reflecting off the water of the sound, drinking all the wine we had purchased during the day and realized that these moments are the ones that make life worth living.

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