xoFood: My Four Favorite Comfort Foods For The (Rainy, Dreary, Miserable) Fall
The garden sprinklers are set to go off every 12 hours at 8:30. In the summer, it gives me enough time to wander about each morning collecting before I hear the hissing that alerts me to GTFO. At night, the sprinklers go off just before twilight, giving the vegetables a glass of water before they finally go to sleep.
So that’s how I know it's fall -- when I realize that I’m watering in the dark. When the garden becomes overgrown because I can’t get in harvest or weed before the morning drink due to darkness or rain.
And people, when you live in Portland, the rain is like the in-law who never leaves. At first they’re really helpful and lovely -- then you find you’re quibbling with them every so often, and then one day you’re having a nuclear meltdown because they moved your favorite coffee cup.
The rain arrived two weeks ago, and I think I heard my squash blossoms weep outside my bedroom window of all their unfulfilled dreams. Its not been a great garden summer, and I too, will weep when I pull out the plants that never made it to fruit. But it's coming, because when I get 3 spare minutes from the rain, I must get out there and plant garlic and shallots and leeks and carrots and cauliflower for the winter.
Inside, it's no better. Clementine the Doberman has developed a case of Seasonal Affective Disorder. She’d taken a ridiculous habit this summer of sunning herself on the patio table outside in the mornings, a habit she was hiding from me and I was only able to surmise from a weird creaking noise when I went out to investigate. I sussed her out eventually by creeping up to the window like the Pink Panther and snapping a few pics.
But dobermans are not water dogs-so Princess Wetpaws and I work by the fake fireplace (best investment EVER) and listen to the rain pelt the hops that grow against my window while working (me) and sulking (her).
Loud dog sighs excluded, I happen to love fall. I love pumpkins and the colors and the crispness. I love the excuse for cider and ridiculous rainboots and rainhats and using the oven and planning Thanksgiving.
I get to finally and gleefully finish the canning season -- which is good because by October you’re really just throwing stuff in jars just to be done. We’re all planning our hop harvest, and are excited to start brewing beer. I had a disastrous cider making season last year, leading to 6 gallons of apple cider vinegar and no hard cider, so keep your fingers crossed for me.
With canning season over, Portland has descended into knitting season, and I’ve been inventorying my yarnage, excited to begin making hats and scarves and socks. (I have started 53 socks in my life and finished none. I WILL TURN A HEEL SUCCESSFULLY BEFORE I DIE. Probably right before. Please bury me in my one successful sock.)
My mind began wandering to my comfort foods this week -- the simple recipes that have been gleaned over the past 30coughrandom number of years that stuck. So please, pull up a cup of tea, grab an afghan and some slippers and put the soundtrack to Julie and Julia (the only redeeming bit about the movie AMIRITE?) on and enjoy my favorite comfort foods.
The Huggle (HGL)
Many years ago, I worked at a coffee shop called Carr Haus on the RISD campus, where we played loud inappropriate music for early hours, and displayed “The Breasts of Carr Haus Baristas” as a fall art show once. It was a confusing time. But a bottomless cup of coffee was $1, and it was there that my manager and friend Sarah taught me how to make a huggle. It's simplicity is genius.
Take 2 slices of lemon, and a few slices of ginger in the bottom of a mug. Smash em. Just muddle them to hell. Pour in boiling water, and add 1 tbsp of honey. Give it a minute to cool them sip. If you add whiskey, it's a hot toddy.
It was also at Carr Haus that I was introduced to the veggie sammich, and it has stuck with me for years. You can make the hummus and tabbouleh yourself, but I’ll tell you a secret: I rarely bother. Tabbouleh doesn’t keep forever or freeze well so I outsource. Hummus is easy to make, but hey, if I’m already buying tabbouleh….. anyways.
Toast 2 slices of great big crusty bread, but don’t use something like ciabatta. Holey bread is the enemy. Slather one piece with hummus, and the other with tabbouleh. On the tabbouleh side, add sliced mushrooms, sprouts, cuke slices, tomatoes.. even kale leaves are great. Put it together and eat. It's a simple sandwich, but awesomely satisfying.
Grilled Cheese & Tomato Soup
This is a no brainer, right? And there are a million ways to make a grilled cheese, mine is no better than anyone else's. It just classes it up a bit. Making your own tomato soup is a great way to use some of those tomatoes you threw in the freezer last month, but even if you didn’t, just buy canned tomatoes.
Thinly slice 2 pieces of bread, and for this I like great crusty bread on the diagonal. Butter both sides. Toast on cookie sheet in oven (since of course, you’re making a lot of them) until just brown, and flip over. Add a thin slice of gruyere and fontina to every other slice and then turn them into sandwiches and bake again until the cheese is melty and bubbling out the side a bit. Cut each sandwich on the diagonal and serve.
But let's face it, on its own, grilled cheese without tomato soup is like Bert without Ernie. Waldorf without Statler.
Dice 2 carrots, some celery and onion and garlic and saute in a pan with a bit of olive oil. After they are sufficiently browned and soft, add in your tomatoes and turn the heat down so they simmer. I add in some stock and white wine, but not much. 1 part stock to 4 parts tomato.
Allow to simmer for 30 minutes, throw in a ridiculous amount of basil leaves, and use a blender to blitz it into submission. If you’re feeling FIATTW, add a dollop of cream in the center of the bowl before serving, or even a small bit of fontina cheese as a garnish.
During my four years at college, pre 9/11 and a lot of the stuff that goes down on campuses now, campus security was… not prioritizing fitness. And this huge kettle is not one to criticize on this front, except to suggest that my job does not involve chasing people on foot.
The joke amongst freshman was that in order to get caught doing something, you had to literally BE caught. If campus security was ever on your tail, protocol was to move swifty up: the stairs. All security could be lost on the stairs. As I lived next to the stairwell, you would frequently hear the door suddenly slammed, followed by leaded footsteps and another slam shortly thereafter and a few minutes later, a softer open and close, and then some really sad, defeated heavy gasping for air. It was like a Simpsons episode.
Given my proximity to the escape hatch, I felt having booze in my room wasn’t a problem so friends would often gather for spiked drinks. Being 18, my alcohol sphere was Kahlua, for our coffee on late work nights.
To this day, when I’m working really late, I’ll jack my coffee, an unoriginal idea if there ever was one. But now I have a better range of booze. Sure, there’s Irish Cream, but also Root Beer Liqueur, and Coffee Liqueur and Godiva Chocolate Liqueur… I mean, the world is your alcoholic oyster.
So now that I’ve gotten you drunk, loaded you with carbs and put you in slippers… let me know your favorite comfort foods when you wake up.