The most exciting thing popped up on my phone this morning: a frost advisory! Woo hoo! Fall is finally settling in.
I know, I know, frost is a super weird thing to be excited about and as a gardener I should be relishing in this extra long summer we have had for the sake of my plants, but the fact of the matter is this: I HATE BEING HOT. I hate it so very very much. I love the sun, and the flowers, and the fresh produce in my garden and at the farmer’s markets. I love the long days and the early mornings and the birds singing and the crickets chirping. All the wonderful nature that summer provides, I thoroughly enjoy–except the heat. I loath the heavy, mud-like humidity. I detest sweating. I despise the mosquitoes that the sweat and humidity attract. And I abhor summer clothing. I dislike how I look in just about all summer clothes from shorts to tank tops, from mini skirts to sun dresses. And skipping the summer clothing just makes the humidity and the sweating and the mosquitoes so much worse because it is just so much hotter when you don’t wear summer clothes. And assuming you do wear them, even then it is uncomfortable. And you can only take off so much clothing. Eventually you will reach the limit and guess what? You ‘ll still be hot. And you’ll have turned yourself into a mosquito buffet.
No, I’ll take an overcast, blustery fall day any day, and today is exactly my kind of day. Today is the kind of day that you need to wear an extra layer in the morning and need to wear socks to bed at night. It’s the kind of day that you can drink tea all day long and light candles just for the sake of playing with fire.
It’s the kind of day that you pull on your finger-less gloves and your scarf and you walk to the bus stop instead of driving because you no longer need to sit in an air conditioned car or risk being cooked like a fried egg on the pavement.
Days like today demand delicious, warm food too. As I may have mentioned a few times before, fall is one of the best times to cook because everything is at it’s peak. The great thing about cooking in the summer is summer is fresh, and green and crisp. You can grill EVERYTHING and then sit outside to devour it amongst the crickets and buzzing bees. But in fall we get comfort foods. Fruits and vegetables are big, juicy, sweet, and abundant. Some of them are at their best after a light frost. These are the foods that taste better when they are cooked until soft with their sugars beginning to caramelize and their flesh colors changing as they cook, just like the changing leaves of the season. This is the season of spices. These are the foods that are best served in bowls and eaten with spoons and devoured slowly, their last morsels wiped clean from the plate with a big chunk of rustic bread.
Days like today make my mouth water and my eyes shine. Today is my happy place.
Days like today are also great for dusting off your slow cooker. You remember that handy device that you tucked away after the Superbowl last year, in protest of the cold weather as you tried to force the coming of spring via kitchen reorganization? Pull that little guy out, give him a quick wash, and put him to work. See, lots of fall foods are best cooked slow at low heat but the fact of the matter is, most of us don’t have the time available to cook fall foods as God intended us to. This is where the slow cooker comes to the rescue. Slow cookers allow us to cook slow food in a hurry no matter what our cooking level is because everything is cooked together all at once. There is no timing, no stirring, no checking. Really, there is almost no work at all. PLUS slow cookers come imbued with magic (bet you didn’t know that did you?) Yes, slow cookers contain this beautiful magic that turns your empty house into a cozy home, a welcoming hearth, a gathering table, all while you are gone. When you walk in the door at the end of the day and the smell of a home cooked meal is the first thing you sense as you walk in the door you will be magically transformed from the stressed out, over-worked, under-rested parent into the relaxed, happy homebody who doesn’t need to do anything besides make a cup of tea and enjoy it until it is time to put dinner on the table. Your children will be enchanted by the smells of your home cooked dinner and will become happier and less cranky and kinder to one another (don’t quote me on these; I take no responsibility if your children posses some sort of anti-magic that can’t be penetrated by the succulent charms of cooking food,) and to you. Your home will exude a sense of relaxation so strong that the only thing you will be worried about is how much longer you will have to wait to enjoy this amazing, autumnal awesomeness.
On days like today warmth is the first thing that comes to mind when I think of what I am going to make for dinner. When the weather shifts just enough for you to sit up and take notice I like to make something that reminds my family that despite the chill, home will always be warm and cozy. This is where spices come into play and really shine and allow us to create lots of depth without a lot of work. Nothing is spicier (in the flavor sense) or has more depth of flavor than a curry does, but curries can be a lot of work. It’s good work, and totally worth it, but like I said, sometimes you just don’t have the time. This doesn’t mean you can’t still have a slow simmered, rich curry in a hurry though. Whether you use a store bought paste or a have a favorite jarred spice blend, a basic curry is only a slow cooker away. For dinner tonight I am making such a hurried curry, as I just didn’t have the time or energy to pull out the mortar and pestle. My curry has only 8 ingredients, takes a whopping 20 minutes or less to prep and is filling my house full of delicious magic as I write. Plus it makes a ton which means lunches are made for the rest of the week. But the thing I love most about it is that I almost always have all of the ingredients in the pantry, making it ideal when I have no clue what I want to make–or when a frost advisory pops up on my phone.
Butternut and Lentil Curry in a Hurry
1 large red onion
1 small butternut squash**, peeled, deseeded, and diced or cubed*
2 cups green, brown or red lentils
1 15 oz. tin of diced tomatoes
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
1 T mild or sweet curry powder
1 14 oz tin of coconut milk
4+ cups water
- In a large slow cooker combine all ingredients. Give a quick stir to combine.
- Cook on low for 6-8 hours. Upon checking if it appears to be dry add up to 2 more cups of water as needed. Less is better.
- Serve hot as is, with flat bread for dipping, or over rice, or both. It is also great with a big dollop of Greek yogurt on top.
*feel free to use pre-peeled and cubed butternut squash from the produce section. DO NOT USE FROZEN
**feel free to substitute your favorite winter squash such as pumpkin, kabocha, acorn, or hubbard squash. You can also substitute 2 cups of peeled, diced sweet potatoes, should you not have squash at hand.