October 29 And It’s Snowing
October 29 and it is snowing – wet heavy snow. Plenty of leaves yet on many trees — although the birches are denuded by now. Still, some under story trees or ornamental ones like crape myrtle sport lots of green. It’s an unusual sight, snow on leafy trees. Will winter be short? Or will it be a long one?
The next few days promise to be mild, and with ground still warm from summer, there will be no lasting accumulation; yet, the falling snow and the frost predicted for tomorrow morning are firmly ending the summer garden. I hurried on Thursday and Friday to pick up all of the remaining peppers and green beans, cut up big bunches of basil and chayote squash vine, and dug up the last few sweet potatoes that I had planted in my tropical bed. Also dug up, potted and dragged those same perennial tropicals or Mediterranean plants to the greenhouse. Barely in time. But in time. They will survive winter – just, sometimes – in the minimally heated greenhouse to be planted out again next spring. What can I say? I love ferns, lantanas, daturas, citruses, jasmines, geraniums, agapanthus, gingers and bananas. I do!
I have learned that it is chancy to leave dahlias to overwinter out (having lost my prior collection 2 years ago), and so I will dug up the new tubers over the next few weeks and wrap them up for the cold months. Not need to do so until a really hard freeze though. But I did cut all the open flowers, so vases full of colorful dahlias are all over the house. Cannas seem to be reliably hardy, and can be left out. Still, a few roots will overwinter in the greenhouse. In there also go the herbs that are a little too tender for us in the Northern Virginia Piedmont to leave out: bay, rosemary, lemon verbena, pineapple sage.
The wood stove is on. The cats are sprawled basking in its heat. The big fall turmoil of catering for a large party every single week-end is over. I can store back dishes, platters, coffee urns and the likes. It’s time to tidy.
Today is a good day to simmer. The art – if that’s the word! – of letting dishes cook themselves gently, checking on them only so often – my favorite type of home cooking in fact.
And so a pot of quince is simmering on the stove. The very last of this year’s harvest, picked up at Jenkins’ Orchard in Woodville. I love their warm floral spicy tart taste and their heady aroma. I will make some cotignac (or membrillo or quince paste), a few jars of jam (not too much – this was a big jam-making year after all, and we have lots of jams!) and the rest will be rosy perfumy quince sauce.
A pot of bones is simmering on the stove with herbs, spices and carrots. Bones from a lamb rib cage, left over from a whole lamb roast we did for a client earlier in the month. They did not want the carcass, so we hauled it home and cleaned it up – still close to 10 pounds of meat on there, gotten with time, some knife work, and then ground through the sausage grinder. It is meat that’s way to tough or gristly to serve at a dinner party. But it’s fine once ground. Tomorrow, I will sauté some of that meat with lots of ginger and garlic, add chunks of sweet potatoes, simmer with the broth made tonight and finely chopped radish leaves and green onion tops. Add some hot sauce. That will be tomorrow’s dinner.
Tonight we are having fish stew: layers of home-smoked bacon (Thank you, Brett!), potato slices, onion slices and chunks of striped bass given to us by an angler friend, spiced up with Provençal thyme, parsley and generous mounts of fresh minced ginger from this year’s crop (harvested earlier this week). Simmer for at least 4 hours; 6’s better – magic happens in the pot! Those simple flavors melt together to create something truly fantastic – and yet each bite is distinct: this one’s fish, that one bite potatoes, another onions. And smoked bacon…
Chocolate custard is bathing in the oven – a simpler custard you could not make. It’s 3 ingredients: really good dark chocolate melted with really good milk (ours in fact) and whisked over really good eggs (from our hens) – today I added a dash of vanilla seeds and a splash of dark rum because I felt like it, bit they aren’t necessary. Sometime I use cinnamon, vanilla and a dash of cayenne… plenty of option for this 3-2-1 custard (3 eggs/ 2 cups milk/ 1 cup chocolate chips). Once cooked in its bain-marie (“simmer”), it’s thick, it’s luscious and it’s chocolaty. Chocolate-milk lovers abstain! It’s not a dessert for those who like them sweet.
It’s snowing – it’s a good day for simple slow-cooked soulful dishes.