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.

8 thoughts on “October 29 And It’s Snowing”

  • Sylvie, you are on a roll! Perhaps an urgency inspired by winter’s sudden incursion? Here it is drizzling, and no serious cold in the forecast. Go figure. I love your salvage operation on the lamb carcass–seems quite akin to foraging. And I’m amazed at the fish stew that cooks for hours, never heard of such a thing. I will have to try it–whole fish or fillets? Does the type of fish matter? Does it bubble, or just shiver (fremir, n’est-ce pas?). Wish I were there in your kitchen tonight.


  • Brett – thanks – it’s less that I am on a roll than I have some time now. Business has been crazy busy from mid-september on, not leaving me much free time (I am not complaining, mind you!) When one is cooking for 70+ whether for whole week-end like for the Sierra Club-VA chapter or a wedding or other big bash, it takes several days to shop, set-up, prep etc… so blogging takes a back seat… and now I am catching up. Sorts of.

    On to fish stew, I have come across similar recipes several times – but cannot remember where – I originally saw it with cat fish, and it was using only bacon, onions and potatoes. No herbs. You want to use a firm flesh fish so it does not disintegrate – hence cat fish, striped bass (I least, I think that’s what it was!), monkfish, cod… you are a angler, you’ll know better than I. The extra herbs and spices are nice additions if you are in the mood for it… but you should make the dish at least once without any of them to really understand the simplicity and depth of flavors you get by just slow cooking it. Yes, it is slow cooking, a bare simmer as you do not want the ingredient to stick to the “cocotte” (Dutch oven – I use a Le Creuset, Of course! but I expect any heavy one with a very tight fitting lid would work) especially at the beginning when there is no liquid in the pot. As they cook, the vegetables and bacon and fish release their juice so that after the many hours of “fremissement” you have that rich broth – no bubbles: you don’t want that broth to evaporate, and you don’t want the fish to turn rubbery either. Slow slow slow…

    It’s a very poor man’s/peasant stew and it’s really really good.

  • Isn’t there an expression in French, Sylvie, about simmering that basically means “home”? I don’t think fremir is in it but then again it could be. Basically the barest bubble in the stock, just one or two per minute, means you’re loved.

    I am sorry to hear about that troublesome snow. We didn’t have anything but our first good frost. And I of course know why you like your tropicals…I am partial to lantana too…it’s reminding you of your tropical home. Glad things are getting cleaned up and you’re moving productively to life indoors! happy harvest.

  • We have some dahlias to dig as well. Too bad about the early snow, it’s supposed to be in our neck of the woods later this week..We are scrambling to get everything finished as well. That chocolate custard sounds really good.

  • I’m going to try the stew with some Lake Superior burbot I have in the freezer–it should be firm enough for this. You say there’s no liquid in the pot to start, but do you add some along the way?

    Isn’t sourir–to smile–also used to describe that barely bubbling pot?


  • Brett – the bottom layer is bacon, so it releases some fat. All the liquid will come from the ingredients in the pot releasing their juice, slowly oh slowly simmering. “Mijoter tout doucement” or better “mitonner”.
    I don’t know about sourir – c’est possible… it might also be a regional expression that I am not familiar with.

    El – sometime I think I am loosing my French. Can’t say I know or remember. The words that come to mind are “mijoter” and “mitonner”… maybe they remind you of “maison”?

    Mike – I don’t remember if you eat dairy. But you can use the same proportions with almond milk or coconut milk instead of milk.

  • Thanks Sylvie. I couldn’t find anything about sourire-simmer connection, so I think I made that up.

    The dish you describe reminds me of vintage recipes for chowder–chaudiere. Probably you could do it in a crockpot, and it sounds like the perfect thing to cook on our “Haggis” woodstove. I will report on how ours turns out.


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