30 October 2012

What's Brewing: Samuel Adams Harvest Pumpkin Ale

"Don't bother with pumpkin beers," warned a Facebook friend when I mentioned I was aiming to develop my beer-tasting savvy.

Bah! I said to myself. Why not? Who wants to read only good reviews?

So I wasn't expecting much. But I was pleasantly surprised.

The pumpkin libation I sampled, Samuel Adams Harvest Pumpkin Ale, was bubbly and crisp, with no hint of bitterness. The foam head is thick and golden. The beer is the color of burnished copper: Think old bowls and pots from Paris's E. Dehillerin.

There is a mere hint of pumpkin and a fair amount of spice (ginger?)  here, with the tiniest trace of - what? - apple? This malty beer tastes of autumn.

The beer has body. My husband liked that.

"I'm waiting for it to warm up because I like beers that taste good at room temperature," he said. "Let's see how it tastes when it warms up."

Me, I like my beer cold. That probably means I'm a novice. Well, I am. But I can learn, right?

(The truth is, neither of us is a big beer drinker. We prefer wine. But I became intrigued with beer tasting a decade or so ago when Country Living Magazine ran a beer column. It was cleverly and vividly written by some guy.)

As it turns out, Harvest Pumpkin Ale retains its spicy, pumpkin hints, even when warm. If anything, as it warms the broad fruity flavors come through for an overall refreshing experience.

"It's good warmer, too," said my husband. "I like it. I like it."

Harvest Pumpkin Ale has an almost cider-y feel. About five sips into my half-glass, I started to crave Beer Nuts, those salty, semi-sweet nuts that used to be ubiquitous in drinking establishments. After further imbibing, I started thinking of ham and cheese with mustard on pumpernickel.

Yup, we'll buy this one again. So much for staying away from pumpkin beer. But after sampling Harvest Pumpkin Ale, I realized I had not considered a few crucial factors like the speed of head formation (who knew?) and the appearance of the liquid. I just looked at the color. That's how I buy cars, too. Is there something wrong with that?

I did notice the scent, but since I'm rather experienced in purchasing perfume that observation came naturally. Maybe I should apply it to pulse points?

There are a few more factors I need to consider, too. I'm not aiming to become an expert, just seeking to find a few drinkable brews to pair with meals. And use for beer bread, which I really like.

It's a learning process. But it's more fun than math.

26 October 2012

Frugal French Friday: Green Beans with Shallots and Pancetta

Clean Out the Fridge Month, which was nearly two months in duration, came to a back-breaking climax when we thoroughly cleaned our refrigerator this week. It took hours, and our blue recycling bin was quickly filled to the brim with empty jars, cans, and bottles. When we were finished, I tackled the pantry shelves, a two-day effort.

Our next project is the freezer. Right now, because of my recent flurry of soup-and-stew-making activity, the freezer is filled with individual servings. The contents should see us through the next three months.

Now my task is to eat up what's in the freezer before buying or making more. First challenge: A bag of frozen organic green beans.

What do you do with a bag of frozen green beans? I'm not the first person to ask that question. Here's an approach I really liked. I will try that sometime.

Given what I had on hand and what I wanted the dish to accompany, this recipe was a good alternative.

(You can never go wrong making Elise Bauer's classic blog, Simply Recipes, your first stop when you need a recipe that fits a specific ingredient, season, or occasion. Her ingredients are generally very accessible. I love that she wasn't afraid to use Ritz Crackers as an ingredient recently. This is how real people eat.)

This tasty side dish was incredibly simple to make and incredibly delicious to eat. The pancetta was a great foil for the blandess of green beans, and the shallots held the two flavors together nicely.

Cost: The total came to about $4. This is a side dish that will yield 3-4 servings, at about $1 per serving. I would serve this with chicken and roast potatoes. Or, make it with your Thanksgiving turkey, in place of that other green bean casserole.

Wine Pairing: Of course, this depends on what else you are serving. I'd go with a dry, crisp white. But experimenting is 50 percent of the fun.

25 October 2012

What's Brewing: Capital Brewery's Hop Cream

Among the many things I want to learn now that I'm no longer working full time is how to taste beer.

You might think that living in Wisconsin, I'd have been born with that skill. But the truth is, I was born in Michigan, about a half mile from the Wisconsin border, and I missed early acquisition of that particular gene.

I prefer wine, anyway. Although perhaps perversely, when in France I often order beer at cafés. Go figure.

Fortunately, the Italian Market in my home town offers a mix-and-match six-pack option in its beer-and-wine shop. So I stocked up, with the intention of making beer bread soon.

Each week - or at least most weeks - I'll taste and review a different brew. More often than not, my beer of choice will be a Wisconsin brew. I like to eat and drink local. I'll do the same with wine. (I've taken a wine-tasting course and held several wine tastings so I feel more confident there.)

I'm certainly not a novice at drinking beer, but I am at reviewing it. So bear - or is that beer? - with me.

We'll start with Hop Cream, from Capital Brewery in Middleton, right next to my old stomping grounds of Madison, Wis. Not coincidentally, Capital Brewery was the first brewery I visited about 26 years ago when I was fresh out of college and out on the town with friends a good deal. Beer was cheap and I was broke most of the time.

On to our recent tasting.

Hop Cream is golden, almost copper in color with a creamy, almost tan foamy head. A hoppy aroma is followed by an initial creamy taste. This beer is relatively smooth, light bodied and crisp. It took me a while to identify the fruitiness of it: It's almost citrus. There's a floral note, too.

The finish is smooth, but a tad bitter. Not offensive, but bitter. My husband thought so, too. He found the bitterness masked a fruity aftertaste. The bitterness seemed to increase as the beer grew warmer. I agreed.

We sampled the beer without a food pairing, trying to imagine what would draw out and balance the beer's flavor. My best guess is an egg salad sandwich on a rustic, whole grain bread with a side of spicy, home-made potato chips. I'll try that sometime; I think tanginess and saltiness would provide a good foil for this beer.

While I did not find Hop Cream to be unpleasant, I probably won't buy a six pack of it. I would order it, though, or even buy another single bottle.

Splitting a brewsky on a Friday night was fun, and I'm looking forward to our next beer tasting.

21 October 2012

Pumpkin-Quinoa Bread Pudding

Pumpkin has finally arrived. After many years of being restricted to pies, muffins, cookies and tea breads, pumpkin started making its way into other recipes both savory and sweet about 15 years ago.

I'm not complaining. I wish I had more time to enjoy pumpkin in its various forms. But, if we could have fresh pumpkin all year long, it would no longer be the quintessential flavor of fall.

I've been saving pumpkin recipes since college, so I've got a 30-year stash to work my way through this fall.

Pumpkin is arguably one of the best comfort foods. That goes double when it is incorporated into bread pudding, a breakfast worth getting up for, even on a Monday.

Pumpkin-Quinoa Bread Pudding

  • 5 cups of torn-up quinoa bread (or raisin-cinnamon bread for a lighter dish)
  • 6 Tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1/3 cup raisins
  • 1 Tablespoon sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 eggs
  • 3/4 cup canned pumpkin
  • 1/2 cup sugar (use brown sugar for richer flavor)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon allspice
  • pinch ground cloves

Pre-heat oven to 350.

Cut or tear the bread into chunks. Toss with melted butter, raisins and tablespoon of sugar in a large bowl. A Set aside.

Blend milk, eggs, pumpkin, sugar and vanilla in a second bowl, using a whip. Add spices and blend further. Pour this mixture over the bread chunks and toss. Allow to sit for 10-15 minutes so that bread is soaked through; don't skip this step if using quinoa bread.

Pour mixture into a baking dish, and bake for 45-55 minutes, or until pudding is fairly firm.

A hearty dish, this pudding is delicious served hot with vanilla yogurt. You could certainly serve it with a lemon or caramel sauce with whipped cream for a filling dessert. I wanted mine to be a breakfast dish, something I could serve with sausage or bacon.

If you prefer your bread pudding on the sweet side, up the amount of sugar to 3/4 cup. The quinoa bread makes for a firm pudding, so if you prefer sweet and light, opt for cinnamon-raisin bread.

Eat Local Note: I buy my quinoa bread from The Wooly Sock, a vendor at one of my local farm markets. The eggs are from Mill Creek Farms. I could have used fresh pumpkin from another local source, but I had a can of pumpkin left over from last year.

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18 October 2012

Frugal French Friday: Slow Cooker Vegetable-Lentil Soup

Perhaps the mark of a truly good cook is the ability to make a meal out of nothing, or at least make a meal out of what is on hand.

When I ponder this, it always brings to mind the traditional story of stone soup, which my father told so many times I began to think he was one of the soldiers (or travelers) who made the soup in one of the many versions of this legendary tale about sharing and cooperation.

At any rate, the ability to use scarce resources to make a nourishing meal is something I pride myself on being able to do. In my college days, it was an absolute necessity; now that I'm retired, it's fun.  

My approach has always been simple: When in doubt, make soup. So it was this week, when I surveyed the ingredients in my refrigerator and pantry. What could I make that did not involve a trip to the supermarket? The weather has been, for the most part, gray and damp. Not leaving the house but staying inside to sip soup was extremely desirable.

I keep about a dozen soup basics on hand at all times: Lentilles du Puy, frozen vegetables, stewed tomatoes and, of course, onions. (I have made my own stewed tomatoes one or twice, but I usually don't have time for this, and while I may try it again, for this particular recipe I used canned tomatoes.)

Lentilles du Puy are smaller than ordinary green lentils. They seem to retain their shape and crunch in the slow cooker. You can read more about them here.

I found this recipe online, and thought it was perfect for Frugal French Friday. When I go to France, I stock up on lentilles du Puy and other "necessities" for future kitchen adventures. I had everything else on hand. What could be more frugal?

I did not make any other ingredient changes, other than to use plain old mixed vegetables, which I bought last week on sale, earmarking them for vegetable soup.  I did place two small bay leaves in the slow cooker while the soup was cooking. I used French thyme from my own garden and onions that were grown locally.

Prep time is about 40 minutes. I found that my soup needed seven hours to bring out the maximum flavor and tenderness. My slow cooker is old, so perhaps it is a bit slower than most.

Cost: The entire production cost about $7-8, and I expect to get 12-14 servings from it. That's about 66 cents per serving. I'm freezing about two-thirds of it for suppers on cold winter nights. It will be stashed away next to the beef stew and cabbage soup I've already made and popped in the freezer this fall.

Wine Pairing: A rustic syrah is recommended.

15 October 2012

A New Venture: Brown-Rice Krispie Bars

I should have chosen a different name for this blog. My intention when I started it in mid 2006 was simply to learn more about classic French cooking.

I also wanted to learn more about blogging so I could help my college freshmen and sophomores add news blogging to their basic journalism skills.

As it turned out, none of them really wanted to blog. They preferred text messaging, which of course has grown by leaps and bounds in the past six years. They liked short and punchy.

Blogs, I eventually figured out, have more appeal to Boomers and Xers. I don't mean to generalize, but that's my observation. That's not to mean that twentysomethings don't blog: They do. In droves. And I love reading their posts and pondering their perspective. My students just didn't jump on the blogging bandwagon.

When I started this blog, I had a fairly flexible schedule, and I could dabble with recipes that were, if not complex, not exactly simple. But that changed when I took a new job. Now, five years later - as you know - I've left that job to "rewire."

What I really want to say here is this: I need another food blog venue. Because I like what I call simple comfort food a lot, especially as cold weather approaches. I want a blog that focuses on experiments with inexpensive meals. It's not always fancy at my house and it's not always French.

I need a place where I can write about my burning desire to elevate things like tuna salad and Tater Tot casserole.

At the same time, I want French Kitchen in America to slowly return to its culinary roots, focusing on rustic French soups and stews and classic provincial dishes. And of course, desserts. I will focus on eating locally as much as possible. Every once in a while I might try something fancy.

A few years ago, I started a blog that I used only occasionally for, uh, let's call it venting. I named it after a post I did here, following a visit to one of my favorite niegborhoods in Paris.

That blog, A Humble Little Cafe, will now become a repository of down-home and sometimes only partly homemade recipes. I make no apologies.

It will also be a spot for experiments. I have time for that now.

My first experiment was Brown Rice Krispie Bars. Not too bad.

14 October 2012

Pear-and-Cabbage Slaw with Golden Raisins

Pear-and-cabbage slaw with golden raisins.

On a recent inclement weekend, I made this recipe for beef stew in the slow cooker, picked up some French rolls at the Italian market and prepared cole slaw.

I was inspired by this recipe for pear slaw, which is part of a delicious repertoire of recipes for pears that I think I will work my way through over the next 10 years.

Pears remind me of Grandma Annie, as you know. In middle age, Annie often took a short trip in the early autumn, then settled down to begin her holiday preparations and settle in for the winter. It was part of the rhythm of her life.

On dark, wet fall days like today she baked, usually date bread, or spice cake, or something that reflected this the rich flavors of this darker, deeper time of year.

She always seemed to have pears on hand, and while she would have never put them in cole slaw, I am pretty certain she would appreciate the subtle mix of flavors in this tasty side dish.

The slaw added the right degree of crunch and tartness to a meal built around the stew, which turned out to be wonderfully savory and just the thing to ward off the chill on a blustery weekend.

13 October 2012

Pear-Apple Cranberry Crisp

There are so many variations of this standard fruit crisp.

Seven years ago I left a newspaper writing job to try my hand at running a non-profit organization. Although I relished the opportunity at first, I could see immediately that the challenge was greater than anyone knew.  Obtaining additional training gave credence to my concerns; the challenges I encountered at work made for long work days and great frustration.

I'm naturally optimistic, and I really do try to find the good in people and situations. But some days, that was a challenge in itself.

Adding to my frustration was the near-impossible task of working with a large board of directors, many of whom had personal agendas or did not understand their governance roles. Frankly, some were Good Ole Boys (and Girls). Thanks to support from the forward-thinking dean of our local technical college and a few others, I was able to bring fresh perspectives to the board in the form of CEOs and plant managers from larger, more professional companies. But some of the private agendas remained, much to my frustration.

About three years ago, I came to the conclusion that a planned exit was my best option. But even with an end in sight, some days were rough.

Two years ago I came home after a rather exasperating day at work to find a basket of apples on the bench outside my back door, a gift from a friend. They were Red Delicious, not my favorites, but the gift of apples charmed me nonetheless.

My friend has great verve and a penchant for lovely presentation. But more than that, after a day of dealing with super-sized egos and and equally mammoth dramatics, the simple, wholesome gift of apples in a basket enchanted me and brought me great comfort.

I used the apples in a tossed salad, an apple slaw and found an especially-sharp cheddar to serve as a foil for their bland, sweet flavor.

When it comes to apples, I can eat them any way, any place, any time. I think perhaps the apple is nature's most perfect food, and maybe that's why it played a pivotal role in the Garden of Eden.

There is something both wholesome and mysterious about the apple. Apples conjure up images of fresh-scrubbed faces and the outdoors, but they can also bring to mind ancient, gnarled trees and windfall bounty, and - when their tartness is tempered by brown sugar and cinnamon - old homestead kitchens of years past. Old houses - really old houses, like those found at historic sites - often smell of apples to me. Apples and old wood and must. Not an unpleasant fragrance.

The other night I made Pear-Apple-Cranberry Crisp. I've made so many fruit crisps in my life that I now just make it up as I go along. This recipe yielded 4-6 servings.

For the fruit filling:
  • 3 small baking apples, any variety
  • 3 small baking pears (Bosc is a good choice)
  • 1/3 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Dash lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon

For the topping:
  • 3/4 cup old-fashioned oatmeal
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 6 Tablespoons cold butter
  • Pinch sea salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coarsely chop apples and pears; do not peel. Place in a bowl, adding cranberries, sugar, vanilla, lemon juice and cinnamon. Set aside so that flavors can marry.

Toss oatmeal, walnuts and sugar in smaller bowl. Cut in cold butter to create a streusel-like topping.

Grease 4x4 baking dish. Place fruit mixture in the dish, add topping. Press down with spatula. Bake for about 45-55 minutes, removing when topping turns golden brown.

Serve warm or chilled. Ice cream, vanilla yogurt or whipped cream are great toppings, but I prefer a small wedge of cheese.

12 October 2012

Frugal French Friday: Cabbage Soup

While there are plenty of opportunities for stylish meals in Door County, we prefer a more casual approach to dining when on vacation.

More often than not, we pack a cooler full of cheese, sausage, iced tea, cider, apples, and perhaps a rustic paté and augment that with a local baguette and something from a Door County deli. (I can highly recommend the baguettes at the Seaquist Orchard Farm Market, by the way.)

This time of year as the thermometer slips downward in steady fashion, it's soup that I crave. The Summer Kitchen is well-known for its soups. I found one that's easy to make and fits in with my frugal Friday theme, too. Here is a recipe for French Cabbage Soup, made with cabbage, onions and potatoes from Immerfrost Farm and carrots from Birch Creek Farm.

I made a few adjustments. I added about two teaspoons of herbes de Provence.  The broth seemed bland, so I augmented it with a packet of dried onion-soup mix. I'd certainly rather make the entire thing from scratch, but I always keep these packets on hand for when from-scratch isn't working. The chicken broth I used was from my freezer, made from whole-chicken carcasses, but go figure. I also doubled the amount of fresh thyme. The result was a mild but herby flavor, with the Polish sausage providing the spice.

Cost: The entire stockpot of soup cost about $7. I expect to get 8-12 servings from it, and I have frozen several containers of various sizes. So figure 60 cents per serving.

Wine Pairing: I'd keep it very simple, a plain white table wine, nothing fancy. Although it occurs to me that hard cider might be an interesting pairing, especially if you are serving this, as I would, with whole wheat French rolls or pain rustique.

11 October 2012

Brussels Sprout Soup

It's that time of year when we wake to the sounds of gunfire from the woods across the river or the wetland on the edge of town. After 18 years, these sounds are no longer unnerving to me, but part of the natural sounds of the season.

Meanwhile, the juncos are back from their summer retreat, and the other morning I saw a nuthatch darting up and down one of the cedar trees. A red-headed woodpecker was drilling away at the Indian corn that hangs on the old carriage house.

I love these seasonal markings. Another is the availability of Brussels sprouts at local markets (although I dawdled at home one morning and missed the chance to buy some very fresh ones).

I have two favorite Brussels sprouts recipes that are worth repeating. Both are among the most popular recipes on this blog.

Creamy Brussels Sprouts Soup with Shallots and Roasted Potatoes
  • 2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 3 cups Brussels sprouts, washed, trimmed, outer leaves removed, sliced in half
  • 2 shallots, peeled and chopped
  • 5 cups chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup previously roasted potatoes
  • 1 small onion, peel and chopped
  • dash freshly ground pepper
  • dash fleur de sel
  • dash nutmeg
  • 1/3 cup half-and-half or cream
Pour olive oil into a large skillet, adding butter. Sauté the sprouts and shallots for 8-10 minutes under medium heat, stirring frequently.

Add one cup of broth, bring to a boil and cover, lowering heat.

Add onions. Allow to simmer for 10-15 minutes until broth is reduced. Carefully transfer to stockpot, adding potatoes and remainder of broth. Cook under low heat for another 10 minutes, adding nutmeg and salt and pepper (taste frequently; I used about 8 spoons).

Turn off heat and allow to cool 15 minutes. Then transfer soup to food process or blender. Puree. (I pureed one half, set it aside and then pureed the other half). Return to stock pot and add cream, re-heating under low heat.

Serve with grated cheese and croutons. It's a meal in itself! Pair it with Croque Monsieur.

10 October 2012

Delicata Squash with Sage and a Maple Glaze

Grandma Annie subscribed to every women's magazine on the market in the 1960s: McCall's, Ladies' Home Journal, Redbook, Good Housekeeping, Better Homes & Gardens, Women's Day and Family Circle. They were often called the seven sisters of women's magazines

Even then I sensed that each magazine had a slightly different market, although each also had a home-related focus. I loved the fiction, read it word for word, searching for clues of what life was really about; I can't say I found any real answers. But my magazine education is probably responsible for my love of all things related to homemaking.

My favorites were Women's Day and Family Circle, which apparently began as grocery circulars, because they featured columns by Faith Baldwin and Gladys Taber. I loved their writing, the way they captured the changing seasons, nature, friendship and food and wrote about them in such a way that made me feel cozy and appreciative of the simple things in life.

From time to time, I still read the magazines of my childhood, mostly at the dentist's office.

On impluse the other day, I grabbed the November issue of Family Circle at the checkout. Slow Cooker Suppers, Holiday Dessert Preview, and Festive Fall Decorating Ideas were the promises on the cover. I have time for those things now.

I had a delicata squash (curcubita pepo) from Coldwater Farm in my larder. This squash is so aptly named. It is the elegant, slender representative of the winter squash family.

This dish, on page 160 of next month's Family Circle, was very easy to prepare. All you need are extra virgin olive oil, salt, maple syrup and chopped fresh sage.

After rinsing your squash, slice it. The recipe recommends you cut in lengthwise and then in half-moon slices, but I sliced it the way you would slice a cucumber, and then cleaned out the pulp and seeds.

Toss it with a tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil and a dash of sea salt.

Preheat your oven to 400. Once it's ready, roast the squash slices in a shallow baking dish, or on a foil covered baking sheet.

Meanwhile, place 1/2 cup maple syrup and 1/4 cup chopped sage in a sauce pan and bring to a simmer. Cook for about as long as the squash is roasting. Then pour it over the squash and roast for another 20 minutes.

The result is sweet with a subtle earthiness. Maple and sage have to be one of the more autumnal taste pairings, a bit less obvious than tart apples and cheddar cheese.

I served the squash as a side dish with chicken, brown rice and cole slaw.

Wine Pairing: We had some tart Riesling with an apple finish on hand. Perfect!

09 October 2012

A Simple Cole Slaw with Apples and Cranberries

Although we enjoy pork chops year round, they strike me as a distinctly autumnal meal. Perhaps it's because they are so often paired with applesauce, or spiced apples.

But they are just as often paired with cole slaw or with cabbage in some other form. This recipe is one of the most-viewed recipes on this blog, and when a local reader left a comment on the 2007 post, it reminded me that I'd intended to re-post a link to it.

Last week in Door County, I bought a broccoli slaw with dried cherries at a local deli, and loved it. It was a cross between traditional slaw and that ubiquitous broccoli-raisin-bacon salad so many delis offer. That reminded me that I had two small heads of cabbage in my crisper.

And I needed an autumnal salad. Something rustic. Coarsely chopped, not grated. I often eat at an unpretentious lunch place known for its apple slaw and I wanted something along those lines. Here's what I made:

Cole Slaw with Apples and Cranberries

  • 2 cups coarsely chopped cabbage
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped red cabbage
  • 1/4 cup coarsely chopped red onion
  • 1/2 cup chopped apple (in this case, Door County Honey Crisp)
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries
  • Dash sea salt
  • 2 Tablespoons roasted almonds and pumpkin seeds (pre-made, I admit)

I used a T Marzetti slaw dressing with celery seed. It's still Clean Out the Fridge Month here; in fact, the month has morphed into an entire season. I don't expect to do a major grocery shopping until mid-November. Frankly, I enjoy using up what I have and not spending tons on money on groceries.

(But I am looking forward to having the time this winter to experiment with home-made dressings.)

The cole slaw was tart and sweet. It was perfect with chicken, brown rice and squash. In fact, it was a nice juxtaposition to the latter, which I will feature in a day or so.

Since the onion was also from Immerfrost Farm and the apples from across the bay, about 75 percent of the cole slaw came from within 100 miles of my home.

Here's a link to more cabbage-based recipes.

03 October 2012

Buying Pumpkins in Door County

Shortly after we arrived I set out at sunset with my camera, capturing a fish boil and quaint white buildings at the magic hour, and enjoying a walk in brisk almost-evening air.

Every building, every hotel and resort, every shop and nearly every home is decked in orange ribbon here, and more often than not, cornstalks, hay bales, scarecrows and pumpkins and mums in every color make Door County both picturesque and welcome in the autumn.

Contrived? Maybe. But it's not unlike the window boxes and planters that make every window and odd corner so inviting in France.

When I saw the pumpkin-decorated doorstep of The Whistling Swan, an inn and restaurant near our motel, I was enchanted. You can see for yourself in the previous post. It was dusk, and a couple were leaving the building as I approached. Interior lights glowed a warm welcome. This, I thought, is what this marvelous season should be.

I went hunting for pumpkins. I found one patch to the south, but many more in the more pristine northern end of the peninsula, where quiet country inns and unpretentious farm markets and artist studios prevail over miniature golf and condominiums.

I pulled into one manned by a swarthy, heavy-set man with a ponytail, an old car and a cellphone. He said he grew his pumpkins up the road, but preferred to sell them in an empty lot across from another pumpkin seller.

"I sell them here to tick him off," he said, jerking his head in the direction of the other patch.

I asked him about the pale salmon pumpkins and the ones with warty growths.

"Those are peanut pumpkins," he told me, pointing to the warty ones. "French. And those are heirloom pumpkins."

I bought a flat red pumpkin for five dollars. His phone rang and I left.

Later I saw a green pumpkin atop a deli counter as I was waiting to by cole slaw.

I did some pumpkin research online, and found that both my red pumpkin, which looks more like a wheel of cheese, and the blue one I have at home, are good for pies and other desserts.

My carver this year is a white pumpkin, much like the ones below. I love carving a jack-o-lantern, and this year I will finally have time.

Meanwhile, here is one of my favorite pumpkin desserts from a few years back.

02 October 2012

The Hip Heart of a Healing Peninsula

Surrounded by water, Door County, Wisconsin, has the power to heal a wounded soul. I'm convinced of it.

Miles of shoreline, craggy cliffs, sandy beaches, cherry and apple orchards, gentle farmland, weathered barns and hundreds of white clapboard buildings: That's the foundation of the Door County peninsula. The mini golf courses, condo resorts, motels and chi chi shops and restaurants tell only half the story.

I remember when Door County was quaint, in a good way. It was just about this time of year, when the leaves were flashing brilliant against the blue sky that Vivi, my first college roommate, and I took a day trip to Door County, two naive coeds looking for country and authenticity.

We set out in jeans and lace-up boots, in peasant top and work shirt, in her little tan car, stopping at a farm stand for apples. We cruised into Sturgeon Bay and kept going, looking for the real Door County. We stopped at a church in tiny Egg Harbor, then somnolent in the autumn sun, now bustling with traffic. Stella Maris, Star of the Sea, was the name of the church and it still is today. What drew us was the sound of an organ. The organist talked to us when we entered the church; she was practicing for Sunday, she told us.

We continued north, stopping to browse through red barns filled with antiques, and finding a sunny spot on the beach at Fish Creek to eat our apples.

Fish Creek! For me it has always been the hip heart of the Peninsula, where people from my home town moored their boats on weekends, and where some of my high-school friends found work as waiters and waitresses and dishwashers in the summertime. I'd always wanted to stay there, but when my husband and I began vacationing here two decades ago, we looked for resorts off the beaten track, with whirlpools and spas and water views.

Now, marking a passage in our lives, we have come home to Fish Creek, to a cozy, sunny room in the heart of the quaint old Founder's Square neighborhood. Enjoy the photos!