The Scents of Autumn

I love the scents of autumn. When the cool nights start nudging their way into the day, when I wake up to frost on my windshield, I start craving certain smells. October betrayed us this weekend by delivering a few days that demanded shorts and t-shirts, but it was still my first fall weekend as far as my nose is concerned.

Bread Rising

Okay, I know, bread actually rises better when the weather is warmer. I struggled to get my dough to rise enough on Friday because it was chilly in the house. Also, salt inhibits rising, which means the more you put in, the longer it will take. The friend I was baking for has a slightly irksome habit of salting my bread, so I thought I’d cut out the necessity by adding more to the dough. The trouble was that I was baking between shifts, so I only had so much time. The bread was a tad flat, but the extra salt brought out a sweetness in the dough that was worth the compromised loaf height. And our apartment smelled like fresh bread for hours. I primarily am a maker of sourdough (which uses no fat, added sugar, or dairy), so the particular lusciousness of white bread rising as the yeast feed on milk and sugar is something I luxuriate in when I make it.

Cream of Winter Vegetable Soup

For my friend, I made a batch of butternut squash soup, which smells like squash, sage, and apples. It’s a mild scent for a soup that lingered pleasantly behind the bread on Friday. My favorite soup scent is the earthy tones of Parsnapple Soup (1 large tart apple and 1 medium waxy potato per pound of parsnips, an onion, a bunch of garlic, chicken or vegetable stock to cover, with a goodly dash of cumin, cardamom, and coriander, typical soften-cook to mush-blend cream soup method, served with a dollop of whole sour cream). The smell of a parsnip cooking fills me with a visceral sense of well-being that is hard to explain; the notes of those Indian spices make me feel like I could do anything. Parsnapple Soup is the scent of invincibility. Plus, I got two chances to use my szhiszher (known in more normal culinary circles as an immersion blender) this weekend, and that’s just fun.

Apple Spice All the Things

Pumpkin spice is nice, but I don’t get what the big deal is about. Pumpkin is nasty, friends. It smells good, I’ll grant you, and I am enjoying the gift my mother gave me of Yankee Candle pumpkin products. What really flips my lid, floats my boat, and tickles me pink, however, is that winning combination of apples and cinnamon. John and I went apple picking last week, one of my annual autumnal joys, and as always, I insisted on picking the biggest bag of apples. As always, I’ve been staring at the bag for a week thinking, “Good Lord, what am I going to do with all those apples?” Soup (see above), for one. This amazing apple cake, for another. I always need to try something new, too, and this year, my goal was jelly. It’s not nearly as much work as I remember it being when I made it with my mother, but then, I think we made enough apple jelly to feed a regiment for a year. Quantity does increase workload in this instance, my friends. I followed this guide very successfully (although I ignored her recommended apple selections and went with straight up Cortlands because there is no other apple for me) to a jelly that tastes like apple honey.  Two cups of juice with two cups of sugar makes this:

That darker jar in the background is Apple Pie Sauce. My mother informed me that I was a silly goose for “making the gravy from the whole bird” when I told her that I made the jelly first and then salvaged the pulp for apple sauce by picking out the skins, but I don’t see what the difference is. There must be an easier was of getting the skins out though. I left them in firstly because I like the pink color they impart to the sauce and jelly and secondly because peeling apples is sort of a hassle and thirdly because I was hoping that some of their nutritional content would end up in what is essentially my soft apple candy. But picking them out by hand makes me feel like I’m missing some and losing a lot of apple pulp. The pulp was deliciously smooth by the time I got through squeezing jelly out of it–if I were being healthy, I could have eaten it straight. Hand-picked apples, however, are about luxury, not health, so I added a couple tablespoons of brown sugar and a goodly dash of cinnamon to make the sauce dessert-worthy.

Ginger Tonic

One of my most beloved professors and mentors from college introduce me to home-brewed ginger tea. Throw away every tea bag in your cupboard that claims to be “ginger” something or other. Once you taste this snappy stuff, you won’t be able to drink that crap. Ginger Tonic is better than drugs when it comes to head colds–I always make a batch when the first cold of the season hits. It’s like a spa day for your innards. Even the smell makes me feel like I could run up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It’s also super simple to make: Buy a chunk of fresh ginger. Peel it and cube it. Throw it in a big, heavy-bottomed pot full of water and cover. Bring to a boil. Leave at a simmer for a few hours, adding water to keep the level high. Let it sit overnight. *In the morning, bring it back to a boil for at least a minute. Serve with juice from half a lemon and a generous tablespoon of honey (less honey if you have hardy taste buds). Add a water to replace what you took out. Repeat from * until you’re bored of drinking it or the ginger flavor gets too weak. I can usually go through a half dozen lemons before I get bored. I leave the pan covered on the back burner of my stove, but if you’re not heating it every day, beware mold. Do not use that bottled “from concentrate” lemon juice crud. It is wonderfully suitable for making buttermilk and marinades, but the off flavor will be terrible with this tonic. Trust me–the fresh taste is worth the money in this case.

And Lastly, Lilies

John has bought me flowers exactly twice since we met each other: a red rose on our second date and a bouquet of roses on my 25th birthday, which almost made up for the fact that I had to bake my own birthday cake that year. I’m happy with this paucity of purchased flowers because the cut flower industry is responsible for transporting a ridiculous amount of water out of Africa, among other things. Not to say that all cut flowers ever are taking water away from people who need it more than window decorations that I’ll throw away in a few days, but I don’t know which ones are locally and responsibly produced, so I’m happy to avoid them. Since John started doing photography for a grocery store ad, however, we’ve never been lacking fresh flowers around the house. When the ad needs flowers, the flowers come home to be enjoyed before they go in the trash. This week, John brought home the most amazing lilies which have been filling the house with that wonderful lily scent.

In short…my nose has been happy and my hands have been busy this weekend.


The Beast of the Season

There are two times of year that I adore. When winter shrugs off its snowy coat and melts into the muddy smell of spring, I revel in the way my heart lifts. When summers heat gives way before the chilly kiss of a fall breeze, I snuggle into the season with delight. You all know how fond I am not of change, but the extreme changes between seasons are different. They are magic.

Unfortunately, as I have slowly begun to grow older, my sinuses have decided that they are going to tow the party line on distaste for change. What used to be a minor case of congestion and watery eyes for a day or two each spring and fall has grown into a beast that rides around in my nasal cavities for weeks. It’s not a cute beast of the sort a body might be inclined to domesticate either. Full-grown allergies, my friends, are loathsome.

They’re also sneaky. Each year, they’ve been getting worse by degrees so small that I hardly noticed the change. It didn’t even occur to me that I could fight back until I was talking with my doctor about my fruitless battle against the ear wax that it seemed no amount of aural hygiene could keep from plugging up my ears last spring.

“It might not just be ear wax,” she told me. “If you have allergies, it could be congestion. Try taking a non-drowsy decongestant for a few days when your allergies are at their worst.”

In the spring, this worked like a charm. Two or three days of some generic anti-allergies-D and I was on top of the world again. When the allergies attacked this fall, I waited for what felt like it might be close to the peak of the bad allergy run and enthusiastically embraced better living through chemistry. I felt great.

The trouble is…the allergies haven’t gone away yet. My doctor said I should only have to take the pills for a few days during the worst of the season, but I’ve been waking myself up with sneezing every morning for a month now. It’s getting old. Chemistry, it turns out, can only take you so far. I had taken the pills maybe five or six days in a row when I noticed that I was feeling as hyped up and anxious as though I’d been consuming caffeine. Given that caffeine is on my list of things to avoid 351 days of the year, I didn’t know what to make of this until I recalled that non-drowsy allergy medicine is one of those substances you’re only allowed to buy in small quantities because it can be used to make some version of speed.

Sure enough, when I looked at the warnings, the box said to not take the stuff for more than a week at a time and noted that increased anxiety was a possible side effect. There you go. With great grief, I stuck the box back in the cupboard instead of taking my daily dose. Anxiety and I do not need to be spending any extra time in one another’s company, so I resolved to content myself with tissues and fluid and hope that the worst would soon be over.

That was when I discovered another weapon nature has tucked into the arsenal of the allergies monster. Sand in the eyes. I would be fine for most of the day, but come seven or so in the evening, my eyes would begin to burn as if some nasty thing was stabbing them randomly with pins. No amount of flushing or basic eye drops would reduce the agony. Even closing my eyes was painful. This went on for three or four evenings, putting me on the verge of calling my doctor, when John wondered in passing if there might be better eye drops for whatever was going on with my eyes than just the plain red eye removal ones we had in the cupboard.

Have I ever mentioned that I could spend the rest of my life kissing that man?

We went to the grocery store the next morning and sure enough, there are better eye drops. Being a person who was more fond of my optician than my pediatrician as a child, I have had all manner of things dumped into my eyes, but I was still unprepared for the hundreds of options we found in the grocery store, of all places. If this was a carefully curated selection of the most popular options meant to get the best profit for limited shelf space, then I don’t want to guess how many eye drop companies there are in this country. I’d like to say I’m all in favor of small companies and diversity in options, but let’s be honest. My eyes were in pain and the print was small…I went with the one on the top left that had the word “allergy” in large print on the box.

So far, I am not regretting it. My nose may still be in a certain amount of distress, but I’m counting myself lucky that I can see to enjoy the magic of the birth of fall.