Faux-fall foe

I’m feeling the part of the rebel, and I’ll tell you why. Last week, when the outside temperature reached 94 degrees and the sky was an endless blue (mind you, I’m using endless pejoratively, not in the romantic way), and I just couldn’t take it anymore, I roasted sweet potatoes. Phooey on faux Phoenix fall, I said. I hiked that oven to 400 degrees to tell that weather exactly how I felt, that inside I felt like autumn, darn it all. Even if I’m still standing around the kitchen wearing flip-flops.

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Just prior to my sweet potato fit of derring-do, Molly over at Orangette was wringing her hard-at-work hands at her Pacific Northwest November (who but Molly could manage eloquence while at the same time admitting confusion?), while we over here in the Southwest were ruing the month for an altogether opposite reason. This should be the season of the oven, of baking and roasting and all that, when the heat is confined to the one magic space that takes the insides of butternuts and autumn cups and acorns from firm and pale to just-soft and oh-so-bright. Still nearing 90 today, this season is thus far nothing of the sort.

Despite the weather – to spite the weather – I’m going for it. Which brings me to Thanksgiving, a holiday I have to admit draws no effusiveness from my end. I know, I know, and I’m sorry. I promise I’m a thankful person. I regularly burst with gratitude. But to my mind – a mind reared in places where the world has usually dipped to a touch above chill this time of year – it can be difficult to summon appreciative feelings when one’s Thanksgiving dinner companions are wearing their best khaki shorts and leather sandals. I boldly declare that I am thankful for seasons, and when I can’t express that gratitude by donning a sweater, I turn pouty.

However, it’s good to join in the exercise of counting blessings, and perspective tells me there are far greater worries in the world than year after year of too-warm Novembers.

That said, I will be grateful for (among other things) cooking, and thankful for foods that conjure feelings of fall. Like sweet potatoes, which I’ll be bringing again this year to the family to-do.

I’m an ardent admirer of the sweet potato, but its usual Thanksgiving-day treatment (brown sugar and marshmallows? Oh, please, people) causes me much pain. Every year I try to bring justice to this gentle-but-hearty fall staple, and this year, I’ve concocted a dish of sweet potato with various grains and squash. I made a similar dish last month, and tested it again last night with a couple of tweaks.

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It’s a bit on the side of cheat-y, because I use this Harvest Grain blend from Trader Joe’s (although any grain would theoretically work – brown or wild rice, couscous, etc.). In the bag, Israeli couscous and red quinoa buddy up with green orzo and baby chickpeas. It cooks like couscous or rice or quinoa, meaning the absorption way, and last night I cooked it in a broth-y butternut apple soup that uses parsnips, onions, carrots and the like as its aromatics. When the grains were done, I put them in a large bowl and tossed in some roasted and cubed butternut* (about half a squash) and two medium-sized sweet potatoes that I’d peeled, cubed and boiled (this served the four of us, so I’ll make much more for Thanksgiving).

I finished it with some olive oil, half-a-handful of chopped sage and a bit of chopped thyme. Oh, and the rudimentary salt and pepper.

My air conditioner ran the entire time.

 

*A tip I just learned: Microwave your butternut for a couple of minutes first. This makes it so much easier to slice into to prepare it for roasting.

 

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