We're deep into autumn right now. The move from bright to dark has begun, a yearly non-negotiable event that has a profound influence on our lives. The extent that we can shift with it will become the measure of our contentment and happiness. Often we feel a contraction from the loss of sunshine. We think something is being taken away but in fact we are being offered new, and perhaps more subtle, gifts: the harvest and hearth, the request to prepare for the coming winter and with that a focus and purpose and a more keenly felt sense of belonging.
I love the fall kitchen. I love the bustling pace of stocking up, the preparation for the holidays, the ancient tug to be near the hearth. My autumn kitchen is all about deeper flavors: spice, rich salty meats, roots like turnips and carrots, and of course cabbages and Brussels sprouts.
If it's a cold grey day in your neck of the woods, I highly recommend staying in and cranking up the stove. Put some bread dough to rise in a warm corner. Put three or four handfuls of beans in water to soak. Chop up as many onions as your eyes can handle. Take some bacon from the refrigerator if you're so inclined. From these simple things many meals can spring, in many directions.
The bread dough can become just that — a delicious loaf of bread. Or you can flatten it out, drizzle with olive oil and salt and thyme (and maybe a few fat cloves of garlic) and make a flatbread. Or you can make an onion and caraway flatbread. Or an onion, caraway, and bacon flatbread. Or you can move the whole thing in the direction of a pizza by rolling the dough a little thinner and maybe introducing a tomato sauce.
The beans can be set on a gentle simmer with a few aromatics: A little onion, garlic, bay leaf. From there they can become a nice soup to go with the bread, or mashed into a rough puree to spread on top of the bread (toasted). Or you can fry the bacon, remove it to drain and slowly fry the onions in the remaining fat until they are soft and starting to brown. Toss with the cooked, drained beans and serve in a shallow white bowl, scattered with whatever fresh herbs are available to you. Save the bacon for another dish or sprinkle that on, too.
A pot of sautéed greens or some sauerkraut or roasted carrots are all a nice way to take it even further if that's what you want. Or you can put a roast in the oven as a central focus, if your mood and budget allow. But don't worry too much about overachieving here. The point of this meal is simplicity and pleasure, steaming up the windows with simmering aromatics and the scent of browning onions. It's about appreciating, if even for one afternoon, the power of belonging to the seasons and all that they offer.
Whatever you do today, may it keep you warm and engaged and satisfied.
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I hope you enjoyed this encore Weekend Meditation, originally posted in April, 2012. I will be posting these vintage posts every Sunday (with the occasional new post, if I can manage!) for the next several months while I focus on writing my first book.