I’m sorry that it’s been so long since I’ve posted anything here — in the past month, my workload has almost tripled. With all of that busyness, I’ve had very little time to cook anything special or work on much crafting. A couple days ago I picked up my camera for the first time in over 2 weeks. This golden autumn light we’ve been getting is just gorgeous, and the tree in my front yard (a sweet gum, I think?) is engulfed in flame-red leaves. Beautiful.
The tiny bit of crafting I’ve done lately was when I stitched up a little Befana ornament from some felt scraps. Befana is similar to Santa Claus in Italy — they do have Santa, of course (Babbo Natale), but Befana fills the stockings for Ephiphany. The general story, as told in Tomie dePaola’s wonderful book, is that Befana was sweeping her porch when the Magi walked by and asked her if she wanted to join them on their journey to Bethlehem to visit the baby Jesus. Befana declined, saying she was too busy, and the Magi continued on their way. As Befana continued with her sweeping, she thought about their offer, and decided to join the Magi afterall. She spent all day baking sweets for the baby Jesus, but by the time she was ready, she had lost track of the procession. She ran to catch up, and ran so fast she took off flying on her broom. She never did find the Magi, so she left some sweets at every house that had a child, just in case one of them was the baby Jesus. There’s also a really fascinating Wikipedia article about the history of the legend of Befana, the possible pagan origins of her character, and the symbolism of her sweeping. Also, if anybody’s interested in a pattern for this ornament, let me know! If there’s enough interest (like, more than 2 people?), I’ll get to work on it. I’ve never written a pattern before, and I want to take my time and do it right, so this isn’t something that would be ready for this Christmas — but definitely would be ready for next year!
I hope you’re all having a lovely autumn and enjoying the beautiful leaves that never seem to look the same two days in a row! :)
(A thousand apologies for this picture — risotto has got to be one of the most unphotogenic foods in the world! Plus we ate dinner really late, so the light was bad.)
I love pumpkin desserts, but they rarely seem to call for using an entire can of pumpkin puree. This risotto is a great way to use up whatever’s left in the can after making your pies, cakes, or muffins.
Pumpkin risotto with Gorgonzola, bacon, & sage
serves 4 as a first course, or 2 as a main dish
4 to 6 c. chicken or vegetable broth
1-1/3 c. short- to medium-grain risotto rice (arborio, carnaroli, baldo, etc.)
2 slices thick-cut bacon
1/4 c. yellow onion, finely chopped
2 Tbsp. minced fresh sage, divided
a splash of dry white wine
1/4 to 1/2 c. pumpkin puree (I only used about 1/4 c, but use more for a more pronounced flavor)
salt & pepper
2 Tbsp. butter
1/4 c. crumbled Gorgonzola, plus more for serving
2 Tbsp. toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped, for serving (optional)
Put the broth in a medium saucepan, cover with a lid, and bring to a simmer. In a large dry skillet set over medium heat, toast the rice until it starts to smell slightly nutty and the grains become slightly translucent, about 2-3 minutes. Take care not to burn the rice. Remove the rice to a bowl and set aside.
Return the skillet to the burner and cook 2 slices of the bacon over medium heat, until crisp. Remove the bacon to a plate lined with paper towels, leaving the fat inside the pan. Crumble the bacon and set aside. Saute onion and 1 Tbsp. minced sage in the bacon fat until the onion is softened, about 2 minutes. Add a splash of white wine and scrape the brown bits from bottom of the pan. When the wine has mostly evaporated, add pumpkin puree and cook, stirring, until the pumpkin softens and fully combines with the onion and sage. Add the toasted rice to the pan and stir to combine.
Flatten the rice & pumpkin mixture around the pan with the back of a wooden spoon, then add enough broth to cover the rice (up to 1 c). Gently push the rice around the pan with the spoon, making sure that there are no dry spots sticking to the pan. Once the broth has been mostly absorbed, flatten the rice in the pan with the back of the spoon, then add another 1-2 ladles full of broth, enough to just cover the rice. Continue to gently push the rice around the pan while the broth absorbs. Continue on in this manner — pushing the rice around the pan, adding broth once the previous addition has absorbed, and flattening the rice in the pan before each addition of broth — until your risotto has reached the desired consistency. (A note about risotto consistency: in northern Italy, the rice is cooked until al dente, and the risotto has a thicker, more “standing” consistency. In the US, and for all I know maybe other parts of Italy, risotto is cooked down a little bit more, until it spreads on the plate when served. This makes Flavio’s soul weep. We only use about 4 c. broth when making risotto, but if you cook yours longer you may need the full 6 c.)
Once the risotto has reached your desired consistency, season to taste with salt & pepper. Remove from heat, stir in 2 Tbsp. butter and 1/4 c. crumbled Gorgonzola, and adjust seasoning to taste. Garnish each serving with reserved crumbled bacon, crumbled Gorgonzola, minced fresh sage, and coarsely chopped toasted walnuts (if desired).
I grew up with pot roast always made in a slow cooker with onions, potatoes, and carrots. This wasn’t just how my mom made it; everyone I knew made it this way. In fact, I didn’t know there was any other way to cook pot roast until just a few years ago. So this is still the way I prefer to make it, because it reminds me of chilly autumn Sundays: pot roast simmering away in my mom’s little blue & white Crock-Pot, everybody (except me) gathered in the living room watching the Chiefs lose, emerging from my room (where I’d be listening to the Top 40 countdown on the radio, or maybe reading) to the overwhelming scent of delicious pot roast beckoning me to join my family.
I still make my pot roast in a slow cooker, with a giant slab of beef and big chunks of potatoes, carrots, and onions. But I’ve also taken inspiration from Flavio’s culture and their traditional brasato, flavoring the beef with red wine and cloves. And then there’s my secret ingredient — star anise — which adds a depth and complexity to the flavor of the pot roast.
Slow Cooker Pot Roast
one 2-lb. bottom round beef roast
salt & pepper
dry red wine
1 small yellow onion, or 2 shallots, peeled and cut into wedges
4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1 tsp. whole black peppercorns
3-4 whole cloves
2 star anise pods, broken into large pieces
2 bay leaves
3-4 medium Yukon gold potatoes, peeled & cut into large chunks
3 medium carrots, peeled & cut into 1- to 2-inch pieces
2-3 sprigs fresh rosemary
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
Place beef in slow cooker, fatty side up. Sprinkle liberally with salt, pepper, and dried rosemary. Pour water around the roast (but not on top, which will wash away the seasoning), about 1-2 cups, just enough to come halfway up the sides of the roast. Drizzle in a good amount of red wine, about 2-4 tablespoons. Cover with lid, and set to the lowest temperature setting possible.
Four to five hours later, add onion or shallot wedges, smashed garlic cloves, whole black peppercorns, cloves, star anise pieces, and bay leaves.
Three to four hours later — or about an hour before you plan to serve — add the potatoes, carrots, fresh rosemary & thyme sprigs, another sprinkling of salt, and another drizzle of red wine. Cover and continue to cook until vegetables are tender. Serve with juices drizzled over pot roast.
Notes: I developed this recipe when I had a job that allowed me to come home for lunch in the middle of the day, which is when I would add the onion, garlic, and whole spices. If you don’t have the option of adding this stuff in the middle of the day, these things can all be added with the roast in the first step. I always added them on my lunch break because I never had enough time to chop up an onion or dig through my spice drawer early in the morning. If you don’t have or can’t find star anise pods, omit them and add wedges of fresh fennel with the potatoes & carrots.
Today’s the first day that I would really call cool. Chilly, even. Everything is turning orange & brown, stores are full of gourds and goblins, and tonight I’m making soup for dinner. I’ve recently gotten a few new dresses from Modcloth, and now I’m completely obsessed with twirling through each day in a flirty frock. I’m turning 30 at the end of this month, and although I’ve never had a negative attitude toward aging (and absolutely don’t consider 30 even remotely close to “old”), I’m struggling with this milestone. I’m sure I’ll get over it — cake & presents certainly help! — but at the moment I’m feeling a little melancholy and trying to surround myself with as much light and beauty and meaning as possible. Get out of the house a bit. Read more books, watch less tv (we finally bit the bullet and canceled cable this week). Throw open the windows and breathe in this beautiful autumn air.
September, you’re finally here! I was starting to think it’d never happen. The hot weather will still hang around here for a few more weeks, but it’s not so bad with the already noticeably shorter days. The breeze has a hint of coolness in the mornings. I even wore a sweatshirt yesterday! The kettle was a permanent fixture on our stovetop this past weekend. Little clumps of leaves are changing colors, and a few have started twirling to the ground. Local apples are popping up at the market, including my favorite tiny ones from Missouri that I buy in 3-lb bags at the grocery store. It’s still a little too warm for soup, but fall is definitely in the air.
Growing up, I always loved trying to kind of reinvent myself in preparation for a new school year. I find myself doing it in adulthood as well. Since my budget absolutely does not allow for a whole new wardrobe every year, I’ve been re-imagining old pieces. Sweaters that I stopped wearing because they shrunk lengthwise are given new life when layered over an old dress that was too drab for spring. Dresses that seemed a little short are perfect paired with tights. A little bit of shoe polish & elbow grease make a 6-year old pair of mary-janes look brand new again. Of course I’ve added a few new things, too — a navy blue cardigan with pockets, a couple of pretty dresses, some colorful tights, a belt, cheap oxfords. And I’m practicing a bunch of new hairstyles, like this braided bun.
Has autumn started to arrive where you are? What’s your go-to style for fall? Have you overdosed on pumpkin-flavored stuff yet? (I’ll admit to going overboard on that front already — pumpkin spice coffee creamer, pumpkin spice tea, and a pumpkin spice candle all came home with me from Target the other day!)
Is August dragging on a little too long for anyone else out there? I’m really struggling this month. We’ve had a few days that have felt just enough like early autumn to make me really crave September. You can see here that a few orange leaves have already started to fall from the big sycamore tree in our backyard. I started the hexie quilt, and I’ve finished about half of the quilting on the patchwork quilt for my bed, but my interest is waning. Mostly I’m frustrated with my sewing machine and just ready to be done with the thing. I don’t think I’ll ever try to machine quilt something this big by myself again (I’ve already decided that the hexie quilt will be sent to a pro for quilting, and my woolly winter log cabin quilt will be hand-tied).
I’d love to just sleep through the next couple of weeks, and dream about cardigans and jewel-toned tights and these adorable mary-janes. Pumpkin spice lattes and my favorite apple cake. Soup, soup, and more soup. Are you sick of this month yet? What are you most looking forward to about fall? And what’s your favorite soup??
About a month ago, I decided to start working on a patchwork quilt for my bed. I was really nervous going into it, thinking it would be impossible to do on my little machine, but I just kept going. It’s only my second quilt ever, and it’s far from perfect, but I can totally see how much I’ve improved upon the first little quilt I made. My machine is still kind of…touch & go. But the whole process is chugging along much faster than I thought it would — that first picture was taken on July 7th, and the last one on July 27th. I spent Friday night making my quilt sandwich, and as of this afternoon I’ve completed 18 quilting lines (out of 108). My goal is to finish the quilting by Labor Day, so I can work on the binding while my husband is out of town for a tech conference.
I’m so inspired to make more quilts, to fill my whole house with them — and maybe my mom’s house, too! I’ve ordered some paper hexagons to start working on an English paper pieced hexie quilt. It’s going to take years, I think — for a queen-size quilt, I need to make over 6,300 hexagons! All hand-stitched. Trying to recreate the quilt I grew up with, I guess. ;) I’ve also been dreaming up a winter quilt for our bed — heavily inspired by this one from Alicia Paulson — scrappy log cabins, cream-colored sashing, filled with wool batting, backed with cozy plaid or gingham flannel, and hand-tied. Cozy cozy.
Our new library opened about ten days ago. It’s beautiful, and I love sitting in the stacks and looking through all of the quilting books. They’re all really old and not so much my style, but I’m learning a lot about piecing and just how much you can do with squares and triangles. So eager to try flying geese and sawtooth stars!