Falling Back Into Myself
NOVEMBER 4TH 2021
Fall is not my favorite season. It’s full of mystery, significant change and its sense of loss tends to rile and agitate me. So, as I descend into fall, I always feel trepidation and fear in my blood. As a human being, the fear of the unknown is omnipresent. Habitually I have always tried to control that which is unrevealed, to fight my way through what I don’t know. Lately I wonder if I should stop fighting and just fall back into myself, hold on and let it pass through me? Letting that which is mysterious reveal itself, in its own time, as nature intended. I think this is what autumn is about, getting comfortable with stillness. It feels natural. I think human beings, like wild deer, know when to be still and when to move. Humans (I) must learn to listen in the stillness better in order to hear what’s happening inside us (me).
All the seasons signal transition and summon us, alongside nature, to change. Autumn is a more mysterious transition. Regardless of whether one migrates or hunkers down to grow a thick coat, major change is inevitable in autumn. It begins sweetly as a time to celebrate the end of a long growing season, harvesting and festively celebrating the last days of warmth. Then suddenly out of no where the leaves drop and we must all move into preservation mode, focusing on the basic necessities and protection. It pounds us with the quick and constant reminder that all wonderful things loose vibrancy and vigor; they dwindle, suffer, and eventually perish.
I often feel out of sorts when I enter fall. This year was the same but different. As I prepared myself like a little squirrel for the heavy season, slacking off on most of my duties for Crespo and Herbal Roots and even things I enjoy doing. I felt more relaxed in my disobedience of my duties. And as explored my direction, and really studied my movements, I noticed I was actually doing the one duty I needed to do- I’ve simply been preparing for winter, arranging life to be more comfortable for the difficult months ahead.
I’ve been tirelessly painting, cleaning and organizing my home. I’m laying soft, velvety blankets on my beds and letting warm, soft air into my home. (Note: I just got a whole house humidifying system put in so I can avoid the dry, hot cracked skin that makes me miserable in the cold months.) I’m filling the pantry with whole grains, legumes and pasta and the freezer with bones and broth. I’m in overdrive when it comes to making my herbal salts, utilizing falls warmer notes. I’m buying books and saving podcasts, rummaging through my gigantic cookbook collections preparing to learn to bake breads. I’m doing all this with what feels to be deep intuition, yet it all still feels new.
I’m doing my very best to gather all that will make my own hibernation bearable. There is less action and movement. There is no more lake swimming or suntanning. My body has signaled that it’s too fragile to be submerged into the water. It wants nothing more than the reflection of the sun to bounce upon my face from the ripples in the water when Inca swims for his stick.
As I hurl into autumn and prepare to turn back my clocks, and live in more darkness, I find myself able to let go and oddly prepared for it all, maybe even prepared enough to enjoy it.
It hasn’t been easy for me here in Missouri, but I’m starting to feel like myself again. I know that as I see more beauty in where I live and amongst who, as I feel more love for where I am, as I accept it all openly, I feel happier.
Letting go (exemplified by the leaves falling from trees) or falling back into myself – relaxing with all that is – softening, not fighting or trying to control the changes has brought a pleasure I wasn’t expecting and a deeper connection with parts of myself I seldom spend time with. In this season I feel ready to think less, feel more and cultivate a home that gives powerful comfort and care to not just myself but anyone who chooses to pass through. A soft and sweet cocoon to just lie in and let the body do its work.
I feel a bizarre new wisdom brewing inside me. It may be the first time ever that I’m feeling solidly connected to my soft side and that I see its necessity in helping nurture me. I feel less panic, less reaction, more acceptance and less of a need to control things.
There has been a lot happening that is really painful and difficult in my family and personal life. But I can feel the powerful resilience I have stronger lately. I am discovering how beautiful and natural resilience feels without the fight.
I have a deeper knowing in trust and how it is born in softness. I can see that past the fall and looming cold winter (yikes) things will inevitably flower again and the now is essential to the flower. Something bigger is always connected to now. The past, the present and future are always connected and by focusing on the now we allow them all to work in unison.
So, for now, I don’t worry about bursting forth or ripening like a mango; it’s not the time. I too will shut down and protect myself from the harshness of life, let my brain and body relax. I can let this time teach me more about myself and, in turn, others. I can let it grow me into a better woman, friend, sister, aunt, co-worker, lover…
As a deeply feeling person, my feelings often overwhelm me. I have had to spend a lot of time learning about and managing my overwhelm. This hard work, in particular in the past 4-5 years, has laid the path for my soft release into this fall season. Yoga, meditation, life, global travel, age, therapy, nature, really great love and deep connections to a handful of people – has helped me get here, here where I feel like we are supposed to be/go- that spot where we notice our own being growing, where we feel a little pride in that growth, where we feel peace. I feel peace here.
Food, more so unraveling what’s in my head via cooking and concocting ideas has always been a profound catalyst in my continued growth. Specifically the style in which I approach cooking- creatively disentangling the interconnectedness I see and feel – people, places, things – my recipes are what’s left when it all passes through me like a sieve.
These blog posts (My Herbal- Roots) are how I piece together the life that surrounds me. They are what I see, how I feel and how I grow.
Sometimes when I manage to get past the panic and overwhelm I often feel with such intense feelings rippling through my body I can see a bigger and clearer picture. This only happens when I am patient, something I am completely devoid of naturally except when I am creatively executing my culinary ideas.
I’m not sure I would be noticing and learning any of this if I were not in Blue Eye, Missouri living my best Missouri life and for that I am grateful.
I’ve struggled to appreciate what Missouri has offered me thus far, but that is changing for me as I move deeper into my Table Rock Lake fall. I’ve said it a lot. I was “summoned” to Missouri for a reason and I need to open to the mystery in that, knowing there are flowers coming. Dark is just as useful as light and it’s all my path.
My fear of being unloved is strong, as it is in many others. My Missouri solitude and even the newfound family isolation is a good place to learn more about that part of myself. Maybe not overcome it, but accept it as part of me, soften with it.
I really am trying to take this time to be purposeful with who I am in this world. I am the same mountain mover as I always have been, but I’m learning that this softer may just help me move bigger mountains with greater ease.
Here are a few of my latest culinary unravelings born of this fall Blue Eye, Missouri mood.
Buttery Flowery Cinnamon Fall Herb Salt
Makes 2 cups
I think the most important aspect of fall is to not worry too much about much of anything. To just be and let the days take you where you are going to go. In that is a sort of relaxation and letting go. It’s how I explain that I can eat buttered noodles for 5 days straight and then make a Michelin-star style dinner on the 6th day and have zero guilt or pressure in any of it.
My herbal salts always come to be in much the same way. They just happen, often a result of something I’m working through emotionally. When I look around in my life and my garden or into the season, things stick out differently year to year and this new fall salt is that.
What stuck out this year was butter, flowers and cinnamon. Although I’m not totally sure why outside the fact that my garden is currently brimming with bright orange and red marigolds and pineapple sage. I know this is the start of something that will land eventually into something more brilliant. But for now I accept this is a flawed recipe, one I can use and enjoy. At this point it cannot be packaged and stored like my Buttered Green Chili Tomatillo Salt, so keep that in mind if you choose to make this. I’m not going to put measurements on this one because it’s still in the works, but I want you to have the general idea.
This salt is deeply warming and comforting. It’s one of the darkest salts I have ever made and maybe just what I was needing not just for now, but for steps for the future of the final recipe, if there ever really is a final recipe for me. No directions in this one as that’s still in motion.
French marigold petals
Gem marigold petals
Mexican mint marigold petals
Pineapple sage petals
Autumn sage flower petals
Sumer savory flowers
Dried rose petals
White Balsamic vinegar
Calabrian chili honey
Black Urfa chilies
Grains of paradise
Cobanero chili flakes
Purple striped garlic powder
Fermented white peppercorns
Butternut Squash Pork Bolognese & Sage Ricotta Gnocchi
Serves 6 -8
I am a big fan of seasonal Bolognese sauce – the real northern Italian version with fat (pancetta and cream). I make a version each season and I think my fall version utilizing pork and butternut squash or pumpkin is my favorite. This year as I quietly slipped into the colder Missouri weather, warmer sweaters and higher leather boots, my resources were much less limited than they have been in the past and my recipe slipped into a new makeup too.
I had been making my fall Bolognese with yellow tomatoes because I didn’t like the color when it was made with red. But there are no yellow tomatoes here year-round as there are in CA and NY so, for the first time, I opted to omit them and make a little blend of puréed squash instead. Not only did I create a dish that was seriously seasonal, but the sauce was velvety and luxurious and way more comforting than my prior versions. (I have a great apple-squash mac and cheese recipe that I write for Edible Marin & Wine Country that uses this technique.) It has the same sultry fall herbaceous essence from the sage and other fall herbs but a fattier essence without being heavy. Instead of serving it over regular pasta I decided to pair it with ricotta sage gnocchi, a light and cheesy dumpling was quite perfect for this perfect sauce.
It’s rare that I use stock to make a soup, let alone a sauce. When you use lots of vegetables, herbs and spices in your dishes, a stock is what you are inevitably making, especially in long slow cooked dishes such as Bolognese. I’m not against stock; I just find them to be expensive and too salty.
If you want a brighter, more acidic sauce you can add yellow tomatoes. Add them to the recipe after cooking the pork.
3 cups finely cubed butternut squash (a little bigger than the size of a pea)
2 cups water
3 tablespoons olive oil
2-3 bay leaves
1 teaspoons Cobanero chili flakes or cayenne pepper
1 ½ teaspoons cracked black pepper
1 teaspoon chopped sage leaves, plus 2 tablespoons
1 teaspoon chopped rosemary leaves, plus 1 tablespoon
1 teaspoon chopped winter savory leaves, plus 2 teaspoons
1/4 cup chopped (into tiny cubes) pancetta
1/2 yellow onion, finely chopped
3-4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 medium carrot finely chopped (cube shaped)
3-4 celery stalks and leaves, chopped fine
1 pound ground pork
1 tablespoon one of my Fall Herb Salts or 2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated or ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon finely cracked grains of paradise, or 1 pinch of ground cardamon
2 teaspoons black Urfa chili flakes (optional)
1 tablespoon cracked white pepper (I use the fermented kind from Burlap and Barrel)
1 teaspoon ground long pepper (optional)
1 cup chopped yellow tomatoes (optional)
2 cups dry white wine
½ cup heavy cream
Ricotta Sage Gnocchi
Parmesan cheese for serving
Bring 1 cup of the butternut squash to a boil and cook until tender. Allow the mixture to cool and then blend it up until a thick puree is formed. Set aside.
Heat a heavy bottom stew pan (I use a Le Creuset enameled stew pot) on medium and add the oil, bay leaves, chili flakes or cayenne, black pepper and 1 teaspoon of the chopped sage, rosemary, winter savory as well as the pancetta. Cook, stirring for a few minutes until the pancetta and herbs are a bit crispy.
Turn the heat to medium high; add the onions and garlic and cook about a minute, again stirring. Add the carrots and celery next and cook, stirring so nothing burns, for a few more minutes. Add the ground pork and cook until it is completely browned and crumbly. Add the salt and all the remaining herbs and spices and stir well, cooking another minute.
Add the white wine and stir well, deglazing the pan and getting all the little burnt to the pan bits and pieces mixes into the sauce that is beginning to form. Add the squash and the squash puree and turn the pan to low and cook for about 50 minutes to an hour, stirring every few minutes. If the sauce begins to get too thick you can add more water.
Once the squash cubes are really soft, and after the dish has cooked and stewed for at least 50 minutes, add the heavy cream. Remove from the heat and let stand for about 10 minutes.
Serve ladled over the gnocchi with fresh parmesan, cracked pepper and my herb salt.
Ricotta Sage Gnocchi
Makes about 20 large gnocchi
I have found over the years that many recipes call for more bowls than needed and I often shortcut that method, at least when it makes sense. Just like I never drain the ricotta for these particular gnocchi and seldom do. This recipe is seriously easy and uses a one bowl method.
I add dried sage as well as little wholegrain flour to make these feel way more comforting and fall. The sage adds a woody and earthy element while the flour gives them a tiny bit more texture that the heavy Bolognese enjoys. I feel like these dumplings deliver a pasta like taste and texture but are still mostly cheese.
You can just as easily drop spoonsful of the dough in boiling water and forgo the shaping, making this recipe even easier.
6-8 fresh sage leaves
1 15-ounce container of ricotta (any kind you like – I love full fat)
1/2 cup parmesan
1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
1/4 teaspoon fresh grated or ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons fall herb salt or 1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup flour
1/4 cup whole wheat sprouted grain flour
Place the sage leaves on a paper towel in the microwave and microwave for 20 seconds intervals, flipping the sage leaves in between for about 1 minute or until totally dry and flaky.
Whisk together the ricotta, eggs, parmesan, pepper, nutmeg, dried sage and salt until super smooth. Stir in the flour and mix until all the flour is incorporated into a sticky dough.
Grab a bowl of ice and a baking sheet or tray, preferably lined with parchment paper. Get your hands cold and wet by rubbing the ice in them and then take a big spoonful of the dough in-between your hands and rolling them together to form an oval shaped dumpling about 2-3 inches in length and about an inch thick. Do this with the remaining dough, rubbing your hands in the ice in between each third dumpling or as needed.
Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. Gently drop the gnocchi into the water and cook about 4-5 minutes or until all the dumplings have been floating for about a minute. Remove with a slotted spoon and serve covered in the Bolognese.
Whiskey Caramel Upside-down Cake
Makes 1 9-inch cake
A few years back, while writing a whiskey article and recipes for Edible Marin & Wine Country, Sonoma Distilling Company gifted me with a bottle of Black Truffle Whiskey which I was immediately enamored with and turned into a caramel sauce which I used for a fancy dinner I cooked for Placeinvaders.
When I ran across a beautiful photo on Instagram of a caramel apple upside down cake, I knew I needed to create a recipe that utilized my truffle sauce and the apple idea. I liked the idea of creating a more earthy tasting cake rather than cinnamon spice, which is what most apple desserts taste like.
I incorporate rosemary and warming spices into the cake and keep it more on the savory side since caramel is so sweet, I thought it the perfect combination, especially when dolloped with tangy vanilla spice yogurt.
This is equally delicious with pears.
For the apples and sauce:
6 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons finely chopped sage leaves
1 teaspoon Fall Herb Salt or maldon salt
¾ cup raw sugar
¼ cup dark brown sugar
¼ cup Sonoma Distilling Company Truffle Whiskey or whiskey of choice
2-3 apples, cored and sliced thin
For the cake:
1 ½ cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup sprouted grain flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground white pepper
¼ teaspoon ground long pepper (optional)
¼ teaspoon ground cardamon or grains of paradise
1 ½ teaspoon finely chopped rosemary needles
2 teaspoons of orange zest
¾ cup softened butter (salted)
¾ cup raw sugar
2/3 cup Greek yogurt, plus 1 cup
For the vanilla spice yogurt:
1 cup Greek full fat yogurt
¼ cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla or ½ teaspoon vanilla powder
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
Pinch of cardamon
Make the Vanilla Spiced Yogurt by whisking together the ingredients until smooth. Refrigerate until use.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9-inch springform pan and cover the entire bottom with a round piece of parchment paper.
Melt the butter in a heavy bottom saucepan and add the sage coking for a few seconds to crisp up the sage leaves. Add the salt and sugars and continue to stir over medium high heat for about two minutes while the sugar melts; the mixture will be a bit gritty. Add the whiskey and continue to cook and stir for one more minute.
Spread the hot mixture quickly and evenly over the parchment paper on the bottom of the sringform pan. Arrange the apple slices over the caramel, making sure to lay the apples down on the outside first, laying in circles and ending last with the inner mist circle.
Whisk together the flour, baking soda, spices, rosemary, zest and salt in a bog mixing bowl.
In another mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar using a hand beater until light and fluffy. Add and the eggs and yogurt and beat until totally smooth. Stir in the dry ingredients, little by little beating in between adding more until the mixture is smooth.
Spoon the batter carefully and evenly over the apples. Gently smooth the batter flat using an offset spatula.
Place in the middle of the oven and bake for 45 minutes or until a knife tip comes out clean. The cake can get a little brown, and you can opt to cover it with foil. Since this is the bottom of the cake and the cake is a tiny bit dense and savory, I like it as is.