Falling into Place

The morning air is crisp and the sunsets are magnificent. There is a bountiful glut of end-of-season tomatoes and corn at the farmers’ market, and yet I can’t help but also gravitate toward crunchy apples and creamy winter squash.

At home there is a family of big fat pumpkins standing guard on my porch, and a parade of glistening glass ones to decorate my dining room table. A vintage Imari plate holds shiny orange persimmons, and it’s almost time to put a wreath of autumn leaves on the front door.

I feel a sudden urgency to reorganize my closet, bringing woolen sweaters and scarves to the forefront. It’s also time to wrestle those boots down from a high shelf, and make sure my jeans still fit. (Ahem.) A pot of soup bubbling away on the stove and a few candles flickering throughout the house may soon be in order. And okay, maybe I’m even ready for the sound of a football game being played in the background. (Note, I said “maybe.”)

Whatever happens to come our way, fall is rapidly approaching and I embrace it wholeheartedly.
But before I start planning my Thanksgiving menu and stacking logs in the fireplace, let’s not go overboard with these wintry daydreams. There will be plenty of time for that in the coming months. Living in the moment, we are currently blessed with what some call Indian summer—the last gasp of warm days before the frost sets in.

Few but the occasional British monarch want to feast on a standing rib roast when the temperature is soaring. Instead, I lean toward a good salad made hearty with ingredients from these changing seasons, and served at cool room temperature.

I realize kale is hopelessly trendy right now, but there are many good reasons for eating it. Other than the obvious health benefits, it makes a salad that not only tastes terrific, but can be assembled and dressed hours in advance without turning to slime. (Salad dressing, when tossed or “massaged” into kale leaves, merely tenderizes them.)

Chopped kale salad in a bowl

If you’re still on the fence concerning kale, my first bit of advice is to grow up. But if that is out of the question, go ahead and substitute mixed baby greens, spinach, or your favorite lettuce in the following salad and toss it just before serving.

When the evening turns chilly, you may want to begin dinner with a cup of fresh tomato soup. Otherwise, a crusty loaf of artisan whole-grain bread from the farmers’ market is the only accompaniment needed for this one-dish meal.

Look upon this recipe as a blueprint. Feel free to improvise as you use up odds and ends from your refrigerator drawers: a few slices of onion roasted along with the squash and corn; a few chunks of ripe tomato; a scattering of toasted walnuts; or a handful of dried cherries can only make it better.

Autumn Salad with Roasted Veggies & Kale

1 medium butternut or other winter squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 3/4-inch cubes (3 to 4 cups)

Kernels from 2 large ears of corn (about 1 cup total)

Fine sea salt

3/4 teaspoon ground cumin

3/4 teaspoon smoked paprika

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

5 tablespoons California extra virgin olive oil

Finely grated zest and juice of 1 small orange

1 1/2 tablespoons sherry or red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon honey

2 teaspoons sweet-hot mustard or Dijon mustard

1 large garlic clove, crushed through a press

1 large bunch Tuscan kale (also known aslacinato, cavolonero, or dinosaur kale), stems removed and leaves cut crosswise into thin strips (5 to 6 cups)

2 cups cooked black beans, or 1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained, rinsed well, and drained again

2 ounces soft California goat cheese, coarsely crumbled (about 1/2 cup)

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. In a shallow roasting pan, combine the squash, corn, 1/2 teaspoon salt, the cumin, smoked paprika, and cayenne. Toss to mix, then drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the oil and toss again. Spread the mixture in an even layer and roast, turning the vegetables once or twice, until lightly browned at the edges and the squash is tender when pierced with the tip of a sharp knife, about 30 minutes. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

2. To make the dressing: In a small bowl, mix together the orange zest and juice, vinegar, honey, mustard, garlic, and 1/4 teaspoon salt; then whisk in the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil.Taste, adding more salt if needed.

3. In a large bowl, combine the kale with about 3/4 of the dressing and toss until evenly moistened. Scrape the reserved squash and corn into the bowl, along with any roasting juices that have accumulated in the pan. Add the black beans to the salad and toss gently to mix. Taste, adding the remaining dressing and/or more salt if needed. Crumble the cheese over the top. Serves 4.

The Danville Certified Farmers’ Market, located at Railroad and Prospect, is open every Saturday, rain or shine, from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. For specific crop information call the Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market Association at s1-800-949-FARM, or visit their web site at www.pcfma.com. This market is made possible through the generous support of the Town of Danville. Please show your appreciation by patronizing the many fine shops and restaurants located in downtown Danville. Buy fresh. Buy local. Live well!

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