Monday, September 27, 2010

The Five O'Clock Shadow

Despite the recent heat wave here in Los Angeles, autumn is still creeping in on dark furry haunches and settling over The Kenmore Arms.

No more endless summer. These days, when Luca does his homework after school, I call upon a solicitous halo of light to protect him from the encroaching shadows.
So engrossed is he in his math problems that he doesn't notice me watching him from the living room. He sits on his heel, scratches out answers with his pencil and interrupts the fitful silence with a high-pitched rendition of Lady Gaga's "Telephone." He knows every word.

Hello hello baby you called? I can't hear a thing
I have got no service in the club you see see.
Wha-wha-what did you say? You're breakin' up on me
Sorry I cannot hear you, I'm kinda busy.

K-kinda busy
K-kinda busy
* * * * *

I love this time of year. Houses love it too, I think. In contrast to summer which is all about communing with nature, autumn brings with it a reawakened sense of domesticity. Homes become hives of activity, don't you find? These days, I find myself in the kitchen more often, poring over recipes, tidying shelves, polishing silver and filling the pantry with tasty ingredients so that when the baking mood strikes, I'll have everything at hand.
This past Friday was my turn to host a bi-monthly dinner with four trusted friends that we call "Girls' Night In." It's a much-revered outlet for us; we check in with each other, discuss what's new and usually end up talking late into the night about issues near and dear to us all. All conversation is sub rosa; nothing leaves the table. It's group therapy with people I love; I couldn't live without it.

I had already decided on making butternut squash soup as an appetizer and wasn't going to let the heat deter me from making it. (Besides, it always cools down at night here.)
Originally taken from one of my favorite cookbooks "Great Food Fast", I've modified the recipe slightly (it stipulates 4 cups of water, but I use chicken stock; also, I omit the 1/4 cup of fresh orange juice) to give it a more satisfying depth of flavor. I serve it with a dollop of créme fraiche and a sprinkling of roasted pumpkin seeds.

Timesaver Tip: You do NOT have to peel the squash (quite a tricky task and one which makes some people avoid butternut squash entirely). Just wash the skin well and chop into pieces (see below). It completely dissolves into nothing when you purée it. Thanks to my husband for discovering this.

Pureed Butternut Squash Soup (adapted from Great Food Fast)
Serves 4; Prep Time: 25 minutes; Total time: 45 minutes

2 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, chopped
1 piece (2 inches) peeled fresh ginger, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 3/4 pounds butternut squash, seeds removed, and flesh cut into 3/4-inch cubes
Coarse salt and pepper
Creme fraiche (optional)
Spicy Pumpkin Seeds (optional; recipe below)

1. Melt the butter in a large sauce pan over medium heat. Cook the onion until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the ginger, garlic, and squash; cook, stirring occasionally, until fragrant, 6 to 8 minutes. Stir in 4 cups chicken stock. Bring to a boil; reduce the heat. Simmer until the squash is tender, about 20 minutes.

2. Puree the soup in batches. Stir in 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. Serve hot, with creme fraiche, pepper and pumpkin seeds, if desired.

Spicy Pumpkin Seeds
1 cup raw green pumpkin seeds
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a medium bowl, combine all the ingredients and toss to coat. Spread on a rimmed baking sheet; bake until puffed and browned, about 10 minutes.

I'm telling you, it is beyond delicious.

We sat around the table until almost 1am and then I cleaned up everything in a herculean burst of energy so I wouldn't have to face a pile of dirty dishes in the morning. Needless to say, Saturday was spent in a more slothful fashion. I draped myself upon every chair or sofa within striking distance and spent the day with a thick book and a cup of tea within reach at all times. Dusk couldn't arrive too soon for me. I was asleep by 8pm.

* * * * *

On Sunday, I finished "Wolf Hall", Hilary Mantel's spellbinding (and Booker Prize-winning) masterpiece about Thomas Cromwell and it was a bittersweet moment when I finally relinquished my grip on it. It's a compulsive read -- which may account for the lack of a post last week; blame Ms. Mantel, not me -- and my brain is now craving another hit of Tudor England and its brutal splendor. (Fortunately, there's a sequel in the works.)
"Wolf Hall" is the perfect novel to read as the days contract and the nights grow colder, packed as it is with images of frigid castles, late night feasts, sweating sickness, fog, terror and of course the ever-lurking evil of life under Henry VIII.

Each copy should come with a stipulation:

For an optimum experience, read this book at dusk when darkness begins to tarnish the horizon and a five o'clock shadow slowly seeps across your floors. Should you choose to read under different conditions (i.e. while suntanning and sipping a fruity cocktail), results may vary.

40 comments:

mary said...

I felt bereft when I finished that book. I can't wait for the next volume.

Tara Dillard said...

Cat in the top pic is purfection.

Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

pve design said...

My husband just uttered to me that he needed sharper blades and I also had my knives sharpened as they are my tool for the "5 o'clock" shadow when the house starts to settle into homework mode and the stove or oven begins to show it's prowess for feeding the beasts within,
This is one of my favorite posts ever. Did I say that before. You always have such a way with sharing and shaving off a few minutes of my day adding to my imagination, full of intrigue and mystery.
pve

Acanthus and Acorn said...

Lisa,
I want to pluck a book or two from your shelves, sit in one of your chairs, and enjoy the 5 o'clock shadows...Bloomsbury style!
~Rebecca

bluehydrangea said...

Lisa, that first picture with the warm light and your son doing his homework is amazing!! The room looks incredible cozy and warm. And by the way, the blue chairs in your living room said they want to come live at my house!

Laura [What I Like] said...

Oh my mother gave me that book when I was home in the Bay Area just recently. What timing! Just as the rain and the cold is starting to roll into New York...can't wait to break into it now.

Belly said...

I was just taking a photo of our shadow-cast dining room mere moments before reading this, and thought how beautiful dusk is at this time of the year (it's still scorching hot here, but the light is starting to be more autumn-y). I will look for the book.

holly aka golly said...

There is something about the autumn season, we start to squirrel things away, make plans, nestle in. I made my first batch of butternut squash soup this week too. When I'm feeling fancy I pipe the creme fraiche through a plastic baggie into fine lines and then comb through it with a toothpick. It makes a lovely marbled pattern. Have a lovely week. You are always an inspiration.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

I read that fabulous book last winter. You are so right about a timely read. I couldn't imagine reading it on a beach in summer. Wasn't it just the best. I was happy someone finally told the truth about Thomas More. Utopia indeed.

If you're looking for something autumn worthy to start next... I'm in the middle of Never Let Me Go and it would fit the bill nicely, methinks.

Madonna B said...

Lisa, I had set out everything needed for a friend coming to lunch...after I read your post I went back and added some nicer touches! Thanks for the inspiration.

Rebecca said...

I can't wait to try the recipe! What else did you serve the ladies? This was a wonderful post. Thank you for sharing.

Emily said...

I love soup, and I shall be trying your recipe. And your home looks so warm and inviting (it always does!). Must add this book to my pile. Oh how I love my pile of books just waiting to be read!

ArchitectDesign™ said...

Sounds like a glorious week. My favorite time of year as well when,as you say, thoughts turn to domesticity. I've bought a few cookbooks in the past few weeks and am planning movie nights / game nights and dinner parties for the coming months. Viva Autumn!

Emma said...

oh I adored Wolf Hall! I read it in one gulp during a nine hour flight to Madrid last May. My seatmate kept trying to chat but I rudely (but necessarily!) kept putting my nose back in the book. I can't wait for the sequel. Unfortunately my book club did not concur with my assessment. Several members "couldn't even finish" the book. Inexplicable and utterly depressing.

Alcira Molina-Ali said...

Oh how your blog makes me weak -- your home, the food, the thoughtful banter. It seems that at the Kenmore Arms, it is always the best of seasons.

thenerochronicles.blogspot.com

Susan in TX said...

I'm off to buy some butternut squash and pumpkin seeds and get my copy of Wolf Hall ready for this weekend! :) I love your posts. They always have such a comforting feel (even when you nearly miss your boat!). :)

Edith Hope said...

Dear Lisa, To say that I do not exactly know where the kitchen is would be a lie, but to say that I do not venture into it often is definitely true. I do, however, love soup and my cook/ housekeeper makes it beautifully. Litres of Gazpacho through the summer and Mushroom and Parsley for these chillier months. Your Butternut Squash soup receipt sounds, and I am sure tastes, delicious so I shall pass it on.

Edith Hope said...

Dear Lisa, To say that I do not exactly know where the kitchen is would be a lie, but to say that I do not venture into it often is definitely true. I do, however, love soup and my cook/ housekeeper makes it beautifully. Litres of Gazpacho through the summer and Mushroom and Parsley for these chillier months. Your Butternut Squash soup receipt sounds, and I am sure tastes, delicious so I shall pass it on.

24 Corners said...

Loved the flow of this post...you just kept giving us more and more fabulous visuals and thoughts to wrap our eyes, minds & palate's around, a lovely read!
Luca's mixture of L. Gaga & math is priceless...I think if I'd had your dining room to do homework in growing up...I would have been master scholar!
I've not heard of Wolf Hall...I'm eager to read it now. This time of year I always hang out with the Bronte family...right now I'm re-reading Rebecca Frasers brilliant biography "The Bronte's"...have never been able to do so in spring and summer, their lives are to tragic for sunshine and flowers, just doesn't fit, rainy gray weather, tea and chill are so much more appropriate.

Have a wonderful week Lisa...and thank you for such an enjoyable glimpse into your life! xo J~

Anonymous said...

Those who liked "Wolf Hall" (I once gawked at the Victorian house on its site also called Wolf Hall outside Burbage near Marlborough in Wiltshire) and want more of the 16th century might like Patricia Finney's books Gloriana's Torch, Firedrake's Eye, and Unicorn's Blood. Also her out-of-print mysteries under the name P.F. Chisholm featuring Elizabeth's nephew/cousin Robert Carey, related on both sides of family. Finney is one of those writers who can channel the past.

Jane said...

hi Lisa

As anonymous pointed out there is a wealth of tudor literature out there both trashy and high quality. I think what Wolf Hall captured so well was the baseness of society, the cheapness of life, the dirt and fear but also the soaring highs of power and love.

I think the Antonia Fraser book about Henry VIIIs wives is fantastic if you have not already read it.

And as for Never Let me Go (I assume by Ishiguro) that is one of the scariest books i have ever read.

xo

Michelle said...

It is difficult to say which I love more ... Autumn, soup, England, a good read, spending time with family and friends ... you've touched on them all. And I always enjoy your posts. "Wolf Hall" has now been moved to the top of my autumn reading list. You are so right, timing is everything when it comes to reading a book. Like fruit, books should only be savored when in season. I am curious, what else was served at your "Girl's Night In?"

satrio said...

Nice and beautiful decoration Lisa, but I didn't find any kitchen cabinet furniture there, if possible I can send you my several picture of kitchen cabinet on production process.

Barbara said...

Hello "A Bloomsbury Life"--
I have read your blog many times but seldom wrote a comment --
your home is wonderful, beautifully
designed -- love the hall wallpaper, dark cabinets,etc.
As the leaves begin to fall it's a good time to "leaf" through a good book.
Best wishes,
BarbaraG

home before dark said...

This weekend I made autumn's first pot-au-few that ushers the smells of the coming shorter days. After a hideous summer (so sorry you guys got heat trapped lately), it is a lovely respite to be greeted by autumn, its longer shadows and the pools of golden light in my home.

Share my Garden said...

'Wolf Hall', supper with girlfriends and a son who SINGS to his maths homework - what a life! (I just love peeping into it.)

Share my Garden said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jennifer Ament said...

I am so inspired! Squash soup it is for dinner...and nothing more that I LOVE than a "Group Therapy" session with friends and food...please come visit if you are ever in Seattle!!! xoxo-Jen

Vava (aka Virginia) said...

Autumn. Love it. And yes, if only I could sup with you and your butternut squash soup. Will most definitely try your recipe. Lisa: where do you find out about the books you read? Love your recommendations. I'm adding "Wolf Hall" to my pile, just like Em!

Rocio said...

Interesting to read that what you call "squash" we call "pumpkin" here....
Next time you make it, you might like to try this: skip the creme fraiche and add a generous amount of extra virgin olive oil; it will not disappoint you.

The history of Tudor England is fascinating, isn't it?

Daniel-Halifax said...

You and my sister-in-law are the only two people I've seen with yellowish gold walls and black trim, and I absolutely adore it!

And the your 5 oclock shadow was how I read 'Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell' (have you read it?-if not PLEASE do...for me!). I read it in the bleakness of winter in a chair with my feet 6 inches from the wood stove!

P. M. Doolan said...

While you are waiting for the sequel to Wolf Hall, have you tried Hilary Mantel's A Place of Greater Safety, set in revolutionary Paris? It was her first novel and it is great.

blydesign said...

You home looks so cozy and I can't wait to try that recipe :)

Jacqueline said...

I couldn't put Wolf Hall down either, husband was left unfed, dishes piled, messages ignored.....don't bother me, I'm reading.
Loved the ending, as you know what's coming. Can't wait for Book II (and the announcement of the next Man Booker winner).

Miss Muddy Paws said...

I love your blog. I left a very personalized comment on your Cranbrook post, I know, quite late!

wood furniture said...

I love your place! I like the color of the ceiling and most especially the walls! Very nice! And as for the recipe, I would love to try it! Thanks.

Michelle said...

Dude, buying pumpkins today...and I love your dining room table, very special.

aurora raby said...

Lovely post Lisa. I so agree with your thoughts on Wolf Hall. I feel that one of Hilary Mantel's great strengths is the way that she develops and unfolds her characters through dialogue.Another read which is perfect for this 'season of mellow...' is The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters. Check out Chastleton House - its setting.

Admin said...

Just find your blog,.... and i comment on your blog,...
My husband just uttered to me that he needed sharper blades and I also had my knives sharpened as they are my tool for the "5 o'clock" shadow when the house starts to settle into homework mode and the stove or oven begins to show it's prowess for feeding the beasts within,
This is one of my favorite posts ever. Did I say that before. You always have such a way with sharing and shaving off a few minutes of my day adding to my imagination, full of intrigue and mystery.
pve
Tenun ikat troso

Admin said...

the five o'clock shadow,...... like when i busy with our work make me increase value emotional,.......
Tenun Troso Jepara

LinkWithin

Blog Widget by LinkWithin