Pumpkins, bok choy, tomatoes & university

This time of year is confusing for seasonal eating. Last weekend it was COLD and soup sounded good. Then before I could cook any, the temps soared back up into the high 80’s this week. But the cool snap brought out beautiful lettuce. So I have a huge head of lettuce and some teeny currant tomatoes. And when it cools off again (hopefully later this week), I’ll think about butternut squash soup to go with the salad. And homemade croutons.

And the greens are back – turnip, mustard, etc…it’s just unfortunate that that is one set of vegetables I don’t like. But I found some bok choy, which I have enjoyed when eating out, but never tried cooking before. So I sense a saute in my near future.

And of course pumpkins and gourds are here for fall decorating & for eating. I have a baking pumpkin…which will become pumpkin bread eventually. Several traditional green acorn squash and one a yellowed pale-brown color.

And then decorative gourds which I just like. I like the long twisty stems on the pumpkins, big or small, I like the different shapes & textures. One of my grandkids was fascinated by the wooden bowl of gourds I have on my coffee table. At almost 2 years of age, and for the next 2 or 3 years, each fall, when I set a bowlful out, he picked them up out of the bowl, one by one – or at least one in each hand – turned them all around in his hands, tracing the lines and the bumps, pointing to the colors. Now he’s older and just nods at them when he passes by. I think the nod says “Nice.”

And then my classes at university. Sigh. I had hoped to be taking comprehensive exams this fall, the last step before being loosed on my dissertation. However, health & some life things this summer got in the way of completing required projects in order to take comps. So they are postponed until next semester. On the plus side, instead of being stuck in a room writing a qualitative or statistics comp question today on this beautiful sunny and still cool morning, I was down at the Farmer’s Market, then came home and sat outside reading. And I won’t have the other comps questions to do over the next 2 weeks. So I will enjoy the fall this year. And have time to cook some of these wonderful fall foods! I planted some of the pansies from last week in 2 pots, one of which a squirrel dug up almost immediately after I went inside. Dirt and plants tossed all around on the ground. But I replanted and all is still OK at the moment – I guess he was checking for the nuts he had hidden. And over the next few weeks I’ll slowly add pumpkins to enjoy outside for decoration. Fall is a long and pleasant season here, which almost makes up for summer.

And there were still a few local heirloom tomatoes at Market: Cherokee Purple, beautiful for slicing, a red zebra, and some yellow with red striations that I don’t know the name of, but are really good, too. And now that I have lettuce, I may have to get some bacon, and have a bacon, lettuce & tomato salad or two. Which is just what you’d expect: torn lettuce leaves, big chunks of tomatoes, and some strips of crisp bacon in bite-size pieces scattered over the top. And a touch of mayonnaise and some homemade croutons. I’ve played around with making croutons, both baking and stove-top cooking. But I since I like them on salads in the summer, I’ve gone with the stovetop version so I don’t have to heat up the oven.

Homemade Croutons

3 tablespoons olive oil & 2 cups bread, thick sliced & diced (measures are only approximate)

Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the bread cubes and toss gently to coat evenly with oil. Cook, tossing frequently, until toasty on all sides, about 5 – 10 minutes. I’ve also used half olive oil & half clarified butter (with the heat a touch lower and the time a little longer). And sometimes tossed in a little (grated) garlic or (very finely chopped) fresh herbs for the last minute or so.

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