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Simple and Sweet

[From the farmers’ market, September 2008.]

Fall is: 90-degree Saturdays in Sebastopol; Sunday afternoons in the backyard with lemonade and cookies, the perfect grilled cheese for lunch; a change in the air that foreshadows the cooler days to come, even though it’s still hot; cappellini and tomatoes for dinner, with a pick-me-up salad; roasted cauliflower; not second-guessing yourself despite everything; the end of baseball season; thinking about canning tomato sauce; upping the mileage for that potential 1/2; making wine dates with girlfriends; contemplating pumpkins; hearing about the upcoming return of winter greens to the farmers’ markets; planning trips to Baltimore; possibly too much coffee; the last of the peaches.

[Dinner the other night, September 2008.]

Fall, for me, right this minute, also involves using up every bit of summer’s last-gasp offerings in some of the simplest ways imaginable. For example, the other night I took an ear of corn and stripped it of its kernels, then melted a bit of butter and salt in a heavy pot. I tossed in the corn and sauteed for about 5 minutes over low hear. Meanwhile, I’d roasted a couple of little potatoes and tossed a block of marinated tofu into the dish to heat up. When all was cooked through, I cut up one of the most gorgeous heirloom tomatoes I’ve seen in a long time and arranged it all neatly on a plate. I poured myself a glass of orange juice, picked up the New York Times Sunday section for the first time in what felt like forever, and had a very easy, comforting, nourishing supper seule. It was truly lovely.

So, what is this tomato sauce-contemplation all about? Well, I’ve done something rather ridiculous, which is to put in an order from Mariquita Farm for a bunch of tomatoes (and I mean a bunch) that I’ll pick up later this week from a restaurant just across the street from my office (I mean, I just had to since they were doing the weekly drop-off in my neighborhood) and I’m planning (hoping) to spend next weekend cooking up a big batch of tomato sauce to can. Now, I’m still a fledgling in terms of this home canning stuff — last year’s applesauce adventures notwithstanding — and I may yet end up canning more applesauce this year in addition to the tomatoes, but I’ve decided to just dive in and see what I can do. It may be difficult, and it certainly will be messy, but I hope it will also be, yes, somewhat fun and a nice way to spend a Saturday.

[Heirlooms with salt and pepper, September 2008.]

But in terms of simplicity? And wanting to enjoy the end of-summer’s most beautiful (in my opinion) fruit? Go, immediately, to your local farmers’ market and buy a large heirloom tomato. Bear it home carefully, making sure to treat it with the reverence it so deserves. Once there, pick one of your prettiest plates and then slice that tomato as fine or coarsely as you wish. Strew the slices around the plate, salt and pepper liberally — then devour. It’s really the only way to pay tribute to summer’s passing. (The bonus is it might take the sting out the economic crisis; I know it helped cheer me along last week.)

Fall can be a melancholy season — the leaves are turning and falling down crisply onto an increasingly bare ground — and winter looms just around the November time change. At the same time it can be electric, moving. The sky here in October is the bluest it will be all year, and we might have a few golden, hazy days of sun and light breezes. Sometimes when you walk home from meeting a friend the wind smells like lavender and it’s still warm; those, I think, are the very best fall nights of all. There are also long weekend afternoons spent in a backyard under the redwoods reading John Steinbeck; those might be the most perfect afternoons imaginable.

Fall means purpose and change and sweeping white clouds that stream across the sky as far as you can see (and strange clumps of them, too — the other day on my run I saw smudges of white against the darkening sky that looked as though someone had gently pressed his thumb against them). It means harvest and the earth preparing for its long rest. It means starting to think about the holidays, and much-missed visitors. It means, for me, birthdays and brunches and kayaking in Tomales Bay and pumpkin cupcakes and roasted beets. It means simple and sweet and delicious. And it even means looking ahead, just the tiniest, tiniest bit, to December days at the ocean and cool nights when the moon rises up early.

I’m almost ready, I swear.

Whatever adventures this new season has in store for you, I hope they are all glorious.

ps: This is unrelated, but — a little cat very close to my heart has been missing for two weeks, and if you can spare a thought for his well-being and rapid return home, it would be so very appreciated.


  1. You are quite adventurous, Ms. Spir… canning your own tomato sauce? wow! I’m impressed. I told Andy and he said, “does she know how do do that?”. I responded, “of course, I think! Nicole can do anything!”

    ILY, BFF in CA! Can’t wait to see you in B’more in a just 6 weeks!


  2. Hi,
    I just stumbled upon your page a few days ago.
    Your plans for fall sound great to me and your recipes, too.
    I’ll try some of them for sure but we’ll see if I succeed…


  3. I am jealous of your ability to get fresh tomatoes! Ours are firmly out of season. Let me say about the canning: one of the best memories I have of college was a Saturday spent making and canning tart red plum jam with my best girlfriend. Plum trees grew in a public area of a nearby neighborhood, so picked plums all morning. In the afternoon, we watched Martha Stewart and drank cold iced tea and made jam. Later, we canned to our heart’s content while listening to music and telling stories. Now she lives in Colombia, and we can’t spend any days like this. Every time I eat a red plum or jam on pan tostado, I remember that day.

    As for Mr. Kitty, may he return ever so soon.

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