Ain’t No Sunshine

The last week of September, while the rest of the country was busy raking leaves, cleaning out chimneys, and taking out sweaters and boots preparing to welcome the imminent arrival of Autumn, the air in Southern California was set on fire. The AC units which were in hibernation throughout the summer came to life grunting and grumbling, spewing around the droplets of condensed water which hissed on the first contact with concrete shimmering from the heat.

People disappeared from the palm lined streets looking for respite from the sun’s fiery touch in cool and artificially lit malls. Only the crickets gave life to patios and back yards with their monotonous summer songs. It seemed like the whole world was suspended in the sweltering limbo, counting down every hour-long second, desperately awaiting relief.

In spite of the thermometers breaking loose and showing temperatures well over 110F, the stores dutifully showcased the pumpkins, the winter squashes, the apples, and the pears. Our plates were overflowing with crisp, refreshing salads; light pastas just touched with garlic, olive oil, and lemon; and even grilled meats in the rare cases of courageous humans willing to leave the comfort of their insulated living rooms, armed only with an ice-cold Sam Adams Oktoberfest brew. At the same time the rest of the world, at least in our hemisphere, was excitedly chattering about braised short ribs, hearty and comforting soups, stews simmered for hours, and different types of chili. Just thinking of winter fare raised the temperature several degrees, and we continued grazing, while trying to ignore the images of steaming heaps of buttery mashed potatoes, rich, red-wine sauces, and salubrious pot roasts surrounded with glistening carrots.

And then October rolled around and brought a long-awaited change. The breeze from the Pacific tamed the sun’s rays and invited us outside. It encouraged us to open the doors and shut off the air-conditioning. We slowly ventured out to the patios and back yards, skeptical at first, but growing bolder every minute. In a couple of days you could almost hear a communal sigh of relief. Paradise regained!

My Californian roots are still tender and weak. I hope with every new day to become more and more entrenched. But it is so easy to join the natives and take for granted the balmy days of perpetual spring, technicolor-blue skies, and the barely noticeable salty ocean air. We are definitely spoiled.

The last week our blue skies turned gray. Everything became subdued, void of color, like in an old black-and-white movie. In the morning a dew-like drizzle wets our cheeks as we hurry off to work. Once in a while, a short shower battles the dust and perks up the tired plants craving the water. The sun hides behind the uniform mass of leaden clouds. Girls wear boots, traffic is worse than ever, and all of a sudden the vibrant orange of the omnipresent pumpkins fits the color scheme.

We know that this weather will not last. Frantically, we drag the Dutch oven from the dark recesses of the pantry, print the book-marked recipes for comfort food, and plan shopping trips around big chunks of meat and root vegetables. How many braises and stews can we cram into our lives until the clouds break and the sun spills its warmth on us, liberated and victorious?

Husband made a huge pot of chili that we ate for two days. And we never eat the same thing twice, day after day. Those were some serious chili withdrawals! I made braised beef shanks with a hearty vegetable and red wine sauce. Even my older Beastie, Anya, who is not too enamored with meat, attacked the tender shreds with unusual gusto which made me smile and pat myself on the shoulder. We left the white wine in the refrigerator and uncorked the red, admiring its ruby color swirling in the glasses. It had been too long…

Rumbling thunder woke me up last night. For a moment I felt disoriented and thought I was in Cleveland. When I got up, I went outside and moved my sun-loving plants (lemon, fig, rosemary, and cacti) out of the reach of the deluge. The rain was coming down in sheets, fiercely attacking the arid soil, punching the leaves into submission, and flowing off the slopes in muddy streams. It continued relentlessly throughout the day, changing the rhythm occasionally, stopping for a few minutes, barely enough to trick the sun into peeking from behind the clouds as if to see if it was safe.

Feeling grateful that I do not have to face the blobs of water spilling from the clouds, I embraced another day of comfort foods. I browsed my cookbooks, checked some online sites, and tried to get inspiration from thousands of recipes I have stored in my virtual cookbook. The recipes I chose did not require a trip to the store. They were the epitome of hearty meals meant to warm up the body and the soul. I enjoyed gathering the ingredients, chopping, dicing, and browning, wishing for a second that every day was a comfort food day.

Californians are very fickle. I know that one of these gray days I will wake up annoyed by the pitter-patter of the rain drops and yearn for blue skies. But for now, I will cherish the chilly mornings and skip over the puddles. I will greet the clouds knowing that they are rare guests who allow me to treat my family to some incredible food.

PASTA E FAGIOLI (Giada De Laurentiis, Everyday Italian)

Ingredients:

  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 large sprig fresh rosemary
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 3 ounces pancetta, chopped (I used bacon)
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 5 3/4 cups low-sodium chicken broth (used my own, home-made)
  • 2 (14.5-ounce) cans red kidney beans, drained and rinsed (I used only 1 can)
  • 3/4 cup elbow macaroni
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Pinch red pepper flakes, optional
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Directions:

Wrap the thyme, rosemary, and bay leaf in a piece of cheesecloth and secure closed with kitchen twine. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and butter in a heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, pancetta, and garlic and saute until the onion is tender, about 3 minutes. Add the broth, beans, and sachet of herbs. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat, then decrease the heat to medium and simmer until the vegetables are very tender, about 10 minutes. Discard the sachet. Puree 1 cup of the bean mixture in ablender until smooth. Before putting the puree back into the soup, add the macaroni and boil with the lid on until it is tender but still firm to the bite, about 8 minutes. Return the puree to the remaining soup in the saucepan and stir well. Season the soup with ground black pepper and red pepper flakes.

Ladle the soup into bowls. Sprinkle with some Parmesan and drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil just before serving.

I am linking this post to I Heart Cooking ClubsHearth and Soul blog hop, and Presto Pasta Night, hosted by Chez C ayenne

IHCC Hearth and Soul Hop Badge photo by alex clark

13 Responses to Ain’t No Sunshine

  1. Hi Lana my lovely! I am with you in enjoying the change in the weather. In fact, any change in weather that deviates from the norm, I adore. The first snow of the season, the warm day amongst the icy chill of february, the dreary day in mid july and the first chill of autumn. I am a rare pisces creature that enjoys change!

    You really should have been a sociologist, as you describe the behavior of people so well! Ah the human condition! My dear friend who is an accupunturist could explain the need for warming foods when it starts to turn chilly, but I just think, the heart needs to be warmed up! I love Pasta Fazooolllll as we call it here in Italian tinged new york!

    Thanks as always Lana for sharing your stories with us and your lovely recipes on the hearth and soul hop! Big hugs! Alex@amoderatelife

  2. girlichef says:

    Are you in So. Ca. then?? I was born there, but grew up a Michigan-Indiana-Illinois-Ohio-Wiscon midwestern girl (which I do believe is different from a Minnesota-Iowa midwesterner)…and would probably shrivel in all that sun! Your respite sounds like my favorite kind of day. I think I would wither if it weren’t for the melancholy I can savor with the changing of the seasons. I do like summer…but in limited amounts (although, same with winter). I really enjoyed your words, and if they were in book form would gladly curl up with them on this chilly Indiana night. So glad you’re joining in with IHCC, Lana…and that you continue to share with the hearth and soul hop- I always look forward to your posts :)

  3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Terry Macri, girlichef. girlichef said: Ain't no sunshine…but there IS pasta e fagiol from @Bibberche http://tinyurl.com/2fmq63f #hsoul #ihcc […]

  4. Hi Lana – I loved your post. Spring and autumn (we don’t call it fall in New Zealand) are my favourite times of year – partly because I’m a temperate soul and don’t like extremes of anything, but also just because they are times of change – a time when we seem to feel so much more “connected” and in tune with the whole cycle of life. Right now I’m enjoying spring and days which are progressively getting a little warmer.
    Sue

  5. DebinHawaii says:

    I made this soup a couple of weeks ago and loved it. Such great comfort food. Happy to have you at IHCC. ;-)

  6. Kim says:

    I so enjoyed reading your post and look forward to more of them! Thanks so much for joining us at IHCC. Pasta e Fagioli is one of my favorite soups and yours looks so inviting.

  7. Christy says:

    I have lived in Indiana my whole life and my favorite part is the change of seasons. Each brings its own happiness and joy along with its annoying side, but I know I would not want to live where it is always the same. The soup sounds perfect for a chilly day! Thanks for sharing this at the Hearth and Soul Hop!

  8. Lana says:

    @Alex, Hello, fellow Piscean! I am too naive, trustworthy and sensitive to be a social worker:) I am a perpetual idiot who fights for justice under any circumstance. As for weather, California suits me just fine – no extremes, no humidity, no ice storms….What a relief!
    @Heather, why do you think you’d wither in SoCal? It’s usually very nice in a balmy, late spring way. I spent 10 years in Michigan and 10 years in Ohio, and somehow still consider myself a citizen of Midwest. But one of these days I’ll become a Californian:) It truly is a paradise.
    @Sue, I’m with you with not liking the extremes (I can tolerate snow only on ski-slopes). And I had a cultural shock when everybody in the US laughed at me when I said “ladybird’ for “ladybug” and “zed” for “zee”. In Europe we were taught British English in the Universities.
    @Deb, I agree with you – the soup is delicious. I am going to check your recipe just to
    compare:)
    @Kim, thanks for stopping by! IHCC is a great event and I am thrilled to be able to cook along you guys!
    @Christy, I have lived all my life in the moderate climates, In Serbia, Michigan, and Ohio. I love the seasons, but I can live without the extreme weather. If I want snow, I just visit the Big Bear, two hours away – and I do not hjave to scrape the ice from the windshield or shovel the driveway! And I have done enough of that:)

  9. Kelly says:

    Great post! You definitely captured the essence of fall where one has the urge to nest. It is my favourite time of year – bittersweet, though, because it means winter is on its way. I love to cook comfort food at this time of year as well and this soup looks like it would fit right into that category.

  10. Natashya says:

    I’m in Canada – just be glad your rain isn’t of the freezing variety! ☺
    Lovely soup, perfectly comforting.

  11. Lana says:

    @Kelly, I am afraid our Fall is going to be short-lived. Pretty soon the sun is going to come up in all its glory:) But, we have to take advantage of the chill in the air and make a ton of comfort food!

    @Natashya, I spent all but two last years of my life in a continental climate, either in Serbia or here in the US. Living in California made me spoiled. I do not want ever to feel freezing rain or an ice storm!

  12. Ruth says:

    What a beautifully written post. Thanks for sharing the sentiments and the dish with Presto Pasta Nights.

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