Fall

squashquinoaI first heard of quinoa many years ago from a friend who was diagnosed with wheat sensitivity. Quinoa, which is the seed of a flowering plant, is related to spinach and beets. It is not a grain, but is treated like one in recipes. It is suitable for those who suffer from celiac disease and maintain a gluten-free diet. The pseudocereal, as it is officially termed, originates from the Andean region of South America. It was considered sacred in Incan society, second in importance to the potato, and followed by corn. The Spanish conquistadors disliked quinoa, suppressed its production, and it never gained popularity outside of South America.

What makes quinoa so special is that it is a complete protein with a full set of amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. This especially made it nutritionally significant to pre-Colombian peoples. It continues to be important to vegetarians and vegans. Quinoa can be used in many ways and is available in different forms, including flour, flakes, and the whole seed. The flakes can be eaten like oatmeal or, when combined with flour, baked into cookies, quick breads, pancakes, and waffles. Whole quinoa comes in a few colors, but only two are available in the States, white and red, of which the red has more fiber. Whole quinoa can be cooked and eaten like rice and made into pilafs or stir-frys.

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fallflowers2With autumn beginning to wax, the garden is coming into its own, offering the bounty and plethora of blooms only an early fall garden can provide. Salvias, pentas, lantanas, Artemisia, and pomegranates are looking quite lovely this time of year for they have appreciated and endured the heat and now bestow their blossoms as trophies of survival from the heat of summer.

One other great garden tiding that comes into play at the end of summer and into early fall is the flower spike of Liriope muscarri ‘Variegata’ or variegated monkey grass for the lay people. My Auburn professors knew I was from Middle Georgia because of my pronunciation of “liriope.” I pronounce it like leer-o-pee. While I’ve heard a myriad of other pronunciations, that is the way this Farmer says it. I digress.

The soft purple spikes of tiny florets make for a punch of color in small bouquets and even dry well…somewhat like lavender the herb. Other varieties of the Liriope genus such as ‘Big Blue’ also make for beautiful cut stem specimens and the berries, with their deepest amethyst to eggplant blackness.

They are lovely in holiday décor. Just imagine those dark berries with fir, pine, and magnolia in some blue and white cache pots or jardinières…quite lovely indeed. As September rolls into October, the Southern landscape yields these spikes along the aforementioned perennials and annuals for arrangements a plenty.

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Image What cooking method can be more primal than roasting? When humans discovered fire, it was by roasting over an open pit. Today we simulate this method of indirect cooking in the oven, achieving the best taste by concentrating flavors, retaining interior moisture, and creating a beautiful brown exterior. In gastronomy-speak, this caramelization is known as the Maillard reaction, which is the basic chemical reaction all food undergoes when cooked. But the cavepeople didn't care how sugars reacted with amino acids, all they knew was that fire made things taste good.

I often roast almost anything during the autumn months. Once October comes, roasting is my favorite activity. Meats are of course among the favorite items to roast. Just think of a luscious roast chicken or roast beef. But many seem to forget that pork and vegetables also make wonderful roasts.

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Sweet-Potato-and-SweeTango-Apple-Soup-cupsLet me start by saying, my family is kind of into apples. There is rarely a time I go to the grocery store and don't have to replenish our stash of this amazing superfruit. It's so nice to have a snack everyone loves, is low in calories and full of vitamin C. A perfect in-between meals nibble as far as I'm concerned.

Because of this "apple love" we have going on, I was excited when SweeTango contacted me and asked if I would be interested in trying their apples. Honestly I had never heard of the SweeTango variety and was curious to taste it. That same day I was at the market and what did you know, SweeTango apples were available in my grocery store. How could I have missed these large and beautifully colored apples. Needless to say, I grabbed a bunch and went home to enjoy them.

SweeTango apples are a cross between the Honeycrisp and Zestar! varieties. It is a crisp, juicy, vibrant apple with a taste all its own. For me, it has the perfect snap when bitten and my whole family loved them. They even abandoned their old-standbys to enjoy this new-to-them apple.

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roastedsquashNever mind the name, these sweet, nutty squash are harvested in the fall. They are called "winter" because their hard shells allow them to be stored for extended periods, and in the days before refrigeration, that was a quality more worth honoring than mere harvest seasonality. The earliest winter squash are just beginning to trickle into the market -- kabocha, butternut and acorn, mostly.

When they’re first picked, they can be a little short on flavor. But after a week or two that changes, particularly for squash such as butternut and kabocha. These benefit from a couple of weeks of "curing" after being harvested, which allows time for enzymes to convert some of their starch into sugar.  Acorns are from another family and do not require curing. They're better bets this early in the season.

How to choose: Look for squash with deep, saturated colors and no soft spots or cracks. The stem should be hard and corky too.

How to store: Keep winter squash in a cool, dark place. You don't need to refrigerate them.

How to prepare: Here's a recipe for happiness during the coming rainy season: Hack off a chunk of winter squash and remove the seeds; place it cut-side down in a pan with just a little water, and roast it at 400 degrees until the whole thing collapses into a sweet, fragrant, slightly caramelized puree.

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