As a Chef all summer long I play with a bounty of vegetables that my farmers send to me. Each week I await the phone call from one of my many farmer friends, John, Sara, Harvey and scribble down the list of possible vegetables I could get for the coming week. It is almost like picking my Christmas list in July. “Yes I’ll take all your peas. How are those Heirloom tomatoes coming along? What?! The basil is ready! I’ll take 10 lbs!” It seems as though the long days of sunshine and cool breezes off the lake will never end.
Then one night the temp drops to 40. Farmers, gardeners and chefs alike tune in to the weather a little more closely waiting for the dreaded frost warning. We start to shut our windows at night and dust off our canning equipment. We take stock of what we’ve gotten to enjoy so far and start making slightly panicky choices at the farmers market. “Well I better grab twice as much zucchini this week so I can be sure to get my fritter fix in this year”. I too start to buy box upon box of fresh tomatoes, pounds after pounds of peppers, and green beans up the wa-zoo! Time to start pulling out the pickling recipes and dreaming up new ways to use up the produce from my overflowing cooler.
For me fall is a time of year for taking stock of what I have accomplished and harvested. I spend time giving Thanks for the bounty of the summer harvest and begin preparing for the depths of winter. I also turn my thoughts to my Fall Menu. Yes it seems as though our, already limited planting season, has ended with the first frost. Those tomato plants once dripping with red, yellow and orange fruits are now drooping and dropping their mushy globs. Yes all of our above ground delicacies are gone but all is not lost. Those secret jewel vegetables that are hiding under our feet are getting sweeter with each cold night. Our hardy greens like kale and broccoli continue to astound us with their resistance to the chilly temps that send many of us indoors. This is just the beginning of a whole different flavor palate, one that is richer, has more depth and is hardy.
I like to think of our summer vegetables as feeling heady and light hearted. While our fall harvested vegetables remind of me who we are at our core. The Fall Equinox marks the beginning of our days as dominated by the dark hours, we slowly sink into the darkness and in that darkness we can find gems buried within. I find inspiration in the color of food; in the vibrant red and golden beets, our purple potatoes, the brightly toned flesh of Butternut and Delicata, all the shades of green and purple kale, flashing neon carrots that burst with juice on the first bite. I savor and cherish these flavors, they have the strength to hold through the winter months and the power to inspire with their subtle charms.
When we created this Fall Menu we began by writing a list of fresh vegetables that we can get throughout the next few months. Turnips, rutabaga, beets, potatoes, carrots, pumpkins, a variety of winter squash, whole garlic, kale, rosemary, sage and thyme to name a few. We then think about those foods we associate with comfort, this is after all when we pack on our winter weight. Hints of cinnamon and nutmeg, browned butter and roasted not grilled meats, heavier starches like potatoes and bread as opposed to quinoa and rice. We scour cookbooks and magazines looking for unique twists, flavor profiles, that when read make sense but had never occurred to us before. We write a sketchy outline then order in the early prototypes of the vegetables to come. Then begins the fun, the adventure, the trials, the errors and the sweet successes. This year we wanted a slow roasted beef to which we added beer and mustard for a rich, tender and flavor-full end product. We paired this with crisp, house made sauerkraut from cabbages harvested just down the road. Then we found that Ashland Baking Company has a New York Rye that is the perfect complement. Our other Fall dish is classic comfort. A juicy yet crispy skinned quarter of an organic chicken. We searched for ways to pair browned butter and winter squash and landed instead with a savory bread pudding. We use our cranberry-wild rice bread, made famous by our French toast, added a custard, hints of sweet in a Sweetmeat winter squash and, topped it with a sharp Gruyere cheese. We found a side dish the staff can’t keep their fingers off of! This is all complemented by wild mushrooms and a sauce that tastes like fresh apples with a base note of herbs.
Breakfast here at the café is a main stay. Our breakfast items are already amazing and need little changing. Though recently we added Crepes to the menu, a quicker and smaller item then the giant plate sized pancakes, and thus found a way to add seasonality onto your first plate of the day. This fall we created a pumpkin butter and not just any pumpkin butter, we got a little dirty and added whisky and wine to this dish! The pumpkin butter starts with fresh pumpkins that are cooked down to a sweet pulp to which we add those warm spices, maple syrup, and Bourbon. The end product is so nice you would be happy to smear it on toast. But then we added a walnut streusel which reminds many of us of cakes and pies but ours is a bit more like crunchy granola. And just for the heck of it we took dried figs and got them drunk on wine. The final combination will warm your belly (don’t worry though, kids can eat it too, there is no alcohol left after the cooking process!)
If all this seems too heavy we created a salad that is as satisfying as it is light. Warm barley and roasted vegetables, in a color palate that is beautiful to look at. It has crispy bacon, soft chevre, toasted pecans and of course some salad greens. This all with a maple –bacon vinaigrette that may cause you to fall in love. The dressing can also be ordered with a side salad if you’re not up to this full meal size salad. But keep in mind that we are still having fun choosing which mix of vegetables to cook off for you this week!
As we send our “Babies” out in the world for you to try this season we hope that they bring you warmth, comfort and perhaps a little inspiration. Our hope is that with full bellies you will have the strength to get your winter preparations under way. Take the time to enjoy the colors of this season, whether that be on the Superior Hiking Trail, your back yard, or on your plate. The blanket of snow is coming soon enough and until then be thankful for all that we have.