Fall was always my favorite season. I suspect partly because of poetic affectations of my adolescent self, partly because in Portugal, in the North, if you grow up in a house with neither heating nor air conditioning, it is the most comfortable season, (spring, too, but spring has more mosquitos,) and partly because my birthday was in fall. When a half dozen box of colored pencils is a luxury and you’re a little kid who likes to draw, your birthday assumes magical qualities. Also in Portugal fall is PRETTY. There’s a long slow cooling from around mid September to mid to late November.
The leaves turn, the air smells like it’s giving out the memory of summer: every little bit of long evenings in the shade, ever laughing walk on the beach, every harvest festival comes out in the smells of fall, as the leaves turn gold with the memories, the grapes paint (the term for going from green to either purple or golden-translucent) and are harvested.
In Portugal, when and where I grew up, Fall is the season of festivals and reminiscence. Family gets together for the grape harvest, usually. I mean, maybe this was an artifact of my growing up at a time when there weren’t people desperate enough to hire on for three days of brutal, back breaking work with small householders for what they could pay, which was mostly food while harvesting and maybe some wine afterwards.
We had grapes over… five? separate locations. (It’s hazy.) You know how in Colorado you can sell land and retain mining (or water) rights? In Portugal you can sell land and retain “vining” rights, which means they can’t cut down your vineyard, you’re responsible for taking care of it, and you get to harvest it in fall.
I don’t know how much of that was the case with our remote locations, and how much we were harvesting the grapes from relatives who were leasing the house, or were leaving abroad, or whatever. I just have the dim memory of walking around with baskets of grapes on my head. Eventually, by the time I remember clearly, in my teens, we only harvested grandma’s yard.
Oh, yeah. Every Portuguese yard — it still seems so weird to me that backyards here aren’t like that. Well, there, too, now, though my brother might have them. I don’t remember — has grapevines growing around the edge of it and trained up, to form perhaps a five/six foot canopy all around, with a bigger canopy over the patio. My childhood was spent playing under the grapevines, so as to be in the shade.
When I was an exchange student in Ohio I used to cut through backyards on my way from school and there was a lady who grew grapes of the same variety we grew in the North of Portugal. In summer, the smell would bring tears to my eyes.
Anyway, grape harvest was very important from a small age, because it was the one time I could feel grown up. You see, grapes had grown over the chicken coops and the storage buildings, all of which had either uncertain roofs or spaces too narrow for a full grown person. So I’d be helped up there, and given the task of picking those grapes.
It was a family event because everyone who could including people with jobs and kids in high school (at the time a privilege and an expense) took two-three days off and got together for the grape picking. And afterwards there was a big meal. And for about 3 days you had sweet wine sent home with you (pre-fermentation wine.)
Then there was the colder, slightly darker festival of all saints eve. No, it was nothing like Day of the Dead. You need Spanish drama and Aztec fascination with death for that. In the North of Portugal it was quiet, decorous and sad. You go to the cemetery and light candles on the graves. And you go home and eat roast chestnuts and drink red wine, and talk.
We weren’t big farmers, (or farmers at all. Grandad was a carpenter, dad an engineer) so the pig killing and other harvest rituals QUITE evaded us. Later as a college student I’d get invited to friends’ houses for those sometimes. Mostly for the “big meal and talk” part.
And then there was my birthday. No Thanksgiving, of course, though it might be mentioned at church.
After that winter came, which was mostly slow, boring drizzle, though sometimes very cold. I’m fairly sure this isn’t true, but other than liking the city lighting up for the holidays, my recollections of winter are of burrowing under a blanket in my room and reading by lamplight.
School… Well, I grew up in revolutionary times. I know one year it started in January. Most of the time it started in October and 90% of the time was going around end of November. It was also a great nuisance, but that’s something else.
Anyway, it is perhaps silly that I live (on purpose, yes) in a state of unpredictable Fall. Some years, like this one, it’s kind of mooch. We had a big frost that killed the still-green trees, so they never got to the lovely golden color. Some years, the snow comes early, at the end of September, and that’s it. Some years we do have that lovely, slow, golden fall.
I never know if I’ll wear short sleeves or three layers of clothes at Thanksgiving.
One thing is known: due to my eczema/auto-immune in general responding to even miniscule amounts of carbs, not to mention the pre-diabetes which seems to be coming in for a landing, I can’t eat any of the Fall comfort food I grew up with.
Why are Fall favorites all carb-loaded? I don’t know. I suspect to put some weight on our bones before winter. I grew up with roasted chestnuts, flour thickened soups, stews with potatoes…
And the thing is, even though the brain knows better, I crave carbs in fall. Different carbs (except for the chestnuts, which I sometimes buy to roast as a big treat. I want casseroles with noodles; I want shepherd’s pie; I want Chinese fried rice.
And because my family motto should be “I contrive” I do kind of manage it. Sort of.
There is a slow-carb pasta, Carb Nada. I can’t have it very often. It’s still too high. But I use it for casserole-like things, smothered in cheese. Last time I made it I only had a little bit, as it was actually “too rich” for me.
There is this, and it’s pretty good, but it’s not pasta. It works best with oriental dishes.
The rice is really not rice at all. The best success I’ve had with rice — particularly for oriental rice — is riced cauliflower. Oh, the rice of the not pasta is better than riced cauliflower for ONE thing: rice pudding. You have to boil the living daylights out of it, then rinse it till all the slightly fishy taste is gone, but between it and xantham gum for those that tolerate it, you can make a pretty good facsimile of rice pudding, which is another of my fall comfort things.
The cauliflower rice can make such a good imitation rice that I often forget I’m not eating rice. You just have to remember not to boil it. For instance, for oriental rice, I just start by frying it, treating it as “already cooked rice.”
Potatoes are of course a big problem. At least when it comes to fries. But I’ve found that cauliflower is one of those “Is there anything it can’t do” substances. Well boiled, mashed with butter, cream cheese, cream salt and pepper, it makes pretty good not just mashed potatoes for eating on their own, but also for shepherd pies.
I’ve also recently found that boiled, mashed, then “refried” with appropriate spices it can be pretty good “refried beans” for burritos.
I contrive. Even if right now my state is inflicting on us what looks more like winter with the occasional fall day, I still have my comforts. And even if they are different comforts from my childhood, they’re still comfortable anyway.
And recently I’ve gone back to drawing, which is perhaps another return to childhood.
Now if the weather in your state cooperates, go for a walk in a gold-painted wood, and come back to sit by a warm fire. You’ll feel better for it.