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.

There are recipes for low carb cinnamon rolls, and waffles and even low carb scones, though I usually just use a regular recipe and carbquick.

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.


50 thoughts on “Comfort

  1. I was in a pre-diabetic state and couldn’t lose any weight even on two different hospital diet programs. I was fortunate to be following a financial board where people talked about other things and was introduced to low carb high fat diets.
    It saved my life. I lost 80 pounds and by blood chemistry and A1C went back to normal after years of abusing my body with far too many carbs.
    Carbs are ADDICTIVE. I still walk past the in store bakery and want to run over and start cramming cinnamon rolls in my mouth. It’s as clear a trigger as an ex-smoker getting a whiff after years without. I don’t know if i t will fade away.
    Re: the Carbquick. It will make a decent roux or can be used as a thickener. Next up I plan to try it for sausage gravy.

      1. Interesting, especially since you appear to have been fine tuning the process for a while. After a year of carnivore I’m still insulin resistant and have trouble losing weight. I spent seventy years ginning up a high level of IR. If it takes a couple of years to correct I wouldn’t be surprised. A fair number of other good and encouraging things have happened, but the persistence of abdominal adipose is annoying.

  2. We are rather nice here today. 50 for now, and sunny. Week started wet and cold, got colder, and finally is nice for the weekend.
    Possible snow next week.

    1. The days are pleasant around here, but it’s starting to get chilly at night. Forecast for tonight is 17F, and the prediction for Sunday night is 11F. Highs for the next several days are in the 40s with an occasional day in the low 50s.

      Not sure what’s in store for winter; last year was non-snowy, but the spring was quite wet.

  3. We’re in the middle of a Santa Ana. 80’s and 90’s all week, cool at night, dry as a desert. Caused by a high pressure cell to the north-east and compression heating as the wind blows over and down the coastal range. Snow is NOT in the cards.
    Lennier: “I see they taught you well back home.”
    Marcus: “My teachers said I had a lot of repressed anger.”
    Lennier: [looks at seedy bar full of unconscious lowlifes] “And?”
    Marcus: “It’s not repressed any more.”

    1. NorCal is also getting high-pressure-driven compressive heating plus high winds, so PG&E is doing another “Public Safety Power Shutoff” this evening so the watermelons get their fondest wish and vast swaths of the countryside are plunged into the 19th century.

      1. We had a Girl Scout overnight event canceled due to prospective power shutoff. Our leader mentioned it’s probably also because of the fire danger—this camp and lodge are clear back at the end of one of those windy little roads like those that feature in the nightmarish evacuation videos from recent years.

    2. G’Kar: “By G’Quan, I can’t recall the last time I was in a fight like that. No moral ambiguity, no… hopeless battle against ancient and overwhelming forces. They were the bad guys, as you say, we were the good guys. And they made a very satisfying *thump* when they hit the floor.”

  4. We recently picked our Concord grapes and made grape juice. “I contrive” reminds of The Masqueraders by Georgette Heyer.

  5. Here in the Demented Dominion, fall was short. We went from 90F to 60F (in one day) for about three weeks, and now there’s hard frost. Corn isn’t even in yet, beans still in the fields, leaves on the trees and we have hard frost.

    Still, Alberta had a full-on snowstorm at the end of September and Texas of all places had a snowstorm yesterday. So, could be worse.

    But I do like fall, what little there is. Ground is hard, bugs are all gone, not too hot and not too cold. I’m usuing the time to move gravel and build things of need, like fence for the dog, steps and railings. At 63 it occurred to me that falling on my ass on the ice might be more than merely annoying some day soon. Steps are being taken.

    1. So did Glacier NP, and Yellowstone NP. Earliest I think either have shutdown park roads for the season. Now, Glacier is just south of Alberta Province. Yellowstone is further southwest (ish).

  6. We had snow on Thursday, along with another hard freeze. The trees are dumping (not shedding) leaves all over, making a green and gold tapestry of the ground, with bits of white still on the ground. There’s an edge to the air, a warning of winter, but harvest is in, and the mosquitoes are gone for now.

    Fall food? Soups, roasted root veggies, things with warm spices like cinnamon and ginger and clove. Hot cider, hot spiced teas. Roasts, and stews that can simmer for hours and perfume the house as they cook.

  7. October is precious to me.

    My hobby is day hiking for distance and scenery. October is cool enough that I’m not running through my water, the leaves are turning, and it’s not yet regular deer season. (aka amateur hour). It’s the best time to be in the woods.

  8. I was in Portugal in 2010, in the Porto area (actually Barcelos) and saw how they have the grapes set up. What they do is to have a trellis that goes up the wall, and then out over the sidewalk, patio, or whatever else they want to shade. Then train the grapevines to go up and over. The vines get sunlight, the owners get both shade (badly needed in the summer) and grapes (from which they make good wine).

  9. And for about 3 days you had sweet wine sent home with you (pre-fermentation wine.)

    Wouldn’t that be the stuff most of us call grape juice? ‘Cause it sounds like grape juice. 😀
    Leo Bloom: “Well, if we assume you’re a dishonest person—“
    Max Bialystock: “Assume, assume!”

    1. Kind of?
      It’s actually better to say it’s “half fermented” wine. If I remember it’s only drinkable as such after a few days.
      Anyway, it’s full of sugar alcohol and if you drink too much you get the runs 😉

      1. Sounds a bit like sweet mash, the bit before it goes in jars. Still has alcohol in it, just ain’t finished yet (or aged at all). And yes, you get the runs something fierce if you drink too much of it. *chuckle* Ours was made with corn (and usually something else, be it honey, blackberries, or whatnot), but I suspect the process is a bit similar.

        We kept grape vines, too, when I was young. Swallowed about eighty feet of fenceline before it started to die off. Fresh grapes in the fall was a treat.

        1. You must not have had any opossums in your area. They don’t have a wide geographic range.

          Opossums will eat almost anything, but they have a special fondness for grapes. There’s a town in Arkansas called “Possum Grape”, after a dejected farmer’s viticulture project fell under the onslaught of every opossum in the county…

          1. Oh? Well, darn. I was thinking of trying a grapevine, but the dog who (after much effort) banished opossums from my parents’ yard is long gone.

    2. I thought the same myself.

      I think it was the seventies when my dad last helped someone kill hogs. I never have, but I did drag one of my children to a mock tobacco auction at the State Fair. It was the kind they quit having when all the farmers went to contracts with a company, with men walking down a row of sheets and bidding with pretend money for notional companies while the auctioneer chanted out prices (per pound) for each sheet.

  10. This brings back memories of feeding chickens and stealing the eggs. Rabbits and goats and ponies.I don’t s we had when I was growing up. Fresh is best.

    We had goats after one of my youngest brothers was born and he was allergic to dairy. He had no problem with goat’s milk so it was in our fridge and we used it instead of cow milk for everything. Nowadays when I feel like milk, I go for the lactaid milk because the other stuff (this includes ice cream, which I rarely eat) can give me a stomach ache.

    As for carbs, I need some to function. Due to the kidney problems I can’t have as much protein as I crave. I limit sugar which includes fruit btw. I can eat blueberries and apples… but not every day. No soda. I really limit processed food due to sugar and salt. I have to keep the salt under control.

    I’m would love to find some place where I could find the fresh vegetables and meats that I was able to get when I was a girl.

    As for losing weight, I was gaining and realized that I needed to give my body a full hour after taking the thyroid med before drinking my coffee or eating. I started a fasting diet (the one where you only eat during a certain period of the day). I have stopped eating that cracker just before bedtime. I don’t eat breakfast. I like to eat around 10 a.m. for the first meal. Since I started that one, I have lost five pounds in two months.

    I hope you can find the foods that make you feel better. Sometimes the food I can eat can change during the seasons. What I can eat in winter is not what I can eat in summer.

    I’m sure you know all this… I know the frustration you are feeling… It takes a lot of experimentation to find the right combinations.

  11. we didn’t grow grapes, or mostly food stuff. (well tomatos and squash). like many middle class city folk my mother grew roses. until…
    my oldest sister told my next oldest sister that if she ate rose petals she would grow up to be beautiful. when my mother came home, in the backyard was a row of sticks. both were punished, one for saying it and the other for believing it.

  12. I lost 40 pounds after a pre-diabetic diagnosis and have kept 30 off, but giving up carbs has eluded me, and IMO cauliflower, no matter what you do to it, remains obviously and detectably cauliflower.

    1. When I was researching cauliflower, I kept running across two schools of thought — that it was a very mild-tasting example of its cruciferous ilk and that it was a particularly distinctive-tasting one. As this was not noticeably correlated with whether the author thought one or the other was a good thing I am guessing that this is related to some selection/confirmation of plant variety, individual acclimation, and a less famed example of the kind of idiosyncratic biochemistry that results in varying answers to “is this bitter” and “does cilantro taste like soap.”

  13. Low(er) Carb Hot Chocolate
    1-2 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (to taste)
    1/2 cup half & half (or cream)
    1/2 cup boiling water
    1 tsp xylitol (or sweetener of your choice)
    1/4 tsp (one pinch) salt (kosher is best)
    1 tid bit vanilla extract
    optional: 1 dollop rum
    optional: 1 tsp instant coffee powder

    Boil water.
    Dump dry ingredients in mug, stir. Add boiling water, stir. Add non-water liquids. Stir. Taste. If still bitter, add a bit more salt, stir, and taste. Repeat until bitterness is gone.

    1. I like doing something similar, actually, but (IMO) easier. Microwave a mug of whole milk. Add ~1T unsweetened cocoa powder and any spices that sound tasty (I often use cinnamon, nutmeg, and/or cardamom). Sweeten to taste, if desired. I usually skip it.

      1. Lactose and I don’t get along very well, which is why I go cream / half&half and boiling water. If you can tolerate milk, that sounds like a great way to make life better!

    2. I prefer hot chocolate with unsweetened cacao as well. Never heard of using salt before. I like sweetening with a little bit of maple syrup. You use less bc it has a strong flavour.

  14. One of my quiet ambitions should I ever have a house we own is to have grapevines the way you describe – hopefully, edible grapes at that. The grapevines you describe make me think of the way that Roman homes used to always have grapevines portrayed in the central courtyard. The grapes in your blog photo made me drool.

    1. Just be sure the trellis is well attached. I had one of clothesline stretched between the house and the garage. On the house side, it was anchored to the window frames (brick house – that was the only wood conveniently available for screwing into). Last year, a bumper crop of grapes pulled the window frames off the side of the house.

  15. I left a rather depressed comment on an earlier post.

    This post was soul food! Thanks!

    I am diabetic [oral meds, hopefully long term], getting better in my way of living more slowly than I should have, may or may not have developed a thyroid thing this year- still at the point of just realizing that as an explanation for some symptoms, maybe. Not diagnosed as such. Naturally, hope not. But I suppose there’s worse things too.

    Your comments on fall in Portugal don’t bear at all on my own youth, but somehow these things can strike chords of memory even for those who don’t have the same details. Thanks.

Comments are closed.