A Peck of Pears

Supposedly fall is here (it says so on the calendar, anyway).  It has yet to show it's gorgeous face.  I miss all of the tell-tale signs that usher in our winding-down season, the cool weather having been noticeably absent so far.  It is a season of Wagner, Stravinsky, and Dvořák symphonies; brooding and moody, dramatic and melancholy.  A genre of reading begins with stories from long ago, the language rich, lush, and foreign on the tongue, brimming with a palpable mystery and the ever present threat on the pages of mental instability resulting from the strange occurrences of ghosts and all things paranormal.  The anticipation in the air that is tangible- a waiting for something magical and otherworldly just around the next corner, assurances that all you believed to go bump in the night or appear in a mist of ethereal vapor will most certainly happen now, right now, as this season unfolds.  It is the quickening of your pulse with too many moments to even begin to distinguish your favorite one from the next; food love affairs, the smell of wood smoke and leaves, the sound of horror film scores in the background,  the wardrobe changes to boots, sweaters, and flannel, the forgotten love affair with hot beverages and cider, twilight arriving earlier all the time. And nesting.

Nesting to prepare for the bleak winter ahead.  Part of the winding down season is also putting up; food, textiles, plants.  Preparing for the "laying in" that will begin in the blink of an eye.  This week I was fortunate enough to be gifted a peck of pears from a friend.  Pear butter was certainly on the menu.

Pear Butter
Jennifer Brian Cheek

Roughly 6# Pears, peeled, cored, and sliced into 1" chunks
3/4 cup organic sugar
Juice from one lemon
1/2 tsp lemon zest
1 vanilla bean, split in half lengthways
2 cinnamon sticks
1 1/2 tsp fresh ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves

In a large pot, add pears, sugar, lemon juice and zest, vanilla beans- scraping their seeds into the pears, cinnamon sticks, and all spices.  Cook on high for 30 minutes, or until pears begin to break down, then turn heat to medium high.  Remove the vanilla beans and cinnamon sticks.  Take an immersion blender to the pears and puree them until they are very smooth (this may take 2 or 3 times if your pears are not breaking down evenly).  Return cinnamon sticks to pot and turn heat to medium.  Cook until butter will mound in a cold spoon without puddling.  This could take anywhere from 45 minutes to 1.5 hours, depending on the liquid content of the pears.  You are going to want to use a lid to prevent the volcanic bursts coming from the pot.  The lid should not seal so that the pot is vented and liquid can evaporate as it cooks.

While butter continues to cook, prepare jars for canning (if you are going to can- this can also go into the fridge or be given immediately as gifts).  After butter is finished, place prepared pear butter in jars and process.  I yielded about 5 1/2 cups of butter from the peck.

We have developed a few treasured traditions in our journey as a married couple.  One of them came from the necessity of being apart.  The boy teaches classes at night three nights a week and with my early schedule, I am toes up frequently before he is home.  We decided coffee time in the morning would be a good thing.  An hour and a half before we really have to move, he makes coffee for us and we catch up on news, facebook, NFL happenings, and are just together for a few minutes of quiet before I am off for yardage in the pool and he to the studio.  It is my favorite part of everyday.  Not quite ready for breakfast, but in need of something on our stomach, we want just a bite of sweet with our coffee.  Biscotti has become a must.  This recipe is courtesy of Smitten Kitchen.  I have tweaked a couple of things.  Feel free to tweak your own.

Chocolate Hazelnut Biscotti
adapted from The Smitten Kitchen (originally adapted from New York Times)

3/4 cup whole hazelnuts, preferably blanched
2 1/2 cups flour, plus flour for work surface
1/2 cup Dutch-style cocoa powder
1 tablespoon espresso powder
Pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
4 large eggs
1 1/3 cups sugar.
8 ounces good, dark chocolate ( at least 65%)
1/4 cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread hazelnuts on baking sheet and toast about 10 minutes, until lightly browned.  In a large bowl, sift the flour, cocoa, espresso powder, salt, baking soda and baking powder together and set aside.

Beat eggs lightly, just until blended, in mixing bowl with whisk or in electric mixer. Remove two tablespoons of egg mixture to small dish and set aside. Beat sugar into remaining eggs until blended. Stir in flour mixture to form soft dough.

Divide the dough in half and place one portion on a well-floured work surface. (She is not kidding about this.) With floured hands, pat it into a six-inch square. Scatter half the hazelnuts on the dough and press them into the surface. Roll the dough into a cylinder about 2 inches in diameter and 12 to 15 inches long. Line the baking sheet with parchment paper and place the roll of dough on the baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough. Brush the tops of both rolls with the reserved egg.

Place in the oven and bake about 25 minutes, until firm to the touch.  Transfer to a cutting board and let cool for 5 minutes.  With an electric knife (or really sharp serrated knife) cut on an angle into slices one-half-inch thick.  Return the slices to the baking sheet, laying them on their cut sides, and return them to the oven. Bake another 20 minutes, until they are crisp and dry. Allow to cool completely 

Melt chocolate and heavy cream in a microwave proof bowl 30 seconds, stirring each time on 50% power until chocolate is smooth and shiny.  Spread a dollop of chocolate on one side of each of the biscotti (or drizzle or dip one end, whichever you prefer).  Allow to cool completely.  Store in an airtight container.  Dunk in hot coffee or tea.  Swoon as needed.

I have begun menu planning for my week with a great friend arriving from far away.  I am giddy with the anticipation of all of the fun things we have planned and just spending some long overdue time being together with her.  I have a feeling it is what each of our soul's needs right now.  She is gluten free and I have taken on the challenge of trying to find one or two really good gluten free things.  I have a dynamite cookie recipe but am seeking a couple of other things.  I could go almost totally gluten free in this house with the exception of crackers and the occasional scone and biscuit that the boy makes.  Generally since the clean eating/menu planning has begun, we are protein and veggie and whole grain eating here.  I have enjoyed the challenge.  If you have a fantastic recipe, pass it on?

In the meantime, I'll do my fall dance, you pull out your favorite boots, and maybe- just maybe- we can conjure up some spectacular fall goodness.


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