It's Fall in the woods and decay is everywhere. Giant maple leaves, brown and wet, form a carpet along the narrow trails in the 22-acres behind our house. The woods have a different energy now. No more are the rhythmic chirps of finches that filled our ears during the warm months. The calls of tree frogs are long gone. The insistent tap tapping of the pileated woodpeckers has ceased.
The mood feels dampened down compared to the exuberance of Spring or Summer, but take a look anywhere around and life abounds. There are the cottonwoods, cedars, fir trees and vine maples. Huckleberry, salmonberry, salal. Moss and sword ferns march on confidently in their growth within the cool dampness.
My husband and I moved here almost five years ago now from a parched Southern California and this landscape is a relief. Formerly, we lived in the San Gabriel foothills, close to the chapparal which would burn with what became an alarming frequency. It was not unusual for us to wake up to a house filled with smoke from a nearby brush fire, soot coating our white-painted sills as we desperately slammed down any remaining open windows.
I don't miss that part of our former existence. I'll take the moodiness of cloudy weather, the cleansing sheets of rain, the early morning mist. The sun breaks during an otherwise dark day that offer more than momentary relief. The muted tones of grays that each have become surprisingly distinct from one another.
I welcome it all.
The decay here in the woods is a promise of good things. Fertile soil to nurture more trees, more plants which provides a better habitat for wildlife. It's a reminder of the renewal yet to come months from now, the winding down to a slower, more reflective state of being during the Fall and Winter months.
It's also time to move our thoughts of food and cooking toward stews and gratins, roasted vegetables and casseroles. The so-called heavier, or rather, more fortifying dishes.
Along with these, we mustn't forget about soup.
It's a given that one must have soups of all varieties this time of year. My absolute favorite types are those made simply with roasted, pureed squash, half an onion and some good broth or even plain water. Salt and pepper are a given. A spoonful of warming curry powder cooked in with the onion is also welcome on the chilliest days.
Here is a dressed up Butternut Squash Soup for you to enjoy. It doesn't contain curry, but is topped instead with buttery chanterelles, a fruit of the forest, which along with ingredients such as salmon and apples are so quintessentially Pacific Northwest. Interestingly, chanterelles are typically found growing in coastal forests within stands of new growth Douglas Firs, their tree of preference.
Have this soup before or after taking that long walk in the woods.
While you're in there, take a look around yourself. Notice the quality of light filtering through the trees. Be still. Listen.
Butternut Squash Soup with Sauteed Chanterelles
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large butternut squash
1 large yellow onion, sliced thinly
5 cups chicken broth, or water
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
1 dry pint chanterelles (about 7 oz.), cleaned and sliced
1 tablespoon butter
1 large shallot, chopped finely
2 cloves Garlic, minced
1/4 cup white wine
Fresh thyme leaves for garnish
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Cut squash in half cross-wise then again lengthwise. Remove seeds. Place squash cut-side down in roasting pan. Add 1/4 cup water to the pan. Place squash in oven and cook for 45 minutes or until squash is cooked through and beginning to collapse. Allow to cool slightly then remove peel from flesh. Mash slightly. Set aside.
Warm olive oil in heavy-bottomed pot. Add onion. Cook on medium-low, cook onion for 10 minutes without allowing to brown. Add squash, broth or water, and salt. Cook for 20 minutes longer.
Puree in batches, or with an immersion blender. Add additional salt to taste, and pepper. The soup will thicken slightly. You may add additional broth or water to adjust the thickness to your liking.
For the Chanterelles:
Heat a separate pan on medium-high. In two batches, add chanterelles and saute until the mushrooms are browning and beginning to caramelize. Remove and set aside. Repeat with second batch.
On medium heat melt butter in same pan. Add shallots and cook for five minutes then add garlic and cook for an additional minute. Add white wine. Turn heat up and allow white wine to almost evaporate. Return chanterelles to pan with this mixture and combine. Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat.
Ladle soup into bowls. Place two generous spoonfuls of mushroom mixture on top. It will settle slightly into the soup. Sprinkle with fresh thyme.