We sat in our car, parked at the edge of Upper Beaver Meadows in Rocky Mountain National Park. A waxing crescent moon rose in the black sky, dotted with stars. It was cold. I was dressed in layers: long sleeved shirt, sweater, down vest, scarf, and knit cap, but wished I had thought to bring my winter coat and a pair of gloves. Mountain peaks surrounded us, and a misty layer of cool, damp air settled into the valley. Car windows rolled down, engine turned off, we just listened to the grunts, blows, and rustling of large bodies through tall grass. Elk congregated right in front of us, gathered in the meadow, but our eyes were rendered useless in the absence of artificial light that is the wilderness. It was the first day of autumn, and we had come for the rut, when the elk move down to lower elevations to mate. I cupped my hand around my ear, in the hopes of amplifying the subtle sounds. On the very fringe of my senses I picked up the clatter of horns, two bucks fighting for dominance somewhere out there. My husband and I exchanged looks of excitement, remaining quiet so as not to let our presence be known. The erie song of a bull elk’s bugling carried across the valley, echoing against the walls of the Rocky Mountains. A call to the left, an answer to the right, as bulls declared their intentions, each seeking to dominate the rest. Describing a bull elk’s bugle is difficult, since this haunting call is like no other familiar sound. It begins as a deep guttural groan and culminates in a screeching, high-pitched scream. We sat in silence for hours, and it felt good to be quiet and listen. Living in the city exposes us to the same sounds of cars and people over and over again. We are visually stimulated by a barrage of movement and color. Sitting in the darkness listening to the elk, I felt relieved. It felt good to let go of one sense that I rely on constantly (sight) and cultivate an under stimulated one (hearing). Listening to the wild is not like listening to your iPod, controlling the volume with the press of a button. I marveled at the difficulty of picking up soft sounds, like the distant clatter of horns, and rejoiced in catching the quiet lapping of water against 1,000 pound bodies as elk moved slowly through a nearby pond. The strange and wonderful bugle ricocheted off my eardrums, and my brain struggled to comprehend this new sensation. Visiting the wild with my husband was a rejuvenating way to welcome fall, and I left a bit quieter, more thoughtful, and connected to nature.
To welcome this new season, I’ve got a recipe for warm roasted potato salad to share with you. If you can find purple potatoes use them, otherwise, yukons will substitute just fine (but may take longer to cook). In this autumnal take on potato salad, potatoes and shallots are tossed in oil and sprinkled with rosemary leaves, then roasted in a hot oven. Roasted purple potatoes caramelize on the outside and turn especially creamy and tender on the inside, while the shallots become sweet and crisp, and the evergreen aroma of rosemary fills the kitchen. Sauté the last of the season’s green beans in a skillet with garlic and toss with the roast vegetables and a balsamic vinaigrette. Creamy blue cheese crumbled over the vegetables gives the warm salad lends a rich flavor that’s distinctly fall. Serve this roasted potato salad alongside a steak or seared duck breast, or make it a meatless but satisfying al fresco lunch. Whatever you do, enjoy it quietly, savoring the creaminess of the potatoes, crispness of the shallots, freshness of the green beans, depth of the balsamic vinegar, and richness of the blue cheese.
Do you have a ritual to welcome autumn? Share it in the comments section.
Potato Salad with Green Beans, Blue Cheese, and Balsamic Vinegar
- 1 pound small blue potatoes
- 5 ounces shallots
- 2 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves
- Olive oil
- 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
- 4 ounces green beans
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 4 ounces blue cheese
Heat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Slice the potatoes in half (or fourths) to form bite-sized pieces and place them on a baking sheet. Cut the shallots into bite-sized wedges and add to the potatoes. Sprinkle over the rosemary leaves and toss all the ingredients with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Season with 1/8 teaspoon salt and some freshly ground black pepper. Place the baking sheet in the oven and roast, stirring every 15 minutes, until the potatoes are tender, about 30 minutes.
Prepare the green beans by cutting off the tips and slicing the pods into 2-3 inch pieces. Bring a medium pot of water to a boil, then drop in the green beans and cook for 3 minutes. Transfer the green beans to a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking and set their vibrant green color. After the green beans have cooled, drain them and pat them dry.
Once the potatoes and shallots are finished roasting, remove them from the oven and set them aside to cool slightly. Finish cooking the green beans by heating 1 tablespoon olive oil in a medium skillet. Toss in the garlic and cook it over medium heat for 1 minute, then add the green beans. Saute the green beans, stirring occasionally, until heated through. Transfer the green beans onto a serving platter along with the roast potatoes and shallots.
Make the vinaigrette. Whisk together 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar with ¼ cup olive oil and drizzle over the potatoes, shallots, and green beans. Toss the warm potato salad well, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle over crumbled blue cheese to garnish and serve warm.