Inspiration from Nature: Color, Shape, and Pattern

Hammock in the trees (c)2012 La Domestique

October is flying by and it seems all my projects involve everything but food. Being a freelancer is fun because I never know what kind of project lies just around the corner. Most recently, I photographed my friend Kerry, founder of Comma Workshop, quilting in her beautiful studio and I’m working on a project styling luxury handwoven purses with a photographer for another client. Food is still my favorite subject, but it’s fun to branch out and grow as an artist. I don’t have a recipe for you today, but I would like share a few photos I captured on a trip to Seattle in August. Nature is a huge inspiration for my lifestyle and food styling. Even though it was still technically summer in Seattle, the overcast skies and cool temperatures felt very autumnal. Usually, when I think of lying in a hammock I picture ocean waves, sunny skies, and a refreshing drink, but it’s interesting to see a hammock at the edge of dark and mysterious woods. Instead of a lemonade I picture sipping a cuppa hot tea and getting lost in a copy of Alice in Wonderland.

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Cook in the Moment: Apple Butter

Apple Butter on a Fall Day in Colorado (c)2012 La Domestique

Thick and spreadable, apple butter is named for its texture, and contains no dairy. I’ve been doing a fair bit of preserving at home lately, but cooking apples down into a dark, caramelized puree is my absolute fall favorite. Every year I make a batch to mark the season, and thoroughly enjoy seeking out a new variety to try at the local farmer’s market. This year, after tasting through each apple at the market, I stumbled upon a new favorite: Alkmene. An old German apple, this variety stood out amongst the rest because of its tart, robustly apple flavor paired with dense and juicy flesh. I brought home a big bag of apples and pulled out one of my favorite preserving cookbooks, Canning for a New Generation, by Liana Krissoff. A tattered post-it marked the recipe for Spiced Apple Butter. This may be the easiest preserving ever, because the apples are stewed in a crockpot for 9-12 hours before the puree is ladled into sterilized jars and processed in a hot water bath. Cooking jam on the stovetop is much a quicker and more hectic process, and it’s nice to have a whole day while the preserve bubbles away in the slow-cooker to prepare for filling and processing the jars. As the fruit simmers, a festive aroma of baking spices fills the house. Cinnamon, clove, and allspice concentrate in flavor as the apples turn from cream-colored to dark amber, and the puree becomes thick and velvety.

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Cook in the Moment: Italian Prune Plum and Cardamom Conserve

Italian Prune Plum Conserve with Irish Oatmeal (c)2012 La Domestique

If Italian prune plums can be found at the farmer’s market, fall is truly here. Small, oblong like a little egg with dusky midnight blue skin, these plums are sold at markets during September and October. The flavor is concentrated in their skin, covering golden yellow flesh that is meaty and soft, not bursting with juices like the Santa Rosas. It seems odd to get so excited about a fruit that I would never consider eating raw, but Italian prune plums make spectacular preserves. Transformed by the cooking process into sweet, tart, deeply flavored fruit, the plums hold their own in Rachel Saunders’s recipe for Italian Prune and Cardamom Conserve, flavored with spices and a kick of brandy. Thick and wintry, conserve is a jam made with fresh and dried fruit, often spiked with a splash of liquor. Every year I welcome autumn by putting up a batch of conserve to enjoy throughout the colder months. A heaping spoonful stirred into steaming oatmeal adds a nice fruity acidity and spice to a rich and hearty breakfast. Keep fruit conserve at the table to spread over slices of Irish brown soda bread, or use it as filling for a galette. Heat the conserve in a small pan and spoon the sauce over seared duck breasts or serve it as a condiment on the cheese plate. You’ll run out of conserve before you run out of ways to enjoy it.

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Cook in the Moment: Chocolate Pear Tart

Bartlett Pears from the Boulder Farmer's Market (c) La Domestique

I’ve always loved apples. Come the first day of fall I’m dreaming of apple pie, apple butter, and warm apple cider spiked with brandy. The German in me loves applesauce with sausage. Don’t forget apple turnovers for breakfast and apple cider doughnuts! I liked pears, but never gave them much thought, until I came across this post on pears by Sarah at The Yellow House blog. Photos of the sun drenched pear orchard drew me in and her simple pear pie with a dark wheaty crust sealed the deal – I felt a sudden longing for pears.

Reading Nigel Slater’s book, Ripe, made me realize that appreciating this delicate fruit requires slowing down and spending the time to really get to know the pear. He writes,

“From the family Rosaccae, which includes meadowsweet, brambles, hawthorn, and quince, members of the Pyrus genus possess a sophistication that can only be dreamed of by the apple, with extraordinarily subtle hints of wine, rose, honey, and nuts. Occasionally you might detect a note of musk or a distant breath of aniseed. The apple has these too, but more obvious and upfront.”

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First Day of Fall in the Rocky Mountains and a Recipe for Roasted Potato Salad

Fall Colors in Rocky Mountain National Park (c) 2012 La Domestique

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.

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