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.

. READ MORE...

Honey Wheat Grape Focaccia with Rosemary

Honey Wheat Grape Focaccia with Rosemary (c)2012 La Domestique

As I mentioned in my last post, the first thing that came to mind when I stumbled upon a pile of Concord grapes at the farmer’s market was focaccia. In its most basic form, this Italian flatbread starts with a dough of white bread flour, yeast, water, and salt, moistened with a generous amount of olive oil. After rising for a bit, the dough is pressed out into a baking sheet in the shape of a rectangular slab. Dimples are created by pressing into the dough with your fingertips, making little crevices for flavorful olive oil to pool. Half an hour in the oven yields a golden brown flatbread, slightly puffed, with a tender, moist, and chewy crumb that’s perfect for a convivial table served in torn and rustic pieces or cut into neat squares. Focaccia is often adorned with toppings, from a simple sprinkling of rosemary leaves and sea salt or olives, to this recipe I baked last year topped with caramelized onions, pears, and blue cheese. During the fall harvest, grapes are a popular topping for focaccia, and the jammy fruit compliments the savory olive oil dough beautifully. So many recipes for grape focaccia can be found on the web, like this one by Melissa Clark, but I like to keep it simple and resist the urge to turn this bread into a dessert. I enjoy balancing the savory and sweet, which makes for a more versatile bread that can be served on the dinner table with an autumn roast meat, alongside a bowl of root vegetable or cauliflower soup, or as a grilled cheese panini.

. READ MORE...

Concord Grapes

Concord Grapes from the Boulder Farmer's Market (c)2012 La Domestique

The thought of grapes hadn’t even entered my mind as I passed through the crowded farmer’s market, eying the mysterious Japanese eggplant and passing my fingers over plump tomatoes. Amongst the regular cultivars I’d grown used to seeing over the summer, my eye halted at the sight of a newbie – midnight blue grapes coated in white dust. Could it be? Concords! I couldn’t hide my excitement from the farmer, eagerly (but tenderly) gathering up a couple pounds of the delicate grapes. Here in Colorado, the season for such fruit seems to pass with the blink of an eye. Feeling like I’d struck gold, I headed home with my riches. Most of the Concord grape’s flavor is concentrated in its thick skin, and an abundance of pectin means this fruit is well suited to preserving as a jam (find Rachel Saunders’ recipe over at Tasting Table). My first desire was to bake a Concord Grape Focaccia, which you’ll find here on the blog later this week. A few of you who follow Ladomestique on instagram had some great suggestions for cooking with Concord grapes. Talley of House to House blog was kind enough to steer me towards Melissa Clark’s recipe for grape focaccia in the New York Times. Joelle of Home Sweet Homemade suggested grape juice. Gail likes Concord jam. Tori had a fantastic idea for incorporating the fruit into a strudel, and @bablanch pickles the grapes.

. READ MORE...

Cook in the Moment: Grilled Plum Salad with Purple Basil, Blue Cheese, and Balsamic Vinaigrette

Grilled Plum Salad with Purple Basil, Blue Cheese, and Balsamic Vinaigrette (c)2012 La Domestique

I seem to be going through a purple period. I just can’t get enough of plummy colors. Last week there was the Grilled Mission Fig Salad, followed by that post on aubergines, and today I’m grilling plums and placing them on a bed of purple lettuces and purple basil dressed in winey balsamic vinaigrette. Do you ever find yourself attracted to a certain hue which inspires the food you prepare in your kitchen? Figs, eggplant, plums- and I’ve got to warn you that next week it will be Concord grapes and purple potatoes! Now I’m realizing I may be out of control here with the purple.

Cooking with seasonal ingredients found at the farmer’s market brings awareness to the colors of each season. In spring it’s all green- asparagus, broccoli, spinach. Summer is fiery red and orange with peaches, berries, tomatoes, and peppers. As summer fades into fall the purples come out- cabbage, eggplant, kale, and glorious plums. It’s been a stellar year for plums here in Colorado. I’ve never thought too much about this stone fruit – peaches always seem to steal the show – but this year I bit into a ripe and juicy Santa Rosa plum from the farmer’s market and it was like tasting the fruit for the first time. I was blown away by the tart flavor matched with just the right amount of sweetness. Never one to eat plums out of hand (before this I mostly baked with them) I was surprised and delighted by this discovery.

. READ MORE...

For Everything there is a Season

Eggplants from the Boulder Farmer's Market (c)2012 La Domestique

Summer lingers here in Colorado, but autumn is nipping at her bare feet. The days are definitely getting shorter and a cool breeze swept through the foothills of the Rocky Mountains last week. Mornings are crisp and I need a light sweater to take Minnie the dachshund for her walk before breakfast. Summer won’t let go just yet, and her bright sunlight warms the day slowly, but she just can’t seem to coax the mercury into the 90′s as she has done in weeks past. The farmer’s market is bursting with produce: tomatoes, beans, peaches, and eggplant. I feel the need to grab as much as I can. The frost will arrive soon, bringing an abrupt end to our summer. Our grief will be soothed with the arrival of autumn and her apples, pears, root vegetables, squash, and pumpkins. Though I’ve reveled in summer this year, fall is my favorite season. Enlivened by the smell of change in the air, I feel the year has begun anew. January first means little to me. The beginning of fall has always felt like my New Year.

. READ MORE...