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Autumn Coming: Time For Pumpkin Flavored Everything

We recently had the first crisp evening that hinted at the changes to come, that feeling in the air that native Westsylvanians recognize as “a Football Night.” In the verges, the annual flora are showing wear, the color of goldenrod lines country roads and the counts of our prolific whitetail deer seen dead along the highways, stirred to their violent ends by the hormonal surges of the rut and the the instinctive understanding that food will soon be much less abundant. In the trees, the earliest leaves are already beginning to flush, and in the bars and coffee shops, restaurants and bakeries, the taps and pitchers and shelves are suddenly and predictably weighted by food and drink flavored with “Pumpkin Spice.” If you expected me to offer consolation, I apologize. I have none to give. Indeed, the words that might help are these: be strong and resolute. Like all tribulations, this too will pass.
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Autumn: Big Rocks

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Homecoming Football Game

So, the Homecoming football game turned out well.  It rained before and after the game, but not during, and the kids did pretty well.  A news team from KDKA-2 Pittsburgh showed up–cool for the kids.  Blows my mind to watch this video, though, despite being there in person: I’ve known at lot of these kids since elementary school, some longer–and now they’re so old.  Don’t I sound like a doddering fool?  And: hats over to “unstoppable” Connor.  Nice game.

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Autumn Photo: Yellowstone 1990

Wandering around Yellowstone with some friends way back in 1990, mid-afternoon on the road between Mammoth and Tower, we spotted a colorful grove of aspen trees.  We waded out into the dry autumn grass, plopped down, and stared up and through the golden leaves at the perfect blue sky above. We dozed off and had what was, for me, about the most perfect afternoon nap I’ve ever had.
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Autumn Found Photos: This Is Going to Be Difficult

imagesfAn initial foray into the world of autumn posts revealed a whole lot of gifs, clip art, graphics, cute photos of other people’s children raking leaves or going on hay rides, and creepy-ish images that remind me of stuff cut-and-pasted from an LL Bean catalog.  Or Sears Roebuck, even.  There’s also a lot of clearly professional, for profit stuff I don’t feel comfortable pilfering.p6  I have to admit that I’m a little worried–I feel committed to this whole seasonal photos thing.  If I can’t manage autumn, it sort of makes all the work finding cool summer photos a vain pursuit, don’t you think?  And I’m compelled to make it through because I already have dozens of absolutely outstanding images set aside for next summer.  It’s interesting to think about, though.  Summer Couple Raking Leavesphotos encompass a wide variety of activities and one general component I find almost inexhaustible: the beach.  Autumn photos seem centered around a relatively small number of holidays and things: Halloween and Thanksgiving, and leaves and pumpkins.  Fall foliage is resplendent and all that, but it’s best to limit the dosages.

It seems I’ll be required to be creative.  Fortunately, Fall is the shortest season in these parts.  At least for the purposes of my reckoning.  The dates work out sort of like this:

Summer: Labor Day to Fall Equinox (about 120 days)
Autumn/Fall: Equinox To Black Friday (about 67 days)
Winter: Black Friday to April 1 (about 118 days)
Spring: April 1-Labor Day Weekend (about 60 days)

Now there are years where all of November feels like winter, and Fall feels like it landed with the County Fair and the advent of football season at the end of August, and years when Spring hits in March–or hides until May–but these dates reflect my seasonal moods and interpretation of environmental factors.  Like the borders of small European nations prior to World War 2, the boundaries between the seasons are highly flexible–it was 72 at midnight on Dec 22 last year, during our Christmas Party, although we’d already had several meaningful snowfalls.  Not surprisingly, we had a frost in June and a number of strangely cold days this past summer.  With the changing global climate, all preconceptions are off the table.

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Something else I learned is that there are literally thousands of Fall Festivals in the USA and Canada, all of them running pretty much simultaneously during the first two weeks of October.  Cider and antique automobiles are prominently featured in most, along with hay bales and piles of pumpkins.  I did, however, in keeping with the O.R.A. standards, find one Autumn Festival that wasn’t mired in gauzy images and mundane pumpkin costumes.  What they do have, apparently, is pole dancing.  Go figure.

Enjoy.

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Autumn Photo: Step Into Fall

We’ll see if we can keep this seasonal-themed photo thing going.  This one isn’t the most vibrant, but it has a sort of subtle genius to it, don’t you think?  I’m not just saying that because I took it.  It’s just…obvious.
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Football = Stromboli

So, the Steelers start the season against the longtime rival Cleveland Browns.  We’re all worked up in a lather of optimistic expectation, with an undercurrent of wariness than comes in a “rebuilding” year.  Only one thing is certain: a man’s gotta eat.  And what does a man gotta eat?

Stromboli.

Since we had company for the game today, I made a bunch of ’em.  A delight of stromboli.  That’s what multiple stromboli are called, the same way we have a “murder of crows,” a “prickle of porcupines,” and a “shrewdness of lemurs.”  A lot of people don’t know this, but I do, because I’m wise.  And well read.  And, thanks to my “delight” of stromboli, I’m also well fed.

If you want to make some stromboli for yourself, I’ll tell you how.  You’ll need:

Flour, yeast, sugar, salt, olive oil, water, and a bunch of stuff for filling–pretty much anything you’d put on a pizza that isn’t too watery is fair game.  Things like tomatoes and pineapple aren’t that great, because they can make the dough soppy.  Likewise fresh buffalo mozzarella–on a pizza there is plenty of exposure for that moisture to steam off. We use provolone and bagged, shredded mozzarella.

Put some hot water in a bowl to start–this is to warm the bowl, nothing else.  After a few minutes reserve a cup of the water and dump the rest–you want the water around 100 degrees F, like a baby bottle–it should feel just warm against your skin.  If the water is above 114 there’s a good chance you’ll cook your yeast, better to have it too cool–all that happens is your dough will rise slightly more slowly.  Put a tablespoon of flour and a tablespoon of sugar in the warm water, stir it a little, then add 2.5 teaspoons of yeast.
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Let it sit at least five minutes until the yeast gets a little foamy–I could have let mine go a little longer, but I hadn’t eaten breakfast and kick off was looming.  I was in a hurry.
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Put 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a larger bowl, then dump in the yeast-water, mix a little, and add a cup of flour.  Put a teaspoon of salt on top of the flour, then start mixing.  When you’ve got a nice sticky ball, turn the dough out on a floured surface and begin kneading.  Keep adding flour incrementally, about 1/4 cup at a time, while you knead, until the dough is “silky.”
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At this point, you’re wondering what the hell I mean by “silky,” as I was when I started teaching myself to bake.  The best answer I can come up with is that it’s no longer sticky but not dry.  It’s smooth, like a woman’s skin. Trust that you’ll know.  As the dough gets closer to how you want it, reduce the increments–the kneading is what makes or breaks your masterpiece, and it’s the last place you want to skimp on effort.
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Once it’s done, put it back in the large bowl, drizzle some olive oil over it, and swirl the bowl around to evenly coat the dough.  Then cover the bowl with a damp towel and let it sit about 90-120 minutes, until it’s doubled in size.  (Why the damp towel?  Because it seals out most of air and prevents the dough from drying out and getting a hard “skin”.
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While the dough is rising, crack a beer and prep your toppings.  We used green peppers and onions from the garden, cleaned and diced, then stir fried about 5 minutes on medium high in a tablespoon of olive oil–just enough to steam off some of the water and partially cook the vegetables.  Stir constantly–when the onions start to turn translucent you’re done.
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Preheat your oven to 450 F.

Once the dough has risen, turn it back out on your floured surface. It will have the best texture if you can stretch it like the guys in a pizza shop, but I always tear the dough or throw it on the floor, so I embrace sin and roll my dough out with a rolling pin.  I can get away with this because I’m not Italian, but I’ve been told that rolling out dough is unforgivable, and I apologize to  all who are offended.
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Pile on the toppings–meat, then vegetables, then cheese–over half the dough.  The cheese melts over the veggies and holds things  together.
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Make sure to leave about .75 inch of dough around the edge clear of toppings.  Once you’re good to go, fold the empty half of dough over the toppings and pinch together.  It works best to tug the lower part over the top–this keeps the meat juices from dripping out and making a horrible burnt fat stench that roils from your oven when you open the door to peek.  Sometimes, I take a pair of forks and perforate the top of the stromboli to let the steam escape. Today I was too lazy.  Finally, use a spritzer or pastry brush to lightly coat the top of the stromboli with olive oil, then add your favorite herbs–oregano, basil, etc.  stromboli 017We have a shaker jar of  dried “Italian seasonings” that we bought for some reason years ago–mostly we use fresh herbs from the garden, but I’ve kept that it around for things like garlic toast and stromboli. The top of your stromboli is also an excellent place to sprinkle some of that mostly flavorless dried Parmesan from the back of the fridge–the stuff in the green cardboard box–baking it brings out a nice, salty, unique taste.

41f6MHDwfJLThrow that bad boy in the oven–on a tray if you must, on a baking stone if you have one–and cook it about 12 minutes.  While you’re baking, warm up some cheap pizza or pasta sauce–I like something smooth, rather than chunky, of good quality but not too distinctive–we don’t want the sauce to distract from the stromboli.  I like to use a local company’s “meatless sauce”–Del Grosso’s.  It’s usually less than $2 and it beats the crap out of corporate stuff like Ragu or Prego.

When it turns heavenly brown, its good to go. Cut it with a pizza cutter or a sharp serrated knife.
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Reserve some for yourself, and throw the rest at hungry teenagers–we had four of these strange creatures at our house today, two that live here and two that are loaners–none dared eat on the furniture.  Epilogue: it was delicious and the Steelers won, though not without flirting with an epic defensive collapse in the second half.  Whew.  Things are good in Mudville for another week.
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War Poems For National Poetry Month: Bob Dylan, A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall

A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall, by Bob Dylan

Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son?
And where have you been my darling young one?
I’ve stumbled on the side of twelve misty mountains
I’ve walked and I’ve crawled on six crooked highways
I’ve stepped in the middle of seven sad forests
I’ve been out in front of a dozen dead oceans
I’ve been ten thousand miles in the mouth of a graveyard
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, and it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.

Oh, what did you see, my blue eyed son?
And what did you see, my darling young one?
I saw a newborn baby with wild wolves all around it
I saw a highway of diamonds with nobody on it
I saw a black branch with blood that kept drippin’
I saw a room full of men with their hammers a-bleedin’
I saw a white ladder all covered with water
I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken
I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, and it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.

And what did you hear, my blue-eyed son?
And what did you hear, my darling young one?
I heard the sound of a thunder that roared out a warnin’
I heard the roar of a wave that could drown the whole world
I heard one hundred drummers whose hands were a-blazin’
I heard ten thousand whisperin’ and nobody listenin’
I heard one person starve, I heard many people laughin’
Heard the song of a poet who died in the gutter
Heard the sound of a clown who cried in the alley
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
And it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.

Oh, what did you meet my blue-eyed son ?
Who did you meet, my darling young one?
I met a young child beside a dead pony
I met a white man who walked a black dog
I met a young woman whose body was burning
I met a young girl, she gave me a rainbow
I met one man who was wounded in love
I met another man who was wounded in hatred
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
And it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.

And what’ll you do now, my blue-eyed son?
And what’ll you do now my darling young one?
I’m a-goin’ back out ‘fore the rain starts a-fallin’
I’ll walk to the depths of the deepest black forest
Where the people are a many and their hands are all empty
Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters
Where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison
And the executioner’s face is always well hidden
Where hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten
Where black is the color, where none is the number
And I’ll tell and speak it and think it and breathe it
And reflect from the mountain so all souls can see it
And I’ll stand on the ocean until I start sinkin’
But I’ll know my song well before I start singing
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, and it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.

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12 Days of Halloween 2: Vampire, Grim Reaper & Rogue

One from the archive…

12 Days of Halloween