Supernatural Supper

Night slowly descended and glowing orange lights flickered on as the witching hour drew nearer. We donned capes and pointed hats, impractically sloped heels and brittle broom sticks, preparing to take the town by storm. It was Halloween night, better than Christmas Eve in my young mind’s eye, and it was almost time for the show to begin. Untold treasures awaited at every turn, the thrill of the hunt pushing caravans of candy-crazed children deeper into the bowels of the city, seeking a sugar high that comes but once a year. Oversized empty bags at hand, we were ready to cause mayhem.

But then the doorbell rang. It wasn’t an early batch of trick-or-treaters beating us to the chase, but the pizza man. One can’t plunder on an empty stomach, after all.

Equally important to the ritual and tradition, my family always ordered pizza before embarking on the annual Halloween candy crawl. Turns out I wasn’t alone; the busiest night of the year for pizza delivery and takeout is Halloween, beating out even Super Bowl Sunday.

Like ordering Chinese takeout on Christmas Day, I thought it was something quirky and unique to my family, but it turns out everyone else was hip to the trend all along. Of course, these old school pies were nothing special; just your average cheese and/or pepperoni options. Maybe it would have been more remarkable if there was a more thematic meal to suit the moonlit masquerade ahead.

Something with a mysterious, mischievous black crust, dark as night, perfumed with a hint of smoke enhanced by a lightly charred surface. Thin, crisp, yet structurally sound, it has no trouble bearing the weight of abundant autumnal toppings. Classic red sauce can take the night off when pumpkin steps up to the plate. Spread richly over the surface, that creamy, garlicky sauce combines the natural sweetness of everyone’s favorite orange squash with the savory flavors of nutritional yeast. Tender sweet potato slices seal the deal, contrasted with sharp red onion slivers and a touch of hot red pepper flakes for a devilish finish.

Before you send your little ghouls and goblins off to collect their sugary plunder, don’t forget to fill them up with something a bit more satiating. The witching hour will come to pass in the blink of an eye, but the memories of the time leading up to it will last a lifetime.

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Shell Shock

Everyone in my family is a fidgeter, a picker, or a combination of the two. We simply can’t sit quietly, motionlessly, and we certainly can’t keep our hands still. As if possessed, they move with minds of their own, searching and groping into empty space for something to latch on to, work through, touch and feel.

If not for knitting, I would have long ago torn my nail beds to utter ruin, all without realizing precisely what those devious hands were doing. I’ve noticed that my mom often tries to redirect that energy into more positive channels as well, typically working knots out of yarn or twisted lengths of jewelry, impossibly tangled by yours truly. My sister’s gift, however came as a complete surprise. It turns out, she’s a gifted and endlessly enthusiastic sheller.

Failing to locate shelled pistachios for a recipe in need, I resigned myself to a frustrating night of cracking open about a million half-smiling green nuts, their tiny smirks mocking me from the safety of their hard cocoons. Somehow detecting the need for help, my sister was there in an instant, popping them out left and right, until only a pile of clean, perfect pistachios remained. Stunned, I could only stare at the heaping bowl of nuts, dumbstruck. This girl hates nuts, had never willingly or knowingly eaten a nut of any variety, and yet relished this horribly monotonous duty to free them from their shells.

Of course, this discovery came years ago, when we all lived together under one roof. Now separated by hundreds of miles, I can’t help but think of this moment wistfully as a new heap of nuts sits before me, cocooned in their impenetrable cloaks.

In the times of quarantine, though, it’s not the worst way to pass the endless hours. Any project that ends with a delicious result is a worthwhile investment in time.

Most cream of [fill-in-the-blank] soups are good only as ingredients, possessing little redeeming culinary value alone, but this pale green pottage was designed specifically to fly solo. Lush toasted pistachios are blended to both flavor and enrich the silken brew, dazzling with simplicity and subtlety. Glorious spring greens enhance the color, of course, while adding a light, peppery bite. Fennel, typically a bit player, is essential for this unique concert of seasonal flavors, not to be overpowered by the standard array of aromatics.

If you don’t start with shelled pistachios, it will definitely take a minute to prepare, to which I say: All the more better. Consider it an act of productive meditation. Don’t rush the process, but embrace it instead.

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Nuevo Gazpacho

Chill out. Watermelon might sound like an unconventional base for the classically tomato-red gazpacho, but it’s nothing to lose your cool over. Given a surplus of the highly perishable fruit and an oppressive heatwave to contend with, this sweet and savory mashup was inevitable.

As preferences quickly skew toward the fast, easy, and refreshing dishes, I can think of no better recipe to fit the bill. Gazpacho, no matter the color nor contents, must always be on hand for days like this, waiting in a properly chilled pitcher for instant access.

Balancing fruit and vegetables in elegant sufficiency, with a subtle bite of vinegar and fresh, verdant pop of basil, it’s an invigorating study in contrasts.

Don’t let the juicy inclusion scare you off. I promise, it’s not a vegetable-forward smoothie… Although it’s so good that you’ll still want to drink it straight from the blender.

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Light Whites for Spring Delights

Fearlessly springing forward, onward to brighter days and warmer weather, it’s time to emerge from hibernation at last. Blossoming alongside the flowers, as tender green buds unfurl their fragrant sails into the wind, is the urge to raise a glass in celebration. The crisp, clean, refreshing flavors of white wine are exactly what the season calls for.

Explore the world of nuanced, diverse white wines right at home through the carefully curated selection from Wine Access. Unique, rare, yet surprisingly affordable bottles perfect for the season can be unlocked with the turn of a corkscrew. Whites are my first pick when opting for a sophisticated sip, but I still don’t know the first thing about selecting the best bottle. That’s why this kind of rigorous vetting is invaluable; it’s impossible to pick a dud from this exclusive roster.

What makes a great white wine at this time of year? For food pairings, it should play nicely with delicate green vegetables, mild proteins, and sweet citrus, while still offering some substance and body. It should be cool, but not cold, for those evenings when there is still a bit of a nip in the air.

Starting the party with a bang, a velvety curtain of fine bubbles lifts with the first sip of this NV Langlois-Chateau Cremant de Loire Brut Loire Valley. Crafted like a fine champagne, it unfolds in layers, leading with acidity reminiscent of grapefruit that morphs into notes of tart green apple, finishing with a crisp, mineral bite. Pair with an elegant starter like creamy asparagus and coconut soup to best compliment these bold bubbles. It helps to cut the richness, while harmonizing with the bright citrus notes and subtle vegetal sweetness.

Herbaceous notes of tarragon and the tropical twang of kiwi and pineapple set the 2018 Kinfolk Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley apart from the pack. Pleasantly grassy, yet slightly floral with a hint of jasmine, it’s unlike any other white I’ve encountered. Lingering long after each taste, the surprisingly assertive flavor can stand up to stronger dishes, like the funky blue cheese on a classic wedge salad.

When you want a juicy, luscious white wine that’s as sumptuous in the glass as it is on the plate, look no further than the 2018 Tinpot Hut Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough New Zealand. Dazzlingly acidic with a sharp nose combining lemons, lychees, and limes, it’s strong enough to take the heat in the kitchen. Fiddlehead scampi positively sings with this vibrant, fruit-forward infusion. Naturally, those fickle ferns can be a bit tough to find early in the season, so I’m happy to report that it’s just as delicious with your garden variety zucchini, too. Fava beans or artichoke hearts would be equally delicious substitutions, verdant and elegant, ideal for tangling around al dente strands of pasta.

Just like the season itself, this is just the beginning. Wine Access has so much more to offer for every occasion, even if it’s just an evening at home. Revel in the warmer weather and raise a glass to the bounty of spring produce making a triumphant return on the table. For a limited time, you can get 15% off your purchase by exploring this collection, and shipping is included for all orders over $120 or 6 bottles or more. Leap into spring to greet the sunshine with only the best white wines at hand.

This blog post is sponsored by Wine Access but as always, the opinions and experiences expressed in this post are my own.

Pumpkin Spice and Everything Nice

One week into autumn, and I already feel like I’ve overdosed on pumpkin spice lattes. Granted, my tolerance for the intensely sweet, largely over-hyped drink is far lower than the average enthusiast, but it doesn’t help that it’s already been perking up coffee shop menus while summer was still in full swing. Is it just me, or has the #PSL craze died down a bit this time around? Fewer rants, fewer raves; love it or hate it, I fear we may have collectively reached peak pumpkin spice.

I tease about the fervor every year, but I do still enjoy a strong cuppa myself. The trouble comes when it transforms into other foods and products that should never bear the orange hue. Please, just keep it out of my lip balm, cough drops, and… pet shampoo, at least! Is that really so much to ask?

Still, the overall attraction is undeniable. It’s hard to beat the comfortingly familiar, creamy espresso eye-opener adored worldwide to begin with. Add in an extra dose of sweetness, a touch of nostalgic spice, and the health halo associated with pumpkin itself, to say nothing of the beautiful latte art possibilities, and you’ve got yourself a viral social media hit. When the hype starts to wear a bit thin, though, I have a small tweak that will revive your enthusiasm over the usual brew.

Chai spice, bearing a brighter, bolder palate emphasizing ginger, cardamom, and a pinch of black pepper, makes a strong argument for skipping the one-note cinnamon seasoning typically on standard order. While the most popular (and some would argue original) purveyor of pumpkin spice lattes doesn’t even offer a dairy free option, it’s effortless to whip up a big batch of this spicy pumpkin sauce to flavor not only coffee, but drizzle over ice cream, swirl into cheesecake, and dip into with crisp apples all season long.

Happily, you’ll have plenty to play with, as this recipe does make a big batch indeed. Halve quantities if you must, but once you take your first sweet, invigorating sip, you’ll end up just going back in the kitchen to make more later.

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Fall Back Plan

Wet leaves slap the windshield, leaving teardrops in their wake, smearing across the glass before spreading their wings and fluttering away. Driving through a light autumnal drizzle is strikingly more depressing than a gentle summer rain. Fog obscures the road, blurring signs and stoplights into hazy, shapeless colors. I feel like my whole head is full of damp cotton balls by the time I finally shift gears to park.

Fall is not my favorite season, but by no fault of its own. Signaling the end of summer, it’s merely the messenger, doomed to be shot every year. I shiver as I watch temperatures slowly fall, regardless of how warm it really feels. I storm angrily through piles of leaves, even if there’s only one small mound pushed together on an entire block. The truth is, there’s still a lot to love about fall, and almost all of if it is food.

Do you welcome the arrival of the autumnal equinox with open arms, or reluctant acceptance? One thing we can all appreciate is a return of cozy comfort foods with all their warming spices, hearty starches, and nostalgic aromas. There’s a handful of recipes that always set me in the right mood and remind me, in spite of my irrepressible pessimism: Hey, it turns out that autumn isn’t all bad.

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