“Even if something is left undone, everyone must take time to sit still and watch the leaves turn” ~ Elizabeth Lawrence
(This post may contain affiliate links)
It's been a season of stunningly beautiful weather in Iowa.
The time of year when the days feel particularly precious, because we know the rhythm of the seasons all too well. There won't be many more weeks like this one. Pretty soon the landscape will be entirely different: white and frozen, dotted with snowmen
As I type, I'm sitting at a picnic table at the park eating my lunch, Sally at my feet chewing her stick. Recovering after being spayed and a huge bump on her head; we've purposed a few days of quiet. It feels peaceful to be in this spot, bathed in molten sunlight, with bright yellow leaves drifting down from the maple trees. Even the ground seems to glow and burn with light.
For as long as I can remember, October has been my favorite month.
How I loved coming to this very park as a young mom, pushing two little ones through the leaves in their stroller. As they grew older the days of fall were filled with pumpkins to carve, Halloween costumes to make, and trick-or-treating until the last porch light had gone dark
Back then we lived beneath the shade of a maple tree, and there were so many leaves to play in
Admittedly, I've felt weary this week; and just like my old neighborhood, this park always been a place of refuge for me: a place to be still, and re-find my center.
I've been thinking a lot about parenting as of late. Autumn was always a good time to be a mother, and it's during this time of year that I find myself missing my now-grown children as they once were.
How I would love to relive our old apple-picking and pumpkin choosing traditions. Truth be told, those years gave me permission to be a kid again myself; to spend hours stirring pots of applesauce on the stovetop, gathering walnuts, and pressing perfect red leaves between sheets of wax paper tucked into our fattest books.
Those days are but a memory now. Instead, I remind myself that the task at hand is to lean as deeply as I'm able into the place I am today. A chapter where it seems the past and present are layered together; the sum of so many yesterdays making the present
that much better
In the evenings, smoke from our neighbor's fire pit brings back memories of gathering around our own backyard blazes. Just as seeing tractors and combines in the fields brings me even further back in time, to Octobers as a child on our family farm.
I wonder, perhaps, if all autumn memories tend to be bittersweet? Reminders that change is our only constant, and nothing lasts. That even the promises of unconditional love are subject to withdrawal, at a moment's notice. In today's world, with a simple click of a mouse
“To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under heaven” ~ The Byrds
Here, in the middle of my forties, these words have taken on a deeper kind of truth. There's no holding onto the things of the past, no grasping for that which has already slipped away, along with summer's long warm days.
“There's only here
There's only now” ~ Van Morrison
I'm always a bit greedy when it comes to fall.
Just one more trip to the farmer's market, a final bag of tomatoes, picking the last of the produce from the garden. Visits with my grandchildren. A full harvest moon hanging in the sky. A house filled with summer's final flowers
Most of all, long golden walks with my husband and the puppies at the park.
I'm so thankful to have gotten my wish
Tater Tot Hot Dishes
They were one of my favorite things to eat as a kid. Over the years they've maintained a soft spot in my heart.
To page through an Iowa country church cookbook, and you'll find a few different versions of this quintessential comfort food. It's a staple at church basement potlucks. Many would argue that one isn't a Midwesterner until you're able to properly apply a layer of tater tots to a 9×13 casserole dish of creamed soup.
A typical tater tot hot dish is made of ground beef and cream of something soup, along with peas or green beans under a bed of store-bought tater tots.
This version adds a healthier twist. Inspired by Cook's Illustrated's recipe for chicken pot pie; it's made with from chicken, béchamel, and veggies.
~ Adapted from Cook's Illustrated
Chicken and Veggie Tater Tot Casserole
- 1 ½ lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs (or breasts)
- 3 cups chicken broth
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 onion, chopped fine
- 3 carrots, peeled and cut crosswise into ¼ inch-thick slices (frozen work great as well ~ 1 cup)
- 2-3 celery ribs, chopped fine (~ ½- 1 cup)
- fine grain sea salt + freshly ground black pepper
- 10 oz mushrooms, stems trimmed, caps wiped clean and sliced thin
- 1 tsp soy sauce
- 1 tsp tomato paste
- 4 Tbsp butter, unsalted
- ½ cup whole wheat pastry flour (or flour of your choice)
- 1 cup milk (2% or whole are best)
- 1 Tbsp lemon juice
- 1 ½ Tbsp fresh thyme leaves (or 1 tsp dried thyme)
- 3 Tbsp fresh parsley leaves, chopped (or 1 ½ Tbsp dried parsley)
- 1 cup frozen baby peas
- frozen tater tots
- In a dutch oven over medium heat, add the chicken and stock.
- Bring to a boil, then lower the heat, and simmer until the chicken is just done (~ 8-12 minutes). Transferred the cooked chicken to a large bowl
- Strain the broth, reserving the liquid (Don't wash the Dutch oven, we'll use it again soon)
- Meanwhile, adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 400° F
- In the now-empty Dutch oven, warm 1 Tbsp oil over medium heat
- Add the onion, celery, a strong pinch of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until just tender (~ 5-7 minutes)
- While the veggies are cooking, chop the chicken into bite-sized pieces
- Transfer the cooked vegetables to bowl with chicken; set aside.
- In the now-empty Dutch oven, warm 1 Tbsp oil over medium heat
- Add the mushrooms, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms have released their juices (~ 5 minutes)
- Add the soy sauce and tomato paste.
- Increase the heat to medium-high and cook, stirring frequently, until liquid has evaporated, mushrooms are well browned, and dark fond begins to form on the surface of the pan (~ 5 minutes)
- Transfer mushrooms to the bowl with chicken and vegetables. Set aside.
- In the now-empty Dutch oven over medium heat, warm the butter.
- When the foaming subsides, stir in the flour and cook (~ 1 minute)
- Add the reserved chicken broth and slowly whisk.
- Bring to a simmer, scraping the bottom with a wooden spoon to loosen the browned bits, then continue to simmer until the sauce has fully thickened (~ 1 minute)
- Season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
- Remove from the heat, add the lemon juice, and 2 Tbsp parsley.
- Add to the sauce the chicken/veggie mix, along with the peas
- Finish and Serve
- Pour mixture into 13 by 9-inch baking dish or 4-5 mini cocottes and cover with tater tots.
- Bake on rimmed baking sheet until filling is bubbling and the tots are well browned (~ 15 - 20 minutes)
- Sprinkle with remaining tablespoon parsley and serve