We’re continuing our 2011 tradition of Weather Of The Weird, here. The tornado, the drought, the deluge, the hurricane, the other deluge…you’d think I’d be inured to Meteorological Extremes after living in Texas for so long. Shoot, I thought I was! Last week was a real doozy, though. It started with Biblical Rain – the kind that makes you think an Ark might have been a good idea, not the kind that showers the earth with locusts, frogs, or blood. Then it moved on to humid, grey, and warm as the dickens. Then the clouds cleared out and the temperature plunged, causing the NWS to issue freeze warnings and causing me to hurriedly harvest all of my tomatoes and basil and to spend the evening making pesto. That stayed for 2 days, and today, it was 83. Tomorrow, it is supposed to be 85.
I have two thoughts on this: 1) At least it isn’t raining, for pete’s sake. and 2) What the fuck?
Pesto wasn’t the only thing I had going on Wednesday. I spent some quality time trotting Huey the Wonder Horse around in the ring in the morning…avoiding the many, many, many puddles was every bit as good as agility training, so I didn’t spend a heck of a lot of time in the saddle. It was the first time I’d ridden him since he become Officially Mine late on Monday morning (which was overcast and very expensive, thanks to, oh, buying a whole horse, paying his board, buying a saddle and every thing that goes along with that). It was the most money I’d spent in a single hour since we bought the house several years ago. At this point, I have everything in hand except for the saddle…and I’m hoping that arrives next week. I’m so ready to ride this guy in a rig that fits both of us!
Anyway, my trainer mentioned the impending freeze to me – not news, as I’d already spent an hour in the garden pulling things in – but then I stopped to consider this. My trainer isn’t one to make a bunch of random conversation, so there must have been a Point to this. After a frighteningly long period, say five minutes or so, the penny finally dropped. We were going from Stupid Warm to Crazy Cold in a very short period of time. I’m not sure how long it takes a horse to get a winter coat, but I am betting that it takes more than a day. My glance fell on Huey’s brand-new bright blue raincoat (it looks great on that big red horse!) and a vision swam up from the depths of memory…a bigger, heavier, more impressive, and probably quite a bit warmer coat…sitting…on my three-season porch.
“Aha!” I said. “Do you think that I should bring in Huey’s heavy jacket?”
Sometimes, I feel just like Einstein.
By the time my faculty meeting (mercifully short, given the list of other tasks on tap) ended, the wind was starting to howl around the building. I flew home, changed into clothes I didn’t care about, and brought the blanket over to the barn. It was all closed up – the first time I’ve seen it like that – and the horses were happily eating dinner. Huey was the only one still waiting for a blanket. He gave me a big horsey smile when I showed up…and went right back to eating his hay.
It is something of a challenge to put a big winter jacket on a horse under the best of circumstances.
Having the horse dedicated to the single-minded pursuit of inhaling a pile of hay on the ground in a dim stall is not the best of circumstances.
Especially when the jacket in question has a moderately complicated system of hooks and velcro in the front, right where a horse neck bends down when the horse has his head to the ground.
Eventually, I wrestled the thing onto him. I got some help from my trainer (also the barn owner) on adjusting the straps. This jacket had something that his raincoat did not: a Tail Strap.
The Tail Strap attaches one side of the jacket to the other side…right under the tail. I hooked it up and regarded it for a second, and then asked my trainer what kept these straps from getting totally disgusting.
She grinned at me and said “Very little!”
Quite right she was, too…when I came back on Friday I got there early enough to need to take his jacket off in order to get him ready, and the strap was filthy. And I’m saying “filthy” as someone who routinely kicks horse poop onto a rake with my boot. It was naaaassty.
The good news, I guess, is that I am told that these Tail Straps are more important for horses who are young and have a penchant for rolling around and getting their blankets all horked up. Huey is not young and does roll, but not fanatically. The other good news is that the thing was totally detachable. I don’t think we’ll be using that again. Leg strap, yes, tail strap, hell no. Ugh.
So, with all this, how is fall falling flat? Well, the tree I made the Shechecheyanu over for turning colors is still the only one that has done so. At this time of the year, it ought to be huge blurts of absurdly bright color overtaking the green in the landscape. In another week, we should be at the peak, when it becomes necessary to protect yourself against the spectacle for fear that driving will be too dangerous. We should be kicking through an absolute palette of paints spilled out onto the sidewalks and lawns. My home-away-from-home has an international reputation for sensational beauty that is (usually) entirely justified.
This year, it is AWOL. Everything is still green, except where it’s getting dingy brown. October in New England is looking a lot like October in Houston. The pundits are promising us that the star of the show is just running a little late, but will be here shortly. I hope so. And, as long as I’m putting in requests, I would appreciate it if we could have a good long stretch of days that are both sunny, and feature season-appropriate temperatures. This yo-yo stuff is the pits.
In any event, I managed (also, in this last week) to make it to the Farm Stand to buy up a season’s worth of winter squash. Pumpkins, buttercups, acorns, butternuts, delicatas, and carnivals. We’re all stocked up and ready to roll through December with any number of bright orange anti-oxidant-laden squash soups, stir-fries, pies, breads, and pastas. Yum.
Oh, boy, is this soup insanely good. It’s a great one for this time of year, when the apples and squash are at their peak! It freezes very well (do not add the cider cream before freezing) too.
5 tablespoons butter
2 1/2 pounds butternut squash
2 cups chopped leeks (white and pale green parts only)
1/2 cup chopped peeled carrots
1/2 cup chopped celery
2 small Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon crumbled dried sage leaves
5 cups chicken stock or low-salt chicken broth (can use veggie broth but will need to make cider cream stronger and add salt)
¼ t nutmeg
1/8 t cayenne
1 T fresh ginger
1/3 C maple syrup
1 1/2 cups apple cider
2/3 cup sour cream
1/2 cup whipping cream
Chopped fresh chives
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil. Cut squash in half, scoop out seeds and discard, wipe cut edges with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place cut side down in baking sheet and roast for 45 minutes or until done. Peel roasted squash and cut into cubes, or use a melon scooper to remove squash from skin.
Melt butter in stock pot over medium-high heat. Add leeks, carrot and celery; sauté until slightly softened, about 15 minutes. Mix in apples, thyme and sage. Add roasted squash, stock, spices, syrup, and 1 cup cider and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer until apples are tender, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes. Cool slightly.
Working in batches, purée soup in blender. Return soup to pan. Boil remaining 1/2 cup cider in heavy small saucepan until reduced to 1/4 cup. (If you have used veggie stock, you will need to start with 1 cup of cider and reduce to ¼ cup.) Cool. Place sour cream in small bowl and whisk in cider reduction.
Bring soup to simmer. Mix in whipping cream. Ladle soup into bowls. Drizzle with cider cream.