Being a child of spring and of California, I have a predilection for sunshine like poured honey, flowers in burgeoning rainbows beneath scrubbed-blue skies, and berries ripe as promises, heavy with scent, tumbling through my fingers.
But over the years autumn has slowly worked its smoky, dusky spell on me. Surely if I’d visited more places where the leaves actually changed colors I might have come around sooner, but even in a place where Indian summer is expected in a few weeks and we haven’t put our shorts away yet, you can feel autumn creeping in with the breeze.
We had our first rain last week, a real rain and not just a sprinkling of drops from the sky. The clouds above my head as I drove home were massed, weighty, and dove-grey. As I walked into the apartment I could hear pattering on the roof, that slow percussive beat of soft rains where you can still make out individual drops. I stepped out on our balcony to feel the cool mist on my face, smell the newly earthy air, and watch a city softly muted to a murmur under a shimmering silver curtain.
A few nights later, I walked to my car in the early reaches of morning, that queer in-between pause inhabited by late-night denizens straggling home and insomniacs waiting for sunrise, and stopped to watch the full, round moon, glowing yellow and straddling the top of the hill, regarding me silently with the mysterious gaze of autumn’s eye.
And yet a few days later, we drove through the dense, wooded Santa Cruz mountains on a gorgeous windswept day in search of a winery secreted in the forest like Hansel and Gretel’s gingerbread house. Navigating twisting roads through towering groves of redwoods, sunlight barely penetrating the canopy, we felt deep in the heart of an autumn that had never left. In the cool, dark reaches beneath the trees, we were not surprised to see deer wander out in front of us, or a little cottage of a tasting room materialize around a bend of road, like something out of myth.
Autumn is slowly making her presence felt, she of dusty twilight, crimson sunsets, fallen leaves floating in slate-grey puddles, air scented with smoke and chestnuts, nights of cider and down comforters, the quiet winding down to the ending of the year.
Of course, there are so many things from the kitchen to celebrate autumn: roast turkey, fruit pies, sweet squash, simmering stews – that veritable cornucopia of delights. I chose a relatively simple dessert to welcome autumn, but one I feel sings of cooler weather perfectly. Taken from Emily Luchetti’s A Passion for Ice Cream, a tumble of apples and pears baked to just fork-tender, covered with a crunchy crown of spices and nuts, is accompanied by a quenelle of muscato ice cream. Warm, sweet fruit in its own bubbling juices, laced with cinnamon and almonds – what lovelier way to end to ward off the chill of a nippy evening?
The muscato ice cream is what prompted a visit into the woods and the wonderfully eclectic Bonny Doon Winery. Unable to find a suitable Beaumes des Venise as the recipe suggested, I found a more than worthy substitute in Bonny Doon’s honey-sweet Vin de Glacière. Yes, it does translate to "Wine of the Icebox" – they have quite a skewed sense of humor in naming their wines - but there is nothing funny about how quickly this bottle of muscato can disappear when you open it. While not a true eiswein, its gorgeous, potent mix of pineapple, citrus, and peach makes a more than a worthy dessert wine – and a lush partner to the apple-pear crisp in the form of a voluptuous, honeyed ice cream.
So with open arms and an oven-warmed kitchen I say hello to crisp apples and pears, hello to butter-hued squash and pumpkins, hello to pies and tarts and cobblers, hello to autumn.