Fall traditions honor ancestors with food and wine

Teac Mor Vineyards 2021 Cuvée Joanne Rosé

We call the season of autumn “fall” in the United States. It is the falling of the leaves from the trees that earned the transitional season this fittingly literal name. The act of trees losing their leaves makes the season one of loss within nature.

As I walk along the trail by my house, I find myself marveling at how nature makes use of its losses. The leaves falling now will become part of the soil and bring the new growth of spring. Unharvested produce, heavy in ripeness, will fall to the ground and reseed. Squirrels and birds busy themselves storing away falling nuts and seeds to feed themselves through winter.

As it turns out, we humans often use the months between summer and winter as a time to mark loss, too. Cultural holidays and beliefs around grief often have connections to autumn. In Chinese medicine, fall is seen as a season of grief. Religious celebrations from a spectrum of faiths provide opportunities for honoring and remembering lost ones. Obon, Dia de los Muertos and All Souls Day are all holidays focused on recalling our departed ancestors and friends.

The traditions of these celebrations vary, but they have in common the view that grief shouldn’t be something we try to leave behind. Rather, we carry grief with us and often watch it evolve throughout our lives. Our losses can nestle down inside of us. They can be a critical aspect of each day we live and of our futures. My grief can at times bring joy to my day as I feel my departed family and friends alive within the life I’m living and food I’m enjoying.

I find food a powerful way to feel nurtured by those whom I’ve lost. Recipes can lovingly tether my present to my past and allow me to share aspects of lost ones with new friends and family.

I’m a big fan of serving pastas and pizzas in fall. Both serve as fabulous canvases for the season’s produce. And both can be paired with my two favorite fall winesPinot Noir and rosé.

Pinot Noir is a true food- and wine-pairing hero. Pairing equally well with vegetable dishes, such as mushroom ragu over polenta, as it does with braised or roasted meats, the red and often baking-spiced fragrant wine is always welcome at my fall table.

While we often think of rosé as a summertime drink, dry versions of the wine are perfect paired with the many flavors of fall, including the vast array of ingredients represented at the Thanksgiving table.

Fall is also a season of truly exciting produce. Glorious squashes, nutty cauliflower, sweet raspberries and earthy Brussels sprouts are all at their freshest this time of year. Having a community-supported agriculture or in-season produce delivery subscription makes sourcing the best ingredients easier.

Of the many options out there, I’m a fan of Jeannie Girl. What sets Jeannie’s business apart is her focus on the power of food to heal and sustain good health. She gives personal attention to each weekly box. She works directly with farmers, following the growing season of her products and sourcing from farms up and down California. I’ve been introduced to several new-to-me fruits and vegetables, including the kabocha squash that stars in my carbonara recipe below.

Kabocha Squash Carbonara

My mom, a fabulous home cook, made the most incredible pasta carbonara. My version pays homage to hers with plenty of autumnal flair. I’m certain she’d love it, though she might suggest I add a bit more black pepper. This pasta dish is full of salty, sweet, tangy and fresh flavors that are made all the more glorious with a glass of Pinot Noir from Sonoma County.

• 1- to 2-pound kabocha squash, peeled and seeded

• 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

• 1/8 teaspoon paprika

• 3-4 whole sage leaves

• 5 slices thick-cut Canadian or Irish bacon

• 1 small yellow onion, diced

• 2 egg yolks

• 2 tablespoons fresh sage, chopped

• 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

• Salt and pepper to taste

• 1 pound whole-wheat spaghetti (1 cup pasta cooking water reserved for sauce)

Preheat oven to 425 F.

Cut kabocha squash into 1/2-inch cubes. Place cut squash on parchment-paper-lined baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil, then sprinkle with nutmeg, paprika, salt and pepper, and scatter a few sage leaves atop.

Place in oven and roast 25 minutes or until squash is tender and slightly browned. Remove from oven and set aside (this step can be done the day before).

Boil large pot of water.

In large skillet, brown bacon, then remove bacon and set aside. Drain fat from pan. Return pan to burner and add 1 tablespoon olive oil to pan. Add chopped onion and sauté 5-7 minutes or until slightly translucent. Add chopped sage and cooked squash and sauté briefly.

Cook spaghetti according to package directions.

While pasta is cooking, return bacon to pan and ladle 1 cup pasta cooking water over bacon. Remove pan from heat. Drain pasta and add to pan. Add egg yolks and toss to incorporate fully. Add cheese, herbs, salt, pepper.

Serve immediately.

Margherita Pizza

Pizza was a signature dish of my mom’s. Many childhood friends make her dough and re-create her pizzas at their homes. This fact fills me with gratitude. At my house, we top her dough with margherita pizza ingredients and pair it with a glass of rosé.

This year, the meal is all the more reminiscent of my mom because of the particular rosé we enjoy it with. The 2021 Teac Mor Cuvée Joanne Rosé of Pinot Noir ($22) is a wine my family has produced in remembrance of our mom, Joanne. Fresh and vibrant, with delicate floral aromas, lychee on the palate and exhilarating minerality, it is utterly fabulous with the pizza. Made better still if enjoyed while watching her team, the 49ers.

• 1 12-inch round pizza dough, store-bought or homemade

• 1 tablespoon olive oil

• 1/4 cup favorite pizza sauce

• 3 ounces fresh mozzarella

• 6 basil leaves, roughly torn

• Red pepper flakes to taste

Preheat oven to 500 F (or as hot as your oven will go).

Roll out dough, place on pizza pan and brush with olive oil. Spoon sauce across dough. Scatter on cheese and torn basil.

Cook 10-12 minutes, keeping an eye on pizza to determine doneness. Remove from oven. Let rest 5 minutes before slicing. Serve with red pepper flakes if desired.

(written for the Los Altos Town Crier)


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