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Autumn cooking — part 1

It’s been a stockpiling day. It’s also been one of the most intensely autumnal days you can imagine. Seriously, if some really lazy hack movie director wanted a setting that bellowed “AUTUMN” at the viewer, they would have designed a day like today. Cool, breezy, leaves everywhere; frost all over the car this morning and then the clearest blue sky ever. It’s astonishing I get through this kind of day unassisted: I just want to gawp at the sky, the leaves, the patterns of frost on glass. I have only the thinnest strand of self-awareness saving a useful day from becoming a day of staring at stuff. Good weather for nestling indoors and stockpiling, like the mighty squirrel.

Off to the farmers’ markets to stock up on fresh stuff; off to the dry goods shop to stock up on dried stuff; off to the deli to stock up on nearly-past-its-best-by cheeses (Always buy cheese that’s at, or near, or better yet, past, its best-by date! Everyone knows cheese doesn’t really go off!), then swept it all home for a morning of cooking.

Standard autumnal fare

Pumpkins and autumn. ‘Sjust obvious. This baby butternut became many things — and will continue to do so, as there’s still half in the fridge. First it contributed to a big pot of lunchbox filler:

Actual size not possible to capture

Which kind of got out of hand. Couscous, butter beans, pumpkin, roast capsicum, zucchini and shallots, all tumbling happily together on a fairly epic scale — resulted in about ten lunches’ worth. Lucky couscous freezes okay, because we’re going to be living off this for a while. I think of autumn as a girding-up-your-loins season: summer fades and you put down your umbrella drink and put a jumper on, head indoors and knuckle down to work. (In my fantasy, this work is seriously engaging, satisfying stuff — not scrubbing the bathtub work, more following your dreams work. True work: your calling. Whether it’s plumbing, pottery, poetry or programming, true work is the most satisfying, rewarding, soul-glowing thing imaginable.) For the purposes of this vision, you need a ready supply of nourishing goodness waiting for you in the fridge, so that you can grab a lunch without breaking mental stride. So ten lunchboxes full of autumn-lush vegetables tossed with couscous totally matches the overall aesthetic of my vision. Perfect.

Humble beginnings

And every season gets a pie. I like making shortcrust pastry from scratch, but I definitely made too little for this one. Nevermind, the filling holds it together. Shortcrust pastry is a cinch: weigh your flour and then add half its weight in butter, a generous pinch of salt, and crumble the lot together with your hands until it gets all breadcrumb-like. Add enough water to bring it together into a pliable dough.

Quiche with secret pumpkin

After cooking the pie crust, I added some buttery-fried leeks, then layers of pumpkin and cooked spinach (harvested from our garden, since the first frosts are coming and it’s time to get wise), then all brought together with whisked eggs and topped with tomatoes. Quiches are awesome: I love having one in the fridge so that when I’m delirious with hunger-induced indecision at breakfast, I don’t have to think. Protein, veggies, deliciousness — don’t even have to reheat. And this, as you can see, ties in beautifully with the above vision of autumn. Put on a jumper, have a wedge of quiche, start working. Pause to grab your couscous lunch, keep working. Mind foaming and bubbling, fingers moving swiftly and confidently to bring your thoughts to fruition.

That’s how I imagine autumn. Nourished and fulfilling; full of challenging, satisfying work, fuelled by pumpkin, eggs and couscous. (And oats, obviously…)

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