I’m sitting on the back patio wrapped in a flannel shirt.  Drinking a hot cup of coffee.  Eating a Cranberry, White Chocolate scone that just came out of the oven.  I could sit here all day.  I love the fall.  Have I said that before?  One of the exciting things about the fall is the realization that it’s time to turn on the oven and start baking again.  The heat of the summer forces you away from the oven;  the cooler temperatures of the fall pull you back.  In the past two weeks I’ve made a loaf of banana bread, a batch of zucchini muffins, a loaf of zucchini bread, and cranberry, white chocolate scones.  Not a bad start to the season, huh?  I anticipate the season to be filled with fruit tarts, sweet breads, pumpkin bread pudding, peach cobblers, apple crumb desserts, more zucchini breads, more banana breads, more scones (maple-walnut mmmm), and who knows what else my taste buds might force upon me.  I’m sure most of the baking will be done on Saturday mornings, because who could resist starting the weekend off with a thick slice of apple-walnut bread still warm from the oven?  Not me.  And not Lauren.

I often get asked where I get my love for being in the kitchen, cooking and baking, and I usually respond by saying, “I don’t really know, I just really like to eat.”  That’s about as truthful answer as I can offer.  I’m not sure where it came from, but I love the creativity that can be found in the kitchen.  I think that I find myself most creative when I’m thinking about Grilled Chicken with strawberries and a balsamic glaze or Blackberry and Rosemary scones or Ginger and Clove cookies.  I love to cook for other people and I love to share food with people.  I see food not as an obligation for life (although it is), rather and opportunity for community.  I want to share a bit of what that looked like last weekend for me, Lauren, and two of our dear friends.

Lauren is getting used to my coming up with “out of left field” ideas, and so I’m sure it was no real shock when I announced to her “I think I’m going to try to make cheese.”  I don’t fully remember her response, but I’m sure she rolled her eyes, shook her head, let out a slight grin and said “Of course you do.”  I started to wander around the web to find out some information about it and learned that Ricotta cheese is the easiest cheese to make because you can make it with two ingredients commonly found at the store: whole milk and buttermilk.  I didn’t really have a plan for when I would make the cheese, so for a few days the idea of becoming a cheese maker sat in the back of my mind.

Two weeks ago we made plans with Cuyler and Shannon for them to come up and stay at our place for the weekend.  Cuyler and Shannon are a hoot and I’m very glad to call them my friends.  They were a part of the house church I led and I even had the honor of preforming their wedding ceremony.    When we started making plans to get together I knew that the cheese making hour was near.  Suddenly plans in my head were coming together.  “We could make Ricotta cheese, and make ravioli to fill with the cheese, and make some pasta sauce from tomatoes and veggies from the garden, and we could saute a bunch of vegetables together for a side dish, and we could make bread, and…um…oh yeah, caramelized shallots.”  I knew that they would be up for a evening of “Slow Food,” and when I asked them if they like that idea, they were more excited than I anticipated.  I told Cuyler, “Shannon and I can make the cheese, and you and Lauren can sit around a make fun of us.”  He was up for that.

They came over on Saturday afternoon and after a short catching up session we were making a plan for the cooking.  The bread and the ravioli dough would need some time to rise.  The pasta sauce could sit cooking all day.  The cheese could be made then popped into the fridge until we needed it.  And the side dishes would take about 20 minutes each.  We started by making the pasta sauce and let it simmer on the stove for a few hours.  It was filled with tomatoes, peppers, onions, oregano and chives from the garden.  Then we started on the Rosemary and Sea Salt Focaccia bread.  Cuyler went to work kneading the dough for 10 minutes.  He was a real trooper.  Once that was ready to rise Shannon started the dough for the ravioli.  The ravioli dough needed rest for an hour, so while that was doing its things we moved on to the Main Event: Cheese making.  Lauren went to work on the cheese.  Bring a gallon of whole milk and 4 qts of buttermilk to 170 degrees while stirring, then ladle out the curd that has separated from the whey.  Put the curd in a cheese cloth to drain add a little salt, and it’s ready to go.  Homemade cheese in under 20 minutes!  Once the ravioli dough was ready we rolled it out into a big circle, filled one half with some ricotta and seasonings, folded the dough over and cut it into bite sized pieces.  For the veggies, I just cut a bunch of squash and zucchini up and threw them into a skillet with some red wine and shallots and let that simmer for 20 minutes.  The shallots were caramelized in butter then baked in the oven until they got nice and soft.

Shannon made a flourless chocolate cake for dessert!  We ate like royalty that night.  Everything made from scratch.  Everyone cooking.  It was beautiful.  I love to be in the kitchen with people, so if this inspires you to get in the kitchen but you’re still a bit overwhelmed by the whole process I’d be glad to help.

Happy fall.