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Locally Yours: Season just one reason for shift in cooking style

By: Carol Arnold
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Fall is a time for change and transition. Although the weather still seems like summer, all the schools are finally back in session and the summer stone fruit orchards have born their last crop for the year. My family is also experiencing transitional changes. Amelia left for UC San Diego last week and Hudson has returned to Santa Cruz. Ed and I find ourselves without children underfoot for the first time in 20 years. I cried all weekend after we returned from dropping Amelia off, but somehow it doesn’t seem right to be so sad about such a wonderful circumstance. I guess I am in a bit of a state of shock. No one returned from tennis practice last night starving and wondering when dinner would be ready. There is still milk in the refrigerator. It was dinnertime but I was unsure how to proceed. I panicked initially at the thought of just cooking for Ed and me. I don’t know why I reacted the way I did, it’s not like both kids were home every night to eat with us, I guess it was the demarcation of change. When I looked in the cupboards I realized I needed to ratchet back quantities again, figure out how to shop for two, and be mindful about not having too many leftovers. I was feeling sad about the empty nest and cooking is a release for me but my main audience is off at school. So, what to do? The first night we simply didn’t eat much. The next night I made popcorn. Hmmm. This wasn’t going to work. Last night I made couscous with ground lamb and vegetables. Tonight we will have a lovely main dish salad. It has been a long time since I just cooked for two but I can see that I will be much better at it this time around. For one thing I have become a better cook. Last night I stepped out of my comfort zone a bit, using different spices and combining ingredients in a new way and there were no kids around to complain that the food was unfamiliar. I am also a better cook now because I am using better ingredients. I have finally learned to let the ingredients speak for themselves. Having excellent farmers’ markets nearby is a great asset. I can buy high-quality ingredients in small quantities. Going to the grocery store as frequently seems a bit pointless. I still will still have to shop for cereal and dairy but can find 90 percent of what we need at the farmers’ market. It will be fun to cook in a more refined way instead of cooking for volume. And, to be truthful, I am exaggerating a bit. It isn’t like I just cooked for my kids. I have always cooked for Ed, and he has always been my most honest critic and strongest supporter. In that way, nothing has changed. There may be two less people sitting at the table, but Ed and I are still here, enjoying each other’s company and looking forward to new adventures together. The recipe this week reflects the changing season. There are wonderful apples available in the market now. Local apples are so sweet and crisp that I refuse to eat anything else. This cake is simple to make, and tastes great. Add a little whipped cream and you will dazzle your audience. I asked Ed if I should try to give the cake away since there were no kids around to polish it off, but he said no, he thought he could manage. In addition to apples, there are Asian pears available at the markets along with some late season plums. Tomatoes and cucumbers are still going strong and now we have added winter squash. Remember, the Auburn Saturday and the Roseville Fountains Tuesday markets are year -round with a large variety of local produce for you to choose from. Good eating doesn’t have to stop with change of the seasons. Carol Arnold is marketing manager for the Foothill Farmers’ Market Association. Reach her at foothillfarmersmarket@gmail.com. __________ Apple Walnut Cake with Maple Whipped Cream For the cake: 2 eggs 1/2 teaspoon salt 3/4 cup sugar 1 cup peeled and chopped tart cooking apples, about one large apple 1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts 1 teaspoon vanilla 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Beat the eggs and salt with a mixer until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in the sugar. Gently stir in the apples and walnuts. Add the vanilla, flour and baking powder. Stir gently until well mixed. Pour into a well-greased baking 9 x 9 baking pan at least two inches deep. Bake for 45 minutes, until sunken and crusty. Serve warm or chilled with whipped cream. For the whipped cream: 1 cup whipping cream 1 tablespoon maple syrup 1 teaspoon vanilla Beat whipping cream until almost soft peaks form. Add vanilla and maple syrup. Beat cream until stiff.