There comes a day each September when you wake up and know the summer is over and fall has arrived*
Crape Myrtle pruning from the Doc's tree up the alley
Greetings to All - does September fill you with hope? Or distress that summer is over? I feel both, summer ending, but the hope rings in as an opportunity to get back to school, to organize, to focus and to write and read. I recall the smell and feel of new Peechees - [Goodness, they're available on Amazon in 5-packs but not in the peach color I remember.] And it's Library Card Sign-up Month! I have registered for two classes, one on humor writing from Elyssa Bassist, author of Hysterical, and one on creating a book proposal to seduce an agent with my memoir. Both on Zoom. I am so very comfortable with Zoom classes and don't really care if I go back to the classroom. Hibernation has become a fixed state, I fear, though I miss meeting fellow writers.
Humor homework is promising: we are to watch comic TV (below) among other tasks such as to read a bit from a craft book daily - I chuckled through Richard Hugo's war in Italy recollections in Triggering Town and his poetry -- and scour the files for unfinished projects to work on. The shows are: https://www.hbo.com/how-to-with-john-wilson and Mo https://www.netflix.com/title/81134264
Michael is making a run to the dump which is a phrase that thrills me as he's so much better. He was struck down by a mysterious bacterial infection and spent a month (July-August) hospitalized. He's well on the recovery path now. And Leo the Labradoodle creaks along at fourteen, ever enthusiastic if arthritic.
A wealth of new books are coming out this fall, titles from Michael Cunningham, Zadie Smith, Lauren Groff, Lydia Davis, Ann Patchett, Bryan Washington, Teju Cole, Jesmyn Ward, Lydia Millet to add to the stacks by my bed and chair (I'm loving The Librarianist - go figure, but Tom Lake was not my favorite Ann Patchett for want of edginess--everyone was so nice).
What are we cooking other than all the time, it seems, as my cook & bottle washer recovers? One night it was Michael's of Brooklyn https://www.michaelsofbrooklyn.com/ tomato sauce with shrimp and pasta. Monday my mom's potato salad and Ezell's fried chicken. Last night we dined on our friend Gregg's heavenly pastitsio (Greek lasagna) and green salad. Here is a recipe similar to the labor-intensive one he served us, worth every effort but spread out prep over a couple of days:
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 large red onions, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 lb. ground beef
2 bay leaves
3 Tbsp. double-concentrated tomato paste
2 tsp. Diamond Crystal or 1¼ tsp. Morton kosher salt, plus more
¾ tsp. ground cumin
¾ (or less) tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. ground cloves
Freshly ground black pepper
¾ cup red wine
1 28-oz. can crushed tomatoes
2 cups low-sodium beef broth
BÉCHAMEL AND ASSEMBLY
1 lb. pastitsio noodles (such as Loi macaroni) or 12 oz. bucatini
2 large eggs, room temperature
5 Tbsp. unsalted butter
5 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
3 cups milk, room temperature
7 oz. kasseri or Romano cheese, finely grated, divided
Freshly ground black pepper
Heat 2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil in a large Dutch oven or other heavy pot over medium-high. Cook 2 finely chopped large red onions, 4 thinly sliced garlic cloves, and 2 lb. ground beef, breaking up meat with a wooden spoon and stirring occasionally, until onions are softened and beef is browned, 10–15 minutes.
Add 2 bay leaves, 3 Tbsp. double-concentrated tomato paste, 2 tsp. Diamond Crystal or 1¼ tsp. Morton kosher salt, ¾ tsp. ground cumin, ¾ tsp. ground cinnamon, and ¼ tsp. ground cloves to pot; season with freshly ground black pepper. Cook, stirring often, until tomato paste and spices are evenly distributed, about 4 minutes. Add ¾ cup red wine, scraping up any browned bits, and cook, stirring occasionally, until almost completely evaporated, about 3 minutes. Add one 28-oz. can crushed tomatoes and 2 cups low-sodium beef broth and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until sauce is thick and meaty (most of the liquid should have cooked off), 45–60 minutes. Taste and season with salt. Let cool until almost room temperature, about 30 minutes.
Do ahead: Sauce can be made 3 days ahead. Transfer to an airtight container; cover and chill. Reheat slightly (it will heat through when baked), adding a little broth or water to loosen just enough to make it spreadable.
BÉCHAMEL AND ASSEMBLY
Preheat oven to 350°. Cook 1 lb. pastitsio noodles or 12 oz. bucatini in a large pot of boiling salted water until very al dente, about 2 minutes less than package directions. Drain and rinse under cold running water to cool. Transfer to a 13x9" baking dish.
Working one at a time, separate yolks from 2 room-temperature large eggs over a small bowl to catch egg whites. Place yolks in another small bowl; set aside. Beat egg whites to blend well. Add egg whites to noodles and toss to coat (this will help the noodles form a sliceable layer in the final dish). Arrange noodles in straight lines, all facing the same direction, as best you can.
Melt 5 Tbsp. unsalted butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add 5 Tbsp. all-purpose flour and whisk until flour is combined and mixture is light and frothy, about 3 minutes. Add 3 cups room-temperature milk in a slow, steady stream, whisking constantly to combine. Cook, whisking constantly, until thick enough to coat a spoon, 6–8 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in 5 oz. finely grated kasseri or Romano cheese. Taste and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper (be sure to taste after whisking in the cheese; depending on the kind of cheese you use, you may not need to add any salt). Beat reserved egg yolks to blend, then whisk into béchamel.
Spoon meat sauce over noodles in baking dish, then top with béchamel, smoothing into an even layer. Sprinkle remaining 2 oz. finely grated kasseri or Romano cheese on top. Bake pastitsio until starting to brown around the edges and top is set (it will still be a little jiggly, but will continue to firm up as it cools), 35–40 minutes.
Heat broiler. Broil until top of pastitsio is browned in spots, about 4 minutes. Let sit at least 30 minutes before slicing.
Do ahead: Pastitsio can be assembled 1 day ahead. Cover and chill. We recommend making it a day ahead so you can relax with your guests.
So do I!
Are you a fall season fan? How does it make you feel?