I saw them and, of one mind, hundreds undulated around the steeple in the pale, orange sky. A ballet of starlings. Traffic started and stopped around me, 5 pm on a Friday. I was trying to get to the damn, damn bank but road work and my stellar case of adult ADHD ended me up on the wrong side of the river. And so I saw the starlings crescendo around the steeple at sunset. I turned the radio up. Something about being high all the time or white t-shirts. Something about loss or love or sex or getting drunk, always.
And it’s good. I like that the radio only sings two, maybe three themes. It comforts me. It’s simple. You can only handle so many archetypes on a weekday. Sometimes I try to listen to this band I used to love, A Hawk & Hacksaw. That I still love. But now when I listen, when The Water Under the Moon comes on with its mournful strings, I start feeling feelings and thinking all kinds of thoughts. My head becomes populated by dead Russians and pale figures by fire light. Listening to anything that truly engages me is strolling upon an abyss. Not good for work. Not conducive to productivity.
When I hear Tim McGraw or Iggy Azalea on the radio, my mind goes the most wonderful white. It’s pure nothing, and I admit I love it. It doesn’t matter if they’re singing about dissolution or some apple-tini fueled nihilism or pick up trucks and denim. Country, pop, hip-hop. It never matters, and it’s all the same to me. It’s all love, love, love and the loss of it. On loop. A cultural background noise. And so you see, some of us, we think too much. Some of us would, of course, do well to think more. But I don’t see any point in living in the deeps. I’d very well drown there. So I turn the radio up and let the starlings whorl for nothing other than it’s autumn and metaphors are for the birds. I go home and open the mail. Make soup. For nothing other than it’s autumn.
My knife, it cuts through the firm flesh of gourds and apples. They roast, getting creamy with Portuguese olive oil and fat flakes of smoked sea salt. Meanwhile, in a copper pot I got god-knows-where a trinity of shallots, garlic, and butter coalesce. Add brandy, thyme. The smell alone will get you drunk. Then it mellows, turns jammy. The carmelized vegetables go into the aromatics, heady with sweet calvados, and it all simmers, for a moment, in a good stock with a hit of raw honey. A quick whir with the immersion blender. A splash of heavy cream. I’m hard pressed to ever not add a splash of heavy cream. Spicy pepitas. Sweet sunflower seeds. A pinch more of smoked salt. Herbs. A spoon. It’s autumn. And it’s the end of the day. So maybe I can afford to think, afford a moment with a new favorite alongside my bowl of soup, Lullaby & Doina by Osvaldo Golijov. I heard it for the first time in the dark, in the rain, driving. The station was going in and out. I thought about all the different ways I’ve loved. Always love, love for nothing like starlings that cannot, will not, scatter. And it’s autumn. I turn it up and eat.
roasted butternut squash & apple brandy soup
- 2 lbs (32 oz / 1 med-large) butternut squash peeled, seeded, and 1” chopped
- 1 lb (16 oz, 2 medium) firm, tart apples (I used Honeycrisp) cored and 1” chopped
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon smoked salt, plus extra for seasoning
- 2 tablespoons (30 grams) unsalted butter
- 1 large shallot, about 3/4-1 cup chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, about 1.5 tablespoons minced
- 50 mL (about 1/4 cup) apple brandy or calvados
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
- 3 cups stock (chicken or veg, I use chicken)
- 1 tablespoon raw honey
- 50 mL (1/4 cup) cream
- tamari roasted pepitas & honey roasted sunflower seeds for garnish (optional)
- fennel frond or fresh thyme for garnish (optional)
- Chop all your produce as specified in the ingredient list and heat the oven to 450°F (about 230°C).
- On a large sheet tray toss the apples and squash with the olive oil and one teaspoon of smoked salt. Roast on the middle rack for 20 minutes or until the biggest pieces are cooked through and fork tender.
- Move the tray to the upper rack, turn on the broiler, and broil the squash & apples just until brown. Be careful to not burn them!
- Meanwhile, as the veggies roast, melt the butter in a medium stock pot over medium-low heat. Let it get a little brown, but not too dark or it will burn. Add the shallots, garlic, and a generous, three finger pinch of the smoked salt. Sweat until fragrant and translucent, about five minutes. Stir frequently to prevent burning.
- Add the brandy and the fresh thyme and simmer until the alcohol cooks off and the brandy is reduced by half. It should look nice and jammy. By this point, your roasted veggies should just about be ready to come out. If not, just set this aside off the heat.
- Add the roasted veggies to the pot with the aromatics and top with the chicken stock, honey, and one more three finger pinch of smoked salt. Give it a good stir, bring it to a low simmer, and cook covered for about ten minutes to let the flavors mingle.
- Remove the lid, and, using a stick blender, puree the soup. Alternately, you can puree the soup in a regular blender and add it back to the pot.
- Once pureed, stir in the cream. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding additional salt or honey if needed. If you find it too thick for your taste, you can thin it with additional stock or cream depending on how rich you'd like it.
- Optional, top with tamari pepitas & honey roasted sunflower seeds and a bit of fresh green (I always seem to have fennel fronds lying around, but thyme makes sense here too, obviously!) While the seeds don't have to be those specific seeds, I highly recommend topping it with some sort for that crunch!