On one of the warmest days of the year, I build a fire in the outdoor oven. The walnut trees in our backyard are shedding their yellow strands of leaves, slowly letting down their summer finery. A cicada shell lies among the leaves on the patio, a shadow of its former self. The sun is hot, bright and the air is full of humidity. The fire in the oven takes off and soon the thermometer is showing a temperature of 700 degrees. The flames rise up to the inside roof and dance out the door. On a day this warm, it’s nice to not have to turn on the gas oven in the kitchen and just let the heat stay outside. Pretty soon, there will be baguettes, french country loaves, pumpkin swoon cookies and Parmesan shortbreads coming out of the oven. And they will all look so lovely in this outdoor setting.
Later in the day, the clouds take over. They tumble across the sky, bringing a shower with them. We somehow just miss the rain to go on our walk at the park. Since it’s Thursday, we head to Constant Spring for date night. I tuck a few pumpkin swoon cookies in my bike basket, in case I see someone to share them with, and we are on our way. We usually sit at the bar, order our beer and then spend time looking back over the day and ahead to future plans, mulling events, discussing options, processing problems. Tonight, though, the man next to me wants to talk. I offer him a cookie which he promptly eats. And he talks about coincidences. As soon as the word is out, we coincidentally discover we both know Spanish (he knows it from Chile, I from Spain), he loves Barcelona where we are traveling to in several weeks, and he understands the third world I live in as an expatriate from Belgium since he has the same experience with Chile. He soon leaves us to our quiet ponderings but then our friend, Adam, appears. He comes with a couple of five dollar bills in his hand to pay for our drinks, as payment to Jim for repairing his guitar amp. Now we are talking about Scotland and music and scotch and road trips. Again, we find the common ground, those coincidental connections that bring us together. Soon it’s time to be home. Our tête-à-tête date night will have to happen on another day.
Next day, at my cheese shop, The Wedge, it happens again. My customers/friends buy cheese but the morning is focused on stories. I listen to theirs; they listen to mine. I become a part of their world and it makes me richer for it. I hear the hope, the fear, the pain, the beauty, the humor that is very real in their lives. As they speak, I am under their spell: I see the rose garden, the Pacific Ocean, the doctor’s office, the quilt, the father, the cabin, the wine, the bread. My mind circles around each scene and finds a connection. I actively listen and look and they do too. We are caught up in each other’s stories for that short time and it brings us together. As they leave, I shake my head, not surprised because I know these connections happen, but amazed again at how rich all these stories make my life.
I return home as the wind blows and the cool fall air moves in. As summer turns to autumn, and I store away food for winter, I will also store away these stories. Bake a batch of pumpkin cookies, share them with a friend or a stranger, and listen to their stories. You might be amazed.
I’ve given out this recipe before but in case you need a reminder, here It is.
1 c. butter, softened
1/2 c. white sugar
1/2 c. dark brown sugar
1 c. pumpkin (I cook my own.)
1 1/2 t. vanilla
3 c. flour
1 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1 t. cinnamon
1/4 t. salt
3/4 c. pecan pieces
Cream butter and sugar. Add pumpkin, egg and vanilla. Beat well. Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Blend well. Add to creamed mixture and stir in. Fold in nuts. Drop by tablespoon onto a greased cookie sheet.
Bake in oven at 375 degrees for 11 to 12 minutes or until firm to touch. Let cool. Ice with caramel frosting.
1/2 c. dark brown sugar
3 T. butter
1 T. milk
1/2 to 3/4 c. powdered sugar
1 t. vanilla extract
Heat the first three ingredients just until sugar is dissolved. Stir in 1/2 to 3/4 c. powdered sugar and vanilla extract. Beat until smooth. Ice immediately. If the icing hardens, add a little milk. You might want to make a double recipe of icing because it’s really good!