This week in our tiny Queens apartment began with me barely making it through the door, panting, pushing Ni in a stroller made three times as heavy with the weight of an enormous butternut squash and pumpkin from Keith’s farm (plus milk, turnips, and the rest of our shopping list). But the squashes had celebrity status as they marked my surrender to the change of seasons. To fall, that is.
Fall. At once exhilarating and melancholy, it’s a dance that takes me up into the heights of inspiration, down into aloneness and back to the cozy warmth and friendliness of late-Autumn, thanksgiving time. It’s a very moving season for me, and I always find myself wanting to play music more, read poetry, and make small gestures of creativity like choosing my clothes for the day with particular intention. But it’s slippery, this exalted feeling; I can never be sure around which corner it is hiding or when I will find it next.
But there are things about this season I can count on. Squashes, for example. This week in my kitchen featured a butternut squash soup the color of late afternoon sunlight, pumpkin pancakes, and just this evening, baked apples that just began to caramelize, burst, and send the scent of cinnamon to every room in the apartment. I took the hint from Merete and spooned a bit of nutmeg and cinnamon-laced ricotta into their little burrows. I think Ni will be pretty excited when she’s presented one of these for dessert tomorrow.
* * *
Ever in keeping with nature’s perfect design, along with these fall foods comes a whole new set of health benefits. Here, I’ve highlighted the gifts of pumpkin, winter squash (even though pumpkin is a winter squash, it has some healing properties unique to itself), and the spices cinnamon and nutmeg, because I love them so dearly and they are ubiquitous in so many fall dishes. And if you’re shy about using nutmeg, I encourage you to experiment with it, adding a bit more than you normally might to a recipe, or just sitting with the aroma and really exploring it with your senses. Once you learn to harness this flavor and improvise with it, you’ll realize how intoxicating it can be.
Pumpkin: A little sweet, sometimes bitter and ultra rich in fiber, pumpkin will help regulate your blood sugar and boost your immunity (thanks to its high vitamin C content), two very attractive health benefits if you ask me. Additionally, it is rich in minerals including magnesium, which everyone seems to be deficient in these days. Vitamin E will brighten your skin, also boost immunity, and is reported to protect against certain cancers. The calming energy of pumpkin can help ground and relieve stress.
Winter Squash: Winter squashes contain a high amount of beta-carotene, which a strong digestive system will convert to Vitamin A. This makes it a great dietary tool for any vegetarian, since you guys need to capitalize on all the vitamin A you can get. Squash is anti-inflammatory, making it a great protector against degenerative diseases like cancer and heart disease, and high levels of potassium will help control blood pressure and strengthen bones.
Cinnamon: Cinnamon is famously warming, a great addition to the lemon-ginger infusion commonly prepared to fight colds. Just add a whole cinnamon stick to your “tea” and let it boil for five minutes or so before cooling it down and drinking. Cinnamon is also a great blood sugar balancer and often used to control type II diabetes which means, if you’re going for dessert, have something like apple pie for the sugar balancing act of cinnamon. It is also anti-inflammatory and said to reverse balding!
Nutmeg: Like cinnamon, nutmeg is warming and drying, with strong antibacterial properties. It has been found to contain a compound that improves memory and even protects against Alzheimer’s disease. Like cinnamon, it aids in the digestion of sugar and dairy products like milk, cream, and yogurt. Perhaps most exciting are the sexual benefits of nutmeg: the Chinese used it to cure impotence, and a host of cultures consider it an aphrodisiac. Perfect for chilly weather and cozy evenings inside!
Nutritionally, these four are not to be messed with, apparently. I hope you love them, or come to love them, as much as I do. Happy fall!