September is the gateway to autumn, my favorite season. Everything seems to sparkle in the lower light, perhaps as a last hurrah while the foliage changes its color, leaves begin to fall and nature hunkers down for the winter. Warm, cosy pullovers are pulled from storage; enough time cannot be spent outdoors walking in the woods, raking leaves, picking apples and breathing in the crisp fall air tinged with smells of chimney smoke and fallen wet leaves. At home, the fire is lit, homemade bread bakes, and the wooden floor creaks beneath my feet while I pad around the kitchen preparing a comforting braised dish for our dinner.
But wait. I live in California now. It’s actually hot outside. I have summer dresses in my closet – not fluffy cardigans. The redwoods don’t lose their leaves. My kitchen floor is tiled, not wooden. And grilling is the only sane way to cook in this heat.
Where is that New England autumn I grew up with? Since I moved from Boston many years ago, all ensuing autumns, whether in Europe or here, have been measured, perhaps unfairly, against New England’s version. Even in the less temperate climates of Switzerland, England and Denmark the smells and colors failed to capture the autumnal intensity I remember from my youth, an intensity especially associated with the return to school after summer holidays. Presently, in my new home of Northern California, the children have returned to school, but autumn is nowhere to be found. In fact, there is talk of an Indian summer happening at this moment. How can there be Indian summer, when summer hasn’t even ended? This is just more summer, and hotter. Please don’t misunderstand me. This is not a complaint, just an observation – with a trace of wistfulness. Apparently, you can take the girl out of New England, but you cannot take New England out of the girl.
So, having said all of that, I shall do what I always try to do: I will get on with it, embracing the moment and the environment – in flip-flops, tank-top and shorts. The following recipe will not be for an apple tart or a stew. Rather, it will be a simple staple that I cannot live without on a warm day; a wonderful accompaniment to grilled meats and vegetables – especially late, end of summer vegetables. It is also a cool, creamy dip or salad on the side, best served with bread. The other autumn recipes will follow later on, when I can finally put on the cardigan, and after I have been out apple-picking, my eyes and nose watering from the brisk fesh air.
Makes about 3 cups
14 oz. (400 grams) Greek-style whole milk yogurt
1 English cucumber, washed, seeded, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon, plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves, chopped
In a bowl, combine yogurt, cucumber, garlic, 1 tablespoon olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Stir in mint leaves. Adjust seasoning to taste. Transfer to a serving bowl. (Tsatsiki can be refrigerated covered up to 4 hours before serving.)
Before serving, drizzle with 1 teaspoon olive oil. Garnish with mint leaves. Serve with peasant bread or baguette.