September’s riches

It was the first day of fall, and time to check the plantains. The plantains were from Ecuador, the size of cartoon bananas, Mickey Mouse phones, the old land-line kind. I had them in a paper bag to speed the ripening until they were black on the outsides, soft to the touch. They were for a dish called Pastelon, Puerto Rican comfort food. You fry the plantains and layer them on ground beef seasoned with sazon, green olives, a slurry of cilantro, green pepper and onion topped with shredded cheese and finally, two large eggs. It sounded disgusting or delicious, I couldn’t decide which.

It’s the first day of Autumn and because I like pastimes I’ve gone back to my favorite cook book, the one with notes on dishes I always make this time of year. It’s one of Jacques Pepin’s first, now out of print, no pictures, just flourishes on the typeset for the section headers. The book is divided into four parts, by season, and fall has colorful names like Easing into Autumn, or September’s Riches. And because his wife was Puerto Rican, Pepin brings in some of her favorite recipes too.

I must have gotten the book before I changed my last name, because I signed the inside cover Gibbard. One of the first books where I learned to cook, through Pepin’s pragmatic, unpretentious approach. And his emphasis on using everything in your refrigerator, not wasting anything.

This is where we got the famed seafood gumbo recipe, the tomato zucchini gratin, the macaroni and cheese made with sauteed eggplant and topped with tomato, the pork and beans dish with fresh cilantro and achiote rice on the side.

Mom has the same cookbook in Germany which is nice, because when we lived together we could make some of our favorite family meals. Like her, I’ve gotten more fixed on daily and seasonal routines. And often I wonder why I’m so habitual about things, like a dog circling clockwise each time I lay down.

Maybe in a world with such uncertainty, we crave the micro acts of routine that bring comfort in the known. I’ve always been that way, always putting the left shoe on before the right, superstitious to where I couldn’t imagine what horrors would come from breaking the pattern.

And because I’m that way I go back to the old recipes from fall, and get out the slow cooker and candles, and now each morning, I check the plantains.

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20 replies

  1. A nice piece, thank you Bill.
    Its mention of Seasons and Recipes resonates with my ambition to steady my Self with the patterns and routines of life.

    My first cookbook was De Gouy’s Gold. It’s been neglected for a long time now but I shall use it this weekend as a tribute to you.


    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey David! Thank you for that and hope you’re well. I don’t know that cook book but it’s nice to think you might break it out this weekend as a tribute, how kind! My 13-year-old turns 14 on Saturday so I won’t be doing much cooking myself, more shuttling her friends around and likely eating pizza or the sort. (The plantain dish will follow when they turn black, seems to be taking forever! Imagine you don’t have those in AUS I assume.) anyhow, Enjoy the rest of your week, and thanks for reading!


      • So it’s an exciting weekend for your daughter with friends and a Taxi and pizza on call. I hope you all enjoy it.
        De Gouy (first published in1948) got put aside when we started heading towards a lighter diet quite some time ago. But I found an Avocado, Date and Orange salad recipe written out on a slip of paper that had been used as the last bookmark, and it will get a run.
        As to plantains, I am sure that they are available here but I have never used them.
        I am sure that I will now begin to see them everywhere.
        All the best.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Avocado, date and orange! That sounds sublime David! To hell with plantains anyhow.


      • I made that salad for lunch (it being Grand Final Day Parade Day in Melbourne and perhaps the World’s silliest public holiday, there being no parade and a game of Australian Rules Football to be played in Perth tomorrow, due to our Covid-19 outbreak. That,s about 2,700 km away). As there was no Iceberg lettuce in the fridge, I substituted in a radicchio, which had self-sown in the backyard. It made for a very pretty (but slightly bitter) base for presentation of the hero ingredients. What we call Butter lettuce might be the go next time, with some proper Chives and a smidgen of very thinly sliced onion.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Right! I know butter lettuce too…and each of those salad type greens you listed. All sounds really good, making me hungry now that I’ve just gotten up! Have taken to putting ripe avocados in smoothies, which is a new thing for me, with banana and oat milk, a bit of maple syrup too.


      • I’ve set De Gouy aside – the dust is giving me hayfever!

        Liked by 1 person

      • I know it well (the hay fever).


    • Hmm…this got me wondering what my first cookbook was. The earliest memory I have is my mom’s Betty Crocker cookbook. I remember buying Joy of Cooking shortly after I got out of the Navy, which was the first time I lived on my own.

      Now, if I add all the cooking magazines I’ve bought over the years…

      Liked by 1 person

      • Those magazines! Man they take up space. I still prefer them to using my phone though. Didn’t know you were in the navy Carl! Thanks for your service. I did navy ROTC in high school and loved it.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Have at least one Pepin winter recipe on rotation

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Interesting. I’m the opposite on routines. Sameness feels like death to me. I need “newness” to feel alive.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Never knew ‘slurry’ was a cooking term. This blog is such an education. I now know what a plantain is too, I think.

    Hope the weekend is good for your daughter and the whole family, Bill.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Bruce thank you! I took some liberties with slurry, I think it’s more a term for construction (when mixing and pouring concrete) but I guess cooking is a kind of construction too. Thanks for the well wishes! Look forward to connecting again soon.

      Liked by 1 person

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