10 Activities for A Perfect Fall

The Fall season – some dread it, others love its slow transition from summer to winter.  However you feel, here are ten seasonal activities that assure you’ll enjoy the weeks ahead.

  1. Take a Fall Color Tour – Colorful eye-candy – what better reason to love Fall?  If you’re from the Northeast or Midwest, this is a well-known Fall activity, with the smell of decaying leaves (and in the day before burning bans, the smell of smoldering leaf piles after a day of raking) etched into our collective memories.  And though Fall doesn’t provide such displays of color in most of California – let alone the bracing chill of daytime air – our state’s thousands of square miles of grapevines provide a spectacular show as October progresses.  Visit one of our many wine regions during the coming weeks- whether for a day trip or a weekend.  (If you choose to visit Napa, here’s an iPhone touring app you’ll find useful) 
    Abbey-Harris vineyard, Anderson Valley
    Early Fall colors in Anderson Valley - Abbey-Harris Vineyard. 10-8-11
  2. Attend A Football Game – Though our nation shares few common traditions anymore, this seasonal sport is one of them.  You don’t need to be a huge sports fan to enjoy the fun and festivity of this great game.  But forget the wine, a tailgate calls for beer!  Sure wine would be fine, and I can recommend a good hot dog wine if you’re interested (Loire Valley Rose), but there’s nothing wrong with a little Sierra Nevada with your grilled dog of choice – sauerkraut or no. And if the NFL is a bit to commercial for you, re-discover the thrill of your local college team (assuming you can still tell the difference).fun fall activities - football
  3. Prepare This Hot Lunch  Here’s a fast and affordable hot lunch that’s perfect after a cold morning spent raking leaves – Sweet sausage and apples with Gewurztraminer.  Simply poach German sausage (or sweet Italian sausage, if you prefer) in enough Gewurztraminer to cover – bring to a boil and simmer for 5-10 minutes before grilling or sauteing until browned. Meanwhile, peel, core and slice two firm, crisp apples per person.  Bring a wide, covered sauté pan up to medium heat, add a cup of the Gewurztraminer and the apples and cook until soft – 5-10 minutes, adding a dash or three of cumin and cinnamon and other sweet pie spices of choice (these form a nice bridge to the wine).  Serve with spicy mustard and a premium dry Gewurztraminer such as this one from Phillips Hill.
  4. Forage for Mushrooms – Foraging for wild mushrooms is an unforgettable experience.  But whether you decide to join a foraging group or simply forage through your local farmer’s market, these edible fungi give up their flavor to some of my favorite seasonal dishes.  And what wine goes best with mushrooms?  Without hesitation I tell you it’s Pinot Noir!  And while I specialize in this varietal in my online wine shop, I feature here a Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot from Tudor Wines, as Dan Tudor is a well-known mushroom forager.Dan Tudor mushroom forager 
  5. Break Out A Favorite Sweater for Breakfast al Fresco! – A hot cup of coffee and a favorite sweater are the best way in the world to start a brisk Fall day.  Take both outdoors and enjoy the morning.
  6. Host a Halloween Party – Show me someone who doesn’t enjoy donning an alternate identity once in a while, and I’ll show you a stick in the mud.  Whether your party is family-themed or an adult-only re-creation of Burning Man in your living room, you’ll want to spend some time thinking about the food for your guests, as one cannot live by Butterfingers alone (believe me, I once tried).   Here’s a recipe for “Runaway Chicken Chowder” that always gets rave reviews.  It’s orange color lends itself to the season, so sprinkle some black sesame seeds on top, serve with a bit of toasted pumpernickel and you’re done.  Serves a crowd.   Recommended pairing – Chardonnay.
  7. Host An Elections Forum – Whatever your political leanings, the arrival of November marks the annual exercise of our right to vote.  And with the complex nature of contemporary ballot initiatives, it’s helpful to invite friends over to discuss the local ballot initiatives and candidates.  A meal isn’t necessary, but some cheese and crackers are wise, as well as favorite wines of course, though you may find it wise to avoid over-serving if the initiatives are controversial!
  8. Plan Your Thanksgiving Dinner – This meal can be intimidating, as much for its family dynamics as its multi-course meal preparation.  But it’s my favorite meal of the year, and we always begin it with the Macy’s parade, followed by a bit of college football and ending with the umpteenth viewing of “Miracle on 34th Street” (the original with Natalie Wood, not the dozen or so universally bad re-makes).  In our household, the Christmas holiday is dedicated to the family we’ve been given, but the Thanksgiving holiday is for the family we would choose if left to our own devices – both are equally important and worthy of honoring.  However you spend yours, here is some useful assistance with your Thanksgiving meal – some of my time-tested favorite recipes I’ve posted in my recipe section (enter “thanksgiving” in the upper right search box).  Happy Thanksgiving!
    NBC Telecast Thursday, 11-24-2011
  9. Shop on Cyber-Monday – Save gas.  Avoid crowds.  Save time.  Get all your holiday gifts while sitting in the comfort of your home, then go out and enjoy your  friends and family.  This single activity will make a huge difference in your enjoyment of the season.  I cannot recommend it highly enough as a way to eliminate stress from your holiday season!
  10. Whew!  Now Get Ready For Winter – OK, so this one isn’t such a fun seasonal activity.  But before it gets truly cold, now is the time to check boilers, storm windows, snow blowers, and other necessities of the season to come.  And in our house, this is the time the Christmas baking begins to fill our freezer!
Dave “the Wine Merchant” Chambers

“Runaway” Chicken Chowder

I’m never sure if the name for this dish refers to the chicken seeking escape from the chopping block, or the recipe’s run-away popularity.  Either way, its bright orange color (and great flavor!) has made it the traditional dish at the annual family Halloween party hosted by our friend (and club member!) Laura Nagle.

It is one of the rare dishes featuring Halloween colors that is not a contrivance, but rather a memorable dish in its own right.  In fact, at the Nagle’s annual Halloween bash, it just may be as big an attraction as the candy.  At least for some attendees  ;-)

Recommended Wine Pairings
This chowder has the sweetness of the yams, a bit of a warming kick from the peppers and the rich texture of  the chicken and hominy.  To compliment all elements, I recommend an off-dry Riesling or Gewurztraminer (click to buy) or one featuring a nose-full of fragrance and a fuller body – a classic California Chardonnay or a rich white Rhône wine such as Viognier.

3 Boneless chicken breasts
3 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 Med onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1 or 2 Large golden yams,  peeled and sliced thin (2-3 millimeters)
4 1/2 Cups Chicken stock or broth
1-2 Serranno peppers seeded and minced
1/2 tsp Ground coriander
2-3 tsp Ground cumin
2 Cans golden hominy (16-Ozs), drained
2/3 Cups fresh cilantro
Toasted Black sesame seeds or toasted Rye bread croutons for garnish (optional)
Sour Cream for garnish

Remove the skin and fat from the chicken and cut into 3/4 inch cubes.

Over high heat, melt butter in stock pot or large sauce pan and stir-fry chicken, stirring constantly, just until no longer pink. Remove with slotted spoon and set aside to drain.

Add onion and potato slices to pan with 4 1/2 cups of stock. Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until veggies are soft, about 20 minutes. Add the peppers, coriander and cumin and blend in the pot with a stick blender, or in batches in food processor or blender. Whatever your blending tool of choice, continue until smooth.

Return all ingredients to the pot and add the chicken and the hominy. This chowder can be prepared up to this point and refrigerated for up to two days.  Also freezes well.  When ready to serve, simply heat, top with cilantro leaves and garnish with sour cream, if desired.

Serving Ideas
This chowder is welcome throughout the cold winter months. But to leverage the Halloween theme (for which this orange soup is ideal!) sprinkle with black sesame seeds or croutons made from dark rye bread.

Dave the Wine Merchant