On River Road last Saturday, coasting along in arm warmers and an awesome Castelli vest, layered over my thickest jersey layered over a baselayer, I noticed that despite the spectacular sight of trees going from blonde to fire-hydrant red, and the not-freezing-yet temperatures, there just weren't that many people out. No one seemed to pass us from behind, hammering towards hills as they usually do, and the small handful of people sighted were the kind with flatbars with big mirrors on each side, khaki pants with a safety ankle strap for a quick, relaxing ride by the river. It was October, still warm enough, and the climbs were devoid of triathletes. What was going on?
Okay, maybe the climbs are always devoid of triathletes, but the emptiness of the road was still a little creepy. Not creepy in the way being stuck in a mountain cottage in New Hampshire with no cell signal is creepy [because let's face it, if you get attacked by zombies in the middle of the night where it's so dark out you can't see your own hand in front of your face, AND you can't use your cell phone, you're pretty much fucked], but more like the kind of creepy that partners up with dread and desperation when you finally figure out that there really is something wrong with your mental health. Worse, once that possibility is entertained, even for a second or two, if not dismissed outright, the manifestations of symptoms of a psyche gone bad become all too clear. Denial ["40F and rainy? Perfect riding weather!"], anger ["Too cold?! What do you MEAN it's too cold?"], resentment ["why did I have to choose cycling as a hobby again? This is stupid. This is so. Fucking. Stupid."]. The previously inexplicable hatred of sweaters, as well as those cravings for pumpkin pie, cinnamon, and sweet potatoes suddenly seem to make more sense. It's fall, people, and I have no idea what to do with it.
24 hours after this ugly realization that perhaps I might still be living in "summer" when it's very clearly "fall," I was perched on a stool in my underwear [because that's how I roll], watching Mike braise three pounds of meat. Yup, three pounds. Three pounds of stuff I never used to eat. Bacon oozed oil into which chunks of beef and pork butt sizzled in a huge dutch oven. Diced onion, garlic, spices and tomatoes went in and simmered slowly for two hours, the smell making me kow-tow in front of the giant black pot in hunger. All of which culminated in a chili that I ended up wanting to make love to. To kiss, and marry, and hold forever. And staring at my empty bowl, I secretly admitted it. Even with the tropical fruit in the fridge, the Cyfac set up so I can at least reach the pedals, the fairly recent discovery of a quick 45 mile route that will kick my ass every time - all vestiges of summer - I kind of like this part of the year, too.
Back home in Boston, where it's always noticeably colder than the city, that hunger for crisp, fall air, apples, and dense, dark meat - the kind you can't imagine eating after a hard, hot ride in July - had me sauteing chicken thighs in a big black pot. Balsalmic vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, and butter simmered in the pan juices before getting drizzled over the chicken and some mixed greens. Halved grape tomatoes gave the plate a nice splash of color, although the season's pretty much over for them, too.
Yeah, it's totally fall, now. But hey, don't forget, there's still a lot of riding and cooking left to do.
Balsalmic Chicken Adapted from a Japanese recipe from who knows where.
[I obviously only made three pieces, and forgot the water cresson this time around. I strongly recommend the water cresson, though, as it really pairs well with the resulting sauce. The original recipe called for thighs with the skin on, and if you use that, you'll get this crispy, crusty chicken which is awesome, too. I could only find skinned thighs, so that's what I used here, and it's just as good. I know it doesn't look like much, and it's deceptively easy, but trust me...you'll want to lick the plate once you taste this.]
4 skinned chicken thighs (about 4oz each) 1/2 tablespoon olive oil salt and pepper 1 handful mixed greens 1 bunch water cresson 10 cherry or grape tomatoes, sliced in half 1 clove garlic, minced 1 tablespoon balsalmic vinegar 1 tablespoon sherry wine or sake/rice cooking wine 1 tablespoon low sodium soy sauce 1 tablespoon butter
Directions: 1. Knead olive oil, salt, and pepper into chicken thighs 2. Heat a [non-stick] frying pan over high heat and place flat side down [there's no need to use any extra oil, but the grease will fly up a bit. I used a pot instead of a frying pan for that reason]. Do not move until the underside is a golden brown. Flip over the meat, reduce to low heat, and cover. Cook for another 8 or so minutes, until juices run clear when poked. 3. Remove the chicken from the pan and keep warm on a plate. 4. Add the garlic, vinegar, wine/sake, soy sauce, butter, and pepper [to taste] to the pan juices. Simmer until reduced and slightly thickened. 5. Arrange water cresson, mixed greens, and tomatoes onto a plate. Pour pan juices over both veggies and chicken. Or, slice the chicken and serve it on a bed of greens.