Earlier sunsets aside, November is shaping up to be pretty spectacular in my opinion. We are in the midst of some unseasonably warm weather, and after October's snowstorm, I'm embracing it with open arms. I've been spending much of my time outdoors; lazy walks with my dog, hikes through the woods, and a visit to a nearby farm. Some of these excursions have been taking place in the city I grew up in, which lucky for me is just a short drive down the road. There's a bike path there that stretches a few miles across neighboring towns. It was my destination of choice one morning last week when temperatures started climbing. We passed rows and rows of trees with yellow leaves, laden with brown splotches, barely hanging on. Many leaves were making their spiral decent through the sunshine. This one tree in particular caught my eye.
While it's hard to compete with the autumn foliage, there's another contender that stole my heart that morning. Bittersweet vines. The trail was sprinkled with them; their vines twisting and climbing upwards, reaching for sunlight, wrapped around fences and fallen limbs. It's a show few other plants can rival this time of year. The yellow skins of the berries burst open, exposing a hidden deep orange-red gem. Never without her gardening clippers for occasions such as this, my mother, who joined me on my walk, collected the delicate vines. By the end of the walk, we had a beautiful bunch of draping bittersweet vines I plan to hang on my front door. What could be better than immersing yourself in nature and bringing a little piece of it back home? I often do the same with seashells at the beach in the summer.
My autumn delight continued with a visit to Brooksby Farm, the place where I bought our very first Christmas tree a few years back. I spent the afternoon walking the grounds and photographing farm animals basking in the sun. If you've never seen a pair of pigs ankle deep in mud, feasting on butternut squash, it's safe to say it will warm your heart a little. Although the weather might be unseasonably warm, it didn't stop us from getting our hot apple cider fix in the farm store, which just so happens to turn out the best apple cider donuts. Hands down. It's safe to say I am deeply embracing the autumn season and it's mild weather. Either that, or I'm on the brinks of an apple cider donut coma, which I'll gladly blame on the hypnotizing deep fried cinnamon smell. Inspired by my bittersweet vines and trip to the farm, I decided to turn out my own hot apple cider later that day.
My mother used to make something similar to this recipe when we were growing up. I can't recall it's exact ingredients, but this is my take on it. It's spiked with cinnamon sticks, cloves, and orange and lemon slices. She'd keep a pot of this on the stove around the holidays and serve it to anyone who stopped by; family, friends, neighbors. It was always served in Irish coffee mugs and garnished with cinnamon sticks. I've done the same. If you're hosting Thanksgiving this year, why not welcome guests into your home with a warm mug of this? And lucky for you, it also doubles as instant kitchen fragrance. I made another quick batch of these to go along with my cup that afternoon, something else I can't seem to get enough of at the moment. Get a pot of this going and embrace the season before it comes to a bittersweet close.
~Hot Apple Cider Recipe~
1/2 gallon apple cider
3 orange slices
4 lemon slices
2 cinnamon sticks, plus additional for garnishing
pinch of nutmeg
Pour apple cider into a large saucepan. Push cloves into the center of each orange slice. Add into the pan, along with lemon slices, cinnamon sticks, and nutmeg. Bring the cider up to medium heat, but do not let it boil. It will take about 5-6 minutes to get it going. Reduce heat and let it simmer for at least 30 minutes. You can also leave the cider on low until you are ready to serve. Discard the fruit slices. Ladle into mugs and serve with a cinnamon stick and garnish with extra orange or lemon slices. Serves 8.