Thursday, September 3, 2009

What Not To Wear In Faux Fall. (Pumpkin Bread)



Yesterday -- just one week into the school year -- we pried open our sleepy eyes to greet a cool 57 degree morning here in Charlotte.

And wonder of wonders -- same thing today.

This is noteworthy because our city's average low for September is 63. And we’re a mere three days into the month.

Mind you, both 57-degree-mornings days – as predicted – wound up climbing into the upper 70s. Nevertheless, Chez Wiles, we are reveling in these practically chilly temps. The dip was sufficient to have me hefting open windows in our 85-year-old house and send all of us scrambling for sweatshirts and jumping into jeans.  Makes you wonder what we'd do in 40-degree weather, right?

Of course, we’ve been programmed to believe that as students return to school, the season follows a parallel path on its return to cold weather. Television shows, commercials and back-to-school signage support the premise, splashing autumnal leaves on any and all promotional materials, which also inevitably feature trendy teens wearing fleece-lined boots and woolen earmuffs.

I know. It is possible autumn really has arrived.  It's also possible my kids will prepare chateaubriand for dinner tonight.

C'mon.   It may be autumn in Maine right now. Or in Wyoming. But here in the Carolinas, we all know we’ve got plenty of oven-like days ahead.

Still, consider me guilty as charged. I’ve already been eyeballing the sweaters in my closet – the very same sweaters I hastily shed back in March when the temperature warmed up to – you guessed it – a toasty 57 degrees.

A long time ago (but well after the Renaissance, thank you), I celebrated my 16th birthday by traveling to a Commodores concert in Columbia, South Carolina. Last week, as I reminisced about the event, a friend teased me, saying, “I bet you even remember what you wore.”

You bet I do.

First, I remember because like so many women, my favorite memories are ensnared in memories of favorite outfits and favorite meals. (Wanna know what I had for dinner the night of my Senior Prom? Click here.) Second, I remember because my birthday falls in September – the Faux Fall month.

So yes. I remember clearly that, in 1978, as Lionel Richie crooned, “Three Times A Lady" and we all boogied to "Brick House," I wore a long sleeved, high-neck blouse made of material that was only slightly more breathable than a shower curtain. Or maybe slightly less breathable than a shower curtain. With that ill-chosen top, I wore tan, cuffed, wide-wale corduroy slacks, with a leather-covered fly button. Hey, I knew what I was doing.  Since it wasn’t yet October, I opted not to wear the matching jacket.

There’s no story here, really. As my friends and I got dressed that night in our room at the Downtown Holiday Inn, I looked fabulous. I could’ve passed for 18. Or at least, 17 ½ . But by the time we rode the elevator downstairs and crossed the street to the Columbia Coliseum, I wasn’t just sweaty. I was slimy. I was awash in my own au jus.

So yes, I remember what I wore.

And I remember Mom advising me not to wear it.

What did she know?  Thirty-one years later, I remain as susceptible to Faux Fall as my kids. The instant I opened the door to let the dog out yesterday morning, and that less oven-like air billowed in to meet me, my mind immediately skipped to fall fare.

OK. I'm not quite ready to get going on a kettle of chili – not even chicken chili.  But Cranberry-Pumpkin Bread with Pecans? Twist my wooden spoon.

It was, after all, 57 degrees outside.

Cranberry-Pumpkin Bread
Makes two 9 x 5, or three 8 x 4 loaves

3 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
4 large eggs
1 16-oz. can of pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix)
3 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup dried, sweetened cranberries (e.g., Craisins) (optional)
1 cup toasted, chopped pecans (optional)
2/3 cup warm water

Preheat oven to 350. Beat oil, sugar, eggs (one at a time) until well-blended. Stir in pumpkin. In a separate bowl, stir together dry ingredients (except cranberries and nuts). Stir dry ingredients into pumpkin mixture. Fold in cranberries and pecans, if using. Slowly stir in warm water until mixture is consistent. Bake in greased and floured loaf pans until golden -- about one hour. After allowing to cool 15 minutes, remove from pans and cool completely on racks. Freezes well.
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