Fall is my favorite season! The glorious colors that accompany autumn in New England are yet another pleasure about living in Newport. Residing as we do on an island, the surrounding waters make for a milder climate, which means I still have the bounty of the garden and our beautiful landscape to draw upon come Thanksgiving. Even when perusing nursery and plant catalogs in the winter, I always remind myself to think about themes for the upcoming Turkey Day.
As with many times in the year, nature inspires me. Come November, I find myself counting down the days ‘til it’s time to fashion my centerpieces and vignettes that will be spotted around the house. This year, my inspiration is Kale ‘Nero’ (long, blue-green crinkled leaves), Aesclepias fruiticosa (or “hairy balls,” chartreuse conversation starters that grow up to 8’), multi-colored zinnias (whose twisting shapes and upturned heads are so perfect to pop into an arrangement), and succulents, which bring an au courant note to the setting.
The luscious Japanese maples that dot across my woodland garden and Newport’s signature beech trees, bathed in golden yellow are delicious this time of year! It was these trees that have inspired the “first impression” I want guests to receive when they arrive… a blanket of golden leaves scattered across the flagstone walk and up the limestone steps to the front door… gives new meaning to a red carpet entry!
And this year I look to another French house, Chateau Villandry in the Loire Valley, for a new twist on the traditional pumpkins and gourds at the front door, as photo-archived in my travel journal. Their stone urn of fall veggies is now replaced with my deep green metal basket, whose open ribs let guests appreciate the bounty within, to include large green cabbages.
On the subject of things natural, autumn is the season to turn to all the romantic spices—cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ginger, pumpkin pie spice, cloves – just perfect for crafting a small dessert that is a keeper, not only because it’s yummy, but also versatile. Consider these for an afternoon tea or homemade holiday gifts or offer these Harvest Spice Bars as a light, small alternative to a large serving of pie.
And another plus? You can make many substitutions to achieve subtle differences in taste (i.e. exchange toffee chips for crystallized ginger, my husband’s favorite.)
HARVEST SPICE BARS RECIPE
- 2 c. all purpose flour
- ¾ stick softened unsalted butter
- ½ c. light brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons rum extract
- 1 large egg
- 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon cloves
- ½ teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 c. chopped walnuts
- 4-6 oz. toffee chips
- Preheat oven to 350° F. Lightly butter a small jelly roll pan ( app. 12 ¼ x 8 ¾.)
- In large bowl, cream butter and sugar with an electric blender; add egg, then rum extract and blend.
- With a wooden spoon, stir 1 c. flour and spices into dough. Add rest of flour and stir in toffee chips and walnuts.
- With dampened fingertips, pat dough evenly into pan, including corners.
- Bake 60 minutes or until dough is a deep golden brown.
- Cool slightly, but while still soft, use a sharp knife to cut the dough into bars app. 5” x ¾”. Cool completely before removing bars from pan.
Makes 36 bars.