Falling for Fall

Do you feel it? That time of year when the weather shifts, bringing with it cool, crisp nights and ethereal, fog-filled mornings. Mother Nature is about to put on her annual show of fall colors. It is harvest season too, when cravings for comfort food like roasted squash soup and gooey caramel and vanilla bean-dipped pears begin. A bucket filled with homegrown apples brings back memories of bobbing for apples; delightful dahlias are in full bloom.

Grab a cozy sweater and join me in the idyllic fields of Woodinville Lavender, in the heart of Woodinville’s wine country. The misty air and neat rows of newly clipped lavender are the perfect backdrop for a fall picnic.

This picnic is packed with earthy, pretty, and easy fall entertaining ideas: DIY dollar and craft store picnic boxes, layered table decor, mason jar salads, naked cakes, chunky cookies, stackables, and totables. The picnic decor is all about the gourds, from Baby Blue Hubbards to White Acorns, and glittered, jeweled, and plush pumpkins. Excuse me while I have a Cinderella moment as I roll out this fun fall fete.

Lavender_0959Figs, champagne, and cider
Showcase the fall harvest with sliced fresh figs and fragrant vanilla bean stir sticks. Delicious local fresh apple cider, spiked with a splash of champagne and spiced up with cinnamon stir sticks, is a go-to favorite.

Make it the picnic box
Start with an inexpensive craft store cardboard box. Pop in pared-down wine box dividers and a Dollar Store bandana. Use bandanas as napkins, too. Give each guest a small, personal baguette and breadsticks in glassine bags. Turn the picnic box into a cool guest takeaway by adding pods, mini pumpkins, ornaments, and fresh flowers.

Fall fabulous table
When that fall nesting instinct kicks in, grab the down pillows, rugs, throws, and easy-to-carry extra seating for your picnic spread. Come fall, layering is the name of the game. The picnic table at Woodinville Lavender is layered with casual linen, fringed throws and faux hides. Faux horns cradle real pumpkins with casual bundles of fresh ferns tucked in. The earthy centerpieces are flanked by chipped, old newel posts and topped with glass decanters. A single fern stem is dreamy in the fall light.

Garden toolbox
An antique English garden toolbox holds mason jars layered with a simple garden salad featuring arugula, tangy goat cheese, and toasted nuts. The toolbox is overflowing with fall abundance like gourds, pods, figs, feathers, flowers, and dried lavender.

Lavender_0821Tipsy roasted squash soup with toasted spices

An antique French flower box and old wooden berry crate combine to make a rustic etagere. This duo does double duty. First, toting the picnic goodies to the field and then creating a rustic stackable soup station. Enjoy yummy roasted squash soup with toasted spices, topped with creme fraiche and roasted pepita. Served in small bistro glasses, these tipsy roasted squash soup shots will whet your appetite for fall!

  • 2½ pounds of cubed squash (*Time-saving tip: Get fresh squash pre-cubed at your local Metropolitan Market.)
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 shallots, halved
  • 2 Porcini mushrooms, finely sliced
  • ½ teaspoon truffle salt
  • 2 teaspoons fresh chopped thyme
  • 1 sage leaf finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons brandy
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 1 carrot peeled and cut in thirds
  • 1 quart organic vegetable broth
  • 1 pint pumpkin ale (I used Elysian Night Owl Ale)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 grinds of nutmeg
  • 3 teaspoons of toasted spices

1. Line a baking sheet with foil. Toss the cubed squash and shallots in 3 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon pepper, 1 teaspoon of the toasted spices, 1 teaspoon chopped thyme, the sage, brandy, and maple syrup.

2. Spread the mixture out on the baking sheet and roast in the oven at 375 degrees for 30 minutes or until golden and caramelized, stirring occasionally.

3. Sauté the sliced mushrooms in a pan until soft, adding 1 teaspoon toasted spices, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 teaspoon fresh thyme, and truffle salt.

Top: The dessert stand. Bottom: Worn wood and fall flowers

Top: The dessert stand. Bottom: Worn wood and fall flowers

4. Add the roasted squash and any remaining marinade from the baking sheet to a food processor. Pulse the squash until creamy. Add the shallots and pulse a few times only.

5. Place the squash and shallots in a soup pot, add the mushrooms, carrots, 1 teaspoon toasted spices, 1 teaspoon salt, nutmeg, beer, and broth to the pot. Simmer for 30 minutes until the flavors all combine. Remove the carrots and discard.

6. Pour the soup into a picnic Thermos dressed up with a bandana. Top soup with a dollop of creme fraiche and a roasted pepita.

Toasted spices

  • 2 tablespoons each of cumin and ground coriander seed
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder

Toast spices in a medium-high dry pan for 5 minutes until the spices darken. Do not burn. Cool.

Make it

The dessert stand
It’s a trio of sweet treats starting with a “naked” cake made with a Wilton 5-Layer Cake Pan Set (pictured below). The cake sides are left naked with the frosting slathered in between the layers only. Top the cake with a single dahlia stem — just for show. Take the caramel apple concept up a notch with caramel and vanilla bean-dipped pears. Scrape flecks of real vanilla bean right from the pod into the caramel. Use real apple- tree branches as sticks! Make chunky raisin and nut cookies in English muffin rings for a hearty dessert presentation.

Worn wood and fall flowers
I created a pretty floral “F” in an old champagne riddling rack. Bundle fall dahlias, stems of aromatic lavender and sprigs of fresh garden herbs for an easy, earthy fall display. A metal bucket filled with floating apples and a single stem signals fall. To make the most of a scenic setting like this, fan out your fall feast, creating rustic stations and stands.

Credits: Picnic setting by Woodinville Lavender. Hair styling by SEVEN the salon, senior stylist Chu.

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