Goodbye to Summer, and an Introduction to My Old Friend, Fall

The world is a phoenix and it burns brightest at the break in the seasons.  The liminal fall, the weeks that follow Labor Day.  The interim to pumpkin patches.  When the mornings are shaggy in dew and the day burns it all off.  The hand grips for warm mugs and you find you just have Lipton in the drawer.  It's a world I miss, one that doesn't offer much of a greeting when it visits Southern California.

I grew up in the autumn months.  I was born on a Wednesday in October. My mom said it rained that day; my dad says it was sunny.  That sums up the Midwest for you, how temperamental those days can be.  It could have been both within the span of an hour, it could have been neither.  Most days the wind ruffles wheat fields and you move on.  You drink your coffee from a drive-through and you move on.  There's stillness when the air gets that quiet, when it hasn't made up its mind yet.  People remember the day differently.   Someone wears a sweater, and someone wears shorts.

The world burns brightest at the break in the seasons and it confuses our senses.  It confuses us when it's dewey in the morning and by noon it's all burned away.

I feel that sensation now.  I had to go away to create it.  I have been leaving San Diego more and more lately.  I am on the search for a home and not the rented one I have created here.  California has no autumn, no beginning or end to its highways, its coastline, its promise of the American dream.  It is perennial and stifling.  The change can drive you crazy, so I leave it when I can.  I packed my bag and met friends in Seattle.  And when I left, I felt like I missed the chance to change my life, that the sand from La Jolla are finite minutes in a mother-of-pearl hourglass.  That I can feel its grittiness between my teeth when all I want to do is continue on driving in the forests of the Pacific Northwest.  

We slept in tents that faced a river and used an outhouse next to a totem pole.  We walked on bridges and shouted into tunnels.  We ate at three bakeries and smiled when the camera wasn't looking.  We rode ferris wheels and small cruise ships.  We tasted wine from Oregon and clam chowder from a mall food court.  I bought nothing but a pack of gum but left with a hundred memories.  I share them with you below, as well as a recipe that's my eulogy to summer, the phoenix spark that's ignited into red and orange leaves is in these beet-lemon bars.  I welcome fall with open arms.

Seattle, 2015

rom the top, left to right:  Our first night in Washington, we stopped at a little bar with broken stools, loaded fries, and neon signs; our cute airbnb kitchen with perfect morning light; picked up a li'l cappuccino at Porchlight Coffee and Records; You could just feel autumn everywhere in Seattle; The Salish Lodge in Snoqualmie, WA where scenes from Twin Peaks were shot; A little bakery in North Bend while we were looking at Twin Peaks filming locations; tents and mountains surrounded our campsite; And we woke up to the river whispering in the morning; Our tents' set-ups; Le Panier Bakery; my Josephine puff and a broccoli pastry; a quick-and-dirty bakery, Piroshky Piroshky made the best meat bun I have ever tasted; and finally....Seattle in all her glory.

Beet Lemon Bars

Ingredients for the thyme shortbread crust:

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup confectioner's sugar
  • 2 +2 TB flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 sprigs of thyme, chopped

Directions for the thyme shortbread crust:

  1. Preheat oven to 350*F and lightly butter or grease a 13x9 inch pan
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter and white sugar until light.  Gradually add flour, salt, and lastly confectioner's sugar.  Add thyme last.
  3. Press dough into prepared pan with fingers, making sure to go up the edges a bit to help with sticking later on
  4. Chill for 15 minutes
  5. Poke gently with a fork and bake for 15-18 minutes or until dried, crisp, and golden.  
  6. Allow to cool while you work on the beet-lemon filling


Ingredients for the filling:

  • 1 medium-sized beet, roasted (see directions)
  • 3 large lemons or 4 medium-sized ones, juice and zest
  • 1 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons flour
  • 3 whole eggs + 2 yolks

Directions for the filling:

  1. To roast the beet: wash beet and cut top off.  Cover with olive oil (and sprinkle with a little salt and pepper for added taste in your bars).  Wrap in foil and roast on a high-heat grill for 18-25 minutes, or tender enough to pierce with a fork
  2. In a food processor, add beet and blend until smooth.  Continue to add all ingredients, eggs one at a time, until it is all incorporated
  3. Use a mesh strainer and a large bowl and strain the filling to make smoothen it out
  4. Pour on top of crust and bake for an additional 20 minutes.  Begin checking at the 17 minute mark for doneness, where it will be solidified but slightly jiggly in the center
  5. Allow to cool, sift confectioner's sugar over top

A special thanks to Bob's Red Mill for sending me a huge goodie box, which I will be taking inspiration from for many upcoming posts.  In this recipe, I started with the most simple ingredient, unbleached all-purpose white flour as my basis for these lemon bars.  But, BRM is anything but basic.  Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing recipes using rye flour, graham flour, and silky almond flour that will add an extra level to my baking.  I can't wait!

Denver and Cake

Last week I flew to Denver and drove a car home.  I bought it with my own money, something I don't get to say too often.  I bought something that was practical, but a luxury.  Something I don't get to say very often, having grown up in hand-me-down Levi's and haircuts on the back deck.  I drove through towns in Denver with long names and met people with short histories.  "Family grew up around here" was one reply I got when I asked the waitress how she came to work at the top of a mountain.  "Don't remember," was another.  People's pasts might be stitched in the corn fields that line the highway, but they're lost to outsiders.  To someone who's not fully in tune with the tectonic braille of the landscape, someone who was shocked to discover Denver even had flat plains.  Someone like me. 

Saturday night, Utah was stale.  The highway electric but pitch black in some parts.  The ride was slow-moving and the police flashed warning lights when you got into town.  Beaver, Utah.  A Butch Cassidy Best Western that had one too many double beds and not enough light to even read a matchbook by.  Utah, where the towns didn't have names and the people didn't have personalities.  Utah, flat as a penny and you smelled the copper on your hands when you got a nosebleed filling up the tank Sunday morning.  And off you went with a napkin to your mouth, listening to the free trial subscription to satellite radio all the way to the Pacific.

The rest of the states were a blur, moving from one red rock to another.  Chasing landscapes and sunlight and realizing how vast the world is outside of your mind.  Traveling like this becomes a type of trepanning, a relief of pressure, a direct line to God.  Fresh wounds and grated bone when you step on the asphalt around mid-day in August.  You feel it all and it all feels so connected to you.  Sticky, full of tar, the vultures circling your dreams before you even had a chance to close your eyes.  The same stuff your soul is made of up lies stagnant in the air out somewhere on I-70W, between Arizona and Nevada's state lines.  

And you wonder what fools gold you dug up on this trip.  You worry a little too much.  You bake a cake that smells like the vines of autumn that grow slow at first then quick in a week; and everything's suffocated again before you have a chance to catch your breath.  An apple cake with coffee, a cake worth eating the morning you get back from an 18-hour road trip.

Apple Coffee Cake

From an old cookbook I found in a box my mother sent me while I lived in Texas.


  • 1 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 3/4 cup shortening
  • 2 egg
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 ts baking soda
  • 2 1/2 cup flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup coffee, warm but not hot
  • 3 red apples, diced and peeled
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar



  1. Preheat oven to 350*F and prepare an 8-inch round cake pan with butter and parchment paper
  2. Sift together baking soda, flour, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl and set aside
  3. Cream together sugar and shortening in a large bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with a paddle attachment
  4. Add eggs, one at a time until fully incorporated.  Pour in almond extract and stir to mix in.
  5. Turn mixer off and alternate between adding the dry ingredients and the coffee in thirds.  Mix with a rubber spatula
  6. Toss in apple dices and fold in
  7. Pour into prepared pan and crumble brown sugar on top
  8. Bake for 30-38 minutes, until golden brown and fragrant

A Greyhound Through Hill Country


It was hard to find a comfortable position.  I'm long-limbed and can never stay still for long.  I wrapped my body around an old leather jacket and road the north-bound Greyhound bus to Dallas last week.  It gave me a reason to see Nolan, the first time in three weeks.  Three weeks that quantified into a lifetime of changing perspectives and the resultant, nagging question of why did i do this?

The bus left at seven and pulled in by midnight.  We sat in traffic for 45 minutes, and I read articles about the I Ching and cancer.  My eyes grew dryer with every mile marker and I had a pair of glasses tucked into the backseat pocket.  It was longer than I thought five hours could be, and the only way I could gauge that kind of time was San Diego to Phoenix, from San Diego to Las Vegas, from San Diego to the first gas station we stopped at the buy water and a burger on our way to El Paso for the night.  All my starting points were from that Southern California town.  And many of my ending points, too.

By the end of my time in California, I was no longer many things.  I was no longer alone, no longer exciting, no longer young and naive and studious.  No longer a law student, no longer confident, no longer the faltering idea of being someone else.  I was myself and I have sacrificed for that kind of beginning, but I had to go to Dallas and see if it was all worth it.  To look the wolf in the eyes at night and see if it howls the same as you howled inside.  When it wasn't so perfect, when it was a shaggy puddle of old love notes that got ripped to shreds in an old cardboard box.

We met at the station and a male prostitute asked where I was going.  It was pitch-dark and silent in the city, and in the distance you saw how expansive Dallas was.  We passed office buildings that still had lights on and it seemed we found ourselves in another city, another few moments of exploration.  We got a hotel for the night, a little room with a queen-sized bed and a TV that was screwed into the dresser.  The fridge motor ran louder than my breathing and my body, naturally nestled into Nolan's, fell into the rhythm of his breathing.

And for two days, I felt whole.  In a way I hadn't before.  Longer than the three-week span of living on my own.  Longer than maybe a year or two.  It was no longer a question of "How will we survive?", but a question of when will the vast gap between us close itself?  Inside you can fill barbecue joints, the Grand Canyon, and the biggest little city in the world.   There is a five year age gap and the gaps in our teeth and a gap between my thighs because I'm only eating for one.  There are memories I think I forgot and a tenderness in our words and fingertips that came out of the synapses of our mind, our fight or flight response, our relationship survivalism.

And we couldn't even kiss goodbye because we're in an unfamiliar town.  We hesitated, standing at terminal five of the Dallas greyhound, my bag on my shoulder and a headphone in one year.  I looked him in the eye and said, "I'll see you soon."

Places to visit in Dallas....Social House / Weekend Coffee / TENOVERSIX / White Elephant