My out-of-town guests brought me a pumpkin. On their way from the city, they stopped at a farm market and selected a nice, round, orange house gift, enjoying not only the generosity of the gesture, but the experience of browsing among the dried cornstalks and jarred condiments, and the baskets of sweetly scented local apples.
I felt momentarily terrible as they drove up to discover my home already adorned with a half-dozen pumpkins in assorted sizes, filling planters that only recently held summer flowers. I found a spot for the newcomer and told my friends not to worry. Soon enough, I'll really need their gift.
It's because of the squirrels. They're pigs.
I hadn't had my fresh pumpkins in place more than a few days when I discovered the first gnaw marks. Within a day or two, rodential tooth scratches on the pumpkin furthest from the house had grown to become a divot of flesh, gone from the pumpkin's shoulder. That entry to the sweet meat and toothsome seeds of the gourd should have been enough for the squirrelly thieves.
But no. After they had made access to one pumpkin, they went after another. Even after I threw the first, softly rotting pumpkin over the fence, where it split to offer its fleshy interior to squirrels near and far, the creatures continued their assault on my remaining pumpkins. Now another has a small, toothy blemish. Soon enough, it, too, will sail over the fence.
Meanwhile down the street, my friend's rosemary plant has begun overwintering beautifully. Situated against a south-facing exterior wall, it never feels enough winter cold to give up for the season. It just gets sturdier in the face of the chill. Trimming it of a few stalks takes a good, strong pair of clippers. Fortunately, I have free access to the plant, and clippers in my toolbox.
Because it is now officially the season of the rosemary martini. Its woodsy flavor evokes a flannel shirt, a cozy campfire, a clear and starlit winter night. But it brings just enough summer sunshine along to remind us that winter isn't forever.
To make it, steep fresh rosemary in simple syrup. (I start with a fresh spring in the syrup on the stove, as the sugar melts into the boiling water, then discard and replace it with a another fresh spring as I decant the syrup into a jar for the refrigerator.) Shake nearly equal parts freshly squeezed lemon juice and rosemary syrup -- go a little lighter on the lemon or it overwhelms the subtle taste of the herb -- and good vodka. Strain into martini glasses and garnish with a twist of lemon zest.
I first encountered this martini on a Thanksgiving weekend, when friends and family rented an enormous beach house for the holiday. We fixed all the traditional foods, but added a seafood boil to the menu for the night before. Newspaper covered the long dining table, as crab legs, mussels, shrimp, potatoes and corn on the cob hit the steampot.
From a deck off the kitchen, our children and elders implored us to leave the hot tub in which we soaked under a full moon, rosemary martinis in hand. We promised we'd come soon. The seafood hit the table. Hungry hands grabbed. Crab legs disappeared first, then mussels. Seafood shrapnel littered damp newspaper. "You're missing everything," our dear ones yelled from above.
We lifted our faces to the harvest moon, and poured another round.