Step into Autumn: Travel

autumn-travelmorgue-webWhile we don’t get any fall colors in the Phoenix area this time of year there are a number of places to visit for a weekend or a day to get our fill of autumn without leaving the state. The trick is to go North and go up! Here are some recommendations.

Oak Creek Canyon: About 2 ½ hours from Phoenix, you can find yourself in the kind of world you expect to see in New England. Oaks and other deciduous trees change colors, and the Creek itself along with rocks makes the scenery spectacular in the fall. Colors are at their best from late October to early November, but you might want to make a call to see how they’re shaping up this year. And on your way in or out, be sure to stop at the roadside stand selling fresh squeezed cider to really capture the season!

Flagstaff:  Spend a weekend and take the time to ask locals for the best drives. Leaves generally peak up there in mid-to-late October. While you’re visiting, wander around Northern Arizona University’s campus to capture the mood of college students caught up in the semester.

Visit some of Northern Arizona’s ski areas: Altitude helps create color in the fall. Snowbowl road is one great choice. Also look into ski areas in the White Mountains. These options are more suited to a weekend trip than an overnight, but pre-snow prices can make the trip a bargain.

Check with AAA, the State of Arizona visitor’s bureau and chambers of commerce in some of our Northern towns to get more ideas. And get on the road to find your fall color!

Step up to Autumn: Food

autumn-food-morgue-webEven though we’re still dealing with summer temperatures here in Arizona, autumn has arrived and it’s worth your time to remind your family that the season is changing. One great way to do that is by taking advantage of the bounty of fall foods available. Here are a few ideas.

Apples: They are coming off the tree right now which makes them extra fresh and well-priced. How about buying three or four varieties and holding an apple tasting? You can have baked apples or dip them in hot caramel for dessert.

Winter squash: The grocery stores are filled with a variety of fresh winter squash, providing a healthful and tasty side dish for almost any meal. Try cutting a butternut or other winter squash into half to one inch squares and roast to bring out the sweetness. Simply place the squash in a bowl and drizzle with olive oil, butter, or a combination and add salt and pepper. For some extra sweetness add several tablespoons of maple syrup. Place in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake for 20-40 minutes at 350 degrees, stirring every 15-20 minutes and pulling out when the squash is soft and starting to brown. You may find that even your picky eaters will enjoy the rich caramel flavor.

Pumpkin bread: Recipes abound for pumpkin baked goods, and pumpkin bread is one of the best. Experiment with adding additional pumpkin for more flavor and richness, double the cinnamon and consider grating your own nutmeg to get the freshest flavor. Some people like to add raisins, nuts or even chopped dates before baking to add personality.

Pumpkin and pecan pies: Fall is the perfect time to introduce some special hot desserts. Both these pies require some baking skill, but one cook’s secret is to explore some store-bought options. One warehouse store in particular makes a pumpkin pie every year that can put even county fair winners to shame.

What other fall options are your favorites? How about baked apples or cider donuts? Maybe you have a frosted pumpkin bar recipe that you haven’t made since last autumn. Well, it’s time to pull out your favorites and bring the taste of fall into your home.

Dress Your Home for Fall

It’s hard to believe that autumn is upon us when we’re still dealing with triple-digit temperatures. But you can start bringing the season into your home. To get into the mood, select colors, shapes, products and even foods that create the feeling of fall.

Start with the produce department of your grocery or warehouse store. Look for pumpkins, winter squash and gourds or decorative Indian corn. Set up a display in your foyer or on your buffet. Or if you want to go simpler, just put a large basket or pottery bowl on your dining room table filled with apples and pears – fall fruit.

You can introduce the season to your home right at your front door with a fall wreath or hanging. Many stores have ready-made door decorations, or you can create your own easily. Stop by your local hobby store and select a grapevine or other wreath shape in fall tones. Look for garlands of fall leaves in silk, and wrap it around the wreath. Finish with a bow of wire-edged ribbon in fall colors.

Another simple door option involves selecting three complementary ears of Indian corn and tie them at the top with ribbon or raffia. Hang and your home announces the season to everyone who enters.

If you make a trip north to see the colors, bring some old books with you and press the best of the leaves you discover. Add some pine cones and branches and you have a ready-made centerpiece. For other decorations, press the leaves and scatter them on side tables and in bowls.

Even with our hot summer temperatures, your home can carry the feelings – if not the temperatures – of fall.