a november state of mind

If it is quiet, I can hear a plop as an acorn drops into the pool from the towering oak trees above. Water ripples out in a concentric circle as the acorn joins its brethren in the bottom of the deep end. A moment later, there is a plunk as another acorn pelts the roof and bounces off into the grass.

This is prime acorn season, and our abundant squirrel population should be feasting right now, or at least stockpiling their acorn stores for winter. Instead, the obnoxious rodents have avoided our back yard since it became a construction zone over the summer. The construction has been over for the past couple of weeks, but the squirrels haven’t returned. This is not a bad thing, except that I would welcome their acorn scavenging.

I am sad about the birds, though. The birds followed the squirrels’ lead and have also stayed away. Our two bird feeders, filled but untouched since I replenished them two weeks ago, swing gently from the pergola that shades our patio. I miss the cheeping of cardinals and the chatter of the Carolina wrens. I miss the birds, but I remain optimistic that they will return. (I just hope it will be soon.)

Right now, though, the sound of the acorns plunking into the pool is drowned out by the noises of my children. There are squeals and giggles and gales of laughter, each outburst underscored by splashing, as the kids swim in the chilly pool water. They seem oblivious to the fact that it is November and that the water is cold, despite the warm weather outside. We watched the installation of this pool all summer, and it was such a tease. We were given the all-clear, finally, in late October, and now, the kids are determined to make the most of this oasis in our back yard, even if only for a short while longer.

The kids roll with the punches, but I am feeling seasonally conflicted. I’m looking forward to wearing sweaters and boots, but today I’m wearing flip-flops and happy for it. I would rather sit outside with a glass of something cold and refreshing, but a mug of cocoa or hot tea has its own certain appeal. My kids will wear shorts with jackets in the morning, resisting long pants until at least December if they can get away with it.

Living in Florida means that getting into the spirit of fall or winter requires effort. To help ease myself into a November state of mind, I baked an old-fashioned pecan pie yesterday. The mingling aromas of baking piecrust, maple syrup, and pecans smelled more amazing than any Yankee Candle could aspire to.

It helped, I think, the baking of that pie. I feel ready to start planning the Thanksgiving menu, and maybe even to begin to think about Christmas.


Yield: Serves 8-10.

Old-Fashioned Pecan Pie

This recipe comes from Cook's Country, and it's their version of an old-fashioned pecan pie, made without the use of the ubiquitous corn syrup found in so many pecan pie recipes. I tweaked the recipe by adding some orange zest, which gives a lovely citrus undertone to the filling, and by adding extra pecans.


Pastry dough for one 9-inch pie crust, homemade or store-bought
1 cup maple syrup
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon molasses
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon orange zest
6 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
1-3/4 cup (7 ounces) chopped pecans


Prepare pie crust: On a lightly floured surface, roll pie dough into a 12-inch round. Gently fit the dough into your pie plate, taking care not to stretch the dough, and trim overhang to 1/2-inch. Crimp the edges with your thumb and finger or with the tines of a fork. Refrigerate the pie crust for 30 minutes.

Make the filling: With the oven rack in the lower-middle position, heat oven to 450 degrees F. In a saucepan over medium heat, heat the syrup, sugar, cream, and molasses until the sugar dissolves, stirring occasionally, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool for 5 minutes. Whisk butter, salt, and zest into mixture until combined. Whisk in the egg yolks until thoroughly blended.

Bake pie: Scatter the chopped pecans in the pie plate and carefully pour filling over the pecans. Place pie in oven and immediately reduce the temperature to 325 degrees F. Bake for about 45 to 60 minutes, until the filling is set and the center jiggles slightly when the pie plate is gently shaken. Cool on a rack for 1 hour, then refrigerate until completely set (about 3 hours, or up to 1 day).

Bring to room temperature before serving.

Tweaked from this recipe in Cook's Country, from November 2009.