It’s a nice time of year. And not even because of the wool coats and bright scarves, coffee mugs and Louis Armstrong blaring merrily in every cafe, and time off from classes for a few days’ respite with family fast-approaching.
Those are all nice too, of course. Sensory manifestations of why I adore autumn and the holiday season. But even more than all that, it’s a nice time of year.
I was at Barnes and Noble yesterday, working on a paper after my excursion downtown, a cup of pomegranate tea in hand as uni-student-occupied-tables covered in Macs and textbooks littered the Starbucks cafe (a common sight).
And behind me I heard a mum and child walk by – a son around 5 years old, 6 at most – talking about Christmas presents for dad and going to the grocery store to buy ingredients for gingerbread cookies and “how about this nice new book for your sister?”
I hadn’t even realized that I had stopped typing, trying my damnedest not to look too overt in my eavesdropping. I caught the eye of the woman sitting next to me – alone, save for the latest copy of the Times and a plate of biscotti – and she gave me a knowing smile. I returned it, heart unexpectedly lightened.
People ask me why I prefer to do work in cafes over the solitude of my apartment or the silence of one of the libraries on grounds. I tell them it’s because I like the white noise of bustling life filling the space behind my headphones. It keeps me focused. And the liquid caffeine – and sometimes, a slice of cake – is all the company I need.
But I also like to notice people. Discreetly, for the most part, and I’ve overheard some of the strangest things while on the seventh page of a research paper. Strange and sometimes wonderful. And I’ve found that now, with the chill of looming winter creeping in and skies darkening in anticipation of Christmas lights, is ideal for remembering how lovely people can be.
So, it’s a nice time of year.
But sad, too, in a way. Sad that it only lasts for a while. Sad that it’s my last autumn spent eavesdropping in coffee shops under the guise of philosophy-paper-writing. Sad that this time next year, I won’t have everyone I love here at uni to share it with. Sad that time passes too quickly for me to listen to all those wonderful strangers with their wonderful stories, of families and Christmas gifts and hopes of snow and having something to look forward to.
But that’s how you know something’s really lovely, right? If there’s something sad about it, too.
Pumpkin Bars with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting
Adapted from Kitchen Runway
Yields about 20 bars
Ingredients for the cake:
- 4 eggs
- 1 2/3 cup sugar
- 1 cup oil [canola or vegetable]
- 1 15-oz can pumpkin puree [not pumpkin pie filling]
- 2 tsp vanilla
- 2 cups AP flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp nutmeg
- 1 tsp salt
Ingredients for the frosting:
- 1 cup [2 sticks] butter, softened
- 1 8-oz package cream cheese, softened
- 2 tbsp maple syrup
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- chopped walnuts, if desired
Method to prepare the cake:
Preheat oven to 350F and line and grease a 9×13-inch pan. In a large bowl, mix the eggs, sugar, oil, and pumpkin until well-blended. Add the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt, and stir until just combined. All of this can be done by hand. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 20-25 mins, until set. Allow cake to cool to room temperature.
Method to prepare the frosting:
On medium speed, cream the butter, cream cheese, maple syrup, and vanilla until mixture is light and fluffy, about 3 mins. Lower the speed and gradually add the powdered sugar. Beat until fully incorporated. Spread the frosting over the cooled cake. Sprinkle chopped walnuts over top, if desired. Slice the cake into 20 bars and serve.
Tonight is a gathering at the boys’, as is typical for holidays at this point, and the day has been spent with the apartment smelling of thyme and pumpkin cake. We had a potluck dinner of sorts this time last year as well, and these were also showcased for that occasion. Having been in charge of the dessert back then, I offered to do so again this year. There’s something nice about routine, too, sometimes.
So I’ll be heading off soon with pumpkin bars, buckeye balls, and roasted butternut squash in hand, Noosh by my side with green bean casserole and homemade cranberry sauce. A few hours spent indulging in what I’m positive will be a delicious meal, and a night to celebrate a lovely time of year with a lovely group of people. No need for eavesdropping tonight, but similar anticipation for some good stories.
Sad that it can’t last forever, but at least there’ll be something nice to remember.