Searching for fall

I’ve previously voiced my despair regarding fall’s arrival —only because it means that winter will soon be on its heels. (In fact, you didn’t have to venture too far west last weekend to get a BIG taste of winter weather.)

But there are certain things that I do enjoy about autumn. It’s a beautiful season, and each year about this time, Hubby Bryan and I usually take a long weekend and go in search of fall foliage. I call it Bryan’s Birthday Beer Tour, because we plan it to coincide as closely as possible with his special day, and we usually make a few brewery stops along the way, too.

While the snow was blowing out in the Black Hills, the weather was a bit milder in western Wisconsin. We enjoyed temps near 70 degrees, but could have done without the lingering precipitation. The resulting mist and low-hanging clouds at times obscured what we assumed were gorgeous views of the tree-covered hillsides.

The highlights of our journey were a brewery and a winery —both places that we’ve been before but that bear repeating again and again. New Glarus Brewery in New Glarus, Wis., is a true Wisconsin success story —a microbrewery that makes world-class beers but doesn’t sell them outside the borders of the state. Its most well-known brew, Spotted Cow, could just as well be the official state beverage, but New Glarus also brews up a variety of other tasty beverages.

Just a few years ago, New Glarus built a state-of-the-art visitor center and is in the process of a 15,000-square-foot addition. Even if you’re not a beer aficionado, it’s worth a visit for the panoramic views from the outdoor beer garden. If you are a beer fancier, you can do a three-variety tasting for a minimal fee and keep the taster glass. Even though there was a light rain, Bryan and I stood in the courtyard, sipping Serendipity, a unique concoction made with Wisconsin cherries, apples and cranberries, and staring out at the countryside.

Wollersheim Winery is also a first-class operation with a gorgeous visitor center along the banks of the Wisconsin River. The owners recently restored the site’s original hillside wine cave, which dates back to the 1840s. And again, the wine produced there is also remarkable.

A list displayed inside the visitor center has Wollersheim as No. 8 on the country’s best wine tours. The other venues were almost all in California, with New York receiving one nod.

One of the prettiest drives of the weekend came as we made our way back east, toward the Great River Road along the Mississippi. Bryan and I found ourselves on this winding road through the river bluffs, and every mile or so there was an orchard or pumpkin patch, teeming with people. The foliage colors were beautiful, and people were embracing the beauty of the season. We later lamented that we didn’t pause for a few minutes to partake in the festivities.

All too quickly, the weekend was over, and we were back at home, pondering what to have for supper on Sunday night. Accompanied by a squash bought at the farmers market, this chicken and rice dish did the trick. I especially like that it is a “one-pot wonder,” not requiring multiple cooking vessels.

One Pot Chicken & Rice

In a large skillet or Dutch oven, brown 4 chicken thighs (or breasts, if you prefer). Remove from pan and set aside. Drain off all but a couple tablespoons of fat.

In the same pan, sauté 1 onion, minced; 1 large garlic clove, minced; 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger; and 1 teaspoon cumin. Stir in 1 cup Arborio rice and 2½ cups chicken broth. Bring to a boil.

Return chicken to pan. Bake at 375 degrees for 25-30 minutes, until chicken is cooked through and liquid is absorbed.

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