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How to fake a real autumn

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FEELS LIKE FALL Even when it’s still summer weather outside, you can experience fall indoors with a few tricks. (Illustration: behance.net/runamokstudios)

It might be 90 degrees outside. You might be wilted and beaten down from driving in the blazing heat of a 4 o’clock carpool or a 5 o’clock commute. You might want to take a nap in the AC but realize another shower would be a better idea.

All of that might be true. And still, here we are. Woohoo … happy fall!

There’s no need to get discouraged – we’ve got you. Short of turning the thermostat to the 50s and revving up the fireplace, we have some ideas to gear our minds to pumpkins and turning leaves. Fall is here once a year, and we are determined to make this one count. Even if we have to fake it ’till we make it. 

Here’s our to-do list to fabricate an excellent fall.

Set the mood: If you’re thinking pumpkin spice candles, think again. You’ll get a much more natural (and less cloying) scent that permeates the house by simmering spices on the stove. This is the lazy man’s (or woman’s) workaround to making the house smell like you’ve been baking all sorts of pumpkin things, when really you’ve been running around waiting for a free minute to cool off in the pool. 

Here’s what to do: In a small, heavy saucepan, put any combination of a couple of cinnamon sticks, a few whole cloves, a whole star anise or two, a few black peppercorns, and maybe a strip of orange peel. Cover all of this with 4 or 5 inches of water. Bring it to a boil, then turn the heat to low and let it simmer away. Check every hour or so and add more water, so the spices don’t burn.

Get in the game: Whether or not you’re a football fan, turn on a game. Any game, any team. You can watch, or just use the announcer’s voice and cheers from the crowd as background noise. We’re betting you’ll have a Pavlovian response: Football games equal fall. 

Ice your pumpkin spice: Drinking those pumpkin spice lattes that so many people look forward to can feel a little bit like drinking hot chocolate in the summer. Nobody wants that. Ask for your pumpkin spice latte iced, and take it with you while you…

Shop for a cause: Buy your Houston Holiday Shopping Card benefiting the American Cancer Society and start making your lists. Retailers tell us Holiday Card time is busier than Christmas, and for good reason: Everything is 20 percent off at participating stores (and restaurants and salons). With some advance thought, you could finish your holiday shopping early, at a discount, and still have time to kick your feet up with an iced pumpkin spice drink. This year’s Holiday Shopping Card is good Oct. 21 through Oct. 31. Buy it at participating stores or at houston.holiday-shoppingcard.com.

Take a movie break: Some classics that are set in fall (or around the holidays) and are sure to get you in the spirit: You’ve Got Mail, Planes Trains & Automobiles, Grumpy Old Men, Home Alone, Trading Places, Garfield Thanksgiving, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, Miracle On 34th Street (the 1994 version). (Extra for You’ve Got Mail fans: Writer Delia Ephron is speaking virtually at The Jung Center Oct. 5. Go to junghouston.org.)

Bring New England to your kitchen: Apple-picking may not be a thing in Houston, but we can play that card by making our own better-than-the-jar applesauce. Once you try this easy, no-fail, no-sugar formula, you’ll never go back to the canned-fruit aisle again. (Bonus: Your house will smell almost as good as it will when you put those spices on the stove. See above.) Breakfast, snack, dessert, alone, with yogurt or ice cream, sprinkled with raisins, warm, cold – it’s all good. 

Homemade Applesauce

9 apples (use a mix – maybe Honeycrisp, Fuji, and Granny Smiths), peeled, cored, and chopped into 1-inch cubes
1 cinnamon stick
2 whole star anise pods
1 teaspoon whole cloves
2 strips lemon peel

Put all the ingredients in a large, heavy pot with a lid. Turn the heat to medium-low and partially cover. Cook for an hour or so, stirring occasionally. Once the apples are soft, turn the heat off, cover the pot, and let it sit for 30 minutes. Stir the apples with a wooden spoon to break them up. Leave the sauce chunky, or mash it with a potato masher or the back of a fork.  

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