My good friend Keena was working in India for the last few months and just returned to Seattle, eager to experience as much Pacific Northwest summer as possible in September. I’m with her on this one: It just so happens that towards the end of this month, the farmers markets I’ve been doing will also come to an end, so things seem like they’re both simultaneously gearing up (hike! picnic! beach!) and wrapping up at the same time as I also feel a sense of wanting to cram in as much as I can before the days start getting noticeably shorter. And truly: there’s no better recipe to commemorate such efforts than these fresh corn grits with oil-poached summer tomatoes.
I thought I’d be overjoyed to have a break from the farmers markets but with just a few weeks left, I’m feeling like I’ll really miss my regulars, my farmers market neighbors, the weekly trades, and the chance to spend some time outdoors. I did a big all-day Harvest Festival event yesterday and had some time to reflect on the season and how it’s been for Marge. What I realized standing there all day is that I don’t really have to work as hard at the events as I used to. Since Marge is a relatively new company here in Seattle, it took a lot of work at the beginning of the season to get people to try the granola and to recognize the brand. Now, for the most part, they come up to the table and know exactly what they want. And thank me for being there. Word is spreading — has spread. And I feel really lucky for all of it.
On Friday, an older woman with stark white hair and a gauzy pink scarf came up to my table and browsed for a little while, reading the nutritional facts on the back of each package of granola and looking at our signage and displays. She noticed a little press flyer and mentioned how absolutely wonderful it was that we were featured in so many magazines. Because I tend to be humble and shy about these things I told her that it was just luck, really. She looked at me and paused for what felt like ten full seconds, and then responded: well, the harder we work the more chance that luck will find us, don’t you think? I don’t know if I completely agree although I really want to. I want to believe the woman with the bold pink scarf. I want to tell myself that if you put in the time, it will all surely pay off big in the end.
Before bed, I’ve been reading Twyla Tharp’s book The Creative Habit, and a perfectly appropriate line jumped off the page yesterday: “The more you are in the room working, experimenting, banging away at your objective, the more luck has a chance of biting you on the nose.” So maybe the older woman is right. And maybe I’m starting, slowly but surely, to see that coming true on a very small scale at the farmers markets: I get to just stand and greet people as they come up to the booth rather than actively engage them and work to sell them the product. And that feels lucky. Even on what seem like impossibly long days or days when I really miss really good health insurance or retirement benefits, there’s the possibility of going out to lunch in the middle of the day or leaving town early to drive to the mountains to see a friend who has proclaimed that summer must, for this one year, fit itself into the month of September. And we’re working on that. Working really hard at it. Wish us luck.
A quick bookkeeping note: Marge Granola has been nominated for a Martha Stewart American Made Award! We’re doing pretty well, but we’ve still got a little catching up to do. Voting takes a matter of moments and you can vote six times per day (so if you’re like my family, you can return each day and continue voting — which would be wonderful); the contest ends this Friday the 13th. I’d so appreciate your support (tell a friend?) and vote if you have a moment. Thank you! Vote here.
A quick note on this recipe: First, it’s heaven. Make it tonight if you can. I ran across the idea for fresh corn grits in Food and Wine and bookmarked it right away, wondering why I hadn’t thought of such a genius invention (we eat a lot of polenta around here). I will say that I wondered half-way in why I was grating the corn cobs instead of just slicing off the kernels — but I will tell you it makes all the difference. In grating the corn you get a lot of the juices (and you use them) and you get finer bits of corn than you would if you simply sliced off the kernels. So while it seems a touch labor-intensive at the time, stick with it. When I tried my first bite of the grits, they were like nothing I’d ever tasted before: sweet as the summer sun, lightly herbed, bright with flavor. And to be honest, they tasted nothing like the polenta or grits we often make at home — which brought on the discussion: is this really more like creamed corn? What’s the true definition of polenta or grits? So in an effort to work a little less on this sunny Sunday morning, I’m going to leave those questions unanswered and get right to the recipe. Call it what you will, it’s late summer in a bowl and I think you’re going to like it as much as I did.
Some people remove the skins from the tomatoes once they cool — I happen to like them and think it gives the dish a rustic quality. Once you eat every last one of the tomatoes, you’ll have pan of herbed, tomatoey olive oil left: don’t toss it! We’ve been using it in salad dressings, as a bread dip, or to drizzle over morning eggs.
Adapted from: Food and Wine
For the tomatoes:
For the fresh corn grits:
Prepare the tomatoes: Preheat the oven to 300 F. Lay tomatoes, garlic, rosemary and salt in a heavy-bottomed baking dish. Pour olive over the tomatoes evenly and bake for 35-45 minutes, or until tomatoes are soft and skin is beginning to shrivel. Discard herbs and allow to cool slightly.
Make the polenta: In a saucepan, simmer the corn and juices with the milk over medium heat, stirring until thick, about 6-8 minutes. Add the salt and pepper; fold in chives, butter (if using) and Parmesan cheese.
To serve: Scoop the warm polenta into a small serving dish and spoon the soft, warm tomatoes on top. Sprinkle with a little flaky salt, if desired. Serve immediately. Save the herbed olive-oil to use in other recipes (salad dressings, drizzle over eggs or dip for crusty bread).
On Monday our little family of three is headed to the airport at 6 am to board our first with-baby cross-country trip. We'll be visiting Sam's family in New Jersey for a few days, then renting a car and driving over to meet up with my family at my mom's lake house in the Adirondacks. Sam's younger sister and her kids have yet to meet Oliver; my grandpa has yet to meet him, and Oliver has yet to take a dunk in a lake, see a firefly, or spend quality time with energetic dogs -- of which there will be three. A lot of firsts. This week my family has been madly texting, volunteering to make certain meals or sweets on assigned days while we're at the cabin and it got me thinking about really simple, effortless summer desserts -- in particular, ones that you can make while staying in a house with an unfamiliar kitchen and unfamiliar equipment and still do a pretty bang-up job. I think fruit crisp is just that thing.
In a few short weeks, we're headed to New York, Vermont and New Jersey to visit family and see my sister Zoe get married. In starting to think through the trip and do a little planning, I found Oliver the cutest tiny-person dress shoes I've ever seen (and he's quite smitten with them), sussed out childcare options for the night of the wedding, and found what feels like the most expensive (and last) rental car in the state of New Jersey. I try very hard not to be one of Those People that begins lamenting the loss of a season before it's remotely appropriate to do so, but this year, as we'll be gone much of September, I've felt a bit of a 'hurry, make all the summery things!' feeling set in. So we've been managing increasingly busy days punctuated with zucchini noodle salads, gazpacho, corn on the cob and homemade popsicles (preferably eaten shirtless outside followed by a good, solid sprinkler run for one small person in particular. Not naming any names).
Somehow, in what seems to have been a blink of an eye, we have a six month old baby. In some ways I can't remember a time we didn't have an Oliver, and in other ways it's all a blur broken up by a few holidays (a Thanksgiving thanks to grocery store takeout, and our very first Christmas in Seattle), a few family visits, a one-day road trip to Portland, a birthday dinner out, a birthday cake, weekend drives to nowhere in particular, swimming at the pool with Oliver, weekly get-togethers with our parent's group, doctor's visits, hundreds of walks around the neighborhood, hundreds of cups of coffee, dozens (or more?) of scoops of ice cream. Most of the worrying about keeping a baby alive has made way for other concerns, and Oliver's need for constant stimulation or soothing walks and car rides has been traded for stretches of time playing with a new toy or checking out his surroundings. In truth, it's thanks to that tiny bit of baby independence that this humble, summery cake came to be in the first place. So we've all got an Oliver to thank for that. Or, really, we have a Yossi Arefi to thank, as it's from her beautiful new cookbook that I've bookmarked heavily and am eager to continue exploring.
A triple berry summer crisp made with oats, quinoa flakes and hazelnuts. Summer in a skillet.
I had a weak moment on our honeymoon in Italy when I decided that I should be making gelato for a living. My enthusiasm for Italian gelato wasn't surprising to anyone. I'd done extensive research, made lists, had Sam map out cities in terms of where the best gelaterias were. I took notes and photos and hemmed and hawed over flavor choices: Sicilian Pistachio! Chestnut Honey! Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig! In truth, on that particular trip, I cared far more about treats, sunshine, and cobblestone walks than I cared about famous landmarks or tourist attractions, often leaving the camera back at the hotel in favor of my small black notebook which housed detailed jottings on dessert discoveries in each city we visited. Our friends Matteo and Jessica happened to be in Naples on the one night we were there, and we all went out for pizza together followed by a long stroll around the city. At some point the conversation turned to gelato (as it's bound to) and Matteo brought up the famous school in Bologna where many renowned gelato artisans study. My wheels were spinning. Maybe we should visit Bologna. I should see this school! I should talk to these students! I could make Sicilian Pistachio; Chestnut Honey; and Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig each and every day of our lives. Or at the very least, travel to Bologna to learn how and then come back to Seattle to take our Northwest city by storm. Well here we are six months later, back to reality, and the impetus to pack up my bags and head for Bologna has subsided for the time being ... but not the unwavering gusto to sample. That part will always be with me. It's been awhile since I mixed up a batch of ice cream at home, but the other day a beautiful new cookbook landed on my doorstep and I flipped right to a recipe for dark chocolate sorbet with toasty, salty almonds. I didn't need much convincing.