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.
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.
We walked to the library last week and I had a strange realization standing in line watching Sam check out his usual massive stack of books: Will I ever have the time to read stacks of books again? I used to be much more of a reader than I am today -- a fact I'm not at all proud of. But when evening rolls around and the more formal workday ends, I find emails and other odds and ends creep in. Walking home from the library, I began obsessing over free time for reading, asking Sam if we'd ever be those two old people who study bird manuals and can recognize birds on walks. I want to have the time to read bird manuals someday. For now though, we're young and we're working a lot. We did sneak away on that one-night camping trip I told you about, and cooked some interesting, haphazard meals which I hope to share with you soon. For now though, for summer: a strawberry dessert recipe.
Much like friends, types of Sunday mornings, or books -- there are many different kinds of desserts. Sometimes you may be in the mood for a light French cake piled high with summer fruit. Other days, a thick slice of fragrant pound cake will do. And then there are those days when you crave a rich chocolate mousse that you share after a night of good conversation and a little too much wine. But let's be honest. When it comes right down to it, the most basic and unassuming dessert of all is sometimes the only one that will do. A good and simple affair. Vanilla ice cream. So I want to talk about that today--about a dessert that withstands the test of time, that will always be there for you. A dessert that is far from trendy, that doesn't play favorites or trick you into thinking it's something that it's not. It's a good foundation. A solid beginning.
[ Pie. if you've been around here much in the last few months, you know that I make pie. A lot of pie. And I'm particularly excited to share this pie with you today because it helped me break out of a rut. A pie rut. A baking rut. A Marge inspiration rut.