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).
It turns out that returning from a sunny honeymoon to a rather rainy, dark stretch of Seattle fall hasn't been the easiest transition. Sam and I have been struggling a little to find our groove with work projects and even simple routines like cooking meals for one another and getting out of the easy daily ruts that can happen to us all. When we were traveling, we made some new vows to each other -- ways we can keep the fall and winter from feeling a bit gloomy, as tends to happen at a certain point living in the Pacific Northwest (for me, at least): from weekly wine tastings at our neighborhood wine shop to going on more lake walks. And I suppose that's one of the most energizing and invigorating parts about travel, isn't it? The opposite of the daily rut: the constant newness and discovery around every corner. One of my favorite small moments in Italy took place at a cafe in Naples when I accidentally ordered the wrong pastry and, instead, was brought this funny looking cousin of a croissant. We had a wonderfully sunny little table with strong cappuccino, and, disappointed by my lack of ordering prowess, I tried the ugly pastry only to discover my new favorite treat of all time (and the only one I can't pronounce): the sfogliatelle. I couldn't stop talking about this pastry, its thick flaky layers wrapped around a light, citrus-flecked sweet ricotta filling. It was like nothing I'd ever tried -- the perfect marriage of interesting textures and flavors. I became a woman obsessed. I began to see them displayed on every street corner; I researched their origin back at the hotel room, and started to look up recipes for how to recreate them at home. And the reason for the fascination was obviously that they were delicious. But even more: I'm so immersed in the food writing world that I rarely get a chance to discover a dish or a restaurant on my own without hearing tell of it first. And while a long way away from that Italian cafe, I had a similar feeling this week as I scanned the pages of Alice Medrich's new book, Flavor Flours, and baked up a loaf of her beautiful fall pumpkin loaf: Discovery, newness, delight!
I always force myself to wait until after Halloween to start thinking much about holiday pies or, really, future holidays in general. But this year I cheated a bit, tempted heavily by the lure of a warmly-spiced sweet potato pie that I used to make back when I baked pies for a living in the Bay Area (way back when). We seem to always have sweet potatoes around as they're one of Oliver's favorite foods, and when I roast them for his lunch I've been wishing I could turn them into a silky pie instead. So the other day I reserved part of the sweet potatoes for me. For a pie that I've made hundreds of times in the past, this time reimagined with fragrant brown butter, sweetened solely with maple syrup, and baked into a flaky kamut crust. We haven't started talking about the Thanksgiving menu yet this year, but I know one thing for sure: this sweet potato pie will make an appearance.
This time last week I was up in the Skagit River Valley sitting in the early fall sun eating wood-fired bagels and chatting with farmers, millers and bakers at the Kneading Conference West. I made homemade soba noodles, learned the ins and outs of sourdough starters, and sat in on a session where we tasted crackers baked with single varietal wheats. It was like wine tasting, but with wheat and the whole time I kept pinching myself, thinking: THESE ARE MY PEOPLE! I don't get the opportunity to be a student much these days -- usually on the other side of things teaching cooking classes or educating people at the farmers markets about whole grains and natural sugars. So to just sit and listen with a fresh (red!) notebook and a new pen was surprisingly refreshing. I miss it already. Thankfully, this cookie recipe has come back as a memorable souvenir, and one that is sure to be in high rotation in our house in the coming months.
Strolling New York City streets during the height of fall when all the leaves are changing and golden light glints off the brownstone windows. This is what I envisioned when I bought tickets to attend my cousin's September wedding earlier this month: Sam and I would extend the trip for a good day or two so we could experience a little bit of fall in the city. We'd finally eat at Prune and have scones and coffee at Buvette, as we always do. Sam wanted to take me to Russ and Daughters, and we'd try to sneak in a new bakery or ice cream shop for good measure. Well, as some of you likely know, my thinking on the weather was premature. New York City fall had yet to descend and, instead, we ambled around the city in a mix of humidity and rain. When we returned home I found myself excited about the crisp evening air, and the fact that the tree across the street had turned a rusty shade of amber. It was time to do a little baking.
I am writing this on Saturday afternoon on a day when we had big plans to conquer pre-baby chore lists, but Sam's not feeling great and my energy's a little low so it hasn't been quite what we'd envisioned. My goals for the morning were to repot a house plant and make some soup and I've done neither. I will say that the sweet potato and fennel are still sitting on the counter eagerly awaiting their Big Moment -- it just hasn't come about quite yet. Sam and I were both going to attempt to install the carseat, but it started to look really daunting so we abandoned ship; it's now sitting proudly in the basement, also eagerly awaiting its Big Moment. So it's been one of those weekends -- the kind you look back on and wonder what it is you actually accomplished. At the very least, I get the chance to tell you about this hearty cranberry cornbread. I know maybe it feels premature in the season for cranberry recipes, but hang with me here: slathered with a little soft butter and runny honey, there's nothing I'd rather eat right now on the cool, crisp Seattle mornings we've been having lately.