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).
Healthy Comfort Food
People describe raising young kids as a particular season in life. I hadn't heard this until we had a baby, but it brought me a lot of comfort when I'd start to let my mind wander, late at night between feedings, to fears that we'd never travel internationally again or have a sit-down meal in our dining room. Would I ever eat a cardamom bun in Sweden? Soak in Iceland? I loved the heck out of our tiny Oliver, but man what had we done?! Friends would swoop in and reassure us that this was just a season, a blip in the big picture of it all. They promised we'd likely not even remember walking around the house in circles singing made-up songs while eating freezer burritos at odd hours of the day (or night). And it's true.
Oliver is turning two next month, and those all-encompassing baby days feel like a different time, a different Us. In many ways, dare I say it, Toddlerhood actually feels a bit harder. Lately Oliver has become extremely opinionated about what he will and will not wear -- and he enforces these opinions with fervor. Don't get near the kid with a button-down shirt. This week at least. He's obsessed with his rain boots and if it were up to him, he'd keep them on at all times, especially during meals. He insists on ketchup with everything (I created a damn monster), has learned the word "trash" and insists on throwing found items away on his own that really, truly are not trash. I came to pick him up from daycare the other day and he was randomly wearing a bike helmet -- his teacher mentioned he'd had it on most of the day and really, really didn't want to take it off. The kid has FEELINGS. I love that about him, and wouldn't want it any other way. But, man it's also exhausting.
I just finished washing out Oliver's lunchbox and laying it out to dry for the weekend. My favorite time of day is (finally) here: the quiet of the evening when I can actually talk to Sam about our day or sit and reflect on my own thoughts after the inevitable dance party or band practice that precedes the bedtime routine lately. Before becoming pregnant for the second time, I'd have had a glass of wine with the back door propped open right about now -- these days though, I have sparkling water or occasionally take a sip from one of Sam's hard ciders. Except now the back door's closed and we even turned on the heat for the first time yesterday. The racing to water the lawn and clean the grill have been replaced by cozier dinners at home and longer baths in the evening. You blink and it's the first day of fall.
I'd heard from many friends that buying a house wasn't for the faint of heart. But I always shrugged it off, figuring I probably kept better files or was more organized and, really, how hard could it be? Well, I've started (and stopped) writing this post a good fifteen times which may indicate something. BUT! First thing's first: we bought a house! I think! I'm pretty sure! We're still waiting for some tax transcripts to come through and barring any hiccough with that, we'll be moving out of our beloved craftsman in a few weeks and down the block to a great, brick Tudor house that we wanted the second we laid eyes on it. The only problem: it seemed everyone else in Seattle had also laid eyes on it, and wanted it equally as much. I'm not really sure why the homeowner chose us in the end. Our offer actually wasn't the highest, but apparently there were some issues with a few of them. We wrote a letter introducing ourselves and describing why we'd be the best candidates and why we were so drawn to the house; we have a really wonderful broker who pulled out all the stops, and after sifting through 10 offers and spending a number of hours deliberating, they ended up going with ours. We were at a friend's book event at the time when Sam showed me the text from our broker and I kind of just collapsed into his arms. We were both in ecstatic denial (wait, is this real?! Did we just buy a house?) and celebrated by getting chicken salad and potato salad from the neighborhood grocery store and eating it, dazed, on our living room floor. Potato salad never tasted so good.
If your house is anything like ours, last week wasn't our most inspired in terms of cooking. We're all suffering from the post-election blues -- the sole upside being Oliver's decision to sleep-in until 7 am for the first time in many, many months; I think he's trying to tell us that pulling the covers over our heads and hibernating for awhile is ok. It's half-convincing. For much of the week, instead of cooking, there'd been takeout pizza and canned soup before, at week's end, I decided it was time to pour a glass of wine and get back into the kitchen. I was craving something hearty and comforting that we could eat for a few days. Something that wouldn't remind me too much of Thanksgiving because, frankly, I can't quite gather the steam to start planning for that yet. It was time for a big bowl of chili.
Porridge is not the sexiest of breakfasts, it's true. It doesn't have a stylish name like strata or shakshuka, and it doesn't have perfectly domed tops like your favorite fruity muffin. It doesn't crumble into delightful bits like a good scone nor does it fall into buttery shards like a well-made croissant. But when you wake up and it's 17 degrees outside (as it has been, give or take a few, for the last week), there's nothing that satisfies like a bowl of porridge or oatmeal. It's warm and hearty and can be made sweet or savory with any number of toppings. The problem? Over the years, it's gotten a bad rap as gluey or gummy or just downright boring or dutiful -- and it's because not everyone knows the secrets to making a great pot of warm morning cereal. So let's talk porridge (also: my cookbook comes out this month! So let's take a peek inside, shall we?)