Sunday, January 11, 2009

Polenta Casserole and Chicken Fingers

If you want to get your kitchen smelling like summer in the middle of winter, here's my suggestion. Make a pot of homemake tomato sauce. Large (28 oz.) cans of Muir Glen organic tomatoes are on sale at Just Food Co-op in January for just $1.79. Yesterday afternoon, I dumped a can of diced tomatoes into my small Le Creuset saucepan, added a bunch of chopped scallions (the white part and about an inch of green), a pressed clove of garlic, a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, a sprinkling of dried oregano, and salt, and let it simmer slowly for a couple of hours. The scent wafted me to a warmer season.

When the sauce was almost ready (thick, rather than watery), I made a small batch of polenta: a cup of water, a cup of milk, and a cup of corn meal, simmered and stirred until thickened, with grated parmesan added at the end. I spread the polenta into a buttered 10-inch tart pan, spread the tomato sauce on top, sprinkled on some pitted kalamata olives, spread grated mozzarella and parmesan on top, and baked at 350° for about 20 minutes. Perfect with a small green salad, some crusty bread, and a glass of red wine.

When the casserole came out of the oven, Will's cheerful friend Dylan had arrived to take Will out to a chicken finger restaurant in Apple Valley called Raising Cane's. Before they left, Will ate two helpings of casserole.

"You're having more?" Dylan asked, when Will took his second plateful.

"Actually, it's quite good," Will said.

Two helpings of polenta casserole didn't stop Will from joining Dylan for chicken fingers. The boys left here at about 6:30 pm. At 7:30, the phone rang. It was Will calling to ask for directions to Apple Valley. They were lost.

I would say that one of the reasons to eat locally is that you're less likely to get lost. But Dylan, who was driving, has absolutely no sense of direction. When he was younger, he was often dropped off at the public library after school, and he would attempt to walk from there to our house. Invariably, Dylan would start out from the public library, get lost, eventually stumble upon the library again, and call for directions.

The route from the library to our house. Dylan is somewhere off the map.

The same thing happened when he tried to walk to our house from Hogan Brothers, the local sandwich shop less than three blocks from our house in nearly a straight line.* In short, I was not surprised that, even with GPS in the car, they were lost. Eventually, about two hours after leaving the house, they returned with their treasure: a "tailgate box" of 25 chicken fingers. They had actually bought a box of 50 and eaten half of them in the car.

"I'm going to be fat," Dylan said, cheerfully.

"I exercise regularly," Will said.

"I don't," Dylan said. "I'm going to be fat."

*Dylan lives about ten miles west of Northfield, on Union Lake. Before he got his license, his father would drive him to school each day along the same stretch of Highway 19. Even after years of taking this route, Dylan would sometimes look out the window of the car in surprise and ask, "Where are we? Have I ever been here before?"


Mary S. said...

After decades of not knowing left from right and constantly being lost, I pretty much go the opposite of where I think I should go -- or I ask my daughters, who are happy to tell me where to go.

The polenta sounds lovely...

Penelope said...

One of my daughters is similarly geographically challenged. It took her quite a long time to learn to walk less than four blocks from our house to her flute teacher's house. Now that she is driving she is finally developing, strand by strand, a better mental map of the town she's been living in for so long.

Shan said...

OK, first of all, hilarious stories about your son's friend. Second, I just made a very similar baked cheese polenta pie a few days ago and I was the only person who liked it. Rather, Genevieve claimed to love it, inhaled one serving, and then refused to eat it ever again when we were trying to use up the leftovers. Julia said she did not like it despite the fact that she's eaten polenta dozens of times. Christopher claimed to like it okay, but ate far less than his usual gigantic portions. We still have some in our fridge. Maybe it needs homemade tomato sauce (what doesn't?).

Lastly, what's with the green part of scallions, and no one ever liking them? Why do so many recipes say white parts only, or white plus only a small part of green? There's so much green! What do you do with it all? Compost it?

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