Sometimes, all it takes is a little change of scenery.
As much as I love Seattle, even in the midst of winter, it’s good to go somewhere else. Three days in Los Angeles — with my oldest friend in the world, driving under blue skies — was just what I needed.
Three days away from the Chef still strain my heart. We sent each other a hundred dozen text messages and burbled stupid sentences into each other’s ears through the phone. Still, he was terribly busy at the restaurant, and I had work to do. We can handle it. We did.
And walking up the street from Sharon’s apartment one afternoon, heading to the car, I stopped. Vivid orange against green against blue sky. “My god, they’re growing kumquats in their front yard!” Sharon shrugged. She sees it every day.
That vivid orange color has sustained me through the windy, sodden days since I returned home, and the last two days of struggling with a cold. (Traveling takes its toll now.) For a couple of days, my eyes saw blue skies.
Spring can’t be too far off.
Since we were in our teens, Sharon and I have been eating together, and comparing notes. We lingered over omelets at Madame Matisse. We sat in her living room and watched Jane Austen on Masterpiece Theatre while eating brown rice pasta with tomato sauce and fresh mozzarella. We oohed again over sea salt caramels from the Little Flower Company, and bought good goat cheese at the Silverlake Cheese Store. Every time I visit her, I eat a sweet corn and tuna salad from the Casbah Café. It’s like my own neighborhood spot now, the one I visit once a year.
Being with her inspired me to start thinking about food again.
We ate a rosemary chevre gelato, late at night, even though the air was cold outside. Rosemary chevre? And white chocolate with ginger, too. As soon as the weather turns warmer, I’m experimenting with both of those.
Sharon and I shared the joy of sitting at The Sensitive Baker, the sweetest little gluten-free bakery in Los Angeles (well, Culver City, technically). I smiled for two hours straight, with the chance to meet so many of you. And as much as I focus first on the foods that are naturally gluten-free, I sank my teeth into warm gluten-free breadsticks, just out of the oven, and sighed with pleasure.
I need to work on those too.
Strangely, one of the places in which I found the most inspiration was the freeway. You have to understand — driving on the freeway anywhere near Los Angeles means taking your life into your hands. Even after midnight, the black roads are awash in a thick sea of red headlights. The side streets are snarled with impatient drivers and potholes that leave tires flat and drivers cursing. Truly, I still don’t understand why anyone lives there. (Sorry, Los Angeles fans.)
Sharon feels deeply ambivalent about the city in which she has lived the past five years. And she expresses this by muttering and growling at every single driver that annoys her. They all annoy her. This continual tirade is how she survives every drive.
I survive it by turning up the radio.
Driving back to Silverlake on the 10 freeway, we were moving fairly slowly. Sharon flipped the station to give herself something to do, and she stopped on NPR. The warm dulcet tones of Lynne Rossetto Kasper came trilling out of the speakers. I love this woman, and her show The Splendid Table, every weekend. (And I make no attempt to hide this — oh, how I’d love to be on that show.) But under a dire traffic situation, her voice sounded especially soothing, like a nursery school teacher reading us a story before nap time. So I turned it up, and we settled into her world of food.
I sat up and forgot the traffic when I heard her describe a dish of polenta fries she had recently eaten in a restaurant. Creamy polenta, cooked slowly, perhaps forty minutes, and then set out to chill. When the polenta was cold, it was cut into French-fry size. Rolled in egg yolk, and then bread crumbs, and then fried.
Sharon and I both sat forward in our seats at her description. As soon as she went to break, I turned to Sharon and said, “Oh my god, I’m making those.”
The day after I returned home, filled with sunshine and happy to be back on Seattle’s placid roads, the Chef and I rolled polenta in eggs in his kitchen. The sun broke through the clouds for a moment, and I started snapping pictures.
You never know what’s going to inspire you.
SAGE POLENTA FRIES
This recipe is wonderfully easy to make, and the rewards are rich. But it does require patience. Instead of using quick-cooking polenta, please find authentic cornmeal. (And just a quick reminder — Bob’s Red Mill makes cornmeal, but it’s packaged in the gluten facility.) Stir and stir, savoring every physical sensation for 30 to 40 minutes. That means low, slow heat. You can’t make this as quickly as you want to eat it.
And then you wait. Wait for the polenta to chill. Really, you should probably refrigerate it overnight. And this means being patient enough to plan ahead the night before. It’s worth it.
When these are finished, they are wonderfully crunchy on the outside, with the creamy give of hot polenta inside following close behind. All that patience paid off.
1 batch of creamy polenta (please click here for our recipe), with sage in place of rosemary, chilled in a shallow pan
¼ cup canola oil
½ cup cornstarch (for dredging, this measurement is an estimate)
4 eggs, whipped well
1 cup gluten-free breadcrumbs
½ teaspoon each kosher salt and cracked black pepper
Heating the oil. Put the canola oil in a deep skillet and bring it to heat. (Keep kids out of the kitchen, at this point.)
Preparing the polenta fries. Take the chilled polenta out of the refrigerator. Cut it into French-fry-size shapes. (You don’t want shoestring potatoes, but you probably don’t want giant wedges either. Aim for the middle.)
Setting up an assembly line. Dredge the polenta fries in the cornstarch, coating well. Coat the fries in the eggs. Finally, roll each of the fries in the breadcrumbs. Make a plate of prepared fries.
Frying the polenta fries. Carefully place the polenta fries into the oil. Let them bubble away happily until they are browned, about three to four minutes. Remove them with a slotted spoon and place onto a plate covered with a paper towel.
Suggestions: Before serving, top the polenta fries with a bit of lemon zest, for a quick taste of sunshine. These also go particularly well with a parsley pesto as a dipping sauce.