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Monday, September 12, 2011

Polenta love.......

.....unexpected and wonderful.......

There's only a few things in life that I will travel miles to enjoy.
One of those things is a visit with my children.
And another is polenta.
(there are probably a few other things but they escape me at the moment)
Imagine my delight when I manage to experience the two of them together.

As the years go by and we find ourselves immersed in the business of life and our children are off
doing what they should be doing, the time we get to spend together dwindles down to a precious few stolen hours.
So, when I have a chance to set aside everything and hop in the car to go and spend some time with one or both of my children--my shoes are on and my key is in the ignition before my lipstick is even dry.
I treasure those moments and will move mountains just to have them.

As for the polenta thing---it's one of those foods in my life that reminds me of my childhood, it stirs up memories of my mother and it tastes just wonderful.
In a very special, magical way--- it makes me happy.
It's a higher level of comfort food for me.
If truth be told--I have to thank my Lapband for helping me to rediscover and reawaken my true love of polenta.
Growing up, polenta and pasta were staples of our dinner menus, my mother's entertaining food line up and several holidays.
When my mother passed away 38 years ago, our polenta days were few and far between.
After that, I became the chief cook for our motherless little family.
I managed to learn the fine art of pasta-making but never quite got around to mastering polenta.
So, our polenta-eating was cut down to the few times an aunt would take pity on us and invite us over for a steamy bowl with sauce and cheese or a fried slice with raisins and pepperoni.
Once I left for college, my polenta days were behind me.
By that time, my father had remarried a German woman who cooked a lot of things---none of them being polenta.
But, I was okay---if I missed polenta, I didn't even know it.
A polenta barren life wasn't the worse tragedy of my late teens and early 20's.

Early in my marriage, I experimented with polenta here and there.
But, it never went very well.
And, since Carmen had never experienced the joys of polenta while growing up, he never pushed me to brush up on my polenta making skills.
Every so often, I'd get the hankering for a slice with raisins and pepperoni so I'd hint to my aunt about my craving and she would use it as an excuse to get our big Italian family together to eat polenta, drink wine and chat.
She was the only polenta maker left in the family by that point, she had a large enough table to fit most of us and her wine cellar was always nicely stocked.
It was lovely while it lasted!
However, as she eloquently approached her mid-eighties, she wasn't up for those polenta fests.
So, if I wanted polenta, I had to make it.
Which I did---every so often.
I'd call her on the phone, she would remind me of the recipe and I'd muster up all my polenta making patience and set on cooking it---hoping it would taste just like my mother's.
I always managed to do okay with it but it never wooed my family much--Carmen wasn't all that into it, the kids didn't even want to try it.
They would all rather have pasta.
Spending hours in the kitchen making something that wasn't perfect and wasn't even wanted didn't seem to make much sense.
So, we ate pasta---and tons of it.
We were happy and full filled.
With pasta. Every shape. Every size. Cooked up every which way.

Fast forward to my Lap band---when I had to give up pasta.
All of sudden, I had to find something to smother with my good Italian sauce and to sprinkle my beautiful romano cheese on.
I was okay with giving up pasta but the sauce and cheese was a completely different thing.
I refused to give up those taste sensations.
It was just too much to ask of me.

Then, I remembered polenta.
Soon, I was scouring Italian cook books, calling cousins and Googling in search of the perfect polenta recipes.
I got a big wooden spoon and a large heavy pot and I stirred and stirred.
I went on hunts for good polenta brands.
I sought out restaurants that served it.
I took on this mission with the gusto and passion of a very hungry woman.
And, that mission continues to this day.
At the moment--I'm still perfecting my own polenta making skills.
But, I've happily found my favorite store-bought roll of polenta--Trader Joe's.
And, I've even managed to win over 3/4 of my family (Carmen,Toni and I) with my own rendition of polenta with raisins and pepperoni.
Plus, I find myself giddy with excitement when I find a polenta dish on a restaurant menu.
I always order it---fingers crossed that I will find the comfort and joy of my mother's polenta.
At the moment--there are two restaurants within a 200 mile radius that have managed to feed my polenta starved soul with the same delight as my mother---Luigi's in Clymer PA and Girasole in Shadyside, PA.
Two very different places. Yet, both of them know how to make my mother's polenta.
Each time I eat the polenta at those restaurants, I almost believe that my mother is in that kitchen stirring that pot. It's a lovely feeling.

Although those are the only two--so far--that have managed to replicate what I remember of my mother's polenta, my quest to find more places has been delightful.
Case in point.....
Yesterday, a few of us college moms took a little road trip to see our girls.
We were going to celebrate Patty's daughter's upcoming 21st Birthday (Meredith--who lives with Toni) and we figured it was also a wonderful way to spend a date in time (September 11) that always weighs heavy in our hearts. We decided that we wanted to make this day about joy and appreciation and warmth to help heal the hurt that has followed all of us for 10 years now. Our girls were so young on that fateful day back in 2001. We thought it might be an appropriate opportunity to talk about the events of that day now that they are young women finding their way in life.
Thrilled with our plan, we took to the winding roads to Collegeland.
It was a perfectly beautiful road trip--a clear blue sky, an open road, good music blaring from the radio and lots of chatter.
The plan was to inspect their newly decorated home, to do a little shopping, to enjoy some girl talk and to chat about things over dinner at a little place near the campus.
Thankfully, that's just what we did!
It was a fun time.....filled with smiles and laughter and news and oohs and ahhs.
The girls picked a little nondescrip albeit pleasant pizza place near campus that didn't have a liquor license.
When I heard that there would be no wine with my dinner, I was *this* close to telling our group we just had to leave the premises.
Then, I spotted the announcement introducing polenta to the menu.
I'm not a girl who backs down from trying out a new polenta.
So, I settled back and decided that the conversation and the company would have to serve as my spirit for the meal and I bravely ordered the polenta.
Although it was not my mother's polenta, it was a yummy, soft polenta smothered in just enough fresh, sauteed mushrooms dusted with a zesty romano cheese to make it captivating and fullfilling.
It was definitely a meal worthy of wine.....if they would have had some!
Even so, I basked in the joy of being with my daughter and drank in the moments we shared and I savoured every morsel of my polenta.
My mother wasn't cooking the polenta in their kitchen nor could I imagine that she was-- but I know she was with us as we shared the special love of mothers and daughters......and of polenta.


Anonymous said...

I completely understand about the jumping in the car when you can see your kiddos. I miss mine all the time.
I have never had polento. You make me want to try it.
I live in PA too. Around the Harrisburg/Perry County area.

Band Groupie said...

LOVE it...the stories, and polenta! Catching up and love all the pics of your trip...and CARDED?! What a GREAT NSV missy!

Grandma Bonnie said...

I was raised by a german mother and our polenta was corn meal mush. Your name sure sounds better. I also hunger for my fried mush with butter and maple syrup. Different strokes, huh?
I vow to try polenta with mushrooms and romano with a glass of chianti.

diane said...

I was raised in the south and my polenta is grits and I feel about it the way you do about polenta...but could never have expressed it so well! Thanks!

Jody V said...

Recipes please!! I have your polenta bake recipe and use it often!!