Friday, May 20, 2011

No Concept of Time

The Setting: The incrementally cleaner-by-the-day Hovel.

The Soundtrack: Gilmore Girls, Season Seven

On the Stove-top: Goat Cheese and Roasted Tomato Polenta with Fried Sunflower Seeds and Sauteed Leeks.

The Scenario: Two years down, a lifetime to look forward to.

At a wedding in Hoosband's hometown in Texas last January, one of Hoosband's old family friends asked when we tied the knot.

When Hoosband responded, "May, 2007," I smiled and nodded, completely oblivious to the factual misrepresentation that had just transpired. It sounded right.

A few seconds later, we awkwardly changed our story to "2009," realizing our mistake.

At work a few months back, a coworker inquired how long I had been married. I said "three years" without pause or consideration.

Pregnancy brain may be partially to blame, but the truth is, when Hoosband and I celebrated our two-year anniversary a few days ago, it was hard to remember how many years had gone by, hard to believe it had only been two.

It's not that time has been dragging by any means--it's been a bit of a whirlwind in fact: major moves, career changes, old friends missed, new friends made, and a new baby on the way.

Perception of time elapsed is a strange and fickle thing.

When I consider it's been a year since I've been home, a year feels like an eternity.

But in terms of my marriage, two years feels so insignificant, so brief, like it couldn't possibly be the correct descriptor.

It feels like we've always been together, like the parameters of time have no place fencing us in.

I know, I'm weird.

The calendar and the clock seem very real, however, when I wake up from a four-hour, post-breakfast nap and discover the prime hours for my nesting activities have evaded me.

Here's a taste of what I've been craving in between dreams and attempts at Hovel reconstruction, aka cleaning out the apartment.

Goat Cheese and Roasted Tomato Polenta with Fried Sunflower Seeds and Sauteed Leeks
3 1/2 cups no-salt-added chicken stock (preferably homemade)
3/4 tsp sea salt
1 cup dry polenta (such as Bob's Red Mill Organic Polenta Corn Grits)
4 oz (about 3 large strips) raw bacon, diced
3 oz Oven-Roasted Tomatoes, coarsely chopped (recipe below)
6 oz fresh goat cheese
2 T shelled sunflower seeds, raw and unsalted
Sauteed Leeks (recipe below)

1. In a medium-large saucepan or small stock pot, bring chicken stock and 1/2 tsp salt to a boil. Add polenta, reduce heat to med-low, and cook 20-30 minutes or till the mixture is thick and the grits are tender, stirring frequently to prevent lumps and/or sticking. Be careful stirring, as the mixture may bubble and pop at your arms.

2. Meanwhile, cook the bacon in a skillet over med-high heat till the pieces are nice and crispy and most of the fat has rendered out. Carefully transfer bacon to a small dish and set aside, reserving the rendered fat in the skillet.

3. Reduce the heat to med-low and add the sunflower seeds to the fat. Fry the seeds till just golden, being careful not to let them burn. Carefully transfer the seeds to a small dish, toss with remaining 1/4 tsp salt, and set aside.

4. When polenta is ready, remove from heat and stir in the bacon, roasted tomatoes, and goat cheese, reserving about 2 T of each for topping.

5. Ladle mounds of polenta into serving bowls and sprinkle with fried sunflower seeds and reserved bacon, tomatoes, and goat cheese. Serve with Sauteed Leeks. If you opt to skip the sauteed leeks, snip some fresh chives over the top of the polenta for a little boost of color and flavor.

Oven-Roasted Tomatoes
8 fresh Roma (plum) tomatoes, rinsed and patted dry
1 tsp sea salt

1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Stack three sheets of paper towels on the counter.

3. Using a pairing knife and working over a small bowl, remove the core from the top of each tomato, slice the tomato in half, and gently squeeze out (or use the knife to help you remove) the seeds. Place cored, seeded, tomato halves cut-side down on the paper towels as you go. My mother always made me save the "tomato innards" for her when I performed this task in her kitchen. They can be frozen and added to soups or chili, but if you foresee no use for them, feel free to discard.

3. Gently press the top of each tomato half to help the paper towels absorb any excess juice, then arrange the tomatoes cut-sides up on a baking sheet or jelly-roll pan. Sprinkle tomatoes with salt, and bake at 250 for 6 hours or till they have deepened in color and shrunken to about 1/3 of their original size. Allow to cool. Check the tomatoes every few hours to make sure they are cooking evenly. It may be necessary to remove tomatoes that were smaller or less meaty early to prevent over-drying or burning.

4. Store cooled tomatoes in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week. Also try combining with garlic, olive oil, and a handful of pine nuts and fresh basil in the food processor for a delicious roasted tomato pesto!

Sauteed Leeks
When I'm serving leeks as a side item, I like to chop them into rough, 1/2-by-2-inch rectangles instead of the traditional, thinly sliced rings. Either way, they are delicious!

2 large leeks
2 T butter (I prefer Kerrygold)
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground, coarse black pepper

1. Chop off the rooty edge and the darkest, most fibrous ends from each leek. Cut the leeks into 2-inch sections, and quarter each section, forming approximate 1/2-by-2-inch rectangles, removing any tough, dark-green exterior pieces as you go if necessary. Set a large colander inside of a larger bowl, and fill the bowl with cool water. Add the chopped leeks to the water, and use your hands to break up any large pieces, allowing the leeks to release any dirt or grit. Remove the colander from the bowl, shaking out as much water as possible, and use a clean dish rag or paper towel to pat the leeks dry.

2. Add the butter, leeks, salt and pepper to a saute pan over med-high heat, cover, and cook 10 minutes or till the leeks are softened and the lightest parts are translucent, stirring occasionally.