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Hot Bowl of Sunshine

October 30, 2011

It’s not even November and in Albany the inches of snow have already begun to accumulate. The trees don’t even know it’s winter yet, so many still have their leaves. All the animals are totally freaking out. Our neighbor’s squirrels look even more panicked and frenzied than usual.

Me, I’m happy to be back at the stove and working on some long slow cooking projects. Earlier this week, I made my first chicken stock of the season. Last night was my first soup. Really, it was more of a sweet potato, peanut and garbanzo stew.

But today’s not about soup, it’s about breakfast.

And breakfast can be just as warming and soul satisfying as a hot bowl of soup. One of my favorites is a butter-toasted, slow-simmered, steel-cut oatmeal with brown sugar added at the table. Oats are just one way to warm up in the mornings. Have you ever considered this?

Polenta. It’s not just for dinner anymore.

The first time I encountered polenta for breakfast was at Caffe 817 in Oakland, California. Their menu offered it a few ways, but I was most intrigued by polenta with maple syrup.

It’s delicious. If it sounds strange to you, that’s understandable. But grits are corn and polenta is corn. We eat corn for breakfast all the time. Corn flakes, corn pops, Kix, and Chex are just a few of the mass market cereals that are made of corn. But most of your eggs and bacon are corn too, since that’s what the chickens and pigs are fed.

Why not go straight to the source and eat the corn yourself?

That way you can actually make sure you are getting good organically produced corn instead of all that genetically modified stuff that is unlabeled and pervasive in the conventional food supply.

If polenta sounds too fancy, maybe you can just think of it as hot cornmeal mush. And it can be as simple as water, a little bit of salt, and cornmeal. For more protein you could cook it in milk or some combination of milk and water, that’s fine too. Should you be feeling decadent, you can always add butter to the pot (at the very end) as well.

Simply take a quantity of liquid, bring it to a near boil, and whisk in a quarter the volume of coarsely ground cornmeal. So two cups of liquid would require a ½ cup of grain. Reduce the heat to a low simmer, cover the pot, and whisk periodically, every 7-10 minutes. It can take a while to taste done, for the grittiness to go away. It will take at least thirty minutes, but you may want to give it closer to an hour.

You might as well make extra to pour onto a baking sheet and spread thin. This can be cooled, cut and fried or baked for another meal.

What you want to do is pour some of the loose, hot and creamy porridge into a bowl and drizzle it with Grade B maple syrup. Somehow it feels lighter than oatmeal, but it’s equally warming and satisfying. And the happy yellow shining back at you from the bowl will keep you sunny all day long.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 31, 2011 9:19 am

    I’ve never thought to try the maple syrup, but I love swirling a tablespoon of brown sugar through a warm bowl of polenta. The trick in that case (as is usually the case when I make polenta) is to prepare it runnier, as the sugar will help tighten up a bowl. Obviously, with syrup that’s not the case.

    The one criticism I’ll offer is that in your instructions, it is imperative to season (with salt) the liquid/cornmeal at the start of cooking. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a flat bowl of polenta, which isn’t to say bad, but it’s all about the layers.

  2. enough already! permalink
    November 2, 2011 4:08 am

    My favorite Is lots of black pepper and good aged cheddar mixed in at the table -yum

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