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The Comfort of a Potluck

November 14, 2016

Has it not even been a week since the election? That seems so hard to believe. There is such intense rhetoric happening on all sides of the political spectrum, and as far as I can tell, it’s upsetting to everyone.

I’m not going to pick it all apart here on my food blog. I don’t have the solution.

But I’m more than willing to listen. And I’m always happy to talk. However, as I was explaining to a Facebook friend of mine on the opposite end of the political spectrum, some conversations require wine. They do. But beer would work just as well. Maybe even the soothing power of tea would be sufficient.

What I am going to do today is share some of my personal coping devices, which will be just as good for those who are angry at protesters who aren’t embracing the results of our newly elected president, as they are for those who are mortified that Steve Bannon of Breitbart was named chief strategist and senior counselor to the President-elect.

It starts with being thankful for community, but it ends with food.

Friday night, I went to synagogue. It was Shabbat. And there was a potluck. I’ll get to the food in just a minute. Because before we ate, we had to say the prayers over the candles, the wine, and the bread. These are simple prayers. There’s nothing super religious, spiritual, or mystical about them. The rough translation is something like, “Thank you God for commanding us to light candles on Shabbat.”

We light candles on Friday night to help create a separate space from the madness of the week. Sunday through Friday we can consume ourselves with our daily concerns. But on Friday night, we’re commanded to take a break, and surround ourselves with our community.

I can’t even begin to tell you how good that felt.

For hundreds of years, through horrible times, we’ve come together on Fridays to light candles and have a day of peace. The world goes on, but the words of the prayers stay the same. It’s incredibly reassuring. This is part of the “three thousand years of beautiful tradition, from Moses to Sandy Koufax” that Walter Sobchack felt so strongly about in The Big Lebowski.

Food is also part of our traditions.

It was also important for me to bring comfort food. So I whisked my little heart out and made a tray of baked polenta with seasoned ricotta and chopped tomatoes.

The polenta came from U Mundu E Ca just off Wolf Road in the Hannaford Plaza. The ricotta came from Cappiello Dairy in Schenectady, which amazingly you can buy at any Stewart’s. And the tomatoes were simply plum tomatoes from a can that I chopped up and tossed on the top of the polenta with a little dried oregano. I did season the ricotta with a scant teaspoon of salt, freshly ground black pepper, and a couple small garlic cloves I mashed into a paste. I guess I also enriched the pot of polenta with a little bit of french cultured butter, before pouring it into the baking pan.

Man, that stuff was good. So comforting. The polenta was dense and smooth, with deep flavors of dried corn. The pockets of ricotta enriched the grain, giving not just textural contrast, but also a punch of flavor. And the tomatoes helped to brighten up the whole thing, with the herbs providing a bit more complexity and aromatics.

Tonight, I get to surround myself with another community, the Yelp Elite Squad. And together with them, we’ll be enjoying the comforting flavors of Thanksgiving at The Flying Chicken with deep fried turkey and beer from Rare Form Brewing Company.

I’m incredibly thankful to be surrounded by communities of great people. We may not all agree politically. But that’s to be expected. Sometimes it’s okay to put political conversations away for just a few hours to create some much needed moments of peace.

Because in those moments we can be there for each other, and enjoy the rituals we have come to know and love. Of course, having good food and drink around never hurts either.

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