Recently I complained to Rodney about the lack of office space in our neighborhood. “Office” meaning any place other than my apartment; “Space” meaning anything bigger than a 12” Starbucks pedestal table.
Rodney mentioned that a new bar had just opened on 8th avenue – according to him, a great spot, good food, nice and quiet, wireless access.
This… was innovation on a new dimension. Work at a bar? With craft beer? And duck poutine on the menu? So long Starbucks, there’s a new kid in town.
Working at a bar seems like a practical idea until you’re 50 sips deep into an English IPA and no longer have the clarity to write a grammatically-correct sentence, never mind a sentence that sparkles with creativity and wit.
And you feel guilty for having your light-spewing laptop open in a bar with limited windows, leather banquettes, and acres of dark wood.
Rodney doesn’t feel guilty about that kind of thing. Low on quarters to do laundry in our building, he’ll amble into the neighborhood laundromat to raid the quarter machine. The one with the full-width sign taped to the front stating “FOR CUSTOMERS ONLY”.
Which is why I usually send him out to do my dirty work. Guilt. Plagues. Me.
I feel guilty for the laptop. Guilty for ordering a beer and no food. Guilty that I’ve hired a babysitter to help with afterschool pickup so that I can get some work done, and here I am swilling brewskis. I’m sure that you could psychoanalyze the hell out of this. Show me a Rorschach and I’d see Atlas with the world on his shoulders and a pint in both hands.
This bar, though a happy place for Rodney to get work done on the occasional weekend, would not be my solution.
I dragged my tipsy self back to Starbucks, back to the pedestal table. I reserved my spot with a scarf and a notebook. No laptop, no valuables, I know the routine. I ordered my coffee. I returned to my seat. I gazed into the wall mirror at someone two tables down who looked remarkably like my Dad. I re-focused, took a sip of my coffee and got back to business. Because long-lost family members or not, Starbucks is where I’m most productive.
What I need to do – rather than find a new place to work – is to re-train myself on all of the positive benefits of working at Starbucks. Accessible bathrooms that aren’t often clean, but sometimes are! Baristas who write my name on my cup so that I’ll always know that it’s mine! And most important, I won’t get drunk when I’m working.
You see? That wasn’t that hard. I just needed to shift my perspective. I needed to walk down the street to greener pastures and find out that hey! They were sort of a muddy green after all.
Perspective is so important. In some ways it’s everything.
Now, taking this analogy into the food world, let’s talk polenta.
Ask me if I like grits and you’ll see my face contort into a look of semi-disgust. I’ve never been a fan of the stuff. Reminds me of Cream of Wheat. Pablum, baby food.
But polenta? I’ve had a love affair with polenta for as long as I can remember. It’s rich, buttery, the perfect vehicle for savory foods – lamb shanks, roasted mushrooms, runny eggs, herbs, soft cheese – top it with uni and maybe I’ll grow to love that too.
I was craving polenta recently when I stopped into Foragers Market, grabbed a package from the pasta section, and ran home to make lunch. It wasn’t until I’d torn open the packaging that I noticed that it was white instead of yellow.
I cooked it anyway; made it with the usual fixings – a few savory items, some herbs, a runny egg; I showered the whole thing with parmesan, topped it off with torn parsley leaves. I dug in, I moaned. It was – as is always the case with polenta – delicious.
Post-lunch, I decided to do a little bit of online research: “what is white polenta?” I asked my friend Google.
I don’t know what I was hoping for – some rare breed of maize, harvested by Mayans, preserved in underground stone chambers, and discovered by Indiana Jones in the earlier part of the 20th century?
Google gave an answer that surprised me.
Perspective, my friends. It’s important. Change it up. You’ll be happy you did.
- For the polenta
- 4 cups water
- 1 cup stone-ground white grits
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 2 tablespoons heavy cream
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 tablespoon chopped thyme
- 1 tablespoon chopped rosemary
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 3 tablespoons of freshly grated parmesan cheese, divided
- For the mushrooms
- 2 cups assorted torn fresh mushrooms (e.g. shimeji, trumpet, shitake)
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- Pinch of red pepper flakes
- To finish the dish
- 1 egg
- splash of vinegar
- 1 tablespoon fresh flat-leaf parsley
- To make the polenta, bring the water to a boil, add the salt, and then add the polenta in a slow stream. Reduce the heat to low, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the polenta has thickened and absorbed the water (approx. 10-15 minutes, although if you’re using a coarser grain of polenta, this could take longer).
- Add the next 5 ingredients, along with 2 tablespoons of the parmesan cheese. Stir vigorously, and then place a lid on the pot, and keep warm while you make the mushrooms and egg.
- Heat a large sauté pan on medium-high heat, and when hot, add the olive oil and then the mushrooms. Leave the mushrooms alone for a few minutes so that they’ll have a chance to brown; if they look dry, you can always add a touch more olive oil.
- Give the mushrooms another good toss, browning them further for another minute or two. Season with salt & pepper and red pepper flakes, and then add the parsley.
- While the mushrooms are cooking, heat a small pot of salted water until boiling, and then add the vinegar. Crack your egg into a small dish, and with the back of a spatula, form a whirlpool in the poaching water. Add your egg, add a lid to the top, and remove the egg from the heat. Allow to poach off heat for 5 minutes.
- To assemble the dish, spoon your polenta into a wide flat dish. If the polenta has become too stiff, you can add a little more cream, water or milk to loosen it up. Spoon your mushrooms over the top and prepare to add your egg. With a slotted spoon, remove your poached egg from the water, touching a paper towel to the bottom to the bottom to remove excess moisture, and then lay it on top of the polenta. Tear a few parsley leaves over the top, and then finish the whole dish with a fresh grating of parmesan. Enjoy!