Sunday, September 25, 2005

Better living through grits

Last night’s dinner was about successfully following someone else’s recipe. Today’s brunch was about following one’s own ideas. Ever since I fried up the pancetta for fettucini carbonara, I’ve been thinking that pancetta would go well with grits. This morning was the morning I essayed what I’ve come to think of as grits Italiano, a recipe not to be found in any cookbook that I’ve read (though I suppose the true grits Italiano would involve polenta, not grits).

While the grits were cooking according to the package instructions, I sautéed some sliced pancetta and fresh rosemary in some olive oil (regular olive oil, not extra virgin). When that was done, I removed the pancetta and as much of the rosemary as I could from the pan, then fried a sunny-side-up egg in the leftover oil/grease. Amazingly, the pancetta and grits were done at more or less the same time, so I mixed them up, then dropped the egg on top and broke the yolk so it could mix with the grits and other juices.

As always, there’s tinkering to be done in the future. I used too much olive oil, so I’ll reduce that next time. I’m still figuring out how to make grits with a consistency that I like; these were runnier than I prefer. Though rosemary is a strong flavor, it got lost in the final result, so next time I’ll add it later in the process, and probably augment it with some fresh lemon thyme and/or sage. But none of this is really the point.

The point is that after eating my homemade invented brunch, I felt mellow and content. I was full, but it was a “light full,” not the overly sated condition that often passes for full. The deeper sense of satisfaction I felt came from an idea that worked, a meal that came together in the same way that a good piece of writing can appear out of thin air and wind up on the paper. You don’t know where it came from, you just sat down to write something, but what came out of nowhere told you things you never realized. This is something totally different from following a recipe; if following a recipe is reading a map and getting where you meant to go (or not), this is drawing your own map and finding an unexpected treasure at the end of the path.

In the peaceful time after finishing the meal, I wanted for nothing. There was nothing I needed to do, no better place to be, nothing more to accomplish. It was enough. Life was enough, and life was good. It was a beautiful Zen moment that was better experienced than described; a kind of satori, perhaps. The fact that my mind is usually chasing after memories or plans or daydreams made the moment even more striking and unusual. The moment I got up to begin a load of laundry, it was gone and time started again.

In the vein of finding treasure unexpectedly in one’s own life, I’ll offer this post from Shauna at Gluten-free Girl. Some bits of her story remind me of things in my own life, though there are many differences as well. Read and enjoy.


Bob the Corgi said...

I have become a big fan of polenta ever since I had them at the Wynn hotel in Las Vegas earlier this year. At that dinner buffet, they were served prepared with mascarpone and pamesean cheeses - light as a feather and perfectly done. by conicidence, I just saw (Sunday afternoon ) a PBS episode of Lydia's Italian Kitchen and she made three diferent polenta creations, one of which was polenta with lardoons of bacon. Simply those two ingredietns with some parmesean cheese and butter mixed into the polenta as it was cooking.

Winslow said...

Hi Suzette,

I caught that same episode of Lidia's show yesterday. I have yet to cook polenta, but I should give it a try. The polenta-mushroom dish looked very yummy, but then, I'm usually a sucker for porcini mushrooms.

Shauna said...

Thanks so much for linking to me. Since you left a comment on my site, I've been dippping into your website too. And I love dedicated you are, how much you love to experiment. And since Asian cooking is so easily accessible for those of us who have to eat gluten-free, this is a wonderful resource.

But now I want to try grits. I just read an interesting piece on artisan-ground grits, in Best Food Writing 2004. Sounds fabulous. And you can never go wrong with pancetta!

(by the way, have you thought about adding photographs to your posts? I'd love to see these shots.)

Winslow said...

Hi Shauna,

I'm glad you stopped by and even gladder you've liked what you've found. Cooking Asian food has definitely led me toward eating in a healthier way, and I've found my food tastes changing in response, too. It's been an interesting evolution that I should blog about more.

My enjoyment of culinary experiments is kind of ironic, since it's a lot harder for me to be flexible in some other areas of my life. But once you get comfortable with the basic techniques and ingredients in Asian cooking, you have a good foundation for quickly improvising a meal. That makes it more fun to be in the kitchen. I also enjoy trying new ingredients and dishes as a way of expanding my horizons.

I've read about artisan-ground grits too, and they sound really tempting, but there's the time issue. For now I'll stick with regular grits. My mom grew up in Florida and so grits were just normal food in our house. I love how they soak up egg yolk and sausage grease (oh, well, so much for healthy eating!).

As for photos, I'm sure they would liven up the blog quite a bit. It would also be good to post photos of some of the more obscure ingredients I use. Unfortunately, I don't have a digital camera and a tight money situation has made it a back-burner toy to acquire. Things have gotten a bit better on that front lately, but there are still some other things I need to get out of the way before I start thinking about getting a digital camera. In the long run, photos may come to this blog. In the meantime, it'll have to remain a print-only medium.