Optimism + RECIPE: Sweet Corn Polenta with Grilled Vegetables

Alright folks, after a severe dog illness, financial farm woes, a still unfinished pack shed, and over a foot of rain here in Southern Wisconsin in the span of a few days, I am mostly back to normal.

Life is hard and beautiful. The farm teaches me strength and resiliency. This profession we chose is a never-ending challenge and a never-ending gift. Rain yields life, and rain yields destruction. Everything has a silver lining (even when we’re too sad and buried in hardship to see it at that very moment) and everything that matters takes work.

Yup, mostly back to my sunny optimism and existential self.

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The moments we’ve been able to take away from the wet, muddy farm are helping. The trip to Chicago with my mom to pick up three coolers of freshly caught, frozen Alaska salmon to distribute to Madison was joyous and silly. The lazy coffee date with Wisconsin From Scratch where we dreamed new, collaborative dreams was exciting and inspiring. The lingering evening spent with friends, playing with their many children in a pool, and followed by the winding drive home with my love was simple and easy.

The adoption of Walter, the still very floppy, totally goofy, all white stray farm kitten is also helping. He runs around our home like a crazed animal and it feels ridiculous and beautiful that these two busy farmers have now rescued five animals into their small town home.

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All that being said, there is still way too much rain continuing to fall, and that is a bit unsettling. My local city of Madison has severe flooding. Many small towns in our area are under water. Farmers are struggling. Predictions have said for years that our climate here in Wisconsin is shifting towards hotter, wetter, and more muggy. We expected that change. We just didn’t know how soon. And we certainly didn’t understand what that would mean for our young farm and specific piece of land. We’re learning. It’s a reality that may shift our farm future which is also tremendously unsettling.

For now, we’re focusing on what’s in front of us: a building that needs to be finished, a CSA season with seven weeks left, a trip to Hawaii to celebrate the end of said season, an amazing team of people working for us who deserve every ounce of intention and energy we can muster, and a fridge full of amazing food.

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I’ve been keeping the cooking simple relying on favorite stand-bys to get me through the mass quantity of vegetables that keep sneaking into my fridge during a suddenly stressful time of year. I love developing and trying new recipes more than anyone, but there is no denying that sometimes old, tried-and-true, favorite recipes are the key to happiness. When life throws a lot at you, the last thing anyone needs to do is try to reinvent the wheel in the kitchen.

Tomatoes get tossed into a mason jar caprese. Cucumbers get halved, seeded and sliced before finding their way into my mom’s famous creamy cucumbers. Bell peppers are sliced and dipped into hummus. Green beans are cooked in butter then sprinkled with almonds.

Vegetables get grilled and when those grilled vegetables need to turn into a meal, a quick pot of water, milk, and cornmeal from my friends at Meadowlark Organics turns into a substantial bowl of polenta. If I’m wanting to use up even more fresh produce (which I usually am), I may toss some vegetables into my polenta (as I did below) before topping it with more vegetables. With a grill and a pot and a mountain of veggies, it’s simple leisurely summer cooking at it’s finest. I hope it’s the perfect close to a lovely Labor Day weekend.

All my driest thoughts and wishes to all of you,
Leek

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SWEET CORN POLENTA WITH GRILLED VEGETABLES
Polenta with vegetables is effortlessly easy, quick and perfect for a cool late summer night. However, if you are looking to make this dish a little extra fun or perhaps even serve it for a weekend brunch, may I suggest adding some candied bacon! 
Takes 30 minutes as written, plus additional 30 minutes for bacon (if making)
Serves 4-6

1 pint cherry tomatoes, stems or leaves removed
1 red onion, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch wide slices
1 tablespoon olive oil
2-1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt, divided plus more to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
3 red peppers
2 tablespoons butter
3 ears sweet corn, kernels cut off cob (no need to cook first!)
1-2 jalapenoes (depending on heat tolerance), seeded and finely chopped
2 cups whole milk
2 cups water
1 cup polenta (also known as corn grits, cornmeal or polenta; I’m obsessed with this polenta from my friends at Meadowlark Organics)
2-4 tablespoons maple syrup, for drizzling
Candied bacon, totally optional (favorite recipe here)

  1. If you plan to make the candied bacon, I’d recommend starting this first and then the meal will all be done around the same time.
  2. Preheat your grill to medium high heat. Alternatively, if you don’t have a grill, preheat the broiler of your oven.
  3. On a grill pan or baking sheet, pour out cherry tomatoes. Grill for 5-10 minutes until blackened in areas and most tomatoes are burst.
  4. In a medium bowl combine onion with olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Toss gently to combine. Place on preheated grill.
  5. Place whole peppers on grill (no oil or seasoning necessary). Grill both peppers and onions for 15-20 minutes until onions are charred on both sides and peppers are blackened on all sides. The onions may get done first but probably no more than 5 minutes before.
  6. Remove cherry tomatoes and grilled onions as they are done to the same bowl you prepped the onions in. There will be some residual oil and that is just fine. Add peppers once charred and cover bowl with a plate for 5 minutes to loosen the pepper skins a bit.
  7. Remove skins from peppers followed by the tops and seeds. Roughly chop the peppers and return to bowl.
  8. Meanwhile, get your polenta going. You can easily walk away from your grilling veggies for 5 minute intervals to do this inside, but if you have a burner on your grill, by all means use that to make the polenta!
  9. In a large stock pot or sauce pan, melt butter. Add corn, jalapeno, remaining salt and pepper and cook over medium heat until beginning to soften (about 5 minutes). Add in water and milk. Increase heat to medium high and wait for mixture to just begin bubbling. Stir once or twice with a whisk while waiting for it to bubble to make sure nothing sticks to the bottom of the pan.
  10. Pour in polenta slowly, whisking while you pour them in to create a smooth texture. Reduce heat to a low simmer and continue whisking every couple minutes to keep the mixture from clumping or sticking. When polenta looks creamy and consistent, it’s ready! It can cook very quickly, about 10 minutes. If they cease up while you prepare other parts of your meal, just cook them over low heat and add more milk until they have the desired consistency.
  11. Add about a half cup of polenta to a large bowl, top with onions, peppers and burst cherry tomatoes followed by candied bacon (if using). Drizzle with a tablespoon or two of maple syrup and enjoy!

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