The Portland Version of a Welcome Mat

A friend in food.  Jan, my new roommate, rolled out the culinary red carpet on my first day in Portland.  Fumbling my way through the boxes and disorientation and removal of all that was familiar, I felt a lifeline.  A beautiful plate of fruit, cheese, almonds and polenta.


A succulent slice of Camembert, divine chevre with dried cherries (note the Northwest berry symbolism), fresh strawberries (there it is, again) and polenta with peppers and herbs.

Camembert, a soft, surface-ripened cow’s milk cheese, is widely available, as is the mildly tangy and slightly drier goat’s milk cheese, chevre.  So, in addition to the welcoming luxury of a beautiful cheese plate, was the gentle reminder that polenta can be the cornerstone of a meal.  Indeed.

Polenta is cooked cornmeal that can finish as porridge, or can be baked, fried or grilled.  It’s a simple palette that lends itself well to many flourishes.  In fact, as an accompaniment to almost any protein, the possibilities are virtually limitless.  My personal preference is not for the soft, thick version that looks like hot magma on the plate; however, even that can be a fine base for grilled sausages, or as a side with lentils and grilled or smoked fish.  It can even side with stews or beef dishes.

I prefer taking the next step and baking or frying polenta with various cheeses, greens or mushrooms and herbs.  There is labor involved in the early going.  Polenta does require a volume of liquid 4 or 5 times its weight and almost constant stirring to ensure even gelatinization of the starch.  A somewhat inferior instant version is super-quick; however, tends not to hold up well in subsequent baking or frying.

IMAG1974So, the lesson in the gift is that polenta is a meal, and I can have it any way I want it.  It’s even fun to pick up as a leftover for a quick snack.

And, as a bobble on my key chain the new rose medallion, along with my Graeter’s ice cream cone, is a touchstone for my new adventure.  For both gifts, I’m grateful and encouraged.

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