As I entered the tunnel, a notoriously congested snag in an already flawed transportation system, her voice interjected. “Hello, it’s me. I was wondering if after all these years you’d like to meet.”
By now, you can surely finish each and every word that follows, but in that tunnel, her greeting hit me for the first time. She sang directly to me, as if I had somehow landed the private concert of a lifetime! Adele’s booming voice seemed to fill the cavernous, concrete tunnel, as if it were an amphitheater echoing all the raw emotion of her lyrics.
I, like all the other listeners who kept her at the top of the charts for a record-breaking stint, hung on her every word, on repeat. She’s relatable. She’s passionate. She’s emotional. All of these explanations and reviews attribute to her repeatability, but it wasn’t until I heard a review on NPR (?) that the weight of her lyrics fully made sense. I’m paraphrasing, but he so eloquently distilled her album, “In a world that talks at us, Adele wants to have a conversation.” (Bonus points if you can find me this review. It escapes me now!)
Conversation- that act of listening, exchanging, growing, thinking and relating- is missing from so much of our lives now. We may have more opportunity than ever to keep tabs on each other, but how often do we listen and relate to one another? How often do we listen to those in need instead of judging them through fear?
This need for conversation, for tangibility, is also what led me to the beautiful, image-laden pages of Sift Magazine. It’s one of those magazines I page through while waiting in line at the checkout, debating whether or not to splurge. However, unlike many of its grocery store counterparts, Sift feels like a conversation. Unencumbered by ads, its beautiful pages beg to be collected. Each recipe is poised and ready for all the handwritten edits of ingredient substitutions and baking experiments.
My apron’s off to the forces behind the magazine (the employee-owned King Arthur Flour), who always seem to encapsulate the most earnest intentions and elevate the act of baking, such as this Holiday Issue introduction:
Flour, butter, sugar, and yeast are humble ingredients with great power: They from the alphabet of a family’s baking history and culture. This time of year finds experienced and neophyte bakers alike moving toward the kitchen, with the desire to continue their families’ traditions or invent new ones. Whether the food memory is of warm sweet rolls, an elaborate loaf, or a treasured holiday cookie, the act of mixing and kneading forms a connection with those who have gone before. When you live, breathe, and bake, you honor the gifts they’ve handed down while you create enduring memories, and exquisite meals, for those who follow.
It’s not enough to simply page through the enticing recipes, especially when splurging on a magazine, so I promised myself to put the pages to use!
Inspired by song and page, I made a conscious decision to return to our dining room table more this holiday, to catch up with old friends, to welcome new friends and simply eat dinner without staring at a screen. As I prepared these meals, I thought about how quickly and effortlessly my grandmother and mother made hosting appear, how happily they hid the stressful time management elements and planning behind a welcoming smile. I thought about the legacy my grandmother left behind- the most generous, helping hands and the most famous koláče this side of the Czech Republic.
This recipe, though new to me, felt rooted in tradition- roasted butternut squash and cornmeal- simple, humble ingredients that combine into something colorful, sweet, spicy and warm. This recipe is perfect for sharing, since you can prepare most of it ahead of time. It’s a perfect way to feed a full holiday table and still manage to join the conversation!
Butternut Squash & Ginger Polenta with Stewed Fruit & Mascarpone Cream
Adapted from Sift magazine (by King Arthur Flour)
About this Recipe: A perfect make-ahead treat! For ease, you can substitute a can of organic pumpkin puree for the roasted & pureed butternut squash. I added turmeric for nutrition and color. Make this vegan by using a non-dairy milk in the polenta and whipped coconut cream for the topping. Be sure to source unsulphured, dried fruits without added sugars. There are two options for final preparation of the polenta slices- baking or pan frying, depending on how many you are serving. Leftover stewed fruit makes a beautiful and flavorful accent on a wheel of brie for your next gathering.
1 1/2 cups (7 1/4 ounces) organic, stone-ground cornmeal or polenta
3/4 cup (6 ounces) water
1 1/4 cups (10 ounces) organic whole milk
2 cups (16 ounces) butternut squash (roasted & pureed)
1 Tablespoon organic apple cider vinegar
1 Tablespoon fresh grated ginger
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (3 1/4 ounces) diced crystallized ginger
3/4 cup (2 1/4 ounces) diced, organic, dried, unsulphured apricots
1/2 cup (2 1/2 ounces) organic raisins
1/2 cup (2 ounces) organic dried bing cherries
1 Tablespoon orange zest (from 1 organic orange)
1/2 cup organic orange juice concentrate
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) organic light brown sugar
1/2 cup (4 ounces) organic cranberry pomegranate juice
1 cup (8 ounces) organic mascarpone
1/2 cup (4 ounces) organic heavy cream
1/4 cup (2 ounces) pure maple syrup
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Grease an 8 1/2” x 4” loaf pan and line with parchment paper, clipping the paper to the sides of the pan.
For the Polenta:
Place all of the ingredients, except the crystallized ginger, in a 3-quart saucepan, and whisk together until smooth. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the mixture boils and begins to thicken.
Put a lid loosely over the pan to contain any spurts, and cook for 10-20 minutes more, stirring frequently, until the polenta pulls away from the edge of the pot. It should be stiff enough for your spoon to stand straight up in it. Remove from heat, stir in the crystallized ginger, and transfer the mixture to the prepared pan, smoothing the top. Cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate until needed.
For the Stewed Fruit:
Put all of the ingredients into a 2-quart saucepan and bring to a simmer; cook for 5 minutes until slightly thickened. Remove from heat.
For the Mascarpone Cream:
In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat all of the ingredients together until fluffy and incorporated. Keep chilled until ready to serve.
To Cook & Assemble:
Preheat the oven to 375°F, and butter a baking sheet. Remove the polenta from the bread pan. Slice, and arrange on the baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes until lightly browned and crisped around edges.
Serve with a dollop of mascarpone cream and stewed fruit.
Note: Alternately, you can pan fry individual slices, in butter or coconut oil, instead of baking.