Creamy Polenta Ragu {Vegan and Gluten-Free}

Polenta RaguI have these neighbors. We will call them Wilfredo and Valentina, because those are their actual names. Cool, right? Well, they ARE cool and totally live up to those epic names. They moved in downstairs about eight months ago from New Jersey and we have become close friends. So close, in fact, that my two year old son, E, feels totally comfortable opening their front door and walking right in to say hello at any hour of the day.  (Yeah, we’re working on the whole concept of knocking.)

Wilfredo and Valentina are both avid athletes. It’s not uncommon to see them sprinting up and down the steep hill in front of our building, or doing interval training in the parking lot at dawn. And rain or shine, Wilfredo is running his heart out, getting ready to run UltraMarathon races,  and Valentina is probably completing a 50 mile bike ride as part of her triathlon training before heading off to work.  They have a serious love for activity, the outdoors, and competition.

They’re also VEGAN.

Now, we eat many animal products in our house. We eat plenty of veggies and fruits, too. But we are decidedly not vegan.

Our tribe here has expanded to enfold Wilfredo and Valentina into our hearts. We want to fully integrate them into our little community and become a safe place for these New Jersey transplants.

But here’s the thing: I love them. I love them BIG. They love my kid fiercely and he loves them fiercely right back. My love language is food. So, in order to share our table with them, I’ve been experimenting with dishes outside of my normal food repertoire.

But here’s another thing: Every single person in our tribe has special food things. E takes the (gluten-free, nut-free, egg-free, dairy-free, soy-free, carrot-free) cake because of his FPIES, but he certainly is not the only one who needs special food. But nobody has excluded animal products entirely from their diets.

Until now.

So, when the tribe decided to do a vegan brunch a few weeks ago, I accepted this challenge with great excitement.  Because even though you will never see me sprinting up and down the hill for funsies, I do love a good challenge.  And if the challenge translates to a little food love, then even better.

Everyone can technically eat corn, including E. I typically try to avoid it, but it doesn’t make me feel like wheat does. I also wanted to do a homestyle dish that was still healthy and everyone could enjoy.  I began to dream about casseroles, baked dishes, and rich, flavorful sauces.

Creamy, hot polenta dishes started filling my mind. It’s easy to veganize polenta. So, I scoured the internet looking for recipe ideas. I hit a wall when I couldn’t find exactly what I was looking for and started getting frustrated.

Then I remembered that I can cook. DUH.

I started extracting favorite elements from dishes that looked great. Easy enough. Then I got to work.

I discovered that making the polenta first and baking it for a bit gave it the perfect texture. Scoring it, and then topping it with a simple tomato and veggie mixture and putting it in the oven to bake longer made mouth magic.

I brought my finished polenta dish before our tribe. I know I can count on them to give me their honest feedback. They tasted. They went back for seconds. They lamented when it was over, especially Wilfredo and Valentina. Luckily, I made an extra dish of it just for them, and walked it downstairs after brunch was done. They were stoked.

This dish is the classic, simple-food-done-right, love-in-a-Pyrex pan taste of comfort every person needs in their life. Probably right now.

You can make your own variations by using what you have on hand. THIS DOESN’T HAVE TO BE VEGAN. But then again, you can’t share it with your awesome vegan neighbors if it’s not. So, prepare wisely.

Ingredients for Polenta:

  • 2 cups dry polenta
  • 4 cups unsweetened, unflavored hemp milk (or regular milk)
  • 2/3 cup water
  • ½ cup Nutiva Shortening, or butter
  • 1-2 tsp sea salt

Ingredients for Ragu:

  • 1 jar crushed tomatoes
  • 2 fresh tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 bunch spinach or chard, chopped
  • 1-2 zucchini, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 4 leaves fresh basil, or 1 Tbsp dried
  • 4 leaves fresh sage, or 1 tsp dried
  • 1 Tbsp fresh rosemary, or 1 Tbsp dried
  • 1 Tbsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp sea salt

Directions for Polenta:

  1. Cook polenta according to instructions on package, subbing water for milk. Add additional water to thin it out. It should be a smooth, creamy texture, and easy to stir.
  2. Pour polenta into a large, greased casserole dish. Bake on 350 degrees for 20 minutes.
  3. Remove from oven, and score with a sharp knife into 1-2 inch squares, but do not remove from the dish.

Instructions for Ragu:

(Note: This is great to start while the polenta bakes in the oven.)

  1. Saute onion and garlic in oil, then add herbs, tomatoes, zucchini and sauce. Bring to a low boil.
  2. Remove from heat, and stir in spinach or chard.
  3. Pour over polenta, and bake for 30 additional minutes, or until mixture is bubbling.
  4. Serve and eat immediately, or store for leftovers.

This freezes okay, but stays good in the refrigerator for a week. But the thing is, I don’t think it will last that long. This is comfort food at it’s very best.

Hug a vegan,
Carrie

Are you interested in learning more about vegan eating and running?  Visit Wilfredo’s blog over at Eat, Run and Done.

 

 

Honestly Ever After {Part Three}

Friends, meet Kelli Martinelli. She is a bright, innovative soul who I asked to write a guest post for you.  Kelli has a unique parenting and partnering style that defies social norms, and works for her family.  Something that I love about Kelli is her willingness to put everything out there. She never pretends that things are perfect or easy, but there is an inspiring warmth in her tone and outlook.  I’m excited to share this with you. While it is always easy to throw stones, especially when we don’t fully understand or agree, I encourage you to open your hearts and minds to Kelli’s story. She’s found a way to make her family and her life work and is brave enough to put it all out there.  Honestly.  Click here for Part One and Part Two of her story. 

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Photo 3: My kids and I right before they left for their annual camping trip in California with their dad.
My kids and I right before they left for their annual camping trip in California with their dad.

When I was younger I couldn’t fathom ever not getting married. That was just the way you did things, that’s the way life moved forward in a comfortable linear fashion. It sounded safe. When I was divorced I couldn’t fathom ever getting married again. That just wouldn’t be in-line with my shiny new “buck the status quo” mentality. Mr. Tennant and I vowed to never marry, but maybe one day to have an exchanging of vows, but with a specifically non-wedding celebration. We discussed it less and less as our magnetic selves swiveled. But being in a relationship that was so staunchly bucketed into “definitely married” or “definitely never marrying” missed the boat entirely. It’s not about the bucket you choose to put yourself in. It’s about who you’re with and what you feel is honest and true between you. It’s about valuing that person even if the nature of your relationship changes.

We are, generally speaking, social and lonely people. The draw of validation from someone can be overwhelmingly magnetic — it often keeps us near someone we would otherwise detach from were it not for the constant attention. It’s apparent evidence that we’re someone worthy of intimate love, and a distraction from ever having to hang out and get to know, truthfully, our own silly selves. We crave that connection. Even as I sit here and write, contentedly eating GORP in bed while my cat bats at my toes and I’m feeling like I’m doing this un-partnered, casual dating and split custody thing pretty well, I crave it. I dream of being swept off my feet by a kind and compassionate man with dazzling eyes and a killer smile and a SF Giants baseball cap and a tattoo of Ferdinand the gentle bull, who inspires me to create and to write and who reads what I write and doesn’t criticize my grammar or run-on sentences and who wants to dance and believes in karma and prefers to eat plants and cleans the toilet ~ around the pissy base, too ~ and who is working hard to make this world a better place and loves people and is motivated and making good shit happen. That guy. That guy who seeks adventure and shares stories and can feel at home away from home because he’s comfortable in his own skin. That guy who can stare at the stars with me for hours on end and not glance down at his phone even once. That guy who doesn’t compartmentalize himself to suit the status quo of a fickle community, he’s himself wholeheartedly, unapologetically, and gives in to whimsy and passion and only allows fear to be a fuel for a new adventure. I don’t know if Mr. Matt Damon and I have a future together, but I do believe in the fairytale, just with a different set of vows.

What if instead of “happily ever after” we vow to live “honestly ever after”? To have and to hold fiercely, passionately, and respectfully, and to honor each other even if the poles begin to reverse. We can’t anticipate what “happily” will be in any moment but right now. But we can commit to being honest, and respectful, and kind. I’m not suggesting that a vow of “honestly ever after” would result in fewer divorces, but I am suggesting it would result in fewer toxic break ups. I don’t know. I’m my own social experiment it seems, but I’d be lying if I didn’t truly believe there was truth in this approach.

My kids are currently on my favorite lake in California with Mr. Swayze and his tribe, people that I loved and laughed with when I was the wife on that annual trip. I helped them pack. Mrs. Swayze and I coordinated their gear and talked about who would purchase more size 10/12 boxer briefs. And as the kids rolled off with their dad in his truck, and I braced myself for that stupid stabbing gut feeling, my phone buzzed in my hand. I glanced down and saw a text from Mr. Swayze, which I’m assuming he sent from a safe spot pulled to the side of the road. It read, “You’re a great ex-wife and baby mama.” It’s not just a community of epic guardians that sprang up from this divorce, it’s a whole new branch of family, and from my perch in this tree, I am confident that it is good.

Thank you for taking the time to read this thought-provoking journey.  

Honestly Ever After {Part Two}

Friends, meet Kelli Martinelli. She is a bright, innovative soul who I asked to write a guest post for you.  Kelli has a unique parenting and partnering style that defies social norms, and works for her family.  Something that I love about Kelli is her willingness to put everything out there. She never pretends that things are perfect or easy, but there is an inspiring warmth in her tone and outlook.  I’m excited to share this with you. While it is always easy to throw stones, especially when we don’t fully understand or agree, I encourage you to open your hearts and minds to Kelli’s story. She’s found a way to make her family and her life work and is brave enough to put it all out there.  Honestly.  Click here for Part One and Part Three of her story. 

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My daughter with one of her epic guardians at my son’s baseball game, where we watched with my ex-husband and his partner, all together.
My daughter with one of her epic guardians at my son’s baseball game, where we watched with my ex-husband and his partner, all together.

From this divorce a community of guardians arose, which is as epic as it sounds. My kids have multiple grown-ups in whom they trust, and I have multiple grown-ups who I trust want the best for my children. So whenever I battle the stabbing gut feeling that hits me when I watch my kids get picked up from school by someone else, even though I’m right next door, or when my daughter comes home with an un-approved haircut, or when another parent at school assumes I’m my own children’s babysitter and not their biological mother, I try to remember the epic guardians and take stock in that. When I miss my kids on the 4th of July and wince with bittersweet fondness as the families around me snuggle with their own little ones in front of the fireworks, I try to remember the epic guardians who are giving them 4th of July memories that they’ll hold with them for their lifetimes, and I am overcome with gratitude. Plus then I get to hear their stories when they return! They’ll point to all their bruises and use flailing gestures and overtalking to convey to me the grandness of their adventures. And then when they’re with me, I’ll give them other adventures that complement the ones with Mr. Swayze, not compete against them. This practice of sharing and appreciating is the quickest balm to that stabbing gut feeling.

True to my non-impulsive, measured and cautious self that I dream I might one day be, I entered in to a new relationship before a half a year had elapsed on my divorce.

I fell for Mr. Tennant, clever and funny and possessing a brain so puckered with information I often felt like a drooling toddler with a crayon in my teeth by contrast. I introduced Mr. Tennant to the kids a few months in, not as a boyfriend, but as a friend of mine. Mr. Tennant and I were still discovering each other, and I was still discovering life as a single mom. And you know what? That shit’s hard. Take that roller coaster in a hurricane and remove the guard rail across your lap, upside down and holding on with all your strength – that’s single parenting. With time I was Mr. Tennant’s Rose. We were partnered and then shacked up a couple years in. My kids had inherited another epic guardian, someone to introduce them to things that I never could, nor never would have thought to teach them. Like Minecraft. Or Weird Al. But all the polka music and video games and Lego mini-figs in the world don’t point to unending and unchanging perceptions of happiness.

Mr. Tennant and I were honest with each other. For 3 ½ years we struggled in the face of incompatibility. We knew it early on, but dammit, we liked each other. We saw value in each other. We were friends. But we always felt like two strong magnets on swivels, pushing together then pulling apart, pushing together then pulling apart. The truth is I didn’t celebrate him the way he deserved to be celebrated, and he couldn’t do the same for me. So despite fear of a new openness, we released our grip, and instead reached out for worlds that were true and consistently magnetic to each of us. I had to allow myself to be pulled fiercely by a life lived honestly, instead of being pulled intermittently by someone. We waited a month after making the decision before we told the kids. One night after dinner I told them they could go to the pantry and get down the horrifyingly huge jar of leftover holiday candy and pick out a few pieces. Not one! A few. As they delightedly separated the Nerds from the Sweet Tarts, I took a deep breath and let the kids know that Mr. Tennant and I would no longer be boyfriend and girlfriend. But, Mr. Tennant would always be our friend, and in fact, would continue to be our roommate for awhile. My daughter’s lip quivered and she asked “But … will you still cook him food?” I answered that I would if he wanted to join us, and that seemed to satisfy her, and thus the candy consuming continued. Amidst a sugar-buzzed semi-sadness, Mr. Tennant and I toasted teacups and glanced at each other with a shared thought “Well that went as well as possible.”

We still do eat together sometimes. Sometimes we watch a movie or hike together. My daughter still gets sad at the thought of him not living with us come fall, and she cries. She loves Mr. Tennant, her other epic guardian. It’s not like we’re all starry eyed and tie-dyed and know no feeling but effervescent bliss. But we’re being honest. And it’s hard to feel bitter when you know all are being honest in word and emotion. I’ve watched already as Mr. Tennant has re-gained some important pieces of himself that he lost in partnership with me. I’m finding pieces of my own. If a relationship isn’t working, no matter if it’s romantic or friendly or biologically related, and you’ve tried and tried and tried but you’re still kinda treading water in an increasingly murky pool with that person, it’s time to swim to a new part of your waters. Head toward that openness.

Click here for the conclusion in Part Three.

 

Honestly Ever After {Part One}

Friends, meet Kelli Martinelli. She is a bright, innovative soul who I asked to write a guest post for you.  Kelli has a unique parenting and partnering style that defies social norms, and works for her family.  Something that I love about Kelli is her willingness to put everything out there. She never pretends that things are perfect or easy, but there is an inspiring warmth in her tone and outlook.  I’m excited to share this with you. While it is always easy to throw stones, especially when we don’t fully understand or agree, I encourage you to open your hearts and minds to Kelli’s story. She’s found a way to make her family and her life work and is brave enough to put it all out there.  Honestly.  Click here for Part Two and Part Three of her story. 

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My daughter with her dad when she was 3, at the annual camping trip in California. This was the last year that I went.
My daughter with her dad when she was 3, at the annual camping trip in California. This was the last year that I went.

A few years ago I read an article titled, “Why Divorce Is Good For Children.” I was married at the time. I hadn’t ever imagined myself as divorced. I was in it to win it! What the win it part was, I’m still not sure. My marriage was 10 years old and bore 2 bright-eyed, articulate children who flipped my world on its head and made me see life and relationships through a new lens. “Why Divorce Is Good For Children.” Was it? Is it? Or is it just all SEO headlines and stock photos brimming with smiling, lightly tanned models plus a sidebar of recommended articles with click-bait titles? It was a HuffPo article, so it could go either way …

I’m a child of divorce. In fact, my parents believed in divorce so strongly they divorced each other twice! When they got divorced the first time I admit I didn’t really know what was happening, and I don’t recall how it affected me. I went away to Girl Scout camp, my mom was a troop leader, and when we got back my dad was living with another woman. His girlfriend had finches. And they were really loud. It was the first time I ever hated a bird. When my folks got back together I thought it was a bad idea, and when they separated again, but this time for realsies, I was relieved. Not grief. Relief.

So here I was, in my early 30s, married, and finding myself digging in to an article on divorce. I read it several times through, and then bookmarked it. It was hitting a nerve that I didn’t realize was even there, and it stung. More than stung. It collapsed me. Scarcely unable to keep my head up after 6pm, struggling with making dinner or tending to my brood, nauseous, whispering that word to myself to see if I could even say it … “divorce”. I would read that article no less than 20 times over the course of the next year as I wrestled with the first real re-introduction to myself by way of marital detachment.

The morning that I woke up and felt an urge to lace up my shoes and run a few miles, I knew I was a changed woman. I don’t run. I am not a runner. Do not ask me to run any kind of k with you (unless there are tacos involved, and then … there’s a chance). But that morning my body told me to run, and then my heart started to wake up, and I was afraid, but my body was collaborating with my heart which were together in cahoots with my brain, and I was for once able to recognize and see beyond the fear. Running, for the brief time I was suckered in to it, helped steer me to clarity. There was openness in front of me. I needed a new place to set myself down and re-ground. I took a breath and leapt with these words to my then-husband (who I will refer to as Mr. Swayze, cause he’d like that), “I am unhappy,” I said. And the trepidation with which I said those words and the Bassett Hound grimace on my face told him this wasn’t just dissatisfaction with the living room furniture. This was life altering, and with those words, “I am unhappy” a new world opened up in front of us.

Mr. Swayze and I separated. I moved out. I handled the transition with gentle words, but rough hands, which is as sloppy and misleading as it sounds. Mr. Swayze was mad at me for the way in which I left. He had every right to be. I saw what I wanted in that new openness and then recklessly pursued it. But as the shitstorm swirled around me ~ and I truly apologize for that visual ~ I put out an intention that I vowed to fulfill: one day this divorce would show itself as being good for my children, and also good for me and good for their dad.

Mr. Swayze is now re-partnered to an incredible woman, and poof, now he’s a dad of 4! Which is great, cause my uterus wasn’t going to give him 2 more children, I enjoy sleeping on my stomach far too much to be pregnant again. And now my children have 2 older siblings who are smart and adventurous and respectful and fun, and how could that not be a wonderful thing? Divorce expanded their concept of family! I have another mom to work alongside of, to share in the kid-shuffling, the homework-managing and the Mr. Swayze corralling. Parenting is a helluva job! It’s like constantly making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, blindfolded, with one arm tied behind your back, while riding a roller coaster, in a hurricane.

Click here for Part Two.

Aioli Grilled Asparagus {Dairy Free}

Asparagus

Summer is almost over in the Pacific Northwest.  The uncharacteristically hot weather has been replaced with overcast skies, cooler temperatures and a sprinkling of rain.  Summer lovers are eeking out every ray of sunshine and late-afternoon warmth in preparation for a rainy autumn and winter ahead.

As for me, I’m eeking out every opportunity to utilize the grill before we are driven indoors.  I like the rain.  I like the cooler temps and deep greens and blues of the rainy season.  But I miss my grill.

I attempted many new recipes this summer, with many new ingredients.  Because cooking with fire is FUN.  Asparagus has been a favorite go-to for a summer veggie, and my new favorite asparagus recipe is simple, impressive, unusual and freaking tasty. All it takes is a bunch of asparagus, a little mayo and dijon mustard, fresh rosemary, cracked pepper, and you guessed it, a hot grill.

Don’t let a fancy words like “asparagus” and “aioli” fool you.  Asparagus is full of important vitamins that naturally boost energy and immunity. And as for aioli? It’s just mayonnaise with something added to alter the flavor profile.  For this recipe, I used mayonnaise in place of oil and it turned out superbly. It adds a complex flavor and richness that oil misses.  I am sure this will work in the oven, as well.  But, you know. Summer.

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb of asparagus, trimmed
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 Tbsp dijon or stone ground mustard
  • 1 Tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 1 tsp cracked pepper
  • 1 tsp sea salt

Directions:

  1. Combine all ingredients, except asparagus, in a small mixing bow. Call this “aioli”.
  2. Coat asparagus in aioli mixture.
  3. Place asparagus on hot grill and cook until asparagus is slightly tender, and the outer skin crisps up a bit.
  4. Sprinkle a little sea salt on top, and serve immediately.

If asparagus is your dish, you will fall in love with it and impress your friends and family at your Labor Day gathering this weekend.  Or at the very least, give them stinky pee.

I hope your Labor Day is filled with love,
Carrie