Friday, March 16, 2012

My Peace in a Pan

In February, my Dad took me to see Arlo Guthrie after a scrumptious meal at Walker’s Grille. I mention this a month later because I couldn’t think of a post (nor the recipe) to share this story. It’s a very special story, and I wanted to share it in the right context.

Which part of the story was special, you ask: the dinner or the concert? They both were special, in the sense that I felt a connection. I felt a connection with my Dad, with the staff at Walker’s Grille, with Arlo and the band, and with the audience (the majority of which have been loyal fans of the Guthrie family even before Woodstock). Feeling connected is the most awe-inspiring experience you could ever give to yourself; it is the best gift on Earth. 

Mama Dazz and I met up with an old friend of hers a few weeks later at Walker’s Grille for lunch. I had the same dish as before: trout en papillote. This is the only fish dish I’ve ever had that I can remember eating the entire thing, skin and all. Both times the fish was light and moist, flaky and melt-in-your-mouth delectable, and it is light enough to match whatever time of day you are craving it. I hope to recreate this dish in the summer, but to continue on with my story…

There was something about being in that audience and watching Arlo Guthrie play alongside his son, his grandson (named Krishna, which I adore), and his go-to drummer that had me stupefied and bewildered. Like Tori Amos, the Indigo Girls, and Neil Gaiman, this man told stories with his music. I went from one dreaming sequence to another at each song, my desire to tear up immediately replaced by my desire to laugh and kiss the stranger next to me like an old friend. I felt safe and loved while I listened on, my eyes growing heavy at the warmth of positive energy coming from the stage. Other artists inspired Arlo Guthrie, and it was his magical ability turning his father’s poetry and Steve Goodman’s song “City of New Orleans” into infamous works of art any generation could relate to.  

He sang of social injustice and protest. He talked about love, and the story of how he and his wife met. (They have been married since 1969, and I was inspired and humbled by their love story, which is still going strong.) He joked about Woodstock, about where his music has taken him, and he spoke like he’d known us all our lives.

The thing I loved about Arlo is that he legitimately loves people, no matter if he agrees with them or not. This man, who in my mind resembled both physical attributes of Mozart and Einstein, is that grandfather whose tales you hear at his knee, the man who has taken the little steps to making the world a better place, and the person who understands what it means to be a positive force in the world. He’s at peace with himself, because when you come right down to it, that’s all anyone has.

I’ve been at peace before, so I know what it feels like. But he embodies it, and then shares it with others.

The last song of the night was “My Peace”, a short poem his father Woody had written that Arlo turned into the most moving song I’ve had the pleasure to sing. It was the “Kumbaya” on a grander scale, and one that shook me to my core. The entire audience was swaying and singing along, smiles on everyone’s faces and tears of joy threatening to fall. It is the song I go to on an otherwise cloudy day, and I hope it brings a smile to your face like it has mine.
Words by Woody Guthrie, Music by Arlo Guthrie

My peace my peace is all I’ve got that I can give to you
My peace is all I ever had that’s all I ever knew
I give my peace to green and black and red and white and blue
My peace my peace is all I’ve got that I can give to you

My peace, my peace is all I’ve got and all I've ever known
My peace is worth a thousand times more than anything I own
I pass my peace around and about ‘cross hands of every hue;
I guess my peace is justa ‘bout all I’ve got to give to you
This is the poem/song I go to when I'm feeling less than peaceful, and the recipe I'm about to give also provided a slice of peace in a pan.

Before that night, I’d never heard of Arlo or his father Woody. Before that night, I’d never heard of (let alone eaten at) Walker’s Grille, a place that is all about sustainable development and meeting the needs of the community and the individual diner.

So thanks, Daddy-O, for giving me that connection and a little bit of peace in an otherwise hectic post-graduate world.

Speaking of peace, I’ve noticed that I am at peace when I eat certain foods. My household was infamous for its one-pan-wonders. Layers of many flavors, textures, and colors were on each and every spoonful. It ranged from fish (tuna casserole) to beef (enchiladas) to chicken (lemon pepper chicken with mushrooms) to eggs (frittatas and quiches). One of my most favorite one-pan-wonders, however, was lacto-vegetarian, a deep-dish polenta casserole with a hearty helping of spaghetti sauce on top and (of course) smothered with cheese. It was one of those stick-to-your-ribs, only pretty in the pan type of concoctions, but it was delicious all the same. This dish doesn’t exactly resemble the polenta casserole of my childhood, but it’s easy to make, quick to bake, and the layering is optional. And if you have a lactose intolerant or a vegetarian who does not consume dairy or eggs in the household, add another vegetable, an extra helping of beans, or a non-dairy “cheese” substitute. 

Deep Dish Polenta Pie

510 g Precooked polenta, cut into small cubes
258 g (or 1 can) Black beans, drained
1 White onion, finely sliced into crescents
1 Green Bell pepper, quartered and coarsely chopped
822 g (or 2 cans) Diced tomatoes
1 Zucchini, sliced into thin circles*
112 g Parmesan cheese, finely grated
5 Garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/4 tsp. Powdered rosemary
1 tsp. Italian herb blend
Salt, to taste
Coconut oil, to grease the pan

Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
In a small bowl, thoroughly mix the cheese, garlic, and spices and set aside.
Put the cast iron pan over medium heat and grease the pan.
Put the ingredients, excluding the grated cheese, garlic, and spice combination, in descending order as listed into the pan (i.e., first the polenta cubes, then the beans, and so on) and cook for twenty-five to thirty minutes until the vegetables have softened.**
Evenly garnish the top with the cheese mixture and put it in the oven for fifteen minutes (or until the cheese is browned in some places and the garlic has caramelized).
Pull from the oven and garnish with additional cheese or guacamole.
Serves 3 – 4.

*I used the zucchini as a "crust" along the edges, but you can just put in top of the tomatoes if you'd like.
**As I mentioned before, you don’t have to layer this perfectly in order to get the dish to taste amazing. If you’d like, just add the ingredients in the way they are listed and mix to your desired preference.

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