Polenta “pizza” with capers, tomatoes, and fresh basil

polenta pizza

polenta pizza

Last night was the school Halloween dance. Just a bunch of over-tired over-sugared kids who had lost half their costume running around like mad things, but strangely beautiful all the same. The younger grades went first, and played a manic dangerous game of tag through the smoke machine smoke and disco lights, with Thriller playing over and over in the background. And then the older kids took over the gym and played a more fraught game of tag, because social anxiety increases with every passing year. Some of the girls danced, but the boys raced around the edges, or walked around looking cool and handsome with their hands in their pockets (that’s my Malcolm, of course.) I was in charge of the pumpkin-pong game, the object of which is to bounce ping pong balls into plastic pumpkin buckets. I didn’t think there would be a lot of takers (Girls and boys and Thriller, what do they need pumpkin pong for?) But they loved it. And the ones that loved it really really loved it and came back time and time again. I became caught up in the excitement; I cheered when they got one in and I was disappointed for them when they didn’t. I was supposed to collect tickets for the game, but the whole exercise demonstrated my woeful inability to make money in real life. If they got one ball in, they got their ticket back, and they almost always got at least one ball in. They got a free turn if they helped me collect the balls that skittered away from the buckets. They got a few extra balls to pitch if they looked disappointed enough at the end of their turn. Toby asked if he could have a free turn because he was my neighbor, but I had to draw the line at that kind of political pandering…handing out favors to the constituents in my neighborhood! Where would the corruption end? (I gave him a free turn if he promised to get one in, which he did.) If you said to the kid, “You’re really good at this.” Or “You’ve got the best score yet.” The kid always came back to play again. This is either an easily exploited cynical ploy to get children hooked on gambling for life, or a testament to the power of encouragement. After all, they didn’t win anything except a chance to try again and a pat on the back from somebody else’s mother. But if they felt that they were good at it they wanted to try again, they wanted to be better at it. They wanted to practice and refine their technique. They weren’t worried about who was watching them, and if they had one bum turn, it was seen as a minor setback, a reason to try again and do better. It’s a lesson to us all, a pumpkin-pong life lesson. As you go about your day remember to say, “Good job, kid, you’re really good at this!” and give a nice big pat on the back to everyone you meet.

Polenta pizza

Polenta pizza

This is more of a serving suggestion than a recipe. You take some firm polenta stir in some cheese and herbs, let it set, slice it quite thin, coat with olive oil, and broil on both sides until crispy. Then you top it with whatever you like. I used mozzarella, black olives, fresh tomatoes and capers, but you could use pesto or red sauce or anything you like!

Here’s Monster Mash
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Grilled polenta with chard, black beans and pepito-sage-goat cheese sauce

Polenta with smoked gouda and sage

Polenta with smoked gouda and sage

This morning on the way to school, Isaac informed me that after tonight there will be two days to three weeks to Halloween. This boy loves Halloween, he really gets it. Not just the candy and costumes, but all of the darkness, too. He loves the skeletons and ghosts and ghouls. He’s going to be a devil captain (spoiler alert!) if anybody will give him nine dollars so he can buy the mask that Malcolm told him about which he’s never seen but is completely obsessed with. So, as devil-captain, he’s going to drive the boat that takes people to hell. Instead of “Land, ahoy!” He’s going to shout, “Hell, ahoy!” Not in school you’re not, I said. He knows. The other day he made an origami grim reaper first thing in the morning, and the whole way to school he said, “Death is upon us!” (just like it says in the origami book.) I have to admit, it’s a little disconcerting to hear my bright cheerful boy say things like this! (We’ve always said that his first album should be called “Little Mister Sunshine and His Dark Thoughts.”) But on our bike ride this morning everything slid into a different perspective. The spooky Halloween mist burned off to reveal all the birds doing their best Audobon poses in the raggedy glowing golden trees. The trees dying for the year and they’re more beautiful than ever, more fragrant than ever, and the birds are in tizzy getting themselves ready for winter. Halloween marks the real death of summer, the end of the harvest, a time of darkness and cold. But this is also a time when the spirits of the dead come back to visit us, when it’s easier for them to make their presence known. This is uncanny, in the sense that we can’t know it or understand it, but it’s not necessarily frightening. It’s all part of the cycle of death and rebirth, light and darkness–Isaac’s bright delight in the darkness of the day, the goblin-glow of jack-o-lanterns, the walnut trees dropping their seeds with gentle thumps in the dusty towpath, where they’ll split and rot and shed their sharp-sweet green fragrance, and someday grow again. Everything will come back in the spring, and Isaac will love that time, too.

Polenta, chard, black beans and pepito sauce

Polenta, chard, black beans and pepito sauce

I made polenta! Although it’s a well-known vegetarian staple, I don’t make polenta very often. I added some smoked gouda, smoked paprika, and sage, and then I put it under the broiler until it was smoky and crispy. It wasn’t grilled ON a grill, it was grilled under a grill, in the oven. Although you could try grilling it the regular way if you like. So I cut it in wedges, broiled it till crispy, and then topped it with chard sauteed with red peppers and black beans, a pumpkinseed-goat cheese sauce and some more smoked gouda. Fancy. A nice combination of earthy, smoky, sweet and tart.
Pepito goat cheese sauce

Pepito goat cheese sauce

Here’s Mikey Dread’s Pre-dawn Dub. It’s spooky!
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