Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Polenta with Rich Tomato Sauce (egg free, dairy free, gluten free)

Everyone knows the cliché; Births, Deaths, Weddings and Moving, these are all events that are guaranteed to push you to the limits of your sanity.
  1. They all require huge amounts of organisation. Well, perhaps not death, although you do have to organise the aftermath. I think if you organise the before bit, I’m pretty sure that’s called murder.
  2. They all entail pain – slimming for your wedding day is agony, trust me – and,
  3. They all have the potential to cause your emotions to run amok.

Having had a taste of all four, I think I’d rank death as the worst, (tough one to call though; death / marriage, marriage / death….no it’s definitely death) but Moving is right up there on the podium of stress.

Moving is miserable. When I was little, moving was not about family excitement and jumping up the property ladder. It was about childish dreams of happy families spinning wildly off their axes. Moving brought division and bitterness, and the realisation that the world will not be happy just because you desperately wish it to be so.
Moving is scary. When I know I have to move, my first reaction is panic. The little cocoon I’ve built around me feels threatened, and I’m never sure I’ve got the emotional capacity to re-build it somewhere else.

Moving is exhausting. Even the thought of it tires me. The final fumbling climax in the last house - utilities cancelled, post re-directed, keys handed over – the stifled sobbing as you drive off down the road and the dazed disorientation you feel as you arrive at the next place. The awful thought that you’ve got to set up the framework of your life in this different place, and perhaps it won’t quite fit.

Moving means: Ghost Boxes. These are the boxes that travel with you when you move, but they are the ones that never get unpacked. Like the Ghost Ships, they are condemned to fester in an area where they can easily be overlooked. As long as they are far enough away from the hub of the house, you need not worry about them too much, but their presence looms up at you in your dreams. Another thing you haven't done. You may not know what is in them, and you’re pretty sure that it won’t be useful or necessary; it’s just that you can’t bring yourself to throw the boxes out. They are condemned to travel with you forever until perhaps - by some beautiful quirk of life - the moving company loses them and you can again sleep easy at night.

So - call me simplistic -but moving equals stress, misery and fear. All thoughts of moving are always firmly taped in a ghost box somewhere towards the back of my mind.
Therefore I was completely unprepared when my lovely friend Jane bounced up to me the first day back after half term.
‘We’re moving!’ she announced excitedly.
The familiar fear, the slight shift of the ground beneath my feet, the dragging feeling of tiredness;

‘Wow, where are you going?’
‘Hong Kong’.

Hong. Bloody. Kong. Not back to London, or up the road to Lille. Hong. Bloody. Kong.

Jane bounced up to me in a similar way just over a year ago, as I stood in a daze in the playground. It was our first day in a new school.
Hello! Are you new?’ she smiled. Jane helped me settle in, and we clocked up the kilometres as we ran around the Versailles grand canal, training for the Paris Half Marathon. She’s a bubbly, chatty friend who made my first year here a lot more bearable. And now she’s off, moving to Hong Bloody Kong.

There are a few weeks left before she goes, but I booked her early for lunch. I’m aware that packing takes on a life of its own. It will pull you down into its vortex until you only have time to scratch your stress eczema, spin on the spot and fret. You definitely don't have time for relaxing lunches with friends.

Jane and Kathie came last week. We lunched like proper expat ladies, and we discussed her impending move. We talked and we smiled, and I was painfully aware that it was probably the last time. Before long the festive outings will impinge, her shipment date will loom large, and all too soon we’ll be crying at the school gate as we say goodbye.

I wish you every success in Hong Kong, dear Jane. Brace yourself for the coffee mornings, and the slow process of making the friends who will keep you sane. Be excited about the new sights, the buzz and bustle and the nipping over to China for dirt-cheap designer goods. Think of the serviced apartment that will soon be yours, your sauna and your pool; and make sure you find a yoga class quick!

Moving Polenta with Rich Tomato Sauce (serves 3 lunching ladies and there's a small portion left over)

I got a bit flustered over what I should feed to Kathie and Jane, and ended up serving a three-course meal. Just rustled it up, you know how one does. We had Pumpkin Soup to start and then this Polenta. We are lucky and allergy-free, so we sprinkled it with grated Parmesan. We finished off our moving lunch with fresh fruit and chocolate fondue from one of these bad boys. Parting is such sweet sorrow…
For the polenta cakes: (the polenta needs to be made at least 8 hours before you want to form them into cakes, although I'd be cautious and go for 12)
(Here's a handy conversion tool if you need one)
180g of polenta
Approx 860ml
(Check the packet for polenta - water ratio, they may differ slightly to mine)
2 GF non-dairy stock cubes
A small whisk for frantic whisking
olive oil for grilling or frying
green salad for pretty garnish
For the tomato sauce:
The sauce can be made up to 24 hours ahead and kept in the fridge. This makes a big batch, but you could freeze it and use at another time (or half the quantity)
8 big beef tomatoes
2 large onions
3-4 cloves of garlic
olive oil to fry
60ml red wine
150ml passatta
About 15 fresh basil leaves
Salt and black pepper to taste
  • Line a 19cm by 27cm (or thereabouts) rectangular baking tin with baking parchment
  • Measure out the polenta, and put the cold water into a large saucepan
  • Bring the water to the boil and add the stock cubes, stir until dissolved
  • With the water still boiling, pour the polenta into the pan and using your whisk; whisk very frantically to disperse any lumps
  • When the polenta is popping and blowing bubbles, reduce the heat to very low. Keep whisking. The polenta should become thick and eventually will start to come away from the sides of the pan. This could take up to 5 minutes. Add a dab more water if you think it's looking scarily thick, you should be able to stir it quite easily
  • Scrape / pour the polenta into the lined baking tin. Use the back of a wooden spoon to level the surface
  • Drop the tbsp of dairy free spread onto the top of the polenta and use the wooden spoon to smear it over the top, this also helps level out the surface. Leave the polenta to cool, then place in the fridge
  • When the polenta is completely cold, it will be firm. Turn the polenta out onto a chopping board and use a 7cm biscuit/cookie cutter to stamp out rounds. If it's an informal meal, you can use the remaining odd shaped cuttings as well, they taste fine, they just look odd
  • Set the polenta cakes aside and make the tomato sauce as follows:
  • Wash the tomatoes, remove the stalks and place them in a large mixing bowl. Boil the kettle and pour the boiling water over the tomatoes until they are submerged. Leave them for at least 20 minutes; their skins should start to crack and shrivel a bit. Yours probably would if treated the same way
  • When the water has cooled slightly, carefully drain it off without scalding yourself. Using a sharp knife, peel off the skins and discard them. You will be left with some sheepish looking tomatoes that feel a bit exposed. Roughly chop them (I always cut out the hearts, but keep them in if you like them), then set them aside
  • Peel and finely chop the onions and garlic, place into a large saucepan. Add a good glug of olive oil and cook them over a low heat. Stir occasionally so that they don't stick, until they are sizzling and transluscent
  • With the onions and garlic still sizzling, pour the chopped tomatoes into the saucepan and stir
  • Add the red wine and passatta and stir again
  • Now leave to simmer very gently for about 30 minutes, do make sure you stir occasionally so that it doesn't stick to the pan. If it starts to go a bit dry, slosh in some more red wine, it never goes amiss
  • When the sauce has reduced (it should be quite thick but still with some juice), roughly chop the basil leaves, add them to the pan and stir. Season with salt and black pepper to taste
  • Now, you're ready to assemble the meal. Keep the tomato sauce warm in a saucepan or warm up the sauce you made earlier
  • You can either grill or fry the polenta cakes. I prefer to fry, but don't let me sway you.
  • To fry: put about 1cm of olive oil into a non-stick frying pan and heat until it is hot but not smoking. Add the polenta cakes, reduce the heat and let them sizzle for about 4 minutes on each side. You can increase the heat when they are warmed through, but mine never seem to go very brown. Remove from the frying pan and put onto a plate lined with kitchen paper
  • To grill: heat the grill to medium and brush each cake with olive oil. Grill them gently until they are warmed through, then increase the heat and grill on each side until they are sizzling. NB: If you're in a rush, you could warm the polenta in the microwave (gasp of horror) so that you're sure they're warm, then do the grilling or frying to crisp them off a bit
  • When the sauce has warmed up, put the polenta cakes onto your serving plate and spoon some sauce over the top of the cakes. Add some green salad and carry to your expectant guests. Pause briefly at the door and assume a shy, 'oh it's nothing' smile as they cry out in admiration and awe at your fabulous cooking skills.
© Pig in the Kitchen 2007

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Iota said...

Oh Pig I feel for you.

My own Jane here is all excited because her husband has just had an interview for a job a million miles away (well, a six hour drive anyway), and I'm finding it hard to be excited for her. She's American and from round here, but was in Scotland where we were for 3 years (although we didn't know each other then). She knows exactly how to relate to my experience, as it is her own in reverse.

There should be some law about friends not being able to move away.

Pig in the Kitchen said...

It really pulls the carpet out from under your feet doesn't it? Definitely should be a law against it.

Mrs Steinway said...

Have recently heard that my sister and family are to move to Singapore in August for 3 years - :(
Why does everybody I like move away? Are you all trying to tell me something? At least they are temporary partings; hopefully.....
Re the Octopus - all I say is 4 pairs of stuffed tights! I have just purchased fun fur from the market to rustle up a tiger costume for next week. Fun fur always makes me think of your big cosy red sofa and all your throws.
Please move back soon!

guineapigmum said...

I've not got a friend who's moving but I love polenta so might have to try this. Husband doesn't, though, so I'll have to do it when he's away. That's almost moving, isn't it? Do you ever add a splodge of balsamic vinegar to tomato sauce?

Pig in the Kitchen said...

Oh Mrs S, that's tough news. But singapore sounds quite thrilling, you will most definitely need that passport now. You could do a sort of world piano-tuning tour that encompassed Normandy, Paris and - er - Singapore.
You are so on the ball with the tights, I just have to find them here in fashion-conscious Paree. ah yes, my shapeless red sofa, the punchbag of all my children. I'm thirsting after a white leather one, I think that's so much more me.
No news on the moving front :-(

gpm, I think we can say continuously absent husbands have moved. I think mine has moved onto an aeroplane somewhere. What a FANTASTIC balsamic idea...you are so clever!

Alisa said...

What a total bummer! Well, I am sure she appreciated that yummy-looking polenta.

Suffolkmum said...

I love the way you write about moving. I so agree - but I am one of those people who resist change at all costs. I loathe moving, and had to do it a lot as a child. I agree that there should be a law stopping friends from moving, it's sad.

Potty Mummy said...

I had a visit from my Jane this morning - bittersweet. She hasn't moved quite as far as yours, but it's still tough to lose someone you know you can drop on in on anytime. Somehow e-mail just isn't the same.

Amanda at Little Foodies said...

Poor you! I always think it's harder for the people left behind. It's all so new when you move that it keeps your mind occupied, at first anyway. I moved a lot as a child and so long as it was near to people we loved, it felt normal and okay, we never seemed to stay in one house long enough to become emotionally attached to it. When we moved to the opposite end of the country though it hurt like hell.

Dianne said...

The thought of moving fills me with dread too! I moved last December and am nowhere near over that!

At least you all had a lovely lunch by the look of the photographs. Not that a nice lunch is much compensation for a friend moving away!


Alex said...

Oh Pig I am sorry for you. I can totally relate to the "Ghost-Boxes" though as a veteran mover (8 houses in 13 years) I have a few boxes of my own that I never get round to unpacking !!!
All I can say is thank god for the internet for keeping in touch with friends, and I have had some truly awsome Girly-Weekends all over the world, next year brings Canada, Finland and Glasgow!!
Keep smiling - Alex in Barcelona

farming-frenchstyle said...

I know what you mean about moving - when we came to France (was with ex-husband then) we had 3 kids, 4 dogs (the Rotty was sick in HIS car), 350 sheep and I towed a trailer loaded to the gunnels. We (my second husband and I) are now up for sale and hoping to move again - with a lot less than we came with - but are not going back to England.

Stay at home dad said...

Thanks for that Pig, I'm planning on moving. Still at least going to HK is ok. Expensive packers and shippers will do it all for you....

Dorry said...

Hello Pig !

I once had a Jane friend and we both moved. I moved within France and she went to CHINA! I remember how much I missed her. The great news is that some Janes stay with you wherever they are. My Jane is now back in France!! We don't see each other much but I love it when we do. It feels so right. But I agree, as I grow older, I wonder why we all have to move so much. I would love my baby to grow up knowing my Jane.

Jess P. said...

Sorry about your friend moving. However, I must thank you for the idea... now I know what I'm making for supper tonight!

Mya said...

Oh Pig, poor you. It's miserable when good friends move - especially when you're struggling along in a foreign country together.
I have several ghost boxes - I have no idea what is in them anymore - perhaps I should check. I might be able to flog it on e-bay!
That polenta looks absolutely delicious - you really do take fab photos.
Mya x

Brom said...

Ghost Boxes: I love that concept, even if they are related to the lesser good times.

Hope she gets on OK.

Pig in the Kitchen said...

Alisa, well put, and yes she did like the polenta!

SuffolkMum, I do like the phrase 'resisting change at all costs', that rings very true with me.

Potty Mummy, i'm glad you got to see your Jane, but as you say, email isn't the same. Video Skyping is a bit better, I must tell my Jane to get that!

A@LF, yes, it's ok if you don't move far, it's the dislocation of moving miles away that is horrid

dianne, I'm so glad it's not just me that dreads moving, i thought I was just being over dramatic!

Alex, well, respec' to you! Do you describe yourself as a professional mover when people ask what you do? When I moved to Paris I met someone who moved so often she could have it all unpacked and in the right place in...36 hours. When she said that I looked around for a small hole into which I could climb. I'm beginning to see the possibilities with girly-weekends, I've notched up the UK and Switzerland so far, but now Jane is going to HK...;-)

FF-style, 350 sheep? Now that IS baggage. I must pop over to see where you're going!

SAHD, i'm glad I could be of assistance. Do you mean you DON'T have packers and shippers???!!! I feel for you and your late nights taping up boxes.

Dorry, hello to you. You are right, some Janes do stay with you however far they go. I suspect that your Jane would be completely lost if she didn't have you. I bet she's dying to hold your baby!

Jess P, you see? Every moving cloud has a silver polenta lining!

MYA, what a fab idea to flog ghost boxes on ebay! You could set it up as an attractive 'mystery surprise' box, do be sure to stipulate 'buyer collects' ! Thanks for compliment on photo, it made me grin at my computer screen.

brom, do you have any ghost boxes? I somehow suspect you have a printed out label on the side of your moving boxes (perhaps colour coded for each room?) detailing the contents...!


Akelamalu said...

Ah but you'll get to visit right?

Akelamalu said...

PS don't forget to pop by and check your answers in the carols quiz.

rilly super said...

I miss my chums when they go back to London after a visit PITK, and I should think Hong Kong is possibly even further away than that. I suppose with all the stuff we get from china these days it probably makes sense for us all to move over there and save on the shipping costs, sigh

Marianne said...

My heart always sinks too when someone who is crucial to my emotional wellbeing moves on. How dare they? How can they?

The only upside is the invitation to visit, if only I can organise myself, save up, take time out of my own busy life ....

lady macleod said...

I am sorry your friend is leaving, but I'm sure she is pleased to have you about for backup.

Elsie Button said...

hi again, thought i'd commented on this one? i was probably pissed and hit the wrong button. just came back to say that i was missing Drunk Mummy and went onto her blog to see if she might have come back and saw your latest comment on there - it really made me laugh! you've left about 6 on there so far - that made me laugh too! do you think she's gone off to write a book? Let's hope so.

Pig in the Kitchen said...

Akelamalu, hopefully! I've had a look, I think I did quite well!

Rilly, you're always at the cutting edge with your ideas, of course we should all move to HK. Far better than moving up north. Glad to see you back Dear.

Marianne, well put, and actually it's all selfish emotion that comes welling up isn't it?! Hong Kong is such a long way, not sure how i'll swing a weekend away, but you never know...

Lady M, thank-you. I think she's very glad she has my support and my money for her trampoline that she can't take with her!

Elsie B, so glad that you get pissed and hit the wrong buttons too. You have outed me as a shameful stalker, I kept thinking that if I just left one more comment she might buckle and come back. I'm hoping she's very busy with lucrative writing projects!