Tag Archives: corn

The Polenta that Ate Vancouver

cornmeal, polenta, food, cooking, recipes

Store-bought polenta looks like a monstrous, pale sausage. From tumblr.com

One of the discoveries of my recent Apocalypse Diet was a surfeit of cornmeal. In all I probably had three cups in two jars. With no sugar nor eggs I wasn’t sure I could make anything until a friend suggested polenta. I decided to stop the diet before I was eating only polenta, an unappealing possibility because I’ve had it before and it is definitely a vehicle for sauces and not a tasty dish on its own.

So I looked up polenta recipes. So easy. All that’s needed is water, salt and cornmeal. I was a little incredulous when it said 7 cups of water and 1 2/3 cups of cornmeal. But follow the directions on the first try.

I put the water in the pot with the 1 tbsp of salt. I used coarse grain salt, which might have been a problem. When the water had a nice boil going, the recipe said to sift the cornmeal through your fingers, adding slowly to the constantly boiling water, and whisking the whole time. Unfortunately, this requires three hands. I gave up on the sifting and just poured and whisked. Be warned! The recipe does not mention the geyser like blorps of hot spewing cornmeal. Luckily I jumped out of the reach and had to remove the pot a couple of times to calm it down.

Once all the cornmeal is in you switch to a wooden spoon and stir vigorously for 45 minutes until the cornmeal pulls away from the side of the pot. I probably should have used my Dutch oven instead of the slightly smaller pot because I had some errant morsels escape and burn on the stove.

polenta, cornmeal, gruel, food, cooking, recipes

The thickness of the polenta depends on the amount of water. With 7 cups, mine was thicker than this but about the same consistency as store bought polenta. From: http://romanianrecipes.wikia.com/wiki/Quick_Polenta

I stirred, and stirred…and stirred. And then I began to wonder if 7 cups of water was enough. The stuff thickened to a paste, to a mortar, all the while bubbling. You have to stir a lot to get the bubbles to release when it’s that thick. Teamwork would be useful for this seemingly simple process. I think I lasted 20 minutes. My arms were aching, my hands reddened by grasping the thin handle of the wooden spoon. I even had to take my rings off to stir.

After I gave up I prepared for the last stage; pour cold water into a bowl, then throw it out and put the cornmeal in. It makes a great wiggling mound. The alternative is to turn it out on the board but I was afraid of its amorphous properties. It’s interesting to note that I think this would have been a great zombie deterrent. Throw the boiling mass at a lumbering undead thing and it would stick, clog their nostrils and limit their decaying sight.

After 15 minutes I turned the mass out on the counter and it held its mountain of madness shape. There was enough that I sliced it into eights and froze it. For whatever reason the tablespoon of salt was too much. Maybe coarse salt is too strong. When I used it in cooking I didn’t need any salt in the rest of the food. I cleaned the stove immediately and it was hard enough to remove, but putting cold water in the pot, the residue cornmeal removed easily like a skin.  If I ate the polenta every day, it would probably last nearly two weeks. Next time, a bigger pot and a catapult for lobbing it at the zombies.

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Overpackaging and Biodegradable Items

I have a problem with buying “bulk” because often it is not bulk. Bulk items are in a bin and you pour them into one container, whether a bag or a bucket. Many items are classified as bulk but are really prepackaged: a 24-pack of chips, a box of cookies packaged into twos for lunches, mini chocolate bars in a wrapper in a bag. These are not bulk but packaged. What all these convenience items have in common is that they’re overpackaged. Instead of one bag, there are many bags, in a box, wrapped in plastic.

The items can range from dried foods, to light bulbs, to frozen foods, to you name it. Where do all the chip and cookie bags, the Styrofoam bowls, the plastic wrap and other packaging go? Into the landfill, often too toxic to burn, but can leak those lovely chemicals into the ground. Sure many landfills are lined to contain the chemical sludge but still, there is only so much space and plastics especially are nasty to create and take thousands of years to break down.

There are several ways to be more conscious of the impact our shopping makes on our environment. One is to not buy prepackaged foods but buy bulk. I buy my veggies and nuts and meat as bulk as I can. Then for lunch I take reusable containers and put my foods into them. (Never microwave foods in plastic containers as the plastic will do damage to your system. Keep a glass container on hand.) If I was to buy cookies, I’d buy a big bag and package them myself, or better yet, bake them. A big bag of chips parceled into a smaller plastic container is far better.

Some companies are working on lessening their packaging. You can now get the equivalent of Styrofoam “corn” packaging material, which is actually corn. If you don’t reuse it, you can wash it down the drain and it will dissolve in seconds. Corn is being used to make plastic looking forks and knives for fast food or deli outlets. I ran into these in a supermarket with a deli section in Kansas. Again, if the forks go into the landfill, they dissolve without leaving chemical residue.

I’ve always said that if necessity was the mother of invention, laziness was the father. It’s too bad that part of the state of our world and environment is because of convenience because of laziness. To package your own food doesn’t take that much extra time and I’m quite lazy about my lunches. I try not to buy items wrapped in plastic and bags and boxes. The worst to me are the tiny things (usually electronics) packaged in a hard plastic container that’s five times the size of the item. It’s unrecyclable plastic and useless. I understand companies have the problem of packaging and advertising something small so that it’s seen but not easily stolen. But if we ask and write and put pressure on them, more viable and environmentally solutions can be found.

Which makes me think it’s time to write more letters to companies.

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Filed under consumer affairs, Culture, environment, food, life, shopping