"I love sleep. It's so relaxing." - Alex, age 8.
I sometimes long for the simplicity of childhood. You wake, toss on a sweatshirt and some athletic pants, scrub your teeth, splash your face, and head downstairs for a bowl of cereal or a plate of mapley pancakes. You chat with your brother, or flip through a Calvin & Hobbes or an Asterix, whatever's lying on the counter's edge. You fill your backpack, toss in a water bottle, velcro your sneakers, and poof! You're off to school.
On the way, you stop at a little patch of grass, observing wriggly snails writhe and slip among the brush, pointing out an especially big one to your mother or brother, urging them to come back to where you've dawdled. "You've really got to see this one."
You walk on, pants swhooshing as the legs rub together, little squeaks that measure your progress down the block, around the corner.
You suggest the rhyming game. Who wants to play? "Bug," you say. Tug. Dug. Hug. Jug. Shrug.
You arrive at your classroom, take your place in line, and tilt your forehead up for a mother's kiss. Your teacher arrives. "Good morning."
An adult's life is a little more complicated. The morning routine requires more thought, more time, more discipline. Dishes need washing, syrupy spills need sponging up, wayward books need to be set back in their bins. Lunches made, water bottles filled, doors pulled and locked shut.
But you walk, together, towards the school, and as you do, the stresses of the coming day take a back seat. The deadline recedes, the tough decisions blur, the how-am-i-going-to-finish-the-whatevers dissipate, dissolve.
You're walking with your kids, and it's the simplest, best part of the long day ahead.
Recipe for Polenta with caramelized onions and walnuts
I wish I could express how much I love this dish, but I'm afraid I'll fail to capture its pure earthiness, which is why I wrote about walking my kids to school instead. Polenta is so soothing, comforting, and soft, so gentle and warm, it's like a cozy blanket on the arm of your couch. When life throws you chaos, when work makes you nuts, when you're unsure, unstable, unable, make this dish. Sit quietly, and enjoy it. I promise you'll feel better.
Makes about 3 servings
3 cups cold water
1 teaspoon Kosher salt, divided
3/4 cup polenta (coarse cornmeal)
2 teaspoons butter
2 large yellow onions
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
Handful of walnut halves, preferably toasted
In a medium nonstick (if possible) saucepan, bring water and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt to a boil. Slowly stream in the polenta, whisking all the while. Reduce the heat to low, and cook, stirring frequently (I use a nonstick whisk but you can use a heatproof spatula or wooden spoon), until the water is absorbed and the polenta is nice a creamy, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in the butter, and keep covered.
Meanwhile, thinly slice the onions. Place a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the olive oil. Toss in the onions, the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and saute, stirring frequently, until soft, about 15 minutes. Reduce the heat as needed so the onions do not burn.
Then reduce the heat as low as possible. Add the brown sugar and balsamic, and continue to cook about 15 minutes longer, or until the onions are soft and becoming jammy and caramelized.
To serve, mound some polenta in a bowl, top with the onions, and sprinkle with some walnuts.