Where does one begin? What it feels like is that everything in my life has led me to this exact moment, and this exact moment is right where I want to be. Two years ago, nearly to the day (October 7th), I left my job as a massage therapist because I was badly injured from too many years of demanding physical labor. My shoulder was busted. I was totally beat. Exhausted, uninspired and in a lot of pain. I remember, on the day that I stopped working, thinking that I’d have about three weeks off to recuperate, and I naively believed that I could lock down a new career and a revamped blog in that short time. It took a lot longer than three weeks.
It is kind of like the perfect storm, if I can borrow that oft-used term and make it into a damn fine thing. In art school I was hopelessly preoccupied with color and light, but opted not to major in photography because I smugly thought that I knew all that I needed to know about that medium. So I pursued furniture design, which was a terrible fit. (But a wonderful group of folks to work with.) And that brought me back to food, because I wanted to invest my energy in something that felt meaningful and important, and joining my friends and family at the table around food was (and still is) a thing that makes my heart swell. So I started a blog and a project: 52 Dinners, with the aim of documenting one meal per week for a year with friends and family. It was more of an art project, originally. I didn’t think about color and light for a while. I was obsessed with storytelling but didn’t understand how to bring that back to my young blog, because I thought that to write about food, one had to master the nuances of flavor and talk about that in a very literal way. It’s taken a long time to realize that what makes food interesting is not being great at describing flavor but being great at finding the story in it. And it’s taken me a long time to realize that that old preoccupation with color and light can be found just as marvelously in examining the colors of fruits and vegetables in the soft light of an upstairs window. When I began the Color Studies early this year, it finally all came together.
So here we are. I have the great luck (and daunting responsibility) to spend the next year obsessing over my favorite things in life: gorgeous seasonal produce, color, light, photography, narrative. It will undoubtedly be one of the hardest thing that I’ve ever done. But I just feel so damn lucky that I get to do this.
VIBRANT: A Celebration of Color and Food, will bring together my passion for the season’s best produce and my deep love of color through a collection of dynamic, inspired recipes. It’s slated for a Spring 2014 release. A huge thank you to Sally Ekus of Lisa Ekus Group and Lisa Westmoreland and the entire team at Ten Speed for supporting this project from the beginning.
POLENTA CAKE WITH HONEY-ROASTED FIGS
Yield: 4 servings
Polenta cake inspired by Nigel Slater’s Ripe, Figs inspired by Saffron Lane
For the cakes:
1 cup polenta
3/4 cup almond meal
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup turbinado sugar
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup nonfat Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon rose water
4 eight-ounce ramekins
For the figs:
8 fresh black mission figs
1/4 cup honey
fresh sprigs of thyme or rosemary (optional)
2 tablespoons chopped pistachios
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a mixing bowl, whisk together the polenta, almond meal, baking powder, cardamom and sea salt. Set aside.
Using an electric mixer, beat together the eggs, turbinado sugar and olive oil until light and frothy. Add the Greek yogurt and rose water and mix thoroughly.
Slowly fold the dry ingredients into the wet.
Grease 4 eight-ounce ramekins and lightly dust with cornmeal.
Divide the batter evenly among the ramekins.
Bake at 350 degrees until a toothpick inserted comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.
Set oven to broil.
Slice the figs in quarters lengthwise and drizzle the honey over them. Tuck fresh sprigs of thyme or rosemary among the fig slices if desired.
Broil until figs just begin to soften, about 4 minutes.
To serve, divide the cakes among four plates. Drizzle the thyme-infused honey over the cakes. Sprinkle with chopped pistachios, and finish with the figs.