5/20/12

Warm Fresh Mozzarella with Grits, Seared Radicchio, and Balsamic

As I put together this book proposal and invest all this energy in it, I’ve been feeling like the blog, the whole reason I’m writing this particular proposal, has been kind of getting the shaft. It’s a little strange because I’m writing so much about my relationship between learning to cook and life in general, including all these stories about my first couple of years in Los Angeles and some of the crazier things that Matt and I have been through, and instead of sharing it with you here on Bon Appétempt, I’m hoarding them away, putting them all in this giant Word document (which is presently labeled PizzaTheHutt.doc because when I started it, it was just as sloppy and ravenous as that character from Spaceballs). And as I’m stashing these stories away, this passage from The Writing Life by Annie Dillard, a book I read a thousand years ago, kept coming to mind. In my head, the lines went something like this: Don’t save your ideas for later. Use them now! Use them all! But I knew that Ms. Dillard had written it much more beautifully. So, after some searching, I finally spotted the thin little paperback hiding at the very bottom of a stack of much thicker books and reread exactly what she’d written:

“One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.”

Wow. It was so much better than I’d remembered. And at first reread, I felt bad. I felt like: shit, I have all these stories to tell and I’m just stockpiling them away for this book, a currently intangible entity that may never become tangible. Am I ignoring the advice of Annie Dillard? But then, I thought for a few seconds longer and reread the passage, noticing the word book. It’s actually there twice. Of course, Ms. Dillard published The Writing Life in 1989, and so I can’t be sure if her stance on not saving things for later would extend to the instantaneous, often under-edited nature of the blogosphere. (Though I’m going to interpret it as if it would not.)

Like so many of us, my relationship with the Internet is complicated. I love the Internet. Ever since that guy first told me: “You’ve got mail!” in 1996, I’ve been hooked. I love the ease, the quickness, and the ability to retrieve video clips from the USA women’s gymnastics team’s international competitions before NBC airs them. But I love books too. I love their non-quickness and the space they afford. I love the things I associate with them: vacation, school, bedtime, and bookstores. And since the two are so different, when creating content, I think it’s sometimes best to choose the appropriate medium first and then go for it.

For example, a video of making chocolate éclairs with your Mom while she downs cans of Diet Coke? Internet. The story of how learning how to cook has changed my world view and helped me redefine the meaning of success? I think that’s book material. In my life, the Internet is fun, quick, occasionally thoughtful, and a pinch stressful. Books, on the other hand, are calming, restorative, and very rarely stressful. And I love food blogs (obviously)—all those recipes and voices and glimpses into other people’s lives and kitchens—but sometimes there’s just no substitute for paging through a beautiful, food-stained cookbook. 
I know I’ve already talked about this book a couple of times, but I really love the tone of Andrea Reusing’s Cooking in the Moment. The whole book feels very honest, very much like a friend inviting you over to cook with her. There’s one photo in particular from the book that makes me want to get to know Ms. Reusing. She’s wearing an oversized black sweater, seemingly no make-up, and has her head down, smiling, as she mans the grill. A friend or relative stands behind her, also smiling but again not looking at the camera. She has her hands in her pockets and looks exactly as one should look when they’re keeping the person who is doing the grilling company. The focus isn’t on a fancy house or even particularly gorgeous food. To me, it’s about the camaraderie of a really good dinner party. It makes me want to jump into the frame and join them—“Hey, guys! Room for one more? I have this weird food blog and…”
Of course, the photo right next to it, of the grilled radicchio on top of grits and paired with warm fresh mozzarella, is pretty inviting too—particularly for this vaguely-spring, more-like summer weather we’ve been having. So, despite our lack of a grill, I thought we’d give it a go. Reusing calls for Carolina Gold rice “grits,” which she describes as “short, uneven pieces of rice that have been broken during the threshing process,” but all I could find were the classic polenta, made-of-corn kind. Also, my radicchio hardly looks anything like her radicchio, but if you run a quick Google image search on radicchio, the kind I got is clearly much more prevalent. (As always, if there are any radicchio experts out there, please weigh in!)
The meal came together more quickly than I’d expected. I guess the Carolina Gold rice grits take longer to cook. Mine were ready in about 15 minutes as opposed to the 45 she calls for. And apart from my radicchio being crazy bitter, (Perhaps it needed more time to cook and mellow out?) I loved this meal. I forgot how comforting and delicious grits are and want to make a point to cook them more often. Plus, the balsamic vinegar was the perfect counterpart to the mild cheese and all that butter I put in the grits. (She doesn’t specify how much, so I just went for it.)
Also coincidentally, a short essay that I wrote on the intended (and unintended) consequences of Internet distraction will be published in the next installment of the awesome literary journal The Rattling Wall. It’s a fantastic press, so be sure to pick it up!
Warm Fresh Mozzarella with Grits, Seared Radicchio, and Balsamic slightly adapted from Andrea Reusing's Cooking in the Moment
serves 4

1 cup coarse grits (Reusing calls for Carolina Gold rice grits, though I could only find corn grits, a.k.a. polenta.)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
unsalted butter
2 heads of radicchio, trimmed but core left intact, cut in half lengthwise
extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon sugar
3/4 pound fresh mozzarella, either in small balls or cut into 4 chunks, at room temperature
Aged balsamic vinegar
flaky sea salt, such as Maldon

Put the grits in a medium pot, whisk in 5 cups cold water, and season with salt. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Cover and cook, stirring frequently and adding additional water as needed, until they are creamy and tender. If you are using the Carolina Gold rice grits, this will take 45 minutes to an hour or longer. The corn grits I used took only 15-20 minutes. Add butter to taste and season again with salt.

Put the radicchio on a large plate and drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle all over with the sugar, and season generously with salt and pepper. Sear the radicchio, starting with the cut side down, in a cast-iron pan over medium-high heat until it is caramelized and tender, 2-3 minutes per side.

Put the mozzarella in a bowl of hot, salted water for 30 seconds to heat and then drain. Divide the grits among four warm plates, and arrange the cheese and radicchio alongside. Drizzle with balsamic and sprinkle with sea salt.
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37 comments:

  1. I love that quote, those grits, and all the stories you've been hoarding! Also, I agree, we should have grits more often.

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  2. Oh my! That quote is incredible! And that dish looks pretty incredible too! Lots of luck with your proposal...

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  3. This looks beautiful! I wouldn't call myself a radicchio expert by any means but I think what you have there is the Chioggia variety whereas Andrea Reusing sports the Treviso variety. But again, I'm no expert! Good luck with your proposal.

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  4. I'm with you. Will always love a good book and I cannot wait to read yours!
    -Jess

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  5. I LOVE this post and swear something must be in the air. I just reread The Writing Life last week, poolside in Palm Springs. It's funny how you glean different things each time you read a book. This time, I got stuck on the chapter about time-specifically, how we spend it, how we spend our lives.

    Anyway, I always enjoy reading every word of your posts. You always have something thoughtful to say, and I never get the sense of "Oh man, you just came up with that life-food analogy last second!" that other blogs sometimes give me.

    Hope your writing is going well and steadily! I'm a big paper/book/old-fashioned print fan here, so I would gladly read your book!

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    1. Sarah! What a cool coincidence! Now I want to reread that chapter! Anyway, and as always, thanks so much for your support!!

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  6. This is not a thoughtful comment to follow your very thoughtful post, but Trader Joe's just recently debuted some tasty stone ground grits, which are probably closer to those in the recipe.

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  7. I cannot wait to read your book just as much as I cannot wait to read your blog posts! I am starting to imagine all the places your book filled with stories will go!

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  8. Haha, I really love the name of the blog.

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  9. Yes, grits are delicious. I also love that in the South, where I grew up, girls wear sweats that say "GRITS" for "Girls Raised In the South". I was born in Indiana, so I unfortunately don't have one. Also, I don't mind that you hoard the good stuff, because even the not-book worthy is interesting.

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  10. I once had an advanced-in-years photographer friend who was also a mountaineer and who'd photographed Mother Theresa countless times, whose photos or projects were often stolen. He always said that he didn't mind that, because that meant he'd have to come up with a new idea, and he always did. I think there's a lot of truth about that.
    As for the internet/writing dilemma, I've been musing about that too (also on my blog - go figure! talk about "being in the air"), but since I live where I do, I have a specific need for internet communication. What I find lacking on the internet is continued conversations and community building.
    That said... I'm looking forward to reading your book, because I can enjoy all your humour and insights... from my reading armchair!
    P.S. Polenta/grits is sooo good with grated Parmesan and a little bit of olive oil and salt. Sometimes I make the grits, put a pan with a bit of oil in the oven, add the grits and Parmesan (and a touch of pounded chili) and bake it.

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    1. Thanks so much for allll of this. Grits with Parmesan and chili sounds so delicious.

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  11. The last sentence of A.Dillard´s paragraph just kills me. So graphic! And then you go on about the fleeting vs. permanent, internet vs. books... Great post, love it, it just has me thinking about life for hours now!

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  12. your piece is the perfect inspiration for my day of writing. thank you!

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  13. Grilled Radicchio is one of my favorite things. As is this blog.

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  14. I love how Matt always makes the sweetest comments on each of your posts...well-deserved :). Good luck with your proposal!

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  15. How perfectly beautiful Amelia. You always hit the mark!! xo

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  16. Wow, the part about opening up your safe and finding only ashes- that's going to stick with me for a long time. I've read that while grilling radicchio brings out its sweetness, it also amplifies the bitterness. Go figure. I do love it though, and often pair it with grilled Belgian endive. I like the idea of serving it with polenta and mozzarella.

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  17. Very good advice on writing and sharing. It does seem to be instinctual to hoard an idea away, but I like the thought that an even better one will come around later. Too true, and encouraging! Another good side effect would be not pouring over an idea and analyzing until you hate it. Just get it out there, while you love it!

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  18. lovely photos and recipe. I look very forward to reading all these stories youve been hoarding. hopefully one day soon.

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  19. Wow. What an amazingly inspiring quote. I really have a problem with hoarding of things both tangible and non - I have been known to "save" "good" clothes so long that I never wear them (aka, they turn to ash).

    I ate a lot of grits in Baton Rouge last week. Grits are delicious.

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  20. Congratulations on the essay! I cannot wait to read it. Your essays are the best!

    That photo of the girls in the book is SOOOO comforting. Makes me think of cookouts at the beach with friends. Ahh, the beach!

    kiss her grits,
    xoxo

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  21. I've never seen gorgeous radicchio like in the cookbook before. Wowza. I love this post and if this is what's "left over" from your writing hoarding, your book is on my pre pre-order list! PizzaTheHutt.doc, yes!

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  22. speaking of the internet being stressful, i've been stressed for days by this post! i LOVED reading your thoughts about hoarding ideas and have been wanting to devote some time to responding thoughtfully. but then thoughtful internet time hasn't materialized for me, bla bla... can we just talk on the phone?? thx! i love this post and i love PizzaTheHutt!!!

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  23. I love this! I want to eat that meal while reading your book! K? In a bath. JK.

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  24. The Writing Life is required reading for my students this quarter. Can't wait to share this with them -- they are all writing non-fiction books right now so I think they will relate to this.
    Good luck, good luck!

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  25. Thanks, Anne! and that's soooo cool. What a great effing book it is!!

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  26. Ah radicchio- we've got in a bad habit when something is ridiculous saying 'that's radicchio'. I think we need to rebrand it in the house - I like the Trevisio more for grilling and the orbs more for salads. And I love what you've written here. Can't wait to read the book. Seriously.

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  27. It *is* tricky -- knowing what to save and what not to save. I agree with Annie, though, when I spend it (in my book or on my blog), I do find more ideas well right up, ready to go. This is in stark contrast to when I save it and try to make the perfect paragraph in my head without putting it down -- it doesn't go anywhere.

    Good luck with writing -- everywhere!

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  28. i wonder if part of the "spend it now" maxim is that we do not always have an objective understanding of our best stories. we're coming from the context of our own lives and can get blinded. kara wrote something brilliant about how the stories that break her are the ones she thinks are bigger than they are. & it's surprising to me how sometimes what we think of as more our chaff is actually that which more people will find the most accessible and relevant to their own lives.

    that said, i think you have absolutely brilliant sensibilities about the pulse of things, so go with your gut, and if you feel it belongs in the book, 'tis surely a reason. x

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    1. aww, thanks, Whitney. and how are you doing?!

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    2. ha ha ha... i'm GOOD... was momentarily (ok--prob 3 weeks) drawn down my own writing rabbit hole, but have emerged & can flit about the natural world again (for now!) xx

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  29. …AND i just spent my sunday morning reading back this far. you are the greatest and i cannot WAIT for your book. your writing is so warm, captivating, hilarious…. i love it!!!

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    1. aww, thank you so much Olivia. That's really, really nice to hear.

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