This is a frightening moment. It’s hard to write about recipes and food during this time when I incessantly read the news and my mind is mostly devoid of non-coronavirus thoughts or ideas. I have noticed, though, that when I get especially anxious about what is happening, I am drawn to being in my kitchen. Chopping, cooking, baking all calm my nerves a bit and give me something purposeful to do. My sweet elderly dog patiently sits nearby, his intense eyes gazing at me, wondering if any crumbs might drop by his paws, completely unaware of the global crisis and singularly focused on food scraps.
In this challenging moment, my appreciation and awareness of beautiful, sometimes seemingly mundane things in life has become accentuated.
I have taped to my computer a quote by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, “Our goal should be to live in radical amazement. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.”
This is a time when reflecting upon the fragility of life is thrust upon everyone, that the phenomenal, amazing nature of the world is suddenly more obvious, appreciated, and embraced. For me, it has been things like the small bunch of wild daffodils blossoming from weeds next to a bus stop, the smell of a hyacinth, the earnest commitment to daily video chats with friends and family across the globe, the miracle of bread fermentation, magnolia tree blossoms, an online dance class with Debbie Reynolds (and my very clumsy attempt to keep up), the organizing of neighbors and communities to ensure the most vulnerable are cared for, the dramatically cleaner air. I am grateful for my honest, raw communications with friends and family about our fears and stress–suddenly any societal or personal barriers to communicating one’s emotions or offering genuine love and support seem to have dissipated.
And being in my kitchen, looking at the incredible foods that I have the privilege to cook with, food items collected from my travels, heirloom grains and beans, produce from local farmers that I am still able to get, is truly amazing.
I’ve had corn bread on my mind for awhile since my trip through the Lower South in December and especially at the forefront of my brain the last week as I think more about comfort foods. I decided the other day to start to use the heirloom cornmeal that I got at the incredible Bellegarde bakery in New Orleans. The overpowering smells from the bakery’s double mills envelopes you at the front door of the low slung former industrial building far from the tourists of the city. It is overpowering inside, permeating your whole body with grain dust and you cannot smell much else besides flour. The heirloom grains purchased from small farmers growing them throughout the South and Midwest are milled at the bakery by an enthusiastic staff that gleefully showed me around the bakery and discussed grains and breads with expertise akin to having a PhD. The grains are hand kneaded into stunning, delectable loaves, each a piece of edible art created through the gentle hands of farmers, millers, and bakers.
Because of the dire situation in Italy, I have also been thinking about my many visits to the country and cooking lots of Italian inspired dishes. I decided to add Italian flavors to my corn bread, using rosemary from my balcony garden, pine nuts from my neighborhood Italian grocer, and lots of olive oil (I always seek opportunities to use olive oil). Perhaps before COVID-19, I might have not given as much consideration to modest additional ingredients, but the physical beauty and definitive flavors that they bring to the bread made for a stunning, delicious dish. Yes, it’s just a pan of simple corn bread made during a pandemic, but in its own way, a reminder of the sacredness of food and to value even the most basic things in life.
I hope you all are safe and healthy during this time.
PS: Sadly, Bellegarde has closed because of COVID-19 (hopefully temporarily) but is still taking online orders.
My recipe was adapted Nora Cooks.
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups corn meal
1 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
1.5 tbsp baking powder
1.5 cups soy milk
1 cup olive oil
4 tsp pine nuts
2 tsp fresh rosemary
1 tbsp vegan butter (optional for greasing pan. I use Miyokos brand)
1-2 tbsp fruity olive oil (optional)
1. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees and grease a 9×12 baking pan with vegan butter or olive oil.
2. In a bowl, combine, flour, cornmeal, sugar, salt, baking powder, rosemary and 3 tsp pine nuts and mix.
3. Add the soy milk and olive oil and mix together. If it’s a bit runny, sprinkle a bit more cornmeal in (perhaps a tablespoon or so).
4. Pour into the baking pan and sprinkle the remaining 1 tsp pine nuts on top.
5. Bake for approximately 20-25 minutes. Remove from oven, let cool and drizzle with fruity olive oil on top.