Get Out & Vote! & Creamy Polenta with Mushroom & Kale Ragù

An open letter to my nieces and nephews,

vote_02Finally, the 2016 election is headed into the homestretch. Fed up with the rancor, some (probably most) Americans are heaving a huge sigh of relief. Few would disagree that the tone of the election is disturbing, even horrifying. It worries me. More than a few people are threatening to skip the whole thing. I’m sure you’d never stay home from the polls but just in case you’re thinking about it … please don’t. Cast your vote, if for no other reason than it will make Meme proud.

Perhaps she is naïve or unduly patriotic but your grandmother believes in voting. The first time I voted, Mom waited to cast her ballot until I got home from school so we could go to the polls together. It has never mattered that our views often differ, that our votes cancel each other out. For Meme, voting is important, an important right and responsibility.

Maybe it is because my grandmother, Meme’s mom, was born before women had the right to vote. Nana was of voting age and shoulda, coulda, woulda voted the year Woodrow Wilson was elected president. Instead, she had to wait another four years for the 19th amendment to pass.

The candidates tell us, “This is the most important election ever.” Maybe they are right, maybe not. Many of the talking heads, pundits and pollsters say that millennials could decide the 2016 election. That’s you and that’s a good thing. Who better to decide the future than the generation who will be around to see it? Don’t forget, a Supreme Court position is at stake. Appointing a supreme is a big deal with long lasting effect. The average tenure on the court is sixteen years. The longest serving justice was on the bench for more than thirty-six years.

Anyway, that’s the argument I used with Gramps. Discouraged by his choices, your grandfather threatened to stay home from the polls. That’s a pretty big deal. As far as I know, Gramps has never skipped an election. Okay, maybe he missed a few of those local elections over referenda that almost no one understands. (Sorry – Mom, I’ve missed a few of those as well.)

And so, I had a heart to heart with your disheartened grandfather. I suggested that he vote for the candidate who best represented the interests and needs of his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. Especially you, the youngest generation of Nyes. I think it worked. At least, he cast his ballot.

It’s okay to be a little selfish about this. Think of your future, your beliefs and values when you ponder this election. Look beyond the melodrama and vote for the issues that matter to you. Wave away the stunts and theater. Determine what’s best for the economy, foreign policy, health care and education. Reflect on your positions on the environment, gun policy, terrorism and trade. Consider where you stand on immigration, marriage equality, treatment of minorities and women’s rights. It’s not easy. There has never been a perfect candidate. There never will be.

Alzheimer’s disease has robbed Meme of her ability to vote. Go in her stead. Know she loves you and make her proud. I love you too.

Bon appétit!

Creamy Polenta with Mushroom & Kale Ragù
For anyone following the election, a little comfort food is probably in order about now. Enjoy!polenta_mushrooms_kale_01
Serves 6-8

4-6 ounces pancetta or bacon
1/2 red onion, finely chopped
Pinch or to taste red pepper flakes
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 pounds mushrooms*, trimmed and sliced
1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh thyme
1/4 cup dry Madeira or sherry wine
4 cups chicken stock or broth
1 pound baby kale, stemmed
1-2 tablespoons butter
1 cup instant polenta
4 ounces fontina cheese, shredded
1-2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated
1/2-1 cup half & half
Garnish: grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Prepare the mushrooms and kale: Lightly coat a heavy skillet with olive oil and heat over medium. Add the pancetta and sauté until crisp, about 10 minutes. Remove the pancetta and drain.

Add the onion to the skillet, season with pepper flakes, salt and pepper and sauté until it starts to become translucent, add the mushrooms and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and 1 teaspoon each rosemary and thyme and sauté for 2-3 minutes more.

Add the wine and reduce by half, stir in 1/2 cup stock, add the pancetta and kale and simmer until the kale wilts. Add salt and pepper to taste and toss to combine. Add the butter and stir to combine.

polenta_mushrooms_kale_05While the mushrooms and kale cooks, make the polenta: Bring the remaining stock to a boil in heavy saucepan, add the polenta and remaining herbs and season with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring constantly, until the polenta thickens, about 3 minutes. Stir in the half & half, add the cheeses and stir until melted and smooth.

To serve: spoon the polenta into shallow bowls, top with mushrooms and kale and sprinkle with Parmigiano-Reggiano.

* If you can find them, use a mix of chanterelles, oyster and shiitake mushrooms.

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One Year Ago – Butternut Squash Crostini with Goat Cheese & Balsamic Reduction
Two Years Ago – Moroccan Spiced Vegetables & Chickpeas with Couscous
Three Years Ago – Smashed or Mashed Potatoes
Four Years Ago – Apple Muffins
Five Years Ago – Mixed Greens with Warm Roasted Squash
Six Years Ago – Spinach Ricotta Pie
Seven Years Ago – Seared Scallops with Lentils
Eight Years Ago – Tomato, Olive & Feta Tart

Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

Dare I ask … what are your thoughts on the election? Feel free to share.

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2016

A Different Kind of Celebration & Grilled Salmon with Lemon-Herb Quinoa Salad

Alzheimers Assoc BraceletsLast week I wrote about some of the fun and funny holidays that keep us busy celebrating in June. This week, I’d like to share something a bit more serious. Along with days to commemorate ice cream, yo-yo’s and donuts, June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month.

This tribute is particularly important in the Nye family; my mother has Alzheimer’s disease, as did her father. We are not alone. My mother is just one of the more than 5 million Americans with this disease. Even more worrisome, that number is expected to grow forty percent in the next ten years.

From our first wails in the delivery room, we baby boomers have fueled everything from hula-hoop sales to suburban sprawl and technology breakthroughs. The first of the boomers hit sixty-five in 2011 and the explosion of potential AARP members won’t begin to slow down for another fifteen years. Fueled by aging baby boomers, the number could jump to 7 million by 2025. Barring medical breakthrough, almost 14 million could suffer from Alzheimer’s by 2050.

In spite of the already big numbers and astounding projected growth, Alzheimer’s research is seriously underfunded. Alzheimer’s may rank sixth for cause of death in the United States but it falls way down to number fifty-one in federal research funding. Alzheimer’s is the only disease among the top ten causes of death in the United Sates that cannot be prevented, cured or even slowed.

At just under $600 million, research funding may be relatively low but costs of care are skyrocketing. Direct costs of care for Alzheimer’s patients in the United States are an estimated $226 billion, yes billion, for 2015. Half of those costs are borne by an increasingly burdened Medicare system. The patients and their families bear the remainder. This figure does not include the almost 18 billion, yes again, that’s billion with a b, hours of unpaid care which family and friends provide loved ones.

The Alzheimer’s Association is encouraging people across the country to join forces on June 21st and raise money to fight Alzheimer’s disease. It’s the longest day of the year so we’ll have plenty of time to complete our efforts. I’ll be cooking up a feast and inviting friends and family to make a donation and then join me for some good food and a glass of wine. Together, we will celebrate friendship and my mother’s unflagging optimism in the face of this awful disease. The 21st is also Father’s Day so I’ve corralled my dad into helping out. You can learn more about my longest day event on my website.

Alzheimer’s disease is different for everyone and every family. Progression can move at a snail’s pace or frightfully fast. Although we are not exactly sure when it began, Mom has been on her Alzheimer’s journey for probably twenty years. Along the way, this progressive brain disorder has stolen much of her memory. She can no longer complete simple tasks or sentences. That said, even as she struggles in severe, late stage Alzheimer’s disease, Mom continues to amaze me with her enthusiasm for life, her fortitude and courage.

If someone you know has Alzheimer’s, I hope that you will support them and their caregivers on the longest day. If you are a patient or caregiver, please accept my hug.

Thank you and bon appétit!

Grilled Salmon with Lemon-Herb Quinoa Salad
Fish, along with leafy greens, whole grains, nuts and olive oil, is brain food. Be good to your brain and try this delicious summer dish. Enjoy!
Serves 4-6

Lemon-Herb Quinoa Salad
Zest of 1 lemon and juice of 1/2 lemon
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2-3 tablespoons or to taste extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cup quinoa, well rinsed
1/4 cup chopped walnuts or hazelnuts, toasted
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
2 scallions, thinly sliced

Put the lemon zest and juice in a large bowl, add the garlic and mustard, season with salt and pepper and whisk to combine. Continue to whisk and slowly add the olive oil until well combined. Let the mixture sit at room temperature while you prepare the quinoa.

Put 1 1/4 cups water in a saucepan, add the quinoa and 1/2 teaspoon salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer until tender, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand, covered, for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork.

Add the quinoa to the lemon and olive oil and toss until well combined. Tossing several times, cool to room temperature. Add the nuts, herbs and scallions and toss again.

Can be made ahead, covered and stored in the refrigerator for several hours. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Grilled Salmon
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 pounds salmon fillet, skin-on
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preheat the grill to high heat. Drizzle the salmon with lemon juice and olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Place the salmon, skin side up, on the grill. Depending on the thickness of the fish, grill for 5-6 minutes. Carefully turn the salmon with a wide spatula and grill for 3-5 minutes more or until cooked through but not dry. Transfer the fish to a cutting board, skin side down, and let the fish rest for 5 minutes before cutting into thick slices. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Can be made ahead, cooled to room temperature, covered and stored in the refrigerator for several hours. Bring to room temperature before serving.

To serve: mound the quinoa on a large platter or individual plates and top with slices of salmon.

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One Year Ago – Chocolate-Peanut Butter Tart
Two Years Ago – Salsa Verde
Three Years Ago – Blueberry Crumb Cake
Four Years Ago – Peanut-Sesame Dipping Sauce
Five Years Ago – Strawberry Gelato
Six Years Ago – Asparagus Soup
Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

Do you have a favorite healthy meal? Feel free to share. Let’s start a conversation.

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2015