First and foremost, I hope everyone (who celebrated) had a lovely Thanksgiving. I’m happy to report that my first time hosting Thanksgiving dinner was a success! But with every success comes a lesson, in my opinion. And my lesson this time was to trust in the process.
I began my preparations on Monday, following the advice and experienced wisdom of food experts like Kathleen Flinn and David Lebovitz. By Wednesday, I was feeling pretty self-righteous, having selected and prepared many make-ahead dishes, washed and set out my platters and serving utensils, and set the Thanksgiving table (centerpiece and all). I was a little nervous about my seeming lack of last-minute panic attacks, but kept plugging along, nonetheless.
But on Thursday, I found myself getting agitated in the kitchen, twiddling my thumbs because I felt like I was forgetting to prepare something, do something, make something. I wasn’t my usual, calm, meditative self in the kitchen that day. I was waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Then it dawned on me – this is an issue of “pleasure versus purpose” (as so eloquently put by fellow food blogger, Food Loves Writing). When I’m in the kitchen for pleasure, everything seems to unfold effortlessly. But when I am hosting or cooking for friends and family, I am faced with the daunting task of being perfect (gasp!) – pressure put on me, by me.
Slowly, and I mean seriously slowly, I am learning to trust in the process of life, of learning, and of the journey. When I look back on my 2011 Thanksgiving experience (sounds so important, huh?), I think about all of the laughs shared with family, all of the “mmms” and “oooooooh, that’s good!” comments from around the table. In the end, everything is as it should be, no matter what happened along the way. So, we might as well enjoy the ride, right?
Here’s a simple Pepper Polenta Cracker Bread, the third installment from my artisan bread series. It’s peppery (obviously) and crisp, pairs really well with a variety of cheeses and would be perfect for your next dinner party or holiday celebration. Enjoy!
Artisan Bread: Pepper Polenta Cracker Bread
1 Tablespoon active dry yeast
¼ cup olive oil
1 Tablespoon honey
1 ¼ cup warm (NOT HOT) water
4 ½ cups bread flour
1/3 cup uncooked polenta
2 teaspoons salt
1 Tablespoon fennel or anise seeds*
¾ teaspoon ground black pepper*
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Mix honey, olive oil, warm water and yeast in a small bowl and let sit until yeast has dissolved, about 5-10 minutes.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the bread flour and polenta. Add the yeast mixture and mix on low until well mixed. Switch to the dough hook and add the salt.
*If you are using coarse ground black pepper and large fennel seeds, do NOT add them yet, as they will likely tear the dough.
Take the dough out of the bowl and knead a few times. Spray the mixing bowl with non-stick spray, return the dough to the bowl and cover, allowing to rise until it has doubled in size.
Divide your dough into about 16 pieces and roll each piece into a rectangle about ¼-inch thick. Place the rolled dough onto baking sheets. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle on a little more salt and freshly ground black pepper.
*At this point, you could add larger seeds and pepper by sprinkling them on top.
Bake until the bread is crisp and lightly golden in color, about 20 minutes.