Winterberry wreaths are not cheap. Nevertheless, ever since I saw the enormous one hanging outside our local Berkshires jewelers McTeigue & McClelland, it was good-bye to the green stuff forever.
When Walter McTeigue informed me that Windy Hill Farm made his gorgeous wreath, we ordered a modest one two years ago, and hung it on the kitchen door. Last year, we went big a 30 inch baby, and it stately had its place over our main front door. I was filled with pride every time we pulled into the driveway at night and saw it sparkling in the darkness.
The thing about Winterberries is that they fall off. And squish. After a few days, whatever is below them begins to look like a messy tomato factory. Still, they’re just so damned chic…
…Which is why they’re so damned expensive. Last year’s big one cost us nearly $200, something a freelancer’s salary would frown upon, so this Fall I did my due diligence and scoured Etsy for its fake winterberry wreaths. They looked fine, but…how could you really know? Even these fakess aren’t cheap, either (that’s because they last year after year, stupid), so I bit the bullet once again and compromised on a 22-incher.
The block west of us in New York City is dominated with brownstones. My favorite is a grayish stone with a black blue front door—possibly Farrow & Ball’s Railings (which is the color of our porch floors) or Hague Blue (the color of our outside doors. Just saying.) I slow down every time I pass this house; I’ve even dared to place my phone strategically against a nearby car to take a self-timed shot of me walking up its steps when I’m wearing something particularly chic.
Every November, a berry wreath appears on its door. I think to myself, It must be from Zezé. Zezé is our local florist. He makes breathtaking arrangements, but it practically costs a fortune just to walk into his place. One day last week, as I slowed down and looked up at that perfect wreath that I could never afford hanging at the house I could never afford, I was struck by its perfection. More to the point, why are there never berries falling off this thing? And it’s really symmetric. I ascended a step or two. Fake. These people weren’t better than us, not in the wreath department, anyway. I kept the Etsy tag open…
When I’d ordered this year’s wreath a few weeks back, I’d requested orange berry over Winterberry, but was told that the orange ones had peaked in early Fall, so including them might be tough this time of year. And so, it was with particularly great pride and flourish when they brought our wreath out to us: a spectacular mosaic of red and orange. Abby, its designer, had managed to accomplish the impossible. We had our orange berries, after all.
Others in the shop took notice; even at Guido’s market, someone asked where we got our wreath as we were grabbing our shopping bags from the back of the station wagon where the wreath was. I was giddy.
When we got home, I strung the delicate wire of lights around my new baby, then Bertrand delicately carried it through the house to the upstairs hall window, the sound of the occasional berry making a crisp clip noise as it fell to the floor.
“That’s to be expected,” they’d explained at Windy Hill. “But most of them will settle in and hang on.”
After B slipped it outside, I carefully thread the white plastic string through the wreath’s hard wire frame then looped it through the outer left hook and tied it. I left the wreath with Bertrand so I could run downstairs to check the alignment.
Before I hit the first stair, B let out a yelp, which was followed by a loud bristling sound, finishing with a muffled thud.
It wasn’t Bertrand’s fault, nor was it mine—although, I guess it really was. The hook through which I’d looped and tied the string was ancient, and, unbeknownst to us, had cracked. The string had slipped through its broken opening, failing us and our precious wreath.
The wreath looks fine. As it hangs, attached now by clothesline rope in a not very delicate way, we’ve come to smile at the tiny red and orange balls that lay beneath it on the grass. Spilt milk and all that. When the mistake is your own, accept it as a harmless mishap and move on (to Etsy).
Sometimes mishaps can result in even better outcomes, like our kale polenta pie. We’d been making April Bloomfield’s kale polenta from her book A Girl and her Greens since the book came out, but polenta has a really tiny window. Finish too early and it’s goop; wait too long and you’ve got rubber. We really wanted to include it in our Thanksgiving lineup, so I suggested taking it at its sweet spot and pouring it into a cast iron pan. That way, we could slip it into the oven to both heat it up and impart a pleasant crispy surface, then gild it with a final sprinkling of mascarpone, parmesan and tiny bits of roasted kale.
By serving the polenta in slices (versus dollops) has elevated this dish to something much more unique and, well, chic, IMHO. I Instagrammed it and received several requests for the recipe. Finally getting this up for those who will have vegetarians at the holiday table.
Kale Polenta Pie
- 6 garlic cloves
- 2 bunches Tuscan kale, stems removed, and 2-3 leaves set aside
- 2 T flaky sea salt, divided
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil plus 1 T, divided
- 2 cups polenta
- 2 oz parmesan
- 3 T mascarpone
Heat 8 cups of water with 5 garlic cloves and bring to a boil. Sprinkle in about half a cup of kosher salt to impart a slightly salty taste, then add the kale (except for the 2-3 leaves set aside). Being sure to submerge it, cook uncovered until kale is tender and tears easily; about three minutes.
Remove the garlic cloves and set aside. Remove kale and set in a colander to cool. (Do not dispense of the water!) After squeezing out any excess water, roughly chop the boiled kale with both the boiled and raw garlic. Combine with 1 teaspoon of sea salt in food processor for almost a minute, then add in 1/2 cup olive oil. Mix until you’ve got a smooth puree. Set this aside.
Bring the same water to boil again, then gradually add in the polenta, whisking as you pour. Continue whisking until it starts to thicken; should take about two minutes. Lower the heat and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until polenta is tender but slightly coarse in texture; about 45 minutes.
Stir in remaining olive oil, kale puree and most of the Parmesan, and continue to stir over low heat a few minutes more. Remove from heat and gently fold in two tablespoons of the mascarpone. Cover with aluminum foil and set aside.
Preheat oven to 400. Roughly chop the remaining leaves of kale into tiny bits, then mix with remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Place on rimmed baking sheet or roasting pan and roast in oven until bits are crispy; about 20 minutes. Ten minutes in, remove the foil from polenta-filled skillet and place in oven, too, for the remaining ten minutes, next to the kale bits. Remove both from oven. Grate remaining Parmesan over the polenta, followed by the kale bits. Cut into slices and serve immediately.
There are winter berries growing over the line on rt 23, past Hillsdale. They grow here and there in Connecticut, near Norfolk, off rt 63 in Litchfield, at the end of a certain long Goshen driveway. These are the hard, dark red variety, crème de la crème. There must be some in Mass. Keep an eye out.