A famous man once said, “Winter is coming” and the evil king disliked that idea so much that he beheaded him. Okay, the man was really a fictional character, and the king really didn’t chop off his head just because he made the proclamation about the seasons changing. But, sometimes fictional characters are written to be just as large as life-sized and sometimes the idea of the nip in the air and the requisite need to pull out three layers of clothes can change a person, freezing them from the outside in. If you crave all things roasted, braised or wrapped in blankets this season, you are not alone. This winter fruit salad evokes the brightness of fall flavors to complement said roasted and braised objects of table side affection. In it, you’ll find colors to brighten up those early evenings too. Then again, you could whip up a winsome bowl of winter bounty to pass on a new tradition at the Thanksgiving table, though I’ve been eating scoops of winter fruit salad with plain yogurt for breakfast. So, pop on over to Ideal Magazine for this easy recipe.
Not that long ago, Nathan and I set off from our coast to the other one on a whirlwind trip to New York. One afternoon at a restaurant situated on the edge of Greenwich Village, a friend and I caught up over kale salads (with tempeh bacon for me, tofu for her). Our conversation strung along easily, even though it had been several years since we had last met up. After the trip, I made an intention and plan to write a thank you card to dispatch quickly to New York but first needed to find its companion, a book that I referenced during lunch. I found the perfect card, all adages and best wishes. Visiting one store, then two, I began to grow a bit listless as a dawning reality settled upon me. This book that is among my cherished books, a book that sandwiches old comments and markings of mine in the margin next to recent ones is no longer in print. The awakening continued with the surge of thought: if this can happen to this prolific poet’s words, then what becomes of the rest of us?
A few weeks ago, on an evening when Nathan was away, I took myself on a date at home, complete with dinner and a movie. We had steered clear of seeing “The Fault in Their Stars” in a movie theater the way that I had wished someone had warned me about “A Walk to Remember.” Cancer has hit too close to our family and frankly, I can’t imagine getting invested and absorbed into a fictional story when I’ve cried, prayed, and lived it through our own family narrative. So, in the same way that I catapulted myself into seeing “The Exorcist” in junior high to confront my terror of horror films, I watched this movie. Inevitably, the plot doesn’t turn out in quite the way you assume in the beginning, but still wrenches apart something good and whole inside movie viewers. A scene that has stayed with me and even then caught my attention is when love interest, Augustus Waters is asked in support group what he most fears. His answer is simple and leaves me a bit breathless: oblivion.
And so, Augustus Waters and the Poet mashed up in my head together. What happens to a writer when their words disappear from bookshelves? The importance of oral literature and of making time to sit around and tell tales is seen in a new light. Each of us is a walking storybook that others might rifle through or read deeply. As we get ready to gather around the Thanksgiving table and a fork and knife chase the last bits of cornbread dressing into cranberry relish, there is a magical moment that sometimes happens if we catch it before it scampers off the table. And it is this: before we get up to clear the plates, before we excuse ourselves and flip on the TV to catch a football game, sometimes a story trickles out of one mouth. If you’re lucky, as it enters all those other ears, it comes out of a different mouth, similar but with a few stray details that build upon its flavor like a drizzle of pan gravy moistens the meat. These are the bits of the Thanksgiving meal that go unnoticed and are not planned into the most elaborate menu. Even so, they are the moments that give curvature to our lives, that pull us into the past, present, and future and erase the possibility of oblivion. When I share my appreciation for the Poet’s work with someone new, they come to life again. Their words continue coursing in me finding new meaning long after the book is out of print. Their ISBN is still catalogued—their work existed! They existed! And as we linger around the Thanksgiving table amid the messiness of the meal and possibly flinging together the disparate elements that can make family gatherings messy, passing platters and our stories to one another grounds us into who we are, where we’ve been, and perhaps illuminates where we might go next. In this way, we are never doomed to oblivion.
Who do I thank for the extra hour of sleep this morning? We have officially turned the corner into fall even in our still sunny landscape. The leaves got the memo and have begun turning red and burgundy across the street, letting a plume of wind set them in flight. I have pulled out my warmer pajamas, which isn’t saying much since we are still in California. But as the weather begins dipping into chillier degrees, I join the rest of root vegetable lovers the land over in praise of the roast and braise. In the spirit of embracing the seasons as they change, I decided to take that as a challenge for pasta sauce and developed a comforting carrot simmer sauce that decidedly clings to each curlicue. This is a recipe perfect for the long nights ahead. Garnish a bowl of it with savory Carrot Top Pesto.
I am thrilled to be a new contributor to The Weiser Kitchen and will be writing about married life and sharing recipes in a column called Eat Takes Two. Sometimes my love of wordplay and cheeky banter find their own marital bliss. Head over there for the Carrot Simmer Sauce recipe.
Words can stick like dried honey to a countertop, catching any stray bit of paper towel. They can swirl and fuse into a person like stirring a spoonful of honey from a jar into a hot mug of tea. Sometimes we can be so carefree with our words, forgetting this quality they possess that rivals the handiwork of honeybees. Sometimes, we linger on words spoken a long time ago, letting them marinate within us that our response might tenderize until the right time.
One evening this past winter, a chill pierced the air that could penetrate even the thickest Ugg boots or puffy jacket. I had set out cross-town in San Francisco to attend a poetry reading and arrived early knowing the race might be on for the metered parking spots, free after 7 p.m. It had been months, since I had attended a reading. It didn’t help that I was a walking ball of influenza, all half-used tissues and sniffles, wrapped in layers of black outerwear. I kept to myself until I couldn’t keep myself from seeking out people to talk to, visually apologetic for my sorry state but not so disapproving of my health that I would let it keep me from indulging in listening to some favorite poets inflect their poems with their voices. To read a poem aloud is to give it new breath and life, to discover another side of it like unexpectedly catching someone you love doing something kind for a stranger. We crave igniting our aural capabilities. In that way reading a poem on the page and hearing the author pause in different spots than the line breaks on a page which stop the eye is akin to releasing the poem anew.
What pulled me out of bed and into the bookstore reading that night were the poets lined up to read from recent collections and getting to see Chard de Niord, who with Jacqueline Gens, had co-created the MFA Poetry program at New England College, of which I am an alumnus. The evening’s reading began. Peter Everwine read softly, his vowels long and his consonants clustering around each other. I craned forward then, determined not to miss one word and surprised as my eyes glistened as if on command when he finished reading a poem that caught me in its net and held me in the quiet space just after a poem finishes and before people begin clapping. The imagery kept me cornered in his mother’s kitchen, my eyes fixed on her rag rug that served as a striking symbol of grief. Chard de Niord stepped forward and read with tenderness, leaning ever so slightly on the podium, caught in the current of words he had penned but had taken on their own life. Alejandro Murguía spoke of finding love in Paris, even as the listener knew early on that this love would not last, even as the listener ate the clues of foreshadowing that would take the beloved back to Caracas. Forrest Gander told a story describing the human need for connection with such fluency it left me breathless.
When the reading ended, I sat there, still soaking in the words and truths relayed in the small span of an hour, feeling changed. With glassy eyes and still sniffling my way through a purse-sized pack of tissues, I introduced myself to another poet in this room made up mainly of poets. As we navigated our introductions, I described the food poetry that’s kept my attention the reading regimen of cookbooks and poetry books. He scoffed, not meanly, but said, “What good writing can there be in cookbooks?”
It’s been many months since that poetry reading and the scoffing poet’s words continue to bubble up within me like a tomato sauce that simmers for several hours, letting the ingredients concentrate. What I think the scoffing poet was missing that night, is that cookbooks possess their own possibility for weaving a good narrative or lyrical play of language if done well. What I think the scoffing poet was pointing to that evening is an innate need to push the Word forth. As someone who jots recipes down on scraps of paper pocked with sauce in my kitchen and occasionally shares them in this spot of the internet, I, too am perplexed by the formulaic qualities of recipe-writing, but then, just as quickly, I can be dazzled by a writer who displays a sense of voice with clarity of instruction and the right choice of evocative detail. I think that might just be as hard as writing a really good humorous poem. The key is to not muddle the method with so much self that it is cloying, but instead, to also not be afraid to step out of the norms of recipe diction (within the parameters of a publishing house style guide).
The scoffing poet’s words pushed me forward to consider what good writing looks like in a recipe, while adhering to a recipe’s particular requirements. I can certainly attest to the necessity of tightening language even after it seems like a belt that’s been cinched one rung too snug before Thanksgiving supper. In my own experience, crafting a cookbook reminds me so much of sitting among sheaves of poems strewn on the ground, determining how they thread together into a chapbook and in which order. Writing a recipe requires the concision of language that poetry already understands. The heart of the writer and their personality often come out in head notes.
If I could continue the conversation with the scoffing poet, I would underscore the opportunity in head notes. They can give explanation for any oddities that might throw off a home cook in the instructions. They also sometimes tell a story that threads the recipe into the larger narrative of life. Poetry and poetic devices with their keen eye of economy can disturb the status quo of the ho hum head note. Is it be possible for a cookbook to win a Pulitzer Prize or a National Book Award? It is a question I brought up to a friend that elicited a guffaw for my bravado. I look forward to clapping aloud for the food writer who clinches that golden apple, if it is one that can be extended to members of the cooking community. That it hasn’t been done yet is impetus for cookbook writers to set writing goals as high as recipe testing limits. There is much yet to excavate.
Let’s set the record straight. I didn’t grow up in a baseballer family. Far from it, my dad would root for soccer teams and instilled the love of football in me from a young age. For reasons unknown (voracious reader, hated to go outside), I never tried out for soccer. Many years later, I found my inner sweeper while playing indoor soccer and was fearless in making sure the ball stopped with me.
Peer pressure or namely Deborah pressure most likely convinced me to try out for the girls’ softball team. Somehow the Dolphin Dazzlers let me join. While others excelled at fielding balls and smacking them straight on with the bat, I shot a blind mitt into the air as an outfielder, determined not to catch a glimpse of the ball as it careened toward my face or the space around me. I approached home plate with caution, again, aware that a fast ball could narrowly avoid hitting my arm, my hand, my face. I was what Deborah’s dad called a “go-fer,” in that I would go for any pitch. Where I shined was the dugout. I could yell and scream and root and holler. I secretly harbored hopes of being sidelined but still on the team. Athletic prowess was never in my genetic make-up but a loud voice was.
Getting married during a World Series year changes you. I’ve written about my junior high fan girl moment upon seeing rocker Steve Perry aboard a San Francisco Giants trolley during the 2010 victory parade. I passed all the people lined up in 2012 who had taken off from work to get a prime spot on the street curb, anticipating the Giants in another World Series victory parade. Heck, I jumpstarted my blog four years ago from “la vie en route” where I had chronicled the delectable morsels discovered while living my life on the go into a place to talk about food and poetry, believing they both possess an ability to pull an emotional response out of each of us. If we must all eat, let it be good food. If we must all eat, let it sometimes be the food of the soul.
Four years ago, I desired to celebrate our World Series champs with Orange & Black Cookies. And so, on this fourth anniversary of the food poet, even as I root for the Giants to sweep the Cardinals in the city by the bay, I leave you with a timeless poem, one that makes me think of the endless text messages of frustration and elation spirited back and forth between my husband and his father as I know they are both listening to Johnny Miller comment while the game plays on. In my head I hear my father-in-law read this poem aloud and all is right with the post-season world where time stops and baseballs fly into the stands of roaring fans.
When we began looking at Oakland apartments, we found one that was not listed as a studio and went for the asking price of our San Francisco apartment. After that, I began color-coding listings on an excel spreadsheet by interest and neighborhood. Like a boss, I reached out to each contender, as if sending out cover letters for possible job interviews. The building manager of one unit left a voicemail message inviting us to check out the apartment and a few hours later, we signed.
I took for granted my long San Francisco galley kitchen where the smooth countertops were perfect for rolling pie dough or letting bread dough sit in bench rest. When writing my book, I had space to outfit an entire gigantic shelf full of tea for me to pluck as I developed recipes. Everything fit in our previous kitchen. Our new kitchen asks me to make some choices lest we be squeezed out of its square footage. My optimism with the apartment extended to the much smaller kitchen.
Amanda Cohen writes of running the small kitchen for Dirt Candy, her restaurant in the East Village in New York City. I visited Dirt Candy a week after it first opened and became a fan right away for its creative interpretations of vegetarian cuisine. Their kitchen is notoriously small for New York standards and she describes working in it with three other cooks. While I can’t imagine three cooks in my kitchen unless we win the opportunity to host Thanksgiving, it reminds me of the fine art of the cooking dance and choreography of speech necessary in a working kitchen.
She reminded me of the practicalities of running a small kitchen, even as I began contemplating rummaging through my spatula collection to hold onto the very best one (or maybe two). Does a person really need five whisks? I can’t imagine not having three sets of measuring spoons (and luckily, their small footprint will allow that to happen).When you are about to move, you purge through everyday items for ones destined for Goodwill. When you move into a new place, you purge again.
A small kitchen provides the answer to the question before it is asked: Do I really need this? Perhaps the follow-up question could be, Would someone else use this more? That small kitchen juts open shallow drawers as if playing the role of candid advisor, offering a visual cue of just how much room you really have. It defines what really matters and makes decisions about what to give away startlingly clear. By clearing out extra gadgets, it opens up space, and space opens up ideas.
Some things have moved out. A cabinet in the dining room has been consigned to house all of our loose and bagged tea. A piece of shelving holds baking pans and mixing bowls. Already, I am embracing the spirit of the small kitchen, letting its optimism and structure inform the food of our days.