Categories
Food Poetry In the Kitchen with Poets

Poets in the Kitchen: Ewa Chrusciel

in the kitchen with poets

The Food Poet: Food & poetry have certain commonalities. How do you describe the poetry of food?

Ewa Chrusciel: We are Infinite and we are made of our small cravings. Poetry of food implies that kind of contradiction and longing in us; the desire to belong; the desire to carry with us our childhood flavors. Food is often inseparable from our identity. The sausage poem was at the threshold of my Contraband of Hoopoe book. My book transpired out of smuggling a sausage (called kabanos in Polish, the name for lean, partially dried sausage) over the border. I was caught and the drama of the situation originated my first poem of smuggling, which led to the whole book. I got interested in what other immigrants carried with them or sneaked across the borders, so I went to Ellis Island and Tenement House in New York City to research the things the immigrants carried. (And sometimes they had live goats and barrels of pickles with them!)

Immigrants do not like to throw away cheese wrappers, glass jars with their favorite jam. They have meaning, even the food. The food is metonymy. It stands for something bigger, for a bigger longing in us.

We take great risks to smuggle our favorite food across borders.

 

TFP: How would you describe your cooking style and who has influenced it?

EC: I have an eclectic cooking style. Only for Christmas and Easter do I prepare traditional things – pierogi, borscht, etc. Otherwise I borrow from here and there – Asian, French—you name it. My husband, Eric DeLuca, made up this Polish-American salad after visiting my dad’s little farm in Poland where we collected black and red currants. He called it Borek Stary Salad, after the village where the farm is located. The ingredients are: fresh, in season corn—steamed & shaved, black currants and red currants, fresh-squeezed lime juice, and a hint of Vermont maple syrup. Simple, but incredibly delicious!

Today, I am thinking of cooking buckwheat grain with Feta and Zaatar (a spice mirepoix that’s universal) and for dessert: wheat spelt flour apple pie (recipe given to me by Polish friend Dorota Zając).

 

TFP: If we think of mirepoix, it is the essential building block of ingredients that form the foundation of flavor for many dishes. What would be the essential ingredients of your mirepoix?

EC: My literary mirepoix would be images and syntactical structures that cause bewilderment, a surprise. I was always drawn to a metaphysical conceit in which incongruous images are “yoked together by violence” (Samuel Johnson), and yet via these improbable images some metaphysical truth is conveyed in the poem. Another ingredient in my mirepoix would be metaphors (or images or ways of thinking about reality—which metaphors in fact are) smuggled from my native culture.

 

TFP: Are there any people, cookbooks, chefs or websites that are your go-to resources for cooking?

EC: For desserts, I go to the Polish food blog: Moje Wypieki (there is English version of recipes available there too.

I also like the cookbook Mighty Spice Express, by John Gregory-Smith.

I have a book in Polish by Bogusław Deptuła on literary dishes—dishes inspired by literary works, such as Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past—just to mention the most famous cooking inspiration for literature. I had a desire to bake madeleine cakes after reading Proust’s famous description of them. Madeleine cakes are a springboard for involuntary memory. They, in other words, are epiphanic.

 

TFP: In Contraband of Hoopoe, food weaves its way into your poems through the contraband sausage you’re worried about in customs or the idea of filling your belly with pierogi to your grandmother’s bigos that “smells of the Lithuanian woods and hunters.” Food is deeply connected to the place you are leaving. How does the food of your childhood ultimately make the journey with you to America?

EC: Food, again, is inseparable from the sense of belonging and from our identity. My grandmother used to chase my brother and me with huge chunks of peasant bread and honey. That’s how I remember love, as chunks of bread with overflowing honey and friendly nagging, “Eat eat eat!” To nourish somebody means to say: “do not die,” which in other words means, “I love you.” Here is a poem of mine written originally in Polish and translated into English by Karen Kovacik. This is, by the way, the only Polish poem that I smuggle—in mistranslated (by me) English form—into my book in English Contraband of Hoopoe, as my tiny act of contraband. Below is Karen’s version:

Rzeszów Ode I

Grandma of flower pots
dressed up in gold foil.
Designer of shabby interiors:
your hula hoop skirts lie
flipped up on the lawn.
Queen of the oven and drawers
stuffed with candy. Hysteric who scarfed
hunks of bread upholstered in honey.
Countess of church carnivals.
Czarina of household complaints,
cicada of suitors,
hippo of hypochondria,
curator of covert farts.
My posthumous bride
now interred in a vat of poppyseed:

How can I find you again
in the bog of this world?
 
Here is another poem from Contraband of Hoopoe, recently featured on Lauren Camp’s radio show Audio Saucepan on KSFR (Reprinted here with permission from Contraband of Hoopoe by Ewa Chrusciel, published in 2014 by Omnidawn).

Before I leave for America, my dad comes to the airport with a dish of pierogi. He entices me to eat them. His way of making sure I smuggle the whole of Poland in my belly. I am pregnant with Polish wheat, with poppies and goats. To feed others is to say “I love you.” Do not die. I sustain you. I give you a piece of my earth. The long tread of a farmer in a field? Furrows and raw wind? The hidden nerves inside each loaf? How this bread whispers. It rustles and creaks. A walk in the woods, the kneading and molding of your hands.

 
In another poem, about bigos, from this book, the food becomes a symbol of the liquidation of borders. Bigos is said to have been introduced to Poland by a Lithuanian Grand Duke who in 1385 became a Polish king, Władysław Jagiełło. He served this dish to his hunting party guests. Polish linguists, however, trace the word bigos to a German, rather than a Lithuanian, origin. The word bigos comes from the word begossen – to douse, as bigos was doused with wine. We also have an idiom: ale bigos – “What a mess.”

To quote a recent review by Karen Kovacik of my book, “The poem shows that what is assumed to be Polish can actually be the product of centuries of linguistic and cultural blending […] Bigos the word and bigos the dish challenge nationalist efforts to depict Poland’s past as monocultural and monolingual, when in fact, only after World War II, when Poland’s borders were shifted west, did the country approach cultural homogeneity. For centuries, Poland was home to Lithuanians, Jews, Ukrainians, Russians, Byelorussians, Prussians, Swedes, and more.” (Karen Kovacik, The Contraband of Culture: Polish Women Poets on Migration, Borders, and Language (Honest Ulsterman, 2016) 

 

TFP: You’re reading a book of poetry and stumble upon a poem that inspires you to create a dish. What is the poem and what is the dish?

EC: To continue the theme of bigos, if you read the Polish national romantic epic Pan Tadeusz (full title in English: Sir Thaddeus, or the Last Lithuanian Foray: A Nobleman’s Tale from the Years of 1811 and 1812 in Twelve Books of Verse), first published in 1834 in Paris, you might be more than inspired to make bigos.         

Here is an extract from Book 4, which features his masterpiece (translated into Polish by Marcel Weyland):

Pan Tadeusz Book 4: Diplomacy and Hunt

“In the pots warmed the bigos; mere words cannot tell
Of its wondrous taste, colour and marvellous smell.
One can hear the words buzz, and the rhymes ebb and flow,
But its content no city digestion can know…”

Another dish I would like to make is inspired by a poem and a movie. Osip Mandelstam, in one of his poems, mentions the Russian fish soup ukha. Here, ukha is the symbol of nostalgia for Russia.

This dish is also a powerful correlative for love and betrayal in the fantastic Italian film, Io sono l’amore (I am Love) by Luca Guadagnino.

 

TFP: When you think of food and poetry, do any specific poems come to mind?

EC: A contemporary Polish poet, Tomasz Różycki’s Dwanaście Stacji, translated into English by Bill Johnston: Twelve Stations. His description of a grandson taking a journey to see his grandma for a dish of pierogi is both hilarious and nostalgic, as well as allusive to the aforementioned national Polish epic by Adam Mickiewicz, Sir Tadeusz.

Also, there is a poem by Szymborska, Onion, in which that vegetable is an example of idiotic perfection and consistency that we humans, fortunately, as the poem proves, do not have.

A Scottish poet, Craig Raine, has a poem under the same title in which an onion evoked the memory of past love.

Onions makes me think about my uncle, who used to visit us and eat all our onions from the cupboard at night. Here is one of my first poems written in Polish and translated into English by Katarzyna Jakubiak:

Arrivals

An uncle from America paid us a visit

He was dressed in a tight blue container
Of a metallic flavor

It was the first time we’d seen him

Buttoned up, and the sight gripped us.

Right by our throats

Only his blue water lily

Drifted, unbuttoned, maybe somewhere

Else and not on time

Uncle would drop in unexpectedly

And in the night steal his way to the cupboard

To eat all our onions

This time, he dropped straight from his flight

In through the window and not without help

Because he was dressed in this tight blue container

He settled among the laborious

Plots of wreaths, maybe now

He was just an unknown

Instrument in its case

Later the men from the special brigade

Tossed him like a birthday boy

It seemed as if

He’d fallen from the sky straight

Onto a trampoline

Bounced off

And then got irretrievably

Lost

Here, the onion stands for my uncle’s idiosyncrasies and eccentricities; his ontological mystery, but also his mysterious death—viewed in terms of a musical instrument by the speaker of the poem, who is a child.

 

TFP: Do you ever find yourself influenced by food when writing poetry? Are there any foods or drinks that are part of your writing process?

EC: The ginger beer, Regata, helps me to be on my toes when I get tired. Sometimes a glass of good red wine in the evening is an inspiration as well. In mornings, mostly strong espresso, and a croissant or some other cake. From time to time when I want to reward myself for writing, I will have pistachio cream or Fat Toad Farm caramel sauce (made of goat’s milk) before returning to the ink well. If I am under the weather, but still want to work, Metta Tea (from Metta Earth Institute in VT), which has organically grown and wild-crafted nettle, milky oats, lemon balm, red clover, calendula, tulsi, sage, seems to help.

 

TFP: What books are keeping you turning the pages right now?

EC: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The Polish book, Esther, by Stefan Chwin
Miguel Manara by Oskar Miłosz
Life Work by Donald Hall

 

TFP: Is there one dish that you’ve always wanted to make but haven’t quite tackled yet?

EC: The Russian fish soup called ukha that I mentioned before.

Also risotto, lamb roast, and Polish poppy seed cake (eaten during Easter in Poland). Cardamom Swedish rolls—I am a sucker for cardamom. Lastly, some of my husband’s grandmother’s recipes, for example zucchini bread.

Ewa Chrusciel - Bożena Boba Dyga

Author photo by Bożena Boba Dyga

Ewa Chrusciel is a bilingual poet and a translator. Her two previous books in English are Contraband of Hoopoe (Omnidawn Press, 2014) and Strata (Emergency Press, 2011) and the third one: Of Annunciations is forthcoming in Fall 2017 with Omnidawn Press. She also published three books in Polish: Furkot (2001), Sopiłki (2009), and Tobołek (2016). Her poems appeared in numerous journals and anthologies in USA, Italy, and Poland, such as Boston Review, Jubilat, Colorado Review, Il Giornale, La Freccia et Il Cerchio, etc.Her translations of American and Polish poets appeared in numerous anthologies and journals in USA and Poland, as well as in book publications. She translated :White Fang” by Jack London, “The Shadow Line” by Joseph Conrad, and “More Stories from My Father’s Court” by Isaac Bashevis into Polish. She also co-translated with Milosz Biedrzycki selected poems of Jorie Graham into Polish.

She is an associate professor of creative writing and poetry at Colby-Sawyer College in New Hampshire, USA.

Categories
Recipes

Jeff Friedman’s Pan-Sauteed Broccoli with Walnuts

Poet Jeff Friedman

Jeff Friedman and I don’t argue often, but when it comes to bread, we’ve almost come to blows. Okay, maybe that’s overstating things but he has tried convincing me that New England’s bread economy rivals San Francisco’s. Part of his argument included a visit to King Arthur Flour last time I ventured to New England. Whenever he finally makes it out to San Francisco, I plan on taking him to Bar Tartine for a loaf or even a few slices of Chad Robertson’s legendary Oat Porridge. I’m not convinced the Porridge bread would make the cross-country voyage or that it would make it off of my cutting board where I stealthily sneak pieces to toast with alarming frequency. It’s that good.

King Arthur Flour_pastries

On our outing to King Arthur, we surveyed the pastry case with glee. And, while we peered in like hungry wolves, we didn’t buy anything. This is saying a lot. One thing we share in common is a voracious sweet tooth that’s not easily satisfied. So, it should come as no surprise that one of my purchases in their retail store included a bag of Black Cocoa.

I was immediately intrigued by the name and claims on the bag. This may not be the right point of context but imagine tearing the side of the packaging from a newly opened bag of oreo’s. Breathe in the smell and peel off the upper cookie, scraping the white contents with your teeth. Then plunge the scraped cookie into your mouth and chew. This is surprisingly what Black Cocoa smells and tastes like- the oreo cookies of my childhood. This is also to say I haven’t found the right application yet to share a recipe here. It has a tendency of exacerbating the adage “a little bit going a long way” and like a red feather boa can be a bit garish when worn out of context.

King Arthur Flour Retail Shop

As we meandered around the retail store, I found myself transfixed by the walls and shelves filled with any kind of flour combination you can imagine. These bags and boxes taunted me with promises of pancakes! Biscuits! Pizza! I had to continually remind my enthusiasm about the controlled parameters of my red suitcase. We marveled at the demo kitchen set up in the middle of the store and noshed on a sample of warm blueberry muffin, recently pulled from the oven. As we wound our way over to the oils and spices section, I picked up a jar of Vietnamese Cinnamon, knowing the price was too good to not find a blouse I’d packed to wrap around it as an invitational into the luggage. Jeff picked one up as well and we moseyed over to the oils, as I exulted on the merits of making space in a spice rack / flavor pantry for toasted walnut oil. It’s a bit of a splurge, but completely worth it’s weight in drizzle.

King Arthur Demo Kitchen

Jeff left with a jar of Vietnamese Cinnamon and a vessel of Toasted Walnut Oil. In spite of my attempts to curb my zeal, I made off with a bag of Ancient Grain flour blend, cheese powder, black cocoa and Vietnamese cinnamon. In the larger scheme of things, my restraint would be rewarded. Food and poetry flit in and out of our conversation just like talking about bread bakers or a Galway Kinnell poem. In the end, who really knows which coast bakes the best bread? I’m inclined to think the best loaf is the one you break and share, even if that “bread” is time spent trolling a flour store discussing recipe ideas or snippets of literature with a kindred spirit.

Jeff Friedman Roasted Broccoli with Walnuts

[print_this]

JEFF FRIEDMAN’S PAN-SAUTEED BROCCOLI WITH WALNUTS 

JEFF’S NOTES: “Originally I made this dish several years ago when poet Ross Gay came to visit. I had purchased some sweet basil oil and wanted to use it on the broccoli… Ross likes all his food hot so we decided to sauté garlic with lots of crushed red pepper and then toss the broccoli with sweet basil oil.  The recipe was good, but not anything I wanted to make on a regular basis. I normally roast broccoli because it’s so easy and delicious. Anyway, Annelies came for a visit, and we went shopping at the King Arthur Store in Norwich, Vermont. She recommended that I purchase toasted walnut oil and Vietnamese cinnamon, both of which I now use regularly. (The cinnamon is definitely amazing.)  Substituting toasted walnut oil for sweet basil oil and adding sliced almonds transformed the dish. This is simple to make.”

INGREDIENTS

3 large heads of broccoli cut into 2-inch branches

3-4 med-large cloves of garlic

3 tbs of olive oil

1 ½-2 tbs walnut oil

walnut slices (toast in pan)

crushed red pepper

salt and pepper

 

INSTRUCTIONS

1.Steam broccoli until it is tender.

2.While the broccoli is steaming, saute garlic in olive oil adding crushed red pepper.

3.When broccoli is ready, put it in a large bowl. Add salt, pepper and pinches of crushed red pepper.

4.Toss with sauteed garlic and crushed red pepper.

5.Toss again with walnut oil.

6. Add sliced walnuts and serve.

 

MY NOTE: I often eat this as is, but sometimes I add parmesan cheese at the end, also very good.. There should be enough left over to heat up in a skillet for a day or two. I think this could also work well pureed into soup.

[/print_this]

 

Categories
In the Kitchen with Poets Poetry

Poets in the Kitchen: Ruth Ellen Kocher

Food and poetry make good bedfellows- I’ve said it before and this belief is the spark behind the food poet. If you look deeply enough into the collected works of a poet, chances are pretty high that you might find mention of bread or perhaps even an ode to an onion. I’m starting something new that I think might whet an appetite of a different sort. Poets in the Kitchen, looks to hear from contemporary poets on that communion of nourishment that happens when food and poetry combine to feed body and soul. I’m kicking things off with a Q&A with Ruth Ellen Kocher. I had the pleasure of attending a residency with Kocher and fell into the lush world of imagery she created in her third book, “One Girl Babylon” and excited to pick up her new book Domina Un/blued in April.

in the kitchen with poets 

The Food Poet: Food & poetry have certain commonalities. How do you describe the poetry of food?

Ruth Ellen Kocher: There is something about the pursuit of perfection that matters in the pursuit of both. Perfection isn’t necessarily fixed. The right peach, on the right day, at the right temperature, freshness, firmness, softness, sweetness … the convergence of circumstances that makes that peach, but more, the experience of eating that peach seem, in that moment, like perfection — this pursuit is so very much like my pursuit of a good poem, either as a writer or a reader.

 

TFP: How would you describe your cooking style and who has influenced it?

REK: I was married to a ‘foodie’ for many, many years. When my marriage was over, I almost came to reject everything epicurean. I would eat cereal for dinner 5 nights in a row. It was through this rejection that I realized the separation between process and project. I realized that whether I was taking the time to roast bones for a stock for a demi-glace, a process that could take 3 days, or whether I was shopping for fresh elements to an antipasta plate, my concerns were really the same. Flavor is a sort of constant sense of what’s ‘true’ that has import, whether you’re making a salad or preparing a feast. So, as a writer, I recognize my process as a striving to find what’s essential, what’s true, at the heart of my work, whether it’s highly complicated and conceptual or whether it’s minimalist and illustrative. The project fails if the most essential elements are not  “true.”

 

TFP: Are there any cookbooks, chefs or websites that are your go-to resources?

REK: Madhur Jaffrey … everything and anything. I love Indian food and I’ve followed her recipes for years, not only because I find them to be the most ‘authentic’ tasting, but because I learn enough while using them so that I can go off on my own at other times.

 

TFP: If you could have dinner with any chef, who would it be?

REK: Jacques Pepin. I have always adored him. Again, he has always had the knack for stepping you through a complicated recipe in a way to make it seem not so complicated because he reveals the “why” as well as the “how” of food. I used to be a little jealous of his daughter who shared the spotlight with him in a father/daughter spot they had years ago. I thought she was the luckiest girl in the world. Her dad was Jacques Pepin!

 

TFP: You’re reading a book of poetry and stumble upon a poem that inspires you to create a dish. What is the poem and what is the dish?

REK: I can’t say that this question brings anything to mind immediately. There are the obvious references, Williams and plums, Bishop and figs. I think of Beckian Fritz Goldberg and pomegranate. Pau Llosa and bread. Ross Gay and raspberries. I think my associations are based more on the food as element than the food as dish.

 

TFP:  When you think of food and poetry, do any specific poems come to mind?

REK: I cannot avoid being self-referential here. I think I use references to food more than most writers I know. Most often, I talk about fruit. I can’t help going back to classic lyric reference and there’s nothing more classic than sex, death, and fruit.

 

TFP: Do you ever find yourself influenced by food when writing poetry? Are there any foods or drinks that are part of your writing process?

REK: I was slicing open a peach the other day that had such a spiky blood red center. I thought, I should take a picture of this peach. I should write a poem about it. I almost, also, remembered that I’d done as much a few years ago, and again a few years before that. Is there anything more primal than a piece of fruit? That said, I do like a nice cocktail and yes, I will have one when I’m writing sometimes on the weekend or in the evening. I don’t always want my writing to be so serious. I try to remember that it’s ‘fun’. Cocktail of choice- Maker’s Mark Manhattan or something fruity with rum but not too sweet.

 

TFP: Do you find yourself writing mostly in the mornings, days or evenings?

REK: I’m an around the clock writer. I write spontaneously but I also schedule writing times. Writing is a seamless activity in my life. I write anytime the mood strikes. I am constantly jotting things down. I send myself voice recorded files that I make on my phone. I can recite a line to myself while I’m driving and discover it a month later. I work from bits and pieces I’ve squirreled away, often.

 

TFP: What are you working on right now?

REK: I’m working on a long poem of contiguous utterances. I’ve been playing around with notions of continuity vs. contiguity … and the ways contrast can ‘make it new’.

 

TFP: What books are keeping you turning the pages right now?

REK: I’m teaching right now and only reading the books I’m teaching. I just finished teaching Christopher Stackhouse’s and John Keene’s book “Seismosis.” I’m about to teach Terrance Hayes’ book “Lighthead.” We’ll also be talking about Elaine Scarry’s “On Beauty and Being Just,” which has images of the most perfect, most colorful eggs on the cover. What is more just than an egg? Nothing.

 

Ruth-Ellen-Kocher

About Ruth Ellen Kocher

Ruth Ellen Kocher won the Naomi Long Madgett Poetry Award for her first book of poems, Desdemona’s Fire (Lotus Press, 1999). When the Moon Knows You’re Wandering (New Issues Press, 2001), her second volume, received the Green Rose Prize in Poetry. Her most recent collection, One Girl Babylon, called “tender, tough poems” by Al Young, was published by New Issues Press in 2003. Her poems and essays have appeared in numerous journals, including The Missouri Review, She’r (in Iranian translation), Black Arts Quarterly, Denver Quarterly, Prairie Schooner, Poet Lore and Crab Orchard Review. She is a contributor to Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry, From the Fishouse, IOU, Angles of Ascent, Garden of Forking Paths, New Sister Voices and Approaches to Teaching Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, among other anthologies. She has been a fellow at the Bucknell Seminar, Cave Canem and Yaddo, and teaches in the MFA program at the University of Colorado-Boulder. Follow her online at ruthellenkocher.com or on twitter.