Eat This Poem
A Literary Feast of Recipes Inspired by Poetry
By Nicole Gulotta
Shambhala Publications, Inc. Copyright © 2017 Nicole Gulotta
All rights reserved.
PART ONE: On What Lingers
* * *
Before we took turns reading our work aloud in a graduate school workshop, poet Mary Ruefle declared that every poem has a central question, a reason for being. The question may be hidden within the space of a semicolon, after a stanza break, or in a metaphor. Sometimes the question is obvious, with a confident question mark, but more often it takes some uncovering on the part of the reader. Once the question is determined, however, the poem begins to reveal itself. What's left on the page is often an answer to what we're searching for in life, whether it be hope, forgiveness, community, nourishment, or love.
Years after this exercise, I've found that we conduct similar soul-searching in the kitchen. By peeling back layers of truth with the skin of an onion, whisking intentions into stiff peaks, making something that lasts, if only for a bite, we are not writing poems but recipes. Sometimes they are the same thing, offering a way of responding to the world and relating to one another.
Once a poem is ingested, it becomes part of us the same way a wonderful meal takes hold in our memory. We cannot escape it. Soon, words on a page and ingredients in a recipe begin to follow us through the house, even after we've closed the book or dried the last dish. Garlic inhabits our fingernails. Wine paints our tongue the color of plums. Turmeric stains the towel with which we wipe our hands. A scrap of parsley burrows into a back molar before being brushed away. What lingers in this chapter are questions poets have asked by looking to the silences, the morning sky, and the late-autumn cornfields. The answers, as it turns out, are offered in meals.
by DIANE LOCKWARD
Deep-blue hue of the body, silvery bloom on its skin. Undersized runt of a fruit, like something that failed to thrive, dented top a fontanel. Lopsided globe. A temperate zone. Tiny paradox, tart and sweet, homely but elegant afloat in sugar and cream, baked in a pie, a cobbler, a muffin.
The power of blue. Number one antioxidant fruit, bantam-weight champ in the fight against urinary tract infections, best supporting actor in a fruit salad. No peeling, coring or cutting. Lay them out on a counter, strands of blue pearls. Pop one at a time, like M&M's, into your mouth. Be a glutton and stuff in a handful, your tongue, lips, chin dyed blue, as if feasting on indigo. Fruit of the state of New Jersey. Favorite fruit of my mother.
Sundays she scooped them into pancake batter, poured circles onto the hot greased griddle, sizzled them gold and blue, doused with maple syrup.
This is what I want to remember: my mother and me, our quilted robes, hair in curlers, that kitchen, that table, plates stacked with pancakes, blueberries sparkling like gemstones, blue stars in a gold sky, the universe in reverse, the two of us eating blueberry pancakes.
* * *
Facts and virtues are listed first. A blueberry is the proud fruit of New Jersey and always elegant in desserts, especially pie. Not until the end of the second stanza is the poem's true struggle revealed: How does one cope with loss? Now blueberries are not just helpful for urinary tract infections, but the poem's tone has turned deeply personal.
The speaker is suddenly drowning in memories of her mother like pancakes in syrup, firmly gripping the physicality, the anchor of that kitchen, the wood of that table, and the sparkling blueberries that dotted the pancakes mother and daughter made together.
We all carry similar memories with us. Even if we're not moved by pancakes or breakfast, it's easy to resonate with the emotion of coming face-to-face with a moment in time and trying desperately to recreate it in a tangible way. That's why cooking is so special. We might not be able to move "the universe in reverse," but we can make the very recipe that acts as a bond between this life and the next.
Blueberry Buckwheat Pancakes
From the stories my mother has told me, buckwheat pancakes were a staple in my grandmother's kitchen. I've added antioxidant-rich blueberries and sweetened the batter with maple syrup instead of sugar. Whenever I eat these, I like to think Grandma Edna would approve.
Makes 9 to 10 pancakes
1 cup whole-wheat flour
1 cup buckwheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup buttermilk
¼ cup maple syrup
1 large egg
1 tablespoon unsalted butter,
½ cup fresh or frozen blueberries
(thawed, if frozen)
Coconut oil, for cooking
Maple syrup and butter,
1. Whisk the flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. In a glass measuring cup or small bowl, whisk the buttermilk, maple syrup, and egg. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients; stir gently until combined and only a few traces of flour remain. Drizzle in the melted butter and mix until incorporated. If the batter seems thick, add up to 1 tablespoons more buttermilk. Gently fold in the blueberries. (If using frozen berries, rinse them under cold water to thaw until the water runs mostly clear. Shake the berries gently to remove excess water before incorporating them into the batter. You'll notice purple streaks in the batter.)
2. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat for several minutes. Melt a small knob of coconut oil in the pan. One of the keys to great pancakes is being sure your skillet is hot enough. You want the batter to sizzle a bit, but not so much that the bottom of the pancake burns. When the oil is glistening, add a scant / cup of batter for each pancake; press the pancakes lightly with the bottom of the measuring cup to help them spread slightly. Cook until the surface of each pancake begins to bubble and the bottom is golden brown, about 3 minutes. Flip and cook for another 1 to 2 minutes. Serve with maple syrup and butter.
* * *
Blueberry Bran Muffins
Growing up, my family's Christmas morning tradition involved opening our stockings by the fireplace while eating muffins. A bigger breakfast came later, after the gifts had been opened and wrapping paper strewn about, but muffins and coffee appeased everyone's stomachs until it was time for pancakes, bacon, eggs, and toast.
Our muffins of choice were blueberry for my dad and brother and almond poppy seed for my mom and me. Both muffins came from a Betty Crocker box, but now I recreate our holiday memories from a scratch-made batter that's not too sweet and made more wholesome with whole-wheat flour, bran, and bright orange zest.
As with most baking, I like to prepare ingredients in advance. The night before, set out a bowl and add the dry ingredients. Pull out the cold items and place them on the counter, so everything begins at room temperature in the morning.
Makes 10 muffins
1 cup whole-wheat flour
1 cup wheat bran
½ cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup coconut oil, melted and slightly cooled
2/3 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon orange zest
6 ounces blueberries (about 1½ cups)
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F and line 10 muffin cups with paper liners. Whisk the flour, wheat bran, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. In a medium bowl, whisk the coconut oil, buttermilk, vanilla extract, orange zest, and eggs; slowly pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir with a spatula until just combined. Fold in the blueberries, but take care not to overmix. (If using frozen berries, rinse them under cold water to thaw until the water runs mostly clear. Shake the berries gently to remove excess water before incorporating them into the batter.)
2. Use an ice cream scoop to portion the batter evenly in the muffin cups. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the tops are slightly golden and a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Eat slathered in coconut oil or honey, and store at room temperature for up to 2 days.
Maple Pecan Granola
The warm scent of cardamom, maple, and pecans infusing the kitchen always brings comfort on a gray day, which is often when I find myself stirring up a batch of granola. Thanks to Megan Gordon, author of Whole-Grain Mornings, I've been making more of it. The master recipe from her granola company, Marge, uses a combination of maple syrup and oil for the perfect blend of sweetness and crispness, something I've adopted in my own kitchen. The beauty of granola is its myriad adaptations. If dried blueberries are unavailable, substitute currants or raisins. You can also swap in quinoa for amaranth, if quinoa is easier to find.
Makes about 6 cups
3 cups rolled oats
1½ cups pecans, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons amaranth
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
3/4 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup maple syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup dried blueberries
1. Preheat the oven to 300°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Stir together the oats, pecans, amaranth, sesame seeds, salt, and spices in a large bowl. Add the oil, maple syrup, and vanilla on top, and stir again until very well combined.
2. Spread the mixture on the prepared pan, and pack the granola down in an even layer using the back of a wooden spoon. Bake until light brown and fragrant, about 40 to 45 minutes, stirring once halfway through. When you take it out, the granola might not seem fully crisp, but as long as it's golden brown, it will harden more as it cools. Let the granola cool completely on the pan, then stir in the blueberries before transferring to an airtight container. Enjoy within two weeks, if it lasts that long.
by BRUCE WEIGL
I didn't know I was grateful
for such late-autumn
yellow in the after-harvest
sun before the
cold plow turns it all over
I didn't know
I would enter this music
that translates the world
back into dirt fields
that have always called to me
as if I were a thing
come from the dirt,
like a tuber,
or like a needful boy. End
Lonely days, I believe. End the exiled
and unraveling strangeness.
* * *
As a child, home is the neighborhood where we grow up, where our parents live. And even though the definition of home expands as we make our way in the world and plant our own roots, we can unexpectedly hunger for our hometown in adulthood. This pang of realization strikes from the first lines, when the poet is caught off guard with gratitude, an insight only realized after a long absence. Dirt fields he may have railed against as a teenager are now described as lovingly calling to him. The tattered, musical lines suggest great movement, like wind passing by the speaker's face as he stands in boyhood cornfields, now tall and grown, hands in his pockets, accepting that although we don't choose where life begins or with whom, our first home will always be a stronghold in our hearts.
* * *
Baked Sweet Potatoes with Maple Yogurt
When I'm feeling a bit run down, a simple meal always helps set things right. In almost all cases, cooking at home is preferable to picking up takeout, and for days when I need nourishment without much effort, I turn to baked potatoes. As a canvas, potatoes can be piled with endless combinations of toppings, but sometimes all I need is a sweetened dollop of Greek yogurt, crunchy walnuts, and a lot of chives to make a satisfying supper.
Makes 2 to 4 servings
4 small sweet potatoes, scrubbed
2 tablespoons walnuts
1 cup Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons maple syrup
Freshly cracked black pepper
Chives or parsley, for garnish (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 400°F and place the potatoes on a parchment-lined baking sheet; prick each potato several times with a fork. Roast for 50 minutes to 1 hour, until very tender.
2. Assembling your toppings while the potatoes roast ensures a smooth dinner service. While the potatoes roast, chop the walnuts. Next, stir together the yogurt, maple syrup, and a pinch each of salt and pepper in a small bowl. Mince the chives or parsley, if using.
3. When slightly cooled, slice the potatoes lengthwise and mash each half a bit with a fork. Dollop with a big spoonful of yogurt, then scatter the walnuts and chives over the potatoes. The next morning, leftover yogurt is a welcome addition to a bowl of Maple Pecan Granola (page 000 [[x-ref to msp 32]]).
Sweet Potato and Kale Minestrone
Soon after moving to Los Angeles, I met a woman who said something that stuck with me: "Home is wherever you are." During those first few months, I often made minestrone as a way to find comfort and feel centered in my new city. Childhood memories surfaced while the pot simmered, and I recalled frequent family dinners at Vince's Spaghetti — an Italian restaurant in Pomona, California, that opened in the 1950s — where a plate of spaghetti comes with an iceberg salad, garlic bread, and minestrone with lots of broth.
Minestrone means "thick soup" in Italian, but it may as well mean "meditation." When a humble pot of vegetables and beans simmers for hours, there is little to do but wait for the transformation. This being the case, I offer my preferences for your consideration in the note at the end of the instructions. You are welcome to disregard the majority of what I've said, or let it leave your consciousness with each turn of the spoon, because this recipe will become yours the more you make it.
Makes 4 to 6 servings
2 tablespoons extra-virgin
olive oil, plus more for drizzling
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 2 cups diced brown onion
(about 1 large)
1 cup diced carrots (about 3 to 4)
cup diced celery
(about 3 to 4 ribs)
2 Freshly cracked black pepper
cups diced sweet potato
(about 2 small)
bunch kale, ribs removed
and leaves chopped
1 One 14.5-ounce can
6 cups vegetable stock
1 bay leaves
2 Parmesan rind, optional
but highly recommended
cups cooked white beans
Grilled bread, for serving
Grated Parmesan cheese,
1. Pull out your largest stockpot and warm the oil over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and onion; stir. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes, until fragrant, then add the carrots and celery; stir again, and season with 1 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper. Add the sweet potatoes and cook for 7 to 10 minutes, until the vegetables begin to soften. If your celery leaves are particularly beautiful, throw a few of those in the pot as well. Next, add the kale and tomatoes. Give it all a stir, and season with another / teaspoon salt. Add the stock, bay leaves, and Parmesan rind. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until the vegetables are soft and the soup elicits a smile when you taste it. Add the beans during the last 5 to 10 minutes of cooking, so they warm through.
2. Serve with grilled bread (for even more flavor, slice a large garlic clove in half and rub it over the surface). If you have a special bottle of olive oil that you save for drizzling, now is the time to use it. Also, do not be shy about adding heaps of Parmesan cheese.
NOTE:I prefer my kale to be forest green, Tuscan, and sliced into ribbons. I also prefer beans cooked from scratch (see page 000 [[x-ref to msp 131]]) because they taste better than canned and because they play a starring role in this dish. But if you only have canned beans or are short on time, that shouldn't stop you from making this soup.
Take care in chopping the vegetables. Uniformity counts. I prefer to dice my celery and carrots in ½-inch pieces. The size doesn't matter, but your commitment does. Once you've made a decision, cut them all the same.
Do not forget the Parmesan rind. I hoard my rinds to flavor soups like this. It's listed as an optional ingredient — and it is — because you can certainly make a comforting minestrone without it, but when you slip one into the soup to simmer, it will become a different, transcendent meal. That last bit of Parmesan that you couldn't quite coax out of the grater will melt willingly into the warm stock, giving up every last bit of itself. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Eat This Poem by Nicole Gulotta. Copyright © 2017 Nicole Gulotta. Excerpted by permission of Shambhala Publications, Inc..
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