Two plantains, like love, lie
spooned, pale yellow, ripening.
Peeled and sliced like coins
before they soften and bruise.
Slivers in spoon-sized drops of oil,
glisten, brown as warm earth.
Peel and slice semi-ripe plantains and lightly brown in a tablespoon of olive oil. For more crisp plantains (patacones), slice and brown in a tablespoon of oil when plantains are still green in color. Season with sea salt and Adobo seasoning (to taste) while plantains are still warm.
When you are away, we do not sit in your seat at the table. It is yours, and we honor it. Leave it as you left it pushed in or out, a piece of your clothing draped across the back of the chair, a dusting of crumbs near the cold center groove where you last sat and ate warm penne, garlic bread, a salad. In that chair, your thin legs dangling, you are somewhere between cherry and blonde wood, between disparate emotional spaces, between places you call home.
My three-year-old is steadily sharpening his food palette and it made a mom proud when he asked for “baby carrots” for breakfast the other day. I thought to myself, “Is this a trick?” But instead of second guessing his request, I simply grabbed a carrot. He responded by kindly asking for three more. Inside I was thoroughly overjoyed, but on the outside, I played it cool by simply nodding and acting as if this was a completely normal everyday request.
I then went on to acknowledge how supportive I was of his healthy food choice. But before I could finish the praise, he asked for celery; then followed with a request for cranberries. Certainly this wasn’t my three-year-old in the kitchen early that morning asking me for vegetables and fruits. Surely, this was some kind of anomaly, or weird out-of-body experience (for both him and I). Granted, we do eat healthy as a family and I’ve worked hard to teach and encourage my boys to develop healthy eating habits. But who knew my three-year-old would show this much initiative at such a young age on such a random day. It was a rare display of sophistication that I welcomed with elation and simultaneous awe.
With shapes of pale green, bright orange, and maroon, my three-year-old had single-handedly made me so proud in that moment as he filled his open hands with a rainbow of vitamins and nutrients. But it didn’t stop there. “Look at my feast!” he exclaimed. “I see it,” I said, “Tasty.” “Yes, it’s tasty mom,” he said. And as he took bite after bite of his fruit and vegetables, he began to sculpt his feast, playing with his food as appetizer, munching on pretend castles, slides, sailboats, and coins. He not only made terrific healthy food choices that morning, he had fun, as he played his way through eating each crunchy, chewy bite.
Whose suggested kids not play with their food? I suppose I don’t see the big deal as long as they are curious and eating. It was in that play that he explored texture, shape, and taste. It was in that play that he took his time eating, making different pairings along with different pretend scenarios. It was cute, but it was also him building his taste palette, making good food choices on his own. Besides, I’ll take a little play with a lot of healthy eating any day.
Happy Friday, I hope my three-year-old inspires you to eat a bit healthier today and everyday. I’m going to go grab a few carrots right now.
It rolls off the tongue doesn’t it? Brown Butter Almond Brittle. A fresh pint from our local Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream, a most magical ice cream shop, with flavor pairings artfully mixed together, and ingredients from all over the world as well as locally sourced right here in “the buckeye state”. Brown Butter Almond Brittle is a balance of sweet and salty, smooth creamy layers buttoned with buttery crunchy bits. Even as the snow gathers outside, and the temperature drops, a scoop (or two) of Jeni’s ice cream was a perfect way to top off our Saturday.
I walked into my office yesterday, sat down, and these chocolates were sitting happily on my desk. What a sweet gesture from one of my colleagues. Thank you!
What sweet gesture will you do today? Hint: It doesn’t have to involve flowers, candy, or cards (although that special person in your life may not mind that). Rather your gesture today, everyday may look, sound more like “thank you”, “please”, “excuse me”, patience when waiting in line or on your commute, a pause before judgment, a gesture we all see, or one that is more anonymous (like the one above). It all matters. We don’t have to wait for holidays like Valentine’s Day to offer up kindness or gestures of love.
What small gestures of kindness can we do everyday?
Is it Sunday already? This week’s posts, slightly rewritten, remixed, and republished… Hope you’re having a good day.
What’s for dinner—a first draft, a few lines of metered verse with a side of green cabbage.
Peeled from my grandmother’s kitchen, the south,
pale green slivers scattered beneath a dull
blade. Full in the pot, salt, pepper, and stock
bubbling slow. I poured in piles of soft
feathered middles, raw cabbage to cook two
hours, until the flesh turns golden, seasoned
steaming cloud burst, boiling savory pot.
It’s Sunday already, the weekend goes by so fast doesn’t it? In case you missed it, a variety shuffle from this week’s posts, recapped, revised, and remixed. Enjoy, and have a great day!
There was a poem
in the slick silver belly
of the kitchen sink
filled with plastic and glass,
noodles and crumbs, stains
of sweet burgundy.
The poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.—Gilbert K. Chesterton
I think this quote is true. Do you know of any great writings inspired by or about cheese? I came across this quote several weeks ago, and it got me thinking about, well, cheese. But not just how it melts or its sharp or mild flavor, smooth texture, graceful agility. I thought, there are some subjects writers don’t often entertain, think imaginatively about—and I think cheese tends to be one. But I could be wrong. So please comment with leads to any cheese writings you know of.
Otherwise, when was the last time anyone mused over a block of cheddar or wrote beautifully about feta’s soft crumbly goodness? Exactly—except, maybe chefs. So I perused a few recipe sites and there they were—writings about cheese:
“until the top is golden brown and the dip is bubbling”—Paula Deen, foodnetwork.com
“crisp and golden, bubbles, whisk”—Giada De Laurentiis, foodnetwork.com
“foaming, fragrant, simmer”—The Neelys, foodnetwork.com
So why should chefs and foodies have all the fun with cheese or any other kinds of food for that matter? And more importantly, what can writers learn from food writing? I suspect a ton, especially all the use of delightful descriptives. Writers and poets can borrow, be inspired by the language of recipes. And of course you don’t have to specifically write about cheese—but maybe let its properties inspire you. Let’s borrow some of the magic that happens in the kitchen and see what happens on the page. Happy writing!
And as always, if you feel inclined, drop me a line with an excerpt of what you wrote.
As it nears the date of my grandmother’s death, I’m reposting this sweet memory she left with me forever…
Last year I went to a cookie party, and admittedly, I had never heard of such a gathering where you can bring several dozen home-made cookies and trade with partygoers until you leave with exactly as many cookies as you came with, only, the point is to leave with different cookies than what you came with. Easy enough, I set out to make a longtime family favorite: tea cakes. And as I prepared for the party that morning, sometime during that ritual of mixing and baking, I got more than just three dozen cookies…
I thought back to a time in the mid-nineties when my cousin and I traveled to Chicago to hang out and visit our grandmother. While we were there, I got the chance for an impromptu one on one baking lesson with her. Grandma was small in stature and had a soft voice, but her food was big on flavor, mystery, and sweet and savory southern traditions. I was especially curious about the sweet: the soft homemade ice-cream freshly churned, the sweet potato pies, and the tea cakes. She made these biscuit-like cookies she called tea cakes. They are simple cookies, not too sweet, but full of spice and flavor. They are a family favorite. The simple soft biscuits were a staple in the cookie jar while we were growing up and I wanted to learn this recipe and make them in my adulthood.
While in Chicago that summer, I asked her to teach me and she did. She walked me through each step in how to make them, a pinch of this and a dash of that….she didn’t need a recipe, but I thought…”grandma, I need you to write all that down, there’s no way I’ll remember the simple nuisances of this recipe.” I remember years later after that summer, how intimidated I felt by the thought of making these cookies that seemed to come out perfect every time grandma made them. No one else could make them like her. I can recall a couple of times my young mom (who is also an amazing cook) tried to make them when we were kids. They were pretty good, and had the right flavors, but somehow they just didn’t quite taste the same as grandmas. I thought to myself I wanted to learn how to make these cookies and I wanted to carry this recipe on and maybe one day make these cookies for my children (and one day grandchildren). After that weekend in Chicago, I put the recipe in one of my staple cookbooks and carried it from apartment to apartment, relationship after relationship. I tried a few times to make them, but much like my mom when we were young, I just couldn’t quite get it right.
Fast forward 15 years, as I received the news of my grandmother’s passing I immediately went rummaging through the cabinet, flipping through my collection of cookbooks desperately searching for the tea cake recipe scribbled in that original blue pen. I found it. It had yellowed over time but the memory of me baking in the kitchen with grandma that summer afternoon in Chicago was as clear as if it had just happened. The smell of the kitchen that day, 15 years ago, rushed right back from memory. It had been years since I attempted to make this recipe, but for some reason, even as we prepared to travel to Cleveland for the funeral, I felt immediately compelled to try again.
I preheated the oven and let the eggs and margarine sit out to get room temperature. I gathered all the ingredients from the pantry and scattered them on the table. I slowly added in the ingredients one by one (just as grandma had instructed over 15 years ago and reminded me in writing on the yellowed paper). There was flour everywhere as I worked with the batter and rolled it out. I loaded up the cookie sheet, slid the first dozen in the oven, and waited. I watched each dozen carefully. The cookies bake quickly, and I didn’t want to burn them as I had so many times in the past.
After the first dozen baked through, I was much too anxious, I had to taste them. We were leaving for my grandmother’s funeral the next day and I had little time to keep trying to get this recipe right. I wanted to bring them with me to Cleveland. I wanted to have them as comfort food during the drive. I wanted to share them with my cousin, who had been there that day with me in Chicago 15 years ago.
Before recently, when I made them for the cookie party, my last attempt was right before the funeral about a year ago. There was something that happened to me that weekend. I was mourning and the only fix I had for the moment was to bake, to keep myself busy, fixed on something else. Somehow this memory of baking with my grandmother that summer afternoon in Chicago had showed up in my stir, in my kneading of the dough, in my timing. Baking I’ve learned, is all about exaction of fresh ingredients and timing.
I also learned just nearly a year ago that my grandmother had left me more than just a simple cookie recipe she brought up north with her from Alabama, she left with me, with all of us, distinct, flavorful memories of cooking. I think about the tea cake recipe and how simple ingredients: eggs, flour, butter, brown sugar, nutmeg, are not fancy or decadent in any way, but precious and comforting memories of childhood. I think about how these cookies have humbled me in the kitchen, but most of all how these cookies or rather memories of my grandmother’s cooking has shown up in my own sensibilities towards food and cooking.
That day nearly a year ago, as I prepared to travel to Cleveland for the funeral, and as my eyes glossed over with tears, I tasted that first dozen still warm out the oven. I thought to myself, “These came out pretty good, thank you grandma.” And even though it was now too late to physically share that moment of success with her, somehow I believe she already knew, even as she stood there teaching me in the kitchen 15 years ago, she knew that I had listened, that I would later try this recipe on my own, and that I would probably make many mistakes in doing so. But the one thing that I now realize that she also knew was that one day I would eventually get it right.
1 stick margarine, soft (you can add a little Crisco, mix well)
3 eggs (mix in one at a time)
½ cup brown sugar
1 cup regular sugar
3 cups flour (work one cup in at a time)
3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3 1/2 teaspoons nutmeg
Mix the dry ingredients, mix the wet ingredients, then roll out the dough and cut (for soft cookies do not roll dough too thin). Bake at 350 degrees.
“Eat lunch with your child day”—My six-month-old isn’t “eating” much other than a bottle and a few bland purees, but hanging out with him in the middle of the work day had little to do with food and more to do with precious time.
(This is what happens when art museum educators have an office gift exchange)
My writing libation of choice: sweetened green tea (iced or hot)
Right on Amanda, this mug and green tea sweetened with simple syrup is perfect. Thank you.
New York didn’t lend itself to pages of actual writing. But It did inspire; filled my belly with spicy, sour, and sweet, colored my eyes with paint, layers of beautiful beads, old photographs with frayed edges, and magical airy silk, among swings, among pigeons, among a song filled armory, the smell of aged wood, the story of soldiers. There was Harlem, Manhattan, Brooklyn, the bustling crowds, long walks, mild weather, a few soft blooming petals, and sketches of bare trees, a few with white twinkling lights tangled in their branches.
I’ve been engaged in myriad conversations over the past few weeks about creativity. This subject keeps coming up. Where does creativity come from? How can we encourage it in children, in ourselves as adults? Why is there a battle in education, in our homes, in the workplace between critical and creative thinking? Why do those spaces want to choose between the two—which is more rigorous, beneficial, salient? Why can’t we (as humans) young and older practice both in learning and in the wider part of our lives? Why does education (and often other aspects of our lives) strip us of our ability to see our creative selves, think creatively? I keep coming back to some of the same sensibilities. We have to undo what it is that blocks us from wonder, play: stress, excuses about time, space, money, fear.
I work with young people on how to “undo” some of that fear of creativity before they reach adulthood and can’t find that sense of wonder anymore. I work with adults (other educators/parents), to encourage, give “permission” to allow room in their lives, their student’s lives, their children’s lives to think creatively, to wonder. I watch my own children access their creative selves everyday. They remind me how it’s is done…
I typically use the funnel in the kitchen pouring liquid, grains, from one container into the next. But when my three-year-old gets a hold of the funnel he is much more imaginative. That sputtering sound I heard the other day was no trumpet but rather my three-year-old composing his best kid rendition of some unknown tune on his newly imagined funnel horn. And while I thought that horn might be the only trick he had up his sleeve that trumpet quickly became a birthday hat for his younger brother (not sure if the younger brother was thrilled about that). But you can’t have a birthday hat without birthday cake, so my three-year-old ran to the other room and brought back the small plastic containers I use to organize stuff around the house, for his pretend birthday cake, when the funnel had one more magical use, as the candle on top.
Now I will have to go back to using my funnels in that same old boring and practical way. But next time I use that funnel I’ll remember metaphor, and how even kitchen utensils have creatively secret and interesting lives of their own.
What toys? Kids find play in anything, everything.
Somewhere between one too many pieces of candy in the house and our collective family sweet tooth, while the kids sleep soundly after an intense, rainy, cold, and exciting adventure in full costume and the door to door collecting of random goodies, my husband found himself picking through those colorful heaps of cavity causing goodness. Get your toothbrushes ready, it’s going to be a sweet ride (only one piece per day) in our house for the next few days, until the loads of candy (which never gets eaten anyway) will mysteriously disappear.
Ok, this post wouldn’t be complete without a cute pic of our tiniest pumpkin on his first Halloween. I just couldn’t help myself.
A few years ago I wondered if love was just out of my reach. Then I looked up from my wonder and love was standing there in front of me smiling.
In the final days of summer, with cooler mornings and mild afternoons, when the sun is just high enough to wrap its warmth in our squinting eyes, my husband and I celebrated our love. On our special day, he dressed up for me in his crisp white shirt and decorated shoulders. I wore wine colored heels and a smile. There was a moment of pause as we honored the lives lost on this day and honored each other—love.
We sat on the patio so we could look at each other under the bending stems and flat green leaves, our table just inches from where we stood a few years ago and said, “I do.” We spoke under our breaths between the swirl of sourdough in tomato stained olive oil, and slow bites of farfalle and chicken, crab cake and slaw. I had forgotten we sometimes need reassurance, the sound of water rhythm running in the stream beside us. It reminded me of patience; something love and time are teaching me.
It was over dessert and a single flame that we leaned in towards each other, closed our eyes, and wished together first in silence, then gathered our hands and shared our hope out loud with each other and in gesture with those around us. I wish you love on this day, and our love together, every day thereafter.
Dinner at downtown’s De-Novo was a crisp bottle of Santa Margharita pinot, an exotic course of Kangaroo (I was skeptical, but it was delicious), a main course of Chilean sea bass and pomegranate-glazed salmon, and for dessert, tiramisu. Conversation was cautious and easy across the flickering globe centered at our table. Dining near the window was a view of the city’s green space commons, a cozy but lively patio during happy hour, and a random ride by a few dozen ladies cycling through the center of the city at dusk. We were whispering thoughtful words caught between our lips, our busy lives; and the warm glass glow.
Since the baby was born (nearly three months ago) and with the other two boys as busy as ever, my husband and I haven’t had much time with “just us”. So we put the boys to bed with a sitter, dressed up, and didn’t look back. I don’t believe in (mommy) guilt on a date night, especially while seated cozy in the window at nightfall accompanied by a bottle of wine and some real adult conversation, (the cute guy sitting next to me doesn’t hurt either). Friday or Saturday dining out would have been nice (but much more busy), so I’ll take a light crowd, good food and music on a Wednesday any time. When in doubt go on a midweek date night; sometimes waiting until Friday or Saturday just won’t do.
Open up the refrigerator or the pantry, what do you see? I know—food, but look closer—words, right? And where there is food in boxes, cans, or frozen bags, there are interesting and descriptive words (see the vegetable broth label if you don’t believe me). We often take those words that grace the sides of packaged pasta or breadcrumbs for granted, but they are there for a reason: to describe flavor or texture, to entice us, to give us ideas about dinner, and to of course inspire our writing. Who knew?
Take an even closer look, where the warm of ingredients may inspire your setting, or the details of a recipe may trigger sensory cues for dialogue, a scene, or a poem. Food, ingredients, flavors, are good for conjuring up memories or inspiring our imaginations. As you’re exploring your cabinets and thinking, write down a few bits of delicious, and grab a snack while you’re at it. Make a list (on paper or in your head) of all the words that jump out at you from the pantry (crushed red pepper flakes, mustard seed, vanilla), the refrigerator (rich, flavor, perish(able)) , the kitchen cabinet (cork, grain, simmer), or all three. Don’t spend a ton of time in the gathering (or the snacking). The real work is in whatever you create with these words—gourmet dinner or your next delicious line. Bon appétit and good luck writing.
In an age where people seem just as isolated as we are “connected”, friends meander through our lives, touch us in ways we remember and sometimes forget. Our dearest friends are often close and few, a voice or a word away. Recently, time spent with a fairly new friend only in town for a day, felt familiar, like our letters and poems woven back and forth for the past few months.
In person, she was a confident smile, a paced breath, a pen pal without paper or screen. We were present that day in our summer dresses, over courses of fresh greens, paella, blush and fizz. In conversation we found ourselves 10 years before children, before heartbreak, healing, before meeting only a year or so ago. And until we pick up the tail of our last laugh or cry, I will remember random utterings and red light glow, ripe petals and Barcelona in August.