“As for food, simple cooking dominates most days, like jam spooned into thick yogurt, a bowl of popcorn left on the coffee table, or beans smashed on bread. None of it is particularly noteworthy. Leftovers are placed in glass containers for tomorrow’s lunch, and scraps are scraped into the trash bin. Whole plums, celery stalks, and bunches of carrots in the bottom of the crisper go soft before we can use them. The remains of our meals are discarded like poem fragments we put into a file to look at when we’re in need of inspiration.
A poem stops time, keeping a moment suspended until we’re ready to revisit it. A good meal stops us too, however briefly, reminding us to savor every bite.” – Nicole Gulotta, Eat This Poem.
I’ve had this book in my hands for a month now, but I wanted to read through it all first, and cook from it as well, before I shared it with you. The month has been very busy, but I’ve pulled this book into my lap for five and ten minute stretches here and there, and we’ve been cooking from it all month. To be completely honest, it wasn’t the first time I’ve read or cooked with Nicole. Her blog of the same name is a staple in my life, and I consult her Literary City Guides first before planning any trip. I even got to test out some of the recipes in this book last year as Nicole was writing and editing her manuscript. I had to dig a little to find the photos I took during that time, and finally found this one.
Our family tested four of Nicole’s recipes, and the Earl Grey Shortbread Cookies could be reason alone to purchase this cookbook. But don’t let it be.
The only recipe I made for just me was a simple Caesar salad with paprika croutons. I saw this photo and I can remember all the details of that Saturday afternoon. I was home from yoga, and the sun was streaming in the back window of the kitchen as it likes to do on the weekends. Everyone else was eating at the table while I prepped the ingredients; they were scattered again when I finished. I pulled the latest issue of Dwell out of the mail pile, and filled a water spotted glass two-thirds high before sitting down to eat. I ate the whole bowl, and helped myself to seconds. The afternoon stretched ahead of me, glass-spotted, sun-spotted. I packed the leftovers into glass containers for tomorrow’s lunch, and ate the scraps, folded down the corner of the magazine page, and set it aside to finish later.
Pairing Nicole’s own rich food stories and kitchen experiments with poetry is the magic here. One night I had beets, and I started in an ordinary place – the index, scrolling my finger though the b’s to find inspiration. But another night I first opened and began to read Billy Collins’ writing about a pear, and dinner inspiration started there. Food is temporary, fleeting. A few moments on our counter, and then spent – eaten, stored, discarded. It meets us where we need it, and can be nothing more than that. Which makes the memory of a salad on a Saturday that much more surprising – and comforting. What else did I do that day? I’m not really sure, but I can still remember standing there at the counter, scraping croutons off the baking sheet, and eating scraps as I went.
By Louise Gluck
From The Triumph of Achilles (1980)
It is a good thing,
in the marketplace
the old woman trying to decide
among the lettuces,
impartial, weighing the heads,
the outer leaves, even
sniffing them to catch
a scent of earth
of which, on one head,
some trace remains—not
the substance but
she prefers it to
the other, more
estranged heads, it
being freshest: nodding briskly at the vendor’s wife,
she makes this preference known,
an old woman, yet
vigorous in judgment.
The circle of the world—
in its midst, a dog
sits at the edge of the fountain.
The children playing there,
coming and going from the village,
pause to greet him, the impulsive
loving interest in play,
in the little village of sticks
adorned with blue fragments of pottery;
they squat beside the dog
who stretches in the hot dust:
arrows of sunlight
dance around him.
Now, in the field beyond,
some great event is ending.
In twos and threes, boldly
swinging their shirts,
the athletes stroll away, scattering
red and blue, blue and dazzling purple
over the plain ground,
over the trivial surface.
Lord, who gave me
my solitude, I watch
the sun descending:
in the marketplace
the stalls empty, the remaining children
bicker at the fountain—
But even at night, when it can’t be seen,
the flame of the sun
still heats the pavements.
That’s why, on earth,
so much life’s sprung up,
because the sun maintains
steady warmth at its periphery.
Does this suggest your meaning:
that the game resumes,
in the dust beneath
the infant god of the fountain;
there is nothing fixed,
there is no assurance of death—
I take my basket to the brazen market,
to the gathering place.
I ask you, how much beauty
can a person bear? It is
heavier than ugliness, even the burden
of emptiness is nothing beside it.
Crates of eggs, papaya, sacks of yellow lemons—
I am not a strong woman. It isn’t easy
to want so much, to walk
with such a heavy basket, either
bent reed, or willow.
Buy a copy of Eat This Poem for yourself, but then maybe for your mother next week, or the teachers who share poetry with you and your children, or the newlyweds just filling a first kitchen, or any others who feed your soul.
[Gift pairs well with the aforementioned cookies.]