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Adrienne Su
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Many thanks, Anna. I appreciate knowing that you connect and are doing such a kindness for your neighbors!
Thank you kindly.
Twelve Ways Cooking Is Empowering: When you look into the refrigerator at what used to elicit a wail of “there’s nothing to eat,” you see the makings of a frittata, pizza, or fried rice. After making and eating the frittata, pizza, or fried rice, you can gloat about not having wasted the scraps in the refrigerator. Scraps in the refrigerator start to look less like clutter and more like material for a creative project. If you’re working on a creative project unlikely to generate income, such as a book of poems, you can turn humble ingredients into excellent food. What’s in your food is under your control. You can’t always control how a dish will turn out, but you can learn from disappointments. Even with occasional disappointments, your house smells terrific and feels like a home. After cooking, you’re forced to clean your house, or at least the kitchen, thus supporting another round of cooking. You can directly support people who are sick, mourning, occupied with a new baby, protesting, or simply living their lives. If you live in a place where restaurants don’t serve what you long for, you can still have many of the dishes you crave. You have fewer cravings for sweets and snacks because you don’t feel, after a meal, that something is missing. Fewer things are missing. Twelve Usable Cookbooks: America’s Test Kitchen, Bowls Irene Kuo, The Key to Chinese Cooking Florence Lin, Florence Lin’s Chinese Regional Cookbook Deborah Madison, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone Peter Meehan et al, Lucky Peach Presents 100 Easy Asian Recipes Urvashi Pitre, Indian Instant Pot Cookbook Susan Purdy, The Family Baker Julie Sahni, Classic Indian Cooking Lorna Sass, Whole Grains Every Day, Every Way Ellen Schrecker, Mrs. Chiang’s Szechwan Cookbook Alice Waters, The Art of Simple Food Online archives of Fine Cooking magazine (technically not a cookbook, but as trustworthy as #1-11) Continue reading
Posted Jun 5, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
I have an informal, untested theory that when it comes to sustenance while writing, there are two kinds of poets: coffee poets and food poets. Coffee poets (who in some cases could be considered tea poets) can go half the day or longer without solid food; their focus is sustainable without the distraction and mess of eating. Coffee poets who are also capable of writing in public spaces are doubly blessed, as they can log many hours in a cafe without having to incur the expense of meals with their beverages, or the interruption of leaving for lunch. Bringing a thermos, they can bide their time in libraries, getting lost in the books they’re reading and writing, enjoying a communal version of a solitary activity. As a food poet, one whose energy levels are better maintained by six small meals a day versus three large, I envy coffee poets their long stretches of concentration. They aren’t constantly reminded by hunger of their profane, alimentary existence as human animals. When they write at home, their kitchen sinks don’t fill with dishes within the first three hours. Their keyboards don’t get sticky or greasy. They don’t end a day of writing only to realize that, bit by bit, they have eaten all of last night’s leftovers and there is nothing for dinner. The inimitable Kazim Ali is a coffee poet: “Early morning is my writing time-- and coffee is the key to my experience. I buy beans from local roasters, preferably organic. My favorite is Mexican coffee, the darker the roast the better. I used to hand grind the beans (more for the meditation quality of doing the work, rather than any notion of coffee purity) but now I just have a little grinder for them. In the past I swore by the french press or a pour-over if I was only drinking a cup, but these days I make drip coffee in a coffee-maker because it’s easier to make a lot and keep it hot. If I don't drink it black, I'll drink it with stevia and almond or oat milk. Mahmoud Darwish (in that rapturous extended passage near the beginning of his memoir of the Beirut bombing of 1982) says ‘Coffee is the sister of time,’ and I believe it. I hover over sentences with that warm company.” Kazim, who in addition to poetry has written memoir, criticism, novels, and translations, while also building a distinguished record of editing and teaching, is clearly driven by more than coffee. Yet knowing this detail about his process suggests that we food poets might do well to streamline the way we work, to be more like coffee poets, only with food. We can’t cut food-preparation time down to that of brewing coffee, but we can aspire to limit it on certain days. Generally, when cooking, I find that I have to be all in, mindfully trimming fat, fishing out lemon seeds with a tiny measuring spoon, intuiting the springiness of dough. Otherwise, I... Continue reading
Posted Jun 4, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
Poet and memoirist Sandra Beasley cooks differently depending on whether she’s writing poetry or prose: “I’m a tremendous fan of mise en place; one of my favorite wedding gifts was a stack of glass nesting bowls that I use. I’m methodical which, to be honest, is something that I pride myself on as a poet as well… For prose, I’m a mess—indulgent snacking, weird sleep and meal hours, hoping my husband does most of the cooking! I get overwhelmed with the scale of prose projects. I cook better as a poet.” I can’t help but connect this to Sandra’s facility with forms. Writing a sonnet or sestina is an overt act of ordering raw material, taking the chaos of human existence and working it into a recognizable shape, with strict rules governing what can appear at the end of each line, how many lines there will be, and sometimes how many stresses each line should contain. Many good formal poems break some of the rules, within the bounds of what I call, in the classroom, not looking like a mistake. One could argue that free-verse poems do the same - give shape to the shapelessness of experience - and the best free verse does exactly that. But something about mise en place mirrors the compulsive neatness of rhymed quatrains, the symmetry of a pantoum returning to its first and third lines as it completes its mission of saying every line twice, without ever quite repeating itself. Here is a curry in progress, in Sandra’s kitchen: A fellow devotee of forms, I’ve made similar efforts to create order in the kitchen. I share Sandra’s enthusiasm for mise en place, which is essential for the speed of Chinese cooking (the actual cooking, not the prep, being speedy). I also do - or did, pre-Covid - methodical lunch preparation. Ideally, I’d start the work week with four of something like this in the fridge (not five because some weeks included a lunch out or at home): This was a makeshift sardine banh mi - the carrots and radishes quick-pickled, the baguette not pictured; that’s mayo in the sauce container - and a side of fruit. Other favorites include calamari and white bean salad, with mesclun or farro in the other compartment, or a bowl. It isn’t quick, but making four at once cuts down the time spent per lunch. Seeing the containers stacked in the fridge erases a daily problem from the week and pre-empts the junky snacking that follows a hastily purchased, not-really-what-you-wanted sandwich. Most of all, thinking about lunch is over until the weekend. Some advance-lunch guidelines: Once you have your stash, don’t give in to the temptation to eat one for dinner midweek; not only will you lose a day, you’ll also get tired of it. Don’t repeat a lunch for two consecutive weeks; you’ll get tired of it. Sauce or dressing should travel in its own container, to be mixed just before you eat. If the lunch involves good... Continue reading
Posted Jun 3, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
Poet Faith Shearin reports from sheltering-in-place in Massachusetts: “We are cooking a ton because even the carry out in Amherst and Northampton has shut down. I miss restaurants more than I can say. I love a lot of food I don't know how to cook: Indian, Thai, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese… Our Covid diet consists largely of the things I was raised on. Several generations of my ancestors drank iced tea and fried chicken in eastern North Carolina; I made my first batch of cornbread with my great grandmother before I learned to read. My great grandparents were farmers and corn was their most prolific crop. I was served grits with one soppy egg for breakfast, and cornbread with most soups; both sides of my family were devoted to Brunswick Stew. Nobody could completely agree about the ingredients in this dish so a lot was left to interpretation and imagination. I like to pull the chicken off a freshly cooked bird, dice some onions and garlic, chop basil, then add corn, red potatoes, and lima beans to a broth that is half tomato sauce half chicken broth. One grandmother liked to add green beans; another favored several meats, including pork. Some folks make it thin, with tomato juice, and some make it thicker with tomato paste. I make cornbread like this: 2 and 1/2 cups of coarse ground cornmeal, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 egg, 1 and 1/3 cup buttermilk, 2 tablespoons of butter. Cook at 375 for 25 minutes. I sometimes serve the stew with a spinach salad or make a fruit cobbler to go with it, or I throw a sweet potato in the oven and serve it with a little bit of butter and brown sugar. I like to cook when I am in the mood and rapidly tire of it when I'm doing it three times a day. I know a lot of people feel like this. The food I can cook well is the food I learned to make from my grandparents; it tastes like childhood.” Faith and I are old friends. We both call the American South home - Kitty Hawk, NC for Faith, Atlanta, GA for me - but both live now in places where cornbread and Brunswick stew are more novelties than staples. Although my family arrived in the South much later than Faith’s did and our fried chicken was more likely to come from a restaurant than a cast-iron skillet on the stove, I share her connection to fruit cobbler and grits, and felt the estrangement when I first moved North. My Thanksgiving stuffing is cornbread-based. Like Faith, I cherish Indian, Chinese, Thai, Japanese, and Vietnamese restaurants. My grandmothers cooked Chinese food, but I didn’t grow up cooking with my grandmothers, as the link had been broken by World War II and the Chinese Communist revolution; I never met my paternal grandmother. My mother, driven with her family from their home in Shanghai when she was a child, had... Continue reading
Posted Jun 2, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
Thank you, Anna.
Most of the poets I know have been temporarily silenced, at least in verse, by the Covid-19 crisis. Recent months recall the aftermaths of 9/11 and the 2016 presidential election: impossible to write creatively about, impossible to turn away from. To seek the distance needed to transform experience into reflection feels like closing your eyes at the wheel. To wander into gray areas, so that a poem might begin in one place and end in another, requires a surrounding prevalence of non-gray areas. Now everything is gray, and wandering hazardous. Was it really only a short time ago that the average poet was maneuvering to maximize writing time, stealing half an hour before a work meeting, setting alarms fifteen, then twenty minutes earlier than normal, or making notes in a parked car or real-life waiting room? As recently as February, as if poem-making conditions were normal, I was identifying strategies for increasing writing time by reducing time spent planning, shopping for, and preparing meals, without giving in to joyless repetition, frozen dinners, or excess takeout. I’m more of an authority on the latter (not giving in) than the former (kitchen shortcuts), although I’m interested in both. Even before the rituals of eating became central to life under lockdown, I saw every meal as a chance to celebrate being alive and able to savor breakfast, lunch, dinner, or one of the many semi-meals I sneak in between. It’s a near-obsession. Despite repeated culling and frequent visits to the library, I have nearly 300 cookbooks, in addition to several shelves of food nonfiction. Over the years, including many spent parenting alone, I’ve assembled an army of appliances meant to save time - pressure cooker, stand mixer, food processor, programmable rice cooker, immersion blender, Vitamix - but also a number of things that aren’t about saving time: canning supplies, ice-cream maker, pizza stone, cake-decorating tools, and an admittedly neglected manual pasta machine. When there’s room for it, cooking is a pleasure and the closest thing I have to a hobby. Yet I find (or, pre-pandemic, found) myself constantly chafing at having to choose between writing and cooking, and resenting cooking for so being relentlessly non-optional. Before the novel coronavirus upended routines, I often got up early Sunday, intending to go to the grocery store while everyone else was either at church (this is rural Pennsylvania) or lingering over waffles. I’d list what ingredients needed to be used up, then deploy an Eat Your Books search to create a week’s worth of menus that called for them, thus generating a second list, of what to buy. But I tend to page through cookbooks as if they were restaurant menus: “I’ll have the pesto-grilled salmon, please, with butternut-squash risotto and a side of broccoli rabe, probably followed by peach cobbler with vanilla ice cream,” with the intention, the next day, of switching to Chinese food. The list would grow complicated, requiring stops at multiple stores. By the time I actually reached the first store, it... Continue reading
Posted Jun 1, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
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May 29, 2020