tasty memories with susan taylor brown

  #18 in the Poetry Potluck Series, celebrating National Poetry Month 2011. 

Those of you familiar with Susan Taylor Brown’s poignant and heartbreaking middle grade verse novel, Hugging the Rock (Tricycle Press, 2006), know that the primary reason she wrote the book was to give herself the father she’d never known. 

Susan with her grandpa and neighbor friend, Ginny.

Just for our Potluck, Susan wrote about the special relationship she had with her grandfather — revealing, among other things, his influence on her eating habits. Carnivores will rejoice, others will think about their own grandfathers, and most everyone will be touched by this tender portrait, so lovingly crafted with telling detail.

Susan: My mother and I lived with my grandparents while I was growing up. My grandfather died when I was ten but until then, I was pretty much his shadow, right down to his eating habits. He was a big meat-eater and I was too. I was inspired to write this to go with the meat-eater recipe I wanted to share with you.

by Susan Taylor Brown

I follow Papa everywhere,
copying his walking, stomping across the wooden porch,
sliding behind him into the space beneath the house,
pushing away cobwebs and nosy spiders to hand him a monkey wrench,
standing beside him at the kitchen sink while we wash
(up to our elbows) for dinner. 

Papa eats what Papa wants.
Meat and potatoes (every meal)
with one slice of white bread, lathered thick with butter.
Vegetables (sometimes but not always)
and something sweet to finish every meal. 

My mother (and Nana too)
eat like they are never hungry.
Grapefruit for breakfast, cottage cheese for lunch,
small helpings at dinner, and sometimes, no dessert at all. 

Most of the time,
our meat comes from Mayfair Market down on Salvio Street.
Chicken. Pork Chops. A pot roast for Sundays.
But the best meat comes from Papa himself, after a day of fishing or hunting.
Catfish. Pheasant. Sometimes deer.
And my very favorite, duck, baked in the oven until the skin is cracker crisp. 

My mother (and Nana too) peel off the skin, cut the duck into tiny pieces
then say they are full after just a few bites.
I mimic Papa and pick the duck up in my hands,
gnawing it like the wild thing he claims I am
until the juice from the greasy skin dribbles down my chin.
Papa says it’s good luck to get the piece with the BBs left inside the meat
but every time, luck favors my mother most of all. 

After dinner, Nana and my mother pile dishes in the sink
then wash them all by hand, chattering like the best friends they are.
Papa grabs the evening paper and sets himself in the easy chair.
I listen to them but watch him,
waiting, waiting, waiting,
until he looks up and pats the space left on his lap,
the space that is just the right size,
for lucky me.

© 2011 Susan Taylor Brown. All rights reserved.

Such a great poem! Love the cracker crisp skin of the duck, the girl’s voice (so true and childlike), the emotional resonance, the feel good ending. Can’t you just see the child climbing atop the grandfather’s lap? So heartwarming and yet once again poignant, since Susan lost her grandfather at such a young age. It’s remarkable how much we learn about this family in the small space of this poem — personalities as well as interpersonal dynamics: I like the forthright manner in which the girl aligns herself with the grandfather she loves so much. Nothing namby pamby about it at all. And Papa eats what Papa wants. That means meat.

Susan: My husband and I learned early on in our marriage that cooking was stressful for me and relaxing for him. (And he is much, much better at it than I am.) So he is the cook in our house. He knows how much I love my red meat and over the years has tried to find healthier ways for me to feed this craving, like introducing us to buffalo. I think Papa would approve. 

Buffalo Tri-Tip in Harissa and Yogurt Marinade
(adapted from a recipe used at San Francisco’s A16 restaurant)

The original recipe used beef tri-tip, but I like it even better with buffalo. Ultra-lean buffalo meat benefits immensely from some extra flavor and moisture when cooking, and this spice-and-yogurt marinade is the perfect complement. Healthy too!

Note: You can find prepared harissa paste at various gourmet and international grocery stores; I typically use a dry mix that comes in packages of just under half an ounce.


1/2 cup harissa (if using dry harissa, microwave 1/4 cup of water until it boils, stir in the dry harissa spices, then add 1/4 cup olive oil and puree in a blender or similar until a smooth paste forms)
1/3 cup lowfat yogurt (Greek yogurt works especially well)
2 tsp kosher salt
1 piece buffalo tri-tip, roughly 1 1/2 lbs. (buffalo tri-tip can be hard to find; try asking at Whole Foods – even if it’s not on display they often have some in the back)


skewers for the grill (if using wooden skewers, soak them in water for an hour first so they don’t burn; I prefer reusable, dishwasher-friendly metal skewers, available at any kitchen store)

Cut the tri-tip across the grain into slices 1/8-1/4 inch thick. In a large, shallow bowl or dish, whisk together the harissa paste, yogurt, and salt. Add the buffalo slices and mix well until the slices are completely coated. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1-2 hours. You can leave it overnight if necessary, but be aware that if the marinade sits on the meat for longer than a couple of hours it will start to break down the meat’s structure – it’ll still be edible, but the texture will not be to most people’s liking. One night in the marinade you can probably get away with, after 2 nights of marinating the texture will be less like steak and more like baby food. Caveat marinator.

When you’re ready to cook, pre-heat a gas or charcoal grill. Slide the slices onto the skewers – it’s ok if the pieces get a little squished together. Ensure that the grill heat is at least medium-high. Add the meat – it will cook quickly, 2-3 minutes on the first side, then turn the skewers over and cook another 2 minutes. Slide the meat off the skewers (watch for your hands if using metal skewers, they’re hot!), and serve.

This dish works well with a simple green salad, as well as with more exotic sides like tabbouleh or raita.

Susan Taylor Brown is the author of the award-winning middle grade verse novel Hugging the Rock, the picture books Oliver’s Must-Do List and Can I Pray With My Eyes Open?, and the non-fiction books Robert Smalls Sails to Freedom and Enrique Esparza and the Battle of the Alamo. In addition, Susan has published 44 books for the educational market, including 39 ESL books for the International market. More than 200 of Susan’s articles and stories have appeared in magazines for children and adults.

A popular speaker in the schools and at writing conferences, she has served on the faculty for the Highlights Foundation Chautauqua Conference. She is also a former newspaper columnist for the New Orleans Times Picayune and past instructor for the Institute of Children’s Literature. Susan has been the recipient of several grants from the Arts Council Silicon Valley, which allowed her to be Writer-in-Residence for the San Jose Alternative Schools At-Risk program and to teach poetry to incarcerated teens.

In addition to writing, Susan does motivational speaking on topics such as taking risks and having the courage to follow your dreams and leads creativity workshops for writers and readers of all ages.

She lives in San Jose, California, with her husband, Erik, her German Shepherd, Cassie, and more than 8,000 books. When she’s not writing or reading, she spends her time training Cassie for her work as a therapy dog and working in her native plant garden.

Susan has been doing the Poem-a-Day Challenge for National Poetry Month and co-hosts (with Laura Purdie Salas) the weekly online book club with poetry participation, Write After Reading: Living the Life Poetic. We have it on good authority that along with her carnivorous leanings, Susan is a certified chocoholic, with Donnelly Chocolate as a special favorite. She’s the only writer I know who believes one must read while eating in order to properly digest food. Is this woman brilliant, or what? You can find her online at her official website and Live Journal blog, Susan Writes.

In honor of Susan, help yourselves to one of these (and make sure you’re reading something while eating it):

Thanks for coming to the Potluck, Susan!!

Copyright © 2011 Jama Rattigan of jama rattigan’s alphabet soup. All rights reserved.


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