friday feast: of poetry and paprikash

“Poetry should . . . strike the reader as a wording of his own highest thoughts, and appear almost a remembrance.” ~ John Keats

We had our first snowfall of the year this week. When feather-light flakes frost bare branches, it’s time for winter daydreams.

My mindscape of choice is London, so it’s the perfect time to share this poem by New Jersey poet Nancy Scott. I love this wonderful example of cooking as meditation. As we gather and combine ingredients, we season with pleasant memories, nourishing body and soul.

Nancy: My husband was a professor and he took sabbaticals on a regular basis. We often lived in London because it was London. Because there was no language barrier, it was easier for the kids to attend the local schools. This poem is set in 1973, when the two younger boys were 5 and 7. No supermarkets nearby and with a very small refrigerator, we went shopping for food almost every day. I know we had a car, but I wanted the kids to burn off energy by walking and helping to carry the bags rather than tearing apart the flat.

“Hampstead, North London” by Sam Burton (oil on canvas)

by Nancy Scott

for Billy and Jimmy

On a snowy day, when the neighborhood
has gone quiet, except for the plows,
I’m peeling onions, stripping layers of fat
from a pot roast, sizzling oil in the pan.

And it’s Hampstead again. Grey leaden
skies, damp warning its way through
our clothes. Along the streets where Keats
took a turn, past the chemist, the ironmonger,
I’m choosing grapes, lettuce, fresh beets,
and tomatoes at the greengrocer’s.
You two are juggling oranges and apples.
At the butcher’s you kick up sawdust,
giggle at pigs’ feet, fake gag at the tongue
and the tripe until a stern Brit scolds you both.
Short hop to the bakery where a plump-faced
clerk greets us: Right wet one we’re havin’.
I pay for warm yeasty loaves; you wolf down
jam tarts as if you haven’t eaten in days.
Then the ten-block walk home loaded
with parcels. I sidestep puddles; you splash
about like irreverent ducks.

While the roast simmers, I curl up
with a book, any one will do, and listen for
echoes of lively dinners,
when we gathered at the table, forks ready.

~ from One Stands Guard, One Sleeps (Plain View Press, 2009). Copyright © Nancy Scott. All rights reserved.

Hampstead grocer by Alex Eisenberg

Naturally I was curious about Nancy’s roast and asked for a recipe. Apparently she was actually making Beef Paprikash, too complicated a recipe for her poem, so she included a pot roast instead.

Nancy: This is a recipe I’ve used for this dish, but I’ve never been able to replicate the version that I ate as a child. The Czech woman who cooked for us never wrote anything down, and her English was halting. I can remember my mother following Elaine around the kitchen with a pad and pencil trying to capture some of this, a pinch of that, whatever I have on hand, until it tastes right. Mother finally gave up, and we just enjoyed Elaine’s potato pancakes, goulash, sweet and sour cabbage, homemade strudel, kolacky, and other specialties for many years.

Hearty, comforting, and satisfying.

(serves 6)

1/2 cup unsalted butter
3 lbs. beef chuck, cut into 2-inch cubes
salt and pepper to taste
5 tablespoons sweet Hungarian paprika
2 large onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cups beef stock
1 cup sour cream, at room temperature

Melt 1/4 cup butter in a heavy frying pan. Sprinkle beef with salt and pepper and 1 tablespoon paprika, brown the meat for about 15 minutes and set aside.

In a heavy pot, warm 1/4 cup butter, add onions and sauté until translucent, add garlic and remaining paprika and heat for a few more minutes. Add tomato paste, stock and beef. Bring to a boil, then simmer until beef is tender, about 2 hours.

Remove from heat and stir in sour cream. Serve with butter noodles or boiled potatoes.


The perfect afternoon: Nancy’s paprikash simmering on the stove, snow falling outside.

It brought to mind studying Keats in college, visiting Keats House as a newlywed, my student who saw Paul McCartney on Hampstead Heath, the famous lines from “When Harry Met Sally”: “there’s too much pepper in my pa-pri-kash.” Oh, the ever widening ripples of memory!

Award-winning poet Nancy Scott, a three time nominee for the Pushcart Prize, has published four poetry collections, the most recent of which is Detours & Diversions (Main Street Rag Publishing Co., 2011). She is the current Managing Editor of U.S. 1 Worksheets, the journal of the U.S. 1 Poets’ Cooperative in New Jersey. Her poems have also appeared in such journals as Slant, Poet Lore, Lullwater Review, and Slipstream. She once spotted Sean Connery browsing the stalls in Portobello Road. (I hope she writes a poem about that someday!) Visit her website for more info about her poetry and work as a collage artist.

Thanks so much, Nancy. Your poem and paprikash were absolutely delish!

♥ Tara at A Teaching Life is hosting today’s Poetry Friday Roundup. Stop by for the full menu of poetical dishes being served up in the blogosphere this week.

♥ Samuel Burton’s original oil painting, “Hampstead, North London,” is available for purchase here. Be sure to check out his other lovely cityscapes and landscapes!


Copyright © 2012 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

37 thoughts on “friday feast: of poetry and paprikash

  1. That poem very much reminds me of shopping here – so many little shops, and so many little stops, if you do the local neighborhood thing. You *could* just do your shopping at a great big grocery chain, but people claim to hate that (usually as they’re going there).

    Your snow is beautiful. We are gifted with heavy frost and gorgeous sunny skies thus far today…


    1. Our snow was pretty while it lasted; it was gone by the next morning. I miss the little shops and the many stops in the local neighborhoods in England. Everyone had a shopping bag; everyone bagged their own, and the clerks actually chatted with you. I think because I had to carry everything home I was more careful of what I purchased. Much less food wasted, and it was nice to have something fresh every day.


  2. Jama, you always give me so much to ponder. I love how poems can capture a sweet moment as this one by Nancy Scott does today. That final verse makes me wish for snow again (we had some Wed.), and the crock pot working along with the fire in the fireplace. I don’t have a little street of shops to travel to, but I still love a smaller grocery where I know the clerks. Thank you!


    1. I’m with you on the smaller grocery stores — especially when you only need a few items. Hate walking through big supermarket chain stores or warehouse stores. I’m happy with snow as long as I don’t have to drive in it :).


  3. I’m reminded of my early childhood when we’d walk down Grand St. (in Maspeth, NY) and stop in the various little stores and be given small treats by the shopkeepers. We lost a lot when we gained the convenience of the supermarket!


    1. I actually prefer the little shops; it’s a much more personal experience and it’s nice to get to know the people behind the counter. I miss shopping in Wimbledon High Street.


  4. Ah, you’ve conjured up such happy memories of a long-ago trip to England with your lovely post and Nancy’s evocative poem. Thank you both! But you can keep the snow — we’ve had plenty of it this year, and I’m ready for spring.


    1. Ready for Spring already? Sounds like you need lots of tea, cookies and soup to sustain you the next couple of months. And good poetry, of course. 🙂


  5. Thank you for the poem and for relaying the story behind it. I loved this: “I can remember my mother following Elaine around the kitchen with a pad and pencil trying to capture some of this, a pinch of that, whatever I have on hand, until it tastes right. Mother finally gave up …”

    It reminds me of many attempts by relatives to try to recreate my grandma’s “Burnt Butter Cookies”. Batch after batch of the cookies were botched, never quite tasting right. As the legend goes, years later, once she slowed down, one of my cousins finally coaxed out the secret …

    “Don’t burn the butter.”

    -Ed D.


    1. LOL! Love that story, Ed! I’m surprised your grandmother actually gave up the secret. Would have been a nice “mystery” to retain. Keep ’em guessing, I say.


  6. Thanks for the feast — too much for me to take in all at once. I love the irreverent ducks, and Keats and greengrocers side by side, as such so often is. And your snowfall looks beautiful. Especially as I imagine it with the scent of stew simmering. It’s pretty white out here, too, and I’m sniffing paperwhites from time to time.

    Thanks for the introduction to Nancy Scott!


    1. Oh, paperwhites! I’ve never seen any in person. Love picturing you enjoying their fragrance.:)

      Nancy’s poem has really brought back a flood of wonderful memories. Love when that happens.


  7. As Tara predicted, we would meet new (to some of us) and wonderful poets today! Thank you for this hearty treat. I felt completely transported in Nancy Scott’s poem (and, like Jeannine, totally charmed by those “irreverent ducks”!)

    The painting is gorgeous, too. Stay warm and cozy… :0)


    1. I love discovering new-to-me poets! I feel fortunate that some of them, like Nancy, are very generous about allowing me to share their work here.


  8. This brought back such vivid memories of walking to the market with the boys when we lived in Melbourne. I really love the line about “irreverent ducks”!


  9. Dear Jama, First of all–eye candy? I LOVE it! And second, your post made me hungry, as usual. Wonderful, wonderful. Nice peek at a foreign land for us Southern Californians, where its 75 degrees today.


    1. Hi April! Glad you approve of the Eye Candy 🙂

      75 degrees? A heat wave! Actually, we’ve been pretty lucky so far (knock on wood), with temps averaging higher than normal. Our time will come, though. Wise to have a pot of soup on the stove at all times.

      Wishing you a lovely weekend, with raisins.


  10. This is a perfect poem for a winter weekend. I’ll be making a beef stew tomorrow myself, which seems to fit this theme.

    Also, I LOVE the Keats quote you used up top.


  11. Hi Jama, this is simply a luscious post! Love it! As I was reading through Nancy’s poem, I smiled at the lines about a ‘stern Brit scolding’ the young boys Billy and Jimmy – there should always always be a stern Brit with brows furrowed, sharp tongue, and the-ever-quick reprimand thrown in. 🙂 Poetry and Paprikash – sounds good to me! 🙂


  12. Oh to have some beef paprikash! Looks wonderful. And the poem brings to mind my own days shopping with wee boys… I recall strawberries flying across the store and abandoned buggies and mad dashes across the parking lot to get them OUT OF THERE. 🙂 Surely we had some pleasant times too, but it’s the tough times that make me smile today…. from a distance…. miss those small boys!.


    1. Oh! Flying strawberries :)! I guess there were no stern Brits around to reign them in. Fun memory, Irene, thanks for sharing. Someday those small boys may have their own small boys ♥.


  13. Missed you last week!
    Your post made me drool, as usual…and long for a Sunday spent just cooking and reading. No rushing off to exercise class, no meeting a friend for lunch, no lesson plans and grading. Just a day to watch the light move across the living room as I read and read and read…

    A dream. But a dream that I will, someday, pinkie promise to myself, make a reality.


    1. “Just a day to watch the light move across the living room as I read and read and read . . . ”

      My idea of bliss as well. Hope you’re able to fit more quiet time into your busy schedule, Mary Lee. Thanks for missing me! 🙂


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