friday feast: savoring diane decillis’s strings attached (+ a hummus recipe)

Remember when I shared Diane DeCillis’s exquisite poem, “Opera Buffa”?

I’m still sighing over “gnocchi lifted itself off the fork” and that lovely Panna Cotta — “silky, quivering cream adorned with fresh berries.” Remember silly Antonio, who wasn’t interested in ordering dessert? You simply cannot trust a man who doesn’t like sweets!

After reading “Opera Buffa,” I yearned for more of Diane’s poetry, which is why I was ecstatic when her debut collection, Strings Attached (Wayne State University Press, 2014), was released in May.

What a beautiful, lush, finely crafted feast of brilliance!

Her 60+ poems tease the intellect, warm the heart, please the ear, whet the physical and spiritual appetites, and nourish artistic sensibilities with their worldly elegance, lyricism, surprising turns-of-phrase, and evocative narratives.

I love how Diane’s passions for art, music, literature, food and family inform structure, theme, cadence, image, and metaphor. As in “Opera Buffa,” the food-related poems are infused with tantalizing sensory detail, whether she muses about her Lebanese grandmother’s stuffed grape leaves or leban (yogurt), “ethereal profiteroles filled with crème de la moo,” or terrapin soup à la Babette’s Feast.

Pop culture and high art happily co-exist in the layers of Diane’s imagination as she riffs on the likes of Van Gogh, Cezanne, Picasso, Magritte, Duncan Hines Pineapple Cake Mix, Tab Hunter/ Sandra Dee in a fleabag motel, Chopin, Debussy, Rilke, Gertrude Stein, “Like Water for Chocolate,” “Punch Drunk Love.”

Lebanese Rolled Grape Leaves via Jean Rivot

Diane brings her own brand of self-deprecating humor to these poems (“What Would Hitchcock Do?”), but there are also poignant notes of longing for an absent father (“Finding Fathers”), the push-pull dynamics of generational clashes (“Milk”), the vagaries of love, the liberation of dreams, the richness of cultural heritage.

Today I’m happy to share one of several prose poems from Strings Attached, perhaps the “foodiest” in the collection. I love how Diane has composed this sensorial symphony of sounds, colors, flavors, aromas and textures, lovingly capturing a cherished moment in time. A masterful culinary canvas!

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Click for Lebanese Tabbouleh Recipe by Anissa Helou (via David Lebovitz)


There was a time when family and friends gathered around our mahogany table to dine on creamy hummus — baba ganoush sprinkled with paprika, drizzled with olive oil. I can taste the vibrant green of the tabouli, the tart contrast of sumac on toasty fattoush salad, sweet tomatoes, bright tang of lemons, and the grassy scent released from hand-chopped parsley. I still picture tender rice glistening with thin vermicelli surrounded by cinnamon bronzed roast chicken. And my father serving platters of grilled kabobs, the caramelized aroma of charred onions, buttery hints of pine-nut and minced lamb layered in baked kibbe scored into diamonds — raw kibbe, a tartare with hints of green pepper and orange zest. Sittu’s plump stuffed grape leaves, Mom’s green beans coated in garlicky tomato — and baskets of soft pita to scoop it all up. Everything fresh from the farmer stalls of Detroit’s Eastern Market where Dad shopped at dawn balancing armfuls of bags.

Home is where I learned the music of the kitchen: the rhythmic cutting, chopping, dicing, cymbal gongs of pots and pans landing on iron grates, fanning cupboards, snapping drawers, the clink of silver on china when cardamon-scented Turkish coffee was poured. Here I found art in the jeweled still life of pomegranates, grapes, figs, and apricots — bowls of pistachios, pastel candied chickpeas — fragrant rosewater wafting from silver trays stacked with crisp baklava and date-filled ma’amoul cookies. Everyone dressed for dinner — neck-tied men, skirted women jangling gold bangles as they passed savory platters. How I miss the tenor of voices rising and falling, ripple and trill of bilingual tongues, the shuffle of decks, crash of poker chips during all-night card games, the dancing — our living room alive with cadenced clapping, hips swiveling to the ouds and derbekes of Port Said, the hand-held chain of the dabke line dance, and soulful ballads of Fairuz. Later, all eyes on Sittu who read our fortunes in coffee grounds clinging to the porcelain cups — a letter arriving, a trip to be taken, a relative coming from a distant land — a distant time, elusive now — I can’t remember the chairs ever being empty — the table bare and quiet as dust.

~ Copyright © 2014 Diane DeCillis. All rights reserved.

Ma’amoul Cookies via The Lass in the Apron

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One Christmas, Diane compiled a book of her grandmother Sittu’s recipes for family members. “Taffadalu” loosely translates as “Welcome to the meal, sit down and enjoy.”

Diane graciously agreed to share Sittu’s hummus recipe with us and I enjoyed making it, since I’d never used dried chickpeas for hummus before. The extra steps of pre-soaking and then boiling them before processing with lemon juice, crushed garlic and tahini are well worth it.

While savoring this delicious hummus with pita bread, I thought about the Sittu poems Diane included in her book. I love how the common language of food helped them bridge a cultural divide (unschooled Sittu had an arranged marriage at age 12 vs. Diane’s feminist upbringing in Detroit).



  • 1 cup dried chickpeas
  • 1/2 and 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup tahini, well stirred
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1/3 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice (or more to taste)
  • Olive oil, paprika, and parsley sprigs for garnish

1. Rinse the chickpeas and submerge in approximately 4 cups of water and 1/2 teaspoon baking soda to soak overnight.

2. Drain the chickpeas and cover with about 6 cups of fresh water in 1/4 teaspoon baking soda in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, skimming off the foam. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for approximately 1-1/2 hours until beans are tender.

3. Drain the chickpeas reserving 1/2 cup of liquid, and a few chickpeas for garnish. Blend the chickpeas in food processor. Add tahini, garlic, lemon juice and salt to the puree. If the mixture seems too thick, add some of the reserved liquid, a little at a time until smooth.

4. Spoon hummus onto serving platter and smooth surface with the back of a spoon. Use the spoon to create a shallow well inside the perimeter leaving a mound in the center. Drizzle the well with olive oil, sprinkle with paprika, and add parsley sprigs and a few whole chickpeas in the center for garnish.

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Poems by Diane DeCillis
published by Wayne State University Press, 2014
Made in Michigan Writer Series, 112 pp.

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We consulted Monsieur Random Integer Generator and he has picked BUFFY SILVERMAN as the winner of a signed copy of Dear Wandering Wildebeest by Irene Latham and Anna Wadham!!


Please send your snail mail address to: readermail (at) jamakimrattigan (dot) com so we can get your signed copy out to you!

Thanks, everyone, for entering and commenting last week!

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poetryfriday180The lovely and talented Laura Shovan is hosting this week’s Roundup at Author Amok. Be sure to check out all the delicious poetic offerings on today’s menu. 🙂

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wkendcookingiconThis post is also being linked to Beth Fish Read’s Weekend Cooking, where all are invited to share their delicious food-related posts.




Copyright © 2014 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.


63 thoughts on “friday feast: savoring diane decillis’s strings attached (+ a hummus recipe)

  1. The HUMMUS is the best, I’m adding some garlic salt instead of garlic cloves, hope it’s fine, as I don’t wanna use garlic here directly…


    1. I know so little about Middle Eastern cuisine, with the exception of hummus and tabouli but Diane’s descriptions have really whetted my appetite to learn about and try more of it.


  2. All the descriptions made my mouth want more, Jama, and Diane’s Music From Another Room made me nostalgic for my own family gatherings of long ago. It sounds like a beautiful book. Thank you!


    1. I reacted the same way to Music from Another Room — the food may have been different with my family, but the warm feelings of togetherness, fun, noise, and laughter are universal.


  3. A prose poem is just the right form for this poem stuffed with sensory images. My favorite line was “Home is where I learned the music of the kitchen: the rhythmic cutting, chopping, dicing, cymbal gongs of pots and pans landing on iron grates, fanning cupboards, snapping drawers, the clink of silver on china.” I’ll share on the Little Patuxent Review page — we are reading submissions for a food-themed issue.


  4. Love this delicious prose poem (especially the line about the music of the kitchen–what a wonderful way to describe the essence of home) and the entire post. My son has made hummus from scratch, but I’ve always used store-bought. But today I’m putting dried chickpeas on my shopping list! (Baking pita at home is a snap, especially if you use a bread machine for the dough.)
    And today is my lucky day! I’ve been savoring my copy of Wandering Wildebeest which arrived yesterday, but I’m going to put that away and give it as a gift and wait for my SIGNED COPY before I reread it! Thank you Monsieur Generator, Irene, Anna, and Jama!


    1. I’d never thought of making homemade pita bread (I don’t have a bread machine).

      Enjoy the homemade hummus, and Irene’s book! 🙂


  5. The poem, the hummus…pure deliciousness. I love the lines:
    “the shuffle of decks, crash of poker chips during all-night card games,”
    That was the sound of my childhood – between my parent’s Bridge club and my brothers’ poker nights. Card games and laughter wafted up the stairs to my bedroom. = )


  6. This line just sang for me:
    Home is where I learned the music of the kitchen.
    And…I’ve got guests coming for dinner tomorrow – we’re having that hummus to begin with!


  7. I love the cover of her collection! Colorful and fantastical.

    I sometimes eat hummus with a spoon! I never considered making it.


    1. It’s pretty easy to make and those dried chickpeas make a difference.

      The cover is beautiful, and perfectly captures the rich aesthetic that defines her poems.


  8. So much to love about this poem, the sounds and the tastes and the scents, a feast to the senses. I have never made hummus from scratch. Thanks for the recipe.


  9. I just sms-ed my husband the ingredients for this homemade hummus, in the hopes that he will find indulge me yet again with a homemade version – we usually buy the prepackaged ones. 🙂 Thank you for introducing another new-to-me author dearest Jama. Strings Attached sounds absolutely delightful, and I particularly loved the prose poem you just shared. Thanks dearest Jama! 🙂


  10. I love hummus and make it regularly. I love beans and make them from dried form all the time. So why have I never made hummus from dried chickpeas? Remedying that.

    LOVE this line: “Home is where I learned the music of the kitchen: the rhythmic cutting, chopping, dicing, cymbal gongs of pots and pans landing on iron grates, fanning cupboards, snapping drawers, the clink of silver on china when cardamon-scented Turkish coffee was poured.”


  11. Nom. She described one of my favorite meals. A white bread Colorado girl who has come to love Middle Eastern food…quite a journey. I love this line: “I can’t remember the chairs ever being empty” So different from the quiet of my growing up.


    1. Maybe we should call her Diane Delicious from now on :). Love how your brain works.

      Didn’t realize you liked ME food, ML. Good taste buds!


  12. PS — when I first looked at her last name, my brain rearranged the letters into “delicious.” Pretty perfect, eh?


  13. Jama, this post was a fabulous entry to the world of foodies. Hummus-my favorite! Poetry-a joy as it is blended amongst delicious delicacies. Thank you for sharing this wonderful book, the fluidity of the words, and the recipe.


  14. Jama, what a *delicious* post you have today! I will try the hummus recipe–I have been looking for a good one!


  15. I love “Home is where I learned the music of the kitchen”!!

    I’ve never ate, or tried to make stuffed grape leaves, but they look yummy. I love all kinds of hummus, so I’ll be trying that recipe.

    Strings Attached sounds like a book I’d enjoy.


  16. I love that line, too — “Home is where I learned the music of the kitchen.” 🙂

    Jama, no one whets my appetite for a great book and a great meal the way you do! Oh, my … hummus, stuffed grape leaves … love, love, love them. Will have to try that hummus recipe!


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