friday feast: renée gregorio’s “Solitude Dinner” (+ a recipe)

“I frequently dream of having tea with the Queen.” ~ Hugh Grant

photo by Jake Chessum

So yes, Hugh’s here.

Funny about that. We have the same recurring dream involving the Queen. Mine would be more along the lines of a daydream, though.

Hugh likes to visit when I’m having breakfast. He’s just as grumpy as I am in the morning, so we don’t talk while we’re eating. We are totally simpatico and I’m polite enough not to mention the big orange juice stain on his shirt. In fact, I give him the last brownie and he doesn’t even have to explain why he deserves it. It takes all my willpower not to call him “Floppy.”

I’m thinking “Notting Hill” is my favorite of all his movies. It could have something to do with Al Green singing “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart,” but more likely, every time I see that film I remember Saturday mornings at Portobello Road Antiques Market, or the best-I’ve-ever-had lemon sole fry-ups at Geales.

I’m happy to live inside the world of Renée Gregorio’s whimsical poem of gratitude. Here is a kindred spirit who also summons famous and familiar guests to her table. We never really dine alone, do we? At this marvelous place where memory, fantasy, and yearning intersect, it feels good to recognize what truly feeds us.

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Pasta e Fagioli via Cook’s Illustrated

 

SOLITUDE DINNER
by Renée Gregorio

Day after day, I learn to be grateful.
It’s a feast no matter what’s on the platter —
I bow to the green beans and the roasted red
peppers, I bow to the pasta for being there
all my life, hear my grandmother say no it’s macaroni.
No one says that word anymore; the yuppies have taken the word
from my Italian ancestors, made it their own.
I am not a yuppie. I live in the barrio where no one’s Italian,
no one’s a woman alone.

Behind these walls, I eat the dinner of solitude.
It is a quiet meal, with candles and sometimes flowers
freshly cut from my garden. It is a meal that I need both hands
to eat, forking the macaroni with one and sopping up oil
with bread in the other. It is a meal of invention.
Last night Hugh Grant came — it was before he got caught
in a car with a prostitute and hauled off for being lewd.
I tell you, it’s probably because I refused to sleep with him.

He didn’t seem particularly miffed at the time; of course
the food was excellent and he liked dripping the olive
oil into his opened mouth from the heel end of the Italian loaf —
those Brits! He also ate an abnormal amount of those wrinkled
Sicilian olives I love best. Maybe that did it. At any rate, he left
smiling. What a pity to read of him in the news today. What a drag
to be famous! Anyone else and the cop would’ve turned away.

I like eating alone. But sometimes Galway Kinnell comes. He always wants
oatmeal. And then there’s the visits with Adrienne Rich and sometimes
Ted Hughes and if I’m lucky Sylvia Plath shows just before Ted leaves,
and then there’s the more familiar who visit: John and Joan and Miriam
and Sawnie and Jimmy and Jaime and Ken and Peter and Ava and that guy
I met in a workshop once whose name I forget and that woman.

But sometimes no one comes at all. It’s simply me and my macaroni
and the air hot with Solstice and Fourth of July explosions, the neighborhood
kids all riding their bikes down the street, shouting and calling each other’s names.
The dogs keep barking as the street darkens and I finish my meal.
Day after day, I learn to be grateful.

It is during these solitude feasts that I can hear
the voices of past dinners most clearly. All the way back
to childhood when the meals were ready when we got home
and we were sure of our places at the table. All the way back

To each dining experience with each mate
of the evening, remembering in particular the meals
when the food was incidental and what mattered was only Forster’s

Only connect and when the company was right we did it over greasy
burgers and fries and dark beer and the arrangement on the plate wasn’t crucial.

In solitude we dine with the famous and the familiar. They live in what feeds us.

~ from The Storm That Tames Us (La Alameda Press, 1999). Posted by permission of the author.

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Renée:  I wrote “Solitude Dinner” over 20 years ago when living alone and feeling the difference between “loneliness” and “solitude” for the first time in my life. I wanted to celebrate my solitude and name who occupies it with me. It is also a nod to Galway Kinnell’s poem, “Oatmeal”, where he calls in imaginary companions. I was calling in my own and having fun with it in “Solitude Dinner”!

Thanks to Renée for also sharing one of her favorite recipes, Skillet Eggplant Parmesan, which she found at Annie’s Eats. This sounds simple and delicious, a comforting any season dish probably even tastier when enjoyed with the right company. 🙂

Skillet Eggplant Parmesan

Ingredients

  • 2 large eggplants (about 3 lbs. total), sliced into 1/2-inch slices
  • extra virgin olive oil, for brushing
  • coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2-1/4 cups tomato sauce
  • 8 oz. shredded mozzarella
  • 3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • fresh basil, for garnish

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Lay the eggplant slices out on baking sheets in a single layer. Brush lightly with olive oil, season with salt and pepper, flip and repeat on the other side of all the slices. Roast, flipping halfway through the baking time, until slightly soft and golden brown, about 35 minutes total. Increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees F.
  2. Spoon 1-1/4 cups tomato sauce in a large deep sauté pan or casserole dish. Layer half of the eggplant slices evenly in the pan. Sprinkle with a third of the grated Parmesan and half of the mozzarella. Spread another 1 cup of sauce over the cheese, the remaining eggplant slices, another third of the Parmesan and the remaining mozzarella. Top with the rest of the Parmesan, and bake for about 30-35 minutes, or until the cheese is browned and bubbling.
  3.  Remove from the oven and cool for about 15 minutes. Garnish with fresh basil and serve warm.

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Just as I was typing up this recipe, Colin walked into the kitchen. No surprise, as he likes Italian food and was jealous of Hugh (it’s a Bridget Jones thing). Would you expect him not to appear with me doing the summoning? There are certain obligations that come with being Colin’s secret wife (so secret even he doesn’t know about it). 🙂

For my next solitary meal, in addition to Colin and Hugh, I will also invite Paul (good bread, mashed potatoes, and veggie dish maker) —

 

and of course (OF COURSE!), good ole’ Bob, who drinks tea with cats and makes a mean meatball (don’t think spice, it’s alright).

 

Who have you dined with lately?

(I do hope Hugh makes curry next time.)

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Renée Gregorio’s poetry collections include The Skins of Possible Lives, The Storm That Tames Us, Water Shed, Drenched, and Snow Falling On Snow, as well as several book collaborations with other poets, the most recent of which is Pa Siempre: Cuba Poems, with John Brandi. She is a co-founder (with Joan Logghe and Miriam Sagan) of the publishing collective, Tres Chicas Books, and she’s also a certified master somatic coach who loves combining principles of aikido, poetry and somatics in individual and group work with writers. Her poetry is informed equally by the landscapes of New Mexico as it is by her wide-ranging travels to places such as Bali, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Mexico, Cuba, and India. Find out more about her books, writing and somatic coaching, poetry dojos and workshops at River of Words.

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poetry fridayCarol Varsalona is hosting the Roundup at Beyond Literacy Link. Hop over and check out the full menu of poetic goodness being served up in the blogosphere this week.


Copyright © 2017 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

55 thoughts on “friday feast: renée gregorio’s “Solitude Dinner” (+ a recipe)

  1. Living alone holds many rewards as Renee’s poem shows. I love it, Jama, “It is during these solitude feasts that I can hear/the voices of past dinners most clearly.” This may seem sad, but memories keep the dinners lively too! Thanks for those early pics, love seeing them.

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  2. Jama, Renee’s poem of gratitude is a great compliment to what I tried to bring to Poetry Friday today. I like the distinction between solitude and loneliness for it makes “ferocious women” (from Donna’s blog) feel right in their skin. I will have to ponder whom I would want to feast with me when I make those eggplant specialities. (Last week, I baked eggplant with chicken cutlets parmigiano.) I always walk away hungry from your posts, Jama. Thanks.

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  3. Love that poem, especially “Day after day, I learn to be grateful” and the last line (and the fact that she was inspired by Kinnell’s “Oatmeal”). Carrie Fisher and Mary Shelley are stopping by this evening.

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    1. Wow, what an interesting guest list. I imagine Carrie will keep you in stitches and Mary may mention Frankenstein’s monster’s stitches. 🙂

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  4. Oh to be at either Renee’s or your dinner table with any of these “guests”. Renee’s words, “feeling the difference between ‘loneliness’ and ‘solitude'” ring true for me now that I am “of a certain age”. I think I’ll invite Barack and Michelle over for a bowl of macaroni – they have more time on their hands now. Thanks for the daydream and poem, Jama. Always a delight. =)

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  5. So much candy today, and then the eggplant dish truly takes me to my solitude which I’ve always been fond of all my life. Add the snow at my window–dreams can come true! Thanks for the journey, Jama!

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    1. Glad you liked Renee’s poem, Liz, and thanks for mentioning my FB posts. I thought we needed a little hope and innocence to balance out all the political stuff in our news feeds.

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  6. It struck me as I read this, that what makes poetry itself, is the arrangement of the glasses, the timing of the courses, the colors on the plate, the smells from the kitchen, the steam from the pots, the sizzle of the bacon… I’m getting a better understanding each time I read a new poem. Thanks. Oh, and the company one keeps.

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  7. What a lovely poem! I’ll have to think of dining companions …

    I also love Notting Hill, and how they show the passage of time during the singing of “Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone.”

    But I think my favorite Hugh Grant move is “About a Boy.” But then again, there’s the perfection of “Music & Lyrics.” 🙂

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  8. “All the way back to childhood when the meals were ready when we got home and we were sure of our places at the table.” Yes this rings true. I enjoyed reading Renee’s poem, I remember dining alone somewhere between solitude and loneliness when I was single. Now I long for those days lol. Such a lovely piece of writing. Lately I’ve been dining with Mulder and Scully, I just love a good conspiracy.

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  9. Thanks for posting this poem, Jama. Even though I just finished lunch, my stomach was grumbling from the scrumptious food and company! I sometimes dream (not daydream) about Hugh Grant, I must confess. I love all his movies and particularly enjoyed his cameo as the foppish painter, Finn, in Restoration – deliciously clever and funny!

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    1. Glad you liked the poem, Matt. I imagine with your culinary skills a wide range of dinner guests would be anxious to sit at your table.

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  10. Wow….to embrace and consider the difference between loneliness and solitude. What a sharp thought and incredible poem to emerge from it. I used to have guests visit me all the time when I had more time. Oh, the conversations I could have with my imaginary friends. Then, I grew up. I’d like to grow young again. Thanks for a delightful post.

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  11. Wow, Jama, that’s quite a pack of boys you run with. 🙂 Thank you for this imaginative post which brings to mind all sorts of things! My father is my most frequent supper guest. Others include Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter Rose; Katherine Paterson, Gary Paulsen, Mozart and Sacagawea. 🙂 xo

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  12. Great timing. I am rarely home alone so, when it happens I really enjoy the solitude. Today, as it happens, is one such day and i am sharing it with all my Poetry Friday friends, and loving it.

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  13. For me, this poem is like a bowl of M&Ms because I can’t stop reading Renée’s words. Her array of dinner guests is enviable, (mine are most frequently columnists for the NY Times), and I keep finding new wonders in how this poem is put together. Like a gourmet meal, everything melds together and I am savoring every bit of this exquisite nourishment. Thank you for sharing, Jama!

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    1. So glad you like the poem, Catherine. I’ve often gone back for seconds and thirds reading this poem. Sounds like your table guests are quite stimulating — those columnists also join me at times. 🙂

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  14. I know that someday, perhaps my dinner companion of 30+ years will be gone and I’ll dine alone for years and years after that. This post hugs my heart and reminds me that I will NEVER EVER be truly alone, at the table or otherwise. Thank you!

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  15. I haven’t been by in a while, Jama, so all over again: WOW. What a post. I’m not usually a fan of longer poems, but Renee held me. “to childhood when the meals were ready when we got home
    and we were sure of our places”

    You know, when Colin walked in I didn’t get it for a split second and I thought he was you real actual not secret husband! I believe he exists, although I’m not sure how I know that, and I always wonder how *he* feels about all your dalliances and appreciations. : )

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  16. Glad Renee’s poem resonated with you, Heidi. The line you quoted really stood out for me too.

    Yes, there is a “real actual” husband who happens to be an excellent sous chef, who often tracks down unusual ingredients or props I need for my posts. He rarely reads the blog, but he enjoys all the treats I make for it. He also knows all about my undying devotion to CF, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, et. al. 🙂

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  17. I love all the men in your life, dear! I am a fan of Music and Lyrics with Hugh Grant, Sense Sensibility and Love Actually are tied as my very favorites!
    I like your imagination and your list! Smiles, Robin

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