“Both the cook and the poet are makers. One holds a knife, the other a pen. One grinds fresh pepper over a mound of tender lettuce, while the other adds a period to the end of a sentence or a dash to the end of a line. With available ingredients — vegetables and herbs, rhymes and words — layers of flavor and meaning are infused in the pan and composed on the page.” ~ Nicole Gulotta (Eat This Poem, 2017)
Some of you may remember when Nicole Gulotta wrote a guest post for Alphabet Soup several years ago featuring an Apple Crumb Muffin recipe inspired by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater’s poem “Apple Pockets.”
As a longtime fan of Nicole’s literary food blog, Eat This Poem, I was happy to see her first book come out earlier this year. This summer I finally had a nice chunk of time to give it a careful reading, savoring each word, each poem, each recipe.
Eat This Poem: A Literary Feast of Recipes Inspired by Poetry (Roost Books, 2017) features 75+ new recipes paired with poems by 25 of America’s most beloved poets (Billy Collins, Naomi Shihab Nye, Mark Strand, Mary Oliver, Wendell Berry). Just as she does at her blog, Nicole includes thoughtful commentary on each poem, followed by personal stories about the recipes.
All are presented thematically in five sections: On What Lingers, On Moments in Time, On Growth, On Gathering, and On Splendor. Recipe categories include Breakfasts, Salads, Soups, Snacks and Small Bites, Meat and Seafood, Vegetables/Vegetarian, Desserts and Drinks.
Enjoy Diane Lockward’s “Blueberry,” then read about Nicole’s Christmas morning family tradition of opening stockings by the fireplace while eating muffins (she then tempts us with a recipe for Blueberry Bran Muffins).
Contemplate Joy Harjo’s “Perhaps the World Ends Here” (one of the first food poems I ever shared at Alphabet Soup back in 2007), and then read about how Nicole’s great-grandmother used to slather a chicken in fresh oregano before roasting it for family dinners. Nicole’s recipe for Oregano Roast Chicken had me drooling (imagine the aroma of olive oil and savory spices wafting through your kitchen on a Sunday afternoon).
Do you know Sharon Olds’s bittersweet poem “First Thanksgiving” — about a mother anticipating her daughter’s return home after her first few months away at college? Nicole offers a recipe for Wild Rice with Chestnuts and Leeks, inspired by a semester abroad in London. In December, she took walks around the city the last week she was there to take it all in before returning home. She chanced upon a stall selling hot roasted chestnuts and tasted them for the first time, a wonderful moment that became an indelible memory.
With her beautifully written poetic commentary and delightful backstories, Nicole creates meaningful contexts for her recipes and an invitation to nourish body, mind, and spirit. We read how she learned to cook as a college student, studied poetry in grad school as an English major, gradually embraced and experimented with cooking as a young professional and wife, then found a way to marry her passions for food and writing through blogging.
I love her emphasis on comfort food and personal food history, with a friendly reminder that the best recipes don’t have to be complicated or fancy. Often the simplest of meals — Spaghetti with Parsley and Garlic Oil, or Oven Baked Potatoes — can be wholly satisfying if that is what you need and/or crave. Just as the right poem at the right time fills an emotional need, the right food, prepared mindfully with fresh ingredients, keeps us positive, healthy, and in the right frame of mind to be our best selves.
Reading a poem requires your full attention as you access that quiet inner calm to absorb the meaning of the words. Nicole brings that same sense of stillness and contemplation to cooking with her intimate, meditative style of writing.
More of my favorite pairings:
- “Pot Roast” by Mark Strand | Italian Beef Stew
- “Potato” by Jane Kenyon | Shepherd’s Pie with Sweet Potatoes
- “While Eating a Pear” by Billy Collins | Warm Vanilla-Pear Crumble
- “Tree” by Jane Hirshfield | Cauliflower Soup with Crunchy Beluga Lentils
- “Mushroom” by Mary Oliver | Truffle Risotto with Chanterelles
Today, for your feasting pleasure, I’m sharing a poem from the section “On Growth” with Nicole’s comments and one of the three recipes she paired with it.
by Jehanne Dubrow
Tonight I’m fruit and clove. I’m bergamot.
I drop a teabag in the cup and boil
the kettle until it sings. As if on cue,
a part of me remembers how to brew
the darker things — those years I was a pot
of smoky leaves scented with orange oil.
Truth is: I don’t remember much of school,
the crushed-up taste of it. I was a drink
forgotten on the table, left to cool.
I was a rusted tin marked childhood.
I don’t remember wanting to be good
or bad, but only that I used to sink
in water and wait for something to unfurl,
the scent of summer in the jasmine pearl.
Within this brief sonnet, “darker things” from years past go unnamed, and a new language is formed. For fourteen lines, the poet personifies tea, embodying the familiar flavors of bergamot, fruit, and clove while becoming an invisible cup “forgotten on the table” and recalling the “crushed-up taste” of school. It’s easy to put yourself in her place, walking the halls with friends, pulling notebooks out of a locker, sitting in the bleachers during football games, trying with desperation to grow into the person you are meant to become.
It takes courage to access nearly forgotten experiences, those that simultaneously shaped and shamed us. Although we might outgrow why we once were, faded memories tend to follow us into adulthood, and sometimes we need a cup of tea to make them right, a moment to settle our hearts and allow both the sweet and bitter leaves of our past to steep together.
EARL GREY SHORTBREAD COOKIES
I often sip a warm cup of tea while reading Nicole’s blog. With her emphasis on mindfulness and wellness, and providing readers with nourishment for body and soul, a good cuppa is a soothing accompaniment to reading her inspiring posts. Besides, Nicole herself is a tea drinker. My kind of blogger. And where there is tea, there should be cookies. 🙂
I do love shortbread and had never tasted any tea-infused cookies before. In her recipe headnote, Nicole reveals that she had her first cup of Earl Grey with her roommate Christy at the Orangery in Kensington Gardens. During her semester abroad, she quickly took to the afternoon tea ritual.
Years later, she returned to London with her husband Andrew, and they had afternoon tea at the Dorchester. Now, whenever she eats this shortbread, she thinks of that marvelous day.
I love that this recipe is so easy to make. You add all the dry ingredients to your food processor and give it a good whizz until the loose tea is finely ground. Then you add the almond extract and cubes of room temperature butter.
Once a dough forms, you roll it into a log and chill it for a few hours or overnight before baking. These were buttery with just the right hint of Earl Grey, and I like how the almond extract brightens the flavor.
Now, whenever I eat these, I will think about some of my favorite tea moments in England, like the time my third period students and I “played hooky” and went to Harrod’s for tea, or when I used to take the train to Reeves & Sons in Rochester for a china fix, then leisurely sip a cuppa in a High Street restaurant while I reviewed my purchases for the day.
Warm tea, scrumptious shortbread, good memories. Yum!
Earl Grey Shortbread Cookies
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 3/4 cup powdered sugar
- 2 tablespoons loose Earl Grey tea leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 1-1/2 teaspoons almond extract
- 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature, cubed
- Pulse the flour, sugar, tea, salt, and lemon zest in a food processor until the tea is finely ground. Add the almond extract and butter, process until a dough is just formed, about 30 seconds. At first it may look like the butter has trouble incorporating, but you’ll notice the dough will clump together and gather toward one side of the food processor. Scrape the mound of dough onto a large piece of plastic wrap and roll it into a log, about 2 inches in diameter. Wrap it tightly, twisting each end to close, chill for at least 30 minutes or overnight.
- Preheat the oven to 375°F. Unwrap the dough and cut the log into disks, about 1/3-inch thick. Place the cookies on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for 11 to 12 minutes, or until the edges are just beginning to brown. Let cool slightly, then transfer to a wire rack. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 days.
~ from Eat This Poem: A Literary Feast of Recipes Inspired by Poetry by Nicole Gulotta (Roost Books, 2017), as posted at Jama’s Alphabet Soup.
Nicole Gulotta is the author of Eat This Poem: A Literary Feast of Recipes Inspired by Poetry. She pens a blog by the same name, which has been featured in Saveur, Better Homes and Gardens, The Los Angeles Times, and Poetry. She’s a regular columnist for Life & Thyme, and writes about writing at nicolemgulotta.com. Nicole holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts and studied literature at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and son.
EAT THIS POEM: A Literary Feast of Recipes Inspired by Poetry
written by Nicole Gulotta
published by Roost Books, March 2017
Illustrated Literary Cookbook, 224 pp.
♥ Visit Nicole Online:
“Before we took turns reading our work aloud in a graduate school workshop, poet Mary Ruefle declared that every poem has a central question, a reason for being. The question may be hidden within the space of a semicolon, after a stanza break, or in a metaphor. Sometimes the question is obvious, with a confident question mark, but more often it takes some uncovering on the part of the reader. Once the question is determined, however, the poem begins to reveal itself. What’s left on the page is an answer to what we’re searching for in life, whether it be hope, forgiveness, community, nourishment, or love.” ~ Nicole Gulotta
The lovely and talented Irene Latham is hosting the Roundup at Live Your Poem. Take her a cookie and check out the full menu of poetic goodness being shared in the blogosphere this week. Have a good weekend!
This post is also being linked to Beth Fish Read’s Weekend Cooking, where all are invited to share their food-related posts. Put on your best aprons and bibs, and come join the fun!
* Recipe, excerpts, and illustrations from Eat This Poem copyright © 2017 Nicole Gulotta, published by Roost Books, 2017. All rights reserved.
** Copyright © 2017 Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.