friday feast: “my mother’s handwriting” by julia wendell

by Julia Wendell

Individual as DNA, it spoke to me
from fridge notes, Christmas tags,
and report cards I took back to school,
with her hurried scrawl at the bottom.

Even now, the ache when I find her
half-cursive, half-print,
as unique as her voice was
sonorous and youthful, even as she aged.

But she is nowhere more present
than in her stash of recipe cards marked
Vegetables and Salads, Meat and Poultry,
as if she’d just penned the headings yesterday.

I scan the green cardboard box
for something yummy and familiar,
reading her hand-me-down script,

more alive than the cherry tree blooming
outside my window, more permanent
than my own body
that once slipped out of hers,

my half-breed penmanship reduced,
like anyone’s, to scribble in the end —
the way we sign our names,
caress a cold ankle or pull up a sheet,

the way we say goodbye
or fix a perfect salad.
She returns to me in fading ballpoint pen:

Press the garlic into the sides
of the wooden bowl.
Add tons of garlic and Parmesan cheese.
Toss and serve. I savor
every dash.

~ posted by permission of the author (Take This Spoon, 2014).

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It wasn’t until I moved to Virginia that Margaret started sending me recipes in the mail.

I requested a few local favorites so I could share a taste of Hawai’i with my new neighbors: Hot Shrimp Dip, Sweet Bread Pudding, Butter Mochi, Korean Kalbi, Cucumber Kimchi, Teriyaki Chicken.

Every so often, she’d send me a surprise recipe or two — a curry vegetable dip I just “had to try,” the Waioli Tea Room Fried Chicken recipe making the rounds at work, a new pancake recipe her sister Ella couldn’t stop raving about. Some were typed on her snazzy IBM Selectric, but most were written in her generous speedy script — breezy handwriting that artfully pinned down chopped parsley, dill weed, yogurt and grated red onion before they had a chance to flit away.

These occasional exchanges, short for, you’re too far away for me to cook for you but since I’m your mother I must make sure you don’t starve to death, took the place of actual letters, which were my Dad’s forte. Busy Margaret was more about random notes, lists, a line or two in a greeting card and hastily jotted recipes, some giving rise to good stories about making, eating, sharing.

I was thrilled to find Julia Wendell’s poem at Alimentum. Talk about someone taking the words right out of your mouth! I’ve always loved studying handwriting, delighted with how size, slant, speed, shape and pressure can reveal mood and personality. Now, when I chance upon an old recipe card, Margaret returns to me “in fading ballpoint pen.” I look harder at her scribbles, hoping to hear more.

“My Mother’s Handwriting” is included in Julia’s brand new chapbook, Take This Spoon (Main Street Rag Publishing Co., 2014). I’ve been slowly savoring each and every food poem and yes, there are family recipes. Julia’s a new-to-me poet; I like her intimate conversational style and use of telling detail to reveal hard truths about family dynamics, personal demons, and the complex relationship we have with food. Wholly accessible with startling emotional resonance, these beautifully crafted poems are not to be missed. But I’ll let Julia herself tell you more about them, since she’s agreed to drop by soon for a chat. Stay tuned!

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This is one of Margaret’s ‘survival recipes’ that I’ve made several times with my own variations. She sometimes whipped up a batch during the week and occasionally served it at beach park picnics. One time she couldn’t figure out why it didn’t taste quite the same. That’s what happens when you forget the beans. 😀

  • 1 lb. pinto beans (soak overnight)
  • 5 cups canned tomatoes
  • 1 lb. green (bell) peppers, chopped
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons salad oil
  • 1-1/2 medium onions, chopped
  • 2-3 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 cup parsley, chopped
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 2-1/2 lb. lean ground round
  • 1 lb ground pork or Italian hot sausage
  • 1/2 cup chili powder
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1-1/2 teaspoon whole cumin seed

1. Wash beans, soak overnight, then cook until tender.

2. Sauté green peppers in oil.

3. Add onions and cook until tender. Add garlic and parsley.

4. Sauté meat in butter 15 minutes; add meat to onion and pepper mixture, stir in chili powder, then cook about 10 minutes. Add beans and rest of spices. Simmer, covered, about an hour.

5. Cook an additional 30 minutes uncovered. Skim fat from top before serving.

Note: Recipe may be halved. Substitute vegetable oil for butter and ground turkey for pork to cut down on fat calories. You can also use canned pinto beans in place of dried.

*   *   *

Julia Wendell grew up in the Allegheny Forest of northwest Pennsylvania. Educated at Cornell University, Boston University, and the University of Iowa, Writer’s Workshop, she left her mid-careers as teacher and editor for the world of horses and three-day eventing. Her children John Logan (a classical sitarist) and Caitlin Saylor (an actor/playwright), grew up with their mother and her husband, poet and critic, Barrett Warner, on their horse farm in northern Baltimore County, where Julia and Barrett still live and work. Julia is enamored of jumping horses over immovable obstacles while galloping cross country.

For more info about Take This Spoon and her other chapbooks, poetry collections, and memoir, visit Julia’s Official Website.

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poetryfriday180Casual poet and serious slurper Diane Mayr is hosting today’s Roundup at Random Noodling. Don your best bibs, polish your chopsticks and feast on all the poetic delights being served up in the blogosphere this week. Bon Appétit!


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wkendcookingiconThis post is also being linked to Beth Fish Read’s Weekend Cooking, where all are invited to share their food-related posts. Drop by for some yummy Coffee Bars and check out what deliciousness the other bloggers are sharing this week!


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


♥ love me some latkes, part one ♥

Oy! It’s Hanukkah already and though I’ve been waiting patiently for a nice Jewish grandmother to adopt me, she hasn’t come forward yet. Cornelius suggested we should just go ahead and make our own latkes while we’re waiting.

Mmmm, latkes — the mere thought of crisp, golden potato pancakes with dabs of sour cream and applesauce makes my mouth water. I can picture mothers and grandmothers busy in the kitchen preparing their special recipes for loved ones, happy families gathered around the table eager to try the latkes first despite all the other delicious dishes being served. And why not? Latkes are irresistible and so comforting, a perfect ode to oil for the Festival of Lights!

Since I really wanted to impress any grandmotherly prospects, I decided to forego the classic white potatoes recipe in favor of something a little different. Actually, I got a special request from poet friend Gail Gerwin to share the Sweet Potato-Apple Latkes recipe from The Apple Lover’s Cookbook which I reviewed recently. I was only too happy to oblige, despite the fact that Gail is too young to be my grandmother (she’s a terrific cook, though, if you remember the delicious Stuffed Cabbage she made for Passover Seder this past April).

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lill pluta lines our pockets

#20 in the Poetry Potluck Series, celebrating National Poetry Month 2012.

Okay, Cutie Pies —  Do you know what day it is??!!!

Maybe I should say: What are you carrying in your pocket today?

I hope that along with a ripe mango, biscuit crumbs, 3 cabbage leaves, 2 chipotle peppers, a handful of lentils, apricot rugelach, 2 cups of oatmeal, 5 blueberry muffins, orzo, almonds and pecans, a bunch of grapes, plain yogurt, shrimpies, a carrot cupcake, wild asparagus, two frozen pie crusts, and a lamb who speaks Irish — there is at least one POEM!

Walla Walla Bing Bang, it’s Poem in Your Pocket Day! — The one day of the year you’re supposed to carry around a favorite poem, stop perfect strangers in the street and read it to them (with feeling). Or maybe impress the person behind you in the grocery checkout line with a little Billy Collins while you’re juggling a few cantaloupes.


*wrings hands, rolls eyes*

Sheesh! Have you learned nothing this month?

It’s a GOOD THING Lill Pluta is joining the Potluck today, because she has the perfect poem for those of you with empty pockets. Yes, I know that I listed Lill as “Kay Pluta” in the Potluck Menu. That’s because Ms. Pluta goes by a few different names — sometimes it’s “Lillian Pluta,” other times, it’s “Kay Pluta,” and today it’s “Lill Pluta.”  You’re allowed to have different names when you’re that awesome.

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scaling the summit with doraine bennett

#17 in the Poetry Potluck Series, celebrating National Poetry Month 2012.

Whenever I see Doraine Bennett’s wonderful blog photo at Dori Reads, in her cool hat and that wonderful “Ta-Da!” expression on her face, I feel like giving her a standing ovation. “Taking the stage” to make others happy is a great way to approach life in general, and Doraine’s heartfelt, insightful posts are such a joy to read.

Though she wears many hats in her busy life as reader, editor, bookseller and writer of fiction, nonfiction and poetry, I’m especially pleased to be able to shine the spotlight today on Dori’s talent as a poet. On a Poetry Friday back in February, I read her beautiful poem, “What My Mother Taught Me,” and knew I just had to invite her to join the Potluck.

The poem she’s sharing today will resonate with anyone who’s ever experienced the fear and trepidation of meeting a new challenge. That’s pretty much all of us, right? But writers, especially, will know exactly what Doraine is talking about. Scaling a mountain is an apt metaphor for writing in general. Even if there are others to cheer you on, it’s a journey you ultimately have to take alone, often stumbling around in the dark until you find the right path. Oh, but when you finally reach the summit, what a view!

Dori’s hiked to this outcrop at Satulah, climbing beneath 12-foot high laurel and rhododendron.

Doraine: I wrote this poem about five years ago. It’s unpublished, but I like it a lot. Maybe because there is a place attached to its composition—a lovely mountain cabin in the Appalachians where my husband and I spent a lot of time. Maybe because it puts into words the terror I sometimes feel when trying to get words on paper, before I know exactly where I’m going, before I know how to get there.

Dori’s favorite mountain cabin.

The Lump in My Throat
by Doraine Bennett

Stranded on the descent of Satulah,
lost between beginning and end,
I brood over stones beneath my feet,
dreading darkness.
The cold spreads across my chest,
drips down my arms,
to water nettle, burdock, bull thistle
grown over patches of clay.
I search the canopy for a shaft of light,
signaling open space,
or signs of a trail forged by another,
one more certain of his end.

I breathe slowly,
ignore the snags of greenbriar at my ankles,
the gnats settled in my eyes,
force myself to follow the trampled patch of galax
until the trees break apart.
There, on an island of rock,
I am still.
A red-tailed hawk skims the current beneath my feet.
Shadows creep across the basin
and I know —
there are no words for this,
and no way down but to scale the cliff.

Copyright © 2012 Doraine Bennett. All rights reserved.


I don’t really like cooking much, though I think maybe there was a time I did. I’m best at last minute resourcefulness. Since I’m not a morning person, my best working hours are from late morning until about seven or eight at night. So I’m forever getting lost in what I’m doing only to discover it’s past dinnertime and I haven’t even thought about what to cook. Hence, I’m very good at combining whatever is in the pantry and/or refrigerator and delivering a decent meal in short order, even if it’s late.


Easy Quiche


Deep dish piecrust

1-1 ½ cups of something chopped (8 oz. pkg. of thawed chopped broccoli, large can of salmon, mixed vegetables, leftover veggies and/or meat, or whatever you find in your pantry or fridge)

½ – 1 cup of cheese (depending on how much you have or how much cheesy you want it)

3 eggs

1 cup milk (cream, half and half, canned, coconut, almond. I’ve even used yogurt thinned with milk or water.)

Herbs/salt to taste (I use marjoram with broccoli, dill with salmon, Italian seasoning with mixed vegetables. Use your nose.)


Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

In a bowl, mix veggies/meat with cheese and herbs/salt. Spread evenly in piecrust.

In the same bowl, beat eggs lightly. Add milk and stir. Pour over mixture in piecrust.

Bake 45-50 minutes, until center feels firm or knife comes out clean.

**I usually make two at a time, since there are two piecrusts in the pack. Our favorites are a mix of one broccoli and one salmon.



Doraine Bennett wears many hats in the writing/publishing world. She is the editor of the Infantry Bugler, a quarterly magazine for the National Infantry Association, where she has interviewed generals and photographed drones.

As a sales representative for Delaney Educational Enterprises, Doraine spends a lot of time in schools helping media specialists and literacy specialists find the books they need to help their students. She likes selling books almost as much as she likes reading and writing them. And it keeps her up to date on what books are being published for children in the educational market.

Doraine has written over 30 nonfiction books for children. Three new biographies (Frank Lloyd Wright, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Mae Jemison) will be available in August from Rourke Publishing.

She has had poetry in Columbus State University’s Literary Journal,, Innisfree Poetry Journal, and the Birmingham Arts Journal.

Doraine and her husband Cliff live in Columbus, Georgia, in a little house with a creek in the back yard and lots of flowers.


Previously: Menu/Giveaway/Door PrizesApril Pulley SayreMary QuattlebaumHelen FrostLinda AshmanGail Gerwin, Martha Calderaro, Kathi Appelt, Robyn Hood Black, Charles Waters, Adele Kenny, Linda Baie, Lesa Medley, Leslie Muir, Margarita Engle, Sondra Gash.


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

leslie muir, my cajun queen

#14 in the Poetry Potluck Series, celebrating National Poetry Month 2012.

Who dat? My beb Leslie Muir!

Choooh, she cute, no?

Laissez les bon temps rouler!

Leave it to Leslie, one of my favorite picture book authors, to two-step into our little shindig and kick it up three, four, ten thousand notches. No surprise, dis hot mama peppery poet is always cookin’. When she’s not baking her famous bread or assembling yet another doughnut cake, she’s tossing together a bunch of tasty, chewy, spicy words and making new stories. We don’t call her “Bakery Babe” for nothing.

Cafe du Monde beignets via Chuck Yaeger

Remember when she had those mice baking a birthday cake in the middle of the night? What about that grumpy hedgehog sucking down his celery soup and shaking his maracas with his neighbor Paprika? Maybe you prefer sinking your fangs into something juicy or chomping on crispy beetles? Whatever your pleasure, Leslie knows how to serve it up!

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