lesa medley: for the love of asparagus

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

Not too long ago, I met a kindred spirit while roaming the wilds of the internet. Perhaps it was the aroma of freshly baked bread or our mutual love of velvety chocolate pudding that drew us together. I’m sure a penchant for poetry and food memoirs also had something to do with it.

In any case, it’s been fun getting to know Lesa Medley, Legal Assistant/Office Manager by day, poet by night, and I’m happy she agreed to join our little Potluck. She’s brought along a touch of Spring today — a poem about the importance of honoring inklings and intuition, which was recently published in the anthology, Shared Light (Willow Glen Poetry Project, 2011), a funny-in-hindsight story about wild asparagus, and a favorite pasta recipe. I’d heard of wild onions before, but never wild asparagus. Clearly I need to get out more. ☺

Lesa: This was just one of those times where everything seems to come together effortlessly. Doesn’t happen very often, but when it does . . .

I lead writing groups and sometimes put together exercise sheets with prompts, phrases, poems and words. One day I pulled one of them out and a phrase and a couple of the words jumped out at me and I started writing. I have been working hard at making some changes in my life and I think that is where it started from and what was in the back of my mind at the time. It all kinda just flowed together from there. Man, I love when that happens, and it has only happened a couple of times or so for me. I can’t wait for it to happen like that again!

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friday feast: adele kenny’s chosen ghosts

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

Adele with her Yorkshire terrier, Chaucey

There’s nothing I love more than having a new-to-me poet like Gail Gerwin knock on my virtual kitchen door with a delicious poem in hand and then have that gift lead to even more deliciousness.

After “meeting” Gail and swooning over the poem sequence she’d written about her mother Cele’s cooking, I asked if she knew of any other poets who might like to join our Potluck. She suggested Sondra Gast (who’ll be here next week) and today’s lovely guest, Adele Kenny.

Adele’s paternal grandparents (1920)

Adele is truly a poet’s poet; her first poems date back to childhood (wonderful samples here), and just by reading today’s excerpt you’ll get a good sense of the exquisite craftsmanship she employs in her writing. I love the layers of emotion, her textured, sensual imagery, crisp diction, and haunting lyricism.

Such a rare treat to have Adele share this ancestral communion with us, as well as the wonderful family photos and recipe. A genealogy buff, Adele’s been able to trace her family back to 1600 in Staffordshire! With my love of England and Irish American relatives, it’s safe to say Adele is a kindred spirit. ☺

Adele: The following poem is an updated excerpt from the title poem of my book Chosen Ghosts (Muse-Pie Press, 2001).  I worked on the first version of this poem while I was “gathering history” in a genealogical study of my Irish and English ancestors, and this poem tells how welcome those “ghosts” are in my life. Sharing this poem, a family recipe, and a bit about their backstories is a special kind of  “life writing.”

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charles waters heats things up

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

Charles and Heidi ham it up.

Holy Soup Spoon!  Mr. Excitement is here!

Can you feel the joy and the love?  I’m tickled pink that actor and children’s poet Charles Waters agreed to join our Potluck this year. I’m sure whoever coined the phrase, “life of the party,” must have had him in mind.

I first “met” Charles at one of GottaBook’s 30 Poets/30 Days events. Immediately loved his positivity, sense of humor and offbeat child-centric take on life. He’s a veritable wellspring of creative energy who, interestingly enough, discovered his love for children’s poetry while touring for 3 seasons with Poetry Alive!®.  Performing poetry for kids all over the country inspired him to write his own and eventually develop his one man show, Poetry Time with Uncle Charles.

Charles’s poem and recipe prove that his favorite dish is indeed hot stuff. Sounds like this special chili has helped him write and perform awesome poems and get people of all ages fired up about poetry. Never underestimate the power of a good chipotle!



My friend Isabel’s
Santa Fe Chili
Compels me to act
Downright silly.

My taste buds soar,
I click both heels,
A top confection
Out of all her meals.

Black beans mixed with
Canary rice,
Combined aromas
Made to entice.

Chipotle peppers,
Sour cream,
Like Coltrane’s album

Feel a bit crummy?
Life’s not going well?
Then try Santa Fe Chili
Made by Isabel.

© Charles Waters. All rights reserved.


Charles: Somehow I lucked out and have a friend named Isabel Garcia who cooks for me. She became a vegan a few years ago and cooks the most nourishing, delicious meals you can imagine. Every meal she makes is a favorite of mine, but her Santa Fe Chili rocks my planet. It’s a perfect meal for lunch or dinner; make a side salad, pour yourself a cold beverage and enjoy! By the way, this poem is totally autobiographical because if I’m feeling low (or not) and have this meal, I’m dancing around like Bill Cosby in “The Cosby Show.”

Take that, Jello pudding!

Santa Fe Black Bean Chili

What you’ll need:

2 large stew pots
Medium bowl


-3 cups dried black beans (a 1-lb. bag yields about 2+ cups dried beans — so you’ll need a 2-lb. bag) to produce 9 cups soaked/cooked black beans (or simply use six 15-oz cans, NOT DRAINED)
-1-1/2 inch piece dried brown chipotle (dried jalapeño chiles), soaked in 1/2 cup hot water (use more or less chipotle for desired spiciness)
– 2 teaspoons olive oil
-2 cups diced yellow onion (about 2 onions)
-4 garlic cloves, finely minced
-15-oz can stewed tomatoes, pureed (NOT DRAINED)
-2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
-1 tablespoon molasses
-1 aji dulce pepper (any color), seeded, pureed (use more or less for desired spiciness)
-15-oz can crushed tomatoes
-1 teaspoon cumin
-1 teaspoon ground coriander
-1-1/2 teaspoon paprika
-1/2 teaspoon turmeric
-1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
-1 teaspoon veggie base
-2 teaspoons salt
-Pepper to taste


-Cooked brown rice
-Chopped green onions
-Vegan sour cream
-Sliced green or black olives


1. Soak 3 cups of examined, sorted and rinsed black beans in a pot with 9 cups of water for 8 hours, covered.

After the overnight soak, drain the beans and discard the water.

Put the cleaned black beans back in the pot.

Add 9 cups of water and 1 teaspoon of olive oil to the beans, stir gently.

Bring the beans to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer with lid tilted, checking for tenderness after 90 minutes. If required, cook for additional 30 minutes.

Once desired tenderness is reached, remove from heat, keep the lid on and set aside.

1 a. If serving with brown rice, begin cooking it now before you continue with the recipe.

1 b. If using canned black beans, DO NOT DRAIN! In step #8, simply measure 1 cup of canned beans.

In step #9, add 1 cup of water to the pot along with the remaining cans of beans.

2. Heat ½ cup of water (I use a ceramic cup and heat water in the microwave for 30-45 seconds). Cut piece of dried brown chipotle and place it in the hot water to soak. Set aside for at least 10 minutes.

3. While the chipotle soaks, mince the garlic and finely dice the onions.

4. Heat oil in a separate large stew pot.

5. Add minced garlic and diced onions to heated oil, stirring often. Turn heat down to allow to soften but not to brown.

6. Meanwhile, puree in a blender, the stewed tomatoes, cilantro, aji dulce and molasses. Pour into the blender the soaked chipotle along with the ½ cup of water in which it has been soaking. Puree until completely smooth with no visible chunks.

7. Pour the blender contents into the pot and stir, mixing the softened onions and garlic well. Raise heat slightly.

8. Measure 1 cup of the cooked black beans into a separate bowl, using a ladle to ensure enough of the black beans liquid is collected. Mash the beans well to create a thick paste and then mix the mashed beans into the pot.

9. Pour the remaining cooked beans (and its liquid) into the pot and stir.

10. Add the remaining ingredients – crushed tomatoes, cumin, ground coriander, paprika, turmeric, fresh lime juice, veggie base and salt and stir well.

11. Cover pot and simmer for 20 minutes.

12. After 20 minutes, remove from heat and stir. Cover and set aside for additional 10 minutes.

13. Serve with rice or any combination of optional ingredients.

*Please see more tips and recipes at IsaVegan.com.



Charles Waters has performed professionally in theatres across the country since 1997. He also dedicated 3 years of service to Poetry Alive!, a performance and teaching theatre troupe that reaches an estimated 600,000 students nationwide each year and where he performed in 38 of the 50 states.

His poems will appear in the upcoming anthologies AMAZING PLACES edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC BOOK OF ANIMAL POETRY edited by J. Patrick Lewis (Children’s Poet Laureate of the United States), THE ARROW FINDS ITS MARK: FOUND POEMS edited by Georgia Heard and AND THE CROWD GOES WILD: A GLOBAL GATHERING OF SPORTS POEMS edited by Carol-Ann Hoyte and Heidi Bee Roemer.

He performs his one man show POETRY TIME WITH UNCLE CHARLES to elementary and middle school audiences.

Please check out his website at www.charleswaters.net and his YouTube channel at http://www.youtube.com/user/TheCharlesWaters


Previously: Menu/Giveaway/Door PrizesApril Pulley SayreMary QuattlebaumHelen FrostLinda AshmanGail Gerwin, Martha Calderaro, Kathi Appelt, Robyn Hood Black.


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

friday feast: a special passover celebration with gail fishman gerwin

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

via New Jersey Jewish News

Today I’m very pleased to welcome New Jersey poet Gail Fishman Gerwin to the Potluck, the first of four guest poets who write primarily for adults rather than children. Whether you celebrate Passover or Easter, it’s likely you’ll be spending time this weekend observing holy rituals and sharing special meals with family and friends.

Gail is sharing a poem from her poetic memoir, Sugar and Sand (Full Court Press, 2009), a 2010 Paterson Poetry Prize finalist. “With or Without Rice, a Kitchen Ballet” is one of three poems comprising a segment about Gail’s mother, “Mastering the Art of Cele’s Cooking.”

Most of you know there’s nothing I love more than a recipe/cooking poem, and this slice-of-life beauty provides ample nourishment for body and soul, a delicious blend of family history and cultural heritage. We thank Gail for so generously sharing precious photos of her parents, sister, daughters and grandchildren, four generations in her family who’ve enjoyed stuffed cabbage at Passover. Gail has already made two batches for tonight’s Seder, which will include gefilte fish, matzoh ball soup, brisket, spinach gnocchi, matzoh kugle, sponge cake, and veggies, among other special foods. Yum!

Gail’s daughters, Karen (10) and Kate (7), at the Seder table.

Now, let’s listen to the voices from Cele’s kitchen.

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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.