Faith Shearin’s “A Few Things I Ate” (+ a recipe!)

Lucky me, poet friend and kindred spirit Andrea Potos had the Poetry East Spring 2017 Food Issue sent to me shortly after it came out last year. You can bet I’ve been savoring and feasting on it ever since (thanks again, Andrea!).

This special issue, published by DePaul University, contains 49 poems presented in seven courses (truly the perfect meal), along with seven delectable recipes and a bevy of beautiful fine art paintings.

In the Main Course section, I was especially taken with Faith Shearin’s poem, “A Few Things I Ate.” The conversational style drew me in immediately, and I love how Faith built a captivating narrative with an embellished list of telling details, how she subtly wove in deeper regrets as well as fond memories. It’s wonderful how carefully chosen specifics can be so universally relatable.

Are we not all a product of what we’ve eaten throughout our lives? The countless foods, with their why’s and whens and wherefores, reveal our unique, personal stories.

I thank Faith for permission to share her poem, for answering my questions about it, and for her yummy recipe. Enjoy!


Tailleuses de soupe by François Barraud (1933)


by Faith Shearin

There are a few things I’m sorry I ate: a piece of fried chicken
in an all-night diner that bled when I cut into it,
a soup in an elegant French restaurant where I encountered
a mysterious ring of plastic. Also: a bowl of spaghetti served
with so many long strands of hair I wondered who,
in the kitchen, had gone bald. I’m sorry I ate the fast food
cookies that tasted like paper the same way I am sorry
I let certain men kiss me or hold my hand. I’m especially sorry
I ate a certain hot dog on a train that had been twirling for days
on a lukewarm display. Forgive me for all that cafeteria food
in college: packaged, bland, frozen so long it could not
remember flavor. And, hungry in my dorm, I ate bags
of stale lies from vending machines, once even a pair
of expired Twinkies filled with a terrible chemical cream
I am still digesting. After my daughter was born I bought
so much organic baby food my husband found the jars
everywhere: little glass wishes. One winter I ate exotic fruits
from upscale stores so expensive I might have flown instead
to a distant tropical island. Then, careless, I ate
from containers only my microwave understood. I know
what food is supposed to be but often isn’t; I know
who I might have been if I ate whatever I should have eaten.
Remember the time we ate Ethiopian food and spent
a week dreaming so vividly our real life grew pale?
Or the day we ate so much spice in our Thai food
that our mouths were softer? I’m not sorry I ate
all those ice cream sandwiches from my grandmother’s
freezer and drank those Pepsis with her on the way
to Kmart to buy more pink, plastic toys. She liked
the way sugar made me lively, and anyway,
she was suggesting the possibility of pleasure.
She made a vegetable soup that simmered all day
on the stove: growing deeper, more convincing,
and a carrot cake with cream cheese icing that floated
on my tongue like love. Now I am middle-aged. I am fat
and eating salads or, before bed, talking myself
into rice cakes that taste like despair. My father
is diabetic and must have everything whole wheat
and lean and my sister can’t have any salt. I’m sorry
I ate all that cereal when we first got married,
by myself in the kitchen, the milk pale and worried.
Remember how I covered my fruit with cheese
and mayonnaise? I’m not sorry, whatever
you might say. Then there were the lunches
we ate on the beach, watching the seals
sun themselves: thick chicken sandwiches wrapped
in a foil so silver they must have been valuable.

~ posted by permission of the author, © Poetry East: No. 90 (Food), Spring 2017.


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Love Me Some Spaghetti: “Good Taste” by Michelle Holland

by Michelle Holland

“This isn’t spaghetti,” my daughter says loudly to the waiter who is pouring the first taste of a fifty-dollar bottle of wine for our host.

And I have to agree. Take me back
to when I hadn’t discovered
sun-dried tomatoes, fresh basil
and angel-hair pasta.
Hadn’t begun to refine my pork roast past,
or stay cool within my nodding circle
of low cholesterol friends.
I’ve learned the best restaurants,
sigh at the price of saffron,
accept only thin buttery lettuce.

Why should I shun the diner’s stout coffee
and mashed potatoes from a box,
and frequent instead the new coffee bar
with raspberry flavour and mocha and Java,
those little brittle Italian breads,
so refined?

My mom made sauce
red and sweet from cans of Contadina
and spread it out, ladled it out
on thick, straight spaghetti noodles.

Not one of us said, “Pasta.”

She made meatloaf and potatoes,
used garlic salt in plastic shakers,
served fluffy, white bread,
the kind that stuck in wads
to the roof of my mouth.

Big meals in big pots
served over the counter,
fat meatballs, mostly bread.
This was food, quick, filling,
not savored. Our due.

We held up our plates
for mom to fill once more
before we abandoned the table
for the urgent games of dusk,
hide and seek, and pick-up basketball
under the street light.

My daughter knows
the emperor has no clothes,
and for fifteen dollars an entree,
we should recognize the sauce.

The richness of our need,
the effortless nature of eating what could fill,
where is it?
I will listen to my daughter,
join her disdain for spaghetti
that is not spaghetti.
My life is a closed circle
traveling out,
the love of meatballs always on the periphery.

~ from Written With a Spoon: A Poet’s Cookbook, edited by Nancy Fay and Judith Rafaela (Sherman Asher Publishing, 1996)


You want some now, don’t you? Well, here you go. Help yourself!

via Betty Crocker


This poem got me thinking about how complicated eating has become. We didn’t have “pasta” growing up, just good old spaghetti. Remember when it was either white bread or brown bread, instead of whole grain, multigrain, seven grain, cracked wheat, honey wheat, German dark wheat, oatmeal, fifteen grain, with or without seeds?

Just like designer clothes, there’s designer food. Cool people only eat eggs laid by liberated chickens, drink water bottled in France, and swear by “non-GMO,” “organic,” “grass-fed,” “sustainable,” “100% natural.”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all on the side of healthy eating, being kind to the planet, and I know first hand about food allergies. I just wonder about people who go “gluten free” not from necessity, but fad. These days, it’s even hard to invite people over — everyone’s on some kind of “special diet”: lowfat, vegan, vegetarian, dairy-free, no artificial colors or preservatives, paleo, low carb, low calorie, low (or no) sugar. Sigh.

How I yearn for simpler times! I don’t want to worry about whether what I’m eating is politically correct, nor do I want to pay a fortune for three teensy but artfully arranged slices of tenderloin on a sleek white plate in a fancy restaurant. I don’t want to fall into the “food as status symbol” trap.

Just give me comfort food, plain and simple, preferably prepared by my mother. Her spaghetti rates pretty high on my list. She never used a recipe for her sauce, and it came out a little different each time. But it always tasted so good. After all, the best spice for any dish is love.

Speaking of spaghetti, I do believe it’s the great equalizer. Whether you’re young or old, rich or poor, spaghetti always hits the spot and takes you right back. Just ask these folks:

Louis Armstrong tucks into a plate of spaghetti in Rome with his wife Lucille in 1949.

What’s the best spaghetti you’ve ever had? 🙂


The wonderful and talented Jone MacCulloch is hosting the Roundup at Check It Out. Noodle on over to view the complete menu of poetic goodness being served up in the blogosphere this week. Are you eating spaghetti this weekend? 🙂


“Everything you see I owe to spaghetti.” ~ Sophia Loren

Copyright © 2018 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

poetry friday roundup: coffee and donuts edition

“To find inner peace, search deep inside yourself. Is there a donut there? If not, take corrective action.” ~ Anonymous

When the going gets tough, the tough eat donuts —

(and they read good poems). 🙂

Welcome to Poetry Friday at Alphabet Soup!

I was thinking the other day — as aging dessert maniacs conscientious bloggers are wont to do — about the guilt factor that comes with eating sweets.

With age and unceremoniously acquired girth, this guilt steadily increases. Bad for your health! Too much sugar!  Put that cookie down. Now.


Times are tough. What’s a non-smoking teetotaler supposed to do? Why, pick up a copy of The Book of Donuts, of course! This delightfully sprinkled confection of a poetry anthology, edited by Jason Lee Brown and Shanie Latham, contains fifty-four poems by fifty-one poets for your nibbling, chewing, scarfing, and feasting pleasure.

And every single one of them is calorie free!

The poems do brim with emotion, insight, reflection, and candor, illuminating how this humble pastry figures in our everyday lives.

Today I’m happy to share a sample poem by Seattle-based poet Martha Silano, who so artfully describes that sense of deprivation many of us feel. I’m just glad I don’t live near a Voodoo Doughnut shop, or I’d be in BIG trouble.


“Krispy Kreme Dozen” by Joel Penkman (2011)


What can I say that hasn’t been said

about the old-fashioned glazed, the buttermilk bar,
the feather boa, the maple blazer blunt? Truth is,

I eat them rarely, less than once a year. I hadn’t
considered my ascetic life till I sat opposite

a woman smiling and moaning as she licked
each spoonful of tiramisu. What’s become

of the kid who ate so much Rocky Road
she made herself sick? I want to be that girl,

oblivious of the connection between indulgence
and a thigh’s girth, between powder-sugared lips

and the needle on a scale, but I am so far gone,
so not a sensualist as I jog past Voodoo Donut

where the bearded and the tattooed, the pierced
and the ski-capped, wait for their Dirty Snowballs,

their Tangfastics, their Raspberry Romeos.
I’ve overdue for a Pot Hole, a Diablos Rex,

to down an entire bag of Sprinkle Cakes,
my mouth transformed to an icing rainbow.

Where is that me who raced to the front door
when her uncle showed up with the box

of Dunkin’ Donuts, eager to devour the goopiest
jelly, the most velvety Bavarian Kreme?

by Martha Silano, from The Book of Donuts, edited by Jason Lee Brown & Shanie Latham (Terrapin Books, 2017).

Voodoo Doughnuts photo by Anna Maybach/5280)


Like Martha, I might eat a donut at most once a year. Of all the treats out there, I feel guiltiest about donuts. Yes, I ate one of the donut props in the first photo. I dutifully made this great sacrifice on your behalf. 😀

What’s your relationship with donuts? What is your favorite kind?

After you’ve licked the glaze off your fingers, please add your links to Mr Linky below. Enjoy all the posts by your fellow poetry lovers. Thanks for joining us this week!




Thanks to all who entered the last two book giveaways.

Here are the winners:

For PIZZA DAY, the winner is Candace at Beth Fish Reads!

For AGUA, AGÜITA/WATER, LITTLE WATER, the winner is Diane Mayr!!

Congratulations, Candace and Diane!! Please send along your snail mail addresses so we can dispatch your books.

Thanks again, everyone. Another giveaway coming up next Friday. 🙂



Hand-signed Donut print available from Kendyll Hillegas’s Etsy Shop
Another cup of coffee for the road?



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

to picnic or not to picnic?

“If ants are such busy workers, how come they find time to go to all the picnics?” ~ Marie Dressler

“Tuscan Picnic” by Janet Kruskamp”

What a nice day for a picnic! Let’s pack our hampers full of delectable goodies to eat and drink, drive out to the beautiful, unspoiled countryside, and have a grand time.

Or maybe not.


“Picnic at the Eiffel Tower” by Carole Foret


by Faith Shearin

So many things can ruin a picnic—
mosquitoes, for instance, arriving
in a gray hum or black flies or a wind
strong enough to blow napkins
over the lawn like white butterflies,
steaks stolen by dogs, unruly fire,
thunderstorms that come on suddenly,
clouds converging over a field,
where you have just unpacked
your basket. It’s amazing, really,
that people have picnics at all
considering how many plates
have fallen in the dirt and how many
hot dogs have erupted in black blisters,
how many children have climbed hills
alive with poison ivy and how much ice
has melted before the drinks
were ever poured. It’s amazing
how many people still want to eat
on a blanket anyway, are still willing
to take their chances, to endure
whatever may fall or bite. Either they
don’t consider the odds of success
or they don’t care. Some of them
must not mind the stains on their pants,
the heavy watermelon that isn’t sweet
once it’s carved. Some must understand
the way lightning is likely to strike
an open field. Even so—they wrap up
a few pieces of fried chicken, fold
a tablecloth until it is as small as hope.
They carry an umbrella or a jacket
that they accidentally drop on the ground
where it fills with bees. They leave
the houses they built to keep them safe
and eat uncovered, ignoring the thunder,
their egg salad growing dangerously hot.

~ from Telling the Bees (Stephen F. Austin University Press, 2015)


“Holyday/The Picnic” by James Tissot (ca. 1876)

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munching on frank o’hara’s “lines for the fortune cookies”

“It may be that poetry makes life’s nebulous events tangible to me and restores their detail; or conversely, that poetry brings forth the intangible quality of incidents which are all too concrete and circumstantial. Or each on specific occasions, or both all the time.” ~ Frank O’Hara

via Pop Sugar

It’s always fun, after a delicious Chinese meal of won ton soup, spring rolls, lemon chicken, sweet and sour pork, Peking duck, steamed sea bass, and beef chow fun, to take that last sip of jasmine tea and crack open your fortune cookie.

Oh, the anticipation as you hope for something positive: “You will meet a tall British actor whose last name rhymes with ‘girth,'” “You will write the next picture book bestseller,” or, “You will travel to a foreign land and have many exciting adventures.” 🙂

For those few seconds before I remove that little slip of paper, anything is possible. I hold my breath as I read, “I cannot help you. I am just a cookie,” or, “You will be hungry again in 30 minutes.” On a really good day, I’ll get “You have rice in your teeth.”

Nothing that helps the digestion more than a cheeky cookie.

I’ve always wondered about the people who write these fortunes. Seems like it would be a blast. You have the power to determine destiny . . . or, at the very least, make someone feel good. If you’re a poet, you can take fortune cookie fortunes to the next level. If you’re Frank O’Hara, you can create food for thought that is thoroughly charming and delightful.


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