#57 in an ongoing series of posts celebrating the alphabet
By now, most of you know I’m a big fan of abecedarian poems.
Of course I like the foodie ones best. But food that mom used to make? Even better!
Many of the foods in Pat Brisson’s poem kindled fond childhood memories — times when “homemade,” “family,” and “love” flavored each delectable mouthful and provided enough nourishment to last a lifetime.
FROM MY MOTHER’S KITCHEN: AN ALPHABET POEM by Pat Brisson
Food my mother made for us Food from A to Zed; Food she baked and cooked and boiled To keep her family fed.
Apple pie with a flaky crust made from Crisco,
Beef stew (with too much gristle),
Chocolate chip cookies from the Tollhouse recipe,
Dates stuffed with walnuts and coated with sugar,
Eggnog at Christmas time,
French toast with butter and cinnamon sugar,
Ginger ale (stirred until flat) for upset stomachs,
Hamburgers and hot dogs on the 4th of July,
Ice cream? Breyer’s coffee for her and Neapolitan for us,
Junket rennet custard, a slippery, slidey treat,
Ketchup on our meatloaf,
Ladyfingers with fresh strawberries and whipped cream,
Mincemeat pies at the holidays, (eaten only by the grown-ups),
Noodles, broad and buttery,
Oatmeal cookies flavored with lemon,
Potatoes, usually boiled,
Quick bread, mostly date and nut,
Ravioli from Chef Boyardee,
Spaghetti with meat sauce,
Tapioca pudding with cinnamon on top,
Upside down peach cake,
Vanilla pudding made from scratch, served over steamed apples and yellow cake,
Watermelon slices with too many seeds,
10X confectioners sugar dusted on top of lemon pound cake,
Yeast bread warm from the oven with butter melting into it,
Zwieback when we were very young.
Food my mother made for us Food from A to Zed; Food she baked and cooked and boiled To keep her family fed.
I credit Gail with piquing my interest in Jewish culture and cuisine, and we used to joke about my wanting to find a nice Jewish grandmother to adopt me. Kind, generous, and very loving, Gail was devoted to her family and was especially proud of her grandchildren, whom she referred to as “my raison d’être.”
Gail’s death came as a complete shock to me. I learned about it on Facebook while casually scrolling through my newsfeed one day. I had no idea she had been battling cancer, and it was devastating to hear that she was gone. Not too long before that she had emailed a photo of her grandson’s bar mitzvah, so I assumed all was well.
“Man who invented the hamburger was smart; man who invented the cheeseburger was a genius.” ~ Matthew McConaughey
SHORT-ORDER COOK by Jim Daniels
An average joe comes in
and orders thirty cheeseburgers and thirty fries.
I wait for him to pay before I start cooking.
He ain’t no average joe.
The grill is just big enough for ten rows of three.
I slap the burgers down
throw two buckets of fries in the deep frier
and they pop pop, spit spit . . .
pssss . . .
The counter girls laugh.
It is the crucial point —
they are ready for the cheese:
my fingers shake as I tear off slices
toss them on the burgers/fries done/dump/
refill buckets/burgers ready/flip into buns/
beat that melting cheese/wrap burgers in plastic/
into paper bags/fried done/dump/fill thirty bags/
bring them to the counter/wipe sweat on sleeve
and smile at the counter girls.
I puff my chest out and bellow:
Thirty cheeseburgers! Thirty fries!
I grab a handful of ice, toss it in my mouth
do a little dance and walk back to the grill.
Pressure, responsibility, success.
Thirty cheeseburgers, thirty fries.
Nothing beats the good feeling of a job well done. As Philip Stanhope, the 4th Earl of Chesterfield once said, “Whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing well.”
Flipping burgers, a minimum wage job — nothing out of the ordinary. Yet it’s not every day one is asked to fill a thirty cheeseburger/thirty fries order, and I like how this particular short-order cook pulled if off with such aplomb.
Not letting the counter girls distract him, keeping his nerves in check, orchestrating every move as he jockeys burgers, cheese, buns, fries, wrapping and bagging — quite a feat. He had a system and it worked. Yes, he should be proud, munch on that ice and do a little dance!
There is no job too small to warrant our full attention. We make our own rewards. Chances are, none of the counter girls could have done what the short-order cook did, or as well. Sure, he had probably cooked dozens of cheeseburgers before, just not thirty all at once. But when the need arose, everything he had done up until then prepared him to meet that challenge.
The masterful cheeseburger and fries paintings in this post were created by Dutch megarealistic artist Tjalf Spaarnay. Yes, they look like photos, and give us the chance to re-examine ordinary foods we take for granted. I love how he has elevated fast food, showing it off in beautiful, meticulous, mouthwatering detail (french fries just happen to be Spaarnay’s favorite).
In his poem, Jim Daniels gave the often overlooked or undervalued fast food worker a moment in the spotlight, a good reminder to relish small victories because they keep us going and growing.
Okay, now I really want a cheeseburger with fries . . . and a little dessert, of course. 🙂
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More giveaways coming soon, so stay tuned!
Erin is hosting the Roundup at The Water’s Edge. Twinkle toe on over and check out the full menu of poetic goodness being served up in the blogosphere this week. Happy Reading!
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!
A FEW THINGS I ATE 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.
“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,
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
the love of meatballs always on the periphery.
You want some now, don’t you? Well, here you go. Help yourself!
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:
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? 🙂