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.