Friday, October 30, 2009

Kenneth Koch, travel

As many of you are aware, husband and I will be away on vacation for the week and a half or so. I will have limited internet access while away, but thanks to the magic of scheduled posting, this blog will be updated several times while I’m gone. I won’t be able to respond to questions or comments until I return, so please don’t think I’m spurning you.
I would never do that.

In honor of travel, I thought I’d post a poem by Kenneth Koch. Koch was by all accounts a lighthearted guy who wrote relatively breezy and fun poems. Unlike Mark Strand, whose humor gilds a pervasive darkness, Koch suffers under the strain of treating his subjects with sufficient earnestness.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Chik'n Rice

Today, we’re featuring “a recipe you almost certainly will never make,” unless you are among my ten or so Adventist readers, in which case you probably already know how to make it. “It” is a dish that I think of – complete with misspelling and apostrophe – as “Chik’n Rice.”

It can be frustrating to have grown up in a little-known religious subculture. Lacking Mormons’ sexy polygamy history, Adventists don’t have much pop culture currency. People tend to confuse them with other fringe religious groups.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Blueberry Almond Crumb Muffins

This recipe is very loosely based off this one this one, which I pulled from allrecipes about 800 years ago.  Before I became an adventurous baker, I made the recipe as suggested several times.  It's plenty good, but it wasn't quite what I was looking for in the perfect blueberry muffin.  This is.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

William Butler Yeats

Yeats should require little introduction. One of my undergraduate professors likened him to Bugs Bunny in the carrot factory episode – junk in, carrots (or poetry) out – on account of Yeats’ odd panoply of belief systems. He found it odd that such a crackpot was such a great poet.

I think Yeats was confused and more than a little conflicted by the rang of forces striving to claim his loyalty. The proliferating mythologies to which he ascribed seem an effort to create a better realm, one more worthy of his devotion. Yet even this realm was imperiled by the encroachment of dark forces.

Friday, October 23, 2009

White Chocolate Apricot Chunk Cookies

These are cookie nirvana. This recipe is based off a Martha Stewart recipe, but as per usual, I have made of it my own special cookie concoction. Not that the original is lacking. Martha, as we know, is not a woman to whiff a batch of cookies. And I respect that. I honor it.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Eugenio Montale

I don’t know a great deal about Montale. He was a favorite of my undergraduate advisor, who made us all rush out to buy his complete works (as translated by) Jonathan Galassi in Hardcover. At the time, this was quite an investment, but it is a beautiful book and one that has proven a pleasure over the years.

In this translation – and perhaps this is inherent to translation – the poetry possess greater consistency of tone and emotional pitch than I suspect Montale actually accomplished. This can induce a certain passive reading experience. Last time I was flipping through the poems, I realized after a few minutes that I was hardly reading – rather, I had entered something like a trance state in which snippets of metaphor were languidly floating through my mind while the bulk of my conscious thought was devoted toward running through my day’s to-do list and assuring I had checked all the boxes.

That was a rather convoluted way of confessing that I may not be the closest reader of Montale’s work, but it’s lovely all the same. Below the jump is a rueful and charming love poem.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Cinnamon Chocolate Chip Coffee Cake

Coffee cake is hard to ruin. Nonetheless, every time I make coffee cake, I end up on pins and needles until it comes out of the oven and I’ve sliced into it. This is entirely my fault. I’m unable to leave a good recipe alone and bake as directed. I stubbornly insist on mucking about with demonstrably good things.

Take this Smitten Kitchen recipe. It looks delightful – nay, it is delightful. And it sounded like just the thing. Except … (there’s always an “except”), her recipe calls for two cups of sour cream. I’ve had coffee cakes with that much sour cream before and found the flavor overpowering and the texture so rich that they approached cheesecake levels of decadence. Since I’m on a huge baking-with-yoghurt kick, I thought it would make a good replacement. Also, I really like nuts in my coffee cake, so I wanted to add them. And here’s where I’m just a big show-off: I wanted to use a bundt pan, not the 9x13 pan indicated, for a higher visual impact factor. Sometimes, even I am astonished by my frivolity.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Elizabeth Bishop

Elizabeth Bishop led a peripatetic existence. Raised in New England and Nova Scotia, an inheritance left her financially independent, and she spent much of her adult life in warm and vaguely exotic locales – Paris, Key West, Brazil. None succeeded in providing a real home. Her poetry suggests someone deeply ill-at-ease with her surroundings, no matter where they happened to be, and with her fellow humans, whose emotional terrains are foreign and frighteningly volatile.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Quiche Squares

This is a recipe I got from my stepmother. She often serves it at holiday breakfasts with bacon, french toast, fresh fruit, and other assorted goodies. I likewise enjoy it for breakfast, but it makes an equally nice  dinner. Paired with a green salad and bread if you want it, it makes a tasty and un-fussy weeknight meal.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls with Cream Cheese Frosting

I’d been craving Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls for the better part of two weeks. Ever since I saw this recipe (via macheesmo), I had been tormented by visions of fresh, gooey, pumpkin-y goodness.

Not that I’d ever had such a thing. Last time I had fresh-baked cinnamon rolls was back when I took Advanced Food in high school. That’s the sort of course they had at my religious fundamentalist boarding school. I mock that sort of thing now, but actually? Advanced Food was pretty fabulous. We came, we cooked, we ate. Repeatedly, for a whole semester.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Ezra Pound

Ezra Pound has issues. He was an ardent fascist who never renounced his politics. He was committed to an insane asylum right after the Second World War, and it would be nice to believe that his political nastiness was just another manifestation of mental illness and not evidence of a cruel and bullying character. Since viciousness and craziness are not mutually exclusive, however, I’m not prepared to absolve him.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Bittersweet Chocolate Chip Cookies

Some recipes are bête noirs, recipes that thwart you time and time again no matter how many times you attempt to master them. Apple pie is in this category for me. I always try to fancy it up, and the results are always okay but less-than-ideal. I keep attempting to make amaretto caramel sauce for the filling, and it always ends up thin and runny. Another trick is using ground almonds in the crust, which does add flavor but reduces the flakiness of the pastry. I like a high fruit-to-crust ratio, so I also tend to overfill the pie. This leads to an underbaked middle and a filling that won’t set.

The best apple pie I ever made was last Christmas at my mom’s. Since I’m the family baker –and in fairness, because I always complain about my mom’s pie (she makes an all-margarine crust, for example), I was assigned the task of making two pies and a batch of Christmas cookies.

Given these assignments, I hardly left the kitchen on Christmas Eve, and I didn’t have the time or energy to get fancy with the pies. My only concessions to creativity were making one plain-top and one crumb-top pie. Neither pie had any special flavorings aside from lemon zest in the filling. I didn’t have as many apples as I thought I wanted, so neither was over-filled with fruit.

Both pies were both perfect. That’s the thing about apple pie: it needs no embellishment. I told myself I would remember this lesson next time I made pie … but I didn’t. Visions of caramel-drenched apples stymied me once again.

This recipe is the opposite of apple pie. It turns out perfectly every time.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Mark Strand

Having said that I prefer my poets dead and that I don’t like to meet my poets, I am now going to contradict myself. This will not be a huge self-betrayal. To say that I have “met” Mark Strand is true only in the briefest and most literal sense. He gave a reading at my undergrad alma mater, and I was momentarily introduced to him by my advisor.

Mark Strand is not a young man. The incident to which I refer was around a decade ago, by which time he was already plenty old, especially from the perspective of a college student. I knew he was old, and I went to the reading expecting your typical geriatric shuffler.

That he was not. Mark Strand has charisma in such overwhelming superabundance that I felt vaguely elated within the space of ten seconds of meeting him – which is a good thing, since that’s pretty much all I saw of him.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Sour Cream Cheddar Cheese Biscuits (for one or two)

Among my sorrows is the fact that husband is not fond of biscuits. He is not enticed by fresh-baked biscuits with strawberry jam. He does not like them them slathered in gravy. He does not much care for their British cousin, scones with currants and clotted cream. He is more or less impervious to the appeal of the biscuit family of baked goods.

This is crazy. As a southern girl, I honestly don’t think I ever met anyone before him who doesn’t like a good biscuit. He did not confess his lukewarm feelings toward biscuits until after we were married, so I had been ignorantly and happily baking them for years. Sure, I noticed that I tended to eat the bulk of them, and that we had to throw away stale leftover biscuits with surprising regularity, but I thought he was just being health-conscious.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Donald Justice (II)

This poem ought to be a failure. Rather than building toward a coherent whole, it is rather inert and meandering and ends by fizzling off into that ultimate of compositional cop-outs: ellipses.

And yet this poem has stayed with me, provoking some indefinable but definite response. I suppose it’s reassuring that some poems defy my best attempts to formulate a coherent poetics.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Carrot Almond Brown Sugar Bread

The picture below shows my cats, Chester and Lulu. Chester is the brown tabby and – though you can’t make out the extent of his girth from this picture – the fat one. We would like to restrict his diet, but he gobbles up food quickly, and we are worried that LuLu, our thin cat, would be unable to obtain adequate nourriture were we to further limit their kibble rations. Please don’t suggest that we separate them and feed them at different times or in different rooms. I’m far too lazy, and Chester derives so much enjoyment from food that it would be cruel to further curtail his appetites. Also, it clearly takes a lot of fuel to power such sweetness.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Zbigniew Herbert

I hesitate to begin posting works by authors whose poems were not written in English. I don’t enjoy thinking about issues of translation and authority. More vexingly, Herbert wrote most of his work in Poland in the aftermath of World War II and during the Cold War. For an American reader, such work tends to raise political questions that are not central to this particular project.

I am not impugning Zbigniew Herbert, who was possessed of a strong ethical sensibility and has never been accused, so far as I am aware, of being anything like a fellow traveler with the Cold War-era Polish regime. I suppose it’s more that I, a privileged Westerner, feel oddly voyeuristic in my interest. My distance is of such temporal and political magnitude that reading his work feels a bit like indulging in communist oppression kitsch. This is not the fault of the poetry and has nothing to do with its author. I suppose I’ve never shaken the adolescent urge to identify with what I’m reading, and any attempt to relate to that excruciating post-war Eastern European set of experiences is doomed to involve melodrama on my part. In a way, for a nerd like me, Eastern Bloc poetry is the equivalent of a spy novel. The intrigue! The drama! The oppression! The fog!

Classic Cheese Lasagna

This incarnation of cheese lasagna was the product of fatigue and desperation. Husband and I were having company over, and that company included children. I had decided cheese lasagna would be a good and kid-friendly entree. The problem: I couldn’t find any ricotta at Trader Joe’s, and I utterly lacked the energy to make the trip to another store.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Parisian Gnocchi

This is a relative rarity for me: a recipe that hasn’t been substantially futzed with. It’s a Jacques Pepin recipe, and why muck about with perfection?

Parisian gnocchi are the French version of the Italian classic. These gnocchi involve no tiresome fiddling with potatoes. Instead, you make pate choux – the same dough that is the base for éclairs, gougeres, and chouquettes – boil it, top it with cheese (or sauce if you want), and bake it. The resultant gnocchi are like the decadent love child of pastry and pasta.

Marianne Moore

I’m not quite sure what to do with Ms. Moore. She was a plain, sharp, prickly little woman, and she’s a prickly poet, all brittle edges and acerbic burrs. It took me a long time to warm up to her, but being so warmed, I find myself a bit of an acolyte.

Her poetry is not, however, a quick romp through emotional peaks and valleys. She is not the poet to turn to for rapturous exultations on the glories of dew-kissed spring morns or gold-and-umber autumn leaves. She's not the poet for fits of anything, except perhaps pique. I would have hated her had I read her as a teenager. Her work is suited for moments of quiet, irritated contemplation – those moments when you can’t altogether relax, when the radiators are making clanging noises that intrude on your reverie and remind you that it is brutally cold, unforgiving,and unwelcoming outside. And that’s fine. That’s exactly how it ought to be. One had never expected things to be otherwise.

We interrupt your regularly scheduled food-and-poetry blogging

My sister wrote a book! Actually, she's written quite a few of them at this point -- I think it's rather flattering of me to have lost count -- but her new one just came out last week. My very own *autographed* copy arrived in yesterday's post, and I can't wait to read it. It's sure to be brilliant; after all, my sister wrote it. I like to think a certain verbal flair runs in the family. It's also in brown typeface. If that doesn't seal the deal for you, then you're beyond my powers of persuasion.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Vegetarian Couscous

My vegetarian couscous is modeled after this epicurious recipe, but as per usual, I make substantial modifications. I wanted to basically cut this in half, as I’m only cooking for two most week nights, but some of the ingredients aren’t easily divisible (I’m looking at you, can of chickpeas), so I eyeballed and guessed and gave it my best shot.

This has become one of our favorite weeknight meals. It comes together in about 20 minutes and achieves that holy grail of cooking: it's equal parts tasty and healthy.

John Donne

John Donne led quite a life. A ne’er-do-well in his youth, he married his wife, Anne, over the objections of her family. These were not trivial objections: his in-laws had him thrown in jail until it was proven that the marriage was valid. His nuptials ruined his career prospects. After a few years spent living off the charity of friends, he gamely settled into a placid preacher’s existence and sired a dozen children in sixteen years. As one of my more memorable English professors put it, all the guy did was write poetry and … yeah.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Fresh Orange Italian Cream Cake

This week, husband defended his dissertation, and to mark the occasion, I had promised him a cake. This is as much for me as for him – I like having an excuse to take on baking projects, and “because I feel like it” only sometimes suffices.

I told him I’d make anything he wanted, but being rather more knowledgeable about cakes: their varieties and permutations than him, I sent him some links to various recipes that sounded promising. The one he selected was this Fresh Orange Italian Cream Cake from Southern Living.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Donald Justice (I)

I don’t feel very elaborative at the moment, but you probably deserve another poem. Donald Justice was a very fine poet. He died in 2004.

This is among his last published poems. I read somewhere that the last stanza was inspired by Chekhov, and that seems just right to me -- the sense of simple and wholesome labor in an atmosphere of bright sunlight. I am not myself sure that such things are redemptive, but this remains a lovely poem. I have seen it published under two different titles -- they are "Stanzas on a Hidden Theme" and the first line.