Sunday, November 29, 2009

Fruit Cake

I love fruitcake. I love it earnestly and un-ironically. I love that it’s like the perfect marriage of trail mix and cake. I love its density, its chewiness, its booziness. I love it to the depth and breadth and height ….

Well, that’s a bit much. Suffice it to say that I really like fruitcake and am saddened by its unwelcome reputation.

Given my love for fruitcake, it was only a matter of time before I decided to try my hand at making my very own. The crop of fruitcake recipes popping up on tastespotting and foodgawker this time of year only heightened the temptation.

As with most temptations, it was only a matter of time before I succumbed.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Apricot Currant Filled Cookies

I like a good filled cookie. What I don’t like are filled cookies that have a mere smidge or swipe of the good stuff. I’m the sort of girl for whom the chips are the whole point of a chocolate chip cookie, and the cream cheese center is the whole point of the Danish. The filling is likewise the whole point of a filled cookie. If you’re just going to use a tiny dab, then why bother? Save yourself the trouble – make sugar cookies or shortbread and call it a day.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Denise Levertov

Denise Levertov was a very fine poet who had, among other thing, superlative taste in glasses. She’s not one of my special favorites; I haven’t exhaustively studied her work or committed anything she wrote to memory. I just had this poem floating around in my head and thought I’d post it.

I first discovered this poem in A Book of Luminous Things: An International Anthology of Poetry,which was edited by Czeslaw Milosz. It’s a very fine anthology and recommended if you’re more of a casual poetry reader and not the sort to hunker down with anyone’s complete works.

Because let’s be honest: most authors’ complete works are a bit of a slog. I recall having a chat with another English major girlfriend (Hi Lynelle!) who had the pluck to tackle Shakespeare's Complete Sonnets. There’s lots of good stuff in there. We’re talking about poetry that is among the finest ever penned in the English language. The sonnets are a pretty high bar for any poet to match.

And yet … there are duds. And the duds are not altogether infrequent.

It’s quite comforting that even great writers have off days.

This poem is not a dud.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Turkish Spice Bread

In Istanbul, my husband and I stayed at the Hotel Tashkonak. We really enjoyed our stay. The room wasn’t huge, but we had our own little balcony and there is a free breakfast buffet every morning.

Nothing about the breakfast buffet was shocking, but it was somewhat different from what you probably think of as a breakfast buffet.  Non-sweet foods were strongly represented, with cold cuts, savory cheeses, hard boiled eggs, and savory pastries all on ample display.

I prefer lots of sugar to start my day, and fortunately, there were plenty of jams and jellies and a large bowl of honey to placate me. I especially liked the rose jelly, which is hard to come by in the states and which is much lighter than most American preserves. The rose jelly was heaven when slathered on the sweet spice bread laid out each morning.

It was this spice bread that really enticed me out of bed after the first day. I make a lot of quick breads, but I still couldn’t tell what was in it. It was dense and moist and had a soft, tender crumb. I started missing it the second our plane left Ataturk airport and was determined to recreate it in my own kitchen.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Theodore Roethke

Theodore Roethke wrote pleasant, fairly conventional verse. That sounds slighting, and I suppose it is, but his poetry is really a pleasure. Like his lover Louise Bogan, he never much strove to escape his preferred idiom. Most of his corpus is traditional, metrical, rhyming verse.

Unlike Bogan, Roethke did not eschew emotion. His poetry contains anger and scorn; it expresses a slavish adoration toward nature, balanced with the odd acknowledgement of nature’s inherent darkness; it can be wistful and regretful. Most often, however, Roethke is a poet of earnestness, tenderness, and uplift. He is the U2 of the poetry world.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Chocolate Chip Cookies

I feel like I’m not yet back in my culinary groove. Ever since I returned from vacation, it’s been catch-as-catch can to tidy the house, take care of the laundry, and take care of even simple, heat-and-serve meals

Given that – but given that I still hoped to bake something over the weekend – I opted for simplicity. This is my version of the classic chocolate chip cookie.

I started baking plain chocolate chip cookies at the age of 9. My church had a little youth group called “the King’s Army” – that’s the sort of thing that Adventists consider a clever pun – and in order to fund its meager overhead expenses, we hosted a weekly bake sale. I made cookies using the Tollhouse recipe most of the time, although occasionally, I made it as a bar cookie because hey– drop cookies are time-consumptive, especially for a little kid.

I like to think I did a good job for a pre-teen, but my baking skills have definitely evolved since then. My love for chocolate chip cookies, however, has not.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Louise Bogan

Louise Bogan is one of those countless minor poets with which the field of literary history is strewn. That’s not intended as an insult; I’ve browsed her complete works, and so far as I can tell, she never made a serious attempt to extend her poetic reach or overthrow her established idiom.

This was not a woman to splatter herself all over the page. Instead, she wrote concise, well-crafted verse that is almost painfully restrained. She wrote a lot of love poems, but they’re vexingly anodyne. Something about them feels weak and emaciated, as if she was fearful of letting the language veer into the uncontrolled territory implied by her subject matter. I think it is this inhibition that damns her to eternal minor poet status.

Her personal life was apparently pretty sad; she married twice, both times unhappily, and had a daughter that she never much discussed with anyone. She and the decade-younger poet Theodore Roethke had a rather torrid affair in the mid-1930s; apparently, she didn’t think much of his work (though my sources are conflicting), but he immortalized her with a lovely lyric poem which will be forthcoming in another post on this blog.

This poem has been fluttering around in my head ever since we toured the underground cistern in Istanbul with the Medusa's head columns. I think it’s Bogan’s best. The tension between the immobilized stone figures created by the Medusa and the unrestrained fury and passion encapsulated by monster herself echoes the conflict in Bogan’s own poetry between tone and subject.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Sweet Potato Pie

I don’t like pumpkin pie. I love pumpkin in other contexts – bread, cookies, cinnamon rolls – but in pie form, pumpkin doesn’t do it for me. Pumpkin pie always tastes flat and one-note to me, like cheap coffee or artificial vanilla-flavored ice cream. It’s totally not worth its calories.

Sweet potato pie, on the other hand, is something I can’t get enough of. It tastes like pumpkin pie’s brighter, sharper cousin – or perhaps pumpkin pie is the ugly stepsister to sweet potato pie’s Cinderella. Sweet potato pie is what pumpkin pie aspires to be when it wishes on a star.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Pablo Neruda

I suspect most educated Americans have heard of the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, which makes him rare among foreign authors.  His most popular poems are the effusive love poems found in Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair. I think all of us are, on some level, suckers for good love poetry, and why not?

The fact that he was a Chilean writing in Spanish seems to provide cover for his emotional excesses. I really like Neruda, but I suspect that his poetry would be dismissed as over-sentimental and too desperately impassioned if it had it been composed in English.

When I was in college, I decided – correctly, I think – that Neruda was a poet whose works should be included in my personal library. Unable to find a used edition of his works, I spent a long time hunkered on the floor of my local Barnes and Noble trying to decide between two translations.

This is the poem I first read in the translation that I bought. Except for this poem, it turned out to be the wrong choice. Nonetheless, it’s a fine poem, and a fine rendering of a poem, even if I do have some quibbles about the phrasing midway through. What is a marrowy morsel of sex? If you know, feel free to enlighten me.  I like the rest of the translation well enough to forgive this rather opaque phrasing.

It’s possible that I’m feeling sentimental and impassioned myself. I hope you enjoy the poem.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


So I am back from my recent sojours.  Husband and I vacationed in Thessaloniki, Greece and Istanbul, Turkey.

First, thanks to everyone for your nice comments and well-wishes for safe travels.  They were appreciated!

Since this is a food blog, I thought I'd share the culinary highlights of our journey.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Apple Oatmeal Scones

This is another small-batch scone recipe.  I had an extra Granny Smith apple in my veg drawer, and I love them for cooking, but not so much for eating.  Rather than let the apple molder away until I would have no choice but to discard the rotted thing, I thought I would come up with something in which to bake it.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Constantine Cavafy

Since I will be on vacation in Greece and Turkey while this is posted, it seems fitting to include a poet writing in Greek. Constantine Cavafy was of Greek Orthodox heritage and spent most of his life in Alexandria.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Linguini with Tomato Pesto

This pasta is an unlikely-seeming success, but it’s very tasty and easy to throw together on a weeknight. There’s plenty of oil and cheese, but olive oil is healthy, right? There’s also tomato paste and parsley. It sounds like an odd combination, but it works really well.

The best part? It’s a no-cook sauce. You can throw the pesto together in the time it takes to boil the linguini, toss it all together, and you have a meal.