Book spine poetry: the food edition

Kid One was quite amused to see me standing in the kitchen this morning, staring intently at books piled on the counters while “Appalachian Spring” played on the iPod dock. He thought it would make a great scene from a movie – I’m hoping he was imagining a romantic comedy of some sort, although knowing him, more likely it was the prelude to a zombie invasion. I was actually not auditioning for my son, though, I was trying my hand at book spine poetry, a concept introduced to me recently by Susan Bearman via Brain Pickings in honor of National Poetry Month. All you have to do is arrange a pile of books so that the titles say something poetic, profound, or perhaps preposterous. It would be a great party game if you had lots of books and a few nerdy friends. This morning I decided to handicap myself by choosing only food fiction or food fact books. There’s a collection spilling around the kitchen; I thought it would be easy. But turns out a shelf of titles starting with “The” and ending in “Cookbook” is a bit limiting, and try as I might I couldn’t figure out how to put “The Widow Cliquot” together with “A Goose In Toulouse” and “The Nasty Bits” without cheating. Here’s the first one I came up with: What Einstein Told His Cook: The Sweet Life in Paris Tastes of Paradise. Banana, Fruits & Vegetables, Nuts, Secret Ingredients, Spam. Are You Hungry Tonight? And then this more haiku-inspired poem: Pacific Feast From My Mexican Kitchen, Fish, Without a Doubt. Then I played around...

The over-packaged banana

For reasons of self-preservation, I don’t get angry with the content of most news reports. I generally accept that, despite best intentions and the presence of good in this world, there will always be greed, evil, and just plain stupidity. But a plastic-wrapped banana – seriously? What’s going on here?

A tale of two sausages

It wasn’t unusual that LL and I were each reading last weekend. It was unusual, though, that at the exact same moment each of us reached a page in our respective books that contained a recipe. Recipes written by people famous for something other than cooking. Plus, neither book was a cookbook. And each recipe involved sausage. My book was As Always, Julia, a book I’ve been savoring in small bites for several weeks now, completely impressed with how incredibly smart, thoughtful, busy, and passionate these two women were. And they knew everyone! One of my favorite bits is this excerpt from a letter Avis deVoto wrote to Julia Child about making her special spaghetti sauce, a recipe given to her by the poet John Ciardi – how cool is that? It was a blast from the past; I loved the word histories he did for NPR that I listened to back in my college-public-radio-reporting days. Here’s the recipe, which Avis wrote takes about five hours to make: 5 large onions sliced and softened in nearly a cup of olive oil, then two cans tomato paste, two cans tomato sauce, quart can solid pack tomatoes – garlic salt, bay leaf, caraway, basil, Italian parsley. Then eighteen Italian sausages fried gently and simmered in the sauce for couple hours. These are the fresh sausages made of pork butt and Marsala and garlic, fat and marbled pink and white – nothing like ordinary pork sausages and they don’t cook apart, they’re quite firm and rich and garlicky. The onions cook away to nothing and the sauce is intensely tomatoey. Then imported pasta cooked at the...

Urban farming

Novella Carpenter is my newest heroine. I’ve just finished reading her book Farm City: Confessions of an Urban Farmer, in which she moves into a ramshackle apartment on a dead-end street in a dead-end Oakland, CA neighborhood and hesitantly plants a garden in the empty lot next door. This quickly grows to a full-scale, tenth of an acre, urban farm, complete with beehive, egg-laying chickens, “meat birds” (ducks, turkeys, and more chickens) and rabbits, all successful experiments is loony locavorism that leads to, by the book’s close, her careful cultivation of two Red Duroc pigs for future meals. Carpenter lives the intersections of food with community and environment in a high crime, low income, politically weak area, and her observations become the backdrop to her story. She does such an excellent job at demonstrating a way of life instead of evangelizing it, and made me think about abundance and waste in different terms. She’s also a completely engaging writer, open and funny in telling her story. I laughed out loud several times, especially when she describes feeding her pigs their first meal scavenged from a Chinatown dumpster. The key to Farm City, however, is that although its premise of two white kids growing vegetables and butchering rabbits in the inner city sounds like it could be the teaser of a doomed Hollywood movie, she is genuinely honest and passionate about her avocation; there is nothing precious, pretentious, self-righteous, or gimmicky in her tale. This book came along at a perfect time for me. We took down the play structure just as winter started and have been thinking about how best...
Animalfish Alphabet

Animalfish Alphabet

Sometimes I cook fish. Other times I write about them! There’s been quite a bit cooking at my place over the last few months – in this case it’s food for the mind rather than for the body. Today I’m extraordinarily happy to announce the publication of my book Animalfish Alphabet, a fishy coloring book featuring some of the world’s wonderful watery creatures. Factual, fun, and illustrated by Sara Birns, a high school senior at the time and friend of Kid One. Why Animalfish? This whole project actually started eight years ago. Kid One had turned four became obsessed with sharks in that intelligent, single-minded way preschoolers have of glomming onto a subject and not letting go until it’s been thoroughly exhausted in their minds. I didn’t know much about sharks, myself, so together over the months we learned about almost all the 440 different species of sharks in the world: hammerhead sharks, whale sharks, lanternhead sharks, cookie cutter sharks, nurse sharks, and guitar sharks. Well, the writer in me loves and collects names; over the years I’ve kept mental lists of fruits, flowers, herbs, seasons, and cities that can pass for reasonable people-names. So it didn’t take long for me to wonder – could I come up with a whole alphabet of sharks named after other things? Fortunately this is the digital age, and after I dropped him off at preschool I’d spend an hour or two on the FishBase, a database aimed at research scientists but perfect for oddly-minded writers like myself. Eventually my list of sharks became just fish in general, and then just those fish named...