Cherry Tomatoes

It’s an out-of-season post on tomatoes in March, to begin with. And one that will take the “cooking and poetry” theme a more seriously than I originally intended. But today–”in a bleak time, when a week of rain is a year”–I need this little reminder of brighter days. The memory of our first cherry tomato, picked last July, reminds me of what I love about this place and makes months of Oregon rain seem worthwhile.

the first cherry tomato
This poem below, by the talented Sandra Beasley, envisions the cherry tomato in a much less bucolic way–but I loved it. Enjoy. (Oh, and the line quoted above is from Theodore Roethke’s “The Longing.”)

Cherry Tomatoes - by Sandra Beasley

Little bastards of vine.
Little demons by the pint.
Red eggs that never hatch,
just collapse and rot. When

my mom told me to gather
their grubby bodies
into my skirt, I'd cry. You
and your father, she'd chide—

the way, each time I kicked
and wailed against sailing,
my dad shook his head, said
You and your mother. 

Now, a city girl, I ease one
loose from its siblings,
from its clear plastic coffin,
place it on my tongue.

Just to try. The smooth
surface resists, resists,
and erupts in my mouth:
seeds, juice, acid, blood

of a perfect household.
The way, when I finally
went sailing, my stomach
was rocked from inside

out. Little boat, big sea.
Handful of skinned sunsets.

- from poets.org

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What I Learned About Chicken Pot Pie

When I visited Italy, one of the best pieces of advice I got was to avoid restaurants that served lasagna. Why? Because it’s the true sign of a tourist trap, a friend explained–lasagna is the kind of homey, unpretentious meal you only make for your family, like meatloaf or chicken pot pie. At the time (gosh, that was over ten years ago now!), before comfort food became a hipster standby and you would only get meatloaf or chicken pot pie at Applebees or a wayward diner, that advice made sense. (And it brought us to some great restaurants, too.)

But here’s the thing: I never do make chicken pot pie or meatloaf for myself, although they do sound as delicious and homey as a good homemade lasagna, indeed. Nor do I order them at even cool hipstery restaurants, in fact–I’m not sure why not! But when I saw a simple-looking recipe in a new cookbook I just grabbed from the library (Eating Close to Home: A Guide to Local Seasonal Sustenance in the Pacific Northwest), I thought it was finally worth breaking my pot pie cherry. (Mmmm…cherry pot pie?)

And here are the two awesome things I learned. 1. It’s totally versatile! Once you get the template down, you can mix and match with whatever you got. And on that note,  2. It’s one of the easier and more delicious ways to use up leftovers! Once you make the ooey-gooey filling, you just add whatever cooked poultry and vegetables you have (broccoli! chard! parsnips!), top it with biscuits, and you’re ready to rock.

Now that we’ve tried it, here’s what I’ll do next time, actually – when we roast a chicken, we’ll add some extra potatoes and carrots. We’ve been trying to make sure and use the chicken carcass to make some stock, so we can have some good, rich stock on hand, too. (Side note: I’m never organized enough to use it every time, but when we do, MAN it’s good! How did I go without homemade stock for so long, too?) Anyway, a couple of days later, we’ll just dice up the leftover chicken, potatoes, and carrots. Casserole city.

So here’s the original recipe – enjoy, and play away. Let me know what combos you come up with!

Chicken Pot Pie – from Elin Kristina England’s Eating Close to Home

FOR THE SAUCE:
3 T butter
1/2 c diced onion
1/2 c diced celery
1 bay leaf
3 T flour
1 1/2 c chicken stock
1 1/2 c milk
Dash or two of Tabasco sauce and Worcestershire sauce
Salt and Pepper to taste

In a large saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Add the celery, onion and bay leaf. Cover and cook until the vegetables are soft. Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables, stir well and cook for 5 minutes.

Stir in the stock and milk. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens, about 15 minutes. Remove the bay leaf, add the Tabasco and Worcestershire, and season with salt and pepper. Stir in the chicken, potatoes, carrots, peas, and parsley (or whatever you use as the filling). Keep warm as you make the biscuit dough.

FOR THE FILLING:
1-2 c shredded or diced cooked chicken
3/4 lb potatoes, diced and cooked
2-3 carrots, diced and cooked
4-6 oz frozen peas or edamame
1/2 c chopped parsley

After topped with the biscuit dough, transfer the filling to a 3-quart oven-proof casserole. Drop the dough over the filling with a large spoon, spacing it evenly to make about 6 biscuits. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the biscuits are lightly browned and the pie is bubbling. Serve hot.

*********************************************************************
BISCUIT DOUGH

1 c white flour (or use half whole wheat flour)
1 1/2 t baking powder
pinch of salt
3 T cold butter
1/2 c milk
3 T chopped dill (or 1 1/2 T dried)

Preheat the oven to 425. Sift the four, baking powder, and salt together into a bowl. Cut in the butter using a knife or a pastry blender. Work the dough until it is the size of peas. Add the milk and dill and stir for a minute or until the dough leaves the side of the bowl. It will be a bit sticky.

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in celebration of messes

I’m an avid reader of food blogs and old cookbooks. I wish I could claim a learned or scholarly interest in either, but I think I just love them as both instruction and cultural artifact.  Reading about how someone prepares a meal is oddly intimate, inviting you into someone’s way of seeing the world (“cook until tender” or “thumb-sized”) and using their body (“knead gently” or “taste, and adjust seasoning”).

I think that’s what I like most about cooking these days: it unabashedly connects me to the physical. As a poet and PhD student, most of my life is spent in my head, on the page, on the screen. I love playing in the kitchen where the text of a recipe is never the ending point, it’s just an invitation to the physical.

There’s an unbelievable array of cookbooks and foodie blogs these days, testifying to both a greater appreciation for the role of food in general, and our American palate’s delightful expansion into other cuisines.  The one thing I’ve been longing for, however, is a blog that admitted, well, FAILURES. I don’t wish anyone to fail in the kitchen (or elsewhere, of course), but I can’t help wondering how so many people came to their skills in the kitchen.  How is it that each dish is not only photographed impeccably, but comes together brilliantly the first time?  This is craft, of course, and something that should be touted proudly, if not shouted from the rooftops. But I wish we could admit more of the missteps it took to get there, to revel a bit in the messes.

In a class with Chris Ransick, a Denver poet, we considered this idea in relation to our own poetry.  He encouraged us to accept the “wabi” in each of our poem, or the subtle flaw that made it uniquely handcrafted. My friend Roger pointed me toward this page on the “wabi sabi” that captures this sentiment nicely:

“Pared down to its barest essence, wabi-sabi is the Japanese art of finding beauty in imperfection and profundity in nature, of accepting the natural cycle of growth, decay, and death. It’s simple, slow, and uncluttered-and it reveres authenticity above all. Wabi-sabi is flea markets, not warehouse stores; aged wood, not Pergo; rice paper, not glass. It celebrates cracks and crevices and all the other marks that time, weather, and loving use leave behind. It reminds us that we are all but transient beings on this planet-that our bodies as well as the material world around us are in the process of returning to the dust from which we came. Through wabi-sabi, we learn to embrace liver spots, rust, and frayed edges, and the march of time they represent.” (from “Noble Harbor.”)

In this blog, I’d like to celebrate the successes and the failures in the kitchen (and elsewhere!)—the finished product, and the wabi-sabi.  A recent night of cooking found just that, a delightful sauteed mushroom dish with garlic and fresh herbs:

herbed mushrooms

Before these little babies hit our mouths, however, we lost a brave egg in the process of making potstickers:

(You know it’s love when you ask him to pose by a broken egg, and he obliges instantly.)  Look forward to sharing more adventures and messes in our wabi sabi kitchen.

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