When I was eight years old my family took a long summer road trip through Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico. Late one evening, we were driving through Arizona during a rain storm. There was so much rain that off in the distance, several miles away, it looked like a long gray curtain stretching out over the desert. My mom and brother were asleep in the back seats, so only my dad and I saw the rain. In those minutes before we entered the dense rain cloud, I couldn't imagine us driving through it. We were barreling toward this gray mass on the highway, but I couldn't see us coming out the other side because it seemed more like a wall built from the ground up, not something you could pull back like tucking a piece of loose hair behind your ear and push through unscathed.
Of course, we drove through it and arrived at our next destination as if the rain had never been an obstacle at all. The fear did not claim victory, but when a threat arrives, it's always easier to retreat into a ball than face it head on, right? This story about Arizona was fresh in my mind when Ashley Rodriguez wrote about fear in a recent post and also offered a simple recipe of melted leeks with ricotta, which I've taken inspiration from for today's post. Turning back to fear, here's what she had to say about the topic.
"Could it be that there is actually something good to be said of fear? It turns out that the emotion that I’ve dreaded and relegated to being “wrong” and “unhealthy” might possible be an indicator of exactly what I should be doing."
She speaks the truth. If something scares us, makes us uneasy, has been stirring in our soul and wanting to come forth, then we're on the right track. It's easy enough to avoid it entirely, suppressing any creative urges or desires beneath the responsibilities of adulthood, but eventually it will make its way through. Better to embrace it, whatever it is, I say. Don't let the voices say you aren't capable or that someone else will do it better. It's a tall order, walking straight through the fear like a sheet of heavy rain, but we all must start putting one foot in front of the other. The storm cannot last as long as we think, and on the other end, we'll dry ourselves off and be better for having taken the journey. That is my hope, at least.
If you're wondering what fear and a desert rainstorm might have to do with poetry, the time has come to find out. A certain amount of serendipity tends to occur often when I'm developing Eat This Poem posts. Today's poem by Cynthia Grady arrived in my inbox, then I read Ashley's post, and then I wanted to make flatbread topped with leeks and ricotta. Just like that, this post began.
Cynthia writes beautifully about the connection between cooking and our life's ambition. The word fear is never used, but as we've all experienced at one time or another, every ambition comes with a certain amount of hesitation. For a moment, the comforts of the kitchen, the act of punching down dough in a safe, controlled environment, renews us for what lies ahead.
In This Kitchen
By Cynthia Grady
The kitchen is where
my ambitions stir. Hopes
rise like bread dough
atop the fridge
in cornered warmth
(punch it down,
it doubles in size).
Tomatoes on the sill
ripen into dreams.
In the morning’s glow,
echoes of my father’s voice
swirl like flour dust.
Laureate of my easy bake childhood,
his ghost rests on the stool
sifting, sifting, sifting,
the morning light shifting.
Here in this kitchen,
soups never lack spice.
Neither bakers nor poets go mad.
Here, poems feed the world.
-Reprinted with permission from Cynthia Grady. A previous version of this poem also appeared on SPARK.
This poem is like a long exhalation, a reminder to take deep breaths, do something with our hands that will calm the nerves. Stir together water, yeast and flour, then watch as "hopes rise like bread dough." The speaker is not only in the kitchen with her hope and ambition, but the ghost of her father visits also, resting on the stool beside her as she works, perhaps offering the same reassurance he gave her in life, and making her feel that anything is possible, even after she steps outside into the world.
"Here, poems feed the world," might be the best line to end a poem I've read in a long while. No, poetry does not offer vitamins or fiber or fill our stomach the way soup or bread does. Of course it cannot do this. But there is something to be said for well-seasoned words, for in the lines of a poem, the headnotes of a recipe, the "echoes of my father's voice," another kind of necessary sustenance can often be found.
LEEK AND RICOTTA FLATBREADS
Use your favorite pizza dough recipe (or this one)for the flatbread.
Makes 4 flatbreads
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for the dough
3 large leeks, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Cornmeal, for dusting
15 container of ricotta
Preheat the oven to its highest temperature and place a baking stone inside. Heat for at least 20-30 minutes before baking. Cut the dough into quarters and re-form into small balls; leave them to rest, covered with a towel, on a flour-dusted cutting board.
While the dough rests, prepare the leeks. Heat the butter and oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the leeks and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Season with 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and crack of fresh pepper. Cook until the leeks soften and begin to caramelize a bit on the edges, about 5-7 minutes.
To prepare a flatbread, use a rolling pin or your hands to roll the dough horizontally. You can make them round like a regular pizza, but I prefer them more rectangular when serving flatbreads. Whatever your preference is will work. When the dough is rolled out, pull out the baking stone and sprinkle it lightly with cornmeal. Place the flatbreads on top, and brush them with extra-virgin olive oil. Bake until beginning to turn golden brown, about 8-10 minutes.
One at a time, remove each flatbread from the stone and smear with ricotta cheese. Top with leeks, then slice to serve.