Notes from Brooklyn

Bien Cuit, Brooklyn

October 2013 was the last time I was in New York. It was a work trip (a stressful one at that), and I spent most of my time in Manhattan. Four years later, life looks a bit different than when I turned left out of the Waldorf-Astoria and kept walking until I arrived at NYU. 

On Eat This Poem's book tour, my latest stop was Brooklyn. I recorded an episode of The Food Seen podcast, and had an amazing bookstore event at WORD Books where I was joined with Erin Boyle from Reading My Tea Leaves. In between, I did a lot of walking. I even spent three uninterrupted hours in a coffee shop, which was pure bliss. Here are the places I visited and loved!

Books Are Magic, Brooklun

6 Places to Visit in Brooklyn

Devocion | This is a bright, open space for Columbian coffee. I loved their iced fruit infusion, and would have stayed longer if it weren't for a dinner reservation nearby. (Williamsburg)

Bien Cuit | Smith Street is a vibrant street with plenty of shops to get lost in. Bien Cuit is one of them. It's a darling place to grab a cup of tea, or even a sandwich to take down to the water (I loved the asparagus baguette). The outdoor patio is relaxing, too. (Brooklyn Heights)

Books Are Magic | Another Smith Street gem, Books Are Magic is the new shop on the block. There's a cozy children's area for reading.

WORD Books | The Greenpoint location was home for my discussion with Erin Boyle. Upstairs is for the books, and downstairs is a spacious event space with a small stage. I heard from the staff they're getting ready to open a children's-only store down the street. (Greenpoint)

Aurora | An Italian restaurant with fresh pastas and a cozy garden in the heart of Williamsburg. (Williamsburg)

Rucola | I headed here for breakfast one morning, and to me, it's the quintessential New York restaurant. It's cozy, rustic, and if you sit facing the dining room, perfect for people watching. (Boerum Hill)

Notes From Seattle

Pike's Place Market, Seattle

I'm fresh off my first out of state book tour stop—Seattle! I flew up to the Emerald City for an event at Book Larder, hosted with my friend and fellow author Megan Gordon (who writes the blog A Sweet Spoonful AND runs an amazing granola company, Marge).

The last time I was on a plane was before my son was born, when we went to Kansas City for a wedding. I hadn't missed the recycled air and modest leg room, but it felt great to get out there again, officially, and do something just for me. I even managed to sleep in until 8:15 one morning. 

During my brief visit I explored downtown and a little bit of Ballard, aided in part by our very own Literary City Guide! Here are some of the other gems I discovered along the way.

9 Places to Visit in Downtown Seattle and Ballard

Ellenos | This stall at Pike's Place Market drew me in as soon as I discovered their homemade, not too tangy, not too sweet Greek yogurt was topped with passion fruit. There were plenty of other flavor options, too, but I hardly noticed. I should have gone back a second time to try them.

Beecher's Handmade Cheese | Just down the street from Ellenos, this was the perfect spot to tuck into during a light drizzle and devour a paper bowl of tomato soup. Be sure to get it with curds and garlic croutons. 

The London Plane | This was a breakfast/brunch/lunch nook recommended by Reading My Tea Leaves, and it didn't disappoint. (Really, how could a spot that's half cafe and half flower shop disappoint?). It's located on the corner of a quiet little square, and the bar is an excellent place to linger and people watch. 

Slate Coffee Roasters | This was a must-stop on our Literary City Guides list, and my husband confirmed it when he was in town for a conference a few weeks ahead of me. I sipped a cup of tea and actually read a book, without interruption, for thirty minutes.

The Dane | I can see why Ballard neighbors love The Dane—you can get coffee, beer, and ice cream all in one spacious, family-friendly location. Also, free wi-fi! I made the mistake of sitting next to the children's bookshelf, which was darling but also a little distracting. Otherwise, it's definitely the kind of place I could easily sit and write in all afternoon. 

Book Larder | This cozy cookbook-only shop is a neighborhood gem. They hosted my author talk, where we ate popcorn, talked about writing and creativity, and were just the most wonderful hosts. Please stop in and buy books if you're in the neighborhood. 

Delancey | My trip to Seattle wouldn't have been complete without a pilgrimage to Delancey for pizza. I enjoyed a glass of rose, a springy salad with fava beans and asparagus, and a flavorful pie with a friend. It doesn't get much better than that! 

Waterfall Garden Park | One of the wonderful things about walking around a new city is you always discover something unexpected. I stumbled into this small garden just off Pioneer square, and it was a tranquil place to sit for a few minutes and just listen to the sound of the water rushing by. 

Seattle Public Library | I made my way inside the doors just as a passing rainstorm started. This 10-story building downtown is a real gem, with lots of places to read and write across multiple floors.

"The Bight" by Elizabeth Bishop + Strawberry Pistachio Crumble

Strawberry and Pistachio Crumble from Eat This Poem

It's probably the right time to finally put together a proper post about the poem I read every year on my birthday. I'm not sure when it started exactly, but a handful of years ago I began a new ritual for myself that involves reading Elizabeth Bishop's poem "The Bight" the morning of May 23, and usually enjoying some kind of strawberry dessert later in the day.

It's not what you might typically think of as a birthday poem, but in fact, she wrote it on her 35th birthday so you can just imagine her working over the lines, watching the boats come in, thinking about where to go next. I think what strikes me the most is how well it captures the "awful but cheerful" aspects of the day. I've written about this before (see 2012 and 2013) but I can't seem to stop—there's just something about getting older and having time to reflect about where life has taken you so far, right? Looking out into the harbor or across some expansive landscape isn't necessary, but certainly helps to remind you just how big the world is. It also might encourage your eyes to get a little bit glassy (or maybe that's just me).

Strawberry and Pistachio Crumble from Eat This Poem
Strawberry and Pistachio Crumble from Eat This Poem

The Bight

[on my birthday]

At low tide like this how sheer the water is.
White, crumbling ribs of marl protrude and glare
and the boats are dry, the pilings dry as matches.
Absorbing, rather than being absorbed,
the water in the bight doesn't wet anything,
the color of the gas flame turned as low as possible.
One can smell it turning to gas; if one were Baudelaire
one could probably hear it turning to marimba music.
The little ocher dredge at work off the end of the dock
already plays the dry perfectly off-beat claves.
The birds are outsize. Pelicans crash
into this peculiar gas unnecessarily hard,
it seems to me, like pickaxes,
rarely coming up with anything to show for it,
and going off with humorous elbowings.
Black-and-white man-of-war birds soar
on impalpable drafts
and open their tails like scissors on the curves
or tense them like wishbones, till they tremble.
The frowsy sponge boats keep coming in
with the obliging air of retrievers,
bristling with jackstraw gaffs and hooks
and decorated with bobbles of sponges.
There is a fence of chicken wire along the dock
where, glinting like little plowshares,
the blue-gray shark tails are hung up to dry
for the Chinese-restaurant trade.
Some of the little white boats are still piled up
against each other, or lie on their sides, stove in,
and not yet salvaged, if they ever will be, from the last bad storm,
like torn-open, unanswered letters.
The bight is littered with old correspondences.
Click. Click. Goes the dredge,
and brings up a dripping jawful of marl.
All the untidy activity continues,
awful but cheerful.

—Elizabeth Bishop

Strawberry and Pistachio Crumble from Eat This Poem
Strawberry and Pistachio Crumble from Eat This Poem

Bishop is so, so good as describing the world around her. It's one of the things that attracted me to her work when I was in college and traveling a bit. Read a poem of hers, and you just feel grounded, present, alert to every detail in the scene. Her poems, in some ways, feel perfect in that way, but in studying her work more closely in graduate school (and simply knowing the challenges any writer faces), settling on just the right words was an enormously difficult task for her, which often meant it took her years to complete a single poem. (Ever wondered why her collected poems volume is so slim? Call it a case of perfectionism, perhaps.)

Anyway, come May, Elizabeth Bishop and strawberries are always on my mind, so here's this year's recipe.

Strawberry and Pistachio Crumble from Eat This Poem

Strawberry Pistachio Crumble

Serves 4 to 6

For the berries
2 pounds strawberries, hulled and quartered
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons turbinado sugar
1 teaspoon cornstarch

For the crumble
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup shelled pistachios, unsalted
1/2 cup spelt or whole-grain flour
1/4 cup turbinado sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place strawberries in a large bowl and add the lemon juice, sugar, and cornstarch; gently toss to coat. Pour into an 8- by 8-inch baking dish.

In a food processor, pulse the oats, pistachios, flour, sugar, salt, and butter until large clumps form. The butter should be evenly distributed, and the crumble should hold a bit of shape if you squeeze it between your fingers. 

Scatter the topping over the strawberries and nudge it around with your fingers until well covered. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until golden and the strawberry juices are bubbling around the edges. Serve warm or room temperature with freshly whipped cream.