Poetry In a Pot of Beans

Poetry In a Pot of Beans | Eat This Poem

In Jane Hirshfield's poem "Tree," there are two things that can usher in calmness during uncertain times: "this clutter of soup pots and books—" It's one of the poems I was adamant about including in the cookbook, and I paired her words with, among other things, a pot of white beans because sometimes it's the most utterly simple yet magical thing you can cook.

Once they're tender, I like to do as Rachel Roddy suggests in My Kitchen in Rome, which is to combine some whole beans with others that have been reduced to a purée. It results in a not-quite-soup situation that's still thick enough to hold its own but loose enough to gather with a spoon or a swipe of bread. We made it lunch a couple of weeks ago, after coming back from the beach.

The final thing I added was a generous drizzle of olive oil, the kind you might reserve for special occasions—Ok, I drenched them—but I've had a change of heart on the matter, and believe these little indulgences should be every day occurrences as often as possible. 

Fat Gold Olive Oil

I'm very enthusiastic about this particular tin because it came to me from northern California last month I only found out about it because it's made by Robin Sloan, who I spoke with on on a panel in Michigan. Naturally, I had Googled him beforehand and asked about this olive oil situation when we met. He and his girlfriend were in the middle of the first harvest, and this bottle is from the very first pressing of these olives, ever. 

In the tasting notes (yes, olive oil can and should come with tasting notes), there are instructions for slurping and mentions of artichoke and how well the oil might pair with roasted vegetables. Then there's the very wise recommendation to use it with abandon. Because it's unfiltered, it's even more likely to spoil sooner, so it's not something to keep in the back shelf for a rainy day, which reminds me of a section in Dani Shapiro's memoir Hourglass, when she recalls a bottle of oil brought back from her honeymoon in France. 

"We waited for a special occasion to open the olive oil. No occasion seemed quite special enough. After all, we had the bottles home with us in our carry-on. You could do this back then. Finally, preparing dinner for friends one evening, we opened one. Of course, it had gone rancid."
Poetry In a Pot of Beans | Eat This Poem
Poetry In a Pot of Beans | Eat This Poem

The moral of the story, of course, is to use it and enjoy it. Don't wait. Make a pot of beans. Drizzle them with wonderful oil. Eat a plate alone, or with friends, it doesn't matter. In "Ode to Oil" Pablo Neruda writes:

hidden and most important
ingredient of the stew,
base for partridges,
celestial key to mayonnaise...
with our voice,
our chorus,
with intimate
powerful smoothness
you sing...

It is indeed an "abundant treasure." In recent weeks I've rubbed some into kale leaves, swirled it on soup. And of course, the beans, where so much poetry resides, and where a plate feeds you mightily, body and soul.

"5 World Trade Center" by James Penha + Apple Cider Donuts

Apple Cider Donuts from Eat This Poem

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I woke up in my parent's house. It was a few weeks before my sophomore year of college started, and I'd spent the summer lifeguarding before moving back to campus. I was tan, well rested, and excited to see my boyfriend again.

I remember my mom coming into my room, then words like "New York" and "terrorism" and "planes" hitting my ears. I moved to the couch, curled up with a blanket, and listened to everything Peter Jennings had to say. He was wearing a light blue shirt, I remember. His eyes looked tired but warm, and he was occasionally on the brink of tears, like us all. He didn't leave the desk for twenty-four hours, maybe more. I didn't leave the couch very often, either. There was nothing else to do in those first few hours except wait and watch.

5 World Trade Center

By James Penha

Home in Indonesia we watched by night
plane after plane crash into the towers and the towers
come crashing down and I thought in the crash
of recollections in the hours that followed
of the sweet servers at a Krispy Kreme beneath
the Plaza we visited every year at least once
on our trips to my New York hometown.
The company declared the store destroyed
though workers and customers escaped unharmed
and pictures surfaced later
showing trays of donuts waiting still to be told
where to go while a rag and spray bottle
of cleaning solution lay on a table under
a profound film of dust no one wiped away.

Penha, James. "5 World Trade Center." Copyright © 2017 by James Penha. First published
in The Book of Donuts (Terrapin Books). Reprinted by permission of Terrapin Books.

The best poems, I find, are usually about two things. Of course there are the urgent, present details being shared on the page. But underneath the surface, there's often much more. Reading these lines thrust me sixteen years back in time, and like the donuts and the spray bottle, left me perhaps a little frozen remembering the bright, unsuspecting Tuesday morning.

Let's begin with the donuts. On the morning of 9/11, a New York native watches the events unfold halfway around the world, from his home in Indonesia. In darkness, a memory appears, and he recalls a Krispy Kreme shop, the one he always visited during annual trips to the city. Before this moment, you might not have imagined a donut being capable of eliciting such an emotional response. It's only flour and sugar, after all. 

But below the donuts, the poem seeks to make sense of tragedy (a theme this year, no?). The details we remember might seem trivial, but in a poet's hands, they become relatable. How many donuts have we eaten in our lifetime already? I've certainly had my share, and now I may never eat another without remembering these words or the image of dusty confections, trays of them, never delivered, utterly symbolic of the lives of men and women who perished, lives never fully lived. 

Apple Cider Donuts

Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit; Makes about 8 donuts, plus 12-16 donut holes

The original recipe makes 18 donuts, but I really don’t need that many at home, so I made a smaller batch. Also, it’s good to know in advance that these are a bit of a project. Don’t expect to wake up Wednesday morning and make donuts (well, unless you do everything in advance.) There are about 20-30 minutes when the cider needs to reduce on the stove, and the dough needs to chill for 3 hours before frying. 

Some ingredient notes: Apple cider is recommended, but I totally forgot to check at my farmers’ market and ended up grabbing a bottle of juice from the store. Oh, apple butter is a nice addition here, I used the Eden Foods brand.

1 3-inch cinnamon stick
1 1/2 cups apple cider or juice
1/4 cup apple butter
1/4 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 teaspoons cinnamon, divided
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
2 tablespoons (packed) light brown sugar
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
1 egg
Vegetable or canola oil, for frying (about 4 cups)

Bring cinnamon stick and cider to a boil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook until thick, syrupy, and reduced to about 2 tablespoons. Discard cinnamon stick, then scrape into a medium bowl and whisk in apple butter, buttermilk, and vanilla until smooth.

While the cider reduces, whisk baking powder, salt, baking soda, nutmeg, flour, and 1 teaspoon cinnamon in a medium bowl. In a stand mixer, beat butter, brown sugar, and 2 tablespoons granulated sugar until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add egg, beating well. Reduce mixer speed to low and add dry ingredients in two additions, alternating with liquid ingredients. The dough will be very soft and sticky.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and dust generously with flour (at least 1/4 cup). Dust hands and top of dough with more flour, then gently pat dough to 3/4-inch thick. Dust with more flour and cover with plastic wrap; refrigerate 3 hours.

Whisk remaining 1/2 cup granulated sugar and 1 teaspoon cinnamon in a small bowl. 

Working on baking sheet, punch out as many rounds as you can using a 3-inch cutter, then punch out the center with a smaller cutter. Gather donut scraps and gently re-roll without overworking the dough. 

Set a wire rack on a rimmed baking sheet. Pour oil into a 4-quart dutch oven and heat to 350°. Working in batches, fry donuts until deep golden brown, about 3 minutes per side. Fry donut holes until deep golden brown, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer to the rack, then toss in cinnamon sugar before serving.

Cinnamon Sticks
The Book of Donuts
Apple Cider Donuts from Eat This Poem

Notes from Northern Michigan

Lake Michigan Waves.jpg

In 2017 I traveled to Seattle, Brooklyn, Indianapolis, and a few spots around Southern California, and it was always an incredible treat to introduce Eat This Poem to new readers. But now I'm getting ready to hunker down for the holidays and spend the rest of the year at home. My very last stop was in Northern Michigan, specifically Harbor Springs and the surrounding area, where I spoke on two panels at the Harbor Springs Festival of the Book. I had a little time to explore while I was in town, and here are my favorite finds.

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Between the Covers. The local bookstore, complete with a small children's section in back.

Small Batch Bakery. I walked out with a giant chocolate cookie sprinkled with sea salt. Enough said.

American Spoon. This is the place for locally made jam. The tasting bar is a nice touch, so you can sample before you buy.

Pond Hill Farm. A few miles outside of town, this spot is fun for both kids and adults. The downstairs has a cute little shop, and the cafe is upstairs. Everyone told me to get the Parmesan-crusted grilled cheese and the spicy kale slaw with peanut sauce. You can also wander around and enjoy the views of vegetables.

The Depot. This converted train station is the fanciest restaurant in town, and it's also members only. I was lucky enough to be a guest my last night, and the local walleye with creamy risotto didn't disappoint. (Bonus: We ate inside the Hemingway Room, because he often came to town. You can also find his statues around the area.)

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Lunch at Pond Hill Farm, With a Side of Poetry.jpg


Dripworks Coffee. I ordered a turmeric tea latte and spent three hours here one afternoon. There are cozy booths (with outlets) and a great drink menu, for both tea and coffee lovers.

McLean & Eakin. Another charming bookstore, perfect for picking up a new read for the plane ride home.

Palette Bistro. I ate here for both lunch and brunch. It's simple, Mediterranean-inspired fare with a great view of the lake.

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