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 Poems for the New Year

5 Poems for the New Year #poetry #poems

Of the many things poetry is good for, marking occasions is one of them. Lauren F. Winner calls it “decorating a life-cycle event,” noting how people whose “last encounter with a poem was tenth-grade British Lit, grasp for a poem when their child marries, or dies.” Jim Morrison—The Doors late frontman, and poet—wrote “If my poetry aims to achieve anything, it’s to deliver people from the limited ways in which they see and feel.”

He’s right about that. Poetry provides access to emotions we cannot express, new perspectives, and as I often say, brings meaning to the mundane. It’s why I read “The Bight” by Elizabeth Bishop on my birthday every year—to center myself in the “awful but cheerful” routines of the day.

In January, I read poems for the new year. In Pablo Neruda’s ode on the subject, he reminds us that the day does not know the difference. We are the ones who give such prominence to the occasion.

even though
a day
a poor
human day
your halo
over so many
and you are
oh new
oh forthcoming cloud,
bread unseen before,
permanent tower!”

—Pablo Neruda, from “Ode to the First Day of the Year”

On January 1—this “poor human day”—we mark the passage of time by staying up late, drinking champagne, resolving to do better, to grow and change. We want to start fresh, clean, like the unblemished layer of snow that covers the ground each January.

To usher in a brand new year (and all the possibilities sure to unfold), here are five poems worthy of a read.

5 quiet, reflective poems to celebrate the new year #poetry #winterpoems #poem #eatthispoem

1 | “To The New Year” by W.S. Merwin

With what stillness at last
you appear in the valley
your first sunlight reaching down
to touch the tips of a few
high leaves that do not stir
as though they had not noticed
and did not know you at all
then the voice of a dove calls
from far away in itself
to the hush of the morning

Read the rest of the poem here

2 | “Burning the Old Year” by Naomi Shihab Nyes

So much of any year is flammable,
lists of vegetables, partial poems.
orange swirling flame of days
so little is a stone.

Read the rest of the poem here

OF NOTE: "BURNING THE OLD YEAR" is featured inside the Eat This Poem Cookbook alongside a recipe for the short ribs and celery root puree I make every New Year’s Eve. Get your copy!

3 | “Snowfall” By Ravi Shankar

Particulate as ash, new year’s first snow falls
upon peaked roofs, car hoods, undulant hills,
in imitation of motion that moves the way
static cascades down screens when the cable
zaps out, persistent & granular with a flicker
of legibility that dissipates before it can be
Interpolated into any succession of imagery.

Read the rest of the poem here

4 | From “New Year’s Day”by Kim Addonizio

The rain this morning falls
on the last of the snow

and will wash it away. I can smell
the grass again, and the torn leaves

being eased down into the mud.

Read the rest of the poem here

5 | “The Passing of the Year” by Robert W. Service

My glass is filled, my pipe is lit,
     My den is all a cosy glow;
And snug before the fire I sit,
     And wait to feel the old year go.

Read the rest of the poem here

What are your favorite poems for the new year? Share them in the comments!

The Anticipation


The anticipation of a good meal is occasionally the only redeeming quality of a day. Especially on days that are routine, ordinary, or perhaps slightly boring, food can bring us to life. It brings color to my cheeks, so I've been told.

I recently had one of these days, while reporting for jury duty in downtown Los Angeles.

After an early morning, hour-long drive on side streets, and spending two and a half hours trying to read in the waiting room without falling asleep, my group was sent off on a 90 minute lunch break.

I knew where I was headed. Three blocks from the courthouse is Grand Central Market, a convergence of LA food stalls set in a 100-year-old building. I thought about it most of the morning, wondering what I might get. Last year when I found myself in the same situation, I ate at DTLA Cheese two days in a row, devouring a simple salad. With a few new eateries to choose from, I found a seat at the counter of Bombo, Mark Peel's new seafood outpost, and ordered a bowl of mussels with pappardelle.

In the end, the day let me think, let me read, let me write, let me walk. I attempted to see jury duty as a metaphor for impending childbirth, because nothing about the experience that day was in my control, like which group my name would or would not be called in, the random computer generator, or if I was lucky enough to miss the courtroom all together. 

Thankfully, I got off easy. The two civil cases we had been brought in for settled out of court, and by the late afternoon, we all cheered when we were told our service was complete. 

Two months later, I'm officially on maternity leave, which right now is probably the best feeling in the entire world. Now, instead of anticipating a good meal, I'm anticipating the arrival of our little one in just a couple of weeks. Not that there won't be any good food to be had, mind you.

Over Labor Day Weekend we drove to Underwood Family Farms for what's become an annual Roma tomato pilgrimage. Instead of picking our own boxes, we called ahead and ordered 50 pounds of tomatoes. I spent the next three days making fresh sauce and freezing it for when I'll need it most.

There was no recipe, really. I turned on the heat of my largest Le Crueset pot. Next, I halved, chopped, and slid tomatoes into the pot until it was nearly filled to the brim. Salt. A soft boil. A lower heat, and about 30 minutes, give or take. I simply cooked the sauce until it was done.

All the sauce was strained through a food mill on the coarsest blade, then poured into glass mason jars and sealed. In between, I made some of my favorite tomato things, like this tart from David Lebovitz, Molly's pomodori al forno, and fresh tomato sauce laced with parmesan and basil.

And of course, there is Pablo Neruda's Ode to Tomatoes, a poem I read every year around this time.

The street
filled with tomatoes,
light is
its juice
through the streets...

Now there's nothing left to do but eat tomatoes, and wait, wait, wait.