"When I Rise Up" by Georgia Douglas Johnson + Strawberry Buckwheat Cake

Strawberry Buckwheat Cake | Eat This Poem #cake #strawberry #summer #baking

It's hot and I am alone, shoving arugula, eggplant, basil, cherry tomatoes, and romaine in my tote bag. I drop my wallet on the asphalt after reaching for a bunch of cilantro, and crunch down to pick it up before fumbling for a twenty dollar bill and offering my piles of produce to the vendor for weighing.

Anything else? she asks. I shake my head.

Does it look like I can carry anything else? I think.

I stuff the change in my back pocket and sling the bag over my shoulder. Next, a loaf of bread. I clutch it to my chest and want to stay, linger, and try the honey and granola and chai tea samples that beckon. But I'm still sweating, and my bag is heavy. I have to remind myself that I'm pregnant and should take it easy. 

Back to the car. On my way out I see a crate of strawberries, and decide I deserve a little something for my troubles. For the sweat running down my neck. I wish I had worn sandals instead of sneakers and tied my hair into a ponytail before leaving.

At home, fan running, no longer sweating, I weigh strawberries to pass the time, waiting for Andrew's flight to land. He's been in Stockholm for work, and I try not to think about how if I weren't pregnant, I would have met him there and we would have jetted off to Prague or Rome or somewhere else we've been wanting to go together. Another time. With our son in tow, most likely, which I do like the sound of, come to think of it.

Having a baby, or in my case so far, growing a baby, has made me want to travel more, actually. Just in a general sense. I have nothing booked, no research started, and don't plan to worry myself with the challenges of flying or driving with a little one.

I think only about the fact that I want him to see the world, to be a global citizen, to taste spices in Morocco or drink tea in London, to see the dense streets of urban cities like Kathmandu, the dust, the traffic, the people who do not look like him but who want the same things in life. To stand in front of things that have survived, the monuments and castles and temples that tell us stories. To breathe it all in. 

For now, I inhale the sweet scent of strawberries, and eat as many as I can fit in my mouth before my stomach, my crushed, compressed stomach, says enough, enough for now.

Strawberry Buckwheat Cake | Eat This Poem #cake #strawberry #summer #baking

This is how I want the day to end: Eating pizza on our couch with dough I had lovingly made the day before so the yeasty flavor would be stronger, enjoying strawberry cake with whipped cream, and looking at photos from his trip.

But the day unfolds another way.

A few minutes before Andrew's plane lands, I take Emma outside for a quick walk. As we trudge back up the stairs, I reach for the keys in my back pocket and my keychain falls apart.

Two keys fall on the ledge below and I grab them before they spill over underneath the stairs. I put my keychain back together, grateful I found all the keys.

Except I don't find them all.

I don't notice until we're halfway down the hall, but the key to our condo is missing. 

I tug Emma's leash to scurry back outside. She sits sweetly on the top step while I crouch down as best I can (for the second time today), trying to spot the silver metal key among bark, dirt, old candy wrappers, and such. I can't fathom it has flung so far away to have been buried and become invisible. Yet it is. There is no glint, no shimmer, no hope in this dreadful moment.

Strawberry Buckwheat Cake | Eat This Poem #cake #strawberry #summer #baking

Andrew lands. I text him the bad news while he's in the line at customs. At least I have Emma, my car keys, the building key, and my sunglasses. I pick him up from the airport and we drive home, where he finds long sticks we use to push away old pine cone branches, searching again. Andrew even crawls halfway underneath the stairs to get a closer look. Nothing.

We call a locksmith. We are quoted $75 and end up paying $225. (This company, although timely, will be receiving a bad review on Yelp in the near future for poor communication about its pricing structure.) 

It could be worse. I tell myself this over and over.

I am reminded of a poem sent to me earlier in the week by Poets.org. It's a short, simple poem, about standing back and looking down at yourself from a vantage point that offers true perspective. It doesn't talk about what those things are. The reader may fill them in. As you read, you'll find the poem to be a reminder that in certain difficult moments, of which our lives are filled with many, we can choose how to respond to any situation. 

When I Rise Up

by Georgia Douglas Johnson, 1880 - 1966

When I rise up above the earth,
And look down on the things that fetter me,
I beat my wings upon the air,
Or tranquil lie,
Surge after surge of potent strength
Like incense comes to me
When I rise up above the earth
And look down upon the things that fetter me.

Strawberry Buckwheat Cake | Eat This Poem #cake #strawberry #summer #baking

This particular day, there is plenty to fetter me. Our evening turns into a long, expensive lesson learned, but it could be worse. Much, much worse. 

I try to be grateful for the following:

1) We have the money (not that we want to spend it on new locks, but still).

2) This crisis occurs the day Andrew comes home, instead of on Tuesday, when he is at a conference halfway around the world.

3) We have to change the locks and get new keys, and politely argue with a locksmith about the price we are quoted on the phone and the price he is insisting it costs for an emergency visit on a Saturday afternoon.

But then the locksmith leaves and we make pizza and eat strawberry cake as the sun goes down, and we resolve that Sunday will be a new day.


Slightly adapted from Smitten Kitchen, who adapted it from Martha Stewart

I used a 10-inch springform pan, and I liked how a thinner batter cradled the heavy, jammy berries on top. Deb suggested using barley flour, but since I love strawberries on top of my buckwheat pancakes, I decided it would be a good addition to cake, too, and loved the slightly nutty result.

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature, plus extra for pan
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup buckwheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar, plus 2 tablespoons for topping
1 large egg
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pound strawberries, hulled and halved

Preheat oven to 350°F and butter a 10-inch springform pan. 

Whisk flours, baking powder and salt together in a small bowl. In the bowl of a standing mixer, beat butter and 1 cup sugar until pale and fluffy with an electric mixer, about 3 minutes. Mix in egg, milk and vanilla until just combined. Add dry mixture gradually, mixing until just smooth.

Pour into the buttered pan. Arrange strawberries, cut side down, on top of batter, as closely as possible in a single layer. Sprinkle remaining 2 tablespoons sugar over berries.

Bake cake for 10 minutes then reduce oven temperature to 325°F and bake cake until golden brown and a tester comes out free of wet batter, about 50 minutes to 60 minutes. Cool on rack before serving with a dusting of powdered sugar, or freshly whipped cream.

"Buckwheat" by Carl Sandburg + Cold Soba Salad

Buckwheat by Carl Sandburg + Cold Soba Salad

In the kitchen there are secret pleasures, like the scent of the garbage disposal after you sneak in the peel of a lemon, or chopping chives in complete silence, or drinking homemade almond milk straight from the bottle while the refrigerator door is still open. 

Of course when the house is quiet it's easier to notice these details. To move slowly from the chopping block to the stove to the freezer, being careful not to step on the dog splayed out on your kitchen rug. When I'm alone in the kitchen, and especially when I'm alone for dinner (a somewhat rare occurrence), my senses seem to heighten. 

Andrew was finishing a big work project in early October, which kept him late most nights. His office even ordered dinner for the team, so I was cooking for one and would sort of ho hum around the house, going through a list of meals in my head and letting my gut decide what to make for dinner.

One evening, it was a cold noodle salad.

I have a certain affinity for soba noodles, and when my enthusiasm gets out of control it's usually met with a passive aggressive remark such as "soba noodles again?" or "why do you like soba noodles so much?", so I've started leaving more days in between. But being alone I could slurp soba noodles to my heart's content (!), without any judgement. 

This being a cold salad, I took steps earlier in the day to prepare. Boiling the noodles and shrimp before leaving for work, chopping cucumbers when I came home for lunch, and even whisking the dressing the night before (overachiever!) so that by the time I came home and shoved Emma around the block for a "walk," dinner was waiting. 

Buckwheat is something of a staple in my pantry. Soba noodles are always tucked in a nook, and I adore buckwheat flour in pancakes, so when I happened upon this lovely little poem by Carl Sandburg, it made me consider the plant itself, the "honey-white buckwheat" grown in fields before being ground to a fine, gray powder.

Cold Soba Salad | Eat This Poem


by Carl Sandburg

There was a late autumn cricket,
And two smoldering mountain sunsets
Under the valley roads of her eyes.

There was a late autumn cricket,
A hangover of summer song,
Scraping a tune
Of the late night clocks of summer,
In the late winter night fireglow,
This in a circle of black velvet at her neck.

In pansy eyes a flash, a thin rim of white light, a beach bonfire
ten miles across dunes, a speck of a fool star in night's half
circle of velvet.

In the corner of the left arm a dimple, a mole, a forget-me-not,
and it fluttered a hummingbird wing, a blur in the honey-red
clover, in the honey-white buckwheat. 

From Smoke & Steel

It's a love poem, both for the season and the speaker's beloved. Full of personal details, the poem still invites you in like a rush of wind. When I close my eyes I stand on the dunes not far from my house, the remnants of a beach bonfire smoking below. And it being autumn there is a chill, but also an overwhelming, expansive beauty, captured so eloquently on the page.

And we must say a little something about how the poem ends on the word buckwheat. The honey-white buckwheat plant, the source point. Our ceramic cups dive deep into flour bags and emerge with a decidedly different version of the poem's buckwheat. What a good reminder to spend what little time we have left of the season in absolute awe of the hummingbirds, the moles, and the "smoldering mountain sunsets."

Cold Soba Salad | Eat This Poem


Recipe adapted from Aida Mollenkamp 

I came across this recipe on Twitter of all places. And I say that with a dash of surprise because of the limited amount of time I spend there these days. It was good fortune to see the link when I did, because it made for a very satisfying meal, and one I look forward to making again. (I also love her trick of poaching the shrimp in the same pot while the noodles are cooking!)

A few minor recipe tweaks ensued, mostly due to the fact that I forgot to bring home snow peas and the green onions I thought were fresh were beyond saving by the time I opened the crisper. Luckily, this is a recipe well suited to light adaptations. 

For the noodles:
8 ounces dried soba noodles
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 pound (about 24) shrimp, shelled and deveined
2 big handfuls of spinach
6 ounces snow peas, cut on bias into 1-inch pieces
2 Persian cucumbers, trimmed, halved lengthwise, and thinly sliced
1 bunch of chives, finely chopped
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds or chia seeds (pictured)

For the dressing:
1/4 cup seasoned rice vinegar
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
2 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
2 to 3 teaspoons honey
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
2 inch piece ginger, peeled and grated
3 tablespoons canola oil

Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Fill a bowl halfway with ice water and set aside. (It's tempting to skip this step, but it will make a difference and really help the noodles cool down.)

When the water is boiling, add the noodles and cook for about 3 minutes, then add the salt and shrimp and continue cooking until the shrimp are pink and firm, about 3 minutes more. Put the spinach in the bottom of a colander, then drain the shrimp and noodles over the top. The heat will help wilt the spinach. 

Place everything in the ice water and cool completely, at least 20 minutes.

To make the dressing, add everything except the oil  in a food processor. Process until smooth, then drizzle in the oils. Drain the noodles, shrimp, and spinach (pick out any remaining ice if you need to), and add the cucumber and chives. Pour on the dressing and toss to coat. Garnish with the sesame or chia seeds and serve. 

"turnip root" by Polly Hatfield + Turnip and Chard Buckwheat Tart

turnip buckwheat tart

You would think a turnip to be straightforward. After all, it's nothing more than a tuber, cream with a bright purple neck, peppery, bold, confident. Yet, we're put off. Very little in the way of turnip recipes feels inspired. We see them roasted, often with carrots or parsnips, the trio of roots tossed in oil and pushed to the side of our plate. I'm guilty of it myself.

Even one of my favorite food writers, Nigel Slater, had a slow start. "The Romans knew the turnip, though hardly worshipped it, and part of its problem may stem from the fact that it has always been used as animal fodder. It has taken me most of my life to appreciate the turnip."  I knew if Slater was reluctant, there would be little hope for the rest of us.

True to form, it took me three recipes to be happy. I made a tart the first time around, but it wasn't hearty enough. The turnips were thinly sliced on a mandolin, the circles too large. I waited two or three weeks before trying again. Next, root vegetable latkes. Potato, turnip, golden beets. Not terrible, not memorable. It still didn't feel inspired. I went back to the tart, tried again, adding onions and chard, cheese and mustardingredients meant to enhance the peppery turnip. 

What I learned was that to cook with a turnip is to forge a path in the darkness, not unlike the turnip itself as it grows underground in the cold. In the spirit of fresh starts, realizations, and fighting for the underdog, I turn to this poem that was sent to me by a reader. You'll see, the poor turnip has stiff competition. 

turnip buckwheat tart08.jpg
turnip buckwheat tart07.jpg

turnip root

by Polly Hatfield

i lack the pr team of organic mesclun
the allure of blanched white asparagus

upstaged by the newfangled glitz of micro greens
the lunatic verve of doughnut peaches             

i am a white root vegetable    
with a pungent mustardy bite

i simply cannot compete 
with the hothouse fervor

of sun-ripened heirloom tomatoes
sweet, succulent, sexy orbs

i languish unharvested in the fields 
where forgotten i wither and turn punky with neglect  


Poem first appeared in Alltopia Antholozine, Summer 2010, Volume 2, Issue 3. Reprinted with permission from the author

In any other season I would agree with the turnip's lament. In August, it "cannot compete/ with the hothouse fervor/ of sun-ripened heirloom tomatoes." The tone is jovial, almost dramatic. But there is some truth here, because a turnip can easily be upstaged. It's such a sad scene, turnips languished "unharvested in the fields," likely to be tossed at the pigs for a meal. In this poem, the turnip knows its place, and how difficult it is to share the stage with other vegetables that are sexier and more popular.

In a way, the turnip makes his peace with neglect, but employs a passive aggressive strategy to plead with us, letting him prove that with a little attention, he can make something of himself in this world. Let's resolve not to neglect the turnip this year. You don't have to love it or praise it, or cook with it frequently, but give the turnip a chance, if only to reach out of your root vegetable comfort zone temporarily. Of all the months to embrace the turnip, January offers new beginnings for us all.

turnip buckwheat tart09.jpg

Turnip and Mustard Tart

To get ahead with dinner prep, make the crust in the morning (or better yet, the day before), so you’ll be ready to assemble. 

Extra-virgin olive oil
1 large turnip (about 1 pound), diced into 1/2-inch pieces
1 brown onion, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 bunch chard, stems removed and thinly sliced into ribbons
1 sprig thyme, leaves removed
1 buckwheat crust (via Sprouted Kitchen)
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard (I like a combination of whole grain and smooth)
Salt and pepper
4 sprigs thyme
1 cup grated gruyere
1 large egg, lightly beaten

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. 

Saute the turnips in 1 tablespoon of oil over medium low heat for 8-10 minutes, or until just beginning to turn golden. Season with a pinch each of salt and pepper. Add the turnips to a large bowl and heat another tablespoon of oil in the same pan. Add the onion and garlic; cook for 2 to 3 minutes, then add the chard, thyme, and season with a pinch each of salt and pepper. Cook for an additional 3 to 5 minutes, or until the chard is wilted. Scrape the vegetables into the bowl with the turnips.

Roll out the crust in an 11 to 13-inch circle and gently place into a tart pan. Lop off any overhang by running your rolling pin over the top. Add a piece of foil and a cup or so of beans or pie weights on top; bake for 15 minutes. 

Once the vegetables have cooled slightly, add the egg and half the gruyere; mix well to combine. Pour the filling into the crust and spread in an even layer. Top with the remaining gruyere. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until the tart is just set and the top is starting to brown.