"i believe in breakfast" by Abby Leigh + Omelette for Autumn


Eggs and I had a slow start. I ate them in cakes and muffins, where the egg was hidden between layers of butter and flour. I scrambled them occasionally in my college kitchens when I had no other ideas for lunch, but they ended up grossly overcooked and spongy. My husband has been the one to change my mind, actually, but even that was a long transition.

Until recently, when he asked for eggs on Saturday morning, I usually made waffles instead. Then we shared a wonderful breakfast at a little cafe in Petaluma this July, and he insisted we bring home poblano peppers, bacon, and cheese to recreate the dish he loved so much. I protested for weeks, insisting that we couldn't make eggs because we didn't have an omelette pan. Then we bought one. 

When we set it on the stove one evening, I pulled out Mastering the Art of French Cooking to read through Julia Child's egg chapter. Andrew claimed he already knew how to make an omelette, which he did, but he indulged me as I read her instructions aloud:

"A good French omelette is a smooth, gently swelling, golden oval that is tender and creamy inside...Learning to make a good omelette is entirely a matter of practice. Do one after another for groups of people every chance you get for several days, and even be willing to throw some away. You should soon develop the art, as well as your own personal omelette style." - Julia Child

Her voice is so encouraging. She also acknowledges the challenges posed by a written omelette recipe, as they take so little time to cook, you don't have a chance to stop and read the next instruction. You must be confident and prepared from the start.

Today's poem by Abby Leigh offers a similar encouragement, embracing the day's first meal from a place of reflection and hope. Having recently become a breakfast convert, I appreciated her poem even more. The mantra "i believe in breakfast... i believe in mornings" nudges you out of bed and into the kitchen where the day's possibility can unfold in its own way. It might be still and quiet. It might be full of "amplified sounds of neighbors and deliveries," but it's always yours to do with what you please.

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i believe in breakfast

by Abby Leigh

in the holding power of hot coffee between us,
in the truths that spill from eyes still squinting with sleep
and lips still clinging to dream-drenched words.

i believe in mornings.
in the new mercies of summer breaking through the blinds,
in the amplified sounds of neighbors and deliveries and the
resetting of all that yesterday set off.

for first hour routines hold such holy potential,
rites of preparation, intention,
the feeding of body and soul -
eggs and delusions cracked open and laid bare.

to starting, again, and awakening the world,
one sip,
one word,
one morning at a time.

This poem was selected to be featured in the Eat This Poem contest anthology, and as I was reading, I couldn't help but scribble recipe ideas in the margins. "Eggs and delusions" are on the menu in this poem, and I can think of nothing better than an omelette swirled with mushroom puree and scattered with snipped chives.

Omelette for Autumn

Sauteed mushrooms are welcome here. If you'd like to use a pureed version, pour 1 cup of hot water over .5 ounces of dried mushrooms. Steep for 15 minutes, then puree in a blender. 

Inspired by Julia Child, Mastering the Art of French Cooking

Serves 1

3 eggs
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon chopped chives
1 tablespoon mushroom puree (if using)
Salt and pepper

Break the eggs into a small bowl and beat with a fork. Add a pinch each of salt and pepper. Melt the butter in an 8-inch nonstick pan set over high heat. As it melts, tilt the butter in all directions to be sure the surface is well coated. When the foam has almost subsided, pour in the eggs.  

Immediately slide the pan back and forth rapidly over the burner. At the same time, stir eggs quickly with a fork to help spread them over the bottom of the pan. In just a few seconds, they will become a light, broken custard. Quickly add your chives and mushrooms or mushroom puree (if using). 

Tilt the handle to 45 degrees and gather the eggs at the far side of the pan with the back of your fork. It will just need a few more seconds here so the bottom can brown lightly. The center of the omelette should be soft and creamy when you turn it out onto a plate.

ETP Contest, First Place: "Sukiyaki" by Linda Parsons Marion + Japanese Hot Pot

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It's contest week on Eat This Poem! After months of review, I'm excited to be announcing the first place winner of the inaugural ETP contest and share the accompanying recipe.

I read this poem three times before moving on to the rest of the pile. The words are striking in a raw, emotional way, at times violent and unforgiving. The story of marriage and divorce, and of tasting new flavors, was complex, not unlike the soup at the core of this poem. Linda Parsons Marion's poem is a testament to the power of food, memory, and the ties that bind us together. I hope you'll be just as moved and inspired as I was. 


by Linda Parsons Marion

My stepmother stirs swift tides of sesame
and soy, strange sea bubbling dark. Nights
she rocks that samurai blade, flank or roundsteak
soaking the drainboard, a brace of greentailed
scallions hacked headless. Taught the ancient ways
by her brother’s war bride, who shadowed him
to Tennessee with eyes downcast, she sugars the beef,
dipped in egg beaten bright as rising suns. Raised
on Boyardee and La Choy, I enter her kitchen
like a bamboo grove, part paradise, part unknowable,
exotic as distant Osaka. From one slippery shore
to another, my mother’s cold shoulder to the steam
of ribboned onions, red meat cut on the bias.
Ricebowl filled, I ladle an extra sorghum-slow
syllable, suk-i-ya-ki, my tongue trying new salt.

First published in A Tapestry of Voices: The Knoxville Writers’ Guild 2011 Anthology, 2010. Reprinted with permission from the Knoxville Writers' Guild.

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Q&A With Linda Parsons Marion

Tell us a bit about the genesis of the poem and what compelled you to write it.
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I wrote “Sukiyaki” for an anthology published by the Knoxville Writers’ Guild whose focus was diversity, A Tapestry of Voices (2010). I wanted to continue exploring the food issues in my childhood regarding my mother and stepmother, with an added layer of ‘foreignness.’ I’d begun this exploration in my second book, Mother Land, with the poem “Mother Wars,” about my mother’s homemade macaroni and cheese and my preference (at that time) for Kraft mac ‘n cheese, used by my stepmom. Oh, how things have changed! I was drawn to the modernness and comfort of my stepmother, who was twenty when she married my father and is only thirteen years older than I. She loved to play and offered me the peace and refuge of a ‘normal’ homelife when I visited on the weekends. My mother suffers from bipolar disorder, an illness no one understood in those days (1950s-60s), least of all a child torn between two worlds.

"Sukiyaki" is a poem that evokes a vivid memory. How many years passed between the experience of trying sukiyaki for the first time and writing the poem? 

Close to fifty years! I left my mother at the age of eleven to live with my dad and stepmother. I remember my stepmom making the dish after I was with them full-time. Her brother served in the Navy right after the war and married a Japanese woman, but the sukiyaki is the only Japanese dish I recall her making.

The poem depicts moving from one existence to another—mother to mother, culture to culture (Japan to Tennessee), familiar to exotic, uncertainty and fear to security, taste to taste, etc. The strangeness of sukiyaki, the dish and the name itself, illustrates my stepping into a new life, still feeling the guilt and angst of leaving my mother behind—that “slippery shore” I navigated, “part paradise, part unknowable.”

For someone raised on Chef Boyardee and La Choy, Japanese flavors must have been a shock to the palate. Did you take to the cuisine right away?

As I said, the sukiyaki symbolized the ‘newness’ I entered when I moved in with my dad and stepmom. How would I embrace this change? How would I begin again (especially during the rocky years of adolescence)? As for the dish itself, I most remember the saltiness of soy and the wonderful scallions and rice, but the soy sauce wasn’t that different from the Worchester we poured on our steaks! Salt, salt, salt. My dad was a traveling salesman and, when he returned home on the weekends, he wanted his beef—roasts, T-bones. Even so, all of my parents (and I) were raised on—and still love—traditional southern dishes like chicken and dumplings, fried fruit pies, cornbread, homegrown tomatoes, pintos, green beans cooked to death with fatback (but oh, so good), etc.

Download the anthology to read the rest of Linda's interview. 

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Japanese Hot Pot

Adapted from White on Rice Couple

Serves 4 to 6

Sukiyaki is a type of nab, or Japanese hot pot. Traditional recipes include thinly sliced beef and vegetables like mushrooms and green onions simmered in a flavorful broth of sake, soy sauce, and sugar. It is often served with a beaten egg that the vegetables are dipped in before eating, and is endlessly adaptable depending on the ingredients accessible to you. Essentially, it's Japanese comfort food. 

This post from White on Rice Couple is a very comprehensive overview of Japanese hot pot cooking. Reading their description of the method reminded me of Italian minestrone in the sense that there are some general guidelines worth noting, but improvisation is encouraged. To this end, I made adaptations to suit my taste, and hope you feel inspired to do so as well. The ingredients below are easily adaptable, and you can serve your broth with white rice or soba noodles. 

Vegetable oil
3/4 pound grass fed sirloin, thinly sliced
4-6 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
1 Napa cabbage, halved lengthwise and sliced
4 scallions, sliced into 2-inch pieces
5 to 6 large Shiitake mushrooms, sliced
3 to 4 ounces bunapi mushrooms
4 cups vegetable stock
1/4 cup Japanese soy sauce (use the best you can find)
1 to 2 tablespoons sugar
1 bunch watercress
Cooked short grain white rice for serving

In a 5-quart cast iron stock pot, warm the pan over medium heat and add 1 tablespoon of oil. Add the beef slices in a single layer (as best you can), season with 1/2 teaspoon salt, and brown each side; place in a large bowl.

With the pot still on medium-high heat, add 2 tablespoons of oil, then add the shallots, cabbage, and scallions. It will take only a minute or two for the cabbage to wilt and the shallots to brown in places; reduce the heat to low and add the mushrooms. Stir to coat, season with 1 teaspoon salt, and cook for 3 to 5 minutes. 

Add the stock, sugar, and soy sauce, and gently place the beef back in the pot; simmer for 10 minutes. Place the watercress on top, then cook 1 minute more, until just wilted. Place rice into bowls and ladle soup over the top.

"Looking for Melville Winery" by Nicole Gulotta + Mushroom Quesadillas with Brie and Honey

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I've written this blog for a year and a half without so much a word about my own poetry, and there's a good reason for that, a simple reason. I stopped writing it.  

I'll spare some of the minutia, but shortly after my chapbook, Migration, was published in 2009 (it won the annual contest from Flyway: A Journal of Writing and Environment), my writing experienced a tectonic shift from poetry to food. That shift is partially responsible for leading me here today, confirming once and for all that there is a reason for everything. 

When I started Eat This Poem, my soul longed for poetry again. Not the writing of it myself (at least not yet), but the reading and enjoyment of it. The power. I've always believed that when the time was right, when enough poetry made its way through my veins like a daily dose of Vitamin D, I would put pen to paper again. I haven't gotten there yet. Right now it's just fragments, a line or two now and then, or maybe a draft of a poem that needs some attention, but nothing whole. 

Maybe sharing today's poem will help start me down that path again. As an Eat This Poem offering, I have "Looking for Melville Winery," from the aforementioned chapbook. Re-reading this poem five years later is like being thrust back in time. I wrote this after our first visit to Melville in the Santa Ynez Valley, a winery my husband and I are now club members of.  

The first time you make the drive off highway 246 towards Lompoc, you'll think you passed the winery entirely. The road is a long stretch, about 10 miles, and you might doubt your directions, or in our case, make a wrong turn and find yourself in the driveway of a farm, watching horses.  (We were also using a real paper map, not our iPhones.)

We called for directions and eventually arrived. As the poem describes, everything about the place was inviting. The vines were golden, the tasting room Dijon mustard yellow, and when the sun set, it cast a blanket of warmth over trees.

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Looking for Melville Winery

by Nicole Gulotta

The tasting room is honey, Mediterranean
stucco, vines the color of a coriander seed.

Small rocks split under the pressure of our tires
as we roll toward the tasting room. 

I press our map against the dash, watch wind
waft through the drape of a horses

The world of this animal—nothing to do but gallop
into the shade of an oak

this gentle morning. 


Poem first appeared in the chapbook, Migration, published by Iowa State University Press. Reprinted with author's permission. 

During the first pick-up party for our wine shipment in January 2012, Melville hosted club members in the barrel room, and in addition to serving library wines (poured by Mr. Melville himself), the catering team passed around truffled French fries and quesadillas filled with mushrooms and drizzled with local honey. I never forgot it.

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When I pulled my chapbook from the shelf and lingered on this poem, I was surprised to have used the word "honey" to describe the tasting room approximately four years before honey would appear in an appetizer there. When I wrote this poem, Melville's wine club hadn't even been established yet.

It just means the world goes 'round, and hopefully you'll be able to look back and see the course, know it led you in the right direction. This need not last for days. We just need a long pause now and then, to take a deep breath and remember that every choice made built upon another like a ladder, and one day we'll emerge from the hanging and the climbing, the effort of it all, and just stand at the top of the hillside for a brief moment, full of nothing but peace and satisfaction.

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Mushroom Quesadillas with Brie and Honey

Spelt tortillas have become a favorite of ours, but use any tortilla you'd like. Normally, I cook quesadillas on the stove top, but I find that browning the tortillas, then melting the cheese in the oven helps get a nice assembly line going, and everything finishes at the same time.

Makes 4

 Extra virgin olive oil
1 package cremini mushrooms (about 8 ounces) 
1/2 teaspoon rosemary, minced
Salt and pepper
4 tortillas (fajita size)
8 ounces brie, thinly sliced
Warm honey, for drizzling
Parsley, for garnish

Preheat oven to 300 degrees and have a sheet pan ready. 

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over a medium low flame. While the oil warms, thinly slice the mushrooms and add them to the pan as you go. Stir, season with salt and pepper, and cook for 5 to 7 minutes, until tender and golden. Scrape into a bowl.

Heat a bit more olive oil and brown the tortillas on one side only, then place them on the sheet pan. Now you can assemble. On each tortilla, place 4-5 slices of brie on one side, followed by a couple of spoonfuls of mushrooms, then a few more slices of brie. Sprinkle with salt and pepper before folding the other half of the tortilla over the top. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the brie is melted. Before slicing and serving, drizzle the quesadillas with honey and parsley (if using).