Living With Poetry | The Kindness of Strangers + Pumpkin Hummus

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Living with Poetry is an occasional series where we explore how poetry infuses our everyday lives. Catch up with past features here.

The morning of October 18th, my alarm went off at 5:45 am. I washed my face and dressed in a rush, then started the car before the sun came up. I had an hour's drive ahead of me to the hospital where my mom was having surgery that morning.

When I saw her, she requested something healthy for lunch, so I strolled the farmer's market (conveniently located at the hospital) looking for a few things to pick up for her. A woman selling hummus gave me samples. I told her it was for my mom who was in surgery, and that I'd probably be back in a bit to choose something. 

When I returned, she asked how my mom was, and suggested tabbouleh because the parsley would be easy to digest. Also, a pumpkin hummus that would be healthy and comforting.  

A nurse standing at the hospital entrance asking if we'd gotten our flu shots yet. A volunteer reminding everyone in the waiting room that the market would close at 1 pm. And a woman selling more than 10 varieties of hummus on a typical Friday morning, sweet enough to ask how your mom is doing. 

There is poetry in kindness, don't you think?


You can make this taste more like pumpkin pie, but I prefer a lighter hand with the warm spices. Just a pinch is all you need. If you'd like to increase the spice, start small, taste, and add more until it tastes right to you.

2 cups garbanzo beans
1/3 cup tahini
1/3 cup pumpkin puree
1/3 cup water
1 garlic clove
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
1/2 teaspoon salt
Pinch cinnamon
Pinch nutmeg

Add everything to the food processor and let it run for several minutes, until very smooth. Taste and adjust seasonings, if necessary. Serve with a drizzle of oil and a sprinkle of cinnamon. 

Living With Poetry | Recipes and Repetition

Living with Poetry is an occasional series where we explore how poetry infuses our everyday lives. Catch up with past features here.

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I've always held on to the belief that recipes and poems are not very different from one another. They both begin with building blocks like a turn of phrase or the turn of a whisk in a mixing bowl. A recipe cooked in my kitchen might look slightly different than in your kitchen, even if we use the same ingredients. A poem read today might resonate more when read again in six months. All of this is to say that I've been thinking about how recipes become part of you, the same way a poem might burrow itself under your skin when you've read it enough times and memorized a line or two. It's about turning over and over.

When we had friends over for dinner a few weeks ago, I set out to make pumpkin mac and cheese as a nod to the new season. I didn't use a recipe, because I've made mac and cheese so many times before that I knew it by heart. This is a time when the kitchen becomes a more magical place, because you're freed from standing over the counter, pointing with one finger at the list of ingredients before grating the cheese. You just move in one fluid motion from grating to whisking to stirring to boiling, and the meal comes together because you're steady.

Also, because you've likely made a mistake or two in the past.

You burnt the chocolate or smudged a word with an eraser. You boiled the pasta for two minutes too long or couldn't conceive of the right word to end the line. You learn. You grow. Wendell Berry puts it well in his poem "The Sycamore."

"Over all its scars has come the seamless white
of the bark. It bears the gnarls of its history
healed over. It has risen to a strange perfection
in the wrap and bending of its long growth. 
It has gathered all accidents into its purpose."

-Wendell Berry, from "The Sycamore" 

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It has gathered all accidents into its purpose. I repeat this line again and again and think of writing, of cooking, of relationships, of false starts or wrong turns. It's a powerful reminder that there is a reason for everything.

For its part in this lesson, pumpkin has arrived. It's presence is why I didn't look at a recipe, and instead added a few heaping spoonfuls into the pot and whisked and whisked, and why I found myself realizing that all the recipes and repetition have become something else entirely. The recipes do not live on paper alone. They exist for us to make something of them, to know them, to become something we can trust and love and hold on to.


4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup all purpose flour
3 cups whole milk
2/3 cup pumpkin puree
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly cracked pepper
1 pound pasta
8 ounces gruyere, grated
4 ounces aged cheddar, grated
1/2 a baguette, torn into large pieces
4 to 5 sage leaves
2-3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Melt the butter in a large stock pot over medium heat and whisk in the flour to combine. Cook for 30 seconds, then slowly whisk in the milk. Cook, whisking occasionally, until the sauce has thickened and can coat the back of a spoon, about 10 minutes. Off the heat, whisk in the pumpkin, nutmeg, salt, and a few cracks of freshly cracked pepper. Whisk in the cheese.

While the sauce thickens, bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the pasta for 6 minutes. (You want the noodles to be slightly undercooked; they'll finish cooking in the oven.) Drain and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking.

Add the pasta to the sauce and stir to combine. You'll hear a gooey, satisfying sound as the sauce begins clinging to the noodles. Pour the pasta into a large baking dish and set off to make the breadcrumbs.

Pulse the bread and sage in a food processor until small crumbs form. Add a pinch of salt, then drizzle in the oil until evenly coated. Spread the crumbs over the pasta.

You can prepare everything earlier in the day and keep the dish in the fridge until ready to bake. Before serving, bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbly and the breadcrumbs are golden brown. 

ETP Contest, Second Place: "Translation" by MariJean Sanders + Pumpkin Snickerdoodles


Sometimes it's better to bake a cookie than to have a long, drawn out conversation. Sometimes we need a spoonful of chocolate chip cookie batter to set things right. Sometimes we cook when we don't know what else to say, or when we've already said what we can.  We cook to satisfy our bellies and our emotional hungers. Simply put, cooking is a language of love. 

This sentiment is reflected beautifully in this poem by ETP's second place winner, MariJean Sanders. You feel the struggle in the poem. A struggle of the heart, twisting this way and that, yearning to express itself, and what comes out is not a soothing word, but a plate of cookies that says I love you.


by MariJean Sanders

You should know
we resort to cookies
when we run out of words.
when saying is too sharp
or too incoherent -
here have some
extra-stuffed chocolate chip, pumpkin-buttermilk
seven layer snickerdoodle
(yes let’s fill you up with too much sweet -
as if you really need it-)
it’s maternal instinct, maybe.
Or perhaps we just fail at loving,
and all we’ve got to hide behind now, our
last language
is coded for your tastebuds, masterpiece-by-the-dozen
(maybe you missed it)


allow me to translate.

cookies mean 

I love you
cookies mean I need a hug
cookies mean I just wish you would
say I’m beautiful or
tell your friends that I’m Pretty Much the Best
cookies mean please don’t leave
because I feel at home when you’re around,
I’m so very proud of you

you can do it I know you can and
I want you to know so badly that
I’m afraid to tell you
out loud

We stir it all in
with the butter and vanilla
and hope


Q&A With MariJean

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What struck me first about "Translation" was how relatable it was. Has food always been a language of love for you?

Yes! I grew up with family dinner as a central part of the day, and gathering around the table with family or friends are some of my best memories. Particularly after a hard day’s work. Nothing draws people together like working hard together and then sitting down for a meal afterwards.

Also I am drawn to anything that piques the five senses, and food has a special monopoly - sitting down to eat is one of the only things that utilizes sight, sound, smell, touch and taste.  And since eating also happens to be necessary to sustain life, a well-done dish is a wonderful example of making the most of what you have, transforming something potentially mundane into a masterpiece.

Tell us a bit about the genesis of the poem and what compelled you to write it.

I ran for my college’s small cross country and track team, where often the entire team would go to the cafeteria together for dinner after practice. Since it was such a small team, often the guys and girls would train together as well. Therefore, I developed relationships with both the guys and the girls on the team. I started to notice that girls could compliment and affirm each other verbally, whereas that didn't work so well with the guys. For instance, I could tell my girls “I’m so proud of you” after a great race – but those words wouldn't communicate what I meant as effectively with the guys – they were too afraid of anything that smacked of sentiment! Baking them cookies always seemed to get the message across, though.

The poem is a sort of universal confession from women to men they care about (though not all women and men will communicate exactly alike!) – when we get frustrated with the sometimes vast gulf of communication that exists between the sexes, it isn't words, but food, that can occasionally bridge the gap.  Which is a bit magical, I think.

Besides chocolate chip cookies and snickerdoodles, what's your favorite thing to cook?

Pie is definitely my specialty. This summer I think I averaged one pie a week. My two latest pies were a pie baked into a cake (a piecaken) and a pie shaped like a pirate ship. I enjoy experimenting and making anything from as 'scratch' as it gets (I even butchered a turkey once), and I love recreating recipes from my favorite stories.  I could also make and eat any kind of soup or pesto every single day. 

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


Pumpkin Snickerdoodles

Adapted from Michael Rhulman

4 tablespoons butter, browned
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
4 tablespoons pumpkin puree
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/4  cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
Pinch of salt

Cinnamon Sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon

When the butter has cooled slightly, pour it into the bowl of a stand mixer and add the sugars and pumpkin. Mix on medium speed until well incorporated. Reduce speed to low and add the egg and vanilla; mix until combined. Gently add the dry ingredients and mix until juts combined; dough will be slightly sticky. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Stir the sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl, then drop heaping tablespoons of dough into the bowl and roll around to coat before rolling between your palms to make a uniform circle. Chilled dough will be easier to work with, but will still be a bit sticky, so rolling the dough in the cinnamon sugar first will make it easier to rub between your palms. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for 12 minutes, or until edges are golden.