Living With Poetry | How Simple, and How Profound

Homemade Whole Grain Bread | Eat This Poem

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

It seems the simplest of things: flour, water, yeast. But bread can be an intimidating creature. It feels as if you need a full day simply to tackle even the idea of homemade bread. Perhaps an entire weekend even, and finally on Sunday night you resolve that the following weekend you'll give it a go. 

The following weekend turns into the following month, sometimes. It did for me, but I've found bread to be something that simply waits for you. It doesn't pester you with text messages or late-night email reminders. It doesn't tug at your shirt like a toddler learning to stand. It doesn't beg. Bread does not boast that it is easier than baking muffins or making soup. It says nothing until releasing slow breaths while rising on the counter.  

For months I had bookmarked Alex and Sonja's bread recipe, by way of baker Zoe Francois. It reminded me of one of the favorite loaves I've been ordering from Good Eggs lately, and I had an itch to make it myself when I had a spare moment. Over the holidays, that moment arrived. Bread was one of the many things I cooked in my kitchen in December while catching up on Downton Abbey and leafing through Neruda's odes yet again. (Never mind that it's taken me this long to write about it.)

Homemade Whole Grain Bread | Eat This Poem
Homemade Whole Grain Bread | Eat This Poem

you rise
from flour, 
and fire.
Dense or light,
flattened or round,
you duplicate
the mother's
rounded womb,
and earth's
How simple
you are, bread,
and how profound!

-from "Ode to Bread" by Pablo Neruda

Homemade Whole Grain Bread | Eat This Poem
Homemade Whole Grain Bread | Eat This Poem

I'm always grateful of the reminder that such plain ingredients can do their magic with hardly any fuss. And in case you're missing out on bread's transformative powers because of fear or past failures, it's worth noting that I'm not a master bread maker. Not even close. I'd say my odds are about 50/50 that a loaf comes out just right, but the fact is that even a disappointing loaf of homemade bread, with a soft chew and yeasty perfume, tastes better than anything you can buy. Just slather with butter and sprinkle with Maldon salt and it will be very, very good.

How simple, and how profound. Neruda has it right. 

Ready for your own baking experiments? Visit A Couple Cooks for the recipe. 

"Ode to Tomatoes" by Pablo Neruda + Tomato Meditations


I had been gone too long.

Eight pounds of tomatoes were lovingly scored with an x, boiled, and were letting a bowl of ice cool their skins. I said it would just be a minute, starting the sauce, but there was still the peeling to do, and the scraping out of the seeds, removing the core. Tedious work. I let out a long sigh when my peripheral vision caught the movement of my husband's body leaning in the doorway. Tomato in one hand an pairing knife in the other, I glanced over at him, knocked my head back and said, "I'm still here," laughing. 

We had been Roma tomato picking the day before. (Although, in full disclosure, by "picking," I mean we called the farm ahead and ordered a 25 pound box, then picked only three additional pounds ourself just for the sake of it.) 


Home we went, with more tomatoes than I'd ever prepared at one time. A batch of them was sent straight to the oven, roasted with red onions, anaheim, and jalapeno peppers for a few pints of spicy salsa. A couple of pounds more were earmarked for later in the week to become a French tomato tart and pico de gallo for black bean burritos, but most of them, and the real reason I wanted to do this at all, was to make several quarts of fresh tomato sauce.

I wait all year for this meal. It's something I long for, dream of, and brings so much happiness that when I caught myself questioning why I had carted home nearly 30 pounds of ruby red tomatoes, questioning why I had made this work for myself during a holiday weekend, I stopped and remembered this:  

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

...happily, it is wed
to the clear onion,
and to celebrate the union
child of the olive,
onto its halved hemispheres,
its fragrance,
salt, its magnetism; 

-from Ode to Tomatoes by Pablo Neruda


Neruda's words reminded me that making tomato sauce, like so much of cooking, is a meditation. The purpose is not to dress the plate and eat, although that moment is the ultimate reward, but to let the cooking work through your body like breath during a challenging pose you think you cannot push through.

I happened to take a yoga class that morning.

It was the kind of class that pushed me to try new poses, but also left me feeling run down. I sank into child's pose more than once. But the teacher reminded me that every movement matters. That today you might be able to do something that tomorrow you will struggle with. The point is the breath, connecting your inhales and exhales with movement, to let everything your body is hanging on to be pushed out through a twist or a lunge. 

I walked home energized. That's when I found myself in the same mental space as an hour before. I struggled with half moon pose in class. I couldn't find my balance. In the kitchen, I had peeled almost 100 tomatoes and still had a large bowl full. So I remembered my breathing. Tomato meditation. 


Feet firmly planted, I rocked back and forth, distributing my weight evenly through both of my hips. Then the peeling and squeezing began. I looked downward, past the juices running on the cutting board, the way I do in tree pose, fixing my gaze on one place on the floor. Four peels down the tomato's back, slice it open lengthwise, scoop through the base and in one fluid motion remove the heavy core, place the tender flesh into the cast iron pot and the remains in the yellow bowl. Repeat.

It felt like a vertical sequence, like coming into plank from downward dog, then lowering yourself to the ground, pushing up into cobra, separating your shoulders, breathing into downward dog once again. By doing this, your fingertips might start to prune. It gave the impression I had lingered in a hot bath for a few minutes too long, but I was still at the counter, peeling, cutting, squeezing, stirring. Repeating.

I thought about Neruda again, and how his tomatoes were the "star of the earth," how cooking is a marriage between their flesh and the ingredients they form around, like spaghetti, or the buttery grooves of a tart crust, or fiery peppers.

During the 40 minutes while the sauce cooked I came here, red tomato skins still lodged beneath my fingernails, traces of the journey lingered to tell their story to you. How they had been planted many months ago, nurtured on the vine, changed from green to yellow to red, were picked from their stem, placed lovingly in a cardboard box, driven 30 miles away to a warm kitchen where they were transformed over the course of an afternoon into one final salutation to summer. The hottest weekend of the year, surrendering to fall.


There are still a few good weeks left. Bring your tomatoes home and make something worth swooning over. Here are a few of my favorite tomato recipes, plus some new finds from around the web. 

Molly's Pomodori al Forno 

Nigel Slater's favorite ways with a tomato.  

Experimenting with new flours? Try this einkorn pizza pastry

Scarpetta's Fresh Tomato Sauce. There is absolutely nothing better.

A French tomato tart, complete with a smear of Dijon

One pan farro with tomatoes

Pasta with baked tomato sauce

Tomato casserole for breakfast? Yes please. 

Pablo Neruda, Blood Oranges, and Sour Cream Donuts

Pablo Neruda knows a little something about love. Entire volumes of his poetry are dedicated to the subject, and I have to ask, does it get any better than this?

“But I love your feet
only because they walked
upon the earth and upon
the wind and upon the waters,
until they found me.”
Pablo Neruda

In ancient Greece, odes were accompanied by music and dance, but the romantics utilized the form in a way its most recognizable today, as a tool to meditate on a singular event, person, or object. Odes are not explicitely love poems, but they do require the careful reflection and observation of one thing at a time. Especially the odes about food, I would say Neruda is utterly enamored with the ingredient he's writing about.

In accepting the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971, he declared that "We [writers from the vast expanse of America] are called upon to fill with words the confines of a mute continent, and we become drunk with the task of telling and naming." Neruda's odes accomplished this task of 'telling and naming' with great beauty and grace on the page. Just bite into these lines from "Ode to an Orange."