"5 World Trade Center" by James Penha + Apple Cider Donuts

Apple Cider Donuts from Eat This Poem

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I woke up in my parent's house. It was a few weeks before my sophomore year of college started, and I'd spent the summer lifeguarding before moving back to campus. I was tan, well rested, and excited to see my boyfriend again.

I remember my mom coming into my room, then words like "New York" and "terrorism" and "planes" hitting my ears. I moved to the couch, curled up with a blanket, and listened to everything Peter Jennings had to say. He was wearing a light blue shirt, I remember. His eyes looked tired but warm, and he was occasionally on the brink of tears, like us all. He didn't leave the desk for twenty-four hours, maybe more. I didn't leave the couch very often, either. There was nothing else to do in those first few hours except wait and watch.

5 World Trade Center

By James Penha

Home in Indonesia we watched by night
plane after plane crash into the towers and the towers
come crashing down and I thought in the crash
of recollections in the hours that followed
of the sweet servers at a Krispy Kreme beneath
the Plaza we visited every year at least once
on our trips to my New York hometown.
The company declared the store destroyed
though workers and customers escaped unharmed
and pictures surfaced later
showing trays of donuts waiting still to be told
where to go while a rag and spray bottle
of cleaning solution lay on a table under
a profound film of dust no one wiped away.

Penha, James. "5 World Trade Center." Copyright © 2017 by James Penha. First published
in The Book of Donuts (Terrapin Books). Reprinted by permission of Terrapin Books.

The best poems, I find, are usually about two things. Of course there are the urgent, present details being shared on the page. But underneath the surface, there's often much more. Reading these lines thrust me sixteen years back in time, and like the donuts and the spray bottle, left me perhaps a little frozen remembering the bright, unsuspecting Tuesday morning.

Let's begin with the donuts. On the morning of 9/11, a New York native watches the events unfold halfway around the world, from his home in Indonesia. In darkness, a memory appears, and he recalls a Krispy Kreme shop, the one he always visited during annual trips to the city. Before this moment, you might not have imagined a donut being capable of eliciting such an emotional response. It's only flour and sugar, after all. 

But below the donuts, the poem seeks to make sense of tragedy (a theme this year, no?). The details we remember might seem trivial, but in a poet's hands, they become relatable. How many donuts have we eaten in our lifetime already? I've certainly had my share, and now I may never eat another without remembering these words or the image of dusty confections, trays of them, never delivered, utterly symbolic of the lives of men and women who perished, lives never fully lived. 

Apple Cider Donuts

Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit; Makes about 8 donuts, plus 12-16 donut holes

The original recipe makes 18 donuts, but I really don’t need that many at home, so I made a smaller batch. Also, it’s good to know in advance that these are a bit of a project. Don’t expect to wake up Wednesday morning and make donuts (well, unless you do everything in advance.) There are about 20-30 minutes when the cider needs to reduce on the stove, and the dough needs to chill for 3 hours before frying. 

Some ingredient notes: Apple cider is recommended, but I totally forgot to check at my farmers’ market and ended up grabbing a bottle of juice from the store. Oh, apple butter is a nice addition here, I used the Eden Foods brand.

1 3-inch cinnamon stick
1 1/2 cups apple cider or juice
1/4 cup apple butter
1/4 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 teaspoons cinnamon, divided
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
2 tablespoons (packed) light brown sugar
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
1 egg
Vegetable or canola oil, for frying (about 4 cups)

Bring cinnamon stick and cider to a boil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook until thick, syrupy, and reduced to about 2 tablespoons. Discard cinnamon stick, then scrape into a medium bowl and whisk in apple butter, buttermilk, and vanilla until smooth.

While the cider reduces, whisk baking powder, salt, baking soda, nutmeg, flour, and 1 teaspoon cinnamon in a medium bowl. In a stand mixer, beat butter, brown sugar, and 2 tablespoons granulated sugar until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add egg, beating well. Reduce mixer speed to low and add dry ingredients in two additions, alternating with liquid ingredients. The dough will be very soft and sticky.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and dust generously with flour (at least 1/4 cup). Dust hands and top of dough with more flour, then gently pat dough to 3/4-inch thick. Dust with more flour and cover with plastic wrap; refrigerate 3 hours.

Whisk remaining 1/2 cup granulated sugar and 1 teaspoon cinnamon in a small bowl. 

Working on baking sheet, punch out as many rounds as you can using a 3-inch cutter, then punch out the center with a smaller cutter. Gather donut scraps and gently re-roll without overworking the dough. 

Set a wire rack on a rimmed baking sheet. Pour oil into a 4-quart dutch oven and heat to 350°. Working in batches, fry donuts until deep golden brown, about 3 minutes per side. Fry donut holes until deep golden brown, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer to the rack, then toss in cinnamon sugar before serving.

Cinnamon Sticks
The Book of Donuts
Apple Cider Donuts from Eat This Poem

Notes from Northern Michigan

Lake Michigan Waves.jpg

In 2017 I traveled to Seattle, Brooklyn, Indianapolis, and a few spots around Southern California, and it was always an incredible treat to introduce Eat This Poem to new readers. But now I'm getting ready to hunker down for the holidays and spend the rest of the year at home. My very last stop was in Northern Michigan, specifically Harbor Springs and the surrounding area, where I spoke on two panels at the Harbor Springs Festival of the Book. I had a little time to explore while I was in town, and here are my favorite finds.

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Cookbook covers.jpg


Between the Covers. The local bookstore, complete with a small children's section in back.

Small Batch Bakery. I walked out with a giant chocolate cookie sprinkled with sea salt. Enough said.

American Spoon. This is the place for locally made jam. The tasting bar is a nice touch, so you can sample before you buy.

Pond Hill Farm. A few miles outside of town, this spot is fun for both kids and adults. The downstairs has a cute little shop, and the cafe is upstairs. Everyone told me to get the Parmesan-crusted grilled cheese and the spicy kale slaw with peanut sauce. You can also wander around and enjoy the views of vegetables.

The Depot. This converted train station is the fanciest restaurant in town, and it's also members only. I was lucky enough to be a guest my last night, and the local walleye with creamy risotto didn't disappoint. (Bonus: We ate inside the Hemingway Room, because he often came to town. You can also find his statues around the area.)

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Lunch at Pond Hill Farm, With a Side of Poetry.jpg


Dripworks Coffee. I ordered a turmeric tea latte and spent three hours here one afternoon. There are cozy booths (with outlets) and a great drink menu, for both tea and coffee lovers.

McLean & Eakin. Another charming bookstore, perfect for picking up a new read for the plane ride home.

Palette Bistro. I ate here for both lunch and brunch. It's simple, Mediterranean-inspired fare with a great view of the lake.

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Lake views.jpg

The Cookbook Author’s Ultimate Guide to Managing 50+ Recipe Testers

Eat This Poem Cookbook

Three very important things happened in October 2015.

First, I signed with a literary agency. A few days later, I was offered a book contract, and in between those two milestones, I gave birth to my son. Suddenly, I had a newborn in my arms and a deadline for my manuscript.

The timing couldn’t have been better. I’d spent the past two years writing, so the book was finished … I just needed to test the recipes in home kitchens. Being on maternity leave until February 2016 meant I was in the fortunate position of not having to think about work, and dedicated all my remaining energy to embracing the final stretch of my cookbook journey which involved some generous volunteers, and a spreadsheet or two.

Whenever my son slept, I was in the kitchen making last minute tweaks, emailing testers, or following up on non-disclosure agreements. Six weeks later, each of my 75 recipes had been tested at least twice—sometimes three or four times—by home cooks.

Recipe testing is a big undertaking for any cookbook author, but the entire thing can be managed fairly seamlessly (and even within a brief window of time) if you’re organized and have systems in place to support you.

In this post, I’m sharing what worked for me, including the five distinct recipe testing phases that emerged over the course of two months when recipe testing became my main priority (well, after taking care of the baby, of course).

The 5 Phases of Recipe Testing via Eat This Poem

Phase 1: Prep

Before reaching out to testers and assigning recipes, start by preparing your spreadsheets, documents, and emails so everything is ready to go.

  1. Create a recipe tracking spreadsheet. List your recipe titles in one column, and title subsequent columns “Tester 1, “Tester 2,” and so on. Next to each name, add a date column (to mark when you sent them materials) and an 'X' column (to mark when they submitted feedback). You’ll begin filling this in once you start the outreach process.

  2. Design a recipe testing signup form on your website. Be sure to include any dietary considerations, or special equipment needs. Knowing someone is gluten-free, or loves baking, for example, will save you a lot of back and forth when you’re assigning recipes. (Here's mine if you'd like to take a look.)

  3. Write an email template. Draft the emails you’ll send to your testers. This can be a copy and paste template you can customize for each person. (See below for what to include!)

  4. Prepare a non-disclosure agreement. NDA’s help protect you and your recipes. It shows your testers you mean business, prevents them from posting photos and videos of the testing process online, or sharing the recipe with others.

Phase 2: Outreach

This is your “shout it from the rooftops” phase when you get to tell everyone about the opportunity. You can either keep it within your mailing list (like I did) or use social media to increase your reach.

If you’re reaching out to a wider pool than just close friends and family, you’ll want to create a landing page on your website with all the details (see #2 above), and create a form to capture all the information you need to distribute recipes efficiently. (Here’s mine.)

The form is really important if you want to save yourself some time. By asking a few strategic questions, you can save yourself from emailing back and forth with people, and help stick to your timeline.

The questions will vary slightly depending on the type of recipes in your book, but in general, you’ll want to get a sense of any allergies/dietary preferences, and if they have any essential equipment. Otherwise you might send a bundt cake recipe to a tester, only to find out a week later they don’t actually have a bundt pan.

Outreach Tips

  • Set a closing date for signing up, and stick to it

  • Explain exactly what you need from testers, what your timeline is, and the benefits of helping you test recipes

  • Request that people only apply if they’re able to commit to the deadline

  • Ask how many recipes they’re willing to make (1, 2, 3+)

  • Gather any dietary restrictions

  • Ask if they’re willing to make something more elaborate (like a triple layer cake or curry paste)

  • Ask if they have special equipment (like a food mill, pizza stone, or stand mixer)

Eat This Poem Cookbook

Phase 3: Assignments

Once you have your testers, it’s time to start making assignments. Start with anyone who listed dietary restrictions or was enthusiastic about trying something more difficult. Try to be mindful about ingredients. If you’re assigning two or more recipes, see if some of the ingredients can overlap so a tester doesn’t have to buy buy too many things.

You already have your email template, so it’s time to start sending them out. I created a new PDF for each recipe and saved it as “TESTER NAME_NAME OF BOOK RECIPES” to make it easy to find. This also personalizes the experience even more.

And just to be safe, assign the deadline for a week or two before you really need the feedback. Most people will be prompt, but there are always stragglers.

After all the emails go out, you can take a short breather as testing gets underway. Expect a few questions to come in (I can’t find dried blueberries! Can I use something else?), and respond as quickly as you can.

What to put in each email:

  • Customized template with recipe names, instructions, and important dates

  • Attached recipes

  • Attached feedback form

  • Attached NDA agreement

Phase 4: Feedback

As responses start pouring in, save feedback forms in a folder. I tried to read through the notes as soon as I received them and made any straightforward changes, like adding a bit more detail in a direction. Also, update your spreadsheet accordingly!

If you get mixed feedback from two testers, send it to a third, or even a fourth, before deciding how to proceed. Some of the feedback will force you to make a judgement call. Everyone’s palate is a little bit different, so just because someone didn’t absolutely love your chicken pot pie or the method you used, doesn’t mean it’s a bad recipe. With multiple testers, it’s easier to discern which issue is a personal preference, and which may be an fault with how the recipe was written.

At the very end, you might have a handful of recipes that need to be retested (I had about 10), so I put out a call for “last minute testing” asking for anyone who could turn it around within a few days, and also listed the recipes I needed help with so people could choose what sounded good to them.

Eat This Poem Cookbook

Phase 5: Final Touches

These details aren’t essential, but they do add an extra special touch to the experience! After the process was over, I emailed everyone with notes for how to add this experience to their resume.

Here's what I said:

Hi testers!
Just a quick little note to say thank you again for testing recipes for Eat This Poem. I turned in my manuscript on time today, and couldn’t have done it without your help. Recipe testing requires you to be detail oriented, follow instructions, and provide concise feedback—skills worth adding to your resume, I think! 

Here’s some language to copy and paste to your LinkedIn profile, if you’d like to use it.

Recipe Tester, Eat This Poem Cookbook (February 2016). Followed detailed recipe instructions as written and provided feedback on results including taste, recipe clarity, and baking times.

I also sent handwritten thank you notes to every single tester. (Just check their NDA form for addresses, or make a spreadsheet ahead of time so you’re ready to go.)

In general, I found organization (thank you, Google Sheets) and gratitude went a long way. As with everything that’s volunteer-based, be prepared for drop offs. Most of my testers were up for the task and very responsive, but a few I never heard from again, even after sending recipes their way. Others let me know closer to the deadline that they just didn’t have the capacity to do it.

Life happens. Be gracious, but quick to pass along the recipes to someone else so you can meet your all-important manuscript deadline and finally see your cookbook come to life!