Wine & Words: Notes From Santa Barbara

Riverbench Winery

In Santa Barbara they're called sundowners—hot, aggressive winds that kick up after the sun goes down and make the coastal landscape feel like a dry, inland desert. At dinner Friday night, in a restaurant without air conditioning, I sweated through my linen dress while sipping white wine and eating grilled salmon, peach and burrata salad, and baked Alaska. 

We quickly got to talking about all the meals we've shared in this dining room, and I couldn't help share how special it felt to return, book in hand, to a place that helped shaped me as a writer. I was in town for Wine & Words, a new series at Riverbench Winery. They invited me to read a few poems from the cookbook, and even served up a few dishes to pair with the reading, not to mention the selection of lovely wines being poured. 

There's no doubt about it: Returning to Santa Barbara always feels like coming home. It doesn't matter that I haven't lived there in more than a decade, it's a place that will always have my heart, and always welcome me back with open arms.

Eat This Poem Reading at Riverbench Winery

If you're looking for a more in-depth tour, head to the Literary City Guide. For today's post, I'll be focusing on what we did during the weekend. 

A few places to go:

Dune Coffee Roasters. Formerly The French Press, this outpost is one of my favorite stops. Great seating, a little off the beaten path (a few blocks east of bustling State Street), plus options for coffee and tea lovers alike. Get lost in a book while sitting on the patio, or do what we usually do—swing by on the way out of town for hot drinks and a bran muffin. 

Butterfly Beach. Our favorite beach in town, it sits just outside the famed Four Seasons Biltmore in Montecito. We got engaged on this sand, and always love to visit for a stroll and a view of the waterfront.

bouchon. We've been eating at this restaurant for the past 12 years. (And no, it's not affiliated with Thomas Keller's version.) The patio and dining room are always cozy, and the farmers' market-inspired menu serves up dishes that use French techniques with relaxed, wine country inspiration. 

bouchon restaurant, santa barbara

Jeannine's Bakery. We always have at least one breakfast here. There's an upper State Street location, but we like the Montecito restaurant best. (It's also walking distance from Butterfly Beach, if you're so inclined.) The lattes are extra large, and the menu varied enough to please everyone's morning cravings. 

Santa Barbara Public Market. From ice cream to Thai food, this little market has it all. The beer garden is loud if a game is on, but there are plenty of options for everyone, and it's a great spot to wrangle the kids if you're traveling with little ones. 

santa barbara public market

It's Eat This Poem's Birthday! | 6 Lessons From Cookbook Land

Eat This Poem Pears

Back in January I shared the photo of a gold letterpressed drawing of two pears on Instagram. They were sketched by Cat Grishaver, the illustrator and designer who took the words I wrote and turned them into a living, breathing book. This permanent piece of art is one of the ways I've chosen to mark this sweet milestone because, as predicted, publishing a book is indeed a season. It's worth relishing and devoting ourselves to, but then, like autumn leaves turning from green to crimson, they fall to piles.

But let's stop time for just a day and talk about how exactly one year ago, my first book was published! Eat This Poem: A Literary Feast of Recipes Inspired by Poetry was born on March 21, 2017. It's one! Should we throw a party? Maybe. But I'm usually pretty reflective on my birthdays (evidence here), so I thought I'd reminisce about some of the lessons I've learned this past year. 

6 Lessons From a Book's First Year


01 | Prepare for a low-key publication day

Before a book comes out (and especially in the final stretch) it feels like nothing else can possibly be as important. There's a lot to do on the marketing front. I was drafting guest posts, pitching stories to websites, creating Instagram images for National Poetry Month, and making travel arrangements for places like Seattle, Michigan, and Brooklyn.

When the 21st arrived it was sort of ... quiet. It makes sense now because even if lots of people pre-order your book, it might not arrive until later in the day, and they won't be able to read it until the weekend, say. A lot of the fun fanfare when you actually see your book in the world comes a few days later after packages are delivered. 

That Tuesday morning I went to work like usual, but refreshed my Amazon page most of the day to check the rankings. I may have stopped for donuts in the morning. I may have received a gorgeous bouquet of flowers from my publisher. But it wasn't the kind of day that felt like a parade. Instead, it felt very heart-centered. I just wanted to journal and take in the moment, especially since it had been five years in the making. 

Eat This Poem

02 | The emotional roller coaster is open for rides

Emotions run high. They're mostly good ones, but days can really bring highs and lows. There's the adrenaline rush of the first couple of weeks of publication and seeing all your efforts happening in the form of social media posts and reviews popping up on Amazon. Then you go to sleep and wake up feeling totally exhausted. This continues for months.

03 | 'Tis the season

As I mentioned, publication is merely a season on the long writer's path. This wasn't a lesson I needed to learn because I anticipated it wholeheartedly, however, when you're in it, you have to do everything you can to embrace the experience and help your book catch flight. Then you have to put your head down and start writing again.

04 | Keep talking

One of the fears I had (and I've heard this refrain from other writers) is that people will get tired of hearing about your book. Maybe some of them will (especially if they follow you everywhere), but studies have shown that people need to hear about something at least seven times before they buy, so there's no shame in telling people about the book you wrote, as long as it's not all day, every day. 

Eat This Poem

05 | Ask, ask, and ask again

Getting Amazon reviews is hard. Even if you have a team of people who fully committed to helping you spread the word, it'll still be hard to get them to write reviews. This isn't true for everyone, but I found myself having to remind various groups of people more than once, and I was afraid of sounding like a broken record or a desperate first-time author (see above). I eventually hit the 50 reviews I'd hoped for, but it took months, not days. 

06 | Your parents = your marketing team

My dad has bought and given away a lot of my books. So many, that Amazon flagged his account and didn't let him post the 5-star review he drafted. Never underestimate their reach.

What's next

Books on Creativity

I'm still blogging here, and have a few Eat This Poem events planned for later this year. But the big news to share is I'm writing another book! You can read a bit more about it here, but come 2019, I'll be doing this all over again. And no, it's not a cookbook! It's a book about embracing the ever-changing creative seasons. It's everything I've been living, preaching, and guiding fellow writers through over the past few years, and I'm so excited for you to read it. It's called Wild Words: Routines, Rituals, and Rhythms for Braving the Writer's Path, and I'm deep into the first draft right now.

So, over to you. If you've published a book of your own, did anything surprise you about the process? I'd love to hear! 

"The Corn Baby" by Mark Wunderlich + Cornbread Pancakes With Strawberry Chia Seed Jam From Pretty Simple Cooking

Cornmeal Pancakes With Strawberry Chia Jam

Every book has two stories. There's the book itself—the physical thing you hold featuring a table of contents, recipe headnotes, stories, and instructions. But this book, a cookbook, is not just made up of the title, subtitle, and description on the back cover. Those are the fancy parts and finished pieces, and the the culmination of a dream.

I'm always interested in the second story, the one that might never be told publicly, and it's often a tale of transformation—what the author learns along the way, or what transpires in her life or circumstances that change her in the course of writing the book. (Because as we all know, books are not made in days or weeks, but in months and years.) 

Cornmeal Pancakes Strawberry Chia Jam
Cornmeal Pancakes Strawberry Chia Jam via Eat This Poem

Books are teachers for both those who read them and those who write them. And books are personal. As my friends and fellow bloggers have continued to publish books over the years, I'm astonished each and every time as I flip through the pages at how them it is. It shouldn't come as much of a surprise, really, since each perspective is unique and we've grown to recognize blog voices for so long, but I just love sinking deep into their words and appreciating what went into making a heavy, sturdy, life-enriching book.

So, here's an example of a book with two stories.

Story #1: Pretty Simple Cooking is here! It's the beautiful new cookbook from husband and wife duo Sonja and Alex Overhiser, creators of the A Couple Cooks blog and podcast. There are enticing photos for every dish, plus tons of veggie-forward recipes. I've been meal planning from it for weeks, and the youngest member of our family is already a big fan of the strawberry chia jam (recipe below!) and vegan corn chowder. 

Story #2: The other side of this book is how its creation served as a healer. Alex and Sonja have been open about their adoption process, and as it turns out, their baby was born the same month their manuscript was due. Writing the book helped them cope with the stress of waiting and hoping, and I remember when Sonja texted me that there was a baby and she was in the room when he was born, I immediately started crying and sending her happy tear emojis, I also told her weeks later on the phone that this was how it was always supposed to happen. That they could turn in this book and immediately turn their attention to spending time with their new baby.

So with that, here's another baby. A corn baby!

Cornmeal Pancakes With Strawberry Chia Jam

The Corn Baby

by Mark Wunderlich

They brought it. It was brought
from the field, the last sheaf, the last bundle

the latest and most final armful. Up up
over the head, hold it, hold it high, it held

the gazer’s gaze, it held hope, did hold it.
Through the stubble of September, on shoulders

aloft, hardly anything, it weighed, like a sparrow,
it was said, something winged, hollow, though

pulsing, freed from the field
where it flailed in wind, where it waited, wanted

to be found and bound with cord. It had
limbs, it had legs. And hands. It had fingers.

Fingers and a face peering from the stalks,
shuttered in the grain, closed, though just a kernel

a shut corm. They brought him and autumn
rushed in, tossed its cape of starlings,

tattered the frost-spackled field.

—From Poetry (March 2009)

In these lines we meet corn personified—a yellow baby of kernels, all bundled up in a warm green husk. "It held hope," is my favorite line for how grounding it is, and I can so clearly see the morning light and this little ear of corn that transforms into a baby with limbs and legs and fingers.  

Reading the poem quickly, then reading it again, made me feel a bit breathless, and I couldn't stop thinking about the baby. THE baby. The baby that arrived while Sonja and Alex were writing this book, and who actually became part of their story. I love the first story, because this cookbook is such a refreshing approach to being in the kitchen and learning to love the process of cooking. But I also love the second story, and everything that transpired to bring both babies into the world.

Pretty Simple Cooking
Cornmeal Pancakes With Strawberry Chia Jam

Cornbread Pancakes With Strawberry Chia Jam

Headnote is mine: I have a son who loves loves pancakes. I make them almost every weekend, and I'm always looking for new combos to freshen up breakfast. My favorite thing about this version is using masa harina, because I happened to have a bag in the fridge leftover from a short-lived homemade tortilla phase. (I still love making tortillas, but I just haven't reached for my press in a little bit.) This is the perfect way to get extra mileage out of an ingredient. 

1 cup masa harina
1⁄2 cup all-purpose, whole wheat,
or gluten-free flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1⁄2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons neutral oil
(grapeseed or vegetable)
2 tablespoons honey or pure maple syrup
1⁄2 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 cup 2% milk
Maple syrup, for serving (optional)
Strawberry Lime Chia Jam (see below)

Preheat the oven to 200°F. In a medium bowl, stir together the masa harina, flour, baking soda, and kosher salt. In another bowl, whisk together the eggs, oil, honey or maple syrup, Greek yogurt, and milk. Pour the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, then stir gently to combine until the batter comes together and is pourable but slightly lumpy.

Heat a large nonstick griddle or skillet over medium-low heat, then brush with butter or oil. Scoop a scant 1⁄3 cup of batter onto the griddle and repeat to make 4 pancakes. Cook for several minutes until a few of the bubbles that appear on the surface have burst and the bottoms are golden brown, adjusting the heat as necessary. Flip carefully, then cook for another minute or so until golden brown on the other side.

Place the cooked pancakes on a baking sheet in the oven to keep warm. Add a splash of milk to the remaining batter to loosen it. Then repeat for the remaining pancakes, adjusting the heat as necessary since the griddle can become very hot. Serve warm with maple syrup, roasted almond butter, and Strawberry Lime Chia Jam.

Strawberry-Lime Chia Jam

Headnote is mine: I used fresh berries (a benefit of California farmers' markets), and had about 14 oz, so just shy of 1 pound. Since it was a bit less than the recommendation, I reduced the maple syrup to 4 tablespoons. 

2 cups frozen strawberries*
2 tablespoons lime juice
plus zest (1 large lime)
6 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons chia seeds

In a 10-inch skillet, add the strawberries, lime juice, and 2 tablespoons water. Simmer over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. About halfway through the simmering time, begin to break down the berries by smashing them with a fork into a chunky but uniform texture. Once the berries are broken down, stir in the maple syrup, vanilla, chia seeds, and lime zest until combined, about 30 seconds. Turn off the heat. Let the skillet sit about 5 to 7 minutes until the chia seeds thicken the jam. Transfer to a 16-ounce canning jar and refrigerate; the texture will set even further when chilled.

Storage: Stores refrigerated for up to 2 weeks (chia jam is not shelf stable).

*One pound of fresh strawberries can be substituted for frozen, which cuts the simmering time to around half. However, we prefer using frozen berries for jams and saving fresh ones for eating.

Excerpted from A Couple Cooks | Pretty Simple Cooking: 100 Delicious Vegetarian Recipes to Make You Fall in Love with Real Food by Sonja Overhiser and Alex Overhiser. Copyright © 2018. Available from Da Capo Lifelong Books, an imprint of Perseus Books, LLC, a subsidiary of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

Cornmeal Pancakes With Strawberry Chia Jam