Archives for posts with tag: cooking

Muse, come to this blankness
and take my unrequited offer
to hold and stroke your shape to form.

Rest here where fingertips may take
their pleasured time with you. Today
we have all day

until 6pm when I’m due out.
Muse, come in and be
a while. My page is yours.


The poem above started with a warm-up line, “Making letters on a notepad making a swish and swirl that satisfies.” I simply love the action of writing. I live for picking up a pen and pressing it against a cushion of paper, whether in a notebook, or a notepad or just stacked up on my desk. My jotting time is consistently the best moment of my day.

It has been an absolute age since I have posted. Sometimes, offline, during this absence I have scribbled creative bits in fits and jerks. Yet almost every workday I write and write and write: emails, content, copy. The muse is not amused. Perfunctory craft is not an aphrodisiac. Or I haven’t yet found a way to tempt the muse with a subject line or ‘in 150 words outline your planned project’.

When I prepared to log in to the blog (like holding aside the overgrown vines to a long-forgotten treasure cave), an odd click-bait ‘ad’ confronted me:

After Seeing Why He Places
An Ice Cube On His Burger
When Grilling, I’ll Never
Make One Any Other Way

Below was a photo of an uncooked burger patty with a melting ice-cube in its centre. Is this what is supporting the online existence of the visits of my muse? It does not surprise me, this strange poetry.

I have been so self-conscious about returning on my rusty sea-legs and what was waiting for me were uncooked burger patties and melting ice-blocks in the virtual jungle. These were the psychological and virtual landscapes. While I prepared this post and poem, this was the atmosphere outside:

Afternoon.
The grating of
a saw, a far off
siren cries over
the arrival of a breaking train.

And from there I implored, “Muse, come to this my blankness.”

The muse and I started where we were.

Thank you for being here, too. Hope to see you back here soon.

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BBC Radio 3 is my station of choice. I listen to hours and hours of their programming, both on the clock radio that rests on my bedside chest-of-drawers and on iplayer on my laptop. Sometimes I schedule upcoming programmes or concerts into my diary, or mark catch-ups on my to do list.

During these many hours of ‘classical music’ content it came to my attention that composers across the ages have not been afraid of reworking their own material or borrowing material from others. Now alerted to the regularity of creative recycling, I started looking for it in other forms such as art, dance, theatre and literature.

Re-using material seems more acceptable in music than in the realm of writing. Able writers are assessed on their ability to be continually re-inventive. Originality makes for a proficient writer. This is a demanding attitude. I have since warmed to the approach of the related performing and creative arts. Variation on previous output is a legitimate avenue of creative exploration. In many instances I am intrigued by a product where the artist who created the first version reworks the material in its subsequent expression. These examples have given me courage to consciously mine my own writing for material when I am stuck.

While writing up this last Monday’s post, I was reminded that “Making soup again” was not the first poem I had revised. (Nor was it the first time I had revisited themes or motifs, but such general recurrences are considered more acceptable in written creativity.)

Here are five reworked poems from my portfolio:

1) Two versions of ‘Tumbling After‘, a scene based on the nursery rhyme about Jack and Jill rolling down a hill.
I wrote a longer version and then reworked a shorter version.

2) A card from the postman inspired two poems. Each approached the delivery of pre-Christmas mail from a different point of view.
One imagines the poet-recipient; the other gives voice to the postman.

3) In response to a mislaid poem, I wrote “Is it worth it?
I later found the scrap of paper with the original poem.

4) My poem from 2011 “Jacob’s Dream for crinolined girls” is in many respects the poem that started my recent poetry writing spurt. It was inspired by Dorothea Tanning’s painting Eine Kleine Nachmusik (1943).
In 2014, three years after writing “Jacob’s Dream,” I revisited it in “Exalted thus, we left.”

5) “Making soup again” is a reworking of “In this place I eat butternut soup.”
Food preparation is a recurring motif in my poetry and food features as a metaphor for states of self, relating to others and enacting class or social position.

Visual artists frequently obsess over the same visual motifs and these become their trademarks. Composers are known for a particular sound, even if their music includes phases that are less quintessential. Dancers, singers or actors receive renown for their interpretation of a particular role. I’m intrigued by the creative recycling that might characterize a writer’s broader oeuvre of creative production.

Twitter: @BeadedQuill
Facebook: BeadedQuill
Books:
In the Ocean: a year of poetry
Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys
Shining in Brightness: Selected Poems, 1999 – 2012

OldDesignShop_WomanCooking-208x300

Image from the February 1912 issue of Pictorial Review, courtesy of the Old Design Shop, a vintage image treasury.

These days I refuse to sigh
for cooked up futures.
Potatoes from a friend
and a bag of mixed root veg for £1
assure companionship.
This bounty grated, cooked with stock and bay leaves,
will be ladled out for half-a-dozen bowls
dressed up with haricot beans.
The appraising birds perch in the top bare branches,
more interested in other messes.

London kitchen, January 2015

I cook a great deal from scratch; partially because I have the time, mostly because it’s an attempt to stretch my budget. In autumn and winter, soup-making is a regular activity. Last winter (2013/2014), all my soups were restricted to three items from the grocery aisle, and cooked up with either red or brown lentils. This year I have discovered the mixed veg. packets at budget retailers, so I have broadened my ingredients list. Whatever the concoction that results, half is put aside for the freezer. This way I have a couple of flavours on rotation.

Chopping or grating vegetables for soup is both a mindless and thought-encouraging activity. I’ll think about things in my life, and I’ll think about nothing except scooping up the peelings for the bin. The other satisfying bonus of soup is that you can leave it to simmer while you continue with other tasks, like writing.

Today’s poem is a response to “In this place, I eat butternut soup,” written in 2012. You are astute readers, so there is no need for me to hammer home the points of contrast between the two poems. If you would like to share your own observations, please do so in the comments. I would be interested to read them.

Twitter: @BeadedQuill
Facebook: BeadedQuill
Books:
In the Ocean: a year of poetry
Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys
Shining in Brightness: Selected Poems, 1999 – 2012

This illustration gem appears courtesy of the Old Design Shop, a wonderful resource for vintage images.

This illustration gem appears courtesy of the Old Design Shop, a wonderful resource for vintage images.

You cooking me

Two burnished hazelnuts
singe flax.
Golden Savoiardi shake
loose vanilla pods.

An oiled aubergine
turns roasted cumin seeds.
The sorrel and bay sauté
with wild mushrooms,
freshly picked.

A wholesome slice seals
the Dijon.

I have written a number of poems that draw on the influences of cooking and kitchen. Today’s offering started as a meditation on the colour mustard, the most unglamorous (even unsexy) of colours. The meditation shifted along the colour spectrum towards synonyms of yellow, golden-yellow and brown. (A Poem A Day October was once again the prompt source.)

“Mustard and brown” vied as an alternative title for the poem. In this version, the end lines would also have been different:

A wholesome slice seals
you cooking me.

Here is the alternative version in its entirety.

Mustard and brown
Two burnished hazelnuts
singe flax.
Golden Savoiardi shake
loose vanilla pods.

An oiled aubergine
turns roasted cumin seeds.
The sorrel and bay sauté
with wild mushrooms,
freshly picked.

A wholesome slice seals
you cooking me.

I’m still undecided as to which combination works better poetically. I prefer the opening version for it’s punch and mustard. What’s your take?

Twitter: @BeadedQuill
Facebook: BeadedQuill
Books:
In the Ocean: a year of poetry
Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys
Shining in Brightness: Selected Poems, 1999 – 2012

Rocky Road dessert

By Leon Brooks [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.


(inspired by Sachin’s story)

the fat floated to the top
I scraped it off

on setting

I melted a combination
dark chocolate and caramel bars.
Dark chocolate I love.
At work they
prefer caramel bars.

On setting to the top
a combination
dark chocolate and caramel bars
separated as fat
on the top.

On setting I tried to disguise the mess with icing sugar.
The powder disguise melted
into the combination
dark chocolate and caramel bars
still warm.
I ruined an attempt of
dark chocolate and caramel bars.

I ruined rocky road.

At a friend’s flat-warming on Saturday one of the guests recounted the sad tale that inspired this poem. I did warn the narrator that the line “I ruined rocky road” would find its way into my poem on the theme of ‘failure‘, yet another prompt from A Poem A Day October.

Twitter: @BeadedQuill
Facebook: BeadedQuill
Books

This image is cropped from a vintage Easter postcard on the Old Design Shop, a vintage design treasury.

This image is cropped from an Easter postcard on the Old Design Shop, a vintage image treasury.

The morning egg is most nutritious,
the lunchtime egg substantial;
eggs for dinner are a light, quick fix.

Boiled, scrambled, poached or fried,
to a life of laying thanks is owed for this.


On the dining-table of our kitchen lives a refillable plastic peppercorn grinder. In absent-minded moments when I’m forking stir fry vegetables and noodles into my mouth, I’ll start reading the label on the back of the bottle. The copy promotes how handy black peppercorns are: “Twist over your morning egg, lunchtime salads and evening eats.”

I started wondering about the morning egg. How might it be different to the lunchtime egg or the evening egg? In older vegetarian cookbooks eggs are often praised for their versatility. In a contemporary world informed by animal rights and the ethics of food production, the egg is not merely a versatile wonder capsule. It’s a sustainability quandary and choosing your half-dozen can be a political animal ethics statement. Omitting eggs can be as much a statement. Vegan baking and brunches are characterised by their ingenious egg replacements.

After many years of restricting egg consumption (as the yolk were identified as cholesterol minefields) and nearly two years of almost no egg consumption, these “chicken periods” (as a friend once called them) are once again a regular part of my diet. £1 for half-a-dozen will feed me for three to four meals, usually boiled or scrambled.

I do often think of the egg machines that have been set apart for a life of laying. However, if you’ve ever spent time on a farm with non-commercial chickens, the egg-for-use ratio to laying chickens can be frustratingly low. The luxury of a green or orange box of half-a-dozen gives me such joy. Ah, wonder capsules, most versatile


Twitter: @BeadedQuill
Facebook: BeadedQuill
Books:
In the Ocean: a year of poetry
Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys
Shining in Brightness: Selected Poems, 1999 – 2012

Image courtesy of The Old Design Shop, a vintage image treasury and one of my favourite image sources.

Image courtesy of The Old Design Shop, a vintage image treasury and one of my favourite image sources.*

When baby bear had left home
and then had had a pot,
it would’ve been, I like to think,
like the silver one I did adopt

from outside someone’s wooden gate
in the back roads of North London.
Either the owners had to relocate 
or make space for Christmas plunder.

Into my little pot, thrice daily go all things:
breakfast oats, reheated soup or split red lentil dhal, 
popping corn, or frozen veg like spinach, broccoli,
then pasta and basmati, in their single servings.

My just right pot has no lid,
a single handle, straight.
Burnt raisins catch in crevices,
but generally it’s great.


The first winter I was in London, I picked up the most ‘just right’ sized cooking pot for a single diner outside someone’s gate. In all these London suburbs there are certain times of the month and year when residents chuck stuff. Someone once told me that they would regularly go skip hunting on the last Saturday of the month, and even took a guy on ‘skip hunting’ as a cheap date.

I have not taken anyone skip hunting as a cheap date (I’d rather visit an art exhibition in someone’s company), but I do have my own skip hunting-buddy experience. Through my volunteering at a local soup kitchen I befriended a guy who knew (probably still does) the best back alleys for skip treasures in affluent middle-class, North London suburbia. There are a couple of finds from that evening that I still put to good use today.

My little silver pot was not a skip find, though. It was simply there on the pavement, sparkling in the blue winter sunlight, simply inviting me to take it home. We have seen many breakfasts, soup lunches and reheated rice and bean/lentil or pasts dinners together. When those raisins or sultanas from my morning porridge catch, I have to scour out the burnt bits, which I do with love for my just right pot.

* Visit the original image at The Old Design Shop here.

Twitter: @BeadedQuill
Facebook: BeadedQuill
Books:
In the Ocean: a year of poetry
Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys
Shining in Brightness: Selected Poems, 1999 – 2012

Using washed hands
soft in the palm, 
scoop 
voluptuous, ivory nibs
since stripped of their brown seedcoat.
Blitz briefly
those gently ridged amygdalae
thrown by the precious palmful.
Blitz briefly those sweet, curved kernels.
Using floured hands 
sit finished dumplings on top.

Ah, almonds: sweetmeat
	of the fruit.


I love gathering words, sentences, phrases, formulations and expressions that take my fancy. Two chance readings contributed to this poem – recipe instructions and a definition of almonds as “the sweetmeat of the fruit”.

As I worked on this poem, I remembered that I had written about previously about almonds. The preparation of this fruit features in an earlier poem, “Van Riebeeck’s Hedge” (2008). This poem considers the mythical ‘hedge’ of wild almonds that acted as a boundary for the early Colony at the Cape. An entry in Governor Jan van Riebeeck’s diary dates the construction of the fortification to 1660. (“Van Riebeeck’s Hedge” is one of the selected poems in my first book, Shining in Brightness.) The wild almonds were bitter (apparently an indicator of the cyanide content of the fruit) and had to be “soak’d then peel’d before consum’d”. The poem sets the Dutch colonial settlers, planters of the hedge who dine off ‘fine’ plates, in contrast with the unnamed resident local Khoikhoi population at the Cape who eat these bitter fruits that have to be prepared.

Sweet almonds, either blanched or with their skins, are one of my favourite foods. In times when I was a more flush, they were a welcome snack. Now they are much more precious – sweet, ivory-coloured opals. I like to imagine this is a value more akin to that accorded to them in societies where almonds were more difficult to obtain. Almonds are not opal-shaped. More correctly, they are amygdala; their form rests somewhere between a triangle and an ellipse. It is also from amygdala that the name almond is derived.

(Note the recurrence of palm, which in the poem refers to the cupped, underside of the hand, but of course triggers the homophonic link to palm tree, and the imaginative landscape of such association.)

Twitter: @BeadedQuill
Facebook: BeadedQuill
Preview my two published books, available as print-on-demand editions:
Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys
Shining in Brightness

SSA40544

A post-breakup mediation posted this time last year, but dating back further in time. The poem appears in my book Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys under the title “A quiet thought”.