Both the cook and the poet are makers.
One holds a knife, the other a pen.
– Nicole Gulotta from Eat This Poem
Years ago, I began this blog as a recent college graduate with an abundance of quiet determination and no real idea what to do with it. I had a degree in agriculture and a minor in English, it was 2009 and the jobs for recent graduates with very generalized degrees were particularly non-existent. I was headed towards a teaching program in the fall, mostly because I had said I was going to years before, and every time I brought up my doubt, mentors and loved ones said try it and then decide.
Words, whether mine or another’s, have always been a big part of my life, hence the reason I opted to keep pursuing literature courses long after deciding I did not want to specialize in the subject. So too has food, and the ability to create and celebrate a community about it, been particularly important. This space took its beginnings with that idea, of merging these two interests of words and meals because I didn’t know then of another way to combine the two. And so that first post back in June 2009 was about picking cherries high in a tree in a dress on the curb outside my last college house. And then making pie afterwards, a gift for my dad.
Since then, it’s fair to say I’ve often questioned whether I want to continue here, what the content should be, and whether anyone other than me cares for the words (or meals) that are shared.
Though there are so many blogs now, I am still drawn to the ones that do as I started to all those years ago, capturing an otherwise forgotten moment or memory with the meal that accompanied it, in a way that is not often practiced in writing online. That is, with a real voice. Nicole Gulotta’s Eat This Poem, is one of those sites. And Nicole just wrote a whole cookbook merging the two! I’m so glad I get to share about it here.
Eat This Poem is at once a poetry anthology and a cookbook, as Nicole believes food and poetry are two of life’s essential ingredients. In the same way salt seasons ingredients to bring out their flavor, poetry seasons our lives; when celebrated together, our everyday moments and meals are richer and more meaningful. Each of the twenty-five inspiring poems—from such poets as Marge Piercy, Louise Glück, Mark Strand, Mary Oliver, Billy Collins, Jane Hirshfield—are accompanied by seventy-five recipes that bring the richness of words to life in our kitchen, on our plate, and through our palate. Eat This Poem opens us up to fresh ways of accessing poetry and lends new meaning to the foods we cook.
With poems simple and complex and recipes that mirror them, Eat This Poem nudges us to be thoughtful, to slow down, to pause and consider, and to cook and eat in the same way. I chose to make and share this particular recipe because it did exactly that, and after pausing and reflecting, I wanted to literally eat the poem, letting the meaning of the words fill me completely.
After a life spent doing other people’s taxes, this writer has purchased a new pen; dusted off an old desk; and written a single, fresh word on his blank piece of paper. Cabbage. That wrinkled, heavy, winter globe of a vegetable can be intimidating, but with a few slices of a knife and a bit of heat under its leaves, cabbage transforms into something tender and approachable.
For writers, the blank page can be just as intimidating. Fearing rejection, they talk themselves out of doing the very thing they must do, burying their work in drawers for years. One day, they buy a new pen in hopes that it will fuel inspiration. They press on. Let this poem be a reminder to keep putting one foot in front of the other, to raise our heads, to do the difficult work, whatever it may be. Whatever struggle a writer endures, it is fuel for the page. The good news, always, is that what challenges us also changes us, usually for the better if we recognize its potential.
What I love above all are Nicole’s reflections on each poem, like this one above about writing the word cabbage, in Determination. What I love too, is that poetry has the power to mean so many things, far beyond perhaps its literal meaning. So when I read Determination, it hits me where I’m at in life for reasons completely beyond the “simple” task of putting words to a page. And those words were more impactful when I ate them, mindfully and with intention, in this beautiful and tasty Soba Bowl with Braised Cabbage + Tahini Dressing which they were presented with.
I hope you pick up a copy of Eat This Poem when you get a chance, for it is filled with many more beautiful and moving poems from prominent and less known authors, along with recipes that fill us, in the way that only well spoken or written words and lovingly prepared meals can.
Soba Bowl with Braised Cabbage + Tahini Dressing, serves 4
2 Tbs. toasted sesame oil
2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
One 1-inch knob of ginger, finely grated
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 medium head cabbage, halved, core removed and thinly sliced (6-8 cups)
¾ cup water
8 ounces soba noodles (gluten-free if necessary or try adzuki spaghetti noodles)
1 bunch green onions, green parts only, thinly sliced
½ cup lightly packed cilantro, minced
1 red chile pepper, optional
2 Tbs. sesame seeds
For the Dressing:
1/3 cup tahini
¼ cup water
2 tsp. toasted sesame oil
1 tsp. rice wine vinegar
½ tsp. salt
2 tsp. honey
1 small garlic clove, peeled
- Set a large sauté pan over low heat and add the sesame and olive oils. Add in the ginger and garlic; cook for 1 minute or until they begin to dissolve and become fragrant. Add the cabbage and water, then season with 1 teaspoon salt. Increase the heat to medium, cover and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the cabbage is tender. Check on it halfway through and toss the cabbage.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. While you’re waiting, make the dressing. Combine all the ingredients in a blender and pulse to combine. If you make the dressing in advance, put it in the refrigerator until this point. Take it out and thin with a bit of water if needed; it will have thickened when chilled.
- Cook the soba or other noodles according to package directions, roughly 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from the heat, drain, and rinse with cool water to stop the cooking, then pour into a large bowl. Pour the dressing over the top and work it together with tongs or a large spoon. It may need an additional sprinkle of salt. Mix in the cabbage along with the green onions, cilantro, minced chile pepper (if using), and sesame seeds; toss. Serve with additional sesame seeds sprinkled on top.
NOTE: For this dressing, you want just a whisper of garlic. A good clove would be one pulled from the interior of the bulb.
Adapted from Eat This Poem A Literary Feast of Recipes Inspired by Poetry by Nicole Gulotta, © 2017 by Nicole Gulotta. Reprinted by arrangement with Roost Books, an imprint of Shambhala Publications, Inc. Boulder, CO. www.roostbooks.com