A poem by Jane Hirshfield

This poem, which I found on the site Women’s Voices for Change, seems to perfectly encapsulate this moment. Jane’s new book, Ledger, from Knopf,  just came out. It’s worth buying a copy from your local book store.  You won’t regret it.

Today, When I Could Do Nothing

Today, when I could do nothing,
I saved an ant.

It must have come in with the morning paper,
still being delivered
to those who shelter in place.

A morning paper is still an essential service.

I am not an essential service.

I have coffee and books,
a garden,
silence enough to fill cisterns.

It must have first walked
the morning paper, as if loosened ink
taking the shape of an ant.

Then across the laptop computer—warm—
then onto the back of a cushion.

Small black ant, alone,
crossing a navy cushion,
moving steadily because that is what it could do.

Set outside in the sun,
it could not have found again its nest.
What then did I save?

It did not move as if it was frightened,
even while walking my hand,
which moved it through swiftness and air.

Ant, alone, without companions,
whose ant-heart I could not fathom—
how is your life, I wanted to ask.

I lifted it, took it outside.

This first day when I could do nothing,
contribute nothing
beyond staying distant from my own kind,
I did this.

Jane Hirshfield

First published in the San Francisco Chronicle

Potato Casserole

This is a dish that I have made hundreds of times. The whole family loves it. Part of its charm is that you essentially make it in the food processor really quickly. It ages well, heats up to have with eggs at breakfast of by itself for lunch. The onions in this dish caramelize and sweeten the taste. When my son was young and wouldn’t eat onions, my daughter told him these weren’t onions, they were “chiapas.” He happily ate many portions.

1 large, deep casserole dish
4 or 5 medium Yukon gold potatoes, washed, skins on
2 good sized onions
5 or six cloves garlic
bunch spinach, washed, chopped
3/4 lb cheddar or other favorite cheese
half a stick of butter in small pieces
1/b bulk sausage in small pieces
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375. Wilt the spinach by putting it in a pot with a small amount of water and cooking till it softens. Peel the onions and garlic (a tip from James Beard—cut the little bottom part of the clove off and give it a whack with a strong knife—the peel falls right off). Use a garlic press or drop the garlic into a food processor and let it whirl around till minced. Remove the chopping bade and add the slicing blade (no need to wash the processor between steps). Slice the onions. Dump the onions and garlic into a bowl. Slice the potatoes Dump the potatoes into another bowl. Replace the slicing blade with the grating blade and grate the cheese. Layer ingredients into the casserole in three layers: potatoes sprinkled with salt and pepper, onion/garlic mix, spinach, dots of butter, thick layer of cheese, dot with sausage if you’re using. Finish with cheese. Cover with tinfoil and bake for an hour and 15 minutes. Remove tinfoil and turn oven to 425. Cook till beautifully brown on top, about 15 minutes.

Potstickers (or Gyoza)

I’m sure there’s a difference between the two, but I’m not sure what it is.  Whichever you want to call them, here’s a recipe.  It takes some time, but they are delicious.

INGREDIENTS (You can find these at an Asian market)

For the Dumplings:

  • 6 oz finely minced Napa cabbage (about 1/2 a medium head)
  • 4 oz finely minced shiitake mushrooms
  • 4 oz finely minced Kimchee
  • 1 finely minced shallot
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt, divided
  • 1 pound ground pork shoulder
  • 1 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1 tablespoon (or more) minced fresh garlic (about 3 medium cloves)
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
  • little grated lime peel
  • 2 ounces minced scallions (about 3 whole scallions)
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 package dumpling wrappers (40 to 50 wrappers)
  • Vegetable or canola oil for cooking


For the Dumplings: Combine cabbage, mushrooms and 2 teaspoons salt in a large bowl and toss to combine. Transfer to a fine mesh strainer and set it over the bowl. Let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes.

Transfer cabbage and mushrooms to the center of a clean dish towel and gather up the edges. Twist the towel to squeeze the cabbage, wringing out as much excess moisture as possible. Discard the liquid.

Combine pork, drained cabbage and mushrooms, remaining teaspoon salt, white pepper, garlic, ginger, scallions, and sugar in a large bowl and knead and turn with clean hands until the mixture is homogenous and starting to feel tacky/sticky. Transfer a teaspoon-sized amount to a microwave-safe plate and microwave on high power until cooked through, about 10 seconds. Taste and adjust seasoning with more salt, white pepper, and/or sugar if desired.

Set up a work station with a small bowl of water, a clean dish towel for wiping your fingers, a bowl with the dumpling filling, a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet for the finished dumplings, and a stack of dumpling wrappers covered in plastic wrap.

To form dumplings, hold one wrapper on top of a flat hand. Using a spoon, place a 2 teaspoon- to 1 tablespoon-sized amount of filling in the center of the wrapper. Use the tip of the finger on your other hand to very gently moisten the edge of the wrapper with water (do not use too much water). Wipe fingertip dry on kitchen towel.

Working from one side, carefully seal the filling inside the wrapper by folding it into a crescent shape, pleating in edge as it meets the other–just like they look in the picture. Transfer finished dumplings to the parchment lined baking sheet.

At this point the dumplings may be frozen by placing the baking sheet in the freezer. Freeze dumplings for at least 30 minutes then transfer to a zipper-lock freezer bag for long-term storage. Dumplings can be frozen for up to 2 months and cooked directly from the freezer.

To Cook: Heat 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil in a medium non-stick skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add as many dumplings as will fit in a single layer and cook, swirling pan, until evenly golden brown on the bottom surface, about 1 1/2 minutes.

Increase heat to medium-high, add 1/2 cup of water and cover tightly with a lid. Let dumplings steam for 3 minutes (5 minutes if frozen), then remove lid. Continue cooking, swirling pan frequently and using a thin spatula to gently dislodge the dumplings if they’ve stuck to the bottom of the pan, until the water has fully evaporated and the dumplings have crisped again, about 2 minutes longer. Slide dumplings onto a plate, turning them crisped-side-up before serving with the sauce.


  • 8 tablespoons ponzu sauce
  • 4 tablespoons thinly sliced scallions
  • 4 teaspoons grated fresh peeled ginger
  • 4 teaspoons mirin
  • 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt


In a small bowl, combine ponzu, scallions, ginger, mirin, sesame oil, and salt. Serve.


Aimee’s Coffee Cake

This coffee cake is so easy to make and pretty foolproof. It was made on many Sundays in my house growing up, and meant that one of my mother’s sisters was probably coming over. You can whip it up and be eating it in an hour. It looks sort of like this picture, except we always served it upside down from this, with the raisins and nuts making a beautiful, golden top.

Preheat oven to 350. Butter a standard bundt pan.

Mix and set aside:
1/3 C sugar
1 C raisins
½ C chopped walnuts (optional)
2 teaspoons cinnamon

In a mixer, cream:
¼ lb (one stick) butter (room temperature)
1 C sugar

Beat in:
2 eggs, one at a time

2 C flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt

Add to butter and sugar in three parts, alternating with:
1 C sour cream (I use full fat Greek yoghurt) mixed with
1 teaspoon vanilla

Spoon half the batter into the bundt pan. Add half the raisin/nut mix. Spoon in remaining batter. Sprinkle remaining raisin/nut mix on top. Nuts are optional.

Bake 35 min or until cooked thru. My mother used to test this with a broom straw. I use an actual cake tester. If it comes out clean, it’s done.

A kale salad I actually like

I reverse-engineered this delicious salad after Larry began bringing it home from Poulet, in Berkeley. It changed how I feel about kale. It takes a bit of prep, but what else is there to do?

Kale Salad

1 bunch flat (Lacinanto) kale
a wedge of red cabbage (about 1/4 as much as you have kale)
1 large or 2 smaller carrots
1 apple
a chunk of jicama or yacon
handful of roasted pine nuts, raisins
grated ginger
Peach or other sweet vinegar
Olive oil
salt, pepper. a bit of sugar

Slice the kale and cabbage into thin strips–think of bean sprouts–long and skinny. Grate or julienne the carrot, apple and jicama. Add nuts and raisins. With a microplane or other fine grater, grate in ginger to taste.

Make a dressing with good oil and a sweet vinegar, add salt, pepper, a bit of sugar to make a sweet dressing and dress the salad. The sweet dressing offsets the bitterness of the kale. Dress to taste. Sorry, this always gets eaten before I remember to take a picture. But it’s lovely and colorful as well as delicious.

The simplest dinner

About the simplest comfort food I know is pasta. For a quick, delicious dinner, you can make a sauce of melted butter, garlic, salt and herbs, and simply toss cooked spaghetti with it.

For a pound of spaghetti, about 1 stick butter, five or six medium cloves of garlic, and salt and herbs to taste. If you have some fresh parsley, oregano or basil, chop one or more up (a very generous handful). If not, just use dried herbs of your choice.

Peel and mince the garlic (or use a garlic press). Melt the butter in a sauce pan on low heat and add the garlic and herbs. Add salt to taste. Leave on very low heat while you boil the pasta in a big pot of heavily salted water.

The garlic should just turn a faint brown; then stop cooking and let the sauce sit. Drain the pasta and toss with the butter in a bowl. Sprinkle w a little grated parmesan.

A nice side dish is a Greek salad: chunks of tomatoes and cucumber and thinly sliced onions with olive oil and red wine vinegar, salt, pepper and oregano. These days, I actually wash the vegetables first with soap and water, then with plain water.

Monday vitamin

This poem came to me from one of the many poem of the day services, and I really like it, so thought you might, also. It grabs me with its elbows and angles and I know that process of rubbing against the rough edges when you live with someone. I think this is a beautiful exposition with a terrific metaphor running through it.

The First Rule of Rock Tumbling Is Rocks Must Be of Similar Hardness

Naked on the front porch, the moon unfurling its light
as though for a picnic, our yard is silver
and set for feasting.

When we married I
was all elbows and angles, with one pace, which
was my pace, which was fast

forward. She was all cushion and curve, considerable
sharpness shivved inside a pillow; deliberate
thinker, decision circler, all around

slow goer. Despite this, we loved hard enough
to want the other always at our side.
So, where others reminisce

of honeymoon years, ours were more
rock tumbler, more slurry and coarse grind,
two roughs bashing together until our edges wore

not smooth exactly but worn
into each other—gear-tight, cog in cog, turning
our shared hours.
Like this hour on this night,

when I stand between the moon and her
so she wears the light
like an unzipped jumpsuit: shoulders plated,

nipples burnished, outer thighs striped bright.
At her center, my shadow, that tailor-made
eclipse, a darkness exactly my size—though

we could easily change places, and have,
and will. She steps (sides-lit),
I step (backlit), to match

our shaded places. And only once we’re
fit like this, dark to dark, are we once more bound
by the light we each carry.

Jessica Jacobs
from the Bellingham Review

Monday Poem

Ross Gay is a sincerely upbeat poet, optimistic but never smarmy.  Here is his poem from Bringing the Shovel Down (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2011).

Sorrow Is Not My Name

after Gwendolyn Brooks

No matter the pull toward brink. No
matter the florid, deep sleep awaits.
There is a time for everything. Look,
just this morning a vulture
nodded his red, grizzled head at me,
and I looked at him, admiring
the sickle of his beak.
Then the wind kicked up, and,
after arranging that good suit of feathers

Not a poem

I know everyone is posting moving, relevant poems right now. But I thought a little levity would be more useful. Here are some favorites from a list of “Rules of the Blues:”

  1. The Blues is not about choice. You stuck in a ditch, you stuck in a ditch–ain’t no way out.
  2. Blues cars: Chevys, Fords, Cadillacs, and broken-down trucks. Blues don’t travel in Volvos, BMWs or SUVs. Most blues transportation is a Greyhound bus or a southbound train. Walkin’ plays a major part in the blues lifestyle. So does fixin’ to die.
  3. Blues can take place in New York City but not in Hawaii or any place in Canada. Hard times in Minneapolis or Seattle is probably just clinical depression. Chicago, St. Louis, and Kansas City are still the best place to have the Blues.
  4. You can’t have no Blues in a office or a shopping mall. The lighting is wrong. Go outside to the parking lot or sit by the dumpster.
  5. You have the right to sing the Blues if:
    a) You older than dirt
    b) You blind
    c) You shot a man in Memphis
    d) You can’t be satisfied
  6. If you ask for water and your darlin’ give you gasoline, it’s the Blues.

There are more, but you get the idea. If you have to stay in your house or apartment to flatten the virus curve, it’s not the Blues.

This one seemed perfect for my good friend Laurie, a natural perfumer. You can see her products at  But I don’t think you’ll find this one there.

When You Can Get It

A woman went to the perfume counter and asked,
What scent says, I think it rained last night?
The clerk turned to her cabinet, put her hands on her hips, then
offered a small blue bottle. The woman put a drop
on her wrist. It smelled of jasmine and wood smoke.
There was also iron and something like mint, only
colder. No, she said, I mean I think it rained but I’m not
sure. The clerk consulted her bottles again, opened
a drawer by her feet. Finally, she went to a coat hung
on the back of a chair and dug in the pockets. She
withdrew something tiny and held it out. It was a gray
bird, wet and alive. Its throat flashed purple and green
as it panted. This is the last of it, she said.

Brendan Constantine

From Moira, The Woodbury University Literary Magazine

Henri Cole

Henri Cole has written many powerful poems, but “Radiant Ivory” is one of my favorites, starting with the title, which seems so vibrant just on its own. I think it is the specificity of the language that makes the poem come to life for me. Phrases like “perforated silver box,” and snow as “white, insane, slathery,” reflecting the poet’s inner turmoil:

Radiant Ivory

After the death of my father, I locked
myself in my room, bored and animal-like.
The travel clock, the Johnnie Walker bottle,
the parrot tulips—everything possessed his face,
chaste and obscure. Snow and rain battered the air
white, insane, slathery. Nothing poured
out of me except sensibility, dilated.
It was as if I were sub-born—preverbal,
truculent, pure—with hard ivory arms
reaching out into a dark and crowded space,
illuminated like a perforated silver box
or a little room in which glowing cigarettes
came and went, like souls losing magnitude,
but none with the battered hand I knew.
from Middle Earth, Farrar, Straus & Giroux