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Witter Bynner

In my early twenties I wrote a letter to John Berrryman, and he replied saying something about my “witchy name.” But surely Witter Bynner has the witchiest name of all, and though born in 1881, his work seems utterly contemporary:

Undressing You

Fiercely I remove from you
All the little vestiges—
Garments that confine you,
Things that touch the flesh,
The wool and the silk
And the linen that entwine you,
Tear them all away from you,
Bare you from the mesh.
And now I have you as you are,
Nothing to encumber you—
But now I see, caressing you,
Colder hands than mine.
They take away your flesh and bone,
And, utterly undressing you,
They tear you from your beauty
And they leave no sign.
Witter Bynner

Seamus Heaney

I’ve been receiving poems from so many sources lately. Even my local art gallery is sending daily inspiration. It’s amazing how many poems I don’t like! But then comes one I do, and it’s all worth it. I try only to post the ones that move me here:

Postscript

And some time make the time to drive out west
Into Country Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind
And the light are working off each other
So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The Surface of a slate-grey lake is lit
By the earthed lightning of a flock of swans,
Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white, Continue reading “Seamus Heaney”

So many husbands on Monday

It’s always a delight to discover a new poet.  Here is a poem by Aimee Nezhukumatathil. I love the whole neighborhood of past loves. Don’t we all have that, even if they are long past? And that last line is killer:

 

Are All the Break-Ups in Your Poems Real?

If by real you mean as real as a shark tooth stuck
in your heel, the wetness of a finished lollipop stick,
the surprise of a thumbtack in your purse—
then Yes, every last page is true, every nuance,
bit, and bite. Wait. I have made them up—all of them—
and when I say I am married, it means I married
all of them, a whole neighborhood of past loves.
Can you imagine the number of bouquets, how many
slices of cake? Even now, my husbands plan a great meal
for us—one chops up some parsley, one stirs a bubbling pot
on the stove. One changes the baby, and one sleeps
in a fat chair. One flips through the newspaper, another
whistles while he shaves in the shower, and every single
one of them wonders what time I am coming home.

Polenta Lasagna

This is a wonderful comfort dish for a gray day. I first had something similar at the Jazz School Café in Berkeley, and later went home and experimented. If you make this when golden-red heirloom tomatoes are available, they make a lovely contrast with the polenta. If you use vegetable stock for the polenta, it’s a vegetarian treat. Otherwise use light chicken stock—stay away from beef or dark chicken stock to preserve the yellow color of the polenta. I go very light on the cheese and it’s yummy, but if you are insouciant about dairy and calories, more makes it even creamier. Of course you can add or substitute in the sauce with just about anything: fennel, yellow peppers, bok choy, carrots, corn, squash, whatever fall vegetables please you.

1 Cup coarse, yellow polenta
6 Cups stock
salt and pepper to taste
1 ½ C mushrooms, sliced (Chanterelles are best, but any kind or assorted work, too)
1 large onion, sliced (or mix of onion, shallot or leek)
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 or 3 large very ripe heirloom tomatoes, chopped (about 2 pounds)
Handful of greens, rinsed and chopped (baby spinach, baby kale or chard)
Olive oil
Tablespoon fresh thyme, minced
Dash of hot pepper (cayenne or dried chili flakes, I use crushed chipotle)
1/3 C or so grated Gruyere cheese
¼ C or less shaved Grana Padano or Parmesan
Salt, pepper

Heat stock to just under a boil. Stir in polenta. Cook, stirring, about 20 minutes or till about the consistency of cream of wheat. Add salt and pepper to taste. (For those of you who like a bit more spice, add some pepper flakes to the polenta now—simple red chili flakes look terrific in the polenta and add a kick to this dish). Cook a bit longer till about the consistency of oatmeal. While polenta is cooking, sauté the onions and mushrooms in the oil. After they brown lightly, add the garlic, thyme and a dash of red pepper to taste. Sauté briefly and add tomatoes. Cook down till most of the water from the tomatoes evaporates and the mix is about the consistency of gravy. Add greens and set aside off the heat while polenta finishes cooking.

Spread one third of the polenta in a casserole dish. Add half of onions, mushrooms and tomatoes and cover with half of the gruyere. Add another layer of polenta, another of mushrooms and gruyere and a final layer of polenta. Sprinkle top with shaved cheese. Bake 450 for 20 minutes or till golden brown.

South Indian Vegetable Curry

When my friend Tung came back from a wedding in India, she was raving so much about the perfectly delicious vegetarian food, that I began looking for recipes. This simple curry is a winner. And if you can’t find curry leaves, it’s still delicious:

Ingredients

  • 4-5cups mixed vegetables, cut into chunky slivers about 1 1/2 inches long (I used half a cauliflower, 1 zuccini, two carrots, and a cup of green beans)
  • 1/2tsp turmeric or one piece of fresh turmeric, grated
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 15 oz can coconut milk (not the light kind)
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1tsp yellow split peas
  • 1large dried chipotle or other med hot chile
  • 1-2tbsp coconut oil (more oil means more flavor)
  • 2sprigs (about 25-30) curry leaves
  • 1tsp black or brown mustard seeds
  • 1-inchknob ginger (cut into thin slivers)
  • clove grated garlic
  • 1/2cup greek yogurt
  • Salt to taste
  • lime
  • chopped cashews and grated fresh coconut, if you have some, for garnish

Instructions

  1. Place all the carrots and cauliflower into a large pot with 1 cup of water and turmeric and salt. cook 10. min or so and add other veges. cook another 5 min.
  2. Place the coconut milk in the blender with the ground cumin, pepper, garam masala and split peas. Blend into a paste. Set aside.
  3. When the veggies are cooked — it should take no more than 15-20 minutes — add the coconut paste to the veggies and stir well to mix. Let the curry come to a gentle boil over medium-low heat.
  4. Turn off the heat and add the yogurt & lime juice. Stir to mix but be careful not to mash up the veggies because they’ll be very tender at this stage.
  5. Heat the oil. Add mustard seeds and when they sputter, add the curry leaves, garlic and the ginger. Saute for a minute or two until the fragrance permeates the house.
  6. Pour the tempering over the avial and stir to mix.  Garnish, if you wish, with cashews and some fresh coconut.
  7. Serve hot with rice.

 

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,
time,
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
OR
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

DIRECTIONS

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.

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

DIRECTIONS

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

Sift:
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.