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A fellow poet invited me to join a group of poets taking on the 30/30 poetry challenge for the month of April. That’s writing a poem a day for 30 days. Here’s my first in the series for April:

Early Boy Tomato (Alt. titled, Matt’s Wild Cherry)*

Early and determinate, you grew on me fast, fixed
On finding beauty the night before the solstice in June.
We guttled my homemade cole slaw out of the same dish
And I knew we were going to be fools when we finished;
You took root in my soils, amidst weeds, and intersilient,
Instead, you picked an heirloom hourglass, a bit too soon
Untrusting, feisty and resilient, I wanted the real you:
What seeds we planted that summer, to “come true”
The next growing season. I noted the telling signs
(Friends might call “red flags”) all your fine lines.
We ripened, sun-drenched and swam in the lakes.
You flowered my mind, diamantigerous and shiny
Fantasy floated like lily-pads hiding water snakes;
Braided and possessive, our stems became vines.

Now I’m not that unreal, glistening mermaid like I told you;
A gardener with tenacious gloves, how steadily I hold you.

At the local farm stand, where I worked one autumn,
No one wanted the so-called “tomato job,” a daily chore
Of sorting through the display bins, seeking slimy scum,
I’d ferret out the leaks, turn the big berries in the store,
Inspect the gorgeous orbs: meaty, firm, rutilant and ripe.
The customers’ main desire—perfection. I recalled my friend,
Ramah’s advice: “the flawed ones provide the most nutrition.”
If I shared this insight with a shopper, the discriminating type,
Wearing hip clothes and flawless make-up, she’d maybe listen,
Then say, “but this one is beautiful.” At each closing, the farmer
Invited me to take home an imperfect specimen. So I did,
But preferred a pint of plump cherry toms, popping each
Tiny tomato like a cinnamon fireball in my mouth. I savored
The sweet squirts against the inside of my cheek.

By the time you returned from two months away, you craved
My cooking: we grilled fajitas with homemade salsa; you split
Juicy red “maters,” as you call them, cilantro and lime. We slaved
Over soups and chowders, tossed salads with balsamic vinaigrette.
In the kitchen, you get sensual around all that’s aromatic: thyme (for love)
Fresh basil, rosewater in my hair, whatever’s simmering on the stove.
Your eroticism becomes automatic—the forceful fork and knife-play
To the surf-like sounds of the dishwasher, then we spoon at night.

Once the snow fell, we began to talk of a garden in spring: “let’s build
Raised beds,” you said, and then studied the almanac for planting dates.
You researched soils and nutrients; we don’t need the seavy plot tilled.
We talked of heights, rows and depth, whether to construct tall gates,
To keep out the deer. I visualized assorted herbs, potted tomatoes,
Bright pink ranunculus and tipsy cosmos; I mapped next summer’s
Garden on graph paper, suggested we plant clover somewhere
(To satiate the deer). Sometimes you allow my chaos, my whims.
I pictured your perfect angles atop the voluptuous slope of my yard.

You like a “fresh-from-the-garden” flavor, a truly Taurus nature,
Preferring cool climate, you are tactile, geometric, earthy and hard.
Rooted beneath your compulsive need to keep things in order,
Your wild Sicilian lineage, exotic sea-blue eyes, Italian-hot
Temper and sun-tolerant skin—next to my fair complexion,
Blondish curls, bulldozer-bossiness, and Scottish self-taught
Preservation, my drifty sense of direction, and cool ardor—
We make an intriguing hybrid and cultivate our best traits:
Our shared resolve survives any blight, the full moon fight,
Historic storms, and meddlesome wormlings.

Now I’m not that perfect “early girl” you wanted but I still nourish you.
If we endure the winter, we will make tenacious gardeners,
If we grow our own tomatoes, surely we will flourish, too.

LCS

Recently I discovered Ondine ~ a brand of pre-cooked lasagna pasta, named after the Ondine, a mythological mermaid (or group of mermaids), who dwelled along the rivers. Also spelled “Undine,” they were water spirits who showed up in European folklore. In one eerie version of the story, the Ondine had the ability to “gain a soul” by marrying a man and bearing his child. In a German version of the myth, called “the Ondine’s Curse,” the water spirit, or mermaid, casts magic on an unfaithful man so that he would stop breathing during sleep. Apparently this “curse” and mythology fed the early medical thinking on those who suffer from frequent hyperventilation. I’ve heard several variations of the diagnosis for my sudden and frequent lapses in breathing–but from now on, I am going to think of it as my Ondine’s curse. That’s a little easier to swallow than all of the other freakish-sounding medical explanations from doctors over the past 25 years. It’s my spiritual mermaid self just channeling ancient memories.

NymphsI was nine years old when I stopped breathing one day, while washing my hands in the bathroom sink. I had no way of calling to my mother for help, so I clapped my hands and banged against the counter. A sharp pinch in my lung prevented air from going out or coming in, so I couldn’t breathe in either direction. My mother called 911 and the first responders arrived, and examined me in the living room. I hadn’t been breathing for several minutes–but suddenly began to inhale and exhale tiny puffs, like sipping the steam off the top of hot cocoa. My chest burned. I gathered from the look on my brother’s face, I was turning funny colors, and freaking him out. One of the emergency responders told me I had a touch of pleurisy, an inflammation in the lining surrounding the lungs. It causes sharp intense pain in the chest (the lungs, specifically) and can be brought on by taking a deep breath, coughing, or even laughing. Over the years as I grew up, and to this day, I occasionally stop breathing. Sometimes I am engulfed with laughter with friends, or talking on the phone, and suddenly I go dead quiet. My closest friends and family know this about me, so they know to either wait it out, or my best friends will continue laughing–since frequent hyperventilation is inconvenient and embarrassing, and sometimes funny. Not in a ha-ha kind of funny, more of an obtuse Addams Family dinner way. Oh, she’s stopped breathing again. A part of me wants to think this is the basis for my constant need to speak fast and furious, and to interrupt others with enthusiastic bursts of creative thinking–because there is the likely scenario that I might stop breathing mid-sentence and lose the thought completely. This is a bit difficult to explain to people in the work place, and can sound melodramatic. When I taught writing classes in my usual exuberant and entertaining way, I sometimes clutched my chest and lost my breath. After this happened once in front of horrified students, who thought I looked young enough to be one of their classmates, I explained it away in my best impression of SNL “Coffee Talk,” and told them I was verklempt and for them to “talk amongst themselves.”

Now I find myself sipping raspberry zinger at my desk. The inside flap of the box has this description of the tea: “According to Roman legend, raspberries were originally white – but turned red when the Cretian nymph Ida scratched herself on a thorny raspberry bush.” (Celestial Seasonings) It’s too bad these descriptions don’t make it on the grocery store shelves like the hand-written recommendations of bottom-shelf wines: “Full-bodied and dishes it right back.” I think in another life, I’d like to be responsible for writing the descriptions of teas and under-sold wines. raspberries

Ondine Movie Pic“Ondine” is also a beautiful 2009 Irish romantic drama starring Colin Farrell and Alicja Bachleda. This is one of my favorite movies from recent years. It makes me want to go to Ireland really really bad. (Plus, I’m Irish.) Check it out: http://www.ondinefilm.com/

Tonight I shall experiment with tomato Ondine lasagna with roasted root vegetables, goat cheese and tomato basil sauce.

Leah

Poet. Artist. Ecoheroine. Human ecologist. Spiritual mermaid and Mystic. I write about literary ecology, wetlands, water, Romantic ecology, and quirky adventures with my dog.

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