You joined the food blog club in 2007 with a different background to most. Tell us about it. I started my first blog, Cooking After Five (now archived), at the suggestion of a friend. I had recently completed graduate school (my background is in poetry and creative writing) and was in the process of deciding what I wanted to do next. I had always loved the intersection of writing and photography, and food was starting to take prominence in my life, so it was an opportunity to practice all three of these interests at once. After several years of being immersed in food writing, I was aching for poetry in a new way and found a way to merge the two together. That’s when Eat This Poem was born.
How did you discover your love for food poetry? I’ve loved poetry for as long as I can remember, but I didn’t start paying attention to food references until much later. As I began cooking more and writing a food blog, food naturally became a driving force in my life, so when I started to read poetry again after a bit of an absence, the references stuck out more than they had previously. So much poetry is about storytelling and celebrating small moments that are often overlooked. Food is a huge part of our lives, whether or not we’re paying close attention, and I love how it can provide meaning in a poem.
Name your top five food poems. Pablo Neruda has many I return to again and again, like “Ode to a Large Tuna in the Market,” and lately I discovered the sweet romance of “Buckwheat” by Carl Sandburg [Nicole pairs this piece with cold soba salad with shrimp]. I could probably devote an entire blog to pairing Jane Hirshfield poems with recipes. Her often short, spare poems are scattered with food imagery, like “Two Washings” (paired with a hearty bean and mustard greens stew) and “Tree” (paired with roasted pepper and lentil soup). If forced to choose a favourite, I’d pick “The Bight” by Elizabeth Bishop. Although it doesn’t have an explicit food reference, her descriptions of being on the shore while watching fishing boats come in is so transporting. You are there with her to observe all the “awful but cheerful” activity, and can easily imagine a small shack selling lobster rolls or a chef buying fish for his restaurant that evening. It’s become something of a ritual to read it every year on my birthday and bake her brownies for the occasion.
"So much poetry is about storytelling and celebrating small moments that are often overlooked. Food is a huge part of our lives, whether or not we’re paying close attention, and I love how it can provide meaning in a poem."
You’ve labelled yourself a “cover-to-cover cookbook reader”. Do you enjoy the linear arc of a tome or are you just incredibly methodical? I love the linear arc! Just like a collection of poetry, I believe the recipes and stories are placed in a specific order for a reason, and I love going through the experience the writer meant for readers to have. After that, of course I flip through a cookbook freely when I’m looking for recipes or getting ideas, but I like to honour the complete work during the first read.
Which cookbooks do you always come back to? Nigel Slater is a favourite writer of mine. In particular, The Kitchen Diaries is wonderful because it’s segmented by month, so if it’s February, I’ll open and read that section and pick something comforting and warm to make, and if it’s summer I’ll read about his abundant garden while snacking on a bowl of tomatoes sprinkled with sea salt. I also really enjoy Heidi Swanson’s cookbooks. They’re a beautiful extension of her blog 101 Cookbooks, and always offer simple, wholesome recipes I rely on for weeknight cooking.
What’s more likely to bring you to tears – raw onion or a poignant poem? My contact lenses often shield me from the burn of raw onions, so I’m lucky in that way! It’s rare, but a poem can certainly make my eyes a bit misty. I once took a writing seminar where my professor was reading Frank O’Hara’s “The Day Lady Died” to class and his voice quivered to the point that he asked the student sitting beside him to finish the poem. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room.
Name three food or literary blogs we should be following. I love Paper and Salt for how Nicole weaves literary history with food. She pours through letters and biographies to uncover the favorite foods of writers, then recreates them in her own kitchen. Orangette continues to be a long-time favorite. I love how Molly’s posts are personal yet approachable, and always about far more than the food on the table. I tend to feel like she’s writing a note just to me. For fiction-loving readers, Cara keeps the book club-turned blog Yummy Books, where she shares favorite epicurian scenes from literature and offers recipes to go with them.
Describe yourself in a haiku.
Standing by the sea
I breathe in damp, salty air
rush home to steam clams
Recipe from Eat This Poem
Fringe Foodies Editor Siobhan Hegarty
In our new monthly blog, Fringe Foodies, we interview creatives, artists, designers, writers and poets about their affinity with all things edible. From the printed page to sculptures and soundwaves, we discover the myriad ways food can be created, celebrated and consumed.