Sunday, February 26, 2012

Mules and Fairy Godmothers

If you’re fortunate enough to have an apple tree then you know that its bounty usually ripens pretty much all at once.  Sure, you might have to pick the fruit in a few successive rounds, but one can hardly eat so many apples before they begin to soften and rot.  Now imagine that you are responsible for several apple trees since you far too enthusiastically planted a small grove of them several years ago with your father.  And their ripening occurs like an avalanche does - suddenly and a bit overwhelmingly.  If you live in an area with an agrarian culture you quickly learn that, no, thank you very much, your neighbors and friends do not need or want the fruit you have to share as they all have their own apple trees.  Local food pantries to help the underprivileged in our midst will seldom accept fresh fruit citing storage and handling difficulties.  What to do with all of the apples?

Though I would never personally employ such stealth tactics, I’ve noticed in my own rural corner of the world that late summer finds few public waiting rooms barren of recycled shopping bags full of fruit - tucked by the magazine stand at the dentist’s office, or by the receptionist’s desk at the doctor’s office.  Really!  I once saw an entire box of them sitting by a vending machine at the local laundry.  The most effective distribution method was, however, when I saw bags of fruit perched atop half the cars in a grocer’s parking lot.  Really?  Who would traipse the village like a fairy-apple-godmother?  The ingenious nerve of some people!

Despite the difficulty of finding homes for several varieties of surplus apples every year, I find myself missing their fresh sweetness in winter’s depth.  I have only to open a jar of home-made apple butter to slather on a biscuit or a slice of toast to enjoy a tasty, economical breakfast.  Home canning is quite simple and offers an extremely frugal way to stretch food dollars.  Apples that quickly cook down without holding their form are best for making apple butter and any variety (or combination) works as well as the next as long as you avoid firm Granny Smiths.  For those wishing to avoid the use of granulated sugar altogether, be sure to choose apples which are naturally quite sweet.   I use a 6-quart electric slow cooker (or several of them at once) to execute the following recipe.

Apple Butter

Fill large slow cooker with apples which have been peeled and sliced.  Cook on high until apples have cooked down and are soft.  Add 4 cups of granulated sugar, 2 teaspoons of cinnamon, 1 teaspoon of ground cloves and continue to cook on a low setting for 8-10 hours.  Add 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract during the last half of cooking time.  Meanwhile sterilize jars and keep them hot until apple butter is done (I keep jars hot in a 200-degree F oven).  Pour apple butter into hot jars and seal with hot canning rings and lids which have been kept in simmering water on your stovetop.  Invert jars and place on a clean kitchen cloth until cool.  Jars should seal successfully but, if not, process in a boiling water bath for 15-20 minutes.  (Don’t forget to inhale deeply several times during the process - your kitchen will smell heavenly!)

In My Da’s Time... was made outside
in a cast iron pot,
mule tied to a roundabout
to do the stirring.
Apples, molasses, spices...
and that wonderful
smoky aroma wafting
across crisp November air.
The mule stirred
the whole mix until
it turned into a thick, amber paste.
The flavor
a bite of summer
in winter.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Chili and Two Arts

An acquaintance who is not a poet recently asked, “Are you working on any projects?” I replied that a friend and I had started working on an anthology of poems that would include frugal recipes, good inexpensive meals designed to stretch those food dollars. He was curious, asked a few questions then said, “How do you plan to bridge culinary art with the art of poetry?”

Admittedly, I had not considered his question and I said as much to him. I told him that I did not think a bridge was necessary to span the two arts; I know a number of poets who enjoy cooking and a cook or two that have been known to pen a poem. I had envisioned that the recipes and poems that will be published in The Frugal Poet: Recipes and Poems for Lean Times would complement each other in much the same manner that a haiku complements the prose in a haibun.

And yet, his question set the cogs and gears turning in my brain. Could I bridge or link the two art forms in fewer steps or degrees than it takes to connect every actor (living and deceased) in Hollywood to Kevin Bacon?

Never one to shun a challenge, I sat down with a pen, pad and a healthy dose of determination and penned these four tenets.

The Tenets of a Culinary Poet

1. Immerse yourself in the arts. The gift to create should be appreciated and nurtured at every opportunity.

2. Read and write regularly, for this is directly related to the first tenet.

3. Enjoy the culinary arts for, without sustenance, the first two tenets cannot happen.

4. Make your home warm and inviting; it is the foundation of the first three tenets. Be forever thankful for the harmony of your home.

There. The two art forms are linked and, in this humble poet’s opinion, not too loosely. Methinks I’d enjoy having these tenets framed on a wall here at Poet’s Cottage.

I mentioned in a recent post that I’m a chili fanatic. The recipe below is what I call my base recipe. According to a friend, a recipe is nothing more than a suggestion...and she’s right. Feel free to adopt and alter to your taste.

A Frugal Poet’s Black Bean Chili

3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil
1 diced large onion
1 diced bell pepper
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon coriander
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper (Or, to your heat preference. I usually add ½ tablespoon, but I like it spicy!)
4 cups beef, chicken or vegetable broth (Add more if needed. There should be enough liquid in the pot to allow everything to cook down to a chili consistency. You’ve got to blend those flavors!)
2 (15 ounce) cans black beans
1.5 to 2 lbs ground turkey or beef
1 (15 ounce) can whole kernel corn
1 (14.5 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
seasoned salt to taste (during and near the end of cooking)

Sauté onion, bell pepper and garlic in olive oil until onion becomes translucent. I usually sauté the aforementioned ingredients in the pot I’ll use for the chili.

Brown meat in a separate frying pan; drain off excess grease. Toss the meat over into the pot with the onion, garlic and bell pepper.

Add the broth and crushed tomatoes.

Drain one can of beans and add it to the pot. Pour the other can of beans into the pot (juice and beans).

Drain the can of corn; add the corn to the pot.

Add the chili, cumin, coriander, cayenne pepper, and Worcestershire sauce.

Figuring in the frugal factor, use whatever ingredients you have on hand. For example, I’ve used petite tomatoes or tomato sauce when I didn’t have crushed tomatoes. No black beans? Use pinto or kidney beans.

Bring the pot to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, let the pot simmer for an hour or two, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Taste frequently, add seasoned salt as needed but don’t over do it.

Serve in a bowl with a dollop of sour cream, shredded cheese, tortilla chips or cornbread.

I want to thank Roy over at Rockingham Update. Due to his generosity, The Frugal Poets (Susan and yours truly) have a column under his Life/Travel section. Please take time to peruse the Rockingham Update web site.

And for non-poets who happen upon The Frugal Poet website, you may notice that haiku here are rarely written in a 5-7-5 syllable format. There is a freer, less syllable stringent, one breath style of haiku that’s written by poets today. Here’s an Intro to Haiku I penned a few months ago that explains contemporary haiku.

I'll close with this prose poem:

Southern Legitimacy Statement #4

My Granny Stephens cooked on a woodstove: pinto beans and turnip greens seasoned in fatback, fried potatoes, cornbread, biscuits and gravy served with fresh out of the barn yard fried chicken. Occasionally, I was sent down into the cellar to retrieve jars of canned tomatoes, chow chow, or icicle pickles. We'd have southern-style tea and lemonade, sweet, succulent, better than store-bought soda pop. And if you could discipline yourself and not overeat, you'd save room for peach cobbler or fried apple pie. Granny knew her woodstove inside-out, top to bottom, and was a master at creating a large delicious meal out of very little food…sort of like what Jesus did with a few fish and a loaf of bread. You had the feeling that something holy had been conjured-up when you sat down at Granny's table, which is another reason we said grace before every meal.

Originally published in the July 2010 issue of  The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Creamy Rosemary Onions

Only after my daughters reached a certain culinary maturity could I freely use onions in cooking.  In their youth I was forced to employ covert operations to include them - a mince so fine Julia Child would have rhapsodized my skill with a chef’s knife, the inclusion of dehydrated onions which cooked to mush and became unrecognizable in a finished dish - they simply detested them and refused all dishes where onions were detected.  Their eventual declaration that onions were, in fact, pretty tasty made me almost as happy as the last time I had to pay university tuition.

Robert Courtine, French writer and gourmand, is credited with saying  “The onion is the truffle of the poor.”  Indeed!  Onions are among the most inexpensive items found in our pantries.  There are several types available to suit specific dishes without wild cost variations.  They will stay fresh for up to two weeks at room temperature, for up to two months in the refrigerator and for up to a year in a freezer.  Roasting onions, as in the recipe below, allows their mellow, nutty flavor to take center stage.  Either white, yellow or Vidalia onions are suitable for this dish.  I strongly suggest that you have a fresh loaf of crusty bread on hand to best enjoy the reduced sauce.  You might even want to double up on the amounts of stock, seasonings and cream for dipping.

6 large onions, unpeeled
2 cups chicken stock
3-4 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
leaves from 3-4 branches of fresh rosemary
coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 425 F.  Slice roughly ¼ inch off the bottoms and tops of the onions so they’ll sit upright, then slice in half cross-wise.  Arrange the onions skin side down in a baking dish.  (Leaving the onion skins intact assists in the onions keeping their shape during roasting.)

Pour chicken stock over and around onions in the baking dish.  Drizzle olive oil over onions and liberally season with salt and pepper.  Scatter rosemary leaves over onions and into stock.  Transfer the dish to the oven and bake, basting often with the stock, until onions are soft when pierced with the tip of a paring knife and stock has been reduced by about three-quarters, roughly 1 - 1 ½ hours.

Remove baking dish from oven and pour cream over onions.  Return dish to the oven and bake until pan juices have thickened slightly and the tops of the onions have browned, 20-30 minutes more.


she wonders what
her life would have been
had she not
run arms open
to youthful daydreams
turning them into
a reality
she never saw coming

she wonders now
about that girl
who made such rash choices
on her behalf
what she’s doing
now that dinner
needs cooking
need feeding

she thinks about
the time
she let pass
staying busy
but not being
she could have been

she reaches
for a knife
watches the skin
peel away
from an onion

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Call for Submissions

The Frugal Poet: Recipes and Poems for Lean Times, a collection of recipes and poems with a theme of frugal living during lean or tough economic times, will be released in Kindle digital e-book format during the latter part of 2012 or early 2013. Please send one tried and true family recipe, a main dish, side dish, appetizer, dessert, drink or snack and an accompanying poem. Emphasis will be given to recipes that have been in your family for generations. Please do not copy and paste a recipe from the Internet unless, of course, you have published your recipe elsewhere online. Consideration will be given to recipes that have been modified with ingredients or seasonings to make them your own. The editors will consider all poetic forms, including free verse, haiku, tanka, prose poem etc. We would like a good mix of diverse voices and styles.

Why Kindle format? The Kindle software is freely available to people who have PCs and Macs. Purchasing a Kindle is unnecessary. E-book format is cheaper to produce, thus lowering the cost for contributors who would like to purchase the book.

Please submit your poem and recipe, including a summary about the recipe (its history, what it means to you) and a brief bio to the appropriate editor:

Susan Nelson Myers ( is the editor for main dishes, desserts, snacks

Curtis Dunlap ( is the editor for side dishes, appetizers, drinks

Paste your recipe and poem in the body of an email. No attachments please. We look forward to trying your recipes and reading your poems!

The last date to submit is October 31, 2012.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

A Sandwich Fit For A King

Plato is credited for having said, “Necessity, who is the mother of invention.” Often misquoted as Necessity is the mother of invention, I've discovered that the kitchen is an excellent place to put Plato’s maxim into practice. There have been times when a trip to the grocery store was long overdue, moments when I've had to assess my situation and create something tasty with whatever foods I had on hand. Flour, canned foods, bread, rice, pasta, beans, potatoes are items that remain on my grocery list.

A few years ago, I was foraging in my kitchen, looking for a quick meal, something to curb my appetite until suppertime. I had bread, bananas and peanut butter. A peanut butter and banana sandwich would make a quick and easy snack and silence my growling stomach. While preparing my sandwich it occurred to me that adding another item into the mix would give me all the essential ingredients to make a sandwich that the King, Elvis Aaron Presley, was fond of eating: a grilled peanut butter and banana sandwich.

As I was retrieving butter from the fridge, I happened to notice a container of chocolate syrup and that’s when I started getting creative with The King’s signature sandwich. My kids and I fondly call this sandwich an “Elvis” and it is wickedly delicious!

Spread peanut butter on a slice of bread. Slice a banana on top of the peanut butter. Drizzle chocolate syrup on top of the banana. Top with another slice of bread.

Melt butter in a skillet and grill the sandwich. When the sandwich is grilled to a golden brown, plate and sprinkle with powdered sugar. 

Slice and serve. 

Today's poem is by my good friend, Carlos Colón, aka Haiku Elvis.

molasses moon
a peanut butter
and 'nanner sammich

And here's Haiku Elvis reading a few short poems.