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.

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