12/31/13

Craig Griffin

Booze Letter
a selection from Eat, Knucklehead: A Cookbook

Eat, Knucklehead is a cookbook by Craig Griffin written as a series of letters from a father to his twenty-something son, accompanied by letter comics drawn by the mother. It will be released by Publishing Genius in October of next year. Here's an excerpt.

Hey Knucklehead, it’s your old man just sitting here living the high life. Thought I’d spare a minute and hoist a cold one to my favorite idiot and best goddamn pal. This one’s to you, kid aw crap I spilled and this is the good shirt sonuvaBITCH I’ll be right back—

Your mother says I have to finish the letter in my undershirt and I said fine it’s not like I don’t have something else to keep me warm and then she handed me the Beam just to keep me good and toasty. I love your mom so much, pal. I just stood up and danced around a bit celebrating how much I love the ole girl. She caught me, though, and she had that look in her eye makes me think my dance-floor magic is gonna be the subject of one of her letter comics. What a goddamn treat for you. Rarely am I caught mid-step. Thanks to your mom, someday my dancing form will be cave-painting famous as a glimpse of life today in the middle of the civilized world. Cha cha cha.

I die grass.

Sorry about earlier, waking you up. Sounded pretty rough. Considering it was eleven thirty in the goddam morning, I don’t feel too bad. Though I guess the fact that I was just calling to shoot shit and without any real purpose puts the blame squarely back on my steady shoulders. That’s okay. I felt for ya, kid, sure did. Just like that time you wrecked your bike. You walked in the house bleeding, your elbows and knees all cut up. You were in pain, but you were angry. I asked you what you did with the bike. “I left it there. I’m never riding it again,” you said. Remember, every time you say “I’m Never Drinking Again” another angel gets their eye blackened.

I bet it was fun, though. You get any numbers? Puke on anything valuable? Anybody throw their drink in your face? I once threw a drink in Uncle Dugger’s face just for the gas of throwing a drink in someone’s face. It’s probably more special when there’s actually a reason, though it’s hard to guess at what reason’s solid enough to justify wasting all that precious booze. If it’s really bad, a wad of spit or your open hand works. Better yet, knock your glasses together, curse the government and get the fuck over it. Easier said than done, I suppose. Part of me wishes Uncle Mac had just thrown his drink on me all those New Years ago, rather than, you know, tossing me all around the room like a goddamn puppet and then throwing me through the screen door. Helluva way to bring in the millennium.

Goddam Uncle Mac. Only time I committed insurance fraud – don’t tell anybody – was when he dragged your poor Uncle Andy’s pumpkin head across the pavement on Sheridan Avenue. We kept getting our names mixed up in the E.R., me calling him Andy. Racing wheelchairs around, all stitched up. Drunk off our mother-loving asses. Gotta be careful, pal.

And beware the beer goggles. Ha! You know what those are, don’t you buddy boy? Made me promise never to speak of it, but hell, it was, what, seven years ago now, right? Ancient history in the digital world. Of course we knew you’d figured out the lock on the liquor cabinet, and of course we knew every drop that wasn’t in the bottles. But catching you with your hand up that neighbor girl’s shirt and that overturned bottle of apple brandy, I’ll never forget it. Everyone’s a princess and a flag-bearer when you’re hammered, huh? That poor girl never lassoed a cowboy like you again. Could have been nothing but booze that made romance with her seem like a good idea. Your first hangover, yeah? There’s just nothing like that beautiful pain to etch a memory for life. Me blasting the AC/DC bright and early the next morning probably helped give that pain a boost, too. Hells bells, I’m getting misty.

I’m gonna take a sip of my beer and pour a little on the floor for all the ones we let get away. Reminds me of this one time with Uncle Pete. I was constantly falling on grenades for that bastard before he finally got around to marryin Tati Cassie. “Hey man,” he’d say, “This girl’s all over me. Cassie’s expecting me a half hour ago. Help a brother out?” Then he’d smile his shit-eating grin. Anyway, Pete gives me this speech one St. Paddy’s Day. So I distracted the Very Drunk Woman with a cigarette while ole Pete made a break for it. When the bonny lass realized she’d been left with yours truly, she shrugged, stuck her gum behind her ear, and started trying to suck the top layer of skin off my face. It was weird but I liked it. That mad woman gave me a look like “You’ll do,” nodded in the direction of her bed, and took off running. I watched her go, in awe and stupor. Then she stopped, turned around and waved c’mon to me. You may be having a hard time picturing your old man galloping after a girl, especially with my being against running anywhere but between bases, but run I did. I caught up with her and she slobbered on me and gave me wood and took off again. Well fuck if that second time I didn’t just let her go. See ya. Ya see? That jog totally sobered me up. Things could’ve gotten pretty shameful and goddamn beautiful. Who knows? Blue balls suck but may sometimes be a small price to pay.

Best to drink with people around whom, should the night go a certain way, taking off all your clothes isn’t the worst thing that could happen. You’re probably not surprised to learn that I’ve seen every one of your aunts and uncles in one or another stage of undress. Shit, you’ve seen some of em plenty of times. Your mom used to get so mad at me keeping you out by the fire so late when Uncle Jeff and Uncle Andy came to town. But after the introductory bottle of bourbon when ole Jeff would strip down and commence to preaching in his booming slur, your little giggle lit up the whole world.

Gotta be careful, though. You’ve got your old man’s fire, and it can be a powerful friend sometimes, sure enough. But when you’re drunk that heat can be hard to wrangle. The boys and I still chuckle about it, but getting thrown out of bars is not the greatest accomplishment. I still feel pretty shitty about making that stripper cry. Hell. Being an asshole gets old. Or it sticks. Thank Christ for your mother. Saved my life. Here’s to her, kid.

So I’ve got some weapons here to fight the hangover demons. And I stuck in some recipes that I use booze to cook. It’s definitely one of my favorite ingredients, when you’re not prioritizing it for drinking. There’s more of your requests here. Did I ever tell you that Greasy Baby Rat Stew started off as a hangover cure, when I could muster the strength to make it, or – on those rare times I froze some – heat it up? Watch out tho, pal, cuz with GBRS the hangover leaves your body in the form of TFG: Toxic Fucking Gas. I bet you probably know that already. Remember the time we had to open all the windows when all your aunts and uncles came for New Years? Jeff and Mac alone could probably have done all the damage, but there were twelve or thirteen of us letting fly. Folks driving by probably thought we housed cattle in the back yard.

Speaking of heating up, your Uncle Pants’ surefire hangover cure is in there. I put Tati Cassie’s Sloppy Lentils in there even though most of the time she makes them with just water. I like adding the wine. The green eggs are a favorite of your mother’s. There’s a few other gems. The Brined Beans will save more than one of your lives. That shit rocks!

I’ll leave you with this. On probably one of my favorite days of drinking, Jimmy T, Jimmy B and me had our first cocktail around seven thirty in the morning and proceeded to get flat back hammered before noon—Drunk Before Noon Day. That morning we sipped Bloody Mary’s, rode our bicycles, tossed a Frisbee in the forest and behaved like children serious about the fun we were having. You’ll grow up and develop your tastes for this style of beer or that age of bourbon. Or you won’t. But it’s in that communion that makes us like kids chasing smiles and wonder, where you’ll find the best booze has to offer. There and then the whiskey-glaze.

Love you, buddy,

Pa


GREASY BABY RAT STEW

1-2 POUNDS vegan Italian Sausage (I like FIELD ROAST) cut to baby-rat-length
1 package Shiitake Mushrooms, cut to resemble rat-tails and rat-feet
2 CANS Diced Tomatoes + 1 CAN water
1 Onion, chopped small
2 Baking Potatoes, cut up in bite-size pieces
3 cloves garlic, diced
1 Green Pepper, chopped up in lil chunks
1 CAN Tomato Paste
5-10 Vegetable Bouillon Cubes
2 Bottles Beer, 1 for drinking
1 shot bourbon
Liquid smoke
Flour
Olive Oil
Oregano
Basil
Maybe some salt and pepper

STEPS

1. Set up your crock pot, get it going on high, and toss your cans of chopped tomatoes in there – NO PASTE YET! – plus the can of water and one of your beers. Not the one you’re drinking, genius.

2. In a big flat pan, also known as a skillet, heat up a big puddle of oil til it’s smoldering.

3. Once the oil is going, throw the potats and onions in and cook them til the potatoes start to get brown, probably about two songs’ lengths. Gotta STIR THE MIX every minute or so to keep the potatoes from sticking to the pan.

4. Once the potatoes are just browned—NOT TOO DARK—throw the whole thing into the pot with the tomatoes and beer.

5. Put another little puddle of oil in the skillet and heat it up. It won’t take long because the pan’s already rockin.

6. Put the garlic in the oil, stir it around and count to thirteen.

7. Add the mushrooms and the bourbon to the skillet and stir that for a minute.

8. Dump the mushrooms, garlic, and bourbon mix into the pot.

9. Shovel a dime bag of oregano and a dime bag of basil into the mix.

10. Scoop the can of tomato paste in and stir it til it’s all mixed in well and there are no clumps of paste floating around.

11. Crumble up five bouillon cubes in the stew, then a small sip of Liquid Smoke, stir it and let it sit, lid on.

12. Watch an episode of Game of Thrones or whatever hour-long show you knuckleheads watch.

13. Dump the Italian “Sausage” pieces in there.

14. Test the soup with a spoon. Is it bland? If so, add another 1-5 bouillon cubes.

14. Watch another GoT episode.

15. By the third or fourth episode, eat up.

16. Be less hungover.


TATI CASSIE’S DRUNKEN LENTILS

1 shot Olive Oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 green pepper, seeds removed and chopped
1 dimebag chili powder
1 14.5-oz can crushed tomatoes
Red lentils (enough to fill empty tomato can)
Water (fill the tomato can)
Red wine (fill the tomato can)
1 shot soy sauce
½ shot spicy mustard
1 dimebag brown sugar
salt and pepper

STEPS

1. Cook the onion and the green pepper in the olive oil in a skillet till they're softened, about the length of a Springsteen tune, then pour the chili powder over them and stir it all around, making sure that chili coats everything.

2. Put the onions and pepper mix into a crock-pot along with the rest of the ingredients. Stir, cover and cook on low for 8 hours. Cassie serves it on a bun with coleslaw and Swiss cheese or sometimes in tortillas, but I think they taste fantastic any ole way they reach your mouth.


GREEN EGGS

2 Corn Tortillas, cut in pieces
2 Eggs, beaten
2 shots Salsa Verde
Handful of Pepper Jack Cheese
Olive Oil
Cayenne Pepper

STEPS

1. Pour a softball-sized puddle of oil in a skillet and get it cooking over medium-flame.

2. Brown the tortillas in the oil, and them put them on a paper towel to soak up the excess oil.

3. Over medium heat, cook the Salsa Verde in the skillet til it starts to bubble on the edges, then add the beaten eggs.

4. As they cook, stir the eggs into the Salsa Verde so that everything’s evenly distributed.

5. Once you notice the eggs starting to harden, add the cheese and the tortillas.

6. Stir as you count to 30. Don’t overcook, or the eggs will get tough.

7. Serve with a sprinkle of cayenne and add some salt if you want.


UNCLE PANTS’ SURE-FIRE REALLY-BAD-HANGOVER CURE

Any ingredients

STEPS

1. Walk to refrigerator.

2. Open the door.

3. Pull out something edible.

4. Eat it.


Craig Griffin's bio:

I have been the foreman on the line in a factory; I have proofread legal documents concerning Oprah Winfrey, the government of Aruba, and the death penalty clemency in Illinois; I have harvested cranberries; I have watched in awe as my alhzeimered grandfather, known for his prize tomatoes, mowed down an entire garden worth of tomato plants; I have taught literature, history, journalism and culinary arts in the poorest school district in Wisconsin, the oldest high school in Wisconsin, the poorest school in Illinois, including all of Chicago AND East St. Louis, and a banner school of President Obama's education policy; I have won the only baseball game played yearly in the country of Denmark with a walk-off, two-run double to right-center field; I have interviewed the inventor of the World Wide Web, the lead scientist on climate change policy in the leading country on climate change, and a prominent Palestinian hip-hop artist (three Different people); I have fallen head-first two stories onto concrete holding a roofing hatchet and only dislocated my elbow; I have been an illegal immigrant; I have been to jail; once, I was in love. Now I am trying to be an artist.

12/30/13

Aurvi Sharma

The Slice

The first time I had pizza, I was ten. My mother found the recipe in the Dainik Jagran. She kneaded dough, flattened it out and set it in the oven. When the base was baked, she doused it with ketchup and deposited noodles soaked in soya sauce on it. It was ‘Chinese pizza’ that she’d read about in the women’s section of Dainik Jagran that mostly published recipes and how-tos for other female conundrums (“My husband’s overbearing sister is visiting soon. How do I deal with her without losing my cool?”). We lived in Ranikhet then, hidden in the folds of the Himalayas, with brilliant views of Dhaulagiri’s dental-white snow-peaks that turned crimson at dusk.

Newspapers arrived a day late in Ranikhet. They were sent from Haldwani, the nearest big town in the plains. During winter, fresh produce was also brought from the plains and it came shriveled and stale, just like the news. Life was always delayed in Ranikhet, tailing the rest of the world, perpetually trying to gain one day. When we spoke to our relatives in Delhi on the black phone that had a numbered dial you had to rotate to make a call, it was like coexisting in two time zones.

My mother proudly presented the pizza to us. I took a bite, made a face and put the pizza back. In the end I scooped up the noodles and discarded the base. That was all there was to the pizza. Mozzarella was something we had never heard of. Chinu, my younger sister, left her slice untouched.

The next time I had pizza was a year later when I visited Mama-Mami, my mother’s brother and his wife, in Delhi. Their son had grown up in the city and was urban and urbane. He decided to take Chinu and me out to Nirula’s which was at the height of cool twenty years ago, serving ice cream sodas and chicken hot dogs and all-American-banana-splits to hungry, trendy Delhiites. In the sea of denim there I suddenly felt stupid in my long frock and the yellow satin bow clipped to my hair.

We scanned the menu backlit with a neon white tube over the cashier. Mushrooms, peppers, baby corn, all things alien. Finally Chinu and I saw Cheese Pizza. Cheese? Paneer, of course. Paneer was something we knew. We ordered a cheese pizza, sidled into the moss green leather booths lit by upside down bowls of painted glass and waited. After twenty five minutes – it was a busy Saturday night – we got a spongy disc covered with cheddar cheese. Chinu and I looked at each other. “But where’s the paneer?” we silently asked each other and wondered what the leathery thing on top was. It tasted odd, like salty rubber.

By this time we were living in Jhansi in the heart of India and had been exposed to fast food. We frequently went to Navbharat where perplexed parents drowned their plates of ‘chowmin’ in white vinegar full of fiery green chillies. After half-yearly exams, I cycled to Vandana Sweets with Pooja and brought back hot chilli potato burgers that were slightly stale and set the tips of our tongues on fire. But in Nirula’s, my sister and I sat staring at our pizza, nervously sipping coke from heavy glasses (no straws, no plastic cups) as our cousin happily took a bite of his chicken burger.

“Ae didi, do this, do this,” Chinu finally said. She scraped off the cheese from the pizza, dipped the base in ketchup and took a bite. “It tastes ok like this.” We got through the meal by stealing plain-salted potato chips from my cousin’s plate.

A year later, during another trip to Delhi, we stayed with Chacha-Chachi, my father’s brother and his wife. My parents left every morning to visit prospective grooms for my youngest aunt, leaving Chinu and me with Tashu didi, Chacha-Chachi’s daughter. We did not talk much. As earnestly as we tried, Chinu and I could not match her vocabulary. She was sarcastic and blunt and seemed to us to belong to an alien world.

The walls of Tashu didi’s room were covered with life-sized posters in which foreign men of various complexions posed. A man stood on a palm-lined boulevard holding a gun, leaning against a sign that said Beverly Hills. Another wore a crown of roses on his long-haired head and sat submerged in a bathtub. Underneath, it said Jon Bon Jovi. (Isn’t Jon spelt wrong? I thought.) There was a poster of Michael Jackson, whom I recognized because he had undergone a surgery to become white from black. It had been all over the national news. But why was the poster splattered in what looked like blood and why did it say ‘BAD’ in scrawly, untidy handwriting?

We had reached Delhi on the evening of Tashu didi’s fifteenth birthday party, full of burra kebabas, butter chicken, and hordes of boys and girls that made me feel nervous in ways I did not understand. They were loud and carefree and spoke to each other in English that did not sound like anything my teachers spoke at school, or the newsreaders on TV. Their speech was so languid and molten and peppered with words that I knew the meaning of, but did not make sense to me in a sentence. They said ‘anyways’ a lot (isn’t it ‘anyway’?) and ‘by jove’ (who is this Joe?) and ‘hey, guys’ even when addressing girls. When I appeared in my lacy, droopy white frock that Madhuri Dixit had worn in her latest blockbuster Hum Apke Hain Kaun, Tashu didi shook her head and said, “Boy oh boy oh boy,” (I’m a girl!). I was too thin and the frock just hung off me.

Soon the lights were turned out. Someone draped my mother’s pink shawl on a lamp and everyone was dancing to English songs whose words I did not understand. Tashu didi was in the middle of the dance floor, resplendent in her tight green skirt she had bought for hundred rupees from Janpath and cream, canvas shirt. My parents and her parents stayed in their bedrooms.

The next morning there were Hallmark cards all over her bed. Pale pink and blue and orange envelopes lay on top of each other, the color of delicate cake icing. Chinu and I started opening each and reading through. Some had paper pop outs, others played music, and a couple were definitely lascivious by my twelve-year-old standards. (‘Hey gorgeous, can I kiss you now that you’re sixteen?’ Signed, Boy’s Name.) We were almost through the pile when she marched in. She scooped the cards away and stomped out.

Chinu and I sat on the bed, stunned. Slowly it dawned on us that it probably had not been right to go through her exotic things. We were discussing how we should go and apologize when Tashu didi walked back in, cordless phone in hand.

“You guys want pizza?”

Eager to please, we suppressed the memories of our last encounter with pizza and tilted our heads from side to side. Yes.

“One large mutton salami pizza and three hot chocolate fudges, please,” she said into the phone. After she hung up, she said, “There is this really cute pizza delivery guy. I hope he comes.” Chinu and I were terrified.

The pizza arrived without the cute guy but smelling of tangy tomatoes and spicy salami. Tashu didi opened the box, tore the ketchup sachet with her teeth and drew concentric rings of ketchup on the pie. She repeated this with the shocking yellow mustard. Then she picked up a slice, looked at Chinu and me looking at her and said, “Do I need to give you an invitation card for this?”

Chinu and I picked up a slice each, and bit in. Ketchup and mustard mingled in a nose-watering effervescence. The cheese lay below the salami and it was the perfect goopy blanket for the spicy, umami salami. This pizza was good. This was very, very, very good.

“Listen guys, I’m sorry I snapped earlier,” Tashu didi said. “You should never go through other peoples’ mail.” Chinu and I murmured our sorries between mouthfuls of dough and tomato sauce and cheese.

“I know things are different at home for you guys,” Tashu didi was saying. “You guys are so protected, y’know?” I took another bite and felt the saltiness of the salami on my tongue.

“All you need, Gullu, is some self-grooming,” she said, pouring coke into her mouth without touching the bottle to her lips. “Why don’t you get your eyebrows done?” I wiped the mustard from the corners of my mouth and shrugged. “I don’t think my parents would allow it.”

“Tashu didi?” Chinu said. “Is a cheese burger vegetarian?”

“Why? Did you eat one?” Chinu shook her head and the three of us giggled.

“Oh man, I love this pizza,” she said. Both of us nodded and continued to eat.

Aurvi Sharma writes narrative non-fiction. In 2012, she was awarded the Sarai Non-Fiction Writing Fellowship in Delhi. Aurvi has a Masters degree in Writing from Falmouth University, UK and freelances as a branding and cookbook specialist. She has lived in fifteen cities across three continents and currently lives in New York City.

12/27/13

Paul Siegell

*WE’VE COME FOR YOUR HOT AND BOTHERED*

The firemen are feelin’ effin’ irie, mon. Out hums one a-the
younger ones: moseys up to the ice cream truck, orders two
Strawberry Shortcakes, three Choco Tacos & a Rocket pop.
Rook to Queen’s Knight Five—Black King scavenger hunt.
Set to summon the Jedi mind trick, Darth Vader holds forth
his grim, gloved hand, but this time R2PeePoo & StinkTPO
were impenetrable. They had found the secret. “Not today,”
bleep-blopped the little one. All Vader wanted was for them
to grab him a Chipwich—Gets so hot for him inside his suit.


*WE’VE COME FOR YOUR FOOD COURT SAMPLER*

General Tso charged himself into Kentucky Fried Chicken’s
Louisville headquarters & demanded to speak to the Colonel.
Coleslaw cuts. Threats to bomb rice farmers were made. Was
advised that all the awful organisms of Food Safety warnings
would be unleashed upon KFC if their staffers didn’t cease ill-
egally dumping their leftover lo mein takeout cartons into the
fragile habitat of the “EAT MOR CHIKIN” cows—Seriously
? Gag order scavenger hunt. “When the stork stops delivering
all that New York deli,” cried the Col., “then we’ll talk about
how admirable each of us will be—At any rate, did you bring
any of that low sodium soy sauce with you? We just ran out.”

Paul Siegell is a senior editor at Painted Bride Quarterly and the author of three books of poetry: wild life rifle fire,jambandbootleg, and Poemergency Room. Kindly find more of Paul’s work - and concrete poetry t-shirts - at “ReVeLeR @ eYeLeVeL” (http://paulsiegell.blogspot.com/).

12/26/13

Jaime Green

Dirty Hands

I come to you with salmonella on my fingers.

You could say I fall in love with the chicken. I touch her tenderly and the tenderness tells me how I feel about her. Her little bones are fragile between my fingers. Her flesh is soft and cool and smooth. She isn't a dead thing, though – she's about life. And she is most certainly a she. I think of her as her as I handle her.

I have a responsibility to her, to make something beautiful. It feels like collaboration, although by the time we're here she's a passive partner. But the collaboration is summed from her life and what I choose to do now. All of my attention is on her; it is all I have to offer. That and my hands. This is intimate and private, alone together in my kitchen, the rest of the world asleep. Tenderness blooms up in my chest, like dye in water. I am sincerely grateful to her.

I got her this afternoon from the butcher shop down the street from me, which I still call Bob & Julio's even though Julio stopped working there a few years ago, replaced by a younger guy. This is an old townie butcher shop, in a neighborhood that doesn't know itself any more. Here are old Irish men and families of Dominican immigrants and newer residents, like me, because it's a nice and cheap place to live even if it's far away from everything except the Hudson. Bob sells cold cuts and sandwiches, more adventurous fare like black pudding and homemade roast beef, and organic chickens from a small farm upstate. Happy chickens, as I like to think of them, as I like to hope. I walked home with her cradled in a brown paper bag.

She waits in the refrigerator while I clean the remnants of dinner off my cast-iron skillet. A friend's husband gave me this skillet after he'd seasoned it for me – cooked in it for months to build up the patina. He'd learned to cook in the last few years, while his wife, my friend, was in grad school. He'd been aghast when he learned I didn't have a cast-iron pan. When he gave me the skillet he included three envelopes, on the backs of which he'd kept a list of every meal that had been made in the pan. Bacon, blueberry pancakes, fajitas, cornbread. Earlier tonight I made hamburgers, but I'm not keeping a list, and the scrubbing after is easier because the pan was so lovingly seasoned. When the skillet is cleaned and dried I chop white, blue, and red potatoes and the too-small sweet potatoes you can only get at the farmers market, a place where strange produce gets loved, like a city pound full of scruffy dogs destined to go home with romantics. The potatoes leech starchy water and my knife starts to stick. I scatter them and the half-moon slices of a carrot on the bottom of the skillet.

Then I turn to the fridge for my bird. As I rinse her over an empty sink, I reach into her cavity and am disappointed that there was nothing there. No neck, no organs, the things my mom and our shtetl ancestors taught me to love. But she is a beautiful bird. I set her on a paper towel-covered plate to get to work. It's 11pm and the kitchen is – everywhere is – quiet. I take a small knife from the set I received cast-off from a friend who moved to California, and I slip it between her skin and the meat at the back edge of her cavity. These layers are connected by tissue just at the rear edge of her body, but once that is severed I can slip my fingers beneath her skin and gently pull it up from her muscle. It takes finesse and patience, but I have nothing else to do tonight except go to bed, and I want to do this right. It's like listening to touch, to know how much pressure you need by the feeling, the right tension, to know when to back off. Cold, wet, smooth, still. Once the space is made, I slip in butter pats and rosemary sprigs as far as they will go, over her breasts and sides, up the length of her spine. Carefully, so the woody twigs of herbs won't tear through.

I'm doing this at 11pm because she has to rest in the fridge overnight and through tomorrow, until dinner almost twenty-four hours from now. My boyfriend has fallen asleep in bed with his iPad open on his chest. (When I wash my hands and come to bed he will mumble, “I fell asleep,” and I'll say, “I know.”) The apartment is quiet and dark, except for the kitchen, which is quiet and bright. My chicken's a little lumpy when I'm done. She will rest on her bed of roots, her skin laid loose over her flesh. Tomorrow I will put half an onion and a fork-pricked lemon in her cavity, and apple quarters under her legs and wings. It is undignified for my poor bird. But I know where this all ends up – skin crisped from the butter beneath it, limp rosemary discarded after it's given all its flavor to the skin and meat below, potatoes caramelized and rich – so, to me, she looks beautiful.

I was a vegetarian for thirteen years. Almost half my life.

My hands inside a chicken – this is how it ends up.

*

Almost fifteen years ago, the week before I started tenth grade, my mother ran over a possum. I became a vegetarian the next day, but the possum wasn't the real why. I'd been thinking about it for a while, in an aimless, speculative fifteen-year-old way. I wanted to give it a try. And then one night I was in the car with my mom and kthunk kthunk, “Oh god.” There was no point going back. We didn't know if the possum was dead, but what could we have done?

I had a friend in elementary school who was a vegetarian, having taken up the cause of animal rights in second grade. In sixth grade another girl did her science fair project on vegetarian food pairings like rice and beans that made complete proteins, matching up all the amino acids your body needs. The idea had always been around. It was a thing to do. My best friend at the time was wearing black lipstick and dying streaks of her hair blue. It was a thing to do.

My mother didn't object. I was a chubby kid, always had been, and this probably seemed like a good change. My own motives weren't so different, even if I didn't see it at the time. My answer to the big why – the incessant why – was, almost from the start, “I just wanted to see if I could, and then I was stubborn and didn't want to quit.” I shrug now when I tell the story and add, “It was a control-over-food thing.” (It is sad that this can be so casual a shrug.) I was stubborn, but I was also a fifteen-year-old girl.

Besides, it was habit. It quickly slipped past action, past commitment or choice. Meat just became a thing I didn't eat, like grass or like wood. My options narrowed down. They say choice only agitates us, anyway, that we're actually happier without it. I never had to make a decision at a restaurant, just scan the menu for the grilled vegetable plate or pasta primavera.

There were lapses. A couple of restaurant soups when I told anyone trying a bite, “Don't tell me if it tastes like chicken broth.” It was easier not to know. I got rebellious – against whom? – once in high school and took a cold cut from the fridge, licked it, and threw it out. I ate fish roe, reasoning – and I knew it was a cheat – that if I ate chicken eggs then why not eggs from fish? And every time I saw fried calamari I wavered. It looked like onion rings, so innocent. It looked like not-meat. And I remembered how delicious it was.

People always think it's bacon, the vegetarian's siren call, the love you never forget. But not for me. Pork products were rare even in my irreligious Jewish home. (I wouldn't get into bacon until my second wave of meat-eating, but then it would be the key to keeping my cast-iron pan in shape.) I sat next to people eating hamburgers, steaks, and brightly grilled shrimp without the smallest twinge of indecision. There were only two things that never lost their appeal: that beautiful calamari and rotisserie chicken, like my mom would get from the back aisle at Costco.

I don't remember what I ate for all those high school dinners while my mom and sister ate Costco chicken. Pasta with broccoli? There were many slices of plain pizza across the street from my high school, and a couple of bad pizzeria salads (and lies that no one believed, that I was just in the mood for a salad while their greasy slices gleamed). In college the dining hall offered a vegetarian option for the entree, but I learned to branch out from friends a year or two older. One girl introduced me to pasta with cottage cheese, apparently a Jewish grandma staple I'd never encountered. We steamed salad bar broccoli between two bowls in the microwave and added shredded salad bar cheese. My senior year, living off-campus, I ate a lot of Easy Mac and mediocre tofu and foil packets of saffron rice. After graduation I shared a tiny New York City kitchen with three roommates. Chik'n patties and hamburger rolls in the toaster oven, pasta with jarred sauce. We ate dinner together, when we were all home, on an unforgiving blue sofa that took up nearly the entire living room. I packed myself lunch sandwiches of imitation turkey with maybe a slice of tomato. I learned to order breakfast sandwiches from a curbside coffee cart. (The answer to “Saltpepperketchup?” is “Yes.”) My first boss taught me to microwave a sweet potato – all it needed was salt, and sometimes I'd make a meal out of that, sometimes with ketchup packets scrounged from the accumulation in the office kitchen drawers.

My roommates and I had a communal Fresh Direct order then. That first, tiny apartment was subdivided in a building in a neighborhood none of us would have been able to afford except for the way we were sardined, and every grocery store within walking distance was priced beyond our means. So we split the $4.95 for delivery, and lounged on our hard Ikea couch waiting through delivery window hours for the doorbell to buzz. One day we got a box that wasn't ours. I called customer service and they said, “Eh, keep it.” There was a gallon jar of bread and butter pickles, a very large block of cheese – preparations for some strange party – and three or four beautiful pieces of fish. A pinkish-white tuna, gorgeous salmon. I'd been having dreams, then, of chopping off my waist-long hair and of eating meat. (I have an extraordinarily subtle subconscious.) And then this fish came, and it waited in my freezer, more and better than I could ever afford to buy myself. It was there, ready whenever I was. But I wasn't.

*

My slow creep to readiness started when I moved into this one-bedroom apartment, up the street from Bob & Julio's, miles north of the sardine tin and barely still in the city, surrounded by Spanish-speaking neighbors and no one I knew. After three years with roommates, I was on my own. I didn't have cable. I had my cat, who missed my roommate's grey tabby, now living forty blocks to our south. I had new time to kill, and a farmers market a five-minute walk up the street every weekend.

I was being paid the pittance you can be paid when you work in the arts. I wanted to spend less, so I knew I needed to cook. I didn't think of myself as not knowing how. And it didn't scare me. I had spent many elementary school snow days paging through my mother's yellowed cookbooks for something to bake. She gave me free rein of the kitchen for hours. I think the last of those adventures was the chocolate cake that called for breadcrumbs. The only breadcrumbs I'd ever known came salted and seasoned in a canister, and the finished cake, after a first bite, went pitched wholesale into the trash. My mother was broke in those days, single-momming me and my sister, and I wonder if the wasted contents of that springform pan, the eggs and flour and chocolate and Italian breadcrumbs, were a loss. Now I was getting to know that awful stomach clench, at the sight of a cracked and ruined egg in a carton or a bag of frozen spinach that's all stems.

My one-bedroom came with an eat-in kitchen, at least by Manhattan standards, and I bought an impossibly heavy table from some a guy in a walk-up on Avenue C. It was silver-speckled white formica with a black border, like something from a 50s diner. I put two chairs at the table, a little act of aesthetic balance or hope.

I don't know why I didn't ask my mother for advice. Instead I found recipes online, frugal cooking blogs and vegetarian blogs and meal planning and the website of a couple eating, together, on $30 a week. I learned to soak dried beans, and then learned that buying canned beans for ninety cents was worth saving the headache. I bought a ten-dollar rice cooker, bright red to make me happy and to satisfy my strange sense of what matched the green and teal kitchen, and I invested the time to save money by not buying instant rice. I also just liked it, the bag of grains, the from-scratchness, the salty burned bits that stuck to the bottom of the pot no matter how closely it was watched. The little red pot simmered and steamed in the kitchen while I chopped vegetables or sat on my bed with my laptop. I learned to make rice and beans into something I liked, with an onion, a carrot, and store-brand teriyaki sauce.

I settled into an austere grocery routine – soy milk, beans, tofu, rice, eggs, peanut butter, and vegetables – that cut my costs in half and still yielded more meals than before. There was no joy in that regimen – a bit of relief, maybe, and the satisfaction of accomplishment – except in the ten dollars of vegetables. The walk to the farmers market in torn jeans and the disintegrating t-shirt my roommate had called my “weekend shirt.” Sometimes a phone call with my mom for the seven minutes of the walk. Empty tote bag over my shoulder. A turn up a hill beside a hundred-year-old church. The market takes up both sides of a block at the edge of a park. Beyond the park, the Henry Hudson Bridge soars over the waters of Spuyten Duyvil, the creek that makes Manhattan an island.

Inspired and mystified by my local farmers market, I got a book from the library that told me how to store, prepare, and cook every vegetable under the sun. I went to the market and bought what was cheap and pretty and took it all home and figured out what to do with it. Vegetables I'd never eaten growing up – kale, cauliflower, lambsquarter, purslane – became regular visitors to my kitchen. Sometimes I played music or listened to a podcast, but just as often the window was open to the courtyard sounds floating in from below. To that soundtrack and the quiet of sunlight or streetlamps and my cat watching me from her sprawl on the floor, I lost myself a little in the work. It took time, but I had time.

Time and quiet yielded gifts. I discovered the secrets in a cauliflower – the fractals that branch out to each floret, tiny, pale green leaves that cup the white florets like gentle hands. There is art to cutting a whole cauliflower down: never just chop it, but follow each forking branch, keeping the florets in small whole pieces, themselves. An hour later I would be standing in my pajamas over the cooling oven and the hot baking sheet, eating almost the entire head of roasted cauliflower right there, saving none for tomorrow's lunch because it was so good. And yes, also because I lived alone, and those are the sorts of things a person living alone sometimes does.

*

The first winter in my one-bedroom, I crashed hard off that first high summer of hot pans full of fresh and local things. By November I found myself disoriented, returned to the garishly lit supermarket aisles I'd so happily left behind. New York farmers market's produce wanes by November. Once the first frost hits all you're left with is apples, onions, potatoes, and winter squash. I suppose that's something a person can live on, that people have lived on it for centuries, but we are spoiled by trans-continental transport. So I set out in search of something green. But there were almost too many choices in the supermarket now. I was aimless without the guidance of what was ripe.

I was cheating on my farmers. I still went to the market for eggs every weekend, but then sadly crossed the cold street to C-Town. The produce was always a little rotten. Something about the poverty or geographic remove of the neighborhood, I guessed. Winter is a sad time for a girl who finds so much pleasure in the greenmarket, stuck with supermarket peppers that taste like nothing, from nowhere that seems real. California, Chile, and Argentina seem intangible compared to the farm up the Hudson. I could see the river through bare trees in the winter on my walk.

Some combination of this lost new love, dwindling sunlight, and hours at home under no watchful eyes left me auto-piloting through the supermarket on my way home at night, a supermarket too conveniently set between the subway and my home, and then found me sitting at my computer before bed, often with no lights on, in some sort of trance with a bag of Doritos. Off-brand Doritos, even, that weren't that good but were ninety-nine cents for a bag much larger than one person should eat in one sitting. For a girl with no money to spend on herself, ninety-nine cents of cheese-flavored powder was a treat. I was miserable at my job and probably lonelier than I realized, and this was a little respite, a grocery-induced reverie, just as long as it took to finish the bag. And then I would brush my teeth and go to sleep.

It didn't make me happier, of course, though that didn't make it easier to stop. But I brought myself around by spring. The sunlight helped, the bite leaving the air.

*

That was the year that I first commandeered Thanksgiving. I asked my mother if I could help cook, and she was surprised – I was a little indignant that she was so surprised, because I don't like to be thought inept at anything – and she was thrilled to hand over the reins, to everything except the turkey, at least. Thursday morning, she and my stepfather left for the local Turkey Trot; I woke early, too, and padded from my futon into the kitchen, still in my pajamas, which, if it was an average visit to my mom's, were actually her pajamas because my own were piled with the rest of the laundry I'd brought to wash.

My mother's house is clean and quiet, two things that my city apartments have rarely ever been. Warm wood panels, open space, walls of windows looking out into trees. Smooth, moss-great granite counters line the kitchen. Six burners. Two ovens. I filled it all.

I chose the recipes with giddy abandon, freed from the constraints of my tiny city kitchen and my tiny arts-employee budget. My mother still talks about the ten-dollar vanilla beans, but she doesn't deny that the whipped vanilla sweet potatoes were worth it. She made the turkey – I pled squeamishness but really would have dropped dead if I'd added a ten-pound bird to my list – and I made the rest. The sweet potatoes, which sat in hot water for six hours to draw sugar from the starch; garlicky mashed cauliflower; bourbon cranberry sauce; Brussels sprouts with apples and pine nuts.

The Brussels sprouts were a secret I'd learned that first autumn of my forays into vegetables. The secret is that Brussels sprouts are delicious. I'd only ever known them by reputation and smell, the rottenness in the air when my mother had boiled a small batch to accompany dinner, taking for granted she would be the only one eating them. But it turns out, and you would never know it from the smell, that a roasted Brussels sprout, golden brown and pan-fried, a tiny cabbage furled like a little green brain, is one of the most delicious things in the world. I would cook them for my boyfriend on one of our early dates; he said they were like vegetarian bacon. They were something else to me, though, their worth not diminished by comparison to other food, to meat. They were delicious on their own. The best vegetable.

That first Thanksgiving I cut them into shreds – easier to perfect than finicky, prettier halves – and cooked them in a pan in hot oil and salt. I added apples cooked barely to softness with garlic, in a salty mix of maple syrup and soy sauce and, at the very end, pine nuts I'd toasted in a dry pan just before. The trick is to cook this at the very last second, or else it gets that soggy rottenness, and to bring it to the table immediately.

A couple of Thanksgivings later I made a pie for our dinner, and a second one that – I told no one this – was for my boyfriend. We'd been dating about a month, then, a thing too new to tell my family. I said the second pie was for a friend who wasn't making it home for the holiday, and once you were making a pie, a second was easy enough. So a secret, not a lie. (And indeed, he was in his grimy Sunset Park apartment with a Costco ham and one roommate, celebrating a sad little bachelor Thanksgiving, boys who lived too far from home to fly back for one night.) I brought him to my mother's house in the woods the next year.

I do this every year now. My mother still takes care of the turkey and stuffing but the sides, the vegetables, are mine. (She won't let me roast the cauliflower in bacon fat, though. I don't know if for an echo of kashrut or cholesterol fears.) I eat leftovers for a week, yams and cranberries and the green bean casserole I learned to cook for my boyfriend's Midwestern holiday palate, without milk for my dairy-intolerant family.

*

You can cook for hours and the meal is still gone in minutes, so there has to be a reason for it other than to eat. To do something competently. To apply intuition and guesswork and have the result come out mostly right. To make something delicious, something you've never tasted before, because of a recipe you found or, even better, your sense of what will work. I'd been living – and cooking – on my own for a few years when my boyfriend and I spent our first New Year's Eve together holed up, cozy and uninvited to parties, in his apartment. I planned to come over and cook dinner, but I arrived to an empty-fridge welcome, and the supermarkets had all closed early. He was despondent, hopeless in our chances to find anything to eat, but I led us out confidently on a bodega expedition. I lived in a bodega neighborhood, too. We returned with canned chickpeas, queso blanco, avocados, a red onion, cilantro, and little white tortillas. I browsed the scant spices and took a guess. Salt, cumin, paprika. The onions were sweet and blackened, and the chickpeas cooked up creamy and soft. It worked.

I came to love the improvisation, the little communion between me and my food. Like a dance, it happens somewhere between conscious thought and physical impulse. Just a sense that this would be good with garlic, that needs cinnamon, this wants another dash of cayenne. Muscle memory in your hands and your sense of smell. Breaking down a cauliflower: the pleasure of a dance once its steps are in your bones. And the body-listening of a dance with a new partner. I met so many exotic accomplices. Dark, leathery string beans as long as my forearm, the little teardrop leaves of purslane, delicata squash. The discoveries: that green bell peppers actually have a flavor; that there are kinds of grapes beyond green and red, varietals named after the planets, so good they will stop you in your tracks when you reach for a greenmarket sample and pop one in your mouth.

But the limits that I worked within narrowed my options so much – there are only so many vegetables. There are only so many ways to cook them cheaply, quickly, and for one. Even with the wonderfully weird bounty of a local greenmarket, even with the flow of the seasons, from delicate greens to bright tomatoes and peppers to the hearty roots and sweet Brussels sprouts of fall. Even then. After a few years, I knew what I was doing too well. Eventually I had danced with everyone in the room.

*

My first bite of meat, after those thirteen years, didn't take place in my own kitchen, but at an Italian restaurant with some extended family. Calamari. My white whale. An argument was brewing about the Middle East. I don't remember what I was thinking. I looked slyly at my sister across the table, and then at my boyfriend next to me. I made sure no one else was watching and then I snuck that little fried ring into my mouth. I stole a bite of sausage from my boyfriend's pasta, and he was aghast, eyebrows up and an O of a mouth. I felt excited. I felt free.

Since then it's been a year and two pork shoulders. A beef brisket. Countless chicken legs and thighs and several slow cookers of pulled pork. Two batches of chili, one of meaty tomato sauce. A few ice cube trays of homemade chicken stock. One batch of beef stock that made my apartment smell like rotten roast beef for a week. Another batch, fastidiously skimmed, which gelled up in the fridge the way it should.

And chopped liver, right in the first couple of months. It was near the top of the list of challenges and missed chances, the years I needed to make up for. The little tub of chicken livers came frozen from Bob & Julio in red ice that thawed bloody. I rinsed them in a metal sieve, but they still stained my cutting board red. A chicken's liver has two lobes that spread like a pair of slick, brown wings. I laid them out and sliced off little bits of fat and connective tissue, separating the wings so they would cook more evenly. Helping along the transition from anatomy to meat.

I used my goyishe friend's mother's recipe, but it tasted just like my grandma's, rich and sweet and smooth. We used to spread it on matzah crackers before the Passover seder. I ate my batch with baby carrots, but it still transported me to that studio apartment on Long Island. I didn't know what a studio meant then, always assumed there was a bedroom off the hall somewhere, but my cousins and I sat on my grandma's day bed, which I now realize was her bed, our little legs dangling off the floor in white tights. And we ate chopped liver. So I made that.

*

One day last winter, several months after my return to eating meat, I took the subway to Queens to visit my friend whose husband had given me my cast-iron pan. They had a new baby – she is the first of my friends to have a baby. I spent the afternoon with his fat little blond head against my chest in their slightly too-warm living room, red-orange walls and rows and rows of photographs – family, college, trips to Morocco and Greece. My younger face appears in a few. I drank hot mugs of the blueberry tea that sits in their cupboard and only gets brewed when I come to visit. Her husband joined us in the evening, slipping into the kitchen every so often to check on the meal. It was delicious, and as we ate, I made him talk me through the process, the bed of potatoes and root vegetables, the overnight rest uncovered in the fridge, the tender surgery of herbs and butter beneath the skin. I took seconds even though no one else did, a hungry graduate student in the company of exhausted new parents. The next day I bought a chicken from Bob & Julio, and that night I prepared the recipe for the first time, for Sunday dinner for me and my boyfriend. I fell in love with that chicken then, the gift of something new.

*

My chicken spends her night in the fridge, and when I take her out she looks sickly and wan. I rub olive oil onto her skin, to brighten her up and because once there are pats of butter under your bird's skin, you might as well go all the way. I let her and her skillet come closer to room temperature – she'll take the heat willingly but the cold iron in the oven will stay obstinately cold, and then so will the roasting potatoes. And then I put her in the oven and walk away, trading the 11pm work last night for a Sunday evening hour on the couch. Fifteen minutes per pound at 350 degrees.

She is delicious, and that is another wonderful thing about this recipe. I know it works. But the work is strange enough – the incisions, the 24-hour delay – that it is still a joy when it all comes out well. Amazingly well. I sit next to my boyfriend and say to him through mouthfuls, “Isn't this good?” or, “Do you like it?” Or I say to myself, “This is so good,” and bounce a little in my seat. I'm proud of this delicious thing that I made. When I bake I bring leftovers to the office or to friends, watch them take a bite, grin when they say that it's good. This chicken is just for us, though. She is delicious and will feed us for days.

Jaime Green teaches writing at Columbia University and produces the forthcoming literary podcast, The Catapult. For Thanksgiving this year she cooked mashed potatoes, mushroom gravy, cranberry sauce, cornbread, and an almond pear tart. She washed her hands afterward, she promises.

12/25/13

Aaron Apps

THREE FOLD EXPANSION OF THE FLESHY QUESTIONS PHOTOS BRING

1)

The engraved question. The question of how the body forms, seemingly, is a corporate corporeal mess from the primordial start. The question is one I return to like my fat returns to itself. The moment my cells began to bloat is a presence that escapes me in my present archive with its dusty fat drool, its packaging folded and forgotten. The moment I formed is a question in a collection of images of myself swelling in, in a neglected family photo album, broken at its spine such that cartoonish animals enter. Broken and animal from the outset, honestly, the moment internally, like entrails, has a kodak sheen. What thought is of import in the formation of flutter flesh? What do I see in my own eye? What part of my eye perceives me being perceived by a photograph? What mass grows as I pray at the mass of me meaty? What form is there to dying flesh? The pictures perceive me and my lack of atonement, my quiet rattling. Alone, how ferally I am vermin eyed like a tiny weasel.


2)

My god, my goddess, my dead vulture, is consumed and consuming at the carrion of capital because the collapsed body always, at some point, desires beyond the circle of itself, beyond the inscription etched at the edge of fat. My god is a grave, fertile in form, and dead material is the only polygraph test in the polygamy of carbon corpses. Grave (n.) a receptacle of what is dead. Grave (adj.) momentous in a serious or solemn way. Grave (v.) to carve or impress into the mind. I slurped and swallowed many dead things into my thinking, I remember doing it, or, I assume I remember doing it, swallowing. I think I remember cartoonish animals on food packaging, and how I’d spill their corny guts down my throat. Glug. Glug. I think I remember corn syrup. I think I remember riding my bike with a Big Gulp, and then crying when I spilled the whole thing on a bridge in the Florida heat. The sun isn’t a god like Stevens says, commodities is, and air conditioning is, and cups full of sugar ice is. What is this thing I call my beautiful death bath? O, my lips are blue with raspberry, and it is the source of my flesh in this blood cult culture.


3)

My purple tongue. My blue orgy. My orange utterances come from blue veins and are questionable, which means they flow with death wonder. Which means they answer themselves. I am subsumed. I lick this skin swell made metabolic in a memory and I stop wanting to be productive. I die. I eat. I stop wanting to procreate this historicity and instead I eat yellow out of every ass, out of every system of entrails, and crawl about my expansive self engorged in all of my senses. This eternity of tongue has more ecstasy than all of the geometry inscribed in all of the circles. It worms leaking in a cremation urn, a creamy urge, it is a plenitude of liquors and oysters. It is I. It is a stupid purchased convenience. It is horrific in this gaping wound, glistening with slime, deadly in its mucosa and corn flesh. It is voluptuously undead. It is these things that dry to the metallic bowl of the eye like vomited porridge. It is these questions that assume blunt answers.


Aaron Apps is a PhD student in English Literature at Brown University. He also holds an MFA in poetry from the University of Minnesota. His first book of poetry Compos(t) Mentis came out from Blazevox [Books] in 2012, and his second book of hybrid-genre prose, Intersex, is forthcoming from Tarpaulin Sky Press in 2013. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in LIT, Washington Square, Verse, Denver Quarterly, Los Angeles Review, Pleiades, Caliban, PANK, Caketrain, Sleepingfish, and elsewhere. He is also currently co-editing An Anthology of Posthuman Poetry with Feng Sun Chen.

12/24/13

Tammy Foster Brewer

What We Know Of Soy

The truth is I can’t let this go: soy lattes.
Soy, really, because what you don’t really know

is that soy may hurt you some day. Although
it probably won’t be soy’s fault, the truth

is what we want with words. To see them ruth-
lessly displayed in large print on the front of soy

milk rather than sitting on the side as coy
school girls at a spelling bee: soy protein

isolate, soy lecithin, soy sauce, soylent green
is people. Imagine the landscape

when soy was not found in pancakes
or coffee: a field without a shelf life.


Tammy Foster Brewer is the author of the chapbook, No Glass Allowed (Verve Bath Press). Her poems have appeared in Rattle, The Pedestal, Scythe, and Stirring. She received her BA in English from Georgia State University and is employed as a litigation paralegal. She lives in Duluth, Georgia with her poet husband, Robert Lee Brewer, and 3 children. She can be reached at tammyfbrewer@gmail.com.

12/23/13

S. Majumdar

The Whiskey Song


                                                                                                Bonjour Tristesse!
When you're sad, the thing to do is to keep busy.
Avoid red wine, strong spirits, particularly whiskey
which is only a metaphor for sadness. It’s tricky,

the way that light refracts in amber, and dangerous,
the mood that pools in whiskey dregs, and stranger,
the sudden hiccupping in the heart, the way it lurches, or

stills, or catches in a minor key, in peat or in poetry— which is
what they say peat is anyway: the decaying accumulations
of vegetal matter, which is what sadness is, what life is, what—
                                                                                                Stop. Well,

avoid metaphors, all kinds, if you can, & other illicit things
which are a danger too. You may wake with the dying light refracting
through you & no memory of sunshine & all the evening

hours gorged deep in your vessels like swampland—  slow
& gaseous, in need of harvest. The waking body needs muscle,
needs bone; needs vitamins C & D; needs sunshine: reversals

of what sadness needs. Avoid sex with strangers in Bushwick lofts,
lopping off your hair like Jean Seberg or Joan of Arc, apes & apricots
& autumn leaves, running off to Mexico, Hottentot

museums, volcanic lakes, city bridges, pomegranate
seeds (which lead to synecdoches, which are to be avoided, & myths
are dangerous even in ordinary forms and places). It’s

clear that vegetal accumulations of carbon in general
are a danger and in need of being avoided. So, avoid all
places where sadness lives, like the internet, strip malls,

local record stores, the all-night laundromat. It’s true!
Sadness has a hydra’s many heads; learn to burn and to
cauterize them. Don’t submit to
dreams.

Learn to enjoy life’s small decencies: like white lies, whats,
whys and whens, and modern appliances, and modern love, and mots
justes, and the sun, and the A train in most directions, though not

to Brooklyn where there is too much carbon, which is what
all the laughing boys with love swimming in their eyes are made of,
& where girls with delicate ankles sip whiskey from old

fashioned glasses in the trembling light, & where no bridge
contains such poetry or frames the night so well or has such
a cadence or has seen more history— which is also a thing

to be avoided. History, things with “history,” people with whom
you have “history,” decaying vegetal accumulations of “history.” Avoid
history, poetry, metonym & matter, things in amber, things that matter,


things that can decay.



S. Majumdar is a writer living in New York.

12/20/13

Guy Benjamin Brookshire

Nourrissante



Our mother feeds us, and then, quietly, teaches us how not to be eaten. But not all mothers. Some mothers eat their children. Some snap them up in teeth like needles. Some lay another kind of egg in the living flesh of their young, a place made numb with anesthetic stings. Some, the same, the sane.
Go into the kitchen where the icebox hums like Stonehenge at the intersection of magnetic lines. Stand before the door. Open the door. Ask your mother for some milk.



Needs



Shelter. Food. Air. Water. Your body. Her body. Your muscles. Her blood. Being on the grass in the sunshine by the house under the sky on the red check blanket.



Selection




To be sure, you must feel.

Guy Benjamin Brookshire was born in Searcy, Arkansas in 1977, got covered in fire ants in 1980, and traveled widely. He studied poetry at The Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins. He is the father of two girls, and writes and collages in Vallejo, California. He is the author of The Universe War, a collage comic book. New Oldestland, a chapbook of collages and writings is forthcoming from 421 Atlanta in 2014.

12/19/13

Brooke Hatfield

What’s at Steak: An Exegesis of the 1969 Republican Woman’s Cookbook of Meat

Photo by the author
If the 1969 Republican Woman's Cookbook of Meats can be trusted, then aspics aren't evil, sliced almonds go on everything, and women's first names are unimportant. "No matter how involved Republican women become in the local and national scene, we are primarily interested in our homes and families," Mrs. J. Lloyd O'Donnell, president of the National Federation of Republican Women, writes in the introduction. On page 115 there is a recipe for Uninspired Casserole. The 1969 Republican Woman's Cookbook of Meat was a fundraising tool, and perhaps a cry for help.

Mrs. J. Lloyd O'Donnell's first name is Gladys, which I only know because I Googled it; her given name appears nowhere in the book despite her prominent role in the group that put it together. And her Hot Chicken Salad recipe, which contains the aforementioned toasted almonds, crushed potato chips, pimentos, and monosodium glutamate, is as dated as her attribution. Foodways don't exist within a cultural vacuum, and any collection of recipes has subtext. As a guided tour through a hell-scape of mid-century American cuisine, the 1969 Republican Woman's Cookbook of Meat tells us what they ate. As a historical document, it hints at how they lived.

They made so many congealed meat molds! And shrimp salads, dried beef casseroles, clam chowders, cut-up hard boiled eggs as far as the eye can see, and more meats cooked in sour cream than have ever been dreamt of in our modern food philosophy! They won beauty pageants and never let anyone forget about it! [1] They went sailing with hamburger casserole, which seems really hazardous! [2]

As the name of the book implies, recipes were all submitted by women involved in Republican party, from members of local women's groups to wives of congressmen to a handful of congresswomen. (Who are listed by their own names, no honorific.) Feast upon the expected topical recipe titles: Campaign Trail Stew, Campaigners Casserole, Conservative Hamburger Soup or Governor Romney's Favorite Bean Soup. (He's a navy bean man, it turns out!)

The kitsch and weirdness of mid-century American foodways is puzzling in retrospect; how did we ever embrace dishes like Jellied Veal Loaf and Corned Beef Balls in Celery Sauce, which read like the maddest of libs? So many dishes seem absurd and abstract, ideas of food more than an actual suggestion of something you should eat. Sometimes they speak in metaphors: "Thin mayonnaise with cream." "Best ducks are those that are not allowed to fly." "Some years the meat is especially tender." [3]

Several recipes would be incredible drag names—Delmonico Steak, Saratoga Chop, Chicken Marengo—and others beg re-imagining as rom-com titles—Inside Chuck Roll, I Remember Post Roast, Everett Mudgett's Company Recipe, Ruby Life's Favorite Dish for 30 People.

Photo by the author
The book even has a villain: Mrs. Herb Witthauer's Cucumber Steak, a truly appalling concoction of steak and cucumbers boiled in a mixture of ketchup and water. Lars Von Trier's Antichrist is less disturbing.

But if the Republican Women's Cookbook of Meat is a story, and weird recipes and bizarre anecdotes are part of its landscape, so too are those husband names, like little record scratches at the end of every recipe. A recipe for Thermos-Cooked Wieners, which involves cooking 24 hot dogs in a gallon jug of boiling water, feels vaguely subversive, if not totally aspirational.

The very existence of the Republican Woman's Cookbook of Meat, O'Donnell writes in the introduction, "proves again that a woman can be active in civic affairs and also be an outstanding homemaker." It's the latter that feels heavy, heavier than a thousand lobsters Newburg, heavier than nothing but creamed ham for a week.

Notes:

[1] The recipe for Mrs. Arizona Beer Stew includes the following note: "This recipe was partly responsible for friends encouraging me to enter the Mrs. America contest in 1957. My husband calls it Mrs. Arizona Beer Stew; I won the title and was runner-up as Mrs. America, though I didn't get to cook the stew in the contest." We get it, you were almost Mrs. America over a decade earlier. (And let's not even try to figure out how a stew could portend pageant potential. Did the bay leaves form the shape of a crown and an eating disorder?)

[2] Rep. Ogden Reid's personal note on a recipe for Hamburger Casserole would be perfect fodder for an attack ad characterizing him as wealthy and out-of-touch: "We often take this casserole when we go sailing. It is easily reheated on the boat."

[3] And sometimes they speak like an email from a Nigerian prince: "The generous butcher is long gone but the recipe still does yeoman service."

Brooke Hatfield reads old cookbooks in public in Atlanta.