Monday, February 17, 2014

There is no hole in a bagel

There is no hole in the bagel.
There is only the bagel, and not bagel.
The space around does not define
Only delineates and separates matter

The bagel biga bubbles, giddy
1 part water warm enough
To recall how we all came from the ocean
How rainstorms in the summer time
Steam Brooklyn pavement
One Half That Again in the Form of Maple Syrup
Slow in its roll, so polite and Canadian
Six Ounces of Helen Mirren
The sourdough starter, some 18 months old
Born in a cold Fall, leading into a hard Winter.
Helen Mirren grew long legs in that 18 months
She embraced the sorrow of the Spring
And turned those bitter tears into sweet love
Of fermentation, that poetry of deconstruction
On an atomic level. This is the power
Of Helen Mirren

It must sit, must acclimate. It cannot be rushed
Cannot be forced. The sugar in the Maple
Will drive Helen wild, Twenty minutes
Is not to long to wait, time is
A fucking shell game, anyway.

There was the stopwatch I lost
inside of my body cast, the year I turned three
When my leg was broken above the knee
in the family drive way, outside the kitchen door
They had given me the stopwatch
So shiny, with a perfect glass eye
Cool metal piston buttons clicka clak
They had given me the stopwatch
To help me understand when
I would not be in this cast, this shell
immobilized with no concept  of when
This would not be the case
Forever is the natural state of the two year old
They assured me that I would be 
Out of the cast, free
It was only a matter of time.
They gave me the stopwatch
So I could master time in witness
Watch the dials spin, the arms flail
Clockwise, indeed.
But I lost the stopwatch
to the cast, it slipped down
And sat like a gem on Smaug's belly
for the next month. Twenty minutes
Is not a long time to wait. 

Hand mixing. 
The machine does a great job,
It's magnificent in its ingenuity
Sexy in its strong horse-power
vibrating bits and stamina
The machine does a great job.
Hand mixing in an indulgence, really.
Geared towards album sides 
stacked on the turn-table's spire

8 oz of flour and a wooden spoon.
(This is my orb, this my scepter)
And the bowl of bubbling starter
The flour disappears quickly into the bog
Celestial and Infinite, I drag the spoon
Clockwise round the curve of the bowl
The smell rising fast, wet and lusty
Of wheat fields and good dirt
Of Rain and Seasons
And the light of the moon

8 oz of flour and a wooden spoon
Half strokes, slow and dragging the sides
While I spin the bowl the other 180°
With my left and forgotten hand.
The biga starts to turn into a kind of porridge
A thing lumpy and not quite right

It must have looked this
When God was thrashing about
Some years past, with Creation
At least, when baking, sometimes
It is necessary to have faith

A plank, a sideboard, a sturdy piece
A well lit place to handle this dough
Surface dusted w/ flour, a handful fallen
Remove the dough from the bowl
With your hands, man! With your hands.
And put it there on that table, that plank
Firm in your intent to get to know it better.

An album side is what it will take.
Not more. Not less.
To massage 8 oz of flour
Into the body of the dough
Squeezing with flexed fingers
Stretching the palm away from the heel
Working the thumb, rolling knuckles
An ounce at a time.
Folding. Pressing.Stretching. Folding.
Tap out a tap dance w/ your fingertips
Tease the dough.
No one likes it all rough and tumble.
Bagels, more than any baked good,
Has a great sense of humor.

It is no mistake that it looks
like a globe
                  A planet, a world

When you cut it into 8 parts
(4.5oz each) rolled into 8 perfect balls
Roll each ball into and in between
Your hands, across the crevices
The dips and valleys of your palm
Rolling the dough into itself
Each move as soft and unending
As butterfly kisses

There is no hole in the bagel.
There is only the bagel, and not bagel.
The space around does not define
Only delineates and separates matter

Poke your thumb through the center
A Dutch Boy & a Dike
The dough does not break
But moves around your thumb
Join your forefinger w/ you thumb
Nothing is as sweet as the ring imagined
The spyglass of all children
The ring made with thumb and forefinger
Each bagel is born in this way,
With not a hole, but a completion.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Sestina for an Italian Assorted Sub

I will tell you true, fellow pilgrim, this road’s been hard before me.
These cobblestones turn my ankle, stub my toe.
And it’s miles to go before Rome, before shade
Under the cedar trees on the Seven Hills
I am tired, fellow traveller, of this dusk, this sky
I am weary, bone tired and worn
This is the sandwich that will change all that.

This Italian Bread, constellations of sesame seeds that
Stud the crisp brown crust before me
That moves me head to toe
That gleams like the mid day sun without shade
The arc of the roll, supple as the hills
Palatine, the Tiber River reflected in the sky
In the heavens worn.

Cheese is an indulgence worn
With impunity, with irreverence and that
Kind of lust that both you and me
Cannot resist, a line we can not toe
Cheese from the North of Italy, in the Alps’ shade
Where the milkmaids roam the hills
And the moon is made of cheese, there in the sky.

The storms will break; can split in half this sky
The rivers may run to the ocean, leaving shores worn
Cut into smooth banks, sea grass listing this way and that
Salami is the cure, so good for what ails me
Capicola and Ham, toe to toe
And Sweet Genoa, a card, wears a lamp shade
There in the North, away from Tuscan Hills

Fellow traveller, fellow pilgrim, these are Mountains not hills
Passable still, as long as the earth remains below the sky
A compass is faith worn
True North. A straight line on a curved globe that
Bugs the shit out of me.
Perspective is the thumb, the toe
It is not, after all, light that defines shade.

When I worked on that farm, there was shade
Away from the fields, across the lake, around the hills
Where we thought the giants might have lifted the sky
Held it in place, like a mantle worn
We rode bikes around that lake, to that
Sandwich shop: there was you, and there was me
And the cat who had one extra toe

That cat was crazy. We thought the toe
Was some kind of gypsy witchcraft, some shade
Or spirit. This is what she told us, there in the hills
Beneath the Strawberry Moon of the Solstice sky
The gypsy woman, with her cook’s apron worn
Tied low on her wide hips that swayed, that
Brought this sandwich to me.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

2nd Chance Enchiladas - I gather the limbs of Osiris

So Osiris was ripped asunder, and scattered to the winds. Or your man Abel was cut down like so much wheat by your man Caine. Or likewise that nice French lady with short hair, the Joannie who did not so much love ChaChi, was set to fire. Nasty work, all of it. But such is the nature of linear time, and how the Sun sets always in the West. We are all of us, in some way, riding towards the sunset.

Osiris changed job descriptions when his Brother Set UPS’d him into the Nile which would flood the low plains of Northern Africa every year w/ his lament. He set himself up as Lord of the Underworld, which is the say the ambassador to the next life. The Sun sets in the West, and Osiris is there waiting for you. There is life, you see, and then there is afterlife. Osiris, who had been split into 14 pieces, by 26 pieces, by his brother’s blind rage, denied numerology in effect and was, in effect, whole.

Granted, it was the help of his sister Isis and a small matter of sculpting that physically brought him back together. But that reincarnation did not deny the life before it, or the life in between. Or, maybe, there’s linear and then there’s linear.

The wheat that grows every spring must endure the cold ground of Winter. The tulips in level, wet Dutch low lands are fed and nourished by the harsh grey light of the Northern Sky and bloom in ridiculous Technicolor. There is nothing like dusk, when the Moon and the Sun actually share the sky for a moment. We non-gods are in that space and in that time balanced on this globe not unlike some elephant in some circus. We are there held safely by Osiris, who is neither here nor there.

That is what my refrigerator is always like. My refrigerator is where Osiris resides. I stare into it the way I think I would stare at an Egyptian horizon, sort of dazed and lost. This happens whenever I open the refrigerator door.  It is in this kind of dream state, this sort of fugue, that left-overs become that thing that is so deeply satisfying.  While I do love the kind of knock-kneed and speedy lust of laying into a fresh recipe, while I love the alchemy of transformation in cooking a dish from raw ingredient to plate, I love nothing more than cooking leftovers.

Leftovers have history, and know the price of romance. Their glory has faded into a past, and can only be recalled, remembered, imagined. But the left over grilled chicken has more possibility on its second day than the raw chicken did on the day of it’s inception. The unprepared ingredient knows only the through line, knows only lusty intent. It will become a set piece, there among side dishes and entrees. But that same ingredient once it has been shuffled out of the dining room, compartmentalized and refrigerated, it can become anything, everything. It gets a second chance, and second chances are better.

The Grilled Chicken was the Simon to the Macaroni and Cheese’s Garfunkel the day before. It was a satisfying meal, comforting and rich w/ harmony and nostalgia. I cubed it small with the knife that came from my childhood home.

The tomatoes, the stock, the hot peppers, the sweet onions. All are orphans moored into stasis in my kitchen’s refrigerator. Each is held with the respect one should have for an atom that is about to split. The tomato's skin peels back and is forgotten. The body’s raw red flesh is present, immediate. This tomato, which did not make it’s way to the borscht, sizzles appreciatively, hissing like Bob Fosse.  The stock is the perfect story that we retell, re-invent with every retelling. The stock is the origin of myth, the crucible. It is memory, after all, that shadows and gives depth.  The peppers are so individual, so anarchistic and punk. It does not matter that each carries the same Mohawk, the same gangsta lean in Doc Marten’s. If anything lives for the moment it is the pepper. It carpe’s the fuck out of the diem. The sweet onions are so, so sad. But who among us are complete without some sadness? Do not hate the onion for its sadness; cut yourself some slack while you’re at it.

And then there is sauce. There is this deep and lush cauldron of manifest spells and incantations. The memories and histories give way to the moment, the still point, when the sun is neither rising or setting, and the moon is at home in her brother’s gaze. Then there is sauce.

There is no such thing as “left-over-cheese”. Cheese is a constant. It is an end within itself. But cheese is, after all, left-over milk. It is what happens when Milk stops calling itself that, stops returning your calls. It's what happens when it’s brother Set, with his Swiss Watch, comes to town.

The tortillas are fresh, as fresh as you can find. The tortillas are corn, which once grew tall and strong. Corn, which ruled the prairies before mankind got all grab ass with the planet. Scarecrows planted like flags through Nebraska. The tall stalks that fall to the ground make a sound. The ears are Van Gogh yellow under their silks and sheaves. The grist mill, again the crucible, decimates each kernel until it is dust, no bigger than ash. Osiris is there in those Diego Rivera paintings of the women making tortillas.

Each enchiladas is rolled. Each enchilada a sarcophagus. Each bundled, swaddled. One end or the other. Here Osiris is reassembled, come together.  The Sauce is poured over the row, finding its level. This is the great wash. This is the rising levee. This is the baptism of sauce. The cheese, shredded and light, falls through my fingers the way I wish regret would. It falls like snow, crisp and curious, sharp and wet. 


I keep my oven hot. This is no surprise to anyone who knows me.  The dish of enchiladas is transformed inside of a half an hour. The sauce bubbles, screaming. The cheese has blistered and yet is soft and seductive, sounding like Kathleen Turner. 

And Avocados are just hilarious. Louis CK, in a previous life (or maybe this one) was an avocado. Tell me I'm wrong.

Beans are hope. This is the best left over of all. After everything, there is always hope. 

Each day is born with a trajectory for the horizon. Each life towards infinity. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Pork Stew & The Oracle of Delphi

“So she lives out in the middle of nowhere?”
“Nowhere, man. Nowhere’sville. Population her. Except it’s Greece”
“Shit, man. Greece?”
“Straight up. Old Greece. Like Trojan War and whatnot. Ulysses and his gang.”
“Right. Hercules and Zeus and Hera and all those super white looking Renaissance Art Picture People.”
“Word. Neoclassical, bro.”
“And so this Sybil lives out there, in the middle of nothing, just crazy as bat shit?”
“Over a hole in the ground that’s smoking. Like just exhaling this super toxic gas.”
“And she’s sitting there, on some kind of three legged stool, just doling out fortunes?”
“Scary accurate, bro. Like dead on, each time. Your boy Oedipus could tell you.”
“Couldn’t draw a picture though…”
“Sybil layed it down, man. She’d come on w/ these prophecies because she didn’t see them as prophecies, she saw them as fact.”
“Fact? Bitch is straight tripping, head full of smoke. No fact there.”
“Fact. She don’t control the wind, she just reads the leaves.”
“Fact. I don’t know what that means.”
“Bro, it means that she stirs the soup but sees the ingredients separate.”
“So she’s a cook?”
“Man, we’re all cooks.”
“I thought she was a fortune teller.”
“Same thing, bro. You telling me a kitchen ain’t some spot that’s sitting on an opening in the earth, with some kind of steam, some kind of smoke, running through? You mean each one of us doesn’t arrange our day, our lives, into these little routines, this careful and methodical undertaking, adding to this life to reveal what it is to be living?”
“Whoa, what’s up, man?”
“Pork stew, my friend, that’s what’s up.”

Pork stew has always been what’s up.

There is a way of shedding the past, extricating the deadweight of remorse, in the way the meat gets trimmed, the way the muscle is divided time and time again to make a larger body. The Oracle’s knife is always sharpest.

There is the invocation of the Gods, which is to say ourselves, as the olive oil bubbles and jumps in the cast iron skillet. It is in the song the pork sings as it sears and browns. The senses of smell and hearing, twins, speak at once. The Oracle is Analog, not Binary.

The Green Chile’s flesh is softer than hope. The burn of the pepper, the tears that flow, are clear and bright. It was said that Hera wept the night’s sky; the Oracle wept the Ocean.

The Red Pepper is bawdy. Free of the past. Free of the future. There is only one way to sit on a three legged stool.

The Carrot and the Cilantro are secret lovers, each sweeter than the other. Each brighter, each cheerier. The carrot has a kind of speech impediment. Cilantro has a lisp. They are so, so in love. The Oracle knows a thing or two about love.

Stew is never really “done”. That’s the part of the riddle the Oracle does not share. It is simply is a constant state of becoming, there in the roux. What she sees in it, sees the face of your Other, it has nothing to do w/ your future. It has everything to do with your now. That Oracle, there on that rock, there in Ancient Greece, did not have a past and did not need a future. She had a stool, and a boiling cauldron. She had a spoon and stirred the soup. She simply read the leaves that blew in front of her, and reported the news, which is really the past.

And then she would add salt.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Bucket Of Cake

It was abysmal, this cake I made for my friend some 1000 miles away, some 25 years gone past. It was a double chocolate cake w/ a chocolate ganache. And, for a small amount of time, it stood on a pedestal, stacked like so much Celtic masonry, and drenched w/ thick, silky, chocolate that is neither cream nor liquid, neither solid nor liquid. And for that moment, in the middle of a Sunday afternoon, on his Birthday, I looked at this silly and delicious cake that shook comically under its own weight. And even when it began to fall, began to give way all-slo-motion-sexy, as the ganache began to dam and burst across the slow rise of the cake platter, it was an excellent cake, made for my friend, Jeff Odum.

It is magic, cake making. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Don’t cotton to those polyester hucksters, those t.v. Charlatans. Pay no attention to the pretty magazines, with their glossy pages that make the cake look more vixen-like than appropriate. It is cake, after all; and not some kind of tart.

Cake making is sorcery. Spells and Incantations. Bits of this. Parts of that. Knock thrice on the counter before you separate the egg. Every kitchen is warmed by superstition, calmed by strict belief systems. This recipe calls for a stiff cup of coffee, before anything else.

Coffee? How can this be Odum’s cake if I put coffee in it? He doesn’t drink coffee.

But I so love the idea of a recipe that calls for a cup of strong coffee, stiff coffee. The sort of coffee that has been sitting all day, cooking on the hot plate. Thick, jittery tar. This is the sort of coffee I would make in our dorm room, and leave unattended too often, too too often. In those days, back then, back there.

Besides, it was a chocolate cake, And the magic of chocolate almost always needs a mule like caffeine to close the deal. The dust of cocoa powder (Dutch) floats in the kitchen light. The cat is confused, but won’t show her hand. The smell that blossoms, as the boiling water flood the chocolate dustbowl, is that same smell of life that I smelled in West Texas, in the dessert, after it had rained

Chocolate and butter. Buttermilk and Sugar.
Baking Powder. Baking Soda (Duran Duran)
Vegetable Oil & Vanilla. And salt, always salt.
And eggs, big fat farm eggs – yokes yellow as wheat
Well, Art Class Wheat , you know, REALLY yellow.

It was that sort of thing we would scrawl on the loft structure we built of Sophomore year, and kept through our Senior year, and willed to those underclassmen who shared our taste in music, which is how we called the shots, back then, back there.

Had I made this cake, this abysmal failure of cake then I would have seen portents, I would have diagnosed cast dye. I would have fretted over the bad geometry. I would have shaved down the domes. I would have planed them all to hell. But as I pulled them from the pans yesterday, each one heavy and off balance as a hemisphere is apt to be, I recalled this one thing about Jeff, above all others.

Jeff hates pretentious jerks.

He’s not a guy who spews a lot of hate. Hell, the cat is all love, really. Crumudgeonn? Sure. But that’s always been true. Frustrated w/ small minded humans? Always. But, honestly, why aren’t you, too?

Get a grip. It’s really that simple. Get a goddam handle on what’s going on. Doesn’t mean you can necessarily boss it around, make it tote that barge, or lift that bale. But if you are honest about it, about who you are in it, well then life tends to be pretty sweet.

And so when it fell, and it collapsed , I moved to get that really big piece of Tupperware. I shoved it in, fighting time, fighting gravity. And I was upset.

I had ruined the cake. It was the sort of thing Jeff would never do. But then I remembered, no. We had destroyed endless recipes in out time after college, in Northern Virginia. There were repeated failures, which we ate to extinction.

And that was the thing about cooking w/ Jeff, living w/ Jeff: it never really mattered how rickety the loft was, how loudly I snored, how scientific the coffee pot became, how many pounds of bacon we wasted on a horrific experiment w/ home made ice cream. We were together, aligned, touched.

We were banned from playing Pictionary together due to an incident in 92.

And so to see his cake fall, it was awful. I questioned my sorcery, accused the spirits that cohabitate the collective that is my kitchen. And then I heard Jeff’s voice in my head::

“mmmmmmm bucket of cake mmmmmmmmmm”

It is now , of course, my mantra.

But it’s Jeff’s cake. And, yeah, it’s delicious.

Monday, June 17, 2013


It was my Aunt Patti who made the potato salad; it was my Mom who made the coleslaw.

My Aunt Patti’s potato salad was legendary. A kind of Westport, Connecticut slight of hand. Classy all the way, proud in its starch. My Mom’s coleslaw betrayed her Appalachian roots, and my father’s way of counting.

It was a thing, you see, in our house, to count mayonnaise jars. They were collected and used for pins, nails, tin soldiers, dice, pencils, pens, book ends, bowling pins (that didn’t go over well), homes for convalescing goldfish, light prisms for housecats, piggy banks, thumb tacks, paint brushes, or even as a thing from which one might drink. But mostly it was a sign of wealth. That’s what my father would say. “Sign of wealth”. He had a way of making pronouncements, my father.

He had worked in a Hellman’s Mayonaisse Factory when he was a kid, summers before college, before the draft. He was no good at factory work. He was intimidated by the rough men he worked with who could crack half a dozen eggs at a time, two hands at a time. My father, left handed, would fumble the crack, his eyes lost in the color of the yolk, the color Van Gogh had been able to explain to him. The factory workers teased him, but took him to see Duke Ellington in a club on the South Side, where left handed Jewish painters didn’t go. He owed it all to the job he resented, in the place that smelled like eggs, where the fat hung in the air, stayed in the weave of his clothes.

An extravagance, is mayonnaise, counseled my father’s mother, who lived in a kind of luxury that only those who fear poverty are able to attain. She had married badly, but divorced exquisitely. Still, she could not shake her immigrant habits of hording, mixed w/ the shame of possession. She would wear furs and disallow mayonnaise in her pantry as a kind of pretentious extravagance. It is the one step of assimilation that tiny, Russian/Puruvian little girl couldn’t make.

My mother’s family, being from that part of the Cumberland Gap that is more Dell than Holler, grew up on farm mayonnaise that was always a little too rushed, yet absurdly kept for too long. The fat of the yolk, heavy w/ Virginian sloth, would overtake everything. My mother’s family was skimpy when it came to oil. It, like many things in my Mother’s childhood, was a kind of unfulfilled promise.

When they were young, and first together, my mother and father, it was hard for them. But, they were young and it was New York, and that is how things should be. They saved and lived on the cheap. They were a kind of frugal that is inherited. And yet they bought mayonnaise. Sign of wealth.

The slaw that my mom made was slap-dash and last minute. It was the effect of a mad grope across the transom of the refrigerator. There was always a cabbage. Forever and ever and as long as I can remember there was always cabbage in our house. She would sort of toss the head of cabbage over her shoulder onto the countertop. The head would roll around as she continued rooting. The carrots would come out followed by the red onion. She would set us to work in her kitchen, prepping her produce, as she went about making the dressing.

One brother would chop the cabbage into thin, neat strips. Each whisper of cabbage light as breath. He moved purposefully, intentionally, and forward to the end of the chore. He never would stop to see his work, to see how the cabbage would exhale and become light. The other went into the work of dicing the onion. It was he, of course, who would never cry. He was impervious to onions, dulled to everything else. He moved fast w/ the knife in a way you wouldn’t think a ten year old could. He was maddeningly precise. Each piece of red onion cut and planed like a diamond, glistening.

I would step on the stool in front of the sink and get to the task of peeling the carrots. I had a proper peeler, and not a paring knife. I wished I had the paring knife; I was terrified of the wobbly blade that spun in the metal grip. I was terrified of slipping, convinced I would miss the carrot entirely and peel my fingers instead.

“Hello Mr. Carrot!”
“Well Hello, Mrs. Carrot”
“Philip, stop playing with them and peel them!”

I would put the carrots down and begin peeling, looking out the large window my mom had fought for when the house was being built.

“Now you want a window?” he demanded. “Three apartments and a house in Staten Island. No Window. Now you want a window?”

“Yes”. It was hard for her to say.

“We don’t have the money.”

“We’ll cut back. On mayonnaise.”

When I would peel the skins from the carrots I would do it in short and timid strokes. I would turn them in my hands, the carrots turning my young fat palms a light orange, and I would think about how many friends I could make with rabbits if they might come by. I would look out the window, sadly disappointed that there were no rabbits. I stopped peeling and stared out the window at car in the drive way, and past the neighbor’s yard, and wondered what it would be like to be a rabbit.

“Philip! Don’t EAT them. PEEL them.”
My brothers would rush me to finish, critiquing my peeling.

“This isn’t how you would carve a canoe, is it?”

“Jesus! Leave some carrot”.

My mom would then have me taste her dressing. She said it was because I had the gift.

The truth is that my Mom didn’t like the taste of her own cooking. She turned her nose up at the fat, and worried about her figure that had already been wrecked by the three boys crowding more than her kitchen. She could not taste the dressing, much less bring herself to eat the coleslaw. She wouldn’t have my brothers taste it as they would always find some way to make some face, find some fault, claim victory where there is no battle. It is their way. But when I would taste something I would find myself in the strange and insular place of being. Rather, I would find myself surrounded by the sensation of self separate from anything, or anyone. It, in itself, was kind of mind blowing.

When you add what happens when sugar and mustard seed go toe to toe my lips begin to pucker. Vinegar is powerful kind of magic. The lush love of buttermilk is holy. The small firecrackers of ground black pepper are boisterous and full of life. And of course there is mayonnaise – so sublime in it’s ability to hold you like a tango partner. So gentle in its romance, yet so lingering in its absence.

She would mix it all together with little pomp, and secure it in that 1970s Tupperware that will survive a nuclear holocaust. We would pack into the car in the driveway and go to Aunt Patti and Uncle Guy’s house. We would eat dinner together, the way families and friends would.

My mother and Aunt Patti would share martinis. We ate this kind of pot luck often in my youth. And while my mother could not stand her own cooking, she loved Patti’s potato salad.