Commonplace
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www.common-place.org · vol. 11 · no. 3 · April 2011
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AMERICAN FOOD IN THE AGE OF EXPERIMENT: FARMING, COOKING, AND EATING BY THE BOOK


Poetic Research Department

Statement of Poetic Research


Bronwen Tate
All You Have to Do

During the rugged formative period
of our country, hunger was

the natural and best appetizer. Then
everyone knew how to pronounce

canapés, when to unmold aspic.
Now I am throwing out your peaches

frozen in zip-lock, ruined with Splenda. Can't
tell the difference? I can. Yet your hands

sliced them; I pick your ring
out of the drawer, 6½ and slack on the right

finger. Do the ornaments have "sentimental" value?
Undrawling stranger, I don't know the stories,

I drive to Poteau, but there's nothing there, so I
drive home, say the only sweet things I know.

All you have to do if cooked white frosting
becomes sugary: beat in a little lemon juice.

 
 
 
 

Everybody or his neighbor had a cow,
raised potatoes and onions, and could

get "quahogs" for the digging. But that's not
the America of anyone I'm related to. Yours

meant thick slices of garden tomatoes sprinkled
with salt, chopped okra dredged in cornmeal and

fried until crispy. Popsicle on the porch swing
in a borrowed sundress because I was

growing and I came from a rainy place, ate
blueberries in tall grass, said "sorry" like my Canadian

mother. And when the thunderstorm hit and rain lashed
the dry grass of your always freshly mowed lawn,

I stood behind the screen door and just
breathed. All you have to do to "personalize"

scalloped vegetables: bake in
scallop shells or ramekins.

 
 
 
 

Minutes saved can easily grow
into that extra hour or two a day

so many busy women want and need
a reason to dig the sodden bits of dinner

out of the sink drain again tonight. You invest
in the library. Rinse and fold the tinfoil

for reuse while your son crawls out onto a sheet
of glass. Cherry bomb under a tin can. Bicycle

handlebar just grazed a kidney. If you feel tired,
lie down on the floor on your back, put your hands

above your head. Scream into a dishtowel.
Play the organ. Get a manicure. Mop the blood

and drive to emergency. Your husband's
a teetotaler. Guests for dinner again tonight.

All you have to do to make Chocolate Roll ahead of time:
make it at your leisure. Wrap and freeze it.

 
 
 
 

A world famous chef has advised women
to be daring and experiment

with herbs and other seasoning.
And I'll admit I get a thrill

when I use chervil or tarragon. But
I sometimes forget to notice humorous

and interesting incidents to relate at dinner-time.
At times, I confess, I dine alone on popcorn and yogurt

cups while reading Roland Barthes' thoughts
on chopsticks: less predatory. Times have

changed. But while I fold powdered sugar
into tea-infused cream, she tells me

only 10% of department chairs are
female. All you have to do to lessen the size

of the "crack" typical of loaf cake: let batter
stand in pan 20 minutes before baking.

 
 
 
 

Have you ever seen a pale pink
or delicate green angel?

Well, we have. Yet cherubs are no
comfort. A woman knows that eating

is the earliest form of love but
not how to keep the shadows out

of Sunshine and Sponge Cakes. For blood
lost, I drank red wine, replacement only in

mimesis. The bar of your "t" floats out
over your vowels like an accent grave. I buried

my metaphors in the summer warmth of
a California December. First, there is the very early

handmade "sad-iron." Tired of wood and wool,
I'd asked you for "little plastic things."

All you have to do if rosettes don't come off iron:
fry a little longer. If not crisp, fry a little slower.

 
 
 
 

One way to become known as an artist
with foods is to be clever

with sauces. Yet I bought my first gravy boat
only this Thanksgiving. Your BBQ

page is a mess, so maybe I'll try it. Or chilli
if I can decipher the first ingredient. Suet

is beef fat, right? And is it your hair or mine, almost
black along the recipe for pecan pie? I favor

all-butter for flavor, but I'll allow
that shortening makes for a flaky crust,

and I'm curious to try lard or duck fat.
My mother apologized for all the years

we ate margarine, though we were ahead of our time
in avocado and tofu. All you have to do to give

festive color to Apple Roll or Puffs: use a few red
cinnamon candies in place of cinnamon.

 
 
 
 

Just as an architect has his slide rule,
you must have the right measuring tools

to keep proportions correct. Though I've sometimes
used a skewer when I couldn't find a toothpick, I weigh

each lump of dough on the digital scale,
consider buying a madeleine pan. Half a

pig's head in my freezer. Three dead
tomato plants on the balcony. 900 homes.

10 fires. I'll never know what you were thinking
when the hum of the fridge paused, and the children

slept, and the house was finally quiet. I've never
witnessed a transformation as total as your

morning make-up. I have your high cheekbones,
your full lower lip, your hips too if I'm not careful.

All you have to do to make variations for Small Cake:
use only half the amount of ingredients.

 
 
 
 

A crusader wearing his armor
accidentally sat in some

freshly baked oat cakes. Your son spit
out his iced tea in chagrin when the minister

took the last piece of breast meat. The girls asked
for more "green popcorn." Anything worth repeating

is worth stitching onto a pillow. Vegetables need
never be monotonous. There was never

anything I "couldn't live without,"
but we still brought home some of them pecan

clusters and the notecards embossed with pansies.
Albequerque. Albuquerque. You were right the second time,

though my first thought would be "a" like an Italian dawn.
Your sons rose early and took their hunting rifles

from the shed. All you have to do to remove down
from ducks: brush with melted paraffin. Cool and peel off.

 

 


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