Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Poet’s Table: Poetry and Food

Octavio Paz said, “Poetry is one of the ways to make a reconciliation between the body and the mind” which is something I believe in fervently and try to exercise on a daily basis but an appreciation of food is also a practical way to unite the burdens of consciousness with the appetites of the flesh.

Whether it be enjoying something as uncomplicated as a pint of porter and a pound of mussels on a small patio in Lunenburg Harbour as I did last summer in Nova Scotia, or devouring Ontario pheasant and fois gras on cranberry kasha with Earl Grey jus, paired with a smoky glass of Italian red wine, as I savoured last month at Opus restaurant in Yorkville, food is an immediate, all-encompassing pleasure.

A mansion with many rooms. One that resides next door to poetry.

At least, this is what I found myself thinking about after my wife Teresa and I ended up with a few stolen hours sans toddler yesterday and were able to enjoy a nice lunch together at a quiet little restaurant.

We both had the Croque Madame after seeing it listed on the menu: a classic grilled sandwich made with toasted brioche, shaved ham and a fried egg topped with Hollandaise sauce. For the rest of the afternoon, I walked around with a smug smile on my face thinking about my lunch and how food, like poetry, plays on our all too human emotions.

Teresa and I are definately foodies. We have a butcher where we buy all our meats. Throughout the summer months, we get a produce box delivered once a week from a local farm to our front door so we know the vegetables we are eating are grown right down the road from us.

Of course, what we do not know is what will be delivered and in what quantities which is part of the whole charm of the farm box. My two year-old daughter loves opening the box and discovering basil, purslane, a bag stuffed full of peas, zucchini and tomatoes.

Inevitably, when my wife and I talk together about vacationing or traveling, food more often than not plays a major role in the planning of our trips. We both lived in South Korea where we taught English and it is there that we developed a taste for foreign food and travel.

In my own memory’s larder, I associate each place where I have been with a specific type of food: Greece is huge gyros stuffed with french fries bought from street vendors and cold bottles of Heineken. Cuba is swordfish, cold shrimp and calamari salad and paella. Rome is pasta with Amatriciana sauce and red wine. That is life.

We cook too. In the last few weeks, Teresa has made egg-plant parmesan, chicken paprikash, and Thai green curry. Although I am not as skilled as my wife, I can turn out seafood linguini in white wine sauce, a pork shoulder roast in a grainy mustard sauce, and lemon and dill stuffed red snapper.

Cooking is natural aromatherapy and whenever I find the blues overtaking me on a rainy weekend, I pull out the Joy of Cooking and make a shopping list. Three hours later, the house smells magical and I have had the pleasure of cooking something new.

Since we live an hour and a half away from the Niagara wine region, my wife and I also make frequent forays into wine country, usually coming home with a box and a half of wine bottles from a half dozen little vineyards.

Like poetry, food and wine should be about discovery, taking seemingly disparate ingredients—fish and lemon, mushrooms and demi-glace, guacamole and orange supremes— and combining them to release underlying associations.

Think of it as the ordinary transmuted into the extraordinarily flavourful.

In fact, I distrust most poets who take no interest in the food they put on their dinner plates or the wine they pour into their glasses. To my mind, if your idea of cooking is popping in lean cuisine into a microwave, your poetry most likely lacks savour too. Every poet should know his or her death-row last meal.

For me, it is ojingo bokum, an unpretentious Korean dish of sautéed squid and vegetables in a spicy red pepper sauce served with white rice, and a bottle of Thirty Bench Red.

Just as poetry should be both the meal and the utensils, so should be any discussion of food. As Joyce Carol Oates has said, “When poets write about food it is usually celebratory. Food as the thing-in-itself, but also the thoughtful preparation of meals, the serving of meals, meals communally shared: a sense of the sacred in the profane.”

1 comment:

  1. Right on! That Korean dish sounds great. I have most every dish I can find of Korean food... it is a passion... now a new quest...

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