What You Eat: Ode to a Haggis


Robert Burns, Scotland’s National Bard.

In anticipation of the Little Patuxent Review‘s Food Issue launch tomorrow, January 24, several members of the LPR community have shared stories of what they eat. Food occupies such a central place in our lives, that we can’t help but grow with it. Whether we’re preparing a brunch, whipping up pesto or, as in the case of my own entry, connecting the past to the present, the tastes of our most formative and transformative foods walk back into our own narrative histories. On poetry editor Laura Shovan’s suggestion, each piece in this series will feature a recipe, so you can participate in each experience. Should you have a story to share involving food, please leave a comment and I’ll be in touch.

And now that the table is set, my story:

Auld Lang Syne.” We’ve all sung it annually as the clock strikes midnight and the old year fades into the new. Our New Year’s anthem is actually a poem by Scotland’s National Bard, Robert Burns, set to the tune of a traditional Scottish folk song. It became popular to sing on New Year’s Eve because Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians orchestra broadcast it live for 33 years from New York’s Roosevelt Hotel. Few people realize that Scots across the globe also gather each January  25 to celebrate Burns’s birthday in a unique way.

Steeped in ceremony, and often a wee dram o’whiskey, the Burns Supper follows a long-standing blueprint, whether the dinner is formal or informal, public or private. There’s always haggis – which, like hot dogs, tastes great, but includes ingredients it’s better not to fully understand – mashed neeps (turnips) and tatties (potatoes), complimented by rousing bagpipe music and recitations of Burns’s poetry. The evening of merriment is intended to foster a deep love for a homeland many have never seen.

It’s a bit unusual to commemorate the life of a poet with such pomp, especially one born in 1759. The reason that Burns remains an enduring figure to the Scots has much to do with timing. He was born 13 years after the crushing defeat of the Scots by the British at the Battle of Culloden, when Scottish nationalism was at a low point. As punishment for attempting to restore Bonnie Prince Charlie to the throne, Scots were forbidden from wearing their tartans and the kilt, in an attempt to break centuries-old clan affiliations.

Burns, fiercely nationalistic, wrote about a national Scottish identity using a Scots dialect. Because he wasn’t of the aristocracy, his poems spoke to the common man using universal themes.  He wrote about a variety of topics, among them love, a toothache, a wayward pastor, and a mouse. During his lifetime, he was beloved. In 1801, just five years after his death, the annual Burns Supper tradition began.

Burns Supper, 2009. Photo courtesy of Leah Gillespie.

Burns Supper, 2009. Photo courtesy of Leah Gillespie.

After having attended several formal Burns Suppers, I held my first informal event at home in 2003. It was a modest affair with only five attendees, including my then quite young sons. My most recent supper included fifteen guests, including several from Scotland, a bagpiper and poetry recitations. While the menu didn’t change much over the years, we added a few more candles, increased the readings, and certainly relaxed into the whole process. Children are included and encouraged to participate in our homegrown affair.

Organized Burns Suppers are more for the grown-ups, with the St. Andrews Society leading the way in formality. Richard Anderson, a member of Baltimore’s St. Andrews Society, describes their event. “We’re all in formal dress, with men in kilts and the women in evening gowns. There are pipes playing, poetry readings, highland dancing, and the formal toasts. Because we now allow women to attend our event, we have a ‘Toast to the Lassies’ and a ‘Reply from the Lassies,’ both of which are pretty ribald.” The event follows a prescribed order and is led by a chairman.

At my event, guests clustered around the dining room table, which was heaped with platters of mashed neeps and tatties, a variety cheeses, and a tureen of Cock-a-leekie Soup. Candles flickered, casting everything and everyone in flattering shadow.

In the next room, my father-in-law filled his bagpipes with air. At the first squawk, we heard chairs scudding across the floor as everyone stood. He played “Scotland the Brave” and marched into the dining room. I followed him, carrying aloft the haggis on a platter. Someone recited “To a Haggis,” while raising a dagger (also known as a sharp kitchen knife) before thrusting it deep into haggis, releasing its innards: “what a glorious sight, warm-reekin’, rich!

After, one of the children led us in the Selkirk Grace:

Some hae meat and cannot eat.
Some cannot eat that want it:
But we hae meat and we can eat,
Sae let the Lord be thankit.

We filled our plates and then our bellies as we took our fill of stories about the raw, wild beauty that is Scotland. We planned hikes in the misty Highlands or recalled ghost tales about Edinburgh Castle. Children clamored to hear about the Loch Ness monster or a recitation of “To a Mouse.”

Over Ecclefechan Tart, we listened to additional recitations before our evening sing-a-long to some of Robert Burns’s songs set to bagpipes. Our favorites were “For A’ That and A’ That,” in which Burns compares the rich and poor, reaffirming the humanity of the hardworking, poor man, and “Scots Wha Hae.

My friend, Glasgow native Kenneth Lockie, turned reflective when asked about the longevity of Burns’ popularity and the traditional Suppers. “We’re not just products of our times, but products of all the times gone past. We just forget that.”

I think Kenneth’s right. For Auld Lang Syne.

And there’s a hand, my trusty friend!
And give us a hand of yours!
And we’ll take a deep draught of good-will
For long, long ago.

 Simple Cock-a-leekie Soup

  • 4 cups of chicken broth
  • 2 ½ lbs chicken breast, cut into bite sized pieces
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced into bite sized pieces
  • 6-12 dried prunes, chopped, soaked overnight (optional)
  • ½ cup barley
  • 1 cube chicken bouillon
  • 2 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 ½ cup sliced leeks, cleaned well

Add all ingredients, except leeks, to a Dutch oven. Heat to boiling; reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Add leeks. Bring back to a boil; reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes or until barley is soft. Remove bay leaf. Serve.

Makes 7 servings of 1 cup each.

Download Debby’s Simple Cock-a-leekie Soup recipe.

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Full Circle

“I only know the joy of diving into the pure and essential world of the story.” ~ Kris Faatz

A few days ago, a writer friend and I traded sympathy about the process. She said, “Sometimes the only thing worse than writing is not writing.”

I often flip back and forth between two moods: pessimism when I’m working and meanness when I’m not. Every writer knows those feelings. And all of us know a nasty truth: the words we labor on so lovingly today may never reach anybody else tomorrow.

Kris'childhood aspirations are captured in this circa 1970s photo: music and books.

Kris’ childhood aspirations are captured in this circa 1970s photo: music and books.

When I was three, I made up my first stories, and when I was six wrote and illustrated a “book” called “The River.” In second grade I devoured and plagiarized from Walter Farley’s Black Stallion series. In fourth grade, I got into mythology; in fifth, I traded all earlier loyalties for elves and hobbits; and in sixth, I fell in love immediately and forever with Watership Down. From the beginning I wanted to be a writer, but later tried math and science and finally (I thought) settled on music, which after books had been my first love. Approaching thirty, working as a musician, I drifted back to writing when I decided – no problem! – to start a novel about the colorful, crazy backstage world of the classical symphony.

Seven years later, I’ve rewritten my novel more times than I care to count. In the process, I’ve learned: (a) more about the writing craft than I’d ever imagined possible; (b) that I will study that craft for the rest of my life; and (c) what I want to be when I grow up. My grade-school ambition has been waiting for me all along, though it’s easier said than achieved.

Writing is a strange process. We tell our stories knowing that when we send them out into the world, they – and we – will face criticism and rejection. Our ideas feel pure and essential to us when we sit down to put them on paper, but we wrestle with our own limitations and with the pain that comes when good work gets turned down. Often we feel that our belief in our words has to stand up against the world. Sometimes that belief isn’t strong enough.

I’ve often asked myself why I keep doing this. When the seventy-fifth agent rejection rolls in; when the short story gets turned down again; when I decide that I don’t know how to string a paragraph together, much less 300-plus pages.

It’s because the stories still live in my head. They nudge my brain, wave flags, whisper – or shout – “You can’t quit. Nobody else will tell us.” And sometimes, when I sit down to work, the meanness disappears and the pessimism fades away, and I only know the joy of diving into the pure and essential world of the story.

We don’t know what will happen to our stories once we tell them, but we are the only ones who can. In the end, that’s why I write.

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Food for the Soul

Photography: Connie Imboden. Design: Deb Dulin

Photography: Connie Imboden. Design: Deb Dulin

Editor Steven Leyva writes in his Editor’s Note for this winter’s Little Patuxent Review Food Issue, “Before working on this issue I never realized how much enjoying food requires crossing different kinds of boundaries. The onion must give up its layers, the water’s surface must bend for the ladle, and even the worm must break the apple’s skin. Each has its tiny Rubicon.”

By examining up close that which sustains us, you are invited to experience food — with all its tastes, smells, and memories — differently. American activist Dorothy Day said, “Food for the body is not enough. There must be food for the soul.” Food nourishes you, but what else feeds us? Offers succor?

As you sink your teeth into this winter’s issue, take time to savor each morsel. Tuck in your napkin. Shift in your seat. Lean forward. Turn the page to taste with deliberation the next offering. Contemplate the texture of food anew.

Your first course is Rose Fitzgerald’s sensual remembrance of consuming cherries for the first time. Don’t be surprised to find yourself wiping phantom juice from your chin. Then heap upon your plate a helping of shimmering anchovies served with grappa as you joyously revel in Pat Valdata’s “Prognosis.” Contemplate choice.

Cancer reminds you of the doobie in your pocket, so you excuse yourself for a smoke.  Suck in the sweet tang of illicit weed, hold your breath, and then exhale. Ever so slowly. Famished, you return to the table to devour each pale pasta strand in Barrett Warner’s “Pasta in the Nude.” In languid motion you reach for your wine, but Kelli Stevens Kane’s “runneth” sends you in search of another, less crowded glass.

The kitchen invites you in with “Emily and the Cookstove” by Stephanie Dickinson. There sits an old man with vacant eyes nipping into a smorgasbord of beets, marzipan, and sauerkraut, lovingly assembled by his daughter. You steep in your own memories before quietly slipping away.

Dip into Michael Salcman’s essay “From Darkness into Light” as he explores photographer Connie Imboden’s intense relationships with light, water, and subject reminiscent of the Old Masters.

For dessert you’ll enjoy Ann Bracken’s interview with poet and playwright Grace Cavalieri, who has not only lived a great love story, but has written and produced twenty-six short-form and full-length plays in addition to eighteen books. Cavalieri is the host for the renowned Library of Congress radio show The Poet and the Poem. She’s the perfect end to our meal.

Leyva writes, “Both metaphorically and literally I’ve gained weight while editing this issue. It was worth every pound.”

We’ve saved you a seat at the table. Won’t you join us?

Please come hungry to the launch of the issue at Oliver’s Carriage House, 5410 Leaf Treader Way, Columbia, MD 21044, on Saturday, January 24 at 2 pm. Some of our contributors will read their works.  Afterwards, attendees will have an opportunity to mingle with contributors and staff to discuss readings while enjoying light refreshments. The Winter issue will be on sale for $10, along with past publications.

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I Resolve…

red resolutions

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” ~ Anais Nin

shutterstock_111393362The new year stretches before each of us like a blank page or newly stretched canvas. What will you do with your year ahead to push yourself to blossom and create? I’ll be honest: I prefer making goals rather than resolutions. Goals can be achieved and measured. There’s accountability, if only to myself. Because written goals are more likely to be accomplished, I’ll share a few of mine with you. As 2014 fades into memory, pull out your own pen, rip out a clean sheet of paper, and jot down your own goals. A year from now, what do you resolve to have completed?

Write More. Commit to getting words on the page. As Neil Gaiman said, “Embrace your fear of failure. Make peace with the impostor syndrome that comes with success. Don’t be afraid of being wrong.”

  • Join other writers at The Writer’s Center.
  • Attend a writing retreat someplace like The Porches.
  • Consider personal goals and do a weekly check-in with an accountability buddy.

Submit. A key to publication is submissionLittle Patuxent Review‘s deadline for our summer edition is March 1. Focusing on a submission goal and setting deadlines for myself works for me. How about you?

shutterstock_116035345Read Less. This may sound counterproductive, but I want to select books which inspire me to become a better writer. These novels or short stories are the kind I’ll want to savor, possibly analyze, and discuss.

Attend Readings. Hearing authors read from their novels, and learning about their process helps me feel part of a tribe. Listening lifts me up when I’m in the throes of darkness, hearing that gremlin who resides under my bed, whispering, “You think you’re a writer?”

  • January  15: J.M Tyree and Elizabeth Kadetsky , two authors selected as Vogue’s “best under-the-radar reads” share their most recent work, at The Ivy Bookshop, 7 p.m., FREE.
  • January 24: Little Patuxent Review Winter 2015 Launch Reading, 2-4 p.m., FREE
  • February 7: An Irish Evening with Emma Donoghue at the Smith Theatre, 7:30 p.m., Tickets required
  • March 3: Michael Salcman,”The Enemy of Good is Better” at The Ivy Bookshop, 7 p.m., FREE

View more Art. I’m a big fan of the artist date, where I step away from my own work to view others’ art. This act of appreciation fills me with gratitude and inspires me to work longer and harder at my own craft. What methods to you use to refill your own artistic well?

From all of us at Little Patuxent Review, thank you for a wonderful 2014.

Happy New Year.

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Setting the Table: Winter 2015 Cover Reveal

Food LPR cover-front.smThis winter Little Patuxent Review will release its Food issue, the cover of which features an Untitled piece by Ruxton photographer Connie Imboden. LPR Editor Steven Leyva writes, “Connie Imboden’s photography offers the viewer a chance to cross boundaries. One of these boundaries is the water line since so much of her photography involves alternative camera positioning. As her models interact with the surface of the water, Imboden is often fully submerged, shooting from below her subjects. From this vantage point, she is able to invoke visceral emotions, including desire. And in her ability to draw out desire in her subjects, and her audience, Imboden creates interesting associations with the theme of food.

“In the photograph chosen for LPR’s Winter 2015 cover, I was struck not only by the mythic quality—this could easily be a modern Narcissus—but also by the “hunger and thirst” depicted in the model’s touch on the water’s surface. In many ways, the photograph represented an interesting doorway into the journal’s food theme. In other words, if you want to explore food, you must first examine your own hunger and thirst. Perhaps that demands a lot of the reader, but so do the excellent poetry and prose of the Winter 2015 issue of Little Patuxent Review.”

What I love about Steven’s take on food is a deeper spiritual nature, especially at this time of year when we’re gorging ourselves on holiday treats from latkes to lamb, and everything in-between. Connie’s evocative cover photograph reminds me of the Dutch masters Vermeer and Rembrandt so rich and deep are the colors and emotions they derive. As you read Steven’s words and contemplate the broader context of food against Imboden’s photo, what are your thoughts about our choice? What emotions rise to the surface for you?

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Interview with Danuta Kosk-Kosicka

9781627200455-FaceHalfIlluminated-COVProlific LPR contributor Danuta E. Kosk-Kosicka has two books being published. The first, Face Half-Illuminated, includes sixteen original poems and Kosk-Kosicka’s translations of sixteen poems by her mother, Polish poet Lidia Kosk. Apprentice House published the book just this week, and its available on their site as well as Barnes & Noble.

In April, CityLit Press releases Kosk-Kosicka’s Harriss Prize-winning chapbook Oblige the Light. Contest judge Michael Salcman, a poet and the art consultant for LPR, selected Kosk-Kosicka’s twenty-eight-poem manuscript.

This is all in addition to the contributions Kosk-Kosicka has made to LPR’s pages in print and online. Her poems “Lake Patzcuaro” and “The Movie in my Head” appeared in our Spirituality and Make Believe issues, respectively. She also contributed an essay on her experience as a foreign-born poet as part of our On Being Invisible series that coincided with the Social Justice issue.

This fall, Danuta and I met over coffee at Ellicott City’s Bean Hollow to discuss her work.

LS: Congratulations on the new books.

DEKK: I keep smiling. It’s a very good feeling.

LS: Do you draft your poems in your native Polish or in English?

DEKK: I came to this country as a scientist. I have a Ph.D. in biochemistry. I was writing grant proposals, scientific articles. Everything was in English. So it became natural for me to write poems in English as well.

As a teenager I wrote [poetry] in Polish. I was a professor at Hopkins, and in the last few years I found myself, when I was writing scientific papers, scribbling some poetry on the back.

It’s just natural for me [to write in English]. I live here. I worked in this language. My kid was born here. Everybody around me speaks English. Most of my friends are English-speaking, so it was totally natural.

LS: Did you leave the scientific field to focus on your writing?

DEKK: I was beginning to feel very ill, and then I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. Turning to poetry was a life-saver, so to speak, because I’m a very active person. Many people with fibromyalgia spend time in bed, can’t do anything. Of course, I have days like that too, but with writing and translating I can pace myself. Writing is a good thing and I chose poetry over novels. . . . I don’t have the energy to write a novel.

I had this burst of writing in 1997, a huge amount of poems in both languages. Apparently it was in me and it had to come out. I think it was probably that feeling of loss [after leaving my job because of my illness]. Having been an associate professor at Johns Hopkins, that was a huge loss.

LS: You came to the U.S. during a time of political upheaval in Poland.

DEKK: In 1980, people didn’t know much about Poland. It was not very often that scientists came from behind the Iron Curtain.

They wouldn’t let my husband come with me. The thinking was: Two professionals going abroad, they will not come back. He was let out in December only because Solidarność (Solidarity) was born in Poland and they let him go visit his wife. I was going to go [back] to Poland for Christmas and I couldn’t because martial law was imposed and there were no flights.

When you have no communication and you know you can’t go back, you have to kind of build a wall for security. You want to forget, but of course you can’t forget.

I’m looking at the titles of the poems and I’m thinking many of them are [about] loss. It comes in different ways. It’s the loss of country. For many months I couldn’t call my parents; there was no communication. I had to forget certain things so I didn’t go crazy. Part of the poetry is recovery [of those memories]. Many of the poems are like dreams.

LS: Translation is an art form in its own right. How did you get started translating poems?

DEKK: It’s a challenge. I guess that’s why I started . . . it was a challenge and something I could try to do. You know, the first poem I translated was Wisława Szymborska’s “People on the Bridge.” [When Szymborska won the Nobel Prize], a friend asked me if I could translate and I said I’d never done anything like that. At that time, there were no books by her in English.

When Szymborska’s books came out, that poem I translated was in two of them. My friend copied the published translation and compared it with mine. We realized they were very different. This was when I started to say, “Okay, what is a translation?”

Mom asked me to translate her poems. The first poem of hers I translated was a rhymed poem. That tells you how innocent I was—a rhymed poem in another language. It was published in Passager. Then I thought this was a great project to do.

LS: Do you remember your mother writing poetry when you were growing up?

DEKK: She is a lawyer and she worked all her life. Her first book was published when I was already here. Mom—she’s just totally amazing. [I remember her] writing occasional poems for the kids in school.

Putting together this book [Face Half-Illuminated] at Apprentice House was very difficult. I felt a huge sense of responsibility because it’s my mom and me together. [Kosk-Kosicka has translated and edited two previous collections of her mother’s poems.]

I came up with this idea. I proposed it to Apprentice House. They picked it when I was in Poland this year. So I told Mom, “We’re going to have this book!” Then I started going through the translations all again. My poems had to speak to each other. Her poems had to speak to each other and then they had to go across. I was the only one who could do it. My mom does not speak English.

LS: Who are some of your favorite Polish poets that Americans haven’t really discovered yet?

DEKK: Gałczyński. This is a poet we grew up with, my generation. And Norwid. He’s very difficult. A philosopher, a bit like Blake . . . he was very serious. I don’t know anybody who wrote like that.

Find previews of poems from both books here and here.

Danuta E. Kosk-Kosicka is a scientist, bilingual poet, writer, poetry translator, photographer, and coeditor of the literary journal Loch Raven Review. Her poems have appeared in the U.S. and throughout Europe in numerous literary journals and anthologies—most recently in International Poetry Review, Beltway Poetry Quarterly, Spillway, and A Narrow Fellow Poetry Journal. Her translations of Maryland poets laureate—Lucille Clifton, Josephine Jacobsen, and Linda Pastan—have been published in Poland. Her translations of Lidia Kosk, Ernest Bryll, and Wisława Szymborska’s poems have been published in the U.S. She has translated into English almost 100 poems for two bilingual books by Lidia Kosk: niedosyt/reshapings and Słodka woda, słona woda/Sweet Water, Salt Water, the latter of which she has also edited. Danuta is the author of Face Half-Illuminated, a forthcoming book of poems, translations, and prose (Apprentice House) and the winner of CityLit Press’s fifth annual Harriss Poetry Prize for her chapbook manuscript Oblige the Light.

Lidia Kosk is the author of eleven books of poetry and short stories, including two bilingual volumes, niedosyt/reshapings and Słodka woda, słona woda/Sweet Water, Salt Water, as well as two poetry and short fiction anthologies that she compiled and edited. She collaborated with her late husband, Henryk P. Kosk, on the two-volume Poland’s Generals: A Popular Biographical Lexicon. Her poems and prose have been published in literary journals and anthologies in Poland and in the U.S., most recently in Lalitamba, The Blue Lyra Review, The Fourth RiverThe Dirty Goat, and International Poetry Review. Her poems have been translated into seven languages and into choral compositions and multimedia video presentations. She was featured, with Danuta, on National Public Radio station,WYPR’s “The Signal.” Lidia resides in Warsaw, Poland.

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Concerning Craft: Shirley Brewer – Revisited

The “Concerning Craft” series introduces Little Patuxent Review contributors, showcases their work and draws back the curtain to reveal a little of what went into producing it.

Please meet poet and educator, Shirley Brewer. Shirley previously contributed to the Concerning Craft series exploring the creation of her poem “Fairy Tale, Interrupted”, which we published in our Summer 2012 Audacity issue. In the interim she released a collection of poetry, After Words, a reaction to the murder of Stephen Pitcairn in Baltimore. When she showed up again in our Summer 2014 issue I wanted to seize upon the opportunity to return to one of our contributors to explore not just their approach to their craft in the present moment, but to observe an evolution in technique and aesthetic. Without further adieu, Shirley Brewer on her poem, “Above Chicago“:

I have developed a daily habit I find most nourishing. Every morning I read The Writer’s Almanac. Starting the day with a poem keeps me focused on my passion. I also enjoy reading the prose tidbits Garrison Keillor includes beneath the poem – birthdays of writers/anniversaries of events in history. I sometimes find material for new poems there.

Such was the case this past January 25th, when I read about the first transcontinental commercial jet flight on that date in 1959. I might have let that nugget pass, but knowing Carl Sandburg was on the plane tweaked my interest. I love Sandburg’s poetry, and once visited his family home, Connemara, near Flat Rock, North Carolina, where I bonded with a newborn goat named Wyatt. The Sandburgs raised goats, and the estate was still flourishing.

In writing “Above Chicago,” I decided to begin with actual items from the flight menu. Have the reader salivate! The names of the dishes had great alliteration: Maine lobsters, filet mignon, macaroon ice cream balls. I courted assonance in the first stanza as well: macaroon, ooze, saloon, fueled troubadour. I could have submitted this to LPR’s Food issue!

Although I have no idea about the actual flight plan, I love imagining the jet flew “Above Chicago,” and I can visualize Sandburg singing lines from his famous poem about that iconic American city. He was quite the musician, as well as a superb poet. I wanted to include crimson, as Sandburg used that word in a number of his poems and I think it must have been a word he liked.

Gin and ink wed inside his journal, a line that just appeared! Sandburg – in his early 80’s at the time – did keep a journal. And the booze flowed freely on that flight. Like all of the other passengers, Sandburg participated in the frivolity of the occasion! One of the pleasures I relish in poetry is selecting a verb that sounds fresh and fits, and wed seemed like a winner.

I decided to end the poem with another reference to Sandburg’s Chicago poem. Hogs and butchers in the last line to balance the filet mignon in the first line! What pleases me about crafting a poem is making word choices, and playing with sounds. It may take at least a dozen or more revisions, but it’s such a joyful task!

The subject of my previous Concerning Craft piece was Cinderella, in my poem, “Fairy Tale, Interrupted.” Poetically speaking, both Cinderella and Carl Sandburg piqued my interest! And when I care enough to write a poem, I’ll begin the process and see where it takes me. I think, initially, I wrote “Fairy Tale, Interrupted” as one stanza of fifteen lines, before I decided it would work well as five tercets. I often don’t decide on the format until I’m well along in my writing. Two stanzas of nine lines each seemed to work well for “Above Chicago.” I wanted to begin the second stanza with Sandburg’s reference to Chicago as City of the Big Shoulders, an image I find miraculous.

I obviously had a long history with Cinderella – a story and movie I have loved since childhood. A blurb on The Writer’s Almanac inspired “Above Chicago.” Whatever the genesis, once the idea set in – I want this idea to be a poem – I go into my space where I just write and see where it takes me.

Both poems surprised me. In “Fairy Tale, Interrupted,” I start by writing about Cinderella. Then, I speak directly to her. I didn’t plan that ahead of time. In “Above Chicago,” I initially thought I would write only about Sandburg on that transcontinental flight, maybe touch on the food and drink, and Chicago inserted itself! I love it when that happens.

In both poems, I pay attention to sounds. I’ve already mentioned alliteration and assonance in “Above Chicago.” In “Fairy Tale, Interrupted,” each tercet ends with a rhyming word.

“Fairy tale, Interrupted,” appeared in LPR’s Audacity Issue. I think of Carl Sandburg as a thrillingly audacious poet. Maybe I’ll write a poem in which Cinderella meets up with Carl Sandburg. And they’ll raise a goat named Wyatt.

Every poem is an internal adventure. Whether the source is family, the past, mythology, an item in the news – the poet invites us to experience the depth of his/her vision. I find the process both challenging and exhilarating. The poem I craft tomorrow may be totally different than anything I have previously written. I can only hope all of my poems carry some freshness into the world. Carl Sandburg once defined poetry as “the journey of a sea animal living on land, waiting to fly in the air.”

Oh, Carl, I’m glad you flew in the air on that first transcontinental flight! 55 years later, I honor your journey – the literal one as well as the metaphorical. I know you’d concur that, in poetry, there’s always a place for cat feet and glass slippers.

Shirley J. Brewer graduated from careers in bartending, palm-reading, and speech therapy. She has served for two years as poet-in-residence at Carver Center for the Arts and Technology inBaltimore County. She also teaches poetry at LitMore in Baltimore, and at Howard Community College. Shirley presents workshops on Creativity, Poetry, and Healing Through Writing. Recent poems appear in: The Cortland Review, Innisfree Poetry Journal, Pearl, Comstock Review, Passager, as well as in Little Patuxent Review and other journals. Her poetry chapbooks include A Little Breast Music, 2008, Passager Books and After Words, 2013, Apprentice House/Loyola University.

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What You Eat: Better Late Than Never

In preparation for our Food issue (submissions are open until November 1, after which they’ll simmer ’til winter), I’ve asked members of the LPR community to share stories of what they eat. Food occupies such a central place in our lives that we can’t help but grow with it. Whether we have been preparing the food that we grew up with all our lives or, as is the case with this entry from former LPR Online Editor and current BrickHouse Books Fiction Editor Ilse Munro, only got around to it recently, we can call on the sounds, smells and tastes of our most formative and transformative foods to walk back into our own narrative histories. And on Poetry Editor Laura Shovan’s suggestion, each piece in this series features one or more recipes so that you can cook yourself through an experience. If you have a transformative experience with food, leave a comment and I’ll be in touch.

And now that I’ve laid the table, Ilse Munro:

My mother and me, drinking champagne at her 90th birthday party in Ellicott City, MD (Photo: David Cash)

My Latvian mother and Latvian me at her 90th birthday party in Ellicott City, MD (Photo: David Cash)

Right before my mother turned 90, she confessed that she had actually wanted to name me “Nora.” After the protagonist of Henrick Ibsen’s A Doll’s Housearguably the most influential feminist character in literature. Only, what with World War II and all, she failed to tell my father, who filled out the registry form. This went a long way toward explaining why I never learned to cook at my mother’s knee. Or her mother’s, for that matter. Born in the seventh decade of the 19th century, Oma became a successful businesswoman after her first husband was killed by a Russian firing squad. But this did not mean that they did not transmit their love of Latvian food to me. Or their strong opinions on how to present it.

So for my mother’s 90th birthday bash, I decided it was high time to go whole hog. I invited the entire neighborhood over to my house on the appropriate Thursday. Along with champagne, I served finger food and raspberries-and-cream chocolate cake, none of my own making. Then I had another bunch over for Sunday brunch, where I served Latvian dishes that I had never in my life made. I started preparations after midnight to keep it a surprise, but nothing could ever get past that woman. I was simmering pork for an aspic and watching dough rise for klinģeris, the traditional birthday “cake,” when she appeared. Her eyes, dimmed by two decades of macular degeneration, conspired to keep my secret.

Whazzat? Whazzat?” she asked, standing on the stairs in her nightgown.

“Nothing, Mom,” I said. “Go back to sleep.”

When she woke in the morning, I knew that the hours of nocturnal labor were well worth my while. Because of beginner’s luck and because, unbeknown to me, I was running out of time to show how much she meant to me, everything was perfect. I had even remembered her and Oma’s mantra: presentation is everything. The scalloped Bundt cake pan that I had pressed into service gave the turned-out aspic the required elegance, and the carved carrots and other garnishes that I had added to the bottom gave it a whimsical wreath. The butter for the bread had taken the shape of sea shells. And the radishes atop the salad had been formed into florets. Oma had taught me that anything worth doing was worth doing well. The better-late-than-never thing was what I learned entirely on my own that day.

Latvian Birthday Brunch Menu

  • Galerts (Pork Aspic)
  • Gurķu un Redīssu Salats (Cucumber and Radish Salad)
  • Kliņģeris (Sweet Saffron Bread)

Source: A Taste of Latvia by Siri Lise Doub

Galerts (Pork Aspic)

  • 2 fresh pork hocks
  • 1/2 pound lean pork, either shoulder or tenderloin
  • 1 carrot, cut into small pieces
  • 1 onion, cut into small pieces
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 3 peppercorns
  • 1/2 cup chopped tomato
  • 1 or 2 tablespoons unflavored gelatin
  • 2 egg whites
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • garnish items such as hard-boiled egg sections and carrot slices shaped as flowers
  1. Bring pork hocks and meat to a boil in plenty of water. Boil for about 20 minutes.
  2. Add carrot, onion, bay leaf, peppercorns and chopped tomato. Simmer about two hours or until meat is tender.
  3. Remove from heat. Remove pork from broth and set it aside.
    Strain the broth with a sieve. Bring the strained broth to a boil again. Turn heat to low and let simmer.
  4. Mix gelatin and water according to package instructions. Add to broth.
  5. Beat egg whites. Add to broth. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Arrange the parsley and other garnish items artistically in the bottom of an aspic mold. A Bundt cake pan is a good substitute. Individual molds or pans can also be used.
  7. Chop the meat and add it to the mold or pan. Cover the meat with broth.
  8. Refrigerate 24 hours.
  9. Place a serving platter over the top of the pan or mold and turn the mold or pan over unto the platter. Remove the mold or pan and decorate the dish.
  10. Slice and serve with vinegar–I used balsamic vinegar, but white vinegar in more traditional–or horseradish sauce and crusty bread slathered with unsalted butter.

Gurķu un Redīssu Salats (Cucumber and Radish Salad)

  • 1 cup sliced, scored cucumbers
  • 1 cup sliced radishes
  • 1/4 cup chopped dill
  • 1/4 white onion, finely sliced
  • 2-4 tablespoons sour cream
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl and chill for 20 minutes.
  2. Garnish with dill sprigs and radish florets.

Kliņģeris (Sweet Saffron Bread)

  • Very warm milk (120-130 degrees F) or 1/4 cup warm water and 2 cups warm cream
  • 1 teaspoon saffron
  • 5 1/4 cups wheat flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 ounce packages dry yeast
  • 14 tablespoons (1 3/4 stick) butter
  • egg yolks
  • 1 cup sugar
  • vanilla
  • cardamom
  • dried lemon or orange peel
  • ginger
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins
  • tablespoons cinnamon
  • tablespoons candied peel
  • sliced almonds
  • confectioners’ sugar
  1. Mix warm milk, saffron, wheat flour and salt. In a separate bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water by letting it stand for 5 minutes. Add yeast to flour. Knead dough well. Cover with a damp, clean dish towel and set aside in a warm, draft-free place (about 80 degrees F) to rise for 1 to 2 hours. (If the room is cold, place pan of covered dough on rack over a large pan of steaming water.)
  2. Mix butter, 2 of the egg yolks, sugar, vanilla, cardamom, dried lemon peel and ginger to taste. Beat until foamy. Add to dough. Knead.
  3. Mix raisins, cinnamon and candied peel. Knead into dough. Add flour, if necessary. Set aside to rise again for 45 minutes.
  4. Roll out dough to about a 1/2 inch thickness. Roll into a long sausage. Twist into a pretzel shape or figure 8 and place on a baking sheet. Let rise again for 20 minutes. Brush with 1 beaten egg yolk. Sprinkle with almond slices.
  5. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Bake for 30-40 minutes. Before serving, sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar.

Download Ilse’s Latvian Birthday Brunch Menu.

Ilse Munro was born in Latvia and came to the United States as a war refugee. She was a NASA and Defense Department consultant, the online editor at Little Patuxent Review and now serves as the fiction editor at BrickHouse Books. Her short fiction, collected in Cold and Hungry and Far From Home, appears in TriQuarterly, Atticus Review and Wake and made her a finalist in the Glimmer Train Family Matters Contest and the Short Story Award for New Writers. Her novel, Anna Noon, is in the works. She lives in a historic millworker’s house in Maryland. For more, see http://ilsemunro.com.

Ilse and her aspic were immortalized in 2013 by Clarinda Harriss, who gave both walk-on roles in her short story “The Vinegar Drinker,” which was included in her collection The White Rail. For more on Ilse’s enduring relationship with food, see “From Playing with Food to Playing with Words,” one of the posts on DISPLACED PERSON, her site.

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What You Eat: My Mint Chip Cake

In preparation of our Food issue (submissions open until November 1, after which they’ll simmer ’til winter), I’ve asked members of the LPR community to share stories of what they eat. Food occupies such a central place in our lives, that we can’t help but grow with it. Whether we were unpacking our first heavy box of pots and pans or, as in the case of this entry from Meg Eden, stepping simultaneously forward into adulthood and back into childhood, we can call on the sounds, smells, and tastes of our most formative and transformative foods to walk back into our own narrative histories. And on Laura’s suggestion, each piece in this series will feature a recipe, so you can cook yourself through an experience yourself. If you have a transformative experience with food, leave a comment and I’ll be in touch.

And now that I’ve laid the table, Meg Eden:

Meg Eden

Meg Eden

I don’t remember the first time I had my aunt’s mint chip cake. I never thought about the fact it was green, or how it was something we only ate at Thanksgiving. I took eating it for granted—I took for granted that everyone in my family could cook, that we all lived within the same mile. I took lots of things for granted, the way kids do.

Every Thanksgiving – after my uncle read Abraham Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation, we would eat brunch and my aunt would bring out the cake. But my cousin and I couldn’t wait that long. Instead, we’d run upstairs and play N64 games until my parents said it was time to go.

During that time, my aunt and uncle’s house was like my house. They lived on the same street as us. My cousin was less than two days older than me. Every Saturday I’d come over and he and I would play video games, trade Pokémon cards, create a new civilization in the middle of the woods, or develop a new company idea and strategize what we’d do once we got millions of dollars. Other people made food for us and we ate it. Thinking too much about it would slow us down from taking over the world or becoming heroes.

Gradually and without explanation there were no Saturdays anymore. Once we were in high school and my cousin got his first car, he drove me around the cul de sac to show me its leather seats, smooth turns, and his stick-shift abilities. Sometimes he’d skateboard over and we’d complain about our teachers or talk about what we wanted to do with our lives. He’d tell me, “You have weird friends, Meg.” But my friends were just normal nerds who sat around and played the video games my cousin and I used to. It was his friends that I worried about. But when I began dating my first boyfriend, those visits ended.

I still came over to the house though. I came over like it was my own house. Now that I had no reason to be there, it became a sacred place. I would go to swim in the pool alone when no one was home. It was there that I recuperated from my weeks which were becoming more stressful, more adult-like.

And my aunt must have understood this change, because it was then that she began making mint chip cakes for me. She made them for my birthday, when I was sick, when I came over and vented frustrations. Every day became Thanksgiving, as Thanksgiving itself began to disappear.

When my aunt was too sick to host Thanksgiving, she prepared a mint chip cake for me and left it in my mailbox. I tried to make it last longer, cutting it into smaller and smaller pieces, but eventually it would all be gone. Was that what it meant, to get older? It was then that the mint chip cake became something large and extravagant to me—something that I was afraid of losing, despite how much I might grab for it. What was it that I was nostalgic for—my relationship with my cousin? My family? Being a girl?

My aunt became more and more sick, and eventually the Thanksgiving brunches disappeared. My mother told me I shouldn’t go over there and bother her, that she needed rest. But I would still go over without her knowing, swimming in the pool, hoping that someone might come outside.

It was when I was graduating college that I wanted to start making my own mint chip cakes. I asked my aunt for the recipe, and she said she’d send it to me, but for several months I didn’t get it. I waited, afraid that she had forgotten, but that Christmas, a large box arrived at my door. Inside there was a bunt cake mold, a cake display, several ingredients, and the recipe:

Mint Chip Cake

Prep Time: 10 | Cook Time: 50 | Makes: 14 | Difficulty: Easy


  • 1 package yellow cake mix
  • 4oz package of pistachio pudding
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/3 cup oil
  • 8oz sour cream
  • 1/3 cup creme de menthe
  • 8oz chocolate chips
  • 8oz creme de menthe chips or crushed up Andes mints
  • Powdered sugar


  1. Mix together cake mix, pistachio pudding mix, eggs, oil, sour cream, and creme de menthe. Stir for 2-3 minutes.
  1. Add chocolate chips and mint chips, mix together.
  1. Pour everything into a greased bundt pan. Bake at 350°F for 45-55 minutes.
  1. Optionally, sift powdered sugar on the top of the cake after removing from the oven.

My boyfriend came over, and we baked the cake. It was full, and briefly tasted like being a girl again.

Meg Eden’s work has been published in various magazines, including B O D Y, Drunken Boat, Mudfish, and Rock & Sling. Her work received second place in the 2014 Ian MacMillan Fiction contest. Her collections include  “Your Son” (The Florence Kahn Memorial Award), “Rotary Phones and Facebook” (Dancing Girl Press) and “The Girl Who Came Back” (Red Bird Chapbooks). She teaches at the University of Maryland. Check out her work at: https://www.facebook.com/megedenwritespoems

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What You Eat: Senses Lost and Found

In preparation of our Food issue (submissions open until November 1, after which they’ll simmer ’til winter), I’ve asked members of the LPR community to share stories of what they eat. Food occupies such a central place in our lives, that we can’t help but grow with it. Whether we were getting lost in the smell of summer strawberries or, as in the case of this entry from Lorraine Whittlesey, watching our enjoyment of food slowly slip away, we can call on the sounds, smells, and tastes of our most formative and transformative foods to walk back into our own narrative histories. And on Laura’s suggestion, each piece in this series will feature a recipe, so you can cook yourself through an experience yourself. If you have a transformative experience with food, leave a comment and I’ll be in touch.

And now that I’ve laid the table, Lorraine Whittlesey:

Lorraine Whittlesey

Lorraine Whittlesey

If you had to make a choice, which one of your senses could you live without?

As a professional musician I always felt that a hearing loss would be tragic; not because I couldn’t continue composing (I can hear music in my head and most of my compositions are already completed before they hit the staff) but because I wouldn’t be able to hear music via a live or recorded performance.

I’m also a synesthete who experiences crossovers for some of my senses; when I hear music I experience textures and shapes, and when I smell and taste certain foods I can often ‘see’ their colors.

It never occured to me that I would, one day, suffer from ‘anosmia': the loss of the sense of smell. As most people know, when one loses their sense of smell, the taste buds are also compromised. The ability to taste is referred to as gustatory perception.

This loss didn’t happen overnight but over a period of a few months due to some serious medical conditions that affected my respiratory system.

Those close to me know I’m a consumer of fine food whether as a customer in restaurants or as a cook. I’m also lucky enough to have several friends who are quite skilled in the culinary arts. Most cooks will tell you that when you use the best ingredients available it’s difficult to go wrong. I’ve maintained (peripatetically) a blog titled You and the Food and the Music and often post about my recipes and restaurant experiences via social media. Some of my favorite reading materials are cookbooks. One could safely say that all things, culinary, have maintained a place of importance on my list of priorities.

As a consequence of not being able to smell the good things, I experienced a greatly reduced desire for food and became mildly depressed. For weeks my culinary range of interest was reduced to sipping on chicken broth or tea. There were a great many inconveniences associated with my condition but my keenest sorrow through this medical morass was my inability to smell, therefore, to taste anything.

After certain medical procedures were successfully completed my taste buds gradually improved and I began to taste the primary properties of salt and sweetness in a more intense way. Then came the other taste experiences of sour, bitter and savory (also called umami).

When my senses were basically restored and I felt as if I could appreciate my favorite dishes I decided my first effort would be a perennial favorite, eggplant parmesan. I planned a special evening with some of my closest friends who would appreciate this repast and share the joy I experienced as I tasted the results of my first serious cooking efforts after several months of simply eating to stay alive.

This is the recipe for the first entree I prepared.

Eggplant Parmesan

  • 2–3 thin eggplants (if too wide the many seeds can make the eggplant taste bitter)
  • 2 1/2 cups good quality tomato sauce, homemade or store bought (I prefer Marinara)
  • 8–10 oz mozzerella, shredded
  • 3/4 cup grated parmesan
  • 4 eggs
  • Bread crumbs
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Preheat oven to 325 F.
  2. Remove the skin and slice eggplants no thicker than 1/4”.
  3. After slicing the eggplant, alternately layer pieces on paper towels and sprinkle each layer lightly with salt. Let sit for about 1/2 hour till some of the moisture has been absorbed.
  4. Place bread crumbs in a deep plate and whisked eggs in another (I incorporate a few splashes of water with the eggs).
  5. In a large cast iron or other skillet (at least 2″ in depth) heat olive oil. Don’t bother with extra virgin olive oil since that’s best used for dressings.
  6. The secret to this particular version of eggplant parmesan is to first dip each eggplant slice into the breadcrumbs, shake off excess crumbs, then dip into the egg mixture before frying. It gives the eggplant a unique texture and sublety different flavor.
  7. Make certain oil is heated to a medium temperature then add 3 or 4 slices of eggplant at a time, turning once when the first side is lightly browned (about 2 1/2-3 minutes). Place slices on a flat plate covered with paper towels to absorb extra oil. Repeat the process until all sliced are browned.
  8. In large baking dish (9×12″) add a few tablespoons of sauce to the bottom and distribute evenly. Add slices of eggplant across the dish then distribute half the mozzerella across the eggplant. Sprinkle a few tablespoons of grated parm across the top. Begin the process again staring with the sauce. Sauce should just lightly cover the eggplant. After the top layer of eggplant has been added, put some more sauce over the top and sprinkle the remaining parmesan cheese on top.
  9. Bake for 40 minutes or until the top layer is slightly browned.
  10. Turn off heat and leave in oven for an additional 30 minutes or so.
  11. Serve with a green salad and sliced Italian bread. A wine of your choice is highly recommended. My preference is a medium bodied Chianti.

Since re-gaining the desire to give my time and attention to serious cooking (about a year ago) my sensitivity to smell has occasionally fluctuated but without too much variation. Certain medications can interfere with some sensations, but for the most part it has been as close to what I’ve ever experienced my adult life. I continue to experiment with new recipes, watch certain cooking shows (I could watch Julia Child re-runs ad infinitum and love Extra Virgin), re-visit my favorite dining establishments, and support newly discovered places. Many of my friends are either restauranteurs, good cooks, food and/or restaurant reviewers or others who are, one way or another, “in the business.”

To my dear family and friends, I intend to resume preparing and serving the traditional holiday dinners. I’ve certainly missed the cameraderie and joy that come with the gathering of the clan. I’m most grateful for the science that identified the source of the problems and was also able to address and remedy the situation.

For a list of my favorite local restaurants please contact me at privatesector(at)verizon.net

Lorraine Whittlesey, a former member of the Peanut Gallery for NBC TV’s Howdy Doody show, is a classically trained pianist and studied T.V. and Film Scoring @ UCLA. Her commissioned works have been performed by the Baltimore Symphony and Concert Artists of Baltimore and have been premiered at Carnegie Hall. She scored and performed the original music for the Baltimore documentary “We Are Arabbers” which was filmed by Joy Lusco Kecken. Arista Hip Hop Artists “Naughty By Nature” used her music on their Album “19 Naughty 9.” Her collaborators include Michael Salcman, Clarinda Harriss, and Joyce J. Scott. She wrote “Zippy the Pinhead: the Musical,” based on Bill Griffith’s syndicated comic strip and is in the process of adding two more acts.

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