Poems for Dinner

How calmly,

as though it were an ordinary thing,

we eat the blessed earth. 

Mary Oliver

“Beans Green and Yellow”

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We eat poems for dinner.

Before eating, instead of beginning with a benediction, my father read us poetry.  Sometimes, it was Wendell Berry, sometimes it was Rumi, but most often, it was Mary Oliver, our unofficial, always welcome dinner guest.  It would be a poem he thought fitting for the day, something he had read earlier, or sometimes, just one he flipped to.   We sat as children, and then as adults, with our heads inclined toward his voice, words mingling with the steam of hot meals and the aroma of good red wine.

We’ve always been good at eating dinner together.  My family and I are blessed with the reality that we really, really, really like each other.  We go out of our way to see each other, though we are spread across three (soon to be four) states.  When I visit home, I have a hard time leaving the house, for fear I’ll miss something, and when I leave for wherever I live, I feel like a partial person.  Like a fifth of a whole.  For a long time afterwards.  One time, they all got together and called me to tell me that they were all going to a play together and I actually cried.  How lucky am I?   We’re good at eating dinner too.  And we’re good a reading poetry.  And, in my mind, warped by the most wonderful parents and siblings, food and words are linked in ways that inform my every day.  I sort of think that vegetables and poems are the really same thing.  That words are like seeds.  That food and poetry are grown in the same ways, just with different tools.  And then that they are consumed in the same way, sometimes voraciously, sometimes delicately.

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Now that River City Farm is in the actual business of dirt-to-plate-to-mouth food production, that lovely dialogue between words and food comes to mind more than ever.  The collision of family, food and words is growing ever more dynamic as I apply for a master’s program in publishing, as Keegan builds a farm from scratch and as our family must find new and more creative ways to find each other for the few times a year we can eat a meal together.  I find myself thinking often that things taste better when we are reminded to enjoy them, whether by the poetry we read beforehand or by the joy of eating with people we love.

Keegan offered this month’s blog post to me and suggested I write something about eating vegetables in the winter.  So, some weeks ago, with a few loved ones in Missoula, I made dinner with  acorn squash from a friend’s farm (Sophie’s Organic Farm and Orchard in Arlee, Montana, owned by the illustrious Kathee Dunham).  It’s hard to be creative over and over again with vegetables in the winter and I’m tired of the autumnal flavors of sweetened, nutmeg-y squash dishes.  I like my squash salted and spicy.  Flavors like chipotle and cumin let the natural sweetness of the squash come through, rather than muffling it like sweet spices seem to.

So, in the spirit of eating squash creatively, we roasted the squash with butter and salt and pepper, mashed it and mixed in a can of ranchero sauce and some cumin.

The result?  The perfect base for a squash tostada.

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Fry or roast some other vegetables, whatever is at the store in midwinter – crimini mushrooms, potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, yams – and toss them with dried parsley, cumin, salt and pepper.  Make black beans and Mexican rice (we’ve been adding the juice from canned jalapeños to cooking rice – perfectly spicy).   Pile everything on a tortilla spread with the squash ranchero mixture and top with cheese.  Toss the tostadas in the oven for three minutes or so.  Serve immediately with a poem.

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We ate them with sour cream, homemade salsa and a Mary Oliver poem, “Beans Green and Yellow.”

— Dory

P.S.  Some more of my favorite pre-dinner poems:

“The Hudsonian Curlew” by Gary Snyder

“A Standing Ground” and “Fall” by Wendell Berry

“Sometimes” by Mary Oliver

(Thanks to Meghan Nolt for three of these four photos)

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