Monday, August 15, 2011

Writing and Poetry and Food – Perfect Together
What’s cooking? Butter-Baked Rice

Kitchen Goddess note: Poetry has all the antioxidants your soul could need. If you really hate all things poetic, you can skip right to the great rice recipe at the end of this post. There’s just a taste of poetry here, but who knows, you may be inspired to try more.

Writers toss and turn and groan and grind and pace the floor and periodically feel like sticking needles in their eyes just to end the pain of trying to express themselves, and for the most part, it’s a ridiculous, frustrating process, with more dead ends than Lindsey Lohan. But when it works – ah, when the zone opens up and lets you in, it’s pure magic.

The zone has clearly opened up frequently for Philip Levine, who this week was named the next Poet Laureate for the U.S. In the years when my writing group were all NJ residents, we were regular attendees at the Dodge Poetry Festival, and I remember hearing Levine in person more than once. Like Billy Collins, who held the laureate post from 2001 to 2003, Levine is a funny man to listen to, self-effacing and slyly ironic – no chest-beating or railing loud against the fates.

Although he’s best known for his stunning ability to capture both the camaraderie and the pathos of the daily grind in factory life, he manages to work in an homage to food in these lines from the title poem in his 1996 book, The Simple Truth:

“I bought a dollar and a half’s worth of small red potatoes,
took them home, boiled them in their jackets
and ate them for dinner with a little butter and salt....

...Can you taste
what I’m saying? It is onions or potatoes, a pinch
of simple salt, the wealth of melting butter, it is obvious,
it stays in the back of your throat like a truth
you never uttered because the time was always wrong,
it stays there for the rest of your life, unspoken,
made of that dirt we call earth, the metal we call salt,
in a form we have no words for, and you live on it.”

Oh, yes, Mr. Levine, I can taste “the wealth of melting butter.” An image straight from the zone that speaks simply and clearly about a single food. It reminds me of the perfectly satisfying rice dish my friend Claudia made at last week’s pot luck supper. I like it especially because the last stage of cooking it takes place in the oven, so it’s a great dish when you’re entertaining.

And now you must excuse me while I go off to stick needles in my eyes.

Claudia’s Butter-Baked Rice

1 cup long-grain rice
2 cups water
2 teaspoons salt
¼-⅓ cup butter
garlic salt to taste
14-ounce can chicken broth (or 2 chicken bouillon cubes dissolved in 1¾ cups hot water)
chopped parsley for garnish

Bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Add 2 teaspoons salt and pour over 1 cup long grain rice. Let stand 30 minutes. Drain and rinse well with cold water. Drain well.

Melt the butter in a skillet. Add rice and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until butter is almost absorbed – about 5 minutes. Turn into a 1-qt. casserole. Sprinkle with a dash of garlic salt.  Add the can of chicken broth (or 2 chicken bouillon cubes dissolved in 1¾ cups of hot water. Bake covered at 325° for 45 minutes. Top with snipped parsley and fluff with a fork.

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