I learned from watching my mother and father in the kitchen, both good cooks, from cooking classes in Calico Lassies, my 4-H club, from relatives, from friends, and from years of cooking with my husband Jim, an amazing cook, particularly well-known at SMSU and throughout Marshall for his Famous Zarzana's Spaghetti Sauce (sorry, the recipe is not available). Jim learned how to make this delicious sauce from his mother and his Sicilian grandmother right in their kitchens, not via Skype or webcam as in the poem below.
Prompt of the Week: What's your favorite dish or dessert to make? How did you learn to make it? Write a poem, story or non-fiction piece using your cooking experiences as a catalyst. Use vivid images and concrete details, put us in the scene so we can see, taste, touch, smell and feel that we're there. Have fun playing with this prompt!
American Life in Poetry: Column 339
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE
People have been learning to cook since our ancient ancestors discovered fire, and most of us learn from somebody who knows how. I love this little poem by Daniel Nyikos of Utah, for its contemporary take on accepting directions from an elder, from two elders in this instance.
I set up my computer and webcam in the kitchen
so I can ask my mother’s and aunt’s advice
as I cook soup for the first time alone.
My mother is in Utah. My aunt is in Hungary.
I show the onions to my mother with the webcam.
“Cut them smaller,” she advises.
“You only need a taste.”
I chop potatoes as the onions fry in my pan.
When I say I have no paprika to add to the broth,
they argue whether it can be called potato soup.
My mother says it will be white potato soup,
my aunt says potato soup must be red.
When I add sliced peppers, I ask many times
if I should put the water in now,
but they both say to wait until I add the potatoes.
I add Polish sausage because I can’t find Hungarian,
and I cook it so long the potatoes fall apart.
“You’ve made stew,” my mother says
when I hold up the whole pot to the camera.
They laugh and say I must get married soon.
I turn off the computer and eat alone.
American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2010 by Daniel Nyikos. Reprinted by permission of Daniel Nyikos. Introduction copyright © 2009 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.