Sunday, November 15, 2009

Poetry Train: Homecooked Poems

A couple weeks ago, ReadWritePoem challenged us to write 5 poems about one subject so I remembered back to when I was a kid and the comforting foods my mom would make so I wrote five poems about memories of eating those foods.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

1) Chinese Pie

We grew up eating this about once a month but, when my son was going to school in Florida, a friend of his had never heard of it so it might not be as well known as I thought.

1. Peel, dice, and cook about 5 potatoes. When they are soft, mash them with butter and milk.
2. Saute about a quarter cup of onions in olive oil then add a pound of hamburg and saute them together.
3. Open a can of creamed corn.
4. In a casserole dish, layer the meat/onion mixture, the creamed corn, and top with the mashed potatoes.
5. Bake for a half hour or so or until bubbly.

Chinese Pie

My mother is mashed potatoes,
the cotton batting
of our family,
covering us
like a blanket.

So, on this night
when Nancy
starts laughing
when my brother
is getting hell

our father sends
her outdoors
until she can
control herself.

I face the window
and can see Nancy’s
face as she looks
in at us. She opens
her mouth
filled with corn
and hamburg

and lets it overflow
out onto her chin.
I try to ignore her
but can feel
myself beginning
to laugh. I pick
up my milk

and clamp my mouth
on the rim
but there is Nancy
making faces
in the window. I
guffaw and milk
splatters everywhere.

My dad throws down
his napkin
and retreats
to the living room
and the news.

My mom opens the door
for Nancy. We clean
up the mess. My mom
gives each of us
a hug.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

2) Graham Cracker Cake

1. Whip a pint of whipping cream until it starts getting thick.
2. Add about a ½ cup of sugar and keep whipping
3. Add about 2 tablespoons of powdered chocolate and keep whipping.
4. Then put a graham cracker on a dish and spread some of the whipped cream on it.
5. Continue layering the crackers with the cream until it’s about 3 inches high.
6. Use the rest of the whipped cream to frost the sides and pile it on top.

Graham Cracker Cake

The building
of children
is like erecting
a Graham Cracker cake
one careful layer
at a time.

Our kitchen table
was round
and I sat
next to my dad
the perfect place
for the first born
the one with his blue
eyes and curls.

Conversation twisted
in and around
like the scents
of the food
we were rapidly

As a fifth-grader
I was the expert
on all things
and if I didn’t know
the answer,
my dad did.

Then Timmy asked
a question
and I opened my mouth
to show off
that I knew
the simple

but my dad
answered first
and he was wrong.
I closed my mouth
and sat quietly
my heart
a crippled bird.

My mom brought
the dessert
to the table
and I noticed
that it was lopsided
and crooked.

I ate my piece
and wondered why
the whipped cream
tasted a bit sour.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

3) Whoopie Pies


1 cup milk
5 tbls. flour
1 cup sugar
1 tbls. vanilla
1 cup shortening

1. Cook milk and flour over medium heat until it forms a ball and then cool.
2. In a bowl put sugar, vanilla, and shortening. Mix
3. Add to cooked mixture. Cool.


½ cup cocoa
½ cup hot water
½ cup sour milk
2 eggs
1 ½ cups sugar
½ cup shortening
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
2 ¾ cups flour
¼ tsp. salt

1. Mix cocoa and hot water together.
2. Add the rest of the ingredients, mixing well.
3. Spoon onto a greased baking sheet in desired size.
4. Cook for 12 minutes at 350˚.
5. Cool before filling

Whoopie Pies

Nancy was our middle child
always second best,
bursting at the seams and wild.

Late for supper, full of guile,
feeling like a guest
even though she was our middle child.

My father’d sit at the table, riled,
“Do you have to be such a pest?
Why are you so wild?”

Nancy just sat there and smiled.
“Why can’t you be like the rest?”
She replied, “Because I’m the middle child.”

And there sat the whoopie pies piled
on a plate with the filling pressed
between the layers, bursting and wild.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

4) Sauce

Growing up in a Catholic family meant no meat on Fridays. It seems that about eighty percent of our meals on that night consisted of a sauce my mom would make with some kind of fish. It was sort of like Tuna Wiggle but my mom didn't put peas in and she used a variety of canned seafood. It was pretty simple and we just called it Sauce.

2 cups milk
1 tblsp. butter
salt and pepper
2 tblsp. corn starch
2 cans of tuna, and/or shrimp, and/or crabmeat, and/or salmon

1. Pour milk into a sauce pan.
2. Add the butter and salt and pepper
3. Bring to almost a boil.
4. In the mean time, mix the corn starch with ¼ cup of water
5. When the milk is almost boiling, stir in the corn starch mixture
6. Cook and stir until thick and bubbly
7. Add seafood


Family love
pours over us
filling in
our nooks
and crannies

sometimes whether
we want it to or not.
Our only telephone
perched on the wall
barely two feet
from my dad’s
place at the table.

When it rang
that Friday night
during supper,
I jumped up to answer.
“Hey, listen” said
my date for that night.
“I’m up at Flint’s
blowing my mind.
You want to meet
me at the dance?”

“If I’m there, I’m there.
If I’m not, I’m not.”
I responded and hung up.

All eyes stared,
all ears perked up.
I hadn’t even been out
with this guy, yet,
and, already, I’d have
to lie to my parents?

They sat there
expecting an explanation.
The phone rang again,
a slight reprieve.
“Hey, listen, you
want to go to the movies
instead? I’ll pick
you up.”

I relayed that
and heads nodded,
eating resumed,
normal banter
flew back and forth

He met my parents
as they were on their way
out to go bowling,
played a game of cribbage
with my brother,
then we walked
to the theater,
watched The Taming
of the Shrew,
then returned home
to have hot
chocolate with my folks
and sister.

Conversation and smiles
drifted around
like the steam
wisping from our cups.

It was just another
Friday night,
another connection
of family,
another meal
of sauce
spreading it’s comfort.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

5) Soup

1 chicken, turkey, or partridge carcass
spaghetti broken into thirds
1 can of stewed tomatoes

1. Throw a leftover chicken, turkey, or partridge (my father and brother were avid hunters) in a large pot.
2. Cover with water.
3. Dice the veggies and throw them in, too.
4. Bring to a boil and let simmer an hour or so until everything is tender.
5. Remove the carcass taking care to leave the veggies in the pot.
6. Take all the meat off and throw the rest away.
7. Return the meat to the water.
8. Bring back to a boil
9. Add dried basil, salt, and pepper to taste.
10. Add the spaghetti and boil until soft
11. Add the tomatoes.


On Sundays
we’d have our big
meal at noon
so supper
was a light affair.

On this Sunday
after Thanksgiving
we are having
my mom’s soup
and leftover rolls.

It’s a delicious soup
with onions,

(Hey Saltines,
do you wear a bra yet?”
Timmy asks Sally,
the youngest
and most sensitive.
A tear plops
into her soup.)

and sweet carrots

(“It’s okay, Sal.”
My mom puts
her arm around her.)

and meat

(My father bangs
the end of his fork
on the table,
fist around it.
“Why do you have
to make her cry
all the time?”
he says to Tim.)

and stewed tomatoes
to add a little color

(“Dad, can I use
the car to go to CCD?”
Little does he know
I’m really going
to pick up my boyfriend
for an hour of parking.
“Sure,” he says.
I smile,
that little bit of wild
red showing in my

and salt and pepper and basil
for spiciness

(Nancy pipes up.
“I’ve kissed eight
different boys.”
My father shakes
his head.
Tim high-fives her.
My mom scowls.)

and strings of spaghetti
twirling around,

(“Whose turn
is it to wash
this week?”
“Pass the butter,
“Mom, can I go
to Rosie’s after school
“Hockey practice
starts this week
so I’ll be late.”
“Can you get
some more milk out?”
"Tim, Wanna
“I’ll clean up, now,
but dry the dishes
when I get back, okay?”)

and around
in the flavorful,


Giggles said...

Albeit long this post had me enthralled, taking me back in time! Each poem I could envision in it's own merit. Spectacular!! As always wonderfully inspiring! Thanks for sharing this part of your life!

Hugs Giggles

Ana said...

I like how you approached this: you paint memories of your childhood and family as part of family dinner events. For I do often remember my childhood years through the home cook meals my family used to make …

Gel said...

Wow- I think this is my favorite post of yours. Richly brewed words lovingly cooked with cherished memories. Creative and nostalgic. This tosses me back in time. A treasure!

Julia Smith said...

Graham Cracker Cake is my favorite - such a perfect capture of the shock of realizing sometimes a parent doesn't actually know.

The whole collection is marvellous!

b said...

This is just delightful. Thank you.


Richard Wells said...

I like the tension is the first three. But, I wonder, was the cream really sour in your mouth?

Anonymous said...


Sepiru Chris said...

Hi Linda,

Doing a tour of the P train (never made it to the A train, somehow).

I like these. I especially like the poignancy of the sour cream referenced by Richard, and the nostalgic tone and embedded memories of both Sauce and Soup.

But, and here's the rub. What I couldn't get out of my head, and kept coming back to, was something only tangentially related to your poems, albeit the title of your first poem.

Chinese Pie?

I have never heard of such a thing, although I am a northern cousin from the other side of the border.

But that is new.

But, and this is where I query, what is its origin.

I live in Hong Kong now. I have spent years living in China and Taiwan and travelling extensively throughout China.

And I, when not lawyering, am a chef who takes his food seriously. Nothing against these home-cooked meals, and memories of family, but that recipe has nothing to do with anything Chinese. There is nothing, and I can say this with an encyclopedic knowledge of Chinese cuisine, nothing related to any northern or southern Chinese cuisines, here. Or any ethnic minority cuisines from inside China, for that matter.

Which leaves one to ponder other origins.

And the only one that I can postulate that bears any modicum of reasonableness is that this pie, a normal Shepherd's pie variant from England or Scotland or Wales, has been given a misnomer in America because it has nothing to do with the sweet dessert pies of the USA.

...And only a silly Chinese would call this savoury dish a pie... you see where I am going? And that frankly disturbs me.

I would love if you could show me that I am completely wrong, because nothing would make me happier.

Because this query "Why is it called Chinese pie?" kept interrupting my thoughts as I tried to enjoy your other, very enjoyable poems.

I am neither defending any group or people, nor accusing you of anything. I am sure that this is a regional dish for a recipe from youth and memory, but I fear that its name has stronger meanings.

And not just seeing as how I suffer racism as a white guy all the time in Asia, although less so in certain countries, (but no homogenous country is devoid or racism against the others, the outsiders) I always try to speak up when I am worried that I see it. Even, or perhaps especially, when it is not intended at all.

I am just querying, though.

And I would love to be told a different etymology of this culinary dish.


gautami tripathy said...

This takes me back on time..the love, the sharing, fighting with siblings...


Amanda said...

I love the childhood in your poem! And I loved the metaphor of mashed potatoes and mom! Beautiful!

Linda's Poems