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Key West Literary Seminar: The Hungry Muse

January 17, 2011

The first thing I cooked for myself was rice fried in soy sauce

with fried egg and bean sprouts

While skipping school and drinking my parent’s Drambuie

The theme of the 2011 Key West Literary Seminar was food.

Food makes great literature because it is universal yet deeply personal and tied to so many associations, emotions and memories. The food choices we make say a great deal about our cultural identity, social class (real or aspired) and personality.

Frequently, my own thoughts on food are fraught with moral anxiety.  I try to make choices that are good for animals and the environment, but sometimes I fail and order the veggie benedict made with factory-farmed eggs or that fish that may have been caught by longlining.  For me,  this Literary Seminar let me just relax and think about food as a way to explore a character’s identity without judgment.

In honor of The Hungry Muse, I made a list poem based on the question “What would you eat if you knew it was your last meal?”  Most of it turned out to be seafood, cheese and sweets, which is funny (or sad) because those things truly do not make up the bulk of my diet, which is more grain-and-vegetable-based (I gave up meat and poultry when I was a teenager.)

The poem, titled “My Last Meal,” is like my own personal food porn.  What I found interesting is that none of the dishes mentioned were ordered in 4-star restaurants. No matter how delicious their food might have been, those meals just did not resonate. So, what are the foods that most resonate with you, and why?

My Last Meal

Lobster and clams in drawn butter during

childhood summer in Maine

tender white perch pulled from Lake Damariscotta

When I was older, salmon roe wrapped in nori under a raw quail egg

a hundred bubbles bursting in my mouth spurting rich oil

I was all desire then

Peanut butter pie and warm chocolate chip cookies

Ah! the fried noodle, peanut and butterscotch clusters

my aunt made each Christmas

Soy burger on brown rice in carrot tahini

upon which I survived lean first years in Manhattan

Every omelet I ever ate those summers in Paris

aromatically herbed with a core of gruyere

served with crispy pomme frites and vin rouge, un verre

Dinner with my Vietnamese in-laws

thick-sauced catfish in clay pots

and peppered butterfish fried whole

Food from where I’ve lived,

Raw oysters on the wharfs of Key West

dashed in hotsauce and horseradish on a saltine

with a stiff vodka-cranberry

The sweetest bananas and mangoes of Maui, sweeter than

candy. For breakfast, macadamia nut

pancakes in coconut sauce

Nothing that came from a a very fancy restaurant

(though I’ve eaten in plenty of those)

But remember the bottle of dolcetto from that bistro

in that trailer that perfect night in Williamsburg?

For once I felt loved by the universe

My husband makes this meatless carbonara with

blue cheese and a raw egg

but I fell in love with him for his penne a la vodka

The first thing I cooked for myself was rice fried in soy sauce

with fried egg and bean sprouts

While skipping school and drinking my parent’s Drambuie

Tofu in green curry

on a floating Thai restaurant

on a sunny day watching seacows

Crepes with nutella. Boston creme pie.

Cannolis from Little Italy,

Bagels and cream cheese from the Lower East Side.

The best pizza I’ve ever eaten:

Louisiana-style, with handfuls of garlic and crawfish

Warm chocolate chip banana bread pudding

Double espresso soy-cappuccino

A flavor of ice cream

they no longer make

called Tuskegee Chunk

The first time I bit into a taco

and realized there were so many things

I had never eaten; so many places I

had not yet been

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. Tanya VS permalink
    January 17, 2011 5:42 pm

    Wonderful, wonderful, so so wonderful!

    So many of those things would be on my list too. Coconut syrup from Hawaii, fish roe sushi with quail egg, warm bagel and cream cheese. I think I’ll have to write my own list, just to remember the rest. Thanks for the inspiration!

  2. January 19, 2011 8:24 pm

    Xin chao. Welcome to Nature Blog Network. Enjoy your blog!

  3. February 4, 2011 5:54 am

    Oh man, what was the name of that restaurant on St. Mark’s place with the soy burgers and the carrot tahini?? Why can’t I remember it? That place owned me. This poem made me exquisitely hungry and you know I don’t even like seafood!

    • February 4, 2011 12:50 pm

      Dojo’s! It’s not there anymore, though the one by Washington Sq. Park is still open.

  4. February 25, 2011 6:54 pm

    oh my god. that was the best thing i’ve ever ever ever read. i’m hungry!

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