Poetry, Thirty Years Later

When I was in my twenties and thirties, I split my reading time between poetry and novels. Cookbooks were right behind those, and Roman history a close forth.

Now Roman history is first, cookbooks second, the occasional novel third, and almost no poetry at all.

I find it odd how those proportions have changed over time.

I don’t know why that has happened. Since I was busier after my thirties, it would seem that I wanted maximum reading pleasure by investing a minimal amount of time. Compared to a novel, a good poem would do that.

But over the years, there are several poems that often come to mind.

There is Dylan Thomas’s “Under Milkwood” and Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven”. They have a rolling musical cadence and powerful imagery that appeals to those times when the mind is overcast and restlessly roaming.

Walter De Lamar’s “The Listeners” is another. The ambiguous metaphor and the urgent caller, wrapped in a moonlit forest, are good companions when pondering things to come or what should not be forgotten.

When I am longing for the city of my childhood, I open C.K. William’s “”Flesh and Blood” and read the first three poems about reading. Then I remember what it was like to live and work among the tall buildings and rushing subways – to be in the ceaseless crowds, coming and going with their moments big and small.

Each one of those poems is my literary lake house. My porch in the woods by the sea. The top of the tall, grassy hill where I lay down and watch the summer clouds drift by, or that long walk down to the old town bar to meet a friend.

A poem you connect with, expansive or compact in what it evokes, has the remarkable quality of place utility. It is at hand, when you want it and where you want it. It is the landscape, the person or the situation that comes to visit you when you want to visit them.

A Meal In a Bowl

Picasso had his blue period, O’Keeffe her percussionist period, and I had my meal in a bowl period. This probably came out of the fact that I excel at making soup but usually want something more substantial to eat. Whenever I eat soup, I am hungry an hour later.

I made a lot of dishes in this way, but I did not write down a recipe for any one of them! That’s just typical for me. I look at cooking like a working musician might look at playing out on a Friday night. You just can’t record every solo you play. Besides, the fun is in the playing and creating.

I eat a lot of greens, especially kale and swiss chard. In this meal, I sauteed carrots, onions, garlic and red bell peppers, adding in tomato wedges at the end. While that was going I had two other ingredients cooking. Strips of kale and a few bay leaves were cooked in a minimal amount of water until tender. Wedges of Yukon Gold potatoes were roasted in the oven. When the kale was done, it was added into the sauteed ingredients, along with scallops and a big splash of dry white wine. This was covered and simmered until the scallops were cooked. Before it was served, the roasted potatoes were mixed in. That added a nice roasted note and a little crunchy texture.

I remember this dish. I had an overstock of carrots and tomatoes to use up.

First I browned the potato wedges in olive oil and put them on the side. In same oil, I slow cooked the onion strips and sliced carrots. This caramelized the sugar in each and brought out their sweetness. There were a few slivers of garlic thrown in there too.

To finish it up, I added tomato wedges and gave them a minute or two of saute time with the carrots and onions. Then the potatoes were added back in along with a few sprigs of thyme, parsley and a little fresh chicken stock to moisten. After it simmered for five minutes and was gently stirred several times, the lid came off and on the table it went.

This I made for a Saturday lunch. I had leftover sticks of golden beets and sticks of boiled potatoes to use up. In olive oil, strips of onions, red bell peppers and carrots were sauteed with a touch of garlic. This time, the saute stage was not as slow as before. I just wanted to develop and incorporate the garlic flavor while cooking the other vegetables but leaving them on the firm side. I threw in a Roma tomato cut into wedges and gave that a few minutes of saute. There may have been a whole leaf or two of fresh basil in the mix.

Finally, I added the beets and potatoes to get them up to serving temperature and so as not to mix the flavors of the other vegetables with them. I wanted three separate flavors to be tasted: the light flavors of both the boiled beets and boiled potatoes and the richness of the sauteed vegetables. It adds complexity as your mouth finds each individual flavor with every bite. The different textures and firmness of the three adds interest as well.

A warm piece of pita bread was used as a garnish and as a fourth flavor/texture element.

A Fine Cigar

I like a good cigar ever so often. It’s an old habit I carried with me from my restaurant days at Dominic’s; the Italian place we owned on the city island of Peoria, in the Central Illinois Archipelago. Every weekend, after the dinner rush, I sat at the bar and smoked with the customers. A Gloria Cubana rubusto, or an Avo pyramid where two of my regulars from the humidor.

Last fall, I sat out on the porch, writing and enjoying a fine stooge my buddy Dave H. gave me. As the sun was giving way to the stars I wrote a few lines about the cigar.

Damn Cigars

I hate cigars.

I mean I love them, but that’s why I hate them.

The damn things are so bad for you but they are so damn good.

So much contradiction rolled up in the

Ephemeral spirit smoke solid

As a sledge hammer on your nicotine rattled pallet late

On a hot summer night slow walking down 

The crowded streets of downtown

Manhattan rising above with the smoke spirits,

The lights of night,

The traffic rushing like big shouldered water through  

The canyon of sixth street.

Yeah, roll that Cuban torpedo again, across your

Ivory whites and you have the world,

The whole world at your feet.

Yeah, I love cigars. 

Hay Johnny, is that a White Owl Cigarillos SanGria you got there?

Stamp of the Week

Here is a neat looking German issue from 2008.

Since the libraries in our city are closed, I have not been able to research it, other then what I found from dealers on Ebay. Unfortunately, that information is written in German, which I cannot read.

At first I was disappointment about not having the stats on this issue; how many were printed, are there known freaks and errors, who designed it and so on. But considering the stamp without any of that data, reminded me of why I started collecting as a kid.

Stamp collecting redirects your thinking. It opens up possibilities that take your mind to places far away from the desk you are sitting at. A stamp is a perforated, adhesive backed vacation. An adventure you can buy for a dollar or two and keep on a shelf in a stock book until you need it!

What starts this redirections is the intriguing design sensibility of the radio. I can’t help but regard it differently from other appliances or consumer electronics produced during the same era.

The lines are clean and precise; very modern. The controls are laid out in an orderly and linear fashion. The use of silver and black reinforces that sense of efficiency, it’s form follows function design There are no bells and whistles to create artificial demand.

This gets my mind searching for the origins of the artifact. I have to understand the design prospective, which seems so non-American, so unfamiliar to me. Who is this Dieter Rams, where is he from, what is his approach to industrial design, what else has he designed that I would appreciate ? There is so much to learn from this little piece of paper!

But it also builds vacation travel imagery. I just want to hop into a 1960’s VW beetle, and cruise down the Autobahn until I get to a picnic area. There I will have a beer and a sandwich with blond haired Hilda, as we look out on the Bavarian Alps and listen to Kraftwerk on Dieter’s radio.

This one defiantly presses the on button for my over active imagination!

Happy collecting !

For the deeper dig, see below.



Evening Star

If you live in the Northern Hemisphere you may have noticed that big, bright planet in the western sky at sunset. When I stand on my front porch, I can see it over the darkening roofs of the houses across the street. Looking at it a few weeks ago, I was inspired to write a poem about that jewel of the night sky.


The Evening Star Prayer

Look here – the evening star!

The nightly traveler.

Shimmering blue diamond

Of the rising sky-crown.

Guide me over meadow’s green

Past the forest eves dreaming

In murmurs,

In wolf tones distant.

Lead my ancient ocean crossing

These fathoms folded of water restless.

Sail me past the rocky backs

Of the wave breakers roaring.

Down the coast lines

Of the night’s dark distance

Where brigands battle

And pearl divers descend.

Point me safely past

The might rivers pouring

Their melted glacial torrents

From once the land I came.

Only you can guide my way,

Your gleaming homeward heading,

To hearth warmed children dreaming

Their waiting mother sighing

With the spool of wool at knitting.

My battle-brothers’ falling

Has been avenged

In all my enemies’

Black hearts beating stilled.

No hulls heavy

With triumph-treasure taken

Can quail nor calm

My heart’s long yearning.

Now hurry me through

This slow homeward season.

Pour out your glow

Long and wide

Before my searching brow.

Shimmering blue shining take me

Fast as fleet for home!

The First Restaurateur

This was my grandfather’s restaurant located at 5-7 North Broadway, Yonkers N.Y.. Not too far from Getty Square, which at the time, was the busiest part of the city. The photo was taken sometime in the 1930’s before the depression.

Enrico Di Sciullo is in the front row, second from the left.

Check out the prices on the menu !

Spaghetti with Meat Sauce – Thirty Five Cents

A Prosciutto Appetizer – Thirty Cents

Sirloin Steak – Sixty Five Cents

Lobster a la Fra Diavolo – One Dollar and Twenty Five Cents. I’ll take two to go too!

Tastes have changed too. I don’t think I have ever seen Fresh Clam Broth or Spaghetti with Chicken Livers and Mushrooms on any Italian Menu.

But if Enrico put it on the menu, you know it was delicious.

I was lucky enough to eat his cooking when I was a kid. Fabulous tomato sauce. Fabulous everything!

(Actually, I was double lucky, my Dad’s mom, Florence, should have had a restaurant too! She was an out standing cook and baker.)

I often think about the lunches he would prepare when my brother Dan and I went to visit. Grandpa would usual serve us cube steak sandwiches. Just lightly floured, sauteed in olive oil then sprinkled with salt and pepper.
Nothing fancy but they were out of this world.

When you have perfected your technique, even the simplest dishes become master pieces.

An Adventure of Magnitude

The little green sprouts of oregano I saw in the over wise barren garden plot, got me thinking about what to grow this year. I set up my garden the same as my grandfathers did; centered around basil and tomatoes. Roma and Beefsteak tomatoes in particular.

My dad gardened too, but never vegetables only flowers. The majority of those flowers where Iris. At eighty five years old he still loves them. I make sure I buy my dad and mom flowers often.

That traditional approach made me think about varying my choices.

Looking up varieties of tomatoes, while I was having breakfast, got me looking up the varieties of other cultivated plants too.

So, to put the number of tomatoes types in context, and also see what has the greatest varieties, I made a list of the number of varieties for a few other plants commonly grown for food purposes. Some of these numbers are contested, by one source or another, but fascinating none the less.

  • Celery – 13
  • Kale – 23
  • Potatoes – 500
  • Figs – 800
  • Rice – 7000
  • Apples – 7500
  • Grapes for wine – 10,000
  • Tomatoes – 25,000
  • Wheat – 30,000
  • Corn – 80,0000

Funny how my intellectual adventure lead me to the very thing that surrounds my little island city of Peoria – corn.

Another fun fact; seeds for all the 80,000 varieties of corn listed are stored on the archipelago; The University of Illinois, Champaign/Urbana.

Last fun fact; Gardening leads to harvesting which leads to cooking!

Feel the need to dig further? See below.



More Peoria Archipelago Weather Drama

A few days ago we had a high temp that touched 80 degrees. Yesterday morning it was in the low 30’s and snowing. Winter and summer are battling it out but spring is nowhere to be seen! Luckily, the daffodils are standing up to it, as well as my oregano in the garden plot. However, the white hyacinths are wavering.

Stamp of the Week – Clarifications and Corrections

The last Stamp of the Week post requires a correction. Our brand new philatelic research assistant, that would be me, was mistaken in stating that the Cape Hatteras stamps was the first U.S. issue to have perforations on the image. The 1967 space walk issue, pictured above, was the first to be printed in this manner.

We apologize for the inconvenience and any undo hard ship this may have caused our readers.

Effective immediately, the employee responsible has been transferred out of the philatelic department and into the culinary department. He will be replaced with Mr. Zip Code.