• One Minnesota Writer

52 Ways to Shift Your Focus

Shift #15: Make Salsa

Recently, I read about a chef who goes to Tuscany every summer (nice dream if you can manage it, huh?) for a month and cooks wonderful things with simple, local ingredients. The article, A Long Lazy Summer by Adam Rapoport in this month’s Bon Appetit, celebrates the fact that there is no right way to do any recipe, that one can cook by feel as much as by any set of instructions. I love this idea, cooking by feel. I use a lot of recipes, but seldom follow them exactly.  I’m always tweaking something based on what I have in my kitchen. Sometimes, I look at what I’m writing in the same way I look at a food recipe. A little of this, a little of that, but not too much of any one ingredient or the whole thing goes awry. And there’s no set-in-stone set of instructions for how to do any of this work.

Actually, it’s more than sometimes that I think of writing this way. It’s quite often because that’s what works for me. Earlier in this series, I talked about nurturing ourselves by actually making a decent lunch (Bake Bread, Break Bread), growing herbs (What’s on Your Windowsill?), and visiting your local farmer’s market (Fresh Stuff). See the theme here?

So, here at the height of summer, I’m considering the little bits of language that make a decent poem and I’m thinking about salsa. I’m having a tough time deciding which is more important at this moment. Given that I’ve been reading a lot of uneven poetry lately, and that makes me tired, the salsa wins.

I love to make salsa at this time of year, when I can pluck tomatoes and cilantro and peppers from my own raised bed in the back yard or get them from the farmer’s market in St. Paul. There’s a sensuality to fresh produce that was so recently hanging out in the garden under July sun, with the drone of bees and dragonflies as music. It smells like the earth, suggests the slowness of meals shared outdoors away from the hum of a computer or the insistence of a cell phone’s latest ringtone. Fresh produce makes me want to take enough time to enjoy its promise, which, I imagine, was how the subject of the above-mentioned Bon Appetit article felt.

Salsa is the poetry that celebrates tomatoes, cilantro, peppers, lime juice, maybe a little onion or garlic. But not too much of any one bit. Here’s what I do, once I push myself away from the computer. I highly recommend it.

1. Go see what’s ready in the garden. Pick it.

2. Go to the farmer’s market for the stuff I don’t have. Buy it.

3. Put on whatever music fits my mood that day. (Last time I cooked it was Nina Simone.)

4. Open the windows.

5. Get out my favorite big sharp knife and a cutting board.

6. Wash the produce.

7. Pour myself a glass of wine. (White wine is so great in the summer….try some good Gewürztraminer. If that doesn’t strike you as so great, try some Prosecco. If that still isn’t doing it for you, go for Mexican beer.)

8. Chop stuff (about 3 big really ripe tomatoes, about 1/4 of a big red onion, a handful of cilantro, a jalapeño), plop it in a bowl, add a few tablespoons of fresh lime juice and a bit of salt, maybe some pepper, stir. Let it stand for about half an hour.

9. Find an unopened bag of tortilla chips.

10. Invite someone to share salsa and chips with me.

11. Forget about work for a while. Pour another glass of wine. Savor the food and company and summer.

When I get back to the poetry, I’m going to be looking for simple, fresh language. Language that springs from the heart of its author. And I’m going to search for that delicate balance that brings everything together into one wonderful poetic salsa that’s ready to be shared.

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