Saturday, February 22, 2020

Tobi Alfier - Recipe, and Recipe Poems Remembered

Back on November 3, 2019 I posted a Thanksgiving recipe for delicious no-cook cranberry relish. Prior to that, on June 8, 2019 I posted about an extension class with Kate Braverman, and how she taught us the technique of writing poems like recipes. Today I’m going to give you both: a recipe and a recipe poem.

Why are we revisiting old topics? Because there have been tons of things going on in the desert and you may have been busier than usual with art, readings, more readings, the gorgeous weather, planning assorted peripheral things for the youth issue of Cholla Needles, likewise the local writer’s issue, and all kinds of cool stuff.

For me, this past week was a Murphy’s Law wreck of a week. If I were a stand-up comic I would make a million dollars if I wrote about it. But I’m not a stand-up comic, nor am I a memoirist, so you’re getting a delicious vegetarian recipe courtesy of my son, and a recipe poem courtesy of moi!

Please feel free to use one or the other, or both, and increase your skills two ways.

The Recipe:

The other day I got a text from my son Owen that said “I know you hate garbanzo beans (true), but I made a chickpea avocado toast for breakfast and I think it’s my favorite thing I’ve ever made” (that’s saying a LOT).

For the chickpeas: Soak a 1lb bag of chickpeas overnight. Drain and rinse with new water, drain again and cover with 2 quarts of new water. Throw in a handful of crushed garlic cloves, one sliced white onion, the peel and juice of 1 lemon, a quarter cup of olive oil, and lots of salt and pepper. Bring to a boil then simmer for 2 hours or until tender. Replace water a half cup at a time if the level gets too low.

For the chickpeas, part 2: Make a rough vinaigrette with equal parts olive oil and apple cider vinegar. Grate 2 cloves of garlic into the mix with a microplane and add 2 ribs of diced celery. Whisk the mixture lightly then add around 2 cups of drained chickpeas and roughly mash with a fork.

For the avocado toast: Owen found an excellent pre-made quacamole at a local store, and has opted to use that for his cooking. Either do the same and save some time, or make quacamole using your favorite recipe. Make toast using your favorite bread. We use any version of Dill-Rye but use what you like. Spread it with the guacamole. Top it with the roughly mashed chickpeas.

The Recipe Poem: This is a technique you can use, especially if you’re feeling a bit stuck. Spend a stanza writing out the ingredients, then connect them. It may turn out that you don’t even keep that first stanza at all, which is absolutely fine. Sometimes we write to get into the poem, but it’s not part of the poem. Keep it for something later.

Back in June, the poem I included was “How to Travel Forever”. In the poem below, consider the nouns to be the ingredients. They were thought about and connected; the original list of nouns was then placed back in the beloved woodpile.

How to Dream the Desert


You’ll know where to search
this bold cathedral of sky—
graceful dive of the hawk
as it soars so high overhead,

it could be Venus in an alternate
universe of color,
not this endless flood of blue,
the wildness heavy with light.

Be content in your silence; listen
to the ceaseless wind, the coursing river;
be attentive to cloud-sorrows destined
for other terrain. Have empathy
for the familiarity of that sadness.


Moonshine so brilliant, it lights the snow.
Insistent sun insinuates shade
in a luminous sea of stubbled sand.

The only change in hue—a lizard,
scurrying away from you, toward
the perception of cold canyon stone.


There is no yellow here, only
the bruised reds and blues of twilights,
and what used to be green.

This walking, waking, living dream;
carry it always—soft as the sparrows
that flutter through your attic.

It will teach you to be
what you were meant to be,
as you gaze back along the highway’s edge
of this windfallen world.

(previously published in Peacock Journal)

A small comment on “exercises”. There are some things we write as exercises in classes, workshops, or MFA programs. They are very effective in growing us as writers, but they are just for that purpose. They are writing exercises, and should not be confused with valid, keepable work that’s eligible for submission. ‘Nuff said for now.

Writing a poem as if it were a recipe is NOT a writing exercise. Go forth and write as many as you like. Be the Julia Child of poetry, they are real poems.

You now have two different examples of recipe poems, and a great breakfast idea. I hope these fit into your week as beautifully as your clock radio goes off playing your favorite song. And you know of course, don’t eat the avocado toast over your keyboard. If you’re anything like I am, it will land face down and you’ll be picking quac out of the keys with a toothpick.

Have the very best week!!! xo

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Tobi Alfier's most recent collection of poetry is Slices Of Alice. She is also co-editor with Jeff Alfier of the San Pedro River Review. Don't miss Tobi's columns on the craft of poetry: insert your email address in the "Follow By Email" box to the right of this article and you'll be notified every time a new article appears.


  1. Sounds good - the recipe and the poem

  2. I love the colorful poem. Makes me think of driving home from Camarillo at night when I was little.

    1. I love that it brought you a memory. Thanks so much for letting us all know <3 <3 <3


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