‘Bread,’ by Tiziano Colibazzi

Composed with my son.

I. Bread Flour
Powdery ivory dust, snow turning into a crust,
gold of my kitchen that wise wizardry churns,
into muffins, pies, farfalle and sourdough.
Kneading and kneading, you grow,
plunging ahead into the stove.

II. Yeast
Breath of life; ancient mold, you softly
whisper bubbles, you work this dough
into a lattice cobweb, without effort.

III. Salt
“Papo, it hurts!” the sea water got
into my son’s eyes. “It’s salt” I explain.
“But why?” he quizzically replies.
In the Appenine villages, where I grew up
away from the sea, the bread is sold
unsalted: yet savory, pungent, bold
in flavor, but insipid.
There is an ancient road in Rome,
Via Salaria, named for salt
that travelled far and wide.
Unfortunately, salary is no longer
paid in salt: we have benefits, today.

IV. Oil
They come in different forms on the shelf.
Luscious velvety gold: more expensive for sure,
you can smell the sun dissolved in a spoon.
Canola oil in a plastic bottle we just cannot
use: pallid like urine, industrial and cold.

V. Water
My fingers feel your moist presence,
you are always the same, everywhere.
A list of “waters” I do not dare
to write down: Fiji water, Dasani, Aquafina and
the lubricant of office gossip: Poland Spring:
different names, but just one thing.
As with uncountable nouns
such as happiness or money,
you only get one chance in life:
You just cannot “unburn” your bread.

Tiziano Colibazzi is a poet in addition to being a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst. He is currently a first year MFA candidate for Poetry at the New School. Originally from Rome, Italy, Tiziano lives in NYC and he is the proud father of twin boys.

Featured image via Pexels.

Poet of the Month: ‘Jell-O Mold Day,’ by Virginia Valenzuela

When I was a kid, I loved Thanksgiving. It was an opportunity to eat all day—pastries and fresh fruit in the morning, olives and cheese and sliced veggies with dips throughout the day, and then dinner and desert at sundown. It was always held at my Great Grandma Mary’s house in Dobbs Ferry, New York, a trip which meant going to Grand Central Station to catch a train upstate.

While my mom was at the ticket counter in Grand Central, my sister and I would look at the astrological signs up on the green and gold sky. My sister’s Capricorn and my own Aquarius appear next to each other, so that’s usually where we gawked. Then on the train, we would find one of the four-seaters which made a little cubicle for us, and the ticket man would pass by and clickclickclick, clickclickclick our tickets, placing them in the flap by our heads.

When we arrived, Grandma Eddy would pick us up and drive us through that small town where my grandparents met. Then she’d unload to the rest of the family for hugs, kisses, and bad puns.

Great Grandma Mary always pointed out if you looked funny or if you needed a haircut, so Thanksgiving was the best time to see her because I always got a haircut and a new dress right before the holidays. (Thanks mom and dad.) I wanted to impress her because she was so charming and so funny, and I could tell it was hard to gain her approval by the way she would criticize my mom’s funky 90’s outfits.

She had beautiful crystal animals and gems that sparkled in her windows, a huge yard and a hidden garden, which reminded me of my favorite movie at the time, The Secret Garden, which later turned out to be one of my favorite books. There was a mother goose statuette Great Grandma Mary dressed for the different seasons, and for Thanksgiving it wore a turkey outfit.

Grandma Mary didn’t trifle with the food those days. She was much more likely to be sitting in the indoor patio with a martini, entertaining guests with witticisms and stories. She did, however, always make this lime jell-o mold, which was served at dinner along with everything else. It was not only the weirdest looking thing on the table, but the tastiest. It had chopped nuts and dried berries in it and it was somehow creamy and sour at the same time. I would later find her recipe handwritten on a card that revealed the secret to this incredible dish, which I now make every year for Thanksgiving.

My whole family was gathered there, my mom’s brother, Uncle Kris, who was so tall and with whom I always felt so shy, his beautiful wife Karen, my maternal grandparents, and my many cousins and family friends who lived along the boulevard.

I think back to this place whenever I get swept up by unwarranted family drama, which now dresses every holiday escapade. Both my Great Grandma Mary and my Grandma Eddy have passed away, and my uncle barely talks to my mom, sister, or me. The house in Dobbs Ferry has been demolished, and Thanksgiving and Christmas are always up in the air. No one seems to be able to fill the space Mary made for us.

I wish I could see Mary and my grandmother and my mother and my sister together now. We would clink martinis while the guys watch football, share compliments on what radiant women we are all becoming.

Virginia Valenzuela is The Inquisitive Eater's Poet of the Month for November 2017.

Virginia Valenzuela is a poet, essayist, and yogi from New York City. She is a second-year MFA candidate for Poetry and Creative Nonfiction at The New School. She is an Education Associate with Teachers and Writers, a Research Assistant at The New School, the Prose Editor for LIT, and the Curator/MC for a monthly reading series at KGB Bar. You can find more of her work on her blog, Vinny the Snail and on the Best American Poetry Blog.

Featured image via Flickr

Autumnal Gallery by Bhavna Misra

Rising Sun II
Corn on the Cob
Autumn Leaves
Broccoli Party
Autumn Garden
Rising Sun
An Apple a Day

Bhavna Misra has been painting since she was a little girl. She grew up in the beautiful region of Himachal in India, surrounded by forests of pine trees, Himalayan mountains, green valleys, clear-water lakes, and diverse wildlife that made a lasting impression on her artistic endeavors. She never doubted that she’d be a painter one day!

She works as a contractor for the Alameda County Library System and she owns and operates Bhavna Misra Art Studio. Bhavna is professionally affiliated with Fremont Art Association. She lives in San Francisco Bay Area and online at bhavnamisra.com

Poet of the Month: ‘Confession,’ by Virginia Valenzuela

Two Bohemias sit at a table
winking into our mouths
as we wet our lips to speak.
They are neat and subtle
unlike me. I fidget in place.
My thoughts are swindled, swishing
along the scalloped walls
of my brain. My father’s been trying
to tell me something, for months
and since we’re here, I think he’d better.
He says so much
but only to himself, for his lips
begin to shape, then rest
or pucker to drink. I don’t think
I would know what to say.
Virginia, he startles me, and I nod,
about last summer—
I wonder if we remember it the same way.
I suppose not.

Virginia Valenzuela is The Inquisitive Eater's Poet of the Month for November 2017.

Virginia Valenzuela is a poet, essayist, and yogi from New York City. She is a second-year MFA candidate for Poetry and Creative Nonfiction at The New School. She is an Education Associate with Teachers and Writers, a Research Assistant at The New School, the Prose Editor for LIT, and the Curator/MC for a monthly reading series at KGB Bar. You can find more of her work on her blog, Vinny the Snail and on the Best American Poetry Blog.

Featured image via PublicDomainPictures.net

‘Hot Dog Aura: An Orientation Address to The New School for Social Research,’ by Aaron Newman

Hello and welcome to The New School for Social Research. Congratulations.

If you’ve taken a look at the “About Us” webpage, then you already know that this university has a “commitment to progressive values, academic freedom, rigorous scholarship, and critical theory in the tradition of the Frankfurt School.”  When I got here, I knew nothing of the Frankfurt School, Walter Benjamin was a mystery to me, and the hotdog, one of New York City’s most iconic foods, was the only real connection I had to Frankfurt.

I have, however, gotten to know Benjamin better along the way, and have found that I like him as much as everybody else does. I especially like how fidgety he gets when reflecting on how the rapid growth of information and technology is upending the auras of art and storytelling respectively. Art with aura comes from a period of origins, when each work had its own—just one—particular birth in a time and a place. In an age of mechanical reproduction, however, to speak of precious origins of this sort feels increasingly incorrect. “No event any longer comes to us without already being shot through with explanation” he says in his essay “The Storyteller.”

Nevertheless, you are here, for a part of your life that is not yet shot through with explanation. Part of your work will be that of clarifying—clarifying your subject, of course, but also clarifying yourself, clarifying yourself to others, clarifying yourself to yourself—marching up to the gates of the FDA, as it were, and demanding clarification concerning the pink and grey slime of your psyche. Graduate life, it seems, still has some of the trappings of an old-fashioned aura—trappings that are not so dissimilar from the snappy synthetic casing of a Coney
Island classic.

The thing about the hotdog, though, is that there’s only so much you can clarify about it—only so much you can know about it by looking at its ingredients. Even the nice ones are comprised of “trimmings,” which can consist of a variety of things that you might not normally eat in their solid, individual forms: feet and heads, tails and toes. These discrete members disappear under labels like “all-beef” in the case of the famous New York hotdog, Nathan’s; or “mechanically separated turkey, chicken, or pork,” if you’re talking about something on the lowlier scale of an Oscar Meyer Weiner. When shopping for dogs, it’s difficult to know exactly what you’re looking at. This is not to incite skepticism though, but to reaffirm our belief in synergy—that the sum is greater than the parts, that what the FAO refers to as “meat batter,” the building blocks—or paste, rather—of the hotdog, is an everyday example of the power of togetherness.

“Special selected trimmings are cut and ground into small pieces and put into the mixer. Formulas are continuously weighed to assure proper balance of all ingredients” (hot-dog.org).

We graduate students are trimmings, anonymous bits of carcass, specially selected to shuttle nourishing thought from classroom to café to bar to curbside. Each of us have made an attempt to explain who and what we are, to the Dean and to the chairs of our respective programs, with statements of purpose and undergraduate transcripts; however, such meager labels like “philosopher” and “historian,” places of birth and awards won, reduce us as much as the ineffective descriptor “all-beef” reduces the high-quality frankfurter. Besides, even you have not yet realized the potential of your ingredient repertoire—otherwise you would not have come here. Make no mistake: each of you have been carefully selected for your particular intellectual trim; nevertheless, you are not yet the hotdog you imagine yourself to be.

The New School for Social Research is an especially good place for mixing with worthy peers—and peers of peers, within and beyond the artificial boundaries of your chosen discipline. Admittedly, there will be some differences in disposition. Philosophers, sociologists, and economists may be, on average, colder than anthropologists and creative journalists. We are, after all, in the City, surrounded by disinterested machinery, prodded daily to participate in a hustle beyond human tenderness, supported only by unfriendly, sun-drenched streets bogged down with hot, stinking trash. It is true that “the extraction of protein is most effective when the meat is near freezing point”(FAO). However, a balance must be struck, for it is also true that “the emulsification process is adversely affected by low temperature”(FAO). Keeping clear of your peers might be fruitful for research; however, it might also be detrimental to your ability to contribute to and take from the culture of sharing and intellectual community—a culture that distinguishes this place from others.

Not only does trimming ensure a more enjoyable eating experience for the customer, but also a less fussy mixing process for the dogs. Being trim, though, is not enough. It is only the beginning. “A high-speed stainless steel chopper blends meat, spices, and curing ingredients into an emulsion or batter” (hotdog.org) The technical word is comminution, and in New York it is facilitated by the MTA, the post office, and apartment-hunting.

Once you have been softened like fresh putty, you will be ready for step three, wherein “the emulsion is pumped and fed into a stuffer.” The stuffer marks your departure from mere mixing. It is crucial that you do not stay in the emulsion vat, indefinitely crashing about into other parts of batter, endlessly making lateral movements from one undeveloped glob of thought to another. Along with focusing on your studies, your studies should provide focus for you and direct you toward some final product. The batter is given a cellulose casing for form. Without this casing, the hot dog is as good as a bowl of porridge; and you would never put mustard on a bowl of porridge; nor would you ever go to Coney Island in search of a bowl of porridge.

Thus, it is important to find an advisor as soon as possible, someone who can make formal sense of your various ingredients. Remember, from the beginning, “Formulas are continuously weighed to assure proper balance of all ingredients,” and while the hotdog is the ultimate beneficiary of these formulas, it is not the hotdog alone that finds and employs them, but the hotdog maker—the hotdog advisor in your case. It should be stressed that “formulas are continuously weighed.” That is, the hotdog does not get a once-over review for next steps and then taken off the leash; rather, it is regularly in dialogue with the advisor for optimum development.

The cellulose casing—often called “skin”—is something that you and your advisor will fashion together. The goal is not to make something bulletproof; in fact, the casing should still be permeable to smoke and steam, cooking and flavoring from outside the skin itself. The hotdog must remain open to the world. Take advantage of the fact that you are in New York. Allow it to seep into your course of study. Allow your education to be a worldly one, because, you really don’t have a choice; influence will be inescapable. Your very understanding of what is possible in a week’s time will be largely informed by the company you keep. You will realize that you and your classmates are not as good at reading as you once thought. Do not despair: remember Montaigne who wrote, “If I encounter difficulties in reading, I do not gnaw my nails over them; I leave them there, after making one or two attacks.” We students of the year 2017 are often scolded for our short attention spans, yet, here is Montaigne, who never saw the 17th century, saying without any trouble at all that Cicero is a boring writer and reading him for an hour is “a lot for me.”

Remember, what is more painful than reading bad writing is reading it by yourself. There are always at least eight dogs to a pack and it is good to share your boredom with someone more experienced in it, someone who has wallowed in these vacuum-sealed juices for longer than you have. Staying in contact with a faculty advisor is one of the most effective ways of not becoming as anonymous as a pile of trimmings. Take as much as you can and be shameless about it. You might be embarrassed from time to time for saying the wrong thing or for asking something that everybody already knows; but that is the joy of doing something not yet shot through with explanation. As hot-dog.org speculates, “While the hot dog’s precise history may never be known, perhaps it is this mystery that adds to the hot dog’s mystique.”

Remember that when I got here, I had never even heard of Walter Benjamin and now I am talking to you all about the aura of the hot dog. There will be plenty of time for blushing, and oftentimes you will find that to be the greatest advisor of all.

Aaron Newman is a graduate student, writer, and amateur potter. He lives in Brooklyn and is the student advisor for Liberal Studies at the New School for Social Research. His work has appeared in the “Beautiful Things” column of River Teeth: A Journal of Nonfiction Narrative.

Featured image via Flickr.

Poet of the Month: ‘Fable of the Starfruit,’ by Virginia Valenzuela

A drunken star fell from the sky
and looking nothing like the others
he felt much relief in leaving.

A drunken star fell into the trees
and the crickets, thinking him a God
took him into their arms.

A drunken star, engorged with heavy light
looked down on the crickets, feeling
unshapely, and rather green.

He looked not like a star
but a cricket without any legs
and the crickets, thinking him a God

decorated him with many leaves
offered him a cloak with magic sleeves
quoth the crickets: we will be your legs.

A young girl fell from the sky
and feeling cold and uncertain
she wept beneath the trees.

A drunken star fell out of the branches
fell right beside her, and glowed.
The young girl wiped her tears

and brushed them over the star
which began to shine brighter.
The little lost girl, thinking it a gift from the Gods

bit into it, hoping to find her home
but beneath the glowing, green skin
were constellations.

Virginia Valenzuela is The Inquisitive Eater's Poet of the Month for November 2017.

Virginia Valenzuela is a poet, essayist, and yogi from New York City. She is a second-year MFA candidate for Poetry and Creative Nonfiction at The New School. She is an Education Associate with Teachers and Writers, a Research Assistant at The New School, the Prose Editor for LIT, and the Curator/MC for a monthly reading series at KGB Bar. You can find more of her work on her blog, Vinny the Snail and on the Best American Poetry Blog.

Featured image via Pxhere.

‘Lemon Shark,’ by Rosiere Moseley

Moist with a burst
of lemon from added
zest and a drizzle
of elderflower-lemon
syrup soaked into
the gills, made lovely
the lemon shark blossoms
fragrant, richly symbolic
transient, combine
the gin and shark in a shaker
add ice, shake vigorously
and strain into the ocean

Rosiere Moseley lives in Boston.

Featured image via Pixabay.

True to Their Roots: The Evolving Landscape of Polish Cuisine


Presented by The New School’s Food Studies Program, this panel discussion is an invitation to get acquainted with Polish cuisine through the prism of history and society. It will take you on a journey across the centuries and flavors that have shaped the exceptional cuisine of a country co-created by many cultures. Polish cuisine is flourishing: chefs, producers, media specialists, and consumers are rediscovering traditional products and dishes, while often interpreting them through the prism of contemporary food trends. The result is an exciting and vibrant food scene which, however, is not well know outside of the borders of Poland. The event will feature traditional Polish bites. Four presenters will be moderated by New School Food Studies professor Fabio Parasecoli, who teaches food history, culture and the arts.

Professor Jarosław Dumanowski, the head of the Culinary Heritage Centre at Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń and a member of the research council of the European Institute of the History and Culture of Food (IEHCA) in Tours – is a specialist in early modern history and antique culinary texts who often collaborates with local producers, chefs, marketing specialists, and others. His presentation: A TASTE OF THE PAST. THE USE OF CULINARY HISTORY IN POLAND will focus on the historical roots of modern Polish cuisine and how it uses history as inspiration, documentation, and promotion. Prof. Dumanowski will also discuss the notion of “terroir” and “nature” as representing Mediterranean and Nordic approaches to cuisine, and the use of history for formal registration of traditional foods in the European Union. Monika Kucia, Curator, Food Writer & Designer based in Warsaw. Her presentation CULINARY PERFORMANCES AROUND THE TABLE will describe a variety of culinary events she’s been organizing. These events are labyrinths of tastes, smells and sensations. She invites people to go through an experience that involves eating, singing, smelling and touching. They bring people together in good spirit, hope and peace.

Dr. Annie Hauck, co-editor of Gastropolis: Food and New York City (Columbia University Press) and the author of My Little Town: A Brooklyn Girl’s Food Voice. Her doctoral dissertation emerged from an ethnographic study on the roles and meanings of food among members of Polish-American families in New York City. She educates on everyday urban green living with Brooklyn Mompost (www.brooklynmompost.com) and at Poly Prep Country Day School.’Transplanted; Still Firmly Rooted: 20th Century Polish Food Voices and Ways in Brooklyn, N.Y.’ Her presentation, TRANSPLANTED; STILL FIRMLY ROOTED: 20TH CENTURY POLISH FOOD VOICES AND WAYS IN BROOKLYN, N.Y explores foodways that Polish immigrants brought, adapted and practiced in urban Brooklyn in the 20th century.

Elizabeth Koszarski-Skrabonja is an artist, curator and art historian. Her connection to Polish spirits reaches back to her late father, Casimir J. Koszarski. As the first Manager of the Polish Liquor Department in 1936 for the International distributor, Austin Nichols, (located on Kent Street in Brooklyn), it was his responsibility and challenge to introduce an American public emerging from the constraints of prohibition to Polish vodkas. Her presentation THE VODKA CONTRACT discovers the hidden history of Williamsburg’s waterfront through a tale of entrepreneurship, romance, and war. Ms. Koszarski-Skrabonja shares the dramatic story of how her father’s passion for vodka changed his life—and how he brought a taste of home to New York’s Polish community in the form of three remarkable spirits:Zubrówka (bison grass vodka), Wisniówka (cherry vodka), and Wyborowa (pure rye vodka).

Poet of the Month: ‘Culinary Memoirs of a Non-Chef,’ by Jennifer L. Knox

“What are you writing these days?” my old friend asks, not looking up from her 12 dollar taco. We have not seen each other in years, only emailing occasionally to vent. In my case: about work. Sometimes I swear I’m going to have a heart attack, there’s so much work to do, but the older I get, the more work I create for myself. Cammie calls it the Legacy Years phenomenon. In my old friend’s case, she vents about money, even though her husband makes a shit-ton of it, and she doesn’t have to work at all.

This growing lack of common ground has given us less and less to talk about. If you have money, rethink complaining about money to someone who has no money. Seems like a no-brainer, right? It’s very hard for me to empathize with nanny complaints—they’re right up there with this caviar isn’t Russian enough. I know that makes me sound childless, but that’s what I am, and—God dammit—I want a nanny!

My old friend and I have arranged to grab lunch between our panel appearances at a writer’s conference that’s really a drunken fuck-fest, like Santacon but with chapbooks, signings and off-site readings.

“I’m writing a culinary memoir,” I tell her.

“Oh!” she looks up from her taco and thinks. “Is that a thing?”

“Yup. It’s a thing,” I say. She waits for me to prove it. “Ruth Reichel, Anthony Bourdain…”

“But you’re not a chef,” she says and shakes her head a little, filling my ears with tinkly loser bells.

“True, but the process of writing it is giving me so much pleasure, I have to keep going. I’m hoping that Saltlickers and the cooking classes I’m teaching will justify a non-chef…” I trail off and shove an entire taco in my mouth, which I swallow whole along with a gristly ball of panic.

“You know what we do now? Blue Apron. It’s the best—I don’t even feel guilty about it even though it’s like a million dollars. It’s so totally worth it. Getting food and cooking it used to be the biggest anxiety producer in my life. Now food just comes to the house, and we slice open the baggies!”

“I’ve heard it’s good,” I lie. “I was thinking about getting it for my mom but I was afraid she’d never throw away the empty packages.” Garbage is one of Jody’s favorite things to hoard.

She changes the subject. “How’s Saltlickers?”

Saltlickers is the little business I run with my husband Collin—we’re going on four years now. We make herb and spice-infused seasoning salt blends and finishing sugars with no preservatives. We have eleven flavors. Prancer (what I call my ADHD brain) comes up with new flavors every day. The whole endeavor’s been an exercise in generating less and perfecting more, which is not the way Prancer naturally works. I want to act on an idea and never look back to refine the process or the product. But I find myself working to perfect all aspects of production, especially the recipes. And here’s the thing: people really love our stuff. You know that expression, “Go through doors that open?” Saltlickers has always been an opening door.

The whole endeavor’s been an exercise in generating less and perfecting more, which is not the way [my brain] naturally works.

I have my post-divorce rebound boyfriend to thank. Let’s call him Mutt. Mutt and I were super into the idea of camping, even though we’d never actually been. My ex-husband hated going outside. He didn’t even own a pair of tennis shoes; his footwear consisted of several pairs of vintage wingtips that weighed about 10 pounds apiece.

I thought camping would make me normal because normal families went camping. Jody said we actually went camping a couple of times when I was a baby.

“I cooked around the clock over the campfire,” Jody said. “I gained ten pounds and your father lost five pounds. Mark wouldn’t eat anything.” But she kept trying to cook in order to get them to eat. Who cares if other people eat? People like Jody and me.

They talked about this in my Weight Watchers meetings. A skinny person can sit at a table full of people and not eat a damn thing. “I’m not hungry,” the skinny person says. To me, uneaten food says, “We’re not having a good time…” and maybe even “…that’s because of you, Jen” So I’ll eat all the food just to prove everyone at the table is having a good time. “Don’t worry, everyone, I got this,” I say, unwrapping the napkin from around the breadbasket.

Mutt and I discovered there was such a thing as backcountry camping. In backcountry camping, you hike to a site, and by site, I mean a flattened patch of cold bare ground with a profanity-etched picnic table, surrounded by piles of bear scat. Backcountry camping seemed way more badass than car camping where you drive your car right up to your picnic table and listen to families fight all night from inside your tent while you don’t sleep a wink.

Our first trip in the White Mountains of Vermont was a complete disaster. The trail we’d thoughtlessly chosen was like something on a Led Zeppelin album cover: 15 miles straight up a stairway of three-foot high boulders. Oh, how I cried and cried. Mutt wore cheap tennis shoes for the hike because Mutt was pathologically cheap. We didn’t understand the concept of travelling light, so our packs each weighed about 75 pounds, and my Brady Bunch-era sleeping bag was as big around as a redwood tree trunk. What did we bring to eat? A package of sausages. What is forbidden at backcountry camping sites? Fire. What will bears kill for? A package of sausages. We did nothing right. We were a trail of FAIL and tears across the board.

I vowed the next backcountry trip was going to be amazing.

“The next trip?” you ask. Yes, we did it again, and again, because I’m nuts like that. If something’s hard, I’ll do it again. If it’s easy, I probably won’t.

If something’s hard, I’ll do it again. If it’s easy, I probably won’t.

The first thing I did in my quest to be the best backcountry bitch in Brooklyn was to purchase a dehydrator. Those dehydrated and freeze dried camping meals in the zipper foil pouches sucked and were crazy expensive, which is the opposite of awesome and free. I began dehydrating everything: full meals like rice, stew, and beans, but also hummus, zucchini, potatoes, celery, cucumbers, onions, and especially herbs. Leaving a dehydrator on all day when I was at work gave me that crockpot sense of accomplishment.

Mutt and I camped a lot, then we broke up. Mutt was cheap in more ways than one. He was addicted to withholding. I once told Mutt, “I think if I broke my leg on a trail, you’d let me die rather than pay for an out-of-range cell phone charge to call a helicopter.” He didn’t argue with me.

But I kept right on lovin’ camping and my dehydrator. Once, I had a pile of dehydrated celery, which is like having a pile of dehydrated water—celery is all water. I got the idea to turn it to dust in the coffee grinder and made my own celery salt. It was fantastic!

In 2012, Brooklyn blew up in a food frenzy: hipsters were making and selling pickles, chocolate, vinegar, Sriracha, mustard, jerky, beer, cider, vodka, salami, olives, cookies, yogurt, granola, hummus, tea, maraschino cherries, and honey from bees that lived in hives on the roof of a maraschino cherry factory—anything with the words “craft,” “small batch,” “artisan” on the label that you could shove in your bearded mouth for $30 and up.

I was perusing a little shop near my apartment that specialized in such expensive foodstuffs when I saw a precious jar of sea salt mixed with crushed juniper berries. The price tag said $20. I bought some juniper berries, dried them in my dehydrator, and ground them up in a coffee grinder, which forever after made my coffee taste like juniper berries, no matter how I cleaned it.

SPICE TIP: Juniper berries contain oil that’s nearly impossible to clean, even out of metal. Once you use a utensil or machine to mess with juniper berries, you might was well write “JUNIPER BERRIES” on the side of it with a Sharpie because it belongs to the juniper berries now. They make gin out of them—that’s all you really need to know. Gin never smells like anything else but gin. Even with sweet juice in the glass, gin smells like mean, boozy grandma.

(Oh, here’s my gin joke: You know why Hitler didn’t drink gin? Answer: It made him mean. I got that from Sarah Jonas, another food nut.)

I mixed a tiny pinch of juniper berries into the salt, then my brain told me to add some rosemary.

“OK, brain.” [Tastes] “Whoa! High five, brain!” It was amazeballs!

I named it Whassamatterhorn, which you have to say while shrugging your shoulders in a thick Brooklyn accent, like you’re in the cast of Jersey Boys: “Whassamaaadderhorn!”

I bought some little resealable crack baggies, filed them with Whassamatterhorn and took them to my very boring job with very boring people—all left-brained accounting types. Let’s call this company McQueef & Stinkers, LLC. The only good part about working at McQueef & Stinkers, LLC, was my officemate, Katie, who turned out to be one of the funniest women I’ve ever met.

Katie came to New York City in the 1970s to be a Broadway chorus dancer. Picture that for a minute: New York City, Broadway chorus dancers, the 1970s. Do you smell the cocaine yet? Like, a pile of cocaine on every glass top coffee table? Like rails of cocaine waiting on the lip of every marbled gold bathroom sink? Like every nightclub mirror in the city ripped from the wall, covered with cocaine residue? Like a sleek vial of cocaine in the pocket of every camel-toe accentuating pair of Jordache jeans, ready to be scooped up by a long pinky nail grown specifically for the purpose of snorting cocaine. Well, according to Katie, there was even more cocaine than that. Back in the day, when she wasn’t doing cocaine with Eric Estrada (who she also banged) and Patrick Swayze, Katie’s favorite workout consisted of Hoovering up some blow then performing all three levels of a Jane Fonda workout VHS tape played at double speed. Then she’d do the entire tape all over again.

She was about 10 years older than me, but you’d never know it because of her lean dancer’s body and long blond Breck girl hair sporting a timeless fringe of bangs that hit right at her eyelashes. Her husband, Mike, was my age. Currently the two were aspiring soap opera writers, but they had had a million different gigs, including an online sex toy store. Katie had told me the sex swing in their ancient upper west side apartment was starting to crack the plaster ceiling. I always worried that Katie and her best office pal, Looloo, thought I was square, so when Katie spilled the beans about her sex swing, I tried to impress them with my vibrator. It really is the best. My vibrator and my vacuum are the soundest purchase decisions I’ve ever made.

“Check it out: you know what the best vibrator is? Jimmy Jane Form 2,” I said, hoping to shock them.

“I have a Sybian,” Katie said flatly, and I nearly fell out of my chair.

“What’s a Sybian?!” Looloo whispered with her eyes wide.

Katie grinned at me expectantly, so I explaned. “OK, so picture a beer keg cut in half from the top through to the bottom, then turn the half keg on its side like a turtle, then put a motor inside…”

“A very powerful motor…” Katie corrected.

“…Then, uh, screw a giant plastic dick on top of it?”

“There’s an assortment of attachments for all holes,” Katie clarified.

“How much does one of those things costs?” I asked.

“About $1,500 dollars.”

“WHAT?!?!” We roared.

“That’s retail. Mike and I got it wholesale when we had the shop. By the way…” Katie stuck out her listen-up finger at me, “that Whassamatterhorn stuff is…fabulous!” When Katie said the word “fabulous,” she shook her blond hair everywhere like a pom-pom. “I made Mike a meatloaf with it last night—he’s a meatloafatarian—it’s all he’ll eat—and he said it was the Best Meatloaf He’s Ever Tasted. And this guy knows his meatloaf….” She pointed at me, “You should sell that stuff.”

“Nah. I couldn’t handle the money part of it.” I had absolutely no confidence in my math skills, or any of my skills, really. Katie didn’t know how bad off I was, or maybe she did. I was a basket case who would lie on the floor of my apartment and cry, while my lunatic downstairs Pakistani neighbor, his wife, and four sons yelled up at me, “Shat up, beech! Whore! Slat!”

I was a basket case who would lie on the floor of my apartment and cry, while my lunatic downstairs Pakistani neighbor, his wife, and four sons yelled up at me.

New York City had worn me down to a nub. I was so constantly paranoid that I was about to get fired from McQueef & Stinkers, LLC, I couldn’t sleep.

“Of course you could handle it! What’s the big deal?” Katie opened an Excel spreadsheet and typed my name at the top. “How much do you pay for salt?”

“Nooooo…” I moaned. I hated receipts.

“Don’t be a baby,” she snapped. “You could actually make some money at this! And then you could do your little…” she waved her hand dismissively and wrinkled her nose “…poetry thing. Do people actually pay you to write…poems?”

“Not really. It’s more like a labor of love,” I shrugged, knowing how pathetic I sounded.

“Hmm,” she cocked her head, “it sounds like a colossal waste of time, but…” she brightened “…you could actually make enough money with your salts to write things no one will pay to read! That’s a good thing for you! And you’d get out of this place,” she rolled her eyes and spun back around to the spreadsheet.

When Katie discovered that I couldn’t fill in the cost of my ingredients or crack baggies, she gave me a to-do list:
1. Find out all my costs, even transportation, shipping, etc. and bring them into work.
2. Design the packaging (“You’re a graphic designer, for Christ’s sake.”)
3. Think up a name for the company (“Poets are probably good for that stuff.”)

Here’s the thing: I did exactly what Katie told me to do. I didn’t feel like I had a choice. How could I say no to a woman who owns a Sybian?

Within six months, Saltlickers (I can’t remember how I came up with the name, but the runner-up was “Lot’s Wife.” YUCK!) had six flavors:
• Whassamatterhorn (rosemary, juniper berries and salt)
• Feather Duster (parsley, sage, celery, shallots and salt)
• Alliyum (yellow onions, scallions, leeks and chives)
• Peter Rabbit (dried radishes, dill and salt)

Including two finishing sugars:
• Puckery Sunset (pomegranate seeds, lemon and sugar) and
• Dirty Sanchez (orange, chipotle chili powder and sugar).

Roxy Taco (cumin, scallions, chipotle chili powder, oregano, lemon and salt) was invented for a baby shower. (The baby’s name was Roxy.)

At first, I printed labels for the crack bags at work (fuck the man), but soon scaled up to glass jars and got professionally printed labels from my friend, Miranda, who owned her own printing company. And behold! Friends and coworkers at McQueef & Stinkers, LLC, started buying the stuff. So I signed up for a booth at a hipster Brooklyn holiday craft fair. For a week, I was up every night until 3 am emptying and refilling dehydrator trays, turning ingredients into dust with coffee grinders, filling jars and putting on labels. I was so nervous, I actually kind of really wet my pants the first day, but I did well! My friend Donna swung by, checked out my set up and gave me some tips for the next day. I did even better!

“How much?” Katie asked when I walked in Monday morning. She had the spread sheet open, fingers poised above the keyboard, waiting to fill in the cell for the craft fair’s sales.

“Eighteen hundred dollars,” I said.

“You’re blushing,” she smiled. It was working!

Then I met Collin. “We can grow all this stuff in Iowa,” he said on his first visit, looking around at the sacks of onions and bags of pink radishes. We’d talked about it on the phone, and I’d sent him some jars. He loved them, but since he really only cooked frozen pizza, he gave them to his mom, who really loved them.

“You want to do Saltlickers with me?” I asked.

“Fuck yes. This is awesome.” I could tell he was taking a mental inventory of the equipment. I could also tell that he was figuring out how to streamline my squirrel bait processes. Thank God.

“It’s a lot of work,” I warned.

“It’ll be easier with two people,” he smiled. Right then I knew, I was ready to leave New York, and I had something really good to take with me.

Jennifer L. Knox is the author of four books of poems. Her work has appeared four times in The Best American Poetry series as well as in The New York Times, The New Yorker, and American Poetry Review. The Los Angeles Book Review said of her most recent book, Days of Shame & Failure, ‘”This panopoly of twenty-first century American human experience leaves the reader a different person.” She teaches poetry writing at Iowa State University and is currently at work on a culinary memoir. Jennifer is also the proprietor of Saltlickers, a small-batch, artisanal spice company.

Featured image via Pixabay.

‘Picnic Food,’ by Bhavna Misra

Bhavna Misra has been painting since she was a little girl. She grew up in the beautiful region of Himachal in India, surrounded by forests of pine trees, Himalayan mountains, green valleys, clear-water lakes, and diverse wildlife that made a lasting impression on her artistic endeavors. She never doubted that she’d be a painter one day!

She works as a contractor for the Alameda County Library System and she owns and operates Bhavna Misra Art Studio. Bhavna is professionally affiliated with Fremont Art Association. She lives in San Francisco Bay Area and online at bhavnamisra.com