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Blameless Mouth Blog Tour: Revision

Most days, I can tell who

I am.

I wasn’t always like this,

sucked so dry I needed to buy slick lotions

to rub into my skin–

I wasn’t always like this.

Oh, the wonders I once held

warm in my cupped hands, then forgot.

I turn the page, waving like a white flag.

I lived once

without my need:

The mouth that yawns wide,

a deep black hole.

The mouth that hates silence. Asks

too many simple questions.

The mouth I always feared

was too big.

The mouth I made too small.

Can we teeter together

on this knife’s edge of having and wanting –

the blameless mouth and

the blameless woman

who wears you

like a crimson rose, opening

on her expansive, snow

silenced fields?

The above is a compilation of lines taken from a variety of poems in poet Jessica Fox-Wilson’s Blameless Mouth manuscript. As a long-time friend, I am hoping she’ll forgive me for fracturing and reconstructing her work as part of my participation in her virtual book tour to give you a taste of her book.

I had many grand plans for this stop on her book tour. I envisioned pairing exciting new recipes with her poems on hunger and satiety. I envisioned relating the themes of Blameless Mouth—consumption both mindful and unmindful, wanting, possessing—with the politics of the way we eat. I considered tying masculine and feminine relationships to hunger and food to a close reading of her remarkable collection.

Ultimately, I have done none of these things.

My own relationship to food lately has been changing. I am nearly four months pregnant (YAY!), and, thanks to some powerful, persistent nausea, I spent a good deal of the past 3 months avoiding the kitchen and dreading food. As I have entered the second trimester, however, food has again begun to look and smell and taste appealing, and I find myself more and more back in the kitchen I love as my energy levels slowly pick up. The food I make now is not just for myself and my husband; it is for the tiny person I am only just beginning to know.

I can’t yet know the ways in which becoming a mother will change me, but I know that many of the aspects of women’s lives portrayed in Blameless Mouth will be part of that transformation: voice, agency, hunger, and satiety. Jessica’s poems examine what women seek, what we are willing to speak, how we silence ourselves and are silenced by others, how voids are created inside ourselves as we grow into women, and what role we and others have in filling such voids.

I am neither a young mother nor an inexperienced person, which means that I will be fortunate enough to approach motherhood from a position of relative strength. I have learned to acknowledge the importance  of satisfying my own hunger even as I care for others and learned to be comfortable speaking what is worth saying in spite of my fear. I have grown to be at peace with my own blameless mouth. That peace is what I most want to teach my child, boy or girl.

Jessica’s collection of poetry runs a wide range, depicting both fear and fearlessness when faced with one’s true self and one’s own desires. For that reason, Blameless Mouth has broad application; so many women can see themselves in the women portrayed in this book. All of us are intimately familiar with what it means to be scared and silenced and ashamed and uncertain at times. All of us also know what it means to be bold and confident and fierce and strong. In being and expressing honestly who we are, in accepting ourselves in the present moment even as we critically examine both self and society, we are all of us blameless.

If you haven’t yet read this book, pick up a copy. It’s honest, clear, compassionate, and compelling. In it, I see myself and the women around me. It’s beautiful, memorable, and utterly remarkable.

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What would it mean for you to be blameless?

Although thoughts of new Christmas cookies are still dancing in my head, I’m going to take a breather from the kitchen to share some news. As the year begins to wind to a close, I’ve been thinking a lot about the path I have walked this last year, focusing especially on where I have chosen to allocate my time and where I have not. More and more, as the world in Wisconsin has grown snowy and still, I have been mentally refocusing on my creative priorities. A big part of that has been reflecting on the immense strides that two of my friends have taken this year as artists. Most recently,  Jessica Fox-Wilson done gone and published a manuscript. It’s called Blameless Mouth, and I can’t wait to read it. Her collection of poems is focused around issues I explore over and over again on this blog and off it: hunger, consumption, and satiety. I focus on these themes often—but not always—literally, but Jessica blends the literal with the metaphorical: hunger for food, for possessions, for the intangible; and she highlights what we consume in the quest to satiate that hunger.

A large part of ourselves and the environment we have built can be illuminated if we are bold enough to identify hunger in our lives, critically examine our consumption, and cultivate a sense of satiety that perhaps doesn’t depend on consumption, at least not in the sense of exhausting resources.

For quite a while now, Jessica has used her own blog to make public her journey as an artist. She invited us in as she moved from concept to concept, from one stand-alone piece to another. Over time, she has nurtured a series of poems that have grown like a tangle of flowering vines from a single common root. Last week she posed a challenge to those of us who have been watching her build her narrative one verse at a time.

Tell me, she said, what would it mean for you to be blameless?

This is a question with heft and jagged edges. It’s the kind of question that must be handled gingerly, or it cuts. Often deeply. At the same time, it is a question that yields nothing if not grasped firmly with both hands.

It’s a question I have avoided answering for the past week.

Part of me believes that to be blameless is to be inhuman. We are all of us bruised and corrupt and angry and selfish at times. We are all of us careless and hasty. All of us understand what it is to begrudge another. All of us have been supremely worthy of blame at different points in our lives. What would it mean to be blameless? I collect even the most minor missteps I have made in my life. In my memory are dozens upon dozens of monuments to my fallibility, all of them gleaming dully like trophies. I don’t visit them regularly, but they’re there. Whenever I believe myself to be at fault for yet another infraction, I find myself there, surrounded by the collected errors of a lifetime on display in my mind. I run over and over and over them. I know all their shapes and weights and textures by heart.

I cannot be blameless. Over the years, however, I have come to understand that each and every one of the times that I have found myself to blame has been essential to beauty, to growth. Understanding the consequences of haste, the opportunity that comes with weakness, the wisdom that comes from recognizing the hurt I have caused to another—these are pieces of my life worth treasuring. Not only do they have a great deal to offer, but they also have been bought at a price. This is, perhaps, what it means to be blameless. To walk through life acknowledging when I have done wrong, avoiding similar missteps as best I can, and holding the insights from these moments as precious because of the cost at which they were bought.

To be blameless is also to be fearless, particularly where our voices are concerned. Frankly, our mouths are known to get us into trouble. We hunger for food, people, things, love. Sometimes, our mouths are full of a bitter truth, an unpopular opinion, or a call to action that demands we give up our own comfortable apathy. Too often, especially as women, we are berated or berate ourselves for speaking truth openly or for hungering, for wanting more than what we are generally allowed. Being blameless means accepting hunger as a necessary part of living and fearless speech as necessary part of living well.

Ultimately, to be blameless is not to be free of blame. It is simply to forgive ourselves and to understand that so much of what is good and beautiful in us is there not in spite of our flaws, but because of them.

I love that Jessica’s first widely public manuscript is Blameless Mouth. With each poem, with each day well-lived, with each misstep, Jessica has been growing more fearless. Although she may not know it, I have been growing more fearless alongside her. Today, here she stands in a crowd of loved ones and strangers, her hands weighted with poems.

Her blameless voice is about to be heard.

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The Episode in Which I Go Granola…Again

A few weeks ago, the Unicyclist was tapped to bring in food for an evening seminar he’s taking. He said the group has been on something of a hummus kick, so he decided to stick with the theme and whip up a batch of homemade hummus. I chose to balance it with a sweet treat and made a couple pans of granola bars for him to take along.

Apparently, the granola bars were a huge hit, as my husband came home with nary a granola bar and a heaping pile of requests for the recipe. Of course, when he delivered this news to me, the Unicyclist shook his head ruefully. He knows me and recipes…particularly where a staple like granola is concerned. All this meant, however, was that our household wound up with another batch of granola bars this week, as I had to make and measure in order to pass on instructions! So, without further ado, this one goes out to the hungry grad students. May you have long life and abundant supplies of granola. Wo0t!

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A New Way of Looking at Your Salad

Check out this fascinating video–it’s both inspiring and somewhat frightening in its implications. (Remember the Roald Dahl story “The Sound Machine”?) You’ll think about plants in an entirely new way.

And, just for good measure (and because Halloween is coming)…

Something new to digest, as it were.

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Thursday Lessons Learned

I have pumpkin bars in the oven and the magical apple butter recipe has been received, so expect posts on those in the next few days, as promised. In the meantime, however, content yourselves with a post on Just One more Thing I Have Figured Out in the Process of Getting Less Ignorant About a Whole Lotta Things.

My friend 9to5 Poet at Everything Feeds Process recently asked her Twitter followers to complete this sentence:

I am too _________ to be perfect.

Although I didn’t respond, the one word that has jumped up as the one to fit that sentence is “self-aware.” To some extent, I mean that in the sense of how I overanalyze what I do, but in another sense, it’s just the fact that I know better than to use the word “perfect” as an objective descriptor for anything or anyone, particularly myself. Fortunately, life is pretty good at keeping the size of my head under control with daily reminders in the form of “whoops!” moments. Sometimes those happen on a large scale. More often, fortunately, they happen on a small scale.

For example: I made carrot cupcakes this week. I had been wanting to make these particular carrot cupcakes for quite some time, as I got the recipe from the Willy St. Co-op, whose carrot cupcakes are second only to heroin in their addictive properties. I got the recipe legitimately, by contacting customer service and having a little confessional about my carrot cupcake habit. The very gracious Liz Hawley absolved me of my guilt and hooked me up with the recipe for the full sheet cake version, which I had to hack down to a normal batch of cupcakes. Once that was done, I got busy and started baking on Tuesday.

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Thanksgiving with Bean Pie–Hold the Turkey

It took a bean pie to get me back here.

It started with the beans themselves–heirloom Christmas beans splashed with maroon and cream. They are the size of giant Lima beans. Broad and flat, with  rich, chesnut flavor and creamy texture. These are the beans I wanted.

I soak them, cook them, whir them into a nutty cream with vanilla, eggs, agave nectar, and barley malt, and pour the fragrant mixture into a flaky cream cheese crust. I sprinkle the top liberally with pecans and bake the pie for the better part of an hour.

I wait.

The house smells delicious. And soon, I will be trying a recipe from Native Seeds that I have been wanting to try for literally years.

I just had to wait for the perfect beans. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Things have changed drastically around here, beyond the new job that kept me hopping. The Unicyclist and I moved to Wisconsin in August, a move we had been talking about for more than a year. Southeastern Wisconsin certainly has no shortage of food adventures, however, and now that we are as unpacked as we will be for a while, I’ll be posting here again more regularly. Farms and orchards and CSAs and co-ops are plentiful here, not to mention family and community gardens. Plus, we folk like to eat.

In the meantime, Jessica tipped me off to this very fun map of regional recipe searches for Thanksgiving, which illustrates that regional food is not entirely dead…though it is sometimes odd. Why is Nevada devouring mac and cheese and a virtual desert of cheesy carbs, for example? Who can say? Take a peek and let me know, if you did up a Thanksgiving feast for the holiday–what are your must-have staples, and where did you try something new this year?

(I do still promise to give the details on the rest of that Colorado trip…that cholocate is still pretty vivid in my mind. But for now…it’s just about lunchtime.)

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Mile High Eats

At the end of July, the Unicyclist and I went to Colorado for my cousin’s wedding. It was a gorgeous affair at an amazing location near Pine. Best of all, we were lucky enough to stick around the state for a week afterward to enjoy the mountains and rivers of Colorado…and its small towns and giant cities.

And there was food. Did I mention the food? Post-wedding, our first big adventure was at Denver’s The Oven. It’s owned by the amazing Mark Tarbell, who is responsible for our favorite spot here in Phoenix as well: the eponymous Tarbell’s.

Of course, since the week was a family fest, we had a party of great aunties and moms and dads along for the feast, which was perfect for the laid-back atmosphere of the place. The house-made mozzarella was delicious, the focaccia amazing, the variety of spreads tangy and savory and rich. And the pizzas, of course, were perfection. The company was the best part, especially with the long wooden tables and shared dishes. The staff even comped us dessert when they found out we’d stopped in as fans of the Phoenix restaurant. If you’re ever fortunate enough to come across anything Mark Tarbell has had a hand in cooking, pull up a chair and tuck in. That’s all I have to say about that.

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In Which Our Heroine Eats Well Across State Lines

As the steaming asphalt may have reminded you, it’s still summer. Perhaps, like me, you’ve recently spent some time thinking about how much people seem to do in the summer. They get married and go on trips, they light sparklers and host cookouts, they move houses and have reunions with gaggles of relatives. And, despite all my odd-duck tendencies, I am pretty normal in that respect.

I have been hard to catch lately in part due to work, but equally due to play. The past six weeks have been peppered with jaunts to Michigan, the Coconino National Forest, Colorado, and the Petrified Forest. The sights were stunning, and there was plenty of good eating. I’m going to try to get you caught up on the eats and the sights this week.

I’m going to start small: Prescott. Only a brief jaunt away, it was a great escape to higher elevation and cooler climes on Fourth of July weekend. We camped under pine trees and spent a day hiking just before the rains came and soaked the town.

The Unicyclist, as you can see, was working his mid-project mountain man look. Since then, his project has been completed and released, and the Unicyclist has been shaved and shorn. The Great Circle of Life or something, I’m sure. Here, you can see Mountain Man trying out his mini-binoculars, seeing something cool and many-legged, no doubt.

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Back to the Blog: Another Day at the Farm

It’s July in the Sonoran Desert. The cicadas sing, dust storms roil on the horizon several times a week, the garden is dry and listless, and mesquite pods have begun to litter the ground. Meanwhile, I try to figure out when I can comb the neighborhood for mesquite pods to make flour for the year sometime in my crazy schedule.

It’s been a week of peanut butter sandwiches, if you know what I mean. It’s been several weeks of peanut butter sandwiches, in fact. With the Unicyclist and myself both in crunchtime, “real” meals are sorely neglected. There’s a lot of peanut butter, a lot of omelet, a good deal of hummus and raw veggies, and a fair bit of pancake. It’s all about the quick and the easy—what real food we can whip up and eat in a half hour.

Since I’ve been so busy, I’ve definitely missed updating the community here on the fabulous summer events we’ve enjoyed thus far: the second farm day, our escape to cooler climes in northern Arizona, and a darn fine Vietnamese noodle salad I will be enjoying for lunch this week. While I could begin with any one of those things, it seems best to begin by showing some of the pictures from the most recent farm day. Frankly, farm day embodies hope. After all, when my own garden is decidedly brown and crunchy, it’s incredibly encouraging that someone is able to grow things during the months of triple-digit weather.

As you will recall, last farm day hit during artichoke season. This time around, however, it was a stand of June corn that sat ripe and ready in the hundred-degree heat. The rows of artichokes were overgrown and buzzing with bees. The buds had burst into bloom like hundreds of violet fireworks.

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Greens for Everyone!

The White House garden is bearing fruit. And vegetables.

I heard about it on NPR on my drive this afternoon. Sam Kass, White House Associate Chef, was talking about all the things the students of Bancroft Elementary have learned while working with Michelle Obama. These are the students who dug the dirt back in early spring, the students who planted the seeds and helped tend the garden. Today, these students joined the First Lady and a whole mess of press for a harvest meal.

For today’s feast, lettuces, chard, peas, and kale were in abundance, the early tomatoes were just shy of ready, and Sam had the opportunity to show off the first eggplant snuggled in the greens. Kids were eating vegetables seconds after picking them today. The best part of all, however, was listening to Kass describe the effects the garden had on the students. He focused on one student in particular, who spoke of having learned the importance of gentleness—with the plants, with the earthworm he dug up—and what that meant for his relationships outside the garden.

Give it a listen. It will make you smile.

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