Saturday, March 12, 2011

After the Ark by Luke Johnson, Poems

A man I used to know, Luke Johnson, recently published his first book of poetry, After the Ark, with NYQ Press. I'm a bit biased toward the book, of course, since I knew Luke a few years ago, but I found a lot to love about the poems in this book and the arc of the poems as a whole. Luke plays with formal poetry (often breaking the rules) and the poems in the book create an elegy to his mother.

On Luke's blog, you can find links to several of the poems which appeared in journals with an online component. My personal favorite of the ones available online might be "Laundromat," but ask me on a different day and my answer could change. This one, however, I've printed and taped in my kitchen, along with other favorite poems (including poems by Ted Kooser, Natasha Tretheway, Ander Monson, Sharon Olds, and Philip Levine) so I see them when I'm cooking or baking.

My friend Annie, from Simple Gifts, and I talk about poetry fairly often--what we've read, what we like about particular poems or collections, what we're experimenting with, the poets or collections we currently love. One of the things we talk about is that conversations about poetry rarely happen and that a lot of people can't name contemporary poets. This makes me a little sad and so I asked a non-writer friend why he felt uncomfortable talking about poetry, even when he's read it (which he did willingly enough in a book club, but might not do on his own). He said he didn't know where to start with a book of poems -- that whenever he'd talked about poetry in the past he'd talked about individual poems, rather than a collection.

So this is my remedy to some of that. I'm flexitarian writer, after all, and it only seems appropriate to talk about books from time to time -- or at the very least, poems in the public domain, such as those from Poetry Daily. I hope you'll join me in talking about books -- and about poetry.

Check out the Facebook page for After the Ark.

Cappuccino Cookies - Vegan & Gluten-Free

Cappuccino Cookies (they're vegan and gluten-free!)
As regular readers know, a friend of mine requires a gluten-free diet and her boyfriend is vegan. Cooking and baking for them isn't a challenge, exactly, but it is always an adventure, especially when I've been eager to try a new (non-vegan and/or GF) recipe. Luckily, the vegan is happy whenever someone bakes him something (the best type of customer!) and my GF friend is more than willing to provide me with xantham gum when I'm trying to convert a recipe to GF -- which is good because xantham gum is expensive, especially if you're not planning to use it on a regular (to me this means weekly or more often) basis! As I've mentioned in previous posts, xantham gum is binding agent and is necessary in most gluten-free recipes since you've lost the binding ability gluten provides.

Dough balls

I noticed this recipe on Joy the Baker's blog back in February and knew I had to try it (well, minus the white chocolate, not a favorite of mine). But, I didn't have an occasion (or the time) to make the 2 dozen cookies the recipe yields (note: I actually got a little over 3 dozen, I must have made mine smaller though they're plenty big in my opinion).

Fortunately, there was a potluck on Friday evening and I needed to bring a side or a dessert. Excellent excuse, right? Especially excellent since the crowd I'd be with drinks a lot of coffee. It's a group of writers, what can I say? We definitely live up to the stereotype in that department. But, I wanted to make sure my vegan friend and my GF friend could eat whatever I brought also. I decided it was worth at least trying to convert this recipe -- if it didn't work, I could always bring a side dish.

The original recipe calls for 1 egg and 1 egg yolk. Egg replacer works great for the egg, because it binds and helps create a fluffy product. Ground flax seed works well for the egg yolk because of the higher fat content and the ability to easily adjust liquid (usually you should mix 1 tablespoon of flax seed to 3 tablespoons of water to create a "flax" egg--in this recipe, I mixed 4 teaspoons of flax with 3 tablespoons of warm water). This was the first time I'd tried this replacement combination and was glad it worked!

These cookies taste like coffee and chocolate, which I think is pretty lovely, and get thin (usually I prefer thicker, chewier cookies). Like other gluten-free products they don't brown as well, so it can be hard to tell if they're "brown around the edges," but if you look closely, you'll see they do. They were a hit at the potluck!

I used Bob's Red Mill Gluten-Free All-Purpose flour (although this seems to taste particularly "gluten-free" compared to some other brands I've tried), because that's what's on hand at my closest grocery store, vegan margarine, and vegan chocolate chips. As I've warned before, some vegans will not eat refined sugars -- the vegan who will eat these cookies doesn't care. Be sure to ask your vegan if you have doubts!

Cappuccino Cookies - Vegan & Gluten-Free
Makes: about 3 dozen cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) vegan butter (i.e. – Earth Balance), softened
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 ½  Ener-G egg replacer, mixed with 2 tablespoons water until thick
4 teaspoons ground flax seed, mixed with 3 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 1/4 cup gluten-free all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon, rounded, xantham gum
1 teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons instant espresso powder
1 cup vegan chocolate chips, coarsely chopped.

Place racks in the center and upper third of the oven and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Set aside and we'll preheat the oven after we chill the dough.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, xantham gum, baking soda, salt and instant espresso powder.

Beat together butter and sugar until light and fluffy (about 5 minutes, by hand or 3-5 in a stand mixer). Scrape down the sides of the butter-sugar mixture with a spatula and add the egg replacer, flax seed egg, and vanilla. Beat until fluffy, about 1-2 minutes.

Add the dry ingredients, all at once. Mix until just combined and then fold in the chocolate chips until well combined. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour (an hour and a half seemed to work better for me).

Just before you're ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Scoop cookie dough by the heaping tablespoonful onto the prepared baking pans. Bake for about 12-13 minutes, until lightly browned around the edges. Remove from the oven, allow to cool on the baking sheet for about 10 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely. Store cookies in an airtight container.

**Hint: These cookies spread a fair amount, so give them space on the pan. Dropping them about 2” apart seemed to work pretty well, though some of the edges touched.