Sandra Beasley is the author of four poetry collections—Made to Explode, Count the Waves, I Was the Jukebox, which won the 2009 Barnard Women Poets Prize, and Theories of Falling—as well as Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life, a disability memoir and cultural history of food allergies. She served as the editor for Vinegar and Char: Verse from the Southern Foodways Alliance. Honors for her work include the 2019 Munster Literature Centre’s John Montague International Poetry Fellowship, a 2015 NEA fellowship, and five fellowships from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities. She lives in Washington, D.C.
Here, she talks about fruit curry, not having a sweet tooth, and waking up early to cook beans.
On her all-time favorite meal:
I’ve had amazing restaurant meals all over—Cork, Hawaii, Cyprus, San Antonio, Paris, Seattle—but eating out can be complicated for me, because I have severe food allergies. I remember lots of restaurant meals that were amazing right up until my lips started tingling, and from there it became awful. So, what I seek on a menu is less about decadence or surprise, and more about simple, memorable flavors and a knowledgeable staff.
My all-time favorite meal is posole verde, which I first had in Santa Fe. We were on an impromptu getaway in December 2014, to celebrate that I’d won a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in poetry. I’d first had posole off the in-house menu at La Posada, where we were staying, but I knew other versions were out there. So, I looked up Maria’s New Mexican Kitchen and made it my mission to try theirs—which was everything promised, rustic and rich—and then I ordered it another half-dozen times during the trip, at cafes all around the Plaza.
Posole has since become something I make, a signature dish to serve at family gatherings. The “green” comes from lots of tomatillos, three types of spicy pepper—usually Serrano, poblano, and jalapeno, since I don’t have easy access to hatch chiles—chopped savoy cabbage, cilantro, and the anchoring hominy and chicken. I like to garnish my bowl with sliced radishes, avocado, and an extra dollop of hot sauce.
On what the light looks like during her favorite meal of the day:
I’m not much of a morning person. But there’s a particular joy of waking up a bit earlier than usual and getting a jump on cooking lima beans in our Southwest DC apartment. I have a poem about that, “Little Love Poem”: “The 6 a.m. sun considers everything, / humming its way past the Capitol….Fordhook, always Fordhook, / drizzle of olive oil, pinch of salt, shake // of chili flakes.” Ideally there would also be a few strips of Benton’s bacon sizzling in a pan, too.
On snacking while writing:
I don’t feel tempted to snack while drafting, but I’ll pour a neat scotch. My favorite kinds are Dalwhinnie and, for a smokier finish, Oban.
On her go-to late-night snack:
Raw almonds stacked on Triscuits, or—if I have them handy—Harvest Crisps, a.k.a. crisped snap peas, which I specifically do not keep handy because I eat them by the entire bag.
On her food quirks:
I don’t like it when a dish uses both red bell peppers and tomatoes; one or the other, sure, but never at the same time. Since my food allergies include dairy and egg, I didn’t grow up caring much for chocolate or desserts. No sweet tooth. I go heavy on the salt and spice.
On her final meal request:
My mother makes an amazing fruit curry with pineapple, onions, granny smith apple, golden raisins, and shredded coconut. Even just thinking about it now, I can taste the care of assembly in every bite. That would be a good final meal, ladled over roast chicken or ham, with fluffy white rice and a side of grilled broccoli rabe—and I’d want to share it with my family, on the back deck of my parents’ house overlooking Wolf Trap Woods as the sun sets in Virginia.
Or: a rack of ribs from Abe’s Bar-B-Q, picked up to-go and taken back to the Shack Up Inn outside Clarksdale, Mississippi. All I’d need to complete that meal is the company of my husband, Champneys, and the sound of a rain falling on a tin roof.