What do recipes, music, and poetry have in common?

Friday, September 15, 2006

Frank McCourt, the author of Angela’s Ashes and Teacher Man.

Last night I was watching Maria Hall-Brown’s show “Bookmark” on KOCE, and found myself enthralled with her program. It was just like a good book I couldn’t put down! Maria interviewed Pulitzer-Prize-winner Frank McCourt about his new memoir Teacher Man and his unconventional teaching techniques.

Frank wanted to teach his creative writing students about poetry and prose, but they didn’t have any interest in the subject. So, one day a student of his was talking about making Marzipans, and Frank didn’t have any idea of what that was, so the student said he’d bring some in to share with the classroom.

The next day, the student brought in these beautiful little Marzipan layer cakes molded into ornamental shapes and placed into colorful paper cups. Frank asked him for the recipe, and as the student recited it, Frank McCourt had visions of poetry, not only from the words, but also from the structure.

If you take a close look at the formula of a recipe, it does have similar structure to a poem. For instance:

Classic Petit Fours

• 1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
• 1 1/4 cup sugar (1 cup + 0.25 cup)
• 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
• 1/4 tsp almond extract
• 2 cups pastry flour
• 1 tbsp baking powder
• 1/4 tsp salt
• 3/4 cup buttermilk
• 6 egg whites


for the complete recipe go to:
Marzipan Recipe


Soon after that, students started bringing in various dishes from around the world. And since “eating in class” was forbidden, Frank McCourt suggested that they take their lunches out to the park across from the classroom. There they assembled underneath a shady tree and shared dishes from around the world. Students brought a variety of food, including some from Frank’s native Ireland. (One student brought a typical Irish 7-course meal: "a six-pack and a potato.")

The recipes flowed in, and the students read them aloud. One student suggested that the recipes be put to music, and after that, there were stringed instruments, horns, drums, and flute to accompany the reading of such delicious prose.

There was a break-through moment for Frank and for the class when a Chinese student read a traditional family recipe for Peking Duck in Mandarin. She’d brought her brother along with her to play a “strange stringed-instrument” while she read, and the sound was exquisite. So exquisite that the Principle came down from his office to ask, “What is all the racket?”
By that time, all the students had joined in with their cymbals, drums, flutes, toms, maracas and cowbells, while holding their recipe cards in song and dance, to conquer this thing called poetry!


Anyway, I found the episode riveting. Thank you Maria Hall-Brown for providing such wonderful content to KOCE. I don’t know if all of you outside Orange County, CA get the show Bookmark, but it is wonderful and she’s an awesome interviewer. Check out
for more info.



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