RG: Wow, neat question. I don’t know if I do. That’s such a great question because when you said especially fruit—it’s so true—because you know I’m bananas for fruit! (Laughter.) It’s just how it is, and you know not everyone is, but even as a little kid, the wild raspberries on the edge of the highway were my thing! I was just like, “Oh my god!” Or like the pear tree over in the other neighborhood where I used to skateboard, you’d go by and there was this pear tree ’cause they planted pear trees in Levittown, and evidently, people really didn’t know what these pear trees were all about, and on and on and on. So you’re right, you’re absolutely right to point out, or notice, that kind of thing. It’s true.
Catapult magazine · Listen to Ross Gay read “Spoon”
BG: Maybe that’s a place where you are more comfortable inhabiting pleasure—you seem to derive so much pleasure from it.
this is who you are
The Book of Delights
RG: Yeah, you can have a certain kind of relationship to gardening that is really impositional and the same old dumb shit, but the relationship to gardening that we’re talking about—it’s actually mysterious and it is being really curious—to practice the thing of: What beautiful thing are you going to show me today? Or how many pollinating creatures can one mint plant hold? It’s just too much.
But I feel like—and maybe this is evidence of alienation from the land—for some of us it requires a certain kind of practice to just be watching the land. Because how many people are really fucking giving a shit about the rain?
My grandparents were farmers and they weren’t farming anymore, but my grandfather checked the rain gauge every single day. Every single day. Enough that I knew as a little kid—I don’t know if he was recording, he may have been, but I definitely knew he was checking it.
He had his own alienations from the earth because they were using DDT and these other chemicals, but he was close to it in a certain kind of way. Having that kind of closeness—even though we walk on the earth every day, or traverse the earth, we often do not be like, “Oh, we’re with the earth today.”
BG: When you talked about closeness now, it made me think of a different aspect about food and cooking, which is sharing a vernacular around food, having some kind of commonality. Of course it’s very nurturing and amazing, but I’ve also noticed it can work differently. As someone who is an immigrant from India, people are always fucking asking me how to make chicken tikka or whatever. Which is not a problem in and of itself, but it becomes a shorthand—a code—and have you experienced that?
RG: I don’t know if I often have that [experience], which makes me think the question is probably gendered too, to some extent. But that’s such a good question. Have people made assumptions about me like that? I don’t know if they have. They make other assumptions . . . (laughter). Assumptions about me are like, “Do you play basketball?” which is also gendered. (Laughs.) I was just thinking what assumptions am I confirming or disconfirming in that “Spoon” poem with that description of my garden and my sweet potato biscuits and organic coconut oil . . . (laughter).
BG: That’s one of the great things about that particular poem for me: that you are actually confronting a lot of those things. I don’t know how much of it you were really thinking about—obviously you were—about race, masculinity, and while making your sweet potato biscuits.
RG: I don’t know how much I was . . . because Don, Don was like, “Can you put some baking soda in mine?” (Laughter.) I love a poem that tells you how to do something. People have said, “You know I’ve made those sweet potato biscuits,” and there’s not a whole recipe in there, but it’s like ok, sweet potato, baking soda, coconut oil, bunch of flour, and you gotta fry it, and I think I said maple syrup.
BG: You said maple syrup, yes. I was like, “Ok I don’t know how to make biscuits, but I want to know how to make biscuits.”
RG: I think I may have converted that recipe to just a cookie, it’s either a fried cookie or a baked cookie.
BG: You know, I’ve never heard of a fried cookie before.
RG: Fried cookie I call a biscuit. Someone’s gonna get rich doing that.
BG: So what do you like to cook now, Ross?
RG: Oh, I love that question. I love to cook. What am I cooking a lot now? My mother bought us a tagine, so I’m making a lot of things in the tagine. I make a lot of soup; I love a lentil soup. Lentil and green mushrooms, chickpea stew with mini sweet potatoes, garlicky and spicy, and I like spicy food. I make a very good hummus these days.
BG: Tell me your recipe for hummus.
RG: I do chickpeas—I don’t measure anything. Do you measure when you cook?
BG: I do.
RG: So I just do some tahini, a lot of olive oil, a bunch of chopped-up garlic, so maybe per can I might do like five cloves, and then I like to do cumin and maybe a little paprika. Every once in a while I throw in some hot stuff too, if I have Thai peppers or hot peppers. If Steph is eating it, I might throw in just a little bit of heat, but if it’s just mine I might throw in a bunch of peppers.
BG: That sounds amazing. I am curious: Do you use lemon in yours?
RG: Oh yeah, lemons.Also I love french fries. I just fucking love french fries.
BG: Oh my god! Do you make them at home? Do you have a fryer?
RG: I have a kind of thing: If it’s a big potato, I cut it in half and then cut the halves in four. And then I’ll just oil the pan. Mainly I use olive oil, or sometimes I’ll use coconut oil . . . but I make sure the pan’s covered, which I usually do with a potato (laughter). Then I just lay it out and I bake it at 400, 425, and it probably takes about twenty to twenty-five minutes, and I’ll flip ’em midway.
My mom is kind of a serious . . . she likes her food, she has strong opinions about what she likes, and when I was out there, she was just loving these. Like, Ross, you want to make those fries again?
BG: I really, really wish we could cook together.
RG: We will.
Ross’s Hummus Recipe (As Interpreted by Bix)
Ingredients: chickpeas – 1 can tahini – a quarter of a cup or so garlic, chopped – 5 cloves cumin – a hefty dash lemon juice – about 1 lemon, depending on the size and juiciness paprika – a dash, to your taste (or other peppers of your choosing; Ross sometimes does Thai peppers!) salt – a dash olive oil – a lot, maybe a quarter cup
Throw everything except the olive oil into a blender. Turn the blender on, and slowly add the olive oil using the drip hole or in whatever way you can. If the hummus is too dry or thick, add a bit of water. Keep going until the chickpeas are pureed and you have a smooth spread. Enjoy.
Bix Gabriel is a writer, teacher of creative writing, editor at The Offing magazine, 2021 Periplus Fellow, co-founder of TakeTwo Services, occasional Tweeter, and seeker of the perfect jalebi.
She has a M.F.A in fiction from Indiana University-Bloomington, and her writing appears in the anthology A Map is Only One Story, on Longleaf Review, Catapult, Guernica, and Electric Literature, among others. Her debut novel, Archives of Amnesia, was a finalist for the 2021 PEN Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction.
She was born in Hyderabad, India, and lives in Queens, NY.