What I love about cookbooks is that they make me excited to do something. They inspire me to action. They show me delicious, beautiful things — things that I might not even know I want until I see them and realize that I’m craving them. And cookbooks don’t just dangle the beautiful things in front of me; they show me how to make them myself. A well-written recipe gives me a road map for a journey that I never thought I’d go on, a journey I sometimes don’t even realize I’m on until I’m in the middle of following a recipe’s instructions.

By Rachel Ronquillo Gray

As a poet, I struggle constantly with these questions: What can poetry do in the face of so much violence and fear? What can a poem do? What do I want my poems to do? I don’t have an answer for these questions, and maybe I never will. I never imagined, though, that a book of poems would inspire me to cook.

Sarah Gambito’s latest collection, Loves You, combines poetry with cookbook. It’s a book that’s meant to be used, not simply read and set back on the shelf. It’s a poetry collection that’s organized like a cookbook; it’s divided into 5 flavors, like a cookbook might be: “Umami,” “Sour,” “Salt,” “Bitter,” and “Sweet.” Like so many cookbooks, the first piece in Loves You is called, “On How to Use this Book.” In cookbooks, this is the part where the author tells you all their tips, tricks, preferred ingredients and kitchen tools. In Loves You, it’s a poem that begins with the line, “You deserve your beautiful life” and morphs into a recipe for adobo, in which the first step is, “Invite at least 15 people.”

One of my earliest food memories takes place at a Filipino potluck. I was maybe 3 or 4 years old, and I was sitting on the floor in someone’s living room along with my mom and all her Filipina friends. We lived in a tiny town in rural Nevada called Lovelock, which had somehow managed to attract this group of Filipina nurses and my mother. Everyone balanced heaping plates of food on their laps, ate with their hands, talked loudly and laughed even louder.

When I read the first poem of Loves You, “On How to Use this Book,” I thought of this party, and the party where I met my childhood best friend, and the one my mother threw for my 16th birthday, and the one my mother’s friends threw for her birthday when she had just been diagnosed with incurable cancer, and the one my mother threw a year ago for my hometown wedding reception. Each one filled to the brim with so many people and so much food.

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