Eve Hill-Agnus

Food Critic, D Magazine

English teacher turned award-winning food critic, Eve Hill-Agnus, reflects on the meter of Gerard Manley Hopkins’s nature poetry, which strikes a new chord in her during this strange spring spent in isolation. And with ever a love of beautiful food on her heart, Hill-Agnus looks to certain cookbooks for colorful inspiration while she spends her days cooking for herself and dyeing fabric using the shibori method.


1) A poem: “The Windhover” by Gerard Manley Hopkins

I cannot think of anything more sonically delicious or moving or more fitting for spring than this gorgeous poem by the late 19th-century poet, which centers on a bird in flight. It teaches me, with each reading, to catch a glimpse of Nature as kingdom. I ride the words like air currents and find in them lightness and verbal iridescence—a before-his-time avant-garde-ness and subtle spiritual grace. I’m finding comfort in Hopkins’ work in this quarantine time, when the outside world feels more alive than ever—lines from “God’s Grandeur” keep coming back to me: “And for all this, nature is never spent; / There lives the dearest freshness deep down things.”

 

2) A cookbook: Bryant Terry’s vegan cookbook Vegetable Kingdom (Ten Speed Press, 2020)

From the cover with its image of jerk tofu wrapped in charred collard leaves, Terry’s cookbook speaks the language of abundance. Organized into seeds, bulbs, stems, flowers, fruits, fungi, roots, the recipes collect the Afro-Asian, Afro-Caribbean, and American Southern diasporas in an ode to nourishment. Terry is inspired by artists Romare Bearden and Jean-Michel Basquiat, and I hear-see-feel them in it. There’s an unstoppable joy in books like this. Plus, it comes with a playlist.

 

3) A technique: shibori dyeing

Websites like Seamwork and books like Shibori: the art of indigo dyeing (CICO Books, 2018) are portals into this ancient textile art that I find infinite in its simplicity. I admire the minimalism—stacking, folding, threading, dipping to achieve depth of color, the nuances and subtleties of white and smoky-edged indigo blue. It brings me back to where we really are.

 

4) A cookbook and website: Milk & Cardamom by Hetal Vasavada (Page Street Publishing, 2019)

I want Vasavada to cook for me: her sugary ladoos and burfi bites and strawberry lassi spell comfort. The photos are lush and to me there’s joy in cardamom-laced almond brittle and rose and pistachio-studded frosted cakes that come from Vasavada’s experience as a first-generation Indian American, speaking in a gorgeous language of sweetness and depth.

 

5) A miniseries: the Netflix original series Unorthodox

Anna Winger’s just-released work is immersive and beautifully acted and shot. The protagonist Esty, who’s poised between the Williamsburg ultra-Orthodox Jewish community she’s fleeing and the Berlin dream she’s seeking, is magnificently played. The series plunges me into a world, but the tug of tradition and individuality are timeless and universal. The struggle is profoundly human. And to capture that humanity in a short span of time feels even more poignant now.

 

6) A baker and her workshops and blog: Tara Jensen of Smoke Signals and @bakerhands

I’ve been mesmerized by Tara Jensen since a 2016 Bon Appetit profile, Smoke Signals, described the groundedness of her baking practice with a wood-fired oven in rural North Carolina. She is a sourdough whisperer. She hosts workshops and makes lattice-top pies (whorls and crimps and leaves), and her Instagram feed has been awash in supportive, quarantine-inspired posts about feeding and tending starter, from first bubbles to 85 percent-hydration loaves.

 

7) An author: Penelope Fitzgerald

I return to Fitzgerald at important moments in my life—who knows why. I do know that I admire her writing, which is taut and lithe and strange in the most wonderful ways. (To me, she’s the fiction equivalent of Joan Didion, who deserves to be another item in this list.) I find that Fitzgerald knows how to tell a story in ways that almost no one else does—assembled from nothing and everything. I love Offshore, but the one I return to most is The Beginning of Spring, set in Moscow. That’s the one I’m reading now.

 

8) A website: Brain Pickings

There is nothing like the slowness of Brain Pickings, which unfurls at the pace of Maria Popova’s brain, taking its time to linger on the things that shouldn’t be rushed. Who else will take you from the Maurice Sendak’s “forgotten philosophical children’s book about love, loneliness, and knowing what you really want” to E.E. Cummings on art and life or again to thoughts about Kepler and science fiction?

 

9) A podcast: 99 Percent Invisible

On the topic of esoterica, Roman Mars’ podcast has me hooked. Not every episode speaks to me, but the ones that do deliver nuggets with a special kind of staying power. Recently, an episode about the Anchorage, Alaska community’s reaction to a 1964 earthquake was stunning and spoke to human responses to shared crisis. https://99percentinvisible.org/episode/this-is-chance-redux/

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