Commentary, Line Cook

Line Cook // F. Douglas Brown + Slow-Roasted Tuna with Harissa and Olives

by Keetje Kuipers | Associate Editor

I have a thing for celebrity gossip. Or maybe it’s just a thing for celebrities. They occupy a space in my mind that I like to think of as a sort of no-fly-zone for intelligent thought. It’s just a little spot where I can go to daydream when the real world gets overwhelming or boring or both.

When I was the Margery Davis Boyden Wilderness Writing Resident, I spent seven months living by myself in a wilderness area two hours from the nearest town with only my dog for company. I passed many a long afternoon weeding the vegetable garden that fed me, and wondering if Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie had ever weeded a patch of carrots. Would Angie wear gloves or happily get dirt under her fingernails? And exactly how long would either of them last at any form of manual labor, especially one that takes place while you’re on your knees? These were the questions I turned over in my mind as I worked away in absolute solitude and isolation. (And hey, look, this year’s residency deadline is coming up next month—you should apply.)

Similarly, when I was pregnant with my daughter and throwing up every day (yes, every day for eight months), I took comfort in the fact that Princess Kate and I were on the same hyperemesis journey together. Imagining her retching into a silver pot in Buckingham Palace somehow made it easier for me to put my head in the toilet three times a day.

But lately, a different pregnant celebrity has been occupying my no-fly-zone headspace: Kylie Jenner. The normally hyper-public reality star became a recluse during her pregnancy, and I’ve been worried about her these last few months: Was she taking her prenatal vitamins? Would she breastfeed? And was Travis Scott, the baby daddy, ever going to stop touring and come home? Apparently, I wasn’t the only one: The first photo of baby Stormi, which debuted last week, broke the Instagram record, becoming in less that twenty-four hours the most liked Instagram photo of all time (it currently has over 17 million likes). I was happy for Kylie, and I also knew just which book of poems I wanted to push into the new mama’s long-fingernailed hands: Zero to Three by F. Douglas Brown.

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Actually, the Cave Canem Poetry Prize winner is a book I’d like to push into everyone’s hands. As Terrance Hayes writes in his blurb, “F. Douglas Brown writes on behalf of the families we make and the families that make us,” a topic we all can relate to, whether you’re a parent or a celebrity or both. But the book goes well beyond poems of parenthood, circling the track of loss again and again, from divorce to a parent’s death to the senseless murder of young Black men in America. And there is joy, too, which in many ways is a greater triumph in a book of poems. Brown’s “Make Out Sonnet” isn’t just one of the many fine examples of form in the book, it’s also one of the many fine examples of a brand of sweet playfulness that is deeply felt. These are those rare poems that actually make you feel grateful to be a human and to have been given the privilege to love (and sometimes loathe) oneself and others in the most complicated of ways.

I somehow missed this collection when it came out back in 2014, but thanks to Late Night Library’s killer podcast archives, I recently stumbled across it. For six years, LNL was a nonprofit organization out of Portland “dedicated to sustaining book culture” and particularly devoted to “supporting a diverse array of writers early in their careers.” The organization closed its doors in 2017, but you can still listen at their website to the many outstanding podcasts they produced. One of these, Late Night Debut, is a three-act show that features authors debuting their first books. There’s the standard bit where the debut author is interviewed, but even better is the middle act where two guest authors discuss the featured debut.

And speaking of celebrities, Tracy K. Smith makes an appearance as one of the guest authors discussing Zero to Three in the episode that features Brown’s book. After all, she was the judge who picked the manuscript from the pile. I never get tired of hearing Smith’s voice—on the page or over the radio—and this brief podcast interlude is no exception. Plus, at 35 minutes long, you’ve got just enough time to make your Slow-Roasted Tuna with Harissa and Olives1recipe courtesy of Melissa Clark’s excellent new cookbook Dinner, a meal that, in my opinion, a celebrity would definitely eat. I mean, it’s so fresh and simple and delicious, even Giselle Bundchen and Tom Brady might eat this one.

But first, for a peek at one of Brown’s playful but deeply felt poems, check out “How to Tell My Dad that I Kissed a Man.”

And one more little bonus before we eat: Prior to the publication of Zero to Three, Brown paired up with poet Geffrey Davis to co-author Begotten, a chapbook of poems which, as the PBS NewsHour puts it, “explores with tenderness and anxiety the joys and perils of being a father—especially a black father.” You can hear them read one of the poems for NewsHour here.

Slow-Roasted Tuna with Harissa and Olives

Ingredients

1.5 lbs albacore tuna, cut into 1 x 1.5 inch chunks
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon harissa
2 to 3 tablespoons sliced pitted olives (good quality black or green)
2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1 bay leaf
1 large sprig fresh rosemary, or 2 to 3 sprigs fresh thyme
Extra virgin olive oil
Flaky sea salt, for serving
Lemon wedges, for serving

  1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Season the tuna chunks all over with the salt and pepper, and then rub the harissa into them. Place the tuna in an oven-safe dish that will hold the chunks snugly, such as a 9-inch loaf pan or an 8-inch cake pan (you can use a bigger dish, but then you will need more oil to cover the tuna).
  3. Tuck the olives, garlic, bay leaf, and rosemary sprig around the tuna and pour in just enough olive oil to cover the fish.
  4. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and bake for 12 to 20 minutes, until the fish is slightly underdone for your taste. Be careful not to cook the fish all the way through because it will continue cooking as it rests in the hot oil. So when it’s just a bit too pink for you, take it out of the oven. Note that the cooking time depends not just on the heat circulation of your oven, but also on the type of material your pan is made out of. Metal pans tend to cook more quickly than glass or ceramic. So keep an eye on the fish and check it often.
  5. Let the fish rest in the pan for at least 10 minutes. Then serve it warm or at room temperature, with flaky sea salt sprinkled on top and lemon wedges on the side.

Clark recommends serving the tuna “with plenty of its fragrant oil spooned over raw spinach or baby kale” along with a side of quinoa or farro. I did her one better and dressed some fresh spinach with the oil and then placed a scoop of her Farro & Crispy Leeks with Marinated Chickpeas and Currants on top before piling on the tuna. Out of this world… but it takes 45 minutes to make, so you’ll need a second podcast to listen to if you’re going to make that recipe, too.