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Culinary Inspiration

UCF students, alumni and faculty share a sampling of creative works inspired by gastronomical customs, memories and ingredients.


By Colleen Dieckmann

Creative writing MFA student

The Dasani water bottle was glinting in the sun, and I looked
down to see my sunglasses on my passenger seat. The old
Mazda coughed and I swore again, knowing I had to pay the
auto mechanic or wrangle with a car salesman. Damn
Florida sun, always pounding down. I put on the Dollar Tree
sunglasses and keep waiting for Tim to arrive from behind
the Taco Bell. Things are always ringing, true, false, come,
go, get together, break up, and the stains on the seats from
the crunch tacos always spilling the sauce and never quite
cleaning up. And the scent of stress, fast-food factories and
the half-life of service to the minimum of things, pay, tests,
possibilities and piles of bills and dreams and you should
haves. Tim finally saunters out the back door, squints at me
through the noonday sun. He opens the passenger door,
pushing the water bottle out of the way, taco juice dripping
from a take-out bag. “Let’s go,” he says, and I put the car in
gear, thinking about other tricks to get out the car seat stain.

Dieckmann hails from the windy city of Chicago and a small slice of Western Kentucky. She has published poetry and prose in The New Madrid and Memphis State, along with performing readings across the United States. Now living in Orlando, Diekmann is a writing instructor at a local college and MFA creative writing candidate at UCF. 


By Alex Gurtis ’17

English alum and creative writing MFA student

nothing prepares you for the loss of smell
the absence of cinnamon rolls
on Christmas morning,
and the missing spice of opening presents
with a smile made of icing
when you poured the London tea and only
the warmth of steam tickled your nose
flavor seems so distant as though each sip
was an attempt to swallow the Atlantic
and bring that looming ancient island
into the tiny apartment we were trapped in
you told me how it felt like pine needles lined
your inner nose, dried, pricking
the cast of cartilage, while you were unable to
leave to walk the dirt path leading
to the springs and singing birds
it now explains the kale in my sandwich on Saturday
and why the sandwich tasted so bitter, so sad,
and why I couldn’t taste the sautéed mushrooms
and garlic, oh how I can’t wait to once again taste
your sautéed mushrooms with garlic between two
slices of bread on our porch with our pot of tea

Household Economics

By Chrissy Kolaya

Assistant professor of English

His mother
was an aficionada

of rinsed
and reused

Were you to go hungry at night
it wasn’t
on her watch —

oatmeal in the meatloaf,
a hunk of government cheese,
some dough
fried over the stove.

At the picnic
years of abundance later
he finished his cabbage roll,
set his paper plate on the table,
plastic fork in hand,
tiny holes
through the Chinet —
a pattern
of a flower.

What are you doing?
asked his wife,
married in
from the good side of town.

should do it, too,
he tells her

or she’ll wash them all
and use them tomorrow.

That night
she stood watch
as he went for the closets,
reaching deep into her hiding places
laughing —
Sweet Lord,
how long have you had
holding out another
then another
of her treasures,
silently egging him on.

Each thing they threw into the trash pile
she remembered
saving for good,
saving against want,
a little something
put away
just in case.

As the sun set,
he hauled six trash bags —
brittle wrapping paper,
tinfoil smoothed flat,
napkins from the bakery —
out to the garage.

And that night,
as everyone slept but her,
she crept out to the garage
and saved it all again.

Kolaya is the author of the novel Charmed Particles and two books of poems, Any Anxious Body and Other Possible Lives. She’s an assistant professor of English and teaches in the MFA program in creative writing at UCF. You can learn more about her work at

Reading Terminal Market

By Tammy Komoff

Creative writing MFA student

Allow me to paint a picture — crowded narrow walkways between dark wooden food stalls. A sizzle and steam as short-order cooks sauté vegetables for customers in black puffer jackets. Fishmongers purge their displays, sloshing melted ice into sinks. And there, in the middle of the din, bright white and blue, is Olympus Gyro, a Greek lunch counter. It’s like the Isle of Santorini has been dropped into a muddy puddle.

The ghost of my father shaves lamb from a spit behind the counter. It’s not really him. I know that, but I’ve seen glimpses of him everywhere in the weeks since his death. This specter pulls me forward. I slide onto a leather stool and watch his busy hands make six dishes simultaneously. He spares me a quick smile, magically producing a menu and sliding it my way. My father did this job. Grandfather did too. That’s what Greeks did if they were lucky enough to escape the Turkish Genocide and make it here, open bars and restaurants.

I order spanakopita, spinach and feta between buttery phyllo dough. It should be crispy. It should crumble and flake down my sweater as I eat, but this has been cold and reheated. It’s mushy, like grandma’s. And suddenly I’m 6 again and sitting on Daddy’s lap eating last night’s leftovers. While he and Grandma, and her sisters, Teta Luba, Teta Pandora, laugh and lie and cheat at poker in a creole blend of English and Greek. The ghosts surround me, and for the length of lunch, I am home again, in a place and with people lost to time. I feel their love.

But the ghosts dissolve as I finish my meal. In a moment, I do as well, slipping into the dark-coated crowd. Olympus Gyro standing a bright beacon behind me.

Live Maine Lobsters

By David Gibson ’21MFA

Creative writing alum

In case you were wondering, I still have the lobsters — the ones I ordered for a romantic dinner from the back of The New Yorker, from back when we were dating. They came wrapped in seaweed and the Portland Press Herald, in a heavy brown box that said “Live Maine Lobsters” on the side, a box dented and dandruffed with wax.

I told you about them in the hospital, the Live Maine Lobsters, which I had meant as a surprise, and I apologized that I wouldn’t be able to steam them up with drawn butter and chewy French bread, and in the spaces between the morphine and the physical therapy and the uncomfortably erotic catheterizations, I told you that they were probably dying on my doorstep even then, tilted into the crusty snow eight thousand feet above the ocean waves.

I was there for a week, a week of pain waking me, of doctors putting me under. I knew you were there, three days and nights on that shiny green foldout, and then I knew that you weren’t for five days and nights more, but I thank you for driving me home — a prickly package of bandages and Percocet, four fractured vertebrae and a hematoma that swelled out of my lumbar like a purple-green parody of pregnancy. You said goodbye with a kiss I could not lean in for, and I kicked the cardboard coffin onto the carpet inside.

In time, though, the Live Maine Lobsters revived, and began clacking over the linoleum beside the dishwasher, and curling up on the carpet under the coffee table, skittering to the shower when they heard the water run. I snipped away their rubber manacles and let them live off the crumbs that fell around my electric-lift recliner, crusts of cold pizza and ham-and-cheese sandwiches and chicken pot pies. At night, their antennae gave cold caresses to feet slick in compression hose and black from where the blood had pooled, until I pushed them away with the crook of my cane.

They grew until they were the size of corgis. They knocked over lamps, and chewed up area rugs, made soggy nests of magazines behind the cushions of the sofa, so I moved them to the basement, which had always been damp anyway.

I am married now, and we have three children. Sometimes after dinner when we’re watching TV, they ask me what’s in the basement, and I smile and say, “Daddy things,” and they go back to their iPads. I double-check the knob on my way to the kitchen.

Some nights, when I know they are asleep, I roll up my pants and take the first two stairs into the basement, and I let the gray-green water lap over my feet. I toss in the mojo-spiced carcasses of rotisserie chickens and frozen packages of country-style ribs, and I watch their great shadows glide to where the bones sink. They are bigger now, massive even, large like sedans left to rust in the bottom of an abandoned quarry.

Some nights, like tonight, I take off my clothes and hang them on the handrail below the light switch, and I inch myself off the landing. I float with my face to the moldy ceiling, bobbing in the waves that the Live Maine Lobsters carve in their basement abyss. I hear the clacking of their claws, feel their antennae — hollow as reeds — on my legs, my feet, my once-broken back.

The water is deep, and it is dark, and it is so very, very cold.