The place where you are right now, God circled on a map for you. — Hafiz
I drink my first cup of coffee sitting on my sister’s porch watching sunrise pink the sky behind power lines and triangular roofs. This may not be Kauai but it is as beautiful in its linear, muted way; and besides, it’s the people who color this landscape for me. What I miss most when I’m not here is the overt friendliness of Southern Californians.
On mornings I run, I’m greeted by dozens of pedestrians and neighbors. This quality of chattiness and curiosity feels so specific to San Diego. No matter how much it’s grown, it still feels like the small community where I grew up.
One morning I met Martin and Zoie. Martin uses a cane and built his home on First Street 50 years ago. Zoie is his 12 year-old Dachshund with an arch in her spine that’s the result of a puppy incident with a car. Martin’s desert landscaped yard is a fascinating geographic and botanical lesson. He has a thorny “Dr. Seusian” plant from Madagascar that is topped with white flowers.
“The trees grow to 20 feet tall in Madagascar and the lemurs use the thorns as a ladder to escape their prey,” he tells me.
Then just this morning I met a handsome Latin gentleman preparing his three vintage American made cars for a Labor Day car show at J Street Marina. I told him about my ’69 Chevy Impala convertible with red leather interior, that I drove all the way to Seattle.
My sis and I have been cooking together but no recipe today.
There’s breakfast people and there’s dinner people.
I like my coffee on an empty stomach early in the morning, followed by a leisurely dog walk and then a bite to eat around 9 a.m., which usually consists of cereal and yogurt; a one dish item requiring no preparation and few dishes.
On weekends when my husband is home, breakfast is a much bigger deal. The oven is a foreign place for him, so his experiments only require a skillet and a flame. The man who shrinks from any form of cooking that requires a knife, happily tosses a bunch of raw ingredients into a mixing bowl in search of the perfect pancake.
And he found it.
He’s fallen in love with almond butter and cottage cheese, slathering them both on bread or whirring into his smoothies. Last weekend I sat cradling a coffee mug in my lap, as I watched him twist open jars, ravage cabinets and fridge for a host of boxes and containers he spread across the kitchen counter.
I was skeptical, but not for long. Even in the cast iron skillet, that he swears is the superior tool for the browning of pancakes, these little cakes looked different. Then I took my first bite and there was no question, these are the most tender and flavorful pancake I’ve ever eaten.
First, a disclaimer: Don’t dismiss the use of a pancake mix. Wes has studied the finer points of all box mixes and has tested a dozen: Aunt Jemima Original Pancake Mix is the best. Don’t substitute with the “complete” or any other strange variation. The key is the word “original.”
Almondy Cottage Cakes, drenched in Maple syrup
1 cup Aunt Jemima Original Pancake Mix
3/4 cup milk
2 mashed bananas
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1/4 cup cottage cheese
1/4 cup almond butter
Coconut oil for the pan
Pour all the ingredients into a bowl. Wes uses an immersion blender, even though he’s aware some cooks caution against over-mixing. He said the cottage cheese and almond butter make the batter dense and a blender works best for combining the ingredients, with no threat of toughening the texture.
Heat a teaspoon or two of coconut oil in the pan and make pancakes to your preferred size. This recipe yields 6 to 8 pancakes. We double it and freeze some for eating during the week.
Affirmations, mantras, exercise, meditation — I have a list of strategies to buoy my spirit when I’m not able to trust the ebbs in my life’s flow. Here is a mnemonic device I learned from a Tai Chi teacher 20 years ago that restores balance during mistrustful times.
Rhymed memorization tools work because they stick like glue in my brain. What makes this one especially effective is it joins the mind to a physical sensation in the body. Follow the instructions for each number with three breaths. It’s only 27 breaths long, which is approximately three minutes.
This exercise can be done sitting or standing. Either way, begin with relaxed and erect posture with your feet flat on the ground and hip-width apart. Your arms can be relaxed at your sides or resting on your lap.
1-Fun. Lightly place the tip of your tongue behind the front teeth on the roof of the mouth. You’ll feel the muscles lift at the corners of your mouth, creating a tiny smile. Inhale and imagine lifting this smile one-eighth an inch off your face, then exhaling as you float it down the front of the body, right through the top of the foot to go “plink” into the earth. Follow the same pattern and float the smile down the center of your body and then a third time, inhaling to float the smile down the back of the body. Each time having the smile finish by plinking into the earth below your feet.
2-Shoe. Open the pad of each foot to the ground. Even if you’re in shoes on the 18th floor, you can ground yourself to the earth. Just imagine the skin on the bottom of your feet melding into the surface they meet. One way to experience more of a cleaving sensation to the earth is by lifting and spreading your toes, then return them lightly to the floor . I silently repeat to myself “2-shoe” as I imaging my feet joining with the ground on each breath.
3-Tree. Lift and open the chest, keeping the arms (limbs) relaxed. Now imagine from your grounded feet, two roots equalling your height, nudge down through the earth, twisting around rocks or any obstacle in the way. With each of the three breaths, send another root gently penetrating downward.
4-Core. Two inches below the bellybutton is a place considered the body’s energetic center. Think of it as a balloon you are filling with each inhale. It may help to place your hands, one over the other, just below your bellybutton. On an inhale, imagine energy rising up through your new roots. And on the exhale let your hands float back to your side. Inhale and exhale two more breaths, renewing your core with energy drawn up through your roots.
5-Alive. The energy stored in your core is now invited to spread throughout the rest of the body. With each of the three breaths, refresh the body with this new found reserve.
6-Thick. The air all around your body is viscous. It’s holding you up as surely as if you were standing in a pool of warm water. This one is my favorite for some reason. Feeling the air embrace me is comforting on a deep and visceral level.
7-Heaven. Press the crown of the head skyward to lengthen the neck, the sensation of pressing your crown into the sky may have the sensation of tipping the body forward slightly. Remember, three breaths for each expansion upward.
8-Gate. The opening in your crown is now a pathway into the body. Breath the heavenly energy down through this gate on the crown of your head.
9-Shine. Saturated with energy rising through your feet and down through the crown, shine it out through every pore.
This device can be used as a whole or in parts. In a panic, implementing even the first two helps me get grounded. All nine together work nicely as a warm-up prior to flowing Tai Chi, but I utilize them in any anxious situation.
Red dye #39 doesn’t live here, although I get why the food industry might use it when perfectly spiced pepper sauce appears the color of mud. I can put all gloating aside to announce that my sambal is the best I’ve tasted. The store bought versions tend to be either too sweet or too hot. What this sauce lacks in good looks, she makes up for in flavor.
Wes arrived home with another fistful of slender, fire engine red, cayenne peppers from a friend’s over-burdened bush. There’s only so much I can do with this much heat; two of these buggers will kindle a stir fry and three set fire to the roof of my mouth. I hate to toss out any freshly harvested bootie from a garden, so I was hell-bent on finding a way to use them; I even considered drying them to create a New Mexican ristra or to thread and attach them to a silver hoop as earrings.
Instead, I redirected my creative urges back into the kitchen where I concocted my first Ugly Sauce, a slightly sweet, silky sauce with a slow burn, that can be stirred into slaws, scrambled eggs (yum) or eaten by the spoonful on burgers, in this case a Corny Quinoa Cake. Yes, I call it cake purely for the alliteration and besides, burger sounds so meaty. I’ve never understood putting veggie and burger together since they cancel one another out by contradiction.
Quinoa is my latest all-inclusive, favorite ingredient for desserts, and now, main meals. The success of a Quinoa Choyote Cherry Cake was something of a revelation; I decided then and there that this gritty little grain needs to be playing a much bigger role in our kitchen. I confess I’ve lacked imagination where quinoa is concerned; only casting it in supporting roles in salads or as a hot cereal. When a friend shared this Huffington Post article on garden burgers I dove into my laboratory to don a faded apron and get to work.
First the sauce:
Process all ingredients, except safflower oil, into a slurry; drizzling the oil in last.
The Aunt Patty’s Organic Tamarind Paste (upper left corner of photo below) can be bought at a health food store. I am too lazy to buy the pulp and deseed it. This paste goes a long way, lasts in the fridge and is a key ingredient in Pad Thai. Tamarind also makes a nice addition to lemonade and is scrumptous with vodka. Just saying…
As for my preference for dehydrated garlic, I gave up on the eternally sprouting fresh garlic flown in from the Mainland. I use Penzeys Spices minced dry garlic that I order online.
1 small onion
3 cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon tamarind paste
1-2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
3/4 cup safflower oil
Corny Quinoa Cakes
2 cups cooked quinoa. FYI, one cup raw quinoa makes about 3 cups cooked.
1 cup corn
4 green onions, just the green part
1 clove garlic
1 tablespoon mint
1 tablespoon French tarragon (Use your favorite fresh herb.)
1/2 cup parmesan
1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper
1/4 cup dry polenta
2 tablespoons flour
1/4 cup panko breading
2 tablespoons ghee or melted butter. I use ghee because of its digestive value.
2 tablespoons Ugly Sauce
Mix quinoa, corn, green onion, garlic and herbs. Add the cheese, salt, pepper, polenta, flour and panko. Finally, add eggs, ghee and ugly sauce to the party. I recommend placing it in the fridge for an hour for easier handling. The cakes are quite sturdy and pull together well. No need for frying in heavy oil. Just give a spritz of your favorite spray oil (We like coconut) and fry 3 to 4 minutes per side. Serve as a side or in a bun. Drizzle with more Ugly Sauce.