Amaranth Porridge: Music to My Ears

Amaranth1For how can one know color in perpetual green and what good is warmth without cold to give it sweetness?

–John Steinbeck,  Travels with Charlie

October 1 and days are still hovering at 85 degrees with equal humidity. Really, sometimes one wishes the summer would be done already.

Last month I was in Flagstaff, Arizona with my sweet Kella Bella and her family, where she turned me on to this divine hot cereal. Amaranth. I love the sound of it.

Say it aloud right now.

See? It’s breathy and subtle; the “anth” leaving a small smile on your mouth, just in the speaking of it. I comfort myself during bouts of melancholy by saying words aloud that make no sense in the context of the moment, but coax an inner happiness to the surface; like a fish rising to the bait on the end of the silver hook, my mood lifts when certain sounds dangle in the air before me.

So what is this teensy weensy grain? Like quinoa, it’s considered a good source of protein and it also hails from the Aztec nation. Yes, it has a bloody history associated with human sacrifice, and maybe sweets were crafted into the shape of the national Aztec god, Huitzilopochtli, for children to eat, but hey, let’s suspend judgement: All hail amaranth, friend to the dietarily disabled. According to Wikipedia, “amaranth compares well in nutrient content with gluten-free vegetarian options such as buckwheat, corn, millet, wild rice, oats and quinoa.”

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I miss the nip and bite of fall weather. Even though it’s sweltering here in the tropics, I’ve made amaranth twice this week and performed my ritual laundering of favorite warm sweaters. It’s silly I know, clinging to these wooly sweaters after 13 years on Kauai.

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Pretty though, yes?

I’m reading Steinbeck’s, Travels with Charlie again. His books are one of the few I read multiple times. He is the voice in my head, and as long as I’ve known John Steinbeck, I’ve fancied myself a writer.

An observer of small things, is how I relate to John. A worshipper of the simple. Which brings me to this black bowl chosen to photograph the bitsy grains.

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I threw this bowl on the wheel from black clay dug from some eastern source in Southern California by artist, Susan Yamagata and her friend, Todd. It was probably the early 90s when they gave me this stinking heap of live earth. As the wheel spun, centrifugal force exposed bits and pieces of living matter to the tips of my fingers. I remember lifting threads of moss from the wet mud. It was the lushest and most sensual throwing experience of my life. The bowl remains unfired.

Food is memory. Amaranth leads me back to Kelly’s kitchen. This bowl reunites me with Susan and Todd. Such a beautiful web I’m caught in every time I step into this kitchen. Reading Steinbeck again reminds me to open my eyes to all the sweetness, even if it is against a background of perpetual green.

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Coconut Date Amaranth Porridge

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Serves 4

3/4 cup Amaranth

1 1/4 cups water

1 1/4 cups coconut milk

1/4 cup half-n-half

2 tablespoons butter

Simmer for 20 minutes stirring regularly.

Add 5 chopped dates after 20 minutes, so they melt into the porridge. Top with my amazing cardamom granola and your favorite fruit.

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An Apology, A Frittata and One Cat Musing

Fritata Ingred. 2Forgive my not allowing comments at this time. I’m learning a valuable life skill as I muddle through anti-spam tutorials.

Meanwhile, I’m home after a full month on the Mainland soaking up the love of dearest friends and sisters. In my absence, the dogs quickly shifted loyalty to my husband, while the cats just grew bitter. I walked into the backyard hoping for a tearful reunion and learned another valuable lesson: Dogs align with whomever feeds and  walks them. The free-loaders.

As for the cats, when I called their names, the three of them came trotting over from their various hiding places, only to spurn me once they were within stroking distance. It wouldn’t be until the following morning over coffee when they’d compete for lap space; writhing and rumbling, ecstatic.

Cats are punishers. But forgiving. The one that won’t cuddle with anyone but me is Mittens. Of course when my husband told me this one night on the phone I secretly celebrated. Why am I so keen on her exclusivity?  Is it a human trait that I want to be somebody’s one and only? It is. I am her guru and she is my devotee. How’s that for ego? Don’t hate me. I’m flawed.

Too tuckered to create a big meal, I hit the farmer’s market yesterday for these gorgeous mushrooms that the vendor carved directly off a white nubby “stump” about the size of my head. I’d never seen anything like it.  These, an avocado and a big bunch of kale made for a few fun ingredients for a frittata.

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This cheesy, eggy comfort food can be whipped up pretty quick. I rummaged the fridge and cabinets for a few more additions and it all came together in under 30 minutes.

Try not to be alarmed by the luxurious ingredients. While I was away my husband gave up carbohydrates in lieu of fats. Cheese, butter, oils and avocado dominate this recipe. I grew up with a diet obsessed mother so for me, this is a 70s flashback. This style of eating throws the body into ketosis, a fat-burning state induced by eating fats and no sugar.

Fritata panFritata pauMushroom and Kale Frittata

2 tablespoon butter or olive oil

1/2 a medium onion

1-2 cloves minced garlic

2-3 cups finely chopped kale

1 cup roughly chopped mushrooms

a splash of white wine

1 bay leaf

Salt and pepper to taste

8 eggs

1/3 cup whipping cream

1 cup parmesan

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

In a cast iron skillet or oven safe pan melt butter and sauté the onion until golden, add kale and stir two minutes, add mushrooms and wine, bay leaf, salt and pepper. Simmer 7 full minutes stirring occasionally. Add a splash of water if needed.

Whisk together eggs, cream and cheese. Pour over the kale mixture and bake for 25 minutes. Serve with salsa and avocado.

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San Diego: August in Photos

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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 Avenue 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.

Another morning I met Ron Hurov, an 80 year-old seed collector, who was poking around an Iris patch near a park. His “tool” for thrashing the reeds was what caught my eye, with its turquoise bird face painted on the arched neck of the cane.

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My sis and I have been cooking together but no recipe today. Her husband Harold brought home Yellow Fin tuna after a day of fishing. A little time marinating in Italian dressing and a quick sear is all it required.

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Tender, Protein-Packed Pancakes

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.

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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

The stuff:

1 cup Aunt Jemima Original Pancake Mix

1 egg

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.

Enjoy.

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