Corny Quinoa Cakes With Ugly Sauce


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:

ugly sauce

Ugly 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.

ugly sauce ingredientsThis sauce is easily doubled.

12 peppers

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

Corny quinoa cake

The Stuff:

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

3 eggs

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.





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June, a Month of Discovery — Mica Mugs and Cool Summer Creations

Mica mug

Mica clay mugs can be warmed directly on a flame.

It began with the mica clay mug I ordered off Esty from PattyMara Gourley, a beloved potter friend residing in New Mexico. As Tomboy as I claim to be, I’m still a sucker for glittery girl stuff. This gold flecked earthenware mug satisfies both sides of my nature; not to mention it fills the contour of my palm with such grace and comfort.

Basil and purple ginger

Basil with purple ginger blossom.

Then there was the arrival of a brown paper sack brimming with fresh cut basil from a friend’s garden. Let the pesto making begin. I filled bottles for a half dozen friends, one pesto fiend in particular received it with cupped hands and then clasped it to his heart and another texted me later to say, “Your pesto is the besto.” Who knew. I don’t think I’ve received such accolades from any of the sweets I make. I’m inspired to make future gifts the savory sort. In summer it’s nice to have a break from food preparation and pesto is one of those fast meals imparting huge flavor with minimal effort. The recipe is below.

I’ve already posted one popsicle recipe, and am compelled to include my most recent concoction, a coconut papaya popsicle inspired by Ayurveda. Ayurveda is a practical Indian approach to wellness I began studying in the early 90s. According to this ancient tradition my constitution is governed by fire, which was not news to me. I know I’m a hot tamale by nature and applying principles to cool my furnace brought me immediate relief. I refer to “Ayurvedic Cooking” by Usha Lad.

Then there are those luscious snacks that are ready to eat pulled straight from the tree. Sigh. Lychee. So fragrant, citrusy and balanced with the perfect hint of sweetness. I thought I could reserve a few to make a popsicle but alas, they went straight into our tummies.


Lychee we love you.

On a final savory note, there’s one cooling snack I can eat all day long, coleslaw. There is a trick to making coleslaw that doesn’t turn into a milky soup in your fridge: Pre-sprinkle the cabbage with salt and allow to drain for 2 to 4 hours through a colander.

Salt for slaw

Mica clay heart bowl by PattyMara Gourley.

The salt is wicking the water from the cabbage and the result is a crisper coleslaw. As for the dressing, I use goat yogurt I make here at home, but you can buy it at the health food store or substitute your favorite plain yogurt.

slaw colander

Let your salted cabbage drain for up to four hours.

Today’s recipes in order of appearance:

Besto Pesto

Besto Pesto

Pesto with itty bitty purple ginger buds.

The Stuff

1 cup olive oil

6 cloves garlic

11/4 cups macadamia nuts

1 cup parmesan

3 cups basil

Puree first four ingredients into a slurry. Add basil last. Remember, the longer you beat basil the duller the color becomes. To keep it bright, only pulverize until it’s a paste. Sometimes I throw in a cup of parsley to help make the color stay vibrant. Parsley is the very opposite of basil; the longer you beat it the brighter it becomes.

Cooling Coconut Papaya Popsicles

1 can coconut milk

3/4 cup milk

1/2 cup sweetened condensced milk

2 heaping tablespoons fresh papaya pulp

1 whole tangerine

1/4 teaspoon salt

Puree all ingredients in a blender and pour into molds. Makes 14 popsicles. Takes roughly 5 to 6 hours to freeze.

And finally:

Goat Yogurt Coleslaw

Goat milk coleslaw

See the little sparkles in the mica clay?

The Stuff:

1/2 of a large head of cabbage, shredded. This is roughly one pound of cabbage.


1 carrot

1/2 cup goat yogurt

2 tablespoons mayonaise

1 tablespoon agave (optional)

1/4 cup minced onion

3 tablespoons parsley

1 teaspoon cider vinegar

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Pepper to taste.

Layer the cabbage in a colander salting as you go. Give it a little toss with your fingers to help the salt spread. Leave it for around 3 to 4  hours over a bowl, then rinse well and gently press out excess water. Whisk the dressing ingredients together and mix into cabbage and shredded carrot.






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Fruit For Thought: A Love Story

faith. fruit for thought

It was 1994 and we’d just crossed a hot stretch of desert in Central California in a 1981 cobalt blue Toyota truck. Stopping to fuel up at the intersection of Interstate 5 and Highway 40, we couldn’t help but notice the plywood tables beneath scanty shelter running the length of the parking lot.

It was August. It was hot, and we’d just driven 100 miles from the coast, with both windows rolled down and the fan blowing on high.

We’d met that spring and were on our first weekend road trip. After topping off with gas, Wes parked Old Blue in a sliver of shade behind the station and we walked over to the shanty of fruit stands lining the east edge closest to the on-ramp, a symphony of traffic shushing past.

Stone fruit filled boxes across sagging counter tops boasted piles of blushing peaches, cheerfully pink apricots and sunshiny nectarines. But one fruit drew us over as surely as a moth to a flame.

The yellow plum stood out in relief against all the sepia tones owning that dusty corner. It was a perfect yellow circle resting on the brown finger tips of my then, boyfriend, and now husband, Wes.

Wes wore a faded olive green Stussy visor and board shorts – a memory seared into my sun-addled brain. I’d never seen a fruit like the one crowning his finger tips.

The Asian plum was a water balloon stretched too tight. It was as though the fruit itself sighed relief when my teeth released the pressure of the skin. We bought a lunch-sized bag of them and stood on that silver asphalt lot with forearms and chins drenched.

Before I met Wes, I didn’t give fruit much thought. In fact, as far as I was concerned, fruit belonged in a pie.

Wes, being of Brazilian blood, worships fruit. The first time he came to my home in San Diego, he tuned into a fig tree in the backyard. I’d lived there two years and never given that gnarly old tree the time of day. I was standing at the kitchen sink looking at him with great suspicion when he presented me with my first fresh fig.

I was afraid of it. It was black. It was weird looking – a little obscene even. But I trusted him and took a bite and have never looked back. Hands down the black mission fig is one of my all-time favorite fruits.

If in the evolution of our relationship, the plum represents courtship and the fig, the development of trust; then there has to be one alluding to the trials that beset every romance.

In this case it would be the mango. It was April 2001. We were in our second year of marriage and had just moved to Hawai`i where  we were at the quarantine station in Aiea, on O`ahu, visiting our dogs. On the property beside the parking lot was a mango tree heavy with fruit.

“Oh babe, let’s take some in with us,” he said. Reaching into the lower branches, he plucked a few of the red and gold fruit shimmery with tree sap. “I’ll show you how we eat them in Brazil.”

He rolled the mango between his palms until it turned into a slushy, then bit a hole in the tip and sucked the gooey pulp from the fruit. We sat all morning brushing the dogs, reading and eating mango this way.

That night I had an irritation on my eyelid. By morning my eyes were swollen shut, and by noon my cheeks had risen to join my nose.

A clinic visit taught us that mango sap is an equivalent of poison oak oil, to which I have a severe allergy. For two weeks I had to bare the itch and ugly of the exposure and Wes had to suffer suspicious glances from strangers eyeballing my swollen face.

A marriage is more mango than plum. That plum period is fleeting; a time when every little thing is a first. The mango is promise of sweetness and the reality of the unforeseen; wanting one thing then getting another and having to adjust.

It’s mango season again and we’ll follow the ritual adopted when we first arrived in these Islands: The mangos will not be allowed to mingle with other fruit for fear of oily contamination. Wes will scrub them thoroughly, then peel and slice them for me to eat.


A version of this story first appeared in For Kauai, where I was editor for one year.

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Barbie Saves the Day… Again

Barbie 1

When it comes to caregiving, boredom is the slow killer of the spirit. I can manage every plumbing issue erupting or inhibiting another human being. The cheerleading, the listening, the fetching of escaped newspaper pages or cosmetic brushes; the refilling of water cups or changing of television channels (because her fingers refuse to push small buttons); so many tiny tasks to drive a person mad. No problem.

It’s the waiting between loads of laundry and hard days where leaving the house is impossible.

It’s the silence.

It’s the slow turn of time and the guilt for not feeling “productive.”

It’s the job hunt and pressure to have a j.o.b. by August and the crazy talk in my head questioning my competence, confidence and the “oh God, I’m over 50 and living on a remote island and no publisher on the planet will ever hire me.”

Then one morning as I wrote in my journal, the thought caught me off-guard: I need a Barbie doll. It was 7 a.m. on a Saturday. The next thought: Garage sale.

I drove three blocks down Kawaihau Road and turned at the first cardboard sign scrawled in black Sharpie.

In a plastic box were four Barbie dolls at .25 cents each. I bought a brown one and a blond one.

There are a dozen reasons I love to cook, and one of them is photographing the process. I’ve been accused of taking too long to set up a shot with live models. Barbie never rushes me. Besides, she makes it fun: She’s provocative, she’s colorful and she can hold a pose for hours.

I will admit though, I feel a teensy bit silly during our shoots in the garden; I worry my neighbor will see me over the fence and wonder if I’ve finally lost it.

I’ve returned to being 9 again and living in a suburb of San Diego, when Barbie and Breyer model horses were an important part of my day. I’d pose them beneath the oleander bushes bordering my childhood home or place them among the nasturtium lining many of the beds around our white stucco tract home.

I don’t remember Barbie’s legs spreading this easy though. I’m pretty sure my childhood Barbies didn’t have a hinge, because I recall dislocating Barbie’s hips trying to get her legs across the backs of horses, and being pretty miffed Barbie was forced to ride side-saddle.

These are the mental meanderings of a caregiver.

It’s nearly impossible to nurture friendships while caregiving, some of that may be due to my limited topics for conversation, but I’ve also observed a large percentage of acquaintances and friends aren’t comfortable integrating an 85 year-old into the relationship, no matter how many scone variations I offer to bake to encourage a visit.

When I’m not combatting boredom, I attempt to create ways for my mom to have some intellectual stimulation. One success was starting a Short Story Tea Club that meets weekly. Because a full novel is not feasible for me to read aloud to Mom, short stories work really well. Here’s a link to the book if you’re interested.

Four of my gal pals come by to discuss the story, and even though Mom doesn’t say much, after the girls leave she’ll repeat several times how nice it was to listen to my friends talk.

I wouldn’t trade this time with my mom for the world. Both she and boredom are beloved teachers; compelling me to dig deeper into myself and quit looking side-ways for others to make me happy or entertain me. We really do walk through the world alone and I’d like to be able to be my best company; well, that is, with the help of a few plastic 12-inch friends.

Thanks Barbie.


Here is a quote that hangs next to my desk:


“You will find that it is necessary to let things go; simply for the reason that they are heavy. So let them go, let go of them. I tie no weights to my ankles.”

By C Joybell C

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