Amaranth Porridge: Music to My Ears

Amaranth Porridge, homemade granola and fresh strawberries.
Amaranth Porridge, homemade granola and fresh strawberries.

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

–John Steinbeck,  Travels with Charlie

Amaranth. A hot cereal when 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.

Say it aloud right now.

Amaranth. I love the sound of it.

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.”

Amaranth grains are tiny.
Amaranth grains are tiny.
Amaranth grains take patience cooking.
Amaranth grains take patience cooking. It will take around 25 minutes cooking time.

amaranth5

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.

amaranth cereal

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.

amaranth7

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.

amaranth3

Coconut Date Amaranth Porridgeamaranth 2

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.

Authors note: Feel free to contact me through our TOTT Facebook page as I am no longer encouraging comments.

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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.

Fritata Ingred. 1

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.

almondy pudding pancake

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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Reduce Stress in Three Minutes and 27 Breaths

food cairns

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.

 

 

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Corny Quinoa Cakes With Ugly Sauce

Chili

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.

 

Enjoy.

 

 

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Mica mugs can be warmed over a flame. They range in price beginning at $35.

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
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.

Salt

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.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

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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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Photos, stories and recipes inspired by Kauai