Mexican Carmel Bars For Mom’s 85th

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mom bday

Happy birthday Mom. Remember the day I had you posing with the cacao pod? Well you’re about to get a taste of Kapahi grown cacao from this very yard.

With some luck and excellent postal service, you’ll be picking carmel out of your dentures on your birthday.

mom bday 2 barsI’ve made these before and believe this version of the Mexican Style Pecan Chocolate Square is the best yet.

We gave the cacao seeds to Dan, who gave them to a guy on the Westside, who processed the cacao into chocolate, who gave the bar back to Dan, who returned it to us, (take a breath), and then, I grated the chocolate to sprinkle on the cinnamon shortbread crust —

mom bday 3 cacao

…layered with a carmel I made with Suzie’s bees’ honey. (We call it Ohh Honey, after her business Ohana Home Health.)

There must be a nursery rhyme in here somewhere.

mom bday 4 honey

You made every birthday special Mom. On my birthday morning, with  eyes still shut, I’d stretch my toes to the end of my twin bed, feeling for the weight of presents and the crinkle of wrapping paper. During the night you’d have slipped in to place three gifts at the foot of my bed.

Thanks too for my love of baking. Dinner at our house was never complete without a dessert. Three stand out as mainstays on the menu: Nana’s coconut squares, a carrot cake with orange cream cheese frosting, and that yellow poppy seed cake you’d drizzle with a lemony glaze. I cherish these memories.

This recipe is from Fine Cooking, Chocolate, the epitome of all things chocolate.

mom bday  1 Choco mag

I am not able to locate this collection for sale online, but I did include the link to the recipe. If FC ever reprints it I urge readers to pick up a copy. I’ve made about a dozen of the recipes ranging from a Guinness Cake to Mocha Cinnamon cookies and all have delivered.

mom bday 5 recipe

I love you Mom. Wish I were there. Maybe next year you’ll be here. xoxoxo


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If Can, Can — Vegetarian Crockpot Posole

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Sometimes a girl just has to rely on pre-fab food to get the meal going. I’m pretty sure this recipe developed on an afternoon one winter when building from scratch was not in the cards.

When we first moved here I heard the phrase, “If can, can. If no can, no can,” in reference to being able to meet an obligation or not. It was a “get out of jail free card” of sorts; and that’s exactly how I feel about canned ingredients.

In some past life I’ll bet I hailed from a brisk clime where soup was a daily staple. The temperature outside does not alter my  appetite for this  one-pot meal. That said, I’m grateful our Kauai nights are cooling and there’s a genuine fall nip in the air. I can make soup and post it here without friends teasing me about how I must not share the same timezone with them.

This stewy soup is a lazy and flavorful way to make posole: canned goods, a crockpot and a field trip away from home.

“Posole” translates as  “hominy.” Hominy looks like a giant white corn kernel, with no resemblance to corn in texture. Hominy has a satisfying chewiness between the teeth and a mild and earthy corniness on the tongue.

My first posole was with my sister Sue when she lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico in the 90s. Slow simmered chunks of pork, green chile and hominy; there are not many recipes that can rise to such heights with only three primary ingredients. Add to that a flurry of bright, crisp garnish for stirring in at the table, and you have not only a visually beautiful meal, but one that is comforting and playful.

This version uses fried tofu in lieu of pork and a canned enchilada sauce in place of the hatch chiles of New Mexico. By all means use my Salsa Verde in place of using a canned green sauce. It’s uncooked so comes together in minutes in a blender when you have all the ingredients on hand.

But trust me, this cheater style of cooking totally delivers.

Vegetarian Crockpot Posole

1 large can Las Palmas green enchilada sauce

1 small can diced jalepeno

1 large can hominy, with half of the water

2 tablespoons coconut oil or oil of choice

1  pound tofu

1 tablespoon each of ground cumin, Mexican oregano, chile powder

1 onion, sliced

1-2 cups vegetable stock, depending on how thick you like it. I like thicker so only put a scant cup.

Red chiles, as many as your palate can take. I add three to the pot.

Recommended garnish: Cilantro, lemon wedges, avocado, Napa cabbage, radishes, more onion, diced this time; raw jalepeno

Open the cans and dump directly into the crockpot on high. Add the spices.

Fry diced tofu in coconut oil or oil of choice. Add to canned goods. Add the optional chiles.

Sauté the sliced onion. Toss that in too.

Add a bit of stock, cover and cook on high for about an hour, but then turn to low. Go run some errands or go to the beach. When you return 3-4 hours later, turn off the crockpot and chop up garnish.

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Quiche Me Quick

slideshow-13.2 (1 of 1)01-3Quiche arrived in my mother’s kitchen in the late 70s, joining the ranks of her other one dish staples: crockpot meals, casseroles and stews.

This, however, is not my mother’s quiche.

It was a meal at Art Cafe Hemingway that inspired this gooier delight. Jana’s quiche is in the French style: Less egg and more cream is how she described it. So I deferred to my favorite French cookbook, “Homemade Winter.”  Chef Yvette van Boven uses creme fraiche which has a tangier flavor than pure cream. I used heavy cream that I thickened slightly by whipping a few minutes for a heavier texture reminiscent of creme fraiche.

Quiche became something of a pop culture phenom in the 80s when books and songs bore its name: Quiche Lorraine hit the charts via the B52s in 1980, and then the cheesy pie was later villinized (in satire) by writer, Bruce Feirstein, with his bestseller, “Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche, A Guidebook to All That Is Truly Masculine.”

For me it’s become my go-to for the least amount of effort and the highest return on happiness.

It’s simple and it’s satisfying.



Artichoke Gorgonzola Quiche

  • One frozen pie crust
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup whipping cream, whipped to the texture of pudding
  • 1 cup gruyere
  • 1/2 cup gorgonzola
  • 8-10 chopped artichoke hearts
  • salt, pepper and nutmeg; swipe the nut over a grater 3 times

Scatter cheeses over the bottom of a thawed pie crust. Spread a layer of artichoke hearts. Blend eggs, cream, salt, pepper and nutmeg and pour over filling. Bake at 350 degrees, 35 minutes.

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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.


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.


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.


Coconut Date Amaranth Porridge
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 25 minutes stirring regularly.

Add 5 chopped dates after 15 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.


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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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Photos, stories and recipes inspired by Kauai