Category Archives: cooking

A Magical Mystery Tour, Moroccan Chermoula Sauce and Lasting Impressions


St. Benedict's Lodge
Jay and I just got back from a nine-day silent retreat at St. Benedicts Lodge on the McKenzie River in central Oregon. I come home bearing an amusing little story and a recipe I thought I’d share. But first, a bit about going on retreat—fair warning, it’s longer than most of my posts . . .

Why do it? You might ask. Why voluntarily give up all distractions—no talking (except during teachings or tasks), no reading, no cell phone, no email—to sit around for nine days twiddling your thumbs and contemplating your navel?

Well, against all thoughts to the contrary, it’s remarkably enlivening to experience even glimpses of an undistracted mind—where clarity and inspiration, fearlessness and loving compassion live and roam freely, where life is goodness through and through regardless if it feels like bliss or grief. Stripped of our habitual conditioning, those glimpses are life affirming and rejuvenating. Love jumps front and center, senses come alive and play happens naturally. Anne Lamott says it well: “Almost everything will work again, if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.”

This retreat was called the Mysteries of Surrender. Egos everywhere recoil in horror at the notion of surrender, falling back on the more popular teaching: “Never give up! Never surrender!”

But on this retreat, for this time, we are invited to step into surrender—a surrender that is not about defeat, but rather about acceptance and giving up control from a place of devotion. It is surrender that is like the relaxing of a clenched fist, the opening of a heart, dew dropping from a leaf. It is offering our most vulnerable self in humble reverence; open to receive all.

The retreat, put on by The Center for Sacred Sciences, has a daily rhythm, a structure around which we dive into the Mystery of Surrender. We rise at 6 am and have our first formal meditation session at 6:30 am. Throughout the day there are scheduled teaching sessions, which include formal meditation sittings, each 30 minutes long and cumulatively adding up to about 4 – 5 hours per day. Mealtimes are at 7 am, noon and 6 pm. There are breaks after meals and before teaching sessions for our own quiet time to reflect, to go for a walk, to nap. Each of us has a daily chore. Mine, this time, is rinsing the breakfast dishes and loading and unloading the commercial dishwasher.

The week has a structure too, taking us deeper and deeper into the unknown and unknowable. We started with the basics: concentration practice—recalling again how to train the mind to come back to the object of concentration (breath or a mantra); it’s akin to training a new puppy to come back to the training pad again and again, gently with love and patience. We learn to relax effort when thoughts increase during meditation and increase effort when we start falling asleep. We are earnest at the start of the week, anxious to get it “right.”

Gradually we move on to conscious awareness—a meditation practice that focuses on one sense at a time, but instructs us to strip away the labels. We might feel a prickling in our elbow, and notice the mind wants to say “tendonitis,” but instead we call it only “body sensation.” A bird singing is just “sound”; leaves fluttering are “sight” and so on. This gives us the opportunity to simply experience phenomenon arising and passing away instead of getting caught up in discriminating labels and their accompanying stories.

Further on in the week we focus on our experience of our self. Who am I? What am I? We investigate on our own. Can I find where my body ends and the chair begins? Can I separate the actions I seem to control and those that happen without my control? In what way am I like a tree? Slowly our conditioning is stripped away.

I think about our teacher’s book, called “Naked Through the Gate,” and I think how this retreat peels off our habitual layers, leaving us, perhaps, half naked and freer to respond spontaneously. I have a moment where I see Buddhahood or God everywhere—in the trees, river, rays of sunshine—everywhere it seems, except in me. How can that be, I wonder? What keeps me separate?

We practice letting thoughts go by surrendering them back to emptiness from where they came. I’ve always found thoughts to be somewhat sticky; it seems hard to “let them go.” How do I do that? But in this practice I am instructed to offer my thoughts up in devotion and for some reason this appeals to me and I find it easy. During this meditation, I have so many thoughts, more than any other meditation thus far, as if I have become a thought magnet. This time, I don’t mind because I envision myself as a willing conduit through which they pass innocently through. I think of the show the “Ghost Whisperer,” where the main character can see lost ghosts and takes it upon herself to help them find their way back into the Light. During this meditation, I become the “Thought Whisperer” lovingly ushering all thoughts back to the source.

Eventually, we listen to the highest teachings of all: how to simply be a human without effort or expectation. We embrace the paradox of striving to let go of striving, of doing non-doing. For this practice, I appreciate my dishwashing job—it’s become one of my favorite parts of the day—for the very reason that it is close to effortless effort. I am relaxed and content to be in service, contributing without expectation, doing without thinking about doing.

On retreat, we are expected to practice constantly both day and night. Our pee breaks are called “pee meditations.” We learn practices of the night too, such as techniques to enhance the chance of lucid dreaming (dreams where the dreamer is fully awake within the dream and can control it.) We learn of different triggers for waking up in a dream, like finding oneself naked, for instance, or talking to someone deceased. We are instructed to pay attention to our dreams or recurring persistent thoughts or songs and write them down. I have to chuckle. One of my triggers for having a lucid dream has been flying. On the first night of the retreat I have a blissful dream in which I am flying/floating naked. There is no shame in my nakedness because everyone in the dream is naked. I am trying to get their attention calling out “Look, we can fly! Come on, it’s so fun!” Before I can wake up in the dream, I wake up for real swathed in warmth and smiling from the echo of the dream. My teacher says it’s a dream about liberation. Later, during one of the group meditations, the line “A magical mystery tour is going to take you away” repeats endlessly inside my head—a silent mantra that arises unbidden but welcome.

Mealtimes are particularly rich times for practice. The whole group—42 of us—eat together . . . in silence. Outwardly, the lack of chatter seems to add a note of seriousness to the event and an outsider might interpret the faces as somber. But during sharing time we hear of the bliss fellow participants have experienced while practicing conscious awareness while eating—paying close attention to each flavor as it arises and passes away, and noticing conditioned thoughts that may be unconsciously driving behavior or experience. “I don’t like flavors mixed together,” one participant described noting. Then wondered if that was true and discovered that she loved the melding of flavors, but had so long told herself she didn’t that she forgot to try.

Eating is never dull. The organic beautiful food lovingly prepared by our cook enlivens our palate and our practice and we are grateful. I find myself eating with reverence, often discovering tears streaming down my face. One day—Moroccan Chermoula Sauce day—I am swept away on a magic carpet ride by the combination of flavors in the simple sauce. I dare to break my silence to ask Linda, the cook, “May I please have the recipe?”

As the week moves on, the group loosens up and starts laughing more. Ease and light-heartedness begin to appear. Tension lines etching people’s faces melt away. We stop trying so hard. Jay reports that he went for a walk alone in the woods and remembered how to play. He spent two hours playing with the world he said. He is glowing. He notes that normally in his life as an adult everything trumps play.

Midway through the retreat a tiny kitten shows up. It is adorable—all small fistful of fluffy white with black ear tips looking like it will grow up into a Siamese cat. One of the participants suggests we try to catch it and bring it to the caretakers, as it looks too young to survive on its own. He turns to the teacher and says, “I hope it won’t be a distraction for us, but it’s so small . . .” The teacher says, “true compassion is never a distraction to practice.”

The rest of the week meetings are peppered with kitty sighting reports—in the laundry room, by the Building B bathroom, under the deck. And, during our alone time, many of us find our way to the laundry room, the bathroom and under the deck hoping to see and maybe even catch the precious little kitty.

Although we participants are all on retreat there is still worldly activity happening at the retreat center itself. Workers have some areas blocked off while they tear up concrete and install a French drain, and then re-cement the area. We appreciate the seamless way one of the seasoned workers does his job—his body making the long practiced motions without effort or thought. His younger apprentice struggles, practicing the new skill with much effort and thought. I think how everything gets easier with practice—even surrendering the self. I think, too, how I lose myself in certain activities, like dancing, or painting, or washing dishes, where the activity seems to do itself without my commentary and control.

Near the end of the retreat, I can’t sleep one night. After a while I decide to get up and venture outside. It’s cold but clear out. I bundle up and head into the three-quarters full moonlit night. I sit by the river enjoying the beauty of the night. An idea drops in that I could go for a walk in the woods to the labyrinth. The retreat center butts up to the national forest on the other side of the street. There are all kinds of forest trails. One of them leads to a clearing and a labyrinth that the monks made. The idea is at once terrifying and compelling. Walk in the woods at night, alone? That’s crazy talk. But it feels enlivening and I want to do it. I cross the road searching for the trailhead. I have a flashlight with me, which reveals to me the opening. My heart is pounding as I look into the dark trail. I begin to walk in and note that there is a faint disperse light ahead. I turn off the flashlight and discover that the moonlight has lit up a wide-open area some ways down the trail. It is easier to head for that light in the dark than to use the flashlight.

path at retreat

I walk into the dark heading for the light. My body is pulsing. Voices in my head tell scary stories and tell me to turn back. I keep walking anyway, noticing I do not feel protected, per se, but rather intensely alive, buzzing with energy, riveted, and mesmerized. I am propelled forward—my leading edge is an arrowhead of fearlessness. Fear trails behind me. I fully expect that any sudden sound will cause my body to react and run, but still I walk on. I stop at times when the fear catches up and I can’t move, but each time after a bit I move forward again. I make it to the labyrinth and slowly walk the entire thing. In the center I pause and give thanks for my journey thus far. I consider cheating and crossing through the maze to the start, but that feels sacrilegious and I can’t do it, so I slowly unwind myself back through the maze to the start. All told, I am out in the dark, barely moonlit woods for an hour and a half. It is a full experience—a ritual ceremony—and I love it.

On the last night of the retreat, we are advised that the next morning session will be a sharing event and that anyone and everyone is invited to share a highlight or summary of their experience. I go to bed wondering what I am going to say. Again I have trouble falling asleep; my throat is scratchy. I decide that I’ll go to the kitchen and prepare some hot honey infused ginger tea. This night it is cold and rainy outside but I don’t want to take the trouble to bundle up. Everyone else is already asleep, so I sneak out, half naked, in nothing but gauzy pajama shorts and a button up shirt pulled quickly on. I tiptoe down the stairs making a beeline for the kitchen, which is directly below my room. All of sudden out of the corner of my eye I see a streak of white at the far end of the building.

The kitty! I cry silently and a rush of desire and joy flow through me.

I’m going to catch the kitty! I think running in its direction. I imagine myself snuggling up all night with that sweet ball of fluffiness.

Up ahead I see the white bundle of fur cross my path heading toward the building and before I even appreciate what is happening, I leap over the yellow caution tape and land smack dab in the middle of . . . wet cement.

Oh no! I stand there on one leg, gauzy shorts flapping in the cool night air, shirt flying open. Kitty gone. “Crap.”

I wonder what to do. I have leapt too far to go back the way I came and it looks like I can’t make it further along without stepping in more cement. I leap as far as I can, stepping once more in wet cement before finding firm ground. I look back at the two footprints now indelibly etched into the fresh cement, probably forever.

Jay’s going to notice that, I think to myself.

Then in a flash, I know what I’m going to say tomorrow.

“Coming on this retreat,” I say the next morning “might be succinctly summarized by the events which transpired last night.” I explain the scene above to which everyone gasps and Jay says, “I saw those footprints and judged harshly whoever stepped in that wet cement!” We all laugh. Me too.


I finish up: “I come on retreat because by and by I find myself half-naked catching a glimpse of something so precious that I can’t help but go after it. And once seeing it, I can’t go back. It proves to be elusive—just out of my grasp—but the process is amusing and leaves a lasting impression nonetheless.”

Photo Credit - Jason CurtisIn some sense we’re all on a Magical Mystery Tour that’s going to take us away, eventually. In honoring that inescapable truth and the compelling glimpses of the divine along the way, I offer this Magic Carpet Ride Chermoula sauce to help make the journey intoxicatingly flavorful and fun.  Thank you for sharing, Linda!

Moroccan Chermoula Sauce


  • cup cilantro
  • 2 cups flat-leafed Italian parsley
  • 3 - 4 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes (or 1/2 jalapeño)
  • Large pinch saffron (optional)
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice ((1 large lemon))


1. Combine all ingredients in a food processor and pulse to desired texture. I use my Nutri-bullet, which makes it a bit smoother than I prefer, but it's so fast!

Linda served this with butternut squash patties and it was exquisite. It can easily be used as a simple sauce for any vegetables, fish or meat or even rice. Traditionally, it is often served with couscous and Moroccan Tagine—a slowly cooked savory stew.


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Painting My Day, a Paleo Palette, and Sweet Potato Bread

“My body is a canvas on which to paint the day,” I used to say while scouring thrift stores to create outfits to match whatever role I felt like playing: corporate girl, PTA mom, Dakini. These days I tend to reach for my “going to the computer clothes”—ultra comfortable versions of jammies/workout clothes. I do, however, still think in terms of “painting my day.” But now I do so in planning the perfect healthy meal to match the mood and dietary restrictions of the day.

Recently, Jay and I have been embarking on a challenging new physical routine of jogging every other day, climbing two to three days and week and doing yoga twice a week. And, since we are not spring chickens any longer we’ve also decided to add the delightfully extreme measure of eating grain free as well—it helps keep the inevitable joint pain down. I am no stranger to working with dietary restrictions, so as soon as the decision was made, I began researching how to legitimately cheat—that is how to eat grain-free nutritious food that tasted . . . well, like comfort food. Not so easy. Still I persevered.

So here I was the other day painting my day from an essentially Paleo palette—not that I am a perfect Paleo princess, more of a would-be grain-free girl–but you get the gist. Anyway, Jay was about to head out on a business trip later that evening and I wanted to send with him a treat—but what?

That’s when I discovered it on Sweet Potato Bread—made with actual cooked sweet potatoes and very little else. It is moist and yummy and a new staple in our house.

The rest of that day got busy as I was not only “painting my day” with the new Sweet Potato Bread recipe, but also planning to actually paint various parts of the house while he was away: the stairwell, a bedroom, the kitchen ceiling. Plus we hoped to get some exercise in prior to his flight.

I ran through the day in my head. Let’s see an hour to bake the sweet potatoes, ten minutes to mix the ingredients, another hour to bake the bread, an hour to decide on colors, take stock of our painting supplies, and make a list of what was needed. Check. We’d still have time to rock climb before he had to leave for his 5 pm flight. I could run into El Cajon to pick up the paint supplies after he left. I should be home in time for dinner, a show and a long hot bath—the perfect cap to a busy day.

I arrived back home after dark, hungry and tired, anticipating a piece of that Sweet Potato Bread. I hurried out of the van grabbing all my supplies at once, so to avoid having to go back. I grunted carrying my awkward heavy load made up of several cans of paint, rollers, brushes, other painting supplies, milk and eggs, a new shirt. I managed to open the courtyard gate door with one hand.

Gypsy ran up to greet me circling my feet, smiling, and wagging like crazy as I fumbled for my keys to open the front door. I couldn’t find the keys and set my parcels on the bistro table next to the front door for a moment. Gypsy came around in front of me angling to get in the house first and then it happened. With one particularly robust and happy wag of her tail she knocked the leg of the wrought iron bistro table and everything went flying. As if in slow motion I turned and watched in disbelief as the can of white paint fell, bounced off the little step and exploded open, spraying paint all over the porous cement courtyard like a Pollack painting but with enough left over to leave a eighth inch deep puddle right in the middle.

“Ah, Ah, AAAAHHHHH,” I cried, shaking my hands and hopping up and down, panting frantically, but otherwise paralyzed and unable to think. “Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh,” my little girl brain screamed eyes opened wide.

“Think think think!” my adult brain screamed.

Gypsy looked at me head cocked and started to head away from the front door and TOWARD THE PUDDLE.

“No! Gypsy, No!” I snapped, new neurons firing.

Then, in the midst of the chaos and frenetic worry, a calm centered voice took over: “No time to think, just do” and the next steps presented themselves:

1) Get Gypsy out of here

2) Put packages inside

3) Take off clothes/shoes

4) Start cleaning

Inside my head a little clock began ticking. How long does it take paint to soak into concrete? Tick tick tick.

I opened the front door and shoved Gypsy inside, threw the packages in behind her, then stepped through myself, tore off my clothes and raced to the kitchen, grabbing a metal spatula, a bowl, a bucket of water and a scrub brush. Small voices inside me competed for attention. Are you sure you should use the kitchen spatula? Hey that’s a bowl we eat out of! But a louder voice said “No time to worry!” tick tick tick.

Like a mad woman, naked and mumbling to myself, I began scooping the paint into the bowl. Every so often I’d race back into the kitchen and dump the bowl out down the drain, where another voice would point out “Hey you can’t put that stuff down the drain.” The commanding voice would counter “No time!” tick tick tick.

Gypsy tried to follow me back out the door, sensing my upset.

“No Gypsy!” I yelled panicking, imaging white footprints throughout the house. I summoned an act of faith and added pointing to the far side of the living room “Go sit over there!” And a part of me watched in amazement when she trotted over to the far corner of the living room and lay down, not moving further. For, despite her sweet nature Gypsy has never once listened to any of my commands before.

For the next twenty minutes or so, I madly scooped and dumped, scooped and dumped. Finally, the bulk of the puddle was gone. I sat back on my heels surveying the disaster.

The only thing that came to mind was “Crap!” (Followed very closely by “sure glad Jay’s not here . . . “)

The paint splatters which had spread in a 10-foot circle from what I thought of as the “epicenter” had begun to dry.

“Oh my god, oh my god—this is disastrous. You’ll never be able to clean this up! You are doomed.” My brain shrieked.

But another voice came in too, saying calmly, “Just get water–lots of water.”

I began running out the courtyard for the hose. “Wait!” brain screamed. “You are naked.”

I paused momentarily; brushed paint splattered hair out of my mouth and quickly weighed the odds. It’s dark, I reasoned and ran bouncing out the gate toward the back of the house to grab the hose.

The hose wasn’t there.

“Crap. Crap. Crap. Now you are really toast. This is taking too much time. The paint is setting in. May as well just give up,” the adult brain muttered nastily. “What are we going to do?” the little girl fussed.

“Stop panicking,” my inner Zen coach advised. “Just keep cleaning.”

Then, I remembered I’d dragged the hose down to the Manzanita by the street. Yep.  I was still naked.

Tick tick tick.

I ran back in the house, Gypsy perked up. I gave her a fierce look and she dropped her chin again. I grabbed my jacket and headed out to the street huffing and puffing, bare legs pumping, but breasts and butt covered at least. I dragged the hose up to the house and attached the spray nozzle.

Tick tick tick

“Here goes nothing,” I muttered throwing my jacket back in the house and closing the door. I turned on the sprayer aiming it at the epicenter. Immediately the paint began spreading everywhere and even though I knew it was coming, I gasped as half my courtyard turned white and the river of white paint flooded the entryway. Then as if things couldn’t get worse it pooled up against a cement lip blocking the flow from one section of the courtyard to another and keeping it from leaving the courtyard.

I had reached now what I think of as the “pea soup” phase of a project (as in pea soup fog)—a stage where everything has suddenly gotten worse and you can’t conceive of how to move forward.

“Nothing is wrong. Everything’s okay,” inner Zen coach soothed.

“Are you kidding? No it’s not!” brain screamed. “You’ve just ruined our courtyard—probably ruined our house. It’s going to cost thousands to re-paint the whole courtyard. You’ll probably have to take out all the plants.”

I whimpered a little wondering, “how am I going to tell Jay?”

“Just keep cleaning. Just keep cleaning,” Zen coach said brightly in a little singsong voice like Dory in Nemo. Then added, “and grab a broom.”

I raced downstairs to get the street broom to sweep the paint river over the cement lip and into the palm tree planters.

“Crap. Crap. Crap. Now you’ve killed the plants too,” brain screamed.

“You are doing great,” coach encouraged.  “Use lots of water. Plants will be fine.”

I proceeded to spray, sweep and scrub vigorously. When at last the river dissipated and all the spots that could be scrubbed and sprayed clean were gone, I stopped to survey the remaining mess. The bulk of the paint was gone, but there were still splatters everywhere and these had soaked in deep enough that no amount of water pressure could get them up. My beautiful hacienda courtyard looked like it had chicken pox. Despite all the hard work, it was still a veritable disaster.

“You are such a Klutz! You really have destroyed the courtyard. What were you thinking?’ Self hate screamed, followed by a whiny little “and I’m exhausted! I can’t go on.”

“Don’t even go there,” Zen coach urged. “You are doing great! Now go get the stainless steel wire toothbrush. We will tackle this one paint splatter at a time.”

The unexpected kind words and “we” voice encouraged me. I found the steel toothbrush and knelt on my hands and knees to begin scrubbing the 10-foot paint splatter circle with a 1½-inch steel wire brush. A calm one-pointed focus prevailed. There was suddenly no waffling. I wasn’t going anywhere. I wasn’t quitting. I wasn’t panicking. My mind went blank. I tackled the next spot and the next. Some came up easily others were stubborn. My back was sore, my knees were bruised, my arms ached, and I was getting cold, but it didn’t matter anymore, instead, strangely I began to enjoy the task. As each little splatter disintegrated under my pointed attention, I relaxed more. And eventually the scales tipped and I realized I’d made it through the daunting “pea soup phase.”

As I scrubbed the vestiges of the last splatter away more than two hours after the disaster began, a quick self inventory told me I was physically exhausted, hungry, still naked, alone and covered in paint splatters, but I was also . . . happy.

I walked back in the house, grabbed a piece of the Sweet Potato Bread baked earlier that day, caught sight of myself in a reflection, sat down, and found myself chuckling, for it reminded me of another childhood memory involving peas–but that’s another story.  Suffice it to say,  it seems disaster and chaos not only make the best life lessons but also the best stories.

I offer you now, the recipe that painted my day that day: Sweet Potato Bread.

Sweet Potato Bread (*


  • 600g cooked sweet potato (skins removed) (If you don't have a scale, this is about one extra large, 2-3 medium or 3-4 small sweet potatoes)
  • 1 cup coconut flour
  • 6 eggs
  • 4 tablespoons coconut milk
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 lemon (juice of)
  • 1 pinch salt


1. Bake sweet potato until flesh is soft (about 1 hour at 350 degrees.)
2. Peel and discard the skins
3. Mash/mix the sweet potato flesh with other ingredients
4. Line a loaf pan with parchment paper and fill with mix
5. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes uncovered, then 20 minutes covered


As I tucked myself into bed that night, I thought about a daily precept we like to say about how every moment really is an opportunity for spiritual practice . . . and, I mused, more than likely fodder for a good chuckle down the road.

The phone rang. It was Jay calling to say goodnight. He told me a little about his day. I paused, and then made up my mind.

“You’ll never guess what happened to me!” I said coyly.

“What? You spilled paint all over?” he said without missing a beat.

“Hey! What do you mean by that?”

“It was inevitable.” He responded.

Apparently, I am just a story waiting to happen.


Its only when I lose contact with the painting that the result is a mess. Otherwise there is pure harmony, an easy give and take, and the painting comes out well.” ~ Jackson Pollack

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Papadzules for my Punkins . . . instead of the Texas chainsaw massacre

      I love fall.  Even here in Alpine where the season is not marked with a gorgeous changing of color, but where the lack of color is compensated for by a lack, also, of the impending doom at an approaching long cold winter.  Maybe my love of fall plays a role in my tendency to use the nickname Punkin’ with my loved ones, husband and daughters alike.
     My oldest daughter, Jaime Punkin’, is visiting us this week, the week before Halloween. Because she and her boyfriend, Jason, are here, I have had the glorious opportunity to cook gluten free vegetarian dishes for an audience. Invigorated by the season, I have turned my attention to all things fall: pumpkin pie, roasted pumpkin seeds, butternut squash soup, spaghetti squash casserole . . .
Me and my “Punkins”
     Punkin’ is a somewhat diminutive nickname, which when used on my oldest daughter belies the fact that she is now 24 years old and visiting because of the chance to take a highly intensive First Responder’s Wilderness course aimed at people who may eventually become part of Search and Rescue teams.  My Jaime Punkin’, these days, is not a child being tucked into bed, but an avid mountaineer. In reality, I am the diminutive one, responding to her itinerary notifications about where she is going on the next snow covered alpine rock climbing adventure, with a plaintive “Okay, Punkin’. Have fun. Be safe.”
     Anyway, while they are here, everyday I anticipate the joy of thinking up and making dinner for them. One day, Jay says “Hey, why don’t you make Papadzules!” Papadzules? I think scanning my memory. Why, that’s perfect! Papadzules are a traditional Mayan dish from the Yucatan. They are essentially vegetarian enchiladas made with corn tortillas, hardboiled eggs and a pumpkin seed and tomato sauce—which easily fill all my requirements for the week:  a food honoring the season and the restricted diets of my Punkins.  Plus—they can’t help but remind me of some of my favorite memories and stories, for we first discovered these on our honeymoon.
     So settle in and let me regale you with a tale from my past. I’ll start by cluing you in: the only “Punkin’” in my life at this time, was my newlywed husband, Jay. I was 23 years old and we were on our honeymoon. We had planned two weeks away: one week scuba diving off Cozumel and one week driving around visiting the Mayan ruins of the Yucatan.  We were in the midst of driving around the bottom of Mexico near the Belize border where this story takes place.
     It was a dark and stormy night . . .
     No, really, it was.
     The wind was howling, and a tropical rain, common in that part of the world, was pelting us. Contrary to popular common sense, we were driving at night. More time to play and explore during the day, we reasoned. Still, I wasn’t sure it was such a great idea as I sat perched on my seat peering into the darkness waiting for whatever might suddenly appear:  a stray cow, a notorious “topes” (speed bump) found in the middle of nowhere along the highways of the Yucatan, or perhaps, even, an angry spirit from Xibalba.
     “Jay,” I said “Maybe we should stop somewhere.”
     “Where would we stop?” he said. “There’s nothing here! We are in the middle of nowhere! I don’t know how long it is back to civilization. No, we have to keep going.”
     He paused, then offered, “How about I tell you a story to keep you entertained?”
     “Yes!” I said brightening.
     “You up for a scary story?” he asked with more than a small amount of mischief in his voice.
     “Um, okay.” I said jerking involuntarily as a bit of foliage swept past our rain- splattered windshield, startling me.
“How about I tell you the story of the Texas Chain Saw Massacre? Have you ever seen that movie or read that book?”
     “No,” I said gulping. “I don’t know anything about it. Sounds scary.”
     “Oh it is,” he said teasing me. “Based on a true story too, or at least on a real guy.”
     He went on before I could object too much.
     “So there are these five young people who are driving on a back country somewhere off the beaten track.”
     I chuckle, “Kind of like us, huh?”
     He smiles. “Yep.”
     “So anyway, along the way they pick up a hitchhiker, who turns out to be super creepy and starts slashing at them with a large knife before they manage to throw him out of the vehicle, ” Jay starts.
     “Creepy,” I say as I remember the old Mexican guy we offered a ride to the other day . . . we pick up hitchhikers sometimes, I think.
     “Well, shortly afterwards, they realize they are running out of gas and . . . “
     “Hey, how much gas do we have?” I interrupt.
     Jay smiles, “Oh we’ve got a quarter tank or so. Should be enough to get us to the next gas station . . . “
     Should be?
     “Anyway, it turns out the gas station is out of gas but they can make it to an old homestead. There are two couples in the group and one guy in a wheelchair. The two couples in the group think it’s pretty cool to explore the abandoned house and nearby woods; One couple takes off to look for a swimming hole.”
     I think of my own love of exploring abandoned ruins and think—yep, that’d probably be me.
     “On the way to the swimming hole, the guy hears a noise like a generator and thinks maybe he can barter for some gas. They go up to a house and find a tooth on the porch.  He scares his girlfriend with it.”
     “Yeah, just like you would do,” I say.
     “They hear some weird noises inside and the guy decides to go inside to check but he tells his girlfriend to wait outside,”
     “Seriously?” I cry “Don’t ever do that to me, okay?”
     “Well the guy goes in and is attacked by a crazy guy wearing a mask made of human skins who smashes his head in with a sledgehammer.”
      I am still mentally the girl on the porch waiting for her boyfriend to come out. “What? He dies? Already?”
     “Yeah, and his girlfriend starts to get nervous waiting for him, so she goes into the house to look for him.”
     “No way—too creepy,” I say, but I wonder what I would have done if Jay didn’t come out.
     The road curves and winds now and there is still no sign of anyone else. No other cars, no other signs of life. My god I hope we don’t get stuck out here I think.
     “So the girl goes in and stumbles into a room filled with human and animal bones . . skulls hang from the ceiling and the floor is covered with bones and feathers.”
     My heart starts beating as wildly as the rain as I imagine myself to be the girl going into the house.
     “She backs up hurriedly and starts to throw up . . . when suddenly Leatherface—the guy in the human skin mask—comes out of nowhere and grabs her, kicking and screaming back into the house.”
     “Oh my god,” I cry.
     “She gets away, and for a second you think she is going to be okay but . . . ”
     Jay pauses, checking my reaction.
     “So, I prompt, what happens next?”
     “Well, he catches up to her and picks her up kicking and screaming again.”
     “Does she escape?” I ask still picturing myself as the protagonist girl.
     “Well, it’s pretty gross and scary, actually.”
     “Okay . . . go on . . . “I say tentatively trying to mentally prepare myself for the next scene.
     “Well he takes her into this room that is actually a frozen meat locker”
     My mind travels to my storehouse of memories and I think to myself that’s where they hang cow carcasses, right?
     “So . . .” he says, “he picks her up and hangs her on a meat hook right through her back , but it doesn’t kill her . . . as she is hanging there he takes up a chainsaw and dismembers the dead body of her boyfriend.”
     “Jay! Stop, stop! Oh my god, that is so gross. Now I am totally freaked out.”
     “Awww,” he says. “It’s only a story.”
     “I’m scared!” I cry.
     He says the universal magic words: “It’s okay. Come here, snuggle up with me.”
     I move to the left and he wraps his right arm around me and I try to relax keeping one eye on the road unwilling to leave his arm, but wondering if he can drive okay with only one hand on the wheel.
     “There,” he says. “Look! A sign to the next town.  Look it up in our guidebook. Maybe there is a hotel we can stay at.”
     I breathe a sigh of relief.  “Hey,” I offer. “How about instead of some creepy story about Chainsaw massacring serial killers, I read you from the guide book about this area?”
     “Sure,” he allows.  “That’d be great.”
     I open up our trusted Lonely Planet guidebook and dive into a safer subject:  Food.
     I read about how the peninsula’s unique cuisine derived its own character because of the Yucatan’s long-time isolation from the rest of Mexico. I read that the food is divine, and that sinking your teeth into Yucatecan favorites is one of the highlights of traveling the peninsula.  Take that stupid Chainsaw massacre story . . .
     I decide we have to try one of the classics, Papdzules, which I learn are diced hard-boiled eggs wrapped in corn tortillas and topped with pumpkin seed and tomato sauces. The guidebook recommended a restaurant specializing in them. The name of the restaurant and town are long gone, but the memory of that incredible meal remains.
     The next day, having found a place to stay that night and having recovered from my new husband’s tale telling, we set out to try Papadzules. Sitting in a dark tiny little restaurant in the middle of nowhere at a table with a plastic red gingham tablecloth and on simple metal chairs—no crazy chainsaw serial killers in site—we dove into this unique and delightful traditional Mayan specialty. What an unexpected treat!
     So, in honor of Halloween week, when it is okay to talk of ghoulish things, but more importantly in honor of two of my Punkins, I offer to you all a recipe fit for fall: hard-boiled egg enchiladas in a pumpkin seed sauce.
     I understand from Wikipedia that the word “Papadzules” either derives from a phrase meaning “food of the lords” or “drenched”.  Here is my recipe, then, which I think is both fit for lords and drenched . . . in love:


Egg enchiladas smothered in pumpkin seed sauce


  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable broth (or use water)
  • 2 cups raw green hulled pumpkin seeds
  • 1 bunch epazote (when I don't have this, I leave it out)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped onion (I always use sweet onions)
  • 1 garlic clove (minced)
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • splash cooking oil
  • 8 hard-boiled eggs
  • 1 - 2 serrano chilies (use as many as you like)
  • 1 1/2lb tomatoes, quartered
  • 3 tablespoons oil (I use olive oil or coconut oil)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar


Tomato Sauce
1. Toss tomatoes with 1 Tablespoon oil and broil for 15 to 20 minutes
2. Blend tomatoes, water, onion, garlic, vinegar, chiles and salt in blender
3. Heat remaining oil in saucepan and cook sauce for about 10 minutes
Pumpkin Seed Sauce
4. Toast pumpkin seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat until seeds have expanded but not browned; cool
5. Coarsely chop 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds and set aside. Bring water, epazote, onion, garlic and 1 1/4 teaspoons salt to a boil
6. Blend this mixture with remaining 1 3/4 cups pumpkin seeds in 2 batches until smooth
7. Transfer to a saucepan. Season with salt.
8. Saute onions
9. Mix onions with hard-boiled eggs and hot peppers
Fry and Fill Tortillas
10. Heat oil in skillet and soften tortillas on both sides
11. Dip in pumpkin seed sauce (as if it was enchilada sauce)
12. Fill tortillas with egg mixture; roll up and place in a casserole baking dish. (Note: I usually add some sauce to the casserole pan under each as well.
13. Cover wrapped tortillas in any remaining sauce and then add tomato sauce on top (Note: alternatively you can serve the tomato sauce on the side)
14. Bake for about 20 minutes at 350 degrees
The Punkin who started it all

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