Tag Archives: gluten free

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:

Papdzules

Egg enchiladas smothered in pumpkin seed sauce

Ingredients

  • 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

Directions

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.
Filling
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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Herbs for the Immune System, Hot Lipped Dilettante, and Cilantro Chicken Soup

secret books of my fancy

     I know how to wear a suit and manage a business meeting.  I am at home in the high technology world of telecommunications and can find my way through a brief full of legal jargon, but in my heart of hearts, I hanker to be a witch.  Not a Wiccan, per se, but rather a tarot-card-reading, crystals-in-the-corner, mortar-and-pestle-in-the-kitchen, herbs-and-tissue-salts, type of gypsy-shaman-witch.  My pantry holds the secret books of my fancy: Rainforest Home Remedies, Alternative Healing, The Yoga of Herbs, The Kitchen Witch Companion, New Holistic Herbal, Herbal Love Potions, and more.
     So, when someone gets sick in our household, the first thing that goes on the stove is homemade chicken soup, followed by a rash of supplements, homeopathic offerings, and lots of hot tea. This winter Jay got the crud bad, maybe the worst ever.  He was laid up for three weeks, re-discovering how bad movies and TV shows can get. This time, while I worked on revitalizing my knowledge of immune boosting supplements and folk cures, I also researched online for new chicken soup recipes. (Thank God my hankering to be a witch has coincided with the era of the internet!) Along with some of the other witchy and effective cold and flu fighting lore I have picked up over the years, I discovered one recipe recently I’d like to share with you all:  Immune Boosting Chicken Soup.  I found this pearl online at healthychefs.com It is a simple soup, with a bit of chicken, and lots of ginger, garlic, turmeric and cilantro, and beaten egg swirled in.  It is “mommy, I don’t feel good, but this tastes yummy” good.
     Now, about herbs for the immune system, I have some familiarity with that as well.  Almost twenty years ago, I took a class called—wait for it—“Herbs for the Immune System”.  It was offered at the Herbfarm in Issaquah, WA, which has some notoriety for its nine course dinners made by award winning chef, Jerry Traunfeld.  I never have dined at the Herbfarm (there tends to be a six to twelve month waiting list) but I did attend classes or visit from time to time, making me . . . dangerous.
     I wrote an article about the experience that I originally called “Just Call Me a Hot Lipped Dilettante”.  This was published and renamed “Home Remedy Makes One Hot Mama” in the Feb/March 2008 online issue of humorpress.com.   I offer it here as fair warning for any advice I am about to dispense.
Home Remedy Makes One Hot Mama
     By my own admission, I am a dabbler in life, filled with pseudo expertise, while totally lacking common sense. In college, I changed my major eleven times, until it dawned on me that honor grades alone would not produce a diploma. Now, as a married woman, raising kids and operating my own business, I still dilly-dally, vacillating from meditation to mediation to legal research to alternative health. The result is, I often know a little about a lot, which sometimes gets me into trouble.
     On the fated day, I talked to gynecologists, herb specialists, even Harborview Burn Center, all of whom admitted they had never faced such a problem. “You did what?” “Oh you poor thing,” they all whispered under their breath, while trying desperately not to say “how could you do something so stupid!” But there I was in excruciating, yes, worse than childbearing, pain. What had I done? It was simple enough. I tried to treat a vaginal yeast infection, by a rather non-traditional method.
     I had taken a class a few years back, you see, called “Herbs for the Immune System.” The teacher, I recalled, had espoused the marvelous benefits of a product called grapefruit seed extract. “Would kill anything,” he said, including, you guessed it, yeast infections. We happened to have some of this marvelous product in the house. (It really does tame a sore throat if you gargle with a few drops diluted in water—tastes like soap and makes you gag, but it works.)
     Anyway, I failed to read over my notes, which would have reminded me to use the product in a suppository form. I also failed to read the warning label on the bottle: “Avoid contact with eyes or skin at 100% full strength. Use sparingly due to extreme potency. Do not exceed three drops per usage.” Instead, I relied on my own expertise and inserted two droppers of the stuff. That ought to kill it, I thought.
     After a while, I felt some tingling down below. Great, I thought, it’s working. But it wasn’t long afterwards, the tingling increased in intensity. Soon I was in screaming agony. Nothing I did stopped the burning. It started to blister. I bathed in baking soda, douched with Acidophilus, applied ice. My husband and I huddled on the couch trying not to think of our future nights together.
     After all known home remedies to stop the burning failed, my husband took me to Virginia Mason Emergency.
     “What’s the problem, honey?” the receptionist asked sweetly as my husband wheeled me to the front desk.
     “I think I burned myself.”
     “Okay. What happened?”
     “Well, it was, um, from an herbal product,” I flushed, trying to avoid telling her the whole truth.
     “An herbal product? And, where is the burn?” she asked peering over the counter curiously.
     I gave up and told her the whole story. She listened intently, trying not to react, but I noticed she crossed her legs and wouldn’t look me in the eye after that.
     Several other hospital staff members somehow found reason to come check on me. I figured I was the latest coffee break story and they were all trying to get the facts straight. I remember one no nonsense nurse who came in to jot down a host of miscellaneous information. She hadn’t been briefed yet.
     “Have you had any medication today, deary,” she asked taking notes.
     “I’ve had two Percocets and a Tylenol with codeine,” I slurred.
     “Now, why have you had so much pain medication?” she challenged, mistaking me for a druggy.
     “Because I burned my vagina,” I said, by now enjoying the shock value and her momentary lack of composure.
     She gave a little “oh-my-poor-dear” gasp and hurried out of the room.
     Eventually, a female doctor examined me and deduced in hushed tones and a sympathetic voice that I had suffered second degree burns. She prescribed a soothing ointment and more pain pills, but explained the best help would be time.
     Whether this incident has curbed my dabbling streak, I can’t be sure. I am happy to report, however, that vaginal tissue has a remarkable ability to heal itself. My only remaining scar is a bruised ego and my mother’s words haunting me: “How can you be so smart and so dumb . . ?” which reminds me of the time when I was seven and tried to see if electric scissors, famed for being able to cut anything, would cut my tongue . . . but that’s another story . . .
     Still—despite my error in judgment the first time I used grapefruit seed extract, I still highly recommend this product for it really will tame a sore throat, if used diluted and sparingly. 
     Here is my gypsy/shaman/witch list of supplements and folk cure remedies that make my “remember to do or take when you get a cold or flu” list: 
·      Grapefruit Seed Extract
o   dilute and gargle for a sore throat
·      Andrographis Paniculate
o   not as well known as Echinacea and Astragalus, but Jay swears by it—and he is not nearly as gullible as I
·      Astragalus
o   associated with a significant age-reversal effect in the immune system, have seen it work for Jay
·      Oscillococcinum
o   (European homeopathic flu remedy) – Ever since I literally watched my fever begin to plunge and suddenly recover in the course of an hour after diligently taking this, I am a believer.  I always have it on hand. 
·      Vitamin D
o   enhances innate immunity and inhibits the development of autoimmunity, plus many of us are deficient
·      Drink lots of liquids, especially hot tea with honey
o   “Breathe Easy” for sinus congestion
o   “Herba Tussin” for colds and cough (my new favorite)
o   Coconut Water – I swear drinking a coconut a day in India kept me from getting sick from the very polluted air
·      Antronex
o   natural antihistamine for allergies
·      Vitamin C
o   especially EmergenC packets that you dissolve in hot or cold water
·      Rinse Sinuses with neti pot and sterilized water
o   this is hands down the most effective remedy for preventing sinus infections
·      Consider getting a chiropractic adjustment
o   it’s amazing how being a little out of alignment will keep you from getting better
·      Call Dr. Manlove or your favorite nutritional healing person
o   http://www.drmanlove.com/ – our secret health fighting weapon
·      Chicken Soup!
     The witch inside me says, whether you or sick or not, get those stovetop cauldrons boiling with a good fresh pot of Immune Boosting Chicken Soup.  It’s that time of year, after all.
Immune Boosting Chicken Soup (courtesy of The Healthy Chef): http://www.thehealthychef.com/2012/05/immune-boosting-chicken-soup/
Healthy Chef Version            :                                         My adaptations:                       
10 cloves garlic
2 Tbls finely grated ginger
1 Tbls freshly grated turmeric
 I didn’t know about fresh turmeric and am excited to look for it; I used ground turmeric
1 liter (35 ¼ fl oz) chicken or vegetable stock
I used two boxes of free range organic chicken broth instead of adding any water;  (sometimes I make my own chicken broth by boiling a whole organic chicken with carrots, onions, celery, salt and pepper)
Vegetarians can substitute vegetarian broth
1 liter (35 ¼ oz) water
(see above)
500 g (17 ½ oz) free range/organic chicken breast, cut into chunks
Vegetarians can substitute tofu
2 bunches coriander, chopped
This is what we call “cilantro”
¼ cup mirin or rice wine
(note:  not rice vinegar)
3 Tbls tamari soy sauce
2 eggs beaten
 3 beaten eggs
Cooked white rice (to make it a bit more filling); I use short grain sushi rice often
Optional:  additional vegetables:  mushrooms, spinach, kale
I added green beans on the second day
o   Combine the garlic, turmeric, ginger, stock, water and chicken into a large pot. (I have also sautéed the garlic and ginger for a couple minutes first.)
o   Simmer for 5 – 10 minutes over low heat until chicken is cooked through and flavors have infused into the stock.
o   Pour beaten eggs in a thin stream over the simmering stock
o   (Add rice)
o   Add mirin, tamari, and coriander just before serving
     Here’s to adding a dash of magic, a silent prayer, and a whole lotta love to your pots when caring for those you love this cold and flu season.


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Silver and Gold Friends, Backpacking Through Europe, and Moussaka

     I was an avid Girl Scout when I was younger and I used to love to sing the camp songs that went along with scouting.  One of the popular tunes was called “Make New Friends.”  The lyrics tell you to make new friends, but keep the old because one is silver and the other gold. 

In the last couple weeks, I have had the opportunity to appreciate that refrain.  We moved to Alpine almost two years ago now and have begun to make new friends.  (It’s always harder when you don’t have kids to break the ice.)  Last week we invited some new friends/neighbors, Jacki and Wendell, over for dinner.  We met them at our yoga class down the street – our main social outlet.  We appreciated them immediately because they loved the outdoors and were always out hiking in the mountains nearby or running on the trails near our neighborhood.  To honor the occasion, we broke out one of our oldest recipes ever:  Greek Moussaka.  We only make this dish about every five to ten years because it is a little labor intensive and wonderfully (devastatingly) rich.  When we make it, we make lots of it – several casserole dishes worth.  I say “we” because this is a dish that Jay traditionally makes, with me playing sous-chef.  Anyway, we were happy we made lots because a week or so after our delightful evening with our new neighbors, one of my oldest friends, Wendela, whom I knew from high school and who was my first college roommate, came to visit.  Wendela too, is an outdoor kind of girl.  It had been ten years since we’d seen each other. She and I talked and caught up while we climbed Bell Bluff together.  It’s a good long hike and we were pooped when we got back home.  It was the perfect time to unfreeze some of our leftover Moussaka and enjoy it again with an old friend.

Jay (aka “Adam”)  in a fig tree on Crete, 1982
     I can’t even say the word “Moussaka” without immediately being transported back to the summer of 1982.  That’s the summer, a year after I met Jay, that we spent backpacking through Europe. Our travels took us to different countries in Europe from England to Scotland, Wales, France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Switzerland, Holland, and Germany.  In Greece, Jay fell in love with Moussaka and tried it at every restaurant we went to, noting the subtle differences, paying attention to what he liked and didn’t like about various recipes.  When we got home, he set out to find a recipe that matched the ones he liked best.  The result is the recipe attached here.
     While cooking up Moussaka and memories from our backpacking trip through Europe recently, I turned to the journal that I kept on that trip more than 30 years ago.  I came upon following entry, written after 3 days on a train from Turkey to Switzerland. My journal says: 
     Spending many hours on a train leads to much soul-searching and thinking (if there’s anything left unsettled in your mind.)  Between reading my new book and watching the beautiful East Italian coastline, I did a lot of thinking about my own future.  Which way was right?  The unanswerable questions circled my mind and tortured me endlessly.  Should I go for Optometry?  6 years of hard study, challenge, a good income, but . . .then what??  Will I be content to look in peoples eye day after day.  I kept thinking it’s not fair I can’t do what I want to do:  write and teach.  Then I started thinking maybe I can, despite the education budget cuts, teacher cutbacks, low pay.  Maybe if I went for it and met some of the right people I could become a professor. On and on. Should I do this or this?
     Funny how some refrains, like the old Girl Scout song, keep turning up in one’s life!  30 years later, I am still musing about what to do with my life and wondering why I can’t just write and teach!  And in the next breath, thinking maybe I can . . .
     Backpacking through Europe served as a microcosm for what the next 30 years of my life would be: adventure and travel with my best friend, sprinkled with making new friends, sprinkled with mystical experiences, interspersed with experiencing peaks (profound love) and valleys (fights) with Jay, all recorded in a journal.  Even as I wonder what to do with my life, I find have been doing it all along – traveling and writing, appreciating friendships, searching for more, loving and struggling.  One of the last entries from my 1982 backpacking through Europe diary says this:
     Somehow I had grown accustomed to the haphazard lifestyle we’d been living:  being surrounded by castles, ancient monuments, impressive buildings, ruins, endless churches, cobblestone streets, trains, the underground system and people from all walks of the earth speaking foreign languages.  We’d been from the charming British countryside to the rugged incredible Swiss Alps, from sun bleaching dark tanning Greek isles to wild wet Holland. All along the way we were continuously amazed at how easily we adapted.  At each moment we barely seem fazed to be walking under the Eiffel Tower, climbing the Shilthorn, or exploring old ruins.  Throughout it all, we were just ourselves, feeling basic things:  I’m tired, let’s eat, where are we sleeping? . . .
     Looking back on it all, it seems fantastic — fabulous.  But, our adventures were ordinary for where we were at the time.  Everything felt natural.  Still, it seems obvious once back in America our stories will sound most exciting, and enviable.  Our pictures will look so interesting.  We will continuously recall the experiences of our summer in Europe.  Yet throughout it all, no matter where we were, the times that were best were those when we felt close to each other, had fun with each other regardless of (though taking advantage of) our surroundings. 
     “No matter where you go, No matter what you do or see or have, what matters most is who you have beside you.” 
     What I learned so long ago is that friends, old and new, but particularly best friends are so important, for these are people you can be close to and have fun with, regardless of your surroundings, regardless of the peaks and valleys of life.
     I offer you our oldest recipe, our Moussaka recipe, which you might note is written in Jay’s handwriting. May it enrich your life, too.
Moussaka
Original Recipe                                                            Alternatives
3 medium eggplants
3 large onions diced
We usually use sweet onions
Butter
2 lbs ground lamb or beef
We usually do half and half; omit to make this vegetarian
3 Tbs tomato paste
½ cup red wine
½ cup chopped parsley
¼ tsp cinnamon
Salt and pepper to taste
6 Tbs flour
We use potato flour
1 quart milk
4 eggs, beaten until frothy
Nutmeg
2 cups ricotta cheese
Cottage cheese can be substituted (but I prefer ricotta)
1 cup fine bread crumbs
We get gluten free bread cubes like for stuffing and then pulse grind them in the blender
1 cup freshly grated parmesan
Olive oil (lots)
Potatoes – cooked and diced
·      Preheat oven to 375 degrees
·      Peel eggplants and slice ½” thick
·      Pour generous olive oil in skillet and brown the eggplant on both sides
·      Heat 4 Tbs butter in same skillet and brown onions
·      Add meat for 10 minutes
·      Combine paste with wine, parsley, cinnamon, salt & pepper, and add to meat
·      Simmer and stir
·      Prepare white sauce in separate pan by melting 8 Tbs butter and whisking in flour
·      Boil milk and add slowly to butter and flour mixture
·      Stir constantly
·      Cool mixture slightly then add in beaten egg, nutmeg and ricotta cheese
·      Add salt & pepper to taste
·      Grease a large pan (11 x 16) – or use multiple pans
·      Sprinkle bottom with bread crumbs
·      In our alternate and preferred version we add a layer of sliced potatoes on top of the bread crumbs
·      Arrange alternate layers of eggplant, meat with parmesan
·      Add white sauce on top
·      Bake for one hour until golden
·      This gets better each day!

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Peanut Butter Cookies and Sailing in Belize

     Earlier this year Jay’s sister, Jennifer, introduced us to a simple absolutely yummy recipe for Gluten Free Peanut Butter cookies.  These cookies are “to-die-for” delicious even though they are comprised of only 5 ingredients, and are so easy to make that I successfully whipped a batch up in the tiny galley and unpredictable oven of a 39 ft Beneteau during rolling seas and a torrential downpour with wind gusts up to 35 knots while sailing in Belize this summer. 
     It was our first day out on the boat and we were headed into new territory.  The briefing had left us somewhat terrified, noting there seemed to be a significant number of red Xs on the hand drawn chart they provided, indicating hidden reefs, pirates, or dangerous anchorage.  We duly noted where the 3 “hurricane anchorage spots” were in case we needed to hole up for a bit.  It was somewhat disturbing that one of the safe hurricane harbors was also the location of crocodiles and while it was safe to anchor, it was not safe to get in the water . . .
     The weather was moody and unpredictable as we left the Moorings base — it was the heart of hurricane season after all, and to be expected, I guess.  We made our way out the shallow passageway,  being careful to stay exactly on top of the way markers because straying meant going aground . . .  Within short order it began to rain.  It didn’t seem much like the tropical vacation we had all envisioned, but it was a change of scenery, and having to keep our wits about us added some excitement to the trip. 
     After sitting out on deck for an hour or so in the rain, I decided I would try to make us a treat that we could enjoy rain or not.  Luckily, while gluten free goods were virtually non-existent in Belize, all five ingredients needed to make our new favorite gluten free peanut butter cookies (namely, peanut butter, sugar, baking soda, vanilla and eggs) were readily available at the small Chinese/Latin American grocery store in Placencia.  (Funny thing that: Chinese people operate almost all the grocery stores in Belize! Kind of strange . . .)
     Going down below on a sailboat in bad weather is always something of an adventure unto itself.  I started mixing batter, and unlocked the gimbal on the oven, allowing it to swing wildly with the waves but still stay relatively level.  I heard scuffling above and glanced out into the cockpit.  Mom had just put on a life jacket (!) and was muttering something about 35 knot gusts . . . I went ahead with the cookies.
     We managed to tie up to a mooring ball at Wipari Cay and headed to shore, where we had high hopes that the restaurant would be open – but no such luck; instead within moments of stepping ashore, we got eaten alive by no seeums that came out with the rain, and received news from the proprietor that his restaurant had closed indefinitely.  No worries, back to the boat we went for tea and freshly baked cookies instead. 
     The weather calmed down enough to encourage us to hop  out for a quick snorkel.  Despite the stormy weather the water was warm – I called it “no hesitation” warm, warm enough, in fact, that we decided we’d be brave and go night diving later. 
     Night diving is just about the creepiest thing ever.  We had last gone night diving about 25 years ago.  During that trip we chanced upon a five foot lemon shark!  My response? I dropped the flashlight – not good!  With that memory swirling, I was more than a little scared as we slipped into the inky black water from the stern of the sailboat, but put up a brave front because Mom was considering trying it the next time we went out.  The shore seemed far away and the water where we were moored was so deep that our flashlights were only small tubes of light that never reached the bottom.  I held Jay’s hand as we crossed the distance to shallower waters.  Soon the nightlife started to appear in our flashlight beams.  We peaked around at beautiful coral formations and gasped when larger fish crossed into our vision.  Lobsters tend to come out of their hidey-holes at night and we chanced upon a big one.  We’d already caught one for the day, though, so we let it go. 
     The sea at night is even more mysterious and quiet than during the day.  You have very little peripheral vision.  So long as you stay engaged with examining all the beauty right in front of you, it all works out okay, but let your thoughts wander outside the periphery of your light to wonder what might be swimming just out of your vision . . . in the dark . . . and panic can set in quickly.  You have to stay relaxed and in awe–not thinking.  If you are lucky, you might be surprised by something rare, like the blue octopus we saw. I am sure night diving is a meditation technique itself.  Focus on what is in front of you, don’t let your thoughts run wild about what you can’t see or feel.  Relax, enjoy the beautiful mystery of life as it unfolds one beam at a time.
Screen Saver Land
     Our sailing trip had a few more rolling windy and rainy days but eventually the sun came out and stayed out.  This was  a good thing because we really needed the sunlight to maneuver between the coral reefs of some of the outer islands, like Pompion, Ranguana and Nicholas Cay.   There were reefs above and below the surface everywhere and while this was somewhat unnerving while we were underway, once we had tied up to a mooring ball or anchored it was like living in an aquarium, or as I thought of it,  “screen saver land.”  The water was clear and there was an abundance of different kinds of beautiful coral:  Brain coral, Pillar Coral, Staghorn Coral, Gorgonians, Sea Fans, Plume Worms, and many shades of sponges.  We also saw all kinds of beautiful reef fish most with fun names: Squirrelfish, Damselfish, Hawkfish, Porkfish, Parrotfish, Angelfish, Grunts, and the infamous Lionfish.  We went out of our way to look for the ugly but good to eat ones, like Grouper, Yellowtail Snapper and Barracuda. All in all, we snorkeled and spear fished 3–4 hours a day in the warm water with Jay providing one fish or lobster per day to supplement our meals.  For my contribution, I kept the peanut butter cookies coming for dessert and as soon as one batch was gone, I’d make another.  Every part of ourselves was nourished and nurtured.  At last, we relaxed. 
     Jay said this trip was like hitting a reset button on the computer once it has hung, where you have to actually hold the button down for some time to successfully reboot the system, just as we had  to actually get away for long enough in a completely different setting so that no everyday thoughts lingered, in order to reset our life.
     There is now a cozy memory corner I tuck myself into when I make Jennifer’s Peanut Butter cookies,  recalling fondly this recent sailing trip that we somehow successfully sandwiched in between a whole lot of work. 
     Mmmmmm peanut butter cookies. 
     Mmmmmm sailing in Belize. 
     Mmmmmmm what beautiful mystery will show up in my beam of life next?
Jennifer’s Peanut Butter (Chocolate Chip) Cookies
Original Recipe                                                            My variations
1 Cup extra crunchy peanut butter
(you can also just add chopped peanuts to creamy peanut butter)
1 Cup brown sugar
1 Cup Sucanat or Coconut Palm Sugar (which both have a lower glycemic index and taste perfect)
1 egg
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 cup chocolate chips (optional)
I use Hershey’s sugar-free chocolate chips for me
On the boat I just crunched up a chocolate bar and added it
·      Preheat oven to 350 degrees
·      In a large mixing bowl, cream together peanut butter, sugar, egg, baking soda and vanilla
·      Fold in chocolate chips
·      Spoon by the tablespoon onto parchment paper-lined (or greased) cookie sheet
·      Bake for 10-12 minutes or longer for crispier cookies

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From the Mayan Underworld of Xibalba to an Indonesian Salad called Gado Gado

     With the final quarter of 2012 and the end of the Mayan calendar before us, I find my thoughts wandering to Xibalba – the Mayan door to the underworld, and with those musings comes a desire to share one of my favorite salad recipes:  Gado Gado.
     In most people’s reality, Gado Gado is about as far from the Mayan Underworld as you can get.  It is a thoroughly Indonesian dish that I have read means “mix mix”.  But for me, this summer, Gado Gado became inextricably linked with my oldest daughter Jaime and thoughts about Xibalba — a “mix mix” of memories, I guess.
     It all started about 6 years ago when our family took one of our favorite vacations ever to Mexico, Belize and Guatemala.  We visited the ruins of Chichen Itza and Tikal, and stayed in a little cottage right on the Mexican Riviera and also at the Maya Mountain Lodge, deep in the rainforests of Belize not too far from the Guatemalan border.  But the highlight of our trip – we all agreed—was our trip to Xibalba. This was a caving adventure extraordinaire.  The kind of adventure that lawyers in America rub their hands over – fraught with danger and fool hardiness– the kind of authentic adventure that does not avail itself too often.   
     Actun Tunichil Muknal (Cave of the Crystal Sepulchre), known locally as “Xibalba,” is essentially a Mayan archeological site, complete with skeletons, ceramics and stoneware.  It is located deep in the jungle and you have to have a guide to go see it, but trust me that’s a good thing!  Just to get to the cave you have to drive 45 minutes from San Ignacio – which in our case included having to forge a river in our rental car.  Then you continue on foot for a 45-minute jungle hike, steaming with lush flora and wild fauna — and yes the fauna includes extremely poisonous snakes, namely the Fer de Lance, known to be the most aggressive, venomous and feared snake in the tropics!   In fact, the part that scared our seasoned guide the most was the hike back when he spotted a Fer De Lance crossing our paths.  After that he was on a hurried mission to get back to the car – oh and it had started to rain and that river we forged wasn’t getting any lower. . .  
     But back to Xibalba . . . in Mayan lore, a soul’s journey to Xibalba, which mean “place of fear,” is where the soul goes to be reborn and inherit eternal life.  The journey involves entering a cave, crossing or traversing the length of a river and passing into the spirit world; there is said to be a crossroads where travelers have to choose from between four roads that spoke in an attempt to confuse and beguile; ultimately the journey winds up at or near the “underworld” counterpart located at the bifurcation or dark rift of the Milky Way – the very one that is supposed to be involved in a cosmic alignment this December. 
Photo taken from deep within Xibalba
     True to the legend, we found the entrance to the Actun Tunichil Muknal filled with water.  After a moment’s pause and few wild vine swings into the river, we continued on our journey by swimming bravely into the dark looming cave entrance and then followed the stream deep into the cave.  As we were holding hands together in rushing water up to our neck, while squeezing through a narrow passageway mindful of mini waterfalls up ahead . . . it struck me . . . this was no ordinary adventure.  And it went on.  We clambered over rocks and through tunnels and climbed handmade ladders to rock shelves twenty feet above the water, and ultimately found ourselves face to face with skeletons.  It was amazing . . . and decently scary . . . kind of life itself
     You see, I see the road to Xibalba as a metaphor for our own journey in life.  I believe that, as humans, we all want to experience more peace, more love, more equanimity.  We want to feel a connection with our Beloved, or the universe, or whatever it is we feel separate from when we are suffering . . . I have come to appreciate that along the way, our life’s journey will likely include some dark caves fraught with dangers and confusing options—some places or times in our lives when fear rules. 
     I also appreciate that on my own life journey adventure, I forget sometimes to see the travails as exciting and stimulating.  I forget to be brave as I swim into the next cave’s dark entrance and to feel curious and alive in the scary “water up to my neck passageway” phase, instead of paralyzed with fear or indecision.  Maybe that’s why I like adventure so much. It reminds me that I can be full of life and engaged amidst all kinds of terror.  So a journey to Xibalba is a good thing – adventure is a good thing – physical challenges afford us the opportunity to believe in ourselves.
     Which brings me back to the connection with Gado Gado, which as I mentioned is linked to my daughter Jaime. 
     Jaime and her boyfriend Jason went on a series of their own adventures this summer, which included sea kayaking in the wilds off British Columbia (without a guide) and bumming around Belize and Guatemala for a month, including visiting Xibalba, before visiting us back in San Diego.  Let me just say, it’s one thing to be off on my own adventure or a family adventure, but quite another to have my kids off on a crazy adventure on their own with only limited contact . . . Hello Fear!
     With limited contact, my part in their summer adventure was minimal—namely, receive sporadic texts from them and feed them when they got back to San Diego.  
     Since the texts tended to be brief and terrifying such as this one:
·                 Explored caves that make Actun Tunichil look like Disneyland
     (Yikes!   How much more intense could it get?  Later, I learned they went under water holding their breath and clutching a rope in the pitch black for about ten feet to a hidden cave – creepy!)
     I distracted myself from worrying by focusing on what to feed them upon their homecoming.  Being as they are vegetarians, and it was still hot summer in SoCal,  I decided on Gado Gado–an Indonesian salad that features all kinds of vegetables, tofu and egg and is smothered in a delicious spicy peanut sauce.  It is fantastic and pretty easy to make.  Thus, did Gado Gado become inextricably entwined in my memories with journeys to Xibalba.
     So, whether you have just been to Xibalba and back, or just feel like you’ve been to Xibalba and back, or perhaps, like me, you feel rather like you are still on the road to  Xibalba—stuck at the crossroads where all choices seem to confuse and beguile—it could be time for a some Indonesian Gado Gado.
     Below is my preferred recipe from one of my favorite cookbooks, The Whole Chili Pepper Cookbook. 
     Time to let the “mix mix” of memories go and to indulge in a simpler sensory “mix mix” for the palette:
Gado Gado:
Whole Chili Pepper Cookbook:                                    My variations:
The Dressing:
2 Tbl dried crushed red chili such as Piquin seeds included
1 Tbl Red pepper flakes
¼ cup finely chopped onion
I use sweet onions
1 Tbl finely chopped fresh ginger
1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tbl peanut oil
I use coconut oil or olive oil
1 ¼ cup unsweetened coconut milk
I use 1 can
½ cup crunchy peanut butter
I use peanut butter with no sugar
2 Tbl soy sauce
I use tamari
2 Tbl brown sugar
I use coconut crystals or sucanat
1 Tbl lemon juice
I sometimes use lime juice
The Salad:
2 fresh bean-curd cakes
I use the tofu that come in plastic containers – firm or extra firm
2 cups shredded cabbage
2 large new (red) potatoes, boiled and cut into ¼” slices
I often use many small red potatoes
¼ pound cooked green beans, cut into 3” pieces
2 cups bean sprouts
1 medium carrot, cut into 2 by ¼” julienne strips, cooked
1 large cucumber, sliced
2 hard cooked eggs
Or more
2 scallions, thinly sliced including the greens
I use regular green onions
1 cup roasted peanuts
To Make the Dressing:
·      Sauté the onions, ginger, and garlic in the oil until softened. 
·      Stir in the remainder of the ingredients. 
·      Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. 
·      Reduce the heat and simmer until thickened, about 10 minutes.
To Make the Salad:
·      Poach the bean curd in simmering water for 10 minutes.  (I don’t do this part with the tofu that comes in the plastic containers.) 
·      Cut bean curd (tofu) into 1” cubes.  
·      Arrange the vegetables in layers, starting with the cabbage, then cucumbers, potatoes, green beans, bean sprouts, carrots, and tofu.
·      Place egg slices around the side. 
·      Top with the scallion onions and chopped peanuts.
·      Warm the dressing and either pour over the salad or serve in a bowl on the side.

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Bell Bluff, Buddha and the Brain, GigaBeam, and Bi Bim Bap!

     Last week my niece, Mikayla, came to visit.  The story was that Mikayla had been accepted to a couple universities in San Diego and came down to take a closer look, but I think she just wanted to hang out with us!  I am so glad she did–it was relaxing and fun and gave me an excuse to do all the things I like to do around here:  check out new places and things to do, go shopping, go to the beach, kayak on the lake, and of course–cook exotic and yummy peasant food and climb Bell Bluff!
     This is how the week looked:
  • Wednesday: University of San Diego –did you know this is the 4th most beautiful campus in the world?   And I have to say it lives up to that reputation with stunning architecture, landscaping and views! 
  • Thursday: prom dress shopping (anyone who knows me, knows this was super fun for me!) and yoga
  •  Friday: talk to the honors program and watch a water polo match (my first) at San Diego State University–my goodness, I had no idea how cool San Diego State University was.  In addition to a complete recreation and fitness facilities, they have an Aquaplex!  SDSU was just selected for the second year in a row to host the NCAA Women’s Water Polo National Championships in 2012.  It’s no wonder, the facility is quite impressive:  Five different pools, of varying depths to accommodate diving, water polo, lane swimming and recreational fun – not to mention a giant hot tub as well . . . the students study for exams in bikinis on poolside loungers – who wouldn’t want to go to school here??   Okay – the honors program is pretty cool too – only 200 kids out of 5,000 incoming freshman make the cut!
  •  Saturday: climb Bell Bluff and make Bi Bim Bap!  Mind you the Bell Bluff hike is not for sissies. It is about 9 miles roundtrip and takes five long hours–the first 4 miles are a gradual doable ascent, then the last half mile is a bushwhacking scrabble up the mountainside.  The hike was sweetened with the knowledge that our dinner plans were to introduce Mikayla to Bi Bim Bap – a Korean meal served in a hot stone bowl with rice and vegetables (steak and eggs optional) and a special chili sauce.  Yum–this is truly one of my favorite peasant recipes–and to think I didn’t even know it existed until 5 years ago!
  • Sunday: Dutch Easter brunch (my mom’s famous tradition featuring a collection of eggs, meats, cheeses, breads, chocolate and condiments), lazing around reading, and kayaking on the lake
  •  Monday: work on a surprise for Mikayla’s parents, go see the wave pool and boardwalk at Mission Beach, and go to a special class taught by a psychologist, Doug Brackmann, called “Zen, Buddha and the Brain”
     As you can imagine, we had a great week–but one of the peaks (literally and metaphorically) for me was hiking Bell Bluff and making Bi Bim Bap (well–also coming up with the surprise for Mikayla’s present, but shhhhh, it may still be a secret)
     The thing about hiking Bell Bluff, is it’s always somewhat questionable–once you make it to the base of Bell Bluff and start climbing straight up–whether you will actually make it to the top this time. Intense resistance and the urge to quit as exhaustion sinks in grows exponentially.
     Luckily, we simply impose a free whining zone for that last stretch–we take a deep breath and freely complain about all the bits and pieces of our bodies that are tired and hurting, but we keep walking.  Somehow paying closer attention to the body (instead of the “I can’t do this!” I’ll never make it!”  “What was I thinking anyway???” thoughts that begin to run rampant) helps.
     It turns out, while we didn’t especially make the connection, this mountain climbing tactic is essentially what we are learning in our Zen, Buddha and the Brain class and simulates what we practice when we meditate–whenever the mountain of life seems too steep–that is, when mental suffering sets in–bring your attention back to the body!  Notice what is going on physically, instead of the story generated by your thoughts.  Allow your thoughts to drift away naturally, bring your attention back to the breath.  mmmmmm–it’s so good!
     But, speaking of good, let’s get back to Bi Bim Bap–the real inspiration for writing this blog entry . . . it was actually during a time in the last five years when I was bipping and bopping up and down the east coast for work that I came to try Bi Bim Bap for the first time.  I could hardly believe that there was a gluten free ethnic dish of this quality that I had never even heard of!  At the time, Jay and I were working for GigaBeam, whose headquarters were located in Herndon, VA, not far from DC.  For a period of a couple years, we worked long hours and would be away from home for 2 – 4 days at a stretch almost every other week.  We got to know all the restaurants in the vicinity of work intimately.  Then one day a new Korean Restaurant opened very nearby (sadly that restaurant has since gone out to business.)  A colleague very excitedly told us we had to go there and we had to try the Bim Bim Bap – the Bee Bim What?  Well try it we did and it became our favorite dinner choice.
     Bi Bim Bap is traditionally served in a hot stone bowl (and then named “Dol Sot Bi Bim Bap,” which I am advised means Hot Stone Bowl with Mixed Rice.)  The hot stone bowl allows the rice on the bottom of the bowl to get crispy.  On top of the rice, a whole bunch of seasoned vegetables and mushrooms sit and for non-vegetarians some steak strips marinated in a sweet sesame, garlic and soy sauce mixture as well.  Then a fried egg is added, and the whole thing is smothered in Korean Chili sauce called Gochuchang, sometimes spelled Kochuchang (Hot Red Pepper Paste).  This sauce really makes the dish and tastes decidedly different from a Mexican or Chinese hot pepper sauce.
     By my way of thinking Dol Sot Bi Bim Bap is quintessentially peasant, but made exotic and interesting by being served in stone bowls.  Recently when my mom was visiting I discovered a great Korean supermarket, “Zion Market”, in San Diego (something like Uwajimaya of Seattle).  We were able to purchase some of these stone bowls and voilà can now make authentic Bi Bim Bap!  (But, don’t let the lack of stone bowls stop you from making Bi Bim Bap – it’s delicious either way!!)
     So in honor of one of the best things I got from working at GigaBeam . . . . an introduction to Bi Bim Bap . . . and in honor of Bell Bluff and Buddha Brain . .  I offer you one of my new favorite recipes:  Bi Bim Bap.  I have tried several different recipes, but have settled on the following one that mom found at allrecipes.com.
All Recipes.com recipe                                                My substitutions:
½ cup soy sauce
½ cup wheat free tamari
½ cup white sugar
(omit)
½ brown sugar
½ cup sucanat
¼ cup minced garlic
1/3 cup chopped green onion
4 tablespoons sesame seeds
20 ounce rib-eye steak, sliced thin
Omit for vegetarians – I use filet mignon
Salt and pepper to taste
3 cups uncooked glutinous (sticky) white rice, rinsed
I sometimes substitute regular short grain white rice
6 ½ cups water
4 dried shiitake mushrooms
Omit or use whatever you have on hand
1 pound fresh spinach, washed and chopped
12 ounces cucumber, julienned
12 ounces carrots, julienned
Sesame oil
8 ounces bean sprouts
6 eggs
6 sheets nori, crumbled
I offer nori sprinkles on the side (or omit if I don’t have)
6 tablespoons sesame oil
¼ cup chili bean paste (Kochujang)
  •  For the non-vegetarian version:  Make the marinade for the beef.  Combine soy sauce or tamari, sugar, garlic, green onions, sesame seeds in a large bowl;  add the sliced beef strips to the marinade, and season with salt and pepper.  (note:  if you are making a vegetarian version – make some of this marinade and soak your vegetables in it instead.)  Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours (well – okay I am not usually that organized so I just marinade it while I am cooking everything else . . .)
  •  Bring the rice and water to a boil in a saucepan over high heat.  Reduce heat to medium-low and cover; simmer until the rice is tender and the liquid has been absorbed, 20 to 25 minutes.  (Or — do as I do and use a rice cooker and hit start.)
  • Preheat an oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C), and place Korean stone bowls in the oven.  (Note:  I have tried the oven method with the stone bowls in the oven and I find it just does not get them hot enough.  I put them directly on the burners of my gas stove–as the Korean lady at Zion market suggested–to heat them instead.  And remember – don’t be deterred if you don’t have stone bowls, just put the ingredients in your regular soup bowls.)
  •   Place wok or frying pan over medium-high heat.  Cook carrots and cucumbers in a small amount of sesame oil to soften, stirring frequently.  Remove from pan, and set aside.  Add a small amount of sesame oil to the pan, and cook spinach in sesame oil for a minute or two.  Remove spinach from pan and set aside.  Add the meat strips and marinade to the wok, cook, stirring frequently, until the liquid reduces in volume, about 4 to 5 minutes.
  •  Transfer the stone bowls from the oven (or stove top) to suitable heat resistance surface.  Brush each bowl with sesame oil to coat.  Divide the rice into the bowls, and gently pack to the bottom (it’s perfect if you have gotten the bowls hot enough for the rice to sizzle as you arrange).  Arrange the cucumbers and carrots, bean sprouts, greens, shiitake mushrooms, and beef mixture over each portion of the rice.
  •  The allrecipes.com recipe now says to add a raw egg to each bowl, and to drizzle it with sesame oil and nori sprinkles.   But I always fry the egg over easy first and then add it to the bowl.
  •  Serve with the Kochujang sauce and encourage guests to smother the top of the bowl of food with the sauce.
     Oh, this is just the best!!  All yummy ingredients, an interesting sauce – pure comfort food.  But don’t trust my word, ask Mikayla!

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Mexican Adventures, Coming Home and Tortilla Soup

     The signature recipe at our house has become “Tortilla Soup” and for me it signifies coming home. Just the words alone immediately bring to mind the joy of being surrounded by family and friends.  Tortilla Soup has become the recipe we fix every time the kids come home from college, the recipe we choose to greet travelers after a long flight, the one we choose when we want a new friend to feel relaxed and comfortable at our house. It captures, for me, the quintessential essence of peasant cooking at its best–not exactly stone soup, but a kind of “condiment” soup (with all sorts of extras that can be added according to the tastes and desires of the tastee)–and of course there is always the fact that it comes with a Mexican flair!  
     Mexico comes with somewhat of a bad rap these days, but for not for me. Mexico is near and dear to my heart.  I’ve been to Mexico over 20 times and many of them have been wild and wonderful adventures. Making Tortilla Soup for me is an opportunity to choose from a collection of memories (sort of thought condiments) to flavor my day–which ones do I want to taste and smell and remember today?
     If I am very relaxed I might remember the summer I met my husband and we drove down to San Carlos and camped on the beach.  I learned to spear fish and caught my one and only fish on the first try–mostly to prove I could do it–after that I always seemed to subtly jerk my hand at the last moment and miss . . . I remember that while driving back home on that trip my car broke down in Tijuana and in the space of an instant, I completely panicked, convinced we would never make it back home – we’d become destitute living on the streets of Tijuana – we’d end up in a Tijuana jail (you know how the mind gets going sometimes. . .) Jay said he’d never let that happen; he would make sure we found our way home even if he had to push the car all the way back over the border.  I believed him 100% and probably fell in love that day. 
     I might remember another time, like when we drove from Washington State to the Yucatan Peninsula in an old Toyota truck with an orange wooden canopy – the thing required us to change the spark plugs about every 100 miles and looked so bad even the Mexicans felt sorry for us . . . but we had treasures hidden beneath the scruffy exterior (kind of like we all do) including scuba gear, an air compressor, an inflatable boat and engine.  We made our way across the country to “La Playa Mas Bonita Del Mundo” – the most beautiful beach in the world — where we built a hut on the beach from driftwood and palm fronds, and spent days scuba diving and living off our catch.  It was paradise . . . until I got barracuda poisoning . . .
     In later years, we found ourselves smack dab in the middle of a mid-life crisis and decided to escape what we saw as the rut and rat race of suburban living and move with our four and seven year old girls to a remote fishing village in Mexico, called Yelapa.  I always thought living in Yelapa was something like life as described in the Little House on the Prairie books.  There were no cars, no phones, no electricity . . . we walked everywhere and our days were divided between walking to the big beach for fun and entertainment – a twenty minute walk away one way– homeschooling, and walking to one of the three tiny little grocery stores to pick up food for that day’s meal – oh and checking for scorpions  . . . I could write a book about our experiences living in a Palapa in Yelapa . . . but suffice it to say, it was there we came to fully appreciate Mexican cooking: handmade tortillas picked up fresh from a local woman, young coconuts for drinking pulled right off the tree, papaya sprinkled with lime juice, mangoes, black beans, cheese, cilantro, rice, tomatoes, jalapenos, fresh caught seafood . . . oh Yum!
     My Tortilla Soup condiment thoughts can just as easily transport me to the quiet space of a meditation retreat, for we traveled many times to partake in one that took place in an enchanting old hacienda hundreds of years old set in the hills above Taxco.  It was essentially a mini village with cobblestone roads, its own church, a swimming pool, multiple impressive stone edifices, mysterious ruins up vine covered trails, and abundant loquat trees–it was pretty much like being on a Harry Potter set–so magical and the people so wonderful and the ashrama so still.  Our teacher used to say that the Mexican people were the closest to God and Mexico was the heart of the World.
     That is certainly true for me, for it was in Mexico–on a women’s journey led by a toltec shaman and a Mayan priestess and with women from all over the world, that the veil–the one that keeps us from fully experiencing the astonishing sacredness of life–lifted, and I found my way home to my own heart . . .
     It was immediately after this sacred journey to the heart in Mexico that we were moved across the country to Chapel Hill, North Carolina and it was there that I learned to make Tortilla Soup.  Luckily for me, the heart of Chapel Hill was Whole Foods, which was located a convenient 6 minutes from my house.  Whole Foods became the source from which I would try to re-establish a feeling of home for our relocated family, who were all missing the companionship and comfort of extended family and friends. 
     During this time, I would wander through the aisles of Whole Foods in bliss–all the beautiful vibrant produce seemed to be glowing–and all our food sensitivities were easily accommodated with healthy and interesting options! I loved going to Whole Foods.  It became the center of my day.  It wasn’t long before I purchased the Whole Foods Cookbook and discovered their recipe for Tortilla Soup. I have copied below the page from the original Whole Foods Cookbook I bought nine years ago.  You can see it is a well-loved page.  I’ve added a few of my own touches, but not too many.  Tortilla Soup has become our family’s comfort food, a symbol of being home, and to this day it regularly graces our table.
     Well, it seems like it is time to let loose the memories and get on with joy of cooking itself . . . We have an old friend visiting, one that co-incidentally also visited us when we lived in Yelapa.  He is a vegan and this recipe is very easy to make vegan.
     Today is a Tortilla Soup kind of day . . . (but my daughter warns me another one better be just around the corner because she is coming home next week . . . .)
Tortilla Soup (adapted from the Whole Foods Market Cookbook)
Original Spicy Chicken version:                      Vegetarian/Vegan substitutes and
other alternatives I use:
 1/8 cup canola oil
(I usually use olive oil)
1 medium red pepper, seeded and chopped
Note:  I use whatever color peppers I have and often add orange and yellow peppers because it looks pretty
1 medium green pepper, seeded and chopped
1 medium red onion, chopped
Note:  I usually use a sweet white onion instead
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp dried oregano or 1/8 cup fresh
1 tsp cumin
Note:  I always hand grind my whole cumin and add a little extra
¾ tsp chili powder
Note:  different chili powders taste different, so experiment to see what you like – I use the one Costco sells
1 jalapeno, chopped and seeded
Leave some seeds in for extra heat
1 can diced canned tomatoes with juice
I use organic canned tomatoes or fresh
4 cups water or chicken broth
4 cups vegetable broth
(Note:  I always make it with broth and like the organic Pacific brand for both vegetable and Free Range Chicken)
1 -2 organic free range chicken breasts
(I cut these up into bite size pieces before putting it in the soup – Note:  this is easy to do with frozen breasts)
Omit for vegetarian option
1 (15 ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
I use either organic Eden or Goya
2 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels
I use organic frozen usually
½ cup minced cilantro
I serve mine on the side
Salt to taste
The Condiments:
Minced cilantro
Diced ripe avocado
Grated pepper or Monterey jack cheese
Vegan soy or other imitation cheese
Extra jalapenos chopped
Handmade tortillas strips (recipe below)
I buy a stack of the inexpensive Mexican brand sold at local grocery stores
Yoghurt or sour cream
·       Heat the oil in a deep dutch oven over medium high heat
·       Saute the peppers, onion, garlic, oregano, cumin and chili powder for 3 minute, until the onion is translucent, stirring often. 
·       Add the jalapeno and tomatoes; continue stirring for one minute
·       Add the broth and the chicken pieces
·       Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 20 minutes
·       Add the black beans and corn and return the soup to a boil, then reduce to low simmer and season with salt.
·       Prepare the cilantro, avocado, cheese, jalapeno and yoghurt condiments and place in separate serving bowls for each guest to add to their own soup
·       Prepare the handmade tortillas strips (hint– it is key to make your own):
o   Take a stack of tortillas about 1 -2 inches high and cut in half; then stack both halves on top of each other and make 1/8 inch wide slices through all layers to make strips
o   Cover the bottom of a frying pan with oil; 
o   Heat the oil over medium heat
o   Sprinkle the hand cut strips over the oil; season generously with salt
o   Stir and turn the strips until they brown and get little crunchy
o   Serve these separately for guests to add to their soup.
—–
     And here it is – the well loved page from my Whole Foods Market Cookbook:
 

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