It seems way too early, but there have many questions about death swirling around here recently. I think it may have started with a drive by a cemetery, with it's large concrete blocks sticking out of the ground, that prompted the "What is that?" question. So for months now, each time we've driven by that cemetery in Santa Monica, Mateo would beg us to take him in. "We don't have time today, maybe tomorrow," we would say over and over. We knew there would come a point when we would have to make the time.
Which we finally did. Now we've not only visited that one in Santa Monica but also a strange, seemingly ancient one in Los Angeles. At first they treated it like any open space and ran circles around the headstones. Then they began to look closer and noticed the stones had letters and numbers. Mateo seemed fascinated that the letters spelled the names of the people inside. "How did they die?" "How did they get under the ground?" "Are they ever alive down there?" " What if they want to get out?" Oh, so many questions.
The next visit prompted some more thoughtful questions about death. Mateo wanted to know if everyone dies just by closing their eyes. "How do people know when to die?" he asked looking very concerned. "What if they don't want to become angels?"
We spent about 30 minutes in the last one we visited, and I thought that was plenty of time. But not Mateo. "I could stay here for hours," he said. And when I asked why he said, "Because it just seems quiet." What does that say when a 5-year-old boy has to come to a cemetery for a little peace??
While Thanksgiving Day this year was little too hectic for picture taking, we still found lots to be thankful for on our little Holiday break. There was the perfect cool dessert day that we used to hike through the Indian Canyon in Palm Springs the day after Thanksgiving. There was the romantic night walk through the place where Matt and I got married 6 years ago, that as we walked through, the wind began to blow down the mountains, creating an invigorating mix of hot and cold air that left us feeling pretty invigorated. There was the beautiful dinner made for us by our friends John and Leah, who's lemon semolina cookies we're still talking about and savoring. There was the day where Mateo could really, truly say he could ride a bike without training wheels. There was also the day he got his first tooth filling and his first shot of novocain. And there was his chuckling Mama who took his picture as he tried to smile through a numb mouth. Indeed it was four very full days. Thanksgiving or not, I find myself counting my blessings almost each and every day for all that fullness.
We're not really big into white flour around here. I know, big surprise. But there was always something about real whole wheat pancakes that left what felt like a dumbbell of dough in my gut. So when I saw Mark Bittman's recipe in the New York Times last year, he broke it all down as to how to avoid the dumbbell effect. The first time I made them topped with hot maple syrup, I was completely sold. So was everyone else at our house. Since then, these are pretty much all we ever make, with a little tweaks here and there like adding bananas or blueberries. They are indeed fluffy, aromatic, and full of flavor, and I often eat the syrup-less leftovers as a snack later in the day. They sometimes sneak their way into the boys lunch boxes the next day with a little smear of almond butter. Darth Vader above kills 'em every time.
Butter as needed
1 cup whole-wheat flour
2/3 cup buckwheat flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander or cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, separated
2 cups milk.
1. Melt 3 tablespoons butter. In a large bowl combine flours, sugar, baking powder, spices and salt.
2. Beat egg whites with an electric mixer or a whisk until stiff peaks form, but do not overbeat. In separate bowl beat milk, yolks and melted butter until foamy, a couple of minutes. Add milk mixture to flour mixture and give a couple of good stirs, but do not overmix. Fold in egg whites and stir until batter is just evenly colored and relatively smooth; it's O.K. if there are some lumps.
3. Heat a large skillet (preferably cast iron) or griddle over medium heat until a few drops of water dance on its surface. Add butter as needed (or use a thin film of neutral oil, like grapeseed or corn). When skillet is hot, spoon batter into pan. Cook until bubbles form and pop, about 2 minutes; you may have to rotate cakes to cook them evenly, depending on your heat source and pan. Then carefully flip pancakes. Cook until well colored on other side, another minute or two more. Serve or keep in warm oven for a few minutes.
Yield: At least 6 servings.
Stir-ins: 1/2 cup cornmeal, rolled oats or oat or wheat bran in place of 1/2 cup of either flour; or add 2 tablespoons ground flaxseed; or add up to 1/2 cup cooked grain like quinoa, brown rice or millet. (The flour in this recipe can be all whole-wheat or all buckwheat.)
Lighter cakes: Use 2/3 cup white flour in place of 2/3 cup of the whole-wheat flour. This makes separating the eggs optional.
Savory cakes: Omit sugar and increase salt to 1 teaspoon; replace cinnamon with cumin. Serve like bread with soups or stews.
So we may actually have a little budding photographer in our midst. One evening I hooked up my camera to download the day's photos, and here these appeared. One look at those toes and I knew exactly who the culprit was. Mateo had taken my heavy Nikon out of it's case, turned it on, changed the setting to auto, and began clicking away. Where was I? The shower? Among all the things in our home that he sees every single day, it didn't really surprise me that he photographed the things he really loves most, his books, our photos on the wall, his brown blanket, and of course his little brother.
Mateo was up to test for his orange stripe belt, and this time I think he was actually nervous. As many times as I tried to explain just what was going to happen as we practiced and practiced his moves, it didn't really sink in until he saw Mr. Yi's big desk and all the parents sitting anxiously around the class. He shot me a few dirty looks that said, "Mama, what have you gotten me into?" But he did a fantastic job and as he walked out of class smiling, I knew he was proud of himself. We'll see in a few days if he passed.
Other than that, there was a lot of painting, home picnics, and library books as we all laid low to nurse a sick daddy and Nico. By today, everyone's feeling much better.
We’re still on a soup roll around here. Even though the weather’s still relatively mild, it still feels right this time of year. This soup is also from Deborah Madison’s Vegetable Soups and as with all I’ve made from it so far, was a perfect blending of flavors, textures, and heartiness. There are warm tender chunks of potato; juicy, sweet kernels of corn; tangy, salty bits of feta and the quinoa gives it some good backbone in the protein department. Everyone at the table was slurping and asking for seconds, even thirds. I love it when that happens.
Quinoa, Corn & Spinach Chowder
from Vegetable Soups from Deborah Madison’s Kitchen
3/4 cup quinoa, rinsed well in a sieve
2 ears of corn
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/4 jalapeno chile, diced and seeded
1 teaspoon ground cumin
salt and pepper
1/2 lb. Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into 1/4″ cubes
7 cups water or stock
3 cups finely chopped spinach
1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced, including about 1 inch of the green
1/3 cup chopped cilantro leaves
1/4 lb. feta cheese, diced
1 hard boiled egg, chopped (I skipped this step)
Put the quinoa in 2 quarts stock, bring to a boil and then simmer for 10 minutes. While the quinoa is cooking, chop your vegetables and cheese. Drain the quinoa when it’s done and reserve the liquid. You should have about 7 cups of liquid, add more stock if necessary.
Heat the oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the garlic and chile (or chile flakes). Cook for about 30 seconds, then add the cumin, 1 teaspoon salt, and potatoes. Cook for a few minutes but don’t let the garlic brown. Add the quinoa stock and simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 12 minutes. Add the quinoa, spinach and remaining scallions and simmer for 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the corn, feta and cilantro. Season with pepper and garnish with chopped egg (if using).