San Diego Eats, Leftovers, and Tiny Garden Treats

I’m inspired to cook by food photos. By recipes. Food descriptions. People’s culinary stories. The aroma of garlic on the breeze. It’s my hope that these photos, descriptions, and stories will inspire you to cook as well.

Moving to San Diego has dramatically changed how I eat. I had finally adapted to the “eat it that day” freshness of Isla’s tropical climate, and we moved to San Diego, where I’m figuring out growing, shopping, and eating all over again.

We have a little garden space, and room for a few container gardens at our little house in North Park. So far we’ve grown: rainbow chard, green beans, cucumbers, lettuce, tomatoes, two kinds of snap peas, basil, mint, rosemary, exactly one potato, and some incredibly tenacious nasturtiums.

Other than the basil, chard, mint, and nasturtiums, there have been very small harvests of the other produce. However, I try to make sure that Callan eats at least one little thing from the garden each day. It’s a little ritual that makes me feel like I’m grounding us in place, however temporarily.

We’re moving again in less than a month. Our house is scheduled for demolition to make room for more apartments in these rapidly growing San Diego neighborhoods.

When we find our next home to settle in and make our own, I’ll plant seeds there too. Our family will watch them grow, and one afternoon we’ll walk out, pick a cucumber, and each take a bite.

Home, is where we grow.

One of our first harvests that wasn’t herbs:
Rainbow Chard and Blue Lake Bush Beans. I planted the beans in honor of my dad, who grows this variety at our home in Michigan.

I like to cook the beans lightly steamed so they still have a snap, and then give them a generous, delicious serving of butter and salt.

Chard is just, wonderful. The different colors even have different nutritional benefits.

  • Add chard to stir fry
  • Chop and sauté with olive oil. Add garlic and soy sauce/Braggs Liquid Aminos. Break a couple eggs on top and serve with toast. (Add balsamic and tomatoes—the options are endless).
  • Add young chard to your green smoothie in the morning. (I like medium handful of chard blended with dragon fruit, lime juice, honey, and strawberries.
  • Cook bigger chard like spinach or collard greens and serve as a side.

We planted lettuce in a flower box attached to the fence. Callan, and his brother Hayden when he visits, like to go out and pluck one lettuce leaf at a time and eat them. They also love to pick the mint.

I bought a fancy salad spinner at the second hand store on University Ave. I’ve used it properly only a handful of times. Other than that it’s been worth it’s pennies as a most interesting toy that occupies Callan for minutes at a time.

  • Mix the mint and lettuce. Add cucumbers and tomatoes with a balsamic/garlic/olive oil dressing and you have the perfect fresh salad for a hot summer night. (Oh, and add feta. Don’t forget cheese!)
A few weeks ago, I had one of those parent moments that make me feel like I must be doing ok.

Callan looked up and me and said, “Momma, can we have some pesto?”

My heart suddenly felt bigger.

My momma makes the most delicious fresh pesto. It’s a mostly-parsley pesto from fresh parsley she picks from the garden, washes, and puts right in the blender. It’s one of my favorite meals.

Our pesto pictured above was mostly basil with a few mint leaves thrown in.

To the blender we added:

  • A couple handfuls of toasted walnuts (substitute sunflower seeds, pepitas, or pine nuts).
  • A healthy dose of olive oil
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • Parmesan Cheese
  • Blend everything together. Add to pasta, smear on bread, or add to scrambled eggs.
We’ve been shopping at Costco more regularly now that we’re back in the states. Living in California, I can’t believe how expensive everything is. Buying in bulk at Costco helps (especially with a tiny human who never stops eating). However, the bulk bags of carrots sometimes have a tendency to get a little bit slimy if left in the fridge too long.

Enter, the roasting pan. Roasting vegetables is a great way to use veggies that are starting to get a bit past their prime.

For the Roasted Carrot soup pictured above, I roasted the carrots with salt and olive oil, then puréed them with a hand blender. I then put them in a sauce pan and added coconut milk, broth, spices, and garlic. The toppings are roasted pepitas and mix of chopped basil and mint.

The Hillcrest Farmer’s Market is not too far down the street from us. It’s hands-down the biggest farmer’s market I’ve ever been to, stretching for several blocks and full of delicious aromas and delectable foods.

We bought a bunch of beets and a bunch of carrots from The African Sister’s produce stand. The fresh carrots were as sweet as those from my father’s garden, which is a high compliment.

One of Callan’s favorites is when I roast beets and carrots together, and serve them with butter, salt, and either honey or a sweet balsamic reduction.

I was raised to believe stir fry is the great “hider of leftovers.” Leftover noodles or rice? Make a stir fry. Leftover vegetable odds and ends? Make a stir fry. Leftover chicken, steak, pork, or seafood…

Make it fancy and top with some chopped egg, cucumber, and a garden nasturtium flower, which are edible and taste a bit spicy in a wasabi-kind of way.

One day in May our neighbor stopped by with these two fresh tuna steaks. A gift indeed.

Ryan looked up the best way to cook them, and decided on a quick sear and done.

That tuna was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. It literally melted in our mouths with a delicate flavor complemented and lifted by salty soy sauce and spicy wasabi. I think I’m ruined from ever eating tuna in a restaurant again.

Sometimes, it’s nice just to go around the block and have a customized slice of pizza and Two Hearted Beer at Luigi’s. (Two Hearted is my favorite down-home Michigan beer and I will never get over being able to get it on tap at the local pizza place in San Diego).

Luigi’s has become a Rickman-family favorite. My pizza is pesto with ricotta and green olives. Sometimes mushrooms. It’s amazing.

When we went to our local nursery to pick up seeds, I bought a package of yellow sugar snap peas, which I’d never seen before. The flowers were a beautiful purple-blue, and the peas were sweet and delicious. Callan ate most of them.
During the pandemic on Isla, we were contained mostly to our home for weeks and months at a time. To stave off going crazy, Ryan picked up a delicious hobby: smoking meat. He spent hours learning from another American-Isla transplant who was from the south and knew his way around a smoker. Ryan spent days in front of the fire, in all sorts of weather, heat, and mosquitoes. The ribs (and homemade beans) he makes are the best I’ve ever had, no question.
While our tomato plants succumbed to the lack of nutrients in the soil, beforehand they produced a few beautiful and succulent fruits.

One of my favorite movies is “Julie and Julia,” about a food blogger who cooks her way through Julia Child’s cookbook. In one scene, the main character makes a truly stunning bruschetta with buttery toasted slices of baguette and juicy ripe tomatoes. She and her husband eat it in ecstasy, tomato juice and olive oil running down their hands, happy moans of pleasure the only sounds as they eat their way through the plate.

That was all I could think of when I saw those perfectly ripe tomatoes, and what I hoped to recreate here.

  • Slather baguette slices in lots of butter (and/or olive oil). Sauté in a pan until golden brown.
  • Mix together a finely minced garlic clove, diced fresh tomatoes, olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. You can also add diced herbs of your choice such as basil or thyme.
  • Top the baguette slices with the diced tomatoes.

Close your eyes when you eat it, it’s so good. Think about the sun, warm on the skin of the tomato. Olive oil tang. Bread, yeasty crunch. All coming together, for a moment of perfection.

Callan adores cucumbers. I love that grocery stores now offer the small, crunchy cucumbers. Trying to get a little person to enjoy a store-bought, out-of-season cucumber with tough skin and mooshy insides is somewhat pointless.

These crunchy, sweet, delicious cukes fit perfectly in a toddler’s hand, and are such a good snack.

We decided to grow them, and before the powdery mildew took over the few little plants, we enjoyed at least eight cukes picked right off the vine.

There’s nothing like it.

When in doubt, disguise your leftovers with a nice biscuit topping or crust!

Another great way to use leftovers is to make a “casserole.”

I’m from the Midwest, and the word “casserole” covers a lot of ground. It’s also a great way to take a hodgepodge of leftovers and make them delicious again. Simply combine veggies and meat, cover with a bechamel, gravy, or other cream sauce.

From there, put into an oven-safe pan such as a cast iron Dutch oven.

You can cover it with a pie crust, or in my case I did a homemade biscuit crust. I have the worst time with pie crusts. But the biscuits were fluffy and delicious.

I was putting together breakfast a few weeks ago, and I had to laugh and get a photo of the difference between my breakfast and Ryan’s. While he can be an adventurous eater, breakfast Needs to be simple for him: scrambled eggs with salt, pepper, butter, and cheddar cheese. When we were first dating I made the mistake of fixing an eggs and greens dish I adore. The look on his face when I put the delicious mess in front of him was unforgettable, and I still laugh thinking about it.

I, on the other hand, am a child of my parents, who eat any kind of leftovers scrambled into eggs or smooshed together on a plate and mopped up with bread. I’ve seen many different cultural cuisines find common ground on plates in my parents’ home.

As an adult, I’ve found my own love for leftover, squishy salads topped with an assortment of leftovers.

It creates a culinary balance in our household: new meals and leftovers. Everyone is happy.

I attempt to plant something everywhere I live.

I’ve lived a lot of places in my 37 years. I’ve grown many gardens, in various forms.

In our little North Park home, we planted all sorts of things in the nutrient-deprived, sun-blasted soil, with various degrees of success.

When I discovered a bag of sprouting potatoes at the back of the cupboard recently, my mind immediately went to memories of my father planting sprouting, wrinkled potatoes on humid spring afternoons in Michigan.

Currently, we had a dirt-filled planter on the porch, waiting for the symbiosis of roots, stem, and leaves.

With realistic hope I tucked the little round tubers, tentacled in sprouts, into the sub-par soil that was affordable but didn’t offer much for nutrients.

Against my expectations, one, two, four, six little potato plants sprouted and grew to about four or five inches before lack of nutrients and some pest I couldn’t identify caused them to stop growing and slowly crumble into brown-leafed-nothingness.

The wilted plants didn’t look very good next to the front door, so I began pulling them up one afternoon. The second plant yielded, but with difficulty.

From the bottom of the wilted stalk dangled one, single, perfect potato.

Despite the slow demise of the top part of the plant, the roots were continuing to do what they do: make potatoes.

In the face of yet another move, and more change in our lives, there’s something about the tenacity of that little potato plant that won’t leave my mind.

We held it up in wonder. The strange, wrinkled tuber at the bottom of the bag in the back of the cupboard that normally would have been thrown away, tucked into soil, sprouted, and created a replica of its genes.

Maybe it’s a bit off, to find meaning in a single, solitary potato grown on a front porch planter, but if the last year and a half has shown me anything, it’s to take life’s little miracles where we can find them.

A potato seems as good a place as any.

Hurricane Water

I don’t hear the trees snap, but feel their stretched limbs in the wind’s energy.

We shine flashlights into the dark, and where there had been yard, is now a tangled mass of leaves and sticks. 

The lone palm tosses and bends, a wild dance to elemental music. 

Where do hummingbirds and butterflies go, when the very air is alive with movement?

We pace the house as the wind gathers its breath. 

We tuck valuables, passports, money, the wooden birds my father carved by hand, and clothes into backpacks. 

Ready to go.

Go where, if the ocean waters come calling, is uncertain, but if we have to leave, we’re prepared.

We have conversations about surreal things, like boats coming through walls and what room is safest in case of trees breaking windows. 

The power goes, and the absence of electronic noise amplifies the storm’s voice.

A roar like a distant train.

A howl through the windows like a far-off wolf.

A purring moan like the ocean’s own voice, calling in the dark. 

I keep one hand on my son, one on my husband.

My anchors, and the bodies I’m prepared to cover with my own if the hurricane refuses to remain outside.

Hurricane Delta Morning with no power, Isla Mujeres

In a hurricane, as the wind rises, so do your thoughts. 

You think of your loved ones, worrying far away. 

You think of what you’ll grab first.

How you’ll get the dogs out if the water creeps beneath the door.

If a tree falls on the house.

If a boat from the marina next door breaks through the wall.

You think about the things you still want to do in life.

Contemplate how finite it all is.

How precious the feeling of one hand cradled in your husband’s calloused palm, and one curled around your sweet baby boy’s foot. 

You think about how you’ve made promises to yourself to be a better listener; actually learn Spanish; help more people when you can.

You think about your son.

How incredibly precious, tiny, fragile, his bird-boned body, curly blonde head, and ocean-blue eyes seem in the face of such dangers.

You know without a doubt you’ll shield these two bodies with your own at any cost.

Whatever it takes, to keep them safe.

You fall asleep with a flashlight clutched in both hands, fully dressed, ready.

Late-night, early-dawn hurricane thoughts finally give way to sleep. 

Hurricane Delta storm damage Isla Mujeres

We awaken, surprised to find the walls still solid, and the wind retreating. 

We take stock as daylight creeps through slate-gray storm clouds.

Leaves litter the ground like green confetti.

A fiesta of destruction across lawn and courtyard.

Isla Mujeres storm damage hurricane Delta

Neighbors appear, all hands work clearing debris, and the new, barer landscape reveals itself.

It feels a bit like being on a raft at sea. We know nothing of what’s happening in the larger world. Cut off from technology and the mainland, we can only hope the rest of the world still exists.

In the afternoon, we put the baby down for his nap and make love like survivors.

We pull each other close as skin and bone allow.

Daylight’s energy is an impossible contrast to the howling, uncertain darkness of hours before.

We hold each other in a silence full of love, hope, and life. 

Sunset is a purple, orange, and pink confection. A sky full of apology for the violent night.

Stars poke pinpricks of light through the evening’s dark blanket.

The water lines are down, but we’re prepared.

I set buckets outside while the storm raged, collecting water as it appeared from every direction.

In candlelight’s warm glow I wash my hair in hurricane water.

Pour liquid storm over my head.

Lick my lips as water trickles down my face.

In the quiet, post-storm night, I take droplets of hurricane inside me.

Storm water Isla Mujeres
Hurricane Delta
Hurricane Delta

Baking Bread with Callan

Baking with Callan

1 tablespoon yeast. 

Granules bounce from the measuring spoon into the stainless steel bowl.

I add sugar and warm water. The yeast begins to bubble.

“Momma!” 

I’m startled away from yeast alchemy.

“Hi baby,” I say to the little, earnest, blue-eyed face looking up at me.

“Mess! Mess!”

His rice pudding has spilled, sticky grains of rice scattered around both our feet.

I leave the yeast to do its thing and clean up the spilled rice pudding.

3 cups flour. 

Is this where I am in the recipe? Did I add the water yet?

Ok. 3 cups flour. Salt. Oil? Wait…

“Momma!”

“Yes love?”

“Mummummummum!”

“What do you need baby?” I ask, squinting at the recipe book, which is propped up against the toaster.

“Poop!”

“Poop? Oh dear.”

This actually means he’s already in the process of removing his diaper, and I have a matter of seconds before poo is on the floor, his hands, and on its way elsewhere.

“Ok! Coming love! Hold still! No! No! Not yet!” I say desperately as he pulls his diaper off.

I narrowly avert disaster. 

Dispose of the dirty diaper. Wipe bum. Put on new diaper. Wash hands.

OK. Now. Where was I?

Salt, flour, stir. Ok.

“Up!”

“What sweetie?” I say, turning the sticky dough over and around with the wooden spatula my father carved for me. He carved “Rosebud”, my nickname, into the handle.

“UPUPUPUP!!!!” Says the imperious, demanding voice below me.

I pick him up. His wispy blond hairs tickle the bottom of my chin, and his little body is hot against mine. 

“Me!” Callan says.

I put his little hands around the spatula handle, curling my hand around as a guide.

Together we turn the dough.

Just as my momma taught me.

Our hands holding in the same place my father held as he carved. 

Callan looks up at me and smiles.

I’m sweaty, tired, and a bit irritated.

All that disappears with his smile.

I smile back. 

The same way my momma did, in that favorite photo of the two of us from when I was Callan’s age, “helping” her in the kitchen.

“Tanks momma,” he says.

“You’re welcome my love,” I whisper into the top of his head. “Thank you.”

Me and my beautiful momma.
Me and my beautiful momma.
Callan joy
Callan joy
Homemade Bread
Homemade Bread

Quarantine Observations

Beginning of May

I slump with a tired, sore sigh into the Tommy Bahama beach chair—a matching set. Ryan, my husband, laughed when we bought them, saying they officially made us old.

The chairs perch, blue and beach-ready on the anti-sand mat covering a piece of dirt in the yard where the new grass didn’t take.

I’m drinking a cold Dos XX that’s precious in a way I couldn’t have imagined three months ago. 

Before alcohol was prohibited on the island.

Before checked bags at the ferry and arranged bootleg drop offs. 

Before masks and checkpoints.

Before seven weeks in quarantine.

It feels like I could part the air with my fingertips. The humidity is a held breath in a closed mouth.

The sky darkens, and I hear thunder for the first time in over two months.

We’re in the midst of a drought. The trees are so dry they droop, exhausted in the heat. 

A few scattered patters, and my heart dares to hope. 

There are wild fires on the mainland. 

We awoke at 4 a.m., choked by the smell of woodsmoke. 

The Cancun coast was invisible behind a thick haze.

Acrid smoke made the baby cough, and we kept windows and doors closed rather than welcoming in the morning, like we usually do.

Thunder reverberates, and the skies let loose their watery burden. Just like that, it’s raining. 

The west wind blows the air clean, and water washes away weeks of dust, soot, bird feathers, and a bit of my angst.

I’ve been fantasizing about the smell of earth and rain mingling. 

As the rain pours down, I stay in my chair, letting it run across my upturned face.

For this moment, it is enough.

***

One Month Later

Mourning doves call, echoing voices to the east, and south. 

My phone filters in the news—a trickle or a torrent depending on my self control. 

It feels so far away from it all here, in my walled backyard. 

The President of Mexico visited The Island this morning. Two miles down the road, we didn’t notice a thing. 

Ryan mowed the lawn, we played with Callan, and I made pancakes for breakfast. 

But all the while my heart ached and I tried not to think of the stories, scrolling like a newsfeed through my mind:

looting; 

police shooting at protestors;

“I can’t breathe!”

Cities burning;

A whirlwind of pain, confusion, fear, and frustration riding on a tidal wave that’s been picking up speed for hundreds of years.

I want to march.

I want to scream.

I want to cry and pound my fists in frustration watching history repeat itself. 

But here, on Isla Mujeres, a breeze reaches its breath from one side of the island to the other, knocking brown leaves off the Zapote tree, to fall on the ground at my feet.

A mosquito bursts bright blood—my blood—onto my leg and palm where I hit as it bites. 

Ripe fruit dangles from the cirhuela tree.

Cirhuela Fruit
Cirhuela Fruit

A tropical storm is coming, and the air hangs heavy.

Thousands of miles away from my loved ones working in hospitals on the Covid frontlines; walking the protest front lines.

I’m left with words, and anxiety. A cellphone that brings me news, and a baby boy about to wake up from his nap. 

The view of the Caribbean from Isla Mujeres South Point
The view of the Caribbean from Isla Mujeres South Point

Last Day of July

I’m not sure how it’s possible time can go so fast, and so slow simultaneously.

July seems to have disappeared in a blink.

I’m working on learning to focus. Zoom in on the tiny, wonderful, or just good things in front of me.

The perfection in homemade sourdough bread, buttery avocado, creamy-soft hard boiled egg, and the bright burst of sea salt across my tongue.

I’m trying to focus on what I can control.

So many deep breaths.

Spontaneous dancing in the living room.

Appreciating the way the house sounds, when everyone else is asleep.

Glorying in a moment of shared laughter.

Tonight, I watch the moon rise above my husband, who’s singing and playing. It’s a scene so familiar and beloved.

Goosebumps rise on my arms as he sings a love song to me, and my heart feels bigger, fuller, than it has in a long time.

Despite the masks, the signs, the hand sanitizer on every table, in this moment there’s a taste of “the before days” and I try to hold there. 

I try to still the worries, the constant ache, the anxiety that lurks on the periphery. 

All of that is true. But so is this moment. 

This feeling. 

Our love, my husband’s music, and a Caribbean full moon.

Ryan Rickman playing at El Patio on Isla Mujeres
Ryan Rickman playing at El Patio on Isla Mujeres
The Rickman Family
The Rickman Family

The Comfort of Beans

Dad’s Black Beans
Dad’s Black Beans

I’ve had many abrupt shiftings and turnings in my life, but the events of the past month have been by far the strangest and most sudden, as for millions the world over. 

Just like that it’s a new world. 

A global pandemic.

No work.

Economic breakdown.

Closed borders.

Nationalism and xenophobia.

An online global community.

Sequestered in our homes.

Suddenly, there’s time to do things like save Callan’s bath water to water the garden. It’s something I want to do, but there’s little time for extras with Callan, freelance, house work, being a good partner, cooking meals, cleaning up from meals, and all the other big and small things that make up a busy day. 

This new world is stress, anxiety, fear, and tension juxtaposed against home-cooked meals, household projects, domestic tranquility, and family time. 

In Michigan, my parents are making maple syrup. A comfort in family traditions that haven’t changed in forty years. 

Momma collecting maple sap
Momma collecting maple sap
Dad tapping trees for syrup
Dad tapping trees for syrup
Boiling maple sap into syrup
Boiling maple sap into syrup

In this moment in Mexico, I’m listening to the welders down the alley welding the metal security bars we ordered for our windows. 

New Safety Bars
New Safety Bars

No tourists means no work for almost everyone on Isla. 

My friend Cristi, who is Isleno, makes me feel stronger. “We’ve weathered hurricanes. We can survive this,” she tells me. 

I place maple syrup making, Isleno strength, and the survival tactics my father taught me in my “basket of hopeful things” that I hold up to the light like agates when I’m feeling afraid. 

Like so many others, I find solace in the kitchen. 

Sautéing onions and garlic in olive oil puts order back in the world. 

I’ve written many times about black beans. They’re sustenance, history, and connectedness for so many people.

Full circles for me. 

My daddy discovered his love for the little black-pearl legumes when we first visited Isla when I was a teenager. The soup we ate at La Lomita forever changed the trajectory of his cooking, his garden, and via those things, mine as well. 

He went back to Michigan and planted black beans that summer. 

During long winter days, he shucked the dried and crackling skins into bushel baskets that rustled like corn husks when you moved them. 

He began cooking the beans in the morning. The house filled with aromatic steam from the epazote and oregano he crushed between his calloused palms and stirred into the bubbling pot. 

Dad’s Homegrown Black Beans
Dad’s Homegrown Black Beans

Around five o’ clock he began making the tortillas. Pressing the dough and watching it puff and crisp to a perfect toasted finish in the well-used cast iron pan.

I conjure those meals as I survey our stock-pile of dried and canned beans. 

Beans that need to last for days, more like weeks. 

A winter’s worth of beans
A winter’s worth of beans

For centuries, beans have meant survival for people’s all over the globe.

Today is no different.

What follows are Recipe Concepts and Ideas for making your quarantine-bean stash a little more interesting when it comes time for dinner.

Black Bean Enchiladas (other beans would work for this too!)

Ingredient Ideas:

  • Canned or dried black beans (could use red beans or pinto beans)
  • Tomato Sauce:
    • There are so many ways to make a tomato sauce for this. Basically, if you add garlic and chili powder, it will make a good tomato sauce. I’ve mixed together leftover marinara and cooked it down with fresh tomatoes, then blended it and ta da! Enchilada sauce!
  • Shredded cheese—put inside the enchiladas and on top.
  • Diced onions
  • Diced peppers
  • Avocado—for the top
  • Diced tomatoes
  • Lettuce—I like to eat my enchiladas on a bed of lettuce so it’s kind of a weird salad, but that’s just me.
  • Sautéed white cabbage
  • You can add, beef, pork, chicken, or even seafood to these and they’ll be delicious.
  • Rice (a great way to use up leftover rice)
  • Tortillas—large flour are easiest to work with, but whatever you have can be made to work! It all ends up a gooey, delicious mess anyway J

Heat Oven to 375 (or in my case somewhere around there since my oven is a bit silly)

Put the tortilla on a plate and add beans, cheese, and whatever other ingredients you have. 

Add a dollop of sauce. 

Roll the tortilla and put in a baking dish.

Fill baking dish with rolled tortillas.

Spoon on more sauce and lots of cheese.

Bake until cheese is melted and sauce is bubbling. Tortillas will be crispy on the edges, but don’t let them burn.

Enjoy with sour cream or yogurt.

  • Easy to freeze for future meals!

Taco Salad

Ingredient Ideas: This is an easy to adapt recipe that absorbs a lot of leftovers. 

Start with a bed of greens. Lettuce is preferable, but spinach or other leafy greens would be good too. 

Other ingredients:

  • Beans: Refried, black beans, white beans, canned or from scratch
  • Chicken, beef, pork, seafood, tofu—most any protein! Toss on some chili powder when you’re cooking to add flavor.
  • Crumbled corn chips. Good way to use stale corn chips or tortillas. Toast in the oven and crumble over salad.
  • Raw or Sautéed Onions/Peppers/Cabbage (purple or white)
  • Avocado
  • Diced tomato
  • Grated or shredded cheese
  • Pepitas (pumpkin seeds) or other roasted seeds or nuts
  • Dressing of choice ( I really like homemade ranch). 

Nachos

Take any of the above ingredients and sprinkle them over corn chips and bake in the oven until cheese is melted. Kids especially enjoy making and eating nachos.

Dip/Spread

This is one of my favorite recipes to make with black beans. I always prefer to make beans from dried, but canned beans are good too.

You can use other beans for this recipe too.

  • Purée beans and some of the bean liquid/water with olive oil, a couple garlic cloves (roast the garlic for a different flavor), salt, pepper, and whatever spices/seasonings you have on hand. Chili powder works well. As do cumin, coriander, and oregano. 
    • A delicious addition I discovered when experimenting one day, is adding a spoonful of tahini, as you would with hummus. Makes any bean purée creamier. You can also stir in a spoonful of sour cream or Crema, which is delicious too. 
  • Add cheese, diced tomato, salsa, diced peppers (roasted are delicious), chopped sun-dried tomatoes, etc.
  • Bake in the oven until cheese is melted
  • Serve with tortilla, bread, pita, sliced veggies, or corn chips

White Beans (Garbanzo Beans can be substituted here)

I think white beans are such comfort food. They’re hard to get on Isla, but if you have them:

Mix and match with what you have:

  • Sausage
  • Garlic
  • Chicken
  • Bacon
  • Greens
  • Olive oil
  • Tomatoes (fresh, roasted or sun dried)
  • Over-easy or hard-boiled egg

Serve with buttered bread or toast.


As the house fills with earthy aromas of cooking beans, I feel the connectedness that cooking this time-honored food brings. A connectedness to the other homes in our global community, where beans are a necessary staple during hard times—during these times. 

It’s a way of cooking together, even when we’re apart. 

Abuela and her blue-eyed boy
Abuela and her blue-eyed boy
Abuelo and his blue-eyed boy
Abuelo and his blue-eyed boy
Quarantine breakfast in the garden
Quarantine breakfast in the garden

An Unconventional Life

Isla Mujeres Caribbean Coastline
Isla Mujeres Caribbean Coastline

A breeze ruffles the guaya tree leaves. Shiny-eyed grackles and mockingbirds cackle and trill, interspersed with mourning dove coos.
Isla sounds.
My husband has the baby, and other than the occasional dog noise, the house is still.
I’m splayed across the kind size bed, body adjusting to the absence of the other, tiny body usually attached, or so close. My mind slides slowly over conversations, moments, memories. A disjointed, non-chronological microfiche.
Some jump in consciousness conjures remembrances from my early twenties—days in the Elmer Johnson Road cabin with The Rock River Farm crew. There are moments, such as this, when my mind struggles to fully grasp the magnitude of difference between my life then, and now. At twenty-three, what I believed my future would look like versus the reality that came to be.
An eight year relationship and marriage; a divorce; a two and a half year abusive relationship; a time of healing and joyful independence; a new beginning, marriage, and son.
It’s hard in many, many ways, from missing family to cultural differences, but I love our pirate life on this strange island in the Caribbean that is Mexico, and is also not.
It’s an interesting crew who wash up on these shores and make a home here, but for the most part they have a good story to tell and a light of perseverance and strength that’s too rare these days.
Callan is growing up in a community of mostly aunties—strong, hardworking, interesting women, and men, who love my son and will help us teach him to be a good man.

Playa time with momma. Isla Mujeres
Playa time with momma. Isla Mujeres

I missed an entire Upper Peninsula summer last year because I was very pregnant, and then home caring for a newborn. Returning to Michigan for a visit after missing it so fiercely, everything feels sharper, more acute. I’m overwhelmed by aromas: sweet milky milkweed; warm grasses baking in the sun; perfumed lemon lilies; seaweed-water lake tang; and all that abundance of pine needles, fields, forests of leaves and wildflowers warm beneath a July blue sky.
I don’t have to remind myself to take deep breaths. Instead, I nose the air like a hound, teasing out individual aromas like the orchid-delicate perfume of catalpa flowers, or the faint talcum hint of daisy.
I know I loved and noticed these aromas when I lived in Michigan, but perhaps they weren’t as vivid, masked by close proximity.
In absence, such remembrances sealed into our beings become more vivid—memory stones polished by much handling.
It’s raining, the air turned cool in a moment, petrichor lifting upward as the dry ground exhales in relief.

Home: Upper Peninsula in July
Home: Upper Peninsula in July

Because last winter was so cold and long, I didn’t expect the accosting hordes of pests that are wreaking havoc on local forests and gardens alike. Army worms have chewed the leaves into a shadow of the deep green they should be this time of year. When it’s very, very still you can sit in the woods and hear the pitter patter as the worm’s tiny mandibles chew and their poop falls to the ground.
Perhaps in response to global warming’s strange weather patterns or the destructive caterpillars, but everywhere I notice trees heavy with seeds. The cedar outside my bedroom window is loaded with little green nuts soon to brown in late summer sun.
Maple tree branches hang low, stems laden with as-yet green twin seed pods, waiting for the right wind to helicopter them to the ground in their bid for regeneration.

Abuelo, Callan, and the garden
Abuelo, Callan, and the garden.

These are things I notice. The Upper Michigan environment is such a part of me. Named, handled, studied, and familiar. After being away, changes become more acute.
My dad’s garden is a fraction of what it should be as the flea beetles chew carefully tended seedlings down to nothing. But it’s mid-July, so there’s plenty of time to recover. Dad carefully attends to each plant, helping ensure their survival. The UP’s late growing season makes for an overwhelming, wonderful, glut of produce at the end of August. Sweet corn, broccoli, potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, green beans, cabbage, spinach, onions, zucchini, and the list continues.
It’s all so familiar, I slide back into this place with a wiggle of glee and joy. Familiar, but also more dear for the absence and longing.
Nowadays, I often ponder my dual blessing and curse of loving and being a part of two such wonderful, but far distant places.
How different they are, and yet each holds a part of me. It’s a beautiful incompleteness, but painful too, because no matter here or there, some little piece is missing.
Maple leaves and sea grapes. Guava trees and apples. Freshwater and salt.

Home Water. Big Manistique Lake
Home Water. Big Manistique Lake

“It’s an unconventional life you’ve built for yourselves,” Ryan’s stepmom, Ellen says to us.
“Thank you,” Ryan and I reply in unison.
He smiles at me in the rear view mirror. I return the smile. A world of words in the meeting of eyes and a turn of lips.
We’re in the car, entering the outskirts of Cancun, returning from an afternoon visit to local cenotes. The traffic is light, but still hectic as lanes are ignored and mopeds, buses, and cars maneuver around one another in orchestrated chaos. I don’t drive in Cancun. I’m ok in city traffic, but I simply don’t understand the rules here. I suspect no one really does.
Ryan does a wonderful job, but it takes a lot of concentration.
In order to reach the cenotes, we drove our car onto the car ferry—a three story boat complete with passenger lounge and decks to watch the undulating turquoise waters below. Moments like this it hits me that we have to take a boat to get anywhere. That I live on an island.
Living in the UP often feels like living on an island—surrounded by water, isolated from access to urban areas, communities of interesting characters. Isolation necessitates innovation, and I see many similarities between my two homes, despite being worlds apart.

We drive to the little town of Puerto Morelos, and turn right onto the Ruta de Cenotes. All along this paved road are cenotes of different shapes and sizes. Cenotes are naturally occurring pools of water created by the porous limestone and collected rainwater. The pools are blue and deep—connecting underground through rivers and tunnels. The water has a hint of salinity, and the pools are round, giving them a decidedly womb-like feel. The waters feel sacred to me—a meeting of the above world and below world.
The cenote we visit has a cave and an emerald above-ground pool with waterfalls and a rope swing. Cenotes are the closest thing I can find similar to the lakes and rivers of Michigan—fresh water that cradled my body, washed my tears, and heard the confessions of my heart.
At the cenote pool, I lay on my back and look up, into the leafy jungle canopy. With my head underwater, I hear little of the voices around me and can almost imagine myself alone. Dragonflies and damselflies of all shapes, colors, and sizes, dart above me. Somewhere below, subterranean rivers run.
I raise my head from the water, and the first thing I hear, is my son’s laughter.

Cenote! Ruta de Cenotes. Yucatan
Cenote! Ruta de Cenotes. Yucatan

After breakfast this morning, I recite my list of things to do aloud to Callan, “Sweep the floor, do the dishes, writing, shower…Phewwww, lots to do little man!”
“Could be worse,” Ryan says from the porch.
I walk outside and take his face in my hands. Look him in the eyes. Give him a kiss that says all the things.
Callan and I wave as Ryan pulls out of the driveway on the four wheeler—not your average commute to work. He’s off to clean out our old restaurant as we prepare for opening in our new location. Our business that began as a side job making and delivering burritos out of the house is becoming a viable future. Twelve years of schooling, three English degrees, and my husband and I own and run a burrito business in Mexico.
Lots of fodder for a writer.

Callan turns from waving “Adios” to daddy, and returns to taking his coconut in and out of a kitchen pan, and stirring invisible food with a plastic measuring cup.
I return to my desk, and continue writing.
I’m learning to accept the fact that a balanced life, for me, means a foot in two worlds. I’m also unlearning feeling guilty and anxious about stepping away from what, for most of my adult life, I believed was my path.

I take Callan to the beach almost every morning. He runs in and out of the waves, pokes at tide pools, and browns his bare body in early day sun.
I gather up a handful of sand, and as the grains trickle through my fingers—remnants of coral and shells from thousands of years before—I whisper, “Gracias Madre.”
Gracias. For this sweet, unconventional life.

The Rickman Family on The Isla Mujeres Car Ferry
The Rickman Family on The Isla Mujeres Car Ferry

Perspective

It’s all about perspective, you remind yourself…

The combined Mills-Rickman Family
The combined Mills-Rickman Family

This little essay is dedicated to my father, Douglas Mills, and my husband, Ryan Rickman.

They teach my how to be a good parent and how to be grateful for what’s around me day to day.

I’m so thankful my son has men like this to be his guides in a complicated world.

***

Sunset on Playa Norte with Baby Callan.

When I think of things I want to teach my son, the ability to be thankful is one of the most important. It’s so easy to move through our days mindlessly, never noticing what we wear, eat, drive, sleep on, live in, etc. etc. The necessities of daily life can become sunglasses in a dark room to all we have to be grateful for.
Throughout my life, my father has initiated what began as a prayer before dinner, but has morphed into a time of connection, and thankfulness.
The four of us around the antique claw-footed wooden dining room table: me, my mother, father, and little sister. Our plates are full and ready to eat, but first our hands slide into each other’s; my hand into Laurel’s, Laurel’s into Mom’s, Mom’s into Dad’s, and Dad’s into mine. Where once we would’ve bowed our heads in prayer, now we take deep breaths, look each other in the eyes, smile. We look down at the food on our plates: venison, potatoes, carrots, cabbage, lettuce—all harvested by our family. In this moment it is not just food or dinner on our plates, it’s an abundance.
We turn to daddy.
“Thank you for this food, and the hands that prepared it.” He intones softly. He squeezes my hand, and the little squeeze goes around the table. Momma’s eyes are full.
Such a little thing— a little moment, but it seems to me that moments of thankfulness are one of the homes for real happiness: the ability to be grateful—to truly see the bounty. It doesn’t negate struggles and hardships, but provides a new perspective, and through that perspective, a new path to joy even in the midst of struggle.


Your heart races as the list of chores mounts.
Your phone pings with another message—plans you’ll have to cancel if you’re going to catch up on all those emails and the freelance work.
You haven’t showered, or eaten yet, and there’s only so much time until the baby wakes up and needs to be fed.
Feeding is a moment to pause, and you try so hard to take deep breaths and be in the moment, but you’re so tired, and just from where you sit, you can see a dozen chores that need to be done.
Right now, all you can do, is hold this boy child to your breast and breathe.

It’s all about perspective, you remind yourself:

There are crumbs scattered across the table, because you fed people here. Food you prepared nourished your husband, your son, and others.
The living room is messy because your son played here, joy lighting his face as he swept all his toys across the tiles.
In this spot in the kitchen, the floor is carpeted in hair where you swept only hours before; this is where your sweet dogs leaned against your leg, seeking and giving love.
You wash endless dishes because you have money to buy food, and food in your home to cook for family and friends.
You’re tired, but when you lie down to sleep, there is a bed to sleep in, clean sheets, a pillow for comfort, and the arms of your loving partner to rest in.

Good Human

The end of the day approaches and I cast my thoughts like a net, back across the hours, fishing for accomplishments to make me feel satisfied.
I take a deep breath as a breeze stirs the leaves above my head.

My sister said to me recently, “If I’m not doing two things at once, I feel anxious.” A truism for me as well.
We joke about our daddy’s “Puritan work ethic.” Our father doesn’t know what to do with himself without multiple tasks to complete. He plants a massive garden and spends most of Michigan’s few beautiful summer months, back bent, tending to the needs of soil and harvest. He hauls wood, shovels snow, hunts, fishes, and attends to the multi-faceted other tasks rural living requires. And if there’s nothing immediate needing his attention, he creates a project. Anything to feel like he’s done something “useful” with his time.
Lately, I’ve been pondering what “useful” and “accomplishment” mean.
What does it take for me to feel as though the day has been worthwhile, and therefore I can relax?
Are these pressures coming from society? My family legacy? Myself? All of the above?

Daddy preparing a purple cabbage he grew. It spent the winter in cold storage, and is now being prepped for salad.
Daddy preparing a purple cabbage he grew. It spent the winter in cold storage, and is now being prepped for salad.

Some of this sense of anxiety is definitely rooted in the aforementioned Puritan work ethic, whose mythology is so woven into the American psyche, we don’t even realize it. It’s tied to a capitalist push to “have something to show for yourself,” in order to gain approval from society, family, spouse.

It’s these urges that separate us from animals—a mindlessness in action enviable to humans as we often equate being free of such anxieties as living a more full life.

In my English classes, I used to analyze an Annie Dillard essay with my students called “Living Like Weasels.” In it Dillard says:

“I would like to learn, or remember, how to live. I come to Hollins Pond not so much to learn how to live as, frankly, to forget about it. That is, I don’t think I can learn from a wild animal how to live in particular–shall I suck warm blood, hold my tail high, walk with my footprints precisely over the prints of my hands?–but I might learn something of mindlessness, something of the purity of living in the physical sense and the dignity of living without bias or motive. The weasel lives in necessity and we live in choice, hating necessity and dying at the last ignobly in its talons. I would like to live as I should, as the weasel lives as he should. And I suspect that for me the way is like the weasel’s: open to time and death painlessly, noticing everything, remembering nothing, choosing the given with a fierce and pointed will.”

We use everything from drugs and alcohol, to adrenaline, to meditation and yoga in attempts to free ourselves from these ever present anxieties.

We have consciousness, and so this instinctual life Dillard idealizes in her essay is impossible. We cannot “forget about it.”

With consciousness comes a disconnect from our animal selves and the instincts inherent therein.
We’re not sure what it means to be a Good Human, because it’s complicated.
This is separate from the notions of morals/right & wrong.
Being a good human is caught up in other things like pleasing society, becoming famous (and therefore potentially timeless and “immortal”), and in today’s world, keeping up with social media trends.
I think social media adds to the anxiety, as there’s always the pressure to post photos of interest or portray a certain “lifestyle” to a wider audience.
It’s exhausting.
No wonder we’re anxious.
I struggle against these notions, trying to find a balance between the human-constructed world I live in, and follow instincts that are just as, if not more, true. Instincts that urge me towards rest when the day is done, but another part of my mind is often determined in another direction.

I experience these anxieties even more since becoming a mother. With a baby, it feels like the expectations upon me are even greater, as they now extend to the little person I’m nurturing into adulthood.
Sitting in our soft blue arm chair nursing our son, the anxieties often voice themselves.
I look around at the floor that needs sweeping, laundry pile, tidying, dishes, freelance work, and feel my heart rate rise.

Baby Callan
Y

I take a deep breath and muse on what else I accomplished in the day that I’ve overlooked.

Did I keep my nest, if not tidy, at least clean?
Did I nourish myself/and or my family?
Did I do something joyful?

When asked, I’m certain most people would say these things make for a fulfilling and productive day as a human, but it takes regular practice to change the day-to-day mindset that says these things are not enough.

Someone said to me recently, I’m certain with the best intentions, “So, are you just doing the stay at home mom thing, or are you doing other things too?”

I know they didn’t mean any harm, but I couldn’t help sputtering at the implication of the “just.” Especially as I considered all the little and big things I’d accomplished over the day: the bed made; floor swept; dishes done; baby clean, happy and fed; soup made for dinner. Hell, I’d even showered.
I felt satisfied with these things at the end of the day, but still that “just” rankled, and if I’m being honest, still does.

The ever-lovely Betty Harkness on her 91 birthday.
The ever-lovely Betty Harkness on her 91 birthday.

Last week, my Grandmother, Betty Harkness, passed away. She was one of the kindest humans I’ve ever met.
Grandma was my babysitter from the time I was born, and went on to nurture my sister as well.
My father’s father died when I was six, and I never knew my mom’s mother, who passed away from a brain tumor when my mom was only 29.
The Harkness’ were adopted family—we all adopted each other.
I can’t recall an earliest memory with Grandma and Grandpa—only a wonderful bundle of remembrances glowing warm like the sunset from their west facing window, tinged with aromas of fresh-baked bread, and echoes of Grandpa’s laughter.
Their lives were simple, and good. They lacked materialism, found fascination and conversation in the every day, and lived by a code of kindness I attempt to emulate in my own life.
Visitors never left their home empty-handed—Grandma believed in a loving version of hospitality not often seen these days; a loaf of fresh bread; jars of pickled beets, canned green beans, pink apple sauce; or lightly frosted pumpkin cookies.
The love between Grandma and Grandpa was kind, funny, steadfast, well-worn, and always present in the room when they were together. They were married over seventy years.
As a child, I remember watching him tease her in the kitchen, driving her to distraction and annoyance with his antics as she tried to cook. Her frustration made him laugh as her tiny hands batted away his big, teasing fingers getting in the way of whatever she was cooking.
“Clyyydeee!” She said in a drawn out, pointedly annoyed voice.
“Oh Betty,” he’d respond with a well-practiced, satisfied smile before making an escape outside, or into his chair in the living room.
Sitting in their living room was a small pocket of warmth and simplicity away from the complicated world. Grandpa liked popcorn without salt and butter. Grandma served us rice pudding in green glass goblets. Grandpa let us brush his nonexistent hair and laughed as we laughed. Grandma, despite being so tiny, always seemed to pull you in for a hug.
It was tradition to wave goodbye as we drove away from their house. As the car started down the driveway, we looked to the picture window, and Grandma and Grandpa’s smiling faces were always there, side by side, their love a blessing for the journey ahead.
Grandma and Grandpa worked incredibly hard, but they also found time to sit and enjoy a card game, a good conversation around the kitchen table, or a quiet moment on the porch on a summer evening.
They seemed to have found a balance between their hard work, and taking time for rest, conversation, and contemplation. They found joy, and worth in the small, good things their days consisted of.
I believe that by the time they passed away this year at 94 and 92 respectively, their lives came to represent what it meant to be a good human.
One can never know what goes on in the minds of others, but from my perspective, it seemed that Clyde and Betty felt useful, content, and joyful; secure and at peace in the goodness of homemade bread and an afternoon nap after shoveling the driveway.


The Harkness’ and the Mills’, St. Patrick’s Day 2018–the last time I spent with my grandma and grandpa.
The Harkness’ and the Mills’, St. Patrick’s Day 2018–the last time I spent with my grandma and grandpa.

I am deeply saddened by the deaths of Grandma and Grandpa Harkness, but as opposed to others who have passed on, the grief is tempered by the knowledge that they lived well. Their lives, while simple, consisted of working hard, providing food for themselves and others, and finding joy wherever they could.

I take another deep breath, and I work to focus and center. I remind myself how tiny my little life is in the grand scheme of things. I find comfort in the notion that, in the face of volcanoes, tectonic plates, black holes, and other giant phenomena, me not getting my entire “to-do” list for the day finished doesn’t make me less accomplished as a person. And neither does not traveling the world by the time I’m forty; or not knowing six languages; or getting my PhD; or writing a book…
I cooked a good dinner for my family. My child is full, clean, healthy, content, and asleep. I have time to make popcorn and continue reading Jane Eyre for the third time.
For tonight, this is more than enough.
And that, is Good.

The Rickman Family enjoying some Soggy Peso dock time.
The Rickman Family enjoying some Soggy Peso dock time.

A Little Shared Inspiration: The Great Breakfast Experiment

One beautiful aspect of cooking is the way we inspire each other, one idea sparking a meal for someone else—an endless cycle of inspiration and nourishment.


Baked Oatmeal with Fresh Berries and Yogurt
Baked Oatmeal with Fresh Berries and Yogurt

When I cook, many of my ideas are a hodgepodge of inspiration gleaned from reading cookbooks, studying menus, ogling food blogs, listening to food podcasts, and hearing stories of wonderful meals cooked by other people.
The only real way to discover what works and what doesn’t, is experimentation.
There’s nothing I love more than brainstorming ideas for a meal with the odd assortment of things I might have in cupboards, fridge, and freezer. I like the challenge of pairing ingredients on hand, rather than always following a recipe.
One beautiful aspect of cooking is the way we inspire each other, one idea sparking a meal for someone else—an endless cycle of inspiration and nourishment.

What follows is a collection of ideas and musings that I hope will inspire you to get creative with your breakfast.

In addition! A recent friend—Nikki Drake— overheard my homesick wishes for pickled beets, and on her next trip down to the island she surprised me with a jar. Not only was it a happy, delicious, and soul-satisfying surprise, it was also a wonderful way to connect with someone. Now we have this shared food moment/experience in common.
So. I’m putting out a little challenge to my readers: If you’re visiting Isla Mujeres, feel free to bring down an ingredient of your choice for me to use, photograph, and feature on my website. I would like to give you recognition as well, but if you’d prefer to remain anonymous, simply let me know.
My hope is that this little food writing project will serve as inspiration for my kitchen to your kitchen, and create a network of people connected across the globe through food.
Delighting in pickled beets from Wisconsin in my Mexico kitchen…what a wonderful thing.
Thank you.

Oatmeal Inspired Breakfast Ideas:

Many believe that eating healthier is more expensive, which is indeed often the case. But not with breakfast. Many also believe that oatmeal is bland, plain, and gross. But it doesn’t have to be.
What follows is a collection of ideas and ingredients for a delicious, healthy, sustainable, inexpensive, versatile and adaptable-for-you oatmeal breakfast.
The purpose is to give you ideas to create your own version based off of what you have available/in season. Mix and match. Play. Then write me and tell me what worked and what didn’t—I would love to hear from you!

Fresh Picked Blackberry
Fresh Picked Blackberry

Breakfast: The meal to eat lots of healthy things that taste yummy and sustain you for the day.

Oatmeal

A warm bowl of sweet, creamy oatmeal in the morning can be like dessert for breakfast, while also being simple to prepare, especially if prepared ahead of time and reheated.
I’m Scottish, and it’s a well established truism in Scottish culture that a bowl of “parritch” (porridge) is a necessary component to your day to: “keep you regular.” I stand by my people on this one.
Processed foods create havoc on our insides, and a bowl of oatmeal every day or so goes a long way to help keep your insides on track and moving along.
Especially as a new mother, the benefits of oatmeal for breakfast are innumerable, particularly as oats are known to help fortify breast milk and the additions mentioned below are also beneficial.

Topping the oatmeal with sugar free, organic/local yogurt is a simple, tasty way to do something beneficial for your health every day. Yogurt has active cultures—probiotics—that are good for your digestive system, and ladies, this GOOD bacteria is also good for your lady parts.
Make sure the yogurt is sugar free, as added sugars can decrease health benefits. That’s an issue I often have living in Mexico: finding yogurt that doesn’t contain sugar.
In terms of texture and flavor, I always go with full fat Greek yogurt. You’ll be glad you did too. It’s creamier and more satisfying.

Many cookbooks have recipes for specific cooking times for the different grains, and the packages will as well, but I’ve found that adding the grains to hot water (making sure there is at least a cup more of water to grain ratio) works just as well.
I like to make up a big pot ahead of time, and keep it in the refrigerator for a couple of days so that it’s easy to reheat.

Oatmeal Grain Combinations:
o Rolled Oats
o Steel Cut Oats
o Scottish Oats
o Whatever other kind of Oats…
o Quinoa
o Barley
o Amaranth
o Flax Seeds
o Chia
o Hard Wheat Berries

Use one, two, or a mixed combination of these different grains and seeds for both added health benefits and textures.

Chia!
Chia!

Spices/Flavors:
o Add a splash of vanilla and/or a dash of ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice.

Sweeteners:
My husband likes his oatmeal so drowned in brown sugar that the milk turns brown—and I get it. But there are also ways to accomplish making your oatmeal taste like dessert without giving yourself immediate cavities:

o Local honey is always a good option. Eating local honey has many health benefits such as helping your immunity to local allergens, as well as tasting delicious.
o Maple Syrup. Despite being from California, my husband has a passion for homemade maple syrup. Luckily for him, my Michigan family makes it, so he has a direct source.
o I’ve recently experimented with coconut sugar. It tastes a bit like molasses. If you live in the north, this might not be the most sustainable option, but for those further south it’s a good sweetener.

Milks:
I’ve tried it all, but unsweetened coconut milk is my favorite. I also really love a high cream content milk, which makes oatmeal taste really decadent.
Be aware that some of these milks have high environmental costs (almond especially). Research and educated choices make a big difference as a consumer.

o Milk/Cream/Evaporated Milk
o Coconut
o Soy
o Almond
o Rice
o Macadamia

Fruit Toppings (Fresh and Dried):
If you’re using dried fruit, a lot of times they’re already sweetened, so be aware of that as you add them. Dried cranberries in particular. If they’re organic they’re often sweetened with pineapple juice, but if not they’re heavily sweetened with sugar. These fruit toppings can make your breakfast oatmeal taste even more like dessert.
o Dried Cranberries
o Dates
o Figs
o Raisins
o Blueberries
o Raspberries/Blackberries
o Cherries
o Mango
o Strawberry
o Peach
o Apple
o Banana
o Papaya
o …And more!

Fresh Picked Blueberries
Fresh Picked Blueberries

Toppings:
This is a good place you can mix and match ingredients for flavor so your routine doesn’t become too bland, and for health purposes. When studying nutrition, I’ve noted repeatedly that those cultures who eat regular, small quantities of nuts are often healthier, and breakfast is a good way to add this healthy component to your every day routine.
o Almond
o Pepita (Toasted pumpkin seed. One of my favorites)
o Walnut
o Cashew
o Macadamia
o Pecan
o Pistachio
o Peanut

Other Toppings:
More health/flavor ingredients:
o Ground flax seed
o Sweet potatoes
o Shaved coconut
o Hemp Seeds

Recipe!
I’ve titled this crazy breakfast combo: “South American Influences Oatmeal.”
Oatmeal cooked with:
o Quinoa
o Ground Flax Seed
o Vanilla
o Nutmeg
o Ginger
o Cinnamon
Topped with:
o Yogurt
o Coconut Milk
o Pepitas
o Dates
o Dried Cranberry
o Diced Roasted Sweet Potato (I also bake up a big batch of Sweet Potatoes and keep them in the fridge to snack on whenever I feel the urge.)

It is my sincere hope that reading “A Little Shared Inspiration: The Great Breakfast Experiment” has given you inspiration in some form, whether it’s to be more experimental with your breakfast, trying sweet potatoes with oatmeal, or packing a food item and bringing it down to Mexico to become famous on my website.
It’s what I’ve always loved about food: When recognized, it can be so many things: whole health, satisfaction, and our connecting point.

My Kitchen Table
My Kitchen Table

Days for Remembering

October 31st, 2018 marks my second Halloween far from my Michigan birth place, and my first Halloween as a mother.

My first Halloween as a mother is also the day we signed papers making Callan a Mexican citizen.

Me, Michigan born and raised, with a son carrying dual citizenship. It surprises me sometimes, these turns in life’s events.

In the states, Halloween is a holiday made up of yard decorations, massive amounts of candy, and elaborate costumes.
On Isla, the holiday focuses more on Dia de Muertos, a traditional Mexican holiday observed across the country. This day celebrates the deceased, and the belief is that they return to be with the living for a few short hours. Families set up altars to their loved ones called ofrendas that feature their favorite foods, bright orange marigolds, candles, and photos. Dia de Muertos, in its modern incarnation, is an ancient Aztec observance melded with the Catholic holidays of All Saints and All Souls Days, which are also observed in Mexico.
The food, drinks, gatherings are about celebrating the dead—a connection to loved ones.
Because so many Americans influence Isla’s culture, Halloween becomes an amalgamation of cultural observances: decorated golf cart parade and trick or treating down Hidalgo, the main shopping street. Adults and children stroll along the cobbles in all manner of costume, and the throng contains many incarnations of sugar skulls and Catrina makeup, both traditions a melding of indigenous and catholic religions.

Halloween is about costumes, spooks and candy. All Saints and All Souls is about remembering.

I remember:

Carving pumpkins with my momma and sister. The wood stove makes the house cozy-warm, and our cheeks rosy. We’re careful and diligent as we carve, our faces already patterned in permanent marker. The nutty aroma of pumpkin seeds roasting in the oven makes me hungry.
Dad puts the carved jack-o-lanterns by the driveway with lit candles dancing eerie light through eye, nose, and mouth holes. Flickering grins greet us when we return from harvesting candy from our neighbors.

Memories of adolescent Halloweens are a blur of costumes:

My first trick-or-treating at age four in the white bunny costume Grandma Harkness made. I loved the little pink rosebuds on the fabric inside the bunny ears because my nickname was Rosebud.

Wonder Woman at six when I jumped off the MacCauley’s porch to see my cape fly, but tripped, somersaulted, and landed with my head “Smack!” Against the car tire. Kenny Fyvie—a year older neighbor kid riding along with us—laughed, and my child-self never forgave him.

Second grade, the pink princess dress and pointed cone hat momma made—just like in the fairy-tale book illustrations. She let me borrow her real fur leopard print stole and it didn’t seem like I’d ever feel so pretty again.

Freshman year of college, the requisite post-Brittany Spears era naughty school girl outfit: short plaid skirt, white button down shirt. I can’t remember if I felt vaguely embarrassed by the tacky, clique outfit, but hindsight tells me it was so.

Twenty-five and I was the Pick-Axe Blonde girl from the Keweenaw Brewing Company’s beer can logo. I had the perfect green dress, great pig tails, and a cardboard/duct tape DIY pick-axe my crafty mother walked me through making because my ex-husband said that me drunk with a real pick-axe was a terrible idea.

Two years ago: My purple top hat stolen from a friend’s wedding photo booth, glow in the dark fluorescent yellow bobbed wig, black dress, thrift store white rabbit fur coat, and a homecoming queen sash from a past costume that read, “Miss Calaneous”.

Halloween Pre-Mexico
Halloween Pre-Mexico

This Halloween it’s not about me. It’s about the baby.
People want to see babies in cute outfits on Halloween. Hell, I want to see babies, and all people really, in great outfits on Halloween.
My makeshift costume for Callan consists of a onesie that states in bold letters “Happy Little Man”, a tie-dyed bucket cap, and a pacifier with a mustache. The mustache is really cute and funny, but I notice right away that the plastic comes up high enough to block most of the baby’s nostrils, so I limit it’s time in his mouth to photos.

Callan’s first Halloween Costue
Callan’s first Halloween Costume

We walk with other families down Hidalgo, which has become a teeming mass of people, mostly children in costume.
Shopkeepers call out, “This is the place!” and “Stop and take a look!”.
Adults stop to chat, creating traffic backups while their candy-eyed offspring, masked, makeupped, and costumed, weave through legs, tables, and chairs to hone in in their sweet prize.
The crowd is a mix of tourists, locals, and transplants— a glorious commingling on a windy Caribbean Halloween night. All prejudices and histories are set aside in the tumult of noise, candy, costumes, and happy children.

I love seeing it all, but after weeks and months spent cocooned in our home with husband and baby for company, the tumult is overwhelming.
I return home in a cab early evening full of mixed emotions. A year ago, I would never be the person coming home early on Halloween night.
A tear slips down my cheek as we pull away from town. I know that tomorrow morning I’ll see countless photos of costumed friends out playing late into the night.
There are many moments I miss that Rachel, and her independence.

Halloween Makeup
Halloween Makeup

The red cab pulls up to our dark house. I wrestle stroller and car seat onto the porch and let out the dogs, who are ecstatic in their greetings. They whine, wiggle, and wag their tails effusively, and I can’t help but smile. Their noises wake the baby, and he blinks up at me like a sleepy little owl, then breaks into a toothless happy smile sweet and pure.

I take off my Halloween dress, wash my costume makeup, and settle into the nursing chair: me, baby Callan, and remembrances of Halloweens past.

The pumpkin was too hard to carve...
The pumpkin was too hard to carve…