cauliflower popcorn

When I was growing up, my Dad didn’t do a lot of cooking. And when he did cook, he tended to burn things. I can remember a few rather mournful weekends sitting at the kitchen booth in the house I grew up in on Fernandez Drive, while my mother was away on a Catholic retreat, trying to choke down blackened toast. It must have been breakfast. Or maybe it was burned fish sticks for dinner. Or maybe both. My poor Dad even tended toward burning things on the barbecue.

But there were two preparations he excelled at, no matter what. Pancakes and popcorn. Pancakes were more of a special Saturday morning occasion, or vacation mornings, when he had time to wait at the griddle (to be honest he burned these a little too, but nobody seemed to mind). I remember one summer morning up at our neighbor’s cabin at Lake Tahoe when one of my aunts attempted to cook the pancakes out on the porch in our electric frying pan. She had a terrible time getting them to flip properly, and my Dad laughingly said it was because she couldn’t wait for them to be ready to flip, and instead kept “irritating the pancakes.” The directive not to “irritate the pancakes” became a family joke we never got tired of.

Like pancakes, popcorn was usually a Saturday event. Sometimes Friday night. Whatever night something like Hootenanny used to be on was the night my Dad would make us all popcorn. Of course it was the kind fried in oil in a large pan, with a little butter melted to go over it in a very small pan. And of course lots of salt. Since my Mom had individual wooden salad bowls,  we each got our own little “bowl” of popcorn. It was quite a treat.

As I got older and began babysitting, popcorn followed me into those weekend evenings. I remember one night striking 19 matches before I successfully lit a gas stove burner (we had electric at our house) in order to pop Jiffypop (which my Mom always refused to buy) for three little tykes eagerly waiting and cheering me on.

Of course in the 80’s there came air popped corn and microwaved popcorn–and still, today, in the low fat plant-based world, air-popped corn is considered a healthy treat. So why, oh why, am I not celebrating the so-called real thing here in this blog post?

Well, to wax philosophical, as is my want, I AM celebrating the real thing. It’s just that over the years, it’s come to my attention that eating a big bowl of air popped corn hurts my teeth. And those of you who follow me know how committed I am to my own idiosyncratic happy tooth plan. That means only a handful of popped corn here and there.

But, luckily for me, I believe the nature of reality is metaphorical. The whole universe is one big complex poem where equivalences are made between things that are seemingly separate and distinct. In addition to that paradox, all things shaped popcorn make me very happy–like these popcorn clouds I watched above my patio a couple of weeks ago, grateful for the passing of a heat wave.

popcorn clouds

The magic of the metaphorical nature of reality is that I didn’t start out attempting to replace popcorn with cauliflower. Instead, as with most things I love, it was a happy accident, the result of a conversation with a dear friend in which we talked about beer battered cauliflower tacos, and all the special treatments folks give to cauliflower these days, and my friend said, “Honestly? My favorite way to eat cauliflower is to bake it at 400 tossed with just a little salt and nothing more. It doesn’t need anything else.”

And boy, as far as I’m concerned, was she ever right. Now I know there’s other amazing treatments for cauliflower out there–you can do just about anything to it, and I’ve happily marched in that parade to the tune of cauliflower steaks, cauliflower tacos, alfredo sauce made from cauliflower, cauliflower wings, and more. It’s all good.

My new year’s resolution was a simple gastronomic one: to eat more cauliflower. Just because. Partly I like to poke fun at making resolutions, but partly I wanted to give myself permission to eat more cauliflower and not cheap-skate myself out of buying it when I’d really like some, even if it’s expensive. I’ve read that one of the many nutrients cauliflower boasts is vitamin K, and that’s good for people like me with slow moving platelets, as Dr. Swank has written about in The Multiple Sclerosis Diet Book. At least I figure it can’t hurt.

When I made this resolution I was enjoying Kelly’s version of a Fork’s Over Knives cookbook recipe of cauliflower wings. I did make those a few times, and enjoy every bite. And years ago I used to make a cauliflower mash with millet and cauliflower that I laughingly called my “cauliflower baby food.” But it wasn’t long before I returned to this simple, elegant treatment. And now, almost every time I buy a head of cauliflower, no matter what lovely recipe I’ve recently seen and think I might like to try, I always end up breaking it into florets, tossing it with a smidge of salt and baking it at 400 for about 20 minutes. That’s pretty much cauliflower heaven for me.

Of course you can roast cauliflower without the touch of salt, but for me this little bit makes the sweetness and natural flavor of this vegetable pop, and become almost extraordinary. I often add these to a bowl I’m constructing for lunch or dinner, but I always end up popping them into my mouth, too, hot, right out of the oven. Like popcorn.

The shape of the florets and their snackable nature once roasted made me see the equal sign. Also the fact that I have been known to eat a whole bowl of this, like I used to do with popcorn, reinforced this playful equation. An added bonus for me is it doesn’t get stuck on my teeth or make them ache, and I feel much better being full from cauliflower than I do being full from popcorn.

But that’s just me. You can have your popcorn AND you can have this cauliflower. You don’t have to choose. Either way, you’ve got a tasty bowl of toasty white clouds to sit back with and much while you watch “the show,” whether it is a beautiful sky or that movie you’ve seen 20 times but still love.

I’m hard pressed to call this a recipe; nevertheless, here it is.


Maria (moonwatcher)


peas in hand

Some of you may remember that in my post Absent Minded Gardener I posted a photo of a planter with a home made “ladder” of sticks and twine protected from slugs by copper tape and pennies where I planted some sugar snap pea seeds and waited.

sugar snap peas planted

I’m happy to share (although pea production has slowed down since our heat wave) that this is what has come from that,

peas on vine

allowing me to hold the sugar snap peas in the first photo above in my very own hand and eat them my very own self, some right off the vine, some carefully saved for a steam fry with tofu, rice, garlic and a little Thai sweet red chili sauce. It turns out my Mrs. Magoo aspect has grown herself some mighty fine sugar snap peas.

Or maybe it’s the gift of lengthening days that makes all things seem enchanted, coming at me by surprise when I least expect it. Like this old plymouth:

Though it’s a different color, it appears to be the exact same model my parents drove away in on their honeymoon, and then drove us around in until I was 12 years old. It drove many a neighborhood kid to school and back, and when my Mom went back to teaching, it drove her to school as well. It was affectionately referred to in our neighborhood as “the blue bomb,” aptly named for its deep blue color.

It was a funny sensation to stumble upon this one by accident on our way to Woodlawn Park and be transported to my own personal past, as we drifted through an old Portland neighborhood known as the Woodlawn Triangle, which is completely off the design of the angular street grids around it and, I like to imagine, walking through it is perhaps somewhat like flying a plane through the famous Bermuda Triangle. Once a farming community established in the 1860’s, it’s older than Portland proper, and the design of the city was built around it. It’s easy to get completely turned around, and the fact that the street names engraved into the old sidewalks no longer match the ones on the signs doesn’t help a whole lot with the disorientation. I like getting a little lost, so it’s one of my favorite destinations on our morning walks. There’s a park, if you can find it, and at the edge of the grid a lovely Zen Temple in an old building. and Romeo and I often walk through the garden and say good morning to the statues of Buddha placed beautifully amid the flowers and foliage. Best of all it’s at the end of our very own street and is called The Heart of Wisdom.

Getting a little lost and finding unexpected treasures, and discovering my sugar snap peas have arrived when just a couple of months ago they were only a hope and a wet seed in the potting soil helps me respect the scale of bigger, more amorphous change in progress.

For some intuitive reason, I picked off of my book shelf an old almost falling-apart hardbound copy of The House At Pooh Corner I picked up at a garage sale when I was in college. Even then it was an old friend I wanted to carry with me through life. It’s a reprint of the original by A. A. Milne with the “decorations,” as the illustrations are called, by Ernest Shepherd. As a small child, I’d been read “Halfway Down The Stairs” over and over at my own insistence, and to this day it’s one of my all time favorite poems. But it wasn’t until I was actually 10 years old that I read The House at Pooh Corner.

It was a summer I was old enough to ride my bike out of the immediate neighborhood and across a busy street and then into another neighborhood that featured a “back” way to the closest library branch, which was also in the same small shopping complex as my mother’s hairdresser. I was thrilled not to have to go and wait with her to get my books, so exhilarated by the independence that I’d practice riding my bike with no hands as I passed by James Magnum Park and the public swimming pool there.

Most of the time I was an adventurous reader, picking books beyond my years. In fact, earlier in the same sumer, I had read Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon Tiki. I loved to make large journeys through words. But as the summer was drawing to a close, I felt like it would be okay to read this “kid’s” book, since there was so much wisdom in the poem I had loved so much, and it seemed to be an ending to the stories that started in Winnie the Pooh.

At the time, I believe the end of The House at Pooh Corner helped me feel okay about growing up myself, that it gave me a kind of road map for the value of doing “nothing” (which I wrote about fondly in Under the Pear Tree: Sweet Nothing and In The Room) that I tucked away somewhere and then found again much later when I most needed it.

The reminding came again later when Mike was just 5 and some college students I knew read the whole book on the university radio station where I taught. I took Mike to the studio to listen and they gave us tapes of their performance that we listened to at home. But it might have been me who loved hearing it even more than Michael did.

So why, I wondered, at 60, was I picking up this book again? I didn’t know exactly, beyond the reason that I’d just finished The Orchardist, and didn’t have another “grown-up” novel I wanted to read during my afternoon rest time. Yet I knew to trust there was something there for me yet again, and I would find it–or it would find me.

I probably laughed out loud for two minutes when I read in “The Search For Small” Pooh’s reaction to the following “Order of Looking For Things” he works out when he realizes he’s forgotten to ask Rabbit who Small is.

“1. Special Place (To find Piglet.)

2. Piglet (To find who Small is)

3. Small (To find Small.)

4. Rabbit (To tell him I’ve found Small)

5. Small again. (To tell him I’ve found Rabbit.)

‘Which makes it a very bothering sort of day day,’ thought Pooh, as he stumped along.”

Indeed. I certainly can relate, Pooh.

Beyond that, though,  in the afternoons that followed, each time I picked up The House at Pooh Corner, I had a growing sense that I was reading it again more than just for fun, and that when I got to that “enchanted place” at the end, I would know why.

But when it came, I didn’t expect it to mean so much in so many different dimensions and directions. There are certain things that happen within time that spring from a knowing outside of it. Sometimes that knowing is in a dream, or a passing thought, or an image I return to, or have a particularly strong reaction over. While at the moment it may seem to mean one thing, at a later time, it blossoms into its fullness, simultaneously allowing me to catch a glimpse into the deep tap root, at one with all the myriad leaves and branches that grow from it.

Several weeks ago, I had a dream I was riding my bike past James P. Magnum park and public swimming pool, the same route I used to take to the library when I was 10 and discovered The House at Pooh Corner at the Lanai Branch of the Sacramento County Library. In the dream, though, I was riding a “spirit bike” with many others, and we were traveling at a fast clip. The ride was filled with purpose and focus, so I could only note peripherally that unlike my memory in waking life, the pool and park were absolutely jam- packed with people. I could hear the hum of their conversation and activity as I “flew” by on my spirit bike. All of a sudden I heard the woman’s voice who had bought my old house on Asbury Street distinguish itself from the sursurations of the crowd–“that’s her!”, I thought, and said her name to myself in my dream. But my intense spirit bike ride only gave me time to identify and note to myself who she was, and that she had called out–I could not turn back and stop the spirit bike to pick her out of the crowd.

A few days after I had this dream, I messaged this woman on facebook to tell her–playfully–that she had called out to me in my dream, but that I was too busy riding my “spirit bike” to be able to stop. I thought a little shared giggle would be the end of it. But after her online laughter, it turns out she had another message altogether. There are very big changes occurring on my old street, shocking ones, and though I am not at liberty to divulge details, this also means a big change for her. And quite likely for the legacy that I thought I had secured for the little blue house that gave me so much.

Never at the time of the dream did I think of The House At Pooh Corner. Never when I began reading it again did I think of it as having anything to do with adjusting to a future I cannot determine that is coming nonetheless. But as I got to the final chapter, I saw that this time it would be about my dream and what it really meant, about moving on, letting go, and the inevitable paradox of that which is always in flux yet somehow timeless.

I was like Pooh, asking the Christopher Robin in me “Where are we going?” as we headed off for yet another encounter with mystery and enchantment.

For those of you who have read the book, you know the crux of this conversation that underlies the inevitability of growing up is reluctance about having to leave a part of  life behind in the process that is described by Christopher Robin as “doing nothing.” It is the thing he likes best in the world, and the thing that “they” (the grown-ups) don’t let you do as much of anymore. Once I started to read this part, a flood of unexpected tears started pouring down my cheeks. Oh, how I had hoped for my little blue house to sit there, doing “nothing” but seeing the sun and the garden and its new owner through the day, allowing her to do “sweet nothing” under the pear tree or the ornamental hawthorne, stalwart, amidst the change around it. And how now, like Christopher Robin, I am having to move my vision of it sitting there, forever, in the form I remember it, to an enchanted place of its own, not unlike where Christopher Robin leaves Pooh, where we are assured a boy and his bear will always be playing.

At the same time, I was transported back to the end of my own childhood, the summer I read this and understood it all too well, and how now, suddenly, I knew in my dream that I couldn’t stop to turn and talk to the woman who called out, I could only acknowledge her presence and her acknowledgment of me and continue on, my heart full of the connection the house gave us nonetheless. Always, in our hearts, we will share the love of that special place.

That this memory of riding back from the library after returning this book, with thoughts of the inevitable loss in life in my head, and ways the imagination can help keep what we love with us, would become a taproot to help hold me strong as these new winds of change blow in is nothing short of a slow motion miracle. It isn’t the kind that comes from eating kale and sweet potatoes instead of bacon, but it is the kind that lets me know there is nothing in my life that is not lived without some overarching purpose so immense I can only glimpse it moving through the enchanted forest of the universe, giving me the strength to ride my spirit bike with a trust beyond understanding.


Pooh and Christopher Robin, "decoration" by Ernest H. Shepard from my 1958 copy of The House At Pooh Corner, by A. A. Milne.

Pooh and Christopher Robin, “decoration” by Ernest H. Shepard, from my 1958 copy of The House At Pooh Corner, by A. A. Milne.

Maria (moonwatcher)






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