When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Tortilla Espanola

Baked Tortilla Espanola with Sungold Tomato Salsa

So you might be scratching your head and holding up two words, weighing them to see if they might possibly even each other out, “lemons, tortilla espanola?” I know. It perplexed me too. What happens when you unwittingly walk away from a rather impromptu visit to Sacramento with three ginormous Meyer lemons in tow? You make lemon curd, naturally. Then, if you’re like me, you begin plotting other uses for the gelatinous goo of egg whites filling a pint glass and mocking you from the inside of the refrigerator. They taunt, “Don’t make us into meringues again?!” And this time, you listen to them.

On a Monday night, you fire up the oven amid the sound of silent castanets cracking overhead, fingers clicking one egg, then two into the growing egg goo. Before long, the Espanola is in sight. Reason number 876 to be happy living in California might just have to be ripe tomatoes in November. They may not be the stellar outcroppings of September, but really, my farmer’s market still stocks strawberries like it’s the peak of summer. So, you have to make the most of these gifts from the heavens. You roast squash and root vegetables like the rest of the country but you silently give thanks as you pop a sungold tomato, its flavor sweet like the last summer sunset.

Then you break out of your reverie and scamper about throwing together an easy meal for a Monday night like this Baked Tortilla Espanola. Trust me, no turkeys, cranberries or stuffing cubes have been harmed in making this dish. There will be time enough for all of that soon enough. Instead, the leeks scent the olive oil and the boiling water takes the edge off the potatoes. All those egg whites find their own rhythm, and the slippery sauteed leeks blend their way into a sweeter sungold tomato salsa. Cut into a slice with a fork and you too may be hearing the call of the castanet.

Baked Tortilla Espanola with Sungold Tomato Salsa


For this recipe, you want to use a heavy bottomed pan that can go from stovetop to oven. If you have leftover salsa, spoon it onto a baked sweet potato or serve with crudités. Feeling spunky? Drizzle it onto exotic nachos laced with red pepper hummus, white cheddar, fennel pollen flecked goat cheese and creme fraiche. 

YIELD: 4-6 portions

For the Tortilla

  • 1 pound small potatoes
  • 1 1/2 cup sliced leek, white part only (4 1/4 ounces)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper

For the Salsa

  • 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
  • 1 1/4 cup sungold cherry tomatoes (7 ounces)
  • splash of hot sauce
  • pinch of smoked paprika
  • pinch of kosher salt
  • crack of black pepper



Make the Tortilla
Preheat the oven to 350.

Rinse and scrub the potatoes. Slice them thinly into 1/4 inch rounds. Bring a pot 3/4 full of water to a soft rolling boil. Place the potato rounds into the water for 4-5 minutes to take off some of their crunch. Drain them in a colander.

Place a heavy bottomed pan over medium low heat for 1 minute. Swirl in the olive oil and add the leeks. Cook for 4 minutes or until the leeks are translucent. Strain leeks out of the oil and reserve.

Place potato rounds into the oil and cook for about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile whisk together 2 eggs with the 6 egg whites and add in the salt and pepper. Pour whisked eggs evenly over the potatoes and cook on the stovetop for 2 minutes to set them. Then transfer the pan to the oven and bake for 35 minutes or until the eggs are cooked though and don’t jiggle when you jostle the pan. Cool for five minutes.

Make the Salsa
Drizzle the vingear into the receptacle of a blender. Spoon the sautéed leeks on top and then add in the rinsed sungold tomatoes. Puree until almost smooth- a bit of chunkiness is inviting in salsa. Stir in the hot sauce, paprika, salt and pepper. Spoon the sauce in a circle on each plate.

Plate the Tortilla and Salsa
Slide a spatula around the edge of the pan several times carefully, helping loosen the tortilla from the sides. Once the edges have pulled away a bit, slip the spatula under the tortilla to begin carefully loosening it from the bottom of the pan. Bring a large plate to the top of the pan and invert the pan onto the plate so that the tortilla transitions from the pan to the plate. Cut a slice of the tortilla to serve on top of the salsa.


Tomato Basil Baked Oatmeal

Tomato Basil Savory Baked Oatmeal | The Food Poet

Whoever first stirred a pot of hot steel-cut oats did themselves and the world a favor. Hailed for its high fiber and stick-to-your-ribs qualities, oatmeal might be the grandfather heavyweight of breakfasts. Indeed, I worked with a man named Bob who would make a bowl of quick oats for breakfast and lunch, though I can’t speak on behalf of his dinners. He claimed he ate it for heart health and because he couldn’t think of anything that could surpass this economic convenience food.

Like Bob, you might already be a fan of oatmeal. Perhaps you pour milk into your hot oats. Maybe you drizzle in a slow stream of maple syrup. Before you reach for your sliced banana or impulsively unzip the bag of dried cranberries, I’m about to say something a bit unpopular.

In the wake of its massive groundswell of consumption, oatmeal has gotten short shrift. Poor oatmeal has been consigned to a neverending buffet of breakfasts. Something about this whole grain has pigeonholed it too easily into the before 10 a.m. meal bracket. The years of palate conditioning have provoked a response to reach for those familiar aforementioned ingredients to jigger up a bowl of breakfast. Perhaps I’m being irrational- I can’t think of anything better to eat on cold winter mornings, but maybe there was a lesson to be learned from Bob’s mealtime habit years ago. Why relegate this whole grain to winter mornings and let the midday and evening opine?

I’m not advocating for turning out sheet upon sheet of oatmeal raisin cookies, which might just be the crunchy equivalent of that morning bowl of oats in round, portable form. No, I want more for us. Let’s unshackle the pot of oatmeal from the breakfast bar. Let’s wrest it from the middling, and, may we say, boring place it currently holds. Instead, let’s bring oatmeal into a sophisticated side dish that’s easy to prepare, colorful and full of comforting flavors reminiscent of the end of summer.

Enter Tomato Basil Savory Baked Oatmeal, a mistake sponsored by hunger, and one that satisfied on several levels. Last September, when the tomatoes began roundly asserting themselves in farmer’s markets and local stores, several ventured home with me. Our San Francisco summers officially begin in October and so on that chilly sixty-degreed September morning, I craved something hearty and only oatmeal would do. But, I also lusted after a fresh egg cracked into a sizzling pan and served over easy.  Before I knew it, the egg had leapt on top of the oats and basil joined the fray along with its best pal, tomato. All that remained was a deft hand to shave some parmesan atop. What happened next is the stuff of secret societies- some great truth had been passed down and like all with an inclusive bent, it needed to be shared. But, then the vine dried. The breakfast faded into memory.

If you look into your produce bin, perhaps you spy a tomato or two? Out back, maybe shoots of basil bask in the sun? The fridge should never be bereft of a good hunk of parmesan- do you see it lurking in the cheese drawer? In your possession are three of the star players in this Tomato Basil Baked Oatmeal. You are on your way to bypassing staid side dishes. Because you may not have a quart sized jar of oat groats in the cupboard, visit the bulk bin and scoop deeply. The crusty parmesan cheese burnished into the top of this casserole will pay back your efforts. May you take heart in the green ribbons of basil and red hunchbacked tomato slices punching in overtime on color. May your tongue do a tango as it takes in the custardy filling and chewy whole oat groats reminiscent of a corn pudding.

In other words, now is the season to exult and rejoice in the bounty before fall arrives. Then it will be time for popsicles- if you live in San Francisco. And, as for breakfast, perhaps you will pull a dinner ingredient into the before 10 slot. Or, make this for brunch, giving homage to Bob.

Tomato Basil Baked Oatmeal | The Food Poet



YIELD: 6-8 servings


3 small tomatoes

1/3 cup basil

1 tablespoon baking powder

2 cups cooked oat groats, cooled

2 tablespoons melted butter, cooled

1 cup whole milk

1/2 cup heavy cream

2 eggs

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked pepper

1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons grated parmesan



Preheat the oven to 375. Dip a paper towel into your cooled melted butter and swipe it over a square pan and cover its surface lightly with the melted butter.

Rinse and core the tomatoes. Cut them in half and then cut each half into 1/4 inch slices. Using a grapefruit or tomato spoon with teeth, pull out the guts of the tomato slices and discard.

Pull off basil leaves from their stems and stack them on top of one another. Once you have around 15, curl the leaves into one another like you might roll dried fruit leather. Curb your left hand fingers over the basil roll-up and with a chef’s knife in your right hand, begin chopping right to left with precise straight cuts to get the basil ribbons from the chiffonade.

Stir the baking powder and cooked oat groats into a large bowl. In a medium sized bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, cream, remaining butter, salt and pepper. Stir in the 1/3 cup of grated parmesan to the egg mixture.

Arrange half of the tomato slices in the bottom of the square pan, scattering half of the basil ribbons over them. Spoon out all of the oat groats. On top of the oat groats, arrange the other half of the tomato slices and basil ribbons. Pour the egg batter over the tomato basil and oats until all of it is covered. Sprinkle the 2 tablespoons of remaining grated parmesan on top.

Bake for 55-60 minutes or until the top is browned and the contents of the pan do not jiggle when jostled. Cool for 5-10 minutes on a wire rack before serving.




Pesto Polenta Breakfast Bake

Pesto Polenta Breakfast Bake The Food Poet

The last minute guest. The cook who isn’t a morning person. The brunch menu that needs a main course. If you might find yourself nodding to any of the aforementioned items, then I am happy to introduce you to Pesto Polenta Breakfast Bake as I can attest to not being a morning person too.

Taking the idea of baked casseroles (do you remember those from the 80’s?) and re-appropriating them for the breakfast table, you might find yourself falling for them once again in this Pesto Polenta Breakfast Bake. When you’ve had a chance to consider this weekend’s plans, make room for a slice.

I’ve kept the pan warm for you. Follow me over to my guest post on Eat This Poem for the recipe.


Bok Choy Bell Pepper Scramble

BRUNCH RECIPES- Bok Choy Bell Scramble

Breakfast is important in these here parts. Did you know it’s the most important meal of the day? One of the best things you can do for your husband, wife, girlfriend, boyfriend, boss, deskmate, and most definitely for yourself is not skip this meal of champions. You “break” the “fast” of eight hours sleep with a kickstart of food fuel to get your body and mind primed for the day.

Julia Child still has a thing or two to teach me about making the perfect omelette and perfecting the flip, so until that time, I am crazy about scrambles. Notably, I’m cuckoo about scrambles at posh and oh-so-delicious brunch locale extraordinaire Ella’s. They put the most creative combinations together of seasonal ingredients with flair. One of the ways they dress up a plate of eggs is with flavored creams (lime creme with salmon scramble anyone?) Yum.

I played a riff off of what Ella’s might make in looking through our cleaned up fridge. This includes new favorites virgin coconut oil and goat’s milk yogurt. We are switching to coconut oil in these parts because it can withstand high heat well, is packed with nutrients and good fat and it also kind of gives everything a bit of island flair. Goat’s milk yogurt and cheeses are new additions replacing our cow’s milk products as easier to digest alternatives. They’ve gotten me thinking I want goats in the future to join the chickens in the imaginary sprawl of lawn one day. If I had a goat, she’d be named Bessie and he’d be named Hal. But that is neither here nor there, and somewhere it’s time for breakfast…


Bok Choy Bell Pepper Scramble

YIELD: Serves 3

1. In a large sauce pan, heat the coconut oil over medium high heat. Add the peppers and bok choy to saute for about five minutes or until slightly charred on edges.

2. Then add in the caramelized onions, za’atar and sea salt. Stir and let meld for about a minute. With a fork, whisk the eggs.

3. Pour eggs over the sauteed veggies and let sit for 2 minutes, taking care to tip the pan as needed to spread the fluid egg out to the outer corners. Begin to chop and scramble the eggs and sauteed veggies and then let it cook until the eggs are cooked to your preference.

4. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of Purple Haze Chevre on each portion of the scramble. Serve with sliced avocados and a dollop of goat’s milk yogurt, which gives it a lovely tang.




Cheddar & Chopped Turkey Kolaches

BRUNCH RECIPES- Cheddar and Chopped Turkey Kolaches

The love of the road trip courses through my blood.

texas roadtrip

It probably has something to do with haling from the great republic of Texas where the land is wide and flat and the road is welcoming asphalt to rubber. From a young age, Mom diligently cultivated this love in me. It would start early before anyone within proximity of our house had awakened. She would nudge me out of bed still half-conscious and nudge me into clothing laid out the night before. I was a master at not fully waking up and successfully dressing myself and brushing my teeth before passing out on the back seat. I would claim that my somnambulist tendencies had something to do with that, but who knows.

czech smokehouse

Nestled up against my pillow and curled like an “s” along the padding and underneath my blanket, I would lie and relish this new form of sleeping in. In the background, she would play talk radio, not that anything they said really contrived to assuage my need for more sleep. Without fail and with the assistance of the sun that had begun to rise, I would usually wake up around Waco and climb over the center console into my approved place of navigator in the passenger’s seat. She made the trips fun by turning on music and letting me sing along full throttle to one song before losing myself in a book the next moment.

Geriks Bakery West Texas

By this time, my stomach would be growling and we would play the “I’m hungry” game which consisted of her offering me a knuckle and calling it the name of whatever I was exactly hungry for. Regardless of the pangs gnawing at my stomach, I knew to wait for a certain exit to come upon us for that hunger to be vanquished. Even before the exit sign invited us to pull over, came billboards several miles away letting us know we were getting closer to the town of West, Texas, home of a score of Czech bakeries. In the game of hot potato, these would be evidence that yes, we were getting hot.

West Texas, Geriks Bakery Kolache Awards

And there it would come, exit 355, where we would take the off-ramp and hang a left underneath the bridge. We would pass the signs boasting the cheerful word “kolache” in the windows for a window with no pomp, no fuss, a little ways down the road. We’d pull off to the right and at this point, it was all I could do to stay buckled in my seat. If we left Dallas early enough, we could expect warm kolaches from the oven. Throwing the doors open, I would eagerly walk forward to the pastry shelves lined with the sweet yeasty bread rolls. Shelves upon shelves bragged of fruit kolaches with a stamp of cherry jam with crumbles of streusel on top like a seal of approval.

cherry kolaches, west texas

Occasionally would I go the sweet route and on those few occasions, either peach or apricot got my attention. What usually held sway, what could make my mouth tingle in anticipation were the Ham and Cheese kolaches. Oh my. Warm and doughy, the dough had a slightly sweet flavor offset by the salty and savory flecks of ham and that sharp tang of melted shredded cheddar cheese. These were worth the wait. I would eat one or if I felt particularly ambitious, two and call my tummy filled until lunch later in the day.

ham and cheese kolaches west texas

A few weeks ago, I found myself on an extended break in Texas. Beck joined me for a few days, a wedding and a Texas-style wedding reception for us. He continued deepening his appreciation of Shiner Bock while I began plotting the days after his return to San Francisco. I knew a road trip lay before me. Half anxious, half excited at the prospect, I lay out an agenda for the haul to Austin.

ham and cheese kolaches west texas

Rule number one: pull over if anything catches your eye.

I woke up late, grabbed my bags and packed up the car. For the span of city driven inside the city limits, I let the concrete jungle bleed out of the landscape in place of the Trinity River. I felt ready for that wide expanse of sky that feels like in Texas, it will go on into eternity. Packed into this trip, I’d brought that fearless sleeper cum navigator reminding me when I needed to sidle the car off the freeway. Without asking, I knew our first stop would be West.

ham and cheese kolaches west texas

What I didn’t expect was the silence that filled the car. Gone was the talk radio, the tiny body pitching itself over a center console. Indiscernible were the bantering and arguing of mother and child as to who would rule the radio. Silence. Crystalline and pure, it revealed to me one of the reasons for this need of a roadtrip, this breadth of open space at my fingertips. I needed to drive deeper into that sense of possibility that had been stymied when the finality of my dad’s life quickened down upon me. While driving toward a fixed point, I let myself be little again- a small person with an urge and a large person with a way to satisfy it. Wearing both young and now somehow rubbed the lingering presence of his one year anniversary from its place of prominence. In this place, he was still alive and in this place he was dead. I could wear both.

peach kolache west texas

Festive signs flanked both sides of the highway, inviting people in a colorful script to Czech bakeries. I knew I had almost arrived.

grated cheddar cheese

Taking the offramp, turning under the bridge, the Shell gas station that used to play signmarker on the corner had been replaced by a Sonic.

chopped turkey

Forward, I drove, until I saw that familiar unassuming building to the right with the sign “Olde Czech Smokehouse.” The car swung into a parking spot directly in front and idled before the engine turned. Walking into the bakery, I knew to expect a few regulars sitting at the table to the right, but somehow, I felt a slight bit out of sorts. Playing the role of tourist, camera slung around my arm, turned on and at the ready, I walked forward to the glass case. I ordered the Ham and Cheese Kolaches and discovered Prune Kolaches, which appealed to that older self rather than the young.

cheddar and chopped turkey filling

Undeterred, I took my kolaches back to the car and chewed thoughtfully, a road warrior making peace with the present through the past.

how to make turkey and cheese kolaches recipe


Cheddar & Chopped Turkey Kolaches

Adapted from

I found this recipe online and what really stood out is that they are called Houston Ham and Cheese Kolaches. I knew I’d found a kolache recipe to satisfy that particular itch. I also didn’t do the butter wash before setting the rolls into the oven, as I felt there was already a lot of dairy in our kolaches. This only resulted in the rolls looking on the lighter side of golden once cooked which was fine with me. We made them with chopped turkey instead of ham as we are laying off the pig. For the meat, take note that you want to finely chop it as the as the texture of the well chopped meat really does wonders to assimilate into the overall roll.  Also, the original recipe had double the meat and cheese, which we reduced by half. It also said the yield was 32, but I found the most we could get out of the recipe was 20. 

I’ve posted a short video below to show technique in filling and pinching the kolaches, though there are photos to help as well. Last tip: these taste best straight out of the oven, so if making for guests, time them appropriately (or keep your toaster oven on the ready.)

YIELD: Makes 20




Part 1: Sponge
1. Mix 2 cups of flour and yeast.
    Add the eggs, butter, milk and sugar.
    Mix with spoon  and combine completely.
    Cover and place in refrigerator overnight.
2. The next day, lightly stir the sponge and add the salt.
Add flour until it forms into a dough ball.
Once it’s the shape of a dough ball, set aside on your counter top to rest for 20 minutes.
3. Knead for 10 minutes on a lightly floured surface, and add flour as needed.
Keep in mind, the dough should be loose and easy to knead.
kolache sponge

4. Place kneaded dough into a lightly oiled bowl. Turn the dough so that it’s covered with oil. Cover and leave dough alone on counter for an hour, letting it rise until doubled in size. Meanwhile, mix together turkey and cheese.

kolache sponge

5. Punch down dough.


6. Divide into 20 small balls (divide in half, then divide in half again, and again, etc.).

turkey and cheese kolache recipe

Take each ball and push out the corners to flatten it into a 3″ disk.

how to make turkey and cheese kolaches

Place one tablespoon turkey and cheese blend into the center of each circle.

how to make turkey and cheese kolaches

and close into a roll, twisting the opening closed. Make sure the opening is well sealed, or the kolaches will burst open in the oven.

how to make kolaches

7. Place filled rolls seam side down onto greased cookie sheets. Cover and let rise again for half an hour. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 375 degrees F.

8. Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until golden colored. If you let them get brown, they will be too dry.

Baked kolaches can be frozen, thawed, and reheated in the microwave.






I have never been a morning person.

At a young age, Mom and I developed an understanding about me and the morning. Tread gently or waken the hibernating bear. It is one of her many graces that she knew me to be a creature of the night, my creative outlet waking up when the sun set to sleep. One evening when Tita lived with us, she remarked to Mom how bad the thunder had been the night before which elicited a giggle from me and a puzzled look on Mom’s face. I had been moving furniture and re-arranging my room the evening before, envisioning a new layout and convinced I couldn’t sleep until it was in place. I was the kid that kept a style book for interiors with a high need for change.

Thus, Mom never turned on all the lights to burnish the room with mock sunlight. She never threw back the covers laying me vulnerable to the chilly morning air. Instead, she would awaken my olfactory senses knowing the others would soon follow. Piercing my nostrils might be the warming smell of sunshine, of eggs being turned in a pan. And depending on what other aromas mingled with that first one, I had a pretty good idea of what might be waiting.

She would come into my room and say, “Annelies, you have 10 minutes before you need to get up.” The recognition of the nose as alarm clock somehow roused me a little before that deadline if not right on time. Waiting for me would be a homemade breakfast that gentle nudge of a mother wanting to nourish her child and for that child to succeed at school.

My Mom knew the way to my heart.

I have been volunteering with Share our Strength this year believing no child should go hungry and understanding that sometimes though all parents want to provide a food stable environment for their children, they simply do not have the resources. SOS seeks to connect families in need with the services that can provide nutrition counseling and food resources. Last year, 17 million children in the United States went hungry, finding themselves the recipients of school cafeteria programs and in food unstable homes. If you’re in San Francisco April 7th attend Taste of the Nation at the Bently Reserve to help support Share Our Strength.  The best part is that these events are raising funds that will be funneled back into our community. From my volunteer work, I’ve had an opportunity to interview participating chefs asking them about their favorite childhood food memories and what Share our Strength means to them. Each of them has a dynamic answer and is sharing their strength by cooking a feat for Taste of the Nation attendees. All proceeds from this event are going back to Food Runners, SF Fresh Approach, and Children of Shelters.

If you’re in town May 14th, swing by the SF Food Blogger Bake Sale, being held at 18 Reasons for homemade baked treats with all proceeds going back to Share our Strength. This national bake sale encourages home cooks (and in this particular assembly food bloggers) an opportunity for them to share their strength of baking for the good cause of SOS. I am helping organize the event with friends made from last year’s Food Blogger Bake Sale: the accomplished Anita of Dessert First, the indomitable Irvin of Eat the Love and the effervescent Shauna of Piece of Cake.

I am grateful that I never went hungry as a child and am volunteering with Share our Strength to do my part to ensure that can be true for other children.

And anytime I’m feeling homesick or a bit blue, my comfort food of choice is migas. The kitchen wafts again of smells from childhood, of rousing from sleep to take action, of being loved.

Mexican breakfast



Some people would think it anathema, but I like to eat migas with ketchup. I know salsa is probably more of a natural choice, but my tastebuds rebel and want those flavors from childhood…

YIELD: 2 servings

Use this recipe to make fresh tortilla chips, but cut them into short strips instead of triangles, as shown below and then continue on with recipe link.

making tortilla chips

making homemade tortilla chips

In a large pan, add chips. Set over medium high heat. If you made the fried chips, no need to add extra oil, but if you made the baked chips, you might want to add 1 tablespoon of oil.

Add salt and pepper to scrambled egg mixture and whisk. Then pour scrambled egg mixture over the chips.

Toss and turn the egg-enrobed chips until the egg fully cooks.

Serve immediately.






International travel is a great way to delve head first into understanding a person better.

As one of our first major outings as a newly dating couple, Nathan and I headed down south to Mexico. I popped the question a few weeks into dating, not thinking it was a terribly big deal. The backstory is the invitation was to accompany me to a family wedding. This would be the first time for him to meet my mom and all my Mexican family. Again, this thought never crossed my mind. I have been to several Mexican bodas (weddings) and knew what to expect. I also knew they required a sidekick.

We flew into Mexico tired and hungry. After feasting on homemade delicacies, I took a nap. Nathan accompanied my Tio Eliud to the airport to pick up my mom. It didn’t make me nervous that they would meet for the first time without me present. I liked Nathan and knew he would go over well with the Mom and I was not disappointed.

The next day, we piled into a bus rented to carry all 60 immediate family members and a few friends that might as well be family members to head down to the coastal town of Tampico. Snacks were passed around and a cooler at the front of the bus held beverages. A movie began to play and we were off. All the cousins had already introduced themselves to Nathan, but would sometimes walk down that center aisle smiling and with a “knowing” look. We watched the scenery as the bus took us through neighboring small towns and deeper into the Tamaulipas area of Mexico. Off went one movie and on came another, “The Orphanage.” I got roped into watching this movie partly for its suspenseful story line and the accompanying eerie cinematography. My cousins and I yelped and groaned at the scary parts. As the bus approached the hotel, we made the bus driver do a few extra loops so we could catch the end. Everyone was deeply engrossed and on edge.

We sipped tamarind margaritas by the pool before dinner. This became my drink of choice that weekend as it featured a cumin and chili dusted salt on the rim that complemented the tangy sweet cocktail. Later that night, after dinner 20 of us sat around the hotel lobby drinking beer and telling stories. The mother of the groom Normita, proudly danced with her son, Hector showing such excitement at this rite of passage. A few drinks in and hours in, some calls were made for one of my favorite Mexican traditions: the serenata.

Hector had found a mariachi band for hire to serenade his bride the evening before the wedding. All 20 of us piled sardine-style into several cabs and headed nearby the bride’s house waiting for the mariachi band to arrive. A beat-up maroon van crawled to a slow stop and inside we saw spangled white uniforms. The mariachis had arrived on the tails of their last gig. All 20 of us followed them down the small neighboring street, trying to keep as quiet as 20 people can and trying also to not arouse suspicion from neighbors or notice from the bride. I suppressed multiple giggles as I considered the folly of us walking down that street- this large mass of people intending to surprise the bride. We filed into the carport behind the mariachis. Their stark contrast to the pitch of night in their white sombreros and white uniforms only escalated the delicious anxiety of the moment.  And then just like that, such a noise erupted from the eight piece band that made the dogs howl and the humans no longer contained their laughter, ourselves included. The bride’s father came out, looking a bit bedraggled but smiling, happy to see our merry group celebrating this occasion No bride, and on the mariachis played with the horn popping off bursts of  bright noise. We waited until she came out, fully clothed and made up- the surprise on us.

Through the house we walked, out into her family’s plaza-style garden, as we listened to the mariachis play songs the groom requested while we held his soon-to-be-wife close. Long after Nathan and I had returned to California, this memory remained the highlight of this trip- his first initiation into the Mexican boda.

The next day, some of my cousins swam and relaxed poolside before the big event later that evening. My mom, Nathan and I decided we wanted to explore Tampico. We started out at a café in downtown Tampico known for its good breakfasts. As we were getting up from the table, a man motioned to me and asked if I was an actress on television. I responded saying I wasn’t but he was convinced he’d seen me on TV. It was a funny moment. Off we went scavenging the streets of the downtown, walking past stores and restaurants, walking through flea market-style booths. We ventured into the local cathedral, noted for its interesting tiled floors. Outside we bumped into the Tias and Tios out to the downtown salon to get their hair done for the evening and picking them up, respectively. Nathan, Mom and I climbed onto the bus headed for the beach. Since we were on the coast, we couldn’t imagine not going to see what their beach looked like. A slow, bumpy and circuitous bus ride I spent in between two of my favorite people.  Once we arrived, the hour was late, so we snapped a few photos, sandals in hand and toes dredging their way through sand. We hailed a cab and sped back to don our fineries.

Now, if you’ve never been to a Mexican wedding you may want to think a bit about snacks. In fact, I don’t think it would be too bold to say that Mexico is a nation of food-minded people, resourceful in the ingredients proffered by the land and available at hand. Of the weddings I’ve been to, they have all started at 9:30 p.m. We ate a quick bite before getting dolled up. The wedding was beautiful and the reception stunning. Dinner at 11:30 p.m., we knew we were in it for the long stretch. Course after course arrived. The dance floor flooded with people eager to move their bodies to the rhythm and tempos of the live band. A Mexican wedding embodies celebration: on the plate, on the dance floor, in your ears. The bride and groom looking equal parts exhausted and exultant. Nathan and I would be flying out in the wee hours of the next morning so we did not brave it with the party all night brigade. But here’s what you need to know as my other favorite tradition of Mexican weddings. At 3 a.m., if people are still celebrating, out come the chilaquiles.

Food. Fiesta. Family. Can you really ask for anything more at a wedding celebration?

One night when I was visiting my mom’s home a year or so later, I couldn’t sleep. My brain whirred and hummed, making me acutely aware of its refusal against slumber. I wandered into my mom’s room and lay on her bed. She had heard me pacing in the other room and knew I couldn’t sleep- neither could she. It had been a little over a week since my dad had suddenly died and I had flown back for the wake and funeral. She tried to coax me into talking about it and eventually her gentle nudges let the doorway to the insomnia-riddled anxieties out. After about an hour of talking and listening, she said, “If we’re still awake in an hour, I’ll make chilaquiles.”

And wouldn’t you know it that did the trick better than counting sheep.

Chilaquiles Recipe




Chilaquiles have become very en vogue as of late. My mom mentioned that people put eggs in their chilaquiles or even chorizo, but I’m giving it to you as a I remember them from my youth, simple and unadulterated. After conferring with my Tia Berta, we’ve stumbled onto this recipe which will give you crispy chips drenched in mouth-watering salsa. These do not keep well and are best enjoyed right when prepared. Buen provecho!

YIELD: Makes 2 servings

  • Full order of homemade chips
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Crema Casera (you can find this in Latin American groceries)
  • ¾ cup Salsa Verde or Salsa Roja (your preference)
  • ½ cup Oaxaca cheese or Mozzarella cheese, shredded (you want a melty white)

chilaquiles ingredients

chilaquiles ingredients

Place oil, salsa and cheese in large pan over medium heat.

making chilaquiles

chilaquiles sauce

Stir until cheese is fully incorporated into salsa. Add chips to the pan and quickly turn them over until all chips have been coated with salsa mixture. Remove from heat and serve. Garnish with some Crema Casera and chopped onions if you like.




Leek Goat Cheese Quiche

BRUNCH RECIPES- Leek and Goat Cheese Quiche

Sometimes you need a quickie brunch recipe. (or easy lunch // dinner // snack… recipe.)

As a child I never understood brunch. Why condense two meals into one? In my mind, it seemed to be something only adults really could appreciate like Nick at Night.

The three women in my life growing up sure know how to entertain and this carries over to their quick breakfast interpretations. Tia Berta is the gourmande, whereas my mama makes simple food delicioso. And then Tia Maruca is a bit of both.

I come from a long line of women with a passion for flavor in the blood. We memorize and assign value to pairings like other people might with place. Reading through their recipe books is taking a peek through history, notes of the who’s and whens, the revisions and raves.

I look at my cousin Erika, now in her thirties and realize we have both followed in their footsteps. She takes after her mama and I’m a bit of a blend. Regardless in our homes, food is love or more appropriately nourishing the people we love is our gift.

They have taught me how to live and in so doing have shown me what love looks like firsthand, whether it’s making a multi-course meal for my parents first meeting of my soon-to-be in-laws, whether it’s giving up the master bedroom when guests stay at the house so they’ll be most comfortable or lying with my uncle in his hospital bed, holding his hand and talking to him when he couldn’t open his eyes- come to think of it, all the women are steel-clad strong. I appreciate their nuances and continued presence. When my dad died, each of them pitched in to make sense of what felt very senseless to me. Before I knew the question to ask, they provided the answers by giving me space, by not giving me too much space, by letting me ask the hard questions.

A few weeks ago, I got a call that my favorite uncle, Tio Bibi had been taken into the hospital. As the texts continued coming my way, I prayed and sent virtual hugs until the day I hopped on a red-eye to Texas and could give physical ones. Upon entering the hospital room, I watched and listened. I told Tio Bibi I had come to visit him and asked, “Can I hold your hand?” He offered it. Jacqueline and I talked to him and sat with him. Later his son brought music to the room: Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan, and of course, Little Richard. Though he couldn’t open his eyes most of the time, his legs and arms gesticulated as if dancing. His younger brother stood at the side of the hospital bed and started singing “Ree-kee-kee-kee-kee…” and they told jokes with Tio Bibi sometimes finishing them.

The next time I visited the hospital room, the mood had changed. I wore a mask, as I had begun to sense a cold seeping its way through my body and I wanted to spend a little more time with him before returning to San Francisco. His son and I sat with him in the room, quietly. We wanted to bring him company and comfort. At one point, we moved him up on his bed to a more comfortable position. I would be lying if I didn’t say it was hard to see him like this. And I wanted to love him, to let him know I was there, to let them know I was there. So through the mask, I breathed and sat until the time approached for us to go to the airport. As I left, I told him I would see him later. And even now as I write this, two days after he has passed away, he is with me. See, Saturday night, I dreamed my Tio Bibi, Erika and I were dancing at my wedding. He was smiling his broad smile and laughing- he shared that joy and zest for living with all of us. It gave me such a bittersweet tug to know my Dad and Erika’s dad are together. It makes me wonder if they remember each other…

Quiche is so forgiving. This savory pie is a snap to put together, makes your house smell warm and inviting (the alchemy aroma of butter and flour together alone could conjure up a bakery and the glass case beaming its egg-shellacked offerings) and sometimes you need something that’s good-old fashioned comfort in a crust.


chopped leeks

leek and goat cheese quiche


Leek Goat Cheese Quiche

Note: This quiche to me tastes better cold and can be made into mini quiches for easier transport.

YIELD: 8 servings

  • Gluten Free Pastry dough (see recipe below)
  • 3 eggs
  • ¼ cup half and half
  • 1 ½ leeks, halved, rinsed and sliced (white & tender greens)
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 4 ounce goat cheese
  • ¼ teaspoons cracks of black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/8 teaspoons nutmeg

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Pour the oil in a saucepan and add the leeks. Saute the leeks over medium heat until almost translucent. Set aside.

Beat eggs and then add in all remaining ingredients. Blend until just mixed together. Fill pie crust. Bake for 45 minutes and let cool for 10.


Adapted from Joy of Cooking

For a 9-inch single-crust pie, sift together:

  • 1 ¼ cup gluten free AP flour (I used Cup4Cup)
  • ¾ teaspoon salt


  • 6 tablespoons chilled lard or vegetable shortening
  • 3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter

Work half of the shortening into the flour mixture lightly using the tips of your fingers until it has become the consistency of cornmeal. Add the remaining half of the shortening into the dough until it is pea-sized. Sprinkle the dough with

  • 6 tablespoons ice water

Blend the water gently into the dough until it just holds together; you may lift the ingredients with a fork, allowing the moisture to spread. If necessary to hold the ingredients together, add:

  • 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon ice water

Place dough in pie tin or pie pan, and work dough into the corners with your fingers. I also beat an egg yolk and brushed the crust with this. Place in refrigerator for 15 minutes to 30 minutes before using.