How I Cook These Days

Watching my Mom and me in the kitchen back in the day must have been quite the contrast: there was Mom, freestyling seasonings with utter abandon; and then there was me, obsessively devoted to adding precisely ¼ teaspoon of cinnamon, and not a particle more, because that was what the recipe said.

Well, here I am today, grown and out of the house, in my own kitchen, making my own food, just as I like it. And now it’s my turn to frustrate starry-eyed recipe requests with my inability and unwillingness to precisely measure ingredients, and my general penchant for going off book when it comes to recipes. So, whenever folks ask how to make my fish tacos – which, as they are pretty tasty (no false modesty here), most people do ask – I always convey my apologies for the vagueness of the list I send them.

Said recipe was originally from some unremembered website, which I visited one college weekend when boredom and my love of fish tacos collided. It’s mutated a bit over the years, as the result of various twists of fate. (For example, the use of “ground annatto” is only because I accidentally grabbed the wrong red powder at HEB one time, kicked myself, then read that it was used in Latin American cuisine, particularly in the Yucatán Peninsula, figured, eh, waste not want not, and it’ll probably taste all right, and then it did, so now I just use it all the time.)

However, the basic outline is still much the same, and I still refer to the original draft I wrote on a #10 envelope, which I did for reasons that are unfathomable to my current self. I think the envelope is stained with water, but can’t be sure, because admittedly there is a cocktail recipe scrawled on the other side.

Basically, you’ll need:

  • Corn tortillas
  • Your choice of fish for putting on the corn tortillas; I use frozen tilapia because it’s the cheapest, and I have anti-fishy-flavor friends who I only got to try the tacos by assuring them tilapia was basically flavorless; not to worry, you’re adding so much spice you don’t really need a fishy-flavored fish anyway.
  • Coleslaw, for putting on top of the fish. Also, surprisingly, on top of white rice, if you feel the urge to make that too.

For the corn tortillas:

  • Buy cheapest available at your choice of grocery store; mine is Kroger

For the fish:

  • Lots of paprika
  • Lots of cumin
  • Some chili powder
  • Lots of garlic powder
  • A little cayenne pepper
  • Some salt
  • Some regular pepper
  • Some ground annatto
  • Olive oil

Shake appropriate proportions of spices onto both sides of fish, then cook until done in olive oil. I generally chop the fish in half lengthwise after cooking, thus getting two tacos for every one fish.

For the coleslaw:

  • ¼ cup green onions (or less, if you’re using chives; I vaguely remembered my mom saying something about using less of dried stuff, and I just looked it up and it’s true)
  • ¼ cup cilantro, or more (roughly one bunch, although really I’ve yet to find the limit to the amount of cilantro I can add)
  • 3 tbsp mayo
  • 3 tbsp sour cream
  • 1 tsp-ish-I-usually-end-up-adding-more lime juice
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1 garlic clove or equivalent jarred garlic

Mix all that together in a nice big bowl, then add one bag coleslaw cabbage ‘n’ carrot mix and combine. It doesn’t look like the mayo/sour cream mixture will be enough to coat it all, but trust me, it is. Speaking of mayo and sour cream, you may have to add a little more of each; it really shouldn’t taste predominantly like either; add more lime juice concurrently, until it tastes like it should. If you’ve had some version of fish tacos or are a general connoisseur of Tex-Mex, you probably know sort of what it should be like. If not, I cannot help you.

As mentioned, place this on top of the fish, which are on top of the corn tortillas, and then NOM NOM.

Recipe: Friendship


NOTE: This recipe is reliable but unpredictable in its results. Use with caution.


  • 1 person (in addition to oneself)
  • common experiences
  • a shared interest
  • sarcasm or humor, to taste


2, in some cases for a season, in others for a lifetime

Preparation Time:

10 minutes – a year


  1. Meet someone–and have a shared experience together; this could be a class at school, a job, or some sort of social event. This shared experience can be either good or bad, and the experience doesn’t have to be anything dramatic or even interesting. These factors are incidental and should not affect the quality of the friendship.
  2. Find a common interest and mix this in. This could be a love for writing letters, or cinema, or painting one’s toenails, or vigorous exercise. The point is that people tend to need an excuse for a friendship, and a common interest often provides that initial glue to bring two people together.
  3. Be patient: occasionally the ingredients do not react well at first. Sometimes, close friends start out as irritating acquaintances, so it’s important to keep an open mind regarding people.
  4. Spend time with this friend and, for added fun, go on adventures (a recipe that pairs well with this one).
  5. Not all friendships will be equal in depth; this is normal, and having a variety of friendships can make life more fun.
  6. When fitting, add sarcasm or other varieties of humor; some cooks prefer sincerity and verbal encouragement, but my personal preference is to avoid the entire sub-genre known as “words of affirmation;” do your best to kill the friendship (I call this the “charbroiling technique”). If the friendship lasts, you’ll know it was real.
  7. If the above steps don’t work for you…then write your own recipe!

What are your recipes for friendship?

The Desperate Adventures of Zeno and Alya

Sunday morning means banana-nut muffins, so why has Dr. Agard broken the routine?  Why did he decide to take a nap on the floor?  Why doesn’t he praise his parrot Zeno’s accomplishments like usual?  The professor’s African grey parrot grows impatient, noisy, and destructive as he tries to wake his “servant.”  When the professor’s assistant and men in blue arrive and take Dr. Agard away, Zeno decides to fly out the front door and find a new “servant” and banana-nut muffins for himself.

Zeno and Alya

Accustomed to a life of muffins, Greek philosophy, and praise, how will Zeno survive in the wilds of Brooklyn, New York?  Though well-versed in 127 words and 64 sounds, Zeno is ignorant of such things as home, friendship, and basic survival.  He is puffed up with pride in his own beauty and brilliance, and his favorite words are “Zeno wants!”  Everything begins to change, however, after Zeno’s blunderings and muffin-cravings lead him to the bedroom window of a girl recovering from leukemia.

Alya used to be active and outgoing, used to play sports and climb monkey bars, used to have a laugh that outshone a whisper.  Now, though, she lies still in her bedroom, engulfed by a hospital bed.  She is too weak to climb the house stairs, too dispirited to try.  Her mother, father, her brother Parker, and her friends Kiki and Liza try to cheer her up, but they never know what to say or how to help.  That’s why, when hungry Zeno taps at her window, asks for her banana-nut muffins, and urges her to “try!” to get them for him, Alya doesn’t forget the parrot.  After Alya’s mother Mrs. Logan sends the parrot packing, Alya still remembers Zeno’s exhortation and realizes that she has lost the power to “try” and wants to regain it.  Maybe Zeno can help, if she can ever find him again.

Soon the main characters of The Desperate Adventures of Zeno and Alya by Jane Kelley are caught up in difficulties which will teach them about home, friendship, strength, and themselves – and which will hopefully teach their audience as well.

banana nut muffinP.S. I wanted to share this yummy banana-nut muffin recipe I enjoyed just this past weekend.  Zeno would undoubtedly relish it.  Check it out here at Crafty Cooking Mama.

P.P.S. If you’re interested in learning more about one of this book’s references to ancient philosophy, read Francis Bacon’s essay “Of Friendship.”  The final paragraph of the essay relates to a concept which I first encountered in The Desperate Adventures of Zeno and Alya about a friend being “another I.”  I think Bacon expounds quite well on what this can mean.  This connection between something I learned in a children’s book and from a 17th century English philosopher is another reason why I enjoyed Zeno and Alya and why I love reading widely.

Recipe: Adventure



  • 1 or more people
  • An idea
  • Equipment & preparation to taste


  • At least 2, and produces lots of leftover stories


  1. Recruit fellow adventurers. Find a person or persons to accompany you—adventures can be done quite well solo, but having a friend decreases chances of failure and increases chances of fun.
  2. Find a golden fleece. This step is fairly open-ended—you need to establish a good goal, preferably one that is at least slightly challenging, yet still achievable. This goal could be as simple as, “make a chocolate eclair cake” or as complex as “climb Mount Everest.”
  3. Gather equipment. For an adventure to be successful, there usually needs to be at least a small preparation time—spontaneous adventures are a wonderful idea but can occasionally lead to low-quality output, which is why we are providing the full recipe here. Prepare for your adventure by gathering all the required equipment—if cooking, then the ingredients; if mountain climbing, then the proper equipment for that.
  4. Train/practice for the adventure.  This is an optional step—if the adventure is baking, then proceed to the next step. If the adventure is climbing Mount Everest, a period of training will be necessary. Establish a routine that will prepare you and your party for the strenuousness of the climb up Everest. This has the added benefit of increasing your overall skill in addition to increasing your chances of survival on the climb. Note: this step may produce enjoyable mini-adventures as an added bonus.
  5. Begin the adventure. It’s important to have completed the preceding steps in order to make the adventure less stressful and more enjoyable. Even so, the unforeseen often happens, and even the best-laid plans can fall apart. Commit yourself to having fun, and the adventure is sure to be a success. Be sure to take lots of selfies so that you can make all your followers on social media jealous when they see them.
  6. When you are finished, store the leftovers in picture albums and stories.  It can also be helpful to self-assess after an adventure and recall what went well and what could have gone better. This will aid in preparations for the next time you decide to 


cook up an adventure.