Still Cooking at the Cafe

Happy New Year to all. We’re still cooking here at the café, happy to leave behind a year that has been so devastating around the world.

Political turmoil, natural disasters, the struggle for justice –– and through it all, a pandemic disrupting our lives in numerous personal ways and making even simple things challenging.

We’ve all been through so much, and still the pandemic continues and surges, with many months predicted to go. We’ll still have to persevere, practice patience and resilience, and be vigilant in taking the precautions that stop the virus from spreading.

Yet arriving at this new year is still a celebration. A fresh start always brings inspiration and energy, and we can take hope in the progress we’ve made in the midst of crisis.

On today’s cafe menu: lentils, a food eaten in several countries on New Year’s Day, or the eve before, to bring good luck in the new year.

As we head into 2021, who couldn’t use a bit of luck in their efforts? Wherever you are, I imagine some lucky New Year’s food was on your table too. Our red lentils above are flavored with curry, lime juice and coconut milk, served over brown rice, and topped with a chopped fresh spinach salad. What was on your menu?

Fight on, Covid warriors. With perseverance and a little luck, we’ll get through this together. Wishing you good health, good food, and good fortune this year.

Copyright M. Vincent 2021. All photos copyright M. Vincent.

Pumpkin Butter Chocolate Chip Muffin Day

MV_1045_PumkMuffins (640x480)

I’ve often wondered about those “days” in calendars or other publications that don’t correspond to established world holidays or celebrations. Who comes up with things like Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day? Old Maids Day? World Nutella Day?  As you might suspect, many were created by marketeers to promote products, services, issues or causes. Others, who knows?

This week I decided to make up my own. It was a cold, windy day in our generally temperate Southern California winter, and after a brisk walk by the ocean with my partner – shivering in several layers of clothing, plus hat, scarf and gloves – I was craving a tall hot coffee and a sweet treat to go with it.

I love the combination of pumpkin, classic fall-winter spices and dark chocolate, and muffins would be quick to bake …  A jar of pumpkin butter in the cupboard completed my inspiration. The result: a spicy, chocolaty, nutty muffin, low in fat and healthy too. A muffin that should have its day.

Pumpkin Butter Chocolate Chip Muffin Day is a moveable feast. Celebrate it any day you like from now until spring, whenever it’s winter in your part of the world. The muffin recipe follows. The rest of the celebration is up to you.

Pumpkin Butter Chocolate Chip Muffins


  • 1 cup (125 grams) flour: ½ cup whole wheat, ½ cup unbleached all-purpose
  • 3 teaspoons baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 ½  teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¼  teaspoon ground cloves (optional)
  • 1/3 cup (about 66 grams) brown sugar, packed
  • ½  cup pumpkin butter
  • 1 large egg
  • ¾ cup almond milk
  • 2 tablespoons light olive oil
  • 1/3 cup (40 grams) toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped
  • 1/3 cup (60 grams) dark chocolate chips (mine were 70% cacao)


  1. Heat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, salt and spices (cinnamon, ginger, and cloves, if using). Add the brown sugar and whisk it in well. Set aside.
  3. In a small mixing bowl, combine pumpkin butter, egg, almond milk and olive oil.
  4. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture. Pour the pumpkin butter mixture into it, and stir just until all the ingredients are blended. (Don’t mix too long or vigorously or the muffins may turn out tough. Add a bit more almond milk, if needed, to moisten flour mixture completely.)
  5. Fold walnuts and chocolate chips into the batter. Spoon batter into a lightly greased 12-cup muffin pan.
  6. Bake until lightly browned and a pastry tester or toothpick inserted in center of muffins comes out clean: 12 to 15 minutes. Take care not to bake too long. Let muffins cool in pan 1–2 minutes, then transfer from pan to a wire rack.

These muffins are best served warm. Stored in an airtight container, they stay flavorful for several days and can be reheated in the oven.

MV_0963_PumkMuffins on rack (640x480)

What’s your favorite unusual celebration day? Leave a comment. Comments on the muffins welcomed too.

Note: If some celebration days on your calendar or elsewhere leave you quizzical, see, a varied collection of “days,” several with information about their origins. Another good resource is, which tracks fun, unusual days, weeks and months; I found World Nutella Day there, with a link to founder Sara Rosso’s interesting story about its kickoff and history.

Copyright M. Vincent 2018


Runners and Dragons and Dogs, Oh My!

Where do they all converge? No, it’s not in a new Hollywood movie caper, but it is in LA – at the 2018 Firecracker 5K/10K Run that begins in the heart of Chinatown. Opening ceremonies with a dragon dance.  A 100,000-firecracker start-off for runners.  And, for this Year of the Dog, a special event for our canine friends. The Firecracker Run has all of these and more.

If you’re visiting Los Angeles during the Lunar New Year celebration and want to experience something beyond the usual tourist attractions, consider this wonderfully colorful local run with an associated festival. If you live in greater LA or nearby and haven’t discovered it, it’s a fun and friendly run and opportunity for another new year celebration.

This year, the 5K, 10K and Kiddie runs all take place on Sunday, February 25. You can register onsite on race day if you decide to make it a spontaneous adventure. Dogs and bikers have their day on Saturday the 24th.  See details, course and registration for all events here:

Running shoes Brad Nixon 5537 (640x327)

Our 10K Run Experience

The Firecracker Run celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. I discovered it in 2003, the Year of the Ram, when my partner and I were looking for a local 10K. Who could resist the historic Chinatown setting, cultural festivities and promise of fabulous city views?

There was the matter of that steep climb to Angel’s Point Summit, but we welcomed the challenge and promptly signed up. We enjoyed the course and congenial atmosphere so much we vowed to return, and made it back in 2011 – the Year of the Rabbit. We couldn’t miss celebrating our mutual Chinese zodiac year or the race swag with the great rabbit design:

The T-shirts and medal designs are especially appealing this year too (click on photos for larger image):

The 10K course winds through lovely Elysian Park, with views of downtown and neighborhood areas that even Angelenos don’t commonly see. While views from the top were stunning, we also particularly enjoyed the course descent and running down the shady, tree-lined road toward the finish. It felt like flying after climbing the hill.

We found this a well-managed run, and one where runners and walkers could take their own pace without impeding each other. Participants spanned varied competitive levels; on the “rabbit run,” many stopped to gaze at the vistas, take a breath, or shoot a selfie before moving on.

The first year we ran, it was so cold I couldn’t stop shaking as I stood in my shorts waiting for the start, grateful to be wearing a timeworn hoodie to cast off before the gun. The next time, it was as mild as an early spring day. Both times, we had one of those clear, sunny, energizing LA winter mornings, perfect for a scenic run.

2018 Year of the Dog Paw’er Walk

A dog walk was added for this year, with T-shirts and goodie bags for doggy participants:

Firecracker Dog Walk (640x640)

It’s a leisurely walk through Chinatown with many historic and landmark sights. For details and online registration: (Be sure to scroll down to the website’s course description for what you’ll see.) Pet Fest features dog nutrition and wellness information.

The Firecracker Weekend Festival

The Firecracker Run is part of a two-day festival that includes live entertainment, vendors and special activities for Kiddie Run participants, in addition to the running and biking events. Event proceeds benefit local elementary schools and community nonprofits.

Beyond the Guidebooks

My partner and I have found on our travels that rising early to take a run is a great way to see more of a place when your visit is limited – and to connect with its human, neighborhood side. Our morning runs in Venice and Nice are unforgettable examples. If you’re visiting this vast metropolis where I live, perhaps this run/walk will provide a memorable LA experience for you.

Regrettably, after a vicious bout of bronchitis with lingering after-effects, I won’t be running the Firecracker this year, but I hope some of my readers will.

Have you run this race? Will you be doing it for the first time this year? Please leave a comment.


Copyright M. Vincent 2018. Firecracker Run photos copyright L.A. Chinatown Firecracker Run Committee 2018, used with permission. Running shoes photo copyright Brad Nixon 2018, used with permission.