Wednesday, September 18, 2019

All That Sand is Seasoning.

Let me start with a quote from a local acquaintance, “This red dust covers everything, even food.  Might as well call it seasoning.”  True to its nature, when the desert soil/sand is disturbed, the wind picks up the particles and transports it everywhere.  Since moving to Monticello, I am on vacuum cleaner number 5.  Seems no matter how many times the filters and canister are washed, or canned air used on sections I cannot take apart; the electronic reaper pays a visit.  Ah-ha, thank goodness the company I purchased from gives a new two-year contract with each replacement vacuum!  Oh dear, that means vacuum number 5 may be leaving this earthly realm for its regularly scheduled death and reincarnation.

What got me thinking about the sand is looking at photos of sandstone, especially sandstone walls located at Sand Island.  The gist of the geology is Navajo sandstone; dating back to Early Jurassic, it formed while the Colorado Plateau was basically a “sea of sand”.  As the Plateau rose and formed new layers, Navajo sandstone tended to be dryer and less resistant to wind and water erosion.   Since this sandstone is softer, it is no wonder why ancient art work, or rock art, can be found destroyed.  Yes, there is the introduction of “modern man” who did not understand the value of this rock art, and many still do not.  However, the natural elements do take a heavy toll upon it.

“In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it hast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” — Genesis 3:19. 

“Nothing is forever, not even the strongest of rock, nor the Earth itself”, and you can quote me on that.

What does sand have to do with food?  Essentially it is a cooking tool; in China and India, a large wok is filled with black sand and heated to high temperature.  Chestnuts, peanuts and hard shell nuts are buried in the hot sand, occasionally turned with a spatula; the sand and nuts are separated through a wire-mesh screen.  Ever been to a real Hawaiian luau?  I was lucky to attend two which featured authentic cooking of Kalua pig (pork cooked in an underground oven called an imu).

The feel and texture of fine sugar can be likened to sand, and is much tastier, believe me.  Brown sugar comes from sugar cane or sugar beets, boiled down to extract a thickened liquid and that is how molasses is made.  The remaining crystals from the brown sugar are refined further and white sugar is the result.

Well now, I have taken you on a journey which began with the red dust/sand of the Colorado Plateau, rock art of Sand Island, cooking with sand itself, and ending with brown sugar.  Guess I better give you a yummy recipe to go with all that sand…I mean brown sugar.  Oh, it comes with how to make vanilla glaze, just think of it as edible sunscreen.

Cinnamon Coffee Cake with Vanilla Glaze


For the Topping:
1 cup + ¼ cup sifted flour
9 Tbsp. butter, softened
¾ cup brown sugar, packed
4 tsp. cinnamon

For the Cake:
8 Tbsp. butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar + 2 Tbsp.
2 large eggs
1 cup sour cream, plain Greek yogurt, or softened cream cheese
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup + 3/4 cup flour (if high altitude, add 3 Tbsp.)
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. baking powder

For the Vanilla Glaze:
1 cup powdered sugar
2 Tbsp. milk
½ tsp. vanilla


Preheat oven to 350F; spray an 8 or 9-inch, square or round, pan with nonstick baking spray (option: sprinkle 1 tsp. cinnamon throughout pan).

In a medium bowl, mix all ingredients for Topping until well incorporated and mixture is crumbly; set aside.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and granulated sugar; add eggs one at a time to fully incorporate.  Mix in sour cream, yogurt or cream cheese plus vanilla.  In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking soda and baking powder.  Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and mix well.

Pour half batter into baking pan; sprinkle half topping mixture over all.  Pour in remaining batter and spread evenly.  Cover with remaining topping evenly.

Bake for 40 – 45 minutes, until a toothpick comes out cleanly.  While cake is cooling, prepare glaze by mixing all ingredients together in a small bowl.  Drizzle glaze over slightly warm cake.

Makes 8 servings.

Mary Cokenour

Want to do a bit of exploring?  Go to Sand Island and find the Mammoths.