Quinoa Salad with Cherry Tomatoes and Basil for Betty’s Birthday

Quinoa Salad with Basil and Cherry Tomatoes

My mom found solitude and a sense of calm through weeding and deadheading. She was always saying, “I’m headed outside to work in the yard.” And there she would go with her gardening gloves, a pair of shears and an old plastic grocery bag….the opaque kind with handles from Safeway or Fred Meyer…into which she would drop the spent petunia blossoms or the faded roses.

When I was quite young, I did not have an appreciation for her sanctuary. I couldn’t understand why someone would spend the time weaving a brick walkway to our front door and only to flank its sides with rows of purple heather that simply attracted bees and prevented my 8-year-old self from ever skipping along that path like Dorothy in her red slippers. Instead, I pressed myself flat against the side of my house and side-stepped my way to the driveway where I then sprinted into the cul-de-sac and avoided all contact with my mom’s lovely handiwork.

But as I grew older, I started to take notice of her garden. Her hedge of bright blue hydrangeas. The raised bed of cherry tomatoes. A row of staked raspberry canes along the driveway. Japanese maples, pink azaleas, and star magnolias. The way she tended to her lavender in such a way, that she was able to turn those blossoms into handstiched sachets that are still fragrant years later. And always, she always grew roses. Hybrids, old-fashioneds, repeat bloomers and one-time wonders.

I started accompanying her to nurseries and on garden tours and reading Dulcy Mahar’s gardening column in The Oregonian, just like her. I quizzed her on the names of plants as well as their care. I was in awe of her encyclopedic knowledge of the botanical world.

During the growing season, she never showed up at my house without little unexpected gifts. A sandwich bag full of cherry tomatoes or a few stems of basil, a handful of raspberries or a fragrant bouquet of freshly-cut roses – their ends wrapped in a damp paper towel, covered with tin foil and then, held together with a small Ziploc bag and a rubber band.

About eighteen-months ago, maybe a little more, the gravity of my mom’s health started to become apparent. She was having trouble swallowing. I, of course, would never have admitted out loud that the symptoms she was experiencing would lead to her passing less than two years later but in the back of my mind, intellectually, I knew that something was gravely wrong.

During this time period, my dad was out of town for a couple days. I can’t remember why now but it wasn’t anything out-of-the-ordinary. The plan was for me to check in on my mom from time-to-time. She was still driving and taking care of herself. She could still talk fairly well.

Mid-week, about an hour before I needed to pick up my youngest from school, my phone rings and it’s an alarm company. “Hi this is “such and such” alarm company. We show an alarm going off at the Cook residence and you are on the call list. Are you able to tell if this is a false alarm? Are you able to turn off the alarm?”

I was thirty minutes away from my mom. This timing assumed there wasn’t a speck of traffic on any of the major highways I would need to travel to get there.

In that pause, between the alarm company asking the questions and me formulating a response, my heart started to race and my mind instantly overloaded with “what ifs.” The “what if” my mind settled on was, “What if she choked on something and wasn’t able to call for help so she pulled the alarm? I can’t get to her quick enough. She won’t make it.”

I explained the situation to the alarm company and had them send out emergency help. I proceeded to pace up and down my kitchen floor, my heart still racing, my breath shallow. Complete panic choked my mind. I called my sister. My brother. “What should I do?” I called the alarm company back, “Did you send someone?” I called the local police station to see if I could get information more quickly, “Is someone at my parents’ house? Is my mom okay?” And that half an hour of waiting for information felt like years.

And then my cell phone rang. The caller-id showed that it was my mom calling.

“Hi sweetie, I’m sorry I gave you such a scare. The day is so beautiful and after my coffee with the gals, I pulled into the garage and went straight into the back yard. I was deadheading my pots, soaking up the sun, and thinking about what a gorgeous day it was when two very handsome young firemen walked out from inside the house and asked, ‘Is everything okay with you, ma’am? You have a very worried daughter.’ I didn’t realize that the side door from the garage to the yard had a silent alarm on it.”

Of course she had been out in her yard. Her garden. And how I wished I hadn’t disturbed her.

My mom’s birthday is this coming Saturday. She would have been 71. I will be spending the day getting my tomato plants in the ground, my petunias and geraniums in pots, and planting roses. While I’m “working in the yard,” I will be sending up all kinds of Birthday wishes to my mom. I can’t think of a better gift for her.

“Happy Birthday, Mom!! You are missed deeply, but thank you for giving me the garden as a place in which to always spend time with you.”

With love,

A little plate of cherry tomatoes


Quinoa Salad with Basil and Cherry Tomatoes
5.0 from 1 reviews
Course: lunch, side dish. salad
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 8
The last five years of my mom's life, in particular, she was a health nut. She was determined to fight her illness and one of the ways she chose to do that was by eating only food that nourished her body. She gave up gluten and became an advocate for quinoa. In my family, I've had a hard time selling quinoa to the kids. I find that it has a rather green, unripened taste to it - more so than the grains we are used to such as wheat. To lessen this grassy taste, I toast my quinoa before I cook it. My mom would have loved this salad, especially using herbs and cherry tomatoes from her own garden. Although, she would have used Balsamic vinegar, her favorite, as opposed to the sherry vinegar I use. Enjoy!
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • ¼ cup minced shallot
  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 handfuls of fresh spinach leaves
  • 1 handful basil leaves, chopped
  • ½ cup feta cheese, crumbled
  • 2-3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
  • 1-2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Couple pinches of salt and pepper, to taste
  1. In a medium pot, heat two tablespoons olive oil. Add in your shallots and saute over medium-low heat until softened about 4-5 minutes.
  2. Pour in your quinoa and toast for 2-3 minutes, stirring often so the quinoa does not burn.
  3. Pour in your water. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let simmer, covered, about 12 minutes or until all water has been absorbed by the quinoa. Remove from heat and let sit for another 15 minutes. Fluff with a fork and let cool.
  4. In a large bowl, combine your quinoa with the tomatoes, spinach, basil, feta, 2 tablespoons vinegar, 1 tablespoon olive oil, and salt and pepper. Taste. Add the remaining vinegar and olive oil if you feel it needs it.
  5. Serve at room temperature. Enjoy!



  1. Damn.

  2. Kameron says:


  3. Beautiful… x

  4. Love.

  5. Leslie Bridwell says:

    so sweet

  6. Funny, my mom always wraps flowers the same way (with the paper towel, tin foil, bag and rubber band) of course, now, I do as well. I love the little things we learn from our mothers! 🙂

  7. Such a lovely and touching tribute for your mother’s birthday.

  8. Maria Gore says:

    Love it! Love how you can write things so beautifully that I can feel and understand what your feeling. And end in tears ….
    Thank you for your sweet stories.