Allergy Friendly · Family Life · What's for Dinner?

Better, Not Easier, and Crispy Baked Tacos

“Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other;

let us show the truth by our actions.”

-1 John 3:18

Dear Joey,

The Goobies have been bugging me.

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I know why: the four of us have been together constantly from the moment we left California–that’s a month and a half without much of a break. Moving to a new state compounded the normal stresses of summer, and here we are two weeks away from school starting and the day can’t get here fast enough because (confession): I’m a wreck.

So much togetherness became too much togetherness for my introverted self. Most days I want to hide away in the deepest corner of our closet, lock the door and never come out again, but dang it, I love those kids, so I greet each morning with a half-hearted smile, willing myself to give choosing what is better over what is easy my very best shot.

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Last summer the days crept by, but this summer flew. It’s not exactly a good thing either, because even though I can’t wait for school to start, I am also dreading the fast and frenzied mornings that will quickly turn into late nights spent toting kids to and from soccer practice and helping them get their homework done, all while squeezing in dinner and keeping Emery busy and stimulated, and us connected to each other.

“It gets late quicker in Kansas, doesn’t it?” you asked me last week, when it was suddenly 9:30 pm and I was still folding laundry.  I think we said said hello to each other when you got home from work that day, but that quick exchange of words and kisses may have been the only moment completely ours. Most conversations get hijacked by one Goobie or another, because they are just as cooped up as I am and they miss you all day too.

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Two nights ago we tried really hard to slow down and recharge, so we tucked the Goobies into bed by 8:30, making sure the girls had books to read and water to sip, then tip toed out to the patio to sit side by side and actually talk to each other. It didn’t last long.

They came out to join us one by one: first Addie, having finished The Princess in Black quicker than we thought she would and not quite ready to succumb to sleep yet. We smiled politely and listened, and when we realized she just wanted to start the next book in the series before turning out her light, I took  her by the hand and went upstairs with her, handed her the book, and whispered another goodnight before closing the door again.

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Not long after that, out came Mia, who flashed us the smile that sets souls on fire and curled up in the rocking chair across from you, poised and ready to participate in grown up conversation. We indulged her for a few minutes (recognizing we don’t often get one-on-one time with her either) before giving her another round of hugs and kisses and walking her back to bed.

The quiet of the night returned, fireflies and lightning flashing bright in the star-studded sky. We talked about blue Wisteria trees and the allegorical quality of Frodo Baggins; the powerful testimony of the apostle Paul and the beauty and gravity of being made human, marveling at the idea that God sees something good in any of us. And then Addie opened the patio door a second time, eyes weary of reading but not heavy enough to close.

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We feigned happy faces, frustrated as we were to be interrupted again. And yet, I opened my arms wide and she came running to me, latched onto me and held tight while you ducked into the kitchen for that box of Pfeffernusse cookies hiding at the top of the pantry. You broke open the box and silently handed one to Addie, who took the cookie with wide eyed wonder, thinking it must be too good to be true. She hesitated to taste it for only a moment until she saw the look on your face, the look that told her it was hers to enjoy. She eased her grip on me and snuggled close to you, listening to you talk about your grandma Adeline–our Addie’s namesake– and the way those spicy German cookies connect you to her memory. I think you hoped they would connect Addie to her memory, too.

We sat like that for a half an hour at least–or maybe more–who knows. Time slowed and we didn’t care what time it was. It was sort of a miracle. Addie’s head rested on your chest as she laid there watching the stars, needing nothing else in the world but you.

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Sometimes we get focused on what we need and end up unwittingly dismissing the cues our kids send us about what they need. It’s not on purpose, and usually the things we need to keep us connected aren’t bad things on their own. We hadn’t sat down to speak to each other without one of the Goobies hanging around, interjecting their childish opinions and derailing our conversations, for weeks. And yet–clearly we haven’t made time to give the girls what they need either. How often do any of them get us, together, alone?

We don’t always choose what is better instead of what is easier–in this case, setting aside our own agenda for the sake of showing love to the kids–but that night, we did. Yes, we still need to make the time to talk to each other beyond a quick hello, but our small sacrifice of focusing on what Addie needed right then, in that moment, felt right. She didn’t need lectures about obedience or staying in bed or how our bodies will eventually fall asleep even though it’s hard–she needed us to let her hang out with us. For as much as we tell her we love her, she needed us to show her our love by not saying anything at all.  Spreading our arms wide and pulling her close; sharing cookies and watching a storm roll in; walking her back up to bed as the rain started to fall and singing one last lullaby before saying goodnight–the girl woke up happier than she has in weeks.

I woke up in better spirits too, I think. The Goobies didn’t seem so annoying yesterday, and somehow we managed to squeeze more good out of a single day than we had in quite some time, as if that small act of kindness empowered me to keep on giving them the love and attention they need.

Love,

Scratch

Crispy Baked Tacos

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A couple of weeks ago, after a particularly difficult day of wrangling kids (who were just as sick of each other as they were of me), Joey swooped in and rescued my sanity by taking the Goobies to the pool for an hour before dinner. This was a win-win because not only did I get a little bit of much-needed time by myself, but the kids came home to a real dinner (and not just ham & cracker sandwiches, which would have been the dinnertime solution had Joey not come home right when he did.) After an hour’s worth of playing hard in the pool, Addie walked into the kitchen and smiled wide, sighing as the aroma of her beloved Crispy Baked Tacos greeted her. (It’s one of her absolute favorites.) Sticking with the ham & crackers and putting my feet up while they were gone would have been easier, but this dinner was definitely better in so many ways. A simple green salad and sliced cantaloupe makes the meal complete.

Ingredients:
  • 1-15 pack Stand ‘N Stuff taco shells (or regular ones, but the stand & stuff are more cooperative)
  • 1 pound ground beef or turkey (I use 85/15, but you can use a leaner version if you prefer)
  • 1-16 ounce can refried beans
  • 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 4 Tablespoons / 1 ounce homemade taco seasoning (or 1 packet store bought)
  • 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
  • salt, to taste (it won’t need munch–just a pinch or two)
  • 1/2 cup Follow Your Heart brand Vegan Cheddar Style Shreds*
  • 1/2 cup Follow Your Heart brand Vegan Parmesan Style shreds*

*Or use the equivalent of at least 1 cup of your family’s favorite vegan or dairy cheese (but in our opinion, Follow Your Heart brand wins). And I won’t hold it against you if you use more than a cup of cheese–before we were dairy free, we piled lots of cheddar on top, but now we use the vegan varieties more sparingly.

Method:

First, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Next, spray a 13 x 9 glass baking dish with cooking spray and line up the taco shells all in a row. You will probably need an extra 8 x 8 glass pan too, so go ahead and get that one ready as well.

Move on to the filling: brown the meat over medium high heat. Once browned, but not crispy, sprinkle the taco seasoning on top and toss to coat. Then add the vinegar and a couple pinches of salt and stir well to combine (these two together will wake up the flavors, so don’t skip it!). Next, add the tomatoes and beans, stir to combine well, and cook for 2-3 minutes, then remove from heat. Let the filling sit for about 5 minutes to firm up just a bit (if you try to fill the tacos too soon, the filling will still be runny).

Spoon the filling into the taco shells–about 1/3 cup each, then top with the cheese. Pop the pan into the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the shells are golden and the cheese is melted and golden. (Yes! Even vegan cheese melts and turns golden!)

Serve immediately–or as soon as you can. The filling will be hot, but the shells have a tendency to turn soggy if they sit too long. This never stops any of us from polishing off a taco or two (or five, if we’re talking about Joey).

 

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