Allergy Friendly · Dairy Free · Dips and Sauces · Friendship · Side Dishes

Our People, and Summertime Fruit Dip

Dear Joey,

One of the hardest parts about moving was putting distance between ourselves and our people. But one of the easiest parts about moving is being close to our other people again. But my heart is divided because to be there means being with those people. To be here means being with these people. I love them all.

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There are people here, there are people there–shoot, we have people all over the place. We have people right across town, over the hills, up the valley in Napa and down the road in San Diego; we have people in the Midwest and people up North and down South and people all close enough to the Atlantic to go for a quick dip if the mood struck them. Our people are everywhere.

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But distance makes it difficult to see them very often–even the ones across town–and proximity matters when it comes to building friendships. It’s the people nearby that we end up living our lives with. Friendship is forged in the trenches of the daily, and enough small talk over time builds into something much bigger. Strangers turn into people we trust enough to pick our kids up from school in a pinch, and before we know it, they’re the people we live with, lean on, and love. It’s hard to say goodbye to that sort of security, even harder to start over.

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When I think about all our people, I wonder which ones will dissolve into a fuzzy memory as the years continue to slip by and which ones will remain a fixture in our hearts and home. Whose kids will our Goobies remember growing up with? Which ones will eek their way into their hearts and become their people? Who will we call at midnight when an emergency jerks us out of sleep? Which ones will hop on a plane if tragedy strikes? Who will show up to wave goodbye if our story leads us elsewhere and we move farther away than just across the hills? Who would pick up the phone at 10pm to settle an argument over cult classic movies and laugh with us as we bicker over whose favorite nostalgic movie was more important in the scheme of things: Mall Rats or Shag: The Movie?

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People move, and people move on. Out of sight, out of mind because what’s right in front of us demands our attention more than keeping up with people who aren’t in our immediate, day-to-day circle. The demands on our time shout loudly above the need of our hearts–to connect–and sometimes, friendships falter because of it. Keeping up with all the people all the time is hard. I wish I could be in both places (or really, all the places), all the time. I can’t, of course, but I think about all the people all the time. And I also wonder what new people are out there ahead of us, waiting for us to open our circle and extend our hands to them.

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Maybe that’s why we made the hour long drive to see our not-so-far-away people to swim and grill and indulge in their hospitality, pretending we’re far away and on vacation together. Maybe that’s why we keep asking our local people to come play at a moment’s notice, grilling and letting kids play outside until well after bedtime. Maybe that’s why I’ve made this fruit dip so many times this summer: when I’ve felt displaced, unsettled, and uncertain about where to plant my heart, this dip steadies me. Some people look at old pictures of the people they love (I seldom remember to snap them); others pick up the phone and call (I always feel like I’d be an inconvenience), but me? I cook because making recipes like this one is like grabbing the hand of an old friend while extending the other hand to a newer one, and I am safe, balanced right there between them both.

Love,

Scratch

Summertime Fruit Dip (GF/DF/NF)

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When one of our people came to visit this summer, it just felt right to whip up a batch of fruit dip–a creamy, dreamy wonder to which she introduced me well over ten years ago (thanks Felicia!). I couldn’t make her dip the conventional way (with regular old cream cheese), but I found a way to make a dairy free version that fooled my own mother. I’ve made it several times since that early summer morning well over a month ago now and one thing proves true: everyone loves it (not just the kids: it’s become a guilty pleasure among adults in our circle who tend to have difficulty with self-control around this stuff.) I recommend the Trader Joe’s brand Vegan Cream Cheese because I’m pretty much devoted to its clean, non-vegan flavor, but you could certainly substitute other brands that are accessible nationwide (such as Daiya), or just use regular cream cheese if your people don’t have issues with dairy. If you use another brand, taste and tweak as needed until the end result suits your fancy. 

Ingredients:
  • 1-8 oz. tub Vegan Cream Cheese (such as Trader Joe’s)
  • 1-7 oz. tub Jet Puffed Marshmallow Fluff
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
Method:

Whisk together all ingredients until fully combined. Chill for an hour or so to help firm it back up again. Serve with an assortment of fruit (strawberries, pineapple and cantaloupe are our favorites).

 

Allergy Friendly · Birthdays · Breakfast · Life with Littles · Motherhood

On Being Childish, Laying Bricks and Birthday Chocolate Chip Pancakes (GF/DF/NF)

er”When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child.

But when I grew up, I put away childish things.”

1 Corinthians 13:11 (NLT)

Dear Joey,

Yesterday morning I felt like a failure before my feet even touched the ground. I hadn’t even had a chance to come up short on anything yet, but there I was flirting with the lie that tells me to lift my hands in surrender anyway. The past few weeks have worn me down, sopping up the last few drops of my energy and leaving me very, very tired.

It was Mia’s fifth birthday, which is probably why I felt extra pressure right away in the morning. School mornings are loathsome evil things anyway, but throw in a little girl’s fifth birthday? A whole extra set of responsibilities and expectations greeted me before coffee even had a chance to be my cheerleader. For someone prone to perfectionism (like I am), I was overwhelmed before I started. I wanted to ignore responsibility and nestle deeper into bed, mumbling instructions to just pour the kids a bowl of cereal because I couldn’t bear the thought of making a birthday breakfast.

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Instead, I did what I always do: I stretched my legs, rubbed my eyes, and got up anyway because because that’s what moms do. We base being responsible on much more than a passing fancy. We show up and do the stuff we don’t really feel like doing because we love our kids more than our pillows. I trudged into the kitchen and pulled out my birthday morning breakfast arsenal and lined up the ingredients for the much-anticipated chocolate chip pancakes that only show up on someone’s birthday. And just when I was about to scoop out the flour, I realized my favorite recipe for gluten free pancakes was packed away in a box already, not to be unloaded until after our move next month. I hung my head in defeat.

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So much for birthday tradition, I thought, and for a moment I tried to convince myself that Mia would understand if I served a bowl of cereal this morning instead. She knows half the house is packed up already; surely, she’ll give me some grace. But the grown up inside whispered to the childish part of my soul: No, she won’t understand. She’s still a very young girl who is staggering through this transition too. She’s just as weary as you are, but uncertain too–and she’s counting on those pancakes to give her a little sense of stability.

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We have spent the past several years making these seemingly small, disjointed traditions a priority, laying the foundation to their lives–brick by small, seemingly insignificant brick–in hopes that as they will build their lives on the groundwork of love and stability. A happy birthday banner to greet them the morning; chocolate chip pancakes with a candle and the birthday song at breakfast; the You’re Special plate showing up again and again and again at the kitchen table, filled with the birthday child’s favorite foods; the anticipation of opening their four presents–something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to read. These traditions somehow became part of their birthday vernacular, and they speak of them with the sort of excitement and awe I always hoped they would. This is what their little lives are built on, isn’t it? Not the stuff–the tradition. And what is tradition without consistency? And oh, how important consistency is. Consistency breeds trust, and trust demands consistency, otherwise things break.

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Get over yourself and make the pancakes anyway, I thought, and I managed to whisk together a batch of batter that worked just as well as the other recipe. Maybe all those years of making them trained me for the day I would need to make them without help, I though as I flipped the first few golden round beauties dotted with gooey chocolate. And no sooner had I thought all this than I got distracted and annoyed and ended up overcooking (ahem, burning) a pancake (or five) and made a snarky remark to Addie after her very innocent observation that the pancakes didn’t smell very good. I was irritated, yes–because the comment sounded rude to my already-bummed out self who felt like I had taken the high road to make the pancakes in the first place, and an imperfect messy batch is what I came up with. Why did I bother at all? I wondered. But I saw the sad look in Addie’s eye and realized she hadn’t meant to be rude; she was being observant, and her remark wasn’t my progress report. I scolded myself for my short temper and made it right with the girl (“You know, you’re right–they do smell a little funny. I sure hope they taste better than they smell!”), settled into my chair, and slurped down my coffee before any more damage was done.

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Mia beamed as we lit the candle and sang her birthday song, and she happily ate her sort-of-burned pancakes, and so did everyone else (even Emery, the kid who usually just picks the chocolate chips out of the pancakes, actually said, “MMM! Thas good, mama!“). The overcooked pancakes turned out to be a problem in my mind alone. And as I watched Mia tear open her presents with the purest sort of joy there is, I was glad I hadn’t let my perceived stress get in the way of her joy.

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Most days I’m pretty realistic, meaning I know most things don’t turn out the way my perfect ideals dictate they ought to. But yesterday I let my eyes focus on the imperfect pancakes, my own bed head, and the idea that I wasn’t a very good mom because I didn’t greet the morning with lipstick and balloons. I sat and thought about how lucky I am that the Goobies focused on fitting raspberries on top of their fingers and savoring the rare treat of chocolate for breakfast. I’m the grown up, but I was acting far more childish than my own kids. As I watched you usher the Goobies out the door and into their day, I was left wrestling with all this and asking the Lord to help me grow up, to help me be the grown up and model good behavior for these kids who are watching everything. And wouldn’t you know, not long after that, He gently (and pointedly) reminded me of 1 Corinthians 13: 11, and how it’s ok — good, even–to be childlike, but it’s time to give up my childish ways.

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I do my best to do my best at mothering, which means sometimes I have to remind myself that I’m the grown up and do things I just don’t want to do. Getting up in the morning is a struggle for me. Being kind in the morning is too. Walking through my day being others-focused is not always easy. Sometimes, I slip into that peevish childish behavior I was supposed to have put away once I grew up. But in a bout of grown up wisdom, the adult in me scolded the child and reminded me that these are the moments upon which lives are built. It was our little girl’s birthday and we don’t get a do-over. It didn’t have to be my idea of perfect to be Mia’s idea of perfect, and because Mia trusts me, and trust is built on consistency, I did the grown up thing and chose to set aside my childish behavior to lay another brick. And then, I got to enjoy Mia’s birthday with childlike abandon.

Love,

Scratch

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These pancakes are simple and yummy–even when they’re sort-of burned. Leave the chocolate chips out if you want a plain pancake, or add blueberries instead (that’s the way Joey likes them). In a pinch, they can be made with a premixed bag of gluten free flour blend that already contains xanthan gum and measures cup for cup (like Bob’s Red Mill or Arrowhead Mills), but the finished product will be a little thinner and turn out crepe-like pancakes instead of these fluffy beauties.

Ingredients:
  • 2 cups gluten free flour blend
  • 1/4 sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups unsweetened original rice milk (or almond milk, or other dairy alternative–or just dairy milk)
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup refined coconut oil, melted (or other neutral tasting oil)
  • 3/4-1 cup chocolate chips, optional
Method:

Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together in a large bowl. Then, add the rice milk, eggs, and vanilla and stir well. Then drizzle the melted coconut oil into the batter, whisking as you go. (This is an important step because it keeps the coconut oil from hardening when it hits the batter.) Dump in the chocolate chips and give it one more good stir.

Over medium high heat, warm up a griddle and spray with coconut oil cooking spray. Scoop 1/4 cup of the batter onto the griddle at a time and cook until the edges have set and bubbles emerge on top. Flip gently and continue to cook until golden.

Allergy Friendly · Gluten Free · Growing and Changing · Love & Marriage · Pizza

On Golden State Basketball, and Golden Flax Pizza Crust

Dear Joey,

The Golden State Warriors are in the Western Conference Finals again, which of course means lots of things to lots of folks. To you, it means you caught one of their winning games live and in person during a season when they ended up moving on to the post season. To me (a girl who declined date-after-box-seat-date from you just a few years ago), watching those games with you means two things: first, people change. Second: pizza.

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Before we were dating, shoot–before we moved to this house–basketball didn’t interest me at all. It didn’t even tempt me to flirt with the idea of caring. The promise of box seats in Oracle Arena was wasted on me. But just a few short seasons later, I found myself married to you–a proven sports fanatic–and facing box seats of a different kind: seats in my own home that made me feel boxed out and left struggling because sports stole my husband.

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I made a decision just like the one I made seven years ago during the summer before Addie was born, the same year the Giants won the first of the three World Series titles they’ve won over the past several years. I didn’t care much for baseball at the time–not enough to watch every game, at least–but you did. I quickly realized I had a choice: I could plunk myself down on the opposite side of the couch and pout, hoping my mopey behavior would make you pity me enough to change the channel; I could hide myself away in the other room, fuming at menfolk for loving ball games more than their wives; or I could snuggle up to you and ask you to teach me about the game, and then listen and learn.

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Happily, I chose to listen and learn, and the more I understood about the game, the more I enjoyed watching it. Knowing there was an end to the season helped; I knew we could move on to something a little more me by the time Addie was born (because the baseball season ends before November). I enjoyed a little bit of control over the remote again that November (and for a few more after it) until sports continued to dominate our nighttime line up well into November and beyond, all because someone named Curry was doing something worth watching (whatever that meant). I rolled my eyes and felt a little defeated–and not very excited to listen and learn again. But I did, and you patiently fielded my questions, answering when you could and digging a little deeper when you could not. Now, nearly four years later, not much evokes memories so splendid of date nights at home than the idea of Warriors basketball and pizza.

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Pizza poses a problem around here though. I mean, clearly. Pizza is bread and cheese–you know, two of the three no-no’s around here that collectively make eating out a nightmare. Toss in the cost of ordering over-priced gluten free and dairy free pizza (both the expense and the risk are prohibitive, in my opinion), along with the time it takes to shop for and make homemade gluten free and/or dairy free pizza, all while trying to keep our diet consistent with that whole Hot Mama Diet thing, and suddenly we’ve got a real problem got a meal most folks take for granted. Pizza felt inaccessible. Except it’s pizza, for crying out loud! Depriving my you of the stuff at game time just felt fundamentally wrong, so I set out to make things right.

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Difficult as it may be to negotiate the Hot Mama way of life with allergy and budget constraints, it definitely has its perks. Were I not gluten free, and were we low carb a lot of the time, I guarantee I would not have even thought to use golden flax meal as a pizza crust.  True: we will never brag that this is THE BEST pizza crust ever. It is made from golden flax meal and eggs, after all. But it is the best budget friendly, awesome cracker-turned-pizza crust that allows us to eat Hot Mama pizza on short notice. Prebake a crust or two, stash them in the freezer, then load it up with yummy toppings and bake it again until its golden and bubbly. Emery even likes it topped with his beloved Daiya dairy free Mozzarella Style Shreds.  (And ok, to be fair, the girls don’t love it the way they enjoy more traditional pizza crusts made out gluten free flour, but they eat it just the same, saying it’s sort of like eating pizza on a cracker. Touche.)

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This measly little pizza crust played a big role in bringing me around to basketball though because I used it to butter you up before I fired question after question at you. Somehow you didn’t seem to mind them as long as you had something good to snack on between answers. That’s why this golden pizza crust goes hand in hand with watching the Warriors play basketball. Not because it’s the best gluten free crust I’ve ever made. (It’s not.) Not because it gives me the freedom to plop down on the couch and make pizza appear magically, as if from nowhere. (It doesn’t.) It’s a big deal because it’s quick and easy, it’s inexpensive, it’s flexible for food allergies, and it makes a dynamite BBQ Chicken Pizza that makes you feel like you’re not missing anything by watching the game at home with me, and not in those fancy box seats at the arena.

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Tuesday night when we finally got all those Goobies settled into their beds after an evening of playing the role of proud and involved parents at her school Open House, I was just as anxious to click on Game 2 against the Spurs and munch on that BBQ Chicken Pizza as you were (who am I?) because there’s no better view of the game than the one from our own couch.

img_5944-e1495149087449.jpgGolden Flax Pizza Crust

This recipe is essentially a trimmed down version of the Trim Healthy Mama recipe for Golden Flax Bread, a bread-like alternative that I never quite got on board with. While their Golden Flax “bread” is sort of eggy in texture, this one is not at all. By rolling the dough out, it becomes something like a giant cracker, and everyone knows that cheese clearly goes hand in hand with crackers. The texture is … different. But it is good all the same. If you’re watching your carbohydrates and still want a budget (or nut-free!) friendly pizza crust, give this one a try.

Ingredients:
  • 2 cups golden flax meal
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 T baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
Method:

Start by preheating your oven to 350°F. Then, spray a round pizza pan (or cookie sheet) with nonstick coconut oil spray.

Next, measure all ingredients together in a large bowl. Let the mixture sit for five minutes. The flax meal with absorb most of the liquid, thickening it into a spongy dough-like mass. At this point, plunk half the dough onto a greased cookie sheet. Lay a piece of wax paper on top of it and roll the dough out until it is about 1/4 inch thick. Remove the wax paper (carefully peel back the wax paper–it sticks if you yank it off to quickly!) and put the crust in the oven. Bake for 12-14 minutes, or until the edges are well set (golden and crisp, but not at all burned). Using a stainless steel spatula, carefully loosen the crust from the bottom of the pan, starting at the outside edge of the crust and working around the circle, gently lifting until the crust is completely separated from the pan. Place the crust on a wire rack and cool.

To top the pizza: Spread sauce, cheese, and all the pizza fixings your heart could desire on top and bake for another 8-10 minutes or so, until cheese is melted, bubbly, and golden.

To freeze the crust: Once the crust is cooled, wrap it well with plastic wrap, making sure each edge is sealed completely. Store in the freezer until ready to use.

 

Allergy Friendly · Baking · Cake · desserts

The Great Cake Debate, and Vanilla Confetti Cake (GF/DF/NF)

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Dear Joey,

When it comes to cake, you and I are contentious about which flavor wins: chocolate or vanilla. It’s an ongoing battle that will never end because we are so dead set in our ways that we cannot–and will not–change our minds. You could easily live without chocolate, but my life lived without it would be no life at all.

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It’s not that I hate vanilla; it’s just that I like to think of it as a canvas upon which to play with color, composition, texture and form, but for you vanilla is a finished work of art, complete just as it is. For better or worse, we choose to live peaceably in this environment. Plus, there are other flavors of cake that help smooth things over (like white cake with chocolate frosting, or chocolate cake with vanilla frosting. It’s all about compromise.)

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Through the years we’ve come to respect each other’s preference, of course, partially out of marital duty and partially because, well, we sort of understand each other a little bit more than we used to. We started listening to each other without trying to win the other onto our own team. Now we even appreciate–and even enjoy–the differing perspectives we bring to the dessert table. You will happily eat a slice of chocolate cake (or down a chocolate cupcake in one gulp so the Goobies don’t see you going back for seconds), and I accepted the idea that you actually enjoy the one cake in the whole world that sounds completely boring to me: white cake with white buttercream frosting.

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We try to lure the kids onto our own teams, but they generally have one foot in each camp because the truth is, they just plain like cake. Flavor matters little to them, as long as it tastes good. Given time, they’ll form their own opinions I think, but for now, cake wins.

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When I started tinkering around with baking gluten and dairy free treats , I tried to tackle chocolate cake first (clearly) because this girl can only live so long without the stuff. I knew it was only a matter of time before I would need to be fair to vanilla, though, if only for the sake of our marriage. Admittedly, I actually liked the result of my efforts (and am restraining myself from nibbling on a slice as I write this).

 

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I imagine some might say I liked this cake because my taste buds have forgotten what really good cake actually tastes like (given the fact that they are accustomed gluten free and dairy free treats taste like), but kids don’t lie about stuff as important as this–not ours, not any. Kids always tell the truth about cake.

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I served slices of Vanilla Confetti Cake to a gaggle of kids at a baby shower yesterday: kids with food allergies that span the gamut of the top 8, along with a few kids (like Addie) without any food allergies to speak of. The consensus? “More cake! More cake! More cake!” — and that right there, my friend, is sort of the whole point of tinkering around with these recipes in the first place: to make a cake that tastes good, one that kids think is yummy, a cake that everyone can all agree on–whether we fall in the chocolate camp or the vanilla camp, gluten intolerant or allergic to dairy, nut allergies or no allergies at all. With this cake, everyone wins.

Love,

Scratch

Vanilla Confetti Cake

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If dessert is art, this cake is a blank canvas in the best possible way. The confetti is only an option; leave the sprinkles out if you want a plain vanilla cake, or swap them out for mini chocolate chips (yum!) for a cake compromise. Smear Mema’s Buttercream on top for a classic decorated cake (as above) or serve with sliced strawberries and a dollop some coconut whipped cream for a springtime treat. Either way, you’ll end up with a masterpiece. This recipe makes two 8″ rounds or 24 cupcakes.

Ingredients:
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) Earth Balance Soy-Free Vegan Buttery Spread, softened OR 3/4 cup softened refined coconut oil (not melted)
  • 2 large eggs (or for an egg free version, substitute 1 very ripe medium banana, well mashed*)
  • 2 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened regular rice milk
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons white vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 3 1/2 cups gluten free all-purpose flour blend
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt**
  • 3 Tablespoons gluten free sprinkles, optional

*If using banana instead of egg, reduce sugar to 1 1/2 cups

**If using coconut oil, increase salt to 2 teaspoons salt.

Method:

Start by preheating your oven to 325°F. Then, spray two 8″ round cake pans with nonstick spray (or smear with coconut oil), then sprinkle a little gluten free flour in the pan and shake until the flour completely covers the oil. Set aside.

Next, sift together the gluten free flour, baking soda and salt together, and set that aside too.

In a large bowl of a Kitchen Aid (or similar electric mixer), cream the softened Earth Balance until it’s nice and smooth. Turn the mixer off, dump in the sugar and beat the two together until they get nice and fluffy. Turn the mixer off again, add the eggs and turn the mixer back on, making sure to whip well. Turn the mixer off.

Pour 1 1/2 Tablespoons white vinegar into a 2-cup liquid measuring cup and add the rice milk into the same measuring cup until you reach the 1 1/2 cup mark. Pour the vinegar/rice milk mixture to the batter, turn on the mixer again and mix well. The batter will look a little clumpy–do not fret. Turn off the mixer and scoop in the dry ingredients about a cup at a time–dump, then mix; dump, then mix; dump, then mix; then turn the mixer on high and beat until the batter is smooth and luscious, about 1-2 minutes.

Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 30-35 minutes or so, until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the comes out clean (mine were perfect at 35 minutes, but oven temperatures vary. Cool the cakes in the pan for about 5 minutes, then turn them out onto a wire rack and cool completely before frosting.

Allergy Friendly · Dairy Free · Eat Those Veggies · Life with Littles

How We Help Vegetables Disappear, and Magic Sauce (or Dairy Free Ranch Dressing)

Dear Joey,

I am such a traitor. There is a chocolate cake cooling on the counter, springy, beautiful and almost in tact, except for the place where it’s not in tact anymore because I couldn’t muster up enough self control to wait and taste it right along with the Goobies. My curiosity (or the fact that it’s lunchtime) threw my willpower out the window and I cut into that thing without thinking about my promise.

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It all started when neither Addie nor Mia wanted to finish the last bit of their lunch–the sliced cucumbers part, specifically–so I told them they could save them and finish them later on before they ate their afternoon snack. Their protests were met with a promise of my good example, and I virtuously preached about how I would be loading up with veggies myself in just a few minutes because my body wouldn’t be healthy if I didn’t eat vegetables every day, but here I am struggling because I totally broke that promise. Magic sauce didn’t even help.

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Magic Sauce–or, Ranch Dressing, as most folks call it–was born out of the need for a ploy to get the Goobies to approach the idea of eating raw vegetables with any sort of cooperation. Like most kids, ours didn’t make the switch from gnawing on soft, steamed veggies to crunching on big kid ones all that easily, and despite my vow to bring up children who wouldn’t just eat their veggies but enjoy them too, it took a little coaxing to get those girls to try them in the first place.

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Before actually having kids, I swore up and down I would raise kids like Julia, a little girl who lived across the street from me when I was in early Elementary school whose eating habits made all the other moms around jealous and confused at the same time. I mean, this little pixie of a thing toddled around our backyard happily munching on baggies full of raw cauliflower. I can’t imagine how her mother got her to do that.

 

The thing that finally made raw veggies sort of an ok thing in Addie’s book was dipping them in homemade ranch dressing. I just couldn’t bring myself to give her that famous store-bought version that apparently makes kids faint with hunger at the sight of a bowl full of raw celery, but when I figured out how to (easily) make my own homemade version? Ranch dressing became a thing.

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When we visited family in Kansas City a few years ago, we discovered your brother uses the same ploy to get his kids to eat veggies too, but he goes a step further by calling ranch dressing something else entirely, a name that captures kids attention and makes them excited to try it: Magic Sauce. They wanted to know, What does the sauce do? and, Why is it magical? The grown ups exchanged knowing looks that said, It makes your veggies disappear.

When we came home, we brought that name with us and it has worked for years. We came to count on the jar always being stocked, but once we found out about Emery’s dairy allergy, I knew its days in our fridge were numbered. As I suspected, that boy eventually started noticing it, and then asking for it, and then getting angry that he couldn’t have what his sisters got to have. And so, magic sauce disappeared from our kitchen and I wasn’t sure how the girls would cope with its absence at our table.

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Ketchup worked a little bit: Addie liked to dip carrots in it and Emery liked to dip green beans in it. Mia–with a more refined palate, perhaps–opted for aioli, a fancy name I gave to a very simple mixture of mustard and mayonnaise. Eventually neither sauce worked anymore.

And then one day, sort of out of nowhere, I realized making dairy free Magic Sauce at home was something I could totally handle. Out came the same supplies I used to use: homemade ranch dressing mix, mayonnaise, and milk–only this time, I used a combination of rice milk and vinegar instead of buttermilk. I whipped it all up and was almost happy with the result. The only problem was it was a bit runny, but I knew how to fix that: xanthan gum would thicken it up in a snap. (Being gluten free sure does come in handy–sometimes.)

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Magic Sauce made a come back in our house, true, but the real question was this: was this dairy free version any good–and not just good enough, but you know–like, yummy? The answer? Yes. All the Goobies happily eat it, you happily eat it, and we have a gaggle of disappointed kids when the bottle runs out. Magic Sauce indeed.

Every time I pour that speckled white sauce into tiny little bowls and nestle them alongside whatever veggies the kids request at mealtime (or nuggets, or pizza–because they’re kids, after all), I feel like I’ve done something good to bring a taste of normal childhood to the table. It’s a simple pleasure, but one that is important to me. I hate it when our kids feel like the other, you know? But I digress.

 

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Addie just came in and saw the rest of that nibble of cake sitting on a plate beside me. She eyed it. I smiled and whispered, “Want to try it?She nodded and ate the whole piece in five seconds, flat.

“It’s good,she said with a smirk.

“I’m so glad you like it. Now? Cucumbers.”

Love,

Scratch

Magic Sauce, or Dairy Free Ranch Dressing

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Ingredients:
  • 1 cup full fat mayonnaise
  • 1 cup Original Rice Milk
  • 1 Tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1/4 cup homemade ranch dressing mix
  • 1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum
Method:

First, make the ranch dressing mix. I use this recipe by Laura at Heavenly Homemakers (and have for several years), and I almost always have a jar of it stashed in my pantry.

Next, measure 1 Tablespoon white vinegar into a liquid measuring cup. Pour the rice milk into the same measuring cup until it reaches the 1 cup mark.

Then, combine the vinegar/rice milk mixture, mayonnaise, and ranch dressing mix together in a large jar or bowl. Sprinkle in the xanthan gum, whisking well to incorporate. The sauce will still be runny at this point, but will thicken up nicely as it chills. Pour the mixture into an airtight container (like a big mason jar) and refrigerate.

 

 

 

Allergy Friendly · Blessing · Sweets

Putting an Unselfish Heart on Display and Nonie’s (Non-Dairy) Magic French Fudge (GF/DF/NF)

8-11 God can pour on the blessings in astonishing ways so that you’re ready for anything and everything, more than just ready to do what needs to be done. As one psalmist puts it,

He throws caution to the winds,
    giving to the needy in reckless abandon.
His right-living, right-giving ways
    never run out, never wear out.

This most generous God who gives seed to the farmer that becomes bread for your meals is more than extravagant with you. He gives you something you can then give away, which grows into full-formed lives, robust in God, wealthy in every way, so that you can be generous in every way, producing with us great praise to God.

2 Corinthians 9:8-11 (MSG)

Dear Joey,

I made fudge this week, and oh how that pan of molten chocolate goodness beckoned me to slip away from the bottomless pile of dirty dishes and unfolded laundry and spend time with it instead of with much else.  Why do I do this to myself? We all know chocolate lords its power over me, and if the two of us are ever found in a room alone together, I just don’t stand a chance.

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My excuse? I was curious whether I could transform my Nonie’s legendary Magic French Fudge into a dairy free treat that could hold its own against my memory of her classic confection. My grandmother’s fudge was it at Christmastime for me, edging out Grandma Teague’s Russian Teacakes because of this one minor detail: fudge is really just chocolate.

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I know this is not normal behavior, daydreaming about fudge even as I change a messy diaper (Gross. But true.), and I realize most people do not spend the majority of their waking hours daydreaming about transforming the comfort foods of their childhood into allergy-friendly versions of themselves. But as for me, well–let’s just say it’s as common as packing a lunch or slicing apples or–yep–changing diapers. It sounds ridiculous, I know–just make a batch of the stuff already, Rach. Sheesh. But fudge is not the sort of thing people make just because they feel like it (unless you’re Monica Gellar and you’re trying to comfort your older brother who is in the throes of a tumultuous heartbreak). I needed a reason to make it, an occasion that warranted such a treat (and doubled as a good excuse). Since Valentine’s Day is next week, I took advantage because I figured I could sort of explain away the pan of rich chocolatey goodness by claiming February as THE month for chocolate (but I believe I could say that about any month, if pressed).

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It bothered me that even though Nonie’s Magic French Fudge holds a place of honor in my memories of Christmastime treats, I still hadn’t even tried to make an allergy friendly version of it. The Goobies are starting to remember, you know? And traditions aren’t traditions unless you do them again and again and again. Fudge wasn’t on their radar, and it’s something I wanted to plant firmly in their repertoire in the same way you want your Grandma Adeline’s kuchen to be. The key ingredient that makes Nonie’s fudge so magical posed a big problem, though: sweetened condensed milk contains dairy, clearly, and with a not-quite-two-year-old with a severe dairy allergy (and a sweet tooth the size of Texas), I wasn’t about to risk making fudge with the same ingredients my grandmother used to use because I knew Goobie #3 would find a way to get his grubby little hands on a piece or two. And so, we haven’t adopted Nonie’s fudge as part of our family’s Christmas treat line up.

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But–I happened upon a can of sweetened condensed coconut milk at some point in the past few weeks. I can’t remember when I first saw it exactly, but the moment I spotted it all I wanted to do was grab a can and scurry home to whip up a batch of my beloved fudge–but I didn’t. It wasn’t Christmastime, after all, and Nonie’s fudge dominated December, so making it at any other time of the year just felt a little…strange. But it’s nagged me ever since, so once February rolled around, I went back to the store and tossed a can of the stuff into my cart, quietly plotting when and how I could get away with attempting a dairy free version of it, and soon the idea infected me like a virus.

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Earlier this week, Mia unknowingly helped my cause when she asked if we could make something special in the kitchen after lunch, when her brother would be happily settled in for his nap and before her own quiet rest time. This is fairly typical; she soaks up my full attention for those few minutes as we measure, stir, pour, laugh. After licking the spatula clean, she skips off to her room, filled and happy. With the ingredients for fudge at the ready in the cabinets, I couldn’t not say yes to her, now could I? So clearly, we measured chocolate chips, melted them down, and stirred in the sweetened condensed coconut milk (or rather, liquid gold), and eased that molten goodness into a pan to set–all while restraining ourselves from breaking out spoons and making the stuff disappear. The funny thing is, once the pan was nestled deep inside the refrigerator to chill, all I wanted to do was give it all away.

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I realized this was a perfect opportunity to show the Goobies what an unselfish heart actually looks like. We talk about selfishness around here a lot lately, it seems, mainly because the girls often point accusing fingers at each other, screaming, “You’re being selfish! You need to share that with me now!” (Sigh.) They’re really good at spotting selfishness in others, but aren’t as good at actually being the thing they clamor for their sister to be: unselfish. And as I thought about that pan of fudge chilling in the refrigerator, I wondered: do we demonstrate unselfishness often enough, in a language our children can understand, so that they can see it, know it, imitate it?

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The idea of giving away that batch of my beloved thick, rich chocolate fudge actually hurt a little, so I paid attention that feeling. The girls would understand it wasn’t easy for me to freely give away something that meant so much to me (Wasn’t it Mia who wanted to give me a box of fancy chocolates for Christmas because she knew how much I love the stuff?) More than that, it hurt them a little too. They wanted to eat the whole batch just as much as I did. But I decided that putting an unselfish heart on display was worth more than hoarding it all for ourselves. So I sliced up that fudge into small little morsels, piled the pieces high, and wrapped them up to give them away. (Yes, I snuck a bite for myself as I did so, but let’s focus on the big picture here.)

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Those Goobies were conflicted, honestly. Excited as they were to bring that plate of fudge to the ladies at your office, they really didn’t want to give away so much of it. They were, not surprisingly, a little concerned about themselves. Their weakness for chocolate rivals my own, and they were a bit peeved I didn’t reserve more than just one piece of it for them. But they chose the higher road and fought over who got to be the one to carry the plate into the office and who got to actually hand the thing over, and after they finally gave it away, they put other people else first and didn’t even ask if they could take a piece or two for the road. (The lollipops they got from the ladies there might have helped.)

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The best part of the story, I think, is this: the day after we gave the fudge away,  Mia asked if we could make another batch so we could give more of it away, this time to our neighbors next door. And ok yes she also managed to squeeze in a suggestion that we not give all of it away this time, but I’m choosing to see this request as a win. When we give out of unselfish hearts, we all win. We are blessed so we can bless others, and when we bless others, we too are blessed. Clearly, my answer was yes. Clearly, I will let her lick the spatula and I will sample the finished product with her and I will even agree to keep a small portion of the stuff here for our family to enjoy, too, because isn’t this what we pray for almost every single night at bedtime when we thank God for blessing us, and ask Him to show us ways we can be a blessing to others?

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A small thing, fudge. Insignificant really. Almost too common or mundane to be all that exciting. But this once-Christmastime treat has planted itself firmly in my heart as a symbol of selflessly giving love away, which in my mind makes it a perfect treat to make in the middle of February.

Love,
Scratch

Nonie’s (Non-Dairy) Magic French Fudge (GF/DF/NF)

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Most families have their favorite recipe for fudge, I imagine, and this is ours. Nonie’s recipe sets the bar high in my opinion, because whenever I taste fudge from anywhere else (even fancy fudge made in artisinal chocolate shops), I tend to prefer hers. I’m not sure if there’s anything particularly magical about this recipe (and I have no idea where the name came from); I’m not even sure where she got the recipe in the first place or how it came to be her go-to recipe for fudge. But for me, this is the gold standard. Using sweetened condensed coconut milk made me nervous that the flavor would change (and taste like coconut-flavored fudge), but the finished product doesn’t taste like coconut at all. Of course, substitute regular sweetened condensed milk for the coconut version if your family can handle dairy, but after tasting this version, you may not even want to. I used Nature’s Charm Sweetened Condensed Coconut Milk, which is available at Sprouts for $2.99. Also, I like to use either extra dark chocolate chips, or a combination of semi-sweet chocolate chips and unsweetened chocolate squares (for a darker version than Nonie’s original), but you can use all semi-sweet chocolate chips if you prefer (use a total of 18 ounces of chocolate per batch).

Ingredients:
  • 18 ounces extra dark chocolate chips (or 14 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips + 4 ounces unsweetened chocolate; or 18 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips)
  • 1-11.25 ounce can Nature’s Charm sweetened condensed coconut milk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt
Method:

First, line an 8×8 pan with wax paper, making sure to create a 2″ lip (or so) of extra paper around all sides (this will aid with removing the fudge from the pan once it has set).

Next, set a glass bowl set over simmering water and gently melt the chocolate chips (or a combination of semi-sweet chocolate chips and unsweetened chocolate squares, as noted above), whisking as you go and making sure no water drips into the bowl. Once the chocolate is completely melted, carefully remove it from the pan of water (and turn off the stove). Pour in the sweetened condensed milk, vanilla and salt and whisk to combine. It will begin to thicken almost immediately, but don’t worry about that. Keep whisking until fully combined and smooth. Pour into the prepared pan, smooth with a spatula, and chill until set, about an hour or so.

When ready to slice, ease the fudge slab out of the pan by grasping the lip of wax paper and gently lifting. Peel the paper away from the fudge and set the slab on a cutting board. Slice as you like, and share the love.

 

Allergy Friendly · Side Dishes · Wrestling with Reality

Macaroni and Cheese–or, More Rightly: The Problem, and Vegan Creamy Noodles (GF/DF/NF)

“Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?

Matthew 6:26

“My God will supply all of my needs according to the riches of Christ Jesus.”

Philippians 4:19

Dear Joey,

We have a noodle problem in our house. More specifically, we have a macaroni and cheese problem.

I made a vow a long time ago that I would only ever make homemade macaroni and cheese, sans the box–you know, until I had two kids under two and time came at a premium. The less time I could spend in the kitchen, the better.

Over the years, I admit I got lazy. Boxed macaroni & cheese is easier to make; all you really have to do is pull the darn thing off the shelf and boil some water. The rest basically takes care of itself. Homemade macaroni and cheese involves a little bit more planning ahead, meaning you sort of have to know you’re going to make it and make sure the fridge is stocked well enough with milk and cheese to make the dish in the first place (milk and cheese turn sour and moldy. Boxed macaroni and cheese lasts forever.) Plus, taking the time to shred the cheese myself was a minor stressor that I didn’t have time for. For a season, I chucked the guilt and embraced Annie’s brand organic Macaroni and Cheese, thankful there was an okay-ish option out there for moms like me who were just too tired to make good on our virtuous vow to avoid overly processed convenient foods with an inflated price tag.

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Of course, that season lasted a little bit longer than I thought it would. Boxed macaroni and cheese is just so stinking brainless–the kids cheer when it shows up on the table every single time. When you’ve got picky eaters as well as food allergies and intolerances, having a no-fail meal waiting in the wings at all times is priceless.

After I figured out gluten is my enemy, I switched over to the gluten free version because cross contamination is a problem. And then, once Emery was old enough for big kid food, it got harder and harder to leave those garish orange noodles off his plate, especially when his sisters got so excited about them. He was not too happy to be left out of the party, and I knew the days of serving the stuff regularly were numbered.

Soon after that, I picked up a box of So Delicious brand gluten free/dairy free macaroni and “cheese” and quickly discovered how much Emery loved it. I figured Hey! This will appease the boy and provide a quick-fix for the days when my brain is fried! Woo hoo! But goodness, that stuff tasted (and smelled!) atrocious to the rest of us. For awhile, I bit the bullet and made him his own special box of it anyway whenever I made some of the gluten-free-dairy-full variety for his sisters, but it got expensive and tiresome and confusing juggling two different batches of orange noodles. Plus, I have more time to spend in the kitchen now–it’s easier to get dinner on the table than it was in those first bleary-eyed days of motherhood. My excuses for leaning on boxed macaroni and cheese were flying out the window fast. But Mia. She loves the stuff the way I love chocolate, and breaking the hold it has on her has been pretty much impossible.

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Clearly, I had a problem. And so, I did the only thing I really know to do when trouble stares me in the face: I prayed. I realize it might sound strange that I would talk to God about something so trivial as my macaroni and cheese troubles, but I believe He cares about me–about us, and that no problem is too small or insignificant for Him. Besides, at its core, the problem facing me is far deeper and more complicated; it is about so much more than macaroni and cheese.

The problem is about our food system and how broken it is and how someone like me who used to be so against all the mumbo jumbo of the food industry throws at us–even I am guilty of falling into the snare of quick and convenient. It’s about food allergies too, and about the simple fact that I don’t understand why the good food that God made to nourish and sustain His creation turned on our family, so to speak. It’s about how angry this all makes me and how trying to navigate the food allergy world is frustrating because I am not able to ditch the boxed stuff and turn to the normal real food standbys and say, “Problem solved!”

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After Emery’s scratch test, this all came to a head. I was bummed out about food allergies and feeling the sting of the grocery bills; I was weary of making two versions of practically everything at mealtime and tired of a picky eater who rejects just about anything I make for dinner unless it involves a noodle. I started talking to God about it, telling Him how ill-equipped I felt to do something so basic as feed my family well.

A few days later, the anger abated and I forged ahead with a little bit of clarity and in those moments God showed me something as I was unloading my current haul of dairy-free staples: God always provides. Time after time after time, in the great stories of the Bible and in our own, far smaller life story–it’s what He does. Truth be told, we have never gone to bed on an empty stomach, and neither have our children. My feelings are real and true, it’s not easy to juggle allergies and preferences and stretch our dollars, but we have allergy friendly options available to us and we have dollars with which to pay for them. Beyond that, I am equipped me with the things I need to make all this work: a passion for food and for feeding my family well. Kitchen know-how (enough of it, at least) and the willingness to try new things there. The kitchen never used to scare me–why should it now? It’s as if God reminded me of who I am and how He made me, and then urged me to look at our family’s food allergy reality as one to tackle with with courage and creativity instead of something to sulk about.

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And then my attention turned to the Trader Joe’s Vegan Cream Cheese I just restocked, the one that is one of many dairy-free building blocks with which I am learning to construct new recipes, and I thought about that Alfredo-like sauce I made a few months ago, the one I made up on a whim because creamy pasta sounded warm and comforting to me that night. I tossed it with gluten free pasta, grilled chicken and broccoli, and we didn’t have any leftovers to speak of. It occurred to me that a simplified version of that sauce tossed with gluten free noodles might make a suitable substitute for boxed macaroni & cheese. Turns out, I was right.

No, the creamy noodles I came up with do not taste exactly like their boxed counterparts (which is a good thing, when considering the vegan varieties pretty much taste like cardboard covered with cheese that went bad a long time ago, in my very frank opinion), but they do taste good. They are quick, easy, and everyone eats them happily (and the house doesn’t smell like feet when I make it). I didn’t go so far as to add vegan cheese-like shreds like I wanted to because our girls don’t like them (yet…), but for now this recipe works for me. For us.

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Mia does not love them the way she loves boxed macaroni and cheese, true, and often I will sprinkle a little bit of Parmesan cheese on top of her plate to really sell them to her (once Emery is strapped into his high chair, at least), but I am weaning her off of that because they really do taste good without it. Plus, Emery started noticing this minor little difference between his plate and hers and lets us know he does not like being told Sorry buddy, no cheese for you. The whole point of these creamy noodles is to make a dish everyone can and will eat, so the days of Parmesan cheese are numbered indeed.

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In the days since Emery’s scratch test, I came out the other side, in some ways. I am not happy about his allergies. I am not happy about Mia’s allergies either, or about my own issues with gluten for that matter. I realize now that this is not God’s fault. We live in a fallen world where human choice spoiled God’s good earth. In His sovereign kindness, God still provides even in the midst of this ravaged land. I do not believe food allergies were part of His good plan for creation. I believe our bad choices messed it all up (maybe not our family specifically, but humanity as a whole), yet somehow, in the midst of it all, He still takes care of us just like He promises He will.

There is still one lonely package of gluten free macaroni and cheese out in the garage, way up on the highest shelf tucked all the way in the back, but I don’t plan to restock the shelf. These creamy noodles aren’t the answer to every problem food allergies brought to our table, and perhaps they aren’t the most clean/whole/organic/healthy/perfect alternative out there, but they are a choice I feel good enough about, one that I know I will lean on like a reliable friend in the coming years.

Love,

Scratch

Vegan Creamy Noodles (GF/DF/NF)

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This recipe screams Allergy Friendly Flexiblity.  As written, it is free of gluten and dairy, but feel free to swap out alternative ingredients based on what your family can tolerate (if you are dairy free but can tolerate gluten, use wheat noodles. If you are gluten free but can tolerate dairy, use regular cream cheese, butter and milk. Or if you don’t have food allergies at all, use both–the recipe will still work.) We use Trader Joe’s Brown Rice Fusilli, but clearly, use your favorite noodles. Also, I cannot vouch for the flavor profile if you use other brands of Vegan Cream Cheese, but I think it’d be worth a try if your family likes other brands. We prefer the Trader Joe’s Vegan Cream Cheese, so that’s what we use around here.  To round out a meal for the kids, I sometimes add diced ham and frozen peas. Let your family’s preferences let your creativity soar.

Ingredients:
  • 8 ounces brown rice pasta (such as Trader Joe’s Brown Rice Fusilli)
  • 4 ounces Vegan Cream Cheese (such as Trader Joe’s)
  • 2 Tablespoons Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Spread (you can use a bit more or less if you’d like. No hard and fast rules on this one)
  • 1/4 cup plain, unsweetened Rice Milk
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon white vinegar
Method:

Boil 8 oz. gluten free noodles according to package instructions.

Meanwhile, set a medium sauce pan over medium heat. Plunk in the Earth Balance and Vegan Cream Cheese and whisk until the two have melted together. Pour in 1/4 cup rice milk, vinegar, onion powder and salt. Whisk until smooth, then add the noodles to the pan. Toss to coat and serve immediately.

If you have leftovers, add a splash or two of rice milk to help re-hydrate the sauce when reheating the noodles.