Control · Family Life · Food Allergy Family · Wrestling with Reality

Bananas, Strawberries, and Everything We Need

Our God gives you everything you need, makes you everything you’re to be.

2 Thessalonians 1:2 (MSG)

Dear Joey,

Mia is giving us fits lately. The stubborn little thing digs her heels in deep, stance stable and set, screaming “just try to get me to move.” It doesn’t work. She knows what she wants, and she doesn’t let up. It’s aggravating.

This is especially true at mealtime, when that kid flat out refuses to eat what she is given, insisting the only thing she will eat is macaroni and cheese and strawberries so if we would just get it through our heads that if we relented and gave her what she wanted, she would stop making a fuss at the dinner table. But we are the grown ups, so we hold our ground too and we give her the choice to eat what is provided or not at all. Let’s be clear: we are not giving her liver and onions for dinner, or whole roasted trout with lima beans. We are serving things like chili and tortilla chips; grilled chicken and rice; or hamburgers, for crying out loud. Normal, approachable food that other kids cheer for. But no matter: she will not yield to the things we provide. She does this because more often than not, she just plain does not like our choices for her.

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An example: bananas and strawberries. I have lost track how many times this girl has cried over them. I have cried happy tears over an impossibly sweet strawberry in the middle of summer too, but tears over bananas? The ubiquitous childhood snack heralded for its palatability among children? (Yes. So many tears.) The only way Mia dares put them in her mouth is if chocolate has rendered the banana completely unrecognizable (as in chocolate chip banana muffins). No matter how we try to spin them, the cost of eating a banana rarely tends to be worth the act of chewing and swallowing it. She does not enjoy bananas, so she does not see the point in eating them. But strawberries are an entirely different story. She would willingly eat strawberries with every meal every day of every week of every month of every year. When strawberries are the seasonal star, we let herself eat them to her hearts’ content because we buy them by the crateful every week. But in the dead of winter when strawberries are not in season, we cannot serve them often, if at all.

And so, fights. Tears. Begrudging obedience. In the process, we remind her about her choice in all this: she gets to decide whether to eat what is given to her or not (“Listen: we won’t always give you what you want, but we will always give you what you need. What you need is good food to fill your tummy. Tonight, it’s meatloaf, so we suggest you eat a few bites of it because you’ll be hungry if you don’t.”) Whether she leaves the table with a full stomach or not is her choice–not ours. We are off the hook because we provided the good food she needs to stay healthy and strong. We hope she will choose to fill her belly with the things we have provided, but we cannot make her swallow that darn meatloaf any more than we can make sweet strawberries flourish in the dead of winter. We can beg, bargain, cajole or get plain mad, but why bother? We have given her what she needs. The rest is up to her.

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I have been spending time with the Israelites, digging in to their story of rescue and redemption, finding myself knee deep in the wilderness just like they were. The manna situation reminds me very much of our struggle with Mia because no one really wanted the manna, a perfect, delicious, plentiful food they could count on to keep them well fed and comfy. It was superior to all the other food they ever ate in Egypt (I mean, this stuff was heavenly, right?), and yet they complained about it, even resented it perhaps. I wonder how many times they ate it with hearts begrudging the hand that fed it to them and wishing they could have something else, anything else. I bet they wondered why God did not seem to care they were craving the foods they really loved, the foods they missed from their old way of life. I imagine they toyed with the thought that if God really loved them as much as He said He did, He would give them the things they wanted most instead of forcing them to subsist on something they clearly did not prefer. But their ideas for what was best for themselves did not line up with God’s ideas of what was best for them.

So it is with us.

I gave Mia a banana on her dinner plate the other night, and she took one look at the the handful of slices piled up next to her peas and exclaimed, “You know  I don’t like bananas. Why would you put them on my plate?” I know bananas have potassium and magnesium and fiber, and I know the dessert she will be ask for after dinner does not have any of those things, and those nutrients are important to keep her healthy and strong. I know strawberries are expensive in the middle of winter and spending $5 every day on a measly pack of lack luster mid-winter strawberries is simply not going to happen. I know I have a jar of her beloved chocolate powder in the cupboard that I just have not put on the table yet, and I know I am going to sprinkle some of that powder on her bananas so that she will eat a few bites, at least. I know things about the food on her dinner plate she that does not know, but I also know things about her dinner plate she just could not know on her own.

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And ooof, if that is not the conclusion I have been drawing day after day in this long haul of a season that has left me broken in so many ways. My ideas for my own life clearly are not the same as God’s ideas for my best life. That thought is deep and marred by the fear that if my ideas for my life are good ones, and if God’s ideas are different than my own really, really good ones, I am tempted to believe that God’s ideas are not good. I identify with those grumbling Israelites: manna is monotonous and where’s the milk and honey you promised and why do we have to stay out here in the wilderness for so long anyway? I signed up for the Promised Land, and this is not it. Your plans must not be as good as I thought.

And like those grumbling Israelites, I keep complaining about the things I find filling up my proverbial plate, all while insisting God simply remove them and replace them with the things I want instead. I don’t want a sick, dysfunctional digestive system. I don’t want a life long battle with chronic conditions; I don’t want to take pills everyday; I don’t want to have surgery; I don’t want to have kids with food allergies; I don’t want to live in fear of gluten or peanuts or milk or any of the other allergens that cause serious problems in our household. I want a healthy body, and I want our kids to have healthy bodies too, and it doesn’t seem like an unreasonable request, either. I want to like what is on my plate, and I just plain don’t. And in the middle of it, I am convinced God is telling me the same thing we tell Mia every day: I won’t always give you what you want, but I will always give you what you need.

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Last week, I went to bed hungry, so to speak, sulking and angry because I was just so over what is filling my proverbial plate these days. Finally, finally, after months of feeling crazy, my GI doctor discovered I have biliary dyskinesia, which basically means my gall bladder is not working. Since I don’t have gall stones, I have been presenting with a mysterious symptoms that no one understands. Test after test after test insisted nothing was wrong with me, which clearly I knew wasn’t true. Either the doctors were terrible at their job or this phantom pain was a psychological invention, not a physical reality. But a HIDA scan showed the truth: my gall bladder wasn’t functioning correctly and out it must come. I had never been so happy to hear bad news.

Two days after surgery I was fretting over the level of pain I did not expect. Unrealistic expectations of a quick and easy recovery made my post-op pain feel like a death sentence. In the middle of it, I flung myself out of bed to help you find the emergency medicine bag; you were flustered and rushed, and the gravity of the situation forced me to move faster than perhaps my still-recovering body should have moved. But when Emery laid in your arms, swollen and floppy, eyes closed and unresponsive, I forgot about my own pain and flew to find the Epi Pen and administered it without reservation, even though I knew the sudden poke would hurt Emery. The fact that he would not enjoy the sudden sting of that shot paled in comparison to the reality that worse things would happen if I chose his comfort over what was best for him. His tears were a necessary problem to have in a grave situation like that. The tears told us he was alive. The tears, perhaps, even saved his life. I put something on his plate he didn’t want: pain. But I know things he doesn’t know. I won’t always give him what he wants, but I will always give him what he needs.

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I don’t want this reality, this life marred by pain and sickness and a body wracked with stuff that gets in the way of normal life. I’m mad that my own plate is brimming with disease, discomfort, and dietary restrictions that have left me sick and lost and confused and isolated. I’m frustrated that food allergies fill our kids’ plates, and I’m confused as to why God would think they’re a good idea when He knows how much we hate them. It’s bananas.

I don’t know why God is filling my plate with things I rally against, but I am not going to bed hungry tonight. Instead, I am choosing to believe the possibility that these things I loathe are making me into who I am, nourishing me in their own unique (unsavory) ways. I trust God knows things about all this I don’t know–couldn’t know. I don’t believe He’s unkind. I don’t believe He’s unjust. I don’t believe He’s singled us out to be on the receiving end of his wrath or ill-will. I believe the opposite, even though I’m eating bananas. And while I wish he would always give me what I want, I am thankful He will always, always, give me what I need.

Love,

Scratch

 

 

 

Allergy Friendly · Control · Family Life · Food Allergy Family · main dishes

Teaching the Kids to Camp (or Learning to Teach by Example) and Hobo Dinners

28-30 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

Matthew 11:28-30

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Dear Joey,

We started taking the kids camping this summer. Equipped with a new-to-us pop up camper and fueled by your adventurous spirit, camping sounded fun to all of us until the reality of doing so with three small children slapped us both in the face. I dreaded going because it sounded anything but easy, and while being outdoors and drinking in the warm, sweet scent of the redwoods is up my alley, the whole roughing-it-with-three-kids-in-tow part fills me with dread.

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I come by it honestly: the family vacations of my childhood involved running water, actual beds, and corner diners where kids eat free on Sundays. Roughing it for us meant five people sharing one bathroom and trying in vain to get a decent night’s sleep (which was challenging, since my dad and brothers all snored). Camping just wasn’t something our family did together, so the weight of your expectations for it all to go smoothly made me nervous before we even left the driveway.

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But the promise of an overnight camping trip practically made Emery come unglued. He shrieks with hysterical glee at the mention of the word camper, so the idea of actually going out in the camper overnight, with you? Talk about excitement. That kid is happiest just being near to you, and watching him watch you reminds me of how thrilling it must have been for the disciples to walk with Jesus all those years ago, living with him, learning from him. And your patient, nearly wordless interaction with Emery helps me understand what Jesus must have meant when He said, “walk with me and work with me–watch how I do it.” As soon as we ease the camper into its spot, he pops out of the Durango with one thing on his mind: being at your side as you crank and secure and connect and make ready. You hardly have to say a word: being with you is enough for him.

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The Goobie girls learn by watching too, of course, but we’ve slipped into the habit of doing things for them because it’s easier to keep them out of the way until suddenly we remember we ought to be teaching them life skills and we end up barking orders left and right in the name of proactive training (and retraining) that elicit tears, not results. They end up trying to follow a stringent set of rules they don’t fully understand, and we get angry when they break those rules or when our instructions are met with blank, confused stares.

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We end up sitting them down to have a lengthy discussion about the do’s & don’ts and how’s & why’s of this that or the other. It’s forced, and the girls couldn’t care less about whether we think it’s important for them to follow those rules or not. They are burned out. Why do we think we’ve got to sit them down and lecture them about rule following instead of letting example be their teacher? Jesus didn’t go around checking off a what-not-to-do list with His disciples; He showed the how to live by living that way Himself and inviting them to join him. Shouldn’t we do the same?

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We’re trying, of course. At least we know this about ourselves (right?). But it’s extra challenging when it comes to camping because the onus falls on you to take the lead because you are the one who actually knows what he’s doing, and it’s a tall order for you. Your patience runs thin against your will, like that last time we took the camper out for a quick over night trip when those Goobies tested your patience before they even got out of the car, for goodness sake. They didn’t know campsite etiquette or decorum; they didn’t know their boundaries or eve what to do, really. They wanted to help, but didn’t know how to help, and I didn’t know how to have them help either. So they played in the dirt and complained and cried and I tried to keep them quiet (ha!) as you tackled setting up camp on your own.

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The hard truth is that your fuse for little people who still didn’t know a thing about how to camp was short, and you spent the evening fighting the urge to lose it with the kids. At breakfast the next morning, after one too many cereal spills and too-loud early-morning giggles, your stern face betrayed the fact that you were frustrated, upset, and not having fun at all. I quietly put my hand on your arm and whispered, “If you want the kids to enjoy this, you’re going to have to change your attitude.”

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In that moment, you realized this: the kids don’t know how to camp, and they won’t know how to camp unless someone teaches them. Of course kids run and jump and scream and shout, laugh and giggle and chase and zoom this way and that, gathering sticks, making dirt roads, balancing on old logs and flinging piles of leaves toward each other. They run down hills and shine their flashlights in each other’s eyes and sing at the top of their lungs and exclaim at the beauty of the forest without feeling sorry about it (and is that really a bad thing?). They don’t know how to help or what not to touch or what leaves are ok to touch and which ones are poison oak; they don’t know how close is too close to a campfire or how to roast marshmallows; they don’t know the value of sitting quietly to appreciate the echo of chirping birds–they don’t know because, well, how could they? When you  realized this something clicked, breaking down the idea that the kids instinctively should know how to do things you’ve known how to do for decades. You realized the only way they’ll learn is if we teach them. I imagine that’s why Christ came and taught the way he taught. Clearly the rules and regulations of religion weren’t cultivating relationship, and so He came to teach a better way of living by example.

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That trip shifted something inside you, and armed with the promise to do better and be better for the sake of all our sanity, we set out for another camping trip, and oh, what a difference. We all worked together to set up camp; the kids jumped in and found ways to be helpful almost without any instruction from us at all. Mia swept; Addie decorated; Emery turned the crank. We went exploring and found white fallow deer and a shady bench beneath an ancient redwood tree and sat, quietly watching the Goobies relish the wide, unrestricted space of the mountaintop and all the dirt that went with it, digging, drawing, and dancing in the stuff. Dirty faces and dusty clothes in tow, we came back to build a campfire and cook dinner. You situated the Goobies’ chairs, taught them how to respect the fire, and set about showing them how to roast hot dogs and marshmallows right along with them instead of doing it for them. And the evening was sweet, fairly stress free, and promising.

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The kids walked away from that trip wishing it wasn’t over so soon and begging for another camping trip to be in the near future. It wasn’t perfect, exactly, but it was wonderful. We showed up and worked hard and exercised patience–and we enjoyed each other. By the grace of God, and with His help, the kids learned so much more this time because we taught them–you taught them–with so much more than words.

Hobo Dinners

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Hobo dinners are a new-to-us camp food experiment that will certainly turn into traditional fare around our campfire. Root vegetables, onions, meat, fire–these are the simple things that kept fed families for generations, and making them in the crisp September twilight made camping seem totally doable–and enjoyable, too. I love how easy they are to throw on the grill–fussing around with dinner prep was one of my biggest objections to taking our food allergy family camping. As if feeding the five of us isn’t complicated enough, throwing camping into the mix made my head spin. This time around was even harder, what with me on the Autoimmune Protocol and Joey on the Whole30, dinner at a campsite made me want to cry. But then in a moment of inspiration, I thought, “Oh yeah! Hobo Dinners! I’ll try those.” I saw the idea for them earlier this summer when we first got the pop up camper, but just hadn’t tried them yet (hot dogs were just easier the last couple of times). But this time, Hobo Dinners came to my rescue and they were a hit. Use stew meat instead, or add some potatoes or mushrooms, and throw in whatever seasonings sound good to you. This recipe yields 4 portions, so multiply as needed. You’ll see the recipe is more of a method, so don’t fret too much about quantities. (In fact, you can cook two burgers in one packet if you want to.) Follow your gut.

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Ingredients:
  • 1 1/2 pounds ground beef
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon sea salt, plus more for seasoning the veggies
  • 3 cups root vegetables (sweet potato, carrots, parsnips, yukon gold potatoes, etc)
  • 1/2 cup sliced onions (red, white, yellow–use what you like)
  • a few glugs extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
 Method:

First, mix seasonings into the ground beef–mush it all together and form into four patties. Set aside.

Peel and slice the root veggies. Toss them in a couple of glugs of olive oil and sprinkle with salt (and pepper, if you you like; I omitted this for AIP).

Assemble the packets:

Arrange two 2′ lengths of aluminum foil in a cross. Place the root vegetables in the center, top with an uncooked patty and drizzle some more oil on top. Fold the first layer of foil up over the burger and crimp, as if you were rolling up a paper bag. Then do the same with the bottom layer of foil, enclosing the first packet in an outer layer of foil and crimping tightly, so that the foil is sealed.

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To cook:

Place the packets on top of the campfire (use the grate provided!) and let cook directly over the flame for 15 minutes. Remove, and let rest for a minute or two (they’ll be hot!). Unwrap foil and enjoy.

 

 

Allergy Friendly · Control · Dinner

Things Don’t Always Go the Way I Think They Will, and Quattro Rosso Sauce

“We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.”

Proverbs 16:9 (NLT)

Dear Joey,

Tuesday night was such a departure from my expectations–not because what actually happened was so far outside of the norm that I walked away all that surprised by the turn of events. In fact, that night turned out to be what most folks might call typical. But for me, the way the after school hours unfolded revealed again that I can (and should) make plans for my day, but ultimately, I have very little control over what actually happens.

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Just after I panicked about what to do about dinner, I rushed out the door to pick up Addie from school so I could whisk her over to ballet class on time. Once she was settled in the car, munching on her granola bar and humming along to the music, I reminded her we were on our way to ballet. Her response surprised me: “Ugh. I forgot it was ballet today. I don’t want to go.” She insisted she just didn’t like ballet, and I was surprised to hear it. This is the girl who used to wear tutus all day long and beg me to click on a YouTube video of real ballerinas dancing in The Nutcracker so she could mimic their every move. She practically begged us to let her take ballet lessons, and up until now she seemed to really enjoy them. This complaint seemed a little out of left field.

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Except for it wasn’t, really. She didn’t want to go to ballet last week either, but when she asked not to go on that particular day I just figured she didn’t want to leave her post at the kitchen table. She hadn’t had school that day and so she set out her markers and tracing paper on the table and colored to her heart’s content. Ballet, I assumed, was an unwelcome interruption in her creative flow for the day. I was mistaken. There was more to it than that.

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We dialed your number and talked together with her about all this in the car, sort of on the way to ballet and sort of on the way home. She admitted she was just so tired at the end of her school day that dancing was the last thing she felt like doing, and she just didn’t love ballet as much as we thought she loved it. We decided it wasn’t worth forcing her to do something she didn’t really want to do in the first place, and if being at home sounded like the best thing in the whole world to her? Well, that was alright by me.

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So it turns out I did have time to make zoodles with Quattro Rosso sauce for dinner that night after all. But I still wasn’t sure about whether you were bringing home take out or not (you didn’t), or whether our friends would be coming over to join us for that night’s basketball game (they didn’t), so while I waited for answers I just did what felt right: I started in on that sauce with just the one pound of thawed ground turkey that was ready and waiting. I figured if friends came over, we’d just send you out on a taco run; and if they didn’t come over, well, we would just eat those zoodles. I chopped garlic and browned the meat and whirled the roasted peppers into velvety submission. The sauce was simmering when you got home from work early and said this to me: “You have two choices: we go on a walk right now, or we eat dinner right now and go for a walk after. Either way, we’re going.”

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The zucchini hadn’t been spiralized yet and the Goobies’ brown rice noodles hadn’t been cooked yet, so clearly eating right then wasn’t going to happen. But the idea of leaving for a long sunset walk and feeding the kids a late dinner made me panic. I like spontaneity in theory, but the practice of it is tough for me. But I clicked off the stove and set the pot of water for noodles aside anyway, and we loaded up the wagon with snacks, blankets and children to set off for an adventure. I did it begrudgingly at first, I admit. But the kids couldn’t have cared one whit about a later than normal dinner time. They were happier than I have seen them in a long time–full of glee and excitement. They shrieked and smiled and obeyed and embraced the idea as if it was the first time in the history of the world that a dad suggested taking a wagon ride at sunset.

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We were gone for over an hour and by the time we got home those Goobies were hungry. They ate their noodles with  Quattro Rosso sauce with gusto (and without complaint) while I spiralized the zucchini. Later that night, after take-home projects, baths and bedtime stories, after they were finally in bed and I felt too tired to blink let alone cook again, I somehow mustered up the energy to tackle the pile of uncooked zoodles waiting for me in the kitchen, and we ate them piled high in our bowls and swimming in that beautiful red sauce as we watched the Warriors lose a game we expected them to win.

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I was exhausted by the time we went to bed. My brain was aching from the strain of a stop-start afternoon and evening, but I rested well in spite of it. My mind didn’t replay the events of the afternoon, keeping me in that frantic place where dinnertime seemed like such a problem to be dealt with instead of a time to enjoy. Instead, God whispered to me in those quiet moments, reminding me when I surrender my will to His and open myself wide to the mysterious truth that His ways are higher and better and far more exciting than mine, my stress sort of just melted away.

So much about my life feels out of control these days, but in his kindness, God took me by the hand and showed me that He’s leading me through my harried days, and I am so glad about that. This life is far too hectic to handle by myself, and really, I don’t know why I ever try to.

Love,

Scratch

Quattro Rosso Sauce

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I came up with this fancy red pasta sauce nearly three years ago, probably on a day when the cupboard was fairly bare and I’d have to get creative to get dinner on the table. We liked the magical combination of the four red elements in this sauce enough to write down the recipe alongside a note that reads, “Mia devoured this. ‘More! More! More!'”. This time around the girls were old enough to ask why I call it Quattro Rosso Sauce. When I explained I gave it that name because there are four red ingredients in it: roasted red peppers, tomato sauce, grape tomatoes and red wine, they both raised their eyebrows and Mia said, “Oop, I feel like a grown up.” Joey and I giggled and asked her why she felt like a grown up, and she said, “Because I’m eating wine.” Enjoy the sauce over pasta (like our kids did) or zucchini noodles (like we did, which would make this an S for you Trim Healthy Mamas out there. Or use lean ground turkey and serve it over zucchini noodles to make it an FP.)

Ingredients:
  • 1 pound ground turkey
  • 1-12 oz. jar roasted red peppers (or a combination of sweet peppers, such as the ones from Trader Joe’s)
  • 1-15 oz. can tomato sauce
  • 1/2 cup red wine (such as Pinot Noir or Cabernet Sauvignon)
  • 1 pint grape tomatoes, cut into quarters
  • 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 teaspoons herbs de Provence
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
Method

First, mince the garlic. Then, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook gently for a minute or two, just until they become fragrant (and be sure not to burn them). Once you start to smell the garlic, add the ground turkey to the pan and then turn up the heat to medium high or high (being careful not to burn the garlic). Add 1 teaspoon kosher salt and stir the meat, breaking it up as it cooks.

Meanwhile, drain the roasted peppers. Using a food processor (or a blender, if you don’t have one), whirl the peppers, tomato sauce and herbs de Provence together until smooth. Add the mixture to the browned ground turkey and give it a good stir. Next, add the grape tomatoes and wine and mix well. Bring the sauce to a gentle boil. Cover and lower the heat so the sauce gently simmers for a good half hour (at least). The longer the sauce simmers, the better the flavor.