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).

 

Dairy Free · Dinner · Food Allergy Family · Freezer Food · Gluten Free · Learning from Mistakes · Take Out

The Problem with Restaurants, and Easy Oven Baked Turkey Meatballs (GF/DF/NF)

Dear Joey,

You are the sweetest, most thoughtful man alive. When challenging days threaten to push me over the edge of insanity (and steal my kitchen mojo in the process), you offer to rescue me by bringing home take out. (Or maybe it’s you that’s saved, because let’s face it: walking through the door with take out in hand saves my sanity and saves you from bearing the brunt of my bad day. You’re an automatic hero.)

Lately I’ve been declining the offer, and no, it’s not because my days are any less frazzled than they have been lately. On the contrary, they’ve been just as harried and frustrating as ever, and I imagine they probably will be for the foreseeable future. Here’s the thing: I just don’t trust take out–not right now, at least.

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Since my body was ravaged by gluten over the past several months, even the tiniest bit of it sends my body reeling, and I have to press the reset button again and again and again. The timing couldn’t have been worse, really: keeping a house clean enough to show to potential buyers on a whim is pretty much impossible when you have to still, you know, live in the house (and cook in the house). Between staging and photography; showings and open houses; inspections and more inspections, the stove sat idly by while we took the Goobies out to eat so many times they started whining about it. “A restaurant? Again?”

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More often than not, neither of us ate a thing, opting to eat hummus and veggies or sheet pan nachos after the kids were in bed because actually getting food into our own mouths while cajoling the kids to eat makes exactly zero sense, not to mention the fact that trying to decipher menus requires fluency in a language we are both still trying to learn. It’s hard being a food allergy family. When the five of us go out to eat, we have no fewer than eight foods to avoid, and while Mia’s peanut and pine nut allergy has become increasingly easier to manage; avoiding dairy and casein is trickier, but possible; and gluten becomes harder and harder to weed out.

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Even so, the allergen information and gluten free menus at our go-to places have worked well enough for us, mainly because we’ve gotten used to what is safe and what isn’t so safe for each of us individually. Over time, and without a definitive positive result for Celiac Disease, I grew a little lax with my standards for gluten free fare in restaurants–mostly because a girl’s still got to stay sane, right? (And people “out there” keep reassuring me that people with a mere gluten sensitivity don’t have to be quite as strict about adhering to gluten free fare.) The gluten free items were gluten free enough for me, until suddenly, after the vitamin incident, they weren’t anymore. The tiniest speck of the stuff throws my body into an uproar now, maybe because I’m still healing, and maybe because after being gluten free for so long, reactions are easier and more contamination I did the only I knew to do, of course: speak up. Ask questions. Dig a little deeper. Be particular. Don’t take labels at face value, but look them in the eye, challenging them to prove it. In the process, I found answers that both disturbed and angered me.

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Like that afternoon we took the Goobies to a favorite Mexican spot for lunch. I felt ok enough about going there. We’ve eaten there before and the menu clearly states that most items on the menu are gluten free, but if in doubt, ask the server for more information. Not taking any chances, I chose three “gluten free” items and asked our server about them. After he told me the chicken in the first two dishes had been marinated in beer, I didn’t even want to hear about the third. I stopped him, pointed at the gluten free note, and tried my best to calmly help him understand that the note is misleading, and dishes labeled gluten free aren’t gluten free if they’ve been marinated in beer.

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The server got defensive, of course, saying that the chicken can be substituted with something else that is gluten free, and I do understand special markings indicating which dishes can be modified to be gluten free. Here’s the thing: That’s what should be captured in the note (“The items marked GF can be modified to be gluten free. Please ask your server for details.”) As it stands, the note about gluten free menu items means absolutely nothing at all.  From that point on, I trusted not one more word out of his mouth. I may have skipped lunch that day, but I learned two valuable lessons: 1) Always ask for clarification, on everything, every time; and 2) Emery is a salsa fiend. Both are equally good to know.)

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Sensitive is such a soft word, and saying I have a “gluten sensitivity” makes me feel like I sound like a wimp. People like me are gluten averse, gluten antipathetic–not sensitive, for crying out loud. (And while we’re on the subject, restaurants with a “Gluten Friendly” menu just don’t get it, do they? Talk about a misnomer.) Menus like that just aren’t all that helpful anyway, especially when accompanied by a note that clearly states “Food in this kitchen is exposed to cross contamination. Not recommended for people with Celiac Disease or Gluten Sensitivity.”

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This matters because cross contamination is a thing. It is very real. I know how nutty it sounds that foods like scrambled eggs cooked on a griddle shared with pancakes, or french fries cooked in the same oil as chicken nuggets aren’t safe, or that they could wake up the body’s anti-gluten army and make the next several days miserable. But that dastardly gluten is teeny tiny, and it likes to stick around, and so how could a gluten free bun toasted on the same surface as its gluten-laden counterpart not come into contact with the stuff? Even the most minute amount can hurt people who are sensitive to it. Not just, like, cause a little tummy ache, but actually damage the body and incite an array of problems that make a simple tummy ache seem preferable.

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I still don’t  understand it all, of course. I’m learning too, right along with you. But what I know is this: eating food prepared anywhere but our own kitchen is risky right now because my system is sensitive. (Blech.) Sure, there are many Celiac Friendly restaurants (and I am thankful for them), and I want to trust folks who do their best to provide menu items that really are gluten free. Bless them for the extra effort it takes to do such a service.  But the fact remains that the overwhelming majority of restaurants are not friendly for gluten averse folks like me. It makes me sad and angry and frustrated and defeated we can’t just pile the Goobies in the car on a whim and head out to our favorite spot for a sloppy burger with a big ol’ mess of fries to celebrate an ordinary Friday night. It makes me even angrier that my limitations limit you, too, and that our kids are missing out on some of that stuff along the way as well.

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We’re adapting, of course, because that’s what we must do if we’re going to survive, right? And besides, there are worse things in the world than cooking and eating at home. Like having bare cupboards. Or not having a home. Or not having a way to feed our family at all. Really, being able to cook food at home is a blessing, and not a bad thing. In fact, it really is the best thing for so many reasons, and I love most of those reasons, which I suppose I can even poke fun at ourselves every so often (Like when I said, We watched that little bunny scamper toward a bowl of what looked like amazing ice cream, and as you salivated, I said, “Now there’s something that would kill three out of the five of us,” and we laughed and laughed and laughed because it felt so true.)

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So the next time you offer to bring home take out, please don’t be surprised if I say “No, thank you.” It won’t always be this way, and you really are my hero: your offer is almost as good as a break from cooking itself. I wish I could say yes with abandon, plop down on the couch, throw my feet up on the coffee table and let you serve me. (Wait a second–who says that can’t still happen? Don’t underestimate the power of a man in the kitchen. If I stash plenty of real gluten free (and dairy/casein free; and peanut/pine nut/sunflower seed free) foods in the freezer, sending you in to cook them might be sort of like take out, right? All you have to do is take it out of the freezer and heat it up.

Hm. Let’s try that.

Love,

Scratch

Easy Oven Baked Meatballs, Two Ways (GF/DF/NF)

This recipe was born out of frustration that my kids loved meatballs, but they took a ot of time to make, and buying prepared gluten/dairy free convenience foods comes with trouble all its own. Pictured here are Italian Style Meatballs, perfect to drench with marinara sauce, but if spinach freaks your family out, leave it out or try the other, more basic version that follows, (which is delicious smothered in barbecue sauce). Either way, coconut flour is my favorite grain-free binder for this recipe because it adds body to the meatballs without too many added carbohydrates, plus it absorbs moisture like super sponges. 

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Ingredients for Italian Style Meatballs:
  • 2 pounds ground turkey
  • 1 pound frozen spinach, thawed, drained, and most moisture squeezed out
  • 2 Tablespoons coconut flour
  • 2 eggs, lightly whisked
  • 4 teaspoons onion powder
  • 4 teaspoons Italian Seasoning (or 2 teaspoons each dry oregano and dry basil)
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper, or more to taste
Ingredients for Regular Meatballs:
  • 2 pounds ground turkey
  • 2 Tablespoons coconut flour
  • 2 eggs, lightly whisked
  • 1 Tablespoon onion powder
  • 3 teaspoons dry parsley
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper, or more to taste
Method:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line two baking sheets with aluminum foil and spray with coconut oil non-stick spray.

Next, dump all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl and smush them together (don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty). Once the meat is thoroughly mixed up with the spinach and spices, wash those hands and get scooping, using a 2 T/ 1 1/2 inch scoop (which makes the job quick). Line those meatballs up like little soldiers, about 24 to a pan. Bake them as they are, or smooth them out a bit (like they are in the picture above) by rolling them gently between the palms of your hands. Either way works fine.

Pop the trays into the oven and bake for 18 minutes.

For the freezer: Let the meatballs cool, then plunk them into a two labeled gallon sized zip top bags (for two batches of 24 meatballs, each), or use one batch now and save one for later. Your call.

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.

 

 

 

Breakfast · Dairy Free · Gluten Free · Tinkering with Recipes

Tinkering with Recipes (Even Ones I Love!) and Roasted Sweet Potato and Sausage Breakfast Casserole

Dear Joey,

You may have noticed I made a Roasted Sweet Potato and Sausage Casserole a couple times in the past several weeks. I have my reasons for so much repetition, of course, and bless your heart–you never seemed to mind when your question of “What’s for dinner?” was met with “Well, there’s more of that sweet potato-sausage-spinach-egg thing in the fridge …” Nights like those don’t bother you at all as long as you can slather warmed up leftovers with your beloved Green Dragon sauce, which is part of the reason I toss a bottle into the cart at my weekly trip to Trader Joe’s even if we still have a full bottle at home. There’s no such thing as having too much of that stuff.

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In your defense, sometimes hot sauce–Green Dragon in particular–saves the day when my kitchen experiments don’t go very well. It launches otherwise forgettable food into the realm of fun food for you, so clearly having bottles stashed every which where in the kitchen bodes well for me, especially since my experiments usually progress like this: disaster, mediocre, pretty good, keeper. (It’s true–I tend to make the same recipe over and over and over again until I get it just right. I don’t know why I can’t just leave well enough alone.)

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Ok so fine–this means I sometimes run a recipe into the ground, making it so many times that eventually the kids feign a still-full stomach from lunch or an upset tummy to avoid having to eat it for dinner–again. It’s a compulsion, I guess: tinkering with recipes until I find it, that secret something that launches a recipe’s status from meh to it’s a keeper.

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In my defense, I don’t do this to all the recipes. It usually happens when I try a new one and I either 1) despise the finished product, even while still believing in the idea of it, or 2) love the recipe so much that I want it to be perfect. Either way, I end up fussing over the thing ad nauseum–sort of like how you get excited when you come home to a clean house and immediately start wiping down the counters again after I already scoured the darn things. I used to get offended when you did this because I really thought you were telling me “You suck at cleaning. I better come in and do the job right.” I was mistaken. You’re a clean freak, yes– but not a judgemental one. You take what I’ve done and take it a step farther, tinkering with it a bit until it meets your own unique set of expectations. In the same way, when I tinker with a recipe, it’s not because I think its a bad recipe. On the contrary, I tinker because I care. I tinker because I think the recipe has merit, promise–a future in our family’s recipe rotation.

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To those concerned, rest assured I get acquainted with each new recipe before I go messing with it too much. I follow the rules at first because you’ve got to know the rules before you can get away with breaking them. And so, when a new recipe comes my way, I let it lead, and where it goes, I follow. As soon as I’ve gained its trust, that’s when the recipe starts confiding in me, whispering about how it always wished it could have just a pinch more salt or another drop of vanilla, or how it never liked ground ginger anyway and would much prefer the real thing, thank you very much.

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Remember that sweet potato-sausage-spinach-egg thing I talked about earlier? It is an example of taking a really solid recipe and making it my own, launching it from already really good to a definite keeper. The first time I made it, I liked it a lot–so much, in fact, that I couldn’t imagine being more satisfied with the finished product. The second time I made it, I started tinkering. I rounded the measurements of sausage and sweet potato out of laziness, really, and I started to wonder what would happen if I used an even dozen eggs instead of the 10 it called for.  As I cracked the tenth egg into the bowl, the other two eggs in the carton just looked lonely, staring at me with sad eyes that seemed to say, “What about us?” I didn’t have a good reason to leave them out of the fun, so I caved and let them join the party. So I sprinkled a little more salt and stirred them up, making the eggs mingle and dance as the whisk did its job.

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And so, my own version of this very delicious in its own right recipe was born. It’s a keeper around here, one that halts Emery in the midst of his morning outside playtime, one that he actually cheers for (“Yay! Yay! Yay!“) while he’s waiting for me to fill his bowl with another helping. The spinach didn’t even deter the kid. True: this recipe didn’t need tinkering in the first place, but it established this breakfast casserole as a staple in our home. And that, of course, is the whole point of tinkering anyway.

Love,

Scratch

Roasted Sweet Potato and Sausage Breakfast Casserole

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(I credit Juli at PaleOMG for this recipe and honestly–the original version is perfect as is. I just can’t help but tinker.)

I made this recipe the first time I hosted an If: Table at my house, and I was a little nervous about it because I don’t usually make a new recipe for the first time the day I intend to serve it to other people. But the ladies around my table that morning assured me it was delicious, and Lisa has even asked for the recipe. I take that as a compliment, of course–but alas, I can’t be credited with the original idea. I love this recipe for so many reasons, but the main reason is: it is naturally gluten and dairy free and it is delicious. This is a big deal, people! Especially when you want to make something the food allergy people in your life can actually eat. So Lisa, this one is for you, and Michelle–you too, and all the other ladies who have yet to join our conversation. Because If: Tables can happen around breakfast tables, and because yummy allergy friendly foods exist, and because making food for food allergy friends shouldn’t be make you sweat.

Ingredients:
  • 1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1″ pieces
  • 1 pound breakfast sausage
  • 1/2 cup yellow onion, diced
  • 12 large eggs
  • 2 cups fresh spinach leaves, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (+ more to taste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • coconut oil, melted (or other fat of your choice)
Method:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease a 9 x 13 glass baking pan and set aside.

Toss the peeled and chopped sweet potatoes with the melted coconut oil, sprinkle with salt, and toss to coat. Spread the sweet potatoes into an even layer on a cookie sheet and pop them into the oven for about 20 minutes. Take them out and set them aside to let them cool a bit.

Meanwhile, cook the onions and breakfast sausage together in a skillet, breaking the sausage up into smallish pieces as you go. Cook until the meat is no longer pink. Remove from heat and spread the mixture in the bottom of your 9 x 13 baking pan, then move on to the eggs.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs together, then add the salt and garlic powder and stir to combine. Toss in the roasted sweet potatoes and spinach and gently mix them into the eggs. Pour the mixture over the cooked sausage. (In hindsight, of course, I realize you could mix the sausage right in with the eggs and sweet potatoes and sausage–feel free to do so. Tinker.)

Bake the frittata at 400 degrees for 30 minutes, or until the eggs are well set, puffed and golden and perfect.

Breakfast · Dairy Free · Faith Journey · Gluten Free · Wrestling with Reality

Change Is Coming–Came, Really, and Pink Strawberry Pancakes (GF/DF/NF)

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

Hebrews 11:1

Dear Joey,

I piled the Goobies into the car and drove through that windy canyon over to the other side of the hills to take the girls for a visit to their new school. It was a whole month ago now, on a Friday when another storm decided to swoop in and pound California with more rain. This particular visit was a strange combination of serendipity and providence. The Goobies’ were off of school that week, strangely, for Winter Break, and while so many other people (all the people, it felt like) were trading dank gray clouds for sunshine and fresh air, we hunkered down and spent a week cooped up at home for what felt like no reason at all-until that Friday when God used something ordinary to teach me a lesson in obedience and faith.

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Like most things lately, I didn’t have such a good attitude about it at first: just thinking about Winter Break and ten days spent inside with three spunky kids teased the last string of my already frayed sanity loose. I normally scoop those Goobies up into my arms as soon as we tumble through the garage door after all those hours spent away from each other, smothering them with kisses and cries of “I’ve missed you all day long!” even as they try in vain to hang up their jackets and backpacks. Imagining ten days of so much togetherness made me want to run and hide myself away until Winter Break had come and gone again.

Winter Break came anyway. The sun decided to poke its head out early that week and blue skies beckoned me to come out of hiding. Fantasies of setting up camp under a blanket in a quiet corner of the house (where hopefully no one would find me) evaporated, and before I knew it those Goobies stole my heart all over again as we spent those few beautiful days just being us, here, together.

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Winter break turned out to be a break in Winter, and that strange, out-of-the-ordinary week was a gift I didn’t know I would need: one last beautiful week spent here in our home before change became reality and took up residence with us. It was Valentine’s Day that week, and I decked out the table with bright colored hearts and pink Strawberry Pancakes, and we spent hours outside blowing bubbles and playing red light green light and flying upside down on the swings those Goobies love so much. I said yes as much as I could, and remembered the days before Emery joined our brood, the days when I spent everyday entertaining those girls here at home without the pressure or restraint of schedules. Those days slipped by without me really knowing they could, and I think I’ve had a hard time coming to terms with the fact that they are almost gone. For one lovely week, I got to experience that joy again, and remember.

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Friday came and winter came back with it, bringing another pounding rain storm. The week was over and reality set in and I put on my brave face as I piled those three pajama-clad Goobies into the car and drove West, weaving my way through a wet, windy canyon, toward change.

What a feat to pry those kids off the couch and settle them happily in the car before breakfast. None of them really wanted to trade their cozy little spot on the couch for a cold car seat and a long, gloomy drive through that windy, soggy canyon. On a day they could be marathon-watching Goldie and Bear and munching on chocolate chip banana muffins, they somehow managed to hear my voice above the din of Disney Junior and heaved their pajama-clad selves into the car without complaining. They munched on baggies full of dry Trader Joe’s O’s and listened to music and played quietly among themselves without arguing once.

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I couldn’t get over the fact that they didn’t complain. They complain in the best of circumstances, but on that particular morning when I forced them into the car without a warm breakfast in their bellies, and raced them toward a new unfamiliar reality, they kept quiet. These kids aren’t shy about letting us know when they feel insecure or frightened, so even though they may have been a little unsure about visiting a new school, they didn’t show any outward sign of concern. They were quiet. Their hearts were quiet. They were sure we were headed somewhere good and safe and they were certain I would get them there in one piece. They knew their job was to simply be still and let me do my job. They had faith in me. They trusted me.

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And then it hit me: I was not at peace with getting up and moving because I hadn’t been still and let God do His job. I didn’t really have faith in Him. It started months ago when uncertainty set up camp in my heart as I watched the future fly toward me faster than I thought possible. Instead of running toward it with outstretched hands, I wanted to yell “Duck!” and run away and hide. My feet were firmly set, my heels dug deep in the place I thought God planted us. I felt like a tree, tall and strong enough to endure whatever storm came. But last Fall, I realized just how weak I was. The mere idea of change–of losing this place and the life we’ve built up around it–undid me. I wasn’t seeing what I hoped for, really, and what I was certain about was everything I wanted was being taken away from me.

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Winter brought sadness, and I didn’t think peace or hope could ever really return. I took cover in the safety of familiar things I could count on–like God, and His goodness and love; and in you and this time we have with these kids, here, now. I clung to joy and pleaded for peace because change is scary and I was afraid. The new year came, just as it always does, and the soil of certainty turned soggy when the sky opened up and new things began pouring down. Your Midwestern roots keep you calm when thunder rattles the windows, me. The grumbling clouds unnerve me even while while their sad song is a symphony to your heart.

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Winter brings death, and Spring brings life. I know this very well, of course. Doesn’t everyone? But in the middle of Winter, everything seemed so dank, gray, and just so… final–even here in California where Winter just means cooler weather and leaf-bare trees outstretching their bony fingers toward barren gray skies, as if praying, and the hope of Spring seemed impossible.

This all lasted until that last Friday of Winter Break, when everything suddenly came into focus as my own children showed me what pure trust looks like as they let me lead them away from comfort and into the unknown. They didn’t really want to get up and go–but they trusted that something really, really good (like fluffy scrambled eggs and wind-up robots, and a visit to see a new school where they could see their Papa’s office from the playground) was on the other side of the journey, and they put their faith in action by getting into the car and letting me drive. That’s what God is asking of me: to listen to his voice, to get up and go, and to trust Him to get me there safely.

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Now, a whole month later, Spring is here. Blossoms appeared on the gnarled old apple tree this morning, suddenly, and the changes I saw coming so many months ago are very much here now. A big beautiful demonstration of new life stares me in the face, and I can’t help but see hope.

My feet are not firmly set anymore; they are loosening and small steps are leading to bigger ones as I walk in obedience and faith. And so, transition is taking up space all around us. The bare walls look like closed eyes now, as if the house has fallen asleep. I tiptoe through the hallway trying not to disturb it, and its echo reminds me that this place is ours only for a few more weeks, really.

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Every day another box gets packed and another piece of furniture disappears and the Goobies wake up to a house that looks increasingly less familiar and they ask, “Why does our house look so different, Mama?”  I wipe my eyes and smile through the tears, reminding them again and again we are getting ready for the big adventure God is taking us on- because in the end, isn’t that what this is? Most of the time they squeal with delight, but every once in awhile their tears come, too. “Will I get to take my bed with me? What about the swing set? Are you and daddy going to come with us? Will we ever come back to visit this house?”

Obeying isn’t easy, nor is faith. It’s hard. I would much rather stay where I am, nose nestled under piles and piles of blankets, comfy and warm, in a place I’ve grown to love more than I thought I ever could. But I’m swinging my legs out from under myself anyway because like you taught me all those years ago: faith isn’t just in the knowing, it’s also in the going. I know now the challenges ahead will be worth it because the God who is calling us to a new life this Spring is faithful and trustworthy. The Goobies reminded me of that on that glorious gift of a Winter Break. I am ready to head through that canyon again with you in the weeks that will be here before I know it, because I know who is doing the driving, and with Him, we are safe.

Love,

Scratch

Pink Strawberry Pancakes

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I spent Valentines Day with my Goobies at home this year, since they were off of school for Winter Break that week. But I hadn’t really planned a special breakfast and since it was the day before pay day, the pantry was a pretty sparse. But pancakes are an empty pantry wonder-food, and I used them as a canvas for coming up with a way to make the morning feel a little more festive (because if any day of the year calls for a little whimsy, it’s Valentine’s Day, right?). As with all my recipes, substitute real milk for the dairy free milk if you aren’t dairy free and use regular all purpose flour too if you aren’t gluten free.

Ingredients:
  • 1 1/2 cups gluten free flour blend
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/4 – 1 1/2 cups unsweetened (vanilla or original) almond milk (or rice milk, or regular dairy milk)–start with 1 1/4 cups and drizzle in up to another 1/2 cup if your batter seems to thick
  • 1/2 cup organic strawberry spread (or strawberry jam)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon white balsamic vinegar
  • 3 Tablespoons refined coconut oil, melted
  • a drop or two of red food coloring (either a natural one, like this one from India Tree, or a conventional one from your local grocery store)
Method:

Whisk the flour, baking soda and salt together in a large bowl. Add the eggs, almond milk, strawberry spread and vanilla and mix well; then drizzle in the melted coconut oil and stir to combine. Drop the food coloring in little by little, and stir; add until you get the shade you desire. (Natural food coloring yields a paler, more earthy shade of pink, which is pictured above; conventional red food coloring yields a bolder, more noticeable shade of pink, which the kids prefer because the color is far more noticeable.)

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.

Serve warm, with syrup or not. Sprinkled with powdered sugar or not. Topped with whipped cream and strawberries or not. The Goobies tend to eat straight from the plate without toppings, just as they are. Your call 🙂

Breakfast · Dairy Free · Gluten Free

An “If You Want to Eat Breakfast, You Better Make Muffins” Sort of Day, and Chocolate Chip Zucchini Muffins (GF/DF/NF)

Dear Joey,

It happened again – I sang the Muffin Man song all morning as I cleared up the mess I made baking another batch of muffins, which I am hoping won’t completely disappear before tomorrow’s breakfast.

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This morning’s hodge-podge of a meal essentially cleaned out the cupboards and didn’t leave much to offer the Goobies for tomorrow’s breakfast, so after Emery and I got home from dropping the girls off at school, we got busy in the kitchen and made a batch of muffins (mainly so I am not tempted to pull the covers over my head and sing la la la in the morning, hoping in vain they will magically come up with a solution to the breakfast problem without me).

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Banana muffins are my go-to solution for make-ahead breakfasts, followed closely by pumpkin muffins and baked egg cups, of some sort, none of which were an option today (because it’s slim pickin’s around here until I get around to going to the grocery store later this week). I did find a sad looking zucchini in the crisper, though. Relieved to find it buried under a few stray sweet potatoes and convicted that I had ignored it for too long, I gave it some long-overdue attention, after which it exploded with the sort of happiness that is only conjured by chocolate chips and cinnamon.

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I have made this recipe many times over, which is saying something because before it joined my repertoire I didn’t even like zucchini bread. Now, the Goobies and I all love it. (And I can’t believe I don’t have a clue how you feel about it. Hm. Must fix that.) To save time, I scooped the batter into muffin tins so I didn’t have to wait for a standard size loaf to bake all the way through. Plus, the kids seem to prefer muffins over loaves anyway (and they are a lot easier to handle in the morning. Simply pass them out, instead of slice them up and pass them out. Gosh, I’m lazy.)

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Funny how I went into the kitchen a little unsure how I would come up with something the kids would actually eat amid the tidbits hiding in the deepest nooks and crannies of the refrigerator and pantry. I felt a little like the widow who was down to her last bit of flour and oil when a stranger with an empty belly asked her to use what little she had in her cupboard to fill it. I know, my circumstances are entirely different from hers (I am not a widow. The little bit of flour and oil I used for these muffins weren’t the last bits of food in our cupboard. A prophet didn’t come asking me to feed him. I know.) I guess what I mean is this: I felt like I didn’t have much to offer the kids, and I felt a little … curious how to stretch the last of the flour, one measly egg, and a withered zucchini into anything palatable, let alone delicious. But, it worked, and Mia was very upset with me when I wouldn’t let her eat one for lunch today. Promising she could eat them for breakfast wasn’t a good enough trade off, I guess, since chocolate chips were involved. Oh well.

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So without further ado, here is the recipe just in case you ever want to slip into the kitchen early one morning when the bread is gone and the cereal has run out and there is only an egg or two and you just don’t know what else to make, but you want to make something, if only to save my sanity. (Or you know–when you just want to surprise us all with a muffin we will all enjoy.) You will find they are very easy to whip together, and even a novice muffin maker like you will have success. (Let me know if you like them, will you?)

Love,

Scratch

Chocolate Chip Zucchini Muffins (GF/DF/NF)

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This is based on this recipe, which I first used before I was gluten free. I have adapted it over the years to suit our family’s needs. Feel free to swap out alternative ingredients based on what your family can tolerate (Don’t have refined coconut oil? Use canola, or another neutral tasting oil. Out of an egg or two? Substitute apple sauce, 1/4 cup per egg). Want to make a loaf of it instead? Grease two standard loaf pans and bake for about an hour or so, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Ingredients:
  • 2 eggs (or apple sauce. See note above.)
  • 1 cup refined coconut oil (does not taste like coconut), melted and cooled off a bit
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 3 cups gluten free flour blend (that already contains xanthan gum)
  • 1 teaspoon salt (or 2 teaspoons kosher salt)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 2 cups shredded zucchini (from 1 medium zucchini)
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • cinnamon sugar, for topping
Method:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and line a muffin pan with paper liners. Set aside.

In a stand mixer, whisk together the egg, sugar, then slowly pour in the melted (and cooled!) coconut oil until the mixture is creamy yellow, smooth and velvety. Then, add the vanilla and stir.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the gluten free flour blend, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon. Slowly add to the wet ingredients, stirring after each addition. Once you have added all the flour, stir in the zucchini, followed by the chocolate chips.

Scoop about 1/4 cup of the batter into the prepared muffin tins and bake for 18 minutes, or until puffed and golden, and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

 

 

Dairy Free · main dishes · THM · What's for Dinner?

The Hot Mama Diet and Cilantro Lime Ground Turkey (GF/DF/NF/THM S)

Dear Joey,

After I so rudely introduced a new favorite chocolate chip cookie to our household, I’m cutting us off for awhile. Into the freezer they went, ready to give to the Goobies as a treat every once in awhile, but out of reach enough to not be tempting anymore.

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I admire your willpower, Josef. You make up your mind about something and ding! It’s done. Over. No wavering. Me? I’m easier to sway, particularly when it comes to food.

Maybe that’s why when I first suggested trying out that Trim Healthy Mama plan, you were confident while I was resistant. Giving up sugar? Really? I think it was the lure of bacon that convinced you this diet plan might be worth a try. Bacon doesn’t move me the same way it moves you. Give me big bowl of buttery popcorn or a bar of dark chocolate and I’m your girl, but bacon? Meh.

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Nearly two years ago, I latched on to the idea that the Trim Healthy Mama plan would be the ticket to ridding my body of the dreaded baby weight–four weeks after giving birth. I presented the idea to you, mainly because if I was going to start the plan, I needed your support because otherwise I’d cave in to my buttery popcorn cravings far too often if I didn’t have you keeping me accountable. Lucky me, you were so supportive that you even wanted to start the plan yourself.

A week into the thing I was snippy, ravenous, and mean. It might have had something to do with cutting out sugar, true: but I think it may have had something to do with being five weeks postpartum, nursing, and sleep deprived. Trying to figure out this new diet plan pushed my already emotional self into an even deeper level of desperation.

But I started to shrink. You did too.

Maybe it had something to do with having just delivered a baby (because bodies have a tendency to shrink after that…), or maybe it had something to do with nursing around the clock (because bodies have a tendency to shrink because of that…), or maybe it had to do with choosing to feed myself in a new way. To be honest, I’m still not sure.

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What I do know for sure, though, is that once the ball got rolling, the baby weight (and then some) did indeed come off–for both of us, actually. Pretty soon this new way of feeding ourselves was all you could talk about. I remember watching people’s faces as you tried very hard to explain exactly what we were doing to cause such a shift in our food life and pant size: their eyebrows would furrow with disbelief even as their lips twisted into a bemused smile when you admitted both healthy fats and good carbs were central tenets to this particular way of eating. The Hot Mama Diet, you called it, a name both playful and totally wrong. I’d laugh and correct you: Trim Healthy Mama (THM). And others would go on their way with real information to look up on their own time.

Since then–almost two years ago–I’ve had a love/hate relationship with the plan, and so have you. The lingo of THM bothers you (which is part of why you started calling it the Hot Mama Diet–that, at least, makes you chuckle). You also love the way the food tastes, the way it fills you up, and how you leave the table satisfied and well-nourished. I love the way THM promotes whole, unprocessed, real deal superfoods. I don’t love the way it relies heavily on very processed supplements (like glucomannan and psyllium husks) to make low-carb renditions of foods that in my own opinion aren’t exactly “bad” in the first place (like pudding. And bread.) I love that it encourages us to fuel our bodies with both healthy fats and good carbs, both. I don’t love that it makes us separate them to be able to lose weight (but…it really does work). I love that once weight loss is achieved, a smear of butter (or Earth Balance, these days) melting into a sweet potato doesn’t do any harm at all.

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For the most part, we’re pretty devoted to this way of eating. We don’t freak out about having a few grams of sugar here and there in our regular every day diets (like the little bit that’s in our almond milk coffee creamer), and we most certainly eat nachos piled high with cheese and sour cream late at night on weekends while the kids are sleeping and the Warriors are playing, because that’s just how it goes around here sometimes.

Our tenets of the Hot Mama Diet are easy: eat healthy, real, not scientifically fabricated foods instead of junk. Use alternative flours (like almond flour and coconut flour) when we can, but don’t stress out to much about using gluten free whole grain flour blends for baking (because really, the kids eat most of the muffins around here anyway). Limit sugar (and use stevia or stevia blends instead). Go easy on good fats in a carb-heavy meal (like this super light Herbed Chicken and Quinoa Salad and Cucumber Ribbons), and vice versa for richer, more decadent meals, like that Cilantro Lime Ground Turkey with Cauliflower Rice that swims in thick, creamy coconut milk.

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Our “diet plan” isn’t really so much of a set of rules as it is a way of thinking about food and choosing to feed ourselves well. And so, in celebration of a new year and renewed commitment (and your success this week), I’m going to keep your favorites coming. It’s an easy way for me to stay motivated because let’s face it: food is my love language. Well, that and words of affirmation, and when I make food that makes you lavish praise upon me? I’m smitten.

Love,

Scratch

Cilantro Lime Ground Turkey (GF/DF/NF/THM S)fullsizerender

 

One of Joey’s Top 5 Favorite Meals Ever, this is a simple dish that is, again, very quick to throw together. The possibilities here are endless, because these flavors–while fantastic just as they are–could also act as a canvas against which you can add your own finishing touches. Toss in some snow peas and carrots if you want to. Sprinkle in a little ginger and see what happens. Have some curry paste? Sure, throw it in. Serve it over cauliflower rice to be THM approved, or lavish it over brown rice and don’t beat yourself up about it. If you want to lighten it up a bit, use light coconut milk instead of full fat. Either works just fine, of course–but we prefer the full fat version.

Ingredients:
  • 1 Tablespoon coconut oil
  • 6 green onions, sliced (diagonally, if you’re feeling fancy)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 pound ground turkey
  • 1-13.5 oz. can full fat coconut milk
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice (the juice of 2-3 limes, depending on size)
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • zest of one lime
  • red chili flakes
Method:

Melt the coconut oil over medium heat, then add the green onions and saute for two minutes or so, until you start smelling the onions and they begin to soften. Add the garlic and cook for another minute or two, again–until they’re soft and fragrant, but not golden.

Next, turn up the heat to high and immediately crumble in the ground turkey. Sprinkle in the salt and cook, tossing together with the onions and garlic until the meat is no longer pink. Lower the heat to medium high and pour in the coconut milk, lime juice, and cilantro. Stir it all together, scraping up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan as you go. Once combined, toss in the lime zest and red chili flakes (about 1/2 teaspoon or so, more or less depending on how much heat you like). Turn the heat back up to high and cook the sauce for a few minutes–maybe three or so, so that it begins to reduce and thicken slightly.

You may stop here, if you like, and ladle the sauce over steamed rice, cauliflower rice, or even rice noodles–but you may want to thicken the sauce a bit before you do. If that’s you, read on.

You have a couple of choices about which way to thicken the sauce. If you want to use what I will call the “approved” THM method (meaning, a method of thickening a sauce without adding any carbohydrates), sprinkle glucommanan little by little directly over the sauce while it’s still warm and in the pan, and whisk well after each addition. But, if you’re like me and think glucomannan makes food just a little too slimy, go the Hot Mama route and use a little bit of corn starch, for goodness sake. Mix 1 Tablespoon of corn starch* with cold water, pour it right into the pan, and whisk quickly until the sauce thickens (it will go fast!). Cook another minute or two, and then serve.

*There are only 7 carbs in one tablespoon of cornstarch, and if that’s all I’m using in the whole recipe? I don’t stress about it. Neither should you.