Chocolate · Faith · Food Allergy Family · Peanut Allergy

All Is Well, and Dark Chocolate Almond Clusters

“We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment.”

Romans 5:3-5

Dear Joey,

Now that October is wrapping up, all sorts of traditions are lining themselves up in a row, like dominoes, and this week will knock the first one over and set in motion a series of events that will swirl through the final two months of the year and plunge us into the new year. What’s waiting for us at the end of it all is a big heaping pile of exhaustion. As tired as I am already (and it’s not even November!), our much-anticipated New Year’s Day tradition of starting a Harry Potter movie marathon is beckoning me. Call me a nerd, but this is one of my favorite traditions of the whole year: a time to put the Goobies to bed and veg out in front of the tv without having to set up or attend a single party for the first two weeks of the year. This time around, as I look forward to the promise of those two relaxing weeks, I can’t help but think about two very specific lines from the series, lines that resonate with me in a new way: “Eat this. It helps. It really, really helps” and “All was well.”

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The first is spoken in the early days of Harry’s adolescence by Professor Lupin, an older, wiser man who saves Harry’s life before they have properly been introduced. When an unforeseen force singles Harry out and forces its will upon him by sucking out hope and love and any semblance of normalcy, Professor Lupin steps in to fend off the attacker. When the danger is over, he offers Harry a piece of chocolate, telling him “Eat this. It helps. It really, really helps.”  (Is it any wonder why this line speaks to me?) The second line is “All was well,” the famous last line of the 7th book that assures readers the Boy Who Lived actually continues to do so–happily, even.

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I totally 100% believe Professor Lupin’s words that chocolate helps. Every time I take a bite I sigh a prayer of thanksgiving for its power to soothe. I am convinced God smiled as he dreamed up chocolate, and that He had a smirk on his face as he slipped the cacao bean into creation like a treasure hidden waiting to be found. The same is true in our house: the stuff is stashed in nearly every room. It’s in the medicine basket, high up on the pantry shelf, deep in the freezer and wedged between bottles of wine. Half eaten bars are strewn on my nightstand and tucked deep under piles of books; wrappers are wadded up on the counter and full bars are piled precariously on top of the checkbook. It’s on my mind and on the shopping list and in my plan for how to spend the evening. Chocolate helps, you see, so I keep it in arm’s reach at all times. I know ultimately it’s God who helps, of course, but for me, chocolate provides a way to taste the goodness of who God is. It slows me down, helps me breathe, and reminds me to appreciate the sweet things in life, not be bogged down by the bitter things.

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This is what happened a few short weeks ago when I took Mia to the allergist’s office for her follow up scratch test to see whether she had outgrown her peanut and pine nut allergies or not. That brave little girl walked in a little nervous about whether or not the scratches actually hurt or not, but calm and certain she would walk out of the office that day rewarded with good news. As I watched her back erupt in those telltale firey red splotches, I panicked. Disappointment welled up from within me and silent tears came as I wondered how a little girl with resolute faith that she had been healed would swallow this bitter pill. I felt powerless to defend her against this adversary, but somehow all I could think of was what Professor Lupin says about chocolate.

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The doctor is the one who broke the news to our girl. He started with the good news that her allergy to pine nuts was gone, but quickly followed that up with the not-so-good news that she was still very much allergic to peanuts. He commended her for being so diligent in avoiding them, talked about upcoming desensitization therapies, and urged her to be brave and add tree nuts to her diet because they would help with her allergy. In short, he offered her the hope that I couldn’t. But her sidelong glance betrayed her uncertainty about eating things like almonds, as if she was silently asking me if this guy was for real. “How will almonds help my body gain strength against peanuts?” her glower seemed to whisper. I smiled, rubbed her back, and told her, “I don’t know, but maybe we ought to try?”

 

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Mia has been scared to let any sort of nut into her system. I can’t blame her: the last time she had an allergic reaction it was to cashew butter that had been contaminated with peanuts. The jar did say “May contain peanuts,” but I hadn’t seen it until it was too late. Oops is an understatement. That’s the day we learned to take the ingredient note that says “May contain peanuts” very seriously. (“May contain” now means “definitely contains,” as far as we’re concerned.) The poor little thing broke out in hives and her face started to swell, and as I cried and prayed, she apologized, saying “I sorry I had ‘lergic ‘action, Mommy.” It wasn’t her fault at all–it was mine, completely. I hadn’t read the label correctly, and she was paying the price for my mistake. From then on, that poor girl has lived with an unnecessary fear of nuts, and every time she freaks out about it I feel bad that I did that to her.

 

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But here was the allergist–her trusted doctor whom she knew to be an expert on allergies–encouraging her to eat those dreaded tree nuts, perhaps by starting by swirling almond milk in smoothies or pouring it over her morning bowl of cereal. Mia was dubious at first (insisting she hates the taste of almond milk), but she took the doctor’s orders seriously and we brainstormed other ways she might enjoy eating almonds as we drove away from the his office that day.  “What about chocolate covered almonds?” I asked.

Mia’s eyes lit up and she gasped, “Ooh, yeah! Good idea, Mama!”

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And so, we set about making chocolate covered almonds at home. I have bags and bags of chocolate chips at the ready almost always, and almonds are a pantry staple too. Melting those chocolate chips down and spooning it over a pile of almonds for our girl was healing, in its own way. Those little candies finally convinced Mia that almonds aren’t something to be feared anymore, that they are a safe food for her and that missing out on pre-packaged, peanut-contaminated treats aren’t such a big deal when stuff like this lingers on the kitchen counter. As she happily ate them, I finally breathed a sigh of relief, believing all would be well.

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And really, all is well. Mia walked into that doctor’s office with the calm assurance that God had already healed her–not just from the peanut allergy, but from the pine nut allergy too. The scratch test was a formality, in her mind–a hoop to jump through before she joined the ranks of the other kids who don’t have to sit at the cafeteria’s allergy table at lunchtime. When the test results were in and she peanuts were clearly still a problem, my heart sank. I imagined Mia’s did too. She was so confident in what she hoped for and certain of what she couldn’t see yet. What must it have felt like, I wondered, to not only be disappointed, but to also to have to face her fear of tree nuts head on too? I thought she would walk away disappointed and angry.

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But Mia’s hope did not disappoint. In her classic wiser-than-her-years style, she pointed out, “But Mommy, I did get healed. I don’t have my pine nut allergy anymore!” She’s right, of course. She believed she had been healed, and she had been, if not in full, then at least in part. The whole situation buoyed her faith; it didn’t drown it. And sure, she had to face her fear of letting tree nuts back into her diet, but she did so with beautiful courage I wish I had myself. (Well, courage and chocolate, because chocolate helps.) Whatever residual guilt I feel for the fact that she has to live with a peanut allergy is washed away when I see the character she’s developing in the midst of this adversity. Time and again, this girl shows me all is well, and all will be well.

Love,

Scratch

Dark Chocolate Almond Clusters

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These clusters are super, duper easy. Three ingredients (or just two, if you only use one kind of almonds.) Sure, you could fuss with them and make them fancier (vanilla extract, a sprinkle of sea salt, a swirl of caramel) but as written they are straightforward enough to make on a whim. I like to melt the chocolate in a saucepan (and don’t bother with tempering it), but you could melt them in the microwave to make things even more simple. If you keep chocolate and almonds on hand almost always (like I do), you could make a batch right now and be done in less than 15 minutes. To make them truly peanut free, choose chocolate chips that are made in a peanut free facility or otherwise certified peanut free (like Enjoy Life or Guittard brands). I use Guittard Extra Dark Chocolate Baking chips, which are made in a peanut free and gluten free facility, and do not contain milk. They are perfect for our food allergy family, but please read labels to make sure they are suitable for yours. (Ditto for the almonds.)

Ingredients:
  • 1 cup Guittard Extra Dark Chocolate Baking Chips
  • 3/4 cup dry roasted, unsalted slivered almonds
  • 3/4 cup dry roasted, salted whole almonds
Method:

First, spread out a large sheet of parchment or wax paper (about 12″ long). Next, measure the almonds into a medium mixing bowl and give them a quick toss. Then, pour the chocolate chips into a small saucepan and melt over medium heat, stirring constantly, until all the chocolate has melted and there aren’t any lumps left. Pour over the almnods immediately and stir until all the almonds have been coated.

Scoop the chocolate covered almonds onto the parchment paper by the tablespoonful (or so), and let cool until set. (If it’s warm in your kitchen, you might want to put the whole batch into the refrigerator until they harden.) Makes about a dozen.

 

 

Allergy Friendly · Answered Prayer · Baking · Faith · Family Life

The Fruit of Our Prayers and Spiced Brown Sugar Apple Crisp

Dear Joey,

Remember all those years ago when we started praying for fruit? I think about how that prayer has been answered every time I pick an apple off of our apple tree.

It all started because we cancelled our membership to a local Consumer Supported Agriculture (CSA) because our grocery budget couldn’t really handle the novelty of it anymore. It seemed like a good decision at the time. It was the middle of winter, we were getting a whole lot of lacinato kale, swiss chard and leeks that just sort of sat in our fridge, sad and limp at their lack of use. There were only so many ways we could think to cook a leek, after all.

Even so, my ego took a hit when we decided to forego the delivery service for awhile. I was an informed and responsible consumer and belonging to a CSA made a difference, you know?  But we were still getting used to the expenses that arrive the same day a child does, and so we chose to go back to buying commercially produced fruit and vegetables again, promising we would be more diligent with our dollars for awhile and go back to the CSA when our wallet loosened up a bit.

But time kept us moving along and we didn’t go back. We had another baby, moved in with my parents and started the year long work of saving for a house of our own. In the midst of all that, we started remembering our CSA boxes with the sort of wistfulness that made us long for the ease of just-picked fruit magically landing on our doorstep before the sun came up. We even missed that fridge full of wilted winter vegetables (leeks in particular, ironically, because of those tempura leeks. Hallelujah.) We talked about joining the CSA again, but we just couldn’t seem to make it work for our family. I still felt pretty deflated about it. Even the promise of making it work once we moved into our home, the place we’d plant ourselves and grow together as a family, didn’t really help. And so I did what I always do when I don’t get my way: I pouted.

When I came to my senses, put away my bottom lip and thought about why any of this mattered to me at all, I realized this: something primordial is lost when produce is produced commercially. Food was created to be good. It is supposed to taste good. The way our food system works now, most of us are missing out on the goodness of that food. Everyone knows a tomato freshly plucked from its vine tastes nothing like its mealy, flavorless counterpart available at any major supermarket. Our kids sure do: they spit out grape tomatoes purchased from the store, complaining the little things sting their tongue. But they’ve race toward our own grape tomato bush nearly every morning this summer, picking the firey red ones as fast as they can shove them into their mouths.

God intended for food to taste amazing when he created it. I’m sure of it:

“God spoke: 
‘Earth, green up! Grow all varieties
        of seed-bearing plants,
    Every sort of fruit-bearing tree.’
        And there it was.
    Earth produced green seed-bearing plants,
        all varieties,
    And fruit-bearing trees of all sorts.
        God saw that it was good.”
(Genesis 1:11-13, MSG)

I have a hard time believing God only saw the functionality and efficiency of his design as good. This is the same God that illuminates the sky at night with beacons of blazing glory; the same God that infuses a baby’s head with its intoxicating sweetness; the same God that paints flowers in resplendent hue. This is the God that created our food for our nourishment and our enjoyment.

It’s hard to feel like I don’t have a choice but to feed our kids virtually tasteless, pesticide laden foods. It’s hard to teach them to love fruits and vegetables when the ones they’re given are mushy and tasteless.  It’s hard to make a case for eating more of them when it feels more like punishment than something to savor. It’s hard to miss out on experiencing the glory of the way food is supposed to taste.

And so, I began to pray for organic fruit. And I asked you to start praying for organic fruit too. I felt a little foolish suggesting it, but since food is so central to life, I decided a strange prayer like that wasn’t really so weird after all. Plus, I was ready to be rid of the weird mix of guilt, humiliation and longing that still harassed me every time I went shopping. But you didn’t laugh at me. You affirmed me and added to the depth of the prayer, reminding me that fruit is the thing toward which much energy and attention moves; an end product; a result of effort spent. Wasn’t that what we were doing that year, saving for a home? (Not to mention our children’s lives–who they are and who they are becoming–don’t we pray for a rich harvest there, too?) And so, we began praying for fruit. The organic kind.

Eventually, the arduous year of saving for a house produced fruit of its own, and we found ourselves putting down roots in a house with a gnarled old apple tree standing proud in the backyard. I didn’t love the tree at first, but then springtime came and we marveled at they way its blossoms sprang to life and my heart changed. Apples followed, and come back every summer, a very real answer to prayer. We may not be part of a CSA again yet, but we have organic fruit growing at our house.

We’ve been enjoying these apples this summer especially. It’s a little funny that the tree produces before the fall, I think; but I pray our kids remember this summer spent under its branches, picking its fruit and nibbling on them before breakfast in the early morning sunshine. As Addie was eating one just last week, she sighed and said to me, “this is the best apple I’ve ever tasted.”

So many prayers answered, right there, in that beautiful moment.

Love,
Scratch

Spiced Brown Sugar Apple Crisp

The Fruit of Our Prayers and Spiced Brown Sugar Apple Crisp

This recipe evolved from my disastrous first attempt at making a gluten free pie crust. I had never made a gluten free pie before, but with so many apples around, I couldn’t very well not bake a pie, could I? But my best effort nevertheless turned into a salty, gloppy paste. Happily, I have enough of my Grandma Teague’s good sense in me to salvage the apples and make an apple crisp instead. Later, as Joey spooned it into his mouth straight from the baking dish, he announced between bites, “I like this better than apple pie anyway.” 

Ingredients:

For the Filling:
20 ounces peeled and cored apples (crisp and tart-sweet, like Granny Smith), sliced to about 1/4″ (about 4-6 apples, depending on their size. If they are large, you will probably only need four of them, but if they are on the smaller size, you will need six or so).
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 Tablespoons Gluten Free Flour Blend*
2 Tablespoons evaporated cane juice (pure cane sugar works too)                                                 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

For the Topping:
3 1/2 ounces coarsely ground oats (gluten free if necessary)
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup Gluten Free Flour Blend*
1/4 cup refined coconut oil
pinch of salt

*This blend contains xanthan gum, but if yours doesn’t, add 1/8 teaspoon to the filling ingredients and 1/4 teaspoon to the topping ingredients. 

Method:

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and grease a 9′ pie plate or glass baking dish (I take the easy way out and use coconut oil spray).

Then, the dirty work: wash, peel, and slice the apples about 1/4″ thick. Toss them into a large bowl as you go and sprinkle the lemon juice on top when you’re done. Give them a good stir, making sure the lemon juice is well distributed among the apples.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients for the filling. Pour the spicy goodness on top of the apples and toss it together as you would a salad so that each apple slice is coated with the sugar mixture; then pour them into the prepared baking dish.

On to the topping: in a separate bowl, cut the coconut oil into the ground oats, sugar, etc., until it looks like coarse sand. Spread evenly over the top of the apples.

Pop the pan into the oven and leave it there for 40 minutes, or until the topping is golden and the brown sugar melts into spicy liquid love, bubbling up around the edges and beckoning to be married with vanilla ice cream.

Allergy Friendly · Faith · Life with Littles · Sweets

A Little Bit of Love and No Bake Chocolate Chip Cookies

“In the twilight of our lives, we will be judged on how we have loved.” — St. John of the Cross

Dear Joey,

Love is on my mind. It invades my thoughts and my motivations and plans and dreams lately. This is probably because Addie has been singing “A little bit of love goes a long, long way…” over and over and over again. I have heard it dozens and dozens of times over the past five months, and I am weary of them, but wouldn’t you know it: the girl’s free spirited singing etched those words into my heart, and now, they convict me when selfishness invades.

And invade it does. Let’s be honest: my first thought after breakfast revolves around my own agenda, well-meaning as it may be, and certainly does not revolve around which princess has been captured by the blue monster today, or what gown I will put on so I am ready to rock out to princess music on Pandora. My first thoughts are How will I manage to get these dishes washed before someone comes begging for me to play with her? Or I should have done a meal plan for this week because I have no idea what to thaw for dinner tonight. Or even, I wonder if they’ll notice if I slip away to go use the bathroom? This is the sneaky sort of selfishness and most of the time I don’t see it for what it really is. Selfishness distorts truth and gets in the way of loving well. 
The truth is, most of the time I do not really want to play dollies–especially when there is an email I would rather write, or a book I would rather read or a recipe I would rather try or a shower I would rather take. Why can’t the girls just play together? I wonder. Why do they always need me? I get frustrated and am tempted to resent these cute little faces innocently seeking a little bit of attention. Lately, in these moments of weakness, I hear Addie’s little voice singing her heart out to her favorite preschool song and I remember that little bit of love really does go a long, long way.

And so I am choosing to engage with them and figure out a way to make whatever is important to them fun. Of course, I am not very good at this, and some days are better than others, but I am realizing that giving them small acts of love throughout the day builds up credibility with me (doesn’t it?). If I say I love them, do I make good on my word by show them this love in a way they can understand? Washing dishes and thawing chicken does not speak to their hearts. Building LEGO castles and dancing in the kitchen and singing at the top of our lungs in the car; letting them dress me up and pinning princess capes onto their shirts; having tea parties (real and imaginary); wrapping dollies up in blankets and putting them to bed over and over and over – all of it speaks one thing to them: Mommy loves you.

If I am not able to love them well now while they are young, what are the chances I will get a chance to do so later, when they are older? If I cannot lay aside myself for them—the most important things God has ever entrusted me with—do I really think He will entrust me with much else? Plus, what kind of love am I modeling for them? Do I want my actions to teach them that love is selfish, when really, the opposite is true (1 Corinthians 13:5)?  If I want them to believe the truth that “Greater love has no man than this: that he lay down his life for  his friends,” shouldn’t also love them that way (John 15:13)?

It is a part of my faith that I am still working out – saying no to selfishness and saying yes to loving well. Clearing weeds and digging up roots and nurturing new love-seeds to grow in the fertile soil of a pure heart a so that my actions are motivated by love for others, not by love of self.

No small task. It is tough. But Addie’s little voice skipping through the house reminding me that “A little bit of love goes a long, long way” is helping. Isn’t it worth the work?

Love,
Scratch

No Bake Chocolate Chip Cookies (GF/DF/optional NF)

(Gluten-free, grain-free, nut-free; Modified from A Dash of Compassion’s Nut-Free Cookie Dough Balls)

A Little Bit of Love and No Bake Chocolate Chip Cookies (Gluten-free, grain-free and nut-free)
My girls love having post-nap tea parties, especially when they get a sweet treat. Giving up grains for awhile (wheat, rice, corn) renders our house fairly free of cookie making supplies, and I am still learning how to make a truly delicious grain and nut free cookie (sometimes, honestly, they are just plain no good.). But these No Bake Cookies save the day for tea time: they are not only quick and easy, they are also versatile and very forgiving. If you wouldd rather use almond butter in place of sunflower seed butter, do it! If coconut flakes make you cringe, use rolled oats like the original recipe. If you could not imagine ever having tapioca flour on hand (which I do not blame you for. Neither did I until recently.), then try something else you do have on hand (like all-purpose flour) until you work up the courage to seek out said tapioca flour (which you should. Be brave.)

Ingredients:

1/2 cup sunflower seed butter (or almond butter, or peanut butter, or …)
3 T pure maple syrup
1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup tapioca flour
2 T flax seed meal
1/4 cup toasted coconut flakes or shredded coconut
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
pinch of sea salt
Chocolate chips, as desired

Method:

Mix wet ingredients. Add dry ingredients (except for chocolate chips) and mix well. Sprinkle in desired amount of chocolate chips.

Form into balls. I use a 1 1/2″ ice cream scoop (which I love) so that all I have to do is scoop – no messy ball making for me. (Plus, the scoops end up looking more like cookies than balls of dough – which I like.) The cookies are firm enough to eat right away, but may be stored in a covered container in the refrigerator (or freezer) until ready to eat.