Allergy Friendly · Back to School · Family Life · Salads

Just One More Day, and BLT Pasta Salad

4Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be.
    Remind me that my days are numbered—
    how fleeting my life is.
You have made my life no longer than the width of my hand.
    My entire lifetime is just a moment to you;
    at best, each of us is but a breath.”

-Psalm 39:4-5

Dear Joey,

Just one more day.

That is what I told myself this morning when I climbed out of bed, not really ready to get up to face one more day of summer togetherness. I trudged my way through the dark of the morning, Emery at my heels: hungry and impatient. The thought of getting through one more day of all the Goobies home all day threatened to steal away the last shred of my sanity.  In the harried moments of the morning, it seemed like school couldn’t start fast enough. Just one more day until I can catch my breath.

IMG_8249

My parents have been here for a week and it’s been fantastic. They brought my grandparents to see our new home and to explore the area a little before heading off to Iowa to take care of some family business. They leave again today. The Goobies don’t want them to go. Neither do I, really. The Goobies seemed more at ease this past week than they have perhaps all summer long. More themselves, as if they had been holding their breath for weeks, not really sure they would ever see these familiar faces again. But they exhaled this week, finally able to relax a little and weren’t so on edge with each other. But today they had to say goodbye again and their tender little hearts were brave, but broken.

IMG_7088

They loaded up the car a few hours ago now after squeezing us tight and calling “See you later!” as they waved goodbye with the sort of cheerful smile that convinced me it might actually be true. We watched them drive away and the Goobies asked me they could please stay for just one more day.

IMG_1939

And those words brought me back to reality: their visit and summer vacation both end today. For me, this means the fridge won’t get magically stocked with Earth Balance and pork chops while I’m not looking; the kitchen sink will stay piled high with dirty dishes unless you or I (or both of us) roll up our sleeves and actually scrub them; and the laundry won’t fold itself while I’m making dinner in the other room. (Bless all the Grandparents.) Suddenly it is a school night and gracious me I have to think about packing lunches again. But for them, for the Goobies, this means there is just one more day until school starts and the elusive change we have been talking about for weeks is finally, unavoidably, here.

IMG_9560

My breath is catching in my throat as I think about the weight of those words: Just one more day is both a promise and a warning. Hang on, there’s only one more day to endure the aggravation of too much togetherness. And also, Make the most of this moment, because there’s just one more day until it all changes again. Just one more day until the rigors of school supersede laid back summer days, as cooped up and crazy as they became. Just one more day until packing lunches and completing homework and enforcing bedtime make the evenings fly by. Just one more day until fighting over outfits and untangling unkempt hair and forcing breakfast into a tummy that doesn’t want to eat, followed by the frenzied dash toward the door and a too-quick kiss goodbye as they topple out of the car. Just one more day to be slow, to lay low, to just be.  When tomorrow comes, I will breathe deeply and exhale slowly, thankful that we made it to the finish line. When today is gone, my heart will hurt and tears will fall, I will face the first day of school wishing for just one more day. I wonder how the Goobies will feel?

IMG_5009

I carried Mia up the stairs this afternoon; it was quiet reading time and she seemed a little off. She wrapped her arms around my neck and I memorized the way it felt to hold her like that.

“I’m going to miss you tomorrow,” I said.

“I’m going to miss you too.”

 

IMG_3167

Isn’t that always the way? We have complained our way through the summer, frustrated with all the togetherness that has made us so sick of each other, but suddenly I want to beg plead and bargain for just one more day with them all here at home with me. I want to finally slow down enough to plop on the floor with Addie and build Legos all afternoon. I want to sit in the shade of the garage and watch them ride bikes until they are red in the face. I want to listen to them squeal with shocked delight as they run through the sprinklers in the heat of the day, and let them lick Popsicles at lunchtime because it’s just too hot to eat. I want to snuggle up with Mia while Emery sleeps in the haze of a lazy afternoon and listen to her read Matilda to me as I fight to stay awake. I want to go swimming at twilight and and pile scoop upon scoop of homemade ice cream high up on a sugar cone, lapping up the frozen treat in the thick evening air right along with them.

IMG_7499

Why is it so hard for me to say yes? Why do I say no, or not right now, or maybe later when experience teaches me that later is the place where regret resides? Today is a good day to look back on all the times I said yes, the times I jumped into the water and played in the pool along with them, the afternoons we pulled out the Whirley Pop and made kettle corn and piled onto the couch and snuggled as we watched The Sword in the Stone or Robin Hood; the mornings when I put on my prom dress and played Royal Family with them, pretending to be a queen dripping in gaudy jewelry, only to have them wrap a cape around my neck and declare me a royal superhero. But instead of seeing all the times I said yes, all I seem to see are the times I said no, not now, and maybe later. Later is here now, and time ran out, and I wish I could go back and do it better.

IMG_8239

Rain is falling now. Gray clouds stretch farther than my eyes can see, a soft blanket nestling us in the house together for one last afternoon before we throw off the covers and crawl out of bed to face a new school year and all the hassle and joy and change it brings. Tears sting my eyes, and I can’t help it. I can’t go back, I can’t do it all over again, but I can re-frame my thinking. I can remember how painful it is to regret saying no, not now, or maybe later. I can choose to be motivated by the promise and warning of what it feels like to have just one more day, every day.

IMG_8724

Addie and Mia have miraculously built Lego’s together all afternoon without snarling at each other over petty little problems. I hardly hear them; but what I hear, I cherish. Their sweet voices cooperative and kind, the soundtrack to my afternoon that romanticizes the idea of having them here with me forever. Tomorrow, the house will be quiet at nap time, and tears fall as I think about it. I will miss them, but I am excited for them too: out there making friends and taking chances and learning, again, what it means to be brave. And while they are there, I will be here, waiting to hear their stories when they pile into the car when the day is done, refreshed and ready to really listen because there are only so many more days left like that out there in the hazy future, and I don’t want to miss even one of them.

Love,

Scratch

BLT Pasta Salad

IMG_4400.JPG

This salad screams summer to me: a refreshing salad that requires minimal effort. It was born out of the need to ditch my plans for Friday night pizza and throw something together with minimal effort (because spending a summer morning at the farm in the middle of a Midwestern August day does not make me want to come home and work in a hot kitchen). Not too proud to admit to poor planning, I switched gears and declared we would grill Bratwurst and throw together a few cold salads instead and toast to an easy summer dinner. I didn’t come up with the idea for BLT Pasta Salad, but I followed my own intuition when making it for my food allergy family.  The beauty of it is it is flexible (like so many of my recipes!), and can easily be adapted to suit your family’s needs. My family liked it so much they urged me to post it here on Love, Scratch, so that other families could enjoy it too. Cheers to laid back summer dinners!

Ingredients:
  • 1-12 oz box Gluten Free Bow Tie Pasta (such as Jovial brand)
  • 1 heart of romaine lettuce, washed and chopped
  • 1 pint grape tomatoes, cut in half
  • real bacon bits* (such as Epic brand, which is dairy free. Watch out for lactic acid starter culture in bacon!)
  • 3/4 cup homemade dairy free ranch dressing (or store bought)
  • 1/4 cup + 2 Tablespoons barbecue sauce (homemade or storebought, more or less to your liking)

* You’ll notice I do not give an exact quantity for bacon bits. This is because you know how much your family likes bacon, and you probably have a grasp on how much they would prefer. I used a 3 oz. package of Epic brand bacon bits for this particular batch, but the salad would have benefited from more. Admittedly, I would have preferred to use a freshly cooked batch of thick cut bacon, crumbled into bits, but I took the easy way out and saved myself the trouble of dealing with hot bacon grease. I humbly suggest you do the same if you make this on a hot summer afternoon.

Method:

First, cook the noodles according to package instructions. Drain and rinse the noodles with cold water. (I know most cooks frown upon rinsing pasta, but I rinse mine when I make pasta salad. I like the way it helps the noodles cool down and keeps them from sticking together.) Dump the noodles into a large mixing bowl and let them cool to room temperature, about 10 minutes or so.

While the noodles are cooking, get the bacon ready. If you are cooking a fresh batch of bacon, go ahead and do it now. Then wash and chop the lettuce and tomatoes, and set them aside. If you are . Mix together the ranch and barbecue sauce and set that aside too.

When the noodles have cooled off, toss in the tomatoes and bacon bits, and drizzle about half of the dressing on top. Toss it together, making sure the noodles are completely coated with the sauce. Refrigerate until ready to serve, so that the noodles soak up all the flavor of the sauces. When it’s just about time to serve, toss in the lettuce and pour the remaining sauce on top and toss to coat again.

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

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

 

 

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

Better, Not Easier, and Crispy Baked Tacos

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

let us show the truth by our actions.”

-1 John 3:18

Dear Joey,

The Goobies have been bugging me.

IMG_3712

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

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

IMG_7557

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

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

IMG_7427

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

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

IMG_4903

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

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

IMG_4341

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

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

IMG_7957

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

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

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

Love,

Scratch

Crispy Baked Tacos

IMG_7570

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

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

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

Method:

First, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

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

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

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

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

 

Comfort Food · Family Life · Salads · Side Dishes

Homesick, and My Mom’s Potato Salad

Dear Joey,

When I was a kid I suffered from severe homesickness: the kind that rendered me very poor company indeed. Tears and sleepless nights were my companions at sleepovers, and I vividly recall instance upon instance of begging my parents to let me go to a sleepover, only to call them in tears near midnight, begging to go home. More often than not, my dad lumbered his way to the car and drove to pick me up and waving his thanks to my hosts for their hospitality as he ducked back into the car to go home.

IMG_6647

Neither of my parents seemed to mind; if they were angry or inconvenienced, neither of them showed it. Big smiles and bigger hugs welcomed me home no matter how long the drive to pick me up (and sometimes, the drive was long.) In retrospect, they must have been peeved that their little girl couldn’t buck up and be brave and just go to sleep already. I know, because I feel this way about Addie sometimes when she tells me she doesn’t want to go to school for this one reason alone: she’s going to miss me.

IMG_6648.jpg

It happens like this: I hug her goodbye when I drop her off at school, but she runs back to give me a second, third, fourth hug before finally letting go of my hand to walk to the playground. I squeeze her hard and shoo her off to class, wondering why she doesn’t skip toward school like her sister who often runs to join friends without so much as a wave goodbye. I’m tempted to just walk away and let the kid deal with it already, but then I chide myself and give her grace every time because Addie is just like me. So I stand and watch her as she makes the long walk to line up, and I wave the whole time, watching as she flashes her sweet a smile and waves our sign for “I love you,” until finally we are out of each other’s sight.

IMG_6742

Fast forward thirty years later and I moved halfway across the country and find myself sleeping in a different time zone than my own parents, a feat neither they nor myself could imagine during those groggy midnight drives home. I probably cried the whole way, disappointed in myself for being different than the other kids, embarrassed that I cried about missing my mom and made a scene and forced my friends to wake up their sleeping parents so I could call my own.

IMG_7455

When my mom and dad flew me and the Goobies out to KC to meet you, I counted on the fact that I had long-since grown out of that homesick mess of a little girl I used to be. It didn’t occur to me that I might cry when I missed my mom in the middle of the night (I am a grown woman, after all), and thankfully being away from them isn’t as tough as it would have been years ago in my younger days. Still, saying goodbye was tough. I hugged my mom and dad casually, convincing myself it wouldn’t be long until they would be back to visit, but in all honesty if I had squeezed them tight I would have cried big, hot tears that would have made them want to whisk me home with them. Instead, I said, “See you later!” and smiled as they went, but as soon as the door closed, the tears started to fall. Sarah caught me up in a hug and soothed me with confessions that if were her saying goodbye to her mom, she would be crying too. (In fact, she did cry a little for me.)

IMG_7457 2

FaceTime and airplanes make the sting of separation more tolerable than my seven year old self would ever believe possible, but it’s still there, new and nagging like shoes that don’t feel like my own quite yet. This new life will break itself in soon, I know, and life –but for now, admittedly, I’m feeling a little homesick. Eating lots of my mom’s potato salad helps because it transports me to her kitchen, and I can almost feel her give me a squeeze hello when I walk inside.

Love,

Scratch

My Mom’s Potato Salad (for a Crowd)

IMG_7478

I know there are as many ways to make potato salad as their are mothers out there (read: zillions), but this is my favorite because it’s familiar (and both my Goobie girls enjoy it!). My mom has been making this for years and years–always by memory, and never from a written recipe. Somehow it always tastes the same, and when I attempted to make a batch last weekend to take to a family BBQ, I nailed it. One scoop and I wasn’t in Kansas anymore, but instead was in the backyard in the house on Los Arboles Place watching my mom flit around the kitchen in her pink apron with the white polka dots, smushing the potatoes with her expert hands, whisking together the dressing and hollering for my dad to come take a taste. I’m pretty sure my mom’s version is a little bit sweeter than mine, but marginally so. If you like your potato salad sweeter, then by all means: add more sugar. (Also, you’ll notice hard boiled eggs are no where to be found in this recipe: that is because my mother detests them. I, however, think they would make a lovely addition. Use your own discretion.) It’s naturally gluten free, dairy free, peanut/tree nut free, and sunflower seed free, so this is an easy addition to our arsenal of awesome picnic food.

Ingredients:

For the dressing–

  • 2 mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup + 2 Tablespoons yellow mustard
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup bread and butter pickle juice (or regular sweet pickle juice)
  • 6 Tablespoons sugar (or more, to taste)

For the salad–

  • 5 pounds russet potatoes, boiled with skin on, then cooled and peeled
  • 2 cups diced celery (about five large stalks)
  • 1/2 cup diced white onion (or red onion, or whatever kind you prefer)
  • 1 cup diced dill pickles (or, if you prefer a sweeter salad, use sweet pickles instead
Method:

First, prep the potatoes: wash them thoroughly and plunk them into a large pot, then fill the pot with water. Add salt, about a tablespoon or so, and set the pot to boil. Check for doneness occasionally, but it took mine about an hour to cook through.

Meanwhile, make the dressing. Whisk together all the mayonnaise, mustard, apple cider vinegar, pickle juice and sugar. This makes a lot of dressing, true: but you’ll need it. Put the dressing in the refrigerator until it’s time to toss with the salad.

Once the potatoes are fork tender, but not falling apart, remove them from the water and let them cool completely (to room temperature). While the potatoes are cooling, go ahead and do all your chopping so the veggies are ready to go.

Next, when the potatoes are room temperature, scrape the peels off and pile the cooked potatoes in a big bowl. Then, using both hands, squish the potatoes — and show no mercy!–in so that some turn to mush, and some just look like rough chunks. (You’ll just need to trust me on this one–keep at it and you’ll get the texture just right.) Add the diced celery, onions and pickles, then pour about 2 1/2-3 cups of the dressing on top and mix. Refrigerate overnight, if possible, then pour the remaining dressing on top and mix again just before serving.

 

Dairy Free · Faith · Family Life · Salads · Side Dishes

Learning to Weather the Storms, and Creamy Coleslaw

22 “[…] Your business is life, not death. Follow me. Pursue life.”

23-25 Then he got in the boat, his disciples with him. The next thing they knew, they were in a severe storm. Waves were crashing into the boat—and he was sound asleep! They roused him, pleading, “Master, save us! We’re going down!”

26 Jesus reprimanded them. “Why are you such cowards, such faint-hearts?” Then he stood up and told the wind to be silent, the sea to quiet down: “Silence!” The sea became smooth as glass.

Matthew 8: 22-26

Dear Joey,

Well goodness–yesterday when we are smack dab in the middle of a severe Midwestern thunderstorm, all those voices warning me that Midwestern weather will take some getting used to are echoing in my ears. I’m not sure the dreadful din of thunder will ever lull me into a peaceful sleep (like it does for you), but I suppose I’ll get used to it. I think. I hope.

I admit I panicked yesterday–not because tornadoes threatened to sweep us up and whisk us away from the new house we have still yet to fully unpack (although, I wondered if that was imminent…), but because black clouds clapping their tinny hands feels threatening, and let’s face it: hiding felt like the safest thing to do. I watched out the front window as those bulbous clouds stormed their way northeast, the direction you would be driving in a matter of minutes to start afternoon clinic. Next I paced up and down the kitchen, feigning calm and scolding the impulse to barricade myself and the kids in the basement, and wondering if the sky was that peculiar shade of green Sarah taught me goes hand in hand with an imminent tornado.

IMG_7111

But before long, the storm passed us by and the clouds dispersed and the sun poked its head back out again as the birds sang a little song just for me, soothing the angst right out of my system. Blue sky edged out the gray, and things seemed normal, which made me feel foolish for coming this close to ushering the Goobies down to the basement just in case (because I didn’t want to be the silly California girl who doesn’t know how to keep her kids safe in a storm). I’m not used to this stuff. It feels unfamiliar and scary, and I am tempted to heed the saying, “Better safe than sorry” and just stay home all the time, rather than risk being caught outdoors in weather I don’t know how to handle.

I have a lot to learn about living in this new reality, clearly. The weather patterns, the warning signs and systems, the precautions to take and the emergency procedures to take when the weather gets out of control. I keep asking questions, wanting very much to kick fear to the curb and let knowledge empower me to go outside and live, instead of letting fear keep me safely inside, away from things and people out there because there’s a chance the weather could change on a dime, thrusting me into an emergency situation for which I am not equipped.

IMG_7073

When you called me to let me know you were headed up to the other office, the one where the storm cloud was headed too–I bit my tongue and decided you must know things about staying safe in the middle of a storm that I simply don’t know yet, and I couldn’t help but think about the way feeding our family must feel to people who aren’t used to the day-to-day difficulties of feeding food allergy folks. Part of moving to this new place is figuring out how to integrate our persnickety food problems into unfamiliar territory, and helping other people understand what it takes to keep our family safe.

IMG_7074

At first, weather and food allergies don’t seem to be similar at all. But the more I think about it, the more I see what perhaps others don’t. Like severe weather, severe food allergies have patterns, but they are not a force limited to the things we think we know about them. All could be well and good when suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, something triggers a chain reaction that could ultimately lead to a severe ordeal, and while most of the time things aren’t nearly as bad as they could be, there’s always a chance something major and tragic could happen. It is possible to live safely in severe weather happens, of course, just like it’s possible to live safely with food allergies. I’m learning that both require education, preparedness and vigilance, and neither demand hiding in the basement at all times.

IMG_7076

When it comes to severe weather, there are systems set up to keep the public safe. Very smart people who know a lot more about weather send out alerts and let us know when something threatening lurks in the clouds. There’s no need to panic, and everybody appreciates clear communication about the precautions we ought to take to stay safe. So it is with severe food allergies: there’s no need to panic, and clear communication about the precautions to keep people safe are welcomed and appreciated, too.

IMG_7089

Admittedly, integrating the Goobies into our extended family’s life felt risky, and I was tempted to panic like the disciples did when they started worrying about what might happen in the middle of the storm on the Sea of Galilee. They knew who was in charge, and yet–Jesus was asleep, and they wondered how they would be safe in the middle of the squall. They cried out to Him, and Jesus asked them why their hearts were faint, and that’s the part gets me every time. He was with them in the middle of the storm–did they really think they would succumb to the winds and waves? They focused on what they could see, not on what they knew to be true. That happens to me, too: fear tends to be a natural default when something scary surrounds me, whether it’s a black storm cloud or the threat of a possible allergic reaction. Don’t I know who is in charge? Hasn’t He promised to be with me in scary situations? (Fear not, for I am with you.” — Isaiah 41:10).

IMG_7080

I was scared to have those conversations: scared of being viewed as neurotic and over bearing; scared that no one would take us seriously; scared that bad things would happen despite the best intentions. Fear tempted me to believe I was better off alone, cowering in the basement instead of going out and being part of this family life that welcomed us with open arms. But I resisted, choosing instead to believe that the Lord really is with us in the midst of difficult circumstances. And so, we took the plunge and talked openly about what doesn’t work for our kids. Guiding everyone toward safety, instead of keeping quiet and crossing our fingers nothing bad would happen, was a proactive way to educate the people around us about what could happen and empower them to feed us without fear. It helped us stay vigilant, but also helped us to relax a little and enjoy each other, instead of feeling bitter and angry that our own little brood has frustrating food restrictions that make social life tough.

IMG_7091

And of course my fears were completely irrational because Andy and Sarah cleared out all the offending ingredients from the immediate reach of our food allergy kids; they graciously kept milk and cheese and yogurt off their kids’ menu for the duration of our stay with them; all the folks at the Maier family reunion willingly made it an allergy-free event and even learned to enjoy tacos without dairy adornments; your mom hosted a rollicking (and delicious) allergy-free 90th birthday for your grandma, who seemed to enjoy every last bite of that dairy free BBQ feast and didn’t seem to care one whit about whether there were dairy or nuts (or gluten, for that matter) missing from that enormous chocolate cake.

IMG_7092

At first, trusting family who aren’t used to the day-to-day food allergy issue felt like driving into an ominous storm cloud, and I admit I was both nervous to let go of control and let others feed us. I learned in a very real way that clear communication about precautions to take to keep our kids them safe is crucial, of course, but I also learned talking openly about it (instead of cowering in fear in the basement) helps all of us breathe a little easier. I’m not sure the nerves of eating anywhere other than our own home will ever completely subside (just like I’m pretty sure the threat of tornadoes will always keep me wondering if the sky is that particular shade of green), but I am crying thankful tears for this family of yours–of ours, who are invested in learning how to feed our kids well. Keeping our the Goobies safe comes naturally to them because our kids are their kids too.

Grandma Carol patted my arm and whispered to me as she settled back into her patio chair to watch her great-grandchildren frolic in slanted summer-evening sun, “I’ve never had a party like this before.” Neither had I, really, but I hope we have many more.

Love,

Scratch

 

Creamy Coleslaw

IMG_7071

The biggest hurdle for family get togethers is how to feed a lot of people easily, without making anyone feel like the food is anything but delicious. Lucky for us, BBQ tends to be a pretty easy answer for feeding a lot of people truly delicious food. This was the case for Joey’s Great Grandma’s birthday, and the biggest question was what to serve on the side. Store-bought prepared convenience foods pose a problem for our family, due to sneaky ingredients and less-than-trustworthy methods of preparation. Luckily side dishes like coleslaw are both easy and inexpensive, so volunteering to bring some along to the BBQ was a cinch. The highest compliment came from my mother-in-law, who said, “Not only could I not tell the difference, this is even better.” Coleslaw doesn’t need milk to be creamy, friends. Try this recipe and try to convince me otherwise.

Ingredients:

For the dressing–(the following yields 2 cups)

  • 1 1/2 cups mayonnaise (if your family is allergic to eggs, try using Just Mayo brand)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup white vinegar
  • 2 Tablespoons water
  • 1/2 T lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt

For the salad–

  • 2 cups shredded green cabbage
  • 2 cups shredded red cabbage
  • 1 cup shredded carrots
Method:

First, mix together the dressing and set aside. Next, shred the cabbage and carrots into a big bowl. Pour on some dressing, about a cup, and toss together until the cabbage is well coated. Add more dressing if it seems like it needs more, and it very well might. (Everyone seems to have their preference for how much dressing is on coleslaw, so go with your gut and don’t stress if you have a lot of dressing left over.) Let the salad sit in the fridge for about an hour before serving, if possible.

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.

IMG_4007

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.

IMG_4357

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.

IMG_4008

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.

IMG_1750

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.

53799947639__E62B5E57-947B-4F7B-B815-CE51FBBEA551

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

FullSizeRender

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.

IMG_3136

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.

IMG_3189

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.

IMG_3191

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.

IMG_3194

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 them how to live by living that way Himself and inviting them to join him. Shouldn’t we do the same?

IMG_3196

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 even 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.

IMG_3204

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.”

img_3206.jpg

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.

IMG_3208

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.

IMG_3177

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

IMG_3202

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.

IMG_3121.jpg
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.

IMG_3124

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 · Dinner · Family Life

Comfort Me with Dinner and Kid Friendly Cassoulet

Dear Joey,

This morning when I called Addie into the bathroom to get her hair brushed, she cast a sideways glance at me and asked,”Are you going to cry again today?” I laughed and said, “I hope not, kid. But probably.” The emotion swirling around the first few days of Kindergarten has subsided now, for the most part. We’re off and running now, finding our stride and fully expecting to hit a few bumps along the way.

IMG_4116

We made it through the first few mornings of back to school mayhem, and even though it went well, it took a lot out of me. I’m exhausted, aren’t you? Trying to be organized with these three tornadoes swirling around me is laughable. The lazy summer days masked my disorganized self quite well, but the fall semester ripped the cloak right off of me and exposed me for who I am: a disaster. I haven’t showered in two days. (Again. Gross.) and I finally understand what all those moms of school-aged kids meant when they told me to enjoy the pajama-clad, messy-bun days at home with little bitty babies while I could. They were right: those days are a cake walk compared to these new bigger-kid days. Back then the only one who saw me unshowered was you. Now the world sees me as I really am.

IMG_4115

IMG_4165

Plus, organizing the girls’ schedules and toting them from here to there dressed, fed and on time– with a baby in tow–is tough. Forget getting myself ready: making sure everyone else is ready to go at the same time, with everything they need, while they all still need me to do so much for them is the priority. Add to that my guilt over how much time Emery spends riding in the car now along with the heartbreak that comes flooding in when I scoop him up from his nap on the way to pick Addie up from school, and I have a whole new batch of mommy exhaustion and guilt.

IMG_4137

Never mind the fact that I still, somehow, in the middle of all this have to make dinner. For weeks leading up to the first day of school, I had plans to have a big, comfort-food laden meal welcoming us all home and into evening hours with peace and comfort, anchoring us all to each other again after the first of many days ahead spent going our separate ways. By 3:00 that afternoon, though, I still didn’t have the slightest idea what to cook. I let guilt over that taunt me for a few minutes, until the idea of warming up leftover beans and quinoa (again) was too much to handle. So I opened the fridge, poked around, and found a pack of Italian Sausages smiling up at me practically begging to be cooked. I thought about the way Addie inhales deeply, sighing “What smells so good?” whenever I cook them, and I realized Cassoulet was the perfect solution for this unprepared mother’s lofty ideals of a comforting family meal.

IMG_4135

I browned those sausages and chopped up carrots and sauteed onions and garlic, happily listening to Addie chatter about her adventures of the day, nodding and murmuring Oh really? How cool! as I did so. A few minutes of this and she stopped mid-sentence, clearly catching a whiff of the magical combination of onions and garlic and asked with a smirk, “What’s for dinner?” Those words make my heart sing because what I’m really hearing is “Comfort me with dinner.”

IMG_4140

We actually sat down at the table together on the first day of school–all five of us–and ate the same thing at the same time. There were a few tense moments of course, because our children are normal and young and protest if they are given anything other than noodles. But overall, it was wonderful. It slowed us down and helped us connect. The best part wasn’t even the food: when it was Mia’s turn to share her High Point from her day, she looked up from her plate and smiled, saying, “Right now.”

IMG_4145

In those few minutes, I was filled with a new appreciation for what dinnertime could be in the coming years: a daily ritual of comfort, all of us together, connected and fed in more ways than one. What kid wouldn’t look forward to coming home from school to that?

FullSizeRender 3

That is, if I can get organized and figure out what to cook.

Love,

Scratch

Kid Friendly Cassoulet (GF/DF/NF)FullSizeRender

Addie can’t seem to remember the name of this dish (I can’t blame her. Cassoulet is a sort of tricky word for a 5 year old), but she oohs and ahhs when I tell her I’m making sausage and bean stew, which is pretty much what this is–and an easy one at that. I tend to have the ingredients around most of the time and can toss it together quickly. The food is simple, but the flavors are fantastic, and all my children really do eat this. It is both gluten and dairy free, which makes it easier to get us all eating the same thing. I go easy on the thyme because any more of it overpowers the other flavors for me, but if you love the stuff, then by all means, add more. But whatever you do, don’t leave out the red wine vinegar. It makes all the other flavors come alive.

Ingredients:
  • 6 Italian sausages, uncooked
  • 2-13.5 cans diced tomatoes (juices included)
  • 2-13.5 ounce cans Great Northern Beans, drained
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and diced to 1/4 cubes or so
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 Tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon thyme
  • a few glugs of olive oil
Method:

In a dutch oven, warm up the olive oil over medium high heat. Line the sausages up in the pan and let them turn deep golden brown on both sides, about 2-3 minutes per side. Remove the sausages to a separate plate and lower the heat to medium. Toss in the onions and stir them around a bit, coating them in all those delicious sausage drippings. Cook them a few minutes so that they soften and start to turn translucent. Then, turn the heat down to medium low and toss in the garlic. In a minute or two you’ll start to smell the garlic; at that point add in the carrots and cook to soften a little, about 3-4 minutes. Sprinkle in the thyme and salt, then add in the tomatoes, tomato paste and red wine vinegar. Stir everything together and turn up the heat to medium. When the mixture begins to bubble, add in the drained beans and gently stir again. Slip the sausages from their plate back into the pan, along with any juice they’ve left behind, and nestle them in with the beans and veggies. When the stew starts to bubble, put the lid on top and put the whole thing in the oven. Leave it there for 40 minutes. After 30 minutes have passed, take the lid off, but keep the dish in the oven for another 45 minutes or so, until the sauce has thickened up and carmelized.

This would be fantastic served with crusty bread, clearly. But since I haven’t mastered the art of the gluten free loaf yet, we served it with roasted cauliflower and a simple cucumber tomato salad.