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.

Family Life · Food Allergies

On Food Allergies and Wanting to Feel Normal

Dear Joey,

This is how food allergies make me feel: Trapped. Surly.

 

 

This is how food allergies make our kids feel: Separate. Left out.

 

Much has been said — is being said — about food allergies, and it’s no wonder: these things are getting more and more common. I read there are more of us all the time– families dealing with food allergies who find themselves fighting a battle for which they’re most likely not prepared for at all, if they’re anything like us. But the frustrating thing is: I know so few of these people. In our world, it feels like it’s just us. Alone.

When I was growing up, I knew of two people with food allergies: Tony, a cousin; and Tina, a classmate. I don’t have much memory of Tony dealing with his allergies, except for a few fragmented moments in which my Aunt mentioned how dangerous a peanut allergy can be, and how soy is in everything. I was too young to care much about what that actually meant in their day to day lives.

But I do remember a bit more about what it was like for Tina. She unabashedly asked about ingredients in whatever foods were being offered to her, and everyone took it pretty seriously. And by seriously, I mean this: people believed she had an allergy, and they did their best to keep her safe and included at the same time.

I remember her coming to our house once to spend the weekend with us once while her parents went out of town, which would quite an ordeal these days, I imagine, with the barrage of instructions and medications and half-crazed parents trying their best to stay sane while doling out instructions for the care takers (I know, because I am one of those parents). But 25 years ago, it was almost no big deal. Her mom dropped her off with Mocha Mix, Rice Krispies, and a big pot of chicken and rice soup to help offset any trouble feeding a dairy free child might be for my mom. Tina’s mom certainly didn’t insist we clear out our fridge or restrict our own consumption of milk while Tina was with us. She must have thought my mom was a reasonable person, and trusted she would take the allergy as seriously as it needed to be taken–meaning, of course, don’t feed dairy products to Tina.

Food allergies is a thing now, though, meaning more kids have them–like ours–and our society’s infrastructure has changed a bit to address the problem. Many schools are nut free; EpiPens are normal; kids wear medical alert bracelets. Even kids without an allergy of their own are at the mercy of rules set up to keep other kids safe. Like our own Addie: she had to give up peanut butter right along with us the day we found out about Mia’s allergy, and now is learning to drink vanilla almond milk because of little brother’s dairy allergy. She can’t take almond butter sandwiches to school because it’s a nut-free zone, and if we’re at a birthday party where either of the other kids can’t eat the treat provided, we make Addie skip out too.

Even so, Addie takes most of it in stride because she has a pint-sized understanding of why some foods are off limits for our family. She’s watched both her brother and sister break into hives, watched me cry and pray and give medicine, and even spent the afternoon in the ER after little brother suffered a particularly bad reaction. She may not have an allergy of her own, but her food life is lived within the parameters of what’s safe for her sister and brother to eat, and for the most part, it doesn’t bother her.

But I know it must bother other kids, other families that don’t have allergies. They’ve got to be frustrated when forced to abide by rules that are irrelevant in their own household. Like the little circle of moms at Addie’s dance class who bemoaned the fact their kids had to deal with the fallout of food allergies even though they themselves don’t have them. Just a few months ago, I overheard them saying how frustrated they are about not being able to send peanut butter sandwiches to school, and what an inconvenience it is to have to worry about potential allergens when packing their own kids lunches, or making birthday cupcakes, or bringing in candy for parties. They said things like: I mean really. Our kids shouldn’t have to suffer because they don’t have an allergy. It’s not their fault nor their responsibility. 

When I heard all this, I wanted so badly to walk up to them and say, “If your kids did have food allergies, wouldn’t you appreciate rules put in place to help keep them safe when they are out of your immediate care?” But I didn’t. I’m not brave and I feel ill-equipped for that discussion because, well, they have a point. I already feel beaten up by food allergies themselves, and I couldn’t bear the thought of trying to fight another battle.

I am thankful for the people around us who do the best they know how to be supportive and watch out for our kids, but even well-informed people make mistakes. Since starting preschool a year and a half ago, nuts have snuck their way into her classroom at least three times, the most recent of which was on the last day of preschool last year when a fellow mom made cupcakes topped with a graduation cap made out of a peanut butter cup. These things happened in a nut free school that we love and trust. Not one of those people intentionally put our daughter at risk.

I didn’t raise a stink about it. I appreciated the gesture of making sure Mia had a cupcake too, and I was right there to explain to her what the chocolate really was and why she couldn’t have one (something she used to take in stride, but is increasingly having a difficult time with). I was a little peeved, but at the whole idea that food allergies are a reality for us, and not because anyone tried to hurt Mia on purpose. Things turned out alright. Plus, I constantly beat myself up for my own lapses in judgment that have plunked our kids down in the middle of a food allergy mess. Who am I to get mad at others for genuinely trying to keep them safe and included?

Just two weeks ago, I rushed Emery to the Emergency Department after he had mistakenly gotten a hold of Mia’s empty milk cup. I should have known better than to let her drink it on the couch because Emery is getting really good at getting a hold of his sister’s stuff now.  I warned her not to let her brother get her cup, and to her credit, she did her best to put it out of his reach, but while I had my back turned for half a second, he stretched those little arms as far as he could, grabbed the cup, and took a sip of whatever was left.

I snatched the cup away, scooped him up, and kicked myself for creating this problem in the first place while I went to find the Benedryl. He’s had hives from milk before, so I wasn’t panicked, exactly. But before I knew it, his left eye started to swell, and the swelling crept down the side of his cheek, distorting his little face just enough for me to know something was different this time. I called you in a tizzy, crying and scared and very much needing you to stay on the phone with me while I used the EpiPen for the first time. You did. And after it was over, we flew to the hospital to make sure he would be alright. He was, but riddled with Benedryl, he was beside himself.

Just a week later, I gave Emery Sunflower Seed Butter, a seemingly benign food touted as a safe alternative to peanut butter. It’s safe for schools. Mia eats it happily, as does Addie. Emery showed a small sensitivity to it a few months ago, but I figured that had probably passed because these things often do, and there wasn’t any way Sunbutter could be a real problem for him, in my mind. After just about a half a teaspoon of the stuff, Emery’s body was riddled with hives that seemed to spread faster than any I’d seen before. They started on his chin, erupted on his left arm and quickly got thick and red and covered arms and tummy.

He didn’t vomit or swell or show any other sign of distress, so I gave him Benedryl and watched and waited. I admit I cried, again. Always. I can’t seem to help it when this happens. This time, though, I was upset with myself, because I knew better. Hadn’t he had a tiny reaction to this stuff a few months ago? Why did I think this time would be any different? And I was upset with the whole twisted food system that makes things more difficult on families like ours. And I prayed that the antihistamine would do it’s work quickly as I chased our crazy boy around the house. Benedryl riles him up, causing him to rage, destructive and angry, as the medicine courses through his system. When the hives finally subsided, my parents rang the doorbell, and I let my mom hug me while I fought back tears. I was spent.

I want people without food allergies to know we didn’t choose this, and we aren’t trying to be unreasonable. We don’t want to inconvenience anyone, but we also don’t know what else to do. Food allergies are inconvenient. Figuring out how to navigate this food allergy world is hard. Scouring packages, stretching dollars, trying to better understand the inexplicable. Taking risks every time we eat out. Making sure we do our best to keep our kids safe and trying not to worry when they’re out of our care. It’s a lot to handle.

I’m thankful you’re in this with me, and that we have a tribe of folks who walk beside us doing their best to look out for us, who don’t regard food allergies as a nuisance, but try their best to make us feel normal. Sometimes, all I want is to feel normal again.

Love,
Scratch