Allergy Friendly · Dairy Free · Dips and Sauces · Friendship · Side Dishes

Our People, and Summertime Fruit Dip

Dear Joey,

One of the hardest parts about moving was putting distance between ourselves and our people. But one of the easiest parts about moving is being close to our other people again. But my heart is divided because to be there means being with those people. To be here means being with these people. I love them all.

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There are people here, there are people there–shoot, we have people all over the place. We have people right across town, over the hills, up the valley in Napa and down the road in San Diego; we have people in the Midwest and people up North and down South and people all close enough to the Atlantic to go for a quick dip if the mood struck them. Our people are everywhere.

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But distance makes it difficult to see them very often–even the ones across town–and proximity matters when it comes to building friendships. It’s the people nearby that we end up living our lives with. Friendship is forged in the trenches of the daily, and enough small talk over time builds into something much bigger. Strangers turn into people we trust enough to pick our kids up from school in a pinch, and before we know it, they’re the people we live with, lean on, and love. It’s hard to say goodbye to that sort of security, even harder to start over.

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When I think about all our people, I wonder which ones will dissolve into a fuzzy memory as the years continue to slip by and which ones will remain a fixture in our hearts and home. Whose kids will our Goobies remember growing up with? Which ones will eek their way into their hearts and become their people? Who will we call at midnight when an emergency jerks us out of sleep? Which ones will hop on a plane if tragedy strikes? Who will show up to wave goodbye if our story leads us elsewhere and we move farther away than just across the hills? Who would pick up the phone at 10pm to settle an argument over cult classic movies and laugh with us as we bicker over whose favorite nostalgic movie was more important in the scheme of things: Mall Rats or Shag: The Movie?

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People move, and people move on. Out of sight, out of mind because what’s right in front of us demands our attention more than keeping up with people who aren’t in our immediate, day-to-day circle. The demands on our time shout loudly above the need of our hearts–to connect–and sometimes, friendships falter because of it. Keeping up with all the people all the time is hard. I wish I could be in both places (or really, all the places), all the time. I can’t, of course, but I think about all the people all the time. And I also wonder what new people are out there ahead of us, waiting for us to open our circle and extend our hands to them.

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Maybe that’s why we made the hour long drive to see our not-so-far-away people to swim and grill and indulge in their hospitality, pretending we’re far away and on vacation together. Maybe that’s why we keep asking our local people to come play at a moment’s notice, grilling and letting kids play outside until well after bedtime. Maybe that’s why I’ve made this fruit dip so many times this summer: when I’ve felt displaced, unsettled, and uncertain about where to plant my heart, this dip steadies me. Some people look at old pictures of the people they love (I seldom remember to snap them); others pick up the phone and call (I always feel like I’d be an inconvenience), but me? I cook because making recipes like this one is like grabbing the hand of an old friend while extending the other hand to a newer one, and I am safe, balanced right there between them both.

Love,

Scratch

Summertime Fruit Dip (GF/DF/NF)

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When one of our people came to visit this summer, it just felt right to whip up a batch of fruit dip–a creamy, dreamy wonder to which she introduced me well over ten years ago (thanks Felicia!). I couldn’t make her dip the conventional way (with regular old cream cheese), but I found a way to make a dairy free version that fooled my own mother. I’ve made it several times since that early summer morning well over a month ago now and one thing proves true: everyone loves it (not just the kids: it’s become a guilty pleasure among adults in our circle who tend to have difficulty with self-control around this stuff.) I recommend the Trader Joe’s brand Vegan Cream Cheese because I’m pretty much devoted to its clean, non-vegan flavor, but you could certainly substitute other brands that are accessible nationwide (such as Daiya), or just use regular cream cheese if your people don’t have issues with dairy. If you use another brand, taste and tweak as needed until the end result suits your fancy. 

Ingredients:
  • 1-8 oz. tub Vegan Cream Cheese (such as Trader Joe’s)
  • 1-7 oz. tub Jet Puffed Marshmallow Fluff
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
Method:

Whisk together all ingredients until fully combined. Chill for an hour or so to help firm it back up again. Serve with an assortment of fruit (strawberries, pineapple and cantaloupe are our favorites).

 

Friendship · Salads

Too Long and Not Long Enough, and Confetti Quinoa Salad

Dear Felicia,

Too long. It’s been too long since we’ve seen you. The last time was when Mia was still just a baby, one that fit snugly in your arms, wide-eyed and curious about an unfamiliar face cooing at her, nuzzling her. Addie was old enough to be timid around you, but innocent enough to believe us when we said she was your friend, that you loved her. That she was safe with you. We said the same thing to both girls this time around, and while they believed us, they were wary of you because nevertheless, you were still a stranger to them.

Too Long and Not Long Enough, and Confetti Quinoa Salad

And then there was the little guy who eyed you suspiciously, not really sure what to make of you. He’s old enough to understand that when unfamiliar people show up, it usually means we are headed out the door. Before long, you made friends without forcing yourself on any of them. You were simply you, comfortable and alive in your roll of Auntie, as if no time had passed at all. Wiping up sticky popsicle hands, fawning over princess dresses, playfully urging Addie to be bold and showing our kids what it means to love, sight unseen. Encouraging them to have happy plates, and showing them that you were, in fact, the same Auntie Fee Fee we talk about every time we praise them for having a happy plate.

Too Long and Not Long Enough, and Confetti Quinoa Salad

When you let us know you were coming, it was our instinct to celebrate. Joey and I imagined a big dinner with the whole gang back together again, sipping ice cold Moscow Mules while the kids ran around the warm summer evening, strangers separated by time turned to fast friends by virtue of just being together. In our imagination, there was no rush, no stress, not an ounce of weirdness that sometimes comes along with seeing faces you haven’t seen in awhile. The stories, laughter, wine and time never ran out.

But time does run out, and the gumption to throw a big party faded and was replaced by embarrassment that we didn’t keep up with everybody the way we used to when you lived here. Why is it that it took you coming all the way to California to show me just how distant everyone else had become?

There’s no real answer to that question, of course. Time forces us forward into new seasons. Sometimes we jump right in, eager to leave old things behind and experience something new, and other times we resist. Sometimes we realize things are changing, and other times we don’t. In this case, I think it’s a good mix of all of those things. And I think that’s ok.

Too Long and Not Long Enough, and Confetti Quinoa Salad

Wouldn’t it be fun though–and easier on you, perhaps–to have everyone who loves you here in California gathered in one place? We could give you the same sort of welcome you always give to us. I’m sorry we didn’t make that happen for you. Maybe we can make it up to you the next time you come to visit.

We were sad to see you go so quickly, as I knew we would be. Seeing you for three hours was not long enough for our greedy selves who wanted to soak up a little more Felicia before the sun went down that night. But having you here for even that little blip in time reminded Joey and me of who we were before our lives took the turn that brought us to the place we are now as a family. It connected our kids to the bigger picture of what brought us to the place we are now. What a gift.

So thank you for visiting us, for carving out a time to enter and enjoy our new world. You are gold, Felicia Bond, and I love you. We love you. And I think I speak for all of California when I say, hurry back. We miss you.

Love,
Rachel

Confetti Quinoa Salad

Too Long and Not Long Enough, and Confetti Quinoa Salad

This salad is basically a riff on the quinoa salad we always serve with spicy herbed chicken. While that version is fairly plain (bell peppers and green onions only), this one has a little more pizazz, sort of like dressing up an everyday knit sundress with dangly earrings and sparkly sandals. It’s a perfect summer side dish, cooling and light, bursting with sun-kissed flavor. Add black beans if you wish. Or red chili flakes. Or grilled chicken.  Pretty much accessorize as you like, adding your own style as you go.

Ingredients

1 cup uncooked quinoa
1 sweet bell pepper (red, orange, or yellow) diced
1/4 large red onion, diced
1 large English cucumber, diced (alternatively, peel and dice a regular old cucumber)
1 cup sweet corn (fresh or frozen)
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Method

Rinse one cup quinoa. In a small saucepan, combine rinsed quinoa. 2 cups water and a dash of salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and cover. Cook for 15 minutes. Let stand, covered, for 5 minutes, and then fluff with a fork. Cool completely.

After the quinoa is cooked and cooled, toss it with diced vegetables, red wine vinegar and olive oil. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Breakfast · Friendship

On Being Shy and Making Friends, and Blueberry Stuffed French Toast

Dear Joey,

It’s very strange to coach someone else through the process of making friends. I’ve never felt particularly good at making friends myself, so walking Addie through the process is teaching me new lessons and forcing me to face a few deep-seeded fears. For instance, to make a friend, you must first speak to someone else and they have to listen to you. And then, you have to keep speaking and they have to keep listening, and vice-versa. All very difficult for a formerly “shy” child like me.

I was a slow-to-warm sort of child, observant, soft-spoken. I liked to watch the action a little bit before I felt comfortable enough to join in. This, of course, made me appear snooty, aloof, shy. Along the line, that word – shy – was attached to me as if it were part of my name. I wasn’t just Rachel; I was Shy Rachel. I guess that’s ok, in some ways. I acted shy a lot of the time, so to the outward observer, it must have been natural to assume that I was shy. Eventually, though, whether because of labels others put upon me or not, shyness became central to who I believed I was. It wasn’t just a way I felt or acted; it was a label that identified me as incapable of engaging with others in a healthy, normal way. I carried that lie with me for years, filtered every interaction through that lens, and I saw the world as a big scary place filled with intimidating people and situations.

As an adult, I am still observant and somewhat soft-spoken, though I’m not sure many people would classify me as shy these days (only took 30 years to get to that point). Now, though, I find myself revisiting this issue again in our daughter. Addie is definitely not shy, and in many situations she warms up immediately and shows her true colors immediately, both the good and the not so good. However, in no less than a dozen situations over the last few months people have called her shy – with her listening to them intently – and have thus labeled her as a shy child.

I know she heard them and took what they said to heart because she told me the other day that she is shy, to which I responded that she was not shy. And we argued about it a bit. “Yes, I am shy,” she insisted. But instead of even saying things like, “You’re just acting shy” I have switched my word choice to avoid that word altogether. In my mind, the word has a bad connotation to it that I don’t want her to associate with who she actually is. (Synonyms include timid, diffident, afraid, fearful, distrustful, reluctant, sheepish, nervous).  

Perhaps I’ll tell her she is demure, thoughtful, and intentional. Or perhaps I’ll just tell her that sometimes it takes her a little bit of time to feel at ease with people. I want to teach her to be friendly and polite and to respond to people when they engage her, to not be fearful of unfamiliar people or situations, and to be confident in who she is, whether she is loud and gregarious or observant and introspective. And I’ll tell her that it’s ok to want to be alone, that it’s ok to need to be alone, and there is a time to be silent and a time to speak (Ecclesiastes 3:7). But more difficult than that, I am earnestly trying to live out the best advice on how to make friends that was ever given: treat others as you would want them to treat you (Luke 6:31). In other words, to have a friend, you must be a friend. 

Friendship is a sticky business because relationships are hard. Establishing them, maintaining them, growing them. It takes vulnerability, follow through, and a great deal of risk. Things could go wrong, things could get messy. Someone may not accept you right away. Someone may eventually reject you. Haven’t we been living this lately as we build friendships with new people? I hope our own efforts are showing her that friendship is worth the risk of rejection. It’s worth the work. It’s worth the occasional inconvenience because in the end, we would want someone to love us enough to be willing to be inconvenienced for us.

 

Addie has a good number of friends, young and old, boys and girls, near and far away. She asks about them, checking in on them when she hasn’t seen them in awhile, and she even prays for her most special ones, unprompted.  This girl is anything but shy, and I’m sure that in the coming years, she’ll show that truth in ways we can’t even imagine.

Love, Scratch

 

Blueberry Stuffed French Toast (GF option/NF)On Being Shy, Making Friends, and Blueberry Stuffed French Toast

The first time I made this recipe, I gave it away to new friends who had just had a baby. Since then, I’ve made it many, many times (and it’s just as good made gluten free!). It’s my new vote for brunch or potlucks or Christmas morning breakfast because not only is it delicious, it is incredibly easy to make. There is very little fuss involved to put it together but it does have to sit overnight, so best to plan ahead on this one. You can use frozen blueberries for the filling if you prefer, but you’ll need to increase the cooking time by at least 30 minutes.

Ingredients:
For the casserole

12 slices gluten free sandwich bread cut into 1 inch cubes (Udi’s works well. Use whole wheat if gluten isn’t a problem for you)
2 – 8 oz. packages low fat cream cheese, cut into 1 inch cubes (you could use just one package, if you want, but use both for a more decadent, delicious result)
1 cup fresh blueberries, rinsed
12 large eggs
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
2 cups lowfat milk

For the blueberry sauce
1 cup sugar
2 T cornstarch
1 cup water
1 cup frozen blueberries
1 T butter

Method:
For the casserole
Start by greasing a 9 x 13 baking dish. Then, cube your bread and cube the cream cheese. After that, assemble the casserole by arranging 1/2 of the bread cubes in the bottom of the baking dish. Scatter cream cheese cubes and blueberries over the bread, and then scatter the remaining bread on top.

Then, in a large bowl, whisk the eggs, syrup, and milk and pour on top of the bread. Cover with foil (or a lid, if you have one) and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, remove the pan from refrigerator and let the pan sit at room temperature while you preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake covered for 30 minutes; remove the foil (or lid), and bake for another 30 minutes or until puffed and golden. Finish by pouring the blueberry sauce on top (see below).

For the blueberry sauce
Stir together the sugar, cornstarch and water. Heat over medium heat for 5 minutes, or until thick. Add the blueberries. Cook for 10 minutes or until berries have burst. Add butter and stir until melted and combined.

Friendship · Grilling

More Alike Than Different, and Flexible Grilled Flank Steak

Dear Joey,

Our kitchen table is in storage. The table we eat at now isn’t actually a table, so much as a footstool. A footstool with wooden trays on it that are usually cluttered with dolls or crayon wrappers or a half-eaten piece of toast or finally, after the kids are asleep, some semblance of a dinner fit for adults.

As it turns out, we aren’t the only people who eat dinner far after a “normal” dinner hour. Take Molly and Jeff: turns out that they also have been known to eat dinner after their kids are asleep, if not on a regular basis, then frequently enough for me to feel like we aren’t alone in this habit. And although I don’t want this to be our way of life forever, it does have its charm, too. Eating without interruptions? So worth the late hour.

But anyway, Molly and I talked about one such dinner just a couple of days after Valentine’s Day this year. I remember the conversation because we had gone down to her house for our first visit since last summer just a few short days after Valentine’s Day, and over the course of our conversation we discovered that we both had the same idea of what constituted a special Valentine’s dinner these days: grilling a good piece of meat at home and cracking open a bottle of wine after the kids were asleep. It turns out they had grilled flank steak too, using a marinade that was nearly identical to the one we used, save for just a few ingredients that although not identical, were interchangeable (honey for the brown sugar, for example). It was in hearing Molly’s steak recipe that once and for all convinced me that we are more alike than different.

More Alike Than Different

Molly and I couldn’t be more different, in many ways. We’re opposites in hair color and eye color, for one (and strangely Addie looks more like her than she does me), not to mention the fact that she is outgoing and gregarious; I tend toward being more reserved and soft-spoken. She likes Almond Roca and raspberries and Old English poetry while I could easily pass on all three. But after giving it a lot of thought (it has been almost two months since Valentine’s Day, hasn’t it?), I realize that there isn’t much to add to this list of differences. Either the older we get, the more we have in common, or the older we get, the more I realize we always had in common.

We both love strong coffee in chunky Starbucks mugs, and reading challenging books and watching Disney movies. We love brownies and Le Creuset cookware and black tea and Jesus. We think strawberries pretty much rule and could eat a whole package of Oreos on our own if our good sense didn’t tell us not to. We both find European decor both charming and attractive, and we both love a good hoodie.

I’ve been wishing we lived closer to the Nelson family for a long time now, but after this particular visit, I realized just how much I wish we lived down the street from them, close enough for me to knock on her door, unannounced, kids in tow, and be welcomed in for an afternoon gab fest over a glass of malted milk and graham crackers slathered with chocolate frosting.

Life changes all the time, but some things never change. Molly is that for me, a constant, I mean. The sort of friend that will always be my friend, though she changes and I change and things change. And I love that about her.

Funny how a simple recipe for grilled steak can make me realize this simple truth, isn’t it?

Love, Scratch

Flexible Grilled Flank Steak (GF/DF/NF)

More Alike Than Different

See that cookbook cracked open on the counter? It’s open to a recipe known as “Tony’s Steak,” a  recipe I used as my guide for our Valentine’s dinner this year. I made a few alterations to the original recipe based on what I had on hand, and it worked so well that I may never make the recipe as it was originally written (which reinforces the fact that this marinade is truly a flexible one). This is my version; for the original, head over to Dinner: A Love Story. (You’ll also find a pretty picture of the way the steak looks once cooked, a picture I failed to snap. But I promise, ours turned out perfectly.)

Ingredients:

1/3 cup low sodium Tamari (gluten free soy sauce)
1 T brown sugar (or use honey to taste instead)
1 T olive oil
1 tsp sesame oil
1/4 cup finely chopped yellow onion
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 tsp Tabasco Sauce
Juice from one lemon
Salt and pepper
1 1/2 pound flank steak

Method:

Put all ingredients in a ziplock bag (or really, any container) and smush around until well mixed. Add the steak and smush everything around again, making sure to coat the meat well. Let sit for four hours (or longer). Grill about four minutes per side and then let rest for 10 more minutes. Slice against the grain.

This steak was the perfect complement to this wine, which is one of our favorites.