Breakfast · Love & Marriage · Paleo · Whole30(ish)

Solidarity, or Whole30(ish) and Joey’s Favorite Almond Butter Banana Shake

Dear Joey,

Yesterday was the fourth day in a row I sent you out the door with a shake so dreamy it might as well be dessert. When you got home from work after the first time I made it, you handed me your empty cup and said with a smirk, “That shake this morning was good, Rach. It tasted like peanut butter. I know it’s not peanut butter, but it was good like peanut butter. What was it, like almond butter or something?”

You know you make my heart swell ten times its normal size when you say things like that, don’t you? I dreamed up that shake on the fly over a month ago when I took myself off of all grains and dairy, before either of us took the plunge into the more restrictive versions of Paleo in which we currently find ourselves–the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) for me, and Whole30(ish) for you. I came up with it on a whim on a rushed Sunday morning when I had to leave for church 15 minutes ago and clearly didn’t have time to fry up some eggs or sit down to a bowl of grain-free granola. I needed something quicker than quick and satisfying enough to tide me over until well after church, and somehow coconut milk and frozen bananas joined forces with almond butter and honey to create a luscious meal-on-the-go that tasted more like dessert than breakfast.

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Over the course of the next month I pressed on with my grain free/dairy free diet, but it got complicated to feed us both, and I really wanted to go deeper and do a gut-healing diet that would yield longer lasting results. I knew you would be on board for whatever diet plan I chose to follow for my own process of healing, but getting you to join me me was another obstacle entirely. When you agreed to do your own, less restrictive version of Paleo while I did the ultra-restrictive AIP, I about keeled over with thankfulness. A day or two would pass, I would press you and ask, “Really? You don’t mind? You don’t have to do this, you know…” Bless your heart for saying over and over again, “Solidarity.”

So this past Monday was the first of a long series of mornings in which I had a very crucial choice to make: send you to work on an empty stomach (trusting you would make compliant food choices on your own), or break Whole30 rules from the get-go and make you a shake for breakfast. Let’s be clear: I trust you. The problem is this: you lean on those morning meals and when you are hungry and confronted with temptation, you eat donuts. Shake, or donuts? Shake, or donuts? You see why I chose to break this rule?

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You play it cool but I am sure you panicked, wondering how I would hold up my promise to feed you well every day for the next month without all those already healthy foods you were so used to leaning on. Most specifically, maybe, you wondered about what would become of your morning shake, or to the rhythm of my footsteps padding toward the kitchen to make one while Emery sprints toward your lap for cover while the blender wakes the rest of the Goobies from their sleep. You seemed a little relieved when I asked you what flavor you would like that morning, but admittedly seemed a little confused by the ingredients that were strewn across the counter: cans of coconut milk, a jar of integral collagen and almond butter, bags of maca powder and frozen bananas, a jug of MCT Oil–the place looked like a veritable laboratory. But you didn’t utter a word of worry and graciously accepted the amalgamation that I handed you that morning (that did not include honey, mind you). Luckily, my prior discovery of that particular concoction saved the day and you’ve asked for it four mornings in a row.

Every time I handed it to you this week I feel like such a cheat. Technically, shakes aren’t really allowed on the Whole30 (which is why I tend to refer to what you are doing as Whole30(ish)), but it just didn’t seem feasible or sustainable for you to get up even earlier than you already do to sit down to a breakfast of eggs and fruit. Fruit and coconut milk whirled together for a quick breakfast on the go does not bother me, and our purpose in eating this way isn’t to change up your morning routine, so I made an executive decision to just make the shake for you anyway and turn myself into a miserable rule breaker.

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Everything else you’re eating is compliant–meaning, you are drinking your coffee black (or with unsweetened almond milk); you are avoiding alcohol, you have cut out all sweeteners (even stevia), and you are not eating grains, legumes, or dairy. In other words, you are eating what’s left: vegetables, fruits, proteins, nuts/seeds. Big picture: you’re rocking it. (And for the past three mornings, you have woken up saying, “Man, I slept well last night.” That’s new.) We are mature enough to make decisions about what we eat, are we not? If we work well within the limits of whole, real, fresh, organic, unsweetened, unprocessed, etc.–won’t we all win? If a shake in the morning helps us do it, I say break out the blender and put it to good use.

Today is Day 5 and I was happy to send you off into your day armed again with food that will make you feel good about life. A shake in one hand and a bag heavy with mixed greens with salmon and capers, unsweetened dried apricots, and raw almonds in the other, you left for work sipping that creamy concoction that forever will be dubbed, Joey’s Favorite. (I love that it’s your favorite.)

Joey’s Favorite Almond Butter and Banana Shake

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If it bothers anyone to call this a Whole30 shake, then don’t call it that: but it is a Paleo one (and vegan, to boot). If you’re doing the Whole30, skip the honey (you will find you don’t really need it anyway if your banana is super ripe).  This shake is not compliant with the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) that I’m doing at the moment, but I’m very much looking forward to adding it back into my own personal rotation of morning eats.

Ingredients:
  • 1 cup full fat coconut milk (not coconut beverage) or 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 1 large frozen banana (broken into about four small pieces)
  • 2 Tablespoons unsweetened almond butter
  • 1 Tablespoon maca powder
  • 1 scoop integral collagen (or collagen peptides)
  • 1 teaspoon MCT oil (omit if using coconut milk)
  • 1-2 teaspoons honey (optional)
Method:

First get out your high speed blender, bonus if you have a single serving shake cup. Pour the milk into the cup (or pitcher of your blender), add all other ingredients, and process until smooth. The mixture will be thick. We prefer our shakes this way, but if it’s too thick for you just add a little more almond milk (if using), or some water and process again to combine.

 

 

 

Allergy Friendly · Gluten Free · Growing and Changing · Love & Marriage · Pizza

On Golden State Basketball, and Golden Flax Pizza Crust

Dear Joey,

The Golden State Warriors are in the Western Conference Finals again, which of course means lots of things to lots of folks. To you, it means you caught one of their winning games live and in person during a season when they ended up moving on to the post season. To me (a girl who declined date-after-box-seat-date from you just a few years ago), watching those games with you means two things: first, people change. Second: pizza.

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Before we were dating, shoot–before we moved to this house–basketball didn’t interest me at all. It didn’t even tempt me to flirt with the idea of caring. The promise of box seats in Oracle Arena was wasted on me. But just a few short seasons later, I found myself married to you–a proven sports fanatic–and facing box seats of a different kind: seats in my own home that made me feel boxed out and left struggling because sports stole my husband.

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I made a decision just like the one I made seven years ago during the summer before Addie was born, the same year the Giants won the first of the three World Series titles they’ve won over the past several years. I didn’t care much for baseball at the time–not enough to watch every game, at least–but you did. I quickly realized I had a choice: I could plunk myself down on the opposite side of the couch and pout, hoping my mopey behavior would make you pity me enough to change the channel; I could hide myself away in the other room, fuming at menfolk for loving ball games more than their wives; or I could snuggle up to you and ask you to teach me about the game, and then listen and learn.

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Happily, I chose to listen and learn, and the more I understood about the game, the more I enjoyed watching it. Knowing there was an end to the season helped; I knew we could move on to something a little more me by the time Addie was born (because the baseball season ends before November). I enjoyed a little bit of control over the remote again that November (and for a few more after it) until sports continued to dominate our nighttime line up well into November and beyond, all because someone named Curry was doing something worth watching (whatever that meant). I rolled my eyes and felt a little defeated–and not very excited to listen and learn again. But I did, and you patiently fielded my questions, answering when you could and digging a little deeper when you could not. Now, nearly four years later, not much evokes memories so splendid of date nights at home than the idea of Warriors basketball and pizza.

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Pizza poses a problem around here though. I mean, clearly. Pizza is bread and cheese–you know, two of the three no-no’s around here that collectively make eating out a nightmare. Toss in the cost of ordering over-priced gluten free and dairy free pizza (both the expense and the risk are prohibitive, in my opinion), along with the time it takes to shop for and make homemade gluten free and/or dairy free pizza, all while trying to keep our diet consistent with that whole Hot Mama Diet thing, and suddenly we’ve got a real problem got a meal most folks take for granted. Pizza felt inaccessible. Except it’s pizza, for crying out loud! Depriving my you of the stuff at game time just felt fundamentally wrong, so I set out to make things right.

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Difficult as it may be to negotiate the Hot Mama way of life with allergy and budget constraints, it definitely has its perks. Were I not gluten free, and were we low carb a lot of the time, I guarantee I would not have even thought to use golden flax meal as a pizza crust.  True: we will never brag that this is THE BEST pizza crust ever. It is made from golden flax meal and eggs, after all. But it is the best budget friendly, awesome cracker-turned-pizza crust that allows us to eat Hot Mama pizza on short notice. Prebake a crust or two, stash them in the freezer, then load it up with yummy toppings and bake it again until its golden and bubbly. Emery even likes it topped with his beloved Daiya dairy free Mozzarella Style Shreds.  (And ok, to be fair, the girls don’t love it the way they enjoy more traditional pizza crusts made out gluten free flour, but they eat it just the same, saying it’s sort of like eating pizza on a cracker. Touche.)

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This measly little pizza crust played a big role in bringing me around to basketball though because I used it to butter you up before I fired question after question at you. Somehow you didn’t seem to mind them as long as you had something good to snack on between answers. That’s why this golden pizza crust goes hand in hand with watching the Warriors play basketball. Not because it’s the best gluten free crust I’ve ever made. (It’s not.) Not because it gives me the freedom to plop down on the couch and make pizza appear magically, as if from nowhere. (It doesn’t.) It’s a big deal because it’s quick and easy, it’s inexpensive, it’s flexible for food allergies, and it makes a dynamite BBQ Chicken Pizza that makes you feel like you’re not missing anything by watching the game at home with me, and not in those fancy box seats at the arena.

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Tuesday night when we finally got all those Goobies settled into their beds after an evening of playing the role of proud and involved parents at her school Open House, I was just as anxious to click on Game 2 against the Spurs and munch on that BBQ Chicken Pizza as you were (who am I?) because there’s no better view of the game than the one from our own couch.

img_5944-e1495149087449.jpgGolden Flax Pizza Crust

This recipe is essentially a trimmed down version of the Trim Healthy Mama recipe for Golden Flax Bread, a bread-like alternative that I never quite got on board with. While their Golden Flax “bread” is sort of eggy in texture, this one is not at all. By rolling the dough out, it becomes something like a giant cracker, and everyone knows that cheese clearly goes hand in hand with crackers. The texture is … different. But it is good all the same. If you’re watching your carbohydrates and still want a budget (or nut-free!) friendly pizza crust, give this one a try.

Ingredients:
  • 2 cups golden flax meal
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 T baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
Method:

Start by preheating your oven to 350°F. Then, spray a round pizza pan (or cookie sheet) with nonstick coconut oil spray.

Next, measure all ingredients together in a large bowl. Let the mixture sit for five minutes. The flax meal with absorb most of the liquid, thickening it into a spongy dough-like mass. At this point, plunk half the dough onto a greased cookie sheet. Lay a piece of wax paper on top of it and roll the dough out until it is about 1/4 inch thick. Remove the wax paper (carefully peel back the wax paper–it sticks if you yank it off to quickly!) and put the crust in the oven. Bake for 12-14 minutes, or until the edges are well set (golden and crisp, but not at all burned). Using a stainless steel spatula, carefully loosen the crust from the bottom of the pan, starting at the outside edge of the crust and working around the circle, gently lifting until the crust is completely separated from the pan. Place the crust on a wire rack and cool.

To top the pizza: Spread sauce, cheese, and all the pizza fixings your heart could desire on top and bake for another 8-10 minutes or so, until cheese is melted, bubbly, and golden.

To freeze the crust: Once the crust is cooled, wrap it well with plastic wrap, making sure each edge is sealed completely. Store in the freezer until ready to use.

 

Birthdays · Celebrations · Dinner · Love & Marriage · Salads

Joey’s 40th Birthday and Chopped Cheeseburger Salad (GF/DF Option/NF/THM S)

Dear Joey,

You were dreading your big day –turning 40 — for months. Ever since you turned 39, really. The day loomed over you, big and foreboding, like a storm cloud. I was dreading the day too–not because I wasn’t looking forward to being married to a man in his 40’s (Ha! You’re older than me!), but because I felt like I owed you a big birthday debt because I blew it when you turned 30, and the sting of disappointment over that flop of a milestone birthday still bothers you. It bothers me too.

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It’s been ten years, but I remember that evening clearly: I must have been putting groceries away because I was I crouched down low in front of the refrigerator, nestling lettuce and cucumbers into the crisper drawer when Christy reminded me we were supposed to take you out for dinner that night. What she ordinarily would have used as an excuse to get the two of us in the same room suddenly seemed like a big inconvenience. She was feeling just as pressed for time as I was that night. Her bridal shower was in the morning and the groceries I was struggling to put away were minor details compared to the long list of other things awaiting our attention in the next few hours. We went back and forth for a minute or two trying to figure out how to make good on our promise to take you out to celebrate your birthday, finish our to-do list, and get a little bit of sleep. Something had to give, and that night, it was you.

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Was it Christy who called you or was it me? I don’t remember, to be honest. But I do remember how awful I felt about it the moment you hung up. You spent your 30th birthday alone because we flaked on you. Every so often you remind me how much it disappointed you, usually when you are giving me a hard time about how I am so dense that I didn’t even know our first date was, in fact, a date at all.  But a week ago, your frustration over the circumstances surrounding this birthday erupted. The rainy weather, another round of coughs and congestion, our weekend getaway on the verge of falling through rattled you. “We have to do something, otherwise this birthday will be just like my 30th,” you said. Here we go again, you seemed to be saying, another big birthday left uncelebrated.

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I felt it too–the weight this milestone put upon you. I wanted to make your 40th birthday awesome anyway, so awesome it would inspire you to forgive me for flaking on you all those years ago–but after you said that, the pressure was on. The problem is: my hands were tied. By the time I realized how much this day meant to you, there were only three days left, for crying out loud. Three days didn’t give me enough time to do much other than move ahead with my original plans for a low key birthday at home (which by then were feeling much more ho-hum than anything).

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I trudged through the week, worried and stressed and failing miserably at the smallest of gestures I hoped would make your birthday week special–making your top five favorite meals each night of the week, culminating in Beef Stroganoff and Grandma Adeline’s kuchen on your big day. But the only meal I managed to tick off the list was Chopped Cheeseburger Salad–I was too busy fretting that the super awesome birthday present I ordered the week before wouldn’t make it here in time for your big day; wracking my brain to figure out how to make good on my promise of making your annual birthday dinner now that food allergies and intolerances complicate things around here; afraid you would be unhappy with the bill that came with even the most modest attempt at making your day special; and worrying that my best effort to make your birthday special still wouldn’t be enough to make you feel loved and important. It wasn’t a good week, admittedly, and my attitude was just as volatile as the weather patterns around here have been.

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But there was a break in the clouds by the time your birthday rolled around, and the lingering guilt over this big debt I felt I owed you dissipated when I realized that small things done with big love aren’t really small at all. It also helped that you seemed genuinely happy all day. If there was any disappointment in your heart, you covered it well.

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I imagine there must have been some disappointment. The gluten free, dairy free kuchen failed miserably. I didn’t get around to cooking the Beef Stroganoff until after the Goobies whispered their last “Happy birthday, Daddy!” as we tucked them into bed, and we weren’t quite over whatever bug we’d been fighting that week quite yet. Our weekend plans were cancelled, more rain came in–but that super awesome birthday present found its way to you on time. And you loved it.

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As piddly as my gestures felt compared to the grand plans with which I wish I could have surprised you–these small things were done with great love. And that right there is the biggest difference between your 40th birthday and your 30th. Ten years ago, I didn’t love you yet. That we’re sorry we hurt your feelings birthday dinner we took you out for to celebrate your 30th birthday was a bigger party than your 40th birthday dinner, indeed. There were more people there, more food, more presents, more fun, and you spent the evening surrounded by people who loved you. This time around, there weren’t as many people around the dinner table, the food was only so-so, and the presents were small, too. But I showed up. The Goobies thrilled at throwing you a party. The food mattered to you. And the presents knocked your socks off. Most of all, this time, even the smallest, seemingly insignificant screamed how much I love you, because this time around, I do.

Love,

Scratch

Chopped Cheeseburger Salad

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Cheeseburger salads are everywhere–I get it. What makes this one stand out? Nothing much, I guess, except that Joey likes it better than any others he’s eaten at a restaurant, which of course makes my heart soar–but also, I totally agree. Many cheeseburger salads plop a lukewarm burger with plastic cheese on top of a pile of lettuce leaves and bun-sized slices of tomatoes, pickles, and onions, and serve thousand island dressing on the side. You end up having to chop the thing up yourself, making it feel like a lackluster bunless burger rather than a hearty, somewhat indulgent salad. At home, I chop the lettuce into bite sized pieces and pile them high with classic cheeseburger toppings: shredded sharp cheddar cheese (Daiya cheddar style shreds for Emery, if he’s around), ripe red tomatoes, chunks of dill pickles, and diced red or green onions if we feel like fussing around with them. Sometimes I get fancy and add some bacon or avocado, but we like the simplicity of this version best. Also–a note about the Pink Sauce. It’s really just Thousand Island Dressing like my mom always used to make, but we call it Pink Sauce because that’s what our girls call it. I use Trader Joe’s brand mayonnaise, ketchup and dill pickles in this recipe. Other varieties will work too, of course, but I’m devoted to these Trader Joe’s staples and way their flavors meld into the perfect thousand island dressing. If you don’t want to use all that pickle juice, swap some out and use plain white vinegar instead. The salad and dressing are naturally gluten free, but swap vegan cheese for the sharp cheddar (or leave it out altogether) to make it dairy free. THM friends, this is an S.

Ingredients:

For the Salad

  • 1 pound ground beef (plus salt, to taste)
  • 2 romaine hearts, washed, dried and chopped into 1 1/2″ pieces or so
  • 2 handfuls of grape tomatoes, chopped (or try 1/2 – 3/4 cup chopped Romas or beefsteaks)
  • 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • dill pickles chopped, as few or as many as you prefer
  • Red onions, chopped (go easy on them–start with 2 Tablespoons or so) or 4 sliced green onions or so
  • Pink Sauce (as below)

For the Pink Sauce

  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 3/4 cup ketchup
  • 1/2 cup dill pickle juice (see note above)
  • 2 Tablespoons Pyure Organic Stevia Blend (or other sweetener equivalent to 1/3 sugar, or clearly–just use sugar. 1/3 cup should do.)
  • 1/2 cup diced dill pickles
Method:

First, brown the ground beef and season it with about 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Once the meat is cooked through (no more pink), drain it and set it aside to cool.

Next, work on the dressing. In a large jelly jar, measure the mayonnaise, ketchup and dill pickle juice and sweetner. Whisk until smooth. Toss in the diced pickles, give it another stir, and set aside (after tasting to make sure you like it, of course).

And now, on to the salad. Shred the cheese (if necessary) and set aside. Wash and dry the romaine lettuce. Next, chop it all up, along with the tomatoes and pickles, and toss it into a big bowl: first the lettuce, followed by the ground beef, then the shredded cheese, followed by the diced tomatoes, onions and dill pickles. Finally, swirl the dressing on top–about a 1/2 cup at first–and toss with tongs to coat. Add more dressing if it suits your taste to do so.

Pile high on plates, top with freshly ground black pepper and enjoy.

 

Appetizers · Love & Marriage · Traditions

Walking Hand in Hand, and Ms. Joni’s Shrimp Cocktail

Dear Joey,

Remember that sweet elderly couple, the ones who always hold hands as they walk the long stretch of sidewalk that hugs the hills? I used to drive by them on my way to drop the girls off at preschool, and they were always there, at 8:00 sharp. Forget the clock: I could tell whether I was running late or not by how far down the street they were by the time I passed them. The closer they were to Walgreens, the later I was. I haven’t seen them in awhile.

I mentioned this to you on our way to my parents’ house for Thanksgiving this year. I miss seeing them, partly because their absence made me wonder why they weren’t walking together anymore. At their age, it’s hard not to wonder if they are putting feet to the “in sickness” part of their marriage vows, or more difficult even–the “until death parts us” part. Every time I saw them walking hand in hand, I smiled and thought of my grandparents and how happy I am they still do that sort of thing, and as I watched the familiar sweethearts walk every morning, I saw my grandparents walking and my own parents walking and us walking, still happily hand in hand even after all those years.

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Since it was Thanksgiving, I assumed we would go for a walk, because that’s what we do on Thanksgiving. We don’t have much in the way of Thanksgiving traditions — not yet, at least, except for Ms. Joni’s Shrimp Cocktail and the walk I’ve come to count on. You whisk me out of the chaos of the kitchen, taking my hand and strolling with me on a long walk toward nowhere in particular. Where the sidewalk takes us doesn’t matter, really, as long as it leads us home again.

We usually walk along the same street I walked when I was younger, the one that led me through my childhood, really. That long stretch of Glenview Drive runs between my family’s old house, the first home I remember, and the new one that really isn’t new at all now. My parents have lived there for nearly 25 years, and I with them for most of those years. The road between those two homes connects many smaller streets, the ones that saw countless summertime bike rides to Fremont Market for ice cream cones, the garish blue bubble-gum flavor being a perpetual favorite. They pass through the place where the old El Patio restaurant used to be, along the grassy park that encircles the neighborhood pool; just past the elementary school where my dad went to Kindergarten. The same magnolia trees are still on the corner of Rodgers Avenue and Glenview Drive, and every time we walk beneath them I think about the day I watched dozens of high schoolers huddled beneath them painting posters for Homecoming, and how I wondered if I would ever be as grown up as they seemed.

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And now, somehow I’m even more grown up that those teenagers I used to long to be, and I’m still roaming the same streets I used to as that child that wanted so much to grow up. I never would have guessed I would find myself lumbering up and down Glenview Drive with my very pregnant belly leading the way. In those days, with you by my side, I wondered whether our baby would walk up and down those streets along with us some day, or if we would move out of my parents’ house into a neighborhood of our own, a place where the path back to our own home would eventually become etched upon our hearts.

In all the years we have walked those streets, at Thanksgiving and otherwise, I admit I didn’t exactly like walking along the same sidewalks I used to walk as a child. At first it was sort of nostalgic: I probably bored you to tears with the sheer amount of detail you did not really ask for when you asked what it was like when I lived there as a kid (That’s the house Mary Ellen mom grew up in. That’s where you turn to go to Molly’s grandma’s house, the one with the pool and the freezer stocked with ice cream. This is the street took when I rode my bike to school all by myself–with my mom following close behind me in the station wagon. In High School, we called this street “Cute Boy Way” because Cari had a crush on one of the boys who lived on that corner. Richmond Avenue was where the rich people lived, so you knew you’d get the really good candy if you trick-or-treated there. There’s Anna’s house, that crazy old lady who shoved a swim cap on my head and tried to sell cheese to my mom.)

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I know I should feel more connected to that tangle of streets and perhaps I ought to love them more than I do. These days when I walk them, I’m not filled with the sense of connectedness I always assumed I would feel for them as an adult. Instead, I feel so very disconnected from the people and places I used to know in my youth. Kids grew up and people moved on, leaving the illusion of sameness in their wake in the houses and streets that remain largely unchanged.

The trees are bigger, new flowers have been planted, and the homes themselves have gotten a new coat of paint. But the lawns are still well-manicured, a few people still go for walks in the evening, and believe it or not–newspapers still dot the driveways every now and then, and the sound of dogs barking as the sun quietly tucks itself in for the night echoes through the streets. Every so often I catch a bit of laughter carried on the breeze, a sound that reminds me someone else’s childhood is here somewhere amid the tangle of streets that saw me through my own.

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Maybe I’m just getting old and grumpy and am feeling a little displaced. Or maybe I’m feeling sad because I don’t know what became of that sweet couple that I used to watch walking around our new neighborhood. Maybe I’m just ready to plant my feet in one place and stop moving already. Maybe I want to start walking our own neighborhood’s sidewalks ragged with our own family walks. Or maybe I just wish I was from a smaller town that doesn’t change the way a bigger town like this does. I don’t know. But this year–this year we didn’t take our annual Thanksgiving walk, and I missed it. I missed watching the crisp air clear your head and inspire you; I missed hearing you vent and dream and plan and laugh, and I missed the way your hand steadied my steps and led the way.

With so many walks behind us, I realize over the years our footsteps forged a new history of that place in my heart. I hope very much that we’ll pick up our tradition again next year. Maybe we’ll walk along the same streets we always do, or maybe we will find ourselves walking a new path. As long as I am holding your hand along the way, I will be content wherever we end up walking.

Love,

Scratch

Ms. Joni’s Shrimp Cocktail

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For Joey, it’s just not Thanksgiving without Ms. Joni’s Shrimp Cocktail. Joni Lyons (and John and Christy and Adam and, and, and…) walked closely alongside Joey and me before there even was a “Joey and me.” They held our hands and led us through those murky days when we were still trying to find our place in the adult world. Joey often showed up at their holiday gatherings, and Joni’s Shrimp Cocktail won his heart the first time he tasted it. He would eat bowl after bowl of the stuff at the Lyons’ house, caring not a whit about turkey or mashed potatoes or any of the more traditional Thanksgiving day fare (except for the pumpkin bars, clearly. This is Joey we’re talking about). After we got married, at some point, he started requesting that I make it on Thanksgiving, maybe because its presence at the table connected him to the people who were very much his family before I even was, or maybe because it’s just so yummy. Either way, in true Joey style, he knew it would become deeply entrenched in our traditions long before I ever did, but I’m so glad I feel the same way about it as he does now. I don’t really know why I never asked Joni for her recipe; maybe I just wanted to see if I could recreate the thing on my own. In any case, this is my rendition of Ms. Joni’s sort-of-like-ceviche Shrimp Cocktail. (Thank you, Joni–for this. For everything. We love you dearly.)

Ingredients:
  • 2 pounds bay shrimp, thawed and drained
  • 1/2 cup freshly (finely) grated horseradish, + 2 more Tablespoons if you like it with a little more “bite”
  • 2 1/2 cups chopped celery stalks
  • 1 medium sweet onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 3 avocados, cubed
  • 2-14.5 oz. cans tomato sauce
  • 1-12.5 oz. bottle chili sauce
  • 3/4 cups pure cane sugar (or 1/4 cup + 2 T Pyure Organic Stevia Blend)
  • 3/4 white vinegar
  • 1/4 cup + 3 T lemon juice
  • zest of 2 lemons
  • 4 teaspoons Worcestershire Sauce
  • 2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
Method:

First, make sure you have a large mixing bowl. Next, thaw the shrimp in the refrigerator overnight, then rinse and drain well.

Next, prep the veggies. I always start with the horseradish because it’s sort of a pain to deal with and I like to get the hardest part out of the way. Use a sharp knife and remove the bark-like peel from the ragged root. Finely grate the white part of the root (beware, your eyes will water). Then, chop the onion and celery and set them aside.

Move on to make the sauce. Combine the grated horseradish, tomato sauce, chili sauce, sugar, vinegar, lemon zest and lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, onion powder, and salt; mix them up well, then taste. Adjust as you see fit.

Finally, gently stir in the shrimp, onions, and celery. Put a lid on the bowl and put it in the refrigerator until you’re ready to serve (at which point, cube and add the avocados).

 

 

Love & Marriage · Take Out · What's for Dinner?

The Trouble with Zoodles, and Please Bring Home Some Take Out

Dear Joey,

Well here we are again: it’s Tuesday at 1:30 in the afternoon and I still have no idea what we’re having for dinner.

I pulled out some ground turkey from the freezer last night in an attempt to get ahead start in today’s race toward dinnertime. We have gobs of zucchini in the fridge at the moment, and zoodles were sounding like a good idea to use them up. Except then I realized Addie has ballet this afternoon and we don’t typically get home until close to 5:00, and did I really think spiralizing zucchini was actually going to happen in those tense minutes leading up to dinner when the Goobies are literally clawing at each other, hungry and grumpy and pushing my patience to its ragged end?

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But if we don’t do zoodles tonight, when will we? Plus, there are tons of those little green beauties in the crisper right now, and they will not keep for much longer. I keep putting them off, assuring them they’ll get their moment to shine as I opt instead to pull out the sugar snap peas and grape tomatoes for a vegetable side for the kids’ beloved (or loathed, perhaps) diet of leftovers.

This morning at breakfast we talked briefly about having some friends over for dinner because we haven’t seen them in ages. The Warriors have their season opener against the Spurs tonight, so it seemed fitting to invite these particular friends over to balance dinner plates on their laps and watch the Warriors do their thing right along with us because we did a lot of that last season with them. We ate things like homemade pizzas and salad with Mr. Cy’s now-legendary magic sauce in our living room after the kids hit the sack for the night. The idea of having zoodles during a Warriors game felt a little…boring.

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When my panicked face met your gaze across the table this morning, I wasn’t trying to tell you “don’t invite them over!” I was picking a fight with myself over something as silly as zoodles. If I did go ahead and make them tonight, I would need to thaw another pound of ground turkey, and I might need to swing by and get more grape tomatoes for the Quattro Rosso Sauce that would go on top of the zoodles–or could I just use the half pint that are left and make up the difference with the sad little Roma tomato still waiting in the wings? But if I do thaw another pound of ground turkey, I will have to swing by the store later this week for another pound so I can still make Pumpkin Chili for Halloween (which is what the turkey in the freezer is earmarked for). And anyway, do I really want to go through all that fuss and make the zoodles today after ballet? I guess I could give the kids noodles instead of zoodles and do my best to get the zoodles made later, like after bedtime. But again, do we really want to eat zoodles when the Warriors make their regular season debut tonight?

It was in the midst of this internal madness that you asked, “Do you want me to just pick something up?”

Those words: music to my stressed out ears.

I’m not sure you will ever completely understand the spin that happens when you ask the simple question “What are we doing for dinner?” There is so much going on everyday that sometimes trying to figure out what to make for dinner pushes me over the edge. It’s not just about figuring out what sounds good to me on that particular day (although, sometimes it is). It’s also about negotiating what everyone else around here can and will eat (which aren’t always the same), what we have in our cupboards, what needs to be used, like, yesterday, and how much time I have to actually cook something. On days like today, it all seemed like a little too much to handle, and I think you must have seen that.

I imagine you offered to grab take out tonight to quell the crazy. But I bet you’d also admit it was to say thank you for being such a stellar wife who does such nice things for you (like watching basketball. Ahem.).

We haven’t decided yet if we’re having friends over for dinner tonight. We haven’t even landed on whether you are bringing home take out or not (although street tacos from Mexxi’s is really sounding fantastic right about now). I don’t know what to do about the zucchini that desperately need to be used up, and I’m not sure what I’ll be feeding the kids when we get home from ballet in just under three short hours. But what I do know, is that I’m not taking out another pound of ground turkey today, and at some point I’ll plop down on the couch to watch a game of basketball with you.

Love,

Scratch

 

 

 

Love & Marriage

A Story for the Eve of Our Anniversary

Dear Joey,
 
Once upon a time, there was a boy from Kansas who dropped into my life — uninvited, I might add. The first time I saw him, his eyes captured me, but not because I fell into them with the sort of abandon girls like me dream about. They searched me out, found me, and locked on my own eyes, never once looking away. 
Image by AGB Photographics
It unnerved me. He unnerved me. His rapt attention to me and his heartfelt interest in me didn’t make sense to me – how could a stranger be falling for me? To my crippled heart it simply could not be true, and so I decided it just wasn’t real, that he wasn’t real, that he was an illusion not to be trusted. Eventually, his kind words were lost on me and his generosity was wasted on me.  But he persisted, assuring me he could be trusted, because Love is patient and kind. 
 
Image by AGB Photographics
And persist he did. People started to doubt my sanity. This boy was attractive, kind, considerate, thoughtful and fun. He made me laugh and think and let me know that what I said really mattered. He was artistic and intelligent and cultured and creative all in one breath. He was a man of faith, integrity, and joy — he was everything I was looking for, and he knew it. I didn’t. And so, he let me take as much time as I needed, because Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude.

Image by AGB Photographics
Finally, he became too much. Too kind. Too thoughtful. Too generous. Too perfect. I felt like I didn’t have a choice and I wasn’t okay with that, so I told him to leave me alone. And he did, because [Love] does not demand its own way.
 

 

Image by AGB Photographics
But he didn’t go away.  He was friends with my friends, my roommates;  it seemed as though he was always around. He was there for midweek dinners and birthday parties and ordinary Saturday nights. He watched as I climbed into cars with other boys, and greeted me when I came home from dates with them. He didn’t shy away from me, pride hurt from my rejection. And while he didn’t understand why I wouldn’t choose him, he honored my wishes and let me be. He let me make my own choices without complaint, because [Love] is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. 
Image by AGB Photographics
And when the day came when my heart changed, when I realized how I had wronged him when I treated him so poorly, when I knew that I needed to tell him how sorry I was and how much I actually cared about him, he didn’t mock my feelings or laugh at my foolishness or my attempt to make things right, because [Love] does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.
   
Image by AGB Photographics
In those early years that boy from Kansas remained steadfast in his love for me, sifting through the good and the bad that life brings our way looking for the golden moments that make it all worthwhile, waiting for the day he would walk with me instead of choosing to walk away from me. And he has walked with me faithfully for the past five years because Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.  
 

Image by AGB Photographics
It is because of these things and so much more that I know our Love will last forever.  
 
Happy anniversary, my boy from Kansas.

Love,
Scratch

“4 Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. 8 […] love will last forever.”
 — 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 NLT
Condiments · Love & Marriage · What We Do for Love · What's for Dinner?

I’m Forgiven, thanks to Lime Sour Cream

Dear Joey,

I know your secret. You can’t hide it, you know.

Sometimes, you get a little …. frustrated with me.

You don’t like to admit it, I don’t think. It seems that you pretty much take my quirks in stride, opting to make light of my shortcomings in a light-hearted, loving manner. But sometimes – especially when you’re tired or hungry or already irritated – you get frustrated with me. Sometimes there are things I do that make you crazy, and in these moments can I see you stewing inside, wanting to pull out your hair or walk the other way or shout in frustration – but you don’t. You hold your tongue and temper your feelings so that you can calmly deal with the results of a mood swing or hair-brained idea or bad choice I have made. You give me lots of grace, and for that I am thankful.

Like the other day when I dragged you out to Toys R Us before dinner. You came home hungry that night, tired from a week’s worth of surgeries and patients and paperwork, ready to start the weekend. Instead of welcoming you home to a relaxing, let’s-get-this-weekend-started-right sort of atmosphere, I jumped into high gear and listed all the things we needed to get accomplished that night. With a birthday party just a few days away, I was starting to panic because of all the things that were left to do:  presents to pick up and party favors to find and banners to assemble and cakes to bake and and and. 

Into the car we went, dropping the girls off with their grandparents for an hour or so while we got a few things done, but before I let you pull out of the driveway, I proceeded to give you one of my overly detailed explanations for my thought process that day, walking you through every factor that impacted each minor decision I made. You waited, as patiently as you could, for me to get to the point, and once I got there, you didn’t really say much as you finally started to drive, listening to the Giants game as you did so.

A few minutes of semi-silence later, I asked if I had upset you. You said that I had not; you had just needed to know what to do so you could do it, and you were just waiting for me to get to the point.

We drove along, and while you listened to the game, I tuned it out, opting instead to over-analyze everything that we had just said to each other: what I said, why I said it, and how you responded.

I realized that even though my long-winded explanation frustrated you, you took it in stride, knowing that this was one of my quirks, and just waited as patiently as you could for me to get to the point. As you did so, you were telling me something I need to remember in moment like that one: Save the chatter – just get to the point. You don’t need to defend yourself to me; just tell me what I need to do. If I want to know the backstory or extra details, I’ll ask. It’s not because you don’t care about what I have to say, or think it’s unimportant or boring even – it’s because you trust my decision making, you believe that I have good reasons for doing what I do, and all you really want to know is what I need you to do.

A few short stops later and we found ourselves finally talking about dinner as we made our way back to pick up the girls. In a moment of weakness (or sheer starvation) you actually suggested we grab something from a drive through. I countered with an idea for quick bean burritos at home, to which you seemed a little indifferent. When I mentioned that we could top them with lime sour cream sauce, your face lit up and you asked if we had shredded cabbage.

I knew I was forgiven my long-windedness and my wild-goose-chase of an evening right then.

Love, Scratch

Lime Sour Cream
We love sour cream at our house, but adding lime zest and juice to it makes it even more awesome. There are about a million ways you could make this sauce, but this is our favorite because it is incredibly simple. We love it on fish tacos, but it dresses up an otherwise ordinary bean burrito, too (especially if you add shredded cabbage and hot sauce).  

Ingredients:
16 oz. sour cream
4 large limes, zested and juiced
1/8-1/4 tsp kosher salt (or any kind of salt really, to taste)

Method:
Start by scooping out the sour cream into a big mixing bowl. Next, wash and zest the limes over the bowl; then cut them in half and juice. Add the juice to the sour cream, along with the salt, and stir to combine.