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).

 

 

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.

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.

img_8389

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.

img_8394

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.

img_8385

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).

img_8408

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.

img_8322

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.

img_8324

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.

img_8326

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

img_8327

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.

 

Allergy Friendly · Finding My Style · Lunch · Salads

One Small Thing, and Dressed Up Tuna Salad

Dear Joey,

You’ve been hounding me to make a hair appointment, begging me to go shopping for clothes, and basically all around urging me to take care of my own self for a change.

It’s nice. I don’t feel so bad when I come home with a new pair of shoes that begged to be taken home with me while I was making a very glamorous diaper run at Target.

But it also makes me feel like saying, “What, you don’t love me just the way I am? Is my hair so terrible? Are you embarrassed to be seen with me but are too afraid to admit it? And by the way, when do you suppose I have time to do all these things, anyway? Oh, right: I’ll just leave the baby with our live-in nanny and spend the day gallivanting through the mall, scooping up armload after armload of beautiful things for myself while I sip champagne. Because clearly, we have all the money in the world to spend to do that sort of thing, and life at home runs smoothly without me. Dishes do themselves. Laundry puts itself away.”

I know you don’t think any of those things, of course. And I don’t scold you when you gently ask me about it (I don’t think, at least). I try to remind you it’s not as easy to take care of myself as it used to be before kids were around. I am so out of the loop on what’s actually in style these days because I don’t really have time to pay much attention. But that distinct mom style I’ve unintentionally been sporting lately has finally gotten the best of me–and you too, I think.

fullsizerender-2

Making matters worse is the kids have collectively been sick for 10 days in a row, and finding a time to get away to make myself a priority is hard. When I do have a moment to spare, I’m too tired to think about much at all, let alone try on clothes for a few hours, trying to find my style as I do so. (It’s so exhausting, I’m telling you.)

Today I was thinking about all this as I stirred together tuna salad for lunch. Both Mia and Emery were zonked out at an early nap time, leaving me a few minutes to think about my own thoughts for a change. This tuna salad is really simple, quite uncomplicated and easy to throw together, but full of a few surprises that give it texture, interest and beauty. I got to thinking: that is exactly what I need in my style-life. I’m not exactly sure how to get there, but for me to have that much time to even think about what I’m looking for? Kinda huge.

It is HARD to put myself first, to spend money on myself, and to reject the guilt and self-loathing I hear whispering behind my back as I try pretty things on again. But please believe me: I am trying. I haven’t scheduled a hair appointment yet (that’s next on my agenda today), but I did do one small thing for myself this week: I decided to give Stitch Fix another try, and I filled out a profile for Trunk Club (thanks to a friend who swears by at-home styling services), and I’m hoping it helps. Plus, you can give me your honest opinion about what you like and what you don’t like, all without dragging you around town with me.

Love,
Scratch

PS – Both have have men’s styles, too. And, if anyone signs up for their own shipments from either of these places using my referral links, I get credit for it to use toward clothes of my own when they buy clothes for themselves. Score! Here they are:

Stitch Fix: https://www.stitchfix.com/referral/3192368

Trunk Club: https://www.trunkclub.com/my/invite/KTAGMF

Dressed Up Tuna Salad

img_5774

This is my go-to lunch, one I make so often I could do it with my eyes closed. I make it with Greek yogurt when Emery isn’t around, but I use low fat mayonnaise instead if he is awake (because his little fingers often get a hold of whatever I happen to be eating). If curry powder scares you: worry not. You can leave it out. But I challenge you to try it because it’s really quite subtle and dresses up the salad just enough to make it a little bit fancy. Start with 1/4 teaspoon, and work your way up.

Ingredients:

1-5 oz. can albacore tuna

1/4 cup Greek yogurt (THM friends, use fat free. Or, to make it DF, use mayonnaise instead)

1/2 apple, diced

1 stalk celery, chopped

1 green onion sprig, chopped

2 Tablespoons dried cherries (or dried cranberries or golden raisins)

1/4-1/2 teaspoon Sweet Bombay Curry Powder

salt and pepper, to taste (about 1/4 tsp kosher salt does the trick for me)

sprinkle of almonds, for garnish (omit if nuts are a problem for you)

Method:

First, drain the tuna and dump it into a medium size bowl with plenty of room to mix well. Next, pile in all the other ingredients (except the almonds) and stir until well combined. Taste to adjust seasonings, then mound it on a pretty plate and sprinkle with toasted almonds.

 

 

 

 

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.

Dinner · Eat Those Veggies · Life with Littles · Salads

Victory! and Spicy Herbed Chicken and Quinoa Salad with Cucumber Ribbons

Dear Joey,

I don’t remember dinnertime being difficult when I was a kid. It was fun. Maybe the best part of the day.

Over the past year I have wondered why my memories of family dinner are so warm and low-key when our own family dinners aren’t always the same way. I should give myself a break – our oldest isn’t even five yet, for goodness sake.

I think the biggest difference between my memories of those days and our own reality is my folks were really relaxed when it came to meal time. Meaning, they kept calm if we refused to touch the food on our plate–as far as I remember, at least. If we didn’t like it, there was always a peanut butter sandwich.

In dealing with our own kids, I try to do my best to follow my parents’ lead; keep calm and let them be in charge of what they eat from their plate. As long as they have healthy choices, why should I insist they eat just one more bite before they are allowed to be excused? But the reality is that we have been super tense about eating and frustrated when our kids misbehave at the table (shocking!) or refuse to eat what they are given.

The girls come by it honestly, I guess. My mom tells the story of how she had to finish her peas before she was excused from the dinner table as a kid. She hated peas. I mean hated. But she finally figured out if she swallowed them like little green pills, washing them down with a big gulp of milk, she wouldn’t taste them and she would be allowed to leave table. And let’s not forget your brother’s legendary attempts and “cleaning his plate” – your parents found food hidden in house plants, radiators, you name it: anywhere your brother could surreptitiously stash it without getting caught (until months later, at least).

As much as we laugh about these anecdotes now, I don’t really want history to repeat itself. I’d rather we make the dinner table a fun place to be and help our kids enjoy their food, as much as we can at least.

So far, it’s sort of in-between. We have a long way to go, but we are making progress. I’m pretty sure our two hard-and-fast mealtime rules help:

1. Try at least one bite of everything on your plate. If you do not like it, you do not have to eat it.
2. There is nothing else to eat other than what is served. If you do not want to eat it, that’s ok. But you will not eat again until the next snack or mealtime.

For the most part, these rules work for us. Everyone knows them, and since we are consistent with them there isn’t room for negotiation.

It wasn’t always that way. At first, the girls protested. They whined and complained and feigned disgust and spit food out and begged for macaroni and cheese, or yogurt, or crackers — just like most toddlers are prone to do. But slowly, they came to realize that the food they’re given is all they get, and when they see us eating it, they figure it can’t be all that bad (I suppose).

Here’s the thing that helps me stick to the rules myself: I make sure to offer something I know they will actually eat (like rice and broccoli). Then, I challenge them with something fairly familiar they will probably like if they just try it (like salmon). And third, I add something I am fully prepared for them to hate (like artichokes) just to see if they might have a taste for it.

Before I sound like a total organized, over-achieving freak, let me say this: I often repeat the things I challenge them with, typically things we like to eat (like salad) or things they typically like (such as carrots) that are prepared in an unfamiliar way (like roasted carrots).

Apparently, this is working because in just the past few weeks, things have changed. Whereas it used to be that everything except the vegetables disappeared at dinnertime, now the veggies are being eaten up, too.

First, Addie starting eating coleslaw. Coleslaw! Then she declared her undying love for bell peppers. Not long after that, she braved a bite of a single green bean, a pesky dinnertime menace that has taunted her since infancy. When she announced she liked it, I almost fainted. Mia looked on with a face that seemed to say “Big deal. I have been telling you they are good for ages.” It was not a fluke: Addie ate an entire helping of them that night, and another helping of them a few nights later, and on it continues to go, assuring me that she does, in fact, like them.

Next, just this past weekend (at a pizza parlor!), Addie ordered a green salad and a meatball for dinner. A salad?! Like, a real one. With romaine and tomatoes and peppers and stuff. When I picked off a tomato for myself (thinking she would not notice), she protested, insisting, “But I wanted to eat that tomato!” (I am sure she must have thought I was nuts for the befuddled look I gave her.)

To top it all off, just this past Monday night, when presented with cucumbers, Addie sighed and said, “Oh, yes! I love these!” And both girls began to eat those cucumbers (and broccoli, I might add) with gusto, before they even touched their quinoa and chicken. And they both asked for seconds and fought over who got to polish off the broccoli. Holy moly.

Before I sound all braggy about these successes (too late?), I must admit that they also prefer to eat their fair share of not-so-healthy foods too (like the goldfish crackers they are eating for snack this afternoon), and this morning at breakfast they turned their noses up to my first attempt at waffles made with almond flour. I guess they are not perfect eaters, are they?

But I give them a lot of credit because they really are quite good at trying new things now, and perhaps it is because they know from experience they might find another yummy food to enjoy, and if they don’t, well, they know we will not force them to eat it.

To me? That is a victory.

Love,
Scratch

Spicy Herbed Chicken and Quinoa Salad with Cucumber Ribbons

Victory! and Spicy Herbed Chicken and Quinoa Salad with Cucumber Ribbons

This is one of Joey’s current dinner favorites, and I love it because it makes everyone at our table happy. Based on the recipe for Quinoa Salad with Vinaigrette in Artisanal Gluten-Free Cooking, my version uses yellow bell peppers and adds spicy, herb-laden grilled chicken and quick pickled cucumber, spiralized so they look like ribbons. The chicken is pounded thin, but feel free to skip that step, but do not let the other steps fool you into thinking this dinner is difficult to pull together. It’s quite easy, and you can do many of the steps ahead of time.

Ingredients:

Spicy Herbed Chicken
5 boneless chicken breasts, pounded flat to about 1/4″
1/3 cup lemon juice
2 tsp olive oil
1 1/2 tsp dried basil
1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp (or more) red pepper flakes (optional)
course salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Quinoa Salad
1 cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed
1 yellow bell pepper, diced small (or any color you prefer)
3 scallions, chopped
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 tsp olive oil (or up to 1/4 cup, but we keep the oil content low to make this a super light meal)
salt and pepper to taste

Quick Pickled Cucumber Ribbons

1 English cucumber
about 2 T white vinegar
sweetener of choice, to taste (equivalent to about 2 teaspoons cane sugar)

Method:

For the chicken
Place pounded chicken breasts into a zip top bag, along with all the marinade ingredients (except the red pepper flakes if your kids are like mine and do not like spicy food. You can always sprinkle the flakes on the adults’ chicken right before grilling it.) You may add an additional 1 1/2 T of olive oil if you like, but we keep it minimal for this recipe. Massage the marinade into the chicken and let rest for a couple hours, or overnight. Then grill the chicken, about 3-4 minutes per side if it’s pounded thin. When done, remove from heat and let rest, then slice before plating the salad.

For the quinoa
Bring 1 cup quinoa to a boil in 2 cups water. Once boiling, reduce heat and let simmer for 15 minutes. Let rest for 5 minutes, then fluff with a fork. Refrigerate until ready to make the salad. Meanwhile, dice 1 yellow bell pepper and slice three scallions. (I cut mine on the bias because I think it feels fancy, but do it however you prefer.) Toss the veggies with the cooked and cooled quinoa. Add the red wine vinegar and olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Start with about 1/4 tsp course salt to begin with, and add more to your liking.

For the cucumbers

Using a Spiralizer, slice the cucumbers into ribbons. (If you don’t have a Spiralizer, use a mandolin to cut the cucumber into thin slices in the meantime. If you don’t have a mandolin, slice the cucumbers as thin as you can. And if you have trouble doing that, just chop some up. The texture will be different than ribbons, but the flavor will still be great.) After the cucumbers are cut, toss them with a couple tablespoons of white vinegar along with a dash of salt and the sweetener of your choice, about the equivalent of 2 teaspoons of regular cane sugar. Let them sit for a few minutes and toss again before serving.

To serve
Scoop about a cup of the quinoa salad into a shallow bowl, followed by a sliced up chicken breast, and finally topped with cucumber ribbons. Top with freshly ground black pepper, if desired.