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A Note to Luisa, and a Midnight Snack

Dear Luisa,

It’s the middle of summer, and it seems that most families I know are on vacation, just coming home from vacation, or getting ready to go on vacation in the next few days. I admit I’ve been jealous – filling up the kiddie pool and smearing on sunscreen and eating frozen yogurt sticks in the backyard isn’t as much a summer vacation as it is extra work. Two young girls far from being self-sufficient still require constant supervision.

The walls around this house are feeling more and more restrictive as the summer slowly crawls by, and being somewhere (anywhere) else for a little while, breathing air that I’ve never breathed before and eating meals I’ve never eaten before, all in a setting far, far way from the suburban landscape I see every day sounds like paradise.

For the past few days I have felt a little bit sad in the afternoon; when the incessant chatter of two small children is put on pause for a few short hours, I’m usually eager for the quiet reprieve. Not this week. This week the quiet feels like isolation I can’t escape – suffocating, when really all I want to do is break out of the tedium that comes with staying in the same place all the time. I just want to leave, you know?

Wait – let me explain. I don’t want to leave, leave. Please don’t misunderstand. What I mean is that I am filled with that complicated feeling my husband describes so often, the one that makes him long to jump on a plane and get lost as he explores a faraway place, to be able to get up and go and do and be in a world without structure and schedules and responsibility – all while not for a moment wanting to trade in the life he has for the freedom he gave up when he chose this.

In times like this, I do what any normal person would do (right?): I open up a book, purposing to get lost in stories, in the landscapes and people and flavors and smells and beauty they hold within those magical pages. This week, My Berlin Kitchen has been my guidebook, and you have been my travel companion, the sort that has all at once been both interpreter and friend.

I was so moved by the first few pages of your book a few nights ago that late in the evening, when I ought to have been been brushing my teeth, I practically flew off the couch to whip together eggs and milk for what I must describe as the fanciest late night snack I had ever made. And for those few minutes, sharing a bit of it with my husband, I was transported out of my everyday and into a world I hadn’t known existed. (Eggs and jam? Really?)

Your beautiful, complicated memories of that warm Berlin kitchen and the people you loved there fill me with hope that the things I do in this cramped, less than perfect kitchen that so often fills me with frustration will still somehow help establish a deep sense of home in my own tender little girls. I hope that someday, when they think of home, they think of the warmth of our kitchen and of me, of my hands offering them something familiar and comforting and my heart offering them more love than they could imagine is possible to give.

Thank you, Luisa, for inviting me into your memories of your childhood Berlin, for sharing your secret for the perfect Omelette Confiture, and for helping to ease the ache for elsewhere and reminding me that home is a place so many long for, and I am very lucky indeed to be there. Gaining a little perspective yields so much peace of mind.

Love,
Rachel

Omelette Confiture (slightly adapted from My Berlin Kitchen)
If you are reading this and are feeling a little bit blue – especially if it’s late at night – go, now, to the kitchen. Get out an egg, some milk and butter, and your favorite jam. Take your time, be methodical, and enjoy the fruit of your effort. It will make you feel a little bit better about life.

Ingredients:
1 large egg
1 T milk
pinch of salt
1 T unsalted butter
a scoop or two of jam (I used Marionberry, but any good, fairly tart jam would be delicious)
a bit of powdered sugar, sifted

Method:
1. Separate egg white from the egg yolk. Mix the milk completely into the yolk. In a clean bowl, add a pinch of salt to the egg white and whip it in a clean bowl until soft peaks form. Fold the beaten egg white into the egg yolk.
2. Melt the butter in a small, nonstick pan over medium heat. Add the egg mixture and cook, undisturbed, for 3 minutes. Don’t let the bottom of the egg brown. Flip the omelette and cook the other side for an additional 3 minutes.
3. When the omelette is cooked through, slide it onto a plate, dot the jam down the center. Roll it up and sift the powdered sugar on top.

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Making Mistakes and Porcupine Meatballs

Dear Joey,

I made a big batch of Porcupine Meatballs a few weeks ago, half for our family and half for some friends, and when they were done, they looked perfect. But as it turned out, the rice hadn’t cooked properly, yielding a somewhat crunchy meatball.

I found this out after I dropped them to our friends, which made me feel that much worse. I was embarrassed. I should have known better. And if I had given any thought to my actions when making this particular batch, I would have known that to substitute dry onions for fresh onions would mean less moisture in the pot, which would yield undercooked rice.

I hate making mistakes. I loathe admitting that I have made a mess out of something because it validates that I am not, in fact, a perfect person (despite my erroneous feeling that I should be).

I realize that attaining true perfection is impossible, and on most days, I don’t operate out of a perfectionist mindset.  But then there are those days when I make a mess of something and I can’t seem to escape the barrage of negative self-talk that follows. I know better, but often, I don’t do better, and the mess made in the process is hard for me to deal with.

There are many instances in my life when I’ve made a mess out of things. People I have hurt, words I can’t take back, things I would do differently if I had the chance to do so. Sometimes I don’t know I’ve made a mistake until it’s too late; sometimes the mistake isn’t really a big deal; sometimes a mistake can be made right by salvaging the good and discarding the not-so-good; and sometimes you have to start all over, plunk the whole of whatever is ruined into the trash and begin again, fresh, with a new resolve to get it right the next time.

Convincing myself that a minor mishap isn’t worth berating myself – that’s the tricky part. In this case, I admit that your double portion of those ruined meatballs helped ease my troubled mind. And your assessment of them as “marvelous” didn’t hurt, either.

Thank you for telling me the truth about things, no matter how hard the truth is for me to hear.

Love,
Scratch

Porcupine Meatballs
This recipe is always a hit with my family. Even Mia, our girl who really just doesn’t enjoy meat, happily eats these. It is quick and easy to put together, the ingredient list is short, which makes it a great candidate for dinner when the pantry is nearly empty. I usually double the recipe because Joey can eat most of a single batch on his own. I imagine you could use regular white rice instead of brown, but reduce covered baking time by at least 30 minutes, as white rice cooks faster than brown rice. The cooking time isn’t exactly quick, but I’ve found it makes the meatballs just the way we like them. 

Ingredients:
1 1/4 lb ground beef (I’ve also used just an even pound, and it works fine)
1/2 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup short grain brown rice
1 – 15 oz can tomato sauce
1 T Worcestershire sauce
1 cup water

Method:
Mix ground beef, onions, rice, garlic, salt and pepper. Shape into 1 1/2 inch balls and place in a baking dish that has a lid (I use my dutch oven).

Mix the tomato sauce, Worcestershire sauce and water, then pour the sauce over meatballs. Put the cover on and bake at 350 degrees for 1 1/2 hours. Remove the lid and bake an additional 20-30 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened to your liking (it should be somewhat thickened and not runny anymore).

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Friday Nights, Friendship, and Chocolate Chip Cookies

Friends Season 7 Episode 3: The One with Phoebe’s Cookies

[Scene: Monica, Chandler, and Phoebe’s, Monica is trying out different cookie recipes. Ross and Phoebe are the tasting group.]

Monica: Okay, here’s batch 22. Whew! Maybe these’ll taste a little like your grandmother’s. This has a little bit of orange peel, but no nutmeg.
Ross: Let’s give it a shot.
Monica: Okay. Wow, I have not made this many cookies since I was in the ninth grade.
Phoebe: Oh, what was that for? Like a bake sale?
Monica: No, just a Friday night.
———-

Dear Joey,

During my high school days, if it was Friday night – more often than not – I was baking cookies. Sometimes by myself. Sometimes with friends. Always the same recipe: Chocolate Chip Cookies.

In those days, there was only one recipe for chocolate chip cookies, as far as I was concerned. The first time I tasted these cookies was on a dreary, rainy day when I was in fourth or fifth grade. My mom had taken me shopping for school clothes, which I remember being sort of a big deal in those days. During our day out, we stopped back home for a moment, my mom rushing in to grab whatever it was she had forgotten, and my dad brought out a little paper plate with chocolate chip cookies he had just pulled out of the oven. I can still see the way their warmth steamed up the windshield. With the cold rain pounding on the roof, I took my first bite of what became like a friend to me, a constant, something that I carried with me ever since.

Over time, that recipe became my go-to recipe, the one that I made whenever I made cookies. It was my signature recipe, you might say. And over the years I baked them for everything: for sleepovers and for birthday parties and for teachers and for boyfriends; to soothe friends’ heartaches and to take on camping trips and to satisfy chocolate cravings and to earn a little money on the side. I made them so often that our school newspaper did a story on them my senior year of high school.

Since those days, I have made them too many times to count. But not recently. Although chocolate chip cookies are still a favorite of mine, I simply don’t indulge my cravings for them very often. In fact, when I made them again recently I was afraid that it had been too long, and I began to fear that my memory was flawed and I would be disappointed to discover they weren’t as good as I remembered.

I was wrong. They were just as good as I remembered.

And for a moment, I was in high school again, and I felt a wave of nostalgia wash over me as I thought about Molly and Autumn and Cari and Erika B. and Christina and Erica M. and how we used to bake and daydream and do makeovers and tell secrets on otherwise ordinary Friday nights, munching on chocolate chip cookies (and to be fair, other junk food too) as we imagined what it would be like to meet and fall in love with the boys who would eventually become our husbands. As I thought about those days and the dreams we used to dream, my thoughts turned to you, and our own little girls, and how I couldn’t imagine a better dream come true than you.

So to those girls – and any I have missed – thank you for carrying me through those years, for listening to my heart and trusting me with yours. I treasure those days of friendship with you, and whenever I make these cookies, I will always think of you.

Love,
Scratch

These cookies are soft and gooey right out of the oven, which is the best time to eat them in my opinion. They are nice and soft at that point, but of course they firm up as they cool down. They are not exactly soft and chewy once cooled, but they aren’t crispy either. Dense, rich, and addictive.  Best shared with a few girlfriends and a tall glass of milk. 

,
Ingredients:
2 sticks (salted) butter, softened
1 cup light brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 (generous) teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 cups all purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 package really good chocolate chips (I like Trader Joe’s or Ghirardelli)

Method:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Cream together butter and sugars, then add the egg and vanilla. Once combined, stir in by hand the flour, baking soda and salt and thoroughly mix. (I find that using an electric mixer for this part makes the cookie dough flatter and yields a crispier finished product. Mixing by hand keeps the cookies fluffy.) Add the chocolate chips and stir to combine.

Scoop the dough onto a cookie sheet; I use an ice cream scoop that is about 1 1/2″ diameter. After I scoop the dough, I roll it a bit between my palms to create smooth little balls of dough. This creates a beautifully smooth cookie.

Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven immediately; let set on the cookie sheet for a minute or two and then transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling.

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Menu Planning and What I’m Cooking

Dear Joey,

As you know, I love to cook. But are you aware of how much I dislike planning to cook? I like the idea of it. Pouring over cookbooks and getting lost in words like braise and saute and julienne is my idea of a good time. I have a stack of cookbooks perched precariously on many a surface of our house most weeks, old favorites alongside newly discovered gems waiting to become my new go-to cookbook.

And yet.

Settling on a selection of recipes to make in any given week is not exactly fun because, well, it just doesn’t lend itself very well to my creative cooking style (read: figuring-tghings-out-at-the-last-minute-style cooking). In years pastI thrived on the challenge of putting together a killer menu at last minute. With a well-stocked kitchen, doing things last minute worked for me, for us.

And then there were children.

These days, last minute dinners include Amy’s Macaroni & Cheese, PB&J, grilled cheese, quesadillas, or leftovers. It’s not that I couldn’t throw together something more classy than these things; it’s just that it’s not so easy to get creative with two small children clamoring for my attention, staring me down with hunger in their eyes.

But menu planning hasn’t been exactly easy for me. Plus, there hasn’t seemed to be a need for true menu planning because there is always something to cook with around here, be it a fresh stash of veggies or a nice cut of meat. Thinking about meals perhaps a day in advance worked fine for me in some ways- I had plenty of time to defrost, marinate, or last minute grocery shop.

I admit, however, that this isn’t exactly the most cost-effective strategy for cooking. Maintaining a well-stocked pantry isn’t exactly cheap, mainly because we tend to make a trip to the grocery store the moment a staple ingredient runs out around here simply because we might need it before payday rolls around again. Like a block of cheese or a bottle of oil or frozen chicken breasts or another pint of sour cream. The truth is, we can easily make it through to payday without these things, but we’ve become accustomed to the convenience of having foods fit for last minute cooking around all the time.

My mom and I did the math a few days ago to figure out about what we’ve been spending on food lately, and after that discussion, I knew I couldn’t just play around with menu planning anymore. It has to become a way of life for us, otherwise we’ll waste a lot of resources around here (money, food, time, etc.). But admittedly, the joy of thumbing through cookbooks disappears the moment the pressure is on to choose something that meets all of our family’s requirements. It must appeal to low-carb dieters and those who eat mostly meatless, as well as toddlers and adults. It must be quick and easy enough to cook with children underfoot, and yet make use of a wide variety of whole, real foods. It’s got to reheat well, as the dinner hour stretches from 5:30 all the way up to midnight around here. It’s got to include Mexican food as much as possible (as it is a clear favorite around here), appeal to your love for classic homestyle foods while also being highly health conscious and low calorie, and, it’s got to give me room to experiment and play. Oh – and, it’s got to take into account allergies (sensitivities?) to coconut, peanuts, lentils and possibly dairy.

Sheesh. Do you see why I get a little overwhelmed?

When I sat down to do a menu planning template two weeks ago, I landed on an approach that helped me to feel a little less overwhelmed by this daunting task. First, instead of thinking of it as a “Meal Plan,” I think of it as a list of things I’m cooking (and so, I’ve dubbed my list “What I’m Cooking”) Second, instead of thinking about two weeks’ worth of dinners all at once without any direction whatsoever, I’m doing it week by week, using a template with parameters. Meaning, I assigned different types of meals to each day of the week to take most of the burden off of me; the day of the week decides what type of food I cook. (Example: on Mondays, we have Mexican food.) With this template in place, any requests I get for the week (“Let’s have enchiladas! or “I’m hungry for barbecued chicken.”) will slip into their pre-appointed day.

Take a look – see what I mean?

Sunday: Hearty Meat Dishes
Monday: Mexican Food
Tuesdays: Homestyle Favorites (crock pot soups/stews, easy casseroles and other comfort foods)
Wednesday: Creative in the Kitchen (with an option for leftovers or sandwiches instead)
Thursday: International Flair (especially carb-heavy dishes with pasta or rice)
Friday: “Fun” Food (like homemade pizza, hotdogs/hamburgers, breakfast for dinner, etc.)
Saturday: Something Grilled

To be more specific, here’s what I’m cooking this week:

Sunday: Beef Stroganoff with Roasted Brussel Sprouts
Monday: Taco Salad
Tuesday: Crock Pot Broccoli Cheese Soup with Green Salad
Wednesday: Leftovers
Thursday: Vegetable Curry with Chickpeas (with or without chicken) over rice
Friday: Grilled Bratwurst with Baked Beans and Corn on the Cobb*
Saturday: Fish Sticks with Mac & Cheese*

*I know, I know. I switched themes on Friday and Saturday, but hey – it’s my plan and I have the prerogative to switch it up as I see fit, right? 

I know it doesn’t take a genius to figure out meal planning, and I know that there are many other better meal planners out there (forms, templates and people), but for me, for now, this is hugely helpful. Life changing, really. It gives me freedom to be creative and yet keeps me organized enough to stay sane.

And you know what? I think you agree. You have, after all, complimented my cooking every night for the past week. Without any sort of prodding from me.

That’s my favorite part.

Love,
Scratch

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Going Meatless, and Apple Gouda Penne Pie

Dear Joey,

Few things make you happier than coming home to a meat-heavy dinner. You can’t hide the way your eyes twinkle with desire when you come home to a big, juicy roast finishing up in the crock pot, a really good steak on it’s last hour marinating in the fridge, or even a big pan of meatballs simmering away in the dutch oven makes me think you are happier to see dinner than you are to see me.

I will never forget the excitement in your voice when I told you I was craving a big, juicy steak while I was pregnant with Mia. It probably stunned you to hear those words from me, as you knew my fickle feelings about meat. Your face lit up as you began to imagine all the delicious ways we could cook a steak that night, without forethought, preplanning, let alone the steak itself in the house. Soon we found ourselves at the store and as we perused the various cuts available, I deferred to you because really, I don’t know what I am doing when it comes to steak. I charged you with cooking of said steaks as well, and you looked so proud when you presented me with a beautifully crusted filet mignon drizzled with the yummiest homemade pan sauce I had ever tasted.

Those nights are rare around here because I have mixed feelings about meat. I admit that it is delicious, but it nevertheless grosses me out a little. When I do cook meat (which is becoming more and more rare around here) I generally go easy on the amount I eat (if any at all) because the truth of the matter is that no matter how yummy it is, it creeps me out a little when I think about what meat actually is (cows, chickens, pigs)

I didn’t always have a love/hate relationship with meat. It was a gradual change, one that I can’t really pin to any one reason or moment. When I was growing up, I loved it. Some of my favorite dinners were beef stew, pot roast, hamburger gravy over mashed potatoes, and oven-fried chicken. I had some friends who were vegetarians and I remember wondering what in the world they ate.  

Perhaps I have some sort of genetic predisposition to this, as neither of my grandmothers are not big meat eaters, and their consumption of meat continues to dwindle with age, but I am fairly certain that the real reason I’ve lost my appetite for it because of the less than ideal way most meat makes its way to our collective national table. Lucky for me, you accept this about me and even agree with me on the major issues that get me so fired up. The one area we differ on this point is the fact that you still love meat, and you crave it more than I ever really do.

I’m really thankful that despite your deep love of a good piece of meat, you don’t mind having meatless dishes for dinner, and I am even more thankful that you humor me while I experiment with meatless dishes and find out what vegetarians actually eat. I promise that I will never try to pull a fast one on you or change your favorite dishes into meatless ones (can you imagine tofu stroganoff? Gross.) I’ll not let my little hang up in the kitchen keep me from cooking the kinds of meals you like best, as long as you don’t mind a few meatless dishes here and there to balance it out. Plus, you might find, as I have, that meatless does not mean tasteless. In fact, you may discover (as I did) that meatless can be awesome. Like last night’s dinner: it was a winner, right?

I believe your exact words were, “Apple Gouda Penne Pie, huh? (Taste.) Mmmm. Ya. I’ll eat that. (Double helping.)”

Yes, meatless can be awesome indeed.

Love, Scratch

Apple Gouda Penne Pie
This dish makes meatless meals look good. The  original recipe calls for apple cider instead of broth (which is what I used), but I didn’t have 1/2 a cup of apple cider on hand (who does?). You could even use white wine, if you wanted to. The result will still be decadently rich and satisfying, and would go very well with a crisp green salad dressed with a tangy vinaigrette. Think of it as fancy macaroni and cheese, perfect for grownups with a sophisticated palate, but kid-friendly all the same (my kids devoured it!).

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2/3 cup panko bread crumbs, divided
1 teaspoon dried thyme, divided
12 oz. dry penne pasta
2 medium Granny Smith apples, peeled , cored and chopped
1/2 large onion, chopped
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 cups 2% milk
1/2 cup vegetable broth
6 ounces cream cheese
6 ounces gouda cheese, grated

Method:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a spring form pan and sprinkle sides of pan with 1/3 cup panko bread crumbs. Set aside.

Over medium heat, melt one tablespoon of butter; add remaining 1/3 cup panko and 1/2 tsp thyme. Combine, then remove from heat.

Cook pasta for two minutes fewer than package directions. Drain, and return the pasta to the pan.

In a large pan over medium high heat, melt 3 tablespoons butter and add apple and onions. Sauté until tender (about 8 minutes). Stir in flour, salt and pepper. Cook for two minutes. Add milk and broth; cook  until thick and bubbly, stirring frequently. Reduce heat to low and add the cream cheese, gouda and thyme. Stir until the cheese is melted and combined.

Pour sauce over pasta and gently mix thoroughly. Pour mixture into the prepared spring form pan and top with reserved panko mixture.

Bake for about an hour, or until edges are golden and cheese is bubbly. Let cool for about 20 minutes before slicing and serving.

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Old and New, and What Making Enchiladas Taught Me

Dear Joey,

We had enchiladas for dinner this past Friday night and they were awesome for three reasons: first, they were very easy to make (in fact, they could be called “throw them together while daddy gives the girls a bath enchiladas”); second, they were so good; and third, they taught me a very powerful lesson.

I never thought enchiladas to be emotional, really, but this week they were for me. It all started when I decided to try a new recipe for Chicken Enchiladas, a recipe whose author calls it her go to dish to take to new moms. Since I was making dinner for a new mom this week and still hadn’t decided what I was going to make, I figured it was a good enough sign that her version of Chicken Enchiladas was a sure bet.

Why I hadn’t thought to bring Chicken Enchiladas to this new mom before this week escapes me. My Grandma’s Creamy Chicken Enchiladas are something of a legend on my mom’s side of the family, and she made them hundreds of times over the years, I’m sure, for just about any reason or occasion you could think of: for holidays, birthdays, and other family gatherings; for potlucks and funerals and people who needed a little extra help around the house; and she would even make them just because. Her enchiladas were her go to dish, and walking in to dinner at grandma’s house was always extra exciting when the smell of those enchiladas greeted us at the door.

To purposely make different recipe for Chicken Enchiladas felt wrong to me, as if I was breaking some sort of family code by admitting that there could be another creamy chicken enchilada recipe out there that was worth making. But I did it anyway this week, and this recipe became very special to me very fast.

It comes from Shauna Niequist’s Bread and Wine, from the chapter called “Love and Enchiladas” in which she talks about the people who made up the house church she and her husband were part of several years ago now. When I read about her group and how they met on Wednesday nights for dinner in someone’s home, and how week after week they developed a love for each other that became more like that shared among family than that shared among friends, I couldn’t help but think about our own sort-of house church we had before we got married: a group of people who that filled that kitchen with laughter and wine and guacamole and and dirty dishes during what we used to call Family Night.

Family Night is what got us through the week, it seemed. We would text back and forth early in the week, planning menus and deciding who was going to bring what. At 7:00, the door would start opening and we would buzz in and out of that warm yellow kitchen, circling around each other as we poured chips into bowls, popped things in and out of the oven, and crammed mismatching chairs around the kitchen table. As the night wore on, we would ask for seconds and refill glasses and play one more round of Hell’s Pile or marvel at the wonder of who God is – and we would do it all for as long as we could keep our eyes open.

It’s been a few years since we’ve done that, now. Things changed, as things tend to do. Some of us got married; others moved away; babies were born; and jobs were lost and found. Life carried all of us in different directions, and along the way the connections that sustained us during those years started to get lost as we lived our new realities – each of us, in our own way – very much like what happened to that little House Church that ate these particular enchiladas all those times so far away in Michigan.

Even though I was making this particular pan of enchiladas for a newer friend than the ones we shared Family Night with, all I could think about was how those nights would never come again, and feeling sad about that but still somehow happy that life took me where I am today. As I layered together tortillas and chicken and cheese, I thought about and prayed for Adam and Christy, and for Felicia and Kara and Jason and Jonathan and Stacy and Amy and Mike. All of them – I couldn’t seem to help it.

And then I started thinking about all the ways our lives have changed and all the new friends that have come into our lives since that time, some whom were going to receive that particular pan of enchiladas and some who were not. People who I enjoy and pray for and love in different ways than the friends who were part of Family Night. People who are new, but neither more nor less important, really. And I thought about the funny way that God answers prayer and the way that He never leaves us even when we lose the thing that we thought we could never live without, and how our needs are important to Him and He provides just what we need right when we need it. All this from a pan of enchiladas.

So you see, these enchiladas are more than just enchiladas. They showed me that things I’ve known and loved for years are still important to me, they still hold powerful memories, and they retain their power to make me feel comfortable and cared for. But they also taught me that there is a place for change and for new and for doing things a little bit differently.

Just because I love these enchiladas doesn’t mean that my love for Grandma’s version has diminished at all; it just means that I have discovered something new to love as well. And new isn’t bad. New is just new, and I believe there is a lesson in that for me when it comes to change and growth in my life, and that’s what makes these enchiladas so special.

That’s why I made them again Friday night. Because I wasn’t quite ready to move on from the nostalgia I was feeling about those days before we were married, when Wednesday nights were Family Night and we would get our fill of good food and people who carried us through some of the toughest times we had faced yet. And you know what? The truth is I don’t have to let go. Not really. I can hold on to the good from then and accept and enjoy the reality of what is now all at the same time. Those days are part of my history and your history and our history together, and if it weren’t for them, and the people who filled those days to the brim with life and love and laughter, we wouldn’t be who we are today, together.

Love, Scratch

Chicken Enchiladas

Slightly adapted from Annette’s Enchiladas (Bread and Wine)
True to Shauna Niequists’ thoughts in her book Bread and Wine, by the third time I made this recipe it became my own, in that I made it without looking at the recipe at all by then. I knew Joey loved it because he said so after the first bite and went back for seconds after he inhaled his first serving. My dad asked me if I had it written down somewhere because he wanted to make sure I made it again (and again and again). Make this once and I’m sure you’ll feel the same way as our family does about Annette’s Enchiladas.

Ingredients:
1 28-ounce can green enchilada sauce
2 small (4-ounce) cans diced green chills
1 cup sour cream
3 cups precooked shredded chicken 

10 oz pepper jack cheese, shredded (about 2 1/2 cups) (or use plain Monterey Jack, as called for in the original recipe)
12 corn tortillas

1 1/2 cups chicken broth

Method:
Mix together the first three ingredients and spoon about a half a cup of sauce or so into the bottom of a 9 x 13 baking dish, smoothing it into a thin layer that covers the entire base of the pan.

Next, simmer the chicken broth and pass the tortillas through the broth one at a time as you build each layer.

Create layers of tortillas, chicken, cheese and sauce by layering four tortillas on top of the base layer of sauce. Top with half of the chicken, a third of the cheese, and a third of the sauce. Repeat. Top the second layer with another four tortillas, the remaining third of the sauce, and the remaining cheese.

Bake at 350 degrees for at least 30 minutes (but I baked mine for about an hour so that the cheese got a bit crispy and golden.) Let sit for 15 minutes before serving.

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A Battle of Wills and What Addie’s Really Saying

Dear Joey,

Well, it’s happened. One of our children has finally spit on my face.

It didn’t happen on purpose (I don’t think), but the other night while we were in the throes of a dinner time battle of wills, a chewed up medley of tortellini with chicken and zucchini came flying out of Addie’s mouth as she raged against my request for her to swallow.

It all started a few weeks ago when she started flat out refusing to eat vegetables. Fruit came next, and shortly after that pretty much anything other than bananas, crackers, and yogurt or cheese went out the window. This frustrated me to no end, as this was our little foodie, the girl who would eat anything put in front of her with only two exceptions: green beans and Velveeta (which I can’t say I’m too torn up about).

I should have known this day was coming. For months and months I would toss vegetables in with her favorite foods, flavoring them well and making them taste (in my humble opinion) amazing. But not so long ago, she started picking her favorite foods out of her dinner, eating the chicken and noodles and leaving the broccoli, peas, or zucchini on her plate. A dinner like the one we had the other night would have been a major hit just six short months ago. But last week, it was a disaster.

I cut up zucchini into little pieces, no more than 1/4 inch square, and sautéed it with minced onion and garlic powder. Then I added pre-cooked pieces of chicken and cheese tortellini and tossed it all together with parmesan cheese (a simple, quick dinner I would ordinarily recommend to anyone with toddlers). After tasting it myself, I knew I’d hit on something flavorful and yummy, something Addie would be sold on once (and if) I could get her to take a bite of it.

I was wrong.

I put a bit of it on her favorite plate (the pink one) and gave her the Minnie Mouse fork. After putting the plate down in front of her, I encouraged her to take a bite and held my breath. She took one look at it and announced (without tasting it), “I don’t like it.”

Meanwhile, Mia was chowing down. She had two helpings, plus peas. And carrots. And corn. And green beans. But Addie sat in silence, refusing to take a bite, insisting she didn’t like it. I left her alone, as sometimes she gets brave and slyly tries to take a bite when she doesn’t think I’m watching. But she didn’t take a bite this time. She just sat there, full plate left untouched, stubborn as can be. After calmly trying to explain that she didn’t know she didn’t like it because she hadn’t tasted it yet, I finally (somehow) got her to take a bite. And then another. And another. And then, out of nowhere, she stopped eating. And she got very, very quiet – the sort of quiet that has come to mean that she is now holding a bite of food in her mouth and is refusing to either swallow it or spit it out.

And so, I let her keep that bite in her mouth. She asked (full mouth and all) if she could have frozen yogurt stick, and I told her that she could if she swallowed that bite and chewed and swallowed another three bites. But, I warned, if she spit that bite out, or any bites she took after that one, she would not get to enjoy the frozen yogurt, nor would she get to have anything else to eat before bedtime.

There we sat, neither willing to give in to the other. And then, after holding that food in her mouth for at least ten minutes, she started crying, the kind of crying that litters her forehead with red splotches and turns her voice into a high pitched screech. At this point in the game, I knew that she would not swallow, nor would she spit it out. She was hanging on to that food for dear life because she understood that to spit it out is to relinquish her claim on the frozen yogurt she wanted so badly.

Not being willing to let her scream like that for an hour, only to finally have her swallow and then reward her with frozen yogurt, I took control of the situation and made it clear to her that I was going to help her spit it out. She protested, screaming louder, and it was at this point that the chewed up food came flying out of her mouth and landed on my cheek.

I am proud to say I stayed calm. I quietly walked away, gingerly wiped the goop from my face, and returned with a cool cloth to wipe Addie’s face too. And then I lifted her out of her chair, walked over to the nearby armchair, nestled her onto my lap and let her calm down, stroking her hair and waiting in silence as she did.

Eventually, she calmed down. She didn’t get to eat her beloved frozen yogurt, but she did get a bit of one-on-one cuddle time with me. And it made me wonder if it’s true: perhaps this battle is less about the vegetables than it is about attention. With so much attention focused on her baby sister for almost a year now, perhaps she has finally found a way to get the sort of focused attention (negative as it may be) that she lost the day she gained a sister.


And so, instead of feeling defeated and angry, I’m learning to do my best to stay calm and pay attention to what her needs really are over and above her food preferences. And I’ve decided to be more intentional about giving her focused attention in between meals. Offer more encouragement and less bargaining. Get better at hiding vegetables, but let her watch me eat and enjoy the kinds of foods that she refuses to eat. Limit crackers, offer more fruit. Be ok with letting her “go hungry” until the next meal. Bottom line: I’m not going to push too hard or worry too much about it because the truth is, she’ll eat the food she’s offered when she’s hungry enough, just like she’ll come snuggle with me when she needs a hug or ask me for water when she’s thirsty. And that’s a good thing, I think. Learning to recognize what she needs and being able to give it a voice. Differentiating between what she wants and what she needs. Learning how to stand her ground and let things go, all with grace and a bit of humility. I pray that as we teach her these essential life skills, she’ll learn how to do it with a lot more grace than I have, and I pray that in the process we become even better at it ourselves.

Love, Scratch