Beverages · Changing Seasons · Dairy Free · Wrestling with Reality

Letting Autumn Inside, and Classic Hot Chocolate (Non-Dairy Style)

“What is happening now has happened before, and what will happen in the future has happened before, because God makes the same things happen over and over again.”

-Ecclesiastes 3:15

Dear Joey,

Autumn is here again. I usually run out the door before she arrives, arms outstretched and ready to receive her warm, familiar hug, but this year I stayed inside as she walked toward the doorstep alone and started knocking. I wasn’t really ready for her to show up yet, and so I hid from her. She stayed out there a long time calling to me, her voice feeble and melancholy to my indifferent ears. My attention was elsewhere, and the poetry written in the changing color of the trees and whispered in the crisp evening breeze wasn’t making my soul sing.

Last week when September faded into October, I wanted to welcome the new month with the same sort of wistfulness Anne Shirley did in Anne of Green Gables when she says, “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers. It would be terrible if we just skipped from September to November, wouldn’t it?” But I didn’t. Instead, I sort of rolled my eyes.

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I tried to get into the spirit of Fall before October came. I bought a new banner for the mantel, hung my sunflower wreath on the front door and filled Grandma Adeline’s candy dish with the candy corn everyone around here has come to expect this time of year. I even made Baked Pumpkin Pasta with Sausage and Sage on the first day of Fall. That is as far as I got because when we turned the calendar to October, I didn’t have time for anything else. I was too busy stroking feverish brows with cool washcloths, refilling sippy cups with icy-cold white grape juice, wiping up the mess made by an upset tummy, and snuggling each child as much or as little as they needed. There wasn’t much time to day dream about what is usually my favorite time of the year, let alone enjoy it once it arrived.

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And so last Saturday night you practically kicked me out of the house once evening fell. Mia had crawled into bed on her own and fallen asleep a whole hour early, wiped out from the fever as she was. Emery practically skipped toward his crib when we told him it was bedtime, and once he was asleep you told me to just go–you didn’t care where. Several days spent at home tending to very-needy children drained my reserves, and you knew it. You saw it. So out I went, begrudgingly.

I drove to Starbucks and ordered hot chocolate instead of the Pumpkin Spice Latte you suggested when trying to convince me to get out of the house because I couldn’t bear the thought of drinking one that night. I knew I wouldn’t enjoy it, so I chose hot chocolate instead, and it soothed me and gave me a bit of perspective: I didn’t have to hurry up to be excited about all-things-Fall just because everyone else (whoever they are) is thrilling at the idea of apple cider anything and pumpkin everything. I usually do too, but this year, I am not.

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I halfheartedly walked over to the bookstore, and as soon as I saw its warmly lit windows my heart smiled the way it does whenever I see an old friend again. I sipped my way through its endless aisles and let myself get lost for awhile. When I got home, I unloaded my goodies and told you a little bit about each of them. You chuckled a little at my jumble of disjointed selections, telling me it was like that scene from the movie Dan in Real Life where Dan walks around the tiny old bookstore piling up book after random book in his arms, doing so just to be there, in that moment, happy. And I was happy in those few stolen moments, and even more so when I got to come home to you refreshed and ready to take on another day or two of the sick kids around here. Sunday’s blustery grey afternoon almost convinced me I would start enjoying Autumn the way I usually do soon enough, but even if that doesn’t happen this time around, there is always next year.

Perhaps I am feeling the melancholy some folks feel when the last luxurious unhurried day of summer waves goodbye and Autumn arrives with shorter days, bursting at the seams with busyness that makes it hard to be still and enjoy. Or maybe on some deep level the changing colors of my own heart are feeling like brown leaves blown off scraggly tree branches that sit decaying in the gutter, wet and forgotten. I wandered around the bookstore, plucking book after book from the crowded clearance rack, collecting them as if they were fallen leaves. I saw beauty in those cast off editions no one seemed to want anymore. New books come out all the time and with them new stories and new perspectives and new ideas that replace the old. I felt a sort of sorrow for those books, and so they came home with me that night.

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Having that stack of books hang around helped me come to terms with the fact that Autumn is here now because they are symbols of what has been and a reminder that new things will always turn up, but that those new things eventually fade into old things too. What has been, will be; and what will be, has been. And so I dug out bits and pieces of mismatched decorations yesterday afternoon and finally got around to putting them up, juggling a very clingy Emery as I did so. I finally let Autumn inside our home and my heart.

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Autumn is the season for gathering up all the beautiful bits of the year behind us and putting them on display, I think. It is a time to give thanks for what was and give thanks for what will be–because we all know another year is coming, full of new chapters to be lived whether we feel ready for it or not. I don’t quite feel ready to say goodbye to the year behind us because I am not sure I am ready to face the new chapters waiting for us just around the corner yet.  I think that is why the change in season was hard for me this year: change is here and more is coming because change always comes. I’m not quite ready to say I’m excited for what will be yet, but at least now I am ready to say Thank you for what was.

Love,

Scratch

Classic Hot Chocolate, Non-Dairy Style (GF/DF/THM S)

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A good cup of steaming hot chocolate soothes me unlike much else, perhaps because it’s something my parents used to make me when I was a child, and sipping on it now takes me back to those days when small things like making homemade hot chocolate were really the big, enduring things. Since Emery is allergic to dairy, I cannot make hot chocolate for him the way my parents made it for me, exactly, so I knew one day I would take on the challenge of transforming non-dairy milk into a creamy, satisfying cup of piping hot chocolate. My visit to Starbucks three days ago was the tipping point for me, and so today was the day I made it happen. For my Trim Healthy Mama friends out there, this is an S. For anyone allergic or averse to almond milk, use rice milk or soy milk (or whatever your non-dairy beverage of choice might be), but just be sure to start with the unsweetened kind otherwise the end result will be far too sweet. Of course, regular old dairy milk will do the trick here, too. This recipe makes one large 12-oz mug full, or two smaller 6-oz mugs. Double or triple it if a larger batch is necessary.

Ingredients:

6-oz. full fat coconut milk (from a can)

6-oz. unsweetened original almond milk

2 Tablespoons cocoa powder

3 1/2 teaspoons Pyure Organic Stevia Blend (or 7 teaspoons regular sugar)

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional, but essential in my opinion)

pinch of kosher salt

Method:

Warm the coconut and almond milks in a small saucepan over medium heat. Sprinkle in the cocoa powder, stevia blend (or sugar), vanilla extract and salt. Whisk constantly (and carefully) until the dry ingredients are fully incorporated into the milk. After that, continue to warm the mixture until steaming hot. Remove from heat and pour into your favorite mug to enjoy.


Comfort Food · Dinner · main dishes · New Motherhood · Wrestling with Reality

With Humility Came Wisdom, and BBQ Cornbread Pie

If you don’t know what you’re doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help. You’ll get his help, and won’t be condescended to when you ask for it. Ask boldly, believingly, without a second thought.”

James 1:5 (MSG)

Dear Joey,

I ought to have a case of baby fever. Now that our youngest child has crossed over into toddler territory, you would think the heavenly scent of newborns swirling in the air would infect me like a virus. One faint whiff of the good stuff is dangerous for a mom like me because it paints those emotionally charged, bone-tired days of new mamahood with glitter and sunshine. And those early days were strikingly beautiful, warmed with the glow of a new kind of love for the sweet cherub nestled in the crook of my arm. Those days were hard too, in big ways and small ways, but the blessing of hindsight is that it blurs the rough edges and makes things appear much smoother and more idyllic than perhaps they actually were. Nevertheless, the new baby days are over for us now, and I am at once deeply relieved and also utterly heartbroken.

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There are newborns everywhere except for in our own home (for a change)–three of them cousins to our own little brood, the newest of whom was born one week ago in a place too far from home to swing by and offer our congratulations. When I heard the news that baby Nolan had arrived, my heart swelled with joy and sadness because I was both over-the-moon excited our new little nephew was healthy and strong, and also hit with the reality that we won’t experience those first beautiful moments for ourselves again, and that made me sad. But in the midst of that sadness I realized I have something now I did not have then: the sort of wisdom that comes with experience, and I wished desperately for a way to pass that on to you sister. My sister. I wanted to just be there for her, to linger in the shadows and offer what little I could to help ease the burden of those first weary, bleary-eyed, love-struck days as they all settled into a new reality.

Strangely, all this happened as I cooked dinner for a different new, first-time mom, something I had planned to do before I heard news baby Nolan would be born soon. Even though it was a coincidence, cooking a meal for this other new mom on that same day helped soothe away the sadness I felt for being so far away from our own extended family. As I packed up that dinner and toted it over to her, memories from my own first days of motherhood flooded back. I was surprised and delighted when I realized this time around it was me  answering questions about the reality of adjusting to life with babies. I happily answered her with as much truth and encouragement as I could, marveling at the fact that not so long ago I was in her shoes, desperate for wisdom, company, and a hearty meal I didn’t have to cook.

 

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I am in a different place now, feet set firmly in reality and fully awake to the good and the bad and the hard and the easy. When I first became a mother, I was filled with wide-eyed hope that was pure and good, but lacked experience. Motherhood changed me, heart and soul. It brought about something new and beautiful in me, but also revealed the parts of me that are self-centered and ugly. Before I became a mom, I imagined sacrifice would come easy. I thought laying down my own agenda would be a breeze because my baby was my agenda. In some ways, I was right. Instinct took over and the baby came first. But deep down, it wasn’t easy because while the baby’s needs came first, my needs came dead last. And I was ashamed of how that made me feel: jealous, selfish, and guilty because as it turned out, I still cared about what mattered to me.

When I was pregnant with Addie, a trusted friend gently warned me that kids really do change everything, and while it is a good change, it is not an easy one. Motherhood forces you to your knees, she said, and I assumed she meant having kids makes you to pray for your kids a lot. She’s right: it does. Certainly, it does. In hindsight, though, I wonder if she was trying to tell me something else: that motherhood is humbling in a way that strips you down bare, reveals the darkest parts of yourself, parts you either didn’t know were there or wished to keep hidden, and exposes you as you really are: desperate for a savior.

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It all starts at delivery, in a very tactile, physical way. Bringing a baby into the world is messy and sticky and for me–humiliating. Spread wide, flayed open, and very much afraid–mothers cry out, desperate for relief. Remember how I cried through that last push that finally delivered Addie into your hands? It ripped me open and wrenched my heart out of its hiding place, finally letting the light of love into places that had never seen it before.

Then when I finally brought my new baby girl home, I wondered how to care for myself, bloody and broken as I was, while caring for my helpless little daughter. Suddenly, I realized how desperately I needed someone to take care of me. I had a child of my own, but I felt like the child who needed tending. I thought I was ready for motherhood: I had read books and talked to friends and stocked the nursery and been praying for this day since I was a little girl. I always wanted to be a mom, and naturally I believed I would be a good one when the time came, beautiful and capable and nurturing and selfless. I didn’t feel like any of those things at first because motherhood didn’t look the way I thought it would for awhile.

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In those first few days, friends and family bustled in and out bringing flowers, cards, dinners and cookies, offering support and celebration in beautiful, generous ways. As they marveled at my baby girl, I remember thinking, “What about me?” Even the kindest words meant to build me up weren’t enough to soothe away the feeling that I was a shell of the woman I had been. I dressed my baby girl in pretty little outfits while I wore spit-up stained hand-me-down maternity clothes, my hair disheveled and my still-swollen face bare and stained with tears. I appreciated people coming over and asking how I was, and I also dreaded it. I wanted them to drop food off and I didn’t want them to see me because I still looked pregnant, and I didn’t know that was normal. I wanted to pile my plate high with warm, comforting casseroles and I didn’t want anyone to bring salad. I wanted people to hold the baby for awhile and I also never wanted to let them touch her. I was jealous for her and jealous of her at the same time because she was just so beautiful, and I was a wreck. I was afraid you loved her more than you loved me, and I was afraid your feelings about me had changed in the worst possible way. And in the midst of it all, I felt a sort of love I had never known before, the kind of love that kept me going when all I wanted to do was pull the covers over my head and cry.

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Things got better, of course, and they weren’t so hard after Mia was born and were better still in the days after Emery arrived. Perhaps I had a bit of post-pardum depression the first time around, or maybe I was just wrestling with the surprising swirl of emotions that come with a new baby. But I suspect by the time I greeted my third baby, humility had done its work and brought about wisdom. In those first few days I felt lost, and so I sought refuge the one place I was certain to find rest. God had already lavished grace upon me, a truth to which we paid tribute in Addie’s middle name: Grace. I had asked specifically for grace when I prayed for this child–pleaded with him for it when I poured out my heart and told Him how desperately I wanted a baby of my own. He heard me then and I was certain He would hear me again. He did.

When Mia was born, I felt far more confident about my role as a mom. I wasn’t afraid of the taking-care-of-a-baby part of motherhood, but I still struggled with selfishness and a tattered self-image. I gained a lot of weight. I was swollen and tired and felt like a very different woman than the one you had married. I struggled to feel good about myself. It was an on-going process that just took time to figure out.

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But by the time Emery was born, I knew my still-swollen belly would indeed recede as the weeks wore on. I knew my swollen face would regain its former shape and that the loathed maternity clothes would eventually be replaced with things that made me feel human again. I ate with abandon, not caring one bit what anyone thought about my appetite. I knew your love for me grew deeper and stronger as our family grew. I knew people cared very much about me and that they wouldn’t have come to visit us and see the baby if I didn’t matter to them too. And I knew how to eagerly accept help from people who offered it to me, of whom there were many.

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Now, three babies later, I know this: any mother who offers to help a new mom knows how good and amazing and glory-filled and just plain hard these days are.We know how fiercely that baby is loved. We know how a post-delivery body is swollen and painful. We know that nursing takes painful practice, and we know it doesn’t always work out. We know how good a nap sounds. We know how hungry a nursing-mama’s own tummy is for a hearty meal, and we don’t expect her to eat like a bird. We know a slow, warm shower sounds like heaven. We know maternity clothes will continue be the staple of a post-delivery wardrobe for awhile, and we know how much new moms hate that. We know nothing compares to the way it feels to snuggle that precious baby close. We know how freeing it is to let someone else to hold that baby. We know how important it is to be left alone, and we also know how being left alone for too long is isolating. We know the laundry isn’t done and the dishes are dirty and the house is a mess. We know one woman alone cannot possibly be expected to care for herself, her baby, her husband, and her home perfectly (or at all) at the same time. We know a new woman was birthed right along with that baby, and getting to know her is confusing and strange. We know new moms need help. We know, because we were new moms once too.

Falling to my knees in submission to my new role as a mother was humbling, but in his kindness God lifted me up and gave me wisdom, just like he promises he will. And I’m so glad he did because the good stuff is so good. Motherhood is at once more complicated and beautiful than I imagined. The experience of it is unique to each woman, a one-of-a-kind gift to unwrap and enjoy.

Love,

Scratch

BBQ Cornbread Pieimg_5117

This recipe was inspired by  Table for Two‘s BBQ Chicken Cornbread Pie. And ok, really–this is pretty much the same recipe, but I made a few changes based on the contents of my refrigerator and my family’s dietary needs and preferences. I stumbled upon it while looking for a gluten-free-and-dairy-free-but-still-hearty-and-comforting dinner to take to a brand new mom. I remember being hungry in those first weeks (because: nursing), and let’s face it: new moms want comfort food for dinner (right? Or am I alone?). This dish is sort of like Sloppy Joe’s piled high on a bed of cornbread (and drenched in gooey cheese), and it became a fast favorite in our house–especially with Addie, who loves meat (for the win: Mia doesn’t really like meat, but she ate this dinner without complaining, and said she actually enjoyed it). It’s really good with dairy free cheese melted on top (like Daiya cheddar style shreds), but clearly the real thing does the trick here too. If your family doesn’t like bell peppers, leave them out. If they only like red ones, don’t use the green. Add more meat or don’t. Use ground beef or ground turkey. Listen to your cravings and own it.

Ingredients:

For the Cornbread layer

  • 1 cup gluten free yellow cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup gluten free all purpose flour blend
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • pinch kosher salt
  • 2 Tablespoons Vegan Buttery Spread (such as Earth Balance), melted and cooled
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup unsweetened original Almond Milk (or other non-dairy milk alternative)

For the BBQ layer

  • 3/4 pound ground turkey (or ground beef)
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1/2 green bell pepper, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 Tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 cup tomato sauce
  • 2 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 teaspoons hot sauce (such as Frank’s Red Hot)
  • 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar

For the Topping

  • 2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese, non-dairy if necessary (depending on how gooey you prefer your cheese)
  • 3 green onions, sliced
Method:

First, preheat the oven to 375 degrees and grease a 9″ pie plate or baking dish.

Now, let’s talk cornbread. Measure the dry ingredients together in a large bowl and give them a good stir. Then, in a smaller bowl, whisk together the egg and almond milk and then add the melted buttery spread. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet, in about three additions, until the mixture is the consistency of cake batter. Pour the batter into the greased baking dish and put it into the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes, or until golden brown on top.

While the cornbread is baking, brown the meat in a glug or two of neutral tasting oil (like grapeseed oil or refined coconut oil). Break up the meat as you go so it gets nice and crumbly. Once cooked through (no pink!), remove the crumbles from the pan and set aside, leaving the drippings in the pan. Over medium heat, toss the onions and bell peppers into the pan and give them a good stir. Let them cook down until soft, about 5 minutes, and then add the minced garlic. Stir the veggies and let them cook until you start to smell the garlic, about two minutes. Add the meat back to the pan and start building the sauce. Pour in the spices and brown sugar and stir to coat the meat and veggie mixture evenly. Add the tomato sauce, Worcestershire sauce,  hot sauce, and red wine vinegar and stir again. Let the mixture simmer for a few minutes until the cornbread is done.

When the cornbread is golden on top, remove it from the oven and click the oven to a high broil. Spread the BBQ meat mixture on top of the still-hot cornbread, then pile it high with cheese. Put the dish under the broiler for a couple of minutes until the cheese is melted and bubbling. Pull it out of the oven before it burns and scatter the green onions on top.

 

Dinner · Slow Cooker Meals · Staying True to You · The Comparison Trap · Wrestling with Reality

One Step Behind and Slow Cooked Italian Sausages with Lentils

Dear Joey,

Ever since I can remember I have been one step behind. I am rarely on the cutting edge of anything, which doesn’t bother me exactly, for the most part. I mean, my iPad is over five years old, I thought midi dresses were called “tea-length”, and while I have heard of Chewbacca Mom, I have not seen the video. For the most part, being on the tail end of trends like these does not bother me too much.

When it does bother me, though, is when there is something I really do care about, something I really am interested in and I find out someone else had that exact same idea, or that someone else beat me to the punch on putting their spin on whatever “thing” it is that’s taking up space in my dreaming heart. I think that fear has kept me from making the jump from dreaming to doing.

Stay with me: let’s talk shoes for a moment.

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When I was in Junior High (back when it was still called Junior High), I was behind on what was cool and what wasn’t, not for lack of caring, but because by that time keeping up with my friends came with a price tag that my babysitting jobs couldn’t cover very quickly. I either had to save up for the things I really wanted or beg my parents for them. Take shoes, for example. There was this pair of black velvet Vans that I just had to have. I knew I would wear them with everything if I could only just get my hands on them, a vow I swore to my mom when I begged her to upgrade my Payless knock offs to these much cooler originals. I don’t remember if she put out the cash for them or if I did, but what I do remember is that when I finally got a pair, another girl at school had already gotten the same ones–and this girl was older, prettier, and far more popular than I was. To my insecure heart, this was a fate worse than not having the shoes at all: it made me look like I was copying her.

Not much has changed. This sort of thing happened to me again this year, more than 20 years later. I rarely shell out money for new shoes these days (a scar from long ago perhaps?), but when I laid eyes on a pair of slip-on white Converse, that all changed. I pined after them during pregnancy, knowing that as soon as my feet shrunk back to their normal size again (fingers crossed), I would treat myself to a pair. That day finally came, and I wore them all the time. But not long after I got them, I spotted them on a fellow preschool mom during morning drop off. As we waved hello in passing, I smiled and silently prayed she didn’t think I was copying her.

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How silly am I for thinking anyone gives that sort of time and energy to thinking about my choice in shoes? Who cares? They are cute shoes and a lot of people like to wear them. End of story. Right?

I’m not sure. I think there is a deeper issue here, one that I am still trying to figure out and understand. I want to be original and affirmed for being a cool kind of different, but I do not want to be so outside the norm that I am weird–in my style, sure, but more than that, what I do with my life, how I create art and live a life in keeping with that.

For some reason, shoes sort of speak to that. What sort of people wear socks with sandals?  Ballet flats? Platforms? Gladiators? Tom’s? Crocks? Running shoes (without the slightest sign of being used for running)? Impossibly high pumps? Converse? I bet you could take a room full of random people, sort them by their shoes, and within each group there would be many similarities among the people therein. They probably share a lot of the same basic personality traits and values.

But when I think about it a little more, the girl in Junior High who had those Vans and the fellow preschool mom both were a little similar to me. I remember the girl in Junior High as being somewhat soft-spoken, easy going, and down to earth. The fellow preschool mom is warm, kind, and laid back. Both balance out their louder and more gregarious counterparts. These are my sort of people, in other words. Perhaps I ought to see them as kindred spirits, people who share the same sort of values and ideals I have.

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Which brings me to the whole idea of comparing myself to women walking the path in their professional lives I keep dreaming of walking too. It seems anytime I get a good idea, I come to find out that someone else has had that idea too. Instead of seeing it as an opportunity to learn from them and add my two cents to the discussion, I shy away and figure the topic is already covered. The world will keep turning if I don’t share my favorite new recipe, right?

What if I renewed my thinking, so that the proverbial competition became companions walking along the same path with me–not in front, nor behind, exactly, but beside. The world will not change, but maybe I will.

Love,
Scratch

Slow Cooked Italian Sausages with Lentils

One Step Behind and Slow Cooked Italian Sausages with Lentils

When the weather took a turn for the worst (read: hot), I heeded Joey’s plea and did my best to keep the stove turned off–a difficult task with a broken grill, I might add.  I started using my Crock Pot instead, even though I find the flavors and textures of slow cooked meals tiresome during the summer, when things should be fresh and light, not laden with warmth and comfort. But this recipe.  I made it ages ago, on the stove, during the winter, but inspiration struck me in the middle of a hot July day and I cooked it in the Crock Pot. Easy, flavorful, fancy even (for essentially being a peasant-style dish), and perfect with a glass of our favorite wine. It would be a simple freezer meal to throw together too (in which case do not bother browning the sausages first. Skipping that step will change the end result slightly, but sometimes a short cut like that is worth it on a hot day). To make it truly dairy free, skip the garnish of cheese at the end. 

Ingredients:

1 1/4 cups French lentils (also known as Puy lentils, or lentilles du Puy)
2 cups water
1/2 cup red wine (such as Cabernet Sauvignon)
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 large cloves garlic, smashed
6 Italian sausages (mild or hot; uncooked)
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
Fresh parsley and crumbled feta cheese (or shaved Parmesan) for serving

Method:

First, brown the sausages on at least two sides, but all four (or close to all four) is best. Meanwhile, rinse and sort through the lentils, making sure to remove any stray little stones. Then, combine lentils, water, wine, onion, garlic, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper in the bottom of a slow cooker. Give it a good stir, and then nestle the sausages on top, submerging them just a little bit (as best you can).

Cook on high for 4 hours*. When ready to serve, adjust seasoning as needed (need salt? Stir some more in. Flavor taste a little flat? Stir in a splash or two more of red wine vinegar). Sprinkle fresh parsley and crumbled feta (or shavings of fresh Parmesan cheese) on top for serving.

*Alternatively, cook on low for 6 hours (or so). Crock pots seem to vary in their heating power, so keep that in mind and keep use these cooking times as a guide.  Lentils cook much faster than a big batch of beans, so be careful not to overcook them (they turn mushy, and of course, could burn–even in a crock pot!).

 

Food Allergies · Life with Littles · Motherhood · Wrestling with Reality

Tales of a Peanut Allergy and What I Learned about Being Brave

Dear Joey,

Last summer, just after Mia was re-tested for her peanut and possible tree nut allergy, we were relieved at the news that her allergy was peanut-specific, and that tree nuts would not pose a problem for her. The relief was short lived; the celebratory cashew butter we slathered on sandwiches for lunch that day caused the worst allergic reaction Mia had experienced. It turns out the cashew butter was contaminated with peanuts. I didn’t realize it, of course, and I didn’t notice the warning on the label until it was too late.

I made the girls their cashew butter and jelly sandwiches and settled them at the table to eat while I unloaded the rest of the groceries. I was distracted and I didn’t notice until at least five minutes later, maybe longer, after she had already eaten at least half of her sandwich.

Tales of a Peanut Allergy and What I Learned about Being Brave

I turned around to check on the girls and saw Mia’s face covered with hives. I rushed to her and tore her clothes off to check the rest of her body, which was covered in red-hot, blotchy hives. No swelling, but that could be moments away. She was breathing fine, but again, that could change in an instant.

As I checked her, I must have been screaming something like “Oh my gosh. Mia’s having an allergic reaction. Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh. Dear Jesus. Help. Help me. Help her! Oh my gosh. It was just cashew butter! What happened?”

I always wondered how I would respond if Mia had a serious reaction: would I be brave or would I collapse in a heap of tears, the paralyzing fear of what could happen preventing me from doing what must happen to prevent the worst possible outcome?  Turns out, my reaction was panic.

Tales of a Peanut Allergy and What I Learned about Being Brave

I have no memory of exactly what I said in those tense moments, but both girls understood what was happening. Addie began to cry and Mia just sort of stared blankly at me as she watched my emotions wrestle with my good sense. Before long, she gently said, “I sorry I had ‘lergic action, mommy.”

All I wanted to do was pull her out of her chair and hold her close to me, close enough so she would be absorbed into my own body, so it could take over and heal her. I wanted to snuggle her tight enough for her to understood just how sorry I was I let something dangerous find its way into her body. I wanted her to understand I would never hurt her on purpose, and I would take her place if I could.

Tales of a Peanut Allergy and What I Learned about Being Brave

Her simple words pierced my heart and snapped me out of paralysis, and in a split second I realized I am going to make mistakes. Even if I’m brave. Even when I’m brave. But it is what I do in the wake of those mistakes that matters most. My children will see both my successes and failures and the way I respond to them, and what they see will shape them. And so, I pushed aside my fear and took action, doing what needed to be done.

Out came the Benedryl, and the Epi Pen was at the ready. Up into my lap came Mia. Addie wasn’t far behind. We prayed. We waited. We cried. We waited some more. Mia apologized again, and Addie asked if her sister would be ok. I told her I believed she would. I shivered as the next 15 minutes passed, praying that God’s grace would cover my mistake. It did.

Tales of a Peanut Allergy and What I Learned about Being Brave

Slowly, the hives receded. Little by little, normalcy returned. When the worst was over, I checked the packaging of the cashew butter, which said, “May contain peanuts”–words that now mean, to me “avoid like the plague.”

Having a child with a peanut allergy is not such a big deal on most days. Sometimes it is frustrating (we always have to be mindful of it, which can be inconvenient, and honestly, selfishly, I really really miss peanut butter). But once in awhile, it is utterly terrifying.

I used to think being brave meant stifling the tears and being fearless in the face of adversity. Now I know being brave means not letting fear stop you from facing the thing that scares you, even if you do it in tears.

Love,
Scratch

Allergy Friendly · Dinner · Gluten Free · main dishes · Wrestling with Reality

A Living Cookbook and Greek Chicken-Lemon Soup

Dear Joey,

As you know, I have a major weakness for cookbooks. If I happened upon an extra bit of money that I could spend on anything, you and I both know I would blow it on a new pile of cookbooks. Never mind the fact that I have three shelves full of them; I can confidently admit that I simply do not have enough of them. There’s always a new release I’m dying to get my hands on; an elusive, hard-to-come-by classic; those charming old cookbooks all tattered and splattered and dog-eared and very well-loved; and the ones I’ve never heard of that I fall madly in love with the moment I lay eyes on the cover.

I seem to go in phases with my cookbooks, working my way through them for a good solid year (at least), learning from them, experimenting with them and being inspired by them. Two years ago, I was all about the family meal. Bringing home baby number two compelled me to take a peek at how other mothers created the sacred rhythm of the family dinner in their own homes. (With two under two? What was I thinking?). Books like Jenny Rosenstrach‘s Dinner: A Love Story, and Laurie David and Kirstin Uhrenholdt‘s The Family Dinner were my guideposts. My cheerleaders.

A year later, disenchanted with the American food system (with particular regard to its meat supply), I was all about vegetarian cuisine and Mark Bittman‘s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian and Mollie Katzen‘s The Moosewood Cookbook took up permanent residence in my collection. (Her divine recipe for pita bread is worth finding a copy of your own). And then, cookbook/memoirs took center stage in my cookbook repertoire, and I was convinced that life would be perfect if all cookbooks were written the way that  Shauna Niequist‘s Bread & Wine and Louisa Weiss’s My Berlin Kitchen were written.

 

This year, finally in a kitchen of my very own, and backed with an arsenal of family friendly, environmentally sound, healthy and delicious recipes (that were sure to create a sense of belonging for my little brood), I headed into my kitchen with confidence and my copy of Alana Chernila‘s The Homemade Pantry. If I could make it myself, I was going to. Bring on the memory making.

Before long, the books sat on the kitchen bookshelf, unused. The kitchen was quiet, and I sat idly by. Perceptive little Mia caught me gazing longingly at them during dinner one night. She asked what I was looking at, which snapped me out of my little reverie and made me realize just how much I missed pulling up a chair at someone else’s table, to be inspired by their stories instead of just by their recipes. I didn’t really do that anymore.

Dietary changes made it too painful to thumb through the pages of these books. The recipes reminded me of a time when thinking about eating healthy meant balancing food groups, limiting the bad stuff, going organic and non-GMO. Now, eating healthy meant eating so I didn’t feel like I was dying.

If last year’s theme of my kitchen life was the nostalgic joy of cooking, this year’s theme so far has largely been get me through this meal unscathed. Luckily, for me, it wasn’t really hard to figure out how to cook a meal without any grains in it (Grill some chicken. Steam some veggies. Done.)

The problem is cooking food like that is not my idea of fun–and you know me: I love to cook! And plus, I am so over reading about how and why to cut grains out of the diet. The majority of cookbooks I have read lately devote so much time and energy on explaining the perils of wheat and corn and soy and even rice (among so many others), and spend so very little time on the story behind the food they are promoting as healthy, let alone the story behind the recipes themselves.

 

For me, cookbooks are not so much about learning how to cook, but more about why to cook. Reading them is like peeking into the food life of other people, people who have gone, seen and learned things that I have not. Getting cozied up on the couch with one is not about making a list of ingredients and techniques to master; it’s about steeping myself in another person’s story, imagining the tastes and smells and experiences of another place and perspective for a moment, connecting to the heart of why they cook and being inspired to continue to refine the cooking culture here in our own kitchen.

If you have not figured it out by now, let me drive the point home: for me, cooking much more than prepping fuel to feed our bodies. It is feeding our spirits and nourishing our souls and creating a way of life within our home, knitting together bits and pieces of our collective pasts with the here and now of where we are as a family. It is celebrating heritage and creating a sense of belonging. It is hard to find a gluten-free cookbook (or grain-free one, for that matter) written from that perspective.

I had the loveliest conversation with my dad earlier this week. We were in the midst of running a not-so-fun errand and we found ourselves exchanging gluten-free/grain-free recipes. Ever the cook, he’s been low-carb for years and is always happy to share his recipes for some really yummy foods. I heard all about his lasagna-like casserole (where kale takes the stage), and I told him about my version of Greek chicken-lemon soup (where cauliflower works its cameleon magic). We talked about ingredients and methods, certainly, and also about how delicious the food was and how we really didn’t miss the grains at all. It was nice to share stories with someone who gets it, you know?
Embracing the gluten-free/grain-free way of eating in my own home and filling in my family on the why’s and how’s of why we’re eating differently feels funny enough, but talking about food and cooking with people who aren’t gluten-free or grain-free is even harder. (What do you eat? What do you cook? Is it hard?) So many casual conversations don’t have the room for a genuine answer. Thank God for the handful of people who have come alongside me this week- my dad and two of my dearest friends in the world (both of whom I rarely see–both in the same week!) to ask these questions and to listen to the real answer.

The real answer is Yes, it’s hard, and also No, it’s not hard at all. It is hard to give up the idea and the sentiment of the foods I used to eat. It is not hard to eat differently, especially when the food tastes as good as it does. Yes, it is hard to want to eat anything when you feel like you are dying, and no, it is not hard to not eat the things that make the pain worse.

It has been a week of talking these things out with people who care about me, about us. Talking about the things that are true and good and hard and important. Sharing meals, meager or strange as they may seem. Reliving old memories and being inspired to reinvent old recipes. Creating new memories that inspire new recipes.

I guess this week I learned that my life is a living cookbook, the one I have been looking for.

Love,
Scratch

Greek Chicken-Lemon Soup

adapted from Dinner: A Love Story‘s Avgolemeno

A Living Cookbook and Greek Chicken-Lemon Soup

It may not look like much, but this recipe is proof that it is possible to cook delicious and satisfying food without grains. A favorite of Joey’s, Avgolemeno is typically made with orzo or rice, but my version uses riced cauliflower. Before you freak out, think about this: both my 3 1/2 year old and my 2 year old devoured it. I call that a success. 

Ingredients:

4 cups gluten free chicken broth
10 oz. cauliflower
1 small onion
1 T butter (or ghee or olive oil or, or, or….)
4 large eggs
1/4 c lemon juice
1 1/2 c cooked and shredded chicken
salt & pepper, to taste

Method:

First, make sure you have pre-cooked chicken to work with. Leftover roast chicken works well here, or just throw a chicken breast or two in the crock pot for a couple hours. When done, shred the chicken and set aside a cup and a half for the soup. Or more, or less. Whatever you like.

Next, prep the cauliflower. You could use a cheese grater to “rice” the cauliflower (more time; courser texter), but I use a food processor (less time, finer texture). If you use a food processor, throw the onion in with the cauliflower to process in one easy step. If you don’t use a food processor, chop the onion finely after you finish preparing the cauliflower.

In a soup pot over medium high heat, add the butter (or other fat) and the cauliflower & onion. Sautee for a few minutes – about five or so – until the veggies are fairly soft. Add the broth and bring to a boil.  Lower heat to a bare simmer (low heat).

Meanwhile, whisk together the eggs and the lemon juice. Then, ladle in a scoop of the simmering broth and whisk to combine. Then, pour back into the soup pot, whisking as you do so. The broth will turn opaque. Add the chicken and let the soup simmer for about 4 minutes to allow the eggy broth to cook. Add the salt and pepper to taste, adjusting as needed, and serve. Sprinkle dill on if you so desire.

Oh yeah, and DO NOT BOIL unless you want a curdled mess.

Allergy Friendly · Dairy Free · desserts · Wrestling with Reality

My Passion for Cooking Came Back, and Banana-Mango Coconut Ice Cream

Dear Joey,

My, am I in a different place than the last time I checked in around here (7 months ago??), mainly due to the fact that for months I have been living with the frustrating feeling that my body is failing me. Something hasn’t been right, and that something is directly tied to the foods I cook and eat. As such, my enjoyment of and inspiration for cooking–whether creatively or otherwise– vanished. When I think about our cleaned out cupboards, the foods you all want to eat around here, and the foods that my body just won’t tolerate,  I see a challenge so big that even doing one small thing (like frying an egg) feels like too much and not enough. Too much work, monotony, money; not enough flavor, creativity, excitement.

As for you, being the not picky eater that you are, you have forgiven my predictably simple (and even somewhat lackluster) meals of late. And anyway, you would never describe them like that; perhaps you would even go so far as to say that they have been better than normal. I am, after all, cooking with a renewed sense of health, as well as lots of cilantro, red meat, and desserts that are actually healthy.

Because my digestion is so weird/sensitive/frustrating and because a very helpful doctor gently advised me to never eat gluten again (“It’s just not worth the risk…”), things have changed pretty drastically around here. Our stockpiled staples have dwindled, my list of “go-to” dinners are sitting unused in my recipe file, and our freezer is full of meat. For the most part, I’m uninspired in the kitchen and pretty much terrified that the foods causing my body so much pain probably they aren’t so good for our kids or you, either.

I blame you for this paralyzing fear: wasn’t it you who asked me to look into that “Paleo diet thing” to see if it was something that might help, not only with my own health but with yours as well? Me being the good wife that I am did as you asked, and you as the good husband that you are have been eating the results of what I have learned without complaint. Things have improved. I feel better. The girls are willingly eating more vegetables than they used to and they don’t ask for goldfish at snack time anymore. There is no good reason I should be so timid in the kitchen. And yet, it took months to get to the point where I have felt comfortable enough to experiment with and enjoy the process of cooking like I used to. I thought I had lost it. My passion, I mean.

Plus, to be really honest, I have been mourning the loss of a dream. Dreams of our girls growing up in a home where the kitchen is constantly filled with the smells and tastes that filled our childhood homes, and our parents’ childhood homes. Teaching our girls how to knead dough, how to work it until it is supple and elastic; showing them the mysterious magic of yeast; tearing into whatever we’ve just baked moments after it comes out of the oven (and burning ourselves in the process); tasting their first batch of cookies they have made all by themselves; listening from the other room as they bake cookies with friends for school bake sales or just another Friday night (and sneaking into their stash after they have gone to bed).

For me, losing wheat (among other things) has been emotional. It still is. And I know that sounds silly, because really in the scheme of things, in a world plagued by unspeakably awful things, could I get emotional about something so trivial? I don’t know, exactly, except to say that for me it has felt like I am losing a family heirloom, one I had planned to pass on to our children, and instead I am giving them the reality that the American food system is flawed and our bodies are paying a high price for it.

 

But they are not aware of all that, and they are thriving in the reality that we are creating for them. They have adapted better than I thought they would. They were not used to a lot of junk before anyway, but they certainly have strong opinions about food. I really thought they would miss sandwiches and crackers more than they actually do. Turns out, there are plenty of other choices that are easy and enjoyable. (Mia, eating cucumbers? Addie eating Brussels sprouts? Awesome.)

 

It took some time, but my passion came back.

And so, please forgive me if the house is a mess, if the grocery bills are high, and if the boxes of even the “healthiest” of cereals begin to disappear. I know you will forgive me as long as I keep the good stuff coming (right?).

Love,
Scratch

Banana-Mango Coconut Milk Ice Cream

It Came Back, and Banana-Mango Coconut Milk Ice Cream

This ice cream is one of the easiest and most delicious desserts I have come up with. Three ingredients, thirty minutes (if that), and a simple refreshing ice cream that reassures me I might actually be happy living without dairy if I ever took that leap. (Not that I anticipate actually doing that anytime too soon–I never said I was completely Paleo, did I?) If you don’t have an ice cream maker, I understand your pain; I didn’t have one until just recently. Feel free to come over for a scoop while you wait for someone to surprise you with one. But let me know about 30 minutes in advance, deal?

Ingredients:

2 ripe bananas
2 cups mango (peeled & chunked)
2 15 oz. cans full fat coconut milk
*variation – add a couple tablespoons of honey or another sweetener of your choice if you prefer a sweeter ice cream, but I find that bananas and mango are sweet enough to make this a light, refreshing dessert.

Method:

Start with the fruit. If using frozen mango, start by defrosting 2 1/2 cups. If using fresh mango, peel and chunk the fruit to equal 2 1/2 cups. Peel the bananas and puree them with the mango until smooth; add the coconut milk and stir to combine. Pour into your ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Notes: I use the Cuisinart Pure Indulgence Frozen Yogurt, Sorbet & Ice Cream Maker (which I recommend, if you’re in the market for one). It froze this ice cream in about 25 minutes. When it was done, it was perfect soft serve consistency. Once frozen in the freezer, though, it froze solid. Take it out from the freezer about 45 minutes (or longer, depending on the temperature of your freezer) before you plan to eat it.