Allergy Friendly · Baking · Cake · desserts

The Great Cake Debate, and Vanilla Confetti Cake (GF/DF/NF)

Dear Joey,

When it comes to cake, you and I are contentious about which flavor wins: chocolate or vanilla. It’s an ongoing battle that will never end because we are so dead set in our ways that we cannot–and will not–change our minds. You could easily live without chocolate, but my life lived without it would be no life at all.

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It’s not that I dislike vanilla; it’s just that I like to think of it as a canvas upon which to play with color, composition, texture and form, but for you vanilla is a finished work of art, complete just as it is. For better or worse, we choose to live peaceably despite this disagreement. Plus, there are other flavors of cake that help smooth things over (like white cake with chocolate frosting, or chocolate cake with vanilla frosting. It’s all about compromise.)

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Through the years we have come to respect each other’s preference, of course, partially out of marital duty and partially because we understand each other a little bit more than we used to. We started listening to each other without trying to win the other onto our own team. Now we appreciate–and even enjoy–the differing perspectives we bring to the dessert table. You will happily eat a slice of chocolate cake (or gulp down a chocolate cupcake in swoop so the Goobies don’t see you going back for seconds), and I accepted the idea that you really do enjoy the one cake in the whole world that sounds completely boring to me: white cake with white buttercream frosting.

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We try to lure the kids onto our own teams, but they generally have one foot in each camp because the truth is, they just plain like cake. Flavor matters little to them, as long as it tastes good. Given time, they’ll form their own opinions I think, but for now, cake wins.

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When I started tinkering around with baking gluten and dairy free treats , I tried to tackle chocolate cake first (clearly) because this girl can only live so long without the stuff. I knew it was only a matter of time before I would need to be fair to vanilla, though, if only for the sake of our marriage. Admittedly, I actually liked the result of my efforts (and am restraining myself from nibbling on a slice as I write this).

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I imagine some might say I liked this cake because my taste buds have forgotten what really good cake actually tastes like (given the fact that they are accustomed gluten free and dairy free treats taste like), but kids don’t lie about stuff as important as this–not ours, not any. Kids always tell the truth about cake.

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I served slices of Vanilla Confetti Cake to a gaggle of kids at a baby shower yesterday: kids with food allergies that span the gamut of the top 8, along with a few kids (like Addie) without any food allergies to speak of. The consensus? “More cake! More cake! More cake!” — and that right there, my friend, is sort of the whole point of tinkering around with these recipes in the first place: to make a cake that tastes good, one that kids think is yummy, a cake that everyone can all agree on–whether we fall in the chocolate camp or the vanilla camp, gluten intolerant or allergic to dairy, nut allergies or no allergies at all. With this cake, everyone wins.

Love,

Scratch

Vanilla Confetti Cake

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If dessert is art, this cake is a blank canvas in the best possible way. The confetti is only an option; leave the sprinkles out if you want a plain vanilla cake, or swap them out for mini chocolate chips (yum!) for a cake compromise. Disclaimer: I only ever make this cake with my own flour blends (click here for the recipes), both of which yield fantastic results. Smear Mema’s Buttercream on top for a classic decorated cake (as above) or serve with sliced strawberries and a dollop some coconut whipped cream for a springtime treat. Either way, you’ll end up with a masterpiece. This recipe makes two 8″ rounds or 24 cupcakes.

Ingredients:
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) Earth Balance Soy-Free Vegan Buttery Spread, softened OR 3/4 cup softened refined coconut oil (not melted)
  • 2 large eggs (or for an egg free version, substitute 1 very ripe medium banana, well mashed, to equal 1/2 cup*)
  • 2 1/4 cups pure cane sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened flax milk (or regular rice milk)
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons white vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 3 1/2 cups  gluten free cake flour OR gluten free all-purpose flour blend
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt**
  • 1/4 cup gluten free sprinkles, optional

*If using banana instead of egg, reduce sugar to 1 1/2 cups

**If using coconut oil, increase salt to 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt.

Method:

Start by preheating your oven to 325°F. Then, spray two 8″ round cake pans with nonstick spray (or smear with coconut oil), then sprinkle a little gluten free flour in the pan and shake until the flour completely covers the oil. Set aside.

Next, sift together the gluten free flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt together, and set that aside too.

Then in a large bowl of a Kitchen Aid (or similar electric mixer), cream the softened Earth Balance until it’s nice and smooth. Turn the mixer off, dump in the sugar and beat the two together until they get nice and fluffy. Turn the mixer off again, add the eggs and vanilla and turn the mixer back on, making sure to whip well. Turn the mixer off.

After that, measure 1 1/2 cups flax milk (or rice milk) into a 2-cup liquid measuring cup, and add the 1 1/2 Tablespoons white vinegar to the measuring cup. Pour the vinegar/rice milk mixture to the batter, turn on the mixer again and mix well. The batter will look a little clumpy–do not fret. Turn off the mixer and scoop in the dry ingredients about a cup at a time–dump, then mix; dump, then mix; dump, then mix; then turn the mixer on high and beat until the batter is smooth and luscious, about 1-2 minutes.

Finally, swirl those sprinkles into the batter and divide it between the prepared cake pans. Bake for 30-35 minutes or so, until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the comes out clean (mine were perfect at 35 minutes, but oven temperatures vary. Cool the cakes in the pan for about 5 minutes, then turn them out onto a wire rack and cool completely before frosting. (We love to top our cakes with Joey’s mom’s classic frosting recipe, which you can find here, way down at the bottom of the page after my recipe for chocolate cake.)

Dairy Free · Dinner · Food Allergy Family · Freezer Food · Gluten Free · Learning from Mistakes · Take Out

The Problem with Restaurants, and Easy Oven Baked Turkey Meatballs (GF/DF/NF)

Dear Joey,

You are the sweetest, most thoughtful man alive. When challenging days threaten to push me over the edge of insanity (and steal my kitchen mojo in the process), you offer to rescue me by bringing home take out. (Or maybe it’s you that’s saved, because let’s face it: walking through the door with take out in hand saves my sanity and saves you from bearing the brunt of my bad day. You’re an automatic hero.)

Lately I’ve been declining the offer, and no, it’s not because my days are any less frazzled than they have been lately. On the contrary, they’ve been just as harried and frustrating as ever, and I imagine they probably will be for the foreseeable future. Here’s the thing: I just don’t trust take out–not right now, at least.

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Since my body was ravaged by gluten over the past several months, even the tiniest bit of it sends my body reeling, and I have to press the reset button again and again and again. The timing couldn’t have been worse, really: keeping a house clean enough to show to potential buyers on a whim is pretty much impossible when you have to still, you know, live in the house (and cook in the house). Between staging and photography; showings and open houses; inspections and more inspections, the stove sat idly by while we took the Goobies out to eat so many times they started whining about it. “A restaurant? Again?”

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More often than not, neither of us ate a thing, opting to eat hummus and veggies or sheet pan nachos after the kids were in bed because actually getting food into our own mouths while cajoling the kids to eat makes exactly zero sense, not to mention the fact that trying to decipher menus requires fluency in a language we are both still trying to learn. It’s hard being a food allergy family. When the five of us go out to eat, we have no fewer than eight foods to avoid, and while Mia’s peanut and pine nut allergy has become increasingly easier to manage; avoiding dairy and casein is trickier, but possible; and gluten becomes harder and harder to weed out.

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Even so, the allergen information and gluten free menus at our go-to places have worked well enough for us, mainly because we’ve gotten used to what is safe and what isn’t so safe for each of us individually. Over time, and without a definitive positive result for Celiac Disease, I grew a little lax with my standards for gluten free fare in restaurants–mostly because a girl’s still got to stay sane, right? (And people “out there” keep reassuring me that people with a mere gluten sensitivity don’t have to be quite as strict about adhering to gluten free fare.) The gluten free items were gluten free enough for me, until suddenly, after the vitamin incident, they weren’t anymore. The tiniest speck of the stuff throws my body into an uproar now, maybe because I’m still healing, and maybe because after being gluten free for so long, reactions are easier and more contamination I did the only I knew to do, of course: speak up. Ask questions. Dig a little deeper. Be particular. Don’t take labels at face value, but look them in the eye, challenging them to prove it. In the process, I found answers that both disturbed and angered me.

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Like that afternoon we took the Goobies to a favorite Mexican spot for lunch. I felt ok enough about going there. We’ve eaten there before and the menu clearly states that most items on the menu are gluten free, but if in doubt, ask the server for more information. Not taking any chances, I chose three “gluten free” items and asked our server about them. After he told me the chicken in the first two dishes had been marinated in beer, I didn’t even want to hear about the third. I stopped him, pointed at the gluten free note, and tried my best to calmly help him understand that the note is misleading, and dishes labeled gluten free aren’t gluten free if they’ve been marinated in beer.

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The server got defensive, of course, saying that the chicken can be substituted with something else that is gluten free, and I do understand special markings indicating which dishes can be modified to be gluten free. Here’s the thing: That’s what should be captured in the note (“The items marked GF can be modified to be gluten free. Please ask your server for details.”) As it stands, the note about gluten free menu items means absolutely nothing at all.  From that point on, I trusted not one more word out of his mouth. I may have skipped lunch that day, but I learned two valuable lessons: 1) Always ask for clarification, on everything, every time; and 2) Emery is a salsa fiend. Both are equally good to know.)

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Sensitive is such a soft word, and saying I have a “gluten sensitivity” makes me feel like I sound like a wimp. People like me are gluten averse, gluten antipathetic–not sensitive, for crying out loud. (And while we’re on the subject, restaurants with a “Gluten Friendly” menu just don’t get it, do they? Talk about a misnomer.) Menus like that just aren’t all that helpful anyway, especially when accompanied by a note that clearly states “Food in this kitchen is exposed to cross contamination. Not recommended for people with Celiac Disease or Gluten Sensitivity.”

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This matters because cross contamination is a thing. It is very real. I know how nutty it sounds that foods like scrambled eggs cooked on a griddle shared with pancakes, or french fries cooked in the same oil as chicken nuggets aren’t safe, or that they could wake up the body’s anti-gluten army and make the next several days miserable. But that dastardly gluten is teeny tiny, and it likes to stick around, and so how could a gluten free bun toasted on the same surface as its gluten-laden counterpart not come into contact with the stuff? Even the most minute amount can hurt people who are sensitive to it. Not just, like, cause a little tummy ache, but actually damage the body and incite an array of problems that make a simple tummy ache seem preferable.

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I still don’t  understand it all, of course. I’m learning too, right along with you. But what I know is this: eating food prepared anywhere but our own kitchen is risky right now because my system is sensitive. (Blech.) Sure, there are many Celiac Friendly restaurants (and I am thankful for them), and I want to trust folks who do their best to provide menu items that really are gluten free. Bless them for the extra effort it takes to do such a service.  But the fact remains that the overwhelming majority of restaurants are not friendly for gluten averse folks like me. It makes me sad and angry and frustrated and defeated we can’t just pile the Goobies in the car on a whim and head out to our favorite spot for a sloppy burger with a big ol’ mess of fries to celebrate an ordinary Friday night. It makes me even angrier that my limitations limit you, too, and that our kids are missing out on some of that stuff along the way as well.

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We’re adapting, of course, because that’s what we must do if we’re going to survive, right? And besides, there are worse things in the world than cooking and eating at home. Like having bare cupboards. Or not having a home. Or not having a way to feed our family at all. Really, being able to cook food at home is a blessing, and not a bad thing. In fact, it really is the best thing for so many reasons, and I love most of those reasons, which I suppose I can even poke fun at ourselves every so often (Like when I said, We watched that little bunny scamper toward a bowl of what looked like amazing ice cream, and as you salivated, I said, “Now there’s something that would kill three out of the five of us,” and we laughed and laughed and laughed because it felt so true.)

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So the next time you offer to bring home take out, please don’t be surprised if I say “No, thank you.” It won’t always be this way, and you really are my hero: your offer is almost as good as a break from cooking itself. I wish I could say yes with abandon, plop down on the couch, throw my feet up on the coffee table and let you serve me. (Wait a second–who says that can’t still happen? Don’t underestimate the power of a man in the kitchen. If I stash plenty of real gluten free (and dairy/casein free; and peanut/pine nut/sunflower seed free) foods in the freezer, sending you in to cook them might be sort of like take out, right? All you have to do is take it out of the freezer and heat it up.

Hm. Let’s try that.

Love,

Scratch

Easy Oven Baked Meatballs, Two Ways (GF/DF/NF)

This recipe was born out of frustration that my kids loved meatballs, but they took a ot of time to make, and buying prepared gluten/dairy free convenience foods comes with trouble all its own. Pictured here are Italian Style Meatballs, perfect to drench with marinara sauce, but if spinach freaks your family out, leave it out or try the other, more basic version that follows, (which is delicious smothered in barbecue sauce). Either way, coconut flour is my favorite grain-free binder for this recipe because it adds body to the meatballs without too many added carbohydrates, plus it absorbs moisture like super sponges. 

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Ingredients for Italian Style Meatballs:
  • 2 pounds ground turkey
  • 1 pound frozen spinach, thawed, drained, and most moisture squeezed out
  • 2 Tablespoons coconut flour
  • 2 eggs, lightly whisked
  • 4 teaspoons onion powder
  • 4 teaspoons Italian Seasoning (or 2 teaspoons each dry oregano and dry basil)
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper, or more to taste
Ingredients for Regular Meatballs:
  • 2 pounds ground turkey
  • 2 Tablespoons coconut flour
  • 2 eggs, lightly whisked
  • 1 Tablespoon onion powder
  • 3 teaspoons dry parsley
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper, or more to taste
Method:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line two baking sheets with aluminum foil and spray with coconut oil non-stick spray.

Next, dump all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl and smush them together (don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty). Once the meat is thoroughly mixed up with the spinach and spices, wash those hands and get scooping, using a 2 T/ 1 1/2 inch scoop (which makes the job quick). Line those meatballs up like little soldiers, about 24 to a pan. Bake them as they are, or smooth them out a bit (like they are in the picture above) by rolling them gently between the palms of your hands. Either way works fine.

Pop the trays into the oven and bake for 18 minutes.

For the freezer: Let the meatballs cool, then plunk them into a two labeled gallon sized zip top bags (for two batches of 24 meatballs, each), or use one batch now and save one for later. Your call.

Allergy Friendly · Dairy Free · Eat Those Veggies · Life with Littles

How We Help Vegetables Disappear, and Magic Sauce (or Dairy Free Ranch Dressing)

Dear Joey,

I am such a traitor. There is a chocolate cake cooling on the counter, springy, beautiful and almost in tact, except for the place where it’s not in tact anymore because I couldn’t muster up enough self control to wait and taste it right along with the Goobies. My curiosity (or the fact that it’s lunchtime) threw my willpower out the window and I cut into that thing without thinking about my promise.

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It all started when neither Addie nor Mia wanted to finish the last bit of their lunch–the sliced cucumbers part, specifically–so I told them they could save them and finish them later on before they ate their afternoon snack. Their protests were met with a promise of my good example, and I virtuously preached about how I would be loading up with veggies myself in just a few minutes because my body wouldn’t be healthy if I didn’t eat vegetables every day, but here I am struggling because I totally broke that promise. Magic sauce didn’t even help.

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Magic Sauce–or, Ranch Dressing, as most folks call it–was born out of the need for a ploy to get the Goobies to approach the idea of eating raw vegetables with any sort of cooperation. Like most kids, ours didn’t make the switch from gnawing on soft, steamed veggies to crunching on big kid ones all that easily, and despite my vow to bring up children who wouldn’t just eat their veggies but enjoy them too, it took a little coaxing to get those girls to try them in the first place.

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Before actually having kids, I swore up and down I would raise kids like Julia, a little girl who lived across the street from me when I was in early Elementary school whose eating habits made all the other moms around jealous and confused at the same time. I mean, this little pixie of a thing toddled around our backyard happily munching on baggies full of raw cauliflower. I can’t imagine how her mother got her to do that.

 

The thing that finally made raw veggies sort of an ok thing in Addie’s book was dipping them in homemade ranch dressing. I just couldn’t bring myself to give her that famous store-bought version that apparently makes kids faint with hunger at the sight of a bowl full of raw celery, but when I figured out how to (easily) make my own homemade version? Ranch dressing became a thing.

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When we visited family in Kansas City a few years ago, we discovered your brother uses the same ploy to get his kids to eat veggies too, but he goes a step further by calling ranch dressing something else entirely, a name that captures kids attention and makes them excited to try it: Magic Sauce. They wanted to know, What does the sauce do? and, Why is it magical? The grown ups exchanged knowing looks that said, It makes your veggies disappear.

When we came home, we brought that name with us and it has worked for years. We came to count on the jar always being stocked, but once we found out about Emery’s dairy allergy, I knew its days in our fridge were numbered. As I suspected, that boy eventually started noticing it, and then asking for it, and then getting angry that he couldn’t have what his sisters got to have. And so, magic sauce disappeared from our kitchen and I wasn’t sure how the girls would cope with its absence at our table.

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Ketchup worked a little bit: Addie liked to dip carrots in it and Emery liked to dip green beans in it. Mia–with a more refined palate, perhaps–opted for aioli, a fancy name I gave to a very simple mixture of mustard and mayonnaise. Eventually neither sauce worked anymore.

And then one day, sort of out of nowhere, I realized making dairy free Magic Sauce at home was something I could totally handle. Out came the same supplies I used to use: homemade ranch dressing mix, mayonnaise, and milk–only this time, I used a combination of rice milk and vinegar instead of buttermilk. I whipped it all up and was almost happy with the result. The only problem was it was a bit runny, but I knew how to fix that: xanthan gum would thicken it up in a snap. (Being gluten free sure does come in handy–sometimes.)

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Magic Sauce made a come back in our house, true, but the real question was this: was this dairy free version any good–and not just good enough, but you know–like, yummy? The answer? Yes. All the Goobies happily eat it, you happily eat it, and we have a gaggle of disappointed kids when the bottle runs out. Magic Sauce indeed.

Every time I pour that speckled white sauce into tiny little bowls and nestle them alongside whatever veggies the kids request at mealtime (or nuggets, or pizza–because they’re kids, after all), I feel like I’ve done something good to bring a taste of normal childhood to the table. It’s a simple pleasure, but one that is important to me. I hate it when our kids feel like the other, you know? But I digress.

 

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Addie just came in and saw the rest of that nibble of cake sitting on a plate beside me. She eyed it. I smiled and whispered, “Want to try it?She nodded and ate the whole piece in five seconds, flat.

“It’s good,she said with a smirk.

“I’m so glad you like it. Now? Cucumbers.”

Love,

Scratch

Magic Sauce, or Dairy Free Ranch Dressing

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Ingredients:
  • 1 cup full fat mayonnaise
  • 1 cup Original Rice Milk
  • 1 Tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1/4 cup homemade ranch dressing mix
  • 1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum
Method:

First, make the ranch dressing mix. I use this recipe by Laura at Heavenly Homemakers (and have for several years), and I almost always have a jar of it stashed in my pantry.

Next, measure 1 Tablespoon white vinegar into a liquid measuring cup. Pour the rice milk into the same measuring cup until it reaches the 1 cup mark.

Then, combine the vinegar/rice milk mixture, mayonnaise, and ranch dressing mix together in a large jar or bowl. Sprinkle in the xanthan gum, whisking well to incorporate. The sauce will still be runny at this point, but will thicken up nicely as it chills. Pour the mixture into an airtight container (like a big mason jar) and refrigerate.

 

 

 

Faith Journey · Tale of Gluten Freedom · What I Love Lately · Wrestling with Reality

What I Love Lately: Hope and Healing Edition

Dear Joey,

Our apple tree exploded in blooms a couple weeks ago. Usually this time of year isn’t so rough on me. I didn’t suffer from seasonal allergies as a child the way I do now. So far it seems as though our kids suffer from them too. Drat that spring wind that stirred up the pollen and bewitched the air into a magic potion that transformed our eyes into spiky balls of wool and our noses into leaky faucets. We walk around woozy, dazed, and itchy. It’s miserable.

The timing is convenient: it’s a perfectly acceptable time of year for people to wipe away tears from allergy afflicted eyes every five seconds. The folks staring at me across the aisle at Target seem to say, “me too,” as they wipe their own constantly running noses. I admit I blame my watery eyes on allergies several times in the past few weeks because if people knew the truth–that I was really wiping away tears of fear or sadness or stress–I might not get the same sort of empathy.

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To be clear, I am suffering from allergies, and I finally broke down and bought myself a bottle of allergy medicine because the skin under my eyes was worn raw from all the wiping. But the deeper truth is allergies aren’t the only reason my eyes have been so teary lately. It’s not even the sadness I feel about moving away from our house. There’s more.

It all started in early January, after eating those delicious, fancy tapas that were supposed to be gluten free, and feeling as if I’d eaten poison.  I suffered for weeks with the pain that only ever comes from consuming that dastardly gluten. Usually when I “get glutened,” I’m wracked with pain and worry for about a week.  After that, the symptoms eventually subside as my body recovers, and I’ve gotten used to this super fun phenomenon.

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Except this time, my body didn’t recover and the symptoms intensified to the point that it was hard to go about life as usual. I was extra touchy; things I usually took in stride set off fits of frustration and anger, and I had a hard time thinking about anything but my own pain. The paranoia came back. Certainty that the doctors missed something–and that I was, in fact, dying–disrupted my sleep and hijacked my internal monologue for months. I grew increasingly feeble and needy and angry.  I was doing everything right: avoided gluten like my life depended on it, to the point that I’m sure I frustrated several food service workers in the process. I took my probiotics like clockwork, eventually cut out all grains and cooked everything at home. I hopped on the kombucha band wagon and went against my own no-dairy-drinks-in-the-house rule and sneaked sips of blueberry kefir when no one was looking. I defrosted bone broth I’d tucked away in the freezer and made meals and meals and more meals out of the stuff. I even dug out the grass-fed gelatin (that I stashed in the back of the pantry because the smell–oh the smell!–was too much for me to handle) and made homemade gummies and blended it into my morning smoothies. My symptoms eased up a little, but not by much. The pain was my constant companion and torment, and my fears grew. I went on as if life was normal, trying my best to smile in spite of myself, but on the inside, I withered.

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Stress made it all worse, of course, because that’s what stress does. It further twists the already tangled mess inside, holds a microphone up to the lips of fear and bids it speak, taunts an already broken spirit and tempts it to let go of hope, and in the process, makes every dark thought look an awful lot like the truth. With the pressure of birthdays and sickness and selling our house and kids who were increasingly stressed out too, things started to spiral. To make it all worse, the prescription I usually leaned on for flare ups like this one never got filled–not even despite our incessant requests.

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A good friend reached out to me in the middle of a desperate moment in March, randomly asking how she could pray for me that week. I don’t usually talk candidly about what really happens when gluten finds its way back into my body, but this time I told her everything–like, everything–about the inflammation and bleeding and how this time around the symptoms weren’t going away, and about how the paranoia returned and snatched my good sense away from me and made me feel crazy. And how on top of all that, life kept happening, demanding I get up out of bed and keep going. She understands the spin that happens when stress and fear stake their claim upon our hearts, and she promised to pray against it.

About a month later, in the morning after a particularly painful night, I choked out a tearful prayer for what felt like the hundred thousandth time since the symptoms returned in January and trudged into my morning routine, putting one foot in front of the other and trying to go about my day as if I felt fine, but I didn’t. Later that morning, after you left for work and the girls were both settled in at school and Emery was happily chattering away to his Mr. Potato head, I walked into the kitchen and noticed my jar of vitamins was out of place. It was sitting on the counter in front of the Keurig in a place where I couldn’t miss it. This wasn’t that unusual. You set them there for me sometimes when you get your own bottle of vitamins out in the morning.  But on that particular morning you hadn’t set them out. I’m sure of it because I walked past that coffee maker a dozen times before that moment, and they just weren’t there before. I’m telling you.

I shrugged it off as I popped a couple into my mouth, and as soon as I started chewing, my eyes glazed over the back of the bottle and I wondered, What if?

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I picked it up and right there on the label, it said Contains wheat.

CONTAINS WHEAT!

Stunned and appalled, I shook like a leaf as I spit those half-chewed vitamins out, tears dripping down my chin as I leaned over the sink. My hands trembled and and I shouted for joy and actually laughed, because in that instant I knew I wasn’t crazy. It was in January that I bought that big bottle of vitamins, right around the same time I got glutened by those tapas. And it was also in January when my insides ignited with pain again, barbed and raw and hot, like road rash on the inside. Healing didn’t happen in that instant; my body still hurt like hell, but suddenly–divinely perhaps–hope returned.

After I stopped taking those vitamins, my health improved dramatically. In the two weeks since then, things are improving, and those gut-healing foods I’ve been cramming into my body like a crazy person are finally getting the chance to make a difference in my damaged body. The constant screaming pain is down to a low, occasional whisper, because the healing isn’t finished yet, and I know from experience it takes awhile to get things back to normal. But my outlook, my perspective–my hope–it’s radically changed. I spent months feeling trapped inside of my own pain, afraid to talk about what was really happening inside because in my skewed sense of reality, either I was dying or I was crazy, and neither felt safe to admit. I felt alone.

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It was like when Addie got that high fever out of nowhere and it just wouldn’t go away. She was frustrated and fatigued and was just so over being sick, but the fever persisted to the extent that she had to have her blood drawn to check for something worse. She was stricken by the news. I would have given anything to take her place, but I couldn’t, of course. But I made sure she didn’t walk through the ordeal alone. I pulled her up onto my lap and cradled her there as we waited, spoke tenderly to her as the fear taunted her, and held on tight until after the pain pricked her tender little body. She shook and cried and held on to me, trusting that what I said was true: that I was there with her even during the worst of it, and that pain isn’t the end of the story.

Pain isn’t the end of the story for me either. In the middle of it, it feels like it is. The hard part for me is knowing this sort of thing will happen again. Gluten is sneaky and likes to hide, and when it finds its way into my system, it throws my good sense out the window and plays tricks on me. Pain and fear is all I see, so I have to keep my ears and heart open enough to keep hearing God whisper, the pain is not the end of the story.

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I don’t know why that prescription never got filled, but I’m pretty sure it’s because the medication wouldn’t have done any good anyway, and in His glorious, all-knowing way, God knew that and kept the stuff out of my hands. The vitamins caused the problems; no pills could offset the damage they did as long as I kept consuming them. I could sit here and ask time and time again why God didn’t help point me in that direction sooner–I could ask why He let me suffer–but I think I already know the answer. Because in this life, we will suffer. How could we not? Pain is part of our humanness, a result of the fallen world in which we live. But God’s mercy extended to me–to all of us–even in the darkest moments, like an anchor thrust deep into the dark and murky waters of tormented souls.

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The tumultuous start to this year taught me self-care is imperative, not to ward of physical pain, necessarily, or as a quick fix for deeper, chronic health issues, but for this simple reason: I am not able to care for anyone else when I am unwell. I have heard this for years, of course, but now, clearly, I understand. And so, whereas I used to scoff at the idea of spending any sort of extra money on things that I needed (because I’m a mom, and let’s be honest: moms often put themselves last on the list of priorities), I now shell out a few extra dollars for things that help me feel more … centered, important. Like choosing to stock up on Peet’s coffee at home because let’s be honest: I run on coffee, and I find I’m in a better mood when I sip a really good cup of it with my Bible perched on my lap and reading the stories of God’s love, rescue and redemption in the earliest hours of the day. And diffusing my favorite blend of Young Living essential oils (lavender, frankincense and Stress Away) without reservation, any time of the day just because I feel like it, and breathing them in slowly, deeply. Splurging on kombucha and taking a hot shower and going to bed early with a good book. Listening to songs by people like Ellie Holcomb, songs that make me weep and pray and dance and sing in one sweeping movement.

Today the rain returned and I’m hoping it will renew and replenish the air, give it a good scrub, and help us all to breathe a little easier in the next few days. Breathing easy sounds refreshing, doesn’t it? April Showers bring May flowers, after all, and I for one am looking forward to the life ahead.

Love,

Scratch

Breakfast · Dairy Free · Gluten Free · Tinkering with Recipes

Tinkering with Recipes (Even Ones I Love!) and Roasted Sweet Potato and Sausage Breakfast Casserole

Dear Joey,

You may have noticed I made a Roasted Sweet Potato and Sausage Casserole a couple times in the past several weeks. I have my reasons for so much repetition, of course, and bless your heart–you never seemed to mind when your question of “What’s for dinner?” was met with “Well, there’s more of that sweet potato-sausage-spinach-egg thing in the fridge …” Nights like those don’t bother you at all as long as you can slather warmed up leftovers with your beloved Green Dragon sauce, which is part of the reason I toss a bottle into the cart at my weekly trip to Trader Joe’s even if we still have a full bottle at home. There’s no such thing as having too much of that stuff.

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In your defense, sometimes hot sauce–Green Dragon in particular–saves the day when my kitchen experiments don’t go very well. It launches otherwise forgettable food into the realm of fun food for you, so clearly having bottles stashed every which where in the kitchen bodes well for me, especially since my experiments usually progress like this: disaster, mediocre, pretty good, keeper. (It’s true–I tend to make the same recipe over and over and over again until I get it just right. I don’t know why I can’t just leave well enough alone.)

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Ok so fine–this means I sometimes run a recipe into the ground, making it so many times that eventually the kids feign a still-full stomach from lunch or an upset tummy to avoid having to eat it for dinner–again. It’s a compulsion, I guess: tinkering with recipes until I find it, that secret something that launches a recipe’s status from meh to it’s a keeper.

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In my defense, I don’t do this to all the recipes. It usually happens when I try a new one and I either 1) despise the finished product, even while still believing in the idea of it, or 2) love the recipe so much that I want it to be perfect. Either way, I end up fussing over the thing ad nauseum–sort of like how you get excited when you come home to a clean house and immediately start wiping down the counters again after I already scoured the darn things. I used to get offended when you did this because I really thought you were telling me “You suck at cleaning. I better come in and do the job right.” I was mistaken. You’re a clean freak, yes– but not a judgemental one. You take what I’ve done and take it a step farther, tinkering with it a bit until it meets your own unique set of expectations. In the same way, when I tinker with a recipe, it’s not because I think its a bad recipe. On the contrary, I tinker because I care. I tinker because I think the recipe has merit, promise–a future in our family’s recipe rotation.

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To those concerned, rest assured I get acquainted with each new recipe before I go messing with it too much. I follow the rules at first because you’ve got to know the rules before you can get away with breaking them. And so, when a new recipe comes my way, I let it lead, and where it goes, I follow. As soon as I’ve gained its trust, that’s when the recipe starts confiding in me, whispering about how it always wished it could have just a pinch more salt or another drop of vanilla, or how it never liked ground ginger anyway and would much prefer the real thing, thank you very much.

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Remember that sweet potato-sausage-spinach-egg thing I talked about earlier? It is an example of taking a really solid recipe and making it my own, launching it from already really good to a definite keeper. The first time I made it, I liked it a lot–so much, in fact, that I couldn’t imagine being more satisfied with the finished product. The second time I made it, I started tinkering. I rounded the measurements of sausage and sweet potato out of laziness, really, and I started to wonder what would happen if I used an even dozen eggs instead of the 10 it called for.  As I cracked the tenth egg into the bowl, the other two eggs in the carton just looked lonely, staring at me with sad eyes that seemed to say, “What about us?” I didn’t have a good reason to leave them out of the fun, so I caved and let them join the party. So I sprinkled a little more salt and stirred them up, making the eggs mingle and dance as the whisk did its job.

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And so, my own version of this very delicious in its own right recipe was born. It’s a keeper around here, one that halts Emery in the midst of his morning outside playtime, one that he actually cheers for (“Yay! Yay! Yay!“) while he’s waiting for me to fill his bowl with another helping. The spinach didn’t even deter the kid. True: this recipe didn’t need tinkering in the first place, but it established this breakfast casserole as a staple in our home. And that, of course, is the whole point of tinkering anyway.

Love,

Scratch

Roasted Sweet Potato and Sausage Breakfast Casserole

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(I credit Juli at PaleOMG for this recipe and honestly–the original version is perfect as is. I just can’t help but tinker.)

I made this recipe the first time I hosted an If: Table at my house, and I was a little nervous about it because I don’t usually make a new recipe for the first time the day I intend to serve it to other people. But the ladies around my table that morning assured me it was delicious, and Lisa has even asked for the recipe. I take that as a compliment, of course–but alas, I can’t be credited with the original idea. I love this recipe for so many reasons, but the main reason is: it is naturally gluten and dairy free and it is delicious. This is a big deal, people! Especially when you want to make something the food allergy people in your life can actually eat. So Lisa, this one is for you, and Michelle–you too, and all the other ladies who have yet to join our conversation. Because If: Tables can happen around breakfast tables, and because yummy allergy friendly foods exist, and because making food for food allergy friends shouldn’t be make you sweat.

Ingredients:
  • 1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1″ pieces
  • 1 pound breakfast sausage
  • 1/2 cup yellow onion, diced
  • 12 large eggs
  • 2 cups fresh spinach leaves, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (+ more to taste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • coconut oil, melted (or other fat of your choice)
Method:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease a 9 x 13 glass baking pan and set aside.

Toss the peeled and chopped sweet potatoes with the melted coconut oil, sprinkle with salt, and toss to coat. Spread the sweet potatoes into an even layer on a cookie sheet and pop them into the oven for about 20 minutes. Take them out and set them aside to let them cool a bit.

Meanwhile, cook the onions and breakfast sausage together in a skillet, breaking the sausage up into smallish pieces as you go. Cook until the meat is no longer pink. Remove from heat and spread the mixture in the bottom of your 9 x 13 baking pan, then move on to the eggs.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs together, then add the salt and garlic powder and stir to combine. Toss in the roasted sweet potatoes and spinach and gently mix them into the eggs. Pour the mixture over the cooked sausage. (In hindsight, of course, I realize you could mix the sausage right in with the eggs and sweet potatoes and sausage–feel free to do so. Tinker.)

Bake the frittata at 400 degrees for 30 minutes, or until the eggs are well set, puffed and golden and perfect.

Breakfast · Dairy Free · Faith Journey · Gluten Free · Wrestling with Reality

Change Is Coming–Came, Really, and Pink Strawberry Pancakes (GF/DF/NF)

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

Hebrews 11:1

Dear Joey,

I piled the Goobies into the car and drove through that windy canyon over to the other side of the hills to take the girls for a visit to their new school. It was a whole month ago now, on a Friday when another storm decided to swoop in and pound California with more rain. This particular visit was a strange combination of serendipity and providence. The Goobies’ were off of school that week, strangely, for Winter Break, and while so many other people (all the people, it felt like) were trading dank gray clouds for sunshine and fresh air, we hunkered down and spent a week cooped up at home for what felt like no reason at all-until that Friday when God used something ordinary to teach me a lesson in obedience and faith.

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Like most things lately, I didn’t have such a good attitude about it at first: just thinking about Winter Break and ten days spent inside with three spunky kids teased the last string of my already frayed sanity loose. I normally scoop those Goobies up into my arms as soon as we tumble through the garage door after all those hours spent away from each other, smothering them with kisses and cries of “I’ve missed you all day long!” even as they try in vain to hang up their jackets and backpacks. Imagining ten days of so much togetherness made me want to run and hide myself away until Winter Break had come and gone again.

Winter Break came anyway. The sun decided to poke its head out early that week and blue skies beckoned me to come out of hiding. Fantasies of setting up camp under a blanket in a quiet corner of the house (where hopefully no one would find me) evaporated, and before I knew it those Goobies stole my heart all over again as we spent those few beautiful days just being us, here, together.

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Winter break turned out to be a break in Winter, and that strange, out-of-the-ordinary week was a gift I didn’t know I would need: one last beautiful week spent here in our home before change became reality and took up residence with us. It was Valentine’s Day that week, and I decked out the table with bright colored hearts and pink Strawberry Pancakes, and we spent hours outside blowing bubbles and playing red light green light and flying upside down on the swings those Goobies love so much. I said yes as much as I could, and remembered the days before Emery joined our brood, the days when I spent everyday entertaining those girls here at home without the pressure or restraint of schedules. Those days slipped by without me really knowing they could, and I think I’ve had a hard time coming to terms with the fact that they are almost gone. For one lovely week, I got to experience that joy again, and remember.

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Friday came and winter came back with it, bringing another pounding rain storm. The week was over and reality set in and I put on my brave face as I piled those three pajama-clad Goobies into the car and drove West, weaving my way through a wet, windy canyon, toward change.

What a feat to pry those kids off the couch and settle them happily in the car before breakfast. None of them really wanted to trade their cozy little spot on the couch for a cold car seat and a long, gloomy drive through that windy, soggy canyon. On a day they could be marathon-watching Goldie and Bear and munching on chocolate chip banana muffins, they somehow managed to hear my voice above the din of Disney Junior and heaved their pajama-clad selves into the car without complaining. They munched on baggies full of dry Trader Joe’s O’s and listened to music and played quietly among themselves without arguing once.

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I couldn’t get over the fact that they didn’t complain. They complain in the best of circumstances, but on that particular morning when I forced them into the car without a warm breakfast in their bellies, and raced them toward a new unfamiliar reality, they kept quiet. These kids aren’t shy about letting us know when they feel insecure or frightened, so even though they may have been a little unsure about visiting a new school, they didn’t show any outward sign of concern. They were quiet. Their hearts were quiet. They were sure we were headed somewhere good and safe and they were certain I would get them there in one piece. They knew their job was to simply be still and let me do my job. They had faith in me. They trusted me.

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And then it hit me: I was not at peace with getting up and moving because I hadn’t been still and let God do His job. I didn’t really have faith in Him. It started months ago when uncertainty set up camp in my heart as I watched the future fly toward me faster than I thought possible. Instead of running toward it with outstretched hands, I wanted to yell “Duck!” and run away and hide. My feet were firmly set, my heels dug deep in the place I thought God planted us. I felt like a tree, tall and strong enough to endure whatever storm came. But last Fall, I realized just how weak I was. The mere idea of change–of losing this place and the life we’ve built up around it–undid me. I wasn’t seeing what I hoped for, really, and what I was certain about was everything I wanted was being taken away from me.

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Winter brought sadness, and I didn’t think peace or hope could ever really return. I took cover in the safety of familiar things I could count on–like God, and His goodness and love; and in you and this time we have with these kids, here, now. I clung to joy and pleaded for peace because change is scary and I was afraid. The new year came, just as it always does, and the soil of certainty turned soggy when the sky opened up and new things began pouring down. Your Midwestern roots keep you calm when thunder rattles the windows, me. The grumbling clouds unnerve me even while while their sad song is a symphony to your heart.

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Winter brings death, and Spring brings life. I know this very well, of course. Doesn’t everyone? But in the middle of Winter, everything seemed so dank, gray, and just so… final–even here in California where Winter just means cooler weather and leaf-bare trees outstretching their bony fingers toward barren gray skies, as if praying, and the hope of Spring seemed impossible.

This all lasted until that last Friday of Winter Break, when everything suddenly came into focus as my own children showed me what pure trust looks like as they let me lead them away from comfort and into the unknown. They didn’t really want to get up and go–but they trusted that something really, really good (like fluffy scrambled eggs and wind-up robots, and a visit to see a new school where they could see their Papa’s office from the playground) was on the other side of the journey, and they put their faith in action by getting into the car and letting me drive. That’s what God is asking of me: to listen to his voice, to get up and go, and to trust Him to get me there safely.

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Now, a whole month later, Spring is here. Blossoms appeared on the gnarled old apple tree this morning, suddenly, and the changes I saw coming so many months ago are very much here now. A big beautiful demonstration of new life stares me in the face, and I can’t help but see hope.

My feet are not firmly set anymore; they are loosening and small steps are leading to bigger ones as I walk in obedience and faith. And so, transition is taking up space all around us. The bare walls look like closed eyes now, as if the house has fallen asleep. I tiptoe through the hallway trying not to disturb it, and its echo reminds me that this place is ours only for a few more weeks, really.

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Every day another box gets packed and another piece of furniture disappears and the Goobies wake up to a house that looks increasingly less familiar and they ask, “Why does our house look so different, Mama?”  I wipe my eyes and smile through the tears, reminding them again and again we are getting ready for the big adventure God is taking us on- because in the end, isn’t that what this is? Most of the time they squeal with delight, but every once in awhile their tears come, too. “Will I get to take my bed with me? What about the swing set? Are you and daddy going to come with us? Will we ever come back to visit this house?”

Obeying isn’t easy, nor is faith. It’s hard. I would much rather stay where I am, nose nestled under piles and piles of blankets, comfy and warm, in a place I’ve grown to love more than I thought I ever could. But I’m swinging my legs out from under myself anyway because like you taught me all those years ago: faith isn’t just in the knowing, it’s also in the going. I know now the challenges ahead will be worth it because the God who is calling us to a new life this Spring is faithful and trustworthy. The Goobies reminded me of that on that glorious gift of a Winter Break. I am ready to head through that canyon again with you in the weeks that will be here before I know it, because I know who is doing the driving, and with Him, we are safe.

Love,

Scratch

Pink Strawberry Pancakes

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I spent Valentines Day with my Goobies at home this year, since they were off of school for Winter Break that week. But I hadn’t really planned a special breakfast and since it was the day before pay day, the pantry was a pretty sparse. But pancakes are an empty pantry wonder-food, and I used them as a canvas for coming up with a way to make the morning feel a little more festive (because if any day of the year calls for a little whimsy, it’s Valentine’s Day, right?). As with all my recipes, substitute real milk for the dairy free milk if you aren’t dairy free and use regular all purpose flour too if you aren’t gluten free.

Ingredients:
  • 1 1/2 cups gluten free flour blend
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/4 – 1 1/2 cups unsweetened (vanilla or original) almond milk (or rice milk, or regular dairy milk)–start with 1 1/4 cups and drizzle in up to another 1/2 cup if your batter seems to thick
  • 1/2 cup organic strawberry spread (or strawberry jam)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon white balsamic vinegar
  • 3 Tablespoons refined coconut oil, melted
  • a drop or two of red food coloring (either a natural one, like this one from India Tree, or a conventional one from your local grocery store)
Method:

Whisk the flour, baking soda and salt together in a large bowl. Add the eggs, almond milk, strawberry spread and vanilla and mix well; then drizzle in the melted coconut oil and stir to combine. Drop the food coloring in little by little, and stir; add until you get the shade you desire. (Natural food coloring yields a paler, more earthy shade of pink, which is pictured above; conventional red food coloring yields a bolder, more noticeable shade of pink, which the kids prefer because the color is far more noticeable.)

Over medium high heat, warm up a griddle and spray with coconut oil cooking spray. Scoop 1/4 cup of the batter onto the griddle at a time and cook until the edges have set and bubbles emerge on top. Flip gently and continue to cook until golden.

Serve warm, with syrup or not. Sprinkled with powdered sugar or not. Topped with whipped cream and strawberries or not. The Goobies tend to eat straight from the plate without toppings, just as they are. Your call 🙂

Allergy Friendly · Blessing · Sweets

Putting an Unselfish Heart on Display and Nonie’s (Non-Dairy) Magic French Fudge (GF/DF/NF)

8-11 God can pour on the blessings in astonishing ways so that you’re ready for anything and everything, more than just ready to do what needs to be done. As one psalmist puts it,

He throws caution to the winds,
    giving to the needy in reckless abandon.
His right-living, right-giving ways
    never run out, never wear out.

This most generous God who gives seed to the farmer that becomes bread for your meals is more than extravagant with you. He gives you something you can then give away, which grows into full-formed lives, robust in God, wealthy in every way, so that you can be generous in every way, producing with us great praise to God.

2 Corinthians 9:8-11 (MSG)

Dear Joey,

I made fudge this week, and oh how that pan of molten chocolate goodness beckoned me to slip away from the bottomless pile of dirty dishes and unfolded laundry and spend time with it instead of with much else.  Why do I do this to myself? We all know chocolate lords its power over me, and if the two of us are ever found in a room alone together, I just don’t stand a chance.

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My excuse? I was curious whether I could transform my Nonie’s legendary Magic French Fudge into a dairy free treat that could hold its own against my memory of her classic confection. My grandmother’s fudge was it at Christmastime for me, edging out Grandma Teague’s Russian Teacakes because of this one minor detail: fudge is really just chocolate.

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I know this is not normal behavior, daydreaming about fudge even as I change a messy diaper (Gross. But true.), and I realize most people do not spend the majority of their waking hours daydreaming about transforming the comfort foods of their childhood into allergy-friendly versions of themselves. But as for me, well–let’s just say it’s as common as packing a lunch or slicing apples or–yep–changing diapers. It sounds ridiculous, I know–just make a batch of the stuff already, Rach. Sheesh. But fudge is not the sort of thing people make just because they feel like it (unless you’re Monica Gellar and you’re trying to comfort your older brother who is in the throes of a tumultuous heartbreak). I needed a reason to make it, an occasion that warranted such a treat (and doubled as a good excuse). Since Valentine’s Day is next week, I took advantage because I figured I could sort of explain away the pan of rich chocolatey goodness by claiming February as THE month for chocolate (but I believe I could say that about any month, if pressed).

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It bothered me that even though Nonie’s Magic French Fudge holds a place of honor in my memories of Christmastime treats, I still hadn’t even tried to make an allergy friendly version of it. The Goobies are starting to remember, you know? And traditions aren’t traditions unless you do them again and again and again. Fudge wasn’t on their radar, and it’s something I wanted to plant firmly in their repertoire in the same way you want your Grandma Adeline’s kuchen to be. The key ingredient that makes Nonie’s fudge so magical posed a big problem, though: sweetened condensed milk contains dairy, clearly, and with a not-quite-two-year-old with a severe dairy allergy (and a sweet tooth the size of Texas), I wasn’t about to risk making fudge with the same ingredients my grandmother used to use because I knew Goobie #3 would find a way to get his grubby little hands on a piece or two. And so, we haven’t adopted Nonie’s fudge as part of our family’s Christmas treat line up.

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But–I happened upon a can of sweetened condensed coconut milk at some point in the past few weeks. I can’t remember when I first saw it exactly, but the moment I spotted it all I wanted to do was grab a can and scurry home to whip up a batch of my beloved fudge–but I didn’t. It wasn’t Christmastime, after all, and Nonie’s fudge dominated December, so making it at any other time of the year just felt a little…strange. But it’s nagged me ever since, so once February rolled around, I went back to the store and tossed a can of the stuff into my cart, quietly plotting when and how I could get away with attempting a dairy free version of it, and soon the idea infected me like a virus.

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Earlier this week, Mia unknowingly helped my cause when she asked if we could make something special in the kitchen after lunch, when her brother would be happily settled in for his nap and before her own quiet rest time. This is fairly typical; she soaks up my full attention for those few minutes as we measure, stir, pour, laugh. After licking the spatula clean, she skips off to her room, filled and happy. With the ingredients for fudge at the ready in the cabinets, I couldn’t not say yes to her, now could I? So clearly, we measured chocolate chips, melted them down, and stirred in the sweetened condensed coconut milk (or rather, liquid gold), and eased that molten goodness into a pan to set–all while restraining ourselves from breaking out spoons and making the stuff disappear. The funny thing is, once the pan was nestled deep inside the refrigerator to chill, all I wanted to do was give it all away.

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I realized this was a perfect opportunity to show the Goobies what an unselfish heart actually looks like. We talk about selfishness around here a lot lately, it seems, mainly because the girls often point accusing fingers at each other, screaming, “You’re being selfish! You need to share that with me now!” (Sigh.) They’re really good at spotting selfishness in others, but aren’t as good at actually being the thing they clamor for their sister to be: unselfish. And as I thought about that pan of fudge chilling in the refrigerator, I wondered: do we demonstrate unselfishness often enough, in a language our children can understand, so that they can see it, know it, imitate it?

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The idea of giving away that batch of my beloved thick, rich chocolate fudge actually hurt a little, so I paid attention that feeling. The girls would understand it wasn’t easy for me to freely give away something that meant so much to me (Wasn’t it Mia who wanted to give me a box of fancy chocolates for Christmas because she knew how much I love the stuff?) More than that, it hurt them a little too. They wanted to eat the whole batch just as much as I did. But I decided that putting an unselfish heart on display was worth more than hoarding it all for ourselves. So I sliced up that fudge into small little morsels, piled the pieces high, and wrapped them up to give them away. (Yes, I snuck a bite for myself as I did so, but let’s focus on the big picture here.)

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Those Goobies were conflicted, honestly. Excited as they were to bring that plate of fudge to the ladies at your office, they really didn’t want to give away so much of it. They were, not surprisingly, a little concerned about themselves. Their weakness for chocolate rivals my own, and they were a bit peeved I didn’t reserve more than just one piece of it for them. But they chose the higher road and fought over who got to be the one to carry the plate into the office and who got to actually hand the thing over, and after they finally gave it away, they put other people else first and didn’t even ask if they could take a piece or two for the road. (The lollipops they got from the ladies there might have helped.)

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The best part of the story, I think, is this: the day after we gave the fudge away,  Mia asked if we could make another batch so we could give more of it away, this time to our neighbors next door. And ok yes she also managed to squeeze in a suggestion that we not give all of it away this time, but I’m choosing to see this request as a win. When we give out of unselfish hearts, we all win. We are blessed so we can bless others, and when we bless others, we too are blessed. Clearly, my answer was yes. Clearly, I will let her lick the spatula and I will sample the finished product with her and I will even agree to keep a small portion of the stuff here for our family to enjoy, too, because isn’t this what we pray for almost every single night at bedtime when we thank God for blessing us, and ask Him to show us ways we can be a blessing to others?

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A small thing, fudge. Insignificant really. Almost too common or mundane to be all that exciting. But this once-Christmastime treat has planted itself firmly in my heart as a symbol of selflessly giving love away, which in my mind makes it a perfect treat to make in the middle of February.

Love,
Scratch

Nonie’s (Non-Dairy) Magic French Fudge (GF/DF/NF)

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Most families have their favorite recipe for fudge, I imagine, and this is ours. Nonie’s recipe sets the bar high in my opinion, because whenever I taste fudge from anywhere else (even fancy fudge made in artisinal chocolate shops), I tend to prefer hers. I’m not sure if there’s anything particularly magical about this recipe (and I have no idea where the name came from); I’m not even sure where she got the recipe in the first place or how it came to be her go-to recipe for fudge. But for me, this is the gold standard. Using sweetened condensed coconut milk made me nervous that the flavor would change (and taste like coconut-flavored fudge), but the finished product doesn’t taste like coconut at all. Of course, substitute regular sweetened condensed milk for the coconut version if your family can handle dairy, but after tasting this version, you may not even want to. I used Nature’s Charm Sweetened Condensed Coconut Milk, which is available at Sprouts for $2.99. Also, I like to use either extra dark chocolate chips, or a combination of semi-sweet chocolate chips and unsweetened chocolate squares (for a darker version than Nonie’s original), but you can use all semi-sweet chocolate chips if you prefer (use a total of 18 ounces of chocolate per batch).

Ingredients:
  • 18 ounces extra dark chocolate chips (or 14 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips + 4 ounces unsweetened chocolate; or 18 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips)
  • 1-11.25 ounce can Nature’s Charm sweetened condensed coconut milk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt
Method:

First, line an 8×8 pan with wax paper, making sure to create a 2″ lip (or so) of extra paper around all sides (this will aid with removing the fudge from the pan once it has set).

Next, set a glass bowl set over simmering water and gently melt the chocolate chips (or a combination of semi-sweet chocolate chips and unsweetened chocolate squares, as noted above), whisking as you go and making sure no water drips into the bowl. Once the chocolate is completely melted, carefully remove it from the pan of water (and turn off the stove). Pour in the sweetened condensed milk, vanilla and salt and whisk to combine. It will begin to thicken almost immediately, but don’t worry about that. Keep whisking until fully combined and smooth. Pour into the prepared pan, smooth with a spatula, and chill until set, about an hour or so.

When ready to slice, ease the fudge slab out of the pan by grasping the lip of wax paper and gently lifting. Peel the paper away from the fudge and set the slab on a cutting board. Slice as you like, and share the love.