September can’t decide which season it is: one minute it’s crisp and cool and apple cider donuts call my name. The next minute it’s hot again and I silently judge all those other people stashing pumpkin everything into their shopping carts.
This in-between time puts me on a seasonal teeter-totter. There’s something inside me that’s really ready for what’s next, so in the cool of the morning I pull on a light sweatshirt and pair it with shorts, convincing myself it will be chilly enough to warrant my wardrobe choice. I head into my day wanting to make apple crisp and pumpkin bars and cider braised short ribs with sweet potatoes; I want to debate whether apple orchards trump pumpkin patches; and I want to order my Chai tea lattes extra hot. But none of that sounds appealing when it hits 88 degrees outside.
But oh, this Scalloped Summer Squash. It’s the perfect culinary bridge between the best of the summer season and comforting fall favorites. I don’t pine after pumpkin when I make it. I’m able to be perfectly present to the moment I’m in, right now. It points back to the beauty and bounty of summer and promises the warmth and wealth of fall.
It is a reminder of “back when” and “until then” in more ways than one. I used to cook with mainstream ingredients: back then I would have layered the squash with whipping cream and Gruyere; I might have added some breadcrumbs for crunch, and you know butter would have been involved somehow. Someday I’ll be able to cook with dairy again, but until then I’m finding ways to use what I have available right now to feed us well. I may be using uncommon ingredients this season, but there’s always something familiar from last season to combine them with. This casserole proves it.
Summer squash is a summertime staple, one that is still widely available during September. The stunning colors of the squash snuggle up beneath a warm blanket of velvety vegan cream sauce made with coconut milk and nutritional yeast, then topped with a little fresh thyme. The result is comfort food September is can be proud to call its own–but one taste and I bet you’ll make it all year, because oh, dear friends–it’s that good.
Of course the first time I made it I wondered whether my people would pout about a cheeseless casserole without noodles. I expected them to protest, but to my shock and delight they devoured every last bit of it.
I made it again last night and I paired it with pan-fried pork chops. When Mia came home for dinner, she walked in the door and and inhaled deeply, asking with a smile on her face, “Oh, mom–did you make that squash thing again? Ooh, and pork chops? Yay. This will be the best dinner ever.”
Back when and until then collided in a delicious, dairy free moment that had me celebrating the right here and the right now. I hope it helps your family do the same.
It’s no secret I’ve been sick. Or at least, I don’t think it’s a secret. I’ve shared a lot about it on Instagram (are you following me there yet? Come say hi @rachel.maier.writes!), but haven’t filled you all in here because the truth is, I have been very, very tired. Even thinking about writing posts with recipes wiped me out. And so, silence ensued.
But I’m feeling better now–or at least, I’m improving. I talked with my mom the other day and laughed because saying “I’m feeling better” suggests I am better, which of course by now you probably realize I am not. I am improving though. Minute by blessed minute, my body is responding to the miracle of having the right medicine for the right diagnosis–and Lord help us all, when you don’t have a complete picture of what’s wrong, it’s hard to know how to make it right.
It all started on my 40th birthday. Well that’s not true–it all started the summer before my senior year of high school. This particular flare up started on my 40th birthday. Instead of lighting candles on my birthday cake, my body flared up hot and angry. I got plenty mad about it too because I had just gotten over a nasty flare up last fall. Last time I evaded going to a GI doctor (I had yet to establish care with a new once since relocating here a couple years ago), but this time around I knew I had to finally go.
I sat in his office nervous, knowing the severity of my symptoms warranted a colonoscopy, so you can imagine how surprised I was when the doctor dubiously said, “It’s IBS, I think. Not Ulcerative Colitis.”
“Even with the bleeding?” I asked.
“Even with the bleeding,” he replied.
I wanted to shout BS at him. (But I didn’t. I have more self-control than that.) I bit my tongue and left that day, trying to wrap my head around the possibility that he was right. I tried to trust my gut, but I entertained the idea that perhaps I had overreacted to gut distress for all these years, and maybe, just maybe, God was giving me the answer for which I asked him repeatedly: a name for the crazy gut issues that stumped countless doctors for years.
I was so tired of hearing “You have Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).” When I was almost 20 years old my family doctor diagnosed me with IBS and showed me to the door with a smile, telling me to eat plenty of yogurt as he waved goodbye. I heard that same story again in my early 30’s when wheat and gluten triggered similar responses, but that doctor scolded me for inquiring about Celiac Disease and shooed me out the door with an IBS diagnosis (again) along with strict orders to take a daily fiber supplement. Here I was 40 years old hearing IBS again. It threw me for a loop.
In all these years, only one doctor gave me an opinion with grace and insight. He guided my decisions and oversaw my gut health until we relocated three years ago, but his words still rang in my ears that day, nagging me and making everything even more confusing. That doctor specifically told me he suspected I had undiagnosed Celiac Disease, but recommended against testing for it because I had been gluten free for several years at that point, and I already knew what I really needed to know: that gluten wreaks havoc on my system, and my symptoms improved dramatically without it in my diet. In his words, adding gluten back into my diet to confirm the diagnosis is “just too dangerous.” After ordering a colonoscopy, he diagnosed me with proctitis and advised me to stay gluten free to control my symptoms of colitis, and that there was a high likelihood all the bleeding in my colon was related to my gut issues, despite the fact that the test didn’t show it yet.
But here I was hearing IBS again. In this doctor’s opinion, the results from my previous colonoscopy were inconclusive. He just wasn’t convinced I had Inflammatory Bowel Disease at all. So he ordered a colonoscopy to investigate and confirm his theory.
And this, friends, is why tests are so important: the colonoscopy settled once and for all that I do, in fact, have Ulcerative Colitis.
After the procedure he very matter-of-factly reported I do have ulcerations in my colon, which means I do in fact have a form of Ulcerative Colitis, and the condition will likely progress and it puts me at a significantly higher risk for colon cancer.
The weight of his words fell softly on my shoulders because I already knew all this. Somehow, deep down in my bone-tired gut, I knew.
I wasn’t sad about it, exactly, but wrapping my head around the facts that finally prove IBS does not capture the whole of what’s wrong stung. I felt like I wasted twenty years. If I had gottenbetter insight earlier, would things be any different than they are now?
The whole ordeal got me thinking back to the glory days before any of this started, back when gluten wasn’t off the table and disease wasn’t something I dealt with and food was just food. It was a friend, not a foe, and a source of joy and fun and comfort–not hurt or hardship or pain. I recalled the days when sharing a booth and a burger at Red Robin was a pleasure, not a pain. My best friend Molly would order the the Banzai Burger and convince me to do the same, and we would eat basket after basket of seasoned fries while we mapped out our route through the mall, hitting up Bath & Body Works and Express first; then on to Macy’s and the Disney Store before swinging by the Dairy Queen for Blizzards on our way out the door. It never crossed my mind that one day grabbing burgers with my best friend would be a distant memory, or that I would spend more time mapping out the mall for bathrooms instead of boutiques.
Clearly, things changed.
Twenty years later I know the truth: my gut isn’t just finicky; it’s inflamed. It’s not just distressed; it’s diseased. This condition is life-long, but shoot–it has already been life-long, hasn’t it? It’s ugly and uncomfortable and embarrassing too–but it’s my story, nevertheless, and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it’s valuable in its own way.
I was chopping up leftover pineapple a few nights ago as I wrestled with all this, frustrated again that all this transpired because of a flare up on my 40th birthday–and then it hit me: the timing was a gift, because truth be told I would not have gone to the doctor or had this procedure or gotten the diagnosis I desperately need to move forward had I not had a flare up that day.
I whisked together sticky, syrupy coconut aminos with sharp and biting vinegar, and I remembered again that life is sweet and sour at the same time. The good things and the hard things work together to build a life we can truly savor. Today’s heartbreak is soothed by the sweetness of the memories I brought with me from the time before things changed. I wouldn’t know how to make a dinner like this without a recipe to guide me had I not treasured the memory of munching on Banzai Burgers with my best friend all those years ago. I browned the beef and sautéed garlic and transformed leftover pineapple into a midweek meal that made me miss her like crazy. Then I sat down to the table and scooped out big portions to my girls who ate it up with the sort of gusto that reminded me of the way Molly always did. Banzai Burger Bowls redeemed the memory of those untouched days when gluten and allergies were yet unknown and made it a beautiful moment to treasure instead of a memory to bemoan, and suddenly, surprisingly, I was thankful for all of it.
God does that, you know? When we hand him all the smashed up, broken pieces of our disappointed hearts and let him make them into something new, he does–and what he does with it is good, because he’s good. All the messed up, unfair, heartbreaking circumstances of our lives transform into something beautiful, when we love him and trust his heart for us (Romans 8:28).
And because of that, nothing is ever wasted.
So here I am still recovering from the worst flare up of my life that turns out to be the biggest blessing I could have asked for. The results of the test are not what I had hoped for, but they handed me the answers I need to move forward from here, and friends, that is an invaluable gift indeed. I don’t have to wonder anymore, and I’m thankful for that against all the insufferable odds.
Blessed relief, the medicine is beginning to work. My body is responding to treatment and I see light flickering on the other side of the dark tunnel through which I have walked through for over 20 years.
I’m not well yet, but I’m on my way there. The irrepressible love of food isn’t wasted in my upside down kitchen. Good things happen here too–like Banzai Burger Bowls.
I know calling pie crust life-changing is dramatic, but the rigmarole of finally arriving at a place where grain free, pie crust and good can coexist in the same sentence warrants it.
Those of you who gave up grain like I did (and still feel the sting of foregoing the classic comfort food) can attest that finding a good alternative to mainstream foods is life-changing, both in our kitchens and in our overall quality of life. Good food makes us feel good again, doesn’t it?
And this crust really is good–easy, even. It’s certainly not perfect, but its imperfection lends indelible charm. Classic and unconventional; adaptable and finicky; empty and waiting to be filled, this crust gets the job done.
And yet, it falls apart on me every time. The craggy mess of a dough smooths out easily when rolled, but transferring it to the pie plate is another story. It’s sticky and messy and just plain not the same to work with as “normal” pie dough. It falls apart, which frustrated me until I realized how easily it mends together again. The dough is finicky, perhaps, but not futile. It’s forgiving when it yields itself to a tender hand that wants to see it succeed. Against all odds, making it work well is pretty easy after all.
Making this crust reminds me think of what David said in Psalm 103:5: “He fills my life with good things.” (NLT). Sin, disease and death plagued David, but he nevertheless showed up and opened himself to the possibility that God would make things right again. He celebrated when God filled his life with good things after hardship made it seem impossible.
David was like pie crust: fragile, imperfect, and desperately in need of something good to fill the empty space. I am like pie crust too: flaky and fragile and completely forgettable on my own. Created for something good, I remain broken or empty or both unless I am flexible enough to trust the hand of the one who is transforming me into something beautiful. Maybe we’re all a little bit like pie crust. When we sit ready to receive the good things God pours out, we end up better than we could have been on our own.
I may not be happy I ended up in a kitchen where grain free baking is the norm now, but I opened myself up to the possibility that something really good will come out of it anyway. God promises to give us good things, and his faithfulness does not depend on my feelings.
I’m so thankful for that.
And I’m thankful for this pie crust too. It may not be perfect, but it sure is good.
Warm fall days are fading into cooler ones that whisper winter is coming soon. Even the sun tucked a gray blanket around its neck again, bracing against the sharp winter wind I am still getting used to.
It is hard to have hope when I am chilled to the bone. The promise of ever being warm again is a tall tale my heart won’t receive while my body smarts against the sting of the pain that is now. When yesterday’s disappointments turn into today’s discouragement, hope slips through my fingers until I remember redemption always follows ruin.
I learned the lesson again this week when I stared down a pile of dry, brittle turkey bones. They were leftover from Thanksgiving, of course, and I dutifully salvaged every last morsel of roasted meat for all sorts of post-thanksgiving dinners that keep the gift of that bird going. I got out my stock pot and got ready to plunk the bones into it until that imposing pile of bones gave me pause. I stared in horror at the enormity of the mess, realizing I couldn’t move on. I couldn’t make broth because my stock pot was far too small to fit the carcass inside of it. I was stuck.
I have felt that way a lot this year: caught by surprising circumstances that make me wonder “Why?” The problems loom larger than the hope for redemption. Paralysis sets in when I don’t know what to do, and I’m tempted to give up. To get numb. To hide. To count it as a loss and toss it all away instead of pausing to ask “What’s next?”
A pile of bones looks like garbage. It is evidence of death, and the promise that anything good could come out of it is hard to swallow when the pain, frustration and the inconvenience is bigger than I feel equipped to handle. But I know better. I know healing comes after hurting. I know hope shines brightest in the middle of dark circumstances. I know death is not the end.
I looked at the carcass and realized I couldn’t change the magnitude of the mess, but I could break it up into more manageable morsels.
So I grabbed a cleaver and set to work, breaking down the bones further so I could move toward the promise of what was to come. I settled them deep into the base of the stock pot, like a casket, and I remembered the way God asked Ezekiel if dry bones can come back to life (Ezekiel 37:2).
I find I wonder the same thing about my own circumstances too.
But as I lay carrots and celery and onions alongside them, and fill the pot with cool, clean water, hope begins to stir in my heart, and I remind my soul of the promise God made all those years ago:
“Ezekiel, the people of Israel are like dead bones. They complain that they are dried up and that they have no hope for the future. So tell them, ‘I, the Lord God, promise to open your graves and set you free. I will bring you back to Israel, and when that happens, you will realize that I am the Lord. My Spirit will give you breath, and you will live again. I will bring you home, and you will know that I have kept my promise. I, the Lord, have spoken” (Ezekiel 37:11-14 CEV).
Making broth from bones moves me every time I make it–which is often, because I can’t not make it. The rich golden stock that emerges from of the sad remains of yesterday cheers my heart and heals my body. I rely on it. It soothes my system and reduces inflammation; it gives my body the nutrients it needs to knit itself back together; and it helps my own bones stay strong.
When the weather turns cold–when things die, when my soul feels dry, when all hope seems lost, I do what I know to warm myself up again. I salvage the sad remains of yesterday and take them to the source of redemption who never wastes a thing. God radically brings life from death. He’s famous for it. Making soup from bones is the most delicious metaphor for this transformative truth I know.
After all the dirty work was over, the pot sat steaming on the stovetop. The lid clicked as it simmered something good, like a clock counting down the minutes until dinner. The Goobies shuffled in, starving, asking What’s that delicious smell? with anticipation in their eyes.
“Turkey broth,” I say, “And I’m going to use it for turkey soup, and turkey pot pie, and–”
“Turkey pot pie?!” they squeal, and their cheeks swell ten sizes bigger with smiles that brighten the room. They dance while they wait, expectant.
And it reminds me all over again: the miracle of joy is waiting on the other side of today’s loss. Dubious and distant though it may seem, it is there. This cold, dry, dismal season isn’t the end. New life will emerge from this loss, and we will be stronger for it.
31 Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” — Mark 6:31 (NIV)
One of my blogging pet peeves is this: a post that starts with a line that goes something like this: “YOU GUYS–I’m SO sorry I haven’t written for, like, ever, but things have been crazy around here–I mean, like, CRAZY. I’ve been so busy I haven’t been able to breathe, let alone update anything here. But whatevs–I’m baa-aack!” What’s with the apology? Do bloggers really think readers need that? We’re all busy: readers and writers alike, because we’re living in a culture that is frenetic. So often busy is a badge we pin on to prove our worth–to ourselves more than to anybody else, I think. But Jesus himself shows us that right there, in the middle of those busy seasons, we need to pull back, take a break, rest. Let’s all give ourselves a little grace, shall we?
In this season, living my actual life has mattered more than writing about it all, and so the words haven’t been presenting themselves to me. Emery started potty training; Addie had a hard time adjusting to new people and surroundings; Mia cried and whined and clung to me after school every day; and I visited the doctor more times in the past few months than probably my whole adulthood combined. Project after home-improvement project began in full force around here we’re praying for direction to determine where our family’s future will be. House hunting started again, and then there was homework and more homework and sisters learning the hard way how to coexist peaceably, and a little boy who is very good at being two years old. And through it all, everyone wanted to eat something other than mixed greens with salmon.
Going through the motions leaves me wrung out though, and while others may paint or sing or play the guitar, I write to recharge. And so, without further ado, here’s my attempt to give myself a break and write a short update on what’s been going on around the Love, Scratch kitchen:
The Autoimmune Protocol (AIP). One word: yikes. Another three: difficult, but doable. Whole30 claims it is not hard to do, and after you completed your own Whole30, you confirmed that it wasn’t hard at all. But guess what? The AIP is hard to do. No, it’s not fighting cancer difficult, it’s not dealing with the death of a loved one difficult, but it is a different sort of difficult. The AIP is far more restrictive than Whole30, so the logistics of doing the shopping and preparing the food made the whole thing time consuming and exhausting. I imagine if I were a single, unattached female with plenty of cash to spare and no one else to think about or care for, the AIP might be easier. I’m not any of those things though, so the AIP made me tired and took away the fun of cooking and eating. But it was doable. The food was yummy, monotonous as it was. Sweet potatoes with coconut oil and sea salt, or mixed greens topped with lean protein and a drizzle of red wine vinegar and olive oil became my go-to meals. What helped was knowing it wasn’t forever–well, that and your resounding cry of “Solidarity, Rach.”
Even so, sometimes it was easier not to eat at all. Toward the end, you munched on your salt and pepper pistachios as I sat silently sipping my sparkling water, turning my nose up at an evening snack of coconut chips because coconut as a food group could disappear, for as much as I cared by the time the first 30 days were over. (I really think I may have killed my taste for coconut and avocado, too–and I’m waiting with bated breath to see if I will ever enjoy them the way I used to.) By the end of those first 30 days, my appreciation for you and your support reached new heights, and you have no idea how much hearing it over and over lifted my spirits and kept me from sneaking bits of dark chocolate into my mouth when your back was turned.
After 30 days, I added restricted foods back in quicker than recommended. It was a desperate time because the stress of other aspects of life swirled and threatened to take me down and I swear if I had to drizzle honey and coconut milk into weak black tea one more time I was going to lose it. I learned I enjoy coffee for its actual flavor and not just the hit of cream and sugar that typically comes along with it, and I use chocolate as a coping mechanism. I also learned I’m 100% ok with that. Neither bothers my system, as it turns out, and they were among the first foods that found their way back into daily life. Since then, I have added eggs and spices and nightshades and nuts and even small amounts of dairy–everything except copious amounts of gluten free grains and legumes, really–and I’m doing great.
I was still in the process of slowly adding things back into my diet when we went to ATT Park to watch Matt Cain pitch his final game in the major leagues, though, so instead of snacking on popcorn or nachos or even a hot dog on a gluten free bun, I opted for peanut M&M’s because somehow those seemed like a better choice. The rare treat tasted fantastic for about a half a second, until the box was empty and I felt yucky. Faint dizziness was my companion for well over week after that. I’m still not sure whether it was the surge of sugar or the peanuts or just sheer coincidence (dizziness can be a symptom of food sensitivity during the reintroduction phase), and really, I may never know. Either way, the experience certainly did not make me eager to snack on the usually off-limits snack any time soon. (Mia-bug, you are not missing out on anything.)
The good that came out of the AIP experiment is this: I can do hard things, even when it comes to food. Also, I have a newfound appreciation for the convenience of a jar of marinara sauce. Mostly, though, I’m thankful to know my digestive troubles really are linked mostly to grain–glutenous ones, mainly (though I’m not completely certain because I have not reintroduced all grains, yet. Rice seems to be ok, but I’ve only really tried very small amounts in things like a sample bite of a new banana oat muffin recipe I’m working on for the Goobies. And about two gluten free Joe-Joe’s. But I digress.) I also realized, again, how fantastic my body feels when I stick to foods that don’t contain grains at all. We tended to cook and eat grain free in our pre-AIP/Whole30 days anyway, and the fact that we didn’t dive into big bowls piled high with gluten free pasta as soon as that month was over tells me we will continue to eat mostly grain free. (I suspect I will seek out the gluten free hot dogs at ATT park and skip the peanut M&M’s from now on, though.)
And so, I’ll keep coming up with grain free foods that feed us well. Gluten free goodies will be part of our lives too, because they can be, thank you Lord–and peanuts will continue to stay far, far away from our kitchen until the day Mia’s prayer for healing is answered the way we all hope it will be. I may write about the recipes, because it recharges me, but I might not get around to it as quickly as I’d like, because I’m allowing myself to rest. But I promise to keep the kitchen humming along in real life, feeding the frenzied brood we call Goobies as best I can. I bet I’ll even enjoy it again in the days and weeks to come.
Shrimp Fried Cauli-Rice
This dish was borne out of a craving for Chinese food well into my AIP adventure. Chinese food is a hard one for my anyway (because soy sauce has gluten in it, which renders Chinese takeout a mere memory, for the most part), but with the additional restrictions of the AIP, Chinese food seemed like a lost cause. Coconut aminos are a good substitute for soy sauce, but its sweetness demands to be offset with an acid–like lime juice. Lime juice and shrimp are match made in heaven anyway, and so this version of shrimp fried cauliflower rice was born (but of course, use chicken instead of shrimp if you’re allergic to shellfish). It’s AIP (when prepared without scrambled eggs or red chili flakes), Paleo, Whole30, gluten free, grain free, dairy free, nut free, you know–all the things–but don’t let that convince you it’s anything but delicious. This one made it to the top ten list of Joey’s most requested dinners fast, and it was the AIP dish I made when I was just plain tired of sweet potatoes and salad.
a couple dollops of refined coconut oil (refined = no coconut flavor)
First, dice the carrots and par-cook them (I put the diced carrots in a microwave safe bowl and cover them with water, then microwave them for about three minutes to soften. This speeds up the whole affair, but feel free to saute them in the oil before tossing in the frozen cauliflower rice.) Drain them when they are tender (not mushy), and set aside.
Next, in whisk together the coconut aminos, lime juice, ginger and sea salt and it set aside as well.
Then, if you’re going to toss scrambled eggs into your finished dish, go ahead and scramble them now in a separate pan. When they’re done, set them aside too.
On to the main event: plunk a couple dollops of coconut oil into a saute pan and warm it up over medium high heat. Toss in the frozen cauliflower rice and toss to coat in oil, then crank up the heat to high. Add the par-cooked carrots, green onions and minced garlic and stir. Next, pour in the sauce and stir and cook and stir and cook–it won’t take long for the sauce to start to coat the veggies and evaporate. Add the shrimp next and stir and cook some more, and finally add the scrambled eggs (if desired) and toss to coat them in sauce too. Top the whole thing with a few more sliced green onions (and red chili flakes, if you like things spicy–and aren’t AIP.)
Clearly you are well acquainted with what you can eat on the Whole30, but do you ever wonder what I’m eating these days? (I bet sometimes you wonder if I eat at all.)
The Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) seems tricky, right? Like the Whole30, but more restrictive, more purposed. Lots of folks stare blankly at me when I mention I’m not eating tomatoes right now. Or coffee. Or seeds. The truth is, though–it’s not terribly complicated, and it helps to have these lists posted in the kitchen cabinets. Really, the AIP is the most stripped down diet I can imagine–meat, veggies, and fruit. The thing that makes it the most tricky, really, is that not all veggies are on the “yes” list–nightshades (things like tomatoes and peppers and white potatoes eggplants) and legumes with edible pods (like green beans) are on the “no” list, which admittedly makes my heart break a little bit every time I go out to the garden to pluck those ruby red gems off the vine. Otherwise, staying within the AIP parameters isn’t hard, exactly, because it’s similar to the way I ate before the AIP anyway. The biggest hurdles have been staying away from eggs and cutting out nightshades, nuts, or seeds (which includes coffee and chocolate.)
But I’m finding my footing and making it work, and in return, it’s working for me. I pretty much feel like I’m on autopilot these days: I click the “on” switch and my brain somehow just knows what to do. It wasn’t that way at first; it took a couple days to get the hang of it (I mistakenly sprinkled pepper on my salad on day 1. Whoops.)
In the morning, I meet the day armed with a smoothie made with canned full fat coconut milk. Trader Joe’s makes theirs without any emulsifiers or gums, so it’s perfect to whirl together with a frozen banana, a handful of frozen berries and a scoop of integral collagen. If I’m feeling particularly spunky, I drizzle in some honey, too, or maca powder to add a hint of nutty sweetness to the mix. This usually satisfies me until lunchtime, which isn’t super surprising since I make I use full fat coconut milk. Sometimes I don’t even drink the whole thing (because Emery swoops in and steals it without asking).
When lunchtime rolls around, I do one of two things depending on my mood: heat up leftovers from dinner the night before or make a fresh salad, like this one with arugula, grilled chicken, sliced Persian cucumbers, strawberries, green onions, tossed together with balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil (and a sprinkle of sea salt to finish). Sometimes I toss in a can of wild salmon instead, or a handful of wild bay shrimp. Sometimes I even change it up and make tuna salad with avocado mayo from my new favorite cookbook, The Healing Kitchen, which is brimming with useful AIP guides and AIP recipes. If I’m still hungry, I don’t shy away from eating leftover pulled pork straight from the fridge. Or a scoop of roasted coconut butter straight from the jar. You know how classy I am, right?
Afternoon snacks are often sliced apples with roasted coconut butter or a handful of Made in Nature Cinnamon Swirl Toasted Coconut Chips (sweetened with maple syrup, which is ok for me, but not for you. So sorry, Whole30 diehard). There’s always sweet little mandarins or dried apricots or slices of Plainville Farms organic sliced turkey rolled around a dill pickle wedge. Yesterday I finished off the bag of my new favorite Jackson’s Honest Sweet Potato Chips because a crunchy, salty snack = my happy place.
Dinner is when the real challenge happens. It’s 5:00, the kids are tiredhungrygrumpyfamished, and negotiating my restrictions with everyone else’s restrictions (and their preferences) gets tricky. I am learning to make one common main dish to center the meal and hold it together while spin offs happen in every direction, like Braised Beef Roast with Kale and Dried Cherries, which the kids ate sans kale over brown rice noodles, and we ate over cauliflower rice. Everyone loved it (well, everyone loved the beef; the kids turned their noses up to the kale), and leftovers didn’t last long around here. (The next day I warmed up a bowl and topped it off with leftover honey roasted carrots. That was a good day.)
But then there’s dessert. (Strictly speaking, Whole30ers like you shouldn’t be eating anything for dessert. So let’s call it an after dinner snack, shall we?) Sometimes we’re hungry after the Goobies are fast asleep (when dinner is served around 5:30, hungry happens, you know?), so we often grab a bag of Trader Joe’s Sweet Plantain Chips and use them to scoop up smooth, creamy Organic Wholly Guacamole minis (which don’t have any peppers, thus making them nightshade free!). Sometimes I miss surprising you with fancy cheese trays and a glass of wine, but I find that dates all rolled up inside a blanket of Whole30/AIP approved bacon and a sparkling water makes you equally happy.
And of course, there’s often some sort of AIP test treat lurking around the kitchen, and even though mostof the time they’re only ok-ish, repeat performances usually yield progressively better results–like when that AIP pie failed miserably the first time around, but has since been perfected. Pies and crumbles and pastries so delicious will soon abound, and I’m sure we’ll get these Goobies on board with us in no time.
Until then, thanks for the solidarity. Love does hard things together.
“Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.”
Luke 6:21 (NIV)
So I made a pie on Sunday.
In classic Rachel style, the thought of getting back into the comforting rhythm of cooking helped ease me out of the thick blanket of despair I wrapped around myself last week when the ER doctor threw his hands up and said, “You are a medical mystery.”
That’s what we all want to hear when we are being discharged from a 6 hour stint in the ER, isn’t it? My other phantom pain flared up last Wednesday, sharp in front and cutting through to the back, making each breath feel like razors were rattling inside. I went to the ER, a visit that left me more bewildered than I was before I went in. I spent the next few days shedding a lot of silent tears at night, trying to feel better. By Sunday I was out from under the blanket, but weak and fumbling and without much of an appetite. By Sunday, pie sounded soothing.
Ah, but–the AIP. And the Whole30(ish) thing you’re doing. Clearly, pie, or any other sort of comfort food was not the way to soothe away this particular heartache. And yet, I am not doing this crazy restrictive diet to lose weight or retrain my brain to eat only when I am really hungry, or even to retrain my palate to learn to love flavors as they naturally occur. I am doing it because I don’t have much other choice, at the moment. I have been sick, and I needed to heal.
And so after I fought with myself over whether to make a pie or not, I chided myself for toying with the idea of not making it, and I headed into the kitchen to make the most miserable pie I ever made. And I learned (again) three things:
Listen to my gut.
Laughter soothes my heart just as well as a good slice of pie can.
God doesn’t always work the way I think He will, but I can trust Him anyway.
So this pie: I admit I had my doubts about it from the get go. Although it was completely AIP compliant and looked normalish, something about the ingredients just sort of nagged at me, telling me “I’m not going to work the way you think I will.”
But I ignored it, saying to myself What do I know? I’m still learning how to use all these ingredients the right way, and who am I to say whether there’s something wrong with the recipe? I whisked together the coconut flour and arrowroot starch, tossed in some sea salt and cut in the coconut oil. I pressed the dough-like-substance into the bottom of a pie pan, crimped the edges with a fork and poked holes in the bottom. I baked it until golden, the smell of the toasty warm crust working its way into my heart and lifting my spirits as it went.
As it baked, I stirred together frozen mixed berries and lemon juice, brought it to a boil, and then reduced the heat to let it simmer away by half. Then I tossed in another few cups of berries into the thick, juicy syrup, gave it a stir and waited to pour it into its cradle. Out popped the crust, in went the filling, and back into the oven the whole thing went for another few minutes, just long enough to fill the house with the enticing aroma that comes only from a freshly baked pie.
This thing looked perfect. Unbelievable, really. On the oven top it sat, and you jokingly said you’d buy me a house with a kitchen that had a windowsill for me to cool pies on, and buy me pretty spin dresses and high heels, and a string of pearls and new tubes of lipstick, too. We laughed, because it was late in the afternoon and I was still in my pajamas, and holy moly if I needed a shower.
But the pie sat there like a promise: almost too good to be true.
Emery heard the oohs and ahhs, and clamored for a piece of pie after polishing off his dinner plate. “I want pie,” he said as he nodded his head, letting us know this was not a request, but a requirement.
So I got out a knife and a pie server and a plate, set up my cutting station and huffed under my breath, “I don’t know about this…”
The crust wasn’t cooked through at all. In fact, it was a goopy mess of what can only be called Paleo slime. No one believed me that it was ruined–the thing looked too beautiful to be ruined, except the whole thing was soft and mushy–an utter mess–on the inside.
I scooped some out anyway, believing you when you told me it probably tasted better than it looked. (You remember I told you it had absolutely no added sweetener to it, right? No sugar, no stevia, no honey or maple syrup? Nada!) I lovingly brought the plate to that expectant little boy of ours, who was beside himself happy for the only piece of pie he’s ever asked for. Pie isn’t something I make regularly.
A look of glee and contentment spread across his face as he scooped up his first big bite, only to be replaced by revulsion in an instant.
Laughter erupted around the table, of course, which egged you on to try to convince him to take another bite, which he did, the poor kid.
He glared at you, unsure. Angry. Duped.
Somehow, you convinced him to try again.
To say he hated the pie it is an understatement.
And yet, somehow, he managed to recognize our laughter in the middle of his own freak out. The boy clearly inherited your jocularity because once he noticed he was the center of attention, and he willingly took a few more yucky bites to get a few good laughs out of it.
I was ready to toss the whole thing. You and my parents (and even Emery, to some small degree) convinced me not to, though, insisting that we had to at least try it because so what if it didn’t turn out perfect the first time? (Agreed. I don’t care about perfection: I care about palatability.)
I should have trusted myself. I had serious doubts about the merits of this recipe before I even attempted to make it. I wasn’t really surprised when the crust failed miserably. I’m not entirely sure what went wrong or where, but something did go wrong.
We still ate the pie (shockingly). It wasn’t sweet, but it wasn’t tart either. It just tasted like really good baked fruit (if that’s a thing?). And the oozy pie crust turned into something more akin to a topping than a crust, and the whole thing ended up giving us a satisfying (if unconventional) small bite of something sweet-ish after dinner that night. But I think the best thing about that pie was the laughter it elicited. Hearing belly laughs around the table was like medicine–it cleared my head and released my tension and helped me see beyond myself, and outward toward the people and things that bring me joy. And through it, God seemed to whisper to me, “I’m not going to work the way you think I will. But trust me anyway.”