I bake when winter’s cold seeps through every nook and cranny, barging inside when it’s not welcome. Spring feels far away on days like these, so I cope by baking blueberry muffins. They brighten the day and remind me that harsh, hard seasons eventually fade into warmer, more welcoming ones, and this season will too.
Winter reminds me of hard days when kitchen life turned upside down. My outlook was bleak. The promise of good food felt elusive, even laughable–nothing like it was in my childhood. Back then the kitchen beckoned, I answered its call out of curiosity, not necessity. I was lucky enough to have parents who indulged my desire to explore to my heart’s content (God bless them). Lots of good stuff came out of those early experiments.
Oh, there were plenty of flops, too, but even the worst of them didn’t deter me from getting back into that kitchen the next day. Trial and error has been part of the process for as long as I can remember. Every miserable failure fueled my drive to get back behind the stove and try, try again. This recipe is the result of that resolve.
Of all the challenges this unconventional kitchen life handed me, baking without grains was the trickiest. Gluten free baking was tough enough, but at least that still uses grains. Learning how to use alternative flours (almond, arrowroot, coconut, tapioca, potato) is like learning a different language. Nuance gets lost in translation, complicating the exchange. Discovering cassava flour was like meeting a good interpreter who makes meaning out of the mess.
Miracles don’t make sense, exactly, but they do have meaning. These muffins are naturally grain/gluten free and accommodate for all the top allergens. (They contain egg, but work beautifully with an egg replacer.). The basic recipe is plain on purpose: it can be dressed up on a whim with all sorts of flavors and textures. Feel like lemon poppy seed? Use this recipe. Curious about cranberry orange? Use this recipe. Craving chocolate chip? Use this recipe. It’s endlessly adaptable.
Today we made blueberry lemon because citrus helps lift our moods in the middle of a dreary day. It reminds us brighter days of spring really will come again and prompts us to watch the miracle unfold.
Until it does, we’ll be keeping warm by baking batch after batch of these muffins. I hope you do too!
Emery and I spent a lot of time together these days. It’s nice, but it’s not enough.
On school days I scurry through the morning like a frantic squirrel, gathering up bits of this and that and packing things away for later, scooting my pups out the door while Emery perches himself at the window wondering when everyone will get home again. He barely eats a bite of breakfast until after we circle back from school drop off to our own make-shift classroom at home, and even then, staying on schedule distracts him from satisfying his stomach, and he ends up grumpy as we work our way through morning.
Snacks help. So do small breaks to get outside and wiggle. But most of the time Emery doesn’t even want to do that–he’d rather snuggle up close to me and read an entire Magic Tree House book from cover to cover in one sitting, or sit at the table alongside me and work on math games for the bulk of the morning. The laundry sits, as do the dirty dishes. And forget about my cup of morning tea and or a hot shower or any of the projects I thought I would be working on this month–things clearly didn’t turn out the way I thought they would this season.
I know I’m not alone in this. Change charged in uninvited everywhere, and most of us are doing everything we can to make the best of it. We’re saying yes to everything we possibly can to comfort and encourage, not coddle or indulge. It’s a fine line between the two, of course. Sometimes phonics looks more like snuggling on the couch and sounding out words than sitting at the table staring at worksheets. Morning math lessons sometimes happen while I’m making muffins or when we’re sitting in carline at the end of the day.
Like so many of you, I am thankful for the extra time I have with my boy, and most days I remind myself this time is a gift. So I pray for flexibility in my heart to embrace this season despite its disappointments, but still. It’s hard.
It’s hard because for as much as I used to toy with the idea of homeschool life, this isn’t what I imagined. Like, at all. My imagination conjured up images of all three of the Goobies home together all day long, happily learning alongside each other in an at-home school room straight from a Pottery Barn catalog, dressed in corduroy jumpers and leather shoes. We’d romp through piles of fallen leaves in the morning, throwing schedules out the window because learning together out there in the real world would be a treat, not a nuisance. Then we’d huddle back inside for hot chocolate and recite state capitals while munching on chocolate chip cookies. No one would ever be lonesome because there would always be someone to play with. The kids would get bad tempered sometimes, sure–but they’d never by themselves, like Emery is. How many other children are enduring these endless string of empty days looking out the window, waiting for something to change?
2020 taught us many things: how to be flexible, how to give grace, how to adapt and adjust and choose joy anyway. It also taught us the value of togetherness from the abrupt absence of it. Visiting through glass–while nice–isn’t good enough. Waving at people six feet away isn’t good enough. Staying away altogether because of what could happen if you get too close isn’t good enough for establishing friendships or maintaining relationships with the people we need in our lives. Nice things aren’t the best things.
I know we’ve all got to make sacrifices this week, this season, this year. I get that and I’m on board with doing our part to make things work for everyone. But the harder truth is this: I also want the best for my boy, and so much alone-ness isn’t the best.
After a turbulent couple of days last week, Emery fell into bed, emotionally exhausted. He clutched my neck and held on tight, unwilling to let me go. My mama heart should have swooned, but the thought of all the broken moments that left him crying and asking questions I simply couldn’t answer nagged my protective heart. The weight of loneliness settled in as I remembered the hurt in his voice: “Why did they have to go? How come I can’t go too? Where did daddy go? When will he come back? How come the girls get to do that and I don’t? Why do I have to stay here? I don’t want to stay here.”
I know there will be a day when these moments will be a memory. The dragged out days of Kindergarten homeschool will fade into a time I wish I could return to, just like the hard and hazy first years of parenthood did. The sting of this season will wane as time ambles on, but for now, it hurts. I hug him back tight and memorize the way he breathes, and he whispers something into the dark of the room: “I would be delighted if you made pumpkin muffins with cinnamon sugar for breakfast tomorrow.”
I smiled, laughing a little as I hugged him tight and replied, “I would be delighted to make some for you.”
I’m not sure what I expected him to say, but it most certainly was not that. Hadn’t he had enough mommy and muffin mornings? But I realized there is comfort in the familiar, and when we ache, we look for something to cling to that calms us down and consoles us, steadying us for what comes next. Mornings, muffins and me–those are his constants these days. I can’t solve the world’s problems. Muffins can’t do that either, but they can smooth out rumpled feelings for a little while at least. Making them is one small act of love I can do right here behind the glass, despite the darkness swirling just outside the panes. Baking them won’t change much outside, but perhaps they’ll change something on the inside a little. After all, when love charges into the darkness, it changes things.
It might not be enough, but it’s a start. And since we’ve got to start somewhere, muffins are a delicious place as any. These gluten free Pumpkin Spice Muffins are top 14 free when you use an egg replacement. They’re warm, comforting, and flexible–just like we’re all trying to be these days–and a beautiful reminder that good things are right here in front of us when we slow down enough to see them.
At our house Take Out literally means taking something out of the freezer. Bags of nuggets and tater tots and fries are almost always at the ready for Fun Food Fridays. We may be a food allergy family, but we like a little junk food now and then too. (And how else is this allergy mom going to get a break in the kitchen?)
The view from my writing window is gray this morning. Even what little snow is left outside looks greasy and gray these days: the sad remains of snow flurries that were cause for celebration a couple weeks ago.
I don’t hate the view. Or at least, up until today I haven’t, and I think perhaps it has something to do with the fact that I used to dream about snowy winter weather during the temperate, lavish green ones I took for granted back home in California. The hills are emerald green by now, I imagine, and beanies are more of a fashionable reminder of wintertime, rather than a necessary defense against bitter winds. Bags brimming with oranges and lemons and grapefruits used to show up on our doorstep back home, all gleaned from my Grandparents’ stalwart old trees. Can you imagine the miracle of finding a bag of citrus on our doorstep today? I clearly see Grandma taking a break from all the fruit picking and cradling an afternoon cup of tea in her hands. Its steam swirls in the cool of a January afternoon, and she laughs as we share a short visit. I want to be there with her right now: capturing her laugh in a locket and catching the sweet smell of the backyard blossoms in a bottle, and I want to tuck them into my chest so I can always remember her that way. And I really want that bag of oranges she inevitably sent home with me.
That is what I told myself this morning when I climbed out of bed, not really ready to get up to face one more day of summer togetherness. I trudged my way through the dark of the morning, Emery at my heels: hungry and impatient. The thought of getting through one more day of all the Goobies home all day threatened to steal away the last shred of my sanity. In the harried moments of the morning, it seemed like school couldn’t start fast enough. Just one more day until I can catch my breath.
Make new friends but keep the old; those are silver, these are gold.
The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”
I made two S’Mores Pies in the span of two days last week. My important, necessary work was met with your murmur of, “Another s’mores pie? I’m impressed!” This pie is dangerously easy, meaning there is a very good chance one will be waiting to meet you at the end of a long day’s work more often than perhaps it should. (Aren’t you the one who joked about buying a house where I could bake pies to my heart’s content and cool them by the windowsill? This problem is your fault.)
Of all the pies, why S’Mores Pie? And why make two of them in two days? Fair question, and the answer can be found in a snippet of a conversation that happened several weeks ago now in my grandparents’ backyard between my BFF (as the Goobie girls would call her) Molly, and me.
For the third year running, the Goobies and I trick-or-treated without you. It all started a couple years ago when you kissed us goodbye and flew far away to say your last goodbyes to your grandpa. We missed you, but it was easy to forgive your absence that year. But the following year, our excitement to have you home with us was short lived: Vertigo stole you from us early Halloween morning (remember?) and didn’t return you back to us until well into the night. The timing of your illness surprised and irritated me and I found it difficult to play the sympathetic wife in the midst of my own disappointment, and I vowed to keep my expectations for future Halloweens low from then on.
Easier said than done, of course.
In hindsight, I realize I made myself an empty promise because why wouldn’t I expect you to spend Halloween with us? In the days leading up to Halloween this year, you doted on the Goobies, going above and beyond (ahem, spoiling them) with costumes this year in a subconscious attempt to make up for your absence the past two years, I think, and all the while I was bracing for the blow that hadn’t even come. Until then, out of nowhere, it did: urgent surgeries had been scheduled for Halloween night. It wasn’t your fault, of course, but my disappointment made me want to blame you. Can’t you get out of it? I begged. This is the third year in a row. Your hands were tied, there was nothing you could do, and so I excused myself from the conversation, shut myself in the bathroom, and cried.
As the tears fell, I realized I wasn’t really mad at you. I was upset about the situation and confused by your seemingly cool attitude toward it. You didn’t seem nearly as ticked off as I felt, and that bothered me. But oh, those Goobies. They are defenders and copycats, a dangerous combination when adversity tempts me toward a bad attitude. But I was quick to remember that if I continued to slink around with a chip on my shoulder, they would do the same. I didn’t want them to be angry with you. Disappointment is part of life. People will let us down, but what we do with that disappointment matters most. After a moment or two, I wiped my eyes and shook off the crazy, resolved to make the best of it.
All of this reminded me of a story Sally Clarkson tells about how her husband’s work took him away from their young family more often than she appreciated. An otherwise doting and involved father, his career took a turn that demanded a bit more time and effort than anyone at home really enjoyed. One night in particular, Sally was particularly not happy about having to say goodbye, but she knew showcasing a bad attitude about the ordeal would give resentment a foothold–not only in her heart, but in her kids’ hearts too. So instead, she chose to send off her husband with waves and smiles from happy kids, then wrapped her arms around her brood after he drove away, suggesting with a smile they go inside for cheeseburgers and a movie. She chose not to let disappointment dictate her behavior. I realized, I ought to do the same.
In the days leading up to Halloween, all I could see was my own disappointment. Your disappointment didn’t occur to me until that moment. You were the one who had to miss the fun stuff: attending funerals, dealing with illness, and working late into the night are not fun, and they aren’t the same as skipping out on your family. Hard things forced your hand, and you never once complained about missing out on the fun part of Halloween. My moping around and holding a grudge didn’t make any of it easier on you; if anything, it made it more difficult– not only for you, but for all of us. And so, I decided to be more like Sally: I dressed up the family table and scattered candy corn this way and that, and I served corn dogs and chex mix and traipsed around the court, knocking on doors and collecting candy and trinkets until well after dark. I made the most out of the evening anyway instead of sulking my way through the night, choosing joy in all circumstances, like you.
We missed you, of course, but we still had fun. Friends and grandparents joined us as we bounded out the door toward an evening of fun–all because, well, what good does it do to sulk? Life’s let downs aren’t easy to face, but it is possible to adapt amid disappointments. We just have to choose to do so, which admittedly, isn’t easy or immediate, but it is always worth it. When you finally made it home to rest late that night, you flicked through the pictures on my phone and laughed out loud, heart bursting to see your Goobies smiling.
Classic Party Mix (GF/DF/NF option)
In our house, Chex Mix in October is like cookies in December: you can’t have one without the other. The warm, savory scent of this stuff crisping up in the oven plunges me right back into the Octobers of my high school years when I first started making it on my own. I must have learned how to do it from my dear friend Molly’s dad (thanks Allan!), although I don’t remember him ever showing me how. But I do remember him making it every year without fail, a tradition both Molly and I have embraced as our own, in our own ways. Clearly, our family makes it both gluten and dairy free, but believe me when I tell you you cannot taste a difference. This version is every bit as fantastic as its gluten-and-dairy laden cousin. Also: please note that there ARE cashews in the pictures above. As of that night, our kids weren’t allergic to cashews. They have since developed an allergy to them, so we don’t make it this way anymore. Instead, we stick to almonds (because they can all eat those), or we just leave them out and toss in plain cheerios instead. It always turns out fantastic! Chex Mix is an effortlessly customizable treat, food allergy flexibility at its finest.
Note: If you want to use wheat Chex in addition to rice and corn, use 3 cups each rice, corn and wheat, for a total of 9 cups of Chex cereal.
9 cups Chex cereal (divide evenly among the types of Chex your family tolerates. Can’t have wheat or corn? Same. Use all rice!)
2 cups gluten free pretzels (Snyder’s is our fave!)
1 cup almonds, or mixed nuts (or omit altogether if your family is allergic to them and toss in something like plain Cheerios–no big deal!)
2 1/2 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce (make sure it’s gluten free! We like Lea & Perrins)
1 3/4 teaspoons seasoned salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
3/4 teaspoon onion powder
First, preheat the oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Next, in a large bowl, mix together the cereal, pretzels and mixed nuts. In a separate small bowl, mix together the Earth Balance, Worcestershire sauce, seasoned salt, garlic powder and onion powder. Drizzle the seasoned sauce over the dry ingredients. Using your hands, toss the mixture well until evenly coated. Pour onto a cookie sheet and bake, stirring every 15 minutes, for a total of an hour. Pour the mixture onto a big paper grocery bag (that’s been cut open, as shown below) and let it cool. (The mix gets crunchier as it cools.)
This is what a double batch looks like, about 24 cups worth. A single batch (as written above) yields about 12 cups.
28-30 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
We started taking the kids camping this summer. Equipped with a new-to-us pop up camper and fueled by your adventurous spirit, camping sounded fun to all of us until the reality of doing so with three small children slapped us both in the face. I dreaded going because it sounded anything but easy, and while being outdoors and drinking in the warm, sweet scent of the redwoods is up my alley, the whole roughing-it-with-three-kids-in-tow part fills me with dread.
I come by it honestly: the family vacations of my childhood involved running water, actual beds, and corner diners where kids eat free on Sundays. Roughing it for us meant five people sharing one bathroom and trying in vain to get a decent night’s sleep (which was challenging, since my dad and brothers all snored). Camping just wasn’t something our family did together, so the weight of your expectations for it all to go smoothly made me nervous before we even left the driveway.
But the promise of an overnight camping trip practically made Emery come unglued. He shrieks with hysterical glee at the mention of the word camper, so the idea of actually going out in the camper overnight, with you? Talk about excitement. That kid is happiest just being near to you, and watching him watch you reminds me of how thrilling it must have been for the disciples to walk with Jesus all those years ago, living with him, learning from him. And your patient, nearly wordless interaction with Emery helps me understand what Jesus must have meant when He said, “walk with me and work with me–watch how I do it.” As soon as we ease the camper into its spot, he pops out of the Durango with one thing on his mind: being at your side as you crank and secure and connect and make ready. You hardly have to say a word: being with you is enough for him.
The Goobie girls learn by watching too, of course, but we’ve slipped into the habit of doing things for them because it’s easier to keep them out of the way until suddenly we remember we ought to be teaching them life skills and we end up barking orders left and right in the name of proactive training (and retraining) that elicit tears, not results. They end up trying to follow a stringent set of rules they don’t fully understand, and we get angry when they break those rules or when our instructions are met with blank, confused stares.
We end up sitting them down to have a lengthy discussion about the do’s & don’ts and how’s & why’s of this that or the other. It’s forced, and the girls couldn’t care less about whether we think it’s important for them to follow those rules or not. They are burned out. Why do we think we’ve got to sit them down and lecture them about rule following instead of letting example be their teacher? Jesus didn’t go around checking off a what-not-to-do list with His disciples; He showed them how to live by living that way Himself and inviting them to join him. Shouldn’t we do the same?
We’re trying, of course. At least we know this about ourselves (right?). But it’s extra challenging when it comes to camping because the onus falls on you to take the lead because you are the one who actually knows what he’s doing, and it’s a tall order for you. Your patience runs thin against your will, like that last time we took the camper out for a quick over night trip when those Goobies tested your patience before they even got out of the car, for goodness sake. They didn’t know campsite etiquette or decorum; they didn’t know their boundaries or even what to do, really. They wanted to help, but didn’t know how to help, and I didn’t know how to have them help either. So they played in the dirt and complained and cried and I tried to keep them quiet (ha!) as you tackled setting up camp on your own.
The hard truth is that your fuse for little people who still didn’t know a thing about how to camp was short, and you spent the evening fighting the urge to lose it with the kids. At breakfast the next morning, after one too many cereal spills and too-loud early-morning giggles, your stern face betrayed the fact that you were frustrated, upset, and not having fun at all. I quietly put my hand on your arm and whispered, “If you want the kids to enjoy this, you’re going to have to change your attitude.”
In that moment, you realized this: the kids don’t know how to camp, and they won’t know how to camp unless someone teaches them. Of course kids run and jump and scream and shout, laugh and giggle and chase and zoom this way and that, gathering sticks, making dirt roads, balancing on old logs and flinging piles of leaves toward each other. They run down hills and shine their flashlights in each other’s eyes and sing at the top of their lungs and exclaim at the beauty of the forest without feeling sorry about it (and is that really a bad thing?). They don’t know how to help or what not to touch or what leaves are ok to touch and which ones are poison oak; they don’t know how close is too close to a campfire or how to roast marshmallows; they don’t know the value of sitting quietly to appreciate the echo of chirping birds–they don’t know because, well, how could they? When you realized this something clicked, breaking down the idea that the kids instinctively should know how to do things you’ve known how to do for decades. You realized the only way they’ll learn is if we teach them. I imagine that’s why Christ came and taught the way he taught. Clearly the rules and regulations of religion weren’t cultivating relationship, and so He came to teach a better way of living by example.
That trip shifted something inside you, and armed with the promise to do better and be better for the sake of all our sanity, we set out for another camping trip, and oh, what a difference. We all worked together to set up camp; the kids jumped in and found ways to be helpful almost without any instruction from us at all. Mia swept; Addie decorated; Emery turned the crank. We went exploring and found white fallow deer and a shady bench beneath an ancient redwood tree and sat, quietly watching the Goobies relish the wide, unrestricted space of the mountaintop and all the dirt that went with it, digging, drawing, and dancing in the stuff. Dirty faces and dusty clothes in tow, we came back to build a campfire and cook dinner. You situated the Goobies’ chairs, taught them how to respect the fire, and set about showing them how to roast hot dogs and marshmallows right along with them instead of doing it for them. And the evening was sweet, fairly stress free, and promising.
The kids walked away from that trip wishing it wasn’t over so soon and begging for another camping trip to be in the near future. It wasn’t perfect, exactly, but it was wonderful. We showed up and worked hard and exercised patience–and we enjoyed each other. By the grace of God, and with His help, the kids learned so much more this time because we taught them–you taught them–with so much more than words.
Hobo dinners are a new-to-us camp food experiment that will certainly turn into traditional fare around our campfire. Root vegetables, onions, meat, fire–these are the simple things that kept fed families for generations, and making them in the crisp September twilight made camping seem totally doable–and enjoyable, too. I love how easy they are to throw on the grill–fussing around with dinner prep was one of my biggest objections to taking our food allergy family camping. As if feeding the five of us isn’t complicated enough, throwing camping into the mix made my head spin. This time around was even harder, what with me on the Autoimmune Protocol and Joey on the Whole30, dinner at a campsite made me want to cry. But then in a moment of inspiration, I thought, “Oh yeah! Hobo Dinners! I’ll try those.” I saw the idea for them earlier this summer when we first got the pop up camper, but just hadn’t tried them yet (hot dogs were just easier the last couple of times). But this time, Hobo Dinners came to my rescue and they were a hit. Use stew meat instead, or add some potatoes or mushrooms, and throw in whatever seasonings sound good to you. This recipe yields 4 portions, so multiply as needed. You’ll see the recipe is more of a method, so don’t fret too much about quantities. (In fact, you can cook two burgers in one packet if you want to.) Follow your gut.
1 1/2 pounds ground beef
1 1/2 teaspoons onion powder
3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
3/4 teaspoon sea salt, plus more for seasoning the veggies
1/2 cup sliced onions (red, white, yellow–use what you like)
a few glugs extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil
salt and pepper to taste
First, mix seasonings into the ground beef–mush it all together and form into four patties. Set aside.
Peel and slice the root veggies. Toss them in a couple of glugs of olive oil and sprinkle with salt (and pepper, if you you like; I omitted this for AIP).
Assemble the packets:
Arrange two 2′ lengths of aluminum foil in a cross. Place the root vegetables in the center, top with an uncooked patty and drizzle some more oil on top. Fold the first layer of foil up over the burger and crimp, as if you were rolling up a paper bag. Then do the same with the bottom layer of foil, enclosing the first packet in an outer layer of foil and crimping tightly, so that the foil is sealed.
Place the packets on top of the campfire (use the grate provided!) and let cook directly over the flame for 15 minutes. Remove, and let rest for a minute or two (they’ll be hot!). Unwrap foil and enjoy.
One of the hardest parts about moving was putting distance between ourselves and our people. But one of the easiest parts about moving is being close to our other people again. But my heart is divided because to be there means being with those people. To be here means being with these people. I love them all.
There are people here, there are people there–shoot, we have people all over the place. We have people right across town, over the hills, up the valley in Napa and down the road in San Diego; we have people in the Midwest and people up North and down South and people all close enough to the Atlantic to go for a quick dip if the mood struck them. Our people are everywhere.
But distance makes it difficult to see them very often–even the ones across town–and proximity matters when it comes to building friendships. It’s the people nearby that we end up living our lives with. Friendship is forged in the trenches of the daily, and enough small talk over time builds into something much bigger. Strangers turn into people we trust enough to pick our kids up from school in a pinch, and before we know it, they’re the people we live with, lean on, and love. It’s hard to say goodbye to that sort of security, even harder to start over.
When I think about all our people, I wonder which ones will dissolve into a fuzzy memory as the years continue to slip by and which ones will remain a fixture in our hearts and home. Whose kids will our Goobies remember growing up with? Which ones will eek their way into their hearts and become their people? Who will we call at midnight when an emergency jerks us out of sleep? Which ones will hop on a plane if tragedy strikes? Who will show up to wave goodbye if our story leads us elsewhere and we move farther away than just across the hills? Who would pick up the phone at 10pm to settle an argument over cult classic movies and laugh with us as we bicker over whose favorite nostalgic movie was more important in the scheme of things: Mall Rats or Shag: The Movie?
People move, and people move on. Out of sight, out of mind because what’s right in front of us demands our attention more than keeping up with people who aren’t in our immediate, day-to-day circle. The demands on our time shout loudly above the need of our hearts–to connect–and sometimes, friendships falter because of it. Keeping up with all the people all the time is hard. I wish I could be in both places (or really, all the places), all the time. I can’t, of course, but I think about all the people all the time. And I also wonder what new people are out there ahead of us, waiting for us to open our circle and extend our hands to them.
Maybe that’s why we made the hour long drive to see our not-so-far-away people to swim and grill and indulge in their hospitality, pretending we’re far away and on vacation together. Maybe that’s why we keep asking our local people to come play at a moment’s notice, grilling and letting kids play outside until well after bedtime. Maybe that’s why I’ve made this fruit dip so many times this summer: when I’ve felt displaced, unsettled, and uncertain about where to plant my heart, this dip steadies me. Some people look at old pictures of the people they love (I seldom remember to snap them); others pick up the phone and call (I always feel like I’d be an inconvenience), but me? I cook because making recipes like this one is like grabbing the hand of an old friend while extending the other hand to a newer one, and I am safe, balanced right there between them both.
Summertime Fruit Dip (GF/DF/NF)
When one of our people came to visit this summer, it just felt right to whip up a batch of fruit dip–a creamy, dreamy wonder to which she introduced me well over ten years ago (thanks Felicia!). I couldn’t make her dip the conventional way (with regular old cream cheese), but I found a way to make a dairy free version that fooled my own mother. I’ve made it several times since that early summer morning well over a month ago now and one thing proves true: everyone loves it (not just the kids: it’s become a guilty pleasure among adults in our circle who tend to have difficulty with self-control around this stuff.) I recommend the Trader Joe’s brand Vegan Cream Cheese because I’m pretty much devoted to its clean, non-vegan flavor, but you could certainly substitute other brands that are accessible nationwide (such as Daiya), but DO NOT SKIP the lemon juice if you go the non-dairy route–it adds that little bit of zing regular cream cheese usually gives the dip. Of course, use regular cream cheese if your people don’t have issues with dairy. If you use another brand, taste and tweak as needed until the end result suits your fancy.
1-8 oz. tub cream cheese (try dairy free!)
1-7 oz. tub Jet Puffed Marshmallow Fluff (or try homemade vegan fluff using aquafaba!)
1 Tablespoon lemon juice (a MUST when using dairy free cream cheeze!)
Whisk together all ingredients until fully combined. Chill for an hour or so to help firm it back up again. Serve with an assortment of fruit (strawberries, pineapple and cantaloupe are our favorites).
“When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child.
But when I grew up, I put away childish things.”
1 Corinthians 13:11 (NLT)
Yesterday morning I felt like a failure before my feet even touched the ground. I hadn’t even had a chance to come up short on anything yet, but there I was flirting with the lie that tells me to lift my hands in surrender anyway. The past few weeks have worn me down, sopping up the last few drops of my energy and leaving me very, very tired.
It was Mia’s fifth birthday, which is probably why I felt extra pressure right away in the morning. School mornings are loathsome evil things anyway, but throw in a little girl’s fifth birthday? A whole extra set of responsibilities and expectations greeted me before coffee even had a chance to be my cheerleader. For someone prone to perfectionism (like I am), I was overwhelmed before I started. I wanted to ignore responsibility and nestle deeper into bed, mumbling instructions to just pour the kids a bowl of cereal because I couldn’t bear the thought of making a birthday breakfast.
Instead, I did what I always do: I stretched my legs, rubbed my eyes, and got up anyway because that’s what moms do. We base responsibility on much more than a passing fancy. We show up and do stuff we don’t always feel like doing because we love our kids more than we love our pillows. And so, I trudged into the kitchen and pulled out my birthday morning breakfast arsenal and lined up the ingredients for the much-anticipated chocolate chip pancakes that only show up on someone’s birthday. Just when I was about to scoop out the flour, I realized my favorite recipe for gluten free pancakes was packed away in a box already, not to be unloaded until after our move next month. I hung my head in defeat.
So much for birthday tradition, I thought, and for a moment I tried to convince myself that Mia would understand if I served a bowl of cereal this morning instead. She knows half the house is packed up already; surely, she’ll give me some grace. But the grown up inside whispered to the childish part of my soul: No, she won’t understand. She’s still a very young girl who is staggering through this transition too. She’s just as weary as you are, but uncertain too–and she’s counting on those pancakes to give her a little sense of stability.
We have spent the past several years making these seemingly small, disjointed traditions a priority, laying the foundation to their lives–brick by small, seemingly insignificant brick–in hopes that they will build their lives on the groundwork of love and stability. A “Happy Birthday” banner to greet them the morning; chocolate chip pancakes with a candle and the birthday song at breakfast; the You’re Special plate showing up again and again and again at the kitchen table, filled with the birthday child’s favorite foods; the anticipation of opening their four presents–something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to read. These traditions somehow became part of their birthday vernacular, and they speak of them with the sort of excitement and awe I always hoped they would. This is what their little lives are built on, isn’t it? Not the stuff–the tradition. And what is tradition without consistency? And oh, how important consistency is. Consistency breeds trust, and trust demands consistency, otherwise things break.
Get over yourself and make the pancakes anyway, I thought, and I managed to whisk together a batch of batter that worked just as well as the other recipe. Maybe all those years of making them trained me for the day I would need to make them without help, I thought as I flipped the first few golden round beauties dotted with gooey chocolate. And no sooner had I thought all this than I got distracted and annoyed and ended up overcooking (ahem, burning) a pancake (or five) and made a snarky remark to Addie after her very innocent observation that the pancakes didn’t smell very good. I was irritated, yes–because the comment sounded rude to my already-bummed out self who felt like I had taken the high road to make the pancakes in the first place, and an imperfect messy batch is what I came up with. Why did I bother at all? I wondered. But I saw the sad look in Addie’s eye and realized she hadn’t meant to be rude; she was being observant, and her remark wasn’t my progress report. I scolded myself for my short temper and made it right with the girl (“You know, you’re right–they do smell a little funny. I sure hope they taste better than they smell!”), settled into my chair, and slurped down my coffee before any more damage was done.
Mia beamed as we lit the candle and sang her birthday song, and she happily ate her sort-of-burned pancakes, and so did everyone else (even Emery, the kid who usually just picks the chocolate chips out of the pancakes, actually said, “MMM! Thas good, mama!“). The overcooked pancakes turned out to be a problem in my mind alone. And as I watched Mia tear open her presents with the purest sort of joy there is, I was glad I hadn’t let my perceived stress get in the way of her joy.
Most days I’m pretty realistic, meaning I know most things don’t turn out the way my perfect ideals dictate they ought to. But yesterday I let my eyes focus on the imperfect pancakes, my own bed head, and the idea that I wasn’t a very good mom because I didn’t greet the morning with lipstick and balloons. I sat and thought about how lucky I am that the Goobies focused on fitting raspberries on top of their fingers and savoring the rare treat of chocolate for breakfast. I’m the grown up, but I was acting far more childish than my own kids. As I watched you usher the Goobies out the door and into their day, I was left wrestling with all this and asking the Lord to help me grow up, to help me be the grown up and model good behavior for these kids who are watching everything. And wouldn’t you know, not long after that, He gently (and pointedly) reminded me of 1 Corinthians 13: 11, and how it’s ok — good, even–to be childlike, but it’s time to give up my childish ways.
I do my best to do my best at mothering, which means sometimes I have to remind myself that I’m the grown up and do things I just don’t want to do. Getting up in the morning is a struggle for me. Being kind in the morning is too. Walking through my day being others-focused is not always easy. Sometimes, I slip into that peevish childish behavior I was supposed to have put away once I grew up. But in a bout of grown up wisdom, the adult in me scolded the child and reminded me that these are the moments upon which lives are built. It was our little girl’s birthday and we don’t get a do-over. It didn’t have to be my idea of perfect to be Mia’s idea of perfect, and because Mia trusts me, and trust is built on consistency, I did the grown up thing and chose to set aside my childish behavior to lay another brick. And then, I got to enjoy Mia’s birthday with childlike abandon.
Classic Pancakes, with or without Chocolate Chips (Gluten and Dairy Free!)
These pancakes are simple and yummy–even when they’re sort-of burned. Leave the chocolate chips out if you want a plain pancake, or add blueberries instead (that’s the way Joey likes them). In a pinch, they can be made with a premixed bag of gluten free flour blend that already contains xanthan gum and measures cup for cup (like Bob’s Red Mill or Arrowhead Mills), but the finished product will be a little thinner and turn out crepe-like pancakes instead of these fluffy beauties. Bonus? These are dairy free too.
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt* (use 3 teaspoons kosher salt when using coconut oil)
2 1/2 cups unsweetened original flax milk (or rice milk, almond milk, or other dairy alternative–or just plain dairy milk)
3/4 cup melted vegan buttery sticks, such as Earth Balance (or refined coconut oil*, melted, or other neutral tasting oil)
1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 Tablespoon white vinegar
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips, optional
Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together in a large bowl. Then, in a separate bowl, whisk together the non-dairy milk, eggs, and vanilla, then pour the mixture into the dry ingredients and mix well. Next, drizzle the melted vegan buttery sticks (or other liquid oil) into the batter, whisking as you go. (If you use coconut oil, be careful to add it slowly and whisk constantly to help keep it from hardening when it hits the batter.) Dump in the chocolate chips and give it one more good stir.
Over medium high heat, warm up a griddle and spray with coconut oil cooking spray. Scoop about 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.