Worry whispers half-truths everywhere: on the evening news; at the doctor’s office; in the scroll of idle hands—you’re not safe, it says, subtly feeding the feeling that worry is warranted.
Do you hear it? I’m sure you do–especially now with “the virus,” as the Goobies call it at our house. You head out the door to go fix broken bones even as the bones of our nation are bending under the weight of responsibility, beneath the cost of the consequences if we all don’t collectively get serious about staying safe. The perilous state of politics hovers in that place too, and so much uncertainty hangs heavy in the world.
“Those who feel free to eat anything must not look down on those who don’t. And those who don’t eat certain foods must not condemn those who do, for God has accepted them.”
Romans 14:3 (NLT)
“Mommy–when I get big and outgrow my allergies, I want to have Goldfish because they are yummy.”
The Goobies sat eating breakfast while I packed lunchboxes before school. Bags of Goldfish sat on the counter. Emery watched me tuck them into his sisters’ lunches, just like every day. His comment didn’t surprise me: I can’t blame him for wanting to eat them someday too. He thinks all the other kids eat them all the time, and he feels left out.
“You know, I hardly ever ate Goldfish crackers when I was a kid. I didn’t really like them much” I tell him casually, hoping to downplay the appeal of the common childhood snack.
None of the Goobies believed me even though every word was true.
“Let’s make our own dairy free version today!” I said, trying to redirect Emery’s attention.
“We can do that?” Emery asked, puzzled. Intrigued.
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 him off with waves and smiles from happy kids, then wrapped her arms around her them after he had gone and suggested 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.
I didn’t make cheeseburgers like Sally did, but I did make Chex Mix. And corn dogs. And I served dinner on a festive table with candy corn strewn this way and that in an attempt to bring fun into what could have been a bummer of an evening, if I had let it. In the days leading up to Halloween, all I could see was my own disappointment over the past few years. Until then it didn’t occur to me how disappointed you must have been. You were the one having to do hard things instead of traipsing through the neighborhood asking for candy with the kids. Dealing with death, suffering through illness, and working late into the night are not the same as skipping out on your family. You were forced to spend another evening missing out on all the fun. My moping around and holding a grudge wouldn’t make any of it easier on you; if anything, it made it more difficult–and not only for you, but for all of us.
We missed you, of course, but we had fun anyway. Friends came over and my folks skipped choir and we all 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 Chex Mix (Gluten and Dairy Free Style)
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. 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.
4 1/2 cups rice Chex cereal
4 1/2 cups corn Chex cereal
2 cups gluten free pretzels (such as Trader Joe’s or Snyder’s)
1 cup almonds, or mixed nuts (or omit altogether if your family is allergic to them. No big deal!)
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.
3 “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
4 “You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
5 “You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.
6 “You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.
7 “You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.
8 “You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.”
Matthew 5: 3-8 (MSG)
I remember that night well: I was all alone in that quirky old house on 12th street. My roommates were off doing other things with other people, leaving a rare quiet in the middle of that little house that typically served as the after-work gathering spot. When I got home that evening, I sank into that velvety red couch and inhaled deeply as I took in the quiet. There were five of us living there at the time, and moments like this didn’t happen much. The house was hushed, as if it were holding its breath waiting to see what I would do to fill the void. It got its answer before long: I picked up my phone and sent you a text almost without thinking, as if dinner with you was the obvious choice for how to spend my time.
This did not surprise me until the moment after I hit the send button. No one cajoled me into meeting up with you, dared me to take a risk, or hounded me to just give you a chance. Those days were long gone by then; everyone (including you) had let the idea of you and me together drift away about a year before this particular night. And yet there I was, asking if you wanted to meet up and grab dinner with me. A moment or two later, another surprise: you said yes.
We ended up at My Thai, an unassuming local spot tucked in the corner of an otherwise forgettable strip mall in the northern part of Fremont. I knew two things about this restaurant before we went there that night: one, their food was supposed to be fantastic; and two, they took pictures of customers who survived eating the spiciest of their fare and posted it on the Wall of Flame, a challenge you feverishly embraced.
We ordered a slew of curries, mine fairly mild and yours the hottest of the hot, and lavished it over mounds and mounds of rice. The molten exotic goodness was a revelation to me, and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. I hadn’t liked Thai food before that night, and really, I can’t think why I suggested the place at all. But there we were, being adventurous together, trying new things and laughing our way through the evening. By the time we finished, you had earned your place on the Wall of Flame and in my heart.
I didn’t tell you that, of course–not yet, at least. I had to sit with those feelings for awhile, marinating in them until my mind caught up with my heart, which had already turned tender toward you. I didn’t understand what was happening at the time, and its taken until this moment to see the pattern that had to happen in order for the sinewy strings of my heart to be softened, and I found the answer in the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus talks with his disciples about what it means to be blessed.
In those verses, I see a process of transformation: for everything lost, something else is found. Change occurs as blow builds upon blow to ultimately bestow blessing upon blessing. I went through that process of transformation, beginning at the outset of adulthood with hurt and isolation, having lost so many of the things and people in which I had come to find my identity. My losses put me on a path toward contentment with who I am, as I am. In the process, I grew desperate for God’s love, and I learned He was all that could really satisfy. Once my heart was fully His, that’s when it began to soften and my inside world settled into a new rhythm of peace. My mind eventually caught up with my heart and once they began working in tandem, that’s when I started to see what God was doing in me and in you. You went through the same process, albeit at a different pace than I did, but eventually, finally, we both made it to the place where we could really see what God was doing outside of ourselves and inside of each other.
We live far across the hills from that little strip mall now, in a time and place very different from those first few moments we flirted with the idea of us. My Thai has long since closed, sadly, but your picture hung alongside your comrades on the Wall of Flame until the day the restaurant closed its doors. I’ll remember that modest little place fondly forever though, because it opened my world up to taking chances, enjoying unfamiliar things, savoring things I thought I didn’t like in the first place. It is where you became mine, after all (even though it still took some time for me to admit that to you).
P.S. – My favorite part of that story is what you didn’t tell me until well after we were married: that you were sitting in a dark theater, already in the middle of that Steve Carell remake of Get Smart when you got my message. Without hesitation, you got up and left mid-movie to come have dinner with me instead. I love that.
Thai-Inspired Green Curry with Pork and Snow Peas
This recipe is inspired by my memories of the night Joey and I first enjoyed Thai food together. Clearly, we can’t really flit off to dinner at our favorite local spots on a whim these days, but this recipe satisfies our cravings for spicy, adventurous flavors–and it just happens to be one of the easiest recipes in my rotation (bonus that it’s gluten free and dairy free, too!). If you like the coconut-laden flavors of Thai curries, this is an easy way to make it at home without all the fuss of an exhaustive list of exotic-sounding ingredients. The ingredients are flexible: use chicken if you don’t really like pork. Ground turkey would be delicious as well. Hold the cilantro or pile it on. Amp up the spice or not. Serve with more lime wedges or forget it. It doesn’t really matter–do it how you like it best. Joey and I like to serve it over riced cauliflower, but of course regular old rice will do. I have made this in the crock pot as well, and it does work, but I think the flavors are better when made on the stove. To make it in the crock pot, stir together the coconut milk, curry paste, lime juice, basil and red pepper; then toss uncooked sliced meat into the crock pot and pour the coconut slurry on top. Cook on low for 4-6 hours (adding snow peas during the final hour or so), or high for 3-4 hours (adding the snow peas the final 30 minutes or so).
2 pounds pork (such as a sirloin roast), cut into 1″ strips
1 – 9 oz. bag snow peas, ends snipped and cut into 1″ pieces
2-15 oz cans coconut milk (I prefer to use full fat, but reduced fat works fine as well. The end result won’t be quite as rich and creamy, but the flavor will still be fantastic).
1-4 oz jar green curry paste (Thai Kitchen is the best)
1/3 cup lime juice
2 Tablespoons unrefined coconut oil
1 1/2 Tablespoons fresh basil, chopped (or substitute Thai basil if you have it, which I usually don’t. Regular basil from my garden works just fine.)
1/2 teaspoon dried red chili flakes
First, prep the pork by trimming off any excessive fat and slicing it into strips, about 1/2 ” x 2″ or so. Season with kosher salt. Next, set a large pan over high heat and plunk two tablespoons of coconut oil into the bottom. Once it’s melted and the pan is hot, brown the strips of pork, separating them into two batches so they brown (and don’t steam). Once the first batch has browned, remove it from the pan and start the next batch. Add the reserved browned pork back to the pan and turn it down to medium heat.
Meanwhile, stir together the coconut milk, lime juice and green curry paste. Pour the slurry into the hot pan and give it a good stir. Add in the red pepper flakes and chopped basil, stir again and cover. Simmer for about 20 minutes, then add the trimmed snow peas and cover again. Continue to simmer for another 20 minutes, or until the snow peas have softened to your liking. Add a sprinkle more kosher salt if the flavor seems a little flat (in other words, adjust seasoning to your taste.) Serve with cauliflower rice or regular rice and top with a squeeze of lime, sprinkle of more red chili flakes, and a garnish of cilantro (if you like).
I know you have never contemplated a pan of rice cooking, and the miracle that takes place as those little grains simmer in the scalding hot water, expanding ever so slightly over until they become something else entirely.
I can’t blame you. Neither did I, really. In fact, I hardly even noticed rice until the past few years when I began cooking it more often since it’s, well, affordable. To me, rice was always boring, and far too lack luster to really summon up any true excitement over. Even with a good sauce or proper seasoning, it somehow just seemed too plain. Too ordinary to really enjoy.
I have learned the value of rice over the years, and I continue to play around with it because I understand its potential now. Perhaps on its own it isn’t much, but given the right environment, with a little time, care, and attention, it can (and does) transform from something forgettable into something memorable.
Like Baked Brown Rice Pilaf – the rice that I have made countless times this year. The rice that has forever made me think of rice as a true miracle food. Not only is it really quite good (why else would I have made it so often?), but it reminds me of the miracles we pray for, wait for, and even sometimes lose sight of until God reveals His finished work.
First, melted butter. It reminds me that we often feel like we collapse, unable to withstand the heat that we suddenly feel surrounding us. We survive, but we are changed – never to go back to what we were before.
Next, the aromatics and the seasonings – things and people that surround us, join us, add to our lives (for better or worse) as we wait to see what God is doing. The outcome would not be the same without them.
Then, the rice. The grains sizzle and pop as they brown. Things are getting uncomfortable, and we cannot see how this will ever make us better, or how things will ever come to an end. We may even forget that a miracle is possible.
Finally, the water. It swirls all around us, knocking us off our feet until we find ourselves submerged, somewhat at a loss for what to do next.
But nothing can really happen until we let the heat change us. The lid goes on and into the oven we go, for a good long while, and behind the scenes a miracle is happening. Sometimes we’re the only ones who can see what’s happening, and sometimes we forget the truth of what is happening to us, focusing only on our current circumstances and losing sight of the hope for what is waiting on the other end.
But then, when it’s time, it’s over. Out of the oven, the lid comes off, and the miracle is revealed.
So often everyday miracles involve the transforming power found in circumstances that are uncomfortable. The heat. The time. Feeling like we’re drowning and not knowing if we’ll make it to the other side of things in tact. When I make this rice, I remember that whatever hard thing I’m going through has a purpose. And when I wonder if I’ll come out of the heat in tact, I remember this: I will be changed for the better.
Baked Brown Rice Pilaf (GF/DF option/NF)
Inspired by this Simple Bites recipe, this version uses short grain brown rice (or a brown rice/wild rice medley) along with celery salt, parsley and a bay leaf, seasonings that are somewhat versatile and pair well with many other flavors. This method doesn’t take much more time or effort than regular boiled rice, but it yields a side dish that is packed with flavor. It has become a go-to recipe in my house, which is a major surprise to me – a fairly reluctant rice eater. UPDATE: I use Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks instead of butter now, since dairy joined the list of allergens in our house when Emery arrived. If dairy is a problem for your family too, try using Earth Balance or grapeseed oil (or even additional olive oil) in lieu of butter.
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter (or use Earth Balance Vegan Buttery sticks, grapeseed oil or olive oil instead)
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 Tablespoon dry parsley
3/4 teaspoon celery salt
1 bay leaf
2 cups short grain brown rice (or a wild rice medley)
3 1/2 cups water (or chicken broth)
First, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Using a medium dutch oven, melt the butter and olive oil together over medium heat. Once melted, add the onion and cook for about a minute. Add the seasonings and cook for another minute. Next, add the rice and cook for about three minutes, making sure to stir so that rice does not scorch, and is coated well with the oil.
Then, add the water and bring to a boil. Once it does, give it a good stir, put the lid on the dutch oven, and place in the center of the oven. Bake for 40 minutes.
Take the dutch oven out and let it sit undisturbed for another 10 minutes. Remove the lid, fluff the rice, and serve.