A Gift I Didn’t Appreciate, and Almond Butter and Jelly Bars

Oh, the nostalgia one bite of these bars brings. Peanut butter and jelly are the classic kid food fondly remembered by allergy moms everywhere, isn’t it?

The irony is I didn’t grow up eating either of them.

Well, ok, that’s sort of true. I ate my fair share of plain old peanut butter sandwiches–sometimes speckled with a slice or two of dill pickles (Don’t knock it till you try it) and I greeted most days smearing peanut butter on toast, but PB&J’s were my last resort–a punishment, almost, as that was the only other option for dinner if my brothers and I rejected what was served. My parents bought Goober Jelly — peanut butter and grape jelly all in one convenient jar–once in a while, trying hard to sell PB&J as a fun food. But PB&J’s weren’t my jam. (Pun intended.) I couldn’t stand the combination.

It wasn’t until late high school I started really enjoying them. What changed? Who knows. My taste buds, perhaps. Or it could have been my vegetarian friend who seemingly only ever ate PB&J’s or macaroni and cheese. I ate them with boysenberry jam a time or two at her house and suddenly they seemed far cooler than Goober jelly ever made them seem. Go figure.

After that, peanut butter and blackberry jam was my favorite until I was a young mom pinching pennies and buying industrial sized jars of strawberry jam at Costco. My oldest daughter spent her toddler years eating many PB&J’s with me–until Mia came along and everything changed. Peanuts and gluten went on the naughty list and PB&J’s were a gift I didn’t appreciate until our go-to lunch together became a memory. We switched to Sunflower Butter, which neither of the girls really liked, until EJ joined the brood. At that point we switched almost exclusively to almond butter and we were thankful for that one safe nut.

We’re in a season of more transition around here these days. Mia and EJ are both on track to challenge peanuts in the not-so-far future, and I feel like allergy life as we know it is changing. PB&J’s might be back on rotation in the next couple years. Other things are changing too–Addie is wrapping up Elementary school and Mia isn’t far behind her. EJ goes to school full time and I’m still adjusting to a quiet house during the day. I’m feeling so much better–physically, mentally, emotionally–and I see my own life changing in positive ways up ahead. It’s all flying by, and I’m not ok. Looking at pictures of the kids when they were super little makes me cry because I desperately miss those hard, slow days, but I’m also glad they’re over. They were complicated and hard and exhausting. But I’m not there anymore. I’m in-between, and so are the kids. It’s weird.

I’ve been spending time revisiting the earliest years of mothering lately, reminding myself what it felt like to be a young mom who knew nothing about food allergies and had to learn on the fly while dealing with the domino effect of new diagnoses. It was a lot. I found myself longing for a few precious moments with my firstborn little girl during pre-food allergy life. Sharing a simple PB&J on whole wheat bread with my sweet little Addie is something I’m only thankful for in hindsight.

But the mom I am now knows ways to satisfy that craving using ingredients the younger mom wouldn’t have known even existed, let alone known how to use. Ready to prove how far I’ve come–if only to myself– I set out to make a soft and somewhat chewy snack bar that mimicked the flavors of the nostalgic PB&J to remember where we came from and celebrate where we are now.

And the best part? Addie loves them. Mia couldn’t care less about them, but there’s something about this little snack bar that makes Addie swoon, and I think it’s because it reminds her of a simpler time when food was simple and satisfying, not complicated or worrisome, back when she got my undivided attention.

Making peace with our stories is a process of silent long-suffering. Sometimes she suffering is loud too, to be honest. Crying tears of fear and frustration come naturally when what you know and count on gets snatched out of your hands without warning. Of course you miss what you knew. Breaking up is hard to do. Nobody understands the heartache until they walk through it themselves.

The good news is we wake up one day and realize we’re still ok, don’t we? We meet new things that help heal the wounds. Our hurt scabs over and scars perhaps, but we survive. You will survive. Your non-food allergic kids will too. And you might all even be better for it, in the end.

Almond Butter and Jelly Bars prove that to me.

Maybe these bars won’t prove it to you, and that’s ok. Something will. Someday you’ll be so confident with cooking differently that you will surprise yourself with how far you’ve come. You will certainly marvel at all the other glorious food options out there ready and willing to bend to your every whim. You’ll celebrate food differently, and that’s valuable in so many ways. And you’ll find new ways to connect with your most favorite people.

Oh, the joy one bite of these bars brings for so many different, delicious reasons.


A Reason to Celebrate, and Sweet & Smoky Chicken Skewers

Good grief I’m tired. Summer can’t come soon enough.

It’s weird to say that because last summer stretched on forever, and when it was finally over I swore up and down I never wanted the hot, sticky season to come again. Summer is supposed to be slow, but it was more sluggish than a snail last year. The lack of momentum made it feel static, not serene. And that was tiring. I feel like I only just started recovering from it, yet here I am ready for another one? It’s a strange tension.

Today I’m tired in a different sort of way–the best sort of way. The weekend swept me up in a swirl of food and family and fun, and the whirlwind wore me out. I fell asleep on the couch last night recovering. Remembering, too: the smile on Mia’s face as she turned nine. The way she laughed and played and drank it all in–the swimming, the silly jokes, the small cans of Dr. Pepper that are special treat indeed. It almost didn’t matter what I served; the people surrounding her made it the most special, especially after last year’s lockdown.

Her birthday last year was different. We celebrated, but separately. Reality got skewed and our circle got smaller and eventually summer stretched on for days on end. We grilled our way through the long, hot months, trying to enjoy the low pressure days, but secretly stressed out with waiting and wondering what would happen next. This recipe was born out of the lonesome days of lockdown, a time when life was slow and sweet in its own way, even though the world seemed to burn around us.

The days at home were good, but the strife outside our doors made it hard to guess what would come next. This recipe for sweet & smoky chicken reminds me of those days. It gave me hope for a day when we would fill our table with family and friends again–and that day came right along with Mia’s birthday. They remind me of last year when we couldn’t share meals together like this–and why it’s so important we do so again.

A shared meal is never just about the food: it is always about fellowship with the faces that share the food with us. It’s about acknowledging our need for fuel and friendship at the same time; it’s about feeding people’s stomachs and souls by giving them a reason to slow down and savor. Food is so much more meaningful when it’s shared.

And so, as a new summer knocks on our doors and asks to stay for awhile, let’s invite it in with open arms–and along with it, let’s welcome each other again. Let’s find a reason to celebrate and gather around tables together, laughing alongside each other as we pass platters filled to the brim with good things. Let’s feed each other with the sort of welcome that says “I’m so glad you’re here.”

Let’s remember the way it was for awhile and be grateful it wasn’t forever, because eating together is something sacred indeed.


Empty and Imperfect, and Easy AIP Pie Crust

This crust.

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.


Ruin, Redemption, and Basic Bone Broth

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.


Panic’s Empty Promise and Learning to Choose Joy

Dear Joey,

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.

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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.

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Acceptance and Cheeze Chompers

“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)

Dear Joey,

“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.

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“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.

“Of course we can.”

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Adapting Amid Disappointment, and (Allergy Friendly) Classic Party Mix

Dear Joey,

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Love,
Scratch

Classic Party Mix (GF/DF/NF option)

IMG_3844In 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.

Ingredients:
  • 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!)
  • 7 Tablespoons Soy Free Earth Balance (or other vegan buttery spread), melted
  • 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
Method:

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.)

IMG_3853This is what a double batch looks like, about 24 cups worth. A single batch (as written above) yields about 12 cups.


The Night I Asked You Out, and My Thai-Inspired Green Curry with Pork and Snow Peas

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule. 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. 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. 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. You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for. 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

Dear Joey,

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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).

Ingredients:

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 our favorite!)

1/3 cup lime juice

3 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. Also, 1/2 teaspoon dry basil works in a pinch.)

1/2 teaspoon minced garlic

1/2 teaspoon dried red chili flakes

kosher salt

Method:

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 a tablespoon 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, adding an additional tablespoon to the pan. Once that is browned, remove it from the pan as well. Turn the heat down to medium. Add one final tablespoon of coconut oil to the pan along with the minced garlic, curry paste, chili flakes and basil; stir until fragrant. Return the browned pork back to the pan.

Add the coconut milk and lime juice and give it a good stir. Bring to a simmer, cover, and let cook for 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).


Everyday Miracles, Being Changed, and Baked Brown Rice Pilaf

Dear Joey,

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

This naturally gluten and dairy free easy rice pilaf 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 is a go-to recipe in my house, which is a major surprise to me – a fairly reluctant rice eater.  When I first started making it, it contained butter (as described in the story above), but I have since switched to just olive oil to make it naturally dairy free and Emery-friendly. If you choose to use butter, make sure to melt it along with 1 teaspoon of olive oil.

Ingredients:

2 Tablespoons olive oil
1/2 of a medium onion, diced (sprinkled with 1/4 teaspoon baking soda)
2 teaspoons minced garlic

1 Tablespoon dry parsley
1 teaspoon salt
1 bay leaf
2 cups short grain brown rice (or short grain white rice)
3 1/2 cups chicken broth (or water)

1 teaspoon red wine vinegar

Method:

First, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Using a Dutch oven, warm up the olive oil over medium heat. Once it is shimmering, add the diced onions and cook for about a minute. Add the garlic and stir while you cook for another minute. Then add the salt and parsley. Stir, then 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.

Next, stir in the chicken broth and vinegar, then bring to a boil. When the liquid starts to bubble, give it a good stir, toss in the bay leaf, and put the lid on the Dutch oven. Bake in the center of the oven (40 minutes for brown rice; 25 minutes for white rice).

Take the pot out and let it sit undisturbed for another 10 minutes. Remove the lid, fluff the rice, and serve.