It’s no secret food is my love language. Food speaks to me louder than almost anything. I gave myself a bad time about this for years. “What’s wrong with you?” I’d ask, shaming myself for the embarrassing amount of time I caught myself dreaming about food.
Cooking went from comforting to cruel when gluten turned against me, and I shamed myself again for grieving the loss of something so trivial. It’s just food, Rach. Get over it, I’d say. But I couldn’t just get over it, and if you are reading this today I imagine you couldn’t just get over it either when your food life flipped upside down.
Here’s what I learned: it’s 100% totally fine to be upset when we lose things we love. Grief is part of the healing process. To deny ourselves the time and space to feel the emotions that come along with loss robs us of the opportunity to make peace with what we have left. I was sad I lost gluten. Sad again when I lost peanuts and pine nuts and pea protein and cashews, then pistachios and eggs and dairy and sunflower seeds and egg and shrimp. Things went from hard to harder until life felt miserably unfair, and I shouted at the heavens asking, “Are you kidding me?”
Deciding these foods were off-limits was easy; making peace with their absence was hard. Some eventually came back (hallelujah and hello eggs!), but I felt funny about mourning the loss of all the others. Keeping them away kept our bodies safer, but my heart was still broken. I got angry that my love for food and comfort in the kitchen didn’t prepare me for any of this.
I woke up one day wondering if my sadness would seep into the kids’ skin, irreversibly embittering their hearts toward the goodness and beauty of the gift God gave us in food. I don’t wonder about that anymore: those kids love food like I do–perhaps more so, in some ways. Emery says he wants to open an allergy friendly restaurant where anyone can find something safe to eat, and Mia wants to develop allergy friendly recipes and share them on a cooking show of her own. The kitchen became their favorite place to spend time because food speaks to their hearts too.
These Chocolate Sticky Buns called their name before they called mine. And instead of hearing an enemy to fear, they heard a question to answer: “Mom!” the Goobies called from the other room where they were watching an episode of Cook’s Country. “How can we make those?” they asked, pointing to a pan of pastries smothered in dark, decadent chocolate sauce. “Easy,” I said, confident that by now I could manage to pull off a gluten free / dairy free version of the original. Their eyes lit up and they started the episode all over again, this time Mia writing down every ingredient, every tool, every step in the process before asking, “When can we try?”
Saturday was the designated day I never saw coming. Eight years ago, rolling dough out with my daughter was a dream I couldn’t see coming true. Watching it rise, rolling it out then rolling it back up again was as far-fetched an idea as walking on the moon. But it happened.
I berated me for loving food too much at first, then I beat myself up for not knowing enough about it later. Little did I know both those things would help me define a kitchen culture that celebrates safe food and embraces trial and error as the most essential tool in my arsenal. Although sadness still ebbs and flows in all of us, celebration and adventure are foundations upon which we stand when we give new things a try.
And I’m so grateful to be here, because this is the place we heard chocolate sticky buns calling.
Everyone is bored with breakfast these days. I’m not sure what it is–the monotony, the lack of urgency to get out the door, the repetition that renders it boring? The promise of a full belly holds no sway over the Goobies these days. Lucky Charms doesn’t even seem to tempt them to the table. Breakfast in isolation robs us of our appetite, it seems. Morning meals still happen, sluggish as they are now, but none of us are particularly fond of the mopey feet and grumbling tummies that bring us to the table.
Reality met us there every morning, and no one was particularly fond of the unwanted guest.
You might want to ditch calling me Scratch and swap it for a name like Resourceful Rachel instead with all the re-purposing I am doing in the kitchen. We are using up leftovers like crazy, waste not, want not and all. I feel just like Aunt Daisy.
You’ve heard me tell the stories about Aunt Daisy, right?
You were on call this morning, so you were at the hospital before the sun woke up. And I’m so sorry you missed it: a miraculous combination of cooperation and quiet that yielded me a chance to try out a new recipe. After stumbling downstairs with three hungry Goobies in tow; after digging through the freezer to find something other than cereal and bananas to feed their empty bellies; after settling on a combination of sliced strawberries, frozen waffles and hash browns (and letting them each choose whatever they wanted), they were full and happy and ventured off on their own to unleash their creativity before the sun was all the way up. There wasn’t any squabbling or pestering, either–just the happy sounds of happy kids. In the quiet, I was faced with a dilemma: sit and drink my coffee in peace, or take the opportunity to make a batch of muffins?
Yesterday was the fourth day in a row I sent you out the door with a shake so dreamy it might as well be dessert. When you got home from work after the first time I made it, you handed me your empty cup and said with a smirk, “That shake this morning was good, Rach. It tasted like peanut butter. I know it’s not peanut butter, but it was good like peanut butter. What was it, like almond butter or something?”
You know you make my heart swell ten times its normal size when you say things like that, don’t you? I dreamed up that shake on the fly over a month ago when I took myself off of all grains and dairy, before either of us took the plunge into the more restrictive versions of Paleo in which we currently find ourselves–the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) for me, and Whole30(ish) for you. I came up with it on a whim on a rushed Sunday morning when I had to leave for church 15 minutes ago and clearly didn’t have time to fry up some eggs or sit down to a bowl of grain-free granola. I needed something quicker than quick and satisfying enough to tide me over until well after church, and somehow coconut milk and frozen bananas joined forces with almond butter and honey to create a luscious meal-on-the-go that tasted more like dessert than breakfast.
Over the course of the next month I pressed on with my grain free/dairy free diet, but it got complicated to feed us both, and I really wanted to go deeper and do a gut-healing diet that would yield longer lasting results. I knew you would be on board for whatever diet plan I chose to follow for my own process of healing, but getting you to join me me was another obstacle entirely. When you agreed to do your own, less restrictive version of Paleo while I did the ultra-restrictive AIP, I about keeled over with thankfulness. A day or two would pass, I would press you and ask, “Really? You don’t mind? You don’t have to do this, you know…” Bless your heart for saying over and over again, “Solidarity.”
So this past Monday was the first of a long series of mornings in which I had a very crucial choice to make: send you to work on an empty stomach (trusting you would make compliant food choices on your own), or break Whole30 rules from the get-go and make you a shake for breakfast. Let’s be clear: I trust you. The problem is this: you lean on those morning meals and when you are hungry and confronted with temptation, you eat donuts. Shake, or donuts? Shake, or donuts? You see why I chose to break this rule?
You play it cool but I am sure you panicked, wondering how I would hold up my promise to feed you well every day for the next month without all those already healthy foods you were so used to leaning on. Most specifically, maybe, you wondered about what would become of your morning shake, or to the rhythm of my footsteps padding toward the kitchen to make one while Emery sprints toward your lap for cover while the blender wakes the rest of the Goobies from their sleep. You seemed a little relieved when I asked you what flavor you would like that morning, but admittedly seemed a little confused by the ingredients that were strewn across the counter: cans of coconut milk, a jar of integral collagen and almond butter, bags of maca powder and frozen bananas, a jug of MCT Oil–the place looked like a veritable laboratory. But you didn’t utter a word of worry and graciously accepted the amalgamation that I handed you that morning (that did not include honey, mind you). Luckily, my prior discovery of that particular concoction saved the day and you’ve asked for it four mornings in a row.
Every time I handed it to you this week I feel like such a cheat. Technically, shakes aren’t really allowed on the Whole30 (which is why I tend to refer to what you are doing as Whole30(ish)), but it just didn’t seem feasible or sustainable for you to get up even earlier than you already do to sit down to a breakfast of eggs and fruit. Fruit and coconut milk whirled together for a quick breakfast on the go does not bother me, and our purpose in eating this way isn’t to change up your morning routine, so I made an executive decision to just make the shake for you anyway and turn myself into a miserable rule breaker.
Everything else you’re eating is compliant–meaning, you are drinking your coffee black (or with unsweetened almond milk); you are avoiding alcohol, you have cut out all sweeteners (even stevia), and you are not eating grains, legumes, or dairy. In other words, you are eating what’s left: vegetables, fruits, proteins, nuts/seeds. Big picture: you’re rocking it. (And for the past three mornings, you have woken up saying, “Man, I slept well last night.” That’s new.) We are mature enough to make decisions about what we eat, are we not? If we work well within the limits of whole, real, fresh, organic, unsweetened, unprocessed, etc.–won’t we all win? If a shake in the morning helps us do it, I say break out the blender and put it to good use.
Today is Day 5 and I was happy to send you off into your day armed again with food that will make you feel good about life. A shake in one hand and a bag heavy with mixed greens with salmon and capers, unsweetened dried apricots, and raw almonds in the other, you left for work sipping that creamy concoction that forever will be dubbed, Joey’s Favorite. (I love that it’s your favorite.)
Joey’s Favorite Almond Butter and Banana Shake
If it bothers anyone to call this a Whole30 shake, then don’t call it that: but it is a Paleo one (and vegan, to boot). If you’re doing the Whole30, skip the honey (you will find you don’t really need it anyway if your banana is super ripe). This shake is not compliant with the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) that I’m doing at the moment, but I’m very much looking forward to adding it back into my own personal rotation of morning eats.
1 cup full fat coconut milk (not coconut beverage) or 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
1 large frozen banana (broken into about four small pieces)
2 Tablespoons unsweetened almond butter
1 Tablespoon maca powder
1 scoop integral collagen (or collagen peptides)
1 teaspoon MCT oil (omit if using coconut milk)
1-2 teaspoons honey (optional)
First get out your high speed blender, bonus if you have a single serving shake cup. Pour the milk into the cup (or pitcher of your blender), add all other ingredients, and process until smooth. The mixture will be thick. We prefer our shakes this way, but if it’s too thick for you just add a little more almond milk (if using), or some water and process again to combine.
“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.
You may have noticed I made a Roasted Sweet Potato and Sausage Casserole a couple times in the past several weeks. I have my reasons for so much repetition, of course, and bless your heart–you never seemed to mind when your question of “What’s for dinner?” was met with “Well, there’s more of that sweet potato-sausage-spinach-egg thing in the fridge …” Nights like those don’t bother you at all as long as you can slather warmed up leftovers with your beloved Green Dragon sauce, which is part of the reason I toss a bottle into the cart at my weekly trip to Trader Joe’s even if we still have a full bottle at home. There’s no such thing as having too much of that stuff.
In your defense, sometimes hot sauce–Green Dragon in particular–saves the day when my kitchen experiments don’t go very well. It launches otherwise forgettable food into the realm of fun food for you, so clearly having bottles stashed every which where in the kitchen bodes well for me, especially since my experiments usually progress like this: disaster, mediocre, pretty good, keeper. (It’s true–I tend to make the same recipe over and over and over again until I get it just right. I don’t know why I can’t just leave well enough alone.)
Ok so fine–this means I sometimes run a recipe into the ground, making it so many times that eventually the kids feign a still-full stomach from lunch or an upset tummy to avoid having to eat it for dinner–again. It’s a compulsion, I guess: tinkering with recipes until I find it, that secret something that launches a recipe’s status from meh to it’s a keeper.
In my defense, I don’t do this to all the recipes. It usually happens when I try a new one and I either 1) despise the finished product, even while still believing in the idea of it, or 2) love the recipe so much that I want it to be perfect. Either way, I end up fussing over the thing ad nauseum–sort of like how you get excited when you come home to a clean house and immediately start wiping down the counters again after I already scoured the darn things. I used to get offended when you did this because I really thought you were telling me “You suck at cleaning. I better come in and do the job right.” I was mistaken. You’re a clean freak, yes– but not a judgemental one. You take what I’ve done and take it a step farther, tinkering with it a bit until it meets your own unique set of expectations. In the same way, when I tinker with a recipe, it’s not because I think its a bad recipe. On the contrary, I tinker because I care. I tinker because I think the recipe has merit, promise–a future in our family’s recipe rotation.
To those concerned, rest assured I get acquainted with each new recipe before I go messing with it too much. I follow the rules at first because you’ve got to know the rules before you can get away with breaking them. And so, when a new recipe comes my way, I let it lead, and where it goes, I follow. As soon as I’ve gained its trust, that’s when the recipe starts confiding in me, whispering about how it always wished it could have just a pinch more salt or another drop of vanilla, or how it never liked ground ginger anyway and would much prefer the real thing, thank you very much.
Remember that sweet potato-sausage-spinach-egg thing I talked about earlier? It is an example of taking a really solid recipe and making it my own, launching it from already really good to a definite keeper. The first time I made it, I liked it a lot–so much, in fact, that I couldn’t imagine being more satisfied with the finished product. The second time I made it, I started tinkering. I rounded the measurements of sausage and sweet potato out of laziness, really, and I started to wonder what would happen if I used an even dozen eggs instead of the 10 it called for. As I cracked the tenth egg into the bowl, the other two eggs in the carton just looked lonely, staring at me with sad eyes that seemed to say, “What about us?” I didn’t have a good reason to leave them out of the fun, so I caved and let them join the party. So I sprinkled a little more salt and stirred them up, making the eggs mingle and dance as the whisk did its job.
And so, my own version of this very delicious in its own right recipe was born. It’s a keeper around here, one that halts Emery in the midst of his morning outside playtime, one that he actually cheers for (“Yay! Yay! Yay!“) while he’s waiting for me to fill his bowl with another helping. The spinach didn’t even deter the kid. True: this recipe didn’t need tinkering in the first place, but it established this breakfast casserole as a staple in our home. And that, of course, is the whole point of tinkering anyway.
Roasted Sweet Potato and Sausage Breakfast Casserole
(I credit Juli at PaleOMG for this recipe and honestly–the original version is perfect as is. I just can’t help but tinker.)
I made this recipe the first time I hosted an If: Table at my house, and I was a little nervous about it because I don’t usually make a new recipe for the first time the day I intend to serve it to other people. But the ladies around my table that morning assured me it was delicious, and Lisa has even asked for the recipe. I take that as a compliment, of course–but alas, I can’t be credited with the original idea. I love this recipe for so many reasons, but the main reason is: it is naturally gluten and dairy free and it is delicious. This is a big deal, people! Especially when you want to make something the food allergy people in your life can actually eat. So Lisa, this one is for you, and Michelle–you too, and all the other ladies who have yet to join our conversation. Because If: Tables can happen around breakfast tables, and because yummy allergy friendly foods exist, and because making food for food allergy friends shouldn’t be make you sweat.
1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1″ pieces
1 pound breakfast sausage
1/2 cup yellow onion, diced
12 large eggs
2 cups fresh spinach leaves, roughly chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt (+ more to taste)
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
coconut oil, melted (or other fat of your choice)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease a 9 x 13 glass baking pan and set aside.
Toss the peeled and chopped sweet potatoes with the melted coconut oil, sprinkle with salt, and toss to coat. Spread the sweet potatoes into an even layer on a cookie sheet and pop them into the oven for about 20 minutes. Take them out and set them aside to let them cool a bit.
Meanwhile, cook the onions and breakfast sausage together in a skillet, breaking the sausage up into smallish pieces as you go. Cook until the meat is no longer pink. Remove from heat and spread the mixture in the bottom of your 9 x 13 baking pan, then move on to the eggs.
In a large bowl, whisk the eggs together, then add the salt and garlic powder and stir to combine. Toss in the roasted sweet potatoes and spinach and gently mix them into the eggs. Pour the mixture over the cooked sausage. (In hindsight, of course, I realize you could mix the sausage right in with the eggs and sweet potatoes and sausage–feel free to do so. Tinker.)
Bake the frittata at 400 degrees for 30 minutes, or until the eggs are well set, puffed and golden and perfect.
Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
I piled the Goobies into the car and drove through that windy canyon over to the other side of the hills to take the girls for a visit to their new school. It was a whole month ago now, on a Friday when another storm decided to swoop in and pound California with more rain. This particular visit was a strange combination of serendipity and providence. The Goobies’ were off of school that week, strangely, for Winter Break, and while so many other people (all the people, it felt like) were trading dank gray clouds for sunshine and fresh air, we hunkered down and spent a week cooped up at home for what felt like no reason at all-until that Friday when God used something ordinary to teach me a lesson in obedience and faith.
Like most things lately, I didn’t have such a good attitude about it at first: just thinking about Winter Break and ten days spent inside with three spunky kids teased the last string of my already frayed sanity loose. I normally scoop those Goobies up into my arms as soon as we tumble through the garage door after all those hours spent away from each other, smothering them with kisses and cries of “I’ve missed you all day long!” even as they try in vain to hang up their jackets and backpacks. Imagining ten days of so much togetherness made me want to run and hide myself away until Winter Break had come and gone again.
Winter Break came anyway. The sun decided to poke its head out early that week and blue skies beckoned me to come out of hiding. Fantasies of setting up camp under a blanket in a quiet corner of the house (where hopefully no one would find me) evaporated, and before I knew it those Goobies stole my heart all over again as we spent those few beautiful days just being us, here, together.
Winter break turned out to be a break in Winter, and that strange, out-of-the-ordinary week was a gift I didn’t know I would need: one last beautiful week spent here in our home before change became reality and took up residence with us. It was Valentine’s Day that week, and I decked out the table with bright colored hearts and pink Strawberry Pancakes, and we spent hours outside blowing bubbles and playing red light green light and flying upside down on the swings those Goobies love so much. I said yes as much as I could, and remembered the days before Emery joined our brood, the days when I spent everyday entertaining those girls here at home without the pressure or restraint of schedules. Those days slipped by without me really knowing they could, and I think I’ve had a hard time coming to terms with the fact that they are almost gone. For one lovely week, I got to experience that joy again, and remember.
Friday came and winter came back with it, bringing another pounding rain storm. The week was over and reality set in and I put on my brave face as I piled those three pajama-clad Goobies into the car and drove West, weaving my way through a wet, windy canyon, toward change.
What a feat to pry those kids off the couch and settle them happily in the car before breakfast. None of them really wanted to trade their cozy little spot on the couch for a cold car seat and a long, gloomy drive through that windy, soggy canyon. On a day they could be marathon-watching Goldie and Bear and munching on chocolate chip banana muffins, they somehow managed to hear my voice above the din of Disney Junior and heaved their pajama-clad selves into the car without complaining. They munched on baggies full of dry Trader Joe’s O’s and listened to music and played quietly among themselves without arguing once.
I couldn’t get over the fact that they didn’t complain. They complain in the best of circumstances, but on that particular morning when I forced them into the car without a warm breakfast in their bellies, and raced them toward a new unfamiliar reality, they kept quiet. These kids aren’t shy about letting us know when they feel insecure or frightened, so even though they may have been a little unsure about visiting a new school, they didn’t show any outward sign of concern. They were quiet. Their hearts were quiet. They were sure we were headed somewhere good and safe and they were certain I would get them there in one piece. They knew their job was to simply be still and let me do my job. They had faith in me. They trusted me.
And then it hit me: I was not at peace with getting up and moving because I hadn’t been still and let God do His job. I didn’t really have faith in Him. It started months ago when uncertainty set up camp in my heart as I watched the future fly toward me faster than I thought possible. Instead of running toward it with outstretched hands, I wanted to yell “Duck!” and run away and hide. My feet were firmly set, my heels dug deep in the place I thought God planted us. I felt like a tree, tall and strong enough to endure whatever storm came. But last Fall, I realized just how weak I was. The mere idea of change–of losing this place and the life we’ve built up around it–undid me. I wasn’t seeing what I hoped for, really, and what I was certain about was everything I wanted was being taken away from me.
Winter brought sadness, and I didn’t think peace or hope could ever really return. I took cover in the safety of familiar things I could count on–like God, and His goodness and love; and in you and this time we have with these kids, here, now. I clung to joy and pleaded for peace because change is scary and I was afraid. The new year came, just as it always does, and the soil of certainty turned soggy when the sky opened up and new things began pouring down. Your Midwestern roots keep you calm when thunder rattles the windows, me. The grumbling clouds unnerve me even while while their sad song is a symphony to your heart.
Winter brings death, and Spring brings life. I know this very well, of course. Doesn’t everyone? But in the middle of Winter, everything seemed so dank, gray, and just so… final–even here in California where Winter just means cooler weather and leaf-bare trees outstretching their bony fingers toward barren gray skies, as if praying, and the hope of Spring seemed impossible.
This all lasted until that last Friday of Winter Break, when everything suddenly came into focus as my own children showed me what pure trust looks like as they let me lead them away from comfort and into the unknown. They didn’t really want to get up and go–but they trusted that something really, really good (like fluffy scrambled eggs and wind-up robots, and a visit to see a new school where they could see their Papa’s office from the playground) was on the other side of the journey, and they put their faith in action by getting into the car and letting me drive. That’s what God is asking of me: to listen to his voice, to get up and go, and to trust Him to get me there safely.
Now, a whole month later, Spring is here. Blossoms appeared on the gnarled old apple tree this morning, suddenly, and the changes I saw coming so many months ago are very much here now. A big beautiful demonstration of new life stares me in the face, and I can’t help but see hope.
My feet are not firmly set anymore; they are loosening and small steps are leading to bigger ones as I walk in obedience and faith. And so, transition is taking up space all around us. The bare walls look like closed eyes now, as if the house has fallen asleep. I tiptoe through the hallway trying not to disturb it, and its echo reminds me that this place is ours only for a few more weeks, really.
Every day another box gets packed and another piece of furniture disappears and the Goobies wake up to a house that looks increasingly less familiar and they ask, “Why does our house look so different, Mama?” I wipe my eyes and smile through the tears, reminding them again and again we are getting ready for the big adventure God is taking us on- because in the end, isn’t that what this is? Most of the time they squeal with delight, but every once in awhile their tears come, too. “Will I get to take my bed with me? What about the swing set? Are you and daddy going to come with us? Will we ever come back to visit this house?”
Obeying isn’t easy, nor is faith. It’s hard. I would much rather stay where I am, nose nestled under piles and piles of blankets, comfy and warm, in a place I’ve grown to love more than I thought I ever could. But I’m swinging my legs out from under myself anyway because like you taught me all those years ago: faith isn’t just in the knowing, it’s also in the going. I know now the challenges ahead will be worth it because the God who is calling us to a new life this Spring is faithful and trustworthy. The Goobies reminded me of that on that glorious gift of a Winter Break. I am ready to head through that canyon again with you in the weeks that will be here before I know it, because I know who is doing the driving, and with Him, we are safe.
Pink Strawberry Pancakes
I spent Valentines Day with my Goobies at home this year, since they were off of school for Winter Break that week. But I hadn’t really planned a special breakfast and since it was the day before pay day, the pantry was a pretty sparse. But pancakes are an empty pantry wonder-food, and I used them as a canvas for coming up with a way to make the morning feel a little more festive (because if any day of the year calls for a little whimsy, it’s Valentine’s Day, right?). As with all my recipes, substitute real milk for the dairy free milk if you aren’t dairy free and use regular all purpose flour too if you aren’t gluten free.
1 1/4 – 1 1/2 cups unsweetened (vanilla or original) almond milk (or rice milk, or regular dairy milk)–start with 1 1/4 cups and drizzle in up to another 1/2 cup if your batter seems to thick
1/2 cup organic strawberry spread (or strawberry jam)
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon white balsamic vinegar
3 Tablespoons refined coconut oil, melted
a drop or two of red food coloring (either a natural one, like this one from India Tree, or a conventional one from your local grocery store)
Whisk the flour, baking soda and salt together in a large bowl. Add the eggs, almond milk, strawberry spread and vanilla and mix well; then drizzle in the melted coconut oil and stir to combine. Drop the food coloring in little by little, and stir; add until you get the shade you desire. (Natural food coloring yields a paler, more earthy shade of pink, which is pictured above; conventional red food coloring yields a bolder, more noticeable shade of pink, which the kids prefer because the color is far more noticeable.)
Over medium high heat, warm up a griddle and spray with coconut oil cooking spray. Scoop 1/4 cup of the batter onto the griddle at a time and cook until the edges have set and bubbles emerge on top. Flip gently and continue to cook until golden.
Serve warm, with syrup or not. Sprinkled with powdered sugar or not. Topped with whipped cream and strawberries or not. The Goobies tend to eat straight from the plate without toppings, just as they are. Your call 🙂
It happened again – I sang the Muffin Man song all morning as I cleared up the mess I made baking another batch of muffins, which I am hoping won’t completely disappear before tomorrow’s breakfast.
This morning’s hodge-podge of a meal essentially cleaned out the cupboards and didn’t leave much to offer the Goobies for tomorrow’s breakfast, so after Emery and I got home from dropping the girls off at school, we got busy in the kitchen and made a batch of muffins (mainly so I am not tempted to pull the covers over my head and sing la la la in the morning, hoping in vain they will magically come up with a solution to the breakfast problem without me).
Banana muffins are my go-to solution for make-ahead breakfasts, followed closely by pumpkin muffins and baked egg cups, of some sort, none of which were an option today (because it’s slim pickin’s around here until I get around to going to the grocery store later this week). I did find a sad looking zucchini in the crisper, though. Relieved to find it buried under a few stray sweet potatoes and convicted that I had ignored it for too long, I gave it some long-overdue attention, after which it exploded with the sort of happiness that is only conjured by chocolate chips and cinnamon.
I have made this recipe many times over, which is saying something because before it joined my repertoire I didn’t even like zucchini bread. Now, the Goobies and I all love it. (And I can’t believe I don’t have a clue how you feel about it. Hm. Must fix that.) To save time, I scooped the batter into muffin tins so I didn’t have to wait for a standard size loaf to bake all the way through. Plus, the kids seem to prefer muffins over loaves anyway (and they are a lot easier to handle in the morning. Simply pass them out, instead of slice them up and pass them out. Gosh, I’m lazy.)
Funny how I went into the kitchen a little unsure how I would come up with something the kids would actuallyeat amid the tidbits hiding in the deepest nooks and crannies of the refrigerator and pantry. I felt a little like the widow who was down to her last bit of flour and oil when a stranger with an empty belly asked her to use what little she had in her cupboard to fill it. I know, my circumstances are entirely different from hers (I am not a widow. The little bit of flour and oil I used for these muffins weren’t the last bits of food in our cupboard. A prophet didn’t come asking me to feed him. I know.) I guess what I mean is this: I felt like I didn’t have much to offer the kids, and I felt a little … curious how to stretch the last of the flour, one measly egg, and a withered zucchini into anything palatable, let alone delicious. But, it worked, and Mia was very upset with me when I wouldn’t let her eat one for lunch today. Promising she could eat them for breakfast wasn’t a good enough trade off, I guess, since chocolate chips were involved. Oh well.
So without further ado, here is the recipe just in case you ever want to slip into the kitchen early one morning when the bread is gone and the cereal has run out and there is only an egg or two and you just don’t know what else to make, but you want to make something, if only to save my sanity. (Or you know–when you just want to surprise us all with a muffin we will all enjoy.) You will find they are very easy to whip together, and even a novice muffin maker like you will have success. (Let me know if you like them, will you?)
Chocolate Chip Zucchini Muffins (GF/DF/NF)
We love zucchini bread around here–but admittedly, the Goobies freak out when I remind them there’s zucchini tucked inside. Feel free to swap out alternative ingredients based on what your family can tolerate. To make these vegan, substitute apple sauce for the eggs (1/4 cup per egg). Want to make a loaf of it instead? Grease two standard loaf pans and bake for about an hour or so, or until a toothpick comes out clean.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and line a muffin pan with paper liners. Set aside.
In a stand mixer, whisk together the egg, sugar, then slowly pour in the melted (and cooled!) coconut oil until the mixture is creamy yellow, smooth and velvety. Then, add the vanilla and stir.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the gluten free flour blend, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon. Slowly add to the wet ingredients, stirring after each addition. Once you have added all the flour, stir in the zucchini, followed by the chocolate chips.
Scoop about 1/4 cup of the batter into the prepared muffin tins and bake for 18 minutes, or until puffed and golden, and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Remember that day you tried to watch Worst Cooks in America and you couldn’t stand to watch the chefs scrutinize the contestants’ fried eggs?
You turned the channel, muttering under your breath you had a hard time believing there were people out there who actually cared enough about fried eggs to pick them apart like that, and how lucky you felt that your wife knew how to decently fry one. I sat quietly, thankful you appreciate my cooking, and let you flip the channel back to the basketball game. But inwardly I sulked, for I knew the truth: I am no good at making fried eggs. Haven’t you noticed I usually ask you to fry them?
The heat is always too high. Then it’s too low. Then the whites stick. The yolks are too runny, or not runny enough. The yolks break and bleed and get cooked into a brown spider web of disaster. Even Eggs in a Hole are hard to perfect, and while you happily eat whatever sludge I slide out of the pan, the younger, pickier mouths in this family protest even the slightest deviation from their idea of a perfectly cooked yolk.
Clearly, fried eggs aren’t my idea of a quick and easy breakfast. But scrambled eggs? That’s a different story.
Before I met you, I mastered the art of egg scrambling by taking Julia Child’s advice and cooking those beauties at a low temperature. Making a tender, fluffy batch on Saturday mornings was my specialty, so much so that my roommates praised them and clamored for them nearly every week. The longer cooking time, while admittedly a bit of an annoyance, yields unparalleled results. For me, a reluctant egg eater in the first place, Julia’s technique changed me forever.
When you and I decided to get married, I was sure my egg-scrambling confidence equipped me to meet your every whim of “Breakfast for dinner, please!” with brag-worthy fare. And for the most part, it has. Except for when it comes to fried eggs. But we’re talking about scrambled eggs here.
Even so, my confidence was shaken a little just days into our marriage. We were on our honeymoon, starting our last day in Seattle at a quaint little basement cafe nestled beneath The Elliot Bay Book Company in Pioneer Square. I don’t remember the specifics of what we ordered that morning, except for the scrambled eggs with crème fraîche and scallions. They were fancy, and just the sort of simple and delicious that made us sure we could replicate them at home.
But then, we didn’t.
The idea came up over the years (meaning: you asked me to try to make them, but I put it off, afraid of ruining the memory of them.) But eventually, finally, I did it, and in the process, I learned something: I put off most things I really want to do because I am afraid: that I’ll make a mess of things; that it won’t measure up to my expectations; that I will fail. I learned I let fear paralyze me and keep me from trying new things – even something as small and insignificant as making scrambled eggs with crème fraîche instead of milk or water. I don’t really trust myself.
After I finally got over it (sheesh–they’re just eggs!), in making them made I realized I am far more capable that I give myself credit for, and when I try new things (not if, but when), I ought to approach them with the attitude that accepts mistakes as part of the learning process. And goodness – trying and failing is more important than not trying at all, isn’t it? I mean, isn’t that what we tell our kids?
As it turns out, it was not nearly as challenging as I had imagined, nor did I ruin our memory of our charming breakfast in Seattle. Instead, we can re-live that moment in the taste of those eggs whenever we want, really, since we can’t just pop over for a quick little breakfast on a whim.
I gather the bookstore has moved since then anyway, to a new location with a different sort of cafe, which while it may be delicious and charming in its own right, will never be our cafe, so to speak. But whenever I make scrambled eggs with crème fraîche at home, I am transported to that place and that time for a moment long enough to remember what it felt like to experience something familiar and new all at the same time.
I’m so glad I got over myself and tried something new.
Scrambled Eggs with Crème Fraîche
Inspired by the best eggs Joey & I ever had, this recipe elevates an ordinary breakfast food to something truly special. (I even made them for breakfast on Christmas morning when I was too pregnant to manage much else.) Crème fraîche (“krem fresh”) is really just unpasteurized heavy cream that is thickened by the good bacteria it naturally contains. Rich and velvety, it’s perfect for making these decadent eggs.
8 large eggs
4 oz. crème fraîche (plus more, for optional topping)
2 T salted butter
1/2 tsp salt
3 green onions, chopped (green parts only) Method:
First, warm up a large skillet over medium-low heat and let the butter begin to melt. Meanwhile, whisk together eggs, crème fraîche and salt. When the butter has melted, pour the egg mixture into the skillet. (I often use non-stick, so you will need to use more butter–say, 4 Tablespoons or so– if you are cooking the eggs in a stainless steel skillet.)
Let the eggs cook slowly, gently scraping up big fluffy curds as they begin to set. Do this until all eggs are soft-cooked: not runny, but still moist. When they’ve set, serve them warm, sprinkled with green onions. Top with additional dollop of crème fraîche if you want to be really fancy.