Peace, Plenty, and Zucchini Hummus

12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

-Philippians 4:12-13 (NIV)

Dear Joey,

Emery doesn’t ask to go home anymore. In the first several weeks after finally saying goodbye to that empty shell of a house on the other side of the hills, he wandered around this new house perplexed, unsure why we were sticking around so long, and wondering why we hadn’t gone home yet. “Where’s Bubba’s house?” he’d ask. “I go to Bubba’s house.”  No, bud–this is our house now, we’d say, and his quizzical eyes questioned ours. It broke my heart every time. And so, he walked in endless circles around here for weeks, disoriented and trying to figure it all out.


The girls were quicker to understand the idea that once we waved goodbye to that little house on Broadmoor, we wouldn’t be going back. There were tears, but lots of giggles too. They thought it was pretty funny that all their stuff ended up in Papa & Nyome’s house, saying that it wasn’t their home, and unpacking their dolls and dresses here didn’t make any sense. I made light of it all, of course, telling them this year is a fun adventure, like a long vacation while we wait for our new house. In the meantime, they settle in a little more each day, and their new room becomes more their own and less the room I slept in when I was a little girl.


Still, Addie sometimes sighs in the middle of a lazy afternoon and confesses she misses our old house, and then also says she misses her new house too. It’s sorrow and longing, clearly, missing what was and looking forward to what will be. Me too, I whisper through tears, and I scoop her up into a hug and she lets me hold her longer than usual. I ask her if she’s unhappy here, and she perks up and says, “Oh no, I’m happy. It’s fun here. I just miss our own house.” Living with her grandparents is cool and fun and cushy and all, but in spite of all that, she still keeps her eyes fixed on what she hopes for. Addie makes a universal truth so easy to understand: that this place is temporary and life here is fleeting at best. She is learning how to be content with what is, while still hoping for something isn’t. I think we are all learning that lesson.


In the meantime, she’s adjusting. We all are. Addie still gets teary-eyed sometimes, Mia still corrects me whenever I happen to say “Ok Goobies, we’re going home now(“No–we’re going to Papa & Nyome’s house, Mama”), and every so often Emery asks where his old house is. But he doesn’t wander around confused anymore; instead, he runs with purpose and a sense of urgency unique to rambunctious little boys, living out the promise of adventure we’ve been preaching for months. As for me, I spend my time trying to make things functional and familiar enough in hopes of making these Goobies feel like we really do belong here.


And so, we’ve gotten busy with the business of getting on with life. We eat fluffy scrambled eggs and piles and piles of sun-kissed strawberries around the same kitchen table we’ve always eaten around, this time surrounded by the in & out and to & fro of grandparents. Pajama clad, we tumble out into the backyard to feed the animals, then we weed, prune, water and pick. The girls and I pop tomatoes in our mouths, twist zucchini from the vine, and plunk velvety green beans into our garden baskets while Emery drives his yellow cozy cab back and forth, back and forth.


Next we scurry off to swim lessons and play at the park and somehow manage to squeeze in a gymnastics lesson every Monday afternoon. After lunch I finally squeeze in a shower while the girls learn the discipline of quiet reading (and learn to love getting lost in a book). Then we ride bikes and play Scrabble and Candyland and Checkers; we come up with a thousand ways to use up every glorious bit of our summertime harvest, and slurp popsicles while the sun starts to slip under its covers for the night.


There’s so much good all around us, both familiar and brand new at the same time. I’m learning how to be content with it. There are a million reasons why this season is sweet and beautiful and lovely and right, but there are just as many lies that twist those truths and tempt me toward jealousy and discontentment. I’m learning to ignore those voices, the voices of self-importance and jealousy that taunt me, saying my life isn’t good because I’m back here in the place where I grew up, again. 


We spend a lot of time in the backyard, mainly because Emery is desperate to get outside practically from the moment he wakes up. Once we’re out there, I bide my time by tending to the garden, feeding the zucchini, pruning the tomatoes, and picking green beans, all of which had been doing well, happy in the place they’re planted and producing beautiful fruit. This week, though, I noticed the green bean bush is tangled and droopy with the weight of itself. I bent down low and looked beneath the cover of big, shady leaves to find that the well-established vines had grown thick and twisted, like a knot, far away from the trellis and up into themselves. The bright green fingertips of new growth poked out from under the snarl looking for a place to hold on to, clearly looking for the sun but unable to find anything but darkness. Those tender little things had wrapped themselves around the tangled old vines that were choking the life out of them. And so, I cut away the overgrowth, ripping out old and gently guiding the new to grab on to the security of the trellis, where they can be free to grow up, toward the light.


As I did so, I realized the same thing happened in my heart. I’d been searching for peace in the darkness, grasping for it and finding it had been choked out by lies inside my own head–my perceived not enough-ness, the voice that whispers that everyone else has more, has better and is more, is better. Those old patterns of thinking returned with a vengeance one we moved here again, and were threatening once more to impede my ability to flourish in the place where I’m planted.


I’m pulling out those old, snarled vines in my heart and making way for truth to take hold again. In the process, I’m looking to Paul as my guide. He learned what it means to be content in all circumstances–he didn’t instinctively know how to do it either. There’s grace for me–for all of us– in that. I’m not there, but I’m getting there, and I’m finding peace in the process. I am enough and this life is enough because Jesus is enough. Like Paul, I’m grabbing onto Jesus for support, because He gives me strength.


Such lovely, life-giving things are right here, right now, in this place we find ourselves today. There is blessing and beauty and bounty in these moments, and I know it is a gift. It’s different than perhaps I expected, and I don’t know what’s next, exactly–but that’s ok. There’s peace here, plenty of it.



Zucchini Hummus


We have so much zucchini growing–enough to bake muffins and spin zoodles and grill and roast and more–and there’s plenty to share. The timing of it is perfect because I’m walking through some new dietary changes (Gah! Again!) and am leaning on the prolific veggie to help soften the blow of removing grains from my diet. (More on that another time.) Until then, I’ll say this: zucchini is a jack of all trades in the veggie world–it even knows how to make a truly delicious dip that my dad says he likes better than hummus. Even Emery (my two year old!) is a fan. Leave out the cumin & coriander and add 2 teaspoons of dried dill instead, or leave out the spices altogether and leave it plain. The decision is yours, of course. I won’t be bossy, but you should definitely serve this with grilled chicken and veggies.

  • 2 medium zucchini (about 1 pound), peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 cup sesame tahini
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic (2 cloves if they’re large; 3 cloves if they’re on the smaller side)
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

First, prep the zucchini. Cut off both ends of the zucchini and peel off the green skin. Next, chop what’s left into 1″ cubes (or so). Plunk the pieces into a high speed blender or food processer and pile the remaining ingredients on top. Close the lid and process on high until the zucchini is smooth and the ingredients have emulsified–a good minute or two, depending on the power of your machine.

The dip is ready at this point, but is a little runny. Refrigerate for a couple of hours for a thicker dip, or drizzle over grilled chicken and veggies immediately.

How We Help Vegetables Disappear, and Magic Sauce (or Dairy Free Ranch Dressing)

Dear Joey,

I am such a traitor. There is a chocolate cake cooling on the counter, springy, beautiful and almost in tact, except for the place where it’s not in tact anymore because I couldn’t muster up enough self control to wait and taste it right along with the Goobies. My curiosity (or the fact that it’s lunchtime) threw my willpower out the window and I cut into that thing without thinking about my promise.


It all started when neither Addie nor Mia wanted to finish the last bit of their lunch–the sliced cucumbers part, specifically–so I told them they could save them and finish them later on before they ate their afternoon snack. Their protests were met with a promise of my good example, and I virtuously preached about how I would be loading up with veggies myself in just a few minutes because my body wouldn’t be healthy if I didn’t eat vegetables every day, but here I am struggling because I totally broke that promise. Magic sauce didn’t even help.


Magic Sauce–or, Ranch Dressing, as most folks call it–was born out of the need for a ploy to get the Goobies to approach the idea of eating raw vegetables with any sort of cooperation. Like most kids, ours didn’t make the switch from gnawing on soft, steamed veggies to crunching on big kid ones all that easily, and despite my vow to bring up children who wouldn’t just eat their veggies but enjoy them too, it took a little coaxing to get those girls to try them in the first place.


Before actually having kids, I swore up and down I would raise kids like Julia, a little girl who lived across the street from me when I was in early Elementary school whose eating habits made all the other moms around jealous and confused at the same time. I mean, this little pixie of a thing toddled around our backyard happily munching on baggies full of raw cauliflower. I can’t imagine how her mother got her to do that.

The thing that finally made raw veggies sort of an ok thing in Addie’s book was dipping them in homemade ranch dressing. I just couldn’t bring myself to give her that famous store-bought version that apparently makes kids faint with hunger at the sight of a bowl full of raw celery, but when I figured out how to (easily) make my own homemade version? Ranch dressing became a thing.


When we visited family in Kansas City a few years ago, we discovered your brother uses the same ploy to get his kids to eat veggies too, but he goes a step further by calling ranch dressing something else entirely, a name that captures kids attention and makes them excited to try it: Magic Sauce. They wanted to know, What does the sauce do? and, Why is it magical? The grown ups exchanged knowing looks that said, It makes your veggies disappear.

When we came home, we brought that name with us and it has worked for years. We came to count on the jar always being stocked, but once we found out about Emery’s dairy allergy, I knew its days in our fridge were numbered. As I suspected, that boy eventually started noticing it, and then asking for it, and then getting angry that he couldn’t have what his sisters got to have. And so, magic sauce disappeared from our kitchen and I wasn’t sure how the girls would cope with its absence at our table.


Ketchup worked a little bit: Addie liked to dip carrots in it and Emery liked to dip green beans in it. Mia–with a more refined palate, perhaps–opted for aioli, a fancy name I gave to a very simple mixture of mustard and mayonnaise. Eventually neither sauce worked anymore.

And then one day, sort of out of nowhere, I realized making dairy free Magic Sauce at home was something I could totally handle. Out came the same supplies I used to use: homemade ranch dressing mix, mayonnaise, and milk–only this time, I used a combination of rice milk and vinegar instead of buttermilk. I whipped it all up and was almost happy with the result. The only problem was it was a bit runny, but I knew how to fix that: xanthan gum would thicken it up in a snap. (Being gluten free sure does come in handy–sometimes.)


Magic Sauce made a come back in our house, true, but the real question was this: was this dairy free version any good–and not just good enough, but you know–like, yummy? The answer? Yes. All the Goobies happily eat it, you happily eat it, and we have a gaggle of disappointed kids when the bottle runs out. Magic Sauce indeed.

Every time I pour that speckled white sauce into tiny little bowls and nestle them alongside whatever veggies the kids request at mealtime (or nuggets, or pizza–because they’re kids, after all), I feel like I’ve done something good to bring a taste of normal childhood to the table. It’s a simple pleasure, but one that is important to me. I hate it when our kids feel like the other, you know? But I digress.


Addie just came in and saw the rest of that nibble of cake sitting on a plate beside me. She eyed it. I smiled and whispered, “Want to try it?She nodded and ate the whole piece in five seconds, flat.

“It’s good,she said with a smirk.

“I’m so glad you like it. Now? Cucumbers.”



Magic Sauce, or Dairy Free Ranch Dressing


  • 1 cup full fat mayonnaise (I like Sir Kensington’s Avocado Mayonnaise best!)
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 Tablespoons white vinegar
  • 1/4 cup chopped dry onion
  • 1/4 cup dried parsley
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder

Put all ingredients into a high speed blender and whiz until combined. The dressing will be runny at first, but will thicken  as it chills. Pour the mixture into an airtight container (like a big mason jar or an empty ketchup bottle) and refrigerate.

Finding Beauty and Something New at the Farmers Market, and Coconut Lime Beef with Cilantro and Red Cabbage

Dear Joey,

We finally made it to the Farmer’s Market this summer. It only took us until the first Saturday after school started to make it there. Not everyone was as excited about it as me: Addie crossed her arms and stomped her way to the car, going on about how mean we were for dragging her out of the house and huffing “You said I could color all day” as finally climbed into her seat.

IMG_4327 (1)

Once we got there, I handed her my phone and asked her if she wanted to take some pictures. It was a desperate move on my part to coax a happy attitude out of her. The last thing I wanted was a grumpy, whiny kid ruining a trip to a place so alive with every color imaginable. Color and beauty speak to this kid and she has a knack for capturing it. Plus, she feels pretty grown up when I let her tinker around with the camera. I knew she’d take the bait.


As we strolled up the deserted aisle, 8:00 in the morning felt early. The tables were still piled high with fruits and vegetables that seemed to glisten in the morning light. Nothing was picked over yet and the sellers greeted us with the sort of smiles I read about in those winsome books about the farm to table movement. I felt like we were part of something big, beautiful and important in those few quiet moments.

I led the girls from stall to stall, pointing out the colors and textures and quizzing them on the names of the things they saw. They swooned over the brilliant red berries, begging to taste as much as they were allowed. They touched and smelled and asked questions as we went. Then, I let each girl pick something special: Addie picked a ruddy heirloom tomato that looked very much like clown lips to her young eyes. Mia picked a pale green bitter melon, a new vegetable for us and one she wasn’t actually keen on tasting after all. But the farmer was so kind to tell us all about it, and his enthusiasm for it must have done its job because she was pretty excited to tell you all about it.

I was not as excited to cook it, to be honest. As I sliced it up, I wondered how I would ever mellow the sharp bite that in my mind screams don’t eat me!  But the little mound of scalloped half moons piling up on my cutting board was so pretty I didn’t care about that for a moment: certainly they would just make dinner more beautiful.


They did, and they didn’t. Certainly the colors and textures of that stir fry were far more brilliant than much I’ve made lately, but the sly bitterness of the cute little veggie was not our favorite. Thankfully it didn’t permeate the rest of dinner, because what I came up with was super delicious in its own right.


So hooray for us for getting up and out on an otherwise lazy Saturday morning, for stretching our legs and our culinary muscles and trying something new and different. And hallelujah for a pantry full of ingredients to turn something so-so into something delicious.



Coconut Lime Beef with Cilantro and Red Cabbage

IMG_4455 After all that, bitter melon didn’t make it to the ingredient list here, but if you enjoy a challenge (or happen to like bitter melon), it really does work in this recipe. We handled about a half-dozen bites with it until we started plucking the pieces out of our bowls). Like I said before, the bitterness didn’t overpower the flavor of the dish, and what was left was sweet and tangy, mellow and spicy all at the same time. This dish uses Tamari, which is gluten free soy sauce (regular soy sauce uses wheat, a lesson I learned the hard way). Addie likes the beef ok, but the veggies aren’t her favorite yet. Emery liked it all until he got a bite of the bitter melon. And Mia wouldn’t go near this for the life of her.


For the sauce:

1/4 low sodium Tamari

1/4 white vinegar

5 Tablespoons lime juice (plus more for garnish)

2 T Stevia/erythrytol sweetener blend (like this one) or about 4 T cane sugar

a pinch of kosher salt

For the Stir Fry:

1 pound ground beef

1 medium carrot, jullienned

1/2 medium head red cabbage, sliced (about 5 cups or so)

5 green onions, ends removed and cut into 1″ sections

1/2 medium onion, diced

3 garlic cloves, minced

2/3 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

1/4 cup fresh cilantro, minced (plus more for garnish)

2 Tablespoons unrefined Coconut Oil

2 teaspoons ground ginger

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

almond slices, for garnish


First, prep the veggies and have them cut and ready to go. Next, mix together the sauce; taste it and adjust the sweetness as you go.

Now for the meat: set a large skillet over medium heat. Melt the coconut oil, then add the onions to the pan and cook until they are almost translucent. Next, add the garlic and cook for a few minutes until the it releases its fragrance.  Turn the heat up to medium high and add the beef into the pan, squishing it as you go to make nice large pieces of it. Season the beef with the ginger, salt and red pepper flakes.

On to the veggies: crank up the heat to high and add the carrots first, then the cabbage. Cook those two together for a few minutes (3-5) and let them soften a bit. Add the green onions next, then the coconut. Pour in that sauce and let it deglaze the pan. Once the veggies are soft to your liking, add in the cilantro and give it a good stir.

To serve, mound the sweet and spicy goodness into a bowl and top it with more red pepper flakes, a squeeze of lime juice, a sprinkle of cilantro, and almond slices if nuts are your thing.

Victory! and Herbed Chicken and Quinoa Salad with Quick Pickled Cucumber

Dear Joey,

I don’t remember dinnertime being difficult when I was a kid. It was fun. Maybe the best part of the day.

Over the past year I have wondered why my memories of family dinner are so warm and low-key when our own family dinners aren’t always the same way. I should give myself a break – our oldest isn’t even five yet, for goodness sake.

I think the biggest difference between my memories of those days and our own reality is my folks were really relaxed when it came to meal time. Meaning, they kept calm if we refused to touch the food on our plate–as far as I remember, at least. If we didn’t like it, there was always a peanut butter sandwich.

In dealing with our own kids, I try to do my best to follow my parents’ lead; keep calm and let them be in charge of what they eat from their plate. As long as they have healthy choices, why should I insist they eat just one more bite before they are allowed to be excused? But the reality is that we have been super tense about eating and frustrated when our kids misbehave at the table (shocking!) or refuse to eat what they are given.

The girls come by it honestly, I guess. My mom tells the story of how she had to finish her peas before she was excused from the dinner table as a kid. She hated peas. I mean hated. But she finally figured out if she swallowed them like little green pills, washing them down with a big gulp of milk, she wouldn’t taste them and she would be allowed to leave table. And let’s not forget your brother’s legendary attempts and “cleaning his plate” – your parents found food hidden in house plants, radiators, you name it: anywhere your brother could surreptitiously stash it without getting caught (until months later, at least).

As much as we laugh about these anecdotes now, I don’t really want history to repeat itself. I’d rather we make the dinner table a fun place to be and help our kids enjoy their food, as much as we can at least.

So far, it’s sort of in-between. We have a long way to go, but we are making progress. I’m pretty sure our two hard-and-fast mealtime rules help:

1. Try at least one bite of everything on your plate. If you do not like it, you do not have to eat it.
2. There is nothing else to eat other than what is served. If you do not want to eat it, that’s ok. But you will not eat again until the next snack or mealtime.

For the most part, these rules work for us. Everyone knows them, and since we are consistent with them there isn’t room for negotiation.

It wasn’t always that way. At first, the girls protested. They whined and complained and feigned disgust and spit food out and begged for macaroni and cheese, or yogurt, or crackers — just like most toddlers are prone to do. But slowly, they came to realize that the food they’re given is all they get, and when they see us eating it, they figure it can’t be all that bad (I suppose).

Here’s the thing that helps me stick to the rules myself: I make sure to offer something I know they will actually eat (like rice and broccoli). Then, I challenge them with something fairly familiar they will probably like if they just try it (like salmon). And third, I add something I am fully prepared for them to hate (like artichokes) just to see if they might have a taste for it.

Before I sound like a total organized, over-achieving freak, let me say this: I often repeat the things I challenge them with, typically things we like to eat (like salad) or things they typically like (such as carrots) that are prepared in an unfamiliar way (like roasted carrots).

Apparently, this is working because in just the past few weeks, things have changed. Whereas it used to be that everything except the vegetables disappeared at dinnertime, now the veggies are being eaten up, too.

First, Addie starting eating coleslaw. Coleslaw! Then she declared her undying love for bell peppers. Not long after that, she braved a bite of a single green bean, a pesky dinnertime menace that has taunted her since infancy. When she announced she liked it, I almost fainted. Mia looked on with a face that seemed to say “Big deal. I have been telling you they are good for ages.” It was not a fluke: Addie ate an entire helping of them that night, and another helping of them a few nights later, and on it continues to go, assuring me that she does, in fact, like them.

Next, just this past weekend (at a pizza parlor!), Addie ordered a green salad and a meatball for dinner. A salad?! Like, a real one. With romaine and tomatoes and peppers and stuff. When I picked off a tomato for myself (thinking she would not notice), she protested, insisting, “But I wanted to eat that tomato!” (I am sure she must have thought I was nuts for the befuddled look I gave her.)

To top it all off, just this past Monday night, when presented with cucumbers, Addie sighed and said, “Oh, yes! I love these!” And both girls began to eat those cucumbers (and broccoli, I might add) with gusto, before they even touched their quinoa and chicken. And they both asked for seconds and fought over who got to polish off the broccoli. Holy moly.

Before I sound all braggy about these successes (too late?), I must admit that they also prefer to eat their fair share of not-so-healthy foods too (like the goldfish crackers they are eating for snack this afternoon), and this morning at breakfast they turned their noses up to my first attempt at waffles made with almond flour. I guess they are not perfect eaters, are they?

But I give them a lot of credit because they really are quite good at trying new things now, and perhaps it is because they know from experience they might find another yummy food to enjoy, and if they don’t, well, they know we will not force them to eat it.

To me? That is a victory.


Herbed Chicken with Quinoa Salad and Quick Pickled Cucumbers

Victory! and Spicy Herbed Chicken and Quinoa Salad with Cucumber Ribbons

This is one of Joey’s current dinner favorites, and I love it because it makes everyone at our table happy. Based on the recipe for Quinoa Salad with Vinaigrette in Artisanal Gluten-Free Cooking, my version uses yellow bell peppers and adds spicy, herb-laden grilled chicken and quick pickled cucumber cut into spirals, so that they look like ribbons. The chicken is pounded thin, but feel free to skip that step, but do not let the other steps fool you into thinking this dinner is difficult to pull together. It’s quite easy, and you can do many of the steps ahead of time.


Herbed Chicken
5 boneless chicken breasts, pounded flat to about 1/4″
1/3 cup lemon juice
2 tsp olive oil
1 1/2 tsp dried basil
1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp (or more) red pepper flakes (optional to give it a spicy kick)
course salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Quinoa Salad
1 cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed
1 yellow bell pepper, diced small (or any color you prefer)
3 scallions, chopped
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 tsp olive oil (or up to 1/4 cup, but we keep the oil content low to make this a super light meal)
salt and pepper to taste

Quick Pickled Cucumber Ribbons

1 English cucumber
about 2 T white vinegar
sweetener of choice, to taste (equivalent to about 2 teaspoons cane sugar)


For the chicken
Place pounded chicken breasts into a zip top bag, along with all the marinade ingredients (except the red pepper flakes if your kids are like mine and do not like spicy food. You can always sprinkle the flakes on the adults’ chicken right before grilling it.) You may add an additional 1 1/2 T of olive oil if you like, but we keep it minimal for this recipe. Massage the marinade into the chicken and let rest for a couple hours, or overnight. Then grill the chicken, about 3-4 minutes per side if it’s pounded thin. When done, remove from heat and let rest, then slice before plating the salad.

For the quinoa
Bring 1 cup quinoa to a boil in 2 cups water. Once boiling, reduce heat and let simmer for 15 minutes. Let rest for 5 minutes, then fluff with a fork. Refrigerate until ready to make the salad. Meanwhile, dice 1 yellow bell pepper and slice three scallions. (I cut mine on the bias because I think it feels fancy, but do it however you prefer.) Toss the veggies with the cooked and cooled quinoa. Add the red wine vinegar and olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Start with about 1/4 tsp course salt to begin with, and add more to your liking.

For the cucumbers

Using a Spiralizer, slice the cucumbers into ribbons. (If you don’t have a Spiralizer, use a mandolin to cut the cucumber into thin slices in the meantime. If you don’t have a mandolin, slice the cucumbers as thin as you can. And if you have trouble doing that, just chop some up. The texture will be different than ribbons, but the flavor will still be great.) After the cucumbers are cut, toss them with a couple tablespoons of white vinegar along with a dash of salt and the sweetener of your choice, about the equivalent of 2 teaspoons of regular cane sugar. Let them sit for a few minutes and toss again before serving.

To serve
Scoop about a cup of the quinoa salad into a shallow bowl, followed by a sliced up chicken breast, and finally topped with cucumber ribbons. Top with freshly ground black pepper, if desired.