“Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.”
-1 Thessalonians 5:15 (NIRV)
The Goobie girls had another Snow Day this week.
They went from cheering for them and luxuriating in the low pressure days at home to groaning at the mere possibility of them. They tire of each other quickly when we are all cooped up inside, stepping on each others’ toes for days on end. They love each other, of course, and they even get along beautifully most of the time, going out of their way to be thoughtful and considerate of each other’s feelings. Lately though–yikes. I wish the snow would melt away so I could send them outside for some much needed space.
That is what I told myself this morning when I climbed out of bed, not really ready to get up to face one more day of summer togetherness. I trudged my way through the dark of the morning, Emery at my heels: hungry and impatient. The thought of getting through one more day of all the Goobies home all day threatened to steal away the last shred of my sanity. In the harried moments of the morning, it seemed like school couldn’t start fast enough. Just one more day until I can catch my breath.
I know why: the four of us have been together constantly from the moment we left California–that’s a month and a half without much of a break. Moving to a new state compounded the normal stresses of summer, and here we are two weeks away from school starting and the day can’t get here fast enough because (confession): I’m a wreck.
When I was a kid I suffered from severe homesickness: the kind that rendered me very poor company indeed. Tears and sleepless nights were my companions at sleepovers, and I vividly recall instance upon instance of begging my parents to let me go to a sleepover, only to call them in tears near midnight, begging to go home. More often than not, my dad lumbered his way to the car and drove to pick me up and waving his thanks to my hosts for their hospitality as he ducked back into the car to go home.
22 “[…] Your business is life, not death. Follow me. Pursue life.”
23-25 Then he got in the boat, his disciples with him. The next thing they knew, they were in a severe storm. Waves were crashing into the boat—and he was sound asleep! They roused him, pleading, “Master, save us! We’re going down!”
26 Jesus reprimanded them. “Why are you such cowards, such faint-hearts?” Then he stood up and told the wind to be silent, the sea to quiet down: “Silence!” The sea became smooth as glass.
Matthew 8: 22-26
Well goodness–yesterday when we are smack dab in the middle of a severe Midwestern thunderstorm, all those voices warning me that Midwestern weather will take some getting used to are echoing in my ears. I’m not sure the dreadful din of thunder will ever lull me into a peaceful sleep (like it does for you), but I suppose I’ll get used to it. I think. I hope.
I admit I panicked yesterday–not because tornadoes threatened to sweep us up and whisk us away from the new house we have still yet to fully unpack (although, I wondered if that was imminent…), but because black clouds clapping their tinny hands feels threatening, and let’s face it: hiding felt like the safest thing to do. I watched out the front window as those bulbous clouds stormed their way northeast, the direction you would be driving in a matter of minutes to start afternoon clinic. Next I paced up and down the kitchen, feigning calm and scolding the impulse to barricade myself and the kids in the basement, and wondering if the sky was that peculiar shade of green Sarah taught me goes hand in hand with an imminent tornado.
“Our God gives you everything you need, makes you everything you’re to be.“
2 Thessalonians 1:2 (MSG)
Mia is giving us fits lately. The stubborn little thing digs her heels in deep, stance stable and set, screaming “just try to get me to move.” It doesn’t work. She knows what she wants, and she doesn’t let up. It’s aggravating.
This is especially true at mealtime, when that kid flat out refuses to eat what she is given, insisting the only thing she will eat is macaroni and cheese and strawberries so if we would just get it through our heads that if we relented and gave her what she wanted, she would stop making a fuss at the dinner table. But we are the grown ups, so we hold our ground too and we give her the choice to eat what is provided or not at all. Let’s be clear: we are not giving her liver and onions for dinner, or whole roasted trout with lima beans. We are serving things like chili and tortilla chips; grilled chicken and rice; or hamburgers, for crying out loud. Normal, approachable food that other kids cheer for. But no matter: she will not yield to the things we provide. She does this because more often than not, she just plain does not like our choices for her.
An example: bananas and strawberries. I have lost track how many times this girl has cried over them. I have cried happy tears over an impossibly sweet strawberry in the middle of summer too, but tears over bananas? The ubiquitous childhood snack heralded for its palatability among children? (Yes. So many tears.) The only way Mia dares put them in her mouth is if chocolate has rendered the banana completely unrecognizable (as in chocolate chip banana muffins). No matter how we try to spin them, the cost of eating a banana rarely tends to be worth the act of chewing and swallowing it. She does not enjoy bananas, so she does not see the point in eating them. But strawberries are an entirely different story. She would willingly eat strawberries with every meal every day of every week of every month of every year. When strawberries are the seasonal star, we let herself eat them to her hearts’ content because we buy them by the crateful every week. But in the dead of winter when strawberries are not in season, we cannot serve them often, if at all.
And so, fights. Tears. Begrudging obedience. In the process, we remind her about her choice in all this: she gets to decide whether to eat what is given to her or not (“Listen: we won’t always give you what you want, but we will always give you what you need. What you need is good food to fill your tummy. Tonight, it’s meatloaf, so we suggest you eat a few bites of it because you’ll be hungry if you don’t.”) Whether she leaves the table with a full stomach or not is her choice–not ours. We are off the hook because we provided the good food she needs to stay healthy and strong. We hope she will choose to fill her belly with the things we have provided, but we cannot make her swallow that darn meatloaf any more than we can make sweet strawberries flourish in the dead of winter. We can beg, bargain, cajole or get plain mad, but why bother? We have given her what she needs. The rest is up to her.
I have been spending time with the Israelites, digging in to their story of rescue and redemption, finding myself knee deep in the wilderness just like they were. The manna situation reminds me very much of our struggle with Mia because no one really wanted the manna, a perfect, delicious, plentiful food they could count on to keep them well fed and comfy. It was superior to all the other food they ever ate in Egypt (I mean, this stuff was heavenly, right?), and yet they complained about it, even resented it perhaps. I wonder how many times they ate it with hearts begrudging the hand that fed it to them and wishing they could have something else, anything else. I bet they wondered why God did not seem to care they were craving the foods they really loved, the foods they missed from their old way of life. I imagine they toyed with the thought that if God really loved them as much as He said He did, He would give them the things they wanted most instead of forcing them to subsist on something they clearly did not prefer. But their ideas for what was best for themselves did not line up with God’s ideas of what was best for them.
So it is with us.
I gave Mia a banana on her dinner plate the other night, and she took one look at the the handful of slices piled up next to her peas and exclaimed, “You know I don’t like bananas. Why would you put them on my plate?” I know bananas have potassium and magnesium and fiber, and I know the dessert she will be ask for after dinner does not have any of those things, and those nutrients are important to keep her healthy and strong. I know strawberries are expensive in the middle of winter and spending $5 every day on a measly pack of lack luster mid-winter strawberries is simply not going to happen. I know I have a jar of her beloved chocolate powder in the cupboard that I just have not put on the table yet, and I know I am going to sprinkle some of that powder on her bananas so that she will eat a few bites, at least. I know things about the food on her dinner plate she that does not know, but I also know things about her dinner plate she just could not know on her own.
And ooof, if that is not the conclusion I have been drawing day after day in this long haul of a season that has left me broken in so many ways. My ideas for my own life clearly are not the same as God’s ideas for my best life. That thought is deep and marred by the fear that if my ideas for my life are good ones, and if God’s ideas are different than my own really, really good ones, I am tempted to believe that God’s ideas are not good. I identify with those grumbling Israelites: manna is monotonous and where’s the milk and honey you promised and why do we have to stay out here in the wilderness for so long anyway? I signed up for the Promised Land, and this is not it. Your plans must not be as good as I thought.
And like those grumbling Israelites, I keep complaining about the things I find filling up my proverbial plate, all while insisting God simply remove them and replace them with the things I want instead. I don’t want a sick, dysfunctional digestive system. I don’t want a life long battle with chronic conditions; I don’t want to take pills everyday; I don’t want to have surgery; I don’t want to have kids with food allergies; I don’t want to live in fear of gluten or peanuts or milk or any of the other allergens that cause serious problems in our household. I want a healthy body, and I want our kids to have healthy bodies too, and it doesn’t seem like an unreasonable request, either. I want to like what is on my plate, and I just plain don’t. And in the middle of it, I am convinced God is telling me the same thing we tell Mia every day: I won’t always give you what you want, but I will always give you what you need.
Last week, I went to bed hungry, so to speak, sulking and angry because I was just so over what is filling my proverbial plate these days. Finally, finally, after months of feeling crazy, my GI doctor discovered I have biliary dyskinesia, which basically means my gall bladder is not working. Since I don’t have gall stones, I have been presenting with a mysterious symptoms that no one understands. Test after test after test insisted nothing was wrong with me, which clearly I knew wasn’t true. Either the doctors were terrible at their job or this phantom pain was a psychological invention, not a physical reality. But a HIDA scan showed the truth: my gall bladder wasn’t functioning correctly and out it must come. I had never been so happy to hear bad news.
Two days after surgery I was fretting over the level of pain I did not expect. Unrealistic expectations of a quick and easy recovery made my post-op pain feel like a death sentence. In the middle of it, I flung myself out of bed to help you find the emergency medicine bag; you were flustered and rushed, and the gravity of the situation forced me to move faster than perhaps my still-recovering body should have moved. But when Emery laid in your arms, swollen and floppy, eyes closed and unresponsive, I forgot about my own pain and flew to find the Epi Pen and administered it without reservation, even though I knew the sudden poke would hurt Emery. The fact that he would not enjoy the sudden sting of that shot paled in comparison to the reality that worse things would happen if I chose his comfort over what was best for him. His tears were a necessary problem to have in a grave situation like that. The tears told us he was alive. The tears, perhaps, even saved his life. I put something on his plate he didn’t want: pain. But I know things he doesn’t know. I won’t always give him what he wants, but I will always give him what he needs.
I don’t want this reality, this life marred by pain and sickness and a body wracked with stuff that gets in the way of normal life. I’m mad that my own plate is brimming with disease, discomfort, and dietary restrictions that have left me sick and lost and confused and isolated. I’m frustrated that food allergies fill our kids’ plates, and I’m confused as to why God would think they’re a good idea when He knows how much we hate them. It’s bananas.
I don’t know why God is filling my plate with things I rally against, but I am not going to bed hungry tonight. Instead, I am choosing to believe the possibility that these things I loathe are making me into who I am, nourishing me in their own unique (unsavory) ways. I trust God knows things about all this I don’t know–couldn’t know. I don’t believe He’s unkind. I don’t believe He’s unjust. I don’t believe He’s singled us out to be on the receiving end of his wrath or ill-will. I believe the opposite, even though I’m eating bananas. And while I wish he would always give me what I want, I am thankful He will always, always, give me what I need.
28-30 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
We started taking the kids camping this summer. Equipped with a new-to-us pop up camper and fueled by your adventurous spirit, camping sounded fun to all of us until the reality of doing so with three small children slapped us both in the face. I dreaded going because it sounded anything but easy, and while being outdoors and drinking in the warm, sweet scent of the redwoods is up my alley, the whole roughing-it-with-three-kids-in-tow part fills me with dread.
I come by it honestly: the family vacations of my childhood involved running water, actual beds, and corner diners where kids eat free on Sundays. Roughing it for us meant five people sharing one bathroom and trying in vain to get a decent night’s sleep (which was challenging, since my dad and brothers all snored). Camping just wasn’t something our family did together, so the weight of your expectations for it all to go smoothly made me nervous before we even left the driveway.
But the promise of an overnight camping trip practically made Emery come unglued. He shrieks with hysterical glee at the mention of the word camper, so the idea of actually going out in the camper overnight, with you? Talk about excitement. That kid is happiest just being near to you, and watching him watch you reminds me of how thrilling it must have been for the disciples to walk with Jesus all those years ago, living with him, learning from him. And your patient, nearly wordless interaction with Emery helps me understand what Jesus must have meant when He said, “walk with me and work with me–watch how I do it.” As soon as we ease the camper into its spot, he pops out of the Durango with one thing on his mind: being at your side as you crank and secure and connect and make ready. You hardly have to say a word: being with you is enough for him.
The Goobie girls learn by watching too, of course, but we’ve slipped into the habit of doing things for them because it’s easier to keep them out of the way until suddenly we remember we ought to be teaching them life skills and we end up barking orders left and right in the name of proactive training (and retraining) that elicit tears, not results. They end up trying to follow a stringent set of rules they don’t fully understand, and we get angry when they break those rules or when our instructions are met with blank, confused stares.
We end up sitting them down to have a lengthy discussion about the do’s & don’ts and how’s & why’s of this that or the other. It’s forced, and the girls couldn’t care less about whether we think it’s important for them to follow those rules or not. They are burned out. Why do we think we’ve got to sit them down and lecture them about rule following instead of letting example be their teacher? Jesus didn’t go around checking off a what-not-to-do list with His disciples; He showed them how to live by living that way Himself and inviting them to join him. Shouldn’t we do the same?
We’re trying, of course. At least we know this about ourselves (right?). But it’s extra challenging when it comes to camping because the onus falls on you to take the lead because you are the one who actually knows what he’s doing, and it’s a tall order for you. Your patience runs thin against your will, like that last time we took the camper out for a quick over night trip when those Goobies tested your patience before they even got out of the car, for goodness sake. They didn’t know campsite etiquette or decorum; they didn’t know their boundaries or even what to do, really. They wanted to help, but didn’t know how to help, and I didn’t know how to have them help either. So they played in the dirt and complained and cried and I tried to keep them quiet (ha!) as you tackled setting up camp on your own.
The hard truth is that your fuse for little people who still didn’t know a thing about how to camp was short, and you spent the evening fighting the urge to lose it with the kids. At breakfast the next morning, after one too many cereal spills and too-loud early-morning giggles, your stern face betrayed the fact that you were frustrated, upset, and not having fun at all. I quietly put my hand on your arm and whispered, “If you want the kids to enjoy this, you’re going to have to change your attitude.”
In that moment, you realized this: the kids don’t know how to camp, and they won’t know how to camp unless someone teaches them. Of course kids run and jump and scream and shout, laugh and giggle and chase and zoom this way and that, gathering sticks, making dirt roads, balancing on old logs and flinging piles of leaves toward each other. They run down hills and shine their flashlights in each other’s eyes and sing at the top of their lungs and exclaim at the beauty of the forest without feeling sorry about it (and is that really a bad thing?). They don’t know how to help or what not to touch or what leaves are ok to touch and which ones are poison oak; they don’t know how close is too close to a campfire or how to roast marshmallows; they don’t know the value of sitting quietly to appreciate the echo of chirping birds–they don’t know because, well, how could they? When you realized this something clicked, breaking down the idea that the kids instinctively should know how to do things you’ve known how to do for decades. You realized the only way they’ll learn is if we teach them. I imagine that’s why Christ came and taught the way he taught. Clearly the rules and regulations of religion weren’t cultivating relationship, and so He came to teach a better way of living by example.
That trip shifted something inside you, and armed with the promise to do better and be better for the sake of all our sanity, we set out for another camping trip, and oh, what a difference. We all worked together to set up camp; the kids jumped in and found ways to be helpful almost without any instruction from us at all. Mia swept; Addie decorated; Emery turned the crank. We went exploring and found white fallow deer and a shady bench beneath an ancient redwood tree and sat, quietly watching the Goobies relish the wide, unrestricted space of the mountaintop and all the dirt that went with it, digging, drawing, and dancing in the stuff. Dirty faces and dusty clothes in tow, we came back to build a campfire and cook dinner. You situated the Goobies’ chairs, taught them how to respect the fire, and set about showing them how to roast hot dogs and marshmallows right along with them instead of doing it for them. And the evening was sweet, fairly stress free, and promising.
The kids walked away from that trip wishing it wasn’t over so soon and begging for another camping trip to be in the near future. It wasn’t perfect, exactly, but it was wonderful. We showed up and worked hard and exercised patience–and we enjoyed each other. By the grace of God, and with His help, the kids learned so much more this time because we taught them–you taught them–with so much more than words.
Hobo dinners are a new-to-us camp food experiment that will certainly turn into traditional fare around our campfire. Root vegetables, onions, meat, fire–these are the simple things that kept fed families for generations, and making them in the crisp September twilight made camping seem totally doable–and enjoyable, too. I love how easy they are to throw on the grill–fussing around with dinner prep was one of my biggest objections to taking our food allergy family camping. As if feeding the five of us isn’t complicated enough, throwing camping into the mix made my head spin. This time around was even harder, what with me on the Autoimmune Protocol and Joey on the Whole30, dinner at a campsite made me want to cry. But then in a moment of inspiration, I thought, “Oh yeah! Hobo Dinners! I’ll try those.” I saw the idea for them earlier this summer when we first got the pop up camper, but just hadn’t tried them yet (hot dogs were just easier the last couple of times). But this time, Hobo Dinners came to my rescue and they were a hit. Use stew meat instead, or add some potatoes or mushrooms, and throw in whatever seasonings sound good to you. This recipe yields 4 portions, so multiply as needed. You’ll see the recipe is more of a method, so don’t fret too much about quantities. (In fact, you can cook two burgers in one packet if you want to.) Follow your gut.
1 1/2 pounds ground beef
1 1/2 teaspoons onion powder
3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
3/4 teaspoon sea salt, plus more for seasoning the veggies
1/2 cup sliced onions (red, white, yellow–use what you like)
a few glugs extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil
salt and pepper to taste
First, mix seasonings into the ground beef–mush it all together and form into four patties. Set aside.
Peel and slice the root veggies. Toss them in a couple of glugs of olive oil and sprinkle with salt (and pepper, if you you like; I omitted this for AIP).
Assemble the packets:
Arrange two 2′ lengths of aluminum foil in a cross. Place the root vegetables in the center, top with an uncooked patty and drizzle some more oil on top. Fold the first layer of foil up over the burger and crimp, as if you were rolling up a paper bag. Then do the same with the bottom layer of foil, enclosing the first packet in an outer layer of foil and crimping tightly, so that the foil is sealed.
Place the packets on top of the campfire (use the grate provided!) and let cook directly over the flame for 15 minutes. Remove, and let rest for a minute or two (they’ll be hot!). Unwrap foil and enjoy.
This morning when I called Addie into the bathroom to get her hair brushed, she cast a sideways glance at me and asked,”Are you going to cry again today?” I laughed and said, “I hope not, kid. But probably.” The emotion swirling around the first few days of Kindergarten has subsided now, for the most part. We’re off and running now, finding our stride and fully expecting to hit a few bumps along the way.
We made it through the first few mornings of back to school mayhem, and even though it went well, it took a lot out of me. I’m exhausted, aren’t you? Trying to be organized with these three tornadoes swirling around me is laughable. The lazy summer days masked my disorganized self quite well, but the fall semester ripped the cloak right off of me and exposed me for who I am: a disaster. I haven’t showered in two days. (Again. Gross.) and I finally understand what all those moms of school-aged kids meant when they told me to enjoy the pajama-clad, messy-bun days at home with little bitty babies while I could. They were right: those days are a cake walk compared to these new bigger-kid days. Back then the only one who saw me unshowered was you. Now the world sees me as I really am.
Plus, organizing the girls’ schedules and toting them from here to there dressed, fed and on time– with a baby in tow–is tough. Forget getting myself ready: making sure everyone else is ready to go at the same time, with everything they need, while they all still need me to do so much for them is the priority. Add to that my guilt over how much time Emery spends riding in the car now along with the heartbreak that comes flooding in when I scoop him up from his nap on the way to pick Addie up from school, and I have a whole new batch of mommy exhaustion and guilt.
Never mind the fact that I still, somehow, in the middle of all this have to make dinner. For weeks leading up to the first day of school, I had plans to have a big, comfort-food laden meal welcoming us all home and into evening hours with peace and comfort, anchoring us all to each other again after the first of many days ahead spent going our separate ways. By 3:00 that afternoon, though, I still didn’t have the slightest idea what to cook. I let guilt over that taunt me for a few minutes, until the idea of warming up leftover beans and quinoa (again) was too much to handle. So I opened the fridge, poked around, and found a pack of Italian Sausages smiling up at me practically begging to be cooked. I thought about the way Addie inhales deeply, sighing “What smells so good?” whenever I cook them, and I realized Cassoulet was the perfect solution for this unprepared mother’s lofty ideals of a comforting family meal.
I browned those sausages and chopped up carrots and sauteed onions and garlic, happily listening to Addie chatter about her adventures of the day, nodding and murmuring Oh really? How cool! as I did so. A few minutes of this and she stopped mid-sentence, clearly catching a whiff of the magical combination of onions and garlic and asked with a smirk, “What’s for dinner?” Those words make my heart sing because what I’m really hearing is “Comfort me with dinner.”
We actually sat down at the table together on the first day of school–all five of us–and ate the same thing at the same time. There were a few tense moments of course, because our children are normal and young and protest if they are given anything other than noodles. But overall, it was wonderful. It slowed us down and helped us connect. The best part wasn’t even the food: when it was Mia’s turn to share her High Point from her day, she looked up from her plate and smiled, saying, “Right now.”
In those few minutes, I was filled with a new appreciation for what dinnertime could be in the coming years: a daily ritual of comfort, all of us together, connected and fed in more ways than one. What kid wouldn’t look forward to coming home from school to that?
That is, if I can get organized and figure out what to cook.
Kid Friendly Cassoulet (GF/DF/NF)
Addie can’t seem to remember the name of this dish (I can’t blame her. Cassoulet is a sort of tricky word for a 5 year old), but she oohs and ahhs when I tell her I’m making sausage and bean stew, which is pretty much what this is–and an easy one at that. I tend to have the ingredients around most of the time and can toss it together quickly. The food is simple, but the flavors are fantastic, and all my children really do eat this. It is both gluten and dairy free, which makes it easier to get us all eating the same thing. I go easy on the thyme because any more of it overpowers the other flavors for me, but if you love the stuff, then by all means, add more. But whatever you do, don’t leave out the red wine vinegar. It makes all the other flavors come alive.
6 Italian sausages, uncooked
2-13.5 cans diced tomatoes (juices included)
2-13.5 ounce cans Great Northern Beans, drained
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced to 1/4 cubes or so
1 large yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tablespoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon thyme
a few glugs of olive oil
In a dutch oven, warm up the olive oil over medium high heat. Line the sausages up in the pan and let them turn deep golden brown on both sides, about 2-3 minutes per side. Remove the sausages to a separate plate and lower the heat to medium. Toss in the onions and stir them around a bit, coating them in all those delicious sausage drippings. Cook them a few minutes so that they soften and start to turn translucent. Then, turn the heat down to medium low and toss in the garlic. In a minute or two you’ll start to smell the garlic; at that point add in the carrots and cook to soften a little, about 3-4 minutes. Sprinkle in the thyme and salt, then add in the tomatoes, tomato paste and red wine vinegar. Stir everything together and turn up the heat to medium. When the mixture begins to bubble, add in the drained beans and gently stir again. Slip the sausages from their plate back into the pan, along with any juice they’ve left behind, and nestle them in with the beans and veggies. When the stew starts to bubble, put the lid on top and put the whole thing in the oven. Leave it there for 40 minutes. After 30 minutes have passed, take the lid off, but keep the dish in the oven for another 45 minutes or so, until the sauce has thickened up and carmelized.
This would be fantastic served with crusty bread, clearly. But since I haven’t mastered the art of the gluten free loaf yet, we served it with roasted cauliflower and a simple cucumber tomato salad.
Remember all those years ago when we started praying for fruit? I think about how that prayer has been answered every time I pick an apple off of our apple tree.
It all started because we cancelled our membership to a local Consumer Supported Agriculture (CSA) because our grocery budget couldn’t really handle the novelty of it anymore. It seemed like a good decision at the time. It was the middle of winter, we were getting a whole lot of lacinato kale, swiss chard and leeks that just sort of sat in our fridge, sad and limp at their lack of use. There were only so many ways we could think to cook a leek, after all.
Even so, my ego took a hit when we decided to forego the delivery service for awhile. I was an informed and responsible consumer and belonging to a CSA made a difference, you know? But we were still getting used to the expenses that arrive the same day a child does, and so we chose to go back to buying commercially produced fruit and vegetables again, promising we would be more diligent with our dollars for awhile and go back to the CSA when our wallet loosened up a bit.
But time kept us moving along and we didn’t go back. We had another baby, moved in with my parents and started the year long work of saving for a house of our own. In the midst of all that, we started remembering our CSA boxes with the sort of wistfulness that made us long for the ease of just-picked fruit magically landing on our doorstep before the sun came up. We even missed that fridge full of wilted winter vegetables (leeks in particular, ironically, because of those tempura leeks. Hallelujah.) We talked about joining the CSA again, but we just couldn’t seem to make it work for our family. I still felt pretty deflated about it. Even the promise of making it work once we moved into our home, the place we’d plant ourselves and grow together as a family, didn’t really help. And so I did what I always do when I don’t get my way: I pouted.
When I came to my senses, put away my bottom lip and thought about why any of this mattered to me at all, I realized this: something primordial is lost when produce is produced commercially. Food was created to be good. It is supposed to taste good. The way our food system works now, most of us are missing out on the goodness of that food. Everyone knows a tomato freshly plucked from its vine tastes nothing like its mealy, flavorless counterpart available at any major supermarket. Our kids sure do: they spit out grape tomatoes purchased from the store, complaining the little things sting their tongue. But they’ve race toward our own grape tomato bush nearly every morning this summer, picking the firey red ones as fast as they can shove them into their mouths.
God intended for food to taste amazing when he created it. I’m sure of it:
‘Earth, green up! Grow all varieties of seed-bearing plants, Every sort of fruit-bearing tree.’ And there it was. Earth produced green seed-bearing plants, all varieties, And fruit-bearing trees of all sorts. God saw that it was good.”
(Genesis 1:11-13, MSG)
I have a hard time believing God only saw the functionality and efficiency of his design as good. This is the same God that illuminates the sky at night with beacons of blazing glory; the same God that infuses a baby’s head with its intoxicating sweetness; the same God that paints flowers in resplendent hue. This is the God that created our food for our nourishment and our enjoyment.
It’s hard to feel like I don’t have a choice but to feed our kids virtually tasteless, pesticide laden foods. It’s hard to teach them to love fruits and vegetables when the ones they’re given are mushy and tasteless. It’s hard to make a case for eating more of them when it feels more like punishment than something to savor. It’s hard to miss out on experiencing the glory of the way food is supposed to taste.
And so, I began to pray for organic fruit.And I asked you to start praying for organic fruit too. I felt a little foolish suggesting it, but since food is so central to life, I decided a strange prayer like that wasn’t really so weird after all. Plus, I was ready to be rid of the weird mix of guilt, humiliation and longing that still harassed me every time I went shopping. But you didn’t laugh at me. You affirmed me and added to the depth of the prayer, reminding me that fruit is the thing toward which much energy and attention moves; an end product; a result of effort spent. Wasn’t that what we were doing that year, saving for a home? (Not to mention our children’s lives–who they are and who they are becoming–don’t we pray for a rich harvest there, too?) And so, webegan praying for fruit. The organic kind.
Eventually, the arduous year of saving for a house produced fruit of its own, and we found ourselves putting down roots in a house with a gnarled old apple tree standing proud in the backyard. I didn’t love the tree at first, but then springtime came and we marveled at they way its blossoms sprang to life and my heart changed. Apples followed, and come back every summer, a very real answer to prayer. We may not be part of a CSA again yet, but we have organic fruit growing at our house.
We’ve been enjoying these apples this summer especially. It’s a little funny that the tree produces before the fall, I think; but I pray our kids remember this summer spent under its branches, picking its fruit and nibbling on them before breakfast in the early morning sunshine. As Addie was eating one just last week, she sighed and said to me, “this is the best apple I’ve ever tasted.”
So many prayers answered, right there, in that beautiful moment.
Spiced Brown Sugar Apple Crisp
This recipe evolved from my disastrous first attempt at making a gluten free pie crust. I had never made a gluten free pie before, but with so many apples around, I couldn’t very well notbake a pie, could I? But my best effort nevertheless turned into a salty, gloppy paste. Happily, I have enough of my Grandma Teague’s good sense in me to salvage the apples and make an apple crisp instead. Later, as Joey spooned it into his mouth straight from the baking dish, he announced between bites, “I like this better than apple pie anyway.”
For the Filling:
20 ounces peeled and cored apples (crisp and tart-sweet, like Granny Smith), sliced to about 1/4″ (about 4-6 apples, depending on their size. If they are large, you will probably only need four of them, but if they are on the smaller size, you will need six or so).
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 Tablespoons Gluten Free Flour Blend*
2 Tablespoons evaporated cane juice (pure cane sugar works too) 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
For the Topping:
3 1/2 ounces coarsely ground oats (gluten free if necessary)
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup Gluten Free Flour Blend*
1/4 cup refined coconut oil
pinch of salt
*This blend contains xanthan gum, but if yours doesn’t, add 1/8 teaspoon to the filling ingredients and 1/4 teaspoon to the topping ingredients.
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and grease a 9′ pie plate or glass baking dish (I take the easy way out and use coconut oil spray).
Then, the dirty work: wash, peel, and slice the apples about 1/4″ thick. Toss them into a large bowl as you go and sprinkle the lemon juice on top when you’re done. Give them a good stir, making sure the lemon juice is well distributed among the apples.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients for the filling. Pour the spicy goodness on top of the apples and toss it together as you would a salad so that each apple slice is coated with the sugar mixture; then pour them into the prepared baking dish.
On to the topping: in a separate bowl, cut the coconut oil into the ground oats, sugar, etc., until it looks like coarse sand. Spread evenly over the top of the apples.
Pop the pan into the oven and leave it there for 40 minutes, or until the topping is golden and the brown sugar melts into spicy liquid love, bubbling up around the edges and beckoning to be married with vanilla ice cream.
This is how food allergies make me feel: Trapped. Surly.
This is how food allergies make our kids feel: Separate. Left out.
Much has been said — is being said — about food allergies, and it’s no wonder: these things are getting more and more common. I read there are more of us all the time– families dealing with food allergies who find themselves fighting a battle for which they’re most likely not prepared for at all, if they’re anything like us. But the frustrating thing is: I know so few of these people. In our world, it feels like it’s just us. Alone.
When I was growing up, I knew of two people with food allergies: Tony, a cousin; and Tina, a classmate. I don’t have much memory of Tony dealing with his allergies, except for a few fragmented moments in which my Aunt mentioned how dangerous a peanut allergy can be, and how soy is in everything. I was too young to care much about what that actually meant in their day to day lives.
But I do remember a bit more about what it was like for Tina. She unabashedly asked about ingredients in whatever foods were being offered to her, and everyone took it pretty seriously. And by seriously, I mean this: people believed she had an allergy, and they did their best to keep her safe and included at the same time.
I remember her coming to our house once to spend the weekend with us once while her parents went out of town, which would quite an ordeal these days, I imagine, with the barrage of instructions and medications and half-crazed parents trying their best to stay sane while doling out instructions for the care takers (I know, because I am one of those parents). But 25 years ago, it was almost no big deal. Her mom dropped her off with Mocha Mix, Rice Krispies, and a big pot of chicken and rice soup to help offset any trouble feeding a dairy free child might be for my mom. Tina’s mom certainly didn’t insist we clear out our fridge or restrict our own consumption of milk while Tina was with us. She must have thought my mom was a reasonable person, and trusted she would take the allergy as seriously as it needed to be taken–meaning, of course, don’t feed dairy products to Tina.
Food allergies isa thing now, though, meaning more kids have them–like ours–and our society’s infrastructure has changed a bit to address the problem. Many schools are nut free; EpiPens are normal; kids wear medical alert bracelets. Even kids without an allergy of their own are at the mercy of rules set up to keep other kids safe. Like our own Addie: she had to give up peanut butter right along with us the day we found out about Mia’s allergy, and now is learning to drink vanilla almond milk because of little brother’s dairy allergy. She can’t take almond butter sandwiches to school because it’s a nut-free zone, and if we’re at a birthday party where either of the other kids can’t eat the treat provided, we make Addie skip out too.
Even so, Addie takes most of it in stride because she has a pint-sized understanding of why some foods are off limits for our family. She’s watched both her brother and sister break into hives, watched me cry and pray and give medicine, and even spent the afternoon in the ER after little brother suffered a particularly bad reaction. She may not have an allergy of her own, but her food life is lived within the parameters of what’s safe for her sister and brother to eat, and for the most part, it doesn’t bother her.
But I know it must bother other kids, other families that don’t have allergies. They’ve got to be frustrated when forced to abide by rules that are irrelevant in their own household. Like the little circle of moms at Addie’s dance class who bemoaned the fact their kids had to deal with the fallout of food allergies even though they themselves don’t have them. Just a few months ago, I overheard them saying how frustrated they are about not being able to send peanut butter sandwiches to school, and what an inconvenience it is to have to worry about potential allergens when packing their own kids lunches, or making birthday cupcakes, or bringing in candy for parties. They said things like: I mean really. Our kids shouldn’t have to suffer because they don’thave an allergy. It’s not their fault nor their responsibility.
When I heard all this, I wanted so badly to walk up to them and say, “If your kids did have food allergies, wouldn’t you appreciate rules put in place to help keep them safe when they are out of your immediate care?” But I didn’t. I’m not brave and I feel ill-equipped for that discussion because, well, they have a point. I already feel beaten up by food allergies themselves, and I couldn’t bear the thought of trying to fight another battle.
I am thankful for the people around us who do the best they know how to be supportive and watch out for our kids, but even well-informed people make mistakes. Since starting preschool a year and a half ago, nuts have snuck their way into her classroom at least three times, the most recent of which was on the last day of preschool last year when a fellow mom made cupcakes topped with a graduation cap made out of a peanut butter cup. These things happened in a nut free school that we love and trust. Not one of those people intentionally put our daughter at risk.
I didn’t raise a stink about it. I appreciated the gesture of making sure Mia had a cupcake too, and I was right there to explain to her what the chocolate really was and why she couldn’t have one (something she used to take in stride, but is increasingly having a difficult time with). I was a little peeved, but at the whole idea that food allergies are a reality for us, and not because anyone tried to hurt Mia on purpose. Things turned out alright. Plus, I constantly beat myself up for my own lapses in judgment that have plunked our kids down in the middle of a food allergy mess. Who am I to get mad at others for genuinely trying to keep them safe and included?
Just two weeks ago, I rushed Emery to the Emergency Department after he had mistakenly gotten a hold of Mia’s empty milk cup. I should have known better than to let her drink it on the couch because Emery is getting really good at getting a hold of his sister’s stuff now. I warned her not to let her brother get her cup, and to her credit, she did her best to put it out of his reach, but while I had my back turned for half a second, he stretched those little arms as far as he could, grabbed the cup, and took a sip of whatever was left.
I snatched the cup away, scooped him up, and kicked myself for creating this problem in the first place while I went to find the Benedryl. He’s had hives from milk before, so I wasn’t panicked, exactly. But before I knew it, his left eye started to swell, and the swelling crept down the side of his cheek, distorting his little face just enough for me to know something was different this time. I called you in a tizzy, crying and scared and very much needing you to stay on the phone with me while I used the EpiPen for the first time. You did. And after it was over, we flew to the hospital to make sure he would be alright. He was, but riddled with Benedryl, he was beside himself.
Just a week later, I gave Emery Sunflower Seed Butter, a seemingly benign food touted as a safe alternative to peanut butter. It’s safe for schools. Mia eats it happily, as does Addie. Emery showed a small sensitivity to it a few months ago, but I figured that had probably passed because these things often do, and there wasn’t any way Sunbutter could be a real problem for him, in my mind. After just about a half a teaspoon of the stuff, Emery’s body was riddled with hives that seemed to spread faster than any I’d seen before. They started on his chin, erupted on his left arm and quickly got thick and red and covered arms and tummy.
He didn’t vomit or swell or show any other sign of distress, so I gave him Benedryl and watched and waited. I admit I cried, again. Always. I can’t seem to help it when this happens. This time, though, I was upset with myself, because I knew better. Hadn’t he had a tiny reaction to this stuff a few months ago? Why did I think this time would be any different? And I was upset with the whole twisted food system that makes things more difficult on families like ours. And I prayed that the antihistamine would do it’s work quickly as I chased our crazy boy around the house. Benedryl riles him up, causing him to rage, destructive and angry, as the medicine courses through his system. When the hives finally subsided, my parents rang the doorbell, and I let my mom hug me while I fought back tears. I was spent.
I want people without food allergies to know we didn’t choose this, and we aren’t trying to be unreasonable. We don’t want to inconvenience anyone, but we also don’t know what else to do. Food allergies are inconvenient. Figuring out how to navigate this food allergy world is hard. Scouring packages, stretching dollars, trying to better understand the inexplicable. Taking risks every time we eat out. Making sure we do our best to keep our kids safe and trying not to worry when they’re out of our care. It’s a lot to handle.
I’m thankful you’re in this with me, and that we have a tribe of folks who walk beside us doing their best to look out for us, who don’t regard food allergies as a nuisance, but try their best to make us feel normal. Sometimes, all I want is to feel normal again.