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.
If I eat what is served to me, grateful to God for what is on the table, how can I worry about what someone will say? I thanked God for it and he blessed it!
1 Corinthians 10:30 (MSG)
When Emery was first diagnosed with his dairy allergy, we let the girls eat the cheese-laden stuff around him all the time. He was an infant, after all, small and snuggly and on a liquid diet. But once the kid showed interest in what we were eating–and then when he started walking and reaching and climbing, we panicked. (The sippy cup incident taught us our lesson). Clearly, we ditched the dairy.
The Golden State Warriors are in the Western Conference Finals again, which of course means lots of things to lots of folks. To you, it means you caught one of their winning games live and in person during a season when they ended up moving on to the post season. To me (a girl who declined date-after-box-seat-date from you just a few years ago), watching those games with you means two things: first, people change. Second: pizza.
Before we were dating, shoot–before we moved to this house–basketball didn’t interest me at all. It didn’t even tempt me to flirt with the idea of caring. The promise of box seats in Oracle Arena was wasted on me. But just a few short seasons later, I found myself married to you–a proven sports fanatic–and facing box seats of a different kind: seats in my own home that made me feel boxed out and left struggling because sports stole my husband.
I made a decision just like the one I made seven years ago during the summer before Addie was born, the same year the Giants won the first of the three World Series titles they’ve won over the past several years. I didn’t care much for baseball at the time–not enough to watch every game, at least–but you did. I quickly realized I had a choice: I could plunk myself down on the opposite side of the couch and pout, hoping my mopey behavior would make you pity me enough to change the channel; I could hide myself away in the other room, fuming at menfolk for loving ball games more than their wives; or I could snuggle up to you and ask you to teach me about the game, and then listen and learn.
Happily, I chose to listen and learn, and the more I understood about the game, the more I enjoyed watching it. Knowing there was an end to the season helped; I knew we could move on to something a little more me by the time Addie was born (because the baseball season ends before November). I enjoyed a little bit of control over the remote again that November (and for a few more after it) until sports continued to dominate our nighttime line up well into November and beyond, all because someone named Curry was doing something worth watching (whatever that meant). I rolled my eyes and felt a little defeated–and not very excited to listen and learn again. But I did, and you patiently fielded my questions, answering when you could and digging a little deeper when you could not. Now, nearly four years later, not much evokes memories so splendid of date nights at home than the idea of Warriors basketball and pizza.
Pizza poses a problem around here though. I mean, clearly. Pizza is bread and cheese–you know, two of the three no-no’s around here that collectively make eating out a nightmare. Toss in the cost of ordering over-priced gluten free and dairy free pizza (both the expense and the risk are prohibitive, in my opinion), along with the time it takes to shop for and make homemade gluten free and/or dairy free pizza, all while trying to keep our diet consistent with that whole Hot Mama Diet thing, and suddenly we’ve got a real problem got a meal most folks take for granted. Pizza felt inaccessible. Except it’s pizza, for crying out loud! Depriving my you of the stuff at game time just felt fundamentally wrong, so I set out to make things right.
Difficult as it may be to negotiate the Hot Mama way of life with allergy and budget constraints, it definitely has its perks. Were I not gluten free, and were we low carb a lot of the time, I guarantee I would not have even thought to use golden flax meal as a pizza crust. True: we will never brag that this is THE BEST pizza crust ever. It is made from golden flax meal and eggs, after all. But it is the best budget friendly, awesome cracker-turned-pizza crust that allows us to eat Hot Mama pizza on short notice. Prebake a crust or two, stash them in the freezer, then load it up with yummy toppings and bake it again until its golden and bubbly. Emery even likes it topped with his beloved Daiya dairy free Mozzarella Style Shreds. (And ok, to be fair, the girls don’t love it the way they enjoy more traditional pizza crusts made out gluten free flour, but they eat it just the same, saying it’s sort of like eating pizza on a cracker. Touche.)
This measly little pizza crust played a big role in bringing me around to basketball though because I used it to butter you up before I fired question after question at you. Somehow you didn’t seem to mind them as long as you had something good to snack on between answers. That’s why this golden pizza crust goes hand in hand with watching the Warriors play basketball. Not because it’s the best gluten free crust I’ve ever made. (It’s not.) Not because it gives me the freedom to plop down on the couch and make pizza appear magically, as if from nowhere. (It doesn’t.) It’s a big deal because it’s quick and easy, it’s inexpensive, it’s flexible for food allergies, and it makes a dynamite BBQ Chicken Pizza that makes you feel like you’re not missing anything by watching the game at home with me, and not in those fancy box seats at the arena.
Tuesday night when we finally got all those Goobies settled into their beds after an evening of playing the role of proud and involved parents at her school Open House, I was just as anxious to click on Game 2 against the Spurs and munch on that BBQ Chicken Pizza as you were (who am I?) because there’s no better view of the game than the one from our own couch.
Golden Flax Pizza Crust
This dough is sort of like a giant cracker, and since cheese goes hand in hand with crackers, this pizza makes complete sense. The texture is distinctly different that a traditional soft crust, but it is good all the same, if you give it a chance. If you’re watching your carbohydrates and still want a budget friendly pizza crust, give this one a try! Top it with dairy free cheese and pepperoni or ham & pineapple, like we do, or pile on whatever toppings suit your family’s fancy.
2 cups golden flax meal
1/4 cup olive oil
1 T baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
Start by preheating your oven to 350°F. Then, spray a round pizza pan (or cookie sheet) with nonstick coconut oil spray.
Next, measure all ingredients together in a large bowl. Let the mixture sit for five minutes. The flax meal with absorb most of the liquid, thickening it into a spongy dough-like mass. At this point, plunk half the dough onto a greased cookie sheet. Lay a piece of wax paper on top of it and roll the dough out until it is about 1/4 inch thick. Remove the wax paper (carefully peel back the wax paper–it sticks if you yank it off to quickly!) and put the crust in the oven. Bake for 12-14 minutes, or until the edges are well set (golden and crisp, but not at all burned). Using a stainless steel spatula, carefully loosen the crust from the bottom of the pan, starting at the outside edge of the crust and working around the circle, gently lifting until the crust is completely separated from the pan. Place the crust on a wire rack and cool.
To top the pizza: Spread sauce, cheese, and all the pizza fixings your heart could desire on top and bake for another 8-10 minutes or so, until cheese is melted, bubbly, and golden.
To freeze the crust: Once the crust is cooled, wrap it well with plastic wrap, making sure each edge is sealed completely. Store in the freezer until ready to use.
You are the sweetest, most thoughtful man alive. When challenging days threaten to push me over the edge of insanity (and steal my kitchen mojo in the process), you offer to rescue me by bringing home take out. (Or maybe it’s you that’s saved, because let’s face it: walking through the door with take out in hand saves my sanity and saves you from bearing the brunt of my bad day. You’re an automatic hero.)
Lately I’ve been declining the offer, and no, it’s not because my days are any less frazzled than they have been lately. On the contrary, they’ve been just as harried and frustrating as ever, and I imagine they probably will be for the foreseeable future. Here’s the thing: I just don’t trust take out–not right now, at least.
Since my body was ravaged by gluten over the past several months, even the tiniest bit of it sends my body reeling, and I have to press the reset button again and again and again. The timing couldn’t have been worse, really: keeping a house clean enough to show to potential buyers on a whim is pretty much impossible when you have to still, you know, live in the house (and cook in the house). Between staging and photography; showings and open houses; inspections and more inspections, the stove sat idly by while we took the Goobies out to eat so many times they started whining about it. “A restaurant? Again?”
More often than not, neither of us ate a thing, opting to eat hummus and veggies or sheet pan nachos after the kids were in bed because actually getting food into our own mouths while cajoling the kids to eat makes exactly zero sense, not to mention the fact that trying to decipher menus requires fluency in a language we are both still trying to learn. It’s hard being a food allergy family. When the five of us go out to eat, we have no fewer than eight foods to avoid, and while Mia’s peanut and pine nut allergy has become increasingly easier to manage; avoiding dairy and casein is trickier, but possible; and gluten becomes harder and harder to weed out.
Even so, the allergen information and gluten free menus at our go-to places have worked well enough for us, mainly because we’ve gotten used to what is safe and what isn’t so safe for each of us individually. Over time, and without a definitive positive result for Celiac Disease, I grew a little lax with my standards for gluten free fare in restaurants–mostly because a girl’s still got to stay sane, right? (And people “out there” keep reassuring me that people with a mere gluten sensitivity don’t have to be quite as strict about adhering to gluten free fare.) The gluten free items were gluten free enough for me, until suddenly, after the vitamin incident, they weren’t anymore. The tiniest speck of the stuff throws my body into an uproar now, maybe because I’m still healing, and maybe because after being gluten free for so long, reactions are easier and more contamination I did the only I knew to do, of course: speak up. Ask questions. Dig a little deeper. Be particular. Don’t take labels at face value, but look them in the eye, challenging them to prove it. In the process, I found answers that both disturbed and angered me.
Like that afternoon we took the Goobies to a favorite Mexican spot for lunch. I felt ok enough about going there. We’ve eaten there before and the menu clearly states that most items on the menu are gluten free, but if in doubt, ask the server for more information. Not taking any chances, I chose three “gluten free” items and asked our server about them. After he told me the chicken in the first two dishes had been marinated in beer, I didn’t even want to hear about the third. I stopped him, pointed at the gluten free note, and tried my best to calmly help him understand that the note is misleading, and dishes labeled gluten freearen’t gluten free if they’ve been marinated in beer.
The server got defensive, of course, saying that the chicken can be substituted with something else that is gluten free, and I do understand special markings indicating which dishes can be modified to be gluten free. Here’s the thing: That’s what should be captured in the note (“The items marked GF can be modified to be gluten free. Please ask your server for details.”) As it stands, the note about gluten free menu items means absolutely nothing at all. From that point on, I trusted not one more word out of his mouth. I may have skipped lunch that day, but I learned two valuable lessons: 1) Always ask for clarification, on everything, every time; and 2) Emery is a salsa fiend. Both are equally good to know.)
Sensitive is such a soft word, and saying I have a “gluten sensitivity” makes me feel like I sound like a wimp. People like me are gluten averse, gluten antipathetic–not sensitive, for crying out loud. (And while we’re on the subject, restaurants with a “Gluten Friendly” menu just don’t get it, do they? Talk about a misnomer.) Menus like that just aren’t all that helpful anyway, especially when accompanied by a note that clearly states “Food in this kitchen is exposed to cross contamination. Not recommended for people with Celiac Disease or Gluten Sensitivity.”
This matters because cross contamination is a thing. It is very real. I know how nutty it sounds that foods like scrambled eggs cooked on a griddle shared with pancakes, or french fries cooked in the same oil as chicken nuggets aren’t safe, or that they could wake up the body’s anti-gluten army and make the next several days miserable. But that dastardly gluten is teeny tiny, and it likes to stick around, and so how could a gluten free bun toasted on the same surface as its gluten-laden counterpart not come into contact with the stuff? Even the most minute amount can hurt people who are sensitive to it. Not just, like, cause a little tummy ache, but actually damage the body and incite an array of problems that make a simple tummy ache seem preferable.
I still don’t understand it all, of course. I’m learning too, right along with you. But what I know is this: eating food prepared anywhere but our own kitchen is risky right now because my system is sensitive. (Blech.) Sure, there are many Celiac Friendly restaurants (and I am thankful for them), and I want to trust folks who do their best to provide menu items that really are gluten free. Bless them for the extra effort it takes to do such a service. But the fact remains that the overwhelming majority of restaurants are not friendly for gluten averse folks like me. It makes me sad and angry and frustrated and defeated we can’t just pile the Goobies in the car on a whim and head out to our favorite spot for a sloppy burger with a big ol’ mess of fries to celebrate an ordinary Friday night. It makes me even angrier that my limitations limit you, too, and that our kids are missing out on some of that stuff along the way as well.
We’re adapting, of course, because that’s what we must do if we’re going to survive, right? And besides, there are worse things in the world than cooking and eating at home. Like having bare cupboards. Or not having a home. Or not having a way to feed our family at all. Really, being able to cook food at home is a blessing, and not a bad thing. In fact, it really is the best thing for so many reasons, and I love most of those reasons, which I suppose I can even poke fun at ourselves every so often (Like when I said, We watched that little bunny scamper toward a bowl of what looked like amazing ice cream, and as you salivated, I said, “Now there’s something that would kill three out of the five of us,” and we laughed and laughed and laughed because it felt so true.)
So the next time you offer to bring home take out, please don’t be surprised if I say “No, thank you.” It won’t always be this way, and you really are my hero: your offer is almost as good as a break from cooking itself. I wish I could say yes with abandon, plop down on the couch, throw my feet up on the coffee table and let you serve me. (Wait a second–who says that can’t still happen? Don’t underestimate the power of a man in the kitchen. If I stash plenty of real gluten free (and dairy/casein free; and peanut/pine nut/sunflower seed free) foods in the freezer, sending you in to cook them might be sort of like take out, right? All you have to do is take it out of the freezer and heat it up.
Hm. Let’s try that.
Easy Oven Baked Meatballs, Two Ways (GF/DF/NF)
This recipe was born out of frustration that my kids loved meatballs, but they took a ot of time to make, and buying prepared gluten/dairy free convenience foods comes with trouble all its own. Pictured here are Italian Style Meatballs, perfect to drench with marinara sauce, but if spinach freaks your family out, leave it out or try the other, more basic version that follows, (which is delicious smothered in barbecue sauce). Either way, coconut flour is my favorite grain-free binder for this recipe because it adds body to the meatballs without too many added carbohydrates, plus it absorbs moisture like super sponges.
Ingredients for Italian Style Meatballs:
2 pounds ground turkey
1 pound frozen spinach, thawed, drained, and most moisture squeezed out
2 Tablespoons coconut flour
2 eggs, lightly whisked
4 teaspoons onion powder
4 teaspoons Italian Seasoning (or 2 teaspoons each dry oregano and dry basil)
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper, or more to taste
Ingredients for Regular Meatballs:
2 pounds ground turkey
2 Tablespoons coconut flour
2 eggs, lightly whisked
1 Tablespoon onion powder
3 teaspoons dry parsley
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper, or more to taste
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line two baking sheets with aluminum foil and spray with coconut oil non-stick spray.
Next, dump all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl and smush them together (don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty). Once the meat is thoroughly mixed up with the spinach and spices, wash those hands and get scooping, using a 2 T/ 1 1/2 inch scoop (which makes the job quick). Line those meatballs up like little soldiers, about 24 to a pan. Bake them as they are, or smooth them out a bit (like they are in the picture above) by rolling them gently between the palms of your hands. Either way works fine.
Pop the trays into the oven and bake for 18 minutes.
For the freezer: Let the meatballs cool, then plunk them into a two labeled gallon sized zip top bags (for two batches of 24 meatballs, each), or use one batch now and save one for later. Your call.
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.
I keep trying to come up with something to say, something whimsical and deep about how moved I am by the sound of raindrops outside our window and how it makes me want to make a big pot of soup, just like my mom used to do.
The words just aren’t coming today. I am met with silence instead. And so, instead of forcing words to bend to my will, I will bend to theirs and go lay down for a few minutes.
I will not worry about a dinner yet uncooked (and, ahem, unplanned). I will not let mental list-making hijack the quiet. I will not feel guilty about leaving the laundry alone for a few minutes, and I won’t beat myself up about the Goobie girls spending a little time on their Kindles. I won’t pester you while you watch football or The Martian or whatever it is you currently have on the TV, and I will not feel like a bad mother for not having a pot of soup simmering on the stove on a rainy, gray day like today.
Instead, I will rest. We will all be in our separate corners for a little while, recharging our batteries in our own little ways, and we’ll all be a little better for it.
Though nothing soothes like homemade soup, a little peace and quiet can be powerful in its own way–maybe even just as healing.
My Mom’s Taco Soup, Reimagined (GF/DF/NF)
This is one of the tastiest, easiest, I-don’t-miss-the-dairy-one-bit recipes I’ve got in my arsenal. I based the recipe on my mom’s recipe for Taco Soup, one of my all time favorite meals — when served with gooey cheese, sour cream and corn chips, of course. My mom’s original recipe relied on condensed tomato soup and cream of mushroom soup (both allergy offenders in our house), a big can of Ranch Style Beans, and a packet of taco seasoning. The perils of pre-packaged, overly processed foods weren’t nearly as wide known when I was a child, but gosh did those ingredients make this soup an easy one to throw together (which is why I imagine this recipe calls for them–it was a quick-to-throw-together crowd pleaser). I craved the soup a few months ago, so I set out to recreate my mom’s recipe on a rainy Sunday afternoon much like this one, using ingredients my whole family could eat. The recipe that follows is dairy and gluten free as written, but of course shredded cheddar cheese and sour cream takes it from delicious to YUM. Throw in some corn chips if a little junk food doesn’t bug you–that’s the way we ate it when I was growing up, and my oh my, how I loved it.
Grape seed oil (or refined coconut oil or canola oil)
2 medium yellow onions, diced
2 green bell pepper, diced
2 pounds ground turkey (or ground beef. Either works.)
1/2 cup homemade taco seasoning (like this one from Heavenly Homemakers)
6 cups beef broth
2 cup unsweetened, unflavored rice milk (or dairy milk works too)
2-13.5 oz. can tomato sauce
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
2 cans black beans, drained (or pinto beans, or great northern beans– whatever you have)
1 cup frozen corn
Over medium high heat, gently warm up a couple tablespoons of oil or so in a big soup pot or large dutch oven. Add the diced onions and bell pepper and cook until softened but not carmelized, about 5 minutes. Add the ground turkey (or beef) to the pot, right on top of the veggies, and then toss in the taco seasoning. Stir the veggies, meat and spices together, cooking as you go. When the meat is no longer pink, add the broth, rice milk, and tomato sauce, along with the red wine vinegar, salt and sugar. Stir to combine. Bring the soup to a boil, then simmer about 30 minutes or so to let the flavors mingle. When just about ready to serve, add the beans and corn and simmer for five more minutes until they warm through. Top with cheese and sour cream if you like. (Emery particularly enjoys his with shredded Daiya cheddar style shredded vegan cheese.)
Up until this summer, Addie and Mia were perfectly happy to bob around in the water wearing their little floaties. I don’t blame them: those babies were their tickets to freedom. They plunged into the pool unafraid and enjoyed the safety and support the floaties provided.
This past June, something changed and they realized how much they couldn’t do, and how the floaties kept them from really moving freely about the water. Soon, they were flinging those things off and trying very hard to swim on their own. They thrilled at the idea of swim lessons and eagerly counted down the days until they started. When we arrived at the first lesson, their eyes swelled with excitement as they peered over the side of the gigantic pool. They breezed through the first level, excited about starting the next level because that is when they would start to swim on their own, like, for real. They were confident to start that new level up until the moment they had to let go of my hand and dip their little bodies into the frigid pool, lingering at the edge before reluctantly jumping into their instructor’s waiting hands. The reality of learning to swim on their own was a little frightening.
Once she jumped in, Mia’s confidence showed its lovely face. She flailed about in the water, flinging her hands and feet to and fro like a bug on its back trying desperately to get out of a puddle of water. A graceful water baby she is not. But she tries really, really hard, giving everything she’s got with a smile on her face. She approaches lessons with the sort of tenacity that tells me she believes she is already a swimmer, and the lessons are a mere formality.
On the flip side, Addie hesitated a little longer before getting in, but when she finally did, she looked like a natural as she slipped in and out of the water with ease and agility. Her poise masked her misgivings: the poor little thing battled through nervous tummy aches every day before class. She got in the water anyway, admitting she loves swimming enough to get in the water. The more I watched, the more I realized her reservations had nothing to do with fear of the water itself, but have more to do with being frustrated she does not already know how to swim. It was as if she felt like she should have this figured out already and making mistakes in the process of learning sets her on edge. She was not sure she had it in her to get the job done well.
They began learning how to do the freestyle, the first, most basic stroke. I watched Addie’s arms plunge in and out of the water and Mia’s kicking legs bent and not at all propelling her forward. Their instructor praised them all the same, cheering them on and applauding their efforts. As I watched and listened and clapped and waved, I couldn’t help but identify with Addie. Like her, I shy away from doing hard things for fear I will do them wrong, and messing up is not something I deal with very well. This was especially true for me when I first found out I had to remove gluten from my diet, and believe it or not, that’s what I was thinking about as I watched those girls try again and again to get the stroke just right.
I thought about how overwhelmed and lost I felt when I first heard the news that gluten was responsible for how sick I had been for so long. For me, it wasn’t as simple as just not eating bread. It was bigger and wider and more terrifying than that, as if everything I knew about cooking was thrown overboard, myself along with it, and I was drowning in an unknown, dark ocean of grief, hopelessness and despair.
I know that sounds overly dramatic. Maybe it is. But gluten is everywhere, and figuring out how to move freely within the gluten free world was paralyzing. I was not up for the task at first, so I grabbed onto things I knew would keep me afloat: prepackaged, gluten free foods that did their job of keeping gluten out of my system, but certainly did not teach me how to cook with comfort in my kitchen again. These products were my floaties, enabling me to bob around a bit, but limiting my freedom. And I was thankful for them at first: my body was healing and I was grieving and it hurt too much to try and fail and try and fail. I was both upset I didn’t already know how to cook/live/be gluten free and very afraid to really try.
I’m sure some people plunge into the gluten free world with abandon. They are like Mia, confident they will eventually figure it out and not terribly worried if they don’t get the hang of it right away. I was more like Addie: upset I had to start from scratch because it felt like I should already know how to do all this. And I was also very afraid to fail at it.
It took me a long time to listen to my own advice about making mistakes in the kitchen: it really is part of the learning process. We learn something essential when we goof up and have to figure out how to fix it (or how to nix it). But I finally, finally, let myself deal with the fact that gluten and I don’t get along, and if I ever wanted to be free of my floaties and really enjoy life in my kitchen again, I had to swallow my pride and risk making a mess out of things. The biggest lesson I learned: it was not nearly as difficult as I once imagined it would be, and the only thing that really stood in my way was my own fear of failure.
That is why I was able to tell Addie with absolute certainty that she would catch on, she would figure it out, and any mistakes she made in the process were really a good thing because they would teach her something essential. Plus, her fear of failure was really a desire to do well, and realizing that is sometimes all the motivation you really need to do the hard work of trying.
Chocolate Chip Banana Muffins (GF/DF/NF*)
This recipe is one of the first I tackled when it finally came time to figure out how to make my own beloved recipes gluten free. It isthe muffinat our house, the one we make for friends and new neighbors and small groups and Saturday mornings. The really unique ingredient here is olive oil, which lends a fruity, somewhat sophisticated flavor to the muffin, one that I highly recommend. If the idea of using olive oil doesn’t appeal to you, you can use either melted refined coconut oil or canola oil instead. Can’t do eggs? Use 1/4 cup applesauce instead. This recipe can be baked in a loaf pan instead; bake for 50-60 minutes or until the top is crackled and golden, and a toothpick inserted into the top comes out clean.
3 medium ripe bananas (about 1 1/2 cups of mashed bananas)
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup evaporated cane juice (or regular cane sugar)
*2 cups good quality gluten free flour blend that measures cup for cup (like this one), or white whole wheat flour, if gluten isn’t an issue for you.
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup chocolate chips (if desired. It’s easy to omit this ingredient, but I rarely–if ever–do.)
*add 1 teaspoon xanthan gum if your gluten free flour blend doesn’t already contain it
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line 12 muffin tins with paper baking cups, or coat a regular loaf pan (or an 8×8 baking pan) with nonstick spray.
First, the dry ingredients: in a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, xanthan gum (if using), baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set it to the side.
Now, the bananas: remember, the uglier and more bespeckled they are, the better they are for baking. In our house, I call those little black specks sweet spots to help my girls accept that “ugly” bananas could be good for anything besides dumping in the garbage. Like I say to them, the more sweet spots there are, the better the banana bread will turn out.
Take the easy way out and mash those bananas using a stand mixer (or a regular old handheld mixer will do, too). Just throw all three peeled bananas in whole, turn the motor on medium-high, and let the paddle attachment do its magic.
Once the bananas are smashed and mostly smooth, add the olive oil. Once the bananas and oil have emulsified, add the egg, sugar and vanilla extract. Whisk again for a minute or two, until the mixture is velvety and smooth.
Remember those dry ingredients? Add them gradually, whisking between additions. Pour and whisk, pour and whisk, pour and whisk. With every addition, stir until the flour mixture is moistened, but don’t over mix (a few seconds on medium speed should do the trick). Once all the dry ingredients are incorporated, stir in the chocolate chips.
Pour the batter into those muffin tins you have waiting in the wings. Scoop about a 1/4 cup of the batter into each cup (or plunk the whole thing in a loaf pan), and sprinkle each top with a little bit more sugar.
Pop the pan into the oven and bake, about 18 minutes (or 50-60 minutes, for a loaf), until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the pan sit for about 3 minutes, then turn it out onto a cooling rack. Cool completely before eating them–if you can wait that long.
The cupboards are pretty empty again. I swear I went shopping five days ago, but between summertime growth spurts and the bottomless pit of a boy we share our table with now, food doesn’t last long around here. Gone are the days when we could get by with making dinner out of a single pound of ground turkey, or when we could stretch a pint of strawberries through more than one meal. These kids clamor for snacks before I finish clearing up the mess from the last time they insisted I feed them. They eat all day long, and I spend so much time feeding them, I usually forget to feed myself. I never thought that was possible.
To make matters more desperate, we’re on week three of swim lessons, which means the girls are even hungrier than usual. They come out of the water ravenous for a snack right now. I feel like I should be stuffing a muffin in their mouth while I wrap them up in their towels like burritos, instead of giving them fruit leather to munch on after they were settled in the stroller.
This week, I followed that feeling and made some mini muffins. I balked at the 90 degree weather, turned on the oven anyway and proceeded to figure out a way to make applesauce and buckwheat appealing to little tummies. Cranking the air conditioning up a degree or two seemed a small price to pay to have a heartier snack at the ready after swim lessons were over. But wouldn’t you know, those Goobies accosted me for the muffins on the way out the door on Monday afternoon, insisting But I’m hungry right now! and Yes, I’m sure it won’t give me a tummy ache while I’m in the water!
So I handed each girl their own little baggie of them and helped Emery eat one of his own before herding everyone into the car. By the time Addie climbed into her car seat, she was on muffin number two. Halfway through it she paused to say, “Mommy! Hear this!” and sang me a song:
Do you know the muffin lady, the muffin lady, the muffin lady?
Do you know the muffin lady who lives in San Ramon?
Yes I know the muffin lady, the muffin lady, the muffin lady.
Yes I know the muffin lady because she is my mom.
She then giggled and settled into her seat, clearly enjoying how clever she was, and finished the third muffin before we got out of the driveway.
The next morning, I set what was left of the first batch of those muffins onto the kitchen table and let the girls help themselves for breakfast. Before I knew it, most of them were gone and Mia looked intent on finishing every last one of them.
“You really like those applesauce muffins, huh Mia?” I asked, trying to confiscate the last few to save for their original intended purpose.
“Yep, I sure do,” she said. “I guess I’m just a muffin girl.”
The entire batch was gone before lunch.
This afternoon was cooler, so I took advantage of it and had Mia help me bake another batch of those little muffins. I am the muffin lady, after all. I have a reputation to live up to–and hungry mouths to feed.
Applesauce Mini Muffins (GF/DF/NF)
These muffins are a great way to introduce buckwheat flour to your battery of gluten free baking supplies. I experimented with it when I first went gluten free, but it tooksome time for me to find a combination of flavors that made me really fall in love with the stuff. The applesauce, cinnamon and coconut sugar work together perfectly here, making the buckwheat’s subtle nutty flavor shine. All of my kids eat these muffins with enthusiasm, and I imagine yours will too.
1 cup buckwheat flour
1 cup Gluten Free flour blend
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum
1 1/2 cups unsweetened applesauce
1/2 cup coconut oil, melted and cooled
1/4 cup Pyure Organic Stevia Blend (or 1/2 cup coconut sugar or evaporated cane juice. These yield a slightly sweeter muffin)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
cinnamon sugar, for sprinkling
First, turn your oven on to 375 degrees and give a mini muffin pan a good coat of nonstick cooking spray.
Move on to the dry ingredients. Measure the first seven ingredients into a medium sized mixing bowl and whisk them together. Set aside.
In another, slightly larger mixing bowl, add all the wet ingredients (the following five ingredients) and whisk to combine well. Then gradually tip the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, whisking as you go until the batter forms and there aren’t any more pockets of flour to be found.
Scoop the muffins into the muffin pan using a mini ice cream scoop (or use regular spoons to fill each muffin cup with about 1 1/2 Tablespoons of batter). Dust with cinnamon sugar and bake for 13 minutes (or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean).