10 Last of all I want to remind you that your strength must come from the Lord’s mighty power within you. 11 Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand safe against all strategies and tricks of Satan. 12 For we are not fighting against people made of flesh and blood, but against persons without bodies—the evil rulers of the unseen world, those mighty satanic beings and great evil princes of darkness who rule this world; and against huge numbers of wicked spirits in the spirit world.
13 So use every piece of God’s armor to resist the enemy whenever he attacks, and when it is all over, you will still be standing up.
Ephesians 6: 10-13 (TLB)
Snow fell unseasonably early last week. You kissed me and we watched it quietly fall while you held my hand in your own.
It’s all a little bit like Snow White tonight: the white snow. Crimson blood. A warm hearth on a cold night. Pies.
I giggled in spite of myself and the grumpiness inside of me eased a little bit. You had a point: several elements of that story were present in the tale that we watched unfold in our kitchen that night, but in our version I was far more like the Evil Queen than Snow White herself.
Maybe reading these stories were too hard on my tender heart still recovering from the trauma of feeling like we almost lost Emery a few weeks ago. Granted, the Epi Pen did its job and Emery is perfectly healthy in the aftermath of that ordeal, but in those tense moments when his floppy, swollen body failed to respond to us, panic saw an opportunity to slip right in, convincing me to live in a constant state of fear.
I know I am not alone in this fight against fear: 5.9 million children in the US have food allergies, so clearly millions of other moms face that same fight every day, and let me tell you: fear is a vexing foe indeed. You know its true, because dads deal with it too. And grandparents and aunts and uncles and friends and teachers–goodness, the teachers. 5.9 million kids translates to one in 13 kids, which means roughly two kids in every classroom across America brings a food allergy to school with them every day. Moms like me have to stare fear down and tell it to go away even as we watch our kids walk out of our sight and into the care of others.
Fear whispers, You really think they’ll be safe out there? If you can’t even keep your own kids safe, how can you possibly trust anyone else will? I want to keep the kids at home forever and cook everything from scratch and magically all the food allergy threats disappear in the illusion of a homemade utopia that just plain doesn’t exist. Instead, the best I know to do is this: take an honest look at what we do to keep our own food allergy kids safe and figure out what we can do better. And goodness, we can do better.
Remember how we banned peanuts from our house after Mia’s diagnosis? Somehow Emery’s allergies haven’t carried the same weight around here, not even in the aftermath of administering the Epi Pen or the subsequent trips to the ER. I’m not really sure why, other than peanuts are easier to avoid, and we don’t miss them nearly as much. Dairy is far trickier (especially since cheese is the one food that Mia will eagerly eat) because unlike peanuts, it is a ubiquitous pantry standby. Plus, we miss it when it’s gone. We eat cheese and drink milk and top our tacos with sour cream while a little boy with a severe allergy to the stuff watches, all while assuring him he doesn’t want any dumb old sour cream because it would make him sick– which I imagine is nothing short of confusing to a not-quite-three year old boy with a deep sense of justice.
To be clear, we are not lackadaisical about Emery’s dairy allergy. We learned how to swap out dairy ingredients for non-dairy alternatives; we make meals that are dairy free; we keep dairy ingredients out of Emery’s reach; and we have rules about when and where the girls are allowed to enjoy dairy products; and we make sure foods are free from all-the-allergies on big days like Christmas (like Katz donuts for breakfast!)–but perhaps we are not as strict as we ought to be. We do not let peanuts or sunflower seeds or gluten into our kitchen (except for a few gluten-full cracker varieties for the Goobies), but we continue to allow milk products into our home despite the glaring fact that Emery has suffered allergic reactions and been rushed to the ER three times because of ingesting dairy (first milk; next whey; and then cheese). He’s been poked with the Epi Pen twice; spent days upon days hyped up and completely unlike himself as a result of steroids that ward of rebound reactions, pumped full of Benadryl countless times for additional minor incidents, and been subjected to disappointment every single day, watching his sisters eat cheese and begging to have some for himself only to be denied time and time again.
The obvious answer is ban all dairy from our home. Why is it so hard to do that? We tell Mia peanuts could cost her her life and our actions (rules, procedures, preparedness) show her we mean business. As a result, peanuts are not allowed in our home, period. But what about dairy? Love makes us say, “Sorry buddy, you can’t have sour cream on your taco because it will make you very sick,” but those words don’t mean anything to a preschooler who shouts “No fair!” and pouts.
1 John 3:18 tells me words are not enough, and that action infuses words with meaning. Without action, words are empty. Clearing out the kitchen of offending foods and eating dairy free in front of the boy would be far more loving than eating the stuff in front of him. Plus, choosing to forego the stuff will help Emery understand the severity of his allergy and assure him of the security of our love (wouldn’t it?) Keeping the sour cream off the table and out of our home communicates love far more than simply saying “No sour cream for you, bud” as we dollop the stuff on our own tortillas.
I can make my peace with foregoing sour cream on taco night, and I imagine you and the girls could do the same. It’s the cheese that poses the biggest problem around here. What on God’s good earth would Mia eat if we cease to allow dairy in the house? Then again, what awful fate might Emery suffer if we continue to keep it around?
The good news is this: in the nearly three years since Emery first started showing signs of his allergy, we have built an arsenal of delicious dairy free alternatives that help us make everyone around our table happy. This is a big deal because while dairy free products are not hard to find, finding delicious ones is far more difficult. What I love lately, though, are dairy free alternatives that actually make the Goobies cheer–all three of them.
For example, the So Delicious brand is my hero because, true to its name, their products are actually really yummy. The Goobies cheer when you announce there’s ice cream for dessert, which happens on a fairly regular basis around here. (We do our best to keep these kids feeling normal, and darn it if a scoop of chocolate coconut milk ice cream helps them feel like regular kids? So be it.) Ditto for their take on non-dairy whipped topping CocoWhip, a treat that redeemed the idea of non-dairy whipped topping in my book because not only is it truly non-dairy (Cool Whip is not non-dairy!), it is also made of better ingredients than its dairy-laden competitor. Also, Emery is pretty smitten with their lunch box size Chocolate Coconut milk boxes, which he’s lovingly dubbed monkey juice. Everyone around here likes it, actually–a triple win!
Maybe the biggest win in our quest toward a more dairy free household is Follow Your Heart vegan cheese, which gives creamy dreamy comfort food a chance to grace our table again. Before we discovered it, Grandma Teague’s famous Golden Potatoes were relegated to memories of Christmas past, but I’m happy to report Grandma’s Golden Potatoes are back. Even better than the shreds, though, are the American cheese slices that make Daiya brand vegan cheese taste as bad as Mia insists it is (and honestly, we don’t disagree). Follow Your Heart slices make grilled cheese sandwiches that fool even our toughest critic in our house. The sheds and slices both melt fantastically over a pan of hot gluten free elbow noodles too, making a fast and inexpensive (and yummy!) dairy free mac & “cheese” that makes me believe miracles can happen. (I just toss in a handful of cheddar style shreds or a few torn pieces of the American style slices into a hot pan of drained gluten free noodles along with a tablespoon or so of our favorite dairy free butter alternative Earth Balance Buttery Spread and a splash of plain rice milk and stir until smooth.)
Food speaks to the soul, so let’s use words and actions, both. Together they can nourish the body, soothe the spirit and make our kids us feel loved. Serving safe foods that taste delicious is the one of the most loving things I can think to do for our food allergy family. I am thankful for these few dairy free foods that help convince us all that sacrifices don’t have to leave us feeling unsatisfied or left out.
“Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.”
Luke 6:21 (NIV)
So I made a pie on Sunday.
In classic Rachel style, the thought of getting back into the comforting rhythm of cooking helped ease me out of the thick blanket of despair I wrapped around myself last week when the ER doctor threw his hands up and said, “You are a medical mystery.”
That’s what we all want to hear when we are being discharged from a 6 hour stint in the ER, isn’t it? My other phantom pain flared up last Wednesday, sharp in front and cutting through to the back, making each breath feel like razors were rattling inside. I went to the ER, a visit that left me more bewildered than I was before I went in. I spent the next few days shedding a lot of silent tears at night, trying to feel better. By Sunday I was out from under the blanket, but weak and fumbling and without much of an appetite. By Sunday, pie sounded soothing.
Ah, but–the AIP. And the Whole30(ish) thing you’re doing. Clearly, pie, or any other sort of comfort food was not the way to soothe away this particular heartache. And yet, I am not doing this crazy restrictive diet to lose weight or retrain my brain to eat only when I am really hungry, or even to retrain my palate to learn to love flavors as they naturally occur. I am doing it because I don’t have much other choice, at the moment. I have been sick, and I needed to heal.
And so after I fought with myself over whether to make a pie or not, I chided myself for toying with the idea of not making it, and I headed into the kitchen to make the most miserable pie I ever made. And I learned (again) three things:
Listen to my gut.
Laughter soothes my heart just as well as a good slice of pie can.
God doesn’t always work the way I think He will, but I can trust Him anyway.
So this pie: I admit I had my doubts about it from the get go. Although it was completely AIP compliant and looked normalish, something about the ingredients just sort of nagged at me, telling me “I’m not going to work the way you think I will.”
But I ignored it, saying to myself What do I know? I’m still learning how to use all these ingredients the right way, and who am I to say whether there’s something wrong with the recipe? I whisked together the coconut flour and arrowroot starch, tossed in some sea salt and cut in the coconut oil. I pressed the dough-like-substance into the bottom of a pie pan, crimped the edges with a fork and poked holes in the bottom. I baked it until golden, the smell of the toasty warm crust working its way into my heart and lifting my spirits as it went.
As it baked, I stirred together frozen mixed berries and lemon juice, brought it to a boil, and then reduced the heat to let it simmer away by half. Then I tossed in another few cups of berries into the thick, juicy syrup, gave it a stir and waited to pour it into its cradle. Out popped the crust, in went the filling, and back into the oven the whole thing went for another few minutes, just long enough to fill the house with the enticing aroma that comes only from a freshly baked pie.
This thing looked perfect. Unbelievable, really. On the oven top it sat, and you jokingly said you’d buy me a house with a kitchen that had a windowsill for me to cool pies on, and buy me pretty spin dresses and high heels, and a string of pearls and new tubes of lipstick, too. We laughed, because it was late in the afternoon and I was still in my pajamas, and holy moly if I needed a shower.
But the pie sat there like a promise: almost too good to be true.
Emery heard the oohs and ahhs, and clamored for a piece of pie after polishing off his dinner plate. “I want pie,” he said as he nodded his head, letting us know this was not a request, but a requirement.
So I got out a knife and a pie server and a plate, set up my cutting station and huffed under my breath, “I don’t know about this…”
The crust wasn’t cooked through at all. In fact, it was a goopy mess of what can only be called Paleo slime. No one believed me that it was ruined–the thing looked too beautiful to be ruined, except the whole thing was soft and mushy–an utter mess–on the inside.
I scooped some out anyway, believing you when you told me it probably tasted better than it looked. (You remember I told you it had absolutely no added sweetener to it, right? No sugar, no stevia, no honey or maple syrup? Nada!) I lovingly brought the plate to that expectant little boy of ours, who was beside himself happy for the only piece of pie he’s ever asked for. Pie isn’t something I make regularly.
A look of glee and contentment spread across his face as he scooped up his first big bite, only to be replaced by revulsion in an instant.
Laughter erupted around the table, of course, which egged you on to try to convince him to take another bite, which he did, the poor kid.
He glared at you, unsure. Angry. Duped.
Somehow, you convinced him to try again.
To say he hated the pie it is an understatement.
And yet, somehow, he managed to recognize our laughter in the middle of his own freak out. The boy clearly inherited your jocularity because once he noticed he was the center of attention, and he willingly took a few more yucky bites to get a few good laughs out of it.
I was ready to toss the whole thing. You and my parents (and even Emery, to some small degree) convinced me not to, though, insisting that we had to at least try it because so what if it didn’t turn out perfect the first time? (Agreed. I don’t care about perfection: I care about palatability.)
I should have trusted myself. I had serious doubts about the merits of this recipe before I even attempted to make it. I wasn’t really surprised when the crust failed miserably. I’m not entirely sure what went wrong or where, but something did go wrong.
We still ate the pie (shockingly). It wasn’t sweet, but it wasn’t tart either. It just tasted like really good baked fruit (if that’s a thing?). And the oozy pie crust turned into something more akin to a topping than a crust, and the whole thing ended up giving us a satisfying (if unconventional) small bite of something sweet-ish after dinner that night. But I think the best thing about that pie was the laughter it elicited. Hearing belly laughs around the table was like medicine–it cleared my head and released my tension and helped me see beyond myself, and outward toward the people and things that bring me joy. And through it, God seemed to whisper to me, “I’m not going to work the way you think I will. But trust me anyway.”
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
3 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 425 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 15 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.
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.
Remember that day you tried to watch Worst Cooks in America and you couldn’t stand to watch the chefs scrutinize the contestants’ fried eggs?
You turned the channel, muttering under your breath you had a hard time believing there were people out there who actually cared enough about fried eggs to pick them apart like that, and how lucky you felt that your wife knew how to decently fry one. I sat quietly, thankful you appreciate my cooking, and let you flip the channel back to the basketball game. But inwardly I sulked, for I knew the truth: I am no good at making fried eggs. Haven’t you noticed I usually ask you to fry them?
The heat is always too high. Then it’s too low. Then the whites stick. The yolks are too runny, or not runny enough. The yolks break and bleed and get cooked into a brown spider web of disaster. Even Eggs in a Hole are hard to perfect, and while you happily eat whatever sludge I slide out of the pan, the younger, pickier mouths in this family protest even the slightest deviation from their idea of a perfectly cooked yolk.
Clearly, fried eggs aren’t my idea of a quick and easy breakfast. But scrambled eggs? That’s a different story.
Before I met you, I mastered the art of egg scrambling by taking Julia Child’s advice and cooking those beauties at a low temperature. Making a tender, fluffy batch on Saturday mornings was my specialty, so much so that my roommates praised them and clamored for them nearly every week. The longer cooking time, while admittedly a bit of an annoyance, yields unparalleled results. For me, a reluctant egg eater in the first place, Julia’s technique changed me forever.
When you and I decided to get married, I was sure my egg-scrambling confidence equipped me to meet your every whim of “Breakfast for dinner, please!” with brag-worthy fare. And for the most part, it has. Except for when it comes to fried eggs. But we’re talking about scrambled eggs here.
Even so, my confidence was shaken a little just days into our marriage. We were on our honeymoon, starting our last day in Seattle at a quaint little basement cafe nestled beneath The Elliot Bay Book Company in Pioneer Square. I don’t remember the specifics of what we ordered that morning, except for the scrambled eggs with crème fraîche and scallions. They were fancy, and just the sort of simple and delicious that made us sure we could replicate them at home.
But then, we didn’t.
The idea came up over the years (meaning: you asked me to try to make them, but I put it off, afraid of ruining the memory of them.) But eventually, finally, I did it, and in the process, I learned something: I put off most things I really want to do because I am afraid: that I’ll make a mess of things; that it won’t measure up to my expectations; that I will fail. I learned I let fear paralyze me and keep me from trying new things – even something as small and insignificant as making scrambled eggs with crème fraîche instead of milk or water. I don’t really trust myself.
After I finally got over it (sheesh–they’re just eggs!), in making them made I realized I am far more capable that I give myself credit for, and when I try new things (not if, but when), I ought to approach them with the attitude that accepts mistakes as part of the learning process. And goodness – trying and failing is more important than not trying at all, isn’t it? I mean, isn’t that what we tell our kids?
As it turns out, it was not nearly as challenging as I had imagined, nor did I ruin our memory of our charming breakfast in Seattle. Instead, we can re-live that moment in the taste of those eggs whenever we want, really, since we can’t just pop over for a quick little breakfast on a whim.
I gather the bookstore has moved since then anyway, to a new location with a different sort of cafe, which while it may be delicious and charming in its own right, will never be our cafe, so to speak. But whenever I make scrambled eggs with crème fraîche at home, I am transported to that place and that time for a moment long enough to remember what it felt like to experience something familiar and new all at the same time.
I’m so glad I got over myself and tried something new.
Scrambled Eggs with Crème Fraîche
Inspired by the best eggs Joey & I ever had, this recipe elevates an ordinary breakfast food to something truly special. (I even made them for breakfast on Christmas morning when I was too pregnant to manage much else.) Crème fraîche (“krem fresh”) is really just unpasteurized heavy cream that is thickened by the good bacteria it naturally contains. Rich and velvety, it’s perfect for making these decadent eggs.
8 large eggs
4 oz. crème fraîche (plus more, for optional topping)
2 T salted butter
1/2 tsp salt
3 green onions, chopped (green parts only) Method:
First, warm up a large skillet over medium-low heat and let the butter begin to melt. Meanwhile, whisk together eggs, crème fraîche and salt. When the butter has melted, pour the egg mixture into the skillet. (I often use non-stick, so you will need to use more butter–say, 4 Tablespoons or so– if you are cooking the eggs in a stainless steel skillet.)
Let the eggs cook slowly, gently scraping up big fluffy curds as they begin to set. Do this until all eggs are soft-cooked: not runny, but still moist. When they’ve set, serve them warm, sprinkled with green onions. Top with additional dollop of crème fraîche if you want to be really fancy.