You might want to ditch calling me Scratch and swap it for a name like Resourceful Rachel instead with all the re-purposing I am doing in the kitchen. We are using up leftovers like crazy, waste not, want not and all. I feel just like Aunt Daisy.
You’ve heard me tell the stories about Aunt Daisy, right?
“But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead” – Philippians 3:13
After weeks on end of so much gray, color finally started to come back. The snow has melted; temperatures are cold but not freezing, and flashes of green wink at me from in between the brown blades of old grass, like Addie flashing me a smile and calling me to come out to play for awhile.
Today I joined her: we rode bikes and drew with sidewalk chalk and drank in the sun even as a cold breeze reminded us it isn’t quite springtime yet. For a moment I was a little girl again, wind tickling my cheeks while I plucked a handful of sour grass and pretended to be Anne Shirley making a flower crown for Princess Cordelia, her imaginary persona that embodied everything Anne wished she herself was: beautiful, important, and loved.
Anne Shirley didn’t have the luxury of parents to invest in her tender heart. Addie does, but I catch myself wondering if she doubts she is the remarkable girl we know her to be. She asks us all the time: am I beautiful? Important? Loved? She asks it in her own way, of course, and we do our best to answer her in a way she understands. Still, I wonder how much of it is sinking in.
“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.”
“When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child.
But when I grew up, I put away childish things.”
1 Corinthians 13:11 (NLT)
Yesterday morning I felt like a failure before my feet even touched the ground. I hadn’t even had a chance to come up short on anything yet, but there I was flirting with the lie that tells me to lift my hands in surrender anyway. The past few weeks have worn me down, sopping up the last few drops of my energy and leaving me very, very tired.
It was Mia’s fifth birthday, which is probably why I felt extra pressure right away in the morning. School mornings are loathsome evil things anyway, but throw in a little girl’s fifth birthday? A whole extra set of responsibilities and expectations greeted me before coffee even had a chance to be my cheerleader. For someone prone to perfectionism (like I am), I was overwhelmed before I started. I wanted to ignore responsibility and nestle deeper into bed, mumbling instructions to just pour the kids a bowl of cereal because I couldn’t bear the thought of making a birthday breakfast.
Instead, I did what I always do: I stretched my legs, rubbed my eyes, and got up anyway because that’s what moms do. We base responsibility on much more than a passing fancy. We show up and do stuff we don’t always feel like doing because we love our kids more than we love our pillows. And so, I trudged into the kitchen and pulled out my birthday morning breakfast arsenal and lined up the ingredients for the much-anticipated chocolate chip pancakes that only show up on someone’s birthday. Just when I was about to scoop out the flour, I realized my favorite recipe for gluten free pancakes was packed away in a box already, not to be unloaded until after our move next month. I hung my head in defeat.
So much for birthday tradition, I thought, and for a moment I tried to convince myself that Mia would understand if I served a bowl of cereal this morning instead. She knows half the house is packed up already; surely, she’ll give me some grace. But the grown up inside whispered to the childish part of my soul: No, she won’t understand. She’s still a very young girl who is staggering through this transition too. She’s just as weary as you are, but uncertain too–and she’s counting on those pancakes to give her a little sense of stability.
We have spent the past several years making these seemingly small, disjointed traditions a priority, laying the foundation to their lives–brick by small, seemingly insignificant brick–in hopes that they will build their lives on the groundwork of love and stability. A “Happy Birthday” banner to greet them the morning; chocolate chip pancakes with a candle and the birthday song at breakfast; the You’re Special plate showing up again and again and again at the kitchen table, filled with the birthday child’s favorite foods; the anticipation of opening their four presents–something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to read. These traditions somehow became part of their birthday vernacular, and they speak of them with the sort of excitement and awe I always hoped they would. This is what their little lives are built on, isn’t it? Not the stuff–the tradition. And what is tradition without consistency? And oh, how important consistency is. Consistency breeds trust, and trust demands consistency, otherwise things break.
Get over yourself and make the pancakes anyway, I thought, and I managed to whisk together a batch of batter that worked just as well as the other recipe. Maybe all those years of making them trained me for the day I would need to make them without help, I thought as I flipped the first few golden round beauties dotted with gooey chocolate. And no sooner had I thought all this than I got distracted and annoyed and ended up overcooking (ahem, burning) a pancake (or five) and made a snarky remark to Addie after her very innocent observation that the pancakes didn’t smell very good. I was irritated, yes–because the comment sounded rude to my already-bummed out self who felt like I had taken the high road to make the pancakes in the first place, and an imperfect messy batch is what I came up with. Why did I bother at all? I wondered. But I saw the sad look in Addie’s eye and realized she hadn’t meant to be rude; she was being observant, and her remark wasn’t my progress report. I scolded myself for my short temper and made it right with the girl (“You know, you’re right–they do smell a little funny. I sure hope they taste better than they smell!”), settled into my chair, and slurped down my coffee before any more damage was done.
Mia beamed as we lit the candle and sang her birthday song, and she happily ate her sort-of-burned pancakes, and so did everyone else (even Emery, the kid who usually just picks the chocolate chips out of the pancakes, actually said, “MMM! Thas good, mama!“). The overcooked pancakes turned out to be a problem in my mind alone. And as I watched Mia tear open her presents with the purest sort of joy there is, I was glad I hadn’t let my perceived stress get in the way of her joy.
Most days I’m pretty realistic, meaning I know most things don’t turn out the way my perfect ideals dictate they ought to. But yesterday I let my eyes focus on the imperfect pancakes, my own bed head, and the idea that I wasn’t a very good mom because I didn’t greet the morning with lipstick and balloons. I sat and thought about how lucky I am that the Goobies focused on fitting raspberries on top of their fingers and savoring the rare treat of chocolate for breakfast. I’m the grown up, but I was acting far more childish than my own kids. As I watched you usher the Goobies out the door and into their day, I was left wrestling with all this and asking the Lord to help me grow up, to help me be the grown up and model good behavior for these kids who are watching everything. And wouldn’t you know, not long after that, He gently (and pointedly) reminded me of 1 Corinthians 13: 11, and how it’s ok — good, even–to be childlike, but it’s time to give up my childish ways.
I do my best to do my best at mothering, which means sometimes I have to remind myself that I’m the grown up and do things I just don’t want to do. Getting up in the morning is a struggle for me. Being kind in the morning is too. Walking through my day being others-focused is not always easy. Sometimes, I slip into that peevish childish behavior I was supposed to have put away once I grew up. But in a bout of grown up wisdom, the adult in me scolded the child and reminded me that these are the moments upon which lives are built. It was our little girl’s birthday and we don’t get a do-over. It didn’t have to be my idea of perfect to be Mia’s idea of perfect, and because Mia trusts me, and trust is built on consistency, I did the grown up thing and chose to set aside my childish behavior to lay another brick. And then, I got to enjoy Mia’s birthday with childlike abandon.
Classic Pancakes, with or without Chocolate Chips (Gluten and Dairy Free!)
These pancakes are simple and yummy–even when they’re sort-of burned. Leave the chocolate chips out if you want a plain pancake, or add blueberries instead (that’s the way Joey likes them). In a pinch, they can be made with a premixed bag of gluten free flour blend that already contains xanthan gum and measures cup for cup (like Bob’s Red Mill or Arrowhead Mills), but the finished product will be a little thinner and turn out crepe-like pancakes instead of these fluffy beauties. Bonus? These are dairy free too.
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt* (use 3 teaspoons kosher salt when using coconut oil)
2 1/2 cups unsweetened original flax milk (or rice milk, almond milk, or other dairy alternative–or just plain dairy milk)
3/4 cup melted vegan buttery sticks, such as Earth Balance (or refined coconut oil*, melted, or other neutral tasting oil)
1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 Tablespoon white vinegar
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips, optional
Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together in a large bowl. Then, in a separate bowl, whisk together the non-dairy milk, eggs, and vanilla, then pour the mixture into the dry ingredients and mix well. Next, drizzle the melted vegan buttery sticks (or other liquid oil) into the batter, whisking as you go. (If you use coconut oil, be careful to add it slowly and whisk constantly to help keep it from hardening when it hits the batter.) Dump in the chocolate chips and give it one more good stir.
Over medium high heat, warm up a griddle and spray with coconut oil cooking spray. Scoop about 1/4 cup of the batter onto the griddle at a time and cook until the edges have set and bubbles emerge on top. Flip gently and continue to cook until golden.
I am such a traitor. There is a chocolate cake cooling on the counter, springy, beautiful and almost in tact, except for the place where it’s not in tact anymore because I couldn’t muster up enough self control to wait and taste it right along with the Goobies. My curiosity (or the fact that it’s lunchtime) threw my willpower out the window and I cut into that thing without thinking about my promise.
It all started when neither Addie nor Mia wanted to finish the last bit of their lunch–the sliced cucumbers part, specifically–so I told them they could save them and finish them later on before they ate their afternoon snack. Their protests were met with a promise of my good example, and I virtuously preached about how I would be loading up with veggies myself in just a few minutes because my body wouldn’t be healthy if I didn’t eat vegetables every day, but here I am struggling because I totally broke that promise. Magic sauce didn’t even help.
Magic Sauce–or, Ranch Dressing, as most folks call it–was born out of the need for a ploy to get the Goobies to approach the idea of eating raw vegetables with any sort of cooperation. Like most kids, ours didn’t make the switch from gnawing on soft, steamed veggies to crunching on big kid ones all that easily, and despite my vow to bring up children who wouldn’t just eat their veggies but enjoy them too, it took a little coaxing to get those girls to try them in the first place.
Before actually having kids, I swore up and down I would raise kids like Julia, a little girl who lived across the street from me when I was in early Elementary school whose eating habits made all the other moms around jealous and confused at the same time. I mean, this little pixie of a thing toddled around our backyard happily munching on baggies full of raw cauliflower. I can’t imagine how her mother got her to do that.
The thing that finally made raw veggies sort of an ok thing in Addie’s book was dipping them in homemade ranch dressing. I just couldn’t bring myself to give her that famous store-bought version that apparently makes kids faint with hunger at the sight of a bowl full of raw celery, but when I figured out how to (easily) make my own homemade version? Ranch dressing became a thing.
When we visited family in Kansas City a few years ago, we discovered your brother uses the same ploy to get his kids to eat veggies too, but he goes a step further by calling ranch dressing something else entirely, a name that captures kids attention and makes them excited to try it: Magic Sauce. They wanted to know, What does the saucedo? and, Why is it magical? The grown ups exchanged knowing looks that said, It makes your veggies disappear.
When we came home, we brought that name with us and it has worked for years. We came to count on the jar always being stocked, but once we found out about Emery’s dairy allergy, I knew its days in our fridge were numbered. As I suspected, that boy eventually started noticing it, and then asking for it, and then getting angry that he couldn’t have what his sisters got to have. And so, magic sauce disappeared from our kitchen and I wasn’t sure how the girls would cope with its absence at our table.
Ketchup worked a little bit: Addie liked to dip carrots in it and Emery liked to dip green beans in it. Mia–with a more refined palate, perhaps–opted for aioli, a fancy name I gave to a very simple mixture of mustard and mayonnaise. Eventually neither sauce worked anymore.
And then one day, sort of out of nowhere, I realized making dairy free Magic Sauce at home was something I could totally handle. Out came the same supplies I used to use: homemade ranch dressing mix, mayonnaise, and milk–only this time, I used a combination of rice milk and vinegar instead of buttermilk. I whipped it all up and was almost happy with the result. The only problem was it was a bit runny, but I knew how to fix that: xanthan gum would thicken it up in a snap. (Being gluten free sure does come in handy–sometimes.)
Magic Sauce made a come back in our house, true, but the real question was this: was this dairy free version any good–and not just good enough, but you know–like, yummy? The answer? Yes. All the Goobies happily eat it, you happily eat it, and we have a gaggle of disappointed kids when the bottle runs out. Magic Sauce indeed.
Every time I pour that speckled white sauce into tiny little bowls and nestle them alongside whatever veggies the kids request at mealtime (or nuggets, or pizza–because they’re kids, after all), I feel like I’ve done something good to bring a taste of normal childhood to the table. It’s a simple pleasure, but one that is important to me. I hate it when our kids feel like the other, you know? But I digress.
Addie just came in and saw the rest of that nibble of cake sitting on a plate beside me. She eyed it. I smiled and whispered, “Want to try it?” She nodded and ate the whole piece in five seconds, flat.
“It’s good,” she said with a smirk.
“I’m so glad you like it. Now? Cucumbers.”
Magic Sauce, or Dairy Free Ranch Dressing
1 cup full fat mayonnaise
1 cup water
2 Tablespoons white vinegar
1/4 cup chopped dry onion
1/4 dried parsley
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
Put all ingredients into a high speed blender and whiz until combined. The dressing will be runny at first, but will thicken as it chills. Pour the mixture into an airtight container (like a big mason jar or an empty ketchup bottle) and refrigerate.
I think we made a good decision when we chose to put off our own New Year’s Eve tradition in favor of letting the Goobies stay up a little bit later than usual to get a taste of what New Year’s Eve is all about.
We usually make Shrimp & Grits and kick off our annual Harry Potter movie marathon on New Year’s Eve, a tradition we started a few years ago when it became clear we were the sort of people who used to go out on New Year’s Eve, but have traded in our party shoes for slippers. (Things really changed once we had kids, didn’t they?) It occurred to me on New Year’s Eve morning this year that our kids didn’t really know what New Year’s Eve was, let alone realize it was that same day. I tested this thought at the breakfast table, excitedly prodding them, “Who knows what today is?!”
“Saturday?” It might have been Addie who asked this, but I don’t remember. I do remember thinking I was right. How can they not know what New Year’s Eve is? What kind of parents are we that we haven’t even mentioned this before?
“Yes, it is Saturday. But it’s also….NEW YEAR’S EVE!”
More blank stares.
Mia tentatively asked, “So what do we do to celebrate?”
And it was that question, right there that wriggled its way between my excitement over Harry Potter and my deep desire to cultivate a culture of celebration in our family. These kids are young, yes–but aren’t they too old to send to bed without marking the occasion in some small way? If we don’t show them what New Year’s Eve is all about this year, we will have to wait a whole year to introduce it, and Addie will be seven years old by then. I felt it grow inside, that pesky feeling that I had to act now or miss my chance, and that the opportunity to weave another strand of tradition into our family life was there right then, and really? How long do we have until these Goobies want to spend New Year’s Eve with their friends, and not us? The time is now, I thought.
So we threw together a plan for our own family New Year’s Eve party–nothing fancy, but different enough from a normal night to make it feel special and fun. Central to this party was the idea of tradition–something that connects us as a family to our collective past and forges a bridge into our future, a bridge that we’ll keep building as we grow and change and step into the first few days of a still-hazy 2017.
Maybe that’s why your mom made sure to keep her New Year’s Eve offerings consistent every year: bridge building. Her traditions led you from one year to the next, first then and next, now. Maybe she knew that all that time ago when her her Green Chili Cheese Dip and Sweet and Sour Little Links showed up at the table while that funky 1960 rendition of H.G. Well’s The Time Machine flickered on the TV. Those things were constants for you then, and perhaps that’s why it felt right and good to make the same party snacks for our family this year–because traditions connect our individual pasts with our collective future.
Logistically speaking, cheesy dip is sort of a nightmare to serve with a kid who has a dairy allergy. But Emery was sick on New Year’s Eve and he took a nap straight through the dinner hour–a serendipitous coincidence that allowed our girls to enjoy that dip without any of us having to worry about Emery being around it. We taught the girls how to play Charades while we knelt around the coffee table and nibbled our way through dinner. By the time Emery woke up, we had all had our fill of dinner snacks and Emery joined in the fun of making s’mores around the fire and watching the Peanuts movie (which we had to explain to Mia wasn’t really about peanuts at all). All five of us piled on top of each other on our too-small-for-us-all couch and giggled our way through the evening. By 8:30, everyone was in bed but us, and we toasted to the new year in our pajamas, watching Food Network reruns while the fire petered out.
And so, we said goodbye to 2016 in peace, not feeling guilty or pressured, soaking up the joy of what we had right around us, and in the process, I think it’s safe to say we started a new tradition. Perhaps it’s not flashy or exciting, but it’s ours–and that’s what matters the most.
P.S.–We collapsed on the couch with big bowls of Shrimp & Grits last night instead–on New Year’s Day after the Goobies were in bed. They crashed early, after being up late the night before and in preparation for going back to school in the morning. We turned on Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and geeked out (well, I did, at least), and fell asleep right as Hermione Granger is figuring out who Nicolas Flamel actually is, and totally missed midnight. I think we’re both ok with that being our new tradition, too.
Mema’s Green Chili Cheese Dip
This is the dip my mother in law made every year for New Year’s Eve–and still does, if I’m not mistaken. It’s a constant in Joey’s memory of the way he spent New Year’s Eve as a child: eating dip and little smokies while watching the 1960 version of H.G. Well’s The Time Machine, so it’s no surprise this is what he requested when we talked about starting a New Year’s Eve tradition for our own family. I admit this recipe deviates from the original a bit, meaning mainly that this one is gluten free.That famous national brand of Cream of Mushroom soup (you know the one) is made with wheat flour, which poses a problem for people like me. But Pacific Foods makes a fantastic gluten free version that works just as well as that other brand, and it’s made with organic ingredients, too. Use mild cheddar cheese — it melts beautifully into the soup and stays creamy. Add more cheese if you like it even cheesier, but Joey gives the amount listed here two thumbs up. Also, this dip is mild as can be, so add hot sauce if you want things to be spicy.
1 cup milk (we used 2% milk, but use what you prefer)
12 oz. shredded mild cheddar cheese
In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, mix together the soup, chiles and milk. Heat for a few minutes, until warm and steaming. Add the cheese, about a cup at a time, and whisk until melted and combined. Heat thoroughly–the dip will bubble up around the rim of the pan when it’s ready to pour into a serving bowl*.
*Joey says his mom always serves this dip straight out of a small crock pot to keep it warm and gooey, but we fared just fine using a regular serving bowl. You might need to reheat the dip a bit as it sits, but it stays nice and smooth at room temperature.
“Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.”
Matthew 6:34 (MSG)
Remember how I felt so against the change in season a couple weeks ago? I’m still in that place a little bit: not really ready for some of the things I know are just around the corner. With Fall pressing in on us I felt pushed, like I had to hurry up and pretend to be excited for change. I wasn’t ready for a lot of the change that happened so far this year, and really, I’m not sure I’m ready for most of what’s waiting just around the corner either. But this past weekend reminded me to be present to what is now as it is now because someday soon I will be lonesome for these moments.
Fall doesn’t last long, does it? Summer seems to drag on forever, and every October we seem surprised the weather is still warm, too warm to put a pot of soup on the stove or cradle a mug hot apple cider. By the time cooler weather comes around, Fall is halfway over. Christmas arrives on its heels and before we know it, the best time of year is gone, just like that. The weather turned cooler over the weekend, and I think it must be the swirling winds and rainy days that changed the way I’m feeling about Fall. A blustery Saturday whisked away my lingering resistance to Fall and ushered in much needed rain–and a fresh perspective for this season.
Addie has her first loose tooth I want to pretend it isn’t happening. She has been wiggling that thing all weekend, and every time she announces “It’s getting even more wigglier!” I tear up and she rolls her eyes and I smile and and she laughs as I tell her to stop growing up already. That wiggly tooth is evidence her babyhood flew by just like they say it would, and I didn’t know “they” would be right.
Then again, the baby-toddler-preschool years are like a wiggly tooth that seems to hang on forever, and sometimes I just want the thing to fall out already. Sometimes little kids are just, well, annoying, and as much as I treasure our own and don’t want to rush them into being big kids, sometimes I wish they could just pour themselves a bowl of cereal in the morning without me. The implications of that moment are terrifying, of course, because the reality of the big kid world is unknown to me still, and I often wonder how I’ll be capable of mothering older children when I feel so inept at mothering such small ones.
I keep reminding myself the anticipation of change is often harder to deal with than the change itself. Addie’s fear about what it will feel like when her wiggly tooth actually falls out has a pain all its own, the sort that will be dispelled the moment that tooth pops out and she realizes losing teeth doesn’t hurt at all. I expect the same will be true for me when I wake up one morning not to the sound of “mama!” but to the clinking sound of spoons scraping the bottom of bowls of cereal I didn’t pour.
It’s Fall right now and if I don’t immerse myself in the beauty and flavors and traditions of these moments now, when will I? Fall will come around again next year, true–but we’ll all be a little bit older and Addie’s tooth will have long since fallen out, Mia might be losing her baby teeth by then, and these days will be just a memory. I don’t want to miss my chance to enjoy these days because I’m too preoccupied with the things that scare me about the next chapter in our lives. I’ve got to grab hold of these moments, right now and really give them my attention, or they will be gone before I really notice. I don’t want to miss my chance. And so, in celebration of the season and things that are, I made Apple Cider Donuts.
Apple Cider Donuts (GF/DF/NF)
These mini donuts prove vegan treats are delicious! They’re gluten free, dairy free, nut free too–and brimming with flavors of fall. Fantastically easy to make: use a donut maker if you have one, or a donut pan if you have that. If not, just use a mini-muffin pan and pass them off as donut holes, or use a donut pan and bake them in the oven (375 degrees for 12-15 minutes ought to do the trick). Roll them in cinnamon sugar if you don’t want to fuss with the glaze (and I don’t blame you if you don’t), but goodness that cinnamon glaze is yummy.
For the donuts:
3/4 cup spiced apple cider (such as Trader Joe’s)
1/2 cup apple sauce
1/2 cup pure cane sugar
4 Tablespoons Vegan buttery spread (such as Melt or Earth Balance brands, or use regular butter if dairy isn’t a problem for you)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups sorghum flour
3/4 cup brown rice flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum
For the glaze:
3/4 cup powdered sugar
3 Tablespoons Soy Free Vegan buttery spread (such as Melt or Earth Balance brands, or use regular butter if dairy isn’t a problem for you)
3 Tablespoons original, unsweetened non-dairy milk ( or regular milk if dairy isn’t a problem for you)
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
pinch of kosher salt
For the donuts: First, the dry ingredients: whisk together the sorghum flour, brown rice flour, baking powder, pumpkin pie spice, kosher salt and xanthan gum in a small bowl and set aside. Next, move on to the wet ingredients. Melt the buttery spread and set aside to let it cool slightly. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the apple cider, apple sauce, sugar, and vanilla extract, then slowly whisk in the melted butter. Once the wet ingredients are mixed well, whisk the dry ingredients into the batter in three additions (pour a third of the dry ingredients in and whisk; pour another third in and whisk; pour the last third in and whisk).
When using a donut maker: Heat it up, then spray the iron with non-stick cooking spray and scoop about 2 Tablespoons of batter into each mold (each donut is about 2″ wide–if your donut maker is larger, increase the amount of batter accordingly). Cook for about 3 minutes (or longer, if your donut maker is bigger), until the donuts are golden and easily pop out from the molds.
When using a donut or mini muffin pan: Grease the pans, scoop dough into cups or molds, and bake. 12-15 minutes ought to do the trick.
If you are making the glaze, proceed to the next step. If not, toss the hot donuts in cinnamon sugar and call it a day.
For the glaze: Melt the butter over medium heat, then whisk in the powdered sugar, cinnamon, vanilla and salt. Add the almond milk and whisk until the glaze is smooth–no lumps, please.
Dip the donuts in the glaze, flip them over, and make sure to coat both sides. Let them dry on a wire cooling rack (with parchment paper beneath them to catch drips). The glaze remains sticky, but goodness they’re good that way, and sticky hands can be washed, right?
This morning started out as one of those days. You know the kind. I spent my first few waking moments with the strap of my tank top askew–one strap on, one strap off–having been accosted by children who needed snuggles right now and didn’t care that I was in the middle of changing out of my pajamas. My morning glory was in full force as I juggled kids on my lap, wiping tears and stroking backs and assuring them they would all get their turn eventually.
To the table we stumbled and I managed about three sips of coffee as the kids stared at their plates and all but refused to eat. Addie complained her toast was too dry, so we added strawberry jam. Mia said she changed her mind and forgot to tell us she doesn’t really like toast (and left it untouched). Full tummies or not, we somehow managed to get out the door on time, but as we did so, Mia started crying saying she was finally hungry. I reminded her about her toast and she protested again against it. I wrapped it in a paper towel and set it on her lap in the car anyway, telling her she could eat it if she was hungry enough. She just glared at me and sipped her orange juice.
As we drove, I finally started in on the rest of my now-lukewarm coffee, which leaked water onto my lap as I went. (What?!) Without a towel to wipe it up, I did the next best thing I could think of: wrapped a diaper around the cup and went ahead and drank the rest of that darn coffee anyway. I held it up to show the kids what a weirdo I am, thanked Emery for letting me use one of his diapers, and everyone giggled their little hearts out. It lightened the mood for us all, and we clicked on some of our favorite going-to-school music and I sang my heart out between sips. Down the road just a bit Addie saw a lady jogging backward while walking a dog on a leash and had another good giggle as we declared today must be Wacky Wednesday, just like that goofy book the Goobies love so much. Not long after that, I saw a bird hitching a ride on top of a car that was already in motion. And by the time she climbed back out of the car, Mia had eaten her toast all up. (A wacky Wednesday indeed.)
Admittedly, we did not start the day off on a great foot, but as we lived through the crazy today I realized how much choosing joy in the middle of it helps us all hit the reset button. I also breathed a prayer of thanksgiving for the people who are smarter, wiser and more creative than I am that help me actually do that because let’s be honest: it’s not easy. But nevertheless, lately a few things have helped.
This first one is hit or miss: The One Year Devotions for Preschoolers, meaning sometimes we do it and sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we forget and other times the kids remind us. When we all gather around the table and listen to you read the short excerpt for the day really does help start our day off right; it’s like breakfast for our souls. When we skip it, we have a hard time finding our footing and we stumble through. But when we do make the effort, we are all energized and focused on the reason we live each day anyway. The short stories and Bible verses are easy to remember and apply throughout the day. Something as easy as “God made all things” could have been applied today as we drove to school by saying, “God even made the wacky stuff. Isn’t He creative? He must have a sense of humor.”
Also, we love to listen to JJ Heller anyway, but “Big World, Baby” and “I Know You Will” (from her I Dream of You album) both help focus my prayers for them as I send them out the car door. After we have said our goodbyes, I usually finish one or both of these songs and end up in tears over how much potential I see in these little faces and how I pray I don’t squelch a drop of it with my own bad mood.
Perhaps the most important one for this season, I think, is a song from Rend Collective: Joy. It is the song I turn to when Addie whispers “I’m a little nervous, Mommy” as approach the morning drop off line to help her say no to the part of her that wants to sulk in the shadows and instead be confident in who she is because of Who she belongs to. It is the song I play when I feel bogged down by grumpiness to remind me I have the power to break out of that mood. It is the song that reminds me that joy is a choice and it does not depend on whether I feel happy or at ease. The song reminds me to see the beauty and goodness that dances around me every day, and to delight in it even when my circumstances are tough.
What I love lately is simply this: choosing joy. I got up on the wrong side of the bed today and I brought my bad attitude with me into the first moments of my day. Somehow I set aside my grumpiness and chose joy instead. Today started off wacky indeed, but there was so much beauty and wonder in it I would have missed had I not chosen to be joyful in the midst of it all.
Yesterday we picked the last three apples from our gnarled old apple tree. Those beauties ripened just as the school year wrapped up last spring, when the promise of summer was fresh and exciting. Somehow, summer slipped by and here we were picking the last few of them just two days before school starts again.
We can’t really make sense of this summertime harvest: apples are a fruit of the fall. What’s the deal with all these things hanging around during the hot summer months, the worst time of the year to turn on the stove and make something with them? I did my best: I baked batch after batch of spiced brown sugar apple crisp and applesauce muffins, along with several jars of applesauce. I sliced apples for the freezer and for fancy cheese platters and for summertime snacks. And we know how many apples Emery munched on while swinging in the afternoons. Still, so many of our apples went to waste. The lawn was littered with them, bruised and cracked open and piling up faster than we liked because it was so hard to use them all.
I feel pretty guilty about all this. I lovingly blame my grandparents: they had an apple tree in their backyard and darn it if they didn’t find a way to use up every last bit of fruit that tree produced. I can still see them working in their kitchen: my grandpa manning the apple peeler and magically transforming apple skins into curly green ribbons while my grandma flits to and fro, slicing apples and hovering over the hot stove, watching as the apples cooked down. They must have done this many times for the duration of apple season because by the time it was over, their freezer was filled to the brim with applesauce and apple crisps.
Not us: we did the best we could, but still so many apples went unused. Every time we tossed another bucketful of rotten apples into the yard waste bin, my heart sank a little lower in defeat. Even as I write this, I hear my Grandma Teague’s voice chiding me, saying “How you managed to put up any of those apples is beyond me! You’re a busy girl, my dear.” She’s right: I need to give myself more grace. We had more apples than we could deal with.
At the beginning of summer, a tree full of ripening fruit symbolized the promise of months ahead full of sweet moments, and I vowed to make the most of every last one of them. And I did, a lot of the time. But as summer wore on, that apple tree turned into an hour glass that emptied too fast. Time passed and apples fell, and I felt more and more pressure to do more, be more, enjoy more, because soon these golden days would be over. The more pressure I put on myself, the more weary I became. I let more and more apples fall without giving them my attention. Before I knew it, the apples ran out.
Summer is gone now; school starts today. The tree sits outside our kitchen window empty, and I wonder if I let too many moments with the girls slip by without giving them my full attention, too, just like I did with those apples. I whisper to God, “Was it good enough?” as I wonder how the girls will remember this summer, hoping their memories will hold on to the good stuff and toss away the bad.
As I sat wondering all this, I thought about Galations 6:9. the verse that talks about not growing weary while doing good, especially to those closest to you, and how it will bring about a good harvest at the right time. I struggle to feel like I’ve done that at all because I became weary a lot this summer, letting moment after precious moment fall, too tired to make the most of every single one of them.
I put so much pressure on myself to make this summer perfect, but in His kindness God reminded me that the process is ongoing. The apple tree is empty now, but the hard work that will bring about the next harvest is just getting started. So it is with the school year: by next summer, what a good crop we will bring in if we work hard with the end goal in mind. They’ll be like a “trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they [will] prosper in all they do” (Psalm 1:3, NLT). Being in the moment and investing our time and energy into their little lives, little by little, will turn into something beautiful and good.
After we cleared the branches and brought the last of the apples inside yesterday, I set to work on yet another apple crisp, one meant to share with friends who we had not seen all summer long. It seemed fitting to mark the occasion with the last of our little harvest of apples. The girls surprised me by asking if they could help, and I hesitated for a moment. I really wanted to get the job done quickly because our friends would be there soon and I still hadn’t showered for the day, but with all these ideas about wasted time swirling around my head, I said yes instead. Addie hopped up on the counter and helped mix a few ingredients together before insisting she take pictures as Mia and I worked on the rest. And so, we enjoyed the last real free afternoon of summer vacation peeling, slicing, and baking, turning the last of the bit of the season into something special.
Brandied Apple Crisp (GF/DF/NF)
I realize I’ve been talking a lot about apples lately, but I offer this recipe as penance for my repetition. Gluten free, dairy free and nut free (as always, around here), this crisp is based on my recipe for Spiced Brown Sugar Apple Crisp, which was born out of a need to modify my Grandma’s famous Apple Crisp. This version is tweaked just enough to make it a little bit more indulgent. The topping is a little heartier, but the brandy is really what sets this dessert apart–don’t skimp on it. The alcohol cooks out as it bakes, leaving a delicate brandy flavor that melds beautifully with the brown sugar and spices. And of course, we topped off with with dairy free vanilla ice cream, because is there really any other way to eat it?
For the Filling:
30 ounces peeled and cored apples (crisp and tart-sweet, like Granny Smith), sliced to about 1/4″ (about 6-8 apples, depending on their size. If they are large, you will probably only need four of them, but if they are on the smaller size, you will need six or so).
4 1/2 Tablespoons brandy
4 1/2 Tablespoons cornstarch
3 Tablespoons pure cane sugar
1/4 cup + 2 Tablespoons packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
For the Topping:
2 1/2 ounces coarsely ground gluten free oats
1/2 cup Gluten Free Flour Blend*
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup pure cane sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
5 Tablespoons Soy Free Earth Balance, melted (regular butter works too)
pinch of salt
*This blend contains xanthan gum, but if yours doesn’t, add 1/8 teaspoon to the filling ingredients and 1/4 teaspoon to the topping ingredients.
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and grease a 3 1/2 quart baking dish (I take the easy way out and use coconut oil spray).
Wash, peel, and slice the apples about 1/4″ thick. Toss them into a large bowl as you go and sprinkle the brandy on top when you’re done. Give them a good stir, making sure the brandy is well distributed among the apples.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients for the filling. Pour them on top of the apples and toss it all together until each apple slice is coated with the sugar mixture; then pour them into the prepared baking dish.
Pop it into the oven and leave it there for 60 minutes, or until the topping is golden and the brown sugar is melted and bubbly.
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).