Last night we discovered the groundhog saw his shadow, so we’re hunkering down for another six weeks of winter around here.
More snow and bitter cold is coming for us this weekend, so today’s sunshine and mild temperature feels like a glorious gift. I flung open the windows just now to invite an almost-warm breeze inside. Kansas winds are usually awful in the winter. I can deal with the snow when it comes, but the wind is the worst. But today is almost warm: the sun is shining crisp and clear; the birds are chattering wildly; and the wind is teasing me as it flutters through the kitchen curtains. A miserable weekend just doesn’t feel possible.
But if I’ve learned one thing these past couple years, it’s this: Kansas City weather is absolutely unpredictable, so prepare for every scenario.
When we first moved here, I had a lot to learn: how to gauge the severity of a storm; the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning; the art of dressing in layers; how to drive in the snow; how to manage icy roads; how to hunker down and stay put when things outside got dicey. Thank God I already knew how to feed us well in the winter.
I tackled warm, comfort food classics early in our food allergy journey. I couldn’t tell you why, exactly, other than figuring out how to make hamburger gravy like my mom always made was high on my priority list when I got started. This particular recipe gave me a challenge: will it taste good without milk? (Yes.) Will a grain free thickener make it weird? (No.) For a girl who loves potatoes and gravy, nailing a recipe like this one lifted my spirits and helped me to believe all was not lost in the kitchen. One spoonful and I’m taken back to my own mom’s kitchen and the way its aroma welcomed us to the table: warm and cozy, like a hug. This recipe reminds me of all the good things I still have and the promise of better days ahead, all in one comforting meal.
Six more weeks of winter are waiting, unless the weather decides to change on a whim, which of course it sure could around here. Luckily this recipe will keep us warm, cozy, and well fed regardless of what the weather does in the days to come.
31 Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” — Mark 6:31 (NIV)
One of my blogging pet peeves is this: a post that starts with a line that goes something like this: “YOU GUYS–I’m SO sorry I haven’t written for, like, ever, but things have been crazy around here–I mean, like, CRAZY. I’ve been so busy I haven’t been able to breathe, let alone update anything here. But whatevs–I’m baa-aack!” What’s with the apology? Do bloggers really think readers need that? We’re all busy: readers and writers alike, because we’re living in a culture that is frenetic. So often busy is a badge we pin on to prove our worth–to ourselves more than to anybody else, I think. But Jesus himself shows us that right there, in the middle of those busy seasons, we need to pull back, take a break, rest. Let’s all give ourselves a little grace, shall we?
In this season, living my actual life has mattered more than writing about it all, and so the words haven’t been presenting themselves to me. Emery started potty training; Addie had a hard time adjusting to new people and surroundings; Mia cried and whined and clung to me after school every day; and I visited the doctor more times in the past few months than probably my whole adulthood combined. Project after home-improvement project began in full force around here we’re praying for direction to determine where our family’s future will be. House hunting started again, and then there was homework and more homework and sisters learning the hard way how to coexist peaceably, and a little boy who is very good at being two years old. And through it all, everyone wanted to eat something other than mixed greens with salmon.
Going through the motions leaves me wrung out though, and while others may paint or sing or play the guitar, I write to recharge. And so, without further ado, here’s my attempt to give myself a break and write a short update on what’s been going on around the Love, Scratch kitchen:
The Autoimmune Protocol (AIP). One word: yikes. Another three: difficult, but doable. Whole30 claims it is not hard to do, and after you completed your own Whole30, you confirmed that it wasn’t hard at all. But guess what? The AIP is hard to do. No, it’s not fighting cancer difficult, it’s not dealing with the death of a loved one difficult, but it is a different sort of difficult. The AIP is far more restrictive than Whole30, so the logistics of doing the shopping and preparing the food made the whole thing time consuming and exhausting. I imagine if I were a single, unattached female with plenty of cash to spare and no one else to think about or care for, the AIP might be easier. I’m not any of those things though, so the AIP made me tired and took away the fun of cooking and eating. But it was doable. The food was yummy, monotonous as it was. Sweet potatoes with coconut oil and sea salt, or mixed greens topped with lean protein and a drizzle of red wine vinegar and olive oil became my go-to meals. What helped was knowing it wasn’t forever–well, that and your resounding cry of “Solidarity, Rach.”
Even so, sometimes it was easier not to eat at all. Toward the end, you munched on your salt and pepper pistachios as I sat silently sipping my sparkling water, turning my nose up at an evening snack of coconut chips because coconut as a food group could disappear, for as much as I cared by the time the first 30 days were over. (I really think I may have killed my taste for coconut and avocado, too–and I’m waiting with bated breath to see if I will ever enjoy them the way I used to.) By the end of those first 30 days, my appreciation for you and your support reached new heights, and you have no idea how much hearing it over and over lifted my spirits and kept me from sneaking bits of dark chocolate into my mouth when your back was turned.
After 30 days, I added restricted foods back in quicker than recommended. It was a desperate time because the stress of other aspects of life swirled and threatened to take me down and I swear if I had to drizzle honey and coconut milk into weak black tea one more time I was going to lose it. I learned I enjoy coffee for its actual flavor and not just the hit of cream and sugar that typically comes along with it, and I use chocolate as a coping mechanism. I also learned I’m 100% ok with that. Neither bothers my system, as it turns out, and they were among the first foods that found their way back into daily life. Since then, I have added eggs and spices and nightshades and nuts and even small amounts of dairy–everything except copious amounts of gluten free grains and legumes, really–and I’m doing great.
I was still in the process of slowly adding things back into my diet when we went to ATT Park to watch Matt Cain pitch his final game in the major leagues, though, so instead of snacking on popcorn or nachos or even a hot dog on a gluten free bun, I opted for peanut M&M’s because somehow those seemed like a better choice. The rare treat tasted fantastic for about a half a second, until the box was empty and I felt yucky. Faint dizziness was my companion for well over week after that. I’m still not sure whether it was the surge of sugar or the peanuts or just sheer coincidence (dizziness can be a symptom of food sensitivity during the reintroduction phase), and really, I may never know. Either way, the experience certainly did not make me eager to snack on the usually off-limits snack any time soon. (Mia-bug, you are not missing out on anything.)
The good that came out of the AIP experiment is this: I can do hard things, even when it comes to food. Also, I have a newfound appreciation for the convenience of a jar of marinara sauce. Mostly, though, I’m thankful to know my digestive troubles really are linked mostly to grain–glutenous ones, mainly (though I’m not completely certain because I have not reintroduced all grains, yet. Rice seems to be ok, but I’ve only really tried very small amounts in things like a sample bite of a new banana oat muffin recipe I’m working on for the Goobies. And about two gluten free Joe-Joe’s. But I digress.) I also realized, again, how fantastic my body feels when I stick to foods that don’t contain grains at all. We tended to cook and eat grain free in our pre-AIP/Whole30 days anyway, and the fact that we didn’t dive into big bowls piled high with gluten free pasta as soon as that month was over tells me we will continue to eat mostly grain free. (I suspect I will seek out the gluten free hot dogs at ATT park and skip the peanut M&M’s from now on, though.)
And so, I’ll keep coming up with grain free foods that feed us well. Gluten free goodies will be part of our lives too, because they can be, thank you Lord–and peanuts will continue to stay far, far away from our kitchen until the day Mia’s prayer for healing is answered the way we all hope it will be. I may write about the recipes, because it recharges me, but I might not get around to it as quickly as I’d like, because I’m allowing myself to rest. But I promise to keep the kitchen humming along in real life, feeding the frenzied brood we call Goobies as best I can. I bet I’ll even enjoy it again in the days and weeks to come.
Shrimp Fried Cauli-Rice
This dish was borne out of a craving for Chinese food well into my AIP adventure. Chinese food is a hard one for my anyway (because soy sauce has gluten in it, which renders Chinese takeout a mere memory, for the most part), but with the additional restrictions of the AIP, Chinese food seemed like a lost cause. Coconut aminos are a good substitute for soy sauce, but its sweetness demands to be offset with an acid–like lime juice. Lime juice and shrimp are match made in heaven anyway, and so this version of shrimp fried cauliflower rice was born (but of course, use chicken instead of shrimp if you’re allergic to shellfish). It’s AIP (when prepared without scrambled eggs or red chili flakes), Paleo, Whole30, gluten free, grain free, dairy free, nut free, you know–all the things–but don’t let that convince you it’s anything but delicious. This one made it to the top ten list of Joey’s most requested dinners fast, and it was the AIP dish I made when I was just plain tired of sweet potatoes and salad.
a couple dollops of refined coconut oil (refined = no coconut flavor)
First, dice the carrots and par-cook them (I put the diced carrots in a microwave safe bowl and cover them with water, then microwave them for about three minutes to soften. This speeds up the whole affair, but feel free to saute them in the oil before tossing in the frozen cauliflower rice.) Drain them when they are tender (not mushy), and set aside.
Next, in whisk together the coconut aminos, lime juice, ginger and sea salt and it set aside as well.
Then, if you’re going to toss scrambled eggs into your finished dish, go ahead and scramble them now in a separate pan. When they’re done, set them aside too.
On to the main event: plunk a couple dollops of coconut oil into a saute pan and warm it up over medium high heat. Toss in the frozen cauliflower rice and toss to coat in oil, then crank up the heat to high. Add the par-cooked carrots, green onions and minced garlic and stir. Next, pour in the sauce and stir and cook and stir and cook–it won’t take long for the sauce to start to coat the veggies and evaporate. Add the shrimp next and stir and cook some more, and finally add the scrambled eggs (if desired) and toss to coat them in sauce too. Top the whole thing with a few more sliced green onions (and red chili flakes, if you like things spicy–and aren’t AIP.)
28-30 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
We started taking the kids camping this summer. Equipped with a new-to-us pop up camper and fueled by your adventurous spirit, camping sounded fun to all of us until the reality of doing so with three small children slapped us both in the face. I dreaded going because it sounded anything but easy, and while being outdoors and drinking in the warm, sweet scent of the redwoods is up my alley, the whole roughing-it-with-three-kids-in-tow part fills me with dread.
I come by it honestly: the family vacations of my childhood involved running water, actual beds, and corner diners where kids eat free on Sundays. Roughing it for us meant five people sharing one bathroom and trying in vain to get a decent night’s sleep (which was challenging, since my dad and brothers all snored). Camping just wasn’t something our family did together, so the weight of your expectations for it all to go smoothly made me nervous before we even left the driveway.
But the promise of an overnight camping trip practically made Emery come unglued. He shrieks with hysterical glee at the mention of the word camper, so the idea of actually going out in the camper overnight, with you? Talk about excitement. That kid is happiest just being near to you, and watching him watch you reminds me of how thrilling it must have been for the disciples to walk with Jesus all those years ago, living with him, learning from him. And your patient, nearly wordless interaction with Emery helps me understand what Jesus must have meant when He said, “walk with me and work with me–watch how I do it.” As soon as we ease the camper into its spot, he pops out of the Durango with one thing on his mind: being at your side as you crank and secure and connect and make ready. You hardly have to say a word: being with you is enough for him.
The Goobie girls learn by watching too, of course, but we’ve slipped into the habit of doing things for them because it’s easier to keep them out of the way until suddenly we remember we ought to be teaching them life skills and we end up barking orders left and right in the name of proactive training (and retraining) that elicit tears, not results. They end up trying to follow a stringent set of rules they don’t fully understand, and we get angry when they break those rules or when our instructions are met with blank, confused stares.
We end up sitting them down to have a lengthy discussion about the do’s & don’ts and how’s & why’s of this that or the other. It’s forced, and the girls couldn’t care less about whether we think it’s important for them to follow those rules or not. They are burned out. Why do we think we’ve got to sit them down and lecture them about rule following instead of letting example be their teacher? Jesus didn’t go around checking off a what-not-to-do list with His disciples; He showed them how to live by living that way Himself and inviting them to join him. Shouldn’t we do the same?
We’re trying, of course. At least we know this about ourselves (right?). But it’s extra challenging when it comes to camping because the onus falls on you to take the lead because you are the one who actually knows what he’s doing, and it’s a tall order for you. Your patience runs thin against your will, like that last time we took the camper out for a quick over night trip when those Goobies tested your patience before they even got out of the car, for goodness sake. They didn’t know campsite etiquette or decorum; they didn’t know their boundaries or even what to do, really. They wanted to help, but didn’t know how to help, and I didn’t know how to have them help either. So they played in the dirt and complained and cried and I tried to keep them quiet (ha!) as you tackled setting up camp on your own.
The hard truth is that your fuse for little people who still didn’t know a thing about how to camp was short, and you spent the evening fighting the urge to lose it with the kids. At breakfast the next morning, after one too many cereal spills and too-loud early-morning giggles, your stern face betrayed the fact that you were frustrated, upset, and not having fun at all. I quietly put my hand on your arm and whispered, “If you want the kids to enjoy this, you’re going to have to change your attitude.”
In that moment, you realized this: the kids don’t know how to camp, and they won’t know how to camp unless someone teaches them. Of course kids run and jump and scream and shout, laugh and giggle and chase and zoom this way and that, gathering sticks, making dirt roads, balancing on old logs and flinging piles of leaves toward each other. They run down hills and shine their flashlights in each other’s eyes and sing at the top of their lungs and exclaim at the beauty of the forest without feeling sorry about it (and is that really a bad thing?). They don’t know how to help or what not to touch or what leaves are ok to touch and which ones are poison oak; they don’t know how close is too close to a campfire or how to roast marshmallows; they don’t know the value of sitting quietly to appreciate the echo of chirping birds–they don’t know because, well, how could they? When you realized this something clicked, breaking down the idea that the kids instinctively should know how to do things you’ve known how to do for decades. You realized the only way they’ll learn is if we teach them. I imagine that’s why Christ came and taught the way he taught. Clearly the rules and regulations of religion weren’t cultivating relationship, and so He came to teach a better way of living by example.
That trip shifted something inside you, and armed with the promise to do better and be better for the sake of all our sanity, we set out for another camping trip, and oh, what a difference. We all worked together to set up camp; the kids jumped in and found ways to be helpful almost without any instruction from us at all. Mia swept; Addie decorated; Emery turned the crank. We went exploring and found white fallow deer and a shady bench beneath an ancient redwood tree and sat, quietly watching the Goobies relish the wide, unrestricted space of the mountaintop and all the dirt that went with it, digging, drawing, and dancing in the stuff. Dirty faces and dusty clothes in tow, we came back to build a campfire and cook dinner. You situated the Goobies’ chairs, taught them how to respect the fire, and set about showing them how to roast hot dogs and marshmallows right along with them instead of doing it for them. And the evening was sweet, fairly stress free, and promising.
The kids walked away from that trip wishing it wasn’t over so soon and begging for another camping trip to be in the near future. It wasn’t perfect, exactly, but it was wonderful. We showed up and worked hard and exercised patience–and we enjoyed each other. By the grace of God, and with His help, the kids learned so much more this time because we taught them–you taught them–with so much more than words.
Hobo dinners are a new-to-us camp food experiment that will certainly turn into traditional fare around our campfire. Root vegetables, onions, meat, fire–these are the simple things that kept fed families for generations, and making them in the crisp September twilight made camping seem totally doable–and enjoyable, too. I love how easy they are to throw on the grill–fussing around with dinner prep was one of my biggest objections to taking our food allergy family camping. As if feeding the five of us isn’t complicated enough, throwing camping into the mix made my head spin. This time around was even harder, what with me on the Autoimmune Protocol and Joey on the Whole30, dinner at a campsite made me want to cry. But then in a moment of inspiration, I thought, “Oh yeah! Hobo Dinners! I’ll try those.” I saw the idea for them earlier this summer when we first got the pop up camper, but just hadn’t tried them yet (hot dogs were just easier the last couple of times). But this time, Hobo Dinners came to my rescue and they were a hit. Use stew meat instead, or add some potatoes or mushrooms, and throw in whatever seasonings sound good to you. This recipe yields 4 portions, so multiply as needed. You’ll see the recipe is more of a method, so don’t fret too much about quantities. (In fact, you can cook two burgers in one packet if you want to.) Follow your gut.
1 1/2 pounds ground beef
1 1/2 teaspoons onion powder
3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
3/4 teaspoon sea salt, plus more for seasoning the veggies
1/2 cup sliced onions (red, white, yellow–use what you like)
a few glugs extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil
salt and pepper to taste
First, mix seasonings into the ground beef–mush it all together and form into four patties. Set aside.
Peel and slice the root veggies. Toss them in a couple of glugs of olive oil and sprinkle with salt (and pepper, if you you like; I omitted this for AIP).
Assemble the packets:
Arrange two 2′ lengths of aluminum foil in a cross. Place the root vegetables in the center, top with an uncooked patty and drizzle some more oil on top. Fold the first layer of foil up over the burger and crimp, as if you were rolling up a paper bag. Then do the same with the bottom layer of foil, enclosing the first packet in an outer layer of foil and crimping tightly, so that the foil is sealed.
Place the packets on top of the campfire (use the grate provided!) and let cook directly over the flame for 15 minutes. Remove, and let rest for a minute or two (they’ll be hot!). Unwrap foil and enjoy.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”
2 Corinthians 5:17
It is fitting that school starts in the Fall: the classic symbol of change that is both beautiful and terrifying. Fall is death put on glorious display, isn’t it?
Ok so fine—a new school term doesn’t bring death, exactly. Forgive me for being dramatic. Most folks probably think of it as a fresh start, a reset button that puts things back to normal in an instant. But it does put an end to the carefree days of summer, and there is mourning for the loss of the freedom summer represents, isn’t there?
The words of Paul are ringing in my ears this week: the old has gone and the new is here indeed. Death and life and renewal and starting over—all these things are vying for my attention these days, and all of them from a whole host of places, not the least of which is watching Mia put the final dividing line between herself and her babyhood while Addie insists on losing more teeth and inching her way toward my own height. This day has been a long time coming, and last fall brought with it a sense that life as we loved it was dying a slow death, and I wasn’t ready to face it. But life changed anyway, didn’t it? And here we are back at the start of another school year, saying hello to a new chapter in the life of our family. I feel more prepared for it this time because I know this fall season really is a fresh start.
The girls seemed to feel the same way. Waving goodbye to us on the first day didn’t pose a problem for either of them. We walked them to the playground and helped them line up and followed them to their classrooms because we were sure they needed us. Mia tromped off with the rest of her Kindergarten class without so much as a backward glance at us. Addie saw tears glaze my eyes and bent down to hug me, saying “Don’t worry Mama, I’ll come home after school. I promise.” Saying goodbye to each other on the second day of school was harder. The girls’ pained eyes poked holes in my heart as I eased my fingers from their grip and urged them forward into the unfamiliar, terrifying reality of change. The idea of going to a new school this year seemed exciting right up until the moment they actually had to let go of my hands and walk themselves to the playground without us. In a flurry of tears and tentative hearts, they walked away from me, seemingly unsure of themselves. I waved goodbye to them as bravely as I could, wishing I could nestle myself in a corner somewhere, watching and waiting, ready to intervene on their behalf the moment trouble comes.
I couldn’t help feeling this way, of course. I am a normal mother with a natural need to protect, nurture, and sustain her children. They couldn’t help feeling insecure any more than I could help wishing I could make everything better in an instant. Of course they felt timid and unsure: everything was new. The people, the buildings, the rules, the uniforms—even their backpacks and lunch boxes and shoes were new. Why would I ever expect them to feel completely confident to take on all the newness by themselves? In that moment of goodbye, I couldn’t do much else but smile through my tears and hope it helped them understand that new isn’t necessarily bad, and is often, in fact, actually good.
We forget that new isn’t always bad, don’t we? I sure do, especially because it seems that when something is new, it renders something else old. Old things pass away, and death is difficult, so managing our feelings about losing the things we love gets tricky. We learn this lesson every year when summer ends and the leaves turn color and quietly settle into their final resting place. Soon fall slips into a quiet winter, a time of mourning that does eventually melt away, waking to the brilliant bloom of spring. The point? The promise of new life hinges on old things passing away, but saying goodbye isn’t the end. New life lingers just around the corner. Don’t you think we ought to say hello?
This is happening in other places in my life this season, too. It is in the reality of living in this new place, of course, and the reality of how it feels to know that part of our story has ended. It’s showing up in friendships and projects and plans and food and any semblance of normalcy that I had before my health issues took an uncomfortable turn over the summer. Admittedly, it felt like this season held the end of life as I knew it. Control over my health slipped even further from my grip, I spent the summer sequestered at home managing my symptoms and squeezing in appointments and going in for blood draws and scopes and ultrasounds—and came out the other end with a few more questions to answer, as well as the relief that comes with a doctor who confirms my suspicions: that colitis is casting its sickly spell on my insides. It came as no surprise that I have a disease that needs my attention, and walking away from his office this summer, prescription in hand, left me wondering how to manage it in the long term. Clearly, gluten is a known problem. But it’s not the only problem these days, and the best way I know how to deal with the unpleasant reality is to say goodbye to simple gluten freedom. Embracing a new way of living isn’t easy or fun, exactly–but I’m encouraged, because the promise of renewal lingers just around the corner, sad as I may be about the reality I face.
So this season, I’m doing my best to lift my eyes above my circumstance and say, “What’s next?” with the sort of grace that only comes from acknowledging loss and greeting a new reality with hope. What other choice do I have? Modeling this for the Goobies helps me believe things will get better: I leave the girls with a kiss and a smile as they skip off into a new school day without the support system to whom they are accustomed, but I assure them they’re going to be alright. This is new, but this is good, I say as I give them one last squeeze. And when I wave goodbye to those smiling little darlings as they head off to their day, it reminds me that we can’t bask in the beauty of anywhere new if we dig in our feet, refusing to leave familiarity behind. So by the grace of God, and with His help, we walk, together, waving goodbye to the old and hello to the new in one hope-filled gesture.
Chorizo Spiced Pork Roast
This is one of my go-to meals, meaning this: when I run out of creative steam to keep dinner new and exciting, I give myself a break, pull out my crock pot, and get a batch of this pork going.It’s fast, easy, and versatile (and inexpensive, to boot!). Plus (and this could be the most compelling reason why I love it so much)everyone around my kitchen table cheers for it. I make it for friends more often than they appreciate, I’m sure, but no one ever seems to mind. (In fact, most of them end up asking for the recipe, so if that is you? Here you go.) I’m especially fond of it now because as I transition to a Paleo lifestyle, I am thankful to have so many well-loved recipes that work within that framework. Shred it and fold it into corn tortillas (if you aren’t Paleo), lay it atop a baked sweet potato, or pile it high on top of a bed of cauliflower rice. Drizzle with some hot sauce and sprinkle on some cilantro and you’re golden. (Add more spice blend if you want a little bit more heat, but as written, this recipe does not wallop your tongue with a punch of heat.) The picture above shows a double recipe, which is just as easy as a single recipe (which is written below). Just double the ingredients–the cook time remains the same. And don’t skip the red wine vinegar! It makes the other flavors come alive.
One 2 pound pork loin roast
2 Tablespoons Chorizo Spice Blend (recipe below)
1 medium onion–any color you choose, but I tend to use yellow
1/4 cup water
1 Tablespoon red wine vinegar
Spray Crock Pot with non-stick cooking spray (such as Trader Joe’s Coconut Oil Spray). Slice the onion and lay it on the bottom of the crock pot. Then, wash the pork roast, pat it dry, and lay it on top of the bed of onions. Sprinkle a thick layer of the Chorizo Spice Blend on top of the roast, then pat it to cover as much of the roast as you can. Carefully pour 1/4 cup of water into the bottom of the crock pot, around the perimeter of the roast. Do the same for the red wine vinegar, then put the lid on.
Cook on high for 4 hours; then turn to low and cook for an additional 2 hours (alternatively, cook it for 8 hours on low). Once the meat is fall-apart-tender, shred and toss it with its own juices and the onions and serve.
Chorizo Spice Blend
This recipe is based on Diane Sanfilippo’s recipe in Practical Paleo, 1st Edition, which is super informative and helps make taking the plunge into Paleo not quite so daunting (Thank you Diane! You’re a life saver, kinda in the literal sense.) I keep a jar of this spice mix in the pantry at all times because I love it so very much. I’m sure you will too.
4 Tablespoons chili powder
2 Tablespoons paprika
2 Tablespoons onion powder
1 Tablespoon garlic powder
1 Tablespoon sea salt
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
Measure all spices into a jar with a lid and shake until evenly distributed.
After I so rudely introduced a new favorite chocolate chip cookie to our household, I’m cutting us off for awhile. Into the freezer they went, ready to give to the Goobies as a treat every once in awhile, but out of reach enough to not be tempting anymore.
I admire your willpower, Josef. You make up your mind about something and ding! It’s done. Over. No wavering. Me? I’m easier to sway, particularly when it comes to food.
Maybe that’s why when I first suggested trying out that Trim Healthy Mama plan, you were confident while I was resistant. Giving up sugar? Really? I think it was the lure of bacon that convinced you this diet plan might be worth a try. Bacon doesn’t move me the same way it moves you. Give me big bowl of buttery popcorn or a bar of dark chocolate and I’m your girl, but bacon? Meh.
Nearly two years ago, I latched on to the idea that the Trim Healthy Mama plan would be the ticket to ridding my body of the dreaded baby weight–four weeks after giving birth. I presented the idea to you, mainly because if I was going to start the plan, I needed your support because otherwise I’d cave in to my buttery popcorn cravings far too often if I didn’t have you keeping me accountable. Lucky me, you were so supportive that you even wanted to start the plan yourself.
A week into the thing I was snippy, ravenous, and mean. It might have had something to do with cutting out sugar, true: but I think it may have had something to do with being five weeks postpartum, nursing, and sleep deprived. Trying to figure out this new diet plan pushed my already emotional self into an even deeper level of desperation.
But I started to shrink. You did too.
Maybe it had something to do with having just delivered a baby (because bodies have a tendency to shrink after that…), or maybe it had something to do with nursing around the clock (because bodies have a tendency to shrink because of that…), or maybe it had to do with choosing to feed myself in a new way. To be honest, I’m still not sure.
What I do know for sure, though, is that once the ball got rolling, the baby weight (and then some) did indeed come off–for both of us, actually. Pretty soon this new way of feeding ourselves was all you could talk about. I remember watching people’s faces as you tried very hard to explain exactly what we were doing to cause such a shift in our food life and pant size: their eyebrows would furrow with disbelief even as their lips twisted into a bemused smile when you admitted both healthy fats and good carbs were central tenets to this particular way of eating. The Hot Mama Diet, you called it, a name both playful and totally wrong. I’d laugh and correct you: Trim Healthy Mama (THM). And others would go on their way with real information to look up on their own time.
Since then–almost two years ago–I’ve had a love/hate relationship with the plan, and so have you. The lingo of THM bothers you (which is part of why you started calling it the Hot Mama Diet–that, at least, makes you chuckle). You also love the way the food tastes, the way it fills you up, and how you leave the table satisfied and well-nourished. I love the way THM promotes whole, unprocessed, real deal superfoods. I don’t love the way it relies heavily on very processed supplements (like glucomannan and psyllium husks) to make low-carb renditions of foods that in my own opinion aren’t exactly “bad” in the first place (like pudding. And bread.) I love that it encourages us to fuel our bodies with both healthy fats and good carbs, both. I don’t love that it makes us separate them to be able to lose weight (but…it really does work). I love that once weight loss is achieved, a smear of butter (or Earth Balance, these days) melting into a sweet potato doesn’t do any harm at all.
For the most part, we’re pretty devoted to this way of eating. We don’t freak out about having a few grams of sugar here and there in our regular every day diets (like the little bit that’s in our almond milk coffee creamer), and we most certainly eat nachos piled high with cheese and sour cream late at night on weekends while the kids are sleeping and the Warriors are playing, because that’s just how it goes around here sometimes.
Our tenets of the Hot Mama Diet are easy: eat healthy, real, not scientifically fabricated foods instead of junk. Use alternative flours (like almond flour and coconut flour) when we can, but don’t stress out to much about using gluten free whole grain flour blends for baking (because really, the kids eat most of the muffins around here anyway). Limit sugar (and use stevia or stevia blends instead). Go easy on good fats in a carb-heavy meal (like this super light Herbed Chicken and Quinoa Salad and Cucumber Ribbons), and vice versa for richer, more decadent meals, like that Cilantro Lime Ground Turkey with Cauliflower Rice that swims in thick, creamy coconut milk.
Our “diet plan” isn’t really so much of a set of rules as it is a way of thinking about food and choosing to feed ourselves well. And so, in celebration of a new year and renewed commitment (and your success this week), I’m going to keep your favorites coming. It’s an easy way for me to stay motivated because let’s face it: food is my love language. Well, that and words of affirmation, and when I make food that makes you lavish praise upon me? I’m smitten.
Cilantro Lime Ground Turkey (GF/DF/NF/THM S)
One of Joey’s Top 5 Favorite Meals Ever, this is a simple dish that is, again, very quick to throw together. The possibilities here are endless, because these flavors–while fantastic just as they are–could also act as a canvas against which you can add your own finishing touches. Toss in some snow peas and carrots if you want to. Sprinkle in a little ginger and see what happens. Have some curry paste? Sure, throw it in. Serve it over cauliflower rice to be THM approved, or lavish it over brown rice and don’t beat yourself up about it. If you want to lighten it up a bit, use light coconut milk instead of full fat. Either works just fine, of course–but we prefer the full fat version.
1 Tablespoon coconut oil
6 green onions, sliced (diagonally, if you’re feeling fancy)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound ground turkey
1-13.5 oz. can full fat coconut milk
1/4 cup fresh lime juice (the juice of 2-3 limes, depending on size)
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
zest of one lime
red chili flakes
Melt the coconut oil over medium heat, then add the green onions and saute for two minutes or so, until you start smelling the onions and they begin to soften. Add the garlic and cook for another minute or two, again–until they’re soft and fragrant, but not golden.
Next, turn up the heat to high and immediately crumble in the ground turkey. Sprinkle in the salt and cook, tossing together with the onions and garlic until the meat is no longer pink. Lower the heat to medium high and pour in the coconut milk, lime juice, and cilantro. Stir it all together, scraping up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan as you go. Once combined, toss in the lime zest and red chili flakes (about 1/2 teaspoon or so, more or less depending on how much heat you like). Turn the heat back up to high and cook the sauce for a few minutes–maybe three or so, so that it begins to reduce and thicken slightly.
You may stop here, if you like, and ladle the sauce over steamed rice, cauliflower rice, or even rice noodles–but you may want to thicken the sauce a bit before you do. If that’s you, read on.
You have a couple of choices about which way to thicken the sauce. If you want to use what I will call the “approved” THM method (meaning, a method of thickening a sauce without adding any carbohydrates), sprinkle glucommanan little by little directly over the sauce while it’s still warm and in the pan, and whisk well after each addition. But, if you’re like me and think glucomannan makes food just a little too slimy, go the Hot Mama route and use a little bit of corn starch, for goodness sake. Mix 1 Tablespoon of corn starch* with cold water, pour it right into the pan, and whisk quickly until the sauce thickens (it will go fast!). Cook another minute or two, and then serve.
*There are only 7 carbs in one tablespoon of cornstarch, and if that’s all I’m using in the whole recipe? I don’t stress about it. Neither should you.
I remember the first time I made this dish for dinner so clearly. That’s how it usually is with a keeper: my very favorite recipes tend to be cemented in my memory by the story of how they earned their spot there in the first place. So it is with this recipe, which satisfies my need for eating really good Chinese while loafing on the couch with you. Chinese take out isn’t really a viable option for us anymore (because gluten), but this recipe has become one of my favorites, at least–and I’m pretty sure you agree (because you eat bowl after bowl of it…).
I didn’t know it would turn out to be such a hit the night I first made it, of course. That was sort of a fluke. I hadn’t gone shopping in awhile and the fridge was pretty bare, so ground turkey and frozen green beans were what I had to work with that night. I had no idea how I would sell those two fairly lackluster foods to hungry kids, but as it turns out, I didn’t have to. I didn’t even cook dinner at all for the kids that night anyway.
What happened was this: we took the kids to the park after feeding them an early dinner. It was a Saturday, and we promised those kids all day long if they would just play nicely together for a little while longer so we could get some work done around the house, we would take them to the park in a little while. The afternoon raced by and dinnertime was upon us before we made good on our word. But the girls practically boycotted the idea of dinner that night, rightly arguing with us because we hadn’t been to the park yet, and we had made them a promise. As a compromise, we scrounged around to find something that could pass as an acceptable meal for them and scooted off to the park before it got too dark to play. Neither you nor I had eaten a thing yet, a habit that gets us into trouble when bedtime comes around (because if we would just feed ourselves at the same time, well then, we wouldn’t be so ill-tempered and impatient with kids who beg for “Just one more story?” at bedtime, would we?).
But alas, we didn’t eat dinner with the kids and by the time we left the park that evening all I could think about was that pound of ground turkey I thawed earlier. By the time I gave any thought to what to do with it, I was tired and very much wished I could send you out to grab Chinese take out. Instead, I snooped around Pinterest as you drove us home and saw an idea for Chinese Green Beans with Ground Turkey over rice from The Weary Chef. Fitting, I thought. Chinese food for tired cooks? Sign me up. The ingredients were minimal, and luckily I had most of them on hand. The recipe wasn’t gluten free exactly, but that was easy enough to fix by swapping out regular soy sauce for Tamari (gluten free soy sauce) and leaving out the hoisin sauce altogether (I didn’t have a gluten free version on hand anyway because, well, I’ve never kept hoisin sauce on hand).
When we got home, we tucked those Goobies into bed, kissed them goodnight, and I set to work on what became an instant favorite. A bowl piled high with quinoa and ginger-infused ground turkey with chili-and-garlic-studded green beans, along with a chilled glass of Chardonnay (and you, of course) is enough to create a truly delicious quick-to-throw-together dinner at home that satisfies my need for Chinese take out–once the Goobies are in bed, of course.
Chili-Garlic Ground Turkey and Green Beans
So ok, ground turkey and frozen green beans aren’t exactly ingredients that I would put together in just any context, but I promise the the flavors here are out-of-this-world. Ginger, garlic and chili paste mingle with soy sauce to create a savory, just-spicy-enough stir fry that I swear I would think came straight from a restaurant if it were served in a traditional Chinese takeout box. The original recipe called for hoisin sauce, as I mentioned, but I left it out and changed the quantities of everything else to make up the difference. The result? Well, what I said above. This is a keeper. (THM friends, this recipe is an FP. When served with quinoa or rice as pictured above, it’s an E. Turn it into an S by using regular ground turkey (not lean) and serving it over cauliflower rice.)
First, make sure you’ve sliced the onions and minced the garlic. Keep them close by because you’ll need them soon. Next, mix the sauce: add the Tamari (or soy sauce, if you’re not gluten free), chili paste, vinegar and ginger into a small bowl and whisk together until well combined. Set aside and keep it handy.
Once your veggies are prepped and the sauce is ready to go, set a skillet over medium heat and pour in the sesame oil. Add the garlic and onions and saute slightly to soften them, about two minutes or until they begin to smell fantastic. Crank up the heat to high and add the ground turkey, crumbling it in your hands as you go. Sprinkle on a little kosher salt (about 1/2 teaspoon) and cook until the meat is no longer pink. Pour in the sauce as well as the (still frozen) green beans. Toss everything together and cook over high heat (or medium high if your stove top gets scorching) until the beans are warmed through and tender. Pile high on top of a bed of quinoa or rice (but my favorite? Quinoa.)
“If you don’t know what you’re doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help. You’ll get his help, and won’t be condescended to when you ask for it. Ask boldly, believingly, without a second thought.”
James 1:5 (MSG)
I ought to have a case of baby fever. Now that our youngest child has crossed over into toddler territory, you would think the heavenly scent of newborns swirling in the air would infect me like a virus. One faint whiff of the good stuff is dangerous for a mom like me because it paints those emotionally charged, bone-tired days of new mamahood with glitter and sunshine. And those early days were strikingly beautiful, warmed with the glow of a new kind of love for the sweet cherub nestled in the crook of my arm. Those days were hard too, in big ways and small ways, but the blessing of hindsight is that it blurs the rough edges and makes things appear much smoother and more idyllic than perhaps they actually were. Nevertheless, the new baby days are over for us now, and I am at once deeply relieved and also utterly heartbroken.
There are newborns everywhere except for in our own home (for a change)–three of them cousins to our own little brood, the newest of whom was born one week ago in a place too far from home to swing by and offer our congratulations. When I heard the news that baby Nolan had arrived, my heart swelled with joy and sadness because I was both over-the-moon excited our new little nephew was healthy and strong, and also hit with the reality that we won’t experience those first beautiful moments for ourselves again, and that made me sad. But in the midst of that sadness I realized I have something now I did not have then: the sort of wisdom that comes with experience, and I wished desperately for a way to pass that on to you sister. My sister. I wanted to just be there for her, to linger in the shadows and offer what little I could to help ease the burden of those first weary, bleary-eyed, love-struck days as they all settled into a new reality.
Strangely, all this happened as I cooked dinner for a different new, first-time mom, something I had planned to do before I heard news baby Nolan would be born soon. Even though it was a coincidence, cooking a meal for this other new mom on that same day helped soothe away the sadness I felt for being so far away from our own extended family. As I packed up that dinner and toted it over to her, memories from my own first days of motherhood flooded back. I was surprised and delighted when I realized this time around it was me answering questions about the reality of adjusting to life with babies. I happily answered her with as much truth and encouragement as I could, marveling at the fact that not so long ago I was in her shoes, desperate for wisdom, company, and a hearty meal I didn’t have to cook.
I am in a different place now, feet set firmly in reality and fully awake to the good and the bad and the hard and the easy. When I first became a mother, I was filled with wide-eyed hope that was pure and good, but lacked experience. Motherhood changed me, heart and soul. It brought about something new and beautiful in me, but also revealed the parts of me that are self-centered and ugly. Before I became a mom, I imagined sacrifice would come easy. I thought laying down my own agenda would be a breeze because my baby was my agenda. In some ways, I was right. Instinct took over and the baby came first. But deep down, it wasn’t easy because while the baby’s needs came first, my needs came dead last. And I was ashamed of how that made me feel: jealous, selfish, and guilty because as it turned out, I still cared about what mattered to me.
When I was pregnant with Addie, a trusted friend gently warned me that kids really do change everything, and while it is a good change, it is not an easy one. Motherhood forces you to your knees, she said, and I assumed she meant having kids makes you to pray for your kids a lot. She’s right: it does. Certainly, it does. In hindsight, though, I wonder if she was trying to tell me something else: that motherhood is humbling in a way that strips you down bare, reveals the darkest parts of yourself, parts you either didn’t know were there or wished to keep hidden, and exposes you as you really are: desperate for a savior.
It all starts at delivery, in a very tactile, physical way. Bringing a baby into the world is messy and sticky and for me–humiliating. Spread wide, flayed open, and very much afraid–mothers cry out, desperate for relief. Remember how I cried through that last push that finally delivered Addie into your hands? It ripped me open and wrenched my heart out of its hiding place, finally letting the light of love into places that had never seen it before.
Then when I finally brought my new baby girl home, I wondered how to care for myself, bloody and broken as I was, while caring for my helpless little daughter. Suddenly, I realized how desperately I needed someone to take care of me. I had a child of my own, but I felt like the child who needed tending. I thought I was ready for motherhood: I had read books and talked to friends and stocked the nursery and been praying for this day since I was a little girl. I always wanted to be a mom, and naturally I believed I would be a good one when the time came, beautiful and capable and nurturing and selfless. I didn’t feel like any of those things at first because motherhood didn’t look the way I thought it would for awhile.
In those first few days, friends and family bustled in and out bringing flowers, cards, dinners and cookies, offering support and celebration in beautiful, generous ways. As they marveled at my baby girl, I remember thinking, “What about me?” Even the kindest words meant to build me up weren’t enough to soothe away the feeling that I was a shell of the woman I had been. I dressed my baby girl in pretty little outfits while I wore spit-up stained hand-me-down maternity clothes, my hair disheveled and my still-swollen face bare and stained with tears. I appreciated people coming over and asking how I was, and I also dreaded it. I wanted them to drop food off and I didn’t want them to see me because I still looked pregnant, and I didn’t know that was normal. I wanted to pile my plate high with warm, comforting casseroles and I didn’t want anyone to bring salad. I wanted people to hold the baby for awhile and I also never wanted to let them touch her. I was jealous for her and jealous of her at the same time because she was just so beautiful, and I was a wreck. I was afraid you loved her more than you loved me, and I was afraid your feelings about me had changed in the worst possible way. And in the midst of it all, I felt a sort of love I had never known before, the kind of love that kept me going when all I wanted to do was pull the covers over my head and cry.
Things got better, of course, and they weren’t so hard after Mia was born and were better still in the days after Emery arrived. Perhaps I had a bit of post-pardum depression the first time around, or maybe I was just wrestling with the surprising swirl of emotions that come with a new baby. But I suspect by the time I greeted my third baby, humility had done its work and brought about wisdom. In those first few days I felt lost, and so I sought refuge the one place I was certain to find rest. God had already lavished grace upon me, a truth to which we paid tribute in Addie’s middle name: Grace. I had asked specifically for grace when I prayed for this child–pleaded with him for it when I poured out my heart and told Him how desperately I wanted a baby of my own. He heard me then and I was certain He would hear me again. He did.
When Mia was born, I felt far more confident about my role as a mom. I wasn’t afraid of the taking-care-of-a-baby part of motherhood, but I still struggled with selfishness and a tattered self-image. I gained a lot of weight. I was swollen and tired and felt like a very different woman than the one you had married. I struggled to feel good about myself. It was an on-going process that just took time to figure out.
But by the time Emery was born, I knew my still-swollen belly would indeed recede as the weeks wore on. I knew my swollen face would regain its former shape and that the loathed maternity clothes would eventually be replaced with things that made me feel human again. I ate with abandon, not caring one bit what anyone thought about my appetite. I knew your love for me grew deeper and stronger as our family grew. I knew people cared very much about me and that they wouldn’t have come to visit us and see the baby if I didn’t matter to them too. And I knew how to eagerly accept help from people who offered it to me, of whom there were many.
Now, three babies later, I know this: any mother who offers to help a new mom knows how good and amazing and glory-filled and just plain hard these days are.We know how fiercely that baby is loved. We know how a post-delivery body is swollen and painful. We know that nursing takes painful practice, and we know it doesn’t always work out. We know how good a nap sounds. We know how hungry a nursing-mama’s own tummy is for a hearty meal, and we don’t expect her to eat like a bird. We know a slow, warm shower sounds like heaven. We know maternity clothes will continue be the staple of a post-delivery wardrobe for awhile, and we know how much new moms hate that. We know nothing compares to the way it feels to snuggle that precious baby close. We know how freeing it is to let someone else to hold that baby. We know how important it is to be left alone, and we also know how being left alone for too long is isolating. We know the laundry isn’t done and the dishes are dirty and the house is a mess. We know one woman alone cannot possibly be expected to care for herself, her baby, her husband, and her home perfectly (or at all) at the same time. We know a new woman was birthed right along with that baby, and getting to know her is confusing and strange. We know new moms need help. We know, because we were new moms once too.
Falling to my knees in submission to my new role as a mother was humbling, but in his kindness God lifted me up and gave me wisdom, just like he promises he will. And I’m so glad he did because the good stuff is so good. Motherhood is at once more complicated and beautiful than I imagined. The experience of it is unique to each woman, a one-of-a-kind gift to unwrap and enjoy.
BBQ Cornbread Pie
This recipe was inspired by Table for Two‘s BBQ Chicken Cornbread Pie. And ok, really–this is pretty much the same recipe, but I made a few changes based on the contents of my refrigerator and my family’s dietary needs and preferences. I stumbled upon it while looking for a gluten-free-and-dairy-free-but-still-hearty-and-comforting dinner to take to a brand new mom. I remember being hungry in those first weeks (because: nursing), and let’s face it: new moms want comfort food for dinner (right? Or am I alone?). This dish is sort of like Sloppy Joe’s piled high on a bed of cornbread (and drenched in gooey cheese), and it became a fast favorite in our house–especially with Addie, who loves meat (for the win: Mia doesn’t really like meat, but she ate this dinner without complaining, and said she actually enjoyed it). It’s really good with dairy free cheese melted on top (like Daiya cheddar style shreds), but clearly the real thing does the trick here too. If your family doesn’t like bell peppers, leave them out. If they only like red ones, don’t use the green. Add more meat or don’t. Use ground beef or ground turkey. Listen to your cravings and own it.
For the Cornbread layer
1 cup gluten free yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup gluten free all purpose flour blend
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
pinch kosher salt
2 Tablespoons Vegan Buttery Spread (such as Earth Balance), melted and cooled
1 cup unsweetened original Almond Milk (or other non-dairy milk alternative)
For the BBQ layer
3/4 pound ground turkey (or ground beef)
1 medium onion, diced
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 green bell pepper, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tablespoons brown sugar
1 Tablespoon chili powder
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 cup tomato sauce
2 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons hot sauce (such as Frank’s Red Hot)
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
For the Topping
2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese, non-dairy if necessary (depending on how gooey you prefer your cheese)
3 green onions, sliced
First, preheat the oven to 375 degrees and grease a 9″ pie plate or baking dish.
Now, let’s talk cornbread. Measure the dry ingredients together in a large bowl and give them a good stir. Then, in a smaller bowl, whisk together the egg and almond milk and then add the melted buttery spread. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet, in about three additions, until the mixture is the consistency of cake batter. Pour the batter into the greased baking dish and put it into the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes, or until golden brown on top.
While the cornbread is baking, brown the meat in a glug or two of neutral tasting oil (like grapeseed oil or refined coconut oil). Break up the meat as you go so it gets nice and crumbly. Once cooked through (no pink!), remove the crumbles from the pan and set aside, leaving the drippings in the pan. Over medium heat, toss the onions and bell peppers into the pan and give them a good stir. Let them cook down until soft, about 5 minutes, and then add the minced garlic. Stir the veggies and let them cook until you start to smell the garlic, about two minutes. Add the meat back to the pan and start building the sauce. Pour in the spices and brown sugar and stir to coat the meat and veggie mixture evenly. Add the tomato sauce, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, and red wine vinegar and stir again. Let the mixture simmer for a few minutes until the cornbread is done.
When the cornbread is golden on top, remove it from the oven and click the oven to a high broil. Spread the BBQ meat mixture on top of the still-hot cornbread, then pile it high with cheese. Put the dish under the broiler for a couple of minutes until the cheese is melted and bubbling. Pull it out of the oven before it burns and scatter the green onions on top.
As you know, I have a major weakness for cookbooks. If I happened upon an extra bit of money that I could spend on anything, you and I both know I would blow it on a new pile of cookbooks. Never mind the fact that I have three shelves full of them; I can confidently admit that I simply do not have enough of them. There’s always a new release I’m dying to get my hands on; an elusive, hard-to-come-by classic; those charming old cookbooks all tattered and splattered and dog-eared and very well-loved; and the ones I’ve never heard of that I fall madly in love with the moment I lay eyes on the cover.
I seem to go in phases with my cookbooks, working my way through them for a good solid year (at least), learning from them, experimenting with them and being inspired by them. Two years ago, I was all about the family meal. Bringing home baby number two compelled me to take a peek at how other mothers created the sacred rhythm of the family dinner in their own homes. (With two under two? What was I thinking?). Books like Jenny Rosenstrach‘s Dinner: A Love Story, and Laurie David and Kirstin Uhrenholdt‘s The Family Dinner were my guideposts. My cheerleaders.
A year later, disenchanted with the American food system (with particular regard to its meat supply), I was all about vegetarian cuisine and Mark Bittman‘s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian and Mollie Katzen‘s The Moosewood Cookbook took up permanent residence in my collection. (Her divine recipe for pita bread is worth finding a copy of your own). And then, cookbook/memoirs took center stage in my cookbook repertoire, and I was convinced that life would be perfect if all cookbooks were written the way that Shauna Niequist‘s Bread & Wine and Louisa Weiss’s My Berlin Kitchen were written.
This year, finally in a kitchen of my very own, and backed with an arsenal of family friendly, environmentally sound, healthy and delicious recipes (that were sure to create a sense of belonging for my little brood), I headed into my kitchen with confidence and my copy of Alana Chernila‘s The Homemade Pantry. If I could make it myself, I was going to. Bring on the memory making.
Before long, the books sat on the kitchen bookshelf, unused. The kitchen was quiet, and I sat idly by. Perceptive little Mia caught me gazing longingly at them during dinner one night. She asked what I was looking at, which snapped me out of my little reverie and made me realize just how much I missed pulling up a chair at someone else’s table, to be inspired by their stories instead of just by their recipes. I didn’t really do that anymore.
Dietary changes made it too painful to thumb through the pages of these books. The recipes reminded me of a time when thinking about eating healthy meant balancing food groups, limiting the bad stuff, going organic and non-GMO. Now, eating healthy meant eating so I didn’t feel like I was dying.
If last year’s theme of my kitchen life was the nostalgic joy of cooking, this year’s theme so far has largely been get me through this meal unscathed. Luckily, for me, it wasn’t really hard to figure out how to cook a meal without any grains in it (Grill some chicken. Steam some veggies. Done.)
The problem is cooking food like that is not my idea of fun–and you know me: I love to cook! And plus, I am so over reading about how and why to cut grains out of the diet. The majority of cookbooks I have read lately devote so much time and energy on explaining the perils of wheat and corn and soy and even rice (among so many others), and spend so very little time on the story behind the food they are promoting as healthy, let alone the story behind the recipes themselves.
For me, cookbooks are not so much about learning how to cook, but more about why to cook. Reading them is like peeking into the food life of other people, people who have gone, seen and learned things that I have not. Getting cozied up on the couch with one is not about making a list of ingredients and techniques to master; it’s about steeping myself in another person’s story, imagining the tastes and smells and experiences of another place and perspective for a moment, connecting to the heart of why they cook and being inspired to continue to refine the cooking culture here in our own kitchen.
If you have not figured it out by now, let me drive the point home: for me, cooking much more than prepping fuel to feed our bodies. It is feeding our spirits and nourishing our souls and creating a way of life within our home, knitting together bits and pieces of our collective pasts with the here and now of where we are as a family. It is celebrating heritage and creating a sense of belonging. It is hard to find a gluten-free cookbook (or grain-free one, for that matter) written from that perspective.
I had the loveliest conversation with my dad earlier this week. We were in the midst of running a not-so-fun errand and we found ourselves exchanging gluten-free/grain-free recipes. Ever the cook, he’s been low-carb for years and is always happy to share his recipes for some really yummy foods. I heard all about his lasagna-like casserole (where kale takes the stage), and I told him about my version of Greek chicken-lemon soup (where cauliflower works its cameleon magic). We talked about ingredients and methods, certainly, and also about how delicious the food was and how we really didn’t miss the grains at all. It was nice to share stories with someone who gets it, you know?
Embracing the gluten-free/grain-free way of eating in my own home and filling in my family on the why’s and how’s of why we’re eating differently feels funny enough, but talking about food and cooking with people who aren’t gluten-free or grain-free is even harder. (What do you eat? What do you cook? Is it hard?) So many casual conversations don’t have the room for a genuine answer. Thank God for the handful of people who have come alongside me this week- my dad and two of my dearest friends in the world (both of whom I rarely see–both in the same week!) to ask these questions and to listen to the real answer.
The real answer is Yes, it’s hard, and also No, it’s not hard at all. It is hard to give up the idea and the sentiment of the foods I used to eat. It is not hard to eat differently, especially when the food tastes as good as it does. Yes, it is hard to want to eat anything when you feel like you are dying, and no, it is not hard to not eat the things that make the pain worse.
It has been a week of talking these things out with people who care about me, about us. Talking about the things that are true and good and hard and important. Sharing meals, meager or strange as they may seem. Reliving old memories and being inspired to reinvent old recipes. Creating new memories that inspire new recipes.
I guess this week I learned that my life is a living cookbook, the one I have been looking for.
It may not look like much, but this recipe is proof that it is possible to cook delicious and satisfying food without grains. A favorite of Joey’s, Avgolemeno is typically made with orzo or rice, but my version uses riced cauliflower. Before you freak out, think about this: both my 3 1/2 year old and my 2 year old devoured it. I call that a success.
4 cups gluten free chicken broth
10 oz. cauliflower
1 small onion
1 T butter (or ghee or olive oil or, or, or….)
4 large eggs
1/4 c lemon juice
1 1/2 c cooked and shredded chicken
salt & pepper, to taste
First, make sure you have pre-cooked chicken to work with. Leftover roast chicken works well here, or just throw a chicken breast or two in the crock pot for a couple hours. When done, shred the chicken and set aside a cup and a half for the soup. Or more, or less. Whatever you like.
Next, prep the cauliflower. You could use a cheese grater to “rice” the cauliflower (more time; courser texter), but I use a food processor (less time, finer texture). If you use a food processor, throw the onion in with the cauliflower to process in one easy step. If you don’t use a food processor, chop the onion finely after you finish preparing the cauliflower.
In a soup pot over medium high heat, add the butter (or other fat) and the cauliflower & onion. Sautee for a few minutes – about five or so – until the veggies are fairly soft. Add the broth and bring to a boil. Lower heat to a bare simmer (low heat).
Meanwhile, whisk together the eggs and the lemon juice. Then, ladle in a scoop of the simmering broth and whisk to combine. Then, pour back into the soup pot, whisking as you do so. The broth will turn opaque. Add the chicken and let the soup simmer for about 4 minutes to allow the eggy broth to cook. Add the salt and pepper to taste, adjusting as needed, and serve. Sprinkle dill on if you so desire.
Oh yeah, and DO NOT BOIL unless you want a curdled mess.
When we moved, there were a few things that we swore up and down we would do once we got settled. Get Mia sleep-trained so we could have a full night of sleep. Move the girls into a shared bedroom. Make it a point to go on a date every week. Potty train Addie. Spend time with other adults, like you know, friends.
After all, living back across the hills with “built in babysitting” would change everything. Suddenly maintaining a regular social life with two kids under two years old at home would be not only possible, but simple.
Here we are four months later and the only goal we’ve managed to sort of accomplish is spending more time with other adults. You do so in the form of working grueling hours at the hospital, and me in the form of seeing my brothers and parents on a daily basis. In some ways, being in on this side of the hills is easier in that I don’t have to drive a half an hour with two sleepy little girls in order to visit family or hang out with friends. But the truth is, family aside, I’m not sure I see them any more than I did before we moved. It’s just easier to do on short notice now, but those days are few and far between.
But, following through on my promise to myself, I joined MOPS, and unlike last time, I kept going, repeating to myself a phrase you said to me several years ago now: Faith isn’t in the knowing; it’s in the going.
And slowly, I’m getting to know some of the other girls, girls who probably joined for the same reasons I did; girls who are diverse and funny and talented and thoughtful; girls who make me realize that the things I face aren’t all that uncommon (loneliness, fatigue, a house that never stays clean); girls who stretch me and listen to me and value me and pray for me; girls who I’m fairly certain would be just a phone call away if I really needed them.
There are some mornings that I simply have to make myself go. Getting an infant and a toddler ready to go anywhere before 9 am can be really, really difficult. Sometimes it feels like more trouble than it’s worth. But I’ve never been disappointed, and I walk away encouraged and ready to face the rest of my week.
It’s a lot like cooking, really. I love the idea of challenging myself in the kitchen, and it is not uncommon for me to make lofty mental lists of the things I want to experiment with on a given day or week. Often, I really want to try something new, to step out of what I know and do something different, but when the opportunity presents itself to follow through on my plans (like when I finally have two sleeping kids), sometimes I have to make myself follow through.
What’s funny to me about all this is that it’s not the group of strangers or the work in the kitchen, or any number of other things that lay on the other side of starting something new that is the scary, cumbersome obstacle to overcome. It’s myself – it’s me being my own stumbling block.
Thank goodness for people like you who push me to get over myself, otherwise I wouldn’t have had the chance to find out that I can still make new friends. I wouldn’t have met these girls, or – and not any less significant – come upon this stack of recipes – Baked Chicken Parmesan, in particular. Sure, I might have stumbled upon similar recipes at some point, but there’s something much more meaningful about being passing recipes from person to person. The sorts of recipes that are staples at their house often end up being staples at our house.
Baked Chicken Parmesan will always remind me of more than just the girl who gave me the recipe (although I’m hoping that we do become good friends). It will remind me to just keep going, even when it seems too hard or just not all that worth it. Baked Chicken Parmesan will remind me that something really, really good can come from simple things, and that what seems difficult really isn’t all that complicated after all.
And so, I’ll keep going.
Baked Chicken Parmesan All of the ingredients listed below were from Trader Joe’s, but the only thing that really needs to be from there is the croutons. I don’t recommend Marie Calendar’s or similar croutons, as those aren’t substantial enough to hold their shape and texture. The croutons should be big & chunky and essentially be real pieces of bread.
1 pack of frozen boneless, skinless chicken breasts (thawed)
2 T olive oil
2 large cloves of garlic, crushed
1 1/4 tsp dried basil
2 1/2 cups Marinara sauce
8 oz. shredded mozzarella cheese
4 oz grated Parmesan/Romano cheese blend (not fresh–from the can)
4oz bag of croutons (see note above)
1. Prep the chicken. There were four large chicken breasts in the pack from TJ’s; I cut them in half to make 8 breast pieces.
2. Spread olive oil and garlic in the bottom of a Dutch oven. Place chicken pieces on top of the oil, sprinkle with a bit of kosher salt & the basil, then pour all of the sauce on top.
3. Sprinkle 1/2 the mozzarella and 1/2 the Parmesan on top of the sauce. Place croutons on top of cheese, then sprinkle the remaining cheese on top of the croutons.
4. Bake at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes or until internal temp of chicken reaches 165 degrees.
I deserve an award for making it through the day yesterday on very little sleep, only one cup of coffee, three poopy diapers, one vomiting baby, an unexpected bout of loneliness, and facing one of my fears–all done without crying.
It all started when Mia got up super early and didn’t want to go back down until Addie woke up. I’m telling you–they’re out to get us, Joey. They’re testing our resilience, and some days, I’m convinced I’m failing.
But as I’ve told you many, many times (when you ask why in the world I start buzzing around the kitchen before finishing a proper cup of coffee), I wake up to the day much better if I just keep moving. Yesterday was no different. But boy, did I choose the wrong thing to keep me occupied. It seemed to curse me all day long, it’s fragrance mocking my efforts and making me come this close to declaring myself a vegetarian.
Grandma’s Chicken & Noodles. Sounds innocent enough, right? In some ways, it is. And my memory of it takes me back to more innocent times of my life when a simple bowl of those plump, juicy noodles set down in front of me made me feel that the world was an ok place to be.
Growing up, it was Grandma who was the master of Chicken & Noodles, although my mom made it for us on several occasions. Still, Grandma’s version always tasted a little bit better than Mom’s (I’m sure my mom would agree with me). But Grandma, when we asked for her secret on how to make it, would apologize for the way it always turned out, frustrated that the noodles soaked up all the broth. (Told you I come by it honestly.) But I digress.
The recipe was simple enough: boil a chicken, cook the noodles in the broth, shred the chicken, add it to the noodles and ta-da! You’ve got Chicken & Noodles. A simple, kid-friendly dish that fit right into my current plan for getting Addie to eat more than just chicken nuggets or PB&J. Yesterday was the perfect day to do it, too, since we were up early and didn’t have plans to leave the house. (Simple as the dish is, it takes a bit of time.)
Perhaps it was my sleep-deprived state that made me stupid enough to think I could face my fear of chicken on the bone and tolerate working with a whole chicken. Then again, being sleep-deprived could be responsible making me more sensitive to working with a whole chicken. Maybe it was both.
In any case, touching a raw, whole chicken and putting it in the pot was hard, but it wasn’t anything compared to taking the meat off the bone. I’ll spare the grisly details, but let’s just say that when (if?) I make Chicken & Noodles again, I will not be doing it the way Grandma always did it.
Truth be told that when it came time for Addie to eat the finished product for dinner, I couldn’t blame her for not really wanting to eat it. After working with a chicken on the bone, I was so grossed out that I had a hard time even watching her eat it. (Sorry, Grandma. I’m not made of the the same stuff you are.)
At first, I thought she liked it. After the first bite, she declared, “Good. More?” After just two more (small) bites, though, she refused to even look at the stuff anymore. And then, of course, she threw a fit when I took away her bowl. One of the many joys of having a toddler.
Oh well. There are worse things than a child not eating the meal you slaved over all day. Like having the sort of day that makes you realize how badly you need a friend around, the kind who is close enough (and willing) to come over and de-bone a chicken for you when you just don’t have the stomach to do so, or who would scrub baby vomit from the living room floor while you rocked the over-tired baby to sleep, or who would even just come over to bring you an Iced Soy Chai Tea Latte because she could hear it in your voice that you were desperate for one when she talked to you for the fourth time that day.
That’s why after both girls were in bed and the house was finally cleaned up and quiet, I told you that I didn’t know about you, but I was having popcorn for dinner.
Lucky for me, you said that sounded good to you, too.
Grandma’s Chicken & Noodles
This dish is really a simple chicken noodle soup in which the noodles have absorbed all the broth. Apparently Grandma didn’t intend for the noodles to do so the first time she made it, but it was a happy accident that resulted in one of her classic recipes. There aren’t any veggies in the original, but you could easily add some if you wanted to (I added peas to ours, and it turned out quite good).
Although not the way Grandma did it, you could really use about four chicken breasts if you don’t have the stomach for working with a whole chicken. It won’t have the same amount of fat in it (and thus, it will change the richness of flavor), but on the upside, it would be lower in fat.
1 whole chicken
1 pkg. egg noodles
Put the chicken in a large pot; cover with water. Give the water a good bit of salt, and bring it to a boil. Simmer the chicken for at least 1 1/2 hours. When it’s done, remove the chicken and strain the liquid, reserving the broth. Do not skim off the fat.
Return about 4 cups of broth to the pot. Bring to a boil and add the noodles. Boil for about 10 minutes, then turn down the heat and let the noodles simmer until they absorb all the liquid.
Meanwhile, once the chicken has cooled, shred the meat. Add all of it to the noodles. Add salt & pepper to taste. Add frozen peas (or other vegetables) if desired.