I remember hearing my folks say this sort of thing to each other as they sautéed their way toward dinner. I never quite understood what they meant because it never felt like we needed anything. Dinner was always awesome. My mom would dig out a few leftover baked potatoes and dice them, saggy skin and all, while my dad dug out leftover roast beef and heated up oil for hash. They chopped up onions for good measure, then tossed it all together in a hot skillet until the potatoes were crispy and golden. Dinners like that were some of my favorite, regardless of what food my folks wished they had on hand.
Now I know that our pantry sometimes got bare. Now I know my mom bought Hyrdox Cookies instead of Oreos and big tubs of generic vanilla ice cream instead of Breyers Vanilla Bean for one reason: they fit her budget better. But even those bargains were only sometimes treats. Even so, I don’t really remember going without. In fact, a bare pantry meant my dad jumped at the chance to bake a Wacky Cake–the dessert for which we always had ingredients. The fridge doesn’t have to be fully stocked with cream or eggs or milk or butter for a slice of his famous impromptu cake.
Last week I read The Kitchen Front, a novel about ordinary women struggling to cook palatable meals during WWII England. Wartime rationing redefined pantry staples, so pantry stockpiles looked awfully paltry compared to the way they looked before the war. Fresh eggs were limited; dairy products too. Food women used to take for granted were whisked away from them without their consent or approval, and before they knew it they were whirling together bits of stale bread and overcooked vegetables to make mock roast chicken. Some of their concoctions sounded just plain awful (mock anything makes me cringe), but I admired their resourcefulness and creativity nonetheless.
I imagine it was heartbreaking to have to forego serving a cake on a birthday because there weren’t enough ration coupons for eggs. Someone somewhere figured out how to make cake without it–necessity is the mother of invention, right?–and vegan cakes were born out of a different sort of necessity back then.
When I put the book down, I couldn’t help but see the parallel to my own cooking life, of course. Wartime rationing isn’t to blame for the changes in my kitchen, but outside forces beyond my control stormed in and bossed me around too, and I find myself staring at a smattering of ingredients that don’t feel like enough, wondering how to make familiar food out of mock versions of the real thing. Like them, I was frustrated and angry but powerless to do much else than slip into survival mode at first and just keep cooking something. Little by little, they learned to let go of what they didn’t have and how to make do with what they did have, and so did I, and in the process new things are born–like grain free, vegan cake that is familiar and delicious.
Wacky Cake proves that God really does bring about good things out of desperately difficult situations. All the harrowing hardship of the war didn’t change the fact that women wanted to serve something celebratory and sweet. I know what that’s like on a much smaller scale, of course, but imagine how you would feel if you couldn’t serve cake for your boy’s birthday and you might understand a little. This crazy cake made out of cassava flour, cocoa powder, sugar, oil & water makes a decadent, distinctly not weird confection that could be served to just about anyone. It’s flexible enough to accommodate all kinds of allergies–a feat women working in WWII kitchens couldn’t imagine, and yet somehow they secured it long before we ever really needed it. I feel a kinship with them when I make it, because even though allergies and intolerances and dietary restrictions weren’t really a thing back then (like they are today), they knew the frustration and heartache of going without.
I like to think Wacky Cake is a wartime gift God gave to women two generations before me during that dark, difficult season. Food doesn’t solve everything, but sweet balances out the bitter, so cake helps. God must know that; why else would he have made cocoa beans bitter and sugar cane sweet? This dessert uses both, without any of the dangerous ingredients that we can’t serve to our people this season. When I whisk this cake together, I whisper a prayer of thanks because I am certain God knew we would need this recipe for this moment, right now, when so many of us are wondering how to serve special foods to the people we love, too.
The best gifts just keep on giving, and this gift is for you too.
8-11 God can pour on the blessings in astonishing ways so that you’re ready for anything and everything, more than just ready to do what needs to be done. As one psalmist puts it,
He throws caution to the winds, giving to the needy in reckless abandon. His right-living, right-giving ways never run out, never wear out.
This most generous God who gives seed to the farmer that becomes bread for your meals is more than extravagant with you. He gives you something you can then give away, which grows into full-formed lives, robust in God, wealthy in every way, so that you can be generous in every way, producing with us great praise to God.
2 Corinthians 9:8-11 (MSG)
I made fudge this week, and oh how that pan of molten chocolate goodness beckoned me to slip away from the bottomless pile of dirty dishes and unfolded laundry and spend time with it instead of with much else. Why do I do this to myself? We all know chocolate lords its power over me, and if the two of us are ever found in a room alone together, I just don’t stand a chance.
My excuse? I was curious whether I could transform my Nonie’s legendary Magic French Fudge into a dairy free treat that could hold its own against my memory of her classic confection. My grandmother’s fudge was it at Christmastime for me, edging out Grandma Teague’s Russian Teacakes because of this one minor detail: fudge is really just chocolate.
I know this is not normal behavior, daydreaming about fudge even as I change a messy diaper (Gross. But true.), and I realize most people do not spend the majority of their waking hours daydreaming about transforming the comfort foods of their childhood into allergy-friendly versions of themselves. But as for me, well–let’s just say it’s as common as packing a lunch or slicing apples or–yep–changing diapers. It sounds ridiculous, I know–just make a batch of the stuff already, Rach. Sheesh. But fudge is not the sort of thing people make just because they feel like it (unless you’re Monica Gellar and you’re trying to comfort your older brother who is in the throes of a tumultuous heartbreak). I needed a reason to make it, an occasion that warranted such a treat (and doubled as a good excuse). Since Valentine’s Day is next week, I took advantage because I figured I could sort of explain away the pan of rich chocolatey goodness by claiming February as THE month for chocolate (but I believe I could say that about any month, if pressed).
It bothered me that even though Nonie’s Magic French Fudge holds a place of honor in my memories of Christmastime treats, I still hadn’t even tried to make an allergy friendly version of it. The Goobies are starting to remember, you know? And traditions aren’t traditions unless you do them again and again and again. Fudge wasn’t on their radar, and it’s something I wanted to plant firmly in their repertoire in the same way you want your Grandma Adeline’s kuchen to be. The key ingredient that makes Nonie’s fudge so magical posed a big problem, though: sweetened condensed milk contains dairy, clearly, and with a not-quite-two-year-old with a severe dairy allergy (and a sweet tooth the size of Texas), I wasn’t about to risk making fudge with the same ingredients my grandmother used to use because I knew Goobie #3 would find a way to get his grubby little hands on a piece or two. And so, we haven’t adopted Nonie’s fudge as part of our family’s Christmas treat line up.
But–I happened upon a can of sweetened condensed coconut milk at some point in the past few weeks. I can’t remember when I first saw it exactly, but the moment I spotted it all I wanted to do was grab a can and scurry home to whip up a batch of my beloved fudge–but I didn’t. It wasn’t Christmastime, after all, and Nonie’s fudge dominated December, so making it at any other time of the year just felt a little…strange. But it’s nagged me ever since, so once February rolled around, I went back to the store and tossed a can of the stuff into my cart, quietly plotting when and how I could get away with attempting a dairy free version of it, and soon the idea infected me like a virus.
Earlier this week, Mia unknowingly helped my cause when she asked if we could make something special in the kitchen after lunch, when her brother would be happily settled in for his nap and before her own quiet rest time. This is fairly typical; she soaks up my full attention for those few minutes as we measure, stir, pour, laugh. After licking the spatula clean, she skips off to her room, filled and happy. With the ingredients for fudge at the ready in the cabinets, I couldn’t not say yes to her, now could I? So clearly, we measured chocolate chips, melted them down, and stirred in the sweetened condensed coconut milk (or rather, liquid gold), and eased that molten goodness into a pan to set–all while restraining ourselves from breaking out spoons and making the stuff disappear. The funny thing is, once the pan was nestled deep inside the refrigerator to chill, all I wanted to do was give it all away.
I realized this was a perfect opportunity to show the Goobies what an unselfish heart actually looks like. We talk about selfishness around here a lot lately, it seems, mainly because the girls often point accusing fingers at each other, screaming, “You’re being selfish! You need to share that with me now!” (Sigh.) They’re really good at spotting selfishness in others, but aren’t as good at actually being the thing they clamor for their sister to be: unselfish. And as I thought about that pan of fudge chilling in the refrigerator, I wondered: do we demonstrate unselfishness often enough, in a language our children can understand, so that they can see it, know it, imitate it?
The idea of giving away that batch of my beloved thick, rich chocolate fudge actually hurt a little, so I paid attention that feeling. The girls would understand it wasn’t easy for me to freely give away something that meant so much to me (Wasn’t it Mia who wanted to give me a box of fancy chocolates for Christmas because she knew how much I love the stuff?) More than that, it hurt them a little too. They wanted to eat the whole batch just as much as I did. But I decided that putting an unselfish heart on display was worth more than hoarding it all for ourselves. So I sliced up that fudge into small little morsels, piled the pieces high, and wrapped them up to give them away. (Yes, I snuck a bite for myself as I did so, but let’s focus on the big picture here.)
Those Goobies were conflicted, honestly. Excited as they were to bring that plate of fudge to the ladies at your office, they really didn’t want to give away so much of it. They were, not surprisingly, a little concerned about themselves. Their weakness for chocolate rivals my own, and they were a bit peeved I didn’t reserve more than just one piece of it for them. But they chose the higher road and fought over who got to be the one to carry the plate into the office and who got to actually hand the thing over, and after they finally gave it away, they put other people else first and didn’t even ask if they could take a piece or two for the road. (The lollipops they got from the ladies there might have helped.)
The best part of the story, I think, is this: the day after we gave the fudge away, Mia asked if we could make another batch so we could give more of it away, this time to our neighbors next door. And ok yes she also managed to squeeze in a suggestion that we not give all of it away this time, but I’m choosing to see this request as a win. When we give out of unselfish hearts, we all win. We are blessed so we can bless others, and when we bless others, we too are blessed. Clearly, my answer was yes. Clearly, I will let her lick the spatula and I will sample the finished product with her and I will even agree to keep a small portion of the stuff here for our family to enjoy, too, because isn’t this what we pray for almost every single night at bedtime when we thank God for blessing us, and ask Him to show us ways we can be a blessing to others?
A small thing, fudge. Insignificant really. Almost too common or mundane to be all that exciting. But this once-Christmastime treat has planted itself firmly in my heart as a symbol of selflessly giving love away, which in my mind makes it a perfect treat to make in the middle of February.
Nonie’s (Non-Dairy) Magic French Fudge (GF/DF/NF)
Most families have their favorite recipe for fudge, I imagine, and this is ours. Nonie’s recipe sets the bar high in my opinion, because whenever I taste fudge from anywhere else (even fancy fudge made in artisinal chocolate shops), I tend to prefer hers. I’m not sure if there’s anything particularly magical about this recipe (and I have no idea where the name came from); I’m not even sure where she got the recipe in the first place or how it came to be her go-to recipe for fudge. But for me, this is the gold standard. Using sweetened condensed coconut milk made me nervous that the flavor would change (and taste like coconut-flavored fudge), but the finished product doesn’t taste like coconut at all. Of course, substitute regular sweetened condensed milk for the coconut version if your family can handle dairy, but after tasting this version, you may not even want to. I used Nature’s Charm Sweetened Condensed Coconut Milk, which is available at Sprouts for $2.99. Also, I like to use either extra dark chocolate chips, or a combination of semi-sweet chocolate chips and unsweetened chocolate squares (for a darker version than Nonie’s original), but you can use all semi-sweet chocolate chips if you prefer (use a total of 18 ounces of chocolate per batch).
18 ounces extra dark chocolate chips (or 14 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips + 4 ounces unsweetened chocolate; or 18 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips)
1-11.25 ounce can Nature’s Charm sweetened condensed coconut milk
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
pinch of salt
First, line an 8×8 pan with wax paper, making sure to create a 2″ lip (or so) of extra paper around all sides (this will aid with removing the fudge from the pan once it has set).
Next, set a glass bowl set over simmering water and gently melt the chocolate chips (or a combination of semi-sweet chocolate chips and unsweetened chocolate squares, as noted above), whisking as you go and making sure no water drips into the bowl. Once the chocolate is completely melted, carefully remove it from the pan of water (and turn off the stove). Pour in the sweetened condensed milk, vanilla and salt and whisk to combine. It will begin to thicken almost immediately, but don’t worry about that. Keep whisking until fully combined and smooth. Pour into the prepared pan, smooth with a spatula, and chill until set, about an hour or so.
When ready to slice, ease the fudge slab out of the pan by grasping the lip of wax paper and gently lifting. Peel the paper away from the fudge and set the slab on a cutting board. Slice as you like, and share the love.
“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?
“In the twilight of our lives, we will be judged on how we have loved.” — St. John of the Cross
Love is on my mind. It invades my thoughts and my motivations and plans and dreams lately. This is probably because Addie has been singing “A little bit of love goes a long, long way…” over and over and over again. I have heard it dozens and dozens of times over the past five months, and I am weary of them, but wouldn’t you know it: the girl’s free spirited singing etched those words into my heart, and now, they convict me when selfishness invades.
And invade it does. Let’s be honest: my first thought after breakfast revolves around my own agenda, well-meaning as it may be, and certainly does not revolve around which princess has been captured by the blue monster today, or what gown I will put on so I am ready to rock out to princess music on Pandora. My first thoughts are How will I manage to get these dishes washed before someone comes begging for me to play with her? Or I should have done a meal plan for this week because I have no idea what to thaw for dinner tonight. Or even, I wonder if they’ll notice if I slip away to go use the bathroom? This is the sneaky sort of selfishness and most of the time I don’t see it for what it really is. Selfishness distorts truth and gets in the way of loving well.
The truth is, most of the time I do not really want to play dollies–especially when there is an email I would rather write, or a book I would rather read or a recipe I would rather try or a shower I would rather take. Why can’t the girls just play together? I wonder. Why do they always need me? I get frustrated and am tempted to resent these cute little faces innocently seeking a little bit of attention. Lately, in these moments of weakness, I hear Addie’s little voice singing her heart out to her favorite preschool song and I remember that little bit of love really does go a long, long way.
And so I am choosing to engage with them and figure out a way to make whatever is important to them fun. Of course, I am not very good at this, and some days are better than others, but I am realizing that giving them small acts of love throughout the day builds up credibility with me (doesn’t it?). If I say I love them, do I make good on my word by show them this love in a way they can understand? Washing dishes and thawing chicken does not speak to their hearts. Building LEGO castles and dancing in the kitchen and singing at the top of our lungs in the car; letting them dress me up and pinning princess capes onto their shirts; having tea parties (real and imaginary); wrapping dollies up in blankets and putting them to bed over and over and over – all of it speaks one thing to them: Mommy loves you.
If I am not able to love them well now while they are young, what are the chances I will get a chance to do so later, when they are older? If I cannot lay aside myself for them—the most important things God has ever entrusted me with—do I really think He will entrust me with much else? Plus, what kind of love am I modeling for them? Do I want my actions to teach them that love is selfish, when really, the opposite is true (1 Corinthians 13:5)? If I want them to believe the truth that “Greater love has no man than this: that he lay down his life for his friends,” shouldn’t also love them that way (John 15:13)?
It is a part of my faith that I am still working out – saying no to selfishness and saying yes to loving well. Clearing weeds and digging up roots and nurturing new love-seeds to grow in the fertile soil of a pure heart a so that my actions are motivated by love for others, not by love of self.
No small task. It is tough. But Addie’s little voice skipping through the house reminding me that “A little bit of love goes a long, long way” is helping. Isn’t it worth the work?
No Bake Chocolate Chip Cookies (GF/DF/optional NF)
My girls love having post-nap tea parties, especially when they get a sweet treat. Giving up grains for awhile (wheat, rice, corn) renders our house fairly free of cookie making supplies, and I am still learning how to make a truly delicious grain and nut free cookie (sometimes, honestly, they are just plain no good.). But these No Bake Cookies save the day for tea time: they are not only quick and easy, they are also versatile and very forgiving. If you wouldd rather use almond butter in place of sunflower seed butter, do it! If coconut flakes make you cringe, use rolled oats like the original recipe. If you could not imagine ever having tapioca flour on hand (which I do not blame you for. Neither did I until recently.), then try something else you do have on hand (like all-purpose flour) until you work up the courage to seek out said tapioca flour (which you should. Be brave.)
1/2 cup sunflower seed butter (or almond butter, or peanut butter, or …)
3 T pure maple syrup
1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup tapioca flour
2 T flax seed meal
1/4 cup toasted coconut flakes or shredded coconut
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
pinch of sea salt
Chocolate chips, as desired
Mix wet ingredients. Add dry ingredients (except for chocolate chips) and mix well. Sprinkle in desired amount of chocolate chips.
Form into balls. I use a 1 1/2″ ice cream scoop (which I love) so that all I have to do is scoop – no messy ball making for me. (Plus, the scoops end up looking more like cookies than balls of dough – which I like.) The cookies are firm enough to eat right away, but may be stored in a covered container in the refrigerator (or freezer) until ready to eat.