The Gift of a Long Wait, and Home

“Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

“You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? 10 Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! 11 So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.

Matthew 7:7-11

Dear Joey,

Somehow summer is upon us and we are hemmed in by the same cardboard boxes we packed just a year ago. We unpacked, folded them up, and settled them in for a year long reprieve while we walked through a season of watching and waiting, expectant for God to move in big ways but not sure what those ways would look like.

The boxes multiplied while they were sitting there in the dark. We kept feeling like we didn’t have much to haul along with us until we flung open the door to the storage unit and panicked. Watching you load every last one of them and secure them for the long journey into an unknown future made me think of Abram, and how he packed up all he had and left his homeland to a place the Lord wrote on his heart. How hard it must have been to leave, and yet, how easy it must have been to go when God gave him the green light.

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A New Year’s Eve Tradition and Mema’s Green Chili Cheese Dip

Dear Joey,

I think we made a good decision when we chose to put off our own New Year’s Eve tradition in favor of letting the Goobies stay up a little bit later than usual to get a taste of what New Year’s Eve is all about.

We usually make Shrimp & Grits and kick off our annual Harry Potter movie marathon on New Year’s Eve, a tradition we started a few years ago when it became clear we were the sort of people who used to go out on New Year’s Eve, but have traded in our party shoes for slippers. (Things really changed once we had kids, didn’t they?) It occurred to me on New Year’s Eve morning this year that our kids didn’t really know what New Year’s Eve was, let alone realize it was that same day. I tested this thought at the breakfast table, excitedly prodding them, “Who knows what today is?!”

Blank stares.

“Saturday?” It might have been Addie who asked this, but I don’t remember. I do remember thinking I was right. How can they not know what New Year’s Eve is? What kind of parents are we that we haven’t even mentioned this before?

“Yes, it is Saturday. But it’s also….NEW YEAR’S EVE!”

More blank stares.

Mia tentatively asked, “So what do we do to celebrate?”

 

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And it was that question, right there that wriggled its way between my excitement over Harry Potter and my deep desire to cultivate a culture of celebration in our family. These kids are young, yes–but aren’t they too old to send to bed without marking the occasion in some small way? If we don’t show them what New Year’s Eve is all about this year, we will have to wait a whole year to introduce it, and Addie will be seven years old by then. I felt it grow inside, that pesky feeling that I had to act now or miss my chance, and that the opportunity to weave another strand of tradition into our family life was there right then, and really? How long do we have until these Goobies want to spend New Year’s Eve with their friends, and not us? The time is now, I thought.

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So we threw together a plan for our own family New Year’s Eve party–nothing fancy, but different enough from a normal night to make it feel special and fun. Central to this party was the idea of tradition–something that connects us as a family to our collective past and forges a bridge into our future, a bridge that we’ll keep building as we grow and change and step into the first few days of a still-hazy 2017.

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Maybe that’s why your mom made sure to keep her New Year’s Eve offerings consistent every year: bridge building. Her traditions led you from one year to the next, first then and next, now. Maybe she knew that all that time ago when her her Green Chili Cheese Dip and Sweet and Sour Little Links showed up at the table while that funky 1960 rendition of H.G. Well’s The Time Machine flickered on the TV. Those things were constants for you then, and perhaps that’s why it felt right and good to make the same party snacks for our family this year–because traditions connect our individual pasts with our collective future.

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Logistically speaking, cheesy dip is sort of a nightmare to serve with a kid who has a dairy allergy. But Emery was sick on New Year’s Eve and he took a nap straight through the dinner hour–a serendipitous coincidence that allowed our girls to enjoy that dip without any of us having to worry about Emery being around it. We taught the girls how to play Charades while we knelt around the coffee table and nibbled our way through dinner. By the time Emery woke up, we had all had our fill of dinner snacks and Emery joined in the fun of making s’mores around the fire and watching the Peanuts movie (which we had to explain to Mia wasn’t really about peanuts at all). All five of us piled on top of each other on our too-small-for-us-all couch and giggled our way through the evening. By 8:30, everyone was in bed but us, and we toasted to the new year in our pajamas, watching Food Network reruns while the fire petered out.

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And so, we said goodbye to 2016 in peace, not feeling guilty or pressured, soaking up the joy of what we had right around us, and in the process, I think it’s safe to say we started a new tradition. Perhaps it’s not flashy or exciting, but it’s ours–and that’s what matters the most.

Love,

Scratch

P.S.–We collapsed on the couch with big bowls of Shrimp & Grits last night instead–on New Year’s Day after the Goobies were in bed. They crashed early, after being up late the night before and in preparation for going back to school in the morning. We turned on Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and geeked out (well, I did, at least), and fell asleep right as Hermione Granger is figuring out who Nicolas Flamel actually is, and totally missed midnight. I think we’re both ok with that being our new tradition, too.

Mema’s Green Chili Cheese Dip

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This is the dip my mother in law made every year for New Year’s Eve–and still does, if I’m not mistaken. It’s a constant  in Joey’s memory of the way he spent New Year’s Eve as a child: eating dip and little smokies while watching the 1960 version of H.G. Well’s The Time Machine, so it’s no surprise this is what he requested when we talked about starting a New Year’s Eve tradition for our own family. I admit this recipe deviates from the original a bit, meaning mainly that this one is gluten free. That famous national brand of Cream of Mushroom soup (you know the one) is made with wheat flour, which poses a problem for people like me. But Pacific Foods makes a fantastic gluten free version that works just as well as that other brand, and it’s made with organic ingredients, too. Use mild cheddar cheese — it melts beautifully into the soup and stays creamy. Add more cheese if you like it even cheesier, but Joey gives the amount listed here two thumbs up. Also, this dip is mild as can be, so add hot sauce if you want things to be spicy. 

Ingredients:
  • 2-12 oz. boxes Pacific Foods Organic Cream of Mushroom Soup (or 2-10.5 oz. cans conventional cream of mushroom soup, such as Campbell’s)
  • 2-4 oz. cans fire roasted green chiles
  • 1 cup milk (we used 2% milk, but use what you prefer)
  • 12 oz. shredded mild cheddar cheese
Method:

In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, mix together the soup, chiles and milk. Heat for a few minutes, until warm and steaming. Add the cheese, about a cup at a time, and whisk until melted and combined. Heat thoroughly–the dip will bubble up around the rim of the pan when it’s ready to pour into a serving bowl*.

*Joey says his mom always serves this dip straight out of a small crock pot to keep it warm and gooey, but we fared just fine using a regular serving bowl. You might need to reheat the dip a bit as it sits, but it stays nice and smooth at room temperature.

 

 



Being Tired, Feeling Lazy, and Eating Pumpkin Pudding

Dear Joey,

It’s late, and I’m tired. We stay up late far too often, and it’s catching up with us. Last night, we tried to go to bed early, but we both laid awake for a lot longer than we had thought possible, given just how tired we were.

We’ve been doing this thing where stay up late every night under the guise of “hanging out,” but what really happens when the evening comes and we finally get a moment to look at each other, we sit on the couch eating popcorn or hummus and Veggie chips or big bowls of ice cream or random pieces of candy that one of us somehow manages to rustle up. It’s embarrassing to admit, and the truth is, we know better. We know better than to let a whole evening go by without really talking to each other, seeing each other, being with each other. We know better than to silently sit up late watching TV, bleary eyed and yawning, eating whatever snack happens to be within arm’s reach. We know better than to slip into bed and let the the latest Candy Crush level be our lullaby.

We know that to be better, we must do better. But we’ve been so tired, that we don’t want to do better. We’ve chosen to just, well, be lazy, I guess.

We hate this about ourselves, and it’s a constant battle between what we want in that moment (to sit on the couch and zone out with a bowl of ice cream for a little while) versus what deep down we know we need: Sleep. Nourishment. Exercise. Real rest.

The thing that gets me is this: every night, without fail, you ask me this: What’s for dessert?
You really are one of the healthiest eaters I know, Joey – but darn it if you don’t have a sweet tooth.

And I’m stuck, because on the nights when I don’t plan for some sort of dessert, I end up apologizing that the only thing that resembles dessert in the house is a bowl of cereal or that Hazelnut chocolate bar that’s been in the cupboard for over a year. But when I do plan ahead and make dessert, I’m met with initial excitement followed by frustration that you’re eating dessert, again, late at night.

So many of the low fat, low sugar, low calorie desserts out there are really just “edible food-like substances,” to borrow Michael Pollan’s keen description of the bulk of the American diet. Like your beloved sugar free, fat free instant pudding mixes. And I just can’t get on board with that. Experimentation isn’t always kind to me (I will never again serve you chocolate mousse made out of tofu), but once in awhile, I hit on a recipe worth keeping.

Tonight was one of those nights, and pumpkin pudding was the recipe.

So even though we didn’t go for an evening stroll tonight, and even though we ate our dinner after the girls were tucked in for the night (while sitting on the couch watching a movie), and even though after that movie was over we both spent far more time than perhaps we should have gazing into the bright light of our respective computer screens (as opposed to focusing on each other for a few minutes), at least we had a decent dessert that didn’t make us feel so bad about enjoying something sweet after dinner.

Maybe tomorrow we can resume our evening walks? I really miss those. We could talk as we walk, and hey – that’s two birds with one stone!

Love,
Scratch

Pumpkin Pudding
Joey loves pumpkin pie. Loves it. I adapted this recipe from the one printed in the latest issue of Food Network Magazine. It is reminicent of pumpkin pie filling, especially when topped with whipped cream (which I know sort of compromises the virtue of this low fat dessert, but it sure makes it tasty). I used arrowroot powder as a thickener, but you could easily use cornstarch instead. Also, I used organic ingredients where indicated because I prefer to use organic whenever possible. But you may certainly use conventional ingredients if that’s what you have on hand, and it would still be healthier than any of the readily available pumpkin pies in the frozen section of the grocery store. 
 

Ingredients:
2 cups pumpkin
2 cups light coconut milk
3/4 cups organic sugar
3 organic egg yolks
3 Tablespoons arrowroot (or cornstarch)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

Method:
In a medium saucepan, add all ingredients together and mix well. Over medium heat, bring the mixture to a boil and cook, whisking fairly constantly, until thickened (about 10 minutes). Pour into serving dishes or a large bowl. Cover with plastic wrap (lay it directly on top of the pudding to prevent skin from forming), and chill for about 3 hours before eating.
 


Baby Nora and Forget-Me-Nots

Dear Sweet Baby Nora,

I often imagine you in a field thick with forget-me-nots; you’re at peace, safe and secure and whole, almost glowing as you bask in the glory of heaven in a secret garden all your own, a garden watered by the tears of all those who loved you here on earth, a garden where you run with Jesus while you wait for the day when your family will join you there.

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Your name means honor, light. And so it seemed fitting to light a candle in your honor as I prepared to bake a batch of cookies that I would have rather not have made at all. Perched on a delicate china dish adorned with those little blue flowers that were both a question and a promise, the flame seemed to whisper “Forget me not?” as I measured, stirred, shaped, baked.

Meltaways, they were called. The cookies we made for your memorial. Cookies which – as it turns out – are much like you: small, delicate, pink and sweet – and gone far too quickly. As we made them, Addie stood with me, wanting to help but not really knowing how to help, and watched as the candle burned and the cookies took shape. The process of scooping, rolling, and flattening the dough seemed too much for her little hands to handle, and I was sure that it would be easier if I did it by myself. I thought she would get bored, tire of watching and waiting for me to finish.

I thought about how much your mommy and daddy will need people to do the same sort of thing for them in the coming days, weeks, months. Years, even. They will need people to stand with them and just be. To give them the space and quiet they need to do the difficult work of grieving. To talk about you. To keep you alive in their hearts and minds until the day they get to hold you again. I pray we can be that for them.

You are in our hearts, too. We talk about you every day, it seems. Addie and Mia play with the baby doll Addie named after you, snuggling it and remembering the way you let Addie snuggle you when you were brand new to this world. Without knowing it, you gave a gift to her – to me – when you let her hold you when you were just days old. You will always be the first baby Addie held on her own. (Even her own little sister can’t claim that.)

We still can’t believe you’re gone. But we take comfort in the truth that Jesus walks with those who grieve for you, and that you are with him, complete. Radiant. Full of light.

So until we meet again, we promise we will always “Forget You Not”. 

Love,
Miss Rachel

Psalm 23

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The Lord is my shepherd;
    I have all that I need.
He lets me rest in green meadows;
    he leads me beside peaceful streams.
    He renews my strength.
He guides me along right paths,
    bringing honor to his name.
Even when I walk
    through the darkest valley,<sup class="footnote" value="[a]”>[a]
I will not be afraid,
    for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff
    protect and comfort me.
You prepare a feast for me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You honor me by anointing my head with oil.
    My cup overflows with blessings.
Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me
    all the days of my life,
and I will live in the house of the Lord
    forever.

On Hope, Learning to Let Go and Magic Noodles

Dear Joey,

August was the month of limiting hope and trying to let go.

September is the month of living with hope and actually letting go.
 
With August came opportunities that ended in disappointment, lots of tentative plans, and far too many decisions that had to be made quickly for my particular taste. It felt too risky to hope for something more, and so I kept hope at bay and held tight to my own agenda.

With September came having to live out some of the things August had decided for us. Keep looking for houses. Make do with frustrating circumstances. Find ways to make things work when they just feel hard and wrong. Live out the faith that is so hard to hold on to when things look dismal and different than what we think it should look like. Let hope live and let go of my expectations and fears, my anxieties and my control.

As a result, emotions have been running high around here.

One of the decisions I had to live out as soon as September rolled around was taking Addie to her first day of Preschool. It shouldn’t be a surprise that I cried when I dropped her off; in some ways, it’s a pretty monumental day, right? It’s the day that marks the end of her baby-ness and beginning of her big girl-ness? And yet, the degree of my emotional reaction to her first day surprised me.

She was nervous – I knew it because she told me so, both with a quiet nod of her head when I asked, and with her body language. She didn’t cry, but she looked like she wanted to. When I said goodbye, it took everything in me to flash her a strong, cheerful smile and assure her I would be back soon (without crying in the process), and I kissed her little cheek and left the classroom without looking back. And as soon as the front gate closed behind me, the tears came.

I wondered if she felt abandoned or confused or scared or alone. I wondered if other kids would be nice to her and if she would be nice to them, too. I wondered if she would break out of the uncharacteristic bashful demeanor she carried with her into the classroom, and I wondered if the teachers would see just how wonderfully smart and creative and compassionate and good she is, or if they would see something not-so-great about her that I don’t see. I wondered if she would be ok if we moved her to another preschool in the next few months, if she’d be able to bounce and make new friends and adjust to life in a new house, a new town, a new preschool all at the same time. I wondered if we were making a mistake, if we had jumped the gun and done something that really wasn’t best for her.

And then I wondered if I was being overly critical of us and our choices, not really hoping for the best but instead bracing for the worst.

And then I cried harder because I realized what I was experiencing: the process of letting go. In order to move forward into this new season of her life and mine, I had to let go of the mom thing that wants to see hear know everything she does, to give in to the instinct to try to control every moment of every day.

Letting go is hard. Coming to terms with the fact that I’m not in control anyway is tough – I’m her mom, after all, and giving her over to the Lord again and again and again is so much harder to actually do than it is to say I’ll do. I’m the one who has nourished and sustained her and provided nearly all of her care for nearly three years. I’ve gotten used to  being it, so to speak. How can I suddenly not have be know give everything she needs? I try to do my best, of course, but it never feels like enough – probably because it never will be. Because that’s not the way it’s supposed to be.

It’s all a little overwhelming to me.

And yes, that is the spin that happened after I said goodbye to her for just three short hours.

But as I thought about all this, I came back to the magic noodles I made earlier this week, and somehow, miraculously, they helped me sort this out.

Lately cooking has felt like a chore that sucks the life out of me and leaves me bereft of anything worth giving. I try and I fail. I plan, and the plan falls through. I offer, and my offer is rejected. I can’t read minds around here, and I can’t please everyone, and that is exhausting. Sometimes, I simply don’t know what to do, or what the answer will be to the question of what’s for dinner. It feels as though the magic of the kitchen has disappeared a little, and sometimes I just don’t even want to bother (what’s the point of trying, anyway?). But last Sunday, when I started making dinner like I always do, I went through the motions without high hopes for a good outcome (meaning, food eaten without complaint, resulting in clean plates and full tummies).

But as I boiled noodles and melted butter and slowly whisked together flour, chicken broth, and milk – the magic came back. I didn’t have a hard and fast set of rules dictating what I was doing, really, and the end result was a little bit like what I had envisioned, but much much better. I risked failure because I had a hunch that it would work, and I figured the worst that could happen is I’d pull out cheese and crackers and fruit (again) if my effort resulted in failure.

I’d never seen our girls eat so many noodles in my life. And that’s saying something, because these girls love mac & cheese. As they ate, I thought about how my hope for those noodles was far lower than the outcome, meaning I had hoped they would eat a few bites, and they actually ate half the pan. And the more I think about that, the more I realize that my expectations in this season of our lives are low, I guess. It’s hard to hope for more because things often don’t turn out the way think they should. I’ve gotten so distracted by disappointment that I’ve lost sight of all the things that are turning out better than I could have imagined on my own.

And so, I’m learning what it means to hope again, and to set my hopes higher than I have allowed myself set them and receive the miracles along with the heartaches. It’s almost as if one can’t happen without the other.

Love, Scratch

Magic Noodles 
I call these Magic Noodles because, simply put, they disappear. Incredibly creamy, but also quite light, they taste very much like boxed Pasta Roni (do they still make that?), but they are made with real ingredients, so I feel good giving them to my girls. Plus, they are incredibly quick to make. They’re good on their own, or tossed with grilled chicken and broccoli or green peas and ham; you could even use these as a base for tuna noodle casserole, or any number of other magical combinations you can come up with.

Ingredients:
1/2 pound dry noodles of your choice (such as egg noodles, or comparable)
2 T unsalted butter
2 T flour
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup whole milk, warmed
1 tsp dried parsley (or a little more if you like)
Salt & pepper to taste

Method:
Boil the noodles according to package instructions.

Meanwhile, melt butter over medium heat, being careful not to let it brown. Once melted, add 2 T all purpose flour. Whisk until combined, and let cook for a minute or two. Again, don’t let it scorch. Add 1 cup chicken broth, whisk until combined. Cook for another minute, or until the sauce begins to thicken. Slowly add 1/2 cup warmed milk to the sauce, whisking as you go; add parsley, and adjust seasoning as you see fit. Let simmer until thickened.

When noodles are cooked to your liking, drain them and add them directly to the finished sauce. Add any mix ins that you choose at this point.


Finally Feeling Like a Parent, and Broccoli Cheese Egg Cups

Dear Joey,

Until recently, I haven’t exactly felt like a parent.

I know that I am one, clearly, since I happily live that reality every moment of every day. But just because I do all the things a parent does, does not mean I feel like a parent. I often feel like I’m still 20 years old and a little bit naive, and if I’m really honest, most of the time I’m in a bit of shock that anyone trusts me to know what I’m doing around here. What we know to be true doesn’t always feel true, I guess.

For me, a week ago, finally, I felt like a parent. Didn’t you? All because of this little girl and a long-awaited appointment to confirm our suspicions.

Calling on a friend early in the too-early morning for a last minute favor and dropping off a slightly confused little girl at her house, and meeting you in the waiting room, not fully prepared for the gravity of the news we would soon get.

Holding a scared and angry toddler as she clung to my neck and pierced me with her deep blue eyes, imploring me to make it stop.

Blowing on the welt that came screaming to the surface after the little pokes were over.

Singing silly songs with all the motions without feeling awkward or self-conscious or the least bit aware of the nurse that sat quietly in the room with us, monitoring our little girl’s progress.

Offering what little I could to appease her – crackers, water, hugs, books – as we waiting to hear what the red blotches actually meant for our daughter, for us.

Steadying my heart and keeping my cool as the doctor let us know our child is one of the statistics now, and while she may indeed outgrow her peanut allergy, she also may live with it her whole life.

The weight of my responsibility for this child, for these children, settled itself on my shoulders that day in a new way, and I felt both love and fear course through my veins in a way I’d never experienced before.

As we walked back to the car and eased that exhausted little girl into the familiarity of her car seat, I realized how fast one’s world can change. I know that sounds dramatic, perhaps even verging on hysterical, but it’s the truth. That appointment changed things.

Early this week, a full week later, I tried to put the doctor’s advice into practice:  Be prudent. Be proactive. Don’t live a life motivated by fear. But just seven short days into all this, I see how that could easily happen, and I’m struggling to figure out how to make sure it doesn’t. Fear has been whispering to me, telling me lies about how life for Mia – for all of us – is going to change for the worse, and how nothing I do will make anything better for her because bad things happen despite anyone’s best efforts. Random, cruel, horrific things that no one can foresee or stop. It plays with my mind, and I see how parents can err on the side of overbearing because they probably feel like to be anything other than crazy overprotective feels, well, wrong. Uncaring. Negligent.

But the truth is that even though all that is true (random, cruel, horrific things do happen, don’t they?), the thing fear fails to mention is that even though I’m not in control, Someone else is, and to be overprotective is me trying to usurp the power that isn’t mine anyway.

 

I thought about all this as I read nearly every label in our pantry on Monday morning. I panicked at breakfast because I couldn’t find anything “safe” to feed Mia. Just about everything that was the easy road to take for breakfast – the loaf of bread, the box of cereal, the breakfast bars – bore warning labels that they could contain trace amounts of peanuts or tree nuts, or that they were made on shared equipment as peanuts, or made in a facility that processes peanuts. I couldn’t decide where to draw the line between being overly cautious and prudent, so I did the only thing I really know how to do: I reheated leftover broccoli cheese egg cups, sliced some strawberries, and gave Mia a breakfast she favored over boring old toast anyway.

 

And as she ate, I stirred together a fresh batch of those little egg cups, and as they were baking, I realized that the only thing I really can do at this very moment is to say no to the fear, and stop giving it a chance to say anything to me. Change my thinking. Renew my mind. Sort out the things I can control (like reading labels more carefully, stocking up on EpiPens-just in case, and amp up my efforts on the homemade food front) from what I cannot control (like whether she’ll ever be exposed to peanuts someday at school or camp or a friend’s house or college – you know, someday in the hazy future). And anyway, my worry won’t add a single day to Mia’s life, so no matter how prudent or proactive we may be as her parents, ultimately we are not the ones in control – God is.

 

Even though it doesn’t always feel like the truth, I know that it is.

And really, that’s what matters most, right?

Love,
Scratch

Broccoli Cheese Egg Cups

Finally Feeling Like a Parent, and Broccoli Cheese Egg Cups
These are mini quiches, really, made without a crust and baked in smaller, kid-sized portions.  Both of my girls devour them, fully aware that they are chock full of broccoli (a miracle, in my opinion). It’s the mustard that makes this recipe extra savory, I think. My favorite is Thomy Delikatess-Senf, a German mustard with far more flavor than American yellow mustard, but I’ve had wonderful results with Dijon mustard as well.


Ingredients:

7 large eggs
3/4 cup milk (I used 2%)
2 T good quality mustard (like Dijon)
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1 1/2 T dry minced onion
1 1/2 cups shredded mild white cheese, such as monterrey jack
2 cups steamed, chopped broccoli

Method:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Start by preparing the broccoli. Peel the stalks of two small stems; steam as desired. After they cool a bit, chop into bite sized pieces.

While the broccoli is cooling, prepare a 12-cup (or two 6-cup) muffin tins. Grease each cup liberally (or line with greased baking cups). These things stick!

Then, beat together the eggs, milk, mustard, salt and minced onion. Stir in the cheese and broccoli. Pour  the mixture evenly into the muffin tin(s).

Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the eggs are set and golden brown.


A Note to Luisa, and a Midnight Snack

Dear Luisa,

It’s the middle of summer, and it seems that most families I know are on vacation, just coming home from vacation, or getting ready to go on vacation in the next few days. I admit I’ve been jealous – filling up the kiddie pool and smearing on sunscreen and eating frozen yogurt sticks in the backyard isn’t as much a summer vacation as it is extra work. Two young girls far from being self-sufficient still require constant supervision.

The walls around this house are feeling more and more restrictive as the summer slowly crawls by, and being somewhere (anywhere) else for a little while, breathing air that I’ve never breathed before and eating meals I’ve never eaten before, all in a setting far, far way from the suburban landscape I see every day sounds like paradise.

For the past few days I have felt a little bit sad in the afternoon; when the incessant chatter of two small children is put on pause for a few short hours, I’m usually eager for the quiet reprieve. Not this week. This week the quiet feels like isolation I can’t escape – suffocating, when really all I want to do is break out of the tedium that comes with staying in the same place all the time. I just want to leave, you know?

Wait – let me explain. I don’t want to leave, leave. Please don’t misunderstand. What I mean is that I am filled with that complicated feeling my husband describes so often, the one that makes him long to jump on a plane and get lost as he explores a faraway place, to be able to get up and go and do and be in a world without structure and schedules and responsibility – all while not for a moment wanting to trade in the life he has for the freedom he gave up when he chose this.

In times like this, I do what any normal person would do (right?): I open up a book, purposing to get lost in stories, in the landscapes and people and flavors and smells and beauty they hold within those magical pages. This week, My Berlin Kitchen has been my guidebook, and you have been my travel companion, the sort that has all at once been both interpreter and friend.

I was so moved by the first few pages of your book a few nights ago that late in the evening, when I ought to have been been brushing my teeth, I practically flew off the couch to whip together eggs and milk for what I must describe as the fanciest late night snack I had ever made. And for those few minutes, sharing a bit of it with my husband, I was transported out of my everyday and into a world I hadn’t known existed. (Eggs and jam? Really?)

Your beautiful, complicated memories of that warm Berlin kitchen and the people you loved there fill me with hope that the things I do in this cramped, less than perfect kitchen that so often fills me with frustration will still somehow help establish a deep sense of home in my own tender little girls. I hope that someday, when they think of home, they think of the warmth of our kitchen and of me, of my hands offering them something familiar and comforting and my heart offering them more love than they could imagine is possible to give.

Thank you, Luisa, for inviting me into your memories of your childhood Berlin, for sharing your secret for the perfect Omelette Confiture, and for helping to ease the ache for elsewhere and reminding me that home is a place so many long for, and I am very lucky indeed to be there. Gaining a little perspective yields so much peace of mind.

Love,
Rachel

Omelette Confiture (slightly adapted from My Berlin Kitchen)
If you are reading this and are feeling a little bit blue – especially if it’s late at night – go, now, to the kitchen. Get out an egg, some milk and butter, and your favorite jam. Take your time, be methodical, and enjoy the fruit of your effort. It will make you feel a little bit better about life.

Ingredients:
1 large egg
1 T milk
pinch of salt
1 T unsalted butter
a scoop or two of jam (I used Marionberry, but any good, fairly tart jam would be delicious)
a bit of powdered sugar, sifted

Method:
1. Separate egg white from the egg yolk. Mix the milk completely into the yolk. In a clean bowl, add a pinch of salt to the egg white and whip it in a clean bowl until soft peaks form. Fold the beaten egg white into the egg yolk.
2. Melt the butter in a small, nonstick pan over medium heat. Add the egg mixture and cook, undisturbed, for 3 minutes. Don’t let the bottom of the egg brown. Flip the omelette and cook the other side for an additional 3 minutes.
3. When the omelette is cooked through, slide it onto a plate, dot the jam down the center. Roll it up and sift the powdered sugar on top.


Making Mistakes and Porcupine Meatballs

Dear Joey,

I made a big batch of Porcupine Meatballs a few weeks ago, half for our family and half for some friends, and when they were done, they looked perfect. But as it turned out, the rice hadn’t cooked properly, yielding a somewhat crunchy meatball.

I found this out after I dropped them to our friends, which made me feel that much worse. I was embarrassed. I should have known better. And if I had given any thought to my actions when making this particular batch, I would have known that to substitute dry onions for fresh onions would mean less moisture in the pot, which would yield undercooked rice.

I hate making mistakes. I loathe admitting that I have made a mess out of something because it validates that I am not, in fact, a perfect person (despite my erroneous feeling that I should be).

I realize that attaining true perfection is impossible, and on most days, I don’t operate out of a perfectionist mindset.  But then there are those days when I make a mess of something and I can’t seem to escape the barrage of negative self-talk that follows. I know better, but often, I don’t do better, and the mess made in the process is hard for me to deal with.

There are many instances in my life when I’ve made a mess out of things. People I have hurt, words I can’t take back, things I would do differently if I had the chance to do so. Sometimes I don’t know I’ve made a mistake until it’s too late; sometimes the mistake isn’t really a big deal; sometimes a mistake can be made right by salvaging the good and discarding the not-so-good; and sometimes you have to start all over, plunk the whole of whatever is ruined into the trash and begin again, fresh, with a new resolve to get it right the next time.

Convincing myself that a minor mishap isn’t worth berating myself – that’s the tricky part. In this case, I admit that your double portion of those ruined meatballs helped ease my troubled mind. And your assessment of them as “marvelous” didn’t hurt, either.

Thank you for telling me the truth about things, no matter how hard the truth is for me to hear.

Love,
Scratch

Porcupine Meatballs
This recipe is always a hit with my family. Even Mia, our girl who really just doesn’t enjoy meat, happily eats these. It is quick and easy to put together, the ingredient list is short, which makes it a great candidate for dinner when the pantry is nearly empty. I usually double the recipe because Joey can eat most of a single batch on his own. I imagine you could use regular white rice instead of brown, but reduce covered baking time by at least 30 minutes, as white rice cooks faster than brown rice. The cooking time isn’t exactly quick, but I’ve found it makes the meatballs just the way we like them. 

Ingredients:
1 1/4 lb ground beef (I’ve also used just an even pound, and it works fine)
1/2 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup short grain brown rice
1 – 15 oz can tomato sauce
1 T Worcestershire sauce
1 cup water

Method:
Mix ground beef, onions, rice, garlic, salt and pepper. Shape into 1 1/2 inch balls and place in a baking dish that has a lid (I use my dutch oven).

Mix the tomato sauce, Worcestershire sauce and water, then pour the sauce over meatballs. Put the cover on and bake at 350 degrees for 1 1/2 hours. Remove the lid and bake an additional 20-30 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened to your liking (it should be somewhat thickened and not runny anymore).


Friday Nights, Friendship, and Chocolate Chip Cookies

Friends Season 7 Episode 3: The One with Phoebe’s Cookies

[Scene: Monica, Chandler, and Phoebe’s, Monica is trying out different cookie recipes. Ross and Phoebe are the tasting group.]

Monica: Okay, here’s batch 22. Whew! Maybe these’ll taste a little like your grandmother’s. This has a little bit of orange peel, but no nutmeg.
Ross: Let’s give it a shot.
Monica: Okay. Wow, I have not made this many cookies since I was in the ninth grade.
Phoebe: Oh, what was that for? Like a bake sale?
Monica: No, just a Friday night.
———-

Dear Joey,

During my high school days, if it was Friday night – more often than not – I was baking cookies. Sometimes by myself. Sometimes with friends. Always the same recipe: Chocolate Chip Cookies.

In those days, there was only one recipe for chocolate chip cookies, as far as I was concerned. The first time I tasted these cookies was on a dreary, rainy day when I was in fourth or fifth grade. My mom had taken me shopping for school clothes, which I remember being sort of a big deal in those days. During our day out, we stopped back home for a moment, my mom rushing in to grab whatever it was she had forgotten, and my dad brought out a little paper plate with chocolate chip cookies he had just pulled out of the oven. I can still see the way their warmth steamed up the windshield. With the cold rain pounding on the roof, I took my first bite of what became like a friend to me, a constant, something that I carried with me ever since.

Over time, that recipe became my go-to recipe, the one that I made whenever I made cookies. It was my signature recipe, you might say. And over the years I baked them for everything: for sleepovers and for birthday parties and for teachers and for boyfriends; to soothe friends’ heartaches and to take on camping trips and to satisfy chocolate cravings and to earn a little money on the side. I made them so often that our school newspaper did a story on them my senior year of high school.

Since those days, I have made them too many times to count. But not recently. Although chocolate chip cookies are still a favorite of mine, I simply don’t indulge my cravings for them very often. In fact, when I made them again recently I was afraid that it had been too long, and I began to fear that my memory was flawed and I would be disappointed to discover they weren’t as good as I remembered.

I was wrong. They were just as good as I remembered.

And for a moment, I was in high school again, and I felt a wave of nostalgia wash over me as I thought about Molly and Autumn and Cari and Erika B. and Christina and Erica M. and how we used to bake and daydream and do makeovers and tell secrets on otherwise ordinary Friday nights, munching on chocolate chip cookies (and to be fair, other junk food too) as we imagined what it would be like to meet and fall in love with the boys who would eventually become our husbands. As I thought about those days and the dreams we used to dream, my thoughts turned to you, and our own little girls, and how I couldn’t imagine a better dream come true than you.

So to those girls – and any I have missed – thank you for carrying me through those years, for listening to my heart and trusting me with yours. I treasure those days of friendship with you, and whenever I make these cookies, I will always think of you.

Love,
Scratch

These cookies are soft and gooey right out of the oven, which is the best time to eat them in my opinion. They are nice and soft at that point, but of course they firm up as they cool down. They are not exactly soft and chewy once cooled, but they aren’t crispy either. Dense, rich, and addictive.  Best shared with a few girlfriends and a tall glass of milk. 

,
Ingredients:
2 sticks (salted) butter, softened
1 cup light brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 (generous) teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 cups all purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 package really good chocolate chips (I like Trader Joe’s or Ghirardelli)

Method:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Cream together butter and sugars, then add the egg and vanilla. Once combined, stir in by hand the flour, baking soda and salt and thoroughly mix. (I find that using an electric mixer for this part makes the cookie dough flatter and yields a crispier finished product. Mixing by hand keeps the cookies fluffy.) Add the chocolate chips and stir to combine.

Scoop the dough onto a cookie sheet; I use an ice cream scoop that is about 1 1/2″ diameter. After I scoop the dough, I roll it a bit between my palms to create smooth little balls of dough. This creates a beautifully smooth cookie.

Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven immediately; let set on the cookie sheet for a minute or two and then transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling.