Potato soup (low-FODMAP, GF, vegan)

First blog posts, then a recipe? I know! Don’t get used to it, though. Work’s about to pick up shortly — more on that later.

But first, potato soup.

For reasons I will also discuss later, I made and then cancelled my dietitian appointment. At least for the foreseeable future, I am back to sorting this stuff out on my own. I keep flaring up, so I keep returning to the basics. Potatoes are safe. But I’m sick of baked potatoes, tbh. So I thought I’d see if I couldn’t make a palatable potato soup. And I did. My daughter, who is pretty much anti-soup, asked for seconds. And asked me to make it again the next night.

Of course, the next night she went to a birthday party and I misjudged the time she’d be getting back by about an hour, so this batch was a bit…smushy. Still tastes amazing, though. Potato soup is forgiving.

Potato soup (low-FODMAP, GF, vegan)

8 cups water
4 cubes (4 tablespoons) low FODMAP vegetable stock concentrate (see recipe at the end of this post)*
4 large baking potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
2 tablespoons potato flour
1 cup white cooking wine
1 teaspoon dill weed (or to taste)
1/2 teaspoon ground celery seed (or to taste)
1/2 to 1 cup grated Parmesan

Bring water to a boil; stir in stock cubes and return to a boil, stirring until well combined. Scoop out a small amount (1/2 to 3/4 cup) of the stock mixture and pour into a small saucepan; keep warm over low heat and add the potato flour a little at a time, whisking constantly, until smooth and thickened. Stir potato flour-broth mixture, dill, and celery seed into vegetable stock; heat to boiling. Add potato cubes to the boiling stock, then reduce to medium and cook until potatoes are tender, around 20 minutes. Stir in cooking wine and cook 5 minutes or until flavors have blended. Remove from heat and stir in Parmesan a little at a time until desired consistency/flavor is achieved.

*This would also work with 8 cups of your favorite vegetable broth. I just have to jump through hoops to avoid onions and garlic these days.

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Happy birthday, [insert relationship here]

Anya is sick, but may be well enough to attend a friend’s birthday party tomorrow, so I ventured out in the icy rain to buy the child a card. (We have the present already, but forgot the card.) And it was so hard. I’ve purchased birthday cards for family, for friends, for my children, for acquaintances, but never for a child from another child. Would a child buy a card for another child that states the age that child is turning? No. Would a child buy another child a card calling her a princess? Not likely.

That eliminated the entire kids’ section.

Almost all of the not-kid cards mentioned womanhood, alcohol, old age, farts, or boobs. Those that didn’t were *very* specific about the recipient or giver. To: Mother, daughter, aunt, niece, grandma, sister. From: Sister/brother/mother/grandma/all of us. My selection at the local Walgreen’s thus dwindled to two cards I considered appropriate that might also appeal to 7-year-olds. I bought the one with the most glitter.

I thought this was going to be an easy purchase. I underestimated how specific greeting cards are. Were they always this way? Why are they this way? Is it for the convenience of the giver — to narrow down the selection, thus making the card aisle less intimidating? Is it somehow more personal if a store-bought card acknowledges the relationship between the giver and recipient?

It feels very preachy to me. Like social media preachy: Smile more, worry less. Live, laugh, love. Savor the moment. Give experiences, not things. You know. You have social media too. Well, this feels like that. No longer can we give a greeting card without getting super personal. “Happy 55th birthday, Second Cousin Twice Removed!” “You’re 88 years young, Step-Grandmother!” “Happy 8th birthday, Daughter of My College Roommate!” Anything less than utter accuracy is intolerable.

Or perhaps my local Walgreen’s is simply not a good barometer of the available pool of greeting cards. That’s also a possibility.

 

Cleaning house

The first time I encountered Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day was about 20 years ago, while shopping in a World Market with an ex. He was obsessed with all things China, so we shopped there often; however, I was recently divorced and broke and he was a grad student, so we didn’t buy much.

“They want how much for this dish soap?!” I said, looking at the price sticker. And that was the end of that.

Fast forward a few years. I’ve developed sensitivities to pretty much everything (I even have to use fancy deodorant now), particularly to cleaning products. I tried cleaning with just water and vinegar, but got tired of my house smelling like hot wings. Then one day I stumbled across a Grove promo code on a blog. (I forget which blog. Thank you, benevolent blogger, whoever you are!) The code was good for a free 5-piece gift set of Mrs. Meyer’s products if I signed up for Grove’s VIP program. (The blogger also got a $10 credit. Everyone won.) I’d heard great things about Mrs. Meyer’s in the intervening years, and this seemed like a painless way to try them out. So I clicked the link and ordered the stuff, and quickly became a fan of Grove.

Grove Collaborative is a monthly delivery service that sells a wide range of natural household and personal products — kind of like Alice, if you remember Alice, but they only sell natural, eco-friendly products. So they don’t offer a wide range of items, but what they do offer is good. And shipped to your door every month, which is always a plus for people with small children. Like other subscription services, the big plus is that you never run out of things you need. Unlike other subscription services I’ve used, though, they give you plenty of lead time to tweak your order before it ships, and don’t even require that you place an order every month. I’m the kind of person who considers Amazon subscriptions to be too much of a commitment, so I like the flexibility Grove offers.

Their VIP program is pretty nice, I must say. Free shipping and free full-sized items each month if you meet a minimum order of around $50. The full-sized items aren’t cheap, either — two of mine more than recouped the $20 annual membership fee. And if you don’t want the item, you can just remove it from your cart. You can cancel the VIP membership at any time. (Which obviously I have not done, but my dealings with customer service have always been great, so I can’t imagine it’d be a hassle.)

The best part, though, is the products. I live in a small town; we don’t even have a Walmart. I have to drive 15 miles to get to a Walmart, and 30+ miles to get to stores like Whole Foods, Target, and Fresh Market that offer the products I use. So I really appreciate that Grove makes it easy for me to buy what I need. I have fallen in love with the Mrs. Meyer’s products; they don’t irritate my lungs or my skin, and they smell so good that they honestly make me want to clean the house — no lie. The Lemon Verbena scent is light and crisp, and I’m really loving the seasonal fragrances; Apple Cider, Mum, and Peppermint are my favorites. Grove offers a far broader range of Mrs. Meyer’s and Method products than I can find anywhere around here. I’ve also found some favorite products in the Grove brand line. I now refuse to use any other glass cleaner, for instance, and we have all but stopped using ziplock baggies in favor of their reusable ones.

No, they didn’t pay me to say all this. Promise. I’m just that excited about their stuff.

If you’d like to give it a shot, you’re welcome to use my referral link to get your own free Mrs. Meyer’s kit: https://www.grove.co/referrer/8255262/. (Note that I, too, will get a $10 credit if you order the kit using this link.)

And now I’m off to clean the kitchen.

Brace Yourselves.  John is turning 21. - Brace Yourself Minter Is Coming

Lies I’ve told my daughter

I’m allergic to cats. And dogs. Most anything with fur, really. Also birds. Not really a fan of lizards. Refuse to cohabitate with snakes, spiders, and the like. The only pets my animal-loving kids can really have, not counting Tamagotchis and the creepy animatronic toys that are all the rage these days, are fish.

Last year at the fair, Anya won her first pets. The first was a white goldfish she named Princess Cupcake. Followed by three more goldfish she dubbed Princess Doughnut, Connor, and Bubbles. (Okay, the last one was named by Daddy.)

Bubbles met an untimely end in the fish tank filter, before we sorted out the whole aquarium setup. Anya was sad, but it wasn’t “her” fish, so she wasn’t too broken up about it. But when I looked up from mixing my father’s birthday cake three months later and noticed that Princess Cupcake and Connor had suddenly passed away, I knew their deaths would not be met with such stoicism.

Fall hasn’t been a great time for my family, in Anya’s experience. Both my paternal grandparents passed around the time of my dad’s birthday, and while Anya was not close to either of them, their deaths did affect her deeply. Death thereafter became a frequent topic of discussion for her, particularly as the days grow shorter and the leaves start to turn. In matters of emotion, she rests firmly in the “go big or go home” camp — a matter of great discomfort for me, as I was raised to cover, bury, deny, suppress. I knew that, this time, the fish deaths would not be shrugged off; Chernobyl would look like a spilled Lego box next to her grief. I falter in the face of her emotions, because I simply don’t know how to handle them. I thus made one of the biggest decisions of her young life: I decided to lie to her about the fish.

I’m a rotten liar. But pulling off this ruse was shockingly simple. We were going out to eat that evening in celebration of Dad’s birthday, so we simply sent Anya home with my parents afterwards and stopped by the pet store to pick up replacement fish. We did hit a small snag in that they did not have a convincing replacement for Connor; however, Connor wasn’t the favorite fish, so we decided to take the hit and cop to his death. I was a bit taken aback by the price of Cupcake’s replacement (orange goldfish are cheap; white goldfish are not), but told myself it was worth it to avoid the emotional meltdown we’d face otherwise. Anya was sad to lose Connor. But she was easily distracted with cake and ice cream, and soon recovered. At least it wasn’t Princess Cupcake, she said. Thus was my lie justified.

Connor was later followed in death by our algae eater, Mr. Pickles. But we’d not had him too long, and we replaced him soon after with an angelfish (Princess Angelface), so his passing was but a blip in the radar.

This past Black Friday, Princess Cupcake died. And it was A Thing. Tears, wails, accusations of fish murder (Daddy had just cleaned the tank), pleas for a replacement fish…all the stages of grief, condensed into one exhausting day.

“My first fish!” she sobbed.

I knew, then, that I had to own up to what I’d done.

“Actually, sweetheart, that wasn’t really your first fish.” And I told her the story.

“You lied to me?” she exclaimed, indignant.

“I was trying to spare your feelings. But I see now that I was wrong to do so. It’s not my place to decide what you can handle, and I didn’t help by putting off the pain. I’m so sorry. Can you forgive me?”

She hugged me tight, and — though she occasionally throws it up in my face (“No more lying to babies, Mommy!”), she forgave me. We held a brief but touching funeral for Princess Cupcake in the back yard, and buried her beneath Anya’s apple tree. We’ve promised to buy Anya a new fish, and a bigger fish tank (the remaining fish are quite large), and life has gone on — a bit more somber, but still good. The distraction of putting up the Christmas tree helped.

I feel good about having come clean regarding the truth of Princess Cupcake II. And I plan to uphold my promise not to lie to Anya anymore; our relationship is stronger, better, for the honesty. And I am a few steps closer to the parent I want to be.

Granted, I haven’t quite worked out how Santa, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy fit in to this total-honesty thing, but I refuse to strip her childhood of all magic. She needs that magic right now. Princess Angelface isn’t looking too hot today.

Anya will likely be angry when she learns the truth about Santa and the gang. I remember feeling hurt and indignant, and I distrusted my parents for quite a while after they came clean about all that. But now I am an adult and I know more about the world. How it can be cold, and cruel, and relentless. How it can take, and take, and take, for long weeks, months, years, without respite. I know that when you find some small speck of magic, you cup it in your hands and breathe gently on it to keep it alive as long as you can.

I hope she can forgive me for that, too.

Vegetarian pot pie (plus a GF vegan version)

I could have sworn I’d already posted this recipe, but when I went to look for it I came up empty handed. The photo is from the classic version. The GF version was gobbled up before I could snap a pic.

This recipe has been my go-to comfort food for most of my adult life, and the recipe most of the other people I’ve cooked for have been the most impressed with. My kids love it. And my daughter has said to me, in all seriousness, “I just don’t really like food.”

Pie is one of the losses I’ve been mourning since I started the elimination diet — pot pie doubly so, because it is chock full of things I’m not supposed to eat. So I decided to get bold and see what I could do to make it compatible with my stomach. Did I succeed? Somewhat. I was in a fair amount of pain the day after I made it, but that could just be that I had seconds.

Everyone had seconds. Even my daughter, the food hater.

And it was so worth it.

Below is the original recipe, plus the tweaks I made to render it compatible with my digestive system.

 

Vegetarian pot pie
(GF/vegan/low FODMAP modifications in parentheses)

Pie crust for an 8-inch pie*
2 cups all-purpose flour (GF 1:1 flour)
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable shortening (adding 1-2 extra tablespoons to GF dough improves the texture)
4-5 tablespoons cold water

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Using a pastry cutter or food processor, cut the shortening into the flour and salt until the mixture looks like bread crumbs. Add the water a tablespoon at a time and toss with a fork until the dough starts to come together; only add as much water as you need to get the dough to hold in a ball. Separate into two balls of nearly equal size. (GF dough: Place balls in the refrigerator until ready to shape. Skip the next paragraph and move straight on to the pie filling.)

Sprinkle flour on your rolling surface; I like to use a glass cutting board, chilled in hot/humid weather. Roll out the slightly larger dough ball into a circle 1 1/2 to 2 inches larger than your pie plate. Loosely roll the dough around your rolling pin, then transfer to the pie plate, making sure to leave an overhang for crimping. Roll out the second crust; roll around your rolling pin and set aside.

Pie filling
2 cans, drained well, or 3 cups mixed vegetables of your choice**
4 tablespoons butter (vegan butter)
4 tablespoons flour (GF 1:1 flour)
1 cup vegetable broth (low FODMAP concentrate recipe follows; I used 1 cup of water to 1 tablespoon concentrate for this dish)
1 cup milk (vegan half and half)
1/2 to 1 teaspoon celery salt — use less if your broth is really salty
2 teaspoons dill weed
Black pepper to taste

Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the flour and cook until the mixture is bubbly and foamy. Stir in the celery salt and dill weed. Add the liquids a half a cup at a time, stirring well and allowing the mixture to thicken after each addition. Add black pepper to taste; keep in mind, though, that pepper gets hotter the longer it cooks, so you may want to skimp on it now and add more right before serving.

Stir in your vegetables; mix well and bring to a simmer. Cook for a few minutes, until the sauce is thickened and all the vegetables well coated. If you are using fresh or frozen vegetables, you may need to modify your cooking time to ensure that all pieces cook through. Cut fresh vegetables into uniform pieces of one inch or smaller; if using fresh vegetables with a long cook time, such as potatoes, stick with pieces no larger than 1/2 inch. If using fresh vegetables, or large/dense frozen veggies such as broccoli, squash, or beans, simmer them in the sauce until softened before transferring to the pie shell.

To prepare the GF pie shell (skip this paragraph if using a regular pie shell): Remove half of the pie dough from the refrigerator, flatten it into a disk, and place it in the bottom of your pie plate. Using your knuckles, gently flatten the dough into the pie plate and up the sides, trying to make it as even and smooth as possible. Don’t worry about leaving an overhang for crimping; this isn’t that kind of pie. Shape the other half of the dough into a cylinder roughly 2 inches in diameter (cookie sized) and, using a sharp knife, slice into 1/4-inch slices. Pour the vegetable mixture into the shell, then top with the dough slices. (Skip the next paragraph.)

Pour the vegetable mixture into the prepared pie shell; place the second crust on top. Crimp the edges of the top and bottom crust using your fingertips or a fork. Cut slits in the top.

Place your pie pan on a baking sheet and bake for 35 minutes at 425 degrees or until the crust is golden brown and the sauce is bubbly. Remove from the oven and let rest for 5-10 minutes or until the sauce is thickened.

*My pie plate is 9 inches, so I usually add a couple extra tablespoons each of flour and shortening to compensate when making a traditional pie shell. Since the GF shell requires no crimping, I only added extra shortening, not extra flour.

**I usually use canned mixed vegetables in this, but it also works with fresh or frozen. Canned is just faster, and my family is impatient. I do recommend going with the low-sodium varieties if using canned vegetables, though.

 

Low FODMAP vegetable stock concentrate
(My recipe is based on this one, modified to accommodate my food allergies and the contents of my fridge. I think so long as you keep the proportions similar and pay attention to how the flavors combine, you can tweak this to suit your tastes.)

25 baby carrots (roughly 3 large whole carrots)
1 stalk celery
center of one leek stalk, white portion and leathery green leaves trimmed away
1/2 red bell pepper (you can use more, but I don’t like bell pepper that much)
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon dried parsley
3 tablespoons salt

Roughly chop all vegetables (except baby carrots, if using) and combine in the food processor bowl. Pulse the vegetables together until a paste is formed, scraping down the bowl as needed. Add the herbs and pulse until well combined. Add the salt and pulse until well mixed. Scrape down the bowl and pulse a few seconds more, then transfer to a freezer-safe container. The salt keeps the mixture from freezing solid, so you could scoop out what you need. I store mine in a covered silicone ice cube tray for convenience.

To use: 1 tablespoon concentrate plus two cups hot water equal two cups broth.

Memories

“That old lady, we went to her party, what was her name?”

“Isabel.”

“Right. Isabel. You grandma. I love her. I miss her so much.” My daughter, who has been happily rambling the ears off my head for the past 45 minutes nonstop, is suddenly in tears. Over someone she met twice.

“She was my great aunt, not my grandma. Mimi’s aunt. She was a sweet lady. You met Pop and Gran at the family reunion. And you saw Gran at Pop’s funeral. Remember? Or maybe you don’t. You were so little. Baby Kai was in my tummy at Pop’s funeral, and he was a little baby at Gran’s. We spent the whole service upstairs both times. Remember the upstairs?”

“I remember. Who Pop again?”

“Poppy’s dad — well, stepdad. Gran was Poppy’s mom.”

“Right. I don’t remember them.” She pauses. “But still I love them.”

Just like that, the storm is gone. She’s off on other topics. But the emotional lash still reverberates. She loved these people. And to them she barely registered, so ashamed they were by how I chose to bring her into the world.

Family yea verily sucks sometimes.

But they’re also a good barometer for what’s important. Because she remembers their memory, and Kai remembers nothing of them at all, and after that their memory will be dust. They will be names in the family tree, yellowed photos in albums — nothing more. Their house is gone. Everything they worked for, gone. All that’s left is who they touched while they were alive and soon we, too, will be gone.

Focus on today. Love people today. Be happy today. Tomorrow we’ll be dust.

Words and music

I have some pretty early memories. One we think was from my first birthday, of cruising around the trunk that served as our coffee table with one of those popper push toys. Another, from approximately the age of 2, is of me stepping over 6-packs of empty glass soda bottles (recycling was a thing in the 70s, too, ya whippersnapper) — which were nearly as tall as my legs were long — making my way to the crib of my mom’s friend’s baby. I’d not been around a lot of babies; I was fascinated by them. I have many other small, inconsequential, sensory memories — sunshine on my eyelashes and the feel of the blanket that was on my parents’ bed and the taste of the tapestried dining chairs.

But mostly when I think of my very early childhood, I remember the music and the words.

My childhood was filled with music. My mom had an expansive record collection (seriously, it’d make Rob Gordon drool), and there was music playing nearly all the time. I learned to sing because the combination of words and music touched me in a way nothing else has, before or since. The act of singing provided me a physical and emotional release. I would stand on the footstool and put a towel on my head (Tina Turner had long hair; I didn’t) and belt my heart out into the end of a jump rope. It felt good. It felt like home.

I was equally obsessed with lyrics. I would puzzle over the words to those songs, working out the imagery, coming up with my own ideas about what they were about. Helen Reddy confused me; she said she was roaring, but she was actually just singing. Quite melodically. It took me a long time to figure out what she was talking about, too. I mean, who would want to keep me down just because I was a girl? And Tom Jones. I drank in the poetry of Green Green Grass of Home, but completely missed the death-row march because, well, I was three. I was more interested in how, in the space of a few short lines, those lyrics took you home: you could see it, feel it, smell it, taste it. As I was too young to glean the more adult messages of the lyrics, I took from those songs what I was capable of untangling at the time, and glossed over the rest. In my 20s, I was blown away when I revisited Dr. Hook — particularly Freakers Ball. (I knew the words by heart at 6, but I’m not to this day certain I understand them. And I’m good with that.) But I can’t say I was that surprised to see it was written by Shel Silverstein. And did the writing help cultivate my ear for rhyme? Perhaps.

Mom also read. A lot. Sometimes to me, sometimes to herself. I learned to read because I was jealous of the attention she gave to her books, the attention those books stole from me, and I wanted to read so I could ignore her right back. I learned to write so I could write the stories I wanted to read, the stories nobody else was writing. I studied the dictionary, and later the thesaurus; I asked questions when I came across a word I didn’t know. I picked apart idioms. I studied colloquialisms like they were a separate language. I read like words were oxygen. And I dreamed that, one day, it’d be me writing really great stories. Stories that people would talk about after I was dead and gone.

As I got older, I toyed with pursuing music as a career path. Ultimately, though, I had to accept the fact that I don’t have a strong voice. I can on a good day sing lullabies, but the allergic coughing, sniffling, and wheezing prevent me from tackling anything more complicated than that. Not that I don’t still enjoy singing; I do. But nobody wants to hear me do it, so I save it for those rare times when I’m alone in the car.

I gave up writing for so many years because I didn’t feel like the stories I was trying to tell were important enough. But I never stopped loving the words. There’s something so satisfying in writing, in reading, the exact right words. As I’ve aged, I’ve come to see that it doesn’t really matter so much what the words are saying. The message doesn’t have to be transcendent. There’s nothing new under the sun. But that’s okay. Powerful words about minutia are every bit as transformative. Perhaps even more so. Because life really is about the little things.

So we’re nearly halfway through November and I’ve not touched my damned books once. Life’s been busy and I’ve been depressed, running on little food and less sleep as I try to sort out this defective digestive system of mine. And working and momming and just keeping the plates spinning. But I think about my stories a lot. Working out the plot kinks in my head, so that when I do get a chance to write I can dash them all down and get back to focusing on the words.

Is what I’m writing any good? I don’t know. I’m not sure that’s the point, either, at least for now. It’s more important that I’ve reclaimed a part of me that I began fostering when I was younger than my children are now, one of the most elemental aspects of my being. Good or bad, the words bring me home.