Category: Nephews


A year and half ago I was worried that this gluten free world would take away all my traditions.  I am a person very well grounded in traditions.  I love them.  I create them.  (I have found this works better if the others involved are aware of the “traditions” status, however!)  My nephews and I used to go on dates.  The elder always chose Olive Garden and wanted mussels. The younger always wanted On the Border.  It was “our thing” and we knew if we were going out exactly what to expect.  Neither of those places is gluten free friendly.  Thus began “pancake nights”.

 

Now, our dates are a little simpler.  We go to my house.  We walk into the familiar kitchen and we pull out bowls and measuring spoons.  My heart danced a bit the night the younger boy told me he wanted to take cooking classes.  I told him that I would happily oblige.  Instead of the usual “dump this spoon into that bowl” method we have been employing up until now, I took a moment and realized that he is old enough.  So I stood aside and simply instructed.  They measured, scooped, poured.  And my little dark eyed man was allowed to pour that batter straight onto the cast iron griddle I had previously deemed too dangerous for him.  We talked about safety and the importance of keeping our attention only on the task at hand.  I talked, and he intently worked at his task. I stood at his side and together we entered this next phase.

 

Then, we ate pancakes.  Just as we always do.

 

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Never had we gathered around the dining room table.  In various combinations we had been joined in those same chairs, but never all at the same time.  When Sweet One came home, it was a promise we made to one another.  We would gather together with those that we love, with those that he served with an ocean away, with friends we have each made along life’s journey.  Dining out, it’s a challenge these days.  Gluten free was somewhat possible to manage, but gluten free and msg free is an altogether different ball game.  Every time MSG finds its way in the affects on my body reaching deeper and taking longer to fade.  I know, in time, if I keep exposing my body to the poison I will be where I am with gluten.  I am bound and determined to avoid that catastrophe.  Bearing this in mind the texts flew between sister and I flew.  Dinner, was arranged.  This time, I would cook in my own kitchen and they would come.

I spent a few hours, the night before we were slated to gather, preparing the meal.   I had the pork roast in the crock, the apple pie cooling on the counter, the cookie dough resting in the refrigerator, the cutting board cleansed from the salad prep, the bread risen and safely stowed in the refrigerator to be baked the next afternoon.  The sweet potatoes waited to be peeled, but they would continue to wait until just before everyone gathered.  I glanced around the kitchen, content with the evenings work.  I am always happiest when the kitchen has been torn apart and been put back together again, the labors of love resting quietly on the counters, in the refrigerator, in the freezer, or anywhere else they will fit in my ridiculously tiny kitchen.  Someday I will have a kitchen that is more fitting to the passions of my life, but for now we make do with the tiny little counter as we fumble around one another.  I chose to be grateful that he is there, underfoot and willing to help.  My eyes grew misty more than once at the simple fact he was there doing the dishes that I was dirtying.  We waited a long year for nights like this to occur.

They came, the next night.  The clan that became mine five years ago, the man who chose to love me, and I gathered around the dining room table they gifted me.  That table saw sis through her collage days, saw the early days of her parenthood, was given to me in my days as a single woman, and now sees us through this season of change as families morph into something new and yet familiar.  It’s an old table, just the way a table ought to be.  The scuff marks and faded paint make me smile.  Aren’t we all just a little scuffed and faded by the time we enter our third decade of life?  I don’t mind that the table reflects that sentiment.  It seems proper to me somehow.  We devoured the food set upon that old table.  The sweet potatoes disappeared, though not quite as fast as the bread.  The pork roast was exclaimed over multiple times.  I love the words my people give me when it comes to food, but no praise speaks quite so loudly as the silence when they chew, the slight clatter of spoons against ceramic as they reach for second portions.  My heart danced a bit when the eldest boy asked me “Can I have more of THAT?” and reached for the roast he originally wrinkled his nose at.

The mere scraps of pork roast that remained on the platter, the scant crumbs scattered over the cutting board that held the bread a mere half hour ago, the half empty bowl of sweet potatoes, the still full bowl of salad, they told me all I needed to know about our evening meal.  The content smiles, the nearly empty glasses of wine, and the grown-ups gathered on the back patio as the children played the games of boys who are given flashlights were a peaceful ending to the clan dinner made my heart sing. Later as the men reached for second portions of apple pie and the eldest nephew gave me his most pathetic begging eyes as he requested “Just one more awesome cookie” I settled into the happiest place of my culinary heart.  I have missed cooking for those I love.  It was good, to gather again and feed them food I know is good for the bodies.  That is good for my soul.   Never before had we gathered like this, with all of us around one table in person rather than one joining via cell phone.  Never before, but many times to come.  This is the prayer I whispered as I sat enjoying the laughter and the clatter of so many under one roof.  A simple prayer “let there be more, of this”.

Pizza

They came running through my front door with my pup right on their heels.  Two nephews and one small dog have a strange ability to make a vast amount of ruckus when they race into my world making my heart smile even as my mouth tells them to settle down.  They did as boys are apt to do and dumped their bags on the first flat surface they found and started asking questions.  What are we going to do?  Do we get to watch movies?  What’s for dinner?  They knew, of course, what was on the menu.  They chose the menu from my carefully planned list of options.  **Note to self – attempting to bake three gluten free things in one night and actually having time interact with the children is not a wise plan.  The idea they will bake with you will last approximately thirty seconds in their world.  Remember this**

They settled in, spreading their various army men and lego contraptions around my living room.  I mixed the dough.  They picked through the vast movie options, I gathered the mozzarella, marinara, basil, and parmesan.  They came, as I knew they would, and stood at the corner of the kitchen counter.  I handed the eldest the grater and the cheese.  I spread the dough, deciding that a more rustic rectangle with messy edges was not likely to keep an eight and ten year old from consuming dinner.  We sang along to the radio as the red headed boy grated and I threw a pesto together.
I talked to them about the difference between the red and the white pizzas.  They both gave me this look that clearly stated they felt I had lost my mind and stated quite firmly that they just wanted “normal” pizza.

I scraped down the sides of the food processor and held a utensil out to the boy, so he could taste the vivid green pesto he was staring at with a mixture of curiosity and disgust.  He scrunched up his nose and backed away from me as if I had asked him to taste an insect.  I convinced him to try it and laughed long as his face went from puckered up fear to pleasure as he allowed the pesto to coat his tongue.  It’s GOOD he exclaimed with a touch of awe.  “You must always try what you are making as you go, so you know how to change it or if it is even good” I instruct him.  He thought about this as he grated cheese, glancing at me every so often to see what my hands were doing.   I spread the dough with a water dipped spatula as we talked about the food we were making.  Slowly I saw the words sinking in.  He continued to pepper me with questions as he grated the parmesean.  I offered him as many answers as I held.

Those boys and I?  We share an unhealthy affection for cheese.  Those thin crusts were smeared with sauce – a red for them and a pesto for me.  The youngest placed the cheese on the red pizza, the eldest on the white.  I had them taste the real mozzarella I had sliced and the parmesan he grated.  I tore off a basil leaf and handed it to them to taste.  I want them to know that food should be interacted with, it should be explored, it should be experienced.  For a few moments, they indulged me.  They tasted as they spread, the eldest carefully noting my placement of cheese, the small dark eyed boy scampered off after one slice of mozzarella had been lain down.  Bit by bit the crusts were covered, and then covered just a little bit more. After all, it was a cheese pizza so there must be loads of cheese.  Just ask that ten year old, he’s very clear on this matter.  As the pizzas bubbled in the oven the the eldest boy turned to me and said “You sure know my heart, you know I love my cheese”.  Sweet words to an Aunt’s heart.

The pizza’s baked as the boys were called to the sink.  If you are going to indulge in the goodness, you must also participate in the less fun aspects like dishes, or so many philosophy goes. It helped when I mentioned we needed those particular items to be clean before we could make cookies 🙂  They were next on the agenda and the most anticipated part of our evening.  We had many talks that centered around the “how’s” of doing dishes and I wondered when I had learned these things and at who’s hand.  It seems to me as if I always knew but surely someone taught me just as their mother and I teach them. The elder boy offered encouraging words and even a helping hand on the more complicated items like big glass bowls.  He suspected that breaking dishes would seriously dampen his Aunt’s happy mood.  I watched them, wondering when they got big enough to really be in the kitchen with me for more than dumping of pre-measured items into bowls.  They chattered away as I stood there slightly frozen by the realization that they are growing up altogether too fast.  How many more years do we have of spending hours in the kitchen together?

I pulled the pizzas out of the oven and slid them onto the cutting board.  One boy fetched drinks while the other set the table.  Finally, it was time to consume our creations.  Despite their demands for “normal” pizza it was the pesto pizza that was consumed with great speed. One boy staring at his own plate and then his brothers and then glancing at the cutting board filled with pizza slices.  They seeemed to be in a race with one another, needing to make sure that there was more white pizza to stuff into their already full mouths.  The red pizza on the other hand is currently occupying a shelf in my refrigerator.

The Flours

When I first began to understand the havoc that gluten was wrecking on my body I read.  I read everything I could find on the subject.  I read books on celiac, gluten free cookbooks, and gluten free blogs.  I did not merely read them.  I devoured them.  I read them sitting on my couch, at the dinner table, while soaking in a hot bath, and curled into my soft cotton sheets.

I read the books cover to cover, trying to retain every tip and trick they held.  Don’t bake with a preheated oven.  Use parchment paper or silpat.  Don’t over mix.  Don’t over touch.  My list of dont’s was long but I was determined.  I read and I read and I read.

Still, I refused to bake.  Dinner I could muster.  Lunch was easy to solve, last nights leftovers worked just fine.  Breakfast, that wasn’t too hard.  I ate a lot of eggs in those first days until I discovered Rice Chex cereal was gluten free and came in cinnamon flavor.  I took to heart the advice, don’t try to replace all the old gluten laden loves, just learn to love the things God gave us that are naturally gluten free.  This I could do.  Bake with a whole new mindset?  That was a different story.

Yet, a mysterious thing began to happen.  Each week at the store I would find some new bag of flour had made it’s way into my cart.  It started with this mix.  It was good, but I have never been one to bake from a mix.  Then it was the brown rice flour, it seemed to me I might need that one if only for dinners.  The sorghum flour too, after all I had seen that used for fried chicken so it must be necessary even if I wasn’t going to bake.  It continued into a true quest, hunting down the amaranth and the still on-going hunt for the teff flour.  I read the origins of these ancient grains and I learned their nutritional benefit.  Slowly I filled my kitchen cupboard with jar after jar of powdered substances I did not yet understand.  They were familiar only in the words of those authors.

Eventually, it had to happen.  I had to bake.

The dark eyed boy came over for a visit and as small boys are inclined to, he holds a special passion for cookies.  Particularly chocolate chip cookies. I sighed and reached into the cabinet.  I had a mix on hand, purchased in those early fear filled days.  Those days when I was convinced baked goods were gone forever.  I kept it there in the cupboard to remind me that though life had changed, it was not gone merely different than it had been. I hesitated, but with a steely resolve I reached past that mix and picked up a jar.  I began to hand jar after jar to the boy, the assistant just waiting to measure and pour.  My countertop was filled with starches and flours, sugars and gums.  Ingredients I had yet to touch.  I remembered the proper way to measure and promised me that by this fall I’d own a kitchen scale so I could do this baking properly.  For now, I helped the wee hands scoop and measure, pour and stir.  With a smile  I slid the tray in the oven and wondered what I had done.

What had I done?  I baked cookies.  Good cookies.  Light, crisp, slightly salty and still just vaguely doughy cookies.  Cookies oozing with chocolate goodness.  I ate them warm from the oven in crumbled bits (which will happen if you ignore the requirement to let them sit for twenty minutes before you move them, but seriously who waits twenty minutes for the first cookies to cool?).  I ate them room temperature.  I stashed them in the freezer in a vain attempt to protect my waist line, but discovered that I love them frozen even more than I do fresh from the oven.

The boy?  He said “These are good” and that was it.  I asked him if he thought they were different and he shrugged and said “They are cookies” and I smiled in response.

I baked.