rose

At 7:30 a.m. Sunday morning, I was simmering steel cut oats on the stove, counting down the minutes we had left to get ready before heading to the farmers’ market and then church.

At 8 a.m. Sunday morning, I was head over bowl puking. (Sorry.) Without warning, a normal day turned into a sick day and as soon as the throwing up stopped, I was bundled in bed, leaning my head against an ice pack, clutching a cold washcloth to my face, and almost crying. Not with misery, but with joy at being so tenderly cared for.

Brad is the best, you guys. Nobody wants to read the details of someone being really sick and all the gross, intimate, and necessary ways that person requires care, so I’ll instead tell you that while I was laying in bed with that muscular anxiety being sick gives me, Brad laid his hand on my back and gently stroked it and my body’s panic reaction immediately ceased. My breath slowed, my muscles relaxed, and that’s when I almost cried. It’s not just his right-then touch that soothed me, it’s the six years he has unselfishly loved me and served me and shown me in every possible way, every single day, that I am more important to him than he is to him. He has banked half a decade of ego-less, unjudging love in my heart so that the very moment he placed his hand on my back, my body did what my heart has learned it can do around Brad: Relax. Be taken care of. Be completely loved.

I floated that whole day on his kindness but it wasn’t until Monday night when we both lay in bed, about to go to sleep (me completely recovered), and both feeling downtrodden about his health, not having kids, finding an apartment, wondering what our calling in life is, that I got the real point. Brad rolled over on his side away from me and wrapped my arm around him, kissed my hand lightly, then stroked it as we both fell asleep. Then I did cry. Again, not because we were so miserable or so discouraged, but because yet again, Brad treated me with so much tenderness. As I cried I thought, how much more does my Father love me? How much more tender is His love for me? It’s so much more. It’s unfathomably more.

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
(Ephesians 3:17-19)

 Our problems haven’t dropped away, but they matter a little less now that I’ve been filled.

speckled-egg

Our egg and chicken farmer’s name is Lisa. I like her a lot because

1. She has a thick binder of photos of how her chickens live and eat on her and her husband’s farm.

2. She’s so nice. Like, “let me find you the biggest chicken I can and I’ll just charge you the lower price” nice.

3. She said my eyes are the color of her really pretty blue egg cartons.

4. She calls Brad “the Broth Master” for telling her how he makes chicken bone broth. Now she’s done it and is a convert. And she’s telling her other customers.

5. She always, always picks out the cartons with the prettiest eggs for me. The pale green and milk chocolate speckled ones are my favorites, and she knows.

herbs-at-flea-street

There’s a show on the local public television station here called Check Please Bay Area. Three people submit their favorite Bay Area restaurants, everyone tries each other’s out, then they meet around a really awkward restaurant table set while the host–a blonde woman whose eyes and smile always look like she’s more than one glass of red wine in–peppers them with questions about what they tried and what they liked and goads them into picking restrained foodie fights with one another.

We love this show.

Because of it, I have a running list of restaurants we want to try on my phone. An Ethiopian place in San Jose, a hipster hangout in the Outer Sunset, and some San Francisco classics like Zuni Cafe and Tartine. At first, the list was fantasy because Brad’s diet is restricted and we don’t have any extra money for eating out. But then we both said, “What are we doing? We live in the Bay Area. It is virtually our duty to eat out.”

So we are. Once a month, one of us picks a spot and we go. We ignore the gluten-free part of our diet and ignore how strict we both are about spending extra money and eat a meal out as if we’ll never go back. (Read: We order appetizers AND dessert.)

Brad chose Flea Street Cafe in Menlo Park as our first stop. The name sounds like a dive, doesn’t it? It’s not. It’s a smallish white-tablecloth spot with a reputation for turning people away at the door because it’s booked solid. We tried our luck right when they opened (as in, we got there 10 minutes before they opened, walked casually by the front door to see if anyone had gone in yet, circled back around the building, stared at one another wondering when was too early to go in, then walked back to the front door and went in) and were led to a room with only five tables right outside the kitchen.

While we looked over the late winter menu–broken up into First, Second, and Third courses–a group of four were seated at a table near us. They sat down and started talking about a gallery showing and someone mentioned “my last book” as the women fussed with their beaded jackets and the men uncorked the first of two bottles of wine. I fidgeted in my gray wool cardigan and turned to look behind us. In the next room, a younger man sat by himself with a martini and a plate of meat, completely satisfied without a person or a book or a phone to distract him.

Our waitress coached us to order first and second courses to share, and an entree each. The menu changes seasonally; often the ingredients come from the farmers who sell to the public during the market the restaurant hosts on Saturdays. Some of the herbs come from barrels planted out back (the top photo).

While we waited for our first course to come out, she brought out a basket of bread and buttermilk biscuits and then set individual ceramic tiles with a pat of butter and small pile of salt by our plates. A moment later, she brought out “a taste of the season” from the kitchen–two Tokyo turnip bites, cooked but served cold with fennel flowers and shoots. So two bars have been set for future restaurants we visit: butter presentation and unasked-for small bites from the kitchen.

We ordered the Half Moon Bay Grilled Sardines for our first course (still on their Spring menu!) because Brad has a bizarre love for sardines that can only be explained by their nutritional value. I decided if I was ever going to try them, it would be at a fancy place like this. And I’m so glad I did! The filets were served over small globes of crispy potatoes, a frisee salad, and garlic aioli. I would eat sardines every day if they always tasted like that. (That’s right, Brad. I said it.)

half-moon-bay-sardines

For our second, we got a spinach salad that I chose mainly because it includes leeks and mushrooms, two of my favorite ingredients in life. It was good, but the thing about making a lot of salads on your own is that virtually no salad at a restaurant will impress you. Still, we didn’t leave any behind. (I also don’t have a photo of it because I started to feel conspicuous whipping out my phone for every plate like a commoner.)

I could write pages about our entrees (I did in my journal the next day), but instead I’ll simply share the names: Marin Sun Farms Braised Grass-Fed Short Ribs with mashed potato, asparagus, horseradish cream, and beef jus. All you need to know about this is horseradish cream. Unbelievably succulent.

short ribs

I ordered the Winter Organic Vegetarian Tasting–a flight of vegetables, basically. From left to right: paper-thin potato gratin with parmesan, artichoke hearts with hoisin chutney, risotto balls with blue cheese and some vegetable I’ve never heard of before (it sounded like or-RAHN-say. Is this a real thing? Please enlighten me in the comments.), asparagus in a reduction, and beets smothered in a port orange marmalade. Wow. I definitely have fantasies of holding a dinner party of just vegetable small plates after this.

vegetarian-tasting

For dessert, I ordered the obligatory chocolate cake, and it was awesome, especially the mint ice cream it came with. But Brad’s trio of seasonal ice creams were even better. He got a scoop each of avocado, almond, and Meyer lemon ice creams. The lemon ice cream literally made us gasp and our eyes water, it was so sour. I loved it.

We were so sold on this place and then they brought out our check—with two small port wine dark chocolate truffles. Well played, Flea Street.

 brads asparagus copy

“I’m sick of asparagus already,” were the words that came out of my mouth two weeks ago before we had even seen asparagus at the farmers’ market. I’m not sure why. Maybe we got one too many out-of-season stalks this winter. Maybe I’m just a crank.

In any case, when Brad grabbed some thin, young asparagus at the farmers’ market last week, I inwardly groaned. And then later that week when he cooked them for dinner, I braced myself. Another obligatory vegetable side, I thought.

Ah, no.

The asparagus he made and set in front of me was so good I couldn’t stop talking about it.

“It’s so perfectly cooked! It’s just the right amount of salty. OH, I just got garlic and that’s the BEST. I only want to eat these forever, no more other foods.”

But I might not have shared this simple sauté method with you except I’m in the middle of reading Tender by Nigel Slater. He makes even the most simple preparation sound exquisite and important. If he wrote this, he’d romance you with talk of how “the slightly sweet vegetal flavors of the asparagus don’t ask for much more than crunch almonds and a bit of garlic. These beguiling stems do well next to a plate of cold duck, though we had a memorable early spring evening of eating them with nothing more than a few fresh lettuces and a thick slice of salty feta.”

(I haven’t eaten these with either duck or feta, he just mentions those a lot. But otherwise I agree with fake Nigel.)

brad’s asparagus
makes four servings

one bunch young, slender asparagus
2 tablespoons avocado or coconut oil
1/2 cup almonds, chopped
sea salt
1 garlic clove, minced

Cut the bottom reedy inch off the asparagus, then cut the stalks in half (by diameter, not length-wise).

Warm one tablespoon oil in a skillet and add the almonds. Stir frequently for five minutes or so while they lightly fry. They will smell so good, but better smells are coming. (Believe it.) Toss in the asparagus–it will sizzle, a big pinch of salt, and the remaining oil. Cook for another five minutes or until the asparagus are just shy of how cooked you want them. Add the garlic and stir until fragrant. Serve immediately.

 

 

chocolatebuckwheatbananabread_dark

Hallo. I am learning German thanks to Duolingo. The app walks you through labeled pictures, dictation, and sentence building to teach you the basics. If you make a mistake you lose a heart, but if you make no mistakes you keep all your hearts and earn a LINGOT. I have no idea what that is but I have 22 of them now and I’m pumped about it.

Currently, I’m working through the names of common foods like strawberry, orange, wine, cheese, apple. I know what you’re thinking: German? Why on earth are you learning German? (At least that’s what Brad said. He chose Spanish.) But I’ve already put it to use! We were at the farmers’ market a few weeks ago and this scruffy looking dude in a faded navy long-sleeve tee, copper-color cargo shorts, and hiking boots walked by carrying a toddler in an enormous hiking backpack. I watched him go by because, hello. Child in enormous hiking backpack. That’s amazing. As he passed me I heard him say “apfel” to his son. Apfel! Apple! I totally understood him! (They were also walking into the apple booth, but still.)

Since then, I’ve seen Herr Apfel several times, one time with his wife and daughter, too. It’s a highlight of our weekly trip to the market. I always hope we’ll see the Germans and that I’ll be able to eavesdrop on them. Because I’m socially aware like that.

Anyway. A few days ago I learned how to say “manna”–oh, I’m sorry, I meant “chocolate.” Schokolade. And everybody whose done at least one Duolingo German lesson knows the word for bread is brot. So I’m pleased to announce I made you all schokolade brot. No, I do not know the words for buckwheat, banana, or gluten-free. But they’re probably guttural, so fill in with some throat-clearing and you’ll be set.

All you need to know about this chocolate bread is that it’s not too sweet, it’s satisfyingly chocolate-y, and it takes more than an hour to bake, so plan ahead. But it’s worth it because das schokolade brot ist gut.

Chocolate Buckwheat Banana Bread (gluten-free)
adapted from The Wednesday Chef who adapted it from HRH of baked goods Dorie Greenspan
makes one 9-inch loaf

1 cup buckwheat flour
1 cup brown rice flour
1 cup cocoa powder
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup rapadura (alternatively, you can use 3/4 cup white sugar and 1/2 cup brown sugar as the original recipe suggests)
2 eggs
2 ripe bananas, mashed
1 cup yogurt, kefir, buttermilk, or a mix of all of the above
3 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped (we used TCHO’s 99% chocolate and even without the sweetness, it was excellent)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Line a 9-inch loaf pan with parchment paper and place on two stacked baking sheets. (Luisa at The Wednesday Chef said this helps prevent the bottom from over-baking and my bottom turned out beautifully–not a euphemism–so I’m a believer.)

Whisk together the flours, cocoa powder, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in a small bowl.

In a mixer with a paddle attachment (or with a hand-held mixer), cream the butter at medium speed for about a minute. You want to get it light and fluffy, almost like you were making a cake. This bread might actually count as cake. Add the rapadura and continue beating for two minutes more. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating one minute after each. Switch the mixer to low and add the mashed bananas; stir until incorporated.

Add the flour mixture in three additions, beating to mostly incorporate each time. I stopped beating when the batter still had flour clinging to it because I could tell the leavening was already beginning to work and I didn’t want to deflate it. Gently fold in the yogurt/kefir/buttermilk and the chocolate pieces. Scrape the batter into the pan.

Bake for 30 minutes, then loosely cover the top with foil and bake another 30 minutes. At this point, I stuck a knife in the bread and it wasn’t super-clean, so I baked mine another 10 minutes. I wish I would have baked it only another 5 (for a total baking time of 65 minutes). Mine was the teeniest bit dry. Let it sit for 20 minutes in the pan, then lift it out with the parchment paper and slice.

chocolatebuckwheatbananabread_light

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

We just had one of those weekends that’s so satisfying. Saturday morning, we woke up without an alarm, I made chocolate banana bread (recipe coming Tuesday) for breakfast, then Brad and I laid back in bed for an hour and talked about the things on our minds that get missed during the habitual back-and-forth of the weekdays. In other words: we relaxed.

Then we drove down to Los Altos to check out a really cool shop the magazine featured a while ago. It’s full of DIY materials, party supplies, and every cute crafty thing you’ve ever seen on anyone’s Pinterest board. I couldn’t take enough pictures–they had a felt bar, for crying out loud.

And THEN, I found a pair of jeans that fit and were super discounted at a little boutique. And THEN, we went into a running store my new D.O. recommended and I finally got a new pair of running shoes that were also discounted. And THEN, we went home and I went running to try out my sneaks. And THEN, we spontaneously redesigned this blog.

At work I sometimes say things like, “you can really see the touch of the hand on that product” when I want to sound obnoxious, but actually, I mean that when I talk about this blog. This space is so personal. I write about the things I talk to my family and closest friends about. And when I read your comments, I want to reach out and hug you, make you a meal, and stay up late to hear about your heart, too. So we decided to simplify things here and make the only ornament something I drew by hand. Let it be known, those lines represent the highest tier of my artistic ability.

Thank you, Brad, for taking a break from your other projects to work on this one. And thank you to all of you who read. I’m thankful for you.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

I am impatient today and don’t feel like talking myself into calling it anything else. I’m impatient for Brad to get better, for our lives to revolve around something other than superbills, doctor’s appointments, and symptoms. I’m impatient for the weekend to start. I’m impatient to schedule another trip home. What’s the cure for feeling at a standstill?

If you, like me, are killing time waiting for a change, may I suggest these interesting links?

// I spent a day and a half scrolling through this map of the solar system. If the moon were the size of one pixel, here’s how far apart everything is.

// This woman is teaching me how to pray for my husband, just when I felt like I didn’t know how to ask for the same thing any more.

// I love clever book design.

// The two easy dinners we can’t stop making: Shanna’s Butter Chicken (having it again tonight) and the humble tuna sandwich (with pickles, you have to use pickles). Plus one easy dinner that will go on repeat soon: Korean Beef Bowls (we add sauteed greens).

// My friend Kristin’s How to Save a Bad Day Pinterest board. Just go and be happy.

Processed with VSCOcam with g3 preset

Wednesday night, 10:05 p.m.: I’m in bed about to slip across the border to sleep when I remember nobody’s made a plan. There’s a group of couples from our church we meet with every Thursday for a meal, to talk, and to pray for one another. Usually by Monday, someone’s sent around an email volunteering to host. But this week, nothing.

Thursday morning, 6:35 a.m.: Brad and I are on the couch while he gets his IV and I check my email. No plan yet. So I say, our house is clean (it’s always this, isn’t it?), why don’t we host? Ah! I feel brave!

Thursday morning, 8:14 a.m.: Brad’s on board with what feels like wildness but is actually just having people over, so I email the group, plan an easy make-it-yourself rice and beans meal, write a grocery list for Brad (who is wonderful), and eat breakfast.

Thursday night, 5:58 p.m.: The food is almost all ready, everyone will show up in 30 minutes, so I start laying out dishes for the meal. I grab a stack of paper napkins and I realize I want to serve my friends and serve this food with cloth because the more I get to know these people, the better I want to treat them. This group–who would totally not blink at paper napkins, just like they don’t blink at my dying Fern of Shame and IV poles–are exactly the ones I want to cherish, to nourish, to honor by treating well. I don’t have enough cloth napkins right now (oh! the glory of having so many people at my house that I don’t have enough!) but I’ll get some. They won’t know it, but it will be my way of saying, “I love you guys! I love that you welcomed us into your group, that you pray for my husband, that you let me hold your babies, that you bring me dinners because you want to serve us while we do the IV (!), and that you let us feed you rice and beans!”

rice and beans
scales to as little or as much as you want

This is not really a recipe. It’s a reminder that this meal exists and you should make it more often because it’s easy and tasty. It’s our lazy meal when we can’t think of another meal idea, want something cheap, and oh! just invited eight people over last-minute. This Mexican version is the most common, but we also make an onion and lentil version, sometimes a sauteed chickpea and greens version, and were just talking the other night about subbing lentils for the chicken in our new favorite meal for yet ANOTHER version of rice and beans. You should play just as fast and loose with the ingredients.

black beans, cooked (and drained and rinsed if using canned)
salt
pepper
cumin
oregano
cayenne or chipotle powder
garlic clove, minced

Stir the black beans with all the spices in a skillet on medium heat. Remember this is the spicy topping for the bland rice, so don’t wimp out on the spices. Add a little bit of water (1/4 cup or so) to create a sauce. Once the sauce is bubbling, use the back of your spoon to smash the beans a little. I like a 50-50 ratio of smashed to whole. It absorbs the spices well and somehow feels more authentic even though, what? This is probably as authentic as Taco Bell’s Doritos taco or some such abomination. Heat through, spoon over rice and top with any or all of the following:

salsa
red onions, thinly sliced and soaked in raw apple cider vinegar for 30 minutes or so
cilantro, chopped
avocado, diced
greens
red cabbage, thinly sliced
raw cheese

p.s. I had grand intentions of taking a picture of all our toppings set out tonight, but completely missed the chance. Probably because I was writing this post. Expert blogger here, folks.

Processed with VSCOcam with b5 preset

Oh guys. February marks six years Brad and I have been together (I love that word, together), and six years since Brad’s chronic pain started. (I hate that word, chronic.)

It’s been a bit since I’ve updated you on his treatment and his symptoms. I never know how interesting this is to anyone else. Do you get bored of hearing about pain and pills and diets? I didn’t set out for this blog to be a chronicle of his treatment, but our life is so often built around these realities that it’s hard to ignore.

Anyway, here’s what we’ve been up to: After two months of twice-daily IV treatment, Brad’s doctor wasn’t satisfied with his progress. (Have I told you about Brad’s doctor? He’s Swedish, so I love him, just like I love every Scandinavian Olympian. We’re basically relatives.) While on the IV, Brad inched forward–his sleep got a little better, he could walk without a cane again, and his appetite improved. These aren’t huge steps, but they felt good. His major symptoms–the knee swelling, the joint pain, the myriad other aches and immobilities–didn’t budge. So we tried two weeks of doxycyline, an oral antibiotic, in the IV’s place.

Mistake.

The oral upset Brad’s stomach daily so he lost a lot of the appetite he had gained previously. His joints got even more painful and immobile. He’s had a headache almost the entire time. It’s been poopy, to be honest. All our questions about this path came back, too. Are antibiotics really the answer? Will this even work? Will anything ever work? Will he be this way always? Will our life always look like this? If we didn’t have to devote most of a kitchen cupboard to pills and supplements would our kitchen look cleaner? (Probably not.)

The Swedish Doctor took Brad off the doxy as soon as we called in and said it wasn’t working for us. Today we’re starting another round of IV with a different antibiotic, hoping we’ll quickly make up the little bit of ground we lost and then some.

My knee-jerk reaction is to be outrageously optimistic about each new thing as we start it, so I’m pretty hopeful this will get us back on track. And I’m looking forward to the early mornings snuggled up on the couch again. Still, if you want to leave a comment telling me Brad will get better soon and for sure, it would make me so happy. We can all will it into happening together! (There’s that word I like so much again.)

Processed with VSCOcam with m5 preset

Yesterday morning I sat on our bedroom floor and rifled through a year’s worth of receipts. We’re prepping for taxes and because we’re both completely clueless about the system and absolutely petrified of being audited, we save every single receipt, every single year. I file them in a month-by-month binder, we grab whatever we need to hand over to our accountant, then I store it all until enough years have passed that even the IRS won’t expect us to still have them on hand.

This is a generally soul-less task.

But every time I do it, I realize it’s not December 31 that makes me think about how I spent the last year, it’s sometime when winter has its claws in the ground and refuses to give way to spring. It’s when I’m unfolding crumpled waxy slips of paper that say we took a road trip to St. Louis in January 2013, ate a lot of frozen yogurt in May, and must go to Trader Joe’s every other day judging by the receipt volume. It’s when April 15 is bearing down on us. Because these receipts are the markers of our steps in 2013. I look through them and I see our priorities, our day-to-day obligations, our special treats, and change.

Yesterday, I rapidly glanced at the dates on each to sort them and the events of last year came back to mind. We went to Alcatraz. We stuffed a pinata full of goofy stuff for my sister’s birthday. We took our first trip to the beach. We found our favorite burger place in the city and have gone back every month since. And then I kept looking and saw the boxes we bought for our move. Gas station receipts from our last trip to Missouri to say goodbye to Brad’s grandma. A trail of meals on the road that start in DeSoto, Iowa, and leapfrog across the country to the lunch we ate just after crossing Bay Bridge into San Francisco.

April 8 and April 9. Those receipts are the hardest. I held them in my lap and the burden of emotion I felt when we were moving came over me again. I lived on a surreal plane of selling our house, scheduling Brad’s last doctor’s appointments and that road trip, saying goodbye, saying goodbye, saying goodbye.

I held those receipts and I cried.

When we moved, my heart felt the pain of its thick, healthy roots being torn right out of the ground that nourished it for years. It’s taken me a solid nine months to soothe my heart and remind it the roots are still there, they’re just reaching farther now. What’s strange to me is how a small, inconsequential thing like a receipt can wrench me all over again, like it’s the morning I hugged my mom and dad goodbye and got in the car to move here.

Today, I feel really grateful. I’m so thankful time has passed and every day isn’t as hard as it was when we first moved. I’m so thankful we have friends who want to know us and much as we want to know them. I’m so happy we took this chance and I’m so grateful for the way once impossible things feel a little bit closer because of it.