Low Carb Caramel Pecan Toasted Coconut Shortbread Bars

My mother was a June Cleaver and my younger sister a Martha Stewart, and together these forces of feminine formidability ushered me into adulthood as less-than-confident when it came to my baking, cooking, and entertaining skills. As an angsty teen, I wrote a journal entry which declared superlatively that I was more afraid of pleasing a future spouse in the kitchen than I was afraid of pleasing a future spouse in bed, because although the anthem for both might have been “practice makes perfect,” inelegant practice was infinitely more tolerable, and longer endured, in one case as opposed to the other.

As an introvert –an ISFJ at that – and a planner, whose love language is Microsoft Excel, I started a preemptive battle plan in the form of a comprehensive spreadsheet, titled, “Meal Planning: Year One.” Throughout my early 20s, I squirreled away every decent-looking recipe I found, and in time brought forth a complicated meal plan which paired breakfasts with complimentary lunches, dinners, and desserts, all in a sort of acceptability matrix; hot, complicated, time-consuming lunches were paired with easy, bright, vegetal dinners; or vice-versa; sweet breakfasts were never opposite rich desserts; weekends were regarded as open season for leftovers. The first year’s spreadsheet turned into a second, and a third, and so on, until I had an assemblage of thousands of recipes in careful succession, just waiting for an occasion when I would be called upon to cook an inaugural meal for a lawfully wedded spouse. Saved on a flash drive attached to my car keys, my spreadsheet became tantamount to a security object. I was organized and prepared!

Upon my eventual marriage, however, my poor spreadsheet never came into use. It might as well have been a neglected DARPA project, because for all of the investment of time and all of the zeal which went into its preparation, “Meal Planning: Years One Through Five,” was rendered inapplicable because:

  • The angsty teenaged Nicole had not anticipated that after all, when you love to do something, the talent to do it sometimes comes naturally. As it turns out, I did not need a lot of practice to be a good cook – when dinnertime approached I transmogrified happily into an instinctual creature, throwing things together in pinches and pints, shopping the ads for sales and somehow knowing exactly what meal belonged to each day.
  • My particular spouse admired all of my food offerings, without exception, and never saw my early attempts as practice, but as perfection. (Whether or not my journal should have predicted that I would possess equal instinctual talent in other areas, I cannot testify: you’ll have to ask my husband.) In a world where I had always been my own greatest critic, I was completely blindsided to be married to my greatest cheerleader. The first hundred, or maybe thousand, meals I made for him (and at least two meals per week to this day), were accompanied by an interrogation, always beginning with, “What’s wrong with it?” (“Nothing?”) “But what should be done differently?” (“Nothing?”) “Well, is it too salty?” (“I don’t think so?”) “Babe! You’re being difficult here – I’m trying to ask for constructive feedback!” (“I don’t know what to say. It’s delicious? I wouldn’t change anything? You’re the chef—you know it tastes good.”)
  • Meal planning itself accounted for nearly half of my joy in the kitchen, and I had no will to give it up. Perusing Pinterest is the introvert’s recharge, and something about savoring the research process – matching meals with moods, comparing fifteen similar recipes into a hybrid and ultimately following the composite only loosely—made cooking all the more relaxing. Michael has asked me at least two hundred and fifty six thousand times, “Why are you meal planning? I thought you were just doing that a few days ago? I thought you had 16,540 pins on your meal boards on Pinterest?”

Most importantly, the spreadsheet was never in regular use because:

  • In the days of its creation, I could eat whatever I wanted without gaining an ounce, including elaborate stacks of pancakes with homemade syrup and brown-sugar charred bacon; elegant freshly-baked goat cheese focaccias with pasta for lunch; comforting orzo with lemon zest and breaded spinach-stuffed chicken for dinner; and barely-baked cookie sundaes piled with ice creams and sundry toppings. I could plow through every item on that spreadsheet, a veritable Very Very Hungry Caterpillar, effortlessly and without any consequence. Not so much these days – in pre-middle-age, with a baby and a desk job. My PCOS, and sluggish metabolism, and generally uncooperative body type conspire together against me, and if I ate all of the gorgeous and beautiful things on my spreadsheet, I would weigh as much as my car.

I’ve been trying to outsmart my adversarial body, by cooking low-carb, and when I do, I can tell that I am more focused, sprightly, and confident. Unfortunately, I am also “hangry” nearly all of the time, and when my coworkers bring donuts and cookies to the office, and when I am alone on the weekend and I just want some dang fettuccine alfredo, it is almost impossible to maintain my composure. All of my meal ideas seem to forsake me and I often approach dinnertime in a complete flusterment, wrestling between the desire to make beautiful, comforting food – and the desire to be healthy and to reunite myself with my girlish figure.

This week I restarted the spreadsheet, ten years after its inception, with a tab after “Year Five,” that reads, “Low-Carb.”

So much has changed about my life in those ten years: I have a husband, a baby, a career, a new hometown. But in the end, I guess I am still the same girl who once whipped together a five-year meal plan to assuage her own fears of marriage and adulthood, and who is comforted by plans and consistency and Microsoft Excel and the quiet rejuvenation of looking ahead.

The first recipe in my new spreadsheet tab is this one. These low carb treats make me feel like I can actually survive life without ice-cream and donuts. I made some modifications to several online recipes to come up with something that suited my dessert interests; they are just 1 net carb each, and taste convincingly of soft caramel sauce and shortbread crust. The base is buttery and soft; the filling appears loose when made but hardens quickly in the fridge; the pecans and coconut are toasty and rich. I know that I’ll repeat this recipe again and again!

My husband says that this is the best low carb dessert I have ever made….and I agree with him!

The recipe makes 18 bars, but they are rich and large, so you can cut them into smaller pieces for even lower carb count.

Low Carb Caramel Pecan Toasted Coconut Shortbread Bars

1g net carbs, GF, SF, LCHF, Atkins, ,ON A Keto, Low Carb, 18 servings

2.5 c. Superfine Almond Flour

1 stick (½ c.) plus 2 tbs. butter, melted

½ tsp. nutmeg

4 TBS sugar substitute (I used this sweetener ratio from Joy Filled Eats, purchased using the ingredients from Amazon on her affiliate links)

Preheat oven to 325*.

Mix dry ingredients first, then add melted butter. Line a 9×13 pan (or equivalent size) with a silicone baking mat, or parchment paper; bake 15 mins until golden.

Meanwhile, in a large, non-stick pan (the larger the pan, the faster it will cook), combine over medium heat:

1 ¾ sticks salted butter (reserve remaining ¼ stick of butter)

1 c. heavy cream

1.5 c. sugar substitute (link above to Joy Filled Eats ratio)

Stir occasionally, and let reduce at a medium boil, until the mixture is dark brown/golden. This will take a long time – be patient! It took me at least 15 minutes. I stirred fairly frequently with a silicone spatula.

When it’s dark and carmelley (shush your face, carmelly isn’t a word but it should be!) remove from the heat and immediately add:

1 TBS vanilla

¼ stick butter (previously reserved)

Stir until combined, then add:

1.5 c. each coconut and chopped pecans (toasted at 400 degrees for 4-6 mins, optional)

Pour over crust; sprinkle with ¾ c. lily’s chocolate chips (stevia-sweetened).

After 15 minutes or so, swirl in the chocolate chips to make chocolate swirls.

Cover and chill for a minimum of 12 hours, to allow the flavors to blend – if you eat prior to the 12 hours, you may feel a cooling effect from the sugar alcohols, so please resist the temptation to dig in early!

Cut into 18 squares.

Store in the refrigerator.

 

Nutrition Facts
Servings: 18
Per Serving
Calories 264
Total Fat 26.1g
Saturated Fat 14.7g
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 60mg
Sodium 139mg
Potassium 18mg
Total Carb 15.8g
Dietary Fiber 0.8g
Sugars 0.4g
Carbs from Sugar Alcohols (Erythritol, Stevia, Xylitol blend): 14g
Net Carbs: 1
Protein 1.5g
Vitamin A 23% · Vitamin C 0%
Calcium 1% · Iron 1%

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Instant Pot Gyros with Low Carb Pita Bread and Tzatziki Sauce

Our first “place” wasn’t a place at all: it was a rented bedroom in a house with 5 other adults who were also renting rooms. The San Diego housing market, let me assure you, is not for the faint of heart. The Mister was working nights and weekends, so we tried to respectfully tiptoe around the house at night when we were awake, and slept during daylight hours while the rest of the house seemed intent on making as much noise as possible:

   a retired gentleman inexplicably obsessed with daily TV marathons of ghost-hunting shows,

   a coworker of my husband’s who somehow made his daily macaroni and cheese loudly (??) usually wearing only boxer shorts,

   a nurse and her on-again-off-again boyfriend who rented separate rooms in the house and shouted most of their private consternations at one another from their neutral Switzerland, the hallway directly outside our bedroom door.

The self-appointed matriarch of the house, the fifth tenant, was the worst. She was somewhat of a legitimized squatter: her son owned the home from a different state, and she conveniently conned him into withdrawing his requests for rent by reminding him of how she once birthed him, regularly demanded that his father feed him (she did not cook) during his formative years, and actively tolerated his long-term girlfriend. She accused us with tears of spying on her and recording her conversations for the IRS, through our wireless router; she goaded her posse of Chihuahuas into yapping incessantly at us, and praised them for guarding the house thoroughly, as though we were intruders; she routinely stopped the dishwasher halfway through its cleaning cycle and put all of my dishes away half-cleaned and murky, saying that they’d “been in there long enough – water isn’t cheap!” Once, on my way to drop The Mister off at work in the wee hours, I saw her wandering down the street, wearing only a bathrobe, stark white and wafting ominously in her wake.

She knocked on the door on a regular morning and unceremoniously announced that her uncle needed a place to stay, and that we had twelve days to vacate the premises. She had not notified her son of this decision, but her word was final, and accordingly our days were spent scouring craigslist and visiting shifty apartment complexes and counting our pennies. I found out that after we left, men in white coats came to the house and took her away, for – among other things – misuse of prescription medication, and to this day I am tentatively waiting for her lawyer to show up, asking for the illegal surveillances of her I obtained from the antenna on my WiFi router.

Our second place was a darling apartment, perfect in every way, located in the parking lot with a strip mall, dotted with little restaurants and dollar stores and liquor stores in a sort of cozy semicircle. It was Sketchville, USA. The rooms were spacious and we made so, so many memories there—I still miss it!—but you don’t move into an apartment in a strip mall if you can afford to eat out, so although we were surrounded on every side by local mom-and-pop eateries, we made it through the doors of only very few.

One of the restaurants was called AVOs (no apostrophe), with a simple and tempting sign out front: “1 GYRO: $5, 2 GYROS $7.50.” I wandered in there one day and found that it was an order-at-the-counter format, with two outdoors plastic tables set up in the corner as a sort of ersatz waiting area. A large, scowling gentleman did not look up from his iPad, which was playing a loud, boisterous soap opera in what I assume was Greek, and a smiling, petite woman left his side to make my order, by herself. She worked slowly, and no one else came in during my visit – in fact, it did not seem as though anyone else was ever there, in the three years we stayed. The gyros were heavenly. The fries were hot and crispy, and I wanted to go back every day until I had gobbled my way through the entire menu, but I only went back three more times while we lived there, and each time I could not quite bring myself to order anything other than those wonderful gyros. Each of those times, the proprietor was sitting there watching the exact show—occasionally he hollered something at his wife, louder than even the raucous soap opera— and every time my meal was lovingly prepared by a silent and evidently hardworking woman who had only one order in her queue.

A month after we left our second place, AVOs closed down, and the last time I was over in our old neighborhood, I saw that a Pho place was opened in its stead. It made me sad, and it made me crave those gyros. I started a Pinterest search, to see if I could replicate the much-loved dish into something a bit healthier and more consistent with our goals to eat healthfully, and came up with this recipe for Low Carb “Gyros” which taste surprisingly like the “real thing,” and make me quite nostalgic. While making our Low Carb Ham and Cheese Hot Pockets with Hatch Chiles, I made a second batch of the dough at the same time, and simply divided up the dough between both projects, so I only had to mix up dough once, and only had to heat the oven once.

I used my favorite kitchen appliance, the Instant Pot, but you can easily adapt this recipe to simply cook the meat in a pan.

Gyros with Low Carb Pita Bread and Tzatziki Sauce

Serves 6

Turn on Instant Pot to saute, and add:

½ c. olive oil

1 ½ lbs beef round, sliced as thinly as you can (about 1/8” strips)

Brown meat for 3 minutes, then add 1/3 c. water or beef broth, and switch the Instant Pot to 30 minutes, on Manual. It will take about 10 minutes to pressurize, 30 minutes to cook, then unplug and allow a 10-minute Natural Pressure Release (NPR).

Concurrently, make the dough:

In the microwave (stirring every 90 seconds) or over double-boiler, melt:

1.5 c. low-moisture part-skim mozzarella, shredded

½ c. cheddar cheese, shredded

8 oz. cream cheese

Once melted thoroughly and stringy/soft, add:

1.5 c. almond flour

1 TBS coconut flour

1 tsp. baking powder

½ tsp. each: salt, pepper, and xantham gum (optional)

Spices as you wish (I used some nutmeg, and some “Everything But the Bagel” spice—you can use whatever you wish.)

When dough is thoroughly mixed, add in 1 egg, and “knead” with your hands. I find that hands work much better than a spoon for this job.

Cut dough into 6 pieces, then roll pieces into a ball with your hand. Roll out dough between two sheets of parchment paper, into approximately 6” circles.

Arrange oven-save glasses (I used 12 oz) on a cookie sheet, and drape with parchment paper and dough. Bake at 400 for 10 minutes, then lower temperature to 375 and cook another 9 minutes, until golden brown and sturdy, although still pliable.

Open the instant pot, and use a slotted spoon to put the beef into a pan without the cooking juices. Add 2 TBS no-salt greek seasoning and allow the meat to crisp up (about 3 minutes on high).

Chop up ½ c. each thinly sliced red onion and thinly sliced cucumber, and mix with ½ tsp of salt, and 1 TBS of dried dill weed (more or less is fine, depending on your taste) and 1 c. plain greek yogurt. This will be your Tzatziki Sauce. 

Serve meat in low carb “pita” bread, topped with tzatziki sauce.

Makes 6 gyros. Each gyro is 7.3 net carbs.

Nutrition Facts

Servings: 6

Per Serving

% Daily Value*

Calories 699

 

Total Fat 59.7g

92%

Saturated Fat 14.6g

73%

Trans Fat 0g

 

Cholesterol 86mg

29%

Sodium 600mg

25%

Potassium 251mg

7%

Total Carb 10.1g

3%

Dietary Fiber 2.3g

9%

Sugars 2.8g

 

Protein 32.3g

 

Vitamin A 15% · Vitamin C 2%

Calcium 27% · Iron 8%

Recipe analyzed by VeryWell

And, just a little shower door art from our last day in out first place, hastily drawn and treasured.

Low Carb Ham and Cheese “Hot Pockets” with Hatch Chiles

I’ve been in search of non-eggy low carb breakfast foods because I am trying to be healthy but I hate, truly hate, eggs. When well-meaning internet sources suggest what they claim will be “non-eggy!!!11” breakfast foods, they need to just shut their evil faces, because those dang low carb pancakes ALWAYS taste like eggs.


But these! Ham and cheese “Hot Pockets.”

 They’re glorious! I searched Pinterest for a few days and combined recipes and techniques from several sources to come up with a recipe that works for me. I’ve made several batches now, and keep them in the fridge so The Mister and I can quickly grab and reheat for 60 seconds on our way to work. They taste remarkably like “real” Hot Pockets, and one batch makes 6, or I double it to make 10. They last perfectly in the fridge and I finally have a breakfast food that I can make ahead so that I don’t feel like reaching for a bad food option as I rush out the door in the mornings.

Best of all, they don’t taste a bit like eggs, even to my hyper-vigilant egg-hating self.

 

In a glass bowl, microwave for 2 minutes:

8 ounces cream cheese

1 ½ c. shredded mozzarella

½ c. shredded cheddar

 

In a separate bowl, mix together:

1.5 c. almond flour

1 TBS coconut flour

1 tsp baking powder

½ tsp each: salt, cracked pepper and xantham gum

Dash freshly ground nutmeg (optional) 

Add dry ingredients to melted cheeses, stir thoroughly; add 1 egg and mix thoroughly (I “knead” it with my hands for a few moments).

Divide dough half, and each of those halves into 6 equal pieces (12 total pieces). Roll pieces into balls, then put between two pieces of parchment paper and roll out to be very thin, but not translucent. Transfer 6 pieces to a lined baking sheet—these will be the bottom of the Hot Pockets; roll out the other 6 pieces to be the tops.

 

Place filling onto bottom pieces; I used 3 c. chopped ham (cold on my first batch; in subsequent batches I have cooked the ham down to reduce moisture and it is MUCH better), 3 TBS roasted hatch chiles, divided between the 6 pockets, and then a slice of cheese for each. You could use any fillings you want.

Place the top pieces of dough, and crimp sides and edges so that there are no gaps.

 

Bake at 400 for 23 minutes (may be different based on elevation) or until golden brown. To store, wait until they are completely cooled so there is no condensation, then I store in individual plastic bags so I can always open the fridge, grab, and reheat.

 Best made with a little kitchen helper! 

 

Buffalo Chicken Pasta

While attempting to help one another fall in love with one another, my husband and I were bound by the strictures and preambles of courtship, a practice we will never impose upon our own children whereby relationships are effectively chaperoned from start to finish and dictated by the lady’s parents. We were legitimized by adulthood—I, for instance, was twenty five and one-third years old, and he was into his thirties—and in good standing among God and man, but tradition is a funny thing and our romance ended up being a haltingly awkward affair, decidedly unromantic, and if we had not both possessed great faith and uncommon optimism, and if we had not been absolutely a match made in heaven, I am confident we would never have emerged unscathed. I remember that The Mister drove up to my hometown, taking time off from his job, to help my father work on a remodel project for a rental property I owned. I was not encouraged (and from what I recall not permitted) to join them as my father ostensibly interviewed my now-husband to determine his eligibility as a suitor. We’d previously met fewer than 3 times, and so the whole matter was rife with clumsiness and was about as ungainly as a romance could be; I was so nervous and aflutter and my stomach was a gulch.

 

I made lunches for them each of the days, tortured by silence throughout the mornings as my dad wasn’t much on regular status updates, and as my boyfriend?—courtship partner?—handsome stranger?—had been instructed not to speak with me too frequently so as not to sully up the pieces of my heart and whatnot. On my own lunch break from work – one hour, no grace for tardiness—I drove home, reheated the lunches I’d prepared for them the night before, and hurried over to the site of my investment property, where the three of us visited a few moments in a cluster. In between sneaking quiet, bashful glances at me without saying much of anything, The Mister wolfed down bites of this Buffalo Chicken Pasta with respectful admiration and, I assume, first realized that cooking was my way of showing love.

 

I never make this dish without thinking of that day: sitting on a weather-roughened picnic bench, in Spring, two feet apart (“Leave room for Jesus!” I said, softly, because it was so terribly awkward, and we all laughed), eating from little red round oven mugs, twisting our napkins nervously in our laps. Whenever I am assembling the recipe I remember the way that, in spite of everything, my heart raced and my hands trembled and I knew, already, that he was the one.

 

Buffalo Chicken Pasta

 

In sauce pan heat,

2 ¼ c. shredded chicken (you can use canned if you want, which would be 2 (9.75) oz. cans)

¾ c. hot sauce (I use Frank’s buffalo wing sauce; some people use Texas Pete sauce)

1 (4 oz) can diced green chiles

2 blocks cream cheese

1 c. sour cream

1 ranch seasoning packet (powder)

¾ c. shredded cheddar

 

Refrigerate overnight if at all possible; the flavors develop. Before serving, gently reheat, and add 16 oz. cooked, drained pasta (I use gemelli, orchiette, or capavelli). Serve immediately or, if desired, place in a casserole pan and sprinkle with ¾ cup more cheddar, and broil until cheese is browned and bubbly.

 

Alternate Serving Preparation: Serve without pasta for a Buffalo Chicken Dip, preferably with scoopable corn chips. Make this for the super bowl and you will be eternally adored.

One Bowl Key Lime Tarts

One of the last really important things I did before leaving my hometown to marry my husband was to throw a baby shower for my decade-long bestie. I cut up pages from Winnie The Pooh books to make the invitations, and I labored over Asian chicken salad with toasted almonds and crunchy noodles, and these key lime tarts, which have been a signature recipe of mine ever since. They look like they took days to make; they taste bright and fresh and tangy, and they’re perfect for a spring baby shower.

 

One Bowl Key Lime Tarts

 

In a large bowl, microwave 2 ½ sticks of butter until melted. Add a box of graham cracker crumbs (you can crush your own, but for ease, I just buy the box from Honey Maid), reserving 2/3 cup of crumbs, and 1 c. sugar.

 

Fill 48 (it may make more) mini muffin papers 1/3 full. You can use a mini muffin pan (and put the papers in that) if you want, but I never do since there are so many; I just spread them out on a few cookie sheets (make sure they’re not touching because they’ll spread out a little when they’re baking).

 

In the (now empty) bowl, mix ¾ c. lime juice (I just use the cheap stuff but you can use key lime juice if you want!), 3 cans of sweetened condensed milk, and ½ c. sour cream. Let it sit about 5 minutes to get a little thick (the acid in the lime juice will thicken the sour cream). Optionally, you can add the zest of a lime.

 

Fill the mini muffin papers almost all of the way full. Bake at 375 for about 15-18 minutes (really depends on your oven!) until the key lime layer has a few bubbles on the outside, as if it is going to boil. Take them out of the oven, and let cool completely.

 

In the bowl (empty again!), beat 2 (8oz) tubs whipped cream cheese, and 1 pint heavy whipping cream (with a beater) until stiff peaks form. Add 1 c. sugar. Pipe or spread over the cooling tarts – pile it high! Sprinkle with remaining crumbs.

 

I put them all on a big cookie sheet, cover them, and freeze until I’m ready to serve. Freezing helps the flavors to meld nicely. Serve chilled.

Apple Crisp

When you’re homeschooled, you have more friends who live far away than friends who live close by, so it did not feel strange to me that some of our closest friends lived hours away. We reunited quarterly or less, and were during our travels inseparable, then retreated back to our respective corners of the world. We rented three hotel rooms and divided them between sixteen of us at homeschooling conferences; we vacationed together at June Lake, where I got heatstroke and violently puked throughout most of the night; they came to our house for an event organized by me, “Camp Hearn,” planned to contain games, activities and sundry friendship-building games; instead, their whole family got a violent stomach flu and could not leave for long enough to drive home, so they stayed in our house – sprawled out in the living room, and in tents on the back lawn, and on couches – puking for the better part of 48 hours. As the ersatz hostess I stayed up the whole time, tending to the weak, and earned myself the nickname, which unfortunately followed me many years thereafter, “Clara Barfton.”

 

The mother of their family served foods that were healthy beyond description (whole-grain freshly-baked breads without salt, formidable piles of freshly-harvested vegetables which were gnawed on between meals by the children, lean turkey burgers cooked beyond well done, and giant skillets of scrambled eggs) which in addition to being healthy somehow all tasted just a bit too healthy. Half a lifetime afterwards, I am sure I would now appreciate the spread immensely, but then I was on vacation! And I just wanted Cheetos and pizza.

But then dessert arrived, and everything was right in the world. This crisp was warm, comforting, fragrant. We would take turns at the apple peeler, cranking the shaft and watching our little siblings gobble up the peels as fast as they could be unraveled; we’d mix up triple or quadruple recipes of the topping and the smell would carry me through the evening.

It mixes up in a few minutes; the proportions are more suggestions than anything else, and it’s almost impossible to ruin. Served hot from the oven, it is the best kind of rustic end to the day; served with ice-cream, it is luxurious and comforting. Double or triple or quadruple it for everyone you love.

 

Apple Crisp

 

Spread evenly in 8” square pan:

4 c. sliced, pared apples;

¼ c. water;

½ c. sugar.

 

With pastry blender (or two forks) mix until crumbly:

1 c. white sugar;

¾ c. flour;

1/3 c. soft butter;

1 tsp. cinnamon (or more);

¼ tsp freshly ground nutmeg (optional);

½ tsp. salt.

 

Spread crumb mixture over apples, gently.

Bake uncovered, about 40 minutes. Serve immediately.

Fettuccine Verde

When I was a young teen, we attended a Home Church, which was mostly a courtesy title. There were a few hymns, masterfully accomplished in four-part harmony by the twelve children of the host and hostess; there was a –sermon? Could you call it a sermon? It was mostly a few words of admonition and grace, administered by the host (who assembled his remarks weekly in spite of a full workweek and after tending his dozen offspring), then the whole thing came mercifully to a close because the real edification came afterwards, when ladies would unplug their crockpots and reveal formidable trays of casseroles and sheets of cookies, and a teenaged girl would come in with a fresh bucket of goat’s milk (blech!), and we would spend the next four or six hours gathered around wherever a table could be found, or in a breakfast nook, or on a couch, talking about life and faith and love, going back for another plate every few hours, until nightfall.

My favorite recipe in the usual rotation was this recipe for fettuccine alfredo with green vegetables, and in the years since I have never changed anything about it, except sometimes to omit the eggplant and spinach. It is everything comfort food ought to be, and the perfect accompaniment to fellowship.

 

Fettuccini Verde

 

Cook and drain:

16 oz. fettuccini

Add 1 T. olive oil;

Toss.

 

In a separate pan, melt ½  c. butter and 1 TBS white flour until golden brown; add 1 bunch of green onions, sliced; 4 cloves garlic, minced. Saute 3-4 minutes.

 

Add: 8 oz. frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained.

Optional: Add 1 eggplant, peeled and cubed (I never do!)

 

Add 3 c. half and half; bring to healthy simmer. Add: ½ tsp. garlic salt; ¼ tsp. pepper; ¼ tsp. freshly ground nutmeg.

Pour mixture over noodles; toss gently with ¾ lb cheese (I use a mixture of grated Romano, Parmesan, Monterey Jack or any combination thereof).

Serve immediately.

White Chili

I believed that I would be married at 18, based on vague assurances promulgated within my circles that good homeschooled girls were always snapped up off the market as soon as they were of legal age, and so when 19 rolled around and I was utterly single, it was a bafflement to my soul. I shipped myself off to a paramilitary disaster relief program in Texas, run by the homeschool group in which I was raised.

Now, don’t get me wrong for one minute: I wasn’t going through the program myself – even if women had been accepted into the program, my stamina and level of interest in the outdoors have always been unremarkable. No, I was a, “Staff Girl,” – an unpaid utility player – who cleaned toilets and made beds, and worked in hospitality, and cleaned floors, and threw receptions, and cooked in a vast, metallic kitchen.

The program had a reputation for being Good Husband Country, and I think everybody was hoping that I would come back with a romantic prospect or two, and accordingly I found myself in a very awkward non-relationship with an equally-young fledgling, Ross, who had the potential to be handsome once he grew up, and with whom I corresponded in mostly homeschooler-esque ways: smiles in hallways, watching my feet significantly whenever he came into a room, and—well, little else, aside from a flood of sincere prayers to the Almighty that He would arrange for us a courtship. Thank God it did not happen, because Ross morphed into a real player (a concept foreign to me) and apparently silent, broody types were just what the homeschooled girls of the world needed to make themselves feel special, so I wasn’t as exclusive as I thought.

 

This recipe for White Chili was one of the great comforts of my time in Texas. It isn’t just good because it’s nostalgic – I’ve won chili contests with it on more than one occasion – but it is especially good because it’s nostalgic, and because every time I make it, I remember those days, of being young, and idealistic, and grownup, and not at all grownup. I remember eating this hearty soup when I was nursing my crush on poor son-of-a-gun Ross, and again when I was nursing my broken heart, and someday when my daughter tells me about her first romantical devastation, I might just hand her a bowl of it and ask her to tell me the story.

 

White Chili

Saute in Saucepan:

1 lb chicken breast, cut & cubed;

1 med. onion, chopped;

1 ½ tsp garlic powder

 

Add: 2 (15 oz) cans great northern beans (drained and rinsed);

1 (14.5 oz) can chicken broth;

1 (7 oz) can chopped green chiles;

1 tsp salt;

1 tsp oregano;

1 tsp cumin;

½ tsp black pepper;

¼ tsp cayenne.

 

Cook for 20 minutes, stirring frequently. (Ideally, stop at this stage and refrigerate for 12 hours or more; the flavors really intensify overnight.)

 

Add: 1 c. sour cream; ½ c. heavy cream or half & half. Heat but do not let boil.

Serve immediately.