Meatless Monday – Bean & Sausage Stew

Fall consistently fills my plate with too much busy-ness. Transitioning kids and family back to school. Swamped at work as new programs kick off and we begin (never soon enough) holiday preparations. This year: add three weeks of Sick Kid, wading through piling-up school/homework and negotiations with teachers and administrators; countless hours of specialist appointments; and four hours/week of physical therapy for me as I deal with an ancient knee injury.

Each day has been a struggle to do necessary tasks, feeling like a schmuck mom unable to snuggle and comfort my boy as I would like. I have had to let other things slide. Cooking and writing among them.

Toward the end of No-School Week 3, I whisked Tween away for a spontaneous after-school visit to his teachers. I listened in as his Language Arts teacher talked with him about how to expand the rough draft of his personal narrative.

“Bit by bit,” she said. “Focus on the small actions, each little bit, adding new little bits to help your reader see the picture.”

“Bit by bit” feels like good life advice. One of my favorites, Glennon Doyle, wrote that she could not take one day at a time, that a day feels too overwhelming. She just needs to take one more step in the right direction, doing “the next right thing.” Step by step. Minute by minute. Bit by bit.

Bit by bit can also be hard. I want to see the Big Picture, to plan ahead, to do All the Things and do them All Well. In this season, that’s just not gonna happen.

So bit by bit. Two weeks ago I wrote a quick draft of this piece you’re reading. I didn’t know if it would ever come out to play, but it was at least worth the few minutes I could give it. A week ago I found time to be a little more creative in the kitchen. It tasted good, so I took a picture. Today I’m doing this bit, putting them together.

I don’t remember where the recipe came from. It might have been intended originally for carnivores, but I only use Field Roast Veggie Sausage. And it was originally titled “Chorizo & White Bean Stew” but Field Roast’s chorizo sausage, while delicious, is necessarily spicy. I have made this before with one chorizo link and two Italian sausage, but my kids won’t eat as much if it’s too spicy, so this time I used three Italian sausage and they devoured it.

The best part, well, other than the yummy taste? It comes together fast, important in this full-plate season.stew

Bean & Sausage Stew
Serves 4

3 links veggie chorizo or Italian sausage
1 large onion, thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tsp ground thyme
2 15-ounce cans cannellini (white kidney) beans, rinsed
2 c veggie broth
salt/pepper to taste
5 ounces baby spinach, lightly chopped (about 10 cups)
Smoked paprika (optional)

Cut sausage lengthwise and dice. In a large pan, cook sausage, turning occasionally, until browned and cooked through. Transfer sausage to a plate.

Reduce heat to medium. Add onion, garlic, and thyme; no need for oil as the sausage will have released some during cooking. Cook until onion is softened, stirring occasionally, 5-8 minutes; if necessary, add broth 1 Tbsp at a time to keep onion from sticking. Add beans and remaining broth and cook, crushing a few beans with the back of a spoon to thicken sauce, until slightly thickened, 8-10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Fold sausage into stew. Add spinach by handfuls and cook just until wilted, about 2 minutes.

Divide stew among bowls and sprinkle with paprika, if desired. Serve with brown rice or whole wheat pasta.

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“There are such nice people in this world…”

…says Tween, as the lady burying the Target conveyor belt with items notices our simple three items – a pack of lip balm and two shower scrubbies – and invites us to jump ahead of her in line.

Of course he’s right. There are such nice people in this world.

This week we met fantastic doctors and nurses, office staff and techs, who extended extra care to a nervous kid and his on-edge parents. Friends have shown up with cards, hugs, ice cream, meals, more hugs, and lots and lots of prayers. Kiddo is back to school and we are inches away from solid steps forward. We feel overflowing gratitude for the loving kindnesses that have come our way.

As I reflect on human kindness, on the miracles God does through us connecting us to one another, I want to share with you an overdue story of incredible kindness:

In our small town, a Small Wonder fights a big Cancer in a little body. Her sweet Mama Bear calls her a “Gladiator in a tutu.” As this tiny Gladiator began to lose her hair this summer, Mama Bear sent out a Facebook plea for folks with leads on kid-appropriate head scarves.

We were supposed to be on vacation, yet we didn’t go on vacation. We saw the post. I prayed. Guy went into action.

Guy contacted a family who had participated in our church’s Mexico house building trip. This particular family has a fashion company, TART Collections. Gorgeous, beautifully designed, high-end women’s fashion worn by celebrities such as Heidi Klum, Jessica Alba, Katy Perry, Selena Gomez, and Sofia Vergara. They generously replied “Of course!” they could pull together some head scarves.

They called Guy back: could he arrange for Gladiator & Co to come to production headquarters? Why, yes, he could. Perhaps God kept us in town for this very reason.

Guy arrived at TART a few minutes before Gladiator & Co, who arrived to a rousing welcome from the whole company. A prominent “Welcome” sign hung in the lobby above a wrapped pink box, atop which sat a stuffed pink monkey. She unwrapped the box to discover a bedazzled pink backpack chock full of head scarves and little girl art supplies. She got a company tour, and got to touch and “ooh” and “aah” at the luxurious fabrics.fabric

When the tour stopped at the photography studio, Gladiator was presented with a custom-made Just-for-Her TART dress: they would do a fashion shoot with her. As she emerged from the dressing room, Gladiator appeared uncharacteristically timid. TART employees lined the long back wall, waiting to cheer her on. They encouraged her: “C’mon! Strike a pose!”

Long, dramatic pause, as Gladiator looked from one end of the room to the other… Suddenly, she bounced into pose, and the whole company erupted in applause! While she twirled and twisted for the camera, folks were off in another room, hurriedly making skirts from fabric Gladiator had admired.Gladiator

Gladiator got a turn behind the camera and found herself in a quandary: might she someday want to be a high fashion model or a photographer? The world filled with new and glorious opportunities! And all this so soon after her sixth birthday, in a week when she was both losing her hair and being made to feel less than by peers unable to understand this new reality. God knew His little beloved needed a boost.photog fin

Balloons, cupcakes, and a party ensued, and before it all concluded, Mama Bear received a TART catalog and pad of sticky notes. “Let’s get to YES! No is not an option.”

Of course Mama Bear wanted all eyes on her Gladiator, on The Fight, and not on the support team. TART folks knew, though, that a loved-on support team makes for a stronger Gladiator.

And so Mama Bear adopted Gladiator’s timid pose: “Well, let’s see, hmm, ooh beautiful, well, maybe I could choose… Oooh, what about That One?” Choosing one made choosing more easier.

The extravagant acts of kindness continued as TART offered Guy the Secret Code for Guy’s Wife (Me, an uninvolved and undeserving bystander) to also order “Not just one, but what she wants” items online. Seriously? When have I ever enjoyed a high fashion shopping spree? (Never!). I must have looked at each item at least six times before I made any selections, overwhelmed and overjoyed at the opportunity.

Mama Bear wrote:

“Oh, Cancer, how I hope you were there watching! The smile on her face lit up the room. For a few precious hours, she was not a kid with cancer…she was a model. A photographer. The birthday girl. The complete center of attention. And it was all made possible by the generous spirit and love of perfect strangers with huge hearts. The joy in that room was SO MUCH BIGGER THAN YOU, CANCER. My family cannot thank those incredble people at TART Collections enough for making magic happen in that studio yesterday.

“It seems like every time you succeed in getting us down, God sees and does something amazing, something real, something tangible, to turn it around and lift us all up. You can take her hair, you can take her immune system, you can take her kidney, but you cannot and will not take her spirit. She gets more beautiful each and every day. Her body may be getting weaker, but her spirit is getting stronger. You. Are. Losing. You picked on the wrong kid.”

Friends, doesn’t this just light you up? Doesn’t it change your perspective on human kindness, on what One can do for Another? Every time I have the privilege to share this story, which is way more than every time I have the privilege to wear my new and beautiful Tart clothing, I watch as faces change, attitudes change, and people see how they can do more, be more, love their neighbors more.

“Extravagant” is one of my favorite words. By definition it means: “exceeding what is reasonable or appropriate.” May I never be accused of extravagant spending in wasteful ways. May I always attempt extravagant love!

Meatless Monday – Minestrone Soup (again)

Tween has been out of school for three weeks now, struggling through the longest abdominal migraine cycle he’s ever experienced. To my Working Mom outfit, I’ve now added a heavy Homeschooling Hat. My shoulders hurt from the extra weight.

One bright spot in this week: I made a big pot of minestrone soup, comfort food for the whole family. Eating next-day leftovers, Tween declared: “This soup is just SO good!” And so I am reblogging the recipe, because others might also need a healthy dose of comfort. Enjoy!

Miracles in the Mundane

Fall plays hide and seek with the Bay Area. Mostly, Fall hides. Oh, we catch glimpses of her as the mornings flash an early chill, a playful breeze kicks up, and the days gradually shorten. If we’re lucky, we might wake up to damp ground, evidence of a light rain or at least a heavy dew.

But afternoons can be hot and blue as summer. The calendar announces that Halloween is right around the corner, and we chuckle and shake our heads as child-like Fall has already donned her costume: Summer!

Last night while I brushed my teeth, Guy decided it really had to be time by now to switch to our warmer duvet. Too warm, neither of us slept well.

Even while the farmers’ market continues to sell flavor-bursting vine-ripened tomatoes, we residents of this mild-seasoned state begin to long for comfort food – soups and stews and roasts (all…

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