Venison Tacos

The Saturday before Thanksgiving, I threw my back out. I woke up, brought Rocco to his high chair, tried to do some stretches in the living room to ease some stiffness and, then, just like that, la, la, la, found I couldn’t walk. Tim was still asleep and Rocco was asking for more breakfast, but suddenly it was all I could do to hobble back to the bedroom, wake my husband and, frantically, ask him for help.

november in nashville

“Morning, honey, something’s wrong, seriously wrong, I CAN’T STAND UP!”

I’m a freelancer, which means a big chunk of my work life is spent assessing projects, looking at what’s required and estimating what I can give in response. In other words, knowing how to hold up my capabilities against what’s demanded is a pretty practiced skill, one in which I’m not prone to overestimate. That’s how I knew with confidence, standing in the streaks of morning light, talking to my husband with my back hunched, even saying I could meet him in the kitchen would have been a stretch. The very core of my body was in panic mode. No matter how I moved, it hurt. I looked at Tim, ran through my mental to-do list for the day and moved, slowly, awkwardly, back to bed. The errands, laundry and cooking we’d planned for the morning were out. Tim would have to handle Rocco and make the venison tacos and do all the things I could no longer do for myself.

All that remained for me to do was to slow down and rest. I hated it.

venison for venison tacos
venison tacos

Providentially, this all happened on a Saturday when we had no concrete plans to cancel, just a wide-open day of self-imposed tasks (mine) and making venison tacos (Tim’s) to share with you here. So while I laid on my side with a pillow between my legs, just like I’d done when I was full-term with Rocco and trying to get some sleep each night, I didn’t have anything to do but the hard, real work of releasing the expectations I had held.

Eventually, meat simmering on the stove, we took a nap for two hours while Rocco slept in his room, something that hasn’t happened since the hazy newborn days, when I was too tired for to-do lists and too injured for high expectations. Our friend Terry came over that night and worked on me long and hard enough, bless him, that I was at least able to stand up straight again. Monday and Tuesday, I went to the chiropractor. Wednesday, I was still in some pain. We had to cancel plans, we didn’t go home for Thanksgiving and I spent a solid chunk of days watching Tim bring me food while I wished he didn’t have to.

taco prep station for venison tacos

Also providentially, it so happens that this injury hit me right in the midst of a few days in which I’d been meditating on some verses in Romans 5: “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” I had these words on a little 3″ x 5″ card I’d been looking at every day, so when it turned out I was bed- or sofa-ridden, the phrase “rejoice in our sufferings” was what kept flashing through my mind. Then, my November Bible reading was taking me through the epistles, where, over and over again, the idea of suffering having value and purpose kept coming up*.

The idea of actually rejoicing—being thankful for, glad about, pleased by—an experience you’d describe as suffering, whether that suffering is hurting your back, losing someone you love, not getting the job or being rejected by a friend, is so counterintuitive, so countercultural, so exactly the opposite of what my mind wants to do when I face something I don’t want. To believe that physical pain, emotional pain, rejection, injury, slander, unkindness or even just the weariness of daily life is a good thing, a thing that is producing endurance and character and hope, is not natural and not easy. It’s work. And, to the chagrin of my task-driven personality, it’s a work without a tangible, obvious reward. You don’t get a gold star or a pat on the back. You can’t even see a sparkling tub or organized closet at the end. Faith is about a hidden value, the unfading beauty of the inner disposition of the heart.

tacos at home, made with venison
tim
venison tacos
tim

Tim made the tacos that Saturday, like he’d made them before, like he ended up making them again last night. Each time, I watched him do it. And yesterday as the meat simmered, the house filled with the same savory aroma I remembered from the slow Saturday before, I was buzzing around organizing and cleaning and completing online tasks, back to the pace I’m used to keeping. I definitely hated throwing out my back and being immobilized. I hated having to be dependent and slow. But even I can see it was good for me to throw out my back the week before Thanksgiving because it forced me to stop, to slow down, to remember my days aren’t measured by how much gets done.

Venison Tacos

I loved these tacos. In case any of you out there finds yourself the recipient of a windfall of delicious, steak-like, non-gamey deer meat like we have this hunting season (thank you, Pastor Ray!), I would be happy to come over and eat these with you anytime.

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds venison meat, cubed into chunks
2 cups chicken or beef broth
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup coconut sugar
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons chipotle powder
2 teaspoons oregano
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
3/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon dried thyme or several springs of fresh thyme

Directions:
Warm olive oil in a Dutch oven, add venison and brown it briefly over medium heat. After the meat is browned, add broth, butter, vinegar, coconut sugar and all the spices. Cover and place in a 250F degree oven for 2.5 to 3 hours. Meat will be fork tender when done.

* We have made these several times, and you can very easily tweak this method for the spices you prefer.

* You can even just throw everything together in a crockpot and leave it on all day.

* Our favorite toppings so far for these tacos have been pineapple, goat cheddar, cabbage sliced thin, red onion, and salsa—but have your way with ’em. We also really like the hard-shell organic tacos from Trader Joe’s. Have you tried those? So good.

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About Shanna Mallon

Shanna Mallon is a freelance writer who holds an MA in writing from DePaul University. Her work has been featured in a variety of media outlets, including The Kitchn, Better Homes & Gardens, Taste of Home, Houzz.com, Foodista, Entrepreneur, and Ragan PR. In 2014, she co-authored The Einkorn Cookbook with her husband, Tim. Today, you can find her digging into food topics and celebrating the everyday grace of eating on her blog, Go Eat Your Bread with Joy. Shanna lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with Tim and their two small kids.

12 thoughts on “Venison Tacos”

  1. Shanna – Oh yes, the days of being SLOWED by the Hand of God! Those times can be tough to produce thankfulness and it is often the only way through the slowed pace. And an unexpected byproduct is an increased appreciation for the wonder of a ‘fearfully made’ body that does what is required of it without a thought on the part of its owner.

    A possibility to consider – a Pilates class? Core strength is vital (ask me how I know!) and given the work you do so well requires sitting a lot, Pilates may be helpful in stabilizing your frame. I jokingly call it the one hour a week where I can’t think about anything else expect breathing and holding in my abs; but it is also my faithful gift to myself for my heath and well-being. This from one who is very late to the party on self-care and realizing this temple needs that care.

    • You know, that is pretty much exactly what the chiropractor told me and one of the biggest lessons this experience taught me: I need to work my core! I’m a believer now, and I am doing it, promise! Thanks for the tip about pilates, too!

  2. Thank you, Shanna, for sharing this!! I, too, have found myself in a week of sickness where I have been forced to rest. . . no house cleaning. . . No Christmasing. ..just resting. Your words were an encouragement and rebuke to my too often over busy soul. Funny. . .we made it for church today, and our pastor preached on the same thing. Apparently I REALLY need this right now ???

    • Aw, bummer, Amy, I so understand! And man, the same thing kept happening to me recently about suffering–in podcasts, sermons, reading, random books, conversations–and I had the same response: okay, I must need this! ha! It’s so kind of the Lord to do that!

  3. “I didn’t have anything to do but the hard, real work of releasing the expectations I had held.” This is such a battle for me. I often meditate on the verse in Matthew where Jesus himself tells me his burden is light and he is the prince of peace and he gives rest. I use it to remind myself THIS is Jesus. Jesus isn’t the “should do this or feel bad about it” savior, he’s the savior who invites me to throw myself at his feet and just learn and worship. But this cycle of expectation of what should be done and how vs what the Lord might have planned for me happens literally every 15-20 minutes. So I’m learning. (And hoping I learn it well during this next season of infant care.)

    Also: I’m so glad your back is feeling better. That’s so debilitating.

    Also also: I LOVE venison. These tacos sound amazing!

  4. I love that verse in Matthew and it keeps coming up for me lately! Hope you guys are doing well; we think of you often.

  5. i’m so sorry that you threw your back out. i know exactly what it feels like to have to slow down, back away from the things that normally keep us busy because we are not capable. last year when i broke my hand, the thought of not doing anything with it gave me angst right away, but i also discovered strength inside myself to let my body rest, and heal. give it what it deserved and needed. i hope you keep mending…. and i’m grateful Tim is there to help you.

    thank you so much for sharing shanna. your words always bring me deeper thoughts, and with this, a change in the way i think… gratitude for the struggles i am facing right now. always a pleasure to read, always a reason for me to come here. xo

  6. ‘Faith is about a hidden value, the unfading beauty of the inner disposition of the heart.’
    Beautiful.
    My back went out when I was 6 months pregnant with Elise. I was so humbled by all the friends who came over to take care of my two year old and make food and clean my house because I could do nothing. It was such a picture of loving in deed and truth. I’m sorry you had to deal with that , but your take on the situation was sweet to read. And kudos to Tim on the tacos – they look delicious.

    • Oh, man. When you were 6 months pregnant and had a toddler!? I’m so glad your friends helped you in such tangible ways, what a sweet gift!

  7. These are so delicious! Super simple to make. I’ve made these twice now. They are great for snacking…but don’t last long! Thanks for sharing.

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