Posted in Bread/Muffins, Gluten-Free/Dairy-Free Life, Recipes

This Bread is Bananas, B – A – N – A – N – A – S

If you have been living in the U.S. over the past 2 weeks, chances are you have also been living under one of the now-famous heat domes. (Seriously, what are all these new weather phenomena? Polar vortex, now heat dome…what is next?) This kind of oppressive heat and humidity poses a variety of challenges, especially in a city where many public places lack air conditioning (Boston is too cold most of the year to warrant the expense I suppose). There’s the need to shower multiple times a day, the struggle to find enough outlets to power multiple fans, the limitless need to refill the Brita filter and the ice trays, and of course the hastened ripening (and often spoiling) of your otherwise delicious, expensive perishable food items. 

Summertime = quickly ripening bananas

We have a few staple items you can always find in our kitchen; one of those is bananas. As you probably know firsthand, the 90+ degree temperatures combined with excessive humidity transforms the kitchen into a bit of a banana-ripening factory. One solution is to freeze the bananas and use them for later smoothies (or chocolate-dipped treats). The other is to use these overripe bananas as the main ingredient in a beyond delicious loaf of banana bread (or batch of muffins, whatever your preference!) Note: I understand that in the heat the last thing you might want to do is turn on your oven. In that case, you can make the batter before the bananas breathe their last, and set the batter aside in the fridge until the heat dome relocates.

Now banana bread is something I always enjoyed but rarely ever made for myself. I never whipped up a batch that I truly loved so it was something I essentially abandoned…and I even threw away many a banana in my day (if only I could turn back time, I’d take them all back!). Then this past winter, I finally came into possession of the best banana bread recipe I’ve ever tasted. It all came from the perfect storm of circumstance. As many of you know, the Physicist spent 6 months living in France last year. When he returned to the country in January, he needed a temporary home. He had moved out of his grad school house before leaving the country, and since we both firmly believe that marriage comes before living together, not the other way around, he was without a place to call home for the 2-month span between repatriation and married life. As with all things, we had faith that things would work out and he wouldn’t be a homeless nomad for 2 months…and sure enough God certainly did provide: in the form of kindhearted woman from the Physicist’s church who knew him well from daily mass. She opened her home and gave him a temporary address…among other things. They shared weekly dinners, occasional breakfasts, and many conversations in French (she is French Canadian…perfect for someone who had just returned from France and was eager to keep up with his language skills!). When news came of an impending blizzard, she opened her door even wider to let me take up residence in her other guest room for a few days, rather than riding out the storm by myself up in Baltimore. As the storm raged, we shared shoveling duty, hot cups of tea, and delicious loaves of fresh banana bread (well, that was just for the two of them). She and the physicist had developed a symbiotic relationship: he would mash scores of overripe bananas and she would whip up loaf after loaf of the delectable treat. After we dug our way out from under 3 feet of snow and the roads cleared enough for cars to pass, I packed up my car to head back to Baltimore…but not before this kindhearted, gentle woman handed me a photocopy of the coveted recipe which had been passed on to her by a friend. I was delighted to see that almost every ingredient was Katie-safe, and that with just minor changes, I could in fact make my own version of this most delicious treat.
The aftermath: yes, those are cars behind him.
The simple ingredients…
…plus the mashed bananas of course.
And the walnuts (somehow I forgot to take a picture of those!)
In the months since, I have made more than a dozen loaves…and every time I do, I think back to those days of riding out the storm with a Canadian native who laughed at the way the D.C. newscasters react to a little bit of winter weather. And even the Physicist agrees that this is one recipe that really is indistinguishable from its allergen-filled version. For us, it’s a win-win-win situation. We have a way use our otherwise heat-spoiled bananas, we have a treat we both love and actually feel comfortable making for non-food-sensitive friends without an “it’s good for being gluten/dairy-free” warning, and we get to reminisce about those weeks leading up to our wedding when we found the greatest abundance of blessings amidst the challenge of living with 50 miles of interstate 95 between us (of course, that’s a whole lot better than thousands of miles of Atlantic Ocean!) Take my advice: head to the grocery store and buy some bananas. Wait until they’re just the right shade of brown then enjoy a taste of warm Katie-safe banana deliciousness. According to the Physicist, it is best served with a smear of peanut butter, a pour of maple syrup…and of course, a heaping spoonful of nostalgia πŸ™‚ 
See below for recipe!
“Final Days as a Burke” Banana Bread
*inspired by, and adapted from, the bread recipe of the kind-hearted church 
lady who welcomed us into her home during my final weeks as a Burke:-)* 

 3 cups Pamela’s gluten-free flour blend
3/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
2 cups sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 cup chopped walnuts
3 Tbsp. flaxseed + 9 Tbsp. water (as replacement for 3 eggs)
1 cup sunflower oil
2 cups mashed ripe bananas
1 tsp. vanilla extract

1. Combine the flour,salt, baking soda, sugar and cinnamon in a large bowl.
2. Combine the remaining ingredients in a smaller bowl and add to the flour mixture.
3. Pour into 2 greased loaf pans and bake at 350 for about 1 hour. (give or take depending on your oven)
4. ENJOY!!

Posted in Gluten-Free/Dairy-Free Life, Meals/Sides, Newly-Diagnosed, Product Recommendations, Teacher Life

If I Could Save Time in a Bottle…

Yes, this beautiful song was written to address your true love; you know, “the one you want to go through time with”.  However, I think if I were to compose a love song right now, it might be directed toward that ever-elusive companion of time. There just doesn’t seem to be enough it. I hung this quote on my mirror to remind myself to stop complaining about my “lack” of time, and I’ve taken to scheduling out my days quite extensively in my planner. 


Yet, despite my most faithful and fervent efforts, time just slips through my grasp. I seem to wake up each morning with a yet-unfinished to-do list from the day before, and an overwhelming desire to roll back over and steal just a few more minutes of precious sleep. Of course I think this is the case for most people in our world these days, and I know it’s the case for the teachers of America right now. These dwindling days before Thanksgiving are quite possibly the longest of the year. 5 more days…but who’s counting??

However, I will say that I have bad news for those of you with food issues. As much as it pains me to say it, your pesky food allergy/intolerance is bound to steal a little bit more of your precious time…at least for a little while. As I stood in my kitchen at 5:15 AM today, fully dressed and carefully tying my apron to protect my school clothes,  I couldn’t help but think back nostalgically on the days when just stopping for a lunch I could bring to school was an option; OR even better, I imagined being able to breeze through the lunch line with my pre-paid lunch card teachers are lucky enough to have at my school this year and just be able to fill my plate with delicious items. Unfortunately, the reality of my world, and many of yours too, is that there is no such thing as eating on the run. Hence, this morning I stood in the darkness of the pre-6 AM morning with my George Foreman, some chicken breasts, and a package of ground turkey. My late-night tutoring/teaching math to construction men/attempting to maintain some semblance of a social life schedule leaves me with little time for meal preparation. Hence, the early morning hours and I have become well-acquainted. 

And this is only one of my calendars…

As I grilled my chicken for the week’s lunches and browned my turkey for a crockpot chili and a baked ziti, it hit me: these are the quick, time-saving recipes I’ve adopted and I would have LOVED someone to recommend back in my cabinet-emptying days when I truly believed that all (food-related anyway) was lost. I think our gut instinct (get it, gut? Food issues?? I may be slightly delirious at this point!) is to make life complicated for ourselves. No, we can no longer grab one of those shiny pre-made meal-in-a-box options at the store. But we can help ourselves by whipping up one of these not-too-time-consuming meals which will sustain us for days and days. So here are some tried and true recipes, directly from my kitchen to yours.

All you need is a package of ground turkey, some brown rice pasta, diced tomatoes, and then all the spices you already have waiting for you in the cabinet!

1. BAKED ZITI IS BACK!: That’s right, this delicious childhood treat is back in your life. And no, I’m not delusional…I found cheese! That I can eat!! Take a moment, I know, catch your breath. And we’re back πŸ™‚ I browned my ground turkey (or sometimes I use beef, depends on the food budget for the week!) 

1/2 package of ground beef/turkey
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can tomato paste
garlic powder
whatever other Italian spices strike your fancy

1. Brown the ground beef. Add in onion and garlic, if desired.
2. Add diced tomatoes, tomato paste mixed with half a can of water.
3. Add your spices to taste.
4. Meanwhile, you should be cooking your brown rice pasta (or whatever is you-safe)
5. In a glass dish, combine the stovetop mixture with the cooked pasta.
6. Mix together, add some magical Daiya cheese, and bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes!

2. “But I Still Have Ground Turkey And a Cabinet Full of Beans” Chili!: As most of you know, I am someone who likes plans, structure, and order. I like recipes and I precisely measure each ingredient. And yet, with this one, even I just let the creativity (or necessity based on what I had in my cabinets) take over. So here is what I used, but feel free to go rogue. If I can do it, I have no doubt you can too!

ground turkey, browned
can of diced tomatoes
can of pinto beans
can of garbanzo beans
chopped red peppers and onion
minced garlic
water or you-safe broth
whatever spices strike your fancy!

Put all the ingredients in your crockpot and heat on low for 6-8 hours (I left mine for 11 and it was fine!) and be prepared to come home to a delicious, warm, time-saving meal!

3. “It’s OK to Take a Shortcut” Holiday Treats: I learned earlier this week that the infamous Starbucks red cups are back. It means the start of a nostalgic few weeks where I dream of my December mornings sipping on gingerbread lattes and peppermint mochas. Now, as I mentioned above, my mornings are jam-packed already. SO yesterday when I came across this delicious peppermint mocha coconut milk at MOM’s Organic Market, I allowed myself to splurge. Now when I brew my coffee in the morning and I find myself craving the peppermint mochas of Decembers past, I’ll just heat up some of this, mix it in with my coffee, and I’ll be on my way with December deliciousness in a cup! The shortcuts available to us are rare, so when you find one…take advantage!

Thank you, SoDelicious!

Now I know those are only three suggestions, but at least it’s a start! The truth of the matter is that among the many challenges you’ll face in adjusting to your food issues,  I can guarantee one of the more frustrating aspects will be time management. You have a wedding to attend this weekend? Well, yes you need a dress and time to shower, fix your hair, apply makeup, etc. but you also need to save time to cook a meal and consume said meal before you leave for the ceremony…unless you’re packing it in Pyrex. You have a sports tournament or Baltimore Youth Catholic Conference (yay!) to attend this weekend?? You need to leave for school on Friday with your bags packed, a sleeping bag, and of course your 3-day supply of safe foods…which you need to find time to prepare between now and Friday morning. There are very few off days and there will almost never be a day where you get to take home leftovers from a work function or a friend’s BBQ which sustain you for a few days. Those days, my friends, are over. 

I know, I know, you’re thinking, “OK, Katie. Time for the positive pick-me-up message here!” And you’re right, it is. Yes, the time management is a challenge. Yes, some of your time is added to the list of casualties brought on by your new reality. However, think about the time you’re buying by taking care of yourself with the proper foods. Take me for example. Yes, I’m up before the sun some days when I would much rather be fast asleep under the warm covers for another 45 minutes or so. However, the food I’m preparing is safe and thus enables me to live every other minute of the day to the fullest. Could I sleep in for those 45 minutes and take my chances in the school cafeteria? Sure, I could. But I can guarantee it would result in hours spent on the couch, tired and listless as my poor body tries to sort out what is worth attacking and what isn’t.

As the quote I mentioned above reminds us, each of us is given the same amount of time. We each get 1,440 minutes in a day. I don’t know about you, but I want to be living each and every one of them to the fullest. So if that means sacrificing some of those minutes in order to make safe foods which will make the other minutes more worthwhile, that’s an opportunity cost I’m willing to pay.  As Jim Croce says, “There never seems to be enough time to do the things you want to do once you find them”. And there won’t be. So be thoughtful in choosing those things; spend your time on the ones that matter most to you…even if it means befriending a darkened kitchen before the sun is even awake. You may even find what you want to go through time with there in the quiet early morning hours. I know I did…it’s called coffee πŸ™‚


Posted in Expos, Gluten-Free/Dairy-Free Life, Product Recommendations

For the First Time in Forever

No, I promise I’m not just another Frozen-obsessed enthusiast (though really that is partially true) but rather those are the words I heard uttered by a young visitor to the Gluten & Allergen-Free Expo last weekend. She was surveying tables filled with samples from “Enjoy Life” and she exclaimed “I can eat anything I want here and I don’t have to ask if it’s safe first….for, like the first time in forever!” I couldn’t agree more with that young girl’s enthusiastic assessment of last weekend’s Expo. For those of you have been reading my blog for awhile now, you remember that last year I described my weekend at the Allergen Expo as a fairy tale. Well, if I thought that was a fairy tale, I had no idea what the future had in store for me. I keep saying to my friends (only semi-jokingly) that I’m living my own Baltimore fairy tale at the moment…

I mean, my office is in a castle. I teach in a carriage house. I spend my days teaching teenage girls about God’s grace at work in their lives…and get paid to do it! I just spent a weekend with the service group leaders from my school having amazing conversations with inspirational young women who I have no doubt will set the world on fire in their own unique ways. I get to plan retreats and service experiences to bring a little light into the darker corners of Baltimore and expose my students to the idea that a world so vastly different from their own exists just a short 15-minute drive away. I’m celebrating the one-year anniversary of moving into my own apartment…and NOT having to move again for the first time in several years. And then last weekend, I got to walk around the Expo I described as a fairy tale a year ago as an official blogger. Seriously, I think I’ve uttered the phrase, “My life is so surreal right now” more in the past month than in all my 28 years combined.

This is where I work.
My office window is in the turret on the right…not the window that’s lit up in this one, but the one below it.
That sentence doesn’t even seem real…
(Photo courtesy of Chris Ferenzi Photography)
This is the view from my classroom door.
This is what happens when you teach in a Carriage House…

No, there simply aren’t words to explain the joy which filled that Convention Center last weekend and to do it justice. However, it’s my job to try and do just that…so I’ll see what I can do.

Now, many of you know that I deemed 2014 the Year of Love, and thus have been offering a variety of Love Shout-Outs since January. In an effort to keep with this theme, but not confuse anyone who may be counting, I decided to offer some “Sprinkles of Love” to some of the events, people, and products I found at last weekend’s Expo. I will write longer about some in the future…but for now, here is my attempt to share the joy of Secaucus with the masses.

Sprinkles of Love to:

1) The GFAF Expo team: Registration could not have been more seamless this year. Everything was prompt and everyone greeted you with a smile. I know it’s not easy to put on a production like this every few weeks…but team, you certainly made it look like a walk in the park!

2) DF Mavens Ice Cream: I could not be more sincere when I say this was the best ice cream I’ve ever had. Dairy-filled or not. They had clearly labeled soy-based, almond-based, and coconut-based options. Though I couldn’t try the soy-based option, I sampled all the others…and let me tell you, it was simply divine. So much so that I sent the photo below of my first cup to the Philanthropic Physicist with the message “I think I might actually be in heaven…” They’re based in New York City but have a great website to search for their products in local stores AND they even have A SHIP DIRECT TO YOUR HOME OPTION!!! (*cough, cough* My birthday is coming up in less than 4 months :-), and to top it all off, a portion of all their profits go to a non-profit organization called Mercy for Animals. Yes, I could not be more impressed with DFMavens. So, love sprinkles to you!

My little piece of heaven…

3) Mo’Pweeze Bakery: The name seems odd, right? Well, the reasoning behind it is downright adorable. This family-based bakery was inspired by a mom’s desire to provide delicious treats for her allergy-ridden family, especially her son who now has 19 different food allergies! The name comes from his small-child attempt to say “More, please!” after tasting his first allergy-free treat. Insert heart melt here. Aside from the precious story behind this company, their treats could not be more delicious! I tasted both the banana walnut cupcake and chocolate raspberry before purchasing some to take home…and coercing my mom and sister into joining me in the Buy 3, Get 1 Free deal they had that weekend. Last but not least, these men and women could not have been more pleasant, upbeat, and enthusiastic about what they do! Plus, they seemed almost as excited as me to be part of the Expo. Almost πŸ™‚ And the best news for you?? They deliver nationwide. Take my word for it: Check out Mo’Pweeze Bakery!

4) PASCHA Chocolate: I honestly can’t even type this without getting absurdly excited. I turned the corner at the fair to see a display of chocolate bars. Assuming this would be something I couldn’t enjoy, I kept walking…until I saw the sign that read “free from peanuts, nuts, dairy, soy, eggs, wheat & gluten”. I stopped. I read it again. I tried to prepare myself for the disappointment I was sure would be inevitable when I asked about corn. The only ingredients? Cocoa, sugar, cocoa butter, and corn-free vanilla. Be still my chocolate-loving heart. You better believe I sampled every variety…at least once. AND to top it all off, there was a coffee-flavored bar. That’s right. Someone thought to put coffee grinds in a Katie-safe chocolate bar. I still don’t have words. Other than to say I purchased several bars before I left that weekend…including the very last coffee one they had with them. Oh, and I should also mention they deliver. And it’s all certified fair trade. I still don’t believe it either but I know where I’m buying chocolate from now on:

5) Namaste Foods: This is a brand I was already very familiar with. My mom makes pancakes for me with this mix when I go home to the Poconos, my sister made cookies using their mix for our family BBQ in August, and I have their muffin mix in my cabinet as we speak (well, as I type and you read I suppose). They were sampling their Blondie Mix at the fair…and it was as amazing as I expected. Look for their products…you won’t be sorry! 

6) Gluten Free Gloriously Bakery: If you are having any kind of special event in the greater New Jersey area and need a gluten-free cake, these are your people. I couldn’t sample most of the items because of the egg and dairy ingredients but everyone I saw walked away with a smile on their face. And I stood in awe at their gorgeous cake display for a good 10 minutes. I also learned that it’s all the rage these days for brides to have a fake fancy cake on display at their wedding and then serve a cheaper one in the kitchen. I just don’t get what has happened to weddings in our society…but that’s another thought for another time.

7) Wink Frozen Desserts: Cake batter, cinnamon roll, cafe latte; these were just a few of the flavors I sampled at Wink Frozen desserts display. Need I say more?? Well, I should add it’s made from pea protein and was initially planned to be a low-calorie frozen dessert (100 calories for a whole pint…good-bye tear-filled life chats over Ben and Jerry’s, ladies!) but has the amazing side benefit of being vegan and gluten-free! They aren’t in many stores yet but they’re coming to the Whole Foods New Jersey market this fall. Keep an eye out for them!

8) Some amazing authors: I won’t say much about these lovely ladies yet because I will be writing reviews of their new books later, but let me just say how inspiring they are to everyone at the fair. I just wanted to come home and bake up a storm. Also, Elena and her amazing illustrator, Eileen, are coming out with an allergy coloring book soon and it is AMAZING!!! I can’t wait for it to be published…I only wish I had thought of it myself! πŸ™‚
I had a great time getting to know these lovely ladies!
I’ve only read a few pages of Amy’s book and I’m already inspired!

9) Gluten-Free Love: It was a week before the expo when I got an email. As if I wasn’t excited enough already, there was more.  A man named George had decided to propose to his gluten free girlfriend at one of her favorite events: you guessed it, the Gluten Free, Allergen-free Expo!!! We as bloggers were asked to help out by attending the demonstration where the big event would go down, and take all kinds of pictures and videos. In preparation, we had a picture of the happy couple so we’d know who to look for.  Well, all I have to say is that I’ve never been so nervous for someone I didn’t know in all my life. (To any potential spouses of my close friends, I’ve learned from this whole experience that I don’t want to know when you’re planning to propose…not because I’m afraid I’ll tell her, but moreso because it’s just too much for my sappy, romantic heart to handle. I actually prayed for this girl every night that week leading up to the Expo, and I hadn’t even met her yet!) I spent the whole demonstration watching this poor guy and then looking away so I wasn’t the creeper staring at a couple I didn’t even know.  And of course I did manage to learn quite a few tips from the awesome presenter, Amy. The proposal went off without a hitch, Martina said yes, a gluten-free cupcake appeared, and there were more tears than you can possibly imagine for perfect strangers (not my own…I may be a hopeless romantic, but I’m still not much of a crier). In a word: precious.

I think I watched these 2 during the presentation more than the cooking tips…
So much joy! And a gluten-free cupcake!
(She has Celiac…he does not; Love can conquer all!)

All in all, the Gluten And Allergen-Free Expo was one of the best experiences I’ve had in a long time. I highly recommend the weekend to anyone who has food allergies, or even if you don’t! They have fairs all over the country so check out their website…and if you want to start planning ahead, I’m sure I’ll be back in Secaucus next September. So save the date now to share in the fairy tale πŸ™‚

My loot from the weekend!
Family Fun at the Expo! You know you want to join us next year!!

Posted in Expos, Gluten-Free/Dairy-Free Life

Meet Me in Secaucus, Meet Me at the Fair!

There’s something most of you probably don’t know about me/may find hard to believe but it’s true: once upon a time I was an actress. I know, I know, seems crazy right? I mean this is the self-proclaimed painfully shy child whose first role (as an angel in the church Christmas play) ended with my 4-year-old self tearfully running off the altar before the Wise Men even arrived. This is the girl who nearly got sick the morning of high school graduation because the thought of standing up to address an auditorium full of people was near-paralyzing. Yes, I think my family was just as shocked when my 7th grade self came home from school proclaiming that I would be auditioning for the school play. Yet I did and I loved it and for the next 6 years, without fail, I was up on that stage performing in every school production we had. I think something about leaving Katie behind and taking on a new persona for a few hours was what brought me profound joy/enabled me to overcome my otherwise crippling stage fright. (Which by the way has since dissipated, mostly due to the Public Speaking course I took sophomore year at Villanova…thank you, Professor McCloskey)

My favorite stage experience to date remains our production of Meet Me in St. Louis from my Junior year of high school. If you’ve never seen it, please do yourself a favor: rent it. It’s the kind of simplistic, joyful, family-centered musical where the worst tragedy is the thought of having to leave St. Louis before the 1904 World’s Fair arrives/the boy next door notices you’re alive and yet everything is all wrapped up in a joyful family hug by the time the 2 hour show is over. Plus, Judy Garland is the star. What more do you need?? I played the role of Anna Smith, the mom of the family, who spent the whole show trying to guide her 4 daughters and 1 son through adventures in love, college, and of course some mischief while also keeping the peace when Mr. Smith insists on moving the family to New York City which means leaving before the arrival of the World’s Fair. I won’t ruin the ending but let’s just say, this production took place almost 100 years after the real World’s Fair and I can only imagine the thrill and joy of the real thing if we found that much excitement simply pretending to be there.

The Smith Family: sometimes we’re sad…
…and then we go to the Fair and all is right with the world again πŸ™‚

So what does all this have to do with food allergies/intolerances?? Well, nothing and everything. It may not be the 1904 World’s Fair BUT if you have food allergies, this might just be the next best thing: The Gluten & Allergen Free Expo! You can imagine the wonders which await you at this fantastic event…but I can promise you that reality will far surpass even your wildest expectations. Just as the fair attendees personified by the Smith family had no idea what they were excited for, you cannot appreciate the true joy of the Gluten/Allergen Free Expo until you experience it for yourself. However, since I’ve been there and lived it, here is my attempt at giving you just a glimpse:

What made the World’s Fair so Spectacular??
  • Ice cream cones, Dr. Pepper, iced tea, and cotton candy were introduced on the world’s stage. (Note, apparently all these things existed prior to their debut in St. Louis…but not many people knew about them; remember no social media back then!)
  • The iconic ferris wheel which has become synonymous with the event…even though it was destroyed over a century ago
  • A similarly iconic song was popularized which expresses the excitement of the fairgoers even a century later (I would highly recommend listening to this song as you continue reading…11 years after the fact, I still remember every word: it’s that catchy πŸ™‚
  • John Philip Sousa led the band/parade which entertained the crowd for miles.
So what makes the GFAF Expo so Spectacular??
  • You will discover “you-safe” foods that you thought were off the table forever. Gluten-free ice cream cones, dairy-free/soy-free ice cream, even soft pretzels were all things I could eat there!! SOFT PRETZELS?!?! I’m getting excited already!
  • There are “you-safe” samples EVERYWHERE. And because everyone there is well-versed in allergies, there are clearly visible signs at every display indicating which allergens are contained in a certain product. That’s right, a full day of living like the rest of you non-food-allergenic friends. That is actually priceless.
  • You will make connections you never dreamed possible. Imagine this scene: a jolly man in a chef hat approaches you with a hot steak sandwich. ON BREAD. He tells you it’s gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, and corn-free bread and it just came out of the oven they brought with them. You hesitantly take a bite: it is AMAZING. And then you realize he is from Texas and thus your dreams of delicious bread in your life again are dashed. Not so fast! He hands you a business card, he tells you he’ll ship anywhere in the continental US, and then you hug him (after asking permission first of course) because your frown has been turned upside down. And yes, that is a true story.
  • Coupons. Need I say more? You will leave with so many coupons. Tickets to the Expo are $20 but I guarantee you will more than break even with the amount of coupons you’ll take with you. And that doesn’t even factor in the absurd amount of samples you’ll have consumed before you walk out the door. Not to mention the intangible asset of feeling like you were “normal” again for a day. Priceless.
  • Informational presentations, meet-the-author tables, cookbooks, I could go on and on and on. And trust me, I will if you ask me about it.
Let’s just say words cannot adequately convey the wonders which await you at the GFAF Expo. Plus, if you come to the one in Secaucus…you get to meet me!!! (Or just hang out with me if you already know me.) I mean, I’m no John Philip Sousa, but I’ll see what I can do to match his caliber of entertainment πŸ™‚
So what do you need to do to make sure you don’t miss out on this landmark opportunity?? A few things:
  1. Watch this video. Then let the excitement start to build πŸ™‚
  2. Go to this website: Check out the various dates and locations. Some of them have already happened this year…but that just means you can start planning for 2015!
  3. If you find an expo you can attend, buy your tickets now. (But if you’re going to Secaucus, skip to #4 first) I mean that, last year when I arrived there were people who had to wait outside because the number of tickets for a given timeslot were already gone. Everyone did get in eventually…but trust me, this is the highlight of someone’s year and they will be waiting in line an hour before it opens to get a good spot/first dibs on all the samples.
  4. If you decide to come to Secaucus, send me an email at Include your name, email address, and one thing you’d love for me to write about (food-related or otherwise) and you will be entered to win 1 of 4 free tickets to the Expo!! (Hint: non-food-allergen friends, this would make a great gift! Or you can come experience the joy too…you don’t need food allergies to love this event!)
  5. Even if you don’t win a free ticket, just for being a loyal reader, here is a discount code to save you 20% off your ticket price!  EXPONJ20
  6. Last but not least, get yourself to the Expo and have an AMAZING day/weekend!! I promise you won’t be disappointed.
And now for me the one month countdown begins!! 
Meet me in Secaucus, 
Meet me at the (Gluten/Allergen-Free) Fair!! 
Posted in Celiac "Fun" Facts, Gluten-Free/Dairy-Free Life, Life Lessons, Newly-Diagnosed

10 Things I Wish People Knew About Life Without Gluten

A few hours ago, we said good-bye to April and hello to May, which is important for a variety of reasons. First, it means the relentless rain should cease and bring us those promised “May flowers”…and in light of just how many April “showers” we’ve had, it better be an abundance of blooming spring flowers. Second, in the world of teaching, May means the light is at the end of the tunnel. Summer is just a calendar page away…which of course brings with it immeasurable excitement alongside downright panic at the sheer amount of material left to cover/work to do before that page flips; however, today I choose to focus on the good. And third, it means Celiac Awareness Month is upon us. Now I know these days it seems like every cause under the sun has its own day, week, month, or even year and thus it’s easy to disregard such a distinction. And yes, it means very little change in my day-to-day life so it can easily slip right past. However, given the impact such a condition has had on my life, I choose to acknowledge it, celebrate it (if such a thing can be considered celebrating), and raise a little awareness of my own. So here it goes…

Now, I can’t promise you that I’ll post more often during the month of May. It’s my fervent hope and established goal that such a dream will come to fruition; but as I mentioned above, May in the teaching world is just one giant chaotic whirlwind of concerts, sacraments, end-of-year showcases, exams, field trips, graduations…and did I mention grading?? So I’ll see what I can do but please don’t hold me to it πŸ™‚
So what better way to begin Celiac Awareness than a simple list? It’s one I’ve been subconsciously acquiring for 3 years now without even realizing it. I call it “10 Things I Wish People Knew About Living Without Gluten (forget all my other issues)”
1) I am not trendy.
For anyone who knows me, this is an obvious one. Trendy would probably be among the last on the list of possible adjectives to describe me. In fact, it’s pretty close to the top of the “couldn’t be more opposite than Katie” list. And I mean that. After all, the Goodwill is my clothing store of choice at the moment, enough said. One of my kids said it best today when she exclaimed, “Miss Burke, I think I’m an old person trapped in a young person’s body”. I laughed and told her I’ve been saying that for over a decade now (about myself, not her). And yet, there have been some articles popping up recently which deem celiac disease to be “The Trendy Disease for Rich White People”. Now, I’m sorry but the only adjective in that phrase which addresses me is white. I could not be further from rich or trendy…but I will completely own my freakishly pale, only-sunburns-and-never-once-tanned skin. And I would just love for the authors/”scientists” (I use that term loosely)/whomever is behind such articles to explain to me what exactly is trendy about barely living as you’re slowly destroying your intestines, spending innumerable hours in various medical offices/labs, and then living life as a borderline social pariah who obsesses over every piece of food, beverage, lip balm, and oral hygiene product that enters your body. Yes, sounds like the definition of trendy to me. I think someone needs a little gift from Merriam-Webster πŸ™‚
2) I am not fragile.
Yes, as mentioned above, I do obsess a bit about everything I consume. That doesn’t mean I’m fragile or weak. Vigilant, yes. Resourceful at times, absolutely. Fragile? No. I am not going to break if you touch me. You will not magically become intolerant to life too because I run up to you and give you one of my overenthusiastic hugs. I will not self-implode because I walk into a room that has bread in it. Yes, I sincerely appreciate your caution. I love when people don’t cross-contaminate my dish with their spoon or my hummus with their cracker. I am grateful when people wash their hands after handling cookie dough because I’m around. However, I don’t need to be treated like “bubble girl”. I live with my reality every day. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Most of those hours are spent around children under 13. Trust me, I can handle quite a bit πŸ™‚
3) Yes, I know what I’m missing.
I cannot tell you how many times I get asked, “But don’t you miss pizza??/How do you live without bagels??/What about Oreos??” Of course, I do. They’re delicious delicacies that much of the population enjoys without a second thought, except perhaps to consider its potential impact on their waistline, and they’re off-limits to me. I recently described it to a friend as living in a kind of perpetual Lent. There’s no Easter joy of “I can finally eat (insert Lenten sacrifice here) again!!” Though as an astute priest pointed out in his homily last weekend, if we’re doing Lent right, that shouldn’t be the case anyway. Regardless, you get the idea. Yes I know how many amazing foods are no longer on my radar. I also know how horrible the aftermath of such foods would be to my poor body so it’s pretty much a no-brainer. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have my moments…like Tuesday night when I was at the mall and caught a whiff of that distinctive Auntie Anne’s scent. I swear there must be something addictive in those things. In short, yes, I do know what I’m missing and what I’ve lost…but I also know what I’ve gained since my ill, not-quite-a-real-person-anymore days.
4) I hate being introduced as “the girl who is allergic to everything”
You know what they say about first impressions? How you don’t get a 2nd chance to make one? Well, imagine that’s your most frequent introduction. It’s simply human nature for fascinating facts to stick in our minds and so suddenly I’m remembered as the girl who can’t eat anything. I can’t refute: it is fascinating. It boggles my mind sometimes when I think about it. However, there is so much more to my life that I would argue is just as fascinating. And no one would ever introduce me as “the Spelling Bee girl”,  “the girl who decided to pursue two different degrees in college” or “the girl who has taught 6 different grade levels in 6 years of teaching”…so why should my first impression be defined by a food issue that is beyond my control? Yes, it will come up eventually…but it doesn’t define who I am.
5) I miss when grocery shopping was simple.
I LOVE grocery shopping. I always have. However, sometimes as I steer my cart around the perimeter of the grocery store, I miss the days when I could explore the aisles in the middle. I miss when I could notice a new product and grab it off the shelf to try. I miss when I could just choose a sale item and place it in my cart without having to scrutinize the label. I miss having a place I could call my grocery store. Growing up in PA, ours was ShopRite. It was the one store we went to and we only went once a week. You knew once the cookies were gone or your favorite flavor of Pringles was devoured, you were going without until the next week. These days I have about 4 different grocery stores I have to frequent because a “regular” grocery store doesn’t have everything I need. And then even the natural/organic stores all carry different products that I use…so grocery shopping is no longer routine, logical, or methodical. As I drove between stores last Sunday, I reminisced about the days when grocery shopping was a less-than-an-hour event. (Last week took 2.5 with travel time included). It’s not all bad though…I do get to compare 4 different “grocery store radio mixes” of songs from my middle school years. If that doesn’t make your Sunday complete, nothing will.
6) I miss when eating on the run was simple (or even possible).
Some of my favorite memories from childhood involve the nights when one of us had a major life event on a weeknight: Confirmations, Distinguished Award banquets, a championship basketball game, Opening Night of the school music, etc. They were my favorites for many reasons but one major perk was that it usually involved stopping for pizza, Boston Market, or some other quick dinner that we normally didn’t get to enjoy, especially on a weeknight. I still have crazy nights like these as an adult, only now it’s usually because I’m running to such events for my students…but on more than one occasion I’ve longed for the days when I could just run to the Chick-Fila drive-thu or participate in my school’s “place your order for a sub and have your dinner taken care of” plan. Unfortunately, life without gluten means always planning ahead. Like tonight when I have to be at school until 9 to celebrate a year of STEM-related accomplishments, I can’t just grab a quick bite and run back. I have to plan, cook ahead of time, and leave in the morning with not one meal in my lunchbox, but two. Again, on the plus side, it probably means my heart is healthier these days since I can’t eat fast food…but still, some days I really miss it.
7) Life is expensive. And I mean absurdly so.
I’ve referred to this in other posts so I won’t dwell on it. But life without gluten is expensive. No 10 for $10 pasta for us. No 99 cent loaves of Wonder Bread. And moreso than that: almost no generic brands of ANYTHING (save for Wegman’s…God bless Wegman’s :-)) On top of that, there really is no such thing as a free meal. I often think about that when I’m at a conference where lunch is provided or a celebratory event which involves appetizers and dinner. For many people, those are gifts: a night of no cooking and cost-free delicacies they’d never make for themselves. For me, it just means another night to cook, eat ahead of time, and repeatedly decline offers of food people insist is safe for me. I’ve learned such social gatherings are not the place to explain the whole shared cutting board, shared pots and pans situation. If I do, #4 becomes a reality. So in short, there is no way around it: Life is expensive. Even for a frugal, coupon-clipping girl like me.
8) Being “gluten sick” is miserable. Being real sick is downright scary.
There are no words to describe how miserable I feel if I eat gluten. And by that I mean something contaminated by gluten…because I can’t even imagine how bad it would be if I actually ate a bagel or piece of bread. I won’t go into explicit detail because I did in a post awhile back…but all I will say is the phrase “power through” cannot be applied to being “gluten sick”. I am not someone who let sinus infections or headaches stop me in my tracks. But gluten? Well, I literally cannot get off the couch. And I mean that in all sincerity. Also, I’m not a nice person if it happens. Consider yourself warned πŸ™‚  And “normal” sickness (i.e. sinus infections, ear infections, etc.)? They’re not just annoying, they’re frightening. Partially because trying to find safe medication has the challenge of an Olympic event but also because there is always the fear of the treatment making you feel worse and your poor, confused, already-in-overdrive immune system attacking the wrong thing.
9) Going to the dentist is stressful. (And I LOVED going to the dentist.)
I am rare in that I love the dentist. I love seeing my 6-month cleaning on my calendar. Well, I should say loved. Past tense. There are two reasons for this. First, celiac is associated with dental issues. Granted this is only the case when you’re consuming gluten…but once the damage is done, it’s not like the absence of gluten in your system magically refills the cavities or replaces the enamel you lost during the years when you didn’t know what was wrong. So me, the girl who prided herself on a lack of cavities, now has lost track of how many fillings I have. Somehow every time I go, they find something new that needs to be fixed. And that brings me to reason 2 to be stressed. Everything about dental work involves your mouth. So even though you don’t want to think about how much of that stuff makes it’s way into your intestinal tract, I can tell you it does. (Remember, not just during the procedure but when you eat or drink immediately after). I had a procedure done early in my gluten-free days and didn’t think to tell my dentist. Since most adhesives (even Elmer’s glue) contain gluten ingredients, so do many pastes used in dental work. I was confined to the couch for two days, sick as could be while also dealing with a throbbing mouth. It was enough to counteract 24 years of positive dental experiences. I  now dread the dentist.
10) Life without gluten is a full and beautiful one.
I know the first 9 items on this list seem like downers, and that was not at all my intent. I just figure Celiac Awareness Month means people should be made aware of some harsh realities of a world without gluten. However, that being said, no one should feel sorry for us. Everyone in this life has certain burdens and crosses they have to bear. Yes, gluten is one of mine but in the grand scheme of life, that’s a small one. I am happy and I am healthy. It’s a treatable condition. It’s not a condition that involves a long, painful treatment regimen. No, it will never go away…but if I can be healthy just by altering my diet, then I am far luckier than many people in this world. And on top of that, I’ve been introduced to a wonderful community. The gluten-free community (and I mean the real one, not the bandwagon GF friends) is one of the most positive, helpful ones I’ve encountered. People who don’t even know you just want to help. I’ve had fascinating discussions with so many people I never would have known otherwise. We’re happy, we’re loving life, and we’re the farthest thing from sad or pathetic.
So there you have it…Day 1 of raising awareness. Have a great May 1st and be on the lookout for more awareness over the next 31 days πŸ™‚