Posted in Gluten-Free/Dairy-Free Life, Holidays, Newly-Diagnosed, Product Recommendations, Thanksgiving, Tips and Tricks

A Gluten-Free Thanksgiving

Now that we’re in November the excitement is building for the most wonderful time of the year! For me, there is nothing wrong with starting to celebrate the holiday season before Thanksgiving as long as Thanksgiving still gets its due share of attention and celebration. That being said, Thanksgiving can be a source of stress for people with food restrictions, especially for those who are newly diagnosed. (Holidays centered around sharing a meal are hard- especially at first.) Thankfully, there are many of us who have walked this road for several years now so you’re not alone as you face this first (or second or third) Thanksgiving with food restrictions.

Whether you are reading this for yourself or you are preparing for a food-sensitive guest at your own dinner table this year, I wanted to get this post out now because it includes products which can be more difficult to find at the last minute. With 3 weeks to go until the big day, the time to shop/order is now.

Turkey

The main event!

Of course, the main event. Believe it or not, turkey is trickier than you think. Not all turkeys are gluten-free because they can be marinated in or infused with broth, or even just processed on a shared line. There is a helpful list here of a few national brands with gluten-free turkeys, but the best thing to do is read the label and/or contact the company yourself and check. (For example, Butterball doesn’t label their turkeys as gluten-free but the company representative reported that all frozen and fresh turkeys are gluten-free, with the exception of the frozen stuffed turkey- for obvious reasons.) Which brings me to my next point…

Stop and think before you stuff!

It sounds like common sense but obviously most popular stuffing brands/recipes are not gluten-free…because well, bread. So you as the host or as the guest need to make a decision. If you are going to prepare a turkey and stuffing that is gluten-free and allergen-friendly for everyone, then of course you have to use an allergen-safe stuffing (more on that below). My personal preference (and honestly what makes me feel safer as a guest) is to simply have a separate small gluten-free turkey breast that is cooked just for me (and whoever else may need it). Granted, another thing to keep in mind is oven space- not only room for the allergen-free turkey, but also assurance that it isn’t going to come in contact with something allergen-filled in the stove. (Yes, even when you use one of those turkey bags, you’re usually instructed to poke air vents so if air can get in, so can contaminants.) So again my personal recommendation would be one of the following:

  • Roast the gluten-free turkey breast the day before and just warm it up before dinner
  • OR (new idea this year!) prepare the turkey breast separately in an Instant Pot (again only if you have one that is allergen-safe)

Which bring us to…Stuffing!

This is my personal favorite item on the Thanksgiving table. Believe it or not, your days of stuffing are not over! With a little creativity, you can find a way to make a stuffing that is allergen-safe for you. My personal recommendation is hands-down Aleia’s Savory Stuffing. (NOTE: it does contain eggs, but for me eggs baked into things is OK but make sure you know what is safe for you and your guests.) Otherwise, it is gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, corn-free, and Kosher. I have been able to find it at my local Stop and Shop but you may need to order it so check out their website for a store locator near you and for ordering deadlines to guarantee arrival by Thanksgiving. Also, I have seen it on Amazon but I would just warn you to be careful when you order from there because there are older varieties I’ve seen that aren’t dairy-free so make sure it’s from a trusted seller.

Can you believe that’s gluten-free??

What’s turkey without gravy?

I’ll be honest: I was never a huge gravy fan even in my gluten-filled days so this one wasn’t so hard for me to give up. However, a few weeks ago I attended the Greater Boston Gluten-Free Expo and met the lovely people from Full Flavor Foods, and let’s just say my life will never be the same. They handed me a sample of the gluten-free AND dairy-free turkey gravy and it was like all of a sudden a little piece of the world was right again. It brought back warm memories of childhood Thanksgivings at the kids’ table and touched my soul in the way that just the right unexpected food can. I have a packet stashed away for my Thanksgiving table, and if I were you, I would head to their website today to order one for yours!

In the words of my 2-year-old: “SO GOOD.”

Other Important Ingredients to Have On Hand

All of the items mentioned above are important, but so are the smaller ingredients that are necessary to complete the perfect allergen-friendly Thanksgiving meal.

  • Earth Balance Butter: This is key for keeping those mashed potatoes dairy-free, soy-free, and delicious. It can sell out or just not be available in stores (especially for people like me who need the soy-free version) so plan to snag one ASAP.
  • Chicken broth: Both the stuffing mix and my favorite mashed potato recipe require chicken broth. AND NO, NOT ALL CHICKEN BROTH IS SAFE!! I personally love Pacific Foods brand because I know it is safe, but it is expensive. I’ve also found success with the Trader Joe’s brand, Aldi’s brand, and College Inn brand BUT I cannot stress this enough: CHECK THE LABEL. Recipes and procedures change all the time and even brands which were once safe can change (and vice versa!). For example, the College Inn chicken broth in the box is gluten-free BUT the same thing in a can is not because it has hydrolyzed wheat gluten. I know, it’s enough to make my head hurt too.
  • Pie crust!: If you’re lucky enough to have a gluten-free bakery near you, you might consider ordering a pie. Yes, they’re expensive but especially with the limited oven space and the cross-contamination concerns in the kitchen, it might be worth it. If you are planning to try making your own, I would recommend looking for either the King Arthur pie crust mix or my personal favorite (because it’s so easy), these pre-made pie crusts from Wholly Wholesome.
  • Most of the other necessities (potatoes, sweet potatoes, celery and onion for the stuffing, green beans, etc.) can wait until the week of Thanksgiving when you make the big grocery store run for everything else.

OK now that I have given you the product rundown, I want to close with 2 important reminders.

First, I am not exaggerating when I say that planning early is important for preparing an allergen-safe holiday meal.

Even if you have a natural food store near you that carries a lot of these products, it is a BUSY time of year for these companies. This is the one time of year when a lot of people who don’t usually buy gluten-free/dairy-free items are stocking up for someone in their family.

Second, and honestly most important, whether you are preparing to be a guest at a Thanksgiving dinner or you are preparing this meal for someone with food restrictions, PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE communicate first.

Levels of sensitivity vary. While one gluten-free guest may not be worried about shared cutting boards, sponges, or wooden spoons, the reality is that for many of us each of those things matter. If you feel more comfortable making your own food at home and bringing it with you, just say so. If you would rather be the one in the kitchen to oversee everything and show up with your own cooking utensils, say so. If you are the chef and you really just don’t feel comfortable doing this safely, say so. The last thing anyone wants is for Thanksgiving dinner to end in someone getting sick so just communicate with one another to see what is best for your particular gathering.

Now, let the countdown continue! Less than 3 weeks until the perfect (for you) gluten-free, dairy-free, whatever-else free Thanksgiving dinner.

Posted in Bread/Muffins, Gluten-Free/Dairy-Free Life, Pumpkin season!

So Much Pumpkin, So Little Time

As usual, October is somehow flying by and here we are at Halloween week. I don’t know about you but I feel like every year I spend September getting excited for all things pumpkin, and then somehow October arrives, flies by, and I feel like I didn’t savor it enough. (Granted yes, November/Thanksgiving are also time for all things pumpkin, but with Thanksgiving so late this year I plan to shift into gingerbread and peppermint mode a little early this year.) So now that we have less than a week left of October, it’s time to celebrate with all things pumpkin.

If you have been worried about missing out on pumpkin treats now that you’re gluten-free or dairy-free, I have great news for you: pumpkin treats are just as delicious without those pesky allergens. I think it’s because the pumpkin itself is so moist that it helps prevent drying out that often happens with gluten-free flour or dairy-free substitutes. Now if you have been a long-time reader of this blog, I’ve shared some pumpkin recipes before. Here is one for cinnamon-sugar pumpkin muffins (which I still love!) I also shared a recipe for pumpkin creamer, which is also still good but I must admit I don’t use it anymore since I discovered Califia Farms pumpkin spice creamer. Now that I have a 2-year-old, it was worth $5 to get the bottle at my grocery store instead of making it from scratch. I also shared a pumpkin muffin recipe in that same post 6 years ago BUT it’s time for an update because I have found one that is a dramatic improvement.

I stumbled across this recipe on Pinterest one day in September and decided to give it a try in advance of pumpkin season (in case it needed some tweaking). I was AMAZED at how they tasted, but especially how they stayed moist and didn’t crumble at all (a rare feat in gluten-free baking!). Even my husband was amazed by them and happily devoured several, even though he doesn’t have any food restrictions. Perhaps, the biggest test of all: my 2-year-old happily enjoyed them and would request a second. For anyone who knows how finicky 2-year-old eaters can be, that should tell you something!

Now I can’t take credit for this recipe at all; all that goes to Molly at What Molly Made. I just adapted a few ingredients to make these dairy-free and egg-free. Here are the ingredients I used:

I have a little baking assistant these days…
  • 2 Tablespoons of flaxseed mixed with 6 Tablespoons of warm water (egg replacement)
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 3/4 cup Earth Balance soy-free spread, melted and cooled
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 3/4 cups gluten-free flour (I use King Arthur’s Measure for Measure Gluten-Free flour)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 cup Enjoy Life Semi-sweet mini chips

Then I followed Molly’s pumpkin muffin recipe exactly (including the oven temperature change) and the result was pure magic:

Yum!

We have made several batches of these this month and I can’t wait to enjoy another one this week as we countdown to Halloween and savor the final days of October. I hope you soak up all the October magic you can over the next few days…and don’t worry the magic of gingerbread won’t be far behind πŸ™‚

“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.” -L.M. Montgomery
Posted in Easter, Gluten-Free/Dairy-Free Life, Holidays

Is There Life After the Chocolate Bunny? (5 Years Later)

5 years ago I posed this question when writing about my first dairy-free Easter. I was making a batch of Katie-safe peanut butter eggs this week and pulled up that old post to double check the ingredient ratios. (Yes, sometimes I have to look up my own recipes.) As I read I could remember so distinctly how I felt: sad, wistful, grateful, confused. I was still mourning the way life had once been, but was also so incredibly grateful to wake up feeling healthy each day. Keep in mind, I was 28 at the time; just imagine how it feels for people who are much younger.

The good news is, here I am 5 years later and that mix of feelings is so foreign to me now. Now I feel nothing but joy and excitement as we look forward to Easter celebrations…and not just because I miss Twitter and the screentime I gave up for Lent.

I have found SO many Katie-safe options. (Of course, having a toddler brings a whole new sense of wonder to the celebration too.) I have learned that there was no need to ask that question in the first place- because even in a world that no longer includes dairy, you can still have a chocolate bunny!! Not to mention, plenty of other chocolate treats πŸ™‚

You can find SO many Easter Candy allergy lists out there with a quick Google search. However, I want to share with you some of the treats I have personally ordered (and eaten!) so I can give them the Katie stamp of approval and feel confident that you won’t be disappointed. Just keep in mind that Easter will be upon us in just about two weeks (hopefully the Spring weather will come along too!) and some of these allergy-safe treats need 7-10 days for shipping so…

…if the Easter Bunny has baskets to fill for kids (or grown-ups!) dealing with food allergies, now is the time to make sure he knows where to find the best options.

No Whey Chocolates

Yes, there is a reason I’m listing No Whey Chocolates first. They are AMAZING. As in, double check the ingredients list because this can’t possibly be dairy-free, amazing. And there is no reason to fear because all of their products are free from the 8 major allergens! They’re also vegan, Kosher, and free from artificial colors and flavors. They have an ADORABLE line of Easter products this year…and if you sign up for their emails, they often have promotions where you can try a product for free (with another purchase). Plus, what might be most exciting (to me anyway) is…THEY NOW HAVE PRODUCTS ON AMAZON. That’s right, Prime members, you can procrastinate with the knowledge that 2-day shipping can be yours! (But I wouldn’t because you never know what will sell out as Easter gets closer)

Katie’s Recommendation: Literally anything on their website…but if pressed I’d say the Truffles can’t be beat.

Amore di Mona

Now this is definitely a fancier product, so this might be great for the adults your life (teacher gift!). They even have some cute bunny-shaped treats this year. This chocolate is also alarmingly delicious (I definitely checked the ingredient list again on this one too) but all of their products are free from gluten, dairy, soy, peanuts, and tree nuts. They also use only organic, kosher, non-GMO, sustainably-sourced ingredients…and there is NO refined sugar. (I know you might be skeptical, but trust me this will change the way you think about chocolate.) You can order directly from the website, use the store locator to find products near you, OR you can find them on Amazon too!! (I promise this is not an Amazon Prime ad…it just seems like it.)

Katie’s Recommendation: This Perfetto 3 Pack. I mean, chocolate and coffee?? You can’t go wrong πŸ™‚

Free2B

All of the products made by Free2B are free of the 12 major allergens instead of the typical “Big 8″(sesame, corn, mustard, and coconut are the additional 4). The sunbutter cups are the perfect size for an Easter basket- and the perfect surprise for anyone with a peanut allergy. Honestly, I hadn’t heard of their Snack Breaks until today, but based on how much I love their sunbutter cups, I’m excited to try them next! You can use the store locator to find the products near you (if you have a Whole Foods, chances are you can find them there) or you can place an online order. Right now everything on the website is 30% off! (But I’m not sure how long that will last.)

Katie’s Recommendation: Definitely the Dark Chocolate Sun Cups. Of course now that I have seen the Dark Chocolate Peppermint Snack Break, that is what I personally want to try next πŸ˜‰

Enjoy Life

This brand is probably most familiar to you since they are now in most conventional grocery stores. They have a huge selection of products, which seems to be constantly growing, and everything they make is free from 14 common allergens. That’s right, 14! I will be honest and say that if you’re looking for a chocolate, I would recommend one of the brands mentioned above. (Though Enjoy Life does have some cute Easter designs this year if that matters more than taste.) However, their Protein Bites and Crunchy Cookies are phenomenal and would be a perfect (non-Easter-themed) addition to any Easter basket.

Katie’s Recommendation: The Double Chocolate Crunchy Cookies…or if it’s a gift, the 10 Snack Trial Pack!

Make sure to remind the Easter Bunny that anything ordered online needs some buffer time to arrive- so he should probably order this weekend πŸ˜‰ However you celebrate the holiday (and holy day) this year, I hope it is filled with joy, faith, happiness, hope…and a you-safe chocolate bunny, of course.

Posted in Boston Recommendations, Christmas, Gluten-Free/Dairy-Free Life

It’s Christmas in July!

When we think back on childhood Christmases, I bet there are a few common memories many of  us share: a stack of beautifully wrapped presents just waiting to be torn open, the delicious scent of dinner mixed with the last few batches of Christmas cookies wafting from the oven in the kitchen, and of course the hugs, smiles, and laughter shared between family members who may not have seen each other since last Christmas. Now that I have you feeling nostalgic for the holiday season, you’re probably asking yourself why I’m talking about Christmas on a 90-degree day in July. Well, that’s because my Christmas in July is quickly approaching and I want to invite you to join me…or at least to find your own Christmas in another month (before December!). Before you think I’ve completely lost my mind, I’ll answer the question, What the heck is she talking about?, for you: The Gluten Free & Allergen Friendly Expo, of course! Now you may remember my posts about this event in the past. I’ve relocated from the New Jersey Expo to the Worcester Expo now that we’re residents of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (I know, it’s still a little crazy to me too) but thankfully the two Expos are equally amazing.

Worcester Expo- 2016
My first GFAF Expo: Secaucus, NJ 2014
 If you refer back to the Christmas description above, you’ll see why I love the GFAF Expo so much. I leave each year with a giant bag (or two) of beautifully wrapped treats: all Katie-safe and delicious and just waiting for me to tear them open for a perfect meal/snack/treat; many vendors have ovens on-site to prepare freshly-heated samples of everything from gluten-free pizza crust and bagels to Veggie Fries and Pop-Tarts– so the smells that greet you when you enter the Exhibition Hall make you even more excited for the hours ahead.
This was my loot in 2014…I feel like it gets bigger every year!
 Finally, as someone who is now attending my 4th Expo, I can tell you there is a regular cast of characters with whom you become familiar. There are returning faces at many booths, but this is especially true when it comes to the Expo speakers…and even the other bloggers! A year has passed since many of these familiar faces have crossed paths, and there are always plenty of hugs, smiles, and stories to share. Last, but not least, I get to walk around all day eating (and drinking) amazing Katie-safe treats until I’m on the verge of a holiday-type food coma. As I said, it’s not all that different from Christmas at all- and since the Worcester Expo takes place in July, it is perfectly placed to be my Christmas in July.
Visiting with the author of really cute children’s book about celiac!

 I’m even more excited about the Expo this year since it also marks my return to the world of blogging after a hiatus to settle into Boston and welcome our newest little family member. (He’s almost 6 weeks old now and absolutely perfect.)  Additionally, I have to say that since I’ve entered the world of parenthood, I have a much greater appreciation for the need to find more ready-made/on-the-go Katie-safe options…since my more labor-intensive recipes from the past prove challenging with a 5-week-old in tow..so I am anxious to explore the vendor tables this year with a bit of a priority shift.

Best of all, if you’d like to join me at the Worcester Expo this year (July 22-23), I have 5 free tickets to give away! Just fill out the “Contact Katie” form to the right, or you can comment below or on the post on Facebook or Instagram and you’re entered to win! Sadly, I know many of you are a bit far from Massachusetts, so make sure to check out the other locations and visit an Expo near you! And if all of that isn’t enough to get you excited, you just never know what will happen at the Expo: these 2 got engaged at the Expo in 2014!
Even proposals happen at the Expo…complete with a gluten-free cupcake πŸ™‚
Posted in Christmas, Cookies

‘Tis the Season

…of waiting.

Waiting in lines that stretch longer than usual; waiting in traffic that doesn’t seem to budge; waiting for those gifts purchased online to arrive on our doorstep…there’s no doubt that the holiday season is full of waiting. You don’t have to spend much time in stores or traffic to realize that most people are not good at waiting…or at least that it incites quite a few negative emotions. Now I’m not going to sit here and say I love traffic and crowds, but I can say that the increase in both during the Christmas season has never really bothered me.

I distinctly remember the moment when I began seeing holiday traffic as less bothersome and more of a blessing. It was a Sunday morning in December of 2002 and I was sitting in an unbelievably long line of traffic between early morning mass and my shift at the chocolate shop in the local mall where I worked throughout high school. I still remember Britney Spears’ attempt at a Christmas song was playing on the radio and I was thinking about the homily from mass that morning about waiting. (In case you aren’t aware, Christian churches celebrate the liturgical season of Advent in the weeks preceding Christmas. It is a season of joyful anticipation as we await the birth of our Savior. It also happens to be my favorite liturgical season…I’m sure at this point you’re not at all surprised that I would have a favorite one of those.)  I remember the priest explaining that waiting has taken on a negative connotation in our world. Granted, that makes sense if you’re waiting for something where you don’t know the outcome. However, he pointed out that even when we’re waiting for something positive or something where we know the outcome, we still get so frustrated and angry. We know we’re going to get through the traffic light eventually; we know we will eventually reach the front of the line and purchase our items; and yet, for some reason, all we can think about is the time being spent, or worse “wasted”, while waiting. He challenged us that day to think about the waiting we practice during the season of Advent. It’s a joyful waiting because we know the result is a Savior. We light candles and we open little windows on calendars; but in the meantime, we’re also preparing our hearts for Christ to enter in a deeper way on Christmas. We don’t sit around and complain about the days we have to sit around and wait for God to enter into our world; instead, we pray more than usual, we read Scripture, we join Advent prayer groups, etc. (Or at least we should be doing such things!) We use the waiting time to enrich our lives, to reflect on our role in this world, and hopefully to deepen our relationship with Christ.

Well, why don’t we apply that same philosophy to other instances of waiting? Why does waiting in line have to be a negative experience? I can honestly say I’ve had some of the best conversations this month while waiting in line at Joann Fabric, Michael’s and Kohl’s. In fact, I was actually sad to leave the line in Kohl’s last week because I was enjoying my new friends so much. (I’ve learned that older women love to talk about weddings if they notice you’re wearing an engagement ring. And I love to listen to their advice, so really everyone wins.)  Why don’t we use the time in line to deepen our relationships with the people around us (and no, your iPhone doesn’t count), or even to just stop and reflect on our own life at that given moment? Time spent waiting can be beautiful, and even fruitful, but it all depends on how we approach that time.

Now, before you start thinking I have mastered the art of waiting and have the gift of perfect patience, I can assure you I do not. In fact, as many of you know, I have been in my own season of waiting for weeks (or really months) now. The physicist moved to France back in July to work in a lab there and he moves back to America TOMORROW. As any of my co-workers (or at this point, most of my students) could tell you, there have been days when I have not viewed this time of waiting as an opportunity for beauty and fruitfulness. In fact, there were moments when I had to bite my tongue when people would say things like, “Oh, 5 more weeks, that’s nothing”. What I wanted to say was, “Right. It’s like when people tell marathoners it’s only 1 more mile. Sure, a mile seems short when you have just started, but when you’ve already run 25, 1 whole mile is pretty daunting”. Fortunately for me, these last few weeks of waiting have coincided perfectly with Advent; hence, I have been reminded that the beauty in waiting is all about how you approach it. And though I’m still anxiously counting down the hours until I can head to the airport tomorrow, I also know that there has been beauty and fruitfulness in this time of waiting. The Physicist had a host of new experiences with new labmates and a new football team in a foreign country while I was able to soak up every moment of living in Baltimore with my best friend, who conveniently moved here the week the Physicist left. And the Physicist and I have also grown together in this time of waiting. There’s nothing like months of waking up at 5:30 AM American time or staying awake until nearly midnight France time, ducking out of lunches with co-workers, or wandering around campus desperately searching for a data signal just so you can have a quick chat, to make you realize that love involves sacrifice. It hasn’t been easy, but I also know there are many gifts and fruits from this time of waiting, and even more that have yet to blossom.

My tree seems so fitting this year:
Maryland and France- so close, and yet so far.

SO. What does this have to do with your food restrictions?? Well, everything. First of all, I know I have left you in your own time of waiting: wondering if I was ever going to write another post for you. Well, just last week I was talking to someone who is facing a new list of possible food restrictions. She isn’t starting her elimination diet until after Christmas, but just listening to her brought me back to where I once was: confused, overwhelmed, and convinced that life as you know it is over. And in that moment, I realized I needed to be that source of comfort and encouragement again; hence, here is my attempt. Second, I can assure you that waiting is something you will do often while figuring out what foods are making you sick. Even when you finally have a diagnosis (woo!!), you don’t miraculously feel better the next day; you have to wait for that, too. Then you have to wait to feel like a normal person again, wait until the day when your kitchen no longer terrifies you, wait until eating is no longer an anxiety-inducing activity. This waiting can be difficult, because at times you simply won’t believe that there is a happy ending waiting for you…but there will be. On top of that, you will find wonderful blessings while you are waiting. It might be a new brand of you-safe crackers, a successful alteration of a previously-loved recipe, or even just a new friend who understands your new world. I know it’s difficult, but try to look around in that time of waiting and approach it with a positive attitude. What can you learn? How can you grow? And if nothing else, just get in the kitchen and experiment with new recipes once in awhile. Sometimes they’ll go well, other times they won’t…but either way you can learn and grow.

For example..you might just discover this!!

“A Little Treat While Waiting…AKA Coca-Cola Chocolate Chip Cookies!”
(adapted from the Coca Cola website!)
2 1/4 cups you-safe flour (I used Pamela’s Artisan Blend)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 Tbsp. flaxseed + 3 Tbsp. water (egg substitute)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
6 Tbsp. Coca-Cola (for me, the Mexican variety with no corn syrup!)
1) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2) Combine the flour, salt, and baking soda in a bowl.
3) Mix the butter and sugar in a separate bowl. 
4) Add the vanilla and flaxseed to the sugar mix.
5) Add the Coca-Cola, 1 tablespoon at at time (it bubbles a bit!)
6) Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture.
7) Stir in the Enjoy Life chips.
8) Scoop 1 tablespoon of dough onto a cookie sheet.
9) Bake for about 15 minutes.
10) Freeze the remaining dough (it’s amazing for an egg-free snack!)

 So wherever you are tonight, and whatever it is you might be waiting for, remember this: you may not be able to control what you are waiting for…but you can control how you approach this time. Look for ways to learn, to grow, to better understand yourself, and to grow in relationship with those around you. The reality is we’re all on this journey together, and we’re all waiting for something…so we may as well stick together, strike up conversations with one another while we’re waiting, and remind one another even though the end goal is where we want to be, there is also profound joy and beauty in the here and now while we’re waiting.

Happy Advent!!
Posted in Bread/Muffins, Newly-Diagnosed, Pumpkin season!

Letting Go

Letting go. It is a concept which seems innately tied to this time of year. Parents are learning to let go of tiny hands at pre-K and kindergarten classroom doors; slightly more seasoned parents are learning to let go of teenagers who have swapped their place at the family dinner table for a dorm room they now call home. We teachers are letting go too; we’re learning to let go of the students, routines, and sometimes even the classrooms, which we held near and dear just a few months ago. Even Mother Nature joins in solidarity as the trees start letting go of their leaves. There’s a sadness in letting go, and often a degree of pain, but there’s profound beauty in it too; I mean, just look around at the trees in the coming weeks.

I still remember the moment when the harsh reality of fall hit me. I was six years old and dutifully completing my homework assignment for the evening: to walk around the backyard and gather a few beautiful leaves for a leaf-shading exercise at school the next day. I painstakingly narrowed down my choices to 3, packed them in a sandwich baggie, had my mom sign off on my 1st grade homework book, and sat my backpack in its place for the morning. The next morning when I arrived at school and took those same leaves out of my bag, they were noticeably drier and more fragile; by afternoon art class, one was crumbling at my touch. I remember looking around, distraught and yet comforted to see that everyone else’s were doing the same…and I still remember the teacher’s explanation that of course our leaves are crumbling- they’re not on the tree anymore so they’re dead leaves. Now, I’m sure she had a nice kid-friendly way of wording it, but all I remember is the moment of clarity in my little 6-year-old brain…followed swiftly of course by pure devastation. These beautiful brightly colored leaves which I loved to jump in, rake into pumpkin-faced plastic bags, and crunch under my feet were only so beautiful because they were dead. Talk about an existential day in the first grade…
Luckily, I recovered from my first experience of devastation, and in time began to realize that life is a series of beautiful moments, many of which can only arrive after we choose to let go of what is comfortable, familiar, and often cherished. 
So what does this have to with food allergies?? Well, pretty much everything. There’s the obvious: letting go of the foods you’ve come to love and yet your body has come to hate. It’s a weird kind of letting go, because on one hand, you feel so miserable that initially letting the foods go is the easiest thing in the world. You rediscover what it feels like to be alive, to wake up in the morning with a clear head and non-aching limbs. Of course, as your health returns, the letting go becomes a little harder- in part because you have the energy to care again, but also because that reality of forever starts to set in. Letting go for a brief time is manageable, letting go forever is a horse of a different color. Take my word for it, letting go of the foods your body hates is a profoundly beautiful thing. It doesn’t mean it’s always easy- I certainly have my moments of longing- but most of the time, it’s the most beautiful world I can imagine. I’m healthy, I’m happy, and I’m alive: it doesn’t get much more beautiful than that!
Now of course, that’s not the only “letting go” involved. There’s letting go of little traditions: the meals shared at a favorite restaurant which is now off-limits; your favorite Thanksgiving side dish or seasonal Starbucks beverage; the nostalgic visit to the hometown diner where you spent many a childhood evening. These are a little harder, but there’s still beauty waiting on the other side. There are other new traditions just waiting to begin..and having these will do nothing to diminish the memory of the old traditions which will always hold a place in your heart. 
Then there’s the “letting go” of expectations: both yours and those of people around you. I’ll admit this has been the hardest one for me. It means letting go of the pictures you had in your head of how certain life events were going to look: cutting into a giant wedding cake, sharing Friday night pizza dinners with your family, eating apple cider donuts while picking pumpkins on a Saturday morning in October. It means letting go of what other people think when you walk into a restaurant with your thermal tote lunchbox, when you grill the chef at a restaurant before making a reservation, when you politely refuse every single hors d’oeuvres at each wedding you attend. I’ve learned over these past four years that people will make comments, they will make judgments, and sometimes they’ll just make faces…and for the longest time I couldn’t let that go. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago when I had a moment (during mass…who is surprised by that one??) when it just hit me as clearly as my leaf realization did two decades ago: if I don’t let go and stop worrying about what other people think, I’m only hurting myself. People will make judgments, whether warranted or not. I make judgments too. I wish I didn’t, but we’re all human. I realized that there is profound beauty in this letting go especially: not only do I enable myself to live fully again, but I’ve learned to better empathize with everyone I meet. Again, I’m not saying I’m perfect, not by a longshot, but I do find myself thinking twice when I notice something out of the ordinary and start to draw my own assumptions. Through my own experience these past four years, I have seen that as a society, we’re far too quick to judge when something seems a little out of the ordinary or different than what we expect, and because of that I feel like  I have found the most beautiful gift of all: I have become much more open, more curious, and I’d even say more loving than I ever would have been without a celiac diagnosis. It certainly isn’t always easy, but I have found a beauty even in that, too.
So what did I let go of today? Today I let go of my self-imposed “no pumpkin until fall” commandment. I pulled out a can of pumpkin that has been sitting in my cabinet since last November and I let go of the “poor me, I can’t have my old pumpkin muffins anymore” mentality and moved into problem-solving mode. The result? Well, I whipped up a batch of what might be the best pumpkin muffins I’ve ever made, at least in recent years anyway. 
Katie-safe Cinnamon-Sugar Pumpkin Muffins
 1 1/2 cups Pamela’s Artisan Flour Blend
1 cup pumpkin puree
3/4 cup almond milk
1/2 cup soy-free Earth Balance spread (melted)
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp. pumpkin spice
1 tsp. vanilla
2 tsp. baking soda
1 Tbsp. flaxseed + 3 Tbsp. water 

 Mix all the ingredients. Pour into muffin pan and bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes.
When finished baking, melt Earth Balance spread. Dip the top of each muffin into the melted butter and then into a bowl of sugar mixed with cinnamon.
So my challenge for you today is to take a moment and look at your own life. Food allergies or not, I’m sure there is probably something you’re holding onto that might turn into something more beautiful if you’re willing to let go. So do it…but first make a batch of these as comfort food for the journey. Life, even in the difficult “letting go” moments, is just better with a cinnamon-sugar pumpkin muffin in your hand πŸ™‚