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 ๐Ÿ™‚
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, Christmas, Cookies, Meals/Sides, Product Recommendations

Have Yourself a Merry "You-Safe" Christmas…

Here we are, December 22nd, and Christmas is nearly upon us. Now I could claim my lack of Christmas advice/aid in your allergen-free Christmas quest was intentional. I am a Theology teacher after all…hence in my classroom, there has been no sign of Christmas. Because I’m Scrooge? No, because liturgically this is still Advent. The Christmas season hasn’t even begun yet. We had nothing more than a Jesse tree which we added to each day as we read the associated Scripture passage. And I finally wished the students a Merry Christmas as they walked out the door on the last day…only because I won’t see them when the Christmas season officially begins…and I can assure you our classroom will be decked out in Christmas festivity when they return in January until our Epiphany celebration. Ah yes, the life of a Theology teacher.

Of course, anyone who knows me is aware that outside school I don’t live by these same rules of Christmas conduct. I try to find a happy blend of both. My Advent wreath is central in my dining room and I wake each morning to light the candles and share Advent prayer over the phone with yet another Saint in my life. I open the Busted Halo Advent calendar each day to share with my students, and I try to emulate the suggested action too. However, I also decked the halls the day after Thanksgiving with my little tree, my stocking, a wreath, peppermint candles, etc. In other words, my lack of Christmas posts, advice, recipes, etc. has been nothing more than an unintentional byproduct of a busy holiday season.

Alas, fear not. We have 3 days left until Christmas and I’m here with some advice. Whether you’ve been stumbling your way through your first holiday of food restrictions or sailing your way through yet another you-safe holiday that you mastered long ago, here are some wonderful holiday tips I came across this year. (As you may remember, last year I was more in the stumbling through the season phase…not this year!)

1) Gingerbread coffee: I’ve been starting my day with this nearly every morning since Thanksgiving. You can find it at Trader Joes for a few more days. It tastes amazing and the smell? Well, let’s just say, it’s like the scent of Christmas fills my kitchen every morning at 6:00 AM. And the only ingredients: coffee, dried ginger root, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and cloves. Katie-safe!! Yay!!

Christmas deliciousness in a cup ๐Ÿ™‚

2) Gingerbread pancakes: Saying good-bye to November is hard for me because it means bidding farewell to pumpkin pancakes. So what did I do? Figure out how to make gingerbread pancakes of course! Try this recipe. It’s easy and delicious!

 2 cups Pancake mix (I love Namaste brand!)
2 Tbsp. flaxseed/6 Tbsp. water (egg substitute)
2 Tbsp. olive oil
3/4 cup almond milk
3 Tbsp. molasses (more or less depending on your taste)
1/2 tsp. ginger
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg

3) Gingerbread cookies: Making cookies has always been synonymous with Christmas…and last year, I never really made any. Well, this year I was determined to change that. So on December 1st (why waste any time??) I pulled up Pinterest, stumbled upon this amazing recipe on MinimalistBaker. I whipped up a batch and with just one bite, I knew it was back. Christmas. It may be free from gluten, dairy, soy, and corn these days…but it’s Christmas for me.

1 1/2 cups gluten-free flour blend (I love Pamela’s!)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup cashew butter
3 Tbsp. molasses
1/4 cup Earth balance butter
3/4 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 Tbsp. flaxseed/3 Tbsp. water (egg substitute)

Bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes.

4) Sugar cookies: Another staple of my childhood Christmases was sugar cookies. We would make HUGE batches of dough, roll it out, and go to town with the array of Christmas cookie cutters. I have fond memories of those days in the kitchen: cookies baking, Christmas music playing (WSBG- Stroudsburg’s hometown radio station), usually some snow falling. And most ironically, I just remember everything being covered in flour. If you’ve ever used a roller, a cookie mat, and cookie cutters, you know flour is essential for the non-stick factor. Ah yes, the days when I could be up to my elbows in wheat flour without a moment’s hesitation. Sigh. Well, don’t worry…these are almost the same as those gluten-filled cookies of days gone by.

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 cup soft coconut oil
1/4 cup almond milk
1 tsp. vanilla
2 1/2 cups gluten-free flour
2 Tbsp. tapioca starch
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cream of tartar

Bake at 375 for 8-10 minutes.
(Adapted from YummyMummy)
*If you have you-safe sprinkles, do it!!*

 5) Puppy Chow!!: Some people call it Puppy Chow, others call it Muddy Buddy mix. I call it delectable deliciousness in a bowl. I finally made it Katie-safe…and I’m never looking back!

7 cups Rice Chex
1 cup Enjoy Life dairy-free chocolate chips
1/2 cup peanut butter (be careful, most popular brands contain soybean oil!!)
1/4 cup Earth Balance dairy-free, soy-free spread
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 cup powdered sugar (be careful! Most contain cornstarch!!)

1) Melt the chocolate chips, peanut butter, and “butter” in the microwave in 30 second intervals.
2) Stir the vanilla into the melted chocolate mixture.
3) Pour over the cereal and mix.
4) Pour into a Ziploc bag, pour in the powdered sugar, and shake until coated.

*The best part of this is you can make it festive. Add peppermints, M&Ms, whatever is you-safe and add it to the mix! It makes a great gift!!*

5) Bacon-wrapped shrimp: The holidays inevitably bring all kind of food-related invites. I think this is the hardest adjustment to the season. You waltz through parties without eating a bite…which if you also indulge in you-safe beverages could be a dangerous combination. Lately, I’ve discovered my new go-to appetizer for such events. It’s quick, easy, AND cost-effective if you buy in bulk and keep shrimp and bacon in the freezer. It’s so simple!

You-safe bacon (a lot have gluten and casein…be careful!!)
cooked shrimp
maple syrup
brown sugar

1) Wrap each shrimp in a slice of bacon.
2) Sprinkle maple syrup on top.
3) Add a pinch of brown sugar to each.
4) Bake at 375 for 8 minutes on each side.

Now that you’re armed with sweet treats, appetizers, and a holiday coffee, you are all set for Christmas week to commence. Just remember, if you’ve gained a new food restriction (or maybe even some other life change) this year, then yes, the holiday season is going to look different for you this year. There may be moments of sadness and nostalgia for the treats and traditions of Christmases past. I speak from personal experience: it happens. However, please take it from me: you’re not alone in feeling that way. Life continues to change at a dizzying pace and everyone, whether food-related or not, at some point faces a holiday season that looks a little different than the ones we’ve been used to. Spend some time sitting in a dark room lit only by the lights of a tree, listen to some children sing Christmas carols, or curl up with a good Christmas story (The Nativity story in the Bible of course is a good one, or The Worst Best Christmas Pageant Ever,or one of the many versions of A Christmas Carol), and remember that all the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of the Christmas season, though magical in themselves, simply serve as a reminder of the true celebration: that love came into the world in a real and present way 2000 years ago; a love that transformed the world and lives on in each of our hearts. Though this love exists all year, this is the time when we pause to celebrate it. So this holiday season, whoever you are, wherever you are, whatever you can or cannot eat, remember this: love is real; YOU are loved; and the world needs the love you have to give. 
So, from me to you, I wish you the happiest of holiday seasons and an amazing final week of 2014 (my self-designated Year of Love). Now go have yourself a Merry “You-Safe” Christmas ๐Ÿ™‚
A Katie-safe holiday spread ๐Ÿ™‚
Merry Christmas from my little apartment!!