Posted in Product Recommendations, Pumpkin season!

"I’m So Glad I Live in a World Where There Are Octobers"

I know, I know. It’s been WAY too long. I couldn’t agree more. However, October is my favorite month of the year…and between the craziness of starting a new job/taking on a few (perhaps too many) side jobs, I decided that what time I had left in October should be devoted to soaking up every minute of my favorite month rather than writing about it. That’s not to say I didn’t miss writing because I did; perhaps if there were just a few extra hours in each day, I could manage both. Until then, I chose to dive wholeheartedly into living life…and now that daylight savings is upon us, I’ll do my best to document all those life-filled moments. Trust me, my brain and my camera memory card are packed with pictures, memories, and products just waiting to be shared. And so it begins…

Anyone who knows me well has heard (probably about a dozen times) my profession of love for all things autumnal. I love Fall. I love everything about it: the crisp morning air, the fiery orange and red leaves which dot the skyline, the sound of said leaves crunching underfoot, the first crisp bite of a freshly-picked apple…and of course, all things pumpkin! Yes, though Fall and I got off to a rocky start (I was plagued by severe fall allergies during high school field hockey season), we have grown accustomed to one another over time and have formed a most meaningful relationship. My body has chosen not to attack the various forms of autumnal allergens and in return, Fall provides an abundance of joy…not to mention Katie-safe foods πŸ™‚

So where to begin?? Well, that’s easy:

1) Cider: It comes in a variety of forms these days: hard, soft, frozen, hot…but one thing remains the same: it is pure autumnal deliciousness in a cup. You can find it in almost any grocery store from now through Thanksgiving. However, I would recommend a farmers’ market or orchard if you’re lucky enough to have one nearby. The difference is just impeccable. AND there are just so many options: hard cider, “soft” cider (for lack of a better term), flavored cider, cold cider, hot cider…the possibilities are endless! Well, actually they’re finite…but still, there’s a lot of them. I was fortunate enough to travel up to Philadelphia a few weeks ago for the 2nd annual “Pour the Core” Cider Festival
.

It’s “Cider-Day”!!

Just imagine the scene: a field filled with tents that all offer Katie-safe beverages (well, almost all) AND vendors serving gluten-free food (AKA CHEESE!!!) for my casein-friendly comrades. The sun was shining, I sampled various new ciders…and best of all? I was able to share the day with the Philanthropic Physicist and another former classmate of ours, whom we’ll call the Passionate Pedagogue, whose body has also decided to add gluten to the enemy list since our time in ACE together. The three of us had a chance to catch up and share laughter between sips of various cider. Though I could probably go on for pages just about cider, I won’t. October was full of too many other delicious things. However, I will give  a brief rundown. If you’d like more, well then we’ll just have to get together over a glass of cider πŸ™‚

ACE 15 Love πŸ™‚
  • Plain Apple Cider: Fall deliciousness in a cup! Just make sure you read the label…so many are sweetened with corn syrup IF you buy it at a commercial grocery store. (Especially if it’s noticeably cheaper than other options on the shelf) 
  • Angry Orchard Cider: This is my favorite brand by far (well, for original cider that is) because it has the perfect amount of sweetness for me. Though I should point out that I love sweetness…hence, for some people Angry Orchard is just too much. The best news? Many places serve it on tap now! So you can try it out without the commitment of an entire case purchase.
  • Woodchuck Cider: This brand is a close runner-up to Angry Orchard. They have a wide variety of flavor options…and I will say their specialty flavors put them over the top in certain categories. I tried their pumpkin cider (that’s right PUMPKIN CIDER!!) at the Cider Festival and it was a transformative life moment. Of course, I struggled to find it on shelves for the rest of the season…so take it from me: next year, if you find a box, buy 2 πŸ™‚
  •  Spire Mountain: This was a cider brand I discovered at the festival. The original apple flavor was fine, but nothing that blew me away. Then I took a sip of the Holiday Spiced Apple flavor. My life will never be the same! It really was like Christmas captured in a cup. I’m already excited for December to arrive so I can hunt it down and enjoy some by the glistening lights of the Christmas tree.
  • NEW, UNIQUE FLAVORS!!: This happened. Chocolate Raspberry cider. This needs no further explanation.
You can even get cider in a slushie form!! Another reason to visit Baltimore πŸ™‚

2) Perfect Running Weather: Each October, the Baltimore Running Festival descends upon the Inner Harbor. I’ve run 3 times now: once as a member of a relay team and now twice as a half-marathon runner. This year was the first time I’d be running since the dairy, soy, and corn restrictions were added to my list- but here are some great tidbits of knowledge I learned :

  • You can still carbo-load! (Sort of): I downed a whole platter of Pad Thai the night before my race. Rice noodles…that counts as a carb, right??
  • You can still power yourself on Larabars! Just be careful: not all varieties are dairy-free. And if you have nut allergies, well, use common sense. AKA don’t buy the pecan pie flavor πŸ™‚
  • Gatorade is corn syrup-free!!! Mostly. I noticed on a bottle this summer at a camp with some students that corn syrup no longer appeared on the label. After some research, I learned that Gatorade decided to switch from corn syrup to a sucrose-dextrose mix effective in 2012 after some consumer testing/surveys. Now, I say mostly because a) you never know how long some of those Gatorade packets have been floating around. 2012 seems like a lifetime ago, but it really wasn’t and b) corn hides in all kinds of places so I’m sure there may be traces in some of the natural flavors, etc. So if you’re anaphylactic allergic to corn, I’d say do some more of your own research before diving in.
13.1 miles…I drank so much Gatorade πŸ™‚

 3) All things pumpkin!!:Pumpkin is gluten-free and dairy-free! Plus, you can add it to almost any recipe. Pumpkin seeds can be roasted for a delicious you-safe snack. There are just so many options for this well-rounded gourd πŸ™‚

  • Add it into pancake batter…and then sprinkle some chocolate chips in there for good measure!
  • Pumpkin muffins! (I wrote about them last year…please see here for a refresher!)
  • Warm some (almond or coconut) milk on the stove, add in a little pumpkin, some cinnamon and nutmeg, and add it to your coffee!! (for the official recipe, see here)
  • Make a good decision: if you have food allergies, avoid the array of “pumpkin”-flavored items filling the shelves these days (pumpkin spice M&Ms? Really??). They almost always contain artificial flavorings that could be dangerous to you…and more often than not, they don’t actually contain a single trace of pumpkin. Yes, false advertising…I don’t get how it’s OK either.
Pumpkin Pancakes!

4) The world turns even more beautiful for just a short time!: The trees could not be more beautiful…and the brief window of time before these leaves are swept away by a Fall gust are a stark reminder that life, and even beauty, are fleeting. I’ve recently decided that the adage “Time flies when you’re having fun” ought to be revised to just be “Time flies.” It doesn’t seem to matter how the time is spent, it just keeps flying by.

So, that being said: you have 6.5 weeks of Fall before the Winter Solstice arrives! Get out there and soak up every single second you have left. Enjoy apples, pumpkin, cinnamon, long walks through crunching leaves, whatever it is. Soak it in, savor it, and never forget the immortal words of Anne of Green Gables (via L.M. Montgomery): “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers”. Amen.

Posted in Easter, Sweet Treats, Teacher Life

Is There Life After the Chocolate Bunny??

I’ve made it: Spring Break is approximately 15 hours away. I’m not sure who would win the title of “most excited/off the wall because Spring Break is imminent” between the students and the teachers…but I have a strong suspicion the scales are tipped in the teacher corner. A solid week of alarm-clock-free mornings, laidback sips of coffee while watching the Today Show, reading books for pleasure (though really that will actually be spent writing feedback and comments on countless unit plans for Notre Dame), and of course time to travel and catch up with old friends and family. In fact, I get to meet my new godson!! (Remember that exciting news I wasn’t quite ready to share a few weeks ago?) He is just about 3 weeks old and I’m heading to Virginia this weekend to meet him and to catch up with his mom who was my next-door classroom neighbor/1st grade teacher extraordinaire at my ACE school in DC. Add this to the list of good things I wish I could have promised my “5-Years-Ago Self” would come out of those days in DC πŸ™‚

A friendship that formed in the humble halls of Holy Redeemer DC πŸ™‚

And most of all, Spring Break means one of my favorite weeks of the year is upon us: Holy Week. I wish I could explain it but as long as I can remember, I’ve always loved Holy Week. I remember sitting in my bedroom as a 9-year-old poring over my 365-page “Bible Story A Day”book which I was determined to read in its entirety between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday. While most kids seem to dread a string of nights in a row that entail lenghty Church services, I looked forward to the events of Holy Week with the same excitement most kids reserve solely for Christmas. Each Holy Thursday my family processed up the aisle with our contribution to the family bread tradition. I craned my neck to watch in awe as “regular” churchgoers like myself were called forward to have their feet washed (and the year I finally got to be one of those lucky 12…well you can imagine). I even loved the seemingly endless Eucharistic procession and adoration which followed Holy Thursday mass. Granted I think it was moreso because I played the violin and thus was entranced by the gorgeous string quartet which provided the music just that one night each year. I don’t think I yet understood what was even going on with that golden monstrance.

Good Friday was even better. We got to process through the streets of our small town with members of other churches for the Walking Stations of the Cross. Then we’d be back at church again that night for Lenten supper, one last traditional Stations of the year, and then my favorite activity: transforming the church sanctuary for Easter Sunday. Lily after lily after lily on an assembly line of helping hands. I loved it all. Yes, Triduum always was, and still remains, one of my favorite seasons of the liturgical year. In fact, I enthusiastically professed this fact during my first year in ACE as I scampered out the door with the Saint in a Bow Tie to attend mass at Georgetown…and it was at that moment when several members of our community (and their parents) decided I must be bound for the convent. Needless to say, most people don’t seem to share the enthusiasm I have for Holy Week and the various remembrances therein.

Of course, most people do share that same enthusiasm for Easter Sunday. Though I’d say this enthusiasm tends to be more fueled by visions of bunnies, baskets, and an endless supply of jelly beans than Christ’s triumph over the grave. Baby steps. There is one thing I always looked MOST forward to about Easter: my peanut butter egg. (I know, you thought it was going to be something church-related didn’t you?? See, I really was a typical kid too) It’s the one treat which never grew old, and even up until last year I loved. I even worked in the most amazing chocolate store (Gertrude Hawk Chocolates….I promise you if you haven’t had a Smidgen, you just haven’t lived!) for a total of 6 years during high school and college vacations which meant I had my fair share of delectable chocolate treats. No, nothing says Easter to me like a giant peanut butter egg on Easter Sunday followed by days and days of 50% off leftover eggs of the strawberry cream and caramel variety (there were never PB left on the shelves by Easter Sunday).

Until this year that is. It’s my first official dairy-free Easter. (Though considering last Easter was spent in Urgent Care, I’d say that was my first unofficial dairy-free one). To be honest I haven’t given much thought to the candy side of the holy day this year. One wistful encounter with the jelly bean aisle soon after Valentine’s Day has had me purposely steering clear of the Easter candy shelves for the past month. But then tonight I found myself at Target and it was unavoidable. It’s like Easter is cramming every nook and cranny of that place. As I sadly walked past Cadbury mini eggs and pastel PB M&Ms, I had one of those moments I’ve warned you allergy friends about: I started to feel those “Why is this my reality?” thoughts creeping into my mind; I gazed at the people piling bag after bag of candy into their carts wondering how is it that everyone else in the aisle can safely consume such treats without a trip to the couch or the ER; I felt sadness coming on. So what did I do? I marched myself to the baking aisle, grabbed a bag of Enjoy Life “Katie-safe” chocolate chips ($5.49 a bag, really Target??), and headed home to address this issue head-on. And I’m proud to say here is what ensued:

That’s right. Gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, corn-free PB eggs. They’re delicious AND what’s best? I can pronounce every ingredient in them…and none of them end with the words “dye #4”. Here are the beyond simple steps to make some delicious eggs (allergenic or non) for your own Easter baskets by next weekend! Also, if your kids do have allergies, here is a great link to find safe candy.

Katie-Safe PB Eggs
1 cup creamy peanut butter
1.5 cups powdered sugar*
1/6 cup melted Earth Balance spread (I used coconut)
2 Tbsp. vanilla almond milk

1 cup Enjoy Life semi-sweet chocolate chips (dairy AND soy-free)
1 Tbsp. Earth Balance spread 
*NOTE: Conventional powdered sugar is NOT corn-free. Cornstarch is usually the anti-caking agent used. Unless you bought powdered sugar labeled as corn-free, you will need to make your own. Just substitute tapioca starch for the cornstarch!*

1. Combine the peanut butter, powdered sugar, and melted Earth Balance. Mix as well as you can before slowly adding the almond milk. The batter will become stiff.
2. Form the batter into small egg-shaped balls and set on wax paper.
3. Freeze the PB balls for an hour.
4. An hour later, melt the chocolate chips and Earth Balance in the microwave (I used 15 and 30-sec. intervals and it took 1 min. 45 sec.)
5. Dip the chilled PB balls into the melted chocolate and return to the wax paper to dry.
6. Cry tears of joy. It’s really that simple πŸ™‚


Now I know I usually wrap up with some kind of witty comment or heartfelt reflection…but tonight you’ll have to excuse me. There is a PB egg calling my name from the kitchen.
Happy Almost Easter!! 

Posted in Breakfast!, Lent

Fish Fridays Are Coming…

First, before I move forward with today’s post, I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the unbelievable outpouring of love that came in response to my last post. I sat down to write that post mostly as a cathartic outlet for myself…and I’m just humbled by the number of heartfelt messages and beautiful emails I received. I read every single one and trust me, I cherish each and every kind word, memory, or humorous comment shared. Especially since many of them were from people who never knew my dad, it’s comforting to know that his example and legacy live on to inspire others even all these years later.

Now, onto what’s next. Yep, here we are in March and that means 2 things: I’ve made it through my least favorite month of the year AND it’s almost spring. At least that’s what the calendar claims…apparently someone forgot to clue in Mother Nature. However, what it also means this year is that Ash Wednesday is almost here! And thus so is Mardi Gras AKA Shrove Tuesday AKA Fat Tuesday AKA Fastnacht Day (Yay for PA!!) AKA Who Knows What Else It Can Be Called Day??

Interestingly enough, Ash Wednesday and I have a bit of a meaningful history now. Last year, in late January my crazy “what used to be gluten-induced” symptoms returned with a vengeance. I was the doctor once a week with a double dose of bronchitis and sinus infection that just wouldn’t go away, even after some rounds of antibiotics. I was exhausted all the time, sometimes I even had to rely on my stool to make it through my afternoon classes. Despite my insistence that I was feeling “glutened” again but I swore I hadn’t been around gluten, my doctor was convinced it was just my poor, mixed-up immune system attacking the wrong things in overdrive…because that is sometimes the reality of life with an autoimmune condition. Well, Ash Wednesday arrived. I skipped my normal morning coffee (which at the time always included milk) and breakfast. Aside from the gluten-free host I received at mass, I hadn’t eaten anything all morning. Now for those of you who are practicing Catholics, I imagine you know how you’re usually feeling by lunchtime on Ash Wednesday. You’re hungry, you’re famished, you’re reminding yourself to unite your suffering with Christ and you’re swearing that you’ll never forget how much He loved you again…and that you won’t take the gift of food for granted either. Yeah, sure, and if you’re anything like me that lasts until approximately 12:08 AM when you run to the fridge and grab a snack…because technically it’s Thursday now.

Well, not last year. By lunch time, I was feeling awesome! I was more energetic than I had been in weeks. My stomach didn’t have that dull pain that had come on so slowly that I hadn’t really noticed it was back until I actually spent a few hours without it. My head felt clearer…and though I was still tired, it wasn’t the same kind of “I can’t even formulate coherent sentences right now” brain fog I’d been battling for weeks. And then sure enough, dinner rolled around and I prepared my one meal of the day: a delicious veggie omelette (with cheese). Within an hour, I was fast asleep on the couch holding my stomach and spent a good hour around midnight debating whether the tightness in my chest was severe enough to warrant an ER visit or not. (Fortunately that time it wasn’t). As the weeks of Lent passed, my suspicions grew as without my morning cup of coffee (that was my Lenten sacrifice last year…I know, it was crazy) I was feeling much better in the mornings than I had been.

So why did it take until I ended up covered in hives on Easter Sunday and ended up at Urgent Care to figure out dairy was the culprit? (Well, casein more specifically). I don’t quite know. Call it denial, call it easier said then done to figure out (I really had forgotten about the cheese in my Ash Wednesday omelette so I was convinced it was eggs at first), I’m not sure what to say. What I will say is that it’s not as simple as eating a trigger food and suddenly feeling horrible and knowing what the culprit was. Likewise, it’s not like you stop eating one for a day and you dance around like Sleeping Beauty waltzing through the woods. It takes so much time to heal…and it sometimes takes hours, or even days, before eating a trigger food starts to manifest itself in new, strange ways. (Those of you with eczema, skin rashes, or frequent cold sores but claim you have no food sensitivities, you really should start a food journal. You’d be surprised how many of those are due to trigger foods.)

So, yes, it took me 6 weeks to figure it out. But if it hadn’t been for my Ash Wednesday fast and my Lenten coffee sacrifice, let’s just say the saga could have played out for a lot longer than it did. Once my doctor heard those stories, even she realized I better get back to the specialist for more food trigger testing. Now this year, Lent is going to be a bit trickier. As is my traditional Shrove Tuesday pancake feast. But fear not, I’ve been planning for this.  So here are some important tips to celebrating this week…and then surviving Lent on an already-restricted diet. And just remember, no one on this Earth has the right to judge you…so do what you think is right for you.

1) Make yourself some pancakes, donuts, or even a you-safe milkshake on Tuesday. The rest of the world will be devouring their fastnachts, their drenched-in-butter pancakes, and their too-good-to-be-true milkshakes…you want to be able to join in the fun! Especially if you were gifted the snow day and delay this week, you’ll have plenty of time to cook.

2) Learn to love fish. Maybe you do, maybe you don’t…but on a meatless Friday when you also can’t eat crackers, cheese, popcorn, or grilled cheese, you better get used to the idea. Unless of course you’re allergic to shellfish/seafood.
3) Be careful of tuna fish! The canned variety, that is. That’s right, I was planning my tuna patties for Wednesday’s dinner when I learned two new things: 1) I still subconsciously check labels every single time I open a package of food (survival mechanism I suppose) and 2) canned tuna contains soy. Even the kind in water. Sad, sad day…of course, this does mean I have 2 cans of perfectly good tuna fish to give away πŸ™‚
I promise lots of fish recipes will follow…but for today, pancakes and donuts are the priority. I’m already running behind!
Easier “I can manage this on a workday” Pancakes
(You may remember I posted AMAZING Olympic-worthy pancakes…but on non-snow-days, there just may not be time for all that…these are a worthy quicker substitute, thanks to Elana Amsterdam at Elana’s Pantry)
1 1/2 cups almond flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 Tbsp. arrowroot powder
1/4 cup agave syrup (more if the mix is too dry)
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
1/4 cup water
2 eggs (or flaxseed substitute)

Mix all the ingredients (I added a little honey too) and cook on a skillet or griddle. Of course, feel free to add berries, chocolate chips, M&Ms if you’re allowed such a delicacy (that used to be my apartment’s specialty during senior year at Villanova…M&M pancakes for all!)

“It’s Still Not OK that I Can’t Eat Krispy Kreme..But This Makes It A Little Less Painful” Donuts

2/3 cup rice flour
1/3 cup tapioca flour
1/8 cup potato starch
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. guar (or xanthan) gum
1/2 cup cocoa powder
3/4 cup brown sugar (or I used coconut sugar)
3/4 cup sugar (or the equivalent amount of agave, sweetener of your choice)
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder (or the corn-free substitute)
3/4 tsp. baking soda

3/4 cup boiling water
*I also added some coffee to my batter…delicious!*


1. Mix all the ingredients together and either add to a donut pan or form into munchkin-type balls on a baking sheet.
2. Bake for about 20 minutes at 350 degrees.
3. Optional “frosting”: Melt about 1 cup of chocolate chips and combine with 1/4 cup boiling water to melt. Add about 2 cups of confectioners’ sugar to the mix and a dash of vanilla extract.
4. Wait until the donuts have cooled to remove from the tray and dip in the frosting!
Now I know I didn’t leave you much time…but the day is long and it’s not even 9 AM. Happy Mardi Gras/Shrove Tuesday/Whatever you call it!! Have a great day…live it up πŸ™‚
Posted in Teacher Life, Thanksgiving

Gobble, Gobble…

Yes, I’m aware: wrong national holiday. You may remember back before Thanksgiving I was working hard to reach the magic total at the grocery store to earn my free turkey. Well thanks to my overstuffed freezer and the bottomless stomachs of the Youth Group kids, I managed to reach the threshold and took home my free bird. It has been taking up residence in my freezer since late November and then in my “prepare for a power outage” purge last week, I took it out…and then realized it needed to defrost, so it would probably thaw out around the same time the sidewalk does. The best laid plans…

Today I woke up and realized I’d better cook it today or it would end up in the “Katie left it in the fridge too long and it spoiled” column on my budget spreadsheet. What a damper that would put on my free turkey campaign. Now I’ve never cooked a turkey, allergen-filled or not, so I was expecting this to be an adventure. I read a few recipes and decided to create a concoction of my own that combined several non-allergenic ingredients from various recipes. As I worked away writing trimester exams and my math curriculum map, the house started to smell like Thanksgiving.

                    
                               Gluten-free!

Katie-Safe Turkey
turkey! 
a few scoops of coconut spread
1 lemon
1 head of garlic
1 Tbsp. thyme
bunch of fresh cilantro
salt
pepper

  1. Take the turkey out of the package, remove gizzard bag, and clean out inside and outside turkey.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  3. Melt a few scoops of coconut spread in the frying pan, add thyme, lemon zest and juice from half of the lemon and stir over heat for about 2 minutes.
  4. Salt and pepper the inside cavity of the turkey. Stuff with the other half of the lemon, a bunch of cilantro, a head of garlic (halved), and a dash of thyme.
  5. Pour the lemony “butter” mixture over the outside of the turkey. Add some salt and pepper to the outside too. (Use your discretion for how much!)
  6. Place inside a turkey roasting bag and place it in the preheated oven for 2.5 hours (or so depending on the size of your turkey!)
The finished product πŸ™‚

So tonight, for Presidents’ Day dinner, I saw down to a plate of delicious turkey. Of course there was broccoli too to balance it out. Not quite the same as a Thanksgiving feast…but still had the same sentiment as I realized just how much I have to be thankful for this weekend. Unexpected blessings: an unforeseen 5-day “snow”-cation (which I should note is exactly the same length as actual Thanksgiving break), a night on retreat with some pretty inspiring students, time spent with an old co-worker and her amazing friends and family as we celebrated the impending birth of her first child, word of an upcoming visit from another dear friend, a piece of exciting news I’ll save for a later date, a rerun of the “How I Met Your Mother” proposal episode… Yes, I must say despite the endless piles of snow outside and the ice patches which make walking a treacherous task, life is pretty good. In fact, I’m even grateful for the arduous task of writing my trimester exams because though it seems like with snow days and holidays, I couldn’t possibly have taught anything to these children, when I sat down and tried to address all the skills covered in one test, I was surprised by just how much we’ve managed to cover.

This is what a teacher’s “day off” looks like…

Now as President’s Day comes to a close, I’m packing away my excess turkey. If you live in the Baltimore area and find yourself in need of turkey in any form, you know who to call. You will have to provide your own gravy though…that’s out of my realm of safety. In the meantime, I’ll be eating turkey lettuce wraps, turkey sandwiches, turkey salads, etc…and probably sleeping a lot more if the tryptophan rumors turn out to be true.

Happy Thankful Presidents’ Day…and Gobble, Gobble πŸ™‚
Posted in Life Lessons, Super Bowl Sunday

It’s Super Bowl Sunday!!

Yes, I know, I hear you, “Thank you, Captain Obvious”.

I just have to say today has been a day full of memories for me. For whatever reason, specific events tend to be tied to specific memories…and today has certainly been one of those for me. The Super Bowl might be the most food-oriented event of the entire year. At least in America, that is. Even as a kid, I remember setting out a blanket on the living room floor each year and creating our own indoor picnic. It was the one night of the year we got to eat whatever food we wanted in the living room…that’s a big deal. I remember surrounding myself with bowls of cheese doodles, Ruffles potato chips (with ridges), and my favorite dip (you know the delicious one with the Lipton Onion soup mix combined with sour cream…mmmmm!). My brother and I even got to do something we never, and I mean NEVER, got to do on a Sunday night…drink soda. (That was only reserved for Friday nights and family parties.) Needless to say, the Super Bowl was the one (and I mean ONE) night of the year when I actually looked forward to football coming on TV.

I started thinking back over Super Bowl Sundays of the past few years today, and to my surprise I’m able to consciously remember where I was and how I celebrated each and every one. Granted, I’m sure the fact that it’s on a Sunday night helps. I remember fondly my Super Bowl Sundays at Villanova…see, I played violin at 8 PM mass, and no, Jesus doesn’t stop just for a football game, so each year I started the festivities with my friends and floormates before making the trek across campus (or next-door sophomore year) to an unbelievably empty church. By the time mass was over at 9, it was usually pretty clear who the winner would be…and I’d missed a majority of the commercials…but I’d join back in the fun anyway. I have to say, without a doubt, those 4 SuperBowl nights spent in church are still among my favorite masses I’ve ever played for…or attended for that matter. My years in ACE were spent gathered around the TV for a rare night in which all of us actually ventured down from our various corners of the house to watch the same thing. And in the years since arriving in Baltimore, I’ve spent each Super Bowl Sunday with some combination of the “saints in street clothes” who were my lifeline during my initial days here. And what did all of those nights have in common?? FOOD. Inordinate amounts of delicious food.

Of course, for most of those nights I was free to eat anything and everything my little heart desired. If only I could turn back time and savor those nights… I remember my first Super Bowl Sunday in Baltimore was in the midst of my mystery illness. Just weeks before, it had been suggested by my doctor that I try this “gluten-free” diet and see if it helped. So as I trudged to my friend’s apartment with my bags of potato skins, nacho fixings, and Woodchuck Cider, I remember telling myself that this gluten-free thing wouldn’t be so hard. Of course, I know now that I had no idea what I was doing: at the time my assumption was no wheat ingredient listed, I’m good to go. Present-day Katie just shakes her head at poor, naive 2011 Katie. I cooked on baking sheets full of gluten residue, I used bacon that certainly wasn’t gluten-free, and the cross-contamination on that table I can’t even begin to imagine. Well, if I needed any confirmation that my doctor was correct, I remember leaving my friend’s house that night feeling so sick I almost stopped halfway through my walk home to curl up on the Safeway bathroom floor…yet still, I was skeptical about my doctor’s suspicions. Denial, denial, denial…it IS more than a river in Egypt.

Thankfully, by SuperBowl 2012, I had adjusted to my new lifestyle, and my fantastic group of friends had graciously adapted to gatherings with me…keeping gluten-filled treats on one side of the table, not sharing spoons, knives, etc….and I enjoyed a SuperBowl feast in health and happiness. The same held true last year. So what about this year? SuperBowl 2014… gone are my traditional nachos (corn and cheese), my delicious sour-cream based dip (who knew I used so much dairy??), even my gluten-free crackers and cheese plate is a thing of the past (soy and…yep, milk). And I was assigned to work the 3-11 shift tonight at the hospital! Not shaping up to be the best evening, right? I certainly didn’t think so.

But, as usual, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Because here I sit surrounded by delicious food: Old Bay baked chicken wings, snap peas with hummus, Beanitos White Bean “faux tortilla” chips and guacamole, and a can of root beer (cane sugar sweetened, don’t worry). And I’ve made two new friends who have gathered with me in the great room for a fun-filled evening of commercial-analysis. No, I don’t really understand football so I’ve been typing this during the game and I stop for the commercial breaks. I know, Notre Dame friends, shake your heads, it’s OK. Just remember I didn’t go there for undergrad. The first football game I ever attended was freshman year of college…and let’s just say at the time, Villanova football left a lot to be desired.

A Katie-Safe SuperBowl spread…

So here I am, on another Super Bowl Sunday, learning life lessons once again:

  1. I learned what a “safety” is…and that someone can in fact be winning a football game by a score of 2-0…who knew??
  2. I’ve learned that there seems to be an inverse relationship between the growth of technology and the creative spirit…because these commercials are not what they used to be  
  3. I’ve learned that despite new limitations, with a little bit of planning, I can still enjoy every event…even those based primarily on food
  4. Most importantly, I’ve learned that every day, night, minute, and second are worth celebrating. See, these 2 lovely new friends of mine returned home from the hospital tonight with news that their family member lost her cancer battle today. Tomorrow they’ll be making arrangements and taking her home…but for tonight, they told me they’re going to enjoy the game in her honor…because that’s what she would have wanted.

So as they sit with their haphazard meal of crackers, soup, and wine in plastic cups and I sit with my array of Katie-safe treats, I know this will be a Super Bowl Sunday I’ll never forget. Because this year I was reminded what Super Bowl Sunday is all about: enjoying time with people around you, treating yourself to all the delicious “you-safe” foods you can stomach, laughing at great commercials (or at least attempts at great), and staying up later than you should on a Sunday night.

Because field goal kicks and 4th-down attempts are sometimes short…and so is life…