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 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™‚
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.