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.


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 Product Recommendations, Thanksgiving

There’s So Much to Be Thankful For

Yes, I made all of my classes listen to Josh Groban’s classic tune “Thankful” on Tuesday as part of our reflection before prayer. And let me tell you, the reactions from “Who is this guy?” to “Oh, my grandma LOVES him” made me realize just how old I’m getting (compared to high school students that is!)
Today is Thanksgiving. When I begin to tell you about my week, you may become a bit skeptical about the title of this post; however, you’ll learn, as I have today, that it could not be more true. My week began with a jam-packed Sunday, driving back from a conference in Ocean City with 6 of my students. Also, we were a little extra tired on the ride back since a 1:30 AM leak in the hotel rooms above ours resulted in a middle of the night wake-up call/relocation. I made it through my final two days of classes prior to break, including Grandparents’ Day, before the ER decided it had been too long since we’d been acquainted with one another. So Tuesday afternoon I paid it a visit. Thankfully, it was a quick and rather painless trip (except those IVs…I’m just not a fan), and by nightfall I was home for a day of convalescing. As luck would have it, Mother Nature sent a snowstorm which gave me no alternative but to spend the day on my couch catching up on Hulu, Netflix, and napping…so all in all, things could have been much worse. Then this morning, I dragged myself out of bed before dawn, donned my Burke Family Cider Dash shirt and headed off in the dark of pre-sunrise morning for the Poconos. Well, I was almost halfway there when this happened:

AAA man looked as crestfallen as I did when he broke the news. There was no way this could be fixed without a repair shop and even the one that stayed open for Thanksgiving couldn’t do this job without parts ordered. There was the option of towing all the way to the Poconos for a small fee- but also no guarantee the car could be fixed in time for me to get back for work next week; hence, it was decided by my mom, myself, and my new AAA friend that the best route was to be towed home to Maryland. So here I sit, alone in my apartment, with a plate of Katie-safe stuffing (what would have been my contribution to the family meal).
Now before you start feeling sorry for me, please don’t. First of all, my mom is driving down tomorrow with all the leftovers and spending the night here so all is not lost. Second, upon reflection, this has certainly been the most unique Thanksgiving I’ve ever celebrated, but also I have to say quite a meaningful one in its own way. No, I didn’t make it home to celebrate the way I usually do. And yet, somehow I feel  more in touch with the sentiment of the holiday than I ever have before. Think about it: on the first Thanksgiving, yes, there were families present. But it was also about bringing together all different people from different tribes, families, etc. and sharing what they had, offering what they could, even though some would never cross paths again, at least not intentionally.

Well, today as I sat in the Redner’s QuickStop parking lot with a sad looking vehicle, 3 different people approached me and offered to help. One, completely dressed in his Thanksgiving finest, offered to jack my car for me, suit and all, before realizing that it was more than just a flat tire situation. Another offered to get me a warm beverage while still another occupied my time with questions about this cider dash (I was still wearing my t-shirt). As we drove the almost 90 miles back to Towson together, I celebrated a portion of the day with the tow truck driver. Though I profusely apologized for ruining his Thanksgiving by needing a tow, he assured me that he was spending the day alone at home with his 2 dogs in between calls so that I really was good company. He also has family in Harrisburg so he was thinking of swinging by on the way back north. We shared stories, discussed the recent snow, the worst times of year for car batteries, the frustration of unreliable colleagues, etc. and then we parted ways, never to cross paths again. However, for 90 minutes of one Thanksgiving, I trusted him to provide me with the one thing I needed: transportation, and he trusted me to provide him with something too: entertainment. Well, and a commission 🙂

Yes, I have to say that although I’ve missed my family dearly, a day of solitude also provides an opportunity to really reflect on the concept of gratitude and the multitude of people and things I have to be grateful for today. So in no particular order, here is what I’m thankful for on this most unique of Thanksgivings:

1) AAA: I hesitate each year when I go to write my renewal check; yet somehow every year, I find it paying for itself. Today’s 90-mile tow: free! Broke even this year 🙂

2) Guardian Angels: If you could see the front axle and tires right now, it’s just not pretty. Considering I was on Interstate 78 going about 65 miles an hour at the time, it’s a wonder all I had to do was pull over. Therefore, today I’m grateful to God and whatever guardian angels were with me today keeping me safe, and also the ones last weekend who ensured this didn’t happen while I was driving 3 students back from Ocean City with me.

3) Angels on Earth: There has been quite an uproar on social media lately about stores opening on Thanksgiving night and employees having to work. Now, I do not disagree with this sentiment one bit; stores should under no circumstances be open until tomorrow morning. However, what about the countless people who work every Thanksgiving? I mean the nurses, doctors, police officers, firefighters, EMTs, tow truck drivers, flight attendants, pilots, bus drivers, train conductors, soldiers, etc. of the world who work each and every Thanksgiving, keeping us safe and making sure we get where we need to go. There’s no uproar to keep them home…because we need them. Still, I don’t think they often get the credit they deserve. So to those angels on Earth, thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

4) Katiesafe stuffing: My one contribution to tonight’s Burke family dinner table has instead become my Thanksgiving feast. Thank goodness stuffing was always my favorite dish at the meal anyway 🙂

5) Technology: Using my school iPad, I was able to Facetime into the Burke Family Thanksgiving festivities twice and make the rounds, so in many ways I feel like I was there. I even ate some of my stuffing as I chatted so I don’t feel like I ate Thanksgiving dinner alone.
The wonders of technology…
still made my way around the Burke family living room

6) Friends: I am very grateful to have amazing friends both near and far. Friends to whom I can vent in texts, emails, and even Facebook group messages. Friends that I can call on Thanksgiving morning for a rescue ride from the repair shop. Friends who I know would welcome me with open arms at their Thanksgiving dinner tables tonight, even though I probably couldn’t eat a blessed thing on their table. Friends who lift me up in prayer when they know there’s nothing else they can offer. If I do nothing else right in my life, I still consider myself successful when I look around at the amazing people I’m fortunate enough to call friends.

7) Family: As I’ve probably mentioned before, I have the best family one could ask for. Granted, I know everyone says that, but I think it’s true. Every person does have the best family FOR THEM. My family graciously passed my face around the room and shared stories of the day, asked how I was doing, understood completely that I couldn’t be with them today. And now my mom is making the 4-hour trek to Baltimore tomorrow with all the leftovers, and specially-ordered Katie-safe dessert, in tow.  Again, I don’t know what I did to deserve such a blessing, but I thank God for it today.

8) Love: Back in January, I deemed 2014 to be the Year of Love. I had no idea how true that would become. Whether it’s because I was intent on noticing it more or that it simply became a self-fulfilling prophecy, I am simply amazed by the love which surrounds me each day. I left a school where I was enveloped in love each and every day and joined a new one where I have found more of the same. I work with teachers who meet for morning prayer with me each week. I have students who question, ponder, and get excited about faith, Christ, and Catholicism. I have colleagues who drop everything to drive me to the ER and someone in my life who cares enough to also drop everything, leave work, and drive an hour to sit by my side in the ever-entertaining cubicle of an ER room. Yes, as the soon-to-be-viewed Christmas classic, says “If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that love actually is all around.”

And who says High Schoolers aren’t adorable??

So tonight, I’ll say good night to my first Thanksgiving away from home. And though I won’t go as far as to say I’m OK with not having made it there, I will say that given the situation at hand, today turned out far better than I expected it to when I first heard the clunk and felt the shaking steering wheel. After some deep breaths and a few whispers of the Serenity Prayer, the day turned out all right.
Serenity Prayer
(courtesy of
So wherever you are and however you’re celebrating tonight, Happy Thanksgiving! If it’s your first with food allergies, I’ve been there…but I promise, it’s not as bad as you think. You’re healthy, you’re happy, and you’re surrounded in love. Enjoy the dwindling hours of this special day, and know that I am lastly thankful for each and everyone of you who reads this. I truly love writing and sharing my story, and when I get messages from you that a) people actually read what I write and b) that sometimes it really helps someone, well it means the world to me. So on this Thanksgiving in a special way, I say thank YOU for being you. And please keep reading 🙂

From my table to yours, Happy Thanksgiving!!
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.


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

  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 🙂

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 🙂