Posted in First Aid/Staying Healthy, Gluten-Free/Dairy-Free Life, Labeling Laws, Newly-Diagnosed, Product Recommendations, Tips and Tricks

It’s That Time of Year Again…

That’s right: cold and flu season is here. (I know,more exciting seasons have arrived too but we’re going to be practical for a minute here.) While it is important for everyone to prepare for cold and flu season, the need for those of us with food allergies/intolerances is just a little bit greater. First of all, for those of us with autoimmune conditions like Celiac, any battle with illness can become more complicated than for the general population. Second, you really want to drag yourself to a store when you’re feeling sick to get the medications you need? Finally, and perhaps most important, do you really want to be sitting at a computer trying to research gluten-free/dye-free/whatever-your-restriction-is-free options when the fog of sickness has already descended, and then driving all over the place trying to hunt down the ones deemed to be safe?

Let me answer those questions for you: no, you don’t. So the time is now: stock up your medicine cabinet with all the cold and flu season essentials now while you are clear-headed enough to look into the ingredients…and not so patiently wait for those company reps to get back to you with an answer about their product.

Now before I dive into my list of suggestions, please remember a few things. First, I am not a doctor, nurse, or any kind of medical professional. My suggestions/recommendations are what have worked for me but you should talk to your own doctor about the best options for you. Second, always, always, always read the labels before you buy or use any product- even one recommended to you. Formulas can change every year and though I’ve done my best to research for this year, you just never know when a new product will hit the shelves so even if you know someone else takes it, always verify for your specific ingredient restrictions. Third, these are just the products that work for me. You may find others that are better suited for you, but hopefully this list at least gets you thinking about the items you should have on hand in your medicine cabinet as we head into the heart of cold/flu season.

cold prevention

If you’re anything like me, as soon as you feel a slight tickle in your throat, you’re doing everything you can to prevent it from turning into a full-fledged cold. Here are my go-to “first line of defense”items:

  • Umcka Cold Care: This was recommended to me by a doctor years ago and it has changed my life (especially when I was teaching elementary school where the little ones are always sneezing!) This one is my personal go-to but any from the line I’ve tried have been great. Maybe it’s all in my head but I swear it has made a difference in preventing full-blown colds, or at least minimizing the severity. It can be hard to find in stores. I’ve usually found it in my local health food store, but some varieties are available on Amazon and even in Walgreens this year. I verified with the company this week that all Umcka products are still gluten-free. (If you have dairy allergies, make sure to check the label and check with your doctor as some do contain lactose.)
  • Zinc Lozenges: Along with Umcka, it can’t hurt to start sucking on those zinc lozenges as soon as you feel that first throat tickle. Cold-EEZE tend to be the most common choice and they do currently label them as gluten-free. You will likely find generic brands that are labeled gluten-free as well. A personal favorite of mine (when I can find them!) are Nature’s Way Sambucus Elderberry Zinc Lozenge. They taste great and that added boost of elderberry can’t hurt, right?
  • Elderberry gummies: Now I’ll admit, I was skeptical of the elderberry craze (and I am still just a little bit.) However, there was a free sample of some elderberry gummies in a blogger bag I received a few years ago and I figured what do I have to lose? I have no concrete proof that they work but I also have no evidence to suggest that they don’t- and they taste delicious- so why not give it a whirl?
Cough syrup
  • Robitussin Honey: I personally love this product because it is tested to ensure it is gluten-free and it seems to actually work (for me!). Also, every part of the package is recyclable which to me is a fun bonus. It is a little pricier than some other varieties, but to me it’s worth it. And there can be sales if you keep an eye out in stores and bring this $1 off coupon.
  • Chestal Honey: This was my go-to cough syrup until Robitussin Honey arrived on the scene. My doctor recommended it to me and I never had a problem with it, but the parent company (Boiron) has a policy of not making gluten-free claims about their products so if that makes you nervous, go with Robitussin.
Cough drops

There are SO many choices when it comes to cough drops. Again, my best advice is to read labels and go with one that is confirmed by the manufacturer. Also be wary of just googling things because I found results from as long ago as 2012 and labeling laws have changed A LOT since then. Here are some potentially surprising/useful things I’ve learned while researching cough drops:

  • Ricola is no longer considered gluten-free! I have to applaud Ricola on their transparency here. They honestly state on their FAQ page that their products cannot be considered gluten-free under current FDA regulations…but then they go on to say that their products do contain less than 20 ppm. So essentially it’s up to you and your doctor what’s right for you, but I no longer consider them an option for myself.
  • Hall’s is complicated. The ingredient list seems safe but again the company won’t make a particular claim that the products are gluten-free. Read here for the best description I’ve found and then decide for yourself.
  • Fisherman’s Friend is your friend. This brand is my personal recommendation. They are gluten-free, vegan (that means dairy-free for me), and contain a LOT less ingredients than most of the other brands I’ve seen. Again, they are a little pricier and can be a little strong in flavor initially but it’s worth it to me to know I’m taking something safe for me.
Theraflu: It’s up to you

Theraflu is another one which is complicated. Honestly I have used their hot liquid powder for years now and have never had a reaction. However, when I called to check again this year I received the seemingly-now-standard response from the representative: they don’t use any gluten-containing ingredients but they do not test the final products so they can’t guarantee anything since some ingredients come from third-party vendors. (AKA we have to cover ourselves so we can’t say it’s gluten-free, but we also don’t want to incur the expense of testing to make sure…so good luck.) Also, it took me FOREVER to get someone to respond to me so if you’re planning to call and talk to them about your specific needs, I’d drop everything and start the process right now.


Obviously this one should always be on-hand, but it is getting more complicated too. Name-brand Advil was always my go-to for pain relief and fever but now they issued a similar statement to Theraflu saying they can’t guarantee it’s gluten-free. Also, some of the liqui-gel products DO contain a wheat derivative so I’m sure cross-contamination is also a concern. Of course, Tylenol (who used to label products gluten-free) also released a similar statement last year to cover themselves after the new labeling laws went into effect.

The good news is there are some generic brands that are still labeled gluten-free. I personally have generic versions from CVS and from Target. I do recommend you check the label, call the manufacturer, and also check with your doctor too to see what is best for you.

tea with honey

Finally, the classic for fighting a cold: lots of tea with honey. Just please, please, please make sure your tea is gluten-free. (That’s right, you have to worry about tea too!) I’ll admit I came close to purchasing a box of sugar cookie sleigh ride tea once before I noticed the glaring CONTAINS GLUTEN on the side of the box. (Thanks, Celestial Seasonings for being on top of the labeling!!) I know the name itself should have stopped me in my tracks, but in my mind it was tea. I never thought about barley as an ingredient. Here is a great (recent) article about your various tea options. Again, especially when you have a cold and might reach for decaf/herbal tea options, make sure to do your homework first. The last thing you need is a gluten reaction when you are already sick!

An ounce of prevention

My final word here is of course to do what you can to prevent illness this cold/flu season. Wash your hands thoroughly (and make sure it’s a safe soap!) and often. Try to get enough sleep and avoid situations where you may encounter a lot of germs in an enclosed space when you can. Finally, I am not here to wade into the vaccine debate, especially because I know it can be extremely complicated when you have an autoimmune condition. All I am saying is I strongly recommend that you see your doctor and talk about what is best for you. I did have a doctor who advised against the flu shot for me for a few years when around when I was sick/in the process of finding a diagnosis so my immune system was haywire already, because he was concerned the risks for me outweighed the benefits (again where the importance of herd immunity comes in). I personally have had a flu shot for a few years now because I have a toddler and I haven’t had any negative reaction. Also, some doctors strongly urge Celiac patients to get a Pneumonia shot each year- which is not standard protocol for an average 20 or 30-something, but I’ve had several- so I would just suggest talking to a doctor that you trust…and of course ultimately do what you think is best for you.

Here’s to a healthy cold and flu season for all of us!

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 New Year, Product Recommendations, Tips and Tricks

We’ll Take A Cup of Kindess Yet, For Auld Lang Syne…

In just 2 days, I will pull the 2014 calendar off my wall and 2015 will quietly sneak its way in. In the 48 hours before 2014 makes its quiet escape, however, I’d like to pause and reflect on the year that was. Turn on any news station these days and you’re bound to run into some form of year-in-review. If you watch those reviews, it will seem 2014 was a dark year- one in which planes mysteriously fell from the sky, ebola ravaged a nation and claimed far too many lives, and celebrities and commonfolk alike left us wondering what has happened to the moral compass of our society. Despite my proclamation to the contrary, this year left many of us shaking our heads and echoing the eternal question of Fergie and the Black-Eyed Peas: Where is the love?? Well, I can personally assure you it was there. It may have been overshadowed, as it often tends to be, by the more disheartening news stories…but I guarantee if you stop and take a look at your own year in review (and I don’t mean the one so graciously provided by Facebook), you’ll realize that even if this was not one of the better calendar years in your history, I have no doubt that you also had moments of love. If not, it’s still 2014 and I love each and every one of you: so there you have it 🙂
For me, 2014 will go into my history book as a successful one. I left a job that I loved to try a new job that I’ve also come to love. I gained a whole new set of colleagues and students whom I have grown to love, but I have maintained relationships with the colleagues and students I left behind as well. I DIDN’T MOVE! That’s right: for the first time since 2009 my mailing address has remained unchanged for more than 12 months. (Unbeknownst to many of you, I came very close to moving to New York in 2014…but that’s another story for another time 🙂) I became a godmother to the most adorable little boy I’ve ever seen (granted, I’m a little biased).  I watched the first of my “ACE brothers” marry the love of his life. I watched as my only non-ACE brother proposed to the love of HIS life. I became an official blogger AND GOT PAID TO WRITE!!  I ran my 2nd half-marathon. I spent time in nearly 20% of the states in this great nation (Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Delaware, Ohio, Alabama, West Virginia, and Michigan- in a few hours anyway). I found love in so many places, and I’m hoping I spread love in even more. Sure, the year had its share of struggles too. I fell short in my quest to make it through a year without my body attacking another food (farewell, oats…it’s been real) and my car and I have a bit of a love-hate relationship going on…but all in all, it was a year of joy, laughter, blessings, and love.
2014: A great year in my book 🙂

So, as we round out another year, what do I wish to share with you? Well, as I’m sure you can predict, there will be words of advice and encouragement for a new year…but today is not the time for that. Today all I encourage you to do is to end the year on a positive note and dive into 2015 on an even more positive one! Take some time between now and Wednesday night to think back over your 2014, maybe identify a few things you’re going to leave behind with the calendar year when the clock strikes midnight, and then celebrate a hard-earned end of 2014 and fresh start to a beautiful 2015. The best way to do that? With you-safe foods of course! So here are some suggestions for your last-minute NYE feast preparations:
1)   Celestial Seasonings holiday teas: As the year winds down on Wednesday, I can think of no better way to sit and reflect on the year gone by than with a cup of tea in your hand. Celestial Seasonings outdid themselves this year with their holiday tea line. Cranberry Vanilla and Gingerbread Spice have been my personal favorites, but there are so many other kinds. Just be careful to read the label: some have barley in them (AKA NOT GLUTEN-FREE) but those fantastic people label it rather bluntly. Plus, there are caffeinated and caffeine-free options…in case you need that extra boost to make it to midnight!

2)  Pork and Sauerkraut!: I only learned last year that this is even a tradition, but it’s true. Thanks to my New Year’s Date last year with my favorite octogenarian couple from central Pennsylvania, I learned about this tradition. It supposedly brings luck to eat pork on New Year’s, as a pig roots forward, so you will do the same all year if it happens to be your first meal. The best part is IF you double check the pork tenderloin you purchase, this is an easy Katie-safe (and hopefully you-safe) meal! Here are some great recipes. Adjust as you see fit!

Last year’s pork and sauerkraut dinner!
3)  Shrimp cocktail: Nothing says festive and fancy like shrimp cocktail. At least that’s how I feel. I have a feeling it’s because when I was growing up, the shrimp ring only made appearances at birthdays, Christmas, First Communions, graduation parties, etc. The only time I remember having one in our house when it wasn’t accompanied by dozens of invited guests? New Year’s Eve. A whole shrimp ring to share with no one but my dad…since the rest of the family weren’t shrimp lovers. Now the shrimp part is still easy; the cocktail sauce not so much. Thanks to my frugal/clever ACE roommates, I learned an easy recipe for cocktail sauce during my time in D.C.:
½ cup ketchup (careful! Most have corn syrup!)
2 Tbsp. horseradish
Lemon juice
Worcestershire sauce  (Lea and Perrins is gluten-free, dairy-free one)
(Note: if you have corn issues, Lea and Perrins can’t confirm that the natural flavors don’t contain corn…so this link is for you.
 Yes, it’s a little more complicated than buying that little plastic tub in the middle of the shrimp ring…but better to ring in 2015 with a smile, rather than curled up in a ball on the bathroom floor.

30% off shrimp rings!! Get out there!!

4) Sparking Cider!!: If you’re like most people, ringing in a New Year involves a festive beverage of some kind. While champagne toasts at midnight can certainly be a worthwhile tradition, I prefer my own tradition: sparkling cider. Now I suppose I could come up with a list of reasons why, but the honest truth is that I am cheap. And so is sparkling cider 🙂  It does also stem from another longstanding childhood tradition which involved drinking sparkling cider on Thanksgiving, sometimes at Christmas Eve dinner, and always on New Year’s Eve. And lucky for me, there are still some Katie-safe varieties out there. I recommend Martinelli’s. So many choices, all gluten-free/corn-syrup-free! Granted, if your heart is set on champagne, those are almost all gluten-free too…but really, is it worth the extra $20?? I leave that for you to decide.

Bubbly, delicious, and gluten-free!
And I’m sure they’re on sale somewhere 🙂
Of course you can get creative but hopefully that gives you some ideas, or at least gets you started on thinking about your plans for Wednesday night. Thank you for a great year of writing/reading…your messages really do make my day. And for those of you who read this to the end primarily because you were hoping to find the answer to one of the more frequently asked questions recently: Could it be that one of those examples of love I found this year during the self-proclaimed “Year of Love” was of the boyfriend variety?? Well, to that I say the same thing I’ve told my students for years: You won’t get any information out of me until the day I’m engaged. Until that day, all the characters in the story of my life remain saints and friends. If/When one of those people is elevated to co-pilot status, I promise you’ll know 🙂

Now, soak up the last 36 hours of 2014 (or plow through them if this wasn’t the best of years for you), get excited for a new year of possibility, and I’ll see you in 2015!

Farewell, 2014!

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 🙂

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 🙂
A Katie-safe holiday spread 🙂
Merry Christmas from my little apartment!!
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 Gluten-Free/Dairy-Free Life, Meals/Sides, Newly-Diagnosed, Product Recommendations, Teacher Life

If I Could Save Time in a Bottle…

Yes, this beautiful song was written to address your true love; you know, “the one you want to go through time with”.  However, I think if I were to compose a love song right now, it might be directed toward that ever-elusive companion of time. There just doesn’t seem to be enough it. I hung this quote on my mirror to remind myself to stop complaining about my “lack” of time, and I’ve taken to scheduling out my days quite extensively in my planner. 


Yet, despite my most faithful and fervent efforts, time just slips through my grasp. I seem to wake up each morning with a yet-unfinished to-do list from the day before, and an overwhelming desire to roll back over and steal just a few more minutes of precious sleep. Of course I think this is the case for most people in our world these days, and I know it’s the case for the teachers of America right now. These dwindling days before Thanksgiving are quite possibly the longest of the year. 5 more days…but who’s counting??

However, I will say that I have bad news for those of you with food issues. As much as it pains me to say it, your pesky food allergy/intolerance is bound to steal a little bit more of your precious time…at least for a little while. As I stood in my kitchen at 5:15 AM today, fully dressed and carefully tying my apron to protect my school clothes,  I couldn’t help but think back nostalgically on the days when just stopping for a lunch I could bring to school was an option; OR even better, I imagined being able to breeze through the lunch line with my pre-paid lunch card teachers are lucky enough to have at my school this year and just be able to fill my plate with delicious items. Unfortunately, the reality of my world, and many of yours too, is that there is no such thing as eating on the run. Hence, this morning I stood in the darkness of the pre-6 AM morning with my George Foreman, some chicken breasts, and a package of ground turkey. My late-night tutoring/teaching math to construction men/attempting to maintain some semblance of a social life schedule leaves me with little time for meal preparation. Hence, the early morning hours and I have become well-acquainted. 

And this is only one of my calendars…

As I grilled my chicken for the week’s lunches and browned my turkey for a crockpot chili and a baked ziti, it hit me: these are the quick, time-saving recipes I’ve adopted and I would have LOVED someone to recommend back in my cabinet-emptying days when I truly believed that all (food-related anyway) was lost. I think our gut instinct (get it, gut? Food issues?? I may be slightly delirious at this point!) is to make life complicated for ourselves. No, we can no longer grab one of those shiny pre-made meal-in-a-box options at the store. But we can help ourselves by whipping up one of these not-too-time-consuming meals which will sustain us for days and days. So here are some tried and true recipes, directly from my kitchen to yours.

All you need is a package of ground turkey, some brown rice pasta, diced tomatoes, and then all the spices you already have waiting for you in the cabinet!

1. BAKED ZITI IS BACK!: That’s right, this delicious childhood treat is back in your life. And no, I’m not delusional…I found cheese! That I can eat!! Take a moment, I know, catch your breath. And we’re back 🙂 I browned my ground turkey (or sometimes I use beef, depends on the food budget for the week!) 

1/2 package of ground beef/turkey
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can tomato paste
garlic powder
whatever other Italian spices strike your fancy

1. Brown the ground beef. Add in onion and garlic, if desired.
2. Add diced tomatoes, tomato paste mixed with half a can of water.
3. Add your spices to taste.
4. Meanwhile, you should be cooking your brown rice pasta (or whatever is you-safe)
5. In a glass dish, combine the stovetop mixture with the cooked pasta.
6. Mix together, add some magical Daiya cheese, and bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes!

2. “But I Still Have Ground Turkey And a Cabinet Full of Beans” Chili!: As most of you know, I am someone who likes plans, structure, and order. I like recipes and I precisely measure each ingredient. And yet, with this one, even I just let the creativity (or necessity based on what I had in my cabinets) take over. So here is what I used, but feel free to go rogue. If I can do it, I have no doubt you can too!

ground turkey, browned
can of diced tomatoes
can of pinto beans
can of garbanzo beans
chopped red peppers and onion
minced garlic
water or you-safe broth
whatever spices strike your fancy!

Put all the ingredients in your crockpot and heat on low for 6-8 hours (I left mine for 11 and it was fine!) and be prepared to come home to a delicious, warm, time-saving meal!

3. “It’s OK to Take a Shortcut” Holiday Treats: I learned earlier this week that the infamous Starbucks red cups are back. It means the start of a nostalgic few weeks where I dream of my December mornings sipping on gingerbread lattes and peppermint mochas. Now, as I mentioned above, my mornings are jam-packed already. SO yesterday when I came across this delicious peppermint mocha coconut milk at MOM’s Organic Market, I allowed myself to splurge. Now when I brew my coffee in the morning and I find myself craving the peppermint mochas of Decembers past, I’ll just heat up some of this, mix it in with my coffee, and I’ll be on my way with December deliciousness in a cup! The shortcuts available to us are rare, so when you find one…take advantage!

Thank you, SoDelicious!

Now I know those are only three suggestions, but at least it’s a start! The truth of the matter is that among the many challenges you’ll face in adjusting to your food issues,  I can guarantee one of the more frustrating aspects will be time management. You have a wedding to attend this weekend? Well, yes you need a dress and time to shower, fix your hair, apply makeup, etc. but you also need to save time to cook a meal and consume said meal before you leave for the ceremony…unless you’re packing it in Pyrex. You have a sports tournament or Baltimore Youth Catholic Conference (yay!) to attend this weekend?? You need to leave for school on Friday with your bags packed, a sleeping bag, and of course your 3-day supply of safe foods…which you need to find time to prepare between now and Friday morning. There are very few off days and there will almost never be a day where you get to take home leftovers from a work function or a friend’s BBQ which sustain you for a few days. Those days, my friends, are over. 

I know, I know, you’re thinking, “OK, Katie. Time for the positive pick-me-up message here!” And you’re right, it is. Yes, the time management is a challenge. Yes, some of your time is added to the list of casualties brought on by your new reality. However, think about the time you’re buying by taking care of yourself with the proper foods. Take me for example. Yes, I’m up before the sun some days when I would much rather be fast asleep under the warm covers for another 45 minutes or so. However, the food I’m preparing is safe and thus enables me to live every other minute of the day to the fullest. Could I sleep in for those 45 minutes and take my chances in the school cafeteria? Sure, I could. But I can guarantee it would result in hours spent on the couch, tired and listless as my poor body tries to sort out what is worth attacking and what isn’t.

As the quote I mentioned above reminds us, each of us is given the same amount of time. We each get 1,440 minutes in a day. I don’t know about you, but I want to be living each and every one of them to the fullest. So if that means sacrificing some of those minutes in order to make safe foods which will make the other minutes more worthwhile, that’s an opportunity cost I’m willing to pay.  As Jim Croce says, “There never seems to be enough time to do the things you want to do once you find them”. And there won’t be. So be thoughtful in choosing those things; spend your time on the ones that matter most to you…even if it means befriending a darkened kitchen before the sun is even awake. You may even find what you want to go through time with there in the quiet early morning hours. I know I did…it’s called coffee 🙂


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 🙂

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 🙂

ACE 15 Love 🙂
  • 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 🙂
  •  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 🙂

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 🙂
  • 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 🙂

 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 🙂

  • 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 Expos, Gluten-Free/Dairy-Free Life, Product Recommendations

For the First Time in Forever

No, I promise I’m not just another Frozen-obsessed enthusiast (though really that is partially true) but rather those are the words I heard uttered by a young visitor to the Gluten & Allergen-Free Expo last weekend. She was surveying tables filled with samples from “Enjoy Life” and she exclaimed “I can eat anything I want here and I don’t have to ask if it’s safe first….for, like the first time in forever!” I couldn’t agree more with that young girl’s enthusiastic assessment of last weekend’s Expo. For those of you have been reading my blog for awhile now, you remember that last year I described my weekend at the Allergen Expo as a fairy tale. Well, if I thought that was a fairy tale, I had no idea what the future had in store for me. I keep saying to my friends (only semi-jokingly) that I’m living my own Baltimore fairy tale at the moment…

I mean, my office is in a castle. I teach in a carriage house. I spend my days teaching teenage girls about God’s grace at work in their lives…and get paid to do it! I just spent a weekend with the service group leaders from my school having amazing conversations with inspirational young women who I have no doubt will set the world on fire in their own unique ways. I get to plan retreats and service experiences to bring a little light into the darker corners of Baltimore and expose my students to the idea that a world so vastly different from their own exists just a short 15-minute drive away. I’m celebrating the one-year anniversary of moving into my own apartment…and NOT having to move again for the first time in several years. And then last weekend, I got to walk around the Expo I described as a fairy tale a year ago as an official blogger. Seriously, I think I’ve uttered the phrase, “My life is so surreal right now” more in the past month than in all my 28 years combined.

This is where I work.
My office window is in the turret on the right…not the window that’s lit up in this one, but the one below it.
That sentence doesn’t even seem real…
(Photo courtesy of Chris Ferenzi Photography)
This is the view from my classroom door.
This is what happens when you teach in a Carriage House…

No, there simply aren’t words to explain the joy which filled that Convention Center last weekend and to do it justice. However, it’s my job to try and do just that…so I’ll see what I can do.

Now, many of you know that I deemed 2014 the Year of Love, and thus have been offering a variety of Love Shout-Outs since January. In an effort to keep with this theme, but not confuse anyone who may be counting, I decided to offer some “Sprinkles of Love” to some of the events, people, and products I found at last weekend’s Expo. I will write longer about some in the future…but for now, here is my attempt to share the joy of Secaucus with the masses.

Sprinkles of Love to:

1) The GFAF Expo team: Registration could not have been more seamless this year. Everything was prompt and everyone greeted you with a smile. I know it’s not easy to put on a production like this every few weeks…but team, you certainly made it look like a walk in the park!

2) DF Mavens Ice Cream: I could not be more sincere when I say this was the best ice cream I’ve ever had. Dairy-filled or not. They had clearly labeled soy-based, almond-based, and coconut-based options. Though I couldn’t try the soy-based option, I sampled all the others…and let me tell you, it was simply divine. So much so that I sent the photo below of my first cup to the Philanthropic Physicist with the message “I think I might actually be in heaven…” They’re based in New York City but have a great website to search for their products in local stores AND they even have A SHIP DIRECT TO YOUR HOME OPTION!!! (*cough, cough* My birthday is coming up in less than 4 months :-), and to top it all off, a portion of all their profits go to a non-profit organization called Mercy for Animals. Yes, I could not be more impressed with DFMavens. So, love sprinkles to you!

My little piece of heaven…

3) Mo’Pweeze Bakery: The name seems odd, right? Well, the reasoning behind it is downright adorable. This family-based bakery was inspired by a mom’s desire to provide delicious treats for her allergy-ridden family, especially her son who now has 19 different food allergies! The name comes from his small-child attempt to say “More, please!” after tasting his first allergy-free treat. Insert heart melt here. Aside from the precious story behind this company, their treats could not be more delicious! I tasted both the banana walnut cupcake and chocolate raspberry before purchasing some to take home…and coercing my mom and sister into joining me in the Buy 3, Get 1 Free deal they had that weekend. Last but not least, these men and women could not have been more pleasant, upbeat, and enthusiastic about what they do! Plus, they seemed almost as excited as me to be part of the Expo. Almost 🙂 And the best news for you?? They deliver nationwide. Take my word for it: Check out Mo’Pweeze Bakery!

4) PASCHA Chocolate: I honestly can’t even type this without getting absurdly excited. I turned the corner at the fair to see a display of chocolate bars. Assuming this would be something I couldn’t enjoy, I kept walking…until I saw the sign that read “free from peanuts, nuts, dairy, soy, eggs, wheat & gluten”. I stopped. I read it again. I tried to prepare myself for the disappointment I was sure would be inevitable when I asked about corn. The only ingredients? Cocoa, sugar, cocoa butter, and corn-free vanilla. Be still my chocolate-loving heart. You better believe I sampled every variety…at least once. AND to top it all off, there was a coffee-flavored bar. That’s right. Someone thought to put coffee grinds in a Katie-safe chocolate bar. I still don’t have words. Other than to say I purchased several bars before I left that weekend…including the very last coffee one they had with them. Oh, and I should also mention they deliver. And it’s all certified fair trade. I still don’t believe it either but I know where I’m buying chocolate from now on:

5) Namaste Foods: This is a brand I was already very familiar with. My mom makes pancakes for me with this mix when I go home to the Poconos, my sister made cookies using their mix for our family BBQ in August, and I have their muffin mix in my cabinet as we speak (well, as I type and you read I suppose). They were sampling their Blondie Mix at the fair…and it was as amazing as I expected. Look for their products…you won’t be sorry! 

6) Gluten Free Gloriously Bakery: If you are having any kind of special event in the greater New Jersey area and need a gluten-free cake, these are your people. I couldn’t sample most of the items because of the egg and dairy ingredients but everyone I saw walked away with a smile on their face. And I stood in awe at their gorgeous cake display for a good 10 minutes. I also learned that it’s all the rage these days for brides to have a fake fancy cake on display at their wedding and then serve a cheaper one in the kitchen. I just don’t get what has happened to weddings in our society…but that’s another thought for another time.

7) Wink Frozen Desserts: Cake batter, cinnamon roll, cafe latte; these were just a few of the flavors I sampled at Wink Frozen desserts display. Need I say more?? Well, I should add it’s made from pea protein and was initially planned to be a low-calorie frozen dessert (100 calories for a whole pint…good-bye tear-filled life chats over Ben and Jerry’s, ladies!) but has the amazing side benefit of being vegan and gluten-free! They aren’t in many stores yet but they’re coming to the Whole Foods New Jersey market this fall. Keep an eye out for them!

8) Some amazing authors: I won’t say much about these lovely ladies yet because I will be writing reviews of their new books later, but let me just say how inspiring they are to everyone at the fair. I just wanted to come home and bake up a storm. Also, Elena and her amazing illustrator, Eileen, are coming out with an allergy coloring book soon and it is AMAZING!!! I can’t wait for it to be published…I only wish I had thought of it myself! 🙂
I had a great time getting to know these lovely ladies!
I’ve only read a few pages of Amy’s book and I’m already inspired!

9) Gluten-Free Love: It was a week before the expo when I got an email. As if I wasn’t excited enough already, there was more.  A man named George had decided to propose to his gluten free girlfriend at one of her favorite events: you guessed it, the Gluten Free, Allergen-free Expo!!! We as bloggers were asked to help out by attending the demonstration where the big event would go down, and take all kinds of pictures and videos. In preparation, we had a picture of the happy couple so we’d know who to look for.  Well, all I have to say is that I’ve never been so nervous for someone I didn’t know in all my life. (To any potential spouses of my close friends, I’ve learned from this whole experience that I don’t want to know when you’re planning to propose…not because I’m afraid I’ll tell her, but moreso because it’s just too much for my sappy, romantic heart to handle. I actually prayed for this girl every night that week leading up to the Expo, and I hadn’t even met her yet!) I spent the whole demonstration watching this poor guy and then looking away so I wasn’t the creeper staring at a couple I didn’t even know.  And of course I did manage to learn quite a few tips from the awesome presenter, Amy. The proposal went off without a hitch, Martina said yes, a gluten-free cupcake appeared, and there were more tears than you can possibly imagine for perfect strangers (not my own…I may be a hopeless romantic, but I’m still not much of a crier). In a word: precious.

I think I watched these 2 during the presentation more than the cooking tips…
So much joy! And a gluten-free cupcake!
(She has Celiac…he does not; Love can conquer all!)

All in all, the Gluten And Allergen-Free Expo was one of the best experiences I’ve had in a long time. I highly recommend the weekend to anyone who has food allergies, or even if you don’t! They have fairs all over the country so check out their website…and if you want to start planning ahead, I’m sure I’ll be back in Secaucus next September. So save the date now to share in the fairy tale 🙂

My loot from the weekend!
Family Fun at the Expo! You know you want to join us next year!!

Posted in Product Recommendations, Teacher Life

Love Shoutout #3: The Children

I know, generic right? Yes, but it also couldn’t be more true. Now I think you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who will deny that they love children; however, I have to say that this week I’ve been slightly more aware of just how much love I have for them. And though I’m speaking specifically about the 78 students I have on my rosters each day, this feeling also encompasses the hundreds of other students I pass in the halls on a regular basis, some of whom I’ve taught, others who simply remain excited to wave to me and ask me a series of “Do you know my sister/brother/2nd cousin once removed??” questions.

This week has been a long one (though I feel like that goes without saying when you’re a teacher in May/June) and I’ve had an endless stream of thoughts running through my mind. I’ve felt a bit out of sorts and more than a bit off kilter. But guess who isn’t?? That’s right…the children. Like clockwork, every morning at 7:45 they walk in. The familiar refrain of the “Is it B-day?”/”What was the Spanish homework?”/”Miss Burke, I have a new video to show you” chorus begins. And we’re off…

Courtesy of 4Moms

The other day one of those astute scholars surprised even me when he remarked (in a sing-song voice I can only wish to replicate), “Miss Burke, you’re tired today. Did you eat gluten??” (He also stresses the 2nd syllable in the word which is just precious.) His question threw me on so many levels; first, because I hadn’t realized that my tiredness was that apparent; second, because he knew that gluten would cause such an effect in my persona, and third because in the midst of the craziness that is a middle schooler’s brain during exam week, he took the time to notice his teacher and express concern about something that seemed slightly off. Now fortunately he was incorrect- I hadn’t eaten gluten. Just a few too many late nights followed by early mornings coupled with end-of-year craziness between the hours of 8:00 AM and 3:00 PM. However, his observation struck a chord. It was almost like walking around in my own version of It’s A Wonderful Life…only in reverse. I watched as 8th graders for a brief, and I mean BRIEF, moment became nostalgic and emotional about their finals days in grade school. I watched as kindergartners, whom I had met as the tiny 2 and 3-year-old siblings of my 3rd graders, waved excitedly across the courtyard in their tiny caps and gowns. And of course, my current class, whom I met as fresh-faced 5th graders 20 months ago, have grown (some exponentially) into soon-to-be 7th graders. I couldn’t help but pause and think: what would my life be without these children who populate a majority of the hours in my week?

Yes, I’d probably more alert and well-rested…but I also know I’d laugh a lot less. I wouldn’t smile as a one student pleads, “Please give me homework…30 problems! I’ll even do 60! I just need one more grade before report cards!” I wouldn’t chuckle as another responds to a short answer question on his exam with, “Miss Burke, I’ll be honest…I have no idea how to solve this problem. But I do know that Jesus is the answer to all problems in life so I’m going to write that and hope you have mercy on my soul. Like Jesus does.” I wouldn’t shake my head as the following conversation ensued between 3 others at recess before I even had a chance to get a word in edgewise: “Seriously, don’t you know this by now?? Miss Burke won’t answer questions about her personal life until she gets engaged! She says it’s because she wouldn’t want us to know about someone unless they’re going to be around forever…I keep telling her we won’t get attached. Plus we’re the ones she can count on if it doesn’t work! I’ll bring in the ice cream, an Adele CD, we’ll have a good cry, and it will all be fine. Oh! And we can watch a movie. Sleepless in Seattle. Heartbreak fixed.”

If only this were a Religion test, not Math…

Yep, and that was all in the past 2 days. Laughter, jokes, and eye rolls aside, I also would never feel as loved as I do. Whether it’s my students or my friends’ children, there is nothing that makes you feel quite as loved as a hug, a smile, or a laugh from a child. Now I know you’re probably thinking to yourself, yes Katie, but where is the allergy help in all this? Well, I’m getting to that. Actually, the connection is twofold. First, every person in this world finds joy and love in different places. Whereas I am fortunate enough to find it in the young people I get to work with every single day, for others it is found elsewhere: in patients, in customers, in conquering a seemingly impossible design project, lab experiment, or computer code. There are so many places to find joy…and when your world has been turned upside down, whether by food allergy or something else, those are the places and the people you need to turn to, rely on, and embrace until you get your feet back on the ground and restore the balance in your world. Second, I think there are a lot of adjectives that get thrown around to describe young people in today’s world. You hear them called lazy, self-centered, technology-obsessed, etc. However, no one seems to focus on the fact that these kids are growing up in a world which hands them challenges unlike anything I ever knew as a pre-teen. Yes, I had to remember my locker combinations, the books I needed, when my tests were, where my homework was, and how to make it to class in those 3 precious minutes of passing time I was granted. But I never had to practice intruder drills, remember where the safe zones were in every classroom to which I traveled, or factor in time to ring a doorbell between wings in my own school building during that 3-minute sprint between classes.

And yet somehow, on top of all that, these kids also manage to say things like, “Miss Burke, can I wash my hands? I ate peanut butter at lunch and I don’t want to get any on this desk where _______ sits next period?” or “Are you going to be OK if I eat my sandwich? I don’t want you to breathe in my bread?” (during lunchtime tutoring), and my personal favorite (after a student offered me the pizza coupons he found in his textbook) “OH wait, that’s gluten and dairy! Guys, I just offered Miss Burke death. I am so sorry!” Yes, if nothing else, allergy-aware ought to be added to that list of adjectives describing today’s young people. Or perhaps vigilant would be more appropriate. The ones living with their own allergies quietly turn and read wrappers or turn to their teacher for verification before diving into a treat, the ones living with allergy-ridden siblings are quiet caretakers, not only for their siblings but for anyone they know is dealing with the same, and all of them subconsciously spend their days worrying about/caring for the allergy-ridden individuals in their lives, including me. I’m not sure how they do it exactly, but the way they do it in such a laidback, “this is just the way it is” manner inspires me to do the same.

They’re never short on creativity.
Unfortunately including Miss Burke’s corn syrup issue doesn’t earn any points on the rubric…

So in short, two lessons from this week. 1) Find what it is that brings you joy, love, and laughter and rely on it until you get your bearings straight and 2) Believe in the promise of the future. I mean think about it, in how many Fortune 500 companies do you have employees wiping down their table after they finish eating with a non-bleach, all-natural Clorox wipe to protect the employee after them from an unforeseen allergen contamination? And yet, in elementary schools across the country kids are doing that each and every single day. So in my opinion, 20 years from now, the world will be a much more allergy-friendly place…not because there are less allergies, but because there are more people who are aware and caring.

Now I promise, my next post will have a recipe…but until then, I’ll give a quick plug for an amazing pick-me-up/carry-me-through-the-last-weeks-of-school treat. Califia Farms Cold-Brew coffee. Dairy-free, gluten-free, caffeine-filled!…and oh-so-delicious.

Until then, I’ll be laughing and smiling and enjoying time with my kids for 8 more days before I send them off for the summer. And of course, I’ll be drinking LOTS of coffee 🙂
Flashback to 2008:
One of my favorite pictures with some of my first-year class…so much love. And craziness
…but then again, isn’t love crazy anyway?? 🙂
Posted in Breakfast!, Meals/Sides, Product Recommendations

If Katie Squeals in Excitement…

…and no one is there to hear it…well, I think you know the rest.

I found myself pondering this age-old philosophical question over the past few weeks as I’ve adapted to an interesting aspect of living alone: lack of someone with whom to share my various (usually very excited) reactions to life. As you might have determined by now, I tend to approach life with a great deal of enthusiasm, which often manifests itself in overenthusiastic reactions which those who have been lucky enough to live with me grew to know and love. Just kidding, I’ve really been the lucky one with roommates over the past few years.

I left my ACE family of 5 for a year with “The Leading Lady of Lacrosse”. Really. She’s a director of events for U.S. Lacrosse (HUGE here in Baltimore my non-Charm-City friends) and she travels all over the country running tournaments. When she was home from her various road trips, she graciously listened to my endless ramblings about my new school, my new city, etc. Then I moved closer to my school in the cutest apartment with a wonderful person I’ll call “Beautiful B”…because she is truly one of the most beautiful people I’ve ever known. Partially because she has a seemingly effortless beauty and grace about her, but mostly because of who she is on the inside. She has a heart of pure gold, an infectious laugh that is simply contagious, and our life chats across our little dining room table remain among my favorite Baltimore moments. Plus she was there for the dreaded “gluten adjustment”. That alone earns her a gold star for patience. Then there was “the Caring Counselor”. Her day job requires that she counsel people…but she was gracious enough to do the same for me each night as we sat on our respective couches and caught up on our days. So for all my years, I’ve been richly blessed with people who at least tolerated my enthusiasm for life..even if they didn’t quite love it 🙂

B and Me! 🙂

So imagine the shift over the past few months as I’ve adjusted to life on my own. Now I will say, full disclosure, I do actually LOVE living alone. Mostly because everything in every cabinet and drawer is completely safe; I can eat off the counter if I drop something; best of all, I only need one sponge and my orange sticker system is simply an artifact of my past life. However, there are moments when I desperately miss the smiling faces, listening ears, and infectious laughs of the people I was blessed to call my roommates over the years. Case en pointe: Monday night. For those who might be living under a rock, “How I Met Your Mother” is in its final weeks. I LOVE this show. Two Mondays ago we met the mother and it was just about the most precious thing I’ve ever seen. Then this past Monday, Ted gave the most moving speech on what love means that I’ve heard in a long time (I know, I know…Year of Love!!). Through it all, I’m sitting on my couch hugging a pillow, wanting to squeal or aww or jump up and down…but it still feels odd to do that with no one around. Same thing on Friday night when I finally caught up on “Big Bang Theory”. I’m pretty sure I let out a squeal on that one. And of course now there’s the Olympics. How do you watch the drama unfold on the ice without voicing your emotions?? I don’t know.

Now before I get too much farther down my tangent, this is supposed to be about food not television, so I promise I’m back. Last night, I decided to whip up one of my favorites to enjoy as I watched the Olympics: breakfast for dinner. I settled on pancakes, took out my new griddle, and set off on my adventure to recreate pancakes that would taste like their gluten-filled/soy-filled relatives. If gluten alone is your issue, get Gluten-Free Bisquick. It’s amazing and your pancakes will be too!! Unfortunately for my soy-free buddies, it’s emblazoned across the side : CONTAINS SOY. And corn. Sigh…

Thankfully, I stumbled across a book recently which has quickly become one of my top 10 life resources: Cooking for Isaiah. It’s written by a mom who wanted to cook great meals for her son who was diagnosed with food sensitivities to both gluten and dairy. There are few cookbooks I recommend (since most recipes can be found on blogs or pinterest these days) but this one I would absolutely order if you have gluten and dairy issues. I decided to adapt her recipe for chocolate chip pancakes…OH MY GOODNESS. I’m not kidding, these were some of the best pancakes I’ve had in my life. Gluten-filled ones included! If you have food allergies, do yourself a favor: make these, enjoy them, freeze some, love them again. It will, for a brief moment anyway, make you forget that you can’t partake in typical Sunday brunches anymore. If you don’t have food allergies, I’d still recommend them…but the ingredients required are not likely to be ones you have on hand in an average kitchen. In which case, I suggest you just need to come visit me for breakfast sometime. Seriously, I had visions of my own allergen-free bed-and-breakfast in my head all night.  The recipe is as follows:

 Olympic-Worthy Pancakes
2/3 cup white rice flour
1/3 cup tapioca flour (or starch)
1/8 cup potato starch
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. guar guam (or xanthan gum)
1 tsp. baking soda/cream of tartar mix (or baking powder for corn-friendly folks)
4 Tbsp. coconut sugar
3/4 cup almond milk (or whatever kind you can drink)
1 egg (or I used 1 Tbsp. flaxseed w/ 3 Tbsp. water as egg replacement)
1/2 Tbsp. molasses
1/2 Tbsp. honey
1 Tbsp. grapeseed oil
1/4 cup mini chocolate chips

Mix it all together. Add a little more milk or oil if the batter is too thick. Otherwise pour on the griddle… 
…cook, and enjoy!!


Then just when I thought my weekend had contained enough excitement, tonight I did something I’ve been dreaming about for two years now: I ate a dinner roll. A warm one, fresh out of the oven. See, I went on a shopping adventure today to prepare for our school’s upcoming service project which led me to a place I haven’t visited in years now: the bread aisle. I strategically avoid it on my shopping trips, so much so that I forget it even exists anymore, but today I made my triumphant return. And it smells as amazing as I remember. So as I loaded my cart with 16 packages of rolls, cans of soup, and pounds of American cheese, all I could do was laugh at the irony that is my life. I’m not exaggerating when I say that my car was filled with more gluten and dairy today than it probably has ever been before. And all of that left me craving one thing I never crave anymore: warm bread. So after a stop at my school to drop off my purchases (seriously, you didn’t think I’d let all that in my house did you??), I came home and got to work. And I did it. As the snow fell outside my window once again, I made dinner rolls. And while it was still steaming, I bit into it. I’ll be honest, the taste is slightly odd in the sense that it’s coconut-y so it seems more appropriate for dessert…but the texture and the temperature were perfect!
Again, I wanted to shout it out to the world: I just ate bread!!! But as you can imagine, I don’t think my neighbors here would understand or appreciate the enthusiasm of that sentiment. So instead, I’m sharing it with you. And here is the recipe…so you can have your own “I’m beyond excited about life right now” moment wherever you are.
Katie-Safe Dinner Rolls
1 cup tapioca flour
1/2 cup coconut flour
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup grapeseed oil
1 Tbsp. flaxseed w/ 3 Tbsp. water

Mix and form into rolls. Bake at 350 for about 25 minutes…or until brown.
They may not look amazing…but they are! 
A perfect dinner…complete with a fresh, warm dinner roll 🙂
So now I’ve digested my delicious roll, I’ve packed some away in the freezer for future enjoyment, and I’m settling in with a hot cup of tea and a coconut-rolled date snack to watch figure skating. Seriously, it’s amazing what I can accomplish with 2 weekend days in a row of no work shifts! Now just imagine what I could accomplish if this were my all-day, everyday in my bakery!? I need to start hunting for those capital investors…