Posted in Bread/Muffins, Gluten-Free/Dairy-Free Life, Pumpkin season!

So Much Pumpkin, So Little Time

As usual, October is somehow flying by and here we are at Halloween week. I don’t know about you but I feel like every year I spend September getting excited for all things pumpkin, and then somehow October arrives, flies by, and I feel like I didn’t savor it enough. (Granted yes, November/Thanksgiving are also time for all things pumpkin, but with Thanksgiving so late this year I plan to shift into gingerbread and peppermint mode a little early this year.) So now that we have less than a week left of October, it’s time to celebrate with all things pumpkin.

If you have been worried about missing out on pumpkin treats now that you’re gluten-free or dairy-free, I have great news for you: pumpkin treats are just as delicious without those pesky allergens. I think it’s because the pumpkin itself is so moist that it helps prevent drying out that often happens with gluten-free flour or dairy-free substitutes. Now if you have been a long-time reader of this blog, I’ve shared some pumpkin recipes before. Here is one for cinnamon-sugar pumpkin muffins (which I still love!) I also shared a recipe for pumpkin creamer, which is also still good but I must admit I don’t use it anymore since I discovered Califia Farms pumpkin spice creamer. Now that I have a 2-year-old, it was worth $5 to get the bottle at my grocery store instead of making it from scratch. I also shared a pumpkin muffin recipe in that same post 6 years ago BUT it’s time for an update because I have found one that is a dramatic improvement.

I stumbled across this recipe on Pinterest one day in September and decided to give it a try in advance of pumpkin season (in case it needed some tweaking). I was AMAZED at how they tasted, but especially how they stayed moist and didn’t crumble at all (a rare feat in gluten-free baking!). Even my husband was amazed by them and happily devoured several, even though he doesn’t have any food restrictions. Perhaps, the biggest test of all: my 2-year-old happily enjoyed them and would request a second. For anyone who knows how finicky 2-year-old eaters can be, that should tell you something!

Now I can’t take credit for this recipe at all; all that goes to Molly at What Molly Made. I just adapted a few ingredients to make these dairy-free and egg-free. Here are the ingredients I used:

I have a little baking assistant these days…
  • 2 Tablespoons of flaxseed mixed with 6 Tablespoons of warm water (egg replacement)
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 3/4 cup Earth Balance soy-free spread, melted and cooled
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 3/4 cups gluten-free flour (I use King Arthur’s Measure for Measure Gluten-Free flour)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 cup Enjoy Life Semi-sweet mini chips

Then I followed Molly’s pumpkin muffin recipe exactly (including the oven temperature change) and the result was pure magic:

Yum!

We have made several batches of these this month and I can’t wait to enjoy another one this week as we countdown to Halloween and savor the final days of October. I hope you soak up all the October magic you can over the next few days…and don’t worry the magic of gingerbread won’t be far behind 🙂

“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.” -L.M. Montgomery
Posted in Beverages, Coffee!, Mom Life, Recipes

Mid-Afternoon Mocha (AKA My Motherhood Essential)

It is no secret to those of you who have been reading for awhile that I love coffee. In fact, even if you’re new to the blog, the title and the cover photo make that pretty easy to decipher. What you may not know is that I didn’t really drink coffee until I became a teacher. Yes, I drank a variety of steamed milk beverages throughout high school and college (ah yes, the days of Dunkaccinos- anyone else?? Do those even exist anymore??) but I didn’t pick up the true coffee habit until my first year of teaching in DC. Then in the years following the habit evolved into nothing short of a passion. Of course as many of you know, I had to make the switch to decaf around Fall 2015 because my body suddenly decided caffeine was no longer a friend, but a foe. The silver lining is that I didn’t have to make a switch to decaf during the early days of my pregnancy, and no one found it at all suspicious that I was drinking decaf before I shared the news. See, there is always a silver lining if you look hard enough…or wait awhile.

Coffee = Love.
(Photo by Mike Kenneally on Unsplash)

Anyway, fast forward last Spring and again another big life change only deepened my love of/passion for the gift that is coffee.  I know so many people warn you that there is no tired quite like parents of a newborn tired, and while I do agree with that assertion, I think people leave out an important piece of the parenting puzzle: the sleep deprivation continues. Is it better than those newborn days? Absolutely. You will get more than a 90-minute stretch of sleep (hopefully). But at least in those early days, you’re likely on maternity and/or paternity leave, there are plenty of people offering meals, laundry help, etc. and you hopefully started out without a massive sleep deficit (unless you’re one of the unlucky ones like myself who didn’t sleep super well toward the end of pregnancy). As your baby progresses through all the challenges of growth spurts, travel, teething, and the “insert-month-here” sleep regression, the sleep deprivation only continues to accumulate. Not to mention, you might be back at work and you don’t have a newborn anymore so people expect you to be a functioning member of society again and usually aren’t showing up at your door with random casseroles and offers of assistance.

So what do you have to sustain you- aside from the cutest little snuggle-bunny you could hope for? That’s right, coffee. And thankfully for me, since Little Man was born my body decided it was more than fine with caffeine again. So coffee and I now have an even closer relationship, something I wasn’t sure was even possible. I am also fortunate because I live in a city. There are five coffee shops (soon to be 6) within a half-mile walk from my front door. We still brew a large pot at home every morning, but sometimes when I need that mid-afternoon pick-me-up, Little Man and I trek to one of the local establishments for a breath of fresh air and a dose of caffeine. However, as in most of the country, this winter has been a cruel one in Boston. Not to mention when you’re living in one of America’s most expensive cities, #budget factors in. So lately I’ve developed a bit of an afternoon naptime routine: Little Man goes down for his nap and I enjoy a delicious homemade Mocha, usually while I run around trying to get a few things done, emails sent, and phone calls made without interruption. (I’m a part-time Director of Religious Education for a local parish this year so the at-work hours are great, but it leaves some administrative tasks for naptime.) Granted that means the days when Little Man skips his afternoon nap can be doubly difficult, but such is life with a little one.

Every once in awhile I savor a moment of calm during naptime.
Given the fact that winter has lasted quite long this year, I have had plenty of time to try out different recipes and have finally arrived at one that I love: it is simple, quick, and delicious. Granted, I am fortunate to have some fantastic coffee accoutrements at my discretion thanks to our wedding registry and various gifts from family. All you need is cocoa powder, sugar, hot water, milk of your preference (almond for me!), and espresso!
Mommy’s Magnificent Mid-Afternoon Mocha (only 5 ingredients!)
 1 Tablespoon Hershey’s cocoa powder
1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon hot water
3/4 cup almond milk*
double shot of espresso

1) First mix equal parts cocoa powder and sugar in the bottom of your mug. I personally use a little less than a tablespoon of each for my perfect taste but you may need to adjust according to your own taste.

2) Add a teaspoon of hot water so that the cocoa powder and sugar create a mocha syrup of sorts.

3) Heat 3/4 cup of almond milk* in a frother and start brewing your espresso.
(You can just warm it but I promise the frother makes a big difference!)

DeLonghi EC702 espresso maker

Chef’s Star milk frother
4) I pour half of the espresso into the mug, then add the milk, and then add the remainder of the espresso. I like to think it better distributes the taste 🙂

5) Mix and enjoy!!

*I feel like I need to give a strong recommendation regarding the almond milk. I have made many a beverage over the years with various brands of almond milk and the frothing never really works. Even baristas at coffee shops will warn me that almond milk doesn’t really do that. However, I recently found these two varieties which create the kind of froth I used to only visualize in my dreams of dairy-filled days gone by. 
#1 personal favorite: Mooala!
My personal runner-up: So Delicious Organic Almondmilk

Wherever you are in life right now- whether it’s an actual baby keeping you awake, an older “baby” that still has your heart and your worries, or a proverbial baby (like a start-up, a new job, a new life adventure, etc.) that keeps your mind racing at night, consider me your personal cheerleader. You’re not alone, there are countless others sitting up with you in the dark at 3 AM, and it will all be worth it in the end. And in the mean time, we have coffee.

I offer this as just one caffeine-filled option to brighten your day (and your eyelids). And though every once in awhile, an outing to your favorite local coffee joint is a much-needed treat, this should carry you over through the other days…and leave a much smaller dent in your bank account. The next time you find yourself fighting that mid-afternoon energy battle, brew yourself a hot cup of mocha deliciousness and think of me doing the same in my little corner of the world.  Cheers to you, my friend. May your coffee be hot, your body be re-energized, and your (probably brief) moment of calm be beautiful.

Posted in Bread/Muffins, Gluten-Free/Dairy-Free Life, Recipes

This Bread is Bananas, B – A – N – A – N – A – S

If you have been living in the U.S. over the past 2 weeks, chances are you have also been living under one of the now-famous heat domes. (Seriously, what are all these new weather phenomena? Polar vortex, now heat dome…what is next?) This kind of oppressive heat and humidity poses a variety of challenges, especially in a city where many public places lack air conditioning (Boston is too cold most of the year to warrant the expense I suppose). There’s the need to shower multiple times a day, the struggle to find enough outlets to power multiple fans, the limitless need to refill the Brita filter and the ice trays, and of course the hastened ripening (and often spoiling) of your otherwise delicious, expensive perishable food items. 

Summertime = quickly ripening bananas

We have a few staple items you can always find in our kitchen; one of those is bananas. As you probably know firsthand, the 90+ degree temperatures combined with excessive humidity transforms the kitchen into a bit of a banana-ripening factory. One solution is to freeze the bananas and use them for later smoothies (or chocolate-dipped treats). The other is to use these overripe bananas as the main ingredient in a beyond delicious loaf of banana bread (or batch of muffins, whatever your preference!) Note: I understand that in the heat the last thing you might want to do is turn on your oven. In that case, you can make the batter before the bananas breathe their last, and set the batter aside in the fridge until the heat dome relocates.


Now banana bread is something I always enjoyed but rarely ever made for myself. I never whipped up a batch that I truly loved so it was something I essentially abandoned…and I even threw away many a banana in my day (if only I could turn back time, I’d take them all back!). Then this past winter, I finally came into possession of the best banana bread recipe I’ve ever tasted. It all came from the perfect storm of circumstance. As many of you know, the Physicist spent 6 months living in France last year. When he returned to the country in January, he needed a temporary home. He had moved out of his grad school house before leaving the country, and since we both firmly believe that marriage comes before living together, not the other way around, he was without a place to call home for the 2-month span between repatriation and married life. As with all things, we had faith that things would work out and he wouldn’t be a homeless nomad for 2 months…and sure enough God certainly did provide: in the form of kindhearted woman from the Physicist’s church who knew him well from daily mass. She opened her home and gave him a temporary address…among other things. They shared weekly dinners, occasional breakfasts, and many conversations in French (she is French Canadian…perfect for someone who had just returned from France and was eager to keep up with his language skills!). When news came of an impending blizzard, she opened her door even wider to let me take up residence in her other guest room for a few days, rather than riding out the storm by myself up in Baltimore. As the storm raged, we shared shoveling duty, hot cups of tea, and delicious loaves of fresh banana bread (well, that was just for the two of them). She and the physicist had developed a symbiotic relationship: he would mash scores of overripe bananas and she would whip up loaf after loaf of the delectable treat. After we dug our way out from under 3 feet of snow and the roads cleared enough for cars to pass, I packed up my car to head back to Baltimore…but not before this kindhearted, gentle woman handed me a photocopy of the coveted recipe which had been passed on to her by a friend. I was delighted to see that almost every ingredient was Katie-safe, and that with just minor changes, I could in fact make my own version of this most delicious treat.
The aftermath: yes, those are cars behind him.
The simple ingredients…
…plus the mashed bananas of course.
And the walnuts (somehow I forgot to take a picture of those!)
In the months since, I have made more than a dozen loaves…and every time I do, I think back to those days of riding out the storm with a Canadian native who laughed at the way the D.C. newscasters react to a little bit of winter weather. And even the Physicist agrees that this is one recipe that really is indistinguishable from its allergen-filled version. For us, it’s a win-win-win situation. We have a way use our otherwise heat-spoiled bananas, we have a treat we both love and actually feel comfortable making for non-food-sensitive friends without an “it’s good for being gluten/dairy-free” warning, and we get to reminisce about those weeks leading up to our wedding when we found the greatest abundance of blessings amidst the challenge of living with 50 miles of interstate 95 between us (of course, that’s a whole lot better than thousands of miles of Atlantic Ocean!) Take my advice: head to the grocery store and buy some bananas. Wait until they’re just the right shade of brown then enjoy a taste of warm Katie-safe banana deliciousness. According to the Physicist, it is best served with a smear of peanut butter, a pour of maple syrup…and of course, a heaping spoonful of nostalgia 🙂 
See below for recipe!
“Final Days as a Burke” Banana Bread
*inspired by, and adapted from, the bread recipe of the kind-hearted church 
lady who welcomed us into her home during my final weeks as a Burke:-)* 

 3 cups Pamela’s gluten-free flour blend
3/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
2 cups sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 cup chopped walnuts
3 Tbsp. flaxseed + 9 Tbsp. water (as replacement for 3 eggs)
1 cup sunflower oil
2 cups mashed ripe bananas
1 tsp. vanilla extract

1. Combine the flour,salt, baking soda, sugar and cinnamon in a large bowl.
2. Combine the remaining ingredients in a smaller bowl and add to the flour mixture.
3. Pour into 2 greased loaf pans and bake at 350 for about 1 hour. (give or take depending on your oven)
4. ENJOY!!

Posted in Christmas, Cookies

‘Tis the Season

…of waiting.

Waiting in lines that stretch longer than usual; waiting in traffic that doesn’t seem to budge; waiting for those gifts purchased online to arrive on our doorstep…there’s no doubt that the holiday season is full of waiting. You don’t have to spend much time in stores or traffic to realize that most people are not good at waiting…or at least that it incites quite a few negative emotions. Now I’m not going to sit here and say I love traffic and crowds, but I can say that the increase in both during the Christmas season has never really bothered me.

I distinctly remember the moment when I began seeing holiday traffic as less bothersome and more of a blessing. It was a Sunday morning in December of 2002 and I was sitting in an unbelievably long line of traffic between early morning mass and my shift at the chocolate shop in the local mall where I worked throughout high school. I still remember Britney Spears’ attempt at a Christmas song was playing on the radio and I was thinking about the homily from mass that morning about waiting. (In case you aren’t aware, Christian churches celebrate the liturgical season of Advent in the weeks preceding Christmas. It is a season of joyful anticipation as we await the birth of our Savior. It also happens to be my favorite liturgical season…I’m sure at this point you’re not at all surprised that I would have a favorite one of those.)  I remember the priest explaining that waiting has taken on a negative connotation in our world. Granted, that makes sense if you’re waiting for something where you don’t know the outcome. However, he pointed out that even when we’re waiting for something positive or something where we know the outcome, we still get so frustrated and angry. We know we’re going to get through the traffic light eventually; we know we will eventually reach the front of the line and purchase our items; and yet, for some reason, all we can think about is the time being spent, or worse “wasted”, while waiting. He challenged us that day to think about the waiting we practice during the season of Advent. It’s a joyful waiting because we know the result is a Savior. We light candles and we open little windows on calendars; but in the meantime, we’re also preparing our hearts for Christ to enter in a deeper way on Christmas. We don’t sit around and complain about the days we have to sit around and wait for God to enter into our world; instead, we pray more than usual, we read Scripture, we join Advent prayer groups, etc. (Or at least we should be doing such things!) We use the waiting time to enrich our lives, to reflect on our role in this world, and hopefully to deepen our relationship with Christ.

Well, why don’t we apply that same philosophy to other instances of waiting? Why does waiting in line have to be a negative experience? I can honestly say I’ve had some of the best conversations this month while waiting in line at Joann Fabric, Michael’s and Kohl’s. In fact, I was actually sad to leave the line in Kohl’s last week because I was enjoying my new friends so much. (I’ve learned that older women love to talk about weddings if they notice you’re wearing an engagement ring. And I love to listen to their advice, so really everyone wins.)  Why don’t we use the time in line to deepen our relationships with the people around us (and no, your iPhone doesn’t count), or even to just stop and reflect on our own life at that given moment? Time spent waiting can be beautiful, and even fruitful, but it all depends on how we approach that time.

Now, before you start thinking I have mastered the art of waiting and have the gift of perfect patience, I can assure you I do not. In fact, as many of you know, I have been in my own season of waiting for weeks (or really months) now. The physicist moved to France back in July to work in a lab there and he moves back to America TOMORROW. As any of my co-workers (or at this point, most of my students) could tell you, there have been days when I have not viewed this time of waiting as an opportunity for beauty and fruitfulness. In fact, there were moments when I had to bite my tongue when people would say things like, “Oh, 5 more weeks, that’s nothing”. What I wanted to say was, “Right. It’s like when people tell marathoners it’s only 1 more mile. Sure, a mile seems short when you have just started, but when you’ve already run 25, 1 whole mile is pretty daunting”. Fortunately for me, these last few weeks of waiting have coincided perfectly with Advent; hence, I have been reminded that the beauty in waiting is all about how you approach it. And though I’m still anxiously counting down the hours until I can head to the airport tomorrow, I also know that there has been beauty and fruitfulness in this time of waiting. The Physicist had a host of new experiences with new labmates and a new football team in a foreign country while I was able to soak up every moment of living in Baltimore with my best friend, who conveniently moved here the week the Physicist left. And the Physicist and I have also grown together in this time of waiting. There’s nothing like months of waking up at 5:30 AM American time or staying awake until nearly midnight France time, ducking out of lunches with co-workers, or wandering around campus desperately searching for a data signal just so you can have a quick chat, to make you realize that love involves sacrifice. It hasn’t been easy, but I also know there are many gifts and fruits from this time of waiting, and even more that have yet to blossom.

My tree seems so fitting this year:
Maryland and France- so close, and yet so far.

SO. What does this have to do with your food restrictions?? Well, everything. First of all, I know I have left you in your own time of waiting: wondering if I was ever going to write another post for you. Well, just last week I was talking to someone who is facing a new list of possible food restrictions. She isn’t starting her elimination diet until after Christmas, but just listening to her brought me back to where I once was: confused, overwhelmed, and convinced that life as you know it is over. And in that moment, I realized I needed to be that source of comfort and encouragement again; hence, here is my attempt. Second, I can assure you that waiting is something you will do often while figuring out what foods are making you sick. Even when you finally have a diagnosis (woo!!), you don’t miraculously feel better the next day; you have to wait for that, too. Then you have to wait to feel like a normal person again, wait until the day when your kitchen no longer terrifies you, wait until eating is no longer an anxiety-inducing activity. This waiting can be difficult, because at times you simply won’t believe that there is a happy ending waiting for you…but there will be. On top of that, you will find wonderful blessings while you are waiting. It might be a new brand of you-safe crackers, a successful alteration of a previously-loved recipe, or even just a new friend who understands your new world. I know it’s difficult, but try to look around in that time of waiting and approach it with a positive attitude. What can you learn? How can you grow? And if nothing else, just get in the kitchen and experiment with new recipes once in awhile. Sometimes they’ll go well, other times they won’t…but either way you can learn and grow.

For example..you might just discover this!!

“A Little Treat While Waiting…AKA Coca-Cola Chocolate Chip Cookies!”
(adapted from the Coca Cola website!)
2 1/4 cups you-safe flour (I used Pamela’s Artisan Blend)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 Tbsp. flaxseed + 3 Tbsp. water (egg substitute)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
6 Tbsp. Coca-Cola (for me, the Mexican variety with no corn syrup!)
1) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2) Combine the flour, salt, and baking soda in a bowl.
3) Mix the butter and sugar in a separate bowl. 
4) Add the vanilla and flaxseed to the sugar mix.
5) Add the Coca-Cola, 1 tablespoon at at time (it bubbles a bit!)
6) Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture.
7) Stir in the Enjoy Life chips.
8) Scoop 1 tablespoon of dough onto a cookie sheet.
9) Bake for about 15 minutes.
10) Freeze the remaining dough (it’s amazing for an egg-free snack!)

 So wherever you are tonight, and whatever it is you might be waiting for, remember this: you may not be able to control what you are waiting for…but you can control how you approach this time. Look for ways to learn, to grow, to better understand yourself, and to grow in relationship with those around you. The reality is we’re all on this journey together, and we’re all waiting for something…so we may as well stick together, strike up conversations with one another while we’re waiting, and remind one another even though the end goal is where we want to be, there is also profound joy and beauty in the here and now while we’re waiting.

Happy Advent!!
Posted in Bread/Muffins, Newly-Diagnosed, Pumpkin season!

Letting Go

Letting go. It is a concept which seems innately tied to this time of year. Parents are learning to let go of tiny hands at pre-K and kindergarten classroom doors; slightly more seasoned parents are learning to let go of teenagers who have swapped their place at the family dinner table for a dorm room they now call home. We teachers are letting go too; we’re learning to let go of the students, routines, and sometimes even the classrooms, which we held near and dear just a few months ago. Even Mother Nature joins in solidarity as the trees start letting go of their leaves. There’s a sadness in letting go, and often a degree of pain, but there’s profound beauty in it too; I mean, just look around at the trees in the coming weeks.

I still remember the moment when the harsh reality of fall hit me. I was six years old and dutifully completing my homework assignment for the evening: to walk around the backyard and gather a few beautiful leaves for a leaf-shading exercise at school the next day. I painstakingly narrowed down my choices to 3, packed them in a sandwich baggie, had my mom sign off on my 1st grade homework book, and sat my backpack in its place for the morning. The next morning when I arrived at school and took those same leaves out of my bag, they were noticeably drier and more fragile; by afternoon art class, one was crumbling at my touch. I remember looking around, distraught and yet comforted to see that everyone else’s were doing the same…and I still remember the teacher’s explanation that of course our leaves are crumbling- they’re not on the tree anymore so they’re dead leaves. Now, I’m sure she had a nice kid-friendly way of wording it, but all I remember is the moment of clarity in my little 6-year-old brain…followed swiftly of course by pure devastation. These beautiful brightly colored leaves which I loved to jump in, rake into pumpkin-faced plastic bags, and crunch under my feet were only so beautiful because they were dead. Talk about an existential day in the first grade…
Luckily, I recovered from my first experience of devastation, and in time began to realize that life is a series of beautiful moments, many of which can only arrive after we choose to let go of what is comfortable, familiar, and often cherished. 
So what does this have to with food allergies?? Well, pretty much everything. There’s the obvious: letting go of the foods you’ve come to love and yet your body has come to hate. It’s a weird kind of letting go, because on one hand, you feel so miserable that initially letting the foods go is the easiest thing in the world. You rediscover what it feels like to be alive, to wake up in the morning with a clear head and non-aching limbs. Of course, as your health returns, the letting go becomes a little harder- in part because you have the energy to care again, but also because that reality of forever starts to set in. Letting go for a brief time is manageable, letting go forever is a horse of a different color. Take my word for it, letting go of the foods your body hates is a profoundly beautiful thing. It doesn’t mean it’s always easy- I certainly have my moments of longing- but most of the time, it’s the most beautiful world I can imagine. I’m healthy, I’m happy, and I’m alive: it doesn’t get much more beautiful than that!
Now of course, that’s not the only “letting go” involved. There’s letting go of little traditions: the meals shared at a favorite restaurant which is now off-limits; your favorite Thanksgiving side dish or seasonal Starbucks beverage; the nostalgic visit to the hometown diner where you spent many a childhood evening. These are a little harder, but there’s still beauty waiting on the other side. There are other new traditions just waiting to begin..and having these will do nothing to diminish the memory of the old traditions which will always hold a place in your heart. 
Then there’s the “letting go” of expectations: both yours and those of people around you. I’ll admit this has been the hardest one for me. It means letting go of the pictures you had in your head of how certain life events were going to look: cutting into a giant wedding cake, sharing Friday night pizza dinners with your family, eating apple cider donuts while picking pumpkins on a Saturday morning in October. It means letting go of what other people think when you walk into a restaurant with your thermal tote lunchbox, when you grill the chef at a restaurant before making a reservation, when you politely refuse every single hors d’oeuvres at each wedding you attend. I’ve learned over these past four years that people will make comments, they will make judgments, and sometimes they’ll just make faces…and for the longest time I couldn’t let that go. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago when I had a moment (during mass…who is surprised by that one??) when it just hit me as clearly as my leaf realization did two decades ago: if I don’t let go and stop worrying about what other people think, I’m only hurting myself. People will make judgments, whether warranted or not. I make judgments too. I wish I didn’t, but we’re all human. I realized that there is profound beauty in this letting go especially: not only do I enable myself to live fully again, but I’ve learned to better empathize with everyone I meet. Again, I’m not saying I’m perfect, not by a longshot, but I do find myself thinking twice when I notice something out of the ordinary and start to draw my own assumptions. Through my own experience these past four years, I have seen that as a society, we’re far too quick to judge when something seems a little out of the ordinary or different than what we expect, and because of that I feel like  I have found the most beautiful gift of all: I have become much more open, more curious, and I’d even say more loving than I ever would have been without a celiac diagnosis. It certainly isn’t always easy, but I have found a beauty even in that, too.
So what did I let go of today? Today I let go of my self-imposed “no pumpkin until fall” commandment. I pulled out a can of pumpkin that has been sitting in my cabinet since last November and I let go of the “poor me, I can’t have my old pumpkin muffins anymore” mentality and moved into problem-solving mode. The result? Well, I whipped up a batch of what might be the best pumpkin muffins I’ve ever made, at least in recent years anyway. 
Katie-safe Cinnamon-Sugar Pumpkin Muffins
 1 1/2 cups Pamela’s Artisan Flour Blend
1 cup pumpkin puree
3/4 cup almond milk
1/2 cup soy-free Earth Balance spread (melted)
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp. pumpkin spice
1 tsp. vanilla
2 tsp. baking soda
1 Tbsp. flaxseed + 3 Tbsp. water 

 Mix all the ingredients. Pour into muffin pan and bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes.
When finished baking, melt Earth Balance spread. Dip the top of each muffin into the melted butter and then into a bowl of sugar mixed with cinnamon.
So my challenge for you today is to take a moment and look at your own life. Food allergies or not, I’m sure there is probably something you’re holding onto that might turn into something more beautiful if you’re willing to let go. So do it…but first make a batch of these as comfort food for the journey. Life, even in the difficult “letting go” moments, is just better with a cinnamon-sugar pumpkin muffin in your hand 🙂
Posted in Bread/Muffins, Teacher Life

Here We Go Again

It’s back: I have a case of the Sundays. Teachers of the world, you know what I’m talking about. It’s the sickening feeling that sets in around 4:30 on Sunday afternoon when you realize that the pile of grading from Friday has remained in your bag untouched, the beautiful/informative/engaging presentation of the newest complex material is still floating around in your mind rather than displayed on a multimedia platform (which of course must then be uploaded to the class websites that are now required in most schools), the laundry is still piled away and the floor is unswept. Yes, as quickly as it came, summer is now over. I looked at a calendar today thinking it couldn’t possibly be true. Where did those 9 weeks of freedom disappear to?? Then I looked at my planner and it became pretty clear: 1.5 weeks were spent recuperating from shingles while the remainder of the 2nd were spent at follow-up doctor visits; 3 weeks were then spent working summer school in an effort to fund a failing car and a possible trip across the ocean to make my fiance’s 4-month absence a little less daunting; 1 week was spent at a conference discussing ways to lead teenagers closer to Christ in a world which seems constantly seems to be pushing him farther away; 1 was spent visiting 2 different families; add weekly tutoring sessions and wedding planning into the mix: well, it’s no surprise that I blinked and it’s over.

I will admit I’m in a much better state than I was on that day in June when the final bell rang (literally I was home on the couch with shingles) but I’m nowhere near the bright-eyed, well-rested, totally-organized version of myself that I envisioned I would be by now. And yet, ready or not, the children return to us this week. Now, non-teacher friends, please don’t read this and roll your eyes and think, “Here we go, another teacher whining about her job”. I promise that’s not what this is. I love my job. I can also guarantee that 90% of the teachers you’ve heard “whining” over the past 2 weeks love their jobs too. We are lucky: we have a job that matters and a job we love. We are excited to get back in there and meet our new kids and share laughter, love, and memories with them. It’s just there is a loss that comes with the beginning of a new school year; it’s one that you don’t understand until you become a teacher and it’s why, if given the choice, most of us would fast forward right to early October and leave September in the rearview mirror.

The loss is twofold: first, it’s the loss of self. Literally from the hours of 7:30-3:30, I am not Katie. I am Miss Burke and every minute of my day belongs to someone else: students, parents, colleagues, etc. Teachers are at school for a week before the students arrive and we sit in meetings where we are constantly told how one warning sign or one conversation could have saved a child, prevented a shooting, made all the difference in the world, and thus we are to act like each and every interaction in our day is that moment. On a typical school day, we are of course bombarded with questions about our content area, our grading scheme, our homework policy, etc. but we also keep record of allergies in our room at a given moment, the correct escape route for fire drill versus a weather emergency, and the proper shelter-in-place location for a lockdown. Our cell phone must remain on our person at all times and it is our responsibility to stop and question anyone on-campus without a visitor badge. We are required to post homework and grades each week and cannot let more than 24 hours lapse before responding to a parent email (when there are 100 different students on our roster). Even during the brief moments of solitude while walking to lunch or another classroom, we are counseling students, offering them a smile, laughing at their jokes, etc. Again, let me reiterate: I love these moments. I love everything about my job, except the emails and lockdown drills. It’s just a lot to jump back into overnight. Once we get into the routine, we’re fine. It’s just the initial jump is a lot like running a marathon when you’ve only been running 5Ks for a few weeks. Once October hits, we’re smiling ear to ear again: it’s just September that passes by in a blur.

Second, it’s the loss of last year. It’s hard enough to bounce back into the school routine in September, but what’s harder is that it’s not the same routine as it was in June. Those students we poured our time, heart, and soul into for almost 200 days last school year are gone. They’re down the hall in a new classroom, a little taller and a little tanner, falling in love with someone new. I may have been the one who taught her how to read, the one who comforted her when she caught the stomach flu halfway through the schoolday last January, the one who let her cry over a broken heart last April…but now she spends her days with someone else. And I have another classroom filled with new faces. These are the faces someone else loved and cared for last year, the faces someone else is mourning today, and now they are mine. I am lucky to have them, and grateful…I’ll pour my heart and soul into them this year too. It just takes a few days to make the shift. Again, by October we’re smooth sailing. My current students have become my world and my former students wave from across the hall, smile across the cafeteria, or stop in on a Tuesday afternoon to catch me up on their lives…and I am reminded that I was blessed to be simply a stop on their journey toward the wonderful people they are becoming.

So, fellow teachers: No, this week won’t be easy. And you know as well as I do that the 2 after this one will be even more challenging (the first week at least has that well-organized, well-rested energy going for it!). But we’re in this together, and the kids are dealing with the same exact feelings we are. We will all get it through it together with a little bit of love and a whole lot of faith. Non-teacher friends, be patient with us and with your kids for the next few weeks. Imagine starting a whole new job every single year. That’s practically what happens to teachers AND students every August. Give us (again, teachers AND students) extra hugs and smiles…and please don’t roll your eyes and tell us that at least we had a summer vacation. We know we did. And we’re grateful for it. But we also needed it to prepare ourselves for this month of starting over once again. Not to mention, most of us still don’t get paid enough to work only one job. We wouldn’t still be teachers if it weren’t something we loved with all our hearts.

In an effort to simplify your life (or at least your mornings for the next few weeks), plan ahead. Make some you-safe muffins, put them in the freezer, and you have a delicious/easy-to-prepare solution for breakfast for the next few weeks!

Katie’s “Power Through September” Breakfast Muffins

2 ripe bananas
3/4 cup agave syrup
1/4 cup grapeseed oil
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
3/4 cup flaxseed meal
2 cups Katie-safe flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
squeeze of lemon juice 
dash of salt (to taste)

1. Either mash the bananas or blend them in a food processor (especially if they’re not overripe!)
2. Mix all wet ingredients and then add dry gradually to make mixing easier.
3. Pour into prepared muffin pan.
4. Bake at 350 degrees for 18-20 minutes, or until top is golden brown.
5. Freeze! And enjoy on a bright and early pre-6 AM alarm morning 🙂
You should also have fruit or a side of bacon…it’s a long time until lunch after all!
Posted in Meals/Sides

Sweet Southern Comfort

Now this title is admittedly misleading, because I have never actually lived in the south.  And I’ve never tried the liquor by the same name either. It’s just a song that was popular on CMT during my senior year in high school (when I discovered country music) and for some reason, it kept playing in my head yesterday while I thought about this post. (Click here if you’d like it as the soundtrack while you read.) Alas, here we are.
Though I thoroughly enjoyed my brief visits to Georgia, Louisiana, Alabama, and Texas over the past 8 years, the northeast has remained my home…but that doesn’t stop me from dreaming about delicious sweet tea, charming accents, and drive-through daiquiri stands (as a passenger of course) on a hot day like this one! The refrain kept playing through my head yesterday as I whipped up a batch of what could be called the quintessential comfort food: homemade macaroni and cheese. Now before you think there’s been some kind of miraculous cure: no, I still can’t have dairy…or gluten for that matter. (Corn, the jury is still out…but that’s another post for another time. Keep hoping!!) So how is it possible to have homemade macaroni and cheese?? Well, a little creativity and a huge thanks to the lovely folks at Daiya foods.
For those of you with food issues, you’ve probably discovered that the hardest part of your limited diet is not finding delicious foods you can eat. I still chuckle sometimes when people ask me incredulously, “Well, then what can you eat??”. I sometimes want to respond with a long list of delicious items: shrimp, crab, filet mignon, duck, potatoes, chicken, every fruit and vegetable under the sun, etc., but I usually refrain and simply smile and stick with the meat and potatoes response. The truth is there are plenty of foods that we can eat. The real challenge presents itself in two main ways: 1) trying to find safe foods when eating out or in a large group setting and 2) the lack of convenience (and affordability!) when it comes to our safe foods. For example, those of you without food issues, think of a bad day you’ve had recently. Maybe not even necessarily bad, but crazy, busy, hectic, etc. You might have  a plan in mind for dinner but next thing you know, you’re climbing into your car at 7:30 PM and the thought of cooking and not having food on the table until 8:30 is too much…so you swing by your favorite “grab and go” place (which is pretty much any restaurant these days) and you’re happily fed by 8:00 PM. Or maybe you have leftovers in the fridge, but a stressful day has left you craving a delicious pizza…or a trip down memory lane with a bowl of Easy Mac. Done. Leftovers saved for another day.
Well, for those of us with food issues, such days are not so simple…and often times, simply impossible. Grabbing a quick dinner on the run is not only a challenge, but usually also a risk. The comfort foods which we once turned to after a long, busy day are now relegated to the “Do not cross the threshold of my front door” list. These are the moments when we get a little down, and perhaps on occasion even a little bitter (though I’m not one to readily admit that), and we long for the days of a delicious Chick-Fila milkshake, a Panera broccoli and cheddar bread bowl, a fresh slice of pizza, etc.
So what do you do in these moments? Sometimes you sit yourself down with a cinnamon rice cake, slather on some almond butter, and tell yourself that things could be worse. Sometimes you drive well out of your way to go to the nearest you-safe place and order something delicious…and then regret it a few hours later when you realize how much of your food budget you just spent on a single night…and that doesn’t count the gas used! And sometimes, on those rare nights when you have the time and energy to do so, you find a solution: you make a you-safe version of a favorite comfort food, and all is right in your world again. For a night anyway J
Though I can tell you I’ve been the protagonist in all the scenarios above, last night I lived out the last one. After crazy weeks of end-of-school madness which rolled right into shingles recovery hibernation time followed immediately by an unplanned summer school/camp stint, I finally had a day of nothing. While this was the greatest gift I could have asked for, it’s also one of those days when you stop running for once and your brain just gets overwhelmed thinking about how blessed you are to have such a full life, how sad you are that your fiancé now lives across an ocean, how tired you are because you’ve been waking up before 6 AM for way too many months now, how surprised you are that you miss your students because there are so many news stories you wish you could be discussing with them, how excited you are about the events of the next year of your life; let’s just say when you finally stop running like the Energizer Bunny, you run into the brick wall of reality you’ve been evading…and it can be simply exhausting. So after a long day of organizing, list-making, etc., there was nothing I wanted more than some macaroni and cheese. I had the pasta, but that was about it, so I ventured out into the heat to gather the necessary “cheese” and milk from Whole Foods…only to find that they were sold out of the cheese. Now again, this could have been a possible bitter moment (what person with a regular immune system has to worry about a grocery store running out of cheese?? There are at least 20 varieties to choose from), but fortunately I was fresh off a long Skype chat with the Physicist so my spirits were high. I was unwavered. I simply returned my basket and headed north to Mom’s Organic Market, picked up my necessary supplies, and headed home. Within an hour, I was settled on my couch with this amazing meal (that’s right, I ate dinner in front of the TV), watching Gilmore Girls, and quite thankful for the blessings of my life…even my crazy immune system. The best part? I have more left for tonight’s dinner J

So, if you have food issues similar to mine, bookmark this page and file it away for one of those days in your life. If you don’t have food issues, well, you can try it…but take it from me, I’d stick to the real cheese. Do it for those of us who can’t J
Katie-safe Comfort: Macaroni and Cheese
3 Tbsp. Earth Balance spread (the dairy-free AND soy-free version)
1 Tbsp. yeast
2 cups cashew milk (you can use any variety, I’m on a cashew kick)
1 package Daiya Cheddar Style shreds
8 oz. brown rice pasta
black pepper
Old Bay
gluten-free bread crumbs

1. Melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat. Stir in the yeast as it melts.
*NOTE: you should also start boiling the water for pasta in a separate pot*
2. Add the cashew milk to the melted butter and stir. I also added some Old Bay and pepper to the mixture at this point, but that depends on your taste!
3. Add the package of cheese to the milk mixture and stir periodically for 5-6 minutes.
4. When the pasta is ready, mix the pasta with the cheese sauce and place in a casserole dish. (I chose to use the Pi dish sitting next to my casserole dish last night…because why not??)
5. Sprinkle the top with bread crumbs and Old Bay to taste.
6. Place in the oven and bake at 350 for 15 minutes, or until top starts to brown.

I should add that I was inspired while prepping the cheese sauce to turn this into
my own version of Hamburger Helper…hence the ground beef in that third pan.
Ready for the oven!

The finished product!!
(It’s hard to see the difference in the pre-baked and this one…but I can assure you there is!)

Posted in Meals/Sides, Teacher Life

I’m Back!!!

Gosh, it feels good to say that! The crazy vortex which is the end of an academic year (especially when the grade/subject and school are all new to you) just sucked me in and swallowed me whole. Then, just when the light was appearing at the end of the tunnel (AKA summer vacation), shingles took hold. Yes, you read that correctly: just 3 days shy of that glorious last day of school, I ended up at Urgent Care and then my own doctor for confirmation. That patch of bumps rapidly appearing on my shoulder were in fact shingles. The couch became my closest friend. And to top it all off, the anti-virals prescribed to combat the virus which my poor weakened, end-of-school-year immune system just couldn’t muster the energy to fight ended up making me sicker. That’s right, despite my best efforts with the pharmacist and then nearly an hour on the phone with the manufacturer, the prescription still contained something that wasn’t Katie-safe. Such is the life for those of us with food issues. It was just quite an unpleasant reminder at an already unpleasant time.

However, that darkness is in the past and it’s onto better things. While shingles initially put a dent in any and all plans for the summer, providence ensued and actually brought about an opportunity to work in a summer school program I hadn’t even considered when someone backed out at the last minute. So it was off the couch and back to the classroom just this past Monday. I’ve been helping teach a class entitled “Toyology”. That’s correct. I spend my days exploring the physics behind Whoopee cushions, the polymers in Silly Putty, etc. Fun times. To top it all off, the Physicist boarded a plane this weekend for a science collaboration which will have him with an international address until Christmas; hence, the time for writing has returned. For the record, you have all been on my mind and I even have notes in my phone of blogpost topics and pictures. I’ll attempt to catch up on all of them in the coming weeks…but I also make no promises 🙂

Since summer is upon us, I thought I’d start with some delicious (and convenient!) summer food ideas.

1) Summer Salad Season is Here!: On these absurdly hot and humid summer days, the last thing you want to do some nights is turn on the stove. In addition, it seems wherever you go, everyone is enjoying a delicious summer salad. Part of you is excited: salad! Yes! Veggies, fruit, and maybe a protein: something I can safely consume! Until you stop and the following train of thought ensues: “Oh wait, there’s no way to know about those dressings. That’s OK, I can eat a dry salad. Oh but wait, I don’t know what they cooked that chicken in, or if that’s a safe brand of bacon for me to eat. Oooh, and I don’t know where those veggies were sliced, if some random croutons may have been in that bowl, or if some careless salad maker (or customer at a self-serve salad bar) inadvertently mixed the spoon or grabbed some cheese with the same tongs as the red onions.” If you’re like me, it’s around this point when you stop thinking and walk away, lest I journey deeper into the rabbit hole that is food anxiety. Just do yourself a favor: make a giant batch of salad on Sunday afternoon and you’re set for lunches until Wednesday.

 And for those of you who may be fortunate enough to have a safe salad bar to indulge in at work, steer clear of that dry salad. Make this dressing. It’s delicious, easy, and far cheaper than those all-natural (read: non-soybean/corn-syrup-containing) dressings at the grocery store.

Katie-safe Summer Salad Dressing!
1 avocado
1 tsp. minced garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar (less if you don’t want a strong vinegar taste)
1 Tbsp. agave syrup
1 tsp. cilantro
juice from a lime (to taste)

Blend all the ingredients in a food processor (or Magic Bullet!!)
Voila!  Katie-safe dressing to last the summer
…or until next week, at least 🙂

2) Crab Cakes!: Keep in mind, I live in Baltimore…AKA a city which lives and breathes crabs in the summertime. Crab feasts, crab cakes, crab-flavored potato chips: we’ve got it all. Of course, when you’re a person who can’t consume bread crumbs, mayonnaise, or eggs, such a delicacy is quickly relegated to the “Danger, Danger” list. That is, of course, until a few weeks ago. I was navigating the aisles at Trader Joe’s just days before my shingles struck. My heart was light and my mind was dancing with thoughts of summer vacation, lazy mornings with my hot cup of coffee and the Today Show, and endless amounts of time to cook and write. I turned a corner and what did I see?? A sale on giant cans of crab meat!! I decided right then and there that this had to happen. The summer of 2015 would be Katie’s triumphant return to the land of crab cakes. And so it was.

Make sure you read the label: it’s not always just pure crab meat!
Katie’s Captivating Crab Cakes
(adapted from ibreatheimhungry.com)
1 cup crab meat
1 tsp. flaxseed
3 tsp. water
2 tsp. Katie-safe mustard (more of a challenge than you’d think!)
2 tsp. Old Bay seasoning
2 Tbsp. coconut flour
1 Tbsp. parsley
1 Tbsp. cilantro
lemon juice from 1/2 a lemon




1. Combine the crab meat, flaxseed, and water in a bowl.
2. Add mustard and mix.
3. Add coconut flour, Old Bay, parsley, cilantro and mix.
4. Squeeze in lemon juice.
5. Form crab cake patties with your hands.
6. Heat oil in a skillet (I used grapeseed) and pan-fry for 3-4 minutes on each side.
The finished product, served over brown rice pasta!

3) Summer smoothie time!: Usually, people like you and I are left to our own devices when it comes to smoothies. We blend away in our kitchens using coconut milk yogurt, almond milk, etc. so we know our smoothies are safe from the co-mingling of evil casein particles. It’s a fine practice, and one we’ve grown accustomed to, but there’s also nothing quite like sipping a delicious smoothie which you didn’t have to create. This is especially true when you’ve just had oral surgery (which also happened to me this May); have no fear: Smoothie King is here! They now have a line of gluten-free, vegan smoothies!!! (erupt in applause here!) I’ve had both the Dark Chocolate Banana and Nutty Super Grain varieties, and I literally debate every time about which to choose because they’re both SO AMAZING!! I actually lived off the Nutty Super Grain for 3 days that week until I regained used of my mouth. One important caveat: you have to tell the smoothie maker about your allergies. You may notice when they’re busy, they quickly rinse the blenders between runs…not enough to eliminate milk traces, or even protein powder. If you tell them, they’ll use a dairy-free blender (if they have one at their location) or they’ll deep clean it for you. Now, find the nearest Smoothie King and start driving!

Oral surgery recovery never tasted so good!
Now, I’d say these are enough tips to digest for now…and I’m off to finalize details for tomorrow’s assembly line lesson/toy showcase. The life of a teacher is never dull, even in the summer. I promise to write again sooner than later, and to offer some tips on allergen-free event planning. Until then, I wish you a summer of delicious food, good health, and memories to last a lifetime!
Courtesy of Pinterest!
Posted in Meals/Sides

If There Had Been Hashtags 15 Years Ago…

It’s hard to believe it has been a year since I wrote what remains the most shared/commented-on post about the silent hero in my life: my dad. I just re-read that post and I can honestly say there isn’t much more I could add to summarize who he was, how he has shaped the person I’ve become, and how he lives on in my heart 15 years after our final hug. I know he would be a big supporter of the year of fiscal responsibility, as his money-saving skills were far superior to anyone I’ve ever met. I know he would be shaking his head in amusement watching my mom attempt to master her new iPhone (I know, she has one before I do! It’s a crazy world we live in.) And I know he’d be overjoyed right now…because it’s Lent, and what does that mean?? It means seafood is everywhere (among other theological truths of course :-))

Now don’t get me wrong, my dad LOVED meat. And by that I mean beef in particular. He loved a juicy steak, he perfected some of the oddest meatloaf recipes I’ve ever tasted, and the man loved his hamburgers. If I remember the story correctly, he even stopped at Burger King on his wedding day. I mean, clearly the one thing better than marrying the amazing woman who is now my mom is marrying her with a Whopper in your stomach 🙂 However, his true love (in food terms) was seafood, namely lobster. Granted, his penny-pinching self only allowed for lobster about once a year, but there was the occasional homemade popcorn shrimp night for special dinners. So this week as I sat down with my weekly meals dry-erase board (really, does it surprise you that I have such a thing? Seriously, it’s amazing) I knew tomorrow would be the 27th and thus my traditional meal of a once cheeseburger, now sans cheese, and a Diet Pepsi would be on the menu. Of course, then I noticed: 27th = Friday. And it’s Lent. Now what…

Though I briefly considered talking to my pastor about some kind of sanctioned switch to meatless Thursday this week, I realized that would not at all be the best way to honor my dad. The man loved seafood…so what better way to celebrate his memory than with some variety of crustacean on a Lenten Friday? Granted, I have yet to determine exactly what that will be…but I live in Baltimore so I have a feeling crabmeat will have to be involved. Now since I don’t have tomorrow’s dinner exactly figure out yet, I don’t have that recipe to share. However, I do have another one which I’ve been meaning to share but haven’t had time (I’m currently taking not 1, but 2, online courses in addition to my regular teaching load/night class…I’m not sure what I was thinking). And fittingly, this recipe also relates to tomorrow’s celebration of my dad’s life too.

For someone who loved meat so much, it might surprise you to hear that my dad also loved veggie burgers. It’s true. There were times when his medications and treatments had his sleep patterns a bit off kilter, so he would often be up in the middle of the night. He would sit at the kitchen table, working on a crossword puzzle and eating his post-midnight snack: a frozen veggie burger. If you’ve ever heated one up in the microwave, you know they leave a pungent odor which still lingered in the kitchen when I’d stumble in at 6:00 AM. I hated them back then, but in the years since I’ve learned to love them myself. However, for those of us with food allergies, those frozen ones are not an option. Wheat, soy, and corn abound in every variety I’ve found. Fortunately, I’ve become a pro at making my own, with the help of my mini-food processor.


Katie-safe/Lenten-Friday-safe Black Bean burgers
1 can black beans
1/2 cup cooked quinoa
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1/2 bell pepper, chopped
1-2 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. garlic
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. cilantro
crushed red pepper flakes to taste
1/4 cup brown rice crumbs
3 Tbsp. flaxseed + 9 Tbsp. water (egg replacer) *NOTE: if you can eat real eggs, use them! The texture still isn’t quite the same with the flaxseed replacer*
 1. Cook the quinoa as you normally would.

2. While the water/quinoa is boiling, cut up the pepper and onion. Then sautee with the seasonings until the vegetables are tender.

3. Combine everything (cooked quinoa and veggies + remaining ingredients) in the food processor and blend until pureed. 

*NOTE: if your food processor is small, you may have to do this in batches!*
4. Form into patties and pan fry in grapesed oil!

5. Enjoy!!

Clearly, I excelled at Step 5, because I never stopped to take a picture when I made these. Anyway, there you have it: a great you-safe Lenten Friday alternative. Or a 3 AM snack while you crossword…totally your call. 
Lastly, as I sit in my living room surrounded by boxes and crates, I have one final thought. I spent my day sifting through pictures, scrapbooks, and other mementos you only seem to come across when moving; (yep, I’m on the move once again and only have 7 day remaining in this apartment so I’m in the midst of “eat everything in the freezer/how did I manage to accumulate this much stuff in 18 months??” madness at the moment. I’m only moving a few miles away, and given the frigid temperatures lately, my frozen foods can easily make the move with me…I just really hate packing so this week is going to be all kinds of crazy meal concoctions. I’ll be sure to document and eventually write a post on that too!) While I was packing I listened to a news story about how social media has changed the greiving process, how people take to Facebook, Twitter, etc. to share memories of a person which may otherwise remain unshared, to empower others through the story of someone they may have never known. As I watched the profile of a movement inspired by the untimely loss of a young dad, I couldn’t help but think to myself that the world has certainly changed a lot in 15 years. When our dad left this earth behind, there was no such thing as a hashtag, at least not in the terms we know it today. But if there had been such thing back then, I’m sure there would have been some kind of #LiveLikeEd movement (or Eddie, depending on what branch of the familly tree you happened to sprout upon). So tomorrow, and everyday, I’m going to do my best to do just that, without the hastag. I’ll do my best to spark the movement simply by living like my dad: courageously, honorably, faithfully, and joyfully. And savoring the joy of long showers and naps, of course 🙂 
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!!