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 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 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 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 Bread/Muffins, Life Lessons, Teacher Life, Uncategorized

"The Times, They Are A-Changin…"

(Full disclosure: I recently found Season 1 of American Dreams during a visit to the local Goodwill. I’ve rediscovered my obsession and thus I have songs from the 60s as the soundtrack of my life right now. Hence the nod to Bob Dylan in this title.) 

Change. It seems to be a word that keeps popping up in my life lately. I suppose that’s inevitable in teaching where the end of an academic year is always accompanied by an array of changes…but it’s been more than that too. In the past week, not 1, not 2, but 3 of my favorite priests have offered reflections on the subject. (Yes, go ahead, I know you’re all thinking it: Of course, Katie, you would have a list of favorite priests…it’s fine, I own it :-)) Our associate pastor closed out the school year with a great homily (complete with the visual aids the kids have come to LOVE when he speaks) on how change is good, even though many of us don’t really like it. Then Fr. Jim Martin posted a reflection a few days later on change; he commented on how change is perhaps the hardest thing in the world and that the bravest are those who are willing to change…and how God works through change if only we allow such conversion to take place. Finally, the fabulous chaplain of the ACE program tweeted a message yesterday (that’s right, he’s on Twitter :-)) about change. Granted his message was motivated by the fact that Notre Dame “went Google” yesterday but he offered a reflection on the fact that change doesn’t have to be scary if we aren’t afraid to ask for help. Yes, change is certainly one of those inevitable aspects of life; sometimes it’s good, sometimes not so much, but regardless it’s a reality that keeps us moving forward and makes us who we are.

Yesterday marked 1 year since my life changed in a drastic way. As my doctor so eloquently stated, yesterday was my 1-year “corn”-iversary. (And before you get too excited about being the first one to make a pun about how “corn”-y that is, sorry, the Charismatic Mass Coordinator already beat you to it!) I sat in the waiting room at 7 AM yesterday morning for my 1-year follow-up thinking about just how much life has changed in a year. Some of the changes are great (i.e. I was sitting in a waiting room feeling awake, alert, and alive…not adjectives I could have used to describe my visit a year ago), some not so much (i.e. some days I still miss popcorn and tortilla chips so much that it hurts…sounds crazy, but it’s true). A year ago today I was cleaning out my cabinets and boxing up package after package of no-longer-safe foods; I was discarding yet another set of pots and pans in favor of brand-new “contaminant-free” ones; I was beginning to lose heart and thus I sat down on my front porch with a cup of iced coffee and a word document…and thus this blog began. In the year since, change and I have been frequent friends. I adapted to my new lifestyle, I moved to a new apartment for the 4th time in 4 years, I moved to a new classroom for the 4th time in 4 years, I moved to a new grade level for the 4th time in 4 years…as you can see, change and I are well-acquainted. I can once again eat trace amount of corn: i.e. I don’t need special toothpaste and if cornstarch is a minor ingredient, I’m safe…woohoo!! Sadly they tell me such a thing will never happen with gluten or casein; I say a girl can dream. But just as the three wise priests above articulated: it hasn’t been a easy year. However, I truly do believe I’m better for it. I am happier, healthier, stronger, a bit wiser, much more well-versed in food additives and ingredients…and of course I have you lovely friends who keep coming back to read my blog. It still boggles my mind when I get emails and messages from some of you. So thank you.

Now once again, times are about to change. Last week marked not only the last day of the school year but also my last day at the school I’ve called home for the past 4 years. Yes, since the day I arrived in Baltimore, my home address has changed four times and I’ve gradually added food group after food group to the contraband list and yet one thing remained the same: every morning at around 7 AM, my car traveled to the same destination. I was greeted by the same smiling faces and supportive hugs that carried me through what otherwise would have been an impossibly challenging 4 years. And yet on Friday (well, really Monday) I packed everything from my classroom into Little Blue and handed in my keys.

Saying farewell to my home away from home…

Yes, this August I’m off on a new adventure. I’m moving to a school just a few miles down the road where I’ll teach slightly older students (i,e. 9th and 10th graders) and for the first time in my teaching career, math will not be one of my subjects. I’ll be teaching in the Theology department and working as an assistant Campus Minister planning retreats, masses, service projects, etc. I’m very excited about this change…but as I told the kids as they handed me heartbreaking notes begging me to reconsider, it’s also tempered by some sadness and of course, a little anxiety. As I told them, there comes a time when you know without a doubt that God is calling you to something…and even when it’s a little scary, you have to trust that God wouldn’t be leading you astray and that in the end, whether it’s a week, a month, or a year later, you’ll see how God was at work in your life during that period of change. I told them the story of how that fear of change almost prevented me from even coming to this same school which I’ve called home for the past 4 years. Back in the spring of 2010, the thought of teaching my model lessson to 7th graders and not the 2nd graders I had left behind that morning in DC induced enough fear that I turned around not once, but twice, and walked back to my car before finally mustering the courage to go ring the doorbell for my interview. Talk about the opportunities I would have missed if I had let fear of change win that day!

Picked up my textbooks for next year…just a little light summer reading 🙂

So, as I sit here a year after one of the larger changes in my life and on the brink of yet another one, I can say with certainty that I agree wholeheartedly with the comments of my 3 favorite priests above. Change is hard; change can be scary; but change is also the only way to grow and to discover who you are and who you’re meant to be. So whatever change you might be facing today, embrace it …even if that’s difficult to do. Clean out your cabinets of the food that’s making you sick; accept a job that intimidates you; pack up your car and move somewhere new; end that relationship you know should have ended awhile ago; pick up the phone and make the call you’ve been afraid to make…whatever it is, take a moment today to appreciate change.

Courtesy of http://www.frenchbydesignblog.com/

And since I firmly believe that sweet treats and baked goods can cushion the blow of challenges or hardship, this entry would be incomplete without a recipe. I know just what you need today: a cupcake. That’s right, they’re not a thing of the past…though I can guarantee if you told me that a year ago today, I never would have believed you.  I adapted this from a recipe found over on another blog. They’re deliciously satisfying…though admittedly a bit more challenging than the Duncan Hines mix would be 🙂

“Embracing Change Can Be Hard” Chocolate Cupcakes
Cupcakes:
2 bananas (freezing them first works best)
1/2 cup dark cocoa powder
2 Tbsp. coconut flour
2 Tbsp. arrowroot starch
2 Tbsp. coconut sugar (or some other sweetener)
1/2 Tbsp. flaxseed
2 Tbsp. grapeseed oil
 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
2/3 tsp. baking soda
1/3 tsp. cream of tartar
1/4 tsp. white vinegar
2 Tbsp. maple syrup
1 Tbsp. coconut milk
a dash of salt
water (until desired consistency)

1. Mix all the ingredients together. I had them all in a bowl and then ended up using my Magic Bullet since the frozen bananas posed a challenge.
2. Keep adding water in small spoonfuls until your batter has a cupcake-batter consistency. I would also recommend tasting it after it reaches the desired consistency to make sure it’s still sweet enough!
3. Bake at 350 for about 25 minutes…but keep checking with a toothpick since you’re oven may be faster!


Frosting:
1/2 Tbsp. coconut oil
1/2 Tbsp. olive oil (or grapeseed)
1 Tbsp. coconut sugar
1 Tbsp. maple syrup
2/3 tsp. cream of tartar
1/3 tsp. baking soda
5 Tbsp. coconut milk
1/3 tsp. vanilla

1. Melt the coconut oil and olive oil on the stovetop. Remove when melted and pour into a bowl.
2) Add the coconut sugar, maple syrup, cream of tartar, and baking soda and mix until dissolved.
3) Stir in the vanilla and coconut milk until dissolved into the mixture as well.
4) Chill the mixture for 20-30 minutes before trying to frost the cupcakes
Yes, the only picture I have is when I made them for the HIMYM finale.
So of course I added chips to make them my “Suit Up” cupcakes…
Posted in Bread/Muffins, Newly-Diagnosed, Tips and Tricks

A Summer of Cookouts

Summer has unofficially arrived. The pools are open, the sno-ball stands are back in operation, farmer’s markets are back in full swing, and of course the sweet aroma of BBQ is back in the air. That’s right…it’s BBQ season. From Memorial Day on, the invitations are in full swing. Cookouts become a regular part of the weekend routine. They’re great little gatherings where friends, family, co-workers, etc.  share in laughs, fellowship, and delicious food.  Of course you’re nervous: doesn’t your entry into the world of food allergies make these laid-back, joyous gatherings a source of great stress and anxiety?? Isn’t the simple joy of a summer BBQ a thing of the past for you?? Don’t worry, the answer is absolutely not. It just takes a little bit of planning and you’ll be ready to go!

Here’s a tip: grill ahead. Yes, you can bring your own meat and foil and spatula and barbecue along with the resident grillmaster. However, I personally would still be a bit nervous about that. Your burger will be in awfully close proximity to bread-crumb-filled burgers, swiftly melting cheddar cheese…not to mention those toasted burger buns. In my mind, it’s just a recipe for disaster. In the end, it’s your call but I personally prefer the “grill ahead and pack a lunchbox” option 🙂
Katie’s 5 Simple Steps to a Summer of Fantastic “You-Safe” BBQs:
  •   A few hours prior to BBQ time, cook something delicious. However, I would suggest you always pose the following question to yourself, “Self, how will this taste reheated later??” If it won’t reheat well, choose a different entrée. I don’t actually have a grill at the moment, apartment living only allows for so much. However, I did recently discover the joy that is a broiler. That’s right, in the 28 years I’ve lived on this earth, I never used a broiler until a few weeks ago. (in my defense, our house growing up had an electric oven and thus no broiler)…and I can tell you my life will never be the same. Burgers, roasts, chicken: I’ve found a multitude of ways to put my newfound toy to good use. 🙂 
  • Make  a side dish: Take it from me, there’s nothing like getting to a cookout and seeing a vast picnic table full of side dish options for the other guests while you sit with just your lonely (albeit delicious ) entrée of choice. Yes, potato chips can suffice in a pinch…but really try to treat yourself. It will make the whole afternoon far more enjoyable.

These are amazing and SO simple! Just chop up small red potatoes, mix them in a bowl with olive oil, rosemary, garlic, sea salt, and pepper, then bake at 450 until browning 🙂
  • Learn to to love lettuce! Yes those delectably satisfying hamburger rolls are a thing of the past…but take it from me, a decent lettuce wrap really can be an acceptable substitute. Just choose your lettuce carefully (I always go for the romaine) and DON”T skimp. You have to use a lot to give it an effective bun-like quality. And seriously, it’s lettuce; whether it’s money or calories you’re counting, it won’t put much of a dent in either category. 
  • Pickles. They’re amazing, they’re delicious, they’re cheap.  Always have a jar in the fridge. That’s all I have to say about that.

  • Dessert  is easy! AS I’ve said time and time again, don’t sell yourself short and decide to skip dessert. It may seem like a great idea when you’re tired and don’t feel like cooking yet another thing for yourself in advance…but trust me, you’ll feel much differently when dessert time arrives and you’re sitting with an empty plate. Additionally, in summer, dessert is even easier! Fruit salad is always a perfect default option. Buy some grapes, watermelon, strawberries, and blueberries, cut them up and toss them in a bowl! You’ve got and allergy-safe (and somewhat patriotic) dessert that you can share with the group! Just make sure you dig in first before those contaminated spoons have a chance to do so. Heck, bring some whipped cream for other guests to add to their fruit serving and you may be the new hero of the BBQ.  It’s that simple!!  
    • And for those gatherings where you’re feeling slightly more ambitious, you’ve got to try this recipe. I think I’m still on Cloud-9 from eating these and it was over 3 weeks ago! (Remember: end of year craziness = no time to share great recipes) 
Perfect Summer-Time Lemon Bars
(Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, Egg-Free) 
Squeeze 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice.
Mix with agar flakes (3 Tbsp. flakes with 3 Tbsp. water)
(unless you’re fortunate enough to eat egg whites…then I’d say stick with those!)
Mix lemon juice, agar paste, 1/4 cup grapeseed oil, 1/4 cup agave.
Seriously, mini food processor = best kitchen device ever.
Meanwhile bake crust at 350 for 15 minutes:
(1.5 cups almond meal, 2 Tbsp. grapseed oil, 1Tbsp. agave, 1 Tbsp. vanilla, salt to taste)
Pour topping over the baking crust. Continue baking for 15 minutes then remove.
Allow to cool and store in the refrigerator.
And they were so good that I forgot to take an “After” picture before they were all gone! Trust me, they’re delicious!! Or just invite me to a summer cookout and I’ll bring you a batch myself 🙂
Here’s to a fun, safe, and relaxing summer! May your cookouts be filled with laughter, friendship, and delicious/you-safe foods. Anxiety, stress, and ants just don’t deserve a place at the table 🙂
This is what a summer BBQ is all about: friendship, laughter, and joy:-)