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 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, 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 Cookies, Teacher Life, Tips and Tricks

"I Got My Lunch Packed Up, My Boots Tied Tight, I Hope I Don’t Get In a Fight…Oh Back to School, Back to School…"

That’s right, it’s that time of year again. (and if you missed the reference in the title, click here!) Once again we’re all talking about how summer has faded away too quickly. If you’re a student, a teacher, or a parent, the past 2 weeks (or the upcoming week for those of you lucky enough to be in a place where school still opens after Labor Day) have been crazy ones. And even if you don’t fit into any of the categories above, you still know it’s Back to School time for one reason: traffic. Somehow it’s like hundreds of cars that were hibernating all summer have awakened and filled the roadways. And the school buses, ah yes, the school buses. I love them, they’re efficient…but I’ve been stuck behind one enough times to know that most drivers have a love-hate relationships that tends to lean more in the direction of hate. Just remember, if they didn’t exist, that would mean an extra car on the road for every kid on that bus. Perspective for the next time you’re stopping and starting your way down the street behind the big yellow bus 🙂

Despite the griping you’ve probably heard from many teacher friends, we really do love this time of year. At least I do. It’s a fresh new start; another chance to greet some smiling new faces and open their minds to new ideas and their hearts to love just a little more deeply (at least that’s the hope). And this year for me this new beginning has been startlingly more real as I began my new year at a new school. Which means there are not only 375 new student faces but more than 50 new faculty and staff members to meet…talk about brain overload. As any student and any teacher, even the most veteran, will tell you, back-to-school time is nervewracking. Somehow the confidence which we had in June is hiding somewhere beneath the layers of sunscreen we piled on this summer. We’re coming back to do exactly what we did day in and day out without hesitation for 10 months last year…and yet the butterflies that fill our stomachs for the week prior to Day 1 are merciless. It’s Year 7 for me and I can attest they’re just as strong as Year 1…and from the unofficial survey I did last week, it seems that’s the case for the next 4 decades at least. Honestly though, as a certain wise former colleague of mine said this week, I hope these first day jitters never get old…because if they ever do, I think it would be time to move on. You always get nervous about the things you care about, right??

My new office…slowly coming together.
And yes, that is a giant sink 🙂

All right, before I get to the informative portion of this post, I do have to get a bit nostalgic for a moment. It has been a great and exhausting two weeks for me for many, many reasons. I’ve had quite a few “pinch-me-because-this-can’t-be-real” moments and of course some totally “I’m-overwhelmed-and-must-be-close-to-drowning” moments too. However, I had one of those amazing moments this week too; you know the kind that stop you in your tracks and give you chills and make you want to just freeze time or bottle it up to save. Or at least to have dramatic background music and some kind of montage like your life is a TV show 🙂  I had a phone conversation with one of the saints I’ve mentioned before. He’s had a dream we’ve talked at length about for years now, one which until recently he shared with very few people. And this week it started to come true. Now the specifics don’t matter (well I suppose they do but they aren’t mine to share) but the point is the joy was palpable in his voice. Of course I shared my life updates too, relaying stories about my new school and my excitement for next week’s Expo and my foray into the world of Official Bloggers! In the course of the conversation, he pointed out that it is pretty amazing how far we’ve both come over the past three years. (Note: I spent Labor Day weekend 2011 in the ER. And actually 4th of July 2011 too…not a good year for me and national holidays) After I hung up, I sat for a moment and just let it all sink in and I realized how right he was. There were so many days, weeks, and months of darkness, confusion, and even some hopelessness…and yet now I am lucky enough to bring just a little ray of light to people in the midst of their own darkness. And next weekend I’ll get to spend 2 whole days getting to know even more people who have journeys just like mine. Yes, to say I feel blessed would be an understatement.

I’ve come a long way since my dazed and confused early-food-issue days 🙂

Now, sentimental reflection over, I promise. Time for the important information. Now last year, my back-to-school post was addressed to my fellow teachers. This year, it’s for food-allergy-ridden friends (or parents of food-allergy-ridden students); though to be honest many of these tips can apply to any student or teacher heading back to school!

1) Stockpile You-Safe Breakfast Items: Mornings are hard. Early mornings are even harder. And this is coming from a self-proclaimed morning person! After a summer of waking up naturally around 6:45 (that’s right, teachers really don’t sleep that late all summer. At least this one doesn’t), a 5:30 alarm is just not a welcome sound. Coffee helps of course but breakfast in a food-allergy world can be a challenge. No just grab a waffle and go for this girl anymore. And sadly, my Katie-safe cereal options have been rapidly dwindling as recipes change, machinery is shared, etc. so even that has become a challenge. So what’s the solution? Make You-safe breakfast foods the weekend before. I had a pancake-making extravaganza last Sunday and suddenly had a week’s worth of delicious breakfasts just a 90-second microwave trip away. Take it from me, you cannot underestimate the benefit of an easy, delicious breakfast…especially when you’re staring at a time on the clock that you haven’t seen in 9 weeks 🙂

My Katie-safe pancake-making party…
Seriously, a griddle is an amazing time-saver!

2) Empower your child (or yourself): As I mentioned above, new years are filled with new names, new faces, new classrooms, etc. While I wish I could say that every teacher will have your child’s unique allergies or issues in the forefront of their brain, I can honestly say I think that would be an unrealistic expectation. The reality is teachers are still trying to connect faces to the names which they’ve been dutifully writing on name tags/class lists for weeks. Now in elementary school it’s a little different. With a class of 20 or so (at least hopefully), the teacher is bound to know your child and their health issues by lunchtime of day 1, if not before. However, it gets trickier when your child reaches middle school or high school and only has face time with each teacher for 45 minutes on that first day. This is why I think it is SO important to empower kids with food allergies (or any health issues really). They should be equipped to handle their own situation, know what questions to ask, etc. If your child can’t do this by late elementary school, you may need to re-evaluate. I don’t have my own kids but even from my time with students, I can’t even imagine how difficult this must be for a parent to relinquish control; however, the reality is your child is going to be living with this allergy or condition FOREVER. Hence the sooner your child learns to advocate for him or herself, the better. However, if your child is young…or even if you’re just concerned…write a note, find the teacher, try to avoid puttig a bright yellow nut-allergy sticker on your child’s sweater (yes, it happens) but honestly, do what you have to do to keep your child safe. Allergies, despite the frequent articles or comedy sketches which poke fun, are actually life-or-death situations. Plan accordingly.

3) “Dinner Plan”:
The first week of school is exhausting. For everyone. There’s no way around it. As an article I read yesterday said, going back to school is like running a marathon after not walking more than a mile for 9 weeks. There is no easing back into school. It’s just full speed ahead into classes, grading, homework, sports practices, parent conferences, etc. There’s just no rest for the weary…well, unless you fall asleep in your school clothes by 8:15 one night and don’t wake up until morning. Yes, that happened…and no, I still didn’t feel rested. I learned last year that by the time I get home from school, dinner is the last thing I want to think about, let alone have energy to plan and make. Hence, the teacher in me won over and I started a tradition of Sunday afternoon “dinner planning”. You know, as a welcome break from my Sunday afternoon lesson planning. I survey my cabinets and add some meals to my weekly planner. Then to fill in the missing days, I consult my trusty weekly grocery circulars for what’s on sale. Within a matter of 45 minutes or so, I’m planned for the week. I recently added a shopping list corner too. AND I realized that if I take a picture of it, I can just pull it up on my phone when I’m about to head home from school and remind myself what I need to pick up. I tell you, I was not a fan of the Smartphone idea, but I must admit it has been an overwhelmingly positive experience for me. So go to the dollar store, buy a dry-erase weekly planner, and get to dinner planning. You won’t regret it!

Think easy meals…especially for Week 1!

4) Find a You-Safe Option for Dining Out (or Carrying Out): This is important for two reasons. 1) Because the first week of school deserves celebration and whether that means going out as a family for dinner or just celebrating by yourself, it needs to happen. 2) Because no matter how well you follow Step 3, there will be days when you just simply cannot make dinner. Whether it’s time or energy which is lacking, those nights are inevitable. So make sure you have a back-up option (cough, Chipotle or Five Guys, cough) and of course some money in your “I’m too tired to move so yes, this is considered an emergency” fund.

One of my go-to carry-out options!

5) Make Chocolate Chip Cookies: Need I say more? Chocolate chip cookies just make the world a better place. It’s that simple. Bake them, eat some, freeze some…and most importantly enjoy them.

Enjoy Life now makes dark chocolate morsels!
One word: life-changing.

“It’s Going to Be a Great Year!” Chocolate Chip Cookies
1 cup gluten-free flour blend (I used Bob’s Red Mill All-Purpose Flour)
1/2 cup Earth Balance Soy-free buttery spread
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup pure cane sugar
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/3 tsp. baking soda + 2/3 tsp. cream of tartar (or baking powder if you’re not corn-free)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 Tbsp. flaxseed + 3 Tbsp. water (or 1 egg if you’re not egg-free)
salt to taste

1. Mix all ingredients (I did wet ingredients and dry ingredients separately first).
2. Bake for about 12 minutes at 350 degrees.
3. Enjoy!!

6) Have an AMAZING new school year! To echo what I said earlier, I really do believe every new year is a new opportunity to make new friends, to learn, to love, and to grow into an even better version of yourself. So sharpen those pencils, pack up those new books, put a smile on that face, and get out there! The world is waiting for you 🙂

Posted in Cookies, Life Lessons

2014: The Year of Love

Happy New Year!! I know, I know I’m a few days late. I had the best of intentions but unfortunately my transmission decided it just didn’t want to accompany Little Blue (as I affectionately refer to my car) and me on the journey into 2014. So needless to say it’s been an interesting start to the year already. Between that, my New Year’s Day Dinner Date with the precious octogenarian couple who have taken up semi-permanent residence in our hospital guest house, and now a snow day, all I can say is that if the first 48 hours are any indication, I’m in for quite an adventurous year. We shall see…

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I don’t typically make resolutions in January because mine are reserved for the start of the new school year each August. However I am known for assigning each new calendar year with a theme or quote that I hope will dictate the year ahead. It’s not something I search for…just something that seems to be timely or a thought that happens to strike when I’m not really think about it. There was the year of positivity, the year of opportunity; one year the theme was “epic”; another was dedicated to new adventures.

Well, as of 2 PM on New Year’s Eve, I had yet to stumble upon a theme. I spent New Year’s Eve day baking and cooking like crazy, filing away recipes to share, before venturing north to Philadelphia to reunite with some truly amazing people whom I don’t see nearly enough anymore. I got to ring in the new year with that lovely group of people before Little Blue (poor thing could only drive forward once my AAA friend graciously pushed us backward out of the gas station) made the precarious journey back to Baltimore just in time for my afternoon shift/dinner date at the hospital. After our pork dinner, I surprised my favorite 81-year-old duo with a special treat: homemade gluten-free, dairy-free double chocolate chip cookies. I know what you’re thinking: yeah, Katie, real special treat. But I mean it! Of all the people I’ve discussed allergies with over the past three years, these 2 just might take the prize for most curious. I swear every time I come on for another shift, they’ve got another food-related question for me. They excitedly bit into their cookies, chewed, pondered…and in a moment I could tell by their faces, I’d won them over. With his eyes wide, the husband in this dynamic duo slapped the table and exclaimed, “Hot dog! I taste the special ingredient and I bet you didn’t even know it was in there.” To which his wife responded, “What in the samhill did you do? Did you add dairy to her cookies?? I know the extension for ER transport!” He responded with a laugh and a head shake as he explained himself with a twinkle in his eye, “No, no. I didn’t add anything. She did and she didn’t even know it. I can taste what makes these cookies so delicious…it’s love. Who needs gluten when you’ve got that??”

My New Year’s Day Dinner Date with the dynamic duo…

Well, in that moment, my heart just about melted. (And I’ll admit I filed that away as the potential motto for my future bakery…please don’t steal it!) And I watched as the two of them smiled at each other and thought to myself: this might be the strangest but also the best New Year’s Day I’ve ever had…even in light of losing poor Little Blue’s reverse function. Well the two of them went to bed and eventually I did too only to wake up bright and early yesterday morning to return to work. Halfway through the morning PD session, I ran up to my classroom to call the transmission specialist and was greeted by an unexpected message. It was from one of those saints in street clothes I mentioned earlier. He has this special gift for noticing how people are feeling and sharing the perfect Scripture passage to address the situation they’re facing. Well, I clicked on his message and was met with a verse from 1Corinthians 13:2.. you can read it for yourself if you so desire but in short it’s the verse that says you can have everything in the world but without love, you really have nothing. As I reflected on this verse during the remainder of morning PD, I thought back to last Sunday’s 2ndreading (starting with Colossians 3:12)which is one of my absolute favorites. It also addressed the same topic…love. I thought back on the priest’s reflection of unconditional love shown by both Mary and Joseph in the midst of such uncertainty throughout the Nativity story. And it hit me: the theme of this year must be love.

Well sure enough, PD Day continued on and my suspicion was only solidified. First the Charismatic Mass Coordinator shared the most precious proposal video his friend had made…true love all over that one. Then I woke up this morning (to a snow day!! WOOHOO!!) and turned on the news just in time to see excerpts from Pope Francis’ mass today in Rome with his Jesuit brothers. And what did he say? That the Gospel can’t be preached with “beatings of condemnation. No, the Gospel must be preached gently…with love”. Well, there you have it folks. If ever I needed confirmation of this year’s theme, there it was from the mouth of Pope Francis himself. And he wasn’t done. He went on to talk about the formation of today’s youth. About how we can’t just form their minds but also their hearts. About how if we don’t form their hearts, we create “little monsters…and then these little monsters form the People of God”. Way to keep it real, Pope Francis. Seriously, I love this man.

In short, I have decided this is the year of love. Love in all forms. It’s only been 2.5 days but I am already amazed by the love I’ve experienced. I began 2014 surrounded in love…you know the kind of love you can only find in old friends and family. The kind that simultaneously reminds you of the person you once were, highlights just how much you’ve grown to become the person you are now, and most of all reminds you that there are people in this world who will always love you, no matter how much you grow, change, and evolve. I sat in the presence of the love of a couple that has endured the ups and downs of 55 years together. I experienced love in the hugs, smiles, and “Happy New Year” greetings of my co-workers on our first day back to the grind. I was blessed with the love of good friends who went out of their way to help push my car out of its parking spot and then drive me around now that Little Blue is away for a few days getting a transmission that is willing to take the journey through 2014 with us. Yes, love really is all around us (cue the Love Actually music now). But we just need to stop and notice it. And more importantly, we need there to be more of it.

Ringing in 2014 with some amazing ladies…

So this year, I don’t really have a resolution. At least not in the traditional sense of the word. I am committing myself to love. To noticing it, searching for it, embracing it, sharing it, and pouring it into all the recipes I create this year. So as we run full speed ahead into 2014, I offer the same challenge to you. It doesn’t mean you have to abandon all of your own resolutions…but I invite you to add to them. Let’s make 2014 the year of love. Because really if you let love be the guide in all of your choices, actions, decisions, etc., well, then 2014 is bound to be a great year, isn’t it??

I opened Pinterest this morning and this appeared. If I needed any further confirmation, this is it.

And to kick off the year, here are those delicious recipes. Just remember…who needs gluten (or dairy or soy??) when you’ve got love??

Happy New Year 🙂

Double Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 3/4 cups almond flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 cup grapeseed oil
3/4 cup agave syrup1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup Enjoy Life chocolate chunks

 Mix it all together and bake at 350 for 12-15 minutes!