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
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!!
Posted in Gluten-Free/Dairy-Free Life, Meals/Sides, Newly-Diagnosed, Product Recommendations, Teacher Life

If I Could Save Time in a Bottle…

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


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

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

And this is only one of my calendars…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you, SoDelicious!

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

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

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


Posted in Meals/Sides, Teacher Life

It’s Taco Time!

I know what you’re thinking: Katie, it’s the beginning of the school year! Aren’t you supposed to fall off the face of the blog-osphere for a few weeks until things settle down?? And yet here you are posting twice in one weekend??? Well, my response to that is trinitarian (that’s right: I learned this weekend that without the capitalized T, this word is a synonym for threefold…mind blown!): 1) I had a 4-day weekend…so I actually had time to plan and prepare for the week ahead; 2) I designate a theme of the year for each school year (last year was gratitude, the year before was positivity) and I’ve deemed this year the year of balance (namely of the work-life variety)..hence, this is me balancing; and 3) the topic of this post is just so important that it just can’t wait another second.

Tacos. Take a moment: soak in the word. Allow your brain to conjure up a mental image accompanied by the memory of the scent which wafts through your home for hours after your taco dinner has ended. Tonight I made tacos…and of course enough meat to last me for another evening to celebrate Taco Tuesday tomorrow. As I reached for my Pyrex of homemade taco seasoning, I had a horrible realization: I never wrote this post back in July when I originally planned to! So I apologize for my delinquency but let’s not waste another minute!

It’s Taco Time!!

Those of you who know me well are aware that forceful is not usually an adjective used to describe me. However, for this moment in time I will be and I have one admonition to share: DON’T EVER MAKE TACOS WITH THOSE SEASONING PACKETS AGAIN!! I mean this sincerely. Now please allow me to explain why.

1) Homemade taco seasoning is SO easy.
I sought out a recipe for homemade taco seasoning in the midst of my early food-intolerance days. Thanks to my trusty sidekick, Pinterest, I stumbled upon this awesome blog called The Nerd’s Wife. Here is her awesome/super easy recipe for homemade taco seasoning:

3 parts chili powder
2 parts ground cumin
1 part paprika
½ part cayenne pepper
1 part dried oregano
1 part onion powder
1 part garlic powder
1 part salt

½ part black pepper
*Courtesy of The Nerd’s Wife*
Several months old…and still going strong!

2) Homemade seasoning is highly cost-effective.
Think about it: when you decide on taco night, it usually involves a stop at the grocery store to pick up a packet of that Old El Paso seasoning. If you’re at the store anyway, why not bypass the packets and head straight for the pure spice section. First of all, chances are you already have some of the necessary spices in your kitchen; second, even if you have to shell out much more for the spices than a simple packet of taco seasoning, in the longrun, I guarantee the cost will likely balance out. Plus, you know you’ll end up using all those spices in other recipes at some point!

3) Do you know what is in that packet?? I didn’t think so…
I’m sorry, I promised I would never be one of those people who preach about how horrible everything that comes in a grocery store package is for you..and I won’t. However, this one has even me a little fired up. Take a look at this package:

Just look at those ingredients…
Now as you know, the corn starch jumps out at me as dangerous, but even for those of you with non-corn-adverse immune systems, think about this label for a moment. First of all, the only actual spices in your seasoning are chili pepper, salt, onion powder, and garlic powder…which are likely spices you already have sitting in your cabinet. Second, soybean oil? In your taco seasoning?? Why, General Mills, why? Third, an anticaking agent? I can personally attest that I made my homemade seasoning back in July and it has sat through a hot, humid summer in my sealed Pyrex and has remained completely fine and uncaked without any artificial preservatives or anticaking agents mixed in. I have a feeling it’s because those little packets sit on the shelves for up to 2 years…but again, that’s just my untested hypothesis.
And last but not least, please note the main ingredient: maltodextrin. Do you even know what that is?? Well, according to the FDA, “(a) Maltodextrin ((C6H10O5)n, CAS Reg. No. 9050-36-6) is a nonsweet nutritive saccharide polymer that consists of D-glucose units linked primarily by [alpha]-1-4 bonds and that has a dextrose equivalent (D.E.) of less than 20. It is prepared as a white powder or concentrated solution by partial hydrolysis of corn starch, potato starch, or rice starch with safe and suitable acids and enzymes” Yep, doesn’t mean much to me either. However, what I do know is that I shouldn’t need to turn to the science-savvy Saint in the Bow Tie…or the even more science-savvy Saint in my life, whom we’ll call the Philanthropic Physicist…in order to decipher the ingredients on my food label. Seriously, google image maltodextrin; you’ll be greeted by a chemical structure model which will bring you back to your high school chemistry lab days. Not exactly what I should have to decipher before putting something into my body.
So in short, I promise I’m not trying to scare you…but I just don’t think this makes any sense. If taco seasoning can be made so easily and frugally at home, why settle for a packet that all too often is covered in dust when you grab it off the shelf?? Granted I’m well aware there are probably a million and one other items on those grocery shelves that have the same issues, but for today I’m choosing one grievance at a time. Today, taco seasoning. Tomorrow (or really whenever I find time to write it again so probably more like Thanksgiving), soft drinks.
Taco meat for tomorrow night!
You know what that means: Taco Tuesday 🙂
Pair your taco with these corn-free chips…a perfect Labor Day meal!
Or Taco Tuesday, as the case may be…
So next time you’re at the store, grab some ground beef and stock up on the spices: tacos are always a great decision…no matter what day of the week it is 🙂
Posted in Meals/Sides

The Only Potato Salad Recipe You Will Ever Need…

You’re welcome.

I know you may think I’m kidding, but I could not be more serious. Potato salad is one of those summer staples; that dish which just screams SUMMER!, FAMILY BBQ!, and AMERICA!. And yet, for many of us food-allergenic types, potato salad is off the table. Its main ingredient, other than potatoes of course, is egg-filled (and often soybean-laced if it’s a generic brand) mayonnaise. Not to mention the fact that people love to get creative with this side dish and add everything from cheese to breadcrumbs. I blame the influx of cooking shows which seem to have turned everyone into an aspiring Julia Child.

Regardless, potato salad and I parted ways some time ago; even when it was just gluten I was avoiding, I steered clear of this dish at parties. One never knows what a creative chef added to the mix…and even if there were no gluten-containing ingredients, the bowl always ends up sitting in close proximity to the pasta salad bowl and the chance of their spoons having been mixed up is enough to instill fear in the pit of my stomach. It was a rough separation, and it certainly was not without moments of nostalgia and longing for what once was: warm summer nights with a delicious burger and a side of scrumptious potato salad. But considering my health and clear-headedness remain a priority for me, I had accepted my lot in life and bid a fond farewell to one of my favorite summer dishes.

Until a few weeks ago that is…

I was surfing through Pinterest one evening (shocking I know) and stumbled across a pin for vegan potato salad. Well of course I clicked right away, but proceeded with caution as I’ve learned to do as not to be let down when potentially exciting treasures turn out to be more akin to a pyrite find. However, this time I was in luck: I’d struck gold! This recipe was INGENIUS!! Replace the mayo with avocado!! How had I never thought of this before?!?! I set right to work and the following is what ensued. Please keep in mind, I take no credit for this recipe whatsoever…it was all because of a fortuitous Pinterest encounter that led me here.

Step 1: Cut potatoes (I used Yukon gold) into small chunks.
(And yes, I have a new cutting board: the old one was a casualty
of the cockroach invasion…another story for another time)
Step 2: Bring the potatoes to a boil, then lower the heat and let them heat until cooked.
Step 3: While the potatoes are cooking, cut up a ripe avocado.
Step 4: Dice a 1/2 cup of cucumber and 2 tablespoons red onion.
Step 5: Add the cucumber, red onion, and 2 tablespoons dill to the avocado.
Step 6: Add 2 tablespoons of dijon mustard (the key ingredient!!), salt and pepper to taste,
a bit of lemon juice and mix together! 
The magic ingredients! And Koops’ is certified gluten-free 🙂
The potatoes will likely be cooked by the time you blend the mix. Drain the potatoes, allow them to cool for about 20 minutes, and then mix it all together. Your life will never be the same.
You may notice I don’t have a picture of the finished product; this is particularly surprising since I’ve now made this potato salad 4 different times…I just get so excited I forget a final photo!
Lastly, I do have one piece of advice. If you’ve ever used avocado, you know the biggest issue: it’s greenness is short-lived. It’s challenging enough to convince your friends to try a gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, egg-free dish…but if it has a brownish hue, it will be that much more of a struggle. Hence, this is not a dish to make the night before and bring…if you want anyone else to eat it that is. Additionally, it doesn’t keep well so be cognizant of numbers when preparing it. For example, I made a  batch one night and neglected to consider the fact that my solo dinner would not require as much potato salad as a group event. I ate the brownish leftovers the next day too, but trust me, it wasn’t quite the same.
So, despite the numerous Back-to-School promotions which are trying to convince you otherwise, you  still have plenty of summer left! Get out there, enjoy it, and bring potato salad back to your summer dinner table 🙂
courtesy of Pinterest
Posted in Life Lessons, Meals/Sides

Love Shout-Out #2: The Simple Things

I bet I can predict three of the thoughts running through your head right now: 1) Hmmm, I figured she abandoned these love shout-outs since there hasn’t been one since the 2nd week of the year; 2) The Simple Things? I can’t wait to find out what cutesy store/fine dining establishment chose that name; and 3) Seriously, Katie, where have you been for a month? I figured you gave up on the blog.
In answer to those questions: no, I haven’t given up on the love shout-outs OR on the Year of Love. There’s been love all around…I’ve just struggled in finding time to write about it. Soaking it in is better than writing about it anyway, right? No, I didn’t give up my blog either. In fact it actually surprised me how much I’ve missed writing. The short summary is I had a week of end-of-trimester/report card craziness followed by a week away with my kids at an adventure camp (yes, overnight camp with 11 year-olds…an adventure to say the least) and then…remember when I posted about illness and how those of us with autoimmune diseases just band together for cold and flu season and hope for the best? Well, this year I fell short. I came down with a double ear infection which then morphed into a fullblown sinus infection which culminated in a 102 degree fever that had the doctor debating whether I’d have to end my now-approaching-1-year-since-an-ER-visit streak for IV fluids. Fortunately my immune system figured itself out and though it’s been a long week of slowly recovering my strength, I am now happy to report I’m almost back to full health. Thank goodness for Advil, Katie-safe antibiotics, and a new corn-syrup free variety of Gatorade for getting me through.
Now onto those simple things. It was only capitalized above because it’s the title of this post. I’m not talking about a trendy boutique or a new farm-to-table café. No, I quite literally mean the simple things in life : the moments, events, objects, and yes even people, that are so simple and yet in that simplicity bring us profound joy. You know the moments I mean: when the song you’ve been waiting to hear comes on the radio just as you get in the car; when there’s time left on a meter outside the post office when you just need to run inside for stamps; when there’s a buy 1, get 1 free sale on the ingredient you need for your next baking endeavor; when an entire class of 6thgraders is fixated on a Disney movie and you actually get a moment to correct papers during indoor recess.  Such moments will never inspire Oscar-worthy movies or Pulitzer-Prize-winning novels…but it is the profound joy of these simple moments which remind us that we are loved, honored,and cherished by people in this world but also by a Creator who gifted us moments such as these.
As anyone who knows me will attest, I tend to find much greater joy in the simple things than your average person. However, even I have to admit that has been exponentially magnified this week. I think it’s human nature that when any of us bounce back from an illness, we’re more appreciative of the little things. On that first morning venturing off the couch when you just can’t believe how far the walk from your front door to the car really seems to be, you swear you’ll never take your health for granted again. Of course a week later, you’re bounding out the door again and rushing to the car with a million to-do  list items in your mind and you’ve already broken that promise…again, human nature.
For those of you who are calendar fiends like myself, you may remember that last year, this week was Holy Week. Easter Sunday was March 31st and I was counting down the days until I could drink coffee again. Not only that, I was in the worst health I had been since my initial diagnosis three years ago. I was weak and I was tired. My stomach hurt constantly. I could barely make it through a day of school…and on 2 different occasions, I didn’t. I was sad, I was scared, I was frustrated, and I was confused. I would arrive at school each morning envious of other teachers who walked into school with what I considered “normal problems”. They weren’t worried about feeling faint during class, having enough energy to make it to 3 PM without a rest in the nurse’s office, or a constant pain in their stomach. I remember thinking back on my healthier days as a teacher and longing for the “normal” stress of a regular day. I promised myself if they every figured out what was wrong with me, I’d never complain about those “normal” stressors again. Well, fast forward a year later…boy, did I break that promise.
Just as with a typical illness, I have fallen back into the “normalcy” of life and those little things I once dreamed of doing suddenly became expected and routine. I find myself stressing about the very things I once dreamed of being able to do. I had to teach non-stop without a break because of the schedule changes and mass. I had to go to three different meetings and a dinner in one week. I had to find time to get to the bank, the gym, and the grocery store in time for “How I Met Your Mother”. I should have been finding joy in these things: I GET to teach all day without worry about blood sugar crashes, stomachaches, or dizzy spells. I GET to attend three different meetings to offer my thoughts, share a few laughs, and make a real impact; I GET to attend a dinner (even if my plate remains mostly empty) without a contingency plan for the quickest low-key exit door and shortest route to the nearest medical office; I GET to run errands, go for a run, and cook a delicious meal before settling in on the couch without curling up in a tired, confused, pain-filled ball. And all it took was a brief bout of illness to remind me of that.
So this week I’ve been feeling a little bit like Olaf. (If you haven’t seen Frozen, do yourself a favor…go get it. And I mean now!) I’ve found the greatest joy in the simplest things: yes, the beauty of a March snowfall, a sale on gluten-free matzah (who knew Passover would bring out so many Katie-safe options in the grocery store??),  the sparkle in the eye of a student (or colleague) when they share something that excites them; but it’s even simpler than that. I find joy in being able to get out of bed when my alarm goes off in the morning, in walking out the door without having to remember sugar packets in case of possible blood sugar crashes during the day, in eating a meal without the crippling anxiety of wondering if it will leave me doubled over in pain or struggling to take a deep breath. Even the simple fact of sitting on my couch in my own apartment brings me indescribable joy…because I’m lucky enough to have a home, yes, but also because there was a time when I (and several friends/health professionals) had severe reservations about the safety of my being alone for multiple hours at a time. I find joy in my prayer time before I go to sleep…because the time that was once filled with pleas for answers, health, and healing can now be spent in deeper reflection and in prayer for other people and their needs.
So today I encourage you to do the same. See the world like Olaf does…as if you’re seeing it all for the first time and each simple little thing is the most fascinating and beautiful thing you’ve ever encountered. I’ll think you’ll be surprised how much joy can fill your heart in doing so…and in turn, how much joy you can share with others around you.
Courtesy of

And in the spirit of this simplicity, this wouldn’t be complete without a simple, allergy-friendly meal suggestion: Irish stew. Growing up, we ate this every year on St. Patrick’s Day. I asked almost every year why we didn’t have Corned Beef and Cabbage and the answer always had something to do with the fact that my grandfather (born and raised in Ireland) had never heard of such a meal until he came to America. While that may be true, I also realize now that it also probably had a lot to do with the simplicity of this dish. In a 100% Irish household, the weeks surrounding St. Patrick’s Day can be crazy ones. We were like an assembly line of Irish soda bread makers…every teacher, neighbor, and homeroom class had to have one (times 3 kids). Not to mention, my sister and I were competitive Irish Step dancers for many years. The number of performances, parades, mall exhibitions, etc. multiplied exponentially each March. And even in the years after we “retired” from dancing competitively, we still dusted off those shoes every March 17th for the remainder of our grade school/high school days to perform for various music classes at our school. With all that to keep organized (not to mention the hair curling that had to take place), I realize now that stew was a quick multi-day meal option which could easily be reheated to suit the crazy schedule that was St. Patrick’s Day time in the Burke household.

So regardless of the date on the calendar, here is a simple, go-to recipe that will leave you with easily reheatable food for days and days to come. Thank goodness I made a big batch right before my most recent illness struck. Nothing like the joy of a microwaveable meal when the journey from couch to fridge seems more like a marathon.
Simple Irish Stew
1 lb. lamb (or beef works too)
4 cups vegetable broth (GF)
potatoes, celery, carrots, onion, whatever else strikes your fancy 🙂
2 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 tsp. thyme
2 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. pepper
3-4 cabbage leaves

1) I recommend browning the meat first on a stovetop…no chance of undercooked meat!
2) Mix all ingredients in the crockpot. Top off with the cabbage leaves and cook on low for 5-6 hours.
Yep, it’s that simple!
Now go out there today and live like Olaf. Notice the simple things in your day: celebrate them, and savor them. And do yourself a favor: love like Olaf too; openly, honestly, selflessly, and joyfully. I mean, it is the Year of Love after all 🙂
Jeanne’s Custom Creations
Posted in Meals/Sides, Sweet Treats

Spread a Little Love…and Eat Some Tilapia :-)

As you’ve probably figured out by now, my true allergy-free passion is baking, not so much in cooking; hence, usually my recipes are more of the bakery/coffee variety…since that’s what I plan to open one day. However, as you can imagine I have to experiment with cooking quite a bit as well these days, and every so often I come across a dish that I just have to share. Today is one of those days. And don’t worry, there’s also a cookie recipe at the end just to balance things out 🙂

As I imagine most of you know (and have experienced yourself), the last week has been a snow-filled one to say the least. In anticipation of what the news insisted yet again would be “the biggest storm of the season”, I went to my freezer to pull out a variety of foods that I could cook in preparation for a possible power outage. If you’ve ever experienced trying to eat for days in the midst of a power outage, imagine the added challenge of so many food restrictions. Not only do most of our foods require heating or cooking of some kind, but there are limited eat-out options. Last week I trekked over to Einstein Bros. for a cup of hot coffee when I was without power…let me tell you, I’ve never in my life been so jealous of people eating warm bagels. And I hope I never will be again.

Anyway, this week I was more prepared. I had a variety of delicious food items either cooked or thawing in my refrigerator and plans to light the burner manually to cook them if need be. Fortunately, the power stayed on this time. (Kudos to you, BGE :-). I used to have this bad habit of taking meat out of the freezer to thaw in the refrigerator…and then leaving it there too long and having to throw it out. My frugal self and my Excel spreadsheet just do not approve and thus I’ve been making an effort to be extra vigilant in regards to my meat and fish timelines. So last night I bypassed the couch and went right for the fridge to figure out what to do with my tilapia.

Now, I know where this is going. Yes, I’ve heard all the horrible things about tilapia. I know it’s the bottom of the food chain, it’s farmed in horrible cages that make Tyson chicken coops look healthy, it’s the worst possible fish I could think about putting into my body. Trust me, I’ve heard it all. And while I’m not saying I don’t care or appreciate the concern of those around me who offer such advice, I would also like to point out that when a person’s food selection is already so limited, fish is essential. And when that same person is on quite a tight budget, tilapia is the most cost-effective variety. Hence, yes, I choose to eat tilapia. Not all that often, mind you, but I do. You can pass judgment all you want…but I figure with the amount of unhealthy things I literally can’t introduce to my digestive tract (Krispy Kreme donuts, Frappuccinos, fast food of any variety, etc.), that a little tilapia from time to time can’t do all that much damage.

Now here’s where it get’s tricky. As someone with an autoimmune condition, I really do mean I eat tilapia IN MODERATION. As luck would have it, tilapia contains omega-6 fatty acids…which you guessed it, are known to cause inflammation. Now for several months whenever I had tilapia, I always made the same thing: tilapia tacos. Delicious. Wrapped in lettuce with rice and black beans. Always a meal I looked forward to. And then I started to realize that after I ate it, I always felt less than stellar. The reason? Well, as my nutritionist pointed out, black beans and rice are also on the “foods to consume in moderation because they induce inflammation” list. So, you put all of those foods together in one meal? It may be Katie-safe but it’s also a recipe for autoimmune disaster.

Hence, last night I had to get creative. I opened my fridge and saw the two things I had to make sure to cook by night’s end: tilapia and bacon. So I thought to myself: “There’s nothing I love more than scallops wrapped in bacon…so why not tilapia wrapped in bacon?”. (I know my cardiologist will be less than thrilled if he stumbles across this…) So that is what I did. SO EASY. SO SIMPLE. And SO DELICIOUS.

Just wrap the tilapia filets in a piece of bacon and place in a frying pan over medium heat…and voila! In about 15 minutes, you have a surprisingly delicious and flavorful entree. I threw in some asparagus on the side to balance out my plate and make it seem healthier. Also, notice the small portion size of tilapia: the rest is sealed away in the fridge and freezer for future meals 🙂
A delicious and satisfying meal.
And of course, once I fire up the oven, I get motivated to keep going. I spent some time yesterday spreading some Valentine cheer and even had my own special Valentine this year: an 82-year-old man. He went all out:
Last year my “Valentines” were 11…this year he’s 82.
(You can’t see it but I’m just shaking my head)
The white bag was filled with things he knew I could enjoy: a fruit cup, 2 bags of Utz potato chips, stickers, and a word search book. The purple one contained things he said he knew I couldn’t have but he just couldn’t pass up: a hollow chocolate apple that says #1 teacher, pink Tootsie pops, Hershey’s Kisses, Lindt truffles…a bag of pure deliciousness for most. Pure sickness for me 🙂  Hence, I spent the day giving away treats from this bag: to my neighbors who were graciously assisting others in the quest to dig out their cars, to the baristas who were serving FREE coffee all day at my favorite Baltimore coffee shop, the check-out clerks at the grocery store, and I still have more!
However, after gifting so many sweets, I found myself craving a little sweet treat of my own. So I went to work in my kitchen and this is what resulted:
I had no berries so I couldn’t make the frosting pink…
…they may not look appealing but they taste amazing!
Katie-Safe Sugar Cookies (with frosting!!)
1 1/2 cups almond flour
1/4 cup Earth Balance Soy-Free Spread (melted)
1 tsp. vanilla extract 
3-4 Tbsp. raw honey (softened)

Bake at 350 for 10 minutes.

1/4 cup Earth Balance Coconut Spread (melted)
2 Tbsp. coconut flour
2 Tbsp. arrowroot starch (or tapioca if that’s all you have!)
2 Tbsp. coconut oil (melted)
raw honey (melted)- depends on how sweet you want! I did about 1/8 cup
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Mix all together and frost cookies when cool.

So all in all, it was a successful day of delicious food, sweet treats, and sharing love with the world. I know Valentine’s Day has taken on quite a “couples” focus, and I’m not saying it shouldn’t, but I do think too often we forget that it’s a day to celebrate love in all forms and a day which offers a 24-hour moratorium on feeling odd about doing something above and beyond for another person, whether friend, relative, colleague, or stranger. And this year we have the added bonus of Valentine’s Day extending through the weekend since the weather put a bit of a damper on the actual day. So take some time this weekend to recognize love, to celebrate it, and most importantly to share it. It can be as simple as a smile, as complicated as shoveling out a car from under 10+ inches of snow, or as delicious as a sweet treat.

And those of you who may be feeling a little less than love-filled this holiday, know that I love you simply for reading this. And I have a sneaking suspicion that there are a few other people out there who love you too…even if they didn’t buy you chocolate 🙂

From my front door to yours…
Posted in Breakfast!, Meals/Sides, Product Recommendations

If Katie Squeals in Excitement…

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

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

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

B and Me! 🙂

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

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

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

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

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


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

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