Posted in Easter, Sweet Treats, Teacher Life

Is There Life After the Chocolate Bunny??

I’ve made it: Spring Break is approximately 15 hours away. I’m not sure who would win the title of “most excited/off the wall because Spring Break is imminent” between the students and the teachers…but I have a strong suspicion the scales are tipped in the teacher corner. A solid week of alarm-clock-free mornings, laidback sips of coffee while watching the Today Show, reading books for pleasure (though really that will actually be spent writing feedback and comments on countless unit plans for Notre Dame), and of course time to travel and catch up with old friends and family. In fact, I get to meet my new godson!! (Remember that exciting news I wasn’t quite ready to share a few weeks ago?) He is just about 3 weeks old and I’m heading to Virginia this weekend to meet him and to catch up with his mom who was my next-door classroom neighbor/1st grade teacher extraordinaire at my ACE school in DC. Add this to the list of good things I wish I could have promised my “5-Years-Ago Self” would come out of those days in DC ๐Ÿ™‚

A friendship that formed in the humble halls of Holy Redeemer DC ๐Ÿ™‚

And most of all, Spring Break means one of my favorite weeks of the year is upon us: Holy Week. I wish I could explain it but as long as I can remember, I’ve always loved Holy Week. I remember sitting in my bedroom as a 9-year-old poring over my 365-page “Bible Story A Day”book which I was determined to read in its entirety between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday. While most kids seem to dread a string of nights in a row that entail lenghty Church services, I looked forward to the events of Holy Week with the same excitement most kids reserve solely for Christmas. Each Holy Thursday my family processed up the aisle with our contribution to the family bread tradition. I craned my neck to watch in awe as “regular” churchgoers like myself were called forward to have their feet washed (and the year I finally got to be one of those lucky 12…well you can imagine). I even loved the seemingly endless Eucharistic procession and adoration which followed Holy Thursday mass. Granted I think it was moreso because I played the violin and thus was entranced by the gorgeous string quartet which provided the music just that one night each year. I don’t think I yet understood what was even going on with that golden monstrance.

Good Friday was even better. We got to process through the streets of our small town with members of other churches for the Walking Stations of the Cross. Then we’d be back at church again that night for Lenten supper, one last traditional Stations of the year, and then my favorite activity: transforming the church sanctuary for Easter Sunday. Lily after lily after lily on an assembly line of helping hands. I loved it all. Yes, Triduum always was, and still remains, one of my favorite seasons of the liturgical year. In fact, I enthusiastically professed this fact during my first year in ACE as I scampered out the door with the Saint in a Bow Tie to attend mass at Georgetown…and it was at that moment when several members of our community (and their parents) decided I must be bound for the convent. Needless to say, most people don’t seem to share the enthusiasm I have for Holy Week and the various remembrances therein.

Of course, most people do share that same enthusiasm for Easter Sunday. Though I’d say this enthusiasm tends to be more fueled by visions of bunnies, baskets, and an endless supply of jelly beans than Christ’s triumph over the grave. Baby steps. There is one thing I always looked MOST forward to about Easter: my peanut butter egg. (I know, you thought it was going to be something church-related didn’t you?? See, I really was a typical kid too) It’s the one treat which never grew old, and even up until last year I loved. I even worked in the most amazing chocolate store (Gertrude Hawk Chocolates….I promise you if you haven’t had a Smidgen, you just haven’t lived!) for a total of 6 years during high school and college vacations which meant I had my fair share of delectable chocolate treats. No, nothing says Easter to me like a giant peanut butter egg on Easter Sunday followed by days and days of 50% off leftover eggs of the strawberry cream and caramel variety (there were never PB left on the shelves by Easter Sunday).

Until this year that is. It’s my first official dairy-free Easter. (Though considering last Easter was spent in Urgent Care, I’d say that was my first unofficial dairy-free one). To be honest I haven’t given much thought to the candy side of the holy day this year. One wistful encounter with the jelly bean aisle soon after Valentine’s Day has had me purposely steering clear of the Easter candy shelves for the past month. But then tonight I found myself at Target and it was unavoidable. It’s like Easter is cramming every nook and cranny of that place. As I sadly walked past Cadbury mini eggs and pastel PB M&Ms, I had one of those moments I’ve warned you allergy friends about: I started to feel those “Why is this my reality?” thoughts creeping into my mind; I gazed at the people piling bag after bag of candy into their carts wondering how is it that everyone else in the aisle can safely consume such treats without a trip to the couch or the ER; I felt sadness coming on. So what did I do? I marched myself to the baking aisle, grabbed a bag of Enjoy Life “Katie-safe” chocolate chips ($5.49 a bag, really Target??), and headed home to address this issue head-on. And I’m proud to say here is what ensued:

That’s right. Gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, corn-free PB eggs. They’re delicious AND what’s best? I can pronounce every ingredient in them…and none of them end with the words “dye #4”. Here are the beyond simple steps to make some delicious eggs (allergenic or non) for your own Easter baskets by next weekend! Also, if your kids do have allergies, here is a great link to find safe candy.

Katie-Safe PB Eggs
1 cup creamy peanut butter
1.5 cups powdered sugar*
1/6 cup melted Earth Balance spread (I used coconut)
2 Tbsp. vanilla almond milk

1 cup Enjoy Life semi-sweet chocolate chips (dairy AND soy-free)
1 Tbsp. Earth Balance spread 
*NOTE: Conventional powdered sugar is NOT corn-free. Cornstarch is usually the anti-caking agent used. Unless you bought powdered sugar labeled as corn-free, you will need to make your own. Just substitute tapioca starch for the cornstarch!*

1. Combine the peanut butter, powdered sugar, and melted Earth Balance. Mix as well as you can before slowly adding the almond milk. The batter will become stiff.
2. Form the batter into small egg-shaped balls and set on wax paper.
3. Freeze the PB balls for an hour.
4. An hour later, melt the chocolate chips and Earth Balance in the microwave (I used 15 and 30-sec. intervals and it took 1 min. 45 sec.)
5. Dip the chilled PB balls into the melted chocolate and return to the wax paper to dry.
6. Cry tears of joy. It’s really that simple ๐Ÿ™‚

Now I know I usually wrap up with some kind of witty comment or heartfelt reflection…but tonight you’ll have to excuse me. There is a PB egg calling my name from the kitchen.
Happy Almost Easter!! 

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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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 ๐Ÿ™‚
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 ๐Ÿ™‚  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 ๐Ÿ™‚

From my front door to yours…