Posted in Bread/Muffins, Teacher Life

Here We Go Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

Katie’s “Power Through September” Breakfast Muffins

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

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

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 πŸ™‚

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 Life Lessons, Teacher Life

"…To Be in Love with Everything…"

I should warn you in advance: this is going to be a long one…but I have an awful lot to say. Consider yourself warned πŸ™‚

As many of you know, my full-time job is teaching. This year, I get to spend 80% of my day teaching Paschal Mystery so my days are filled with Scripture readings, deep questions about life after death, various artistic interpretations of Jesus’ Ascension into heaven, and other activities of the sort. The other 20% of my day, however, is devoted to something very different: 11th and 12th grade Economics. Yes, my dual degrees in Liberal Arts and Business finally make sense… 7 years after I darted between ceremonies performing a quick change of hoods during Villanova Commencement weekend, it finally all makes sense. 20% of my day is devoted to exploring opportunity cost, calculating marginal utility, charting production possibility curves, etc. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love every minute of it.

I always knew there was a reason I wanted both…
I just wasn’t sure what it was. 

One unique opportunity I have as both the Theology and Economics teacher is that I get to encourage the girls to think about the future in a more comprehensive way. Yes, employment matters. Dream big. Write those business plans for your future B&B or cake pop company, and go for it. If your dream is to make partner in “the Big 4” or to be CEO of a Fortune 500 company, make it happen. These are not at all bad dreams; just remember that ultimately your goal is heaven…so as long as you don’t have to do anything along the path toward your dream to knock that goal offtrack, well then, keep on running!

As I prepped for this new semester, I found an essay I wanted my students to read. Sometime in recent months, I had come across a speech entitled  The Opposite of Loneliness, which I read and loved. Within it, I had clicked my way to find an article entitled Even Artichokes Have Doubts. It’s perfect. It has everything I wanted to say to these girls. It talks about how when you survey most freshmen students on a college campus about what they hope to do when that life after college inevitably arrives, very few will offer answers such as financial analyst, broker, or consultant. (Notice: I said few, not zero. I had several classmates who did in fact arrive oncampus with such aspirations in August 2004. Like I said, if that’s your dream, go for it!). Yet, by senior year, nearly 25% of grads end up in such positions. Why? Because it’s easy; because it’s practical; because it makes money and fits the standard American definition of success. I shudder to think of the movies we’ll never see, the books which will remain unwritten, the restaurants which will remain elusive dreams, simply because it’s too impractical to reach for a dream. However, I digress.

The point is I’ve been on an essay kick recently, ever since a friend gave me a collection of essays for Christmas this year. Additionally, I recently learned how to borrow ebooks from the library onto my school iPad, since I have yet to purchase an e-reader. Two weeks ago I borrowed the book of essays written by the dazzling young author who penned the essays mentioned above. For 2 weeks that book has been sitting in my digital library until today when I happened to have a 20-minute window of time between teaching the high schoolers and teaching my night class (remember them, my construction men??). I swiped my way to an essay, started to read, and I was literally stopped in my tracks. I actually had to take a seat, recover my breath, and even reach for a tissue as I read, all the while thinking, “These words could be coming out of my mouth”. In fact, I actually said the last line of the essay word-for-word just the other night when talking to a friend. Before you go any further, please just click and read: Against the Grain

It’s perfect. She understands it all: the separate colander; the supposed trendiness of the lifestyle we certainly didn’t choose, even the tears of concern shed over a theoretical future child who may or may not ever exist…I have found my kindred spirit. I want to pick up the phone and call her to say thank you for making me feel less alone. I want to take a train to New York and visit her office and go out for a gluten-free lunch where we both grill the waiter before ordering a meal. I want to collaborate with her on a book about celiac which will be lighthearted and yet so profoundly honest that we will reach through the haze of confusion which seems to surround our condition and touch people’s hearts. However, I can do none of those things. Marina Keegan, the dazzling author who penned these heartwrenchingly honest and beautiful pieces of prose, died in a car accident in 2012, just days after her graduation from Yale. I knew this about her before I stumbled across this essay today, and it added to the emotional experience of reading it.

Go to Amazon. It’s well worth a read

Now, I want to stop and acknowledge what many of you are probably thinking. Yes, I know this seems cruelly similar to the heartwrenching experience of the Nationwide commercial during Sunday’s Super Bowl; no, that was not my intention. However, today was the second time in under a week when I’ve found myself stricken with grief over the loss of someone I never even knew. Today as I read Marina’s essays, and last week as I watched friends mourn the loss of someone taken far too soon, and far too suddenly, something occurred to me. We try to control so many things. Sometimes it’s by choice, other times it’s by necessity. Particularly in the world of food allergies and/or autoimmune conditions, it feels like we have to control everything and yet other times it feels like despite our best efforts, our body, our immune system, or our life are still spiralling out of control. The reality is that we can only control so much. No one likes to talk about it, and certainly no one wants to admit it…because it’s just too terrifying.

So what can we do about to make that reality less terrifying? That I don’t know. What I do know is that we can control certain aspects of our lives. We can wash dishes with separate sponges and use brand-new toasters. We can scrutinize every label, annoy every chef we encounter, and fill up our phones’ “favorites” list with manufacturers’ hotlines. We can pack ice cream cones, plant appropriate Halloween candy when need be, and swear ourselves to nothing but rice when everything else seems treacherous. We can do everything in our power to ensure that every precious second is beautiful, healthy, and full of life. And we should. But in the end, the one thing which should drive all of our decisions, actions, plans, and dreams is very simple: love. Do what you love, spend time with the people you love, and above all, be the person you love.

Tonight, I toast Marina with an ice-cold Angry Orchard and a Katie-safe chocolate-covered cherry. I say a prayer of thanksgiving for her time here among us, and I offer several others for her parents, siblings, and the dutiful gluten-conscious boyfriend who loved her so deeply. I pray in thanksgiving for the life of a man I never knew who left this world last week, and for the wife and unborn daughter who are left to carry on his legacy. And lastly, I pray for each and every one of you. May you follow your heart, learn to relinquish control, and most of all, may you live everyday to the fullest and as Marina said, “be in love with everything…because everything is so beautiful and so short”.

Courtesy of pinterest
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 πŸ™‚ 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 πŸ™‚


Posted in Life Lessons, Teacher Life

Dear Body, Today I Choose Anger…

I know, that doesn’t sound like the kind of introduction you’re used to finding when you open this blog.  To be honest, I started this post from the couch during my most recent bout with illness. I never fully intended to post it, I think it was meant to be more of a cathartic exercise; however, as I wrote, I couldn’t help but think that perhaps these thoughts are in fact worth sharing. I mean, yes, the purpose of this blog is to inform readers about food intolerances and to encourage you through my own journey that life can and will be OK again, even when you’re convinced it never will. However, I think sometimes I go too far and make it seem like my journey is now all sunshine, rainbows, and delicious treats. Believe it or not, there are potholes on the journey too. And though I don’t often share those, I think this time it’s worth sharing…if for no other reason than to to remind everyone that no life is perfect, that dark days are inevitable, and you don’t have to pretend they don’t exist. We’re only human after all.

So, as I mentioned above, today I’m choosing anger. Now that is a strange sentence for many reasons. First of all, because anger is an emotion with which I am not well acquainted.  In fact, I once considered it a point of pride that I so rarely (i.e. never) experienced this particular emotion. However, it was during a rather insightful conversation with one of my ACE “brothers” when we were living in DC when I came to a startling conclusion. I realized that perhaps anger is an important sentiment; because if you never experience anger, then it means there is nothing in your life which you care so deeply about that it can ignite a passionate response . It suddenly troubled me that I rarely, if ever, allowed myself to feel anger. And from that day forward, I have embraced anger as a gift; granted, it’s how you channel this anger into action that defines whether it’s a catalyst for change or simply a vice. In fact, I whipped out my trusty Catechism this afternoon (well, actually it was already out for a lesson plan: Religion teacher problems)  and found paragraph 1767 which definitively states that passions in and of themselves are neither good nor evil but must be governed by reason.  (Side note: the Vatican website has a topical index of the Catechism!! In my Religion teacher world, this is simply amazing.) Second, it may seem strange to define anger as a choice…but that’s exactly what I think it is. (And clearly the Catechism seems to agree) You can feel emotions coming on, but only you can choose what is worth letting go and what is worth holding onto in your own life. So, again, yes, today I am choosing anger.

You know you’re a Religion teacher when…

Why am I choosing anger, you ask? Great question. My body and I are not on good terms.  My immune system in particular. I have just missed out on the second planned trip to visit ACE friends in the Midwest since July. Once it was a stomach bug, today it’s a respiratory infection. In just the 4 weeks since school started, my body has already waved the white flag.  The illnesses ravaging the girls since day 1 have proven too much for my poor, confused immune system. It’s been a long week of coughing, throat scratching, and the kind of exhaustion I never dreamed possible. I somehow made it through back to school night last week with a smile on my face and then crawled home into my bed with an aching chest, still dressed in my school attire. Friday morning it was off to the doctor and a brief pneumonia scare…before it was determined that my lungs seemed OK and I was given a prescription which said “rest, fluids, and a boring weekend” AKA you’re not getting on a plane to Michigan in the morning.

So here I’ve sat. The couch and I have become fast friends. I’ve slept more than I thought possible and downed more fluids and Umcka cold syrup than seems healthy. And I’ve been a little angry. Angry that an autoimmune condition, despite my fervent efforts to convince myself and everyone around me otherwise, does make life more difficult sometimes. It means I can’t fight germs the way other people can. It means when I am fighting said germs, my body freaks out at foods and triggers that it normally wouldn’t. And to top it all off, I received some bad news.  I’ve been feeling gradually worse over the past few weeks but I attributed everything to back to schools tiredness, September/new school stress, every other reason under the sun to explain why I was feeling sub-par. I had a few fleeting moments where I wondered aloud if something was up. I even had the nerve to verbalize a deeply-rooted fear that for the longest time I was afraid to say out loud: that it could be coffee.  I noticed it was often mid-morning, about two hours after breakfast, that I was feeling my worst. Nothing like when I eat one of the other triggers, but still bad enough to take notice. Well, the good news: it isn’t coffee. The bad news: it’s oats.

I know, I know… many of you with celiac or gluten issues are not feeling very bad for me right now. You’re thinking: “no kidding, Katie. Welcome to my world”. That’s right..many people with gluten allergies cannot handle oats, even the ones certified as gluten free. However, until recently, I was one of the lucky ones. (If I can be described as lucky that is haha). Well, those days are no more. For some unknown reason, my body has decided that now is the time to start attacking avenin, AKA the protein in oats that is remarkably similar to gluten. And the cereal I’ve been eating for weeks? One of the main ingredients is oat flour. So this means in some sense, I’m responsible for this latest bout of illness because I’ve been eating oats and thus rendering my immune system incapable of fighting off this recent germ. Or perhaps it’s the germ that invaded first, thus making my immune system attack something new. It’s the beauty of an autoimmune condition: you just never know. It’s like the ultimate chicken or the egg scenario.

Now before you get too concerned, don’t worry. Today I chose anger. But tomorrow I’ll be back onboard the acceptance train. I’ll fill your newsfeed with posts of how this unforeseen event led me to discover my new favorite winter breakfast replacement (Quinoa “Rice and Shine”- yes, that’s a real thing I discovered today) or how lucky I am to have people in my life who care about me enough to let me rant from 700 miles away on the phone since I can’t be sitting with them or who will drive an hour just to bring me Katie-safe food, Mexican (READ: NO CORN SYRUP!!) Coca-Cola, and keep me company when I’m resigned to the couch. Yes, those are all topics for another day. When I wake up tomorrow, I will transform this anger into positive passion. I’ll find new recipes that are safe, I’ll commit myself even more to making the world a better place for my food-allergy-ridden friends, and I’ll drive you crazy with my all-too-upbeat posts about rainbows and sunshine.

Where do you think I went after school/my chat with the doctor today?
If your answer was Mom’s Organic Market, you know me quite well πŸ™‚

For today, though, I will let myself be angry. And every once in awhile, you should too. And you may even let yourself shed a tear or two. I mean, if Pope John Paul II recommended it, it must be sound advice, right??

Courtesy of:

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
Β½ part cayenne pepper
1 part dried oregano
1 part onion powder
1 part garlic powder
1 part salt

Β½ 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 πŸ™‚
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 πŸ™‚
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 πŸ™‚

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 πŸ™‚

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 πŸ™‚  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 πŸ™‚

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 πŸ™‚

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 πŸ™‚