|2014: A great year in my book 🙂|
|Last year’s pork and sauerkraut dinner!|
|30% off shrimp rings!! Get out there!!|
|Bubbly, delicious, and gluten-free!
And I’m sure they’re on sale somewhere 🙂
|2014: A great year in my book 🙂|
|Last year’s pork and sauerkraut dinner!|
|30% off shrimp rings!! Get out there!!|
|Bubbly, delicious, and gluten-free!
And I’m sure they’re on sale somewhere 🙂
That’s right, it’s that time of year again. (and if you missed the reference in the title, click here!) Once again we’re all talking about how summer has faded away too quickly. If you’re a student, a teacher, or a parent, the past 2 weeks (or the upcoming week for those of you lucky enough to be in a place where school still opens after Labor Day) have been crazy ones. And even if you don’t fit into any of the categories above, you still know it’s Back to School time for one reason: traffic. Somehow it’s like hundreds of cars that were hibernating all summer have awakened and filled the roadways. And the school buses, ah yes, the school buses. I love them, they’re efficient…but I’ve been stuck behind one enough times to know that most drivers have a love-hate relationships that tends to lean more in the direction of hate. Just remember, if they didn’t exist, that would mean an extra car on the road for every kid on that bus. Perspective for the next time you’re stopping and starting your way down the street behind the big yellow bus 🙂
Despite the griping you’ve probably heard from many teacher friends, we really do love this time of year. At least I do. It’s a fresh new start; another chance to greet some smiling new faces and open their minds to new ideas and their hearts to love just a little more deeply (at least that’s the hope). And this year for me this new beginning has been startlingly more real as I began my new year at a new school. Which means there are not only 375 new student faces but more than 50 new faculty and staff members to meet…talk about brain overload. As any student and any teacher, even the most veteran, will tell you, back-to-school time is nervewracking. Somehow the confidence which we had in June is hiding somewhere beneath the layers of sunscreen we piled on this summer. We’re coming back to do exactly what we did day in and day out without hesitation for 10 months last year…and yet the butterflies that fill our stomachs for the week prior to Day 1 are merciless. It’s Year 7 for me and I can attest they’re just as strong as Year 1…and from the unofficial survey I did last week, it seems that’s the case for the next 4 decades at least. Honestly though, as a certain wise former colleague of mine said this week, I hope these first day jitters never get old…because if they ever do, I think it would be time to move on. You always get nervous about the things you care about, right??
|My new office…slowly coming together.
And yes, that is a giant sink 🙂
All right, before I get to the informative portion of this post, I do have to get a bit nostalgic for a moment. It has been a great and exhausting two weeks for me for many, many reasons. I’ve had quite a few “pinch-me-because-this-can’t-be-real” moments and of course some totally “I’m-overwhelmed-and-must-be-close-to-drowning” moments too. However, I had one of those amazing moments this week too; you know the kind that stop you in your tracks and give you chills and make you want to just freeze time or bottle it up to save. Or at least to have dramatic background music and some kind of montage like your life is a TV show 🙂 I had a phone conversation with one of the saints I’ve mentioned before. He’s had a dream we’ve talked at length about for years now, one which until recently he shared with very few people. And this week it started to come true. Now the specifics don’t matter (well I suppose they do but they aren’t mine to share) but the point is the joy was palpable in his voice. Of course I shared my life updates too, relaying stories about my new school and my excitement for next week’s Expo and my foray into the world of Official Bloggers! In the course of the conversation, he pointed out that it is pretty amazing how far we’ve both come over the past three years. (Note: I spent Labor Day weekend 2011 in the ER. And actually 4th of July 2011 too…not a good year for me and national holidays) After I hung up, I sat for a moment and just let it all sink in and I realized how right he was. There were so many days, weeks, and months of darkness, confusion, and even some hopelessness…and yet now I am lucky enough to bring just a little ray of light to people in the midst of their own darkness. And next weekend I’ll get to spend 2 whole days getting to know even more people who have journeys just like mine. Yes, to say I feel blessed would be an understatement.
|I’ve come a long way since my dazed and confused early-food-issue days 🙂|
Now, sentimental reflection over, I promise. Time for the important information. Now last year, my back-to-school post was addressed to my fellow teachers. This year, it’s for food-allergy-ridden friends (or parents of food-allergy-ridden students); though to be honest many of these tips can apply to any student or teacher heading back to school!
1) Stockpile You-Safe Breakfast Items: Mornings are hard. Early mornings are even harder. And this is coming from a self-proclaimed morning person! After a summer of waking up naturally around 6:45 (that’s right, teachers really don’t sleep that late all summer. At least this one doesn’t), a 5:30 alarm is just not a welcome sound. Coffee helps of course but breakfast in a food-allergy world can be a challenge. No just grab a waffle and go for this girl anymore. And sadly, my Katie-safe cereal options have been rapidly dwindling as recipes change, machinery is shared, etc. so even that has become a challenge. So what’s the solution? Make You-safe breakfast foods the weekend before. I had a pancake-making extravaganza last Sunday and suddenly had a week’s worth of delicious breakfasts just a 90-second microwave trip away. Take it from me, you cannot underestimate the benefit of an easy, delicious breakfast…especially when you’re staring at a time on the clock that you haven’t seen in 9 weeks 🙂
|My Katie-safe pancake-making party…|
|Seriously, a griddle is an amazing time-saver!|
2) Empower your child (or yourself): As I mentioned above, new years are filled with new names, new faces, new classrooms, etc. While I wish I could say that every teacher will have your child’s unique allergies or issues in the forefront of their brain, I can honestly say I think that would be an unrealistic expectation. The reality is teachers are still trying to connect faces to the names which they’ve been dutifully writing on name tags/class lists for weeks. Now in elementary school it’s a little different. With a class of 20 or so (at least hopefully), the teacher is bound to know your child and their health issues by lunchtime of day 1, if not before. However, it gets trickier when your child reaches middle school or high school and only has face time with each teacher for 45 minutes on that first day. This is why I think it is SO important to empower kids with food allergies (or any health issues really). They should be equipped to handle their own situation, know what questions to ask, etc. If your child can’t do this by late elementary school, you may need to re-evaluate. I don’t have my own kids but even from my time with students, I can’t even imagine how difficult this must be for a parent to relinquish control; however, the reality is your child is going to be living with this allergy or condition FOREVER. Hence the sooner your child learns to advocate for him or herself, the better. However, if your child is young…or even if you’re just concerned…write a note, find the teacher, try to avoid puttig a bright yellow nut-allergy sticker on your child’s sweater (yes, it happens) but honestly, do what you have to do to keep your child safe. Allergies, despite the frequent articles or comedy sketches which poke fun, are actually life-or-death situations. Plan accordingly.
3) “Dinner Plan”: The first week of school is exhausting. For everyone. There’s no way around it. As an article I read yesterday said, going back to school is like running a marathon after not walking more than a mile for 9 weeks. There is no easing back into school. It’s just full speed ahead into classes, grading, homework, sports practices, parent conferences, etc. There’s just no rest for the weary…well, unless you fall asleep in your school clothes by 8:15 one night and don’t wake up until morning. Yes, that happened…and no, I still didn’t feel rested. I learned last year that by the time I get home from school, dinner is the last thing I want to think about, let alone have energy to plan and make. Hence, the teacher in me won over and I started a tradition of Sunday afternoon “dinner planning”. You know, as a welcome break from my Sunday afternoon lesson planning. I survey my cabinets and add some meals to my weekly planner. Then to fill in the missing days, I consult my trusty weekly grocery circulars for what’s on sale. Within a matter of 45 minutes or so, I’m planned for the week. I recently added a shopping list corner too. AND I realized that if I take a picture of it, I can just pull it up on my phone when I’m about to head home from school and remind myself what I need to pick up. I tell you, I was not a fan of the Smartphone idea, but I must admit it has been an overwhelmingly positive experience for me. So go to the dollar store, buy a dry-erase weekly planner, and get to dinner planning. You won’t regret it!
|Think easy meals…especially for Week 1!|
4) Find a You-Safe Option for Dining Out (or Carrying Out): This is important for two reasons. 1) Because the first week of school deserves celebration and whether that means going out as a family for dinner or just celebrating by yourself, it needs to happen. 2) Because no matter how well you follow Step 3, there will be days when you just simply cannot make dinner. Whether it’s time or energy which is lacking, those nights are inevitable. So make sure you have a back-up option (cough, Chipotle or Five Guys, cough) and of course some money in your “I’m too tired to move so yes, this is considered an emergency” fund.
|One of my go-to carry-out options!|
5) Make Chocolate Chip Cookies: Need I say more? Chocolate chip cookies just make the world a better place. It’s that simple. Bake them, eat some, freeze some…and most importantly enjoy them.
|Enjoy Life now makes dark chocolate morsels!
One word: life-changing.
“It’s Going to Be a Great Year!” Chocolate Chip Cookies
1 cup gluten-free flour blend (I used Bob’s Red Mill All-Purpose Flour)
1/2 cup Earth Balance Soy-free buttery spread
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup pure cane sugar
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/3 tsp. baking soda + 2/3 tsp. cream of tartar (or baking powder if you’re not corn-free)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 Tbsp. flaxseed + 3 Tbsp. water (or 1 egg if you’re not egg-free)
salt to taste
1. Mix all ingredients (I did wet ingredients and dry ingredients separately first).
2. Bake for about 12 minutes at 350 degrees.
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 🙂
|HAPPY SCHOOL YEAR!!|
For obvious reasons I have never been and can never be a member of the Boy Scouts…however, I would say by default I live out their motto better than most of them probably do: BE PREPARED. Although, I just learned today that apparently the Girl Scouts of America claim this same motto; somehow in my brief (and I mean very brief…I was not the best at activities which required socializing as a kid) stint as a Brownie, I never learned that was our motto.
|Yep, that’s my whole kitchen…in the dining room 😦|
|I don’t think I slept for days…|
|I’m ready to survive on beans for days if need be…|
|Thanks to ACE, I have friends as near as Baltimore and as far as China!|
I know I tend to go off the grid somewhat frequently with these posts and I leave you wondering if I’ve abandoned you in your food allergy/intolerance quest. However, it is summer and thus you would think the posts should be coming more frequently again. Unfortunately for you, that won’t be the case for a few weeks. I’m off on some more adventures! I’m headed to a weeklong service camp with my parish youth group and then I’m headed straight for the airport to reunite with my ACE DC family to celebrate the first of the roommate weddings!! Then it’s off to the Poconos for a few days for some quality time with my mom and sister. So in short, there won’t be much time for writing until around the 4th of July.
|So excited to reunite with these guys in 6 days!!
(Side note…how was this 6 years ago??)
|…and to celebrate our favorite science-loving roommate 🙂|
So in the meantime, I want to leave you with 2 amazing tips to make your allergy-free summer just a little bit better.
1) Keep cool/Avoid the Stove!: I know last summer when I first learned about my newest intolerances, I was using the stove everyday…or sometimes multiple times a day. Believe it or not, there are many things you CAN still eat that won’t require much stove usage. No, take-out is not as much an option as it used to be but there are cooler/”Why turn on the stove when it’s already 90-degrees+” choices.
|A little lettuce, bacon, red pepper, and avocado can go a long way…|
|My cherry-lime delicacy 🙂|
|All my food for the week in 2 bags…I’m getting better at this 🙂|
Summer has unofficially arrived. The pools are open, the sno-ball stands are back in operation, farmer’s markets are back in full swing, and of course the sweet aroma of BBQ is back in the air. That’s right…it’s BBQ season. From Memorial Day on, the invitations are in full swing. Cookouts become a regular part of the weekend routine. They’re great little gatherings where friends, family, co-workers, etc. share in laughs, fellowship, and delicious food. Of course you’re nervous: doesn’t your entry into the world of food allergies make these laid-back, joyous gatherings a source of great stress and anxiety?? Isn’t the simple joy of a summer BBQ a thing of the past for you?? Don’t worry, the answer is absolutely not. It just takes a little bit of planning and you’ll be ready to go!
|These are amazing and SO simple! Just chop up small red potatoes, mix them in a bowl with olive oil, rosemary, garlic, sea salt, and pepper, then bake at 450 until browning 🙂|
|Squeeze 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice.|
|Mix with agar flakes (3 Tbsp. flakes with 3 Tbsp. water)
(unless you’re fortunate enough to eat egg whites…then I’d say stick with those!)
|Mix lemon juice, agar paste, 1/4 cup grapeseed oil, 1/4 cup agave.
Seriously, mini food processor = best kitchen device ever.
|Meanwhile bake crust at 350 for 15 minutes:
(1.5 cups almond meal, 2 Tbsp. grapseed oil, 1Tbsp. agave, 1 Tbsp. vanilla, salt to taste)
|Pour topping over the baking crust. Continue baking for 15 minutes then remove.
Allow to cool and store in the refrigerator.
Spring has finally (and I mean FINALLY) sprung here in Baltimore. This means many things: ant colony invasion in the kitchen, pollen covering the car each morning, birds chirping, sun shining…and strawberries will soon be in full bloom. Granted, in other places throughout the country I think they already are because the prices have returned to a reasonable amount over the past two weeks. Plus during my near-weekly visit to the Baltimore Farmers’ Market, I’ve noticed that there are 2 vendors selling a small amount of freshly-picked berries, so even here on the cold east coast, some of the strawberries must be staying strong.
My favorite local “pick-your-own” farm hasn’t reopened so I guess they’re not in full bloom yet…but the time is so close I can taste it. Seriously, if you’ve never picked your own strawberries, you need to do it at least once. Not only do they taste completely different than store berries, it’s a great way to spend an afternoon in the sun, chatting with friends/family while also feeling like you’re earning your treat. Did I mention the sun?? (WEAR SUNSCREEN. I forgot once and I swear I was the same shade as the berries in my box.) Baltimore friends, you have no excuse, I will gladly accompany you any time 🙂
Regardless of where the strawberries come from, my greatest frustration has always been the same: the berries turning mushy and moldy before I get to enjoy each decadent one. Until last month that is…
On one of those rainy days that seemed to consume the month of April, I was “Pinterest”-ing and among other things decided to search for a solution to my strawberry problem. I’ve heard a variety of debates regarding how to prolong the fridge life of strawberries (wash them right away/don’t wash them until you use them; keep them in the ventilated store container/place them in Ziploc with paper towel) but I’d never asked Pinterest. So I did and lo and behold, apparently there is an answer: vinegar. Now maybe this is one of those tricks that everyone else in the world already knows and is simply news to me, but I was floored. Vinegar? That horrible-smelling stuff I just used to clean the coffeemaker? But I had come home from the store with a 2-lb. box of strawberries that morning ($3.99 for 2 lbs…I just can’t turn down a bargain like that!) So I figured it was worth a shot. Here is what ensued:
1) I poured the berries into a large bowl and kept adding water cup-by-cup until the berries were submerged. Then I added about 1/2 cup of vinegar, mixed the bowl around, and left it in the sink.
2) After about 5 minutes, I came back and poured out the water/vinegar mixture. Then I rinsed the strawberries in a colander. Yes, mine is strawberry-shaped. It’s not because I love them so much I have a separate strainer…that just happens to be the one I strain everything in. (Clearly I cook in small portions.)
3) I hand-dried each berry with a paper towel before placing them in a Ziploc bag between 2 other paper towels.
It was a miracle. No joke, these berries last me 13 days and not a single one went bad! I was speechless. Maybe this is common knowledge that the rest of the world has been keeping from me (like the Bed Bath and Beyond coupon secret…you can use multiple coupons in one purchase! And that includes expired ones!! How did I not know??) but I was blown away. I’ve done it twice now since this inaugural exercise and each time, it’s worked like a charm. Granted, I did just buy my latest batch on Friday but still my hopes are high.
Now onto the next question: But Katie, what will I do with 2 lbs. of strawberries? I’m just one person! Well, don’t you worry, I already thought of that. First, you could chop some up each morning to add to your cereal. You have to get those fruit and veggie servings in somehow! Second, you could add them to ice cream or mix them with yogurt to blend a smoothie (if you’re fortunate enough to have a stomach which can handle either of those.) Third, you can dip them in melted chocolate for a delicious dessert treat! (Even I got to do that with my dairy-free, soy-free Enjoy Life chips!) And of course, you can bake with them. There are a hundred different muffins, tarts, pies, etc. you could probably make using strawberries but I have to share this most recent creation of mine which has left me drooling. Well, almost 🙂
Strawberry-Vanilla Pancakes. Yep, you read that right. Why didn’t I ever think of this before??
It all started when I used a Living Social deal to order this delicious pancake mix:
But I learned long ago that gluten-free pancakes need a little something extra to make them delicious. Something about the consistency is lacking without that pesky gluten. My go-to is usually blueberries or chocolate chips. However, on this particular morning I had strawberries on the brain. So I got to chopping…
VANILLA! So before I knew it, I had all these ingredients in front of me. (The yellow bowl has my flaxseed egg substitute. Unfortunately, my “only tolerates eggs when baked in things” stomach is not fooled into thinking things such as pancakes or battered chicken/fish are baked enough. So no eggs for me 😦
Fortunately, I was wrong. They were AMAZING!!! Here is the finished product with some delicious maple syrup and some Katie-safe breakfast sausages (Jones Dairy Farm…I know, misleading because it sounds like it would contain dairy. They don’t!). And coffee of course. I mean, come on now… I think you know me well enough so that should go without saying at this point.
And I even had enough to freeze for multiple weekday breakfasts. Springtime success!
And in case you’d prefer not to do the “taste test the batter” method I used, here is what worked for me. Though I personally would recommend the taste test. It’s more fun 🙂
Now let’s hope the sun keeps shining and I’ll see you soon at the strawberry patch! Or the Farmer’s Market…they each hold a special place in my heart 🙂
Yep, it’s here in full force: cold and flu season. Sometimes I think if you walked someone into an elementary school with a blindfold on this time of year, they’d mistake it for a doctor’s office; The coughing, the sneezing, the red noses, the watery eyes, and of course, the whining. For those first-year teachers out there, I know you’re probably on your third or fourth sinus/ear infection, case of strep or bronchitis, etc. by now. Take it from me: it does get better. I can personally attest that I spent the entire spring semester of my first year with a malady of some kind. Your immune system does toughen up and next year, you’ll be golden. (And by that I mean you’ll only end up with 1 or 2 of the nasty plagues which cross the threshold of your classroom).
This is one of those posts that if you DON’T have any food allergies, might just make you face the dreaded cold and flu season with a little more spring in your step. And even those of you who just have one or two food allergies may just find some joy in your condition by the end of this post. And then there’s those of you like me. Well, we’re just going to band together, hold hands (after applying Purell of course), and pray for a swift and safe journey through the remainder of the season. And we’re off…
It was just a year ago this past week that I woke my then-roommate around midnight. My heart was racing at warp speed, I couldn’t catch my breath, and my pasty white skin would make Casper the Friendly Ghost look sun-kissed. After spending the night in the ER, it was determined that I had bronchitis and that the cough medicine I had taken had induced an autoimmune response. Granted a few weeks later when I learned about my casein-intolerance, I realized the cheese in my omelet that night was probably more the culprit…but you know what they say about hindsight. Or Monday morning quarterbacks (it is Super Bowl weekend after all). The reality is cold and flu season is frustrating for anyone with food sensitivities…and downright dangerous for those of us who have autoimmune conditions on top of that. Let’s start with the food sensitivities.
Picture a childhood sick day. One minute you’re hot, the next you’re cold; it hurts to move; the thought of lifting your head off the pillow, let alone getting upright to stumble to the bathroom is simply too much to bear. Then Mom walks in with a hot bowl of chicken noodle soup with some crackers, a glass of ginger ale or Gatorade, that little medicine cup of cough syrup, and your next dose of Tylenol. In a few hours (or maybe days for those particularly brutal bouts) you’re sitting up, curled up under the blanket, enjoying a rare night of total control over the family TV choices. (I mean there has to be some perk to being sick, right??) And when that’s not enough, it’s a quick trip to the doctor’s office, a stop at the pharmacy, and in no time at all you’re smiling and laughing with the best of them.
Well now, think about that day through the eyes of someone with a gluten allergy. Chicken noodle soup?? No way. Unless you were smart and made a safe batch for yourself weeks ago and added it to the “Just In Case of an Emergency” section of your freezer. Saltine crackers?? No again. Sure, there are gluten-free alternatives…but keep in mind, they’re not always light on the stomach so tread cautiously. Cough syrup? Tylenol?? Well, they’re safe…provided you did your research ahead of time and only have safe choices at your house. (WARNING: Advil is safe MINUS the Liqui-gels. I learned that one the hard way. Imagine having a horrible headache, taking medicine, and feeling exponentially worse! Such is the way in an allergy-filled world.) Gatorade and ginger ale… at least they’re still safe. And as far as that prescription, well you can’t even imagine the headache that’s going to be. Literally and metaphorically.
So here are some tips for facing the rest of cold and flu season with JUST a gluten allergy:
|Photo courtesy of someecards.com|
…I was an accountant.
Yes, as many of you know, though I am a teacher, I didn’t follow the most traditional path to get here. See, I started out as an accounting major at Villanova University. I was a student at a business school which is consistently ranked in the top 20 by BusinessWeek magazine. I followed the typical path of a Villanova accounting student…I worked hard, I earned an internship with one of the “Big 4” for the summer after my junior year, and before I even sat down in my first class as a senior, I already had a contract in hand for a lucrative, full-time position in the audit department at that same firm. However, after a long, drawn-out year of life chats, debate, discussions, deliberations, prayers, and discernment, I made a decision that to this day still makes some people shake their heads: for the first time, I ignored the outcome of my weighted-average pro/con Excel spreadsheet (yes I had a template for that…you can laugh) and decided to follow my heart instead. I walked away from a “dream” job, a hefty paycheck, and a comfortable start to post-collegiate life in downtown Philadelphia…and I became an elementary school teacher instead. And not just any elementary school, but one of the most amazing, challenging, and life-altering schools in the heart of our nation’s capital. 6 years have passed and I am still a teacher…though now outside Baltimore, with no CPA but an M.Ed. under my belt, and I can honestly say that I have not once looked back with regret or second thoughts about my decision. While the financial cushion would certainly be a welcome gift, I wouldn’t trade the lessons, experiences, and blessings of the past 6 years for all the money, corporate meals, and frequent flyer miles in the world.
|Spring 2008: My last “official” business function…with the University President of course 🙂|
That being said, I can also say without hesitation that I do not have an ounce of regret about my course of study during my college years either. People often ask if I wish I could go back and not spend four years filling my brain with knowledge of balance sheets, cashflow, GAAP, PP&E, COSO, SOX, and countless other acronyms which are now gathering dust in a back corner of my brain. My answer to that is a resounding no. Partially because I firmly believe that every single life experience: good, bad, or indifferent, makes you the person you are…but also because those 4 years taught me so much useful, practical information. I have a profound understanding of what it takes to run a small business, a large corporation, a Catholic parish (that’s right, my course of study culminated in a 90-page thesis project exploring the internal controls and financial structure of the Catholic church, with an emphasis on the parish level); but most of all, it’s because once a year I have to return to that accountant-self…and I’m so grateful I sat through all those classes.
|The culmination of my unique course of study…|
|We love income tax finals!!|
That’s right…it’s tax season.
It’s that time of year where I get to brush off my Judy’s 10-key, dust off the cobwebs which have gathered in that back corner of my brain, and file my taxes. In my first 2 years out of college, I was the personal accountant to my fellow ACE roommates…and even my first year in Baltimore I had a few “clients” who paid me in Starbucks gift cards to file their returns. Then my health issues set in and derailed my plans to also have my own “I’m not a CPA so I’ll charge you less to file simple tax returns” side business; however, as with so many other things: my health issues opened up a whole new world for me: this time it was tax deductions. So, my fellow food-allergy friends (or any kind of health ailment really), here are some little-known tips that can save you a pretty penny. It’s probably a little late for your 2013 returns since you didn’t know to save all your receipts…but 2014 is a new tax year and we’re only 24 days in…start stockpiling those receipts now 🙂
Health-related tax deductions:
|So if you’re trading in your corner office for this corner “office”, no tax deduction for you: SAME FIELD ONLY!|
|You know what they say: “Once a Villanova accountant, always a Villanova accountant.”
I mean I do still have the hat. And the mug 🙂