Posted in Beverages, Coffee!, Mom Life, Recipes

Mid-Afternoon Mocha (AKA My Motherhood Essential)

It is no secret to those of you who have been reading for awhile that I love coffee. In fact, even if you’re new to the blog, the title and the cover photo make that pretty easy to decipher. What you may not know is that I didn’t really drink coffee until I became a teacher. Yes, I drank a variety of steamed milk beverages throughout high school and college (ah yes, the days of Dunkaccinos- anyone else?? Do those even exist anymore??) but I didn’t pick up the true coffee habit until my first year of teaching in DC. Then in the years following the habit evolved into nothing short of a passion. Of course as many of you know, I had to make the switch to decaf around Fall 2015 because my body suddenly decided caffeine was no longer a friend, but a foe. The silver lining is that I didn’t have to make a switch to decaf during the early days of my pregnancy, and no one found it at all suspicious that I was drinking decaf before I shared the news. See, there is always a silver lining if you look hard enough…or wait awhile.

Coffee = Love.
(Photo by Mike Kenneally on Unsplash)

Anyway, fast forward last Spring and again another big life change only deepened my love of/passion for the gift that is coffee.  I know so many people warn you that there is no tired quite like parents of a newborn tired, and while I do agree with that assertion, I think people leave out an important piece of the parenting puzzle: the sleep deprivation continues. Is it better than those newborn days? Absolutely. You will get more than a 90-minute stretch of sleep (hopefully). But at least in those early days, you’re likely on maternity and/or paternity leave, there are plenty of people offering meals, laundry help, etc. and you hopefully started out without a massive sleep deficit (unless you’re one of the unlucky ones like myself who didn’t sleep super well toward the end of pregnancy). As your baby progresses through all the challenges of growth spurts, travel, teething, and the “insert-month-here” sleep regression, the sleep deprivation only continues to accumulate. Not to mention, you might be back at work and you don’t have a newborn anymore so people expect you to be a functioning member of society again and usually aren’t showing up at your door with random casseroles and offers of assistance.

So what do you have to sustain you- aside from the cutest little snuggle-bunny you could hope for? That’s right, coffee. And thankfully for me, since Little Man was born my body decided it was more than fine with caffeine again. So coffee and I now have an even closer relationship, something I wasn’t sure was even possible. I am also fortunate because I live in a city. There are five coffee shops (soon to be 6) within a half-mile walk from my front door. We still brew a large pot at home every morning, but sometimes when I need that mid-afternoon pick-me-up, Little Man and I trek to one of the local establishments for a breath of fresh air and a dose of caffeine. However, as in most of the country, this winter has been a cruel one in Boston. Not to mention when you’re living in one of America’s most expensive cities, #budget factors in. So lately I’ve developed a bit of an afternoon naptime routine: Little Man goes down for his nap and I enjoy a delicious homemade Mocha, usually while I run around trying to get a few things done, emails sent, and phone calls made without interruption. (I’m a part-time Director of Religious Education for a local parish this year so the at-work hours are great, but it leaves some administrative tasks for naptime.) Granted that means the days when Little Man skips his afternoon nap can be doubly difficult, but such is life with a little one.

Every once in awhile I savor a moment of calm during naptime.
Given the fact that winter has lasted quite long this year, I have had plenty of time to try out different recipes and have finally arrived at one that I love: it is simple, quick, and delicious. Granted, I am fortunate to have some fantastic coffee accoutrements at my discretion thanks to our wedding registry and various gifts from family. All you need is cocoa powder, sugar, hot water, milk of your preference (almond for me!), and espresso!
Mommy’s Magnificent Mid-Afternoon Mocha (only 5 ingredients!)
 1 Tablespoon Hershey’s cocoa powder
1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon hot water
3/4 cup almond milk*
double shot of espresso

1) First mix equal parts cocoa powder and sugar in the bottom of your mug. I personally use a little less than a tablespoon of each for my perfect taste but you may need to adjust according to your own taste.

2) Add a teaspoon of hot water so that the cocoa powder and sugar create a mocha syrup of sorts.

3) Heat 3/4 cup of almond milk* in a frother and start brewing your espresso.
(You can just warm it but I promise the frother makes a big difference!)

DeLonghi EC702 espresso maker

Chef’s Star milk frother
4) I pour half of the espresso into the mug, then add the milk, and then add the remainder of the espresso. I like to think it better distributes the taste 🙂

5) Mix and enjoy!!

*I feel like I need to give a strong recommendation regarding the almond milk. I have made many a beverage over the years with various brands of almond milk and the frothing never really works. Even baristas at coffee shops will warn me that almond milk doesn’t really do that. However, I recently found these two varieties which create the kind of froth I used to only visualize in my dreams of dairy-filled days gone by. 
#1 personal favorite: Mooala!
My personal runner-up: So Delicious Organic Almondmilk

Wherever you are in life right now- whether it’s an actual baby keeping you awake, an older “baby” that still has your heart and your worries, or a proverbial baby (like a start-up, a new job, a new life adventure, etc.) that keeps your mind racing at night, consider me your personal cheerleader. You’re not alone, there are countless others sitting up with you in the dark at 3 AM, and it will all be worth it in the end. And in the mean time, we have coffee.

I offer this as just one caffeine-filled option to brighten your day (and your eyelids). And though every once in awhile, an outing to your favorite local coffee joint is a much-needed treat, this should carry you over through the other days…and leave a much smaller dent in your bank account. The next time you find yourself fighting that mid-afternoon energy battle, brew yourself a hot cup of mocha deliciousness and think of me doing the same in my little corner of the world.  Cheers to you, my friend. May your coffee be hot, your body be re-energized, and your (probably brief) moment of calm be beautiful.

Posted in Gluten-Free/Dairy-Free Life, Tips and Tricks

So You’re Going to Plan A Wedding…

Yes, the draft of this post has been a work-in-progress for over a year now. Literally. I started it in May of 2016 just a few weeks after our wedding…and then life happened.  June of 2016 brought a move to Boston, August brought a new job, and then with Fall 2016 came news of our little bundle of sunshine and suddenly time was consumed by a combination of typical baby prep and slightly less typical “how to eat safely and handle pregnancy with celiac” research and appointments. Thus, the wedding post was left occasionally touched, but never quite finished. (Don’t worry, the baby ones are a work-in-progress too…so maybe by 2019 I’ll finish those?? 🙂

This post is going to address two different scenarios: planning a wedding (or any major event really) when you are the one with food allergies/intolerances, and also some tips for planning a wedding where some of the guests have food allergies/intolerances (which honestly these days is pretty much guaranteed at any event).  So pour yourself something warm (it’s -2 degrees as I’m writing this) and here we go!

Scenario A: You are the one with food allergies/intolerances

Here is my advice to anyone planning a wedding, allergies or not: Choose what is most important to you about your big day and stick to it. And by choose I mean you actually have to choose 1 or 2 things and let those be your guide. I know all the wedding magazines, Bridal books, and Pinterest boards make it seem like you can (and should!) have everything and anything you ever wanted crammed into your day. From someone who has planned a wedding and been a part of many over the past few years, this is not the reality. The chances that your “dream photographer/videographer” will be available the same day as your “dream venue” on a day when the weather is desirable, there isn’t a holiday involved, there isn’t a conflict with a close family member’s college graduation, AND you’re not part of someone else’s wedding, are pretty slim. Unless you want to be engaged for 3-5 years. Which if that’s what you really want, go for it. (Remember choose what matters to you and your fiance(e) and stick with it!)

Here is the thing: planning a wedding involves so many decisions. SO MANY. I know everyone tells you that but it’s actually true. And if you go in without any concrete decisions to guide you, trust me it will get overwhelming really quickly. For example, for me the two most important things (and of course I mean aside from “be married by the end of the day”) were a) the church and b) the food. I could not imagine getting married anywhere except the church which had become my home in Baltimore (actually, Towson) and where I had taught for 4 years. Once we met with the priest and parish secretary (never underestimate the power of a parish secretary) and had a choice of dates that the church was available, it was pretty easy to settle on the date we wanted. That simple (OK, maybe not quite so simple) decision automatically made life so much easier because it immediately eliminated certain venue choices. Was I intrigued by the idea of a wedding reception at the Baltimore Zoo where a penguin would come to cocktail hour? You bet I was. But I called and they already had a wedding on March 19th so no more decisions to be made, just cross it off the list and don’t look back. The same was true with a variety of DJ and photography choices- if they’re already booked that day, time to move on. Again, this is why you really need to choose YOUR important things first. If you only want a certain photographer, get the available dates from him/her first and then the other details will have to fall in line accordingly. Trust me, it will be your saving grace to start narrowing down options.

The next important detail for me (not surprisingly) was the food. Now, as a bride/groom/person being honored at a big event, the choice of how to handle food allergies/intolerances is completely yours. Most venues/caterers will provide you-safe meals and serve everyone else gluten-filled, dairy-filled dishes. You might say “Nope, I want everything at my event to be completely me-safe so I don’t have to worry about it”. That’s also totally reasonable, and though a little more challenging, still very do-able. As for me, I fell somewhere in between. I knew that my wedding was the one day in my life where I wanted to feel included in the celebration with everyone else. I didn’t want a great catered meal for everyone while I had a plate of plain baked chicken and steamed broccoli. On the other hand, I was not going to spend the crazy amount of money it would require to host an entirely Katie-safe wedding where honestly the food may or may not be all that tasty. So we came up with the perfect-for-us solution. Cocktail hour would be lots of non-Katie-safe hors d’oeuvres because we would mostly be taking pictures anyway. We chose one dish that was Katie-safe and a plate was set aside for the bridal room and we also stashed some Utz potato chips in there for me to snack on between photos…but I figured why limit everyone else when I wouldn’t be at cocktail hour anyway.

Enjoying my Utz potato chips during cocktail hour!

Dinner was where it mattered to me that the food be delicious but I could also safely enjoy what everyone else was having. So what other option could there be but one of my deepest loves: Chipotle. That’s right, Chipotle catered our wedding. And it was everything I dreamed it would be. Not to mention, they were so excited about it that we got a discount AND some Chipotle merchandise waiting at our door when we returned from our honeymoon. Everyone ate well (as far as I know) and I got to sit next to my new husband in my wedding dress looking around a room filled with everyone I love while enjoying a chicken burrito bowl. Seriously though, does life get any better?? (Granted this was before I ate the same burrito bowl at the hospital right after our little guy was born this year, but that’s another story for another time.)

A handwritten card from our new friends at Chipotle corporate!
Eating Chipotle at my wedding. Dreams do come true.
We arrived home from our honeymoon to a box of goodies from Chipotle!

And then as far as dessert, we ordered a little Katie-safe cake for us to cut into and enjoy but then filled the rest of our cupcake tree with delicious (and much cheaper) gluten-filled cupcakes for the rest of the guests to enjoy. If you live anywhere near Philadelphia, drop everything and head right to Sweet Freedom. They are amazing- and even made sure I didn’t miss out on the cake-tasting experience before the wedding.

For us, it was the perfect night and I can honestly say I wouldn’t change a thing. However, as you’ll learn if you’re planning an event, there are very few venues today that allow outside catering to come in. Most places either have on-site catering or an approved list of caterers who are allowed to serve at events. Although this initially irked me, after some conversations I realized it’s actually for very practical reasons: lawsuits abound over improperly handled food, allergen contamination, etc. so it is in the best interest of a venue to only allow trusted caterers on the premises. So for me, this choice to have Chipotle and only Chipotle as my dinner option ruled out most venues in the greater Baltimore area…and in hindsight I’m so glad it did. I absolutely loved the woman who ran our venue and she was like having a built-in wedding planner that came with the hall. I loved that we spent the day before our wedding at the hall setting everything up with our family and bridal party. I loved that everything had a personal touch. We put coffee beans in our centerpieces (I mean, we re-met over coffee and you know my love for coffee!), we had pies on each table, my students helped fold programs during the week leading up to the wedding, one of them handwrote all of our placecards during her study halls, and even our wedding cake topper was a gift from a student who asked her brother to make it for us on a 3-D printer and he sent it to us from his class at Duke. It really felt like an event that was put together by everyone in our lives.

Again, I am not saying this is best for everyone. If you know that you want to spend the day before your wedding relaxing with family and friends you don’t often see, then don’t choose a place where you set everything up yourself. If you have a busy schedule and you’re not into DIY, then don’t choose your wedding as the time to start DIY-ing everything from Pinterest. (Again, maybe pick a project or two. Any more than that and you’re heading down the rabbit hole). I worked at a wedding venue in high school and college and I can tell you the wedding planners at those genuinely care about what they do and put a lot of love into the set-up of events so if that’s the best option for you, then do it and enjoy the freedom it gives you to just live in the moment and enjoy your weekend.

In summary, here are my recommendations for anyone planning a wedding (allergen-related or not!):

  1. Choose 1 or 2 non-negotiables. Whether it’s food, venue, photographer, date, etc. just decide on those and make the rest of the decisions to ensure that these non-negotiables become reality.
  2. Own your decisions. Sticking fast to your 1 or 2 non-negotiables does not make you a Bridezilla. (Unless your non-negotiable is something outlandish- see recommendation #3) There were people who told me to give up on my Chipotle idea and just settle for the baked chicken, but I knew what I wanted so I didn’t give up that easily. (Again, please refer to #3)
  3. I cannot encourage you to have non-negotiables without a caveat: make sure you have “that person” in your life. You know, the one who can lovingly but honestly say “Sorry, having your entire wedding party consist of beloved puppies from the animal shelter is not a good idea. Please stop with the crazy”. Now yes, you have your soon-to-be-spouse as one of those people, but sometimes you both get so caught up in the crazy and wanting to make sure the other one has everything he/she wants that it is helpful to have someone on the outside. I’m pretty sure that’s why there is a bridal party to begin with. Use them, listen to them, and thank them for keeping you sane 🙂
  4. Ask for help. Planning a big event like a wedding is a lot of work. A LOT. Not to mention you still have the rest of your life going on: full-time jobs, one of you planning a move (I’m going to side with my grandfather on this one and choose to believe that everyone still lives separately until the wedding), and all your other regular life commitments. We had the help of my students of course, but we also had friends pick up the food for us, one of my bridesmaids picked up the Katie-safe cake and drove it with great care from Philadelphia, and countless people helped us with set-up, decorations, etc. People love to help. Don’t be afraid to ask.
  5. Wegman’s does amazing bouquets and flowers for a fraction of the cost. Just make sure you check the temperature in the refrigerator where you store them so the water doesn’t freeze, thus killing your bouquet (true story- but totally not Wegman’s fault. I’d use them again in a second). See #7- hiccups happen, but they make for great memories!
  6. Remember that this is one day of your life. One very important day, yes. But just know that whether you spend $5,000 or $50,000, life will go on the day after and you may want to use some of those thousands one something that lasts a little longer. But that’s your call. I found my dress at a wedding dress consignment shop outside DC and to this day I am so grateful that I found a dress I loved so much but cost much less than a month of rent 🙂
  7. Enjoy yourself. There is a lot of stress that goes into planning a big event. You will get overwhelmed at some point and may find yourself in line at Chipotle one night almost in tears because they want you to decide between white and brown rice in your dinner. That’s when you need to step back and remember what this day/event is really all about. Details matter, yes. But when all is said and done, as long as you are married, you are happy, and everyone is healthy, nothing else matters all that much. (Trust me, I worked many weddings. One time a glass candleholder exploded all over the cake. Shards of glass were in the cake- and even then that bride managed to laugh by the end of the night) I never thought it would snow in late March, but it made for better wedding pictures than I ever could have hoped for!
  8. Plan your meals wisely leading up to the wedding- and that includes the rehearsal dinner! I only ate things I personally cooked for the 2 weeks leading up to the wedding (including packing my own food for the rehearsal dinner) because I was not taking a chance at getting glutened/caseined, etc. and feeling sick on my wedding day if I could prevent it. Again, your call but something I would 100% recommend.
  9. Have SCOPE on-hand. Seriously, though. We bought enough of these on Amazon for favors and we still have leftovers that we use to this day. Trust me, both of you should get to eat what you want at your wedding and still be able to kiss each other safely.
Scope: don’t get married without it!

    Scenario B: Your Guests Have Food Allergies/Intolerances
    This applies to pretty much anyone getting married today because odds are at least someone at your wedding has food restrictions. When it comes to handling this sometimes delicate situation, here are the options I think you have…and again, I really believe that any one of them is acceptable. And that’s coming from a frequent wedding guest 🙂
    • Option A: You’re having your wedding at a venue with a full kitchen that offers a wide variety of options to meet all kinds of dietary restrictions. Great, just make sure to include a spot on your response cards for food restrictions (*NOTE: This is especially important if you’re inviting a plus one for anyone. You may think you know which friends and family members have food allergies but Cousin Charlie’s Plus One could have celiac and you’d never know.) Once you give that information to the kitchen or coordinator at the venue, your job is pretty much done. Unless they say there is some restriction they can’t accommodate. In that case, your job is simply to make sure that guest knows. As someone with food restrictions, I am telling you it is not your job to track down a meal for that person. As long as you are open and honest ahead of time, the guest will figure out a way to get or pack food. The only time I would say you should go farther is if the person is close family or in the wedding party. In that case the person would have to be with you for pictures and wouldn’t really have time to procure food elsewhere so in that case I’d say work together with them to find a solution. Otherwise, you’re welcome to go above and beyond but it is certainly not expected.
    • Option B: You’re bringing in your own food from the outside and it will be buffet or self-serve. Usually this information is stated on the invitation (or assumed because guests aren’t asked to choose a meal). Again, I would recommend a place for food restrictions OR at least a contact name for someone who does have restrictions to reach out to. (This does not necessarily have to be you: again, delegate!) Also, buffets can be dangerous for the food-allergic (people tend to mix up serving spoons or drop items into different trays where they don’t belong) so if you can arrange for the people with allergies to go through the buffet first, that would make a HUGE difference. Again, your decision entirely but just make sure to communicate the plan to any guests with food allergies so they can plan accordingly.
      My best piece of advice: include a contact on the invitation.
      Then the job is out of your hands!
    • Option C: You have a million and one details to worry about. The menu is what it is and you are not trying to accommodate 15 different food needs. This may sound harsh but I 100% think this is a reasonable mentality.(Again, slightly different for family and bridal party consideration) I can’t speak for everyone with food allergies/restrictions but for me, I am fortunate enough to be a part of your big day. I get to witness your vows, share in your toast,  dance at your reception, and bask in the happiness of your wedding day. If I can’t eat anything provided and be confident that I won’t get sick, that’s totally fine with me. I am the master of packing snacks and warming up food in my hotel room. I always scarf down some Utz chips or the equivalent on my way to cocktail hour so I can enjoy myself without sipping wine on an empty stomach. Also, if the wedding is out of town, you better believe I have scoured the internet for the nearest gluten-free, dairy-free bakeries to try out. I am going to try it out regardless of whether there is food for me at your wedding…I’ll just adjust how much I buy (maybe). As above, my only request would be communication. Just let the guests know, this is what the food is. Then the responsibility is on me to take care of myself. I know not everyone will agree with this option but I really think, unless your wedding is a 3-day affair in the middle of the woods, a guest can get by just fine with proper notification.
    If there is a takeaway from that, my best advice as far as planning a wedding for guests with food allergies is COMMUNICATE. I honestly think the best thing to do is have a spot on your invitation that gives contact information for the food coordinator or whomever you want to field allergy responses. Then the burden is off your shoulders and the person with allergies knows who to get in touch with, because trust me the last thing we want to do is bother you either!

    This is one of my favorite moments of all-time. And thankfully, our amazing photographer caught it 🙂
    The reality is that every wedding is different but there tends to be a universal truth: you will never please everyone. So my advice to you would be please don’t even try. You will only stress yourself out unnecessarily. Just be open and honest with people and let them know what decisions you have made and what you need from them in order to make your day the best it can possibly be.
    As for me, I would not change a thing about our wedding day and I find such joy in the privilege of sharing in other people’s big days. At the end of the day, food isn’t what matters most. It is the little moments of joy, the bright smiles, and even the heartfelt tears that fill my soul at a wedding…and no amount of Katie-safe food can do that 🙂
    Posted in Boston Recommendations, Dairy-Free Ice Cream

    When Late September Feels Like Summer…

    I’m not sure about wherever you’re reading this, but here in Boston it feels like summer today even though the calendar says September 26th. Though the unseasonable weather certainly poses some challenges (do we turn on the A/C in September??), there are also some undeniable perks. Boston winters come early and last long…so the days of long walks with the little guy are numbered…and I’m savoring every single one. Also, this gives me a few more days to procrastinate in finally switching over to my Fall wardrobe and digging the Fall decorations out of the scary abyss that is our “seasonal items” closet. And last but not least, this little heat wave gives me a chance to enjoy a treat I probably would otherwise pass up: pumpkin ice cream.

    Yes, this is my actual cup of ice cream. The pumpkin and gourd were just in the window and I couldn’t resist!

    Now I’m sure that paragraph already has your mind running through some questions but we’ll deal with the most obvious: 1)Katie, pumpkin ice cream- are you in denial? You still can’t eat dairy; and 2) if there is such a thing as Katie-safe pumpkin ice cream, why can’t you eat it everyday this Fall? Well, the great news is yes, there is such a thing! And as for the second part, well I can’t explain it but I’ve never been someone who enjoys cold things like ice cream in cold weather. Even back in my dairy-filled days, I was never one of those people who could down a bowl of ice cream on a January night. I made an exception some years for an ice-cream birthday cake, but other than that I said farewell to ice cream in August and hello again sometime in April or May.

    So with the thermometer reading somewhere around 80 degrees, I laced up my walking shoes, packed the little guy in the stroller, and we set off on the one-mile trek to one of my favorite places in Boston, FoMu, for a delicious cup of Katie-safe Pumpkin Caramel ice cream. Now I mentioned this place briefly in my overview of new Katie-safe places in Boston, but it really has come to deserve its own post. This place is 100% vegan. That’s right- an ice cream shop that is 100% vegan. What’s even better for me is they also clearly identify the other major allergens in their products and they have MANY options for friends like me who have to avoid both gluten and dairy. On top of that (I know you’d think it couldn’t get better) they have coffee! And not just plain coffee (though you can certainly get that too), but lattes, cappuccino, etc. AND you don’t have to ask “Does this come in a dairy-free form?” BECAUSE THEY ARE ALL DAIRY-FREE (which also means no dairy cross-contamination to worry about). There are also seasonal beverages like a caramel apple cider that I’ve only read about but you better believe I’m counting down the days to October.

    Now I could go on and on about this place, but I’ll just give you the highlights for now:

    • 100% vegan
    • all ice cream is made from scratch
    • ice cream is preservative-free
    • all baked goods and inclusions are made in the FOMU bake shop
    • all allergens are clearly marked (and since everything is handmade, they know whats in it!)
    • gluten-free cones are available!
    • GLUTEN-FREE ICE CREAM SANDWICHES!! (sorry, that one blew me away)
    • it is 1 mile from our apartment (the Allston location that is)
    • There is so much more but you can read about it for yourself on their website
    Gluten-free ice cream sammies!!
    ( Side note: Is “sammies” a Boston thing?? I never heard it before moving here.)
    Look at all those delicious treats you can take home!
    So many cone choices…including gluten-free cones!
    Now, in the interest of full disclosure, the ice cream is made with a coconut milk base…so clearly there is a hint of coconut in every ice cream. That means if you’re not a coconut lover, it might not be for you. HOWEVER, I would strongly suggest you try it because I’m not a huge fan of coconut myself, but mixed with the right flavors I have to say I have found several winning flavors at FOMU. And the best part is they will happily give you a small taste of any flavor so you can make that determination before you gamble on a whole cup of something! (If you have a coconut allergy, you have my sincere condolences and I apologize for not warning you at the top of the page:-(
    This came out a little blurry but the menu changes constantly (hand-made remember!)
    Here were the treats when we were there AND allergens are clearly marked 🙂
    Now the important question: how do you experience this wonder for yourself?? Well, Boston friends, it’s pretty simple. There are locations in Allston, Jamaica Plain, and South End. I personally have only frequented the Allston location but I imagine they’re all as quaint! You can also find their ice cream sold in various specialty shops throughout Boston. I know for certain they sell it at the Whole Foods in Brighton but I know they stock in many places so if you contact them, I’m sure they’ll be able to give you the latest list.
    Non-Boston friends, you just have to come visit me! Actually, that’s not true at all (but still, please come visit!) because FOMU ships to the 48 contiguous states and DC. But really, come visit. The little guy and I are more fun than the FedEx delivery person. That’s a fact 🙂
    Now the little guy and I are off to sit in the yard before this last dose of summer fades. But if anyone wants to make the mile-trek, we’re up always up for a FOMU adventure (even twice in one day)!
    Posted in Tips and Tricks

    Soy, Soy…Boy Oh Boy

    Soy. It is something I rarely thought about prior to my Celiac days. I vaguely knew it had something to do with tofu, but aside from that I knew very little about it. Fast forward to my dairy-free/soy-free diagnosis and suddenly soy became a very important concept in my life. You see when you become dairy-free, things that are labeled vegan catch your eye…because even if you’re a carnivore like me, that designation means that there is no dairy and hence you can check one of your allergens off the list. Of course, you soon learn that vegan products more often than not contain soy (and sometimes gluten too) so as someone who has to avoid the magic trifecta (gluten, dairy, and soy), you are left standing in a gluten-free, vegan cafe where you can eat next to nothing, bewildered and wondering how eating out became this complicated. I feel you…virtual hug from me to you, my friend.

    Now for those of you with immune systems that react to gluten, casein, and soy, there are rarely opportunities for me to say I have good news for you. I mean, many gluten-free items contain milk; everyone gets excited for you when something is lactose-free…but sadly for you that doesn’t mean much because there’s still casein (the milk protein your body reacts to) in there even when the lactose is removed; most dairy-free products replace the cow’s milk with soy milk or soy-containing butter substitute…in other words, it’s a landmine of missteps just waiting to be danced around. I can’t tell you the number of times over the past 5 years (I know, who can believe it’s been 5 years since dairy and soy were added to the mix??) that I have turned over a bag of gluten-free pretzels or a dairy-free chocolate bar (a rare find!) only to find the bold letters emblazoned on the package: CONTAINS SOY (As the physicist would say, tears on my pillow). HOWEVER, today I do have some potentially great news for some of you, and it all has to do with soy.
    Note the warning: contains soy. Not safe, right?? (Hmmm…)
    If you look carefully at the label of certain products containing the warning about soy, you might see that the only seemingly dangerous ingredient mentioned is something called soy lecithin. As someone who knows little about the process of soybean harvesting/refining, you (like me) probably put the package back on the shelf, perhaps with an exasperated sigh, and trudged onto the produce section where you know safe food is waiting. Well, what if I told you that many of you might actually be able to safely enjoy those delicious products you just put back on the shelf??
    Soy again…
    It was last summer when a nurse finally mentioned something to me about soy and soy lecithin being quite different. (Note: This wasn’t even a nurse taking care of me…we just happened to be working together at the Pregnancy Center where I volunteer and chatting about food restrictions over lunch. Divine intervention I tell you.)  She was the first to let me in on the well-kept secret: soy oil and soy lecithin, though derived from soybeans, rarely contain the protein in soy that causes the reaction in most immune systems (by the time they are processed). Well, you better believe I ran right to my trusty Google. Sure enough, I found countless articles to support what she had said here, here, here, etc. Since last summer (Thank you, University of Nebraska -Lincoln Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources: Food Allergy Research and Resource program), there has even been an additional study which came out with these magic words:
    Soy lecithin does contain trace levels of soy proteins and these have been found to include soy allergens. However, apparently, soy lecithin does not contain sufficient soy protein residues to provoke allergic reactions in the majority of soy-allergic consumers. Many allergists do not even advise their soybean-allergic patients to avoid soybean lecithin when it is included as an ingredient on food products. From this practical standpoint, we can surmise that most soybean-allergic individuals do not react adversely to the ingestion of soybean lecithin.” 

    Now, please note that this is true for MOST people who react to soy. There are of course people who are extra sensitive to soy for whom this may not be the case…so I would recommend what most of the articles suggest: consult your doctor/allergist. Fortunately, because my reaction to soy was always much less severe than my reactions to gluten or casein, my doctor gave me the clear to try it. Not only did I feel fine, but my bloodwork last August confirmed it: no reaction to soy lecithin! (Insert cheering and jumping here!) Bring on the KIND bars and the gluten-free pretzels!! (Not a moment too soon either since just a few weeks later I was pregnant and let me tell you, those KIND bars and pretzels were a lifesaver while trying to snack and teach 2nd grade at the same time- all while growing a little human.)
    So, in summary, if you are a soy-allergic or soy-averse individual, I would encourage you to talk to your doctor. I would completely understand if your reaction is, “No thanks, I feel great now- why take the chance?”, especially if soy is your only culprit. However, if you’re a gluten, dairy, soy trifecta- I’m here to tell you that you’ll be amazed how much this small nugget of information can change your life. Granted, you have to be extra vigilant because some dairy-free products contain both soy lecithin AND soy protein (AKA the dangerous one) so don’t get lazy on your label-reading. And of course, soy lecithin is an additive with its own list of potential hazards (though it seems like everything is that way these days) so please read and make an informed decision that is best for you!
                                               
                                                               One of these is safe…
    …the other is not!
    I hope this news brightens someone’s day/month/summer as much as it did mine last August. (And I’m sorry it took me almost a year to share…I told you I have quite the backlog of half-written posts!) Now hopefully someday I can have some similar great news about casein or gluten! But until that day comes, I celebrate the mini-victories…with KIND bars and gluten-free, dairy-free (but soy lecithin- containing) chocolate pretzels.
    Posted in Boston Recommendations, Christmas, Gluten-Free/Dairy-Free Life

    It’s Christmas in July!

    When we think back on childhood Christmases, I bet there are a few common memories many of  us share: a stack of beautifully wrapped presents just waiting to be torn open, the delicious scent of dinner mixed with the last few batches of Christmas cookies wafting from the oven in the kitchen, and of course the hugs, smiles, and laughter shared between family members who may not have seen each other since last Christmas. Now that I have you feeling nostalgic for the holiday season, you’re probably asking yourself why I’m talking about Christmas on a 90-degree day in July. Well, that’s because my Christmas in July is quickly approaching and I want to invite you to join me…or at least to find your own Christmas in another month (before December!). Before you think I’ve completely lost my mind, I’ll answer the question, What the heck is she talking about?, for you: The Gluten Free & Allergen Friendly Expo, of course! Now you may remember my posts about this event in the past. I’ve relocated from the New Jersey Expo to the Worcester Expo now that we’re residents of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (I know, it’s still a little crazy to me too) but thankfully the two Expos are equally amazing.

    Worcester Expo- 2016
    My first GFAF Expo: Secaucus, NJ 2014
     If you refer back to the Christmas description above, you’ll see why I love the GFAF Expo so much. I leave each year with a giant bag (or two) of beautifully wrapped treats: all Katie-safe and delicious and just waiting for me to tear them open for a perfect meal/snack/treat; many vendors have ovens on-site to prepare freshly-heated samples of everything from gluten-free pizza crust and bagels to Veggie Fries and Pop-Tarts– so the smells that greet you when you enter the Exhibition Hall make you even more excited for the hours ahead.
    This was my loot in 2014…I feel like it gets bigger every year!
     Finally, as someone who is now attending my 4th Expo, I can tell you there is a regular cast of characters with whom you become familiar. There are returning faces at many booths, but this is especially true when it comes to the Expo speakers…and even the other bloggers! A year has passed since many of these familiar faces have crossed paths, and there are always plenty of hugs, smiles, and stories to share. Last, but not least, I get to walk around all day eating (and drinking) amazing Katie-safe treats until I’m on the verge of a holiday-type food coma. As I said, it’s not all that different from Christmas at all- and since the Worcester Expo takes place in July, it is perfectly placed to be my Christmas in July.
    Visiting with the author of really cute children’s book about celiac!

     I’m even more excited about the Expo this year since it also marks my return to the world of blogging after a hiatus to settle into Boston and welcome our newest little family member. (He’s almost 6 weeks old now and absolutely perfect.)  Additionally, I have to say that since I’ve entered the world of parenthood, I have a much greater appreciation for the need to find more ready-made/on-the-go Katie-safe options…since my more labor-intensive recipes from the past prove challenging with a 5-week-old in tow..so I am anxious to explore the vendor tables this year with a bit of a priority shift.

    Best of all, if you’d like to join me at the Worcester Expo this year (July 22-23), I have 5 free tickets to give away! Just fill out the “Contact Katie” form to the right, or you can comment below or on the post on Facebook or Instagram and you’re entered to win! Sadly, I know many of you are a bit far from Massachusetts, so make sure to check out the other locations and visit an Expo near you! And if all of that isn’t enough to get you excited, you just never know what will happen at the Expo: these 2 got engaged at the Expo in 2014!
    Even proposals happen at the Expo…complete with a gluten-free cupcake 🙂
    Posted in Gluten-Free/Dairy-Free Life, Tips and Tricks

    And Just Like That…It’s April.

    I know. April…how did we get here? I came back to you for two brief posts last summer and then disappeared off the face of the digital earth again. I can promise you it was my intention to get back into posting this year. I couldn’t wait to share all my tips for traveling to out-of-state weddings (we had 5 this summer/fall); I was going to document the challenges and triumphs of married life (namely sharing a kitchen with gluten and dairy products again); I was going to take you on my adventures around Boston, discovering new Katie-safe hot-spots to take the temporary place of the ones I had to leave behind in Baltimore. I was going to regale you with tales of my days back in a 2nd grade classroom, navigating a daily life that once again involves morning snack time…and of course 7-year-olds only love gluten-filled, dairy-filled snacks. I still have half-written wedding advice posts that are sitting in a folder on my desktop, just pleading to be finished and shared. However, as you know, none of that happened since August.
    There are a few good reasons for that. First, I started teaching at a new school…and as you teachers out there can understand, this year I found myself graced with “that class”. They challenge you in ways you never imagined, drain your energy in ways that it just doesn’t seem a group of 7-year-olds should be able to do, consume your thoughts even hours after you’ve walked out of the classroom…and yet you can’t help but love them because after all, they’re 7 years old. None of what is causing you such angst is really their fault. Well, most of it anyway. I knew it on Day 1. As soon as the dismissal bell rang, I walked (and by walked I mean dragged) my exhausted self to the Physicist’s new office (which is conveniently just a few blocks away) and asked him for a hug. Then I went outside and sat on a bench in the middle of a Harvard courtyard, took out my rosary app, and proceeded to pray an entire rosary asking God what I should do. I mean, if I left then, I’d just be that crazy lady who showed up for a day and disappeared. But by the end of the the third decade, I already knew the answer- I was here for a reason and those kids needed me…and perhaps I needed them too.  And so I woke up on Day 2 and marched back in there and I continued to do so every morning until last Friday. Which brings us to reason #2. Just over a week into the new school year (so 9 days after my rosary chat with God in the Harvard courtyard), the Physicist and I found out that a little one would be joining our family. Now this had always been our plan…but as you may remember from previous posts, part of True Life as a Celiac had been hearing for 5 years that I may never have children of my own…so needless to say we were equal parts “over-the-moon excited” and “let’s-try-not-to-get-our-hopes-up-yet terrified”. So take the craziness of the first few weeks of a new school year, add in 1 handful class, 3 Boston-Pennsylvania weekend trips in a row for back-to-back-to-back Villanova weddings, the normal exhaustion/nausea of first-trimester pregnancy, AND the added stress of keeping our news completely to ourselves (again 5 years of warnings take its toll on a person)…and let’s just say that leaves no time to even consider working on a blog.
    So I made the conscious decision to take a hiatus from writing. Now don’t think that means I forgot about you. I can assure you I didn’t…and the countless notes I have about various posts to share regarding how to navigate a gluten-free, dairy-free pregnancy can back me up on that. Our little one is scheduled to arrive in just under a month…which basically means anytime between today and 6 weeks from  now is considered reasonable. Spring Break comes to an end for my students and colleagues on Monday morning, but I will be home- beginning maternity leave as they finish out their 8 weeks left in the school year. My hope is to have some time to post between now and arrival day, but of course that’s all up to the little one. Regardless, I can assure you that at some point – though it may be late summer/next fall before we settle into our new life enough to do so- I fully intend to catch up on writing and share all the posts I’ve been mentally composing (and forcing the Physicist to take pictures for) over the past 8 months.
    Until then, here are just a few exciting tidbits to share. Consider this your preview of coming attractions:
    • Starbucks now has almond milk!! I know this is bad news for any nut-allergic readers…but for me it meant my first Starbucks Peppermint Mocha in 4 years this past December. Pure heaven.
    My 1st Peppermint Mocha in years!
    • There is an allergen-free chocolate company that actually makes good chocolate! It’s based in New Jersey but they ship nationwide. You’re welcome in advance.
    My beautiful stocking 🙂
    • These little tags? A necessity if you’re sharing a kitchen. We learned early on that our own color-coded system works great…until company comes over. If a guest sees a toaster, they’re going to use it. If you put one of these on it, they won’t. Problem solved.
    • GET READY FOR THIS: There is now gluten-free, dairy-free Bailey’s! This is brand-new….as in just released a few weeks ago. The Physicist was sweet enough to put a bottle in my Easter basket and it is now safely stowed away until the days when I can drink again. I’ll be sure to update you once I’ve tried it.

     



    Posted in Bread/Muffins, Gluten-Free/Dairy-Free Life, Recipes

    This Bread is Bananas, B – A – N – A – N – A – S

    If you have been living in the U.S. over the past 2 weeks, chances are you have also been living under one of the now-famous heat domes. (Seriously, what are all these new weather phenomena? Polar vortex, now heat dome…what is next?) This kind of oppressive heat and humidity poses a variety of challenges, especially in a city where many public places lack air conditioning (Boston is too cold most of the year to warrant the expense I suppose). There’s the need to shower multiple times a day, the struggle to find enough outlets to power multiple fans, the limitless need to refill the Brita filter and the ice trays, and of course the hastened ripening (and often spoiling) of your otherwise delicious, expensive perishable food items. 

    Summertime = quickly ripening bananas

    We have a few staple items you can always find in our kitchen; one of those is bananas. As you probably know firsthand, the 90+ degree temperatures combined with excessive humidity transforms the kitchen into a bit of a banana-ripening factory. One solution is to freeze the bananas and use them for later smoothies (or chocolate-dipped treats). The other is to use these overripe bananas as the main ingredient in a beyond delicious loaf of banana bread (or batch of muffins, whatever your preference!) Note: I understand that in the heat the last thing you might want to do is turn on your oven. In that case, you can make the batter before the bananas breathe their last, and set the batter aside in the fridge until the heat dome relocates.


    Now banana bread is something I always enjoyed but rarely ever made for myself. I never whipped up a batch that I truly loved so it was something I essentially abandoned…and I even threw away many a banana in my day (if only I could turn back time, I’d take them all back!). Then this past winter, I finally came into possession of the best banana bread recipe I’ve ever tasted. It all came from the perfect storm of circumstance. As many of you know, the Physicist spent 6 months living in France last year. When he returned to the country in January, he needed a temporary home. He had moved out of his grad school house before leaving the country, and since we both firmly believe that marriage comes before living together, not the other way around, he was without a place to call home for the 2-month span between repatriation and married life. As with all things, we had faith that things would work out and he wouldn’t be a homeless nomad for 2 months…and sure enough God certainly did provide: in the form of kindhearted woman from the Physicist’s church who knew him well from daily mass. She opened her home and gave him a temporary address…among other things. They shared weekly dinners, occasional breakfasts, and many conversations in French (she is French Canadian…perfect for someone who had just returned from France and was eager to keep up with his language skills!). When news came of an impending blizzard, she opened her door even wider to let me take up residence in her other guest room for a few days, rather than riding out the storm by myself up in Baltimore. As the storm raged, we shared shoveling duty, hot cups of tea, and delicious loaves of fresh banana bread (well, that was just for the two of them). She and the physicist had developed a symbiotic relationship: he would mash scores of overripe bananas and she would whip up loaf after loaf of the delectable treat. After we dug our way out from under 3 feet of snow and the roads cleared enough for cars to pass, I packed up my car to head back to Baltimore…but not before this kindhearted, gentle woman handed me a photocopy of the coveted recipe which had been passed on to her by a friend. I was delighted to see that almost every ingredient was Katie-safe, and that with just minor changes, I could in fact make my own version of this most delicious treat.
    The aftermath: yes, those are cars behind him.
    The simple ingredients…
    …plus the mashed bananas of course.
    And the walnuts (somehow I forgot to take a picture of those!)
    In the months since, I have made more than a dozen loaves…and every time I do, I think back to those days of riding out the storm with a Canadian native who laughed at the way the D.C. newscasters react to a little bit of winter weather. And even the Physicist agrees that this is one recipe that really is indistinguishable from its allergen-filled version. For us, it’s a win-win-win situation. We have a way use our otherwise heat-spoiled bananas, we have a treat we both love and actually feel comfortable making for non-food-sensitive friends without an “it’s good for being gluten/dairy-free” warning, and we get to reminisce about those weeks leading up to our wedding when we found the greatest abundance of blessings amidst the challenge of living with 50 miles of interstate 95 between us (of course, that’s a whole lot better than thousands of miles of Atlantic Ocean!) Take my advice: head to the grocery store and buy some bananas. Wait until they’re just the right shade of brown then enjoy a taste of warm Katie-safe banana deliciousness. According to the Physicist, it is best served with a smear of peanut butter, a pour of maple syrup…and of course, a heaping spoonful of nostalgia 🙂 
    See below for recipe!
    “Final Days as a Burke” Banana Bread
    *inspired by, and adapted from, the bread recipe of the kind-hearted church 
    lady who welcomed us into her home during my final weeks as a Burke:-)* 

     3 cups Pamela’s gluten-free flour blend
    3/4 tsp. salt
    1 tsp. baking soda
    2 cups sugar
    1 tsp. cinnamon
    1 cup chopped walnuts
    3 Tbsp. flaxseed + 9 Tbsp. water (as replacement for 3 eggs)
    1 cup sunflower oil
    2 cups mashed ripe bananas
    1 tsp. vanilla extract

    1. Combine the flour,salt, baking soda, sugar and cinnamon in a large bowl.
    2. Combine the remaining ingredients in a smaller bowl and add to the flour mixture.
    3. Pour into 2 greased loaf pans and bake at 350 for about 1 hour. (give or take depending on your oven)
    4. ENJOY!!

    Posted in Boston Recommendations

    I Think I’ll Go to Boston…

    That’s right…after several months of radio silence, I’M BACK!! There is plenty to discuss (considering we have nearly 7 months, including gluten-free wedding planning/interstate moving tips, to cover)…but all those things will come in due time.

    For those of you who don’t know, the title of this blogpost is more than just the refrain of an Augustana song circa 2009, it has been the mantra of my life for the past few months. We knew that most likely the Physicist would wrap up his Ph.D. this academic year and so the summer of 2016 would involve a big move for us (hence why we decided to plan our wedding in March, even though that meant mid-school-year AND mid-Lent). However, I’ll admit there was a little piece of me that was hoping the “big” move would entail a short trip up I-95 to Philly, or even a position in Baltimore which would allow us to stick around for a few years. There’s something about familiarity, especially when it takes years to figure out safe places to eat, doctors you can trust, and friends who learn how to cook for you…or understand when you show up with your own meal, that makes it even harder to say good-bye to a place you know and love. But when the phone rang just about 3 weeks before our wedding and it was Harvard on the other end…well, you just can’t turn that down. So after the wedding, we went into job hunt (for me)/apartment search/packing mode and just shy of 3 months into our married life, we packed everything we own into a rental truck and headed north.

    We have technically been living here for a month now, but our year of weddings/summer of travels have taken us elsewhere for about half of that time. I can say that Boston is quite charming, and I am confident that I will soon grow to love it here too…but as you can probably imagine, starting over again poses some challenges- and I’m only focusing on food-wise here! I have to find new go-to places to eat, research new grocery stores that have my “special foods”, and of course, I have to share a kitchen again for the first time in years. Despite all these challenges, I have to say the last month, and really the last 4, have also been among the happiest of my life. There’s something about having a co-pilot by my side as I face these challenges that makes them just a little less daunting. And of course, I get to share the adventure with all of you…and anyone you might know who is in Boston 🙂

    Don’t worry: much of our life is still in boxes, but the coffee cart is ready to go!

     So, just like I did in Baltimore for the past 5 years (seriously, is anyone else baffled by the fact that it has been 5 years since my diagnosis…because I am), I am looking forward to exploring the Boston area and discovering all the hidden gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, and sort of corn-free (another post for another time) gems that I’m certain are waiting for me. And what better way to begin that search? A Gluten-Free, Allergen-Free Expo, of course!! You may remember my excited foray into the official blogger world 2 years ago for the same event in New Jersey. Well, there just so happens to be another Expo NEXT WEEKEND!! It’s located in Worcester, so just a short 40 minute ride from our apartment in Boston. Words cannot express my excitement for all the delicious samples waiting for us next weekend…but more importantly, I cannot wait to jumpstart my hunt for Katie-safe foods by connecting with other Boston bloggers and vendors there. Now, the even better news is that because I’m an official blogger, I have free tickets to give away! Granted, I have almost no followers in the Boston area yet, so if you happen to know someone who might be interested in attending, send them my way (cupofcoffeewithkatie@gmail.com).

    Here are the important details:
    What: Gluten-Free/Allergen-Free Expo
    Where: DCU Center-North Exhibit Hall- 50 Foster St., Worcester, MA 01608
    When: July 23rd and 24th 10 AM – 4 PM
    Who: Tons of amazing vendors (including Glutino, Udi’s, Enjoy Life, Earth Balance, Wegman’s, etc.)…and yours truly, of course
    Why: Because for one day you will remember what it feels like to walk around a room filled with delicious treats and be able to taste almost every single one without fear…and because for that one day, you’ll feel like you belong to a family of people who understand what your daily life is like in a way no one else can.



    I look forward to sharing the fun and excitement of the weekend with you via countless posts and photos next weekend…and even more reviews and recommendations in the weeks following.

    I promise I’m back for real this time. I’ve missed you…and we have a lot of catching up to do 🙂

    I can’t wait to recreate this photo 2 years later 🙂
    Posted in Christmas, Cookies

    ‘Tis the Season

    …of waiting.

    Waiting in lines that stretch longer than usual; waiting in traffic that doesn’t seem to budge; waiting for those gifts purchased online to arrive on our doorstep…there’s no doubt that the holiday season is full of waiting. You don’t have to spend much time in stores or traffic to realize that most people are not good at waiting…or at least that it incites quite a few negative emotions. Now I’m not going to sit here and say I love traffic and crowds, but I can say that the increase in both during the Christmas season has never really bothered me.

    I distinctly remember the moment when I began seeing holiday traffic as less bothersome and more of a blessing. It was a Sunday morning in December of 2002 and I was sitting in an unbelievably long line of traffic between early morning mass and my shift at the chocolate shop in the local mall where I worked throughout high school. I still remember Britney Spears’ attempt at a Christmas song was playing on the radio and I was thinking about the homily from mass that morning about waiting. (In case you aren’t aware, Christian churches celebrate the liturgical season of Advent in the weeks preceding Christmas. It is a season of joyful anticipation as we await the birth of our Savior. It also happens to be my favorite liturgical season…I’m sure at this point you’re not at all surprised that I would have a favorite one of those.)  I remember the priest explaining that waiting has taken on a negative connotation in our world. Granted, that makes sense if you’re waiting for something where you don’t know the outcome. However, he pointed out that even when we’re waiting for something positive or something where we know the outcome, we still get so frustrated and angry. We know we’re going to get through the traffic light eventually; we know we will eventually reach the front of the line and purchase our items; and yet, for some reason, all we can think about is the time being spent, or worse “wasted”, while waiting. He challenged us that day to think about the waiting we practice during the season of Advent. It’s a joyful waiting because we know the result is a Savior. We light candles and we open little windows on calendars; but in the meantime, we’re also preparing our hearts for Christ to enter in a deeper way on Christmas. We don’t sit around and complain about the days we have to sit around and wait for God to enter into our world; instead, we pray more than usual, we read Scripture, we join Advent prayer groups, etc. (Or at least we should be doing such things!) We use the waiting time to enrich our lives, to reflect on our role in this world, and hopefully to deepen our relationship with Christ.

    Well, why don’t we apply that same philosophy to other instances of waiting? Why does waiting in line have to be a negative experience? I can honestly say I’ve had some of the best conversations this month while waiting in line at Joann Fabric, Michael’s and Kohl’s. In fact, I was actually sad to leave the line in Kohl’s last week because I was enjoying my new friends so much. (I’ve learned that older women love to talk about weddings if they notice you’re wearing an engagement ring. And I love to listen to their advice, so really everyone wins.)  Why don’t we use the time in line to deepen our relationships with the people around us (and no, your iPhone doesn’t count), or even to just stop and reflect on our own life at that given moment? Time spent waiting can be beautiful, and even fruitful, but it all depends on how we approach that time.

    Now, before you start thinking I have mastered the art of waiting and have the gift of perfect patience, I can assure you I do not. In fact, as many of you know, I have been in my own season of waiting for weeks (or really months) now. The physicist moved to France back in July to work in a lab there and he moves back to America TOMORROW. As any of my co-workers (or at this point, most of my students) could tell you, there have been days when I have not viewed this time of waiting as an opportunity for beauty and fruitfulness. In fact, there were moments when I had to bite my tongue when people would say things like, “Oh, 5 more weeks, that’s nothing”. What I wanted to say was, “Right. It’s like when people tell marathoners it’s only 1 more mile. Sure, a mile seems short when you have just started, but when you’ve already run 25, 1 whole mile is pretty daunting”. Fortunately for me, these last few weeks of waiting have coincided perfectly with Advent; hence, I have been reminded that the beauty in waiting is all about how you approach it. And though I’m still anxiously counting down the hours until I can head to the airport tomorrow, I also know that there has been beauty and fruitfulness in this time of waiting. The Physicist had a host of new experiences with new labmates and a new football team in a foreign country while I was able to soak up every moment of living in Baltimore with my best friend, who conveniently moved here the week the Physicist left. And the Physicist and I have also grown together in this time of waiting. There’s nothing like months of waking up at 5:30 AM American time or staying awake until nearly midnight France time, ducking out of lunches with co-workers, or wandering around campus desperately searching for a data signal just so you can have a quick chat, to make you realize that love involves sacrifice. It hasn’t been easy, but I also know there are many gifts and fruits from this time of waiting, and even more that have yet to blossom.

    My tree seems so fitting this year:
    Maryland and France- so close, and yet so far.

    SO. What does this have to do with your food restrictions?? Well, everything. First of all, I know I have left you in your own time of waiting: wondering if I was ever going to write another post for you. Well, just last week I was talking to someone who is facing a new list of possible food restrictions. She isn’t starting her elimination diet until after Christmas, but just listening to her brought me back to where I once was: confused, overwhelmed, and convinced that life as you know it is over. And in that moment, I realized I needed to be that source of comfort and encouragement again; hence, here is my attempt. Second, I can assure you that waiting is something you will do often while figuring out what foods are making you sick. Even when you finally have a diagnosis (woo!!), you don’t miraculously feel better the next day; you have to wait for that, too. Then you have to wait to feel like a normal person again, wait until the day when your kitchen no longer terrifies you, wait until eating is no longer an anxiety-inducing activity. This waiting can be difficult, because at times you simply won’t believe that there is a happy ending waiting for you…but there will be. On top of that, you will find wonderful blessings while you are waiting. It might be a new brand of you-safe crackers, a successful alteration of a previously-loved recipe, or even just a new friend who understands your new world. I know it’s difficult, but try to look around in that time of waiting and approach it with a positive attitude. What can you learn? How can you grow? And if nothing else, just get in the kitchen and experiment with new recipes once in awhile. Sometimes they’ll go well, other times they won’t…but either way you can learn and grow.

    For example..you might just discover this!!

    “A Little Treat While Waiting…AKA Coca-Cola Chocolate Chip Cookies!”
    (adapted from the Coca Cola website!)
    2 1/4 cups you-safe flour (I used Pamela’s Artisan Blend)
    1/2 tsp. salt
    1/2 tsp. baking soda
    1/3 cup brown sugar
    1 cup granulated sugar
    1 Tbsp. flaxseed + 3 Tbsp. water (egg substitute)
    1 tsp. vanilla extract
    6 Tbsp. Coca-Cola (for me, the Mexican variety with no corn syrup!)
    1) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
    2) Combine the flour, salt, and baking soda in a bowl.
    3) Mix the butter and sugar in a separate bowl. 
    4) Add the vanilla and flaxseed to the sugar mix.
    5) Add the Coca-Cola, 1 tablespoon at at time (it bubbles a bit!)
    6) Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture.
    7) Stir in the Enjoy Life chips.
    8) Scoop 1 tablespoon of dough onto a cookie sheet.
    9) Bake for about 15 minutes.
    10) Freeze the remaining dough (it’s amazing for an egg-free snack!)

     So wherever you are tonight, and whatever it is you might be waiting for, remember this: you may not be able to control what you are waiting for…but you can control how you approach this time. Look for ways to learn, to grow, to better understand yourself, and to grow in relationship with those around you. The reality is we’re all on this journey together, and we’re all waiting for something…so we may as well stick together, strike up conversations with one another while we’re waiting, and remind one another even though the end goal is where we want to be, there is also profound joy and beauty in the here and now while we’re waiting.

    Happy Advent!!
    Posted in Newly-Diagnosed, Tips and Tricks

    Learning, Loving, and Frugal Living

    You may remember back in January I deemed this to be “The Year of Fiscal Responsibility”. You may also have noted that in the 9 months which have now passed since that post, I have yet to add a single money-saving tip to this blog. I don’t want you to think I’ve abandoned the theme…I can assure you I didn’t…I just somehow ran out of time to share the wealth! And by that I mean the money-saving tips. I may have lived frugally but I’m not that good 🙂

    I just looked back at that post from January and chuckled to myself. Literally. (I startled myself actually when my laughter broke the silence of my apartment.) I laughed when I read the now seemingly-prophetic final line of my original post: What if 2015 is the year that changes everything?.  I’d say 2015 has been that kind of year for me. When I wrote that post, I had no idea that I’d be getting engaged in less than 8 weeks…and I certainly didn’t know how fitting the Year of Fiscal Responsibility would become when attempting to save for a wedding. (I promise the gluten-free wedding planning tips are coming too…it’s just one delinquent post at a time these days 🙂


    If I had only known…



    Now looking back at my original tips, they have served me well this year. In fact just today I was pointing out to my college roommate (who recently moved to Baltimore!! Yay!!) that those cans from the infamous ShopRite Can Can Sale have carried me through until just this weekend when I had to buy the first can of beans I’ve purchased in 9 months. Thank you, ShopRite. I can assure you I’ll be there in January for a repeat performance. Second, my budget spreadsheet is alive and well…and goodness knows the physicist and I have several others now. (Seriously, those of you who planned weddings in the days before Google Drive and Excel spreadsheets: I tip my hat to you. You’re amazing.) Generic products too are still a staple of my frugal existence. So, first, I’d say yes: keep up with those same tips I gave you in January. Now onto a few more:


    1) Find a BJ’s. Or Costco. Now, if you have a family where someone is gluten-free, the annual fee for this membership will easily be worth it. If you’re a single 20-something like myself cooking for 1, well, the typical fee is not. Have no fear. There are other options. You could take my approach, which is scour LivingSocial and Groupon deals until one appears. If you’re patient, I can almost guarantee that it will. I paid $25 for mine last year AND that included a $10 gift card…so in essence I paid $15 for a year membership. I’ve already earned that back just in the gas savings, let alone food! If you don’t want to wait around for a digital deal, pick up the local paper. There is almost always an ad for a 60-day membership. You can easily go and stock up then on some select gluten-free items and call it a day. I stockpiled my freezer with frozen salmon fillets, Bubba burgers, and enough chicken to keep me fed until Thanksgiving. Now each week, I grocery shop for a meal to make on Sunday which lasts until mid-week when I dig into one of my freezer options. It has been amazing…and amazingly cost-effective.


    My latest stockpile from BJ’s

     Now this leads me into my next suggestion:

    2) Meal Plan. If you’ve never been a teacher and always kind of wondered what it was like to structure your week in neat little boxes, this is your chance. If you are a teacher, this is a welcome break because meal planning seems like nothing compared to those learning objectives, enduring understandings, and essential questions you’ve been filling into the newest curriculum map. Mine is as simple as a dry-erase board. Each weekend, look in your cabinets FIRST. Take note of what you already have that can be turned into a meal. Then make a plan for the week BEFORE you shop. Otherwise, you convince yourself that you need everything you see in the store that is safe for you to eat. 

    It’s not rocket science. You just need a rough plan!

    3) Clip coupons!: As anyone who has lived with me can attest, I LOVE Sunday mornings. There are few things I love more than the Sunday newspaper and clipping coupons. (I know, you thought I was going to say church, right?? Well, I do love that too…but sometimes that’s Sunday night. No competition there.) I don’t know why people have given up on this money-saving past-time. It actually makes me sad when I see someone checking out at the grocery store who has an item that I know there is a coupon for. I want to run over and stop them…but I also don’t want to be forever banned from the store so I’ve resisted the urge thus far.

    It’s Sunday so here are my coupons! And yes, they are all from today.
    The first weekend newspaper of the month always has the best coupons!

    4) Go digital with coupons!!: If you’re anything like me, making the switch to a smartphone was not an easy decision. The poor Verizon man just stood there while I debated the merits of the gluten-free apps/access to ingredient lists wherever I was with the substantially higher monthly price tag. In the end, the smartphone won out and I can honestly say it is a decision I haven’t regretted for a moment. The “Find Me Gluten Free” app coupled with my ability to pull up gluten-free menus and ingredient lists on the spot in restaurants and grocery stores has made it well worth the investment. Then recently, my sister introduced me to an app which has taken my gratitude for my smartphone to a whole new level: Ibotta. It’s the most amazing digital coupon app which has taken my level of couponing to a whole new level. Basically you go through and select certain rebates you’d like to have, you watch a quick video or take a survey or read a fact, and they give you a coupon! Then when you get home from the store, you simply select which items you purchased, scan the SKU, take a picture of your receipt and within 24 hours you get the money in your Ibotta account…which can later be redeemed for CASH sent straight to your account. I’ve already saved over $20 with my account. The best part is you can even pull it up after you’ve gone shopping to see if there’s anything you just bought that falls on the rebate list. You have up to 7 days after shopping to redeem. The best part is there are challenges to earn bonuses AND we can form a team and help each other save. Do yourself (and me!) a favor: click here and join. You won’t be sorry!

    It’s so true. Shop smarter with your smartphone.


    5) Go back to the basics: In other words, channel my Grandpa. Well, really both of my grandfathers are master savers. I still remember the giant empty water jug (you know the ones that you put upside down into a water cooler) which my Grandpa filled with loose change. I remember at 6 or 7 being amazed by how much change could fit inside one little jar. Every night when he came home, the empty change from his pockets went into the jug. I started my own version this summer. Though it’s not quite as large as his, I have already filled and emptied it once. Now I’m onto round 2 of filling up this little guy. You really would be surprised how much change you end up with in a week’s time. Every little bit counts!



    All right, before I overwhelm you with too many ideas at once, I’ll stop there. Make it your goal to work these into your October lifestyle and then perhaps in November, there will be more tips coming your way! (Again I’ve learned to make no promises in that regard.) I will just leave you with a fantastic idea for a frugal fall meal: chili. I just made a crockpot full tonight and I was so excited I forgot to take a picture of all the steps. All I have is the final product. There are SO many chili recipes but here is the link to the one I used tonight: My “made it through September” teacher brain was too tired to come up with an original recipe this time 🙂


    Sunday night deliciousness.

    Now it’s time for this tired teacher to head to bed. Tomorrow begins another week of learning, loving, and frugal living 🙂