Posted in Bread/Muffins, Newly-Diagnosed, Pumpkin season!

Letting Go

Letting go. It is a concept which seems innately tied to this time of year. Parents are learning to let go of tiny hands at pre-K and kindergarten classroom doors; slightly more seasoned parents are learning to let go of teenagers who have swapped their place at the family dinner table for a dorm room they now call home. We teachers are letting go too; we’re learning to let go of the students, routines, and sometimes even the classrooms, which we held near and dear just a few months ago. Even Mother Nature joins in solidarity as the trees start letting go of their leaves. There’s a sadness in letting go, and often a degree of pain, but there’s profound beauty in it too; I mean, just look around at the trees in the coming weeks.

I still remember the moment when the harsh reality of fall hit me. I was six years old and dutifully completing my homework assignment for the evening: to walk around the backyard and gather a few beautiful leaves for a leaf-shading exercise at school the next day. I painstakingly narrowed down my choices to 3, packed them in a sandwich baggie, had my mom sign off on my 1st grade homework book, and sat my backpack in its place for the morning. The next morning when I arrived at school and took those same leaves out of my bag, they were noticeably drier and more fragile; by afternoon art class, one was crumbling at my touch. I remember looking around, distraught and yet comforted to see that everyone else’s were doing the same…and I still remember the teacher’s explanation that of course our leaves are crumbling- they’re not on the tree anymore so they’re dead leaves. Now, I’m sure she had a nice kid-friendly way of wording it, but all I remember is the moment of clarity in my little 6-year-old brain…followed swiftly of course by pure devastation. These beautiful brightly colored leaves which I loved to jump in, rake into pumpkin-faced plastic bags, and crunch under my feet were only so beautiful because they were dead. Talk about an existential day in the first grade…
Luckily, I recovered from my first experience of devastation, and in time began to realize that life is a series of beautiful moments, many of which can only arrive after we choose to let go of what is comfortable, familiar, and often cherished. 
So what does this have to with food allergies?? Well, pretty much everything. There’s the obvious: letting go of the foods you’ve come to love and yet your body has come to hate. It’s a weird kind of letting go, because on one hand, you feel so miserable that initially letting the foods go is the easiest thing in the world. You rediscover what it feels like to be alive, to wake up in the morning with a clear head and non-aching limbs. Of course, as your health returns, the letting go becomes a little harder- in part because you have the energy to care again, but also because that reality of forever starts to set in. Letting go for a brief time is manageable, letting go forever is a horse of a different color. Take my word for it, letting go of the foods your body hates is a profoundly beautiful thing. It doesn’t mean it’s always easy- I certainly have my moments of longing- but most of the time, it’s the most beautiful world I can imagine. I’m healthy, I’m happy, and I’m alive: it doesn’t get much more beautiful than that!
Now of course, that’s not the only “letting go” involved. There’s letting go of little traditions: the meals shared at a favorite restaurant which is now off-limits; your favorite Thanksgiving side dish or seasonal Starbucks beverage; the nostalgic visit to the hometown diner where you spent many a childhood evening. These are a little harder, but there’s still beauty waiting on the other side. There are other new traditions just waiting to begin..and having these will do nothing to diminish the memory of the old traditions which will always hold a place in your heart. 
Then there’s the “letting go” of expectations: both yours and those of people around you. I’ll admit this has been the hardest one for me. It means letting go of the pictures you had in your head of how certain life events were going to look: cutting into a giant wedding cake, sharing Friday night pizza dinners with your family, eating apple cider donuts while picking pumpkins on a Saturday morning in October. It means letting go of what other people think when you walk into a restaurant with your thermal tote lunchbox, when you grill the chef at a restaurant before making a reservation, when you politely refuse every single hors d’oeuvres at each wedding you attend. I’ve learned over these past four years that people will make comments, they will make judgments, and sometimes they’ll just make faces…and for the longest time I couldn’t let that go. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago when I had a moment (during mass…who is surprised by that one??) when it just hit me as clearly as my leaf realization did two decades ago: if I don’t let go and stop worrying about what other people think, I’m only hurting myself. People will make judgments, whether warranted or not. I make judgments too. I wish I didn’t, but we’re all human. I realized that there is profound beauty in this letting go especially: not only do I enable myself to live fully again, but I’ve learned to better empathize with everyone I meet. Again, I’m not saying I’m perfect, not by a longshot, but I do find myself thinking twice when I notice something out of the ordinary and start to draw my own assumptions. Through my own experience these past four years, I have seen that as a society, we’re far too quick to judge when something seems a little out of the ordinary or different than what we expect, and because of that I feel like  I have found the most beautiful gift of all: I have become much more open, more curious, and I’d even say more loving than I ever would have been without a celiac diagnosis. It certainly isn’t always easy, but I have found a beauty even in that, too.
So what did I let go of today? Today I let go of my self-imposed “no pumpkin until fall” commandment. I pulled out a can of pumpkin that has been sitting in my cabinet since last November and I let go of the “poor me, I can’t have my old pumpkin muffins anymore” mentality and moved into problem-solving mode. The result? Well, I whipped up a batch of what might be the best pumpkin muffins I’ve ever made, at least in recent years anyway. 
Katie-safe Cinnamon-Sugar Pumpkin Muffins
 1 1/2 cups Pamela’s Artisan Flour Blend
1 cup pumpkin puree
3/4 cup almond milk
1/2 cup soy-free Earth Balance spread (melted)
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp. pumpkin spice
1 tsp. vanilla
2 tsp. baking soda
1 Tbsp. flaxseed + 3 Tbsp. water 

 Mix all the ingredients. Pour into muffin pan and bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes.
When finished baking, melt Earth Balance spread. Dip the top of each muffin into the melted butter and then into a bowl of sugar mixed with cinnamon.
So my challenge for you today is to take a moment and look at your own life. Food allergies or not, I’m sure there is probably something you’re holding onto that might turn into something more beautiful if you’re willing to let go. So do it…but first make a batch of these as comfort food for the journey. Life, even in the difficult “letting go” moments, is just better with a cinnamon-sugar pumpkin muffin in your hand 🙂
Posted in Bread/Muffins, Teacher Life

Here We Go Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

Katie’s “Power Through September” Breakfast Muffins

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

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

Forever is a Long, Long Time

I think one of the hardest aspects of a diagnosis like celiac or a food allergy is the finality of it all. At first you’re just so grateful to have an answer and relieved that it wasn’t one of the other seemingly-more-frightening options tossed around as a diagnosis. However, in time, that relief gives way to an overwhelming sense of “Wait, this is forever? Like forever forever??”Again, the feeling passes, you gain confidence in yourself and in your new lifestyle…and yet some time down the road, that “Wait, forever?” feeling comes out of nowhere and hits you like a ton of bricks. Now, at this point I’m sure there’s a good chance you’re thinking, Gee, Katie, thanks for the pick-me-up post today. I promise isn’t one of those rare downer posts…rather, it’s a reminder and an assurance that you’re not alone in having thoughts like these. And I don’t think it’s restricted to just food issues either.

Somehow July has already come and gone, and with it my 4-year Celiac-iversary. Crazy, I know. This year the day passed unceremoniously. I didn’t bake a cake or go to dinner at Sweet 27. Honestly, the day was almost over when I even realized the date. (Summer school with 7-year-olds will do that to a person!) A few days later, I had one of those “wait a minute, this is forever?” type moments. For me it happened at church. (I know, I know: who didn’t see that one coming??) There’s a church within walking distance of my new apartment (AKA new as of March, I didn’t move again haha) that has a 6:55 morning mass. One morning I decided to walk over for mass. I went to the freezer and retrieved a low-gluten host, gathered my belongings, and headed out the door at 6:30- plenty of time to make the 15-minute walk and arrive by 6:45 to inquire about how they handle low-gluten host distribution. Well, apparently the church website is a bit outdated, because just when I opened the door at 6:45 on the dot, the procession had begun. I missed my chance. I stayed for mass, the homily was beautiful, and it was still a nice way to start the morning…but I didn’t get to receive the Eucharist. I was so pained by it that for a brief moment during the Eucharistic prayer, I actually pondered going up in line anyway. I actually had the conversation with myself, “Well, maybe it will be OK to take the chance? I mean even if I get sick, won’t it be worth it?” Fortunately, my rational side won out (with a little assistance from the Spirit if you ask me) and I knelt in prayer during the distribution of Eucharist. And as I prayed, I couldn’t help but get that feeling in my stomach as I watched everyone else process up: This is forever. I will never just waltz into mass at the last moment, or randomly pass a church and decide to stop in for mass without my pyx in tow, and process up to fully participate in the Eucharist. Though as sad as I was about that, I think it was exacerbated by the fact that I felt frustrated: here I am, 4 years later- I’m healthy, I’m happy, I encourage other people to embrace their food issues…and yet I still have these moments? What is wrong with me?? 
I took a long walk after mass and pondered this question. That’s when I realized: there’s nothing wrong with me. Well, in regard to the question at hand I mean. We humans have created a society that is very end-goal-oriented. We plow through to-do lists. We earn diplomas, degrees, and certificates, that say You’re Done, You’re Licensed, now check that off the list and move onto something else. We run races which, even if it’s many miles away, always end with a finish line. We plan road trips which may include a few detours, but are never without that checker-flag final destination typed into our GPS. We’re not a society which does open-endedness well. We’re the Marthas of the Gospel from that morning mass last week. We rush through life busily getting things done, and we don’t like to stop and pause for anything, even Jesus himself sitting in our living room. 
I think this reality is what makes chronic illnesses, or any permanent life-altering event, such a challenge. There’s never a point where it’s over or you’re cured and it’s just a blip on the radar and you’re back to regularly-scheduled programming. A chronic illness is forever, and that’s also a word we don’t do well with in this society. I mean just look at the divorce rate, or the number of people just foregoing marriage to live together: commitment scares a lot of people, and forever means whatever we want it to mean when it’s convenient. So when something comes along that really is permanent beyond our control, our brain just can’t quite process that- and it’s totally understandable. It seems logical that the first year of a new reality would be the biggest challenge, because we’re actually not yet sure that we can handle each holiday, event, etc. arriving in a way that isn’t the same as it used to be. However, I can tell you in my experience, that’s true: the first year is hard and you feel a sense of accomplishment when you’ve made it through….but it’s those random moments afterward that get you; when you get upset on a random Tuesday afternoon when you come across some remnant of your former life, or a quiet Sunday night when you realize that there are still many major life events on the road ahead that won’t look quite like you always imagined. Those are the moments when you feel crazy for being upset, but take it from me, you’re not crazy. 
So, what does all this mean for you? Well, two things. First, it means you shouldn’t beat yourself up when moments of doubt sneak up on you, even 27 years into your new reality. This is not a sprint, and it’s not even a marathon, because even those end. This is a forever journey, and unless you have some superhuman magical powers, there will be moments of doubt, darkness, and weakness. You’re not alone in that…and there’s certainly nothing wrong with you. Second, it’s particularly important to keep this in mind if you have celiac, or another food allergy/intolerance, because the reality is, in your case, your continued health is a choice. In those moments of darkness and weakness where you are shocked to find yourself considering just one bite of real cake at a wedding expo or one lick of an ice cream cone on a sweltering summer day, it is 100% your choice. It’s the unique aspect of our condition: there’s no doctor adminsitering the treatment or a nurse overseeing our case 24/7. There are no pharmacists measuring out the appropriate dosages. You are 100% in control of what enters your body (or your child’s if you’re the parent of a young celiac patient). There will be moments when you’re tempted, but we all know the tradeoff is not even close to worth it. Forget the way you’ll feel for the next few weeks, there are longterm effects too
So now the practical advice:
1) Find a friend. Or several. Have someone to call in those dark, defeatist moments. You’re not on this earth alone for a reason. I can assure you I wouldn’t have made it through the past 4 years without the listening ears and comforting hugs of the smiling faces below. If you’re not sure who to turn to, you can always call me, I’m usually pretty good at making people feel better…and I can probably whip up some you-safe comfort food. Which brings us to #2…
I’m very blessed when it comes to the friend department 🙂
2) Have a you-safe comfort option. I think it’s important to have a certain treat that is both you-safe and somewhat easy to obtain for moments such as these. When you’re feeling bad that everyone else is indulging in a summer ice cream treat, go spend the absurd $6 for a pint of you-safe ice cream. It can’t be a regular habit (financially I mean) but sometimes you just need that.
Here’s my newest go-to comfort food.
So expensive…but SO Delicious!
3) Be a Mary. If you’re not a Bible reader, this one may be confusing. Essentially Mary is the opposite of the Martha described above. Martha is busy, stressed, and anxious about getting a meal served and the kitchen cleaned; her sister Mary recognizes the importance of the present moment and sits at the feet of Jesus. Don’t spend your life caught up in the hamster wheel, checking things off and running onto the next. I hate to break it to you, but celiac isn’t going to get a checkmark next to it. Even this cockeyed optimist has given up on the 2026 dream. It’s just not worth setting timelines for such things I have no control over. Live in the moment, enjoy the precious encounters you do have with people, places, and even food….because we don’t know how long forever is for any of those things either.
So get out there and keep making your forever the best it can possibly be: one day and one moment at a time 🙂
Posted in Newly-Diagnosed, Tips and Tricks

Just to See You Smile

If you’ve encountered me in real life, you know that smiling is one of my favorite things to do. I’ll admit I didn’t even realize how often I smile, or how much I enjoy it until this past spring when I had stitches in my mouth for a few days and couldn’t smile. Even my students commented on how sad it was when an entire class passed without a smile on my face. When that class turned into 3 days, they were nearly at their wits’ end. I’m pretty sure I smiled more than double the next 2 days, partially because of my own excitement, but also to reassure them that my smile hadn’t vanished forever.

Now, those of you who are dealing with food/health issues and haven’t been feeling the greatest, your smiles may be weaker and fewer in number these days…but, take it from me, when you reach that turning point on your road to health, the smile will return with a vengeance! However, inevitably such smiles bring us to our favorite place: the dentist’s office. Now this is a topic I’ve referenced and said I’d come back to multiple times…and somehow I never do. Well, today is the day. I’ve had quite a 10-week relationship with the dentist and there is just so much information that needs to be shared. If I can help just one person avoid a gluten-filled dentist visit, I’ll feel like my suffering has not been in vain 🙂

Courtesy of

As I’ve mentioned before, I grew up LOVING the dentist. Granted, I think it was in large part due to my perfectionist streak as a child. It was kind of like report card day…the nervous anticipation in the waiting room: will it be another cavity-free visit?? Will the perfect streak continue?? And you walk away with a brand new toothbrush. I mean, really, does it get much better than that when you’re a type-A 9-year-old? Aside from a few sealants, I had a perfect track record when it came to dental health. Now, orthodonture is a different story, but I figure maintaining that perfect track record of dental health while navigating around pounds of metal in your mouth? That takes skill. When my braces finally came off (yes, I went to college with braces on my teeth…I try to forget those days), I ramped up my dental care routine even more. I trekked back up to my dorm room on the 4th floor after breakfast every morning to brush and fluoride rinse. During my 2 years in ACE (when I had no dental insurance), I still scheduled a dental visit/cleaning when I was home on Christmas break and paid out of pocket.

As you can tell, dental hygiene is not something I take lightly. Of course, just a few weeks after my arrival in Baltimore, my health was rapidly in decline and any time I wasn’t at school was spent at doctor’s appointments or lying on couches, so the dentist slipped a little on the priority list.  Still, that February I trudged through the snow to a new dentist. I wasn’t feeling well at all that day, but I still mustered some excitement for the dentist. There’s nothing quite like a good teeth-cleaning in my book! Well, imagine my suprise when I opened my mouth that day and learned that I had not 1, not 2, but 4 cavities. I was shocked. I was devastated. On top of my dizziness, exhaustion, and questionable bloodwork, now we had to add cavities to the mix?? I cried when I got to my car. As devastating as that afternoon was, it wasn’t indelibly sealed in my memory until 5 months later when I sat in my gastroenterologist’s office with my celiac diagnosis and he explained that often times, dental problems (like the ones I had that winter) are the first indicator of celiac in younger patients. He explained that he’s trying to raise awareness among dentists because I should have been sent to his office back in February and by July could have been well on my way to healing rather than the lifeless blob sitting in front of him.

So, point #1: if you, or someone you know, has a similar experience of great teeth which suddenly show significant decay in a short period of time, don’t just brush it off. (Like that pun??) Of course, this also assumes you’ve remained faithful to your dental hygiene regimen and the decay still happened. If you started going to sleep with cupcakes next to your bed for a midnight snack or swore off brushing for a year, then I’d suspect enamel and absorption issues are not to blame. Talk to your dentist. If it’s the same dentist you’ve had, it’s an easy comparison to old x-rays and your chart. If it’s a new dentist, do what I didn’t: call your old dentist and get all your records sent for comparison. My new dentist just assumed I was one of those 20-somethings who relegated tooth care to the bottom of the priority list…and I did nothing to convince her otherwise. I could have saved myself months of misdiagnoses, or at least 5 months of enamel erosion…which for the record, can’t regenerate. (For more information, click here.)

#2: Some toothpastes have gluten in them. Yes, that can make you sick. And of course that will result in more enamel erosion. Talk about a vicious cycle. There is a great summary here of the various brands, but my advice would be this: a) Be wary of Colgate. It’s mentioned in here, but I talked to them myself and the lovely rep told me that though the regular flavor is “apparently gluten-free”, she couldn’t safely verify that for any others. So I personally end to steer clear of Colgate all together; b) Whichever toothpaste you choose, do yourself a favor and double check. A quick email or phone call is well worth your time in the long run. And sometimes it can even be a fun conversation!

I think this was my favorite product phone call to date:
“Is it possible to get the ingredient/allergen list for your Be Adventurous Chocolate mint toothpaste?
It was discontinued so I bought it today for 70% off!

#3: Not all mouthwashes are created equal. Of course by now you know I have a soft spot in my heart for Scope, but Listerine is also a great option. However, the nice Crest representative offered information before I even moved past toothpaste, and told me that both the Pro-Health Rinse and Crest Whitening Rinse contain outside ingredients and may contain gluten!! Again, my advice would be, if you have a product you love (or one that is recommended by your dentist), pick up the phone and check. You have to be especially careful with generic brands: they often contain ingredients from outside suppliers and all kinds of co-mingling can happen. I know, my frugal heart is crying too…but trust me the dental bills later will be far more than the extra $2 for name-brand mouthwash. Deep breath 🙂

Clearly, I love Scope. For many reasons 🙂

#4: Your dental cleaning and fillings might not be safe. This is the doozy. Gluten is in most adhesives (i.e. Elmer’s glue…if you could only have seen me last week at summer school when we used entire bottles to make our own silly putty, the kids thought I was hilarious with my gloves/handwashing, but I was taking no chances) so it makes sense that tooth polish, bonding agents, etc. would also have it. From what my dentist told me, the entire industry has made a shift in the past 5 years away from gluen, and they now get an ingredient list sent with each product, but it’s still best to ask. And if your dentist responds with a laugh when you ask and says, “Honey, I asked if you had any allergies, I meant like latex? I’m not going to feed you bread so gluten isn’t a problem”. Yes, that was a real response from someone who is no longer my dentist. In hindsight, I should have kindly educated her rather than bolt, but those were my early celiac days. Live and learn.

#5: You can be so careful…and you’ll still get burned sometimes. Such is life with celiac. It’s either live in a bubble or always be slightly open to risk. I went to the dentist this week. I love my dental office. I love the dentists, the hygientists, and the x-ray technicians. The receptionist and I greet each other like old friends and swap stories of our respective upcoming wedding plans. They are great people and they know what they’re doing. But while they were applying that numbing gel this week before the Novacain (for yes, yet another cavity…remember what I said about enamel not regenerating? I now have what are called “soft teeth”. All I know is it’s not good.) and when they suctioned, it didn’t all come out and soon I could tell I’d swallowed some (because my entire throat was going numb). I told myself all would be well, even though I kind of knew that was a lie. And it was. I spent some quality time curled up on my bed as my stomach rejected the invader, and after a fitful night attempting to sleep, I woke up the next day with the familiar symptoms of slight contamination: my brain was all foggy, I was irritated by everything and everyone, my face was pale and my heart raced…but the one consolation of knowing what triggered the reaction is knowing that it was a trace enough amount that it shouldn’t escalate. Still it meant a phone call to the doctor and an addition to the file, but fortunately nothing more. Now I’m safe (from the dentist anyway) until February…though considering our wedding will be on the horizon, I may just play it safe and wait an extra month 🙂

In conclusion, please take it from me: before you go to the dentist, do your homework. Talk to your dentist ahead of time. Don’t show up and assume he or she should know everything about every product and about your autoimmune condition. Dentists have an awful lot to learn in just a few years of dental school. It would be like expecting a teacher to be an expert on every single condition a student might walk in with. Just like I would want advanced warning about my students so I can spend time researching and familiarizing myself with the needs of that particular student, the dentist needs the same time to become familiar with your unique needs. Don’t just show up at appointment time expecting quick answers to your questions.

I know it sounds terrifying, but don’t be too nervous. It’s a lot, yes, but it’s totally worth it…just to see you smile 🙂

We love to smile…smiling is our favorite! 🙂
Posted in Meals/Sides

Sweet Southern Comfort

Now this title is admittedly misleading, because I have never actually lived in the south.  And I’ve never tried the liquor by the same name either. It’s just a song that was popular on CMT during my senior year in high school (when I discovered country music) and for some reason, it kept playing in my head yesterday while I thought about this post. (Click here if you’d like it as the soundtrack while you read.) Alas, here we are.
Though I thoroughly enjoyed my brief visits to Georgia, Louisiana, Alabama, and Texas over the past 8 years, the northeast has remained my home…but that doesn’t stop me from dreaming about delicious sweet tea, charming accents, and drive-through daiquiri stands (as a passenger of course) on a hot day like this one! The refrain kept playing through my head yesterday as I whipped up a batch of what could be called the quintessential comfort food: homemade macaroni and cheese. Now before you think there’s been some kind of miraculous cure: no, I still can’t have dairy…or gluten for that matter. (Corn, the jury is still out…but that’s another post for another time. Keep hoping!!) So how is it possible to have homemade macaroni and cheese?? Well, a little creativity and a huge thanks to the lovely folks at Daiya foods.
For those of you with food issues, you’ve probably discovered that the hardest part of your limited diet is not finding delicious foods you can eat. I still chuckle sometimes when people ask me incredulously, “Well, then what can you eat??”. I sometimes want to respond with a long list of delicious items: shrimp, crab, filet mignon, duck, potatoes, chicken, every fruit and vegetable under the sun, etc., but I usually refrain and simply smile and stick with the meat and potatoes response. The truth is there are plenty of foods that we can eat. The real challenge presents itself in two main ways: 1) trying to find safe foods when eating out or in a large group setting and 2) the lack of convenience (and affordability!) when it comes to our safe foods. For example, those of you without food issues, think of a bad day you’ve had recently. Maybe not even necessarily bad, but crazy, busy, hectic, etc. You might have  a plan in mind for dinner but next thing you know, you’re climbing into your car at 7:30 PM and the thought of cooking and not having food on the table until 8:30 is too much…so you swing by your favorite “grab and go” place (which is pretty much any restaurant these days) and you’re happily fed by 8:00 PM. Or maybe you have leftovers in the fridge, but a stressful day has left you craving a delicious pizza…or a trip down memory lane with a bowl of Easy Mac. Done. Leftovers saved for another day.
Well, for those of us with food issues, such days are not so simple…and often times, simply impossible. Grabbing a quick dinner on the run is not only a challenge, but usually also a risk. The comfort foods which we once turned to after a long, busy day are now relegated to the “Do not cross the threshold of my front door” list. These are the moments when we get a little down, and perhaps on occasion even a little bitter (though I’m not one to readily admit that), and we long for the days of a delicious Chick-Fila milkshake, a Panera broccoli and cheddar bread bowl, a fresh slice of pizza, etc.
So what do you do in these moments? Sometimes you sit yourself down with a cinnamon rice cake, slather on some almond butter, and tell yourself that things could be worse. Sometimes you drive well out of your way to go to the nearest you-safe place and order something delicious…and then regret it a few hours later when you realize how much of your food budget you just spent on a single night…and that doesn’t count the gas used! And sometimes, on those rare nights when you have the time and energy to do so, you find a solution: you make a you-safe version of a favorite comfort food, and all is right in your world again. For a night anyway J
Though I can tell you I’ve been the protagonist in all the scenarios above, last night I lived out the last one. After crazy weeks of end-of-school madness which rolled right into shingles recovery hibernation time followed immediately by an unplanned summer school/camp stint, I finally had a day of nothing. While this was the greatest gift I could have asked for, it’s also one of those days when you stop running for once and your brain just gets overwhelmed thinking about how blessed you are to have such a full life, how sad you are that your fiancé now lives across an ocean, how tired you are because you’ve been waking up before 6 AM for way too many months now, how surprised you are that you miss your students because there are so many news stories you wish you could be discussing with them, how excited you are about the events of the next year of your life; let’s just say when you finally stop running like the Energizer Bunny, you run into the brick wall of reality you’ve been evading…and it can be simply exhausting. So after a long day of organizing, list-making, etc., there was nothing I wanted more than some macaroni and cheese. I had the pasta, but that was about it, so I ventured out into the heat to gather the necessary “cheese” and milk from Whole Foods…only to find that they were sold out of the cheese. Now again, this could have been a possible bitter moment (what person with a regular immune system has to worry about a grocery store running out of cheese?? There are at least 20 varieties to choose from), but fortunately I was fresh off a long Skype chat with the Physicist so my spirits were high. I was unwavered. I simply returned my basket and headed north to Mom’s Organic Market, picked up my necessary supplies, and headed home. Within an hour, I was settled on my couch with this amazing meal (that’s right, I ate dinner in front of the TV), watching Gilmore Girls, and quite thankful for the blessings of my life…even my crazy immune system. The best part? I have more left for tonight’s dinner J

So, if you have food issues similar to mine, bookmark this page and file it away for one of those days in your life. If you don’t have food issues, well, you can try it…but take it from me, I’d stick to the real cheese. Do it for those of us who can’t J
Katie-safe Comfort: Macaroni and Cheese
3 Tbsp. Earth Balance spread (the dairy-free AND soy-free version)
1 Tbsp. yeast
2 cups cashew milk (you can use any variety, I’m on a cashew kick)
1 package Daiya Cheddar Style shreds
8 oz. brown rice pasta
black pepper
Old Bay
gluten-free bread crumbs

1. Melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat. Stir in the yeast as it melts.
*NOTE: you should also start boiling the water for pasta in a separate pot*
2. Add the cashew milk to the melted butter and stir. I also added some Old Bay and pepper to the mixture at this point, but that depends on your taste!
3. Add the package of cheese to the milk mixture and stir periodically for 5-6 minutes.
4. When the pasta is ready, mix the pasta with the cheese sauce and place in a casserole dish. (I chose to use the Pi dish sitting next to my casserole dish last night…because why not??)
5. Sprinkle the top with bread crumbs and Old Bay to taste.
6. Place in the oven and bake at 350 for 15 minutes, or until top starts to brown.

I should add that I was inspired while prepping the cheese sauce to turn this into
my own version of Hamburger Helper…hence the ground beef in that third pan.
Ready for the oven!

The finished product!!
(It’s hard to see the difference in the pre-baked and this one…but I can assure you there is!)

Posted in Meals/Sides, Teacher Life

I’m Back!!!

Gosh, it feels good to say that! The crazy vortex which is the end of an academic year (especially when the grade/subject and school are all new to you) just sucked me in and swallowed me whole. Then, just when the light was appearing at the end of the tunnel (AKA summer vacation), shingles took hold. Yes, you read that correctly: just 3 days shy of that glorious last day of school, I ended up at Urgent Care and then my own doctor for confirmation. That patch of bumps rapidly appearing on my shoulder were in fact shingles. The couch became my closest friend. And to top it all off, the anti-virals prescribed to combat the virus which my poor weakened, end-of-school-year immune system just couldn’t muster the energy to fight ended up making me sicker. That’s right, despite my best efforts with the pharmacist and then nearly an hour on the phone with the manufacturer, the prescription still contained something that wasn’t Katie-safe. Such is the life for those of us with food issues. It was just quite an unpleasant reminder at an already unpleasant time.

However, that darkness is in the past and it’s onto better things. While shingles initially put a dent in any and all plans for the summer, providence ensued and actually brought about an opportunity to work in a summer school program I hadn’t even considered when someone backed out at the last minute. So it was off the couch and back to the classroom just this past Monday. I’ve been helping teach a class entitled “Toyology”. That’s correct. I spend my days exploring the physics behind Whoopee cushions, the polymers in Silly Putty, etc. Fun times. To top it all off, the Physicist boarded a plane this weekend for a science collaboration which will have him with an international address until Christmas; hence, the time for writing has returned. For the record, you have all been on my mind and I even have notes in my phone of blogpost topics and pictures. I’ll attempt to catch up on all of them in the coming weeks…but I also make no promises 🙂

Since summer is upon us, I thought I’d start with some delicious (and convenient!) summer food ideas.

1) Summer Salad Season is Here!: On these absurdly hot and humid summer days, the last thing you want to do some nights is turn on the stove. In addition, it seems wherever you go, everyone is enjoying a delicious summer salad. Part of you is excited: salad! Yes! Veggies, fruit, and maybe a protein: something I can safely consume! Until you stop and the following train of thought ensues: “Oh wait, there’s no way to know about those dressings. That’s OK, I can eat a dry salad. Oh but wait, I don’t know what they cooked that chicken in, or if that’s a safe brand of bacon for me to eat. Oooh, and I don’t know where those veggies were sliced, if some random croutons may have been in that bowl, or if some careless salad maker (or customer at a self-serve salad bar) inadvertently mixed the spoon or grabbed some cheese with the same tongs as the red onions.” If you’re like me, it’s around this point when you stop thinking and walk away, lest I journey deeper into the rabbit hole that is food anxiety. Just do yourself a favor: make a giant batch of salad on Sunday afternoon and you’re set for lunches until Wednesday.

 And for those of you who may be fortunate enough to have a safe salad bar to indulge in at work, steer clear of that dry salad. Make this dressing. It’s delicious, easy, and far cheaper than those all-natural (read: non-soybean/corn-syrup-containing) dressings at the grocery store.

Katie-safe Summer Salad Dressing!
1 avocado
1 tsp. minced garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar (less if you don’t want a strong vinegar taste)
1 Tbsp. agave syrup
1 tsp. cilantro
juice from a lime (to taste)

Blend all the ingredients in a food processor (or Magic Bullet!!)
Voila!  Katie-safe dressing to last the summer
…or until next week, at least 🙂

2) Crab Cakes!: Keep in mind, I live in Baltimore…AKA a city which lives and breathes crabs in the summertime. Crab feasts, crab cakes, crab-flavored potato chips: we’ve got it all. Of course, when you’re a person who can’t consume bread crumbs, mayonnaise, or eggs, such a delicacy is quickly relegated to the “Danger, Danger” list. That is, of course, until a few weeks ago. I was navigating the aisles at Trader Joe’s just days before my shingles struck. My heart was light and my mind was dancing with thoughts of summer vacation, lazy mornings with my hot cup of coffee and the Today Show, and endless amounts of time to cook and write. I turned a corner and what did I see?? A sale on giant cans of crab meat!! I decided right then and there that this had to happen. The summer of 2015 would be Katie’s triumphant return to the land of crab cakes. And so it was.

Make sure you read the label: it’s not always just pure crab meat!
Katie’s Captivating Crab Cakes
(adapted from
1 cup crab meat
1 tsp. flaxseed
3 tsp. water
2 tsp. Katie-safe mustard (more of a challenge than you’d think!)
2 tsp. Old Bay seasoning
2 Tbsp. coconut flour
1 Tbsp. parsley
1 Tbsp. cilantro
lemon juice from 1/2 a lemon

1. Combine the crab meat, flaxseed, and water in a bowl.
2. Add mustard and mix.
3. Add coconut flour, Old Bay, parsley, cilantro and mix.
4. Squeeze in lemon juice.
5. Form crab cake patties with your hands.
6. Heat oil in a skillet (I used grapeseed) and pan-fry for 3-4 minutes on each side.
The finished product, served over brown rice pasta!

3) Summer smoothie time!: Usually, people like you and I are left to our own devices when it comes to smoothies. We blend away in our kitchens using coconut milk yogurt, almond milk, etc. so we know our smoothies are safe from the co-mingling of evil casein particles. It’s a fine practice, and one we’ve grown accustomed to, but there’s also nothing quite like sipping a delicious smoothie which you didn’t have to create. This is especially true when you’ve just had oral surgery (which also happened to me this May); have no fear: Smoothie King is here! They now have a line of gluten-free, vegan smoothies!!! (erupt in applause here!) I’ve had both the Dark Chocolate Banana and Nutty Super Grain varieties, and I literally debate every time about which to choose because they’re both SO AMAZING!! I actually lived off the Nutty Super Grain for 3 days that week until I regained used of my mouth. One important caveat: you have to tell the smoothie maker about your allergies. You may notice when they’re busy, they quickly rinse the blenders between runs…not enough to eliminate milk traces, or even protein powder. If you tell them, they’ll use a dairy-free blender (if they have one at their location) or they’ll deep clean it for you. Now, find the nearest Smoothie King and start driving!

Oral surgery recovery never tasted so good!
Now, I’d say these are enough tips to digest for now…and I’m off to finalize details for tomorrow’s assembly line lesson/toy showcase. The life of a teacher is never dull, even in the summer. I promise to write again sooner than later, and to offer some tips on allergen-free event planning. Until then, I wish you a summer of delicious food, good health, and memories to last a lifetime!
Courtesy of Pinterest!
Posted in Baltimore Recommendations

I Love You, Baltimore

Baltimore. It is a place now known and discussed nationwide…and certainly not for good reason. It is also the place I’ve called home for almost 5 years now. It is hard for me to believe that 5 years have already gone by and, I suppose like any long relationship, sometimes it is also hard for me to remember life before it. Once upon a time, I ate french fries without covering them in Old Bay; I had rarely seen Utz potato chips on a store shelf; I had no idea what a Berger cookie was…let alone how to spell that correctly; a sno-ball was nothing more to me than a spherical object tossed at someone after a January blizzard. Yes, in the almost 5 years since I arrived in Charm City, I have fallen in love with it. Someone actually warned me during my first year here to be careful about that. He insisted that you come here with a plan to simply attend school, finish an internship, etc., and then somehow, when you’re not paying attention, you fall in love with Baltimore and you never leave. Well, I’m not sure about the “never leaving” part…but the rest is certainly true.

Me with Baltimore’s unofficial mascot 🙂

Baltimore has become home to me, so much so that I moved back within the city limits just 6 weeks ago, after a 2-year stay in the suburbs. Contrary to what you’ve seen on the news this week,  Baltimore is a beautiful city. It is a place where people take great pride in their neighborhoods, their local businesses, and of course their beloved sports teams. The Inner Harbor is breathtaking; there are world-renowned hospitals and universities nestled within our little corner of the world; there is certainly no shortage of beautiful parks and there is nothing quite like a morning run along the waterfront downtown. However, Baltimore is also as dichotomous as it is beautiful. Just a few miles from that gorgeous Inner Harbor which shows up in every travel magazine are desolate neighborhoods. Empty storefronts and abandoned buildings are the norm. School buildings which long ago lost proper heating systems, ventilation, and even structural integrity still serve as home for students 6 hours a day…for the students who can get there, that is. Students ride multiple trains and buses just to get to magnet schools outside their district in an attempt to get a decent education…or simply to stay safe. This is the part of Baltimore no one wants to talk about, and the one that rarely gets attention. There is beauty in this piece of Baltimore too…you just might have to look a little harder to find it. 

I recently went for a run in my new neighborhood, which is less than 2 miles from the now-infamous Mondawmin Mall. As I ran, it stuck me how quickly everything changes. On one side of the (Light Rail) tracks, the neighborhood is gorgeous and flourishing; on the other side, empty buildings, even a once-beautiful church building sits empty. And yet as I ran, I passed residents in both neighborhoods. I tend to smile as I run past others and in the other neighborhood, I was often greeted by a smile, a wave, even a brief conversation with one friendly wandering gentleman who wished me a blessed day. When I got back to my own neighborhood, every person I passed was so engrossed in his or her own world (headphones in, eyes down) that I rarely got a response from anyone. These are not meant to be judgments/generalizations about anyone in either place, just an observation that struck me as interesting.

So what happened this week? I don’t quite know the answer to that question. I drove home from school on Monday feeling slightly concerned. Students in my class had told me hours earlier about things they had seen on social media regarding a gathering after dismissal. The typical Monday afternoon traffic was nonexistent, as I realized I was one of the few people driving south on 83 while there was a steady stream moving north. When I turned the corner to my apartment complex, I saw what made my heart sink: the basketball court at the end of the block, usually packed with 30-40 local students playing pick-up games after school, was completely deserted. I knew in that moment that something was wrong. Sure enough I noticed the helicopters flying overhead and went inside to sit in front of my television with tear-filled eyes as I watched teenagers, no older than my students, engaged in such destructive behavior.

The thing is my initial reaction was not the anger which many people seemed to feel right away. I mean, I’m not suggesting that what they did was in any way acceptable. It’s not. Such acts of violence are inexcusable. However, I couldn’t help but think of my former students back in DC as I watched what was unfolding on the screen. I thought about how they are now just a little younger than these students on the screen. I thought about the fact that no one is raised to hate or mistrust anyone; regardless of where or how you grow up, these are learned behaviors. I thought about how these teenagers must feel like they have literally nothing to lose. And I was heartbroken. I thought about the construction men from my math class this semester who told me about the feeling of hopelessness they had after serving their time in prison, about their failed attempts to build a new life for themselves when they were released; how they summed up the reality of life after incarceration in one succinct phrase: God forgives, but society? Not so much. This past week, “the other Baltimore” became the news story…but really, there is no such thing. We are all Baltimore. And just like a relationship in which two vastly different people attempt to coexist in a confined space for a long period of time, this week the relationship between vastly different worlds in Baltimore reached a breaking point. And, just like in any such relationship, it will likely remain that way until both sides are willing to communicate peacefully. Will that day ever come? I don’t know that either, but I won’t stop praying in earnest that it does.

I love Baltimore. I loved Baltimore last week, I love Baltimore today, and I will continue to love Baltimore tomorrow. That doesn’t mean I will ignore her faults, or pretend that she is something she’s not. Baltimore is not a perfect city, but she is a beautiful one. And just like every other person I love, I want her to become the best version of herself that she can be. I will continue to do my part to make sure that can happen. I don’t know exactly what that entails right now, but I’ll keep trying to figure it out. Peacefully.

In the meantime, to shed some positive light on Baltimore in the darkness of the week, I’d like to highlight some Katie-safe reasons why Baltimore is the perfect home, or even weekend destination, for a person with food allergies.

1) Sweet Sin: This bakery is ENTIRELY gluten-free. They make cakes, pies, cupcakes, bread, cookies, etc. If you’re simply gluten-free, this place is a dream come true. Even if you’re gluten-free/dairy-free, this place is still your dream (not everything is dairy-free, but there are LOTS of options). This is my go-to location for cupcakes en route to any event that might involve everyone else indulging in celebratory treats. It’s also just a really cute place with charming employees!

Delicious Sweet Sin cupcakes!

2) Meet 27: This is the bar/restaurant attached to Sweet Sin…so also ENTIRELY gluten-free. They also now have a carry-out option. The food is some of the best I’ve ever tasted…and I’m not exaggerating when I say that their sweet potato fries (battered in chickpea flour) are the most amazing dish I’ve tasted in my life, with or without allergies.

Just look at that plate of food. Need I say more…

3) Charmington’s: My favorite coffeeshop in the city by far. This is partially because coffee is delicious, partially because they make lattes with almond milk and homemade syrups in which they can tell you every ingredient, and partially because it’s around the corner from Sweet Sin so makes for a perfect Katie-safe coffee/cupcake afternoon. Granted, this is also the coffeeshop where the physicist and I reconnected on a rainy Friday night. So regardless of all those other reasons, it will always hold a very cherished place in my heart.

Beautiful beverages at Charmington’s.
The top one belonged to the Physicist and the bottom one was mine.
We were celebrating our “Coffee-versary”…doesn’t it only seem fitting that I would have such a thing?? 🙂

4) Joe Squared: This is place is usually known for its pizza, but it offers so much more. Just click here to see the amazing variety of gluten-free/vegan options. All risotto is gluten-free…AND can be vegan (yay, coconut milk!!). So are the wings. Let’s just say the options are nearly endless. At least as far as food-allergen menus are concerned 🙂

There are so many other places I could highlight, but for today I’ll stick to my favorites. Please, don’t be convinced by what is shown on television that Baltimore is simply chaos and destruction. We are not. Right now our harbor is lined with National Guard troops, the Ravens parking lot has become a command station of armored trucks, and we are understandably a city on edge. We are no doubt flawed, and right now you might even say broken. However, we are also beautiful, we are resilient, and we are hopeful; hopeful that someday soon, both peace and justice will reign in our beautiful city. Until then, I’ll continue my prayer: May God protect ALL people of this city; and may Christ’s love pervade every street corner, every citizen, and every heart in Baltimore this night and always. Amen.

Posted in Coffee!

A Cup of Coffee with Linda

It’s hard for me to believe, but you’ve been enjoying a “Cup of Coffee with Katie” for over a year and a half now; however, for quite some time before that, there was someone else who enjoyed a monthly cup of coffee with me: in real time, face-to-face, not through the interface of a digital screen. If you flip through my planners from the past few years (which yes, of course I keep!) you’ll notice the same entry somewhere on almost every monthly calendar: Coffee with Linda.

Linda was the first teacher I met at my new school when I arrived in Baltimore back in the summer of 2010. When I went to unload some boxes in my new middle school classroom, she was sitting across the hall at her desk in a classroom already decorated and prepared for the start of the new year (note: it was mid-July at this point). She and I were the 6th grade team that year and she helped me navigate the world of middle school: one which was completely foreign to this 2nd grade teacher transplant. We shared very few things in common: I was a math person, she was not; she LOVED the Ravens, I showed up on the first Friday of the school year in a black cotton dress with a yellow cardigan (a huge no-no I soon learned in this anti-Steeler city where I now reside); she was in her final year of teaching after a career which spanned 25+ years, I was a bright-eyed 3rd year teacher full of dreams for the future. And yet, two interests united us: a tendency to arrive at school before 6:30 AM to get work done, and (probably in large part due to this tendency) a devout love of coffee. We quickly became fast friends and would take turns stopping on Tuesdays, our self-designated “Treat Ourselves to Dunkin coffee” day, to purchase 2 large coffees. We’d share brief life updates over the first few sips and then retreat to our respective desks to plan for the day ahead. 
At the end of that academic year, Linda retired and I moved back down to the world of elementary to teach 3rd grade. It was around October of that year (2011) when our “Coffee with Linda/Katie” tradition was born. Each month we’d meet at Dunkin so I could fill her in on stories of life back in the classroom while she regaled me with stories of her retirement: books she finally had time to read, trips to Virginia she now could take, etc. In the years since, we have kept this tradition alive. She heard stories of my various moves to different grades, my health struggles, my great “Should I move to NYC to take this job I’ve been offered?” debate, etc. I got to hear about her daugther’s boyfriend who within a few coffee visits had become a fiance, and eventually the coffee date after the wedding where we scrolled through all the photos. The thing about monthly meetups is that time passes quickly between each one, and yet it’s enough time that only the major topics and events are really shared.  It was around this time last year that Linda’s health took a turn for the worse and many of our coffee meetups relocated to her hospital room or her house. Though her body was weaker, her spirit and her faith remained strong as I filled her in on the Physicist and she shared the news that she was going to be a grandmother. This past December I went to visit her at Hopkins (with 2 cups of Dunkin in hand of course!), and she finally got to meet the Physicist. We hadn’t even made it to the elevator on our way out when my phone buzzed with her evaluation: “He is such a sweetheart! I fully approve”. 
Unfortunately her health continued to decline and this past Friday, she peacefully left this world behind. I went back in my phone after a call from her daughter and saw that, fittingly, her last message to me was a picture of a stitch in her latest cross-stitch project which she captioned, “this stitch looks like the pi sign. Thought of you!”, followed by a “P.S. Hi to John!!” I had written her a response and also sent her a message on the now-infamous Pi Day 2015, but I now know her health precluded a response by that time. 
I wanted to share the story of our coffee tradition for several reasons. In part because I’ll miss our monthly meetups; in part because she’s yet another person who inspired me with the way she handled the numerous health setbacks and challenges which she faced over the past few years. Her prayer book was never far from her side, and she found great solace and strength in prayer and in her relationship with Christ, something I admired and also tried to emulate during my own health challenges. Lastly, because often times we think of friendship as something we share with people who look and think like we do. And yet, despite our decades-wide age gap, Linda and I became fast friends. We shared a tradition I cherished, we shared laughs over delicious coffee, and she shared advice which I’ll carry with me until the day I reach my sunset years of teaching and befriend a young, wide-eyed new teacher and take her out for a cup of coffee.
Tomorrow I’ll pay Linda one final visit, and I’ll certainly be downing at least one cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee on my way. I’d encourage you to do the same. Maybe buy 2, and then show up at work and strike up a conversation with someone new over your delicious cups of coffee. You never know when a new friend might be sitting at the desk just across the hall…

And of course, just this afternoon, an email landed in my inbox: an entire month of 99 cent coffee (any size!!) begins on Wednesday. I can’t help but wonder if Linda had a little something to do with this one…
Seriously though, if you don’t have DD perks, sign up now. April of 99 cent coffee, here we come 🙂
Posted in Married Life, Newly-Diagnosed

“There Is No Fear in Love; but Perfect Love Casts Out Fear”

It was almost 2 years ago now when I wrote my post about the perils and pitfalls of dating in a celiac/food-allergy world. I closed that post by saying, “Keep searching until you find Mr. or Miss “Right for You” (which by the way means they also have to choose you back). I’ll let you know if I ever find that person for me. Until then, I’ll be driving solo down the open road, loving my life, and keeping an eye out for potential passengers…and occasionally belting out my own solo ballad of course :-)”
Well, I’m a woman of my word, so this is me letting you know: I found him. Or really, he found me. We’ll just say we found each other…and I’ve never been so grateful for anything in my entire life. Meet… the Physicist.

Our paths first crossed 7 years ago when he and I were both wrapping up our senior years of college (his at Notre Dame and mine at Villanova) when one April weekend, I landed in South Bend for ACE Orientation weekend. ACE is the service-through-teaching/graduate program we had each decided (in our own parallel “late-night- down to the wire/what do I do with my life chat with a best friend” moments) to join following our respective graduations. Our paths rarely crossed again during our first summer of classes together, or in our first year of teaching, due to the fact that he was assigned to teach high school science and math in rural Louisiana, while I was assigned 2ndgrade in our nation’s capital. Then, as luck would have it, when we returned to South Bend for our second summer of classes, the physicist ended up as roommate to none other than the Saint in a Bow Tie, one of my ACE “brothers” and my closest friend that year. This of course meant many an evening when I came knocking on the door to collect rent (I had taken over DC house finances), catch up on life, or practice for our upcoming duet in the summer talent show. Each time, the physicist (NOTE: I didn’t call him that then) would answer the door, we’d exchange pleasantries (OK, let’s be honest, I was convinced I overwhelmed him with my overzealous exuberance for, well, everything in life). We shared a few conversations that summer I’m sure, but none that either of us really remember, other than one profuse apology from me for an early-morning knock at the door when The Saint in The Bow Tie had overslept for choir rehearsal.

Notice he’s standing right behind me in this group photo…this was before our coffee date 🙂
When our time in ACE ended, my school closed and I moved north to Baltimore. The Physicist decided to pursue his PhD and moved to College Park, MD…approximately 5 miles from the house I had called home in DC for two years. Over the subsequent years, we ran into one another on occasion at various ND/ACE alumni events, holiday parties, trivia night fundraisers, etc. Knowing my love for all things mathematical, he invited me to attend a Physics singalong at some huge Physicist conference in Baltimore a few years ago. Of course, that was the spring of constant sickness (when I didn’t realize dairy was the new culprit) so I had to back out at the last minute in favor of a doctor’s visit and my couch.  There were a few other opportunities which now of course make us wonder if we could have found our way to one another sooner…but then again, we both ascribe to the “Faith in God includes faith in his timing” philosophy, so we trust it had to be this way. Then last year, The Physicist was coming to Baltimore for a bike-riding event so we decided to meet for coffee while he was in town. Our planned “quick coffee before the race” turned into a 3-hour discussion about life, faith, philosophy, and food allergies and we both walked out of the coffee shop knowing that this was something special. In the time since that fateful night (remember what I said about timing?? I still thank God for letting it pour rain that night so bikes couldn’t ride!), the Physicist has become my loyal reading partner, my vigilant cooking companion, my sidekick for all kinds of funtivities, my caretaker when my confused immune system gets the best of me, my trusted confidant…in short, he’s become my best friend.

Now as any loyal readers know, I have a strict “I don’t talk about my personal life until I’m engaged” policy, both for my students and for my readers. Well, those days are over because… I’m engaged! Last weekend, on the most epic Pi Day of our lives (3.14.15) at the magical minute (9:26), the Physicist got down on one knee and proposed. To use the analogy from that first post, I found my co-pilot J

And he’s so much more than I could have even hoped for. I decided I was going to marry him the day he serenaded me with a song bearing my name as its title. I fell in love with him the day he wrapped his cutting board in parchment paper to make me breakfast, and didn’t even mention it, as if it were no big deal. (Granted, those events happened in that order…so that gives you an idea of how crazy my brain is sometimes!) He is the one person in the world I let cook for me on a regular basis. He greets me at his front door with a cup of fresh coffee as the proverbial prize for conquering the perils of the Baltimore-DC traffic commute. He made special trips to the Hispanic food section of a local grocery store to surprise me with genuine Mexican Coke (Note: that means no corn syrup!!) He dropped everything the day I ended up in the school nurse’s office and then the hospital and sat with me in my ER cubicle until my body calmed down enough to go home. He checks labels on everything he uses, and on the rare occasion where he notices an ingredient too late (it has only happened once!), he gives the otherwise perfectly delicious food to his roommates, and we hit up the nearest Chipotle. (Seriously, I’d say everyone won that night) He sits in the even more brutal DC-Baltimore rush hour traffic to come visit me when the cold and flu season proves victorious over my confused/weakened immune system. He understood without hesitation when I had to cancel one of our dates early on because some of some erratic cheese which made its way into my lunch. In fact, he bought me a get well card, scanned it, and sent it digitally, since snail mail would suggest “a pessimistic outlook on my recovery”. 

Now I could go on forever about him…but there will be plenty of time for that. A lifetime of it, in fact!  Maybe he’ll even write a guest post from time to time! (1st person account of life on the other side of a food-sensitive relationship!) However, I’d like to close by referring back to that original post once again. You may remember I described what I imagined in the one who could one day fill the co-pilot chair. If this were a job application, I think you’ll agree: the Physicist is overqualified.

Like everyone, I have some ideas:  I think he’ll be intelligent so we can engage in hours of scintillating conversation. (What good is a road trip companion if you can’t talk??) He already has a physics degree from Notre Dame, 2 Masters Degrees (Education and Physics) and is almost finished with his PhD, also in Physics. Need I say more?? Just kidding, aside from that, he knows more about philosophy, books, music, and the history of college football than anyone I know.  I think he’ll have a sense of humor…partially because he’ll need one to handle me, partially because I love to laugh. He does. Sometimes his jokes go completely over my head…but he’s good about explaining them to me.  He’ll offer advice on directions, traffic, and possible detours…but will trust me to make my own decisions that I think are best. He’ll offer to take over at the wheel when I’m looking a bit tired, frustrated, or just hopelessly lost…but will understand if I refuse his offer because I need to carry on by myself for a little longer. He won’t complain when I see signs and spontaneously decide I just have to stop in the Blueberry Capital of the World, the Carousel Capital of the World, and the Home of the World’s Largest Coffee Pot (he’ll even smile at seeing my intense level of excitement over each one)…but he’ll also have the foresight and nerve to put his foot down and rein in my crazy when I try to stop at the Hubcap Capital of the World or the Home of America’s First Wavepool. We may or may not have made an impromptu stop at the deathplace of Stonewall Jackson en route to see my godson last fall. And we took a tour. And pictures J  He’ll stay calm in traffic and understand my need to arrive 10 minutes early to pretty much every destination. I didn’t think it was possible, but I think I actually found someone who hates being late more than I do He’ll accept that no matter how far behind schedule we might be, if it’s a Sunday morning we’ll be “”-ing our way to a church. He’s so good he doesn’t need He just calls ahead, he meets with a priest in the hills of West Virginia just to square away my low-gluten host situation a few days prior to my arrival for a holy day, and he drives to the National Shrine early on a Sunday morning to buy a new pyx for my host when mine suddenly turns up missing…and yes, those are all true stories. He’ll notice when I’m struggling to unscrew the cap on my water bottle with my one free hand and without making it a big deal, he’ll come to my aid. He’ll understand that sometimes we need to stop talking and sit in silence for awhile. (I do my best deep thinking when I’m driving after all) He’ll be willing to handle radio duty and appreciate my desire to switch back and forth between every genre under the sun. And most of all, he better be willing to belt it out once in awhile. Every good road trip inevitably calls for a sing-along (or several) somewhere along the way. If he can’t handle that, I have a feeling we’re bound for failure. He LOVES to sing. In fact, he suggested singing in the car the other day and I’m the one who failed to join in. Talk about a role reversal! Today he also composed a violin score so we can play a new guitar/violin duet. Yep, I think you’re starting to see what I’m talking about 🙂

Before you panic, that’s my godson. We went to pay him a visit this fall 🙂
For anyone reading this right now, thinking to yourself, “Katie, I want to be genuinely happy for your right now, and I am, but it’s also really hard”…well trust me, I was right where you are. It was spring of 2011 and I was reading the story ofGluten-free Girl and the Chef. On one hand, she gave me hope that the darkness would pass, that there would come a day when I wasn’t sitting next to a trash can filled with now-poisonous food, fighting back tears as I searched for recipes, recommendations, and just plain hope. I wanted to believe that her magical story could come true for me too. I wanted to believe that someday I would be healthy and happy again, and that some wonderful man wouldn’t be scared off by my laundry list of food restrictions and the headaches that come from sharing a kitchen with me. I wanted to believe it more than I had wanted to believe anything in a long time…but I just couldn’t quite get there. Well, here I am, 4 years later (almost to the day), telling you that it did. It wasn’t always an easy road, but I can honestly tell you, wherever you are, that it will be worth it. Every awkward dinner conversation about your immune system, every even more awkward conversation about Scope, every tear you shed over the ones who just can’t make that a part of their world, every health setback that makes you increasingly sure that life will never be truly good again…it’s all worth it in the end. Please take my word for it. And because I know my word isn’t enough, print this out and hang it on your wall. It’s carried me through the darkest of times, and the brightest too of course. 

Rest assured that no matter how lost your feeling right now, there are so many wonderful days lying ahead for you. Now I know my own journey will be full of more pitfalls and potholes too, but for today I am just overwhelmed with joy, gratitude, and some level of disbelief over the fact that this is really my life. (If you don’t believe that, there’s a video to prove it!) I will spend the rest of my life thanking God for staying by my side through all the ups and downs, for the gift of health which I no longer take for granted, and most of all, for allowing the Physicist’s path to cross mine on a rainy spring night…

Oh, and for the record, I don’t call him The Physicist in real life (well, my co-workers and I did during the first few weeks we were dating). His name is John…or you can just call him my co-pilot 🙂

And now, let the Katie-safe wedding planning commence 🙂

Posted in Meals/Sides

If There Had Been Hashtags 15 Years Ago…

It’s hard to believe it has been a year since I wrote what remains the most shared/commented-on post about the silent hero in my life: my dad. I just re-read that post and I can honestly say there isn’t much more I could add to summarize who he was, how he has shaped the person I’ve become, and how he lives on in my heart 15 years after our final hug. I know he would be a big supporter of the year of fiscal responsibility, as his money-saving skills were far superior to anyone I’ve ever met. I know he would be shaking his head in amusement watching my mom attempt to master her new iPhone (I know, she has one before I do! It’s a crazy world we live in.) And I know he’d be overjoyed right now…because it’s Lent, and what does that mean?? It means seafood is everywhere (among other theological truths of course :-))

Now don’t get me wrong, my dad LOVED meat. And by that I mean beef in particular. He loved a juicy steak, he perfected some of the oddest meatloaf recipes I’ve ever tasted, and the man loved his hamburgers. If I remember the story correctly, he even stopped at Burger King on his wedding day. I mean, clearly the one thing better than marrying the amazing woman who is now my mom is marrying her with a Whopper in your stomach 🙂 However, his true love (in food terms) was seafood, namely lobster. Granted, his penny-pinching self only allowed for lobster about once a year, but there was the occasional homemade popcorn shrimp night for special dinners. So this week as I sat down with my weekly meals dry-erase board (really, does it surprise you that I have such a thing? Seriously, it’s amazing) I knew tomorrow would be the 27th and thus my traditional meal of a once cheeseburger, now sans cheese, and a Diet Pepsi would be on the menu. Of course, then I noticed: 27th = Friday. And it’s Lent. Now what…

Though I briefly considered talking to my pastor about some kind of sanctioned switch to meatless Thursday this week, I realized that would not at all be the best way to honor my dad. The man loved seafood…so what better way to celebrate his memory than with some variety of crustacean on a Lenten Friday? Granted, I have yet to determine exactly what that will be…but I live in Baltimore so I have a feeling crabmeat will have to be involved. Now since I don’t have tomorrow’s dinner exactly figure out yet, I don’t have that recipe to share. However, I do have another one which I’ve been meaning to share but haven’t had time (I’m currently taking not 1, but 2, online courses in addition to my regular teaching load/night class…I’m not sure what I was thinking). And fittingly, this recipe also relates to tomorrow’s celebration of my dad’s life too.

For someone who loved meat so much, it might surprise you to hear that my dad also loved veggie burgers. It’s true. There were times when his medications and treatments had his sleep patterns a bit off kilter, so he would often be up in the middle of the night. He would sit at the kitchen table, working on a crossword puzzle and eating his post-midnight snack: a frozen veggie burger. If you’ve ever heated one up in the microwave, you know they leave a pungent odor which still lingered in the kitchen when I’d stumble in at 6:00 AM. I hated them back then, but in the years since I’ve learned to love them myself. However, for those of us with food allergies, those frozen ones are not an option. Wheat, soy, and corn abound in every variety I’ve found. Fortunately, I’ve become a pro at making my own, with the help of my mini-food processor.

Katie-safe/Lenten-Friday-safe Black Bean burgers
1 can black beans
1/2 cup cooked quinoa
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1/2 bell pepper, chopped
1-2 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. garlic
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. cilantro
crushed red pepper flakes to taste
1/4 cup brown rice crumbs
3 Tbsp. flaxseed + 9 Tbsp. water (egg replacer) *NOTE: if you can eat real eggs, use them! The texture still isn’t quite the same with the flaxseed replacer*
 1. Cook the quinoa as you normally would.

2. While the water/quinoa is boiling, cut up the pepper and onion. Then sautee with the seasonings until the vegetables are tender.

3. Combine everything (cooked quinoa and veggies + remaining ingredients) in the food processor and blend until pureed. 

*NOTE: if your food processor is small, you may have to do this in batches!*
4. Form into patties and pan fry in grapesed oil!

5. Enjoy!!

Clearly, I excelled at Step 5, because I never stopped to take a picture when I made these. Anyway, there you have it: a great you-safe Lenten Friday alternative. Or a 3 AM snack while you crossword…totally your call. 
Lastly, as I sit in my living room surrounded by boxes and crates, I have one final thought. I spent my day sifting through pictures, scrapbooks, and other mementos you only seem to come across when moving; (yep, I’m on the move once again and only have 7 day remaining in this apartment so I’m in the midst of “eat everything in the freezer/how did I manage to accumulate this much stuff in 18 months??” madness at the moment. I’m only moving a few miles away, and given the frigid temperatures lately, my frozen foods can easily make the move with me…I just really hate packing so this week is going to be all kinds of crazy meal concoctions. I’ll be sure to document and eventually write a post on that too!) While I was packing I listened to a news story about how social media has changed the greiving process, how people take to Facebook, Twitter, etc. to share memories of a person which may otherwise remain unshared, to empower others through the story of someone they may have never known. As I watched the profile of a movement inspired by the untimely loss of a young dad, I couldn’t help but think to myself that the world has certainly changed a lot in 15 years. When our dad left this earth behind, there was no such thing as a hashtag, at least not in the terms we know it today. But if there had been such thing back then, I’m sure there would have been some kind of #LiveLikeEd movement (or Eddie, depending on what branch of the familly tree you happened to sprout upon). So tomorrow, and everyday, I’m going to do my best to do just that, without the hastag. I’ll do my best to spark the movement simply by living like my dad: courageously, honorably, faithfully, and joyfully. And savoring the joy of long showers and naps, of course 🙂