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 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 (

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 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 🙂

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 🙂