Soul food

I like to read and also read cookbooks.

My favorite non-guilty, yet food related, pleasure is (and always will be) the both in one place:

“My son decided one hour into yesterday’s 90 degree morning yesterday (sic) that he’d had eee-nufff of the heat and of having an Ace bandage on his sprained ankle and no, he would not, could not, stop yelling. I hear you, kid, I really do. And so we decided that only a South American brain freeze would make things better and look, I don’t mean to oversell them, I don’t, but you must believe me when I tell you: this drink solves everything.”

When I venture to a recipe via pinterest or my go-to’s in my subscription dock I don’t usually take the time to read the story with the recipe. Unless it’s seemingly difficult, I scroll till I find the nugget of ingredients and master-plan my way through discovering something new.

It’s a different kind of recipe from Smitten Kitchen or authors like Shauna Niequist, because first it’s a tale. A story to gather around, a little space to agree on the little things and notice that we all bring something different to the table.

I like that about food. And writing.

the other side of gluten: your life on less convenience.

Yes, going gluten free was a huge and radical improvement for our daughter, but also a huge and radical under-taking for our house, the meals we eat, the time we spend at a table, the finances involved in grocery shopping and so on and so forth.

It kind of takes over. And it more than pays off, but about 19 days into no more drive through quick fixes to the never ending question of “what’s for dinner?!!” my body started aching a little bit from the level of commitment involved.

The implications of an allergy like this bleed into all aspects of life. Social, educational, after school priorities, free time. Yadda, yadda. I knew that there would be issues with school lunches as Jessica has been a lover of the hot lunch menu since we started allowing her to get one. The choices! The sugar drinks! The high of self-monitoring and decision making. It’s all very exciting. And so much cheaper.

Gone are her days on the hot lunch line. Now she takes a lunch from home every single day. Some times her lunch smells weird because we let her take things like mozzarella and balsamic vinegar. Or deviled eggs. The days when treats are brought into her class room, I get an email from the teacher and either deliver an alternative to her myself or agree on an alternative I’ve already supplied her classroom. When there’s a pizza party? I independently order a gluten free pizza and deliver it to her myself.

The most convinient food we can pick up if I’ve poorly planned our day is a rotisserie chicken from our grocery store – but even that’s a gamble. Fries with seasoning from your drive through – can’t have em. Buns the burgers come with? No. Dressings for salads, depends. No croutons, no multicolored tortilla chips. No thick soups, not even Wendy’s chili.

But gluten free doesn’t mean sugar free. In fact most of the gluten free store-bought alternatives to her favorites are pumped with sugar and salt to make up for the taste or to “mask” the taste. And the flours that are gluten free? Potato, for instance, is higher on the glycemic index.

Gluten free doesn’t automatically mean healthier. Often times, it’s allergen free – but much worse on a nutritional scale.

This is the research I’ve done, for the kinds of foods we like to eat.

So – I make almost everything from my own kitchen. Potato chips? At least I know the kind of oil I fry them in and the farm where the potato’s came from.

Making potato chips for our #glutenfree girl, trying my hardest to make her feel "normal" at school.

We eat the same amount of meat and fish, less pasta. Unless it’s gluten free (Costco has a brand we like) … but pasta isn’t a staple. Mac n Cheese is a treat.

I'm learning how to cook meat correctly. My new favorite color is pink. #flanksteak #nailedit #thatswhatisaid

Going out to eat is getting easier – most places have a menu for allergies or freely offer their GF options on a regular menu. Cross contamination is huge though in these kitchens. You have to decide where you’ll draw the line for your own family. For your sanity, convenience. The need to actually have a life.

Which is why I do it. Until we have a handle on this and until we know her limits better, this is how it works for us. It’s easier and more controllable when I know what’s touching her lips.

Honey-lime salmon tostadas. #glutenfree #homemadekitchen

Some nights at the dinner table every one is happy. We eat rice, quinoa, millet, caulirice … some nights the “carb” on our plate is a starch – or there’s just protein. We’re figuring it out. (Some nights at the table end in tears from Oliver over the choices on his plate or a fit from Jessica because it doesn’t taste the same as it used to.)

I mentioned before that she’s advocating for herself. She’s also an 8 year old kid who loves gold fish crackers and pizza and wants to mindlessly snack with her friends on the playground. She’s forgotten and come home with a stomach ache because when someone offered her a snack, she accepted. We make mistakes and this isn’t fool proof.

Gluten Free (Paleo) cupcakes

I think my top 3 tips to be prepared would be:

Have a cubbie in the fridge and/or one dedicated drawer in our kitchen for snacks that are safe. Snack-size ziplocs of grapes, strawberries, dried fruits, GF pretzels, GF fruit snacks, nuts, seeds, GF baked goods; string cheese, fruits and veggies, pepperoni, their favorite lunch meats … etc.

Identify your staples and keep them on hand. For us they are; corn chips (or fritos), almonds, dried cherries, fruit leather, eggs, pepperoni, peanut butter, salsa, one rotating baked good, frozen fish, popcorn kernels. I could go on, but these are the things I make the most or we snack on the most.

Plan ahead, grocery shop with a list, give yourself time. These could also be on the top of the list titled “SHIT THAT NEVER HAPPENS”. So I know. I get it. This is where commitment kicks in. It’s not easier but it does GET easier.

I know some of you are in the throws of making changes in your own kitchens – what’s been the most impacting change so far?? And how do you do it when you absolutely can’t stand to look at another recipe or dirty dish? (I’m asking for a friend ….)

Going Gluten Free.


We’ve been here before (circa 2008) and I’ve made the transition in our kitchen a priority before. We noticed a huge difference in health – both physical and mental.

The first time we did this it was all very new. Not many options were available in stores and there was a much larger learning curve. But together we learned how to make GF bread and I experimented with cookies as well as a few other recipes.

Then we sold everything and moved into a 900 sq ft apartment for a year while building a home that we would sell before completing and almost being homeless before we found another home to rent for 9 months while we tried, unsuccessfully, twice, to buy another house. Until we bought this one. And here we are. That was a mouth full, you have a few crumbs on your chin. Here, let me get that for you.

Gluten Free (Paleo) cupcakes

So how did we get here again? To put it simply, our daughter started showing signs of the allergy becoming more than a food option. It started lurking around us like an ultimatum.

The decision to go gluten free wasn’t an experiment this time, we have doctors tests and allergy confirmations to back this up – and we’re armed with the ability to fight for her because not even 48 hours into the diet change we found the light in our girls eyes again.


I bought a few cook books to start me off and transformed my self-rising flour cupboards to GF flours and mixes for the transitional period. While doing that, I started baking and cooking from Against All Grain with Almond and Coconut flours and while I still have GF mixes to use, I won’t be looking back.

Paleo cooking and baking has been one of the only ways I’ve been able to stabilize my blood sugar with my insulin injections. I don’t have headaches or stomach aches and the digestive lives inside our home are, for the first time in years, acting like healthy organ systems and balancing hormones, immunity and our gut.

I’ve openly mourned gluten but being a few weeks on the other side of it – this is more than doable.

Here’s some photo evidence for you. This summer we had so many awesome memories and I tried hard to be ready with my camera. There’s generally a lot of hoop-ing and hollering on my end to get my kids to look at the camera and smile. Jessica’s used to the camera and doesn’t mind having her photo taken but it was so hard to capture the light in her eyes. Most of the time, there wasn’t any. Just a smile and swollen eyes and rosy red cheeks.

Ludington State Park


Wranglin' my favorites at the Holland Arts Opening tonight.

Walk-a-thon! #maroonplatoon

She’s a happy kid but we struggled with outbursts, no ability to focus, major hormonal influxes and extreme mood swings. I went to bed most nights wondering how to get through to her. I’m emotional and dramatic, I’ll admit that, but I felt like I was constantly failing at being her mother. At being a mother at all. There were tears and I didn’t know how to help her.

I won’t go in to more detail but if you’re specifically interested in our process you can email me and we’ll chat.

Aside from the emotional and mental side of why we omitted gluten there were health concerns for her as well. We went cold turkey on a weekend when the following week was a short one for school. Which I was thinking would make it easier for school lunches etc if she could tell a difference at home and want to carry it over to her school day hours as well. These photos were taken 24 hours after we omitted gluten. Still swollen eyes, but can you see the light?

Sunday fun day

Do you see her dimples? Can you feel that joy? It was infectious. I haven’t really stopped being obsessed with this change in her personality.

We read poetry after dinner while she played with my hair. And then she couldn't stop smiling. And I can't either.

This one! #glutenfree

But my favorite comparison is her school work. On the left in the photo below you have school work that her teacher saved for us at her conferences. The assignment on the left was a huge improvement for Jessica in the ladder part of her first quarter of school. We routinely saw unfinished school work come home, and instead of her advancing levels in reading, writing or mathematics – we noticed she was going backwards in her ability or staying at a level for far too long while her classmates moved beyond her. She also couldn’t control her self, often doodling all over her work and none of it had to do with what she was supposed to be working on. Just scribbles. All over.

A comparison: on the left is an assignment of Jessica's while on gluten. This assignment was a huge improvement in neatness and focus ability, this was a "win" for her at conferences. On the right is Jessica's penmanship and work off gluten. Maybe it's ju

On the right you have an assignment from 2 weeks later, off gluten. Is she allowed to doodle while she listens in class? Absolutely. I’m a proponent for doodling in active listening and learning. But the assignments we were seeing with doodling were independent studies. Tests. Work time. Not active listening or classroom/collaborative work. These two assignments only weeks apart are independent worksheets she was asked to complete with the rest of her class, on her own.

All of sudden the extra work involved in cooking and baking, no more hot lunches, delivering gluten free pizza and birthday treat alternatives to her class are a non-issue for me. Because we started seeing this at our dinner table every night …

and I missed her so much it hurt.

I found my girl, with the dimples we saw on her sonogram and the light of the world, infectious personality: we found her underneath an allergy and I’ll do whatever it takes to keep her above it.

**Cupcakes and frosting I photographed in this post are Paleo

Fall Trail Mix [recipe]

You’re right, I’m hardcore ignoring the literal mountain of laundry to fold, the dinner that hasn’t made it in to the oven (yet is prepared) and a to-do list of emails, contracts, homework, work and other general life stuff to bring you this trail mix. I’m also ignoring the thousands of Spain photos I have to touch and the ginormous photo-storage problem I’ve accumulated over the last 7 years.

Because I have to start somewhere. And the trail mix won.

Fall Trail Mix!

You’ll need a few things:

Candy Corn
Sesame Seeds
Pumpkin Seeds

Fall Trail Mix!

I had a handy little 5-year old helping me draw, he traced a pretzel for you. He also ate the little pile of them. Research.

You could add other nuts but both kids have rules about tree nuts and peanuts in their classrooms so I left them out. Go crazy with the dried fruit, pineapple? DO IT. Make it to your liking, there are no rules.

I dumped everything in a huge bowl and stirred gently with a wooden spoon til combined then I dumped it right into my large canister (bought at Walmart. It was probably $12, I can’t remember.) and set it out on my counter. The kids can have it as a snack after school or in their lunch and it’s festive. When it’s gone, I’ll replace it with the Homemade Haut-Chocolate.


After-school Bakery

I’ve waited for Jessica to fall in-love with reading. We’ve fostered the art of books from day one, constantly reading to her, with her. Championing her on the journey to self-reading. Buying comic books, or comic-styled books, in hopes that they’d hold her attention with the smaller bubble of print. They did … for a day.

Jessica likes results, as it turns out. She loves to learn, but in a group. She loves to engage and entertain and experience the world around her. She doesn’t want to read about it. She wants to do it.

Spring Break was a blast and we stamped our little passports to our hearts content, until one day nothing was content any more. I couldn’t handle the constant need for entertainment, the maid service I had become. I didn’t want to be my kids’ chauffeur or open-ended bank account of fun. (Even though, let’s be honest, it’s fun for me too. And just plain easier most of the time.)

We had play dates and I had amazing conversations with friends. The week was not a waste, none of it boring. All of it worth the sweat and tears that came with a wild, no-routine, off-kilter, let’s-do-anything! week. In between the morning’s out, afternoons adventure’s, or special camp-outs in the basement … we stayed home. In our pj’s, screens banned from our eyes, books open.

Jessica picked up a cook book.

She's making Chelsea Buns. #yeast #breadmaking #springbreak

And she started reading. And, then, together … we started baking.

Jessica's "Chelsea Buns"! My little yeast-wrangler.

I was too hands-on at first, not wanting a cloud of flour to explode – I hovered too closely at times. But she would struggle against my pull of restrain – she would huff and puff or just nudge her way around and soon she was telling ME what she needed.

Yeast, where do you keep that?

It says 4 eggs! (woah!)

I don’t like raisins, let’s do chocolate instead.

She made Chelsea Buns, the next day she made Sesame Seed Buns and egg salad and deviled eggs.

Jessica bakes bread

Today she makes sesame seed buns. #jessicabakesbread

And we gathered around our table, plates full of the homemade food Jessica made for us. A sandwich bar with homemade bread, egg salad, all the fixings (and pickles!) and we said Thank You. To her. We thanked her for the work she did, for feeding us. We complimented her skills, it was delicious and she got shy. Beautifully aware of loving others, she didn’t want us to recognize it.

It was sublime.

Today, first day back at school, I packed her lunch full of the food’s she prepared and she came home, full.

Then we baked some more. Cookies, her first sour-dough starter, brown-sugar meringue.

And instead of falling in love with reading a book, she’s falling in love with practicing one. Or two, or however many she can find. And tonight before bed she asked if she could write one, too? Like, maybe a cookbook? With me?

She threw out a few name ideas and I loved them – she rhymed every one. Then I said “How about ‘After-school Bakery?'” and she giggled, walked over, and told me she was going to hug me now.

And all of a sudden I don’t care if she ever likes to read. Books would have never been there to squeeze her back ….

Book-Nook bedtime stories. A rhinoceros? Preposterous!

but I always will.