This is just a short little anecdote that happened this morning. I make my kids’ lunches everyday but my older one is in middle school now where he can also get something there if he so desires~ a mango smoothie, Doritos, or whatever he feels is missing from his lunch that day. I’m not thrilled with his options which seem to include every chip that has ever graced a grocery store shelf, but I do not tell him things are off-limits because really, he could get whatever he wanted and I’d never know. I encourage him to try things while being aware of what is actually in his food. This morning he asked, “If they want us to eat healthy, why do they provide so much junk food?” A very good question indeed. They make the kids who buy a full lunch take raw veggies from the salad bar, as if that will balance out the meal, but of course kids just throw away what they don’t want. Salad bars are great in lunch rooms, but sometimes I think they give permission to make the rest of the food nutritionally void and allow vending machines full of junk in the cafeteria. My son has a very good point, why allow that stuff at all? Why not make foods with veggies naturally in them~ soups, lasagna, enchiladas, tacos, casseroles, chilies, stir fries, etc…? Actually, I heard about a school cafeteria that has a stir fry bar which I think is better than a salad bar by far. The kids pick out meat and veggies and have them stir fried with rice or noodles while trying different sauces and flavors and most likely trying different veggies as they compare lunches with their friends. It’s eating a meal with the vegetable in it and enjoying it, not plopping some raw veggies down next to their pizza and either eating them because of a sense of duty or just pitching them. Plus everyone knows it is easier to get the nutrition out of a cooked vegetable than a raw one. It seems the school cafeterias are set up to perpetuate the notion that kids only like junk food but will possibly eat some healthy stuff if they are made to do it in small amounts, on the side. That is not giving kids enough credit. They deserve more.
Finally it’s fall here and our kitchen is alive with soupy smells and warm light instead of the harsh heat of this past summer, and the intermittent construction that had me searching for appliances, counter space, and counters, actually. It’s been fun making French green lentils again, minestrone, polenta, and risotto, without sweating and/or swearing. A welcome change. While our little kitchen has been turning out more variety than ever, such as this great soup: Egyptian Red Lentil Soup (read the comments below the recipe and modify according to taste, but for our family I doubled the cumin as several people suggested) and this delicious Pumpkin Spice Granola from Celiac in the City, it is hitting me even harder than ever that my kids’ schools’ lunch menus are like a study in wheat. Can school cafeterias really not think outside the gluten box? Every single day the main food item has wheat~ lasagna, chicken nuggets, pizza, hamburgers, hot dogs, spaghetti, sandwiches, and on and on. Is it really that hard to mix it up a bit? No wonder so many people have reactions to gluten~ any time you saturate your body with one ingredient your body starts to react to that ingredient, and Americans love their gluten. My older son forgot his lunch one day so he ended up getting nachos with fresh carrots and steamed broccoli on the side. He said the carrots were stale and the broccoli was gross, and this is a kid who literally cheers when I make broccoli and orders it out at dinner~ he loves it, so I can’t imagine how this broccoli was ‘gross’. I’m glad he was able to find gluten-free food, but if the vegetables they offer are either raw and stale (he knows a stale carrot when he eats one. My kids eat raw carrots every single day.) then of course the kids aren’t going to choose those items. It just doesn’t make sense to me why they don’t offer soups full of veggies, roasted vegetables, or more grain and beans together like a rice and black beans, or quinoa and lentils~ these are not overly expensive and they are not hard to make. They’d give kids a break from wheat every once in a while and are nutritious, filling meals. Of course I’m all in favor of the schools having school gardens to help grow some of those herbs and vegetables too, but at the very least we could improve the lunch menus. Jamie Oliver is making real strides in England which shows the time is right~ people are starting to take school lunch nutrition seriously. Over on our side of the Atlantic Chef Ann is tackling school nutrition through several different initiatives and proving people are willing to listen and change. Let’s keep the energy going in that direction! Maybe it’s the cool fall air, or maybe it’s the bright warm kitchen, but I’m starting to feel cautiously optimistic.
Our summer began much the same way as last year’s summer, with a trip to Louisville, KY to see family. This year we ate multiple times at Annie May’s Sweet Café and were even picked up from the airport with big pretzels from there (thanks Mom!!) which were the first we have had in years and something my youngest misses very much. They only have them on Wednesdays and if you really want a lot of them you best get there early. If you find yourself there on another day there are plenty of other delicious foods to eat though~ I recommend getting a sandwich while my oldest adores the soup there and the carrot cake cupcake. My youngest had a ‘super cookie’ which he thought more than lived up to its name and in fact all the sweets we tried did not disappoint. They have a sign that says they deliver which my son got all excited about until I explained that meant deliveries around town, not to Seattle. Talk about bursting someone’s bubble.
We also went to Holiday World again and was even more impressed with their gluten-free options than last year. (Disneyland/world take notes please!) Besides the fact you can find allergy free food as well as just gluten-free food about anywhere in the park, they now set up a little stand that is completely gluten-free.
We flew on Delta and brought our own food which was good since the free snacks were cookies or pretzels. The boys used to be able to eat those cookies so that was sad, but they got over it while sipping ginger ale and eating from their over-stuffed food bags. I had packed enough for an all day delay like the one we experienced last year and since the flights went actually well we ended up with a lot of left-over food. Delta does have one gluten-free option for buying food, something snack-y and overpriced of course, but at least if you are starving you do have something to eat.
We came home to a ripped-up kitchen (husband is remodeling) and continually high 80s and 90 degree heat with no A/C so cooking has not exactly been my favorite pastime thus far this season. I tend to love the heat but after a few evenings of sweating through dinner prep even I am ready for a break in the high temperatures. The farmers market on Saturdays is booming with berries already though with the best blueberries in June I’ve ever had, and my friend just brought over fresh picked raspberries last night and those are the best I’ve ever tasted in any month so I guess the sun and heat are working for some things. I sure hope this means we’ll have an extra long berry season and not just an early one that is over as quickly as it popped up. After the trip to see family my sons were a little sick of photos but I had to take this of the Saturday Farmers Market. There are less gluten-free vendors there this year but my oldest still gets his favorite street tacos there and my youngest has discovered kettle corn. It’s worth the trip for those alone.
The boys were excited to plant vegetables and herbs in the garden for Earth Day. I hope they are just as excited to eat them this summer. My older one will be for sure. If you are wondering which one is older, look for the blue stripes and boss-man brow. More and more people are asking me if they are twins, much to their chagrin. One thing about my younger son, though he be picky he is still growing like a weed. Or it might be better to say, growing like a misunderstood wild herb. Little dandy lions.
Pizza is one thing nobody should be forced to live without. I tried Schar’s pizza crusts for the first time last night and the pizzas were delicious. I love the fact that there is an actual raised crust on the perimeter of the circle~ that’s the first I’ve seen that in all my gluten-free pizza trials. Does that make sense? Maybe a picture is in order:
See what I mean? And it’s on a large dinner plate so that is the size of the crust~ enough for two with a side salad unless you are feeding growing boys in which case it is convenient that one box comes with two crusts inside.
I made mine with pesto, mozzarella, orange and yellow peppers, red onion (which I always want to call purple onion) and sun-dried tomatoes. Delicious. And the crust is not only gluten-free, it is also dairy and egg free which is another hard to find aspect in the gluten-free pizza world. Another thing that sets this crust apart is that it is actually filling in the same way gluten crusts are. You know how a lot of gluten free things feel airy and not substantial? This feels like you are eating something real. Mmmm~ I think it’s time for leftovers…
My son woke up yesterday with a nasty cough. It was the middle of the night when he first started coughing (isn’t that always the case?) so I put some lavender on his pillow to help him sleep and help him fight off the cold. He did sleep but the cold set in unfortunately, although it isn’t a bad one with only a cough and runny nose keeping him home from school. He is full of energy and doesn’t have a fever which make it especially hard for him to just sit around the house sniffing and coughing. He’s been using a sinus rinse but his nose just fills back up immediately, so I went in search of my Eucalyptus oil.
Of course, I found all kinds of old oils that I haven’t used in probably a decade, in fact some are labeled in Czech so I must have bought them when I lived in Prague 15 years ago!
They have been stored in a cool dark place though and still smell vibrant and active. Of all the oils in the box though, I could not find the one I wanted, Eucalyptus, and my son said it is kind of like trying to find the right Lego in a box of loose Legos. You just never find the one you want…
These aren’t all the oils, just the ones not in heavy use. I have some in our bathroom and several in our kitchen in two different holding areas. But after checking all those places, there was no Eucalyptus to be found, BUT, I did find a combination that works just as well~ E-M-C, which stands for Eucalyptus, Menthol, and Camphor. After put some liberally on the front of his clothing I added it to our diffuser and we both found ourselves breathing easier. It is such a fresh scent and it is amazing how it works through the gunk that likes to clog sinuses and allow for deep breathing. E-M-C is also great for sore muscles. If you have ever used Tiger Balm or Ben-gay, you’ll understand why. We will rotate oils throughout the day and happily I found a handy old essential oil chart which lists oils I hadn’t even thought of as good for colds and coughs. Here are the lists with the ones good for both in bold:
Colds: Angelica, Basil, Benzoin, Black pepper, Camphor, Cinnamon, Cypress, Eucalyptus, Frankincense, Garlic, Ginger, Marjoram, Peppermint, and Tea-tree.
For Coughs: Angelica, Aniseed, Benzoin, Bergamot (drink Earl Grey Tea!), Bois de Rose, Camphor, Cardamom, Cinnamon, Eucalyptus, Frankincense
We all could use help remembering to breath deeply and easily. Having essential oils around is a good way to remind oneself to do just that.
Halloween is a mixed-emotion day for anyone with food allergies or intolerances. It’s hard to be a kid and go from the excitement of having a bag full of candy to the disappointment of setting aside all the forbidden ones. Luckily Halloween has always been more about the dressing up than the candy for my kids , but it’s still always a big let-down when they sort their goodies. I try to have extra gluten-free, dairy-free candy here that the can trade for the stuff in their bags, including some of their favorite chocolates that they are certainly not going to find trick-or-treating. It helps. And it also gives them some character really, to have to show some judgment, understand consequences, give up some things that are hard to give up because it’s the healthier choice for them. They get to learn it isn’t the end of the world to part with some candy and that is a lesson in emotional maturity that I can be thankful for. They handle it, and so do I. Let’s enjoy this day everyone! Be safe and have fun.
Have you been looking for a gluten-free, dairy free, nut free, and egg free graham cracker? Schar has you covered.
I don’t know about you, but after three weeks of making school lunches and snacks for two, I was about out of fresh ideas. Then I saw these new lovelies at my local Whole Foods and my mind raced with excitement~ grahams with sun butter, or peanut butter, or vegan cream cheese! Smores for a special treat! Taken as they are for a snack! And of course, covering them in (dairy free) chocolate because I don’t care how old you are nor how sophisticated your palate, everyone loves chocolate covered graham crackers.
Now I know people who professionally cover things in chocolate have a big routine with the melting and the hand mixing and spreading and all that, but really you can do these very simply and trust me, they taste divine. All I did was take apart a dark chocolate bar (Endangered Species brand)
then dipped the grahams (with the help of tongs) and let them cool down and solidify on wax paper:
I then tried melting and dipping with some Enjoy Lifevegan chocolate chips I happened to have in my cupboard and they turned out to have a more milk chocolate taste and were also slightly lighter in color as you can maybe see in the picture. They then went into the refrigerator for further solidifying and safe keeping. They would last a week in the fridge if my sons let them, but chances are they have three days at most.
These were so easy and such a rare treat I think this will be what I do for my kids’ birthday celebrations in their classrooms this year. Each child will get two along with a few strawberries, and I can guarantee not a one will miss the gluten, dairy, eggs, or nuts. So much better than cupcakes and if anyone doesn’t like chocolate (I’ve heard a rumor these people exist) then they can have some plain Schar grahams which are a tasty treat in their own right. Perfect!
This is a little bit off topic from my norm here, but an old English major can only go so long without writing about books. Isn’t there a saying~ “You can graduate the English major from school but you can’t take the schooling out of the English major”….or something along those lines. My boys have been reading their own books, often in bed but also on lazy afternoons and rainy Saturdays for years now, but I have continued to also read them bedtime stories which means finding a book they both want to hear. This isn’t actually too hard since they are less than two years apart and share many interests but still takes some hunting. Plus we also listen to books in the car, sometimes the same one as we are reading aloud but usually not, so we have been exposed to quite a lot of children’s literature. My oldest the other day asked me what had been my favorite book so far in our reading aloud category and it got me thinking of all the amazing stories out there that really have been a pleasure to share with my little guys, so I thought I’d compile a list here of some of those favorites to share with anyone looking for ideas for their own family or classrooms.
These aren’t in any particular order other than what my memory coughs up, and I’m going to add links to amazon just for convenience sake. We got most of these from our local library ourselves.:
1. Nurk by Ursula Vernon This book is about a shrew (!) who goes on an adventure. The suspense, relationships, and vocabulary are all pitch perfect. He grows in believable ways through understandable adversities that aren’t kid-ified. Vernon also wrote the Dragonbreath series which I didn’t read but it was the first series that really captured my youngest’s fancy and made him into a real reader on his own time. Ages 5-9
2. Nim’s Island by Wendy Orr It seriously takes an exceptional book to keep my sons’ interests if the main character is a girl. They loved this book where this young girl is on an island all by herself and shows a degree of intelligence and self-reliance that is not often seen in this age of helicopter parenting. There is also a bit of animal communication which is always appealing to at least my own kids, and the author keeps the child-like perspective in mind the whole time without ever being condescending, silly, or forced. Well done. Best guess~ 6-9 year olds.
3. Stuart Little by E.B. White How did I get through childhood without reading this one? My kids tell me all the time that they aren’t “in” to classics but both loved this one. It’s a classic for a reason. And ageless.
4. Circle of Doom by Tim Kennemore Despite the dark sounding title, this is a laugh-out-loud book, especially if you have a big family, are from a big family, or have a connection to a big family. The hilarity revolves around the family dynamics of the three siblings who each think they are outwitting the others. The parents make pretty funny appearances as well. Kennemore has done a fabulous job taking archetypal family members that anyone can recognize and making them seriously funny. 7-13~ really easy read but there are a couple of bad words (like the ‘d’ word) so when reading aloud I just changed them. I feel like I should clarify, when I say “easy read” that doesn’t account for the fact that a lot of the hilarity is nuanced and I actually laughed more than my kids did because of that aspect, so maybe the age recommendation should actually be 7-39.
5. The Silverwing Trilogy by Kenneth Oppel We actually listened to the first book of this in our car (on CD) and now my boys are reading the second book themselves. This is told from the point of view of a silverwing bat and the drama that he and his friends and family go through is epic, exciting, sometimes gruesome and other times beautiful. There are also lessons in religious fanaticism layered in and several mythologies made up entirely by Oppel. He is an extremely creative author and this trilogy is an award winner. We’ve read two other books by him, The Boundless and Airborn, which my sons liked though I think they are better read by a slightly older reader (12+) due to the romantic relationships and the fact that Oppel makes his bad guys excruciatingly evil. He does this in Silverwing too, but somehow the evil bats are not quite as hard to take as the evil people. Ages 8-12.
6. Of course the crème de la crème is Harry Potter. We have read these aloud, listened to them in the car, my oldest has read and reread the books 2-4 times each and my youngest has read them at least once. Oh yes, and watched the movies. J.K. Rowling is brilliant. Enough said. Ageless.
He is also a fan of the Dragons of Wayward Crescent series by Chris D’Lacey. These are unique in that there are smaller chapter books for the starter readers, and also bigger books for the more advanced. I did read one or two of these aloud and found them charmingly suspenseful, and perfectly suited to a child’s imagination. Ages 6-12, depending on the book.
Both my boys (and therefore I have too) have listened to all of Rick Riordan’s Percy Jacksons and Heroes stories in the car on CD. They have passed the time on many long car trips but I have to say my sons have enjoyed them more than I have. Even they will point out similarities to Harry Potter story lines though, not that he copied but if you are writing after Rowling, you might want to make an effort to keep it as different as possible when you have two boys and a girl going on missions and the main character is a reluctant hero who had no idea of his special-ness up until book one.
For lighter reads, both my boys like the Aldo Zelnick series by Karla Oceanak. These seem to have a similar reading experience as Wimpy Kid with a more likeable main character. Ages 7-12
I will probably keep adding to this list but I will stop for now. OK, just two more~ we just started the Molly Moon series by Georgia Byng and it alternates between funny and suspenseful in an ever delightful way. And if my sons were writing this post they would include Lantern Sam and the Blue Streak Bandits by Michael D. Beil. This alternates between two narrators, a boy and a cat. As I said, my boys would recommend it, not sure it’s in my top 10, well yes I am sure and it isn’t. But it’s all about keeping the kids interested in reading, right?
Part of the reason I haven’t written much lately has to do with a trip to see my family in Louisville, KY, which turned out to be a very easy place to visit with multiple food intolerances in our crew. The other reason is the sheer craziness of summer with two high-energy boys~ it takes some time to adjust from school year days to summer days and honestly, I’m still adjusting. But, here’s what you will find in Louisville if you head that way (maybe in May…?) It is the Derby City after all.
Annie May’s Sweet Café is a gluten and nut free place that also has a large selection of vegan items. We went there for lunch and immediately regretted having not gone earlier in the trip. My son thought their vegan cream of broccoli soup was ‘epic’ and three of us got sandwiches we very much enjoyed and I was the only one of the three who is even gluten intolerant. The desserts we ate were delicious~ mostly cookies with cream in the middle, some vegan and some not depending on the person. My sons and I had the vegan kind which were dipped in chocolate too and probably the most decadent thing I’ve had in years. I don’t know what the vegan cream was in the middle but it definitely tasted like the real thing and I did not ask because if I knew how to make those things I might never leave my kitchen again.
Just down the road is Bluegrass Burgers which advertises on its sign outside, “Gluten free buns and beers” but it isn’t just buns and beers actually because I asked about the veggie patty and the black bean patty (they have both!) and those were also gluten-free and vegan. They were nice and patient about my questions, something that can be hard to find at restaurants where the going trend is to hate on people with food intolerances. They were extremely friendly and their food was great but there is one warning, their fries are way too good. Seriously, if you don’t want to eat a ton of them, just say no because once you start it’s all over~ they are seasoned to perfection and more addictive than chocolate covered cashews. Highly recommend this place. (And chocolate covered cashews for that matter.)
And of course there’s pizza. There are several places that have gluten-free options, but we chose Blaze Pizza because they have vegan cheese, all the pizza pies are individual size, and they cook them quickly in a wood fire so there (theoretically) isn’t much wait time. I was impressed that when I ordered the gluten-free crusts and vegan cheeses that they asked me if they needed to change gloves when handling those pizzas. They knew what they were doing when it came to allergies and I felt quite safe feeding their food to my kids and eating it myself. We liked the taste but it kind of reminded me of Chuck E. Cheese pizza, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, something about it was just similar…the thinner crust, snappier cheese, slightly sweet tomato sauce. But if that isn’t to your taste, there are plenty of other pizza places that have gluten-free crust options, such as Mellow Mushroom,Impellizzeris, Puccini’s, Uncle Maddio’s, and Cottage Inn Pizza, so basically wherever you are in Louisville you are never far from gluten-free crust.
Something else you are never far from in Louisville are natural foods stores, so in a pinch you can always find allergy free food at Whole Foods, Lucky’s Market, or shop local and visit Rainbow Blossom at one of their five locations.
A surprising amount of allergy-friendly food can be found at the most unusual place of all, and I say that mostly because the town’s name is Santa Claus but also because the amusement park there, Holiday World, is, well, an amusement park (and water park) which generally aren’t hubs of allergy free dining.
This place is about 70 miles from Louisville and well worth the trip if you are traveling with kids or just like rides, water parks, and Christmas music in July. Just check out this list of allergy-free foods that you can get there and you’ll be adding Santa Claus, Indiana to your must-do list. The only thing I caution is to have the list handy with you before you go in to order because the people behind the counter weren’t always up-to-date on the offerings. There seemed to be one person in charge who handled the allergic folks and the rest of them waved her down to deal with us. That was fine with me, as long as there was one person dedicated to keeping us safe I was thoroughly impressed. We also had to wait extra time for the allergy free food so another caution is to go before your four-year old is in low-sugar-sunburnt-over-tired-and-hungry-tantrum-mode, but really it wasn’t too long of a wait, 15 minutes maybe. Of course 15 minutes with a hungry child is a lot longer than 15 minutes with just yourself to worry about, so you’ve been forewarned. But both my sons said the place was better than Disney Land, so check it out.
I’m sure there are plenty of other restaurants that accommodate gluten intolerant people but I just want to highlight one more because their menu is very clear with calling out gluten-free items, along with vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, and whatever other kind of ~ian you want to call yourself, they’ve heard it all before. Ramsi’s Café will fill your worldly cravings when you’ve tried all the gluten-free pizza (impossible!) and eaten all the burgers on gluten-free buns that you can handle. Kids are welcome but if you are going to leave them behind for an evening out with your significant other, this is the place to go. When you are finished with dinner be sure to walk up and down Bardstown Road for some fun shopping and people watching, or grab a movie at the nearby Baxter Avenue Theaters. Enjoy!