A Gift I Didn’t Appreciate, and Almond Butter and Jelly Bars

Oh, the nostalgia one bite of these bars brings. Peanut butter and jelly are the classic kid food fondly remembered by allergy moms everywhere, isn’t it?

The irony is I didn’t grow up eating either of them.

Well, ok, that’s sort of true. I ate my fair share of plain old peanut butter sandwiches–sometimes speckled with a slice or two of dill pickles (Don’t knock it till you try it) and I greeted most days smearing peanut butter on toast, but PB&J’s were my last resort–a punishment, almost, as that was the only other option for dinner if my brothers and I rejected what was served. My parents bought Goober Jelly — peanut butter and grape jelly all in one convenient jar–once in a while, trying hard to sell PB&J as a fun food. But PB&J’s weren’t my jam. (Pun intended.) I couldn’t stand the combination.

It wasn’t until late high school I started really enjoying them. What changed? Who knows. My taste buds, perhaps. Or it could have been my vegetarian friend who seemingly only ever ate PB&J’s or macaroni and cheese. I ate them with boysenberry jam a time or two at her house and suddenly they seemed far cooler than Goober jelly ever made them seem. Go figure.

After that, peanut butter and blackberry jam was my favorite until I was a young mom pinching pennies and buying industrial sized jars of strawberry jam at Costco. My oldest daughter spent her toddler years eating many PB&J’s with me–until Mia came along and everything changed. Peanuts and gluten went on the naughty list and PB&J’s were a gift I didn’t appreciate until our go-to lunch together became a memory. We switched to Sunflower Butter, which neither of the girls really liked, until EJ joined the brood. At that point we switched almost exclusively to almond butter and we were thankful for that one safe nut.

We’re in a season of more transition around here these days. Mia and EJ are both on track to challenge peanuts in the not-so-far future, and I feel like allergy life as we know it is changing. PB&J’s might be back on rotation in the next couple years. Other things are changing too–Addie is wrapping up Elementary school and Mia isn’t far behind her. EJ goes to school full time and I’m still adjusting to a quiet house during the day. I’m feeling so much better–physically, mentally, emotionally–and I see my own life changing in positive ways up ahead. It’s all flying by, and I’m not ok. Looking at pictures of the kids when they were super little makes me cry because I desperately miss those hard, slow days, but I’m also glad they’re over. They were complicated and hard and exhausting. But I’m not there anymore. I’m in-between, and so are the kids. It’s weird.

I’ve been spending time revisiting the earliest years of mothering lately, reminding myself what it felt like to be a young mom who knew nothing about food allergies and had to learn on the fly while dealing with the domino effect of new diagnoses. It was a lot. I found myself longing for a few precious moments with my firstborn little girl during pre-food allergy life. Sharing a simple PB&J on whole wheat bread with my sweet little Addie is something I’m only thankful for in hindsight.

But the mom I am now knows ways to satisfy that craving using ingredients the younger mom wouldn’t have known even existed, let alone known how to use. Ready to prove how far I’ve come–if only to myself– I set out to make a soft and somewhat chewy snack bar that mimicked the flavors of the nostalgic PB&J to remember where we came from and celebrate where we are now.

And the best part? Addie loves them. Mia couldn’t care less about them, but there’s something about this little snack bar that makes Addie swoon, and I think it’s because it reminds her of a simpler time when food was simple and satisfying, not complicated or worrisome, back when she got my undivided attention.

Making peace with our stories is a process of silent long-suffering. Sometimes she suffering is loud too, to be honest. Crying tears of fear and frustration come naturally when what you know and count on gets snatched out of your hands without warning. Of course you miss what you knew. Breaking up is hard to do. Nobody understands the heartache until they walk through it themselves.

The good news is we wake up one day and realize we’re still ok, don’t we? We meet new things that help heal the wounds. Our hurt scabs over and scars perhaps, but we survive. You will survive. Your non-food allergic kids will too. And you might all even be better for it, in the end.

Almond Butter and Jelly Bars prove that to me.

Maybe these bars won’t prove it to you, and that’s ok. Something will. Someday you’ll be so confident with cooking differently that you will surprise yourself with how far you’ve come. You will certainly marvel at all the other glorious food options out there ready and willing to bend to your every whim. You’ll celebrate food differently, and that’s valuable in so many ways. And you’ll find new ways to connect with your most favorite people.

Oh, the joy one bite of these bars brings for so many different, delicious reasons.

Acceptance and Cheeze Chompers

“Those who feel free to eat anything must not look down on those who don’t. And those who don’t eat certain foods must not condemn those who do, for God has accepted them.”

Romans 14:3 (NLT)

Dear Joey,

“Mommy–when I get big and outgrow my allergies, I want to have Goldfish because they are yummy.”

The Goobies sat eating breakfast while I packed lunchboxes before school. Bags of Goldfish sat on the counter. Emery watched me tuck them into his sisters’ lunches, just like every day. His comment didn’t surprise me: I can’t blame him for wanting to eat them someday too. He thinks all the other kids eat them all the time, and he feels left out.

“You know, I hardly ever ate Goldfish crackers when I was a kid. I didn’t really like them much” I tell him casually, hoping to downplay the appeal of the common childhood snack.

None of the Goobies believed me even though every word was true.

IMG_3338 (1)

“Let’s make our own dairy free version today!” I said, trying to redirect Emery’s attention.

“We can do that?” Emery asked, puzzled. Intrigued.

“Of course we can.”

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Adapting Amid Disappointment, and (Allergy Friendly) Classic Party Mix

Dear Joey,

For the third year running, the Goobies and I trick-or-treated without you. It all started a couple years ago when you kissed us goodbye and flew far away to say your last goodbyes to your grandpa. We missed you, but it was easy to forgive your absence that year. But the following year, our excitement to have you home with us was short lived: Vertigo stole you from us early Halloween morning (remember?) and didn’t return you back to us until well into the night. The timing of your illness surprised and irritated me and I found it difficult to play the sympathetic wife in the midst of my own disappointment, and I vowed to keep my expectations for future Halloweens low from then on.

Easier said than done, of course.


In hindsight, I realize I made myself an empty promise because why wouldn’t I expect you to spend Halloween with us?  In the days leading up to Halloween this year, you doted on the Goobies, going above and beyond (ahem, spoiling them) with costumes this year in a subconscious attempt to make up for your absence the past two years, I think, and all the while I was bracing for the blow that hadn’t even come. Until then, out of nowhere, it did: urgent surgeries had been scheduled for Halloween night. It wasn’t your fault, of course, but my disappointment made me want to blame you. Can’t you get out of it? I begged. This is the third year in a row. Your hands were tied, there was nothing you could do, and so I excused myself from the conversation, shut myself in the bathroom, and cried.


As the tears fell, I realized I wasn’t really mad at you. I was upset about the situation and  confused by your seemingly cool attitude toward it. You didn’t seem nearly as ticked off as I felt, and that bothered me. But oh, those Goobies. They are defenders and copycats, a dangerous combination when adversity tempts me toward a bad attitude. But I was quick to remember that if I continued to slink around with a chip on my shoulder, they would do the same. I didn’t want them to be angry with you. Disappointment is part of life. People will let us down, but what we do with that disappointment matters most.  After a moment or two, I wiped my eyes and shook off the crazy, resolved to make the best of it.


All of this reminded me of a story Sally Clarkson tells about how her husband’s work took him away from their young family more often than she appreciated. An otherwise doting and involved father, his career took a turn that demanded a bit more time and effort than anyone at home really enjoyed. One night in particular, Sally was particularly not happy about having to say goodbye, but she knew showcasing a bad attitude about the ordeal would give resentment a foothold–not only in her heart, but in her kids’ hearts too. So instead, she chose to send off her husband with waves and smiles from happy kids, then wrapped her arms around her brood after he drove away, suggesting with a smile they go inside for cheeseburgers and a movie. She chose not to let disappointment dictate her behavior. I realized, I ought to do the same.


In the days leading up to Halloween, all I could see was my own disappointment. Your disappointment didn’t occur to me until that moment. You were the one who had to miss the fun stuff: attending funerals, dealing with illness, and working late into the night are not fun, and they aren’t the same as skipping out on your family. Hard things forced your hand, and you never once complained about missing out on the fun part of Halloween. My moping around and holding a grudge didn’t make any of it easier on you; if anything, it made it more difficult– not only for you, but for all of us. And so, I decided to be more like Sally: I dressed up the family table and scattered candy corn this way and that, and I served corn dogs and chex mix and traipsed around the court, knocking on doors and collecting candy and trinkets until well after dark. I made the most out of the evening anyway instead of sulking my way through the night, choosing joy in all circumstances, like you.


We missed you, of course, but we still had fun. Friends and grandparents joined us as we bounded out the door toward an evening of fun–all because, well, what good does it do to sulk? Life’s let downs aren’t easy to face, but it is possible to adapt amid disappointments. We just have to choose to do so, which admittedly, isn’t easy or immediate, but it is always worth it. When you finally made it home to rest late that night, you flicked through the pictures on my phone and laughed out loud, heart bursting to see your Goobies smiling.


Classic Party Mix (GF/DF/NF option)

IMG_3844In our house, Chex Mix in October is like cookies in December: you can’t have one without the other. The warm, savory scent of this stuff crisping up in the oven plunges me right back into the Octobers of my high school years when I first started making it on my own. I must have learned how to do it from my dear friend Molly’s dad (thanks Allan!), although I don’t remember him ever showing me how. But I do remember him making it every year without fail, a tradition both Molly and I have embraced as our own, in our own ways. Clearly, our family makes it both gluten and dairy free, but believe me when I tell you you cannot taste a difference. This version is every bit as fantastic as its gluten-and-dairy laden cousin. Also: please note that there ARE cashews in the pictures above. As of that night, our kids weren’t allergic to cashews. They have since developed an allergy to them, so we don’t make it this way anymore. Instead, we stick to almonds (because they can all eat those), or we just leave them out and toss in plain cheerios instead. It always turns out fantastic! Chex Mix is an effortlessly customizable treat, food allergy flexibility at its finest.

Note: If you want to use wheat Chex in addition to rice and corn, use 3 cups each rice, corn and wheat, for a total of 9 cups of Chex cereal.

  • 9 cups Chex cereal (divide evenly among the types of Chex your family tolerates. Can’t have wheat or corn? Same. Use all rice!)
  • 2 cups gluten free pretzels (Snyder’s is our fave!)
  • 1 cup almonds, or mixed nuts (or omit altogether if your family is allergic to them and toss in something like plain Cheerios–no big deal!)
  • 7 Tablespoons Soy Free Earth Balance (or other vegan buttery spread), melted
  • 2 1/2 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce (make sure it’s gluten free! We like Lea & Perrins)
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons seasoned salt
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon onion powder

First, preheat the oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Next, in a large bowl, mix together the cereal, pretzels and mixed nuts. In a separate small bowl, mix together the Earth Balance, Worcestershire sauce, seasoned salt, garlic powder and onion powder. Drizzle the seasoned sauce over the dry ingredients. Using your hands, toss the mixture well until evenly coated. Pour onto a cookie sheet and bake, stirring every 15 minutes, for a total of an hour. Pour the mixture onto a big paper grocery bag (that’s been cut open, as shown below) and let it cool. (The mix gets crunchier as it cools.)

IMG_3853This is what a double batch looks like, about 24 cups worth. A single batch (as written above) yields about 12 cups.

Joy Glories in the Mess, and Joey’s Kettle Corn

Dear Joey,

The new year came quickly and I wasn’t ready, like a friend called suddenly to say they’d be over in five minutes and I still had yet to shower. This isn’t a good time, I wanted to say. Can’t you give me another week or two? The answer was of course, No. I’m already on my way.


And now the new year is here and I’m tired. The past several weeks took a lot out of me–how about you? Christmastime is the season of peace and joy, but as we entered into it, both eluded me at first, and I tried hard to construct the illusion of joy for our kids, because I didn’t want them to miss Christmas just because I was feeling funky, you know? The further into the season we got, though, I realized that joy doesn’t suddenly show up when the Christmas lights begin to cast a magic spell over the neighborhood. It isn’t a decoration to dig out and put on display for a few weeks, only to be tucked away again for the rest of the year. It’s not a knickknack to or an ornament or a garland or a star–because joy isn’t an exterior embellishment. Joy lives underneath it all, swirls around it and flows out from beneath those things, like caramel. Real joy pours out of a heart deeply moved by and secure in the love of God.


Two weeks ago, I lost sight of all this again. It was already the middle of December and Christmas was only 11 days away and we had only just started ticking things off our long list the day before. I spent that day running, quite literally, from sun up until sun down, showing up with a smile and spreading myself too thin in the process, perhaps. I forgot to set my alarm that morning, which means I didn’t take a shower before slipping on yesterday’s jeans, throwing my hair in a bun and running from one thing to the next. I pushed and ran and hurried and kept smiling, singing Christmas songs at the top of my lungs while I zigzagged across town with Emery in tow, both of us hungry and on the verge of grumpy.


Of course, in my rush to get out the door that morning I forgot to feed myself. I had snacks for Emery at least, but graham crackers and apple squeezers get tiresome, I imagine, especially when all the other kids are eating pizza and cookies and cake. After wrangling the poor kid away from all those allergens, I realized I’d need to feed him somehow before we headed over to Addie’s party later that afternoon. And so, I ushered us over to Costco because I could both squeeze in an errand and get him a hot dog. When we pulled into the parking lot, I gave my mom a quick call and launched question after Christmas question to her, trying to figure out details and make the words from my mouth catch up with the words in my brain, until I had to stop mid sentence to say, “Hang on. I have to lick frosting off of my purse.” My mom laughed, and it woke me up, I think. It broke the tension inside and helped me remember that sometimes, the right thing to do is to slow down long enough to taste the sweetness of the what surrounds me.


Boy, was that day a mess. And gracious me, how sweet it was too. Back to back Christmas parties with our girls, the freedom to celebrate the birth of our Savior, the permission (and encouragement!) to bring Emery along with me, the warm beds waiting at the end of the day, and just-as-worn-out-faces of friends who had to pull double duty that day too. Walking this harried road is a whole lot less lonely when there are people walking with me, because they are a safe place to be honest about how I have to choose joy because it doesn’t always show up on its own. More often than not, I live in a state of panic, afraid that my strained efforts at nurturing joyful kids will return void. I am afraid I am failing.


The choice I had to make in the middle of that messy, tiring day was whether or not I would let the joy spill out in the middle of the mess. Would I focus only on the imperfect world around me and keep my joy locked away, hidden because I was tired? Or would I let it free to leap out of my heart, wild and beautiful and ready to be shared? I chose joy, I’m happy to say, and what’s even better? Peace came too. The two settled in with us and beckoned us to play with them for the rest of the Christmas season, and so we played outside on a cold, icy morning.


We made popcorn and gingerbread houses and played Ring Around the Rosie in Sausalito and ate fancy Macaroons at Miette.


We baked Spritz cookies first thing on Christmas Eve morning–a last minute decision that was beautiful, delicious, and totally worth the mess.


We crammed family around our tiny kitchen table for leftovers and pie.


We shaped pizza dough into a snowman, a candy cane, a Christmas tree, and a star to celebrate the star of this whole show–Jesus.


On Christmas morning, we ate a store bought breakfast off of dollar store plates so we could get to church without fussing in the kitchen first thing in the morning.


And we spent the day ripping open presents that remind us of the greatest gift that’s ever been given.


The joy and peace we sing about all season long–it came, it lingered, and I pray it stays. There was rush and there was scurry, along with doubt and disappointment, but there was also stay and play, rest and enjoy. Immerse yourself in joy, the season seemed to whisper, because that’s what it’s all about. Isn’t that what the Angel said, all those years ago when Christmas first began? “Don’t be afraid!” he said, “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people”(Luke 2:10). I was afraid, but then I found joy. Not feigned or forced–but real, true joy.


Christmas isn’t about constructing the illusion of joy. It’s not about spreading ourselves thin chasing a fantasy of what we think Christmas should be, sacrificing the reality of what we have at home in the process. Shielding the kids from disappointment or pushing them to smile just one more time so we can get a flawless picture is nonsense. Joy glories in the messes of life, after all.


Sometimes the message of great joy is wrapped up in messy buns and rumpled jeans. Sometimes joy bursts out, bright and shiny by licking frosting off your purse instead of freaking out over an empty sleeve of wipes. Sometimes it’s making a double batch of kettle corn and watching a gaggle of kids break into song, dancing and proclaiming the glory of the baby king. Sometimes, choosing joy looks like disappointment at first, like saying no to a fancy night out and staying home, pajama-clad and tenderly rocking a feverish child to sleep instead. Saying no to fear, to the sense that all is not well within me, and instead saying yes to the idea that joy is mine when I accept the gift of Christmas–the gift of Jesus–that’s when joy starts to leak out.


Joy is always best put on display when the story of the Christ child that dwells inside of a heart tender to Him swells and spills over out into the world He came for.



Joey’s Kettlecorn


Joey and I host House Church in our home this year, and our little group has more food allergies than its fair share (but at least misery loves company, right?). We made a batch of Joey’s kettle corn one Sunday because everyone could eat it–and happily, everyone did. Our group can go through two batches of the stuff and still wish there was more around, but when it’s just Joey and I, a single batch suffices. He came up with this method years ago and it’s still one of our favorites. You can use coconut oil instead of canola oil–just warm it a bit before pouring it into your measuring cup. Joey prefers to use canola because it’s easy, so that’s what I’ve written here. Also, if you don’t have a Whirley-Pop, I don’t know how to help you, except to say that we love our funky red one and have been using it every single week since we got married, so it’s worth a small investment to get one if you really love making popcorn at home. House Church Family, this one’s for you. We wish you a merry Christmas (and a happy new year!)

  • 1/2 cup popcorn kernels (we like Trader Joe’s organic popping corn best)
  • 2 T canola oil
  • granulated sugar (a little more than 1 Tablespoon)
  • kosher salt, to taste

First, get your equipment ready. Put a Whirley-Pop on the stove–lid open please–and make sure you have a big bowl close by. Next, measure 1/2 cup popcorn kernels and set aside. Then, measure 2 Tablespoons of canola oil in an angled liquid measuring cup (like this one from Oxo, which I have and love) and spoon granulated sugar into the same measuring cup until the oil reaches the 3 Tablespoon mark. At that point, stir the oil and sugar together, mixing it up into a slurry.

Next, turn the stove onto high heat and pour the oil/sugar mixture into the bottom of the pan, followed by the unpopped popcorn kernels. Close the lid, and wind the handle, spinning it round and round so the sugar and kernels don’t burn. Keep winding the handle, and have patience. Before long, the kernels will begin to pop–keep winding the handle until the popping slows down and you can count two or three seconds between pops.

Pour the hot popped corn into a large bowl and promptly sprinkle with salt. Fiddle around with it a bit–sprinkle some on, toss, and taste. If it’s not salty enough for you, sprinkle a little more on, toss and taste, and so forth until you reach popcorn perfection.





A Winner, and Gooey Cocoa Crispy Rice Treats

Dear Joey,

Well, we left the house in a sort of rush on Friday to try to evade the get-out-of-town traffic. We didn’t do a very good job and it took far to long to get to the lake than we had hoped. Oh well. The busy morning also delayed me from announcing the winner of the Skip Hop Zoo Little Kid Backpack. Oops.

I did manage to at least choose the winner before we left for the weekend(and the winner is Deborah Gardner. Congratulations Deborah! Check your email for instructions on how to claim your prize.) But as a consolation prize, I have a never-let-you-down recipe for allergy friendly crispy treats. I figure disappointment deserves chocolate, right?

Plus, when things don’t turn out the way I planned or hoped or intended, chocolate helps me deal–especially when its made from a thoroughly dependable, never-fail sort of recipe.



Gooey Cocoa Crispy Treats


These are basically that classic crispy rice treats we all know how to make, but my version is gooey-er than its traditional counterpart because I that’s the way I like it. I used cocoa crispy rice instead of the plain ones because, well–do I really need to give a reason to use chocolate? Since these are gluten free, dairy free, and nut free (and super easy to make), they are a great treat to turn to if allergies are an issue. Beware that not all crispy rice cereals are gluten free, so make sure to buy a box that explicitly states it is gluten free if gluten is an issue for you (I used Mom’s Best Crispy Cocoa Rice Cereal in this recipe). Otherwise, of course–use whatever crispy rice cereal you like.


12 oz. marshmallows

1/4 cup Melt Organic Buttery Spread (or Earth Balance, or a similar vegan buttery spread to make these dairy free. Otherwise, use butter.)

6 cups Gluten Free Crispy Cocoa Rice Cereal

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

pinch of kosher salt (1/16 tsp)


First, prepare your pan. Lightly spray a 9 x 13 glass pan with non-stick coconut oil spray (or something similar). Set aside.

Next, set a big pot over medium heat and melt the buttery spread. Add the marshmallows and heat them gently, stirring almost constantly as they melt and meld with the buttery spread. Once they’re completely melted, stir in the salt and vanilla and quickly add the crispy rice, stirring to coat them completely with the molten marshmallow goodness.

Plunk the sticky mixture into the prepared glass pan and press the rice down, smoothing it as you go. It helps to spray your fingers with non-stick spray so the treats don’t stick to your fingers. Let the treats cool and set for a few minutes, then slice into them as you like.