Winter Isn’t Over Yet, and Classic Hamburger Gravy (Top 14 Allergen Free!)

Last night we discovered the groundhog saw his shadow, so we’re hunkering down for another six weeks of winter around here.

More snow and bitter cold is coming for us this weekend, so today’s sunshine and mild temperature feels like a glorious gift. I flung open the windows just now to invite an almost-warm breeze inside. Kansas winds are usually awful in the winter. I can deal with the snow when it comes, but the wind is the worst. But today is almost warm: the sun is shining crisp and clear; the birds are chattering wildly; and the wind is teasing me as it flutters through the kitchen curtains. A miserable weekend just doesn’t feel possible.

But if I’ve learned one thing these past couple years, it’s this: Kansas City weather is absolutely unpredictable, so prepare for every scenario.

When we first moved here, I had a lot to learn: how to gauge the severity of a storm; the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning; the art of dressing in layers; how to drive in the snow; how to manage icy roads; how to hunker down and stay put when things outside got dicey. Thank God I already knew how to feed us well in the winter.

I tackled warm, comfort food classics early in our food allergy journey. I couldn’t tell you why, exactly, other than figuring out how to make hamburger gravy like my mom always made was high on my priority list when I got started. This particular recipe gave me a challenge: will it taste good without milk? (Yes.) Will a grain free thickener make it weird? (No.) For a girl who loves potatoes and gravy, nailing a recipe like this one lifted my spirits and helped me to believe all was not lost in the kitchen. One spoonful and I’m taken back to my own mom’s kitchen and the way its aroma welcomed us to the table: warm and cozy, like a hug. This recipe reminds me of all the good things I still have and the promise of better days ahead, all in one comforting meal.

Six more weeks of winter are waiting, unless the weather decides to change on a whim, which of course it sure could around here. Luckily this recipe will keep us warm, cozy, and well fed regardless of what the weather does in the days to come.


The Real Thing and Cocoa Cola Cake

Dear Joey,

Without further ado, here is a fun cake that made an otherwise lonesome birthday a little bit more fun last week: Cocoa Cola Cake.

It was Grandpa’s 90th birthday, which felt big and important, of course. Celebrating him mattered, Covid or not. But the big question looming over my head was this: How?

Not one for making a big to-do about himself, Grandpa is a cool, come-alongside sort of guy who built and nurtured things his whole life. He planted seeds; watched them grow; and today he reaps the reward of a life well-spent.

But life doesn’t look much like he thought it would look these days, I imagine. Settling into a new rhythm in a new home thousands of miles away from where he built his life, adjusting to life’s complications as they presents themselves; turning 90 in seclusion with most of the folks he loves so far away from him now–the idea of this milestone birthday must have made him feel more lonesome than ever. Even so, he never complains.

In fact, I have never heard the man complain. Instead, his calm and quiet strength taught me to accept what comes with an attitude of hope that the Good Lord knows what’s best for us and divvies things up accordingly.

He taught me that speaking one’s mind doesn’t have to include shouting; hamburgers taste better after a long, hard day’s work; and use up every ounce of the things you are blessed with, because you’re lucky to have them. He taught me to be thankful for the the things we have and to care for them well.

I know a Cocoa Cola Cake doesn’t really sound like it’s at all good enough to honor or celebrate such a milestone, but Grandpa loves the classic cola from which it gets its name, and every time I see him take a sip of his favorite afternoon beverage, it I hear that old soda pop jingle singing in my memory: “Can’t beat the real thing.

My Grandpa: he’s the real thing, and nothing beats that.

When someone you love turns 90, and he loves Coke, and you need a way to celebrate his birthday in the middle of a disappointing, hard season, and you miraculously find a way to make it free of all those pesky allergens and it’s still moist and delicious? You celebrate and eat a slice and feel like things aren’t so bad after all. Gluten free. Dairy free. Egg free. Soy free. Nut free. The list goes on. Full of rich, chocolatey flavor that won’t let you down. (Which is why I changed the name from Coca Cola Cake to Cocoa Cola Cake. It’s that chocolatey!)

A few notes:
1. It’s flexible! Use regular flour or regular buttermilk of that suits your family.
2. Use a gluten free flour blend that contains xanthan gum. The xanthan gum acts as a binder, so don’t skip it.
3. Try any non-dairy milk you prefer, but I am devoted to plain unsweetened Flax Milk.
4. The original Coca Cola Cake recipes I consulted contained eggs. This made it *too* moist in my opinion, but if you’d like to try it that way, add 2 eggs with the wet ingredients.
5. Sugar content reduced down to 1 cup instead of the 2 cups all those originals called for. It was waaaay to sweet for me that way (thus the reduction in sugar in my version).

Best enjoyed with family and friends: this one’s a keeper!



More than We Realize and Hawaiian Pizza Pasta (Top 9 Allergen Free)

Dear Joey,

I haven’t been to the grocery store in fourteen days–a record for me, don’t you think?

We are stocked and ready for another couple weeks: I bought our monthly groceries up front this time around because I watched things getting dicey out there. The idea of taking the Goobies shopping with me over spring break was enough to make me toss an extra few packs of lunch meat into the cart. At the time, it seemed like a good idea. Now that spring break stretched into weeks on end, I am certain the decision was a wise one.

IMG_4102 (1)

Even so, the fridge can only do so much to make food last because the Goobies ask for snacks every five minutes. They are old enough to help themselves when their tummies start to grumble, but maybe giving them permission to dig in whenever they feel like it was a mistake? Emery would tear through an entire pack of ham without supervision. Ditto with snack crackers and toaster pastries. “When it’s gone, it’s gone!” we say as they snack. Even so, things get eaten up fast.

Read More

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.”

Read More