How We Deal with Oral Food Challenges, and the Vegan, Top Allergen Free Chocolate Cookie Dough that Helps Us Cope

Food isn’t the answer to everything, but chocolate helps. It always, always helps. When it comes to tackling an oral challenge, chocolate is my best defense. (Well ok, chocolate and lots of prayer.)

Oral challenges are scary. Anxious thoughts and all kinds of What if’s? dance our heads dizzy. In the nerve-wracking times when we face challenges head on, we need something familiar to help us cope. Bringing items along that boost our confidence and bring us comfort us is key. For our family, this includes giving God our worries, standing on His promises, bringing a fully-charged iPad, and eating this vegan, gluten free, top allergen free chocolate chip cookie dough.

While eggs aren’t on our off-limits list at home (because EJ grew out of that allergy several years ago), I make this cookie dough without them so the kids can eat it raw. Sure, I could make a single serving of it and call it a day, but why do that when I can bake up a batch of freshly baked cookies for later? (Lord knows after a stressful day at the doctor, chocolate chip cookies help me too.) I pray as I make the dough: that things would go well, that God would protect my kids’ bodies, minds and hearts, and that He would give me peace and confidence that all will be well, come what may.

These cookies aren’t magical, but they are a miracle in my book. Not only do they give my kids something positive to focus on (Hurray! We get to eat cookie dough!), but they are also free of the top 9 allergens (when you use soy free vegan buttery spread like I do). No egg replacers necessary. Crisp on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside–these cookies hold together like a dream.

When allergy life makes you feel like you’re falling apart, maybe these cookies will help you hold it together too.

Sweater Weather, and Vegan Pumpkin Spice Creamer

It’s September 3 and 80 degrees outside, but pumpkin spice is taking over everything. Here we go again, right?

I rolled my eyes as I ordered myself a Pumpkin Spice Latte yesterday because I felt so trendy. I mean I rarely go to Starbucks, and almost never get coffee there. Ordering a fully caffeinated hot beverage felt totally wrong because, well–I was sweating, you guys–but I wanted one. It’s September and I was really, really tired and pumpkin + caffeine felt like the right choice despite the fact that you know, everyone’s doing it. I thanked the barista as she handed over my hot cup, all the while wondering how many other customers she quietly judged for ordering a steaming hot cup of coffee when it’s so hot outside still. I mean, they do make an iced version too.

I hate to sound negative. I adore fall, and I am a sucker for Pumpkin Spice Lattes. But it’s hard to enjoy sweater weather while I’m sweating.

But whether it feels true or not, fall is just around the corner. The wind told me so this when it blew a little cooler on our way out the door. And so, it felt fitting to take advantage of the Fall Kick Off Sale and stock up on Crio Bru while it is 25% off this weekend. You bet I ordered a bag of the Pumpkin Spice blend. Joey is a sucker for all things pumpkin too.

In the spirit of being prepared for the season, I headed to the kitchen to whip up a batch of Pumpkin Spice Creamer because 1) my bottle of scratch made vanilla creamer is empty, and 2) the back up bottle of Hazelnut flavored Nut Pods I had stashed in the cupboard just isn’t cutting it for me. (Fun fact: I hate hazelnut). I’ve been making my own coffee creamer for a few months now, ever since I threw a private pity party over the price of Nut Pods. I love the stuff, but it’s expensive, and I organized my grocery shopping trips around which Target carries the larger size so I could save a few cents by buying the bigger bottle.

It was a silly thing to stress about, so I decided to take matters into my own hands and just make my own version at home. It can’t be all that hard, right?


Turns out making a clean, allergy-friendly coffee creamer is no sweat at all. In fact, it takes just five minutes and only a few ingredients I always keep in my cupboard: unsweetened almond milk, full fat coconut milk, agave syrup, vanilla extract, and kosher salt. (PS–almonds a no no at your house? Swap it out for your favorite unsweetened dairy free milk.)

Adapting my original recipe to make it special for the season wasn’t any more difficult than making a plain vanilla version. Just reduce the amount of vanilla and add pumpkin puree, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg (but no clove, because another fun fact? I loathe clove.) and voila! Spicy pumpkin perfection in a cup. It might be 80 degrees outside again, but whatever. I plead seasonal insanity.

I may not ever buy Nut Pods again–pumpkin spice, hazelnut or otherwise–because my scratch made version is seriously no sweat. Easy, affordable, quick and clean–I’ve fallen for the flavors, and I hope you will too.

Empty and Imperfect, and Easy AIP Pie Crust

This crust.

I know calling pie crust life-changing is dramatic, but the rigmarole of finally arriving at a place where grain free, pie crust and good can coexist in the same sentence warrants it.

Those of you who gave up grain like I did (and still feel the sting of foregoing the classic comfort food) can attest that finding a good alternative to mainstream foods is life-changing, both in our kitchens and in our overall quality of life. Good food makes us feel good again, doesn’t it?

And this crust really is good–easy, even. It’s certainly not perfect, but its imperfection lends indelible charm. Classic and unconventional; adaptable and finicky; empty and waiting to be filled, this crust gets the job done.

And yet, it falls apart on me every time. The craggy mess of a dough smooths out easily when rolled, but transferring it to the pie plate is another story. It’s sticky and messy and just plain not the same to work with as “normal” pie dough. It falls apart, which frustrated me until I realized how easily it mends together again. The dough is finicky, perhaps, but not futile. It’s forgiving when it yields itself to a tender hand that wants to see it succeed. Against all odds, making it work well is pretty easy after all.

Making this crust reminds me think of what David said in Psalm 103:5: “He fills my life with good things.” (NLT). Sin, disease and death plagued David, but he nevertheless showed up and opened himself to the possibility that God would make things right again. He celebrated when God filled his life with good things after hardship made it seem impossible.

David was like pie crust: fragile, imperfect, and desperately in need of something good to fill the empty space. I am like pie crust too: flaky and fragile and completely forgettable on my own. Created for something good, I remain broken or empty or both unless I am flexible enough to trust the hand of the one who is transforming me into something beautiful. Maybe we’re all a little bit like pie crust. When we sit ready to receive the good things God pours out, we end up better than we could have been on our own.

I may not be happy I ended up in a kitchen where grain free baking is the norm now, but I opened myself up to the possibility that something really good will come out of it anyway. God promises to give us good things, and his faithfulness does not depend on my feelings.

I’m so thankful for that.

And I’m thankful for this pie crust too. It may not be perfect, but it sure is good.

Let It Be and Not Doing It All Over the Holidays

Mary’s words: Let it be.

Surrendered. Strong. What bravery she had when unexpected news forever changed plans and altered her schedule. Mary hadn’t planned on pregnancy. Not yet, at least. But there it was, a grace and a gift from the God who favored her.

She could have said no, but she chose to say yes. And her yes altered everything.

This season I’m remembering how unexpected that first Christmas was for Mary. Long awaited, but still surprising, and how those three words–Let it be–rejected her own ideas for her best life and accepted the gift of God’s plan.

I’m modeling my mind like hers this season: curious, questioning, but ready to give my best yes and receive what God has for me anyway so I can say “Let it be unto me as you say” too.

Today I have the opportunity to share thoughts on how to say yes to the things that matter most in this season on the Legacy Christian Church blog — check it out!

Here’s the link:

“Not Doing It All Over the Holidays.”

This Week Is Nuts, and So Is This Creamy Baked Chicken

This week is nuts.

It’s crazy on a national level, clearly, but chaos happens behind closed doors in the very ordinary goings on of life too. My calendar is slammed. So is my brain. And lots of personal, real-life-problems showed up on my doorstep and holy moly can’t I just catch a break?

My mom, bless her, showed up on my doorstep too, but instead of trouble she brought tubs of almond-milk ricotta and almond-milk Greek style yogurt. And other things too, like hugs.

I guess there’s just always something, right? Some weeks just feel more fraught with hardship than others, and on those particularly tense days I focus on the things I can control, like my attitude. And dinner.

My guess is you are having a hard week too, and I bet it goes deeper than just the uncertainty of the election itself. I wish I could reach through the screen and give you a hug. I wish I could invite you over and pour you a cup of tea and chat over a plate of chocolate chip cookies. But alas, since I cannot, I’ll leave you with a recipe that might make you feel comforted just the same.

This Creamy Baked might look a little basic–breast meat slathered in a white sauce–but aren’t the most comforting meals also the most simple? This is quick and easy and packed with flavor–and easy enough to get done in the middle of a particularly nutty weeknight. Joey and the Goobies lick their plates clean when I make it, and while I show a pinch more decorum than that, I admit I really want to do that too. It’s that good.

Take good care, friends. Make yourself some dinner. Gather your people around the kitchen table. Nourish your bodies and your souls, because you need your strength in both places. Today, yes. Tomorrow too. Start with something basic, like baked chicken.

The Gift of a Long Wait, and Home

“Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

“You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? 10 Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! 11 So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.

Matthew 7:7-11

Dear Joey,

Somehow summer is upon us and we are hemmed in by the same cardboard boxes we packed just a year ago. We unpacked, folded them up, and settled them in for a year long reprieve while we walked through a season of watching and waiting, expectant for God to move in big ways but not sure what those ways would look like.

The boxes multiplied while they were sitting there in the dark. We kept feeling like we didn’t have much to haul along with us until we flung open the door to the storage unit and panicked. Watching you load every last one of them and secure them for the long journey into an unknown future made me think of Abram, and how he packed up all he had and left his homeland to a place the Lord wrote on his heart. How hard it must have been to leave, and yet, how easy it must have been to go when God gave him the green light.

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A New Year’s Eve Tradition and Mema’s Green Chili Cheese Dip

Dear Joey,

I think we made a good decision when we chose to put off our own New Year’s Eve tradition in favor of letting the Goobies stay up a little bit later than usual to get a taste of what New Year’s Eve is all about.

We usually make Shrimp & Grits and kick off our annual Harry Potter movie marathon on New Year’s Eve, a tradition we started a few years ago when it became clear we were the sort of people who used to go out on New Year’s Eve, but have traded in our party shoes for slippers. (Things really changed once we had kids, didn’t they?) It occurred to me on New Year’s Eve morning this year that our kids didn’t really know what New Year’s Eve was, let alone realize it was that same day. I tested this thought at the breakfast table, excitedly prodding them, “Who knows what today is?!”

Blank stares.

“Saturday?” It might have been Addie who asked this, but I don’t remember. I do remember thinking I was right. How can they not know what New Year’s Eve is? What kind of parents are we that we haven’t even mentioned this before?

“Yes, it is Saturday. But it’s also….NEW YEAR’S EVE!”

More blank stares.

Mia tentatively asked, “So what do we do to celebrate?”



And it was that question, right there that wriggled its way between my excitement over Harry Potter and my deep desire to cultivate a culture of celebration in our family. These kids are young, yes–but aren’t they too old to send to bed without marking the occasion in some small way? If we don’t show them what New Year’s Eve is all about this year, we will have to wait a whole year to introduce it, and Addie will be seven years old by then. I felt it grow inside, that pesky feeling that I had to act now or miss my chance, and that the opportunity to weave another strand of tradition into our family life was there right then, and really? How long do we have until these Goobies want to spend New Year’s Eve with their friends, and not us? The time is now, I thought.


So we threw together a plan for our own family New Year’s Eve party–nothing fancy, but different enough from a normal night to make it feel special and fun. Central to this party was the idea of tradition–something that connects us as a family to our collective past and forges a bridge into our future, a bridge that we’ll keep building as we grow and change and step into the first few days of a still-hazy 2017.


Maybe that’s why your mom made sure to keep her New Year’s Eve offerings consistent every year: bridge building. Her traditions led you from one year to the next, first then and next, now. Maybe she knew that all that time ago when her her Green Chili Cheese Dip and Sweet and Sour Little Links showed up at the table while that funky 1960 rendition of H.G. Well’s The Time Machine flickered on the TV. Those things were constants for you then, and perhaps that’s why it felt right and good to make the same party snacks for our family this year–because traditions connect our individual pasts with our collective future.


Logistically speaking, cheesy dip is sort of a nightmare to serve with a kid who has a dairy allergy. But Emery was sick on New Year’s Eve and he took a nap straight through the dinner hour–a serendipitous coincidence that allowed our girls to enjoy that dip without any of us having to worry about Emery being around it. We taught the girls how to play Charades while we knelt around the coffee table and nibbled our way through dinner. By the time Emery woke up, we had all had our fill of dinner snacks and Emery joined in the fun of making s’mores around the fire and watching the Peanuts movie (which we had to explain to Mia wasn’t really about peanuts at all). All five of us piled on top of each other on our too-small-for-us-all couch and giggled our way through the evening. By 8:30, everyone was in bed but us, and we toasted to the new year in our pajamas, watching Food Network reruns while the fire petered out.


And so, we said goodbye to 2016 in peace, not feeling guilty or pressured, soaking up the joy of what we had right around us, and in the process, I think it’s safe to say we started a new tradition. Perhaps it’s not flashy or exciting, but it’s ours–and that’s what matters the most.



P.S.–We collapsed on the couch with big bowls of Shrimp & Grits last night instead–on New Year’s Day after the Goobies were in bed. They crashed early, after being up late the night before and in preparation for going back to school in the morning. We turned on Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and geeked out (well, I did, at least), and fell asleep right as Hermione Granger is figuring out who Nicolas Flamel actually is, and totally missed midnight. I think we’re both ok with that being our new tradition, too.

Mema’s Green Chili Cheese Dip


This is the dip my mother in law made every year for New Year’s Eve–and still does, if I’m not mistaken. It’s a constant  in Joey’s memory of the way he spent New Year’s Eve as a child: eating dip and little smokies while watching the 1960 version of H.G. Well’s The Time Machine, so it’s no surprise this is what he requested when we talked about starting a New Year’s Eve tradition for our own family. I admit this recipe deviates from the original a bit, meaning mainly that this one is gluten free. That famous national brand of Cream of Mushroom soup (you know the one) is made with wheat flour, which poses a problem for people like me. But Pacific Foods makes a fantastic gluten free version that works just as well as that other brand, and it’s made with organic ingredients, too. Use mild cheddar cheese — it melts beautifully into the soup and stays creamy. Add more cheese if you like it even cheesier, but Joey gives the amount listed here two thumbs up. Also, this dip is mild as can be, so add hot sauce if you want things to be spicy. 

  • 2-12 oz. boxes Pacific Foods Organic Cream of Mushroom Soup (or 2-10.5 oz. cans conventional cream of mushroom soup, such as Campbell’s)
  • 2-4 oz. cans fire roasted green chiles
  • 1 cup milk (we used 2% milk, but use what you prefer)
  • 12 oz. shredded mild cheddar cheese

In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, mix together the soup, chiles and milk. Heat for a few minutes, until warm and steaming. Add the cheese, about a cup at a time, and whisk until melted and combined. Heat thoroughly–the dip will bubble up around the rim of the pan when it’s ready to pour into a serving bowl*.

*Joey says his mom always serves this dip straight out of a small crock pot to keep it warm and gooey, but we fared just fine using a regular serving bowl. You might need to reheat the dip a bit as it sits, but it stays nice and smooth at room temperature.



Being Tired, Feeling Lazy, and Eating Pumpkin Pudding

Dear Joey,

It’s late, and I’m tired. We stay up late far too often, and it’s catching up with us. Last night, we tried to go to bed early, but we both laid awake for a lot longer than we had thought possible, given just how tired we were.

We’ve been doing this thing where stay up late every night under the guise of “hanging out,” but what really happens when the evening comes and we finally get a moment to look at each other, we sit on the couch eating popcorn or hummus and Veggie chips or big bowls of ice cream or random pieces of candy that one of us somehow manages to rustle up. It’s embarrassing to admit, and the truth is, we know better. We know better than to let a whole evening go by without really talking to each other, seeing each other, being with each other. We know better than to silently sit up late watching TV, bleary eyed and yawning, eating whatever snack happens to be within arm’s reach. We know better than to slip into bed and let the the latest Candy Crush level be our lullaby.

We know that to be better, we must do better. But we’ve been so tired, that we don’t want to do better. We’ve chosen to just, well, be lazy, I guess.

We hate this about ourselves, and it’s a constant battle between what we want in that moment (to sit on the couch and zone out with a bowl of ice cream for a little while) versus what deep down we know we need: Sleep. Nourishment. Exercise. Real rest.

The thing that gets me is this: every night, without fail, you ask me this: What’s for dessert?
You really are one of the healthiest eaters I know, Joey – but darn it if you don’t have a sweet tooth.

And I’m stuck, because on the nights when I don’t plan for some sort of dessert, I end up apologizing that the only thing that resembles dessert in the house is a bowl of cereal or that Hazelnut chocolate bar that’s been in the cupboard for over a year. But when I do plan ahead and make dessert, I’m met with initial excitement followed by frustration that you’re eating dessert, again, late at night.

So many of the low fat, low sugar, low calorie desserts out there are really just “edible food-like substances,” to borrow Michael Pollan’s keen description of the bulk of the American diet. Like your beloved sugar free, fat free instant pudding mixes. And I just can’t get on board with that. Experimentation isn’t always kind to me (I will never again serve you chocolate mousse made out of tofu), but once in awhile, I hit on a recipe worth keeping.

Tonight was one of those nights, and pumpkin pudding was the recipe.

So even though we didn’t go for an evening stroll tonight, and even though we ate our dinner after the girls were tucked in for the night (while sitting on the couch watching a movie), and even though after that movie was over we both spent far more time than perhaps we should have gazing into the bright light of our respective computer screens (as opposed to focusing on each other for a few minutes), at least we had a decent dessert that didn’t make us feel so bad about enjoying something sweet after dinner.

Maybe tomorrow we can resume our evening walks? I really miss those. We could talk as we walk, and hey – that’s two birds with one stone!


Pumpkin Pudding
Joey loves pumpkin pie. Loves it. I adapted this recipe from the one printed in the latest issue of Food Network Magazine. It is reminicent of pumpkin pie filling, especially when topped with whipped cream (which I know sort of compromises the virtue of this low fat dessert, but it sure makes it tasty). I used arrowroot powder as a thickener, but you could easily use cornstarch instead. Also, I used organic ingredients where indicated because I prefer to use organic whenever possible. But you may certainly use conventional ingredients if that’s what you have on hand, and it would still be healthier than any of the readily available pumpkin pies in the frozen section of the grocery store. 

2 cups pumpkin
2 cups light coconut milk
3/4 cups organic sugar
3 organic egg yolks
3 Tablespoons arrowroot (or cornstarch)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

In a medium saucepan, add all ingredients together and mix well. Over medium heat, bring the mixture to a boil and cook, whisking fairly constantly, until thickened (about 10 minutes). Pour into serving dishes or a large bowl. Cover with plastic wrap (lay it directly on top of the pudding to prevent skin from forming), and chill for about 3 hours before eating.

Baby Nora and Forget-Me-Nots

Dear Sweet Baby Nora,

I often imagine you in a field thick with forget-me-nots; you’re at peace, safe and secure and whole, almost glowing as you bask in the glory of heaven in a secret garden all your own, a garden watered by the tears of all those who loved you here on earth, a garden where you run with Jesus while you wait for the day when your family will join you there.

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Your name means honor, light. And so it seemed fitting to light a candle in your honor as I prepared to bake a batch of cookies that I would have rather not have made at all. Perched on a delicate china dish adorned with those little blue flowers that were both a question and a promise, the flame seemed to whisper “Forget me not?” as I measured, stirred, shaped, baked.

Meltaways, they were called. The cookies we made for your memorial. Cookies which – as it turns out – are much like you: small, delicate, pink and sweet – and gone far too quickly. As we made them, Addie stood with me, wanting to help but not really knowing how to help, and watched as the candle burned and the cookies took shape. The process of scooping, rolling, and flattening the dough seemed too much for her little hands to handle, and I was sure that it would be easier if I did it by myself. I thought she would get bored, tire of watching and waiting for me to finish.

I thought about how much your mommy and daddy will need people to do the same sort of thing for them in the coming days, weeks, months. Years, even. They will need people to stand with them and just be. To give them the space and quiet they need to do the difficult work of grieving. To talk about you. To keep you alive in their hearts and minds until the day they get to hold you again. I pray we can be that for them.

You are in our hearts, too. We talk about you every day, it seems. Addie and Mia play with the baby doll Addie named after you, snuggling it and remembering the way you let Addie snuggle you when you were brand new to this world. Without knowing it, you gave a gift to her – to me – when you let her hold you when you were just days old. You will always be the first baby Addie held on her own. (Even her own little sister can’t claim that.)

We still can’t believe you’re gone. But we take comfort in the truth that Jesus walks with those who grieve for you, and that you are with him, complete. Radiant. Full of light.

So until we meet again, we promise we will always “Forget You Not”. 

Miss Rachel

Psalm 23

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The Lord is my shepherd;
    I have all that I need.
He lets me rest in green meadows;
    he leads me beside peaceful streams.
    He renews my strength.
He guides me along right paths,
    bringing honor to his name.
Even when I walk
    through the darkest valley,<sup class="footnote" value="[a]”>[a]
I will not be afraid,
    for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff
    protect and comfort me.
You prepare a feast for me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You honor me by anointing my head with oil.
    My cup overflows with blessings.
Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me
    all the days of my life,
and I will live in the house of the Lord