Let’s Get Cooking!

FarmersMkt2

It was a shocking realization of mine about two years ago that I can actually cook. It still surprises me when something I make tastes good. Several things come into play here. You need the right recipes, ingredients, music, gear, and some confidence. 

I’m an all or nothing kind of gal. When Sweet Pea had her allergic reaction to coconut and Bean’s gluten allergy became more severe, we realized we couldn’t trust anyone to feed our little monkeys. I had to step up to the plate and cook ALL of the food for our family.

At first I cried. I cried a lot. And I’m not even a big crier. Going from being a family who ordered pizza and went out to eat every week to making EVERYTHING was beyond overwhelming. But it got easier and we got healthier. I would never say that the girls allergies are a good thing, but they did make our family a whole lot healthier.

I can’t tell you how many shirts I’ve ruined in my attempts to cook. So one of the first things I did was buy a really cute apron. That’s what you would do too, right?  I treated myself to this apron. The quality is fantastic and I love the colors; it makes me feel happy.

Then I did some research; I’m good at research. From my trusty Williams Sonoma catalogs, to cooking blogs and cookbooks, I found and stored hundreds of recipes in Evernote (the app that saves my life daily).  My family does not strictly follow the Paleo diet, but I figured out that if I search with the word “paleo” that Google will give me recipes that are unprocessed as well as gluten, soy, and mostly dairy free. 

I take recipes as a suggestion. Typically, there is at least one ingredient that can be swapped for something else. Unless you’re a pastry chef, amounts don’t need to be followed exactly (real chefs are probably shuddering). Once I figured this out, I felt a little more at ease in the kitchen. While I am a type A person, it stresses me out to have to be precise when I cook.

Another very important variable: good music. Crank it up! The girls and I dance while we cook. It makes it much more fun! On top of our cooking playlist right now are: Lonely Neighbor by Oh Honey, Happy by Pharrell Williams, On Top of the World by Imagine Dragons, and Light Me Up by Birdy. Don’t forget to put on all the lights. Make your kitchen sparkle.

Get everything out that you’ll need before you start.  This step is critical! It saves so much time and stress along the way. Sometimes I measure out each step in prep bowls. It works really well with chili and soups. And always buy the freshest ingredients. I try to buy local and organic whenever possible. CSAs, or Community Supported Agriculture, are an amazing way to teach the monkeys about where their food comes from and will challenge you to try new ingredients. In the winter, we love getting deliveries from Boston Organics (use code 8319bob6jc for 10% off your 1st order!).  We always hit the Newburyport Farmers’ Market whenever we’re home on a Sunday.

My friends helped me unpack our kitchen when we moved to this house a year and a half ago. They asked if I was starting a catering company, seriously. I *may* have too many kitchen gadgets and tools. I have since paired down my collection, but there are so many great time saving tools! You have to have the right gear to do the job, right? I cannot live without my little lemon squeezer. I cook with a ton of fresh lemon so I use it multiple times a day. Love, love, love this little guy. A few pairs of come-apart kitchen shears are a must. Quality cutting boards in different sizes. I use both my juicer and blender multiple times a week — like air and water!

If I can cook, so can you. I cook roughly 90 meals a month, or 1,000 meals a year – and that doesn’t even include snacks!  I have tested and re-tested recipes without even realizing it. I have so many more recipes to share with you!

It’s time to gear up. Take stock in your cabinets, see what you need, donate what you don’t, and get ready to have some fun in the kitchen. Let’s get healthy together. Are you in?

Living a Normal Life

Cupcake

How do you live a “normal” life with food allergies?  Well, what is normal anyway?  To me, normal means that my kids don’t feel excluded, left out, or weird.  

I’ve always made a point to tell them that their allergies make them special.  Everyone has something.  My kids just happen to have food allergies.  Why?  Hopefully we will know one day.  

No matter what we say or do, there is some level of anxiety in new situations for all of us.  From the first day of school to birthday parties to trying out a new restaurant, the stress can be completely overwhelming.  It just oozes out of their little bodies.

Here are some strategies that work for us:
– Find out as many details as you can before you go.
– Brainstorm possible situations and be ready.
– Bring safe food with you.  I try to match what the hostess is serving.
– Always keep cupcakes in the freezer.  These are also for me, weekdays at 9pm. Shhh!

If we’re lucky, no one even notices that my kids are eating something different.  Sometimes the other kids think what my kids have is better.  The most important thing is that their allergies don’t define them and that they are comfortable being themselves.

Bean is off to a 10th Birthday Party today at Funny Girl Designs.  Armed with her gluten free cupcake and the fixin’s for make your own pizza, she’s ready to celebrate just like everyone else.

That which doesn’t kill us, makes us strongest.  Bean and Sweet Pea are tough cookies.  Even when life gets the better of them, they make me proud.  Who wants to be normal anyway?  Not me.

Anyone can develop an allergy at any time, no matter if you’re a baby or a grown-up.  I only knew two people with food allergies when I was in school.  Now there are sometimes two kids in each class

Here are some articles and videos if you’d like to understand food allergies better:

What’s a food allergy?

Robyn O’Brien’s Ted Talks: “Are we allergic to food or what’s been done to it?”

Allergic Living article: New Blood Tests for Food Allergies

CNN article: Allergy Bullying, When Food is a Weapon

Your Test Kitchen

kitchen shelves

My house is my sanctuary.  It is a safe place for my family.  I can let my guard down and allow myself to relax here more than any other place.  There are no fears of allergic reactions.  Nothing in our house has come near a peanut; nothing has been contaminated by gluten.  Bean and Sweet Pea are free to eat whatever they want.

I’m constantly cooking and looking for new recipes for my foodies.  I have three; four if I count myself.  We have tons of go-to recipes that we love: almost 500 stored in Evernote plus many dogeared cookbooks.  Each week I try to incorporate at least one new recipe.  I don’t always meet that goal but everyone is pumped when I do!

Think of my house as your test kitchen.  I’ll post my own recipes that I’ve developed over the years.  However, most of my recipes are from cooks and bloggers across the web.  You can expect to see round ups of the best crock pot recipes, easy weeknight dinners, and favorite snacks.  I promise to share only tried and true recipes that we love, adding in my own spin and shortcuts.  If my kids eat it, maybe yours will too!

I truly believe that food is love.  My grandmothers would be proud.  The way I cook and think about food goes back to their time, when everyone ate real, whole food and there was no junk food.  Cooking for yourself and your family will make everyone healthier and happier.  It’s made all the difference in the world for us.

kitchen

This is our kitchen.  Someday I hope to show you these photos as “before” shots.  Don and I have visions of making our kitchen almost commercial with no plans of starting a business.  I’m in the kitchen so much that I’m always coming up with ideas to improve efficiency.  We are constantly adding to our idea books on houzz.com.  Until then, here’s your test kitchen.