One Family, Different Diets

It’s not uncommon, these days, to meet a family with different dietary needs all under one roof. A child with a dairy allergy. Another who’s sensitive to wheat. An adult who has to follow the SCD (Specific Carbohydrate Diet) because of other issues. Everybody has different (legitimate) needs.

For the cook/meal planner of the household, it can be confusing, expensive and exhausting to meet these needs. But it doesn’t have to.

For about 7 years now, I have been on that road–finding the root of different allergy and skin conditions for my youngest. First we were told no wheat (or any gluten grains), dairy or peanuts. I dove into about every source I could find for gluten and allergy free baking. The peanuts were fairly easy to avoid.

Fast forward a few years and she also went through an especially ill period where she tested allergic to oats (which I had been using like crazy as a substitute for wheat flour), corn (in EVERYTHING) and all the old culprits as well. Time to revamp her foods…again.

In that time, I’ve done a few other elimination type diets either on my own for different health reasons, or with my daughter so she doesn’t feel all alone. Meanwhile, the three other members of the family are sitting there with their loaf of bread, block ‘o cheese and peanut butter–ready to eat whatever, whenever.

So what do you do to keep your sanity in tact and budget under control? These are some strategies I’ve developed for us.

Make dinners friendly for everyone

IMG_2386Meatloaf! We all love meatloaf 🙂

For the most part, our dinners are what we call “Ella friendly.” That means, when I plan our weekly menu, most of our dinners are wheat, corn and dairy free. We can all enjoy beef stew, chicken pot pie, meatloaf, chicken fried rice, salmon patties, and a ton of other dishes with no trace of the foods that set her off.

The key is to focus on what everyone can have, instead of lamenting what you might be missing.

Keep some meal parts in the freezer and pantry

For the meals where this strategy won’t work, like pizza night, I keep the allergy free components on hand, in the freezer. I’ll make a batch of gf pizza dough, slice it up, and put it in a freezer bag. That way, all I have to do is pull out a few pieces, top and bake. I do this with her biscuits, too.

In the pantry, I keep some rice pasta for spaghetti nights. It’s not too much trouble to have two pots of pasta boiling at once.

Sometimes, everyone can eat allergy free

I know I just said that I’ll keep different meal parts handy so Ella can enjoy pizza night or pasta night, too. But sometimes, it’s just easier if everyone eats the same thing. For instance, we all eat the gf banana muffins for breakfast. When I make graham crackers for everyone, then everyone is eating allergy free. And I’ve found a gf buckwheat pancake recipe that we all love.

IMG_2305gf banana muffins with chocolate chips

As a bonus, the entire family is reaping the benefits of varying our grains, getting a wider variety of vitamins and minerals. And the coconut oil I so often bake with (to be dairy free) is full of health benefits for all of us.

It’s a matter of balance. Yes, it costs more if we all eat allergy free. Gluten free flours and coconut milk are always going to cost more than wheat flour and dairy. So sometimes, to save money, I save the gf pasta for her. Or I’ll make a separate batch of crackers.

But it’s a trade off on my time and sanity as well. I CAN’T make two of everything. I just don’t have that kind of time. The thing to do is decide for yourself. What is your time worth and what do you have in your grocery budget? I think we land somewhere in the middle.

It can be daunting to suddenly have to cook for those with special food needs. Some choose to overhaul the entire kitchen and the whole family’s diet. Some serve those special foods only to the one individual. I don’t think there’s one RIGHT way to handle it. Do what you need to in order to keep your family safe (where deadly allergies are concerned) and keep it balanced.

At the moment, since my daughter’s health has improved, we’re hoping to try out some spelt and sourdough wheat to see how she does. But I fear we’ll always have to avoid the dairy and peanuts.

Ever had to cook for different diets? How do you handle it?


Maple Vanilla Crunch Granola (gluten, dairy free)


We LOVE cereal. A little too much. Especially as an evening snack. But the extruded, sugar loaded, cardboard packaged stuff isn’t really that great for you. So to pacify the cereal monster in all of us, I make homemade granola. It’s really easy and after just a few minutes, you’ll have fast breakfasts (or snacks) for a few days. We especially love it on yogurt!

(I’ve linked some of these ingredients to sources I typically order from. They’re affiliate links, so I’ll receive a small commission if you place an order. But you still get the same great price! Thanks!)

Maple Vanilla Crunch Granola

The Dry:

  • 4 cups rolled oats (look for certified gluten free if you’re really sensitive)
  • 2 cups puffed rice or millet cereal
  • 1 cup chopped or slivered almonds (or nut of choice)
  • ½ cup flax meal
  • ½ cup shredded coconut
  • ÂĽ cup flour (wheat, buckwheat or rice will work)
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 cup total of raisins and chopped dates (or dried fruit of choice)

The liquids:

  • ½ cup coconut oil (If you’re not dairy free, you can use melted butter. But the coconut oil adds a little extra sweetness, so you may want to up the sweetener just a bit.)
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1/3 cup maple syrup (Grade B will give you the most maple-y flavor!)
  • ÂĽ cup water
  • 1 TB vanilla

In a large mixing bowl, combine all the dry ingredients except the dried fruit. (It will be added as a very last step.)

In a small saucepan, melt coconut oil. Remove from heat. Stir in the remaining wet ingredients.

Pour the wet over the dry and mix THOROUGHLY until all the liquids are distributed and the dry is uniformly wet. Spread the granola onto two large sheet pans lined with parchment or a silicon mat. Use a rubber spatula to spread it out evenly and pat down a bit. This will help produce crunchy clusters of different sizes.

Bake in a 325 degree oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until golden brown. You’ll probably want to rotate the pans a couple times to ensure even baking/browning. Turn the oven off and allow to sit in the oven for an additional 10 to 15 minutes to continue crisping up the granola. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely. This is the point where you add the dried fruit.  I just sprinkle it on top of the pans.

Store in an airtight container. Sometimes, if the oatmeal canister is empty, I just put the granola in there. Try not to break it up too much when you transfer it so you won’t lose some of those larger clusters.

Options and Notes

 Add-ins: Feel free to switch up the add-ins to your heart’s content. Don’t like coconut? Leave it out. Prefer pumpkin seeds or pecans in your granola? Switch out the almonds. Same goes for the dried fruit.

Why flax meal? Well, it has some great health benefits like omega 3 fatty acids. But honestly, I added the flax in for its stickiness. When the flax mixes with the liquids, it gets a little gelatinous and sticky, which helps make those crunch clusters we all love so much. But that said, if you don’t have flax meal on hand, the granola will still taste great without it.

Puffed rice and millet? The addition of the puffed cereal gives a certain kind of crunch that you’ll find in most boxed granola. But if you prefer to avoid that, you could definitely use all oatmeal instead—6 cups in that case. But if you’d like to give the puffed cereal a try, I really like Arrowhead Mills. It’s fairly inexpensive and doesn’t have any other added weird ingredients.

This granola is great on yogurt, with milk, as an add in to your homemade trail mix and straight out of the container! Plus you get a TON more than you do buying those expensive little cardboard boxes.


10 Things to Love About This Crazy Winter

I’m guessing that no matter where you live (in the US), you’ve had your share of crazy winter weather. It seems like no one has been immune to it. (If, in fact, you live in Sunnyland, USA then we’re all happy for you. Don’t rub it in.)

It’s been frigid. We’ve been buried in snow. Half of our activities have been cancelled and we even had to cancel church one Sunday. And by the end of this week, my little backyard creek will probably look like the Mississippi.

In an effort to see the glass half full (and stop whining about the weather) I thought I’d find something or other to appreciate in all this. So here goes.

Extra Family Time

In our area, it’s been so bad that my husband couldn’t get to work a few times. Now, that’s not good for anyone’s business. But we did enjoy a little extra family time. Always a bonus!

on the pondThe five of us, standing on the frozen pond.

Pajama Days

Oh, we have spent a shameful number of days in our pajamas this winter. Cozy, comfy and snug. Come on, admit it. You did too.

Conquering Indoor Projects

Winter is always the perfect time to focus on things that need some work inside. Our biggest victory was to get the downstairs bathroom redone. Wallpaper removed, painted, new fixtures and lighting. Definitely a pick-me-up!

Also in there my husband replaced a couple of light fixtures, hung a few bulletin boards and such and we made our final plans for repairing/painting the rest of the downstairs.

scraping wallpaperTrue love is scraping wallpaper for your wife.

Lots of Reading

But it wasn’t all productivity. I’ve read a ton this winter. Plenty of lazy Sunday afternoons curled up on the couch with a pot of tea, a book and a blanket. I’ve become addicted to a rather un-girly series. I’m reading the Sackett series by Louis L’Amour. Strong characters. A pioneering spirit. Tons of common sense wisdom. Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.

Baking, baking and more baking

When it’s freezing (or well below) outside, you look for any means possible to heat up the house. So we made sourdough bread and homemade crackers, biscuits, casseroles, muffins…Needless to say, the oven has been pulling it’s weight around here. But it warmed up the house and kept our bellies happy.

Cozy Fires

My husband is the fire master. He has about a billion (give or take) different methods to start a fire. (None of which involve any store bought starters or accelerants–thank you very much.) For the fireplace, we love his homemade fire starters, which I’ll probably post eventually.

We’ve made good use of the fireplace to help alleviate the natural gas bill. Not to mention the homey factor.

Puzzles and Games

At my in-laws house, there is the ever present puzzle table. It’s an especially favorite pastime in the winter. So this winter, we set up our own puzzle table. There have been many evenings and weekends that one or all of us have hovered over the table, working the puzzle little by little. If you haven’t done a puzzle lately, break one out. There’s something therapeutic about it. All the busyness in your head quiets down.  Very relaxing.

We also played a bunch of games. My husband is still hoping I’ll break down and agree to a game of Monopoly. But I’m a Scrabble girl, myself.

Steaming Pots of Soups and Stews


I’m kind of a seasonal cook. I don’t really make soups and stews once the weather gets warm. This winter, we’ve enjoyed pot after pot of beef (or venison) stew, vegetable soups, chicken noodle, chili, and a slew of others. As the cook, I love the ease of a one pot meal. And they usually end up as leftovers, too.

Saving Money on Gasoline

There have been weeks when I only left the house once. I don’t really get cabin fever too much. I’m a homebody at heart. And the bonus of being snowed in was that I didn’t have to visit the gas station nearly as often.

Peaceful Winter Walks

When the thermometer crept up above 20 degrees, I’d try to get outside for a walk. All the snow absorbs any extra sound. It’s so still and quiet…and quite beautiful.

Well, now. That wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. Actually, I think I could think of a few other things. Like sled riding and walking on the frozen pond and lots of snuggling.

Remind me of all this when I lapse back into whining about the weather. Thanks.

Alright. Dig down deep. What have you been thankful for this winter?

I Need Duck Feathers (or learning to let the tough stuff roll off my back)

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There are things that get under my skin. To be more specific, there are three little (or not so little) people that can get under my skin.

Oh, my dear children. How I love them. And how very skilled they are at driving me to the loony bin. Somehow, these dear offspring of mine have clear, laser focus on my hot buttons. They can hit them every time, with seemingly little effort. It’s just a gift, I guess.

Am I alone here? Does no one else’s children send their blood pressure to nuclear meltdown in mere seconds? Maybe you never find yourself saying THE SAME THINGS OVER AND OVER AND OVER…AGAIN. Maybe your children are moving from one maturity milestone to the next with ease and consistency.

Or maybe you’re delusional. I’m just saying.

Nevertheless, it seems to me that lately, I’ve been letting this great parenting roller coaster get to me a bit. I’ll blame it on the gray, cold days of winter. Cause my sense of humor seems to have flown south. Those little arguments or whiny voices or forgotten responsibilities (all a normal part of childhood, I know) are causing my blood to boil. They’re breeding discouragement and weariness. Leading to a very gloomy mommy, indeed.

So that’s why I want to be like a duck. I want to let it roll off my back–never penetrating and taking root. This is the often uphill battle of training character and pulling kicking and screaming towards maturity.

It’s just part of the job. It is NOT an indication of my self worth, success or failure. I already know I’m not perfect at this. But I can definitely face the daily challenges with a bit more grace. A little more laughter. A little less frustration.

Today, I sent myself to my room. Mom needed a time out. And a minute to pray. My prayers lately have been that God would help me not to take it all so hard. That I would rise above the daily fray and not get discouraged. That I would be full of thanks instead of full of grumbling.

Kind of sounds like some of the same lecture advice I’ve been dishing out lately. Guess it’s time to listen to the words coming out of my own mouth.

And above all, I gotta smile and laugh and love them fiercely. After all, they put up with me.

A plea for your input! How do you keep your perspective when the parenting gets tough?

Planning the Spring Garden 2014

Yes, I know it’s not spring…yet. Actually, at this very moment, there are another 2 or 3 inches of snow falling here. Again. But spring will come. Right? It has to get here eventually. And this gardener couldn’t be more eager to get out in the dirt and grow some food.

Planting before the last frost

img_2045Last year’s spring planting with Ella

I live on the line between zone 5 and zone 6. Our last frost is usually somewhere between May 15th and Labor Day. Last year we had a late heavy frost at the end of May and had to cover a few things, but we did alright.

But if your garden adventures have never gone beyond tomatoes and peppers you should know that there are all sorts of things to plant, even in cooler weather. Some veggies even thrive in the cooler temps and can withstand a good amount of frost.

I was pretty happy with last year’s spring veggies. So we’ll be revisiting some of our favorites and changing up a few others.

Direct seeding


I’ve got to say, this is my favorite way to plant. Just till and poke those little seeds in the ground. The end. And there really are a lot of plants that do just fine this way. Here’s the seeds I’ll be planting directly into the garden come mid to late March.

  • radishes (super fast germination means I’ll be planting new seeds about every two weeks until it gets really hot–for a continual radish harvest)
  • spinach
  • peas
  • onions
  • swiss chard (I ordered a beautiful rainbow variety!)
  • lettuce (this I’ll wait until a little later in the spring–depending on conditions here)
  • beets (these will also wait until a little later)

Starting seeds indoors

This year, I really wanted to grow our own seedlings for those veggies that do better as transplants. I’m hoping it will save us some money in the long run. Plus I get the added bonus of loads more varieties to choose from and I can select heirloom plants that will provide me with seeds for future gardens. This year, I ordered from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and I was really impressed with their catalog. Ordering from a seed supplier is new for me, but I’m hoping that this supplier will turn out to be good one.

Since the majority of the spring veggies can be directly sown into the soil, I’ll only be working with a few inside this year. My husband will be putting together a grow station of just a shelf and light fixture. (I’ll post about the grow station soon.)

I really want to grow our own cabbage. Homemade slaws and sauerkraut from home grown cabbage…yay! I selected a variety with a shorter harvest time, so hopefully we can get an early summer and then a fall harvest later in the year.

And I’ve decided that since I’m impatient, I want to start a few of the lettuce and spinach plants indoors. That way we can eat from them a little sooner while the direct seeded plants are maturing.

Hopefully this week, we’ll get the grow stations going and I’ll at least get to play with dirt a little bit. This totally counts as science, so I’ll be involving the kids as well.  Then, while I wait for warmer and drier days to till, my next project will be to learn as much as I can about organic pest and disease control. (Cause I’m terrified of cabbage worms.)

Lord willing, we’ll soon be watching our own little plants pop up. I can almost taste the fresh picked lettuce and the sweet peas!

Do you plant a spring garden? What will you be growing?

How to Make Meatless Meals More Satisfying

I’ve been talking a lot about the grocery budget and saving money. I’ve got cash flow on the brain, I guess. To that end, we’ve been deliberately eating more meatless meals. I sort of got out of the habit of meatless meals after we purchased a quarter beef and were blessed with 3 deer during hunting season. It seemed like the freezer was overflowing with protein, and I was using it liberally.

But all the farm raised chickens are gone. The ground beef is nearly gone. And I can see the back of my freezer again. I dawned on me that we need to make this meat go further, last longer.

My family isn’t opposed to meatless meals. They like their beans and veggies and such. But we are some serious meat eaters. Love it. Crave it. So if I’m going to put more veggie based meals into the line up, then I might need to keep a few tricks up my sleeve.

Beans, beans and more beans

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It’s no secret that beans are a great place to turn when animal protein isn’t on the menu. Loads of protein, vitamins, minerals, fiber and complex carbs. They fill you up and keep you going. We love beans!

Some folks, however, aren’t bean fans. Or maybe they are not thrilled with the effects beans might have on them. One way we’ve found to minimize this is to start with dried beans. Give them a rinse and a good soak (overnight or longer) in water with a tablespoon or two of apple cider vinegar. When the soaking period is over, drain, rinse, cover with water and cook. Don’t skip the soaking step. It makes the beans more digestible and minimizes bloating and gas.

Plus, when you start with dried beans, you get more than twice your money’s worth (I can get 4 pint jars of beans out of a one pound bag that cost me about a dollar. I’d only get two cans–if that–for the same price.) If you find them inconvenient, just cook up a couple pounds, separate into jars or freezer bags and freeze them. They’ll thaw quickly in a bowl of warm water.

Make them interesting. The options are endless!

  • Pintos with a load of Mexican spices are a family favorite. Top with shredded cheese and sour cream.
  • White beans boiled with a ham hock makes a rich, satisfying soup. (A West Virginia staple!)
  • Make bean patties by mashing and adding sautĂ©ed onion, an egg, bread crumbs and your favorite seasonings. Fry in a hot pan with a little butter or olive oil.
  • Make your own hummus for dipping.
  • Homemade baked beans
  • Add to vegetable based soups like Minestrone

Brown it up!

IMG_2844Some veggie fritters browning in my beloved cast iron!

Back in prehistoric days when we had satellite TV (okay, it only feels like forever ago), I was an avid Food Network fan. And I remember one chef in particular who would always say that brown equals flavor…or something like that. Not brown food, but browning your food. Sear it up, baby!

So whether you’re sautĂ©ing onions or stir frying broccoli, kick up the heat, use a heavy bottom pan (cast iron is great for this) and DON’T TOUCH IT for a bit. Let it get a little browned on one side before you start fiddling with it. That one little step gives an extra depth of flavor to your veggie dish. (The one exception I can think of is garlic. Browned garlic tastes burnt and bitter. So I always add it in when the onions are about done.)

Oven roast it

This is kind of the same idea as above. But this time, you’re roasting at a relatively high heat (around 400 or higher). Toss chopped veggies with a little oil, salt and pepper and pop it in a preheated oven. The difference between a boiled sweet potato and roasted sweet potato chunks is HUGE. Let them get a little brown on the edges. You’re caramelizing the natural sugars in the veggies and bringing out their sweetness.

Don’t skimp on the fat

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Fat is not your enemy, folks. Not if it’s real and unprocessed. Many of the vitamins in veggies are fat soluble (like Vitamin A), so you need that fat to make those nutrients absorbable.

I’ve found that the most satisfying fats to use in a meatless dish are animal fats. Remember, I’m not trying for a completely vegetarian plate here, I’m just trying to serve a frugal dinner. But fats like butter (or clarified butter), bacon drippings or beef or chicken fat add a savory, meaty flavor to a dish, whether it’s got meat or not.

And yes, I save my bacon drippings. I let my homemade chicken and beef stock cool and then remove the fat layer into a container in the frig. It will keep about a week and makes a great fat to sautĂ© my veggies, or stir into my refried beans. (You know that’s the secret to those refried beans you love at the Mexican restaurant–they put lard in them!) Don’t throw these away! It’s like a free yummy layer of flavor ready and waiting to add to any dish.  Doing this stretches my more expensive pantry fats like olive and coconut oil so I don’t have to buy it as often.

If you’re wanting to include more meatless meals, or up the veggie intake, you’ve got to think beyond steamed broccoli and bowls of salad. Sure, these are good too, but there are so many different and yummy ways to prepare them. It keeps my kids eating their produce and stretches that meat just a bit further.

What tips do you have for meatless meals?

Raising Mature Kids in an Immature World

raising mature kidsimage credit

We’ve been reading a lot of really good history this year. Covering the very beginnings of America. Learning the perseverance and sacrifice of great men and women.

But we’ve also read about wars. And political jockeying. Of the corruption of power and disregard for fellow men. The more we learn about history, the more it strikes me that things are more or less the same. Nothing new under the sun.

Except maybe what we really value in a person. Because no matter how foolish Napoleon was, or how petty an early political party was, society by and large was taught and conditioned to hold certain traits in high esteem. Courage. Sacrifice. Perseverance. Faith. Integrity. Mercy. Basically all those characteristics of a mature, positive member of society. The same traits that the Bible says we should strive for.

And I wonder if we took a poll of modern society–if we asked them who they admire most–what would they say? What would they list as the most important traits a person should have? I’m sure some would list those I mentioned above. But you have to admit that if we stack that list up against the “important” people of today, we might see a serious discrepancy.

I think it all boils down to maturity. They say that the stage of adolescence is now extending well beyond the teenage years. We often think nothing (and have even come to expect) of the mid life crisis, where a 40-something starts acting curiously like their 16-year-old son or daughter. And reality TV parks in our living rooms, introducing us to grown men and women who whine, complain, gossip, cheat and literally throw tantrums for all the world to see.

This is not the pattern of living that I want my children to follow. I feel like I’m constantly trying to instruct and guide and snuff this stuff out, which is perfectly normal as a child. And yet I seem to be meeting more and more adults who do the same things. Somewhere along the line, as we grew up, we were supposed to leave childish things behind. We were supposed to develop that inner filter that made us shut our yap, or think of others first, or stick it out and do the hard thing because it’s right.

That’s becoming a rare breed, folks. Even in the church.

But that’s the kind of woman I want to be. I know I’m not perfect. I still have MUCH to learn. But I am not content with the accepted character traits around me. Instead, I want to seek out the modern day heroes. Men and women who exhibit all the qualities of a mature, self aware, self-less person. They’re out there. I can think of one couple in particular at my church. And you can find your own, too. They might just not be the famous, splashy, most convincing personality in the room.

May we never fall into the trap of following someone just because they’re well known or well liked. Because we need to look deeper.

I think it’s time I start reading some biographies of the great men and women of a mature faith. I want to introduce a new set of role models to my children. I want to so saturate their minds with men and women after God’s own heart, that they can’t help but recognize the great difference between them and what the world calls good.

Maybe together, we can redefine adulthood–get back to what it was meant to be–and raise a group of kids that will call everyone else to a higher standard and to their God.