Completely Allergy Friendly and Actually Good Chocolate Chip Cookies

I know I mentioned this a while back, but my niece is gluten free. My extended family has been making a considerable effort to make all meals safe for both my niece and Ricky. For those of you keeping track, that means free of gluten, dairy, eggs, peanuts and tree nuts. Yup, it’s a lot. Lucky for us, my sister is a great cook and I do my best to keep up:-) So, we have started compiling a list of apps, entrees, sides and desserts that are safe for the whole family and I’m going to share them here as well. In an effort to start off with a bang, the first recipe up is a chocolate chip recipe free of the top 8 allergens! That is a big flipping deal guys!

We started with both of our favorite chocolate chip recipe, the much revered Nieman Marcus chocolate chip recipe, and tweaked it until it was safe and tasted just as delicious as the original. No, I am not just saying that, it is actually just as good as the original recipe! My family is not exactly the kindest of critics when it comes to food, and they all approved! I’m going to give you both the non-gluten free and gluten free options, just to cover all our bases.

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Top 8 Safe Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 cup dairy-free butter at room temp (we use Blue Bonnet Lactose Free sticks, Earth Balance Dairy-Free, Soy-Free is a great options as well)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 flax eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 cups flour*
  • 2.5 cups blended oatmeal**
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 8-10 oz Enjoy Life chocolate chips (This depends on your taste, I like a little less chocolate in my cookies…don’t judge me)

Directions

  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Mix your flax eggs and set aside.
  • In a large bowl, cream the butter and both sugars
  • Mix in the flax eggs and vanilla
  • In a seperate bowl, combine flour (and xanthum gum if using), blended oatmeal, salt, baking powder and baking soda
  • Slowly incorporate flour mixture into butter/egg mixture. Once fully blended, stir in chocolate chips.***
  • Roll dough into balls and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for ~10 minutes at 375 degrees. Cool on a wire rack.
  • Enjoy and try not to eat all of these in one sitting!

*If gluten free, use 2 cups  King Arthur All Purpose Gluten Free Flour and 1 tsp xanthum gum
** Place rolled oats in a food processor and blend until it is a fine powder
*** Suggestion: refrigerate dough for ~30 minutes (or longer) prior to rolling into balls. The dough is much easier to work with when it is cold

Nut Free Tiger’s Game

Our family went to a Tiger’s game a couple weeks back (delayed post, I know) and had an absolutely amazing time! The Tiger’s offer a “Peanut Friendly” game one weekend every year. They clean a few suites and sell tickets with special accommodations for families with nut allergies. Isn’t that wonderful? For those of you who have never been and are curious, here is the run down. The seats are all located in one of three suites that are thoroughly cleaned prior to the game. The suites are all open to each other and there are no assigned seats, so you can walk around and swap seats once you’re inside. They do offer food for purchase, but none with peanuts or tree nuts. Unfortunately for those of us with dairy allergies, there was lots of pizza in the area. You were also welcome to bring in your own food/drink, but they asked parents to not pack anything that could cause an allergic reaction, including nuts, dairy and eggs. The tickets include entrance through the Tiger’s Garage, which is typically reserved for season ticket holders. This was an especially nice touch for those individuals who want to avoid the concourse entirely. The event coordinator was extremely competent and helpful- we will definitely be taking advantage of these nut free games in the future!

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We were so excited to take Raymond, and especially Ricky, to their first Tiger’s game. Raymond was a champ the whole time- just such a happy camper hanging out in the Solly wrap. Ricky had a blast! He was so excited the whole time and really enjoyed all the sights. We were comfortable walking through the concourse, but carried him the whole time since the ground is covered in peanut shells. His favorite parts were definitely meeting Paws and riding the carousal. Paws told Ricky (with hand motions, obviously) that he liked his sweatshirt and Ricky was pretty darn pumped about it. I was nervous leading up to the game, but I am so glad we went outside of our box. We were definitely cautious the entire time, eating only our own snacks and wiping down surfaces outside of the suite (I’m talking to you tiger carousal parked right in the middle of the food court and no doubt licked by some child after eating ice cream). Ricky’s face and excitement made it all worth it and it really was the best family day!

Baked Milk Challenge: Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

Ricky’s taste buds change faster than any human I know. It is insane. Example: I bought clementines for him to try this past winter because the previous year he had been a big fan. He tried them twice and spit them out both times- just not happening. Then he visited my sister’s house about a month later and ate an entire clementine, all the while chirping about how delicious it was! So, of course I go to the store and buy more for our house. Two days later, he hates them again. wth. It is annoying with clementines, but it is absolutely infuriating when it happens with milk muffins. I usually make a double batch of baked dairy muffins and freeze them, because they are such a pain to make. I’m sure you all understand- when cooking with something your little one is allergic to, you try to be as cautious as possible! I only make them when Ricky is sleeping, then scour the kitchen afterwards to make sure no dairy got anywhere. Gotta love food challenges. So, when I have 24 muffins in the freezer is not the best time for Ricky to decide he no longer likes a certain flavor. Lucky for me, I have found the winner. He has yet to get sick of these and I suspect it is due to the chocolate chips. That kid will eat anything if you put chocolate chips in it… I wonder where he comes from😉

My Banana Chocolate Chip muffin recipe is modified from this original. I like to think that the whole wheat flour balances out the chocolate chips in the health spectrum.

Banana Chocolate Chip Muffin

Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins
Makes 12 muffins

Ingredients

  • 2 ripe bananas, mashed (about 1 cup)
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 flax egg
  • 1 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour
  • 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
  •  1/2 tsp salt
  •  1/2 cup Enjoy Life chocolate chips
  • ~1 Tbs granulated sugar

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 400ºF. Make flax egg and set aside. Mash bananas. 
  • Combine bananas, brown sugar, milk, oil and flax egg in a large bowl- beat well. Mix in flour, baking powder and salt just until incorporated (don’t over mix). Add Enjoy Life chocolate chips.
  • Grease muffin cups or place muffin liners into pan. Divide batter evenly into muffin cups. Sprinkle each with ~1/4 teaspoon sugar.
  • Bake 13 to 18 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Immediately remove from pan and cool on rack.
  • Enjoy!

Family Games for Toddlers

Confession- Karl and I are big board game nerds. If it was up to me, I would play some sort of strategy game for several hours every weekend. Some of my favorites are Settlers of Catan and Dominion….don’t judge me. Lucky for us many of our friends like these kinds of games too, so we used to play very frequently before kids. Now that Ricky is getting a little older, I really want to instill in him a love for strategy games as well. I have big dreams for future family game nights! So, I found a few games that are perfect for his age (2.5 years) and would love to share!

  1. Matching/Memory Card Game– this is a childhood staple. There are many versions of this classic game out there, but we settled on a Planes theme. Ricky is not quite able to play according to the rules, but instead lays them all out face-up and pairs the matches together on a table. I think it is important to find cards that your child is already interested in, so he/she will want to participate. Ricky loves the movie Planes so it was exciting for him to find the characters and pair them together.
  2. Silly Faces– make a face colorform game. You take turns spinning an arrow on a board of facial features, and the goal is to be the first one to complete a silly face. I grew up with this game and my mom gave it to Ricky for Christmas. He is obsessed! He already knows all his body parts, so this isn’t necessarily helpful in teaching recognition, but it is a very good first game. Like most toddlers, taking turns is a tough concept for Ricky and this is a great way to practice!
  3. Roll & Play – cube and card game with basic activity prompts. The Easter Bunny brought this for Ricky and so far I am very impressed. There is a large, plush cube of many colors that you toss and then choose a card of the corresponding color. Each color card has a different activity type, i.e. orange is counting, blue is color recognition. This is such a wonderful learning game!

Meet the Silly Face Family!

We also like to play basic games that don’t involve any materials, such as Red Light, Green Light and Simon Says. I’d love to introduce more games into our rotation- any suggestions?

Grocery Stores are Hard Sometimes

Why is it that sometimes leaving the house feels like a monumental task? When it is chilly outside and you have 2 kids in tow, sometimes the motivation just isn’t there. I may or may not have had one of those weeks last week. I typically go to the grocery store once a week, but I managed to get by without going for two weeks simply because I didn’t wanna go. There are a lot of recipes that require fresh veggies, and there there are gems like this one that are perfect when only the basic pantry staples are remaining in your home.

Shepherd's pie

Shepherd’s Pie

Ingredients

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 tablespoons ketchup
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1 bag frozen mixed vegetables (no need to thaw)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 cups mashed potatoes*

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Start boiling your potatoes.
  2. Cook beef in a large skillet until no longer pink.
  3. Add onions and garlic, cook until onions are translucent
  4. Add thyme, ketchup, and flour; stir until combined. Add 1/2 cup water and frozen vegetables. Cook until vegetables are warmed through and liquid has thickened, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper
  5. Spoon beef mixture into a 2-quart baking dish. Spread potatoes evenly over beef.
  6. Bake until potatoes are lightly browned, 10 to 15 minutes.
  7. Enjoy!

*I typically make my mashed potatoes using chicken broth, salt and pepper, and dairy-free butter (I like Country Crock spreadable), but using coconut milk or the water used to boil the potatoes will do in a pinch

Also, can we just take a moment to note that it snowed in Michigan yesterday. Come on April- give us some sunshine! The Katy Perry style weather has really got me down (ahem… hot ‘n cold, see what I did there #momjoke). I’m SO ready for some fresh air and a change in scenery for the boys. Hurry up spring!

Allergy Friendly Brunch

I’m not the only one with spring fever, right? I desperately want to open all the doors and windows in the house and spend countless hours at the park.

I am so thankful that we had a glimpse of spring on Easter. It was wonderful to have an Easter egg hunt outside and not feel rushed to get back inside to warm up! We had a busy day, starting with 7:45 am mass, breakfast at my sisters and ending with an egg hunt and dinner at Karl’s uncle’s house. Our immediate families have really started to come around to serving only Ricky-friendly food when we’re all together. Have I mentioned that we have awesome families? Because we do. Breakfast is especially tricky to avoid dairy and eggs, on top of that my niece cannot have gluten so we need to try to eliminate that as well! When trying to fit in so many family gatherings on holidays, avoiding breakfast is not really an option, so we have come up with a pretty excellent brunch menu that is delicious and free of nuts, dairy, eggs and gluten!

Brunch Menu

breakfast brunch

It may be simple, but it works for us and I haven’t heard any complaints yet!

Gluten Free Banana Cinnamon Crumble Bread

Ingredients

  • 2 flax eggs (2 Tbs ground flax, mixed with 6 Tbs water)
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk*
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1 cup bananas, mashed (~2 large very ripe bananas)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 3/4 cups King Arthur All Purpose Gluten Free Flour
  • 1 tsp xanthum gum
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Cinnamon Crumble Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup King Arthur All Purpose Gluten Free Flour
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 4 Tbs unsalted butter softened**
  • 1 tsp cinnamon

Directions

  • Make flax eggs and buttermilk and set aside for approximately 5-10 minutes
  • Whisk together flax eggs, buttermilk and oil
  • Mash bananas and add to the flax egg mixture along with the vanilla. Mix well
  • In a separate bowl combine flour, xanthum gum, sugars, baking soda, cinnamon and salt
  • Add flour mixture into the flax egg mixture slowly, stirring to combine. Be careful not to over-mix
  • Pour bread dough into a greased 10″ bread pan
  • Mix your cinnamon crumble topping by adding the flour, sugar and cinnamon to the softened butter and stirring with a fork. Break any large pieces up and sprinkle evenly on top of your bread dough
  • Bake at 325 degrees for 75-85 minutes. Note: this is a lower temperature setting than called for by the “extensively baked” plan, but the duration of time is quite a bit longer, so it is approved by our allergist.
  • Take the bread out of the oven and cool in the pan for a few minutes before removing and placing on a cooling rack

*To make dairy free buttermilk, mix 1 Tbs vinegar with 1 scant cup coconut milk
**Best dairy free option here is Blue Bonnet Lactose Free

And since I know you’re all dying to see my cuties on Easter, here you go! Karl and I have agreed that I can dress the boys (including him) on Christmas and Easter without any sass from him, and I make the absolute most of it!

Sick Kids are the Worst (Vegetable Minestrone is not)

I feel like I’ve been in the trenches of motherhood. Raymond is still refusing a bottle and Ricky has hit a difficult stage of testing boundaries. Both boys (and Karl) were sick the past couple of weeks and this mama is tired. Babies with colds are just sad because they struggle to breastfeed and coughs wake them at night, which leads to mommy holding baby all night and sleeping in a chair. Toddlers with colds are awful because they turn into butt heads. Don’t get me wrong, I know Ricky wasn’t feeling his best and that is hard when you are little and don’t understand, but for some reason this also made him feel as though he could turn into a sassy pants for two weeks straight. Punishing a sick kid is tough; he was extra testy and objecting time outs, and although I didn’t want to make him scream and hurt his throat worse, I also didn’t want to condone his behavior. I ended up being a softy most of the time, which has led to what we’ll call challenging behavior these last couple weeks. He is feeling better now and we are getting back into a normal routine, so here is hoping that his behavior turns back around too. I’m also going to blame spring fever- this kid is ready to get outside and get out some of that energy!

Little Raymond is still trying to get over his cold. I’m hoping he gets back to 100% soon so we can get back to sleep training. Lack of sleep is definitely in the top 3 hardest parts of parenthood. While he has been sick, my nights have been reduced to either getting up every 1-1.5 hours to rock him back to sleep or holding him and sleeping upright. Neither is a good option. Although Karl is more than willing to help, my mamma’s boy is having none of that. Ray loves playing with daddy, but when he needs comforting it is mommy time all the time.

While we were sick, I made some delicious vegetable minestrone soup (it also happened to be a Friday during lent). Homemade soup and homemade bread are an instant pick me up in this house.

vegetable minestrone

Vegetable Minestrone Soup

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 3 large carrot, diced
  • 1 zucchini
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 3 cups low-sodium chicken broth*
  • 3 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 15 -ounce can low-sodium kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup elbow pasta

Directions

Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 30 seconds. Add the celery and carrot and cook until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Stir in the zucchini, dried oregano and basil, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste; cook 3 more minutes.

Add the diced and crushed tomatoes and the chicken broth to the pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer 10 minutes. Stir in the kidney beans and pasta and cook until the pasta and vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes.

*This could easily be made vegan by using only vegetable broth

They might drive me crazy sometimes, but I still wouldn’t trade them for the world.