Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Being Present

My thoughts today aren't particularly about being a mother, or about food allergies, but I hope they will be helpful to all of you as we are in the midst of the holiday season. Today I re-learned the importance and benefit of being present in the moment.

With 4 children, life often feels quite chaotic to me. I can never finished today's To Do List today, and there are always interruptions that cause a task to take longer than I planned. As a result, I have become a master at multi-tasking. Some of my multi-tasking is very beneficial, such as bringing a book or magazine in the car so I can do a little reading while I wait for my kids to come out of their activity. However, I have noticed more and more often that I am thinking about the next important task while doing this important task, and as a result I make mistakes.

Two days after Thanksgiving, my kids wanted to start decorating for Christmas. I agreed, and out came the tree, the boxes of ornaments, dozens of strings of lights--we don't actually use them all when we decorate, but we like to have options. Once the tree was up and there were ornaments, boxes, lights, packing material and ribbon spread all over the living room and dining room, the kids started asking about making gingerbread houses. Soon after that, they wanted to make candy for their teachers. I said no, we need to finish decorating, clean it up, and then begin planning our next Christmas project. Sophie asked me why, and the answer that came out of my mouth is so completely true: in order for me to enjoy Christmastime and all the traditions we have surrounding Christmas, I need to be present for today's activities and complete them before I move on to the next thing.

Today I got to try out "being present" in a very small way. Wednesday is my baking day. I decided to make muffins. The past few times I have made muffins, I was so rushed that I didn't spray my muffin tins well and ended up with muffins stuck in the pans, or breaking as I took them out. Today I was enjoying making muffins and focused on my task. I sprayed the muffin tins liberally. I measured and mixed ingredients accurately. And when the muffins were baked, 25 of 28 muffins came out of the pans beautifully, because I was present and focused on the activity at hand, instead of thinking about something else while I worked on the muffins.

A successful batch of muffins is much more satisfying than a ruined batch of muffins and a half-ruined batch of cookies. Being present and enjoying today's activity is more important to me than completing a long list of things that I won't remember doing. I hope that you will also choose to slow down at this hectic time of year and be present for the important things.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Aunt Jeannie's Cranberry Salad

In our family, holidays have always been built around family and food, and we have big families. Last Thanksgiving, we had a total of 16 people staying at our house. Holiday recipes have become traditions, and we were delighted to realize that Aunt Jeannie's Cranberry Salad is safe for Sophie—no modifications are even necessary. This is certainly a family favorite. Last year, we made a double batch for Thanksgiving Day, and a second double batch for after Thanksgiving. Some people might consider this salad to be a relish, but our family eats it like a separate dish. It's been known to be eaten straight out of a bowl, and I've also seen family members pile it onto turkey, mashed potatoes, and even on top of pie! Making it a few weeks before Thanksgiving to take the pictures for this post was a special treat. Every one of my children said, “You mean we get to eat it today?!?”

Aunt Jeannie's Cranberry Salad
1 12 ounce bag of whole fresh cranberries
1 navel orange
1 granny smith apple
1 cup sugar
This salad is very simple to make. You will need a food processor or a high quality blender. I use a food processor, so these instructions will reflect that.
Sort and rinse the cranberries if necessary. Be sure to drain them well if you do rinse them. Pour the cranberries into the food processor and pulse until they are chopped evenly, and to the size you prefer. 

Empty the cranberries into a large mixing bowl. Wash the orange and apple, but do not peel them. Cut the orange into quarters and process it in the food processor just as you did with the cranberries.

Some people like to process the apple in the food processor as well, but I prefer to chop it instead. I like the texture and color that this adds to the salad. I quarter and core my apple, slice it thin in one direction and then slice it thin again at a 90 degree angle to the first slice.

This photo shows the half on the right has been chopped completely, and the half on the left is only half done.

Add the oranges and apples to the mixing bowl, as well as 1 cup of sugar. Mix the salad together and eat immediately or refrigerate overnight before serving. Make sure to get some quick, or you won't have any at all!

Saturday, November 12, 2011


Recently, a friend of a friend was diagnosed with food allergies. As I tried to help her support her friend, I thought of things that people did to support our family when Sophie was diagnosed with food allergies.

One friend wanted to do a babysitting swap. The idea terrified me at first, because Sophie was crawling at the time, and picked up and ate everything she saw on the floor. But Lisa realized the danger and she decided that "mop the floors" day would be the same as babysitting swap day. Every time it was her turn to watch my kids, she vacuumed and mopped and found every tiny crumb in every corner so that little Sophie wouldn't be able to eat something dangerous, like graham crackers or Goldfish.

Often in those first years, I would get envelopes in the mail from my Mom--recipes she found that would be safe for Sophie to eat. She tore out recipes from all kinds of magazines and mailed them to me. She researched "ice cream" made with soy or rice milk. She found less expensive gluten-free pastas. And when we would visit, my Mom purchased new bags of baking and other ingredients, to be sure there were no cross-contamination issues.

As Sophie got older, it was important for her to be able to have playdates. I always felt more comfortable with friends coming over to our house--honestly, I still feel that way--but Teri liked to have Sophie over at her house. I would pack a little snack for her to take, until Teri told me she always picked up certain little things when she went to the grocery store so that Sophie would have a snack if she happened to come over.

Over the years, I have appreciated all the friends who thought about Sophie's allergies when she was coming over for a party. I have been grateful for every classroom party planner who gave me the menu before the party. I have been glad for each teacher who let me know ahead of time about popsicle parties, or pizza parties, or popcorn parties so that I could check labels or bring an alternative for Sophie. I am grateful to every person who spent enough time thinking about Sophie to realize that she needs to be included, even though she might not be able to eat exactly what everyone else eats. Because, really, when it comes down to it, Sophie is a kid just like any other.