Monday, February 27, 2012

Allergy Friendly Lasagna

My determination to make tomato-less tomato sauce the other day was fueled mostly by the fact that I had been invited to a lasagna lunch after church on Sunday (which I ended up not going to). There was no way I was going to just eat salad while everyone else ate lasagna. It was just not going to happen. And to make lasagna, I needed to make tomato-less tomato sauce first. Then I could make allergy friendly lasagna free from gluten, wheat, dairy, egg, tomato, and any other nasty stuff.  There is soy in this recipe, so if you can't do soy, I'm sorry.  I can't keep everyone happy.

Now for the Joy-Friendly lasagna "recipe"*:

In one container mix: browned ground beef, tomato-less tomato sauce, spices (I use basil, oregano, marjoram, rosemary, and thyme), and sauteed peppers and onions.

In another container mix: 1 package (12oz) firm tofu, a variety of daiya cheese

Have ready: oven ready rice lasagna noodles, extra tomato-less tomato sauce, spinach, extra diaya cheese, vegan parmesan topping, a 9x13 pan

Get started:
Spread a layer of mixture 1 (meat mixture) in the bottom of the pan.
Put a single layer of lasagna noodles over it.
Add a layer of spinach
Top with a layer of mixture 2 (likely all of it, unless you have a really deep pan)
Add a layer of noodles spread rest of the meat mixture over the noodles add sauce to cover any exposed noodles
Sprinkle with diaya cheese top with vegan parmesan topping stick in the oven and cook according to the directions on the noodle package.

Enjoy your lasagna.
It tastes even awesomer than it looks.  I'm not the best food photographer.

*I'm not sure I can actually call this a recipe because I don't actually measure anything.  I just guess and go with what looks good. 

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Tomato-less Tomato Sauce

At some point last year, probably in an attempt to find something to do with all the beets we had from our CSA, my amazing roommate LDK found a recipe for a soup that we dubbed "red hooker lipstick soup". It tasted a lot like tomato soup, despite the fact that it was tomato-less. Shortly thereafter a recipe for marina sauce was found, which led to adventures with chicken parmesan, again, with no tomatoes. After these discoveries, my head went wild with possibilities. If I could use these same principles, I could recreate all my favorite tomato type dishes. Without the tomato. And I could make them for my little brother who is also tomato free. So many possibilities! Since then I have successfully made chili (okay, mom helped me with the chili...I have bad experiences with cooking dried's a long story) and my little brother has successfully made, canned and dried "tomato" sauce. This particular day it was my turn to make "tomato" sauce. 

I don't do things in small quantities. I purposely made a whole bunch so I can freeze some and have it when I need "tomato" and don't have time or energy to make any. So I started with about 60 oz (2 cans) of pureed pumpkin, 30 oz (2 cans) of whole cooked beets, 2 cups of chicken stock, 3/4 cup of lemon juice, 4 TBSP of balsamic vinegar and 4 tsp of salt. I was a little heavy on the salt. Next time I think I might cut back on the salt a bit, but in the end it was all okay. 
I pureed all of that together with my immersion blender. It was a delightful purply mess. At that point it was basically the equivalent of tomato-less tomato paste. Since I don't use tomato-less tomato paste very often I decided to go ahead and process it all the way to tomato-less tomato sauce, a product I use much more frequently. To this purple puree I added about 2 cups of lightly sauteed onion along with about 3 cloves of lightly sauteed garlic, 1 1/2 a tsp of oregano, 2 bay leaves, 1 tsp of pepper, 1/2 tsp of red pepper flakes, and 1 tsp of sugar. I then added about 4 cups of water and mixed it all together. The amount of water isn't important. It just had to be enough to make it liquid enough to let it cook so everything could cook together. Otherwise adding things like the oregano, bay leaves and red pepper flakes would be useless. I let it simmer on the stove top all afternoon, stirring frequently. As it cooked it went from purple to red, until by the end, when it was the right consistency for tomato sauce (all the extra water had boiled out), it looked just like tomato sauce. 
Here's a picture of my tomato-less tomato sauce all ready for use in yummy recipes.

In summary: puree together: 60 oz of pumpkin puree 30 oz of canned (or fresh cooked) beets 3/4 cup of lemon juice 4 TBSP of balsamic vinegar 2 cups of chicken or vegetable stock 4tsp of salt

Sautee: 2 cups chopped onion 3 cloves minced garlic

Add together: the puree and sauteed vegetables 1 1/2 tsp oregano 1tsp peper 1/2 tsp hot pepper flakes 2 bay leaves 1 tsp sugar about 4 cups of water

Bring to a simmer and let simmer for many hours, stirring on occasion to prevent sticking. When it has reached the right consistency for tomato sauce, it is done. Enjoy your tomato-less tomato sauce! (and clean up everywhere it splattered while cooking...)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Please Help

Dear Friends, especially those in the Holland, Michigan area, the long short of things is that I'm going to be off my leg for awhile yet.  I've started physical therapy and we are hoping to get me up and moving sooner rather than later but I did a lot of damage to my leg and it's going to take time.
I'm frustrated by it.  Some days I'm frustrated enough that I want to cry.  I want to be out and able to do things that I used to be able to do on my own, or with very little assistance.  Right now I can't even get outside of my house by myself (Huge shout out to Andy for being so faithful in getting me out for class every day!).  I feel stuck and I feel like a burden to those around me, and I hate feeling that way.
Once again, this is a plea for help with some things that I just can't do on my own right now and that need to happen.

  • The bank on 8th street.  If the weather is gross, a car would be good, if the weather is not gross, it is walkable.
  • Physical therapy appointments.  My PT is on Douglas street and I go Tuesdays and Thursdays in the afternoon. I have a 1:30 appointment this Thursday and I don't know how I'm getting there yet.
  • Walgreens on Washington to pick up a prescription
  • grocery shopping at Meijer
I typically have class in the mornings, but most afternoons are freer (Wednesdays involve church, later Monday afternoon is my therapy pool time).

If you can help in any way, please let me know.  leave a comment, e-mail me, send a carrier pigeon, find me at school... 
Thank you in advance!

Monday, February 13, 2012

How to help

After my blog post about mounting frustrations and some facebook posts about frustrations I’ve had a number of people asking how they can help make things easier for me while I heal.  I’m not usually very good at asking in the moment.  I’m notoriously bad at asking for help.  I try to be independent, I try to not burden other people, but I’m trying to learn to be humble and accept help.  So, if you genuinely want to help, here are some suggestions on you can help. *Note: this will be ongoing.  Doc says I might be off my leg for 6 weeks or more*

  • As long as there is snow and ice on the ground I can’t get in and out of my house to get to class.  I need to be at school at 8am on Monday and Thursdays.  The other days it’s roughly 9:30 that I need to be at school. 
  • I can get my laundry downstairs and wash it, but I can’t get it back upstairs.  Right now there is a load waiting down stairs to come back up. 
  • On February 19 I am preaching the evening service at First Reformed Church. I can’t get there on my own and need a ride.  I will also need a ride home.
  • I need to go to the bank on 8th street.  Again, too far for me to get on my own
  • I'm going to have to start physical therapy soon to try and rehabilitate my knee. I don't know where for sure yet or how often, but I know it's going to have to be happening.  The doctor hopes to have me up and walking on my own by the beginning of April.  We'll see if the physical therapist agrees.  
  • Being able to get to the therapy pool a couple times a week at the aquatic center would be excellent for my knee.  Normally I ride my bike to the aquatic center, but with my knee all messed up I can’t get there.  The aquatic center has free wifi, lots of swimming place, a workout room etc, so if you want to bring me so that I can work on my knee, there are lots of ways to amuse yourself (if you want to swim or workout I can even give you a pass).  Here’s a link to when therapy pool hours are.  There are not always regular swimming hours during therapy hours.
  • I can't get to the grocery store on my own. Even being there is a bit of a challenge. 
  • I'm sure there's more, but that's what I've got for now. 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

4.5 out of 5

It's not very often that I give a restaurant 4.5 out of 5 stars, but it happened Friday.  My mom arrived just as I was finishing class on Friday and we headed to Grand Rapids to meet my cousin for lunch.  The drive was horrible.  We hadn't had much "weather" all winter and then sure enough as mom is driving into Holland we get an icky icky storm.  Go figure. My cousin had recommended that we stop by a little place called "Marie Catrib's", so I'd googled the the address and that's where we headed.  It was a little crowded in the store, so we had to wait a moment and then we were seated at a cozy table (we could have waited longer and sat less cozily, but we're all family and have been even cozier before).  The waiter brought the menu and I began to look over it.  I saw some information about gluten free bread and the next time the waiter came back we inquired further into it. The initial screening on all four types of gluten free bread came back positive. I had choices. I probably should have inquired further, but I didn't want to jeopardize anything, so I took a bit of a leap of faith.  I actually cried as I looked over the menu and realized I had choices.  Lots of choices.  I ordered a roast beef sandwich without the cheese and without some sort of sauce that had way too many vowels in it because the sauce was not Joy-friendly.  The sandwich came and I just looked at it. Here was an honest to goodness sandwich, made in a restaurant, that was safe for me to eat.  I didn't look at it long before I dug in.  It was delicious. Phenomenal.  I even got to get up and look at the dessert  case, but passed on desserts because they didn't have an ingredient list handy and Marie was at the doctor and couldn't be reached.
The service was excellent, the food was delicious.  The only thing that would have moved this restaurant from a 4.5 to a 5 would have been to have ingredient lists handy so I could have thoroughly checked things. I really wasn't supposed to have that many carbs at that point in time (I'm still paying for that!), but if I get a chance to go there again, carb restrictions or not, I'm going!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Please Listen

To those of you who work in food service, whether high end or fast fast food, to those of you who cook for other people, to those of you who share food with anyone, whether it is for a price or free.  Please read this.
If someone asks you what is in something.  Please tell them.  Tell them everything.  If you don't know, tell them that. If they are taking the time to ask, the probably have a good reason.  They aren't just trying to be annoying or steal your secret family recipe.  So tell them.  Don't leave things out because there is a just a "little bit" of it in there or because you don't usually put that in there.  Be open and be honest.
If someone asks you to leave a specific ingredient out, for example cheese or croutons on a salad, please listen. They are trusting you.  Don't assume they want it left off just because they are picky.  Sometimes that might be the case, but not always. If they say no croutons and you forget and put them on, don't just pick them off.  Make a new salad.  Same if they say no cheese.   Sometimes it's a matter of life and death.
Think I'm exaggerating?  Mom and I stopped at a place where traditionally we've been able to get "Joy-friendly" food to eat.  I was tired and hungry after an afternoon of wedding dress shopping and also crashing from too many carbs at lunch, so I needed carbs to prevent the grumps from taking over the rest of the evening.  We went through the drive through.  Mom ordered and three times stated that we wanted no cheese on the salad.  No cheese. The person taking our order repeated it back to her.  No cheese.  We got our meal and I opened my salad and began to eat.  I spit most of my first bite back out.  There was cheese on the salad. It was dark so I hadn't seen it.  Mom took the salad back in and complained. I took my first two doses of benadryl and a dose of ventolin. They remade the salad and we continued home (maybe 5-10 minutes).  Shortly there after I took my third and last permissible dose of benadryl.  Followed very quickly by an EpiPen.  The next three hours were spent at the hospital while they tried to stabilize me and observed me.  One bite is all it takes.
So if you are giving food to anyone, for any reason, at any time.  Please, listen to them.  It could change their life.

Friday, February 10, 2012


Yesterday’s post was kind of a downer and I’m really not a negative person overall.  I’d just had one too many really bad day.  Today's post, much better.
There have been so many good things lately too.  I don't mean to focus on the bad, because they I just get grumpy.
For example, on Wednesday, the afternoon sun was coming in the window of the church just right and I sat there and read for class.  It was perfect, as if the window and the sun had been made just for me.
I also have amazing friends.  Friends who have gone out of their way to help me.  I had a friend come over on Thursday night and help me clean.  My room was cleaner after that than it had been in two years I think.  She even helped me vacuum the floor. Rest my house may still be a mess, but my room is clean and the bed even has fresh sheets!
Mom made is safely here this afternoon and we went for lunch at a lovely place (more on that later!) and spent the afternoon trying on wedding dresses.  I was exhausted by the time we were done, but it was maybe just a tiny bit fun. Mom also brought wonderful Canadian treasures with her like School Safe Butter (which trumps amercian soy butter by a long shot) and a gift from my dear friend and mentor Aunt Nancy.
I get fresh vegetables every week from the CSA I share with friends.  I might not always know what to do with them, but I have them.  And they are fresh.
Finally, I'm getting married to the man I love in August.  As much stress as that causes it is so worth it. I love him and he loves me and the wedding is only a day (okay, in our case, two days).  In the grand scheme of things, it's not a big deal.  Just a blip on the radar.  What matters is that we will have all of forever together.
And that's just a small portion of the smiles for today.

Thursday, February 09, 2012


Every once in a while someone will ask me how I manage to do it.  How I manage to go through life with a smile on my face no matter how many blocks are stacked against me.  Most the time I just smile and say that it’s not all that bad, that I just smile and go on with it because I have no choice.   And I usually don’t write when things are bad.  I might write when things are a little bad, but never much.  I try to make light of it or find humor in it, but to really write, I tend to avoid that.
But not today.   Today is a mostly uncensored picture of what really bad looks like.
I have a chronic underlying medical condition that affects how my body processes sugar (and carbohydrates which are broken down into sugar).  Most the time it’s not a big deal, it just stays dormant and I don’t really have to worry about it.  Every so often it flares up.  A couple times a year, typically right after a major holiday or a time of major stress (read: exams), and even more so if my immune system has been compromised by seasonal bugs (stomach flu, influenza, colds, etc).  Like it or not, I’m in the midst of a nasty flare. Which means I’m grumpy, I have frequent headaches, I want to sleep all the time, I’m nauseous, I have to take icky medicine, and I can’t eat anything.  I’m allowed to eat unlimited amounts of nuts, eggs, meat and fat.  Except I’m severely allergic to nuts and eggs.  So that leaves meat and fat.  And very limited amounts of other foods, some more limited than others.   I can have some rice and vegetables (as long as they aren’t starchy), but next to no potatoes, fruit or processed grains. It wouldn’t be a big deal if I had the energy to think about meals and unlimited resources to figure out what to put into my body to limit getting sick.  But I don’t.
And then factor in the wheelchair.  About two weeks ago I took a nasty fall that injured my knee.  Initially the doctor thought it was just a bad sprain.  Gave me some anti-inflammatory drugs, told me to ice it and stay off of it and call him in a week if it wasn’t better.  I called him last week.  It was some better, but nowhere near all better.   He told me to give it another week.  That week will up tomorrow.  I’m still waking up at night because of the pain.  I spend a large amount of my day in a wheelchair borrowed from church, because it’s faster than trying to get around on crutches.  I use the crutches if I don’t have far to go and don’t have much to carry with me.  On the bright side, my left leg (the “good” leg) and my shoulders are going to be super muscular by the time this is done.
I’ve always had a decent idea of how inhospitable the world can be to those in wheelchairs, but actually spending a lot of time in one changes your perspective a bit.  For example, at the seminary, the only street side door that operates via a switch is by the library.  The door where most of the community enters the seminary (by the community kitchen and commons and chapel) does not operate via a switch.  Because that door is relatively light I’ve learned to master it by grabbing it with my right arm, flinging it open, and then quickly maneuvering myself in, just far enough to keep it from closing on me.  And then repeating the whole thing with the next door.
Bathrooms have become more accessible over the years, except for the part where you actually have to get into the bathroom.  For some reason building people like to put really heavy doors on bathrooms.  And almost no bathrooms have switch operated doors.  To get into a bathroom I line myself up backwards to the door and push as hard as I possibly can.  And then I push some more.  Sometimes I can get it.  Sometimes I have to wait for someone to help me.  And then there are those wonderful bathrooms like the one at church that have a decorative flower stand type thing just inside the door (it actually has a basket on it that has emergency supplies in it).  Sometimes it’s too close to the door and in my Rambo-style pushing to get in, the door hits it and knocks it over.  The wheelchair usually fits in the stall, but then there is no wiggle room at all.  I have a good leg that I can pivot on, but it’s still a fine art of getting from the chair to the throne and back.
Oh, and during all this it hurts.  My knee just doesn’t stop hurting.  I can’t ever forget that it hurts.  It won’t let me.  By the end of the day, the pain is so ridiculous that I’m ready to cry.  And sometimes I do.  Forget the effort it takes to try and make dinner or take a shower.  Forget independently going to go get groceries or even getting to the pool for the aqua-therapy that will make it feel better.  I’m doing amazing to managed to get out of the house for class in the morning (it’s not graceful, it’s not pretty, it’s not dignified, but I can do it.  Sorta).
And that’s just part of the picture.  I’ve got a sinus infection dealie going on right now.  I can hear even less than I can normally hear.  As fluid shifts in my ear canal my balance goes wonky and the sound keeps shifting.
Oh, and my fiancĂ© is in a different state (and time zone), we’re  planning a wedding and going to school and working church.  This is life.

How do I do it?  Some days I smile, other days I cry.  Not every day is good, not every day is bad.  Most days are good, many fall in between, but sometimes, sometimes I have those really bad awful no good kind of days.   And then I go to bed and hope the next one will be better.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012


In the last year and a half that I have worked at First Reformed Church I have worked with lots of "challenges".  I've shown up to work with mono, on crutches because of tweaked knees or ankles, with ear infections, with my central auditory processing disorder flared so bad I could hardly understand what was going on around me, and so on.  But today was different. I showed up to work in a wheelchair.
Due to a unfortunate incident involving multiple pairs of ice skates, a bunch of friends and a small child I have badly sprained knee.  Doctor says I am supposed to stay completely off of it at least through the weekend, along with icing, elevating, etc.  And since I always listen to my doctor I'm in a wheelchair.
To be honest, I was a little nervous. I wasn't nervous about staff meeting or homework time or anything like that.  I wasn't even really nervous about the community dinner.  I was nervous about teaching my class of 4 and 5 year olds. How would they react to me in a wheelchair?  Would I be able to lead the class well from a wheelchair?  Would I have three kids or nine kids?
My fears were unfounded.  The kids hardly seemed to notice.  The only time any of them said anything was when we were singing "Stand up, Sit down" and one of them suggested I raise my good leg instead of trying to stand up when we got there.  By the time we were done class, I was playing "tickle monster" with all of them just fine.  Class from a wheelchair had gone just fine.  The biggest problem I'd actually had all day at work was trying to get into the ladies' room.  Once I was in I was fine, it was just the getting in part that didn't work out so great.
What struck me most about the whole experience was that my kiddos were so accepting.  There was no questioning, not fear, just acceptance.  Miss Joy was simply in a wheelchair and that was that.  One child came up behind me and started pushing me and we had a little talk about wheelchair etiquette, but other than that, things were good.  And that made me happy. I wish more people could be like that.  So accepting, so innocent.