Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Vegan Chocolate Caramel Cookie Pie

Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Egg Free Cookie Pie?  Yes please!!!  Also, meet my new best friend:

This stuff is crack.  If you have a Sprouts, a Whole Foods, or a local organic co-op you most likely can find it there.  It's a new product that came out just in time for this pie.  In my opinion it's just as good as sweetened condensed milk.....hello dairy-free caramels, Thai coffee, and more!!

Ok, moving on.  But seriously, dairy-free people rejoice ;)

This pie is a treat, my in a very rich, special-occasion-type, give-you-the-sugar-sweats-super-yummo treat!  I wouldn't recommend fixing this if you are on a low-sugar trend; however, you may remove the chocolate ganache layer for a less-rich dessert <3

chocolate caramel cookie pie

gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, vegan friendly 
this pie has several easy layers- best stored in refrigerator for up to one week


(first layer)
(second layer)
(third layer)
  • 1/2 cup vegan chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened canned coconut milk
(top layer)
  • Coco-Whip 
  • Extra ganache for decoration or vegan chocolate chips/ shavings


(first layer)
  • Preheat oven to 350 F. 
  • Mix all dry ingredients together with fork, then add vanilla, butter.
  • Mix until just combined with a fork and a cookie-dough forms, add in chocolate chips.
  • Press into bottom of frozen pie crust and bake for 16 minutes.
  • While this bakes, mix the second layer:
(second layer)
  • Mix melted butter and can of sweetened condensed coconut milk.
    bubbly and crusty goodness
  • When cookie layer is done baking, remove the pie and add the condensed milk layer over top the cookie layer.
  • Sprinkle nuts, making sure they are covered by the caramel-condensed milk layer to prevent over-browning of the nuts.
  • Bake at 350 for an additional 25-30 minutes. (it should look like the picture to the left when removed from oven:)
  • Allow to set and cool for about 30 minutes while you make the third layer. 
(third layer)
  • Over a double boiler or in a heat-safe bowl over simmering pot of water, heat chocolate and coconut milk until melted and stir to make ganache.
  • Pour over set caramel layer and refrigerate until the chocolate is set.
  • When chocolate ganache layer is set, top with cool whip and extra ganache and nuts or chocolate chips if desired.
  • Refrigerate when not eating.  Can be eaten right away once chocolate is set!  

Monday, June 27, 2016

Allergen Friendly Austin, Texas

This is the second in a series of allergen-friendly spots in different U.S. cities.  Whether it's GF/CF, Vegan, Nut-free, there are some spots to love in some of America's great cities.  Check out Allergen Friendly New York City here.

Keep Austin Weird...and gluten-free ;)

Austin is Home
Austin, Texas is our current home, and perhaps, it's the best city in the world for our dietary lifestyle.  I absolutely love it here and you can find all sorts of local spots catering to different needs.  If you're on Instagram, you can search hashtags like #austinvegan and find thousands of vegan-friendly places and pics!

To my surprise, gluten-free dining out here has been a total dream!  I have dozens of places I love, but for now I will share my tops.  Maybe this post will become an "Allergen Friendly Austin 1.0".
Enjoying a book at Thai Fresh along with a Yummy Almond Milk Latte with a GF/ Vegan Carrot Whoopie Pie!

My Top Absolute Favorite Restaurant of All Time: Thai Fresh

I came to Austin only once before we moved here for good.  It was two years ago, and somehow I magically found this place.  I immediately called David and said, "What city on earth has a farm-to-table gluten-free Thai restaurant combined with a gluten-free, vegan friendly bakery, ice cream shop, and coffee house??  We are moving here someday."  I was joking, but as soon as we knew we were moving, I knew our first eat out adventure would be Thai Fresh.  The kids love the rich ice cream (I mean they have gluten-free/vegan waffle cones!!) and I love the charm.  And hat's off to Thai Fresh for recently trying something new to bridge the wage gap between the front and back of the house.  You can either sit down like a nice restaurant or grab something to go from the coffee/ice cream/ pastry area, but no need to tip as their food is priced to eliminate that.  They take care of their employees and it shows in the food and the service!
I recommend the Pad Thai with grass-fed beef or chicken, the drunken noodles, the coconut soup (all are gluten and dairy free), the gf/df/ef cinnamon roll bread, and most of the ice cream flavors (coconut base, not a tree nut), in a gf/df/ef waffle cone of course ;)

Burger Joints

Whether the chain-types like In-and-Out, or local chains like P.Terry's, Austin has some good burger options.  Our two favorite ones, however, are:
  • Hat Creek, gluten-free buns are available and they also have paleo-friendly chicken nuggets for the kids (egg-free too!).  These restaurants (several throughout Austin) all have a fun playground for the kids.  This place is one of our top meet-up spots!
  • Wholly Cow offers grass-fed burgers with GF buns and is super yum.  It's also in a convenience store so you can get some local kombucha and some yummy local snacks while you wait for your burger!
  • Salt Lick BBQ- not a burger joint, but a meat-lovers delight!  All their BBQ sauces are gluten free- and if you don't get the bread with your meal (or dessert) your whole meal will be gluten free!  We usually eat outside and get the family style combo meal, which is all you can eat!  This was Braylen's face when we told him we were getting a giant plate of meat ;)  This boy loves meat!
Outdoors at Salt Lick Driftwood

Vegan and Gluten Free Austin

There are several places that offer Vegan/ GF goods from restaurants to bakeries.  Since we mainly eat GF/CF and some of us are egg-free, we love these types of places in Austin.  Better Bites Bakery is a bit outside the city but their items are sold in Whole Foods stores and local places.  Their bakery is worth a visit if you are in town.  I got all the kid's birthday cakes from them.  They are also nut-free (and top 8 free!) too so that works for our two with almond allergies!
Braylen's Birthday cake with Better-Bites Mostess Cupcakes!
And our favorite vegan restaurant is Counter Culture.  I highly recommend the BBQ Cauliflower pizza and the Mac-N-Cheeze.  This place has comfort food and raw, vegan dishes.  I like the raw pad Thai and David likes the more comfort dishes.  They also have really good dessert specials and juices and teas.
BBQ Cali Pizza with Raw Pad Thai at Counter Culture patio

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Allergen Friendly New York City

In honor of Summer, I've decided to start a little series on great allergen-friendly spots in the cities we have lived in or visited. If you are a family who deals with food allergens and traveling to New York, Atlanta, Austin, Memphis, Nashville or San Diego this summer...this series is for you! Will post links as I add cities!

Allergen Friendly NEW YORK, NY

If I'm being honest, this city was not in my top 10 to visit, but when it came time that I needed some serious one-on-one time with my oldest, we took a trip here as it was her most coveted spot to see in all America.  She was not disappointed, and I ended up falling a little bit in love with NY City's charm.

New York is full of great places that offer dairy/egg-free, vegan, gluten free's easy to find places here to accommodate your dietary needs; however, finding them can be a bit challenging!  Here's a good starting point for your visit <3

Gluten-Free Bakeries

Erin McKenna's Bakery
This lovely little spot is also Vegan, Soy-free, and Refined Sugar-free as well.  So. Many. Different. Yummy baked goods!!  We enjoyed the oregano bagel with vegan butter- this was my fav, and I instagram-ed it.  But you also don't want to miss the apple churros, donuts, and cupcake options, which we also partook in.  It's a small storefront, but look for the cute teal and pink retro stuff in the window and you won't miss it.  We took the subway to Delancey St station, got out and walked two blocks West on Broome St.  There is also a little park in the median if you keep going a block and a half West on Broome.  We enjoyed our treats there and people watched.
Alisa in front of Erin McKenna's Bakery

Tu-Lu's Gluten Free Bakery
This place is not all-vegan, so there are some GF options that contain dairy or eggs, but we had super yummy Pumpkin loaf that was GF/CF, and had the best GF/Vegan glazed donuts here!  We actually ate two donuts each because they were so light and fluffy and we needed extra walking around energy ;)  Didn't take a picture here, but the vibe was sort of the same as Erin McKenna's- cute pink and white small store front on E 11th St near 4th Ave.  There wasn't a subway stop super close by, but we enjoyed seeing more of this area of the city.  There were some older, beautiful churches near here for a sight-seeing detour.
Hu Kitchen for Paleo Baked Goods
This place was where we split an amazing paleo meal.  Highly recommend the wild meatloaf and any of the veggie sides!  Also the chicken quinoa soup was amazing here.  We also had the best paleo (so naturally gluten and dairy free! but so many of their baked goods are also nut free here, which is refreshing for a paleo place and Alisa cannot have almonds!) carrot cake and pudding here.  Their paleo-friendly baked good and dessert section was extensive!

Gluten-Free Asian Food

We tried a couple places, but if you are staying in Midtown or near Central Park, Lili's 57 was super good!  They had a decent choice of sushi, Thai food, and traditional Chinese food.  We had dairy-free bubble tea and I enjoyed great GF drunken noodles from their GF specific menu.  Request one when you go in. The meal was light and not too heavy, but we definitely could have just shared one Bubble Tea as those were kind of on the sweet side.

Chelsea Market

This place had a ton of restaurants inside, plus super fun shopping, so this is a must!  Also, it's near The High Line, which we enjoyed touring despite the crowds on a Sat afternoon.  We at at Los Tacos No.1 and had some amazing tacos on corn tortillas.  (FYI: they don't do cheese on tacos, but the guacamole here does have dairy so we didn't get that, but they do have a sign warning you so we knew not to order it)

Rockin' Raw Restaurant

This place was a total last minute decision.  We has just seen Wicked and were going to stop somewhere close, but Alisa was really in the mood for a milk-shake and this place has 10 different vegan milkshake options!  So we headed downtown to this elegant place.  It only seats 22 people, but it's such a hidden gem!  Everything is gluten-free, soy-free, organic, vegan, and veggie packed!  They have a huge list of raw desserts and AMAZING jambalaya (it is warmed a bit).  Also would highly recommend the Buffalo Mushroom Poppers.  The vegan milks and milkshakes have a choice of almond or coconut bases, so if you can't do nuts, you can still get dessert or enjoy some hot chocolate.
Our waitress was the sweetest.  Only one server per shift so expect to sit and relax a bit!

Best Burger In New York!

Bareburger is an all Organic burger joint and has several locations in NYC.  We loved the decor inside too- super fun portraits of humans with farm animal heads and muted pastels.  I heart muted pastels ;)  Bareburger has plenty of options for healthy low-sugar drinks, gluten-free buns, and collard wraps for bun-less.  They have everything clearly marked on their extensive menu.  If we go back to NYC soon, I will definitely visit a Bareburger!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

What is is like to be a Sensory-Challenged Parent?

It's so much easier to talk about the things our children deal with, right?  I can tell you about my kids' sensory areas; I know what restaurants to avoid because they can't handle the loudness or the smells; I know what gets them dis-regulated and I know what kinds of activities they seek out to regulate themselves because I watch them, observe and study them to help them the best I can.

But me?  What about Mom's sensory processing issues?  What gets me dis-regulated?

A few years ago, instead of just making it from one loud play date to the next messy craft time, I decided to take a look at my sensory profile and see what kinds of things I'm sensitive to.  I knew I didn't like certain things, but I didn't exactly know why.  One day, I took a Sensory Profile test at a training I went to, and it was eye opening!

If you were to do a search for "sensory processing 'anything'" you would find thousands of results for sites about children, but few for what adults go through.  Guess what?  We all have sensitivities, a Sensory Profile, so to speak.  We all have a small level to a large problem of some sensory stuff going on with ourselves.

I'm going to share with you some of things about me and my "Sensory Profile" as a parent...know that you are not alone if things bother you, if you can't deal, or if your environment makes you feel a little twitchy sometimes :)

Must Have Quiet...or Quiet-er

How do you handle crowds, loud restaurants, or concerts?  How about if several noises are going off at once- a car alarm, a dog barking, the timer on the oven, several people talking all while the TV is on.  If this sounds like your worst nightmare, then you are like me, a mom who is a bit auditory defensive.
My three children all love to sing.  They are precious when they sing all sorts of made up songs and have that cute falsetto thing that kids do when they are trying to sing pretty.  My heart loves it; however, my poor ears cannot take it.  At all.  My Mia will say to her brother this exact phrase...often, "Bubs, you know that hurts mom's ears and makes her feel crazy!"  That sweet Bubs cannot handle going more than a few minutes without an outburst of sound, singing, or nonsense noises for his own sensory reasons.  Oh my ears, though, when he does that, it feels like 100 needles stabbing me in my eardrum!  My head gets stuffy, my shoulders tense and I just want to escape.

How does this affect my Mom-Behavior?  I want to Shut. It. Down.  I want to do whatever it takes to make the noises stop.  I will try to parent the loudness out of them.  But, of course, that doesn't work...again, their own sensory issues are at play.  Sometimes my head hurts just trying to police all of them trying to talk to me at once.  I know they all need me; I know they all need attention.  But sometimes it feels like juggling too many spike-covered balls at once and I cannot deal.

Instead of trying to get better at the juggling, which I spent many days striving to do, I simply get what I need by stepping away.  I have also been known to plug my own ears with my fingers and steal my kids noise-reducing ear muffs! (It's not always mature, but it gets the job done.  Sometimes gives us all a good laugh!)

Need to Eliminate All The Clutter!

There is a reason that I spend thirty minutes deciding on the right hotel when going on vacation.  I don't do a lot of patterns, too many bright colors, and I cannot relax in a sea of floral prints.  I used to think I was too picky about aesthetics.  Then I realized, when I took the sensory profile, that I scored high for visual plane and vestibular sensitivities.

Now, for me, the whiter, the more peaceful; the simpler the better!  I finally get to live in a home where it's mostly light neutrals, muted accents, and spacious enough that our small amount of stuff makes it seem like clutter cannot happen.  But with three small people, and if I'm being honest, some messy adults :), papers are here, there, and everywhere, pencil shavings, wrappers, clothes in every room!, everyone's stuff all up on our bed, just so many little tiny things all over the place!!  I handle it well until I don't; then I go a bit cray cray.

When the house feels like it's closing in on me and I get overwhelmed by the clutter, it can hurt right behind my eyes and I have to go to a happy place when my kids bring home and unload their back packs full of papers and miscellaneous sticky things.  I don't do heights and I don't do over-loaded visual planes.  My ideal Instagram feed is a bunch of white squares with neutral things on them...sometimes just scrolling through IG gives me that pressure behind my eyes.  I love seeing peoples' stories and lovely pictures, but after a while it's too much visually.  I still use my finger every now and then when I read too.  Yes, I am 33.  These can be signs of a visual sensitivity- not visual impairment, like needing glasses- but a sensitivity with processing what you see.  The vestibular and propreoceptive senses, the ones that senses where you are in space and in motion, play into this as I sometimes feel like my cluttered home is an obstacle course I am bound to fail.. and many times do.

So when there are tiny things everywhere, like crumbs, or small pieces of paper (don't get me started on messy crafts with pipe cleaner bits and paint cups everywhere!), my brain kind of freaks out.  It's the most satisfying thing to vacuum for me.  I do it almost every day.  I may not do laundry but once a month, but I will vacuum!  Clutter for me, isn't just an annoyance, it hurts!  If I absolutely have to get work done I will throw a white blanket over four loads of un-put-away laundry on the couch so it's less visually stimulating!  If there are a lot of kid things in the floor I will shove them all in one pile so it feels like I can move around.  I have found ways to limit how this distracts me.

If the visual planes in my life are clear, bright, and un-cluttered, then my Mom-Behavior is great!  But my kids know that there are times when we all have to clean All The Things, and they are sort of used to it now.  We have made it a routine for the last few months to do this on Fridays before we have some sort of Shabbat and celebrate a Day of Rest on Saturday.  They still complain a bit, but they also now know that I'm a more pleasant Mom when it all gets clean and clear!

How about you?  Do you think you might have any sensory issues as a parent?  The Sensory Profile is a Clinical Assessment so there is nothing comparable available online.  However, I suggest reading Carol Kranowitz "The Out of Sync Child" link in my Resource Page under Sensory Ideas.  It has helpful questionnaires used for children, but also you can see for yourself some things you may have done as a child or put the questions into more adult terms. 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

What is it like to be a parent of children with sensory challenges?

In my brain, I carry around a catalogue of snippets of comments and conversations I've had with teachers, caregivers, relatives, all of whom have wanted the very best for my child, but simply were not aware of sensory issues.  In case you have ever felt alone as a parent of a sensory-challenged child, let me share with you some classic conversation gems.

If you have ever been one of these sweet people that have stopped me or my children, please know that I value you and completely understand where you were coming from!  I, myself, have had these thoughts before at some point about someone else's children, I'm sure.  Parents I gave dirty looks to when I was 17 and saw your child in Target, I'm SO sorry!  This is not about blame, but about shedding some light onto what it's like to be the parent of a child with special needs or sensory issues.

"Oh, ma'am, your children need to stop climbing on that."

This one is usually said in wherever there are lines or places of waiting.  Many kids who struggle to organize their little body's senses will seek out whole-body stimulating or organizing behaviors.  This, in plain English, is really just a lot of wiggling, climbing, constant movement, or perhaps the opposite- avoidant behaviors, screams when touched, won't set foot in a crowded store if you offered all the candy and gum in the world.  Typical stuff ;)
So naturally do my children climb that if you were to try to parent that behavior out of them, it would be just as effective as trying to parent them to not breathe.  It simply wouldn't work.
we used to have a no climbing on furniture rule....

"Can you use your inside voice, dear?"

No, actually Dear cannot use her inside voice, so so sorry.  Auditory processing difficulty can often look like a child who gets incredibly irritable when they are surprised by a noise that you or I wouldn't even think was very loud.  Fire engines and ambulance sirens can be Threat Level Midnight! But it also can look like a child who hears every single little sound- that pen that someone dropped while filling out their check two lanes over, the whir of the florescent lights, the beeps of the cash register, the voices of every single person all coming into their little brain like separate stories being read aloud to them all at once.  So to drown a bit of it out, or to hear her own voice Dear will yell-talk to you until the cows come home.  Taking in ALL that input, and trying to restrain her voice would be like you trying to thread a needle while you are running a crowded marathon!  I have tried enough exasperated times, when we are out and this is happening, to constantly remind her and practice her "inside voice".  Eventually, after the 17th loud public conversation, my face must show how tired I am and I see that creeping expression of shame enter that sweet 7 year old face.  No.  I just can't keep doing it.  I have decided that I'm just going to let her yell-talk.  Sorry world, if you are in a restaurant with us, I invite you to join our conversation as you probably will hear it from any seat in the house ;)!
[no child was exposed to excessive noise for this photo...she was enjoying the acting, although this is pretty spot on ;) ]

"Can't you just listen and behave?"

Ok, I'm guilty of saying this one myself....often.  It's hard for many to understand just how difficult it is for children- children who hear everything or who don't know how to feel their body or who can't stand how intense it feels to get touched- to simply listen to one stimulus.  That is what one voice is in their world- a tiny stimulus amidst 1000s of other things, all going on at once.  When my children don't listen to me 9 times out of 10 it's because they had several other things their brain was telling them to "listen to" at the same time.  My small voice cannot compete with that.

Yes, sometimes my kids are kids.  They are choosing to test limits and are seeing what they can get away with.  Sometimes they don't want to do something so they don't do it.  It's not entirely a sensory game.  But here's the thing- it's just that so, so much of the time they are trying, really, really hard, in their very complicated little world to do what is expected of them, to please us, to do the right thing! 

So if you have heard these things, or comments in a similar vein directed at you or your kiddos, or if you have said them yourself, I'm right there with you friend!

If you see kids like mine out at the store, your neighborhood, or in a classroom near you, know that they are really, really is their mom and dad!

If you think your child may have some difficulty with sensory processing, I would consult with an Occupational Therapist near you.  Many children who are adopted or fostered have experienced many risk factors that have impacted their brains ability to process sensory information: a difficult birth, mom had difficulty during pregnancy, early medial treatment, attachment trauma, abuse, and neglect all lead to some level of sensory difficulties!  Also, I'm continually updating my Resources Page where there is a Sensory Ideas section so check back often! 

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