Thursday, December 29, 2011

Lots of reading

Oh my, time has passed quickly! Our family loves tradition, and as soon as December hit, the kids were begging to bake Christmas cookies, make caramels, buy and wrap presents, decorate the house and yard, etc., etc. In the midst of all of that, I read Don't Kill the Birthday Girl by Sandra Beasley. Ms. Beasley is an adult who has had life-threatening food allergies her entire life. She covers her own experiences and thoughts about food allergies, as well as explaining food allergies and food allergy research from a technical viewpoint. Her book is well-written and fascinating, and brought up a number of issues I hadn't considered about Sophie's life after being a little kid, including these:
1. kissing
2. cafeterias (think college dorm life)
3. roommates
4. varieties of peer pressure.

I recently discovered that there is another type of food allergy memoir recently released. This is a mother's account of her family's journey through the food allergy maze: Susan Weissman's Feeding Eden. I look forward to reading it as well. We are blessed to live in a time when we have easy access to the experiences of others, and can learn and grow from them.

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.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Bucking Tradition

Sometimes it takes something like food allergies to cause us to really look at traditions. Are all of our traditions good ones? Or do we have a few that promote ideas contrary to our personal values?

Along those lines, I've been thinking about Halloween. When it comes down to it, Halloween is such an odd holiday. We let our kids dress up as whatever they want--sometimes depicting really gross or even evil things--and then we send them out to collect candy from our friends in the neighborhood and from strangers as well. The other parts of it are really weird too, like carving jack-o-lanterns, decorating our homes with spiders and witches, etc. And if you start delving into the history behind these traditions--that will give you a real headache!

So I restricted myself to looking at the traditions in which we participate.
1. Jack-o-lanterns: we love to carve pumpkins. In our home, it is a major event. We clear off all the surfaces in the kitchen, get out markers and scoops and safety knives, and everyone gets creative. Jeff and I usually help the kids scrape all the "guts" out of their pumpkins, and I pick out the seeds and roast them while everyone is drawing and cutting their faces, so we have a little treat at the end. Thankfully, Sophie is not allergic to pumpkins or pumpkin seeds, so this is one tradition that is a keeper for us. Bundling creativity, family time, and a healthy snack together is definitely my idea of a productive evening.

2. Booing: this particular tradition is so fun! For anyone who hasn't done it, I would recommend starting it in your neighborhood. Basically, you print off instructions and a little Boo sign from your computer (this is the site we usually use) and put together a little package of treats or toys for a couple of neighbors. Drop them on their doorstep, ring the bell and run. They won't know who dropped them off, but they'll know that someone thought of them, and they now have the responsibility of Booing a couple more neighbors! We love to pick who to Boo, and if we include treats, we always use things with ingredients on them or include a little note about what's in the treat in case of food allergies.

3. Dressing up: I love costumes. I love to research them and create them. I love to take an ordinary little girl (I only have daughters) and some ordinary materials and invent something spectacular. This tradition is also a keeper in my mind. It provides me with a creative outlet, and has given me opportunities over the years to teach my children all kinds of skills, starting with researching and following directions to make their chosen costume, but also leading to many skills specific to the job at hand. Best of all is the sense of satisfaction I see in their eyes when they see our creations.

4. Trick or Treating: for my kids, this is just treating, really, because they would never do something mean because someone didn't pass out treats. This is the one tradition I would do away with if I could. I don't really like them running all over the neighborhood, talking to who knows who, and no one needs that much candy!!! However, if we are going to pass out treats, and receive them, I think a few changes are in order. I've seen my kids bring home spider rings, erasers, pencils, fruit snacks, popcorn, and other healthier options. This year, I am going to join that bandwagon--no more buying candy--I will help my neighborhood kids be a little healthier (and more allergy friendly) this year.

Now, to examine Thanksgiving...

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A little research...

In the name of research I'd like to pass on this letter and request that any of you who are parents of children with food allergies go ahead and fill out the survey.


To whom it may concern,
I am a graduate student at UMBC conducting a research study on food allergy knowledge in collaboration with a pediatric allergist, Dr. Mary Beth Bollinger, and a UMBC clinical psychologist, Dr. Lynnda Dahlquist.  The purpose of this study is to develop a measure of illness knowledge for parents of children with food allergy. Although health care providers routinely educate parents about the best ways to manage food allergy, they do not currently have a good way to measure how well parents understand the information that they provide.  Given the potentially severe consequences of mismanaging a food allergy, it is crucial to identify any gaps in parents’ knowledge or areas of possible confusion or misinformation.  
The measure we are developing will be among the first of its kind.  The results of this study will help pediatricians and allergists determine how best to supplement the information that parents are typically given when receiving a food allergy diagnosis. The development of this food allergy knowledge test will also allow parents to examine their own knowledge and determine whether they would like additional information regarding diagnosis, treatment, responses to allergen exposure, or other aspects of managing their child’s food allergies.
Mothers of children (up to 18 years old) with food allergies are invited to participate in this study. Participants will complete a food allergy test and answer questions about their child’s food allergy diagnosis and medical history. These questionnaires will take approximately 25-30 minutes to complete and are available at If you prefer to take a paper version of the test, please contact me at or 410-455-3113. All participants will be entered into a raffle to win a $100 gift card to one of the following stores: Target, Wal-Mart, or Whole Foods.  
Please contact me if you have any questions or concerns.
Amy Hahn
Pediatric Psychology Lab
University of Maryland, Baltimore County

Thursday, October 13, 2011


A friend shared this fabulous post about the emotions of a food allergy mom and I had to share it with all of you--I hope you will enjoy it--it made me laugh AND cry!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Health Food

There are loads of reasons to eat health food. You know, the kind of stuff that costs twice or more than twice what the regular brand costs, and has names like BeautyEats and GreenYummies. Health food chips are the weird colored ones--they might be orange or purple instead of the usual light yellow or white. And the health food granola bars have little pieces of stuff in them. You know the food I'm talking about.

The health food companies will tell you that if you eat their food, you will have more energy, have prettier skin and hair, grow faster (if you're still a kid), grow thinner (if you're an adult), have a stronger heart, cleaner blood, breathe better...the claims go on and on.

But I will tell you the number one reason I like health food--the ingredients are easier to understand. Here are the ingredients for a popular flavored chip--the non-health food brand:


And these are the ingredients for a similar chip--but it's the health food version:

Organic blue corn, expeller pressed canola oil and/or safflower oil and/or sunflower oil, seasoning (dextrose, sea salt, spices [red pepper, white pepper, black pepper], torula yeast, onion powder, garlic powder, autolyzed yeast, tomato powder, extractives of paprika).

You tell me, which one would you rather have your 9 year old read when she's deciding whether or not she's allergic to eat? 

Health food companies can keep their skinny bodies and healthy hair--I just want the simple words on the package, so it's simple to see if their health food is healthy for my Sophie. 

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Calculated Risk

When someone in your family has a long-term health problem, such as food allergies, there are constant debates about how to handle things. How careful should you be? How much impact to other family members is ok? How do you maintain balance between one child's protection and other children's sacrifices? Obviously, the life of one child is worth a few sacrifices on the part of the other children. But what if the sacrifices you make to protect your allergic child are not actually necessary?

When Sophie was about 6 months old, she had her first reaction to peanuts. At the time, I didn't know she had a peanut allergy. Her older sister kissed her after eating a peanut butter sandwich. 3 year olds tend to be on the messy side, and there was enough peanut butter on her sister's lips to leave a little smudge on Sophie's face. That smudge produced 100 or so hives, covering Sophie from the waist up. Over the next few months, she had several minor reactions to peanuts. She reacted when we visited a friend who had baked peanut butter cookies earlier in the day, and whenever anyone opened a jar of peanut butter in the house. We talked things over and decided to eliminate peanuts from our home.

Part two of the story came several years later. Our oldest missed eating peanut butter. She begged us to buy some just for her to make sandwiches to take to school. My husband and I agreed. This was a calculated risk. We knew that Sophie had reacted in the past to minute exposures to peanuts. However, I felt that this risk could be tightly enough controlled that it didn't have to be a worry.

As time passed with no problems, I began to allow the girls to eat peanut butter around Sophie, and now we have had peanuts in the house for years and never had a problem. And, the calculated risk we took years ago, so our oldest could have peanut butter sandwiches at school, has given us peace of mind with Sophie being in school, at playdates, etc.

We could have maintained a peanut-free home, ignoring our oldest daughter's requests. The sacrifice would have been for nothing, since clearly Sophie has been safe in our home despite the peanuts. I am glad we were able to take the calculated risk.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The True Calling of Apricots

I believe that the true calling of apricots is to be dried, chopped, and mixed into cookie dough. I love apricots, but never so well as when they are paired with a few (or a lot) of other great flavors in a cookie. Tonight we made these "Dump" cookies--starting with my regular Oatmeal Cookie recipe, we raided the fridge, freezer, and pantry and added chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, sunflower seeds, chopped dried apricots, and flaked coconut. We almost added raisins too, but they got voted out at the last second. :(  Still, the result was fabulous!

If you want to try them, here's the recipe:

Dump Cookies
1/2 cup margarine or shortening
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup milk (whatever kind you normally use--soy, rice, etc.)
Mix these in your mixer and then add:
2 1/2 cups oat flour (or GF flour blend)
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 cup oats
1 cup chocolate chips (mix of white and dark)
3/4 cup chopped dried apricots
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1 cup coconut
Mix it up and shape it into 1 inch balls. Place the balls 2 inches apart on a cookie sheet and flatten them slightly with your palm. Bake at 350 for 12 minutes. Enjoy some hot, save a few in an air tight container for later, and freeze some for taking in lunches, etc.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Food Bans

An NPR-Thomson Reuters Health Poll surveyed about 3000 adults regarding food allergies. About half indicated that they felt food allergies fears might be out of proportion to the actual risk, which doesn't surprise me. I have often felt that way myself, although I consider myself to be well educated and tolerant of food allergies and intolerances in general.

I was really surprised to see that despite the fact that half of us think that people are over reacting about their allergies, 59% said that they are okay with food bans in public places. Personally, I am of two minds concerning food bans.

On the one hand, I empathize with those who have air-borne reactions to food. Sophie has had multiple reactions to things like boiling pasta, eggs frying in a pan, other children playing with Play-Doh, etc. She has not tended to react to people eating nuts or peanuts around her, but I can understand what that might be like. And I want people who have those troubles to be protected.

On the other hand, are problems solved by eliminating nuts and peanuts from airplane cabins and classrooms? According to the Reuters poll, one third of people who had an allergy were allergic to milk--beating out peanuts as most common allergy by a margin of more than 20%. I don't think I'm alone in feeling that banning peanuts or tree nuts from public places leaves a lot of food allergy patients in the lurch.

I don't have a generic solution to this problem. I'm glad people are accepting of food allergy bans; they are definitely a step in the right direction. What if we banned food altogether in certain situations? For example, in Sophie's classroom, instead of banning snacks with certain ingredients, what if snacks could only be eaten in the lunchroom? Or maybe 4th graders are old enough to go from breakfast to lunch to the end of school without snacks! The same could apply on short airplane flights, in museums (other than in the cafeteria), and all sorts of places.

I am still of two minds on the subject--have food bans gone too far, or have they just not gone far enough?

Monday, August 1, 2011

Starting School with Food Allergies

Every year when school is starting I feel a little panicky about Sophie's food allergies. I have found that taking these steps aids in a smooth transition for her and eases my worries about potential contact with her allergens.

I start by meeting with the teacher immediately prior to school starting to talk about Sophie's allergies, find out about food in the classroom, and come up with a plan for her. Some classes have snack and some don't at our school (it's based on when the kids have lunch), so our needs have varied from year to year. The lunchroom has food allergy protocols in place, although we modified those slightly for Sophie, and they stay the same year to year.

Our school offers a peanut-free table for kids with peanut allergies. Sophie and I decided it is not necessary for her to sit there, because she is allergic to so many other things and because peanuts are not her most volatile allergen. Instead, she sits at the regular table. She has a placemat in her lunchbox which she puts on the table before she gets out her food. The tables are wiped with bleach solution between classes, so this is more to mark her area than a concern about the cleanliness of the table. She keeps her food on her placemat and asks her friends to keep theirs off. It has been successful except for one time when a child purposely put a cookie on Sophie's placemat. It was treated as a bullying incident (which it was) and has not happened again.

Class parties
At first I felt like I had to plan and attend every class party, unless another allergy mom was doing it. Last year (3rd grade) I was able to let Sophie be at a party on her own. I was in contact with the mom who was planning, and she is someone I trust. Additionally, Sophie and I went over the menu ahead of time and made a plan for what she would be eating at the party (it was a breakfast). It went well, but requires a significant amount of responsibility to be placed on the child. You will want to slowly allow your child to take more and more responsibility for his/her food over time and work up to attending a party unsupervised.

Birthday treats
Sophie has a box of her own birthday treat in the classroom so that whenever a treat is brought in she can have something that's safe for her. This year, since she has outgrown another allergy and is getting really good at reading labels, if the birthday treat is something that she recognizes as being safe, then she eats it. I have mixed feelings about this--I actually REALLY don't like it--but I think it is the normal progression of things and ultimately, I think it is healthy for her to show this independence, and she is still in a controlled environment with adults who have been trained to recognize a reaction and treat it.

Educating the staff
A face to face conversation, including Epipen training and discussion of your child's particular pattern of reaction as well as general symptoms of anaphylaxis, seems to be the best education for staff. In addition to meeting face to face with the classroom teacher, I met face to face with the principal and asst. principal and I emailed information to all of the Specials (art, music, etc) teachers. You might want to meet face to face with each teacher. I asked to be informed if food was going to be used in a classroom activity, science project, etc. and made sure that everyone knew not to give Sophie any food. My guidelines and expectations have relaxed a little as Sophie is taking more and more responsibility for her own food.

A few other things: for snacks you can have a snack box from which your child can get a snack. You must educate your child about their allergies. We live by these rules when it comes to food allergies:
    Do not ever eat unless you have access to your Benadryl and Epipen.
    Say no to adults if they try to give you food that you're not sure about.
    Save something to be checked at home rather than eating it at school without reading
         the label.

When Sophie was younger, we also were very strict about this one:
    Do not eat anything unless it has been checked by mom or dad.

And the Epipen rule--no food without an Epipen--is still our gold standard.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Sophie's List

Sophie's List of Wheat Foods That She Is Willing to Eat
Ramen noodles
Frosted MiniWheats
sometimes bread

And that's just about it. I keep looking for some logic in this list, and I just can't see it. I understand that it takes time to get used to a food you've never eaten. The foods that make her list are completely bizarre to me though.

I am really glad Sophie's not anaphylactic to wheat anymore, though. Not worrying about cross contamination, and asthma attacks from things boiling or baking, is such a relief!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Words cannot express

Words cannot express what it's like to have a child with food allergies, to know that at any time she could make a decision that could threaten her life. Allergic Living posted this photo:

which expresses the immediacy of decisions about food for people with food allergies. I hope that Sophie always keeps her wits about her, and never has this image become true in her life.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

What's this about blood transfusions?

According to a letter published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine, read about it here, a young boy displayed symptoms of anaphylaxis after a blood transfusion. The patient in this case has a severe allergy to peanuts, and the blood donors in this case had been eating peanuts within a few hours of donating blood. The patient began symptoms of anaphylaxis during the transfusion, and responded to epinephrine.

The doctors hypothesized that the reaction was due to the donors' consumption of peanuts, and that other similar reactions have occurred, but went unreported due to the lack of an explanation.

And all I can think is, "Really? Another risk with food allergies?"

Monday, May 2, 2011

Denver Ambassador for 2011 FAAN Walk

I received this from the Denver FAAN Walk chairperson--take a look and see if you might be interested!

Hello all,

It is time to nominate our 2011 Walk for Food Allergy Youth Ambassador!

A reminder that this year's Walk is September 11th and the Ambassador needs to attend the Walk.

Applicants must be 7 or older.....details and application below.

We want someone who can share their experiences in a positive, meaningful way!! The Ambassador Program focuses on the story of a child and their experiences with food allergies at home, in school, and with friends. The Ambassador speaks on behalf of all the local children who live with food allergies.

Applications should be forwarded to me parth_munshi@yahoo.comby May15th. The application is attached.

Please feel free to forward to any and all you know affected by food allergies.

Please feel free to contact me with any questions.

Ambassador Program Fact Sheet

* The Ambassador Program provides an opportunity to increase local awareness and understanding of the effects food allergy and anaphylaxis on children in the local community. The Ambassador Program focuses on the story of a child or panel of children and their experiences with food allergies at home, in school, and with friends. The Ambassador speaks on behalf of all the local children who live with food allergies.

* Ambassadors must be available and willing to share their personal food allergy experiences with the community. Ambassadors may speak at public or organizational events and may be interviewed for radio, television, or print media. FAAN will provide Ambassadors with talking points and key messages for speaking engagements. This commitment will cover the eight–week period leading to the event through the day of the Walk and may include some time after the Walk for follow-up stories.

* Those interested in applying to be an Ambassador for their local FAAN Walk for Food Allergy must submit an application and an essay of 500 words or fewer describing their personal experience with food allergies and anaphylaxis and why they feel they would make the best Ambassador for their community. They should also include any notable public speaking experience.

* The child Ambassador must be at least 7 years old by the submission deadline. A parent Ambassador must have a child with food allergies who is 6 years old or younger by the submission deadline.

* Ambassadors’ expenses, including travel, accommodations, and meals, are the responsibility of the Ambassadors’ families.

Parth Munshi

If you are interested in looking at the application, please email me and I will forward it to you. Thanks! (

Monday, April 11, 2011

Illinois Test of Basic Meals

Between Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution and this article about a school in Chicago Public Schools, it looks like some people are pushing a policy that we must allow the schools to feed our children. I have to say, this is one of the more bizarre governmental controls that I've seen. If we can't be trusted to provide our children with a healthy lunch, can we be trusted?

In the Chicago Public School article, the author clearly states that children with food allergies or medical issues are allowed to bring their own lunches. I wonder, though, what about children with food sensitivities, unproven in an allergist's office? What about children who's autism (or other disorder) is more easily managed when certain food groups are eliminated?

The article also states that many children choose not to eat the school lunch, leaving them with no choice but to go hungry. I am quite sure at least two of my children would make this choice on a regular basis, which would leave them starving and me furious! Do you think parents like me could bypass the rule if we have an above average score on the Illinois Test of Basic Meals?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Call me paranoid...

I just read an article about a girl who had an asthma attack at school. She went to the nurse's office, but the person in the office had no medical training and did not administer her medicine. By the time the paramedics came, she was in cardiac arrest and died a few minutes later.

This article attributed the problem to the staff member's lack of medical training, although I would go a step further and say that the staff member wasn't just lacking in medical training, but in training altogether. The child had a Health Plan which stated exactly what to do in the case of an emergency--why wasn't this simply pulled, referenced, and followed? Every staff member at a school should be capable of doing that.

So, today's To Do List includes visiting with the school nurse to find out who knows how to access the Health Plans and medicine and what happens in an emergency if she is incapacitated. Call me paranoid if you will--but paranoia about mundane things is what keeps my baby alive, after all.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Disney and Food Allergies

When I saw this article this morning, Disney Awarded For Food Allergy Awareness, it immediately caught my eye. My husband and I took our kids to Disneyland a few years ago. I was very nervous about the trip, because of Sophie's food allergies. We planned to pack in some of our food every day that we were at the park, but we also wanted to eat at some of the restaurants. In fact, as we planned the trip, we decided that we wanted to go to a character breakfast. We found the Disney staff to be accommodating in every way possible. At every restaurant, a chef was available to talk with us about Sophie's allergies. At buffets, the staff was willing to obtain items from the kitchen for Sophie (this was important to me so that we could avoid cross-contamination from people mixing up serving utensils, etc.). We were also offered the opportunity to order items that weren't necessarily on the menu. In every way, the Disney staff demonstrated that they both cared about Sophie's health and just plain wanted her to have a good time. It was wonderful, and I am glad to see them recognized for their efforts.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Massachusetts Restaurants and Food Allergies

Massachusetts has a new law requiring restaurant managers to become better educated about food allergies. The law also includes requirements designed to make restaurants more friendly to food allergic consumers. After reading an article about it, does anyone else want to move to Massachusetts?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Stuffed Acorn Squash

I feel like I haven't had time to experiment with cooking much lately, but I made a new version of a recipe my sister gave me tonight and it turned out GREAT! In her original recipe, which I have made and liked, essentially you make chili with sausage in it and put it in the middle of baked acorn squash. The reason I wanted to experiment with the recipe is that I felt like the flavor of the sausage was lost with the chili spices and tomato sauce, which is just a shame! If you're going to stuff your acorn squash with chili, you may as well use ground beef or ground turkey in it instead of sausage.

But I knew sausage and acorn squash would go great together, so I started thinking about other things to use in the stuffing. Here's what I came up with:

Stuffed Acorn Squash a la Emily

3 medium acorn squash
12 oz. breakfast sausage
2 granny smith apples (diced)
1 14.5 oz. can great northern beans
2 garlic cloves, pressed
salt & pepper to taste

Cut 3 medium acorn squash in half. Scrape out the seeds with a metal spoon. Rinse the insides with water and place face down on a baking sheet. I used one with a Silpat on it for easy clean up later; if you don't have a Silpat you might want to grease the cookie sheet. Bake the squash at 400 F for 40 minutes or so.

In the meantime, brown 12 ounces of breakfast sausage, breaking it up into small pieces while cooking. When it is cooked through, add 2 granny smith apples (diced) and 1 can (14.5 oz.) of great northern beans, with a little water (maybe 2 tablespoons?) to keep it from scorching. Also add 2 pressed garlic cloves and salt and pepper to taste. Cook this mixture for about 5 minutes, until the apples are soft.

Take the acorn squash out of the oven and, using a fork or a spatula, flip each half over. Spoon the sausage mixture into the acorn squash and pop them back in the oven for a few minutes while you get the table set (allowing them to heat through).

Makes 6 adult-sized servings, or 12 for kids (just cut each half into half again!).

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Texas Cottage Food Bill

I don't live in Texas. I don't even live near Texas. But struggles in one state are often found in another, and I am fascinated by the Texas Cottage Food Bill, HB 1139. I think you will be, too, once you know what it is!

Nationwide, there are a variety of laws requiring food to be prepared in a specific manner if it is to be sold to the public. These laws govern everything from what type of countertops are in the prep area to (thankfully) what is printed on the ingredient label. At the same time, many people have cooked something and then sold it. Some of us have only sold homemade goods occasionally, such as at a bake sale, and others sell homemade items regularly, such as jams and jellies at a fruit stand. Homemade goods can pose a problem, such as when Sophie wants to buy a krispy treat at a bake sale, but for the most part, homemade products are great!

Back to Texas; in Texas over the past year or two, authorities have been cracking down on the jam lady at the farmer's market, the lady who bakes wedding cakes at home, and even the Church bake sale in some cases. People who sell homemade goodies aren't hurting anyone, so why are they being shut down? Is regulation necessary in ALL circumstances?

In the spirit of full disclosure, the Texas Cottage Food Bill would require that home-prepared food items have a statement on the label saying, "Made in a home kitchen that has not been inspected by a state or local health authority." As long as the information is provided, it is up to each of us to decide whether or not we would like to partake.

A number of states have already passed cottage food bills, including Michigan and Oregon. It is a boon to entrepreneurs in the cooking world, and to many in the tasting world as well. A teensy part of me wonders about the impact for those with food allergies, but who better to answer questions about the ingredients and manufacturing practices for a product than the person who actually made it? And anyway, I love homemade cookies enough to think that people in Texas and everywhere else should be able to enjoy them.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Golden Rule of Food Allergies

A life with food allergies has so many rules that regular people don't have.

Always read labels.
Always read them again.
Keep your Epipen handy.
Be careful eating things that are homemade.
Check your utensils and plates to be sure they are clean.
Watch for cross-contamination.
Don't kiss anyone unless they have just brushed their teeth.

The list could go on and on, and I'm sure you have your own set of rules. Last year I listened to a talk by Dr. S. Allan Bock. He has been involved in the collection of food allergy morbidity statistics over the years, and he shared a key piece of information: all food allergy deaths occurred when patients did not have their Epipens. Most are in the teens and early twenties, and there are other common characteristics, but in every case, there was no Epipen handy. Ever since then, we have lived by the Golden Rule of Food Allergies: Never eat without your Epipen. It's simple--if you eat, have an Epipen nearby. If you don't have the Epipen, don't eat. Even foods that are "always safe" can be contaminated sometimes. So just remember,

Never eat without your Epipen.

Friday, February 11, 2011

New Pamphlet

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has released a new pamphlet on food allergies. It's very comprehensive, so take a look and consider whether there is someone in your life that might benefit from reading this pamphlet.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Mystery Hives

Of the possible lifelong illnesses, food allergies aren't too bad. They are manageable--just avoid the foods you're allergic to and everything is fine, right? Except for mystery hives. Mystery hives are the bane of my existence. Those days when Sophie has a rash and an itch and who knows what else, but we examine her diet and there is NO cause, drive me insane. And the thing that makes me even more crazy is when a non-allergic person in our family has hives. Seriously, what is going on here? Starting in September (I remember specifically because the first one was on my birthday), my husband began a pattern of hives. He got 1 to 3 at a time. Usually they were on his hand or arm, although he had some on his abdomen too. We still don't know why. Sometimes when he got them, we'd been out to eat, but other times he hadn't eaten out in days.

A few weeks later, my oldest daughter started getting hives, too, a few at a time. It's been several months now, and my husband's hives have abated--he hasn't had any for at least 3 or 4 weeks. But my daughter's hives are getting worse. Yesterday she showed me at least 12 hives--on her back, abdomen, and shoulders. We have racked our brains to come up with causes, but to no avail. The best I can do is suggest that she use body lotion after her showers to improve the health of her skin and thereby offer it a little more protection. It probably won't make any difference.

:( Mystery hives. :(

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Eczema a.k.a. Atopic Dermatitis

Dr. John Hanifin from Oregon Health & Science University in Portland presented new research at a recent allergy conference about atopic dermatitis. His research suggests that it actually presents before children have food allergies--so eczema and food allergies are linked, but his research leads him to believe that food allergies do not cause the skin condition to appear. The current recommendation is that children with eczema be tested for food allergies, and that their parents should be aware food allergies are more likely to develop in children with eczema.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


Homemade granola is a delicious breakfast option, and is much easier to make than you might imagine. Making your own granola allows you to customize it for your own tastes and allergies--no fear of cross-contamination here!

Start by taking the syrup portion from a reliable granola recipe. Be sure to make a mental note of the total number of cups of dry ingredients (grains, seeds and nuts) called for in the recipe. Here's what I used yesterday:

3/4 cup cooking oil (I used canola)
1 1/2 cups honey (although I think the result was a little too sweet, so I'll probably use closer to a cup next time)
15 cups of dry ingredients

In a small pot, heat and stir the oil and honey until they combine. Pour over the dry ingredients and mix well with a large spatula (or maybe with your hands, lol!) Spread evenly over 2 large cookie sheets. Bake in a 325 oven for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. Granola is ready when it begins to brown. Cool completely and then store in an airtight container.

For the dry ingredients, use your imagination! You can use any combination of grains, cold cereals, puffed grains, and seeds that is safe for you.

I used 8 cups of oats, 2 cups each of Kix, Corn Flakes, Rice Krispies, and 1 cup of flaked coconut. I have tried all kinds of other things, too. My family likes different combinations, so I use whatever I have on hand. Here are some suggestions (please pick things you are sure are safe for you and your family!):

puffed rice
puffed corn
rolled oats
cold cereals
sesame seeds
sunflower seeds

Another way to spice up your granola--literally--is to add powdered spices to it. I like to mix the spices into my grain/seed mix before I add the syrup. Try adding one of these:
1 Tbsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ginger
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
Or something else you think up on your own!

After your granola is mixed, baked and cooled, you can add dried fruit--anything that sounds good to you. Dried apples and raisins are delicious with cinnamon granola. An alternative to dried fruit is to eat your granola with fresh fruit and milk or yogurt made from a source that is safe for you (cow's milk, soy, rice, etc.).


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Code RED!

My mom alert has moved from code yellow, which is sort of a normal parent-of-4-kids level, to orange, maybe even red. What would cause such a thing? It all began on Wednesday...

A fairly normal afternoon; I was in a meeting. Sharon agreed to pick up Sophie and Maggie from school. My meeting ended, and after checking in with Sharon, I ran a few errands before heading home.

Several hours later, Sophie told me this: at school, her teacher gave out some candy that someone had given her. Sophie debated about whether or not to eat it, since she hadn't read the label and wasn't familiar with the candy, and decided to go ahead. (This was mistake #1.) Then she started feeling sick--itchy throat and a stomach ache. Here's where mistake #2 came in--she didn't ask to go to the nurse, because it was almost time for school to get out.

This situation is pretty much my worst nightmare. And it's a classic kid situation, right? I remember when I was a kid, I would do one stupid thing, and then because I was feeling panicked about it, I couldn't think clearly and I would follow that right up with a second stupid choice. The problem is, in Sophie's case, this could have been life or death. If that candy had pecans in it, she would have started anaphylaxis. And since she didn't tell the teacher she thought she was having a reaction, even if she had some big symptom, her teacher might not have known what to do. AARGH!!

So what's next? I talked with Sophie about 2 big points:

1. Don't eat anything unless you have read the label. (And this has been our rule for ages, so I was surprised that she ate the candy in the first place.)

2. If you think you might be having a reaction, get to the nurse no matter what. Even disobeying the teacher to go to the nurse would be better than sitting in the classroom waiting to pass out!

I also talked with her teacher to make her aware of the situation. She didn't think Sophie had eaten the candy, because at first she just set it on her desk. Even so...

And I will be having another conversation with Sophie about this later, as will my husband. I don't want to scare her, but she needs to see this as potentially life or death, or she will be in a situation that is life or death sometime down the road.

In the meantime, I think Code Orange (verging on Red) works for me. I'm going to hang on to it for a little while.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Will food allergies limit you?

Reading about Tom Poti, defenseman for the Washington Capitals, and his food allergies has put me in a thoughtful mood. His relaxed attitude about the food around him at a luncheon, and his comments to his interviewer, demonstrate exactly what I hope Sophie can feel as she grows up with food allergies. It is clear from the article that he has a strong support system within his family and in his professional life. The thing that stands out the most, however, is that he is a professional sports player. His food allergies did not prevent him from pursuing what must have been a dream for him. Nor should they! But I have the sense that they could. It seems that the time and energy involved with food allergies could interfere with other pursuits, or that food allergies could affect a child's self-esteem or comfort in social settings to a degree that might limit pursuit of a dream. Congratulations to Poti's mom and other support people for giving him the tools he needed. And most of all, congratulations to Poti for living your life, your way!