Monday, December 29, 2008

Flu shots

I have to admit, I have not been as diligent as I should have in making sure my family is flu-safe this winter. My office gives out flu shots for free, but somehow I managed to miss getting one. And I was hesitant to give Ainsley or Leighton one because the vaccine is made from eggs (even the Flu Mist). Ainsley had flu shots her first two years without a problem, but after we discovered she was seriously allergic to egg two years ago, we stopped giving them to her.

After our awful hospital experience with Leighton, though, we are determined not to end up back there for the flu this season. So I made an appointment with our allergist to take both of them in next week. He will skin-test them with the flu vaccine. If they have no reaction to it on their skin, he will give them the shot. I will also get a shot there. Normally I am pretty paranoid about vaccines (with Ainsley when she was a baby, I insisted that the pediatrician's office give her a mercury-free shot, and only one instead of the recommended two), but after our recent experience, I am more paranoid about having a child in the hospital with breathing difficulties due to the flu. Last year, when we did not give Ainsley the shot, I took her to the pediatrician practically every time she coughed because I was afraid she had the flu (she has asthma that is triggered by respiratory infections, so if she got the flu, it would be very bad breathing-wise). I don't want to have to worry like that this year.

Long time no write

I am sorry I haven't posted in a while .... It was pretty overwhelming leaving the hospital and coming home just days before Christmas, and having to get all of the Christmas presents together for everyone. We are finally settling back into normality. Leighton is doing great. She's about 99% well now. She has an occasional bad coughing fit (she's still coughing that stuff out of her lungs), but hasn't run a fever in well over a week. I took her back to the pediatrician Saturday for a checkup and her chest sounded good and ears were healing well.

As for Christmas, we had a wonderful day. Ainsley got lots of things she wanted from Santa, including Tinkerbell and her fairy friend, Fawn, and a Barbie Mermaid and Puppet Playhouse. Of course, her favorite present of the day was the baby My Little Pony my mom-in-law gave her that had come from a Happy Meal!

Leighton got some fun stuff too -- cute clothes (you can never have enough baby girl clothes!) and lots of new baby toys so she won't have to keep playing with her sister's hand-me-downs.

On the food allergy front, we had another virtually allergen-free holiday meal. I made green bean casserole again, and we had turkey, ham, dressing (from the recipe I posted previously), and baked sweet potatoes. My mother-in-law also made safe sweet potato casserole using this recipe. My mom made Ainsley blueberry pie and my mom-in-law made her Jello jigglers for dessert. I am not sure what blueberry pie recipe my mom used, but this one looks really yummy (substitute soy margarine for the butter, of course).

Luckily, when it comes to pies, a lot of pie crusts are dairy- and egg-free (you can also make your own, but I really hate doing that -- for some reason I find it a real pain). I recently found a safe whole wheat pie crust at Whole Foods, and there are also some at most regular supermarkets. Just yesterday I saw a graham cracker pie crust and chocolate graham cracker crust (can't remember the manufacturer -- Keebler? Or maybe Pillsbury?) that only contained the allergens soy and wheat.

In other words, I have no excuse not to make more pies!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Finally home!

This evening, we were finally able to bring Leighton home. She is breathing better and hopefully will recover her energy soon. Thankfully, the fever she spiked last night was because of an ear infection and not something more serious. The doctor started her on antibiotics right away and the medicine already seems to be working because she acts like she feels much better.

Thank you so much for your support during this time. It means a lot to us.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Still at the Hospital

It is Thurs. night and we have had such an up-and-down day. Earlier today, we were so happy because Leighton appeared to be in better spirits than she was before and we were able to completely wean her off the supplemental oxygen. But then, tonight, we have had a setback -- she is running a fever. She has not had a fever since Sunday. It is apparently some sort of secondary infection. I am praying it is something minor like an ear infection. The nurse is alerting the doctor and I'm sure they will be running blood tests and doing exams soon to try and determine what is causing this. We are very upset, as we were hoping Leighton was almost recovered and that we could go home tomorrow or Saturday. I will update when we know more.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Random thoughts

I am taking a short break away from the hospital to clean up a bit. Dave is with Leighton now and she seems to be doing better today. We were able to cut her oxygen level down by another 1/2 this morning. The next step is to get her off of oxygen completely. We are hoping we can do this later today and be able to go home tomorrow.

Since I'm home and trying to get my mind on other things, I wanted to post on a couple of totally unrelated topics. First, have you ever heard of www.goodsearch.com? I hadn't until recently. It is a search engine just like Google that contributes money to charity for every search you do. I am going to start using it instead of Google. You can either pick the charity to which you want your search money to go or you can automatically allow your search money to go to the charity of the day. The other day, the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network was their charity of the day. You can pick FAAN as your charity of choice whenever you do a search.

Second, and I know this is a complete nonsequitor, but I have been thinking lately about making Peppermint Bark because I have had a craving for it. The only problem is it has been nearly impossible for me to find safe white chocolate (that does not have dairy in it and that was not processed on equipment with nuts). So I found the following recipe for vegan white chocolate on this blog and I might try it once we get out of the hospital and back to normal life:

Vegan (Dairy-Free, Egg-Free, Nut-Free) White Chocolate
1/4 Cup (2 Ounces) Cocoa Butter
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/3 Cup Confectioner’s Sugar
1/2 Teaspoon Soymilk Powder
Pinch Salt

Place your cocoa butter in a microwave-safe bowl and nuke it for just a minute or two, so that it liquefies. Be sure to keep an eye on it at all times, as it has a much lower melting point than a bar of finished chocolate. Once completely melted, quickly stir in the remaining ingredients, being thorough so as to break up any clumps of sugar and completely dissolve everything into the molten fat. Don’t worry if it looks rather yellow at this stage, just pour everything into your molds and it will be alright. Tap the molds on the counter lightly so as to remove any air bubbles, and don’t even think about touching them again for the next few hours while they set up.

To make peppermint bark with the white chocolate, just line a baking pan with parchment, pour some safe chocolate chips (like Enjoy Life brand) in there until they cover the bottom of the pan, melt in the oven on 250 degrees (for 15 minutes or so), then cool and pour the melted white chocolate on top. Then top with crushed candy canes and let cool until hardened.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

At the Hospital

Sorry I have not posted in so long. Leighton caught RSV, a nasty respiratory bug, and had to be hospitalized on Saturday. We have been at the hospital ever since, and are not sure when we will be able to go home. Right now we are hoping it will be Thursday. She is generally improving and doing much better than when we brought her in, but she is on supplemental oxygen and needs to get off of it before they will release us. She is taking half as much as she did yesterday, which is great, but when we've tried to reduce it further, her blood oxygen level has dipped too low. Everyone keeps telling us she sounds much better than when she was admitted, but the progress has been slower than we thought it would be.

In the midst of all of this, I am still trying to help with Ainsley's preschool Chanukah party, which will be Friday. As it stands now, I am in charge of bringing the chicken nuggets to the party (the same ones I made for her birthday), but if I get in a pinch because of Leighton's hospitalization (say, if she isn't released Thursday), then I will probably just buy a bunch of the Applegate Farms nuggets and serve those to the kids. We will also serve fresh fruit, potato latkes made with egg replacer (I will post a recipe for this soon), and safe cut-out cookies made by another food allergy mom in the class that the kids will decorate at the party (with safe icing and sprinkles I already purchased). Hopefully the party will go well.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Christmas cookies

From apocalypse to Christmas cookies ... Yesterday Ainsley and I made Christmas cut-out cookies in preparation for a children's party we were going to where the kids decorate cookies. Having been to this party for the past couple of years, I knew most of the decorations (sprinkles and such) would be safe for her, but, of course, the cookies wouldn't, so we made our own. I made cut-out cookies last year using a recipe given me by one of my fellow food allergy moms. It works great and produces very yummy, cute cookies. This time, though, I tried a different recipe, found in What's to Eat? The Milk-Free, Egg-Free, Nut-Free Food Allergy Cookbook. I was apprehensive about trying this recipe because it used 1/4 cup of brown sugar and because it called for 1/4 cup of orange juice. I was afraid the cookies would be brown and taste like orange. Neither happened, and they turned out wonderfully! The usual problem with egg-free cut-out cookie recipes is that the dough is crumbly and requires at least an hour of refrigeration before it can be rolled out to be cut into shapes. The dough from the What's to Eat recipe was not crumbly at all, however -- it must be the orange juice! I didn't have to refrigerate it and it was very malleable. The only thing I would change is that I think it needed slightly more flour than the 2 cups called for by the recipe -- I added more flour as I made more cookies and the later cookies turned out better than the earlier ones.

Talking apocalypse and mortality with my four-year-old

Yesterday I somehow managed to stumble into a conversation with Ainsley about, as Dave put it last night, "the apocalypse and mortality." Whoops.

It started yesterday at lunch. Ainsley, who lately has been declaring her love for her sweet mommy every chance she gets, told me that she would love me "for a hundred million years." I then responded, in Guess How Much I Love You fashion, "Well, I will love you for a hundred million billion trillion years."

There was silence for a minute or so. Then it began. Clearly trying to process what life would be like in "a hundred million billion trillion years," Ainsley asked: "Mommy, will the earth ever disappear?" Upon hearing this question, my first impulse was pride -- wow, is my little four-year-old smart! My second impulse was to be lazy and punt the question to Daddy for an answer. Daddy responded, in equally lazy fashion, "No, honey, it won't ever disappear." I look at him and say, "Dave, you just lied to her!" (This coming from the woman who happy spins lies on a daily basis about Santa, the Tooth Fairy, etc.) Giving me a look of, "Okay, if you really want to go there ..." Dave then said to her, "Well, actually, yes, the earth will go away some day."

Further proving her brilliance, Ainsley responded, "What will happen to the people? Will there be a new earth?" I picked up the ball, and explained, "Yes, Ainsley, all the people will probably have found a new planet to move to by that time, so they'll go in a rocketship to that planet and live there."

Then it all went downhill. She asked, "Will we go on the rocketship?" I had to respond, "No, honey, we won't be here. That will be a long, long, long time from now, so we won't be alive anymore. Perhaps your great-great-great-great grandchildren will go on the rocketship."

This answer did not make her happy. With tears forming in her eyes, she said, "But I don't want to not be alive anymore! I don't want to not be alive! Are you just kidding?"

Only then do I realize that Dave had been right all along in trying to nip this conversation in the bud. The lies started pouring out to try and make her feel better. "Yes, honey, I was just kidding. We'll always be alive. We'll go on the rocketship to the new planet." "Will I get to take my stuffed animals?" "Of course." "What about our house?" "The rocketship will be really big so we'll be able to pick our house up and put it in the rocketship." "Will there be grass for us to put it on on the new planet?" "Definitely."

From there, I was able to distract her with a conversation about the Christmas cookies we were going to make that afternoon.

So there you go. An object lesson in how NOT to talk to your four-year-old about dying and the end of the earth.

Fun Food Allergy Holiday Find

Yesterday I was shopping at Whole Foods (by myself! Dave watched the kids so I could take a "mini-vacation" to the grocery store) when I saw a lady handing out samples of some holiday-themed soy and rice milks. I tried Rice Nog by Rice Dream and Westsoy's Chocolate Peppermint Stick soy milk. Both were delicious! Because we're choco-holics in our house, I bought two cartons of the Chocolate Peppermint. You can drink it hot or cold. Heated up, it tastes almost identical to Starbucks' peppermint hot chocolate, which was heretofore my favorite holiday beverage.

It's funny that I found the Chocolate Peppermint soymilk yesterday, because just a couple of days ago, I made peppermint hot chocolate for Ainsley for the first time using this hot chocolate recipe from Enjoy Life. I made it peppermint by adding a candy cane (by the way, did you know that Spangler's candy canes are made on dedicated lines free of tree nuts, peanuts, eggs, & dairy)? I was delighted to see that on the label.)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Whew! 2 Down, 6 to Go

I'm talking about the top 8 allergens, of course. A few days ago, Leighton had her first Ritz cracker, which contains soy and wheat. She had no reaction! She has since had a lot more of the crackers, plus some Gerber puffs and apple cinnamon wagon wheels (all of which contain wheat), and has not had a problem. I am so relieved. My biggest fear was that she would be allergic to soy and wheat, because those are two foods Ainsley eats a lot (practically all of our dairy substitutes contain soy, and a lot of her snacks are wheat-based).

Because of Ainsley's allergies, I am so cautious about what I give to Leighton. I am so afraid she'll have an allergic reaction to something. Just the other day, I was eating a piece of Kraft American cheese (real cheese -- the only dairy-containing item we usually keep in the house) and was holding Leighton at the same time. She looked at it curiously, and for a moment, I thought, "Why don't I just give her a little?" But I was too scared, so I didn't. I am trying to hold off on introducing any dairy to her until she's a year old and we take her to our allergist for skin testing. Thankfully, I usually have Ainsley's Benadryl and Epi-Pen around (I carry a set in my purse), so if Leighton does accidentally ingest something and have a reaction, I can treat her.

At these times, I really envy my friends who aren't scared to feed their second, third, etc. babies new foods. I wish I could do that. But I've been burned before, so we're taking baby steps this time (pun intended!).

On a last note, Leighton is progressing at light speed ... she has been crawling for about a month, and is now pulling up a lot. The other day, she stood up at school totally on her own, not holding on to anything. The teachers think she could walk fairly soon. Ainsley did not crawl until 9 1/2 months and did not walk until 15 months, so this is a new world for us! We have already decided that we cannot have a regular Christmas tree this year; Leighton will surely try to eat all of the ornaments and pull the tree down on herself. So, we are going to buy a (real) 4-ft-tall one and put it on a table in our living room (where we traditionally put our Christmas trees).

More recipes!

Ainsley honestly hasn't had anything interesting to eat lately -- we have been living on leftovers for several days -- BUT I do have a few recipes that I have either tried or want to try ....

Chicken & Dumplings -- Version 1

My mom made this for us a while back. I have 2 alternate versions of the recipe:

1/2 C celery, chopped (optional)
1 med. onion, chopped
1 lb. chicken pieces, cut up (my mom used chicken tenders)
2 chicken bouillon cubes
1 C flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
2 Tbl. nondairy margarine
salt & pepper to taste

Boil celery and onion in enough water to cover them, until tender. Add (raw) chicken. Boil until cooked. Add chicken bouillion cubes, continue to boil until melted. Set aside to cool.

Mix flour, baking powder, and salt. Cut in margarine. Add 1/2 C of the broth from the above chicken/bouillion mixture. Knead dough on a floured board. Roll very thin (1/4 inch) and cut into 2-inch strips. Sprinkle dumplings lightly on the top with flour and let sit at least 2 hours.

Bring chicken and broth back to a boil. Add dumplings (important -- do not add dumplings until water is boiling).

After all the dumplings are in, cover, turn off, and let sit at least 15 minutes before serving. Add black pepper just before serving. Don't stir -- just lift dumplings out of pot and put in bowl.

Version 2

As an alternative to the above chicken recipe, you can do this:

1 lb. chicken pieces, cut up
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1/2 bell pepper, diced
1 med. onion, chopped
1/2 C chopped celery
1 clove garlic, minced

Season chicken with salt and pepper. Brown in oil. Add bell pepper, onion, celery, and garlic, and cook until wilted. Cover with water and simmer until tender. Then proceed with making the dumplings from Version #1.

Caramel Corn

I want to try this recipe soon, because Ainsley loves popcorn and she can't have Cracker Jacks, etc., because of the nuts.

1 C margarine
2 C firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 C corn syrup
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. vanilla
6 quarts popped corn

Melt margarine, stir in brown sugar, corn syrup, and salt. Bring to boil, stirring constantly. Boil w/o stirring for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in soda and vanilla. Pour over corn, mixing well. Turn into 2 shallow baking pans. Bake at 250 degrees for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool completely. Break apart and store in air-tight container.

Heavenly Apple Salad

Another recipe I'm going to try soon!

2 packages lemon Jell-O
2 C mini-marshmallows (I use Kraft Jet-Puffed)
1 8-ounce can crushed pineapple
2 C apples, peeled and diced

Dissolve Jell-O in 2 C of boiling water. Add marshmallows. Stir until melted. Add 1 C cold water. Chill until thickened. Add remaining ingredients. Chill until firm.