Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Easy Christmas goodies

Have you noticed that I still haven't gotten around to posting about our Disney vacation? I have been lazy the past few weeks, just enjoying the holiday season, baking up some yummy things, and spending time with our family. But I had to post about a couple of things I did lately that are so incredibly easy to make, and are safe for kiddos with Ainsley's allergies.

First, I made peppermint bark for the first time, and it was a hit. The directions are as follows:

Dairy-free, Egg-free, Nut-free Peppermint Bark

Ingredients:

2 bags safe chocolate chips

About 5 mini-candy canes or 2-3 full-sized ones (I used Spangler brand because the box said the candy canes do not contain any of Ainsley's allergens and are made on dedicated equipment)

Directions:

-Put candy canes in a gallon-sized plastic ziploc bag and crush them with a rolling pin until they are in very small pieces.

-Line a 9x13 baking pan with parchment paper.

-Pour the two bags of safe chocolate chips into the pan, making sure to spread them out pretty evenly.

-Put pan in the oven at 375 degrees for about 5 minutes. Check after five minutes - if the chips appear to be melting, take pan out and tap on the counter to spread out the chocolate so that it gets (relatively) flat and smooth. If the chocolate chips haven't melted enough to do this, put in the oven for a minute or two more. Be sure not to overcook the chocolate chips, as they will eventually dry out in the oven and not be spreadable.

-If the tapping doesn't completely smooth out the melted chocolate, you can use a spatula to smooth the top of it.

-Sprinkle crushed candy canes on top of chocolate. Cool pan in refrigerator until chocolate is solid. Then break into pieces.

Here is a pic of the LAST piece of ours!

I also took a reader's suggestion and, for the first time, made chocolate pudding using Jell-O instant pudding mix and coconut milk (we are loving being able to use coconut!). We were completely enamored with the result.

Dairy-free Instant Chocolate Pudding

Ingredients:

1 can (about 13.5 oz) regular coconut milk

1 box Jell-O chocolate instant pudding mix

Directions:

-In a medium-sized bowl, mix together the 1 can of coconut milk and 1 cup of water.

-Refrigerate bowl for about 20 minutes or stick in the freezer for about 10 minutes to make sure mixture is cool (you could also chill can of coconut milk before opening it and mixing it with the water).

-Take bowl out of refrigerator and add the Jell-O instant pudding mix. Whisk for ~2 minutes. If you can wait, refrigerate for 15-30 minutes before eating. If not, eat right away!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

I don't feel so bad about Ainsley not being able to eat school lunches ...

I know it's been a long time since I've posted. I was busy at work, then with Thanksgiving, and most importantly, with planning and going on our huge Disney trip, which we took last week. It was WONDERFUL, and I am currently working on a long post that describes our adventure, complete with pictures.

But for now, I wanted to post this disturbing news blip that I read this morning. It is an article that says the meat served at fast-food chains is from better-quality animals, and is the result of far higher testing standards, than the meat served in public schools. This makes me feel a little better about the fact that Ainsley won't be able to eat school lunches next year in kindergarten, and relieves some of my parental guilt about allowing her to eat about once a week at McDonald's and Wendy's (pretty much the only two restaurants I allow her to eat at, because their limited selection and use of dairy-free buns means it's a safe alternative to my cooking).

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs - 6 thumbs up

This afternoon Dave and I finally got to take Ainsley to see this movie, after Dave's parents graciously agreed to watch Leighton, who, at 19 months, cannot be expected to sit through anything longer than 5 minutes. Ainsley had begged for weeks to see the movie, so we were glad to have a couple of hours to be able to do that. Ainsley loves movies - she memorizes the trailors she sees on TV and then asks in very specific terms to see whatever movie was advertised (as in, "Mommy, I saw this movie called Planet 51, and it's about an astronaut who goes to another planet and all of the aliens call him an alien! It's coming to theaters on [fill in date].").

So anyway, we saw the movie and it fully captivated us the entire time. It was equally entertaining to kids and parents and wasn't scary at all to Ainsley (although I must say that she's pretty tough and rarely gets scared in movies).

The best thing about the movie (to me, anyway) was that the main female character, a "weather girl" named Sam, had a severe peanut allergy, a fact you learn relatively early in the film. Later, the allergy becomes part of the story line, when Sam comes into contact with some peanut brittle and suffers an allergic reaction that requires an epi-pen. The reaction part was done in such a way that it wasn't scary or traumatic, just matter-of-fact.

I loved Sam and her allergy because (a) it allowed Ainsley to connect with a character who has the same challenges that she does, and (b) it reinforced that having allergies is just one aspect of a person. Indeed, Sam is a fully developed character, and her peanut allergy is only a small part of who she is (in other words, you wouldn't walk out of the theater thinking that Sam was "that food allergy girl"). I really appreciated that.

So, for all of you food allergy parents who haven't yet seen the movie with your (4 yrs +) kids, I highly recommend it. You better believe that Ainsley will be getting a DVD of this movie whenever it comes out.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Until next year, Candy Witch

This year, as with last, the Candy Witch made an appearance on Halloween. The Candy Witch is a good witch who brings toys to children who can't eat all of their Halloween candy for one reason or another. Related to the tooth fairy, she exchanges the toy(s) for the kid's unsafe candy. Last year, Ainsley got a Tinkerbell DVD in exchange for her candy. This year, at her request (you can ask for certain toys, as with Candy Witch's good friend, Santa), Ainsley received a stuffed kitten (okay, she actually got two - Candy Witch made double appearances Saturday and Sunday night). Because Leighton also had to give up candy that was unsafe for Ainsley, Candy Witch brought her a book.

So how does this Candy Witch thing work? First, I or another trusted grown-up, sorts the Halloween candy Ainsley and Leighton have just raked in, and then all of the unsafe candy is put in a bag. A call is then placed to the Candy Witch letting her know that the parcel is ready for pick-up, and we place the bag on the front doorstep and close the door. After a minute or two (she has a fast broomstick), we hear a knock, and we know the Candy Witch has just made the exchange. We open the door and, low-and-behold, the toys are on the doorstep where the candy bags had been sitting.

Ainsley LOVES the Candy Witch. This year, after collecting her fair share of safe candy, she purposefully began picking out unsafe candy from her trick-or-treating destinations just to give to Candy Witch (I suppose her idea is that the more unsafe candy we collect for the Candy Witch, the better the prize will be ... so the unsafe candy is sort of like Chuck E. Cheese tickets).

You might think it's bad that Ainsley purposefully took a lot of unsafe candy this year, but I learned long ago that she likes to collect a variety of candy in her Halloween bag even though she knows some (okay, most) of it is unsafe. Basically, she thinks an entire bag of Starburst, Skittles, and Twizzlers is boring, so she likes collecting a few M&M bags here and there (and, yes, even the dreaded Reese's peanut butter cups ... who can resist the bright orange packages?) to create a colorful array in her bag.

So what happens to the unsafe candy the Candy Witch picks up? Well, she eats it, of course ... like me, Candy Witch has a remarkable sweet tooth (and also bears a striking resemblance to yours truly). She takes it to her office and shares it with her coworkers. She also gives some (the stuff she doesn't like) to her husband for him to do the same.

I love Candy Witch because she makes Ainsley feel special at Halloween time. Other kids just get candy; she (along with other food-allergic children, as well as diabetic children) gets candy and a fun surprise. This simple concept has transformed Halloween from a rather sad affair that revolves around treats my child can't eat into an exciting time of anticipation that allows Ainsley's imagination (What does the Candy Witch look like? Where does she live? What does she do with all that candy? What will she bring me?) to run wild.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Hooray for Halloween lollipops!

I am glad to say that over the years I've found a wide array of Halloween candy that Ainsley can have, including Dum Dums, Smarties, Sweetarts, Twizzlers, Starburst, Laffy Taffy, Mike & Ike, Dots, and Act II Popcorn Balls, just to name a few. The one thing missing from this list, you might notice, is any chocolate candy ... which is my favorite type of Halloween candy.

In the past, I've spent a fortune buying safe chocolate from places such as Amanda's Own, but in the past year I've begun making my own because it is so much cheaper and is very fun and easy. As I did with our Easter chocolates, for Halloween I bought a couple of candy molds (you can get them online from a place like this or from a craft store like Michael's or Jo-Ann's) and a bag of safe chocolate chips (normally I use Enjoy Life, but this time I went cheap-o and used Kroger Value chocolate chips, which contain soy but none of Ainsley's allergens). The molds I got were for lollipops, so I also purchased a bag of lollipop sticks. Total cost of this endeavor was about $5, and it made about 20 pops. Not bad!

I made the pops in the same way that I made the Easter candy - by pouring the chips into a glass bowl and microwaving them for 1 minute, then stirring, then microwaving and stirring for 30-second increments until the chocolate was melted and smooth. I then spooned the chocolate into the molds, tapped the molds lightly on the counter to get the air bubbles out, and stuck in the lollipop sticks. I refrigerated the molds for about an hour and then pulled the pops out of the molds and put them in a plastic bag in the refrigerator to store (you can also wrap the individual pops in small strips of saran wrap or press & seal before putting them in the bag - this might protect them a bit more).

Here are pics of the lollipops, of Leighton's face after eating one, and of us at a pumpkin patch this morning. I love this time of year!





Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Italian extravaganza!

Lately I've had a hankering for italian food - not the fancy pastas, but the pizza/calzone/breadstick-type food. As those of you dealing with a milk allergy know, italian food is particularly tricky because almost all popular italian dishes contain cheese or cream. I have tried a couple of vegan recipes that substitute tofu for cheese, such as in calzone and lasagna, and they've come out okay, but those recipes typically take a lot of time.

These last couple of weeks, I haven't had time for recipes like that, so instead I whipped together two very quick, very easy, and very yummy dishes: (1) cheeseless pizza with sliced tomatoes and olives and (2) pepperoni roll-ups. Both, of course, involve some sort of quick-baking Pillsbury canned bread (and by the way, did you know that if you pay attention, you never have to pay full price for those things? My Kroger frequently runs sales on the crescent rolls and pizza crust, and I've also found oodles of coupons for them).

Anyway, here is #1, the pizza:

All I did was unroll some Pillsbury thin-crust pizza dough onto a cookie sheet, put 1/2 can of pizza sauce on it (I like Muir Glen brand) and cover it with some thinly sliced tomatoes and sliced black olives (straight from a can). I also threw some ham on it too. Pepperoni would have also tasted awesome on it.

And here is #2, the pepperoni roll-ups:

The secret recipe is this: I rolled 3 slices of pepperoni up in each crescent roll and sprinkled some garlic salt, basil, and oregano on them. After baking them according to the package directions, I used the 1/2 can of leftover Muir Glen pizza sauce for dipping. As you might note, I tried to counterbalance the relative unheathiness of the pepperoni roll-ups by adding broccoli to the plate. I used a lemon sauce for the broccoli, the recipe for which is in the Vegan Lunchbox cookbook (see sidebar for cookbook details).

Given their ease and yumminess (not to mention that it's fun for the kids to dip them!), these roll-ups are probably going to make a regular appearance at our dinner table.

Camping trip - a success!

I am so sorry it's been so long since my last post. For the past couple of weeks, my husband has been working crazy hours so I have been trying to hold down the fort while he's been basically unavailable.

Dave did manage to take an approximately 28-hour-break to take Ainsley on one night of the first Adventure Princess campout, which was at a large campground 2 1/2 hours away. He had to bring so much camping-related stuff that I seriously didn't think he was going to be able to carry it all. Add to that the safe food he had to bring for Ainsley and I realized how difficult it was going to be to pull off this camping thing.

Thankfully, we did manage to figure out a camping-food strategy that is perfect for short trips to places where we're not expecting much of the food to be safe. We organized the food by meal and put all of the meal bags in a giant, soft-sided freezer bag. As an example, we put in Ainsley's Saturday lunchbag a soybutter & jelly sandwich, sweet potato chips, and a chocolate-soy-milk drink box. We put in her Sunday breakfast bag a covered bowl of her favorite cereal, a bagel, bacon, a drink box of rice milk (for the cereal), a drink box of apple juice, and a spoon. For the meal bags, we used gallon-sized ziplocs, but you could also use paper bags or large Glad/Tupperware containers.

Dave called ahead and made sure he could use the dining hall's refrigerator and microwave. After he arrived, he put the whole freezer bag in the refrigerator and would grab a meal out of it at mealtime. He kept a separate bag of snacks in his backpack and gave those to Ainsley while they were out during the day.

Because all of the other dads were very understanding of Ainsley's allergies, they were more than happy to supply safe foods for the big Saturday-night cookout (Dave had sent a safe list in advance). She ate hot dogs, chips, and smores just like the other kids, except her smore was made with an Enjoy Life chocolate bar instead of Hershey's. Her favorite part, of course, was roasting the marshmallows over the fire.

All in all, a successful campout and wonderful daddy/daughter bonding experience. The only unfortunate part was that, within an hour of their arrival back home, Dave had to go back up to the office. Hopefully he'll actually be able to enjoy an entire weekend of camping and relaxing next time.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Camping with food allergies

Ainsley and Dave are doing the YMCA Adventure Princess (dad/daughter) program for the first time this year, and it involves a lot of camping. Dave is not exactly the camping sort (we have gone camping exactly 0 times in the 13 years we've been together) but Ainsley is quite excited about it so he is being a good sport and planning on taking her to all of the campouts. Much to his relief, Adventure Princesses is really "camping lite" - they will get to sleep in air-conditioned cabins with normal bathroom facilities. So there's not a lot of roughing it involved.

The first campout is coming up soon so Dave has started to communicate with the other dads about Ainsley's allergies and safe foods for her. He and I have also talked about accommodations he needs to check on at the various campsites, including whether there's a refrigerator or microwave available to prepare her meals.

So far Dave has done a wonderful job of making sure the other dads in the group know about her allergies, and we were quite pleased that, at the group's first meeting, the host family provided fresh fruit as the snack so that Ainsley could eat it. Likewise, the dad in charge of buying some "camp food" (hot dogs, smores) for the upcoming campout was very understanding when Dave emailed him the safe-food list. It turns out that that dad's daughter has a tree-nut allergy, so he is quite familiar with food-allergy issues.

It is actually a really nice change having Dave coordinate Ainsley's food-allergy issues with regard to a special event. So much of the time, the burden falls on me as the mom to take care of everything like this. I have years of experience in coordinating food-safe playdates, packing safe foods for vacation, and dealing with preschool food-allergy issues. Dave has gotten used to me taking care of these things, which is fine, but it's nice that he's now learning all that is involved in making sure Ainsley (a) stays safe and (b) enjoys the event. Now if only I can get him to volunteer to be the room mom for Ainsley's kindergarten class next year ...

Anyway, since this group camping thing is all new to us, does anyone have any specific camping-with-food-allergies tips?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Ciao, coconut allergy!

As you might have noticed, I took "coconut" out of the list of allergens in the subtitle to this blog, because Ainsley's repeated consumption of So Delicious "coconut milk beverage" and coconut-milk-based ice cream produced no reaction. I am very happy to have struck one thing off the list. Baby steps, I guess. I had never feared that her coconut allergy was life-threatening - her hive to it was quite small when the doctor did the skin testing and her number to it has always been low. Still, I was happy to have her avoid it for these last few years to be on the safe side.

Since we discovered Ainsley can tolerate coconut, we have been thoroughly enjoying the coconut beverage and ice cream. I now make a mean chocolate milk by adding 1/2 coconut drink and 1/2 soy milk to a glass and then mixing in Hershey's chocolate syrup. It is chocolate-y, coconut-y, and yum-y! And I have to say that, to me, coconut-milk ice cream tastes a thousand times better than soy ice cream.

I haven't yet purchased any shredded coconut to use in baked goods, but I did stumble upon it in the grocery aisle the other day, so I know where to find it. When I picked up a bag of it to read the ingredient label, Ainsley asked, "Is it safe for me?" The only allergen listed was "coconut." I was very happy to reply, "Yes, honey, it is."

Monday, September 14, 2009

Mmm ... Mmm ... Minestrone

Last week my friend Elena asked if I could watch her kids for a little while in return for her bringing over dinner. That was not a hard decision! She was taking food to a family with a new baby and had made them Minestrone, so she made extra for us. It was delicious, healthy, and Ainsley-safe, so I had to have the recipe. I made some of the sweet cornbread from the Kid-Pleasing cookbook (see sidebar) to go with it - that cornbread is soooo good, by the way.


Elena's Minestrone

1/4 C safe margarine or olive oil
1/2 C carrots, sliced
1/2 C celery, sliced
1/2 onion, diced
1/2 pkg frozen peas
1/2 Tbsp parsley
1/2 tsp basil
1 1/2- 2 cans chicken broth
1 can (28 oz) tomatoes
1/2 C shredded cabbage
1 medium zucchini, sliced
1 can kidney beans
1/4 C spaghetti, broken in pieces
1 tsp salt and pepper

One hour before serving: In a large pot over medium heat, in margarine or oil, cook peas, carrots, celery, and onion for 10 minutes. Stir in remaining vegetables, broth, and spices and cook for 30-45 minutes or until all vegetables are tender. Add broken spaghetti and cook until tender.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Fun Food-Allergy Family Vacation: Charleston, SC

This year our big vacation is Disneyworld in November. But not wanting to go the whole summer without traveling anywhere, a couple of months ago we hastily threw together plans for a beach trip. At first we thought about driving down to the Texas coast, but that's about 8 hours away. We thought, if driving there will take that long, why not just fly somewhere? After looking at a map of all of the southern beach destinations (and excluding Florida, since we'll be there later this year), we decided to investigate Charleston. I had always heard it was a beautiful city, and was happy to find that lots of affordable beach accommodations were available there. Finding direct flights to the Charleston airport through American Eagle for cheap sealed the deal.

We went last Wednesday and returned on Sunday, and had a blast. It was probably the best family vacation we've ever had, with a perfect combination of beach/pool time and sightseeing/other fun activities. Plus, it was affordable and an excellent destination for those with food allergies: We were able to rent a very affordable condo that had a a fully furnished kitchen and we found a regular grocery store and a Whole Foods that stocked our food essentials, both of which were conveniently located.

There were also a Wendy's and a McDonald's nearby so that we could occasionally treat Ainsley to a meal out (we do not allow her to eat food from "real" restaurants because I don't trust what they tell me in terms of ingredients, but we do allow her to eat certain kids' meal items from Wendy's and McDonald's because the ingredient list is standard throughout all of their locations and is easily accessible on the internet).

Because we had such a great time, I am listing our daily itinerary so that I can show exactly what we did every day.

Wednesday: Arrived in Charleston after a 2-1/2 hour flight from DFW. The Charleston airport was small and had porters available to wheel our luggage out to the rental car, which was right outside the terminal. We headed to our resort, Wild Dunes, which is on the Isle of Palms, one of Charleston's barrier islands. On the Isle of Palms connector road, we spotted a grocery store (Piggly Wiggly! I haven't shopped at one of those since I was a girl and lived in Louisiana) and I ran in to get a few staples, including soy milk, bread, and some snacks. I should mention that I also packed a lot of food in my luggage, including sunbutter and jelly.

We checked in to our resort, which is a huge development of houses, condos (called "villas"), and a hotel, and were very excited to see this view from the balcony of our 2-bedroom condo/villa (which was beautifully decorated - it was room 209 in the Summer House building):


After unpacking, we headed down to the beach. I haven't been to a ton of beaches in my life, and generally have so-so memories of them. I have been a couple of times to the Texas coast, which seems to have lots of things washing on shore (jellyfish, seaweed). A couple of years ago, we went to San Diego and played on a clean beach, but the water was cold and there weren't many seashells. The Wild Dunes beach was better than any other beach I've been to - nothing weird washing on shore and clear, warm water. Plus, the kids loved that there were tons of seashells. Within one minute of walking onto the beach, Ainsley found a sand dollar. Also, because Wild Dunes is a giant, private resort, the beach was very uncrowded. As you can tell from the pictures, the pool was also right outside of our room. We spent almost as much time in there, and it too was warm, clean, and uncrowded. It also had a beach ball and noodles available for guests' use.

Leighton's first steps in the ocean.

Collecting seashells.

Walking from the condo - a short trip!



Thursday: The next day, we had more beach time and then went into Charleston. We did the carriage tour through the historic area - apparently a "must" when you're visiting - and then walked through the Market, which is a series of covered buildings where people set up tables to sell various things. There were lots of women selling "sweetgrass baskets," a Charleston tradition, but we didn't buy any because they were really expensive.






After exploring downtown, we drove to Charles Towne Landing, a state park that had an "animal forest" - a natural habitat zoo featuring various animals that English settlers would have encountered when they first came to what's now South Carolina.




Friday: It was rainy that day so we decided to go to the South Carolina Aquarium in downtown Charleston. I frankly wasn't expecting much, but was pleasantly surprised - the aquarium specialized in native South Carolina fish, amphibians, birds, and reptiles, and really tries to educate its visitors on the different parts of the region. It also had one of the most varied "touch-tanks" that I've seen - Ainsley was able to pet sea urchins, sea stars, snails, some sort of fish that lived in shells, horseshoe crabs, hermit crabs, and stingrays. She also got to pet a baby alligator (supervised, of course)!

Petting an alligator.

The harbor, right outside the aquarium.


Saturday: We decided to head out to one of the many plantations in the Charleston area. We read about each of them and settled on what is perhaps the most popular - Magnolia Plantation. We wanted to go there because it advertised a guided tram ride through the grounds, a petting zoo, and an unguided walking tour through its gardens. Here are some pics:

Making friends with Bambi inside the petting zoo.

A peacock joining us for lunch.

An alligator sunning himself in the swamp - one of the many we saw on the tram tour.

On the walking tour.




Sunday: We had a late flight that day, so we decided to make the most of it - we spent a lot of time on the beach and at the pool that morning. Then we headed into town and toured the Exchange, a historic building that advertises a scary dungeon in the basement (I have to say, this was the one let-down on the trip - it was pretty boring). We then went to Waterfront Park, which is beautifully shaded and has fountains that the kids can run around in.

Notes:

(1) As I mentioned above, there was a Piggly Wiggly on the connector road that led from Charleston to the Isle of Palms. It sold all of our staples, including Silk soy milk and Nature's Own bread. There was also a smaller grocery store called the Red & White on the Isle of Dunes. The Whole Foods was also between the Isle of Palms and downtown Charleston, in a town called Mount Pleasant.

(2) If you have a seafood allergy, Charleston might not be the best place for you, because seafood is its specialty. Also, for those with peanut allergies, one of the most famous places to eat is Hyman's - we loved it so much we ate there twice, but note that the waitstaff brings a bowl of roasted peanuts on the table as soon as you sit down. Of course, we asked not to have the peanuts, and carefully wiped Ainsley's hands before she ate the food we had brought for her to make sure she didn't ingest any peanut residue.

(3) Ainsley did have one slight allergic reaction while we were in Charleston. Our carriage tour began and ended in a large barn that housed many different farm animals. Apparently the food the animals were eating had some nuts/peanuts in it, because after we finished the carriage ride and were walking around the barn looking at the animals, Ainsley started breaking out into small hives on her arms. We left the barn and I gave her Benadryl and the hives went away - it was clear she had gotten them from some residue she'd breathed in.

(4) If you are unfamiliar with the Charleston area, be sure to have a GPS! We would have gotten lost constantly without the one in our rental car.

(5) Here are some websites we used in planning our vacation:

http://www.charlestonfamilyfun.com/

http://family.go.com/travel/vacations/south-carolina/charleston/best-charleston-vacation-for-children-282128/

If you have any questions on traveling to Charleston with food allergies, please let me know. We had such a good experience that we are definitely planning on going back again!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Another article attacking food allergy groups

There must be some playbook that news outlets use that instructs them to print something nasty about the food-allergic community when there's nothing else interesting going on. Every couple of months, one of these articles appears and makes me want to throw my laptop against the wall. Here's the latest, on Slate.com, entitled "Nuts to That: The People Profiting from Food Allergies."

Its title would lead you to believe that it's meant to expose some secret consortium bent on bleeding food-allergic parents dry for the sake of its members' own greed. However, all it really does is criticize, yet again, all the "hype" surrounding food allergies. Why, its author asks, are people pouring all of this money into food-allergy research and education when only 100 people die every year from a deadly food-allergic reaction? (This 100 number is thrown around a lot, but I've never been able to find its source. In fact, I can't find any reliable source to tell me the number of food-allergy-related deaths that occur each year.)

The article impugns two of the champions of food-allergy awareness and research, Dr. Hugh Sampson, head of the Food Allergy Institute at Mt. Sinai Hospital, and Anna Munoz-Furlong, past head of the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network. It suggests that, in a 2004 article, they may have overestimated the percentage of the populace suffering from a seafood allergy by having pollsters call random households and ask whether any household members were allergic to seafood, rather than whether anyone in the household had been diagnosed with a seafood allergy, possibly in a conspiratorial attempt to scare people into donating more money to food allergy research.

This suggestion is laugh-out-loud ridiculous. But that's not the end of it. The article also lambasts the Food Allergy Labeling and Consumer Act, which required manufacturers to list - in bold type and plain English - the common allergens in a particular food. The article states:

"In 2004, FAI [Food Allergy Initiative, another food-allergy advocacy group] hired a consulting firm to devise a plan to include specific ingredient information on food labels. Tax forms show that those expenses "included mailings to the public to help support the proposed legislation." Food allergy legislation was soon proposed by Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., and passed into law. We experience it now as the Food Allergy Labeling and Consumer Protection Act, the law that requires cream cheese to bear the label 'contains milk.'"

Yes, that evil act, the one that allows me to look at a package and know within 10 seconds whether my child can eat it instead of having to pull out my food-allergy dictionary and magnifying glass to sift through the product's ingredient list to find out if the product contains, say, albumen, one of the many ingredient names that mean eggs, or caseinate, one of several names that mean milk.

Finally, the article, like all of the others of this genre, suggests that parents of food-allergic kids are a bunch of hypochondriac alarmists who like nothing better than to worry themselves and everyone else about their child's "allergies."

Seriously, would this author write the same thing about diabetic children and their parents? No, because diabetes seems like a real disease - there are daily injections involved, after all - while food allergies are invisible unless the child ingests (or touches, or breathes, in some cases) the offending food.

For the 1,000th time: Our children's allergies are real, not imagined. The reason you aren't hearing about loads of food-allergy deaths happening every day is because we are diligently and tirelessly protecting our children from the food you are eating. It's a fact that I hate to put into writing, but if I allowed my daughter to eat whatever she wanted or whatever was available to her at a certain location (like a school lunch room, etc.), she would almost certainly die. Perhaps not the first time she ate, say, a sliver of a pecan (a nut she's especially allergic to), but almost certainly by the 5th or 6th time she ingested it (allergic reactions build the more a person consumes the allergen).

The same is true for thousands upon thousands of other children, who are kept safe only through their parents' diligent efforts. We are our children's safety belts. So pardon us for seeming overprotective.

What's more, we would give ANY AMOUNT OF MONEY for a cure. Please, Dr. Sampson, continue doing your research. We will gladly continue contributing to FAAN to have our funds passed along to you to find a cure, as well as to have FAAN and FAI continue their advocacy efforts to get more helpful legislation passed to ease the too-heavy burdens on food-allergy families.

And writers, please stick to what you know - politics, global crises, etc. Just leave us alone and stop kicking food-allergy parents when we're already down.

[Note: If you want to write a response to the author, you may do so here.]

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Dinner review: Honey mustard pork chops

Today's review is of the honey mustard pork chops from the Kid-Pleasing Cookbook (see sidebar for link to cookbook). Last week I bought 4 boneless chops on sale for $3 so I decided to try this recipe for the first time. I paired it with my easy asparagus and some fresh tomatoes.
Ease of preparation: 3 out of 5 stars. The pork chops were pretty simple, and yet surprisingly elegant - all the recipe required was that I sear the pork chops in a skillet for a couple of minutes on each side and dip them in a mixture of mustard and honey and then in a mixture of bread crumbs (homemade - it took some time to tear the bread into tiny pieces), wheat bran, and some seasonings (note that I halved the recipe since the recipe calls for 8 chops and I only had 4). Then I put them in a baking dish and baked them for 20 minutes (I actually found that I needed to bake them another 10 minutes or so to eliminate all the pink). The only things I would change in the recipe are (a) to salt the chops after coating them in the honey mustard mixture and (b) to skip the step that calls for you to drizzle melted butter on the chops right before baking. I love butter as much as anyone but I didn't think the butter added anything to the recipe and succeeded only in making the breadcrumb coating soggy. Also, as far as substitutions, I did not have wheat bran so I used wheat germ, and I did not have the grainy mustard the recipe called for so I used Dijon mustard instead - both seemed to work fine.

Price: 4 out of 5 stars. The entire meal cost around $5. I got the pork chops for $3 and the asparagus for $1. The tomatoes I got for free from my mother-in-law, but if I had bought them they would have cost about $1 too.

Taste: 4 out of 5 stars. The pork chops were really good. I'm not really a pork person but I enjoyed them. Ainsley seemed to really like them. She also loves asparagus and tomatoes (I know - I am so lucky to have a kid who loves most vegetables), so she pretty much cleaned her plate.

Dessert was a So Delicious Neopolitan ice cream sandwich - I gave Ainsley most of it but cut a small part off for Leighton. I think that was a bad idea ...

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Happy birthday to me ...

Today is my 33rd birthday. After much chiding from me about how he never bakes anything, Dave agreed to try to bake me a birthday cake. Of course, Ainsley assisted him - she knows her way around the kitchen amazingly well for a 4-year-old and I trusted that she'd be able to help him find the right ingredients in our shelves and prepare the cake correctly.

Much to my delight, after I woke up from sleeping in this morning (my first present from Dave!), I found a chocolate cake baking in the oven for me. I had chosen the recipe myself because I knew it was the easiest birthday-type cake he could make - it was the Upside Down Fudge Cake from the Kid-Pleasing Cookbook. It requires very few ingredients and makes it own fudgey icing on the bottom of the cake pan, so that it looks like an iced cake when you turn it over onto a cake plate.

Here is my beautiful cake after Dave turned it over onto the plate and I smoothed the icing with a knife and Ainsley and I added some sprinkles and a candle (no, it was not my 1st birthday; the only birthday candle we had in the house was the one I had saved from Leighton's party!):
And here is my beautiful family, with whom I felt so lucky to be celebrating this birthday:

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Dairy-free cheesy broccoli rice

Tonight we ate some of the leftover chicken drumsticks from Tuesday. I was craving a broccoli/rice sort of thing to go with it, so I decided to experiment, and it came out really wonderfully. What was interesting to me is that the mix of ingredients resulted in a dish that looked and tasted remarkably cheesy. I hope you like it as much as we did!
Easy non-dairy broccoli & rice au gratin (aka cheesy broccoli rice)

1 1/2 C instant rice (I used brown rice)
1 C frozen or fresh broccoli florets
1/8 C plain soymilk
1/4 C flour
1/4 C dairy-free margarine (I used Earth Balance)
1 dairy-free chicken bouillon cube (I like Knorr's)
1/4 tsp tumeric

Mix rice, 1 1/2 C water, and broccoli in a microwave-safe casserole dish, and microwave on high for 8 minutes (microwave another minute or two if the broccoli and/or rice isn't fully cooked in 8 minutes).

In the meantime, combine in a saucepan or skillet the soymilk, bouillon cube, margarine, flour, tumeric, and 1 C water. Heat on medium-high heat until all ingredients are combined and the sauce is smooth.

After the rice and broccoli are soft, and while they are still in the casserole dish, cut broccoli into bite-sized pieces with a fork or knife. Then pour the rice and broccoli into the saute pan/skillet and mix with the sauce until fully combined. Makes 4 servings.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Reviews of recent meals

I'm not sure what's gotten into me, but I've been cooking a lot lately. Since the original purpose of this blog was to provide meal ideas for families dealing with the same allergies as we are, I thought I'd show you what we've been eating in our house. I also wanted to let you know, in a "review" format, how difficult the meal was to prepare, how economical it was, and whether it actually tasted good.

To start off, last night we had my own invention, Turkey/Veggie Meatballs, with baked sweet potatoes on the side.

Ease of preparation: 4 out of 5 stars. The whole meal took about 30 minutes to prepare. A tip on the baked sweet potatoes - they can take forever to bake in the oven. If you need a shorter cooking time, microwave them (wrapped in a paper towel) for about ten minutes and then bake for 15 - they will taste oven-baked in half the time (you could also cook them just in the microwave, but they don't taste as good). With regard to the meatballs, if you are pressed for time, you can opt to add only veggies that don't require slicing and dicing, like matchstick carrots. If you have more time, you can add other things like diced onions, green peppers, and/or zucchini (last night I used carrots, onions, and zucchini).

Price: 4 out of 5 stars. The meal cost around $5; it helped that I bought the ground turkey on sale.

Taste: 4 out of 5 stars. The meatballs are one of my family's favorites. Ainsley especially loves them. The sweet potatoes tasted awesome with a generous amount of Earth Balance and brown sugar mixed in.

Tonight's meal was Slow Cook Chicken Drumsticks from the Kid-Pleasing cookbook (see sidebar, "My Favorite Cookbooks"), along with the book's recipe for "Aunt Jean's Rice" and Brown Sugar Carrots.
Ease of preparation: 3 out of 5 stars. The easiest was the drumsticks - all the recipe requires is that you brown them in a skillet with some oil and then put them in the slow-cooker with some bottled, store-bought BBQ sauce for 4-6 hours. The carrots were pretty easy too - I steamed them on the stove and then mixed the margarine and brown sugar in. The hardest was the rice. I had to dice an onion (gasp!) and make beef broth with a couple of bouillon cubes (if I had actually had beef broth from a can, I could have skipped this step). After mixing up all of the ingredients (including 1 cup of uncooked rice - I used brown rice), the recipe said to bake the mixture in the oven for 20 minutes. Well, after 45 minutes in the oven, the rice finally soaked up all of the liquid but was still pretty hard. I decided to pop the dish into the microwave for 10 minutes, and that did the trick - the rice was finally soft. So, FYI, as the cookbook suggests, the rice is indeed quite tasty, but you might be in for more cooking time than the recipe says.

Price: 4 out of 5 stars. The entire meal probably cost around $7. I got the drumsticks on sale for $2 and the carrots (a bag of peeled baby carrots) for $1.

Taste: 4 out of 5 stars. Everything tasted really wonderful. Leighton ate a ton of carrots and Ainsley didn't complain when I told her to finish her plate. Dave was especially impressed with how good everything tasted. Note that the drumsticks are messy - I found that I needed to wrap the end of the drumsticks with aluminum foil when I was serving them to the family so they could eat them easier.

In one year ...

I will be preparing for Ainsley to start kindergarten at our neighborhood public school two streets over. I get anxious even thinking about it. Nervous for all the reasons that any mom would be - Will she do okay in kindergarten with all those other kids? Will we be happy with her teacher and the school? - and worried about doing everything I need to ensure the school accommodates Ainsley's allergies and keeps her safe. I will officially begin that process in the Spring when I notify the principal, school counselor, and school nurse that a seriously food-allergic child will be starting in the Fall and that we need to begin formulating a 504 plan for her.

I am so lucky that my sister-in-law is an elementary-school counselor in the district Ainsley will be attending; she has already been an invaluable source of information and advice and her assistance will be even more important in the next year. I am also thankful to have connected with the mom of a peanut-allergic child at our elementary school who is a real trailblazer in terms of making the school food-allergy friendly.

Additionally, I am very relieved that Ainsley is now able to take some responsibility for keeping herself safe. I know that when I send her to school I can count on her never sharing food with her classmates or eating anything I haven't sent for her. It's not easy having a Type-A kid like her but for purposes of her food allergy her tight-woundedness and attention to detail comes in really handy.

I am sad that this year is Ainsley's last in her wonderful preschool, which has bent over backwards to take care of its food-allergic kids. It has been such a nurturing, sheltered environment and I am so grateful that I stumbled upon it. I wish every food-allergic child had access to such a careful, safe place.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Disneyworld & food allergies - need advice!

Okay, any food-allergy moms out there who've been to Disneyworld - please give me your tips! We're going in November and it's almost time for us to book our dinner reservations. Any Disney restaurants you recommend or don't recommend for a food-allergic kid? Am I crazy for thinking I might allow Ainsley to actually eat the restaurant food there (if the chef specially prepares it according to her needs, of course)? What do I need to know to get through this and hopefully even have a good time?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The almond/coconut experiment - Day 1

Yesterday I went grocery shopping and picked up some coconut milk ice cream (Purely Decadent vanilla flavored) and almond milk (Almond Breeze chocolate flavored). Although Ainsley was nervous about the impending at-home food challenge, when I explained that I would be putting it on her skin first and would only feed it to her if her skin showed no reaction, she felt more comfortable with it.

After we got home I smeared some of the coconut ice cream and almond milk on Ainsley's arms (where her elbows bend in - I picked that place because her skin gets a little cracked there and the food can seep under the skin slightly, which usually produces a bigger reaction). After 20 minutes, the coconut arm looked exactly the same as when I had smeared the ice cream on, and it did not itch at all. The almond arm, however, looked slightly irritated (it was a little bit red and bumpy where I had smeared the almond milk) and Ainsley said it itched. So I decided not to do anything more with the almond milk until I called the allergist to see what he thought (I honestly don't care to give her almonds anyway - there is so much cross-contamination between different tree nuts that I'm afraid to).

Since the coconut seemed like a go, I gave her the tiniest taste of the ice cream. No problem whatsoever. An hour later, I gave her a bigger spoonful. This time, after a few minutes, she said that nothing itched but her tongue hurt a little "like someone was poking it." I had no idea what to make of it. As I have explained before, Ainsley has turned into somewhat of a hypochondriac so I wasn't sure whether to take this complaint seriously. She went to the bathroom mirror to look at her tongue and then came out and explained that her tongue "was red in the middle." I inspected the tongue and said it looked normal to me. I then stuck out my tongue and she noted that it looked "just like" hers, so apparently that made her feel better, although she decided she didn't want to have any more of the ice cream that night.

I think I'm going to give her a couple of spoonfuls of it tonight. If she has no symptoms, I will proclaim victory over coconut.

I have to say, on the subject of the ice cream, that I had never had any made with coconut milk before. It was soooo tasty! I ate quite a lot of it during our experiment. It's pretty expensive, though - $5.99 a pint (good thing I had a $1-off coupon). Not something we'll buy every week, but still, it would be nice to be able to get it as a special treat.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Ainsley's allergy numbers - good news!

I finally heard from Ainsley's allergist today about the results from her annual blood test. First, he said her # to almonds is 0 and her # to coconut is really low so he feels comfortable with me introducing those foods in tiny amounts to see if she has a reaction to them. He didn't even think I needed to come into his office to do it. I think I'm going to buy some almond milk and coconut milk and rub them on her skin and, if that doesn't produce a reaction, let her have the tiniest taste of them to see if she tolerates them. I am nervous but excited!

Other good news: her egg and milk numbers went down by a lot! Here's the breakdown of her numbers to these over the last three years:

Egg: 2007 - 34; 2008 - 22; 2009 - 14!

Milk: 2007 - 14; 2008 - 12; 2009 - 6.6!

In other words, her egg and milk numbers are going in the right direction. This gives me hope that she might actually outgrow both on her own in the next several years.

Other numbers ... her peanut number went down only slightly (from a 7 in 2008 to a 6 in 2009, but that's still good) and her numbers to all of the tree nuts except almonds were still very high (they are all around 50 - yikes). She also still has a "slightly elevated" number to sesame seeds.

All in all, good news. I am especially encouraged by the egg and milk numbers. How great would it be if she were only allergic to peanuts and tree nuts!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Get your coupons!

On my quest to save more money in the grocery budget, I discovered that I could get coupons for most of our favorite food-allergy products on the products' websites. Some of the sites require signing up to be on the product's email list to get the coupon. I got multiple coupons by signing up myself and Dave separately and by asking my other family members to do the same and give us the coupons. Below are websites where you can get coupons for Silk soy milk, Rice Dream rice milk, So Delicious/Turtle Mountain soy ice cream and other treats, Enjoy Life products, and Smart Balance margarine (Smart Balance LIGHT was dairy-free last time I checked). Happy coupon clipping!

http://www.tastethedream.com/promos/coupon.php

http://www.silksoymilk.com/user/register

http://www.turtlemountain.com/products/coupon.html

http://enjoylifefoods.com/

http://coupons2.smartsource.com/smartsource/index.jsp?Link=E3ZRDETDN4L3O

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Chefs walking in our shoes

Did anyone out there catch the Top Chef Masters episode on Bravo that aired last night? The show is a competition for master chefs where (as in the original Top Chef) they are given various challenges and scored on the results. Last night's challenge was to prepare food for a dinner party for the actress Zooey Deschanel, who is vegan and who also avoids soy and gluten. You should have seen the chefs' faces when they found out about her dietary restrictions! They clearly had little to no experience cooking for food-restricted individuals. Still, the results were pretty good, all things considered. The winner made quinoa pasta with roasted tomatoes and basil - it looked divine. The loser was the guy who made the dessert. I knew he got off on the wrong foot when he decided to use store-bought rice ice cream. Not that rice ice cream isn't good, but come on, what vegan ice cream is better than coconut milk ice cream (which is why I'm so excited that Ainsley might have outgrown her coconut allergy)? His inexperience in this arena certainly showed. On the other hand, that challenge was right up my alley! For once I felt more qualified for a Top Chef food challenge than the chefs themselves.

What I found most amusing about the episode was how the judges seemed shocked that the chefs made vegan dishes that actually tasted good. Now, all of us who have a lot of experience cooking vegan recipes (especially vegan desserts) know how good vegan cooking can be. It was fun to see the judges realize that as well.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Reducing your food allergy family grocery budget

One of the biggest downsides to dealing with food allergies is that families are very limited in the types and brands of foods that they can buy. We become very loyal to our "safe" brands and thus cannot bargain-shop like most other families.

I remember laughing to myself last week when I heard another mom say she limits herself to $50 in groceries a week. Ha! My weekly grocery budget is over twice that amount, mostly because I can't save money by feeding Ainsley peanut butter & jelly and grilled cheese sandwiches and having her drink cow's milk that's on sale for $1.99/gallon. Instead, she eats sunbutter sandwiches (sunbutter is normally $4.99 a jar) and drinks soy milk, which is $2.99 per half gallon. Other things, like her soy ice cream, is about $4 a pint, and the dairy-free margarine we use (Earth Balance) is $3.99 for a small tub. The only brand of bread my grocery store sells that's safe for Ainsley is Nature's Own, which is $3.59 for a small loaf. We also buy things like Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese and Better Than Sour Cream, which are much more expensive than the real thing.

As we all know, these extra costs add up quickly. To try and limit our expenses, I have decided to reduce my grocery budget as much as I can without sacrificing out staples or eliminating shopping at my favorite store, Whole Foods. I successfully did this last week by going to Whole Foods and planned our family meals around the meat that the store had on sale. I bought four large chicken legs for $3 and that, coupled with a $2 bunch of asparagus I bought at my regular grocery store, was a great meal one night this week - for $5! I also bought $4 of chuck roast there and plan to make a slow-cooker meal out of that and some potatoes and carrots.

In the future, I am going to look online at the weekly circulars for Whole Foods and my local grocery store (Kroger) every week and plan all our meals around the sale items. I just went on both stores' websites and found not only that the circulars are readily available either on the stores' websites (here's Kroger's and here's WF's), but also that the sites provide coupons and other neat features to help families like us save money. Whole Foods has a webpage on saving money at its stores and a newletter called "The Whole Deal" that includes coupons and has meal ideas for cheap, healthy dinners. Kroger had links to several different coupon websites that allow you to download coupons electonically onto your Kroger frequent shopper card. Additionally, Kroger also offers a no-fee credit card that allows you to build up points you can redeem for free groceries - this is enticing to me because it awards double points any time you use it at a Kroger store and it also gives you $25 in free groceries the first time you use it. I also noticed when looking at this week's Kroger circular that the store is offering $25 in free groceries if you transfer a prescription to its pharmacy - so right off the bat you can get yourself $50 in free groceries!

As only other moms can appreciate, I am very excited about these features and interested to see how much money I can save. If anyone else has money-saving tips on grocery shopping, please share!

Easy asparagus

The other night I ventured out of my food comfort zone and baked some chicken. I know ... sad when baked chicken is an adventure. As often as I cook with chicken, I have never cooked chicken that had bones in it - I always stick to boneless chicken breast and tenderloin. But Whole Foods had a big sale on chicken legs this week, so I bought some and made the Orange-Glazed Chicken from What Else Is to Eat? (see cookbook sidebar). The chicken was incredibly easy and quite yummy.

As a side, I made baked asparagus in the way that my mother-in-law usually makes it - I bought a bunch of it, spread the spears on a cookie sheet, sprayed them with olive oil and threw a little kosher salt (course sea salt would also work) on them, and baked them in the oven at 375 degrees for ~20 minutes. Mmmm ... they were good. Ainsley kept eating them right off of the cookie sheet. Both the baked chicken and the asparagus were such a hit that I will be making them quite often in the future.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Allergist's appt.

The appointment today went just as I expected - no big deal. The doctor suggested I should be hopeful that Ainsley has outgrown her coconut allergy. Last year the hive to coconuts during her skin test was very small and her blood-test number to it was only 1.5. He thinks that given how mild her allergy was to it before, she may very well not have it now, so I guess I will cross my fingers that she's outgrown that one. It would be great to incorporate coconut into Ainsley's diet. I have a lot of dessert recipes that call for coconut, and the So Delicious brand of allergy-friendly products (yogurt & ice cream) has a whole line of foods made with coconut milk. In fact, I just saw today in my supermarket that that brand has come out with a Coconut Milk beverage - it was on the same shelf as the soy and rice milk.

The doctor also encouraged me to incorporate shellfish into Ainsley's diet. I needed extra reassurance on that because, although Ainsley's blood-test numbers to shellfish were 0 last year, she had a tiny hive to the shellfish mix during the skin test. Given the severe reactions shellfish can provoke in allergic individuals, I have been too afraid to give any to Ainsley despite her good test results. Now I guess I'll just have to be brave and give her some shrimp next time my in-laws grill some (believe me, I will give her the tiniest bit of shrimp imaginable). I have to admit, I am not a fan of fish or shellfish so I've never been particularly motivated to incorporate it into my cooking, but I guess I'll have to.

Anyway, after the appt. I took Ainsley to have her blood drawn at the lab. She was a trooper. She kept saying, "Mommy, I don't want to do this, and the only way we can get out of it is to leave right now." Still, when I explained that we couldn't leave and we had to do this to know if she had outgrown any of her allergies, she didn't fight or throw a tantrum. As the nurse took the three vials of blood (!) needed for Ainsley's many tests, Ainsley sat there calmly, and only whimpered a couple of times. Afterwards, a Daffy Duck bandaid made it all okay.

Ainsley's blood will be tested for all of her known allergens, including milk, egg white, peanuts, coconut, sesame, and the tree nuts (pecans, cashews, pistachios, and some more I can't remember).

We should have the results by next Tuesday.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Happy birthday to a great food-allergy dad! Plus a request and some easy recipes

First of all, happy 35th birthday, Dave! We celebrated with his parents Sunday night by eating a birthday cake his mom made using a Duncan Hines German chocolate cake mix and Pillsbury vanilla frosting with sprinkles (she used egg replacer so the cake would be safe for Ainsley, and it turned out great).

Yesterday, I took the kids up to his office in the afternoon and we gave him a bag of his favorite candy, most of which was also safe for Ainsley (they share a particularly strong love of Twizzlers). He enjoyed walking the kids around his office and showing them off to his coworkers.

Then this morning Ainsley and I made him breakfast in bed, with bacon, toast (from some challah bread I made this weekend), and wholewheat/applesauce/strawberry/blueberry pancakes we made this morning using the pancake recipe in the Kid-Pleasing Cookbook (see sidebar, "My Favorite Cookbooks"). He loved it!

Second, I am sorry I haven't posted more lately. Honestly, until today, I haven't had anything much to say. Things are going really well but I haven't done many new things, especially on the food allergy front. Instead, the last couple of weeks we've been taking it easy and enjoying the summer.

Today, however, I do have an important request: Ainsley's annual allergist appointment is tomorrow so I would appreciate any good vibes you could send us. Specifically, we are hoping (but not particularly optimistic, given our past experience) that some of Ainsley's allergy numbers have gone down.

For those of you not familiar with food allergy appointments, once a year, we meet with Ainsley's allergist and tell him about any significant food-allergic reactions she's had within the past 12 months (like the now-infamous yogurt incident) and whether we think she's allergic to anything new (thankfully we don't). Then he gives us a lab form and we go get her blood drawn to test her immunoglobulin E ("IgE") numbers for the foods we know she's allergic to (a food-allergic reaction is caused by the body's creation of IgE antibodies to the food; when these antibodies react with the food, histamine and other chemicals are released, causing hives, asthma, or other symptoms of an allergic reaction).

About 5 days after the blood draw we get a call from the allergist telling us what her numbers are and what he thinks they mean (for example, last year Ainsley's number for peanuts went from a 12 to a 6, suggesting she might be outgrowing the peanut allergy. Boy, wouldn't it be great if that number were a 0 this year!).

I've learned over the last three years not to get my hopes up too much about this appointment, because so far she hasn't outgrown any of her allergies and the studies I've read suggest that she may not outgrow any until her teens at the earliest. Still, there's always that little flame of hope in my heart that this will be the year .... I can say her eczema has gotten markedly better since last year, so perhaps that means something in her little immune system is correcting itself. As I've said before, if I could choose an allergy for her to outgrow, it would be milk, so COME ON MILK I say as I kiss the dice and throw them on the table.

Finally, I have collected a few more excitingly easy, safe dishes that I wanted to share below. I found the chicken couscous recipe in Family Circle magazine in an article on dinners ready in under 20 minutes. It was, indeed, quite easy, and the family really liked it (the kids gobbled theirs up and Ainsley said more than once, "Mmmm, this is good!").

The vegetable skillet and cobbler recipes are from my wonderful friend Elena, who is so considerate when it comes to Ainsley's allergies. We've eaten over at her house several times and she always keeps safe snacks and prepares safe foods for Ainsley. She is also careful to note when something she prepares for her family looks safe for Ainsley and sends me the recipe. Thanks so much, Elena - every food allergy mom should have a friend like you!

Chicken Couscous with Grape Tomatoes

2 chicken breasts or 3 tenderloins (to make things easy on yourself, you could use a package of safe, precooked chicken - I often use Hormel Natural Choice oven-roasted chicken, found near the refrigerated deli meats)
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 C safe chicken broth
1/2 chopped onion (okay, you do have to chop one vegetable, but I promise that's it!)
2 C thinly sliced carrots (I use fresh matchstick carrots so I don't have to do more cutting)
1 C uncooked, plain couscous
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp pepper
1 tsp salt

If chicken is uncooked, saute in the oil until fully cooked and then remove chicken from saute pan. Cut chicken into bite-sized pieces. Add to the pan the chicken broth, onions, carrots, spices and seasonings and simmer for 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender (also add the oil if you didn't add it before while cooking the chicken). During that 10 minutes, cut the grape tomatoes into quarters. After vegetables are tender, add the chicken, tomatoes, and couscous to the pan and let stand, covered, for 5 minutes before serving (time enough for the couscous to fluff up). Makes about 4 adult servings.

* * * *

Hearty Vegetable & Rice Skillet

1 15oz can black, garbanzo, or kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 14.5oz can stewed or diced tomatoes, cut up
2 C loose-pack frozen mixed vegetables
1 C water
3/4 C quick-cooking brown rice (if you use instant brown rice, use only 2/3 C water)
1/2 tsp dried thyme or dillweed, crushed
1 10.75oz can condensed tomato soup (optional - still tastes good without!)

In a large skillet, stir together beans, undrained tomatoes, vegetables, water, uncooked rice, and thyme or dillweed. Bring to a boil; reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 12 to 14 minutes or till rice is tender. Stir in soup; heat through. If you are not allergic to cheese, you can add some shredded cheese on top. If not allergic to almonds, you could also top with slivered almonds. Makes 4 servings.

* * * *

Ultra-Simple Fruit Cobbler

4 Tbsp safe margarine
3/4 C flour
3/4 C sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 C soy milk
2 C sliced fresh peaches or nectarines, or whole blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries or a combination of fruits (or a 12-ounce package of frozen berries)
1 Tbsp sugar

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Put margarine in an 8-inch square or 9-inch round pan; set in oven to melt. When margarine has melted, remove pan from oven. Whisk flour, 3/4 cup of sugar, baking powder, and salt in small bowl. Add soy milk; whisk to form a smooth batter. Pour batter into pan, then scatter fruit over batter. Sprinkle with remaining 1 Tbsp of sugar.

Bake until batter browns and fruit bubbles, 50 to 60 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature with a dollop of safe whipped cream (Soyatoo, available at Whole Foods, is safe for some) or soy ice cream, if desired.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Ahhhh ... now I can breathe a bit

I have not posted in a while because I've been really busy at work. Finally, I have gotten almost back to normal in terms of my schedule so I can spend a little more time at home.

Let's see, what's been happening with us ... well, to start off with, Ainsley's hypochondria has certainly lessened. She has pretty much stopped with all of the worrisome habits, like washing her hands every two seconds and refusing to swallow something she's already chewed up because it might have germs. I guess it was from food allergy camp. I will still send her next year but I think I'm going to mention to the teachers that this happened so they can be more aware that this is a possible side effect.

We had a wonderful Fourth of July - went to Fort Worth for a concert in the park and fireworks with some good friends who have kids the same age as ours. We went to the zoo the next day, which was great but H-O-T (if you don't know, the Dallas area is having record-setting temps these days ... these are the times I wished we lived up north!).

Ainsley's OT continues to go well. She seems to be improving in practically every area of physical development. She can ride a tricycle better, she can write her letters better, she can climb on things better - it seems to really be paying off these days. She continues to go twice a week but we'll scale back to once a week when school starts again. Funny story - on Saturday, she came up to me and said, "Mommy, I need to do a little work today" (I think she might have heard that phrase come out of Dave's mouth one too many times). So she took a marker and three pieces of paper, sat in a chair in her playroom, and proceeded to draw letters all over the papers, which she then taped up on the wall. Very hard work indeed! One thing that's gotten her into letters these days is the Leapfrog DVDs on letters and words. These really do help kids learn their letters.

Finally, my recent workload has caused me to create even more "ridiculously easy" meals. Tonight we had yummy, ham & veggie hash browns and pancakes. Here's the "recipe":

Dairy-free, egg-free hashbrowns

1 package safe frozen hashbrowns (I have used Kroger and Alexia brands)
1 package ham chunks (you can find them pre-cut in the refrigerated meat section)
Optional: if you feel like chopping, you could add green peppers, onions, mushrooms, or whatever other veggies you like with your hashbrowns

Pour about 3 tbsp vegetable or olive oil in saute pan. Pour frozen hashbrowns in pan. Heat over high heat for approximately 20 minutes, stirring often. Add ham chunks and optional veggies after the first 10 minutes.

Although I did make the pancakes tonight from scratch, I often just toast safe frozen waffles (many brands available - buy at Whole Foods or Sprouts), throw some fruit (blueberries, cut-up strawberries, etc.) on them, and then serve them with syrup. Pancakes or waffles make a great accompaniment to the hash browns.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

I've created a hypochondriac

I don't know if it was the recent yogurt/epi-pen incident or that Ainsley just attended food allergy camp for a week, or both, but in the last several days she's gotten really scared over small things and it's been pretty difficult to calm her down. It started with frequent complaints, after eating foods that have never before produced a reaction, that her throat itched. At first I would give her Benadryl, but after she started complaining about this every night I finally stopped and adopted a "wait-and-see" approach (if the throat itching didn't get any worse and there were no other symptoms, I didn't give her Benadryl). She also (rather comically) asked for Benadryl once after my mom sneezed near her, because she worried about the germs my mom could have transmitted.

Then she started worrying whenever she ate something after playing outside without washing her hands. She worried both about the possibility that she could have ingested a small bit of an allergen and that she was eating germs. One time, she got scared after she broke a stick in half and then stuck one of her fingers in her mouth because the stick had hurt it. She was afraid that something on the stick had gotten onto her finger and then into her mouth and would hurt her.

This morning was the worst - she ate a piece of toast and then refused to swallow it because she was afraid her hands weren't clean when she was eating it. I tried unsuccessfully to get her to swallow it and finally made her spit it out in the toilet.

I have no idea what I can do to ratchet down this newfound anxiety of hers. I'm not sure if it's some sort of developmental stage or whether it's because of recent events.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Occupational therapy update

Some people have asked how OT is going, so I thought I'd give my thoughts on it now that Ainsley's been having two 1-hour sessions each week for about the last month. She really hasn't been going that long, but already we think we've seen enough of a difference to keep with it. Her very sweet therapist, Theresa, has been working mainly on getting Ainsley used to/comfortable with movement and developing her ability to do complex tasks (like putting blocks in certain containers) while moving. A couple of weeks ago Theresa discovered that Ainsley is especially uncomfortable with things that involve rolling on wheels and moving in a circular direction. They were doing an activity that required Ainsley to lie, stomach-down, on a board with wheels and all of a sudden Ainsley got very upset and started crying. Theresa tried it again a few days ago but at a slower pace/for a shorter time and noticed that Ainsley started to get very irritable after a short time. Theresa thinks she's definitely found a sensitivity in Ainsley to this type of movement, so she plans to work on slowly building Ainsley's tolerance to it. Theresa also suggested that, at home, I have Ainsley ride her tricycle more so she can get more used to that movement. Ainsley does not like riding tricycles and refuses to touch her scooter. She absolutely hates the idea of riding a bicycle - when I've suggested that we could get her a bicycle for her next bicycle she has vehemently refused to consider it.

Based on my own observations of Ainsley, I agree completely with Theresa's suggestions and am hopeful we can improve Ainsley's tolerance to movement. We have planned a Disneyworld trip for November and I worry that she won't want to ride any of the rides (particularly the flying Dumbo ride and the Teacups) because of her sensitivity. In the past we've noticed that she's particularly sensitive to carnival-ride-type movement (even the carousel upsets her sometimes) so we are hoping to see some improvement in the next few months.

The other thing Theresa has been concentrating on is developing Ainsley's fine motor skills. Theresa has concluded that Ainsley's muscles, including her hand muscles, get tired very easily and that interferes with her ability/willingness to do activities involving coloring/drawing/writing. Theresa has worked with her a lot in practicing coloring with a large Crayola marker and has taught Ainsley how to hold it the right way. At home we've been drawing and coloring a lot with the markers and I've also been having her do "sewing" with these Melissa & Doug lace-up animals to help her learn to control her hand muscles. I can tell she's improving in the fine-motor-skills area - she is doing much better with her coloring and writing.

In sum, so far so good with the therapy. Ainsley loves the sessions (we still call them "gymnastics") and Theresa and we feel that we've seen progress even after this short time.

Monday, June 15, 2009

No power for over 48 hours!

We had some severe storms in the area on Wednesday and our power was knocked out until Saturday morning. I had no idea it would be out so long, so I did not move my important food from my freezers, and, as a result, lost all of it. This was sad for me because I had a fair amount of homemade Ainsley-friendly food, including cupcakes, sorbet, etc. in there. Because we had no power, for those two days we had to feed Ainsley almost exclusively at McDonald's and Wendy's, where there are a few things she can eat. I'm sure she didn't mind, but I didn't feel like her diet was very nutritionally complete during that time.

Thankfully, this weekend we were able to clean our the refrigerator and freezers and have begun restocking what we lost. All of our soy ice cream went bad so I am planning to make some with Ainsley today - for the first time! I finally bought a small ice-cream maker last week and want to break it in. I think we'll do strawberry ice cream using a recipe from the Kid-Pleasing cookbook (see sidebar - my favorite cookbooks) - I will let you know how it turns out.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Food-allergy paranoia, and a totally unrelated interior decorating whine

First thing - last night, while Ainsley was at grandma's, we gave Leighton part of an Almond Joy (not the almond part, but the chocolate-covered coconut part) and several minutes later she started vomiting. I got so scared - was she allergic to coconut (she had been tested for almonds but not coconut)? Had she developed an allergy to something else that was in the bar? I also lamented that I did not have Benadryl or the Epi-Pen - they were with Ainsley.

Immediately I checked for hives, breathing difficulty, etc. - nothing. My husband sheepishly admitted that she had started vomiting after he gave her a bite of the meat from his taco and that he thought the food activated her gag reflex; apparently it was too spicy for her. What a relief. Still, this experience demonstrated to me that, even after Leighton's allergy testing, I've never quite believed that she's 100% allergy-free, and have been waiting for "that moment" when I find out she's allergic to something.

* * * *

On a totally unrelated note, I have discovered that I am the world's worst at picking paint colors. We are having some minor work done on our house, including having a few of the walls painted (mostly two hallways that were a very boring shade of gray). I decided I wanted to warm up the hallways with a nice shade of beige/tan. Big mistake - the color looks okay in the back hallway, but the front hallway looked horribly dark and the color clashed with the colors in all of the bedrooms, which are off of that hallway. Since the painters were coming back the next day to do some other work, after spending at least an hour pouring over color samples I decided upon a much lighter shade of beige and had the painters repaint the hallway that color. While they were working I took Leighton to Dave's office to have dinner with him and escape the paint fumes. We arrived back to find the hallway completely done - and the color was bright yellow! Oh no! I swear it looked beige on the sample. Now we have a cheery, bright yellow hallway that clashes with the entryway and basically every other color in the house except Ainsley's yellow room.

I have finally thrown in the towel and called an interior decorator, who can hopefully help me dig myself out of this hole. Thankfully, Dave was not mad that I had just wasted our money in having the hallway painted the wrong color twice, but he is relieved that I called the decorator, if for nothing else so that he will not have to listen to me whine about the hallway anymore. I have always fancied myself a good decorator, but there is definitely a limit to my skills.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Quick & easy cherry-bottom chocolate cake

Apparently I'm into chocolate-and-fruit combinations (really, I'm into chocolate-and-anything combinations - I am such a big chocoholic it's ridiculous). This week was my sister-in-law's birthday and I was commissioned with making the birthday cake. I listed some of the things I could do and she thought something with cherries sounded good. So I decided to make a cherry sauce, top it with cake batter, bake it, and frost it - and it turned out as good as it sounds. Here is how I did it in ridiculously easy fashion:

Cherry-bottom chocolate cake

1 box Cherrybrook Kitchen chocolate cake mix or other allergen-free chocolate cake mix (some varieties of Duncan Hines are milk-, egg-, and peanut/tree-nut-free)

1 can safe premade icing (I used Pillsbury reduced sugar chocolate fudge - lots of Pillsbury icings are safe) or 1 box Cherrybrook Kitchen chocolate frosting prepared as directed

1 16-oz bag frozen, pitted cherries

1 Tbsp arrowroot powder

3 Tbsp grenadine, pomogranite juice, or water

2 Tbsp sugar

2 Tbsp water

Prepare cake mix as directed on the box (mine called for 1/2 C oil and 1 C cold water). Set aside. Make cherry sauce by combining frozen cherries, grenadine, arrowroot powder, sugar, and water in medium saucepan. Cook and stir on medium/low heat until thick sauce forms.

Spray 9x9 pan with nonstick spray. Pour cherry sauce on bottom. Pour cake batter on top and spread batter to completely (or as close as possible) cover the cherry sauce. Bake at 350 for ~25 minutes or until tester for the cake comes out clean.

When cake is cooled, spread chocolate icing on top and enjoy.

Note: You can also use this cherry sauce instead of the strawberry sauce for the brownie mini-cakes described in the previous post. You can also add safe chocolate chips to the cake batter if your mix doesn't have them already (my Cherrybrook mix did have them). This cake is messy but oh so good!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Medic Alert deal

Today I enrolled Ainsley in the Medic Alert system. I had been meaning to do this for a while but our recent ambulance incident finally spurred me to action. In case you don't know, Medic Alert is a system that provides a bracelet or other piece of jewelry with a special medical symbol printed on one side that alerts medical personnel to the fact that the wearer has a health condition. The other side of the tag lists information about the health condition and a number to call for more information. The company was started by a man whose child had a serious allergic reaction, so the program is tailor-made for food-allergic families.

When I called to enroll Ainsley, I was happy to learn that Medic Alert just started a KidSmart program for children that is a reduced-price program and contains certain kid-specific features. In total, I paid about $35 for the enrollment fee and bracelet and will need to pay only $10 per year to continue the membership until Ainsley turns 18 (the price will increase then). Additionally, I am also enrolling my dad (who has Type I diabetes) and he will get a discount on his membership and Ainsley will get a $25 credit for "referring" him. What a deal!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Easy chocolate chip brownie mini-cakes with strawberry sauce

We are going to a friend's house today for dinner (you know who you are!) and I volunteered to bring the dessert. I wanted to try something different, but was in a lazy mood, so I decided to do something using the Cherrybrook Kitchen chocolate chip brownie mix that was in my pantry. I made the batter and put it in a cupcake pan with cupcake liners (1 box of the mix makes 12 brownie cupcakes). After I took the brownie cupcakes out of the oven (I baked them at 350 for about 18 minutes), I cooled them on a wire rack.

While the brownies were baking, I made the sauce from a recipe I saw on the Fat-free Vegan blog: cut up a pint of strawberries (excluding the stems, of course!) and cook them in a saucepan with 1/4 cup water, 1/2 cup sugar, and 2 tbsp cornstarch until the mixture is boiling and forms a sauce.

After the brownie cupcakes are cool, take the paper wrappers off and place each one on its own plate. Spoon sauce on top. Voila - fancy-looking dessert in no time!