Thursday, February 26, 2009

In honor of my dad: dairy-free, egg-free, sugar-free birthday cupcakes

Today is my dad's birthday. For the past two years, I have made him cupcakes on his birthday. The only issue with that is that my dad is a Type I (insulin-dependent) diabetic, and has been most of his life. That means he cannot have baked goods that contain a lot of sugar. Ordinarily, this wouldn't be a problem, because recipes for diabetic desserts abound. However, as you might guess, there aren't a whole lot of diabetic desserts also made to be consumed by someone allergic to eggs and milk, and I wasn't going to make cupcakes that Ainsley couldn't eat too.

So I made up my own recipe. It wasn't hard - the only thing I did was substitute Splenda for sugar in my usual egg-free, dairy-free cake recipe, which I got from another food allergy mom. And you know what? It tastes AWESOME. No kidding - it really does. You can hardly tell that it does not contain eggs, milk, or sugar. Not only that, it's a pretty easy recipe. I don't even make my own icing - I rely on Pillsbury Reduced Sugar frosting (it is sweetened with sugar and with Splenda; my dad can have a little sugar so that icing works for him). Here is my recipe - I hope it helps anyone else out there who is struggling with all of these food restrictions.

Dairy-Free, Egg-Free, Sugar-Free Cupcakes (makes 1 dozen cupcakes)

1 3/4 C flour
1 Tbsp + 1 tsp baking powder
1/2 C dairy-free margarine, room temp
1 C Spenda granulated
3 tsp Ener-G Egg Replacer + 3 Tbsp canola/vegetable oil + 3 Tbsp water, mixed together
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven 375 degrees. Combine all ingredients and beat until light and fluffy. Fill cupcake liners 2/3 full. Bake for 13-15 minutes or until tester comes out clean. Note: these cupcakes are more fragile than normal ones, so do not frost until they are cool and be very gentle when frosting. Also, they do not to stick as well as normal cupcakes to the cupcake wrappers, especially the gold/silver foil ones.

As previously mentioned, for icing, you might try Pillsbury Reduced Sugar frosting in vanilla or chocolate (we especially love the chocolate flavor). The only allergen it contains is soy.

Happy Birthday Dad!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

We're stuck on food allergy stickers

I am always curious as to the measures other allergy moms take to ensure that others who might come into contact with their food-allergic child when they aren't around know about the child's allergies. Because I have worked part-time since Ainsley was four months old, she has been in daycare (I prefer to call it "nursery school," because daycare has a negative connotation in our society) for several years. When we first discovered her allergies, we tried a variety of approaches to try and remind her regular teachers as well as any substitutes she might encounter that she has allergies and should not be fed certain foods.

We first tried a sticker that we put on the table at the spot where she sat for snacks and meals every day. But that didn't work very well for us - once a substitute gave her cheese cubes by putting them right on top of the sticker.

We also put a notice up in her room that informed everyone in big letters that a child in the classroom had allergies and also outlined the emergency procedures that the staff should take if she was fed an allergen or had an allergic reaction. But the staff never seemed to take notice of this (I should mention at this point that eventually we had a not so amicable parting with this school and, for the last two years, Ainsley has been at a much better school in terms of its allergy awareness).

When Ainsley moved to her new school two years ago, I decided to take another approach. I printed out a sheet of stickers that informed whoever read it that she had food allergies and listed what she was allergic to (I know there are stickers like this or this available for purchase, but I decided it was easier, and much cheaper, to make my own). Now, before you say, "Wow, what a great idea!" I have to admit that Ainsley Allergy Sticker 1.0 was neither subtle nor cute. It consisted of a giant white mailing label (I think it was 4" x 6") that used 20-point font (capital letters, of course). Just in case someone somehow missed the sticker on her front, we put an identical one on her back. Thankfully, the kid was just 2 years old and had no idea what we had done to her.

In the years since, we have refined our sticker system. Version 2.0 was a small starburst in snazzy neon pink, yellow, or green (I bought a pack of Avery labels that had sheets of various neon colors). I shortened the statement to say "ALLERGIC TO DAIRY, EGGS, & PEANUTS/NUTS" or something to that effect. Unfortunately, it seems Avery discontinued those sunbursts because, in the past year, I haven't been able to find them anywhere. So now, for version 3.0, I use a small rectangular Avery label (1" x 2 5/8") that comes in the same neon colors. The current one reads,

(to dairy, eggs, & peanuts/nuts) --
Only feed me food that my parents have approved!

Now we only put one on her, usually in the same place that someone would put a nametag. Below is a pic of one of the printed stickers. If you want to look for them in a store, they are Avery 5979, "Neon Assorted High Visibility Labels." So far version 3.0 has worked well for us. People seem to have no trouble spotting her sticker but it is small enough to not be distracting. A mom of another child in Ainsley's current preschool class said that she immediately noticed the sticker on Ainsley and thought, "Wow, that mom is serious about her kid's food allergies." Mission accomplished.

I must add, though, that I doubt I'll be able to do the sticker thing for more than the next couple of years. One day, she will (very reasonably) find the stickers embarrassing. But by that time, my hope is that we will have taught her enough self-protection skills that she can keep herself safe by informing others of her allergies and not eating food she thinks might have any allergens in it. Or maybe she'll just outgrow all of her allergies before then so we won't have to worry about them anymore (a mom can dream, right?). Until then, I just take things one day at a time, and at this point in time, the sticker system is working, so we're going to stick with it (yet another bad attempt at humor).

Monday, February 23, 2009

When eczema attacks

No, the eczema is not on my food-allergic four-year-old. She still has occasional flare-ups, but for the most part, she is eczema-free except in the summertime, when pool water (salt or chlorine) really aggravates her skin. This time it's on my previously-assumed-to-be-non-food-allergic 11-month old, who has it all over her stomach and back :(.

It started a week or two ago - I noticed a little bit of it on her back so I put some hydrocortisone on it and forgot about it. But I saw it again on Friday, and this time there was a lot of it and it covered most of her back. By Saturday morning it covered some of her stomach, and by yesterday it covered even more. I have no idea what is causing it, but am 99% sure it's a food. She has started eating so much lately, and that's really the only condition that's changed.

I think I've narrowed it down to soy or dairy. She has had a few items with dairy in them at school (mac & cheese and regular challah bread) and I had been quietly rejoicing that she had had no reaction to them, but now I fear it was a delayed reaction. But she has also had more soy than usual lately - she ate some casserole with a lot of soy margarine on it on Wed. & Thurs., drank some of Ainsley's soy milk on Fri., and ate some soy yogurt on Sat.

I cannot remain neutral. Of the two, I would VASTLY prefer another dairy-allergic child. Virtually everything Ainsley eats has soy in it. I can cook dairy-, egg-, and nut-free, but I think it might actually break me to try to eliminate soy too. Soy and dairy are like two sides of the same coin. You can be allergic to dairy because there are a lot of soy-based dairy alternatives. But if you're allergic to dairy and soy ... well, that's a tough nut to crack (terrible attempt at food allergy humor).

Thankfully, we have Leighton's first real allergist appointment a week from Thursday. We are doing skin prick testing for all of the major allergens that day. Prior to the last few days, I was confident Leighton would sail through the testing without any positive reactions. Now, I am not so sure.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Fun food allergy find - single cupcake holder

My mom-in-law gave us a cupcake holder for Christmas and I get compliments on it whenever I take it anywhere. It is perfect for taking Ainsley's allergen-free cupcake to birthday parties or other special occasions. My MIL found it at Bed, Bath, & Beyond. I just looked and apparently you can't order it from BBB online, but perhaps it's still being carried in the stores. In any case, here is another (though admittedly less cute) version you can purchase online.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Yale Daily News food allergy article

I was impressed to see this article in the YDN. Dave and I went to law school at Yale and we would love for one or both of the girls to go there (yes, I am one of those moms who already fantasizes about what college her preschoolers might go to). I assumed Yale would be pretty good with food allergies, and it sounds like the school is really making strides. I'm sure it will have the drill pretty down-pat by the time Ainsley's old enough to be out on her own. As a food allergy mom, I, of course, worry how she'll be able to manage when she's grown-up and I can't cook every meal for her. I am glad to see that college dining halls are taking seriously their responsibilities in feeding food allergic kids.

My fear of nuts

Yes, I am afraid of nutty people, but for some reason I am way more afraid of peanuts and tree nuts. Case in point, yesterday we were at the library for storytime. Ainsley and Leighton were sitting in my lap on the floor. A mom sitting next to me with her two girls gave one of them a peanut butter cracker. The girl proceeded to get peanut-butter-cracker crumbs all over the area next to us. The crumbs were like a magnet to my eyes and I couldn't stop looking at them until I had picked all of them up and thrown them away. Am I the only mom like that? I would have done the same with cheese crackers, but frankly, I get a lot more scared when I see peanut butter/peanuts/tree nuts in the area (perhaps it's because Ainsley's never ingested peanuts or tree nuts - only had a horrible skin reaction to them - so I'm afraid of what would happen if she ingested even a tiny amount).

I have had similar incidents involving a peanut butter & jelly sandwich (a little girl was eating one at a meeting I was at with my kids and then, with peanut butter and jelly all over her face and hands, started playing My Little Ponies with Ainsley) and peanuts (at another storytime - a little girl was eating them out of a plastic snack bag and spilled some next to Ainsley). I try not to overreact, but with regard to the peanut butter sandwich incident, I wiped Ainsley's hands really well with a wet wipe as soon as I could (which prompted a mom next to me to say sort of condescendingly, "Yes, kids can't help but get lots of germs when they're playing with other children", and I then had to explain that I was actually wiping Ainsley down because she may have gotten peanut butter on her hands and it would really be sad if I had to interrupt the meeting to stick Ainsley with an Epi-Pen).

Am I the only one who gets "activated" once she sees peanuts or tree nuts in the room? I know it is probably very unhealthy to actually have a fear of certain foods, but I've never known anything otherwise as a mom. (For a cartoon making fun of parents like me, see here ... the cartoon is actually attached to this article, which, the first time I read it, made me so mad that I wrote a very long letter to the writer, with whom I went to law school.)

I do not mean to judge the moms that bring peanut/tree nut snacks for their children - I know that if Ainsley weren't allergic to peanuts and tree nuts, I would be feeding them to her too. Still, I hope that the fact that my friends know Ainsley and her allergies encourages them to not bring foods like that to meetings and other places where lots of children will be congregating, just in case there is another child who, like Ainsley, has a severe peanut/nut allergy.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Be Mine, Valentine cookies

Since it was Valentine's Day yesterday, Ainsley insisted we make heart cookies. So I took the opportunity to use my new cookie press for the first time - it has a disk that makes little heart-shaped cookies. Now, a few months ago, I had no idea what a cookie press was. When I first heard the term, I thought it must look something like a printing press, except that it made sheets of cookies instead of printed paper. But then I looked it up online and saw it was really a pretty simple device, and one that would be good to have given my newfound love of baking. My mom-in-law was happy to get me one for Christmas. Still, I was a little hesitant to break it out (I am averse to learning new things ... see prior post on how long it took me to learn how to upload pics from my new camera to my new computer). Ainsley's insistence yesterday was the push I needed to try it. Although, at first, the press was somewhat confusing to use, I found that, after a couple of minutes of practice, I had it down.

For the dough, I used the Spritz Cookie recipe from What's to Eat. After baking, I let the cookies cool for a few minutes and then melted some chocolate chips and a little bit of shortening in the microwave, put the melted mixture in a small plastic bag, cut the tiniest of holes in one of the corners of the bag, and drizzled chocolate on the cookies (with some of the cookies I also drew little chocolate hearts). Then we poured sprinkles on all of them. I think they came out really well. The recipe made so many (about 70 cookies) that, after the chocolate set, we put most of them into treat bags and delivered the bags to our neighbors.
Close-up of the cookies right after they were "pressed."

Cookies after baking.

Cookies with heart-shaped chocolate drizzles.

Cookies with regular drizzles.

Friday, February 13, 2009

We *heart* you, Ainsley

This love note is inspired by this post by a fellow food allergy mom ("The Things We Do for Love"). She talks about how food allergy moms constantly have opportunities to demonstrate our love for our children, whether it be by talking to a teacher about making food-safe accomodations for our child, or baking a safe, sweet treat for her, or packing a healthy, safe lunch that looks just as yummy as what the other kids are bringing to school.

Food allergies involve sacrifice, not just for the kid, but for the rest of the family. Since Ainsley was diagnosed with her milk and egg allergies, for example, our refrigerator hasn't seen a gallon of milk or a carton of eggs. Instead, Dave and I quickly grew accustomed to drinking rice milk on our cereal and Dave, an egg lover, only gets his favorite dish when we happen to be eating at a brunch spot. Ainsley's wonderful Nana stopped making her famous Chicken Divan for the family during our Sunday night dinners because it contains both dairy and eggs; instead, she loves to surf the web to find other new and interesting recipes that are Ainsley-safe. My mom's favorite thing is to find a candy Ainsley can eat ... she then proceeds to buy a truckload full and allow Ainsley to eat it virtually limitlessly whenever Ainsley is at her house. Ainsley's aunt Bridget, an elementary school counselor, takes time out of her busy day to talk to her school nurse and others about food allergies so that she can be as informed as possible about policies and protocols to deal with food-allergic children, and generously passes on the information to me so I can be as prepared as possible for when Ainsley starts public school.

And as for me ... my sacrifice involves making sure Ainsley's medicine pack follows her everywhere and that everyone who takes care of her knows how to administer an Epi-Pen, volunteering to be a room mother so I can keep a close relationship with her preschool teachers and make sure the food served during class activities and parties is Ainsley-safe, offering to make treats for the entire class whenever someone is celebrating a birthday so my girl can eat the same thing as everyone else, making almost everything she eats so I can be assured it contains only safe ingredients, reading labels on EVERYTHING (even hair care products and pet food) to make sure it's safe to bring in the house, even becoming an expert in cupcake baking so that the cupcake she brings to each birthday party will look even yummier that the birthday cake she can't eat.

In fact, my biggest sacrifice was learning to cook and bake at all. I did not touch the kitchen before she was born. But I was left with no other choice but to take it up once we discovered Ainsley's allergies. And it has been such a wonderful thing for us. Not a week goes by that Ainsley and I haven't been in the kitchen cooking up something new. She assumes her regular position right next to me at the counter, standing on a kitchen chair with her little blue-and-red apron on, and insists on tasting each ingredient as we pour it into the bowl. She is also my chief whisker and sifter and has become quite astute at placing cupcake liners in the pans. As a result, we have spent countless hours just spending time together, creating something wonderful that we can eat and share with our loved ones.

So, although love is sacrifice, and we - the entire family - have demonstrated our love in this way time and time again for "the best four-year-old in the world," it has, in many ways, made all of our lives so much richer. Although I would still give almost anything for her allergies to disappear, I can say that, in many ways, we are better off for her having had them. I know that I probably would not have been as active and involved a parent were it not for them. And I certainly am more aware of what goes into my body and my family's, and that can only be a good thing.

So on this Valentine's Eve, I just want to say, Ainsley, even though food allergies have made your life difficult, it has also caused us to better our lives and given us so many opportunities to show you just how special and wonderful you are and how much we love you and are willing and happy to do for you. We love you so much, our sweet, special girl.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Bear bread

No, not beer bread -- we already covered that, remember? This time I mean bear bread, as in teddy bear bread. Yesterday Ainsley and I were looking at her High Five magazine (a magazine for preschoolers by the people who do Highlights) when we saw instructions for making bear bread. It basically involves making bread dough, shaping it into balls of various sizes (for the bodies, heads, arms, legs, ears, and noses), assembling them into bears, and baking them. We did the activity today, and not only was it fun, it was really yummy, especially with some honey for dipping. I used my challah bread recipe, which made enough dough for one papa bear, one mama bear, and two baby bears.
Papa bear, right after we assembled him (with raisins for eyes).

Papa bear, after we allowed him to rise for a couple of hours.

Mama bear and the two baby bears, after being baked at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes.

Long overdue pics

First of all, an apology for just now posting the long-overdue pics of some of my recent baking successes. My excuse is that I got a new camera and a new computer over the holidays and just now managed to carve out the time to learn how to transfer pics from one to the other. But without further excuse, here they are ...
Banana split cupcakes from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World

Cookies & cream cupcakes from VCTOTW

Challah bread (made shiny with the corn syrup plus water mixture)

Cherry cream cupcakes from VCTOTW.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Easy dinner, complicated dessert

For dinner tonight, Ainsley had a hot dog (no bun ... she gets enough wheat as it is; at lunch and dinner I prefer to avoid breads and crackers), fresh sugar snap peas, blackberries, and a slice of Tofutti mozzarella cheese. For dessert, we made cookies & cream cupcakes from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World (involves mixing chopped Oreos into chocolate cupcake batter, then crushing more Oreos up and mixing with vanilla icing for the topping). We have actually completed only Stage 1 of the dessert; we cannot commence Stage 2 until Dave comes home with more Oreos, as we are out. Ainsley and I couldn't help ourselves, though -- we've already eaten an unfrosted cupcake, and it was tastey.

A few minutes ago, I was looking for good vegan lasagna recipes on the web when I came across this blog. The recipes on it look fantastic! I will be trying the lasagna recipe soon.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Traveling and food allergies

A post on another food allergy mom's blog reminded me of this topic and I wanted to share my thoughts. Since we discovered Ainsley's allergies, we have taken a few extended vacations involving big plane trips. Along the way I have learned about some things that work really well and hopefully will encourage other people not to be afraid to travel with their food-allergic children.

My tips are:

(1) make sure the hotel room you're staying in has a microwave and dorm refrigerator so that you can make meals for your child easily during your stay.

(2) stop at a natural foods grocery store (like Whole Foods) when you first arrive at your destination to stock up on staples (this means looking up the location of one before you leave and mapquesting it to know how to get there from the airport or your hotel).

(3) bring as much safe food as you can with you in your luggage and carry-ons.

As for #3, I have found that large tupperware or glad containers work well to hold lots of foods in suitcases. I have even transported several individual-sized soymilk and ricemilk boxes (the kind that are the size of fruit juice boxes) in those large containers in my luggage. I have also brought safe bread slices, Sunbutter, jelly, etc. that way. On the last trip, I even packed in my luggage foods that need to be kept cool by putting them in an insulated container (like a big insulated lunch bag) that I put a few ice packs in. I packed Tofutti fake cheese & cream cheese and some lunch meat this way and it stayed cool the entire plane trip. I also pack a lot of food containers, bowls, spoons, forks, cups, etc. just in case we need them.

In terms of the carry-on baggage, I usually use a giant packpack and put a ziplock bag in it with tons of Ainsley-safe snacks, like Enjoy Life snack bars & cookies, dried fruit/fruit leather/fruit snacks, real fruit, crackers, pretzels, etc. I don't ever count on her being able to eat anything in an airport so I also always pack a meal for her (usually Sunbutter and jelly) and put that in the backpack too. I usually pack way too much food, but better safe than sorry in my book.

As I've said before, I normally never let Ainsley eat anything from a restaurant (we have a few exceptions, like McDonald's and Wendy's), so when on vacation I usually always take snacks and a meal for her whenever we go out.

Here are some quick vacation meal ideas:

--Ham/turkey & Tofutti cheese (in a sandwich with bread or just on their own), snap pea crisps, and berries.
--Bagel with Tofutti cream cheese and jelly (you can also add ham or turkey to this for a Monte-Cristo-like sandwich).
--Sunbutter/soybutter & jelly sandwich with chips or pretzels.
--microwaveable chicken nuggets with any of the above sides.
--microwaveable waffles with syrup (you can pack a small container of syrup in your luggage or buy some once you get there) and fruit.
--microwaveable bacon or sausage with any of the above sides (or combine this meat with the waffles for a yummy breakfast that your child can eat while you eat from a hotel breakfast buffet).
--soy yogurt, toast or bagel, and fruit.
--microwaveable hot dog with any of the above sides.

As for desserts, if the freezer compartment in your dorm fridge is big enough, you could buy some Tofutti cuties or other imitation ice cream treat that you can give your child in case the rest of the family wants to go out for ice cream. I even managed to squeeze a pint-sized container of soy ice cream into a dorm-fridge freezer once.

Because we've had such good experiences traveling in this way, we don't shy away from the idea of big vacations. The only hesitancy we have is in taking a vacation to a place where there is no Whole Foods or other natural grocery store, or where the medical care might not be up to par with U.S. standards (just in case Ainsley has an allergic reaction).

Friday, February 6, 2009

Valentine's candy

So here we are again ... another holiday, another group of candy we have to sort in terms of what Ainsley can eat and what she can't. So far, her favorite is the heart-shaped Peeps we found at our drug store. We also found Skittles that come in a cute plastic (red) heart. As for the chalky conversation hearts ("Be Mine," etc.) that are so popular this time of year, I bought her some made by Brach's because the box didn't contain a warning that it was manufactured with any allergens (I know this means it still could be, but I guess I was feeling a little less cautious that day). She ate 1/2 of the box without a reaction.

She is also eating away at the supply of chocolates we made last week, which include chocolate hearts with pastel sprinkles.

This reminds me -- it is time to start thinking about Easter candy. Ainsley really, really wanted a chocolate bunny last year, so I am going to make some for her this year using a bunny mold like this one. See more here. I also ordered her these chocolate eggs made by Whizzers.

Taquito time!

Last night I could not figure out what to make for dinner ... then I remembered I had bought a package of chicken taquitos at Whole Foods! I buy the Whole Foods brand of chicken taquitos; I like to pair these up with Alexia brand sweet potato fries (my friends and I have had many a lunchtime playgroup with taquitos and fries) and/or black beans. Last night I used a can of refried black beans (also from Whole Foods) that I happened to have in the pantry. I like to dip my taquitos in salsa, but Ainsley prefers Tofutti Better Than Sour Cream. We were out of the sour cream, so instead she garnished her taquitoes with Better Than Cream Cheese, and was quite satisfied.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Longggg Dayyyy

The kids were still sick today so we didn't do anything major, just a lot of little things (including lots of baking). We went to Whole Foods, made a few valentines, hunted a lion (aka our housecat) in the backyard, planted apple seeds in one of the backyard pots, and made some bread and chocolate chip cookies. The bread is the challah bread recipe -- the family is hooked on the bread and I enjoy making it so for the time being I think I'm going to try to make a couple of loaves every week. The cookie recipe was from the Kid-Pleasing Cookbook. Interesting note about the chocolate chips -- when we went to WF to get some more bags of the Enjoy Life chips, I found that our WF no longer stocks the EL chips and instead just sells its own brand of vegan chocolate chips. I looked on the allergy label and the only warning was that it was manufactured in the same facility as dairy but that good manufacturing practices were used to segregate the dairy. I went ahead and bought a few bags because Ainsley has never had a reaction to a product that was made in the same facility as dairy products (the product has to have a pretty concentrated amount of dairy in it for her to react), and sure enough, she ate a couple and was fine. Still, I wish the WF still stocked the EL chips -- I will probably ask the store to restock them.

Since Ainsley was sick, I allowed her to eat two So Delicious Dairy-Free Popsicles (Rasberry Cream flavored) for lunch and made her oatmeal with diced strawberries for dinner. Strangely, for her morning snack, she had a hankering for apples and ended up eating two entire (all except the core) green apples -- she likes apples, but I've never seen her eat that much apple at one time before (this is where we got the apple seeds to plant in the backyard). She also drank lots of my Westsoy Chocolate Peppermint Stick soy milk (notice how I call it "my" ... I am very possessive of the remaining cartons of that soymilk!).

Monday, February 2, 2009

Why can't everyone get well?

Another day of sickness at my house. Most of last week, the girls were sick with something (seemed to be cold-related for both of them). For the couple of weeks before that, Leighton had a nasty stomach bug. Now, this morning, Ainsley appears to have caught another cold and Leighton seems to have another stomach bug (as was apparent when she threw up all over me right after she woke up). This really wouldn't be such a big deal if I didn't work, but since I do, it is really traumatic having to find last-minute childcare so I can still get my stuff done. Thankfully, my mother-in-law is wonderful, and very willing to help during these times. Still, it would be nice if we would have at least a couple of weeks without fever, vomiting, coughing, or sneezing (I know, this is way too much to ask).