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.


(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:



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.]