Monday, December 27, 2010

My favorite Christmas present this year

The Divvies Bakery Cookbook! You would think that with all of these allergy-friendly baking books I have, I wouldn't need another one. Yet the Divvies one has several recipes that I don't already have. One thing I love about the book is that it includes some simple snack and drink ideas, and also fun party activities that involve food (like make-your-own sundaes using lots of safe mix-ins). I cannot wait to make the chocolate marshmallow treats, which involve melting chocolate chips, mixing mini-mashmallows in, and then putting spoonfuls in paper baking (cupcake) liners to set - how easy is that!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Best dairy-free fudge EVER!

Just when I thought I was through with updating you on the yummy holiday goodies we've been eating, I received the most wonderful surprise from my coworker's wife, Natalie. She has first-hand experience with food allergies as her second son suffered from them when he was a baby. She gave up dairy and soy for many months while she was nursing him, and became an expert in cooking and baking dairy- and soy-free during this time. For Christmas, she gave us a batch of her to-die-for dairy-free fudge. Ainsley absolutely flipped for it, and Dave, Leighton, and I had to stop ourselves from eating all of it before Ainsley could get her fill. The best thing is it appears very easy to make! Here is the recipe:

Natalie's Dairy-Free Fudge

20 oz (2 bags) Enjoy Life chocolate chips

1 can (15 oz) Cream of Coconut (she used the Coco Lopez brand, which she found at a regular grocery store - Cream of Coconut is used to make Pina Coladas so it may be on the same aisle as the alcoholic drink mixes)

dash of salt

1 1/2 tsp vanilla or almond extract

Optional add-ins: 1/2 cup of chopped nuts, dried cherries or other fruit, marshmallows, etc.

Melt the chocolate chips and cream of coconut over low heat until fully melted. Remove from heat and add remaining ingredients. Pour in a square baking tin lined with waxed paper and refrigerate until hard (about an hour). Allow to soften at room temperature for 10 min or so before pulling the sides of the waxed paper to remove the fudge from the pan in one big block. Cut into squares and store in a cookie tin or in the fridge.

* * * * * * *

One of the best things about this recipe is that it has introduced me to Cream of Coconut - I had never heard of it before! Natalie informed me that it can be substituted 1:1 for sweetened condensed milk. She has offered to use it to make her famous Key Lime Pie for our family after the new baby comes, and I am definitely taking her up on the offer!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The gigantic holiday baking post!

Wow, can a pregnant woman think of excuses to bake yummy goodies! I have baked sooo much in the last couple of months. Here is a run-down of what I did and where I got the recipes.

First, in early November I had a craving for lemon bars. I had always wondered whether I could make a dairy- and egg-free lemon bar that tasted like the real thing, and I found a great recipe that allowed me to do that. Unfortunately, the pic I took (below) is not very good, but trust me - in person, the bars look practically identical to the lemon bars with which you are familiar.

Here is the recipe (which I got from here and altered just slightly):

Time-Warp Lemon Squares
Ingredients:
Crust:
1 cup all-purpose flour
5 tablespoons margarine (I used Earth Balance)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons orange juice

Filling:
3 egg equivalents, prepared (I used Ener-G Egg Replacer)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon real vanilla
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
juice of 2 large lemons
zest of 1 lemon

Topping:
powdered sugar for sifting on top

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. For crust: In a bowl, combine crust ingredients. Put parchment paper in the bottom of an 8 X 8" or 9 X 9" pan. Press crust mixture into bottom of pan. Bake for 15 minutes.

2. For filling: While crust is baking, mix together the egg substitute (follow directions of your brand) in a bowl until foamy. Add the remainder of the filling ingredients and mix together. Pour over the crust, and bake 18-20 minutes. When pan is done baking, take it out of the oven and put it in the refrigerator for at least an hour to cool and set.

3. After it is set, take it out of the refrigerator and sift powdered sugar on top. Then cut into about 16 bars.

* * * * * * *

Next was time for some Thanksgiving cookie fun. Ainsley's class was having a Thanksgiving feast at school and the cookies that would be served were not safe for her. So I made some cookies just for her, which were cuter than the ones the other kids ate! I got the idea from a Nick Jr. suggestion that showed how to make sugar-cookie turkey shapes by using your kids' hands.

For the sugar cookie dough, I used the Holiday Cut-Out Cookie recipe from Linda Coss's What's to Eat? (for link to book, see sidebar, "My Favorite Cookbooks") - this is my favorite sugar cookie recipe because the cookies hold together really well after baking. When using this recipe, I always add a little extra flour because I have found that if I don't, the cookies flatten out a little too much for my liking during the baking process. This time I only did a half-batch of the recipe because I was pressed for time and cut-out cookies can be very time-consuming!

Here is a pic:


After making the dough and rolling it out on a floured board, I made the turkey shapes by tracing my kids' hands in the dough using a butter knife. I drew a little triangle (for a beak) near their thumbs. After baking the cookies according to the recipe's directions (except I think I baked the cookies for only about 7 minutes instead of the longer period the recipe directs) and letting them cool, I began the decorating process. I should note here that I always bake cut-out cookies on parchment paper - then I never have to worry about them sticking to the cookie sheet.

I iced the cookies using Betty Crocker cookie icing (which is vegan and nut-free and dries hard to allow you to stack the cookies). I cut open a bag, poured the entire contents of the bag in a cup, and colored it orange with a couple of drops each of yellow and orange food coloring. I used a knife to spread the icing over each cookie; after I put the icing on each (and while the icing was still sticky), Ainsley stuck an eye on the turkey using Enjoy Life mini-chocolate chips and then added a gobbler using Welch's fruit snacks (strawberry or raspberry). Then she put multi-colored sprinkles on the turkey's tail-feathers. After the icing set a bit, I painted the beaks on using a little paintbrush and the rest of the icing in the cup, which I made a dark shade of pink using a couple of drops of red food coloring. Then I drew the feet on each turkey using chocolate Betty Crocker cookie icing (I used the nozzle that comes on each icing bag).

* * * * * * *

After Thanksgiving came Ainsley's 6th birthday party. As you may know, I try to go above and beyond when it comes to Ainsley's birthday cake because she can't eat anyone else's birthday cake all year (except for her sister's). This year she requested a Star Wars cake (she is a tomboy!) so I gladly obliged. I made a marble cake (chocolate/vanilla swirl) using the marble cupcake recipe from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World (for link to book, see sidebar, "My Favorite Cookbooks"). I doubled the recipe to make a 14-inch round cake.



I made the cake the day before her party and let it sit on my counter to cool in the pan overnight. The next morning I turned the cake onto a silver cake board I bought at a party store and started to decorate. I used Pillsbury chocolate and vanilla frosting (I like making my own frosting on occasion, but I found last year that the homemade frosting is harder to spread on a birthday cake than the Pillsbury is so I opted for store-bought frosting this year). I frosted half the cake with the chocolate and half with the vanilla (I used a ruler wrapped in Press and Seal and sprayed with oil to help me make the center dividing line). Then I used an icing bag with a shell-type nozzle to decorate the sides in the opposite color icing. Finally, I mixed the remaining chocolate and vanilla frosting together to make light brown icing for the words, which I piped on with a different (smaller, less fancy) nozzle. I added Star Wars cake toppers (Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker) that my husband found on the internet, along with star candles Ainsley picked out at the grocery store.

I got many compliments on both the look and the taste of the cake, and best of all, Ainsley loved it!

* * * * * * *

Then it was time to move on to Christmas baking. Every year I participate in a cookie exchange with some friends, and this year I made Choco-Cherry Spritz Cookies from Linda Coss's What Else Is to Eat? (for link to cookbook, see sidebar, "My Favorite Cookbooks"). I have made these before and the only problem I encountered was that they were crumbly after baking, so this time I added about 1 1/2 tablespoons of orange juice to the batter and that solved the crumbly problem.

Here is what they looked like - they were a big hit!

Note: You will need a cookie press to make these. I have this one. I used a design that had a hole in the middle, but covered the hole with a little bit of dough prior to baking (if I hadn't, the melted chocolate that I put on the cookies after baking would have fallen through the hole). I love making cookie-press cookies when I need a lot of them, because you can really pound out a bunch of cookies fast with a cookie press. I will say that it takes me a couple of minutes every time to re-learn how to use the press (basically, I have to practice holding it down on the cookie sheet, pulling the trigger for about 3 seconds, and then pulling up the press to make the right-sized cookie). But after I remember how to do it, the process goes really fast. Again, I bake these less than Linda's recipe calls for - I only left these in the oven for 5-6 minutes. Also, unlike with the sugar cookies, I do not use parchment paper here - these don't stick to ungreased cookie sheets.

* * * * * * *

Then it was time for Ainsley's kindergarten Winter Party. At the beginning of the school year, I signed up to be one of the class party coordinators. Thus, for the Winter Party, I was in charge of all of the food. I brought fruit salad (which I bought pre-cut from Target) and Snowman cookies and asked another mom to bring a bag of plain Rold Gold pretzels. The kids loved the menu.

Here are the cookies we made at home:

To make them, I bought a snowman cookie cutter that I happened to spot at the grocery store and used Linda Coss's Holiday Cut-Out Cookie recipe again (adding extra flour to the dough as I did when I made the turkey cookies). Then Dave and I spread vanilla Betty Crocker cookie icing on each one. Dave and Ainsley were my assistant cookie decorators and they did an A+ job assisting me. After Dave or I would spread icing on a cookie, we'd hand it to Ainsley, who would add two Enjoy Life mini-chocolate chip eyes and a carrot-shaped nose made out of orange Betty Crocker fruit roll-ups (immediately before decorating the cookies I cut a fruit roll-up into several small triangles for the noses). Then Ainsley added three Fruit Loops to each cookie for the buttons.

After the vanilla icing set a bit, I took some chocolate Betty Crocker cookie icing and, using the nozzle that comes with it, drew a hat and a smile on each snowman. I left the cookies sitting on the counter overnight and by the morning, the icing was completely set and I was able to stack them and take them to school (note: it takes the icing at least 4 hours to become completely hard so don't plan on being able to stack the cookies right after decorating).

I actually made a double-batch of the cookie dough and, after we cut out the alotted number of snowman for baking, we made lots more cookies in various Christmas-y shapes (reindeer, stockings, Christmas trees, stars). After we decorated the snowmen, we drizzled some of the leftover icing (chocolate and vanilla) on these other cookies and then topped them with sprinkles and crushed candy canes. I put the cookies in little paper boxes I found at the Container Store and gave the boxes to each of the three kindergarten teachers at Ainsley's school because they all watch out for her with regard to her allergies. We also gave a box to the school nurse and to the counselor, who have been very instrumental in ensuring that things went well for Ainsley food-allergy-wise this year. (In addition, we gave a Target gift card to Ainsley's teacher, because she does the most with regard to ensuring Ainsley's safety and is also a wonderful teacher in general). Everyone really loved the cookie gifts and I was happy to show our appreciation for what they've been doing.

* * * * * * *

Okay, finally, this week I've had a hankering for Monkey Bread. A long time ago, on a morning show, I saw Paula Deen make it using pre-made, refrigerated biscuit dough, and thought, that looks safe for Ainsley! So during this week's shopping trip to Kroger, I scanned the refrigerated biscuit-dough section and found that Kroger-brand buttermilk biscuits are safe. They only contain wheat and soy. So I bought a four-pack and our adventure began.

Here is a pic of the Monkey Bread right after it came out of the oven:

And here is a pic after I turned over the bundt pan onto a plate:

Paula Deen's Monkey Bread
(There are actually a few variations of this recipe on the internet, but the one below is what I used)

Ingredients:
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
30 canned refrigerator biscuits
1 stick (or 1/2 cup) margarine (I used Earth Balance)
1/2 cup brown sugar
Optional: 1 cup chopped walnuts, pecans, or almonds (we used almonds because it's the one nut Ainsley's not allergic to, but the bread would taste just as good without nuts); raisins would also work well

Directions:
Spray a bundt pan with oil (I used Baker's Joy spray that has flour in it) and set aside. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine sugar and cinnamon in a big bowl. Cut refrigerator biscuits in half and toss in cinnamon and sugar mixture. Melt the margarine in a saucepan and add brown sugar and bring to a boil; then add nuts. Line the bundt pan with biscuits and pour butter mixture over them.

Bake for 20-25 minutes. Let sit for 5 minutes and then, while still hot, turn over onto plate.

This is a GREAT recipe for your kids to help with! Ainsley practiced her scissor skills by cutting the biscuits in half, and my 2-year-old helped by using her hands to mix up the cut-up biscuits with the cinnamon-sugar mixture.

* * * * * * *

Time will tell if this baby comes out weighing 12 pounds because of all of the baking I've been doing! I hope you will use some of these recipes and enjoy these goodies yourself. One last thing I want to mention - I am not a baking superstar. I am a regular mom who has had no special training (not even a cake-decorating class) and have learned by doing. The important thing to know is that YOU CAN DO ALL OF THIS TOO! Just try some of these things! Your kids will love you for it and think you're the most amazing mom (or dad, or grandparent) in the world.

And last but not least, I want to wish each of you Happy Holidays and hope that your family is able to enjoy much of the great food this season has to offer despite your or your family member's food allergies!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Short update - a *good* dairy-free queso & great vegan blog!

I really need to write a full post, but when I do, it's going to be long - I've been baking away in the kitchen, making turkey-shaped sugar cookies for Thanksgiving, gingerbread people and a marble cake for Ainsley's sixth birthday, lemon bars (yes - I found a great egg-free recipe!), and (next week) sugar-cookie snowmen for Ainsley's winter party. But right now I wanted to let you know about two things my very knowledgeable vegan co-worker Annette told me about today - (1) a vegan queso (aka nacho cheese sauce) that actually tastes *good* and (2) a great blog with some to-die-for dessert recipes on it. The queso is called "Nacho Mom's" and the website is here. It has gotten great reviews, including on Amazon, where I bought two jars. I was excited to see that it will be stocked in DFW-area Whole Foods markets beginning in January.

The vegan blog is called Chef Chloe and is here. She won Cupcake Wars on Food Network with a vegan Raspberry Tiramisu cupcake. A lot of her desserts look pretty simple to make and include things like vegan whipped cream, which I have always wondered how to make.

Thanks for the tips, Annette! I cannot wait to get the vegan queso in the mail!

Monday, October 18, 2010

New restaurant in our line-up: Chipotle

I feel so liberated every time we try a new restaurant and Ainsley finds something good to eat and has no allergic reaction. We did it again last week when we ordered food for her at Chipotle. Most of you in major urban/suburban areas have probably heard of of it - it's a chain that makes made-to-order burritos and tacos. We have a ton in the DFW area because we're all crazy about Tex-Mex here.

My husband and I have been eating at Chipotle for years but for some reason (well, fear, clearly) I had not tried to determine whether Ainsley could eat anything there (we had taken her there but had always brought food from home or from a fast-food place for her). But my babysitter is braver than I am and last time she went there, she asked about the company's food-allergy friendliness. Low-and-behold, it is very sensitive to and accommodating of food allergies. It has a chart online (and also one you can request in the store) that shows what food components contain allergens. As you can see from the chart, the only thing a kid with nut, peanut, milk, egg, and sesame allergies can't have is the cheese and sour cream. And the workers make the food right in front of you so you can watch to make sure they don't accidentally include any allergens in what they're making for you.

So we took Ainsley there the other night and ordered a kid's "Taco Kit," which is a divided plate that comes with two tacos and some sides. On the plate, we asked for the shredded beef (barbacoa), pinto beans, rice, guacamole, and lettuce. Then she sat down and got to put the tacos together herself using the different components, which she thought was really fun.

I am thrilled to say that she thought the tacos were really yummy and had no allergic reaction.

Note: The only special accommodation to request when getting food at Chipotle is for the preparer to put on a new set of plastic gloves before preparing the food tray because the old gloves could have cheese residue on them.

Happy eating - I know where we'll be chowing down at least one night a week!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

So we're having another one!

I am four months pregnant so I decided it was a good time to tell you that there will be another kid in the house come April. We are very excited - my husband and I have always wanted three kids. Ainsley will be six and Leighton will be three when the baby arrives. If Leighton will just get out of the "how many ways can I try to kill my toddler self" phase before then, I think we'll be alright. If she potty trains before then, that would be the cherry on top, but I'm not really expecting that to happen as she's not that interested yet and Ainsley was over three when she finally stopped with the diapers.

So you food-allergy minded people might be wondering what I'm doing this pregnancy to try to prevent this baby from having allergies. Well, nothing really. With Leighton, I avoided the foods that are likely to cause life-long allergies (fish, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts). But the research on avoiding allergens while pregnant/nursing is very mixed and Leighton didn't turn out allergic to that stuff or to the allergens that I continued to eat (eggs, milk, wheat, soy) so I don't really think my avoiding those foods made a difference. So this time I'm eating like a normal person, although I don't eat a lot of the life-long allergens anyway (I don't care that much for fish and of course I'm not around a lot of peanuts/tree nuts) so I doubt the baby's getting much exposure to those foods.

Another question you might have is why on earth would my husband and I want another child when (a) taking care of one food-allergic child is so time consuming/expensive and (b) the new baby might also have food allergies, meaning double the trouble. I can understand this viewpoint and have heard at least one other food-allergy mom say her child's allergy was part of the reason she decided not to have a third baby (the allergic child was her second). But my strategy with food allergies has been that it is not going to limit Ainsley or our family. That means we will do everything we can to make sure Ainsley gets a normal childhood (goes to a regular school, goes on YMCA Adventure Princess campouts with her dad, etc.) and that we also don't let food allergies determine our family size. Sure, a third child will mean more work - on top of the special things I have to do to keep Ainsley safe - but somehow we've made our current situation work, and work well. I have never for a minute regretted having Leighton, and Ainsley adores her too, and I know it will be the same with the next baby ... even if this one has food allergies.

Of course, we will be very disappointed if the baby has food allergies - undeniably, life is easier when a kid doesn't have them. But if that happens, life really won't be that much different or harder UNLESS the baby is allergic to wheat and soy, the two things Ainsley eats the most. I just have to hope for the best, and keep reminding myself that siblings of food-allergic children have only a slightly increased risk of having allergies (10% greater risk than other kids). The likelihood is that the baby won't have allergies, and if he/she does, I would think they're likely to be to the foods to which Ainsley's allergic. If that's the case, we're well-equipped to handle them.

And one day there will be a cure, and all of my children will be able to eat whatever they want, and none of this food-allergy talk and worry will matter anymore :).

Thursday, September 30, 2010

First elementary school fundraiser: selling cookie dough that contains nearly all of Ainsley's allergens

Our school didn't waste much time in rolling out the first fundraiser of the year: selling preportioned trays of cookie dough. Surprisingly, Ainsley was ecstatic about the idea of selling something to benefit her school and couldn't stop talking about it or asking me when we could go out and sell some to our neighbors. She even told me, "Mommy, it's okay if you buy some even though I can't eat it - I won't be upset."

So far she's sweet-talked my mother into buying some even though my mother never eats cookies except when she makes them for her granddaughters (my two girls), and thus has no use for cookie dough that Ainsley can't have. She also got our babysitter to buy a few packs. Despite her pleading, I am not going to buy any - I just can't imagine having cookie dough around that she can't have.

I am very happy she's taking this so well and is excited about it rather than sad she can't have the dough. This will make it easier when we have to sell girl scout cookies in a few years, I guess.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

We have had the first allergic reaction of the school year ... and it didn't happen at school

I can't believe we had a serious allergic reaction within the first two weeks of school, after having avoided one for the past year. What is even more unbelievable is that it did not happen at school - it happened when I was with Ainsley ... at a birthday party.

As I've explained before, I hate taking Ainsley to birthday parties. It is a hassle for me, as (on top of getting the birthday kid a present) I have to pack a cupcake and something else for Ainsley to eat, depending on what food will be at the party. But when Ainsley started kindergarten I decided to take her to more parties so she could socialize with her classmates, with whom she'll be going to school for the next several years. The first birthday party of the school year happened two weeks after the start of school. It was for a sweet little girl whom Ainsley hardly knew, at a barnyard close to our house. The barnyard was really a petting zoo. Attached to the petting zoo was a party room where the cake and other food was to be served.

As soon as we arrived, Ainsley started jumping in a bounce house that was by the petting zoo. After she tired of that, she wandered over to the petting zoo and began petting the bunnies, goats, and miniature horses. She did that for about 10 minutes and then went back to the jump house (after I put sanitizer on her hands).

A few minutes later, Ainsley started crying in the bounce house because she'd landed wrong on her ankle. When she climbed out so I could look at the ankle, I immediately noticed lots of raised hives on her forehead. They were all near the same location so the result was that most of the center of her face looked horribly red and swelled. I instantly forgot about the ankle and got into allergy-parent mode. I knew right away what had happened - the animal food must have had nuts in it, and she must have gotten residue on her hands from petting the animals and then spread it to her face.

I took her as fast as I could to the bathroom, where I gave her two teaspoons of Benadryl and began washing off every part of her exposed skin. I then washed off my arms, legs, and face and did the same for my 2-yr-old, who was with us. I was so relieved that Ainsley was exhibiting no internal symptoms. The hives on her face looked nasty, but at least she didn't need the Epi-Pen.

As soon as I washed all of us off, I explained to Ainsley that we had to leave the party because she couldn't be around the residue anymore. She was so upset - she started crying hysterically, because she wanted to stay. This is one of those times when I kept saying over and over to myself, "Food allergies really suck." What a cruel condition to have, that keeps your kid from enjoying or even staying at a birthday party.

I walked back to the party quickly to thank the host for inviting us and to explain why we had to leave. Then we hurried out of there and went home, where I had all of us immediately strip down and shower. I then threw all of our clothes into the wash and hosed off our shoes. It's funny how contaminated I felt at that moment - like I had rolled around in toxic waste. What a strange life we lead.

Clearly, I re-learned my lesson about birthday parties. We'll certainly never go to another one at that barnyard, and I will be even more careful around petting zoos (we'd never had a problem at one before, but I knew it was possible). And next time we get invited to a birthday party, we'll go if it's for a good friend of Ainsley's; otherwise, we'll just stay home.



Ainsley about 20 minutes after she got the Benadryl and was washed off. It actually looked worse before that.

Allergy letter to parents of other kids in Ainsley's class

Some of you wanted to know the wording of the letter the school sent to the parents of the other kids in Ainsley's kindergarten class to inform them of her allergies. I am retyping it below. It's a standard letter the school district has for food allergies. On the back, the letter has a list of foods that are safe for Ainsley so that parents can send those foods to school for snack time (a different child is assigned to bring snack for the entire class each day). Ainsley doesn't eat the snack that's brought - she eats her own snack (she picks from a box we sent that the teacher keeps in the classroom) - but we still wanted kids to bring only snacks that were safe for Ainsley since they eat snack in the classroom.

The letter (front side):

Dear Parents:

A student in your child's kindergarten class this year has a severe food allergy to peanuts, all tree nuts (cashews, pecans, walnuts, pistachios), sesame seeds, eggs, and milk. We are distributing this letter to the parents to help you understand this situation and to help foster a safe and worry-free year for this student and his/her parents.

This student's allergy can be life-threatening and the student carries an Epi-Pen at all times. We need your help in maintaining a nut-free, egg-free, and milk-free environment in the classroom and ask that any classroom snacks or treats that you send be nut-free, egg-free, and milk-free. The allergy can be triggered not only by directly eating or coming into contact with the above but also by exposure to foods that contain any peanut/nut traces, oils, flours, or food that is processed in a plant with peanuts, nuts, eggs, and milk or sesame seeds. For this reason, most pre-made cookies, prepared cookie dough, and cookie mixes are off limits. Also, many bakeries use nut products, flavorings, or oils in their facilities or products. if you are sending in any type of classroom treats, please notify the teacher in advance so that arrangements can be made to ensure the allergic student has a safe snack or treat.

We want you and your child to understand that the student's allergy can be triggered even by ingesting or exposure to very small amounts of the above allergens. I will talk with the students in the classroom to discuss ways they can help keep the classroom safe, such as always washing hands after lunch or snacks, not bringing snacks with these allergens, etc.

The school realizes that helping us to maintain a nut-free, egg-free, and milk-free classroom takes a certain amount of effort and diligence on your part, and we thank you in advance for your cooperation in helping us maintain a safe, healthy environment for all of our students. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at the school.

Sincerely,

[The school nurse]

Back side:

This is a list of recommended snacks that are free of milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, and sesame seeds. The list below is not exhaustive and there may be more options. Please note that it is important to read the label as manufacturers are required to list the eight major potential allergens in bold type in or after the ingredients list.

Fresh Snacks
Fresh fruit
Raisins – plain only (not covered in anything else, like yogurt or chocolate)

Prepared Snacks
Bagels – Thomas brand only (original, cinnamon/brown sugar, blueberry, & whole wheat
flavors only)
Ritz Crackers (Nabisco) -- Original, Whole Wheat, Honey Butter, Hint of Salt, or
Roasted Vegetable flavors only (no Ritz Bits please – Ainsley is allergic to all types of them)
Ritz Muchables Pretzel Thins (Nabisco) – buttery flavor only
Wheat Thins (Nabisco) – original flavor only
Triscuits (Nabisco) – original flavor or reduced fat original flavor only
Triscuits Thin Crisps (Nabisco) – original flavor only
Teddy Grahams (Nabisco) – honey, cinnamon, chocolate chip, and chocolate flavors only
Honey Maid Graham Crackers (Nabisco) – original, honey, or cinnamon flavors only
Saltines (Nabisco) – plain or multigrain flavors only
Premium Soup & Oyster Crackers (Nabisco) – original flavor only
Keebler Original Club Crackers – original or multigrain flavors only
Keebler Town House Crackers – original flavor only
Keebler Grahams Bug Bites
Keebler Scooby Doo Graham Cracker Sticks – cinnamon or honey flavors only
Lorna Doone Shortbread Cookies (Nabisco)
Barnum’s Animals Crackers (Nabisco)
Ginger Snaps (Nabisco)
Rold Gold Pretzels (including thins, sticks, tiny twists) – plain flavor only
Rold Gold Braided Twists – honey wheat flavor only
Quaker Quakes Rice Snacks -- apple cinnamon flavor only
Good Health Natural Foods Veggie Sticks / Veggie Chips
Pirate’s Booty – veggie flavor only (not the kind coated in cheese)
Snapea Crisps (by Calbee Snack Salad) – plain flavor only
Sun Chips – original flavor only
Cheerios – plain and multigrain flavors only
Frosted Mini Wheats (Kelloggs) – original flavor only
Oreo Cookies – original kind only
Stacy’s Pita Chips – plain or cinnamon sugar flavored only

***********

I would love to say that all of the parents have diligently paid attention to this snack list and sent only safe snacks, but in reality I think some of them didn't read the letter at all and I know that at least a few have sent things like string cheese that are clearly unsafe. There is really nothing I can do about that as this is all about voluntary compliance. I do think that the kindergarten teacher doesn't serve certain things if they are brought, like peanut butter crackers, because she knows how much we fear those foods in particular (she has a few back-up snacks in her classroom).

I have already had to send a reminder/clarification email to the class parents because at Meet the Teacher night Ainsley's teacher mentioned that she had a child with a peanut allergy in her class and didn't mention Ainsley's other allergies. Some of the later questions from parents made clear that they thought Ainsley had only a peanut allergy. My follow-up email is below:

Hi fellow class parents,

For those of you who attended Meet the Teacher last night, I wanted to clarify that my daughter, Ainsley, is severely allergic not only to peanuts, but also to tree nuts (such as cashews, walnuts, etc.), dairy, eggs, and sesame seeds. That is why the letter the school nurse sent home about Ainsley listed all of those items as allergens, and that is why the suggested snack list on the back of that letter listed only foods that do not contain any of those allergens (if any of you did not see the suggested snack list on the back of that letter and no longer have the letter handy, I'd be more than happy to send a copy of the list to you if you let me know). We feel it is important for the snacks the other kids eat not to contain any of her allergens because it is so easy for the residue from those snacks to get on everything in the classroom since it will be on all the children's hands and they often eat the snacks in class.

It is true, however, that at lunch Ainsley can sit by other kids who are eating dairy, eggs, and sesame - she just can't sit by kids eating things like peanut butter & jelly because those sandwiches can be messy and the peanut butter (or other tree nut butter) might get onto her eating surface. Thus, the teacher checks the other kids' lunches and puts kids who do not have peanuts/peanut butter or tree nuts/tree-nut butter in their lunch around Ainsley.

As for birthday celebrations and parties, we definitely don't mind if you send treats that contain dairy and eggs as this wouldn't be an everyday thing like snacks (and it is so hard to find tasty treats that don't contain dairy & eggs). We would, however, appreciate it if you would avoid sending treats with peanuts/tree nuts in them as we would like to keep peanut/tree-nut residue from the classroom because it as particularly potent in terms of setting off an allergic reaction. Ainsley will have her own separate treat on those days so do not worry about her being left out!

Thanks so much for your understanding, and please don't hesitate to contact me with any questions.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Ainsley's 504 Plan

I met with the nurse, counselor, and all three kindergarten teachers today to go over the final version of the 504 Plan/IHP we hammered out in the Spring. I was extremely pleased with the way the meeting went - they were all warm and friendly and wanted to see a picture of Ainsley, know what typically happens when she has an allergic reaction, and what we usually do when it happens (they know to give her Benadryl and, in some cases, the Epi-Pen, but it was wonderful to have an opportunity to explain how an allergic reaction usually manifests in Ainsley and precisely what I do in those situations). Ainsley's teacher was happy to receive my bag full of 12 weeks' worth of individually-packaged snacks for her. They also liked the bright red insulated bag I bought to keep Ainsley's Epi-Pen and Benadryl in for the classroom (the nurse will have a set of Epi-Pens and some more Benadryl in her office too).

So here are the important parts of the 504 plan that I wanted to share with everyone. I am not pasting the entire thing because it is very long and some parts simply describe Ainsley and her health history, etc. Here are the important parts:

SCHOOL ACTIONS

-Perfect Measure Children’s Benadryl x 2 will be in the insulated bag in the classroom and in the clinic.

-Epi-Pen Jr. Dual Pack x 2 will be in the insulated bag in the classroom and in the clinic.

-Home supplied safe snacks will be kept in the classroom and in a freezer in the cafeteria (e.g., cupcakes in case a child's parent sends birthday treats for the class).

-Home supplied lunch box will be kept separate from other children's in the classroom.

-The school will send out a district letter to the entire class informing of student’s allergy including recommended snacks.

-The school will provide a safe environment in the classroom through education of food allergies and its effect [the first week, the nurse will show the Alexander the Elephant movie to the class and talk to the kids about food allergies, no sharing food, etc.].

-The school will provide a designated table adjacent to a regular table that will be cleaned by assigned staff prior to schedule lunch time. Cleaning will be with “Break Up” a high level cleaner that breaks up protein, animal fat and grease.

-The child will sit in a designated seat at the end of the table with students peanut/nut-free sitting around her.

-Student or teacher will carry the insulated bag with Epi-Pen and Benadryl so that it will remain with her at all times.

-HVAC in the clinic will maintain constant temperature year around from 68°-78°.

-Nurse or teacher will provide hand washing education to the class at the beginning of the school year.

-Student will wear a medical alert bracelet.

-Procedure to follow for field trips: (a) Teachers will notify the school nurse in advance of all field trips. (b) Arrangements will be made with parent, nurse, and anaphylactic trained staff to ensure student’s supplies accompanies the student to the event. (c) A copy of the student’s Quick Reference Emergency Plan will accompany the trained staff.

-Training for school personnel: Student’s teachers and other staff employees will receive annual education regarding the student’s allergy. This includes general information, signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis, administration of Benadryl and administration of epinephrine, Universal Precautions, resources available when questions/problems arise, and emergency measures. All staff members who will have direct contact with the student will receive a copy of the Quick Reference Emergency Plan. In addition, the student’s teachers will receive a copy of the IHP. This training will include substitutes/ IHP in the substitute folder when assigned to the classroom.

************

As you can see, the plan is pretty detailed and I am very happy with it. I take no credit for it - it is pretty much word-for-word the same as that of a peanut-allergic child going into the second grade whose mom revolutionized the school in terms of making it food-allergy friendly.

A couple of things about the plan: (1) It states that Ainsley will eat a separate snack from the other kids. The school has one child bring in snacks for the whole class each week. The school is sending out a "safe snack list" to parents of her classmates that lists only snacks that are safe for Ainsley. I thought about allowing her to eat the snack another kid brings in as long as it's on the safe snack list, but then I got nervous about it and decided that, for now, Ainsley will eat her own snack regardless of whether the class snack is also safe for her. Right now I'm too antsy about the possibility about ingredients changing/teacher accidentally giving her something that's not on the list/etc. Nevertheless, I am thrilled the school is sending out the safe snack list I sent them because that means that, at least most of the time, the class snack will likely not contain anything Ainsley's allergic to and therefore her allergens won't be spread around her classroom (they eat snacks in class).

(2) I also contemplated allowing her to sit next to anyone, not just kids who don't have peanuts/tree nuts in their lunch. But then I got nervous again and decided to play it really safe this semester and see how things go. Thankfully, Ainsley's best friend is in the same class as she is, and I bet they will want to sit together every day, so there's one kid I can count on who won't have peanuts/tree nuts in her lunch. Note that Ainsley is NOT sitting at a peanut/tree-nut free table. Her table will be cleaned with a special cleaner that breaks up food proteins, but she will be sitting at the same table as kids eating peanuts/tree-nuts (and eggs and milk). But she will be sitting at the end of the table so she will only be sitting next to one child and across from one child. The teacher will check the lunches of those two children to ensure they are peanut/tree-nut free.

(3) You might also notice that the plan specifically provides that the nurse's clinic will be temperature-controlled at all times. Unfortunately, the classroom won't be. That is why I bought an insulated container for the medication we'll keep in the classroom.

(4) Another important part of the plan is the provision for the training of substitute teachers. My greatest fear is that a substitute will accidentally give something to Ainsley that she's allergic to (like a snack, birthday treat, etc.) Thankfully, Ainsley is very aware of her allergies and I feel confident she wouldn't accept anything like that from a substitute. Still, I wanted to ensure that the substitute knows about Ainsley's allergies. So, under the plan, the staff is to notify the nurse before the start of school that a substitute is in Ainsley's classroom. The nurse will then make sure the substitute knows there's a child with food allergies in the classroom and will train him/her on how to administer emergency medication, including the Epi-Pen.

Any questions/concerns/suggestions? Please let me know! This has been a real learning experience for me, but so far I'm thrilled about how it's turned out.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Getting ready for Kindergarten!

Just wanted to post a quick note to let you know that allergy planning for Ainsley's first day of Kindergarten is well under way. She starts on Monday, 8/23, so right now I'm busy finalizing a letter to the parents of kids in her class complete with a safe snack list, confirming with the nurse how many Epi-Pens/how much Benadryl I need to bring to school, thinking about what sort of safe snacks I will buy to stock in Ainsley's classroom in case the class snack isn't safe for her, etc. We will have our second 504 meeting to finalize the plan this week (not sure when yet). I feel so much calmer about this than I thought I would. I think it's because Ainsley really is ready for Kindergarten, and is mature enough to take on some responsibility for keeping herself safe. I am very excited about how she'll like Kindergarten and about all of the new friends she'll make!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Loosening up

For about three years, we have been in "lock-down" mode in terms of allowing Ainsley to eat food outside of our house. Ever since her last severe allergic reaction in a restaurant (Mothers' Day 2007, when she was 2.5 yrs old) I have refused to let her eat anything at any restaurant except for the cheese-free pizza at my favorite local pizza place, the smoked meat at one of our favorite bbq joints, and a few select things at McDonald's (plain hamburger or chicken selects and apple dippers w/o the sauce), Wendy's (hamburger or kid's chicken sandwich and fries), and Burger King (fish patty or chicken fries and onion rings/french fries/apple fries). The one exception to our ban on other restaurant food is if a restaurant has fresh fruit or corn chips (we live in Texas so at least once every couple of weeks we'll go to a Mexican restaurant and have never had a problem with the corn chips).

Now that Ainsley is 5 and is very good at telling me as soon as she thinks she's having an allergic reaction (usually itchy mouth is the first indicator), I have begun loosening up a little. When we were on vacation in Michigan, I allowed her to eat a cheese-free pizza from a place that assured us their crust was safe for her - thankfully, she loved the pizza and had no problem. I am also allowing her to eat McDonald's chicken nuggets now because even though they contain a slight bit of milk, they don't cause any allergic reaction (this is per my allergist's recent advice that we can start introducing certain cooked/baked things containing very small amounts of milk or egg).

This weekend we introduced a new restaurant to her - Papa John's Pizza. Dave has a love of Papa John's that goes back to his college years, when he discovered he could get bacon (not Canadian bacon - real bacon) on a Papa John's pizza. He introduced me to it in law school, and for years our favorite road-trip food was bacon and pepperoni Papa John's (delivered to whatever cheap motel room we were staying in).

Now that I'm feeling braver about trying new things with Ainsley, I had him check to see if Papa John's crust was safe for her, and low and behold, it is - the thin crust contains milk but the regular crust does not. We ordered a small cheese-free pizza for her with bacon and mushrooms and she went to town on it.

I can't express how liberating it is to be able to give Ainsley new kinds of restaurant foods. These good experiences have encouraged me to talk to other restaurants to see if there are things at other restaurants that are safe for her. She loves trying new things and we love seeing her life is get a little bit more normal.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Conquering Starbucks

I don't know about you, but for me, one of the saddest parts of being a food-allergy parent is going into a particular food-related establishment and thinking, "My kid will probably never be able to eat/drink anything here." All bakeries and ice cream shops fall within this category. Until recently, so did Starbucks.

Of course, we have always stayed away from the fresh-baked items behind the counter there because all of them contain things (egg, milk) Ainsley can't eat and there are also cross-contamination issues with the nut-containing products. And I would never think of giving her the coffee, not only because she's 5 but also because sometimes the coffee beans have been roasted with nuts. Usually, my friends get their kids little drink boxes of Horizon chocolate milk there, but that's out for us because of Ainsley's dairy allergy. Needless to say, I was always at a loss in terms of what I could order for Ainsley so we usually stayed away from the place (in a pinch I would get her a bottle of fruit juice, but she was never excited by that).

Recently, however, my babysitter took the girls into our local Starbucks to get something for herself and found that it was now stocking packages of Lucy's cookies, which are free of egg, milk, and peanuts/tree nuts (they are also gluten-free). The manager also assured her that it would be safe for Ainsley to have a cup of soy milk (poured straight from the container into a clean cup) with a shot of vanilla flavoring for extra pizzazz.

Ainsley has loved ordering the cookies and the soy milk and now says that Starbucks is "one of her favorite restaurants." It would quickly jump to the top if it gave out toys with its food like McDonalds.

If you have a child with the same allergies as Ainsley, you might want to give Starbucks another look - it seems that it is making an effort to reach out to food-allergic individuals.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Bathing in almonds

So Ainsley loves almond milk, and she has also started eating honey-nut cheerios (made with just almonds) without a problem! What a new world for us - now I can say my daughter is allergic to "most tree nuts" instead of "all tree nuts." The problem, of course, is acquiring almond products that haven't been processed with other nuts. All of the almonds I've seen in stores have a warning that they were processed with other nuts. Thankfully, however, I found an online almond supplier that ships directly from the farm and guarantees that its almonds have not mixed with any other nuts. I just ordered a 5-lb bag of almonds and a 5-lb bag of almond meal - I am so excited to start cooking with these things!

I also ordered a 3-jar supply of Barney Butter (almond butter made in a nut-free facility) from Amazon. I found that Amazon deeply discounts this product if you sign up to have it shipped to you on a regular basis. I signed up for an every-two-month supply of 3 jars and it reduced the price from $23.08 + shipping to $19 with no shipping cost.

Unfortunately, we received the results of Ainsley's allergy tests and they showed that her numbers to all of the other allergens are about the same. The allergist did give me the green light to incorporate very tiny amounts of milk and/or egg into baked goods, however, to see if Ainsley can tolerate it (a long time ago she used to eat things with egg and milk baked in so I'm not worried about a severe allergic reaction with this sort of thing). He feels that now that she is 5 and can tell me quickly if her mouth is feeling itchy or she otherwise feels funny that it is an appropriate time to see if we can incorporate some of this food into her diet in a way that is unlikely to cause a serious allergic reaction. It is going to be so weird to start cooking with those things again!

Friday, July 16, 2010

New recommendation on whether to get a flu shot if you're egg-allergic

Food Allergy Initiative just issued this statement recommending that egg-allergic individuals talk to their allergists about getting the regular and H1N1 flu vaccines this Fall. Apparently the current versions of the flu vaccines contain little to no egg protein and are safe for many egg-allergic individuals.

For the last two years, Ainsley has gotten the flu shot (this year she got the regular & H1N1). we go to her allergist's office and he does a skin test with the vaccine to make sure she doesn't react, then injects her with it. Given that both of my kids are highly susceptible to respiratory viruses (we've had a nebulizer in the house since Ainsley was itty bitty), I make sure they're vaccinated every year.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

She can eat almonds! And (some) Chick-Fil-A!

My dad is doing well and is almost out of the hospital, so my attention has turned to other things - including Ainsley's annual allergist appt., which was yesterday. She had blood drawn, of course, and we won't get the results on that until next week. But we have already been able to introduce a couple of new things into her diet. During her appt., the doctor suggested that I take her to Chick-Fil-A for the first time and give her some waffle fries. He emphasized that almost all of his peanut-allergic patients have no problem at all with the kind of peanut oil Chick-Fil-A uses so she should be fine, and it would open up another restaurant to us. I took her there and ordered a kids' meal with waffle fries and the "grilled chicken nuggets" - an off-menu item I had heard that they make for kids allergic to the egg, milk, and/or wheat in the batter used on their regular nuggets.

She had no reaction either to the nuggets (which tasted great!) or the waffle fries, so we can now add Chick-Fil-A into our rotation of Ainsley-approved restaurants (already on the list are McD's, Burger King, and Wendy's).

The doctor also emphasized that I should try Ainsley on almonds. He said that her number to almonds was so low last year that he was sure she wouldn't have a reaction. He offered that if I was really concerned about an allergic reaction, I could give her some almond milk in the lobby of his office.

You might recall that I chickened out on giving her almond milk to drink last year after I put some on her arm and it caused her skin to itch and look a little irritated. I told him about this and he reminded me that some things can cause a very mild skin reaction even if the child actually isn't allergic to them.

So I took the plunge and bought some Silk almond milk at the store and gave her a drop right before we drove home, thinking that if she showed the slightest reaction I could head to the doctor's office instead of my house since the office is very close to where I live (and, of course, I carry her medicine pack with us everywhere so also had an Epi-Pen on hand in case of emergency).

Thankfully, she had no reaction and loved the taste of the almond milk, so I gave her more when we got home.

I am quite excited about this and am all ready to order Barney Butter for us to use at the house. I have also had fun thinking of all the yummy baked goods I can make with it.

I am undecided as to whether I'll give her whole almonds yet. My concern is that I can't imagine I'll be able to find any that are processed in an otherwise nut-free facility. I thought about washing them first to remove residue that might have gotten on them during processing. Opinions? I will ask the allergist about this when I talk to him next week.

Monday, June 28, 2010

She can eat shrimp!

I have been forced to take a hiatus from the blog because I've been under the weather for several weeks and my dad has also been having health issues - in fact, he will be having major heart surgery this Friday. But I did want to let you all know about an exciting development that I have mentally filed away in the "See, Ainsley isn't allergic to everything!" folder.

Last night we went to my in-laws' house for dinner and they decided to grill shrimp. I had never given Ainsley shrimp even though (based on her skin and blood tests) her allergist said he didn't think she was allergic to it. The biggest reason I avoided it was that, when we did the skin test for it a long time ago, she had a tiny hive to it, and even though her blood test showed no allergic reaction, I was scared to have her try it because shellfish are a common cause of deadly reactions. It has taken me years to get to the point when I was ready to have her try any shellfish.

I decided that last night was THE NIGHT. To see if she could tolerate it, I first rubbed a piece of shrimp on her arm to see if it caused a skin reaction. After we waited 20 minutes and there was no reaction, I let her eat a microscopically small piece of it. After another 20 minutes of no reaction, she ate an eraser-tip's worth of it. After another 20 minutes of no reaction, I let her eat a whole shrimp.

She loved it! She will be eating more for dinner tonight. I am very excited to add this food to our repertoire and we can tell she is happy to be able to eat something different.

Honestly, the biggest part of the experience for me was just confirming that, although she is allergic to several things, she isn't allergic to every major allergen. Now I'm going to make her eat shrimp on a regular basis so hopefully she'll never develop an allergy to it.

Monday, May 10, 2010

First 504 Plan meeting

Today Dave and I went to the public elementary school Ainsley is set to attend in August to meet with the staff about formulating a Section 504 plan that will list the specific accommodations the school will make for her food allergies. I was not that nervous about the meeting because the school has already made accommodations for a severely peanut-allergic first grader and I have already talked with his mom several times and Dave and I had agreed that almost all of those accommodations would work for Ainsley.

We met with the nurse, counselor, principal, and the teacher who had the peanut-allergic child in her class last year, and who will be Ainsley's teacher this coming year (it is great to know in advance who her teacher will be). They were all very nice and wanted to know all about Ainsley - what her personality was like, where she had any other issues (allowing me to tell them she was in occupational therapy for slight motor skills delays), and how we first learned about Ainsley's food allergies.

We then talked about the accommodations the school is currently making for the peanut-allergic first grader. I told them that I wanted all of the same ones implemented for Ainsley except that I wanted to discuss "the peanut-free table issue." Currently, the school has a peanut-free table that the first-grader sits at. He can have a couple of friends sit with him if the teacher checks their lunch and determines that it's peanut-free. I was worried about that because Ainsley is a very shy kid and it's hard for her to warm up to other children. I felt that any social isolation like that would be detrimental to her developing social skills.

Prior to the meeting, I expressed my concerns to family and friends knowledgeable of school procedures (I am lucky that my sister-in-law is an elementary school counselor in the same district and that my mother-in-law is a retired third grade teacher) and came up with an alternative that I felt good about: having Ainsley sit at the same table as the other kids but in a designated spot at the end of a row. The cafeteria staff will clean off her spot before she sits down (this will be easy in kindergarten because the tables will have all been cleaned before they sit down) and her teacher will check the lunches of the two kids who sit closest to her to ensure they don't have any peanut/treenut products.

Everyone in the room this morning seemed happy with this plan. I am sure that, in practice, there will be hiccups. I guess I am comfortable with it because Ainsley's been eating at the same table as her preschool classmates for the last three years and she has never had an allergic reaction because of it. Of course, her preschool is peanut and treenut-free, but she's still been surrounded by kids eating dairy and egg products and hasn't had a problem. Because of this experience I have determined that she seems far more likely to have an allergic reaction if she accidentally ingests a food she thinks is safe rather than if her skin comes into contact with residue of an offending food. Therefore, my highest priority is making sure no one gives her a food to eat that isn't safe - I am less concerned about residue issues.

Thoughts? Ideas? Once I receive a written copy of the 504 plan I will post it here. I am still in shock that my baby is old enough to be getting ready for kindergarten!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Fall/winter babies more prone to food allergies

A recent study found that children born in the fall or wintertime were much more likely to have food allergies. Ainsley was born in late November so she certainly falls into the higher-risk group. She was also born by c-section, which raises the risk that a child will have food allergies. My second daughter, Leighton, was born in the spring and I avoided a c-section that time - she has no food allergies. Can you guess who will try her best not to have another fall/winter c-section baby?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Best banana pancakes

Tonight my five-year-old begged for pancakes with banana in them. I am a pro at making blueberry, strawberry, and chocolate chip pancakes, but have never added banana before. I experimented a little and came up with this exceedingly yummy recipe ...

Banana Pancakes

1 C white flour
1 C whole wheat flour
2 Tbsp white sugar
2 Tbsp brown sugar
3 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 Tbsp water, 1 1/2 Tbsp vegetable oil, 1 tsp. baking powder, mixed together
2 C plain or vanilla soymilk
3 Tbsp vegetable oil
3 tsp vanilla
1-2 Tbsp ground flax seed (optional)
1-2 Tbsp wheat germ (optional)
3 bananas, sliced into 1/4-inch pieces

Combine all dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, mix together the water/oil/baking powder mixture. After a few seconds, add other wet ingredients to mixture. Combine wet and dry ingredients and stir until just blended (mixture can still be lumpy). Add sliced bananas.

Heat griddle or skillet, spray with vegetable oil. Spoon batter onto griddle/skillet to make small (approx 4-inch) pancakes. Cook until slightly browned on each side. Serve topped with dairy-free butter and pure maple syrup.

Makes approximately 12 pancakes.

We added a few slices of bacon and voila - a perfect brinner (breakfast-for-dinner)!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A marathon post to make up for my marathon absence - and three new desserts!

Wow, it's been a long time since I've written anything. The initial cause of my absence was a terrible flu-like virus that my five-year-old caught. She was sick for several days with a really high fever and coughing. Then my almost two-year-old got it, of course, and it hit her even harder - it drained her of energy and eventually caused severe wheezing.

After an entire day in the pediatrician's office, where they gave her repeated breathing treatments and steroid doses, we ended up in the emergency room the next day because it turned into pneumonia. Thankfully, we only spent two days there, although they were a very uncomfortable/miserable two days - have you ever tried to keep a 23-month-old happy while she has several wires attached to her and has to stay in a metal crib?

The first night was particularly miserable because they gave us a tiny room and both my husband and I wanted to stay with her (okay, I begged him to stay - I still have terrible memories of the week we spent at the hospital last year when she had RSV and I had to stay with her by myself each night). The problem was there was no adult-sized hospital bed in the room like we've had before so Dave ended up sleeping on the couch while I had to sleep in the crib with her (I got about 1 hours' sleep the entire night). We wised up the second night and brought our sleeping bag so Dave could sleep in that while I took the couch.

Anyway, after a week and a half off from work due to these illnesses, I had a lot to catch up on at work and at home and didn't really do much cooking or baking for a few weeks. But now we're all healthy and happy and my cooking/baking craze has been reignited. So here are the recent fruits of my (and my mother's) labor ...

First, the other day I wanted to bake something sweet but was feeling pretty lazy. I looked in my pantry and discovered that I had an old box of Cherrybrook Kitchen chocolate chip cookie mix and a box of Cherrybrook brownie mix. Hmmmm, I thought, chocolate chip cookies and brownies, my two favorite things - why don't I combine them? The result: Brownie chocolate-chip cookie muffins. And wow, are they good! Here's the how-to:

Brownie Chocolate-Chip Cookie Muffins

Prepare 1 box of Cherrybrook Kitchen brownie batter according to package directions. Fill 22 muffin cups with the batter. Bake at the temperature indicated on the package for 7 minutes.

While brownie layer is baking, prepare 1 box of Cherrybrook Kitchen chocolate chip cookie dough. Add a little bit of extra water (about 1 tbsp) to the dough to make it more liquidy and spreadable like batter.

When brownies have baked for 7 minutes, take muffin tins out of the oven and put some of the chocolate chip cookie "batter" on top of the brownie layer in each of the cups. Then put back in the oven for an additional 7-10 minutes (begin inserting toothpick after 7 minutes, take muffins out when top layer looks like a baked chocolate chip cookie and is still moist but not gooey).



The second yummy dessert we've had lately is something my mom made after seeing the recipe on the back of a box of ice cream cones. It basically involves filling an ice cream cone with cake batter, baking it, and then putting icing on top. The finished product was so cool that I think I'm going to make these for Leighton's second birthday.

Cupcake Cones

Prepare 1 box of Cherrybrook cake mix (any flavor) as directed. Open 1 box of safe ice cream cones (my mother used Keebler cake cones, but I have found many different brands of safe cones). Don't use the sugar cones, though - you need to use cones that have flat bottoms so they can stand up on their own.

Spoon batter into each cone. Do not fill the cone completely with batter - instead, leave 1/2-3/4 inch of space at the top of each cone because the batter will rise while baking.

Wrap bottom of each cone in aluminum foil (to help them stand up better on the baking sheet) and set cones on baking sheet.

Place baking sheet carefully in the oven and bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes (start checking after 15).

Take out of the oven and allow to cool completely. Then frost with your favorite safe frosting (many Pillsbury icing flavors are safe, or you can make your own frosting if you're feeling particularly energetic). Put colorful sprinkles on if desired (and what kid doesn't desire that:).

Here is a pic of one my mom made:


Finally, this last treat is for those times when you don't feel like doing any mixing or baking (in a real oven, that is - toaster oven is required for this next treat). One of my old stand-by desserts is Smores. Yes, your allergic child can have Smores! We use safe graham crackers (Honey Maid or Kroger brand), marshmallows (Kraft Jet-Puffed), and chocolate (I find that chocolate chips melt the fastest. I use either Kroger FMV or Enjoy Life). As always, check to make sure these brands are still safe before using!

Smores

Break 1 large graham cracker into 2 squares. Put several mini-marshmallows or 2 large marshmallow halves on one of the squares; put several chocolate chips on the other. Carefully place each piece directly on the rack in a toaster oven (or place crackers on a baking sheet and put the sheet in a real oven if you don't have a toaster oven). Some of the chocolate chips might fall off when you put the squares on the toaster oven rack - just pick them up and put them back on the square. Toast until marshmallows look puffy and chocolate chips look glossy. Take out of the oven and put the 2 pieces together to form a sandwich. Let cool and enjoy!


Saturday, February 6, 2010

Super yummy, healthy smoothie

My husband is on a health kick. He resolved to be more active this year, so he's been working out with the Wii we got for Christmas. He has also been eating much better. One of the things that he most needed to revamp was his breakfast routine. He used to skip breakfast entirely or grab a bagel or McDonald's on the way to work. Now I make a batch of (Ainsley-safe!) healthy muffins every couple of weeks and he eats those for breakfast. He has also become our Smoothie King - I showed him how to use our new food processor and he has really taken to it! Normally he is very uncomfortable trying to cook anything but apparently if it involves a loud, pulverizing appliance he's right at home. Every morning he gets up and makes enough for all of us, and we drink every drop.

Dave's Yummy, Healthy Smoothie Recipe

1 C orange juice

1 C So Delicious strawberry coconut-milk Kefir (can substitute vanilla or plain Kefir or strawberry, blueberry, vanilla, or plain soy yogurt)

2/3 C frozen strawberries

2/3 C frozen blueberries

1/2 C or 1 individual-sized container no-sugar-added applesauce

1 Tbsp honey

1 Tbsp ground flax seed

1-2 bananas

Put all ingredients into blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Makes 4-6 servings.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Little girls and tea parties

I've mentioned before that I rarely take Ainsley to birthday parties - it's a lot of trouble for me because I have to bring all of her food and it's usually a bittersweet experience for her because, although she loves most of the usual party festivities, she gets sad that she can't eat the party food, especially the beautifully-decorated cake.

But this weekend one of her best friends is having a party so we're going. It's a tea party - the third one we've been to in the last year. If Ainsley didn't have allergies, tea parties would be great: little girls in princess dresses sipping tea and eating little sandwiches - is anything cuter? But the problem for us is that these parties revolve around food, much more so than a normal birthday party.

Thankfully, the moms who've organized these have been wonderful about sending me the menu beforehand and asking about safe ingredients. I try to bring a safe version of everything they're having. Last time I had to make iced blueberry scones because that was one of the menu items. It's a lot of work, but obviously worth it to see Ainsley having fun with her friends. So if, like me, you're the mom of a little girl who is attending lots of tea parties these days, I empathize with you!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Hankering for peppermint hot chocolate

One of my favorite food things the past two holiday seasons has been Westsoy's Chocolate Peppermint Stick beverage, which I discovered last year among the other shelf-stable soymilk cartons at Whole Foods. Before that I spent way too much money on peppermint hot chocolate at Starbucks, so I was so happy to discover a cheaper - but incredibly tasty - replacement. This year, Ainsley got addicted to it too, so we doubled our purchases from last year. Well, all good things must come to an end - we went to Whole Foods yesterday and, alas, it was no longer there. But thanks to my recent purchase of peppermint extract for a recipe I have yet to try, I decided to concoct my own, which Ainsley declared to be "just as good as the kind we get at the store!" Here's the "recipe":

-Start with 1 mug of soymilk (plain or vanilla).
-Mix in enough liquid chocolate Nestle Quick or Hershey's syrup (both are free of Ainsley's allergens!) to make the milk very brown ("hot chocolate brown").
-Add 2 drops peppermint extract.
-Microwave for 1 min. to 1 min. 30 sec. (I microwave Ainsley's for just a minute because I don't want it very hot for her).
-Add safe marshmallows (like Kraft Jet-Puffed) if desired.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Fun food allergy Christmas gifts

Before I had Ainsley, I never knew what to say when people asked what I wanted for Christmas or my birthday. I am not one of those people who enjoys collecting purses, jewelry, perfumes, shoes, DVDs, CDs, or anything like that (believe me, Dave is quite happy that he married a girl like me! I have saved him a lot of money over the years). So I have always had to think of random things for them to get me - but it was never anything that I really had to have.

Since we discovered Ainsley's allergies and I began (slowly) learning how to cook and bake from scratch, however, I have discovered the fun world of cookbooks, kitchen gadgets, and appliances, and all of a sudden I had things I really, really wanted - or even needed - that I could put on my Christmas and birthday list.

This Christmas I got a great haul of these items, including: the Food Allergy Mama's Baking Book, a new food processor (old one died), a new hand mixer (Leighton threw away one of the beaters to my old one, and a one-beater mixer is not very effective), an immersion blender (I saw this on someone else's blog and thought it looked really cool), and a Belgian waffle iron (I looooove Belgian waffles).

So far I've used all of them except the immersion blender, which I plan to break out next time I make soup. I've even combined gifts: I used the waffle recipe from the baking book to make waffles using my waffle iron and have also made her berry breakfast smoothie in my new food processor (I have resolved that our family will eat a healthier breakfast in 2010 so I've been feeding them bran muffins and smoothies every weekday morning; I break out the waffle maker on weekends).

The fact that Ainsley's entire family, including the grandmothers, is cooking more means that I also have more ideas for gifts for them than I did before. This year I got my mom a new cake pan and cookie sheet because the ones she uses now are really old, and she was really excited.

Any cool kitchen gadgets/appliances you love? I am always interested in hearing what gets used a lot in other kitchens.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Some ideas for people who must also eat soy-free

Last week I had a cooking/baking challenge that opened my eyes to how difficult it is to live with a soy allergy - especially when it's coupled with a dairy allergy. We threw a little New Year's Eve dinner party for friends who, like us, have small children (and thus can't do the traditional stay-up-til-midnight drinking thing). One of the moms who came is eating dairy- and soy-free because her baby has a suspected milk and/or soy allergy. She has been having a really difficult time finding recipes that don't contain one of these allergens as an ingredient. I always knew it would be hard to have both allergies - because most dairy substitutes are made with soy - but buying ingredients to make food that was safe for her made me thankful that we do not have a soy allergy in our house. I have been taking for granted that almost everything I make for Ainsley has soy in it.

I finally landed upon a few recipes that turned out wonderfully. One was the plain cupcake recipe from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World (see sidebar, "My Favorite Cookbooks", for link to this book). The only substitutions I made were to use rice milk in place of the soy milk and soy-free Earth Balance in place of the regular Earth Balance I usually stock at home. I also made the icing from that cookbook using soy-free shortening (Spectrum, which is 100% palm oil), soy-free Earth Balance, and rice milk (in place of the soy milk).

In addition, I made cookies using this recipe from Kelly Rudnicki's new baking book: http://www.foodallergymama.com/2009/06/02/another-treat-idea-for-end-of-school-year-parties/ . As with the cupcakes, I used soy-free Earth Balance and rice milk.

Both the cupcakes and cookies turned out wonderfully. I got many compliments from non-food-allergic people about how yummy the cupcakes were (one said to me that it was the best cupcake she'd ever tasted).

I also made a dairy- and soy-free pizza for my friend (and Ainsley - for the other people we ordered in from a local pizzeria). I used this pizza dough recipe: http://www.foodallergymama.com/2009/03/08/the-fastest-allergen-free-pizza-ever/ , which contains no soy. For the sauce, I combined 1/2 can of Muir Glen Organic pizza sauce (available at most Whole Foods) with 1 small can tomato paste. For the topping, I browned ~1 lb. of ground chuck in a skillet. When the meat was still a little pink, I added 1/2 chopped green pepper and 1/2 chopped onion. I also added liberal amounts of salt and pepper. After the meat was browned and the veggies tender, I put the mixture on top of the sauce and baked the pizza according to the above recipe's directions. (Note that if you're okay with soy, you could also use Pillsbury refrigerated pizza crust.)

I have to say that this was probably the best dairy-free pizza I've made, and our soy- and dairy-free friend loved it. I sent the leftover pizza and desserts home with her to enjoy. If any of you have any easy soy- and dairy-free recipes you'd like to share, please post them or post links to them and I will be sure my friend gets them!