Friday, October 31, 2008

Have a Happy, Allergy-Free Halloween!!!

Today can be a scary day for those of us who have food-allergic kids, but we can still have a great time. I'm having a Halloween Open House for our new neighbors tonight and my daughter is really looking forward to that. Forgive me if this is short---I've got Guacamole with Monster Eyeballs (olives) to prepare!

If you decide to go Trick or Treating, just remember to bring two bags--one for the obviously nutty stuff like Snickers and Reese's and one for the possibly safe candy you can sort out later. We usually end up pitching most of the candy and sending it to my husband's office or giving it away to friends and my daughter doesn't mind--she just likes dressing up and going out. Plus, she gets a goody bag filled with Vermont Nut Free Halloween chocolates--and let me tell you, that stuff is good.

Also, if you have a FAAN Trick or Treat for food allergy box, don't forget to bring it along! Even if you don't Trick or Treat, consider sending a donation to FAAN--clearly, we still need a lot of education and research regarding food allergies.

Carry your EpiPens and be prepared, but most of all have fun! And if you decide to skip Trick or Treating, you can still have fun with non-food activities like age-appropriate Halloween movies and games.

Whatever your family is up to today, I hope you have a great, SAFE time. Please be sure to share your Halloween stories with us! I hope they're only scary in a good way!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Nut-Free Halloween Recipe: Frankestein Monster Toes Cookies

As I searched for treats to serve at our Halloween Open House I found these cookies in the Pillsbury Halloween recipe magazine.

The recipe originally suggested dyed almonds for the "toenails" and almond extract as a flavoring. Of course, I nixed all of that and used safe Mike and Ike brand jelly beans for the toenails and substituted vanilla for the almond extract.

The recipe I'm listing below is certainly "nut-free" but it is based on a Betty Crocker cookie mix recipe (I'm all about "from scratch" but I'm having time issues!), and so it does contain other allergens. If your child has allergies to dairy or wheat, just use your favorite allergy-free sugar cookie recipe and be sure to chill the dough for at least an hour.

Here's the recipe:

Frankenstein Monster's Toes


1 pouch (I lb. 1.5 oz Betty Crocker sugar cookie mix)
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/3 cup melted butter or margarine
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (I use McCormick)
7 drops NEON green food color (again, I use McCormick)
36 Mike and Ike or other "safe" jelly beans


1. In large bowl stir cookie mix, flour , melted butter, egg, vanilla and green food color until soft dough forms. Cover and refrigerate for one hour.

2. Heat oven to 375 degrees F. For each cookie, roll heaping teaspoons of dough into 2-1/2-inch finger shapes. On ungreased cookie sheets, place shapes 2 inches apart. (A word to the wise: don't make the rolls too big or flat. This dough spreads quite a bit!)

3. About 1 inch from the end of each "toe" squeeze dough slightly; with knife, gently make lines in dough to look like knuckles.

4. Bake 6-8 minutes until set. The edges of cookies should not be at all brown. While still on cookie sheet and working quickly before cookies cool, gently but firmly press a jelly bean into the edge of each "toe" for the fingernail. Cool cookies one minute; remove to cooling racks. Let cool completely, about 15 minutes.


Monday, October 27, 2008

Nut-Free, Mom-Free Success Story

When my daughter was first diagnosed with her severe allergy to nuts, I was so concerned about how she would fare without me when she got older. It isn't possible to follow your child around their whole life, keeping them safe from allergens and in any case, who would want to? We moms have things to do and places to go and it's good for kids to be independent, right?

Right. Except I still had that lingering anxiety about my daughter's health and safety when I'm not there to monitor the food. And I still do. But I want to report that last Friday, my 8-year-old daughter successfully dealt with a potentially tricky food situation with no help from me. And what a relief that is!

Here's what happened: as all of you dealing with this know, you go over "safe treats" with everyone who cares for your child. And you go over it with your child. But you wonder if what you're saying sticks or not.

Well, this time it did--with my daughter anyway. At Girl Scouts last Friday, she was offered what were purportedly "safe" cookies and other treats. She was told stringently that the treats were "nut-free." (I think most of us know what a slippery slope that term can be.) But ---insert scary music--the food came in, as my daughter described them "plain white bakery-looking boxes" and when she asked for original packaging, there wasn't any. She also told me that the cookies looked like the kind I've served her before. But without a label, she was hesitant to indulge.

Now she was faced with a decision. Should she trust that the food was safe and eat it? Or should she stick with her intuition that told her it might not be safe? I'm happy to say that she held fast to our family's official motto: "When in doubt do without." She gave her share of the goodies to her allergy-free friends and went on with her meeting. I detected no stress, sadness or irritation from her. It was just another day in 3rd grade.

I was so happy that she was looking out for herself so well that I almost ran out and bought her a puppy! (Note, "almost.")

The bottom line of this story, for me, is that some of the burden was lifted from me that day. Of course, I'm going to follow up with the GS leaders (and provide my daughter with her own "back-up" snack for meetings) but I know that my daughter is doing the right thing without supervision. She's been listening. She gets it. She even sounds like she's over it, a little bit. (Years of not eating what other kids are probably immunes you to this after a while.)

So for all of you who have little ones and are worrying about the same things I do, hang in there. Keep teaching them how to check food labels and if necessary, refuse food politely. Role playing is very good. We still do this. And if you keep reinforcing the message, you'll have your own success story. I'm sure a lot of you do already! Kids are smart.

Now about that puppy--I'll have to see about that one.

Friday, October 24, 2008

A Great Idea for the Little Ones: ALERT Clothing Company

I usually leave the allergy-related product reviews to fellow food allergy blogger Jennifer B. on her excellent blog Food Allergy Buzz. But when I got this e-mail the other day from Rebecca Nelson, founder of the ALERT Clothing Company, I just had to share. Click the link to visit her web site and I have also listed a link to the company at the right of my blog.

I know that many of my readers have very young kids, so this company may be just what you've been looking for. They make adorable T-shirts, etc. for food-allergic kids with great, colorful designs. The best part--each shirt clearly states that the wearer has a food allergy with statements like: "Food Allergy Alert: No Food Sharing at School, Please." What a great benefit if your child is very young and unable to express themselves yet about their food allergy!

I can think of many situations where these shirts would come in handy: day care, pre-school, family reunion, Halloween, Thanksgiving, a day at the zoo or amusement park....I'm sure you can think of some too.

I wish I had known about this place sooner! If any of you end up ordering a shirt, let us know how it works out for you.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Help Linda Coss, National Food Allergy Expert, Get on the Tube!!!

I recently received an e-mail from Linda Coss, noted food allergy expert and author, and I am displaying it below. Basically, she wants us to e-mail talk shows to help get her on TV to spread the word about food allergies.

I know many of you out there appreciate her work, so of course we want to help her get on TV and make our concerns known to the nation!! At the bottom of her statements are several links you can follow that will help promote her with national talk shows.

All of you with food allergy blogs, please help Linda spread the word!!

Here's what she had to say:

"Greater public awareness of the realities of life-threatening food allergies helps all of our children – and one of the best ways to reach the masses is through the most popular TV talk shows.

I’m writing today to ask for your help. I’d like to start a grass roots campaign to get a few of the big shows to invite me to come on as a guest to discuss life-threatening food allergies. As the author of 3 books on food allergies, including a cookbook that is still considered to be “brand new” (an important consideration in the publicity world), I believe I am just the sort of “expert” that TV shows like to have as a guest. Plus, now that I’ve had a successful appearance on local TV (you can view the video at, I’ve gotten over my fear of the camera!

I’m asking you, your readers, and anyone else you can get to participate to go online to the shows’ “suggest a topic” pages and recommend that the program does a segment on life-threatening food allergies, with Food Allergy Author Linda Coss as the guest expert. You can say something from your heart about why they should cover this topic, and then say something about why you’re recommending Linda Coss as the guest expert. Possibilities here include the facts that I’m the articulate author of 3 food allergy books, a former support group leader with over 13 years of experience, the parent of a college-age child with multiple life-threatening allergies, and one of the “pioneers” in the food allergy world.

Here are links to the first 3 shows I’m targeting:

§ Oprah:
§ Rachael Ray:
o Scroll down to the bottom to the “Anything Goes” section and then click on “Hey you…what’s on your mind?”
o Be sure to click on the “pass it on” button and give them my email,
§ Martha Stewart:
o Click on “Email Martha” on the left-hand side of the page

Of course, I’m open to suggestions for other shows that would be likely to present food allergies in a sympathetic light.

Thank you in advance for your help and support!"

Linda Coss

Monday, October 20, 2008

Aw, Nuts! Not Another Scary Halloween Treat Guide

The people at AT&T have gone a little nuts with their Halloween treat suggestions this year. I was flipping through my e-mail when a Halloween treats guide popped up. As soon as I saw the first "kids treat mix" containing almonds, I just had to see what else they were offering as "kid" Halloween treats.

Several recipes had peanut butter or peanuts--these were specifically under the "treats for school aged kids" section of their Halloween Treats Guide for parties.

Um, OK. What's up with that??? Just about everyone with school-aged kids knows to stay away from the peanuts. Just today, my youngest daughter went to her new friend's house for a lunch play date. (My youngest does not have any food allergies.) The new friend lives just down the block from us. As they were getting ready to walk to her house, she asked me if my child had any dietary restrictions or allergies.

Most moms I meet now ask this if they are planning to serve the kids any food. I know of almost no classrooms at my daughter's elementary school that does not contain at least one child who is allergic to nuts. And food allergies have been all over the news lately, especially as Halloween approaches.

So why is this online magazine telling you to stick nuts in everything for kids?? I have no clue. So here's my suggestion, learned the hard way after our neighborhood block party's "peanut hunt" a couple of weeks ago: Tell EVERYBODY about your child's nut allergy. Tell them right when you get the invite to the Halloween party or play date. Assume nothing!!!

Give people all the info they need so they can avoid their version of nutty "Fright Bites" or what have you. Then you can avoid Halloween drama that you didn't bargain for.

With all the food allergies out there, I really don't get why magazines and newspapers are still pushing nuts for the little kids.

Have any of you seen this type of thing lately in the print media or online? I tend to notice this stuff more than most would, but I bet there's some other stuff out there. Let me know what you find.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Nut-Free Mom's Top 10 Must-Have Items ala Nina Garcia of Project Runway

Project Runway aired its long-awaited finale last night. In tandem with that exciting event (see ya, Kenley!), my local paper published Project Runway judge Nina Garcia's top 10 "must-have items." Also, Nina has a recently released book: "The One Hundred: A Guide to the Pieces Every Stylish Woman Must Own."

Now, I love fashion. Love it. Don't get me wrong--I don't think the fact that I'm a mom gives me license to be schlumpy. But I got to thinking about all the stuff that we "nut-free moms" need to own in order to get ourselves and our kids through the day. Sometimes that stuff seems a lot more important.

So here is Nina's list, with my (tongue-in-cheek) nut-free mom "must-haves."

1. Nina: Animal print

Jenny: Camouflage, to help render you "invisible" when all the other moms want you to volunteer for every class party just because your kid is the one with the food allergy

2. Nina: Cashmere

Jenny: Nice apron to protect your cashmere during all the nut-free baking your bound to be doing as the holidays approach

3. Nina: Evening gown

Jenny: Attractive lounge outfit to rest in after a hard day of keeping your child "allergy-free" (Although, maybe an evening gown isn't a bad idea, for going to gala fundraisers for food allergy research!)

4. Nina: Investment bag

Jenny: Invest in a cute and convenient Thermos Cooler Tote packed with allergy-free treats for day trips with the kids

5. Nina: Jeans

Jenny: Jeans. Of course! I like the trouser ones this season. Comfy and chic!

6. Nina: Knee Boots

Jenny: Waterproof rain boots for tramping around in muddy pumpkin patches in the rain with the Brownies (for when the camouflage doesn't work and you're called upon to be a chaperon).

7. Nina: Little black dress

Jenny: Little black fanny pack stocked with Benadryl and an Epi Pen for your child to bring on play dates

8. Nina: Stilettos

Jenny: Comfy ballet flats that don't hurt your feet while you take your kid to all of their allergy and asthma appointments after school

9. Nina: Trench coat

Jenny: I'll keep this one. We all need outerwear, after all. And a trench coat is so Audrey Hepburn.

10. Nina: Wide-leg trousers

Jenny: Loose, comfortable trousers for those "intercept the unsafe treats" moments that require ease of movement as you leap quickly between a young child and a forbidden food item

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Enjoying the Little Things in a Big Way

The major bright spot of our very busy Columbus Day weekend (lots of do-it-yourself home improvements and kid events) was the fact that my daughter attended her first Girl Scout meeting at her new school and also her first birthday party of the new school year. Nobody got sick, nobody needed an Epi Pen, it was a success.

Now, to non-allergic families, the fact that their child attended a Girl Scout meeting and a birthday party without incident is probably not a big deal. But to me--and to so many of you--it is a HUGE deal. In fact, if we get through a restaurant visit, major family gathering, kids' party or any event where food is served, I'm privately relieved each time.

This weekend dealt me two big "potential food reaction" events I just mentioned above in one day. And they both went fine. In fact, when I went to pick my daughter up after each activity, I was able to observe her for a few moments without her seeing me. The big smile on her face and the other girls gathered around her told me everything I needed to know.

So even though I certainly wish that she didn't have a severe food allergy, it really has given me a new perspective. When it comes to her health, happiness and safety, I take nothing for granted. My daughter even got a kick out of the fact that the treat I sent with her (confetti cupcake with butter cream frosting) was the same as what the other kids were served. That kind of "treats serendipity" doesn't often happen, but when it does, it gives us both a boost.

And for those of you with very young kids, let me tell you--birthday parties do get easier! My daughter is very aware of what she can and can't have. The other kids are, too. In fact, the birthday girl informed her Mom of my daughter's allergies right when she introduced her. (I already had done this, of course, but good for her!)

Another thing to be thankful for this past weekend--worry-free dining out. My older daughter's socially-packed Friday enabled my husband and I to treat our youngest girl to dinner at a local restaurant. What a different experience!

We didn't have to ask about ingredients or wonder if her food was cross-contaminated. It is a very different and many times, liberating experience when I do any food-related activity "solo" with my younger, allergy-free child, but it is one that helps me see the other side of the coin. This lack of concern about what goes into restaurant food is the norm for non-allergic families. Having one child with allergies and the other without helps me to view the situation from both perspectives. (I'll save that complex discussion for another post!)

Bottom line: my daughter's allergy helps me be grateful for what may seem like "little things" to many people. But to those of us with food-allergic kids, the little things sure do mean a lot.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Nut Allergy Alert--Bread

I haven't seen an allergy alert for bread and nuts lately, so when I got this one I thought I should share it. This is from FAAN:



October 8, 2008

Arnold Foods Company, Inc., is recalling “Brownberry Whole Grains Bread100% Whole Wheat” due to undeclared almonds, hazelnuts, and walnuts.

The product was sold through retail stores and bakery thrift outlets inIllinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.
The product is in 1-lb., 8-oz. bags with green twist ties and a code date of “Oct 11.”

Consumers may return the product to the place of purchase for a full refund. Consumers with questions may call (800) 984-0989.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Halloween Safety Tips

I just got a press-release from Enjoy Life Foods, so I thought I'd pass it along. It has great tips for both allergic and non-allergic families on how to deal with candy and food allergies at Halloween. is another great resource that is quoted below. I have a link to both and Enjoy Life Foods on my links list to the right. Here's the press release:

"Enjoy Life Foods® Teams with to Ensure Halloween Isn't ‘Tricky’ for Food-Allergic Kids and Families
Provides tips for being allergy-aware this Halloween

Enjoy Life Foods, the country’s leader in allergy-friendly and gluten-free foods, teamed up with Gina Clowes of to help ensure that kids with food allergies aren't scared to trick or treat this Halloween just because they can't eat the same snacks as others, and to ensure that no one is frightened if a food-allergic ghost or goblin comes knocking on their door.

These helpful tips for being allergy-aware this Halloween can make trick or treating safe and fun for EVERYONE:

Be proactive. If you know of children in the neighborhood with food allergies, ask their parents what types of candies are safe. They'll be thrilled to know you care.

Keep a stash of “safe candy” or fun trinkets. Have fun trinkets on hand such as bubbles, Silly Putty, tattoos, stickers, spider rings and bracelets. Kids with food allergies or intolerance will be grateful to receive something they can actually enjoy.

Be discreet. If you know a child has food allergies, don't ask “Oh, you’re the one with the peanut allergy, right?” Kids want to fit in and don't like to be singled out.

Everyone loves ingredient labels. Give out candy with clear ingredient labels so parents and children can decide which candies are safe.

Don't drop candy into kids’ bags. Allow each child to select his or her candy. More often than not, they'll know which candies are safe and which aren't.

Listen to the children. If a child says “No thank you,” it may be because they don't see a safe option in what’s being offered. Don't make a fuss by insisting they take candy that may not be safe for them.

Parents know best. Don't assume that peanut allergy is the only allergy. There are many types of food allergies and food intolerances, so it’s important to let parents decide what candy is safe for their child.

Think of your guests. If you’re entertaining for Halloween, don't leave candy dishes unattended and be mindful of children “stashing” candy. Young children with food allergies may be easily tempted by “unsafe” candy."

I have a few of tips of my own: Allergic kids should carry two bags (parents can help if your child is very young)--one for the "safe" candy (to be thoroughly checked over at home) and one for the unsafe candy. In our family that would be anything from Reese's, Snickers, etc. I came up with this after a "peanut butter cup" explosion in a treats bag that ended up contaminating a lot of the "safe" stuff.

Also, make sure you're not tracking nuts into the house via candy that drops on the ground. Again, those pesky peanut butter cups usually wind up smashed all over our front stoop. Have everybody shed their shoes directly after Trick or Treating.

Finally, consider hosting a Halloween Open House for your kids. Allergic kids sometimes feel very left out when they have to dump 90% of their treat bags, so it's nice to give them something else to focus on. We're planning a simple "stop by when you're done Trick or Treating" gathering for a few kids/parents on the block.

If anyone else has some tips you'd like to share, let's hear 'em!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

A Really Nutty Weekend

As if I didn't know it already, I got "schooled" once again on how much we nut-free moms need to keep on our toes when we go out and about in our communities with our allergic kids.

Chicago and it's suburbs and big on block parties and ours was this past Saturday. We're new to the street, so we were interested to attend. And let me just say, our new neighbors are so nice! We really like them, so I tried hard not to take offense when somebody came up with the brilliant idea of a "peanut hunt." Yep, that's right--a peanut hunt. I've never heard of this game, but needless to say, when I found out about it, seconds before it occured, my heart dropped to my shoes.

Following the hunt, some of the kids filled paper bags with peanuts to create an impromptu "pinata" and then exploded them all over the place. Peanut dust flying through the air, the whole nine yards. Needless to say, my daughter was far away from this spectacle (with a loyal friend in tow) but it made me a wee bit nervous, shall we say. Looking at the mounds of peanuts and shells everywhere, I also thought "Is this really necessary?"

I'm constantly amazed at how peanuts are still considered such a "go-to" food for kids. Now, the neighbors that came up with the hunt have apparently done this every year for many years. So you could say the peanut hunt is a tradition. (Also, they do not have young kids themselves, anymore and may be unaware of how widespread peanut allergies are.) And I understand that messing with "tradition" doesn't go over so well. My younger daughter even participated in the peanut hunt, though she didn't eat any and she washed her hands afterwards.

But still--the cross-contamination concerns were then multiplied for me about a thousand-fold. My daughter handled it pretty well. Once I convinced her that the peanut dust had settled and I gave her the all-clear, she re-joined the party and that was that.

I'm going to see if we can eliminate the peanut hunt for next year's party, but I'm not sure if I'll get support for this. After all, we're the "new people" and the organizers of the block party have lived here upwards of 25 years.

Many non-allergic parents are sympathetic to nut allergies, but I find that just as many get that "eyes glazed over" look when you try to explain why nut allergies are such a problem. And who wants to come across as "Debbie Downer" at a block party? It's a dilemma.

All's well that ends well and frankly, my daughter took herself out of the situation without anyone asking her to, so that's encouraging. But like my husband said: "People sure love their peanuts."

They sure do.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Recipe of the Month--Allergen-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies!!!

Welcome to October! Once again it's time for the "Nut-Free Recipe of the Month."

This month's recipe is courtesy of Heather at, a site that offers peanut-free, egg-free, dairy-free and wheat-free recipes. The following chocolate chip cookie recipe does not contain wheat, eggs, nuts or dairy, so it will be useful to have on hand if you have kids (or know kids) with multiple food allergies.

Thanks, Heather! You can also find a link to her site on this blog under the heading "Nut-Free Food."

SPEWD Free Chocolate Chip Cookies


3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup dairy free, soy free margarine, softened
1 recipe for egg replacer (mix together 1 1/2T oil, 1 1/2T water and 1t baking powder)
3/4 cup rice flour
3/4 cup oat flour
3/4 cup tapioca flour
1t baking soda
1/2t salt
1 package (10 oz) soy free, dairy free chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix together sugars, flours, baking soda and salt. Add margarine and egg replacer. Mix thoroughly. Fold in chocolate chips. Drop rounded tablespoons full of cookie dough onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 8-10 minutes until golden brown.

I'm always looking for allergy-free recipes so please feel free to send yours along. I'll give you full credit, of course, and a link to your blog or web site if you have one. Contact me at Thanks!