Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Food Allergies and Memorial Day--Safety Tips for a Fun Time

I love summer. Living in Chicago, I've learned to savor the heat and humidity. Those January winds make a lasting impression so no complaints here as the temperature rises!

Summer also means having to adjust how we cope with nut allergies and all food allergies. For the non-temperate parts of the country, food is being prepared in different ways and in different venues than winter.

Many of us will be heading out to Memorial Day Weekend festivities, so now's the time to get ready to handle summer's new food allergy challenges.

Here are a few things to look out for:

Grills. While grilled foods are some of the safest options for all food-allergic people because of their simplicity and lack of sauces, outdoor grills present a HUGE cross-contact risk. Marinades may contain many types of allergens including nuts and the shared grill presents many risks for reaction.

If you love grilled foods and want your allergic family members to enjoy them at a party, consider bringing your own portable grill (but be sure to keep it only for your family's use.) A Smokey Joe grill is easy to transport to any location. Memorial Day sales are an ideal time to pick up one of these. You can find them at most stores that sell grills and barbecue equipment.

Barbecue sauce. I love, love, love barbecue sauce but it presents a high risk for nut allergies and some other food allergies as well (wheat and soy come to mind.) The following is my recipe for nut-free barbecue sauce. Homemade BBQ sauce tastes great and is surprisingly easy to make. I use Worcestershire sauce or soy sauce in my recipe--be aware that Worcestershire may contain anchovies. If you deal with allergies to these ingredients, substitute some extra salt and a shot of lemon juice.

Nut-Free BBQ Sauce
This sauce must be heated for a short while to mellow the onion and garlic--it keeps up to a week when refrigerated. Brush it onto meat or chicken at the last minute or it may scorch.

2 cups ketchup (I always use Heinz)
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce (I use Lea and Perrins) or soy sauce (I use Kikoman)
1 tbsp chili powder or to taste
1/2 cup dry red wine or water
1/4 cup vinegar, either wine vinegar or rice vinegar
1/2 cup minced fresh onion
1 tsp minced garlic
Salt and black pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring often, for 10 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary. When not in use, keep covered in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Dips and dressings. Chip dip and salad dressing may contain nut oils or ingredients. Always read labels if they are store bought before serving to an allergic person. If homemade, avoid them. You have no real way of knowing if cross-contact occured or what's really in it. When in doubt, do without.

Desserts, especially ice cream. Unless you made these yourself, steer clear. Ice cream is high risk for nut allergies because commercial brands are generally made on shared equipment--a fact not usually reflected on the label. It's better to bake your own desserts and bring them to a party. If you're looking for nut-free, egg-free and dairy-free desserts, check out "The Food Allergy Mama's Baking Book." Kelly, aka Food Allergy Mama is a Chicago mom who knows how to seriously bake. Her book has unbelievably wonderful recipes that taste and look delish. Go to her website to order directly: You can also find her book at -- I also found it in-store at my local Borders.

Monday, May 24, 2010

One Small Step for Peanut Allergy, One Giant Step for Food Allergy Advocacy

Summer is right around the corner (in Chicago it feels like it's here already with our near 90 degree temps) and that means the onset of the outdoor festival season.

Of course we know that any outdoor fest that focuses on food (I'm thinking "Taste of Chicago" or "Taste of Anytown" for that matter) is most likely off-limits for us. Most of us accept that, even if we don't like it.

But what if the focus of the event isn't traditionally food-focused? I just found out about a peanut theme for an outdoor sidewalk sale days in the downtown section of a Chicago suburb. Yep, that's right--"Everything's Peanuts" Sidewalk Sale days was scheduled to hand out bags of peanuts to all outdoor fest attendees. For those of you who don't live in the Midwest, let me tell you that Sidewalk Sales days in the summer are much-anticipated events. For folks in our climate, (who can't enjoy the outdoor weather for most of the year) this is a fun community event.

As someone with a child who struggles to avoid contact with peanuts, obviously this did not sound like a very inclusive event to me. Recent studies show that peanut and tree nut allergy about tripled in 10 years in children. Peanut allergy is on the rise in adults as well. The other problem with peanut allergy is that contact reactions are so common and peanut dust can pose an inhalant risk. Bags of peanuts would create a fair amount of peanut dust that could be spread around the event and in some cases, breathed in. It just isn't a great idea.

Well, a local (and vocal) food allergy support group started making some phone calls and sending e-mails to this particular suburb's local officials and guess what--peanuts are out! They've decided not to serve them after all.

For anyone who thinks their voice doesn't matter on issues of food allergy advocacy, this story is a lesson that persistent, polite advocacy can work. You can't sit back and think "One day they're gonna get it." Not unless you speak up.

Education is key. I saw many of the e-mails that were sent via our local support group and they explained the risk of reaction and problematic nature of peanut allergy. Many people don't consider this when they plan an event. The other thing that helped was that many parents pointed out how serving peanuts on this wide scale was somewhat akin to having a "stairs only" building that would only allow people who could climb stairs to enter.

Some people may feel that the minority (those with peanut allergies) shouldn't dictate the food served. In this case, I feel that the community nature of this event dictated that community issues (food allergy) should be reasonably addressed. This wasn't a private club event or private location event for members only. It was open to all members of this particular community and the surrounding communities. For that reason, I think they made a great choice and I applaud all the parents who spoke up on behalf of their children.

When we make strides like this, we should make a point of attending these events in order to show our support, both moral and financial. The same goes for peanut-free baseball games. If they are offered in your town--go! Show that these events are needed and wanted. We should also thank the officials who make peanut-free events possible. When we all work together and tone down the rhetoric, we can have an event that is enjoyable to all members of our communities.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Nut-Free Trail Mix from Enjoy Life Foods!

I recently had the good fortune to try the new Enjoy Life Foods product No Nuts! Nut-Free Trail Mix! "No Nuts" Trail Mix from Enjoy Life is what we've been waiting for at my house. My daughter always loved the idea of trail mix--but all brands always contained peanuts or tree nuts.

Not anymore! Enjoy Life "No Nuts" Trail Mix to the rescue. It's a great treat for my daughter to bring to school and she's already gotten a lot of her (non-allergic) friends interested in it.

We tried both flavors: "Mountain Mambo" and "Beach Bash." Mountain Mambo has pumpkin seeds, chocolate chips and more delicious salty-sweet flavors. Beach Bash has dried apricots, cranberries, sunflower seeds and more.

Each flavor is free of peanuts, tree nuts, gluten, dairy and soy. Be aware that the flavors do contain sunflower seeds if that's an allergy concern for you.

How wonderful to have a sweet and salty but healthy snack for my kids. They've both rushed to eat this delish trail mix after school and it's great to have this option.

My daughter's review of both flavors was "They're salty, crunchy and sweet. Just kind of perfect!" I would agree. I think she may have had a slight preference for Mountain Mambo because of the chocolate chips--she's a chocoholic. Don't know where she gets that from.

Click this link to go directly to the Enjoy Life web site page devoted to No Nuts! Trail Mix.

You can find No Nuts! Trail Mix at Whole Foods. I spoke with the Enjoy Life rep and she said this new product is now available at all Whole Foods stores. You can also order online at the Enjoy Life website.

Note: Other than free food samples, I received no other reimbursement for this review.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Safe for Peanut Allergy: Nut-Free, Egg-Free Vanilla Ice Cream Recipe

I've had so many questions about ice cream lately that I thought I would share (once again) a very easy and delicious homemade ice cream recipe. You need a Cuisinart electric ice cream maching or the ice cream maker of your choice.

Homemade is always safer than store-bought, so enjoy! And have your kids make this with you.

Nut-Free, Egg-Free Vanilla Ice Cream

Break out the ice cream machine for this great basic vanilla ice cream recipe! Also known as "Philadelphia" ice cream, this traditional recipe does not contain eggs.

1 vanilla bean or 2 tsp pure vanilla extract (McCormick brand is what I usually use--Nielsen Massey is also great.)
4 cups heavy cream or heavy creamy mixed with half-and-half for a lighter flavor
3/4 cup white sugar, preferably superfine
Pinch salt

If using a vanilla bean, split in half and scrape out the seeds. (Keep the pod to make vanilla sugar, basically a vanilla bean placed inside a closed container of sugar for about a week. Wonderful in everything from cakes and cookies to coffee drinks.)

Combine all ingredients and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Churn in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer's directions. Serve immediately or freeze about 2 hours for a firmer consistency. For optimum flavor, allow to soften slightly in the refrigerator about 30 minutes before serving.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Latest Peanut Allergy News--Guess What, It Tripled in 10 Years!

I know many of you have been hearing these stories lately and a few people have Tweeted me to ask me for links.

Here is a link to a recent story stating that Peanut Allergy Cases Have Tripled in 10Years. The story highlights that peanut and tree nut allergies seem to be increasing by leaps and bounds--with peanut growing at a faster rate than other food allergies.

I've always suspected this just based on my FAAN's Kids Newsletter--nearly every child featured has peanut allergy and most with that have tree nut allergy, even if they have other food allergies those two are in there.

Of course no one knows why this is. I really think we need to find out.

Running concurrently with this story was one in the New York Times on Wednesday that stated food allergies are NOT as prevalent as has been believed.

I think several things are going on here. One: people are mistakenly believing they have food allergies and are not getting a proper diagnosis. They may have a food intolerance (lactose intolerance, celiac disease) or something else entirely. A severe food allergy has the potential to close an airway and cause violent vomiting, wheezing, swelling of the face, etc. It's important to know if you have a true food allergy, both for health and lifestyle reasons. Don't diagnosis yourself, please!

The other thing is that people are getting a positive reading on a blood test and then not reacting to a food. No one is quite sure why this is happening--medical experts are trying to figure out better tests.

Finally, with more awareness of food allergies, more people are getting accurate diagnosis. In other words, yes they have them.

The one thing I hear from folks dealing with food allergies--either they have them or their kids have them--is a sentiment I feel myself. And that's the following: If you're not affected by food allergies then why do you want to disprove them? It really makes our lives harder when this happens.

However, if people really don't have food allergies and claim that they do, that doesn't help us much either. I can't tell you how many times I've read about a restaurant worker or chef who watched an allergic person consume a supposedly allergenic food with no problem. They then have skepticism about anyone who comes in and says they have a food allergy.

As a parent who has witnessed my child have a very severe, life-threatening reaction and then subsequent milder reactions from a miniscule exposure to peanuts, I just want to protect my child. I know this thing is real.

Parents and food allergy folks: what's your take on this?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Food Allergy Awareness Week Illinois Activities plus a Sweet Alexis Discount!

Welcome to Food Allergy Awareness Week! I'm happy to say that many governors issued state proclamations about FAEW, so thanks to everyone who contacted your state officials.

The Illinois Food Allergy Education Association sent me info about two Food Allergy Awareness Week Events taking place in the Chicago area.

Wednesday, May 12th, 4:30-6:30, at New York Slices, 1843 Second Street, Highland Park, Kelly Rudnicki will sign copies of her book, The Food Allergy Mama's Baking Book (nuts, dairy and egg free recipes).

Kelly is a local food allergy mom who I met last year at the FAAN conference. She's a great food allergy advocate and her baking book is fantastic! If you don't have it yet, you'll want to get a copy. I love the recipes in this book! Plus, every recipe has a full-color photo. A beautiful book for you, friends, family--anyone you know interested in nut-free, dairy-free and egg-free baking, or just baking, period. Visit her web site at Food Allergy Mama.

Saturday, May 15th, 11-2p.m. at Free From Market, 14482 South LaGrange Road, Orland Park, Lisa Williams will have cooked tasty food for allergenistas. Directions at: Lisa Williams

Lisa Williams is a Chicago-area "allergenista" who hosts allergy-free restaurant events and has a great website: Lisa Cooks Allergen Free.

Plus, for all of you looking for nut-free, egg-free and dairy-free baked goodies for your family or school, Sweet Alexis Bakery is offering a 15% discount to help celebrate Food Allergy Awareness Week. This is your chance to stock up! Don't forget that Sweet Alexis treats are great to store in your freezer for safe treat emergencies (don't forget the grandparents, friends and relatives)! Enter coupon code: allergy10 at

Now I have a question: what is your best experience teaching a non-allergic person about food allergies? Did they accommodate you in a special way? Did they go out of their way to help your child in some way? We hear so many negatives stories, so let's share some positive ones for Food Allergy Awareness Week. E-mail me your stories at

Friday, May 7, 2010

Food Allergies and Mother's Day

Mother's Day is almost here and I want to give a special thanks and recognition to all the mothers out there and especially to those of you dealing with food allergies. Yes, dads, grandparents and family members care too, but I know that mothers take the brunt of a lot of the day to day stuff with food allergies.

This year you probably:

Met with school staff or other caregivers about your child's food allergy
Worried when your child went out without you
Were nervous serving your child food in a restaurant
Stayed up late baking cupcakes for a class party
Showed several people how to use an epinephrine auto-injector (including maybe even your child)
Researched the Internet about food allergies for hours
Had a real food allergy "scare" or a false alarm (incidentally, both cause gray hair equally)
Were a regular at the pharmacy
Took your child for allergy testing
Filled out endless paperwork so that your food-allergic child could attend a camp, participate in a sport or other activity
Did I say stayed up late baking cupcakes???

I could go on an on. The bottom line, Moms, is to be proud of all you've done for your child this year. Being a mother is not for the faint of heart, as my pediatrican told me when my daughter was young. That goes double if your child has any type of chronic medical condition.

Mother's Day is supposed to be a day of celebration for mothers--not necessarily a day of complete rest, though that is nice. But food allergies don't take a break, so I bet a lot of you--like me--will be baking and/or cooking for Mother's Day. I'm baking a coffee cake to bring to a brunch. My kids LOVE this cake and I am happy to make it for them. Nothing is better than being to serve my allergic daughter something that she can eat along with everyone else. I'm not officially "off duty" and so what. The cake means a lot to my child--'nuff said. I'm making it.

Mother's Day is a great time to reflect on how close your child's allergies may have made you and your child. This may seem like a strange silver lining, but I'll leave you with this. The other night, my daughter and I were watching Top Chef Masters and they were doing a wedding. One of the tasks was making a wedding cake. She turned to me and said "Mom, will you make my wedding cake? Then I know it will be delicious AND safe for me."

She trusts me. She knows I can bake a heck of a cake. She knows she can count on me. That's what Mother's Day means to me. After I got done swallowing the big lump in my throat I told her I'd be honored.

Happy Mother's Day!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Food Allergy Awareness Week--Give It Up!!

Hi everybody,

I'm thrilled to share this press release from The Food Allergy Initiative.

Food Allergy Initiative Launches “Give It Up” Advocacy Campaign in Conjunction with Food Allergy Awareness Week

New York, NY – May 4, 2010 – The Food Allergy Initiative (FAI) today announced the launch of its new “Give It Up” national advocacy campaign in conjunction with Food Allergy Awareness Week, May 9 through May 15, 2010.

The new “Give It Up” campaign encourages children, parents, families and friends to show their support for the millions of Americans with food allergies by abstaining from eating a favorite food during the week. As part of the campaign, participants are invited to join FAI’s Facebook community and write their elected officials in an effort to raise more awareness about the need to find a cure for food allergies.

The “Give It Up” Facebook page also encourages supporters to share photos and/or videos on how they are “giving up” a favorite food. One lucky person will win an Apple iPad. Individuals and schools can even download an eCertificate that can be personalized and printed, showing their participation in the cause. To join FAI’s Facebook page and learn more, visit

Food allergies have been on the rise over the past decade, especially among children. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more than 12 million Americans, including three million children, suffer from the disease, which can result in anaphylaxis, a potentially fatal reaction. There currently are no medications to cure or control food allergies. The federal government spends only about $26 million a year on food allergy research – far less than on other important diseases. One of FAI’s primary goals is to increase support of food allergy research at the National Institutes of Health and other government agencies.

“Odds are you have someone in your immediate family or know someone who is afflicted with a food allergy,” said Mary Jane Marchisotto, Executive Director, Food Allergy Initiative. “With the incredible advances that researchers are making, there’s no excuse why we can’t develop a cure for this potentially life-threatening disease in the near future. The Food Allergy Initiative is funding many promising studies at major medical centers, but we can’t do it alone. We need more focus and awareness, especially from the government, and we are here to provide just that.”

About the Food Allergy Initiative (FAI):

The Food Allergy Initiative is a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that funds research seeking a cure for food allergies. FAI was founded in 1998 by concerned parents and grandparents to support basic and clinical research worldwide; public policies to make the world safer for those afflicted; and educational programs to make the hospitality industry, schools, day care centers, and camps safer. The largest private source of funding for food allergy research in the United States , FAI has contributed more than $65 million toward the fulfillment of its mission. For more information, visit, call 212-207-1974, or e-mail

About Food Allergies
Food allergies are on the rise in all westernized countries. There are no medications to cure or control food allergies. A strict diet and avoidance of the allergenic food is the only way to avoid a reaction, yet the most common allergens – peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, milk, fish, shellfish, wheat and soy – are staples of the food supply and virtually impossible to avoid completely. Accidental exposure to even a minuscule amount of the offending food can cause an allergic individual to react within seconds, often leading to life-threatening anaphylaxis, which causes throat swelling, a dramatic drop in blood pressure, vomiting and even death within a matter of minutes. Although researchers estimate that food allergies cause approximately 125,000 emergency room visits each year, they do not understand why rates are increasing so alarmingly, particularly among children.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Update on Food Allergy Awareness Week Proclamations

Here's the latest news I received from FAAN:

"An update on Food Allergy Awareness Week proclamations:

As of today, May 3, we’ve received 22:

Alabama, Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.

We’re been informed that 7 more are on the way, yet we still haven’t seen them: California, Delaware, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Texas."

OK, Nut-Free Mom blog readers, if you're state is on the "not yet" list, visit the FAAN web site and click on Advocacy. You'll be able to contact your governor directly from the site.

May is National Allergy and Asthma Awareness Month so now is a great time to contact your state leaders and let them know you want more awareness for food allergies! Good luck and congrats to everyone whose state already has agreed to a proclamation.