Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Peanut Allergy, Nut Allergy and Summer Travel Tips!

For me, the most stressful part of traveling with my nut-allergic daughter is restaurants. When you're away from home and staying at a hotel, restaurants are your main source of food. As someone who watches "Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares" on BBC America, that is a pretty scary reality for me. The bottom line is that you just never know what is going on in a restaurant kitchen and who is doing the cooking. As we know, restaurant workers vary widely in their knowledge and understanding of food allergies. So the pressure is on us to communicate and navigate menus and establishments on our own. Yes, some restaurants do a stellar job, but you always have to do your research prior to eating.

Less is more. When evaluating a restaurant for allergic folks, seek our restaurants with small, simple menus. Why? Well, big menus that feature everything under the sun usually contain several off-limits items and cross-contact risk becomes greater. Also, the bigger the menu, the more likely that several chefs are cooking at once and again, cross-contact is an issue.

Find out what kind of oil they use for frying. This is especially important if a fried dish is one of a resto's specialities. When we travel, we call restaurants with lots of fried items and ask if they use peanut oil. If they do, we skip it. I've heard a lot about the "cold-pressed" vs "refined" peanut oil debate and some people insist that peanut oil is safe. The thing is, people have reacted to peanut oil -- some fatally -- and I would also argue that if you tell restaurant staff that you can have peanut oil with a peanut allergy, you're sending them a mixed message that may result in other kitchen mishaps. Plus, no peanut oil is 100% free of peanut protein, so for me, that's dancing too close to the mouth of the volcano. Many times, restaurants tell us that they use canola oil, and we have staff confirm this from the kitchen. These are the restos we feel good visiting. If you want to be absolutely safe, peanut oil is out and canola is in. Minimize your risk ahead of time and you'll have a better experience.

Get the menu in advance. Most places have their menu displayed outside the restaurant and in many cases you can get menus online. This is hugely helpful--don't skip this step! Knowledge of the menu helps you to avoid places that emphasize items that your allergic family members need to avoid.

Pay attention to salads. Salads are one of my daughter's favorite meals, especially Greek salads (no doubt a heritage thing since my husband is Greek.) However, salads can be high risk so before you let your child order one, examine what other salads are on offer. Do any of the salads contain nuts or nut oils in the dressings? If so, don't order a salad. The reason? Sometimes chefs untrained in food allergy simply pick the nuts off of a prepared salad and serve it--this makes for a potential reaction because the salad is then contaminated. Dressings look alike and can be mistaken for each other. Side note: my daughter knows to do this already. When she ordered a Greek salad, I opened my mouth to say--let's look at the other salads first--and she already had read the menu. None of them contained nuts. One more reason to involve your kids in the menu-reading process, even when they are young. It's great when they take responsibility for their own allergies.

Take the pressure off with some non-restaurant meals. We made sure to get a room with a refrigerator, enabling us to give our kids some cereal for breakfast or simple snacks. We also had a picnic dinner and lunch during our vacation using items we purchased from the local grocery store. Our kids really enjoyed picking out foods for our picnics and our allergic daughter felt more in control and more relaxed. Our picnics were some of our best times while on our trip--and it was the one time I wasn't on alert for allergic reaction. I needed a break--and so will you. Adding a few non-restaurant meals to your trip is not only stress-saving, it's money-saving as well.

AllerDine and Allergy Eats. These two food allergy restaurant guides help you decide where to eat by offering a database of U.S. restaurants that are rated according to your specific allergen. If you travel and find a good place to eat (or a bad place) don't forget to share your experience on these helpful web sites! www.allerdine.com and www.allergyeats.com

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Food Allergy Tips for Memorial Day Weekend and All Summer Long

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. Thorough cleaning of a grill is required before use.

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 can present a high risk for nut allergies and some other food allergies as well (wheat and soy come to mind.) Check the labels--some are OK for nut allergies but always read the label carefully. (Just so you know, "natural flavoring" must list nut allergens if they are present due to current FDA laws.)

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 SauceThis 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 unless you were involved in the preparation. You have no real way of knowing if cross-contact occured or what's really in it. When in doubt, do without.

Desserts and ice cream treats. Unless you made these yourself, steer clear of these at a party because desserts (from a bakery or homemade) are some of the most high risk foods for many allergies including nut allergies. Ice cream is also 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 bring a great dessert, you'll be a hero, so try it! If you're not a baker, fresh fruit salad or other summer fruits like watermelon make a welcome treat.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Food Allergy and Summer: Nut-Free, Egg-Free 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 cream 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.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Food Allergies and School Parties: Be Prepared and Have Fun!

As the school year comes to a close, many schools are planning end-of-year celebrations. Also, a lot of school clubs. sports and activities will have their end-of-year parties. Of course, that means food! Now's the time to plan so that your child can safely enjoy any end-of-year school celebrations.

1. Give the teacher a heads-up now. Don't wait until the week of, or even a few days before. Speak to the teacher, send an e-mail, pick up the phone, your choice, but make it a point to find out what is going on with regard to food. Does food have to be offered? If it is, offer to send in a safe treat and then emphasize that your child sticks to that and that only.

2. Check the crafts. Are any edible crafts being done or is food being used for inedible crafts? Ask now. These are a bad idea unless everyone is on the same page about what is safe and what isn't. I've found that is usually not the case, so suggest an alternative craft if you must. The store Michael's has tons of craft ideas; so does Target.

3. Discuss with your child the possibility of "extra" food. Some parents like to send in homemade treats at the last minute as an added "surprise" for the class. While this is well-intentioned, it can undo the careful planning you and other room parents may have done to ensure "safe" party foods. Communicate with the party organizers to find out what food will be present and then discuss with your child a few items that they can safely eat. To stay on the safe side, make sure that your child understands that anything outside of that zone is off-limits.

4. Send home a note a week before the party. Ask your child's teacher to send home a reminder note of what to avoid sending. If you have a dairy-free, nut-free classroom, for example, be sure to include some suggestions of safe brands and treats. If people are intent on bringing food, at least they will have some idea of what is OK for the kids with allergies.

5. Role play with your child. This may be the most important point. It's never too early to teach a child to refuse food they are not sure of. Our rule has always been: "When in doubt, do without." Teach your child to be polite but firm when offered food that may not be safe. This would pretty much include all candy and baked goods you have not sent to school, but pretzels, chips and popcorn brands can also be unsafe. Our daughter has always refused food since she we knew of her allergy and your child can learn to do the same. They will need this skill their entire life; why not start now?

Friday, May 13, 2011

Food Allergy Awareness Week: Check Out FAAN's Guest Bloggers!

I'll admit I'm going to be a little lazy today (because it is my birthday) and let others do the blogging for me today. :)

Have you checked out FAAN's new blog? This week, in honor of Food Allergy Awareness Week, FAAN featured five bloggers who I am lucky to have met personally and/or communicated with online. Each of them shares their perspectives on living with food allergies, both from a parenting perspective and a personal one. You'll even find yummy recipes from Kelly Rudnicki of Food Allergy Mama and cookbook author Cybele Pascale!

You'll also hear from Sloane Miller of Allergic Girl, Gina Clowes of Allergy Moms and Jennifer B of Food Allergy Buzz.

I enjoyed each entry and I think you will, too.

I hope everyone has spread awareness in some way for FAAW and remember, it's something we do all year. So be proud of what you've accomplished in terms of educating your friends, family and communities about food allergies.

Next week, I've got a new product review from Enjoy Life Foods. I can give you one hint: Chocolate!

Happy Friday the 13th everybody!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Food Allergy Awareness Week: Advice from a Medical Expert

Many times I'm asked questions that are health or medical in nature and I always refer these questions to an allergist. Of course, you should always speak to your own doctors about your specific needs, but I want to introduce you to a terrific allergist who has his own web site and book that answers many of the questions we have about food allergies: Dr. Robert Wood.

Dr. Wood is a world-renowned allergist and a medical advisor to the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network. He is also a lifelong peanut allergy sufferer. His best-selling book "Food Allergies for Dummies" combines medical knowledge and facts with tips handling any food allergy. He also has written helpful articles that educate others such as one that addresses commonly-held beliefs and myths about food allergies.

Food Allergies for Dummies and Dr. Wood's web site have been two of my favorite resources over the years. If you don't own the book, get it. It's a great one to share with friends and family, too.

As a parent I feel that I'm an involuntary "expert" on many of the lifestyle issues that affect us all. However, Dr. Wood's website is the one I turn to time and again for solid medical facts about nut allergies.

Food Allergy Awareness Week is all about spreading awareness and accurate food allergy information. I hope you'll check out this site and share it with friends and family members.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Food Allergies for Mother's Day: Welcome to Mom's Diner!

You'd think we'd get out of cooking one day a year, but if your child has severe food allergies, forget it. Actually, the traditional Mother's Day brunch, served buffet style, can be hazardous for many types of food allergies. In my family, we've never gone to big Mother's Day meals in a restaurant since so many breakfast foods have some type of tree nuts due to all of the baked goods and cross-contact. For those of you who deal with egg, dairy and/or wheat allergies, you know how difficult it is to locate an allergy-friendly brunch.

For me, this state of affairs means a lot of cooking and/or baking at home. Often, I prefer it--personally it's not relaxing for me to bring my child to high-risk restaurant situations. I'd rather go eat with the family during a "safe" restaurants downtime when they are more likely to pay attention to special food requests.

Last year, I baked a coffee cake and brought it to a brunch. This year I plan to make the same cake because my family loves it and it looks impressive (streaked with two layers of cinnamon/brown sugar filling) even though it is relatively easy to make. I assume I will be cooking throughout the day even though my husband volunteered to grill at night, as he usually does on the weekends.

Somewhere along the line, I just accepted that I would be doing most of the cooking, when possible. That's been OK for the most part. I've had a lot more control over ingredients and my kids have enjoyed a pretty healthy diet. When I cook, I have the added pleasure of knowing that I am providing some love along with the meals. As my favorite food writer M.F.K. Fisher put it: "One of the pleasantest of all emotions is to know that I, I with my brain and my hands, have nourished my beloved few... to sustain them truly against the hungers of the world."

It is in this spirit that I once spent 6 hours making and decorating birthday cakes for my daughter's first big birthday party. She was in kindergarten and had invited every girl in her class plus a few more friends. She wanted a "Groovy Girl" theme -- if you have daughters you've probably seen these colorful, fashionable dolls -- and I needed to create orange, pink, black, purple and yellow frosting. This took me awhile. I also had trouble with the cake writing, since I'm not very good at it and the miniature Groovy Girl dolls I bought for the cake kept sinking into the frosting. Since they were not "true" cake toppers, they were too heavy.

I was exhausted and covered in frosting by the time I finished but I didn't think much about the time it had taken. I shared this story with one of my friends recently and she said "Wow, you must really love your daughter!"

I laughed because a) I guess I do and b) when a 6-hour cake prep doesn't faze you, that's when you know you've got a child with food allergies.

Last week I was reading a newspaper article in advance of Mother's Day that asked authors to chime in with their favorite advice from their mom. My favorite was this quote, taken from Baha'i writings: "When there is love, nothing is too much trouble and there is always time."

That's how I feel about being "forced" to cook on Mother's Day. Kids with food allergies have to be so careful of what they eat, all the time. If I can give my daughter something delicious, something safe so that she can be included with all of us, her happiness makes me happy. It's a gift that keeps on giving, not just on Mother's Day, but all year.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Peanut Allergy Safe Doughnuts! You've Got To Try This Nut-Free Recipe....

Sometimes it's a good idea to bring your kids to Crate and Barrel. I know, sounds counter intuitive but if I hadn't had my little eagle-eyed 11-year-old with me recently, I never would have seen this awesome doughnut pan! I've been meaning to get one of these for years so that I could make nut allergy-safe doughnuts, but the pans available had always been so expensive at $30 or so that I always saved it for another day. Being unable to visit doughnut shops due to all of the cross-contact risk is an adjustment that we've had to make, so I've always been on the lookout for ways to make our own at home.

This great pan pictured above was $10.95 at Crate and Barrel. You can also order it from www.wilton.com. They also have mini-doughnut pans available, especially nice since Hostess Donettes are not longer an option for our family--they now carry tree nut allergy warnings.

Best of all, the doughnut pan comes with a simple recipe that I altered just a bit. You could also do some variations like adding a few tablespoons of cocoa powder and a little more canola oil for a chocolate cake donut. Or add a nice spring-y touch with some lemon or orange zest to the batter. I also remember some amazing apple doughnuts that we used to buy, pre-nut allergy, at a farm bakery store that were seriously amazing. So you could grate some apple into the batter, add some cinnamon and roll them in cinnamon sugar for apple doughnuts. The possibilities are endless!

Baking doughnuts does change their taste a little bit. Let's face it, fried foods are the bomb! But baking doughnuts does make them healthier and I found the taste delicious. My kids LOVED them. They couldn't believe it one Saturday morning when they awoke to fresh powdered sugar doughnuts.

This pan makes a great Mother's Day gift, too if you're looking for last-minute ideas.

The following recipe is just an example of the great things cooking next week during the Food Allergy Recipe Swap live chat at The Motherhood. Please join us if you can--May 10, 1 pm EST. Lori Sandler of Divvies will be our host! You can share your own recipes along with pictures of the finished product. I hope you can be there!

Nut-Free Powdered Sugar Cake Donuts

2 cups cake flour, sifted
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp vanilla
1 tsp salt
3/4 cup buttermilk
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 tbsp. butter, melted

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Spray pan with nonstick baking spray (such as Pam). In a large mixing bowl, sift together cake flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add buttermilk, eggs and butter. Add vanilla and beat until just combined; do not over beat. Fill each doughnut cup about 2/3 full--any more and you won't end up with that nice doughnut shape.

Bake 7-9 minutes or until the top of the doughnuts spring back when touched. Color on tops is no indication of doneness-they will be more golden on the bottom.

Let cool in pan for about 5 minutes before removing. Finish doughnuts by placing them, one at a time, in a resealable bag filled with 2/3 of powdered sugar. Close the bag and shake gently to coat.

Makes 12 doughnuts.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Food Allergy Awareness Week Recipe Swap on The Motherhood!

Next week on May 10, I will be joining in the chat at The Motherhood where we will share our favorite allergy-friendly recipes! I have a few I'm thinking of right now, sond I hope you will gather some of your favorites and join us at The Motherhood Recipe Swap.

This is part of the Cooking Connections series hosted by Lori Sandler of Divvies, and so far the chats have been wonderfully entertaining and informative. Lori is such a warm and knowledgeable food allergy advocate -- she is doing a great job with these chats, so join us!

Here's how the chats work: you register for the chat on The Motherhood web site and then post questions, comments and in this case, recipes and photos of our creations during the live chat.

Parents of kids with food allergies tend to be accomplished cooks and bakers by necessity so please join us on May 10, 1 pm EST, at The Motherhood for what is sure to be a fun and delicious chat experience.

Vermont Nut-Free Coupon Code news:
Also, Friday, May 6 is the last day to use your Vermont Nut-Free Chocolates coupon code exclusively for Nut-Free Mom blog readers. Nut-Free Mom blog readers will receive a 10% discount on all items in the order, excluding shipping charges. Enter NFM10 at the top of the shopping cart in the keycode box. It is not case-sensitive.

Use code and save 10% off your purchase today!