Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Food Allergy News: New to Peanut and/or Tree Nut Allergy?

With several of the big holidays behind us, I've been hearing from many of you who are new to peanut and tree nut allergies, in addtion to other food allergies. For some reason, the new year brings new food allergies and it can be a very scary and confusing time.

That's why I'm including a link to a recent post featuring my advice for those new to food allergies.

Take heart, take your time to get used to your new life and most of all, join us here as well as on my social networking including my Nut-Free Mom Facebook page and Twitter. I hope you will also check out some great food allergy resources including FAAN, The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network and FAI, The Food Allergy Initiative.

Another great resource for the newly diagnoses is Allergic Living magazine. (Full disclosure: I'm an associate editor. But I started as one of their readers and it's a great magazine!)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Food Allergies at the Holidays: Nut-Free Mom Blog Post Roundup

As the holidays arrive (Happy Chanukah, everyone!) I know that many parents (especially those dealing with food allergies/nut allergies for the first time) have lots of questions about holiday parties, baking ingredients, school parties, nut-free candy and the overall stress associated with each of these when you take food allergies into account.

So now is a great time to share some of my most popular blog posts that talk about dealing with this fun but sometimes stressful time of year.

Vanilla extract questions? Click here for baking tips and ingredients info.

6 tips for dealing with food allergies at the holidays from SunButter: they quoted me and shared some of my fave tips for parents.

Looking for nut-free candy finds at the supermarket? Here are some that you will see on store shelves.

School parties this week? Click this link for an article about food allergies and school parties that I wrote for Chicago Parent magazine.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Peanut Allergy? Nut-Free Christmas Cookies and Christmas Desserts

Wow, what a busy week of writing, work and yes, baking! This is one of my biggest baking weeks of the year. Since so many of you are looking for nut-free Christmas dessert ideas, I am sharing three of my favorites that have been popular with blog readers.

I focused on nut-free for these recipes, so they will contain dairy and/or other allergens. Some of these take more time than others and for beginning or reluctant bakers, I say you can't go wrong with the Christmas Butter Cookies, aka Super Easy Christmas Cookies.

The first one is my all-time favorite Christmas cookie, Snowballs. Usually these are chock-full of pecans or walnuts--not these babies. And they taste great. Enjoy!

Christmas Butter Cookies--these have that bakery taste but they are SO EASY to make with items you probably already have on hand in your house.

Peppermint Cream Mold--totally old-fashioned, really delicious. I modified this from an early 1960s cookbook and it turned out great!

Snowman Chocolate Cupcakes--OK, these take some time to prepare and this is not a quick recipe. For us, it's become a tradition. Get your family, friends or kids to help, and you can have fun while you work on these. And I think you'll really like the result! I submitted this recipe to Chicago Parent's online cookbook.

If you decide to make any of these, I hope you enjoy them! Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Does my baby have food allergies? My article in Chicago Parent is now online!

Just wanted to share a link with you all regarding an article I wrote regarding babies and food allergies. This is not a topic you see much about but so many parents are concerned about what to look for and how to approach a potential food allergy in their babies.

We didn't find out about my daughter's allergy until she was a preschooler, (which is scary for different reasons) but I can't imagine how frightening it is to watch an infant go through anaphylaxis. Hopefully my article provides some direction for parents and will encourage people to pursue this with their doctors if they notice anything unusual.

If you are in the Chicago area, you can pick up a print version of this in many locations around the city, but for those who aren't, click this link! I was lucky enough to interview the head of pediatric allergy at Children's Memorial Hospital here in Chicago, and I appreciated her insights as well as the family of little Lucy who were interviewed about their experiences.

Of course, if you have any questions or medical concerns such as testing, etc., please talk to your pediatrician or allergist.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Nut-Free Holiday Cookie Winner, Plus Happy Holidays with Food Allergies

Congrats to Christy W! After a random drawing, you are the winner of the Sweet Alexis cookie giveaway! E-mail me at nut-freemom@sbcglobal.net with your address and also cookie preference--Christmas or holiday. I will forward your info to Sweet Alexis and you're goodies will be on the way! Thanks to all who entered and even if you didn't win, I hope you'll check out Sweet Alexis on your own. They are a great group with truly delicious baked goods.

And now on to a topic that many of you have contacted me about and commented on recently: holidays with food allergies. Whether you are celebrating Christmas, Hannukah or any other winter holiday, food is a big part of the tradition and food allergies can present opportunities for family problems and strife. For those of you dealing with a nut allergy diagnosis (or any food allergy diagnosis) this time of year seems destined to make you feel stressed.

I wish there were an easy answer to all of the issues that come up when a family first learns that they have a severely food-allergic family member. The good news is that many issues can be worked out--but it might take time. Unfortunately, some people in your circle are going to be very slow to accept and adapt. I've heard from several of you who have said family members are sneaking unsafe foods to your child behind your back. Nope, can't happen. That's the kind of scenario that can end up with a visit to the ER--or worse.

What can you do? Educate, of course. Try not to lose your cool (easier said than done.) Most of all--trust your instincts. So many parents internalize it when others tell them they are "over the top" or "dramatic" when they are making necessary adjustments for food allergies. They question themselves and their actions and beat themselves up, feeling guilty, etc.

Please don't fall into this trap. If you have a child with a severe food allergy, there are certain steps you need to take and there is nothing over the top about it. If you don't take necessary and reasonable precautions prescribed by your doctors and followed up with common sense, then you risk an allergic reaction that has the potential to be fatal. How is it over the top to make your best attempts to prevent this from happening?

For any given issue, ask yourself: can this food or activity potentially harm my child? Can I minimize the risks? Can we make this work if I do A, B and C? If not, will it ruin the rest of our lives if I skip this event/avoid this person/sit out this activity for one year? Probably not, right? So feel free to dial down the drama when others try to make food and your child's eating or not eating the end-all and be-all of any holiday event. If you can't do something or your child can't eat something--so be it. Do a different activity and stay upbeat and confident in the knowledge that you're doing the right thing.

Don't get me wrong--I am all about participating in family events and as much inclusion as possible for everyone. I don't want allergy sufferers to be forced to stay home or skip things when they have the chance to celebrate with everyone else.

What I'm concerned about are the cases where people simply won't respect the food allergy. And by that I mean: getting angry if you bring your own food, offering your child food on the sly ("one bite won't hurt") or turning the tables to make the simple diagnosis of a food allergy all about your parenting skills and how you are wrong to be careful.

For those of you having problems getting family members to help you out on this, have you had the straight talk with them you need to have? Have you spelled out allergy risks in no uncertain terms or are you feeling uncertain and insecure because your child has different needs and requirements to stay safe and healthy? If you don't offer clear communication with the relatives, mistakes and accidents are almost inevitable. Not to put all of the blame on us, but we need to drive the bus here. We can't control others or the fact of allergies, but we can control how we communicate about food allergies and how we present ourselves with regard to them.

It's not easy, and for those of you who are experiencing difficulties (especially the first-timers) I want to tell you it can and will get easier, but it will take some effort on all sides. You may not believe this now, but you will gain confidence, enjoy new family traditions (with new foods) and enjoy the holiday season.

Give yourself time and don't feel badly when it comes to protecting your child from truly risky situations. If not you, who will do this for them? As they get older, they will be the ones advocating for themselves, so you have that to look forward to as well.

Here are a few other posts that I have regarding food allergies and holidays. This is a big issue for many people and you are not alone! Hang in there, vent here when you need to and know that many other families need to make food allergy adjustments this year.

Food allergies and family fights part 1

Food allergies and family fights part 2

Organizing school parties around food allergies--my article for Chicago Parent mag.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Nut-Free Christmas/Holiday Cookie Giveaway (and Egg-Free, Dairy-Free)

\Here's a sweet way to combat holiday stress--with a cookie giveaway from Sweet Alexis nut-free, dairy-free and egg-free bakery! My friends at Sweet Alexis would like to give Nut-Free Mom readers a special chance to win their delicious and beautifully decorated cookies just in time for the holidays. The winner chooses from either red and green Christmas cookies or beautiful blue and white!

For your chance to win, simply post a comment on this blog post with your name --first name and last initial is fine. It's hard to deliver a prize to Anonymous. :)I will contact the winner privately for their mailing info. If you like, you can also share your favorite sweet treat that you make for the holidays. After a random drawing, the winner will be announced Wednesday. You can comment today and tomorrow until 11 pm.

For those of you who don't know much about Sweet Alexis, they have a storefront in California and a thriving mail-order business. They offer a wide variety of quick breads (like zucchini and banana) and cookies that are free of nuts, dairy and eggs. It's great stuff and it arrives fresh and tasty--my kids and I have tried many of their products and we love them all.

For product info and a full ingredients list, please click this link.

Thanks to Sweet Alexis and good luck everybody!

Note: While these cookies are egg-free, peanut-free, tree nut-free and dairy-free and made in a dedicated bakery, they may contain other allergens. Contest participants are responsible for fully vetting the ingredients of these cookies before offering them to an allergic person.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Peanut Allergy News: Nut-Free Christmas Recipe...Mini Gingerbread House Cakes!

Kids love to make gingerbread houses at the holidays, but the kits you see in the store all seem to have 7 or 8 food allergy warnings--and always for peanuts and tree nuts. And while supermarket gingerbread kits are pretty to look at, they usually don't taste very good.

Sure, you can make your own using a gingerbread cookie recipe, but that is a time-consuming project. If you have the time, go for it and have fun. But what if you don't?

While looking at a King Arthur Flour baking catalog, I found a solution that I love--mini gingerbread cake houses! (See the pictures above.) My daughter and I had a blast making these and while there are a few steps, this is a pretty easy project. Once your gingerbread is finished, it doesn't take long to create these adorable and delicious gingerbread houses.

Sadly, the King Arthur gingerbread cake mix in the catalog has tree nut allergy warnings, so I couldn't use it for this edible craft project. (But this site has some terrific bakeware and cookware, so it's a good baking resource.)

Instead, I will share my gingerbread cake recipe that I've used for years, adapted from the 1950 Betty Crocker cookbook. I'm a collector of vintage cookbooks and some of those old-fashioned baking recipes are truly the best out there. This recipe will give you a moist, delicious and fragrant cake that's not too spicy (and better for younger palates.)

Regarding decorations for the cakes: You have several options. You can make your own buttercream frosting and use a pastry bag and tip to create the wreath and houses. (Wilton has pastry bag/tips at good prices as well as a buttercream recipe.) You can also use the prepared Betty Crocker cookie frosting--it comes with a built in pastry tip. We used the Wilton cookie writer frosting to create the bow and door--this has egg and wheat allergy warnings for those who need to be careful with those.

Sometimes you can find candy wreaths at the supermarket--Cake Mate brand makes these. I haven't seen them yet but it's early days. You should check stores that carry Wilton cake/cookie decorations. They may have some wreaths, too. Wilton is well-marked for allergens -- these candy decorations usually are safe for nut allergies but they contain egg and sometimes wheat. Check the labels to be sure.

We ended up making frosting for the wreath and using a star tip on the pastry bag for the wreath; then we used Wilton cookie frosting for the wreath bows and the creation of the door. Powdered sugar sprinkled with a shaker gave a pretty snow effect to the cakes. Yum!

If you're looking for a relatively easy baking project, I hope you enjoy making these--they would look very pretty on a party table. (And they taste great!)

Old-Fashioned (Nut-free!) Gingerbread
1/2 cup shortening (we used Crisco (non-hydrogenated variety)--you can use your favorite dairy-free shortening if this is a concern).
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
3/4 cup molasses (Grandma's brand is what we used--regular, not the robust)
1 cup boiling water or buttermilk (use water to make this dairy-free)
2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ginger (you can grate in some fresh or crush in some crystallized ginger for even more ginger flavor)
1 tsp. cinnamon

Have a ready a greased and floured 9 inch by 9 inch pan. It has to be this exact size--a smaller pan will create a deflated spot in the middle and the edges will cook too soon.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

In standing mixer, beat shortening, sugar and egg until well blended. Blend in molasses and water or buttermilk. Gradually add the dry ingredients, and mix until well blended.

Pour into prepared pan. Bake for about 45 - 50 minutes. Test at 45 minutes. Cake is done when toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Let cool, remove from pan and then place in freezer, covered, for a couple of hours to make the cake easier to work with. Now you're ready for the houses! You can click on this link at the King Arthur web site to see how to create these or follow directions below.

Mini Gingerbread House Cakes
When partially frozen, remove cake from freezer and place it on a cutting board.

Using a serrated (bread) knife, trim any tough edges from the cake.

Cut the cake into 2 inch cubes, for a total of 16 cubes.

Cut 5 cubes on the diagonal to make triangles (these are the roofs of your cake). You will have one cube without a roof--an added treat for you.

If creating your own wreaths with frosting, draw a circle in green using a pastry bag and the star tip. Then draw a red bow on the wreath with cookie decorator icing (or other homemade icing).Draw a door if desired.

If using candy wreaths, secure them to the gingerbread with a dab of frosting. Place roof on top of gingerbread house and press gently to secure the frosting to the house.

Sprinkle with confectioner's sugar for snow!

Makes 10 houses. The cakes keep, covered, for several days in an airtight container.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Food Allergy Advice for the Newly Diagnosed, plus Thanks for the Votes!

You might have been wondering what happened with that Top 25 Food Allergy Bloggers (at Circle of Moms on Facebook) contest I was asking you to vote for and I'm happy to say I'm in the top 25! Thanks to all of you who voted each day -- even more than inclusion in this group, your support and positive comments have meant the world to me.

As one of the Top 25 bloggers, I was asked to post my views on some aspects of parenting kids with food allergies and one of the questions was regarding my advice for parents new to food allergy diagnosis. Lately, I've been hearing from so many parents new to peanut and tree nut allergies and also from adults who have nut allergies themselves through this blog and my other social networks like Twitter and Facebook, that I decided to share a post about handling this new diagnosis.

Based on my experiences as a parent, here are some of the things that have been most important on my food allergy journey:

Be ready for your world to be rocked. Severe food allergies make you look at nearly everything you do with fresh eyes. Food is so ingrained in our traditions, social events and emotions that you may be surprised at how much food plays a role in your life. Things are going to change for your family, that's for sure. However, all of the changes won't necessarily be negative. As I said in my previous post, my whole family eats healthier now. However, knowing that common foods have the potential to harm your child can make the entire world seem unfriendly at times. Don't be surprised if you feel a lot of strong emotions that you need to discuss with family, spouse or friends. If you really feel overwhelmed and it's interfering with your life, seek professional counseling.

Give yourself time to adapt. You may feel apprehensive about certain situations once you know you are dealing with a severe food allergy, so don't push yourself. Knowledge on how to cope with restaurants, school, play dates and family members will not come to you overnight. It's OK to feel scared or confused. As you learn more about food allergies and manage situations successfully, you will gain confidence. But don't expect this to happen immediately. You need time to accept the situation and learn what works and what doesn't before you can begin educating others about it and advocating for your needs.

Always have safe food on hand--and bring it wherever you go.Food is pushed at kids almost constantly (many of you know this already) so don't get stressed, be prepared. If you are heading out with your child, be sure to bring safe alternatives so that you are not tempted to offer unsafe food simply out of hunger or desperation.

Don't forget the epinephrine autoinjector.If you're like me, you switch bags or purses, rush around in the morning or are simply human and sometimes forget stuff. Epinephrine is so important, however, that I've turned around and come home rather than go anywhere without my daughter's medication. Leave Post-It notes by your front door or on the dashboard of your car, get your child a special fanny pack or medicine carrier but find ways to remember the epinephrine. It won't help anyone if it's sitting at home in a cabinet; epinephrine autoinjectors can and do save lives.

Start teaching your child about their allergy in age-appropriate ways. Kids need to learn how become their own advocates. You can help them, even at young ages, by role-playing different situations (such as what to do when offered a food that isn't safe), discussing unsafe foods and activities, and if they are old enough, (discuss when is the right time with your allergist) teaching them to self-administer their epinephrine autoinjector.

Kids who can advocate for themselves are more confident and happy kids as well as a safer ones. For younger kids, Beyond a Peanut flashcards and books like Ally the Allergic Elephant and The Princess and the Peanut are non-scary ways to teach allergy safety to your kids. For older kids, FAAN has a section of their website devoted to kids ages 11 and up.

Embrace cooking and baking from scratch. Not everybody loves to cook but once you deal with food allergies it's actually more stressful not to cook. Why? Because when you frequently visit restaurants or pick up take-out you don't have control over what's going into your food--and that can mean risk of allergic reaction. Plus, cooking at home is healthier overall (and not just lower-risk for food allergies)and its more economical, too. If you don't have tons of time to cook on busy week nights, then cook what you can on your less busy days and freeze meals in advance. Also, be sure to have one or two quick go-to meals in your recipe arsenal and keep the main ingredients on hand at all times.

Be cautious but enjoy your life. This is what our first allergist told us and he was right. You can't stop living because you now deal with a severe food allergy. That's not to say you should take unnecessary chances on food or downplay the seriousness of the situation. However, if you go forward in a positive way, you will affect the outlook of your entire family. If you are the parent of an allergic child, you want them to be happy and live life to the fullest, even though you may worry about them. Adapting to food allergies can mean having to alter how you go about some things, but don't let it limit you (or your child, whoever has the allergy) too much.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Food Allergy Holiday News: Nut-Free Advent Calendars and Holiday Resources

This past Thanksgiving weekend (and I hope everyone had a safe and happy one!), I came across an item I'd like to share since it's something that many of you have been asking: Advent calendars.

Many of us remember these fun calendars from our childhood--the calendars begin with the date December 1st and offer a different door to open until Christmas on the 25th. Usually these calendars offer a little piece of Christmas chocolate behind each door.

Since chocolate is one of the most common candies with nut allergen warnings, most of us have had to give these up for our own kids. One source is Amanda's Own Advent calendar available at Peanut-Free Planet, the candy is nut-free, egg-free and dairy-free. You have to order these early, though!

New as of November 2013: Vermont Nut Free Chocolates now has Advent Calendars! Visit their web site and look under their "Christmas" section for details!

The crafty and artistic parents among us can make their own calendars--one of my readers made a beautiful one using felt pockets for each day; she then placed treats in the pockets. I'm very unskilled in crafts--my thing is cooking/baking--so if you are good at crafts, this is a great idea.

For the rest of us (or for those of us with a love of unique Christmas decor) I may have found a solution: wooden Advent calendars. (Two styles are pictured above). I came across these beautiful heirloom quality calendars while at a local store this past Saturday--check your local stores that sell Christmas decor. You can also buy them online at Byer's Choice.

At $85 a pop, these are not cheap. However, they are a beautiful Christmas decoration that is reusable and can become a family favorite that you can pass down to future generations. And best of all--they don't come with unsafe candy-it's up to you to supply the treat behind each door. In person, these really are gorgeous.

Let me wrap up with two sources for chocolate Hanukkah coins: Vermont Nut-Free Chocolate and Divvies. Vermont Nut-Free is free of peanuts and tree nuts only; Divvies is nut-free, egg-free, dairy-free and gluten-free. Visit their web sites to find out more.

In the coming weeks, I'll have lots more holiday tips, resources and special recipes. Please share yours by commenting below!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Thanksgiving and Food Allergies: Some Helpful Links!

Turkey Day is fast approaching and I know a lot of you have questions about having a safe meal with the family, dining out while you travel, finding safe foods and more.

Click this link to get some answers -- my annual blog post round-up for Thanksgiving.

Stumped for some quick nut-free recipes? Here are three of my Thanksgiving faves:

Nut-Free Pumpkin Muffins

Speedy Sweet Potatoes

Pumpkin Cheesecake Ice Cream (for when you just need to overindulge)

Friday, November 18, 2011

Food Allergy News: Bill Would Permit Epinephrine to be Stocked in Schools

Pictured: Sen. Kirk with Brianna and Rhonda Adkins, and FAAN CEO Maria Acebal on Capitol Hill Tuesday, Nov. 15.
I want to ask you all for your help and advocacy as a new bill paves the way for a law that would permit Epinephrine to be stocked in schools.

I received the following notice from FAAN: The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN™) has been working with U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) on federal legislation that would encourage states to adopt laws requiring schools to have on hand “stock” epinephrine auto-injectors – meaning epinephrine that is not prescribed specifically to a single student but can be used for any student and staff member in an anaphylactic emergency.

A few days ago, this bill (S. 1884), the School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act, was introduced in the Senate.

Earlier this week, FAAN CEO Maria L. Acebal, joined by Rhonda Adkins, wife of country music superstar and Celebrity Ambassador Who Cares Trace Adkins, and Adkins’s young daughter Brianna, visited lawmakers on Capitol Hill to urge them to support this lifesaving legislation.

Now we need your help to get your senators’ support! Please download our sample letter of support, personalize it, and send it to their senators.

You can look up your local senators at www.senate.gov.

In addition to protecting those whose epinephrine auto-injector isn’t immediately accessible during a reaction, this legislation will help save the lives of those who experience an anaphylactic reaction and don’t have a prescribed epinephrine auto-injector. Data shows that up to 25% of all epinephrine administrations that occur in the school setting involve students and adult staffers whose allergy was unknown at the time of the event.

Jenny: I can speak to this. My daughter's allergy was discovered a preschool. She had one bite of a peanut butter sandwich and went into anaphylactic shock. That's how we found out she had an allergy. Unfortunately, this is a common way for parents to find out their child has a food allergy. Every second counts--even if an ambulance gets there quickly you've lossed precious time without epinephrine on hand.

Only a handful of states have laws related to stock epinephrine. S. 1884, however, will provide an incentive for states to enact their own laws allowing school personnel to keep and administer a non-student specific epinephrine auto-injector in case of an emergency. (The state laws would be similar to the ones enacted in Illinois and Georgia in 2011.)

Thank you for your help gathering support for S. 1884. We will keep you posted as FAAN continues to work to secure passage of this important legislation. Together, we can save the lives of those with potentially life-threatening food allergies.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Food Allergy News: Allergic Living Magazine: Get the Winter Issue and Meet the New Associate Editor!

Allergic Living’s Winter Issue – Get It While You Still Can!
Many of you know that I have accepted a position as Associate Editor of Allergic Living magazine. I'm so excited to be a part of this great team and publication and look forward to collaborating with them. I will still be writing this blog as well as my other freelance articles while working with AL, but now I get to be part of an amazing team who cares about the issues that we do.

This magazine has been so helpful to me and my family over the years. They really get it--they know what it's like to live with not only food allergies but also environmental allergies, pet allergies, celiac disease, asthma, eczema, you name it. It's a great resource and I hope you will join me in subscribing.

I've been a subscriber of the magazine for several years, and was very happy to see them launch a U.S. edition last spring. I think you will find the info and columnists as helpful and supportive as I have!

So that you don't miss out on the winter issue, I hope you'll take the time to subscribe! Allergic Living has just about wrapped up our Winter issue and we’re really excited. The issue, if we do say so ourselves, rocks. It's one of our strongest food allergy and celiac lifestyle issues to date.

Just FYI, Allergic Living is available by subscription and the cutoff to subscribe and get the new issue is this Thurs. Nov. 17. It’s quick and easy to subscribe at Allergic Living's site.

Inside the Winter Allergic Living:
- Our cover (see photo above) is: “Throwing the Ultimate Party”. Why risk mystery foods at someone’s else’s place – let AL be your guide to hosting your own fabulous free-from party. Chef Simon has sensational recipes: From crispy duck breast to sweet and sour chicken balls, beef skewers, vegetable terrine and more – all AL’s recipes are free of top allergens and gluten.

- And now for dessert … Nut-free, dairy-free and gluten-free chocolate layer cake, plus elegant holiday cookie recipes, courtesy of the Gluten-Free Goddess.

- Sprucing up your home? Don’t miss our feature “The Home That Breathes”. Get out the bad toxins, while AL introduces you to the stylish furnishings that won’t off-gas VOCs.

- Gina Clowes, allergy life coach and creator of allergymoms.com, offers great advice for helping your family to “get” your food restrictions; speaking of Gina--please click the link to subscribe to her newsletter. The latest issue contains food allergy holiday tips from advocates and experts--including me! Thanks, Gina. :) Other columns delve into how to keep safe at celebrations, and a look at how far we’ve come in food allergy research and awareness over the last 20 years.

- Food Allergy Features: We explore whether there could ever be a “safe level” of peanut in food and what your teen isn’t telling you about how he manages his food allergy.

- Allergy-Friendly Gift Guide: Perfect presents for your allergic child, courtesy of Jenny Kales, aka the Nut-Free Mom I also wrote a food page for Allergy Shots. Check it out!

- The Scoop: Our journalists bring you the latest, such as how scientists have figured out how to “turn off” peanut allergy in mice; the controversy over pets and the allergic on planes; and the wrenching story of a child tossed out of daycare – because of allergies.

I also want to thank everyone who voted for me in the Facebook Circle of Moms Top 25 Food Allergy Bloggers. Today, November 16 is the last day to cast your votes, so I hope you will visit now (see the button at the top right of my blog) or click here to vote. It's a tight race so every vote counts. Thanks for your support! It's been an honor to be on the board with so many of my favorite food allergy friends and advocates!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Peanut Allergy Picture Book Review: The Princess and the Peanut

When my daughter was younger, she used to question her food allergies and ask why she had this problem when others didn't. I used to explain to her that people have many things that make up who they are and her allergies were just one aspect of her. I explained that people are a mix of good things and sometimes, not so good things, but that didn't mean that the bad things had to drag her down. I told her if she didn't have her own unique mix of traits, she would be someone else and I didn't want her to be anyone else, allergies or not.

So when I read the new picture book "The Princess and the Peanut" by Sue Ganz-Schmitt and with beautiful illustrations by Micha Chambers-Goldberg, I could really identify with the sentiments expressed.

This "royally allergic fairytale" (as it says in the subhead) follows the original "Princess and the Pea" story but with a twist. Instead of a pea, a peanut is placed under the many mattresses of the princess and she suffers an allergic reaction.

The reaction is handled well, with medical accuracy and a non-scary approach that children won't find off-putting. Since I believe it's crucial that children are not afraid of epinephrine autoinjectors, I was really heartened to see the clever way it was handled in this book.

Once the princess undergoes testing, the castle then needs to be cleared of peanut and tree nut products, but best of all, the other castle inhabitants admit to their own allergies that they struggle with, showing that everyone deals with something. In the end, the prince decides he loves the princess better than peanut butter (and who among us parents hasn't decided that we love our "princesses" and "princes" better than peanut butter)and everyone learns to live a happy life with food allergies.

I loved this book and so did my two daughters who are well beyond the picture book stage, but who will probably always love princesses. They thought it was charming and gave a positive portrayal of food allergies. My youngest who doesn't have allergies was enchanted by this book because it shows how the people supporting those with allergies have to give things up sometimes, but they do it gladly and with love. She certainly does all of that and more for her big sister.

Kids and adults will love the richly drawn illustrations and charming characters, not to mention the useful allergy information and glossary in the back of the book.

To buy The Princess and the Peanut (a great holiday gift!) and to learn more about this book, visit the book's website.

Let me know how you and your kids like this book!

FTC note: no compensation was received for this review other than a sample copy of the book.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Food Allergies and Thanksgiving Road Trips

The following post is revised from one I wrote about summer road trips but the themes are the same: preparation will make staying with and visiting relatives over Thanksgiving go much more smoothly. Have the conversations now about what it will take for your allergic family members to be safe this holiday. If you are staying with relatives, please make sure to go over cross contact issues with them and ask if you can be part of the kitchen crew. I usually offer to make a few things so I know they are safe for my daughter to eat.

It's wonderful to spend time with family members at Thanksgiving, but of course food allergies don't take a holiday. However, safe feasting and celebrating can be done with some honest discussions and advance preparation.

Here are a few things that have worked for me.

- Call ahead. Don't just show up at your appointed time and expect everything to go smoothly. Especially if you're staying with relatives and even if you aren't, give a shout out and discuss the food allergy situation. You will want to give people a heads up about foods to avoid but also you want to reassure your family that you will help provide safe meals and won't leave it all up to them.

-Discuss the menu well in advance of the holiday. Lots of nut allergy/food allergy pitfalls lurk in Thanksgiving family favorites, so make sure to help plan how the menu can be safe and delicious. Can we skip the walnuts in the turkey stuffing and maybe make an apple pie instead of pecan? What about snacks, appetizers and side dishes? If a buffet will be served, served allergic people first, in the kitchen to avoid cross-contact. If at all possible, allergic people should at least be able to eat some of the main entree and side dishes, if not every dessert, etc. Compromise is needed here, so begin discussing foods early and give people time to plan. Of course, if you don't feel that the foods are safe or you strongly suspect cross-contact with unsafe foods, don't serve it to them. If you can make or buy some of your own safe foods for the feast, all the better. Which brings me to the next point...

- Bring or offer to make food. Pack enough non-perishable safe treats, either homemade or store-bought foods known to be safe, so that your allergic child is not left without good stuff during family meals or snack times. Stocking up will also save you and your family the stress of last-minute grocery runs or overheated discussions about "just one bite won't hurt" and "why can't he have the plain M&Ms?" etc. If you're flying and want to keep the load lighter, plan to shop or bake something when you get there.

- Be fun. Food is part of the social fabric that holds families together but it can also be divisive if you're dealing with food allergies, so don't let all the focus go to the food. Once you arrive, organize a family vs. family football game, go to a movie or museum or bring your favorite board game and engage everyone in a fun activity that doesn't revolve around food. Everyone will be having too much fun to comment on what your kid is or isn't eating.

- Plan activities that allow you to bring your own meals. If you're going on a day trip with the group, make sure you can bring some food so that you don't have to rely on the food allergy-unsafe food options.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Holiday Recipe Re-Do for Nut Allergies/Food Allergies: My Story

Food allergies change everything, even beloved family recipes you've always taken for granted. It's no secret that food is something that creates happy family memories and traditions. But what do you do when life-threatening food allergies remove a family favorite from your holiday routine?

A few years ago, I entered the Chicago Tribune Holiday Cookie Contest and became a semi-finalist. Part 1 of the contest was submitting an essay to the editors, which I've included here. Part 2 was a cookie sampling, which sadly, I did not win. I think my cookie may have been too simple for them--the winning cookies seemed to have about 25 ingredients each. I know the recipe rocks and that's why I'm including it at the end of the essay.

One thing that food allergies forces us to do is become creative and make up our own holiday traditions. I hope you enjoy my story and will share your own "recipe re-dos" for your own family faves.

Reinventing the Snowball
As a child, my favorite Christmas cookie, bar none, was made by my beloved Irish grandmother, Mary, who passed away in 1989. She called them “Pecan Balls” and these small round cookies were delicious: buttery, nutty, rich and covered in lots of powdered sugar. As a lanky child with an enormous appetite for cookies, I could put away 10 at time. In my mind, I dubbed them “Snowballs” because of their round shape and white sugary coating.

The cookies kept well, so my busy grandmother made them about a week in advance of the holiday. Unfortunately for her, I snuck into the shiny Christmas cookie tins and helped myself after school, before bed, whenever nobody was looking. As holiday season rolled around each year, the mere fragrance of these cookies as they baked in the oven immediately called to mind family celebrations, gift-giving and good food.

Now I’m a mother of two young children and I love to bake. Of course I was anxious to try these cookies out on my daughters. However, when my oldest daughter was diagnosed with a severe allergy to nuts, the “Snowball” tradition looked in danger of disappearing. Obviously pecans were out of the question and I wondered where on earth I would find a nut-free version of this beloved holiday treat.

Help arrived in the form of divine intervention. My mother-in-law (who incidentally is Polish) gives each new bride (or groom) a copy of a wonderful Greek Orthodox Church cookbook first published in 1950. One day while flipping through this book, I came across a cookie that sounded very similar to “Pecan Balls”—without the nuts. I was surprised since Greek desserts almost always contain nuts, but this cookie looked promising. Called “Kourabiethes,” the cookie is ball shaped, buttery and rich with a hint of orange. The warm cookies are then covered in powdered sugar.

After tinkering with the recipe a bit, I baked my version of “Snowballs” for a family Christmas party and everybody went (okay, I’ll say it) “nuts” for them. A new tradition was born out of necessity. But isn’t that the way most enduring recipes are created?

To me, this “melting pot” cookie recipe is symbolic of my daughters and their heritage. My new version of “Snowballs” keeps a bit of my childhood family tradition and mixes it with the heritage of my husband’s family. The recipe honors my Irish grandmother, and owes part of its success to a Polish grandmother with a Greek cookbook. But most important of all, Christmas for my family may be “nut-free,” but it doesn’t have to be “Snowball-free.”

Nut-Free Snowballs Recipe (Holiday Cookies)
1 lb. (4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar, plus more for sprinkling on cookies
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
5-6 cups of all-purpose flour

(for a more intense orange flavor, add 1/4 tsp of orange peel)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Using a standing mixer, beat softened butter until very light and fluffy. Add powdered sugar, egg yolk, vanilla and orange juice, beating thoroughly after each addition. Add flour a little at a time until soft dough is formed that can be handled easily. Taking about a teaspoonful at a time, (I use a small ice-cream scoop) roll into a small ball. Place on a non-stick cookie sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes. Roll in powdered sugar while still hot, then sprinkle liberally with powdered sugar when cool.
Makes about 6 dozen.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Nut Allergies at Thanksgiving: Some Foods to Watch Out For

I know Halloween is still a recent memory, but it's never too early to think about Thanksgiving, arguably the biggest food holiday in the U.S.

Since this is about fall and autumnal foods, tree nuts usually make a strong appearance on many Thanksgiving tables. Just look at any magazine with recipes right now and you'll see things with pecans, walnuts, almonds, etc.

One problem for nut allergy sufferers is that many times, tree nuts are a hidden ingredient in foods.

If you are visiting another home for Thanksgiving, you will want to take the time to discuss the menu early. For example, a turkey stuffed with walnut and bread stuffing will not be safe for a nut-allergic person to eat. Can a different stuffing be used--or baked in another home in a separate dish if it absolutely must be served? These are things to think about and negotiate with your friends and relatives well ahead of the holiday.

Here are just a few popular Thanksgiving foods that will have tree nuts as a hidden ingredient:

Turkey Stuffing

Salad dressings (walnut oil, hazelnut oil)


Cranberry relish--one recipe I saw had ground up walnuts


Pie crust--many recipes I've seen for fall pie crusts have ground up walnuts or pecans as an ingredient.

Thanksgiving is a time to enjoy your food, but also to be super careful about what you serve to anyone with severe allergies. It's a great idea to bring your own foods for your child if you just don't think any safe options are available and too much cross contact risk is an issue. If you can, work with the hosts to provide a menu that makes everyone's tummies happy while also being safe.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Food Allergy Fears and How to Manage Them: Allergic Living Magazine

The day after a food-filled holiday like Halloween is a good time to reflect on handling food allergies in a way that makes your child aware, but not fearful.

I love this article from Allergic Living magazine that addresses the fear factor inherent in dealing with food allergies and how parents can manage it.

I know a lot of you are new to nut allergies and you may be wondering how/when to get the point across to your kids. This article gives some helpful advice and great perspective and it shares the philosophy that I have which is to make sure that kids understand the real risk and not be overly concerned about their allergies while still maintaining a healthy respect for them.

I hope we all enjoyed a safe Halloween and I'm sure learned a thing or two about how to make it go more smoothly next year if there were any bumps in the road.

The winter holidays are coming up with their many food challenges so let's take today, at least, to enjoy the relative quiet!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Food Allergy Blog Top 25 and a Fall Baking Roundup

Yesterday, I got word that I had been nominated for the Top 25 Food Allergy Bloggers for Circle of Moms on Facebook. I would love your vote! Voting takes place daily until November 16, so if you like this blog and it has helped you, let them know by casting your vote. It's easy. You can click this link or visit the button on the right sidebar of this page. I'm honored that so many of you have taken the time to vote for me already. THANK YOU so much.

Since so many of you have been asking questions about baking and safe ingredients, I thought I would offer a roundup of some of my most popular baking posts. Click the links below for ideas about safe ingredients as well as two of my most popular recipes for Halloween cookies and nut-free granola bars.

Again, thanks for your support in the Top 25 Food Allergy Bloggers on Facebook.

Fall Baking Post Roundup:

Safe Vanilla Extracts

Decorating Sugars, Food Coloring Cake and Cookie Decor

Rolling Pins Treated with Tree Nut Oils = Nut Allergy Risk


Cybele Pascal's SunButter Cups

Frankenstein Monster Toes (Halloween Cookies)

Nut-Free Granola Bars

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Trick or Treating with Food Allergies??

I ran the following post last year and with the questions and comments I've been getting lately, I think it's worth a repeat. Halloween can be a scary time of year for kids with food allergies but you can make it a lot less scary by shifting attitudes and making some changes to the routine. Kids love Halloween--all kids. So let's find ways for them to have fun and participate!

Halloween is on everyone's mind these days and if your child has severe food allergies, the prospect of candy is definitely scarier than any other aspect of this holiday.

When my daughter was first diagnosed with life-threatening peanut and tree nut allergies, we considered not doing the whole trick-or-treating thing. It just seemed counterproductive and potentially harmful emotionally. Why be handed lots of candy that you can't eat? We thought about doing other Halloween activities, like attending Halloween-themed events at the zoo and Chicago museums, but seriously thought about just skipping the candy routine.

My daughter was 5 years old at the time and all she cared about was dressing up like a Disney Princess (that year, I think it was Sleeping Beauty.) She really wanted to go door to door in her fancy costume and I didn't want to have her miss out. Thinking back to my own childhood, Halloween was never only about the candy. It was mostly about dressing up and hanging out with my friends after dark. Candy was a nice side benefit--but definitely not the whole point.

Why should it be any different for my daughter? We decided to take her out and just remove the obvious unsafe candies--Snickers, Reeses, Butterfingers, M&Ms, and sort through the rest of it later.

It was amusing to see the reactions of neighbors who tried to hand my daughter a Snickers bar. She would politely refuse, ask if they had anything else and then say "OK, then. Thank you anyway" and skip back down the street. Most were like "huh?" A few thought she was being ungrateful or picky. So what? She was so empowered. Finally, I said "just take the candy and I'll put it in a separate bag." That's what she did and all was well.

When we got home, I traded her unsafe candy for a Halloween treats bag: Bonne Belle lip balm, stickers, safe candy and a Halloween book. She loved it!

By the next year, she was running back to me to hand me Snickers bars and the running to the next house without a second thought. Let me tell you, people love their Snickers. I had a bag full of them by the end of the night. No matter. Being with her buddies and dressing up was enough for my daughter--plus she knew she got her own special goody bag later.

A lot of you may wonder "what's the point" about trick-or-treating with nut allergies but if your child really wants to do it, I say go for it. It's a way to show them that they can participate with other kids, while still being careful about their allergy. Now that my daughter is older and her trick-or-treating days are numbered, I'm so glad she enjoyed this. I don't think she'll remember the bag full of Snickers as much as she'll remember the good times she had dressing up, seeing "spooky" decorations and running around in the dark with her friends

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Food Allergy Alert: Tree Nut Oils and Rolling Pins

Baking season is upon us--pies, rolled out cookies and more items that might use rolling pins.

As if we didn't already have enough to think about with cross-contact of foods in the kitchen, recently Karen of the food allergy blog, Avoiding Milk Protein, shared some helpful but startling news with me about the Timber Treasure brand of rolling pins that are treated with nut oils. Click the link and scroll down to see the product.

I'm not an advocate of letting others bake for our allergic kids unless they deal with the exact same food allergies, or are part of that small group of family or friends that understand cross-contact, etc. Because cross contact can occur so easily in a kitchen, I think it's just safer to do the baking ourselves. Cookies and pies are about enjoyment, not about thinking "What's in this? Can it make me sick?" So not appetizing!

This rolling pin issue is just one more reason we have to be really careful when letting others bake for us. How many people are going to check to see if their rolling pin has been treated with nut oils?

One option is to use a plastic or metal rolling pin. However, I've used a wooden rolling pin for years, without incident but it was not treated with any oil. Usually the "nicer" or gourmet cooking tools have more bells and whistles, so I always check those. I don't want everyone worrying that everything they touch contains peanut or tree nut, but the bottom line is that you have to check even the non-edible items.

For more info on non-edible items that contain tree nut or peanut matter, check Karen's list, available on her web site, and if you have concerns about any of these items, check with your allergist for information on risk.

Thanks to Karen for her helpful info!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Food Allergy Product Review: Enjoy Life Foods Seeds and Fruits, Plus a Recipe!

When old friends Enjoy Life Foods told me they were sending me their updated trail mix product, now in new packaging and renamed "Seeds and Fruits" of course I said "bring it on." They make all of their products in a dedicated nut-free facility and they are free of the top 8allergens plus a few more.

Trail mix that is also nut-free AND delicious is extremely difficult to find. Well, the search is over because Beach Bash and Mountain Mambo Seeds and Fruit are available at Whole Foods markets and other grocery stores: check the Enjoy Life Foods web site for a store locator.

Each mix has a wonderful blend of sunflower seeds and dried fruit: the Mountain Mambo flavor kicks it up a notch by adding Enjoy Life chocolate chips. Between my two daughters, Mountain Mambo disappeared almost immediately. And that's OK because it is a healthy snack in addition to being nut allergy-friendly.

The Seeds and Fruit are so good I really wanted to try them in a recipe. I saw an after-school snack recipe in a food magazine that used peanut butter and all sorts of other off-limits ingredients and decided to create my own version. The addition of Seeds and Fruit to the mix was a hit, let me tell you. I also used another of our allergy-friendly faves, SunButter, and the following snack has become a favorite around here.

I understand that some of you can't use sunflower seeds or sunflower seed spread. In this case, you can tweak the following recipe for your needs. The best part is that it is a NO BAKE treat.


SunButter/Trail Mix Granola Balls


1/3 cup honey
1/4 cup SunButter sunflower seed spread (any variety)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter (or dairy-free spread)
1 cup crisp rice cereal
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats (not quick cooking)
1/4 cup Enjoy Life Seeds and Fruit (or dried fruit/chocolate chips, your choice)


In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine honey, SunButter and butter or dairy-free substitute; stir until loosened and combined. Remove from heat.

Stir in remaining ingredients until well combined.

Drop by teaspoons (I use a mini ice cream scoop) into paper mini cupcake liners (Target has some Halloween-themed ones right now). Place on a rimmed baking sheet and set for at least 15 minutes but the longer they set, the better they are.

Serve! The rest can be placed in an airtight container in the refrigerator; they'll keep for about a week.

Note: I was given no compensation for this review, other than food samples.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Working with Food Allergies at Halloween Parties

It's that time of year again--your child's school Halloween party. It doesn't have to be scary if you've done your homework and made some plans.

Here are 5 tips for your child's class Halloween party:

1. Find out what foods are allowed. Store bought only? Any other food allergies to consider? Get the info so you can either bake a safe treat or buy something the whole class can enjoy. Now is the time to ask about a nut-free party environment as well.

2. Consider contributing non-edible treats. Stickers, Halloween-themed pencils or small toys add allergy-free fun to a party and best of all, everyone can enjoy them. Check the shelves at Target, Walmart or other discount retailers for great bargains and creative ideas.

3. Contribute some goodies for the entire class. Even if there are other foods at the party that are off-limits to your child (it happens) at least they will able to enjoy one thing that everyone else is eating. This will really help them to feel a part of things.

4. Be available the day of the party. Even if you can't be there, keep your cell phone on and be ready to answer questions. I've been called more times than I can count during a class party and answered questions about specific treats. I don't mind--I'm glad to either steer my child from an unsafe treat or allow them to have it if they can.

5. Role play with your child before the party. If your child is very young or new to nut allergies, this is especially important. Practice with them how to politely refuse food or ask to see a label. In general, tell them to avoid anything they're not sure about. It's never too early to start teaching kids how to handle their allergy.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Food Allergy Advocacy: Update to Food Allergy Labeling Laws (FALCPA)

I got an e-mail today from fellow food allergy mom and friend Lori Sandler of Divvies (you know, those great nut-free, dairy-free, egg-free treats I'm always talking about!) and she gave me a link to a petition that seeks to update the 2004 food label laws. Currently, this law includes the following allergens as "must-haves" for either being listed in plain English on food labels: peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, fish, wheat, milk, eggs and soy.

The new additions to food labels would be mustard (derived from the mustard seed) and sesame seed, two allergies that are becoming more prevalent.

Sesame seed allergies, in fact, have been found to be correlated to peanut allergy, so many of you may already deal with sesame allergies.

Please sign the petition before November 5 for it to go forward for further consideration and spread the word!

For more information about the current FALCPA law (food allergy labeling and consumer protection act), go to the FAAN web site.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Peanut Allergy-Friendly Halloween Cookies: Frankenstein Monster Toes

Time for my annual replay of this recipe! I am also working on some others for Halloween, but had to include this.

This fun recipe for "Frankenstein Monster Toes" cookies (tweaked from a recipe I found that used almonds as the "toenails")is a big hit with family, friends and blog readers alike. My recipe also now appears in the Chicago Parent online cookbook! The cookies make a great, nut-free addition to Halloween parties and are just a great treat that makes both kids and adults smile.

I found the recipe for this basic sugar cookie in a Halloween-themed food magazine and modified it to fit my own nut-free specifications. If you have kids with dairy, egg or wheat allergies or celiac disease, you can substitute your favorite "safe" sugar cookie recipe. Just be sure to refrigerate your dough for at least an hour.

Frankenstein's Monster Toes Cookies


1 pouch (1 lb. 1.5 oz.) Betty Crocker sugar cookie mix--or use your favorite from-scratch sugar cookie recipe
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup melted butter or margarine
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (I use McCormick)
7 drops NEON green food color (McCormick makes this--check the supermarket baking aisle)
36 Mike and Ike or other "safe" jelly beans such as Surf Sweets or Vermont Nut-Free


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. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. For each cookie, roll heaping teaspoons of dough into 2-1/2 inch finger shapes. Be careful not to make the shapes too big or too flat--the dough spreads a lot during baking!
3. About 1 inch from the end of each "toe" squeeze dough slightly. With knife, gently make lines in the dough to look like "knuckles"
4. Bake 6-8 minutes until set. The edges of the 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 fingernail. Cool cookies one minute; remove to cooling racks. Let cool completely, about 15 minutes.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Nut-Free, Allergy-Friendly Halloween Candy: A Few of My Faves

October is here and the witching season has begun for finding nut-free, delicious and "spirited" treats that are safe for nut allergies. I'd like to share three of my favorites with you and urge you to order your treats now because some of these are annual sell outs! First up is the delightful assortment of goodies from Divvies treats: these are nut-free, egg-free and dairy-free and all of the candies are gluten-free as well. Best of all, Divvies offers Halloween-themed shapes, colors and complete deliciousness. You will never even know what is not in these goodies because they taste so amazing. Imagine your little one's face when they see the solid chocolate ghost pictured above and realize that they CAN have it.

Next, I've got to mention Vermont Nut-Free Chocolate. Check out the Haunted House pictured above--it arrives packed with Halloween-themed chocolate treats. This Haunted House is an annual fave for my kids but be sure to also check out the wonderful and whimsical chocolate selections for Halloween. This is gourmet, smooth and delicious chocolate at its finest. So delicious that I would recommend you get some extra for yourself because otherwise there might not be anything left for your kids by the time Halloween rolls around. Yes, it's that good.

While you're on the site, VNF also have a great assortment for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Hannukah. Please note: Vermont Nut-Free is perfect for those with ONLY peanut or tree nut allergies; these candies do contain other allergens.

Last but not least, you asked and here it is: nut-freecandy corn from A and J Bakery. This candy corn is nut and gluten-free! It sells out year after year so click the link to order now.

I don't know what I'd have done all these years without these terrific online resources. There is nothing like knowing that a candy is absolutely safe for your child to eat. And when they are as delicious and attractive as these candies, they're not missing out on anything at all. In fact, don't be surprised if other moms want to know "where did you get that?"

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Food Allergy and Classroom Celebrations: My Story for Chicago Parent

I'm so thrilled to finally share this story with all of you just in time for holiday parties. My article about food allergies in the classroom is now online at Chicago Parent and available in the print version of their current October issue.

I've been a frequent contributor to Chicago Parent and I'm so grateful that Chicago Parent provided me this opportunity to not only address the risks involved regarding food being on offer in the classroom in so many ways, but also to provide some alternatives to food. You can see those in the article sidebar.

Also, there is a yummy recipe from Kim Lutz (fellow Chicago food allergy mom) from her new Welcoming Kitchen book. Check out Kim's blog to learn more!

Thanks to all of you who were interviewed for this story. Here's to safe school celebrations! Cheers.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Nut-Free Ice Cream Recipe: Pumpkin Pie!

Fall is here! So I thought I'd re-post this ice cream family favorite recipe for PUMPKIN PIE ice cream.

My kids love this but it's also special enough for the adults. Put a big dollop of Cool Whip on top and it's like pumpkin pie without the crust.

Chicago Parent magazine included this recipe in their online cookbook. Click the link for the entire recipe and enjoy!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Nut-Free Chocolate from Dean's Sweets!

Dark, delicious, NUT-FREE chocolate truffles. Does this sound good to anyone right about now? If so, then you will want to check out Dean's Sweets, a nut-free chocolatier I recently had the good fortune to discover.

Run by a couple who decided to go the nut-free route to accommodate the increasing number of allergy sufferers, Dean's Sweets offers elegant hand-dipped chocolate truffles that are completely nut-free. This is pure chocolate decadence and the chocolate truffle flavors such as Cayenne, Ginger, Champagne and even Rum remind me of the movie "Chocolat" where a French chocolatier created unusual and deeply delicious chocolates that made people happier than before.

These truffles are for sophisticated palates, so nut-allergic adults will enjoy the indulgence. I sampled an incredible assortment that included all of the flavors above as well as Cinnamon, Maple, Stout, Coffee, Raspberry, Milk Chocolate and even Lemon Apricot Chevre. For fall, Dean tells me that they will be offering a Pumpkin chocolate truffle as well. Perfect for the harvest season!

My kids really enjoyed the more kid-friendly flavors and my husband I were delighted with the more "adult" flavors. I also loved the sea salt chocolate caramel truffles. If you like salty sweet chocolate treats, these are heavenly.

To find out more, including how to order, please visit their website!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Food Allergy and Back to School: My Post for the FAAN Website

I was so honored when FAAN asked me to write about going back to school with food allergies for their blog, FAAN Notes. It got me thinking about the many lessons I've learned over the years and how far our family has come in terms of growth and adapting to the challenges of food allergies.

Here is a link to my post. I hope you enjoy it, and that you will also check out the many great back to school resources that FAAN has to offer on their site. Thanks to FAAN for all that you do!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Nut-Free Candy Finds for Halloween and Beyond!

Everybody wants some candy ideas for a nut-free Halloween this week, so I realized that it's high time I share some nut-free, (mostly) allergy-free Halloween treat ideas that are easy to find anywhere. It's great to have some options to throw in your supermarket cart with the knowledge that it's safe for food-allergic kids.

I found several candy choices that are free of the top 8 allergens and definitely free of peanuts and tree nuts. A lot of the following candies are even available in Halloween-themed snack-sized bags.

(Important: Always consider your specific allergy needs and/or call the candy companies if you have additional questions. Because packaging or manufacturing procedures may change, it is always up to you, the consumer, to verify allergy info and procedures. Thank you!)
Surf Sweets (top 8 allergen-free)

Yummy Earth (top 8 allergen-free)

Enjoy Life Boom Choco Boom (top 8 allergen-free)

(The above 3 candies are found at Whole Foods and specialty grocers.
Check their web sites for store locators.)

Now for basic supermarket finds:



Mike & Ike Jelly Beans

Junior Mints (not safe for all allergies, but safe for nut allergies)


Tootsie Pops

Carmel Apple Pops (made from the Tootsie Roll company, a completely nut-free facility!)

Life Savers



Sweet Tarts

Dum Dum Suckers

Dots (including "Candy Corn" Dots and "Bat" Dots)

Nerds (Willy Wonka brand)

Also, here are some non-edible Halloween treats to try. Don't forget to tell the class Room Moms and teachers about some of these. I found many of the following items in the Oriental Trading Company catalog--the prices are not bad, either, when you consider how much you spend on candy. Buy in bulk and you'll save money. Just keep leftovers for next year.

Some of my favorites are:

Spider rings

Halloween stickers (buy rolls of these and cut them off in segments to pass out at the door)

Halloween pencils

Pumpkin-shaped Ring Pops

Small, Halloween-themed toys

Plastic Halloween finger puppets (available at Target stores for $1 but not for kids under age 3)

If your allergies are nut only, as always, I recommend Vermont Nut-Free Chocolates. A great variety of Halloween-themed chocolates and jelly beans are available here. Premium Chocolatiers has beautiful molded Halloween chocolates that are a great trick or treat for allergic kids--these chocolates are free of nuts, peanuts, eggs, dairy and gluten. Divvies is a great source of online nut-free, egg-free, dairy-free treats, plus they can be found at some supermarkets such as Wegmans.

I hope this gets everybody off to a good start and please share your ideas, too!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Straight Food Allergy Talk from an Allergic Adult (and Culinary Insider): Ari from "Food for Dorks"

Today I am so excited to share my interview with Ari of "Food for Dorks." Ari is a New York-based recent culinary student (she just graduated, congrats!) who has adult-onset food allergies. She is also funny, adorable and very well-versed on the ups and downs of living with food allergies.

I first found out about Ari and her website/blog when reading her interview at Allergic Child. Once I learned that Ari is in the culinary field with food allergies, of course I wanted to ask her about that. I know that many parents are concerned about how their allergic kids will handle adulthood with allergies. I also have some adult readers who look to this blog for tips and advice as well (turns out Ari was one of them. Cool!) So I'm really happy to share Ari's insights here with you today. Thanks to her for answering my questions despite her dealing with a recent earthquake, tropical storm and culinary school graduation! Besides the website, you can also follow Food for Dorks at Facebook and Twitter!

Nut-Free Mom: What is your experience with food allergies? For example, when did you get diagnosed, what are you allergic to, what reactions have you had?

Ari: Well, it all started underground with a raw bar. A raw bar, which is very tasty, but also comprised solely of nuts and fruit. I had been eating them every day for some time. Since I had recently discovered a gluten intolerance, raw bars became my go-to breakfasts. Anyways, I was munching on one as usual, waiting for the subway. About halfway under the East River, I realized I couldn't really breathe. I got out at the first stop and took a cab to my doctor's office, where they deemed me as having an allergic reaction. Benadryl, epi-pen, whole bit. That's when it all started. All because of a raw bar.

From there, I discovered my peanut allergy. That seemed inevitable after the whole shebang with the tree nuts. Next came soy, which I figured out after consuming a pile of tofu pad thai. At the time, I lived in a loft that shared space with a Thai restaurant, and they'd give me leftover food all the time.

Now, I had to start saying no.

The next summer, while eating a perfectly perfect Dean and Deluca shrimp roll, I suddenly discovered I couldn't breathe...and threw up all over my co-worker's lap. Not my proudest moment! I decided to stop with fish too--I couldn't be too sure about another anaphylactic fit. And a day in school--I go to culinary school-- working with fish confirmed that I did indeed have some issues with fishies.

The latest allergies I have discovered are sesame seed and mustard seed. Halvah and dijon mustard respectively, along with a big pancake tongue and hive-y wrists are how I figured out those. I'm still not sure about egg, it seems be more of an intolerance. Needless to say, I've got some experience with food allergies.

I've learned about most of them through ingestion. RAST tests and prick tests have been inconclusive, and I'm a little sketched by food trials. I'm just gonna stick to not having a swollen tongue and avoid peanuts, tree nuts, soy, sesame, mustard, shellfish and fish!

NMF: Was a culinary career always a goal of yours or did becoming food-allergic prompt you to want to get into this field?

Ari: Hm. Good question. I've had a culinary, gourmet lifestyle since I can remember, and I studied sociology and film in school. I knew from day 1 I wanted to do something in media, but I never would have guessed food media to it. Not until that fateful almond croissant! I remember in the hospital, a man visiting his sick wife in the bed next to mine struck up a conversation with me. Not that I remember too much--after all, I was pretty loopy from the Benadryl--but I do remember him saying something to me. After I told him that I was there for an allergic reaction, and calling it a curse, he said, "you must turn your curse into a blessing for all those around you". And so, I did. The next day, I started Food for Dorks.

So, uh, yeah, I guess an old man and becoming food-allergic prompted me to get into this field.

NMF: Since you see what goes on behind the scenes, what is your best advice to food-allergic diners?

Ari: Ah! So many tips. Warn your waiter before you ask questions, or better yet, call the restaurant ahead of time and ask to speak with the manager about your dining experience. Here are a few questions to ask:

•What kind of oil are you using? Is it walnut oil? Is it sesame oil? Is it vegetable oil? Does that vegetable oil contain soy?
•Are you sauteing or saucing in butter?
•Do you use a roux* for thickening the sauce? Are you mounting** the sauce with a slurry* or butter?
•Are the desserts made in close proximity or stored near those containing nuts?
•Is your deep fryer also used for frying seafood? Dairy?
•Do you dredge*** your fried items in egg?
•Is Worcestershire**** sauce used in the marinade?
The others should come pretty easy to you. You can always google the restaurant's menu if you want a better idea of what you're getting into. And, a glossary of the terms I used:
*A roux is a combination of butter and flour cooked together. Typically a classic sauce base, but also used even in tomato sauces.
** Mounting is a process used for thickening a pan sauce, usually with butter.
***Dredging is what's done to bread items that are fried. More than likely, the restaurant coats the protein in flour, dips it in egg and covers it in breadcrumbs.
****Worcestershire sauce is made from anchovies and soy. Yowza, diner beware!

NMF: What are your culinary career goals?

Ari: My immediate answer is this: I would love to write children's books about food allergies, articles for food magazines and a few cookbooks as well. I also plan to one day open up a vegan, allergy free sweets and baked goods shop for kids and grown-ups alike here in New York. And of course, I would love to teach cooking lessons to food allergic families. As you can see, my culinary career goals are wide and varied.

The end goal for me, however, is to become a respected figure in the food world, to gain exposure to the public in order to present my hopes and dreams for the food allergic community. I want to be a chef--not a parent, not a doctor, not a health freak-- that all food dorks can look up to. I want to show the world that more respect needs to be paid to the food allergic, and that better food handling and labeling practices should become the norm. I would LOVE to speak in front of congress, advise a medical board or even talk to groups of adults and children about how to be awesome and allergic. The rush I get from being an advocate for dorks like us is what keeps me pushing on in all that I do in my career.

NMF: What is it like to be a young adult with food allergies? Is it as hard as some parents worry it will be?

Ari: Most times, I don't even notice it. But...sometimes, it sucks. It's not hard to stay safe. What's hard to deal with is, for example having to leave a clam bake because you're starting to get itchy, or say no to a birthday cake because it's got peanut butter frosting. Or having to ask your date if they've eaten nuts recently, because you'd rather not have an allergic reaction from a good-night kiss.

Honestly, it's the social part that's kind of lame sometimes. But at this age, we've got the whole safety part down pat: Ask questions. Carry an epi-pen. When in doubt, don't eat that. Wash hands. Et cetera, et cetera. We've got it down. We just wish we could go to the clam bake and eat our friends' peanut butter birthday cake and kiss our date good night after he or she ate ice cream.

That's when we notice it.