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.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Food Allergy Friendly, Organic AND Delicious? Surf Sweets Gummy Candies!

I've talked about Surf Sweets nut-free gummy candies on my blog in the past, but now I'd like to welcome this dynamic allergy-friendly candy company as a new ad sponsor for this site! Very exciting because this company was a total "find" for me when we first began searching around for nut-free candy. For some reason, "nut-free" gummy candies are some of the most difficult to locate. And everyone knows how much kids love gummy bears, gummy worms, etc.

Surf Sweets also warm a health-minded mom's heart because they are all-natural and organic. So you don't even have to feel guilty about these, in addition to being nut-free. Talk about serendipity.

Back-to-school time is here and many parents are looking for allergy-safe snacks, so these are a nice little candy to share with friends, teachers and family looking for safe foods. Plus, with Halloween already in the air (can you BELIEVE this already) these little candies are definitely going to come in handy. I remember one school party where my daughter could not have the "spooky Halloween drink" because it was filled with gummy worm candies that had a nut allergy warning. Surf Sweets gummy worms would be perfect for this--so be sure to send some to school. (But don't let the parents eat them all. I've heard from many adults who love them, too.)

Right now, if you pick up some packs of Surf Sweets Sour Berry Bears and Gummy Bears, a portion of the proceeds benefits Climate Cycle – a great local organization that partners with schools to provide education and funding for green projects (bike clubs, solar panel installations, agriculture, etc.).

You can find Surf Sweets at Whole Foods Stores (check the candy aisle) as well as in specialty food shops. Check the company web site and click the "Where to Buy" button. They are also available to order from and Peanut-Free Planet, among other online retailers. Sweet!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Food Allergies and Family Balance: Non-Allergic Sibs

I have two daughters, one with food allergies and one without. Sometimes it feels like I've got one foot in two worlds. The one child can't have many things that the other one can. This sometimes creates awkward situations. We don't bring peanut or tree nut products into our home and as a family out and about together, we avoid high-risk places like ice cream shops, doughnut shops and Thai food (which my youngest loves.)

Sometimes brother(s) or sister(s) can feel deprived if they are not getting the chance to enjoy the things that they can eat and do, even though their food-allergic sibling can't.

If you have kids both with food allergies and without, you know exactly what I mean. Our entire family empathizes with our oldest daughter and the fact that she can't enjoy the same foods that we can, at times. Still, we want our youngest to be able to partake of, say, an ice cream cone at an ice cream shop.

To make sure everybody gets their fair share, I've begun taking my youngest daughter to a place that's usually off-limits and I shoot for once a week. For example, last week we went to Dunkin Donuts. You would have thought I just gave the kid a million dollars; she beamed the whole time. We're going back this week and then going to a Halloween store (already!!!!) to look around.

This is special time together for the two of us, but it also lets my youngest be free of food allergy restraints that are imposed on her for the sake of her sister.

My oldest isn't left out, either. I also make a point to go out and do a non-food related (or safe food-related, sometimes) activity with her. We like to look at resale an antique shops together or go to the bookstore or library or even a movie that is "too old" for her younger sister.

It's hard to balance the needs of the allergic kids from the non-allergic. The kids without allergies don't always understand that the reason we sometimes give extra attention to the others is because of health and safety. They may just see it as extra attention, period, so I've found that it's really important to show them equal time.

If you have both non-allergic and allergic kids in your family, how do you balance their needs?