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?"