Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Great Pumpkin Carving: Part 1

Halloween is the beginning of the holiday season at our house.  We pull our first set of decoration-stuffed boxes out of the attic, covering the house in shades of the season with a few spooky splashes here and there.  We head out to orchards to pick pumpkins and apples then run through a maze or two.  These traditions began long ago when I moved to the midwest.  I guess that it was just my way of saying, "Hey, World!  The holiday season has begun!"

There were orchards in every city in the midwest.  By my first Halloween, I had visited so many orchards that my house was overflowing with fall bounty.  So much so that I needed to share it with friends.  So, I threw a pumpkin carving party!  Each year, I would take new friends to the orchards and we would carve pumpkins together.  Once I was married, my husband and I enjoyed carving the pumpkins so much that it became our first family tradition.  The pumpkin carving party grew into an expected event that neighbors and friends looked forward to each year.  This tradition continued until we left the midwest and, shortly after, discovered the extent of my daughter's food allergies.  With the burden of a move, a new food lifestyle and a child who was allergic to almost everything we traditionally cooked during this season, I just didn't have the physical or emotional energy to continue the party tradition.

However, the "fall bug" has never left us.  Each year around Sept, we get antsy.  We begin to long for the cold weather, the pumpkins and even the party.  We travel hours to find orchards and cooler temperatures.  I splash the house with fall colors and we carve a little pumpkin.  Each year, we add more decorations and include more people in our little fall adventures.  Even so, we just can't satisfy that little itch within us....the itch that was looking for a full blown celebration.

This year, as we pulled boxes from the attic, we came across the orange boxes marked "FALL DECORATIONS".  My little angel's face lit up with curiosity as I peeled back the tops to find all of the colorful treasures of celebrations past.  One by one, we pulled out the fun.  Putting decorations on windows, tables, mantles and doors.  The house was transformed and only one question remained unanswered, "Are we going to have a pumpkin carving party?"  "Sure, why not?" announced my husband.  For weeks, we have decorated and planned as we re-claim a lost tradition - the Great Pumpkin Carving.

Halloween begins a holiday season filled with tradition.  However, this year, I realize that we are marking the beginning of something bigger than a recovered tradition.  This is the beginning of a new era in our house.  We've become more confident, informed, parents of an allergic child.  We are now willing to live life and take bigger risks having educated ourselves, our angel, and our friends of the dangers that lurk in every corner each day.  We have faced and survived scary realities, coming through them stronger than before.  And, at the end of it all, we have developed a deeper faith in God and a greater sense of what is important.

So....this year, we will mark this new era by re-making an old tradition - the Great Pumpkin Carving.  With old decorations and new menus, I can't wait to see what awaits!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Trick or Treat for Food Allergy

This Halloween, while you are collecting candy, why not help raise awareness about food allergies.  The Food Allergy and Anaphalxis Network is encouraging people to trick or treat for donations for this national non-profit organization.  Donations will go toward research, education, advocacy and awareness.

Once you have collected your donations, you mail or make the online donation by Nov 30 to receive prizes.  The complete list of prizes can be found at Trick or Treat Win Prizes.

See Trick or Treat for Food Allergy 210 for more details.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Pork and Pumpkin Stew

Just in time for Halloween, here is a stew to warm your insides.  Serve this over rice for an easy meal before heading out to enjoy the fun!

Pork and Pumpkin Stew
2 lb pork roast, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1/4 C rice flour
3 t oregano
2 t basil
2 T rice oil
1/2 onion, julienned
5 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
2 T salt, adjust to taste
2 medium winter squash (I like acorn), peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1/4 C dried cranberries
1/4 C dried apricot, chopped
1/4 C apple juice or cider
1/2 head cabbage, chopped (optional)
water to cover pork by 2 inches, add more water and adjust spices for more broth
  1. Place rice flour, basil, oregano and 2 t salt into an gallon Ziploc bag.  Add cubed pork and toss to coat.
  2. In large stew pot, heat oil.  Place seasoned pork in pot and cook until lightly browned.  Add onion and cook to transluscent.
  3. Add garlic and apple juice to pot then stir to deglaze.  Add remaining ingredients.
  4. Cover and cook on low until meat and squash are cooked, approzimately 30 minutes.
  5. Serve over rice.
Slow Cook Method:  To save time, you may skip the browning method.  Place all ingredients, exxcept the rice flour, into the slow cooker pot.  Cook on low for 8 hours.  Serve over rice.  Without the browning, the stew will be thinner but the taste will be equally tasty.

NOTE:  Dried apricots are typically processed on equipment shared with a variety of allergens ranging from nuts to wheat.  Although some companies have commented particularly on this topic and their cleaning practices, there are so many potentials for cross-contamination that I actually just use a couple of scops of apricot jam made with apricots, pectin, sugar and water.  This gives the soup a little bit sweeter taste but once you get over the unexpected taste of the first spoonful, you'll go back for more and never know what my secret ingredient is!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Snack Match: Ice Cream

A snack match is an allergy-friendly snack that nutritionally and/or visually resembles a popular children't snack.

This week's snack is:
Ice Cream

Snack Match substitute:  Fruit Sorbet

Fruit Sorbet

3 cups frozen fruit
1/2 - 1 cup juice or water
1/2 cup sugar
  1. Place frozen fruit into a blender with 1/2 cup juice or water.  Blend until smooth, adding water or juice as needed.
  2. Place fruit mixture in a counter-top ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer's instructions.
  3. Once frozen, place in a container and freeze for a few hours to reach desired consistency.  Stir the container about every hour to maintain the smooth texture.
NOTE:  If you do not have an ice cream maker, you may place the fruit mixture in a freezable glass baking dish.  Place the container in the freezer for 3 hours, removing it to stir the mixture about every 1/2 hour until frozen.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Suggestions for an Allergy-Friendly Halloween

Just like many other moms, I am working overtime this week getting ready to celebrate Halloween.  We are picking pumpkins to carve, roasting seeds to share, and trying on costumes.  But, as we get ready for the fun, I am also thinking through the upcoming events to make sure that we are prepared for any allergic encounters.

I have had many people ask what they can to ensure that my angel gets to enjoy this fall fun.  I always tell them the same thing.  Give treats that aren't food.  There are so many reasonably priced goodies that we can give and so many reasons other than food allergies to give something other than candy. You can read more about that on my blog: Fall is here - Halloween is coming! 

But, the challenge of foods and Halloween only begins with the candy.  I have to think about the dyes used in costumes (soy), the foods served at parties (corn, wheat, egg, cinnamon), and activities at school (bob for apples, painting icing on cookies, baking muffins).  Navigating these things takes lots of creativity and time.  I am always thankful to trusted friends and teachers who help me come up with ideas and take the initiative to provide safe activities for my angel.

One of my favorite places to look for ideas is Kids with Food Allergies.  They have pages full of ideas and forums where parents can share ideas.  Here are some posts that you might find helpful:
Whatever you do to enjoy this fun season, be prepared - have alternate treats for those who visit, carry medicines when out at parties, and educate your children.  Let's all have a great holiday full of ghosts and giggles!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Cooking 101

Today was cooking day at my angel's school.  They were making Pumpkin Muffins.  Here's pretty much how it went down:

"Dear Mom (that's me), I just wanted to let you know about a few upcoming food related activities in our class.  Next week, we will be making Pumpkin Muffins....Thanks, The Teacher"

Allergens- wheat, egg, vanilla, can pumpkin, soda, vegetable oil

Assessment - no safe substitutes

Realization - allergic to pretty much the whole project; Note to self:  the eggs + vanilla could kill

Response - numb

After reading the note from my angel's teacher, this entire thought process happened within a matter of seconds.  I'm not quite sure how long the emotional numbness lasted but it didn't pass quickly.  My mind was stuck and I just couldn't get it moving again.  Typically, I am not the kind of mom who panics.  I am the mom who sometimes cries but then immediately begins to find solutions.  This time was different.  I couldn't seem to move forward.  I'm not sure if it was overload or exhaustion but my mind was blank and my eyes stopped reading. 

I'm not sure what thrust me back into motion again, maybe the sound of "Mama" from my angel or a little nudge from God, buteventually, I began to think again and I moved on to the next step in my coping process:

Conclusion - There are no safe food substitutes for baking nor can my daughter do a different cooking project since it might distract the children from their work.  She will have to participate in the activity without touching the food.

Each time situations of challenge present themselves, I find that I go through this ARRC -Allergens, Assessment, Realization, Response, Conclusion.  I call it AARRC because that is usually the same shape that my emotions take as I pass through the process.  With heightened emotions at the point of Realization and a calming as I turn toward the Conclusion, the time that I take for each step varies. But, in the end I arrive at a conclusion and take positive action.  I realize that this calm response and positive action are important.  I don't always do it well but I know the importance of teaching by example how to respond to the lifetime of allergic challenges that await my angel.  The little eyes and the little ears, they sense it all and learn how they should behave.

For today, another challenge has been met.  The teacher and I decided that I would sit in on this cooking project so that I could better prepare for the next cooking activity.  It turned out that my daughter put the muffin liners in the clean muffin pan.  If she could read, she could've read the recipe for the group.  If there were no pans to prepare, she could count the scoops, cups, or measures.  In a group, each person brings their own abilities and their own inablilites.  But, the key to success is using each persons ablility while respecting the differences and inabilities.  As each group and task changes, each person's contribution will also change.  This is an important life skill and one that we practiced today through cooking.

All in all, today was a big AARRC as Mom navigated Cooking 101! 

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Halloween Treats

These treats are fun to make.  You just simply use our recipe for Rice Chex Treats but heat the syrup to a slightly lower temperature (~150 degrees) to make softer treats.  This allows for easier cutting. 

Mix the ingredients as suggested then press them into a greased jellyroll pan or other pan with sides being sure not to make them more than about 3/4 inch thick.  CAREFUL:  If you make these too thick or press them too tightly into the pan, they will be too thick and dense to cut with cookie cutters. 

ALTERNATE METHOD:  Mix the ingredients as suggested then press it into cookie cutters using the cutters as molds rather than for cutting the shapes. Carefully remove the shape from the cutter, using oil on the cutter to make this easier.  If shapes are not coming out well, let the treats sit in the molds to cool before removing them.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Just a spoon-full of sugar

"Just a spoon-full of sugar helps the medicine go dow-own, the medicine go down..."
-Mary Poppins
Whenever I hear that song from "Mary Poppins", I think about how easily the children took their medicine and wonder where Mary Poppins is whenever we need a new trick for getting medicine down. Most children's medicines are quite tolerable today ....and quite full of corn syrup! This is a huge problem for those with corn allergies.
With the fall season here and school fully under way, the children are passing germs from one to another and bringing home runny noses. Our house is no different. My little angel has already had her first infection for the season and, once again, we were faced with the challenge of which antibiotics are safe and how to best administer them.
Children's medicines are often dangerous because they contain corn based sweeteners and other inactive ingredients that she cannot eat. We have tried many medicines and after a short time it always seems that we have some type of reaction. So, here are some suggestions for those of you struggling with children's medicines and reactions to inactive ingredients.
  • Watch out for symptoms of allergic reactions After starting the medicine, if your little angel seems to be showing a symptom that could be an allergic reaction, seek medical advice when appropriate. Then, take note on a calendar which medicine you are using and the reactions that are occurring. Sometimes, it is hard to tell what symptoms are parts of the virus or infection and which are from a reaction. So, take thorough notes for the next time your child takes that medicine. Look for patterns and remember that reactions can take time to build so the first time it may be slow to start while the next time, your child takes the medicine, it could occur faster.
  • Try adult medicines of a proper dose Adult medicines often forgo the use of sweeteners as well as other inactive ingredients such as soy or corn that might cause a reaction. Work with your doctor to find alternatives. We have found that opening capsules of adult medicine or crushing tablets works well. While the taste isn't very sweet, we are able to get it down by wrapping the powder in cotton candy or putting it in a few tablespoons of water sweetened with honey (drink it through a straw to help it go down quicker).
  • Find a compounding pharmacy Most cities have a compounding pharmacy. Sometimes they are the older pharmacy or a pharmacy is a hospital but there should be one within a reasonable driving distance from most people. The pharmacist may be able to compound the proper dose and mix it with a simple syrup or dose it out in a way that you can use cotton candy or honey teat to "get it down".

As parents of allergic angels, we are great at thinking outside of the box. This is another time when this skill is handy. Talk to other parents about how they are managing these situations. Let me know suggestions that help your angel's medicine "go down" or how you handle the issue of allergies to inactive ingredients. Then, remember.....

"Just a spoon-full of sugar helps the medicine go down"!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Pajama Party!

Once a week, usually while my hubby is occupied elsewhere, my angel and I have a pajama party. It is nothing too fancy - just our pajamas, dinner, and a movie- all at the same time!

Tonight is another one of those nights -its Pajama Party night! I've roasted up some chicken wings, tossed some pasta with veggies and have the lemonade ready - we're watching "Madagascar".

These little parties with my angel have become one of those special things that we do together. She can't wait when I tell her that we are going to have a PJ Party. I let her pick the movie and I try to tailor the dinner to match in some way. For example, Chinese-style dinner complete with the little boxes when we watch "Kungfu Panda". Or fish with salad when we watch "Finding Nemo". It is not always easy finding a dinner match, though. Try thinking of something thematic for Barbie's "The Island Princess"!

Give these fun little parties a try. Pull out your leftovers, park in front of the sofa, put on your favorite film and enjoy the moment. These nights will quickly become cherished memories for your little angels.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Snack Match: Cheese and Crackers

A snack match is an allergy-friendly snack that nutritionally and/or visually resembles a popular children's snack.

This week's snack is: Cheese and Crackers

Snack Match substitute: Mini Rice Cakes topped with honey, salmon and dill

Mini Rice Cakes with honey, salmon and dill

4 mini rice cakes, plain or lightly salted
1 slice smoked salmon, cut into 4 pieces
1 T honey
1 sprig of dill, optional

  1. Place mini rice cakes on a plate.
  2. Lightly spread honey onto each rice cake, to taste.
  3. Top rice cake with piece of salmon.
  4. Then place a small sprig of dill on top.
  5. Eat open faced. Stack tightly in container for an on-the-go snack.

NOTE: For those allergic to fish, you may substitute sliced ham for the protein. For those who need a ham that is corn-free plus the other 8 allergens-free, try Boars Head Sweet Slice Boneless Smoked Ham. Be cautious when buying deli meats; cross-contamination is very possible at the deli counter.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Fall is here - Halloween is coming!

This weekend, I pulled out my orange boxes with all of my fall goodies in them. We set out the pumpkins, planted the fall flowers, and hung the witches and cats. With the new chill in the air, it was the perfect time to usher in fall!

There was excitement in the air as we ran room to room deciding where to put each fun thing that we pulled from the box. But, while we dream of costumes and fun, I must also begin to prepare for all the moments that my little angel will encounter candy this month.

Along with many American families, we don't do candy at Halloween. Well, I shouldn't say that. Actually, my daughter thinks that Trick-or-Treating means putting on a costume to collect candy for Dad! But, that is a story for another blog! At my house, part of getting ready for fall celebrations is preparing a bowl of treats to share with friends who visit our house. I begin keeping an eye open about a month ahead watching $1 bins, Halloween aisles, etc. I mix the items up, adding to them as I find new things, and place them in a variety of jars. Each time my angel or her friends do something note worthy, I let them pick a treat from the bowl. This year's collection included a jar of tiny playdough tubs which are saved for days when an extra special treat is due!

As you are getting ready for fall festivals and Halloween surprises, don't forget that it doesn't have to be all about the candy. Hang some decorations, give each other surprises, or pick some apples. I challenge you to find allergy-friendly, healthy alternatives to candy this year. Include something that keeps the mommies from munching and the little ones equally safe and happy. Then, tell me, when I reach in your bowl this Halloween, what will I find?

Soups On!

I find that one of the most difficult parts of cooking for a family is meeting the nutritional needs of everyone. One is a runner, one doesn't like slimy foods, one is eating get the picture. Well, cooking in a house with a allergic child is no different. It takes creativity and thought to manage a kitchen for everyone.

In our house, while I am a firm believer in not cooking individual meals, I do believe that as resident "chef" I need to make mealtime nutritional and desirable for everyone. One way that I accomplish this is by "morphing" meals. "Morphing" is when I take a basic item like soup stock or sauteed ground beef and I add other ingredients and side dishes to meet everyone's needs. The end result is that we each might have a different soup from the same stock or we might have pasta tossed with meatballs and veggies but some of us will add sauce.

Tonight's menu was a good example of this: Tortilla Chicken Soup or Veggie Soup

I had leftover chicken soup that I made during last week's rain storm. I also had leftover mexican food from my lunch out. Put these together with all the leftover veggies from the week and there is quite a choice of vegetables perfect for a hearty soup. So, while my little angel can't eat tortillas, she had just as much fun putting "safe" toppings on her soup as we did ours! Here is how it worked:

Soups on! What'll you have?

leftover chicken broth

1 C pica de gallo, leftover from lunch (or 1 can ROTEL)

1/4 C hot salsa, leftover from lunch (chopped jalapenos)

2 C shredded cheddar, or cotija or jack, whatever you have leftover that sounds Mexican

3 C tortilla chips, also leftover from lunch and slighty stale

chopped cilantro, optional, also leftover

1/2 bag frozen corn

1 can black beans, rinsed

1 T dried oregano

2 t dried cumin

1 T chili powder

1 lime, sliced

1 avocado, chopped

shredded chicken

"safe" leftover vegetables: carrots, greens, brocolli, cauliflower, radish, chopped onion, herbs from the garden, croutons

  1. Warm up chicken broth then place 6 C of broth into a medium stock pot. If needed, you may dilute either of these to increase the quantity but be sure to adjust the spices, as well.
  2. Leave the basic broth pot just that way, adjusting the salt to taste for those who would like to build their own veggie soup.
  3. To the new pot, add pica de gallo, beans, corn, oregano, cumin, and chili powder. Simmer to heat ingredients through.
  4. Set up a buffet. Make one buffet a "safe" buffet with your safe veggies, the chicken, anything that shouldn't be cross contaminated. In another location, place the other toppings. In our case, most of the toppings for the tortilla soup are not safe so they go in one place while the chicken, lime and other ingredients go in the "safe" buffet.
  5. Each person receives a bowl of broth. For those who want a veggie soup, they may add their safe veggies to either broth. For those who want a tortilla soup, they should scoop the tomato base broth and top with chicken, avocado, cheese, cilantro, crushed tortillas, a squeeze of lime and salsa/jalapenos for added kick.
So, while my angel can't eat tortillas, she had just as much fun putting safe toppings on her soup as we did ours! We each "morphed" our soups into a soup to meet our individual needs and tastes. Although some of our soups were more Mexican than others, in the end, we all had soups that we enjoyed.

Our family frequently eats this way, although not always buffet style. It really isn't as much work as it appears. I make a main dish that is safe for all and a variety of side dishes to meet everyone's needs. People eat what they want and I usually have just enough leftovers for lunches the next day. So, go ahead and "morph" your next meal into anything you want! You might be surprised how much time you save and how much joy you bring to the family meal.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Snack Match: Rice Krispy Treats

A snack match is an allergy-friendly snack that nutritionally and/or visually resembles a popular children's snack.

This week's snack is: Rice Krispy Treats

Snack Match substitute: Rice Chex Treats

Rice Chex Treats

1 1/2 C honey
3/4 C sugar
2 t salt
1 (12.8 oz.) box Rice Chex
rice oil

  1. Crush Rice Chex and put in large stainless steel or glass bowl.
  2. Grease a 9x12 inch (or larger) ceramic or glass rectangular baking dish. The larger the dish, the thinner your treats.
  3. In a medium sauce pan, heat honey, sugar and salt on low until melted and bubbly (~ 200 degrees).
  4. Pour sugar mixture over crushed rice chex and stir immediately to distribute sugar evenly.
  5. Pour rice chex mixture into greased pan and press down with spatula or hands, if cool enough.
  6. Allow to come to room temperature then remove from pan and cut into squares for serving.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Oven-Baked Chicken Fingers

This is a family favorite! No matter how much I make, it never seems to be enough. I hope that your family finds as much enjoyment in eating this healthy, allergy-friendly meal.

6 chicken tenderloins

3 C Rice Chex

2 T garlic powder

1 T salt

Gallon-size zippy bag

Rice oil

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

  2. Place Rice Chex, garlic powder, and salt in zippy bag. Crush rice chex and shake bag to mix ingredients.

  3. Wash chicken tenders, pat dry and place in zippy bag. Shake bag and press Chex mix onto the chicken tenders. If the tenders are particularly thick, I like to pound them a little while in the bag for a better crust and more even cooking.

  4. Place chicken in baking pan. Drizzle the chicken with oil.

  5. Cook for 50 minutes to one hour until lightly brown and fully cooked through.

  6. Serve with Apricot Dipping Sauce.