Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Instant Bonds at FABlogCon 2014

I had the honor of attending the second annual Food Allergy Bloggers Conference (FABlogCon) in Las Vegas this fall.

Before leaving for Vegas, one of my coworkers asked why I was so excited to go to this bloggers conference.  How do you describe the feeling of being surrounded by people who just "get you?"  Without much introduction, you know that these people share the same struggles, fears, hope, and excitement. These people want to hear your story, details about how you manage small tasks on a day to day basis. These people don't feel sorry for you but understand you.  These people share your feelings of anxiety and your relief/heartbreak/anguish for each allergist visit, each birthday party, each day at school.  These people want to talk about what you make for your kids' school lunches.  How you pack for vacation.  Where you shop.  The brands you love.  

Being at FABlogCon was like being with old friends.  These are people who follow each other online and read each others posts daily.  We watch each others kids grow.  We smile with small victories and are saddened by food allergy-related tragedies, all through a computer screen.  This is a chance to actually touch, hug, and laugh with these dear friends of ours.  To hear their voices and see their faces.  There is an instant connection when you meet another food allergy family, and an unspoken bond is instantly formed.  I feel this when I meet one person/family locally, but to be in a room full of these people was extraordinary!  Beyond words.

Beginning top left moving clockwise: Heather McGrath (Blue Bear Aware) and Selena Bluntzer (Amazing and Atopic); KeelyMcGuire; Emily Cunningham (Allergen Menu Mom); Selena Bluntzer

In addition to the personal joy of sitting at a table with these great friends, we got to learn so much through informational booths as well as educational seminars.  We got to hear the amazing Dr. Ruchi Gupta speak (and we got to see a fun little video) as well as learn about hope for the future from the one and only Dr. Xiu-Min Li.  She is making amazing strides at finding a cure for food allergies, and the living proof was right in that room.  We also had the opportunity to visit with owners/reps from our favorites companies giving us a chance to learn more about them and also allowing us to give feedback to them.  It's pretty amazing to get to know the people behind the brands.

Henry Ehrlich introducing Dr. Gupta and Dr. Li

We also got to meet and hear from prominent advocates in the food allergy community which was quite inspiring.  These are mostly just moms like you and me who had to fight to keep their child(ren) safe.  As time went on, their voice got louder drawing in a larger audience, making their advocacy stronger.  These are the people we need to thank for all the change that is happening in our community.  Also present were big names like singer Kyle Dine (we love his food allergy songs) and spokesperson Jerome Bettis.

Me and Kyle Dine; Me and Jerome Bettis

Our local FARE walk was the same weekend I was in Vegas, but luckily the rest of my family was able to participate.  As many of you know, not only do two of my kids have food allergies, but so do my nephew and niece, both from different parents.  My husband and both of his sisters have children with food allergies.  This food allergy bit is a family affair!  The silver lining of that is that there is always safe food at family get togethers, and we all "get it."  I really feel for those families who struggle with having family members who don't "get it," and they battle with keeping their child safe around family (the one place they should feel safe).  Not everyone is as fortunate as we are, and that can be really difficult to deal with.
    
SuperSafe AllerKids 2014 FARE Food Allergy Walk (4 of the 5 children pictured here have life-threatening food allergies)

We didn't have much down time at FABlogCon, as this was an event-packed conference.  But arriving a little early allowed me to take a scenic tour hosted by Homa Woodrum's husband, Adam, along with Heather McGrath (Blue Bear Aware), Brynn Hadler (Allergy Bytes), and Tiffany Glass Ferreria (Food Allergy Fun).  We had the pleasure of seeing Las Vegas' Red Rock Canyon.  What a beautiful view!

Enjoying Las Vegas with wonderful friends

We also got to spend a little time on the strip.  I was joined by Justin (YoDish) and Emily (Allergen Menu Mom) Cunningham, Tiffany Glass Ferreira, and Selena Bluntzer (Amazing and Atopic) as we ventured to The Venetian.  And the evening ended perfectly watching the fountains dance at the Bellagio with Selena Bluntzer and Homa Woodrum (Oh Mah Deehness).  What a wonderful way to end a wonderful weekend!

Pumpkin Seeds

We have a family tradition of going to the pumpkin patch each year and picking out pumpkins for carving. This year the weather was too wet so the selection of pumpkins was not very good. Most of them were rotten.  We picked out a few good ones for decoration on our front porch, then later I picked up a few pumpkins for carving at Walmart. 

Once the pumpkins were gutted and carved, we took the seeds, rinsed them off, and roasted them for snacking on throughout the week. It is super easy to do. The hardest part is getting the guts off the seeds. 

Once the seeds are rinsed, spread them out on a cookie sheet or pan, spritz with a little oil, and season with your choice of seasonings. Sometimes all I use is a little salt, but this year I used seasoned salt for a little extra zing. They were delicious!  Once they are seasoned, roast them in the oven at 300º for about 45 minutes. Our batch never lasts more than a couple of days, but we keep them stored in an airtight container.  Enjoy!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Product Reveiw: 100 Days of Real Food Cookbook

About two years ago I was scrolling through my Facebook news feed, and I kept coming across a page that posted things that my friends frequently liked.  I decided to take a closer look.  This Facebook page is 100 Days of Real Food.  (Check out the blog too!  So much great info!)  It only took me about 3 seconds to decide that this was a page I wanted to see more of.  So I liked the page, and my brain was flooded with so much wonderful information regarding food. 

We deal with food allergies in our family, and because of that, we tend to eat more healthy (see my post regarding The Upside of Food Allergies here).  After seeing just a few recipes/school lunch ideas posted, I knew Lisa Leake and I would become great friends.  Well, at least I feel like we are great friends since we have so much in common regarding what we should eat.  Following her posts has opened my eyes to what is actually in our processed food and how one voice can have a big impact on our food industry.

 

When I received my very own copy of Lisa's new cookbook in the mail, I was so excited!  I immediately flipped through the pages to find them filled not only with delicious, nutritious recipes with vibrant pictures, but also lots of great tips on how to shop for real food and how to make changes in your family diet that will last a lifetime.  It begins with a wonderful summary of Lisa's food journey to which I can greatly relate.  A life of fast food and processed junk seemed to make life on-the-go so much easier, but Lisa beautifully illustrates that eating healthy (eating real food) and being busy are not mutually exclusive.  I can personally attest to that.  Sometimes we just need a little guidance on how to make that happen.

As a parent of two (of four) children with life-threatening food allergies, I often need to make modifications to recipes to make them safe for my family. One thing I really like about Lisa's recipes is that she is very aware of other people's special diet needs. Many of the recipes included in this book are allergy friendly, or can easy be modified to be.

100 Days of Real Food: How We Did It, What We Learned, and 100 Easy, Wholesome Recipes Your Family Will Love is the name of this newly released cookbook.  Other than the name being a mouthful, I don't have anything negative to say.  This is not some fancy cookbook that offers recipes for high-end dining.  This is an everyday, quick meal cookbook that you can enjoy.  It is filled with simple, healthy recipes that will impress even your grandmother! 

Many people are hesitant to make the change to real food because they don't know what to buy, think it's too expensive, deal with picky eaters and/or don't know where to start.  This book will help you with all of that.  I agree that it can be quite overwhelming at first, but you don't have to change overnight!

Tonight I decided to give one of these recipes a try.  I made Shortcut Eggplant Parmesan for my family, and the only ingredient I had to purchase was eggplant.  I already had everything else in my kitchen.

 

 

Of course, I made a few minor modifications to the recipe to make it safe for my family, such as using gluten-free flour, dairy-free cheese, and gluten-free noodles, but it was quick and easy to make.  I can't wait to try more of these recipes!

 

If you don't already follow Lisa's blog or Facebook page, I highly recommend that you do. You will never look at food the same again, and you will be happier and healthier because of it. If you haven't already ordered your copy of this cookbook, do it now! You won't regret it!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Potlucks....Ugh!

Evan as a kid, I hated potlucks.  I was, and still am, a very picky eater.  Every potluck we went to had the dreaded lasagna!  I've never been a fan.  As I've grown older, however, I've learned to pick and choose my way through a potluck line, but I'm still not very excited about them.

Throw in a couple of kids with food allergies, and potlucks taken on a new level of disfavor.  When my kiddos with food allergies were younger, I had to watch them like a hawk around any and all food.  Now they are a bit older (2nd and 4th grade), and they understand what they can and can't have...for the most part.  So these potlucks aren't quite as scary as they used to be.

You just never know what someone else might decide to bring to a potluck.  After all, that's the whole point, right?  There are no real rules or organization, just bring something to share.

Tonight's potluck lineup

Tonight we attended a potluck hosted by my little girls' daycare center.  Since I like to plan ahead, I made dinners (really, it was just like a school lunch) for my two kiddos with food allergies, along with some Earth Balance "cheese" puffs that are Top 8 Free.  I also chose to make a Top 8 Free dessert as my potluck item.  That way my kids could enjoy the item we brought, and dessert would be covered.

These Chocolate Covered Rice Krispie Treat Bites were really easy to make and even easier to enjoy!  I just whipped them up the night before, let them set in the refrigerator overnight, and served them on a chilled platter.  However, even on a chilled platter, the scorching summer heat made them a bit melty and messy.  But, for once, I didn't mind seeing messy chocolate fingers on all the little kids.  The chocolate was safe, so I had nothing to worry about!
   

Chocolate Covered Rice Krispie Treat Bites (Top 8 Free)

Looking for an easy treat to share with lots of people?  I whipped up these babies in no time the night before a potluck.  My kids got enjoy something from the potluck line, and they are good enough for everyone to enjoy.

I served these on a scorching summer night, and they were quite messy since the chocolate melted in the heat (even on a chilled platter).  I recommend serving them straight from the fridge if possible, or at least indoors.

 

Begin by making Rice Krispie treats.

1 bag mini marshmallows
3 Tbsp milk-free butter (I used Earth Balance Soy Free)
6 cups Gluten-Free Rice Krispies

In a large pan, melt butter and marshmallows over low heat until melted.  Remove from heat and mix in Rice Krispies until completely coated.  Press into 9x13 dish with a piece of wax paper that has a small amount of butter on it (so it doesn't stick).  Allow to cool.

*I like to add some extra marshmallows when I add the Rice Krispies for a little something extra.  

Allow these to set, then slice into small, bite size pieces. 

 

Over low heat, melt 2 bags of Enjoy Life chocolate chips and a few dollops of coconut oil.  Once completely melted, dunk each Rice Krispie bite in the chocolate and coat well.  Set on a parchment paper lined baking sheet.  Once the baking sheet is full, place in refrigerator until set.  Store in an airtight container.


 

Friday, August 22, 2014

Family Vacation 2014

 

This summer our family decided to take a (two day) road trip to California for my brother's wedding.  He lives in San Jose which is only about 45 minutes from San Fransisco, so we decided to spend a few extra days sight seeing.

ROAD TRIP!

Of course, traveling with food allergies can be a challenge if you're not prepared.  So I planned and packed ahead.  Not only did I pack for my two kiddos with food allergies, but I packed for the whole family.  This made meal stops so much easier and cheaper.

It is a two day drive from our house to San Fransisco.  Since we were going that direction anyway, we thought it would be worth the extra hours out of the way to see the Grand Canyon.  Mother Nature had another idea.  The morning we got there, it was cold, rainy, and foggy.  All we could see was white!  Fortunately, we did see bits and pieces of the canyon on the way into the National Park.  We just didn't get out of the car to take pictures because it was cold and raining, and we figured we'd just get pictures once we got into the Park.  Ha!  Joke's on us!

Our view of the Grand Canyon

Even though we didn't get to experience the Grand Canyon in all its glory, we did get to see many neat things along the way.  We stopped in Moab, Utah for dinner the first night on the road and got to see beautiful rock formations.  Had we taken a direct route to San Fran, we never would have seen all the beautiful scenery.

Near Denver
Moab, Utah

I prepped all our food ahead of time since our hotel room only had a mini fridge and small microwave.  I planned the first two day's meals for the road trip with each meal divided into large Ziploc bags to make it easy at each stop.  Each large bag was filled with a fruit, veggie, and sandwich/rollups, each in separate smaller sandwich baggies with each child's name written on it to make serving a breeze.

One of our roadside picnics


Rather than buying bottles of water at every stop or carrying several bottle with us, I simply washed out bottles I had drank from before we left on vacation.  Those Vitamin Water bottles are quite sturdy, and I knew they would hold up for the duration of our trip.  After giving them a through wash, I used some decorative duct tape (from my kids' new craft obsession) to identify each bottle for each kid. We could just refill as needed along the way.  It worked out great!


Our first day in San Francisco was spent sight seeing the city.  We took a bus tour and got to ride on the top of one of those double decker buses.  We had some pretty neat views of the city.  Our biggest disappointment was not being able to visit Alcatraz.  Apparently this is something that needs to be booked ahead of time.  When Bubs was a baby, we visited Alcatraz, and we were hoping to go again this trip.  Since that didn't work out, we ate lunch in Golden Gate Park, hung out at Pier 39, and visited the Aquarium by the Bay where the kids got to touch a sting ray and even a shark!  It was lots of fun.

We ate our only restaurant meal at a restaurant on Pier 39 (we carried in food for Bubs and GirlyGirl) called Wipeout where there was only one bathroom to be shared by males and females.  It was quite different, I must say!  After dinner we took a drive down the crookedest street, Lombard Street.  There were lots cars lined up to drive down this cool street, and it was worth the wait.

The next day we explored the redwood forest at Muir Woods followed by a quick stop for a picnic lunch at a kid-friendly winery in Sonoma Valley.  Such a beautiful area!

Benziger Winery in Sonoma Valley


That evening we went down by Fisherman's Wharf to eat dinner by the bay and do a little shopping.  There are several local vendors/artists selling their products where I got a beautiful handmade Christmas ornament and the kids got a caricature with the Golden Gate Bridge at the bottom.  They had a blast watching it being drawn, and they love the final product as well.  It was 20 bucks well spent.

We planned on getting some ice cream at Ghiradelli, but it was too windy and cold to enjoy ice cream.  We decided to just get a little bit of chocolate and head back to the hotel instead.  Of course I had treats for Bubs and GirlyGirl to enjoy, thanks to Surf Sweets!

The next day we went to the Santa Cruz Boardwalk in hopes of warmer beach water, but our hopes were dashed when we discovered the water was still quite cold.  The big kids braved the cold water and swam a bit, but the younger two preferred to just play in the sand.  I brought Go Picnic lunch boxes for the kids to eat for lunch this day, which worked out really well.  No refrigeration necessary, and all completely disposable.  If you haven't tried these yet, you really should!

Go Picnic lunches were perfect for our day on the Boardwalk

That evening we got to spend some wonderful time with family that had joined together from all over the country (and Malaysia, where the bride is originally from) to celebrate the eve of my brother's wedding.  Of course, there was a delicious display of food for all to enjoy, but, once again, we brought our own.  Luckily the kids know that this is our way of life, and they expect to eat what is brought for them.  They also know that if I expect there to be treats, I will provide treats for them as well. 

Finally the wedding day arrived.  We spent the morning hanging out in the hotel room (and the kids in the pool) while I prepped the meals for the two day drive home beginning the next day.  When the time came, we got our pretty wedding clothes on and headed to the ceremony.

The hubs and me


My brother and his (now) wife are both very involved in musical theater.  After a short ceremony, many of their very talented friends performed a number of songs from favorite musicals while we enjoyed dinner and a show.   The finale song and dance number even starred the bride herself!

Once they opened the dance floor to all, little Curls tore that floor up!  She was the "drunk girl" at this wedding.  She was running all over the place, falling down, being super hyper, followed by crashing in the corner of the dance floor from pure exhaustion.  She was a hit, if I do say so myself.  :)
Curls dancing with daddy

While all the guests enjoyed some yummy wedding cake, Surf Sweets candy saved the day once again.  I figured traveling across the country with homemade cupcakes topped with buttercream frosting would be difficult (not only to keep it pretty, but to keep it fresh as well), so I threw in a couple of bags of jelly beans for Bubs and GirlyGirl to enjoy at the wedding instead of cake.

GirlyGirl enjoying her jelly beans in place of wedding cake

All in all, it was a great trip.  The food I packed was not anything amazing....mostly tortilla rollups and sandwiches.....but it was safe, and it got us through a week long trip without a kitchen.  Rollups were usually made with meat and dairy-free cheese, and sandwiches included Wowbutter or dedicated peanut-free almond butter and jelly, Daiya cream cheese and shredded carrots, and Van's waffles (Top 8 Free) with apple butter.  Some of the items I made ahead of time were blueberry bread, pineapple bread, plain cake donuts with frosting and sprinkles, chocolate chip donuts, snickerdoodle donuts, blueberry muffins (using King Arthur's muffin mix), bacon pancakes (strips of pancakes with bacon cooked in the middle), pizzadillas (tortillas with pizza sauce and dairy-free cheese heated in the microwave...idea thanks to my friend Keeley McGuire), mini corn dogs (also thanks to Keeley McGuire), pizza puffs, mini pancake muffins, and power balls.

I also packed a whole tub full of snacks such as Craisins, fruit ropes, fruit chips, popcorn, Enjoy Life chocolate chunks with mini marshmallows and Rice Chex as a trail mix, Enjoy Life cookies, Van's (Top 8 Free) crackers, Annie's fruit snacks, and many other yummy, safe treats.

Trail mix snack, one of our favorites


While any vacation, long or short, requires planning and prepping lots food for my kiddos, I truly enjoy this labor of love.  The biggest benefits are saving money on food and faster, easier meals while on the go.  We had a great vacation and created many new family memories.  I can't wait for our next trip together!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Pineapple Bread (Top 8 Free)

Today at the grocery store I noticed that pineapples were only $0.79 each!  They were a little small, but since I love fresh pineapple, I bought four. 

I also happen to be in the middle of prepping food for our upcoming vacation, and I was looking through my recipe list.  I saw Apple Bread and thought that would taste good made with pineapple instead of apples.  So I gave it a try.  It turned out to be fabulous!  I'll be sticking this loaf in the freezer to take with us. 


Ingredients:

1 1/2 c gluten-free flour
1 tsp guar gum
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1 c sugar
1 c chopped pineapple
1/4 c oil
1 egg equivalent (I used Ener-G Egg Replacer)
1/2 c milk-free milk (I used rice milk)
 
Instructions:
 
Preheat oven to 350º.  Grease a loaf pan.  In a medium bowl, combine flour, guar gum, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg.  In a separate bowl, mix together sugar, pineapple, oil, egg replacer, and milk.  Add dry mixture to pineapple mixture and stir just until moistened.  Pour into loaf pan and bake 55-60 minutes.  Allow to cool for about 5 minutes before removing from loaf pan.