Sunday, December 22, 2013

Cranberry Bars (Top 8 Free)

When visiting a friend of mine, she offered me some cranberry bars that were amazing!  I don't even really like cranberries.  I asked her for the recipe, but of course I had to modify it a bit to meet my family's food allergy needs.

1/2 c milk-free butter (I used Earth Balance Soy Free)
1 1/2 c sugar
2 egg replacements (I used 1 cup unsweetened applesauce)
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 c gluten free flour (I used King Arthur Flour Gluten Free Multi-Purpose Flour)
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 1/2 c frozen cranberries

Preheat oven to 350º.  Cream together butter and sugar.  Add egg replacer and vanilla; mix thoroughly.  In a separate bowl, mix flour, baking powder, and salt.  Mix the dry ingredients into the batter.  Add cranberries.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Pour and spread mixture onto baking sheet.  Bake 25-35 minutes or until top is golden brown.  Cool.  Frost when cooled (optional).

4 1/2 oz pkg cream cheese (You could use Daiya)
6 Tbsp milk-free butter
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
3 c powdered sugar

Mix together until smooth

I decided not to top with frosting because the bars themselves are pretty sweet.  In the future I may drizzle some frosting on top rather than coat the entire pan. 

I used my Kitchenaid stand mixer to mix the batter.  (If you don't have one of these, get one.  It will change your life!)  I stirred in the cranberries by hand.  The mixture is somewhat difficult to spread onto the baking sheet.  I suggest removing your rings and getting your hands dirty.  A medium sized baking sheet is best.  Try to push it all the way to the corners and make sure it is even.  These are really easy to make.  The hardest part is spreading it in the pan.  Good luck and enjoy!  


Church Windows (Top 8 Free)

My husband's grandmother used to make what she called Church Windows for Christmas each year.  She would melt together a bag of chocolate chips and a stick of butter, then add multi-colored mini marshmallows and some chopped peanuts.  Then she would roll it into a log in waxed paper and chill.  Once it was chilled, she would remove the wax paper and slice the log into disks.  They looked like a church window with stained glass. 

After the first time I had those, I stole her recipe but removed the peanuts (I've never been a fan of nuts).  I have made those for years.  This year, I took the same recipe and adapted it to be safe for my kiddos.

1 bag of safe chocolate chips (I used Enjoy Life)
1/2 c milk-free butter (I used Earth Balance Soy Free)
1 bag of mini marshmallows (free of artificial colors)
1 c chopped gluten free pretzels (I used Ener-G Wylde Gluten Free Pretzels)

Melt the chocolate chips and butter over low heat.  Mix in marshmallows and pretzels.  Spread onto waxed paper and roll into a log.  Place in refrigerator.  Once chilled, remove waxed paper and slice into disks. 

They don't have the same effect of "stained glass" since the marshmallows are white, but they are yummy just the same!  Super easy to make and the kids gobbled them up!

Chocolate Covered Pretzels (Top 8 Free)

Making chocolate covered pretzels is easy, but it can be time consuming.  Dipping each pretzel individually takes some time.  I make them every year at Christmas time with pretzels and almond bark (I make a batch with just the almond bark to have white pretzels and a batch with almond bark and chocolate chips melted together to make chocolate pretzels).  But, of course, my food allergy kids can't enjoy those.

This year I decided it would be just as easy to make some allergy friendly chocolate covered pretzels for my kiddos.  I used Ener-G Wylde Gluten Free Pretzels and dipped them in a mixture of melted Enjoy Life chocolate chips (1 bag) and about 1/2 cup of  milk-free butter (I used Earth Balance Soy Free).

I usually sprinkle my chocolate covered pretzels with red, green, and white sprinkles to make them festive, but of course I couldn't do that with these since we are avoiding artificial colors.  I usually keep some Sprinkelz on hand (naturally colored sprinkles), but we were out when I made these.  So the pretzels are just plain.  The kids love them just as they are.


Sugar Cookies (Top 8 Free)

This year I was feeling lazy and didn't want to make roll out sugar cookies.  But I found this recipe for easy-to-make gluten free drop sugar cookies from Gluten Free on a Shoestring. After a few modifications to make them safe for my kiddos, they turned out amazing! 

Check out the original recipe and instructions here. 

Here is the ingredient list I used:

1 3/4 c gluten-free flour (I used King Arthur Flour Gluten Free Multi-Purpose Flour)
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 c powdered sugar
1/2 c granulated sugar
5 Tbsp milk-free butter (I used Earth Balance Soy Free)
5 Tbsp shortening (I used Spectrum)
1 egg replacement (I used Ener-G Egg Replacer)
2 tsp vanilla
Extra granulated sugar for coating

(For instructions, click here.) 

This is pretty much a direct translation from the original recipe.  Once I had it all mixed together, it was pretty crumbly, almost like a powder.  So I added 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce which made it a nice consistency. 

I always start a recipe that calls for eggs by making the egg replacement first.  When using the Ener-G brand egg replacer, be sure to use warm water and whisk together the powder and water.  Then let sit for at least 5 minutes to allow it to "gel."  By making this first, it is usually ready to be added by the time I get to the portion of the recipe that calls for eggs.

Gluten free dough can often be sticky and hard to work with when rolling with your hands.  The trick is to keep your hands wet.  I keep a bowl of water next to my work space to I can moisten them as needed. 

These cookies turned out soft and delicious.  We will have to set a few aside to leave out for Santa on Christmas Eve.  Each year we leave out a few allergy friendly cookies and a glass of rice milk for Santa to either eat or take back to his elves.  I love that the kids share their special food with the big guy! 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Goodbye, Jake. You've been a good dog!

Today was a hard day.  Today we said goodbye to our dear yellow lab, Jake.  If you are a pet owner, you understand what I am going through.  People who don't have pets of their own often say, "It's just a dog."  Well, he wasn't "just a dog."  He was our dog and a member of our family. 

In his last days

We got Jake when he was just 5 weeks old in the spring of 2003.  As any puppy does, he chewed on EVERYTHING, and he drove us crazy with all that he destroyed.  We took him to weekly obedience classes and trained him well.  Once he was trained, he never jumped on anyone, never bit anyone, and he could follow all the commands we taught him.  He was even housebroken quite easily! (Something we've struggled with more with our kids!) 

Just a pup

We treated Jake like our child for the first few years.  He was, after all, our first baby!  We spoiled him rotten with Christmas gifts and dog-friendly birthday cakes.  We often took him for rides and went to the dog park regularly.  He was my jogging partner, and we went on countless walks. 

Jake wasn't too sure about adding members to our family.  He did okay with the addition of Bubs, but each additional child caused him a bit of anxiety.  He refused to eat for at least a week after each child was born.  He even licked himself raw (and left a scar) on his hind leg when Cutie was born.  But once he accepted them, he loved each of them loyally.  He was the most tolerant dog you could ask for.  These kids climbed on him, tugged on his ears, and patted him a little too hard.  If he didn't like it, he would simply walk away.  And the kids knew that was his sign that he didn't want to play.  They respected each other.

Jake and Bubs meeting for the first time

Jake loved all the kids, but he and Bubs had a special connection over the years.  The past couple of years Bubs had even taken over the duty of feeding Jake every morning and night.  Jake looked to him as a caregiver.  They definitely had a special bond.
Bubs and Jake loved playing together

As the years went by and we had more kids (and more chaos), I found myself spoiling Jake less and getting frustrated with him more.  He was always getting in my way, and I'd frequently find myself tripping over him.  Of course, as any good dog, he was always at my heels.  Also, not only did I have to clean up after the kids, but I also had to sweep more often when he would shed.  When he was outside, he would bark at every little noise, adding to my auditory overstimulation.  We would have to clean off his muddy paws on rainy days so he wouldn't track mud through house.   

As I was looking through pictures last night, I found fewer and fewer of Jake as the years went on.  In fact, I remember getting frustrated when he would get in the way of pictures I was trying to take of the kids.  So there were gradually fewer and fewer pictures of him.  Something I now regret. 

But then there were the times he made me feel safe.  I knew his bark at a squirrel was different than his bark at someone coming up the driveway.  If I heard a strange sound, I would look to him to see if he was reacting.  His response gave me security.  He would hang out in whichever room we were in, just to be near us.  As he got older, his energy level declined, so he mostly would find a spot to lie down and keep us company.  Tonight we feel a void having no dog lying at our feet or by our couch. 

Bubs and GirlyGirl with Jake

About a year ago we started noticing small lumps in a few places on Jake, but the vet told us they were just fatty tumors that dogs sometimes get.  They don't really do much for them, especially if they aren't causing any pain or discomfort.  Well, Jake didn't seem to even notice these lumps were there, and they didn't slow him down.  So we carried on. 

About a month ago, the lump in the middle of his back grew quite rapidly to about the size of a basketball.  We joked that he looked like a camel.  The lump went from small, soft, and squishy, to large, hard, and tender to the touch.  The vet wasn't sure what this lump was and offered to perform exploratory surgery.  But he would be 11 in two months, and his body may not even handle the surgery.  Plus he would have to go through a recovery process.  Not much fun for an old dog.  Not to mention to the other various lumps and skin growths that have popped up over the past few months.  We thought about waiting until after the holidays to make a decision, but this past weekend, he started showing signs of being ready to go.  It was a quick decline, and I worry that if we had waited much longer, he would have suffered even more. 

With a heavy heart, we decided to have him put to sleep.  I had to convince myself over and over again that this was the right decision for him and for our family.  Making the decision to take a life, especially the life of a loved one, is not an easy task.  Then to watch it happen is even more difficult.  It truly was peaceful for him, but it is still quite painful for me.  But I wanted him to die knowing we were there with him through the whole thing.  We will miss him dearly!

There are so many great stories to share, and tonight we took some time as a family to remember all the good, funny, and crazy things Jake did.  He truly was the perfect family dog.  He was well trained, gentle and loving, and didn't get into any trouble (once we were through that puppy stage, that is).  We were even able to leave out Santa's cookies on the fireplace hearth each Christmas Eve without him disturbing them.  The kids asked if we can get another dog sometime.  He is simply irreplaceable, and I'm not sure another dog will live up to his legacy. 

The kids handled the news quite well.  We have been talking about Jake being sick (not the kind of sick we get) and about him getting ready to go to heaven soon.  They've seen his lump grow and watched him struggle.  And kids just deal with these things differently.  I'm sure their grief will manifest itself somehow over the next several days and weeks..  I printed a collage of pictures of Jake for each kid to have so they could look at it whenever they feel sad or miss him.  Looking at pictures of him now as I type this makes me sad, but I know the pain will ease and we will enjoy his memory for years to come.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

An Allergy Friendly Thanksgiving

Any time food is involved in an activity, it takes planning and preparation for a food allergy family.  And Thanksgiving may take the cake for requiring the most planning and prep work. 

We gather with the hubs' extended family every year for Thanksgiving, and this year was no exception.  More often than not we drive about 2 hours to meet with family for holidays.  So I don't plan on bringing food warm.  I made all of my food items ahead of time and simply warmed them up in a microwave when we got arrived.  It worked out just fine.

Let the food prep begin!

In years past I have made things fairly easy on myself at Thanksgiving and just brought a turkey sandwich with lunch meat, a safe roll, and some fresh fruits and veggies.  But this year I wanted to make it special.  Thanks to help and inspiration from my food allergy blogger friends, I came up with quite a feast. 

We got a turkey from our local Natural Grocers.  It was a free range organic turkey with nothing added.  It is surprising how hard it is to find a turkey without anything added to it.  We didn't do anything special for cooking the it.  We just stuck it in one of those turkey bags and cooked it according to the instructions.  The hubs carved it up and made some gravy with the turkey juices by mixing in some gluten-free flour and cooking it over medium heat.

Other sides I made included Namaste spice bread (muffins), milk-free mashed potatoes, stuffing, green bean casserole, apple pie, and chocolate cream pie

While other family members set up the food line with their potluck items, I designated a table to be the "allergy table" where the serving utensils and food items wouldn't get cross-contaminated.  It worked out quite well, and the kids loved their feast!  It took a bit more work than throwing together turkey sandwiches, but it was well worth the effort!  Happy Thanksgiving everyone! 

Chocolate Cream Pie (Top 8 Free)

I'm not much of a pie fan, but I do like chocolate pudding pie.  You know, the kind you mix with Cool Whip and pour over a graham cracker crust.  Of course, my food allergic kiddos can't enjoy this treat. 

After searching some other food allergy blogs, I came up with this Chocolate Cream Pie.  The crust was inspired by my friend over at Amazing and Atopic.  She suggested using Enjoy Life sugar cookies as a crust.  How easy and delicious!  I simply used the cookies like I would graham crackers to make the crust.

Enjoy Life sugar cookie crust

2 cups Enjoy Life Sugar Cookies, crushed
3 Tbsp milk-free butter, melted (I used Earth Balance Soy Free)

Preheat oven to 350º.  Mix together crushed cookies and melted butter.  Press into pie plate.  Bake for 8 minutes.  Allow to cool completely before adding pie filling.

Pie Filling
I came across this post from Milk Allergy Mom for chocolate mousse and decided it would be good as a pie for Thanksgiving.  It's really simple!

Using the cream from 4 cans of coconut milk (get exact details here), whip in stand mixer while gradually adding cocoa and sweetener of your choice.  I used powdered sugar to really make it sweet, but there are obviously more healthy options, such as honey, agave, or other natural sweeteners.  Once I reached a desired flavor, I poured the chocolate mixture over my crust and sprinkled on some Enjoy Life chocolate chips.

I served this to my kiddos at Thanksgiving, but it didn't go over as well as I had hoped.  They don't care too much for coconut milk, and the cocoa didn't cover the flavor enough.  They did LOVE the crust though, so that's a keeper!  I'll try another recipe for the filling of my next chocolate cream pie.

Green Bean Casserole (Top 8 Free)

I have had trouble making good casseroles for my kids because of Bubs' milk allergy.  I have always done without a cream of whatever soup.  Sometimes I just omit the soup from a casserole recipe.  Occasionally I would use tomato soup instead (weird, I know, but they like it).  The kids haven't seemed to have minded my make-shift casseroles, but I think that's because they don't know any different.
Green Bean Casserole

This Thanksgiving, I wanted to try the traditional Green Bean Casserole.  I asked around on Twitter for suggestions, and someone suggested using the recipe below for a Cream of Mushroom soup.  It was sooooo simple, and it turned out great!

Here's how I made our green bean casserole:

Fresh green beans
Bacon (I used 6 strips)
Onions (chopped) (I used about 1/4 cup)
Cream of mushroom soup*
Black pepper (to taste)
Rice Chex

Preheat oven to 350º.  Cut off ends of green beans and cut in half.  Rinse and set aside.  Cook bacon (I used the microwave) and cut into small pieces.  Mix together green beans, soup, bacon, onions, and black pepper.  Bake for 30 minutes.  Crush Rice Chex and sprinkle on top.  Bake for an additional 5 minutes. 

*Here is the recipe (click for full instructions) for cream of mushroom soup from Must Follow Recipes with a few minor ingredient changes.

3 T milk-free butter (I used Earth Balance Soy Free)
1/4 c mushrooms, finely chopped
1 Tbsp onion, finely chopped
1 1/4 c rice milk
3 Tbsp gluten-free flour (I used King Arthur Flour Gluten Free Multi-Purpose Flour)
1/4 tsp salt
Dash of pepper

I added the milk cold to the butter, mushroom, onion mixture before adding flour, salt, and pepper. 

I was distracted and accidentally let it cook too long, so it got pretty thick.  I added a bit more rice milk to thin it out.  I didn't use the entire amount of soup in this casserole, but I think I could have used more green beans and used the entire amount.
Cream of mushroom soup

This casserole turned out really good.  Even though I didn't have those French fried onions to top this casserole, the Chex added a nice crunch.  And the soup was just right.  I will have to use this recipe again for other casseroles, and even make cream of whatever else I want.  I hope you can enjoy this as well!

Apple Pie (Top 8 Free)

Apple pie.  An American tradition.  This one is not too hard to convert to Top 8 free.  The filling is already mostly safe (just had to convert flour to gluten-free flour), so I just had to tweak the crust a bit. 

I have had trouble making the crust so it is easy to transfer.  Last year the crust I made for a pumpkin pie came apart as I tried to roll it over my rolling pin to transfer.  So I cut it into pieces and placed it in my pie dish, then patted it together like play-doh.  This year I changed the recipe a bit to make it more moist.  It definitely tastes better, but it is still difficult to transfer.  I resorted to using a cake lifter which made a world of a difference.  It is important to get some gluten-free to stick to the cake lifter to make the transfer as easy as possible. 

2 c gluten-free flour (I used King Arthur Flour Gluten Free Multi-Purpose Flour)
2/3 c shortening (I used Spectrum)
1/2 c unsweetened applesauce
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
3-4 Tbsp cold water

Using a pastry blender, cut shortening into flour.  Mix in applesauce, salt, and vanilla.  Add water 1 tablespoon at a time until dough reaches desired consistency.  Split dough in half and roll into 2 balls.  Wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate while making filling.

Sliced apples with cinnamon mixture

Pic Filling
6 c apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
Lemon juice
2 Tbsp gluten-free flour (I used King Arthur Flour Gluten Free Multi-Purpose Flour)
3/4 c sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
Cinnamon sugar for sprinkling on top of crust

As you are peeling and cutting apples, use small amounts of lemon juice to coat apples to avoid browning.  In a separate bowl, combine flour, sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg.  Coat apples with this mixture.

I used a cake lifter to transfer the crust so it wouldn't fall apart

Pour apples over crust

Preheat oven to 375º.  On a (gluten-free) floured surface, roll out one ball of pie dough into a circle big enough to fit your pie plate.  Tranfser crust to pie dish and remove excess dough from edges.  Pour apple mixture on top of crust.  Roll out remaining dough and carefully place on top of apple mixture.  Cut a few slits in top crust for ventilation.  Another option would be to cut out seasonal shapes from dough to place on top of pie rather than a full circle.  Check out some cute ideas on Keeley McGuire's Blog such as stars or leaves.  Sprinkle cinnamon sugar over top of crust.  Cover edges with foil or a pie shield and bake for 25 minutes.  Remove foil/shield and bake an additional 25 minutes.  Remove from oven and allow to cool.

Sprinkle top of crust with cinnamon sugar

Delicious apple pie


Stuffing (Gluten and Top 8 Free)

My kids LOVE stuffing, but I had to find a way to make it free of gluten, milk, and soy.  So I looked up traditional recipes and created my own version.  Here ya go...

Gluten-free bread (I used EnerG)
Spray oil (I used my kitchen spritzer with canola oil)
Italian seasoning
Garlic powder
Black pepper
Celery (chopped)
Onion (chopped)
Milk-free butter (I used Earth Balance Soy Free)
Chicken broth

Preheat over to 350º.  Cube bread.  I made a triple batch and used 3 loaves.  Spread evenly over a baking sheet.  Spritz with oil.  Sprinkle with seasonings to taste.  You could really use any seasonings you like.  Bake until lightly toasted (just a few minutes).  While bread is baking, sauté celery and onions with a small amount of butter over medium heat (I used about a tablespoon of butter).  Mix together bread and celery/onions.  Add chicken broth (I used 1 cup per loaf of bread) and mix. Bake for 25 minutes.

I made this ahead of time, so I will warm it up in the microwave once we reach our destination.  But you could stick it back in the oven to warm if desired.

Celery and onions sautéing over medium heat

Mix it all together, and voila!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Third Grade Bible Class Sleepover

Bubs is in third grade now.  At our church that means he will be presented a Bible.  As part of his preparation for being presented a Bible, he was to attend weekly meetings in November, then go to a sleepover with his fellow third graders.  The sleepover was last night, and  the presentation will be tomorrow at our regular church service.

The night of the first class, I spoke to the teacher about Bubs' food allergies.  I wanted to know if food would be offered in the weekly classes and what the food situation would be for the sleepover.  She assured me that there would be no food at the weekly classes, and that parents would be providing food for the sleepover.  That food included popcorn and cookies for a movie on Friday night and eggs and toast with jelly for breakfast on Saturday morning. I told her I would bring food for Bubs to have so he would feel included.    

I followed up our discussion with an e-mail detailing what we had discussed and ways to help keep Bubs safe, including asking the kids to wash hands after eating.

Thought this was cute

Last night was the sleepover.  The evening began with an art project which involved decorating a wooden treasure chest.  There were markers, stickers, glitter, and paint.  Of course, the paint was not the washable kind.  In fact, it was fabric paint!  And, of course, my child gets paint on his clothes.  Ugh!

Next was a movie.  Popcorn was popped and passed around in brown paper bags.  I grabbed one of the paper bags and poured Bubs' safe popcorn into it.  The other kids had lemonade made from a powdered mix, so I offered Bubs water instead.  The kids continued to watch the movie, but they never did wash their hands. 

I know the wheat pictured here represents the bread of life,
but it only reminded me of gluten :( 

After the movie was over, they got a tour of the old, historic church.  Then it was time to lie down and go to sleep.  Yeah, right!  These kids were fired up.  With girls in one room and boys in another, there was a lot of giggling coming from one room and lots of loud rowdiness coming from the other.  They did all drift off to sleep eventually. 

Around 1:30 am, the  boys had a surprise awakening.  An exterior window to their room was kicked in by a (drunk, I'm assuming) young man who was mad at his girlfriend.  The dads in the room acted quickly and moved the boys out of that room and into a safe interior room of the church.  And they called 911.  After breaking the window, the man then began to try to knock down a door to the church.  Luckily he was still there when the police arrived, and he was arrested.  This will be a night the boys will never forget! 

All the kids and parents were safe, and when morning came, breakfast was served.  Eggs and toast.....and the cookies that hadn't been served the night before.  Bubs had chosen to take an Enjoy Life Cinnamon Bun bar for his breakfast (yes, I realize it is a decadent bar and not a proper breakfast bar, but this was a special occasion).  He ate his bar and two Enjoy Life sugar cookies for breakfast.  We will have to be sure to offer a healthy lunch and dinner for this guy!

Breakfast of champions

I did overhear the teacher ask the kids to wash their hands once they were done eating breakfast, but everyone was leaving after breakfast, so no hands were washed....except Bubs'.

While the hand washing didn't go as I had hoped, it also didn't end up being a problem.  I had his meds with me, as always, in case of an incident.  But once again we came home without having had to open our Allermates case to use his allergy meds.  Another successful outing and another great memory made!

Posing for the camera




Saturday, November 16, 2013

Puppy Chow (Free of Milk, Gluten, Peanuts, Eggs)

A rare treat we had at my family get-togethers growing up was puppy chow.  What goes together better than chocolate and peanut butter?  Two of my faves!  But now that I have kids with food allergies, we must adjust.  I took our family recipe and tweaked it to meet our needs.
Puppy Chow
1/4 c milk-free butter (I used Earth Balance Soy Free)
3 c chocolate chips (I used Enjoy Life)
1 c peanut butter alternative*
12 oz Rice Chex (gluten-free)
3 c powdered sugar

Over low heat, melt butter, chocolate chips, and peanut butter alternative.  Pour mixture over Rice Chex and mix.  Let stand 5 minutes.  Put cereal and powdered sugar in a paper bag and shake well.  Pour into a bowl and freeze 1-2 hours. 

*I halved this recipe and added 1/2 c Barney's almond butter (which is dedicated peanut-free) to one half and 1/2 c Wowbutter (made with soy) to the other half.   

Both batches taste eerily like the original peanut butter version.  So delicious!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Finding Myself at FABlogCon 2013

I just got home from an amazing three days in Las Vegas for the first annual Food Allergy Bloggers Conference (FABlogCon).  My head is still spinning from all that happened there.  I met so many wonderful people and learned tons of new information. 

My sister-in-law and fellow blogger (Lacy from Making it Milk-Free) and I decided to take this journey together.  The women who worked so hard to put this event together (Jenny Sprague and Homa Woodrum) coordinated with Chef Keith at South Point Hotel and Casino to make the meals safe for all attendees. I don't have any allergies myself, but I am a very picky eater, and I was worried that I might go hungry.  But I can assure you, I was stuffed after each meal.  They did a great job making accommodations to meet all the special diet needs.

Seeing the sights in Vegas

Upon check-in for FABlogCon, we were given not one, but two swag bags full of goodies from several allergy-friendly companies, including.  I couldn't believe the generosity of these companies.  My kids will most definitely feel the love from this community.  There were lots of free samples, coupons, literature, and flyers.  I will be sorting through and reading everything from these wonderful companies.

Me and Making it Milk-Free at FABlogCon

As the lectures began, I looked around and saw most people either on their laptops or using their smart phones.  I quickly realized that at a blogging convention, it is not considered impolite to tweet or instagram during a lecture.  In fact, it is flattery.  Not the type of technology etiquette I am used to, but I joined right in.  When in Rome...

Making it Milk-Free, Me, and Amazing and Atopic

There were so many great presentations given by well-spoken individuals in the food allergy community.  There was lots of helpful information, not only about blogging, but about food allergies in general.  After dealing with food allergies and food sensitivities for so long, you think you know it all.  It's great to attend an event like this and expand your world. 

I learned about how to be a better advocate, legal issues surrounding epi in schools, 504 plans and why they are so helpful, and cutting edge research.  I was given the confidence to move forward with my children's school to push for no food in the classrooms, not only for my kids' sake, but for general wellness. Just think about the epidemic of childhood obesity, kids with diabetes, families with religious beliefs that restrict certain types of foods, and simple preferences of parents. I learned that social media is about celebrating others, not shining a light on yourself.  I learned how to be a more effective blogger.

During some of the lectures, I felt the material was a bit out of my league and over my head.  They were targeting the big wig bloggers, not the "mommy bloggers."  As I listened to ways to better my blog, monetize my blog, become a spokesperson for companies, I gave a lot of thought as to why I blog and what I want out of it.  I determined that the reasons why I blog now are for the same reasons that I started blogging.

  • I want a place to journal, to vent, to keep a diary.  I find it therapeutic to share things in my life as they happen, good or bad. 

  • I want to share our story.  Maybe even help someone out there who is facing the same challenges we are.

  • I want to educate others, be an advocate for my children and others with food allergies.

What I have found through all this is an amazing network of online support.  People who want to be educated and learn about food allergies -- how to prevent a reaction, how to handle a reaction, and how to help in any way possible.  People who know what I am going though because they are also walking in my shoes.  People with other types of food or health issues that are educating me and helping me understand their world. 

My online community and reality collided this weekend at FABlogCon.  I had the privilege and honor of meeting so many amazing women (and a few men) who "get it."  They understand what I go through on a daily basis.  They share my fears, my battles, my hopes, and my joys.

This was the place I was able to talk to, hug, and laugh and cry with all these fabulous ladies I follow online. It was surreal.

I got to meet with vendors from several allergy-friendly companies, many of which I already use their products.  It was so wonderful to meet face-to-face with the people who help make these products available to us.  I got to speak with representatives from FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education), listen to Nevada Senator Debbie Smith talk about how she helped make it possible to mandate stock epi in Nevada schools (6 lives have been saved because of this law since it passed), and hear from Dr. Eric Edwards, the creator Auvi-Q (the newest epi auto-injector).  I got to sit at breakfast and talk with leading asthma and allergy doctors, the creator of an online EEpiPen training course, and many others leaders in the food allergy community.  I got to hear the most up-to-date research on finding treatment for food allergies. 

I think food allergy bloggers are instantly bonded by subject alone, but what was incredible is that I truly believe I would be friends with these women if I happened to meet them by chance. This is just such a great group of passionate, smart, motivated people who make this world a better place by sharing their knowledge.
I heard over and over again what an amazing job the founders did organizing this event. It went off without a hitch. My response was, "Of course. They are food allergy moms."  We are prepared and organized. Always. 

Making it Milk-Free, Freedible, Amazing and Atopic, Me, and Allergen-Free Baker

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Trick-or-Treating with Food Allergies

Happy Halloween!

While almost everything American involves food, this is the one holiday that is all about the candy. Halloween doesn't mean much if you don't go door to door begging for treats. Yes, there's the costumes to look forward to, but again, what to you do with it if you don't go trick-or-treating?

Having food allergies makes a candy-centered holiday a bit more challenging, but not impossible. My kids don't know any different, and they know they can't eat what they collect.  Almost all of the candy collected will be dropped off at our local kids dentist office, then shipped overseas to our troops. The kids know that I have safe treats at home for them to indulge in. So, for them, trick-or-treating is literally just for the experience of going door to door. Not for the actual items collected. 

School Parade

There's also the school parties to navigate. Schools are getting better at recognizing food allergies. In fact, both GirlyGirl and Bubs have another child in their class with food allergies. The room mom for GirlyGirl's class sent out an email asking each parent to donate a food or tableware item, asking all food items to be nut-free. Even with the request, I knew some of the snacks wouldn't be safe, so I planned ahead and brought her a pumpkin shaped sugar cookie, pumpkin shaped brownie, and a mint candy. The room mom also sent me and the other food allergy mom in the class an email stating the the ghost pudding cups the kids would be making had all safe ingredients except for the candy corn pumpkin which has the "May Contains" statement. She also said she would bring all wrappers for us to read.  I love the attention to detail! I responded thanking her for her efforts, then ran to the Dollar Tree to buy a bag of safe candy corn so she could participate. 

Safe treats for GirlyGirl

Peanut-free candy corn

Ghost Graveyard

After hanging out with GirlyGirl for a while, I headed down the hallway to Bubs' class.  He is responsible enough to eat only what I send with him, so I knew I could show up later in his class.  I send with him a pumpkin shaped brownie and mint candy as well, and a small package of all natural gummy bears.  By the time I arrived, they were playing Halloween bingo.  He won a round, and the prize was a lollipop.  He politely said, "No, thank you," and didn't bat an eye.  I told him I was proud of him for being so polite and not making a big deal about it.  Then I told him he could have one of his safe suckers with all natural colors once we got home.  He was excited to get to enjoy a prize after all!  At the end of the party, they handed out Playdoh.  Did you know that Playdoh contains wheat?  I told him he could play with it, but that he would need to wash his hands when he was done.    

Classroom Games

After school we hurried home to eat an early dinner so we could head out to trick-or-treat.  I didn't have any special entrée planed such as brains (cauliflower) or maggot soup (rice soup), but I was able to throw together some cute fruit figures that I have seen going around on Facebook.  Easy and healthy!  In fact, the kids asked for more celery!  

Part of our Halloween dinner

We ended up with quite a load of candy.  Four kids with several stops makes quite a pile.  The hubs and I will sneak a few of our favorites, and the rest will be sent to our troops.  I'd say it was a successful Halloween!

Our candy haul!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Product Review: Gluten Freedom Project

If you are new to a restricted diet, or even if you have been on one for a while, you need to check out the Gluten Freedom Project.  Don't let the name fool you.  This free website is not just for people who are gluten-free, but for people who have a variety of diet restrictions.

The Gluten Freedom Project (GFP) is a website that was created by a group of health care professionals, many whom are dealing with  restricted diets themselves.  There are so many great tools available on this site.  Menu planning, recipes, a product directory, grocery lists, and so much more.

Menu planning a big part of dealing with food allergies or a restricted diet for other reasons.  It is hard to just throw something together on the fly.  It is important to have safe ingredients on hand for meal prep.  The GFP Menu Planner allows the user to select which foods need to be avoided and creates a menu for you.  Or you have the option to create you own.  There are tons of recipes to choose from for breakfast, lunch, snacks, and suppers.  The recipes are selected by your special diet needs.  It doesn't get much easier than that!

A sample menu - just click on an item to get the full recipe

There are so many recipes to choose from.  Even with my family's diet restrictions, there are still several options available.  Each recipe has a picture, description, ingredients, and instructions.  And the variety is amazing!  I know we get stuck in a rut eating the same thing over and over again because it's easy, but the GFP has given us so many more options.  I love that I can select which foods need to be avoided, and it creates a recipe list to suit my needs. 

There is a detailed product directory that offers a comprehensive list of products and allows you to view the list of ingredients.  There is also an easy one-click Allergen Warning button for easy viewing of allergens in each product.  I usually stumble across products in the store, but this is a much easier way to search.  And this way I don't have to stand in the freezer section with the door open while reading labels. :)   There is an option to add these products to your Favorite's list, add to your grocery list, or order online (if applicable).  I love this feature!

Writing a grocery list is something I am hit or miss at.  Sometimes I do it (and stick to it), and other times I just wing it.  One thing I know is that I definitely save money and have fewer trips to the store if I have a list in hand.  The grocery list option on GFP is great.  You can create your list on the site while checking for allergens and print or e-mail the list to your phone or tablet.  You can also print coupons when available.  The list is organized by sections of the grocery store to make your trip more efficient.  And this list can be created as part of your menu planning/recipes.  So easy!

The Gluten Freedom Project also offers several other great resources.  There is a whole section dedicated to Learning.  Here there are weekly lessons which include the topics Getting Started, Eating, Safe Kitchen, Shopping, Cooking, Eating Out, Social Support, and Travel.  It is a great way to learn about diet restrictions without feeling overwhelmed.  There is also a library of great articles to help you learn more about food topics. 

There is also a great community of support on this site.  It is easy to feel alone when you can't eat like everyone else around you, but this support system can help you feel more confidant in your choices and your special diet needs. 

The one thing that would make The Gluten Freedom Project even better is if there were an app available for my phone or tablet.  I'm sure as this site continues to grow, an app will be on it's way. 

Give this FREE online tool a try!  You won't be sorry you did!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

School Lunch with the Birthday Girl

Today is GirlyGirl's birthday, so the hubs and I had lunch with her at school.  At her table, three children had sack lunches, and the other four had school lunches.

The school lunch was pizza and salad (or broccoli or green beans).

Here's what I saw in the sack lunches (there may have been other components to these lunches that never made it out of their lunch boxes):

1) Gatorade, gummy bears, Cheetos, and part of an apple (which didn't get eaten)

2) Juice box, Cheez-its, squeeze applesauce, and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups (full size)

3) Juice box, chips, a bag of Keebler cookies, and something in a small container that resembled something like pita bread (but just a small bite's worth)

I let GirlyGirl choose her birthday lunch today. Here's what she chose:

Milk in her pink container, a tortilla wrap with hummus and cheese, green peppers with hummus for dipping, and a fruit squeeze up. 

I did surprise her with a Top 8 Free cupcake (it is her birthday, after all), so she had a bit of junk, but I was so proud of her choices, especially after seeing the kind of food that surrounds her at school. 

I was actually impressed with the healthy choices the school lunch offered. I can't say the pizza was the most healthy, but there were good veggie options. And most kids had plenty of veggies on their trays.  It seems as if it's the parents who are packing the lunches are the ones we need to work on. 

Apple Bread (Top 8 Free)

While I was at a scrapbooking convention recently, the hubs took the kids to an apple orchard to stock up on apples to can a bunch of applesauce. Once several batches of applesauce had been made, there were enough apples left over to make some apple bread. The hubs made 2 batches of allergy-filled bread and one batch of allergy-friendly bread. After comparing to two, they tasted pretty similar. Here is the recipe he used to make the allergy-friendly version. 
Apple Bread (Top 8 Free)
1 1/2 c gluten-free flour (He used King Arthur Gluten Free Multi-Purpose 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 peeled and chopped apple
1/4 c canola oil
1 egg equivalent (He used Ener-G Egg Replacer)
Preheat oven to 350º.  Grease a loaf pan.  He used canola oil in a kitchen spritzer.  In a medium bowl, combine flour, guar gum, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg.  In a separate bowl, mix together sugar, apples, oil, and egg replacer.  Add dry mixture to apple mixture and stir just until moistened.  Pour into loaf pan and bake 55-60 minutes.  


Thursday, October 10, 2013

A Trip to the Allergist

It has been a while since Bubs and GirlyGirl have visited the allergist.  Bubs hasn't been for over 2 years since we got involved with his elimination/rotation diet (read about it here).  He had some blood work done then back when we started that adventure, so we knew his milk, egg, and peanut numbers hadn't come down.  And GirlyGirl hasn't been tested since her original diagnosis 2 1/2 years ago. 

When we first suspected GirlyGirl had a food allergy, I called our children's hospital allergy clinic, but it was a four month wait to see an allergist as a new patient.  So I took her to the local allergy clinic to get the diagnosis and EpiPen prescription.  And I just haven't taken the time to call the children's hospital again to get her in.

But I decided it was time to make the appointment and take them both in for a checkup.  We visited earlier this week and are awaiting results from the blood tests.  I'll be sure to post more when we know more.

In the waiting room there was a sign posted asking people to refrain from sharing or exposing food.  I love that!  I wish everywhere was so comfortable! 

A nurse did the initial questioning and asked about GirlyGirl's previous reaction to peanuts.  When I told her the reaction was actually to a walnut muffin and that walnuts came back negative and peanuts positive, she looked confused.  Maybe she isn't familiar with cross-contamination?

When the doctor was asking about Bubs food allergies, I explained that he is anaphylactic to milk, eggs, and peanuts, but that we are avoiding other foods for behavioral issues.  I showed him the three page list of results we obtained from blood work done by the naturopathic doctor and told him it was IgG and IgE testing.  He very politely explained that that is a different school of thought and that he was only interested in the anaphylactic foods.  I realize they are different schools of thought, and that these other foods won't cause him to die, but he wasn't even the slightest bit interested in hearing about it. 

Later, another nurse came in and was chatting with us, and I briefly mentioned Bubs' elimination/rotation diet.  She took great interest as her son has been diagnosed with ADHD, and she uses a combination of medication and diet to help.  I suggested she look into the elimination diet options further with the possibility of eliminating meds altogether.  She seemed genuinely interested in hopes that her son wouldn't be tied to meds for an extended period of time.  Really, who wants to medicate their children?

One thing I was really excited about was having the chance to play with the Auvi-Q trainer.  What a neat device!  It is much more compact than the EpiPen, but you would still have to carry two.  They should make a device that has two auto-injectors in the same case.  With today's technology, it shouldn't be that hard!  My hesitation for carrying and distributing the Auvi-Q is that it is not as common as the EpiPen, and others may not recognize it as my child's life-saving medication.  I have a mental image of the school nurse or other school staff opening the cupboard to get epinephrine and not recognizing the Auvi-Q, but looking for an EpiPen.  One more block/area of hesitatation.  I am planning on filling their Auvi-Q prescription and carrying it with me, but leaving the EpiPens at school and after school care.  At least until it is more mainstream. 

Another exciting thing that happened was my kids were selected to be part of an asthma research study.  They are comparing kids with allergies and asthma to kids with asthma only.  The study would consist of a few hours at the children's hospital where some histamine gel would be applied to their forearm.  An ultrasound would be used to monitor how the body's blood flow reacts to the histamine.  A skin prick test would also be performed testing 22 environmental allergens.  Finally a blood sample would be taken to test DNA.  In return, they would receive a $50 gift card to Walmart or Target, $10 for the skin test, and mileage reimbursement.  Sounds like a good deal to me!  The kids, on the other hand, are not so excited.  They are a bit hesitant.  I will continue to discuss the benefits of this study and how they can help others by participating, as well as the financial gain they will receive.  I'm not sure the bribe of money is enough to offset the cost of a skin prick test and blood draw in their eyes. 

I forgot to ask the allergist if their clinic is participating in any of the oral immunotherapy for food allergies.  I will be sure to ask when we call about the results.  I'll keep you posted!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Product Review: Rice Dream

When you can't serve your child cow's milk, there are several options for milk alternatives.  But when you are limited from additional allergens like we are, the search field is narrowed. 

We love using Rice Dream as a cow's milk alternative.  Bubs loves it in his cereal, and I use it in all my allergy-free baking when milk is called for.  

Rice Dream is a delicious, shelf-stable milk that can last in your pantry for up to a year.  It is also enriched with all the good stuff you may be missing from cow's milk, such as Vitamins A, D, and B12.  It also has the same amount of calcium as cow's milk.  I know there is a big concern about a lack of calcium from milk-allergic children's diets.  Rice Dream, along with a balanced diet, eliminates this concern. 

Rice Dream also comes in three sizes to suit your needs.  We love keeping the 8 oz singles on hand for when we are on-the-go, and we keep the large 64 oz stocked in the fridge for daily use.  It is also available in a 32 oz size if that better suits your needs.

Busy Life Around Here

I apologize for my lack of posting lately, but let me explain why.  We have been busy!  Now, I realize that everyone is busy, all the time.  But here is what we have been up to.

Upon returning from our fabulous vacation to Disney World and Washington DC (read about it here), it was an immediate jump into Back to School.  We had school supply drop off the same day we got back, then we hit the ground running trying to get into our new school routine (including activities for the kiddos).  Less than a week into school, we found out that all of the girls in our family had head lice!!!  It seems as though there is this predisposed notion that only poor or dirty people get lice, and there is a stigma that goes along with having it, but let me assure you that ANYONE can get it.  And dealing with one person having lice is bad enough, but for four of us to have absolute nightmare!  We had to wash and vacuum anything and everything you can think of, multiple times.  We sanitized all things that come into contact with our heads.  We did the necessary shampoos (multiple times to make sure we got rid of the lice for good) and the time-consuming combing.  Talk about going through things with a fine tooth comb.....this is where that saying come from, I'm sure. 

The day we realized we had lice, I ran to the local drug store to buy Lice Ice (as recommended by our school nurse).  This is a gel-type application that sits on the hair overnight and is rinsed out in the morning.  Then the hair is combed with a special fine-tooth comb to remove all the dead lice.  Again, we didn't have to do this for just one girl, but for all the girls!  And it's not just for one day.  The combing needs to be done twice a day for TWO weeks!  Do you have any idea how much time this takes?!?  The first day of combing I spent NINE hours combing hair!  That's in addition to going to work and feeding my family!  UGH!  I'm just glad it's over, and I hope we never have to go through this again!  (We also applied a homemade lice shampoo several times just to be sure the lice were killed.  Mix together 1 cup of apple cider vinegar and 1/4 cup shampoo.  It has to be regular shampoo without conditioner.  Massage 2 oz into the scalp for 5 minutes.  Then add another 2 oz and continue to massage for an additional 5 minutes.  Let it sit on the hair for 15 minutes and rinse.)

One evening while we were sitting in my bathroom combing, the hubs and I decided we would like to move!  We currently live about 10 minutes outside of town, and each year we request a district transfer for the kids to go to school in town (rather than the country school that is farther away from our house).  We love our country home and the setting it offers, but the commuting is wearing on us.  There are many reasons to move into town, but one of the big ones that seals the deal is Bubs' food allergies.  It may seem silly, but here's why...

Bubs is very involved in soccer and basketball, and he has practice four evenings a week and games on the weekends (and sometimes Friday nights).  I already pack his lunch for school every day, and now I'm also packing a dinner for him too.  We don't have time to drive home and have a hot meal, and we certainly can't go through a drive thru for some fast food.  So I pack his dinner and he eats at the hubs' office or in the vehicle on the way to practice.  I know family dinners have gone by the wayside for many American families with their busy lifestyles, and I don't expect that we will all sit around the table each and every night (although I will try), but I would like to offer something other than a sandwich for all of Bubs' meals during the week. 

Other factors that played into our decision included wanting to be closer to other young families.  There is currently one young family on our road, but they are about a mile down the gravel.  I am looking forward to having a sidewalk that my kids can ride bikes on, letting them walk to school, and just being closer to other people.  Being able to run home over the lunch hour if I forget Bubs' cleats or GirlyGirl's dance bag (or even to switch the laundry) seems like a luxury.

Now, I realize that many people commute to work each day.  They commute much farther than we do.  And it's not so much the driving that bothers me.  It's the food allergies that's the kicker.  That, and wanting to be in a neighborhood have made our decision to move.  Also, once in town, we won't have to apply each year for each child to transfer into the school district (a big stressor for me). 

We all know selling a house the past several years has been a bit of a challenge.  And trying to sell a house in the country on 20 acres may still be a bit challenging.  But we have spent the past month fixing up the place as best we can to get it in tip top selling condition.  New carpet, new paint, packing, decluttering, staging.  Now we are ready.  The photos have been taken, and we are ready to list.  Hopefully in a few days we will have completed all the necessary paperwork, and we will be on the market.  Anyone who has tried to sell a house knows how stressful it is to always keep is clean.  Imagine how stressful it will be trying to keep it in showing condition with four young children.  We can do it, though.  I'll keep the toys in a small box that I can throw in the closet each morning, keep the beds made, and the countertops clear. 

We have mixed feelings about selling this house.  We have only lived here for 7 years, but we designed this home, and we intended to stay here forever.  The hubs even built portions of this home by hand (which may mean more to me than him), including our fireplace, back deck, and fabulous swingset.  We have a perfect setting with lots of trees and space.  But we just want to be closer to the action.  We will design our next house and have it built in town.  We can take the things we love and hate about this house and tweak it in the new house.  But for now, we wait to see if and when this house sells.

So, as you can see, my time has been consumed by combing hair and prepping our home.  My creativity in the kitchen and blogging have taken a hit.  But now things should be getting somewhat back to normal.  I can start baking and posting again.  I look forward to sharing more with you!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Holy Communion with Food Allergies

We regularly attend church on Sundays, and once a month Holy Communion is offered.  We have never allowed Bubs to take Communion because of his allergies to milk, eggs, and peanuts.  You never know what is going to be in bread.  Then, almost 2 years ago, we learned that he is also sensitive to gluten, along with many other foods.  That makes finding a Communion bread even more difficult. 

The thought had never crossed my mind to find a Communion bread alternative that Bubs could have.  He was OK with not receiving it.  Sometimes he would walk to the front of church with us, and sometimes he would stay in his seat.  I left it up to him since he wouldn't be partaking. 

A few weeks ago, one of the women at church (who follows my blog and realized there was a need) asked if there was a way they could provide some bread for him to eat.  It caught me a little off guard as I hadn't put any thought into that.  I told her I could bake something ahead of time, then bring it to church on Communion Sunday.  Then I thought that maybe I could just bring a piece of his sandwich rice bread (less work for me).  But he eats that stuff all the time and it wouldn't be special.  So I jumped online and searched for gluten-free communion bread.  I found some made by EnerG!  They are Top 8 Free and perfect for the church.  I sent a link to this woman asking if the church would be willing to purchase these so all the attendees with food allergies/sensitivities could join in the ritual. 

The church did order these EnerG Communion Wafers, and today Bubs enjoyed his very first Communion!  What a special moment for him and me!  And how incredibly thoughtful of this woman and the church to make these accommodations for him and others with special diet needs.  The feeling is amazing to feel so included and welcomed.  We are so blessed to be part of such a wonderful church community.