Treating Ourselves for Summer….

fun-sun-036It’s coming. The last day of school and all that comes with it; parties, picnics and more. It’s all in good fun and a wonderful way to celebrate our children’s hard work throughout the year. But most of these celebrations are geared around food, so it’s also a hectic time for us food allergy mamas as we think of creative ways to get around the inevitable question of whether or not our kids can participate in these food celebrations. My son John has several coming up including end of year baseball and soccer outings at the local ice cream shop, a class celebration at a friend’s house with free use of an ice cream truck, and the school wide hand out of Popsicles on the blacktop after the last bell rings.

These fun little celebrations all include food John can’t have; ice cream. In fact, even Popsicle day is off limits because the ones the PTA buys has a shared facility disclaimer. Usually, the best way to handle all this is 1. make sure I am there if at all possible, and 2. make the yummiest, most delicious treat to send in place of the ice cream. It’s always a bonus when the other kids want what John’s having versus the same old ice cream cone.

Treats are just that…something special to celebrate little moments of greatness in our lives. It’s not always about the food, especially as we get older. Treats could mean a facial, manicure, a round or golf, a new pair of shoes or whatever else you fancy. What I’ve tried to¬†teach my son is to not get caught up by the fact he can’t walk up to the ice cream truck like his friends….it’s more about being WITH his¬†friends, and appreciating the moment of togetherness.

As the school year comes to a close and our kids are home for the summer it’s a great chance to slow down and enjoy the “togetherness”. I personally look forward to lazy days and special treats all summer long. I also look forward to developing and baking¬†some new treats to share with John, my family, his friends and all of you. Here’s to a Happy June!

My prescription for an iron deficiency: Dairy, Egg and Nut Free Pumpkin Cake!

_rkp2928The past few months I have found myself to be unsually exhausted. As many of you know I have been working feverishly on my soon to be released cookbook and training for a marathon. Truth be told I didn’t really consider the book to be “work” because it involved baking and writing, two of my passions. As for running, I love it for what it offers me…solitude.¬†My fellow mamas know very well that solitude is a rarity when you have young kiddos. Unfortunately I’ve had some injury issues which have forced me to scale back considerably on my running as of late. So I know that wasn’t the reason for my sleepiness.

I decided it was time for a physical and went to the doctor who ran a full blood work up. Everything looked great except for my low iron levels. My doctor prescribed an iron supplement and to include more natural sources of iron in my diet. I immediately looked up good sources of iron and to my great surprise, I found out that pumpkin is a wonderful source. I love pumpkin. A lot. So that got me thinking; what dessert could I make that would help me on the road to iron deficiency recovery? Pumpkin cake of course!

I made this cake a lot during the holidays and it is unbelievably good. Delectable pumpkin cake layered with my rich and creamy dairy free cream cheese frosting; there is nothing better. Present this beauty of a cake on a gorgeous pedestal cake stand because it is that special.

I also read that tofu is a great source of iron so maybe those dairy/egg/nut free vanilla cupcakes or even my pound cake will be my next dessert of choice. In the meantime be sure to try this super simple and delicious cake!

Harvest Pumpkin Cake


Yield: One 9-inch layer cake


1/2 cup dairy-free shortening

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup light brown sugar

1/2 cup silken tofu

1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin purée (not pumpkin pie filling)

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3 cups cake flour

4 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup soy or rice milk

1 recipe Dairy-Free Cream Cheese Frosting


In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine shortening, sugars, silken tofu, pumpkin puree and vanilla extract on low speed until creamy. In a separate medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda with a wire whisk.


Preheat oven to 350¬ļF, and spray two 9-inch round cake pans with dairy-free baking spray. Add flour alternatively with soy milk to the shortening mixture. Pour into prepared pans, and bake 25 to 35 minutes. Cool completely, and frost with Dairy-Free Cream Cheese Frosting.



Dairy-Free Cream Cheese Frosting


Yield: 2 cups


1/2 cup dairy-free margarine

3/4 cup dairy-free cream cheese

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

21/2 cups confectioners’ sugar


In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the margarine, cream cheese, salt, and vanilla until thoroughly combined. Slowly add confectioners’ sugar, and mix on low for 1 minute. Increase speed to medium, and beat 4 to 6 minutes, until light and fluffy. Chill before using.


“A cake as big as the state of Texas”…

_rkp2916Or so they say. It is written in many old cookbooks that the Texas Sheet Cake was given its name because of its large size. And this cake is big; baked in a large 15 x 10 sheet aluminum sheet pan it is big enough to feed your family, friends and neighbors. What could be more perfect than this show stopping dessert for your Memorial Day weekend party?

There are lots of different variations of the Texas Sheet Cake. Many include buttermilk, butter and¬†sour cream. Also, most of the recipes for frosting the Texas Sheet Cake call for pecans in the glaze. Obviously the above list of ingredients is out of the question, so I developed a dairy, egg and nut free version that all of us would love. This recipe uses simple ingredients you already have on hand and takes about 30 minutes to make from start to finish. The Texas Glaze is prepared on the stove while the cake is baking. Drizzle the rich glaze over the cake as soon as it comes out of the oven and serve as is to all your guests…right in its big sheet pan. I love serving this cake alongside a big white bowl of blueberries, raspberries and strawberries.

Have a wonderful Memorial Day Weekend everyone!

Texas Sheet Cake



Yield: 1 cake


1/4 cup cocoa powder

1 cup dairy-free margarine

1 cup water

2 cups granulated sugar

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons water

1/2 cup dairy-free buttermilk (mix 1/2 c. soy milk mixed with 1/2 tablespoon vinegar, let sit 5 minutes)

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 recipe Texas Glaze (recipe follows)


In a medium saucepan, bring cocoa, margarine, and water to a boil, stirring constantly over medium heat.


In a large bowl, mix together the sugar and the flour. Pour the cocoa mixture over the sugar‚Äďflour mixture, and blend well. Add the water, buttermilk, baking soda, and vanilla.


Preheat oven to 400¬ļF. Spray a 15√ó10√ó1-inch jelly-roll pan with dairy-free baking spray. Spread evenly into prepared pan, and bake 20 minutes. While the cake is baking, prepare the Texas Glaze.


When the cake is done, immediately pour the Texas Glaze over it, spreading evenly.


Texas Glaze


1/2 cup dairy-free margarine

6 tablespoons soy milk or rice milk

4 tablespoons cocoa powder

1 teaspoon good-quality vanilla extract

2 cups confectioners’ sugar


In a medium saucepan, combine margarine, soy milk, and cocoa, and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, and add vanilla and confectioners’ sugar; mix well. Immediately pour glaze over warm cake.



Dairy, Egg and Nut Free Blueberry Bread

_rkp2804Have you ever bought one of those big packages of blueberries, strawberries or raspberries from a warehouse club, then wondered how are you ever going to eat all that fruit before it goes bad? I’ve done it pretty much every time, so I inevitably make muffins, breads and crisps with the leftover fruit.

We all have our favorite Blueberry Muffin recipes, but what about Blueberry Bread? My recipe for Blueberry Bread is incredibly easy to make and doesn’t taste at all like its allergen free. Bursts of blueberry are speckled throughout the bread, so there is that wonderful fresh fruit taste with every bite. I especially love this recipe for breakfast. It goes great with whole grain cereal and fresh fruit. I’ve¬†snacked on this for an afternoon pick me up with hot green tea. I also have served it countless times as an after school snack. My little guy David loves his bread warmed in the microwave while my daughter Chloe slathers a little extra dairy free margarine on top. Any way you like it, I promise this bread will become a family favorite.


1‚ĀĄ2 cup dairy-free margarine, melted

3 tablespoons water

1‚ĀĄ2 cup soy or rice milk

2 tablespoons grated orange zest

2‚ĀĄ3 cup orange juice

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

3‚ĀĄ4 cup granulated sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

3‚ĀĄ4 teaspoon salt

1‚ĀĄ4 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen


Preheat oven to 350¬ļF, and spray a 9√ó5√ó3-inch loaf pan with dairy-free baking spray.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the melted margarine, water, soy milk, orange zest, and orange juice until thoroughly combined.


In a medium bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda with a wire whisk. Add the dry mixture to the margarine mixture, and stir with a rubber spatula until just combined. Fold in the blueberries.


Pour the batter into a prepared loaf pan, and bake for 55 to 60 minutes, or until the top is golden brown. Cool completely before slicing.

The meeting about The Food Allergy Incident….

This morning I met with our school’s principal and superintendent to discuss the aforementioned food allergy incident. We¬†opened John’s 504 and discussed¬†the ways in¬†which the situation could have been prevented. First and foremost, I wanted them to be aware that I don’t like to directly place blame on one individual but rather that a mistake occurred, and that new precautions needed to be in place. We added some new criteria for John’s 504 Plan that ensures (hopefully) no food will be served to John unless it is approved by me. As I like to say to John’s school, “The buck stops with me”. No school wants the liability of having to decode hidden food allergens in food labels, and nor should they. The best advocate for our children is really us, as their parents.

Once we hammered out that situation I revisited the prospect of changing the Birthday Treat Policy. I felt that the food allergy incident was a wake up call to once and for all start moving in a direction that ultimately creates a healthier and safer environment for not only our food allergic children, but for all children (including those with diabetes, celiac, etc.). I specifically only target the Birthday Treat issue because it is the most logical next step. Many teachers in our school already celebrate birthdays in a non food manner, but it should really be a policy district wide. Once and for all it would eliminate any gray areas of “Can we?” or “Can’t we?”, and adds another layer of protection in the classroom for those with food allergies. It also promotes a healthier environment.

I reiterated to the administration that a No Food Birthday Treat¬† Policy would most likely be heralded by most parents because it is overall a healthier choice. In today’s environment when we are battling epidemic numbers of childhood obesity it can only be a good thing. This policy I proposed only applies to Birthday Treats, because quite frankly it is the only policy that can be mandated at this time. A general No Food policy is unrealistic and I have to admit there are times when certain celebrations can add to our children’s education experience (like my daughter’s 3rd grade Heritage Celebration). This policy also wouldn’t ban food from holiday parties. Per John’s 504 Plan, I will be able to retain control over the food that comes into my son’s classroom, so I will be able to continue to do what I have always done; bring in all the treats for those parties. I always bring in a treat from my book and fresh fruit kabobs or veggie trays. As a side note, the kids LOVE the fresh fruit and the trays are always cleared.

The response from my principal and superintendent was overwhelmingly positive and they were eager to do all they could to help make the Birthday Treat Policy a reality. I think we all agreed that the policy written two years ago probably needs to be update to reflect our changing environment. And they agreed that this type of policy change is tangible. They will meet with their administration council at the end of this month to discuss the issue. I am very hopeful that we could see a No Birthday Treat Policy in the near future. I will keep you all posted.

Thanks so much to all of you who posted your comments and suggestions. I always learn so much from your experiences as well, and take them with wherever I go to advocate.

A Dairy, Egg and Nut Free Treat Like No Other…

_rkp3066The Snickeroo. And I don’t mean a Snickerdoodle Cookie (though I love those cinnamon delights too). This recipe comes straight from my mother in law’s recipe box,¬†with some allergy friendly modifications of course. Grandma Jeanne’s original Snickeroo is simply¬†a rice crispie treat with peanut butter and chocolate. My husband, along with his four brothers LOVED this dessert, and it was a regular after school treat when they were growing up. I remember the first time I tasted these little squares of heaven; I had to have more.

The original recipe also used Special K cereal, but as many of you already know, that particular brand of cereal contains milk ingredients. I substituted rice crispies, soy nut butter and Enjoy Life Chocolate Chips; the end result is phenomenal.

Stored covered in an airtight container for a few days, but I can assure you they won’t last that long.


Yield: About 36 squares


1 cup dark corn syrup

1 cup granulated sugar

1 (15-ounce) container creamy soy nut butter (I like IM Healthy brand)

6 cups crisped rice cereal

2 cups dairy-free chocolate chips


Spray a 13√ó9√ó2-inch baking pan generously with dairy-free baking spray. Set aside.


In a medium saucepan, simmer syrup and sugar together until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and stir in soy nut butter until thoroughly mixed. In a large bowl, combine cereal and soy nut butter mixture, and press into prepared baking dish using a rubber spatula. 


Place chocolate chips into microwavable dish, and heat on high 45 to 60 seconds, or until melted. Using an offset spatula, spread melted chocolate over the cereal mixture. Let mixture cool completely at room temperature, and cut into small 1-inch squares.


Tip: Add more rice cereal if you like a crunchier bar, and less cereal if you want your Snickeroos to be chewier.

What I wish for on Mother’s Day…

It’s a loaded question for me. Ultimately what I would love more than anything on Mother’s Day is something I’ll never have; another day with my own beloved mother. She passed away 12 years ago at the young age of 59, and I am still not recovered from it. Who can really recover from losing your biggest cheerleader, strongest advocate, your best friend. My mother was all those things and much more. She was¬†the strongest woman I’ve ever known, and as much as I try to match her strength and accomplishments I know I never will. She had walls stacked against her her entire life; surviving a near death stroke, surviving a¬†heart attack, being left to care for and solely support five children with no college education, and then ultimately battling the effects of emphysema before her death. Despite all these setbacks I never ever heard my mother complain about her challenges. She delighted in the beauty of every day life. She always told me that every day we wake up and get out of bed, we have two choices: be happy or¬†be sad. She chose happiness every day no matter what that day presented to her. She was, and still is my hero.

There isn’t a day that has gone by since February 7,¬†1997 that I don’t try to dig deep to remember all that she taught me. It’s like cramming for a test, trying to remember every detail, every sentence, every word she ever said. When I had my first child who was colicky and had developmental delays, I dug deep to imagine what she might advise me. I dug deep when my second child suffered terrifying allergic reactions and subsequently faced the idea that food could indeed kill my son if we’re not vigilant. I dug deep when my third and fourth children were born, again suffered from various developmental delays and my days became more filled with therapies, doctor appointments, assessments, IEP meetings, 504 Meetings, school meetings, etc.

What it all comes down to are those two choices my mother once said we all have: be happy or be sad. I am not nearly as brave or strong or patient, but I spend every day to at least try to be half the mom she was. Weeks like this past one when I have had to dig deep once again, talking with my children’s school, getting ready for the spring rounds of what I call “IEP Season”, therapy assessments, neurology appointments, occupation, speech, social and physical therapy I try so hard to remember what being a mother is ultimately about. Oftentimes I tend to complicate matters by thinking I can give 120 percent to everyone. I find myself burned out, tired and impatient. So my mother’s words¬†came¬†back into my head about choices; be happy or be sad.

I choose total and unconditional happiness. In fact, it wasn’t until I became a mother myself that I really learned what the word unconditional meant. Being a mother is the single most rewarding thing I’ve ever done with my life, and if that means I have to wear several different hats over the course of a day, so be it. My four children reward me every day with sense of wonder, innocence and unconditional love. I am profoundly grateful for all that I have.

This Sunday, all I wish for Mother’s Day, is to sit and just “be” with my children. No emails, calls, carpools, meetings, therapies, you get the picture. The past few weeks have been especially trying, and sometimes I seem to forget the simplicity of being a mother. But this Mother’s Day, and hopefully more days thereafter I will remember.

Hats off to my fellow mamas (whatever hat you seem to be wearing today!) and have a very Happy Mother’s Day!

Here’s the rest of the story….

Here’s another update to “A Reaction Waiting to Happen…”. My school’s principal never directly apologized for the incident, but focused on explaining how every action was taken to prevent a potential issue. She said they checked the label on the popcorn against the allergies listed in the 504 and Food Allergy Action Plan and found nothing objectionable. She says it wasn’t until they heard from me that they discovered dairy and milk ingredients might have had other names in the label. The principal then recommended we re open John’s 504 plan to make an amendment that states I am contacted first if there will be any food served. Hmmm… that sounds fishy because I am fairly certain the 504 I signed states I am always contacted if there is to be any type of food celebration. I’ve never ever had anything written otherwise. She said she’d send home a copy of my 504 to review.

The response from the superintendent went along the lines of “I agree the 504 Plan needs to be amended. That was it. No one apologized for miscommunication, the slip up, for anything. My son’s life could have been at risk and I got the sense that little tidbit was overlooked. In fact, in my follow up email to them both, this is what I wrote:

This is no longer an acceptable and appropriate action, due to the fact that¬†all the accommodations were in place (including notifying me if food will be served) and due to human error, mistakes were still made. For the record, are you saying there isn’t language in the 504 Plan that states I would be notified if food is served? I would never agree to a 504 that says this, as I have always strongly advocated that I am in direct contact with his teachers over celebrations, etc. Including the fact that I have asked to be his room mom every single year because I wanted to oversee how class celebrations were handled. I have even gone so far as purchasing safe treats for every activity just to ensure his safety.

This incident is exactly why the policy needs to be changed, because mistakes can and do happen. Would you have still responded this way if John indeed did suffer a reaction and was taken to the hospital? Would it have taken a tragic outcome to change your policy?
What exactly is your aversion to a No Food/Treat Policy in the classroom? Are you concerned with public outcry because it is a “change”, or should you really be taking a proactive approach in keeping our children safe and eliminating the potential for serious, life threatening consequences? If it means keeping our food allergic children safe, and our other intolerant children included then why are you adverse to such a change?
The school principal never answered my very simple question: What exactly is your aversion to a No Treat/Food Policy at school? They didn’t have the decency to answer this important question which, quite frankly I have every right as a taxpayer to ask. Why is the school administration more concerned with the rights of parents and teachers to share cupcakes, cookies, etc. with their classmates, when it has no educational impact on their day? Food allergies aside, what about the alarming rise in childhood obesity, children with gluten free diets, or even children diagnosed with ADD/ADHD who could strongly benefit from a reduction of sugar in their diets (especially during the school day when they are trying to stay focused?).
Just because this issue wasn’t as prevelant 10, even 5 years ago, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pay attention now. It is time to stop with this archaeic way of thinking, and create some policies that reflect our changing environment. I plan to do a little research at my school, talk to some people who are AGAINST a No Treat Policy, because I genuinely want to understand their reasoning. I want to know how and why they don’t see the risk, and why the right to bring in cupcakes is more important than keeping our food allergic children safe. I also plan on meeting with the principal and superintendent as a last ditch effort to agree on some sort of policy that works for everyone. If that doesn’t work, you betcha I’ll be at the board meeting and inviting my local press to stop by as well. Hopefully we’ll get to some sort of compromise on this issue that is agreeable to everyone involved. I’ll keep you posted.

An Update to “A Reaction Waiting to Happen…”

So many of you commented on my original post with your own stories of frustration and voices of support. I can’t tell you how much I appreciated it, and it strengthens my¬†belief¬†that we need to raise our voices louder when it comes to eliminating food from our classroom celebrations. There is such a complacency when it comes to stepping out and making a decision about food in school (that isn’t in the lunchroom, of course). The risk of an accidental ingestion is not worth it, ever.

You asked for a follow up. I am reprinting below the letter I wrote to the nurse, the principal and the superintendent. I asked the superintendent just last fall for the elimination of food during class celebrations, to which his response was they felt it was best to keep the policy as is; leaving the decision up to the individual teacher. This simply is not good enough and leaves lots of room for error, as evidenced by my situation (and many of yours too).

The only response I received was from the school nurse, which was heartfelt and very apologetic. I truly appreciated her concern. In contrast, the principal and superintendent did not respond which speaks volumes to me. They are hoping an apology from the nurse will be good enough, and they probably (though I am assuming and can’t speak for certain) don’t want to muddy the waters. I sent a follow up to them asking them to respond, once and for all. I will show up at the next school board meeting, and every one thereafter if I have too. The time for change is now. I am not waiting until something catastrophic happens.

Letter to the School:

A serious incident regarding my son John Rudnicki and food at the First Grade Spanish Mercado and needs to be addressed. My son has severe dairy and nut allergies, as well as asthma increasing the likelihood of a life threatening reaction if he were to come in contact with the allergen foods. We have a 504 Plan on file at the school as well as a Food Allergy Action Plan so we are deeply concerned about what transpired just prior to the market day.
A few days¬†before the Spanish Market I happened to run into (Spanish Teacher) and¬†asked her if she was serving popcorn at the Mercado as she has done in years past. I was only aware of the possible popcorn due to volunteering two years ago.¬† (Spanish Teacher) said she had checked with (School Nurse) about first graders with food allergies and John wasn’t on that list. Most packaged popcorn have dairy products. Had I not asked, the scenario could have gone like this: John would have asked his teacher if he could have the popcorn, and she would have said yes because he was not on the¬†food¬†allergy list with (School Nurse). This oversight could have had a life threatening impact.
Even though we had all the safeguards in place (procedures and allergen information on file in the nurse’s office) this mistake¬†would have put John’s life in danger. Contrary to what many people believe, children have had anaphylactic reactions to dairy, or any of the other eight common allergens. Life threatening reactions can happen anytime a food allergen is ingested.
This is yet another example as to why I have always advocated District 39, and at the very least McKenzie Elementary, remove food from school celebrations, including birthday celebrations. Right now the policy is up to the individual teacher’s discretion as to whether or not food is allowed. The classroom is meant to be a safe haven, not a place where a child may feel excluded due to his or her allergy (disability), or more importantly put his life in danger. Food does not have to be a part of a celebration.¬† Given the alarming increase in food allergies among our children I urge you to change your policy on this effective immediately.

Dairy, Egg and Nut Free Carrot Cake

_rkp3295Carrots are the vegetable of choice in my house. My kids will happily eat them crunchy for lunch and cooked for dinner. So when I set out to make carrot cake I knew it had¬†a fighting chance to become a cake they would love. I turned to my “life before food allergies” recipe box and found a carrot cake recipe that was loaded with butter, sugar and nuts. Well, obviously that wasn’t going to work so I set out to make a lighter and allergen free carrot cake without all that extra “stuff”.

This Dairy, Egg and Nut Free Carrot Cake is simply amazing. It is lightened drastically by using silken tofu, and relies on freshly shredded carrots to give it the right amount of moisture. There are no hidden extras like coconut, raisins or nuts. The carrots are the star of the show, and rightfully so. Carrot Cake is always partnered with a delectable cream cheese frosting and mine is no different. Tofutti Dairy Free Cream Cheese is the perfect substitution in making my creamy frosting. Each bite of this cake will leave you and your kiddos clamoring for more.

Enjoy and Happy Baking!

Yield: 1 cake


1 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 cup silken tofu

1 cup vegetable oil

21/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

11/2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

11/4 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

11/2 cups grated peeled carrots

1 recipe Dairy-Free Cream Cheese Frosting (see page XX)


In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the sugars and tofu. Slowly add the oil, continuing to mix until thoroughly combined. In a separate medium bowl, combine flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking powder, baking soda, and salt with a wire whisk. Add in 1/2-cup batches to the oil mixture, and mix on medium low. Stir in carrots using a rubber spatula.


Preheat oven to 350¬ļF, and spray a 13√ó9-inch baking dish with dairy-free baking spray. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake 35 to 40 minutes, or until cake tester comes out clean. Cool completely, and frost with Dairy-Free Cream Cheese Frosting.


Dairy-Free Cream Cheese Frosting


Yield: 2 cups


1/2 cup dairy-free margarine

3/4 cup dairy-free cream cheese (I use Tofutti)

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

21/2 cups confectioners’ sugar


In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the margarine, cream cheese, salt, and vanilla until thoroughly combined. Slowly add confectioners’ sugar, and mix on low for 1 minute. Increase speed to medium, and beat 4 to 6 minutes, until light and fluffy. Chill before using.