My response to a reader’s not-so-nice comment on my blog…

When I began this journey of living with food allergies, I never in a million years thought it would lead me down a road of advocacy and controversy. I never thought I would need to educate and raise awareness as much as I’ve had to over the years. Like so many of you, I quickly realized that talking about food allergies often led to misunderstandings and strong opinions.

I had no idea the amount of opposition I’d face in trying to minimize (not eliminate) the amount of sugary and full-o-allergens treats that were served on a monthly basis at my childrens’ schools. I had no idea that making a Peanut Free Zone at a Cubs game last summer would draw the national headlines it did, and all the negative and truly cruel comments that came with it. I had no idea that asking for a flight to be nut free so my family (and other nut allergic families) could fly safely would compromise the rights of other passengers who just had to have their nuts on board a flight. I had no idea I would ever have to read in a paper that a sweet, young 13-year-old girl would have to die of anaphylaxis because no food allergy policy was in place for her at her school.

I have always tried to look at the rights of everyone involved, not just my child’s. I have always tried to be fair and balanced in my views.  I don’t aim to be righteous or militant about my views on food allergy policy, but I do aim to have a logical discussion based on common sense. So when I get a comment on my blog like this one:

“I have to say that peanuts or any food should not be banned in any way. These allergy sufferers need to manage their problem. If you can’t manage it, then don’t fly! It certainly won’t stop me from cracking open a bag of nuts on a plane whether they serve it or not.” comment from foodallergymama.com reader in response to “Should We Ban Peanuts On Airplanes?”

I have to wonder about what we’re really fighting for here. Is it the rights of food allergic persons, (because last time I checked they have rights too), or is it simply fighting for the right to be “right”? There’s no logic in saying my son shouldn’t fly on a plane because we “can’t manage” our food allergy problem.  Turn the mirror around, look at yourself, and say that statement again. Are you really that passionate about a bag of nuts? Or are you just up for an argument based on zero logic?

My son is doing a school project on who they admire. As a 3rd grader, I thought he’d choose a famous sports player. Instead, he choose to study the life of Martin Luther King. Why? He told me MLK fought for equal rights through his words, not his fists. He also said MLK wasn’t a bully, because all he wanted to do was help everyone have the same rights. We talked about how people with food allergies should have the same rights as anyone else; they should be able to eat out at restaurants, attend school and not be told they should be home schooled, be included in parties, play dates and camps and not told they have to eat alone separately, and also be allowed to fly safely without people telling them not to, because they can’t manage their allergies.

My 3rd grader showed more class and grace in his perspective than many adults I’ve talked to about this issue. Of course, he comes from a different perspective than most because he HAS been bullied, told to sit elsewhere and alone, and simply not included in things. Yet he doesn’t want to fight or have an argument about his food allergies, he just wants to feel included and like any other kid.

We’ll continue our path on peaceful education and awareness about the rights of those with food allergies. And thank you to the person who made the above mentioned comment on my blog; you’ve only inspired and motivated me to work harder.

Dairy, Egg and Nut Free Chocolate Chip Scones

I’m already thinking ahead to Valentine’s Day, when everything I make that day has some form of chocolate in it. Warm chocolate chip pancakes with strawberry smoothies for breakfast, Chocolate Paninis for lunch and for dinner, pan-seared steak with roasted potatoes. I’m still working on a special chocolate cake for dessert.

This year I am going to add my Dairy, Egg and Nut Free Chocolate Chip Scones to the mix and serve as an after school snack with tea (for me) and hot cocoa (for them, my kiddos). Of course you could also just make these scones the night before, up to the part of rolling and cutting, put in the fridge on a parchment lined baking sheet and pop them in the oven when you wake up in the morning. Your kids (and probably your husband) will thank you TONS! I think these scones would be a delicious Valentine’s treat for your child’s teacher, wrapped in a pretty little take out box topped with a large silky pink ribbon. A little bribery goes a long way!

Scones are SUPER easy to make. The only trick is to treat them with a light hand and just enough milk to bring the dough together. You don’t want the dough to be too sticky or too dry. I also have indicated adding 1/2 c. dairy free chocolate chips, either the Enjoy Life miniature chips or the larger Divvies chips (available online). In this recipe, I must say I prefer the larger size but it is up to you. I also added 1/4 c. dried cherries because I love the red cherry/chocolate combination. But my FA son John prefers these with no dried berries whatsoever (he’s a chocolate purist!)

Finally, feel free to cut these scones into the traditional triangle scone shape by cutting dough in half, shape each half into a disk, roll to 1/2 inch thickness and cut each circle into 6 wedges. However, I love making these with my kids and using a 2 inch biscuit cutter was easier for my 5-year-old to handle. My 4-year-old loved to brush the melted dairy free margarine on the tops before popping into the oven.

Happy baking everyone!!

DAIRY, EGG AND NUT FREE CHOCOLATE CHIP SCONES

6 T. cold dairy free margarine, diced  + 2 T. dairy free margarine, melted for brushing tops

3/4 c. dairy free buttermilk (3/4 c. soy or rice milk mixed with 3/4 T. vinegar, let stand 5-10 minutes)

1 tsp. vanilla extract

2 c. unbleached all purpose flour

2 T. granulated sugar

1 T. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 c. dairy free chocolate chips (Enjoy Life or Divvies)

1/4 c. dried cherries or cranberries (optional)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt with a wire whisk. Use a pastry blender or your fingers to cut in the 6 T. margarine until mixture resembles large crumbs.

Add vanilla to the “Buttermilk” and mix well. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour “buttermilk” in middle, a little at a time. Stir with rubber spatula until the dough just comes together. Stir in chocolate chips and if using, dried cherries or cranberries.

Transfer dough to lightly floured surface and knead about 15 times. Use a bench scraper or knife to cut dough in half and shape each half into a flattened ball. Roll each ball out into a 1/2 inch thick disk. Use a 2 inch biscuit cutter to cut circles or use a knife to cut each circle into 6 wedges. Place on prepared baking sheet and brush with melted margarine.

Bake 15-18 minutes or until golden brown. Serve immediately.

Gurnee’s Woodland District #50 speaks out on “absurd” comments….

I was recently contacted by Gurnee’s District #50 superintendent, Dr. Joy Swoboda. She wanted to give her side of the story regarding the “absurd” comments made at a recent school board meeting. You may recall I posted my disappointment and frustration after reading an article in The Daily Harald, quoting school board member Catherine Campell as saying that their school (Woodland District 50) is “an educational institution and not a health care facility” and that she “thinks it is the most ridiculous thing they have to do”. The school board president Lawrence Gregorash commented “This isn’t the dumbest thing I’ve seen in my 64 years…but it sure ranks in the top 10.”

Reaction to this article was strong. People in and out of the food allergy community were stunned to hear that elected board members would make comments so offensive. However, there are always two sides to every story and to be fair I asked Dr. Swoboda to provide a statement to give others peace of mind that Gurnee schools are putting their food allergic children first, and keeping their safety top of mind. For the record, my conversation with Dr. Swoboda was candid yet positive. She opened the conversation by first recounting her own experience with food allergies; watching her child suffer an anaphylactic reaction to egg. From one mother to another, I could hear the vulnerability in her voice as she shared the fear and horror that so many parents of food allergic children have had to face. Watching your child gasp for air, wondering if they would recover. It’s something you just don’t ever forget. She gets it.

Catherine Campbell doesn’t get it. Lawrence Gregorash seems to get it, since he actually suffers from life-threatening food allergy. But the damage was done, and the public outcry was fierce. It prompted Gregorash to respond by saying ““Let me be clear that the board and this district are completely supportive of educating our staff and students regarding life-threatening allergies and taking necessary precautions to ensure the safety of all our students.” Gregorash told residents and staff at the meeting that unfunded mandates mean “more work, more time, more effort, more expense to the district and no additional funding from the state to pay for it.”

True, we live in a state that can’t pay its bills and our schools are suffering terribly. Everyone is feeling the crunch. But this has nothing to do with budget cuts. Gregorash’s comment that this means “more work, more time, more effort, more expense to the district” is not accurate. The IL Board of Education’s Food Allergy Managment Policy is already available for schools to use and requires minimal, if any money to enforce. In fact, Children’s Memorial Hospital’s Katy Schmeissing, MS, RN, Food Allergy Community Educator (FACE) goes to schools for FREE to educate and train about food allergies. This incredible program is funded directly through a grant by the Food Allergy Initiative. By the way, if you live in Illinois and want to have Katy come to your school, camp, day care, etc. have the appropriate staff member contact FACE at FACE@childrensmemorial.org.

Read below for Dr. Swoboda’s thoughts on this. And be assured that I let her know that I while I understand sometimes things are said in jest, and not always meant in the way they are spoken, this was different. School board members are elected to serve our community and their children. Their comments were reckless, uninformed and just plain stupid (yes, I used the word stupid). As I told Dr. Swoboda, one of the first things I learned in journalism school is “the mike is always hot”… in other words, someone is always listening…

From Gurnee School District #50 Superintendent Dr. Joy Swoboda:

I very much appreciated our conversation last week. Thank you for taking the time to discuss the district’s food allergy policy and our stringent efforts to ensure the safety of all our students.

As a mother myself, I faced similar challenges when my daughter had life-threatening allergies to eggs and tree nuts. I can clearly remember the fear as a parent and a family, little things too like not being able to go to a restaurant because of her allergies,  and overall,  how much her health encapsulated our family life. I have a deep respect and understanding for those families that have to manage their childrens’ special health concerns on a daily basis. Our school district has worked in partnership with our parents for many years as we developed and implemented proactive safe guards for our students with have food allergies.

I thought you would find this article of interest. It was featured in today’s Gurnee TribLocal.

I contacted our Board Member regarding speaking with you, but have not heard back from her at this time.

As of this date, I have not heard from Catherine Campbell or Lawrence Gregorash, but of course will keep you posted if I ever do.

Dairy, Egg and Nut Free Simple Coffee Cake

Y’all know I LOVE coffee cakes. What’s not to love about them? They’re sweet, tender and perfect morning, noon and night. I love to serve them on lazy weekends (that is, when I used to be lazy on weekends.:) I love to serve them with tea during the week. But I also love to serve them as an extra special after school treat.

This particular coffee is super easy, probably one of the easiest little coffee cakes you’ll ever make. Feel free to stir in some blueberries or even dairy free mini chocolate chips. But honestly, I think this cake is perfect “as is”.

Happy Sunday everyone and enjoy what’s left of the weekend!

DAIRY, EGG AND NUT FREE SIMPLE COFFEE CAKE

2 1/2 c. unbleached all purpose flour

1 3/4 c. light brown sugar, packed

1/4 tsp. salt

2/3 c. dairy free shortening (I use plain Crisco)

2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg

1 c. dairy free buttermilk (1 c. soy or rice milk mixed with 1 T. white vinegar, let stand 5-10 minutes)

2 T. water

1 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and spray a 13 x 9 glass Pyrex dish with dairy free baking spray. Set aside.

In the bowl of a mixer combine flour, brown sugar and salt. Cut in the shortening with your fingers or a pastry blender until it resembles coarse crumbs. Reserve 1/2 c. of mixture and put aside to be used as the crumb topping later.

Add the baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg to the remaining crumbs in mixing bowl. Stir until combined. Add the water and vanilla to the “buttermilk” mixture, and combine with the dry mixture. Do not overmix, small lumps are fine. An overly smooth batter will not produce a tender coffee cake so use a light hand when stirring.

Pour batter into prepared baking dish an sprinkle with reserved 1/2 crumb topping. Bake 20-25 minutes or until cake tester/toothpick comes out clean. Cool slightly and serve warm.

Michael’s diagnosis…and a little chicken soup recipe to soothe the soul….

As many of you already know, my youngest son Michael seemed to have an aversion to milk from his first few weeks of life. Like my food allergic son John, he would double up in pain every time I breast fed, or gave him formula. We switched to the ultra expensive, hypoallergenic formula Nutramigen, and poof… his gastrointestinal symptoms disappeared. Then, around 8 months old I gave him a few spoonfuls of yogurt, and within a couple of hours he was vomiting and very ill. I tried yogurt again a week later, and this time, just one spoonful. Within a couple of hours he was violently ill again. One month after that, I gave him two little bits of grilled cheese, and like clockwork, he was ill again a few hours later.

In addition to all the problems Michael seemed to have digesting dairy, he immediately got ill and flat out refused pureed peas and pieces of egg yolk. This all seemed so similar to my issues with John as a baby, so I decided to make an appointment with our allergist. Michael is turning one in February, and given my family history of food allergies, asthma and eczema it was important to me to know if Michael had allergies.

Today, Michael was diagnosed with FPIES, aka Food Protein-induced Enterocolitis Syndrome (a non IgE-mediated condition). It is a rare but potentially serious condition. See here for more information. FPIES mimics food allergies with its gastrointestinal symptoms; vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration and even low blood pressure, but it doesn’t involve skin or respiratory symptoms. It also doesn’t cause anaphylaxis but can be dangerous in that blood pressure can drop severely and quickly, and the body can go into shock if not treated quickly and appropriately. Allergists recommend treating an episode with a visit to ER to monitor dehydration and blood pressure.

The most common foods associated with FPIES are milk and soy, as well as solid foods such as legumes, peas and lentils. The only way to treat FPIES is to strictly avoid the suspected foods, similar to food allergies. Many cases of FPIES are outgrown by age 3, but that doesn’t mean food allergies can’t develop later. We’ll re test Michael at 18 months old and go from there.

I found myself reminiscing in the allergist’s office today about the day I found out John had severe food allergies. I remember hearing all the doom and gloom, details and information, but I didn’t really process it until later when I got home and realized I had nothing in the house that was safe for my son to eat. I remember feeling helpless, angry and very, very isolated. At that time, there were far fewer children with a food allergy diagnosis, and I knew no one who shared the same issues as my son. It was heartbreaking and life-changing. I remembered all these feelings of despair today as I sat and watched my youngest son get tested for allergies, and subsequently get the FPIES diagnosis. Honestly, it’s kind of another learning curve for me because I don’t know anyone personally who has this condition. However, I was grateful there weren’t any gigantic hives all over my son’s back. But to say I’m relieved….well, not so much. I would have preferred a “he’s totally fine” diagnosis. Anytime you hear a diagnosis from your child’s doctor that his life could be at risk, it is unsettling.

So, in the spirit of Michael, and all the random illnesses my family has been fighting for the past three weeks (3 kids with pink eye, 3 kids with stomach flu, 1 husband stomach flu, 2 kids sinus infections, 1 mom sinus infection, 2 kids colds, 1 kid ear infection) I’m posting my favorite Super Fast and Super Easy Chicken Soup recipe. I’ve made this probably every third day for the past few weeks and can promise you it will be better than anything that comes from a can. The best part? It only takes about 20 minutes from start to finish. When everyone in your house is sick, or if you just need a dose of extra comfort, you’ll want to make a quick batch of this. Have a great week everyone!!

Super Fast and Super Easy Chicken Soup

48 oz. box of low sodium chicken broth (if you have homemade stock…use it! you’re a lucky duck)

1/4 c. finely chopped yellow onion

1/4 c. finely chopped celery

1/4 c. finely chopped carrots

1 c. small pasta (I like ditalini, elbow or tiny bits of broken spaghetti)

1 1/2 c. cooked chicken (diced or shredded, your preference)

Salt and pepper to taste

Put the chicken broth into a dutch oven or soup pot and bring to a simmer. Add the onion, celery and carrots and simmer about 10 minutes. add the pasta and cook an additional 8-10 minutes (depending on the size of the pasta and its suggested cooking times on box). Add cooked chicken and simmer 2 minutes more. Add salt and pepper to taste.