Thursday, September 16, 2010

Back to school with allergies

I can't believe that we're already in the middle of September. The last two weeks have been a total whirlwind of back-to-school activities, school forms to fill out, and a gradual transition into kindergarten for my 5-year-old (who also had a birthday last weekend). Whew!

I'm lucky that my kids' elementary school is a nut-free school, so I don't have the same number of worries as so many other allergic parents. My allergic kid still carries an epipen in his backpack, but the risk of encountering peanut oil on a door handle or water fountain is so much reduced that it's just not the same level of risk for us.

Every school newsletter has come with a large peanut/nut allergy warning, and there are "nut-free zone" posters scattered all around the school.

He also has two teachers this year, one on Mondays and the other for the rest of the week. I've chatted with both of them, and they're comfortable with dealing with his allergies. In fact, the Monday teacher also has a peanut-allergic daughter who's the same age. And scarily enough, she also has had to use her daughter's epipen on her, when her daughter had some fruit from a tray which had somehow been contaminated with peanuts.

The biggest change that I've made this year is to Andrew's lunch. Last year, I refused to send him to school with peabutter sandwiches, because I was worried that the teachers wouldn't be able to tell the difference between peabutter and peanut butter sandwiches, and then other kids would bring in peanut butter sandwiches and claim that they're peabutter. But after a brief conversation with the teacher, and an assurance that most parents are now hyper-aware that they can't send peanut butter to school, I've broken my own rule and let him take peabutter sandwiches to school.

The yucky part -- he also wanted some dairy-free cheese slices to take to school for snacktime. What I didn't realize until I opened up his lunch bag that afternoon: he put the cheese into the peabutter sandwiches, which were in blueberry bagels. Blech! (On the bright side: at least there wasn't any ketchup involved.)

Divvies cookbook winner!

I had ten entries into the draw for the Divvies cookbook (9 comments on the post and one via email), so I did a quick random draw, and lucky #7 was who the random number generator at told me was the winner.

According to the winner's blog, it looks like her very cute toddler has just been diagnosed with a severe peanut allergy, so she's now doing a lot of cooking from scratch -- so this cookbook will come as a great help to her and her family!

Thank you all for entering, and waiting ever so patiently for me to do the draw.

Next time I hold a contest, it won't be around the first week of school! It's been a little insane around here, that's for sure.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Oh Fudge — Divvies cookbook contest

The book publisher for The Divvies Bakery Cookbook contacted me last month, just when I was missing all of you and missing writing about our family's allergic adventures. They offered to send me a review copy of the cookbook, and an additional copy for one of my blog readers.

They also sent me an additional freebie: the recipe that's in the cookbook for dairy-free and nut-free chocolate fudge. (It isn't soy-free, unfortunately, as it uses a soy creamer.) Click on the image below, and you'll get a larger version of the allergy-friendly fudge recipe from the cookbook.

So I whipped up a batch of this fudge. I used dried cranberries instead of marshmallows because I like having a little bit of sour in with all the sugar of fudge. The recipe is really good, and unlike a lot of dairy-based fudges that I've made in the past, this one actually crystallized and turned into a really tasty, just-right chocolate fudge.

As you can tell, the kids like them too.

And as I mentioned above: You too can win a copy of this cookbook! Just leave me a comment on this post, and I'll enter you into the random draw. If you're having trouble leaving a comment, you can also email me, and I'll enter you that way. This contest will run from now until midnight on September 5, 2010, and I'll get my husband to do a random draw of all entries. Then I'll contact the winner for an address, and send that to the publisher, who'll mail the cookbook out.

Full disclosure: I wasn't paid to write this post, but they did send me a free cookbook as well as the one that they'll be sending to the prize winner. I'm always happy to promote books that help other allergic families, so good luck to all of you who are entering the contest!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Did you miss me?

Yeah, it's been a while since either of us updated the blog. Tony posted in January, then we had the Olympics in February, and things were rather hectic around town. (Yes, we got to go to the opening ceremonies — the whole thing was an unbelievable experience, and I've become an Olympics junkie.)

The allergic angle: nothing they served at the venue was safe for the kids except for the pop and water. Even the fries had a dairy coating. Thumbs down to them. I'm just glad that they let us bring our own food into the venue once I showed them the epipen and benadryl. The Olympics venues were very high-security, and all the ticket pages said that we weren't allowed to bring our own food in except for medical situations. And they wanted us to get to the opening ceremonies at least 3-5 hours before the event started. Yeah, you'd panic too, wouldn't you, with two hungry allergic kids, and not allowed to bring food in with you?

I guess I'm now doing a quick summary of this year so far!

Andrew finished first grade, and only had one bad allergic reaction at school this year, when his teacher fed him yogurt ice cream. Yes, she didn't realize that yogurt is dairy. At least that's what she told me on the phone. Fortunately, it looks like his dairy reaction is getting a lot weaker — he just went off to the bathroom and vomited a couple of times, and didn't get hives. He didn't even tell her that he'd vomited until he was done.

And then she tried to use the epipen on him, even though he wasn't having breathing difficulties. And when we looked at the epipen that night, it hadn't actually been activated. (I couldn't blog about it this politely at the time; distance and time is making this a lot easier to write. And his teacher this September is getting an epipen trainer from me, and I'm going to watch her use it on an orange or something. Oh yeah — here's a useful link: free epipen starter kit/trainer available here!)

Both boys went to the allergist in May. Andrew's still allergic to the same things, but we can definitely take eggs off his list. The good news came from Geoff's test — he only had very small wheals for nuts, and no bumps at all for eggs, shellfish or dairy. So we've let him have all of those, and he hasn't had any allergic reactions so far. My fingers are definitely crossed!

The summer's gone really well for both kids. We signed them up for a crafting program, where they did papier maché, clay sculpting and poured candles. Andrew got a lot out of this program because he has such a passion for building and crafting. For me, it was my first experience with dropping them both off for a "camp" experience without a family member around. I made lunch for them, and packed lots of fruit, safe granola bars and cookies, and left the epipen and benadryl for emergencies. And both kids had a great time, and nothing happened except that they got too busy to eat their lunches properly, and had a great time with other kids.

Okay, I'm being rather verbose here. Apparently, I've missed blogging, and I've missed all of you! I'll be back soon. My goal is to write at least once a week, and I've got a cool contest coming up — Divvies Bakery has given me a copy of their cookbook to give away — I'll have that announcement up in a day or two!

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Thank you Sophia and Rhonda

I know what you're thinking...who are Sophia and Rhonda? Well, I don't know them least not personally, but they've done something incredible and I want to thank them. Rhonda has a daughter Melanie and Melanie is allergic to nuts. During a flight on Air Canada, Sophia locked herself in the bathroom for 40 minutes while the snacks containing nuts were being served.

I've flown on many an airplane for business, and a few for pleasure, and since Andrew's nut allergy appeared, I've started to notice what others around me are eating on the plane, and what the airlines are serving for snacks. Most of the flights I take are "short haul" hour, maybe two. Fifteen years ago on this length of flight, the traditional snack was almonds - the smoked, over-salted ones. Today, it's pretzels or cookies. You know what? As much as I love almonds (although I will confess to preferring them raw and unsalted), I don't begrudge being forced to choose between pretzels and cookies...or...dare I say it..."nothing thanks, I just had breakfast".

I read recently, I think it was Allergic Living, where some airlines refused to stop handing out almonds because they were the "traditional snack" on flights, and customers demanded them. Are you kidding? You don't DEMAND anything on an airplane these days, and I don't know of anyone that would switch airlines because one served cookies instead of almonds, or Coke versus Pepsi. Come on...that's absurd. The convenience of the airline's schedule and the friendliness of the staff have far more to do with my choice of airline than the food. Maybe that's just me.

Back to our heroes. Having to lock herself in the bathroom to get away from nuts? That's just wrong. I never want to have to think "How many epipens did security let me bring on board, and what happens if something...happens?" while I'm at 40,000 feet. After that experience and "difficulty accommodating their needs even after being informed of their nut allergies" they complained to the Canadian Transportation Agency (sort of like the US FAA for you folks state-side). The upshot of this effort is that Air Canada has 30 days to effect the CTA's ruling which requires:
"an exclusion or buffer zone where passengers within that zone will be advised that they can only eat foods that are peanut-free or nut-free and that they will only be offered peanut-free or nut-free foods as part of Air Canada's onboard snack or meal will also address the risk of other passengers eating peanuts or nuts"

Air Canada is honestly not my first choice for air travel in western Canada. Depending on how they handle this, they could become a contender though. Westjet hasn't served nuts in a long time and Andrew and I have flown with them. In the mean time, thank you again to Sophia and Rhonda, and when I'm travelling by plane, even without my family, you can sign me up for the nut-free section!

If we're lucky I'll get to sit in a part of the airplane with no peanuts, no almonds, no cashews, and none of those other "nuts" we never want to see on a plane.

I first saw this story on the CBC's website. You can click there to read the story or here to see the video clip.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Dining out - How cool it could be!

You know that flood of flyers, newsletters and useless paper that comes to your mailbox on an almost daily basis? Well, every once in a while there's a little gem that arrives. Last week, I was sifting through the realtor ads, the pizza place coupons and back-to-school flyers looking for envelopes containing actual relevant and sometimes important mail when this caught my eye.

Desi - Fine Indian Cuisine...hmmm.
Before I continue, I need to make a few statements about Desi: I have never eaten there, I don't own shares, and I don't know anyone that works there or has an interest in the place.

The place is up on the main street a few blocks from our house. The reason it catches my eye is, quite frankly, the logo. The eye-catching-ness of it is not attributable to its's actually because it looks very similar to the Paris-Dakar Rally logo. You follow the link and be the judge. you can see it in the top right corner of their web page.

So, now I'm flipping through the menu they've sent me, probably becuase I'm hungy and haven't had lunch yet. Congratulations to the marketing department, they've done their job.

My wife and I used to go out for Indian food occasionally, and there is a large concentration of immigrants from India in a nearby neighbourhood, so the local Indian restaurants are really quite good; they have to be. When the locals are experts at picking good Indian food from bad Indian food, you have to be good just to survive.

These folks have the usual selection of curries, flavoured rices, and as is usual, it's sorted by the meat: chicken is separate from vegetarian which is separate from lamb and goat and so on. What caught my eye here, is that each dish has a series of marks after it. There are circles, squares, triangles and stars. My first reaction was some sort of condition that applied to a coupon I hadn't found, or that some dishes were "heart smart" or low in fat. Actually, if you look at the bottom right, there's a legend for these symbols.

The star indicates the dish is vegan. You might notice that not all vegetarian dishes are vegan, and this information would be very useful to you if you were, well, vegan. I'm not, so I read on. The circle indicates the dish is "nut free", the square indiates "dairy free" and the triangle is "gluten free". WOW...did I just see an allergen list on a restaurant menu. What's more, it a footnote! They're not even bragging about it, they're just stating it for your convenience.

Now, as I said at the beginning, I've never eaten there, so I haven't "grilled" them on whether they have a "nut" side of the kitchen and a "non-nut" side to prevent cross-contamination, but why would you label something as "nut free" without taking some precautions. It's a bit like going out to a Kosher restaurant. If you've got meat, you can guarantee there's no dairy. However, we usually find around here that "Kosher" means vegetarian with dairy, and that doesn't help with our kids allergies.

So, it appears we may have some research to conduct with these folks to see if we can put "curry back on our menu". I wonder if Andrew and Geoff would eat's a strong flavour for a 6- and almost-4-year-old. And, as you all know, most young kids have only one spice/condiment and it's ketchup...sigh, but just imagine telling your child, "You can have anything with a circle AND a square and it will be safe!" How cool would that be?!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Some good news

We're in the throes of a heatwave here in Vancouver. For those of you reading this who live out of the area, we have a silly little practice here when it comes to weather. Our "official" temperature is taken at Vancouver International Airport, which is right on the waterfront. During the winter months it can be several degrees colder inland where most of the people live, and during the summer (sigh), it can be hotter. So, today's official high is supposed to be 31°C...last night on our back deck it was 38°C. That's right around 100°F. Now I know that's "not hot" for some parts of this little blue-green marble we all live on, but Vancouver isn't really set up for a week of really hot (like this) or really cold (-10°C/15°F). We don't have AC in most of our homes, and when it's 2:30 and the temp is still in the high 20's/80+ we really don't sleep that well. After a few days, traffic gets...well....grumpy.

So, on a more positive note, I had to go out and buy another epipen for Andrew. Not because we'd used one, but another one expired. That's good. I like expired epipens because expired epipens are unused epipens. I got to the pharmacy and discovered they didn't have any more left on his prescription, so we had to go to the doctor to get a prescription. It's kind of weird taking two perfectly healthy children (and one healthy father -- me) to the doctor, but there we were. We got the prescription and went to the pharmacy. The nice lady behind the counter handed me the box and told me how much I owed. I looked at the box and told her "Sept 2009" was a little early for the expiry date.

"It's still good. What's your concern?"

You know those little conversations you have with yourself in your head? Kind of like that scene from "Terminator" where the guy in the bar says something to Arnie's character, and the machine brings up a list of possible responses. The list reads something like:

- No thank you
- Pardon me sir
- That's not going to happen
- the one I can't print in a family blog, and that the Terminator actually selects

I had one of those conversations...without the profanity of course. I chose the helpful reply of "We only use these in emergencies...would you buy a fire extinguisher that expired in 2 months? I'd like you to order me a new one please."

"Sigh, we'll call you when it's here". A few days later my September 2010 expiry prescription was filled.

So, no reactions for quite a while now. YEAH!!

We're next scheduled to see the pediatric allergist in March 2010 for tests to see if the kids are outgrowing any of their allergies. Apparently we neglected to share that information with one of our mothers...I won't say which one because my Mom would rather remain anonymous.

Ooops...anyway, she has this fantastic idea for feeding the boys at summer BBQs. She gets dinner rolls and pre-cooked sausage rounds, cooks them on the grill and they have kid-sized hamburgers. For some reason the boys don't like hamburgers or beef patties, but they'll devour these mini-burgers with the sausuage like there's no tomorrow. The catch comes when you read the ingredients on the buns...there's whey in there, and Andrew's allergic to dairy. Or at least he was...he didn't have any reaction. We were reading the ingredients a few days after he'd eaten them.

That situation got us thinking he might have outgrown his dairy reaction. So the next time we went grocery shopping, I picked up a package of goldfish crackers. I love these things almost as much as I love nuts, and was crushed when I couldn't blame my excessive consumption of them on my kids. Okay, maybe that's overstating the situation, but I really do like them. I picked a day where we had nothing to do that afternoon, and I could watch them...and gave them a quarter of a fish cracker each.

Nothing. Well not "nothing" there were loud (and I do mean LOUD) demands for more.

I waited an hour...still nothing.

We went out to play in the back yard...for 3 hours...still nothing.

We came back inside for a drink and a snack, and a WHOLE goldfish cracker.

Over the course of the next week, we worked our way up to 5 crackers at a sitting. Personally, I'm up to many more than that, but that's an unrelated post. Neither of them has a visible reaction to a cracker that lists both "cheese" and "milk" as ingredients.


So what do we do now?

For the immediate future, I don't really plan to change our practice much...I just don't have to panic when something "may contain" or it lists milk/whey/cassein/modified milk ingredients as a minor ingredient. We're not heading out for cheesecake and a big glass of milk any time soon. I'm a little lactose intolerant, and I think that would...ahem...make me unpleasant company...if you catch my drift. Besides, they don't need to eat cheesecake anyway. This discovery/development just simplifies our lives a little.

And we can all use a little simpler life right now.

So, happy summer to you, stay cool and hydated while you play outside, and remember the sunblock.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Bad (Rice) Dreams

Dear Hain Celestial Group, makers of Rice Dream:

I really like your product because it's safe for my dairy-allergic children and contains all the calcium and vitamin D that they need. And they like it too.

But I really wish that you had a bit better quality control over your product, at least in this 2-litre carton size. To explain a little better, here's a photo of the tea that I made this afternoon.

When I opened the carton, the milk was separated, and the liquid on top was clear. I shook it up to try to turn it back into a suspension, but totally failed, as you can see from what it did in my cup of tea.

There's no way I can serve this to my kids. They're picky eaters as it is, and to have their milk be lumpy and, dare I say, textured, might turn them off milk altogether. Really, milk should pour and splatter, but it shouldn't plop down in chunks.

I could go for the soy alternatives, but I'm not fond of putting too much soy into their diets, as this story will explain. They're little boys; I don't need to be putting too much estrogen into their systems and possibly screwing up their reproductive organs.

And they do drink calcium-enriched orange juice, but there is such a thing as too much juice. As well, I dream of a day when they can drink regular milk, and eat cheese for the calcium, so I do want them to keep drinking something that looks like milk.

I'm blogging this petty incident because this isn't the first carton of milk to do this to me. There was a run of bad milk for about a month last summer. Then last week, we returned three cartons to the grocery store. Tomorrow, I'll be taking two more back to the store. (To answer additional questions -- the expiry date is August 24, as you can see in the photo -- and I know that my husband bought the milk and brought it home right away, because he also bought ice cream in the same trip, and it didn't melt.)

As you all know, taking a 6- and a 3-year old to the grocery store isn't a simple chore. The 6-year-old is better now, but they both get bored, they both get annoying, and they both beg for every single candy and treat on the shelves. Taking them to the store and lining up to return *milk* is a form of parental torture.

So this is my plea -- whatever is broken over the summer months, please fix it so that I don't dread opening up your next carton of milk because I don't know that it will be drinkable. I don't like the taste of your competitors' product, but I also don't like feeling like a hostage to your poor quality control.