Monday, December 31, 2007

New Year's Resolutions and Other Lost Causes

It’s everyone’s favorite time of year – that day when we look back on the past twelve months of our lives, take a deep breath, and say, “Can I get a do-over?” Then we look ahead, consider the vast array of possibilities, and say, “Geez, now what?”

So, in the spirit of the day, I’m going to sit down and dream up some thoughtful, carefully reasoned resolutions to better myself in the coming year. Either that, or I’m going to just make stuff up. You decide.

Kelley’s New Year’s Resolutions for 2008:

1. Mop the kitchen floor. (There, now I don’t have to do it today. I can safely put it off ‘til tomorrow, so that I can fulfill my first resolution.)
2. Stop referring to a family-sized bag of potato chips as “dinner.”
3. Spend less time lusting after Brad Pitt (because Johnny Depp is feeling slighted). (Um, and so is my husband.)
4. Finally figure out how to make pumpkin pie without milk or eggs.
5. Learn to say the word “No” without flinching.
6. Finish writing my food allergy cookbook and find a publisher for it.
7. Box up the books I’ve read, and read the books I haven’t.
8. Clean out my email inbox (3871 emails, and counting).
9. Locate the top of my desk. I’m pretty sure it’s there under all those “I need to look at this someday” papers.
10. Look at those “I need to look at this someday” papers. Oh, never mind.
11. Go sailing in the Caribbean.
12. Win $20 million in a lottery.
13. Exercise more.
14. Exercise at all.
15. Say the word “Exercise” without flinching.
16. Break resolutions #13 – 15 by January 2.
17. Find ways to reach more newly diagnosed food allergy sufferers to offer a helping hand.
18. Get all those photos from 2006 put into albums.
19. Laugh hysterically at the idea of putting all those photos from 2007 in albums. As if.
20. Refuse to take any photos at all in 2008. Hide husband’s camera.
21. Become addicted to caffeine.
22. Blame more of my personal problems on elected officials.
23. Pine away until Lost finally returns to TV in February. Spare some lusting time for Sawyer and Sayid.
24. Watch something in a movie theater that isn’t animated.
25. Be a good board member of the Utah Food Allergy Network.
26. Keep writing my blog. Try to make it funny at least once this year.
27. Learn to enjoy fake farting noises made by 9-year-old boys, because getting the 9-year-old boys to stop making fake farting noises isn’t working.
28. In between managing Homegrown Hospitality magazine, writing my blog, running the Davis County chapter of UFAN, writing articles for magazines, and writing my cookbook, find time to write something purely for fun.
29. Take down the Christmas decorations before the daffodils bloom.
30. Laugh at adversity. (Adversity really hates that.)

There you go: my 2008 plan for self-improvement. It promises to be a challenging, yet difficult year, sprinkled liberally with problems. But I won’t let that stop me from laughing, loving, and burning dinner at least once a day. After all, without goals, you’ll never know when you’ve failed and can safely give up.

So cheers to you, and happy 2008!

Monday, December 24, 2007

'Tis the Season To Be Baking

Pumpkin bread, chocolate zucchini bread, cookies, pie, coffee cake… I’ve been in the kitchen a lot the last few days, and I’m not done yet.

If I had more time, I’d bake more stuff, too. I actually like baking. I’m not wild about cooking in general – that “What’s for dinner?” question drives me up a tree, and I’m usually the one asking it. But I enjoy baking, as long as it’s an easy recipe. Anything that requires more than 6 steps, calls for any ingredients that have to be purchased from an indigenous farmer selling them from the back of a yak, or that involves a double-boiler or spring-form pan gets knocked off my “try this someday” list in a hurry. I just don’t have that kind of patience.

But I do like coming up with new recipes for baking without eggs, milk, or nuts, especially at the holidays.

On Friday, I took several mini-loaves of pumpkin bread to school to give to my son’s teacher, the principal, the school secretaries, the “lunch lady,” and the school maintenance man. To each loaf, I attached a recipe card that showed the bread was without eggs, milk, or nuts. I wasn’t “making a point.” I was thanking them.

All of those people make the school safe for my son and the other kids with allergies – and I make it a priority to remember the maintenance man and the lunch lady, who I think most parents forget in the flurry of teacher-gifts. These folks go out of their way to keep an allergy table safe at the school. They enforce the “no snacks in the classroom” policy. They pin up photos of the allergic kids in the lunch kitchen so everyone remembers to be careful. They contact us when a food issue is coming up at school to make sure our kids will be okay.

I am SO grateful for these people.

So I baked pumpkin bread and took it to all the adults at the school that have a hand in keeping my son safe. And I made it without the most common allergens that kids in our school suffer from. Everyone seemed thrilled to receive the bread, and my son got a hug and a big thank you from each of them.

Now I’m baking just for my own family. We’ll make cookies today, because Santa will be expecting them tonight, you know, and we aren’t sure if he’s allergic to milk, eggs, or nuts, so we’ll make them safe just to be sure. And tomorrow morning, my coffee cake will be on the breakfast table (barring any disasters, like dropped bowls of dough, mis-read recipes, broken stoves, or forgotten timers and burnt results – all of which have historical precedents).

So keep your fingers crossed for me that my cookies don’t burn, my coffee cake doesn’t flop, and my pies don’t bubble over, and I’ll keep mine crossed for you that all of your holiday endeavors turn out beautifully, too.

And don’t forget to watch Santa’s progress around the world today and tonight on the Norad radar tracking system:!

Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Living by the Numb3rs

I love the show Numb3rs. In it, an FBI agent solves cases with the help of his brother Charlie, a mathematics-whiz professor. (I love shows that make science look cool.) Several times each episode, Charlie explains to the other clever but clearly lost FBI agents (and us clever but clearly lost viewers) how some obscure but brilliant mathematical theory and formula can be used to pinpoint the suspect.

During these explanations, the scene morphs from a picture of, say, a tree to a computer-generated grid full of lines and vectors, degrees and measures, formulas, and arrows darting all over. It’s all very fast and dizzying as his explanation sketches itself across the screen, but in the end (even though none of the other FBI agents or us viewers actually understood a word of his explanation), you know that the case will be solved because all those lines and arrows looked pretty darned convincing.

Last night my husband, son, and I went to see a movie and then we went to dinner at a nearby restaurant. As we sat down at the table, my eyes darted around the table, over the menu, across the restaurant towards the kitchen, and back again. I realized that if you could draw my thought process, my brain would look a lot like one of Charlie’s explanations.

I’ve been dealing with my son’s allergies for so long now, that I don’t even realize all the calculations I do every day. But as I’m sitting down, I’m scanning the table for crumbs, baskets of bread, dishes of nuts, and other hazards. I’m looking at the menu to see how many of the items on it might contain nuts, to determine how high the risk of nut cross-contamination might be. I’m getting a feel for the overall restaurant – how easy the servers will be to work with, how clean the place looks, how crowded it is (calculating a risk of confusion in the kitchen), whether they have a kids menu, and what types of foods my son is going to be exposed to.

I’m assessing probabilities, calculating risks, formulating contingency plans, and estimating our best paths for success.

And all of that happens in the first few seconds.

From there, it’s a slower set of constant negotiations – “No, dear, you can’t have the bread because we don’t know where it was baked.” “Excuse me, do you put pine nuts on your pizzas here?” “Can you make my pasta without walnuts?” “Dessert looks like a bad idea. We’ll have some cookies when we get home.”

All of those constant calculations and recalculations, which seemed so overwhelming when I was first learning about my son’s allergies, have become second nature by now. And while I don’t walk into a restaurant completely relaxed anymore, it’s become so familiar that I don’t panic, and I’m really not even aware that I’m doing all those calculations. I’m pretty sure that if someone tried to sketch out my thought process on a blackboard, it would put some of those FBI scenarios to shame.

Math Whiz Charlie would be awfully proud of me.

Hey, that gives me an idea! Quick, someone call the producers of Numb3rs! I’ve got a great concept for a script!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Soups That Warm the Heart

Friday night we got together with some friends for an annual soup pot-luck holiday party. For the five families involved, getting together for a holiday party has been a tradition for many years. The soup part of the tradition is a more recent development, but it’s turned into a great idea.

There’s nothing like a cold, snowy night (which Friday was) to make the thought of five steaming crock-pots full of hot, delicious soups and stews all the more enticing.

In this group of friends we have to accommodate two kids with allergies (nuts, peanuts, milk, egg, seafood), one family that prefers vegetarianism (although they do make exceptions), at least a couple of husbands who thrive on red meat, and one diabetic (me). Sounds complicated. But as the years go on, it becomes easier and easier to roll them all into your recipe criteria.

At Friday’s party, I think we may have had the best soups to date! There was a delicious taco soup, a bean chili, a peasant-style minestrone chock full of veggies, and a steak-and-potato soup. I made a Rustic White Bean Soup made of navy beans, turkey sausage, broth, and spinach (from Diabetic Dinners in a Dash by Art Ginsberg – you mash half the navy beans, which gives the soup a creamier texture without the cream). Everything was wonderful, and everyone tried at least a small serving of each soup (some more than once). We added some dinner rolls that were milk- and egg-free, a punch for the kids made of equal parts of Cran-apple juice and ginger ale, Lorie's fabulous milk- and egg-free chocolate cupcakes, and voila! We even got the kids to stop racing around the house long enough to eat. It was that good.

Accommodating allergies (and other dietary restrictions) is extremely challenging in the beginning. We all know that. But over time, you find friends and family members who are willing to explore new options because they care enough about you to make the effort. Between you, you begin to experiment and discover new recipes, good substitutions, and new ways to prepare old favorites that make them safe. Then one day you look around and realize you’ve got a safe environment for your child where before you saw only a minefield of potential disasters.

Our annual holiday get-together is a safe environment where our kids know they are welcome, they can play freely, and they can eat whatever is on the table. It just doesn’t get much better than that.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Travel Tips #2: Food During the Trip

Our trip to Cancun has already receded to the domain of dreams. It’s amazing how quickly reality takes back over, isn’t it?

As promised, this week I’ll describe some more tips on how I handle my son’s food allergies when we travel.

When I start packing, I plan ahead and pack at least some food for the time we’ll be at our destination. I try to stay at hotels or condos that have a kitchenette, so that we can make at least some of our own food. If we’re doing a car trip, we take a cooler and keep it stocked with sandwich fixings, salad fixings, etc. If we’re flying, I often tuck in a collapsible cooler that we can use in the hotel if we need to (also comes in handy for taking picnics and beer to the beach!). I’ve also been known to hit the local Walmart to pick up a cheap Styrofoam cooler for the hotel, too, that is easily thrown away when we leave.

I carry a ton of snacks and food in my carry-on. In fact, my carry-on is usually almost completely filled with food, with just a little corner reserved for spare underwear and swimsuits in case we get stranded without our suitcases (it’s happened). That way, even if we’ve gotten stranded at a strange airport overnight, with our suitcases in Timbuktu, we’ve got a change of undies, the ability to play in the hotel pool, and enough food to make a highly unimaginative meal (or two) that may not win points from Good Housekeeping magazine, but it will keep us from starving. And even if we get to our destination in good time, by having breakfast food in the carry-on, that gives me until the next day to find a grocery store. (I hate landing somewhere after an all-day odyssey, then discovering that the grocery stores are all closed.)

There’s usually more food in my checked suitcase, too, because I’m not just packing food in case our flight gets delayed – I’m also packing food so that I’ve got safe options in case our destination proves allergy-unfriendly.

What food do I pack? He’s only allergic to peanuts and tree nuts, so what I carry is probably different from what someone else would carry. But I carry crackers, a box or two of breakfast cereal, NutriGrain bars or Rice Krispie treats that I made, fruit leather, ramen noodles or Easy Mac ‘n’ Cheese, coffee and filters, cookies, a package of dry salami that doesn’t need refrigerating until after it’s opened, a jar of Sunbutter – things that don’t need refrigeration and that can easily be prepared in a hotel room with hot water from the coffee maker, microwaved, or eaten dry. I figure that can get us through breakfasts for a week, and at least a few “I’m hungry!” moments.

Once there, I look for a grocery store and buy bread, lunch meat, drinks, fresh fruit, etc. And if options are limited, I get creative. Sandwiches don’t always have to be made with bread. They can be rolled in a tortilla, or stacked on crackers. Those are easy to pack, too, if I’m worried about buying bread in a foreign place.

At that point, I’ve got breakfast and lunch taken care of for the whole week. I can pack lunches and picnics in the cooler, using Ziplocs and ice from the hotel ice machines to keep things cool when we’re out sightseeing. That just leaves dinners to worry about. If I think the restaurant might not have safe food for him, I’ll pack him another sandwich and take it into the restaurant just in case. Sure, he may get tired of sandwiches after a week, but he’d be a lot more upset if he didn’t get to go on the vacation at all.

In Cancun, we stayed at a time-share condo with friends who’d generously invited us along to share their week. So we had the luxury of a full kitchenette with necessities like pans, plates, bowls, and silverwear. To save time, hassle, and costs (between us, we had 3 kids in tow, none of whom had the patience to sit for long times in restaurants), we made several dinners at the condo, and we ate at the resort restaurants just a few times.

Grocery shopping was interesting, of course. Reading ingredient labels in foreign languages is a bold new adventure, but we figured them out and successfully stocked our cupboards. I did find a clerk at the grocery store who spoke English, and I had her check the labels on a couple of items for me, just to make sure. She was happy to do it.

So between last week’s blog entry and today, now you know all my secrets to traveling: 1) I keep HandiWipes in my purse. 2) I pack my own in-flight food. 3) I pack breakfast food and snacks. 4) I pack a collapsible cooler. 5) I grocery shop for lunch food and keep it in the fridge or cooler in the room, so we can take picnics with us when we go sightseeing.

I have one more bit of advice – I carry a card with me that says “I am allergic to nuts” in the language of the country we’re visiting. I ordered a nifty one from Check out that site if you are planning any foreign-language travel. By knowing the words for allergenic foods, I can feel a little more confident about reading labels and ordering for him in restaurants when we do go out.

And here’s a bonus from all that pre-planning: The space the food took up on the way to my destination becomes empty space I can fill up with souvenirs on the way back!