Monday, December 28, 2009

Future Me Says It’s Going to Be Okay

by Kelley Lindberg

2009 is winding down. For that matter, so is the decade.

It’s hard to believe that at the beginning of this decade (and century, and millennium, by the way), I was still feeling like a brand-new mom. My son was a year old, but I was still discovering a million inadequacies in my mothering skills – he was already well-established as the Human Whirlwind, he’d added walking to his repertoire of things that could propel him into disaster, and as the only mid-thirties mom I knew, I was feeling wholly isolated and incompetent.

And just think… I was still about four months away from discovering that he was allergic to peanuts and tree nuts. As overwhelmed as I already was, I was completely unaware that in a few months my “overwhelminess” was going to double.


If I could go back in a time machine and sit myself down for a little heart-to-heart chat (okay, we wouldn’t have been able to sit – one of us would have been up walking in circles with him in our arms, or chasing along behind him trying to keep him out of trouble), there are a lot of things I would tell that younger me.

The most important thing I’d say, though, would be that it would all turn out okay eventually. That’s the thing I most needed to hear then, because it was the thing I least believed.

I needed to hear that, as stubborn as he was, he would never surrender to the concept of turning around to crawl down stairs backwards, but that eventually his little legs would be long enough that he could walk down steps forwards without falling. And that would be okay.

I needed to hear that eventually he would sleep all night long, and in his own bed.

I needed to hear that he would always be quickly frustrated, but that eventually he would find ways to solve problems without hitting someone else (at least most of the time).

I needed to hear that I would find wonderful friends who would support me, encourage me, understand me, commiserate with me, and celebrate with me.

I needed to hear that the bundle of energy that seemed so destructive and taxing back then would evolve into a highly intelligent, highly enthusiastic, highly entertaining kid who would make me laugh far more than he would make me growl. Eventually.

And I needed to hear that living with food allergies would add a layer of challenge to our lives, but it certainly wasn’t impossible, and that it would get easier as he got older.

So now he’s eleven years old, I’m a little older and wiser (okay, a lot older and only a little wiser), and a new decade is starting again. This new decade will include his teenage years, dating, driver’s education, high school graduation, and even the beginnings of college, all of it made more complicated by his food allergies.

I have to admit, it looks awfully daunting from this point of view. So I’m going to hope that somewhere in the future, there’s an older me looking back, wishing she could tell me now that it will all turn out okay.


Here’s to you, Future Me. Thanks for the encouragement. I’m going to need it.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Monday, December 21, 2009

More Allergy-Free Holiday Candy Ideas

by Kelley Lindberg

Thanks for the great comments with ideas for safe holiday candy. Here are a couple more hints that I got in emails, and I thought I’d post them here so more people can see them. (But don’t forget to read the “comments” from last week’s post for more great ideas.) While it’s probably too late to order for Christmas (and Hanukkah is over), it’s still good to have some ideas for the next time you need safe treats.

From Debbie B:
“For our holiday candy, we plan to stuff my son's stocking with the same yummy earth suckers and gummy bears we used for Halloween. In my mind, it isn't very Christmassy candy, but I think it is all we have to work with. My son has a corn allergy, so we are very limited in our choices. FYI the Yummy Earth candy is available on Amazon for much less than it is from the Yummy Earth website or from the health food stores. If you go to however you can get extremely detailed allergy information. All of their foods are flavored with natural flavorings. My son is allergic to orange and they even have details on which natural flavorings are used in which products, so we can weed out the ones that are bad for him. I hope this helps everyone. For anyone with a corn allergy, I have discovered that rice syrup works just as well in candy recipes as corn syrup. We even made ‘caramel rice’ using rice syrup for the caramel and puffed rice from the grocery store. It tasted just as good as caramel corn, but didn't have any seeds.”

From Michelle F:
“As always, I LOVE Peanut Free Planet. Click on the Christmas/Hanukkah link or search by ingredients to avoid. They carry great holiday items from numerous allergen free companies and are very fast and easy to order from. One pitfall is the $8.95 flat shipping fee - so if you just want to order $10 worth of candy it can be pricey to spend another 10 on shipping but maybe worth it if you find what you want. I try to order a lot all at once to make it more advantageous-stock up on Sunbutter, snack bars, etc. I saw nut free gingerbread house kits for Christmas (and at Halloween they had nut free candy corn)!”

Michelle also sent a link to Sweet Alexis (Dairy-free, Egg-free, and Nut-free Baked Goods).

Thanks, everyone! Have a wonderful season of light, comfort, hope, peace, and love.


Monday, December 14, 2009

Holiday Candy Round-up

I was hoping to go shopping for holiday candy ideas before today, but as usual, life had other plans. The human whirlwind is on the couch with a sore throat, I hosted one party Saturday night, I’m hosting a party tonight, I have family coming into town on Wednesday (not staying here – staying at my parents’, but we’ll still spend most of our time together)… you know how crazy things get this time of year.

So I didn’t get a chance to do much in the way of candy shopping. So I’m going to list a few things here that I found, but I’m hoping the wonderful readers of this blog will post other “finds” so that we can all save some trips and some brain cells looking for those last-minute treats.

One great member of UFAN wrote to tell me this good news: “I found candy canes at Walmart by Spangler Candy Company that say ‘This product does not contain peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, wheat or gluten. It has been manufactured on dedicated equipment.’” I LOVE it when manufacturers go the extra mile to be proactive. So if you’re hunting for candy canes, support this company! Their website says the equipment contains a trace amount of soy oil, but that the oil is processed to be free of proteins, so read the allergen statement on the website for the exact wording and make your own decision accordingly if you're soy-allergic: Spangler Candy Company Candy Canes.

If you’re not fond of peppermint, I’ve also found that some of the fruit-flavored candy canes are safe, so check labels carefully and you may find some that tickle your fancy.

If you’re looking for chocolate, try the great online vendors that make our allergic lives a little sweeter, like:
Vermont Nut Free
Amanda’s Own Confections
Chocolate Emporium (This site has both Christmas and Hanukkah chocolates)

I also heard that Walmart in Layton is now carrying the complete line of Enjoy Life! Foods, including the Choco Choco Boom chocolate bars. (They have crisped rice in them, so they’re like Nestle’s Crunch bars). Enjoy Life! Foods are free of the top 8 allergens, and I haven’t found these chocolate bars anywhere else, so this is good news! I haven’t been to Walmart to check it out myself, though, so let me know if you find them there.

If you’re only avoiding nuts, some Hershey’s kisses are safe this year, but some of the flavored ones aren’t – check the packaging carefully. I’ve bought the caramel, the dark, and the cherry cordial flavored kisses, but the peppermint and some others aren’t safe because they’re made in a different factory.

Looking for one of those fun ornaments filled with candy? My son received a “Smarties Chewies” tin ornament ball that doesn’t contain any of the Top 8. A Nerds Rope is fun for a stocking stuffer, as are the usual standbys like Starbursts and Skittles.

Okay, that’s my starter list. Anyone have any great finds that are fun, different, unexpected, or holiday-themed? Share with us!

And one last thing… Since candy tends to be everywhere this time of year, especially in little bowls on the service desks of just about everywhere you go, including dentists, car repair shops, and boutiques, you might tuck a few safe candies in your purse or coat pocket to stave off a temper tantrum when your little one gets offered a treat and you have to decline. You’ll be the coolest parent around if you can whip out a safe treat to offer instead. Yeah, I know, candy isn’t a healthy treat, but it’s the holiday season, right?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Mandarin Orange Upside-Down Cake

I’ve gotten used to cooking for a certain set of food allergies and issues within my normal circle of friends. No milk, eggs, nuts, seafood, sesame seeds, raw tomatoes, or raw peaches, and some of the adults in the group have some other food preference issues we work around. After ten years, it’s become second nature to cook around those restrictions.

Friday night, I got to explore a completely different set of restrictions, and it was a stretch, but it was also fun.

I was getting together with five other friends for dinner at one’s house. We usually eat at restaurants, which lets everyone order their own food with their own particular restrictions. This time, it was a potluck. Here were my new parameters: No gluten, dairy, chocolate, nuts, fruit (except for citrus – lemons, limes, grapefruit, or orange are okay), and as little refined sugar as possible.

Being the adventurous (and masochistic) type, I volunteered for dessert. I considered dessert ideas for several days, making a phone call or email here and there to double-check problem foods. Finally, I hit on making a pineapple upside-down cake, except without the pineapple (a problem food), and using mandarin oranges instead. Never mind that I’ve never made a pineapple upside-down cake before, never cooked gluten-free, and didn’t know if mandarin oranges would work instead of pineapple. See what I mean by masochistic?

Because I’m completely unfamiliar with gluten-free baking and I didn’t have time to do a lot of experimenting with gluten-free flours (I’ll get around to it someday, but not this week!), I went looking for a Cherrybrook Kitchen gluten-free yellow cake mix. The stores I usually haunt didn’t have it, but I discovered a new Betty Crocker gluten-free yellow cake mix! I was surprised and delighted to discover a mainstream brand is finally joining the fight against food allergies/diseases!

The cake turned out beautifully, although it took about twice as long to bake as the instructions said. Here’s what I did:

Put 4 T of melted dairy-free margarine in the bottom of a 9-inch round cake pan. Sprinkle with ½ c. brown sugar. Drain a can of mandarin orange slices, reserving the liquid, then arrange the slices in a round pattern on the bottom of the pan.

Next, make the cake batter according to the box’s recipe, although I substituted the reserved liquid from the oranges for the water that the recipe called for, and I replaced half of the gluten-free vanilla extract with orange extract, and I added the zest from half an orange. (Okay, I know, I’m one of those people who always have to mess with recipes. I’m sorry.)

Pour the batter over the oranges, and bake at 350 for … hmm… it was probably close to an hour, even though the instructions had said about 30 minutes. About half-way through, the top of the cake was starting to look way too brown, so I covered the outer edge of it with a long strip of foil, like you do on pies to keep the crust from getting too brown. When a toothpick finally came clean in the center of the cake, I removed it from the oven and let it cool for about ten minutes. Then I turned it out onto a cutting board, and it was perfect!

Frankly, I was shocked.

Although I like to experiment with baking, I throw away a LOT of disasters. A LOT. Like two-thirds of everything I try. I was so convinced that this would flop, I actually had also bought some dairy-free Italian Ice from my neighborhood Zeppe’s (great place, very aware of allergies!) and baked some gluten-free cookies from a Cherrybrook Kitchen mix.

So I ended up with not just one dessert, but three. I took them all, and they were all a hit, even with the non-allergic women, who couldn’t believe the cake and cookies were gluten-free.

Wow. I don’t know what I did to deserve such good luck on my first gluten-free baking adventure. Of course, given my baking karma, that probably ensured that the next ten things I try will fail in horribly creative ways. But that’s okay. The one friend with the most restrictions was thrilled to actually get to eat a dessert at a party, so that made it worth the worry.

It seems like it should work well with a regular cake mix, too, so I’m going to give it another try this weekend, using a nut-free, dairy-free, egg-free mix with regular flour. If you try it, let me know.

Here’s to more adventures in baking!