Monday, February 27, 2012

Junior High Teachers Who Care

by Kelley Lindberg

My friend Kim and I knew Junior High would be a learning experience – not just for our sons, but for us, too. Up until now, we’ve only had two teachers to worry about each year (one for the morning, one for the afternoon). But with Junior High, we would be dealing with seven teachers each. And our sons would no longer be in all the same classes, so the built-in buddy system would be gone. Would these seven teachers, who only have our sons for less than an hour each day, still be as concerned with their welfare as their elementary teachers? Would they remember to call us when they were planning a food-oriented lesson in class? Would they think about our sons when planning a field trip or a party?

With two-thirds of their first year of Junior High behind us now, the answer so far, thankfully, has been “yes.”

Kim and I have been asked to help come up with safe treats for two dances, a beginning-of-school carnival day, and several experiments. We’ve been invited to the classroom to help make safe smoothies and safe salsa. We’ve been asked about field trips and other activities. We’ve made Three Kings’ Cakes for in-class lessons on an important Spanish holiday. The administration has adjusted the boys’ schedules to make sure they had the same lunchtime so that they would have a buddy to sit with at the allergy table.

In short, despite all our worries, the Junior High teachers at our school have been everything we hoped.

Is it a perfect system? Of course not. We’re all human, and we all forget or make mistakes sometimes. But the energy and commitment to try to keep their classrooms allergy-safe seems sincere, and when something slips by, these teachers are quick to try to remedy it.

Can Kim and I relax? Ha. Right. We’re moms. Our job isn’t to relax – it’s to make sure everyone is as prepared as possible, so that problems seldom have an opportunity to crop up. A big part of the reason why these teachers are as proactive as they are is because Kim and I talk to them frequently, volunteer for them happily, and remind them patiently when we have to.

And all that preparation work we do has continued to pay off in the form of teachers who care, who try, and who make our sons feel included and welcome in the classroom.

Part of that attitude comes from the administration – we have a principal who supports us and isn’t afraid to remind her staff that food allergies are important in our school. But I think the bigger part is that we’re blessed with teachers who are teaching because they love the work and the kids. Most people simply don’t want anything bad to happen to a child in their charge, for any reason, at any time. Knowing that, it becomes much easier to reach out to those teachers and talk to them about our sons’ needs.

Now, if only our hormonally charged sons were that agreeable. But that's a whole different subject.

I know a lot of my blog followers have younger kids, and they probably worry about their kids’ future, like I do. So I thought maybe I’d send you this Postcard from Junior High to let you know that…knock on wood… so far, so good.

Meanwhile, I’m scanning the horizon for new worries, because that’s just the kind of mom I am. The next worrisome things on my radar? High school and dating. I’ll send you a postcard from there when we get to those hurdles. (Wish me luck!)

Monday, February 20, 2012

Allergy-Safe Mardi Gras Recipes

by Kelley Lindberg

Tomorrow is Mardi Gras, a great time to indulge in some delicious food, even if you’re not in New Orleans. (It also happens to be National Margarita Day—happy day!) So in honor of such a food-oriented day, I thought I’d search out some allergy-friendly recipes that fit the New Orleans theme. (Last week I posted a recipe for a safe Three Kings’ Cake. So today I thought I’d post some idea for the rest of the dinner!)

Jambalaya – this dish is a mix of whatever meat you have on hand (traditionally chicken, Andouille sausage, ham, and shrimp), rice, and some veggies (usually tomatoes, celery, onion, and bell pepper). It’s a wonderfully forgiving recipe, and it lends itself to endless variations. Allergic to shrimp? Leave it out. Don’t have any ham or bacon? Don’t worry, just toss in some chicken instead. Can’t stand celery? Leave it out. Love okra? Add it! Here is a recipe for Bubba’s Jambalaya.

Shrimp or Crawfish Etouffee – Etouffee can be made with shrimp, crawfish, catfish, or other seafood, and it’s usually served over rice. If you’re not allergic to seafood, it’s a yummy, fairly simple dish. There are a million versions; everyone’s grandmother made it differently. So hunt around until you find one that works for your allergies. Here is Emeril Lagasse’s recipe for ShrimpEtouffee. Here is a simpler one that uses flour to thicken the sauce: Louisiana Crawfish Etouffee. And here is one that uses cornstarch instead of flour: Shrimp Etoufee III

Muffuletta – Muffelettas are sandwiches made by hollowing out a loaf of French bread and filling it with your choice of cold cuts, cheese, and an olive salad. If you can’t have cheese, leave it out or substitute a safe soy cheese or Daiya cheese, if you’d like. Here is a delicious-looking recipe: Hearty Muffuletta.

Gumbo – Like jambalaya, gumbo is very forgiving, and you can use whatever meat your family likes, from chicken to sausage (usually Andouille) to shrimp. It’s more soupy than jambalaya, and it’s usually served over rice. Here is an authentic-looking recipe: Good New Orleans Creole Gumbo. It calls for beef bouillon cubes – if you can’t find safe cubes, substitute 3 cans of safe beef broth for half of the water called for in the recipe. This recipe also calls for crabmeat and shrimp – if you have seafood allergies, try cooked, cut-up chicken instead.

Gumbo Joes – I stumbled across this Cajun-flavored variation of Sloppy Joes, for something a little different! Gumbo Joes.

Hush puppies – These little cornbread balls are yummy, but usually call for eggs and milk. Here is a vegan recipe that may work for you (you can probably substitute rice milk for the soy milk if necessary). And if you don’t like your hushpuppies spicy, leave out the jalapenos. Vegan Hush Puppies.

Have fun celebrating Mardi Gras, or just celebrating good food in general!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Three Kings’ Cake Recipe

by Kelley Lindberg

Mardi Gras is rapidly approaching – it will be Tuesday, February 21 this year. Have you already designed your costume and mask, stocked up on beads, and perused the parade schedule? No? Then, like me, you probably don’t live in New Orleans, Rio de Janeiro, or Spain. Pity. It sounds fun.

Mardi Gras (French for “Fat Tuesday”) is the day before Ash Wednesday (which is the day before Lent begins). But the whole Mardi Gras season, also called Carnival season, actually begins on the Epiphany (January 6) and leads up to Mardi Gras. (The Epiphany, sometimes called Three Kings’ Day, is the day the Magi appeared after Jesus’ birth.) Since Lent is a season of ritual fasting and religious obligations (and traditionally, Catholics elect to “give up” something they like during Lent as a sacrifice symbolizing their faith), the Mardi Gras season leading up to Lent is a time for celebrations, rich foods, and fun – kind of a “last hurrah” before things get serious. (Okay, this is a gross simplification of the whole thing, but it gives the gist, right?)

Mardi Gras has about a million traditions, from who gets to ride on parade floats, to what you have to do to get a necklace of plastic beads. One less-risqué tradition is the Three Kings’ Cake – a sweetened bread formed into a circle and decorated with candied fruit and sugar to make it look like a crown.

In New Orleans, it’s traditional to have a Three Kings’ Cake anytime during the Mardi Gras season, but especially on Fat Tuesday itself. In other areas, such as in Spain, it’s traditional to serve the Three Kings’ Cake on the Epiphany (January 6).

This year, my son’s Spanish teacher, who is from Spain, wanted to serve the class Three Kings’ Cake (Rosca de Reyes) on January 6, as she taught them about this huge cultural celebration in Spain. There is a parade in Madrid that rivals our Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, but instead of Santa, the Madrid version brings the three Wise Men on floats. Children get presents on January 6 in many cultures, too.

I did some research to find out how to make a safe Three Kings’ Cake for my son’s teacher, and discovered that the Rosca de Reyes that is served in Spain on the Epiphany is basically the same things as the Three King’s Cake served in New Orleans on Mardi Gras. There are as many recipes as there are chefs, naturally, but I practiced making several different cakes for a couple of weeks until I developed a recipe that was simple and free from egg, milk, and nuts.

Another fun tradition with the Three Kings’ Cake is that the baker always tucks a small plastic baby Jesus, or a coin, into the baked cake. Depending on the region’s traditions, whoever finds the coin or doll will either: 1) have good luck, or 2) have to bring the cake to the next celebration.

The simplest recipe I finally created uses frozen bread dough. Smith’s (Kroger) has a white bread dough that is free from milk, eggs, and nuts, so that is what I used. Rhodes dough had a milk warning, so I didn’t use that one. If you need a gluten-free recipe, just substitute your favorite gluten-free bread dough. All Three Kings’ Cake recipes call for candied fruit – the best is home-made candied fruit (like orange rinds), but I don’t have the patience to make my own, so I used the candied cherries you find at Christmas-time, that people use to make fruit cake. But not everyone likes that kind of candied fruit. So a better option might be to use maraschino cherries – everyone loves those! And they’re easier to find any time of year.

Start a new tradition in your family this year, and serve a Three Kings’ Cake for Mardi Gras. It is surprisingly easy, the kids can have fun decorating the “crown,” and you’ll find a new way to connect with cultures near and far who celebrate this fun holiday.

(I ended up making cakes for all 5 of the teacher’s Spanish classes. Because each cake had to serve about 25 kids, I used two loaves to form each cake, so the photos show larger cakes than a single loaf will make.)

Rosca de Reyes (Three Kings’ Cake)
  • 1 loaf frozen bread dough (or make your own dough for regular white bread)
  • 1/4 c. candied fruit, raisins, dried cranberries, or maraschino cherries cut in half (or a mix of your favorites)
  • 2 T corn syrup (like Karo syrup)
  • 1 – 2 tsp hot water
  • 1/4 c. granulated sugar
  • Food coloring (optional)
  • Small plastic baby or coin
  1. Heat your oven to 175 degrees, then turn it off. Place the frozen bread dough in a greased loaf pan, and cover it with a sheet of plastic wrap sprayed with non-stick spray. Put the pan in the oven and let it rise for several hours, until it has risen about an inch higher than the top of the bread pan.
  2. Grease a large cookie sheet, or put a piece of parchment paper on a cookie sheet. (Parchment paper is the best!)
  3. Dump out the dough onto wax paper or a pastry stone, and stretch out the loaf until it is 12 – 15 inches long. You don’t want to handle it too much, but you need a long-ish rope. Then put the bread on your prepared cookie sheet and form it into a circle. Pinch the ends together well so that it doesn’t come apart while baking.
  4. To make a glaze, put the corn syrup in a small bowl or cup, then add a small amount (1 tsp or so) of hot water and stir it. It just needs to be thinned a little so that it will be easier to brush onto the top of the cake. Then use a pastry brush to brush the glaze over the dough.
  5. Place the candied fruit, raisins, or cherries along the top of the crown. Press them into the dough a little so that they stick to it, but are still showing. This is where the kids can get creative – the candied fruit are the jewels in the crown!
  6. Finally, you can use either white sugar or colored sugar to finish decorating the crown. Mardi Gras cakes usually have green, purple, and yellow sugar. The Spanish version served on the Epiphany uses white sugar. If you’d like colored sugar, use a small glass jar to shake the sugar with food coloring, or purchase colored sugar at the store. When you put the sugar on the cake, don’t be shy – it isn’t really sprinkled on, it’s dumped on, usually in bands around the cake! Google some images of Rosca de Reyes or Kings Cake and you’ll find hundreds.
  7. As soon as you’ve finished decorating the cake, bake it for 25 - 30 minutes at 375 degrees. It should be just turning golden, like bread, but don’t let the bottom burn.
  8. After the cake cools, carefully lift up one edge of the cake and slip the plastic baby or coin (I like to wrap the coin in aluminum foil) under the edge so that it is hidden. Warn your guests/family about the prize in the cake so that you don’t have to make any unplanned trips to the dentist.
Happy Mardi Gras!

Monday, February 6, 2012

HB 211 – Fighting for Coverage of Elemental Formula for EGID Patients

by Kelley Lindberg

They say the third time is the charm, so let’s keep our fingers crossed that 2012 is the year the Utah Legislature comes through in passing a law for uniform insurance coverage of amino-acid based elemental formulas for eosinophilic gastrointestinal disorders (EGIDs).

Eosinophilic Gastrointestinal Disorders (EGID) are a group of diseases that are characterized by having a large amount of a particular type of white blood cell, called eosinophils, in various places in the digestive system. These blood cells basically make it impossible to digest the proteins in food.

Food proteins exists in all natural foods, including vegetables, fruits, dairy, fish, and meats. Symptoms vary widely, and include just about every gastrointestinal agony you can think of, including nausea, diarrhea, severe pain, malnutrition, and reflux that doesn’t respond to any therapy. Because sufferers can’t eat many – or in some case, any – foods, symptoms can lead to severe malnutrition, failure to thrive, and starvation. The only way to confirm a diagnosis is with an endoscopy and biopsies.

While some medications can relieve some of the symptoms, the only treatment is an elimination diet. It’s not uncommon for EGID patients to be forced to eliminate so many foods that they can literally count their “safe” foods on only one or two hands. In many cases, these patients must resort to what’s called an elemental diet – that means, literally, no food. The only form of nutrition these patients can tolerate is a special “elemental formula” that contains amino acids, fats, sugars, vitamins, and minerals. Sometimes it can be drunk. Other times it must be administered through a feeding tube.

Can you imagine being a child or an adult, and being hooked up to a feeding tube and its machine every day for your only source of nutrition? And yet, you still have to go about all the same daily routines as everyone else – going to school or work, getting together with friends, raising your children, or doing the grocery shopping for the rest of the family who CAN eat?

As if eliminating all food weren’t difficult enough for these people (which include both children and adults), this elemental formula can cost as much or more than a mortgage payment EVERY MONTH.

Adding insult to injury, insurance companies don’t cover elemental formulas, even when they are prescribed by a doctor and are the only defense standing between the EGID-affected patient and starvation.

That’s why this legislation, HB 211 - Insurance Coverage for Amino Acid-based Formula, is so important.

Thirteen states have already passed laws for coverage, and six other states (in addition to Utah) are trying to pass uniform coverage laws this year. The food allergy and EGID community would greatly appreciate your support of this bi-partisan initiative.

If you’d like to help make a difference in the lives of families suffering from the financial hardships of living with EGIDs, here is a quick and simple thing to do – write some emails! Here are some tips for doing that:

First, email the members of the House Rules Committee and ask them to vote in favor of moving HB 211 out of the House Rules Committee and on to the Health and Human Services Committee. If you have personal experience with this awful disease, explain how the lack of coverage for this disorder has impacted your family, emotionally and financially (or for physicians, your treatment of patients). Don't make your email too long, but emphasize how the current status harms families.

In the Subject line of your email, put: HB 211 - Please Prioritize on Agenda

The following representatives are the most important people to contact. If either of these men are your representative, change your email subject to: HB 211 - I am your Constituent - Please Prioritize
Next, send the same email to the following committee members, but change the email subject to: HB 211 - Please Support & Move to Committee

Again, if any of these are your representatives, change the email subject to HB 211 - I am your Constituent - Please Support
If you are unsure who your representatives are, click here to easily find out Emails from constituents are much more powerful.

Finally, make sure you sign every email with your full name and mailing address. You can also include your phone number if desired. They do check to make sure we are real people in Utah and/or their constituents!

If you would like more information, or if you would like to add your name to the list of supporters so that you can be emailed about this legislation’s status in the future, please send an email to either Tammy Zundel (from the Utah Eosinophilic Disorders Association, or Michelle Fogg (from the Utah Food Allergy Network,

THANK YOU for your help as we fight to gain coverage for this vital and life-saving medical formula used to treat those with EGIDs and multiple food allergies in Utah.

P.S. The Utah legislature is transitioning email address suffixes by the end of the 2012 session, but some have reported returned undelivered emails to particular representatives. If this happens, please re-send using the suffix