Monday, May 28, 2012

Mourning Another Food-Allergy Death

by Kelley Lindberg

Memorial Day is a day of remembrance for loved ones and strangers alike who have passed on, leaving the world a little richer for having been here – and yet a little emptier at the same time.

This Memorial Day, unfortunately, we have another child in the food allergy community to mourn. A 15-year-old boy in Atlanta, Georgia, died while celebrating a soccer game with his teammates at a buffet restaurant. (“Teen Dies After Apparent Allergic Reaction to Nuts,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Diallo Robbins-Brinson knew he was allergic to peanuts his whole life, but had gotten so used to avoiding peanuts that he no longer carried an EpiPen. At the buffet restaurant, he grabbed a couple of his favorite cookies: white chocolate with macadamia nuts. Within minutes he’d passed out and never recovered.

Statistics show that most food-allergy-related deaths are among teenagers, especially boys, who don’t carry their EpiPens with them. It seems such a simple thing – avoid the food, but carry an EpiPen for those times when you accidentally ingest the allergen. Yet teenage boys feel immortal and bulletproof, they think they are smarter than their parents, and they are horrified by the thought of having to carry those EpiPens when no one else has to carry anything. At least girls can carry cute purses without anyone caring. Boys don’t have that luxury.

My own son is now in those teen years, and I am nervous. So far, he’s okay with carrying his EpiPens in a string-bag-type backpack. But being a teenager, he’s as forgetful as a toddler (worse?), and he doesn’t remember to carry it if I don’t remind him on the way out the door. So I’m showing him this story about this Atlanta teenager as a reminder of how it’s not just Mom being overly protective. It is literally a matter of life and death.

In the news story, Diallo’s mother is quoted as saying, “He thought he was eating something safe… He loved them. If he had smelled peanut butter, he wouldn't have picked them."

That statement shows one of the misconceptions about food allergies – that you can always tell just by smell or by sight if a food contains an allergen. I’ve heard of people who swear they can tell if a food contains an allergen by touching the food to their tongue; if their tongue tingles, they avoid the food. That is a highly dangerous way to test a food, and can give a very false sense of security. Perhaps the portion of the cookie you touch to your tongue isn’t contaminated, but another is. Perhaps there is not enough quantity to make your tongue tingle, but enough to make your body react if you eat it. It’s a game of Russian Roulette. The safer option is to ask for an ingredients list when possible, and avoid anything suspect if there isn’t an ingredients list. No cookie, cupcake, or salad ever invented is worth losing your life, or your child’s life.

This is the third Atlanta child to die from a food allergic reaction since last August. I hope in Atlanta, food allergy awareness is becoming more important because of this rash of deaths. And I hope everyone across the country (and globe) will become more aware, too. Maybe we can all learn from Diallo’s story and remind our children to be a little more vigilant, a little more careful, and little more safe.

And here’s my fervent wish that Diallo will be the last food-allergic child we ever have to mourn on Memorial Day.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Super-Easy Allergy-Free Cupcake Recipe

by Kelley Lindberg

Six dozen cupcakes. 72. Way more than sane people make.

That’s what I made this weekend. My son’s soccer coach invited the whole team and their families to a barbeque to celebrate the end of the season. He provided the meat (a wonderful smoked brisket) and everyone else was supposed to bring a potluck dish to share.

My rule for parties is to always volunteer to bring the dessert. That is where nuts are most likely to appear (why are nuts an obligatory part of everyone’s favorite dessert recipe?), so I figure if I bring the dessert, I can control a lot of the nut contamination at the event. My son and his best friend are both on the team, so this time I knew we were dealing with not just my son’s peanut and nut allergy, but also his friend’s nut, milk, and egg allergy. So that made me even more determined to bring dessert – that way our boys would get the dessert, even if they couldn’t eat anything else. (The friend always brings his own bag of safe food to parties like this, because the risk of cross-contamination is just too high.)

So there I was, making six dozen cupcakes.

And you know what? It wasn’t that bad! In fact, it was a lot easier than I thought it was going to be, because the allergic friend’s mom (Kim, my dear friend and partner-in-crime for the last 13 years of playdates, parties, school, and other events) gave me her new secret recipe for making super-easy safe cupcakes (milk-, egg-, and nut-free). Okay, it isn't really secret, and it was shared a while ago on the UFAN email list, but it was new to me, and it worked out really well, so...

Now I’m going to give you the recipe. Are you ready? Here it is:

    Super-Easy Allergy-Free Cupcake Recipe
  • 1 box Duncan Hines cake mix
  • 1 12-oz. can of club soda
    Mix, bake, frost, eat.

Seriously? Seriously. That’s all there is to it.

Duncan Hines makes several flavors (yellow, spice, chocolate, red velvet, lemon, etc.) that contain only wheat – no eggs, milk, or soy. Check ingredient labels carefully, because not all of their flavors are milk-free. You may have other cake mixes you like that are safe, and this should work just fine with those, too. It might even work with your favorite gluten-free cake mix, but I haven’t tried that yet. (Betty Crocker makes gluten-free yellow and devils-food chocolate cake mixes that are free from milk, eggs, and nuts, but they do contain soy or a soy warning.)

So grab a box of safe cake mix, pour in a can of club soda, mix it up, and bake according to the time on the box. Forget the oil and eggs that the box calls for. You don’t need ‘em.

I’ve heard you can also use a can of Sprite instead of the club soda. But that adds more sugar, so I like using club soda. (Cake mixes already have plenty of sugar – no need to add more.)

For frosting, I use Pillsbury Creamy Supreme, which contains soy, but is free from milk, eggs, and nuts. Then I sprinkle them with colored sugar or Enjoy Life Foods’ mini chocolate chips (or both). Voila! Instant cupcakes.

Here’s the best part. They seemed to be a big hit at the party. The team devoured them (most had multiple cupcakes), and I got lots of compliments from the parents, too.

And I didn’t have to tell a soul that they were milk-, egg-, and nut-free. No one could tell. If I had told people they were allergy-friendly, I wonder how many people would have declined them, thinking they would taste “off.” But I didn’t, no one knew any different, and everyone was happy. Especially the teenage soccer players, who all had seconds, thirds, and in at least one case, fourths.

Funny how hungry teen boys can make six dozen cupcakes disappear in a heartbeat! And it made me happy knowing that the treat was a safe way for our allergic boys to not feel left out of this sweet part of the party.

Monday, May 14, 2012

My Darwinian Garden

by Kelley Lindberg

I planted my garden last week, and now I get to sit back and hope it all lives. People have different approaches to gardening. Some view it as a lifestyle and spend a little time every day out there, lovingly weeding or fertilizing. Some view it as a hobby, reading up on the latest pruning techniques and inventing new recipes for their harvest.

I view it as Darwin’s theory of evolution in action. In my garden, it’s definitely a case of “survival of the fittest.”

Okay, sure, I select the plants with care at the nursery. I loosen up the dirt in my garden and maybe even add some new garden soil to it. I water the tender roots with a root-starter solution.

Then I plunk those babies in the ground, and that’s it. They’re on their own from that point on. No weeding. No extra fertilizing. No special treatment whatsoever. They’re just lucky the sprinkler system is set on a timer.

Only the strongest survive in my garden.

Does it work? Yep. This has been my fool-proof technique for years, and every year I have a pretty decent crop of fresh, low-maintenance veggies to enjoy all summer.

This year, I planted four types of tomatoes, some Anaheim chile peppers, onions, zucchini, yellow squash, basil, radishes, carrots, Swiss chard, and – for the first time ever – potatoes. The potatoes are an experiment: I had a couple of potatoes growing happily by themselves in the dark corner of my pantry, so I cut them up, stuck them in the ground, and now have some surprisingly healthy-looking plants growing from them. Who knew? (Well, I guess all those potato farmers knew. But it was a surprise for me.)
I also have a strawberry patch, but guess what I’ve learned? In my survival-of-the-fittest garden, birds are faster at harvesting strawberries than I am. So apparently I’m growing a great crop of bird treats in my strawberry patch, because I didn’t get a single berry last year. This year my husband says he’ll build some kind of net contraption thingy to cover the strawberries, but that sounds like a lot of work for a Darwinian garden. So we’ll see. Besides, for some reason the birds mostly leave my raspberries alone, so I get plenty of those each year.

For now, I’m happy that my day of digging up dirt and planting baby veggies is done. In a few weeks, I should be able to start adding fresh radishes to my salad. After that, maybe some Swiss chard. Then after a few more weeks, the rest of my garden will starting ripening, and I’ll begin whipping up homemade salsa and marinara sauce, or just adding a handful of sun-sweet cherry tomatoes to our dinner plates every night.

And for any plants that don’t survive my measly gardening skills… well, that’s what farmers’ markets are for, right?

Monday, May 7, 2012

Celebrate Food Allergy Awareness Week

by Kelley Lindberg

Next week is Food Allergy Awareness Week, from May 13 – 19, 2012. It’s a great time to help educate everyone you meet about the seriousness of food allergies. It’s also a great time to appreciate how much awareness the food allergy community has managed to spread over the last fourteen years, since the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) created the very first Food Allergy Awareness Week in 1998.

When my son was born (in that same year, in fact), I was oblivious about food allergies. A year and a half later, I was painfully yanked into the food allergy world after my son’s first encounters with peanut butter left him with rashes and a hoarse voice. Fortunately, I found a friend whose son was also newly diagnosed with food allergies. Then we both discovered FAAN. Together, my friend and I began the long process of educating ourselves, and continuing to educate ourselves as new information becomes available.

There wasn’t much help back then. Restaurants were clueless, schools were barely aware, and resources were slim.

Now, just fourteen years later, restaurants offer food-allergy menus, schools are beginning to adopt written policies, and FAAN has been joined by a host of other food-allergy resources online, including our very own Utah Food Allergy Network (UFAN), which began 5 years ago. There are cookbooks, and websites, and support groups, and an entire community that I am so very grateful for.

So, if you have a minute, think about ways you can celebrate Food Allergy Awareness Week and the awareness we’ve all had a hand in spreading. Can you do a storytime at your library, and read a children’s book about food allergies? (There are a lot of them out there now.) Can you speak to your child’s class about food allergies? Maybe you can donate some jars of Sunbutter to the local food bank, or send a quick note to the manager of your favorite grocery store, thanking them for carrying specific brands or items that are safe for your food-allergic family member.

The tiniest efforts can reap huge rewards down the road. Just look what we’ve done in fourteen years.

And don’t forget to register for UFAN’s Day of Play at the Discovery Gateway Children’s Museum on Tuesday, May 14 from 4 – 6 pm, to help create an artpiece to be displayed at the new Sunflower Market Downtown. But hurry! You have to register and buy your discount tickets for this fun event by May 10. Go to the UFAN website for details.