Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Nut-Free Bakery Needs You: Support Nutphree's in Their Efforts to Bring Safe, Peanut-Free, Tree Nut-Free Treats to Stores

What if you could walk into a grocery store and buy a delicious, beautifully decorated cupcake for your child with severe peanut and tree nut allergies? Nutphree's, my hometown nut-free bakery and a longtime supporter of this site, wants this to be a reality for many more of us, but they need our our help! A growing number of grocery stores want Nutphree's safe, tasty treats but they don't have the equipment and manpower to satisfy this demand.

Please click on the video above to learn how you can help through Nutphree's Kickstarter campaign. The campaign expires September 17th, so the time to help is now.

Brian and Sonia Walker, the founders of Nutphree's and fellow parents of a child with life-threatening nut allergies, tell their inspiring story so much better than I can in the short video above. You'll also get to see an array of the fabulous treats created at their storefront bakery, as well as the cupcakes they now sell to many Mariano's grocery stores in the Chicago area.

My  daughter's whimsical birthday cake (with a makeup theme) from Nutphree's.

When we first received my daughter's diagnosis of life-threatening peanut and tree nut allergies, we had no idea what that would mean to social occasions like birthday parties or family celebrations. Blog readers were in the same position, and I received numerous e-mails asking to find safe, nut-free baked goods. My answer then: your own kitchen. Get baking! There was simply no alternative.

All of that changed in 2011 when Nutphree's started baking to fill this growing need. I've sent so many readers, friends and neighbors to Nutphree's over the years and I've been thrilled with the cakes I've ordered from them myself, not to mention the cupcakes making their way in my door via Mariano's grocery stores.  Due to the growing demand for this product, those of us in the Chicago area can now go into Mariano's supermarkets and pick up Nutphree's yummy cupcakes.

One of the gorgeous cast party cakes from when my daughter performed in Guys and Dolls!
 Several in the cast had nut allergies, so they were thrilled.
Let's make this happen! Post this on your Facebook pages, tell your friends and family. We only have until September 17 and the campaign has a long way to go. Thanks to all of you for your support of my blog and for your interest in helping Nutphree's! For more information, visit the Nutphree's Kickstarter link (or simply click the video above). 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Back-to-School with Nut Allergies: Nut-Free Foods & Resources

Back to school time is upon us – for some of us, it’s already begun. To help you get ready for school with nut allergies, I have a bunch of links that I will share at the end of this post.

In the meantime, here's a new list of resources and items that you will find helpful in navigating a nut-free school year.
First I want to talk about the wonderful company, OK2BPNUTFREE, one of my site advertisers. Run by the parent of a child with nut allergies, the company offers eye-catching medicine kits to keep at school, allergy-awareness clothing and labels to help identify your food-allergic child’s belongings. Please check them out – I especially love the “shot kit” as it can be personalized for your child and will be easy to spot in case of emergency.

Now onto the nut-free food and snacks, always an issue at this time of year, what with lunches, after-school snacks, etc.  I’m always happy to find allergy-friendly foods on the shelves that clearly state “Nut-free” and that are made in a nut-free facility. Just kind of makes life easier. Luckily, those types of foods are increasing.

For example, I recently discovered the following:

Go Raw seeds. Most pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds contain frustrating statements about being processed on the same lines as peanuts or tree nuts. Not these: they clearly state NUT-FREE on the label. Plus they are “sprouted” seeds, so they are considered especially healthy to eat. Besides all that, these just taste great. The family is hooked. Please note that these seeds are not cheap; we paid $9 for a big bag at my local Fruitful Yield, a natural foods chain. However, they are an economical choice if you use them to create your own trail mix. I love prepared nut-free trail mix but it is $$$$!! (Seeds are not a nut, but please ask your doctor if your child can have seeds. Some kids with nut allergies are allergic to multiple foods.) for more info. Nut and peanut-free, gluten-free, vegan.

Soy Wonder Soy Butter. I’m normally not a big fan of soy butter and have tried multiple brands looking for one I like – and then I tried this stuff. I love the crunchy version. This is perfect for cookies, nut-free granola bars (see my recipe) and of course, sandwiches. I generally prefer SunButter sunflower seed butter for just about anything, but Soy Wonder is a great choice for baking because you have no worries about the green color you sometimes get when using sunflower seed butter (due to the photosynthesis of sunflower seeds.) I found Soy Wonder at Publix in Florida; you can also get it at some Walmart stores and order it online from Amazon. It's peanut/tree nut-free, wheat-free, dairy-free and gluten-free.

Enjoy Life Dark Chocolate Morsels. – Regular size. I spotted these babies at Super Target a few days ago. Hooray! First ELF made the mini chips, then the chunks – both are good and nut-free. But the regular sized chips? Imagine the possibilities. These add a nice dark chocolate flavor to your baked goods, or add them to your nut-free trail mix with the seeds above. Nut-free, gluten-free, dairy-free.

Nutphree's Cupcakes. If you are in the Chicago area, you can now find these fabulous peanut-free/tree nut-free cupcakes at Mariano's grocery stores. Look in the bakery where they have a specialty section of prepacked Nutphree's goodies. Visit the Nutphree's web site for more info. Nutphree's is a longtime advertiser on my site and I've used their products on numerous occasions.

Going back to school with a life-threatening peanut/tree nut allergy isn’t only about the food and the gear you need. Please see my posts below for even more discussion about navigating nut allergies at school. And all the best to you and your family this year!!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Disney World and Peanut/Tree Nut Allergies: It Really Is the Happiest Place on Earth

For years, I've heard about how nut allergy-friendly Disney World in Orlando, FL is and I can now say that I know it to be true firsthand. A couple of weeks ago my family finally went to Disney and while it was just a fun time overall, the approach to food allergies it what made the experience even more special for my entire family.

I know that summer is winding to a close, but for any of you contemplating visiting Disney World in the future, I thought I had to share this summer vacation story. Disney World does their best to help and accommodate guests with food allergies. Even better, they do it in a friendly and knowledgeable way. Here's our experience:

When we first arrived at Disney after a long road trip, it was very late at night and everybody was hungry. We wound up in Tomorrow Land in one of the few late-night Magic Kingdom restaurants, Cosmic Ray's, and spoke to one of the workers. Without batting an eye, she brought out a binder with all of the foods that people with peanut/tree nut allergies could eat -- it was so detailed it even had photos of some of the ingredients used and their labels so you could read them yourself. And that really set the tone for the rest of our trip. We were pleasantly surprised at how well nut allergies were handled at the different parks and restaurants.

Everywhere we went, food allergies were handled in a very professional way. Everything was very well thought out -- more than I've ever experienced. For example, we were able to get into the Be Our Guest (Beauty and The Beast castle) for lunch one day and you ordered using a touch screen. The meal was then delivered to your table (in Disney lingo this is "counter service."). During the touch screen ordering process, you were able to enter what food allergies you had, if any, and then the screen showed you what items you were able to order. It made the entire process much easier for us, that's for sure! In addition, a Disney chef came to our table to discuss our order and answer any questions. The best part: my daughter was able to have a delicious chocolate cupcake with amazing chocolate filling and decoration including a chocolate piece that said "Be Our Guest" in gold. Yes, a cupcake. If you deal with nut allergies, you know what a big deal that is. Apparently certain of the desserts at Be Our Guest were baked on site in separate areas. So, bring on the cupcake!

We even got to visit Gaston's Tavern later that day, right near the Beauty and The Beast Castle. Again, they referred us to a binder with thorough food allergy info. Guess who got to enjoy a ginormous cinnamon roll? It was wonderful to be able to serve my daughter some baked goods and sweets that are normally off-limits due to cross-contact.

A view of the Beauty and the Beast castle tower and spires.
We were fortunate to have been able to book another character dining experience, this time with an advanced reservation at Cinderella's Royal Table located in the iconic Cinderella castle. You book your reservation online and again, you are asked at that time to enter any food allergies in your reservation. At this character dinner (which was pricey, granted, but you get several souvenirs including a professional photo with Cinderella, photo ops with 6 princesses, take home souvenirs, and pretty much everything a princess could want), the chef came to our table and talked about the food in detail. He explained how he would go about creating a safe meal, a few substitutions he would do and how the kitchen worked. He knew his stuff and he persevered explaining everything to us even though the place got very noisy as someone got engaged at the restaurant as he was talking to us :)) He was very sweet to our daughter and delivered the substituted food to the table himself. Pretty impressive. Kudos to you, Chef Carlos.

Snow White came to chat at Cinderella's Royal Table.

Now,my  daughters are older -- 11 and 14. They're not tiny little kids anymore but at Disney it doesn't matter. Everyone gets to be a kid there and treated to a good experience. I really appreciated the thoughtfulness of everyone we dealt with.

This  is where we ate at Epcot. Tres bien.

We also visited Epcot. Now, of course we avoided the Chinese food there, but we did walk into a French bistro with no reservation. Again, the chef came out, substituted some bread for an allergy-safe bread (it was gluten-free, too and my daughter said it was tasty) and suggested safe menu items. He displayed an excellent understanding of cross contact so we felt very good about the whole thing. And lo and behold, while were eating, Belle (she's French, of course) walked by us right outside the window. Talk about serendipity.

To be clear: you can't eat everything at Disney World if you have a peanut/tree nut allergy. However, the clear labels, the detailed binders and the knowledgeable restaurant and food service staff will do everything they can to explain what you CAN have and how they can provide you with a happy, allergy-free dining experience. Even the "walk up" restaurants, for the most part, had decent options for our daughter. And like I said before, they take cross-contact seriously. With hundreds of restaurants at Disney, I obviously didn't visit them all but the ones I did were awesome.

We also visited Universal Studios and Harry Potter World/Hogsmeade/Diagon Alley and they had similar binders which were very helpful. However, my daughter could not have the much talked about beverage -- Butter Beer. They had it listed for cross-contact with peanuts/tree nuts but at least they warned us, which we all appreciated. We at at the Three Broomsticks Tavern (I think that's what it was called. It was a long day. :) Also, the Leaky Cauldron in Diagon Alley seemed to have similar menu and set up. Just check with the staff when you arrive at the restaurant and they will steer you towards their allergy info.

By the way, here's how to make Butter Beer at home. Take some cream soda, add a couple of spoonfuls of butterscotch ice cream topping or syrup (I use Hershey's, please read labels!) and swirl it together. Add some ice. Top with whipped cream and some more butterscotch.  Yum.

I hope I was able to shed some light on Disney World for anyone thinking about going there. Of course, everyone has different needs so I encourage you to visit the Disney World web site as we did to get started with your plans. When you see how they handle things, it makes you realize that nearly every restaurant could approach things the same way with the right education.

Disney gets an A+ from my family. Hope to see it again -- soon!

For more info on managing daily life with nut allergies, check out my e-book, available on Kindle and other formats (see the right side bar of this blog for more info.) Thanks to everyone for your great feedback on my book!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Graduating to a Summer Blog Break, Plus a Nut-Free Basil Pesto Recipe!

Hi everyone and Happy Summer! As many of my regular readers know, I've not been blogging as much lately and that's for many reasons. One is that I've been working on some new and non-food allergy writing projects, the other is that I was super-busy getting my oldest daughter through her last few days of 8th grade. Yep, I have an 8th grade graduate, heading to high school next year.

Getting to this point with my daughter, who has severe peanut and tree nut allergies, has been a long but rewarding road. Those of you who read my blog regularly probably know that working with schools regarding food allergies has been one of my most frequently blogged topics. It's a big one.

As I sat in the audience watching my daughter receive her diploma, I thought back to kindergarten and how much we've been through together. School with food allergies hasn't always been easy -- field trips, parties, lunch tables and just understanding from others -- has been a challenge at times.  For those of you just embarking on the school with food allergies "journey" (not to sound like a reality show), take heart and remember to communicate. With everyone. Frequently. It's the only way, and if you go about it in a reasonable manner, you will be successful.

Many people still need a food allergy education so never feel badly about speaking up and speaking out. Reasonable, safe solutions can be found and kids with severe allergies CAN have a safe and healthy school experience, especially if compassion and preparation are involved. What I really want to say is that if we did it, so can you.

Use the "search" bar on the top left hand side of this blog to find lots of posts to help you with school.

After 6 and a half years of writing this blog, the time has come for me to take a break from it. I'm sure I will still have things to say about nut allergies -- always. Still, with a shortened summer due to our extended snow/cold days following a tough winter, some exciting summer travel and some new writing projects that I'm highly committed to, I feel the need to take some time off of the blog.

When I started The Nut-Free Mom blog in January of 2008, I'd been dealing with my daughter's food allergies for 4 years and I felt like I had learned a lot I wanted to share. I've been so happy to hear from the many wonderful and supportive readers of this blog who have also shared their stories with me. I'm also grateful that I was able to share much of what I've learned not only here, but in my Nut-Free Mom e-book parenting guide. Many of you have written to me or have taken the time to write a positive review of this little book and I'm happy that so many of you have found it and are still finding it useful -- it continues to be selling well on Amazon Kindle.

The Nut-Free Mom blog has more than 600 posts, so if you're just finding me, you have plenty to keep you occupied! I also encourage you to check out my e-book and Pinterest boards that deal with nut allergies. My Pinterest button is to the right of this post -- I have a lot of boards but many of them deal with allergies. If you're a Pinner, see you there!

Before I take my summer break, I want to share a recipe I've wanted to put on the blog for YEARS but for some reason, I never did. It's very fitting for summer: Nut-Free Basil Pesto. Basically, this is a cross between a traditional Italian pesto that has pine nuts or walnuts (a no-no for us, of course) and a Provencal "pistou" which is a basil sauce without nuts or cheese. (Don't worry, this recipe has cheese but no nuts. :))

The basil in my garden is booming -- maybe you have an herb garden too but if not, basil should be cheap and plentiful at the supermarket right now.

Here's the recipe. Enjoy it and enjoy your summer!

Nut-Free Mom's Nut-Free Basil Pesto

This doesn't make a huge amount, but a little pesto goes a long way. It's very flavorful! Toss it with pasta, add it to pizza or even to cold summer soups like gazpacho. If you have a LOT of basil, double the recipe.

2 cups firmly packed, fresh basil leaves, washed and dried
2 sprigs of fresh parsley (or use mint if you have it in your garden for a refreshing note)
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons unsweetened dairy butter or dairy-free margarine
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (or dairy-free cheese)
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
4 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil

In a food processor or blender, blend all ingredients EXCEPT the oil. Process until ingredients are finely minced. With the motor running, gradually add the olive oil and blend thoroughly.

You can freeze your pesto (in ice cube trays, if you like, for individual servings) for several months (how about a little pop of nut-free pesto on the kiddo's lunch pasta), but bring to room temperature before serving. Makes 1/2 cup.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Food Allergy Awareness Week: Small Gestures Add Up All Year

Is this your family's constant refrain? You are not alone!
This week is Food Allergy Awareness Week (and this month is Allergy and Asthma Awareness Month), so there are many activities being implemented to bring awareness and attention to the seriousness of life-threatening food allergies. These large gestures are wonderful and come about due to the dedication of parents, advocates and physicians who want to spread the word and make the world a more aware place for people suffering from life-threatening food allergies aka "anaphylaxis."

Before I go any further, in honor of Food Allergy Awareness Week, I want to give a little PSA to all reading now. If you or your child suffer from allergies please remember to ALWAYS carry epinephrine at ALL TIMES. And always check foods, read labels and skip foods when you can't determine their safety. Being cautious of foods and carrying medications are the two best things you can do! I know I've said it many times, but this week especially, it's worth saying again.

While I love that there is a week especially devoted to the  cause of food allergy awareness, I think it's important to point out what I think most of us already know. If you are dealing with life-threatening food allergies every week is "food allergy awareness week." I'm going to guess that you are frequently telling others about allergies as you help your child (or yourself) navigate through a world in which a common food can be more than hazardous to your health -- it can be potentially lethal. This is a difficult concept for many people to get their minds around, so educating others about allergies is a continual process.

Recently, a food allergy awareness opportunity came about for me kind of unexpectedly. My daughter was in a school play and had a lead, so as part of the party-planning committee I ordered specialty cakes from Nutphree's,  a local nut-free bakery, for the entire cast, with the play's theme as the decoration. Nutphree's outdid themselves -- the cakes were the talk of the party and dozens of kids took pictures of the cakes. A lot of people saw the "Nutphree's" logo on the cake boxes and asked me about the bakery, food allergies and how we manage them. One of the volunteers was a pediatrician in our area and he thought it was great -- so many of his patients now have nut allergies, he said. It was great to spread the food allergy awareness this way. (And it didn't hurt that the cakes looked beautiful and tasted great -- they were a wonderful conversation piece.) See below.

Isn't this gorgeous? We had a cake with yellow frosting and red accents, too.
The dice were edible and much-coveted by cast members.
My point is: Any time you tell others about life with food allergies, you are making an impact. Think about it. For example:

Did you speak to a restaurant staff member about allergies recently? How about a family friend? Did you provide treats for a play date or steer a parent towards an appropriate snack due to allergies?

Did you have to turn down an invitation to an ice cream shop or a bakery because of cross-contact risk? Did you have to refuse any food -- and did you politely explain why?

Did you speak to a teacher or another parent in your classroom about cutting down on food allergy risk? Maybe you baked a treat for a get-together and substituted an ingredient (like SunButter for peanut butter) and explained to someone why you had to do that?

Did you see a label change on a food (for better or worse)? That's because of customers (like you and me) calling with questions. Or maybe a restaurant you frequent began putting a note on the menu, i.e. "Tell your server about any food allergies." That stems from people speaking up about allergies.

If you  have made a special effort to educate others this week regarding life-threatening food allergies, kudos to you and thank you! It does help. As we all know, it can be a lot of work to navigate life with allergies, so whatever you have done, large or small, remember it does all add up. Every gesture and every interaction makes a difference.

For more on navigating live with nut allergies, click this link for my nut allergy parenting guide, a concise and encouraging approach for dealing with the newbie to nut allergy lifestyle.

I also encourage you to check out a virtual event on Twitter, hosted by the wonderful Jennifer B of the blog Food Allergy Buzz. This Friday, May 16th, to culminate Food Allergy Awareness Week, is a Twitter gathering to help raise awareness. Last year "food allergy" was "trending" on Twitter due to this gathering -- no easy feat. Click here for details about joining the event.

What about you? How do you promote food allergy awareness in your everyday life?