Food Allergy Committee Meeting

Last week I saw down with the superintendent, the principal, the school nurse, another mom of a child with a peanut allergy, a mom of a child with Celiac’s Disease, a mom of child without any food allergies but supports a nut free school, and an attorney that the school had brought along for our first ever Food Allergy Committee meeting. I gotta tell ya, my heart sunk when I saw the attorney, thinking this is not going to go smoothly.

The meeting lasted nearly two hours and we covered a lot of ground and I do feel like we’re moving in the right direction, albeit not as swiftly as I had hoped. I was happy that the attorney shared with us that she too is a mom and her best friend’s son has a peanut allergy, so she could understand our concerns and why we were meeting. We agreed that education was very important, and they gave us permission to have a food allergy awareness table at Open House. I’ve forwarded them links to buy or download signs to put up around school for Food Allergy Awareness Week. I told them I have found someone who is willing to come to our school to do an educational presentation on food allergies, which the nurse said maybe she could do her presentation when she does her yearly Epi-Pen training for the staff for the beginning of next year. I wish it could happen tomorrow, but at this point I’ll take what I can get.

We talked about the definition of a nut-free classroom, as that is what is stated in Stella’s 504 plan. I had asked them to be specific because I had a different interpretation of what it meant. I originally thought that a nut-free classroom meant that no child in that class would be allowed to bring nuts or nut butters to school. Their definition is that no nuts are to be allowed in the classroom for activities, celebrations or to eat, but students in that classroom can bring it in their lunch. Since their backpacks are hung outside on hooks, food doesn’t enter the classroom.

Except on rainy days. You know, because rain washes away the risk of a peanut allergy.

I should clarify- they didn’t say that, but that has exactly been happening on rainy days. Kids are eating their snacks inside the classroom and the teacher asks them to wash their hands, but Stella and two of her friends have all confirmed that the teacher asks them to do it, but no one ever has. Oh, and I should also mention- the teacher also eats nuts in the classroom. I found this out the day before the meeting when Stella told me on the way to school.  After picking my jaw up off the floor of my car, I asked her how she knew it was nuts. Surely, she must have been mistaken.

She described them as small, greenish and you have to open up the shell to get them out. Pistachios. No doubt about it.pistachios

I shared this with them, and they said they would address it with her teacher. And I gotta say, this is really hard for me. Stella is good friends with her teacher’s daughter (they are both in the first grade and were in the same class last year), and her teacher shares a lot of my same mama friends I’ve made at the school. I hate feeling like I have to call someone out- not my style, but that has been something I’ve had to learn to do this year. I have to hold people accountable and that is a very hard thing to do and I can’t say it gets any easier.

It was decided that snack time on rainy days would either be held in the lunchroom where Stella would sit at her nut-free table, or a nut-only table be made inside the classroom that could be washed down after. I’m unsure what was decided on (there was a lot of stuff to take in), but I spoke up that you can’t call it a nut free classroom if there are nuts being allowed inside. I said that I felt our 504 plan had been violated. The superintendent made mention that they would have to change the wording in our 504 plan stating that the classroom is nut safe rather than nut free.

Wait, what??? In all honesty, the way he said it coupled with their reasons why they can’t make the school nut free (liability, false sense of security, forcing people in a lower economic household to buy more expensive nut butter alternatives for their child’s lunch, etc.), it didn’t have time to resonate with me for me to speak up and say that I don’t agree. The lawyer also supported this and said they would have to do that, and with my head was spinning from everything else we had discussed it didn’t hit me until later. Changing the wording on our 504 would only serve to cover their ass. Ugh. Sooo frustrating! So this is how politics work. I don’t know who’s learning more this year, me or Stella.

Aside from that, the meeting went well. We talked about field trips and our concerns about kids eating snacks with nuts while they are far away from the school. I said, is it too much to ask parents on rainy days or field trips to not pack nuts in their kid’s lunch? The lawyer, to my delight, said that is absolutely a fine thing to ask parents to do. Then I took the question a step further and asked if it would be ok to just ask parents all year long to not pack nuts in their child’s lunch? The lawyer again said that that is a fine thing to ask parents to do. It was all I could do to not jump out of my chair and hug her.

If they won’t ban nuts at the school, this is the next best thing they could do to keep kids with a nut allergy safe. Just ask. This is what I’ve wanted from day one, and I still can’t figure out why they would be reluctant to just ask parents to not pack nuts for their kid’s lunch. How simple is that? The attorney asked the principal if she sends out newsletters and how often, and then asked if she could send one out the following week asking parents to stop packing nuts. I could not believe my ears!

The attorney whom I was so frightened to see earlier shared our concerns was in our corner! Not only that, but she was asking the principal to follow through with asking the parents and I hope she holds her accountable for what she agreed to do in the meeting. I still won’t believe it until I see it. But I feel like we’re making progress. Slowly but surely.

Ok, I’m sure I’m leaving out a bunch (two hours is a long time to sit in a meeting), but the bottom line is they are unwilling to make the school nut-free but rather make it a nut-safe school, and I feel a lot of what we talked about will move it in that direction.

So my next step is writing to the superintendent about the meeting and my concerns about changing the wording of our 504 plan. I also wanted to document our meeting for the school board so it’s not just the superintendent’s version. I’ve also began to draft a complaint to the Office of Civil Rights for violating our 504 and for all the missteps the school has had this year.

Like I said, I’m learning a lot this year. One of the hardest lessons is learning to hold people accountable. I’m usually not the type of person to pester or complain nag or create a big to do over anything, so this is a whole new experience for me. But it’s the right thing to do and a lot of the time the right thing is not always the easiest.

 

 

The next chapter

I did it.

After several meetings with the principal and the superintendent and still little to zero progress I finally wrote to the school board. All I’ve wanted this year is for them to send out a letter to all parents notifying them that there are children who attend our school with life-threatening food allergies and that a commonly packed food in their children’s lunch box could potentially hurt or kill another child. That and students clean their hands after eating. Oh, and a bonus it would be nice to feel like my daughter’s food allergies are be taken seriously. Those things aren’t asking a lot, are they?

But apparently they are. Because here it is, January. And still no letter home as promised in my first meeting with the principal the second week of school, and again in a meeting with the superintendent in October. Sure, sure! No problem! Yes, we support you and yes, we will send out an informative letter! Yes, we will make sure children are cleaning their hands after eating nuts at lunch. But snack time? We may be able to provide a nut-free snack for all students and we could have wipes available for children to use before playing on the playground…but we haven’t yet. And we’re not going to follow up with you about it, either. But don’t worry. There’s a nurse in your daughter’s classroom. She’ll watch her.

I guess my example of 13 year old Natalie Giorgi who died over the summer after eating something containing peanuts in the presence of her father who is a DOCTOR and the fact that they used three Epi-Pens to save her life didn’t resonate with them.

I was patient. I waited. Every week I looked for a letter informing us parents about children on campus with a deadly nut allergy (Stella isn’t the only one). It wasn’t until I arrived at school early one morning to train the substitute how to use an Epi-Pen and she had to ask what my daughter is allergic to and what an allergic reaction might look like that I finally lost my patience.

I wrote out a detailed timeline outlining every meeting, conversation, promise and misstep that the school has taken so far this year. It was a hard thing to do, but as one mom advised me- I had to hold every person accountable.

I consider myself a pretty nice person, and I think anybody who knows me would tell you the same. I don’t like conflict. I don’t like rocking the boat and I certainly don’t like calling people out when they have done something wrong. If you’ve upset me or made me mad the worse I might do to you is not tell you to have a nice day.

That’s right. Feel my wrath, mother fuckers.

Sitting down to write a letter and name names and hold people accountable for their actions was outside of my comfort zone. But it had to be done. Sifting through my notes I had taken this year (thank goodness I did!) made it clear to me that I had to write it, I couldn’t afford not to.

Friday I hand delivered a copy of my letter to the school board to the principal. She would be seeing it anyway so I figure it would be best coming from me. I was a nervous wreck but I felt good handing it to her rather than her getting a copy in an email down the line. I then walked into the front office with a sealed copy of my letter to each board member in a large manila envelope and asked how I go about getting on the agenda at the next board meeting.

I felt a HUGE weight lifted off my shoulders as I left the school. I knew I had done the right thing, but as my day wore on I began feeling really nervous. What had I just done? What can of worms did I just open? And worse yet, I was feeling guilty and awful that I had called people out. The principal. Stella’s teacher. The superintendent. All people I would inevitably have to see again and again. And now they all know I was a tattle-tale. I hurt their feelings. Heck, I may have ruined their day and their weekend.

I began to look ahead- what will happen at a school board meeting? Will I have to stand in front of everyone and plead again how important my daughter’s life is? Will there be parents there who will scream out at me that their kid has a right to bring a PB&J in their lunch? I’m not going to lie- I am terrified beyond words and I have no idea what the outcome is going to be.

So here we go. This is the next chapter. As my husband said to me, the ship has left the port. This isn’t about all these people. It isn’t about me. It’s about Stella. It’s about all the other kids who will go through this school with food allergies. And I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t speak up and something bad happened to her or another child. I may have made some enemies but that’s a small price to pay for saving a life.

 

 

That awkward moment when you realize your little girl is growing up.

I got a call from Stella’s teacher today. The teacher informed me that she wouldn’t be at school tomorrow and therefore wouldn’t be going on the field trip, and neither was the nurse that is normally in Stella’s class everyday with her diabetic classmate. Now there is no one certified who is going to use the Epi-pen if needed.

When I told Stella our dilemma she told me she could just carry her own Epi-pens and not to worry (umm…there is no way will I ever stop worrying EVER). Another parent overheard her say this and agreed that Stella could take care of herself, which is ultimately what she will have to do the rest of her life.

I’m sure I’m not the only parent who has been faced with this kind of situation. I’m sure there are plenty of other parents who would feel they had no choice but to keep their child from going on the field trip. Believe me, if my son didn’t have a pre-op doctor’s appointment tomorrow I would have gladly rearranged my plans so I could go.

Perhaps you think I’m crazy, but I am confident that my daughter is capable of taking care of herself. We ran through some Epi-pen drills tonight and thought up different situations. We talked about what she could be feeling as her body was going into anaphylactic shock. We practiced using the Epi-pen over and over. We even used an old expired one on an orange to show her how it works and to not be afraid to use it- that it could save her life. It was not only good for Stella to practice the drills but for us as well. We talked a lot and hope she fell asleep tonight feeling empowered. Our little girl is growing up!

So….I’m going to let her carry her own Epi-pens tomorrow in her backpack so she has them on her if needed. I will also be talking to the sub and will show them how to use it, as well as flagging down a parent who is going so I can give them the Epi-pen run down, too. I’m pretty sure it’s not following the school rules to let a child carry their own medication but I don’t mind breaking a rule if I know it could save her life.

What would you do?

 

First Grade Meeting

It’s amazing how much I continue to learn everyday about raising a child with food allergies. It’s a lot like playing Super Mario Bros- just when you think you’ve won the game it’s “Thank you Mario! But our princess is in another castle!”mario

This is Stella’s second week as a first grader. Kindergarten was great- all parents were notified on the first day of school that there was a child with severe food allergies in the class and the classroom was made to be nut free. Children washed their hands after every snack and lunch and we were fortunate enough to have a nurse that Stella was able to sit with every day in the lunchroom who was there to shadow another kindergartener with diabetes.

This year the school strategically placed Stella in the same class as the little girl with diabetes and it gives us great relief knowing there is a nurse present should Stella ever suffer an allergic reaction. I assumed that the other safety guidelines we had last year would be in place as well, but hey, this is my second year at sending my kiddo to a public school and perhaps I was being a bit naive.

I met with the new school nurse before the start of school and we went over Stella’s food allergies, her allergy action plan and talked about the safety guidelines the school had set in place for her in kindergarten. I had just assumed that it would be the same as kindergarten- nut free classroom, washing of hands after eating, notification sent to the parents, and eating lunch with the little girl with diabetes and her nurse.

One might think 1 out of 4 odds is pretty good but not when it comes to your child with life threatening food allergies. Come the first day of school and the only thing that was the same as last year was that Stella was eating lunch with the diabetic nurse.

Stella and I met with the principal, her teacher and the school nurse today after I had written to both her teacher and principal what my concerns were. I asked that the classroom again be made nut-free, kids should wash their hands after eating, and parents should be notified. You know…like last year.

But guess what? They told me that the kindergarteners were not washing their hands last year after they ate, and that it was nearly impossible to take the time to make sure they did. Huh? (Believe me, my head is swirling with the things I should have said in that moment, but at the time I was just too dumbfounded.) Then they pointed out that Stella didn’t have an allergic reaction all last year- so clearly she is ok, and that making kids wash their hands after eating is not only unrealistic in their day but not necessary. I told them Stella was very lucky. VERY. And that some kids can go into anaphylaxis shock by just an allergen touching their skin.

I asked if Stella could have a nut-free classroom like last year. Her teacher was surprised to hear that Stella’s class was nut-free even though her daughter was in the same class!! This was just a very real reminder to me that even though parents are notified doesn’t mean that the message will actually sink in. Holy crap was Stella lucky to not have any allergic reactions last year. I will count my lucky stars twice tonight.

I learned that for snack time the kids are dismissed out into the play area where they eat and then have recess, and that food is not being consumed in the classroom- phew. Backpacks and lunchboxes are kept outside on hooks so food doesn’t actually enter the classroom, which gave me some relief. They explained that it wouldn’t make sense to make her class nut-free if she were going out onto the playground with kids from other classes who could have nuts and food wasn’t being eaten in the classroom anyway. I was disappointed but I get it. But I’m still holding out on the possibility of making the school nut free- you won’t be hearing the end of this!

As far as lunchtime goes, I am thrilled and beyond lucky to have Stella be in the presence of a nurse every day. I wish all food allergy kids could be so lucky. Luckily Stella adores this nurse and the little girl with diabetes so no problem there. What worries me are the other kids who are eating. Have you ever seen a kid eat? Yeah, they’re not the most elegant at keeping food between their lips and off all ten fingers (and shirts and pants). I told them my biggest concern was a kid eating a PB&J sandwich and then going out on the playground and getting peanut butter everywhere they touched. If Stella were to then go down the same slide as them it has the potential to turn into a very dire situation where she would need immediate medical attention.

I suggested that there be a nut ONLY table in the lunchroom. That way those kids could be monitored and made sure to wash their hands or use a wipe after eating. (And just so you know- you can’t use hand sanitizer. Hand sanitizer is not effective in removing peanut residue.) I was happy that the principal took my suggestion and will be making a nut only table in the lunchroom that will be monitored. Victory!

Stella’s teacher will be notifying all the parents about Stella’s food allergies and the principal will be putting it in her newsletter to the school as well (but now I know that doesn’t necessarily mean anything). It does make me happy that the word is getting out that there are kids with serious food allergies, and making people informed is what’s going to keep our kids safe.

The other issue I brought up was that this year the kindergarten class at Stella’s school has 5 children with nut allergies, and they’ve made the entire kindergarten nut free. Instead of eating lunch in the cafeteria the kindergarteners will be eating lunch in the kindergarten yard (the principal told me this has nothing to do with the nut allergies- it’s just less chaotic to have them remain in their quarantined nut-free environment the kindergarten yard.) I wanted to start the dialogue about what was going to happen next year when these kids are in with the rest of the school and they aren’t as lucky as Stella to have a nurse with them. “Maybe we’ll be a nut free school next year” the principal said. To hear her say that as a possibility was music to my ears! And why, why WHY I didn’t then say to her, “Then why not this year?” I will forever kick myself for. But at least it came from her and I wasn’t the one that had to suggest it. It gives me a glimmer of hope.

As my friend and fellow loving and concerned mama reminded me after my meeting, this is just the first meeting. I can now think about the dialogue that took place, write down any questions or concerns and meet with them again. The door is not shut- it is just opening. My princess may be in another castle but I will never stop trying to find her.smb_toadstool211

 

 

 

 

 

A Not So Gentle Reminder

In wake of this past weekend’s death of a young 13 year old Natalie Giorgi who died after ingesting something with peanut butter, this is probably the worst time for you child to suffer an allergic reaction to something they ate. But that’s exactly what happened to us this evening.

I didn’t know what to make for dinner tonight, much like any other night. I scoured my cupboard and took inventory of what was ripe in the garden and decided to pan fry some polenta in some olive oil along with some sauteed zucchini, onion, cherry tomatoes, garlic and basil. I also found a jar of marinara sauce and a fresh pineapple from the store and cut up some lemon cucumber to serve alongside (we have more than our fair share of lemon cucumbers). Harry was working late tonight and it seemed like an easy dinner to throw together.

A few minutes into dinner I noticed Stella’s face was puffy and a little blotchy, a look we are all too familiar with. We had seen this face countless times before during the first year of her being diagnosed with food allergies. I immediately asked her how she was feeling and she said fine. We continued eating. Stella loved the polenta and ate all her lemon cucumber and half her pineapple. Then she said, “Mom, I think I’m having an allergic reaction.”

I tried to keep my cool but inside (ok, and a little on the outside) I began to panic. My mind was racing about the recent news of 13 year old Natalie Giorgi who lost her life this past weekend, and all the food allergy news I was reading everyday since then. My eyes darted around the kitchen. The only thing we had tonight that could have been the culprit was the jar of marinara sauce from Trader Joe’s, even though we had had it before with no problems. The ingredient list didn’t include anything Stella is allergic to but it did say it was made on shared equipment with allergens. I had read the statement on the Trader Joe’s website about how they process their food and had felt confident that they are vigilant on their handling of food allergens on production lines.

Stella’s nose was stuffy, her face now more puffy and blotchy. She was uncomfortable and asked for some Benadryl. I was torn on what to do. At our last appointment with her allergist he said the new protocol was when a known allergen has been ingested to go straight for the Epi-Pen as Benadryl can mask some of the more serious symptoms of an allergic reaction. My problem was I didn’t know what possible allergen she was reacting to. Is it something she ate? Is it environmental? I opted to give her a dose of Benadryl, even with Natalie Giorgi’s story playing in my head. Her family had given her Benadryl after finding out she had accidentally ate something with peanuts and 20 minutes later she began to vomit, had difficulty breathing and then went into cardiac arrest. They tried using three Epi-Pens to save her. She didn’t survive.

Minutes passed and Stella was still uncomfortable and fidgeting. She was complaining of her tummy hurting. Her nose was runny, her face still puffy and cheeks red. Nothing was getting better. Shit. Did I give her Benadryl? I jumped up and read the bottle. In my panic I had given her a dose of children’s acetaminophen, which was the same shade of pink as the Benadryl. We had gone camping recently and had moved the Benadryl from it’s usual spot and reached for the wrong bottle. I can’t tell you how horrible and awful I feel that I gave her the wrong medicine. Within a minute of giving her I the correct medicine (did I mention how shitty I feel?) she began to perk up and told me she was feeling much better. Phew. Wish I could say the same.

I feel like the worst parent in the world right now. Really, really awful. So many missteps this evening. We’ll see Stella’s allergist next week to review her allergy action plan and ask questions about what to do if something like this happens again (God I hope not). Tonight was a not so gentle reminder that Stella is still very allergic to certain foods and although she hasn’t had an allergic reaction in a very long time we can never, ever let our guard down.

Some hard lessons I learned this evening: To not trust companies who promise they use good practices to ensure things are not cross-contaminated. It’s a risk I’m no longer willing to take. I will no longer buy children’s acetaminophen that’s pink (it had never occurred to me that it was the same color as the children’s Benadryl!), and I will always keep it in the same spot. I must always remember to keep my guard up, even in our own home.

Stella is sound asleep in her room and I keep checking on her and will continue to do so all night. I’m proud of her for recognizing that she was having an allergic reaction and to not be afraid to speak up, even in front of her friend who was here when it happened. She’s almost 6 and really starting to show signs of being embarrassed by her food allergies but that didn’t stop her from letting us know how she was feeling this evening, and for that I am thankful and proud.

My heart goes out to the family of Natalie Giorgi. May her story shine light on how serious food allergies are, to educate others and to place pressure on finding a cure.

 

Eating Out at In-N-Out

I know it’s been forever since I’ve posted anything (I haven’t forgotten about you, my sweet little blog o’ mine)! I would make up some exciting sounding excuse as to why I haven’t found the time to post anything lately but alas, I must be honest…I’ve been lazy. Ok, as lazy as a mother of two can get between cooking, laundry, cleaning (ha!), starting our garden, tending to the needs of a two year old (why are they so needy?) and taxiing my daughter back and forth to kindergarten everyday. Usually by the end of the day it takes all my energy just to repin how to make something out of an old mason jar on Pinterest or pretend I’m going to make a quinoa salad this week. Really folks, life can be exhausting.

Which brings me to what I made for dinner tonight. I had been too busy pinning healthy dinner ideas on Pinterest so I made a trip to In-N-Out Burger. It had been way overdue. We used to frequent this famous burger joint regularly (along with all the other not-so-healthy food choices before we had a kiddo with food allergies). Once in a blue moon the hubs and I will pick up some burgers and make the kids a separate dinner to eat alongside their french fries. Today I got curious if Stella could have a plain burger, and if the buns were safe for her to eat. I did what most food allergy mamas do when we want to get down to the nitty gritty- I called In-N-Out directly to get the low down on their food.in-n-out-burger

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that none of their buns contain dairy, eggs, peanuts or tree nuts.* I was beyond ecstatic to learn that if you notify one of the workers about a food allergy they will flag your order and cook your food on a separate grill and use the upmost care to ensure that your food is safe from possible food allergens!! They will even package your food separately. WOWZA! Could you imagine if all places did that for you??

I was impressed with how serious In-N-Out took their customers with food allergies and decided to let Stella have her very first hamburger that was made outside of home.

quality

I explained to the young gentleman taking my order that my daughter has extreme food allergies, and without hesitation he let me know that he would add a note to my order so that the kitchen would take extra precautions while making it for us. He didn’t have to flag down a manager to ask them what to do, nor did he give me the deer-stuck-in-headlights look when I told him my kid had food allergies (a look I get all too often if I question food anywhere we go). I ordered two plain hamburgers (one for Stella, one for her little brother)- no special sauce and just ketchup, an order of fries and a small pink lemonade. She ate all of hers and half of her brothers’. Her grin from ear to ear was priceless. Being able to eat food from a drive-thru was a big deal to her- she felt like a normal kid.

We won’t make it a habit to eat there all the time (as I’m sure I’ll eventually get around to making all of these healthy meals I find on Pinterest) but for those nights when this mom doesn’t feel like cooking, it’s nice to know that we have a new place for Stella to eat out.

*Before you run out to In-N-Out Burger- I will say that they could not guarantee that their buns were made in a facility that was free of all allergens, nor that just because they take extra precautions that your food would be guaranteed safe. I am seeing food manufacturers use this disclaimer more and more frequently, and understandably so as more and more people are being diagnosed with food allergies. During the first two years of Stella’s diagnosis we avoided all food that was made on shared equipment but lately have been more laxed about it (it really depends on what the product is and what food allergen is in question). There is no law stating that food manufacturers need to divulge wether or not food is being made on shared equipment, so really it is a risk anytime you buy something that’s been processed. I used to think it was a nice courtesy that they let their consumers know, but now I believe it’s more about liability and covering their asses than anything (with food allergies on the rise can you blame them?) That being said, my suggestion is to use your gut and your head. Look at the product in question and think about what other food this manufacturer makes, or how competent the person and restaurant is in preparing your food. If for any reason you feel unsteady, always err on the side of caution.

 

The Quickest Way to Frost a Cupcake

One of my favorite tips I give parents who are trying to navigate the world of having a kiddo with food allergies is to always have cupcakes or a sweet safe treat on hand for the countless number of birthday and classroom parties that somehow always seem to fill up your calendar. I also recommend investing in a little single cupcake carrier. I found one at Ross that set me back $3 and LOVE IT. Not only does it make transporting cupcakes easy, it also makes Stella’s cupcake that more awesome! Cupcakes freeze incredibly well, so I always make a double batch to stick in the freezer and they have saved my ass many times over. Wrap in tin foil and pull out the morning of the party and viola- your kid will have a safe treat to eat along with the other kids. cupcakecarrier

Do you like it? I love it! I got it at Ross.

Frosting on the other hand, does not freeze well. Or maybe it does. I wouldn’t know because my husband is a frosting eating ninja and even if I try to hide a batch of dairy-free frosting in an inconspicuous container he will somehow find it and devour it in record time.

So what do you do if you have a party to go to and you don’t have frosting on hand because your husband decided he wanted a mid-morning snack? Have no fear! Reach for the bag of marshmallows (that is, if your husband hasn’t gotten into those either). Put one large marshmallow or a small handful of mini marshmallow on top of the cupcake and stick under the broiler for a few seconds- watch closely! You can also stick inside a warm oven. Just keep an eye on it so it doesn’t burn. As soon as the marshmallows plump up and start to get a little caramel colored, pull the cupcake out. At this point you can allow it to cool or use the back of a spoon to spread (gotta warn you- warm marshmallow is sticky icky icky). You can also do what I did this morning as I was rushing out the door to take Stella to school and realized I forgot to “frost” the cupcake and throw that sucker in the microwave with some mini marshmallows on top. It only took about 15 seconds before I had a sweet gooey frosting for Stella’s cupcake for her classmate’s birthday today. And now all the parents think I have it together! HA!marshmallowcupcake

CocoNUT or Coco-NOT-a-nut? WTF?

When we first got the diagnosis of Stella’s food allergies along came a long list of foods that we needed to avoid.  Dairy, eggs, peanuts, walnuts, cashews, almonds, pecans, Brazil nuts, macademia nuts, hazlenuts, pistachios….you get the idea.  Oh, and coconuts.  Grrrreat.Coconuts

Since we started hitting up the “allergy free” aisle about four years ago I have seen it grow and grow.  Now instead of just soy yogurt and soy milk we have all kinds of choices.  Rice yogurt and cheeses.  Sunflower seed milk.  And it goes on and on.  Something that kept catching my eye was coconut based products.  My tastebuds longed for something that would come close to fulfilling the richness that only dairy could provide, and coconut seemed like an obvious choice.  Coconut ice cream?  Oh hells yes.  Coconut yogurt??  Sign me up!  Oh, but we’re supposed to avoid coconuts because it’s a tree nut, right?  Or…is it?

I read on the FAAN (Food Allergy & Anaphlaxis Network) website that the small amount of people who are allergic to coconuts mostly occured in people who were not allergic to tree nuts.  You can read the article here.  Basically, it says that coconuts are the seed of a drupaceous fruit (whatever the hell that is), and that in 2006 the FDA started classifying coconut as a tree nut.  Huh?  But it sounded promising so I got giddy and called up Stella’s allergist to ask him if I could start giving her coconuts.  His answer?  No.  “But, but…” I stammered.  “Can we at least have her tested to make sure she is in fact allergic?”  He then reminded me how we would be putting Stella through another round of blood tests and a skin test just to satisfy my curiosity, and that the allergy testing was inconclusive anyway.  He then asked me why I needed to know if she were allergic to coconut or not.   By now I was starting to feel pretty sheepish, but I told him the truth, and that was I wanted to cook with coconut and just have one less thing to have to worry about.  He advised us to continue avoiding coconut and to have a nice day.  (Jeez….doctors sure can be annoying sometimes!) We took his advice and continued avoiding all things coconut.

Over the summer my dad bought Stella some candy dots from the candy store.  Most of that type of crappy candy I know to be generally safe and unlikely to contain anything but sugar, high fructose corn syrup and food coloring.  I slipped and had not read the label until after she had one in her mouth.  Coconut oil was one of the first ingredients.  Doh!  I waited with held breath… and no reaction. Hmm…is it possible that she could not be allergic to coconut? I wonder…

I went home and started researching if other parents were avoiding coconuts with their nut allergic child. The majority said that their children were fine with coconut despite their tree nut allergy. I reread the information on the FAAN website along with other articles on the subject and decided to give it a go.

So…I bought some coconut milk and put a drop on the inside of Stella’s arm to see if she would have a reaction like she does if dairy touches her skin.  No weird skin reaction so we decided to give her a tiny bit and waited, the whole time not taking our eyes off her. No tell tale hives around the mouth, no itchy tongue, so we gave her more and still nothing! She was ecstatic to be able to eat a “forbidden food” and not react to it and she LOVED it! Score!

Since then we have been enjoying dried coconut, coconut yogurt, coconut milk, coconut water and I have stumbled upon a new kick-ass ingredient- coconut oil. Seriously, that stuff is the bee’s knees. I am looking forward to all the new and wonderful things I can cook up using my new favorite drupaceous fruit (along with using my new fancy word I learned once I figure out how to pronounce it). But most importantly, we are relieved to have one less thing to worry about!!

Please, please don’t confuse me as a medical expert (even though my medical mumbo-jumbo talk would have you think otherwise).  Talk with your doctor before embarking on any sort of experimenting with food allergies and proceed with caution while ALWAYS having an antihistamine and an Epi-pen on hand.

Now excuse me, there’s a piña colada somewhere with my name on it…

Lunchroom Jitters

Sigh.  Here in another week Stella will start going longer days at Kindergarten. This means that (gulp) she’ll be eating her lunch in the cafeteria.  With other kids.  (Double gulp).

I will be completely honest- I am scared to death.  I would love that her entire school be free of all the foods that Stella is allergic to, but this is not possible or reasonable for me to ask.  It would be potentially dangerous if we gave her a false sense of security, as we have no control over what parents pack in their kid’s lunches or what food residue may be left on their grimy little fingers.  So we do our best.

But what is our best?  That is what we’re trying to come up with now.  Although there is two other kids in her school with food allergies, she is the only one in Kindergarten.  I like the idea of a nut free table, and Stella being able to sit with her friends as long as they don’t have nuts in their lunch.  But what if all her friends love to eat peanut butter and jelly or egg salad sandwiches?  Then what?  Does she sit alone and feel like an outcast?  Do I try to find a parent of a kid in her class who will sign a contract stating they will never pack a known food allergen in their kidlet’s lunch so they can be Stella’s lunch buddy?  What exactly is a mom to do?

By some stroke of luck, their is a child in another Kindergarten class who has diabetes and is required to have a nurse with them at all times.  I could have Stella sit with that child in the cafeteria along with the nurse…but that would be unfair to ask that child not to bring any dairy, eggs or nuts in their lunch so that Stella can eat with them.  What if that kid loves peanut butter covered hard boiled eggs in their lunch everyday? Then what do I do?  Can you tell I’m working myself into a tizzy here?  

Thus far the children are required to wash their hands after snack time and Stella hasn’t had any sort of reaction whatsoever (yahoo!).  Eating lunch in a cafeteria poses many problems for all the obvious reasons.  So what can we do about it, besides having her sit by herself in the office or the janitor’s closet?

Here’s what I’ve come up with: Stella will have to sit at the same table everyday, and that that table will need to be cleaned thoroughly before she sits down.  There is another group of kids who eats lunch before her class, so this is a must.  I would also like an adult (preferably the nurse) to sit with her everyday to monitor the lunch situation and make sure that no other kids are sitting down next to her with a bag full of nuts.  Oh, just the thought makes me nervous!!!

My biggest fear (aside from Stella accidentally ingesting a peanut or some egg and going into anaphylactic shock) is that Stella fits in and doesn’t feel left out or “special”.  I also dread the day when someone will make fun of her or taunt her about her food allergies.  I hope this never happens.  But I was a kid once and I know how cruel kids can be to one another.  Especially when something makes them a little different than the other kids.  But I can’t go there right now…she’s only in Kindergarten, for crying out loud!

Wednesday is our first parent-teacher conference day.  I met with the school nurse last week just to brainstorm some ideas about the upcoming lunchroom dilemma, and we are hoping to meet again with her, Stella’s teacher and the principal during that time to discuss our thoughts and concerns.

This is all new to us.  We’re having to learn as we go along, which is terrifying in itself.  We are completely honest and blunt with Stella- that if she eats something she is allergic to, that she could possibly die from it or become very sick.  We don’t make it scary- we just give her the facts and tell her that that is why we carry an Epi-pen, why we read labels, and why we tell everyone she meets that she has food allergies.  The more we educate Stella and those around her, the more chances we have to keep Stella safe.

And that’s the best we can do.

Allergy-friendly Halloween Spider Cake

Bake and decorate my allergy-friendly Halloween Spider Cake and listen to the screams of “AHHH!  THAT IS SO CUTE!”

This cake is perfect for the decorating challenged and a great project you and the kiddos can do together.  All allergy-friendly candy used is dairy, egg and nut free and were purchased at the dollar store, with the exception of the Wilton eyeballs (carried at Target and Michael’s).  Yes, this cake is vegan also!  This particular cake won 3rd place at the Sonoma County Harvest Fair.  I’m on the hunt for whoever won 1st and 2nd so I can break their kneecaps in congratulate them on their win.

How to make your own kick-ass allergy-friendly spider cake:

1. Start by baking your favorite allergy-friendly cake in a round Pyrex glass bowl, or round cake pan if you’ve got one (I used a medium sized one).  Spray liberally with non-stick cooking spray and a dusting of flour before pouring the batter in.  You may need to bake a little longer than the directions suggest- test by sticking a toothpick in the center.  When it comes out clean, you’re done!  Invert the cake onto a wire rack and cool completely before frosting.

2. Whip up a batch of your favorite allergy friendly frosting and then tint it black with black food coloring gel.  You’re going to have to use a lot to get an intense black color.  Warning- your poop may turn an alarming shade of WTF if you eat too much (if you’re like my husband and sneak bites of frosting by the spoonful).  Afraid of seeing technicolor poop the next day?  Try tinting the frosting purple.  Or green.  Or use chocolate frosting.  Or try using self control and not eat so much frosting.  Or just don’t freak out when you look in the toilet.  Sheeesh.

3. Cover your cake generously with the black frosting, mounding more on top so your spider doesn’t have a flat top.  Use a star tip in a decorating bag (I like Wilton tip #16) and pipe stars all over the cake.  Don’t have cake tips and a decorating bag?  Don’t worry!  You can also use the back of a spoon by whacking it on the cake and pulling straight up to create spikes or “fur”.  Do this all around the cake until you have an even texture.

4. Now comes the best part.  Using a butter knife, make 8 slits around the cake and insert 8 black licorice in for the legs.  For this cake I used mint Oreos with the tops off and stuck in a bunch of Wilton candy eyeballs into the green centers for the spider’s eyes.  In the past I’ve used two large marshmallows with black frosting dots for the eyes, which turned out equally as cute.  Next I used some little white bone candy for the mouth that I found at the dollar store.  You could also pipe some red frosting or stick in some allergy-friendly candy corn or Red Hots (get creative- the possibilities are endless). Lastly I used purple Mike and Ike’s around the base to finish it off.  Ta-da!  You now have yourself a super awesome allergy-friendly spider cake for Halloween.

Spider webs not included.

See this and other allergy-friendly Halloween tricks and treats at Cybele Pascal The Allergy-Friendly Cook.