Thursday, September 30, 2010

Halloween with Food Allergies

I'm not sure how, but October is upon us yet again. Somehow the sultry summer days have slipped quietly away. In their place are crisp clear days, chilly nights, and increasing anticipation of THE most thrilling fall holiday: Halloween.

For anyone under the age of twelve it doesn't get much better than a day that centers around dressing up and unlimited candy. And staying up past bedtime. And candy. And did I mention candy?

Unless you have food allergies. Then moms and dads everywhere start the great debate: What to do about trick-or-treat? Rest easy, there are many ways to make this work for your family, with the focus on what works for *your* family.

First, there is the obvious out: stay home. This is my approach. We found out my daughter had allergies when she was tiny, she had never been trick or treating so I knew she would not miss it. Really, little people under the age of two don't like to trick or treat anyway. It's dark, there are strangers everywhere who insist on talking to you, and tons of scary monsters walking around demanding candy! Egads man! It's a night of terror, laced with sugar to take the edge off. Your little person won't miss it.

Don't get me wrong, we don't skip Halloween entirely. Seeing all those cute costumes? It's fun. So, we pass out candy. Yep. Dress up in our costumes, fill the candy bucket with safe options, and sit on the porch to pass candy out to the neighborhood. My kids love it as much as my husband! They take turns handing candy to cute costumed kids, or hide behind my husband when the scary costumes show up. When there is a break in the crowd they munch on the treats in the bucket. It's a magical evening of candy, costumes and conversation. It works for us.

I know families that go trick or treating together, then do a huge candy sort at home. Safe candy is kept, unsafe candy set aside for dad to eat/take to the office. Most families let their kids trade the unsafe candy for safe treats. You can do this on a piece by piece basis, trade the whole bag for an approved bag, or set the candy out for the "switch witch", who visits allergic kiddos all over the world to switch their unsafe candy for a safer option. That's right, just place the bag of loot outside your a)bedroom door or b)front door before going to bed, and in the morning you will find a safe treat that the switch witch has left. (Candy? Toys? Hmmm..)

You can visit friends and neighbors in advance and 'plant' safe candy at the houses that you plan on visiting. Your princess can feel like she was part of the big event, your neighbors will feel good about helping her feel included and keeping her safe, and you won't have to worry about how to handle the unsafe treats. Win-win-win. Until they get big enough to catch on anyway!

Some families opt to skip the whole trick-or-treat dilemma by holding a festive holiday party with games, treats, and crafts that are fun for everyone who attends. The goal is to host a Halloween party that is so fun, no one will regret having skipped the door-to-door bore.

If you decide to trick-or-treat the key to making it less stressful is to be prepared. Eat dinner before the big event so the kids are not grumpy and ready to fill up on candy as they go. Bring a safe treat with you to eat while collecting the goodies. Set expectations so that your goblins know how to behave, and what will happen to the collection when they get home.

Also, if your child says "Trick or treat!" in their adorable costume and holds the goodie bag open wide, most people drop candy right in. No touching necessary. Or, gloves can be part of an excellent costume so there is no touching of unsafe candy.

Do you have a solution that I didn't mention? I'd love to hear about it!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Belatedly: Tasting Party Summary

I am long overdue in sharing the results of this year's tasting party with everyone! My apologies, somehow September has left me breathless with the barrage of activity, errands, and unexpected events. Whew!

Without further ado, let me get started.

First, I need to thank the lovely ladies in my support group who graciously volunteered to set up for the tasting when they found out that open house for preschool was on the same night. Thanks to them, I did not have to skip either event.

Now, on to the sponsors.

Somersault Snack Company: These crunchy bite sized nuggets are full of flavor! Nut free and protein packed, there are 4 flavors to try. I put a few aside for my husband to sample, and he actually called me as soon as he tried them because he was too excited to wait until I got home to tell me how good they were. Then he placed an order so our house would be stocked.

Good Belly Probiotic Juice Drink A non-yogurt based probiotic beverage that tastes delicious! My kids love it, so I asked Good Belly if I could share. Know what? My tasters loved it too. It was the surprise of the evening for most attendees. A dairy free probiotic drink that tastes like juice? Every one of them had that skeptic look on their face that told me they had not heard of it before, and were not sure it would appeal. And everyone made the same face of surprised delight to discover it was tasty, and safe! Try it out.

Barney Butter Honestly, I did not try this as my house is nut free. But I knew that a few of our moms had complained that it was hard to find tree nuts that are free of cross contamination with peanuts. Ta-Da! Barney Butter is an almond butter spread that is peanut free. I saw several moms packing this to take home and try, and one reported back that it is the first almond butter she has loved! (How considerate of everyone to wait until they got home to try the nut based product. Gotta love people who "get" allergies.)

Nana's Cookie Company Nana's was kind enough to send samples of their gluten free lemon and chocolate cookies. The lemon cookie was a bit dry for my taste, and I did not have the opportunity to try the chocolate. I did get an email the next day from an attendee asking if she could purchase the leftovers from me. (No deal. I shared some more with her, as well as those who could not make it and a neighboring food allergy support group. Share the love.)

Amanda's Own Confections Can I get an Oooh Yeah! Dairy free, nut free, gluten free, egg free chocolate that is not only yummy but local? I'm in! Originating out of a suburb of Cleveland, I am excited to support not only a tasty allergy friendly product, but from a neighbor! Who doesn't need more safe chocolate in their life? Living somewhere between milk and dark chocolate with an intense and deep chocolate taste that is not overwhelmingly sweet this one will come home with me more often. Consensus? None left. Doesn't that speak for itself?

Courtney's Confections I'll be honest, I am totally biased on this one. The owner is a member of our allergy support group, and I have mentioned her before. This time she shared a peanut safe yellow cake, and an egg/dairy/nut safe chocolate cake. Oh. My. Tasty, and you truly can't tell anything was missing.

Sweet Alexis I'm not sure how I missed the chance to try these, as I was really looking forward to them. Dairy, egg and nut free cookies? Perfection. That is what I need more of in my life. I suppose that the fact that we ran out before I got to them is a good thing, but I'm still pouting. C'mon. It was my party. You'd pout too, if it happened to you.

The Pure Pantry I heard more than one surprised voice say "These are gluten free? What's in them? Ohhh. You used butter. That has to be why they are so good." It's a cookie mix that you can prepare to meet your allergen needs. My volunteer made them with EnerG egg replacer and real butter, and they were good. I think they would be every bit as good with Earth Balance in place of the butter. You could serve these with no apologies.

Goldbaum's These gluten free ice cream cones came recommended from a fellow allergy mom. I was really surprised when I discovered they also have gluten free pasta and rice crackers. (Be careful, the rice crackers have a nut warning on them!) The cones? Paired perfectly with a little coconut milk ice cream. The pasta? Not mushy like gluten free pastas can be.

Home Free Treats This is the only sponsor from last year that was invited back. Why? Because they were so incredibly well received last year. This year did not disappoint. The cookies were incredible. Even more exciting? She has just released a gluten free oatmeal cookie that tastes like the real thing! Moist, chewy, decadently delicious that makes you think "This is too good to be legal. What's in there?" I saw most tasters pick up the box to check it again. And quite a few that were not gluten free yet still proclaimed they would buy it! Don't miss these. Really.

Gilbert's Goodies Gluten, dairy, nut, soy, and corn free cookies. Our bite sized cookies arrived slightly shaken, which is good because the calories fell right out. (It does work that way, right?) They do have egg, so they are not a match for our house. I was surprised when I tasted the snickerdoodle flavor that the cookie was not a chewier, more moist cookie. Don't get me wrong, it was not bad, I just expected more from tasting a forbidden fruit I guess. The other tasters did not share such reservations, and seemed to accept these cookies as a tasty snack possibility.

Questions? Bring them on, I'll try to answer them.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Everyday Bread

Since adding wheat back into our diet, I make a lot of bread. Probably much more than I should. You can hear my bread machine whirring away 3-4 times a week. Someday the smell of fresh baked bread will lose it's magical powers... it's been a year at our house and I still struggle to resist tearing into loaves of hot crusty bread. Remember the cartoons where Bugs Bunny is lured by the visible scent that is tickling his nose and beckoning to him? I feel a lot like that.

Thank goodness for my bread machine, which makes this so simple that any busy parent can fit bread making into their life. Here is my most often used recipe, which goes together in seconds.

Everyday Bread

1 c hemp milk (or milk of choice)
1/4 c water
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 1/3 c all purpose flour
1/3 c spelt flour
1/3 c barley flour
4 tsp sugar
1 tsp sea salt
3 tsp flax meal (optional, but extends shelf life by helping bread retain its moisture)
1 tsp yeast (active dry yeast and bread machine yeast work equally well.)

Add everything to bread pan in order listed. Select basic white cycle on machine and turn it loose! (Note: the flour combination here works well on the basic white cycle. If you chose to use more whole grains and less white flour, the results aren't so great.)