Thursday, May 12, 2022

Food Allergy Awareness Week

May is a busy time in our house with birthdays, Mother's Day, my daughter's dance recital and many end-of-school events. It is also allergy and asthma awareness month, conditions that both of my children deal with on a daily basis. It is appropriate that my oldest's birthday, May 7, always falls right around Food Allergy Awareness Week (FAAW). It was an anaphylactic reaction to milk when he was 9 months old, that started our journey navigating life with food allergies. 
This year we spent the weekend celebrating Joey's 19th birthday and Mother's Day, leading us right into FAAW, which is May 8-14. I am happy to see so many resources and so many people raising awareness about food allergies. 

Allergic Living is running a series of inspiring articles throughout the week with the theme, "Let's Make the Invisible So Visible". Check out the Allergic Living lineup: For Food Allergy Awareness Week: Making the Invisible So Visible. You can also find resources and posters in the Allergic Living Food Allergy, Celiac and Asthma Awareness Month Tool Kit 2022.

I had the honor of talking to Merrill Debbs of Red Sneakers for Oakley  about the upcoming International Red Sneakers Day (May 20). The Debbs created created Red Sneakers for Oakley to raise awareness about food allergies after experiencing their own tragic loss.

I continue to be inspired by families like the Debbs, along young advocates also featured in my story, who are working to make the world safer for families like mine as we navigate life with food allergies. Red Sneakers Day 2022: Soccer, Social Media, and Child Ambassadors

Sunday, October 24, 2021

My family’s sweet pumpkin picks

Pumpkin picking, 2021

My daughter Pamela sighs as a photo memory pops up displaying photos of a fun apple-picking outing that we had enjoyed several years ago soon after we moved back to New York, which is home  to the apple as its official fruit. As soon as the fall season begins, so does excitement for apple picking and various recipes for sweet and savory dishes that can be made with the bounty of apples. Our family used to share in the excitement, and we all loved trying lots of recipes using those fresh apples from pies, to fritters, muffins, cake and more.

But our autumnal appetites changed when Pamela, 13, developed Oral Allergy Syndrome (OAS) a few years ago. It started with cherries and peaches, then apples came along shortly after. When she first felt the tingly mouth sensation while eating a bowl of fresh cherries, I had a feeling OAS was the culprit. My oldest child, Joseph, now 18, developed OAS to strawberries, watermelon and cantaloupe at about the same age Pamela was. Joseph also is allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, milk, egg, soy, sesame and mustard. Little did I know when I was writing this story about OAS, that I would soon become even more familiar with the condition with both of my children now reacting to different fruits from each other.

Thankfully both of my kids love to eat pumpkin creations! And Pamela loves everything about the season, including our annual pumpkin picking outing at Dykeman Farm. So my autumn baking focuses on the popular orange fruit, instead of red. 

Here are some of our favorite pumpkin recipes. For all of these, I use a gluten-free flour mix that I make using the recipe from Cybele Pascal; and I substitute ingredients in the recipes as needed (i.e. using egg replacer, and my homemade oat milk). Whatever  popular fall flavor is your favorite, I hope you enjoy some fall baking this season!

Some of our favorite pumpkin recipes:

🎃Pumpkin pie I use the crust recipe from Cybele Pascal’s cookbook “The Allergen-Free Baker’s Handbook”; and the pie filling from the recipe for Vegan Gluten-free Pumpkin Pie from Minimalist Baker.

🎃Pumpkin bread Recipe for One-Bowl Vegan Pumpkin Bread from Allergylicious.

🎃Pumpkin bars Recipe for Pumpkin Bars with Brown Sugar Frosting from Handle the Heat.

🎃Pumpkin chocolate chip skillet cookie Recipe for Gluten-Free Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Skillet Cookie from Gluten Free Palate.

🎃Pumpkin waffles and pancakes - I use the recipes for Gluten-Free Pumpkin Waffles and Gluten-Free Pumpkin Pancakes from Mama Knows Gluten Free I usually add Enjoy Life chocolate chips to the pancakes.

🎃Pumpkin cupcakes with maple frosting I use a recipe from a 2013 mini cookbook that you get in the checkout line. The cover is missing, so I don’t even  know the name of it, and the page of the recipe is ripped right through the ingredients since I’ve made these so much. But I substitute ingredients for most of the recipe and these cupcakes come out moist and delicious every time (I don’t always add the nutmeg and ginger and they’re still so good). I’ve included the recipe below. Since the recipe makes 24 cupcakes, I often freeze half of them unfrosted so they’re ready to use when I don’t have fresh pumpkin puree on hand. 

Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes

1 1/2 cups sugar

3/4 cup dairy-free butter (I use soy-free/dairy-free Earth Balance margarine)

3 egg substitutes

15 oz pumpkin puree

1 cup dairy-free milk

3 cups GF flour

1 tsp xanthan gum (if not in your GF flour)

1 Tbl baking powder

1 1/2 tsp baking soda

2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

1/4 tsp ground ginger

(Maple Frosting recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 350F. Line 24 muffin cups with cupcake wrappers.

Beat sugar and butter at medium speed until light and fluffy. Add eggs substitute, beating well.

Combine pumpkin and milk.

Whisk dry ingredients. Alternately add flour mixture and pumpkin mixture, beating well after each addition, ending with flour mixture.

Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups, filling about two-thirds full.

Bake 20 minutes. Cool in pans 10 minutes, then cool completely on wire racks before frosting.

Maple frosting

Beat 3/4 cup dairy-free butter until light and fluffy. Beat in 3 Tbl maple syrup and 1/2 tsp vanilla. Gradually add 3 1/2 cups powdered sugar, beating until light and fluffy, adding 2 or more Tbl dairy-free milk to reach desired consistency.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Heart-filled thanks to my first Valentine

Dancing with my dad on my wedding day.
Happy Valentine’s Day to my first Valentine — the guy who loved me from my first breath of life; whose face lit up when he handed me a cuddly stuffed animal or a new pack of Crayons (and continued the tradition with my kids); who supported me through all of my activities, performances, and academic and professional pursuits from childhood through adulthood; my secret admirer who sent me a sweet anonymous Valentine in the Pennysaver one Valentine’s Day when I was in elementary school; my biggest fan, who saved every article and blog post I ever wrote, proudly showing it to everyone around him; the life of the party who knew how to help me get through heartbreak, hurt or disappointment with a joke; who fell in love with Penn State as much as I did and became its biggest fan; became a huge fan of my husband, too; and who fulfilled the duties of both parents during 20 years of highs and lows after my mom died, including my wedding, and the births of both of my kids.

So to my dad, thank you for a lifetime of love, and for a final lesson that has changed my life. It is appropriate to thank my dad during the American Heart Association’s Heart Month because his big, loving, generous heart is what ultimately failed when he died in October 2015 after suffering a heart attack following years of heart health problems. Through the pain of losing him, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was traveling down the same path. I had gained a lot of weight, and while I acknowledged that it put me at risk for heart disease and many other diseases, I wouldn’t take the leap to do anything about it. When my dad died, I had to face the fact that my weight was putting my health in jeopardy. 

Heart disease and stroke cause 1 in 3 deaths in women each year, according to the American Heart Association, which places cardiovascular disease as the No. 1 killer of women. Among the steps the American Heart Association recommends to help prevent heart disease is to lose or manage your weight. 

Hanging out with one of my loves.
It took me a couple of years after my dad’s passing, and more weight gain to have the courage and the will to really commit to making my health a priority by losing weight. So I joined Weight Watchers (now WW) Freestyle on Jan. 28, 2018. The app makes it so easy to see what foods will fit into my daily needs and to track everything I eat without having to count calories. I do not feel like I am being deprived, especially because the program doesn’t make any food off-limits. I can even still enjoy a sweet treat, but WW helps me do so in moderation. I love to bake because it is one way I show love for my family, especially by baking treats that are safe for my food-allergic child. But now I don’t indulge in so many of those treats I make for my family, instead I allow myself a sample of the baked goods every once in a while.

I was so proud to step on that scale on my one-year anniversary and see that I had lost 60 pounds in my first year on WW! Yes, it feels so good dropping clothing sizes, but more importantly I feel better physically. My knees, which had been bothering me to the point that I needed physical therapy for them, feel better. My energy level is higher, and I feel like I am more present in my kids’ lives and more comfortable participating in activities with them. I can also track my activity on the app. I haven’t been as successful in sticking to a regular exercise routine, but I certainly do more knowing that I can track the activity on my app and because I know that it is a big part of ensuring that I’m doing everything I can to help my heart health.

I miss hearing the pride in my dad’s responses as I tell him about the various goings-on with my kids; I miss talking to him about Penn State’s highs and lows on college football Saturdays; I miss hearing his hearty laugh; I miss knowing he has my back, even if we disagree; and most of all, I miss his big heart. 

So to my dad, who gave me the confidence to know that I could accomplish anything I set my mind to, even learning from a lesson that came from heartache — Thank you!

Friday, January 8, 2016

Baking comfort into our day

I have lots of fun memories of jumping on sleds to race down the big hill in our yard, constructing snow forts for epic snowball battles, and making snow people during winters while growing up on Long Island. I can almost hear the laughter and squeals piercing the cold air in our neighborhood as my sister and I played with our friends. But I didn’t love the snow and cold, I still don’t. So after a while, I was happy to retreat to my warm house where I was sure to find my mom ready to greet me with a warm slice of homemade bread or a chocolatey brownie, fresh out of the oven. It was comforting to know that I could relay tales about my adventures in the snow to my mom, while enjoying a warm treat and some hot cocoa.

My mom’s homemade cinnamon braid bread was a favorite in my family and, for me it always evokes a feeling of comfort. Something I especially need today, the 20th anniversary of my mom’s death. My mom died during the blizzard of 1996 after a short battle with breast cancer. So while the historic snowstorm buried New York in several inches of snow, my family was getting ready to bury my mom.

My mom and dad celebrating my birthday 40 years ago
A lot has changed during the past 20 years since I was a 23-year-old beginning to make memories without my mom in my life, such as marriage, the births of my two children, job changes, a move south and back to New York, various trips, new friends and family members, along with the loss of friends and family members, most recently the death of my dad in October. There have been many times that I wish I could call her to share in a happy moment or to gain comfort or advice.

I tell my kids a lot of stories about my mom so that they can get to know her through my memories. They also feel a connection to her through my baking. I have converted many of my mom’s recipes so that they are allergy friendly. When I make my mom’s pancakes, blondies or cinnamon braid, my kids know that they are special in addition to being tasty because the recipes came from their grandma. Now they are just free of the foods to which my son Joseph is allergic (peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, milk, egg, soy, sesame, mustard, strawberry, cantaloupe and watermelon).
Every year on January 8, I bake something that I enjoyed baking with my mom. Because baking was a hobby we shared, it makes me smile on a sad anniversary. My son is happy to taste the finished product, while hearing stories about the grandma he never got to meet. My daughter Pamela (my mom’s namesake) enjoys baking with me, excited to make the dough for cinnamon braid as soon as we woke up this morning.

In 20 years I have not developed a love of snow, but I appreciate the joy and excitement it brings my kids. And I am thankful for the comfort of an allergy friendly cinnamon braid that evokes memories of my mom on those snowy days so long ago.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Thankful for fun scares instead of food frights

Spooky music greeted us as we walked through the dimly lit room, ghostly beings swinging above our heads. Pamela tightened her grip on my hand when she heard the sound of rats squeaking as they feasted on severed hands during a dinner party attended by a stylish skeleton and pumpkin head creature. As we rounded the corner, we saw a skeleton that had donned a witch’s hat to sit and read the local newspaper. Then, through dark strings that formed a type of curtain, we spotted the creepy face of a Guy Fawkes mask staring at us while the person dressed all in black clutched a skull and knife. He startled us as he suddenly stood up. Some kids ran from him screaming, especially when he would pretend to be a statue then jump up as they peered for a closer look. Once the secret was out that there was a live person behind the intimidating mask, he started to show up at random spots to scare people walking through the haunted house at the Pawling Free Library.

My 12-year-old son Joseph had a blast watching people’s reactions to him from behind his Guy Fawkes mask during the library’s haunted house. He worked with other kids to plan the event and set it up on Halloween.

Halloween can be extra scary for kids with food allergies because of the ubiquity of candy and treats that are filled with potentially life-threatening allergens. While lots of kids revel in the huge piles of candy they collect trick-or-treating on Halloween night, kids like Joseph focus more on costumes and fun that doesn’t relate to food. He is allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, milk, egg, soy, sesame, mustard, strawberry, cantaloupe and watermelon, along with having asthma.

Over the years, Joseph has enjoyed dressing up and checking out other people’s costumes. When he was younger and we lived in North Carolina, we enjoyed food-free Halloween parties through the local food allergy support group NC FACES (Food Allergic Children Excelling Safely) where he could play games and get fun prizes instead of candy. We have always made our own treats free of all of the foods to which he is allergic, such as Halloween-themed cupcakes, cookies and chocolates in the shapes of pumpkins, witches, bats and ghosts.

As for trick-or-treating, he did that, too. But his goal was to collect candy to leave for the Halloween witch, who would replace the candy with a gift for him to find the next morning. This year, my daughter Pamela collected lots of candy trick-or-treating — enough to leave for the Halloween witch to bring gifts for her and her brother.

This year, Joseph decided to focus on the fun scares that go along with a haunted house. Nicole, the youth services programming coordinator at the Pawling library who was leading the teens in planning the haunted house, made the extra effort to ensure that the event would be safe for him. Especially with Joseph being there for several hours, I had worried that kids might be eating candy during setup or while walking through the event, and she had no problem making sure that wasn’t the case.

As we begin the month when giving thanks plays a prominent role, I am so thankful for the empathy exhibited by people like Nicole who help make it easier for Joseph to enjoy events like the haunted house.  He was thrilled to be able to dish out fun scares instead of facing candy-filled frights.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Sibling support for food allergy walk

In one week our team, "Nuttin' We Can't Overcome", will participate in the Westchester FARE Walk for Food Allergy. My 7-year-old daughter, Pamela, wrote why she walks each year and donates her own money to support my 12-year-old son, Joseph, who has multiple food allergies. Here is what she wrote: 

I think it is important to support my brother in the FARE Food Allergy Walk because I love my Joey. I feel bad that he misses out on eating some food because of his allergies. I also get scared sometimes because I don't want  foods to hurt him.