Late Summer Vacation

Planning: something that I have become an expert in ever since Food Allergies entered our lives. You see, my husband and I loved being spontaneous. We liked taking road trips without a destination, we would get on airplanes to fun places if we felt we needed fun in our lives. This didn’t change when our first child was born, but it did when Food Allergies sneaked into our lives in 2013. It takes so much planning and organizing when someone in your family has food allergies: so many medications to carry with you in case of an allergic reaction, wipes to clean any allergen contaminated areas, and for us, a bag full of safe food in case my daughter can’t be accommodated in restaurants (or if I don’t trust that restaurant).

For about two years now, we have been working with a fantastic allergist that has introduced us to Oral Immunotherapy, and Oral Food Challenges. Since then, Penny has been able to tolerate dairy in baked goods, and can now eat some tree nuts: almonds, cashews, pistachios, hazelnuts, walnuts, and pecans. Which has given us, as a family, a little bit more confidence regarding food allergies.

Long story short, the weekend before labor day we were brainstorming ideas on what to do for Labor Day Weekend. Not only was it a holiday, but it marked the end of summer and my husband’s birthday. We ended up going to the place that a lot of allergy families love because of their fantastic accommodations: Disneyland. This time we also added Universal Studios: Hollywood to our schedule. So, here I am, sharing with you some of our dining experiences at our end of summer vacation trip. Keep in mind that on this trip, my daughter avoided dairy, peanuts & gluten, and my son avoided dairy and gluten.

Disneyland

We chose to book our flights with Jetblue, they do not serve peanuts on board and they are very accommodating. They announced on both flights that there was a passenger with a peanut allergy and asked a row in front of us and a row behind us to please refrain from eating any types of nuts. We were also able to preboard to wipe down our seats. For us, this is an important thing because a couple of years ago, we were flying (with another airline) to visit some family members and Penny had a reaction in flight. We were lucky her reaction was not anaphylactic, nonetheless, it was a scary situation. Since then, we’ve tried to find airlines that do not serve peanuts, and we take the necessary precautions. Both flights were successful, Penny had no reactions, and she was even able to eat the Blue Chips that they offer in flights.  

We seem to be creatures of habit, which on this trip meant that every day, both my children, chose the same breakfast food, but in different restaurants. My daughter had gluten free, dairy free and peanut free Mickey waffles, one sausage and one slice of bacon. My son had gluten free, dairy free and peanut free Mickey waffles, bacon and a side of scrambled eggs. Yes, EVERY DAY. We were able to find this option at Carnation Cafe and Steakhouse 55. You might be able to find it at different restaurants, but we were comfortable with these 2 restaurants, so we kept returning to both of these.

I usually carry a lot of snacks with us everywhere we go. This time was not the exception. I mean, not only did I carry snacks (cookies, crackers, chips, etc), but I also carried bread, almond butter, and jelly to make sandwiches in case we aren’t able to be accommodated at a restaurant. However, we were able to find different safe snacks at the Disneyland Parks. My kids loved snacking on the dried apple crisps, fresh fruits, minute maid frozen lemonades, and Dole Whip. It never ceases to amaze me how we are always able to find safe snacks without a problem.

From previous experiences and the information found online, I learned that “sit-down” restaurants are usually more accommodating. One of our favorite restaurants, for some time now, is Carthay Circle Restaurant. There, the kids were able to enjoy delicious, freshly made gluten-free bread. Penny ordered the Grilled Petite Filet of Beef. We substituted the whipped potatoes, which contained dairy, with tomatoes. Paulo had the same dish but instead substituted the whipped potatoes with rice. On another occasion at this restaurant, kids had the beef with white rice and green beans. They were also able to enjoy a mango sorbet. 

Carthay Circle Desert

Another restaurant that we enjoyed was the Orleans Cafe. In this restaurant, the Chef came to talk to us about the allergies and the menu. She told us that she was OK changing anything on the menu because she wanted Penny to be happy. There, my kids enjoyed grilled chicken, white rice, tomatoes, broccolini and a side of grapes. 

Orleans cafe lunch

Lunch at Carnation Café made me kind of nervous because their lunch menu seemed to accommodate either the peanut/tree nut allergy or the dairy allergy, but not both together in 1 dish. We spoke to our server and they were able to make Hamburgers on a gluten free and dairy free bun with broccoli and fruits. However, the kids were not able to eat fries at this restaurant due to the risk of cross-contamination. 

Carnation Lunch

   At Steakhouse 55 Restaurant we informed the server about the allergies, and the server went and got the chef, who came out to our table and told us that he could make any of the dishes in the menu safe for my kids. This was a first. Usually, servers and chefs guide us through the menu letting us know what is safe for our kids and what isn’t. This time was completely different, he said that he would actually make ANYTHING that they wanted and that it’ll be safe because he would make it in separate clean pans. Both my kids ordered grilled chicken, white rice, veggies, and fries. Told you we are creatures of habit and there’s not a lot of variety in their dishes. 

Teakhouse 55 DInner

   Universal Studios was a completely different story. I had done my research online, and seeing the different experiences that people have had, I was not comfortable buying food at the park for Penny. We arrived later in the day, so the kids had already eaten their allergy friendly Mickey waffles. I brought with us Almond butter and Jelly sandwiches, chips, and cookies. I saw a lot of foods containing dairy in the park, which didn’t make me too comfortable, and to be honest I was not thrilled by the idea of risking a reaction when we were having such a fun and relaxing vacation. Maybe when we visit again, I will be able to look for an accommodating option for us. This time, I stayed within my comfort zone.

   Last but not least, it is important to know that we carried with us on this trip EpiPens, antihistamines, and the necessary medication needed if there was an allergic reaction. For food-allergic families like ours, a small getaway like this one, in which you are also able to eat out without a worry means so much. Usually, most of our dishes are cooked at home, in our safe bubble. Therefore, being able to enjoy a vacation without having to worry too much about the food is priceless, and seeing your child feeling included and safe at restaurants means the world to us.  

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This post was not sponsored by any of the companies and/or products mentioned above. I am expressing my own opinion and sharing our experience.

***DISCLAIMER: THE TEAL INGREDIENT DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. I AM NOT A MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL. ANY INFORMATION POSTED ON THIS BLOG IS NOT INTENDED TO REPLACE ANY MEDICAL INSTRUCTION OR ADVICE. I AM A PARENT SHARING MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE, OPINION, AND SUPPORT. IF YOU HAVE ANY SPECIFIC MEDICAL CONCERNS, CONSULT YOUR DOCTOR.
IT IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY, AS A CONSUMER, TO READ LABELS AND VERIFY THE SAFETY OF THE PRODUCTS MENTIONED ABOVE AS ANY PRODUCTS MENTIONED IS SUBJECT TO CHANGE REGARDING INGREDIENTS OR MANUFACTURING PROCESSES AND PRACTICES.***

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Misunderstood

I feel that there is a misconception when it comes to food allergies.  From day one of Penny’s diagnosis, I have heard different comments such as “a little bit won’t hurt her, would it?”, “she will outgrow that as the years pass, you’ll see”, “she must be allergic to peanuts because you had too many peanuts when you were pregnant”, or “ so what happens when she eats dairy, she gets a tummy ache?” As questions/comments like these kept coming up, it was pretty clear to me that Food Allergies can be misunderstood.

These misconceptions concerning food allergies can be due to ignorance, lack of education and awareness, or even indifference. I really don’t know the reason why food allergies are sometimes taken lightly, but I would like to encourage non-food allergic people to take some time and Walk A Mile in our Shoes. One example of this that comes to mind is when non-allergic people have told me that when they visit restaurants they say that they have a food allergy because they are either trying to lose weight, have an intolerance or are, plain and simple, avoiding a certain food. As much as I want to understand their situation, I have to say that this does not help with the understanding of our community. Let’s think about this: What if someone falsely claims that they are allergic to a certain food when in reality they’re not, and let’s say that the kitchen staff serves them the alleged allergen (or just takes the food out of their plate when notified, maybe leaving some residue behind). Then the restaurant staff sees this person eat “the allergen” and see that there’s no reaction. Or, what if someone falsely claims to be allergic to a certain food; then when the food arrives, that same person takes a bite from someone else’s dish, which does contain the alleged allergen, and again the restaurant staff sees that there’s no reaction. I would assume that eventually, people in that restaurant will stop taking Food Allergies seriously.

If you are part of the Food Allergy community, you probably eat most of your meals at home. If you are like our family, there are certain restaurants (I can count them with one hand) that you trust and visit. For me, it is extremely hard to trust anyone with my daughter’s meal because you can’t really see what’s happening in a kitchen that is not yours.

I feel like Empathy is something that came with the territory. I try to understand people and their situations, but sometimes I have to speak up for the safety of my children. If my daughter consumes dairy or peanut, she goes into anaphylaxis. She’s not trying to be an inconvenience, she’s not trying to avoid a certain food for the fun of it; for her, it’s a matter of survival. Non-Food Allergic person that reads me: Next time you ‘re ordering your food at a restaurant, please think about the consequences of making an order with a false food allergy claim. It might seem harmless to you but for people like Penny, it could be life-threatening.

***DISCLAIMER: THE TEAL INGREDIENT DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. I AM NOT A MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL. ANY INFORMATION POSTED ON THIS BLOG IS NOT INTENDED TO REPLACE ANY MEDICAL INSTRUCTION OR ADVICE. I AM A PARENT SHARING MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE, OPINION, AND SUPPORT. IF YOU HAVE ANY SPECIFIC MEDICAL CONCERNS, CONSULT YOUR DOCTOR.***

 

 

 

Kintsugi

When Penny was diagnosed with Food Allergies, our lives were turned upside down; life became kind of chaotic. We had to change our diet and also our whole lifestyle. In the beginning, Food Allergies felt like a huge rock, an impediment, in our journey.

I made sure I educated myself on the subject in order to be able to accommodate Penny’s allergies, and in order to be able to be the best advocate for my child. I read medical articles, joined online Food Allergy Communities, and asked the doctors all the questions I could think of. With all those adjustments that came with Food Allergies, it was so hard to see this diagnosis as something positive. All of a sudden, I was aware of how much dairy, peanuts and tree nuts were part of our diet, and how difficult it is for people to understand that the consumptions of these food items can be fatal to my daughter. Even people who were close to us and who loved Penny didn’t quite understand the gravity of the situation. Outings were anxiety triggers as some common snacks for children are foods that contain Penny’s allergens.

As time has passed and experiences have helped us grow, so has my perception of Food Allergies. I believe that because of Food Allergies our diet is a healthier one, we are now more aware of the ingredients in our food and how what we consume affects our lives. I believe that because of Food Allergies our whole family has more empathy towards other people. I believe that because of Food Allergies, I have learned to enjoy and value the present moment. I believe that Food Allergies have brought our little family a bit closer; it is hard for me to trust anyone to babysit Penny, so our outings always include our children. I believe that Food Allergies have helped us value life a lot more, and have made our lives richer.

In the beginning, Food Allergies were tough, not only for Penny but also for me. It was a very emotional transition; I would get, and still remain, very anxious because I felt an inescapable sense of dread, always waiting for the next allergic reaction. By the end of the day, I would be mentally and emotionally exhausted. However, the experiences that have come with it have helped me embrace the imperfections in our lives, and transform the way I perceive the whole situation and everything that comes with it.  Kintsugi: Just like the Japanese have made beautiful art out of imperfect things, I feel that these unique experiences have made me more conscious of the frailty of our existence and the beauty of life’s imperfections.

Even though these lessons were learned the hard way- because let’s face it: Food Allergies are not a walk in the park, I feel that it has made us a better, more united family and if this is so, for these experiences I am Thankful.

 

Hollows Eve

Halloween… one of the words I dread the most. Why? Think about it; Halloween means one thing: CANDY. What are the most common ingredients found in these treats? Top 8 allergens. When we go out on this day, all I see around is just a potential allergic reaction.

Before Penny was diagnosed with food allergies we used to go trick or treating, but after she got the diagnosis, we felt it was too much of a risk, and decided to avoid it the years that followed. Not wanting to exclude the kids from having fun we started a new Halloween tradition, painting our pumpkins teal, getting our costumes on, and offering non-food treats to people. This year things changed: Penny is older and now understands what Halloween is, she talks about it with her friends and we felt like she wanted to be more involved, so we thought we should give it another chance.

The day started pretty excitingly. Fairy Princess costume on, breakfast, and off to school for a small Halloween bash. Like most of you know, Penny’s school is pretty accommodating when it comes to her food allergies. For the event held at her school, people brought treats and party foods to share with everyone. Even though there weren’t any peanuts or tree nuts, there was plenty of dairy around. The day was going O.K., but at a certain point a rash started to appear in Penny’s hands and face, and before her reaction got worse, my husband picked her up from school. He cleaned her hands and face really well, and the rash eventually disappeared. In the evening, I took the children trick or treating to some neighbors houses whom I had already given non-food items to offer to them, and it was a happy end to our day.

Even though our day was a successful one, it was stressful. Are we going trick or treating next year? I am not sure; maybe we’ll go back to passing non-food treats and raising Food Allergy awareness. Am I overreacting? Perhaps. It might be that I am overwhelmed because one of our family members went into anaphylactic shock less than a week ago and is fighting for his life. Maybe I seem like I am being overly cautious, but there’s one thing I would like you to understand: my children’s allergies, intolerances, or disorders are not their choice; it’s something they have to live with. Let’s create awareness; let’s cultivate empathy in our family members. Judging only clouds our thinking, if we try to walk a mile in other’s people shoes we contribute to a better society.

 

 

Four Years Ago

It’s almost the four-year anniversary of Penny’s food allergy diagnosis. We’ve come a long way ever since, and there’s so much more that we need to learn. At that time, when her doctor said the words, “Penny is allergic to dairy, peanuts and tree nuts”, I was filled with mixed emotions. Happy because we finally had a name for those unexplainable hives that would appear on and off during the past 5-6 months, but at the same time it felt like a “life sentence”. It felt like our lives were turned upside down.

Choosing things to eat without her allergens was hard, going to gatherings, birthday parties and play dates seemed impossible, and to be honest it is still hard sometimes. Even choosing a school for Penny to attend, where her allergies are taken seriously, was a struggle. Things got harder last year when my husband had to do an unaccompanied Army one-year, overseas tour. Penny was sick a lot that year. From the moment my husband left, she started getting ear infections. Of course, her allergies to antibiotics made things harder. Then after recurrent ear infections (one each month for 6 months), she was referred to an ENT, and the Dr. decided that she had to undergo surgery to place tubes in her ears and also remove her adenoids and tonsils.

I am so lucky to have friends that go above and beyond for my children and me. So, when the decision was made that Penny was to have the surgery, my best friend (Sonia) offered to fly into town and be here with us through Penny’s recovery. The day of the surgery, I was a nervous wreck. Since Penny has not only food allergies, but also allergy to medications, I was so scared how her body was going to react to anesthesia. Thankfully, surgery was a success, and Penny didn’t have to stay at the hospital that night. Although Penny recovered pretty fast from surgery, she did have some complications. A week after surgery, her lungs started accumulating liquid, but eventually (with treatment), she pulled through. Sonia stayed with us for 3 weeks, making it possible for me to go to work while helping to take care of Penny & Paulo. I am forever grateful for Sonia’s help.

These past four years have taught us to read labels, eat healthier, cook and bake at home, create awareness, educate people, deal with uncertainty and more, but overall we’ve learned to see life differently, to live with empathy, and to think about the everyday struggles of others. We’ve received so much love and consideration from family, friends, and even strangers. Food Allergies are hard, but the hidden gems it brings are far more valuable. We’ve met great people, and we’re part of a beautiful community that looks out for each other. Can’t wait to see what else this incredible journey has for us.

Double Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Frosting

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Ingredients:

Cake

  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp. distilled white vinegar
  • 1 cup non-dairy milk. I used soy milk.
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ¼ cup cocoa powder
  • 1 ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup Enjoy Life Semi-Sweet Chocolate Mini Chips

Frosting

 

Directions:

Cake

  • Preheat oven to 350°F.
  • Grease one 9X5 pan. I like to use Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks to grease the pan.
  • In a bowl, mix together the oil, vanilla extract, vinegar and soy milk. Add the sugar, salt, baking soda, baking powder and flour to the liquid mix. Mix until well blended.
  • Finally add the mini chocolate chips and mix well.
  • Pour the cake batter in the 9X5 pan.
  • Place a baking pan filled with water on the bottom rack of the oven. This will keep the cake moist after baking.
  • Place the pan that has the cake batter right on top of the pan that has water.
  • Bake for 43 mins.
  • Let it cool for about an hour.

Frosting:

  • In a bowl, mix buttery spread*, cream cheese and vanilla extract. Add the cocoa powder and confectioners’ sugar. Mix on a high speed for about 8-10 mins.
  • Cover and put it in the refrigerator for about an hour.
  • Frost the cake.
  • Keep refrigerated until served.

Enjoy!

 

 

Lactose Intolerance

When Winter Break was over, we all went back to our routines. Juan got back to work, Paulo to school, Penny & I to our everyday activities. As I’ve said before, we avoid having allergens in our house, which means no dairy and no nuts. So, school was the only place that Paulo was able to have his cup of milk without me worrying about cross-contact and consequently an allergic reaction. However, when Paulo tried having his usual cup of milk at school, he threw up. That day he said he was too full from the lunch he ate and maybe that was why he threw up. Next day, same thing happened. This time, I was sure that it had nothing to do with being too full because it was accompanied by a week of stomach pain, bloating, gas, etc. Maybe it was a virus or maybe he was starting to develop either an allergy to milk or lactose intolerance.

We decided he was going to avoid milk until we could find out what was going on. He was tolerating cheese, and then one day, after having pizza for lunch, same thing happened. This was the day when he ended up admitted to the hospital (see Hospital Stay). Doctors discharged him with a gastroenteritis diagnosis. I knew something was not right, I felt that it was not gastroenteritis. So, I scheduled a follow up with his pediatrician. After a few visits to different doctors and some tests, it turns out that Paulo has a lactose intolerance.

Like I’ve said before, even though Food Allergies (and now lactose intolerance) are, most of the time, overwhelming, in my case it has had its share of positive outcomes.  At this point, we are aware of what we eat, we eat a healthier diet, we grow our own organic vegetables and fruits and we know how to avoid diary. Also, Paulo’s reactions are not life threatening. Yes, it is an inconvenience if cross-contact occurs and yes, he gets sick, but his life is not at risk when a reaction occurs. Nevertheless, it is still serious.

Now I have more than one reason to advocate and raise awareness. This week I wear teal for both my kids.