In my last post, I talked about some ideas for how to handle the holidays if you are hosting someone with food allergies, specifically peanut/tree nut. Today I wanted to share a couple thoughts on how to handle this from the other side, if you are the parent of a child who has an allergy. And as always, if you have any questions about your food allergies or cooking for someone with a food allergy, please consult a doctor, this is only my advice based on my personal experience and I am not a physician.
Image courtesy of tiverylucky at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Holiday Tips for Parents of Kids with Food Allergies
1. Don’t be afraid to talk about it!
I think one of the hardest things that Aa and I have had to learn is to stop worrying so much about inconveniencing and annoying people with our food allergy needs. O’s safety needs to be our #1 priority, no matter what. And you know what? The vast majority of people have been nothing but kind and understanding.
2. Don’t assume other people know what to do!
We go to the same party at the same house every year. And although I know our hosts are very very careful, I still always check in ahead of time to make sure that it’s at the forefront of their thoughts and to remind them they can ask me if they have any questions. It’s also helpful to have a little lesson on label reading!
3. Learn to Bake!
This is the #1 best thing you can do to avoid problems, bring your own special treats. Because the risk of cross contamination for nuts is so high with baked goods, if you bring your own safe items, there will be something your kids know they can eat and they’re less likely to try and grab something else. I’m lucky that I don’t hate baking, but if you do, there are some great food allergy friendly cookies and baking mixes out there. Enjoy Life and Lucy’s cookies are great and Cherrybrook Kitchen baking mixes are delicious and easy, to name a few.
4. Talk about it with your kids ahead of time!
Remind them that there will be unfamiliar foods at the party and remind them to ask a trusted adult if food is safe before they eat it. For us, that means we tell O that he can ask me, Aa, or grandma or grandpa.
5. Go in the kitchen and help!
And while you’re there, snoop around a little bit. Read some labels, look for unsafe things and keep your eyes peeled for things that are ok to eat! For example, one year at a party, I went into the kitchen and noticed that the spaghetti sauce was from the prepared foods section of a grocery store. Now while spaghetti sauce, in general, is not usually a very dangerous food, because this came from the prepared foods area, it did not list the ingredients. Nor could I be sure that it was prepared in a nut free area. So then I knew that O should eat his noodles plain. No big deal but nice that I was able to catch that ahead of time. And it sparked a good discussion about why it wasn’t safe.
6. When in doubt, go without!
That’s our motto, if you’re not sure, don’t eat it. Don’t worry about being polite. Just don’t risk it. And make sure to always pack some extra snacks that you know your little one likes just in case.
Every year at this time, I have a text or email conversation with various relatives about Christmas parties, food, and food allergies and I thought it might be helpful to other parents of children with allergies or if you happen to have a friend or loved one with food allergies, to see how we deal with it.
Christmas is a particularly dangerous time of year for people with peanut/tree nut allergies. I mean think about how much food there is everywhere, all the time! And cookies and baked goods are very high on the list of dangerous foods for people with nut allergies. And there are lots of traditional holiday foods that involve nuts. Roasted chestnuts! Walnut stuffing! Pecan pie! Almonds on green beans! And so many nutty cookies! So we do have to be extra careful.
We are, however really really lucky to have had our family members on both sides of the family be nothing but careful, understanding and accommodating. Aa’s family has even given up pecan pie at Thanksgiving for us!
It’s tough because while O is still so young, if it’s at all possible, we prefer, if we can arrange it, to be in as nut free as environment as possible. And of course, we realize this isn’t convenient for other people. But at age 3, (and when he was younger) O is pretty good but he isn’t always the best listener. I don’t feel 100% confident that he won’t snag a cookie without asking. And additionally, if he were to eat something and start to feel sick, I’m not sure he would know to tell us or be able to accurately able to tell us what his symptoms were. And finally, when kids are little and cute, people like to smooch them. And if someone ate one of those delicious peanut butter thumbprint cookies with the hershey kiss on top (can you tell I miss those?) and then smooched him, it would not be good.
So for now, our family has been kind enough to eliminate all obvious peanuts and tree nuts from holiday festivities so that we don’t have to worry as much. It has been a learning curve though so I wanted to share my holiday tips for both parents of kids with nut allergies and tips for people who might have someone visiting their home who has an allergy. And as always my advice should never replace the advice of a doctor. If you have questions about how to handle your food allergies, or what you can or cannot eat etc, please speak with your physician. This advice is only based on my personal experience and I am not a doctor.
Holiday Tips for Hosts of Allergic Guests
1. Ask questions!
The food allergy discussion always goes better when it’s a dialog. If you have questions, please ask them and don’t worry that they’ll be “stupid.” We (parents of allergic kids) love when people ask questions, it puts our minds at ease. It also makes us worry less that we’re annoying you.
2. Please don’t take anything personally!
If we ask you if you wouldn’t mind not serving your famous green beans almondine or peanut brittle, please remember, it’s not because we think you’re not a good cook. Our #1 priority is the safety of our child. Period. End of Story. If you are able to accommodate requests like this, it makes our life sooooo much easier and we appreciate it more than you can possibly know.
3. Please don’t offer to bake for us.
This goes hand in hand with #2 because this offer is always meant to be helpful and is offered with so much kindness. It kills me to have to turn people down when they go out of their way like this. But on the advice of our doctor, O doesn’t eat baked goods that weren’t made in a nut free environment. It’s NOT because we don’t trust you. So again, please don’t take it personally. It’s that the opportunity for cross-contamination for nut allergies and baked goods is really high.
Let me give you three examples. Say someone makes some buttered toast for breakfast and they love that Brownberry Health Nut bread. Then later they go to bake cookies and use the rest of that stick of butter in the recipe. Now all of the cookies are potentially contaminated. And yes maybe that seems like a miniscule amount but some people have allergies that really are that serious.
And here’s another example, suppose someone made chocolate chip cookies with walnuts two months ago. They used the same 1/2 cup measuring scoop to scoop the nuts and then the flour. Now all of the flour is contaminated and they might not even remember doing it.
And my final contamination hypothetical, suppose someone is making jam thumbprint cookies. On the face of it, there are no nuts in the recipe. But if they used the jam jar from their refrigerator and they have EVER made a PB&J sandwich in their house, that jam jar is actually really really dangerous.
So again, it’s not that we don’t trust you. It’s just too risky.
4. Save boxes and bags!
After you put out those tortilla chips and dip for snacks, hang onto the bag and container so I can take a peek and make sure it’s safe. Again, it’s not that I don’t trust you, it’s just that I have a lot more experience reading labels and want to be sure.
5. Give everything an extra wipe!
Not that your house isn’t clean already! I definitely don’t mean to imply that! Just, for everyone’s peace of mind, give everything an extra good wipedown and make sure your kitchen and any surfaces food might touch are clean and free of any crumbs or food residue, especially if you have eaten or cooked with nuts recently. Put any nuts or unsafe foods away where a little one won’t be able to reach them. And if you have a small child yourself, be extra careful to clean toys and high chairs if you are a family that eats a lot of peanut butter. That stuff is sticky!
6. Know how much we appreciate you being accommodating!
I always try to tell hosts this repeatedly. But it can never be said enough. As the parent of an allergic child, I totally realize that having us over is not really convenient and probably kind of scary. But by helping us make the environment as safe as we can, you are helping my child have as normal as a childhood as he can AND you are protecting him from something potentially life threatening. Unknown situations can be totally terrifying for me and I literally worry about food safety all. the. time. Any help and understanding I get is so so so appreaciated.
When we were growing up, every year for Christmas, one of my Aunts had her daughter (my cousin) make a very simple crafty gift for each of our other aunts and uncles every single year pretty much until she went to college. My mom has five brothers and sisters so this was not a simple undertaking. I think I did this a handful of times myself but never regularly and I always admired that tradition. Especially in a large family, the cousins get a gazillion gifts and I always thought it was a nice way of having kids say thank you to the grown-ups.
So I decided I wanted to start something similar with O and I though what better for his Aunt and Uncle and the Grandparents than Christmas ornaments? So that first year, when he was about four months old, I tried making baked salt dough handprint ornaments. And it was a complete disaster. I wish I had a picture. They cracked, they bubbled, and they broke. And also I had an infant so I was too exhausted to come up with a plan B. So I aborted that year.
But the next year I tried again and made these adorable Santa Handprint ornaments based on many versions I found on pinterest. I used regular clay from the craft store that you could bake and acrylic craft paint. They ended up kind of being a bit of pain but now in retrospect I LOVE having a record of how cute and little O’s hand was when he was 1.
Then last year, I decided O was finally old enough to help. So I grabbed six wooden snowflake ornaments from the Dollar Spot at Target, painted them white and let O color on them with markers (markers! more exciting than anything to toddlers!) Then I popped his picture in and added a coat of polyurethane to protect his art.
I think they key to this kind of project is always the ability to assembly line it. So this year, I saw quite a few Snowman Handprint Ornaments all over pinterest and thought I’d try to make my own version.
First I got 6 blank ceramic ornaments from the craft store and painted them a very light robin’s egg blue. I just used regular old acrylic craft paint.
Then I bribed O with some bunny gummy snacks, put paint on his three middle fingers and had him press them down on the ornaments to make the snowmen bodies. He doesn’t really love getting dirty so the bribery was essential to the plan. If you have or know a 3 year old, you’ll understand.
When that dried, I added a few details with a small paintbrush. First, eyes, mouth and buttons…
Then cute little carrot noses…
And finally hats, of course!
These ornaments were pretty nice and thick so I decided that the other side needed something too. I printed out some tiny versions of O’s school picture, used Mod Podge to glue them on and then added his name, the year and some little snowflakes with a paint pen. Then the whole thing got another coat of Mod Podge to protect it.
And that was it! Piece of cake! Here it is on the tree:
Eventually I hope that he will do more and more of the creating on his own and we’ll have a nice collection of “snapshots” of what O was like each year at that age.
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My Starbucks Inspired Yarn Ball Wreath is one of my favorite holiday projects ever! Read More
My Easy 3 seam Drawstring Gift Bag is a perfect way to go green this Christmas!
About 3 or 4 years ago, I was at my parents house for Christmas as usual, we had just had a fun Christmas morning opening all our gifts and I looked over to where my dad was sitting. It’s usually his job to hold the trash bag and collect wrapping paper etc. I really do try my best to be green and eco friendly in life, and I felt a little sick when I saw how much wrapping paper we’d gone through as a whole family. And, I mean, if you think about it, wrapping paper is kind of a weird concept anyway. You spend lots of money on something beautiful that you just rip and up and throw away? Don’t get me wrong, yes, it’s fun. But I decided then and there that I was going to try and minimize the amount of wrapping paper I used personally in the future. I’ve always been a saver of gift bags and wrapping paper anyway so this was just another step in that direction. (And really, don’t get me started on gift bags and tissue paper. For one thing, why do they cost so much?! )
I certainly haven’t eliminated ALL wrapping paper. For example, every year we sponsor a foster child for Christmas and buy them presents. I wrap those in regular wrapping paper because I feel like in that situation, the wrapping paper is part of the fun. Or if I was giving a gift to a boss or one of O’s teachers (i.e. someone I want to impress) I would probably use wrapping paper. I also haven’t managed to make a stash of birthday bags either so I usually end up using wrapping paper or a gift bag then as well. But I figure, for me, the holidays were the major offender and every little bit helps!
Anyway, the following year near Christmas I ordered some cute holiday fabric, invested a little time and energy up front and wrapped as many of my presents as possible in reusable wrapping. But before I get to how I make them, you might be wondering, Cassie, do you really spend hours and hours sewing gift bags before every Christmas? Are you nuts?? Isn’t it kind of crazy to invest that much time and add ANOTHER thing to your holiday to-do list?? Why should I make reusable gift bags?
Well, in a surprising turn of events, these fabric gift bags have turned out not to be extra work at all, in fact, they usually SAVE me tons of time! At the start of the Christmas morning un-wrapping frenzy I just say to my loved ones, “If you think you will reuse them, please feel free to keep your fabric gift bags, otherwise, just hand them over to me and I’ll use them again next year!” And guess what! 99% of the time they get handed back to me! So at this point I have a big stash in a variety of sizes that I can reuse year after year! And the best part is, when it’s time to wrap presents I just pop them in a bag, add a tag, tie the ribbon in a bow and I’m done! No scissors, no scotch tape, no unruly wrapping paper. I think it’s cut my wrapping time by 75%!
And if I end up with a gift for someone that doesn’t fit in one of the sizes that I already have, I have gotten it down to a super easy 3 seam drawstring gift bag science! I can whip these out in 15 minutes or less! So anyway, enough wordiness, on to the tutorial!
Easy 3 Seam Drawstring Gift Bag
fabric (cotton quilting fabric works great but you could branch and out and try burlap or velvet or whatever you want!)
iron and ironing board
1. First cut a rectangle of fabric for your gift bag. To figure out what size your rectangle should be, measure the item you’re putting in it. The width of the rectangle should be the width of the item + about 3 inches. Less if it’s something thin like a cd and more if it’s something thick like a long book. The height of your rectangle should be twice the height of the item + about 5 – 6 inches.
2. Lay your rectangle right side down and start by folding over one long side 1/4 inch and pressing with your iron. Then fold over again another 1/4 inch and press again so the raw edge is hidden. Repeat with the other long side.
3. Next fold over one top edge 1/4 inch and press.
Then fold over that same top edge again 1 1/2 inches and press and pin. This will form the casing for the drawstring ribbon. Repeat with the other top edge.
4. Using your sewing machine sew a seam along one top edge about 1 1/4 inches from the top of the bag to form the casing. Trim your threads and repeat with the other top edge.
5. Fold your bag, right sides together, matching up your top edge casings and pin.
6. With a 1/4 inch seam, sew down from the bottom of one casing, across the bottom and back up the other side, stopping at the stitching at the bottom of the casing on the other side.
Obviously, because it’s folded over, stitching across the bottom of the bag is not really necessary but I find it saves just a little bit of extra time that adds up when you’re making a whole bunch of bags. Plus! Fewer thread ends to trim!
7. Turn your bag right side out. Cut a ribbon that is 2x the width of the bag + 6 inches.
8. Put a safety pin through one end of the ribbon and use it to thread your ribbon through the ribbon casing of the bag.
When you get to the other side from where you started, just reinsert the ribbon into the casing and continue around the bag until you’re back where you started.
9. Add a present, a gift tag, and tie up your bag and you’re all done!
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This Pom Pom Snowflake Wreath was one of those projects. You know the ones where you get the idea, buy the supplies (pretty cheap!) and are feeling good. And then you start working and it ends up taking, ahem, a little bit longer than you anticipated. And when I say a little bit longer, I mean, I felt like I was making pom poms for like a week. In reality it was only a couple hours but I think you know what I mean. But don’t let that deter you, it was an excellent excuse to sit quietly and watch netflix for a while which I don’t get to do nearly enough!
I love a big warm bowl of Creamy Broccoli Potato Soup with Caramelized Onions and Apple on a cold day! It’s warm, creamy, full of flavor and actually vegan too!
My mom is a big fan of broccoli and when I was little, she ate it all the time. But she usually steamed it or cooked in the microwave, which, if you have ever done, makes it kind of not smell so great (that’s being polite). So as a result, I developed an affliction common to a lot of kids, Broccophobia (not the scientific term)! Fast forward to adulthood and, like most people, I’ve gotten over it. When I was pregnant with O I actually LOVED it. (Pregnancy is so weird.) I like it in stir fry sometimes, but not usually just plain. And of course, I loooove Broccoli Cheddar soup. Panera has the best. I totally remember the day when I found out that it’s not actually vegetarian (chicken stock). I almost cried.
So since then I’ve been trying to find a good Broccoli Soup recipe that I actually liked. I’ve tried one with white beans (didn’t love the texture), I’ve tried actual Broccoli and Cheese and milk (pretty good but who can eat that all the time without gaining a thousand pounds?!). And then the other day, I had very little food in the house and on the fly made this Creamy Broccoli Potato Soup with Caramelized Onion and Apple. The caramelized onions add a deep flavor, the little bit of apple adds a little sweetness and it tastes like broccoli but not TOO much. I think I found my recipe!
Creamy Broccoli Potato Soup with Caramelized Onions and Apple
1 Onion diced
2 cloves of garlic
5 medium red potatoes
1/2 a small apple
1 rib celery
2 crowns of broccoli
5 cups of water
1 tsp KOSHER salt
1. Start by caramelizing your onions. Use whatever method you like, I always add a squirt of honey and a splash of red wine vinegar to help them along. Add the whole garlic cloves and cook along with the onions until they are soft and caramelized too. Be careful not to let them burn.
2. When the onions are caramelized, add the potatoes, apples and celery, all cut into chunks and the water and salt. Bring to a boil. If you use table salt instead of Kosher salt, use LESS!
3. When the potatoes are starting to get soft, add the broccoli. I used two crowns of broccoli (which is probably a little less than a full head) chopped into medium florets.
4. When the broccoli is cooked through, carefully puree the soup using a blender or immersion blender. It’s hot, be careful!
5. Garnish with parsley, sour cream and/or shredded cheddar and serve with crusty bread.
Clearly I need to work on my dollop-ing skills…can you take a class for that? And what’s your favorite kind of soup for the winter?
Did you have a nice Thanksgiving? I did! We went to my parents’ house for a few days and had a great time. Since O’s food allergy diagnosis I end up doing the bulk of the meal planning and a lot of the cooking to make sure that things are safe for him. And wow, do I appreciate all those years my mom did it all on her own and we just showed up when it was time to eat! It’s a lot of work! At this point I have my favorite dishes, a vegetarian stuffing with apples and craisins, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes with chipotle (which we didn’t make this year and I missed!).
And while almost everything turned out great, we did have a few hilarious failures that I wanted to share to show you, hey, nothing’s perfect! First up, as I was making an apple crisp, my mom said, “Oh! I wish we had some of that caramel sauce you talked about on your blog!” And then we decided, hey, we might as well make some! I’ve made caramel before, it’s not that hard!
And you’d think I would know by now that whenever you think something’s going to be a piece of cake, that’s when it becomes a disaster. So my mom googled a recipe for salted caramel sauce and we started making it. My first warning flag should have been when the recipe didn’t have any water and just told you to melt the sugar in a pan on the stove. I’ve never made it that way but who am I to judge, I just trusted the blogger’s recipe. I’m sure it COULD be done that way but we just kept stirring and stirring while the sugar clumped up and some of the crystals browned unevenly. But eventually it all melted, got to the right temperature on the candy thermometer and it was time to add the butter. If you’ve ever made caramel before, you know that it kind of foams up when you add butter and you have to whisk while that happens to incorporate everything.
Well, I added the butter, the caramel foamed up, I whisked and whisked and whisked and the melted butter just sat on the top. The next thing I knew, in the blink of an eye, the caramel turned rock solid. I mean, it was so hard my mom spent like 20 minutes chipping it out of the pan with a wooden spoon. So yeah. That was fail #1. Could have been temperature, could have been time, could have been angry caramel gods…who knows. But the next attempt (a new recipe which did include water!) went much better and we ended up with delicious salted caramel sauce.
The next fail was when, after a full day of pre-cooking on wednesday, my mom and I decided we should have margaritas. We definitely earned them. So we put Aa to work making them. My mom had some margarita mix in the cupboard and all the other ingredients and he put it all in the blender, blended it up, salted the rims of some glasses and poured the drinks in, and in about 1 minuted, they turned gray. It was the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen and I’m not sure if this picture accurately captures it. It was like a grayish blue color and the liquid separated from the ice almost right away. The only thing I can think to compare it to was that it looked EXACTLY like dirty dish water with foamy soap scum on top. So weird!
The next batch turned out normal (we went with on the rocks instead of blended this time) so we’re still not sure exactly what happened.
And our final Thanksgiving fail wasn’t mine but my brother’s. He and his girlfriend were in charge of the mashed potatoes, among other things. And when they arrived, T, my brother’s girlfriend, told us the story of how she always always buys plain yogurt, never flavored and so, when making the potatoes, when my brother decided to add some yogurt (good idea!), he grabbed it out of the fridge, stirred it in the potatoes and THEN noticed that it was french vanilla!!! Apparently they’d been mixed up at the store and she had accidentally bought vanilla. And N, thinking they never ever had flavors didn’t even think to check when he added it (totally understandable!) Luckily, you couldn’t taste it at all. I think I may have gotten a little whiff while I was reheating them but they tasted delicious. So maybe french vanilla yogurt is a new mashed potato secret ingredient?? Should I blog a recipe?
Anyway, Thanksgiving was lovely, the rest of the meal turned out perfect, and we all had some good laughs about our Thanksgiving failures. How was your Thanksgiving?