Thursday, June 25, 2015

Random Things I Think About All the Time

I will freely admit that I'm always thinking about Olivia's food allergies.

I'll see a recipe in a food magazine and think "well, that's one more thing I can't make." Or I'll be watching a cooking show (as I do every night while I cook dinner) and the chef will be making something with hazelnuts, or peanuts, or pecans and before thinking "wow that looks amazing!" I'll think "Olivia will never get to eat that." Or I'll be checking out a menu at a local restaurant and the only words that pop out are "sesame," "hazelnut," "pecans", and the like.

Now that might sound all doom-and-gloom to you but it's the reality we deal with.

As of right this very moment Olivia can't eat a myriad of things including: pesto (pine nuts = tree nuts), pecan pie, Nutella, most candy bars including those "without" nuts because they're processed in the same facility as peanuts and/or tree nuts, a bagel from our local bagel spot (Barry Bagels), a Big Mac, a Quarter Pounder, a burger or anything else from Five Guys, some brands of pretzels, some types of crackers, pistachios, anything from Chick Fil A, hummus, Almond Milk (or Cashew Milk), M&Ms, Burger King, anything with peanut butter, sesame seeds, most break-and-bake cookies, peanuts, doughnuts and cookies from most bakeries, most chocolate chips, some cereals, regular bread crumbs, milkshakes from Steak 'n Shake, Cool Whip, McFlurries from McDonalds, frozen coffees from just about every coffee shop, almonds, walnuts, any tree nuts (the risk isn't worth it), anything processed in a facility that also processed peanuts and/or tree nuts, anything with sesame seeds....and the list goes on.

Trust me when I say the list of can't-eat items is MUCH longer but I decided to NOT add everything. But you get the idea, right? 

It's no wonder that I spend a lot of time thinking about Olivia's allergies.

I also think these random thoughts:

- I hope she never gets bullied at school for her food allergies. Kids (and adults) can be so mean and heartless. 

- What if someone tries to bully her with food? 

- Why does everything at school have to revolve around food? Since when did cupcakes become so freaking important?

- What happens when she starts dating? What if her boyfriend wants to kiss her but he just ate Nutella? Oh my gosh! She's going to be kissing boys! And they can't eat the food she's allergic too! 

-What happens when she goes out with her friends in high school and she has to carry her EpiPens? Will her friends be supportive of her and the food choices she has to make? 

- Oh crap. She's going to go to college someday. Will she be able to manage her food allergies?

- I just ate pecan pie at Thanksgiving dinner. Now I can't/won't give her a kiss goodnight. 

- We're on a plane. I hope no one eats anything that she's allergic too. Oh great, they're selling snack boxes full of things with tree nuts. 

- I hate nuts. 

- Crap. I ate a sesame seed bagel at lunch. I need to wash my hands. And brush my teeth. 

- Oh good. It's Halloween again. Time to trick-or-treat and get a bucket full of candy she can't eat. I hate holidays. 

- This is so unfair for Olivia. 

- OK. Time to create an Easter basket with no candy. 

- I sure hope the allergy tests are negative next time. 

- Maybe it's time to do a food challenge?

- Why her?

- Oh man. She wants to try crab legs at dinner. What if she's allergic to shellfish and we don't know it? Good thing the EpiPens are nearby. 

- I hate food allergies. 

- The waitress says she told the chef about Olivia's allergies. But what if she didn't? 

- Did the waiter/waitress REALLY write down the list of food allergies? 

- Oh shit! Olivia just opened a package of crackers that were covered in sesame seeds! Holy SHIT! Quick! Brush off the table. Get the crackers away! Wash her hands. (This actually DID happen a few weeks ago - we were at a new-to-us place in the Outer Banks and Olivia opened a package of crackers that had sesame seeds on top. I have NEVER seen someone drop something SO FAST. She recovered quickly. Me, not so much).

...and the list goes on and on. 

So you see...allergies are an everyday kind of thing.
We take the good with the bad.
There are small victories and big defeats.

Yesterday Olivia's dad took her to the ice cream shop up in Maberry and SURPRISE! they really DID have a bottle of Hersheys' chocolate syrup behind the counter. So my vanilla ice cream kid was able to skip the sprinkles and have chocolate syrup instead. She was VERY happy.

Which just goes to show: sometimes all it takes is some chocolate syrup on a bowl of vanilla ice cream and all is right with the world.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Allergens Show Up in the Strangest Spots

As a parent of a child with food allergies I spend a lot of time reading labels.

I'm talking about A LOT OF TIME.

If you happen to see my in the grocery store it's a good bet that you'll find me reading a label.

Food labels are a tough nut to crack sometimes (sorry). There's no rhyme or reason really when it comes to food labeling. Sometimes allergens are listed, sometimes they're not.

The FDA requires that the top eight allergens are listed - milk, egg, peanut, tree nut, wheat, soy, fish, crustacean shellfish - but other than that it's sort of a free for all. There's no real requirement about the whole "manufactured in a facility that processes" labeling.

Which is why parents of kids with food allergies read EVERY SINGLE LABEL.

And if something says "processed in a facility" or "may contain" or anything of that sort and those words are followed by peanuts or tree nuts, it's going to be off limits for Olivia.

The hardest ingredient right now is sesame seed because it doesn't have to be listed at all.


Because it's NUMBER 9 on the FDA's list of top allergens and only the TOP 8 MUST BE LISTED.

Yep, that's right. There's not a top 10 list of allergens that must be listed - there's a top 8 list. And sesame is number 9.

Things that contain or may contain sesame seeds include bread crumbs, most of the Pepperidge Farm breads, bagels, hummus, Asian food, Mediterranean food, crackers, some pretzels, some chips, and the list goes on.

And it's not always food that is the culprit. Last December I discovered the Lip Smackers brand lip gloss is made with sesame seed oil (WTH?).

So the label reading goes as far as beauty products, lotion, shampoo, makeup, etc.

You just never know where those pesky allergens are going to show up!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Dining Out with Food Allergies

After Olivia was diagnosed with food allergies, our dining out routine changed dramatically.

Gone were the days where we could say "hey, let's try out that new restaurant" without a second thought about the menu.

Now we have a running list of where we can go and where we can't go. Olivia will never eat at Five Guys. She likely won't learn how amazing sushi can be. Hibachi restaurants are off limits. Chick-Fil-A is a no-go. Burger King is off the list.

Why so many "no" restaurants, you ask? Let me explain....

Five Guys fries in peanut oil and has boxes of peanuts at the door. It would be like walking through a mine field. Sushi = sesame seeds which = cross contact. Same with the hibachi restaurants. The last time we ate at one Olivia was sick the rest of the night (this was B.A. - before allergies). Chick-Fil-A also has a peanut oil issue. And have you seen the buns at Burger King? It's sesame seed heaven.

Nope. Nope. And nope.

Now our restaurant routine is more like "Hey, we should go here." To which I normally respond "I'm not sure if it's safe for Olivia. I'll have to call/check the menu."

I'm a big menu reader. And since Olivia's diagnosis my eyes immediately dart to words like "sesame seeds," "coconut shrimp," and "[insert peanut and/or tree nut] encrusted whatever."

Who would have thought that words as innocuous as "sesame," "coconut," "pecans," and "hazelnut" would become my red flag words? 

If we're dining somewhere new the first thing I do is tell the waitress "My daughter has a peanut, tree nut, and sesame seed allergy so please inform the kitchen of this so they can ensure there is no cross contact." I also make sure that the food isn't fried in peanut oil. And if I see things like coconut shrimp on the menu I know we can't order anything fried. The risk just isn't worth it.

Recently on vacation we stopped to dine at a Mexican restaurant in West Virginia and when I asked the waiter if the tortilla chips were fried in peanut oil his response was "Cheese dip?" It took several attempts at asking the same question (and getting the same "cheese dip?" answer) before we learned the chips were safe.

Sometimes food allergies are lost in translation.

We have a running list of "safe" places for Liv here in Toledo (and a list of "no way Jose!" places too). 

We love dining at Ciao! for special occasions like birthdays - they are always receptive to my "allergy instructions." The same is true of Mancy's Italian. Olive Garden is a good spot and Liv recently dined at Red Lobster with her dad and they gave her their "allergy menu" which was pretty awesome.

We frequent our local Fricker's for wings. Subway is a good bet for sandwiches (in turn we avoid the local bagel shop because there are sesame seeds everywhere).

Basically if I walk into a restaurant and tell the waitress/waiter about Olivia's food allergies and they (1) write it down and (2) come back with updates from the chef about what is safe/not safe I am willing to add that spot to our "safe to visit" list.

Of course menus can always change and ingredients can and do change so it's a good idea to ALWAYS tell the servers about Liv's allergies.

And sometimes I need to do some investigation before allowing Olivia to visit a restaurant - including reading the menu if it is online or even visiting in person to see what's what. 

Dining out with food allergies is challenging but it can be done. One of the things I'm going to do with this blog is short reviews of local restaurants with a good/bad rating when it comes to allergies.

Happy dining!

Friday, June 19, 2015

I Scream. You Scream. We All Don't Scream for Ice Cream.

I love ice cream.

Like seriously LOVE it. I could eat ice cream every night - but I don't because I'm trying to lose weight.

Olivia also LOVES ice cream, but it's a sticky and slippery slope when it comes to finding a safe place for her to enjoy her second favorite dessert (chocolate mousse is her first favorite).

Here in Toledo we used to visit a spot called Mr. Freeze - it's a seasonal place, serving soft serve cones and sundaes from March through October. We don't go there anymore because they have a rather prominent sign at the counter that basically says "if you have a peanut or tree nut allergy we don't think it's a good idea for you to eat here."

Another soft serve spot - Melo-Creme - has been better, in that we've visited there once and they wore food service gloves and took out about 10 cones to find a "safe" (read: no cross contact here!) cone for Olivia.

Currently our go-to spot is a little place up in Mayberry (in Sylvania). It's a coffee shop-slash-ice cream shop and for the most part they're good (not great) when it comes to Olivia's allergies.

Their soft serve ice cream is safe and they'll usually open a new box of sprinkles for her. But a kid can only eat so much vanilla soft serve with rainbow sprinkles before it gets really boring!

So the other day Olivia want to change it up a bit - she wanted something different. Which, when you have peanut and tree nut allergies, isn't always easy. Especially when it comes to ice cream. She wanted hot fudge on her vanilla soft serve.

That was a no-go. The hot fudge was processed in a facility that also processes peanut and tree nuts. So, I asked if they had any Hershey's chocolate syrup (since that's a safe option). Nope. No chocolate syrup. The somewhat clueless teenagers behind the counter looked at the different varieties of scoop ice cream and said "we can open a new container of one of these for her."

Um, thanks for the idea but look at the ingredients - 95 percent of the ice cream there has nuts or tree nuts as an ingredient.

Olivia, knowing the ice cream battle was lost, said "I'll just have what I always get." And then she proceeded to eat about 10 bites and threw out the rest.

Ice cream -1, Olivia - 0.

It's very frustrating for Olivia - she used to love to go out for ice cream. Now when we suggest it she rarely wants to go.

Like I said, you can only eat so much vanilla soft serve with sprinkles before it gets really OLD. 

We used to have a Cold Stone Creamery right down the road and we could go in there and they'd know Olivia (it's the peanut allergy girl!) and whoever was working would go to the back, open a brand new cotton candy ice cream, get a clean bowl and scoop, and mix in chocolate shavings and sprinkles for Olivia. Sadly the store closed last year. :( 

I think our favorite ice cream shop is Scammell's Corner Surf Shop and Ice Cream Parlor in Nags Head, North Carolina (in the Outer Banks). Not only does the owner sing as he scoops ice cream but he has ALL THE PEANUT AND TREE NUT FREE ICE CREAM in ONE cooler! It's totally separate from the other ice cream flavors. Pure genius. And, he always uses a clean scoop to scoop out the ice cream. AND he has Hershey's syrup and hot fudge for the ice cream.

I'm not ashamed to say we visited there about four times on our most recent OBX vacation. Also, we totally need a Toledo-based Scammell's. I'm just sayin'.

I wish I could open a totally peanut- and tree nut-free ice cream parlor where we could serve all nut-free and peanut-free ice cream with safe toppings. It could be connected to my nut-free and peanut-free bakery and restaurant.

Safe ice cream and cookies and cakes for everyone!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Life Isn't Fair.

There's something that's been nagging me all day. It's not anything earth-shattering but it's like an annoying buzzing noise that just won't go away.

So in order to make it stop, I figured a blog post was in order.

I was eating lunch the other day with a group of women (of varying ages) when Olivia's food allergies came up.

As we discussed what Olivia can and can't eat one woman at the table said at her grandson's school they ban ALL classroom treats because of the prevalence of food allergies.

I said I wished Olivia's old elementary school had done that when she was there because even though the classroom parties (Halloween and Christmas) were normally "safe" for her, every single time a kid brought in cupcakes or cookies for a birthday Olivia wasn't able to eat one and had to eat a Jolly Rancher instead.

And I said how unfair that was for her to be singled out because of her allergies.

And then someone at the table said "life isn't always fair."

Excuse me?

Life. Isn't. Always. Fair.

I had to (1) quickly change the topic so as to not lose my shit at the country club, and (2) pretend I didn't really hear those words in relation to food allergies and MY daughter.

Now, I have NO idea if the person was saying that like "man, that really sucks that Olivia wasn't able to participate" or if it was more like "sucks to be Olivia but she needs to learn that life isn't always fair."

I like to give most people the benefit of the doubt so I'm going to assume that the person who said that wasn't saying it to be mean and spiteful but was rather just a bit clueless when it comes to kids with food allergies.

Because let me tell you, we already know that life isn't always fair. There's nothing "fair" about food allergies.

Kids with food allergies learn early on what it's like to be "left out" and "singled out." They know what it's like to constantly hear "No, you can't eat that" and "No, we can't go there because it's not safe."

Recently on vacation in the Outer Banks we were dining out and Olivia had a tough time with the meal. We weren't able to order her favorite appetizer (calamari) because it was cooked in the same oil as coconut shrimp and we avoid coconut. That was the first "no" of the night. Then at dessert she had a meltdown when she really wanted the chocolate mousse but we weren't sure if it was safe.

Imagine for a moment crying over dessert. Doesn't sound like much fun, does it?

In the end the chocolate mousse was deemed "safe" and Olivia was able to enjoy it. But that doesn't normally happen.

So the next time you feel like telling a food allergy parent that "life isn't fair" you might want to rethink your choice of words.

Instead of thinking about how "fair" it is to bring cupcakes or cookies into a classroom (or how "unfair" it is to prohibit them) think about how you would feel if you were the ONLY PERSON in a group of your friends who couldn't eat the same thing everyone was eating. And imagine that the food you can't eat is something you LOVE.

Think about how you might feel singled out. And now imagine that you're a child in a classroom where everyone is eating a cupcake except you - you're eating a Rice Krispie treat or a piece of candy. And that's just NOT the same.

Life isn't fair.
But please don't feel the need to remind us of that.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Hi There.

So because I don't have enough to do already (cough, cough) I decided it was high time to start another blog.

You know, to add to the three I already have (one of which I sort of pay attention to, one that I'm trying to love more, and one that I haven't loved posted on in YEARS).

But this blog is different.

This is all about allergies. Olivia's allergies to be specific.

If you're new to my world (hello you!), let me give you the 4-1-1 on what's going on.

Olivia is 11. She'll be entering 6th grade in the fall (ACK!) and she's been living with food allergies since the fall of 2011.

She was diagnosed with allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, and sesame seeds when she was in the second grade. To say we were shocked by the diagnosis would be an understatement. We had NO idea that anything was wrong.

In retrospect we probably should have suspected something - she would throw up after eating peanut butter and finally stopped eating at completely. We dined at a Hibachi restaurant about 10 months before her diagnosis and she was ill that night (we know now that it was from the sesame seeds). And as a baby she had horrible eczema and issues with certain formulas).

Now, we've been living with and dealing with the challenges of life-threatening food allergies for almost four years.

I wish I could say it gets easier but it doesn't. It's more of a routine now. There are still tears and frustration (from Olivia mostly but also from me). There are challenges. There are horrible people who can't see past the end of their noses.

But we deal.

So this blog is going to be about how we're dealing. And what we're doing. And places we love to visit in our city (the "Glass City" is Toledo, Ohio just in case you were wondering) and beyond. I'm going to share a lot, so be prepared.

And, thanks for reading!