Baba Gha-Hummus: A Recipe and So Much More

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No matter how many times I was told that it’s easy to make my own hummus, I never really wanted to do it.  As soon as they said “food processor”, I was out.  I used to use a big food processor that was loud and had enough parts to almost fill the top rack of my dishwasher every time I used it.  It was a pain to get in and out of the cabinet with all of it’s parts, so it just stayed put.  It seems way easier to just buy our hummus than to take it out and wash it.

That all changed with one bite of this delicious hummus.  I will warn you.  It ruined me on store-bought forever.  Even if I wanted to purchase a quick fix, I just couldn’t enjoy it after tasting the real deal.  Conveniently, I had my Mom’s Magic Bullet at my house for making baby food, so I was able to try the recipe out in it.  Why was I using my Mom’s Magic Bullet to make baby food when I own a food processor?  I wasn’t exaggerating.  I REALLY hate taking it out.

I mentioned a bite changed me.  I tasted this hummus at a party, and I couldn’t walk away from the bowl.  I will admit, I felt a little bit possessive of it, even though I hadn’t brought it.  That’s why they call it “crazy” good.  The Zimmermans, who brought the hummus, were kind enough to share the recipe with me and everyone else who tasted it because none of us were willing to let this recipe go un-had.

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The Zimmerman Family, looking all good.

Let me tell you a little bit about the Zimmerman family.  The only way I can really explain it is, they do it right.  By “it”, I mean life.  Homemade hummus is not even the tip of the iceberg.  I can’t do it justice, but check out the article, Family Lives the Self Sufficient Lifestyle, to have your mind blown.  What I CAN say is that every time I am around them, I leave feeling inspired to do a better job feeding my family.  This isn’t because they tell me I need to do better.  They never do that.  In fact, I’m pretty sure I have even seen one or both of them pretend to really enjoy my “something wrapped in canned dough” finger food offering at the very party where I laid claim to their hummus platter.  I want to do better because their passion and knowledge are inspirational.  They make the impossible seem pretty darn doable.  Not to mention, they do it all while raising two of the most well-rounded tween boys you will ever meet who are just plain fun to be around.

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They’re the kind of people who leave organic sweet potatoes on their neighbor’s porch as a random surprise. WIN!!!

So, maybe my big beautiful garden only exists on my Pinterest board and my “composting” takes place in our garbage bin, but we now eat homemade hummus.  Baby steps, right?  Without further ado…

Baba Gha-Hummus

Ingredients:

1 large eggplant

1 15 oz can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained

3 tbsp. tahini (or sesame seeds and a little extra EVOO)

1 ½ tsp. ground cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

¾ tsp. salt

⅛ tsp. ground red pepper (or less)

2 garlic cloves (Sometimes I just throw in garlic powder; sometimes I roast the garlic for some extra yum!)

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 or 2 squirts of lemon juice (optional)

Penny’s directions:

Preheat oven to 375. Pierce eggplant with a fork. Place eggplant on a jelly roll and bake at 375 for 30 min or until tender. Cool eggplant completely; peel. (Although I don’t peel mine.) Cut eggplant into wedges. Combine eggplant, tahini, and remaining ingredients in a food processor; process until smooth.

Yields 2 cups.

This recipe is very forgiving and also able to easily adapt. I often add a little lemon juice to bring out the flavors or have to add a little more olive oil if it seems dry. Also, don’t be afraid to play around with the amounts of the spices, just know that the flavors develop the longer it sits. Enjoy!

There you have it.  Below are some photos of what it looks like when I make this hummus.  I have had the recipe for a little over a month and I think I have made it at least 6 times.  I made a couple of batches by roasting red peppers when I was out of eggplant and it was great that way too.  I’m pretty sure you have to change the name if you swap out the eggplant, though.

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These are the ingredients. I use sesame seeds instead of tahini because I can’t find a tahini that isn’t processed in a facility with our allergens. Also, the ground red pepper is missing because I forgot to get it out for the picture. Oops!

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There’s the whole eggplant just roasting away. It doesn’t get any easier than putting it in the oven with no prep at all.

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I grind the sesame seeds to a powder first.

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With the magic bullet, I have to do a few small batches. I try to divide all of the ingredients into semi-equal parts. Here is everything in the first batch of this round.

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The Magic Bullet gets the job done, but it’s not without a good bit of effort.  I divide the ingredients into smaller batches, then I have to shake the blender considerably while it’s working through it to get all of the chunks down to the blade.  I end up adding a bit more oil and lemon juice as I go to thin it enough for the magic bullet to cut it.  This feels like a good time to mention that I’m campaigning hard for a Vitamix from my husband for Christmas.  Oh what I could do with one of those!!!  If you have any compelling arguments, go ahead and email him directly 🙂

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Did I mention this deliciousness is top 8 allergen free, gluten free, and vegan?  BOO-YA!!!!!

Empty Tear Ducts, Full Promises

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Today is Elena’s last first day of preschool and Olivia’s first first day of preschool.  It’s a big day.  This is different from the past two years when Elena went off to school for a few reasons.

This is the first time I have sent a non-allergic child to preschool.  It’s incredibly different.  When she got out of the car, I didn’t feel panic that it might be the last time I see her.  I didn’t worry about what the other children in her class might bring in or might have eaten for breakfast.  I know that, even if things don’t go perfectly for her today, Olivia will be safe.  That’s not to say it’s easy to let her go or that I don’t have any concerns for her.  I really hope she has fun, and makes friends, and makes it to the potty every single time.  If not, though, I know she will have another chance.

With all of the recent news of children losing their lives to food allergies lately, this year was the toughest for me.  Last night I was restless.  I have always promised Elena I would keep her safe, but this year that’s not enough.  I have a few more promises I need to make.  Elena, I promise not to let you see my fear as I drive you to school this morning.  I promise to get all of my tears out when you’re not around, so you don’t have to wonder what might be causing them.  I promise I will be strong and brave and I will not let my fears prevent you from living.

When every bite of food your child takes could take her life, it is terrifying to know she will be eating when you’re not around.  Even though I have checked and packaged all of her food myself, I won’t be able to breathe easy until I see her face at pick up.  I will smile and try not to hug her too tightly.  I will act like it was a normal day.  I will pretend like I enjoyed my break while the girls were at school.  Mostly, I will say a prayer of thanks that she is back under my watch.

I have many prayers of thanks for this day.  I thank God that Elena doesn’t seem crippled with the fears that are eating me alive.  I thank God for the brave parents,  like Natalie Giorgi’s mom and dad, who use their own loss to bring light to the subject and make all of our children safer.  I thank God for the wonderful and loving teachers and director at Elena’s school who “get it”.  I thank God that He gave me such a wonderful partner to navigate these challenges with.  My husband is strong when I’m weak and he is able to help me avoid making emotional decisions against my better judgement.  Finally, I thank God for the strength to let her go and live that life He gave her.

Since I was up all night getting my tears and fears out anyway, I put together this video.  Get a tissue.  You have been warned…

Here are a few helpful resources if you’re sending your child to school this year with Anaphylactic Food Allergies…

Get Schooled In Anaphylaxis

FARE Food Allergy Action Plan

Top 8 Food Allergies (and how to eat around them)

Lunch Ideas (egg, dairy, peanut, tree nut free)

We rocked out the night before school started to Kyle Dine‘s CD’s.  They’re really fantastic for getting the kids thinking and asking questions.  I also like sharing these songs with our non-allergic friends.

Please post in the comments if you have resources that helped you with the task of sending your allergic children off to school.  Most of the best resources I have found in this journey have come from other mothers.

DIY Family Beach Portraits…..FAIL!!!

I know this is not a food related issue, but nonetheless, it’s a story that must be told.  I will soon post all about our food trials and tribulations from our beach week, which sounds bleak, but it was actually quite successful.  For now, I have a very different issue to address.

I see you Facebook friends who frolic out onto the beach and casually shoot beautiful family photos and capture images of your children splashing in the surf in their beautiful portrait attire.  I am faced with these images from mid-May through August and I know I should be able to do this too.

Our family of five came in a little early on our last evening at the beach to have dinner and get ready to go out for photos.  I see no reason to do things like this before the last possible evening.  After all, what could go wrong?  Have you seen these portraits?  You stand in the surf or sit behind a dune and snap a photo.  Easy peasy.

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Unfortunately, Olivia was pretty tuckered out after a week of sun and waves, so she climbed into her baby brother’s exersaucer while we were making dinner and fell asleep.  Yeah, she’s a weird kid.  Anyhoooooo…no pro-blem-o.  We’ll just get everyone else ready and take her dress out with us.  That way we can carry her out and she will wake up nice and refreshed from her nap, ready to smile for the camera.  Ok, now it’s starting to sound a little dicey, even with all of the positivity I spent all day mustering.

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Look at these suckers!  They paid professional photographers to come out here and do what anyone with a dSLR camera should be able to do on their own.  Boy are they going to be kicking themselves later after they see us getting the same shots free of charge.

Our first major sign of trouble was that Olivia did not wake up refreshed.  Not even close.  She was a grumpy two year old with as much determination not to be in the pictures as I had to take them.  We decided to give it a try without changing her into her white dress.  We ended up with these gems…

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Well, that’s just fine.  We’ll just take some with the other kiddos.  Here we go.

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Elena is holding Wyatt.  She’s such a big girl.  Let’s see if she can manage both babies.

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WooHoo!!!  You’re doing it Elena.  Hold them still.  Don’t let go!!!

Sorry Buddy.

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Ok, with all of these distractions, maybe Olivia will forget about her sour mood and smile for a few quick photos…

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I thought for sure that would work.  I’m not giving up yet though.  Wait…where’s Elena?

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Of course.  She found a “stage”.  Not exactly what I had in mind.  No matter what Justin says, this next sequence is good stuff.  He sure does love his boys!

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Ok, where were we?  So maybe the sitting in the dunes photos didn’t work out, but we still have splashing in the surf.  Those will definitely work.  Olivia will forget all about her mood as soon as she gets to the water.  I’m sure of it.

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Ok, girls.  Go splash around a little.  Have fun!!!  Be free!!!

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Whoa, come back!!!  Not that free.  I don’t have the big lens.  Stay closer!  Wait, where’s Wyatt?

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Oh well.  Girls, just splash at the edge of the water.

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Ooooh, twirling!  Good idea.  That has potential!!!

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Who knows where this is going?

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Time to try the family shot at the water’s edge.  For some reason we decided to hunch down into where we imagined the frame of the photo would be.  Also, an unexplainable gust of wind seems to have puffed into Justin’s shirt.  Not quite the money shot we were hoping for.

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I guess we’ll just let the girls stomp and splash in the shallow water.  I’m sure we’ll get some cute shots.

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Pretty cute…Elena, your turn…

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Ummmmm………too far.

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…and we’re done.

Since this was supposed to be so easy, we didn’t think we would need any back up provisions, such as a change of clothes.  The only thing we had for Elena to wear back was my hooter hider, which ironically looked like this on her…

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Well, that was fun.

I’m sure there are a multitude of lessons to be learned from this experience, but I can’t really think of what they are.  All I can say is, if I don’t “like” your perfect family beach photos on Facebook for a while, know that it’s not because of you.  It’s just too soon.  Seeing them is like rubbing salt water in the wound.

Anyone Know a Good Mother’s Intuition Repair Man?

You would think that I would know by now what an allergic reaction in an infant looks like.  You would think after all we have seen and experienced with Elena, that I would be an authority on the subject.  In fact, I have received countless emails and phone calls from friends asking, “Is this a food reaction?” as they describe symptoms their children are exhibiting or send photos of rashes.  We explained away so many symptoms when Elena was an infant.  If only we had known then what we know now, right?

The problem is, these symptoms are never black and white.  We were sure that Olivia had food allergies when she was a baby.  Ironically, she was the only one I was sure about, and as it turns out, she has none.  (See details of Olivia’s story here)  Because I was so wrong with her, I was hesitant to make the same assertion about Wyatt.  I didn’t want my hypersensitivity to lead to another incorrect assessment.

Sure, he was fussy.  I just assumed that was colic.  He was rashy, but so was Olivia.  He scratched at his head when he was upset and he spit up a lot.  I had logical explanations for all of it that did not include food allergies.  There is no reason to jump to conclusions.  Just because we have one child with food allergies, does not mean we are destined to have more.

It wasn’t until Wyatt’s 4 month well visit that it all hit me like a ton of bricks.  I had my little list of “concerns” all ready for the occasion, like any other well visit.  The nurse showed a little bit of concern after charting Wyatt’s weight because he had dropped from the 50%ile to the 20%ile.  When the Dr. came in and asked if I had any concerns, I started nonchalantly listing them, expecting the usual, “that’s perfectly normal” reassurance.  This time he just listened without saying much.  I felt myself connecting the dots as I was speaking and listing the other pieces of the puzzle that I had not included on my list, but now seemed so obvious.

He cries a lot, especially in the evenings.

He seems to eat frequently and spits up a lot.

He has rashes on his torso and eczema that never goes away.

He still has terrible cradle cap.

He is only soothed by bouncing on the yoga ball (exactly like Elena as a baby)

He itches.

I know he itches because he squirms all the time and scratches up his head and face when he’s in the car.  Otherwise, I never put him down because I’m afraid he will cry and scratch.  Until this moment, I convinced myself the scratching was just because he hates the car seat, but I know better.  He itches.  Of course he itches.

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Wyatt’s scratching made him look like he had been in a fight with a bobcat every time he rode in the car.

Our pediatrician then stated that he had never done an allergy test on a 4 month old.  The earliest he had done the test was 6 months.  I just held my breathe.  Elena’s allergy test at 9 months was horrific and I’m still not over it.  (Elena’s story here)

He asked if I thought I could cut out all soy and dairy as an experiment.  I assured him that would be no problem.  That is one thing I know how to do all too well.  The next morning, I began my and Wyatt’s dairy/soy free lifestyle and oh my.  What a difference.  Within a few days, he was less fussy and spitting up less. By the end of the first two weeks, I swear he was a different baby and had grown more than he had in the previous month.

Have you ever been so sick, but not realized it until you felt better?  This happened to me with my thyroid.  I found out in 2007 that I had Hashimoto’s and my thyroid was in bad shape.  I started taking Synthroid and it wasn’t until I started feeling better that I realized how horrible I had been feeling before.  The same thing happened here.  After Wyatt became himself, I realized he had been sick.  Even looking back at photos that at the time looked adorable to me, all I see is a sad, sick little baby.  He was always exhausted and itchy and miserable.  He would smile, but only if the time was just right.  Although I didn’t know it at the time, other family members had concerns about his lack of activity and alertness.  Now I question whether that viral rash he had a few months ago was actually a virus.  Perhaps it was a reaction to something I had eaten.

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After the dairy/soy detox, he is so happy and lively and active.  The rashes on his torso and his cradle cap disappeared.  He still has some eczema at the backs of his elbows and knees, but it has improved.  He is much happier to be put down and play and he naps.  He also spits up far less than he used to.

These photos are from “before” I eliminated dairy and soy.  Notice how tired and weak he looks.  Anyone who holds him is usually covered in spit up and even when he did smile, he always had some kind of rash or redness on his face:

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These are Wyatt’s “after” pictures.  He is so much more alert and happy now.  He is active and loves playing with his sisters and with toys.  Also, the matted hair from his cradle cap is now smooth and silky.  He is truly a new baby:

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This isn’t to say that Wyatt’s food allergy story is finished by any stretch.  We still don’t know if he was reacting to the dairy, soy, or both.  He could also have reactions to other foods.  He does still have some rashes and spitting up.  Also, since I rarely eat peanuts, tree nuts, or eggs due to Elena’s allergies, we don’t know if he would react to those.

Even though we don’t have all of the answers yet, I’m so glad my eyes have been opened.  I’m sure we will do the testing soon after he turns 6 months old, so hopefully we can start figuring out what his food allergy profile will look like and hopefully it won’t be too different from Elena’s.

Most of all, I am ready for this sweet baby boy to feel good and be healthy.  I’m heartbroken that it took me this long to put the pieces together.  I always see stories about these superhero moms who sense that something is wrong with their child even when everyone else is telling them it’s all in their head.  They turn out to be right and good old Mother’s Intuition is credited another success.  Where was my Mother’s Intuition?  It shouldn’t have taken that much.  For heaven’s sake, this is my second time around with this scenario.  Why didn’t I know until he was 4 months old?  Every time I had an inkling that it could be food allergies, I followed it with, “but you know, I thought Olivia had food allergies too and look at how wrong I was”.  Oy Vey!!!

All I can say is, Wyatt, I love you and I got this.  Starting now.

Preschoolers: They put the AW in FAAW

I had the honor of speaking to the delightful children at Elena’s preschool yesterday for food allergy awareness week.  The kids were excited and energetic and they participated in every aspect of the presentation.  What a blessing to be able to interact with this age group.  By this I mean, thank goodness they were not middle schoolers.

These kids were so smart and fun.  One of them even got my goat when I asked who knew what hives are.  He answered confidently, “They are where bees live.”  Talk about smart.  I had to concede that he was indeed correct, but there is at least one more meaning to the word.  I also loved it when one kiddo told me he was allergic to all yucky food.  Well played, little one.

We began by talking about what allergies are and what kinds of things people can be allergic to.  The kids came up with quite a list, including cats, dogs, pollen, bees, grass, poison ivy, smoke, and of course, germs.  We talked about what can happen if someone eats a food they are allergic to, which of course spurred a discussion about not eating dogs and cats if you are allergic.  Seriously, if you haven’t ever held audience with a group of preschoolers, you are missing out on something special.

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Two of our favorite food allergy books…and my toes. Oops.

We read ‘Cody The Allergic Cow’, which opened up to conversation about medical alert bracelets and Epipens, both of which Cody has.  The book is absolutely perfect for this age group and there are others in the series, which I will be getting my hands on soon.

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We use the Ergo pouch for carrying Epipens and Benedryl. This is Elena’s customizable AllerMates Bracelet.

One thing I found interesting was the kids response to the idea of talking about allergies with their allergic friends.  When I held up the bracelet, they were very interested.  I asked what they could do if they saw a bracelet like this on a friend.  Should they maybe ask their friend about it?  Both groups I spoke to said, “NOOOOOOO”.  I’m not sure if they thought it would be rude or unkind, but the initial response was that they should not talk about it.  I let them know it was OK to talk about it and that they should always ask questions if they are wondering about a food allergy.  I asked the children who had announced they have allergies if they would mind their friends asking questions and, of course, they said they would not mind.  What better way to learn how to help out your friends than to ask them what is safe and unsafe for them?  I hope that giving them  “permission” to talk about it will open up the doors for better understanding.  Although, I must say, these kids were pretty well informed already.

Next we played a little game of, find the hidden allergen.  The allergens I chose were not so well hidden, but keep in mind the age group.  I held up groups of three foods and the kids identified each food.  The sweet potato and rice cakes gave them the most trouble.  Then I asked them, which of these foods is hiding milk/nuts/wheat/etc.  They did really well with this and it was fun to see them so engaged.

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Find the hidden milk.

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Find the hidden wheat.

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Find the hidden tree nuts. (yeah, ok. Not so hidden. I told you it was easy.)

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Find the hidden peanuts. (I called this peanut butter and covered up the label because I knew they would be familiar. With an older group, I would have just used it to find the hidden soy.)

Since all of the allergies in the school are within the top 8, I was able to do a little taste test.  We talked about safe alternatives to common foods.  Just because your friend can’t eat your “bread”, does not mean they can’t eat any “bread”.  I showed them a bag of Enjoy Life chocolate chips and told them they are made with food allergies in mind to be safe for people with certain allergies.  Then they each tasted a few and I asked them if they tasted the same as the ones they are used to eating or different.  Most said the same and a few said different, but they all wanted more.

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Half a bag for the kids to share and half a bag for the presenter. Sounds fair to me.

I left them with a mission for the day.  Each of their teachers got a stack of helping hands.  I challenged each student to earn a helping hand by doing something to help keep their classroom safe for friends with food allergies.  Together, we came up with this list of things they could do…

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-Wash hands after eating.

-Keep food in food areas.

-Clean up food areas after eating.

-Never share food.

-Do not touch other people’s food.

and my favorite…

-Don’t feed your friend something they’re allergic to.

Kudos kiddos!

I hope they all earned their helping hands.  I enjoyed the talks so much and the enthusiasm of these wonderful students is infectious.  A great big thank you to CIC Preschool for letting me share this important information with them and for keeping our children safe every single day.

School Lunch: Keeping it simple.

School lunches are a challenge for many parents.  Especially those who find themselves attending a school that enforces mandatory exclusions to protect other children from allergens.  If you are not used to avoiding certain foods, it’s even more difficult to pack a lunch without them.

One of the most common questions I get when I tell people what all Elena is allergic to is, “What do you feed her?”  In fact, that’s the question I had in my own head when I first got her diagnosis.  We started with the basics and had a lot of fun with it.  We do a lot of “cutting board” dinners in the summer.  I just go to the cutting board and prep all kinds of produce and sometimes bread.  It’s simple, quick, healthy, and I don’t have to heat up the oven or stove at all.  We do this a lot using muffin tins, ice cube trays, or other sectioned containers.  The girls love it.

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One of our muffin tin lunches last summer. I can’t believe how little the girls looked.

The lunches I pack for school are very similar to this.  I love doing it this way because I can just throw in whatever we have in the fridge.  She likes the variety and she rarely has the exact same lunch twice.  I always give her a juice box and usually a fruit puree pouch, which we call “smoothies”, or “moosies” if you’re Olivia.  Here are some of Elena’s actual lunches she has taken to school.   You won’t believe how simple it really is to pack an allergy friendly meal.

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This is a Hummus dipper lunch. Get a single serving pouch of safe hummus, or spoon some into a small container. Then all you have to do is give some crackers, veggies, or other dippers. Of course, our usual “smoothie” and juice box are here as well.

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Bento style lunch. Fruits, veggies, craisins, and pasta in this one. Anything goes.

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Pasta salad with veggies and mixed fruit. Yes, the pasta is heart shaped. I usually just use bowties or penne.

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Here we have edamame, berries, crackers, tomatoes, and turkey jerky bites. Ok, so it’s not ALL healthy. The tomatoes are in a silicone cupcake baking cup. I use them as dividers a lot.

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Obviously, this one was from Valentine’s Day. Cucumbers, red peppers, and a sandwich. I don’t remember what kind of sandwich this was, but probably either turkey or sunbutter and jelly.

I also always try to throw in a special napkin.  I get character napkins from the party section at Target or use the extra party napkins from various celebrations.  She really likes having a colorful napkin, since we don’t typically use those at home.  Elena also has a very special way of reminding me to send a fork.  I owe a big apology to her teachers for those days I forget.  I know it doesn’t slow her down one bit…

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Mother’s Day is Not for Sissies

Mothers Day is so much better when you’re the mother.  I know that sounds shallow and selfish, but it’s not just for the obvious reasons.  As a mother, you can finally understand what all your own mother went through.  More accurately, what you put her through.  You can finally appreciate what it was like for her to have to cook your dinner every single night and to read all of those books to you over and over again and to pretend like your singing was the most wonderful sound she had ever heard.  Celebrating my own mother took on a whole new meaning after I became a mother myself.  I have an appreciation for her that I could not have had before I lived it.  I hope I can do this most important job half as well as she was able to.

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Having said that, Mother’s Day is also bittersweet.  My first Mother’s Day as a mother was wonderful and exciting and I really felt special.  It was nice knowing the day could be all about me and I was allowed to be a little selfish.  My second Mother’s Day, however, was not so wonderful.  We made the weekend all about me and Elena ended up having her first and worst allergic reaction to this day.  (Get the full story here… https://allergenmenumom.com/2011/09/19/happy-mothers-day-this-is-your-wake-up-call/)

I’m not exactly sure what happened that day.  We let our guard down a little, trusted the server without digging deeper, tried to pretend like we were a normal family who could just go and eat out anywhere, and we had very little experience to rely on to get us through.  We failed to use appropriate restaurant precautions, which we really didn’t even understand at that point.  We failed to recognize the signs of anaphylaxis.  We hesitated to use the Epipen when we should have since there was an ER only 3 minutes away, which still nauseates me every time I think about what could have happened.  We basically did everything wrong.

On my second Mother’s Day, Elena could have been taken from me by a simple dinner in a cafe.  I was still fairly new to motherhood and very new to food allergies.  I know how lucky we were to walk away with only one night in the ER and a few days on a steroid.

Of course, I still want to be selfish on Mother’s Day.  I still want to be pampered and get a break from the cooking and cleaning.  I want my kids to be good all day just because they want to.  Better yet, I want them to be having loads of fun somewhere with their Daddy where I am not.  I want to have a day off from the stress and chaos of being a stay at home mom.  I want a day that resembles what Dad’s get on Father’s Day, or as I like to call it…”every day of the week”.  (Sorry, Justin.  I couldn’t resist.)

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Good luck, Daddio!!!

Will I get it?  Probably not.  That’s ok, though, because I know I am so incredibly lucky to be celebrating Mother’s Day with my three beautiful babies.  They are the absolute loves of my life and they are worth every ounce of chaos that we live in.  I will take the jumping and screaming and having lunch out with kids who melt down on Mother’s Day just like any other day.  I will smile and pretend to enjoy the girls screaming made up “Happy Mother’s Day” songs from the back of car, as if the random screeches are not starting to give me a headache and make my face twitch.  I’ll try, against all reason, to get a good photo of myself with the kids to commemorate the holiday.  Someday I will be wishing they were all right here with me for every second of this day, rather than wanting to spend a day by myself, enjoying the peace and quiet.  It won’t be today.  Probably not next year either.  Someday though.

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Chaos? What chaos? This is completely normal.

Food Allergy Awareness Week Challenge

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“FOOD ALLERGY AWARENESS WEEK 2013…WOOT WOOT!!!!!”  Yeah, it doesn’t quite have the same ring as “Spring Break 2013…WOOT WOOT”, but humor me.  Food allergy awareness week is May 12th -18th.  Well, obviously, every week in our house is FAAW, but for one week it hits your house too.  Since people who have food allergies are already pretty aware, my goal is to help others get a glimpse into our world.  This will be quite a challenge, and most people will not have any interest in participating, but I can’t wait to hear from those who do.

I saw an idea in a post on my support group’s message board (thank you, PAK Charlotte) for a subtract campaign.  The idea is that people without food allergies subtract a common allergen from their diet to help gain an understanding of what it’s like.  Sounds crazy, right?  Why would anyone want to do that?  I’ll tell you why.

The hardest thing for most of us to understand is that food allergies are about more than just food.  By eliminating foods, we also are limiting other experiences.  It’s something that is hard to grasp until you try living it.

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The idea of this is not deprivation.  If your kids are in a situation where they really want a special treat that they would normally get, go ahead and let them have it.  Just make a mental note of what that situation might have been like if you had to tell them no because the ingredient list was not available to you.  If you can’t think of anything to fix for breakfast that does not have the allergen you chose, go ahead and go with what you would normally eat, but take a moment to consider what it would be like to face that obstacle every day.  Remember, the idea is to increase awareness and empathy, not to suffer deprivation.  It should be an educational challenge, not a slow form of kiddy torture.

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This is not the goal at all.

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Owl be so sad if you let this happen.

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For crying out loud, give this poor little man the goldfish cracker.

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I think we’re missing the point here.

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“No cheese and sour cream with dinner? Am I in trouble?”

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Somebunny is really sad you didn’t give her cow’s milk today.

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This is taking it way too far.

The scale of your “subtraction” is completely flexible.  You might decide to eliminate one or more of the top 8 allergens (egg, dairy, peanut, tree nut, wheat, soy, fish, shellfish) for a week, a day, or for one dinner.  Obviously, if your kids don’t really eat shellfish, it won’t increase anyone’s awareness much to choose that one.  Choose something you think you all will notice, then talk about it.  Let them know you want them to think about what it feels like to be careful about the food they eat and the food around them.  Again, don’t make them do anything they’re not ready for.  If they need the ranch dressing in order to eat their vegetables, give it to them, but let them know it is not safe for people with egg, dairy, and possibly soy allergies.  Pay attention to labels and think about what it would be like to have to read every single one every time you go grocery shopping.

Don’t think I’m getting off easy.  I’m going to do it too.  Even though we have eliminated 4 of the top 8 food allergens, there are many families with far more restrictive diets than ours.  We will be eliminating one more.  I’m going to go with one that seems difficult, as I’m asking others to do.  Goodbye wheat!!!!  I will let you know how it goes.

I’m not worried though, I’ll just stick to my regulars…hummus and crackers.  Wait, no crackers.  I guess I’ll just do a simple pasta salad.  Errrrrr, no that doesn’t work.  Do you expect me to survive on bread and water alone?  Right, no bread.  Oh well, I guess I’ll just have a beer…DOH!

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All kidding aside, the most important thing is to talk about the experience.  Talk about it with your family and with anyone you know who lives with food allergies.  Ask questions about what they would do in certain situations you faced during your challenge.  Let them know what you found difficult and what you found interesting.  You might even notice some positives, like knowing every ingredient in everything you feed your family.  We love hearing those too.  Visit Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) for resources and information to get the conversation started.

Use the comment section below to share your experience.  Even if it’s just one meal or if you thought about food allergies in a situation you normally would not think twice about.  I would love to hear your plan and your comments as you go.

* A special thank you to our friends for letting me use sad face images of your sweet babes.  They are all precious in any mood.

Pops’s Famous Crock Pot Roast Beef

If you know my Dad, who now goes by Pops, you’re wondering where I’m going with this.  He is not a man who has spent a whole lot of time in the kitchen doing anything other than reaching over the chef’s shoulder to steal a few nibbles.  You know the type.

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Pops usually keeps himself pretty busy while others are cooking dinner.

Still, this recipe came from Pops.  He may not spend much time in the kitchen, but the man does grill and his steaks are world famous.  Wait.  Are there actual requirements for declaring something world famous?  No?  OK then, I stand by it.

I have wonderful memories of him prepping the steaks to go on the grill.  It’s always quite a production.  You know how Dads can make a one man job into a two man job because they need an audience?  Well, I was often recruited as the fork holder or plate stabilizer, so I got a front row seat.  First, he takes out an armload of spices and seasonings from the cabinets.  Then he lines up the steaks, which he has had cut and trimmed to his liking.  He starts by spreading butter on each steak, then the seasonings start flying, then a little shake of Worcestershire (so glad I’m writing it and not saying it).  After that, he flips them over and does the same on the other side.  He takes a beer out to the grill with him and pours it over the steaks a little at a time as they cook.  Except for the sips he drinks, which is an integral part of the process.  He asks everyone “how do you like your steak?”, then cooks them all to a perfect medium rare, no matter what you say.

We celebrated everything with steaks on the grill growing up.  It was even our Christmas dinner tradition.  This is saying a lot since I grew up in the mountains where it was not unusual to have white Christmases.  Dad would just sweep off the snow drifts, pull on his boots, and tromp out to fire up the grill in the middle of the snow.

I have tried a lot of roast beef recipes, but the best beef to me will always be my Dad’s steaks.  I decided to just use his “process” on a roast and I loved the way it turned out.  It’s not the same as my Dad’s steaks, but it’s the next best thing.

I also must say, the beef makes all the difference.  There is no substitute for high quality, grass fed, antibiotic free beef.  I would call it the secret ingredient, but this is too good to keep secret.  We get ours from Chestnut Grove Farms in Boone, NC.  Check out their website if you live in NC or find a local farm near you.  You won’t ever go back.

Ingredients:

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3 lb. boneless chuck roast (mine was frozen)

1 large onion, sliced

2-3 tbsp dairy free margarine, I use Earth Balance

1 tsp. salt

½ tsp. crushed red pepper

½ tsp. minced Onion

4-5 cloves fresh garlic (minced)

⅛ cup Worcesterchire

1 bottle of beer, minus one sip

Directions:

Spray crock pot with cooking spray and place half of the sliced onion in the bottom.  Place the roast on top of the onion.  Slice the dairy free margarine into thin slices and place around the top of your roast.

With as much pomp and circumstance as you can muster, add the Worcestershire and spices to the roast.  If you have anyone else in the house, ask them to come and hold the lid while you measure out each seasoning.  This is important for the authenticity of the process.  Place the remaining sliced onions on top of the roast.

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Next, open the beer and take one sip.  Then you might need one more to be sure it’s just right.  Finally, pour the beer into the crock pot.  Pour gently and try not to wash away the seasonings.

Cook in your crock pot on low for 6-8 hours.  If your roast is not frozen, reduce cooking time to 4-6 hours.

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Everything on this plate is egg, dairy, peanut, tree nut free. We used Earth Balance organic garlic and herbs spread on the bread. It is so delicious and easy.

Finally, this post wouldn’t be complete without a few shots of Pops with some of his grandchildren.  They adore him as much as I do and he devotes a great deal of time to making wonderful memories with them.

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Pops and Little Buddy, July 4th 2010

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Pops and Squeaky, July 4th 2012

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Pops, Squeaky, and Little Buddy, Summer 2012

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Pops and Little Buddy on the beach in Hawaii, February 2010

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Pops and Little Buddy listening to the shell they found on the beach, Topsail Island, October 2011

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Pops and Sparky, April 2013