Bravely Seeking Safety

I love this post from Momastery, “This is What Brave Means”, so much and, of course, it feels so familiar.  Take a minute to read it if you haven’t seen it yet.  It’s time to redefine “bravery” for your children and for ourselves and to realize that physical danger is not the defining characteristic of a brave action.

For people with food allergies, who get pressured all the time to take risks, bravery is not eating something you’re unsure of or taking risks with your precautions.  Bravery is standing up for yourself, asking for precautions, and risking being different because you aren’t eating the food at a party or other social event.

Children are often expected to take management of their allergies into their own hands, which sometimes means defying adults who don’t fully understand their allergens. THAT is brave.  Bravery is the second grader I heard about recently who gave herself an Epipen after her teachers told her she had to wait for the ambulance to arrive, because she knew she needed it.  Can you even imagine?  A child was told by grown ups that she could not have the medicine she knew could save her life until an ambulance arrived, which could easily be too late.  A second grader, grabbed her own Epipen and injected herself in the leg, defying the adults around her , and possibly saving her own life.


My own 5 year old daughter also exemplifies bravery to me, although to others, she might seem fearful and overly cautious.  Bravery is when she decided on her own to skip Sunday school because she found out they were passing out donuts and goldfish.  Bravery is when she walked calmly to sit in a chair so I could inject her with an Epipen because she realized she had eaten something she shouldn’t have.  Bravery is standing up for herself and suggesting to her brand new kindergarten teacher that she should wear gloves and collect chicken eggs with her class, despite her allergy.  Bravery is marching into almost every party she has ever attended with her own cupcake or meal and her bag of epinephrine auto injectors, because she knows that when it’s time to eat she will be surrounded by allergens and will need to act differently from everyone else to keep herself safe.  Bravery is when we eat out and she takes it upon herself to tell her server all about her allergies and what all she is allergic to.  Bravery is when she has to go to the Dr’s office for a food challenge and spend 4 hours taking bites of food she knows could make her sick, could require her to need Epinephrine, and that she has spent her entire life trying to avoid at all costs.

My child may be cautious, but she and all of the others like her are the most BRAVE little beings I know.


Elena and her friend, Blake, share allergies to the same four foods.

Recipe: Raspberry Filled Chocolate Candy (free from egg, dairy, peanuts, tree nuts, and gluten)

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Well, I set out to replicate a peppermint patty, using this wonderful looking recipe from Primal Palate as my base and ended up going in a different direction with it.  I still intend to do the peppermint patty eventually, but for now, I’m really glad we went with these.   They are the perfect decadent treat.

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Ingredients for chocolate:

1 bag Enjoy Life Dark Chocolate Morsels

1 tbsp Coconut Oil

1/4 tsp. raspberry flavoring, like this one from Frontier Natural Products Co-op

Ingredients for filling:

1/2 cup coconut oil

1/4 cup shredded unsweetened coconut

1 tbsp. honey (sub maple syrup for vegan option)

1/4 tsp. raspberry flavoring

1/4 tsp. clear vanilla extract

5 mashed fresh red raspberries  (frozen will work, but thaw completely first)

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Use a silicone candy mold for shaped chocolates or a mini muffin pan with liners for chocolate cups, similar to the soy nut butter chocolates found here.  I tried both ways and they were equally easy and delicious.

Melt together chocolate morsels, 1 tbsp coconut oil, and 1/4 tsp. raspberry flavoring in a small pot over low heat or a double boiler.  Spoon small amount of melted chocolate into the bottom of each liner or candy mold.  Place in freezer to harden for about 10 minutes.

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Combine all filling ingredients in a medium bowl and combine until all ingredients are completely incorporated.  Remove hardened candy layer from freezer and add a small amount of filling to each mold/cup.  Do not flatten, but press down if the filling is above the level of the mold.  Fill the rest of the cup with melted chocolate to cover the raspberry filling.  If your chocolate has begun to thicken, just reheat and stir until smooth before filling.  Place your candies back in the freezer for about 15 more minutes until hardened.  Remove from molds and enjoy!

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From silicone heart shaped mold

Baba Gha-Hummus: A Recipe and So Much More


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.


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.


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


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.


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!


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.


I grind the sesame seeds to a powder first.


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.


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 🙂


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

After All These Years, Beer Still Makes Me Cry

So, this….

What a beautiful illustration of “dedication, loyalty, friendship”.  Not everyone gets to experience this degree of loving support from their friends and family.  It’s not because they’re not loved enough, but because the circumstances aren’t right.

Have you ever had an entire gathering of friends or family give up a basic daily right and ritual so you could be included?  We have.  This show of character is one that we have experienced over and over again.  Every time we go to a birthday party where the parents and children have opted for an entirely allergy free party just so Elena can participate fully, we feel it.  Every time we go to a playdate where people have gone out of their way to check every label, we feel it.  When we go to church and the coffee cart is stocked with Elena safe treats (and even rice milk), we feel it.  When we attend our family Thanksgiving and everything has been adapted to a safe version, we feel it.  Of course, we also feel it when this happens.

People often ask what are the hardest things about dealing with food allergies, but nobody ever asks what are the best parts.  This is the best part.  We get to feel this kind of love from our friends and family all the time.  It’s truly an amazing gift.

“Dedication…Loyalty…Friendship…The choices we make, reveal the true nature of our character.”

-The Good people at Guinness

Food Allergies: Every Party Has a Pooper, That’s Why We Invited You

I have always loved parties.  I didn’t even realize there are people out there who don’t enjoy parties until I met my husband.  We are proof positive that opposites attract.  I would party for pretty much any reason at all.  Don’t believe me?  I once threw a surprise birthday party for my Mom’s artificial hip.  The signs proclaimed ‘Hip’py Birthday and I posted before/after photos everywhere like the ones below!!!!  Truth!





Parties have changed dramatically for me since Elena’s diagnosis.  I no longer get excited about going to parties.  Parties are a great source of anxiety.  I want my kids to have a love and excitement for parties that I used to have and I want to shield them from the anxiety.  I do get excited for them and for the possibility of the fun they will have, but the fear overrides the excitement for me.

We always bring Elena’s food to parties and I try to get it as close to what the others will be having as possible.  So far, we have gotten away with packing Olivia’s food as well so it will be like Elena’s.  I think this is good for Elena because she has a buddy, but eventually Olivia might decide she doesn’t want to follow Elena’s restrictions at parties.  We will just have to cross that bridge when we come to it.

I’m usually worried that I have missed something when we are heading to a party.  Even though I always ask about the food, changes happen and the host cannot always be expected to contact me about last minute adjustments.  I can bring Elena a safe cupcake or safe ice cream, but only if I know the cupcakes and ice cream will be served.  It’s heartbreaking to watch her sit and look around at the others enjoying treats while she has nothing.

Even more scary than her feeling excluded is the possibility of a reaction.  Kids, and sometimes parents, just don’t understand how easily it can happen.  If another child touches her plate or cup with icing on their hands, she could have a very serious reaction.  I try to monitor her every move while she is eating without her really knowing I’m doing it.  I don’t want her to be afraid to go to parties or to eat her food because of what is around her, but I want her to be safe.

Elena the day after a reaction to what we suspect was cross contamination contact with an allergen.

Elena the day after a reaction to what we suspect was cross contamination contact with an allergen.

We went to a party recently and the birthday girl’s mother had communicated very well with me about the food that would be served.  Elena had comparable food for the meal and a cupcake for dessert.  I was not prepared for ice cream to come out, but it did.  I just watched Elena quietly as a grown up offered her ice cream.  She said no thank you and that was that.  It couldn’t have gone better.  She was sitting at the table eating her safe cupcake, when the ice cream started being passed around.  A gentleman literally carried the ice cream over, set his bowl beside Elena, then started scooping the ice cream into his bowl.  I scooted her chair towards me as discretely as I could, but a drop of ice cream fell right on her hand.  I quickly wiped it off and he gave us both a disgusted look, patted her on the arm and said, “Oh, don’t worry, it’s not going to hurt you”.  I just scooped her up and grabbed her cupcake, making our way into the next room.  There was nowhere for us to go.  Allergens were everywhere and I just couldn’t see past them.  I found my husband, who was chatting with another dad and shoved Elena and her cupcake at him.  He could tell I was about to lose it and I had to get out quick.  I made it out the front door and around the side of the house where I completely broke down into sobs.  I couldn’t believe a simple birthday party could go so wrong so fast and I was so disappointed in myself.  How could I lose control like that and what if Justin hadn’t been there to take Elena before she saw me crumble.  I just kept thinking that it shouldn’t be this hard to take my daughter to a birthday party.  She shouldn’t have to be faced with people splashing around her allergens and telling her they can’t hurt her.  What if that had landed on her cupcake instead of her hand and what if it had been in a moment when I wasn’t watching her like a hawk?  No matter what I do, I cannot guarantee her safety and parties are very high risk for her.

Luckily, Elena never knew what had happened.  She just thought we were wandering around for a few minutes and then she went with Daddy and started playing with friends.  Since he wasn’t sure what had happened, Justin didn’t give her the rest of her cupcake, but she didn’t seem to mind.  As far as she was concerned, the party went very well and she had a blast.

People tell me I go overboard with birthday parties for my own kids.  We celebrate in a big way, even when we keep it small.  It’s never outlandish or overly expensive, but I do a lot of work to make sure the activities, food, and cakes are special and safe.  Part of the reason I do this is because it’s the only time I know Elena can just have fun and let loose at a party.  She can enjoy herself completely and not even think about what she is eating or what others around her are eating.  I can let her run off and play with her friends without having to wonder if any of them brought a handful of their food with them.  Even if they did, I know it’s all “Elena safe”.  She can sit at the table and eat a piece of the big cake, just like everyone else.  I do it because I want her to have as many opportunities as she can to have anxiety free fun at a party with friends.  She can be part of the celebration, rather than having to lurk on the fringes with her food substitutions.  I want her to enjoy herself in the same way your nonallergic child does every time he attends a birthday party, school celebration, family gathering, or church potluck.  If that means I have to throw the party, well then there are at least three opportunities a year for me to make it happen (four if you count her Grammie’s hip).

This past weekend we celebrated Olivia turning two.  We had snacks and cake and bubbles galore.  To everyone else, it was just a party, but to us, it was a “safe” party.  The day was all about Olivia, but for me, it’s always a little bit about Elena too.  Throwing safe parties makes me remember why I used to love celebrating anything and everything with a blow out.


Bubble party themed cakes. Egg, dairy, peanut, tree nut free, of course.


Hamming it up for the camera on her 2nd birthday.


Elena is sitting right at the cake table with the others. Usually she has to hang back when the cakes are being cut, but not today.

Playing and being silly without a care in the world, just as it should be.

Playing and being silly without a care in the world, just as it should be.


Obviously, Olivia enjoys “Elena safe” cake very much.

I would like to add that we are lucky enough to have several friends and family members who are dedicated to making the events they plan completely or mostly “Elena safe” or keeping me informed of every detail regarding unsafe treats so I can prepare accordingly.  Every food allergy family should be so fortunate.