Category Archives: Holidays and Allergies

Traveling to PEI with Food Allergies

This summer I had the opportunity to travel to the beautiful province of Prince Edward Island (P.E.I) for the first time on a semi-family vacation. As an adult going out east was a bit difficult since I was recently diagnosed with a fresh water fish allergy that has crept over into almost all fish. After a few hives and some close calls, I decided I’d stay away from all fish until I had more tests completed and information received. So what better place to visit this summer then “The Land of Anne” and fresh seafood? Prepping for the trip, I can break down my experiences into three significant food allergy related areas: Road trips, great food and a real confidence boost for me regarding my food allergies.

Part One: On the Road Again

My family and I all piled into an already packed car to drive the 11-ish hours through four provinces, three bags of chips, two bridges and only one cell phone charger. I’m lucky the people in the car knew about my allergies before the trip but that didn’t stop us from encountering a few speedbumps along the way. As a group, we had an on-going group chat where we talked and planned activities. Here I was able to communicate all of my allergies and more importantly, I was able to talk about the risk of cross-contamination, and about how I will not eat anything if I can’t read the ingredients first or know where/how it was made. This was cause for a bit of back and forth regarding homemade baked goods and assurance that it would be safe. For me, I am just not comfortable eating something that I am not familiar with, especially on the road in a new place. Mandatory road snacks aside, the biggest issue on the road came late at night. Our first and only stop before reaching our destination was in the province of New Brunswick late at night. Arriving at the hotel we all had cabin fever from spending nine plus hours in the car. I foolishly assumed we’d be able to find somewhere allergen-friendly to grab food before turning in for the night. Well boy was I wrong! Everything was closed and what was open was a pizza restaurant that couldn’t distinguish between sesame seeds and what they called “flavour seeds.” So I choose to play it safe and not to eat there. At 1:00 am, my only option was a vending machine and breakfast bars that I had packed for the next morning. I realized I packed like an unprepared fool. I had no plan B and I paid for it. The next day when places were open, I was able to find food before the last leg of our trip, but it taught me an important lesson of not taking things like pizza places for granted. I made a mental note to pack sandwiches and other things to eat for our way home.

Part Two: Great Food

It can be tough when travelling to a place where your allergen is extremely prominent, especially if it’s a new allergen. I was diagnosed with an allergy to fresh water fish only a few years ago, and I am still not as comfortable with it as I am with my other allergens. Since my nervousness tends to get the better of me, I did some serious emailing and calling to find some allergen-friendly places to eat in P.E.I before we left home. Luckily, we were planning to stay in a cottage where we had the ability to cook the majority of our meals. But, I was still extremely excited to try some local brew houses and great cuisine, so I was both extremely happy to find incredible safe places to eat and disappointed that some places were not safe. The biggest thing I learned was trusting my gut and calling ahead. I am so glad I took the time to call restaurants ahead of time and even received some suggestions from my sister-in-law on where to go. I didn’t let it get me down when places weren’t allergen-friendly, and I certainly didn’t let it stop me from having a drink there or discouraging others from eating or visiting places where my allergens were present. All in all, I had amazing food both made by me and my travel companions, and in lovely restaurants.

Part Three: Confidence Boost

The most important thing I can say about my trip or any trip for that matter, is to stay positive about your food allergies and not let your limitations get you down. If you’re uncomfortable eating somewhere, let people know or refrain from eating and wait until you get back to an allergen-friendly spot. Always carry extra snacks or something when you’re on-the-go and most importantly, speak up about your allergies and let others know if you feel uncomfortable. Even if it may feel awkward to bring up or impede on your travel companions’ food and traditions, if you feel unsafe, speak up and let others know. The weight you feel lifted off your shoulders when you share your food allergy concerns with others is amazing because they’ll likely want to help you and keep you safe. It can be a real boost in confidence when you speak openly and honestly about your allergies, and I’m always grateful when the people around me care and want to listen as well.

I love to travel, whether its seeing our beautiful country or abroad, it’s amazing to get out of my comfort zone and gain a new perspective. Just because I have food allergies, doesn’t mean that I can’t try new foods, see new places, and enjoy myself. Having a plan, packing safe food, and maintaining a good attitude is a sure-fire way to have the best allergy-friendly vacation. Don’t hold yourself back; trust your gut and go out there and explore the world!

– Arianne K.

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Allergy-Friendly Easter Recipes

Happy Spring! Next weekend is Easter and I’m preparing some allergy-friendly recipes to make. The holidays are an exciting time, filled with family and friend gatherings, so it is important to plan ahead when navigating get-togethers with food allergies. Here are three allergy-friendly Easter recipes to make your search easier.

Let me know in the comments below which recipe you decide to try, and how you will adapt them to be friendly to other allergens!

*Please triple check the recipes and ingredient labels for safety based on your allergens*

  1. Five-Ingredient Gluten-Free Pancakes

For a quick and healthy Easter brunch, try these five-ingredient gluten-free pancakes that are simple, yet delicious. They can be topped with maple syrup, icing sugar, fruit or anything else your taste buds desire! Of course, keep in mind your allergens and adjust the recipe accordingly.

  • Dairy-free, gluten-free, peanut-free, and tree nut-free

Full recipe at Farm Girl City Chef

  1. Top 8 Allergen Safe Carrot Cake

Need something sweet to serve your guests or need to bring an allergy-friendly dessert for Easter dinner? Look no further; this carrot cake is for you!

  • Gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, peanut-free, and tree nut-free.

Full recipe at Gimme Some Oven

  1. Vegan Creme Eggs

Looking to get into the Easter spirit with egg-shaped treats? This decadent recipe will let you get creative and make an allergen-friendly version of the popular chocolate creme eggs.

  • Gluten-free, tree nut-free, peanut-free, soy-free, egg-free, and dairy-free.

Full recipe at Friendly Pantry

Wishing you a sweet, allergy-safe, and family-filled Happy Easter!

– Michelle D.

Valentine’s Treats for All!

Because I love you all so much, I thought I’d share my top 5 favourite treats. These have been heavily adapted from various sources so that they are safe from: eggs, milk, mustard, peanuts, crustaceans and molluscs, fish, sesame seeds, soy, sulphites, tree Nuts, wheat and triticale. They should also be dairy-safe, gluten-safe, and, depending on the type of safe butter or milk you use, vegan. Please feel free to comment below if you need ideas on how to adapt them to make them safe for other allergies too!

  1. Fried Granola

No time? This takes less than 14 minutes.

Simply melt over medium heat:

3 Tbsp coconut oil or butter alternative

¼ cup (c) raw sugar or sulphite-free brown sugar

         Then add and brown:

2 cups of Gluten-Free (GF) oats or puffed rice

½ c optional toppings (chocolate chips, coconut, pumpkin seeds, dried fruit etc.)

Serve with your favourite allergen-friendly milk.

  1. Tapioca Gummies

You’ll need silicone candy moulds for these, and a bit of time, but they’re well worth the effort! Mix together:

1 ½ c tapioca starch

 ½ c coconut flour or rice flour

½ c white sugar

1 can of coconut milk

 ½ c of allergen friendly milk

This will make a goopy liquid. Split it into plastic bags, and add flavourings or colour as desired.

Pour it into the moulds in thin layers, about 1/8” at a time. Steam them for 2-3 minutes, then add the next layer and repeat. Different colours/flavours can be put into the gummies as you’d like. Once the mould is full, steam an extra 2 minutes, then chill for at least 30 minutes before removing from the mould. If they’re not coming out peacefully, freeze them 10 minutes before removing from moulds. These last about a week, and are even better if dipped in chocolate.

  1. Coconut Macaroons

Preheat oven to 350°F, and prepare a silicone cookie sheet (or a greased cookie sheet)

Blend 3 cups of shredded sulphite-safe coconut, until it is not quite butter.

Mix in 2 Tbsp of thick syrup (Like golden syrup, rice syrup, or agave syrup)

Using a round tablespoon, pack firmly and lay on a cookie sheet. Silicone or parchment paper helps.

Brush with ½ Tbsp melted coconut oil or butter alternative, and bake 8-10 minutes until golden brown.

Dip into melted chocolate if desired.

  1. Pizza

Haven’t found a pizzeria that caters to your allergens yet? Make some of your own!

Crust:    In an insulated mug, mix:

1 Tbsp dry yeast

1 Tbsp sugar or honey

 2/3 c lukewarm water

Once the yeast is frothing up to the top of the mug, combine it slowly with:

1 ½ c GF all-purpose flour (Or ½ c tapioca starch, ½ c GF oat flour, ½ c rice flour)

 ¼ tsp salt

Oil the inside of a large zippered plastic bag, and add your dough.

Leave it somewhere warm to rise until doubled in size- this will even work under your shirt if you don’t poke it.

Knead again until smooth.

Press onto pizza pan, add toppings, and bake at 350°F for 20-30 mins.

Topping Ideas:   Can’t eat tomato sauce?

Blend equal parts cooked sweet potato and beets with a dash of rice vinegar. Or try just using mashed butternut squash!

No cheese?

I had a hard time finding safe allergen-friendly cheese for me, so I used to make a roux. I would melt allergy safe butter, add GF flours (rice or oat works well, but if you add tapioca starch too it gets stretchy!), then add allergy safe milk.

  1. Tempered Chocolate

Once you have finally found allergen-friendly chocolate, the secret to making any chocolate-based Valentine’s treat for your sweetheart is to temper the chocolate first. Once that is done, you can pour it into a chocolate mould (silicone makes it easy to get it out again!) and make truffles, or simply draw chocolate on wax paper and freeze it. You’ll need a candy thermometer, and you can either use an electric fondue pot or a double boiler for the melting.

  1. Heat half of your allergen-friendly chocolate chips to between 110°F and 115°F
  2. Add extra chocolate until the chocolate cools down to 80°F-84°F
  3. Carefully increase the heat until the chocolate is 88°F-91°F. Keep it there, and use the chocolate for dipping, pouring, moulding, etc.
  4. Extra chocolate left over can be frozen, chipped off the pot, and then re-used later… If it lasts that long.

May your Valentine’s Day be safe and enjoyable!

-Janice H.

A Toast to a New Year: My 2017 Food Allergy Advances

As we celebrate 2018 and the new adventures the year holds. We must say goodbye to a year gone by and cherish the memories we’ve made. With champagne flutes poised for toasts and resolutions promised, let’s take a step back and think about our achievements as we promise ourselves progress in 2018. For me personally, I had two milestones worth mentioning with my food allergies in 2017 and one resolution I’ve promised myself for the new year.

New Food at New Spots: This year I took a huge step forward with my anxieties and tried new foods and restaurants to eat in a city, Ottawa. I stepped outside my comfort zones and ate at one new place per month. Exotic foods and places I’ve always wanted to try but never did; I really let myself explore new and safe foods confidently.

Travel: I took the opportunity to travel both near and far this past year. I didn’t want my food allergies to hinder my ability to explore new cultures and foods. So, I took the right steps to ensure everything would be safe, and with friends and family, I created memories and gained new perspectives.

My goal for 2018 is to become more confident and forward about my food allergies. No more being complacent or shying away if I am uncomfortable. It’s easy to get complacent with our food allergies, letting them lead us instead of the other way around.  Even as an adult it can be hard to find a confident voice. I know this confidence and wherewithal won’t come all at once, but I’ve got a whole year… no, a whole life to work towards it!

At the end of every year we embark on new paths and celebrate our victories, however big or small. It’s easy to dwell on the things we didn’t achieve or times we felt like we took a step backwards instead of forward; but a new year means new opportunities to grow, explore and learn. So, let’s all promise each other and more importantly, let’s promise ourselves something this year.  A resolution that we’re going to make a change – however big or small just as long as it is significant to us. To take strides with our allergies, learn new things and to most importantly not let them hold us back from anything we want to achieve in the new year!

– Arianne K.

The Challenges of my Italian Christmas Traditions

I’m part of a huge Italian family and Christmas is one of the biggest holidays of the year. I find that Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are centered around food, what time are we eating, what are we eating, where are we eating, when are we cooking it, who’s eating where, and who’s coming over? It’s such a fun and exciting time of the year to get together with family members and just enjoy each other’s company around a table over a hot meal. Another huge tradition in the Italian culture is to refrain from eating animal by-products on Christmas Eve. That means no meat. You’ll find a lot of Italian families’ Christmas Eve dinner centered around fish and shellfish because they cannot eat meat. Not me, though. I’m allergic to fish and shellfish. For as long as I can remember, Christmas Eve has always been an uphill battle for me. Trying to get my grandmother (I call her Nonna) to understand that I cannot eat fish/shellfish without getting very sick is very difficult (she’s an 80-year-old Italian woman who’s still learning that food allergies exist). The rest of my family, unfortunately, doesn’t really accommodate my allergies or even make the attempt to try, either. It’s just something that they won’t do. Call it stubbornness, ignorance, or selfishness, but regardless, it’s something that they just won’t do. I wish we could break from these cultural traditions but it seems really en-grained.

When I was a kid, my mom used to make me food in advance at my house and bring it to my grandmother’s house so that I could at least eat with the family. In the last couple of years, though, it’s been more difficult to do that. We just can’t find the time. My parents and sisters have also tried holding Christmas Eve at our house in order to prevent the “fish fest” as we call it from happening, but my family isn’t happy when they can’t follow their traditions.

Finger art of friends celebrates Christmas.In the last couple of years, my parents, siblings, and I have started our own smaller, more intimate Christmas Eve gathering at home. We eat at our house and then go over to my grandmother’s house after dinner for coffee. We still spend time with the family, but we do it in a way that is safe for me. My family’s Christmas Eve traditions have taught me that it’s very challenging for everyone to accommodate/understand you and your needs, especially when they’re family. It’s important to remember that you need to make sure that you stay safe. Your priority should always be your own health and safety.

Do you have difficulties with your family understanding and accommodating your allergies? Please leave a comment below.

Happy Holidays,

Giulia

 

Baking a List, and Checking It Twice: Allergen-Friendly Holiday Recipe Ideas

The holiday season will soon be upon us and with it comes dinners, work parties, potlucks and gifts. Each event filled with scrumptious foods and surprises, but if you have a food allergy something much more stressful can be lurking behind wrapping paper or baked into a treat. Holiday meal prepping and planning can be stressful without food allergies, but planning with multiple food allergies or intolerances? It can be a downright stressful experience. I’ve found the best way to handle the holiday stress when living with food allergies is by planning a dish and sticking with it. Prep your ingredients, prep yourself, and most importantly talk to everyone. If you’re cooking, ask other people about their allergies/intolerances. If you’re going somewhere, make sure people know your allergies and how to avoid cross-contamination. If you’re looking for some kitchen inspiration; below are a few of my holiday favorites that are sure to please crowds and leave you with the least amount of stress.

The holidays are a wonderful time, it gives us the opportunity to see old friends, laugh with our families, and share joy with each other. Food has always and will always be a big part of any celebration which can be hectic when you have a food allergy. As a community of people living with food allergies, we need to take a moment and plan ahead so that we can ensure we’ll be safe in any situation where meals or food are concerned. By having the right conversation with people about our allergies we can make baking and cooking a fun holiday activity. Eventually turning the experience into a wonderful and safe tradition for everyone involved.

-Arianne K.

(Backcountry) Camping with Allergies

Route planning

I recently returned from a ten-day, 85-km hiking and backcountry camping trip in the Canadian Rockies, about 90 minutes southwest of Calgary. It was so enjoyable and the views were so magnificent! I went with three friends, one of which like myself, has life-threatening food allergies. We camped in the Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, about 30 minutes from any cell phone service so needless to say, the trip took a lot of preparation. We had to select our routes, campsites, gear, and safe food. I found that meal planning was surprisingly the most time-consuming part of the trip, especially for an adult with allergies. I have life-threatening allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, and all raw fruits and vegetables, so here’s a glimpse into my camping preparations:

Exit strategy

I am a very pragmatic individual, and since I have food allergies, I planned for the worst-case scenario. If I had an allergic reaction in the wilderness, I need to know how far I was from the nearest ambulance and hospital. This was important for our trip because we were so secluded, but I think it’s an important part of weekend camping as well. With appropriate meal planning and proper meal preparation hygiene, it is unlikely that an adult with an allergy will experience a reaction while camping, but knowing the closest healthcare facility is important because it can put one’s mind at ease. Before leaving on the trip we found that our furthest point from the trail head was 21-km and from the trail head we were 95-km from the Canmore General Hospital. We were also able to determine how many epinephrine auto-injectors to bring. Since we were quite far from healthcare services, we chose to bring a satellite phone as well, which gave us the flexibility to call for emergency services if the worst-case scenario occurred.

Overcoming previous fears

Mental preparation for this camping trip was especially difficult for myself because of a previous camping experience. In the summer of 2016, I was camping with two friends in Northern Ontario when we encountered a very large black bear. It was moving away from us into the woods, but was directly between us and the trail head. Minutes later I realized that I was having an allergic reaction. We had to get to the trail head to get to the car, but there was a bear in between us and our goal. I administered my auto-injector and we proceeded with caution towards the car, making as much noise as we possibly could to deter the bear. We made it to the car and arrived at the hospital nearly 45 minutes after my initial reaction, but not without tremendous anxiety. So the thoughts going through my head leading up to this big trip was…what if something like this happened in the Rockies?

New food exploration

I discovered my allergies in my early 20’s. I have a severe form of what’s called Oral Allergy Syndrome (OAS) and with this type of allergy, skin testing is not effective at elucidating allergens. I kept having allergic reactions to food I previously ate without concern. This method of uncovering allergens can be stressful because I felt that nothing was safe. Since discovering my allergies, exploring new foods has always been difficult. I used to avoid new foods altogether, but honestly that’s quite a boring way to live. So, I began incorporating new foods into my diet, trying them in safe places (in a doctor’s office, or at a hospital, or if you have easy access, at the allergist’s office), and now I try them at home with my epinephrine auto-injector in-hand. I felt that in the wilderness camping, I would be alright with my prepared food as long as I had my emergency plans in place (auto injector, satellite phone, and an escape route) since I only brought food that I was comfortable eating and 100% sure about.

Medication preparation

So, now that I had my escape route planned and the information about the closest healthcare facilities noted, I knew that the furthest I would be away from medical services at minimum was 12 hours hiking and 90 minutes driving. To be safe, I doubled this estimate, and I brought enough allergy medication for just over 24 hours. As well, we made sure that not only was each member of the group aware of my allergies, but each member knew what to do in case of an emergency.

Having fun

Once all the preparation had been complete, it was time to explore the Canadian Rockies. This trip was one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life! I swam in glacier waters, I saw many different kinds of wildlife including a grizzly bear and a large buck, I experienced some of the most glorious views from mountain tops, and really learned what it takes to hike and camp in the mountains. I spent 10 days with my closest friends, experienced highs and lows (literally and figuratively), and learned to work together. With the right preparation, weekend camping and backcountry camping can be very, very enjoyable experiences, even as an adult with allergies.

– Fraser K.