Category Archives: Holidays and Allergies

Eat, Drink and Be Scary: Allergen-Friendly Halloweens

As hinges creek from an unknown breeze, a door closes when no one was around, and the sound of footsteps follow you up the stairs. When spooky things are in the air and the sky goes dark…you know that Halloween is here! Happy haunts lurk behind every corner and pumpkins decorate porches as ghost’s float in nearby trees. As you can probably tell, I love this time of year for so many reasons, but Halloween is by far the biggest reason. What’s not to love about this wickedly ghoulish time of year? Well, for some of us there is a different chill in the air that has nothing to do with ghosts and goblins, and everything to do with treat bags and what tricks might be in them. Living with a food allergy during this time of year can be hard to navigate, so it’s important to be aware and look out for our allergens. From parties with friends, to having “trick or treaters” at your door, allergens can be anywhere and or hidden in so many unsuspecting things.

For those of us who are younger and out trick or treating, there are ways to stay safe and avoid your allergen(s). One example is waiting to eat until you get home as this will give you more time to read all food ingredient labels. If you’re handing out goodies, make sure you look for the speciality bags or badges that some children may have to indicate that they have allergies. If you plan to accommodate by handing out allergen-friendly goodies, consider putting a teal pumpkin out to show your support of food allergies, or a teal light in support of Food Allergy Canada’s new “Shine a Light” campaign. This also acts as an indicator to parents and kids that you have safe or non-food related treats. A small gesture goes a long way for kids who are out trick or treating and being conscious of allergens can make their night!

Dressing up is one of the best parts of Halloween. Each year my partner and I bet ourselves that we can out do our costumes from the previous year. Some years involve little to prepare while others take a good hour to create and paint. One important thing I’ve learned while living with food allergies at this time of year is to read everything, and I don’t just mean snacks. Make-up, fake blood, and other things that add a touch of flare to a costume may contain your allergens. Whether you’re applying zombie make-up or making sure your vampire comes equipped with blood fangs, make sure your allergens aren’t present in the product before application. I have found that anything from latex, or nut oils, to sulphites can be found in various makeups. Find something allergen-friendly and do a mark/spot test at least 24 hours before you plan to dress up in order to make your ghoulish appearance one to remember.

As you get older, Halloween becomes less about trick or treating and more about parties, scary movie marathons and other activities with our friends. But, much like going out and getting candy, our allergens can still be found at all of these events. One thing to keep in mind whether you’re binging your favourite horror movie series or at a party with friends is that it’s important to follow the same rules you normally follow in your everyday life. Read ingredient labels even if you’ve had that type of candy before. Some candy or chocolate bars could contain slightly different ingredients or have different labelling for Halloween since these smaller products may be processed in different facilities. If there are homemade goods, check with the chef/baker before eating. Ask about allergens, the risk of cross-contamination, etc., and only eat the foods that you’re 100% comfortable eating. A good alternative is to get your cauldron brewing and make your own treats to share with everyone so that you’re positive it’s allergen-friendly. You could also consider buying candy chocolates you’ve researched yourself and feel confident are  allergen-friendly.

As an adult at a Halloween party, you’re sure to run into some boos, wait no I mean booze. Pumpkin flavoured beers and other holiday treats are staples at most adult Halloween parties. Much like any other food, we need to make sure what we’re eating and drinking is allergen-friendly. If it’s a punch bowl, ask what fruits, flavours, and alcohols are involved. If it’s a shared/serve yourself bowl, make sure there is no risk of cross-contamination or see if you can get first dibs or a special cup/bowl just to be sure it’s allergen-friendly with no risk of cross-contamination. Allergen labelling on specialty beers and wines can be tricky, but I always try to call or email the company if I’m unsure of all the ingredients. A good trick for any party is to bring your own drinks, something you know is allergen-friendly and never leave your glass or drink unattended.

As we grow older it’s easy to lose the spirit of Halloween, dismissing it as a childish tradition. I think we need to get back to our childhood roots, tell each other ghost stories, eat candy together and dress up as our favorite characters and people. This year put out a teal pumpkin or light, have some allergen-friendly or non-food treats ready, grab a scary movie or have a party to get into the spooky spirit. Happy Halloween!

– Arianne K.

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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.

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.