Tag Archives: Janice H.

Cycling Preparations with Food Allergies

Why I’m biking from Toronto to Ottawa:

Last fall, I realized I had spent yet another summer with a pretty new bike and not a lot of biking. I decided that I needed motivation to get on my bike, and the joy of commuting in the rain just wasn’t enough.

I wanted to finally plan a big bike trip. I spoke with my allergist about it who recommended that I plan a route that considers a 30-minute ambulance response time. I’m allergic to a variety of fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, black pepper, and sulphites, so that’s a pretty reasonable request. After meeting with my allergist, I then talked to a paramedic friend of mine, to see where I could bike while staying in range of hospitals and ambulances. “Why not just come on the Paramedic Ride?” he joked. But then we both realized that it was actually a pretty good idea! I’m happy to raise awareness and funds for a Paramedic Memorial, and I get a very safe bike trip in the deal! Plus, I figured that meeting more paramedic friends is not a bad idea!

How I got ready:

This trip was mostly complicated by how to transport my bicycle, and how to manage my food allergies. I started getting ready last fall, by borrowing a winter trainer. I didn’t get it set up until Christmas, but then I got into a rhythm of biking in the garage while watching Netflix. The sawdust in my garage was mildly itchy at times and going outside in the winter after training hard involved quite a brief cold spurt (if I had more space I’d definitely consider bringing the trainer indoors).

I quickly discovered that learning to bike long distances with allergies also involves learning to make sport snacks and foods. I read A LOT in an attempt to figure out how to make an electrolyte drink, and when I realized I was tired from lacking them, I started adding a little more salt and a lot more protein to my biking snacks. I would highly recommend The Feed Zone Portables cookbook for a variety of “from-scratch” sport food ideas.

In the end, I settled for mostly eating bananas, making cookies, and occasionally making granola bars. I gave up on the granola bars half way through the summer when my jaw started hurting because they were too chewy (oops) but I will definitely keep trying recipes. On the electrolyte front, there are a bunch of great DIY recipes, but most involve a few ingredients I am not yet allowed to consume. So I talked to my mom, a nurse in the remote town of Angola, and she explained that for a better-than-nothing solution she usually puts a spoon of sugar, two pinches of salt, and a bit of flavouring into a litre of water. I’ve translated that into 1 scant teaspoon of salt, 1 heaping teaspoon of sugar, and a good splash of homemade ginger syrup into 1.5 litres of water. It’s not perfect or ideal, but I reserve its use for days when it’s really hot or when I’m doing a long bike workout (30-km or more).

With all the food and snacks prepared, I have managed 2500-km of biking so far in 2018, with my longest ride being a 115-km trip around the small town of Carp, Ontario. I might have had a little too much fun in my last week of training, biking around the city on specific streets to “write” out the fundraising website!

 

What I brought with me:

Most importantly, I packed a couple epinephrine auto-injectors. I’d usually bring more for a big trip, but the Canada-wide Epi-Pen® shortage makes my pharmacy reluctant to pass out more than absolutely needed. That being said, I’m not concerned since we’re getting an ambulance escort for the event.

Because I didn’t want to give the ride organizers the extra hassle of arranging safe food for me, I decided I’d pack my own food. Bananas and oranges are pretty much guaranteed to be supplied at biking events, and if not, I can definitely stock up on them in any little grocery store I encounter along the way. I have a few simple snack foods like Nori (seaweed), rice crackers, chocolate chips, and homemade cookies.

That left me with the meal food left to plan, as well as figuring out how to cook it. I didn’t want to just eat sandwiches, and since this ride has the luxury of ambulance support vehicles, I planned a few frozen meals and a number of homemade dehydrated ones as well. To cook these, I brought a one-burner electric stove, a frying pan for at the hotel, and a Hot Logic Mini (basically a plug-in lunchbox which heats meals and keeps them warm; it’s going to be my secret to instant hot meals whenever I stop). The frying pan is for boiling water for breakfast and will act as a general backup for cooking. I know hotels have microwaves sometimes, but they can be a pain to clean up, and they heat things less evenly. Plus, I hear we’re often stopping for lunch in parks for this event.

Lastly, I also made sure to think through my drink situation. At home I drink tap water, because some water filters contain trace amounts of sulphites (including some bottled waters), which give me predictable hives. I know the ride provides bottled water, so I’m just going to fill up each day with the water that I feel most safe drinking.

So now I have allergen-safe food and water, my bicycle, the hotel is booked, and I’ve been biking A LOT all summer. I feel ready, I’ve landed in Toronto… here I go!

– Janice H.

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Non-Medical Ways for Dealing with Pollen Allergies

Spring is in the air – but so is pollen. Many of my food allergies are related to my pollen allergies, and so in years past I’ve simply avoided the outdoors once the trees start blooming.

This year, however, I’m training and fundraising for the Paramedic Ride (www.paramedicride.ca), and so I have been biking outdoors A LOT. My allergist and I have been tweaking my medications to make this more possible, but I also have a few other non-medical options that I use to cope.

  • Rinse: Similar to a Netipot©, saline sinus rinses let you squeeze saline up your nose, through your sinuses, and back out. So gross, yet so satisfying when you’re sick, and very helpful during pollen season.
  • Cool: Cold, damp cloths are so soothing on the eyes. I listen to podcasts or sleep while I’m doing it and just let it soak in. My niece’s strategy is to hold a cloth on one eye, and read with the other, then switches.
  • Shower: When the pollen gets sticky, more frequent showers can be helpful! I also find showers to be soothing on the lungs.

As with any other treatment, find things that work for you, and check with your medical professionals before you try something new.

What techniques do you use to cope with pollen, and get yourself outdoors?

– Janice H.

The Miracles of Aquafaba when Cooking for an Egg Allergy

If you are like me and were diagnosed with a food allergy later in life, it can be daunting to be faced with the prospect of avoiding your allergens, especially when you don’t know all the substitutes that are available. For me, I couldn’t imagine living without eggs… and it was really hard when I had to remove them from my diet because of my new food allergy. But slowly I learned some substitution tricks, and things got easier. I started scouring vegan recipes for ideas, and that’s when I learned about aquafaba.

After you have cooked beans, aquafaba is the liquid left over. Not the liquid that you soak dry beans in- that’s not safe for consumption. But the cooking water afterwards, or for unsalted canned beans, the liquid that usually gets drained! There is an interesting mix of proteins and starches in that water, and when it’s not too diluted, it behaves similarly to egg whites.

That’s not even the best part. You can also use flax, chia, or even mushrooms and potatoes to make aquafaba. Though the different sources don’t always have the same effectiveness. I prefer chickpeas, but I’ve used all sorts of beans.

The wonderful thing is the flexibility this allows in adapting recipes without eggs. I’ve learned a lot from being a part of a vegan Facebook group that discusses all about using aquafaba in various recipes. The usual rule of thumb is 3 tablespoons of aquafaba equals one egg. I’ve made angel food cakes, too, though my results are inconsistent due to a total lack of measuring on my part… so I won’t share my recipe yet. Pavlovas work too, if you get your oven temperature just right. Marshmallows come out great without gelatin or agar! Royal icing that holds gingerbread houses together is another great end product!

My favourite recipe so far is for an allergen-friendly chocolate mousse, as it seems to work even when I don’t measure at all. Here’s the recipe I use:

  1. Whip aquafaba in a stand mixer until you get stiff peaks. This takes longer than egg whites, and you can add an acid to help keep the peaks if you like. I use rice vinegar, but others are fond of cream of tartar or lemon juice.
  2. In a small pot or water bath, melt allergen-friendly chocolate, sugar, and a bit of water together. I sometimes skip or reduce the added sugar drastically. Let the syrup cool a little.
  3. Take only a cup or two of whipped aquafaba and mix it in with the chocolate syrup. The chocolate might deflate the mousse a bit.
  4. Gently fold in the chocolate aquafaba with the rest of the whipped aquafaba.
  5. Chill everything in the fridge for a couple of hours and enjoy! I find it works decently as ice cream when I just freeze it as-is.

Of course, egg whites aren’t only found in sweet recipes, and neither is aquafaba. You can make mayonnaise with it, meringues, glaze breads, emulsifiers, etc. I even managed making Yorkshire Puddings, which are a kind of puffed up bun.

The best part is that aquafaba can be frozen or dried, and it actually seems to work better that way! If your aquafaba isn’t working very well, you can try reducing it on low heat until it is more gelled.

Anyways, if you’re avoiding egg whites for any reason, aquafaba is a wonderful substitute! Happy researching and experimenting!

– Janice H.

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.

Summer Squirrel: My Allergen-Friendly Winter Meal Preparations

This past summer I went into full-blown squirrel mode to combat my allergies. It feels like my normal life gets put on hiatus for a month or two, while I suddenly frantically start storing food in preparation for winter. Of course, it’s not always necessary… but it sure does make my life SO much nicer in the winter. There are some seasonal fruits and vegetables that are simply inaccessible to me (or outrageously expensive) in the winter. For example, if I buy corn in season, it can be as little as 25₵/cup. But in the winter, my only safe source is about $2/cup. Gooseberries are a great example of something that I can only find in the summer- and often only if I pick my own. Preparing food in advance also gives me access to homemade “processed” food, which then allows me to expand my diet because then I’m not always eating the same food in the same ways.

This explains why I become rather squirrelly every summer! I want to take advantage of summer sales so that my food budget doesn’t skyrocket in the winter, and there’s something incredibly satisfying about having safe food stashed away. Not to mention growing my own safe food! Just in case you want to follow in my footsteps… here’s what I did (Or, in some cases, what I should have done).

Step 1: Planning– In January I laid out a rough plan of what I wanted to prepare, and how I wanted to prepare it. I should have also had a plan of how much I wanted to prepare… but this year was a bit of an experiment in pressure canning so I just tried things out.

Step 2: Planting– This year I planted a full 8’x4’ garden with allergen-friendly veggies that I could easily grow to produce a big harvest. I also intentionally re-planted many of them when they were seedlings so that they weren’t too close together, which was quite successful. Next year I’d like to sprout them before I plant the seeds, so that I can avoid re-positioning the seedlings.

Step 3: Buying– Some of the best sales I found were rather spontaneous decisions, like the moment I found chicken on sale for $7 instead of my usual $24. I bought 12 on the spot, and proceeded to use the rest of my shopping trip as impromptu teaching opportunities to explain to everyone who asked or looked at me strangely that allergies can be really expensive at times!

Step 4: Going to farms– Most of my other large purchases were made when I went straight to the farms where the food was grown. I did a bit of price comparison by calling around, and then ordered ahead and was able to get 50 cobs of corn for $25.

Step 5: Preservation– There are three main ways that I preserved my food this past summer- freezing, canning, and dehydrating. I was very happy to be able to purchase and clean a used pressure canner as well as a dehydrator, and then bought a vacuum sealer on sale from Costco to help with storing both dry and frozen foods. If you’re doing research into how to preserve foods, there’s lots of great resources out there. The one I found myself using the most was the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning from the NCHFP.

Step 6: Sanity– I was able to get my fabulous friends to help me cook, but it was last minute. I should have planned for more help in the really busy weeks, taken some time off work and cooked my regular meals in advance. I also should have planned a trip to a restaurant, as a reward at the end!

At the end of the summer, as frost (and snow) has already started to cover the ground in my area- there’s good news: my squirreling was successful! Now to catch up with the rest of my life… 😀

– Janice H.

Tips for Travelling with Food Allergies

Before you Travel

Planning for the worst might seem stressful, but that’s how astronauts survive travelling out of this world. If you have allergies, it makes sense to plan out your contingencies when you travel outside of your home. Here are some pre-travel tips:

  • Know where the closest medical care is available, what it will be, what it will cost, and how to arrange to get there.
  • If travelling alone, find out how you would call for help.

When travelling with others, teach them what to do in case of a reaction. Food Allergy Canada has fabulous free online courses available at www.allergyaware.ca.

  • Get Travel Insurance. Travel Insurance is not only helpful for medical care in other countries, but also helps in case there are unforeseen reasons you need to cancel or change your flights.
  • Learn as much of the local language as possible, especially the terms associated with allergies so that you can recognize what your allergens are called, and explain yourself when you are having a reaction and need help. Hellolingo.com is one free language sharing site, and Duolingo is a great language learning app for your smartphone.
  • Make a small business card with your name, picture, and allergens in English and the translations to the local language. I also put pictures on mine when I was travelling where the literacy rate was not particularly high.
  • Plan what medications you would bring with you, by speaking with your allergist and your travel doctor if going overseas.
  • Plan where you can find safe food/snacks, and call ahead to hotels and restaurants about their food allergy accommodations if possible.
  • If you need to bring your own safe food, be sure to check customs regulations about what you can bring, and how much, to avoid your safe food being confiscated.
  • If you can, book a hotel room with a kitchen, and find out where local groceries can be purchased.

When you travel by car:

  • Bring what you need if you can! In my car have a little emergency stove, water, a camping pot, towels and soap, and dehydrated meals at all times so that I can safely make meals anywhere. I also found a portable kettle, which allows me to use any ceramic mug to boil water. It takes a long time, though…
  • Be aware of how far you’ll be from medical care, and whether there are any areas you’re driving through without cell phone coverage. Consider not eating while you are outside of cell phone coverage areas, or as an alternative, find out where the closest emergency pay phones will be, just in case.

When you travel by bus/train/plane/boat:

  • Bring your own food with you, and lots of wipes. The wipes won’t necessarily remove allergens, but at least you’ll know your eating area is disinfected.
  • Ask when booking for early boarding, so that you can wipe down your seat. Some companies will create an allergy-free buffer zone for you, while others will not. Ask in advance to avoid conflict.
  • Often hot water is available on trains & airplanes, so you can bring dehydrated or freeze dried meals on board and make them easily. Sandwiches work well for your outbound journey and you might think about bringing canned food for the way home. Check customs regulations before you make your meal plan; many countries have restrictions on fresh fruits and vegetables, meat and dairy products.
  • If you’re heading on a cruise, call the company beforehand and ask about medical care and food accommodations on board the ship. Some companies are really good at accommodating food allergies.

When you travel in the wilderness:

  • If you have allergies, it’s probably best if you don’t travel alone. At the very least, have someone who knows your route plan and have regular check-ins so that they know where you are and whether you’re safe.
  • Bring some form of emergency beacon, satellite phone, GPS or all three, so that if you should have a reaction, you can get help.
  • Bring lots of auto-injectors. Call the local health authorities in advance to find out what they recommend in terms of what you should bring.

Finding safe food in other countries:

  • Labelling laws differ between countries! Look out for what regulations are in place.
  • Many products change recipes from country to country, so READ THE LABEL EVERY TIME. For example, a popular soda brand tastes different internationally & a UK version of a popular energy drink in Canada contains apple juice.
  • It might be safest to cook food from scratch, rather than buying pre-packaged food or eating at a restaurant.

Don’t give up!

Even with multiple severe food allergies, it is possible to travel. Hopefully these tips will help you to get out there, and explore the world!

Happy Travelling,

-Janice

Travelling to Africa with Food Allergies

Africa is an incredible continent, one which I have had the pleasure to visit several times now. I first went to South Africa in 2004, and then visited Angola in 2009 via Namibia. In 2010, my parents moved to Angola, so I decided to go back for a surprise visit in 2014. It was a pretty epic adventure, not only because I wanted to keep my very social parents out of the loop… but also because it was to be my first international trip with new severe food allergies. It seemed impossible at first, travelling at all, and especially with the added element of surprise. I wasn’t even sure my parents would be home, since they travel frequently…

But looking back, the look on my father’s face was WELL worth it. The planning, getting a visa, calling airlines… all the logistics worked out. So how did I pull it off? Well, here are my tips for travelling to Africa:

1. Bring Emergency Food!
If you’re travelling in a more developed/stable country, like South Africa, Namibia, Egypt, or Morocco… chances are that the local grocery stores will have some food you can make from scratch. You might even find specialty allergy safe food, but be sure to call the company: Each country has different labelling laws so the definition of “gluten free” (for example) might change from place to place.

If you’re more likely shopping at the local market, bring your specialty food with you from your home country. I found it very helpful to have dehydrated/ freeze dried meals with me, but I had to leave a bunch at home when I realized that dairy and meat are completely forbidden to travel through the UK. Those were particularly useful on board aircraft, and when I was camping, but that’s a story for another time.

2. Allergy Card
Many of us with allergies know how helpful it is to carry a card with your allergens that you can hand out at restaurants. I designed mine to be a double-sided business card with both English and Portuguese (the main language in Angola). I also added pictures in order to try and minimize misunderstandings, and to prevent a lack of literacy from being a problem.

3. Travel Insurance
If you’re going to Africa… buy travel insurance. Even before I had severe allergies, having travel insurance saved me thousands of dollars in change fees when the airlines changed the locations of my flights. But with severe allergies, travel insurance gave me peace of mind that I would have medical coverage while overseas, should an emergency take place. Medical care can be limited in Africa, and more severe cases are referred out of country, so having a plan to pay for those emergency transportations is key!

One of my favourite food-related moments was in Luanda, on the way home. My father came with me so as to maximize spending time with me, and we spent a few lovely nights being treated like royalty by one of his friends, Etienne. Etienne took us to some fabulous restaurants (where my allergy card came in handy), and then put us up in his guest house, complete with a private chef! It happened that she (the chef) had family members with allergies, so it was such a high note to end my trip there! She was able to accommodate all of my allergies, and her personal attention was very much appreciated.

Pride of Lions

All in all, the trip was a huge success, and while I have developed even more allergens since then, I have already started planning my next trip. It might not be until 2020… but I’m determined to make it happen! Have you ever travelled to Africa with a food allergy? Let me know your experience by commenting below!

-Janice H.