Back to School Snacks

This is the time of year that we are packing lunches and snacks for school lunches. It is easy to get in a rut of what we pack, so I thought I would give you a few of our family favorites. These are very versatile which I love. We used to buy rice crackers at Costco, but they come in a six pack, three of which have cheese. We are a dairy free family so I quit buying these crackers since I had to give away half of them. My girls were so sad when I stopped buying these crackers. I figured they couldn’t be that hard to make since the ingredients were very simple and straight forward. Just like I figured, these are super easy to make! The cheese rice crackers were a request from my oldest daughter. Since I love to experiment in the kitchen, I thought I would give powdered cheese a try for her. It worked beautifully and is fairly simple to do. All three of these recipes come together very quickly. I hope you enjoy these new recipes!

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Rice Crackers

Ingredients
1 C White rice flour
3 C water, divided
1 T Sesame seeds (optional)
¼ t Onion Powder, or any spices you prefer
¼ t Salt + more for sprinkling
¼ C Olive oil

Directions
Preheat oven to 375°. Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

In a small pot Combine the rice flour and 2 C water and bring them to a boil. Stir constantly until you have a sticky rice goop, then turn the heat off. The rice goop will be very thick and should be relatively smooth. Next, add the rest of the water until the rice goop is now about the consistency of baby rice cereal. Add your spices, salt, and sesame seeds in and mix well to combine. Using a spatula, scrape the rice mixture onto your prepared parchment paper and smooth out until it is about ¼ inch thick. I spray a 2nd piece of parchment paper with non-stick spray, place it on top and smooth the rice mixture out. One the mixture is even, drizzle the top with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Bake at 375° for 1 hour and 20 minutes. After the crackers have cooked for 20 minutes, take them out and cut them into desired shapes with a pizza cutter. Return them to the oven to complete their baking time. You will take the crackers out a few rows at a time as they are done. Place the finished crackers on paper towel to let dry. Bake in 5 minute increments until the rest of the crackers are done. They should be a light golden brown color and firm to the touch. Once the crackers are completely cooled and dry, store in an airtight container. If they get soft, just bake them again until they are golden brown and firm. This should only happen if they didn’t get cooked well the first round. These are great plain, will sun or nut butter, with cheese, hummus, or any other spread you can think of. Enjoy!

For Cheesy Rice Crackers, follow the recipe above. One you have sprinkled the top of the crackers with salt before baking, add the cheese. Then continue with the directions above.

umpalaRAIN cheese rice crackers

Cheesy Rice Crackers

Ingredients
1/2 C Daiya cheddar shreds cheese

Directions
Prepare a dehydrator tray with parchment paper. Place the Daiya shreds on the parchment paper and spread evenly. Dehydrate the cheese for 2-3 hours or until completely dry. If you do not have a dehydrator, I bet you could do this in the oven on 125°. I haven’t tried this so I can’t guarantee it will work, but I imagine it will. Please let me know if you try this and how it works. 🙂 Once the cheese is dried I place it on a plate for an hour with a paper towel on top and bottom of the cheese as this cheese is very greasy. Blend the cheese in a spice grinder, coffee grinder, food processor, etc. to make it into a powder. Once you have the cheese powder, continue with the directions above.

umpalaRAIN Fruit Snacks

Fruit Snacks

Ingredients
1/2 C lemon juice
2 T Water
1 C Fruit of choice *(I use frozen fruit and have done, blueberry, berry medley, tropical mix)
4 T Grass fed gelatin such as Great Lakes brand
3 T Sweetener of choice (I have used honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar, and stevia successfully)

Directions
Prepare a 9×13 baking dish with parchment paper and set aside.

In a pot on the stove, mix lemon juice, water, and sweetener of choice. Mix them well to combine and then add the fruit. Turn the stove onto medium-high heat and bring the liquid and fruit mixture to a rolling boil. Once it is a rolling boil, turn the heat off. Prepare your high powered blender and then put the fruit mix in the blender. Blend well until the fruit is liquified. Leave the fruit mix to cool down for 5 minutes. Once your fruit mix has cooled down, add the gelatin and blend quickly together until the gelatin has dissolved. Moving quickly, spread the fruit liquid into your prepared 9×13 dish being sure to spread the mixture evenly. Place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or until firm. Once the fruit mixture is firm cut into squares with a pizza cutter or use any small cookie cutters. Store in an airtight container in the fridge. Enjoy!

*Be careful what fruit you choose to use. If you pick fruit that has a lot of seeds (strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, etc.) the fruit snacks will be very seedy. My kids don’t like that at all, so either avoid those fruits, mix them with other non seedy fruits, or strain the seeds out of the mix before you add the gelatin.

Here is another cracker recipe I posted a few months ago for cheese crackers similar to cheese it’s. These should set you up well for you and your kids to have great, healthy, and simple snacks.

*There are affiliate links above for your convenience and helps support my blog 🙂 always be sure to check ingredients to be sure the items are safe for you.

Growing up in the 50’s with food allergies

I have always known that my mom had a severe anaphylaxis allergy to peanuts. When I was a bit older I realized that she avoided all nuts. She was very careful about chocolate in particular as far as I remember as a kid. I’m sure she would have many items to add that she was careful about, but that’s one thing I remember in particular. Kids memories are funny aren’t they?! Chocolate definitely is an area of concern for people with peanut and tree nut allergies. She even made us peanut butter and jelly sandwiches when we were kids. There was a strict rule that the knife goes in the jelly FIRST and the knife had to go directly into the dishwasher, NO RINSING in hot water first! I still have that same strong rule in my house just in case someone comes to my house that has a peanut allergy.

When my middle daughter had severe food allergies as an infant, and then had an anaphylaxis reaction to peanuts at 18 months old, it didn’t come as a huge shock. I will write a blog post at some point about my daughters anaphylaxis reaction. Knowing my mom has an anaphylaxis allergy to peanuts greatly helped us when my daughter had her reaction. I adopted some ways that my mom has lived life with food allergies for my daughters. One thing that I have greatly appreciated about my mom and her food allergies is that they have never stopped her from enjoying life. She takes them seriously, takes appropriate precautions, but they don’t keep her from living life to the fullest. My mom travels all over the world, enjoys restaurants, and time with family and friends. Her food allergies certainly don’t define her.

Since two of my daughters have had severe food allergies, my parents and I have talked a lot more about their experiences. My dad is a Dr. so he too has added a great level of comfort for our family with food allergies. We always know that if anyone has a severe reaction and panics, he won’t panic. He’s calm, cool, and collected all the time in every situation. That has helped all of us to see life a bit in the same way. Clearly, he also takes my mom’s food allergies seriously and has been there for many of her anaphylaxis reactions. It’s great to have a Dr. with you everywhere you go. 🙂

My parents have taken amazing care of our girls and their food allergies. They don’t get a lot of social media posts from me on how they care well for my girls because they have my girls without me often. 🙂 Date nights = overnight stays for my girls with my parents who spoil them with Udi’s blueberry muffins, Van’s waffles, Rudi’s bread, Pamela’s cookies, and Enjoy Life Foods cookies. I have never feared that my parents wouldn’t know how to handle a severe food allergy reaction. Let me tell you, this made my life so much easier! I know many people don’t have this same experience. My parents have been an amazing support for us over the years in many ways, including our food allergies. When we have family gatherings, my mom goes out of her way to ensure that we all have safe food for us. Thanks mom for loving us so well!!

I thought it would be good to ask my mom several questions about growing up in the late 40’s and 50’s with food allergies. This gave me great perspective in many ways. My mom is very clear that her parents response to her food allergies is likely not how others may deal with them. I want to be sure that this is not a place for judgment, but a place for us to gain understanding of one persons experience growing up many decades ago with food allergies. It has opened my eyes to understand my mom in new ways and has also brought me to a place of thankfulness that there is so much more education and help for those of us with food allergies today. Here is my mom’s story of growing up with food allergies, please read with a heart of kindness and understanding. 🙂

From my mom:
OK. This may not help much, and you may not agree with the way I was raised, but here it is… 🙂

How old were you when you were diagnosed with food allergies/what year was it? I suppose that the answer to this depends on your definition of “diagnosed.” I had my first major allergic response to peanut butter as a toddler. (ok, so that would be in 1946 or ‘47…) I was first tested for allergies by an actual allergist at age 7, in 1953.

What foods were you allergic to as a little girl? What were your symptoms for each (as brief as you want). I have anaphylaxis and occasionally nausea and vomiting with peanuts. (I’m not totally sure if the nausea is part of the allergic reaction per se, or if, as I have begun to theorize, every time as a toddler and small child I was given ipecac in the ER every time I was brought in.) I’m also very allergic to walnuts. From age 7 on I lived in a house with a huge walnut tree in the front yard that I routinely climbed. Touching the oil in the nuts caused my eyes to swell shut and hives to break out. Eating walnuts causes hives and extreme swelling and itching in my hands and ears. I have similar reactions to pecans. I’m allergic to all melons, although the reaction is less severe. When I eat melons my mouth and throat itch and I feel kind of “icky”. I ate watermelons regardless as a kid, and just put up with the itching because I like them. I can’t eat stronger flavored melons, like cantaloupe, at all. I am allergic to milk, which causes stomach cramping.

How many other people that you knew growing up had food allergies? My dad was also allergic to milk. That’s about the only person that I knew had problems with eating certain foods.

How did your parents help you with your food allergies? This is an interesting question, and one that you may not like my answer to. I had my first actual “allergy testing” at age 7. I pretty much reacted to everything that I was tested for. I’m strongly allergic to just about anything that grows, from all grass to all flowers, from weeds to mold, from dust to cats, and on and on. My allergy testing results were pretty much the same for foods. Some foods showed an exceptionally strong reaction, but others were milder. I’ll never forget leaving the doctor’s office and my mom looking at the full page of foods that I “shouldn’t” be eating. Of course it included peanuts and all tree nuts, but it also included wheat and eggs and milk and raw carrots, and melons and on and on and on. She immediately pretty much just tore up that list and threw it away… You may freak out right about now, but for me it was the best thing that she could have done. From then on she simply figured if I had a bad enough reaction I wouldn’t try eating that item again. Pretty much, “if it doesn’t kill her she can eat it.” That attitude allowed me to have personal control over my diet. It also allowed me not to feel like I was totally different from other kids. I continued to eat bread and cookies and cake (which all contain wheat and eggs and milk) and my system has, through persistent exposure, accommodated those milder allergies. I learned on my own that M&Ms in those days (even the “plain” ones) contained ground up peanuts, and I only needed one problem to never eat another M&M.

How many anaphylaxis reactions have you had in your life? Were they from direct contact eating a food you are allergic to or was it from cross contamination? This is a hard one to answer. Supposedly in my first couple of years of life I spent quite a bit of time in the hospital. I assume that at least some of those visits started with anaphylaxis, although probably most were from my severe asthma. My asthma attacks occasionally were almost like anaphylaxis because my throat was closing and I couldn’t breathe. Since early teen years I’ve always had Benadryl within reach, and take a big dose whenever I think I’ve gotten in trouble. I had one anaphylaxis during college when our chef unexpectedly decided to put walnuts in the beef gravy… sigh. As an adult I’ve had maybe 5 trips to the ER with anaphylaxis. I have carried an EpiPen, but never used it. Instead I take a bunch of Benadryl and get to an ER for IV epinephrine. I’m not totally sure how you would define cross contamination. I’ve had my throat start to close and my eyes swell shut from the steam when someone ran hot water over a knife coated with peanut butter. Because of the peanuts covering the ground and being walked on and floating in the air I can only go to baseball games when I am so loaded down with Benadryl that I’m totally groggy. I had one episode in a Mexican restaurant when they put mole sauce with peanut butter on the enchiladas instead of normal enchilada sauce. I learned that I can’t walk into a Thai restaurant because the peanuts cooked in oil permeate the air from the cooking steam and my throat will immediately close up. I had a bad time once from pesto sauce that the menu had not clarified contained ground walnuts. I know that I can’t eat at a Cold Stone ice cream place because I worry about what has been chopped up on those stones before I get my ice cream. I know that I can’t eat a Blizzard at DQ because they don’t really clean the machinery after making a Blizzard with something like Reeses Pieces. I suppose that I learned that by having a reaction from the cross contamination.

Did you ever feel left out as a kid with food allergies when there weren’t very many people with them? I didn’t really feel all that “left out.” Partly that was because the only foods that had total urgent restrictions were nuts. Partly that was because I’m pretty much an introvert and as a kid was sort of “odd” anyway. Because my parents were so laid-back and never overreacted when I had a problem with food I never actually focused on it very much. People have often asked me if it isn’t just “terrible” not to be able to eat peanut butter and chocolate bars with nuts, etc. I can’t say that it has been that hard. Since those items make me so sick they just don’t appeal to me. Basically there are so many things that I can eat that I don’t worry about it at all.

What is one piece of advice that you would give parents that have small children with severe food allergies? For me it worked to be 100% vigilant about the foods that could truly be potentially fatal, but having plenty of leeway and not overreacting and panicking about foods that might cause more minor irritations like itching or brief rashes.

Anything else you want to share with us? 🙂 Help you kids have strong self-identities that don’t stress their “differences” but stress their “similarities” to the other kids. I love that you have learned to make cupcakes and pizza and all the things that the other kids eat so that your girls never feel left out.

Thanks for sharing your story with us mom! I love you!

*There are affiliate links above for your convenience and helps support my blog 🙂 always be sure to check ingredients to be sure the items are safe for you.

Living in Africa with an Anaphylaxis Allergy

In 2011, my family left our home country to live in Rwanda, Africa for six months. At the time, our oldest daughter had just turned 5 and our middle had just turned 2. We headed half way around the world to fill in for the executive director of a home for former street boys. Our health journey leading up to us leaving was exhausting in many ways. Six months before we left, our middle daughter had an anaphylaxis reaction to peanuts while we were on vacation. She also had severe, though not life threatening, dairy and soy allergies. Due to these two allergies she was on prescription formula. Before we left, we had long conversations with her pediatrician and her gastroenterologist. They were both amazing and supportive of our upcoming trip and encouraged us to not let the food allergies keep us from going. With the stamp of approval from her doctors, along with many other pieces coming together, we prepared to head overseas.

baggage

As you can see, we took a whole lot of baggage! Flying internationally allows each person to have 2 suitcases up to 50 lbs and 2 carry-ons. We took full advantage and took all 16 bags, a stroller, and 2 car seats. It was quite a spectacle at the airport. We arrived three hours before our flight took off so that we had plenty of time to make it to the ticket counter, through security, and onto the plane. The woman that checked us in was amazingly helpful and patient with us. One item that we purchased for this trip and still use everytime we travel is a hand held baggage scale. It works like a charm and is very small, I highly recommend getting one if you don’t have one. I made sure that we had enough, and extra, food to get us all the way to Rwanda with delays if they happened. We called the airlines ahead of time to ask what they would be serving on the plane. There wasn’t a whole lot that we could eat, but that is pretty common for us. I had Dr’s notes for the epi pen, Benadryl, and medically necessary food in case anyone gave us a hard time. If I remember correctly we had at least one whole carry on full of food with ice packs. No one gave us a hard time, it just took us a very long time to get through security lines. We were prepared for that so it was ok.

While my middle daughter had severe food allergies, the rest of us also had food intolerances. At that point, our family couldn’t have nuts, gluten, dairy, soy, egg yolk, tomato, and garlic. We had a friend in country that was able to help us decide what we needed to pack for our time in Rwanda. Two of our suitcases were full of food and kitchen items. The first one of these suitcases was full of 40 cans of prescription formula for my daughter. We couldn’t leave the country without the formula since my daughter couldn’t drink any milk alternatives and she also failed to thrive without the calories she got from the formula. Our carry ons also held several cans just in case our bags didn’t show up. The second suitcase full of food had xanthan gum, one pot, one pan, and as many boxed mixes that we could stuff in. At that time, we used Chebe pizza mix, Bisquick GF (gluten free) pancake and waffle mix so we packed many of those, and a few other random mixes as well. We knew that we could easily buy GF flour so we didn’t need to bring flour with us. It was amazing to have GF flours so easily accessible and also launched me into baking full time.

Chebe pizza

Our friend that was in country was able to get us a loaf of GF bread upon our arrival from a sweet friend of hers. Along with the loaf of bread was the recipe as well. All of the corner markets carried GF flours for very little money. I could get brown rice flour, white rice flour, tapioca starch, millet flour, and I think teff as well. Before we went to Rwanda, I had used many boxed food items for our allergies, but hadn’t done very much baking with my own mixes. This trip changed all of that in a heart beat. I was able to get many recipes from other Americans that we had become friends with, but I had to figure out how to convert them to fit our dietary needs. Our internet connection there was far slower than dial up, if it even worked at all. I didn’t have pinterest or any other sites that I could get recipes from. So this began my crash course in allergy friendly baking. I spent hours upon hours in the kitchen there with my two daughters to make enough food to sustain us. Meat in Rwanda is VERY expensive so it was only for special occasions. Other than that, we ate a ton of rice, eggs, salad, avocado, fruit, and vegetables. While we lived there I managed to make bread every other day since we only had a small refrigerator and the heat made the bread mold quickly.

Kitchen
Breakfast

We worked at a home for former street boys and all of us would spend a full day together there each week. From the first time we met the staff and boys, we were VERY clear with them about our daughters severe food allergies. We made a rule that no one was allowed to feed her. While people in Rwanda don’t have food allergies, the staff and boys were amazingly understanding. They all took her allergies very seriously which we were so thankful for. English is the national language in Rwanda, but hasn’t always been. Thankfully all of the staff at the home spoke fluent English and we also had an interpreter with us most of the time so we could communicate effectively.

boys

There is a very close knit group of ex-pats in Rwanda. We made sure that we connected with them right when we got to Rwanda. This made our transition much easier to find safe restaurants, large grocery stores, learn how to navigate the market we lived next to, and also gave us friends right away. When we lived in Rwanda we ate at home, or home made food, about 98% of the time. This was the easiest way for us to ensure our daughters safety. There were a handful of restaurants that we frequented, there is a list of them below. We lived in the capital city of Kigali, so there were many options for us to choose from. All of these restaurants had staff that spoke fluent English, were originally from an English speaking country, and/or were high end that catered to English speaking people. These three criteria were important for us to stick to so we knew our daughter would get safe food. Many of these restaurants also let us bring a few of our own food items. We made sure to call ahead to ask if this was ok and also to talk to them about our daughters food allergies ahead of time. Thankfully we made it through six months living in Rwanda without needing to use an epi pen!!

Our Safe Restaurants
Mr. Chips- this is a small burger shack that is owned by a Canadian man. It is frequented my many English speaking people and all of the staff speak English

Sakae Japanese Restaurant- This was a brand new restaurant when we lived there. They serve amazing asian food of all sorts and kinds. All of the staff speak English. We called ahead of time to talk about our food allergies. They were fantastic! We went for early dinners so the staff wasn’t rushed. They allowed us to bring our own GF soy sauce for those of us that could have it. All of our food was checked closely by the staff to ensure that it was safe for my daughter to eat.

Zen Oriental Cuisine- We had the same experience here as we did at Sakae. They were a bit on the busier side, but still great!

Aromas Coffee- This coffee shop was a few blocks away from our house so we went there several times. We would get smoothies and nothing else. I wasn’t comfortable eating food there, but the drinks were great.

The country of Rwanda is very small in terms of land mass. It is easy to go on day trips to other parts of the country. This was very helpful for us to see other parts of the country without having to find safe food in small villages. While there, we went on a safari trip. We used Bizi Danny’s guided tour and they did a great job. They picked us up very early in the morning because the animals are most active then. I packed all of our food for the day so we didn’t have to stop at any restaurants along the way. Akagera National Park is on the east side of the country that borders Tanzania. The park is split between both countries so the animals are free to roam between them. We had the opportunity to see zebras, hippos, topee, gazelles, water buffalo, baboons, giraffes, and many species of birds. The day we were there the elephants and lion were in a different part of the park. We were told that the lion typically stays on the Tanzania side of the park. This is one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had. It felt surreal the whole time we were there. I would highly recommend doing a safari trip.

Zebra
Topee
Hippo
Giraffe

At the very end of our trip we headed west to Nyungwe rain forest. The scenery in the rain forest is stunning to say the least. We found a little hotel and restaurant to stay in just outside of the forest. This hotel wasn’t fancy in the least, but it worked for us. We had fun guests outside our room every morning. Our girls loved having baboons so close. The drive through the rain forest is slow but beautiful so we just learned to enjoy the scenery as we made our way through. Towards the west side of the forest there is a ranger type station. This is where you can find trail maps and hire a guide if you want. Many people go to Nyungwe to see orangutans, but they don’t allow kids to go on those hikes. We hired a guide to take us to see colobus monkeys. It was a pretty steep mile hike down before we found the monkeys, but worth every step. There were probably 1oo monkeys playing with each other, screaming, and flying from one tree to the next. If you ever go on this hike, or any other hike in a rain forest, it’s a good idea to hike in tall rain boots or gators. Take it from me, biting ants in the pants are no fun! :/ After our hike we drove through the rest of the forest to see what was there. There are miles of tea plantations in a gorgeous setting. In the middle of one tea plantation is an amazing hotel. The next time we go we will be saving our pennies to stay here. Our time in the rain forest was magical.

Baboon
Tea Field

All in all, our trip to Rwanda was a great success with food allergies! It took a lot of planning ahead and time in the kitchen while there, but it was all worth it. My current baking is a direct result of our time in Rwanda, so I am abundantly thankful for that. It pushed me far beyond my limits in many ways which helped me to grow in ways that I wasn’t expecting. If you are contemplating a trip with severe food allergies, it can be done, if your medical team approves it. I am so thankful that we had a medical team that cheered us on and encouraged us to make this trip. They prepared us and helped us in many ways to make this a safe trip. I hope you enjoyed learning about our overseas journey and feel encouraged that it is possible to travel with severe food allergies!

*all photos are mine

Why are Food Allergies on the Rise?

I often get asked why food allergies are on the rise. While I have my own opinions as to why this is, I don’t have a medical background to give facts and data. This is why I turned to my friend Vivian who is a general practitioner. She is a wealth of information, well researched in this area, and has a son with severe food allergies. I am so excited to have her guest post for me on this important topic.

Why is allergy on the rise?
I’m always asked ‘What is the cause of allergies?’ – and it is a difficult question to answer, and you can probably talk about it all day because there are so many factors at play, which I will highlight here.
Food allergies among children in the US increased approximately 50% between 1997 and 2011 – allergy is now an epidemic in many of the developed countries. And it’s not just children – adults are starting develop food allergies for the first time in their adulthood too.
So the million dollar question is… WHY?

Genes
There is no denying that genes play an important role in the development of allergy – if you have a family history of atopy (food allergies, asthma or hay fever) you are more likely to develop allergies but the rapid rise in the incidence of allergy must be linked to the environment too as our genes cannot evolve that quickly. Some interesting facts:

• foreign-born Americans have significantly lower risk of allergic disease than U.S. born Americans.
• your risk of developing allergies increase the longer you reside in the U.S.
• this tells me that it is not simply down to the genes but must be also due to environmental factors too

In 2013, Dr Silverberg of St Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Centre in New York found that foreign-born children who moved to the U.S. had an increased risk of developing allergies, and this risk increased the longer they resided in the U.S. So this supports the theory that environmental factors are causing more allergies.

“Why is the environment making us more allergic?”

Whilst there are many theories out there, so far no one has the definitive answer. There’s the Hygiene hypothesis (that we are too clean and the immune system is not stimulated enough – I’m not a fan of this theory though).

Personally, I believe the gut and the food we eat has a lot to answer for…

All disease begin in the gut – Hippocrates

The father of medicine said this about 2000 years ago – and I think we are only beginning to find out there is truth in his wisdom. Obviously, I don’t necessarily agree that ALL disease starts in the gut. Congenital and genetic conditions that you are born with, for example, do not. However, I am convinced that a lot of chronic medical conditions which are on the rise begin in the gut e.g. autoimmune, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, allergies… just to name a few.

Research has shown:

• Antibiotic use in infancy is linked to increased odds of developing food allergy in childhood
• The bacteria found in stools of children with food allergy is significantly different to those of children without food allergy.
• Beneficial bacteria in the gut produce substances which alter the integrity of the gut barrier to the outside world, and the way the gut presents food particles to our immune system.

The Gut

Did you know that the gut is a major immune organ?

As well as digesting and absorbing food, the gut also plays a significant role in healthy immune function. We are seeing a worryingly rapid rise in allergy and autoimmune diseases (e.g. Hypothyroidism, Lupus, Rheumatoid, MS), and although allergy and autoimmune diseases are different entities, there is a common theme – all of them result from a malfunctioning immune system: in autoimmune disease, the immune system attacks the body itself, whereas in allergies the immune system attacks food/environmental allergens.

The allergy epidemic has gone hand in hand with a period in the developed countries of increasing antibiotic usage, GMO foods, intensive animal farming, pollution, increasing cesarean sections rates, formula feeding, and a low fiber/highly processed foods diet….just to name a few!

For example, you may think you are ok because you don’t take any antibiotics, but the antibiotics that livestock has been fed/injected from intensive farming probably stays in the meat, so you are most likely ingesting some antibiotics inadvertently when you eat meat farmed this way, and similarly with milk and dairy products.

Why does it matter?

Antibiotics kill bacteria – as well as killing the bad bacteria that causes infection, they also kill the good bacteria you need for health. There are trillions of bacteria in the gut – weighing around 3 pounds, and these are necessary to maintain normal gut function. A combination of environmental factors listed above has led to an altered ‘microbiome’, the healthy bacteria missing and instead the gut has ‘bad’ bacteria which can release toxins, cause the gut to be leaky and therefore leads to an increased risk of allergies. The way it does this is by allowing food proteins to enter the blood stream when normally these food proteins would stay in the gut. When food proteins are circulating in the blood stream, these may trigger an immune system or “train” the immune system to become allergic to that particular food.

The gut bacteria is so important in regulating how food proteins are presented to our immune system – if they present food in the wrong way, we end up with an allergy.

SO it ALL begins in the gut! Somehow, the gut is presenting food wrongly as foe… Why the immune system produces the wrong signal is an area of rigorous research. It has been suggested that beneficial gut bacteria produce many of the important messengers involved in the correct signalling process and with the altered gut microbiome caused by environmental factors, these important beneficial gut bacteria may be missing thus changing the signalling process in the gut. Due to GMO farming, modern day food no longer resembles what our ancestors used to eat. Wheat and soy are both heavily altered to withstand harsh conditions for improved crop yields, and this is also having an impact on our health.

As well as the gut, food allergens may also be presented to the immune system through the skin – and this is particularly relevant for eczema sufferers where the skin barrier is broken and may explain why infants with eczema have a higher risk of food allergies (good eczema control is particularly important in infants to prevent this theoretical mechanism of food sensitisation). It has been suggested that if your immune system is ‘seeing’ allergens through the skin but not encountering it in the gut as food, an allergy may develop to that particular food when you start to eat it. The LEAP study (2015) conducted by Professor Lack’s team in London has shown that early introduction of peanuts into the diets of high-risk infants can reduce the incidence of peanut allergy developing later on (see my blog post on this next week). So it is important that the gut sees these allergens, identify them as food and ‘accepts’ them early on before the immune system starts playing havoc and misleads the body into attacking it.

For me as a doctor, the rise of allergic and autoimmune conditions is both alarming and frustrating as we are not good at treating them. We have strong and toxic medicines to dampen the immune system with but these can cause serious side effects and we don’t like using them. Apart from these toxic medications, we can only treat surface symptoms without ever getting to the root cause: food avoidance for allergy, painkillers for rheumatoid arthritis, steroid creams for eczema.

I really think that Hippocrates was way ahead of his time, and we are only beginning to unlock an important piece of the disease puzzle by looking at the gut. The modern day life assails many assaults on the gut and as a result, we are seeing a rise in conditions which were rare a couple of decades ago.

Watch this space.

In the meantime, look after your gut.

Thanks Vivian for a great piece on the rise of food allergies! Here you can find more information on gut health from Vivian. She is such a great resource so click through her other articles as well!

Navigating the Grocery Store

May 14-18 is Food Allergy Awareness Week. On social media I asked my followers what they would like me to write about food allergies. In the next few weeks I will be writing several posts to answer the great questions I received. I also have two awesome guests that will be posting on food allergies as well so be sure to come on back in the coming weeks. Here is the first in the series.

One of my followers on Instagram last week what I do to help my girls when they feel sad about foods they can’t have. This post is dedicated to answer this great question. Keep in mind that this is what I have done with my girls, it may or may not work for you. I hope it is helpful since this can be a very difficult issue to deal with for sure.

1. One of the most important things we can teach our kids is that life isn’t always fair. Life just isn’t fair, no matter how much we want it to be. There will always be difficult situations to navigate in life. My husband and I have worked really hard to instill this in our girls in many different situations. We have three girls and we simply can’t make everything fair and equal all the time. That will never be reality for them once they leave our home either, so we want to prepare our girls for the realities that they will face later in life. This is no different with their food intolerances and allergies. It doesn’t seem fair that they can’t eat the same foods as other people, but it is their reality. We give them the freedom to feel sad and talk about how hard it is to have food allergies. It is important for them to be able to voice their feelings. Since life isn’t fair for anyone, in our case with food intolerances and allergies, we help them to see beyond it.

2. We teach our kids thankfulness as a response to difficult situations. Let me be clear again though that we absolutely let our kids feel sad and talk about the challenges they face having food allergies and intolerances. The fact is that we can’t change that our girls (both my husband and I as well) have food allergies and intolerances. If we can’t change that, it is up to us to determine how we let them affect our lives. We can mope around in our sadness and discouragement, or we can choose to be thankful for what we CAN eat. Yes, our list of “can’t haves” is very long, I call it a scroll. You know what though? There are SO MANY foods we CAN eat. Having food intolerances and allergies has pushed all of us to be adventurous with new foods that we might not have ever tried. Our family has become so close knit having food allergies and intolerances because we can’t eat out very much we spend almost every meal together. Most of us also have a very strong desire to be creative, so we have taken our creativity into the kitchen.

3. I am typically very determined in many areas of life. This has done our family well having food allergies and intolerances. I have been determined to not let food allergies and intolerances get the best of us or keep us from enjoying life. If I find a “normal” recipe that looks good, I am determined to figure out how to make it work for my family’s long list of can’t haves. There are very few foods that I haven’t been able to re-create to fit my family’s needs. My family has to endure eating all of my experiments until I get them right, which they are very gracious to do. This has greatly helped my girls to not feel left out. If they are going to a party or event, I always ask the parent what they will be providing for food. I make the same food that will be served at the party so my girls feel included, but with safe food for them. My freezer is full of desserts all the time so the girls have many options to choose from when they have an event to attend. This has helped them to always feel included which is one of the toughest things for kids with food allergies and intolerances to deal with.

4. When we are in a grocery store and see foods that my girls would like to eat, but can’t have we do two things. We find a similar product that is safe for them. The area that we live in has a plethora of natural food stores that have huge selections that fit our needs. If we can’t find it in our local stores, we look online where we can find almost anything we need. It doesn’t satisfy the urgent “want” while we are at the store, but it’s good for them to learn to be patient. 🙂 The other thing we do in this situation is figure out how we can make it ourselves. See #3 for this. My girls are at ages that I can reason with them about what they can and can’t have. If your kids are too young to reason with, I would suggest bringing a safe snack for them to eat while you are at the grocery store so they aren’t thinking about all the food they are passing by.

5. From the time our girls could talk we taught them about their food allergies and intolerances, their reactions, and the consequences of eating those foods would be for them. We wanted them to know clearly why they couldn’t eat certain foods. Education is so important with our kids in this area. I often use the example that we teach our kids the ABC’s from the time they are born knowing they don’t understand them at the time. We repeatedly teach the ABC’S because we know that one day they will know their ABC’s for themselves. I see it no differently with food allergies and intolerances or teaching kids not to touch a hot stove. It is our job to repeatedly teach our kids about their food allergies and intolerances until they know and understand them clearly for themselves. This year I have gone into our two older girls classrooms to talk about food allergies as well to educate their friends. The more we can educate our own kids, their friends, and our families, the easier it will be on our kids.

Please let me know if you have any other questions that I can answer. I hope this was helpful!

Easter Brunch Muffins

Easter is just over a week away. At our house, Easter is one of our favorite holidays all year round. My husband has a big birthday (40) the day before Easter this year so I have a lot of food prep and baking to do this week. I look forward to putting a lot of thought into how we will celebrate my husbands birthday and Easter. We are abundantly thankful for my husbands 40 years of life and looking forward to many more, as well as the new life that we celebrate on Easter. There is so much to be thankful for and celebrate.

Life has been busy since we have been traveling so I haven’t put a lot of thought into Easter brunch until now. I was asked to post a muffin recipe so I thought this strawberry muffin would be the perfect addition to Easter brunch. These muffins come together quickly and easily, using fresh strawberries. Not only are they easy to make, but they are packed full of healthy Omega 3’s as well. I do my best to pack as many of my recipes full of healthy ingredients as well as make them taste amazing for us food allergy folks. It’s a win win all around in my book! You can of course switch out the strawberries for another berry if you choose, but we really enjoy these with strawberries.

Strawberry Muffins

Ingredients
2/3 C Brown rice flour
2/3 C White rice flour
2/3 C Tapioca starch
1 t Guar gum
½ C Coconut sugar
1 T Flax meal
1 ½ t Chia seeds
½ t Cream of tartar
¾ t Baking soda
½ t Salt
2 T Earth balance buttery spread, soy free
2 T Apple sauce
1 Egg or egg replacer
1 ¼ C Coconut milk (or rice milk) + 1 t lemon juice
1 C Diced strawberries

Directions
Preheat oven to 350°. Spray 12 muffin tins with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, mix all of the dry ingredients together and be sure they are well combined. Then add the wet ingredients except fruit and mix well until combined. Cut strawberries into small chunks. Fold in the berries until fully incorporated. Bake at 350° for 20-25 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. Enjoy!

Whether you celebrate Easter or not, I hope that you enjoy these strawberry muffins! Have a great week everyone!

Vegan Nut Free Pesto

Vegan, nut free pesto for the win! With a family that can’t eat tomato, dairy, or garlic, this makes sauces very difficult. It really makes pizza challenging and who doesn’t love pizza?! I was bound and determined to find a sauce that my whole family could eat and enjoy for pizza. My husband and I went out to an allergy friendly restaurant many years ago, unfortunately it was terrible. I had a pesto pasta and it tasted really bad, but it gave me a great idea, to make our own pesto.

Every summer we grow a simple garden and put many of our favorites in it that are easy to maintain. Basil plants are very inexpensive to buy and easy to care for. I buy mine at Trader Joes at the beginning of every summer. They plant easily in our raised beds and don’t mind having quite a bit of shade. I plant four of them every summer and harvest them repeatedly throughout the summer. These four plants produce enough leaves for me to make pesto to last me through the whole year. It’s amazing! If you have space in your yard and care to grow simple plants, this is a great one to grow. I have a black thumb and I can keep them alive so you certainly can. 🙂

Back to my pesto. I have been making this recipe for many many years and it’s always a crowd pleaser, even with non food allergy people. No one ever knows the difference. I posted this picture below on Instagram in the fall after I harvested my basil and made a batch of pesto. A friend of mine left a comment that it looked like I was starting a marijuana dispensary. LOL!!!! This was hilarious to me because she knows me very well. For 11 years I was a drug and alcohol counselor for kids, so she knows very well I was not dispensing weed. It did give me a good laugh though, so if you thought the same thing, now you know it’s not. I didn’t go from being a drug and alcohol counselor to dealing drugs, I promise! 🙂

I use this pesto recipe on pizza, pasta, grilled sandwiches, with chicken, and any other way you could imagine using pesto. Give it a try!

Pesto

Ingredients
2 C Fresh basil leaves, packed
¼ C Daiya cheddar cheese shreds
½ C Olive oil
3 T Sunflower seeds, raw
2 Garlic cloves finely chopped (omit if you can’t have them)
1 t Salt

Directions
Put all ingredients into a high powered blender and blend until desired consistency is reached. Use fresh on pizza, patsa, bread, or any other fun idea you may have. If you want to make it ahead for later, freeze in silicone baking cups or in small snack size zip lock bags. If you freeze them in silicone cups, place them in a large zip lock bag once fully frozen. Enjoy!

Cuisinart Food Processor Review

I recently posted a video on social media that shows how quickly sweet potatoes can be turned into sweet potato fries in seconds. Several people had no idea that it was even possible and were amazed at how quickly and easily my Cuisinart food processor chopped my sweet potatoes. For almost two years, sweet potatoes were one of my best food friends. I ate them almost every day for lunch and loved them dearly. They got bumped only because I now love plantains too, but sweet potatoes will always be at the top of my list.

Originally when I started eating sweet potatoes, I was making chips out of them. See the sweet potato chip recipe here. I also made these with my food processor using my 4mm slicing blade. This is where my love for sweet potatoes began. I mean, who doesn’t love chips of any and all kinds?! Prior to this, I greatly disliked sweet potatoes. Gasp, I know! I never got into the candied yams at Thanksgiving or anything like that. It’s probably because my family never ate them and because I don’t like any mushy food at all. I have a quick gag reflex for anything mushy, so baked sweet potatoes were out. Enter sweet potato chips and I was SOLD! This way they were a tad bit crunchy, just like I like food. 🙂 While I loved my sweet potato chips, they were a bit high maintenance, needing to be flipped every 5 minutes towards the end of their baking. I just couldn’t give them that much attention. Making sweet potato fries changed all of that since I can flip large spatulas full all at the same time. Voila, I was eating sweet potato fries daily and loving it.

I figured there had to be a way to make french fry shapes with my food processor and sure enough, this french fry disc (affiliate link) is what I found and purchased. This attachment makes shoestring size fries. Several of the reviews I read about this attachment in particular was that it can get clogged and not work well. I do find this to be true, but it’s a real simple fix. All you need to do is open the lid and pull the pieces out of the attachment that are stuck and move along on your merry way. That’s all, no big deal!

Over the many years that I have had my food processor, I have used it for many things. I use it to chop vegetables like celery, carrots, cucumber, zucchini, etc. so that all of my pieces are uniform in size. It works great and super fast. The cucumber on the left, below, is with the 2mm slicing blade. The cucumber on the right is using the 4mm slicing blade.

I also use the grating attachment to grate carrots, cheese, and anything else you would like to be shredded.

My food processor also does a great job with “blender” muffins, date balls, pesto, sun butter, crackers, and more. It is such a versatile kitchen gadget, it’s a main staple in my kitchen. I really love my food processor and use it often. I have owned this 11 cup Pro Custom Cuisinart Food Processor and I currently own this 11 cup Prep Plus Cuisinart Food Processor (both affiliate links). The first one I got at some point after we were married, but I’m not sure when. I used it for years and then decided I needed a more powerful motor for all the use I was giving mine. They both were great, I have no complaints about either one. They are dishwasher safe with BPA plastic which are both pluses for me. All in all, I highly recommend getting a good food processor if you do a lot of meal prep, chopping vegetables, blending thicker or chunky foods, and like one unit that is great for many of uses. The two food processors in the links above come with a bowl, the lid, a blade attachment, two slicing blades that are different thicknesses (2mm and 4mm), and a grating blade. I had to purchase the french fry attachment separately. They are a bit of an investment, but so worth it if you think you will use it a lot. As always, let me know if you have any questions, I’m happy to answer any you may have.

Scoops!

You want the scoop on my scoops?! 🙂 I absolutely love everything about a set of * scoops These are almost a part of my daily baking, they are that helpful. If you plan on doing a lot of baking or cooking, I highly suggest finding yourself a set of ice cream/cookie scoops. I have found them called both, but I call them ice cream scoops in my recipes. I use these in so many different ways, I will post several pictures below that I used scoops for. The possibilities are endless really.

Here are several of the reasons that I love using scoops:
1. They are quick and easy to use
2. They are dishwasher friendly (can I get an amen to that since a lot of my kitchen tools can’t be?)
3. It is a great way to get even amounts of things. This way my girls can’t grumble that someone else’s food is bigger 😉
4. They are so versatile in the kitchen. See below for all the ways I use them.

Now for pictures 🙂

I make muffins by the 4 dozen. No joke, I do this every 10 days or so. My family eats muffins for breakfast every day, so scooping makes my life a whole lot easier and faster. The largest scoop is the perfect muffin size.

Ok, fine, you are going to begin to see that I make most things in bulk. I make tortillas in HUGE stacks and freeze them. By huge stacks, I mean 8 cups of dough, big. Again, the scoops make my life so much faster and easier here. I use the largest scoop for these as well.

No picture here, but I use my smallest scoop to make melon balls because my youngest insists that I do. In all honesty, I don’t prefer to do this, but for her? Anything! This takes longer than cutting, but it works well none the less.

We love a good healthy snack/dessert around here so we make date balls often. My second from the smallest scoop is the perfect size for these.

I do actually use my scoops for ice cream. 🙂 The largest scoop, of course!

Several other things that I use scoops for are frango chocolates, cupcakes, dinner rolls, small brownie bites, pie filling for small pies, cookies, bread sticks, buns, and more. Hopefully you find this helpful. Scoops forever changed my life in the kitchen, I hope they do for you too. 🙂

* This is an affiliate link for your convenience and to help keep my site running. I will always give my honest opinion, for me, there’s no other way to be. Also, I am a frugal shopper and I like to pass that on to my readers as well. 🙂

Tortilla Press Review

I told you all last week that I would give you my review on the *tortilla press that I have. Honestly, I LOVE this tortilla press so much. I think I made tortillas by hand one time which included rolling them all out and then frying each one individually. If you must do that, it works, but man it is a lot of work. For me, it wasn’t worth making tortillas at that pace.

A few things that you will learn about me more and more are that I am frugal where I can be, I save time when I can, I make simple but tasty foods, I skip unnecessary steps in recipes to save time, and I’m a bit unconventional in the kitchen to be able to do the things mentioned above. There are times that I have to decide which of the above are the most important if I can’t squeeze them all into one recipe. I think the tortillas fit into most of the above. The press wasn’t terribly expensive, it saves me SO much time, it is simple and easy to use, but this one isn’t unconventional. You can see a video on how easy they are to make under my oat tortilla recipe. It really is amazing how fast and simple it is.

Tortillas

Ingredients

2/3 C Brown rice flour
2/3 C White rice flour
2/3 C Tapioca starch
1 t Guar gum
½ t Cream of tartar
¼ t Baking soda
1 t Salt
1 C Warm water
2 T olive oil

Directions
In a large bowl mix together all dry ingredients well with a spoon. Add water to dry mixture and mix until well combined. The dough is a bit sticky. I use a tortilla maker to make these which saves a ton of time. Using a large cookie scoop place dough on tortilla maker, press down, let cook for about 30 seconds, then remove and place on a plate. Enjoy!

If you are making these by hand with a frying pan I would still use a cookie scoop to get even balls. Then use a baking mat dusted with extra tapioca starch. Place a ball of dough on the mat, sprinkle the top of the dough with more tapioca starch, then roll out into a circle. Spray pan with non-stick spray and fry each side for 10-15 seconds. Repeat until done.

This recipe works really well to double.

The one thing that I really don’t like about my tortilla press is that it’s not that easy to clean. While the press says it is non-stick, I find that I need to use non-stick spray to ensure my tortillas don’t stick. With that, the grease from the spray leaks out the bottom (see the photo below). This is definitely not a deal breaker for me, but something I think is important to share with you all. I clean it the best I can and then I store it with a paper towel underneath it.

Now for my unconventional idea with the tortilla press. For a long time, I have been wanting to make home made ice cream cones that are cane sugar free for my family. I found a great looking recipe that I want to try, but I just can’t get myself to buy an ice cream cone press. While it would be fun to have ice cream cones with the checkered pattern, I don’t think it is necessary to have the pattern and add another gadget to my kitchen. I am going to attempt to make ice cream cones with this tortilla press. 🙂 Wish me luck and I’ll let you know how my pattern free ice cream cones turn out.

* This is an affiliate link for your convenience and to help keep my site running. I will always give my honest opinion, for me, there’s no other way to be. Also, I am a frugal shopper and I like to pass that on to my readers as well. 🙂