Over the years, my posts have always been from the point of view of a mom and a caretaker. Today, my son is a Freshman in High School and I chanced upon an essay written by him (yes, he is a typical teen who does not want his parents to read his schoolwork!). With a lot of cajoling, he finally gave me permission to share the essay. Poignant yet humorous view into the mind of a child who has never known not to be afraid of food…
Happy Thanksgiving all!
I was nervous. Well, I usually am when I try new things, but this was different. All of my life and still today, I’ve had food allergies. Allergies to a lot of foods like nuts and soy, however, the one I was about to try for the first time were eggs. I never hated eggs just because I was allergic to them, and actually I thought they looked delicious. The ones that looked the tastiest in my mind were probably hard-boiled eggs and fried eggs. However, the thought of finally being able to eat those things was not on my mind right now, instead, I was scared. In my mind, I thought that I could die today. I was worried that I might have an allergic reaction, something I had never had. My mom had reassured me and told me countless times that if they thought I was going to have a reaction, I wouldn’t be taking the test, and that the reason they do this in the doctor’s office is to make sure it was safe. Still, I was worried. We walked into the office I had seen twice every year since I was born, and after the nurse called us in, we walked into a white room. The room had a bed with paper wrapping on top, like the type in most doctor’s offices. There were also three regular chairs and a table with a laptop. On one of the walls was a photograph of some nature related place with a motivational quote underneath. It looked like every other doctor’s office I had ever been in. We sat down and after what seemed like ages of waiting in the room, the doctor came in. She explained that she would give me an extremely small piece of a plain omelette then wait 15 minutes. Then she would give me a slightly bigger piece, and wait another 15 minutes, and we would continue this process for about three hours. I was starting to get excited now.
When the doctor handed me a plastic fork with a thin yellow square on top, I got scared. I nibbled off a piece and then slowly ate the rest. I remember thinking at the time that it tasted like string cheese, although eggs taste nothing like that to me nowadays.
I was happy when I finished eating, not because I had tried a new food, but more because it meant that I could go back to playing Pokemon on my 3ds for 15 minutes. This went on for a few hours until the end. I still eat eggs, especially omelettes, a lot. Funnily enough, I actually hated both boiled and fried eggs when I first tried them. I do have to say though, it was a pretty eggceptional eggsperience (sorry not sorry).
An inspiring story of how one young teen is raising hundreds of pounds of allergy-friendly foods for those in need…
I admit – I am a big time Rocker Momhack! What does that even mean? Well, let me put it this way… if one were to put an orangutan, a donkey and me in a karaoke bar – I am the one likely to get thrown out for being pitifully tone deaf. But, my bashful young son who is now all of 13 found his inner mojo when he got behind the drums at the School of Rock at age 7. And since then ‘me’ – the dutiful mom tags along to every class and tries to put on an intelligent expression when the kids and parents start talking rock music slang – fills, flams, rudiments, rolls 😉
The real bonus for me has been the fantastic friends I have found in the parents at the school. One mom, in particular, is especially close to my heart – Melany and I bonded over food talk, travel etc. and were soon Facebook pals. Our kids both in the same grade started off as little tykes on the Rock 101 ensemble – her Emily (young Ms. Em) on the keyboard and my Arjun on the drums.
One day, Melany’s post on Facebook caught my eye – Emily was raising ‘Allergy Friendly’ food donations for a local food bank. Of course, we donated to a cause so close to our hearts, but I was also very intrigued.
Millennials and Gen Z kids are often categorized as a self-absorbed, entitled lot but I personally have found them to be highly socially conscious, action-oriented and hard working. Despite being a caregiver to an allergic child, I had just vaguely wondered about how people with lesser affordability dealt with food allergies – let’s admit…allergy friendly foods do burn a hole in our pockets!! And here was a 13-year-old trying to collect nutritious allergy friendly foods for those who could not afford it – really?! I had to know what had motivated her and reached out to Melany asking if I could chat with Emily – ‘An interview with young Ms. Em’ if you will.
On a beautiful cold Spring Sunday morning, mom and daughter asked me to meet them at a local gym, Curves – yes, on a ‘Sunday’ morning this young teen was up and about working for her cause. Before I go ahead with my story, I have to tell you about my lovely Ms. Em – tall, slim and graceful with large doe eyes – her funky sense of style has always caught my eye. At School of Rock, she started off on the keyboard and today she is a vocalist too. At school – a sincere student, an athlete, and a dedicated girl scout. But, what wins my heart is her gracious, polite and respectful demeanor whenever I see her. For that – I credit her parents too.
On with my story – I see young Ms. Em setting up a food collection box at Curves – “Safe Foods 4 All”. Apparently, Emily had talked to the local Curves owner and convinced her that ‘Allergy Friendly’ Foods are a valuable donation to the local food bank, Fish Inc.
I absolutely loved the entire display – Emily had made sure that there was a short write-up which explained what allergy-friendly and gluten-free meant and had a list of food items that fell in the ‘safe’ category. She also had put some sample boxes on display, so people could visually instinctively understand. And, a short note about herself and the food bank she was supporting.
Finally, after setting up the display young Ms. Em was ready to sit down with me over waffles and a chat about her journey raising allergy-friendly food donations.
Emily starts hesitantly – her motivation…she had grown up seeing her mom suffer from food allergies and sensitivities. So, when she had to think of a sustainable project for her ‘Girl Scout Silver Award’ she quite simply wanted to do something for food allergy sufferers who could not easily afford allergy-friendly products. I love how lucidly kids think…they see an issue and immediately try to solve it the way they know how!
She came up with a game plan with her parents:
Individual Contributions: Raise donations from individuals like talking to small business owners and setting up food collection boxes like at Curves, School of Rock and harnessing social media to raise contributions.
Volume Contribution: Establish a long-term source for bulk contributions. To achieve that, Emily’s parents took her to the Gluten Free & Allergy Friendly Expo in NJ. Mom Melany says her daughter is shy, but it takes tremendous self-confidence for a young girl to walk up to those corporate big-wigs and make a case. This young powerhouse visited every stall and talked to them about making a donation and managed to convince a few.
Em’s next step was to google up a list of food banks/soup kitchens/churches in her neighborhood and call each one of them to see if they had seen a need for Allergy-Friendly & Gluten-Free (AF&GF) foods. Her search led to Fish Inc. – a volunteer organization that among other programs runs a Food Bank for the needy. Food packages are tailored to meet the special dietary needs of the individual family. Fish Inc. welcomed Emily’s idea of Allergy Friendly food contribution.
Young Em’s beautiful eyes grew misty as she recounted her first visit to Fish Inc. – ‘It made me so sad to see the long line of people waiting for their food.’ I found myself getting choked up as I listened to this young girl having so much empathy and ability to put together an action plan – you inspire me, young lady. You are my super-girl…
The results of her effort are staggering:
A buy-in with ‘THREE’ leading allergy friendly companies
21 cases of SunButter Jars in 4 varieties including reduced sugar
1500 SunButter cups
171 Pounds food collected through a partnership with Curves of Greenbrook, NJ and its members
A total of 700 Pounds of Allergy-Friendly food as of September 2018
A commitment from a major Allergy Friendly food company to ensure supplies in the long-term
As Fyodor Dostovesky said, ‘The soul is healed by being with children’ – after the chat with Emily, I stepped out into the crisp morning sunshine ready to make a difference in the world.
“Somewhere inside all of us is the power to change the world” – Roald Dahl in Matilda.
If you want to make a contribution contact Emily at SafeFoods4AllNJ@gmail.com
“Let me love you a little more before you’re not little anymore” – that says it all about my state of mind as my little one celebrates his 12th birthday!
My dad often jokes, ‘Eat to live, live not to eat.’ but I love how we can express our love through food. Dishing out Allergy-Friendly/ Arjun-Friendly fun foods gives me ultimate joy especially on his special day so, every meal on his birthday is carefully thought through…
Needless to say, by the end of the day, mommy felt like this…
So the big family dinner was at Houlihans – a nice steak dinner which he loves but mommy still doesn’t know how to make!
I often hear how sons are not as caring as daughters. There must be some truth to it since generalizations exist for a reason but so far, I have not had a reason to generalize – he is the first one to notice the break in my voice even on the phone or the beginning of a tear when I am sad and my days are replete with hugs and ‘I love you mommy’ moments. ‘Yes, I gave you life but really you gave me mine…’
I wonder if my boy’s personality has been shaped by his food allergies and the constant fear he has learnt to live in as a result. He is still a shy, hesitant, wary and quiet kid but then that may just be his personality – after all, his parents were not gregarious at that age either and look at us now 😛 I can see his confidence slowly but surely emerging as he made his own choices in middle school this year. His drums teacher at School of Rock has just managed to push him to the next level and he has found a joy in playing the guitar. But, his favorite thing to do still is art – he loves sketching and his dream came true over Fall when he learnt to draw his favorite Super heroes from a well-known cartoonist. Aah the joy when he could draw Spiderman hanging upside down from a skyscraper on a dark night against the New York skyline! However, the biggest surprise this year has been his new found joy in ‘reading’ – that kid who would find every excuse in the book to avoid reading now gets yelled at every night to stop reading and hit the sack 😀 Thank you to his dedicated teachers and the amazing Ms Rowling!
An update on his allergies – the last few years hasn’t brought about significant change in his list of allergies. He continues to be allergic to all tree nuts, peanuts, shell fish, sesame, chick peas (garbanzo beans), poppy seeds and he can still not tolerate milk, eggs or soy if it is not processed. However, he can eat larger quantities of processed dairy like cheese, yogurt, curd, kefir and ice cream than he could even a year back. He is ecstatic about that since those are the fun forms of milk anyways! He can eat eggs in very small quantities but only in cooked products like pancakes, waffles, cakes and cookies. However, we have to be careful and mostly avoid products with eggs. The one big change has been soy. Until a year back soybean oil and soy lecithin were the only forms in which he could tolerate soy but now he can eat small quantities of processed soy like tofu but he still cannot drink soy milk. Luckily, he doesn’t really care much for soy but it is one less food item we have to be paranoid about!
One of the truly special moments of the past year was when we celebrated his thread ceremony. This ceremony is a centuries old Hindu custom from a time when once children were old enough to start formal education they were sent off to a boarding school. Before the tearful send off, the parents organized a huge party for family and friends to wish the child well. Of course, kids today don’t go away to boarding school but the celebration with friends and family still continues to mark the child’s journey towards becoming a young adult. We decided to celebrate it in India so his paternal and maternal grandparents could easily be a part of this festive occasion without having to endure a long plane journey in their advanced years. The highlight of this event – obviously, that it was completely allergy friendly. The chef and I went back and forth for months before the event to ensure Arjun could partake of anything without fear – it was to celebrate him so why have food he could not eat!. Fish, Shell Fish and eggs was automatically taken care of since the menu was entirely vegetarian. Soy is not a part of Indian cuisine so that was not an issue either. However, it was a huge challenge avoiding chick peas, Bengal gram, sesame seeds and nuts which is an integral part of a traditional festive South Indian meal. The chef and his team managed it with aplomb and the food was so delicious that even after a year many of our guests mention it. I will write more about it in a separate post.
This was also a year of huge learning and narrow escapes. Sometimes food allergic families relax; forgetting how dangerous food allergies can be just because nothing serious has happened in a while. Like the time when on a casual summer stroll in New York City, I almost gave a French macaron (and why are French macaron stores popping up all over ?!) to my son assuming the cookies were made of white wheat flour. Fortunately, it struck me to ask the sales girl in the nick of time and to my horror realized that that it is made almost entirely using almond flour. Almond is the one tree nut that Arjun is deathly allergic to. These near escapes have taught Arjun to double check everything even if mom has okayed it. The latest learning was on his 12th Birthday when we were at his birthday dinner outing and I accidentally gave him a piece of lavash bread with sesame seeds on it. But, the seeds did not escape his keen eyes.
It is a joy to see the sincere, caring and curious human being he is growing up to be. But, above all I am so proud that he does not take things for granted and has taken on the responsibility of his welfare in his own hands. My goal 11.5 years back when he was first diagnosed with food allergies was to ‘enable’ him because I cannot always be around to keep him safe and every single day, I can see him making giant strides towards that ultimate goal!
‘If I could keep you little, I’d keep you close to me.
But then I’d miss you growing into who you’re meant to be!’
Recently a super fun event occurred in my life – I had the opportunity to visit the world headquarters of Mondelez International, the American multinational confectionery, food and beverage company. So, big deal one might say but my excitement stems from the fact that ‘Enjoy Life’ is an independently owned subsidiary of Mondelez! I use the word ‘independently’ very consciously. Way back in 2015, when Enjoy Life was acquired by Mondelez, I was concerned, very concerned. Would a small Allergen-free snack food company survive in the big corporate world. On that front, am I relieved or what – Enjoy Life has become bigger and better but continues to have the small company feel. They continue to engage with customers like myself on a personal level via social media which has convinced me that they sincerely care that my child with severe multiple food allergies should be safe but not deprived. The highlight of the visit…an opportunity to drop in at the company store and get my hands on discounted Enjoy Life – yayy! But the best was yet to come…my greedy eyes fell on the the new snack packs. Small packets of soft baked minis by Enjoy Life. Now, my son and I love the fresh box of Snickerdoodle, Double Chocolate Brownie and Chocolate Chip Cookies by Enjoy Life but my one problem with the soft baked Enjoy Life cookies is that it becomes rock hard within days of opening the box. Granted that I can warm it up in the microwave to soften it but the new snack bags are just right for the school lunch box and I don’t have to worry about wastage after having spent an arm and a leg on them and driving miles to find a store that stocks them.
Picture courtesy – enjoylife.com
Picture courtesy – enjoylife.com
These snack packs are a sure winner and a must try for anyone with the top 8 food allergies or even someone who wants to eat healthy and whole grain or gluten-free.
Now these chocolates are not dairy-free but they are completely tree nut and peanut free. As a baby my son could not ingest dairy even in minute quantities without his whole body swelling up literally like a cue balloon. However, today at age 11 he can have processed dairy like cheese or chocolate – yes, there is hope. But, I was surprised how incredibly difficult it is to find chocolates that have been processed in a facility that do not process nuts. Initially I would take a chance and unless the packaging said ‘May contain traces of allergen’, I would give him the chocolate. That was until I visited the Hershey chocolate factory in Hershey, PA. Since then, I have realized that we have just been lucky thus far since cross-contamination is very likely if the equipment is shared. So, if one can eat products like chocolate with dairy in it – this chocolate is the best I have found in the market. The packaging is beautiful and the chocolate itself is shaped soooo gourmet – love!
First off, I have to gush over the adorably cute packaging of this range of legume pastas – it instantly communicates the image of fun, youthful and organic through the use of earthy tones on a brown paper base. I am a vegetarian and the nutritionist in me firmly believes in legumes as a fabulous source of fiber, proteins and healthy carbs. And then I found his useful nugget of gold on the Why Legumes page of the Tolerant Foods website, ‘Plant protein found in legumes provide the body steady, lasting energy that can last 4-6 hours vs. meat which only lasts about 2-3 hours!’ In my experience, the incidence of soybean and chickpea/ garbanzo beans allergy is quite high. However, lentils and beans like black bean, red lentil, mung bean, peas is relatively rare. My son is allergic to soybeans and chickpeas so lentils and beans are the way he gets his vegetarian proteins. Apart from the zillion lentil/ bean soup recipes that Indian cuisine abounds in, I love the legume pasta version – packs in the vegetarian protein punch despite food allergies.
Recently I tossed the red lentil pasta with Allergy Friendly Harissa paste that a blogger friend gifted me (Instagram – LifeDelicious). Harissa is a North African red chili paste Unadulterated culinary delight and my taste buds screamed in joy 🙂 Love you Kavita ❤
Stay tuned for more Allergy Friendly, AllergyFoodie posts as my baby’s 12 birthday draws near…
‘Eating peanuts while pregnant cuts child’s risk of allergies’ – hmm! This research study made headlines on Christmas Eve, 2013 in Food Allergy circles. Now, I did eat tons of nuts but it did not help my son escape nut allergies. But, it did help me put on oodles of weight :)) However, one example like me does not a study make and it is definitely good news for all of us!
Dare I complain about the cold with Sochi Olympics in full swing?! Oh well – here in the North East we are getting bombarded by snow storms like never before – the only thing that is keeping me sane is the crackling fire and soul satisfying freshly made Allergy Friendly food in the comfort of my family room. Ye ye – it is bad manners to eat in the family room but try eating in a cold kitchenette when the outside temperature is 0 degrees 😀
So, today I welcome you to the warmth of my hearth with my son’s favorite lip smacking allergy friendly okra stir-fry (yup there is more to okra than the deep fried version) and a bowl of warm split mung bean (with skin) soup seasoned with sauteed onions and a dash of paprika (recipe for the soup in my next post)
Brrr – 14 F but the lure of the snow does not allow one to remain indoors…
A beautiful, brisk hike till my fingers and toes were numb and back into the warm comfort of home…what better time than to whip up a warm bowl of Allergy Friendly Pigeon Peas Tomato soup which is also surprisingly quick to make…
Yield: Serves 2-3 people
Split Pigeon Peas without skin: ¼ cup (available in any health food store)
Turmeric powder: 1/8 tsp.
Freshly ground 1/2 tsp. cumin seeds + 1/4 tsp. black pepper powder: 1 tsp. (I like it coarsely ground)
Curry leaves: 4-5 (optional)
Tomatoes: 2 large
Finely chopped Cilantro: 1 tbsp.
Pressure cook the pigeon peas with turmeric powder and 1 cup water till completely soft. You can cook directly on stove top too – it will just take longer! (I keep a cooked batch handy in the freezer almost always)
In a heavy bottomed vessel add the cooked pigeon peas and the remaining ingredients.
Add 3-4 times water and cook over medium heat for approximately 10 minutes.
The flavors of the soup have reached its peak when a whitish red froth forms on the surface – it’s time to switch off the heat. If desired garnish with 1 tbsp. of finely chopped cilantro leaves.
Serve it hot with your favorite allergy friendly bread. For a hearty twist, add 2-3 tbsp. of cooked brown or white rice to the soup.
Yesss – winter just got better even if you were part of the audience as the 49ers and Green Bay Packers battled it out in Wisconsin’s sub-zero temperatures 🙂
Wishing you and your loved ones a happy and healthy 2014! I rang in the New Year quietly – watching the ball drop over Times Square from the warm comfort of home with my little boy cuddled up next to me and a glass of Conundrum red wine.
It’s at in that mellow moment that some random allergy friendly tips popped into my head which I feel compelled to share with all Food Allergy sufferers and caretakers…I will add more as we cruise through the year!
French Macaron: Did you know that this fancy, brightly colored French confection that has suddenly become omnipresent in the US is not a humdrum flour based cookie with a jelly filling? They are made with Almond flour. I almost gave it to my son since he is no longer allergic to wheat and can even have dairy and eggs in baked items. Of all his allergies – my son is most severely allergic to almonds so you can imagine what an accidental bite might have done to him.
Thai food: The crunchy vegetables and healthy meats seem the right choice but wait…very often this cuisine uses fish or shrimp paste in many of its dishes. Thai cooking also uses Soy, Sesame, Peanuts and Tree Nuts extensively. So, unless you understand the nitty-gritty of Thai food – this is best avoided.
Chinese cuisine: I love Chinese fare but then I don’t have any food allergies. Peanuts, Soy, Sesame and Tree Nuts are an integral part of this cuisine hence better avoided completely even though it is the most easily available food when traveling apart from the quintessential pizza slice!
Indian cuisine: Now this is one cuisine I understand well and that is exactly why it freaks me out. Tree nuts and Peanuts are used in gravies, chutneys in such sneaky ways that it isn’t funny. On top of that dairy, mustard seeds and poppy seeds are used across the board – stay away from Indian or any South Asian dishes unless it is homemade or you understand the prep process completely.
Some other cuisines to watch out for: Definitely Korean, Japanese, and Vietnamese – all of them use Soy and Fish extensively
Hidden sources of food allergens: As I have learnt from my readers who have contributed to spreading awareness about flax seed allergy through Allergy Foodie – a food allergen may creep into our lives in insidious ways. An allergen may be present in cosmetics, toiletry, pillows/ cushions, jackets and more. In other words – always be conscious of what you come in contact with.
The warm Saturday afternoon sunshine, family gossip and fryums – life just does not get better. Oh wait, it did get better…the one thing I have loved even as a little girl – a handwoven string of fresh fragrant flowers to adorn the hair. That was my kiddie cousin’s spontaneous gift for me from their kitchen garden 😉
And the next part of our Allergy Friendly cooking journey continued with ‘Tapioca Pearls Fryums’. What are Tapioca Pearls? They are white starchy balls (usually 2-3 mm in diameter) made from processed cassava (Manihot esculenta). Cassava is a shrub that is cultivated in large parts of South America and Asia for its edible starchy tuberous root, a major source of carbohydrates. The starchy part is often referred to as Tapioca. In recent times – it has been made very famous thanks to the tasty and pretty looking bubble tea. Do not confuse Tapioca pearls with Sago pearls – they look very similar and are cooked in similar ways. However, Sago is extracted from the starchy center of various palm trees.
Merry Christmas to all! Santa loved the Dari-Free chocolate milk and allergy Friendly Chocolate Chip and Sugar cookies. He also left some mighty fine toys for my not so ‘Naughty’ 8 year old 🙂
So, on a day that embodies love, family and the spirit of giving I am reminded of my granny and my gorgeous aunt – everyone says I am a splitting image of her so I gotta say she is gorgeous 😉 But my aunt and I do share a beautiful camaraderie.
The last memory I have of my beautiful and sprightly grandmother, or avva as all her grand-kids called her is of her sitting on the front porch of our family home in India in a bright green saree and a big bindi waiting to welcome me – her ‘special’ granddaughter. Or, that’s what I believed – she had a way of making each one of her 7 kids and numerous grand-kids feel as if they were important to her in a way no one else could be – shrewd, huh 🙂
My family likes to believe that I am a chip of the grand old block in terms of courage and zest for life. But, I can never hold a candle to my avva who in her last days was a frail 81 year old woman, back bent with age and life’s travails. Even as her health failed and she could hardly sit up – she was a source of immense strength for each one of us and she has left a void which the entire family has been hard-pressed to fill even after 15 years!