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Making Valentine’s Day Special

Shortbread Hearts

When I was a little girl my dad always bought me and my sisters Valentine’s Day gifts.  It was usually something small, often a plastic container that was filled with conversation hearts or a heart-shaped box of chocolates, maybe a small knick-knack or stuffed animal.  I remember how that little trinket waiting on the kitchen table in the morning would bring such joy.  I remember showing it off to my friends in school and it being my prized possession for at least the next several days.

This year I am treasuring those memories a little bit more because it is our first Valentine’s Day without my dad, who passed away very suddenly last month.

I’ve got to admit that I was dreading this weekend.  Not only is it the first holiday without my dad, but his birthday is also Monday, a double-whammy of reminders not even a month into our grieving process.

To counteract the sadness that I’ve been feeling, I decided to focus on making this Valentine’s special for E, the way my dad always made it special for me.  So, out came the trinkets!

Car Valentines

I decided that it was only appropriate to celebrate E’s current true love – cars!  So, I came up with these little valentines, one for E and others for his cousins and some special Stroller Strides friends.  I was really happy with the way that they turned out and was super-proud of myself for creating valentines that were non-food (i.e., completely safe and healthy) and something that every toddler loves.  They even leant themselves to a cute, Valentine’s Day-appropriate saying.

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He was so excited to get a car and was surprisingly willing to share the love. (I was a little worried that he was not going to like the idea of giving away cars.)

IMG_4036I added to our Valentine’s Day festivities, with another thing every two-year-old loves – cookies!  We used Ina Garten’s shortbread cookie recipe (by the way, shortbread is egg-free!).  We substituted soy-free Earth Balance for the butter and topped them off with safe red sprinkles (Wilton are safe for us).  They were a lot of fun to make and E gets so excited when he gets a “surprise” for dessert 🙂

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Also, my heart-shaped strawberry project from last year, inspired me to use cookie-cutters to Valentine-ify his standard peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  I love that something as simple as cookie cutters can make so many safe foods more fun!

Heart PB&J

My Valentine’s Day was totally made first thing this morning, though, when E said, “Happy Valentine’s Day Mommy, Daddy” and initiated a big group hug.  Seriously could not think of a better gift!

I hope you are having a great Valentine’s Day with your loved ones.  Hug them a little closer and extra long this year.

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 Happy Valentine’s Day to My First Valentine! I Love You Dad!

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A Season of Celebrations

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I am ready to celebrate! Sunday we declared rice an official pass and yesterday E passed the initial oat challenge!!  We still have to finish out the oat trial, but things are looking good!

If you recall, I was not looking forward to this December.  In fact, I was dreading it.  I was so focused on all of the challenges that we were set to face that I didn’t even think about all of the things that we would have to celebrate this season.  I was so caught up in the stress and negative aspects of FPIES that I totally forgot that I was going to get to spend Christmastime with a two-year-old!  Without knowing it, my own little elf has reminded me of what this time of year is all about.  So, in contrast to the post I wrote about a month ago, I want to share with you all of the fun that we’ve been having this holiday season, despite living with FPIES and enduring serial food trials.

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We kicked off the season with a dairy challenge the Monday before Thanksgiving. I know, how festive!  Despite the stress and uncertainty of the trial, we managed to have a wonderful Thanksgiving.  Jonathan’s sister and her husband hosted a beautiful family dinner.  They graciously offered to make it safe for E but we decided to err on the side of caution.  The possibility of mistakes or cross-contact was too high, especially during the dairy trail, so I brought a safe dinner for E.  It wasn’t necessarily a traditional Thanksgiving meal but he gobbled up his turkey meatball, mashed potatoes, applesauce, green beans, and corn bread.  He also ate in a highchair so that he was a little more removed from the table (and allergens).  I don’t think he even noticed that he wasn’t at the table or that his dinner was different.  He loved eating with the whole family, especially his cousins!

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After Thanksgiving, the countdown to Christmas began!  For as long as I can remember my mom has always made a paper chain to help us countdown to Christmas.  I was so excited to make one for E this year because he can finally understand what it signifies.   Every night before he goes to bed, he rips a link off and declares that we are “one day closer Christmas and Santa Claus will be here.”  It’s the cutest thing ever!

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After two weeks of trialling dairy we aren’t totally sure it’s safe and decided to retrial it after things settle down in January.  It’s disappointing to spend another holiday dairy-free but we are becoming pros now at finding substitutes and modifying traditions.  E is in love with the idea of “kissmiss coosies.”  In addition to the safe chocolate chip cookies, we have been experimenting with recipes for shortbread cookies (which are naturally egg-free!).  Baking and decorating the cookies is almost as fun as eating them!

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Next up was the rice challenge, which went so well we were able to combine it with a visit to see Santa Claus.  E has been so excited by the whole idea of Santa Claus and talks about him every day.  I think he was a little starstruck when he first met the jolly old elf in person, but managed to file his request for his “own kitchen” (which is all he’s been talking about!).  He was also lucky enough to get a private visit from Santa Claus who arrived at his Grandi and Grandad’s house via firetruck!  The icing on the (allergen-free) cake was definitely the email that he received from Santa last night.  Santa sent a video that announced that E had made it to the nice list!  We have watched this video about 10 times already and each time E gets more and more excited!

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We’ve also been spending time watching some classic Christmas TV specials and, of course, choosing and trimming our Christmas tree.

E’s excitement about Christmas and Santa Claus has absolutely been contagious.  I think actually at this point I might be more excited for the big day than he is.  I can’t remember the last time I was looking this much forward to Christmas!  Seriously, I’m giddy.

When you are in throes of FPIES, or any other stressor, it’s hard to step back and remember that this is not the only thing going on in your life.  The holidays are full of parties that center around food (food that is full of dairy, egg, and shellfish).  So, having a child with food allergies can be stressful.  It means more planning.  It means more work.  It means constant vigilance.  But it also means that we will spend lots of time surrounded by people we love and who love us.  It means that E will get to hang out with his family, many of whom we don’t see enough.  Sure, some traditions have to be tweaked, but E is two! He doesn’t know that there are cookies that we’ll omit from our baking menu this year.  He doesn’t care that he can’t partake in my dad’s famous Christmas Eve shrimp scampi or Aunt Jean’s lasagna.  He’s never had those things and would probably even prefer a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  I’m definitely guilty of mourning the things he can’t do and I love that he is always ready to remind me of all that he can do and what’s important to him, and what’s really important about the holidays (hint: it’s actually not the food).

I hope that the joy of our Christmas season can bring hope to those of you that are in the thick of life with FPIES or any other challenge.  We’ve had so much fun watching E getting excited for Christmas and enjoying all that comes with this time of year that we’ve been able to shift our focus away from FPIES (even though we were in the middle of some pretty serious food trials).  The opportunity to take a step back and remember that there is so much more to life than FPIES has been a bit of a Christmas gift (and lesson) to me.

Thank you for celebrating our passes and Christmastime with us.  I wish you the joy and excitement of a two year old on Christmas and a happy and healthy new year full of your own celebrations!

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Banana Chocolate Chip French Toast Casserole

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My mom makes the world’s best banana chocolate chip pancakes and they have become the centerpiece all of our best family celebrations, especially holidays such as Christmas or Mother’s Day.  As we approached last Christmas I started to feel sad that E wasn’t going to be able to eat the pancakes.  I had tried to do a dairy free version the year before (when I was avoiding dairy while I was still breastfeeding) but they didn’t come anywhere close to my mom’s and that was before we were eliminating soy and egg, which are of course major players in the deliciousness.

As I scoured the internet trying to find an allergen-free substitute I came across Strawberry Banana French Toast Casserole on C Mom Cook.  It wasn’t too hard to make it a little less healthy by switching out the strawberries for Enjoy Life Chocolate Chips.  And it was amazing!  It’s definitely not the same as pancakes but it provides the right flavors and the proper amount of carbs to serve as a base for any good celebration.

This recipe also holds a special place in my heart because our trial of it was E’s first taste of chocolate.

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December 2013: E’s first taste of chocolate!

It is also a really easy recipe to put together.  E helped me make it for the Mother’s Day Brunch that we hosted this year and we both had a ball.  He was able to help me put everything into the blender and loved watching it get pulverized. The sneaky little boy also stole tastes along the way, which was fine because it was completely safe for him!

The casserole held its own on a table that was covered in quiches and pastries, which is a testament to its yumminess and E had something that he could enjoy with the rest of the family.  I hope that you and your family enjoy it as much as we do

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E was not interested in waiting until the end of the photo shoot to enjoy this breakfast treat!

Banana Chocolate Chip French Toast Casserole (Egg-Free, Dairy Free, Soy-Free)

Ingredients

  • Approximately 4 cups safe bread cubes
  • 1 1/2 cups almond milk (or any other safe milk, coconut milk would be awesome)*
  • 1 banana*
  • 1/2 tablespoon ground chia seed*
  • approximately 1/4 cup enjoy life chocolate chips
  • 2-3 tablespoons light brown sugar (to taste)
  • Soy Free Earth’s Balance Buttery Spread to grease the casserole dish

Directions

Place the bread cubes in a large bowl.

In a blender, combine the milk, banana and ground chia until smooth and creamy.

Pour the milk mixture over the bread and gently mix to coat all of the bread.* 

Fold in the chocolate chips.

Grease a casserole dish with Earth’s Balance and carefully pour the mixture (and any of its extra liquid) into the baking dish, cover and set it aside.

Allow the mixture to rest at least 15 minutes, but, if you wanted, you could prepare this the night before and put it into the refrigerator at this time.

When you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. If you refrigerated your casserole overnight, remove it from the refrigerator about half an hour prior to baking.

Sprinkle the top with light brown sugar and bake for 30 minutes.

*Depending on the type of bread and amount of bread that you use, you may want to double or triple the milk mixture part of the recipe.  I recommend making it a batch of liquid at a time and then adding more if it looks dry.  We prefer it a little on the wet/mushy side so I tend to use more of the liquid mixture.

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The pictures really don’t do this recipe justice 🙂

This recipe was (very slightly) adapted from the Strawberry Banana French Toast Casserole on C Mom Cook.

 

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Hooray for a Successful Easter (and Peanut Butter Eggs)!

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This weekend was crazy-busy for us and I’m exhausted.  But every last detail was worthwhile! I am so excited and can’t wait to tell you about how well everything went!

This year we hosted Easter for the first time, which was an honor and a little stressful.  My great-aunt has hosted  an Easter open house for nearly 60 years but was unable to do it this year, so I offered to have her traditional party at our house.  This was great because it gave me some control over the menu and we had all of E’s toys which were great distractions from all the food (it also gave me a good reason to do some intense spring cleaning).  We stuck pretty much with the traditional menu – kielbasa, ham, potato salad, and pasta salad.  There were some allergens on the menu but we decided not to mess too much with tradition.  We felt confident that we would be able to keep E away from those foods and decided to make a special meal for him.  It turns out that he doesn’t really care if he’s eating what everyone else is eating, as long as he’s eating when everyone else is eating.  I tend to get caught up with making a safe version of the traditional holiday meal for E, which causes me more stress and then he may or may not even eat it.  Luckily my husband was able to step in and prevent me from embarking on crazy recipes or rushed food trials this time.  We decided to keep it simple and went with tried and true favorites.  After all, what toddler wouldn’t be thrilled with an Easter hot dog?  

However, as you may recall, I was determined that we were going to pass down some Easter traditions.  Last Easter E was only about 7 months old and we were still dealing with the end of chronic FPIES so we weren’t feeling up to dyeing eggs.  I was a little torn about it this year too.  I figured it could either way – he could totally love it or not be interested and make a huge mess.  And then there are the eggs – one of E’s allergens.  Dyeing eggs doesn’t really require eating the eggs, but the kid still puts everything in his mouth!  And what was I going to do with a bunch of hardboiled eggs? Eggs were fairly easy for us to eliminate from the house after we found out E was allergic – my husband and I never ate a ton of eggs so it wasn’t hard to just not have them.  I didn’t need to start now.  I wondered if I could find something else to dye, so I started scouring the internet.  I found a company that makes ceramic dyeable eggs, but they were a little expensive and I was afraid they were too fragile to give a one-year-old who doesn’t have a gentle bone in his body.

I was ready to give up when a friend and fellow FPIES mom told me about plastic dyeable eggs that Walmart was selling.  I was so excited – completely allergy-safe and rough-little-boy-friendly.  It’s like they were made for E!  I will generally go out of my way to avoid Walmart, but I’ll do anything for my son, so off to Walmart I went.

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We finally got around to dying the eggs on Saturday afternoon and it was a blast!  E loved it!  I also think I will seriously consider using plastic eggs forever.  He was able to throw the eggs into the dye cup, smash them down with egg holder, and drop them on the floor without having to worry about any broken eggshells.  And the eggs were beautiful!  The sentimentalist in me is also excited to save one of E’s first dyed Easter eggs.

IMG_2940Next up was the Easter candy.  So after a day of cleaning, egg dyeing, last minute Easter outfit shopping, and cooking, I started to make candy.  I was glad I had done a test run of the giant chocolate bunny and smaller chocolate candies that I made out of enjoy life chocolate chips.  That was easy.  But I also decided to make allergen-free peanut butter eggs based on a recipe I came across on Pinterest.  These were fairly easy, but a bit time consuming and I started around 10pm (which is past my bedtime, I know I’m pretty lame).

The results were totally worth it! The peanut butter eggs are delicious! Seriously.  Better than than Reese’s.  There’s about 5 ingredients in them – so they are pure yumminess!  But even better than the yum-factor is the safe-factor.  E can eat them and he loves them!  I love having a safe snack for him and watching him enjoy the indulgence.  It’s also nice that I can treat myself to one without hiding in the kitchen and going through an entire decontamination procedure afterward.

On Easter morning, the Easter Bunny left a basket that contained the safe chocolate bunny, a few smaller chocolates and two peanut butter eggs, along with a Curious George lunchbox, safe crayons, a new book, and a couple small toy cars.  E loves cars and Curious George, so I didn’t know which was going to be the bigger hit in the basket.  Turns out it was the peanut butter eggs!  He didn’t even hesitate – he grabbed one and took a bite as soon as he saw them! I thought my heart was going to burst with pride, love, and joy!  He was so excited and happy to see a candy that he could eat.  I loved that he loved them!

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He didn’t waste any time digging into the candy!

We set out some small chocolates and peanut butter eggs on the coffee table when our guests arrived.  Everyone raved about them.  I love finding things that are safe for E that other people can also enjoy.  It was also so exciting that E could walk up to the coffee table and indulge in a little treat.  I guess it’s a feeling only an allergy-parent can understand.  I spend so much of my time anxious about E being exposed to allergens and preventing him from eating things that other people take for granted.  Being able sit back and relax as I was watching him enjoy a safe treat was the best Easter gift I could imagine!

We had a wonderful Easter surrounded by family and sharing traditions with our little boy.    I hope you also had a wonderful and safe Easter! I know that it’s a bit late, but below is the adapted recipe for safe peanut butter eggs.  I will definitely be making these year-round (maybe as just balls or other shapes if I’m feeling really ambitious) and I hope you enjoy them too!

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In all of the craziness of this weekend I forgot to get a picture of just the peanut butter eggs.

Peanut-Butter Eggs: Dairy-Free, Soy-Free, Egg-Free, Grain-Free

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup Peanut Butter (I used Crazy Richard’s 100% Natural Creamy Peanut Butter – I’d assume you could use any safe nut/seed butter)
  • 1/4 cup Soy-Free Earth Balance Natural Buttery Spread
  • 1 tsp Vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cup Powdered Sugar
  • 10 oz package Enjoy Life Mini Chips
  • 1 tbsp canola oil (or other safe oil)

Directions:

  1. Melt peanut butter and Earth Balance for 1 minute in microwave.
  2. Stir until blended.
  3. Add vanilla and powdered sugar and mix well.
  4. Scoop out about a tablespoon of the mixture and shape into an egg shape.
  5. Place on parchment paper lined sheet and place in freezer for 15 minutes.
  6. Mix the mini chips with canola oil.
  7. Melt the mini chips in microwave by heating for 30 seconds then stirring and repeating process until it is melted and smooth. (This should take about 1 1/2 minutes)
  8. Using a fork, dip egg into chocolate and flip to cover completely. Lift with fork and gently tap on edge of the bowl allowing excess chocolate to drip off.
  9. Place back on parchment paper.
  10. Refrigerate 10 minutes until chocolate has set

If you have the freezer space, I recommend freezing in two batches. This will allow you to get started with the freezing process while you shape the remainder.  It will also keep half frozen while you are dipping the other half in chocolate, which is easier to do when they are more solid.

The original recipe is here: http://www.raininghotcoupons.com/chocolate-covered-peanut-butter-eggs/.  I removed the allergens and also made them much smaller.  
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Our beautiful dyed plastic eggs! 
Happy Easter!
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The Easter Bunny’s Research Assistant – Chocolate Candy

Chocolate Bunny - flowers

The centerpiece of my childhood Easter baskets was always a huge chocolate bunny.  So large that it took several weeks (or at least days) to finish.  Of course now when I look back the whole thing is a little sad – slowly maiming a bunny as you ingest hundreds of calories and piles of sugar.  Nonetheless, it is tradition.  Thus, it’s important to me that E get to experience all of the joy and creepiness that comes with finding a large chocolate bunny in your basket on Easter morning and slowly gnawing on it until it disappears.

But, alas, procuring said bunny for E is a little more difficult.  It has to be free of all of his allergens – dairy, soy, egg, coconut, rice, and oats.  The Easter Bunny has to be on the ball this year.  No procrastinating and last-minute shopping trips.  This magical confection would not be on the shelf of a local grocery store.

So a couple of weeks ago I started the research.  I was pleased to find a couple of websites that sell dairy-free chocolate Easter candy, however most contained soy.  Amanda’s Own was the one exception, the problem is that we’ve never had it.  Buying this chocolate would be taking a chance and, while all of the ingredients appear to be safe (cane sugar, unsweetened chocolate, and cocoa butter), I felt like it would require at least a mini-trial to be sure.  Nobody wants the Easter Bunny to accidentally bring an FPIES reaction.

We have, however, already passed Enjoy Life Chocolate Chips, which are free of all of the top 8 allergens as well as rice, oat, and coconut.  These things are a God-send and they actually taste good!  Given that we already had some safe chocolate, it seemed logical that I should make my own bunny.  This made me incredibly uncomfortable.  I’m pretty sure my last candy-making experience was my 8th birthday party, which was held at a candy kitchen. Eight-years-old was a long time ago!  After a night of trying to convince myself that I could do this, I became empowered by a few fellow FPIES-moms on the FPIES Facebook page who assured me that making my own Easter candy was quite possible and I decided to take the plunge.

I couldn’t believe how difficult it was to find large bunny chocolate molds at this time of year!  The local craft stores were a bust but I was able to find a few online.  I ended up ordering a very large one because it was the cutest.  It is unlikely that E will come anywhere close to finishing this bunny, but being the helpful mom that I am, I am willing to step in and assist 🙂

My step-by-step instructions are below.  It was so easy! Seriously, the hardest part was finding a spot in the refrigerator for it to sit while it hardened.  I felt so good about my results that I even made bite-sized easter-themed candies just for fun.  AND I got a little carried away and went all pinterest-y and made E-safe chocolate-covered peanut butter eggs (which need a few tweaks so you’ll have to wait a bit for my post about them)!  One of the things I was most concerned about was the texture.  I was afraid that the chocolate would turn out rock-hard.  But they are really perfect, the texture and consistency is just like any store-bought candy.  I think the oil might be the key (but I won’t pretend to be an expert). I really couldn’t be happier with the end result!

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Chocolate Easter Candy – Dairy-Free, Soy-Free, Egg-Free, Peanut-Free, Nut-Free

Ingredients:

10 oz bag Enjoy Life Mini Chips

1 Tbsp Canola Oil (I’m pretty sure any safe oil would work)

Directions:

1. Mix the chips and the oil in a microwave-safe bowl

2. Melt the chips in the microwave on high for about 1.5 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds.  At the end of the minute and a half, the bowl of chips didn’t look smooth, but once I started stirring it they continued to melt enough that I didn’t need to heat them anymore.

3. Poor the melted chocolate into a mold.

4. Refrigerate for at least 15 minutes, until solid.  (15 minutes wasn’t enough for my mold so I left in the fridge and then got distracted.  It was in there well over an hour and it was fine.)

5. Turn the mold upside down to pop out the chocolate.

6. Marvel at how easy it was to uphold an Easter traditional in a completely easy and FPIES-safe way

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UPDATE: Two days after I made the candy I noticed that it is starting to get a little discolored.  Some quick internet research suggested that this is probably because it was exposed to changes in humidity or temperature.  There also seems to be some debate about where to let the chocolate harden (room temperature vs refrigerator vs freezer).  My mold directed me to use the refrigerator, which I did, but you might want to experiment with where is best for you.  I think I’ll aim to make the chocolate the day before I need it next time, which is fine because it so easy!  Let us know if you have any tips or hints.  Have fun!

 

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Happy Valentine’s Day!

I’m so excited to have found this idea for an easy, healthy, safe Valentine’s Day treat for my little Valentine.  E and I had so much fun pushing heart cookie cutters through strawberries to create a great holiday-appropriate snack.  He ate almost an entire carton of strawberries and I didn’t have to worry about sugar or calories or allergens.  Who needs chocolate?

Strawberry Hearts

 

*I know I saw this idea online somewhere and I’m sorry that I don’t remember where.