How to Survive Holidays with Food Allergies

Over four years ago, I realized my dairy allergy. Adjusting to the massively food-limiting restriction was rough. One of the biggest issues: how to handle holidays.

I dropped all dairy just before Halloween 2013. Bad timing for my taste buds — as I only enjoy chocolate candy and dislike fruity treats — but appreciated by my waistline. It was a hardship that first Halloween learning to abstain from all of the fun-size goodies, but I did. I knew it’d get easier with time. And it did.

Then came Thanksgiving. Mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, sweet potatoes, pies, green beans, corn, rolls, even the turkey are more likely than not to contain dairy. Around the holidays, milk/butter/cheese/cream/whey is in everything. I mourned missing out. It was a death, of sorts. I thought Thanksgiving was dead.

At first I adjusted by making and bringing some of my own dairy-free versions of traditional dishes and — my then-omnivorous self — asked for the turkey to be made dairy-free. My family kindly obliged. However, despite all loving intentions, I got inadvertently dosed with dairy that year. It was awful; a holiday meal wasn’t worth a week of suffering, especially when I had an infant and a toddler to wrangle.

A month later, Christmas came and I tried my approach again. Fail! Dosed yet again, I decided from then on not to attempt others’ contributions unless the cooks, themselves, were dairy-free.

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The next year, I made more side dishes to bring, ate beforehand, and stuck to my meal offerings. No accidental dairy dosing! I had my new holiday survival technique. This was key, now that two of my children accompanied me on the dairy-free journey.

Three years later — now a dairy-allergic, gluten-free vegan — I will absolutely maintain my tried-and-true holiday survival technique. It’s my safest route.

Is it hard not being able to eat everything? Not really, anymore. Once I shifted my focus from food to people, it made a world of difference. The day after a holiday, I won’t look back on the celebration remembering how the green beans tasted or how the squash was flavored. I’ll reflect on the people, the experience, the laughter (and eye rolls… because what’s a family gathering without that balance?) And that’s where my focus should be.

So what do I bring? This year, I will bring herbed green beans sauteed in olive oil, baked squash (delicata, butternut, and acorn) seasoned with herbs and Earth Balance, and a garlicky lentil-mushroom dish. Often, I bring dairy-free rolls and herbed carrots. Usually my belly is too full for dessert after Thanksgiving dinner, and I’m too busy wrangling my tiny trio while helping with dish clean-up to indulge, but if I did want to bring a sweet to enjoy it’d probably be this.

Looking for some gluten-free vegan holiday recipes? Try here. On the hunt for sweet recipes? Look here for some vegan dessert finds.

When it comes to food allergies, there’s no dish worth risking a reaction, no matter how delicious. It is hard at first but, like any adjustment, it gets easier. Life is about so much more than just food.

 

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Product Find: Vegan Yogurt

On the hunt for a creamy dairy-free, gluten-free, vegan yogurt without the weird aftertaste or powdery mouthfeel? I found it!

Back in my dairy-eating days, I ate yogurt most mornings. Whether straight out of the small peel-and-lick-top container or scooped into a bowl with fresh berries and dry cereal, it was my go-to morning meal maker. Then, my dairy allergy hit.

Lots of product sampling later, I landed on So Delicious. Their dairy-free yogurt alternative was a good option. It was accessible, my kids loved it, and it was a passable yogurt substitute. Still, I didn’t crave it like I did dairy yogurt. Then, I found this:

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Game over. Creamy, smooth mouthfeel, no weird tangy flavor, zero powdery texture, no sugar headache, and just the slightest yummy hint of lemon and vanilla. Kite Hill’s vanilla yogurt could easily go spoon-to-spoon with Dannon vanilla yogurt.

Kite Hill, you win again.

Fudgy Gluten-free Vegan Brownies… from a box!

Want the ooey-ooey, indulgent tasting brownies without all the added fat of eggs and butter, or the gut-busting gluten? Well then, make these… STAT.

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Warm, fudgy, chocolatey brownies, is there anything better? The answer is no. No there’s not.

Being a gluten-free vegan, I thought my days of delicious, fudgy brownies were behind me. Then I came across Wegmans Double Chocolate Gluten-free Brownie Mix. I contacted Wegmans to ask if the mix was vegan, waited anxiously for a reply, and happily got the all-clear. Cue the shameless happy dance!

I ran out and bought the box mix the next day. Then contemplated how to veganize the required butter and egg additions. Flax egg and Earth Balance (or coconut oil) seemed like the logical path, but what’s the fun in that? I had some leftover baked yam and an awkward portion of unsweetened vanilla coconut yogurt staring at me from the fridge. So I put them to work. Then (im)patiently awaited the results.

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Verdict: WIN!!

So, wait no more. Bake yourself a batch and savor the deliciousness of homemade brownies (without all of the badies.)

FUDGY GLUTEN-FREE VEGAN BROWNIES (from a box)

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Fudgy Gluten-free Vegan Brownies

Ingredients:

1 box Wegmans Double Chocolate Gluten-free Brownie Mix

11/4 cup baked yam (skin removed)*

1/2 cup unsweetened dairy-free yogurt (such as So Delicious Dairy Free Yogurt Alternative)

1/3 cup water

*Drained canned yam or canned pureed pure pumpkin may be used in place of baked yam.

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Using a hand mixer, beat the yam in a large bowl until the yam is smooth.

Add in the yogurt and beat until blended with the yam.

Gradually pour in the dry box mix, beating on a low setting until there is no more loose powder in the bowl.

Once the dry ingredients are incorporated into the wet ingredients, increase the mixing speed, adding the water if needed to thin out the batter to reach a standard brownie batter consistency.

Mix on high for 1 minute.

Once smooth — except for the chocolate chips — transfer all of the batter to a greased, square baking pan.

Bake at 350°F for 25 minutes for extra fudgy brownies, or bake for the full 28 minutes noted on the brownie mix box for firmer brownies.

Let cool before cutting in a hashmark pattern.

Enjoy!

 

What Halloween Taught My 4-year-old: Life as an Allergy Mom

No one wants to be an allergy mom. But you really have no choice in the matter. It’s your life. It’s your child’s life. Deal with it.

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My middle son’s severe peanut allergy became glaringly obvious when he was not even a year old. I was at work a state away, my husband was at home simultaneously trying to send work emails and wrangle our not-yet-3-year-old daughter and our 11-month-old son. Our daughter took that opportunity to act upon our often-ignored requests to share with her brother, and gave him a nice big bite of her PB&J. Hives covered his tiny body — scalp, face, legs, feet, ears — he vomited, his bowels evacuated, Benadryl didn’t touch the reaction. My husband called me at work. I called the pediatrician, rushed home, raced to the pediatrician’s office, and they called it: peanut allergy. Just to be safe, they ordered a blood allergy test. He reacted to 5 of the 7 peanut proteins. He was severely allergic. He also had an egg allergy that he, like our daughter and eventual second son, outgrew by the age of 2.

We were Epi-Pen carrying allergy parents. Crap. And I had once been that snotty know-nothing teen who bemoaned the lack of free peanuts on planes. How inconvenienced I felt to be handed pretzels instead of overly salted legumes! Clearly karma was biting me in the ass. Those same peanuts I now regard with the same level of mortal dread as a rattlesnake.

By 2.5-years-old, “pants explosions” as we called them (sudden, explosive diarrhea) and rash made our middle son’s dairy issues clear. In an odd twist of fate, I had developed not just a milk aversion during his pregnancy but a dairy allergy after his birth. So, I had been the initial dairy-free guinea pig. By the time his dairy problems undeniably presented, I had dairy-free living down pat.

Then came our daughter’s dairy issues. First it was the undereye circles, the belly distention, the moodiness. All foolishly excusable… poor sleep, seasonal allergies, toddler stature, potty-training. Then constipation gave way to belly pain and bowel evacuation. Clearly, dairy was her body’s enemy. We were now 3 for 5 on dairy issues, and The Hubs’ belly was already firing warning shots after cheesy quesadillas and ice cream sundaes.

Then came Halloween. With two kids unable to eat dairy and peanuts regarded as asbestos, the holiday was tricky. We rehashed the “no eating candy until we sort it” rule and showed them examples of what candy to avoid verses choose if presented the option (Snickers = bad, Starburst = good, Milky Way = bad, Swedish Fish = good.) Then we handed them their empty candy collection sacks and off we went — a pint-sized airplane pilot, unicorn-mermaid, and a flamingo — going door-to-door for treats.

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Midway through the venture my middle son looked up at me, unicorn-horn-topped rainbow wig obscuring his blue eyes, and said he didn’t want anymore candy. I asked why. He said, “All I get are peanuts and dairy.” My heart sank. I felt so sad for him. It was true, those two delicious allergens were prevalent in his loot bag. “I still want to trick-or-treat though,” he said. The sadness left and my heart filled with pride.

He happily continued the outing, bouncing up to each door — rainbow wig dancing with each step, green scaly fin-bedecked leggings glinting in the jack-o-lanterns’ light — and chirped, “Trick-or-treat!” With his empty hands clasped in front of him. Every so often, if he saw a bowl contained only safe-for-him treats, he’d grab his bag from me and open it happily for the giver’s goodies. Otherwise he enjoyed the holiday in his own way.

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That night my 4-year-old learned a valuable lesson: how to enjoy a celebration without letting dietary restrictions get in the way. Could he eat all of the candy he received? No. Did he still have fun? You bet! And that is truly what matters. The memories, the fun, the enjoyment… not the food.

Will he remember that pink Starburst a day, a week, a year from now? No. But he sure as heck will recall the pirate who answered the door with a treasure chest of treats or his sister’s teacher (our neighbor) who so warmly invited us into her home. Those are the keepsakes.

As food-centric holidays unfold, this lesson will be invaluable for him. Not everything will be centered around his dietary needs, but that doesn’t mean he can’t enjoy himself. Food is not all there is. The company and the experience mean far more. Enjoy what you can and forget the rest.

I guess he is a pretty smart kid after all.

 

 

Our New Chapter: Bye Bye Babies

Yesterday our youngest transitioned from crib to toddler bed. At 2.25-years old, he was ready. But after spending 7 years pregnant and/or nursing, was I?

We recently began night weaning — ceasing breastfeeding for nighttime wakings — which gave rise to expected nighttime tantrums. Soon we realized he could seamlessly climb not just out of but INTO his crib in the dark. It was time to transition to a toddler bed.

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This shift from crib to bed, closes a chapter. With a 6-, 4.5-, and 2.25-year-old, there are no more cradles or burp cloths, diaper blow-outs or Ergo naps, first steps or puree drool. Instead, there are tantrums and scraped knees, learned letters and growing vocabularies, independently made friends and leaps out of my arms and into the outside world. We enter a new chapter of growing independence — physically, socially, and emotionally — and clarified personality.

Our baby is not a baby anymore. He hasn’t been for over a year. He is a budding human developing daily into his own rough-and-tumble, social-butterfly, adrenalin-fueled, book-loving individual. He’s not just present in the world; he’s experiencing it.

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As I tuck away the memories of the past 7 years of pregnancy and baby-rearing, I feel less sad than I’d expect. I feel fulfilled. Fortunate. Ready.

I thought I’d be a mess. I thought I’d be craving a return to new-parenthood. I’m not. I lived that beautiful life of sleepless survival for the better part of a decade. I grew, birthed, nursed, and nurtured three children through babyhood and ushered them into childhood. What a feat! And yet we’ve only begun.

There was a time I thought I’d never be able to have even one child. Then life happened, and I had three! How fortunate am I? How grateful.

And now I look ahead with eyes wide and heart open for all that will come, glancing at memories from the past with fond recollection, not mournful longing. Knowing much still lies ahead.

There will be tests of patience, battles of wills, joys over victories, tears over losses, daily confusion (for child and parent), and countless memories tucked away for safe keeping. It will be, like all growth journeys, both challenging and beautiful.

Some moments we’ll survive. Some moments we’ll savor. But it will all be worth it.

Real Life: Wednesday Absurdity

We had 3 kids in 4 years. Now, with our offspring aged 2, 4.5, and 6 years, life is — well — humorously absurd. They say you either laugh or you cry. We laugh. A lot.

These tree scenarios aptly described our run-of-the-mill Wednesday evening.

**My 2-year-old tantruming beside me at the dinner table seething that he simultaneously does and does not want eat his dinner… because 2-years old.**
Me: Remember when a kid fussing and crying used to stress us out?
The Hubs: **laughing** Yeah. Now it’s just the background noise of our daily life.
———————-
**The 2-year-old squat-runs pantsless into the dining room holding his bum**
Me: NO POOPING IN THE DINING ROOM!
2-year-old: Bwahhhhhh!!! I wanna poop in dining room!
———————
4-year-old: What’s N + N + a banana?
Me: **staring blankly wondering how my life got so absurd**
4-year-old: 5

Sooo… yeah. That’s Wednesday in our house.

20-Minute Vegan Shepherd’s Pie

Gluten-free, cruelty-free, entirely plant-based, and fast… doesn’t sound much like the deliciously heavy, meaty, time-consuming traditional shepherd’s pie. But it is. And it’s delicious!

This is all you’ll need.

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This is what you’ll have at the end of the meal. It’s a crowd pleaser.

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20-Minute Vegan Shepherd’s Pie 

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INGREDIENTS:

9oz Ready-to-eat (or leftover) lentils

16oz Frozen peas and carrots

20oz Frozen riced cauliflower

2-3 cup spaghetti sauce

1/4 cup Earth Balance buttery spread

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Pour ready-to-eat  (or leftover) lentils into a small sauce pan with enough spaghetti sauce to cover. Cook on medium-low heat for 10 minutes, or until warmed through.

While lentils heat, microwave riced cauliflower according to package instructions. Remove from microwave and set aside to cool slightly.

Pour peas and carrots into glass casserole baking dish (if it’s microwave safe), add a few dollop of Earth Balance on top of the veggies, and microwave for 2 minutes.

While the veggies heat, pour the cooked riced cauliflower and a dollop of Earth Balance to a blender. Blend until it creates a mashed potato texture (roughly 30 seconds.)

Layer the lentils on top of the peas and carrots, then smooth a layer of mashed cauliflower on top of the lentils.

Bake at 375°F for 10 minutes.

*Optional: Remove shepherd’s pie from oven after 10 minutes and turn the oven to broil. Drizzle a bit of olive oil over the cauliflower and place under the broiler until golden.

Let stand for 2-5 minutes to cool and set.

Enjoy!

My Unpopular Perspective: No Bad Days

“There is no such thing as a ‘bad day.'” This is not a widely held opinion, but it’s mine. As I see it, there are simply days neither wholly good nor wholly bad. Just days filled with moments… some moments are fun, some challenging, some sad, some happy, some purposeful, some tedious, some painful, some luxurious, some stimulating, occasionally some are tragic or traumatic, but most moments within most days are unremarkable.

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When I pick up my daughter from school and ask her about her day, and her response is, “I had a bad day.” I tell her that I’m sorry she had some hard moments but remind her that though parts of her day may have been difficult, her WHOLE day wasn’t bad. Then I ask her about the parts she felt were “bad.” After we have discussed her hurdles, I ask her about the positive parts of her day. Her mood pivots, her perspective changes as her attention shifts to recall the fun and pleasant aspects. She has reframed her day in that moment.

As I’ve explained to my children, simply because a certain fraction of a day’s moments belong within a specific emotional category — often oversimplified into “good” or “bad” — it doesn’t negate the rest of the day’s events. Because I stubbed my toe getting out of bed, poured my tea down the front of my shirt, and backed into a trashcan on my way out of the driveway, does that mean that the uneventful minutes I spent getting ready for the day were “bad”? That the loving moment I received a deep hug and maple syrup kiss from my child was “bad”? That my moments spent engaging in pleasant small talk with strangers or mundanely folding laundry were “bad”? Of course not! Therefore, the whole day wasn’t bad. Even if, say, I unexpectedly tragically lost a loved one later that day or felt burdened by world events that left an ache in my core, the sadness would be painful but it would not negate the plethora of moments before and after the event. It was not a “bad” day.

Often, we give too much power to the negative which, in turn, shifts our perspective. If we tell ourselves that we’re having a bad day, we’ll ensure that’s precisely the case by only seeing the bad. However, if we refuse to categorize the day as a lump sum, then we can appreciate each moment and each experience for what it is.

A yoga instructor recently said to the class I was attending, “This is how it is, now.” Meaning, each moment is different and fleeting. I burnt dinner and everyone is wailing in hunger? “This is how it is, now.” I feel sad over news clips? “This is how it is, now.” My kid tells me that I’m the best mommy ever? “This is how it is, now.” I share belly laughs with a dear friend? “This is how it is, now.”

It’s all temporary. It’s all fluid. Don’t cut yourself, your day, or your life short by categorizing your days in limiting, imprecise terms. Just take your days as they are — a collection of varied moments — and appreciate the experience.

Because, why survive when you can savor?

How to be a Happy Parent: Enjoying the Sh*tshow

My toddler lost his shit on an evening walk. A block from home, he began shrieking but my other two were happily biking along. I raced down the sidewalk — plastic tricycle under my arm as I scurried to launch my novice two-wheel biking daughter from a stop and tried to avoid getting run over by my middle son’s speeding training wheels — while my melting 2-year-old followed 10 feet behind me, still wearing his lime green toddler bike helmet, wailing and moaning at max volume. We were a scene.

I had three choices on that gorgeous evening: 1) get flustered and embarrassed and race everyone home in an anxious whirlwind, 2) get angry and yell a tirade while herding my brood home, 3) laugh at the ridiculousness of our situation and actually find a way to enjoy the calamity. Fortunately for me, I didn’t even realize my other two options. I defaulted to #3. I just laughed. I laughed hard. Because, why not?

A neighbor, fastidiously tending to her garden as I only wish I could, laughed at the sight. Some may have bristled if not barked at the gaffe. Instead, I laughed along with her because we looked entirely ridiculous. I mean, c’mon, what newlywed couple thinks ahead to eventual parenthood and sees that version of the family stroll in their future? None! And that’s why we procreate. Because we’re morons… naive, pompous optimistic morons.

Sometimes, though, all it takes is a little perspective and a diminished give-a-shit to survive our childrens’ childhood with any semblance of sanity or grace. We just need to choose amusement over anxiety.

Sure, I get mad and frustrated and yell… daily. You bet I lose my cool when everyone is asking for something at the same time but no one’s listening and I just. Need. To. Pee! You know I sure as heck have nights I careen into the sofa after a long day, feeling a mixture of mom guilt, emotional exhaustion, and a life-sustaining thirst for a glass of wine.

However, for the most part of most days, I try to laugh. I try to find the humor in the madness, the chaos, the misbehavior, the messes, the drama. I laugh because it is simply absurd what these children dish out. I mean, in what world would one expect to find a sock on a picture frame (unless at a frat house)?

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How is it normal to find a kid pantless in the playroom practicing W.W.E.-style rope dives from the sofa arm while another practices drag performances into a “Bubble Guppies” microphone? When did, “Don’t bite your brother’s bum”, “We don’t wipe our penises on the toilet”, and “No heads in the trashcan” become part of my daily vernacular? What have I done with my life?

Something awesome, that’s what.

I took an existence I once considered stressful and exhausting then added so much stimulus, so many demands, and so much ego-obliterating activity to it that it spun everything I thought I knew about the world and myself upside down. I realized I could choose to be angry, amused, frustrated, appreciative, flustered, calm, or joyful. I could choose the feel judged or I could choose to shamelessly own my mess and invite others to revel in the hilarity right along with me. I may not be in control of the chaos, but I am in control of how I respond to it… how I perceive it.

By shifting my perspective from, control-freak to laughter-prone, it changes everything. It changes the situational trajectory, the bystanders’ responses, and my emotional state. Being quick to laugh is a gift we not only give others but ourselves.

Why get defensive and angry at witnesses when we can let it go and just allow the audacity to amuse us? Soak it in as you would watching the scenario on a sit-com. Emotionally detach. Take a breath. Enjoy it. It’s always more fun to laugh with others anyway.

These are the hardest days, friends, but they are the best days. It’s up to us to find a way to enjoy them.

18 Years: Lured by Limp Bizkit

18 years ago today, a 16-year-old boy drove an hour in his Dodge Avenger just to meet a 16-year-old girl he heard might still be at a Starbucks with friends. He was quiet and shy. She less so but still naively nervous. Bubbling with anxiety, he asked her if she liked the hit song “Nookie” by Limp Bizkit, saying that his car’s two 12-inch subwoofers made the song sound particularly good. She obliged. That evening, they began dating.

He would pick her up from her all-girls high school after leaving his all-boys school in the afternoons, his emerald green car thumping with bass-heavy music (ex: Old Dirty Bastard’s “Got Your Money” or DMX’s “Party Up”), the tan interior smelling of “Desert Jasmine” car air freshener. Santana and Rob Thomas’ “Smooth” regularly on the CD deck as she opened the car door, because he knew it was her favorite song. Pubescent faces beaming, bellies full of butterflies, they’d drive off in their school uniforms. Just happy to be together.

18 years later, they have three kids and nearly two decades of shared memories. They have spent more of their lives as a couple than not.

Through relationship turmoil, family discord, multiple deaths anticipated and not, college searches, job hunts, interstate moves, wedding planning, health hurdles, career shifts, infertility battles, surprise babies, labor and delivery traumas, child-rearing beauty and stressors, lay-offs, allergy discoveries, dietary shifts, surgeries, and countless precious and challenging life experiences they stayed together.

How? They were best friends and made sure to reconnect regularly by spending time together, whether it be watching a favorite TV show or just chatting on the back deck. And they laughed every. Single. Day.

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Who knew two 16-year-olds could make a good decision?

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Who knew we’d make it?

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Happy dating anniversary, The Hubs!