Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Second OIT Visit and Promising News!

Just this week a young girl died after taking a single bite of a rice krispie treat that happened to have peanut butter flavored frosting on top. She spit the bite out and her parents administered benadryl and 3 epi-pens to no avail (you can read the story here if you would like more details). In the wake of this news, I am even more thankful for the news we received from Big Monkey's allergist this past week.

I know I never updated with test results from my last visit. The doctor didn't receive the results until about a week before we arrived for this follow up, so there was nothing to report. Of course, I spent the 2 months speculating. What if Dr. R recommended inhaled steroids or other medications with side effects? I know I agreed to medicating as needed, but would these be needed and when it came down to the moment, could I actually say yes? This is my baby we're talking about here. Daddy Monkey and I had sort of come to the conclusion that we would not like to medicate Big Monkey with anything that would have detrimental side effects (i.e. stunted growth). Until we got on our vacation that is!

Big Monkey's appointment was scheduled the day before our anniversary, so we decided to take a road trip and make getting there our vacation for the year. We stopped to see a lot of things along the way. We visited 2 beaches, a zoo, a theme park, a historical building, and a few other fun stuff along the way. All I can say is, it was a reminder that peanuts are everywhere! By the time we were halfway through our trip, we were rethinking our decision to not go forward with OIT if we had to medicate with things that may have side effects.

Our first encounter was at beach stop #1 on day 2 of our trip (yup, that's right, only 24 or so odd hours into our vacation). We trudged out to the beach with our stuff, scoped out a nice spot, set up our stuff, dumped out the sand toys, and played for 5 minutes. I got up to get the Frisbee for Baby Monkey about a yard or so from where we were sitting and what did I see? A peanut shell. Ugh. I scan for shells, peanuts, wrappers, and napkins whenever we go to set up anywhere, but light tan sand makes great cover for peanut shells. I decided I would get a wipe and pick up the 1 peanut shell and take it to the trash. Well, that task became too great when I found many more shells. So we moved farther away. I still walked the shells I had in my hand back to the trashcan, and, of course, on the way there was a trail of shells. I wish I had more supplies and could have picked them all up, but I was freaking out about the few already in the wipe in my hand and not having a sink to wash my hands before going back and touching Big Monkey. Crisis averted though and no reactions. Whew...

The sand looks clean enough, right?
Exposure #2 came only a few hours later. We had decided we would get fish and chips from a local restaurant. We have eaten at this restaurant twice before (Big Monkey too), and everything was safe at that time (we asked). It had been months since we had been to this restaurant, so we inquired again about peanuts (after we ordered as I was wrangling tired, hungry kids and almost forgot to ask - I know, how does one forget? Trust me, it's possible and that's one way accidental exposures happen). The cook said no peanut oil, but some products that now go in the fryer have peanut extract in them and he said we should avoid anything in the fryer. What?? Grill was safe (do I really trust that? No, but it was late, we needed to eat and had no other good option at the moment). Poor Big Monkey had the most disappointed look and kept telling me all night that he would have rather had the fish and chips than the burger he got. He never threw a fit though and knew why. He made me promise that I'd make him the exact beer batter fish and curly fries (anyone know how to make perfect curly fries??) when we got home. I also spent the next 4 hours checking his face for hives and monitoring his breathing just in case. Ugh... Again, no reactions, crisis averted to the detriment of mommy's stress levels.

The zoo trip was a success
The next 2 days went really well and the zoo we visited even had very well labeled animal crackers (not made in a facility with any nuts at all! Woot! I did a happy dance in line and made the kitchen staff laugh.). Exposure #3 came on day 5 of our journey. Where? The beach again - a different beach hundreds of miles away from the first one! Ugh, really? What is the beach? Peanut snacking zone? This one was tangled in some seaweed:

The Dreaded Enemy in Our Lives
We also saw some cool jelly fish on the beach though. Much better than peanuts.

Purple Jelly Anyone?
 And the boys (especially Baby Monkey) spent a lot of time flying a kite.

Thankfully, there were no more peanut encounters after day 5. We enjoyed the next 5 days peanut free (or at least peanut free to our knowledge). 

On to the news from the doctor! Of course the new panel run by Dr. R showed that Big Monkey is still allergic to peanuts (didn't expect otherwise). However, this test showed his levels against a protein that shows a high likelihood of severe reaction are much lower than other tests have shown. While they were "much lower," the number is still considered high indicating that Big Monkey is still at risk for severe reactions. Thankfully, he has at least detectable levels of protective antibodies against peanut, which are the antibodies we hope to see increase over time with desensitization. He also has a very high level of antibodies to certain grasses (environmental allergy). This high grass allergy may in fact be keeping his immune system in a hyperactive or extra sensitive state. Dr. R believes that if we can "calm" his immune system by addressing this grass allergy first, that we will have much more success with peanut desensitization. Other doctors do not practice this, but Dr. R's scientific reasoning is sound and due to my science background, I feel very positive about this approach. 

So what does this mean for treatment? Why am I so excited? Well, in just a few weeks we will receive a solution that Big Monkey will take by mouth every day for the next year to year and a half to rid him of his grass allergy (sort of like an oral equivalent to allergy shots). We will also start a regimen of nasal steroids and a daily anti-histamine to help calm his immune system. Dr. R believes that after about 3-4 months on this oral solution (called SLIT if anyone was wondering and wants to look that up), Big Monkey's immune system should be calm enough to start peanut desensitization! We will need an additional round of blood work to confirm, but, if the blood work looks good, then our next set appointment in December will be the start of our journey into peanut desensitization! There may be bumps in the road, and there is always the chance that this won't work for us, but I can't help but daydream about the possibilities this will bring! To be honest, I have spent the week daydreaming about grocery shopping without having to read a single label, not having to hover and panic if I think Big Monkey has come in contact with a peanut, and taking a family trip to Hawaii (the idea of going into anaphylaxis in the middle of the ocean with no where to land is enough to keep us on the mainland). There are of course much, much bigger benefits from this process, but in the here and now, these are some of the items that take up so much of my energy (and a trip to Hawaii for a vacation to de-stress would of course be lovely).

The path has been laid and the journey begins...

Friday, May 17, 2013

How the OIT Consult Went

I have been asked numerous times how the appointment went. Apparently, lots of people I know are as excited and curious about this as we have been, and that warms my heart. I have been thinking about this post for days now (since the day of the appointment). I have sat down to write it at least twice and have written it in my head 3 or 4 times over. Of course, every time I try to actually write the post, I suddenly feel overwhelmed and exhausted by the amount of information I received, the emotions some of it brought up, and some events that have recently happened within our allergy support group (not directly to us). So I have put my "pen" down several times to help sort my thoughts as well as all the information. Now it is time to share the good (and it is mostly all good) and the scary.

Note: This post is not likely to be short, and may contain typos as I did not have time to proofread.

I have a very short list of doctors that I have met that I love. Very short. In fact, I can count them on one hand, and the number of doctors I don't like far outnumbers them. This man, we will call him Dr R., falls very far at the top of my love list. Dr. R is a very talented doctor who works as much, much more than just an allergist. In fact, I'm amazed that the man has time to breathe with all the things he is committed to doing in his practice. Yet, he made me feel like my son and his allergy were the most important thing in the world at that moment. Within the first few minutes of talking he had even taken enough notice to ask me what I had studied. Once I mentioned my MPH and infectious disease/immunology background, he switched to talking to me as a peer in research, which rarely happens with medical professionals. It was refreshing to talk statistics, abstracts, studies, and biological pathways and how they relate to what my son is and will be going through during OIT. I have a new understanding of the entire process as well as what information we need before we start.

Big Monkey and Mama entertaining ourselves while we waited for Dr. R

Dr. R started offering OIT because he was "tired of seeing all the kids in the ICU from anaphylaxis." So he decided to do something about it. I am thankful for that. Dr. R tailors his protocol to each patient based on their IgE numbers, history of reactions, and response to treatment along the way. He does things slightly differently, which is both scary and exciting at the same time. His protocol is as follows:

Dr. R will take the results from all the blood work we have ran and will determine starting levels that he feels are safe for Big Monkey. We will then go in for a "food challenge" to find out the dose that Big Monkey can tolerate without any reaction. These amounts of peanut protein will be far far smaller than a traditional food challenge given to someone who tests negative for a food (it will be so small to begin with that it will be like there is nothing even there). We will then be sent home with a dose that is lower than the highest dose Big Monkey can tolerate. For the next 2-3 weeks I will administer one dose a day with the amount increasing ever so slightly over that time. Then we will go back to the office for another "food challenge" to see how much more Big Monkey can tolerate and start the 2-3 week cycle again.

Is this safe? Well, one thing I learned from Dr. R is that he's not going to answer yes or no. Instead he was honest and said, yeah there are risks. Big Monkey will likely react. However, the hope is that we will do this right and all big reactions will be in Dr. R's office and not at home. Dr. R sent us home with a very extensive and aggressive anaphylaxis action plan. So I now have epi-pens (which I have carried for years) but also 3 other medications to treat an anaphylactic reaction with (followed by an ER visit of course). Sounds scary yes, but we have to be prepared for anything as we embark on this journey. Remember that we live with this threat every time Big Monkey eats. Any meal could result in a reaction. All it takes is one mistake. At least during OIT, I know when I administer a dose. I can watch. I can wait. I will KNOW. 

So why are we waiting? Well, in order to make this process as safe as possible, Dr. R needs to know Big Monkey's real IgE level to peanut. He doesn't want it to be "inflated" by high reactions to seasonal allergies. He wants to make sure he knows exactly what he is dealing with and that everything else is under control FIRST. Since Big Monkey has never been tested for environmental allergies, Dr. R decided to run a full environmental panel. He saw some physical evidence in his exam of Big Monkey to suggest that we do have some seasonal allergies to control first. We will have results in a few weeks and I will have a phone conversation with Dr. R about what he thinks. We do already have a standing appointment with Dr. R for July. It's currently set as a food challenge appointment so that we have the longest amount of appointment time possible just in case we decide we are at that point in July.

Only time will tell. So now I need to set up my new anaphylaxis action pack (pre-syringed medication and epi-pens all in one bag) so I can start taking them every where we go (I think I will forever be carrying a purse the size of a diaper bag) and we wait and enjoy summer. At least for a few months we can now enjoy planning some things, swim lessons, and whatever else we want!

I obtained a lot more information in our hour conversation, but most of the rest are details and things I needed to understand and be prepared for. This will be an undertaking, but the silver lining? He gave us an estimated of the entire program taking hopefully not more than 6-9 months. Of course, this will not be a race and if Big Monkey needs longer, then we will take longer.

And of course we had a great time hanging out with Grandma, Grandpa, and Papa Monkeys!

Pool time!
The Giant Geotrax we setup

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Super Yummy Homemade Whole-Grain Pancake Mix

Ok, you know if I'm posting about a pancake mix that this must be good. A pancake is a pancake and not that hard to do well, right? Well, I think out of all the pancakes I have tried making at home, these have the best flavor.

The best part? I have a bag of the mix ready to go in my freezer for the next time! The first part of this recipe tells you how to make the pancake mix. The second part tells you how to make the actual pancakes. You can substitute ingredients if you would like (I did from the original recipe, which is how I got to this), but I think it will change the flavor profile.

Homemade Whole-Grain Pancake Mix

4 Cups Whole Wheat Flour (I use King Arthur brand)
1 cup White Whole Wheat Flour (again, I use King Arthur brand)
3 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats, lightly ground (you want them chopped fine but not a powder)
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons baking powder
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 cup olive oil 

Put all dry ingredients into a mixer with a paddle. Mix on slow until well combined. Drizzle olive oil into the dry ingredients while mixing on slow speed. Mix until well combined.

Store this mix in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks at room temperature or indefinitely in the refrigerator or freezer. (I do not claim to have any food photography skills, so no judgement please!) 


This recipe makes a nice tall stack of pancakes. I like to make pancakes once and have enough to feed my entire family plus have another day or two worth to put in the freezer. You can cut this recipe in half or even down to a third. 

3 cups homemade mix
3 cups of milk
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar 
3 large eggs 

Combine the milk and apple cider vinegar, stir, and let sit for 5 minutes in a separate bowl or measuring cup.

Mix the pancake mix and eggs together. Then add in the milk and apple cider vinegar mixture. If the batter is super runny (mine was, but I might have used a little too much milk), add a little extra pancake mix. Don't make the batter too thick though as it will thicken while it sits. Let the batter rest for at least 20 minutes before cooking (this is where it thickens a little on it's own).

Cook however you like to cook pancakes! I coat my cast iron skillet with a little butter and then cook. Apparently, I had my heat a little too high today as my pancakes are a little darker than the golden color I prefer. They still tasted amazing both plain and topped with a little pure maple syrup.



Monday, April 22, 2013

New Plans for Our Allergy Journey

As I mentioned a few posts ago, there is a lot changing in our lives. Our journey with food allergies is no exception. Thankfully, these changes will hopefully be for the better; however, we are still in the very early stages of these changes.

Last October I made a post about oral immunotherapy (OIT) as an option for us to help Big Monkey overcome his peanut allergy. We saw our local allergist in January, and I discussed the options with him. A little birdie told me that he had once considered offering OIT himself, so I wanted his opinion. In short, he told me he was waiting a few more years to decide what sort of "treatment" he wanted to offer. Our other option was traveling and/or relocating to Oregon for 6+ months to work with an allergist there who was already offering OIT. That option just sounded exhausting on so many levels.

Here is what traveling with both Monkeys looks like
We decided that before we made any final decisions, we needed to have Big Monkey component tested. There is a blood test available called the uKnow Peanut test that measures one's antibody response to individual proteins within the peanut. Protein components Ara h1, Ara h2, Ara h3, and Ara h9 are associated with high risk of anaphylaxis upon exposure. Ara h8 is associated with mild symptoms and cross-reactivity to birch pollen. Typically, this test is only recommended for someone that has had a positive blood test but no reaction to peanuts; however, since Big Monkey has only had one known reaction, we thought it wise to complete the test just to be sure we knew exactly what was going on. Sure enough, he is strongly Ara h2 positive and is negative for the mild/cross reactive Ara h8. It is no longer a question of "if" Big Monkey experiences anaphylaxis with an accidental exposure, but "when."

So our decision? To wait on OIT for a few years and then re-evaluate what our allergist says. We had already decided to continue with homeschooling, so there was no longer a worry about treatment later interfering with school. We're already a peanut free household, and have already adjusted our lives for the last three years to successfully (so far) avoid peanut exposure. So waiting would not change much in our lives. 

Our hope? That either our allergist or another amazing allergist locally would start offering OIT. We knew it was a long shot considering how few allergists offer OIT in private practice, but we were keeping our fingers crossed. 

So imagine my surprise, shock, elation, and disbelief, when, just weeks after receiving Big Monkey's uKnow peanut results (possibly within a week, I can't remember exactly), we were informed that there is an allergist just 30 minutes from my mom's house that is now offering peanut OIT. Now, my mom is not exactly "local," but we are both in the same state and within driving distance. Commuting to that area weekly or bimonthly would be possible with both kids either by car or plane. I would not need a hotel, my husband would not have to take time off work, I would have a baby sitter for Baby Monkey, I would have a support system for myself and Big Monkey at/immediately after each updosing, I'm familiar with the area, and best of all, travel would be cheaper and less time consuming. To top it all off, the boys would see way more of the Monkey grandparents, and of course, everyone is excited about that! 

So I called the office. I chatted with the nurse. She chatted with the doctor. We now have a consultation appointment in three weeks! In three weeks I am going to have a discussion with a medical professional that could change my son's life (and our lives) forever. Words cannot even begin to describe what I feel, but it is a mix of excitement, hope, relief, anxiety, and fear. There are risks and a chance of this not being easy, but at the same time, what part of Big Monkey's day to day existence with food is easy and not risky?

I would move mountains for this little man...

And for good measure: 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Big Homeschool Changes and Plans

The new year has brought in a lot of big changes for the Monkey family. We have changes in the food allergy journey (more on that next month!), changes in the homeschool project, and just changes all around! Everything is for the good though. Today I'll tell you about the changes going on in the homeschool project.

Our biggest change in the homeschool project is that we have decided to homeschool the monkey boys beyond the preschool years. For now, we are thinking through elementary school, and then we will re-evaluate. Of course, we will take everything one day at a time. If we at any point feel that the boys are not thriving, enjoying themselves, learning at the proper level, or are not connecting with others the way they should, then we will re-evaluate traditional school options. However, so far Big Monkey has thrived beyond my expectations in his home preschooling journey.

Once that decision was made, then it was time to re-model the "school room." It was a complete mess to be honest. It was working for us for preschool, but if I plan to homeschool two kids for several years, I am going to need to be a lot more organized! It has been a several month process, but I can finally say that the school room is done (minus the worktable that we will be getting soon).

Here are the before pictures of the office/school room/workout room.

I had a desk, but it lacked drawers and cabinets. What little storage I had was stuffed with my stuff leftover from college and grad school that I just never purged. My organizational system was piles on the desk.

That's my sewing cabinet next to our work boxes.

So where did I store everything? The closet, of course! Half is material and scrapbook supplies. The other half was school supplies, art supplies, and games. It was so full that it was permanently spewing from the closet and forever on the floor. It was easier to get to the totes on the bottom if half of them were already out on the floor. Oh, and yes, I think that is a bag of something sitting on my office chair. 

Several pieces of furniture and hours of organization later, I have this:

Everything is stored in the two main cabinets and hutches and there is plenty of room for adding more material there.

The bookcases also aren't full, which will be great for adding reading material over the years.

Much, much cleaner, although I'm not sure it looks much different in the photos, it feels worlds different when you walk into the room. 

So we are now working on selecting our curriculum for future years. We have 2 more weeks of our letter of the week curriculum from Confessions of a Homeschooler. Then we will move on and start learning to read over the summer (pending Big Monkey's interest once we start, of course). Next school year, we are currently planning on starting a kindergarten curriculum (probably using the K4 curriculum  also from Confessions of a Homeschooler). Exciting stuff!

Friday, March 29, 2013

Butternut Squash Mac n "Cheese"

I have been MIA lately as a lot has been going on in the Monkey household. All of the happenings have been good (like spending a 4 day weekend camping with the monkeys and watching them get filthy), but keeping us busy! Hopefully I will get a chance to update on everything very soon.

We've had a lack of school-related posts too for various reasons. We are still learning at home, but Big Monkey has mastered most of the work that we had set aside for the school year. So we are doing some "alternative" learning through living life for the moment as we revise and replan! More school items to come later this spring and summer (yes, we will continue learning through the summer)!

Anyway, tonight I remade a very yummy butternut mac n cheese recipe that my family loves. The original recipe was from Better Homes and Gardens and contained bacon, milk, cheese, and butter. It was divine, but still didn't fulfill my desire to find a mac n cheese that I could feed my boys as an entire, complete meal and feel 100% guilt free about giving it to them.

We are not a vegan household by any means. We've tried twice and failed within a week. I have some barriers to becoming vegan - namely eggs. However, we are still trying to cut back on our consumption of dairy and meat, so I try to find alternatives where I can. Alternatives that are natural and not soy based are even better! This fits the bill. The best part - it is toddler, preschooler, and meat loving husband approved. In fact, I'd say it is the closest mac n cheese resembling vegan recipe I've tried to date (although all the others I have tried are good, they don't make me think of mac n cheese).

Vegan Butternut Squash Mac n "Cheese" 

- 2 cups unsweetened, plain coconut milk (I use SoDelicious brand which is peanut free)
- 1 medium butternut squash (smaller will make it less creamy, larger will be more creamy) 
- 1 small yellow onion
- 2 Tablespoons nutritional yeast
- 16 oz pasta of choice - use any shape you like! 
- day old french or sourdough bread (approx a quarter loaf) 
- 2 tablespoons melted vegan "butter" (I use Earth Balance) 

Heat oven to 400 degrees.

Cook pasta according to the package directions. While pasta is cooking peel the butternut squash with a vegetable peeler (hate your vegetable peeler? These Titan brand ones are AMAZING), remove the seeds, and dice into cubes (the smaller the faster they will cook). Peel and dice the onion.

Add the milk, butternut squash, and onion to a large sauce pan or pot (I've done this in both a large cast iron skillet and my dutch oven) and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until butternut squash is tender stirring frequently.

While the squash is cooking, tear your bread into chunks and place in a blender or food processor and process until you have coarse bread crumbs. Add in the melted butter and quickly process to combine. Set aside.

Once the squash is tender, you have 2 options: 1) you can just gently smash the butternut squash and onions and mix with the remaining milk until it forms sort of a thick and chunky sauce or 2) add to a blender or food processor and blend just until the big chunks are gone (just a minute or two). I prefer to blend mine and make it creamy like a cheese sauce.

Add the nutritional yeast. This is optional, but it will add some of the "tang" that cheese would bring to mac n cheese. Salt to taste (or you can salt on your plate if you prefer).

Mix the pasta into the sauce and transfer to a glass casserole dish. Sprinkle the bread crumbs over the top. Bake in the oven until the breadcrumbs are golden brown (approximately 15-20 minutes).

Serve and enjoy!

According to Big Monkey, this mac n cheese is third helping, plate licking good! In fact, both boys refused to eat their pulled chicken sandwiches and opted for the vegan mac n cheese solo. A mama can't be happier than that!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

A few of our favorite things... peanut free version

Grocery shopping for a child with food allergies can be tiring, and I have it easy with my child only being allergic to one food. At the moment our goal is to avoid all products that 1) contain peanuts (obviously), 2) are processed on the same equipment as peanuts, 3) are labeled as "may contain peanuts", and 4) are processed in the same facility as peanuts. Seems like that shouldn't be too hard since we only have to avoid one thing, right? Well, surprisingly there are a lot of foods that fall into at least one of the four categories above.

After numerous hours reading labels, searching allergy blogs, and contacting companies, I have found several peanut free products and options that we love. Since I found a lot of these things through other blogs, I thought I would share them here in case someone else is looking or wondering. However, please, regardless of what I recommend here, ALWAYS read labels if you have a food allergy as companies and their products are constantly changing and what is safe today, may not necessarily be safe tomorrow.

Tree Nuts
We're lucky enough to be able to consume all other tree nuts provided they have not been roasted in peanut oil (we made that mistake once) or cross contaminated during manufacturing. My current favorite place to purchase our tree nuts is Tierra Farm. So far all the products I have purchased are fantastic, and they have the best chocolate covered almonds (if you like dark chocolate).

Blue Diamond is also a peanut free facility that produces almonds. The nice part about Blue Diamond is that you can find this brand at most chain grocery stores!

The monkeys love sunflower seeds. Sadly, many sunflower seeds (like many nuts) are also roasted in peanut oil. Tierra Farms sells sunflower seeds. Gerbs on Amazon also sells peanut free sunflower seeds. I believe (but have no confirmed) that their pumpkin seeds are also peanut free. The last I have heard, David sunflower seeds are also peanut free, but I have not contacted the company to confirm this. We have consumed this brand with no problems, but the same may not be true for all. David brand is often sold in chain grocery stores as well.

Nut/seed butters 
I think the one thing I have missed most about becoming a peanut free household is peanut butter. I used to love a spoonful of peanut butter as a snack or topped with a few chocolate chips as a treat. I have spent years searching for a peanut free nut butter that could replace peanut butter. I finally found one this year! Barney Butter makes the most amazing crunchy almond butter. I can't wait to also try their creamy version.

SunButter is also a wonderfully delicious sunflower seed spread, although it does not resemble peanut butter at all.

WowButter is also a yummy alternative to nut/seed butters. We limit our consumption of this since it is a soy-based product.

Coconut/Coconut Oil
Lets Do Organic shredded coconut is peanut free and I found it both at amazon and Whole Foods Market.

I've found two sources of coconut oil. Nutiva has a peanut free manufacturing line for it's coconut oil. However, the larger 78oz (think Costco size) product is produced on the same line as peanut oil. So be careful with this product. The Vitacost brand coconut oil is peanut free, tastes great, and is reasonable in price.

Guittard makes fantastic chocolate chips and I've found them at our local grocery store. Their facility is peanut free. Enjoy Life makes chocolate chips that are not only peanut free, but free of all the top 8 allergens. They also make other products, but we haven't tried any yet.

We haven't had to worry about peanut free bread too much. We've eaten several brands of bread with no issue; however, I was quite pleased when I discovered that one of my favorite breads is from a peanut free facility. Alvarado Street Bakery has wonderful bread that is also egg free (we ate this bread for the year that Big Monkey was also allergic to eggs). I still love this bread and buy it when I can find it. I can't get it at chain grocery stores, but Whole Foods, Sprouts, and even my local Costco does carry it.

Sara Lee and Thomas' Bagels (the large 6 pack bagels) are also safe.

Other Resources:
So not all companies label "may contain" or "produced in a facility" as they are not required by law to. So how do you know if a product is safe or just not labeled properly? I stumbled across Trust the Label. This is a great resource. You can search for a brand/manufacturer and the site will tell you weather you can trust their label or weather they fail to label for cross contamination.

Another source for all sorts of treats is Peanut Free Planet

The list goes on and on, but these are some of the items that were harder for me to track down.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Peanut Free

So far 2013 has been busy, but treating us well. The Monkey Boys are back in school full swing and thriving. We are working on a total overhaul of the office/schoolroom/workout room (yes, it serves all 3 of those purposes - it's a decent sized room) including new furniture. Of course, new furniture means organizing. The room needed it as our previous desk didn't have any drawers (what was I thinking?)!

The second thing taking up the first three weeks of our new year (has it really only been 3 weeks?) has been allergy testing. Baby Monkey and I started out our processes just a few days after the new year. I was given the clear that I do not have an anaphylactic allergy to any of the foods I initially thought I was allergic too (I have never been tested before). Instead, I have a contact allergy to latex (the same type of reaction one might have to poison oak/ivy) and Food Induced-Enterocolitis Syndrome (FPIES) to shellfish. Basically, this is a localized immune reaction to shellfish in my gut. It leads to some pretty uncomfortable symptoms that can lead to shock. I don't have to worry about small quantities (cross contamination) at least. I'll take it.

Baby Monkey came out with the mostly all clear in the food realm. He tested positive for watermelon, but nothing else. He still needs to undergo a food challenge for peanuts and cashews to confirm those two are truly negative. Yay!

Then we moved on to Big Monkey the next week. Logically I knew that there was very little chance that they would tell me he had outgrown his peanut allergy. Emotionally, there was a small glimmer of hope. While Baby Monkey and I had skin tests done, Big Monkey's history of swelling upon exposure meant skin tests were a no no. So they preformed a RAST blood test. This test measures the amount of IgE antibody that is specific to an allergen, peanuts in our case. Two years ago Big Monkeys RAST test value was 14.7, which is considered a rating of III. This year his level is >100 or a rating of 6. This is the highest rating for the test. I do not have an idea how high over 100 he is, but the major heartbreaker is the amount he has increased over the last two years.

Here is the catch with this test. It does not tell you the severity of the reaction that one would have if exposed to the allergen. Instead, it tells you how likely you are to react if exposed. So in Big Monkey's case, he's pretty much guaranteed to have a reaction of some sort upon exposure to peanuts. It could be something as simple as hives and a little swelling or as severe as life threatening anaphylaxis. I really do not care to find out which (at least not the hard way), so we will continue to follow our strict avoidance of peanut products. This now includes products that say "may contain peanuts" or are "processed on shared equipment with peanuts." In fact, if I can I will even try to avoid products that are produced in the same facility. This makes grocery shopping very exhausting, but luckily, once I find a brand we like, it gets a little easier. Homemade items are now becoming more common in our house and premade/prepackaged foods are pretty much out with a few exceptions. Sometimes it's just easier, and much cheaper, to make it myself.

To add injury to insult, we have discovered that Big Monkey has cold induced hives as well. Overall, this condition is not likely to cause him any harm (just discomfort), but it really complicates matters with the food allergy. When we're out and he breaks out in hives sometimes I can't tell if it's because he's come in contact with something or if it's because his skin got too cold. I am also prepared with benadryl and at least two epi-pens. So I try not to worry, but it's stressful just the same. 

Next up on our allergy to do list - find out which of the peanut proteins Big Monkey is allergic to. This will hopefully help us figure out what type of reaction we'd be facing if he were to ever actually consume any peanut protein. More on how that is done once we have results!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Amazing Beer Crust Pizza

We are officially back from the holidays! Well, actually we've been back for over a week, but we've been busy resettling in after being away for almost 2 weeks. It's good to be home!

Today I've decided to post a recipe. I was asked on Facebook about it, but I decided to make a blog post to make sure there is something interesting here to keep readership up. Nothing like some good "food porn" to do that, right?

I tend to not buy pizza out. I am not fond of delivery pizza (although Papa John's pizza isn't so bad) and I for the most part avoid frozen pizza like the plague. Mostly because ingredients are questionable and the nutritional value of any of these pizzas is terrible. However, I used to rarely make pizza because I didn't have a good crust recipe. The recipe I had tasted fine, but it took forever to make and wait to rise. The non-rising recipes I tired were terrible, until I stumbled upon this one on pinterest. I found this on the Plain Chicken blog to give credit where credit is due, although her version is made with white flour (I've made it with white flour, but try to avoid that ingredient as well). This has become a dinner we (and by we I mean the monkey boys and I) make probably about once a month.

Amazing Beer Crust Pizza - Pesto, cauliflower, and turkey pepperoni (today's topping selection)

- 2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
- 1 Tsp sea salt
- 2 TBS cold butter 
- 1 cup of beer (my personal favorite for this dough is Red Stripe Jamaican Lager, but use whatever you love or have on hand)

If you have a cast iron pizza stone, use it (it does make a difference!). Place the pizza stone in the oven and preheat to 475 F (strangely, I do not know where to find the degree symbol on my computer!).

Get out your trusty food processor with a metal blade. Add the flour and salt. Pulse until mixed.

Add in the cold butter and pulse until combined.

Add the beer and pulse. I found with the whole wheat flour I had to add a smidge (probably not more than an additional splash) of beer, but do this after the beer and flour are mixed and you can see if it is wet or dry. The dough will appear slightly wet and a tad sticky.

Remove from food processor and place on parchment paper cut to the approximate size of your pizza stone (as you can see in my photo, my paper is bigger than my stone). Roll the dough out to the size of your pizza stone with a rolling pin (it really is easier than using your hands, trust me). My pizza never comes out round. My stone is 15" across and rolling the dough out to be this big makes the perfect thinness for baking.

Poke holes in the dough with a fork (don't forget to do this as it also makes a huge difference!). If you do forget, you can poke holes after you add the toppings.

Top with whatever you like! We have done everything from hawiian pizza (canadian bacon, pineapple), BBQ chicken (BBQ sauce, chicken, red onions, and mushrooms), veggie/pepperoni (turkey pepperoni, mixed frozen california veggies, mushrooms and red sauce), and pesto cauliflower (pesto sauce, fresh cauliflower, and turkey pepperoni). Really any topping would be amazing on this pizza!

Slide onto your pizza stone in the oven and bake for 15 minutes or until cheese is bubbly. The recipe says 12-15 minutes, but I've found that if I leave it in for less than 15 minutes the dough is not as crisp and is not done in the middle. So sometimes my toppings come out with a little char on the top, but are never burnt. I wouldn't go over the 15 minutes though!