Stock Epinephrine in Nevada Schools and Onward to Restaurants and More

Today, thanks to a heads up from Caroline of GratefulFoodie.com, I was able to attend the Nevada Legislative Committee on Healthcare Interim Legislative Session hearing.  In Nevada, we only have legislative sessions every other year.  Last year was a great year for food allergy advocacy as Senator Debbie Smith championed Senate Bill 453 regarding Stock Epinephrine in Nevada Schools.  The bill eventually passed with unanimous votes in both branches of the state legislature.

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Getting Ready to Start

This was not my first time on the fourth floor of the Grant Sawyer Building near downtown Las Vegas but it certainly was my quickest visit as our contingent was called up right after the public comment section of the meeting.  I was able to visit a bit with representatives from Mylan (makers of the “Epi-pen” epinephrine auto injector) and their Nevada lobbyist as well as the co-leader of our local Food Allergy Parent Education Group, Susanne Stark, Senator Debbie Smith, and Chef Keith Norman of the South Point (and most recently board director at FAACT).

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Senator Smith Addressing the Committee

Senator Smith began by letting the committee know about the success in the last year with stock epinephrine in Nevada. She poignantly told of how when the bill passed we did not know when it would be needed but now we did (Andrue Casado being one of the lives saved). The work is not yet done, she cautioned, because access can extend to restaurants.  Colin Chiles of Mylan would next expand on this point by referencing other states where unique situations were covered like New York summer camps and Alaska hunting guides carrying stock epinephrine.

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Susanne Stark and Chef Keith Norman Speaking About Expanding Stock Epinephrine

Susanne followed with her account of the uses of stock epinephrine in private schools that were open to acquiring it and how in Clark County, Nevada alone there had already been 20 uses of stock epinephrine since the bill passed last summer.  Keith spoke about his experiences in food safety and the need for epinephrine in restaurants and the like.

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Kacey Larson Offering Testimony from Carson City via Video Feed

Attention turned to Kacey in Carson City, brandishing the front page of the Reno Gazette Journal featuring Andrue Casado and how his life was saved when he had his first ever anaphylactic reaction at school in Reno. After some closing remarks by Senator Smith, the committee chimed in with their words of support and personal experiences with food allergy. Senator Jones and Senator Dondero Loop had direct family connections. Senator Jones’ wife recently had an anaphylactic reaction and Senator Dondero Loop’s family member navigated food allergy at a time when epinephrine autoinjectors were not prevalent or the norm.

From Left to Right: Senator Debbie Smith, Homa Woodrum, Keith Norman, and Susanne Stark (Courtesy of Susanne Stark)

From Left to Right: Senator Debbie Smith, Homa Woodrum, Keith Norman, and Susanne Stark (Courtesy of Susanne Stark)

We laughed at taking a “selfie” after the hearing but I think it is a great way to make sure everyone is in the photo. Thank you for sharing this photo, Susanne! I care deeply about each of these great individuals and get chills just thinking of the difference each of them is making in their work. Senator Smith for her work for Nevada, Susanne (and her co-leader Debbie Bornilla) for the parents and the community in Las Vegas as a support group leader, and Chef Keith for making so many happy and safe.

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After the hearing Susanne raised the question to Mylan’s representatives about expiration dates on epinephrine (we were advised to feel free to return Epi-Pens with shorter than one year until expiration when issued as the pharmacy can readily exchange them for “fresher” stock).

Excitingly for me, Colin informed me the Mylan headquarters in Pennsylvania are a great space as I am traveling tomorrow to Pittsburgh to see it for myself at the invitation of Mylan. I was not sure if I could/should accept the opportunity when it was offered to me a few weeks ago but I think what I learn could be useful to the work we are doing in Nevada. Granted, this will require a lot of disclosure on my part as my plane trip, transportation, hotel, and meals are being covered and that does create the appearance of bias but hopefully longtime readers will know that I value my editorial independence. I look forward to sharing my experience especially since it will be my first time away from my children overnight (well, except for the night I was in the hospital in labor with my son and my daughter was home with my mother in law).

I will miss my kids tremendously and am very nervous about all the new social situations but there’s a sliver of excitement about the trip and getting to see the other attendees at the “Mylan Summit” April 10-11. Here we go!

Vegan & Gluten Free Aubergine (Eggplant) Khoresht Recipe

Eggplant Khoresht

Deceptively simple, entirely delicious, Aubergine (Eggplant) Khoresht is one of my all time favorite meals.  I am in year three of this blog without having posted about it mainly because it gets eaten before pictures can be taken.  You have to like tomatoes.  You have to be open to the idea of eggplant (and not have an issue with nightshades since they can be known to have an impact on inflammatory conditions).

My parents made this with meat when I was a kid but it was very easy to adapt with the addition of garbanzo beans/chickpeas for protein.  Growing up we always called eggplant by the name aubergine but I’ve lapsed into calling it by its American name in my later years.  Onward!

Supplies
Cutting board
Knife
Baking sheet
Medium to Large stockpot

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Ingredients
2 cups of Water
1 cup of Vegetable Broth (homemade or a store-bought safe variety – our old standby recently added sesame oil so we switched brands)
1 large or 2 small fresh Globe Eggplant(s) – about 400-500 grams
1 tsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 large onion, diced
2 tsp minced garlic
1 tbsp minced Parsley (or the equivalent of dried)
2 tsp Turmeric
1 can (130g or 1 4/5 cup) ready to use Garbanzo beans (so, already cooked)
1 33g can of Tomato Paste
1 420g can of Muir Glen Organic Fire Roasted Diced Tomatoes (or other fire roasted variety)
Salt and Pepper to taste

Directions

Prepare the eggplant as instructed in this recipe (peeling, slicing in rounds, salting and laying on paper towels, roasting in the oven, etc.).  While waiting for the salt to take some of the bitterness out of the eggplant, heat your stock pot/saucepan on medium.  Once heated, add the olive oil.  It should shimmer a little bit, then add your diced onion and stir.  Stir and monitor until the onions have softened, about 2 or 3 minutes.  Then add your garlic and other spices and continue stirring.  I lowered the oil in this recipe to make the calorie count favorable but that means it takes a little more attention.

Add the roasted eggplant once ready and stir to coat with the onions and spices.  Finally, add the tomato paste and roasted tomatoes as well as salt and pepper, water, and broth.  Stir and increase the heat until the mixture is bubbling and reduce to a simmer.  You’ll want to let it simmer with a lit off kilter until the mixture reduces to more of a chunky stew texture instead of something soupy.  I would say this takes about an hour on medium heat, stirring occasionally.  You can taste for salt and pepper throughout this time as well but don’t over do it early on since you are reducing the mixture a little bit.  The eggplant will break up as it cooks so that is why there’s no need to cut it into anything smaller than rounds during the roasting stage.  Enjoy!

Serve warm over brown or white rice.  I love it with coconut yogurt on the side as well as tomato onion salad.

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Also shared on the EpiFamily.Com Recipe Roundup.

Shared Equipment & Facilities and Food Allergy

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I used to only contact a company when issues arose with a product – that is, in my pre-food allergy family days.  Now I reach out to research ingredients and also to praise staff members that go above and beyond the call (at a restaurant we once had a vegetarian server that had a family member with food allergies she was awesome – I was compelled to e-mail the company about her and review the experience at Allergy Eats).  Sometimes it takes a few discussions to explain my question (when I called a fast food chain to see about the ingredients in their bread the response to “does it contain oats?” was met at first with “you mean gluten, right?”) but the effort is worth it.

This month’s Food Allergy Buzz Blog Carnival theme is cross contamination, that is, that foods that don’t have an allergenic ingredient by design may contain that ingredient by virtue of being in the same factory or on shared equipment.  For a restaurant you can see how easy it would be to just throw one customer’s order onto the griddle with another’s (imagine making a batch of regular pancakes and then pouring out gluten free pancake batter onto the same surface immediately thereafter).  A factory may not be so different if one flavor or variety is made and then another variant is sent through (for example, a potato chip production line could have sour cream and onion chips on the same equipment as plain chips).

Some companies voluntarily disclose shared equipment or facility warnings but for families with allergies that are not in the United States’ “top 8″ (wheat, soy, peanut, tree nut, fish, shellfish, milk and egg) the statements are not entirely helpful.  Further, the statements themselves are not regulated because of their voluntary nature.  Say a label proclaims the absence of an allergen but is silent about another.  Could you safely assume that the non-mention means the item is safe for your family?  Not always.

My directly relevant example is a product currently sold at our local Southern Nevada Costco.  It is called “Eat Pastry” and is a vegan, gluten free cookie dough in a tub.  You just scoop and bake, easy right?  I was thrilled to stumble upon it and the label seemed to check out.  I like supporting allergy friendly products at Costco, plus, it was cookie dough!

What I did know, however, was that a large portion of chocolate is by its nature cross contaminated with nuts (for allergy friendly chocolate, look no further than Enjoy Life, by the way) whether or not it is disclosed, so I went to the company website and found this in their frequently asked questions:

Q. I see that you use nut extracts in the Chocolate Chunk and Chocoholic Chunk cookie dough flavors. What type of extract do you use?

A. We use a trace amount of pure almond extract in these two flavors. Because the amount is so small, it is not listed as an actual ‘ingredient.’

Oh no, I thought.  They were referring to two wheat based varieties but I didn’t like that they were deciding not to list a nut extract because they decided an amount was “small.”  So I e-mailed the company:

To Whom it May Concern:

I bought your cookie dough at costco today and then I saw on your website about undisclosed almond extract – is that something that applies to this particular variety?  My daughter has life threatening food allergies, I appreciate all your disclosures on your packaging about being gluten free, egg free, etc. but I was nervous when I saw the FAQ on your website.  Please advise as to whether this product contains undisclosed nuts or nut derivatives.  Also, are there nuts in your facility?  

Thank you,
Homa Woodrum”

A day later came this friendly reply, from the CEO no less:

“Hi Homa, Thanks for your email. We do not use nut extract in our gluten free chocolate chip cookie dough (that is used in our regular chocolate chip cookie dough, which is not gluten free). We do however handle peanuts in our facility. We make our own peanut butter and make a peanut butter cookie dough, but we produce all peanut butter products on designated days to prevent cross contamination. We also thoroughly clean and sanitize all shared equipment and work areas between each production run so that allergens are kept separate.
We do not handle nuts in our facility, only the almond extract. 

I hope this information helps, and that your daughter is able to enjoy the cookies!

Please let me know if you have any other questions.

Best,
Jessie
Jessie Williams
Co-Founder/CEO 

I used this as an opportunity to bring up a suggested packaging change:

Thank you so much for the prompt reply – I think your packaging is adorable and your product delicious but I hope in future you consider disclosing the shared facility and equipment on your labels.  I know that is not required but when I see that a product is free from so many allergens (and rightfully proud of it) as a consumer I would assume that the absence of a peanut or tree nut statement implies that there is no concern on that front.  Of course you can’t please all people and it is especially tricky when you are dealing with so many segments (gluten free, vegan, etc.) but I just thought I’d mention it in case it is something you can consider in the future.
Thank you again and I hope you have a wonderful day!
Homa”

Ms. Williams wrote back to say that they would certainly consider my suggestion in future packaging decisions.  I was reminded of the exchange when I saw smaller versions of the Eat Pastry product at Whole Foods recently, right next to the peanut butter variety she references in her e-mail.

Eat Pastry at Whole Foods

Had I seen the product where it was side by side with the peanut butter variety I may have skipped it, so you can see how one can’t just rely on what is on the shelf to know what is in a factory.

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All that said, if nuts aren’t something you’re concerned about, the dough bakes up fantastically and tastes great out of the tub as well.  It is a great example of not being able to rely on a package alone, or the inclusion of “free from” statements.

I am not as vigilant a label reader as I’d like to be!  I bought a bag of fresh spinach at Trader Joe’s earlier this year and was surprised to see a shared equipment disclosure on the package:

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So I did what any food allergy mom would do, I took to twitter with my guilty confession that I’d failed to read the label.  Sloane Miller (Allergic Girl) encouraged me to reach out to Trader Joe’s and see what was going on.  I included a link to the twitter conversation that had ensued regarding the picture along with my question so they could see it was not just one querying customer.

Hi Homa,

I thought I would drop you line in the event we continue to play phone tag.

I did some research and found out that the allergen statement on the package was placed due to the fact that the facility processes other pre packaged salads that includes products containing the allergens noted.

That said, the allergen containing products come into the facility pre packed in individual pouches.

I hope this information is helpful. Please feel free to give me a call if you have further questions. Also, my direct e-mail address is [redacted].

Thanks for shopping with us,
Nikki

I will add that for those that may think I can just keep reaching out to companies about food allergy safety on my daughter’s behalf, please consider well meaning people that do a cursory check of a product regarding safety to bring to, say, a school function.  I know that on a regular basis my daughter’s teacher will email me and say a certain item seems to check out online as nut, oat, and sesame free but she still checks with me, which I very much appreciate.

Somewhere between a company deciding whether a trace amount is too small to disclose (see above) or a company that makes a blanket warning on a single ingredient item (see above also), I think there needs to be a real discussion about labeling and disclosure not just for the benefit of food allergic families but all who wish to know what they’re eating.  Then there’s non food products, like toothpaste, that don’t have to disclose ingredients in the same way the top 8 are disclosed.

Both my examples above involve nuts but I know of a friend’s daughter who is anaphylactic to milk or another friend’s daughter who is allergic to flax (something companies really like to leave off labels), so the concept of transparency in labeling is far reaching.  I’d love to see better on package disclosures, but acknowledging that this is not always a possibility because of space, I certainly feel that websites should list full ingredients and manufacturing circumstances.  They almost certainly maintain such records internally, or at least I hope so!

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In other news, we have a date for this year’s Food Allergy Bloggers Conference: September 26, 27, and 28 of 2014 at the South Point in Las Vegas, Nevada! Last year’s event was fantastic (full disclosure: I am the co-founder of #FABlogCon) and we already have some awesome sponsors lined up as well as speakers. Plus, the South Point truly cares about issues like cross contamination and food safety (as well as delicious food). Hope to see you there!

Vegan Slow Cooker Red Lentil Coconut Curry Recipe

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It has been a while since I shared a recipe but this recipe, inspired by Anupy Singla’s “South Indian Lentils With Curry Leaves” from “The Indian Slow Cooker” (amazon affiliate link), is something we make just about every week.  

When my husband and I got married we received a slow cooker (amazon affiliate link) as a wedding gift and I was perplexed because as vegetarians I didn’t think we would use a slow cooker that much.  It is wonderful for beans (see my post about a refried bean recipe here) and with this recipe, the red lentils break down wonderfully for a meal on their own or served over brown or white rice.  

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I normally hesitate to list ingredients when a recipe is derived from a cookbook, opting to instead point readers to the book itself, but my variant of Ms. Singla’s recipe cuts a number of ingredients out (I didn’t have fresh curry leaves, for example) or reduces them drastically (like the coconut milk and salt – she suggested two tablespoons and I use one teaspoon!).  This makes a very generous batch so you can freeze half and serve half or have leftovers another night.

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Supplies

Knife
Cutting Board
Strainer
6 Quart Slow Cooker
Frying Pan

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Ingredients

1 Red Ripe Tomato, Quartered
3 Cups Red Lentils, Rinsed and Drained
1 Medium Yellow Onion, Diced
7 oz Can of Diced Green Chiles
1 Teaspoon Turmeric
1 Teaspoon Sea Salt
4 Teaspoons Curry Powder
1 Teaspoon Mustard Seeds
2-3 Teaspoons Canola Oil
3/4 Cup of Coconut Milk
8 Cups Water

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Directions

Heat the frying pan on medium until warm, then add the oil.  Put the mustard seeds in the pan until they start popping and add the diced onion.  Stir and add the turmeric, curry powder, and salt.  Once the onions have softened you can add them to your slow cooker.  While the onions are frying, feel free to rinse the red lentils in the strainer over the sink.  Pick through the lentils as well to make sure there are not small pebbles or the like.  Add the drained red lentils to the crock pot along with the diced chiles, tomatoes, and water.

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Stir the mixture and set the slow cooker to low for 6 hours.  Add the coconut milk and stir, then cook on high for half an hour.  No worries if you are not home to do this at the 6 hour mark, your slow cooker should switch to the warm setting until you get home and can add the coconut milk.

You can halve the recipe but if you do, keep the coconut milk the same measurement but do halve the water along with everything else.  Sometimes the curry can me thicker or more liquid depending on the liquid from the onion and tomato but it is always delicious.  Ms. Singla includes cumin, coriander, and even fresh curry leaves in her recipe but I have streamlined it a great deal for my kitchen.

The leftover coconut milk (if you use a large can) is great in smoothies.  Enjoy!

2 Years Running

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I have been running for 2 years.  Funny that I can document it so specifically because I am pretty sure I got through high school P.E. without running for any appreciable amount of time (unless it was to be first in line for pizza at lunch).  When I started with Couch to 5K I knew there was something neat about starting something and knowing that in a few weeks or months I could potentially transform aspects of myself but I’d never experienced it before.  I will never forget struggling to make it to 90 seconds of non stop running, or the time I had to repeat a week of Couch to 5K because 5 minutes of sustained running was beyond my ability.

This morning’s run was good – the air was crisp and cool and I had great company along the way.  Chatting may make me a little out of breath but it makes the miles fly by.  When I first tried running I went without music, listening to MP3s was a great addition to my experience.  Now running with other people is even better.  Keep trying other approaches if your fitness regime is not something you look forward to!  I’m 5 miles away from 100 kilometers for the month which would have baffled me two years ago when I was averaging 16 minutes per mile.

Yesterday I walked a bit with my son at the Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve and was thinking about how I wanted to be fit for my children so I could keep up with him.  Even long walks have improved since I started running.  At any rate, it is a nice reminder that resolutions don’t have to start January 1st, my resolve to run started January 29, 2012 with almost no prior experience except avoidance.  Happy trails!

Sunrise, Sunset

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I have this tendency to group periods of time in a way that I’m sure is related to confirmation bias, but even being aware of that doesn’t stop me from doing it.  2013 set itself up to be a terrible year and it didn’t disappoint.  Which is strange because many longstanding challenges were conquered and I am immensely grateful for the fortune my family has had especially as E outgrew certain allergens and had a fantastic first half of kindergarten.  I, who have struggled with depression on and off my entire life, finally realized I could not go it alone and went on anti-depressants in tandem with therapy.  Now, I’ve read the suggestion that people prone to blogging engage themes of “needing space” or “trying to find peace” because their overworking tendencies are what make them sit down and add something to their to-do list (say, a blog) at a time when they should be cutting away at demands on their time.  I feel strongly though that when I was frantically searching for answers in our pre-diagnosis food allergy days and colic days, the voices of other regular people on social media were so helpful that a way to say thank you was to pay it forward and share our coping strategies.

Even as we endeavor to support others (the Food Allergy Bloggers Conference had such an amazing vibe last year) I even find myself explaining to clients in my legal practice that a certain amount of self-care is crucial to our ability to continue supporting others in our families and communities.  I haven’t by any means figured anything out but that is the path I’m on for myself at the moment.

I had a rough summer of training for the Hoover Dam Half Marathon – I kept having minor injuries to grapple with, culminating in the fall with crashing my bike on the River Mountains Loop Trail.  I was going downhill, trying to gain on my pace so that I could make up for a slow hill climb on a group ride.  When I ride in the Red Rock area there are hills but the roads are fairly straight so that I don’t have to maneuver when I’m going faster speeds.  The River Mountains Loop Trail may be 10 feet wide and paved but I panicked on a downhill curve and, with my shoes still clipped into the pedals I didn’t attempt to brake, I didn’t attempt to un-clip or simply navigate to attempt to stay on the trail – I headed into the rocks to stop myself (yes, what was I thinking?!) and crashed.  I was hurt and ashamed.  I couldn’t run for a while and couldn’t rest on my left side without shooting pain.  Worst of all, I kept thinking that I jeopardized my ability to care for my family – I could have been injured worse, for example.

It has been a long slow process to regain trust in myself since that October crash.  My long run before the crash was 8 miles but my weekly mileage dropped off sharply for runs so that when I stood at the starting line for the Hoover Dam Half Marathon in December I had adjusted my goals to simply finishing the race instead of besting my prior time on the Red Rock Half (though I did hope that my recent paces would be indicative of my capacity to finish in less time than I feared).  I also, unrelated to the crash but certainly an aspect of my mounting feeling that I was a failure, stopped adhering to a vegan diet – returning to vegetarian choices and re-introducing the now safe for my daughter egg and milk products into my own selections.

I ran a good mental race, I can say that much, and felt great coming into mile 7.  The run starts at Boulder Beach by Lake Mead and goes uphill into the Railroad Tunnels – turning around for the return trip after some awful switchbacks that loop runners over the top of the Hoover Dam parking garage for a quick peek at the Dam.  Calico Racing runs a wonderful race but I was the one that came up lacking.  I think that by running the switchbacks (I like to use downhills to make up for lost time) and not training enough on rocky trail terrain I contributed to the pain in my knee that cropped up around the 7 mile mark.

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Much of the next few miles back through the tunnels I galloped to favor my twisted knee – my husband texted that he and the kids were nearby enjoying the fish in the lake and would head to the finish line in a bit. . .I was nowhere near where I’d envisioned being at that point in the race.  This was the return trip I’d been looking forward to – yes there were hills but there were also downhills and when I’d headed up them I fantasized about the downhill returns, chipping away at my average pace on my Garmin GPS device.

As I came past an aid station by the parking lot for the Six Tunnels trail, a fellow runner, Julie, remarked that she had seen me limping and wanted to offer me some “KT tape” to help.  She unzipped her fanny pack and started looking for it.  All I could keep thinking was “she is losing minutes on her time to stop for me” and I kept saying I appreciated the offer but she should really keep going.  She didn’t, though.  She stayed and helped tape my knee.  The stabilization from the tape made my knee feel better and I started running in normal form again.  Later I would learn that I needed to rub the tape to activate the adhesive so after a mile or two it started to peel off (something that hasn’t happened since I purchased my own pack of the product) and the pain returned.  At this point I was getting to the double digit mile markers and gave up on looking at my time and instead focused on my kids.  They needed me to take them to school and the library and to play with them – I could not and would not do some sort of lasting injury to myself for the sake of a finishing time.

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When I made the final turn I saw my daughter and my son and my husband.  My daughter ran towards me and my son soon followed.  The three of us ran across the finish line, smiling, hand in hand.  I loved that moment.  My husband had predicted that I would hurt myself based on under-training and I had failed to prove him wrong but aside from limping for a week or two I was okay.  I wanted to write my customary race recap post but I was still feeling that I hadn’t figured out what I could take from my experience.

Chip Time: 2:54:50.7   
Gun Time:  2:55:44.9     
Pace:  13:21/M
Finish Line: Hand in hand with my children

I knew I’d write about it eventually – especially because I wanted to say thank you again to Julie for stopping to help me and to encourage me.  She and I chatted after the race when I stopped her to say thank you and she instructed me on home care for my knee.  “Ice and heat,” she said.  People involved in outdoors activities are some of the nicest people.  I am humbled when someone shows me kindness and this was no exception.

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On one of my training runs I came upon a fellow morning runner and we paced each other for several miles, chatting the whole way.  She invited me to run with her and a friend and since then I’ve met them three times a week (they run almost every day though) for runs.  Running with someone motivates me to get up and out there in a way training for a big race only sometimes did.  On the off days I ride my bike on the trainer or on the trail.  Which leads me to regaining some confidence on my bike – I still clutch my brakes on downhills that are curvy but yesterday I rode the River Mountains Loop trail of about 34 miles successfully (albeit slowly).

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I have a long way to go to putting the right mileage in for my fitness goals this year (there’s a 40 mile bike race I’d like to do, I also bought some triathlon clothing on clearance at REI that I’ve been using on runs and on on my bike trainer with a mind to attempting a sprint tri in October) and I have regained weight I had lost in my drive to lose weight before my 30th birthday last year.  It comes down to personal discipline but also not trying to prove myself to anyone but, well, myself.  Added benefits of course are friendship and connecting with my spouse about something other than the day to day management of the house or our respectively high stress careers.

On the subject of goals, I am trying to take on new pro bono cases as others have wrapped up, put in more time in my daughter’s classroom, get my son ready for pre-school in the fall, and to just keep being outside.  I was brought to my lowest multiple times in 2013 (sorry to be vague but let’s just say I cried a lot more than I had in prior years) and when I thought things were better I’d crash (literally sometimes, mostly figuratively) all over again.  What I learned was that I have a wonderful support network and that there is a lot of good in people.  I also learned to let go of trying to impress people whose admiration are unattainable.

There’s a song that I’ve loved for a long time by Amanda Palmer called “Trout Heart Replica” (NSFW link to the lyrics) and one of the lines is: “[...] and when the wizard gets to me i’m asking for a smaller heart.”  I would listen to the song at various times, especially on runs, and I’d think “yes, that is what I need, a smaller heart” – not in a humblebrag way of saying I have a big heart or anything, but that I wasn’t sure how to stop feeling hurt.  I am in control of my reactions, I would think, if I let everything break my heart then I won’t be a good mother for my children, etc.  2013 was the year that broke my spirit but now I know that I made it through and I will figure out a way to make it through.  I can face my fears of being alone, of falling down, of not making the right decisions as I head into 31 because I have made it this far.  I wanted to ask for a smaller heart when what I was finding was my courage.

Growing up is hard, I worry for my children and their heartbreaks that I can’t protect them from, but as long as I can be there for them I hope I can be part of their support network to remind them that they are not alone and they can face what lies ahead.

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Happy 2014, everyone.  May the year bring you good things and the support you need to face the rough spots.

Food Find: Enjoy Life Foods’ Dark Chocolate Regular Size Morsels

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I love what Colette Martin wrote about holiday baking – it is great to see everyone firing up their ovens but baking is a year round thing in our house.  Since you may be pondering holiday -focused baking right now, I thought this review could include a roundup of some chocolate baking ideas I’ve already featured on this blog.  If you are shopping for the allergy friendly baker in your life, I must suggest books by Colette Martin (amazon affiliate link), Cybele Pascal (amazon affiliate link), and Kelly Rudnicki (amazon affiliate link - thank you to my friend Alison for my copy!).  I met all three ladies at the Food Allergy Bloggers Conference and they are just as gracious and amazing as I had hoped.  My friend Elyse snapped this picture of me with Cybele that I will always treasure:

Me (on the left) with Cybele Pascal (on the right)

Me (on the left) with Cybele Pascal (on the right)

I was able to taste Cybele’s chocolate chip cookies (amazon affiliate link) at the conference and they were great!  Very cool to see more shelf stable options for grab and go sorts of days.  As usual, I digress.

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Back to the main subject of this post - Enjoy Life Foods’ Dark Chocolate Regular Size Morsels (my free sample is pictured above between the mini chips and the mega chunks from our own stash) are just now rolling out!  I haven’t seen them on store shelves yet but I received a bag free from Enjoy Life to review and they are our new favorite.  They even have five less calories per serving compared to the mini chips (related to being a bit less sweet I am guessing).

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The posts below can feature any variety of Enjoy Life chocolate (substitute freely!).

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Chocolate Chunk Blondies

Holiday Shaped Chocolate (featuring Erewhon Cereal)

Chocolate Covered Chocolate Cupcakes

Double Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Gingerbread Boys with Chocolate Buttons (or a Gingerbread House)

Chocolate Covered Strawberries and Chocolate Covered Sunbutter Balls

Allergy Friendly Thin Mints

All of the ideas featured here are top 8 allergen free.  As full disclosure, this is actually our first holiday season with new safe foods (read more about that here).  Happy baking!

The Wind of Her Vision (or: That Time I Helped Someone Do Something Out of the Ordinary)

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My children used to play mommy – getting their dolls ready for bed, giving them piggy back rides, even pretending to nurse them.  When I went back to working in April of 2012 they would pretend to be on their toy phones and wave me away, saying, “Shh, I’m talking to a client!”  Now they give each other speeches about food allergies.  When I was driving them to my daughter’s parent teacher conference last week my son asked when we were going to get to the hotel (“No, not that kind of conference,” I clarified.).  For 9 months, “the conference” was certainly something that impacted their lives.  I have felt selfish as any parent does when they aren’t focusing directly on the needs of their children, home, or family, but I have also been buoyed by the conviction that this was important.

When Jenny Sprague called me out of the blue earlier this year, it was about an idea.  She wanted to bring the “food allergy mom army” together in one place.  She wanted to look around the room and know that she had brought everyone there.  And she wanted that room to be in Las Vegas.  That’s where I came in, she explained.  Could I help secure a location?

My first thought was that I already didn’t have time to spare.  I was consumed with a particularly nasty few cases and rationalized that once the biggest one was done and gone then I could probably make a few phone calls and see what meeting space would cost.  I had just learned that a several months long ordeal about a pipe under our street was finally coming to a positive resolution but I was in no condition to be of any help to anyone.

And yet.

This was Jenny, who had always, always, been available to support me even though we’d never met and only knew one another through twitter and our blogs.  Jenny, who has been face to face with the dragon’s jaw more times than I could imagine bearing, let along surviving to still have hope and passion.

“Passion entails working strenuously toward challenges.  Maintaining effort and interest over years despite failure, adversity, and plateaus to progress.  It is the unwavering commitment to our patients, to our children, and to our readers.  It includes thousands of hours away from family to achieve an objective that is bigger than ourselves.  Being passionate involves teamwork.  Recognizing that in order to do great things, you must surround yourself with talent, with people, with partners. . .who catch the wind of your vision when you cast it.” – Dr. Eric Edwards, November 2, 2013

As I stood in the “Sonoma room” at the South Point Hotel and Casino for the opening night of the Food Allergy Bloggers Conference I could barely believe what was happening.  I had helped, I had contributed. . .Dr. Edwards of Sanofi was up in front of the banner Selena had designed, that had sat in my living room waiting to be transported to the hotel, that Jenny had put up behind the stage.  The adrenaline was really pumping for me at that point as I wondered what people were thinking, what they expected from the next few days.

That morning I had been on stage at the FARE walk with the rest of the walk committee and my friends and my mother in law were watching the kids a couple feet away.  Later they would tell me my daughter had said her mommy was doing important work for kids with food allergies and I was relieved that she understood but also not sure if it was right for me to make choices to be away from my own children at an event that I was doing ostensibly for them.  To make their world a little more compassionate.  So when Dr. Edwards mentioned being away from our families, the why and the how of it, I thought of how observant my daughter had been just that morning.

Jenny excitedly told me that our friend Elizabeth had spoken movingly about keeping what the conference created going even after we all headed home.  I had missed the end of the closing panel because I was turning over the registration desk keys and trying to box things up to take home.  I can’t wait to catch the video of it when our videographer sends it along but in the meantime I know that Jenny wasn’t the only one captivated by Elizabeth’s idea.  That we didn’t need to ask where to go from here because by coming to the conference and taking part we had laid the groundwork for continued support and advocacy.   

I couldn’t bear to look at the conference rooms one last time after our banner had been rolled up and carted away.  It seemed strange that a room that felt comfortable and filled with friends was returning to a form I didn’t recognize.  The next day I experienced a similar feeling again when I dropped Jenny off at the airport.  She was playing Erica Dermer’s wickedly funny YouTube clip about the conference on her phone and we keep saying to each other that what we’d talked and planned for months had succeeded beyond what we’d hoped.  I turned from the 15 to the 215 and onto the airport connector.  It felt a little like Cinderella was leaving the ball.  Which makes the Honda in this situation the pumpkin and me a mouse (or was the coachman the horse?).  But I digress and will just say it was bittersweet.

I have been so privileged and humbled that people enjoyed the conference.  I haven’t really been able to write something I felt encompassed the entire experience but as Jenny wrote on her own blog, our appreciation is of the people that attended, the people that spread the word, and that were so welcoming and kind to one another.

Susan Weissman wrote in my copy of “Feeding Eden” that she trusted me to read not only with my eyes but with my heart.  May we all continue to read each others’ words with our hearts.  To reach out and connect.  Even when we are crippled by sadness and self-doubt and want to shut away the world there are those that will love us.

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I could go on and on, which is funny considering the writer’s block I was experiencing, but I want to end with a few (these are not all by any means, I loved meeting everyone!) notes of thanks:

To Colette, who hugged me when I needed it. 

To Elyse, ever smiling, who my kids tried to steal away and make their friend (I don’t blame them!) .

To Selena, who captured the loss of control we all battle.

To Joel, who I respect deeply.

To Elizabeth, for her resilience.

To Libby, for laughter.

To Kim, for frank advice.

To Caroline, for her enthusiasm.

To Keith, who is so ebullient that when Jenny and I expressed our desire to adopt him to his family and without missing a beat they said we’d have to take them too.

To Jo-Ann, who teared up when I told her that she had won a dinner based on her fundraising for the FARE walk because the donations had come from people that had supported her in a very dark year.

To Ritesh, for being awesome.

To Tiffany, who puts herself in the fray with humor and grace.

To the Mehras, who are beyond sweet and compassionate.

To Cybele, for being just as amazing as I’d hoped.

To Lynda, for the support KFA gives us all.

To Steve, for supporting the walk.

To Dana and Duane for believing in this when it was just an idea.

To Alison, for being the whole food allergy mom army rolled into one.

To Debbie and Susanne, for championing safe options for kids with food allergies.

To Jenny, the best business partner a girl could ask for.

To my older sister, who gave of her time freely to set up our business entity and advise us.

To my mother in law and sister in law, for being proud of me cheering me on.

To my husband, for coming through when I most needed it.

To my children, for understanding me better than I understand myself.

I told people over and over at the conference that I made this blog for my children, and it is still very true.  I made it so that I could put the recipes together for them in the future and in that full circle way of things it ended up helping me as well.  My biggest takeaway was that as much as I thought we needed more after-care for families post-diagnosis regarding food, the next phase may well be emotional and therapeutic support based on the common themes in all our stories.

As always, thank you for reading.

Love,

Homa

Food Find: Enjoy Life Chewy Bars (Revisited)

Enjoy Life Chewy Bars

This is about as late as I’ve ever gotten with a product review.  I took photos of the free Chewy Bars I received in the mail from Enjoy Life Foods for review purposes on October 8th and it is already November 14th.  The good news is that during that time the Cocoa Loco bars have made it to Las Vegas store shelves and they are the bee’s knees (modern definition of course).  Which will lead me to point out that there are no photos of said variety of bars.

Enjoy Life Chewy Bars

Exhibit A: The only bar that survived for photographic purposes.

We opened the Sunbutter Crunch bars first and they were just as good as they had been previously.  The Caramel Apple and Mixed (formerly “Very”) Berry varieties had improved (more consistent) texture and a more balanced taste.  The packaging for each bar now leaves less space around the bar but they are actually the same portion they’ve always been.  As a packaging and design nerd I really love all the details in the box redesign as well.

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I tasted the Cocoa Loco bars last because I was worried that the recent recipe change (which I first blogged about in an update to my original review of this line of bars) would alter my favorite flavor.  The newer version is richer and reminiscent of those Little Debbie chocolate brownies I used to eat as a child.  Delicious!

I was bemoaning on twitter that I couldn’t find all varieties locally to Joel Warady, Enjoy Life’s CMO the funniest thing was that when I got to meet him in person at this year’s Las Vegas FARE Walk one of the first things he asked me was whether I had found the Cocoa Loco bars on shelves.  That’s the level of detail you get with the folks at Enjoy Life.  I was humbled by their post about the Food Allergy Bloggers Conference as it captured much of what Jenny and I were setting out to do with encouraging personal connections with sponsors instead of a traditional expo format.  Joel also spoke to E and asked her what her about her allergies and told her that none of those things are in any of their products.  That they wouldn’t be in their products.  Oats are a tough one to avoid in the top 8 free arena so I’ve always appreciated that there are no oats in Enjoy Life products.

At any rate, to state what must be obvious, I love this company.  So many other families feel the same way because they are not afraid to keep changing and adapting both for continued product quality and innovation.  A dear friend of mine was able to take a few hours away from her family to come to the conference and I knew I had to introduce her to Joel.  We had a great chat (he even told us what Costco will be carrying from Enjoy Life soon!) and made sure he knew that Enjoy Life was a lifesaver to so many food allergic families.  I’m sure he’s heard that before but it is true.  We leave the allergist’s office with a diagnosis and turn to other sources to figure out what to do next.  We read labels and call companies.  Enjoy Life “gets it.”

Our options have broadened since E outgrew her wheat, soy, milk, and egg allergies but we still love Enjoy Life’s bars, cookies, chips (chocolate and lentil) and stock up often.  E and her friend K are able to share snacks on playdates because they can both have Enjoy Life treats – how neat it must be to make products that are impacting childhood memories in a positive way.

By way of a teaser, my next Enjoy Life review is going to be of their new dark chocolate morsels and we can’t wait to try them!  I have a few ideas for recipes that can incorporate a darker chocolate especially as holiday baking season approaches.

Thank You: FARE Walk Directors Dana and Duane Gordin

Dana and Duane Gordin addressing the FARE walk crowd on November 2, 2013
Dana and Duane Gordin addressing the FARE walk crowd on November 2, 2013
Dana and Duane Gordin addressing the FARE walk crowd on November 2, 2013

Dana and Duane Gordin addressing the FARE walk crowd on November 2, 2013

I am still formulating something to write about the first Food Allergy Bloggers Conference that happened last weekend and thank yous are a huge part of the thoughts rattling around in my mind.  (I am loving everyone’s recaps!)  This thank you is a little time sensitive because Duane Gordin, part of the rock star FARE walk team that includes his wife, Dana Gordin, is running in the Las Vegas Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon on Saturday, November 17th.  Duane has been training for a 4 hour finish for his 26.2 mile journey through Las Vegas at night and is carrying with him the names of FARE walk supporters for each mile he conquers.

Nevada State Senator Debbie Smith with Duane Gordin at the 2013 Nevada FARE Walk (image courtesy of Carolyn Moassessi)

Nevada State Senator Debbie Smith with Duane Gordin at the 2013 Nevada FARE Walk (image courtesy of Carolyn Moassessi)

Dana and Duane helped me find the South Point as our venue for the conference and introduced me to Chef Keith and so many other wonderful folks.  Dana and Duane – you are appreciated and loved!  As fundraising from the Las Vegas Walk is still open, I wanted to share this message from the Dana Gordin about the race on Saturday:

Here’s Duane’s extra motivation to finish the Rock n Roll Marathon in under 4 hours.  Thanks to the many who gave to help find a cure for Scott, Matthew and the 1 in 13 children with a potentially life threatening food allergy.  He has a list of each Team Gordin donor that he’ll use to motivate him during each mile of his 26.2 mile race.  (Due to anonymity requests, just initials here.  He has the full names on his list.) 

However, he doesn’t have any donor names for miles 1 thru 5.  If you haven’t had a chance to donate, please do so now and get your named added to his motivation list.  Donate at Team Gordin:

MILE INITIALS

1

<none>

2

<none>

3

<none>

4

<none>

5

 <none>

6

M. G.

7

A. B.

8

P. D.

9

S. C.

10

C. M.

11

R. S.

12

J. G.

13

J. W.

14

K. W.

15

R. D.

16

T. S.

17

B. H.

18

B.R.

19

M.K.

20

P. N.

21

D. E.

22

R. L.

23

A. S.

24

C. W.

25

J. M. G.

26

S. P.

Thank you so much for the tremendous support!!!