The Teal Apron Awards

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I had this idea for Food Allergy Awareness Week (coming in May) but both of the people I wanted to honor have birthdays between now and then so in the spirit of not being able to wait on gifts one apron is already on its way and the other will be heading out in the mail in a week or two!

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Much like when I first began navigating food allergy friendly cooking and baking, the Teal Apron Awards are a joint effort between my mother in law and myself.  I’ve made this apron pattern myself before for a bridal shower gift but this time around I selected the fabric combination and my mother in law did the sewing.

It wasn’t until I had gotten to know some of my favorite allergy friendly cookbook authors that I learned the amount of time and expense that goes into recipe creation and cookbook writing.  We may complain about the expense of allergy friendly ingredients but these ladies buy those ingredients many times over as they test and re-test their recipes and tips.  It is part of what makes me trust it will be worth it if I have to go find a suggested ingredient.

That said, I’d like to honor the contributions of Cybele Pascal and Colette Martin to food allergy kitchens everywhere.  I know an apron is not much in the grand scheme of things but most of all I wanted to say “thank you.”

Cybele (www.cybelepascal.com) – I still remember the day you commented on my fledgling blog, I forwarded the email notification to more than one member of my family.  There were weekly recipe link ups and you visited all the contributors’ sites to offer them encouragement.  One of your recipes that became a staple in our home is from your first cookbook, vegan stuffed cabbages.  When you signed my cookbooks you were glad the pages were stained and crinkled because they had been used – they’re even more worn today!

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Colette (www.learningtoeatallergyfree.com) – thank you for not only answering my questions but the questions of those I send your way.  Even when people are just adapting a recipe in general I know I can tell them to reach out to you and you’ll brainstorm with them until they figure out how to adapt their recipes for their needs.  I love that you wrote a book focusing on food staples, fully understanding how non-top 8 allergens impact cooking for so many.  And getting to see Donny and Marie with you last year was a blast!

Through the magic that is the internet I am so proud to call both of these women my friends.  They are incredible human beings and inspirations as business women and mothers.  Happy April birthday, Cybele, and happy May birthday to Colette.  I hope you both enjoy your aprons!

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Food Find: Tree Hugger All Natural (Vegan, Gluten Free, and Nut Free) Bubble Gum

I was at Sprouts (formerly Sunflower Farmer’s Market) the other day and spied a new (to me) label calling to me with its promises of being nut free and allergy friendly.  Tree Hugger All Natural Bubble Gum checked out ingredient-wise for our family and I’m happy to report it also passed some thorough taste testing by my 4 1/2 and 6 1/2 year old kids.

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Each flavor is unique and matches its naturally colored exterior quite well, though I couldn’t really tell you the difference between “tangerine” and “orange” but you’ll have fun trying to find one.

At $3 a bag direct from the company (amazon affiliate link – currently a higher per bag price), I’d say the price is reasonable compared to other specialty food allergy items and we’d definitely buy it again.  There is a warning about a possible shared facility with soy, so exercise caution and contact the company if you have questions or concerns in that regard.

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INGREDIENTS: Cane Sugar, Glucose, Gum Base (Contains Natural Chicle), Brown Rice Syrup, Gum Arabic, Natural Flavors (including Lemon ,Grapefruit, Watermelon, Pomegranate ), Sun Flower Lecithin, Natural Colors, (Including: Red Beet, Berry Extract, Paprika Extract, beta Carotene, Chlorophyllin) , Carnauba Wax.

The variety we tried was “Citrus Berry Mix” and 2 pieces comes in at 10 calories.  The colors, flavors, and texture remind me of gum ball machines when I was a kid – something my kiddos don’t get to experience because of cross contamination risk (and lack of labeling).  I’m going to be on the lookout for a gumball machine bank for my office.  I think it might be a fun feature especially for clients bringing kids along to meetings.

Hopefully this variety of gum is a safe option!

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Speaking of reviews, my latest at VegBooks.org are as follows:

Gordy and the Magic Diet (great pick for food allergy families)
Planet Kindergarten (a fantastic book)
Cinderella (2015 Live-Action Film)
Letters of the West: An ABC Book
A Penguin Named Patience: A Hurricane Katrina Rescue Story
Tracks Count: A Guide to Counting Animal Prints

Review: Dreamy Desserts Nut Free Bakery in Las Vegas, Nevada

It has been almost two months since E’s 6th birthday and she knew she wanted a “store bought” cake.  Not “mommy made.”  It had to be “Frozen” themed and as her RSVP list grew the prospective cake did as well.  I had been watching with fascination the updates on twitter and facebook of Penny Redlin, owner of Dreamy Desserts (a nut free online bakery based in Las Vegas), and knew that the nut free made to order bakery was my “store bought” solution.

Frozen Birthday Decorations
Frozen Birthday Decorations

Penny was incredibly friendly and helpful with the process.  Given her time limitations she fills up reservation spots on her calendar and as your date nears you can get in touch and firm up what you’d like.  I actually shipped (via Amazon Prime) cake toppers directly to Penny to make the process that much easier.  Advance ordering isn’t just for cakes but for other treats like cookies or parfaits as well.

Elsa
Elsa

Dreamy Desserts is Las Vegas based so if you’re traveling to town for an event you can order in advance and even pay to have your order delivered if you are within a certain range.  I sprang for delivery because I had no idea how to transport E’s cake.  The best part of doing business with a fellow food allergy parent is that you can ask all kinds of questions and never feel silly – there’s a detailed answer in response and even frank discussion of kitchen practices for those allergens that are off the beaten path (oat and sesame for us on top of peanut and tree nut).  Dreamy Desserts can make vegan cakes as well, which we debated to be more inclusive of E’s dear friend K but after consulting with K’s mother she was going to make her own matching cupcakes (see, I’m not the only one!) for the party.

Image Courtesy of Dreamy Desserts
Image Courtesy of Dreamy Desserts

More about Dreamy Desserts:

Dreamy Desserts was created for anyone looking for nut free treats.  Sadly, my son can not have peanuts or tree nuts.  As it turns out, I have over 20 years of baking experience, so I decided to offer nut free baked goods to others with a similar need. 

We are an online bakery based in Las Vegas, NV.  We can deliver any of our nut-free treats within the Las Vegas area!

If you don’t see what you’re looking for, just ask, we may be able to accommodate

 (as long it doesn’t have nuts!) 

(source: Dreamy Desserts).

I should stop rambling and offer the big reveal – the look on her face made it so worth it.  E’s  6th birthday “Frozen” cake…

Peanut Free, Tree Nut Free, Oat Free, and Sesame Free Frozen Birthday Cake
Peanut Free, Tree Nut Free, Oat Free, and Sesame Free Frozen Birthday Cake

The snowflakes were a mix of sugar (the smaller ones) while the larger details were a vegan fondant.  The frosting sparkled and the cake was white with strawberry preserves.

Frozen Birthday Cake by Dreamy Desserts
Frozen Birthday Cake by Dreamy Desserts

E was delighted, as was I.  Penny didn’t ask me to write about this but I kept meaning to highlight how wonderful she is to put so much love and care into making special treats for those that live with food allergies.  By the way, Dreamy Desserts’ Facebook page is really close to breaking 20,000 likes so if you’d like to see other delicious options as photos are posted, head on over!

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Also at E’s birthday was my friend Pamela Sundlie, owner of Magic Wand Face Painting, who did a fantastic job with face painting and glitter tattoos for the kids.  Best of all, she had her ingredient sheets with her (and we’d gone over them in advance of course) so there were only adorably painted faces and no itchy cheeks.  I love that we can support the creativity of our local friends while also having a great time.  This was E’s first solo party since before R was born (we’ve been doing joint parties) so I wanted it to be special – I warned her that I can’t really top her 6th party until perhaps her wedding day.  She seemed okay with that.

Food Find: Pascha Chocolate

I came home recently to find a box marked “perishable” on my doorstep and whisked it inside.  Those of you in Southern Nevada will know that the shipping window for perishables here is very limited and has already passed for 2014 (that is, until November or so rolls around).  I was so surprised to find I was the lucky recipient of some unsolicited chocolate!

In early 2013 I had read on my friend Colette’s blog Learning to Eat Allergy Free that there was a new allergy friendly chocolate and it was fair trade to boot.  I did not find Pascha Chocolate in stores at that point but was the lucky winner of a giveaway hosted by Alisa Fleming of Go Dairy Free at the end of last year and I loved what I received.  I wonder if I got into the system as someone that will gladly consume large quantities of chocolate and when I received the box this past week and realized I never had the chance to write about my take on Pascha Chocolate.  It was time to remedy that (see also: Disclosures).

Chocolate with Maca
Chocolate with a new to me ingredient: Maca

 

By the way, both Alisa and Colette are taking part in a new spin on ice breaking at this year’s FABlogCon – we are having a morning roundup of Saturday “breakout sessions” that will be limited mostly to groups of 10-15 per topic where you can really get some one on one insight from some brilliant folks.  Colette will be offering information on using that fancy DSLR you are scared to switch into manual mode and Alisa is going to be covering monetization across blogging, writing, and magazine platforms.  You’ll be able to register for the breakout sessions soon, I am having a hard time deciding which one I want to sit in on so I may claim planner’s privilege and hop in and out of sessions to “see how things are going.”

Beautiful packaging
Beautiful packaging

Ahem.  So, what did I receive?  Twitter recap to the rescue because most of it is already gone four days later. . .

I even found myself enjoying the coffee variety and I don’t drink or like the aftertaste of actual coffee.  The coffee flavor makes me think of my mom.  She works nightshifts as a registered nurse (labor and delivery) and has done it for many years so coffee is her mainstay.  There’s something comforting about the aroma of coffee and chocolate that says “mom” to me.  I wonder if my kids are going to smell frying onions in olive oil as adults and think of me?

The 100% cacao chocolate chips are a wonderful addition and the chips will be coming out later this year.  I am so glad to have a 100% alternative to Baker’s chocolate (which is not totally safe for milk allergic families given the “may contain” warnings on the packaging) for baking and cooking).  I tried the 100% chips in my vegan chocolate chili recipe (a lot like this recipe, just with chocolate and agave in the mix) yesterday and it was nice to not have to chop chocolate since the chips melted in perfectly.

Pasca Chocolate Chips
Chocolate Chips Coming Soon

My favorite of the bars was the 60% with Maca variety and I have to say I like the infused flavors much more than the varieties I’ve tried in the past with Goldenberries or Cacao Nibs (two of the types I received from Alisa’s giveaway, which were very good as well).

The children are not fans of darker chocolates, especially E, but I love seeing allergy friendly chocolate diversifying.  Even Pascha Chocolates suggests their 55% bars for the younger set and R did like the 60%.  These options are vegan, peanut free, tree nut free, and more with a great texture and taste.  Hope to start seeing these in stores locally, be sure to comment if you’ve seen them out and about so I can track some down.  Highly recommended.

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

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!

Santa Train in Boulder City (Family Friendly December in Vegas)

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I keep thinking about a dear friend that lost her uncle and her father this month and also about the families in Newtown, CT, it seems strange to write about anything else when I’m so preoccupied about life in general.  On my long run on Saturday I composed a blog post in my head that tried to make sense of what I was feeling as a mother and just as a human being but then decided this may not be the place for it.  If my kids read this someday, I want them to know how many people are kind and caring and that even when events leave us without words, we can use our actions in ways both big and small to be there for all living things.  I have to believe that there are differences to be made.  That celebrating light in the darkest of times is normal and healthy.  I know I’ve personally taken a step back from the internet since the end of September to focus on family and work but at the same time the internet can be a source of community that I really appreciate.

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I wanted to share some of our holiday activities while locals could still take advantage of them this year.  Earlier this month we visited the Ethel M Cactus Garden to see the light display.  The kids are 2 and 4 now so this was an easier outing compared to prior years.  We ate an early dinner, bundled up, and were ready to explore.  We usually go on a weekday but I was working late on the Friday I had promised the children we’d go.  I felt awful not being able to follow through so on Friday the 7th I gave them cups of mint chocolate coconut milk and we drove around our neighborhood counting which houses had lights.  We were able to go to Ethel M on Sunday which meant it was crowded earlier in the evening (I believe we arrived a little after 5pm) but everyone was courteous and made way for one another.  I make sure to bring safe treats with me, so we brought some pieces of this year’s gingerbread house, pictured below.

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The gingerbread house actually collapsed as this photo was taken (see the roof falling in under the weight of the chocolate cookies?) but it has kept well in a bag in our fridge.  Speaking of safe treats, at my daughter’s winter festival at school we knew there would be a lot of holiday treats out so we whipped up some chocolate and crushed peppermint flower lollipops for the kids.  They happened to be the molds I had on hand, the other option would have been dinosaur shapes (which, though festive, weren’t quite what I was looking for).

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The peppermint candies are from Trader Joe’s and I just melted Enjoy Life chips and mixed the crushed peppermint candy in with it before spooning the mixture into molds and freezing them.  Not nearly as fancy as the creations over at Nom Yum & Free (Devin included a beautiful photo of the peppermints in this post!) but they were delicious.  E and R didn’t feel too left out.  E had actually been included in making chocolate dipped pretzels earlier in the day – all the kids used tongs so they never came into contact with the ingredients so when her teacher asked in advance if she could take part, we were glad she could.  Aside from maybe making another batch of thin mints, I’d really like to do a broccoli tree with pomegranate lights like the one I just saw at Sometimes I Veg before the month is over.  Pomegranates are one of my favorite things about this time of year.

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On the 16th we headed out to Boulder City, Nevada to ride the “Santa Train.”  We’ve been on the train before but around the holidays they run it with a Christmas theme.  The photo above is of one of the free trains they were running that day, our view while waiting for our own train to run let us see this 1800s steam engine in action.  E was especially fascinated by it.

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The ticket lets you know to arrive 30 minutes early and it isn’t kidding – we boarded the train at 9:30 and it was already pretty well filled in.

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We were near one of the front rail cars and Santa and Mrs. Claus began in the back.  They made it to our car on our return trip (the train does an out and back), giving attention to every passenger as they passed.  R asked to have a picture with Santa, much to our surprise, so we did pose for one.  My husband and I were thinking it was a great way to get a picture with Santa.  Instead of waiting in line you get to ride a train while you wait.  We don’t really do the Santa myth with the kids but they had fun seeing the costumes.  A young woman dressed as an elf even heralded Santa’s arrival, it was all well done and a wonderful way to support the railway’s efforts year round.

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Nearby there was a model train exhibit open to the public so we walked around there before heading home.  Seriously cool layouts and details, one gentleman even had a mini working steam engine and was feeding scraps of paper into it to get the fire going.

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My husband caught some video of the 11am train leaving the station so I wanted to include it here.  R really likes watching it over and over:

The train runs the 22nd and 23rd under the Santa Train theme but is still a fun outing at all times of the year.  They also do a train robbery and a day out with Thomas the Tank Engine at other times but I’ve never attended those events.  The Ethel M Cactus Garden is open year round and the lights continue even after Christmas so you can beat the crowds and wait for later in the month if you prefer.  I know these are just two events here in town for the holidays but they are both ones we’ll be back to do again next year.