The Food Allergy Chronicles’ 2012 Summer Rented Cottage Holiday

I have to say, my favourite summertime holiday is when our family decides to rent a cottage in the summer for a week. It truly is, for me, a vacation!

Stunning view from our rented cottage 2012

I sat here every morning eating my breakfast with a cup of tea, watching and waiting for Andy to paddle back from his early morning fishing in the canoe. The water was so still and calm in the morning…it just took my breath away!

Andy’s parents enjoyed an overnight stay. In the morning, Andy’s father accompanied him on his early morning fishing trip.

Andy and his father returning after a morning fishing

This is them returning as I eat my breakfast. Unfortunately, with the water level so low this year, the fishing was very frustrating!

Our ‘little piece of heaven’ came complete with a guide to navigating the birds and the critters of the forest…our ‘forest friends’ were very friendly.

Imagine this…upon our arrival, the boys went to check out the layout of the cottage…they arrived back rather quickly with panicked looks upon their faces. “What’s wrong guys?”, I quiered. “The chipmunks…their scary!”, Matthew replied. “Really?”, I responded as they both nodded their heads, still with a look of horror on their faces. “What’s wrong with the chipmunks?”, I replied. “You know when you see a chipmunk and you walk up to them and they run away…well, these chipmunks came after us!”, the boys explained.

This I had to see for myself! I walked around to the back patio in search of chipmunks while the boys lagged behind…wary that a chipmunk would jump out at them! I didn’t see any chipmunks at the time but what I did notice was a note stuck just beside the back sliding door that stated that the doors must always remain closed as the chipmunks and squirrels would follow you inside the cottage! Another note, left for us to read on the counter, stated that the owner had left a bag of peanuts and seeds for us to feed to the birds, specifically the Blue Jays. (I tucked the bag away and left a note for the owner explaining why we were unable to feed the birds)

Sure enough, it was like we had walked into a live version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves! Chipmunks, Red Squirrels, Blue Jays and Chickadees surrounded us! While eating our Bruschetta that first evening, Chickadees were literally dive bombing us! We had to hold on to the plate as they would swoop down and land on the table…a chipmunk, literally jumped up on to my lap! I kid you not!

I broke some of the bread into little pieces and held it out on a napkin…no sooner had I done that, the little Chickadees were landing all around me…even sitting on my hands and taking pieces of the bread.

A chickadee sitting on my hand ready to take some bread

I really did feel like Snow White!

Before we headed up to our rented cottage, I had a week at home, between arriving back from my brother’s cottage, and heading off to the rented cottage. During that week, I had planned to do all my grocery shopping, prepping of meals, baking, laundry and packing for our week at the cottage…that all fell apart once I injured my neck and back. Click here for more details.

Thankfully, I had already pre-planned the menu for the week, I had pre-purchased some groceries, Andy is handy in the kitchen and the boys are old enough, and strong enough, to be set to work.

During the week, Andy bought, marinated and froze boneless, skinless chicken breasts for Lemon Chicken for Thursday night, marinated and froze 4 pork tenderloins for Monday night’s dinner with his parents, and froze 4 salmon fillets for Andy and I for dinner on Tuesday and our last night on Friday.

Normally, I would have liked to have baked and frozen my Dairy, Egg and Peanut/Tree Nut Free Pies, Dairy, Soy and Peanut/Tree Nut Free Date Squares, and Dairy, Egg and Peanut/Tree Nut Free Brownies…I was not up to it.

The boys were soooo understanding it almost made me cry with gratitude!

I managed to prepare Dairy and Peanut/Tree Nut Free Rice Krispie Squares (which apparently I burnt), Michael’s Dairy, Egg, Soy and Peanut/Tree Nut Free Sub Buns and French Stick and Dairy, Egg, Soy and Peanut/Tree Nut Free Vanilla Cupcakes…to celebrate Michael’s 16th birthday! How could I not have something special for this big occasion! Michael even helped make the icing to his liking. 

As Michael’s birthday was in the middle of the week, Wednesday, I placed all the un-iced cupcakes in a container that were placed in the freezer upon our arrival. The icing was scooped into a separate container, kept in the fridge, so as I could ice the cupcakes on his birthday.

Dinner for Saturday night would be our first meal at the cottage. On Friday, the ribs were cooked up and covered in barbecue sauce for Barbecued Ribs for Saturday night. (leftovers were frozen for the boys to enjoy on the following Friday, our last night. Last night is always leftover night…anything left is game!)

Saturday morning the boys picked the ripened tomatoes and basil from our garden for our Bruschetta appetizer, cherry tomatoes for the Bruschetta Pasta (recipe will be posted soon) for Thursday night, fresh chives, parsley and dill for the salmon suppers while Andy hit the local farm stand for a dozen corn to be boiled for dinner for Saturday and Sunday with some leftover so I could make Corn Salad and Halendas for some hot and italian sausages for Sunday’s barbecue and chicken wings for Michael’s birthday dinner.

I think we had corn fresh from road side stands with dinner every evening! We initially brought corn up, Andy’s parents brought corn up on Monday and then even more corn was bought for Wednesday’s 16th birthday party which lasted us until we left for home.

A stop at the local grocery store in town, en route to the cottage, we picked up any last-minute groceries…little potatoes for Potato Packets with the pork tenderloin and corn, broccoli for the boys with the Lemon Chicken while Andy and I had a saute of sugar snap peas and mushrooms, a jug of bottled water as we were not sure about drinking the tap water, bread, milk and eggs.

Every day started with the sound of a loon calling, and a magical view of an incredibly peaceful, calm lake. 

Beautiful view of the lake and my boys

Pure heaven! It was just the prescription I needed… to put up my feet and ‘take it easy’!

I enjoyed my days of sitting back, reading my book or the many magazines in the cottage, being entertained daily with the boys’ water sports (water skiing, knee boarding, wake boarding, canoeing, kayaking and paddle boat riding), fishing, minnow, crawfish and frog catching…the days just flew by!

This is Michael slalom skiing…he is a ‘master’ of getting up on one ski! He is in his eliment on the water!

Michael slalom skiing

Picture taken care of Matthew. I stayed off the boat on these runs and enjoyed watching from the safety of the dock! Every evening, Andy took me for a smooth loop around the lake…very romantic! lol

This is Matthew wake boarding. 

Matthew wake boarding

Picture taken care of Michael. I am so proud of Matthew. Water sports are really not his thing but he was a real trouper…I told him I needed some entertainment. Once he started, he was  ‘hooked’!

Everyone took care of their breakfasts and lunches and came together for our simple, allergy friendly, delicious dinners!

Without a dishwasher to worry about unloading and loading, all dishes were hand washed…by me (washing was not a strain on my body, letting someone else do them would have been far more stressful)…lest their be any cross-contamination. I washed all allergy friendly plates, cups, pots, pans and utensils etc. firstly…rinsed off all the food allergens left on any of the dishes then washed them with a separate cloth. I left most dishes to air dry.

Talking about dishes…upon our arrival, I took out all the cutlery that we would be using, washed them all thoroughly, then placed them in a cutlery stand that stood on the table. I also brought some of my own knives, cutting boards and pots. The boys kept the same cups throughout the week, I washed the dishes that we would need and cleaned out any pots or pans before use. Parchment paper was used to cover baking sheets.

I am happy to note…there was not a single cross-contamination issue the entire week!

Our rented cottage vacation was stress free, allergy reaction free, bug free, full of adventures and activities for the boys to keep them busy, beautiful sunny skies in the day, filled with mesmerizing starry nights (we saw the Big Dipper and watched satellites and airplanes fly through the sky every night by the bonfire)…my idea of a perfect vacation!

P.S. The chipmunk was always nearby…just in case we changed our minds and wanted to feed him! The Blue Jay flew in everyday to say hello. It truly was a magical place!

Update: I have finally been able to book my MRI (October) and the results of my total body bone scan supported the results from the x-ray.

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Summer Family Gathering and Multiple Food Allergies

As you may have figured…my boys, two nephews and I have been enjoying some summer fun at ‘Nana’s’!

The boys 'chillin' at the end of the day at Nana's

The boys love to ‘ham it up’ for the camera!

This past week, the family count has increasingly mulitplied with my sister-in-law arriving last Monday, and my husband, brother and Scottish relatives all arriving on Friday! Unfortunately, my American cousin’s family, had to cancel at the last minute due to expired passports! So sad!

My mother has ‘flown the coup’, so to speak, to stay at friends for the evenings. We are quite the houseful at 12!

Feeding this crew has it’s challenges…and then one adds in mulitple food allergies…how do I manage it all?

BY PLANNNING AHEAD!

1) Set out a meal plan.
2) Prep as much as possible ahead of time. (freezed marinated Lemon Chicken Breasts, cooked ribs and tossed with barbecue sauce, stocked up on essentials to limit number of visits to the grocery store and I will do all my baking early in the morning to free up time to be with the family during the day)
3) Keep the main meal food options as allergen free as possible (Barbecued Ribs, Barbequed Lemon Chicken Breasts, Rotisserie Chicken with Albert’s Original French Fries, Rice, Quinoa, Beans, Peas, Corn on the Cob, Summer Corn Salad, Bruschetta Pasta, Potato Packets, Dairy, Egg, Soy and Peanut/Tree Nut Free Banana Bundt Cake, Dairy, Egg, Soy and Peanut/Tree Nut Free Brownies, Dairy, Egg, Soy and Peanut/Tree Nut Free Peach Crisp, Dairy and Peanut/Tree Nut Free Rice Krispie Squares, Dairy, Egg, Soy and Peanut/Tree Nut Free Chocolate Chip Cookies,  Dairy, Egg, Soy and Peanut/Tree Nut Free Blueberry Pancakes, Dairy, Egg, Soy and Peanut/Tree Nut Free Lemon Blueberry Muffins)
4) Plan for those meals which include any food allergens (Hamburgers and Steak) by eliminating all possible cross-contamination issues. (washing hands, preparing MIchael’s food first or reheating a previous allergen free meal, allow Michael to serve himself first to those parts of the meal that are allergen free).

Over the years, I have invested in leaving baking pans, a bread machine, baking utensils, silicone sheets etc. to make baking and cooking as ‘safe’ as possible at my mom’s house. I store all my ‘stuff’ in a box in the basement.

Yes, cooking and baking for this number of people while keeping everything allergen free can be stressful!

Yes, a few rules need to be set in order to keep Michael and Matthew safe…for example, wash hands after eating a dish that contains any one of the boys food allergies (dairy, beef, eggs, sesame, fish, shellfish, peanut/tree nuts, mustard and raspberries), maintain a safe shelf in the refrigerator that only contains Michael’s safe foods, and definitely no double dipping.

Yes, there have been some cross-contamination issues…like when my relatives double dipped in Michael’s vegan margarine…no problem…I just went out and bought another and wrote ‘Michael’s Do Not Use’ on the outside. Or when Michael felt a tingling on his tongue after eating one of his Dairy and Peanut/Tree Nut Free Rice Krispie Squares…I think one of the boys did not wash their hands well enough after eating one of their grilled cheese sandwiches…no problem…I now make their grilled cheese with the vegan margarine (dairy free) and the boys are to ask for either myself or Michael for one of Michael’s ‘treats’.

Yes, in the end, all the fuss, the preparations, and the extra effort to make everything allergen free is worth it!

Allergen free baking and allergen free cooking for a family gathering can be achieved and be loved by all…just ask anyone of my relatives!

How do you handle family gatherings with food allergies?

The Food Allergy Chronicles Visits Purdy’s Fish Market

Purdy’s Fisheries is a local family fishery that has been fishing out of Lake Huron for four generations.

On some mornings, if you are up early enough, you may be lucky enough to see their tug boat pulling in their nets.

Purdy's Fisheries tug boat out on Lake Huron hauling in the catch of the day

As a child, I can remember trips to Purdy’s Fish Market to pick up our fresh fish for dinner. The smell of the fresh fish hitsyou as soon as you opened the door…their latest catch displayed in plastic bins behind glass.

It would be ‘luck of the draw’ on what ‘the catch’ would be in any given day. Over the years we have learned to call ahead and have our fish put aside if our heart was set on one particular type of fish for dinner that night. Fresh fish can go fast round these parts!

Purdy’s Fisheries made the headlines when Chef Lynn Crawford visited their business in May 2011 for her show Pitchin’ In.

Earlier this year, my husband, Andy, happened to be watching The Food Network, when the Purdy’s episode on Lynn Crawford’s, Pitchin’ In, came on.

I felt so proud to see our local fishery being highlighted! I couldn’t wait to visit them myself this summer!

My boys and nephews have grown up watching Purdy’s tug boat chugging along and stopping to haul in their catch…a visit to Purdy’s Fish Market was in order!

Boys visiting Purdy's Market for their fish supper

I  called Purdy’s Fish Market on Tuesday morning, to find out what was available…our lucky day…

Fresh local Pickerel, Perch and Lake Trout at Purdy's Market

Pickerel, Perch and Lake Trout!

Our first Purdy’s Fish Supper…two big fillets of Lake Trout.

Now, you may be wondering about Michael…he has a fish allergy. Obviously, he did not be partake in the fish supper. So how did I manage dealing with his fish allergy whilst preparing our ‘fish supper’ and his ‘fishless supper’?

Very carefully!

Let me explain:  Whenever I prepare a meal which involves one of Michael’s food allergens, I am extremely careful about cross-contamination…that is, making sure that any of Michael’s food allergens are kept from contaminating Michael’s food.

Avoiding cross-contamination means clean hands, using separate cooking utensils, pots/pans, cutting boards, etc. and timing. I always set the table and prepare any food that Michael will be eating before I start preparing any food with his food allergens.

For example, our fish supper meal:  I saved a piece of Dairy and Peanut/Tree Nut Free Buttermilk Chicken, from the night before, as his main source of protein. I made a pot of rice, plain quinoa, quinoa cooked with chicken stock and set up the peas to be cooked in the microwave for us all to share. Once all these preparations were established, I started with the fish.

Preparing the Fish: I covered a baking sheet with foil and placed the two fillets on top. I disposed of the packaging and thoroughly washed my hands. I then drizzled freshly squeezed lemon juice over the fillets, and sprinkled them with kosher salt and pepper. On one fillet, I topped it with freshly chopped parsley and chives and drizzled both fillets with extra virgin olive oil.

Local Lake Trout from Purdy's Fish Market ready for the oven

The fillets were baked at 450 F for 20 minutes.

Baked local Lake Trout from Purdy's Market

Perfect!

Serving Dinner: Michael warmed up his Dairy and Peanut/Tree Nut Free Buttermilk Chicken in the microwave, and served himself some rice, quinoa and peas. Once he was finished, I plated the fish, rice/quinoa and peas for the boys.

My nephew's very happy fish supper

My nephew’s very happy fish supper!

At the end of the meal, after bringing their plates to the dishwasher, the boys knew to thoroughly wash their hands. The plates and utensils were carefully rinsed of all fish residue and placed in the dishwasher.

Another cross-contamination free successful meal!

My amazing Lake Trout from Purdy's Fish Market

Delish! I enjoyed it cold the next day too!

Tip: Another must try…Purdy’s Smoked Lake Trout and/or Smoked Salmon…oh my gosh…truly amazing!

P.S. Next visit…Perch!

Question: How do you avoid cross-contamination issues when preparing meals with food allergens?

Taking A Break From Food Allergies: Our Weekend Get Away Biking In Niagara-On-The-Lake

Our weekend get away, biking in Niagara-On-The-Lake, was everything we hoped it would be…filled with adventure, great food and wine and of course…romance!

Name of our bed and breakfast in Niagara-on-the-Lake

We stayed at the lovely Wine Country Bed and Breakfast…our third year here…over Victoria Weekend.

Wine Country Bed and Breakfast Niagara-on-the-lake 2012

Our room had the top balcony…the perfect spot to relax with a glass of wine, local Canadian cheeses…

Horse drawn carriage in Niagara on the Lake 2012

and watch the horse-drawn carriages go by! I think the stables are just down the road.

The Wine Country Bed and Breakfast is perfectly located within walking distance to downtown Niagara-On-The-Lake and many great restaurants, shops, the Shaw Festival Theatres, and Pellar Estates Winery.

Our first day had us waking up to the smell of Blueberry Muffins and cooling Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp…yummy!

Cooling Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp at the Wine Country Bed and Breakfast Niagara on the Lake 2012

Our hearty breakfast of freshly baked muffins, a fruit smoothie, a main of Scrambled Eggs with Brie, Vodka Spiked Tomato Salsa and sautéed mushrooms followed by Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp topped with a scoop of Vanilla Ice cream and Lemon Balm…fueled us for our main bike ride…a 100 km roundtrip bike ride to Fort Erie!

Breakfast at Wine Country Bed and Breakfast 2012

Stops along the way included…Brock’s Monument. It is in the distance.

Andy at Brock's Monument 2012

On a previous biking trip, a very informative guide dressed as a soldier from the War of 1812 gave us a condensed history lesson on the War of 1812…we followed it with a walk up Brock’s Monument commemorating Major-General Issac Brock, Commander-In-Chief of British forces in Upper Canada. The view from the top, of Lake Ontario, is breathtaking…worth climbing the 235 steps!

Click here to check out this YouTube video of a Time Lapse of climbing Brock’s Monument and its spectacular view!

This year marks the 200 year anniversary of the War of 1812…many events are planned starting in June 2012. Click here to learn more.

Another must stop is the beautiful Floral Clock.Me at the Floral Clock in Niagara 2012

It actually works too!

Of course the main attraction is always the stunning Niagara Falls!

Me at Niagara Falls 2012

The Falls themselves never cease to impress me!

Andy and I had never ventured any farther than Niagara Falls on previous bike rides so we were not sure what we would be in store for on the ride to Fort Erie.

Thinking that riding all the way to Fort Erie would most likely be pushing it…we decided to stop when we hit Chippawa…which, according to Andy was only another 10 minute ride…45 minutes later we arrived in Fort Erie! Be aware…Chippawa signs are not well posted or non-existent…but it is a beautiful ride!

Unfortunately, Fort Erie is not really much of a town…the local Avondale provided us with lunch…a chocolate milk and a chocolate bar. Refueled we managed to ‘motor it’ back to Niagara-On-The-Lake in about 2 1/2 hours!

Our reward…wine and cheese with a beautiful view of the vineyards at Inniskillen Niagara.

Wine with a view at Inniskillin Winery Niagara-on-th-lake 2012

Our plan for Day 2 in Niagara-On-The-Lake was biking to some of our favourite wineries…Konzelmann Estate Winery,Strewn Winery and Hillebrand. The Wine Country Bed and Breakfast provides all it’s guest with complimentary tasting cards.

Our lunch stop was at Pondview Estate Winery…our new favourite we discovered last year on the Wine and Herb Tour.

Our cheese platter lunch at Pondview Winery Niagara on the Lake 2012

A yummy cheese platter for two! From top cheese to bottomBrie, Niagara’s Gold (my favourite), Cheddar, Asiago and a Blue…yummy!

Finishing at Pellar Estates Winery.

Me in the vineyard at Pellar Estate Winery in Niagara on the Lake 2012

We were disappointed that we missed out on the 2012 Food Truck Eats: 16 Food Trucks and 16 Wines at Pellar Estates. The event sold out the previous Thursday…3000 tickets were sold for both Sunday and Monday events.

From what we could see…it looked like quite the event…perhaps next year!

Andy and I were once again ‘blown away’ with our stay in Niagara-On-The-Lake!

John and I outside his Wine Country Bed and Breakfast 2012

A huge ‘thank you’  to John for all the fabulous ‘over the top’ breakfasts and hospitality! Thank you for the ‘welcome back’ chocolates! 

We truly feel ‘at home’ when we stay. I so enjoy meeting the other couples over breakfast…a couple from Ohio were here hiking and sampling wines, two couples here for weddings, another for the wine and a matinee show at the Shaw Festival and another managed to get tickets to the 2012 Food Truck Eats Event!

Check out our dessert for our final breakfast enjoyed sitting on the front porch…Cheesecake with Port Marinated Cheeries with Whipped Cream!  

Cheesecake with Port Marinated Cheeries with whipped cream at the Wine Country Bed and Breakfast in Niagara on the Lake

I know…wow! John grows all his own herbs and flowers to decorate his incredible edible creations!

Andy and I enjoyed another amazing weekend away in beautiful Niagara-On-The-Lake!

Knowing our children are in ‘good hands’ so as Andy and I can ‘recharge ourselves’ away from the worries of food allergies that fill our every day lives…priceless!

Cheers!

Enjoying a sample of wine at Pellar Estates in Niagara on the Lake 2012

P.S. John is very understanding regarding food allergies/ sensitivities/intolerances. I alerted him ahead of time via an email of my walnut, mango allergies and my preference to no bacon and whipped cream. He was very accommodating.

Tip: In researching for a Bed and Breakfast…I looked for a place that was as hypo-allergenic as possible for my allergies…no feather pillows or duvets, no pets, no scented candles burning for ambiance, accomodating to food allergies/sensitivities/intolerances…as well as being close to town and an updated historic house…Wine Country Bed and Breakfast certainly ‘fit the bill’ and then some!

Cross-Contamination Series: Romantic Get Away For Two…Biking In Niagara-On-The-Lake

Living day-in and day-out with eczema, multiple food allergies and asthma issues with your children can add up to ‘a heck of a lot of stress.’

The kind of stress that can ‘suck the life out of you’…’put a strain on one’s relationship with their partner’…’put a marriage to the test.’

I seriously got to the point of not knowing who I was anymore…I had so many roles to play…wife, mother, nurse, doctor, teacher, caregiver, special education intervenor, friend, daughter, sister, aunt…I burnt out.

A trip to Scotland with my then 7 month old second son gave me the break I needed to refocus my mind, recharge my batteries…find myself!

It would become my ‘aha’ moment!

Over the years, my husband, Andy and I have made an effort to plan a weekend get- away…just for the two of us…to rekindle our relationship.

A weekend in Toronto for a dinner and show or taking a boating license course together, passing the test and celebrating in Toronto with a dinner and show are a couple of get-aways we have enjoyed.

Our most favourite weekend get-away to date…venturing back to the Niagara region…the setting for our wedding…20 years ago this July.

For the past 3 years, Niagara-On-The-Lake has been our destination of choice. Staying at a Bed and Breakfast in the heart of the town, bringing our bicycles to follow the bicycle paths out to Brock Monument, Niagara Falls and the many Wineries, enjoying an evening at the local pub…heaven!

Victoria Day Weekend is our weekend of choice…Friday and Monday are both holidays for my husband…the perfect opportunity to get-away!

I know what you are thinking…”What about the boys? Who is looking after them? How could you leave them with all their food allergies? Who can you trust?”

Yikes! My anxiety levels are up again!

Leaving my boys with food allergies is not ‘a walk in the park’ for me. First and foremost, I need to feel that I have left my boys in ‘safe hands’.  Trusting your children with someone takes on a whole new meaning when food allergies are involved…anaphylaxis is at stake.

For the past 3 trips to Niagara, my mother has stayed with the boys.

My mother has been as good as my ‘right hand man’ when it comes to looking after my boys with their eczema, food allergies and asthma issues…she has experienced the lifestyle of living with eczema, food allergies and asthma hands on…witnessed allergic reactions…she understands the reality of the situation…I believe she ‘gets it’…I trust her.

When my boys were younger, I would leave explicit instructions covering Michael’s bathing and creaming, their medications, ‘safe’ snacks and meal options. Now that the boys are older, going on 16 and 14 years of age, they are much more independent with their basic hygiene, puffers and understanding of ‘safe’ food choices.

I still make sure there is enough ‘safe’ food in the house…I make Dairy and Peanut/Tree Nut Free Rice Krispie Squares, Dairy, Egg and Peanut/Tree Nut Free Chocolate Chip Cookies and Dairy and Peanut/Tree Nut Free French Stick and Sub Buns.

I prep the meals ahead of time…I have the dough all ready to go in the Bread Machine for the boys pizza for Friday Night, the Pork Back Ribs and Pork Tenderloin are defrosting in the refrigerator for Saturday and Sunday night dinners. There are veggies, rice or potatoes for them to choose to accompany their main dishes.

Last minute instructions, extra Epi Pens and the boys’ health cards are all at the ready…just in case.

Back in the day of no cell phones, a quick phone call upon our arrival at our destination was our protocol of communication. I know that may seem ‘odd/selfish’ to some, but if I had to deal with the every day stresses of our ‘home life’ on my time away…I would be stressing the entire time…defeating the purpose of our little ‘get away’.

Times have changed and my boys have grown.Technology these days has me texting our arrival to my eldest son, Michael. He likes to keep me updated with their activities…often we share photos of our trip…any questions can be easily answered…we are just a text away.

The benefits of the ‘get aways’ goes both ways…the boys get to put to good use the skills they have learned living with food allergies, exercise their independence, learn to trust their abilities as well as others and share some quality time with their Nana.

Believe me, even though I have ‘prepped’ as much as I possibly can and I ‘know’ that my boys are in ‘good hands’…I will still be totally ‘stressing out’ right up until the time that Andy and I pull out of our driveway.

My mind will be racing through a check list as we drive to grab a coffee for the road…heading out on the highway my body will start to relax…with the tunes playing, my hubbie by my side and an adventure waiting on the horizon…I will finally feel the tension lessening in my shoulders and back…ahhhh…we are on our way!

Tip: I must thank two great friends/neighbours…Leslie and Linda…with whom I am most appreciative. I know they are both a phone call/walk away…knowing they are both there as ‘back up’ should my mother ever need them…having great friends who would be there for you at the ‘drop of a hat’…priceless!

Question: Does the stress of living with food allergies take a toll on your marriage? How do you keep your relationship with your spouse/partner together? What are some strategies that you find help keep your relationship strong? 

P.S. I am hoping to have a post of our weekend away ready for Monday…it just might be Tuesday! 

Update: Actually….more like Wednesday!

Cross-Contamination Series: Travelling with Food Allergies to Stowe, Vermont: An Overview

Destination: Allergen Friendly Skiing Vacation to Stowe, Vermont.

at Stowe Mountain in Vermont

Travelling with food allergies takes some forethought, prepping and organizing…but then again, most trips do require some planning.

However, I don’t recall thinking too much about where my food was going to come from on a vacation before food allergies entered our lives.

Now…it’s all about the food!

pre-made and food products to take on trip to Stowe, Vermont

Above is a picture of the assortment of food I pre-made and purchased for our trip. Plus extras: slow cooker, popcorn maker, cutting boards, paring knife, dish cloths and towels. It all fit between the cooler and the blue plastic bin.

Departure was at 7 a.m….my Dairy, Egg, Soy and Peanut/Tree Nut Free Lemon Blueberry and Banana Bran Blueberry Muffins were the perfect breakfast to eat on the road…with a pit stop for coffee!

I packed a lunch for us to eat en route: Maple Leaf Natural Selections Black Forest Ham sandwich for Michael on my allergy friendly homemade bread, a Blueberry jam sandwich for Matthew with a cheese string, a ham and cheese sandwich for Andy and a NoNuts Golden Peabutter and Banana sandwich for me. Carrots, bananas, apples, Dairy, Egg, Soy and Peanut/Tree Nut Free Chocolate Chip Cookies and Rice Krispie Treats were also packed to snack on.

For our family ski trip to Stowe, Vermont we booked 4 nights at the Golden Eagle Resort in their ‘cabin in the woods’. A comfortable two bedroom cabin with kitchenette, full bathroom and living area.

Our 'little cabin in the woods' at the Golden Eagle Resort, Stowe, Vermont

This turned out to be perfect!

After dropping off our luggage at our ‘little cabin in the woods’, we headed to the local grocery store…Shaw’s.

I easily found packages of chicken tenders for the Chicken Fajitas, packages of ground turkey for the Spaghetti with Meat Sauce and a boneless Rib End Pork Roast for the Pork Bourguignon.

We managed to find packaged sliced ham by Hillshire Farm that did not contain caramel or dairy products for Michael’s ham sandwiches for lunch.

The most exciting discovery was in the bread section!

There we found Hot Dog Buns by Freihofer’s which did not contain any dairy,egg or sesame ingredients.

Checking the U.S Food and Drug Administration website, I learned that the top 8 allergens that are required by law to be on the labelling are: milk, egg, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soybeans. (Note sesame is left out)Manufacturers are not required by law to label anything about cross contamination with allergens. However,  the FDA is ” developing a long-term strategy that will help manufacturers use voluntary allergen advisory labeling…”

Checking Freihofer’s website, they state that they “adhere to Good Housekeeping Practices as established by the FDA.” They take “abundant precaution to prevent cross contact of allergenic ingredients between batches…” They go on to “disclose that the following allergen ingredients are used in some of our manufacturing facilities and that inadvertent cross contact is remotely possible: milk, eggs, soy, almonds, walnuts, peanuts and hazelnuts (filberts).” To read the entire statement, click on Freihofer’s link above.

Do to the fact, that the Freihofer’s company seems to make an effort to avoid cross-contamination of the top 8 allergen ingredients, I felt comfortable letting Michael try one of their hot dog buns.

Of course he loved it!

I also found Lender’s New York Style Bagels, Weight Watchers English Muffins and Shaw’s Whole Wheat bread that did not contain dairy, eggs or sesame. Unfortunately, their sites do not indicate any allergy information or how their companies deals with cross-contamination of the top 8 food allergens. I was not as comfortable with Michael trying these products. (although he did try the bagel and english muffin without any problems)

I feel, further research, involving contacting the companies to enquire about the safety of their products for those with food allergies, would need to be undertaken, before I made a habit of letting Michael eat their products.

Question: How do you decide if you let your child try a product that does not disclose information about cross-contamination issues?

Upon our arrival, I filled up the kitchen sink with soapy water and proceeded to wash all the utensils, plates, bowls, glasses and pots and pans that we would be using in the kitchen. I used my kitchen spray, to clean the counters and table.

By this time, it was on to making the Chicken Fajitas. (recipe will be posted on Wednesday) They were quick and easy to prep, cook and serve. Not to mention yummy!

allergen friendly chicken fajitas

Michael enjoyed his with some President’s Choice Medium Salsa on a President’s Choice large size tortilla. (I brought these from home)

Breakfasts consisted of Cheerios for both Andy and Michael. Michael enjoyed his with Natura Rice beverage. While, Matthew and I enjoyed a bowl of oatmeal…his with milk and pure maple syrup and mine with Natura Soy beverage and sliced banana.

breakfast in our 'little cabin in the woods' Stowe, Vermont

Lunches were made and packed in a small cooler with an ice pack. Michael made his ham sandwich for the first few days and then moved into the Pita Chips with ham slices on the side. Andy made himself a ham sandwich, Matthew a grape jelly sandwich, (wish we had brought his Blueberry jam from home), and both had a cheese string. I had my NoNuts Peabutter sandwich with banana with some carrot sticks and an apple. Dairy, Egg, Soy and Peanut/Tree Nut Free Chocolate Chip Cookies for dessert. Other days, I brought a Dairy, Egg, Soy and Peanut/Tree Nut Free Banana Blueberry muffin with cheese string.

eating our packed lunch at the base of Stowe mountain

Once at the base of the mountain, we left the cooler in the car until lunch. On a sunny day, there are tables outside to eat. We ate our lunches inside on one of the many tables available. I even noticed a girl going around cleaning the tables with a cleaner. Never the less, we ate our lunches off the napkins the sandwiches were wrapped in.

We left our cooler in the cubbies (seen in the background) and picked it up after our day of skiing. Very much the honour system here…on the last day we forgot it and it was there the next day at guest services!

I have to say, bringing the slow cooker to cook our dinners slowly throughout the day was perfect!

Spaghetti with Ground Turkey Meat Sauce

I served the Spaghetti dinner with a salad, warmed up French stick made and brought from home and we had the Dairy, Egg, Soy and Peanut/Tree Nut Free Apple Pie for dessert. I served this the night Andy’s sister and kids stayed for dinner.

Spaghetti with Ground Turkey Meat Sauce

Pork Bourguignon with Salad and a glass of red wine.

Pork Bourguignon with Salad and a glass of red wine

Bringing along the marinade for the Chicken Fajitas, and the sauce for the spaghetti dinner allowed me to have more quality time with my family.

A little prep in the evening (sautéing the ground turkey, onion and garlic), in the morning (putting all the ingredients in the slow cooker for the spaghetti and cutting up the roast pork and mushrooms and mixing them with the other ingredients) and after a day skiing, (adding the potatoes, sweet potatoes and carrots to the Pork Bourguignon, making a salad and baking the frozen Dairy, Egg, Soy and Peanut/Tree Nut Free Apple Pie I brought from home)…et voila…dinner was served!

The last two nights were super easy…we just reheated leftovers!

I had been planning on going out for dinner on our last night but with all the leftovers it seemed too much of a waste…this way, we saved some money!

Besides, the boys were happy enough to stay in, watch Lord of the Rings and relax!

boys relaxing on the couch in Stowe, Vermont

On the day of departure, we packed up our lunches and snacks…stopped for coffee and washroom breaks and were home in 7.5 hours…around 5 p.m.

the boys on the ride home

The boys kept busy on their Ipods!

Once home and unpacked, (being Friday night) I whipped up a batch of quick pizza dough and thawed the pizza sauce…while Andy headed out for some mushrooms and onions.

Enjoying our pizza dinner we decided…this was a trip to remember!

Our family ski trip made me think back to the ski vacations I had with my family. My dad and I learned to ski together…he was in his early 50’s and I in my early 20’s. I never saw him so happy as when we were all together skiing on a mountain.

Skiing in Stowe with my boys…I now totally get how my father was feeling on those family ski vacations.

The memories we created will last a lifetime!

P.S. Michael experienced his very first hot dog the day after we got back.

Michael bbqing his Schneider's all natural hot dog and toasting his Freihofer's hot dog bunA Schneider’s Country Naturals hot dog nestled in a Freihofer’s hot dog bun with a touch of Heinz Ketchup.

Michael's Schneider's all natural hot dog in a Freihofer's hot dog bun

Michael’s verdict…”It tastes good!”

P.P.S. Lately, Michael has been talking the talk about starting to run. I believe, witnessing first hand ,his parents out skiing him…endurance wise…and the fact he had built up his endurance over the course of 4 days skiing, was the turning point.

Saturday he donned a pair of running shoes, took a puff of his Ventolin and set out for his first run. I followed closely on my bike to make sure he set a good pace for himself and his asthma was in check.

He had a hockey game later that evening…he actually felt a difference in his endurance and ability to breathe…he was pumped!

He was back out the next day…a little sore but not deterred in the least.

Michael’s goal: to sign up for the 2 km EpiPen Take Action Event on May 12, 2012 in Brooklin, Ontario.

Overall Vacation Verdict: Trip of a lifetime! Would do it all again in a pinch!

P.P.P.S. Click here to see the first post in the series of our trip.

Cross-Contamination Series: Day 4 in Stowe, Vermont

Well, today’s family ski day was all about the fog and sun…and the best day skiing of our four days!

skiing in sunny skies at Stowe Vermont

This is the before picture with the fog…yes, we had to ski down to the left…that was our view!

skiing in the fog

This is after the fog cleared…which was not until after lunch!

skiing after the fog lifted in Stowe, Vermont

Despite the fog…the snow was great and we all enjoyed the skiing.

The boys got in some jumps…here is Matthew.

Matthew on his ski jump

Wow…look at Michael!

Michael on his ski jump at Stowe Vermont

Amazing how much the boys skiing improved over the course of a few days!

We ended the day with our apres ski cocktail…on the sunny deck!

Our apres ski cockatails on the deck at Stowe, Vermont

With the sun out…how could we resist!

We stayed a little later at the ski hill and then took in some apres shopping.

We have decided to take advantage of the fact we still have enough tasty leftovers for dinner tonight. We will attempt our dinner out another time.

I had forgotten there were Chicken Fajita leftovers…so I enjoyed that last night while the others had Spaghetti. Tonight is a mixture of Pork Bourguignon and Spaghetti…we will have to fight over the last two pieces of Dairy, Egg, Soy and Peanut/Tree Nut Free Apple Pie.

Boys watched Lord of the Rings last night and have picked up the next one for tonight.

Off to an early start tomorrow as we head home. Hope to stop and do some bargain shopping before we hit the border!

As Matthew stated many times…”This is the most awesome trip ever!”

When you have food allergies…it’s not about the food…it’s all about the experience!

This has definitely been an adventure to remember!

P.S. Click here for an overview of our trip.

Cross-Contamination Series: Day 3 in Stowe, Vermont

Our third day on our family vacation to Stowe, Vermont we experienced an assortment of weather systems.

Love this group shot of us all!

group shot on the slopes at Stowe, Vermont

Note the beautiful sky!

Next thing we new, the clouds moved in and we were in a dense fog!

andy and michael in the dense fog at Stowe Vermont

I have to admit…it was pretty scary skiing! Everything was white on white…very hard to discern where the moguls were…so I took it very slowly till we were at a lower elevation and the fog cleared.

Our wacky weather then moved in to rain…which quickly turned in to big fluffy snowflakes the higher we ventured on the ski lift.

andy and I in the blizzard at Stowe, Vermont

Now we are skiing in a blizzard until we skied in to the lower rain system.

The snow, well let’s just say it was like skiing in ‘sticky mashed potatoes’….really…I kid you not!

It did not deter the boys from the ‘Terrain Parks’  where all the jumps and tricks can be performed. They are all watching my nephew headed for the jump.

our group watching my nephew head for a jump at Stowe, Vermont

I am still working on getting the perfect shots of Michael and Matthew on the jumps…tomorrow is my last shot!

Finished the day with our apres ski cocktail…Burlington, Vermont’s very own Switchback Ale for Andy and a for me, Newcastle Brown Ale.

andy and I enjoying our apres ski cocktail at Stowe, Vermont

After our day on the slopes, Shelley and family headed back home. We are back to our ‘little cabin in the woods’. Boys are enjoying a hot tub to ease the muscles and I am enjoying myself here in the lobby warming myself by the fire with a hot green tea!

Dinner is all about the leftovers…I think I am feeling like a hearty bowl of Pork Bourguignon. There may even be enough for tomorrow’s dinner.  We are enjoying our ‘cabin’ experience so much…we may just forgo our night out.

The hotel has free movies…we are hoping to be able to choose one we all would like to watch for tonight. We can break out the hot air popcorn maker I brought.  A little spritz with a canola spray…a sprinkling of salt…yummy!

The whole family is now in the lobby…me on my computer…the boys are behind me playing a game of chess and Andy is on the complimentary computer.

boys playing a game of chess in the lobby in Stowe, Vermont

Good times!

P.S. Click here for the next post on our trip.

Cross-Contamination Series: Day 2 in Stowe, Vermont

The gang is all here!

the boys with their american cousins

So great that Andy’s sister and her family could join in on all the fun!

Day 1 in Stowe, Vermont was all about the sun…Day 2 was a little bit of everything!

Andy ready for our first run of the day

We started the day with overcast skies…which moved into dense fog and low clouds…with a dash of freezing rain! After our packed lunch, the skies cleared and the sun came out, the chill subsided and it was like a completely different day!

The hills were literally abandoned…it was like we owned the hills!

My nephews are all about the tricks! Check out the set up!

view of the a ski park at Stowe, Vermont

I have never seen this done before!

nephew going off a rail on skis at Stowe, Vermont

Look carefully…he is doing a back flip!

nephew doing a back flip at Stowe Vermont

I know! And he does it so effortlessly!

Chilling on the hill!

boys chilling on the hill at Stowe Vermont

Another perfect day spent with the family…Matthew rates this day a 9 out of 10 ski day!

A little ‘apres ski cocktail’ while waiting for the kids to finish up on the slopes.

a little apres ski cocktail at Stowe Vermont

Our ‘little cabin in the woods’ smelled amazing upon our arrival home again today…Spaghetti and Meat sauce simmering away in the slow cooker!

I cooked up the ground turkey, onion and garlic last night and combined it with the defrosted sauce I made and brought from home. Put them all in the slow cooker this morning so dinner is super easy tonight…especially since we will be entertaining ‘guests’ !

A tossed salad, my Dairy, Egg and Soy Free French Stick and for dessert…Dairy, Egg, Soy and Peanut/Tree Nut Free Apple Pie are all ready to be fixed and/or heated up in the oven.

Boys are all off having a swim, sauna and whirlpool…winding down and relaxing before our yummy dinner!

Heading back to our ‘little cabin in the woods’ to do the final preparations.

Tomorrow is all about ‘leftovers’!

P.S. Click here for my next post on our trip.

Cross-Contamination Series: Our Ski Vacation To Stowe, Vermont

Our first real family vacation in years…a ski vacation to beautiful Stowe, Vermont!

stowe vermont

Stowe Vermont

(Ignore the mess I have created above…not sure how to fix…sorry)

The boys were pretty ‘stoked’ to go…Andy and I too, come to think of it!

I felt the excitement hit as soon as we pulled out of the driveway…before that I was up to my ears in the preparations needed for us to have an allergy friendly vacation.

With Michael’s multiple food allergies to dairy, egg, beef, sesame, fish, shellfish, peanut/tree nuts, mustard and raspberries and Matthew’s food allergy to peanut/tree nuts…some thought needed to go into snacks, meals and food prep.

Here is what I did:

1)  I figured out our evening dinners: Sunday (day of arrival), Chicken Fajitas, Monday, Pork Bourguignon, Tuesday, Spaghetti with Meat Sauce, Wednesday, leftovers and Thursday (our last night), fingers crossed, we find a place for a night out for all of us!

2)   I prepped for the meals: I made a double batch of Pasta Sauce and froze it to bring with us. I made a meatless sauce as you can’t bring meat into the States. (The day I made it I saved some sauce and cooked up some ground turkey for a Spaghetti with Meat Sauce meal.)

I made the sauce for the Chicken Fajitas and froze it also.

Luckily, I still have a frozen Dairy, Egg, Soy and Peanut/Tree Nut Free Apple Pie frozen in the freezer ready to bake! It will be perfect for Tuesday’s dessert after our Spaghetti dinner.

3) Friday and Saturday I divided up the baking: Friday I made a few batches of Dairy and Peanut/Tree Nut Free Rice Krispie Squares and 2 batches of Dairy, Egg and Peanut/Tree Nut Free Chocolate Chip Cookies. I also made Giada’s Pita Chips with 2 bags of pita.

Saturday I made Dairy, Egg and Peanut/Tree Nut Free Lemon Blueberry Muffins, Dairy, Egg and Peanut/Tree Nut Free Banana Blueberry Muffins, two loaves of Dairy and Peanut/Tree Nut Free French Stick and two loaves of Dairy and Peanut/Tree Nut Free loaves of bread.

4) I put together the flour and spices for the Pork Bourguignon in a ziplock bag to bring and some granulated sugar in a mason jar for hot chocolate.  Hoping to buy some Hershey’s cocoa. Packed my cinnamon for morning oatmeal and a ziplock bag of air popped popcorn.

5) Extra purchases I am bringing: Decaffeinated Green Tea, Natura Soy and Rice milk, tetra packs of Chocolate Soy Milk, Tortillas, a can of crushed tomatoes, vegetable broth, popcorn, salsa, Catelli Smart Spaghettini pasta, and mini pitas. I am bringing these products because I know they are safe and I don’t want to try different brands.

6) Extras: Tea towels, dish cloths, a few cutting boards, a paring knife with protective covering, parchment paper sheets in case we need to use cookie sheets, a slow cooker for the Spaghetti and Pork Bourguignon dinners and a hot air popcorn maker. Missing from the photo is a kitchen counter cleaner I like to bring to keep things sanitized.

7) The boys are also bringing their own pillows and I am packing a bottom and top sheet to exchange on the bed that Michael will be sleeping in. One never knows what they wash the bedding in and I would like to prevent any eczema outbreaks.

I packaged up all the above in one large cooler and a large plastic container. Nice and easy to pack in the truck. There is, of course, our suitcases…the boys share and Andy and I have our own, our ski boot bags, skiis and poles and a packed lunch for the road.

Whew! I think I covered it all!

We did a pit stop in Burlington, Vermont…Michael was lacking in the clothes department! We managed to purchase him 3 pairs of jeans (he currently fits into one pair). We lucked out…they were all on sale! Boys each found ski goggles also on sale!

Our 'little cabin in the woods' in Stowe, Vermont

After signing in and dropping off our luggage at our ‘little cabin in the woods’. We headed out for the main for the main grocery shop:  fruit and veggies, salading, chicken, pork and ground turkey, cereal, oatmeal, pure maple syrup, bread, olive oil, milk, cheese, mustard, and ham slices. The boys had fun checking out all the different packaging and products available here.

Of course we cannot forget the fun foods…after all,  we are on vacation!  Chips, pop, wine and beer.

Our first dinner, Chicken Fajitas was a hit. Quick and easy to put together… just let the chicken tenders marinade while I cut up the onions and peppers. Sautéed everything up and served them rolled up in warmed up tortillas.

allergen friendly chicken fajitas

They were delish!  Click here for the recipe.

Our first day on the slopes was awesome! The warmest skiing I have ever experienced. After a couple runs we had to de-layer…check out the boys ski look!

boys in their canadian attire skiing at Stowe Vermont

Do you think we looked Canadian?

Packed lunches were brought to the hills. I prepped our dinner for tonight in the slow cooker with the ingredients for our Pork Bourguignon before we left in the morning.  Set on low it braised throughout the day. The smell was incredible upon our return from our day on the slopes! I just cut up some carrots, potatoes and sweet potatoes and added them for another couple of hours.

Allergen friendly Pork Bourguignon in slow cooker

With the warmed up Dairy and Peanut/Tree Nut Free French Stick to dip into the rich broth…we will be eating like kings!

I had hoped to post this morning but our ‘little cabin in the woods’ was a bit too far into the woods to receive the free internet service…so here I am sitting in the main lobby by a warm fire.

I am hoping to finish in time for their complimentary wine and cheese event in the lobby at 5:30!

After dinner, we will be waiting the arrival of Andy’s sister, Shelley and her kids. They have booked at a local hotel and will join us for the next couple of days skiing.

I will be up early, prepping our Spaghetti with Meat Sauce for another days use of the slow cooker.

Well, I better finish up…people are milling about and I do believe it is time for ‘cocktail hour’  to begin!

P.S. Click here for the next post.