Saturday, February 26, 2011

I'm Still Here!

It's been a while since I've posted.  Just wanted to let everyone know that I'm still here, and that I haven't forgotten you guys.  I've been really busy this last week, and can't even begin to list everything I've got going on right now.  I've been too tired by the time evening comes around to work on anything for the blog.

I've got several posts that are work-in-progress, but in the meantime, I did have something fun and easy that I've been wanting to share.  For Christmas, Abigail got a subscription to the Highlights magazine from her cousin.  Who would have guessed that while Abigail and I were reading it, I would find a great recipe.  And, in her very first issue (January 2011) nonetheless!  The recipe is for Pocket Bread, i.e., Pita Bread, and it couldn't be easier to make (it should be, it's from a kid's magazine).  It's also very food allergy friendly with only 4 ingredients.  I haven't tried to make it with a wheat flour substitute, or for that matter, a more healthy whole wheat flour.  I should experiment.

Here's the recipe:

 Pocket Bread

1. In a mixing bowl, mix together 2/3 cup lukewarm water, 1 tablespoon sugar and 3/4 teaspoon of instant yeast (Rapid Rise).  Add 2 cups unbleached flour.  Mix well.

2. Put flour down on a cutting board or pastry mat and place the dough on the floured surface.

3. Knead the dough for 10 minutes.

4. Put the dough back in the mixing bowl and cover it with a clean dishcloth.  Let it rise for 2 hours in a warm place or in the fridge overnight.

5. Flour your board or mat again and split the dough into 8 balls for small pockets or 4 balls for large pockets.  Put a ball on the mat, sprinkle it with flour and roll out the dough until it is no more than 1/4 inch thick and looks like a pancake.  Repeat with other balls of dough.

6. Preheat oven and a baking sheet to 500 Degrees Fahrenheit.  When both oven and baking sheet are hot, place flattened dough on the baking sheet.  Bake for 3 to 5 minutes or until pockets are puffy and golden brown.

7.  When they've cooled, cut each pocket in half and fill with your favorite sandwich fillings.

Told you it was easy and so much better for you than the processed pockets with all those added ingredients from the grocery store.  You just have to plan ahead to allow time for the dough to rise.  I love using these for a quick dinner.  My favorite fillings - lettuce, tomato, grilled chicken strips, cucumbers, roasted red peppers, feta cheese and Greek salad dressing.

Off to bed.  Another incredibly busy day tomorrow!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

American Girl Boutique & Bistro Experience

This past weekend, Abigail, a friend, her friend's mom and I took a road trip to Alpharetta, Georgia to the American Girl Boutique & Bistro in celebration of Abigail's 8th birthday. What a great experience!

We had lunch reservations at the Bistro. Just a hint, you need to make them weeks if not months in advance. The online reservation system asks about food allergies so I was able to indicate that there was a nut and wheat concern.  Abigail's friend has Celiac disease and cannot eat anything with gluten.  As an extra precaution, the friend's mom also called the Bistro in Alpharetta directly and spoke with the chef.  She felt comfortable that there were going to be options on the menu that our daughters could eat.

After all of us, including the dolls, were seated... late (which is my only negative comment), the chef came out to talk with us personally. He went over the menu to let us know what items were peanut/tree nut free and gluten free. The bakery they use for most of their bread products also produces other products with peanuts. That eliminated several Starters and Main Course sandwiches. No problem there because Abigail had already decided she wanted the Macaroni with Lots of Cheese with a fresh fruit skewer on the side for her entree. She did want the Warm Pretzel Bites with honey mustard dipping sauce for her Starter, but the pretzels were from Pillsbury and had a warning label for cross-contamination. Instead, she got the Cheesy Cheddar Fondue with the gluten-free bread (which was surprisingly very good).  The gluten-free bread came from a different bakery and was peanut/tree nut safe.  Both girls ended up with the fondue. There were other options, i.e, the Very Veggie Platter, the Salad Skewers, the Fresh Fruit with Yogurt Dipping Sauce, etc., but they were deemed too healthy and not near as fun as fondue.

Abigail's friend was able to get the Perfect Picnic Time entree which is a mini hamburger and hot dog.  The chef subbed the buns with gluten-free bread and the curly fries with the fruit cup and yogurt dipping sauce.  For the adult Starters, we got the Fresh Fruit with Yogurt & Mini Muffins and the Warm Artichoke-Spinach Dip and shared it.  We were also going to share a sandwich and a salad for our main course. We managed to eat the Turkey and Provolone Panini, but were way too full to touch the Spinach Salad with Warm Bacon Dressing.  If you're wondering why we ordered so much food in the first place, the price for lunch is $14.50 per person and includes the Starter and Main Course.

Because it was Abigail's birthday, we also had to have a special dessert.  All of the cookie and cake desserts used ingredients from Pillsbury and were not peanut/tree nut safe.  There was one chocolate cake that was gluten free, but I chose to order each girl a Celebration Milkshake with birthday cake flavored ice cream, whipped cream, sprinkles and a cherry on top.  I was not expecting them to bring Abigail's out with a candle, but they did.  The waitresses also all gathered around and sang "Happy Birthday" to her which was really nice.  Abigail was more than a little embarrassed by the special attention.  I was pleased that they did so without me asking.  FYI, you can order a special birthday package meal that includes a tiara, certificate and special white "signature" cake and ice cream, but the cake is neither peanut/tree nut or gluten free so I didn't pay the extra.  I think that lunch runs $28.00 a child and $18.00 an adult.

We shopped, we ate and the dolls even got their hair done and ears pierced in the salon.  When we finished at the American Girl Boutique, we checked into our hotel, and the girls spent the evening swimming in the indoor pool.  What a fabulous adventure.  We've made memories to last a lifetime.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Chocolate...Perfect for Valentine's Day!

It's Valentine's Day. Time for hearts, flowers and chocolate.  Yum... chocolate...I love chocolate. I used to be a milk chocolate fan, but my husband has totally converted me to dark chocolate. I'm sure you've read this.  Dark chocolate is not only good for you, but it also makes you happy.  It contains phenylethylamine which is the same hormone triggered by the brain when we fall in love. Hard to believe that something I enjoy so much is actually good for me. It usually doesn't work that way.

The European Society of Cardiology published a study done in Germany that followed 19,357 people, aged 35 to 65, for 10 years.  They found that those "who ate the most amount of chocolate – an average of 7.5 grams a day – had lower blood pressure and a 39% lower risk of having a heart attack or stroke compared to those who ate the least amount of chocolate – an average of 1.7 grams a day. The difference between the two groups amounts to six grams of chocolate: the equivalent of less than one small square of a 100g bar."

And, if that is not enough of a reason to enjoy dark chocolate, how about the fact that it contains more antioxidants per 3.5 ounces than prunes, raisins, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, kale, spinach, Brussels sprouts, alfalfa sprouts, plums, oranges, red grapes, red bell peppers, cherries, onions, corn or eggplant.

Not all chocolate is created equal.  According to Wikipedia, usually an emulsifying agent like soy lecithin is added to create a smooth texture.  Some manufacturers are now using an artificial emulsifier derived from castor oil that allows them to reduce the amount of cocoa butter while maintaining the same mouthfeel. The more expensive chocolate tends to be processed longer and thus have a smoother texture and "feel" on the tongue, regardless of whether emulsifying agents are added.  Some mass-produced chocolate contains much less cocoa (as low as 7% in many cases) and fats other than cocoa butter. Vegetable oils and artificial vanilla flavor are often used in cheaper chocolate to mask poorly fermented and/or roasted beans.  Look for organic, Fair Trade and/or non-GMO chocolate if wanting to avoid these "extras" in your chocolate.

For those that find themselves alone on Valentine's Day, do not despair. A study reported by the BBC indicated that melting chocolate in one's mouth produced an increase in brain activity and heart rate that was more intense than that associated with passionate kissing, and also lasted four times as long after the activity had ended.  For those that aren't alone...why not enjoy them both!

Happy Valentine's Day!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

New Look?

If you're reading my blog tonight, it's possible that every time you hit a new page or refreshed, the background changed. I've been trying out new looks, lots and lots of new looks. I can't decide if I should keep it fun, stick with the old background or make it more professional with solid colors and a simple format.

So, what do you guys think? Time to go professional and keep it simple or do you like it fun? I do think I like this new layout with the boxes, white text background and tabs across the top.

I'm having an identity crisis!! Help! I need some feedback.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Girl Scout Cookies - 2011

Abigail "bridged" from a Daisy to a Brownie Troop this year.  When the cookie sales started in January, we didn't have a mother that wanted to be "Cookie Mom."  I thought we were going to get away with not having to sell cookies.  It's not that I don't love a good Thin Mint or Samoa, but the cookies don't come close to meeting my healthy food standard nor are they particularly food allergy friendly.  Well, one of the girls in the Troop really wanted to have the cookie selling experience so, here in February, her mom said she'd assume the role of coordinating the cookie sales.  Our Troop could use the money so with some enthusiasm, I'm off to go help Abigail sell some cookies.  It's stiff competition around here and we're late entering the game so we'll need some luck.

It appears that the Regional Council can decide which of the two licensed Girl Scout cookie manufacturers they'll use.  Our cookies come from Little Brownie Bakers (LBB) in Louisville, Kentucky.  It's a subsidiary of Keebler, owned by Kellogg's.  If you guys are frequent readers of my blog, you know that I've posted about the Kellogg's company and their use of genetically modified ingredients.  If not, here's a link to that post.  ABC Bakers is the other licensed Girl Scout cookie manufacturer, and they're located in Richmond, Virginia, ironically, closer to us than Louisville, Kentucky.

Each bakery can offer up to 28 different varieties and are responsible for naming them.  According to Wikipedia, "the national Girl Scout organization reviews and approves all varieties proposed by the baking companies, but requires only three types: Thin Mints, Peanut Butter Sandwiches (ABC)/Do-Si-Dos (LBB) and Shortbreads (ABC)/Trefoils (LBB). The other kinds can be changed every year, though several popular favorites, such as Caramel DeLites (ABC)/Samoas (LBB) and Peanut Butter Patties (ABC)/Tagalongs (LBB), are consistently available."

This year there are four peanut/tree nut safe cookies offered by Little Brownie Bakers.  They are the Trefoils, Samoas, Thank U Very Munch and Thin Mints.  According to their website, they label using a "May Contain" statement.. "For peanuts and tree nuts, we have chosen to include cautionary labeling in the form of a "may contain" statement. This indicates that the product shares processing equipment with another product that contains peanuts or tree nuts."  Here's a link to their Nutrition Guide.

Here is the link to the ABC Bakers' Nutrition Guide.  They also label with a "May Contains" statement, "in addition, we call out all allergens on our packaging and order cards and provide specific warning if a product is made on a line that also produces product with a common allergen such as peanuts."  There are just three peanut/tree nut safe varieties for this year.  They are Thin Mints, Thanks-A-Lots and Lemonades.

So, once again, Abigail will be selling cookies that she can't eat, and I'll be buying cookies that I don't want to eat.  I am really late in posting this information.  Most of you have already probably been approached to purchase a box..or two.  I was really hoping that we were getting out of selling this year.  So close!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Happy Birthday & Get Well Soon

Today is Abigail's birthday.  She's had a fever off and on for the last two days.  It's put a real damper on the birthday festivities.  She also had a Father/Daughter dance that she and her dad were supposed to attend tonight.  Tomorrow both sets of grandparents were coming for cake and ice cream...and presents, but we don't want to expose them to whatever bug Abigail's picked up.  She's pretty disappointed, but been a really good sport about it.

I've tried to make her day as special as possible.  This morning we made waffles and pancake puffs...with candles.  We've rented movies and video games.  We've decorated a cake that is too big now that family is not coming tomorrow to help eat it.  We've opened presents and painted fingernails with a new nail polish set that she got for her birthday.  And, we let her have her choice of take-out which was McDonald's.  That's how much I was trying to make her day great.  I let her eat a McDonald's Happy Meal.

We put those allergy safe jelly beans to good use on her birthday cake.  Abigail asked for a chocolate cake decorated with a rainbow, peace signs, hearts and stars.  She had a good time making the rainbow and peace sign "clouds" and instructing me where to put the hearts and stars. It turned out pretty cute, and she was thrilled with the end results.

Happy Birthday dear Abigail!  Love you!  Hope you feel better soon.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Latest Trip to Duke

It's been three months since our last trip to Duke University Hospital.  It was time to hit the road and make the drive to Durham to visit the Duke Clinical Research Unit.

It was a lab visit.  These occur every 6 months.  I think Abigail dreads the saliva collection more than the blood draw.  She dislikes spitting into that collection tube.  She also had another skin prick test.  The last one was done at Abigail's food challenge back in June of last year.  Here's a picture from that test.

Here's a picture of her back after the test this week.  The top prick on the left is the highest dose of the peanut protein.  The prick on the bottom right is the histamine.  That first prick is about the same size as the one in June 2010.  The second prick was about the size of a pin head.  Her doctor traced it, but didn't record the others.  There was nothing to trace.  You can definitely see the difference between these tests.  How exciting! 

Last, but not least, they had to do a blood draw to get new IgE numbers.  I know they do a regular blood panel to monitor her overall health, but I'm not sure what else they look at.  Regardless, there were 5, maybe 6 tubes they needed to fill.  Do you know what Abigail did?  The nurse inserted the needle, but Abigail put on and removed each of the tubes.  It was unbelievable.  Here's a picture of her changing out the tube.

Six months ago, Abigail's IgE number was 12.8.  The doctor thinks that this time around we might possibly see a single digit number on the lab report.  I can't wait to get those results!

There was also opportunity to ask lots of questions about what's next for us in the trial as well as get an update on the results to date of the sublingual immunotherapy study. I'll cover all of that in my next post.