DISCLAIMER: This article is not for the faint of heart. It goes without saying that the content on this web site is based on my opinion (except comments written by others, which reflect their opinions). I am aware that I have strong opinions and I understand that not everyone will agree with these opinions, or how I choose to express them. Others may think of me as pessimistic, but I'd like to think of myself as practical. The views and opinions expressed in this article are mine and in no way reflect the views of other families living with allergies. What I write is true for me and my family and is not meant as advice, legal or medical. If you are easily depressed please do not read this article. I accept no blame for misinterpretation or misuse of the written content.
When a child is first diagnosed with an allergy typically the parents are told that the child is allergic to any X products and that strict avoidance is the only way to stay safe. That, and they are given a few pamphlets about the allergen along with a prescription for epinephrine. Some places provide epipen training but the majority don't. From what I hear, that is the extent of allergy education and information on behalf of medical professionals. At least that's the way it works in this province. After that, the responsibility falls on the shoulders of parents to find out more information through diligent and continuous research.
The process of managing multiple life threatening allergies starts off with a progression of stages that are very similar to the stages of grief if you will:
Denial - Parents are in total shock, especially if they have never been exposed to allergies or anaphylaxis previously. They don't believe this is happening to their child. They may seek a second opinion for fear that the doctor is inexperienced or made a mistake. Some will even continue to feed their child products containing the allergen in the hopes that it will "cure" the allergy.
Anger - After the initial shock wears off, parents start looking for someone to blame. Upset by everything and everyone, they start looking into their family history to deflect blame (e.g. this didn't come from MY side of the family). They do not understand why this happened to their child and sometimes feel envy towards parents with non allergic kids. That coupled with their frustration that there is no cure for allergies often creates resentment towards parents who are not familiar with the world of allergies. In many cases, parents direct the anger towards each other especially if one is still angry while the other has accepted the chain of events.
Bargaining - The parents of the allergic child start to doubt the severity of the allergy. They hope that their child can have a little bit of the allergen without reacting to it; that if they can at least have the allergen in something small that this will be okay. For some parents, eliminating the allergens and keeping reactions at bay means that their child does not have special needs and is "normal", and can pursue activities enjoyed by other children as well.
Depression - Reality begins to sink in and parents realize that their child is special, especially if there were a few close calls. They withdraw and disconnect from others for fear that they might expose their child to the allergen. Some may even cut off ties with family and friends who do not understand the nature of allergies. They realize that they cannot do the things that other non allergic families do, such as going out to restaurants, to the movies, or play dates. They inadvertently isolate their child fearing for his/her safety, particularly if friends and family are not making an effort to create a safe environment for the child. If support within the local community is limited or nonexistent, this feeling of demoralization is compounded.
Acceptance - Parents will eventually accept the dramatic change in lifestyle. Many will actively manage and deal with everyday situations through prior preparation and education. Some will become advocates for the rights of those with allergies and will dedicate all their time towards the spread of awareness and information about allergies. Others may choose to remain secluded after gathering the necessary information and take the us versus them approach.
I'm aware that there are a large number of people involved in the allergy community who would like all allergy sufferers to believe that the world is a great place and that life, although altered, is still pretty much the same. They would have you believe that support is on every corner and that you're not alone. Perhaps that is true for some, but I would much rather have someone give me all the facts, good and bad, as opposed to only some of the facts. When you first stumble unto a support group, there is this sense of belonging and euphoria, if you will. It's almost like a drug high; it feels good while it lasts but then you come crashing afterward when you discover that all is not well. I think newly diagnosed (and seasoned) families may be interested in a different point of view. This article does not include "good news" - you can get that anywhere. There are plenty of people, web sites, books, and other venues that focus on nothing but the positives in the world of allergies. The food allergy battle may very well be a victorious one (someday), but this piece is about what takes place in the trenches. This is about one family's experience but try to think of it as part of the big picture. This is what I see when I take off those pink tinted glasses, and stop viewing the world through a field of roses:
- No one cares more about your child than you. Your child's survival depends on you, the parent, not the doctor, not the babysitter, not family, not school, and not friends. You will meet people in personal and professional capacities who will come across as sincere but really their underlying motivation will often stem from self preservation and their fear of causing harm to your child. They are afraid of the liability and so refuse to be responsible for your child. That means daycare, babysitters, as well as family and friends. Do not be surprised if even your closest family members refuse to babysit your child or show no interest in easing your hardship. Ultimately, it is their best interest that they're looking after, not your child's.
- Support is not available on every corner, not in this province. Perhaps larger provinces may have support for those living with anaphylaxis, but in small provinces things are quite different. At first, you will be inclined to move to a different country, where laws are more accommodating to those living with allergies and where education and awareness is more prevalent. Then you will come to the realization that this is not going to work for various reasons. Allergy organizations have their own agendas and work on things according to their convenience and set of priorities which may not match yours.
- Get in the habit of hoping for the best and preparing for the worst. Most people are selfish, ignorant and suffer from tunnel vision. They have no desire to educate themselves on matters that do not have a direct impact on their life, even if their actions negatively affect others. Our actions are inherently self serving, even those that relate to our offspring such as protecting and providing for our children. Its purpose is to ensure the survival of our species, and to increase our share of the genetic "market" as it were. From a logical point of view, it makes total sense yet seems oddly disturbing. This is a philosophical discussion that perhaps belongs to another time. Nonetheless, what it boils down to is that for every one person who genuinely cares, you are likely to find 99 other people who just don't give a s**t.
- Get accustomed to being ignored and let it roll off your back. Generally, people will not respond to your emails and will not return your calls (even within the allergy community). It's part of the process. You are unimportant and a nuisance to them and not someone they want to deal with. Expect ignorance and callousness. I've had daycare staff yell at me when I called to inquire about whether they take in kids with allergies. These are people I have not met or spoken to before, but as soon as they hear of severe food allergies they loudly bark at me "NOT INTERESTED!" and hang up. It's not personal; it's a liability issue to them.
- Get with the program. Your child has special needs just like any other kid with a special need. If there is funding for special needs children, your child will be at the low end of the totem pole. If there are any special circumstances or accommodations for people with disabilities or special needs your child will not qualify because allergies are not seen as a disability. Even with government and institutional programs, your child will not be accommodated due to allergies. Take the CRA's decision to grant Gluten allergic individuals the ability to claim their gluten free foods under medical expenses. A child who is diagnosed with Celiac Disease can claim that expense, because according to the CRA, gluten free foods are hard to find and expensive and that creates undue hardship for the family. Yet, a child with a life threatening allergy to wheat and barley for example, cannot claim that expense, even though they buy the same gluten free food, and in fact if they were to consume those gluten foods they would suffer anaphylaxis.
- Do not be surprised when parents of non allergic children take it upon themselves to educate you on proper parenting skills and what constitutes neglect. I've met many parents along the way who believe that I should be staying at home with my child and was even told flat out by one parent that I "should not let my daughter out of the house because of her allergies." Most parents will judge you, and some of them will be parents of allergic kids. Some parents expect you to quit your job and stay at home with your allergic child yet somehow still manage to magically make money. Those are the same people that send their child to school sick because they could not afford to take a day off work.
- It's going to be shocking at first but get used to the fact that within the allergy community there is a multi-tiered system for allergies. It's not deliberate (though some might argue otherwise) but it's definitely present. Often children with only peanut allergies get preferential treatment. If an issue about peanut allergy arises, allergy organizations will gather and rally for support and advocacy. Any other allergy is parked on the sidelines. Many parents of peanut allergic children will tell you that peanut butter is especially hard to clean because it clings to everything and that is why banning it is a necessity. I beg to differ. Try wiping margarine off a surface without thoroughly soaping it. To a child with a severe milk allergy, dairy margarine is as poisonous as it gets. Yet parents, even ones with peanut allergic children, will be the first in line to protest if you even hint at banning milk products, and in that they have the backing of allergy organizations.- You will be exposed to all sorts of theories and ideas out there. There will always be one excuse after another for the reason why one allergy is treated different than another. You will commonly hear that peanut allergic families for example, have been fighting the allergy battle for a lot longer than other allergies and that is why they got what they have today, that this somehow justifies the type of preferential treatment they get. And you will keep hearing that, even though your child is also allergic to peanuts, yet they speak to you like an outsider, like your allergies don't fall under the same category. Most people are often just confused and misunderstand your intentions: that ALL allergy sufferers be treated equally.
- As frustrating and offensive as it sounds, expect to be asked for photos. Get in the habit of taking pictures of every reaction and documenting in detail what you think led to the reaction and what medication was administered. Doctors will not trust your judgment or assessment of the situation. You don't have a medical degree and so they are inclined to believe that when it comes to allergies, you are either paranoid, exaggerating, or misunderstand the facts. Often, they do not see the reaction when it happens. They believe that you believe what you say is true but they will require proof to make an accurate assessment. That being said, do not take these people for granted. They work long and hard to make life better for you and your child. They see a lot of patients and because allergies are on the rise it's no surprise that they are diagnosing new patients every day. They may not be able to give you the time of day, but they often work very hard behind the scenes to advance the allergy cause.- Expect to hear nasty and unkind remarks about your child and their condition. You will be told that your child is a genetic anomaly that was never meant to develop into a human being, that survival of the fittest ensures our species remains strong by weeding out the weak and that by catering and protecting children with allergies we are allowing genetic defects to run rampant within our species thereby weakening it and diluting the strong genetic code. Do not let it bother you. Those people change their mind as soon as they get sick.- Do not be surprised if your child is labeled. I've seen (and heard) a number of people refer to my child in terms other than her name. I've heard a teacher call her "heat rash girl", and several friends and babysitters have referred to her as "allergy girl". Those are just a few of the things that have been said to her face. Do not let it bother you especially in front of your child. You don't want her to in any way perceive that she is a burden, because she is not.
- You will meet at least one or two allergy parents who will see the silver lining in everything. They will be the ones who will be able to put a positive spin on even the most terrible of events. They will encourage you to learn from your mistakes and will try to find something positive in the negative. They can have very valuable advice and they are often very nice people, but be aware, they have been doing this longer than you and have acquired a bit of a thick skin. It's not that they don't care or aren't listening. On the contrary, they most likely understand exactly what you are going through because they have been there too, but this is their way of coping with the bad stuff.
- Do not underestimate the power of the world wide web. I have gotten more information and support from internet sites such as Allergic Living's forum for example, as opposed to local support groups and official allergy organizations. You can reach a much wider group of people who have been exposed to many things in the allergy community and there is a wealth of information on allergy forums and other allergy sites. Pay special attention to blogs by other allergy parents. You will learn from their experiences (or mistakes) and generally speaking have no qualms providing information as they don't have liability issues beyond the disclaimer on their blog or web site.- Last but not least, understand that change does not happen at an exponential rate and that in most cases, for things to really improve, something dramatic has to happen. Unless a number of people in high public office have children with severe food allergies, laws and policies will not be easily implemented because no one in office cares enough to push for any change. In this province, a child will most likely have to die of anaphylaxis before any real action is taken to prevent it, especially for children with multiple food allergies. You just have to make sure that it's not your child.With the above in mind, I am not going to tell you that everything will be okay, but I ask you not to give up. Things get better because you learn to adapt quicker. Allergy parents are a special breed. We are strong, resilient and creative. Keep your chin up and refer to this whenever you have doubts.
So I was finally able to get the low down on the menu approval system for daycares. To get to the bottom of things, I had to pressure directors to give me a reason for rejecting Maya. Ninety percent of the time the reason they gave was the fact that they would feel safer if they could eliminate dairy products from their menu for that classroom, but that Public Health Services would not approve the menu unless it had milk in it. Thus the problem.
Last week, I had a conversation with one of the nutritionists at Public Health - the people responsible for approving daycare menus. She informed me that there is no such mandate that dictates milk must be present in the menu unless it's for children under 2 whereby that is indeed the case. However, for children over 2 (i.e. toddlers and preschoolers) there should be no reason why the daycare cannot replace milk/dairy items with things that contain the same nutritional values. She also said that they work with some daycares to help adjust the menu to accommodate lack of dairy and that it has been done successfully before.
It's baffling as to why daycares are reluctant to implement something that they suggested in the first place. I do not ask daycares to ban milk, eggs, or otherwise, but there have been daycares that said they would feel more comfortable if they banned dairy. These are daycares that already eliminated nuts/peanuts, as well as eggs, from their menu. Many of the daycares I've visited have banned eggs from the entire centre for the sake of one child, yet when it comes to milk, they will not do the same for my child. I am confused as to why daycares would not simply replace dairy with soy derivatives that are already fortified with all the nutrients available in dairy products.
In the past year, more than one daycare has mentioned that they think it's "unfair for the rest of the kids" to ban milk from the menu. Yet, they do not think it's unfair to ban eggs, peanuts, or sesame for the sake of one child. What's really unfair is that my daughter's life is put in danger because someone else would be happier consuming what's poison to her. My little girl is not allergic to sesame or wheat, but I had no problem with daycares that eliminated both of those foods. It's perfectly acceptable for her not to eat wheat or sesame if it means another child will be safe. She can eat those items at home. It's a small price to pay to make sure that children are safe.
Is my child less worthy than those kids? I don't ask these daycares to ban any food items because I prefer education about cross contamination over banning, but if those daycares are the ones pushing to eliminate the item, what right do they have to decide that my daughter's safety is worth less than the safety of other kids? This, in and of itself is discrimination. It's simple; I believe any allergic child's safety is worth more than the convenience of eating an allergen. With that in mind, I believe any daycare that thinks otherwise has no business being in the child care industry.
Yesterday, we celebrated Maya's third birthday at the grandparents' house. This year was the first year that I actually made edible dairy, egg, and nut free treats. To make sure the place was safe for Maya, we decided to take care of the whole food/snacks/treats thing. I made everything from scratch, including the kids' lunches. It was a great party.
Both recipes for the cake and cupcakes came from Kelly Rudnicki (Food Allergy Mama). I used the Red Velvet cake recipe for the Dora cake, which was a huge hit with the kids because of the obvious theme, but the adults loved how moist it was and the flavour got rave reviews. For the cupcakes, I used Kelly's Vanilla Cupcake Recipe. Oh and the frosting was Kelly's recipe too. To round out the party I also made several cookies and other snacks. Among those were snickerdoodle cookies, chocolate chip cookies, and wildberry rugelach. My father-in-law fell in love with the chocolate chip cookies (so he's going to get a batch every time we visit). The snickerdoodles and rugelach were so popular that people actually took them home to snack on them later.As for the kids, it was a challenge for us to keep them from digging into the cake with their fingers. They could not get enough of the frosting. It was a miracle that I was able to take a picture of it before the kids started poking holes at it with their cute little pinkies.
No one believed that the food was dairy, egg, and nut free. Everything tasted better than the usual cakes and cookies that have eggs and milk in them. I was so pleased and of course my little girl was happy. She got to have her cake and eat it too, not to mention, the presents. We had one very excited little girl. Thank you Kelly! You helped me make my little girl's day and that is worth a lot to me.Food Allergy Mama's recipes are amazing and I have tried many of them. They all taste fabulous. I strongly recommend her book if you like baked goods. I cannot say enough about it. In the meantime, if you want to check out the individual recipes that I made for the party, click on the links below.Snickerdoodle CookiesChocolate Chip CookiesWildberry RugelachRed Velvet CakeVanilla Cupcakes with Frosting
I have become increasingly annoyed and frustrated by the lack of support for children with life threatening food allergies. I've developed a lot of resentment, specifically towards family and friends who continue to disregard my daughter's safety and particularly the ones who seek to exclude her from family events by making sure that the place is unsafe for her to be present.I am astounded by the number of daycares I've contacted who rejected my child because "her allergies are too severe" or because "they have other kids that demand their attention". I have talked to almost every daycare in our city, and the ones who have spots available, are not interested in taking in a child with severe food allergies. Some daycares accepted her but were unable to keep her safe. Others accepted her for a short duration and kept her safe but then kicked her out because "she was too much work".
I am equally frustrated by the number of allergy organizations out there that claim they seek to improve the lives of allergic Canadians. The AAIA, which holds itself in a position of dispensing accurate information about allergies and asthma, has failed to answer my questions about the status of allergic children under the Disability Act and programs for special needs children. They really haven't done much to improve my quality of life nor that of my daughter's except for providing me with some allergy brochures. The only organization in Canada that seems like it is actually trying to make headway for allergic individuals is Anaphylaxis Canada. They still were unable to answer my questions, but at least they put the effort in trying to research the information with me. The information they provided was not very useful and led to a lot of dead ends, but they get credit for trying. Both the AAIA and Anaphylaxis Canada suggested a number of ideas until I stated I live in Nova Scotia. There is a fair bit of support in other provinces such as Ontario, but when it comes to places like Nova Scotia, we live in the dark. Equally stupified, are the people at Community Services, who interpret the letter of the law when it comes to allergic children. My little girl, who lives with severe life-threatening allergies to dairy, eggs, and peanuts, is not covered under the disability act of Nova Scotia, because a) she is not mentally challenged and does not have an intellectual disability (yes, those were their words) and b) she does not have a physical disability in the sense that a body part is non functional or partially functional In short, they think she is a special needs child but the law does not allow for any type of accommodation under that specific criteria. There apparently is some sort of dispensation process that is available only to daycares who wish to take in kids with special needs, but it's done on a case by case basis. The application process and use of the funds are determined solely by the child care centre. The funding is not specific to any one child or diagnosis, i.e. if the child were to move to a new daycare centre, the funding remains with the old daycare centre. In other words, the day care centre decides how and when to use those funds and for whom.
With the exception of one or two, daycares in Nova Scotia are unequipped to handle allergic children, and those that are, do not understand the nature of allergies and cross contamination. I am told that Ontario had the same problem a few years ago, and was not interested in putting the effort to keep allergic children safe. But Sabrina Shannon changed all that, for Ontario. I'm afraid that things in Nova Scotia will follow a similar course and will only change if someone dies of anaphylaxis.I just hope it's not my daughter.
I am amazed by the number of people who do not understand the nature of allergies. It's a growing disease today, and is evolving very fast. Yet, people have no clue. For example, take that new daycare that we tried out this morning. You would think that when a parent mentions food allergies, pet allergies, and asthma, that people would clue in to the fact that just because the cat spends most of it's time upstairs, does not mean that dander is not around the house.
What is dander? According to Wikipedia (my new bible), "dander is material shed from the body of various animals, similar to dandruff or pet pollen. It may contain scales of dried skin and hair, or feathers. It is a frequent cause of allergies in humans." Contrary to popular belief, pet hair is not what causes allergies; it's dander, i.e. the dead skin that flakes off of the body of animals. Dander is usually very small, fluffy and cannot be seen by the naked eye. It spreads throughout the atmosphere and gets transported on virtually everything.
Dander particles shed from pets can stay airborne for hours, and in the case of cats, for months. The allergens in dander stick to clothing, and remain in carpets, mattresses and furniture even with meticulous cleaning. Therefore, someone with pet allergies can suffer from symptoms for months, despite pets having been removed from the home. In many cases, it's the person who has to abandon the place. Obviously, that new daycare is no longer an option for us - cat stays, Maya goes.
With cats, it's even more of a problem because cat dander is not only in their fur, but also their saliva and urine. How does a cat clean itself? Yes, you got it. It licks itself clean and then jumps on your sofa, leaving all that residue of sticky saliva and dander together. Your allergic child decides to sit on the sofa, and moments later, itches at her eyes and sneezes.
Anti-histamine to the rescue...
Previously, I'd posted two articles about discrimination and our personal experience with several daycares. This is a sequel to those posts. Some people have suggested that I not include names of facilities or individuals. That may have been acceptable initially, but after contacting several daycares, and experiencing some, I think parents of allergic children have the right to know which daycares are safe and which ones aren't even if those daycares claim to be safe.
Since the incident at Wee Care, and after speaking to the allergist, we all agreed that a home based daycare would be a more suitable environment for Maya because the number of children would be more managable than a bigger daycare. For the past few months we've been fortunate to have one of the best babysitters I've seen. Maya flourished in her care. She came to our house and was extremely cautious about bringing unsafe foods. We felt at ease with her and she truly understood how dangerous allergies can be. I provided all the meals and snacks; this was the only way to keep Maya safe. Sadly, this wonderful babysitter's services are no longer an option. We knew from the start that she would only be available for a few months and she'd given notice last week. She was incredibly nice to us and even helped us find the current daycare we are working with. But it didn't start out that way. It took a while before we found someone who was willing to accept Maya into their daycare.
Our first contact was with Future Stars Learning Centre and they accepted Maya initially but with some trepidation (perhaps that's a lesson in and of itself). Despite that, Maya did very well. She was safe and we did not even have to give her any antihistamine. I provided all her meals and snacks. I provided all her gear and medication. I only asked that the staff make sure other kids clean their hands after consuming food that Maya is allergic to. To my disappointment, I got a call from the director a few days later. She asked me NOT to bring my child in again. I was informed that they could not keep Maya safe because they will be taking care of an autistic child. They did not think that they could manage an autistic child as well as Maya while making sure that other kids washed their hands after food. The director stated that the autistic child required a lot of attention and she did not have the necessary staff to handle all that. It seemed to me like Maya was being kicked out because they thought it was easier to take care of an autistic child. I was furious. What makes one special needs kid favourable over another? Perhaps in this case it was funding. But it didn't matter, the reality was, they had no desire to make it work. It was evident that the issue was not understaffing. The next day I found an ad online for the spot that my daughter had occupied. Upon further investigation, I discovered that the place would have been totally unsafe for Maya, as that autistic child needed to have his milk bottle with him at ALL times, and so the director could not keep the place clean. He's over 2 but his bottle is what soothes him and he needs to have it. I understand that; he's autistic. However, Maya was in the daycare before this information came to light. I felt that as opposed to make it work, the director chose to simply eliminate the option that seemed like too much hassle. In retrospect, someone who thinks of a child as a burden or hassle is probably not someone you want dealing with allergies and anaphylaxis.
Since then I've contacted other licensed home based daycare facilities. Some were very apologetic and said that their families consume allergens everywhere in the house; they felt it would be unsafe for Maya. Some took the opportunity to educate me on being a good mother by suggesting that I should not be looking for daycare at all and that I should take care of my child myself, which begs the question why are these people in the daycare business to begin with. One woman even yelled "Not Interested" and hung up on me as soon as I mentioned that my daughter has severe food allergies. Still, others marveled at our ability to keep Maya safe with such severe contact allergies and wondered what we'll do when she goes to school. Amongst all that, we managed to find one home based daycare run by a very friendly woman. She agreed to take in Maya and expressed that it's no problem at all to work with us to keep her safe. She seemed a lot more accommodating than most. We quickly realized why. Her neice and nephew are allergic to peanuts, and she's had to administer the epipen to one of them before. Once again, the people who are sympathetic towards allergic individuals are ones that live with anaphylaxis themselves or their loved ones. We start that new daycare tomorrow; we hope it works out. I will be posting about our initial experience within the next week so stay tuned.
Christmas is a busy time of year for everyone. In large family gatherings with kids running around, it can be hard to remember who is allergic to what, especially when allergies run in the family. This year, I thought the best way to remind everyone of Maya's allergies is through a little PR. Since I can't list her allergies on a sign and stick it on her forehead, I decided an allergy shirt might just do the trick. I went online and hunted for images of things/characters she likes, and added a variety of statements. I then take those images and print them on iron transfer paper, and apply them to the shirts (plain shirts from Walmart at $4 each). Then I embroider and applique other things that make the shirt look more dazzling. There are many allergy shirts out there, but I noticed that not only are they expensive, especially when you add shipping costs, but also there are none that I know of that are made for kids with multiple food allergies. Hence, I am making my own.
If any one is interested, just drop me a line, and I might be able to share some of the images I've created or I might be able to help you out with an image that specifies your child's allergies. I think an allergy t-shirt would make a great Christmas present too. The picture above is only an example. Many of the ones I made are generic and have no specific cartoon characters. Some of the statements are generic too. You can have fun creating your own. Please remember though, if you plan on using licensed or copyrighted images, to obtain proper consent for those. Copyright infringement is an offense in this country.
Normally, buying a turkey is a simple task. This year however, a large group of manufacturers are offering pre-stuffed and buttered turkeys. I had a hard time finding a turkey that is allergen friendly. If you are looking into buying a turkey that is safe for your family, please make sure that you read the label. After an extensive trip to various stores, I've discovered the following:
They have frozen buttered and frozen plain. The buttered turkey obviously contains milk ingredients. The plain has a label on it that says "may contain milk and soy". I have seen some Butterball frozen turkeys that have no ingredient label at all. I chose not to purchase one for safety reasons. It is very likely that they produce both turkey types on the same line, so cross contamination could be an issue. For additional info, take a look at Avoiding Milk Protein and their correspondence with Butterball.
President's Choice Turkey (Atlantic Superstore brand)
At the local store, I have only seen the frozen ones that are buttered. The list of ingredients includes milk and soy.
Compliments Turkey (Sobey's brand)
At the time I called, Sobey's was completely out of plain turkey, but they told me that it's free of allergens. The compliments brand typically lists allergens and has a good allergy labeling system. If you happen to find one and read the label please let me know what they have listed on it.
I was told by them that they have only one type of turkey, but it does not have a list of ingredients. You would have to call the 1 800 number to get more information.
They have a complete listing of allergens on their web site. I bought the Flamingo Frozen Young Turkey. Their web site states that the turkey is free from the top 8 allergens. For more information take a look at their allergy info here.
Now, on to Christmas dinner...
If you want a moist and juicy turkey that is full of flavour, I recommend Chef Michael Smith's recipe for Turkey Brining. I've been making this recipe for the past few years and every time the turkey comes out incredibly moist and absolutely delicious. I brine the turkey and use Kraft's Stovetop Turkey Stuffing. It's dairy/egg/peanut free, but it does contain soy and wheat. I also use Idahoan Original Mashed Potatoes for the side dish, which is milk/egg/peanut/soy/gluten free. (Yes, I realize that real potatoes probably taste better, but sometimes you have to cut corners especially when you're crunched for time and transporting the entire Christmas dinner, dessert and all, across the province.) The following are instructions on how to brine a turkey from Chef Michael Smith (but remember READ EVERY AND ALL LABELS):
1. Place the turkey in the cooler upside down. Dissolve the salt and sugar in one gallon of cold water. Pour over the turkey and add three more gallons of cold water. Turn the turkey a few times to thoroughly mix the salt and sugar. Place the cooler in a cold place for four hours for a smaller turkey and as much as six hours for a larger one, no more no less. To help keep the brine and turkey cold toss in a few freezer packs.
- A fresh turkey, 12 - 25 lbs
- 2 pounds of sea salt (I use table salt)
- 2 cups of brown sugar (I've used white sugar and it turned out just as good)
- Lots of cold water
- A few freezer packs
- A large roasting pan
- 4 large carrots, 4 stalks of celery, 4 onions
- An accurate meat thermometer to gauge exactly when the turkey is done (absolutely essential)
- 3 cups of water, chicken broth or cider for the gravy
- 1 cup of whatever wine you are drinking (I replace wine with chicken broth)
- 3 tablespoons of corn starch
2. Remove the turkey from the brine and rinse well under cold running water. Thoroughly dry it with paper towels or clean kitchen towels. Remove any excess moisture and dry out the skin so that it will brown well.
At this point, I actually stuff the turkey with a mixture of Stove top stuffing and mashed potatoes. Then, I put 2 to 3 tablespoons of Earth Balance butter in a bowl plus 2 teaspoons savory, sage, or whatever herb/spice I'm in the mood for. I mix it into a paste and rub the turkey all over, making sure to go under the skin. Earth Balance butter is dairy/egg/peanut free. It is made out of soy but they also offer a dairy/egg/nut/soy free version for those allergic to soy. Once I am done with this step, I proceed with the recipe as stated.
3. Cut the onions in half and along with the carrots and celery fashion a bed in the roasting pan for the turkey to rest on.
4. Place the turkey in a preheated 400° oven. Roast one hour then, without opening the oven, turn the heat down to 300° and continue roasting for two to three hours longer depending on the size of the turkey. If you have a convection oven, only roast for 45 minutes first before turning down the oven heat. No other adjustments are needed.
5. After 2 1/2 hours, open the oven and check the temperature every 15 minutes or so (or you can avoid opening the oven completely if you have an oven safe thermometer with a digital output on the counter which I thought was really cool until I saw the wireless thermometers. Now you can cook a turkey and have it communicate to you from the oven while you are roaming!!). Continue roasting until the breast and thigh meat both reach 165°. Let the turkey rest covered with foil for 20 to 30 minutes before carving and then serve immediately.
6. Pour off most of any accumulated fat carefully reserving any juices. Add the liquid of your choice, the wine and the reserved juices then scrape the bottom of the pan to dissolve all of the browned bits. Dissolve the cornstarch in a splash of water and whisk it into the pan.
For dessert, I strongly recommend that you visit Food Allergy Mama and pick one of her fabulous & simple recipes to make. Better yet, buy her book; you won't regret it. Also, if you're planning on attending any holiday parties or gatherings, don't forget to take a look at the Holiday Safety Report on Halifax AAG's web site.
Set the table, put food on plate, and enjoy!!
Have a Safe and Merry Christmas.
As you may have heard, Health Canada is holding workshops in six provinces about precautionary labels with regards to food allergens. They are encouraging the public to come forward with their thoughts, though space will be limited.
This is our chance to voice our concerns and perhaps get the wheels moving on this issue. I am planning on attending the workshop taking place in Halifax (provided the space is available and I get the OK) and will be taking some notes. In the meantime, if you are unable to participate in the workshop, please feel free to send me your concerns or questions via email. Alternatively, you can post here in the comments section. Perhaps some of those concerns will be addressed in the workshop.
UPDATE: NOVEMBER 25, 2009
Our little girl took the second (and final) dose of the H1N1 vaccine on November 25. Instead of splitting it into two small doses, she was given the dose in one shot and we were asked to stay for an hour. She was fine, with the exception of a few very minor hives, which also manifested the first time, but went away quickly. All in all, she did very well and we are happy the she's had the vaccine without complications. It is important to note though that in the evening things got a little bit complicated. Later that night (or early morning around 3 AM), Maya got sick in her sleep and developed a fever. A quick trip to the emergency room revealed that those are possible side effects of the vaccine. I have also heard other parents complain of the very same thing happening to their child that same night. The doctor at the emergency room explained that the reason the side effects happened with the second dose and not the first is because her body now remembers what H1N1 is and has developed antibodies for it. That makes sense and simply means that the vaccine is working. Maya's fever continued for another day after that but we managed to keep it under control with Tylenol. There were no more symptoms after that and Maya has now fully recovered. Please don't let that piece of information deter you from taking the vaccine especially if the doctor thinks it is safe for you and your child. We would much rather deal with side effects of the vaccine than watch Maya suffer the H1N1 virus. Kids who are asthmatic don't do well with the flu and often take longer to recover. I just thought I would let others know what to expect, but there is no need for alarm.
UPDATE: NOVEMBER 17, 2009
The Allergy Clinic has kept its promise to us and called today, just like they said they would, within 3 weeks of the first dose. Maya is booked to go in for the final dose of the H1N1 vaccine next week. I will let everyone know how that goes as well. Now, I know some parents with egg allergic children were told to take their child to the pediatrician for the final dose, and I imagine that would have to do with how severe the egg allergy is. Not every egg allergic child is going back to the allergy clinic for the final dose (as far as I know), but Maya is among those who will receive the final dose at the IWK Allergy Clinic. I imagine other parents will be getting calls as well this week. Feel free to share your experiences as well.
Yesterday, the Allergy Clinic at the IWK began administering the H1N1 vaccine for egg allergic children under 5. Maya got her shot and thankfully, everything went well.
We were comfortable with the process that Dr. Watson implemented. Essentially, the vaccine was given in small doses with a waiting period in between each dose to monitor for any reactions. The number of doses and the monitoring time varied between each child. Some children were given the full initial dose, monitored for an hour, then sent home when no reaction happened. Others like Maya were given a very small dose of the vaccine, and then monitored for 30 minutes. When no reaction happened, they were given the rest of that dose and then monitored again for one hour. Maya did not have an allergic reaction to the vaccine so they sent us home happy.
Depending on the severity of the egg allergy, each family was told how to proceed to get the rest of the H1N1 vaccine. I heard from some people that they were told to get the second dose at their family doctor's office, but I am not sure how accurate that information is. What I do know is what we were told by Dr. Watson. He said that we would be contacted again soon and given information on how to proceed. They are waiting to get more vaccines, hopefully within three weeks. Dr. Watson has a limited number of vaccines and like every other clinic in the province, they are trying to make do with what they have.
We will wait to hear back from Dr. Watson's office. When we go back for the second dose, I will post about it as well. Before we went home the nurses gave us an info sheet about the vaccine. We scanned and posted it below for your convenience.