Food Allergy Awareness Month 2015: Because No One Should Feel Alone

Spring is here—the sun is shining, pollen is reducing us to tears, and everywhere people are preparing to band together to raise awareness about food allergies. May is Anaphylaxis Canada’s Food Allergy Awareness Month. FAAM began in 2010 as an effort to promote a sense of community and belonging, and to educate people about food allergies.

I remember the isolation I felt as a kid growing up with allergies. It wasn’t until my teens, when I started mentoring kids who had allergies and asthma, that I understood that there were others like me. Not everyone has that kind of opportunity, so it’s important to start early to help promote a sense of inclusivity and understanding.

But what can you do to help? Why Risk It?, Anaphylaxis Canada’s teen-centric site, has a whole list of ways you can participate, but I’m going to challenge you to my own version:

  • Tweet a funny, sad, or inspirational140-character story about your allergy experiences using the hashtags #FAAM2015 or #NoOneIsAlone.
  • Tell at least one person a day about food allergies or FAAM during the month of May.
  • Post about allergy awareness and FAAM on Facebook or your own blog.
  • Share this post with family and friends.

Vegan Chocolate Cupcakes with Espresso Icing


This week, I’m hosting a bake sale. I’m pretty excited to have an excuse to channel school and work stress into something delicious. This time of year, there’s nothing I like better than a day of stress-baking.

I would never recommend that someone with allergies buy from a bake sale. The risks are huge and just not worth it. But regardless, I always try to avoid cross-contamination when I prepare food for strangers. I read labels, wash surfaces, and use fresh utensils. Although I don’t have milk or egg allergies, they are two of the eight most common allergies. My sister is lactose-intolerant and vegan, so I like to bake things that she can eat too.

I’ve been making this cake recipe since my mom got it in an Allergy/Asthma Information Association newsletter back in 1998. (Does that count as retro yet?) It’s fool-proof and fun (I’ve always liked digging holes for each of the liquids). The icing is rich and delicious, adding a depth to the lightness of the cake. All in all, you’re in for a treat.

Chocolate Cupcakes (milk-free, egg-free, nut-free, vegan)

adapted from the Allergy/Asthma Information Association

makes 24 cupcakes

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 6 tbsp cocoa
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 10 tbsp oil
  • 2 tbsp vinegar
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 cup water
  1. Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl.
  2. Make three wells in the dry ingredients. Fill one for oil, one with vinegar, and one with vanilla.
  3. Pour the water over the contents and mix with a fork until the ingredients are well combined.
  4. Bake at 350˚ F for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Espresso Icing (milk-free, egg-free, nut-free, vegan)

adapted from Martha Stewart

makes around 2 /12 cups (you will have leftover)

  • 2 oz dark chocolate, like Enjoy Life ® Dark Chocolate Morsels
  • 1/2 cup vegan margarine
  • 3 cups powdered sugar, sifted
  • 1 tsp instant espresso powder
  • 2 tbsp coconut milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  1. Melt the chocolate in the microwave (~30 seconds on high) and cool to room temperature.
  2. Beat the margarine with a fork until fluffy.
  3. Add the sugar, espresso powder, coconut milk, and vanilla and beat until smooth.
  4. Add the cooled chocolate and beat until combined.

Enjoy! If you’re anything like me, the leftovers won’t last for long. Let’s just hope mine last until the bake sale.

 Questions? Comments? Suggestions? I love feedback!

Your Allergy-Friendly Restaurant Guide

We’ve all been there: you’re out with friends, and they decide they want to get food. I’ve spent plenty of hours watching my friends eat while sipping a glass of water because I can’t eat anything on the menu. Sometimes if I’m really prepared I’ll even pack snacks and sneak bites while the waitress isn’t looking.

But a better course of action is to get a restaurant game-plan. Over the years I’ve cobbled together my own techniques for finding allergy-accommodating restaurants:

1. Before calling a restaurant, thoroughly read through its online menu. Don’t just look at the dishes you might want to eat—look for your allergens’ keywords. For me, these include: “peanut,” “nut,” “almond,” “cashew,” “pecan,” “pistachio,” “amaretto,” “pad thai,” “pesto,” “soybean,” “curry,” “fenugreek,” “mustard,” “melon,” and “avocado”.

Reading the menu can be a great way to easily rule out a restaurant. If you see your allergens listed throughout the menu, it’s probably not a safe place for you to go. If the restaurant does pass this first test, you’ll have the advantage of being able to ask informed, specific questions about the menu.

2. Call the restaurant, tell them you have severe allergies, and ask to speak either to the head chef, or the manager. In my experience, the head chef is more knowledgeable about the food and practices of his or her kitchen.

Don’t be dissuaded if the chef is busy. Call back during an off-time, after lunch but before the dinner rush. In my experience, chefs are more than willing to take a minute or two to help you make an informed decision about whether you’ll be safe visiting their restaurant.

Here’s a list of questions I like to ask whenever I phone a new restaurant [note that depending on your allergies, you may need to tweak the questions so they work for you]:

  • Do you have any nuts or peanuts on premise? (If so, what are they?)
  • Do you make your bread in-house? (If so, is it prepared near where you store nut products?)
  • What is your normal procedure when preparing food for a customer with a severe allergies? (I find that rather than asking them if they use fresh pans, new cutlery, and a separate prep area, you’ll get a more honest answer by first seeing if they know these steps themselves.)
  • Is your kitchen large enough/set up in a way so that you can prepare allergic food in a separate area of the kitchen?
  • Are nuts stored in both the cold and hot sides of the kitchen, or throughout? Are there certain areas of the menu I should avoid?

3. When you do go out, be sure to carry at least two Epipens or Allerjects, and to let your server know about your allergies when you get there. With all the restaurant-investigating done ahead of time, you’ll be able to focus on your friends, without stressing over the menu.

What are your restaurant rules? Did any of mine surprise you? Do you have any other tips or tricks for eating out safely?

Dating with Allergies: Don’t Kiss Until You Tell

Dating with Allergies: Don’t Kiss Until You Tell

You’re on a first date.  Your date leans in. It’s going to happen: the first kiss. But instead of thinking of him, you’re wondering if you’re about to have an allergic reaction. You meant to tell your date before now, but it’s so awkward to bring up when you don’t know each other. You don’t know how he’ll react. Telling a new partner that you have allergies is never easy. Your allergies put responsibility on your partner’s shoulders, as well as your own, and not every potential partner is up to the challenge.

The first time I went out with my boyfriend, he asked me out for frozen yoghurt. I said no, and had to explain to him that because fro-yo places use nut toppings, I couldn’t eat anything there. Luckily, he was supportive, and agreed to go out for tea instead. By taking food out of the equation, we were able to focus on getting to know one another without the stress of dealing with my allergies.

Sure, instead of training someone how to deal with your allergies, you could try to date someone with the same allergies as you. Sites like Singles with Food Allergies and Allergic Attraction exist to connect singles with allergies. But so far they’re only available in the US, so we Canadians had better get in training mode.

Here are a few tips and tricks I’ve picked up from many years of floundering in the dating pool:

  • Tell your date about your allergies BEFORE you go out. This won’t work in every circumstance, but the general rule here is, the sooner the better. Be upfront about the severity of your allergies, and what impact they have on your life. Maybe it’s not the spiciest topic of conversation, but getting it out there before anything physical happens ensures that your partner can avoid your allergens on your date, so you don’t have to be scared when they lean in for a kiss.
  • Keep your first date food-free. If you take food out of the equation, you can focus on getting to know one another, without the added stress of checking with a restaurant.
  • Always carry two or more Epipens or Allerjects. Yeah, the small clutch may be cuter, but it’s not worth the risk.
  • Train them how to use an Epipen or Allerject. You can get free trainer kits through the Epipen and Allerject websites. You can even have fun with it. Guys have a surprising amount of fun pretending to stab you in the leg. (Warning: layer up. The trainers may not have needles, but they will make your leg sore if your partner tries it twenty times. Make sure to stress that they just have to hear the pen “click”. No need to re-enact the shower scene from Psycho.)
  • Let them ask questions. A good partner will want to know how to keep you safe. Ask them what their concerns are. Yes, allergies are serious, but they’re also easily navigated if you know what you’re doing.
  • On that note, keep them informed. I’ve found the best way to get your partner comfortable with allergies is to give them up-to-date information about your allergen triggers, how to read labels, etc. My boyfriend even went so far as to research allergy information himself—but since the internet is full of misinformation, make sure they have access to accurate allergy websites, such as this handy list of resources from Anaphylaxis Canada.

Do you have any tips or tricks for dating with allergies? What’s your best (or worst) allergy story?