This week, May 13-19 is Food Allergy Awareness Week. It is a week where us food allergy folks shed light on all things food allergies. Coincidentally, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be a mama without food allergies caring for a young child with food allergies. That’s a mouthful!
The other day I was out running errands. It was a warm spring day and I stepped into one of my favorite cafes for an iced tea. This specific café, located on a tree lined street in Berkeley makes the best raspberry iced teas.
It was mid afternoon and the café was buzzing with people. Two girlfriends sat together; sharing a laugh over iced coffees. A young man was talking on the phone in a serious tone. A baby was napping, strapped to a new mom in a carrier. She looked content because she was getting a few minutes to herself; scrolling through her Facebook feed on her phone.
My eyes glance up to the giant chalkboard menu, perched high above the counter. I scan the menu as I always do for ingredients. It’s a habit of mine, anywhere I go to scan things; ingredients on labels, what other people are eating or drinking. I’m constantly evaluating each situation for potential threats even when my daughter is not with me.
The glass display counter holds an array of beautiful pastries. Walnut cranberry scones, almond biscotti, gluten free chocolate donuts. A wave of sadness hits me and I start feeling teary eyed as I approach the counter to order. It’s these little moments that catch me by surprise.
My daughter, Aleena who is now six and a half years old had her first anaphylactic episode when she was just a toddler. Unaware that she was allergic to anything, we fed her a piece of apple pie from a local bakery. An hour later, she was gasping for air, vomiting with her whole body covered in hives and being rushed to the hospital. The crust was made out of hazelnuts. There wasn’t any labeling at the bakery where we purchased the pie although we were not a family who inspected labels back then nor did we have any reason to do so. We freely fed her all foods and ate many nuts in our house; peanuts, almonds, cashews and pecans.
Today, allergies are on the rise with numbers indicating that 1 in 13 children (about two in every school classroom) are afflicted with life threatening food allergies. As you sit here reading this, you may not have food allergies but probably know someone who does. Life has significantly changed for my family since my daughter’s diagnosis over five years ago. Our journey has taught us that she is contact allergic to many of her allergens which has also forced our family to adapt and bend to her needs.
But as a mother who had to learn how to keep my daughter safe, I carry an immense amount of guilt with me today. You see, I have lived the majority of my life with a sense of ease that I was unaware of even possessing before food allergies entered my world. Basic things I took for granted; eating out, traveling, attending school safely, going to parties, purchasing foods without reading labels, purchasing beauty products, meeting a friend at a cafe for tea. The list goes on..
What do I do with this guilt? I’m not sure I have an answer right now. I’m trying my best to remember to take care of myself; exercise, breathe, sleep, cook and focus on the happy moments with my family because there are many.
When I meet someone new and the subject of my daughter’s allergies comes up, I see the look of pity, fear and sadness on their face. But I don’t want any of those feelings to define my daughter’s life. Yes, managing food allergies take up a great deal of our mental space and energy. There is a lot of anxiety and sometimes fear. But with any health condition, it forces you to see things more clearly and value life.
As my daughter grows up, I’m trying to empower her to advocate for her health. When I take her to the grocery store, I show her what nuts look like so that she can easily identify her harmful allergens. We’ve had many conversations about her epi pen. We read labels together and I always try to reinforce that with proper planning, she can accomplish anything she sets out to do.
The other day, we were having dinner when Aleena announced that she wanted to start a nut-free bakery. It dawned on me that she has no recollection of ever visiting a bakery! So maybe we cannot visit a bakery anytime soon but in the meantime our kitchen has become a test kitchen where we can safely experiment.
Which leads me to share this simple, quick recipe for my Sunflower Seed Butter Chocolate Spread. It’s a riff on the classic Nutella. My version is nut-free and I like to call it Sun-tella.
When you find yourself with a sweet craving, it really fits the bill and satisfies adults and kids alike. You can whip it up in a few minutes and slather it on toast, crusty bread or eat it by the spoonful.
I’ve dressed it up here with delicious, chunky strawberries and dried rose petals. In addition, I threw in a pinch of ground cardamom. I love cardamom and chocolate together but you could also play around with adding orange zest.
Since it’s a versatile recipe, you can substitute any nut butter of choice. Almonds are the only safe nut we can consume in our house and it tastes delicious with almond butter too.
Thank you for reading my post. I hope to share more of our food allergy journey but for now I hope this helps someone out there feel less alone. I read a quote recently that said “You have to be brave with your life so that others can be brave with theirs”.
This life is full of bravery occurring on a daily basis. I hope that we can all help each other feel a little stronger and well fed in the process.❤️
Sun-tella( Sunflower Seed Butter Chocolate Spread)
Top 8 Free; Vegan, Refined Sugar-Free
Makes enough for 1 toast with a bit extra
- 2 tablespoon sunflower seed butter. I use Sunbutter
- 4 teaspoon raw cacao powder or cocoa powder
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup or date syrup. I like Just Date Syrup
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 2 teaspoon water
- pinch of salt
With a wire whisk or spoon, mix everything together in a small bowl until all ingredients are fully incorporated. The mixture should spread like frosting. Enjoy!
- Leftover spread will stay fresh stored in refrigerator for a few days- up to a week.
- Add 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom or grated orange zest.
- Use any nut butter of choice. Almond butter tastes lovely.
- Adjust level of sweetness by adding an additional tablespoon of maple syrup.