Monday, June 29, 2009

"When I was growing up, NOBODY had food allergies!"

This is a statement that most of us who have or care for someone with food allergies, hears all of the time. From my experience, this usually is delivered two ways. One comes from a sympathetic friend or relative as they have a genuine look of concern on their face. The other comes from a person that says it in a way that suggests that we are all crazy and making something out of nothing. This is the response that gets my blood boiling.

Recently, I have encountered this reaction twice. One person, even rolled their eyes. We were discussing a mutual friend who has a few allergies but whose children has extensive food allergies. This person whom I was speaking to does not know about my particular situation so I felt like they were being even more honest with their response. Which is disturbing. And we were talking about true allergies, as diagnosed by a doctor, not some imagined dislike for a food. Even if we had been discussing a food intolerance, the reaction was completely unfair and cold.

It seems that we all have an uphill battle that we are fighting. It adds insult to injury when people treat our disease as if it were not real. Just because food allergies were not formerly as prevalent as they are now, does not make them any less significant. And they are on the rise. In my world, they seem to be increasing daily. Sadly, more and more people are contacting me and calling me seeking support and what little advice I can give. It is so painful to hear all of the stories and to know how difficult this situation is for so many. And often we are not talking about one or two food allergies, now it seems that people have a list of things that could kill them or make them very sick. Again, I am so thankful to have access to a forum like this blog and many of those that I follow.

People tend to assume is that our children are allergic because we have food allergies. Again, this is not always the case. I think that people do not want to accept that something needs to be done. People are getting sick. Ignorance is no longer bliss. Is it environmental? Is it the medications that we take? Is it the overuse of pesticides? Could it be caused by over processed food? There are no answers but I hope that someday, we will have a cause. And people are going to have to wake up to what is going on in the world.

Until then, gravitate to those who show genuine compassion. And do not get hurt feelings by those who are wearing blinders. Hopefully, education is the key to ending all of this insanity!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Nothing new to report...

So all of that dreading I did yesterday was unnecessary. Our doctor wanted to give Milo his Hib vaccine and opted to wait on the MMR. She didn't want him to get too many shots today. So we will have to return sometime before he turns 2 in October. Phew! Well, sort of.

She wants me to reconsider the whole Titer's test. She said that she is almost certain that Ella will need the booster, regardless. So rather than putting her through both annoyances, why not just get the booster? Well, I was was not convinced. She tried with all of her might but was unable to sway me. I told her that I would need to discuss everything with my husband; let him make the decision that I am too afraid to make. So we talked about it and he has decided that she SHOULD get the booster. We both really trust our doctor. She is amazing. She has been pretty spot on with everything about the children and since she feels that this booster is so important, even considering Ella's situation, we feel like we should take notice. I will still be praying that this is the right thing, but it helps to have a partner is decisive in this matter. The fact is that there are often outbreaks in our area of the diseases that the vaccine is meant to protect the kids from. It is all a lot like playing craps in Vegas. Fingers are crossed that everything will be okay (again...)

Hopefully I will soon get back to my regular blog entries, and steer this away from the MMR forum that it has turned into. Thank you for reading, nonetheless...

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Dreading tomorrow...

The kids will be visiting their pediatrician tomorrow. Milo is getting his 18 month check up (even though he is 20 months old) and Ella is getting her 4 year old check up. As I mentioned before, Ella is due for her MMR booster but since she had such a horrific reaction to her first MMR I have asked the doctor to give her a Titer's test to confirm that she does indeed need this booster. She is going to send us to the lab to have blood drawn for the test. Fingers are crossed that she will not need the shot. And Milo is overdue for his first MMR. I have been waiting as long as possible for this one. All I have been doing is going back and forth about whether or not it is a good idea for him to be immunized with this vaccine. There is so much controversy surrounding this particular shot. And since Ella has such severe allergies, I am always looking for a direct cause. Her reaction was so severe that I almost rushed her to the emergency room. Extremely high temperatures and a measles-like rash all over her abdomen and arms, a week after receiving the vaccine.

As horrible as that was I remain a person who believes in vaccinating her children. I have a friend who lost his 2 year old to the flu. She had not gotten a flu vaccine that year. While it is true that vaccines are never a sure thing, they are our best chance of protecting against nasty bugs.

As a parent, I am always questioning every decision that I make. I have to fight back tears as I hold my children when they get shots. It is something that gets worse as time goes on, not better. As it is happening, I pray that what I am doing is the best thing for my child. My job is to protect them, after all. "Please make this the right thing. Please do not let this harm them. Don't you dare cry, Heidi!" These are the thoughts that loop in my head, as I wait for the painful scream. Oh, I am truly a wimp. Most times, my children surprise me. They often look at the administering nurse with a defiant look, "Is that all you got?" And then we get our reward prize and go on with our day. But this one is different. I know that the stakes are high. Hopefully Milo's body chemistry with have no issue with the vaccine and there will be no side effects. Needless to say I am saying my prayers before bed tonight. Please don't let this hurt my baby...

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Singulair Update

Two family friends are allergists and we told them about Ella's depressed behavior and how we think it might be a side effect of Singulair. Both said that we should take her off of it but suggested that we keep her on the Zyrtec. It might take a week or two before we see a lessening of the effects. By that time we are scheduled to see a new doctor who is treating a friend's child for extreme food allergies and asthma. I am interested to see if this doctor has a different approach than her current allergist. She does more elaborate testing (including genetic testing) and also focuses on vitamin therapies. I just want to make sure that we are as informed about Ella's situation as possible! Details to come...

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Could all of this be a side effect?

Recently, Ella was prescribed more allergy medication. In addition to her daily dose of Zyrtec, her doctor thought that it would be a good idea for us to also have her take Singulair. Lately, she has been an emotional wreck. Frequently talking about death and constantly focusing on negative subjects. I have been told that raising a 4 year old can be 10x more difficult than a 2 year old, with constant boundary testing. But lately, things have been REALLY challenging. We have jokingly been referring to Ella as "Liz", as if she were a melodramatic character in a classic Liz Taylor film. When she goes to "the dark place" it is pretty horrible. She recently learned about death and it has been something that she is transfixed on. My Mom's beloved dog, Crystal, became quite ill during one of our recent visits and they had to put her to sleep while we were there. Ella's Great Grandmother also passed recently, as did my cousin. So there has been a lot of hushed conversation about very sad details that we have tried to shelter Ella from, none of which she has missed. But her interest in depressing topics have been escalating over the past month. She has been having tantrums again, which she has not had in over a year. She has also been complaining of random leg pains.

One of my fellow Twitter pals recently posted a link to an article about new FDA warnings about Singulair (thank you, Gina Clowes). Turns out, the stuff can sometimes cause depression. So my husband and I did what all doctors suggest that you not do and did some Internet research. Turns out, many children also have the same depression issues as Ella, including the leg pains. So we are going to take her off of the drug starting tomorrow.

I am not some crazy reactionary. But Ella has truly not been herself lately. And it worries me. So we are going to try this and see. Hopefully, she will go back to being her lovely and happy self. And soon...

Friday, June 19, 2009

Note to Restaurants: In this economy, it pays to make your customers happy!

The other day I had a bit of a confrontation with a girl who works at a restaurant that we frequent. I am NOT a confrontational person, so this got my heart racing more than I care to admit. Basically, I called up our local Baja Fresh to place an order for pick up. I ordered everything that we normally get... steak tacos with just meat and lettuce, 2 fish tacos, chicken tortilla soup, rice, black beans, and cheese quesadillas with corn tortillas. When I got to the quesadillas, the "lovely" girl on the other end of the phone told me that I could only get them with flour tortillas. When I told her that we ALWAYS get them with corn tortillas (at least 20 times from the same location) she told me that it was impossible, they simply could not, would not make them for me with corn. The tone of her voice, the silence in between her brash statements all told me that she clearly thought that I was a lunatic. ( Correct me if I am wrong, you have a stack of flour tortillas and a stack of corn tortillas sitting right next to each other and you are telling me that it is IMPOSSIBLE for you to make a substitution?) This was the dark side of corporate American dining at its best. I felt like I was talking to an angry robot, impervious to reason. Complicating the situation was the fact that I was on my speaker phone in the car, winding my way through the Hollywood Hills. Thankfully, a higher power took action and disconnected my call. After a few deep breaths, I pulled the car over and hit redial. This time, I asked to speak to a manager. After MUCH apologizing and tushie kissing, I was redeemed. They would be HAPPY to make our quesadilla, as requested. We even got a free order of chips and guacamole out of the ordeal!

I used to help my dad run his restaurant in San Luis Obispo. The very first rule in any business is MAKE THE CUSTOMER HAPPY. And with the economy being what it is, every single restaurant and cafe that is lucky enough to still be in business should be bending over to make everyone as happy as they possibly can. That includes proper employee training. (As in, tell your new hires that if a customer asks for something that you are not sure about have them ask a manager.) There used to be a character on Seinfeld called "The Soup Nazi". This was a guy that served up soup, his way. That attitude may have been chic in the 90's but those days are long gone. If I am willing to go out and spend precious cash at your establishment, I want it to be a pleasant experience. If it isn't, chances are that I will not be retuning with my family. So work with us!

And if you happen to have or are caring for someone with allergies do not hesitate to make your requests. It can be a little intimidating sometimes, but it sure is wonderful to have someone else cook dinner every now and again. And if anybody gives you attitude tell them that your wallet was made for walking!

New Bandages for people like me to avoid

I just read about these bandages that are made from the shells of shellfish. Sounds like a horrible situation that I will be quite happy to avoid!

New warnings about Singulair

Updated warnings about Singulair.... great! Now I have another thing to worry about!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

You go, girl!

This is a wonderful and inspiring story!

Skin-Prick Testing vs. Blood Tests

A dear friend and I had lunch together today. Both of us have food allergies and both of us have children with food allergies. We got to talking about particular tests that are done to confirm food allergies. The ol' skin-prick test vs. the blood test. Since I am not a doctor, I was curious if one of the tests is better than the other. With Ella we have only done blood tests because of her extreme pistachio allergy. And I have only had the skin-prick tests. So I did a little research and found these two articles that do an excellent job of breaking down each test... Food Allergy Testing and Tests for Allergies.

From what I have read, the skin-prick test is actually considered more reliable. That surprised me a bit. If there is a reaction on the skin you can be certain that there is an allergy to a given food. The blood test measures specific allergic antibodies in a person's blood. It seems that many people can actually eat something that they test positive to with the blood test. I am wondering if these things are on the low or high reaction scale? And I also wonder if there is no reaction, seemingly, is there an adverse reaction that is harder to track? For instance, if gluten intolerance is not addressed it has been known to cause fertility issues in women. Other things that I have read suggest that the blood test is most helpful in determining the level of allergy, on a numeric scale. Our doctor often breaks down Ella's blood test results in categories like "low, moderate, high, and severe". Soy is in the low category, whereas pistachios are in the severe category. One of the biggest advantages to the skin-prick test is that it is much cheaper to do. Personally, I like knowing what I am up against. Is this beast little or BIG?

Ella and I will be getting hers and hers matching skin-pricks next month. I will be quite curious to see how all of that will stack up against her previous blood tests.

Another friend, who's child has severe food allergies just had some extensive testing done on her 2 year old son. He has horrible issues with asthma and they have seen several specialists who have not helped this poor child's situation. Now they are seeing a doctor who does blood, urine and fecal testing. She matches allergy results with genetic testing. It sounds like a fascinating and thorough process. It took my friend several months to get all the results from the tests. The information that they got back was shocking. He is allergic to a great many things including, wheat, gluten, corn, soy, all nuts, watermelon, cantaloupe, coconut, plus many, many more. Thankfully, he is not allergic to rice which will now be the foundation of his diet. Their doctor is suggesting vitamin supplementation with his new diet. My friend is feeling overwhelmed by all of this, as you can imagine. It is sort of like doing a rigorous obstacle course just to get dinner on the table. All day, every day. And this kid is only 2! I hope that all of this hard work will have a payoff very soon.

Banana Bread

The best Gluten-Free banana bread that I've made comes from Gluten-Free Baking with the Culinary Institute of America. I just baked a loaf and it is better than any other banana bread that I have made, with wheat or otherwise. It is a simple recipe, made without vanilla or spices, which are common ingredients in banana bread. And they are not missed. The addition of sour cream makes it supremely moist and delicious. That being said, this recipe contains butter, as well (no wonder it is so good!) So it would not be a good one for those of you eating dairy-free.

Monday, June 15, 2009

God love the Internet!

Thank God for the Internet and thank God for this blog. I am so happy to be connecting with so many wonderful people. Having food allergies would otherwise be isolating. Resources and information are as close as ever. I cannot imagine how challenging a situation it would be, say, 10 years ago. It is rough to be told that you cannot eat something, but at least we have options. When things get dark, I remind myself of this. Thanks to all of you who read my blog and lend so much support! I am truly appreciative!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

What Next?

A friend of mine has a son with food allergies. He is only two but already has asthma and a host of other allergy related issues. So they have been trying everything from changing the cleansers that they use in their home to altering his diet. But still his problems have lingered. He just had some more extensive allergy testing done and the news that they got was devastating. His allergies are much worse than previously thought and now they are going to have to take a more aggressive plan of attack. This situation would be trying for anyone to be in, but it is even worse to be a parent of a toddler and to be left with the question: What next?

Food allergies are especially complicated because culturally, food is huge. Family gatherings and holidays are planned around food. It is supposed to comfort us and sustain us. We cannot survive without it. And it is additionally challenging when trying to control the diet of a child. After all, as parents, aren't we supposed to be making sure that they eat enough to grow and get strong? It is so horrible to have to tell a curious child that "no" they cannot have what they want. Personally, I want my daughter to fear nothing. Yet what we are saying to them is, "DON'T eat that! That could kill you!" Because it is also our job to protect them and ready them for the big world outside. It must seem confusing on some level. Ella's situation, like most with food allergies, is complicated. There are foods that could kill her (pistachios) and foods that just make her really sick (soy and wheat). So when you have a shopping list of allergens that you are trying to avoid, it is only natural to give greater significance to one over the other. There have been times when we have been stuck without our "safe" snacks and I have allowed Ella to eat small amounts of wheat or soy. (As an example, last week we were at an event where we could not bring in our own food and after 3 hours, the kids got REALLY hungry. So I allowed Ella to eat a snack that was for sale that had a small amount of wheat in it.) I know that wheat does not cause anaphylaxis for her, but it does not make me feel any better about things. And Ella often seems confused, as well. "I thought that I am not allowed to eat this and now you are telling me that I can? If I am allowed to eat wheat now, there is a croissant that I have been eyeing so maybe you can let me have that?" Yes, your Mommy is a crazy, confusing mess!

Additionally, it is really tough when one child in the family has extreme food allergies and the other child can eat anything they want. My son seems to be free of food allergies so far (knock on wood) and he LOVES pasta and baked goods. Thankfully, he has no problem eating Ella's wheat-free foods. After all, that is all he has ever known. But often, when it is just the two of us, I find myself giving him wheat whenever I can. He is one of those kids who is constantly on the move and never sits long enough to eat. So I do what I can to get him some sustenance. And when we eat out with the children, the only thing that I can give him is bread or pasta. Ella, naturally, takes issue with this. She used to freak out when we ate something in front of her that she is not allowed to have. Gradually this situation has gotten better. But when it comes to her little brother, nothing makes her madder than to see him enjoying something she cannot. (Sibling rivalry is alive and well at Casa de Miller!) My friend is also dealing with this with her son and daughter, sexes reversed.

After a lot of thought, I decided that receiving an allergy diagnosis, like learning that you have any other life altering disease involves the 5 stages of grief: 1) Denial (As in, there is just no possible way that I am allergic to shellfish! I have eaten it my entire life!) 2) Anger (How could this be happening to ME? Why am I the only one in my family who has this problem? 3)Bargaining (God, please let my daughter be okay. I swear to do all that I can to keep her safe.) 4) Depression (I cannot believe that this has happened to us and we will never be able to eat at a restaurant again.) And last but most important, 5) Acceptance (So what if we have food allergies. Life is not over. I am going to start a blog, raise money for FANN, buy as many new cookbooks as I can get my hands on and be as supportive to others in this situation as I possibly can!)

As far as I can see it the glass is half full. It truly sucks to be in the predicament, one that I would change if I could. BUT we now have so many options before us. Yes, it takes a lot of extra work. And sometimes we have to greatly depart from the lifestyle that we once knew. But with the support and care of our loved ones, anything is possible!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Gluten Free Doughnuts

Ella's class is celebrating a birthday tomorrow. Usually, the kids eat cupcakes or cookies. But for this party the children will be enjoying doughnuts. Since I usually bring in a wheat free alternative for her to eat, I have set myself up on this one. No worries! My newest GF book, Gluten-Free Baking with the Culinary Institute of America, has a recipe that I have been wanting to try. Aside from all of the flour blend prepping (this book has recipes for 5 different flour blends, each quite distinguishable from the other) this recipe is actually quite simple. It has been about 15 years since I properly fried something but my house smells a lot like a county fair. The dough proofed nicely, and the frying went even better. I made the doughnuts tonight but when Ella wakes in the morning we will glaze them and dip them in sprinkles ("Mommy, they HAVE to have rainbow sprinkles!") Hopefully they will hold up well for the next 12 hours.

Ever the guinea pig, I decided to make some cinnamon sugar to roll a few of the doughnut holes into so that I could taste them. And let me tell you, they are quite delicious. They are cakey and dense. And honestly what dough, wheat or otherwise, doesn't taste sensational when fried? And these will taste especially good with some sugary glaze. Fingers are crossed that Ella will actually eat them!
UPDATE: Ella not only ate them, but is now addicted to them! Milo seems to be developing a "habit" as well! This always feels good when you spend time making something. This cookbook is a good one to have, by the way...

Friday, June 5, 2009

UPDATE: Ella's MMR booster

Last month I mentioned the anxiety that I have been having over Ella's pending MMR booster shot. I spoke to Ella's pediatrician, at length, yesterday. She told me that breaking up the shots is no longer an option, as it once was. The company that makes the drug is no longer separating them out for some reason. Call me crazy, but with all of the controversy that surrounds this vaccine it seems like they have nothing to gain by selling them in 3 increments: measles, mumps and rubella. Most everyone I know would be thrilled to have this as an option. And most would be willing to pay a little extra for this luxury.

Back to the story... Ella's doc tried to comfort me about the booster. All of her patients who had reacted negatively or severely (like Ella) to the original MMR, did not have a problem when the MMR booster was given to them. But none of them seem to have the sensitive body chemistry that Ella does, so guess what? I am still not comforted. I asked if it would be possible for her to give Ella a titers test (as mentioned to me by Linda of NJ, thank you! THANK YOU!) And she agreed that this would be a great way to go. But the titers will only check to see if there are enough MMR antibodies in her system, for now. Even if she passes we are likely to have to administer the booster in another year or so. Ella will not be happy to have to get another blood test, but to me this is a necessary evil. Her doctor is going to give us a cream that numbs the arm, where the test will take place. Hopefully that will help a little. The scary thing about this particular test for Ella is that she has to be held down as they stick needles into her arms. Nothing a trip to the mall cannot cure!

Our appointment is in a few weeks. I will blog about it when I have more info! Thanks, again Linda!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Freedom to Eat has a New Meaning

Things are tough, everywhere. So many people are finding themselves in dire financial situations, as jobless rates continue to climb and the economy stays locked in a recession. It is all around us, on the news, home "for sale" signs are everywhere, businesses are closing their doors and there are more and more people in need than there have been in a long time. Today my son and I were shopping at Target and two people approached us and asked us if we could help them. This is something that used to happen on occasion outside the store, but now people are getting more personal with their requests. One woman came up to me and told me that she liked the shirt that I was wearing and wanted to know where I had bought it. When she had me in conversation, she asked me if I could please give her money. She seemed like a professional, so I refused. Living in LA I often run into these people. And then another woman came up to me at my car and as soon as I saw her eyes, I just knew... she was desperate. She asked me if I could please do something to help her and her family. She was dressed like any other person. She had her hair done and was wearing make-up. Not homeless. But she truly seemed like a person in need, definitely NOT a professional. I told her that I could not help her. And then watched her walk into the store. I decided that I did want to help her, but not with cash. I watched her as she walked into the bathroom. I decided to buy her a $10 gift card from Target. When I went into the bathroom to try and find her, I found her crying behind a bathroom stall. This was a woman who was at her end. I handed her the card and gave her a smile. "I hope that this will help you, a little." And then she smiled and thanked me from the bottom of her heart.

When I lived in New York City, I once had a conversation with a man who had been homeless for 10 years but then picked himself up and created a better life for himself. Everything he said to me has stuck with me, on a deep level. He advised me to never, NEVER give a homeless person money. He said that 99% of homeless people are on drugs or are alcoholics. Any money that they panhandle, they take and spend it on their vices, rather than food or shelter. He offered that the best way to help someone in need is to buy them food, take them to a shelter or to give money to a shelter or charity directly. Since that conversation, I have done as he said. My family contributes to charities whenever we are able to. When I go to Costco, I often buy extra food to give to the food drive at Ella's school. I feel like I have been helping to make a difference but it seems like there are so many in need right now. It breaks my heart and makes me appreciate all that I have, all at the same time. But because we are in a good place in our lives, I feel like it was be so wrong for me to ignore people like the woman in the parking lot.

Since I am often with my children, I know that we have to be careful who we talk to. I am a pretty good judge of character and can spot a con from a mile away. So I am trying to figure out the best way to handle these situations, in the future. When I got home I decided to do a little research about ways to help those that are unfortunate. I found this great charity guide that makes it easy for people who may want to help but do not know where to begin.

I wish that there was a gift card that I could buy that acted like food stamps; one that allowed a person to be able to buy food and medication but not alcohol or cigarettes. It would be wonderful to be able to carry around something like that and to hand them out, as needed. But so far, I cannot find anything like that. I may go buy a bunch of gift cards from local stores in $5 amounts and keep those with me. Still trying to figure it all out. But I really want to do something that can make a difference, even just a little.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Farmer's Market Supper

The farmer's markets are bursting with amazing produce right now. If you are trying to eat healthy there is no better place to help fill your fridge. After a recent trip to our local outdoor market, I decided to make a supper with as many fruits and veggies as possible. This was a fun challenge and I am looking forward to doing more of this. This is the dinner that we ate.

Grilled Portobello Mushroom Tacos
Steamed Artichokes
Corn on the Cob
Pinto Beans
Strawberry & Mint Soup

The kids actually gobbled this meal up entirely. They LOVED it. Because Milo is still a baby and tacos can be somewhat of a challenge for him, I made him a quesadilla from corn tortillas. If you are going to a farmer's market and want to collect items to make this meal, this is what you will need...

Portobello Mushrooms
Micro Greens, Lettuce, and/or sprouts
Green Onions
Corn Cobs
*If you are lucky to live near an outdoor market that offers salsa, guacamole, cheeses, or tortillas grab those, as well. I am all for supporting local vendors.

Here are the recipes (each is for 4 servings)...

Grilled Portobello Mushroom Tacos

4 large Portobello Mushrooms
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 T olive oil
Kosher Salt, to taste

For Tacos...

Washed Micro Greens, Lettuce and/or Sprouts
Tomatoes, chopped
Avocado, sliced
Salsa or hot sauce of your choice
Cojita Cheese (Feta, Sharp Cheddar or Soy Cheese can also be used)
Crema (Sour Cream or Nonfat Greek Yogurt can also be used)
Corn tortillas

Heat grill or grill pan. Clean the mushrooms with a dry cloth. Trim off the stem. Lay them on a plate, upside down. Pour oil and garlic all over them. Lay them, cap side up on the grill. When water starts to release from the mushrooms, flip them over. Cook until they begin to soften but are not soggy. Remove from heat. Slice and arrange on a plate.

As the mushrooms cook, create a topping station with the greens, tomatoes, avocado, salsa &/or hot sauce, cheese, and crema. Heat the tortillas in a lightly oiled fry pan. Cook for one minute on each side. My personal opinion is that this is best done "to order" but if you would like to do it in advance, I would suggest wrapping the cooked tortillas in a towel until they are served. Heating the tortillas should be the very last thing that you do.

Steamed Artichokes

4 artichokes
3 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
2 T Olive Oil
4 teaspoons red wine vinegar
juice from 1/2 lemon

Prepare artichokes by cleaning, slicing ends of stems, and cutting a cross into the stem base. Place on it's stem. Push slices of garlic in between the choke leaves. Place in a steaming pan. Squeeze lemon juice over the 4 chokes. Pour 1 teaspoon of vinegar into each choke. Drizzle oil over all the chokes. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Steam until the leaves can be removed easily, about 45 minutes to an hour.

Corn on the Cob

Boil the corn in salted water for approx. 5 minutes. Rotating the cobs, every so often. Remove with tongs and place in a glass bowl for serving. Add whatever seasonings you like. We like ours the way God intended it, plain!

Strawberry Mint Soup

1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
2 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
2 cups fresh strawberries
1 container of whole milk, vanilla yogurt (you can also use nonfat or soy)
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream (omit if avoiding dairy or trying to be "good")
2 strawberries, stemmed and sliced
4 sprigs of mint

I got this recipe from Tartelette, you can find it here. My change: While the soup chills, mix together the yogurt and whipping cream. Place in a clean, plastic condiment bottle. Pour the soup into 4 bowls, drizzle the yogurt mixture all over the top. Garnish with a few slices of strawberries and a sprig of mint.

Stores we LOVE: Trader Joe's

Trader Joe's is not located everywhere, unfortunately. But if you are lucky enough to live near one you know what I mean when I say that they are the greatest! Their products are of the highest quality. Everything tastes delicious and best of all, their prices cannot be beat. They have a strong customer friendly policy and it shows. If a product does not sell well, they remove it and place it with something else. They carry lots of Gluten-Free foods and even offer an online guide to those products. Our latest discovery are their Rice & Bean Chips with Adzuki Beans. Completely and totally addictive. I am not a snacker, never have been. But these chips have found a place in my heart. They are Gluten and Dairy Free.

They have a wealth of offerings and almost anything you would need to host a grown-up party from the appetizers to the booze. Our favorite being "Two Buck Chuck"; several varieties made by Charles Shaw that sells for $2 a bottle. And as shocking as this might sound, it is pretty darn good!

I do not get paid to promote particular companies. My only incentive is to share info and spread the joy!