The Day We Thought Would Never Come

I took Olivia to her yearly allergy appointment yesterday. For anyone who follows along this blog regularly, you know that our daughter Olivia has life-threatening (anaphylaxis) allergies to peanuts, treenuts, eggs, and soy. She has outgrown allergies and intolerances to dairy, cinnamon, avacado, banana, and most fruit. There were times over the years when we weren’t sure what was causing her reactions and questioned shellfish, wheat, and even the possibility of exercise-induced anaphylaxis.

Luckily, as she’s been growing, she’s outgrown most of her allergies and we are left with a short, but dangerous, (and probably permanent)  list. Olivia has had reactions and ended up in the hospital when our B&B guests have been eating nuts in their rooms. As a result, we became a “peanut and treenut free accommodation” – the first in Nova Scotia! 🙂

What was initially overwhelming, has become just the way we live. We’re all very good at reading labels and she is mature enough to understand that she cannot always eat  what those around her are eating. She always asks “Is this safe for me” before trying something new. Our family and friends are supportive and conscientious to ensure she stays safe. Luckily, D’Arcy & I love to cook and bake so we always have safe treats on hand!

Throughout her testing over the years (we received her official diagnosis when she was ten months old) the hope was that she would outgrow as many of her allergies as possible. Because her numbers are so high, and because of the type of allergies she has, she will probably have to navigate her peanut, egg, and soy allergies for life. Based on the results from last year’s blood-work, her doctor tested her skin yesterday for tree-nuts* and egg, to see how they were progressing. Much to our amazement and surprise, her tree-nut pokes (with the exception of cashew) came back negative!

tests

Olivia shows off her poke tests. The doctor ground up actual nuts (rather than the serum they normally use – makes it even more accurate) which was then put onto her skin. They take a tiny needle and poke the mixture so it enters her skin. If a hive appears, the test is positive; no reaction means negative. You can see the hive for egg and cashew on the top left. The hive on the bottom right is the histamine control.

So what does this mean? Although the blood and skin tests are now negative, it is too dangerous for her to just start eating nuts. If the tests are false negatives, she could go into anaphylaxis as soon she ingests them. Olivia is scheduled for an “almond challenge” under medical supervision in June. We chose almonds to test first because they will open up the most options for her: skin creams, cereals, almond butter, almond milk, etc. We’ll continue with challenges throughout the summer until she has passed them all.

To be clear, even if she passes, she still won’t be able to eat nuts in a restaurant or at a party due to the risk of cross-contamination with peanuts, but she’ll be able to eat them in a controlled environment and we’ll be able to eat them around her! 🙂

She was slightly put-out that her allergist decided she could wait until next year to have more blood-work done. I asked him if he’d ever met a child who was disappointed that she did NOT get to have bloodwork? (No.) Turned out she wanted the finger puppet they give the kids at the lab at the IWK Health Centre after their needles are over. Weird kid. We went to Woozles book store instead and got a treat there.

I still can’t quite believe it! Rest assured, we are still committed to being a peanut and tree-nut free property, knowing the peace of mind it brings to our guests with food allergies.

Olivia surrounded by bubbles being blown outside a candy shop in Halifax. Happy her appointment was over.

Olivia surrounded by bubbles being blown outside a candy shop in Halifax. Happy her appointment was over.

* Peanuts and treenuts are not the same thing. Peanuts are a legume and grow in the ground. Treenuts grow on trees and include nuts such as almonds, pecans, cashews, walnuts, brazil nuts, macademia nuts, pistachios, and hazlenuts.

Traveling with Food Allergies

Did you know that Belgravia Bed & Breakfast is the only accommodation in Nova Scotia that advertises as “Peanut & Tree nut Free”?

This came about after our youngest daughter was diagnosed with severe food allergies when she was just ten months old. Initially her list of allergies was long: peanuts,  tree nuts, eggs, soy, dairy, cinnamon, banana, avocado, kiwi, strawberries, celery, citrus, pineapple, blueberries, grapes, melon… The only fruits she could have were canned peaches, pears and applesauce. It was overwhelming at first and we had to learn a whole new way of cooking and baking. Luckily, our baking was mostly homemade due to the quality of breakfast we provide at our bed & breakfast anyway, so we just had to modify some recipes, not learn how to bake from scratch…

Traveling still makes us nervous, but we know she can’t live in a bubble either. We are fortunate that she has outgrown most of her allergies and is left with *only* peanuts, tree nuts, eggs and soy – all of which result in anaphylaxis and, as per her most recent blood work, appear to be life-long. At home, accommodating these allergies has become second nature. She can be around eggs as long as they don’t touch her and she doesn’t ingest them, so we use a separate spatula for cooking eggs for our guests than we do when flipping egg-free pancakes for her. She has her own separate washcloths so that we don’t accidentally wipe her hands or face with a cloth that has wiped up egg. (Learned that one the hard way!) We also ask our guests to refrain from bringing peanut or nut products into our home. (Learned that one the hard way too!)

Showing off her 16 pokes after her allergy tests – 14 skin pricks, blood work and her MMR immunization (grown on egg, so her allergist administers that one and watches her afterwards for reaction)..

When we travel, we tend to take a lot of our own food with us, so that we know there will be something safe for her to eat. We tend to dine at restaurants where we know they take allergies seriously. Did you know that Boston Pizza and The Keg keep allergy binders with all ingredients for the recipes included? Each will wipe down all surfaces and change all cutting boards & utensils when they know they are preparing a meal for a guest with allergies? For our daughter’s particular mix of allergens, McDonald’s french fries and a burger without the bun are “safe”! Regardless, she does not leave our house without carrying her two epipens – just in case! All six of us are trained to use it in an emergency.

Here at the Belgravia, we “get” food allergies and do our best to accommodate any type we can, with notice. We’ll make room in our fridge and freezer for your own special food/ice packs. We will also tailor the  breakfast we serve to accommodate your needs.  One dietary restriction that affects more and more people is the need to be gluten-free and we can accommodate that too!

One of our favourite gluten-free recipes is for Buttermilk Apple Cake, passed along to us by former guests, the owners of Valley Flax Flour.

  • 1/2 cup Brown sugar
  • 2 cups Buttermilk (we’ve also soured rice milk successfully)
  • 1 cup Brown Rice Flour
  • 1 cup Flax Flour
  • 1 tsp Baking Powder
  • 1 tsp Baking Soda
  • 2 tsp Cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp Salt
  • 2 medium Apples, cored & chopped
  1. Lightly grease and flour (gluten-free, of course!) a 2L baking or Bundt pan
  2. In a large bowl, beat together the sugar and buttermilk.
  3. Combine rice flour, flax flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Add apples to wet ingredients; mix until combined.
  4. Spread batter evenly in the pan.
  5. Bake in an oven preheated to 350*F for 40 to 45 minutes. Cool in the pan before removing and cutting into 12 servings.

Traveling is stressful enough, without worrying that you are going to end up sick or having to spend time hospital – or heaven forbid – worse, because of something you ate. Here, we will do our best to keep you safe!

If only it would be this easy when she becomes a teenager…

Peanut Free

We had a call from the Nova Scotia Department of Tourism, Culture & Heritage yesterday after we submitted our Doers & Dreamers listing for 2010.  The woman who edits the listings wanted to congratulate us for being the very first property in Nova Scotia to put “Peanut Free” in our ad!

We are happy to be able to accommodate a wide variety of dietary restrictions here and understand the importance of avoiding cross-contamination with allergens. We’re also pleased to be able to provide a certain level of peace-of-mind to those traveling with severe allergies!