Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Boston Pizza

I can't find any information on allergens on the Boston Pizza website, but a phone call to the Pembroke location we'll be visiting is reassuring. The manager is well-versed in the company's allergy policy; she tells me to ask for an allergy information binder which details the most common allergens in each menu-item. She also tells me in detail about the kitchen procedures in place to avoid cross contamination. Given the limited number of restaurants in Pembroke, this is definitely one chain worth considering.

Remember to always do your own research when eating out.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Louise on the left: Nut Allergies -- a Yuppie invention: As if.

Louise on the left: Nut Allergies -- a Yuppie invention: As if.

A compelling read.

Every Label, Every Time

When I bought the korean short ribs at Whitevens I asked to read the label, even though I'd bought the same ribs there two weeks before. I felt like I was being overly cautious to ask to see the label again, even though I knew the sauce on the ribs didn't have any nut products. Still, I am trying hard to adhere to advice I keep seeing repeated: read every label, every time. That is, read the ingredients label for every product you use every time you buy it, since manufacturers can change ingredients at any time. Or in the case of the ribs, they could have switched to a different sauce; one that might contain peanuts, or some other deadly nut. I felt like a broken record asking, but the counterperson was totally understanding and accommodating.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Friday Night BBQ

With dinner out, or even order-in, a now less frequent event, I still want to feel like Friday night dinner is a treat. While we'll still be cooking dinner at home, I want to make it at least seem not like everyday fare. St. Lawrence Market is a great starting point. Short ribs available at Whitevens are coated in a Korean 'Maui Sauce.' The counterperson assures me there is no peanut or nut product in the sauce, and pulls the bottled sauce out of the walk-in freezer so I can read the ingredient label myself. Add some steamed edamame and it almost feels like dinner at one of our favourite Korean restaurants. While DJ isn't the biggest meat eater, he loves the ribs!

Always do your own research!!! Always.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Chapman's Ice Cream

While doing the grocery shopping, I'm surprised to see that most ice creams have at least the 'may contain' warning, even vanilla. Luckily, Chapman's has a great selection of peanut/nut free ice-cream.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Waiting for Pizza Nova

We've ordered in from Pizza Nova dozens of times, probably too many. Their website offers a comprehensive food allergen chart that shows only three items on the entire menu containing peanuts or tree nuts: wing sauce and the caesar and balsamic dressings. A phone call to inquire further and it seems like Pizza Nova is very diligent in answering all of our questions, with one worker deferring to a more senior colleague several times when she doesn't know the answer. We're at least convinced they take our questions seriously, and combined with the allergy chart, we feel safe in ordering. DJ's already had dinner, but we are trying to maintain a strictly nut-free home at all times, regardless of who's actually eating.

Health Canada Update

"It's Your Health" is the latest food allergy information from Health Canada. This document has some good tips for minimizing risk and talks about how the government is working to amend the Food and Drug Regulations to beef up labelling requirements. One proposed change would require that food ingredients always be identified by their most common name so that they are easily recognizable by consumers.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Dining Cards from Anaphylaxis Canada

Eating out with a PA kid safely means doing your homework thoroughly. I want to make sure we're as prepared as possible and know the right questions to ask. While I plan to always call ahead, I know that may not always be completely realistic, especially when travelling. I'm going to order the Dining Out Card from Anaphylaxis Canada. It has a list of questions to ask when eating out and is designed to help you inform restaurants and friends of your allergy when eating away from home.

The Big Apple

Without an online menu available, it's nearly impossible for me to tell if the Big Apple on the side of the 401 near Colborne is a suitable stop for lunch on our upcoming road-trip. We've been there countless times before and both love indulging in their apple pies. Unfortunately, an email request for information has bounced back as undeliverable. A phone call is in order.

Even if the menu turns out to be unsuitable, with outdoor areas for picnicing available and a well stocked petting zoo, the Big Apple may still turn out to be a viable alternative if we pack our own snacks. Still, a hot chicken sandwich would be nice.

Road Trip Ready

With less than two weeks to go to our first road trip since DJ's diagnosis, I am starting to feel anxious about finding safe places to eat on the go. With Pembroke the planned destination , I will have to start doing my homework. A side trip to Ottawa will also require some forethought. Any suggestions would be welcome.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Caledon Inn

At least three times a year my husband and I hit the same trail in Hockley Valley. It's the perfect length, just long enough to feel like we've done something. Most times, on the way back into Toronto, we stop at our favourite pub, the Caledon Inn, for a snack. With a hike in mind for this afternoon, I called the pub yesterday to enquire if it would be safe for us to eat there now, considering DJ's life threatening peanut allergy. Even though there are no nuts, or nut products listed on the menu, the hostess that I spoke with told me they could take no special precautions whatsoever to enable us to continue eating there. A request to speak with either the chef or the manager was denied. Considering our patronage there over the years, their already seemingly nut free menu, and the minimal effort it would take to accommodate us, I'm disappointed to say the least. From now on, we'll have to pack our own snacks or find a new spot to nosh after hiking. Bugger. It looks like finding safe places to eat may be more difficult than I thought.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Corner store chocolate

Finding chocolate bars that don't contain even trace amounts of nuts is challenging. I haven't found one higher end bar without the 'may contain' warning yet. At least now, I'm starting to remember the standards at the local corner store that are safe. Kit Kat, Aero, Coffee Crisp and Smarties are all okay. There's a peanut free promise on the Nestle's website.

I'm still bummed about Ritter Sports.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Sushi a Possibility

According to one of the sushi chefs behind the counter at Bikkuri, there are no peanuts or nuts used in any of the menu items at this popular King Street East resto. Of course, seafood is also a common and serious allergen to be aware of. From allergy testing, we already know seafood and other types of fish are safe for DJ, so this is one restaurant we may try with him.

Always do your own research before eating out with a severely allergic child. Call ahead and speak with the restaurant owner or chef, remind the staff once you arrive. Ask once again before you order and when the food arrives. Always carry an epi-pen, medical information and a cell phone. Understand there is always a risk.

Are sushi restaurants safe?

Even though we've eaten at sushi restaurants several times with DJ in tow, that was before his peanut allergy diagnosis. I'm heading out at lunch to Bikkuri to grab a dynamite roll so will be sure to ask if any peanuts or nuts are present in Japanese fare. While I doubt DJ will like sushi - at least yet - perhaps the teriyaki offerings will be safe, providing with us another alternative for eating out in a peanut/nut free environment with our PA tyke.

The Butter Chicken Blues

After a long days work, Indian delivery from our favourite local restaurant seemed like the perfect comfort food. We've been ordered from Everest on Lakeshore for years now. Delivery is relatively quick, the food always arrives steaming hot, and I've got a particular soft spot for their butter chicken. I called the manager to ask about the 'peanut situation. '

I had no idea, but Indian food is chock full of nuts; a large majority of the meat dishes include cashew paste, which is used as a sauce thickener. Even though the manager graciously offered to cook the dishes fresh, without the paste, we declined to order. The opportunity for cross contamination in a kitchen where nuts are commonly used seems high. Even though DJ was already in bed and wouldn't be partaking, we decided from the onset that we would maintain a strictly peanut/nut free household, so even foods with trace amounts of allergen are considered off-limits. Maybe we're being overly cautious, but for us, it's the strategy that we're most comfortable with for now. I'm going to miss Everest. In the meantime, I'm going to check out the labels on some of the prepared Indian sauces available so I can make my own Indian food at home.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Cafe Du Lac

After not venturing out to eat for months, we decided it was time to give brunch a whirl. It's one of my favourite ways to spend a Sunday morning and with the forecast calling for sun I was craving a patio. I started thinking of potential locations for our first foray back into eating out.

My husband and I have eaten at Cafe du Lac before. It's a small resto in Mimico featuring great Quebecois comfort food. I called the restuarant a couple of days before and spoke with the chef. I ran through my checklist of nearly 10 questions and was assured that there were only two items with nuts on the menu - the cheese plate and the crepe with nutella. The chef assured me he would take every precaution - including using a clean cutting board, pan and utensils - to ensure we would be able to eat there safely.

We packed our sons two epi-pens, medical information, cell phone and set off.

Once we arrived I flagged my concerns once again with the waitress and asked her to double check with the chef. Again, I was assured every precaution would be taken. I ordered apple crepes with whipped cream and fresh seasonal fruit. DJ immediately dipped his fingers into the whipped cream and jammed several strawberries dripping with maple syrup into his mouth as soon as the plate hit the table. Hot, fresh and delicious. And thankfully, safe.

Next time, we plan on eating dinner there. The poutine is gut-busting good.

Please remember - Always do your own research before eating out with a severely allergic child. Call ahead and speak with the restaurant owner or chef, remind the staff once you arrive. Ask once again before you order and when the food arrives. Always carry an epi-pen, medical information and a cell phone. Understand there is always a risk.

First Steps

After my 21 month old son, DJ, was diagnosed with severe life-threatening peanut allergy, my first thought was "How am I going to keep my son safe?" Sleepless nights between his first reaction (which landed us in the St. Joes emergency room for a third Sunday in a row) and an appointment with his allergist three weeks later had worst case scenarios running endlessly through my mind. I worried about everything and anything. For other parents of PA kids, you probably know exactly what I'm talking about. Every situation where food is involved seems like a minefield. I wondered how we could live our lives as normally as possible, without ever putting DJ at risk.

Up until DJ's diagnosis, we had eaten out around Toronto dozens of times without incidence. Eating out was a big part of our social lives...Sunday brunch with friends on Roncessvalles, Dim Sum at Harbourfront with family, Friday night sushi...you get the idea.

Don't get me wrong. My first concern was, and always will be, for my boy. Still, I worried that life the way we knew it might be over. Then, I talked to a former colleague who has managed to navigate life without incidence. Not only did he put my mind at ease, he assured me that he's eaten out safely all over the city. Since then, I've started calling around to do my own research, to find where we can eat out safely. I'll keep you posted on what I find out...which restaurants have PA-friendly menus and are willing to accomodate us, and which ones don't and won't.