COOKING

CHOCOLATE MOUSSE PIE

 

CHOCOLATE MOUSSE PIE  Gluten Free, Vegan, Soy free

I really was craving chocolate. To be honest, my "chocolate dessert" over the last 2 years of being on this allergy free diet has consisted of either a brownie or a handful of dairy free chocolate chips. I have been missing the other types of chocolate dessert. Enter my husband- he loves chocolate mousse.  He suggested we find something in the pudding or mousse category to whip up. So I scoured the internet looking for a recipe that was vegan, gluten free AND soy free. It is pretty difficult. But then I found this simple and OH SO Delicious recipe by Marly from Namely Marly. Coconut milk saves the day! And without an overly coconut taste. AMAZING.  I used the same pie crust recipe that I use for my apple pie. My pie crust recipe can be found here. The only thing I changed, was to add an extra 1 TBsp of Earth Balance, soy-free butter to the dough. The recipe for the chocolate pie filling can be found here. I would top this off with some coconut whipped cream, recipe here. Our entire family ate the same chocolate dessert. And that is also rare.

OUR FOOD ALLERGY STORY | PART ONE

It has taken me a long while to sit down and write this story. I think I have tried to block it out of my mind, all that I went through to figure out what was going on with my babies. This is by no means comparable to what many families I know have gone through or are going through in terms of family medical issues, terminal illness or anything where their child cannot be managed at home without medicine.  And I am grateful every day for the health of my children and family.

This is my personal experience with severe food allergies, and is not medical advice for diagnosing or treating food allergies and symptoms. But, it is my way of sharing the details of what we experienced with two of our children, in hopes that it will help another family or sleepless baby and mama, get some comfort. The support I received by a friend going through this was immeasurable. I am passing it forward. Please pass this on to anyone who you know, who may be dealing with food allergies.

2005

My oldest son had no food allergies.

When my middle son was born, he had rows of quarter size welts down his legs at birth. My mom (who is a nurse) noticed them and said they looked like hives. The neonatologist on call at the hospital commented that they were most likely "baby acne". I remember thinking that was somehow not going to be true. They did go away in those first few days. Off and on for the first few weeks, my son would breakout in rashes. I would dismiss them each time as a heat rash or the results of sensitive baby skin. As the early weeks went by, the typical sleepless nights ensued as expected at this stage. At around 3 months of age, during the holiday season, I noticed a more severe rash covering his face, scalp and stomach. This was coupled with bouts of uncomfortable, inconsolable crying. And the nights and days were longer and longer as I managed to temporarily soothe my infant through nursing him and rocking him. I would often nurse him every 15 minutes throughout the night to get him to stop scratching until the point of bleeding. There was the occasional week where he seemed somewhat better, but quickly the rash and crying resumed. At a well check with my pediatrician, she asked about food allergies. I explained that my sister had multiple food allergies, and once had an anaphylactic reaction to egg at a year old. She immediately thought I should stop eating a few foods in my diet, as I was breastfeeding. She suggested the first, most common culprits: egg and milk. She advised me to eliminate one at a time for two weeks minimum to be able to tell if it made a difference.

I eliminated one, then the other and after more weeks of the same, felt exhausted and defeated. I was also returning to my corporate job after maternity leave and had hired a new nanny for my 2.5 year old and 3 month old. It is hard enough returning to work after a new baby, but couple that with absolutely no sleep, a screaming baby all night long and a diminishing diet. There is a reason why food and sleep are top priorities in the human life. My instinct was to keep eliminating food. I sought out advice from an allergist. After going to two allergists, and multiple blood tests and skin prick tests on my four month old, the results were all over the place. He was positive on RAST blood work for the following: peanut, tree-nuts, milk, soy, corn, tomato, egg, wheat, barley, rye, sesame, garlic and oat. He was covered in welts and eczema for the skin tests, that they couldn't even measure accurately the newly induced hives from the test. One allergist told me she had never seen a patient this bad. They asked if I wanted to put him on an antihistamine and steroids. The next allergist I visited told me that a few of these were life threatening, while the others could have various effects like vomiting, GI bleeding, mucous in stools, etc. And I even had an allergist tell me that he had never heard of a baby having side effects from a breastfeeding mother's diet. All of this was beyond frustrating. I remember crying at night, while my baby screamed in pain and realizing that the way I was naturally consoling him (nursing) was also hurting him. I cried a lot. My husband felt terrible and we were both exhausted. While other moms were talking about "sleep training" and bragging to each other about how many hours their baby slept through the night by the age of 8 weeks, I was thinking how many minutes he slept in a row, in my bed or in his bassinet.

I went back to my pediatrician, who realized I was exhausted, both physically and emotionally and said I could always try formula, but with his allergies, it would have to be the hypoallergenic version, which was made of corn syrup solids. She said that obviously this wouldn't completely solve things, and could make things worse, as he did test positive for corn. If I tried formula, I would lose milk supply and my doctor also commented that she had a baby develop GI bleeding from formula who was allergic to even the hypoallergenic version. I knew in my mind that breast milk was best for building his obviously compromised immune system. I also knew that I would have to keep eliminating foods to find out how to heal him.

I turned to the internet to do some of my own research at the same time. And I found on a search for "elimination diets" and "multiple food allergies while breastfeeding" a mother who had recently gone through the same thing with her daughter. She was starting a company after creating her own organic, soothing balms for her allergic baby's skin. Her story, similar to mine, was in her company's website "About page". I emailed her right away. I still to this day cannot believe how great a feeling it was that there was some other mom who I could reach out to and ask her for help with all my questions. She emailed me back with advice and support immediately. That friend was Diana, from babybearshop.

I slowly stopped eating allergens one by one. One week it was soy, two weeks later corn, then wheat and so on. I started to see windows of healing for my baby. Mostly in his sleep patterns. Instead of waking every 15 minutes crying and scratching his body to the point of wounding himself, he was waking every hour or sometimes two hours. And when these healing moments would fade, I would make myself crazy with analyzing what I just ate, could it be the tomato? or the garlic? and it was a long process of feeling like food was the enemy. At this time I also decided to take an extended family medical leave (unpaid and did not secure a position upon my return) from my corporate job to focus on trying to heal my son. How shocking, right? I fired my terrible, over-paid nanny who I caught reading a romance novel while my baby sat in a bouncer seat facing another room and who told my toddler that he could not taste "her banana" because it was " her lunch" and "his mom should get him his own" making him cry and tell me about it after. The firing was one thing that felt good. And then after another month, I decided to not return to my sales job at all. The position was being moved to a city north of ours, and I would have to be away for training for 6 weeks. It was impossible for me to be away from a completely nutritionally dependent 5 month old for any length of time, let alone 6 full weeks. Not to mention I also had a toddler. Our income would be cut in half, it was a huge risk and a scary thing to do for our family. But I was barely awake during the day, barely eating anything and my top priority always has been my husband and children.  Sometimes providing for our family or children is not just in a monetary way. I felt that my baby needed me at home to heal him and I would do this with a substantial monetary sacrifice. My husband was very supportive and if anything, was the encouraging factor.

My baby's body was still covered in eczema and his ability to sleep at night was still compromised. His eczema was still oozing and bleeding. His crib sheets and bumper pads were marked from scratching his skin until raw with blood streaks every day.  I visited a third allergist who said to try water therapy for his skin in addition to the elimination diet. He instructed me to give him 30-40 minute baths as often as 3/times a day. If you know anything about bathing a 5 month old, this is a challenge not to mention a time-sucker when also caring for a 2.5 year old toddler.  After the bath, and while completely soaking wet, I would slather on Aquaphor mixed with OTC Hydrocortisone ointment and cover him in a footed sleeper. There were stronger cortisone creams, foams and steroids to control the eczema, most not approved for use in babies. My instinct was to heal him from the inside out. My Dad, a Gastroenterologist, did agree that what was happening on the surface of his skin was rooted in the gut. I followed my instincts.

It wasn't until I was down to eating the following foods that I began to see real healing of his skin and GI tract: turkey, rice, potatoes, lettuce, pears, olive oil, broccoli, carrots and mustard for flavor. I list olive oil because that is how bare bones my diet was at the time. I continued to eat this for 9 more months, until I weaned him at 14 months old. I would eat turkey burgers, heavily supporting a local turkey farm, every morning and evening many days. I ate rice and potatoes in every form and made up recipes with these minimal ingredients to get through the days. My husband would cut up potatoes to make homemade fries (he became an excellent julienne chopper!).

Family members and friends would always comment that they didn't know how I was able to do this for so long. But, I was motivated by sleep (!) for both my son and myself and by his skin and body slowly healing.  By 8 months old, his skin rash was localized to his face- his cheeks mainly. He was sleeping better. And by his 1st birthday, his skin and gut were completely healed. He was eating a very small diet in addition to breast milk. We tested him again after his first birthday (RAST blood work and skin testing), and found that a few allergens were already gone.

Did I mention that during those long days and nights that I started sewing up the first joyababy clutch and started that business? If I was awake, many times I would just sew. There were also no play dates as a toddler because of how much toddlers share and touch everything. I rarely hired a sitter unless I was home at the same time, because I was worried and stressed about him grabbing the wrong cup, or being served the wrong milk or snack.

In 2009, we moved to Chicago and had an amazing allergist in the city who offered so much support. She was able to help me see that his numbers were actually getting better. She gave me constant confidence that he would be okay and outgrow many allergens. When results were negative, we completed food challenges to successfully add eggs, tomato, corn and all vegetables and fruits into his diet. The first time he had broccoli, he wanted it for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. The first time he had strawberries, he almost cried. And the first time he tasted a taco (corn shell, ground turkey, lettuce, tomato and shredded rice cheese) alongside his family, he was truly overjoyed. I documented these moments, like a baby's first step.

I became a cooking machine. I wanted to make him a version that he could eat with all of his new ingredients to be side by side with us at meals. It was a fun challenge, that even my mom (his grandma) enjoyed. We both loved to cook  prior to this and we would chat on the phone about recipe ideas for upcoming holiday gatherings. It was more manageable and the resources for cooking with food allergies increased. He was off to school, with his allergy safe lunch and he was able to understand his allergies and help himself stay safe.  My son is now almost 7 years old and is a healthy, smart, athletic and joyful kid. He is still allergic to nuts, milk, wheat, barley, rye, oats, sesame and garlic.

I was able for the first time to relax when he was about 5 years old. Just enough, to have a third baby.

2010

I became pregnant with my third baby in 2010.  At a routine visit for my middle son with the allergist in Chicago, she congratulated me on my expanding baby bump. At the same time, she told me that there is a chance that this baby could have food allergies, and wanted to know if I was open to taking some probiotics. She said it may or may not help, but it could only be a good thing. I started taking probiotics every day in addition to my normal vitamins.

In November of 2010, we welcomed our third baby boy! He was a healthy baby with no signs of rashes or welts. Then at around two months old, he started breaking out in a severe head to toe rash.

In PART TWO of our food allergy story, I will share my third son's food allergy story with more documented photos and how we managed to heal his body. I did not take as many photos, if at all, of my middle son when his skin was severe. But after having another baby with severe food allergies, I decided to document what was happening through photographs in hopes to share these and help another family.

I will plan to continue this discussion and share tips, allergen free products we have come to love, recipes and more at rajovilla.com. Please feel free to engage in the conversation! Do you know someone who has a child with food allergies? Or struggling with severe eczema?

UPDATE  2013

My now 7.5 year old, has grown out of his milk allergy! With his annual RAST test and a food challenge, we have been able to add milk and dairy items to his diet. He also shows very low levels of sesame and garlic, which can now be challenged at home.

BIRTHDAY DINNER FOR HIM

My husband's birthday was just a few weeks back. The boys and I were planning early this year and looking to make it extra special. I checked out Pinterest, and shockingly did not find much inspiration pinned about a birthday for Him, for Dad or for a husband. Everything was focused on creating the perfect kid's birthday, but isn't it always? My friend, Ciaran wrote about similar feelings regarding this while celebrating her own birthday. We almost forget sometimes how important it is to involve the children in the "making of a celebration" rather than just receiving. I want to raise givers, enthusiastic givers, not of material things but of love, kindness and admiration. I want my children to feel how good it feels do something special for someone else. It doesn't have to be elaborate, it can be something small or a bunch of small things created collectively as a family. It can be breakfast in bed or homemade coupons, as we have done in the past. Or it can be a dinner party with family, with a meal completely made from scratch.

I plan and plan and plan in my mind until I actually get a visual of what I would like it to look like and feel like. This is how I work creatively. Then again in the last hours, I always doubt myself about what was I thinking, then hustle to get it all done. Its chaotic, as anything with a house of kids would be, just keep reading to see how chaotic it became, before the enjoyable dinner.

The older boys and I sat down one morning at breakfast and made a list. I let them lead the discussion. They love meetings with me in the morning. Things like decorations, fancy table, his favorite cake, meal and soccer stuff topped the list. Then we decided to divide up some of the effort amongst ourselves. We knew the oldest loves to tool around in Adobe Illustrator with fonts, colors and type. We gave him the task of typing up a birthday prayer and designing the look for each place setting. We knew my middle son loves to paint, so we had him paint something to be used as a decoration for the table and prayer. They said I was in charge of cooking, baking and sewing (ha, yeah). And the baby, well he was in charge of water play in his mini kitchen without getting too wet.

We went shopping to the soccer store to pick something out, and the boys chose a Chelsea futbol, which they anxiously hid in their room until the big day. We made hand illustrated cards, as we do for every occasion these days.

One of the fun parts for me was creating a dinner menu for our small gathering with my husband's favorites. We love living close again to family and having the space for a small dinner party, kids included. We used to do this all the time, years ago before fancy cameras, blogs and such. I guess what I am saying is that we are dinner party people and have been for some time. And we do get fancy sometimes in our decorations or recipes. I was adventurous, and once whipped up souffles during and after a New Year's Eve dinner party at our home. I think the champagne actually helped in that situation. That was 2001. Not much has changed in the party planning, except now we include our children.

THE MENU

Caesar Salad, Roast Beef with Horseradish Mayonnaise sliced atop Ciabatta Rolls, Crispy Oven Potatoes, Roasted Carrots with Rosemary and Brussel Sprouts. Dessert would be Lemon Layered Cake with Lemon Curd and Lemon Buttercream Frosting. (He loves lemon!)

I decided to start with Jamie Oliver's healthy version of a Caesar salad recipe, then roast the grass-fed, locally sourced beef using Pioneer Woman's recipe. My husband loves horseradish, so I just mixed some with french style mayonnaise.  My mom made the classic, English-style crispy oven potatoes and the brussel sprouts. I decided very nervously to attempt homemade ciabatta rolls after reading this recipe and watching this how to video. It really was easier than I thought and they turned out perfect in the end of a very long day. Every year we make a homemade lemon cake for his birthday, also his favorite. I use this recipe as the cake, and this as the curd and this for the frosting. We had wine and my brother in law brought over my husband's favorite Guiness beer.

The menu was equally rustic, masculine and classic like my husband.

The next part was really about planning out the baking, cooking, more cooking and more baking. It's a lot of work, truly. I love it and enjoy it, but it is honestly work and it creates a hell of a mess in my kitchen. I don't have a double oven or a big, fancy cook's kitchen, so I really had to figure out a schedule. That is what I have learned is key to a dinner party- lists and plans for cooking times.  You don't need all the bells and whistles in your kitchen to have yourself one heck of a meal.

I also don't have a regular babysitter.  It seemed like I needed a few days of prep, but with kids, a teething toddler,  some upsetting events and tired 30 something parents, those few days before his birthday were lost and I really didn't get into my groove until the day before. Totally Joya-style, so have no fear. Coffee helps. And visualizing my husband's joy and happiness at the end of the day.

THE TABLE DECOR

I gathered up recent fabric purchases and scraps, and came up with a table covering. I layered a navy solid tablecloth, followed by two small runners of navy and white gingham. Then I stitched up a seersucker runner for down the length of the table. (The table runner and chair runners will be an upcoming DIY post!) We used our white cloth napkins, our newly found vintage napkin ring holders (exotic, bright animals from India) and a preppy green vase for a center candle. I layered our white dishes with yellow accent plates, mismatched, but all our every day dishes we already had. We printed out menus and the prayer for each place setting, each clipped together with a mini clothespin to a brown paper bag and finished with the watercolor illustration from our 6 year old tied with suede cord.

 

The table was set, the cake was baked, the bread was forever rising... waiting, and waiting for it to rise. I think I reread the recipe a zillion times. Why did I decide to make homemade bread again?

The beef was in the oven roasting. Baby was napping. All was calm. Then, the baby woke up. Back downstairs in the kitchen I felt some intense heat. The oven was only on 275 degrees? After sitting the baby in his high chair I went over to the oven, opened the door and boom-black smoke. Now the last time I saw black smoke was in a LOST episode. How fitting because that was one of my husband's favorite shows.

The kitchen seemed cloudy and hot. I realized in that moment that I was feeling nervous that I probably just ruined dinner. SIGH.

It was 4:00pm, so only a few hours away from my husband getting home from work. Other than turning the oven off, I was unsure what to do. I panicked. Then decided better to be safe then sorry. I called 9-1-1 and they sent the fire department. The boys were ecstatic that they were on their way. Ah boys and their firetrucks! The trucks and firemen were counted as they parked, sirens blaring as they all entered our house. Boys still smiling with all the action they were watching. Thank God that it was a minor grease situation in my oven. They asked me if I actually saw a fire, hmm no, just black smoke. So they checked out the oven, and the roast. They commented how "good everything smelled, and the table decor looked so nice, what kind of cake was that? Who's birthday?" It was actually all very sweet, but I totally was embarrassed, "I was just trying to cook a roast in the oven and have a birthday dinner celebration for my husband, that's all!" I'm not a novice cook, but really you can tell I don't cook beef often. I wasn't expecting the grease to run off my roasting pan to the point of black smoke.

"What about a slow cooker mam?" Yes, going to go back to my slow cooker next time around. Or a dutch oven. I really want one, now I have a great excuse.

Dinner prep continued, off schedule of course. But guess what? That extra heat from the stove helped the ciabatta dough rise! Finally! Hooray! I didn't waste hours of time staring at it after all.

As everyone arrived to celebrate, the story was retold from excited boys and an embarrassed mama. Everyone was helpful to get dinner on the table. I served an additional non-dairy salad for myself. Sadly I didn't grab a photo of the Caesar salad as I was serving them, but I heard it was tasty.

 

All turned out pretty perfect. We gathered around a good meal and we thanked God for the blessing that is my husband and celebrated a truly wonderful person. The warmth at the end of the night was not only from the oven and my kitchen mishaps, it was from love and thanksgiving for a great husband and father in our lives.