Monday, August 8

My Story

photo by Melissa Youngs

Updated 11-03-12

Welcome!  I'm Rebecca, and I hope you'll be inspired by what you find here on Pure & Peanut Free!

When I started this blog it was with the intent to share the copious amounts of information that I, as a mother of two newly diagnosed food allergic children (peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, and melon), was sorting through and incorporating into my family's life.  As you all well know, information overload is a common problem when searching the Internet in the hopes of helping your sick children.  I needed a way to organize it all. 

However, over time this blog has evolved into something much greater.  It's my kitchen journal, fueled by a passion for cooking that simply cannot be quenched.  I hope to share some of that love with you as I strive to make Pure and Peanut Free a place of peace and tranquility for everyone, whether you struggle through the tricky world of food allergies or not. Read on for my background and the story of how my daughter was diagnosed with life-threatening food allergies . . . 

I learned to cook early in the kitchens of my childhood.  My grandmother, a fiercely proud Irish woman and depression era survivor, could literally make something out of nothing.  Though her refrigerator was often empty, she never failed to present us with the most elaborate of feasts every Sunday afternoon.  Nothing was wasted in her kitchen; what scraps remained went straight into her steaming stock pot, nourishing her family throughout the week.  My mother, a fantastic gardener and advocate for all things organic, wholesome, and natural even before it was trendy or popular, instilled in me an obsession with healthy food.  Growing up, our vegetables and fruit were always homegrown and organic.  Harvest time buzzed with excitement, as my brother and I were given the very important jobs of pulling carrots and snapping green beans in preparation to be canned or frozen for the winter months.

My cooking style matured in my twenties.  I was living in Italy amidst the most amazing street markets and the freshest ingredients in the world.  A culinary playground and I pushed the limits.  Cooking with ingredients that were very foreign to me at the time, I developed an intense love affair with authentic foods, and a deep and humble respect for the people who pour their life and soul into producing them.  My cooking will always be heavy influenced by my precious time in Tuscany.

My thoughts are ever revolving around food.  Having children with food allergies, how can they not?  I go to bed dreaming about breakfast.  I eat lunch while planning dinner.  Most of the recipes you'll find here are original, but when I adapt or am inspired by a recipe, I'll certainly quote the source.  I love to seek out authentic, sustainable, and local (whenever possible) ingredients.  But I also attempt to make my recipes accessible to everyone, so I try to provide plenty of substitutions for ingredients which may not be common or available to everyone.

I strive to broaden my children's palates at every meal, and despite their allergies they are developing quite sophisticated tastes.  Children with food allergies often become "stuck in a rut" regarding their food choices, though there is a world of beautiful, safe food out there just waiting to be discovered.  It's up to us to introduce our children to this world . . . .

Come join me on this journey.  I truly value your comments and your thoughts on each post.  If you'd like to contact me privately or if you'd like to work together on a project (I enjoy writing guest posts and freelance articles), or if you're interested in advertising on this site you can contact me here.

Thank you all for spending just a bit of your day with me!

The following is my original introduction and the story of how we first discovered that my daughter was allergic to peanuts . . .

photo by Melissa Youngs

I'm a travelholic and a foodie.  I've always considered myself a bit of a gypsy - a traveler, a nomad.  Neither my wanderlust nor my appetite can be quenched.  I've always traveled, even as a child, and I never gave a thought to what I ate along the way. 

The first thing I did after graduating from High School was move to Italy.  In fact, I've always felt as if I'd grown up in Tuscany.  It was my very first home-away-from-home, and a piece of my heart will always live in those beautiful vineyards, olive groves, and eternal sunflower fields.  I traveled up and down Italy - from Rome to Florence to Milan - eating at every Trattoria and Ristorante I could manage.  Even after moving back to the States I'd travel at the drop of a hat.  Chicago one weekend, New Orleans the next.  I feasted on airline peanuts and pretzels to my heart's content.

All that changed after I had my second child.  As a baby, my beautiful Eve battled horrible eczema.  I had no idea what was causing it, and her doctor thought it was baby acne or a reaction to milk.  It came and went for the first year of her life.  Then one day when she was 14 months old we went to a friends house.  She had an oatmeal cookie and her brother had a peanut butter one.  They shared a plate.  She accidentally ate a piece - no more than a crumb - of her brother's cookie.  She started coughing, choking, and swelling.  There was nothing I could do for her.  Honestly, I didn't even know what was going on.  My vibrant baby girl was dying before my eyes and there was nothing I could do to stop this.  I was helpless.  For the first time in my life I was completely helpless.  I still have nightmares . . . Thank God she recovered!

When Eve was diagnosed with a severe peanut allergy, my first thought was My baby will never be able to travel!  She'll never be able to see the world!  This was completely devastating!  Travel and food were such a huge part of our lives.  I had dreams of taking my children back to Italy.  We had plans to explore Thailand.  I wanted to visit a friend in Tanzania, and let my children experience a third world country.  All my hopes and dreams were blown away the day Eve went into anaphylactic shock . . .

It took me nearly a year to realize that I don't have to give up all the dreams.  My baby doesn't have to be a prisoner in her own home.  I won't let her become one!  She will travel and she will explore the world - and I will keep her safe.  Come join us on this journey.

After Eve was diagnosed, my son, Connor, was tested for food allergies.  We found that he is allergic to melon and shellfish.  His reactions have not been as severe as his sister's, however, with food allergies the severity gets progressively worse with each exposure.  We currently do not eat any peanuts, tree nuts, shell fish, melon (except watermelon, which he loves!), or papaya (because I'm allergic to latex).  This blog is part cookbook, part travelogue, part personal diary.  I hope to provide tips and information, but most of all encouragement.  I'll share some of our favorite recipes, along with our laughter and maybe some tears, as we navigate through a life with food allergies.

photo by Melissa Youngs