Dining Hall Do-Over

This summer, the students of the University of Delaware received a very exciting email: UD Dining was to be rebooted over the summer with help from our student surveys.  Some of the changes we learned about earlier in the summer due to the change in meal plan options that we would have to pay for. For example, the standard plan changed from from 12 meals/week plan to 14 meals/week- making it so much easier to keep track of how many you had left.  We also have the opportunity to use a meal swipe for a combo meal in the food court. But there were some other changes that we didn’t really get to experience until the dining halls reopened.  

Just one view of University of Delaware’s 55,000 ft^2 Caesar Rodney Dining Hall

Previously, the special diet stations in our large dining hall (Caesar Rodney) were gluten-free (which was also nut-free), vegan, and kosher (which was also nut and shellfish free).  Starting this year, they opened a new station called “True Balance” which is free from 7 of the top-8 allergens (apparently they will occasionally serve finfish). The whole kitchen is separate from the rest of the stations and you can’t bring dishes from other stations to the line to prevent cross-contact.  All of the equipment is well labeled and all of the cooking utensils are purple color-coded (the official ServSafe color!). It is so exciting because now I don’t have to worry about special ordering my food every day and I know I can still get a safe meal. The special order program is still available at our two small dining halls (Russell and Pencader), but I have had some issues with them in the past (see this past blog for more info) so I am excited that this new option has been working so smoothly for me.  

A special ordered meal from Russell Dining Hall.

I still check the ingredients of all the food before I get it from the station to keep it safe.  And I’m glad I did because one day they served tacos with several topping options, and one of those toppings was vegan cheese that contained coconut oil.  Since I had read ahead, I knew not to put the “cheese” on my taco, and it was kept separately from the other meal components that day, so I was safe. Other than that, I have had no issues with the station and the food variety has been pretty good thus far.  I am really lucky that I have the option to choose to eat directly from a station in Caesar Rodney Dining Hall now because it allows me to chose when I want to eat instead of only going to my pre-chosen meal time on the order form. And if I really wanted the meal at Russell Dining Hall, the option to pre-order is still available for me.

A sample meal from the new True Balance Station at Caesar Rodney Dining Hall.

I’m excited about the convenience that this new dining option offers for me and my busy schedule this semester, and I hope that the rest of the semester goes as smoothly as these first few weeks now that I’m back to dining hall foods.

End of Summer Update

A picture I took out the car window while driving past Philadelphia at sunset

Hey everyone! I’m so sorry that my August blog has been so late into the month but its been a busy time that hasn’t really inspired any allergy-themed content, so I decided to just give you a mini life update.

This summer, as you read in my last post, I was a day camp counselor at the same Girl Scout Camp that I worked at last year. It’s such an incredibly rewarding way to spend your summer, watching girls gain confidence, try new things, and make friends. This year, I had the added bonus of becoming a certified GSEP Low Ropes course facilitator and a USA Archery Level 1 instructor. These certifications really allowed me to see more exciting growth in the campers as they pushed themselves on these skills. I also played violin in a pit orchestra for a community theater production of “The Addams Family”, and I got my first named role as Specs in a youth theater’s production of “Newsies” (in which I also had the opportunity to be dance captain and choreograph two of the smaller numbers!).

Some of my fellow camp staff members came to support me in Newsies!

Once this had all wrapped up, my family took a long weekend trip to New York City for my mom’s birthday. We got to see a few shows, visit some museums, and eat at some nice restaurants. We generally stuck to places that I had eaten at before, but we found a nice new (to us) restaurant that was very accommodating for lunch one day. I also had the very exciting opportunity to eat a cake at the restaurant we went to for my mom’s birthday- a very rare occurrence for a food allergic person. They made all their desserts on site and kept the facility nut-free!

My family and my mom’s friend with the strawberry shortcake that I could eat!

Finally, it was time to move in to college. I moved in early for Senior Fellows training. This is a group of upperclassmen Honors students who plan social and academic events for students in the upperclassmen Honors dorm. As a returning Senior Fellow, I also got to lead a few of the training sessions which was a fun experience for me. I’m really excited to see what kind of programming we will bring to the students this year.

But my biggest news of the summer was finding out that I have been accepted as a student in the Music BA program at the University of Delaware. Now I am pursuing two degrees: a BA in Music, and a BS in Exercise Science (pre-physical therapy track). I am so excited to be able to have the opportunity to study music more in depth at the collegiate level as I continue my upper level studies at UD.

Cupcakes for Every Camper

As many of you know, I am a summer camp counselor at a local Girl Scout Day camp, and having this summer job has been an amazing experience and opportunity for personal growth over the past two years.  Earlier this summer, I was working with a group of Junior Girl Scouts (9-10 year olds) for the “plant-power” themed camp where they earned their Flowers badge. At our camp, we have to make a program-driven snack twice a week, and to help the counselors prepare, we are given a list of the campers’ allergies/dietary restrictions/ other pertinent health information before our planning period. So when I saw that I only had one girl with a tree nut allergy, I was excited because I am already a pro at avoiding nuts. For one of our snacks, I had planned that we would make flower-shaped sugar cookies and frost them in our favorite colors. 

But then on the first day of the week, one of my campers informed me that she was vegan.  This meant my flower-shaped sugar cookies idea would have to change. Luckily I had the perfect recipe for the group, and my camp directors were able to go shopping for my new ingredients later in the week, allowing me to bake these in the afternoon on Friday. Everything worked out in the end- and it probably provided a better experience for the girls than the cookies. 

I’ve had this recipe since childhood when I invited a girl who was allergic to eggs to my birthday party, and after some googling, we found this “Depression-era Wacky Cake” recipe. 

1.5 cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp salt
1 cup white sugar
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
5 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp white vinegar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup cold water
½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (optional)

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350F, and grease an 8×8 pan, or line 12 cupcake tins.
  2. In a large bowl, combine flour, salt, sugar, cocoa, and baking soda.  Mix with a whisk. 
  3. Then stir in oil, vinegar, and vanilla.  
  4. Once dry ingredients are moistened, pour in cold water and stir until smooth. 
  5. Add in chocolate chips (optional), and pour into your pan of choice
  6. Bake 8×8 for 30-35 minutes, or cupcakes for 18-24 minutes.

This recipe has become my family’s go-to for sturdy cupcakes and I was really glad to bring it to camp. The girls were thrilled to all have cupcakes that they could all eat. To finish them off, we used store-bought canned frosting that only contained sugar, chemicals, and soy. 

Next, I taught them how to pipe different kinds of flowers and this really got them excited. I was so proud of my crazy energetic girls who were able to sit down and learn to pipe slowly and  carefully. It was so rewarding to see their hard work yield such great results! Making something fun like this was a great end to the week, and allowed me to pull one of my favorite end-of-day camp counselor planning techniques- the treat and yeet.  Here’s to more fun (and safe) cooking adventures at camp!

Patriotic Party Ideas

Next week, we celebrate America’s 243rd Birthday on the Fourth of July.  And along with this holiday comes all kinds of festivities that you guessed it- use foods.  So, I have compiled a list of some of my favorite Fourth of July ideas that are allergy-friendly.

Part 1: The Menu

Everything is more exciting with pointy sticks, and so every year I love making red, white, and blue fruit skewers as an appetizer.

For the main meal, my family always uses our grill to heat up some burgers and farm fresh vegetables, but really, the sky’s the limit when it comes to the kind of food you like to share with your Fourth of July squad.

And of course, what’s a summer party without some frozen treats! Luckily, one of America’s most iconic red white and blue desserts, the Firecracker Popsicle is free from all top-8 allergens!

Another festive dessert option is deep-dish s’mores.  Now this recipe is free of all top-8 allergens except for wheat/gluten, but if you need to switch out and use safe graham crackers instead, that will work fine as well. To make this dish, coat the bottom of the pan with graham crackers, then top with a sheet of enjoy life chocolate chips.  For the final layer, dip the marshmallows in water and then roll them in sprinkles to make your flag colors. To complete, stick the whole tray into your grill until the marshmallows are nice and golden.

Part 2: The Fun

And of course, now that you’ve got some food ideas, it’s time to share some of my favorite Fourth of July activities!

Every year, we start off our holiday at our local Independence Day Parade.  It’s such a fun way to celebrate the things that my community has to offer. As a kid, I had frequently appeared in the parade to promote the show I was in that summer and had a blast walking down Main Street.

Another fun classic event is going to watch fireworks.  There is a golf course near my house that always has the most spectacular fireworks show that is preceded by live music on the course and leads to becoming such a wonderful night.  Since everyone puts down their own picnic blanket, you don’t have to worry about touching any allergens in your area and its really a nice time.

And finally, is it really Independence Day if you don’t watch everyone’s favorite patriotic musical, 1776?? (guess that might just be a Gray family tradition…)

Leave a comment below with your favorite allergy-friendly ways to celebrate the birth of our nation!

To Mom: My First Allergy Advocate

Today is an incredibly special day for so many reasons.  Not only is today Mother’s Day, but it’s also the beginning of Food Allergy Awareness Week, and I think that these two events go hand in hand. As a child who grew up with food allergies, a big part of my “growing up” dealt with transferring allergy management from my mom to me.  Now that I am older, I can really respect the amount of time and effort my mom went through to educate other parents, carry around wipes, Benedryl, and epinephrine, pack me safe treats, hand make each and every birthday cake, and never see it as a burden.  She made sure that I never felt different, excluded, or limited because of my allergies, and for that I am eternally grateful.  Her confidence and planning allowed me to experience so many cool things, and I have so much respect for all that she did to keep me safe.  But I think one of the best feelings for a mom is being able to see her child speak up for her allergies, and I can only hope that my mom can feel that pride as I tackle each experience life throws me.

While I am incredibly thankful for all that my mother has done for me in regards to keeping me safe with my allergies, I know that is not up to her and other allergy parents to keep the world informed and tolerant towards allergies, and that’s where Food Allergy Awareness Week comes in. Food Allergy Awareness Week is a campaign started by FARE’s predecessor, FAAN (Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network), in 1998 to educate others about the severity and prevalence of food allergies in our world.  

As a refresher, food allergies are caused by the IgE antibodies in a person’s blood reacting to a particular food protein as if it were a toxin and signaling a release of histamines.  Anaphylaxis is caused by a more intensive immune response, where your body releases chemicals that cause an intense drop in blood pressure, restricted airways, full body hives/welts, and other symptoms that when combined are life-threatening. There is currently no cure for food allergies, but research is being done to see what strategies we can take to reduce the likelihood of reactions for those with a diagnosed allergy.   People with food allergies must ensure that they are very cautious and avoid exposure to their allergen to prevent anaphylaxis. 

This week is a great week to learn about the causes of allergies, how you can help those with allergies, and to get involved with activism, whether it be through petitioning your law makers for increased access to epinephrine, donating to allergy research by signing up for a Hometown Heroes Walk in your hometown, or simply by wearing Teal on Thursday May 16th for #TealTakeover.  And if you have any questions, be sure to reach out to me on Facebook or in the comments section below. Happy Holidays!