Conference A-FAREs

Another November, another wonderful FARE Summit!  Last weekend, I had the opportunity to return to FARE’s annual conference to speak about going to college with food allergies.  This year, two more college students (Aly and Caroline) joined our panel in addition to Allison and Anna, who spoke with me last year.  Together, we formed a very well-rounded group of college experiences and could answer questions about all kinds of college-related topics.  It’s so fun being able to help out teens trying to figure out how to safely approach the college process and college life, and tell them all the do’s and don’ts with managing food allergies while away from home. 

The College Panel Crew: Aly, Caroline, me, Anna, Allison (l to r)
(yeah I don’t know what that one piece of my hair is doing either)

In addition to being a speaker, I got to learn all about several allergy-related topics during the sessions.  Some of the highlights include a session about managing an allergy-free bakery from a business perspective, understanding food labeling laws, and of course the ever famous teen social.  Like last year, they accomplished the incredible feat of feeding a diverse collection of allergies for lunch, this time with a really high quality build your own tacos. I also really enjoyed the inspiring key-note from Gian Paul Gonzalez, a New Jersey high school history teacher who is famous for the motivational speech he gave to the NY Giants before they won the Super Bowl in 2011.  He talked about his “all in” philosophy and how people with allergies can do whatever they want in life if you’re all in because you’ll find a way to work around you allergies to achieve your goals. 

This year I also had the opportunity to join a focus group discussion about the app/website AllergyEats which helps users find restaurants that are safe from their allergens using reviews and rankings from other users with allergies who have visited before.  They have a lot of cool plans in the works, and it was such a great experience to be able to work with them as they made their future plans.

I cannot say enough about the positive impact that attending these conferences has had for me as I grew from a high school freshman to a college junior (yikes!). It’s so great that FARE provides this opportunity to connect with other people in the food allergy community and learn from their experiences.  I’m so glad I got to spend time with old friends and meet new people for such a great weekend.

Alexa, Anna, Allison, and I getting hype about the conference from the waterfront just outside the conference doors.

Feeling #FAREaware

This past weekend I had the opportunity to go to a FARE Hometown Heroes Walk in Wilmington DE.  I had previously gone to a FARE Walk in 2014 when it was at the Camden Riversharks Stadium, but these two walks were very different in terms of scale and function of the event.  Back in 2014, FARE sponsored the walk and had employees working from the Northeast Regional Office there. At this walk, there were allergy-friendly vendors all around the stadium that you could get samples from, a radio station played music, there were tons of give-aways and kids games, and we walked around the whole sports complex.  Every participant who raised enough money got a 2014 FARE Walk shirt and there were tons of people and sponsors there. Overall, the event raised $38,000.

Because FARE switched to a individual-run walk structure, the 2019 Hometown Heroes walk was considerably smaller.  I was honestly so impressed by what walk organizer Jennifer Kulas was able to create for the community through running the Wilmington Hometown Heroes Walk.  At this event there were only about 70 people there, and it was held at a community soccer field with a ½ mile perimeter. This kept it feeling like a neighborhood block party and made it easy to meet new people who share a passion for food allergy awareness. I really appreciated all the hand-drawn signs with food allergy awareness facts scattered around the track to keep the walkers engaged as we went around.  They laid out teal pumpkin tables with teal ribbon merchandise, had face painting, and giant bubbles. The event also had a DJ to keep things peppy, raffles, and an allergy-friendly snow cone truck. The most exciting part of the event was when Spiderman came to visit (in accordance with our Hometown Heroes theme).  This walk raised $2,952 to help FARE with their research in food allergies.  

Following the walk, my walk team went to Red Robin and we had the most amazing allergy friendly meal.  I have dined at Red Robin before, but the location in the Brandywine Town Center was phenomenal with their service.  When I mentioned that I had allergies, the waiter gave me this card (see below). After I ordered, the manager came out to talk about how they use separate cookware and purple gloves, and delivered my meal individually.  It was a perfect capstone for my allergy aware morning.

Even though FARE Walks decreased in scale since 2014, I am glad that they still exist.  The walk was a great way to make connections with other people in the area who live with food allergies. Hopefully we will all be able to reconnect with a cure for allergies one day with the money we’ve raised for Food Allergy Research. 

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!