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What a wonderful time of year
With family and friends gathered near.
Warm inside our blessed homes
Waiting for Santa and his gnomes.
Staying inside our dens,
Trying to avoid our allergens!

FAST wishes you a warm, happy, and safe holiday.


CRAFTS

One thing I've found fun in more recent years is to focus on doing crafts. With small children this can take the place of cooking or baking, if needed...and it will make it easier to keep things allergen-free. For free craft sheets on the FAST site, check out our allergen-free gingerbread men! Click here. New as of Christmas 2002.

FOOD-FREE DISPLAYS


Miniature Christmas Scene Display

One tip I got when I sent the mailing list my own Christmas emergency was "take the emphasis off food!" This can be difficult for some, including myself (I must admit that our family can't get past the tradition of making a large focus of Christmas Eve the snacks), but making a food-free mini candy-cane tree is certainly fun!
Decorate a tree with miniature decorations, including "candy-canes!" Go to a craft store and get red and white pipe-cleaners (those fuzzy chenille bendy things), and cut them into pieces and twist them together to make doll-sized candy-canes. If you go to the craft store close enough to Christmas, you can find pipe-cleaners that are red and white and twisted already!
Beads and safe, small wire meant for using when putting together bouquets make wonderful and cute miniature ornaments as well.
Cover the tree with lights and garlands, and then decorate it with the miniature candy-canes and bead ornaments that you and your child(ren) made. Any other miniature ornaments you find in the store can be used, also. Put an 18" doll by the miniature tree (such as an American Girl doll), holding an ornament with her arm up, as if she is placing it on the tree.
Decorate beneath the tree with miniature presents (styrofoam blocks wrapped up and glued in piles) and miniature toys. The tree is artificial, the presents are artificial, there is artificial candy -- i.e., it's food free! -- and it is darling when finished.
For an added treat, wrap 24 real miniature toys and put them under the tree. Your child can open one present until Christmas! See the picture above left for what our miniature tree display looked like during Christmas of 2001. I had a young friend help me, which made it even more fun to decorate!

Christmas Village


Another foodless tradition is displayed at left. Every year, my mom and I go out and purchase a new Christmas village from the same series, and display them. We use white flannel and cotton for snow. Put them on a coffee-table, harvest-table, or the top of your piano! I must admit that we have never gotten the men in the family interested in this holiday tradition, but little children -- both male and female -- will probably enjoy finding a new home. There are so many buildings available that you may be able to find ones that are applicable for each family member.

Holiday Doll Display


For the girls in the family, a display of Christmas-themed dolls (see the photo at right) will bring a lot of fun! Pile them high on a table for all to see.

CHRISTMAS CHAT

Each year, if demand warrants it, an emergency chat session will be set up on or around Christmas Eve for people in need of emotional support. The chat room is always open, but a host guarantees to be there for a specific time-frame. Usually, no one shows up but me (Melissa) since we wait until the last minute. Click here for more information about the chat room.

FOOD FUN

Gingerbread House

Pictured to the right is an allergen-free gingerbread house. Well, allergen-free to the creators anyway.
Kathy's gingersnap recipe at http://www.angelfire.com/mi/FAST/desserts.html works well for gingerbread men and gingerbread houses, provided you add more flour to make the dough firmer. If unable to eat margarine, you can replace the margarine with 3/4 cup oil per cup of margarine called for (thanks to "D" for this substitution tip).
For frosting, use water and confectioner's sugar (if corn allergies are present, make confectioner's sugar with normal sugar, blended well, or look for confectioner's sugar made with potato starch or wheat starch -- they're out there!).
Finding candy for the gingerbread house can be difficult. Candy can have hidden ingredients, so be careful when using them (for example, plain M&Ms contain traces of peanut).
We didn't end up eating our gingerbread home, but if you carefully follow these steps and make sure no allergens are present, it is completely edible.

Fruitcake

by Melissa J. Taylor
NOTE: More recently we've found that this works even better with 1/2 as much flour as listed. If the flour called for is not acceptable, use the following flour combo: 1 part white rice flour, 1 part brown rice flour, 1 part arrowroot
3 tablespoons melted margarine (or oil)
3/4 cup crushed walnuts (or no nuts)
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup applesauce
1 cup or more of candied fruit
Sugar and cinnamon for topping (do not put IN cake)
1 teaspoon oil (additional to above mentioned)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 cups oat flour (or ground rolled oats)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Combine all ingredients and stir well.
Put dough into a mini loaf pan (about 3 x 6").
Mix extra sugar in a bowl with the cinnamon, and then sprinkle heavily onto the top of the dough. Cut the dough with a table-knife before baking and then put into the oven for 15 minutes or until done.
Some people like to wrap fruitcake in aluminum foil and make it ahead of time to let it "ripen." That's fine to do with this one; that's what we do and so far we've never been poisoned. Since there aren't any eggs it should keep for a week or two before Christmas.

Faux Gingerbread Men, Women, Children, etc.

You'll need:
K. Lundquist's clay recipe from the FAST toy recipes page here: http://www.angelfire.com/mi/FAST/toys.html
Food coloring in all four colors (yellow, green, red, and blue)
Approximatey two teaspoons each of allspice, cinnamon, and ginger
Cookie cutters for gingerbread men
Craft glue
White acrylic paint
Frosting decorating kit with tips*
To the clay recipe, add all of the colors of food coloring until you achieve a brown color of desired darkness and hue. Add the spices to the mix as well. Follow recipe as directed.
Use your cookie cutters to create gingerbread men. You can create shirts and pants and dresses for the characters by cutting two gingerbread men from the same cookie cutter, then recutting one of the men into clothing. You can make eyes and buttons using a straw.
Once you are through with the design, poke a hole in the head with a toothpick or straw if you desire to use the cookies as ornaments. The cookies also look (and smell!) nice, after completed, if left out on a plate as a centerpiece. Just make sure everyone knows they are inedible!
Microwave each creation separately, for approximately two minutes in the microwave. Let them cool completely before decorating.
Combine the craft glue and white paint in approximately a 50/50 ratio to create a "frosting." This "frosting" can be used to apply safe candies, or to paint on eyes, buttons, squiggly clothing lines, etc.
Let the paint/glue dry, and they're ready for hanging or putting on a plate as a decoration.
* In a pinch for a frosting decorating kit with tips? Or you don't want to get paint and glue in your decorating supplies? You can easily and quickly turn a mostly-empty glue bottle into a "frosting" tube for this craft. Remove the top off the bottle, add the paint, and stir the glue and paint together to form the "frosting." The tip of the glue bottle is just the right size for using with this craft, to add features such as hair, buttons, and eyes to the microwaved and cooled "cookies."

(Instructions by Melissa Taylor, may not be reprinted without permission.)

What did you or your children do with the cookies? Did you make refrigerator magnets? Ornaments? A platter full? Smaller ones for your dolls? Please share your ideas. Include your name as you would like it to be credited.


WHEN HOLIDAY GIFTS ARE FOOD

by Melissa J. Taylor
I was in a gift exchange where I specifically wrote that I could have absolutely no foods because I have severe food allergies. Nevertheless, I still ended up getting a box of chocolates. Invariably, every year our family ends up getting food as a Christmas present.
When you receive food as a present, your first response may be to feel hurt or mad that your friend didn't remember your food allergies. But before you feel bad, you should ask yourself the following questions:
1) Did I give this person a food item? Lots of times you will give and get the same sort of gift. People who send a friend a fruit basket, for example, might get a fruitcake in return. People who send a relative money may get money in return. Those who send craft-type/homemade gifts often also get crafts from their friends. If you are more creative with the presents you give others, and do not send them food, you will not be sending mixed signals.
2) Have I ever cheated in front of them? Again, this would send your friend mixed signals. Eating allergy-free versions of things such as cookies in front of your friend may also make him/her think that a gift of regular cookies is also suitable. This doesn't mean you can't eat in front of your friend -- just be more clear that what you're eating is different. Even though they look the same they don't taste the same. Let your friend sample your food -- that often leaves a lasting impression! ;)
3) Have I been clear enough about the allergies? This relates back to #2. If this is just an acquaintance or someone who doesn't know you very well, you can't really expect the person to know what you can and cannot eat. Remember how long it took you after your diagnosis to learn about all of the products that would contain milk or wheat, for example. Some people try really hard to get you something without your allergens, but they just don't know enough about ingredient labeling.
4) Do the holidays make people busy and make people forget things? The answer is, "yes!" Even your close friends and relatives may completely forget about your allergies in the hustle and bustle of holiday.
5) Was this food given to me to mock my allergies, or because this person really cares about me? Remember that presents aren't given to be mean (unless it's your 50th birthday). Although it seems like a mockery to get a fruitcake that contains ten of your allergens, the person is really just saying s/he cares about you and your family and wants you to have a merry Christmas.
Note: If your child is allergic and gets wrapped presents from friends, it might be a good idea to ask the mom of the friend what is inside. In the event that the mom is not available, such as a school gift exchange where you don't know the parent, it might be a good idea to play snoop and peek in the wrapper. It might be devastating on your child to unwrap a chocolate Santa on Christmas that Mom gets to eat! It might be better to take the present and replace it with something the child can have.
Now we come to the real question on the minds of people who receive presents they can't use: How do I politely respond when I get a food item for Christmas?
It's easy just to write a normal thank-you, tell a white lie, and say you enjoyed the dessert. However, this isn't a good idea unless you want to a family tradition of writing white lies!
What you might rather do is "share the wealth." When holiday company comes to visit, feed them the product. Here's the key: say, "We got this from a friend, but since we have food allergies in our family we are not able to enjoy it. Please help yourself." This does two things. First, it reiterates the family allergies. Second, it gives the once useless gift a good use and the present does not go wasted.
When you write your thank-you, let the person who gave it to you know that your company enjoyed it very much and that it helped alleviate some of your holiday cooking. As an afterthought, you can add that it was so tempting you almost wanted to sample it yourself, but couldn't because of your allergies. This might help in the future to keep this type of gift from coming again. If not, you can always use it on the company. And, hey, that's not a bad idea after all if it's a fruitcake!

The above article is adapted from Food Allergy Survivors Together Handbook. This book is about living with food allergies, and is written in what more than one person has called a "friendly, conversational manner." Let someone *without* food allergies read it, and s/he will get a new understanding of what your everyday life is like. Makes a great gift for those with or without allergies. For more information, see http://www.angelfire.com/mi/FAST/handbook.html.

This website is for personal support information only. Nothing should be construed as medical advice.