Sunday, December 16, 2007

On Food Allergies

To those of you visiting for the first time in response to my recent piece about food allergies:


Feel free to email me (mer at and I'll get back to you if I have answers.

I have food allergies. I've had them ever since I was a kid. When I was 4, or 6, or something in that range, my mom put me on a really restricted diet to try to deal with the allergies and some other health issues. The short version: no sugar, no white flour, no peanut butter, no artificial coloring of any kind, no chocolate, no fish, no shellfish, no dairy. It was hellacious.

Like most children, I grew out of my food allergies. By age 10, the incidence of food allergies in children drops to that of the adult population. That's the main way that food allergies differ from environmental allergies: most food allergies are outgrown. Yes, you can even outgrow a nut allergy.

Some other allergy-related questions and answers:

Have you ever had an allergic crisis? Yes.

Have you ever had anaphylaxis? Yes.

Is that the same as going into anaphylactic shock? No. It's confusing, right? The term 'anaphylaxis' can be used to refer to both a range of allergic symptoms OR to anaphylactic shock, the extremely rare and sometimes fatal reaction. When someone says "I had an anaphylactic episode" or "I got anaphylaxis from eating a peanut butter sandwich," they may not mean what you think they mean.

Have you used an Epi-pen? Yes.

Was it prescribed to you? No.

Have you had to seek emergency medical treatment because you had an allergy attack that got so bad you had trouble breathing? Yes.

What happened? I got an adrenaline shot, and it was awesome. My breathing improved immediately. Quelle relief. It was scary, and I suppose I "could have" died, but can't we say that about any crisis?

What else are you allergic to, besides certain foods? Too much stuff to mention. Animals, plants, food, drugs, certain kinds of alcohol, mold. The smell of urban street vendors roasting chestnuts makes me nauseous, but that's merely an aversion, not an allergy.

Do these allergies make you a huge pain in the ass to have dinner with? No, but my charming personality does.


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Pre-Made Cookie Dough

I have a new post up on Babble today about the best kinds of pre-made cookie dough. The doughs were evaluated based on taste, ease of use, and kid-friendliness.

My son and I like to do kitchen projects together, but complicated cookies are well beyond his one-year-old cooking skills. Instead, we had a ton of fun baking store-bought cookie dough together. A couple of brands (notably the 600-lb Gorilla and Wholly Wholesome) were so easy that he could even 'make' the cookies himself by putting them on the cookie sheets.

Cookie dough comes in refrigerated and frozen varieties; if you happen to be a germ spaz, you may prefer the frozen. Or, you can freeze and thaw the refrigerated dough.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

On the Make

I’m delighted to announce the University of Chicago Press release of On the Make: The Hustle of Urban Nightlife by David Grazian, who (as you may know) is very dear to me. You can get it for $16.50 at, or at your local independent bookstore.

What's the book all about?

"It’s nighttime in the city and everybody’s working a hustle. Winking bartenders and smiling waitresses flirt their way to bigger tips. Hostesses and bouncers hit up the crowd of would-be customers for bribes. And on the other side of the velvet rope, single men and women are on a perpetual hunt to score—or at least pick up a phone number. Every night of the week they all play the same game, relentlessly competing for money, sex, self-esteem, and status.David Grazian’s riveting tour of downtown Philadelphia and its newly bustling nightlife scene reveals the city as an urban playground where everyone dabbles in games of chance and perpetrates elaborate cons. Entertainment in the city has evolved into a professional industry replete with set designers, stage directors, and method actors whose dazzling illusions tempt even the shrewdest of customers. Public relations consultants, event planners, and a new breed of urban hustler—the so-called “reality marketer” who gets paid to party—all walk a fine line between spinning hype and outright duplicity. For the young and affluent, nightlife is a sport—a combative game of deception and risk complete with pregame drinking rituals and trendy uniforms. They navigate the dangers and delights of the city with a combination of wide-eyed optimism and streetwise savvy, drawing from their own bag of tricks that include everything from the right makeup and costume to fake IDs, counterfeit phone numbers, and wingmen.As entertaining and illuminating as the confessional stories it recounts, David Grazian’s On the Make is a fascinating exposé of the smoke and mirrors employed in the city at night."

“If you want to understand the contemporary city, you have to look beyond the office towers and real estate developments to the city at night. Too long ignored, the city at night is a multi-billion dollar industry, a large-scale mating market, and a way station for our ever-extending adolescence. David Grazian takes us on a backstage tour of the ritualistic games, hustlers and attempted hookups, and enduring stories and myths that define the city at night. This book takes nightlife out of the shadows and shows how it is a core concern for understanding the economy and sociology of the modern city.”—Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class

"Reading On the Make is like going out on the town with a most amiable, clever, fluent companion—who seems to know everyone you run into. Grazian introduces you to the myriad people who run the Philadelphia scene, and to the affluent young nighttime scenesters; he chats them up and then subjects their complex games of class, gender, and sexual performance to his smart, edgy analysis. The result is at once sobering and drunken fun."--Joshua Gamson, author of The Fabulous Sylvester: The Legend, the Music, the Seventies in San Francisco

“On the Make is where the action is. The settings are the cool bars and restaurants of the big city where adults pretend they look like kids, kids act out being adults, and masters of entertainment create exclusive scenes available to everyone. Drawing from hundreds of stories and years of fieldwork, David Grazian reveals how scenes are made, how the ‘girl-hunt’ works (not) and why some boys like coconut shampoo. Along the way, Grazian is revealed to be a brilliant ethnographer and an imaginative writer.”—Peter Bearman, author of Doormen

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Things to Do in Philadelphia With Your Kid

Lately, I’ve been writing about cool things to do with kids in Philadelphia. I thought it might be helpful to consolidate some of my favorite local resources here on the blog.

Activities and amusements

Philadelphia Children’s Connection
This site, run by the Philadelphia Children’s Foundation, is a central clearinghouse for educational and social resources for students and families. I like that the site is organized by age and inclination: there are suggested local activities and outings for preschoolers, tweens, young adults, mentors, and even adults. The Philadelphia Children’s Foundation is a non-profit educational-support organization whose mission is to foster positive career and life-changing decisions in children of all ages.

Metropolitan Moms
Having a baby can be a sort of lonely experience, especially if you were a mom with a vibrant, culturally active lifestyle before you started staying at home with the baby (be that for 6 weeks or 6 years). Metropolitan Moms offers educational tours and fun events for moms and their babies. Have to stop for a bottle break? No big deal. Baby crying? Nobody blinks an eye. I recently wrote about Metropolitan Moms for the Inquirer, and all the moms I met on the tour were friendly and delightful.

Dancing Meatballs
The Meatballs offer a weekly newsletter jam-packed full of events for kids and parents. They focus on free and low-cost events, and whenever possible they evaluate the venue for stroller-friendliness. Reading this newsletter reminds me of all the cool things I can do locally with my kid. Traveling to NYC or Chicago? There’s a Dancing Meatball newsletter for those second cities, too.

This blog, run by the folks at GPTMC, often has good suggestions on places to eat and events to see. It's primarily for a younger, single crowd, but I like to read it occasionally to remember all the things I used to do before I was a parent.

Cupcakes, birthday cakes and treats

Night Kitchen Bakery
Every Night Kitchen cake looks like it’s straight from a ritzy food magazine. For birthdays, I particularly like the three-tiered fondant-covered cake with multicolored polka dots. Additional kid connection: the bakery’s name comes from the classic picture book In the Night Kitchen by Philly author Maurice Sendak. Locations in Chestnut Hill and Doylestown.

Miel Patisserie
French pastries from a former Le Bec Fin pastry chef—what could be better? Miniature kid-sized tarts and cakes will be a big hit with the junior set. I like their bumblebee logo, too. Locations in Cherry Hill and Center City.

Classic Cakes
A South Jersey classic. I got my wedding cake here, and I think my high school graduation cake too. Locations in Cherry Hill and Washington Township.

Robin’s Nest
Excellent desserts and pastries in the wilds of South Jersey. The restaurant is a good place to stop for lunch if you’re shopping at one of the many small artist-run craft boutiques in Mt. Holly. I remember being impressed by a quilting supply store on my last trip out there. If you go, let me know if the shopping is still good.

Flying Monkey Patisserie
I always stop here for a cupcake when I go to the Reading Terminal Market. The buttercream frosting is made with real butter, not Crisco, and the extensive cupcake menu has offerings for the pickiest eaters. I am a fan of the apricot jam-filled cupcake as well as the peanut-butter-and-jelly cupcake, a vanilla cupcake filled with grape jam and topped with a peanut butter-y buttercream.

John & Kira’s Chocolates
This Philly-based company, founded by John & Kira Doyle, supports and encourages community activism. They also hand-make the most exquisite gourmet chocolates you can imagine. Check out the Drew Elementary Garden Mint, a mint chocolate made with mint grown by student gardeners at Drew Elementary and UC High School in Philadelphia.