Friday, January 8, 2010

Book Review: Food Allergy Survival Guide

Whenever a friend finds out that they have food allergies the first thing they ask me for is resources. Depending on their situation, I try to recommend books and websites that may help them find some answers. They also ask me for cookbook recommendations. Recently, I found a book that is a great source for anyone with food allergies to keep on their shelf. It is called “Food Allergy Survival Guide” by Vesanto Melina, Jo Stepaniak and Dina Aronson. The book combines scientific data with tips on how to manage and live with allergies, as well as some delicious recipes. The authors are authorities on nutrition and dietetics, as well as vegetarian cooking. It is a straight-forward guide to understanding what might be causing food allergies and sensitivity and provides valuable information on how to avoid the things that can trigger a reaction. One of the sections that I found particularly useful is where they reveal hidden culprits in common foods. For instance, did you know that often, instant cocoa contains wheat ingredients that may not be listed on a product’s label? Vanilla extract sometimes contains corn or is made with alcohols that are derived from corn sources. And if you are allergic to peanuts, you should also use caution when consuming “vegetable” oil. Guess what? That oil might actually contain peanut oil. Pretty scary! If you or a loved one has food allergies it is important to be as informed as you can. This book presents all data in a very easy to read format.

The other thing that makes this book special is its recipe section. There are over 100 recipes to help those who are living without dairy, eggs, fish, gluten, peanuts, shellfish, soy, tree nuts, wheat, yeast and more. One of the recipes that I love, in particular, is for Apricot Slaw. It would be a perfect side dish for a variety of meals or as a snack. I used both red and green cabbages when I made my slaw and the colors were beautiful! The book's publisher has granted me the right to share the recipe with you. Give it a try!

Apricot Slaw

1 (6 cups) medium cabbage, shredded

2 large carrots, grated

½ cup finely chopped dried apricots

1/3 cup organic canola or safflower oil

1 T pure maple syrup

3 T white wine vinegar or fresh lemon juice

1/8-1/4 t freshly ground nutmeg

½-1 t celery seeds (optional)


Combine the cabbage, carrots and apricots in a large bowl. In a separate small bowl, whisk together the oil, maple syrup, vinegar and nutmeg until emulsified. Pour over the cabbage and toss to mix. Sprinkle with the optional celery seeds and season with salt to taste. Toss again until evenly combined.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

What to do when one child has food allergies and the other does not?

Our daughter has extreme food allergies. Besides nuts, seeds and eggs she is also highly allergic to wheat. And since we are Americans, wheat is a large part of our diet. We have had to adapt our lifestyle quite a bit since we learned of her allergies. I bought every cookbook I could get my hands on, have spent hours shopping at Whole Foods, network with many others in our situation and started this blog. I now see food in a completely different way. Eating can be dangerous, especially when eating out. But it has activated the creative portion of my brain. When I look at a menu, I really examine it. Thankfully, I have been a cook for many years and already know what foods might be toxic. Pesto, for instance is almost always made with nuts. Meatballs almost always contain wheat breadcrumbs. I love a challenge and pride myself on being able to find an alternative to almost any food Ella would like to eat.

There is a lot of baggage that comes with having food allergies. It is especially challenging to explain to a child who is only 4 and often has a difficult time understanding why others get to eat the things that she cannot. Especially, when that child is the only one in a family who is limited. I was pregnant with my son when we discovered my daughter’s allergies. We have watched him like a hawk ever since he was a newborn. I breastfed both of my children for the first year of their lives. During that time, Ella had really horrible eczema on the insides of her arms and the back of her knees. We just thought that she had sensitive skin. It never occurred to me that she might be allergic to something in my milk. Milo, thankfully, never had those problems. I ate the same foods and he never seemed to react in the way that Ella had. When we began to give him solid foods, we pretty much held back on giving him wheat until his first birthday. And when he did try it, he had no response, other than to ask for more. He is only 2 now and we still avoid nuts and seeds. Our pediatrician has suggested we wait until he turns 3 before trying these things. Over Christmas, we found him munching on a slice of fruit cake that had been made with walnuts and pecans. I panicked and ripped it out of his mouth. I barely was able to breathe for the remainder of that day, but to my great surprise, no reaction! (My sister told me that her pediatrician warned her that a reaction sometimes does not happen until the second time a food is eaten. Not sure if that is true or not, but I felt some relief, nonetheless.) We are still waiting for his third birthday, but this might be great news for him.

But maybe not so for Ella. She loves her brother, but it really bothers her that Milo gets to eat all of the things that she cannot. Often, when I make wheat-free bread I serve it to both of them. Or when we go out to Mexican restaurants we order a quesadilla made with corn tortillas and they happily share it. (He now shies away from those made with flour tortillas). But sometimes, it is impossible to find equal solutions for both. Earlier this week, we had an impromptu visit at my sister’s house. Some of us were eating garlic bread, made the traditional way. Ella’s eyes always go to the things that she cannot have and often ignores the fact that she has a plate full of options but maybe due to her human nature, she only wants what she cannot have. And then we are all subjected to an earful of whining and complaining. Nobody is more sympathetic than I am. If you have ever read my blogs before you know that I would do just about anything to take her allergies away. But I am also a parent who wants to raise a child that is respectful of others, does not complain, and is thankful that she has so many food choices. She does not suffer and I want to make her aware of that. Since she is only 4. I cannot tell her about the story that I heard on the news recently about the rising numbers of American children who are malnourished or starving. These are difficult concepts for a child of her age to grasp. Hopefully in time, she will be able to look at this situation and realize how lucky she actually is.

It eats her up that her cousins are free of allergies. But it enrages her that Milo, Gabe and I eat something that she cannot. It has gotten to the point where she reads me the riot act when I buy a normal loaf of bread. And if I do, I had better damn well have an equal solution for her. Most of the time, I am able to pull it off. But it is not easy, especially when I am working so much. There is no doubt in my mind that everyone who had a child with allergies, deals with this on some level. Often, Ella will say, “I wish Milo couldn’t eat wheat. I wish Maddie could not have nuts.” She just wants to fit in and it must be horrible to feel so isolated.

So, in answer to my own question, “What to do when one child has food allergies and the other does not?” I simply do not know. This is all stuff that we are trying to figure out as we all take this journey together. Hopefully, all of this will get easier in time. And like so many things having to do with parenting, I wish I knew!

"Everything But the Kitchen Sink" Wheat Free Muffins

This month's Everyday Food Magazine features a recipe from an Alaskan reader called "Healthy Morning Muffins". Since I have a couple of muffin maniacs in the house, I decided to make a varied version that are wheat free. That way, everyone can enjoy them. They are delicious. Here is my modified recipe...

"Everything But the Kitchen Sink" Muffins

1 1/4 cup brown rice flour (finely ground)
1/2 cup potato starch
1/4 cup tapioca flour
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 T baking powder
1 t baking soda
3/4 t xanthan gum
1/2 t cinnamon
1/4 t freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 t salt
1 cup old fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup raisins
2 large eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup applesauce
1 medium ripe banana, mashed
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup canola oil
4 medium carrots, peeled and shredded

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Prepare 2 muffins tins, either with cooking spray or with cupcake liners.

Mix the dry ingredients (up to salt) in a large bowl with a wire whisk. Stir in oats and raisins. Set aside.

Whisk the eggs, milk, applesauce, banana and oils in a separate large bowl. Stir in the carrots.

Gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet. Fold in the carrots.

Fill each muffin cup with 1/4 cup batter. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center of a muffin comes out clean, 23-25 minutes. Cool on a wire rack, watch them disappear.

Store in an airtight container, up to 3 days.

Makes 18 muffins.

Monday, January 4, 2010


Ever wonder what to do with those ends of Gluten/Wheat free bread that are leftover and never seem to get eaten? Make breadcrumbs and store them in a plastic bag in your freezer, until you are ready to use. Then they can be used for almost anything that you would normally use breadcrumbs for... for meatballs, meatloaf, breading for foods and on and on. Recently, I whipped up a batch of Eggplant Parmesan that was completely wheat and gluten free and it was as good as anything I'd had before. Here is the process that I use when making the crumbs...

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Break unused bread into small pieces and fill a food processor, with the blade attachment. Pulse until fine crumbs form. If you like your crumbs especially crunchy, drizzle in a little olive oil. Spread the crumbs onto a cookie sheet covered in foil or parchment. Bake for approx. 15 minutes until the crumbs are quite dry and slightly brown. Turn the cookie sheet at least once while baking. Cool. Place in a tight sealing plastic freezer bag. Don't forget to write the date on the outside. Freeze. Can be used up to 6 months.

Holiday Madness

The girls, decked out and ready for Christmas Dinner.

Thankfully, we managed to survive the holidays. Barely. After each of us had a our own sinus issue (hangover from our Thanksgiving colds) we thought we were out of the woods. We began our Christmas celebration at my Mom's house. She is an amazing cook who always knocks it out of the park, cooking enough food to feed a small army... with leftovers. And since she works so hard, we thought it would be fun to dine out for both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day dinners. On Christmas Eve, my one year old nephew came down with a bout of diarrhea. We thought that he had eaten something that had not agreed with him, because otherwise he was totally normal. So we continued on with our business of unwrapping presents, watching the kids play and snacking. My daughter who is four and my niece who is three decided to have a "sleep over" and share a bed. It was incredibly sweet and fun to watch, as they are best friends and truly love spending time with one another. They were inseparable. Ella even let Maddie borrow one of one of her American Girl dolls and they each took lots of time dressing themselves and the dolls up in matching outfits.

For Christmas dinner, we headed out for Madonna Inn. I grew up in San Luis Obispo and we always would go to their steakhouse, each year for our birthdays. (As a side note, I would always order the lobster which may have contributing to the "filling of my cup" later in life, making it impossible for me to consume shellfish). The girls are at the age where they refuse naps, so by the time dinner rolled around they were both quite tired and somewhat cranky. This is just how if goes some times so we didn't think anything of it. One of the fun things about Madonna Inn is that they have a "Little Girls Only" stall in their bathroom that features a lowered toilet and sink. I took Ella to use the facilities before dinner came. When we were in there, my sister came in, crying out for me. My niece was screaming and they needed help. Maddie had just thrown up all of the restaurant (Merry Christmas, Everyone! Dessert?) Both Maddie and my sister were covered and it just kept on coming. She asked me to send my Mom down for help (bet she was wishing that she was home in the kitchen, after all) and asked if I could also update my brother in law on the situation. Almost at that very moment, our dinner arrived (yeah!) and predictably Milo began to melt down. (This is how it goes with my adorable son. He's two. He hates to sit still. And he almost never eats.) So I decided that the best way to calm him and not further destroy the dinner of those around us was to take him to the car and let him watch a DVD. So that left Ella, my husband, my father and my step mom sitting alone at a table for 12. And then Ella started acting all crazy and running around. Gabe had to chase her and finally gave up, allowing her to climb up on a nearby stage while he threw back a few cold bites of his dinner. When he was done, he traded places with me so that I could eat. It was pretty sad to walk in and see my dad and Natasha sitting at the table alone, drinking a bottle of wine. Ella continued her "dance" on the stage and when she had captured the attention of half of the room ("look at that cute little angel dancing up there") she very gracefully began picking her nose. It was the cherry on top of a ridiculous evening.

But the fun was not close to being over with. A few hours later, Milo began throwing up. And that day we were supposed to head back to LA because someone wanted to see our house that is for sale. Naturally, we had left for vacation in a rush and the home was not even nearly ready to be shown. And the potential buyer was coming for a second time and HAD to see the house with some family members who were visiting from out of town. So we sucked it up, packed up the car and headed south. My brother in law and Gabe both started to get the virus, as well. Thank God, there was no traffic and in less than three hours we were home. And right after arrival, Ella began to get sick. And then she started throwing up, all over the house. And not to be out done, Milo continued his barfing spree. I was washing linens and rugs and towels, all while trying to air the house out and cover every surface with disinfectant. By some miracle, the house had never looked better. We had every single window and door open. Every touchable surface had been cleaned. We loaded up the kids in the car, turned on yet another DVD and headed to our favorite deli to get a very large order of Matzoh ball soup.

By Sunday, the kids were healthy again. Daddy was on the road to recovery and Mommy... well, I was sick to my stomach and unable to get out of bed. Our house was 0-4 and the virus kicked our booties! The good news, it was a fast moving bug. And I was quite happy to say goodbye to 2009!

Happy New Year to all of you! Many wishes for health and happiness!