Easy Allergen-Free Weeknight Dinner Series: Savory Beef n’ Quinoa

Savory Beef QuinoaThis warm, filling, savory dish of beef, onions, and fresh string beans is simple, quick and takes advantage of standard pantry items. And so begins this series of easy allergen-free weeknight dinners to help those needing some ideas of what to whip together in a hurry.

Quinoa (pronounced: Keen-wah), is really quite an easy side dish to prepare. The ratio is the same as rice, and so is the cooking technique: 1 cup of quinoa to 2 cups of liquid. Bring to boil, cover and simmer for 15 minutes, or until grains have absorbed the liquid.  Drain any excess liquid (do not overcook or it will be mushy). And there you have it.

The most essential tool needed for quinoa is a fine mesh strainer as you will need to rinse before cooking. The purpose for this is that there is a coating on the quinoa seeds that will taste bitter if not rinsed off.

Savory Beef n’ Quinoa

Prepare quinoa according to package directions using beef, chicken or vegetable broth. Add a little salt if desired. While the quinoa is cooking, in a large deep skillet:

1. Brown 1 pound of ground beef.

2. Add 1 yellow or white onion, diced

3. Add 3 cloves of garlic, minced

4. Add a little water and season with fresh cracked pepper, salt, Italian seasoning, garlic powder and onion powder.

5. Add a generous amount of string beans (fresh or frozen) and stir fry with a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar until beans are crisp tender.

Plate with sliced fresh cherry or grape tomatoes.

That’s it! You may also want to consider adding mushrooms, leeks, green onions or other favorite vegetables that pair well with beef.  I recommend adding a dash or two of gluten-free Worcestershire sauce if you have it. If not, this dish is good on its own.

The Little Lifesaver

2Have you ever seen, before your very eyes, a real life little boy, become a real life little hero? Last night, what I witnessed was something truly amazing. My son looking up at me with those sparkling and inquisitive hazel eyes. His eyebrows raised real high like kids do when they are excited about learning.  He was coloring at the counter while I was washing dishes and he asked if I had remembered to go get a product called Sunbutter, a peanut-butter substitute that is made from sunflower seeds and is safe for those with a peanut and nut allergies. I almost forgot that I bought it. I said “Oh!”, and ran to the grocery bag on the dining room table and retrieved it like I pulled a bunny out of a hat, “I did get it!” He smiled really big and said, “That’s awesome, Mom! Can we try it?” To which I happily replied, “Absolutely!”

You see, my son is really interested in what I’m doing on this blog. He knows that I’m constantly writing, researching and talking about food allergies. He has been wanting to participate and help me come up with recipes.  He has been particularly interested in the Natalie Giorgi story. I didn’t let him watch the news story, but I did tell him, in terms that were honest, what happened to her. It sparked a conversation about his own diligence in food inspection.

He has been a bit scared about it. He has asked if he will die from his food allergies (gluten and dairy). We told him that it is unlikely from the gluten and dairy, but that he really has to be careful about exposure anyway, because – and I had to be honest – the body will react stronger each time. That is how an allergy works. The body sees it as an invasion and it sends in more of its “troops” to fight it with each exposure.

It is fact and important for him to know. It is a conversation that was not fun to have with him but I believe that gentle honesty and a very thorough explanation of strategies that he can use to protect himself eased his anxiety about it.

After answering a lot of questions about Natalie and other food allergies, he mentioned that he has a girl in class that has a peanut allergy and that he really wants to protect her. My darling talkative seven-year old even began lecturing me to make sure I don’t ever put anything in his lunch with peanuts or peanut butter so that she doesn’t get hurt, All I could say was, “Baby, you know who you are talking to, right?” He said, “I know Mom, I just want to make sure.” I smiled at him in pride. He was right. After all, I taught him to double check on adults -even me – and applauded him for doing so.

All of that said,  he was anxious and excited to try the Sunbutter.  As I toasted the gluten-free bread, and carefully swiped a very thin layer (with a generous helping of grape jelly to help mask any weird flavor there might be), I was worried that he was going to hate it. I really wanted this to work out.

Lo and behold, we were pleasantly surprised and impressed that there was virtually no difference in flavor from real peanut butter. My son wasn’t just excited about the flavor, he was excited that he found something that protects his friend. I am inspired by my son’s curiosity and compassion. I’m also wondering how scary it must be for him, and other kids, to hear the story of Natalie Giorgi. She was a girl, diligent in her own care, trying to live her life like any other kid. One bite of of a rice krispie treat in the dark at a camp potluck event (not knowing the cook had put peanut butter on the bottom of these treats), three EpiPen treatments,  and less than an hour later, she was dead.

This story has struck a nerve in our household as much as the Sandy Hook Elementary event did. For Natalie and her parents, there was no room for error. None. And the world has done nothing to help them avoid that error. Peanuts have not been banned. Schools still allow peanuts on the property. If you think about it, peanuts are everywhere and in thousands of things. And despite these news stories, people will still do what that cook did.

They say  that charity begins at home. Do we really have to have peanuts and peanut butter in our life? What if something I make kills somebody’s kid? I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to carry the knowledge that my cooking/baking killed someone. What if we could all honor Natalie and remove peanuts and peanut butter? This is America. We can be a country of people that can make progress. We can also be a country of people who live in blissful ignorance and throw tantrums when we have to be inconvenienced by others’ needs.  What kind of reputation do we want? How inconvenient would it be to use Sunbutter instead of peanut butter? Or just forgo the culinary need for the peanut? To the parents of the peanut and treenut allergic children, this small inconvenience would hold the same value as jumping into a whitewater river to save their child. Alternatively, serving the allergen would be the equivalent of pushing them into it, just to see what happens. Which would you rather do?

My son’s request for me to make a safe sandwich to protect his friend’s life demonstrates so much compassion and thoughtfulness to the value of life of others. It means he would rather save her life than harm her. And that makes me proud.

Would You Like Green Eggs and Ham? Or Eggless Please, and Thank You, Ma’am?

green eggs and ham 2“Oh no, I won’t have those!” said the little boy at last night’s table.

And I replied, “Resist these eggs? You won’t be able!”

Okay, I didn’t really say that. And so the story of last night’s dinner really went like this:

My son thought it was really nifty and different to have green eggs and ham for dinner, just like in the famous Dr. Seuss story – except these are not fried eggs and the ham isn’t green. But the idea was a brilliant froggy green dish. I suppose you could do all kinds of themes with this. Forest grass with broccoli trees and the like. I’m sure I’m not the first person to come up with this but, regardless, it’s still quite unusual and fun. The eggs, greened up with a puree of spinach, herbs, onion and garlic, was perfect for a natural effect – and flavor. All in all: a big hit!

Follow it up with a read of the story using your best silly voices. Aren’t food and stories fun?

Green Eggs and Ham….. and Cheesy Rice

Note: This CAN be made for the egg allergenic. If there are no soy allergies, use silken tofu in place of the eggs. If you need to avoid soy and eggs, follow the recipe for quiche on the Ener-G egg replacer product website http://www.ener-g.com/recipes/node/435 and mix in the spinach/herb mixture to make it green.

Start cooking your rice:

In a large saucepot, add 4 cups of allergen-free chicken or vegan broth

When it boils, add 2 cups of dry white long grain rice, cover and simmer on low for 15 minutes.

When finished, stir in 1/2 cup of Earth Balance non-dairy margarine and 1/4 cup of nutritional yeast and a little salt for flavor.

During the cooking of rice, cook your slices of ham until they are browned the way you like.

In a small food processor, puree 2 cups of baby spinach and 1/4 cup of basil (or mixture of your favorite fresh herbs).

Add 1/4 of a yellow or white onion and 2 cloves of garlic.

Add 1 Tablespoon of dried Italian seasoning.

Process all of it together with a little olive oil and mix into your eggs or egg substitute mixture. Make your eggs as you please (making sure you use an oil that is free of allergens).

Serve all together and Enjoy!

Vegan Soy-Free Marshmallow Recipe

Credit for this goes to inhabitots.com So glad to have found this recipe and wanted to share it with you.

I needed to find this because I’ve got my first Nashville cake request (very exciting :-D) and my client wants the cakes to be vegan. Sticking with my mission as a baker that avoids all of the 8-common allergens – while making sure it is also vegan –  is a challenge I’m a bit excited about. The design I suggested calls for marshmallows and she loves it. Marshmallows are generally allergen-free but the gelatin in them makes them not vegan, as gelatin is sourced from animals.

The first thing I did was look at  the available manufactured vegan marshmallows. Unfortunately, the vegan marshmallows I can buy where available have soy protein isolate, which is of the 8-common allergens I want to avoid in all of my baking. Further cyber search led me to vegan marshmallow recipes that also call for soy. Finally, after some more specific search requests, I found this. I am going to try it. Let me know if you also try it, and what are your results. Enjoy!

Vegan Soy-Free Marshmallow Recipe

What If The Next Great Pandemic Comes From Within?

Milk or Bleach? To his body, there isn't a difference.
Milk or Bleach? To his body, there isn’t a difference.

Milk or Bleach? To his body, there isn’t a difference. We need a fundamental shift in public attitude to protect our kids and find a cure for food allergies.

As of this writing, August 2013, the consensus is that an average of 2 kids per each classroom in the nation suffers one or multiple food allergies (See: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db10.htm) It is also considered to be a genetic inheritance. Also consider that when something is “on the rise,” it is because we have become better at diagnosing it. Years ago, someone might have said “milk doesn’t sit well with me” and they’d just avoid it. Today, people say “I have a confirmed milk allergy and must avoid it.” So, part of the increasing numbers is due to a more frequent diagnosis.

HOWEVER, what is new, and increasing, is the severity and toxicity of food allergy reactions. Not long ago, it was unheard of to hear of someone dying from ingesting commonly safe food. In the case of my own family history, my Dad had a hard time digesting something, although he doesn’t really know what it was. He said he felt nauseated every day from about age 5 to age 9 and then outgrew it. We will never know what caused his nausea and occasional vomiting, though I’m told he drank milk in abundance. It was also unpasteurized raw milk from the family farm. My maternal Aunt is also mildly lactose intolerant. I ended up with a similar bout of nausea as a kid as my Dad did, but it was off and on. At age 21, my morning cereal was causing me to have heartburn so bad that I could not function. As I told my doctor, “if there were such a thing as digesting razor blades, this would be what it feels like.” So, I was diagnosed with lactose intolerance but still can digest yogurt and cheese. My child had formula and I put him on regular milk as a toddler and he was fine with the exception of severe eczema that I just could not control. His pediatrician told me he would outgrow it, and he did, about the time he started complaining of belly aches at about age 5. It took a while to figure out that he had become allergic to dairy, as well as developing a severe gluten intolerance. He absolutely cannot have a drop of anything dairy or gluten without projectile vomiting for 8 hours straight and suffering severe intestinal damage that takes months to repair.

How did this get to be so severe? I let him play in dirt. I wasn’t super-sanitary. How did this happen?

I am not a scientist, and I only know what the average person knows about genetics, but now I want to learn everything there is to know about it. So much so, that I want to become a dietitian and then go to medical school with a focus on food allergy research. I need to know so much more. I wonder if the food allergy gene is going to be dominant like the brown eyes gene. I wonder if there is a gene therapy that could cure this. I wonder if it is true that food allergies are more prevalent in colder metro areas, and if so, why?

What is clear to me is the fact that we evolve and that we pass things down. So, right now, 1 in 13 children have a food allergy. What does that mean for the next generation? We can only speculate as to what will happen.

What if the children now end up having children with allergies that increase the list from “the 8 common allergens” to “20 common allergens” that cause a severe reaction? And of the 8 common allergens (milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish)  that are harsh/severe in this generation, what of those will become the next life-threateningly sensitive allergen like the peanut allergen is today? Will my grandchildren die if they accidentally ingest milk powder in something that an adult thought “a little will be okay”?

Did you know that there is such a thing as being allergic to water? It’s true. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aquagenic_pruritus

Will we die off way before the supernova because humans become increasingly allergic to the very substance that their body is composed of? Does it sound far-fetched? Maybe, but I’m sure that dying from ingesting peanuts also sounded far-fetched to our great-grandparents.

We can’t deny that it is getting worse. We need a cure now like we needed one for polio.

As for the medical research, there is still a long way to go. So far, they have only been partially successful with exposure therapy and it doesn’t always work. And the children right now are the guinea pigs. As I write this, there are children sitting on doctors’ office beds getting drops of their allergen and waiting to react so that scientists can learn from them. Those children are BRAVE! They really ARE a legacy for the future and don’t even know it.

Tell an adult to sit on a doctors’ office bed and take a few drops of Ipecac each day to try to build a tolerance or immunity to it. I know that, personally, I’d be seriously loathe to do it. I don’t like feeling bad on purpose so that someone can use me as research.

Any advances we make in food allergies now are because of these kids. I like to call them little soldiers, courageously being walked into a medical research office by the hand of their parent, taking proverbial food bullets to help save the next generation. Amazing.

In my opinion, using a child as a test subject is already a serious ethical and moral issue. And if food allergies continue to become more and more severe in the generations to come, it will be criminal to test children.  Give the child a drop of milk and have an epi-pen ready? What if the epi-pen doesn’t work and he/she dies? Just last week, if you haven’t already seen the news article, died last week after three epi-pen doses. See: http://www.cnn.com/2013/07/31/health/california-peanut-allergy-death/index.html?iref=allsearch I am so sad for her parents and cannot imagine the grief they are suffering. My heart goes out to them. I can only hope her life can be honored with a public attitude that aims to take the issue of food allergies more seriously than they do now.

Everyone on this planet needs to start taking this more seriously, not just the ones who suffer. This is why we get upset when previous generations dismiss a food allergy as paranoia culture of my generation. We need to help them understand that we are not trying to be a pain, we are protecting lives. Yes, previous generations outgrew their food intolerances, and yes, those of us in the X Generation outgrew some of it too, but not easily. But now our children are dealing with a level of it for which the world isn’t prepared.

The super bug is something we all worry about, and rightly so, but the food allergy pandemic – the kind that kills, the kind that no epi-pen treatment will cure – could become a reality.

The best way to address this issue right now has to start with a change in public attitude. Everyone needs to know about the new severity and toxicity of food allergies, not just the people who are dealing with it. Teachers, care providers, family and friends all need to know how and why this can’t be taken lightly anymore. Our culture needs to stop dismissing people with food allergies. Even doctors need to start suspecting food allergies more in their diagnostic process when a patient isn’t responding to standard therapies. There has to be an overall acceptance that this is a real problem.

Beyond a fundamental change in public attitude, friends and family can read more information so that they can enter into conversations about food allergies with intelligence instead of an arsenal of myths about it. A great place to go for this information an organization called FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education) at http://www.foodallergy.org. They have articles and webinars that even address the issues of food allergy bullying, a thing that kids do when they sneak an allergen into their allergic classmate’s meal to see what will happen.

I am looking forward to a time when understanding and compassion become more common than skepticism and dismissive attitudes. It is among the most important steps right now to keeping our kids safe.

The good news is that it’s finally being taken seriously by our lawmakers. Yesterday, the FDA mandated that products will have to be tested as being no more than 20 ppm to be claimed as gluten-free. This means that an establishment won’t be able to say a product is gluten-free without being diligent about cross-contamination. More work needs to be done, but it’s good to see that a more helpful and compassionate attitude is going to be required.  http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/08/02/fda-gluten-free-labeling-rules/2610841/

The Easy No-Bake Allergen-Free Cheesecake that You’ve Been Looking For. Almost Perfect. Accepting Challenges.

Foodie Challengers: Can you bring this allergen-free cheesecake to perfection? I developed this today but the filling needs refinement. It needs a creamier texture and stronger “real cheesecake” flavor. For some reason, the flavor weakened significantly during the chill and set process. It tastes like a mild vanilla jello. It’s good on it’s own (maybe for flan?), but otherwise, the crust overpowers it.

As for the crust, it is absolutely perfect and should remain unchanged. It has a really great graham cracker flavor and texture. When I ate a slice of this, the combination of the crust with the strawberries made me feel like I was having a cheesecake experience. It is the closest thing to cheesecake that I’ve had in years.

The filling really needs the most help, it needs a richer texture and deeper flavor. Ready to take on the challenge? Here are the requirements of the challenge:

1. it must use products that you can get from a store (not special ordered online)

2. it must be no-bake. And it must be free of dairy, eggs, soy, corn, peanuts and tree nuts.

So, should a solid fat be added such as earth balance or organic non-hydrogenated palm oil shortening? What about more nutritional yeast for the distinct cheesy flavor? Would a homemade condensed unsweetened milk help? Pureed bananas? Corn-starch-free melted marshmallows? Maybe?  What are your thoughts?

Anyway, if you like a milder, lighter, flan-style filling, you might want to stick with this recipe as is. It’s not bad at all. I had two slices of it and feel happy. But it could be better. And I look forward to hearing what you do with this.

Here’s the recipe:
No-Bake Crust

Coat the bottom of a spring form or cake pan with wax paper or a little oil.

In a food processor, process gluten-free chocolate rice crispy cereal until you have 3 cups of very fine crumbs. The finer, the better.

Then add crumbs to a bowl along with 1/2 cup of maple syrup. Mix until crumbs are all coated and it sticks together. Then press into the bottom of the pan. Cover and refrigerate.

The Cheesecake Filling

Boil 1/2 cup of water.

In a bowl, add 2 envelopes of non-flavored gelatin. Stir the boiling water into the gelatin and stir until dissolved.

Then add 1/2 cup sugar and stir until dissolved.

Add 1 Tbsp nutritional yeast, 1 tsp vanilla, the juice of 1/4 of a lemon and stir.

Then add a pinch of salt and 1 15 oz. can of full fat coconut milk.

Pour into the prepared crust, cover and put in refrigerator to chill for at least 4 hours.

That’s it! What do you think would make the filling richer and creamier?

7 Easy Tips for Entertaining Guests with Food Allergies

cupcake wine1. Don’t Stress Out (aka: Don’t Feel Bad About Accepting Their Offer to Bring Something).

This is the most important thing to your guest with food allergies. Nothing makes them feel worse than causing unnecessary stress to the host. They are happy to be invited and spend time with you. If they offer to bring something, don’t feel bad about accepting that offer.

Also, realize that they will not question their own dish. Your guests might prefer having control and avoiding the awkward feeling of having to ask you what ingredients you have used to make something and if you took steps to avoid cross contamination. (And no joke, they really hate needing to ask). They know how easy it is to miss a hidden wheat ingredient in a broth, or a milk ingredient in hot dogs.  Or, how easy it is to forget old habits where one might accidently prepare gluten-free toast on a pan that still has wheat bread crumbs on it or dip a knife back into the butter that had bread crumbs in it.

So, if you don’t want to think about it, or worry about your menu items or cooking methods, know that your allergenic guest will appreciate you being flexible and allowing them to keep control to avoid a reaction.

2. If You Make an Allergen-Free Recipe, Save the Food Labels for Them.

Your guest will deeply appreciate the extra work you have done to include them in the food part of the celebration.  They may also worry that you may have missed something (see point 1). Do not be offended by this. Your guest has learned a lot about ingredients and what contains hidden allergenic ingredients – the hard and painful way. They have made the mistake of consuming it, suffering the reaction, and doing the detective work to figure out what happened.

Your guest knows that you don’t live like they do. Therefore, they don’t expect you to know that barley malt extract in a wheat-free sauce still has gluten; or that soy sauce is made from wheat; or that those hot dogs have casein milk proteins; or that soy cheese is still made with dairy (to name a few). So, be prepared to tell them how you made it. Not only will they appreciate that you have taken their allergy seriously, they will feel deeply cared for if you set aside the ingredients labels for them to evaluate.

Remember that it’s for their peace of mind. They trust you. They just don’t trust food manufacturers and the ingredients they use to make something that *should* be only what it says it is. Again, they learned the hard way that something wasn’t safe when they thought it was. It’s nothing against you.

3. Plan Ahead, Stick to the Basics and Forgo Buying Special Food Items  

Unless you enjoy learning about food allergies and want to spend an extra hour in the store reading ingredient labels, go take a look in your pantry for things you already have and that are already allergen-free such as beans, rice, potatoes and tuna. Also, look in your freezer for meats and your refrigerator and garden for fresh veggies and herbs. Proteins and starches are the most satisfying menu items at a party. You can easily make and serve deviled eggs (boil eggs, mix the yolks with a little mustard and sweet relish, scoop into the whites and that’s it!).

Here are some more quick ideas:

  • Cook some rice and turn into a beautiful rice salad with fresh minced veggies, fresh herbs, and homemade citrus vinaigrette.
  • Make some tuna salad with a vinaigrette dressing instead of a mayo dressing.
  • Chicken tenders can be coated with oil, dusted with salt, pepper, sage, garlic powder, onion powder and dry mustard, cook in the broiler until done and put in the fridge to get cold. Put them on skewers on a pretty platter with honey mustard and sesame dipping sauces.
  • Roll up slices of Hormel All-Natural Lunchmeat Ham or Turkey and stick a toothpick and an olive in each roll.
  • Cut up some potatoes, and toss them in olive oil, rosemary, salt and pepper and bake at 350 for 40 minutes. Serve warm or turn into a roasted potato salad made with red wine vinaigrette and fresh herbs.
  • You could also roast and season fresh broccoli, mushrooms, eggplant, carrots or red peppers.
  • Offer plain tortilla chips and plain potato chips with salsa and hummus which are usually allergen-friendly.
  • Search the plethora of allergen-free recipes online, add “easy” and “simple” to your search. Also try “Paleo”, “Vegan” and “Raw” as your search terms.

You’ll be surprised that preparing for them can be an easy, stress-free experience.

4. Make a Simple Fruit Dessert Instead of Baking.

When you are not used to allergen-free baking, you will find that it can be a complicated, time consuming and expensive endeavor. While it may be fun to learn and try it, you will invariably have many other tasks on your to do list when preparing for a party. Almost all from-scratch allergy-free baking projects require a learning curve, a few special kinds of flours, leavening agents and binding ingredients that can’t be found at your regular food market.

I’m a bit hesitant to suggest a baking mix for brownies or cookies, but I will go ahead and suggest it, provided you are careful to know if your guest also needs to avoid dairy or eggs or nuts as many baking mixes don’t avoid multiple food allergens. So, if your guest is also allergic to eggs, you will have to figure out the best way to substitute for the eggs following instructions on the mix. My favorite mixes are from Bob’s Red Mill as they are good at helping the baker avoid multiple allergies.

That said, baking, in general, adds a bit of time and stress to your entertaining endeavor. And I’d hate to see you go to all that trouble and find out that your guest still can’t have it because you didn’t know that oats or certain kinds of starches are hard for some celiacs to digest.

My best advice would be to come up with a creative fruit dessert such as:

  • Sorbet or Smoothies made into popsicles
  • Poached pears in a ginger simple syrup
  • Cinnamon baked apples
  • Grilled pineapple slices with cracked-pepper honey
  • Grilled plums with balsamic reduction
  • Strawberries dipped in melted non-dairy chocolate chips such as the Enjoy Life brand.
  • Candy using melted non-diary chocolate chips, dried cherries and sunflower seeds, dropped by spoonfuls onto wax paper which will set when cooled.
  • Raw food websites are also a great place to find easy and creative fruit based desserts.
  • Popcorn balls (if no corn allergy) are great for any party, not just Halloween.
  • Gluten free rice krispie treats using Kellogg’s gluten-free rice krispies, regular marshmallows (if no corn allergy) and Earth Balance dairy-free butter.
  • Cracker Jacks are a great party fun food if no one has a peanut allergy.
  • Swedish Fish, Starburst, Skittles and Smarties are gluten-free and diary-free. (as of this writing, I only know that Smarties are vegan, so check candies for other offending allergies if needed).
  • Homemade vanilla or chocolate pudding made with arrowroot starch and topped with fresh fruit.

Those are just a few ideas, but whatever you do, keep it simple and you’ll save lots of time, money and energy!

5. If You are Going to Prepare Food , Be Very Mindful of Cross-Contamination.  

It would be great if no one had to worry about this but it happens every day that a person with allergies gets sick or is hospitalized due to cross contamination. It might have happened because their safe food was cooked on a pan that had allergens on it, or the cook’s hands weren’t washed after working with wheat flour. There are many ways that cross-contamination can happen. When in doubt, use another pan or get a clean knife or buy another jar of jam that hasn’t been used to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

I know you don’t want extra dirty dishes, or more jam than you need, but what would you rather have, an extra knife to wash or a really sick guest? If extra diligence is needed, you may want to go the extra mile and inform the other guests to avoid bringing peanut butter cookies or anything with tree nuts if your guest is prone to airborne nut proteins threatening their life.

6. Don’t Focus on Their Allergies if They Don’t Want to Talk About it.

This is one you’ll have to feel out.Your allergenic guest thinks about their food allergies almost all day, every day. They need to talk about and think about something else. They want to enjoy your company, listen to your stories, laugh with you and have fun. Some allergy sufferers appreciate the opportunity to educate others on food allergies, especially when they feel heard and not judged as being too careful about it. Being dismissed and treated as if they are “too protective” is a sore spot since they encounter that attitude a lot. If it seems that they don’t want to talk about it, move on to another subject.

Kids who are food allergic can be even more sensitive and don’t want to hear the adults talk about them. Kids worry that their friends will make fun of them (and some do). So, if the kids are within earshot, and you are going to bond about parenting, stick to subjects that apply to all of the kids such as their sports or piano lessons and the challenges of limiting TV and Nintendos.

7. Enjoy the New Entertaining Experience, and Celebrate Life

We live in a time where food allergies can kill the whole person in an instant via anaphylactic shock or via a destruction of intestines over time. People with food allergies may have a life expectancy much shorter than everyone else’s.  So, as the saying goes “Live and Let Live.”

Their allergy might be inconvenient, but it won’t hurt you to help them avoid it. But if they don’t avoid it, it will hurt them. Be patient, understanding, accommodating and celebrate the joy of who they are outside of the food allergy. There are worse things in life than food allergies but do treat it like a digestive disability, because it is. They may look good on the outside but they hurt on the inside.  And I dare say, it’s even a social disability because of the lack of ability to participate in so many social food events. Continue to be understanding.

And from the bottom of my heart, thank you for reading, sharing, helping and supporting organizations that research cures for food allergies. Wonderful people like you are the ones that make the world a better place to live.

Chickpea Chocolate Chip Cookies

Chickpea Choc Chip Cookies

These cookies are totally free of peanuts, nuts, eggs, gluten, wheat, and dairy.

Why the chickpeas? I ran out of shortening and earth balance but had everything else to make chocolate chip cookies. I really wanted to experiment with an egg-free cookie recipe. But without the fat, I was a little stumped. Could I still do it? Most recipes call for so much of said fat, really, the fat only does two things: add volume and softness. I remembered seeing some posts in my Facebook feed from raw food pages about making chocolate chip cookies using chickpeas. So, I thought I’d try pureed chickpeas and canola oil to replace the fat and 1/4 cup of applesauce to replace the eggs.

After deciding on these replacements, and consulting volume of ingredients from two cookbooks, this is what I came up with: a thick, cake-like chocolate chip cookie that, when paired with a tall glass of non-dairy milk, makes for a very comforting treat. The family raved.

I made these very large because I knew my son would get a kick out it. But you can use this recipe for any size and thickness that you want since these don’t spread out at all like the traditional wheat and butter cookie.

Ultimately, there are five really great things about this recipe: 1. They taste great, just like traditional chocolate chip cookies (my fiance did not know I used chickpeas until I told him). 2. They are totally free of the eight most common food allergens. If there is a legume allergy, use silken tofu instead of chickpeas (do not use tofu if there is a soy allergy) 3. You can eat this raw without worry of salmonella poisoning from eggs. Idea: Stir the dough into your favorite ice cream! (Oh yum) 4. You have the benefit of having total control over the size, shape and thickness of these cookies. 5. You don’t have to buy  expensive fats such as shortening, earth balance or peanut butter, and thus a bit more economical.

So, here is the recipe. Enjoy!

Chickpea Chocolate Chip Cookies

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and grease two large cookie sheets.

In a small food processor, add:

1 15-oz can of chickpeas (garbanzo beans), rinsed and drained.

1/4 cup of unsweetened applesauce

1/4 cup of canola oil

2 teaspoons of vanilla

Blend until mixture is very smooth and set aside.

In a large bowl, mix together these dry ingredients:

2 cups of your favorite gluten-free flour blend

1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum (if your flour blend does not have it)

1/2 teaspoon of salt

1 teaspoon of baking soda

1/2 cup of dark brown sugar

1/2 cup of granulated sugar

Stir together the dry ingredients and then add the chickpea puree. Stir and then you may have to use your very clean hands to squeeze and mix the dough until it all comes together.

Add 1 cup of Enjoy Life or other non-dairy chocolate chips and mix.

Shape cookies and flatten to about 1/4 inch thick. Bake on a rack that is closer to the top as these cookies brown quickly on the bottom. Bake for 11-15 minutes depending on the size and thickness of the cookie. They are done when the edges are golden brown. If you want the tops of the cookies a deeper brown color, finish them under the broiler for just one minute.

Serve warm with a tall glass of cold rice, hemp, soy or other favorite non-dairy milk.

Fried Green Tomatoes

Fried Green TomatoesConsidered a Southern dish, it really doesn’t matter where you are from to enjoy this. Pluck some green tomatoes from your garden, fry these and it’s like having mild fried pickles with a fork. Oh, it’s so good. Not everyone likes these, but if you are looking for an allergen-free version, this is it.

Note that these are usually made with cornmeal, but the rice flour in your standard gluten free baking mix will add the sought after grainy texture.

How to make:

In a deep plate or dish, add 1/2 cup GF flour mix, salt, pepper and 1 teaspoon of onion powder.

In a large skillet, fry bacon and set aside the bacon

If necessary, add enough canola oil to the bacon grease to bring the oil up to about 1/4 inch of your slices of tomatoes.

Slice your green tomatoes in 1/2 thick slices and lightly coat each side with the flour mixture.

Gently set into the hot oil and don’t move it. Let it fry on a medium heat for about 5-7 minutes, or until golden brown. Flip and cook the same way on the other side.

Remove from skillet and keep warm in the oven if you like.

If you want to add a sauce, I recommend mixing 1 cup of mayo or veganaise with salt, pepper, onion powder, a little mustard, a dash of apple cider vinegar or louisiana hot sauce (or your favorite hot pepper sauce).

It’s that easy. Enjoy!

Delicious Pancakes

Behold. These are the ones. The pancakes. The IHOP/Waffle House/Jersey Hometown Diner (or whatever happens to be your definition of) oh-my-god delicious pancakes.

So far, the pancakes I have been making have not been worth really talking about on here, except the flourless banana pancakes, which taste more like bananas foster, than anything else. And I posted them for novelty sake. Some like them, some do not. We do. But still, they are not actual flour pancakes.

So, out of some frustration with being too broke to go to the store for the Bob’s Red Mill Pancake Mix (which is what I usually use), I decided to adapt my gluten free flour mix to a recipe in my Fannie Farmer cookbook. I adapted it even further to use oil to save on the cost. And these were born.

Surprisingly spectacular.

Here’s what the wheat eater in my household had to say about them: “Wow, I cannot tell at all that these are gluten free. And they have that nice eggy, fluffy, tender texture, like the pancakes you would get at a really good diner.”

WIN!

So, here they are

Make this GF Flour Mix: 6 cups brown rice flour, 2 and 2/3 cup potato starch, 2/3 cup tapioca flour, 2/3 cup sweet rice flour.  Mix all together and put in a large ziplock bag. (If you can’t find sweet rice flour, you can substitute it with more tapioca starch. If you do that, I cannot guarantee this recipe).

For the Pancakes:

Use 2 cups of the GF Flour Mix for this recipe and store the rest for other baking recipes.

1 and 1/2 teaspoons of xanthan gum

4 teaspoons of baking powder

4 Tablespoons of sugar

1 teaspoon of salt

Mix the dry ingredients well with a whisk.

In another bowl add:

2 eggs

4 Tablespoons of Canola or Vegetable Oil

2 cups of unsweetened almond or unsweetened hemp milk (Note: these milks have a creamier texture and are great for baking. I’m not sure how rice milk would come out. In my opinion, rice milk is so watery that there is no difference in baking with rice milk vs. water. So, I just use water instead of wasting my rice milk if all that I have on hand is rice milk. My recipes have come out fine that way).

Whisk the wet ingredients together. Then mix the wet and dry ingredients together with a wooden spoon. Add more almond or hemp milk (or water) if the mixture is too dense. It should be very pour able, like cake batter.

Then, make the pancakes how you would normally make them. If you are just learning how to make pancakes, see instructions below. Serve with a pat of Earth Balance spread and your favorite maple syrup (make sure it is free of caramel color. Caramel color in pancake syrup doesn’t seem to bother my son. But if it bothers you, use a mixture of light corn syrup and molasses to make an inexpensive syrup).

How to Make Pancakes:

Set your oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. (For keeping cooked pancakes warm).

Heat a large non-skillet skillet over medium high heat and, depending on the size pancakes you like, scoop 1/4 or 1/2 cup fulls of batter into the pan. Cook about 5-7 minutes or until dry looking around edges and you see bubbles throughout the pancakes and then flip over. Cook another 5-7 minutes, or until golden brown and cooked through.

Transfer pancakes to a plate in the the warm oven while you are making the 2nd and 3rd batch.

For the pancakes you have not eaten, put them in a large zip lock bag and put them in your freezer for up to 3 months.

Reheat 1-2 pancakes as you need them.

Reheating instructions for microwaves:

Put 2 pancakes on an oven safe plate and cover with an almost sopping wet paper towel (this steams the pancakes and keeps them from drying out). Cook on high for 1-2 minutes until heated through.

Reheating instructions for people like me, who have broken microwaves and can’t afford another one:

Set your oven to 350 degrees Farenheit. Put your desired number of pancakes on a cookie sheet. Cover with about 2-3 sopping wet paper towels to keep them from drying out. Heat for about 5 minutes or until heated through.

I Have an All-American Food Dream

ImageI am not working twenty thousand hours a day now, thanks to the support of my sweetest and most wonderful love of my life. He is my partner in life, the one who encourages me and celebrates and supports who I am. I hope he feels equally supported and loved for who he is. I am so lucky and thankful. Together, we decided that I should quit my job and focus on building a better future for my son and his generation.

To start, we’ll begin the actions necessary to eventually build a restaurant that serves him and his friends where, according to a recent interview on NPR of a doctor in the depths of studying food allergies says, 1 in 13 of the kids, in the here and now, suffer from 1 or more of the 8 common food allergens. That is at least 1-3 kids per classroom across the entire nation that can’t enjoy a meal with their friends. I don’t know about the globe, but the numbers for the US are pretty stark. Here is the article/radio interview if you’re interested: http://www.npr.org/2013/04/15/177319365/the-doctor-trying-to-solve-the-mystery-of-food-allergies

Reading that, coupled with my experience in trying to live with my kid’s diet as a working adult (and failing miserably because I had a choice to stop eating gluten free and dairy free – see the previous article A Walk in My Kid’s Shoes) made me realize that the need for a restaurant for people with food allergies is very VERY high. Especially restaurants that treat the elimination of gluten and other allergens as a serious thing and not a food fad where cross-contamination is not a concern. And I want the food to taste damn good so that people who can eat anything, go because it’s good. It’s just that they no longer have to exclude people with food allergies.

What I want: good food – safe for everyone. Period. Where kids can gather together and have a birthday party and no parent has to have a special long talk with the wait staff and worry about cross-contamination in the kitchen (and embarrass their kid in the process). And where, after a nice meal, no child has to then suffer 6-8 hours of vomiting in the middle of the night (like my son recently did when we bought bacon from a butcher that also uses the same surfaces to prepare sausage with milk and wheat powders).

My dream is to build a place that has brand new kitchen equipment that never ever comes in contact with wheat, diary, eggs, soy, corn, nuts, peanuts, fish or shellfish. Where a whole class of kids can order a hamburger WITH a bun, french fries, a homemade soda and apple pie with ice cream. Or a milkshake if they want. Or maybe they want cookies or a banana split or a strawberry sundae or chicken fingers with fun dipping sauces. It’s my All American Food Dream. Imagine, families going out on the town and their allergy kid can have a hot dog and some ice cream. Simple as that.

And yes, I’m talking about this restaurant dream. I don’t care how many people know my dream or steal my idea because the more restaurants that are out there serving my son and his friends, the happier this world will be. It would be like trying to hide the idea of putting wheelchair access in my own building and not wanting wheelchair access in other buildings. I want my son to go out to eat everywhere, to try different foods, to try different chefs’ take on favorite cuisines. Why wouldn’t I want everyone I know to make a restaurant that is safe? Whether the bandwagon has started or not. I’ll be the one of the first ones on it.

Already, I’ve been questioned by people as to whether or not this is actually a good idea. But that’s normal. And understandably, allergy foods are not known for being good and tasty, which is pretty sad. All good ideas need some scrutiny and I welcome that. It is also a challenge and a warning to me: the food better be damn good from first sale to last. I also see it as a teaching opportunity to help others’ understand that food allergies are a really horrible horrible thing to live with and that I’m up to this challenge. Food allergies are exclusionary in so many ways, not just in not being able to partake but also in having to offer low-quality food. It doesn’t seem like a big deal to the outsider, but when you’re inside the food allergy circle, a whole world of living gets cut off and you’re stuck with sucky food or nothing. You can go places, but eating places you can’t go. Your class can have cupcakes but your teacher has to pat you on your back and feel sorry for you while you stand and watch your friends eat cupcakes, trying to hold in your 7 year old tears because you’re trying to be a big boy and not cry about not getting a cupcake in front of all of your friends. (Btw, I had no idea that cupcakes were being served so often until my son told me earlier today). So, yeah, I’m up to this challenge. My son’s cupcakes will be safe and better then theirs! And then all his friends will be going “Dude!! When are you going to bring those cupcakes that are way better than the crappy cupcakes from Kroger?”

I mean.. because…Right ON! Right?

I’m not even the one suffering and I’m tired of living with food allergies. I’m tired of packing a bag of the same ol’ things my son can eat. He’s tired of eating the same ol’ things. I’m tired of worrying about cross-contamination and deciding against taking him out to eat when I’d love for him to sit in an Italian restaurant and dip into a basket of breadsticks and appetizers and relish new foods with us. I’m tired of driving by Krispy Kremes and Dunkin Doughnuts and Pizzerias and Cafes and Bakeries and all sorts of fun restaurants because it’s just not worth it to try to find a safe thing off the menu or to get a foreign worker to understand the importance of disclosing whether the rice is made with butter. I’m tired of cutting off our weekend outings to go home to eat. I’m tired of saying no to him when I’d rather say yes.

So, to start… serving the kids who want to have an ice cream float with wait staff that sings happy birthday to them? It’s going to be priceless. And then when they start dating (it’s not that far off!)…Image…those same kids who will eventually become high-school/college aged and will want to start dating without having to drop off their date early to go spend the night throwing up (because, you know how teens suffer themselves to impress a date). And then those kids will then grow up to have lunch with colleagues and co-workers and not want to call attention to their digestive disability. Giving them the world we non-food-sufferers now enjoy is going to be priceless for them. Not to mention the many, other, various situations that call for socializing over food.

As the saying goes, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” I am a mother. That’s my son! It’s invention time.

Will there be challenges? Oh heck yes! How the hell am I going to come up with a hamburger bun that has no eggs, almond milk, corn leavener or soy flour that is way better than Udi’s? It’s not going to be easy. No offense to Udi’s, I’m glad they exist, but their give shit level, as with so many other gluten-free companies, is pretty low. Because 1. the hamburger buns are too small and 2. Six damn dollars?!  for 4 tiny ass rolls? C’mon. Throw us a bone, Udi’s and help us feel a “little” normal. Like, give me 8 rolls for the money. Seriously!

Ugh, I hate the allergy food companies treat allergy sufferers like crap with the smaller portions and sizes and charge two or three times the price as conventional… with a quality that is “ok” at best.

But I digress. This is all so unfair. The solutions is needed RIGHT. THE HELL. NOW. Food companies, environmental dumpings, bad air… I don’t know… whatever it is that has effed up our food supply so bad…all these kids’ bodies see them as toxins…it is a problem that isn’t going to go away or be solved anytime in the near future.

Our kids need us. They need our help and they need to be empowered to change the Imageworld, one menu at a time. Though it would be a long shot, it would be a great social lesson: that screwing with a global food supply (GMO, pesticides, etc.) does not increase profits but eventually decreases it to nothingness by rendering a whole society unable to digest the effed-with food items. How about those future profits now, Monsanto assholes?

Yeah, so screw them. I don’t want a single speck of their effed-up wheat dust to even enter the air vents of my future restaurant.

I don’t know if GMO foods can be linked (with any certainty) to my son and his generation’s food allergies but I think it’s safe to say that experimenting with GMO foods and using a whole population as guinea pigs is a really asshole fucked up thing to do. It is unethical and the results might be disastrous. The only power we have is to adjust our diet. The scary part of this is that if all of our food gets messed with, at what point will the entire human species see all food as toxic? It’s a scary thought and my son’s generation is bearing the first brunt of it. I’m mad as hell about it. And even though I can tolerate wheat, diary, etc., I’ll eat alongside my son and not give one red cent to the ones screwing with our food.

To my kid I say, “C’mon kiddo, to HECK with those freak foods – let’s make those hamburgers and milkshakes happen – OUR way! And BETTER, too!”

I’m mad. And it’s only going to get worse. Who’s with me?