An allergen friendly wedding to remember…

This past weekend my niece got married to a wonderful guy. I am happy for her and it was great to have shared in her special day. I was also so thankful for the attention to detail when it came to handling food allergies and the dinner. My niece has been a nanny for years and is very well versed in the subject of food allergies, especially because many of the children she has babysat for over the years have severe food allergies. It was her hope that none of the children who attended the wedding felt excluded, and that they were served in the same way as everyone else.

Prior to dinner being served the catering manager went to every single table to ask about food allergies and intolerances. He was familiar with all the ingredients of the food being served and could quickly tell if there would be a problem.¬†For instance, we were told right away that the bread would be unsuitable because they couldn’t verify all the ingredients in the bread. Everything went smoothy, and for that I was truly grateful. Of course, I still watched John like a hawk for the first few bites.

Since¬†the bride couldn’t guarantee the cake would be allergen friendly I¬†was asked to make¬†an assortment of cookies and bars for the¬†“sweets” table.¬†Several other children¬†at the wedding had various allergies so it was great to see ALL the children enjoy¬†the¬†sweet treats.¬†It was definitely “an affair to remember”…

Hope you all enjoyed the long weekend!

Super Easy Dairy, Egg and Nut Free Pumpkin Pie

Yes, Thanksgiving was yesterday, but our Pumpkin Pies are already gone. This pumpkin pie recipe was a hit, especially with my 8 year old NON allergic daughter. You’ll probably be asked to make pumpkin pie again before the holiday season is over. I’ll probably make another one today to go with all my other leftovers!

Here is the recipe that won them all over:

DAIRY, EGG AND NUT FREE PUMPKIN PIE

 

Thanksgiving wouldn’t be complete with a creamy pumpkin pie. This version is lighter than traditional versions made with evaporated milk and eggs. If you are short on time and want to use a store bought crust, Pillsbury brand will do. It doesn’t contain any dairy or eggs.

 

¬Ĺ recipe Best Pie Dough for 9 inch pie

1 ¬Ĺ c. silken tofu, whipped in blender until creamy

¬ĺ c. packed light brown sugar

¬Ĺ tsp. good quality vanilla extract

¬Ĺ tsp. salt

1 tsp. cinnamon

¬Ĺ tsp. ground ginger

¬Ĺ tsp. ground nutmeg

¬ľ tsp. ground cloves

1 15 oz. can pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)

 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Fit chilled pie dough into 9 inch pie plate and trim dough to form a rim. Crimp with fingertips. Line dough with aluminum foil and fill with pie weights. Bake until crust is very light brown, about 15 minutes.

 

Increase oven temperature to 425 degrees. In the large bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment combine ¬Ĺ c. whipped tofu, brown sugar, vanilla, salt, spices and canned pumpkin ¬†Add remaining 1 c. whipped tofu and beat well. Pour mixture into prepared pie plate and bake 15 minutes. Decrease temperature to 350 degrees and bake another 50-60 minutes or until set. Cool to room temperature on wire rack, then refrigerate.

 

BEST PIE DOUGH

 

¬ĺ c. cold dairy free shortening (buy in stick form, and cut into small pieces)

1/2 tsp. salt

2 c. all purpose flour

4-5 T. ice cold water

 

Combine flour and salt in a food processor. Add chunks of shortening and pulse a few times until mixture is crumbly. Add water one tablespoon at a time, pulsing until dough just comes together. Transfer mixture onto floured board, and divide into two disks. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least an hour or frozen up until one month.

Happy Thanksgiving!

It’s the day before Thanksgiving and for the second time, I am making the¬†Turkey Day dinner at my house. In years past my husband and I travelled to my sister in law’s house for dinner. But because the meal isn’t allergen friendly John was never able to eat the meal. When he was younger, around 2 or 3 years old, it worked out fine as all he ever wanted was Tyson Chicken Nuggets anyway. I brought my little lunch bag with his Thanksgiving dinner: chicken nuggets, apple slices and plain pasta. He was happy and it was easy.

Now John is in first grade and it isn’t so easy anymore to pack him with an alternative meal at family gatherings. He feels left out and excluded. He truly gets the fact that his food allergies separates him from other children. He feels different. Most of the time he is awesome at accepting the body that has been given to him, but sometimes he doesn’t. Food has become a source of fear and the feeling of exclusion, despite all our best efforts to make our house completely allergen friendly. I never make separate meals (with four kids under 8, I probably wouldn’t anyway even if there weren’t allergy issues). We don’t order in pizza, I never make my signature lasagna anymore and I can’t remember the last time I popped an Easy Mac in the microwave for a quick lunch. Our lives have changed and we are happy with it. It hasn’t been that hard, really, it is only hard when my son feels the burden of his allergy.

Thanksgiving dinner used to be one of those times where John felt different. The holiday is all about the meal, and time shared with friends and family. Without the sharing of the Turkey Day meal for the child with food allergies, there is something inevitably missed. Last year was the first year we stayed home and I¬†cooked for just the six of us. It was amazing and wonderful and reminded me of why my mother considered Thanksgiving her favorite holiday. My kids pulled up chairs to the stove top to watch the cranberries pop, they delighted in seeing the “Big Bird” go into the oven, they helped chop celery and tear bread for the stuffing, and even shared the dairy free pumpkin pie. John always wondered by Woodstock loved eating that last pumpkin pie piece in the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving cartoon…now he knows.

Food allergies don’t have to prevent our children from enjoying and creating memories in the kitchen. These are the memories that last a lifetime. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!

Food Roulette: An investigation into the threat of mislabeling allergens

http://www.chicagotribune.com/features/lifestyle/health/chi-081120-allergens-tribune-investigation,0,506031.story

The above story is in today’s Chicago Tribune. It is an investigation into the threat our food allergic children face due to mislabeled products or unrecalled food. It also has compiled an unprecedented database of nearly 3,000 recalls related to food allergens: www.chicagotribune.com/allergy .

My own son John suffered two severe reactions in the past 6 years from products that didn’t have milk declared in the label (one reaction was before the food labeling law went into effect). I learned from FAAN months later¬†that the Duncan Hines Cake Mix we used changed their product and now had milk in it. The other reaction was undeclared milk in prepackaged ham lunch meat. I wrote letters, reported the reaction but nothing ever came out of it. Based on the Tribune article, I guess I wasn’t alone¬†in this occurance.

On behalf of anyone who has a child with life threatening food allergies, I am so grateful this story was told. But it also makes me uneasy, because it serves as a reminder we can’t completely trust the food manufacturers to be honest with us. Our children’s lives and safety lay in their hands, and at the hands of the FDA and USDA.¬†As the article notes, the system¬†is flawed, and it leaves¬†all of us vulnerable to the possiblity of a life threatening reaction.¬†

Prior to today I have let John order¬†two¬†types of food in¬†his school cafeteria,¬†because¬†on those mornings I walk into the¬†kitchen, talk with the chef and check the product’s original packaging.¬†This article proves what I have long suspected, no prepackaged food¬†is completely safe because¬†there can be issues with cross contmination and mislabeled ingredients. Needless to say, I will think twice about letting John eat¬†the cafeteria’s food again.

The¬†whole reason why I started baking and writing my¬†dairy, egg and nut free cookbook¬†is because¬†after the Duncan Hines incident I¬†doubted the reliability of prepackaged products’ labels. Even after the¬†Food Labeling Law went into effect I still had doubts.¬†Making a cake from¬†a mix that could be contaninated¬†with¬†allergens wasn’t worth the risk.¬†

The time is now to make these giant food manufacturers, as well as our government, accountable for keeping our children safe. If not, I am sure we will see more deaths from food reactions than the 100-200 we see annually now. Even one death as a result from food is one too many.

Thanksgiving Class Party Ideas and Recipes

Thanksgiving is a week away, but my children’s parties are tomorrow. Ever since my son was in preschool I have always volunteered to be responsible for the “treats” for most class parties. This year is no different and for John’s First Grade Progressive Party at school I have prepared a few treats that fit the theme of the Thanksgiving table:

Pumpkin Bread Slices: See my recipe for for Pumpkin Bread. Cut into smaller bite size pieces for little hands.

Cranberry Orange Muffins: See recipe below

Corn Muffins: See recipe below

Allergen Free Turkey Trail Mix: My kids mix up this “Turkey Trail Mix” from bowls of Raisins, Dried Cranberries, Mini Pretzels, Dairy Free Mini Chocolate Chips, Kix Cereal, Marshmallows. Feel free to add to or omit according to your own preferences.

Fresh Clementine and Apple Slices: Place peeled Clementine and Apple slices in a pretty little dish. Perfect for little hands, no peeling required!

It is a festive, beautiful and relatively healthy assortment of baked treats and fruit. Try a few for your own little turkey’s class parties!¬†Here are my Cranberry Orange and Corn Muffins….they’re super easy to handmix in a bowl with your kids.

CRANBERRY ORANGE MUFFINS

 

1/3 c. vegetable oil

¬ĺ c. soy or rice milk

1 T. water

1 ¬ĺ c. all purpose flour

¬Ĺ c. granulated sugar, divided

2 ¬Ĺ tsp. baking powder

¬ĺ tsp. salt

1 c. fresh cranberries, roughly chopped

Grated zest from 1 orange

 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and generously spray 12 cup muffin pan with dairy free baking spray, set aside.

 

In a large bowl mix vegetable oil, soy milk and water with a wire whisk. In a separate medium bowl combine flour, ¬ľ c. granulated sugar, baking powder and salt with a wire whisk. Add flour mixture to vegetable oil mixture and stir with a rubber spatula until just combined; do not over mix.

 

In a small bowl combine cranberries, remaining ¬ľ c. sugar and orange zest, fold into batter. Pour batter into prepared muffin cups, filling 2/3 of the way full. Bake 15-20 minutes or until lightly browned and cake tester comes out clean.

 

EASY CORN MUFFINS

 

3 T. vegetable oil

1 c. soy or rice milk

1 T. water

1 c. all purpose flour

1 c. yellow cornmeal

2 T. granulated sugar

3 tsp. baking powder

¬Ĺ tsp. salt

 

Preheat oven to 425 degrees and generously spray 12 muffin pan with dairy free baking spray, set aside.

 

In a large bowl combine vegetable oil, soy milk and water with a wire whisk. In a separate medium bowl combine flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and salt with a wire whisk. Add to vegetable oil mixture and stir with a rubber spatula until just combined.

 

Pour batter into prepared muffin cups, filling 2/3 of the way full. Bake 15-18 minutes or until lightly browned and cake tester comes out clean.

Thanksgiving recipes…

Thanksgiving was always¬†my mom’s favorite holiday, and now that I have children of my own I can see why. The holiday is all about giving thanks, sharing blessings and enjoying a wonderful meal¬†together. The time together is so important for the kids to build memories and feel connected. Now that my own mother is no longer with us, Thanksgiving is even more important to me as it reminds me of my mom and how much she enjoyed cooking the turkey dinner. She relished getting up at 5 am to put the turkey in the oven (why on Earth did our mothers get up at that hour to put the bird in the oven??), making an apple and pumpkin pie the Wednesday before, and letting her five children watch the cranberries pop on the stove top.

Though I don’t put my bird in the oven THAT early, I still make my pies the Wednesday before and let the little turkeys pull up a chair to the stove top to watch all those cranberries pop their magic. I also love cranberries in muffins, breads, oatmeal, the list goes on. My kids have learned to love cranberries as much as me, and they love the sweet tang of this quick bread recipe. I will have more to share as the week goes on. Enjoy!

CRANBERRY ORANGE BREAD

2 T. water

1 stick dairy free margarine, melted

2 c. orange juice

1 c. water

Grated zest of 1 orange

5 c. flour

2 ¬Ĺ c. sugar

3 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda

2 tsp. salt

1 1/2 c. whole cranberries, fresh or frozen

 

Preheat oven to 325 degrees and spray two  9 inch loaf pans with dairy free cooking spray.  Set aside.

 

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment combine 1 c. plus 2 T. water, melted margarine and orange juice. In a medium bowl combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt with a wire whisk.

 

Make a well in the center of dry ingredients and pour in the wet mixture. Stir just until moist. Fold in the cranberries and pour into the prepared pans. Bake 50-60 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean.

Field Trips and EpiPens

I think I can safely say that as parents of food allergic children, it takes a certain amount of letting go and trust when it comes to school, parties, playdates and field trips. My first grader, who is severely allergic to dairy, peanuts, tree nuts and legumes (as well as asthmatic) is pretty well versed on how to keep himself safe in food situations. I say situations, because for these kids, it is something they always have to be on guard for and be able to self advocate. Which brings me to a concerning issue that was recently brought to my attention.

Several weeks ago my son attend a field trip to the zoo. His teacher, who is trained on how to use epipens and what symptoms to watch for should he have an allergic reaction , was not assigned to his group; another parent chaperone was. She had no medicine kit on her, and didn’t even know she had a child with severe food allergies in her group. Furthermore, the children were offered cheese crackers as a snack. Thankfully my first grader politely declined and said he was allergic to cheese. My immediate concern was, what if the cracker seemed safe, but still had milk ingredients in it, or even nut ingredients? In a large zoo, where the classes were spread out, what would have happened if someone couldn’t find his teacher in time, to get the medicine kit to him? All that valuable time would have been lost, and if a reaction had occurred, it could have cost him his life.

Case in point number two: On yet another field trip to a botanical garden just two weeks later, another parent chaperone who is familiar with my son’s allergies let me know that children were opening peanut butter sandwhiches left and right during the picnic lunch time…right next to my son. I have always been the first to say that it is probably unrealistic to ban specific foods in the cafeteria at school, but field trips are different. The environment is¬†unpredictable, usually more close knit and not as closely monitored by school staff. Also, all those brown lunch bags are not always sealed tight, and are stacked on each other during transit on the bus. I firmly believe that peanut butter, especially because it is an airborne allergen, should be eliminated from school field trips.

These are just two recent situations that we lucked out on. What bothers me is that mistakes can and do happen. And we’re trusting other people to keep our small children safe. It is a hard pill to swallow sometimes.

The Best Chocolate Chip Cookie You’ll Ever Have

I’m back, whew. Sorry for the delay in getting this site back up and running. Technical problems combined with a couple of crazy weeks caused me to not post as often as I’d like. But now that we’re back on track I am excited to share one of my all time favorite cookie recipes…the chocolate chip.

I have four kids, and if you are a parent you know that chocolate chip is the true standby cookie. I have my jar stocked with these delicious¬†cookies most days of the week. They’re easy to make and taste like the real deal. Moms of food allergic children know that most treats don’t always taste like others made with full butter, cream or eggs. My search for the best chocolate chip cookie ultimately failed; nothing measured up to a “typical” tasting cookie. I soon realized that I had to create one that satisfied all my favorite traits in a cookie. It had to be decadent, slightly chewy, perfectly shaped and aesthetically pleasing to the senses. I worked on this recipe alone for two months. But when I finally came up with the right ingredients and measurements it was obvious I had found what I was looking for… The Best DAIRY, EGG and NUT Free Chocolate Chip Cookie I have ever tasted.

My taste testers are not only my children, but the children on my block who have a keen sense of what’s yummy and what’s not. These always are a hit with them. Food allergies can be isolating for the child who suffers them. But creating a delicious and successful recipe that ALL children can share and enjoy together is the best treat of all. Enjoy.

THE BEST CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIE

2/3 c. dairy free shortening

1/2 c. brown sugar

1/2 c. granulated sugar

1 tsp. good quality vanilla extract

1/4 c. unsweetened applesauce

1 3/4 c. all purpose flour

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1 c. mini dairy free chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment combine the shortening, brown sugar, granulated sugar, vanilla and applesauce. In a separate medium bowl combine the flour, baking soda and salt with a wire whisk. Add to shortening mixture and combine until creamy. Stir in chocolate chips and drop with a cookie scooper onto prepared baking sheet.

Bake 12-14 minutes or until lightly brown. Cool slightly on baking sheet and serve!