Now for something completely different…

Sorry for the song lyric reference (does anyone know Funkoar anyway?) but it was the only thing I could think of when starting this post. For the first time ever, I’m going to post our family’s favorite dinner recipe. I posted on my Facebook today that my children’s all-time favorite Bolognese sauce was simmering on the stove, and would be waiting for them when all the soccer carpools, cross country meets and after school play dates were over. My friends requested the recipe, which by the way, is VERY easy and has no dairy. I immediately thought of all of you, and wanted to share this recipe with all my blog readers too. So many of you have written to me asking for dinner ideas, and here is one that my children LOVE. All credit goes to my wonderful mother-in-law; it is her family’s special recipe that her grandfather in Italy used to make for his family. She raised five boys who still love this meat sauce today and she makes it every year for Christmas Eve (with homemade Ravioli but that actually is a lot more work).

Here’s what I love about her recipe: it only takes about 10-15 minutes to chop and saute the very basic ingredients, then it just sits on the stove and simmers for about four hours or more. Don’t be alarmed by this; if you must leave your house to run through the carpool line for school or sports, simply turn off the burner and just start it up again when you return (just don’t leave for hours at a time with the burner turned off). I love this sauce because I spend just a few minutes after kindergarten drop off to get it going, and then it cooks itself. All I have to do at 5 o’clock is boil some pasta.

If you are familiar with the traditional versions of Bolognese meat sauces, you probably know it is made with white wine and whole milk. Long before I had children I used to make this  version, and will admit it was time consuming. But my mother-in-law’s recipe doesn’t bother with any of that, and just uses good ingredients with a punch of cinnamon to give the sauce the right spice. In fact, cinnamon and cloves are often used in traditional Italian recipes. As you know, any recipe with cinnamon is a recipe I LOVE. One more thing I love about this recipe is it freezes very well, and I always make double batches to freeze.

Don’t worry, I’ll still post my favorite baking recipes, but figured you all would appreciate a Dairy Free Bolognese sauce that simply ROCKS!!! Enjoy!

Grandma Rudnicki’s Bolognese (Meat) Sauce

1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil

2 stalks celery, chopped

2 carrots, peeled and chopped

1 medium onion, diced

2 large garlic cloves, minced

2 T. fresh parsley leaves (or 1 T. dried)

1 lb. ground pork

1 lb. ground beef (I love ground chuck but if you want one lower in fat, ground sirloin is fine)

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 T. kosher salt

Freshly ground pepper

1 small 6 oz. can tomato paste, mixed with 6 c. water in a large bowl (I use a whisk to mix together)

Heat a large heavy pot (I use a dutch oven) and pour in olive oil. Once hot, add celery, carrots, and onion. Saute five minutes or until translucent. Add garlic and parsley, saute for 2 minutes. Add ground meats and break up with a wooden spoon, cooking until meat is no longer pink, about 6-8 minutes. Once cooked, add the cinnamon, salt and pepper.

Add the tomato paste and water mixture to the meat mixture. Bring to a simmer and simmer on low for at least four hours, skimming fat off top with a ladle as necessary. Sauce should be quite thick, but if you find it is drying out too quickly, add a tablespoon or two of water to thin it out.

Serve over pasta or freeze!

Families living with food allergies walk to find a cure…

Today was FAAN’s annual Walk for Food Allergy in Chicago’s beautiful Lincoln Park. It was a gorgeous, sunny day with nearly perfect fall temperatures. But the most beautiful sight to see were all the families living with food allergies coming together to raise money for food allergy research and awareness. My family walked the lakefront with hundreds of other moms, dads, grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends of children who suffer from food allergy. For one day only, we were able to gather with all these incredible families to give hugs, share stories and celebrate how far we’ve come.

I met so many of you, my incredible blog readers. You truly lift my spirit and inspire me with your stories. I met many amazing children, big and small, who have learned to live with their food allergies with such grace and courage. Their huge smiles spoke volumes to me, and can see they believe a cure will indeed be found someday.

Cybele Pascal, author of the bestselling books The Allergen Free Bakers’ Handbook and Whole Foods Cookbook flew in from sunny California to emcee and act as Honorary Chair. I wish all of you could meet her. She’s truly one of the coolest people you’ll ever meet, and has done so much in spreading the word about food allergies and creating yummy recipes for so many families. Every time I meet her I wish I had more time to hang out with her! So many other fantastic ladies who work tirelessly in helping promote food allergy awareness were honored; Denise Bunning, Mary Lenahan, Anne Thompson, Kristin Miller, Christine Szychlinski, Kellee Konieczny, as well as Child Ambassadors Alex Simko and Andrew Thompson.

Two other food allergy mamas I got to hang with for a bit; Joyce Davis, the mom who started the FB page and petition to bring a peanut free game to Wrigley Field and Jenny Kales from The Nut Free Mom Blog. These are two of the nicest food allergy mamas I know, and always love running into them. Kim Holstein, co-owner and Chief Inspiration Officer of Kim & Scott’s Pretzels was handing out her signature dairy, egg and nut free delicious pretzels. Kim is a very dear friend of mine, and know how committed she is to providing safe pretzels to families with food allergies. Kim and Scott celebrated FAAN Day at their super chic Cafe Twist in Lincoln Park; 10 percent of sales today were donated to FAAN.She’s always the first to ask “How can I help?” and even though she’s a busy mama of three kids, is always there to give back to her fans. LOVE Kim and Scott, and am always inspired by their generosity.

But can you believe that John actually suffered a minor reaction while at the walk? I know I shouldn’t laugh, but I couldn’t help but think that there wasn’t a safer place for him to be while having a reaction then in that park. Hundreds of epipens were on hand. But a little Benydryl actually did the trick and we were able to continue on with the walk. He reacted to Lucy’s Cookies (the ones sold at Starbucks) because it is made with fava bean flour and John is allergic to legumes. John walked over to me with an opened bag of the cookies saying his throat itched. My husband was handling the kids on his own for a bit, and don’t think he was aware to double check the ingredients. I’ll cut him some slack as his hands were full with my five kids running around. But the irony of having a reaction at a food allergy walk can’t be beat. More work needs to be done in finding a cure. 🙂

Have a great week everyone!!

Dairy, Egg and Nut Free Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins

Pumpkins are everywhere these days. It’s fall and usually that means it becomes the signature snack or treat in restaurants, bakeries and bake sales. In fact, tomorrow I’m baking two pumpkin cakes for our school’s Fall Frenzy Cake Walk, as well as my pumpkin cookies for the bake sale. But for the past week, I’ve been craving a pumpkin chocolate chip muffin, and wanted to finally perfect a recipe I’ve been tweaking with for some time.

My Dairy, Egg and Nut Free Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffin is one of those recipes that when I finally got it right, I was VERY excited. It’s that good. And the best part? My  5-year-old non -food allergic son Matthew helped create this delicious muffin. He stood at the counter and helped decide how much cinnamon to put in, whether it needed vanilla, and if the batter needed a good sprinkling of sugar on top before baking. He really had some fantastic suggestions and it made him really proud to know that he had a big part in making such a yummy treat.

For many of us who long to bake allergen safe and delicious treats with our children, it is in those moments of baking with our children that we feel connected to our childhood, and at the same time giving them a sense of normalcy with theirs.

Enjoy these gorgeous fall days everyone….they are always just a little too short. Happy Baking!

1 c. dairy free margarine
1 1/2 c. granulated sugar
4 T. water
1 tsp. vanilla
1 15 oz. can pumpkin puree (not pie filling)
3 c. unbleached all purpose flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1 1/2 c. dairy free mini chocolate chips (I use Enjoy Life)
Granulated sugar for sprinkling batter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and spray 18 muffin cups with dairy free baking spray, set aside.

In the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the dairy free margarine, sugar, water, vanilla and canned pumpkin puree thoroughly.

In a separate medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger with a wire whisk. Add to the margarine mixture and mix on low until combined. Stir in the chocolate chips using a rubber spatula.

Use a cookie scooper to divide batter among the 18 muffin cups. Sprinkle tops with just a little granulated sugar and bake 18-25 minutes (NOTE: Oven temps vary quite a bit, check on your muffins after 18 minutes to see how they are doing. Muffins are done when lightly browned and a cake tester comes out clean). Cool and serve!

My Dairy, Egg and Nut Free Treat Ideas for after school, class parties and games

Last week I had the opportunity to demonstrate on ABC 7 Chicago one of my favorite cookies of all time, the Classic Dairy, Egg and Nut Free Chocolate Chip Cookie. I really do make these cookies several times a week for my kids, neighbors, friends and me. Yes, sometimes I make them just because I really crave them. They’re perfect for bakes sales too, in fact, tomorrow I’m baking some for our school’s annual Fall Frenzy Bake Sale. The kids love them, especially when packaged in something fun and festive. Here’s the clip for those of you outside of the Chicago market, and as you can see, it is incredibly fast to make too. Enjoy!

Snacks: Why do they matter so much to parents?

Kids loves snacks, but it seems parents love to offer them even more. In fact, an article in today’s Huffington Post, “Snack Food Nation” talks about how parents in our country are obsessed with snack time. Writer Wendy Sachs writes “We are creating a generation of socialized snackers. Every activity from infant music class to kiddie soccer comes with a treat as a “reward.” Ironically, even on the playground, kids are taking mini-snack breaks. And nursery schools that have children for a mere two hours a day still make time for snack time.”.

I never noticed how obsessed some parents are about their children’s snacks at school and sports functions until my food allergic son was old enough to attend them. It started with the Preschool Snack Time. Since John was allergic to dairy, eggs, peanuts and tree nuts, I knew he wouldn’t be able to eat the little goldfish crackers or veggie booty like everyone else. But what worried me more was the risk of a severe allergic reaction because all those dirty little fingers surrounding him could inadvertently touch the table, toys and door handles. Those particles of food are enough to trigger a serious reaction.

However, whenever I explained this to the teacher I got the glazed-over look. My solution was to purchase fresh fruit and veggies for the year, and parents can send in a monetary donation to cover the cost. I figured they’d be thrilled; I’d do the shopping and preparation, AND their kids would get healthier snacks at school instead of processed and packaged food.

Boy was I wrong. Parents weren’t happy about the suggestion, and wanted to know why they weren’t able to send in Cheeze Its and Cookies to school. I was baffled. The overly vocal parents won; they got to send in a prepackaged snack to school with their child. At least I was able to negotiate an Approved Snack List to be sent home to parents so they could at least buy snacks from the list of snacks I knew were safe for John to be around.

Fast forward to Kindergarten Snack Time. According to my son’s 504 Plan, the classroom had to be Nut Free. I was told at the time it would be impossible to implement a Dairy Free room as well. After a few years of navigating through the “snack issue” I kind of gave up and figured a peanut free room is about as good as I’ll get and besides, after kindergarten I won’t have to deal with snacks again.

Boy was I wrong again. Not only did we have to deal with birthday treats being sent in by other parents every month or so, and holiday parties filled with food, but we had to deal with snacks at soccer games. And not just the “Celebratory End Of Game Snack”, but the halftime snack too. The total duration of John’s soccer games? About 45 minutes, give or take. And there were TWO snack rotations. Believe it.

John is in third grade now, and his class allows a daily snack. Though now that we have a Peanut Free AND Dairy Free room, it has made our lives much easier. And our school still won’t officially go with celebrating birthdays in a Food Free Manner, probably because taking an “official” stance on the issue will upset a lot of parents. Instead, they choose to let the teachers make the call. Thankfully, all the third grade teachers have decided birthdays are celebrated in a non-food manner. But the best solution would be for the School District to take the initiative and draft a policy on this. It would take a lot of pressure off food allergic parents, and quite frankly it’s a healthier choice. What’s the point of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Healthy Kids Revolution if we’re still feeling obligated to give our kids lots of snacks and treats at school?

This Snack-At-Every-Social-Function is still alive and well. An example of this is from my other son Matthew, who doesn’t have food allergies, but one child on his soccer team does. My husband coaches his kindergarten team, and he decided not to assign a snack rotation. Once again, the games are barely 45 minutes and really, the sugar and treats are a distraction and usually attracts a swarm of bees too. So after a week of no snack at the game, emails from some concerned parents were in my husband’s inbox, offering to schedule the snack rotations themselves.

Snacks are not a bad thing, in fact, they can be very beneficial in keeping our childrens’ blood sugar in check and hunger at bay. However, it isn’t a meal, it isn’t a neccessity and it certainly isn’t a requirement at sports games and at school. We all know food allergies and childhood obesity numbers are rising among school aged children. The time is now to address the already out of control snack issue at schools. Everyone will benefit.