Thursday, June 30, 2011

Life’s a Picnic...

Holidays can be hard for those with food allergies and food sensitivities. Everyone seems to be having a good time while you obsess over the unknowns of what you can and cannot eat. Does the salad dressing have soybean oil? Are the meatballs made with breadcrumbs or cheese? Did that hamburger touch the salmon when they were on the grill together?

A good strategy for dealing with picnics and parties is to be informed. If you know the host or hostess well, you can directly address your concerns beforehand while offering to make a side dish and/or a dessert. Making something similar to what will be served is a good tactic. This way, you wont feel deprived since you CAN have what others are having.

From a buffet, choose foods that are basic, such as a salad that has dressing on the side, or a plain baked potato. If you have problems with wheat or gluten, wrap a burger in a lettuce leaf. This is a popular strategy for people on a low-carbohydrate diet. Remember to avoid mayonnaise if you are allergic to soy or eggs. And always take the opportunity to read a label before putting something on your plate.

Are you going to a picnic or party as a guest and feel awkward about being vocal regarding your food allergies or food sensitivities? Then consider eating a large meal at home and taking snacks with you. Avoiding alcohol can keep you focused and enable you to refrain from making bad choices.

If you have a severe allergy to any food, you should avoid it no matter how socially uncomfortable it may be to ask the questions that will protect your health and, possibly, your life. The consequences are not worth the risk.

Someone with food sensitivities may be willing to take such a risk. In the event that you opt to indulge, then make notes of any symptoms experienced. This knowledge may help you be more diligent in the future. It’s also a good idea to take some digestive enzymes as they may shorten the duration of any symptoms that may occur.

Here are a few picnic- and party-friendly dishes:

Other suggestions that are not shown are Potato Salad (click for recipe,) Italian Salad Dressing (click for recipe,) and Pomegranate Orange Salad Dressing (click for recipe.)

You never know, you may be providing a nibble for some who didn’t want to speak up about their own food allergies or food sensitivities.

Eat well and be well,


Monday, June 27, 2011

Dealing with Cravings

Discovering food allergies as an adult presents some unique challenges. There is a lifetime of favorite foods mulling around the brain, tempting and cajoling one to run right out to get them. Then to consume said foods without a second thought as there is no room in the brain for that thought. It is only after reason returns, that the situation can be viewed with an analytical mind.

These intense cravings can often be associated with specific nutrients. Finding substitutes for such foods is a very important action towards the betterment of one’s health. Cravings for a single food can easily be explained. For instance, a peanut contains substantial levels of vitamins B1, B3, E, and Folate. Chocolate is loaded with the minerals iron, magnesium, copper, manganese, and phosphorus.

To decipher a craving food, do a search for “nutritional profile __________” while filling in the blank with a craving food. Find a site that allows serving size adjustment. For example, 1 ounce is an appropriate serving for cocoa whereas 1 cup is not. A valuable site will also provide RDA information. This is critical in determining which nutrients may be triggering the craving. Take note of any nutrients that are providing 15% or more of the RDA.

Next, do a search for “__________ rich foods list” filling in the blank with the above determined nutrients. Find a list that shows the RDA of an appropriate serving size. Choose foods from the list that are free of any food allergens or intolerances.

This process can be time consuming and tedious but it will lay the invaluable foundation for making better food choices. To keep cravings at bay, it is a good idea to incorporate these foods into the diet. Make sure to keep plenty on hand for a food craving emergency!

Another stumbling block may be restaurants. Sometimes an entree from a favorite restaurant may be calling your name. Tackling this type of craving is possible too. Taking the time to play in the kitchen and experiment is all that is needed. Find a recipe, or two, or three, and use them to create your own while substituting ingredients that are allergens or intolerances. It may not be exactly what you are expecting the first time, but the process can be fun and tasty. Keep notes and make improvements. You may end up with something better than you’re used to.

I’ve been craving Middle Eastern food lately and was able to come up with a tasty Moroccan Chicken Tangine (click for recipe) and a refreshing Egyptian Iced Tea (click for recipe.) This venture was even better than going out since I would’ve had to go to two separate restaurants to get them both!

Eat well and be well,


Monday, June 20, 2011

Taste the Rainbow

Food colorings have been used as early as 1901 to enhance the marketability of oleomargarine, which would otherwise be grayish in color. Before the 1950s, food colorings were generally derived from other foods. Red would come from beets or cabbage, green was from chlorophyl, and yellow may have come from a variety of spices, such as turmeric or saffron.

But in the post-war economy, chemical companies were looking for ways to maintain business. They set about attracting the food industry by promising consistent color, lower prices, and longer shelf life. At this time, there was little government oversight. "Safety was determined primarily on the amount of a chemical that was needed to kill 50% of the…” test subject “…animals. The data was then extrapolated to humans for assessing risk.”(1)

Several of the original colors have been “delisted” or removed from commercial use. For example, FD&C Red No. 1 was delisted in 1961 since it was found to cause liver cancer. In 1959, FD&C Yellow No. 3 and 4 were shown to cause both liver and bladder cancers in animal experimentation. (2) Thankfully these and other toxic food colorings are off of the market. 

In 1965, Dr. Ben F. Feingold, a pioneer in the fields of allergies and immunology made a ground breaking discovery.  By removing certain food preservatives and colorings from the diet of an adult patient, not only were her hives cured, but it also affected a vast improvement in her personality disorder.  Currently, the European Union is planning a ban on Red 40, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Blue 1, Blue 2, Green 3, Orange B, and Red 3. They are among the food colors associated with hyperactivity. (3)

Recently, I picked up a bag of Pepperidge Farm’s Goldfish Colors and was expecting to read a list of Red this and Yellow that. I was pleasantly surprised to find the colors were derived from natural sources like beet juice and turmeric. A good start to change. There is dye-free ibuprofen in the pain relief aisle of the drug store.  And in the baking aisle of the health food store, you may find vegetable-based 
food coloring, such as those from India Tree

I used only two drops of the red in approximately 2 cups of liquid to achieve the color in this Rose Sorbet.

For the Rose Water Sorbet recipe click here.

Finding a happy medium between prepackaged convenience foods and making everything from scratch is possible. Understanding the source and long-term impact of what goes into your body is important to your health and the health of those around you. This link to a list of food additives found at Wikipedia will help you get started. Just remember the computer programer’s acronym “GIGO” - Garbage In, Garbage Out.

Eat well and be well,


(2) Deshpande,S.S. The Handbook of Toxicology. New York, Marcel Dekker, 2002, p231

Monday, June 13, 2011

Hold the Mayo!

Bring out the best hidden source of allergens! For summer-time picnic fare, it seems difficult to steer clear of mayonnaise. It’s glorified as the miraculous ingredient that holds it all together. A basic mayonnaise recipe calls for eggs, egg yolks, olive oil, lemon juice, water, mustard, and salt. So it seems that the only obvious common allergen ingredients are the eggs and egg yolks.

Yet the label on a mayonnaise jar may read more like this:

or this:

The above images are screen captures (sorry for the quality) of label information from two manufacturers websites: one, a popular brand and the other, an organic artisan brand. Both are marketed as containing olive oil; which is not incorrect. At best, it is misleading as they also contains soybean oil. And since ingredients are listed from most to least abundant, there is more soybean than the olive oil. Unfortunately,  as a subsidized crop, soybean oil is very inexpensive so it helps keep costs low and profits high. Always carefully read labels to avoid hidden sources of food allergens or sensitivities.

For those sensitive to corn, not only is modified corn starch a listed ingredient, more than likely, both vinegar and xanthan gum are corn derivatives. And like soybeans, the majority of corn crops are genetically modified. If a product is not labeled as containing no GMO ingredients, you should assume that it does.

Natural flavors can also be a source of hidden allergens. These additives, by law (FDA:21CFR101.22), can contain substances that are fermented and will contain trace amounts of alcohol. They may include substances derived from any of the 8 common food allergens or food sensitivities, as well as be derived from animal matter. So vegans and vegetarians, be diligent. Since the FDA does not require labeling to be more specific than “natural flavor,” call the manufacture if in doubt. Typically they are willing to share this information.

Now, that being said, it is still possible to make a tasty potato salad while holding the mayo.

A mix of olive oil, lemon and mustard are a great substitute for egg-laden (and who knows what else) mayonnaise. Enjoy your picnic!

Find the Potato Salad recipe here. 

Eat well and be well,


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Where the Oven meets the Freezer

I recently went to visit a dear friend who lives in Western Pennsylvania’s Amish country. She fed me well and graciously met the challenge of catering to my family’s food allergies and sensitivities. We got there about a week after the Maple Harvest. Before our arrival, my friend frittered away some fresh maple syrup and maple sugar for my pantry. A trip to the Amish-run grocer was on the agenda. I picked up a jar of apple butter and my friend says, “Ooooh, I see an Apple Brown Betty in your future!” Psychic as she may be, I was not quick enough to put together a recipe before it got too hot to turn on the oven.

Then, it hit me! Why not make an Apple Brown Betty sorbet? Ah, inspiration! After looking up several recipes for ingredients, I decided upon an oatmeal base because of its thickening property. If you are gluten intolerant, please note that in farming practices, oats are rotated with wheat. Cross contamination occurs, so make sure your oats are labeled gluten-free.

The first attempt was good, but not as flavorful as I would like it. The cold of this frozen treat will somewhat numb the taste buds. I added more spices and apple butter on the second attempt. And YUM!

For the Apple Brown Betty Sorbet recipe, click here..

Eat well and be well,


Monday, June 6, 2011

Evolution of a Chocolate Cake

The evolution started a few years ago. I wanted to celebrate my birthday with a few close friends and decided to introduce them to how one could enjoy food, even with such constraints as making a cake that was wheat/gluten-free, egg-free, dairy-free, soy-free, and nut-free.

After we shared an flavorful meal, it was happy-birthday-to-me time. Everyone knew this was the moment for my culinary expertise to shine. The cake, even without icing, was a hit and they were all amazed at my success.

About six months later, we were going to visit my in-laws and I offered to bring dessert. Trial and error had revealed, that the best way to steer clear of my allergens, was to bring the food which was the biggest temptation, usually dessert. The slightest bump tends to throw me off track and keep me there for quite some time.

That day, there was a surprise guest: a sweet little cutie of an eight-year-old girl. We were fast friends. She had an intelligent wit and most lyrical little laugh. Now my cake was going to have to pass the kid test. At dessert time, her eyes were fixed on the cake. She took her first bite and with the most pitiful look on her face stated, “This is the worst chocolate cake ever.” Stunned and yet relieved by her honesty, I was interested in what she had to say about her experience. She wouldn’t just encourage me because she wanted me to succeed, she would tell the truth. Unfortunately, the adults quietly shushed her. My next bite was taken critically; as someone who had a choice of eating the real deal.

I noticed that the texture was gritty. The taste was a bit bitter. As far as consistency goes, it was undercooked in the middle and overcooked at the edges. I was slightly discouraged and the next time I needed to bake for a crowd, I used a chocolate cake mix from Cherrybrook Kitchen.

It was convenient. I liked that it only made one 9” round layer. This way there wasn’t going to be so much leftover sitting around the house calling out my name in the middle of the night. It baked easily, I cut it in half, iced, and layered it. But in the end, there was something about it that didn’t agree with me.

I don’t tolerate sugar so well. It doesn’t matter if it’s cane juice, cane sugar, brown sugar, etc. It’s just not for me. And usually when I’m cooking for my family, I need to take my father-in-law’s diabetes into consideration. Agave syrup, maple syrup and honey are my sweeteners of choice. I didn’t know it then, but now I know that xanthan gum, which was in the mix, is usually derived from corn. And I don’t tolerate that well either. But if you don’t have a problem with sugar or corn, then read no further and go out buy yourself a Cherrybrook Kitchen cake mix.

Back to the evolution. For a while, I just did without. Then, like it does, my birthday came around again. Since the previous year, I had learned some tricks for allergen-free baking. The most valuable lesson being that small portions are best. I decided to try again with cupcakes.

I’d like to say this attempt was successful, but that is not true. It took one more try with a few small adjustments and I finally came up with something even the harshest critics can enjoy.

So moist, light, and fluffy.

I hope you enjoy it too!

For the Chocolate Cupcake recipe, click here.

Eat well and be well,


Friday, June 3, 2011

Let’s Do Brunch

I love lazy weekends. Sleeping in late. Hanging around in pajamas. And having the time to make extravagant breakfasts.
During the week everyone is going in different directions at any given time. A piece of fruit, a bowl of cereal, and even left overs are quick, easy breakfasts. Personally, I like Saturday mornings for reconnecting with family after a good night’s sleep. Some weekends, my husband gets up super early, drives into Manhattan before traffic get congested, and brings my father-in-law over. I know my daughter enjoys having someone else in the house whose mouth she can fill with the food off her plate.
Last weekend, I tried making waffles for the first time in years. For some reason, I no longer had a waffle iron and so had to borrow one from a friend.

A few tweaks to the pancake recipe and I was ready to go.

Top with fresh fruit or maple syrup and start the weekend off right!

For the waffle recipe, click here.

Eat well and be well,