I've written before about how much I love a good snack: something with crunch or bite to it and ideally with plenty of fiber and/or protein. Last month, I found and held onto some homemade Larabar recipes from realfoodrealdeals. They seemed simple and healthy enough to be perfect for this busy work and school week of ours.
Well, sometimes in baking, you try something new and you end up with throwaways: all of those first (or fifth) attempts that just don't work out, even with a recipe on hand.
For this no-bake snack attempt, we substituted almonds for all of the other types of nuts and tried multiple bar varieties. We used measuring cups and spoons for the apple pie version, but it just never came together for us. Even after a good refrigeration, it was too crumbly to call a bar. I couldn't actually throw away tasty food though; it's become a chunky granola topping for our yogurts instead.
Next try: on to lemon bars! We started with a clean blender and a counter full of almonds, dates, lemon juice, lemon oil, and lemon zest. And we were determined to get this one sticky enough to press and slice. We tossed into the blender an entire bag of dates, half the bag of almonds, a couple of shakes each of lemon oil and zest, and a quick pour of lemon juice. When it looked almost-right, we added a few more dates for good measure and pulsed it some more.
Bakers usually share recipes that come out tasty and beautiful, but that didn't quite happen for us this time. After about an hour in the fridge (the longest time we could make ourselves wait), we ended up with tasty, not-bad-looking bars with an awesome lemon aroma...but no real recipe to try to duplicate. Sometimes, even in baking, success doesn't come with measurements and exact recipes. Instead, it comes from the fun of piecing it all together.
If you have a good no-bake bar recipe, we'd love to try it! I'll be experimenting in my own kitchen with different flavors, quantities, and ingredients, too, until I get something more exact to share...as soon as I get out to buy a lot more dates.
Today I looked at my youngest on her way out the door and realized that she's only a few months away from tween years. Planning for her allergies today, or this week, is never far from my mind, of course. This is the time of year when I start planning months ahead, too: camp sign ups begin (who needs trained at camp? where is my extra self-carry paperwork?), and I start assessing next year's 504 needs based on how well this school year is going. All of you allergy parents out there know the drill.
One of our more recent hurdles has been approval to self-carry an Epipen set. In just 1 week, we'll be discussing self-injection with the allergist. I'm a big advocate for giving children as much age-appropriate knowledge as possible, so I pushed for this discussion. It's hard to say whether it's the right time, though, because the guidance about when kids are able to inject themselves with emergency life-saving medication is mostly outdated, informal, or polled data. Likewise, there's very little information about when, how, or why to train siblings to administer Epipens in emergencies. When our oldest took a babysitting course, she learned officially how to give an emergency injection; in reality, she was her sister's "injection buddy" on the bus rides to and from school for at least a year beforehand.
Of course, every child is different, both in their ability to understand allergies and their fear (or lack of it) about medicines. I've always considered self-care for my kids as a progression, not a single moment. Over the years, we have acclimated a 5- to 9-year-old to pushing an inhaler button with help, identifying alternate words for butter, and always carrying a bag with emergency medicine and contact numbers. She used to practice self-injection with the trainers in her carseat...but does any of that mean that she's ready to actually take the plunge, so to speak?
Well, it turns out that there are some basic expectations that could tell her doctor and me that she is or isn't ready, and they aren't just about bravery, or responsibility, or a history of anaphylaxis. Those are important, but what kids really have to show a doctor and parent is that they understand the medicine AND the different symptoms of food allergies.
The bottom line is that, before learning how to self-inject correctly, a child has to recognize possible anaphylaxis. After some digging, I found a few key descriptions that we will use to get ready for the self-injection talk:
One thing I'll be sure to explain, too: Being able to self-inject doesn't mean that you're alone in the responsibility of living with food allergies. It's just a way to be brave, not fearful or anxious, if you find yourself without a reassuring adult around in an emergency.
Today, I'm spreading the word for a fellow food-allergy family whose daughter also has leukodystrophy (an MS-type condition in children).
No doubt---food allergy diagnoses change the lives of entire families. But I can't always get worked up into true advocacy or even tiger mom mode, because I know first hand how much worse life is for so many others with poor health. Growing up with allergies bad enough to miss nearly 40 days of school and a congenital heart problem, I learned the mantra (my mom's) that "someone else has it worse" very early. Blunt, but it gives you perspective (and stops a kid from whining) pretty quickly.
Just within my own neighborhood circle, two other kids on the block have food allergies similar to my daughter's...but one, Ellie, also has a serious rare genetic disease called leukodystrophy, which has MS-like symptoms in kids. Food allergies are still a huge concern for her family, but they fall within the greater context of keeping her walking and attending school and playdates for as long as possible.
Ellie's family has pulled off some amazing advocacy for the leukodystrophy cause, and a special institute at Johns Hopkins is about to embark on clinical animal studies to find a treatment and possible cure for her and others like her.
Check out the example of her family's newsletter with research updates, below, and her advocacy website at acureforellie.org. Advocacy, for allergies or any health condition, really does make a difference---to patients who are able to connect globally now more than ever, to researchers who seek funding support, and to communities, which pull together to support faces they associate with different conditions.
We would be lost without the strong support we have from our community to keep our daughter safe from food allergy reactions. I know that Ellie's family appreciate this same community for all of their efforts to help Ellie, both by raising funds and by making sure that she experiences a lot of love and fun.
It's not always easy to say that life, in particular your child's health, isn't perfect. But don't forget to speak up, even just locally, about your family's allergies or other needs; you will gain a lot from sharing, and you never know when other families you might meet could use a hand from you.
Here's an excerpt from the family's latest newsletter to supporters of leukodystrophy research at the Kennedy Krieger Institute (KKI) in Baltimore:
"First, we want to make sure to thank you for the incredible outpouring of support we have received already this year. After our last update in February, many of you gernrously donated to Ellie's research project at the Kennedy Krieger Institute and many others signed up for the April 23 Fairlington 5K which is now right around the corner.
A lot has happened since February, so we thought it was time for a quick update...
I never thought I would be so happy to say these three words, but... "We have mice!" That's right - the mice with Ellie's genetic mutation arrived from Germany into Baltimore on March 15 and the research at KKI begins very, very soon! We recently had the opportunity to meet two of the bright, young researchers who will be working on the nano-technology effort. They are pictured below with Ellie. Their names are Ben and Christina, and they couldn't have been nicer."
In the link below, you can read more about the coming research and find links to Ellie's own web page at the KKI, which hosts a donation site for research to save children with conditions like hers all across the globe.
It took a heap of mishaps and maladies to keep me offline for an entire season...
And it took 12 days off school for a blizzard to get me back on. :-)
Fall is never my healthiest season, and this one was not my easiest. When someone in your family has food allergies, though, you have to carry on in the kitchen, not with carryout.
2016 has been good to all of us so far (though it is early), and I am excited to be enjoying myself in the kitchen again.
Ten days into our blizzard break, we have played every game, tried every sledding hill, and stayed in jammies so long that it isn't quite fun anymore. But we are just getting into our baking groove: coconut macaroon playdates, pancakes midday, and warm oat bread for breakfasts and desserts.
You'll also notice some big changes to the website, courtesy of my extra free time not spent running errands, schlepping kids, and cramming in fitness.
In these last 2 days of blizzard break, I'd like to wrap up the changes to streamline my recipe posts...starting with that thick and chewy oat bread.
I am excited to be back online, and I hope that you will enjoy the new recipes to come in 2016!
What does baking or cooking from scratch mean to you? In the 21st century, many people count premarinated meats to grill or boxes of mashed potato flakes as essential to scratch cooking. Most families are just too busy to spend all day in the kitchen, prepping dinner before the lunch plates are emptied. Today, very few families are even home in time for that kind of traditional family dinner.
Those modern conveniences of boxed or nearly ready ingredients---often organic or non-GMO versions of what our parents used---are essential to feeding our families quickly at home. Food allergy families, though, don't always have the luxury of a boxed cake mix for a birthday party or a pre-seasoned brisket for the slow cooker. Just one unsafe ingredient, or directions that rely on a key food allergen, turns that quick prep for dinner into a disaster.
From what I've seen, that's when food allergy families try some different paths: relying on specialty convenience products, like the Cherrybrook Kitchen line of nut-free baking mixes, can be a good solution sometimes, for some families. Making one meal for the family without allergies and a separate meal using safe ingredients like powdered egg replacers can work for other families, especially if they're avoiding only one type of food. Our family has tried, and sometimes still falls back on, both of these options to get us through a busy day or a special event.
Most of the time, though, we try to make one meal or treat for our entire family, and we try not to bust our budget or our free time looking for an allergy-safe convenience option. We did find ourselves wasting time and money in the years just after diagnosis, and we were making an important family member feel second best at mealtimes. That's when we decided that recipes from scratch just couldn't be as scary as they seemed. First, we could pronounce all of the ingredients we put in. Second, we could lower the sugar or salt for family members who have other health problems when they visited us. Third, we could share a good laugh (or cry) when our first attempts were soggy messes that needed spoons instead of forks or that headed straight for the trash. This food allergy journey can have a bonding moment or two in a from-scratch kitchen.
Scratch ingredients can be surprisingly reassuring and easy to use. Here, some fresh apples, flour, and oats make up the main ingredients in a safe copycat of my mom's apple crisp.
With the help of some key food allergy resources, books like Cybele Pascal's The Allergen-Free Baker's Handbook, and a decent dose of inspiration from my own family's old recipes, we designed easy, fast, and affordable remakes that we'd like to share especially with new food allergy families. Using today's most common pantry ingredients and nothing more complicated than a wooden spoon and a bowl, we've found a way to bring the fun (and the mess) back into cooking and baking together, even within our typical busy-family schedule.
For example, making my grandmother's homemade cookies together was something that I never thought we'd do when my daughter was diagnosed with multiple severe food allergies. Seven years and one healthy, well-nourished child later, we've made those and so much more without any professional training or special tools. We'd love to help others reinvent their own family favorites so that they can have some fun in the kitchen again, even for just a few minutes each day.
If you're ready to try some quick scratch baking, check out our family favorite, Sweet Pumpkin Scones, on ETSY. Do you have a favorite family or convenience-food recipe that you'd like to remake without eggs, dairy, or other top allergens? Get in touch or leave a comment, and let the kitchen science experiments begin!
Eliminating eggs---while still trying to make homemade baked goods---might be our biggest food allergy kitchen challenge. We could certainly just buy allergy-safe specialty products, and we do that sometimes. We could buy vegan options at grocery stores and restaurants, and we do that sometimes too. But there is nothing like heating up the kitchen on a wintry day with cookies baking in your own oven!
A lot of web sites and cookbooks are available for people who don't or can't eat eggs, whether from allergies, an ethical stance, or another type of health problem, like high cholesterol. Egg replacement recommendations from these sources include boxed specialty powders, mashed up raw fruits, and an amazing array of suggestions in between. I love it when a fruit like pineapple or a vegetable like pumpkin adds enough moisture and bulk to make a favorite recipe by just eliminating the eggs.
Usually, though---especially when eggs are used to leaven, or rise, the cookie or bread---we have to get creative with the recipe, and that's where kitchen science comes in. Combining an acidic ingredient with a base, like baking soda, adds those crucial bubbles to the dough before and during baking. This works like those volcano experiments in science class and adds air into the treat so the bread doesn't come out like a brick or the cookie doesn't flatten across the baking sheet. The acidity can come from a fruit, like pineapple, or from just a teaspoon of added lemon juice or vinegar---not enough to affect the taste, but enough to start that kitchen science reaction. Cooks in the Depression era relied on this trick for all sorts of adapted recipes, in fact!
Hi, I'm Nicole.
ABOUT THE BLOG
An apothecary is a person or a place. Either one implies healing and relates to pharmacy in its truest sense, as a source of treatment and advice.
This blog is my way of uniting my pharmacy training with my efforts to provide a healthy and safe lifestyle for my family. In true apothecary form, I research and prescribe alternative ingredients that work just right in each specific recipe, and I would like to share the results with anyone who needs help making their own family’s kitchen allergy safe and heart healthy.
Nicole Van Hoey's books on Goodreads
Bakery Bites: Breads and Treats Without Dairy, Eggs, Nuts, Seeds, or Soy
ratings: 1 (avg rating 5.00)
Kitchen Adventures With Multiple Food Allergies: A Recipe Collection for Celebrations Without Dairy, Eggs, Peanuts, Tree Nuts, Seeds, or Soy