Today is Wear Red Day for heart disease awareness, one of the many efforts to kick off National Heart Awareness month this February. This is the perfect time to honor all of the doctors, nurses, surgeons, cardiac techs, nutritionists, rehab specialists, and so many others who work daily to help keep hearts healthy. It's also a good time to assess our own efforts at heart health, no matter what your age, exercise routine, or family history. Like so many chronic conditions, heart disease is a hidden problem---it can build slowly like a sneak attack on your health. I've actually lived with an imperfect heart valve my entire life, but it took preparing for and recovering from open heart surgery to really dive into the February and year-round heart awareness efforts.
You might wonder how heart month is relevant to food allergies, or to kids at all. Actually, kids with allergies could have up to twice the risk of heart disease, according to a large study published about a year ago in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. Other research makes connections between asthma, allergies, and heart health, too, in kids and adults.
Luckily, kids aren't forgotten by the American Heart Association, and neither is family time in the kitchen. The AHA's Life's Simple 7 for Kids helps families teach kids to make good food and lifestyle choices as part of their daily routine, setting them up for a lifetime of good self care in so many ways. And their Simple Cooking With Heart for Kids models their adult recipe collection and starts teaching kids the tools they need to enjoy making homemade healthy meals for the rest of their lives. These and other tools aren't just good for kids with heart disease risks or allergies; they're good for all kids, anywhere.
Although the processes---including inflammation from allergies potentially damaging healthy tissue or lifestyle choices from immune conditions leading to obesity or poor food choices, for example---are still unclear, the bottom line really is that all of us should consider ways to keep our hearts in the best conditions possible. And the food choices we make play a large role in that condition.
So, on a practical level, both food allergy and heart disease patients need to keep a careful eye on their diets. Whether the concerns are cholesterol and sodium content or a top-8 allergen, learning to plan every meal can be daunting at first but ultimately lifesaving for both groups.
My family now adapts to a plethora of dietary needs: we avoid a long list of food allergens (different for each of the four of us, naturally) and we try to make low-cholesterol, low-sodium options, too. Sometimes that means reworking a recipe that is allergy-safe but uses a vegan margarine or salt into one that uses a healthy oil or herbal flavorings instead. Our mealtimes usually work out pretty well; snacking turns out to be the most challenging time for food choices.
I've found that my favorite snacks need to have a crunch to them to stay satisfying. My top three heart-healthy, allergy-safe munchies right now are carrot sticks, air-popped popcorn with light olive oil and different seasonings, and our personal homemade unbaked chex mix.
All three are quick to make and portable. I'm always on the lookout for something else to add variety, though. What are your favorite healthy snack ideas?
Today is the last day of January 2017, so it seems like a good time to assess New Year hopes and resolutions so far. I have never made a January resolution before. After a 2016 with plenty of turmoil for friends and family alike, and a lot of personal imbalance (except for on the girls' food allergies, for once!), I wanted to give it a try.
As 2016 came to its last quarter, I had sent my oldest to middle school across the county, picked up nearly full-time freelance work at my day job as a medical editor, and rather quickly slid downhill from active parent and neighbor to tired, symptomatic heart patient.
I wanted 2017 to be different, but I knew that wouldn't happen by itself. I set some pretty lofty goals for myself:
Write to two people I miss every week
Donate to one of my choice charities ($ or items or time) monthly
Take a rosary/prayer walk daily
Play with the kids instead of putting clothes in the closet
Keep (and read) a paper book from my reading list on my desk
Snack deliberately every day (chocolate not excluded)
Set a piano repertory plan and practice daily
Exercise daily for heart endurance
Visit at least once a week at lunch, coffee, or outdoors with a local friend
Notice anything missing (besides no mention of food allergies for once)? I didn't set any work goals for myself this year. I have been so fortunate throughout my surgery prep and recovery to have patient, generous colleagues. I'm slowly and gladly returning to work. But my 2017 challenge to myself is really to get the non-work part of my life in better balance, especially when work gets busy---not just when it isn't.
What about you? Do you have any different 2017 hopes or goals?
I've been itching to fill up my biscotti jar (yes, I have a jar just for biscotti in my home) all winter. In hindsight, biscotti were probably not the cookies to start with after open heart surgery. Something quick, and perhaps dropped by a spoon instead of hand shaped and sliced, would have been the better choice. But I just had to do it.
I have a great allergy-friendly biscotti recipe in my cookie cookbook that I use as my basis for a variety of flavors. I love this recipe, because it's the crunchy, old-school Italian cookie that really has to be dipped into espresso (or your drink of choice, depending on the time of day) to enjoy it. I just can't seem to leave well enough alone and just make recipes they way they are written anymore, though.
I stumbed across an old almond biscotti (not vegan) recipe adapted from an even older Bon Appetit version. The pictures were of those nice long, airy logs you find in cafes. I had to try making a safe version of those instead. I knew that the fat-to-sugar ratio was a bit different from my version, and I knew that I had to replace 3 whole eggs to make this one work.
When I adapt a recipe, I like to line up all of my potential recipes or sources in a side-by-side grid to compare the amounts of each type of ingredient. It's very soothing from an OCD point of view, and it can be insightful if you have to approach baking scientifically (so, pretty much if you have any type of special diet). What I found with this recipe versus my go-to crunchies was that the extra oil and sugar (and relatively small amount of extra flour) really caused these logs to spread out more. Which worried me...spread without eggs sometimes can turn into a crumbly mess.
But! These biscotti actually sliced very well on the bias, and they stayed soft(ish) on the inside even after toasting. They looked like cafe cookies, and no one needed espresso to eat them for dessert.
I'm sure to mess with these two recipes again instead of leaving them alone and enjoying them both. At the very least, I'll be changing up the flavors on this new version soon...because the biscotti jar is already empty again.
Do you have a favorite vegan biscotti recipe? Have you tried either of the versions in this post? Let me know!
Do you or your food-allergic kids have ingredients that you always avoided but that turned out to be safe after all---either because the allergy was "outgrown" or for another reason?
My oldest is allergic to pine nuts, which we suspected at age 2 and confirmed (accidentally!) at age 10. It's my youngest who is allergic to nearly the full gamut. We spent 8 years avoiding, among other things, all tree nuts, as did a few of her friends with food allergies. But, at her last skin-test check-up, the allergist tested tree nuts individually instead of as a group, and she had no allergic reaction to almonds or walnuts. Then, one of her friends who also had an almond allergy was declared safe for the same nuts, too!
I don't always love health coincidences, so I started wondering more about these individual almond allergy tests. It turns out that other food allergy families have gone through similar almond challenges...and that almonds aren't actually a tree nut after all. They're drupes.
I promise it's not a made-up word, it's a real fruit. Since I'm a word and plant-based medicinal chemistry geek, I do love the funny ways science distinguishes types of food. It's not really the same as regular ways, like how we eat the food or even what it looks like. In science terms, the almond is part of the plum family, just like apricots, peaches, and even cherries. Yes, almonds are hard and grow on trees; however, the almond is really the seed of a fleshy fruit---a drupe. Unlike peaches and those other examples, we eat the oily seed instead of the juicy fruit.
So what is a tree nut then? Cashews, pecans, acorns, and the like are true tree nuts. These foods have no flesh; they are hard-shell fruits, commonly called tree nuts. Their seeds are inside the shell, but that shell never opens to release them. Still yummy, but scientifically different from an almond for sure.
For my daughter, it turned out that walnuts don't cause her anaphylaxis, but they still aren't a safe food...that wasn't a fun challenge. Almonds, though---it's been so nice to add a bit of crunchy protein into our house again, for all of us. We don't even have a threshold; they're just safe. That's not the case for everyone who's cleared of a food allergy, and our doctors have suggested that it's wise to keep a somewhat steady exposure to almonds...just in case.
Almonds are so good for you in small quantities, too. They are high-fiber foods, and raw almonds have no sodium or cholesterol. Almonds are filled with calcium and iron that our bodies need. Even the fat (there's a good amount of that) is mostly the healthier monounsaturated kind.
But eating almonds regularly is not necessarily an easy thing to remember every week. They get a little boring all by themselves. There's also a healthy level of anxiety when we haven't had them on hand for awhile and it feels like we're trying a new food all over again. So I'm trying to get creative about putting almonds in things, from snack mixes to salads. So far, I have sugared them (so much for healthy?) successfully and am working on a couple of biscotti variations, coming soon I hope!
Friday night pancake dinners are not unusual in our house, any season. This week, I realized what was missing from our already-carb-heavy meal: Doughnuts!
In December, I found a pan for full-size cake doughnuts. But I was still recovering from open heart surgery (more on that in another post, perhaps? back to chocolate for now...), so I wasn't able to use the oven. That door is heavier than it seems when you are rebuilding all of the bone and muscle strength in your upper body!
It's mid-January and I'm still not back to my old self in the kitchen, but I'm getting there. I was looking for some inspiration this week and came across the Gluten-Free Palate's Vegan Chocolate Espresso Doughnuts on the Enjoy Life Twitter feed. What could be better?
We know people with celiac disease, so I'm holding onto the gluten-free version for sure. For my first try, though, I re-glutenized the recipe and used my own go-to egg replacement (cornstarch + applesauce) because we were out of flax. I also left out the espresso, so that my kids would go right to bed (ha!). The recipe was so easy, and my results were tasty even the next morning.
I did notice that these doughnuts (made with wheat flour, at least) are pretty crispy on the outside, but they are nice and airy without feeling dense at all. When I tried a shorter cooking time on a second batch, they were a touch softer but also prone to falling apart when I turned out the pan. This---and the lack of pretty smoothness on the doughnut bottoms---probably reflects my impatient technique more than anything else, though!
I'll definitely be using this recipe again and experimenting with my own versions and new flavors on some other Friday pancake nights. I also loved the larger doughnut size, compared with a mini-doughnut pan that I tried in the past.
Do you have any favorite doughnut recipes to share? Any tips to soften up some eggless baked goods that aren't naturally heavy on fruit purees?
When I was a kid, my summer vacation was filled with biking to the park, picking wild blackberries, and hanging out with my grandpa, playing card games or just talking. My grandpa always stocked all of the grandkids' favorite treats, and his freezer was an open door each summer to icees, dilly bars, and those popsicles with fake cream inside...and, my favorite by far, the fudgsicle!
Looking back, I miss all of it, and I want my own kids to have a taste of that idle happiness between busier and longer school years. So. I decided this year, to end my oldest's last day of elementary school and to celebrate with a new treat that was safe for my youngest, that I would remake fudgsicles...but I left myself only 2 hours to make this happen before school let out.
The process on this first attempt wasn't the neatest, I'll admit. But the taste was delicious (even after just a few hours, when it was still at the mousse-y pudding pop stage).
This first go is adapted from Parade's Community Table adult Mexican dark chocolate bar, which was in the June 5, 2016, edition of the metro DC insert.
Unprepared as I was, I had nothing as fancy as actual popsicle molds on hand. But I did have a drug store across the street that sold boxes of Dixie cups for $1---another remnant of my childhood.
And did I remember to grease the cups or do anything to make it easy to slide out the frozen deliciousness? No, I did not. I poured these suckers in and ate the first one with a spoon before I ever froze them, just because I could. I did double-up the Dixie cups in case a single-layer would be too soggy (it wasn't).
It turns out that these are easy to remove, because you can just tear a paper cup right off while you hold the fudgsicle stick.
Chocolate School's Out Fudgsicles
2 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1/3 cup sugar
2 Tbsp cornstarch
1/4 tsp salt
1-1/2 cups soy milk
1/2 cup coconut cream
1 tsp vanilla
1-1/2 ounces any safe semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/4 tsp cinnamon
At least a dozen Dixie cups and popsicle sticks.
Before you begin mixing ingredients, prepare the Dixie cups by placing double layers of the cups tightly into a baking pan or plastic container, and have the popsicle sticks ready to insert.
Combine the cocoa powder, sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a saucepan. Whisk in the milk and cream and stir often. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat and cook at a boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat and stir in the chocolate chips, vanilla, and cinnamon.
Pour the mixture into the Dixie cups, and stand up a popsicle stick in each cup. The amount made depends on how deep you pour these out. I made about 10 chunky-sized fudgsicles. Place the container of Dixie cups in the freezer and freeze for at least 3 and ideally for 6-8 hours.
My only concession to our usual Free-From ingredients is the coconut cream that I used to replace the fat that would have come from the usual dairy. Soy, almond, and rice milks alone just can't compete on fat content, which is needed in this recipe not only for that creamy mouth feel but also to actually harden up and stay together. Coconut is not *technically* a tree nut, but if you avoid it and adapt this recipe, please let me know what worked for you instead!
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