Sometimes I feel like the writers for SNL. I have a great blog plan. Just need to wrap it up. And then life happens, and I just write about that instead, because it’s too good to pass up.
This week’s example: Birthday phone call with my brother.
Him: What are you up to?
Me: I’m making egg-free key lime bars, like pie but without the allergens.
Him: So you still cook all weird and stuff, can’t crack an egg?
Me: Yep. No signs of change yet.
Him: Well, I’m allergic but I eat eggs anyway.
Me, thinking about how his possibly high blood work from 1983 that worried a doctor enough to delay one MMR shot but came with no history of a problem eating eggs ever does not constitute a food allergy: Well, that’s nice for you.
Later in the week, at my brother’s house for a birthday party.
Me, taking out Jo’s vegan/nut-free chocolate cookie cake with peppermint icing that I made 2 weeks ago and froze just for these types of occasion: Are we just about ready to sing and have cake?
Him: Ew, what’s that?
Me, after going through this same scenario for every holiday and party and cookout for the past 9 years: Jo’s cake so that she can have a treat to celebrate, too.
Me, putting away the extra slice that I brought him because he likes brownies and cookies better than store cakes with lots of icing: [nothing, because I learned my lesson after 9 years of aiming for education and ending up with debate, arguments, hurt feelings, emergency treatments, and more].
This past year has been tumultuous for us in health but we have found that, sometimes, extended family members surprise you with their helpfulness and that, sometimes, family becomes the important, kind, trustworthy people around you instead of just the people you share genes with. That’s not always how you think life will turn out, but the support we do find is still a blessing and a source of strength. We made it through the birthday party. I'd like to say we made it through carefree, but that might be a bit of a stretch. Jo liked her cake, though. :-)
There’s no real point to this blog. Except maybe that, throughout the week, this has been on my mind: Doctors and other professionals who insist that kids with food allergies can safely participate in sports, hobbies, sleepovers, and more don’t really think beyond the actual safety risk of touching/eating allergens to the larger social issues. No one is comfortable for long when they are misunderstood (at best), insulted, or excluded. Sometimes I think those social issues like the birthday party moment happen much more often than anaphylaxis, or even milder allergic reactions. These "soft" problems shouldn't be overlooked.
It's food allergy awareness week, and I've watched the amazing professionals, advocates, parents, and others support food allergy safety, education, and research. They are movers and shakers, and I'm always grateful and often in awe of their nonstop efforts. I think, perhaps, the larger community of allergy and asthma health professionals often overlooks the role that dieticians, psychologists, and counselors can play in their practices for their young patients, though. I’d like to see that partnership grow to help kids of all ages navigate life with a limiting, but not debilitating, condition.
This week, I took some time off to recuperate after a few big work projects and a busy spring for both of my girls. I thought I might fill the time with some books, maybe update my mp3 playlists. Instead, I ended up in the kitchen again---but just for fun.
I like to think of myself one way: very organized, with a meal plan for the week that doesn't get boring for anyone because I circulate recipes well and freeze ahead. In reality, I seem to thrive on experimenting with different recipes every day and can't seem to repeat more than a few family favorites before trying something completely new. I have a very patient family.
For vacation kitchen time, I decided that my family really needed a good cookie cake and that I had to finally use up the zucchini in my freezer before I could buy more at the Sunday market. I found some lovely recipes, but each had 1 egg to replace. To me, these are easy recipes to convert, much more so than ones with multiple eggs. The biggest question is what starch to use in place of the egg.
Eggs are so valuable in baked goods because they offer not just airiness but also cohesion: they bind the other ingredients together to avoid a crumbly result. Different powdered starches offer the same thickening glue. Three common examples are cornstarch, arrowroot powder, and tapioca flour. Popular boxed egg replacers sometimes contain potato starch. In general, 1 Tbsp of a starch thickens 1 cup of a liquid.
Until recently, I've relied only on cornstarch---a grain, not root, starch. Although it is best with high heats and longer cooking, it's fairly all purpose. If you have a corn allergy, though, the other two options are essential to have on hand. All three starches can be exchanged mostly on a 1-to-1 basis in baking, but they do have best-case uses. For example, arrowroot and tapioca are clearer and more gel-like than cornstarch, and tapioca thickens well at lower temperatures; they both freeze better than products with cornstarch, too. Breads with too much tapioca starch can become chewy, though, especially after the first day.
Cinnamon zucchini bread and chocolate cookie cake recipes are easily veganized, with only 1 full egg each.
I do want to try each recipe again before they're posted, but I can share some cheater's notes now for replacing that single egg in your own recipes:
1) For breads or products that rise, add 1/2 tsp baking soda (not powder!)
2) For denser products (like that cookie cake), usually leave the baking soda or powder quantities the same.
3) 1 Tbsp each of applesauce, water, and the starch combined and added to your batter can replace the uses and texture of 1 egg.
4) To replace egg whites only, try the starch and water without the applesauce.
What types of egg replacers do you use to make new or favorite recipes egg free?
Some school-year weeks, you just dream of summertime. This week started out like that: rainy and windy, I was ready to sit by the pool and not get kids off to bus stops. Then Wednesday was (another) early release, and I remembered how challenging it can be to meet work deadlines when school’s out. Grass is greener, I suppose.
One good thing about early release, though, especially when it’s on a sunny day after some blustery weather, is that it forces me to stop and make some treats for the kids to have during their extra free time. This week, I tried an old recipe I had worked on and dropped for awhile: key lime blondie bars, a nice reminder that summer isn’t here yet but is on its way.
My brownie and blondie recipes, completed and in progress, all use an 8x8 square pan, and they all have a decent rise during baking. I noticed that my family-archives original suggested a 9x13 cake pan, though, and wondered what would happen if I used that, or how I could switch one recipe between the two. It turns out that some people have done a lot of calculations to make those switches possible. I’m a bit of a math geek, but I am not known for being precise in the kitchen, or for patience. I love that this resource is available (with pictures!), but I admit to just scanning it and pocketing it away for later.
This time, I decided to just use the recipe on hand (with a bit of flour averaging) and see what happened. I had few notes on how it turned out in a square pan, so the attempt was really a fresh start all around, anyway. I was discouraged when I had to really spread the batter thin to reach those 13-inch corners. I kept the 350-degree cooking temperature but reduced the cooking time by 8 minutes to accommodate the thinner layer.
The bars, after they completely cooled, were sliceable and easy to dust with powdered sugar for a quick topping. And the larger pan made this a treat that definitely could feed a crowd. I think the recipe as it stands still needs some experimenting: maybe some more water to reduce crumble, maybe back off on the cornstarch (or tapioca starch, which I tried this time) to reduce gumminess.
Or maybe I’ll take a closer look at those math conversions; I think a proportional increase in everything might be just what the recipe needs to make it a little bit cakier---for those fancy people who like to eat bars with forks instead of fingers (we don’t do that around here, though).
If you try the recipe as it stands, leave some comments about what you liked and what you might change. Baking with food allergies is part science, part art, and most recipes are never truly complete.
I’ve been thinking a lot about oil lately. Cooking oils, baking oils, popcorn-spraying oils; it’s become a bit of an obsession for me in 2017.
Before heart surgery, I gave this part of my diet only a bit of thought. It wasn’t bad, wasn’t perfect. I aimed then, and still aim today, for everything in moderation. Even that chocolate, cream-filled donut.
My surgery was to replace a valve—faulty since day 1, not to clean out fat-clogged arteries from diet or genes. But, high cholesterol runs in my family and I’m feeling especially motivated to not have my chest cracked open again if diet changes can prevent it.
So, oils. If you’re dairy free, you probably already use plant sterols and liquid oils instead of butter, lard, or solid margarines. Pat yourself on the back for heart health there, too.
But there’s not just one oil replacement for butter. In fact, choosing oils to use in dairy-free, heart-healthy cooking leads you down a deep, deep rabbit hole. Let’s get a little sciencey and explore some oil options that offer function, taste, and food allergy/heart health.
First, heart health. All oils have some good, some less good types of fats. Our body needs good fats to protect nerves, strengthen eyes and bones, maintain clotting ability and brain power, and store energy. This lovely infographic sums up oil choices and explains why unsaturated oils, tablespoon for tablespoon, are artery savers.
Second, food allergy and overall food safety. Obviously, avoid any oils made from your allergens. Also consider how heavily the oil is processed. Some users may have strong preferences about seed oil extraction methods, for example. Watch carefully for actual ingredients in generically named vegetable oils, too. These products might have a good combination of unsaturated options, but they also could mix in saturated fats at unknown proportions.
Third, function: solid state, smoke point, and taste are big deciding factors here. Reserve semi-solid products, like tropical oils, for when they are most useful, like in a no-bake that would fall apart with a softer, liquid oil. As a general rule, liquid oils with high smoke points, like sesame or soybean oils, handle temperatures for stir fry and high-heat cooking better. Oils with strong tastes, like nutty avocado oil, might only be appropriate in some dishes.
And the biggest decider, at least in our house until this year: taste. We have, as a family, spent lunch times in olive oil tasting stores, and we all have our favorites. No sense using an oil for health if its taste makes you cringe. Lucky for us, all olive oils have the same fat content, regardless of taste.
Our all-around standards are olive oil for sauteing, for salads and popcorn, and for anything else savory; flavorless canola oil for most baking; coconut oil sparingly for no-bakes; partially hydrogenated solid plant sterols for solid creamed treats like frosting; and a surprise new winner to try, corn oil, which can be healthier than I ever imagined.
But we’re breaking out. Recently I tried expeller-free avocado oil on our baked tortilla and air-popped popcorn. It’s a start.
What are your favorites and why? Do you measure your fats or choose for taste alone?
Easter week is coming up, and it’s a reminder of our great blessings, but it’s also when I recall that we shrunk our world for food allergies when our kids were young. And that’s okay.
We still get a lot of questions, usually of the nice variety, asking what we eat for holidays. More than most days, holidays are heavily food-centric, and people just can’t imagine celebrating in freefrom ways: birthdays without ice cream, Easters without peanut butter or milk chocolate eggs. Not to mention dinners without rolls smothered in butter, creamy potatoes and gravy, and the like. In my childhood, these dinners were replaced with Italian soup covered in romano cheese or eggy gnocchi and pizzelle, but still.
For years, holidays weren’t fun, they were functional, when I was learning to make foods without eggs, dairy, nuts, seeds, and sometimes soy. It was work, and I missed my favorites, and I hated seeing my older daughter start to miss her favorites. But we are a family, and we built our holidays back up together. Now I can’t imagine why it seemed so daunting, or how much time has passed.
Here’s our Easter menu this year. Not only is it free from all of our many allergens, it’s also fairly well balanced for heart health and macronutrients (maybe a tad heavy on the sugar now that Lent is over, though!). And the best part is that it’s all make-ahead/stay-out-of-the-kitchen foods, so I can join in our DC tradition of spending the day together outdoors before coming home to our meal.
It's not at all like what I grew up with, and I do miss those meals and the big family gatherings sometimes. But we have so much to be thankful for and enjoy in life now, and that is definitely my focus.
Happy Easter, and have a lovely 2017 spring.
Another school break. It does seem sometimes like there’s never a full week of school. For spring break this year, we took advantage of my new energy level after heart surgery to introduce the girls to New York City. It’s a short trip that somehow involved a train, a plane, and an automobile. No joke. It also involved 14 meals that I had to pull off without a microwave or refrigerator.
First, I have to thank @nonuttraveler and @allergyeats, not to mention the many bloggers who headed to NYC themselves, or who contacted Sloane Miller for advice that I swept up. We aren’t quite at the point where we’re comfortable in random restaurants---in part because of cross-contamination risks and in part because we’ve certainly encountered people and places locally and traveling who think that food allergies equals only gluten free, or only nut free.
So traveling light doesn’t usually work for us, because we just make our own food wherever we go. It’s certainly economical. But, NYC. There’s got to be someplace we can try, right? I’d done my research of and outreach to establishments, but we had to balance the friendly places with not just locale but also other family member preferences. For example, we found a safe potato dish at a local diner but the group overall preferred a sit-down restaurant spied on our way around Midtown that morning.
We did pull off some vegan/kosher bagel sandwiches for lunch and a great morning coffee stop, though. Ess-A Bagel was a hike from our home base, but it was near enough some sightseeing moments to give it a try. We found people out the door at 11 am but stuck with our plan and joined the line. I'm so glad we did; the food was amazing, the staff was precise, and everyone's food was individually wrapped. Hard to beat NY bagel sandwiches.
Jo and I had special morning time together at Rex, a Counter Culture coffee shop in Hell's Kitchen. They made her a blueberry rooibos tea, sold (some safe) artisan chocolates, and encouraged her---one of the staff had childhood allergies, too.
We didn't make it to so many other places on our list---including suggested places like Bill's Bar and Burgers or Nizza. And we added safe places that caught our eye for next time: Grom's Italian ices, Blossom DuJour vegan foods (how did we miss this?!) in the Columbia Circle Turnstyle shops, and more.
For the bulk of the trip, I aimed for small and portable. We had quick-cooking packets of steel-cut oats, baggies of almonds (our safe protein and fiber filled nut), strips of fruit leather, and, I’ll say it, beef jerky. My one concession to packing small was a loaf of bread (for real); I got the idea from another food allergy blogger, Mamacado, who ordered all-beef burgers at a restaurant and used her own bread. I loved it; we used our slices for jelly sandwich lunches on the go (with jam packets from hotel breakfasts).
We prepared for that unsafe dinner stop, too. When we tried a place that was not allergy-convenient at all, I brought dried ramen noodles, a pouch of salmon, and an orange. We "ordered" an empty bowl and some hot water and...dinner made on the go!
The trip went so well, and you may have seen our grateful selves on Twitter. Just in case it didn't, though, we stayed across the street from a hospital in a residential area of Midtown (and all four of us know how to administer epi). ;-)
In all seriousness, travel and trusting strangers is a big step for our food allergy daughter, and she has to do it on her own one day. I’ve seen, just like most of you likely have, the reports of kids whose food allergies have held steady into adulthood and wreaked havoc in college, or at a first job. We can’t prevent accidental anythings in life, from car accidents to unknown food ingestions, but, as parents, we all try to guide our kids into good choices that serve them in their future.
If I can teach my almost 10 year old to speak up for herself
at a restaurant, to share her allergy needs with a buddy or colleague, to not be embarrassed to ask someone to wash their hands please, and to carry and use that pen without
(or with minimal) hesitation, then I can at least rest easy
that I gave her tools to wander independently.
Her verdict after the first exposure to the Big Apple? Can we go to Chicago next?!
And, for our return trip to NYC, I already have favorite and new safe foodie places picked out.
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