Ahhh, I've been putting off this blog all week.
We've had a full and busy allergy week:
I'll tell you, the emotions are high these days. But yesterday, my daughter had early release, and I put aside work, and we just baked in the kitchen together. She barely needs me there anymore, really, but it was a joy.
All of those food allergy topics are important, and relevant, and I'm sure to share them in my writing as I go. But right now, I'm chucking all of the worries and posting my daughter's brownie recipe, which finally improves on the cakey version I have on hand. The recipe stays sturdy as a cake as it cools (no sinking!) because of the just-right amount of applesauce...and it's got some chewy goodness from extra melted chocolate chips.
These brownies are, as usual, vegan + free from soy/tree nuts/peanuts/seeds. They're delicious. And already gone (I gave them away! It's Lent! I didn't eat 16 brownies already, even with help.)
Enjoy the baking and the snacking, and have a great weekend!
PS -- If you are into cakey brownies instead, just leave out the chips and extra tablespoon of oil. You'll still get yummy chocolate treats, just with an airy texture.
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because the guidance about when kids are able to inject themselves with emergency life-saving medication is mostly outdated, informal, or polled data.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.
Did you know that one of our most common pantry items today came about because of an allergy in the 1800s? (There goes the "nobody had allergies in my day" argument.)
Baking powder, an improvement on the baking soda of the day, was developed by British chemist Alfred Bird in 1843 so that his wife, who was allergic to eggs and yeast, could bake.
Have you heard of yeast allergies? An immune reaction to yeast is a real thing, although it's also true that people can be sensitive to live yeast for other reasons and still able to eat leavened baked goods.
Baking powder has a long, storied history of development across continents, and baking soda has been around in our foods since ancient times. But what are baking soda and baking powder, anyway, and why are they so useful? Do they have downsides? How do they work, and when should we use them?
I think that, with the movements toward whole foods and locally grown foods (both good ideas in their own rights), we sometimes overlook the importance of older food science discoveries, especially if they don't sound fresh or healthy. Like so many advances in health, and even in today's medicines, the root source of baking soda and powder comes straight from plants and the environment, though, usually as a result of a problem that needed solved. (Sounds less chemical-y and scary already, huh?)
In the cases of baking soda and powder, it just took a couple of curious scientists to take a single ingredient---sodium bicarbonate---and standardize it for posterity.
Both baking soda and baking powder are called chemical leaveners, not because they are originally from labs but because they add bubbles and air to baked goods by mixing acids with bases (a chemical reaction) to release carbon dioxide. This gives quite the same result as live yeast, which releases carbon dioxide when it "eats" sugar.
Baking soda (pure sodium bicarbonate) derives from natron (only 17% sodium bicarb), used by Egyptians and other civilizations to cook, clean, and deodorize. Identified by Nicolas LeBlanc during the start of the chemical industry era in the 1790s, baking soda was mixed with sour milk throughout the 1830s to bake breads and was standardized in 1846 by Arm and Hammer. By the 1970s, Arm and Hammer's baking soda was marketed as the eco-friendly cleaner to help kick off the first Earth Day celebration.
When baking powder came about in 1843, it was quickly sent overseas by the British War Department to help feed troops. Baking powder carried a crucial advantage over baking soda in one way: it contained an acid in the powder already, so it could be used in recipes without acidic ingredients like vinegar. In this way, baking powder guaranteed an even rise, too. In addition to sodium bicarbonate, baking powder has always contained a powdered acid like cream of tartar and a moisture absorber like cornstarch (to prevent a reaction until mixed into a recipe). After more than a century of experimentation, today's shelf-stable, double-acting baking powder adds carbon dioxide in the bowl and in the oven, often with calcium phosphate as the acid.
In our food allergy recipes, baking soda and powder are essential safe ingredients, not just for my daughter's egg-free benefit but also because I developed a reaction to live yeast (which I learned the hard way, during weekly bread-baking excursions). Now, even our sliced bread and pizza dough recipes rely on these "invented" pantry leaveners. I gave up making my Gram's thick-crust Hot-Roll-Mix pizza dough recipe when my youngest with a robust dairy allergy was born, and I never stopped missing it. I also never imagined that I'd be able to replace it without yeast.
I've always been a fan of quick breads, the kind made without yeast or rise times or kneading, and usually involving a sweet fruit or savory squash. My mom used to make batches of these breads by the dozens, and it was the go-to snack and holiday or just-because gift in my house growing up. But it stretched my mind to use anything but yeast for "real" bread (not counting thick, dense, and lovely Irish soda bread, here, because it's so distinct).
But biscuits and cobblers don't use yeast, and they are light and fluffy. And I missed making my own pizza and focaccia dough at home terribly. If baking powder could work for a baker in the 1800s, certainly I had to at least try.
I'm still experimenting with just the right quantities to get a non-biscuity, Southern-Italian--style pizza crust: thick like Chicago style but airy and not heavy. It's coming along...and my family is eating a lot of middling pizzas! So far, I've tried different types of baking powder, too, to see if the tastes differ.
Meanwhile, I've learned a thing or two more about leaveners.
What about downsides? While, sometimes leaveners are a bad idea. I got an awesome set of cookie stamps for my birthday and was finally able to try them out. I almost never have the patience to roll out cookie dough, collect the excess, roll again, repeat. But I tried a rollout Christmas cookie recipe without peppermints for Valentine's day. The cookies tasted great, held together, all good. Except that, as they baked, they rose and the imprint (Eat Me) erased, sometimes completely. Not an epic fail, but not worth all of that effort, either. I headed online for some research answers and found a duh-moment answer immediately: no baking powder. Naturally, ingredients to help a cookie rise aren't what I need here. So I'm heading back to the recipe grid drawing board with this one, too.
By Easter, maybe I'll have a cookie recipe and some pizza perfection, thanks to (or despite) my pantry leaveners.
I've been daydreaming about M&M cookies for awhile now. They weren't something we made at home when I was little, but my mom had a recipe in her files for them anyway, and so do I. They're just right when you want a cookie but chocolate chip isn't crunchy enough. I started thinking about replacing the M&Ms with Skittles or some other dairy-free candy, but it just didn't sound appealing enough to try (because nothing really replaces M&Ms for me)...until now.
Why now? I missed out all of the holiday baking this Christmas while I was completing cardiac rehabilitation (and I officially "graduated" on New Year's Eve!). Our holiday dessert effort this year was Oreos (how are they vegan?) dunked in melted safe chocolate chips. The kids loved them, but I missed my baking time. I've made great recovery strides in 2017 already, so I decided that I'm ready to shower the people I love with cookie tins for Valentine's Day instead.
I'll be returning to some favorite treats (last year's truffles, for sure), but I also wanted to make some new variations on my standards. My youngest, the one with the most (and the anaphylactic) food allergies, recently developed a taste for spicy Red Hots, that old cinnamon imperials hard candy. And they happen to be sold in bulk at the store across the street from our neighborhood. That scenario was sort of begging me to come up with a cookie.
The key to M&M cookies, I've learned, is to bake a cookie soft enough to press the candies into just after they come out of the oven. I was game to try that; I used some old M&M cookie examples and my own chocolate chip recipe, but I increased the sugar-to-oil ratio and shortened the cooking time. But pressing in candy after baking just didn't seem like enough spicy goodness to me, so I added Red Hots into the dough, too.
On day 1, I used half of the dough for baking; I added 1/4 cup flour to the other half and froze it in a log. After my first batch of cookies, with candy in the dough that I dropped onto cookie sheets to bake, I was pretty happy. The cookies were soft, even the next day, and the candy was softer but not burnt or melted. The cookie jar emptied rather quickly, so I pulled out the frozen long on day 2.
Slicing the cookies frozen was something new for me, but I baked this batch exactly the same way as the first. At the end, though, I pressed more Red Hots into the tops of each cookie to see if they really would settle in like M&Ms do. And yes, they did!
You might wonder why this post is called "Red Hot Hearts" when there are no hearts to be found. Well, my initial goal was to use the M&M cookie variation and some extra flour to roll the dough out and bake in heart shapes. I think that my next attempt with this recipe might pull that goal off...but I need some extra patience before I succeed there. For now, here's the recipe I used for the fresh and frozen doughs. Enjoy, and happy Valentine's day!
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?
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