Oh my. It's been nearly 2 months since I've posted here, and just as long since I've felt capable of engaging else where in food world, too.
When I started this blog, it wasn't for emotional support or outreach; it was because I felt like we had enough of a grasp on vegan+meat allergy eating that we could collect and share our successes. Mostly I wanted a record of what we tried and what worked for my girls, and blogging was (and is) a convenient platform for that.
Now, though, we're starting over and I don't have successes in my pocket, or even logical places to start recipes yet. I don't want this space to turn into a sad, venting place, but I definitely don't have the spare time to blog on non-recipe topics yet, either (all of that "extra" time after work goes straight into finding, and I hope soon making, safe food again!).
I suspect this rock-and-a-hard-place situation will ease up eventually. For now, though, this is just another placeholder post while I brainstorm ways to get back to kitchen happy again soon. On that note, here's a collage of my successes just since the holiday: proof that I am not starving and that I am making things in the oven that are mostly edible! One day, when these recipes are tested and stick with me, they'll end up here.
Until then, happy baking with whatever your safe ingredients are. :-)
After 15 years of marriage, I'm still not used to people who ask me if I'm Dutch...or people who are astounded (shocked! disbelieving!) when I say that I'm Italian. My heritage is something that shaped me enormously: I grew up in an Italian American community where every Friday was homemade pizza night and every Sunday had red sauce on something. Cheese was everywhere, and the two most important dinners I learned to make before heading off into the world were gnocchi for holidays and lasagna...just because it's hard to get right. Being Italian is just BEING. There is no other way.
But, fast forward into parenthood and a child who ends up hospitalized after simply inhaling cheese. That was quite a change for us, but it did open up our culinary world so very much. With things like baked ziti literally off the table, I turned to my mom's other recipes: mostly Eastern European or plain old American classics. Also, naturally, pasta very often without the cheese on top. It worked.
Dairy-free Italian was surprisingly doable (though a little bit sad), but wheat-free Italian has been tricky. So, back to the drawing board. For me, that means historical research, lots of recipe explorations, and some epic kitchen fails. I don't have free-from Italian completely figured out, but I have made enough strides to see the possibilities ahead.
This post won't give you any allergy-safe Italian recipes, but I hope that it gets you started thinking about ways to "eat Italian" without cheese or wheat...or to get you started exploring your own favorite type of food. Maybe there's something in that culinary history that can bring new favorites for you to love.
Eating Italian, not Italian American
First consider Italian American meals against the traditional Italian versions. You might be surprised to see that Italians rely much less on cheese and gravy dishes than we do in the states.
Eating by Region, Historically or Today
Also consider that we what think of as Italian really reflects only a tiny portion of actual Italian regions and foods. Italy was not well-collected as a country until the mid-1800s, and each region can seem like a country unto itself: northeastern areas mirroring Eastern European influences; northwestern, French and Swiss. And of course the regions of the "south" (really, most of the bottom two thirds of the country!) with a bigger emphasis on farming, fishing, and shepherding.
So, here's just a tiny sampling of Italian standards that don't rely on milk/cheese, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, or seeds:
And another sampling that also excludes wheat for breads and pastas:
These dairy-free, wheat-free Italian options don't necessarily take me back to fond childhood memories, but they certainly satisfy as an adult with a passion to reclaim a heritage despite allergy challenges!
Having these options doesn't mean I've given up on pasta entirely, though. After giving lentil, rice, and bean pastas a few tries, I've settled on Le Veneziane corn pasta made in Italy. It cooks as close to durum wheat pasta as I can find, and it takes up sauces and broth well, too. It's available on Amazon, ItalianHarvest, and Vitacost websites, and the easy access is a nice bonus. For now, though, the cost of these small packages will keep pasta in the once-in-awhile dinner category.... Which leaves me plenty of room to explore new ideas.
I’ve grouched a lot lately, in person and on media, about not eating. Of course, I’m not starving. And I’m not at risk of anaphylaxis if I goof up and eat something I shouldn’t. In fact, I’m amazingly fortunate in that I can whip up dinner for everyone while I’m working from home with a lovely variety of fresh foods available every day.
I guess what I’m really grouching about is the loss of so many recipes we’d built over a decade and the relative normalcy that they brought us. Now I’m asea in the kitchen again, with recipe gains in bits and spurts… And a distinct lack of fun, for now.
But dinners and lunches still have to happen and that’s still on me. In the spirit of just getting things done then, here are five 5-minute (seriously) meals to feed your family on your busiest days. All are free from the traditional top 8, most are free from seeds and soy, and some are completely vegan /meat free.
Masarepa (right) is precooked corn flour. Sort of like premade dried pasta.
My deli wraps (left) come with a side of upside-down Eeyore and pepperjack.
Truly, lunch on the go at its most basic. Inspired in part by the bologna-ketchup rolls of my youth (don’t judge). Layer one piece of deli-style meat (kudos if you made it at home), one piece of cheese/cheese-type product, one pile of greens (I’m a fan of spinach leaves here). Repeat for thicker or neater wraps (I add another piece of meat on top for the protein and to rein in the leaves). Roll as if it had a tortilla around it. Slice it, or just start eating. Bonus points if you actually rolled this out on a board or plate, too.
Arepas to slice and stuff or scoop
Not a bun, not a tortilla. Technically requiring a specific (but very low cost!) ingredient. Mix 1 cup masarepa flour (order it here, for example) with 1 cup water. Let it sit while you turn on the broiler or toaster oven. Pull off chunks of the thickened dough, roll into balls, smoosh flat. Bake as many as you want to make under the broiler for a few minutes on both sides. If you have more than 5 minutes, go ahead and turn off the broiler and keep the patties in the oven with the door closed to make sure the insides get fully cooked and sliceable. Possibilities here are endless: slice and toast and slather; pile salsa or leftovers on top and use it like a taco shell (or slice it genteelly, if you prefer); just walk away from the kitchen with it in your hand on the go.
Quickest tomato broth gravy
I love days when the house smells like long-simmering tomato gravy. It takes me right back to happy childhood memories. Sometimes that just won’t happen, but the meal I can pull off for everyone still requires some kind of sauce. This is my latest answer. Mix 1 can/box/whatever of tomatoes with a really good splash or two of vegetable broth (maybe 1/2 cup? hard to say….). Add a spoonful (really, a dinner-size spoonful, so maybe a Tablespoon) of cornstarch (or tapioca or arrowroot if you can’t use corn). Whisk is together in a pan over medium-high heat until it gets bubbling. Simmer it for as many minutes as you have available. Add whatever flavors you like (we vary between traditional Italian and a Tex-Mex version). Toss the cooked meat or beans or other protein in if it’s available. Toss in veggies if you want. Really, just throw anything you want to have flavored into the pot, then eat it. Maybe pour it over the arepas if you’ve really got your timing down!
Stir-fried veggies mix
This one is a much less sarcastic approach to fast homecooked meals. We’ve been enjoying our Washington Green Grocer deliveries so much. It’s a small source of joy in another otherwise-crazy food year. All of the fresh veggies means that we rarely rely on frozen steamed options, which are healthy and easy, but sometimes not as flavorful. If you have fresh veggies, greens, and roots on hand, try this quick stir-fry. Add some protein and you have yourself a (possibly vegan) meal. Coarsely chop (in the interest of time, go ahead, tear it instead if you have to) greens---we like baby bok choy, green onions, leeks, Also some carrots, maybe celery if we have it. I’ve shaved in turnips, tossed in teeny dices of eggplant (so the kids won’t notice). Anything goes. My favorite seasoning right now is a mix of Green Goddess, ginger, orange peel, and basil at the end. But chili powder and cumin with a bit of cocoa and paprika would be nice, too, perhaps. Gotta try a lot of flavors to make the same food every day taste different, right?
One-bowl salmon saute
An indulgent but easy lunch/dinner meal that I miss a lot is chicken salad made from leftover rotisserie shreds. Mix in a little mustard, mayo (if you can), dill, thyme, etc, and you have a *great* sandwich started. I never understood tuna salad, frankly, when you could have this instead. Now that I’ve found pouch salmon, though (check the no-metal box and the healthy-fats box), I’m gradually missing my chicken salad a bit less. Because the pouch salmon is already cooked, you really don’t even have to do this in a saute pan, if you’re that short on time. I like to mix in a small skillet some olive oil, the salmon, something crunchy like onions or celery, some carrots and/or peppers, and maybe a few dark greens to wilt. Sometimes I just toss in leftover veggies from stir fry night, actually. Mix it all together to warm, and add in whatever seasonings you like. Since this can’t be a sandwich in my world, but I often require something crunchy to make a meal worthwhile, I like to crush rice crackers or even rice cereal into the salmon mixture. You can eat it with a spoon as is, or you can add it to something else that’s safe for you, like leftover rice, or corn pasta, or a gluten-free tortilla. Either way, it checks off the protein/carb/veggie boxes for at least one meal. And it’s pretty tasty.
And a bonus (like a baker's dozen, but not-quite-halved):
Rice paper rolls
This is my youngest daughter’s new favorite recipe. She’s become my sous chef of sorts, which I love. We saw a Craftsy video that showed viewers how to roll lettuce and stuffing into round rice paper. Egg rolls without the egg?! Spring rolls without the wheat?! I’m in. I ordered these papers, which are unbelievably affordable, and which store well. With some of the WGG Bibb lettuce, some leftover salmon one day and pork another, and a bunch of veggies on hand, we got started. I used my tea kettle to heat water, poured the water into a bowl, and ran the rice paper through the water until it was pliable and see through. On a dinner-sized plate, we layered the rice paper, some lettuce leaves, and a pile of veggies and meat/fish in the middle of it all. Then we rolled, tucked, and rolled some more. Remarkably easy. And delicious. And surprisingly filling. We ate them at room temp one day dipped in a vinaigrette, after refrigeration another day dipped in BBQ sauce. New favorite, indeed. They’re packable, portable, not too messy, all around great. And if you have leftovers in your fridge, they only take as long as it takes you to boil water and spoon in the filling. Enjoy! 😊
This year is shaping up to be a high-alert year for our family. Every time we think a return to "normal" is around the corner, another crisis or emotional shocker hits us. Everyone has times like that, for sure...those days or weeks that keep you from your usual (even if hectic) life. When life just becomes getting through the moments instead of enjoying most of them.
So. Another post not directly about food today, with my apologies. In fact, this is a post (with that paragraph above saved in the archives) from my draft folder that dates back to almost this time of year in 2016! At that point, both sides of our family had gone through some traumatic events, and I was just scheduled for open heart surgery. Not necessarily an upbeat spring.
Unfortunately, it looks like I'm facing another open heart surgery much sooner than anyone hoped. That means I've had a fair share of "garden of Gethsemane" moments this Lent. And I'm still walking around the house eating things (like almonds and cherries and broccoli)---not meals---for lunch or even dinner some days. So, apparently I still have some physical challenges, and (I hope) mental growth, ahead.
In 2016, I treated surgery and other people's trauma as problems that I could help solve. Problems are like puzzles, and I love solving those; finding answers and solutions when people are in need is one way I help. And sometimes, it works beautifully. For example, treating my daughters' allergies as puzzles in the kitchen led to an entirely new approach in the kitchen and a new hobby for me, not to mention fun family time with my kids.
In 2018, I've already learned this Lent that some problems are not for me to solve. Or are not solve-able. Instead I'm finding that standing by someone through a problem or trauma, and letting people stand with me in mine, is also a gift. A challenging one for me, for sure---to not fix things, and to let others in when I'm not 100%. But I have started finding joy in connections, and sometimes in the simplicity of accepting imperfect solutions. At the beginning of the year, I had grand plans: to work nearly full time, to put pen to paper with my recipes so the kids would have a safe cookbook, to be that great role model, to be normal (in my world that means "not a patient"). Now, I'm facing another health upheaval that reminds me: I'm not perfect or "fixed"; the trick isn't to find joy by having no problems but to find and share the joy in the problems. If I'm going all religious here, I'd say it's to be transfigured by our problems into a source of joy despite them.
Also in 2018, and related to that no-problems goal, I felt like I had a happy balance in my life: work, fun, family...peace, creativity, activity. I like calm, and home. But I've had a few weeks of crazy unscheduled stuff. And it's been terrifically fun, experiences I would never have wanted to miss. I'm not a risk taker; I seem to be passing that trait or habit on to at least one of my kids, too. Risks in my world are simple things, like travel and lifting, and it's hard to see the point of taking them when the prep work is so great. But shaking up my calm balance can be so rewarding. Lent lesson #2, I suppose---those connections with others are what it's all about, even when they're scary or outside my comfort zone.
Plane travel, preschooler wrestling, baby carrying. Simple things that stress my brain more than they should.
Building Meals Back Up From Basics
I had the chance to metro into the city (instead of drive in) and visit an old friend this week. He happens to have been dealing with food-related problems (including but not only celiac) for more than a decade...much longer than trendy foods have been available. We met at a cafe, both got drinks, and both pulled out our own meals. He's the first person who didn't start off asking me whether X food is okay for 20 minutes. And it was refreshing to just sit and catch up with a friend who didn't mind my beef jerky while we swapped stories and pictures of kids. Riding a metro train back home gave me plenty of time to pore over not just his advice but also his experiences, going through this seemingly alone years ago. We're not alone, though it's hard to remember to put ourselves out there to share and connect.
I also started keeping a notebook in my kitchen this year. At first, the goal was to write out the recipes I make so that I can get them posted here, printed into books, sold online, and on and on. I think I'm again being reminded of how small I am and how large and unneeded those goals are right now, though. At this point, I need to simply put what works each day in that book. From there, eventually, I'll get to build up new creations. Right now I just need to stay nourished without losing the joy. This week, that book has things like "snacks: dried cherries, slivered almonds, roasted edamame mix" but also more elaborate entries like "dinner success: halved poblanos stuffed with meatball mix of 93/7, sprinkles of potato starch, garlic, parsley, seasoned salt, sage; drizzled in olive oil and vegetable broth. combined with parboiled brown rice." Because we have to start somewhere, right?
So, here's to another week of making it work, of hoping that each day I can do something to help someone, and myself, find joy. Even through troubles, not after they're gone.
And maybe I'll actually have recipes and research, from that little kitchen notebook, by April. ;-)
It's been a whole week since I started this post (basically, since I wrote the title and then closed the laptop lid). But what full week! Somehow, Ash Wednesday (aka this year, the crazy day that ended in much peace), first Friday in Lent (and the first first Friday I remembered to stay meatless for that night's dinner in years), and a long President's Day weekend at home (with a tradition of indoor ice skating planned) seemed busy enough.
But why stop there? Life threw in a new car (!), travel planning (aka food prep logistics) for me, viruses almost all around that gave us movie days instead of skating and swimming days, and reconnecting time with old friends. Plus a cardio check up (results pending), new job offers, and more.
But Lenten fasting is still on my mind. After removing so much food this year already for EoE, I opted for the first time ever to not give up a food for 40 days. Frankly, there's no particular food that's a crutch/vice right now that doesn't also fill a nutritional need these days. It's weird not to have an answer to the wholy (ha!) Catholic question: "What food did you give up this year?" But it's a bit freeing, too. It allows me to widen my gaze, expand my efforts this Lent. Because Lent's not just about giving up a food.
Our priest for the first Sunday in Lent (so, two days ago) is one of my favorite homilists. He happens to be the priest who counseled me and annointed me before my surgery, too, so I have a soft spot for him all around. He is wise beyond his years, humble and caring, and thoughtful and kind and funny. His homily this week was no different: he emphasized the triad of Lenten efforts that aims to bring us all closer to God (however we define God): fasting, alms, and prayer. This year, I'm trying to hold all three, not just fasting, closer to me each day.
Fasting is not just about giving up a single food...or meat on Fridays...etc. That's good, but not the only way. Instead, says Father Rampino, fasting is about choosing not to have something that is ours "by right"---much as Jesus in the desert chose not to have things he could have by right---all of the kingdoms, stones into bread, etc. Fasting, then, is also about giving up something we consider natural but can go without to fill our life in other ways: can we limit our news, our tech time, our favorite comfort? Can we fill those hours with prayer, peacefulness, giving to others, sharing outside our comfort zones instead? This year, I'm fasting from foods more by necessity---choosing to go without instead of using multiple medications to maintain a normal diet. Thinking more broadly about fasting, I'd like to stick to a once-daily media check and have replaced some "by right" choice apps with new ones. My favorite:
The Jesuit's Loyola Press Three Minute Retreat, an old favorite, is back on my new phone now. It's a much calmer and thought-provoking default app than Pinterest, Twitter, FaceBook. If priest's messages aren't for you, they have more choices! Speaking From the Heart is a sister (pardon the pun) podcast and blog, for example.
Giving for me has often revolved around food, so I am again challenged to rethink my charitable acts. I'm seeing a theme. :)
I'm still giving foods to show love and sometimes for support of others, but on a much smaller scale. I mourned that change for some time, but I do see that it's given me time to try new ways of reaching others. Again well outside my homebody comfort zone, but already fulfilling in surprising ways: new friendships, progress toward tangible gifts for friends and strangers alike (in particular efforts to really commit to sending handmade knits to children and groups in need), and more.
I hope this Lent to renew an old favorite of mine that I had to give up because of metal allergies: making and donating rosaries and other prayer beads. It's up to me to come to peace with my limitations and make something for others with materials I can use---not to make the most beautiful item, but to make something meaningful and useful that can help others in journeys that are undoubtedly harder than mine.
It's easy to get into prayer ruts, for just about any person, any religion. I tend to slide out of my daily rosary every winter when the days get shorter and the outdoor walks end. Every Lent, I bring back my rosary walk, though (ideally sooner than in years past!).
This week's homily reminded us that other things are simply things---niceties; prayer is what we all need. And prayer should strengthen us and others, not just be words to say. This year, I'd like to take my devotions a step further and talk about them more with others. Regardless of established religion, many people have strong faith and devotional practices. This year, because I've reached outside my comfort zone already, I have already found new prayer experiences in surprising places. To enhance my prayer life and hopefully use it toward positive efforts and relationships, I'm introducing two new daily reading experiences to my 40 days, one of which came directly from those surprising places:
1) 40 Ways for 40 Days: A daily text message, with a link to meditations, is a brand new effort from our diocese, which is under the direction of a new Bishop. Bishop Burbidge seems caring, funny, and willing to meet people where they are (so, on tech). He's started a new podcast (!) and initiated this outreach based on messages of Pope Francis, too. It's a great feeling when the text ping isn't a new work deadline but instead is a message of how to encourage love or how to bring more Christ-like mindfulness and awareness to yourself and your actions.
2) 40 Graces for Forgiveness is a thought-provoking, meditative book that's also already calling me to actions that I hope will become past-Lent habits. In addition to daily Scripture and prose, the passages naturally promote journaling, or other reflective comforts, to slow down our days and widen our gaze on the world---our needs, those of others, and more. I had been lucky enough to randomly meet the author, Maria Keffler, at a meeting for our kids' school music program. We both showed up with knitting. :) It turns out that we have a shared love of music, and that we are both writers. Plus, she has an awesome sense of humor! Stop back by the blog after Easter, and you can find my full review of 40 Graces. So far, I'm having a hard time sticking to one passage a day!
So, I may have added enough Lenten goals to fill a 40-hour day, 40 times over. But if I keep to even some of them, I'll have learned a lot and hopefully helped a lot. It's not the successful checking off of each item every day that counts; it's the meaning behind it, and the love in the effort, and the getting back up and doing it every day despite "failures" the day before.
This is a low-photo post this week, but for a happy reason: Every time I've tried to make something for dinner with masa harina, it's been gobbled up in a snap, without leftovers.
Rather than recipes, I'd like to go into some differences about corn products that can replace wheat in (mostly) savory free-from products. That sounds simple, but it's deceptive---there are enough types of ground corn available to make my head spin. At the start, let me offer an obvious disclaimer: this post isn't for you if you have a corn allergy!
If you're a sometimes baker, you probably are already familiar with cornstarch (cornflour when in Australia and the United Kingdom). It's a white, tasteless, powdery ingredient that, when heated, thickens everything from gravy to pie fillings. In the Americas, corn flour is yellow---the powdery ingredient of the entire corn kernel (not just the hard-shell endosperm of the kernel that gives us cornstarch).
If you pride yourself on homemade pizza on special stones, you might even have some cornmeal, that coarser grind of the entire kernel. Or maybe you're a fan of polenta or grits, which is just a medium-ground version cooked into porridge.
I thought that this was plenty of corn for my new wheat-free life, but it's really just the beginning. I came across semolina corn flour at our local international food market and picked it up without knowing what I'd do with it. Semolina wheat is the type used for Italian pastas, but I'd never heard of a corn version. The word semolina actually refers to an extremely fine grind of the endosperm of a grain only. Thus, corn semolina or rice semolina are absolutely real.
Finding semolina corn flour led me to an Italian corn pasta company called Le Veneziane. I do have black bean, lentil, and other wheat-free pastas in my cupboard, but this corn pasta was the first success: It didn't get gummy, could be cooked like wheat pasta (for me, that means no timer, cooking until al dente), and did not stick together upon draining). It's amazing!
Now I'm excited to try making my own pasta with corn semolina flour. But first, I'm going to try the grain in a semolina corn cake recipe (like this one). I've tried corn cakes before, by mixing corn kernels with corn and chickpea flours, but the results were a bit too bland and a bit too gritty for my liking.
But all of these options and ideas aren't enough; Mexican corn flours take the grain a step or two further. The most common option available in typical US grocery stores is masa harina---a corn flour that is soaked in lime (calcium) to break down the hulls before grinding and drying.
When I stopped eating wheat and yeast in our already--dairy-free household, I found myself making a lot of Asian and Mexican dishes. Naturally (right?), that led me to wonder about making my own tortillas instead of buying them. I used a Craftsy class subscription to learn more, quickly, about authentic tortilla methods and varieties. It was a fantastic experience! I learned that I only needed water, masa harina, and salt to get started.
You don't need to, but I went ahead and bought a small tortilla press and a small comal, or cast-iron griddle. I picked up some masa harina (Maseca is the brand I used) and got started: mix, roll, press, brown each side on a dry griddle, wipe the griddle clean at the end. The biggest tip I learned from my classes and online recipes was that the dough is best rolled and pressed by hand to the consistency of Play-Doh. So making dinner was also a lot of fun!
Since my first attempt at tortilla making, we have
We have even shaped the uncooked dough into muffin tins and parbaked them, then filled them with taco meat and returned them to the oven to crisp and heat up some more.
My next plan is to try yet another corn flour product: arepa flour, or masarepa. This flour is an instant yellow flour, pre-cooked masa harina that is prepared similarly to tortillas but cooks quickly when stuffed or topped. This could be my sandwich bread replacement down the road...what do you think?
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.
I made the 2017 Top-40 Food Allergy blogs!
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