Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Another Person’s Poison – A Book Review

I’m not a history buff in any way, shape, or form. I honestly don’t remember a thing from any history classes I may have taken (sometimes I think I may not have taken any, but that’s surely not true). So when I was asked if I’d like the review Another Person's Poison: A History of Food Allergy, I was tempted to pass. But the title of the book really caught my attention, and it was about food allergies, so I was intrigued.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy for review.

The first question I was tempted to ask was, “Does food allergy truly have a history?” and it turns out it does. The book starts with accounts as early as the 1700’s where adverse reactions to food were described. Some of these sound like things we would today call food allergies, or dermatitis, or even celiac disease.

The history of food allergy goes way back, but I was surprised to learn how new the study of food allergy truly is. Throughout the text we learn about how the terms “food allergy,” “anaphylaxis,” and “IgE” came about – and how their use evolved over time. This is an extremely well researched book. There are close to 100 pages (nearly a third of the book) of notes and references.

I was most surprised about how Matthew Smith connected food allergy to mental illness – a parallel he uses throughout the text. While he isn’t describing food allergy as a mental illness (he is quite careful not to) he does describe how adverse reactions to food were perceived as mental illness. It’s all in your head. Who with food allergies or managing food allergies hasn’t felt a little bit crazy at times? And who among us hasn’t been looked at as if we’d lost our heads when describing food restrictions. Yeah, I get the connection.

I was surprised to learn that there were people calling for complete, factual ingredients labels as early as the 1970’s. And yet, the FALCPA wasn’t passed until 2004. Progress, or tragedy?

On the plus side, I was pleased to see Smith call out the role parents have played in driving change and awareness when it comes to food allergy.

On the downside, there is little discussion of recent history. There is no mention of KFA, AAFA, or other more recent non-profits that focus on food allergy. There is limited discussion of the links between allergic diseases. There is limited discussion of any research beyond the early 2000’s. There is limited discussion of specific foods or multiple allergies (although the chapter on peanut allergy is extensive).

As expected, the conclusion is also limited. There is no answer as to why food allergies have increased or even what caused them in the first place. There are no new revelations here. The essence of Matthew Smith’s conclusion is – as he states in the final paragraph – “Food allergy, much like mental illness, is a perplexing, alarming, and deeply personal condition.”

Is this book a must-read for those managing food allergies? I think not. It’s interesting – perhaps some might even say fascinating – to learn about the evolution of food allergies and how they have been perceived over time, but you will find nothing here to help you manage food allergies, feed your family, or even avoid food allergens. I think that those in the medical profession will be most interested to read this text.

A note: You may notice on amazon that the book contains a second sub-title, Arts and Traditions of the Table: Perspectives on Culinary History. I believe that was dropped from the final title and I'm glad it was -- there is absolutely no culinary history covered.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Good Luck Chuck Sunflower Seed Butter Review

I received free samples of Good Luck Chuck sunflower seed butter for review.

As I waited for the product to arrive I pondered the name. Is it meant to be “Good Luck, Chuck” as if wishing Chuck some good luck? Or is “Good-luck” an adjective, as if Chuck brings good luck? Amazing what a comma or a hyphen can do.

And so I searched out the story. One might assume that the sunflower seed butter is made by Chuck, but alas, it’s not. Aaron is the founder of Good Luck Chuck (and the guy who sent me free samples). It turns out that Chuck is a guy that Aaron met when Chuck was down on his luck. Aaron helped Chuck out that day, bringing Chuck a little bit of luck. Hence the name “Good Luck Chuck”.

Of course, you wouldn’t necessarily know by the product name that this is sunflower seed butter, but it is – and it’s good!

It comes in three flavors – original (think “plain” or “classic”), chocolate (yup, it’s like Nutella without the nuts), and surprise, surprise – sriracha!! Now that’s a spicy twist.

What I love most about this product is the ingredients. There’s nothing in here that I wouldn’t put in my own homemade version. The ingredients for original are:

Sunflower seeds, sugar, palm oil, salt

The label also clearly states that none of the top 8 allergens are present. Each serving has 3 grams of sugar and 7 grams of protein. This is good stuff.

I tried the original first, as that’s the version I can best compare. This is a very creamy butter (creamier than most) and I did need to stir it when I opened the jar.

If you are in search of a great sunflower seed butter source, I think Good Luck Chuck’s is worth a try, and it’s available on amazon (affiliate link).

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Math Matters: The Size of the Baking Dish

It’s often said that baking is a science – and that is certainly true – but the equally important skill when baking is math. (Have I mentioned that I was a math major?) Lucky for most of us, the math needed for baking is much simpler than algebraic equations and linear algebra, but basic math (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division) and geometry come in quite handy when baking. I always keep a calculator in the kitchen (the calculator on your phone works too), and a ruler nearby.

Today’s lesson is about the size of a baking dish:

A 10-inch pie plate is considerably larger than a 9-inch plate. That inch might not seem to make much difference, but you need considerably more pie dough and filling to make a 10-inch pie. Check out the math:

Area equals pi (3.14) times the radius squared.

A 9-inch pie plate has an area of 64 inches (4.5 x 4.5 x 3.14) whereas a 10-inch pie plate has an area of 79 inches (5 x 5 x 3.14). That’s a difference of 23%.

Whereas some recipes can be adapted for plate size (for example, a brownie recipe designed for a 9-inch-square pan can be made in an 8-inch-square pan by increasing the baking time, don’t try to use a 10-inch pie plate with a recipe that was designed for a 9-inch pie. You won’t have enough crust and the filling will fall flat.

If you must use a 10-inch pie plate with a recipe designed for a 9-inch pie plate you need to increase the ingredients by roughly one quarter (or 5 parts for every 4 that the recipe calls for).

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Chocolate Covered Cherries

If you are lucky enough to get your hands on some cherries this year, I have a great, kid-friendly, summer fun project for you. Cherries have been elusive this year so when I finally got my hands on some I wanted to make sure I put them to good use.

 Of course, any fruit can be dipped into chocolate, but there's something special about cherries. Remember the chocolate covered, sugar filled cherries we all used to eat? They were a favorite of mine. Now, I'd rather not have the added sugar and we need to make our own with safe chocolate. I used PASCHA Organic Dark Chocolate Baking Chips - 55% Cacao to make these (affiliate link).
Wash the cherries, remove the stems and the pits (but try to keep them whole). Pat them dry.

Melt 1 tablespoon of shortening (I used Earth Balance Vegan Shortening) over low heat. Add 1/2 cup chocolate chips and stir until completely melted. Use a toothpick to dip the cherries into the chocolate. Place the coated cherries on a baking sheet lined with parchment.

 Refrigerate until the chocolate is solidified. Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Ten Allergen-Free Baking Myths

“I’m not a baker.”

“There are no ingredients left that I can bake with.”

“It’s too hard.”

Is it impossible to bake without wheat, gluten, eggs, butter, and milk? Some days I wonder the same thing, but then I go into the kitchen and prove that yes, it not only can be done but it can be done with fantastic results. So today, I am busting those myths and encouraging you to do the same by proving it to yourself (uh, yeah, that means baking). Ready for your pep talk? Here goes…

1. Gluten-free baked goods taste awful.

Those in the traditional baked goods world are used to everything tasting like wheat – because everything is made with wheat. But the typical wheat-based diet leaves out dozens of other grains/flours – each with their own flavor profile. If all you’re eating is rice-based foods on an allergen-free diet you are missing out!

2. Cow’s milk is better than alternative milks.

“Got milk?” We are so brainwashed. We have been taught to believe that we should be drinking cow’s milk – milk from another mammal. Humans are the only mammals on the planet who drink another mammal’s milk. Every other mammal moves on to water once weaned. If you are concerned about getting enough calcium, both rice milk (fortified) and hemp milk (fortified) have the same amount of calcium per serving as cow’s milk. Hemp milk also has some great properties that cow’s milk doesn’t have – Omega 3 and 6 essential fatty acids. And hemp is a complete protein with all 10 essential amino acids. Take that, cow’s milk!

3. You can’t bake without eggs.

Eggs are the last ingredient that most of us want to hold onto for baking. Even the big name gluten-free vendors have yet to tackle egg-free baked goods for their off-the-shelf lines. But vegans have been doing it for years and so have I. Baking without eggs isn’t impossible, it’s just different.

4. You can’t make meringues without eggs.

Until recently I would say that you can make anything without eggs except an essentially egg dish (e.g. quiche, scrambled eggs) or meringue. But even the egg-free meringue myth is now busted!

5. Butter is better.

Um, there’s that cow sneaking into our kitchens again. My advice is to think of butter as shortening. It is easily replaceable with any other high quality shortening or coconut oil. Many shortening products are combinations of oils – check the labels and choose one that is safe for you.

6. Flour equals wheat.

In nearly every commercial kitchen or restaurant this is true. If it’s flour it must be wheat, but it doesn’t have to be! Rice, sorghum, millet, amaranth, quinoa, corn and bean flours are just a few of the options available.

7. Baking without wheat, eggs, milk, and butter is impossible.

Replacing one of these ingredients is hard, replacing all of them might seem to be impossible – but it’s not. It is true however, that the rules have changed. The traditional formulas/ratios won’t work. Once you understand how new ingredients behave and how to combine them it all becomes possible again!

8. Food allergy foods are all empty calories.

Often, this is true. Many off-the-shelf foods made without the top-8 allergens are high in starch, sugar, and calories. Check the labels and you might notice that portion sizes are small so that the calorie counts appear equitable with traditional baked goods. The solution is to make your own baked goods from scratch using just as much sugar and as much starch as you need.

9. Gums are bad for you.

Well, xanthan gum is a created food and some argue that it’s not good for you. Guar gum is derived from a seed. I will certainly not claim that gums are good for you (they provide no nutritional value), however they provide a valuable assist when baking. My solution is to use as little as possible. My rule of thumb is ¼ teaspoon xanthan gum per cup (or partial cup) of flour. If you choose guar gum, use ½ teaspoon per cup (or partial cup) of flour.

10. Food allergy foods are expensive.

This is certainly true for processed allergen-free foods, baking mixes, and flour blends that you buy off the shelf. There is a cost that comes with making sure foods are processed safely and not contaminated. I’ll gladly pay extra to make sure food is safe. But what if you make food – from scratch – at home? The cost goes down considerably and no worries about reading labels!

Now, get into that kitchen and start baking!