Saturday, July 31, 2010

If Only There Were a Pill

When we finally learned that my son had EE and food allergies, I was relieved. The symptoms fit. After many years of trying to figure out what was wrong we finally knew what the problem was. My son, who was now ten, was not so relieved. He now had a list of foods he needed to eliminate from his diet. He wanted to know:

“Why can’t I just take a pill?”

After all, he had been taking the purple pill when we thought he had acid reflux, and he could take a pill for lactose intolerance, so why shouldn’t he expect that there would be a pill for food allergies?

Ten years later, having now gone half his life without wheat, milk, cheese, butter, soy, eggs, or peanuts, and knowing that he feels better, he is happily avoiding the foods that make him sick.

If there were one present I wish I could give him on his twentieth birthday it would be a pill, followed by a pizza, complete with a wheat crust and lots of gooey cheese. Ahhh, but instead I made him an allergen-free cake that even his fraternity brothers won’t be able to tell has no wheat or milk or eggs in it.

Happy 20th birthday Patrick!

For this cake I used Bob's Red Mill chocolate cake mix and added:
  • 1/2 cup Earth Balance shortening (in place of butter)
  • 1 cup chocolate hemp milk (instead of cow's milk)
  • 1/2 cup applesauce (in place of 2 eggs)
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice, 1/3 cup water, and 2 tsp vanilla per directions
  • And I added 1/2 cup of chocolate chips (just because)

Because we were traveling I used a 9 X 13 pan instead of two rounds.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Snack Series – Foods Should Taste Good Chips

With a name like Foods Should Taste Good, these chips are hard to resist.

The olive chips are my favorite. With simple wholesome ingredients like stone ground corn, sunflower oil, olives, corn bran, garlic powder and sea salt, they are a healthy alternative to the standard chip. They are certified gluten-free. Most of the flavors are also allergen-free (stay away from the multigrain and the cheddar flavors.

Some of the allergen-free flavors include sweet potato, blue corn, white corn, and lime. And I didn’t even realize they made a chocolate flavor until I checked out their website. A chocolate corn chip? Really? I am going to have to try that one!

Tuck a handful of chips into a baggie for a great lunch box treat or take-along.

Have you tried them? What’s your favorite flavor?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Lessons From the CIA – Gums in Gluten-Free Baking

It’s been a while since I shared what I learned in baking class from the Culinary Institute of America (CIA). Let’s get back to that, shall we?

Today’s lesson is about the use of gums in gluten-free and wheat-free baking.

One of the reasons wheat is so widely used in baking – and especially in breads – is because the structure of the proteins in wheat gives the grain an elasticity that isn’t found in non-gluten grains. When you rip your wheat bread apart you can see that springiness. Remember that light airy texture in wheat bread? That’s the gluten at work. That’s what we are trying to replace by adding gums to non-gluten breads.

The two most widely available options are xanthan gum and guar gum. Xanthan gum, which I wrote about a while back, is a created substance, usually derived from corn. For those that are allergic to corn or who just want another option, guar gum comes from guar beans. Both are polysaccharides (carbohydrates bonded together).

Both guar gum and xanthan gum behave similarly and can be used to make a batter or mixture more viscous. In other words, they can add back that springiness that we all love so much in our bread, and keep them from crumbling. It’s all about the texture.

Very little gum is needed. As little as ¼ tsp is all you need in many recipes. Guar gum and xanthan gum can be substituted in equal quantities in recipes. The more you add, the doughier a batter becomes.

The trick to using gums is to always add them to the dry ingredients.

These gums are hydrocolloidal – as soon as they find liquid they start to gum up. If you add them to the wet ingredients they’ll glob together – and could even cause a choking hazard. So, mix it in well with your flour and other dry ingredients before adding to the wet ingredients and you’ll end up with bread that is uniformly springy.

Keep in mind that some of the gluten-free flour mixes available today have the gums already added in, simplifying this tricky business. There is no need to add more.

Happy baking! Check out previous lessons from the CIA here.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Snack Series: Larabar Snack Bars

Gotta love ‘em. These bars are so good that I am breaking my rule about including only products that are free of the top eight allergens. But if you can eat nuts, these bars are a terrific take-along snack or lunch box treat.

Why do I like them so much? First – the ingredients. Every Larabar is made with whole ingredients – fruits, nuts, spices, and (in some cases) chocolate. They are power-packed with nutrients. They taste great. And, you can throw them in a bag without fear of smushing or melting. They have flavors like apple pie, and lemon pie, and banana bread. They just recently introduced chocolate chip brownie, and chocolate chip cookie dough, which I am dying to try!

Most of the flavors contain tree nuts (almonds, cashews, etc.). Just a few are made with peanuts. The peanut varieties are made in a separate facility. We stay away from the peanut varieties in my house, and haven’t had any problems with allergic reactions.

All of the bars are gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, vegan, and kosher.

Larabar Jocalat, Chocolate Cherry, 1.7-Ounce Bars (Pack of 16)But wait – it gets better. Larabar also produces a brand called Jocolat, with chocolate flavors made of the purest chocolate. They make chocolate mint and chocolate coffee, and plain chocolate, among other flavors, but my favorite is the chocolate cherry Jocalat bar. If I can’t have chocolate cake, this will do just fine!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Allergen-Free Baking Errors

While I usually share stories of baking projects that the entire family loved, today I am opening my kimono and sharing some of my failures. After all, part of the process of learning to bake allergen-free is to make mistakes, right? And it’s even better if we can figure out how to fix those mistakes. So here goes…

Mistake example one:

I recently used a free sample of Orgran vanilla cake mix to make some chocolate chip cupcakes. I have mentioned before that I love the fact that Orgran puts the substitutions for the allergen-free ingredients right on the box – no guesswork. In this case, instead of 5.5 oz. water, 2 eggs, and 2.1 oz. margarine, I was to add 8.4 oz. water and 15g vegetable oil.

I mixed up all my ingredients and popped my cupcakes into the oven. During baking, I smelled some burning and took them out early. They looked very greasy. I let them sit and there was oil seeping over the edges of the tin. I took them out of the tin and tried to ‘drain’ them on paper towels, wondering what I had done wrong – and then threw them in the trash.

It turns out I should have paid more attention to learning metric conversions in math. What did I do wrong? I added 15 ounces of vegetable oil rather than 15 grams. I was actually supposed to add less oil than the recipe with eggs. 15 grams would have been something like ½ an ounce – a very small amount of oil – and instead I ended up opening a whole new bottle of canola oil.

Lesson learned – pay attention to the details.

Mistake example two:

I was excited to try King Arthur’s gluten free brownies. I had received a sample from them to review, but sadly (and this is no reflection on the product), my experiment failed.

I substituted Earth Balance for a stick of butter, and used EnerG egg replacer instead of the two eggs. I melted the Earth Balance, combined everything together and baked the brownies. Instead of a fudgy brownie with a nice crust (like the picture on the box), I had a mess that resembled burnt chocolate sugar. (In case you’re wondering, it was edible but not servable.)

I am still trying to figure out what I did wrong with this one. I had a similar problem when I tried Trader Joe’s brownies a few months ago – but in that case I used applesauce to replace the eggs. After some research I have a suspicion that my error was in melting the earth balance and adding it piping hot to the replacement eggs. If I had used room temperature Earth Balance would this have worked?

Does anyone have a solution for this problem? If not, I’ll keep working on it until I figure it out.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Sandwich Petals are Delightful

Did you think all gluten-free and allergen-free breads needed to be kept in the freezer? I did too – until recently. A couple food-allergy bloggers had suggested sandwich wraps from Sandwich Petals so I decided to give them a try.

The company that makes them describes them as a flatbread, but they are very much like a traditional bread wrap. Their unique oblong shape actually makes them the perfect size. They come in three flavors – agave grain, spinach garlic pesto, and chimayo red chile. All three are fantastic!

They are gluten-free and free of the top eight allergens. (They do contain corn, sesame, and flax.) You can purchase them at in a variety box (one package of each flavor).

The best part? Wait for it… they do not need to be refrigerated or stored in the freezer. You can keep them in your pantry, and they have a shelf life of 60 days. Chances are they won’t last that long.

I find that the recommendation to reheat for 30 seconds really does bring them to life. Just wrap a single bread in a moist paper towel and microwave for 30 seconds.

Here’s an example of a wrap with roast beef and avocado spread.

My favorite use for these so far is to grill a sandwich Panini-style.

They would also make a great soft taco. Have you tried them yet? What do you think?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Sharing My Family’s Experience With EE – Food Allergies

This is part of a series of blog posts sharing my family’s experience with eosinophilic esophagitis (EE) in response to reader questions. Check out prior installments in the series here, and always consult your physician.

At this point in the story we knew for sure that my son suffered from EE, but we didn’t yet know what was causing the problem. The connection between EE and food allergies was just starting to emerge in the medical community, so we set out to look for food allergies.

At the allergist’s office my son was tested for food allergies using a skin prick test. He tested negative for all foods(including the top eight), but he did show a very mild reaction to milk. The allergist essentially told us he didn’t have food allergies at all, but I was still certain that he did.

Next, we did a RAST test – a blood test that checks for IgE responses to food proteins. This was our real breakthrough, where we discovered that my son was allergic to wheat, milk (both with strong reactions), soy protein, egg whites, and peanuts (the last three with medium reactions). Note that like most food allergies, it is the proteins in the food that he is allergic to.

In our case the skin prick tests were not helpful, and it was only through a blood test that we were able to diagnose the allergies. Once we eliminated the foods he was allergic to he was fine.

Readers have asked me whether my son uses Flovent for treatment.

A bit of explanation – Flovent is typically prescribed for asthma. It’s a steroid that is usually inhaled into the lungs to ward off asthma attacks. Early on, researchers found that Flovent could be used for EE patients as well. Instead of inhaling the mist, the patient swallows it so that it goes down the esophagus.

When we first suspected my son had EE, his doctor prescribed Flovent. At that point in time his esophagus was severely inflamed. The Flovent was being used to try to heal his esophagus as well as to try to determine whether it really was EE. Also at that point we hadn’t yet determined what foods he was allergic to.

I get a little bit nervous when I hear of inhalers being used for long-term treatment. In my opinion, eating foods that you are allergic to and using an inhaler to minimize the distress is a bit like intentionally running through a field of poison ivy and then pouring calamine lotion over the resulting rash.

I think the inhalers are great for healing an inflamed esophagus or for when there is an unexpected flare-up, but the only real treatment is to avoid the foods you are allergic to.

This concludes my series on EE. If you have a question on this topic you would like me to address please send me an e-mail or leave a comment here. If you want to hear from physicians on EE, check out the transcript of the APFED twitter party from National Eosinophil Awareness Week.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

King Arthur Gluten-Free Cookie Mix – Chocolate Chip Cookies

So far I am loving the new King Arthur gluten-free mixes, and this cookie mix is no exception!

This is a classic brown sugar cookie mix with no wheat, no milk, no eggs, no nuts and no soy. And, in case I haven’t mentioned this before the King Arthur gluten-free products are made in a dedicated allergen-free facility. Yeah!

The flour base for this mix is tapioca and rice. It does contain cornstarch.

The only ingredients you need to add are butter, one egg, and water. To make this allergen-free, substitutions were required. I used Earth Balance natural shortening in place of the butter. I find that shortening bars work well for cookie mixes. I used flax seed goop in place of the egg (1/4 cup equals one egg).

Perhaps because this was a brown sugar base or perhaps because the picture on the box enticed me to do so, I decided to add Sunspire chocolate chips. The result was the closest I have seen to a classic tollhouse cookie using gluten-free and allergen-free ingredients. This is definitely on my list of favorites!

Despite the blurry picture of my end result, these cookies were a big hit!

I think this mix would also make a great cookie-like crust for a pie or tart.

Has anyone else tried this? What do you think?

Disclosure: I received a free product sample from King Arthur Flour. I was not obligated to review the product or to write a positive review.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Sharing My Family’s Experience With EE – Symptoms

This is part of a series of blog posts sharing my family’s experience with eosinophilic esophagitis (EE) in response to reader questions. Check out prior installments in the series here, and always consult your physician.

In the most recent post in this series, I took you through the story to when my son’s gastro-intestinal specialist discovered severe inflammation and eosinophils in his esophagus.

EE was just starting to be understood. Pediatricians had never heard of it. My son’s GI did some research and uncovered some very new research on the disorder. At that point, the connection between food allergies and EE was also not well understood. Nevertheless, she suspected EE, and she suspected that food was the trigger.

She prescribed Flovent inhalers to help clear up his esophagus (more on that next week), and sent us to see an allergist (more on that also next week). Here, I want to focus on symptoms and answering the question:

How did we know for sure it was EE?

Diagnosing medical problems in infants and children are tough because kids don’t know something is wrong if that’s all they have ever experienced. It’s just the way things are.

This was the early days of the internet, but it was the first place I turned to find out more about EE. There wasn’t much out there, but I found some case studies and stories of patients that had EE. It was the way the patients described the problem and the specific words they used to describe the problem that really resonated with me. I share this with the hope that it may resonate with others still in the diagnosis phase. They said things like:

  • Food gets stuck
  • The back of my tongue swells up
  • It hurts in my chest (note that they don’t say stomach)
In addition:
  • They ate slowly (last to leave the table and usually left food on the plate). My son would often try to go back and finish later.
  • They complained about the texture of certain foods, and that some foods were too dry.
  • They cut their food into small pieces (smaller than typical).
  • They threw up or spit up or regurgitated.
  • They were fine when they weren’t eating (unlike a flu or typical stomach ache).

When I read the stories I found on the internet I saw that these patients were describing the problem exactly the same way my son did. When he read the stories he knew for sure that EE was what he suffered from.

But the symptoms really point to the swelling of the esophagus, and the fact that food (any food) then gets stuck. It didn’t help us identify which foods caused the swelling. So next up in this series I will tackle that subject.

If you have a question on this topic you would like me to address please send me an e-mail or leave a comment here.