Thursday, September 30, 2010

Loving Legal Sea Foods

It’s rare that I would recommend a seafood restaurant for a family with food allergies, but there is one I recommend without hesitation – Legal Sea Foods.

I have been to a number of the chain’s restaurants in Massachusetts and New York, and have never been unhappy with a meal. Even before we had a food allergy diagnosis, Legal Sea Foods was a favorite, and now I appreciate them even more.

Since my husband and I spent the weekend in Boston for a water polo tournament, we took the opportunity to have dinner at the Legal Sea Foods at Copley Place, just minutes away from our hotel.

We were dining alone, so I only needed to be concerned with my own wheat allergy. I asked for the gluten-free menu, which has quite a variety of choices, and can be modified to accommodate many other allergies as well. I was delighted to be offered gluten-free rolls, which – while not as fluffy as my husband’s gluten-laden rolls – were quite good, and warmed up special for me.

I ordered the cioppino (lobster, scallops, shrimp, calamari, littlenecks, mussels, and scrod in a light tomato sauce), which is served with rice. A separate waiter, with nothing else on his tray, delivered this splendid meal to me. Yes – that raised my confidence – no chance for contamination after it left the kitchen.

Normally I would recommend avoiding seafood restaurants for the milk-allergic, as butter is usually everywhere, but I have eaten at Legal Sea Foods with my food-allergic son with extreme success. Also on the menu (and some of my son’s favorites) are steamed clams (with no butter), lite clam chowder (a milkless chowder), and calamari (prepared with a chick pea flour).

There are few restaurants where I can go and feel entirely comfortable that my family’s food allergies will be handled properly. Unless your food allergies are fish or seafood, you’ll be delighted with your meal at Legal Sea Foods.

Monday, September 27, 2010

A Link Between Eosinophilic Diseases and Eating Disorders

A recent issue of the Kids With Food Allergies e-newsletter pointed to a recent pediatric study that looked at the link between eosinophilic gastrointestinal disease (EGID) and eating disorders. The results were published in the Pediatrics Journal.

Two hundred children with EGIDs were studied. The objective of the study was to further understand and document food disorders in children with eosinophilic disease.

Not surprisingly, they did find a strong link. More than 16% of the group studied had significant food disorders. In addition, the researchers documented what they called “a variety of learned maladaptive feeding behaviors,” in nearly 94% of the group. These included:
  • Frequent gagging or vomiting – 84%
  • Food sensitivity – 88%
  • Failure to thrive – 21%
These results are consistent with my experience as a mother to a son with eosinophilic esophagitis (EE), one of the most prevalent EGIDs. What the study calls “maladaptive feeding behaviors” I would simply call eating problems. In a prior post on EE, I described some of the symptoms I had seen:
  • Slow eating (last to leave the table and usually left food on the plate)
  • Complaints about the texture of certain foods, and that some foods were too dry
  • Cutting food into small pieces (smaller than typical)
  • Throwing up, spitting up, or regurgitating
When my family first started on this journey there was little information available on EGID, and few doctors were even aware of the disorders. I am thrilled to see that research is being done that will help this information become more mainstream in the medical world.

You can read more on my family's journey with EE here.

You can find out more about Kids with Food Allergies and subscribe to their neswsletter here.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

King Arthur Gluten-Free Bread Mix

I am really becoming a fan of the King Arthur Flour gluten-free products. While a bit on the expensive side, I find the King Arthur products to be worth it.

Gluten-free breads are challenging, and they are even more challenging when you can’t use eggs, but the folks at King Arthur Flour sent me a package of their gluten-free bread mix to try, so I had to give it a shot!

The mix includes rice flour, tapioca starch, potato starch, sugar, a rice starch emulsifier, salt, and xantham gum. It comes with a yeast packet, as this is a rising bread mix.

The biggest replacement challenge with rising breads is the eggs – I chose to go with Ener-G egg replacer. Instead of butter I used Earth Balance shortening.

As with most rising breads, this one requires a multi-step process (plan about two hours start to finish to make this bread). Following the directions on the package I stirred, let sit, stirred to deflate, covered and let rise, then baked.

The result was a very good bread, which my family was quick to point out didn’t look anywhere near as fluffy as the picture on the package. That said, my son declared this the perfect sunbutter and jelly sandwich bread, and it disappeared quite fast.

Disclosure: I received a free sample of this product to try.

Monday, September 20, 2010

An Experiment - Make Your Own Hemp Seed Butter

I still had lots of hemp seed powder left over from my last science experiment, so I decided to try another one. This time, I wanted to see if I could make hemp seed butter, similar to the sunflower seed butters you might purchase at the health food store.

To make the hemp powder, I used the seed grinder that I usually use to make flax seed powder (for flax seed eggs). My approach was very simple– combining hemp seed powder with oil.

I really like hemp for it’s high protein content, and it’s nutty taste made it perfect to try as a substitute for peanut butter, so I was really excited to try this project. And I was thrilled that it worked!

I ended up with a butter that could easily be spread on your favorite allergen-free bread, or used with crackers or veggies for a snack. Celery sticks with hemp seed butter are really good!

If you want to try it yourself, here’s the recipe:

Hemp Seed Butter

Combine one tablespoon of oil with four tablespoons of hemp seed powder. Add a pinch of salt. Let the mixture sit until the seed powder absorbs the oil (about an hour). Mix in ¼ teaspoon of honey. Refrigerate.

I used walnut oil because it has a nice mild nutty taste, and we don’t have tree nut allergies in my house, but canola oil would also work well. The longer you refrigerate, the creamier the mixture will become. This recipe will make about ¼ cup of butter. Double or quadruple the recipe for a larger batch.

Try it and let me know what you think!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Jules Cookie Mix Made Allergen-Free

I love that there are so many new gluten-free baking mixes available on the market today, but those who eat allergen-free know that these mixes often require adding milk, or butter, or … ugh… eggs. Yes, replacing the eggs is by far the toughest part of this equation. I feel like I am doing a science project every time I try, and I get a bit obsessive about making it work.

I was excited when Jules starting making their cookie mix available for purchase, as I really like the Jules flour mix. What I learned from my experiments is that there is a wrong way and a right way to make these cookies, and I want to tell you about both of them.

The cookie mix starts out allergen-free, but the recipe requires 8 tablespoons butter, 8 tablespoons shortening and 2 eggs – all which require replacements.

The wrong way

I used 16 tablespoons (2 sticks) Earth Balance shortening, and ½ cup of applesauce (for the eggs). I followed the package directions in terms of mixing ingredients, and refrigerating for two hours before forming the cookies. My cookies spread really fast, and I needed to bake them far longer than the recommended time (about 18 minutes versus 8-10 minutes).

The result was very oily and crumbly. On the plus side these weren’t throw away cookies – they tasted great – but were not suitable for serving guests or bringing to a bake sale.

I zeroed in on the eggs as the problem and decided that using a traditional egg replacer may be a better choice. I also e-mailed the folks at Jules who suggested that I freeze them for two hours prior to baking.

The right way

I used 8 tablespoons Earth Balance soy-free buttery spread, 8 tablespoons Earth Balance shortening, and Ener-g egg replacer (3 tsp. powder mixed with 4 tbsps. water for the equivalent of two eggs). I froze the dough for two hours. And (drumroll, please) – yes! They worked! I still needed to bake them longer (about 14 minutes), but they made a really nice cookie that tasted great and held together.

They look much better, don't you agree?

You do need to add your own extras to this mix. In both versions I made chocolate chip cookies. I do also want to mention that this is a super-sized cookie mix. I made two trays and I still have half of the dough in the freezer for another day.

Has anyone else tried them yet? What do you think?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Fifty Best Food Allergy Blogs

Learning to Eat Allergy Free was selected one of the fifty best food allergy blogs by

Thanks to everyone who supports this blog, and check out the other winners here.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Visiting Yankee Stadium with Food Allergies

The new Yankee Stadium
While my food-allergic son was home from college we had an opportunity to go see a Yankee game at the new Yankee Stadium. In case you’re wondering, it was a beautiful day and the Yankee’s won! Yippee! Now, about the food…

When we first arrived we decided to try the garlic fries. One of the interesting things about the stadium concessions is there is a separate line for food types. So, we got in the fries line, and ordered our garlic fries. No, no cheese, please. They were quite good, and we had no allergy problems.

Next, I went in search of a salad. For me, I was simply looking for a healthy food option without wheat. I walked around the entire stadium and could not find a salad – or veggies of any sort. There was a sushi bar, but being sensitive to soy, that seemed risky. Back at my seat I checked out the seat-side menu and found a chicken caesar salad. Yup, that would do. It arrived crouton-free, and the cheese was in a separate packet that could have easily been skipped. It wasn’t the best salad I have ever had, but it worked.

Next, my son and husband wanted their lunch. My husband had been raving about the prime rib sandwiches available from the Lobel’s concession, so we headed there. This concession stand is small and tucked away, but it always has a really long line. I think this may be the absolute best food option (allergies or not) at Yankee Stadium. They sell only one beef-based sandwich per day. Today it was prime rib. We could see the meat roasting and being sliced in the back, through windows as we waited in line.

Could we get one allergen-free? Yes! We asked for one regular sandwich, and one meat-only. No bun, no gravy. They plopped a very handsome portion of juicy meat into a container for my son, and he had an awesome meal!

What about the peanuts? We were lucky to not be surrounded by peanut eaters, but later in the day a group three rows in front of us shared a large container of peanuts. It was a windy day, and the shells and peanut dust did travel up to our seats. We were also lucky that our row had thinned out by that time, so we were able to move a few seats away to avoid a problem.

All in all, it was a very successful trip.

Photo by jeffpearce

Thursday, September 9, 2010

An Experiment – Can Hemp Seeds be used to Make Egg Replacer?

I came across some hemp seeds while I was in the health food store recently, and I immediately thought – hmmm… I wonder what I can make with these. (Am I the only one who browses in the health food store like most people browse at the mall?) The hemp seeds were sitting right next to the flax seeds I usually buy, and my brain started cooking up experiments I could try.

The first experiment I decided to try was to attempt to make a hemp seed egg replacement, similar to flax seed eggs.

My method was exactly the same as I what I use to make an egg replacement with flax seeds. First I ground the seeds into a fine powder using my seed grinder. Then I combined one tablespoon of hemp seed powder with three tablespoons water. I whisked it together and let it sit. I was hoping for that magical gloppy effect that happens when I do this with flax seeds.

It didn’t happen.

So I added more hemp seed powder, and still no gloppiness. Hmmm… but something interesting did happen.

I did succeed in making hemp milk! And it makes sense. In fact, that is exactly how hemp milk (and other milks made from nuts) is made. I added more water to the mixture, and let it sit longer. The longer I let it sit, the stronger the milk mixture became. Then I strained it with a fine strainer and put in the fridge – to be used in a baking recipe soon!

I had the equivalent of unsweetened hemp milk.

My conclusion is that hemp seeds cannot be used to make an egg replacer, but combining hemp seed powder with water does make hemp milk. That said, I don’t expect to be making my own hemp milk very often, as it’s very easy to purchase it ready-made, but I did want to share the results – just in case I’m not the only crazy person out there who was wondering if this would work!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

How Important is Organic?

Fresh vegetables
Organic foods are becoming more and more popular. I no longer have to go to the local health food store to find organic foods – more and more options are popping up every day at my mainstream grocery store.

Many of the brands that cater to the food-allergic use organic ingredients, but how important is eating organic to you if you have food allergies?

I recently came across this article in the Des Moines Examiner, by Stephanie Hay, that reminded me why I choose organic foods whenever I can. Stephanie points out that organic foods don’t contain food additives and flavor enhancers such as aspartame, high fructose corn syrup, MSG, dyes, contaminants, and preservatives, and notes that people are increasingly becoming more and more allergic to these additives. I also worry about genetically modified foods and how they may affect us.

While eating organic foods is generally considered healthier for everyone, I think it may be even more important to those that are food-allergic. Although eating organic isn’t always practical or cost-effective, my rule of thumb is to buy foods with as few ingredients as possible, and no additives.

What do you think? Do you eat organic?

Photo via Creative Commons by Lars P

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Snacks for the Lunchbox - Roundup

American school bus

Here in the Northeast, school will be back in session next week – right after Labor Day. In other parts of the country school has already started. And, of course, when school starts, Allergy Moms across the country are faced with the dreaded lunch box.

We are always looking for ideas to send in our child’s lunch bag for snack or a treat with lunch, so I thought it would be a good idea to share some allergen-free snack ideas. Here goes…

Free of the top eight food allergens and gluten-free:

Enjoy Life Boom Choco Boom – chocolate bars in dark chocolate, and chocolate crispy-rice. These will melt, so save them for when the temperatures are a little cooler.

Ener-G Wylde Pretzels – these now come in snack sizes. Look for the Wylde name to ensure you get the soy-free version.

Olive Corn Chips – by Foods Should Taste Good. Put a handful in a baggy for lunch.

Enjoy Life Cookies – come in lots of flavors including apple and chocolate brownie. If you’re lucky you can find the snack packs in your store, otherwise stash a few in a baggie.

Allergen-free ingredients but contain contamination warnings:

No Nuttin’ Granola Bars – in both chocolate chip and chocolate chunk flavors. (Contain soy lecithin, and they do process soybeans in their factory)

Nature’s Path Sunny Hemp Bars – a great nutritious sweet snack. They do contain soy oil and are processed in a facility that processes dairy, peanuts, and tree nuts.

Not quite perfect but worth mentioning:

Larabar Snack Bars – are really great snacks for those who aren’t allergic to nuts. Most flavors contain tree nuts. The peanut bar is made in a separate facility.

Newman O’s – in the dairy-free wheat-free package (look for the blue label). These are free of the top eight allergens, but are not gluten-free. They contain barley flour. They are processed in a facility that processes nuts.

Ingredients do change, so please – always check the labels each time you buy a product!

What’s your favorite allergen-free snack for the lunch box? Please add your ideas here (and feel free to add a link if you’ve done a review).

Photo By freefotouk Ian Britton