Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Setting the Record Straight on Food Restrictions

Photo by Charles Votaw
There’s little more frustrating than when people fail to acknowledge your food allergies or restrictions.

We all would like to be able to eat whatever we want. We simply can’t – without getting sick.

Some of you may know that I am a contributor at Forbes. I write for a blog called Work in Progress: Career Talk for Women Who Mean Business. Most of what I write there is focused on life in Corporate America and working women’s issues, although during food allergy awareness week I took the opportunity to write Five Things Every Boss Should Know About Food Allergies.

Last week I was dismayed when one of my fellow contributors at Forbes wrote a post titled What We’re (Not) Eating: A Potential Danger of Gluten-Free. In her article, Meghan Casserly tells the story of some high school girls who were claiming to need to eat gluten-free to hide their eating disorders. While she does stress that some do need eat gluten-free, she suggests that perhaps many are just jumping on the bandwagon, unnecessarily restricting their diets.

I, for one, like to eat.

My food-allergic son likes to eat.

There’s nothing we would like better than to have a regular old pizza made with wheat and cheese. But we can’t. So we eat (a lot) of the foods we can eat, and we enjoy them.

And instead of focusing on negative issues, we focus on what can we can do to call attention to the right issues. The current issue for the gluten-free community is the need for food labeling laws. The recent Gluten-Free Food Labeling Summit in Washington is the kind of news that should be getting our attention. To that end, I invite you to head on over to Forbes and check out my article Setting the Record Straight on Gluten-Free Eating and Celiac Disease: An Entrepreneur Takes on Washington, and let me know what you think.

(Note: I have intentionally not provided the link to the Casserly article, as I do not wish to call more attention to it than it has already received.)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

There’s No Such Thing As Too Much Chocolate

When you bake with chocolate as frequently as I do, and your family has food allergies, well… finding allergen-free chocolate is simply a necessity. For a while there were limited options, but I have recently discovered another one – Divvies!

I had heard fellow bloggers mention Divvies chocolate chips, but it wasn’t until I met Lori Sandler during Food Allergy Awareness Week that I had an opportunity to try them. Lori sent me a box full of chocolate goodies, and of course I was ecstatic. (Just the thought of chocolate arriving at my doorstep gets the endorphins going.)

Now you might think that all chocolate is the same, or that dark chocolate is dark chocolate. That’s simply not true. Chocolate can vary as much as coffee or grapes in taste. And those of us that are connoisseurs (um, I mean those of us that eat them by the handful) can tell you different.

Divvies chocolate chips are among the best I have tried. You can almost feel the taste. And you can’t eat just one (or one handful). When I had just ½ cup left I decided to try making a chocolate sauce/ganache. I used 1 tbsp Earth Balance shortening and 2 tbsp chocolate hemp milk with ½ cup of chocolate chips.

Divvies chocolate chips are made in nut-free, egg-free, milk-free bakery. They do use wheat in the facility, but the chocolate is processed separately from the wheat. Yeah! They do contain soy lecithin (but no soy protein).

Divvies thinks they made their chocolate to share, it even says so on the package, but I don’t know about that… you might have to get your own.

Monday, May 23, 2011

BlogHerFood – An Inspiring Event

I just got back from BlogHerFood in Atlanta where I had the chance to meet hundreds of fabulous food bloggers with all kinds of specialties. I’m exhausted and inspired. I had planned another post to run today, but I’m just too excited not to share!

As I was tweeting about BlogHerFood last week some of you asked, “What is BlogHer?” It’s a community of bloggers who write about everything under the sun. The organization runs a website, conferences, and an advertising network. The membership ranges from brand new bloggers to super-savvy bloggers, all who are willing to share what they know and always want to learn new things.

The person I was most excited to meet at the event was Dianne Jacob, food writer, writing coach, and author of Will Write for Food. She and her co-presenters led a lively discussion on recipe development and the ethics around sharing/re-printing recipes on blogs. I went to the session hoping for a clear answer to that question, and there isn’t one. The key takeaway was to respect other writers/recipe developers’ work, and ask permission if you want to re-use something.

One of my personal goals was to learn more about food photography (since I tend to think of the photos as an after-thought). The biggest tip was – use a tripod! There were also lots of ideas for food props and lighting that I will be trying over the next few months.

Of course, the highlight for me was working with my awesome co-speakers, Alisa Fleming, Sarena Shasteen, and Alicia Simpson. On Friday afternoon we talked about adapting recipes for special food needs. I learned a few things myself about vegan cooking that I’m looking forward to trying. We were also lucky enough to have Bianca O’Brien live blogging our session for us. So all of you who weren’t able to be there can check it out here!

I made some great new blogging friends this weekend – some who are allergen-free and gluten-free, and others who just love writing about food. I’m already looking forward to the next BlogHerFood, but in the meantime I’ll be reading the liveblogs of the sessions I missed.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Namaste Foods Waffle and Pancake Mix

I am a fan of the Namaste Foods flours and baking mixes, especially the gluten-free muffin mix, and the Perfect Flour Blend. When I saw the Namaste Foods waffle and pancake mix, I had high hopes.

One of the things I love about Namaste Foods is that they produce their mixes in a dedicated facility – they are free of the top eight allergens, gluten-free, AND corn-free, AND potato-free. While most companies focus on just a few of those ingredients, Namaste Foods is a great option for those with multiple food allergies that aren’t just the top eight.

This mix is based on rice, tapioca, and arrowroot flours. I used Ener-G egg replacer for the eggs, and hemp milk instead of water.

It’s tough to make gluten-free pancakes without eggs – they tend to stick to the pan, and end up in a crumpled mess. Unfortunately, that was the case here, as well. While they tasted okay, they didn’t come close to my favorites. I wouldn't recommend trying them in your waffle iron.

If you need a corn-free or potato-free pancake, this may be your best bet. Otherwise, check out Authentic Foods pancakes or Organ buckwheat pancakes for alternatives that my family loves.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Can’t Get Enough of Coconut

I’ve been on a coconut binge lately. I’m obsessed with baking with coconut oil instead of shortening. I have discovered that coconut milk is also terrific to bake with – and more important – coconut cream (yes, cream!) works almost like regular cream. And did I mention that I love, love, love coconut frozen desserts? Yup, I do.

It seems everywhere I look there’s a new coconut product to check out. It’s a little bit like when you’re buying a new Honda, and your eye picks out only the Hondas on the road. Well, my eye just seems to gravitate to anything coconut.

My latest find is coconut yogurt. With both my son and I allergic to soy, we haven’t had a non-dairy choice for yogurt – until now. These So Delicious coconut milk yogurts come in a number of varieties, and really do the trick. They are labeled dairy free and soy free, but they are free of the top eight allergens (unless, like the FDA, you count coconut as a tree nut). They do, of course, contain coconut.

Have you tried them yet? What do you think?

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Udi’s Granola is a New Favorite (Contains Nuts)

Until recently my favorite breakfast cereal was Peace Cereal Wild Berry Crisp. This worked for both my son’s food allergies and mine. While this cereal is wheat-free, it does contain barley malt syrup and oats; in short, it’s not gluten-free. Since I have increasingly noticed skin irritations when I eat even a tiny amount of gluten, my diet is now completely gluten-free – which meant that I needed to find a new favorite cereal.

Udi's Gluten Free Cranberry Granoladid the trick!

It has just five ingredients: oats, honey, dried cranberries, canola oil, and walnuts. Love that!

It’s crunchy, filling, and I love that berry taste with oats. I have a soft spot for anything cranberry, but this also comes in vanilla, original, and natural (without nuts) flavors.

Of course, these cereals are not for those with nut allergies.

What's your favorite gluten-free and allergen-free cereal?

Monday, May 9, 2011

Celebrating Food Allergy Awareness Week 2011

It seems like we just celebrated the last food allergy awareness week, and at the same time, there just never seems to be enough communication on this topic. The more we all know and share, the better.

This year I’d like to share a post I wrote for livingharvest.com, titled Five Things You Should Know About Food Allergies. Head on over to the Living Harvest blog and check it out.

You won't want to miss this:
On Tuesday afternoon (5/11 at 1pm eastern time) Lori Sandler from Divvies will be wrapping up her food allergy chat series on The Motherhood with a Recipe Swap and Tips for Cooking and Baking Delicious Allergen-Free Foods. I’ll be joining Lori and a terrific group of allergen-free cooks and bakers for that event. I hope to see you there!

And, in honor of food allergy awareness week, I am once again offering the Allergen-Free Holiday Cookbook for free with coupon code VP36S. The e-book is available at Smashwords. The coupon expires on May 15th.

How are you celebrating food allergy awareness week?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

How to Make Croutons (Gluten-Free and Allergen-Free, of Course)

It never occurred to me to make my own croutons. Before my family started eating gluten-free and allergen-free, if we needed croutons it was easy enough to buy them pre-made. But I’ve been making a lot of salads lately, and the crouton just seemed… missing.

Having made some baguettes last week, I had a piece remaining that either had to be eaten or thrown out. I was making salad for dinner. (Here’s where the light bulb goes off.)

I should make croutons with that leftover bread!

It was super simple. You can start with any “safe” bread – store bought or homemade, and I am told that this works best with bread that is about to go stale.

Simply cut the bread into cubes. It doesn’t matter how big the cubes are, just try to make them all roughly the same size. Spread them on a cookie sheet. Place them on the second shelf, under the broiler. After about 2-3 minutes (depending on the size of your croutons and how fast your broiler broils) turn them over, and broil for another 1-2 minutes. Your croutons should be lightly browned, slightly crunchy, and ready for your salad!

Monday, May 2, 2011

If It Looks Too Good to Be True, It Probably Is

EggsWhen my son was home from college on spring break we took him out to dinner at a local restaurant that has become a favorite because they truly cater to food allergies. The place? The Artist’s Palate, on Main Street, in Poughkeepsie, NY.

While on the pricier side for this area, I had been delighted each time my husband and I had eaten there. The staff was always extra-careful to take care of me with my food allergies, and each time the food was spectacular. This is a place that I have rated very highly at Allergy Eats.

The night we ate there with my son, both he and I had our eye on the duck special… but the sauce contained wheat. So the chef suggested an alternative preparation that he would make for us.

Our waiter brought us a complementary appetizer, and because the one they were serving that night contained wheat, he brought a special treat that was made just for us!

And then our waiter brought us rolls…

Having eaten there before, I knew that they had gluten-free rolls available that were made in a small bakery down the street. The first time I ate there I was surprised when they brought me one without asking. I expected it this time, but I didn’t expect them to bring one for my son. I am allergic to wheat; he is allergic to wheat, milk, and eggs (among other things).

My son and I looked at each other and I broke the roll open. “It might be made without milk, but I can’t believe this is made without eggs,” I said. We asked the waiter and he assured us that it was safe for us both to eat. It’s not that we didn’t believe him – he had checked – but it seemed too good to be true.

My gut was telling me it couldn’t be okay. As an allergen-free baker, I had never seen a roll that fluffy that was made without eggs. I was prepared to be in awe of the baker that made them.

I called the waiter over again, apologized for asking again, and asked if we could see the ingredients. A few minutes later he came back and told us that the chef was calling the bakery. That was impressive.

After just another minute or two, the chef was at our table. “You were right, it does have eggs in it,” he said. And he apologized profusely for having sent the roll out.

So where was the confusion? This was a chef that really cared about serving only food that was safe. He had understood that the rolls were gluten-free and dairy-free. While they didn’t contain milk, unbeknownst to him they did contain eggs. A lack of consistency on how the term “dairy” is used is what led to the confusion.

Our duck was fabulous, and we were all grateful for the wonderful meal. We will definitely eat there again, because they care.

The lessons?

1. Go with your gut.
2. If something is labeled dairy-free, always check further.

Have you had a close call at a restaurant? How did you handle it?