Monday, April 30, 2012

Virginia Enacts Stock Epinephrine Law to Help Protect Students with Allergies

Last week, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell signed a bill that will require public schools to adopt and implement policies for the possession and administration of epinephrine.

Common food allergies in children
Common food allergies in children (Photo credit: Adams999)
Epinephrine is a life-saving drug used to halt anaphylactic allergic reactions. While students who have suffered anaphylactic reactions often have an epinephrine injector for their personal use at school, not all do. This was the case with Amarria Johnson, who died earlier this year from an allergic reaction after accidentally being exposed to peanut at her school in Virginia. Still other students may experience their first anaphylactic reaction while at school.

There is good cause for action.

At a recent food allergy roundtable in New York City, Mary Jane Marchisotto, Executive Director of the Food Allergy Initiative (FAI) shared the most recent statistics on food allergies, saying that, “Every classroom now has two students with food allergies.” A July 2011 study funded by FAI and published in Pediatrics, found that 15 million Americans and one in every thirteen children now suffer from food allergies – a significant increase from prior data.

While the Virginia legislation is critical, Maria Acebal, Chief Executive Officer of the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network, wants to raise the discussion up a level. She is lobbying on Capitol Hill for federal legislation that would incent the states to enact laws similar to the one just enacted in Virginia. Acebal just isn’t happy with letting the states delay any longer saying, “Do we have to wait for a child to die in every state before the state does it themselves?”

Referred to as a “stock” epinephrine law, Virginia’s new legislation will require schools to keep epinephrine that is not targeted for a specific child available for use in children who do not have their own prescription epinephrine injectors at the school. While food allergy leaders are driving the charge, stock epinephrine laws will help protect students with all types of allergies.

With the signing of this bill, Virginia joins California, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and New York, which already have stock epinephrine laws on the books.

Eight down. Forty-two states to go.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Brasserie 292 – A Restaurant Review

My home town of Poughkeepsie is often the target of jokes and you may not think of it as a destination for fine dining, but you may consider after reading this post. The truth is, there are many terrific restaurants in the area, due in part to the fact that one of America’s top culinary schools – the Culinary Institute of America – is just up the road in Hyde Park. It’s not unusual for graduates to open their own restaurants in the area.

Another important factor is the revitalization of downtown Poughkeepsie – also known as Main Street. A number of upscale restaurants have cropped up along Main Street in the last few years, allowing that part of town to now claim “historic” status.

Last weekend my husband and I decided to treat ourselves to dinner at one of the city’s newest restaurants – Brasserie 292. It’s so new in fact, that’s it not yet listed on Allergy Eats for review. Of course, my concern is always finding something I can eat (without wheat or soy), but I was also scoping it out to see whether my son (with even more allergies including milk and eggs) would fare well there.

 I have made this distinction before, and it’s worth making again – there is such an enormous difference in a restaurant that will eliminate food allergens (like most of the chains that run a print out and tell you what’s left on the standard menu that you can eat) and one that truly accommodates special food needs by preparing a dish – complete with accompanying sides sauces and/or spices – that is safe for you. It’s the difference between just plain food and truly delicious food. Brasserie 292 fits the latter category.

 The restaurant itself is delightful, with a comfortable, earthy, high-end pub-influenced design. Yes, that’s me you can see in the mirror, taking the picture – there are mirrored walls everywhere. There’s also a beautifully crafted bread station; although it’s lacking gluten-free bread, the gluten-eating members of your party may appreciate the constant refreshing of dinner rolls.

The best part was – of course – the meal:

I ordered a dish that I am accustomed to calling moule frites, but here they call it simply mussels and fries. It’s hard to find mussels anywhere in the area, never mind good mussels, but these were spectacular mussels – tender, juicy, perfectly cooked. They are served with a cream based sauce, but I was assured that the dish could be made without milk or butter, and I am sure Patrick will want to try it when he’s home.

And if chooses something else (like this 16oz steak special my husband ordered), I am very confident they will prepare it so that he can eat it.

Yum! This is a restaurant we will definitely visit again!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Cybele’s Free to Eat Cookies are Delightful!

I met Cybele Pascal in the restroom. We were standing next to each other at the sinks when I recognized her. And yes, she is as lovely in person as she is online. Shortly after that bathroom encounter, Cybele gave her keynote talk to the audience at the Nourished Food Blogger Conference. But I’m not here to recap her speech. No, I want to talk about cookies, Cybele’s Free-to-Eat cookies.

As if her presence wasn’t enough, Cybele brought samples of her new packaged cookie line for us to try. I picked up a chocolate chip sample to try and she had me at the first bite.

These cookies are soft-baked, moist (did you hear me? I said moist!), and downright delicious. Keep in mind that I am hard to please. I have my own cookie recipes, and they are terrific. But we also need cookies that can stay shelf-stable weeks after they are made. I have not yet found an off-the-shelf soft-baked packaged cookie that I really loved, until now.

Cybele’s cookies are gluten-free, top eight allergen-free, vegan, and kosher. They are made so that nearly everyone with food allergies can eat them. I was able to try the chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin cookies (pictured here), but I’m quite sure my favorite will be the chocolate chunk brownie (or course). I even scoffed up the samples that I could from empty seats so that I could send some to my son to try.

These are not make-at-home cookies; they contain ingredients like sunflower lecithin and rice dextrin – not things we have at home. This is the cookie you want to take with you on-the-go, to throw in the lunch box, to send with your food-allergic child on a sleepover. This is also a cookie that you will have a hard time keeping out of the hands of your non-food-allergic family members. Cybele tells me that they will be hitting store shelves in June.

Have you tried Cybele’s cookies yet? What do you think?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Best of the Gluten-Free and Allergen-Free Expo

I am happy to report that I survived my first Gluten-free and Allergen-free Expo, and got home from Chicago safely and without incident. Woo-hoo!

Survived is a rather appropriate word, as the Expo was packed. If anyone has any doubt that there are many people starving (almost literally) for gluten-free and allergen-free food solutions, all they need to do is spent a few minutes elbowing their way to the samples the vendors were giving out, and discussing ingredients with the exhibitors.

I managed to bring home quite a stash of goodies. This is just a sample, as I sent off a box to my son at college (just the samples that were allergen-free for him), and – of course – I ate as I went.

I found many foods I liked, some that were good and others that were great. Following are a few of my favorites (in random categories to suit me):

Best for kids: Qwackers gluten-free crackers. These DO contain milk, but are free of the other top allergens plus corn. Perfect for little hands.

Best for quick meals: I tried a sample of Kettle Cuisine’s gluten free soup, and it was spectacular. Amongst all of the carbs, it was great to find something that could be a meal. There are ten flavors; many are free of the top eight allergens, some contain milk.

Most excited to try for dinner: I can’t wait to get my hands on Namaste Foods pasta. Who knew they made pasta?

Most excited to try baking with (and my pick of the show): Earth Balance coconut spread is – wow!! On a tiny piece of gluten-free bread this spread tasted fab-u-lous! It’s a blend of coconut oil and palm oil, and I can’t wait to try baking with this it!

Most interesting concept: Pamela’s Products handed out packets of chocolate brownie mix to make in a cup, in the microwave. All you need to add is oil and water. The mix is free of the top eight allergens, but does contain a “processed on equipment” warning for nuts, soy, and milk. This is just such a cool idea – think dorm room, mid-afternoon office snack, traveling. I love this idea! (An apology to my son who is probably wondering why I didn’t send this to him, but I just had to try it myself.)

Not new but never tried: I’ve been wanting to get my hands on Attune Foods dark chocolate probiotic bars for some time, but haven’t been able to find them locally. I now have a sample that I am excited to try.

Patrick's pick from campus: Sunbutter's on-the-go single serving packets. He said, "Whoever came up with these is a freakin' genius," and he was raving about how you could put them in a lunch box with an apple.

We had both already tried Enjoy Life's Plentils (chips made from lentils), and still think they rock!

Which products will you try?

Be sure to check back on Monday when I review a product I sampled at the Nourished Food Blogger Conference.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Taco Night (with Guacamole!)

Taco night is a favorite in my house. It’s usually an opportunity to use whatever I may have in the refrigerator – a pepper, onion, leftover rice – with ground beef, ground turkey, or even chicken. I almost never make it the same way twice. I try to keep a medium-hot salsa and some corn tacos or tortillas on hand, and then it’s easy to make tacos on a whim.

My secrets to great tacos are to let the filling simmer for a couple of hours (it’s a great meal when you don’t know what time you’ll actually be serving dinner), and to serve it with guacamole. We forgo the cheese (rather than opting for a dairy-free cheese), but this guacamole definitely makes up for it:

Simple Guacamole

1 medium to large avocado
1 tbsp lime juice
¼ cup red onion, finely diced
a pinch of salt

Mash the avocado with the lime juice and stir in the onions. Serve with your favorite tacos!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Allergen-Free Baker’s Top Five: My Favorite Allergen-Free Products From the Past Year

Today I head out to Chicago for the Nourished Conference and the Gluten-Free & Allergen-Free Expo. Based on what I’ve heard about Expo West, I’m expecting to find lots of great new products at this expo. But before we jump into the latest products, I thought it would be fun to look back on the past year, and highlight a few of my favorite new product finds from the past year.

This is my list – which means there are no rules (and no voting). It also means that while some of these products were new to the market in the past year, in some cases they were simply new to me. So, without further ado, here are my Top Five:

Enjoy Life Mega Chunk chocolate chips: This product filled a big gap in the allergen-free chocolate chip world. Sometimes a mini or regular-sized chocolate chip just isn’t enough.

So Delicious Coconut Creamer: Replacing thickened milks in baking got a lot easier with the introduction of Coconut Creamer. (Check out my chocolate truffles for an example.)

So Delicious Coconut Non-Dairy frozen dessert
: Oh my, this stuff is good, and in flavors like Cookie Dough and Cherry Amaretto. This is perfect over cake or brownies, with a chocolate sauce made from Enjoy Life or Divvies chocolate chips.

Earth Balance Mindful Mayo
: Dairy-free, egg-free, soy-free mayo seemed like just a dream until this product came along. If you’re missing mayo on your sandwiches, this is the answer.

Bob’s Red Mill Chia Seeds: I was thrilled to discover that chia seeds can be used (similar to flax seeds) to make an egg-replacer gel. Yippee! More options!

What’s your favorite new product from the past year?

Monday, April 9, 2012

How Long Does a Year’s Supply of Paper Towels Really Last?

That was the question I posed last fall after I won a year’s supply of paper towels from Brawny at BlogHer11. I was excited when two cases of paper towels arrived:

But I’m in the kitchen a lot. I bake four or five times a week, and in between I use paper towels frequently because they help avoid contamination. So I knew that those two cases might not actually last the year. Six months later, here is what I have left:

They’ll be gone by the end of the week. For me, a year’s supply was a half-year’s supply, but that’s not bad at all considering my usage. How long do you think a year’s supply of paper towels would last you?

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Chocolate Avocado Pudding

This is a pudding that requires absolutely no cooking or baking. It’s completely raw, vegan, gluten-free, and allergen-free. It will satisfy even the pickiest chocoholic. And it’s totally yummy!

Chocolate Avocado Pudding

1 medium avocado
2 ½ tbsp agave nectar
2 tbsp natural unsweetened cocoa powder
3 tbsp chocolate hemp milk
½ tsp vanilla

Place all of the ingredients in a high-speed blender or food processor, and blend until smooth. Garnish with dried cranberries, or fresh berries. Leftovers will keep in the fridge for a couple of days (but don’t expect there to be any).

Monday, April 2, 2012

More Avocado Mania

We’ve been having avocados for breakfast, lunch, and dinner here lately, as my box of avocados ripened all at once (and these are just too delicious not to eat).

The first thing I made was Smashed Chickpea and Avocado Sandwiches, with a recipe I found at Two Peas and Their Pod. I had my sandwich on Udi’s Gluten-Free Whole Grain Bread (contains eggs) (pictured below), and my son had his on Foods for Life Millet Bread. This is so yummy!

For dinner I made a salad with Grilled Chicken and Avocados. This is as simple as grilling up some chicken breasts (I used Cajun spices), slicing up the avocados, and serving it all over baby lettuce.

For breakfast? Check out my recipe for Avocado Chickpea Bread. I am also experimenting to determine whether avocado works as an egg replacer (like a fruit puree). I’ll let you know how that works out.