Monday, March 31, 2014

When Life Gives You Lemons (Favorite Things)

There is one item that is always on my grocery shopping list: lemons.

Lemons are extremely useful and versatile.The skin of the lemon will give you zest that can be used to add flavor to -- just about anything.

Always make sure you wash lemons (and other citrus fruit) before zesting or juicing to eliminate oils or waxes that have been used on the skins.

Gone are the days when I use the juice that can be squeezed out of a little plastic container designed to look like a lemon. Fresh lemon juice is the way to go:

Fresh lemon juice is ideal for making salad dressings, sauces, mayonnaise. I use it in fillings for pies, in applesauce, and in jams. You can never have enough lemons, or lemon juice. But just in case you do.... in case life gives you a whole bunch of lemons, then it's time to preserve them.

Use a large, sanitized Ball jar. Remove the top and bottom tips of the lemons and quarter them without slicing all the way through the bottom. Pack the centers of the lemons with lots of sea salt (or kosher salt). You can't use too much salt. Stuff the lemons into the jar:

Leave an inch of headspace in the jar. Add more salt and then fill the jar with lemon juice (freshly squeezed, of course). Make sure all of the lemons are covered with juice.

Cover and let the jar sit in the pantry for 4 to 5 weeks. The salt will break down the lemons and make the skins oh-so-tender. Once the lemons are broken down as much as you'd like, move the jar to the refrigerator and they will keep for months.

When you have a recipe that calls that preserved lemons, remove a piece from the jar, scoop out and discard the pulp, wash and slice the skins. Life is definitely better with lemons, don't you agree?

Friday, March 21, 2014

What I Want American Idol Caleb Johnson to Know

 I am an American Idol fan – have been since season two. When American Idol is on I don’t answer the phone, check my e-mail, or check twitter. There’s a rule in my house that you aren’t allowed to talk to me during American Idol. (I'm just a little obsessed.)
American Idol logo 2008–2011
American Idol logo 2008–2011 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
 And so I was watching on Wednesday night when rocker Caleb Johnson did something that should never be done – he joked about food allergies.

Here’s what happened:

Ryan Seacrest asked Caleb how the contestants were dealing with the stress of the competition. Caleb responded by saying they were having fun, pulling pranks – one of which was putting peanuts in peanut-allergic, fellow contestant Alex’s socks.

I broke my own no-talking rule and blurted out, “I can’t believe he just said that!”

Caleb immediately back-tracked saying, “That’s just a joke.” And I believe it was. Caleb comes across as an easy-going, fun-loving guy who always has a smile on his face. He’s the kind of guy who will take the microphone away from Ryan Seacrest and upstage him (yeah, that happened too.)

And I must give Caleb credit for apologizing for his food allergy comment on Thursday night. I presume from his apology that Caleb now understands that food allergies should never be joked about – that they are serious and can be life-threatening. A joke about food allergies is never funny.

If an American Idol contestant were in a wheelchair, no one would joke about pushing him or her down the stairs because that would just be mean (even criminal) and you could (ahem) die from it. Exactly.

Now I’m going to cut Caleb some slack because I don’t believe he meant any harm and by all accounts the prank didn’t actually happen. Ryan Seacrest put him on the spot; Caleb’s comment was off the cuff. And he’s young. But still… he’s an American Idol. Millions of Americans are watching, including many young kids.

So here’s what else I would say to Caleb:

You chose to put yourself in the spotlight. As an American Idol, there are millions of kids looking up to you. You are a role model and that means that you must behave responsibly.

There is a child with food allergies somewhere (perhaps millions of them) who didn't sleep Wednesday night for fear that they could be bullied due to their food allergies.

I hope that none of your fans take your comment as a green light to pull a similar prank. I hope that the kids watching gasped as loudly as I did because they have a friend, or a sibling, or a classmate (there are approximately two children in every classroom) with food allergies and that they understand the seriousness of the disease.

Most importantly, I hope that you think for a few seconds before you make fun of anyone (for any reason) ever again.

Monday, March 17, 2014

A Bumbalooza Update

A couple of weeks ago, I shared a product review on a Cookies and Cream Cake Mix. I noted that the ingredients list contained milk, while the box itself was labeled "No dairy."

I wanted to let you know that the folks at Bumbalooza have responded and clarified. The printing on the side of the package of the Cookies and Cream mix that I received was an error. All of the products that Bumbalooza makes are dairy-free except for the Cookies and Cream mix. The ingredient list was accurate. The label on the side has been corrected.

As a reminder, if you aren't allergic to dairy, the Cookies and Cream muffins that I made were quite tasty!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Allergy Eats Names the Top Chain Restaurants for Food Allergies in 2014

Some of my favorite restaurants are those that really cook. You know what I mean – they buy food, create menus, and make every meal from scratch. These restaurants know what it is the food they are making, and are usually the most adept at being able to modify a dish to accommodate food restrictions. I am very fortunate to live in an area that is ripe with these types of restaurants. But they are expensive and tend to be for special occasions.

That’s where the chain restaurants come in. In some ways, accommodating a food allergy at a chain is a bigger challenge – they have menus set by corporate and must prepare food that is delivered to them. It’s similar to buying processed food at the grocery store. Their only option is to not serve a dish, or to leave something out if someone they are serving is allergic to it. And, of course, there are safe practices – how they handle the food once it’s in the restaurant.

In my area, there are two chain restaurants that top my list: Red Robin and Bonefish Grill. They always make use feel welcome and we have never had an issue there. When I am in Boston, Legal Sea Foods is usually my first choice. When I’m looking for a fast meal in the city (that would be New York City), it’s Chipotle Grill.

Allergy Eats recently released their list of the top chain restaurants, based on customer reviews (including yours and mine), on a scale from 1 to 5. Here are the results:

Large (over 200 units):
  • Red Robin Gourmet Burgers (4.45 rating)
  • P.F. Chang’s China Bistro (4.43 rating)
  • Chipotle Mexican Grill (4.41 rating)
  • Outback Steakhouse (4.35 rating)
  • Romano’s Macaroni Grill (4.20 rating)

Medium (50-200 units):
  • Bonefish Grill (4.43 rating)
  • Ninety Nine Restaurant (4.28 rating)
  • Mellow Mushroom (4.26 rating)
  • Uno Chicago Grill (4.24 rating)
  • Bertucci’s Brick Oven Restaurant (4.17 rating)

Small (under 50 units):
  • Burtons Grill (4.90 rating)
  • Maggiano’s Little Italy (4.73 rating)
  • Papa Razzi (4.68 rating)
  • Legal Sea Foods (4.67 rating)
  • Not Your Average Joe’s (4.66 rating)

Yes, all of my favorite chain restaurants made the list. And that’s the beauty of crowd-sourcing data. I’ve never been to a Burtons Grill or a Mellow Mushroom restaurant, but I would be far more comfortable doing so knowing they scored such high ratings!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Book Review – Food Allergies: Traditional Chinese Medicine, Western Science, and the Search for a Cure

I have been looking forward to reading Henry Ehrlich’s new book, Food Allergies: Traditional Chinese Medicine, Western Science, and the Search for a Cure since I heard him speak at the Food Allergy Bloggers Conference in 2013. At that event, Henry began to tell the story of the research that Dr. Xiu-Min Li of Mount Sinai School of Medicine was doing, and her search for a cure.

Did I just use the word “cure?” Yes, I did. It’s a word that’s not often used when discussing food allergies; the usual treatment is to avoid the foods that make you sick, and the medical response should an accidental exposure occur is epinephrine, but the word “cure” must be used very carefully when discussing food allergies. And yet, that is what Dr. Li is pursuing – a cure.

At its core, this is a book about hope. As I read it, I was filled with optimism that someday it might be possible to say there is a cure for food allergies. When my son was diagnosed with multiple food allergies more than a decade ago, he asked if there was a pill he could take. Of course, there wasn’t – and still isn’t – but perhaps someday he will be able to be desensitized with herbs.

The story that Henry tells is about how Dr. Li came to pursue her research, the research itself, and what it might mean for the future. The book contains scientific details and terminology – and therefore not a quick read – but Henry aims to portray the research for a lay (non-medical) audience without leaving out the details. As someone who likes to form my own opinions based on the facts, I appreciate that.

One of the most fascinating things I learned from the book was that even my son – who suffers from eosinophilic esophagitis – could be a potential candidate for Dr. Li’s herbal treatment. In fact – rather than targeting one allergen at a time – the treatment focuses on multiple food allergens.

I am using the word treatment – another word that must be used carefully – as the work being done today is via clinical trials. The story doesn’t yet have an ending – it will take some time before we know for sure whether the research Dr. Li is doing will translate to a long-term cure for those with food allergies. I, for one, am optimistic and looking forward to a happy ending.

By the way, I really love the cover, don't you?