Monday, June 28, 2010

Breads From Anna - Apple Muffins

Yet another choice for those who are looking for baking mixes that are allergen-free and gluten-free are the Breads From Anna line, including this Apple Pancake and Muffin Mix that I am reviewing today.

This mix is gluten-free and yeast-free, as well as free from corn, dairy, soy, nuts and rice. Although it does contain xantham gum, Breads From Anna says that their xantham gum is corn-free. Since so many allergen-free products do contain rice and/or corn, this is a great option for those who are rice-allergic or corn-allergic.

So what is in it? The flour mix is a blend of tapioca, arrowroot, potato and beans – very different than anything I have tried.

To make the muffins you need to add oil, applesauce, and eggs. To keep them egg-free I used Ener-G egg replacer. This made for a very wet mixture.

I had a little bit of difficulty getting the muffins out of the tins, as they were quite pliable – is that a word I can use to describe food? I filled my muffin tins to the brim, and they did tend to spill over more than I expected. Next time I’ll fill them a little less.

They were definitely gooier than a traditional muffin, and for a gluten-free product they were downright springy. That said, they tasted great, especially when warm (or re-heated).

I’ll definitely be experimenting more with Breads From Anna mixes.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

A Great Surprise

I love surprises!

On Thursday I learned that Learning to Eat Allergy Free had been selected as one of the 2010 Top Food Allergy Blogs, an award sponsored by Online Schools based on nominations from readers.

I had no idea my blog had been nominated, and send a special shout-out to whoever nominated me.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Sharing My Family’s Experience With EE – Diagnosis

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

Diagnosis of eosinophilic esophagitis (EE) is frustrating and complex. I think this is largely because you can’t see the problem. If you get a rash on your skin, you can see it. With EE the symptoms can be largely hidden, and mimic many other problems.

My son’s problems really hit a peak when he was in elementary school. Around third grade, it was quite common for me to get a call from the school nurse in early afternoon (after lunch) saying that my son had thrown up – I got these calls sometimes 2-3 times a week. But he always said he was fine and he never had a fever. In any other child a parent may have suspected that he was trying to avoid class, but not here – he hated missing school and always wanted to go back to class.

At home, we would also see problems around mealtime. Often he would complain of pain in his chest, and he would sometimes be hovering over the sink expecting to throw up. Important note – usually if he threw up he felt better, but could never eat after that.

We visited doctors. At that point our medical insurance required a referral to a specialist so it was always a visit to the pediatrician then to the specialist. It was when we saw a pediatric gastro-intestinal specialist that we made some break-throughs, but even then it was slow going.

Everything we tried seemed to work for a while. He was diagnosed with acid reflux, and he started taking the purple pills. That really seemed to help at first. Knowing what I know now, I understand that the medication (which reduces the acid in the stomach) was really masking the problem. He no longer had as much pain in his esophagus because the acid wasn’t there to irritate his inflamed esophagus, but he still had difficulty eating.

It was clear that food was causing the problem, but even though food allergies were quite common in my family, I didn’t perceive this as an allergy. Nevertheless, I did suspect that milk was a problem. He stopped having milk with school lunches (and that did minimize the calls from the school nurse). So we had him tested to see if he was lactose intolerant. After a grueling four-hour test where he drank an awful-tasting solution of milk sugar and had to periodically breathe into a tube, we discovered he was indeed lactose intolerant. How do I know the stuff tastes awful? Because I did the test too – and discovered that I am also lactose intolerant.

So we eliminated milk from our diets.

Meanwhile he was still growing. He started playing sports and hit that age when boys eat a lot. And he was still miserable.

During the summer he turned ten, he was eating peanuts by the handful. For those who missed episode one of this series I will note again that my son is allergic to peanuts. (I have a suspicion that we crave what we are allergic to, but that is just a suspicion and not scientifically proven.) He developed a painful itchy rash on the palms of his hands.

At the same time, we were still trying to diagnose the gastro-intestinal problem. Next up was a barium swallow, where the patient swallows different foods while x-rays are taken to see if food gets stuck. Unfortunately we didn’t know which foods caused the problem, so he swallowed things like lettuce (because he complained that lettuce would get stuck in his throat), and the test showed no problems.

Next was his first endoscopy. Readers have asked whether we did an endoscopy, and the answer is yes – this is where we really started to make some progress. After his first endoscopy his doctor said that she had never seen such an inflamed esophagus. At this point my son was off milk completely. We stopped the Prevacid for acid reflux, and started looking for reasons for the inflammation. During the endoscopy the GI had taken some biopsies.

As luck would have it, my son was also visiting a dermatologist for the rash on his hands around the same time. The dermatologist was baffled – the rash was something he couldn’t identify, so he also took a biopsy. If these two biopsies had not occurred around the same time, we may not have made as much progress in the diagnosis. A tech in the lab actually noticed that the eosinophilc (cells) from his endoscopy biopsy and from his palm biopsy were identical. This is when we started thinking it was an allergy.

Next up in this series: When did we know for sure it was 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.

Monday, June 21, 2010

King Arthur Gluten-Free Pizza Crust Mix

I am still working my way through the new gluten-free products that the folks at King Arthur Flour sent me to review. Of all the new gluten-free mixes I’ve tried so far, this pizza crust mix is definitely one of my favorites.

This particular pizza mix, which contains rice, tapioca, and potato flours and starches, as well as xantham gum, is very easy to work with. I followed the directions on the box, but used ¾ cup of flax seed goop instead of the three eggs it requires. Besides eggs, all you need to add is water and oil. The mix includes a yeast packet.

What is really cool about this pizza mix is there is no rolling out – and hence, no sticking to roller pins and crusts that won’t cooperate. This is a bready pizza crust that you press into your pizza pan with your hands.

I do have to note though, that this pizza crust does take some prep time – about 1 ½ hours from start to finish. Once you’ve mixed the ingredients, you need to let the dough sit for 30 minutes. Then after you have pressed your crust into the pan, you need to proof it (or let it rise) for another 30 minutes. Baking takes another 20-30 minutes depending on how thick you make your crust. This mix easily makes two pies.

Baking is in two steps – first you bake the crust for 10 minutes, then you add toppings and continue baking. You could definitely prepare the crusts ahead of time and top them off and finish baking later. I used a trick I learned at the gluten-free baking class I took recently at the CIA. After baking the pie shells, I flipped them over so that the bottom becomes the top (and vice versa). This way, both sides of the crust are very nicely browned (and smoothed out) when done.

I added cheese this time around (because my milk-allergic son was away at school) but this would work just as well without the cheese or with a cheese alternative.

The result? A pizza with a fluffy bready crust that tastes great!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Sharing My Family’s Experience with EE

Recently I have received a number of e-mails from readers wanting to know more about my family’s journey with eosinophilic esophagitis (EE). Since the questions are usually along the same lines, and since I suspect there are lots more people out there who could benefit from this information, I decided to address some of the questions in a general way via a series of blog posts. This is the first in that series. I’ll continue to post weekly on Thursdays on this topic until I have exhausted the questions.

First, I want to tell you the end of our story – because I want anyone reading this to know that once you figure out what the problem is – and what foods to avoid – things get much better.

My son is allergic to milk, wheat, soy protein, egg whites and peanuts. He is now nineteen years old, 6’1” tall and weighs about 175 pounds. He has a higher than typical calorie intake because he is an athlete. And he lives (and eats successfully) on a college campus.

What kind of reaction does he have? The foods that trigger his EE cause his esophagus to become inflamed. His throat swells up, his esophagus closes up, food gets stuck, and he is miserable. It’s very much like a very bad rash in the esophagus. But I’ll cover more on symptoms in a later post.

You should be aware that there are extreme cases of EE where the patient can’t tolerate any protein at all and must be tube-fed. But in many cases, the treatment is just like the treatment for traditional food allergies – figure out what you are allergic to and avoid it.

I should also point out that I am not a doctor. Please consult your doctor on your personal situation. This story is about my family’s personal journal and experience.

First up – Did my son always have EE?

Yes. I am certain that he did, although we didn’t have a diagnosis until he was about ten years old. Knowing what I know now, it’s easy to look back and see that this problem started the day he was born.

I used to describe my son as the blurpiest baby you have ever seen. He would eat, spit up (a lot), scream, and sleep. He was a very cranky baby. He was so cranky for the first six months of his life that I was afraid to leave him with a sitter.

The diagnosis? Extreme colic.

Noone thought of food allergies, and EE wasn’t even on the radar scope.

I tried every formula available on the market. Most seemed to work for a few days, and then we’d be right back in the same cycle. But he was gaining weight and he never failed to thrive. In fact, for the first few years of his life he measured in the 75th percentile in weight and height, and later he jumped to the 90th+ percentile.

In retrospect, I can see that the milk was causing the problem. And because he was also allergic to soy, soy formulas (very popular in the 90’s) didn’t work either.

As a toddler things got much better. Again, as I look back at what he was eating it makes sense. As soon as I could I started feeding him solid foods (baby veggies and fruits) and juice. Even oatmeal I prepared with juice instead of milk. He rarely had milk. Instinct? Maybe.

So, yes, I am certain that my son had EE from the very beginning. Next week I will answer the question: How was my son diagnosed?

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.

Monday, June 14, 2010

A Few of My Favorite Allergen-Free Baking Tools

"Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens…"

I can’t help but think on that song from The Sound of Music when I think about favorite things!

Today I want to share some of my favorite baking tools for allergen-free baking. While the same tools you use for everyday baking work for allergen-free baking, these are a few that I find especially useful:

1. KitchenAid stand mixer – This is a must-have in my book, and gets used more than any other appliance in my kitchen. I love this for allergen free baking because the stainless steel bowl and mixing paddles can go right into the dishwasher, and the mixer itself scrubs down very easily. Plus, if you really want to be super diligent about cross-contamination, you can purchase extra bowls and paddles and designate them solely for allergen-free or gluten-free baking.

2. Le Creuset stoneware 9 ¼ ” square baking dish – This is my favorite pan for brownies and cookie bars. I love stoneware for allergen-free baking there are no cracks where foods can hide, and I can stick it right in the dishwasher. I use this weekly and it still looks new!

3. Cuisinart electric spice and nut grinder – I bought this specifically for grinding flax seeds to make flax seed goop (egg replacer), and it’s awesome! It easily grinds the seeds to a fine powder. You just fill it up, plug it in, and push down on the top. I only use this for allergen-free ingredients.

4. Mini whisks – I never really had a need for these before I started baking allergen-free, but now I use them all the time. They are perfect for whisking Ener-G egg replacer or flax seed meal with water to make your favorite allergen-free egg substitute.

What’s your favorite allergen-free baking tool?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Jules Gluten-Free Flour Blend - Soft Pretzels

I’ve tested as many of the gluten-free and allergen-free flour blends that I can find, so I was very excited to try Jules Gluten-Free All Purpose Flour. This blend, like those I have reviewed in the past, is a mix of many different flours, but is unique in one very important way – it uses Expandex modified tapioca starch.

Expandex is made from tapioca root, but enhanced so that it behaves more like wheat flour. It’s objective is to provide a better texture, better binding properties, and a better appearance.

Jules’ flour combines Expandex tapioca starch with potato starch, corn starch, flour, rice flour, and xantham gum. Because the xantham gum is included in the mix, there’s no need to add more gums when following gluten-free or allergen-free recipes that call for them. Those with corn allergies will need to choose another blend, like the King Arthur Gluten-free flour.

For this test, I decided to use Jules’ recipe for soft pretzels. I made one modification to the recipe that’s available at her website – I substituted flax seed goop for the egg. Other than egg, her recipe is free of the top eight allergens. I purchased a 1.5-cup sample of the flour – the perfect amount to make my pretzels. I used the couple extra tablespoons I had for dusting my rolling surface.

So, how did the flour perform?

I found this flour really easy to work with as I rolled out the pretzels.

They rose nicely during proofing.

Even during the soda bath boil, the pretzels held together really well.

The end result?

Perfect pretzels that tasted great! You can pull these apart the same way you do a pretzel that you buy from a New York corner vendor. I saw none of the crumbling or grittiness that we sometimes get with gluten-free flours. This flour blend is a winner!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Snack Series: Allergen-free Cookie Duo

“One for you, one for me. One for you, two for me.” When my sister and I played this game years ago it was animal crackers we were trading and dunking into milk as a bedtime snack. Somehow she always ended up with more cookies on her side of the table…

But who needs cookies made with wheat and butter, anyway? Especially when companies like Enjoy Life bring us so many great allergen-free options! The two cookie varieties I am writing about today are both from the soft-baked collection and true to their description have a cake-like texture to them.

The Enjoy Life soft baked happy apple cookies have a mild fruity flavor, while the soft baked double chocolate brownie cookies are the ones that will satisfy the chocolate lover in the family. Both are made from a sorghum flour base with fruit juice concentrates. What you won’t find in these cookies are wheat, milk, eggs, or soy. And despite the fact that the happy apple cookies have a nutty taste, they contain no nuts. These are also great for those on a gluten-free diet.

The cookies come in boxes of twelve, which can easily be divvied up in baggies for the lunchbox. What’s your favorite allergen-free snack cookie?

About the snack series: Snacks without wheat, eggs, soy, nuts, and milk can be really difficult to find. That’s why I am always on the lookout for easy on-the-go snacks that can be thrown in a lunch box, backpack, or handbag. This is one of a series of posts on allergen-free snacks. If you have a suggestion for an allergen-free snack that I should try, please e-mail me at multifoodallergies at gmail dot com or leave a comment here.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Orgran Easy Bake Bread Mix

I am still baking my way through the samples that the folks at Orgran Foods sent me to review. A while back I reviewed the Orgran Alternative Grain Bread Mix, and today it’s time to talk about the Orgran Easy Bake Bread Mix.

Orgran makes a full line of gluten-free and allergen-free baking mixes. One of the things I love about this product line is that not only are the mixes free of the top eight allergens (as well as gluten-free and vegan) but they don’t require adding eggs or dairy products. All you need to add is water and oil. No adaptation is necessary.

Another great feature is that this is a rising bread, yet it contains no yeast. How cool is that?

Just mix it up, let is rise for 15 minutes, and then bake it.

This mix makes a true white bread that is very easy to slice, making is a great sandwich bread. The crust is what amazed me the most about this bread. It has a true crust on top – no flaking or sogginess after a few days like you often see with gluten-free breads.

Overall, I do prefer the Orgran Alternative Grain Bread which has more flavor, but those looking for a white bread replacement will find the easy bake bread to be a great choice.

Note: This product does contain maize(corn) starch, and not suitable for those with corn allergies.