Thursday, May 31, 2012

My Home Photography Studio

Early on in the process of creating my book, Learning to Bake Allergen-Free, I decided to take all of the photos myself. Little did I know what I was getting myself into. During the past year I have become a food stylist and photographer, in addition to a cookbook author, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Doing the photos myself gave me a lot of control over my schedule, and forced me to stretch those creative muscles in new ways.

In short, taking the pictures for my book was a great deal of fun.

But it wasn’t easy. In my quest for information on food photography best practices I found that there was very little information on the subject – just a handful of books. While there are many photography magazines on the bookshelves, they cater to portrait, landscape, wedding, and action photography. Articles on food photography are few and far between.

But I have learned a great deal from doing this project, and am happy to share it with you. Today, I want to focus on my photography studio.

The most important point here is that I realized I needed a space that I could call a studio. Prior to that I was rearranging furniture in the kitchen every time I wanted to shoot. It was tedious and impractical. I picked the sunniest spot in the house – and luckily it was vacant. This was my oldest son’s room, now used as a guest room. I pushed the bed against the wall and purchased a table that I placed by the window.

The most critical component of photography – even more important than the food itself – is the light. I took down the curtains, pulled the blinds all the way up, and ditched the wooden grids off of the windows so I could get a pure stream of light. My camera is most often placed as you see above, with the window to my left, but I do sometimes shoot with the food backlit.

I purchased a large light filter that I can move around, depending on light conditions, but usually keep as a filter right by the window (and I move it around as the sun moves). I also purchased some white foam boards to bounce the light off of. (I only use natural light.) This is the angle I shoot from most frequently – it’s like a light box, and I love the results!

The table I purchased from Ikea is adjustable up and down, and makes a great tabletop on its own, but I often put other surfaces on top to vary my “tabletops.”

For a long time (and during the shooting for my book) I had my props (I’ll talk more about props in a future post) in boxes all over the floor, but I got tired of tripping over them and searching for what I wanted. Recently I decided to makeover the closet so I could store all of my equipment and props, and I am very happy with the result:

Where do you take your food photos? What is your setup like?

Monday, May 28, 2012

A Reminder

I found this sign posted at the serve yourself salad bar at my local grocery store:

A reminder to never, ever, buy from the open bins or self-serve containers, if you have food allergies.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Quick Quesadilla with Guacamole

Sometimes a short cut is in order. That’s when I turn to simple solutions like this Quick Quesadilla recipe.

I used Sandwich Petals to form the Quesadilla. I heated the flatbread for about 20 seconds on each side in a medium skillet, then added one tablespoon of olive oil. I added the filling (I used cheese, but any filling or non-dairy cheese will work). Once heated, I cut it into wedges and served it with guacamole.

Can you ever get enough guacamole?

Monday, May 21, 2012

TV Drama’s Favorite New Plot Line – Peanut Allergy

Twice within the past month I have turned the TV on to one of my favorite shows to find a plot that includes food allergies. The topic is hot, in more ways than one. I’m not surprised that drama writers – especially those who need engaging twists and turns for suspenseful stories – would latch onto anaphylaxis as a way to move the story forward. But, I’m concerned. Let’s take a look at the stories:

Spoiler alert: don’t read on if you watch these shows and haven’t seen these episodes.

The Firm
– This NBC drama is based on John Grisham’s novel. At one point, Mitch McDeere (whose family is on the run and under FBI protection) and his brother, decide to go rogue and take down the leader of an illegal insurance operation to murder patients who may cost Noble Insurance too much money. (Yes, it’s a mouthful of a plot.) The bad guy, Stack, has a severe peanut allergy. We know this because McDeere found it in his military file. Stack is ex-special forces.

McDeere and his family cook up a scheme to “disable” Stack, by forcing him to have an anaphylactic reaction, giving them just enough time to steal the special codes needed to break into the secure room where the information they need is located.

There are a number of factual inaccuracies in the story:

1. The allergic reaction is caused when Stack picks up a phone that has peanut oil on it. While we don’t know for sure that the peanut oil they used was highly refined, it’s unlikely that peanut oil could have caused the reaction we saw (highly refined oils are fat and do not contain the proteins that cause allergic reactions.) That said, the allergic reaction was believable – Stack swelled up, rashes appeared, he quickly passed out.

2. Stack was military. The military does not accept candidates with anaphylactic reactions to food. Apparently the writers either missed that point, or decided to ignore it for the benefit of the plot.

3. The McDeere’s knew that they had only 15 fifteen minutes to administer epinephrine before Stack would die. Except, in real life, it could take as little as 6 minutes. I guess 6 minutes wasn’t enough time for them to break into the secret room and grab the hard drive. On the positive side, they did use the Epi-pen (which Stack carries with him but they had stolen) properly.

And there is a serious moral/legal dilemma here:

When would it ever be right for someone to intentionally cause an anaphylactic reaction? Keep in mind that it was the good guys who did this, and Stack could have died. With this kind of behavior on TV, it’s no wonder we see kids on the playground threatening food-allergic children with peanuts.

Smash – An NBC drama about the making of a Broadway musical, with a cutthroat environment – especially among the stars vying for the lead. The actress brought in to play Marilyn, Rebecca Duval (played by Uma Thurman) has a peanut allergy. She makes it clear that she has an allergy, and is very diligent about it. The day after the first show (where no one clapped at the end), Rebecca drinks her morning smoothie that has been spiked with peanut, and she collapses.

About the facts:

1. This allergic reaction is somewhat less believable. Rebecca appears to be having difficulty breathing, but she keeps drinking while this happens and we see little else.

2. After the incident, the director tells the cast that Rebecca has been “sedated” and would be out of the hospital in a few days. There is no mention of her being given adrenaline/epinephrine. Even if I give the writers the benefit of the doubt and assume that the character must have been given epinephrine, I’m not aware of sedation as a course of treatment after epinephrine.

And, once again, the dilemma:

Rebecca believes that someone must have intentionally spiked her drink. The episode ends with everyone wondering who might have done it? Karen, the under-study? Ivy, the cast member who originally played Marilyn? Worse yet, nobody cares. Rebecca herself doesn’t even want to know.

Again, I ask – is it ever okay to intentionally cause an allergic reaction?

We see horrific crimes being committed in TV dramas every day. Drama is drama, after all, and attempted murder is attempted murder, whether it’s by a gunshot, or an intentional poisoning. But these stories of intentional peanut allergy poisoning aren’t being treated like the horrific crimes they are. There’s almost an implication that it’s okay to poison someone with a food allergen if you have an Epi-pen nearby. Don’t we have enough accidental allergic reactions?

What do you think?

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Food Allergy Facts – Awareness Week, Day 7

Each day during food allergy awareness week I am sharing some facts based on the most recent data and research. Here are today’s facts:

The market for foods that address the needs of those with food allergies and intolerances is expected to grow to $26.5 billion (yes, billion) dollars over the next 5 years according to Global Industry Analysts.

The US represents the world's largest market for gluten-free products.

Please share these facts with your audiences.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Food Allergy Facts – Awareness Week, Day 6

Each day during food allergy awareness week I am sharing some facts based on the most recent data and research. Here are today’s facts:

It can take as little as 6 minutes for the entire body to shut down during anaphylaxis. Only a tiny amount of protein is required to cause anaphylaxis.

Severe allergies (and any anaphylactic reactions to common foods will prevent a candidate from joining the military. (

Please share these facts with your audiences.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Food Allergy Facts – Awareness Week, Day 5

Each day during food allergy awareness week I am sharing some facts based on the most recent data and research. Here are today’s facts:

According to Dr. Kari Nadeau at the FAI Editorial Roundtable on April 11, 2012:
  • If one parent has any type of allergy (allergic rhinitis, asthma, food allergy, etc.), his or her child has a 65% chance of having some type of allergy.
  • If both parents have an allergy, their offspring have an 85% chance of having some type of allergy, and will likely have more severe allergies.
Please share these facts with your audiences.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Food Allergy Facts – Awareness Week, Day 4

Each day during food allergy awareness week I am sharing some facts based on the most recent data and research. Here are today’s facts:

Households with incomes less than $50K are half as likely to have a food allergy and half as likely to be diagnosed with food allergy.

Asian and Black children have higher odds of having a food allergy, yet are 24% less likely to be diagnosed.

Food allergies are more prevalent (as a percent of the population) in highly populated areas (urban centers and metro cities) than in more sparsely populated areas (small towns and rural areas).

Based on The Prevalence, Severity, and Distribution of Childhood Food Allergy in the United States, Pediatrics Vol. 128 No. 1 July 1, 2011.

Please share these facts with your audiences.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Food Allergy Facts – Awareness Week, Day 3

Each day during food allergy awareness week I am sharing some facts based on the most recent data and research. Here are today’s facts:

The most common food allergies among children are peanuts (25.2%) and milk (21.1%).

The prevalence of wheat allergy in children is only 5% (a number I thought surprisingly low).

More than 30% of children with food allergies have multiple food allergies.

The prevalence of all top allergens increases as children get older, except with peanut (which drops slightly) and milk (which drops substantially).

Based on The Prevalence, Severity, and Distribution of Childhood Food Allergy in the United States, Pediatrics Vol. 128 No. 1 July 1, 2011.

Please share these facts with your audiences.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Food Allergy Facts – Awareness Week, Day 2

Food-allergic reactions cause 203,000 emergency room visits every year, or one every three minutes. Most of these are due to accidental exposure. (JACI, March 2011).

39% of children with food allergies have experienced a severe or life-threatening reaction.

$6 billion per year is spent on food allergy care in the US (according to the CDC).

During this food allergy awareness week, please share these facts with your audiences.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Food Allergy Facts - Awareness Week, Day 1

May 13th-19th is Food Allergy Awareness Week.

Each day this week I will share some food allergy facts. Please pass them on and share them with your audiences so that we can get the message out about food allergies. Much of what I will be sharing I learned at a recent press editorial roundtable, hosted by the Food Allergy Initiative.

Today's food allergy facts:

Food allergies continue to grow at an alarming rate:
  • A 2007 CDC study estimated that over 12 million Americans including 1 in 25 children, had a food allergy.
  • The most recent research (based on a study funded by FAI and published by Northwestern University in 2011) shows that up to 15 million Americans have food allergies including 1 in every 13 children (or 8% of children).
The average classroom of 25-30 students now has two children with food allergies.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Birthday Cake!

When I was growing up, my grandmother made the birthday cakes. Sometimes she would start planning the cake a month in advance, throwing out suggestions. Cherry Vanilla with Pink Frosting? Red Velvet? No, for me it was always Chocolate with Vanilla Frosting.

As a Mom, I’ve always made birthday cakes for my kids. Even when I ordered a fancy store bought cake (like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle cake I surprised my oldest son with one year), I made another one at home – just for the family. When food allergies hit us, cake from the bakery was no longer an option, so I created my own recipes.

I no longer expect anyone to make a cake for me. To be honest, I prefer to make my own because I know exactly what I want – chocolate with vanilla frosting.

Besides, it’s my birthday and I’ll bake if I want to ☺

The recipe for this Triple Play Chocolate Cake can be found in Learning to Bake Allergen-Free. I plan to serve it with a cranberry sauce. The sauce is one that I was inspired to create after taking a class on sauces at the Culinary Institute of America.

Cranberry Dessert Sauce

1 cup cranberries
2/3 cup sugar
1 tbsp lime juice

Combine the ingredients in a small saucepan and simmer over medium heat, about 10 minutes, until the sugar has dissolved. Stir occasionally to break the cranberries open. Strain the sauce through a mesh strainer, pressing the juice through the strainer. Discard the pulp. Serve warm or cold underneath (or on top of) the cake.

I don’t like to use food coloring (too many additives and dyes) in my baking, which means that my frostings are almost always white. But, I decided to try to add some color by adding a couple drops of my cranberry sauce to the frosting. It gave the frosting a delightful pink color (and a bit of a cranberry taste) that I could make the rosettes out of.

I can’t wait to eat the cake later!

What's your favorite birthday cake?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Allergies and Awesome You – A Book Review

I was really thrilled to receive a copy of Dr. Atul Shah’s new book, Allergies, and Awesome You: Believe You Can Get There Too! to review.

Dr. Shah is not just any allergist, he is The Amazing Allergist, and treats patients every day at his center on Long Island. But Dr. Shah isn’t just worried about what happens in his office, he cares about what his patients need after they leave his office – just one of the reasons he created the Amazing Allergist series of children’s books.

Allergies and Awesome You is a read-aloud book, but could also be read by young readers with their parents or alone. In the book, two young athletes with allergic rhinitis (nasal allergies) are playing soccer – one is struggling, and the other is playing at peak performance. You can probably guess that one has been getting allergy shots (and getting better) and the other has not.

The book is a great introductory book for a child who is about to start getting treatment for environmental allergies, but it’s much more than that. Dr. Shah truly believes in the mind-body connection. Unique to this book are exercises and activities which are intended to help kids think positively and learn new behaviors.

While not about food allergies, the positive messages here are useful for all, and I encourage you to check it out.

Even better, Dr. Shah has some special gifts for readers who purchase the book during this launch.  Find out more about the book, including the special gifts, here.  And be sure to check out Dr. Shah’s facebook page here.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Cupcakes for Celiac Awareness – Chocolate with Cherry Vanilla Frosting

May is such a jam-packed month. May 13th-19th is both Food Allergy Awareness Week and Eosinophilic Awareness Week. But May is also Celiac Awareness Month. Yup, all of these food-related awareness activities are stacked on top of one another, giving us a lot to talk about.

But today it’s all about cupcakes!

The American Celiac Disease Alliance and 1 in 133 have asked us to bake cupcakes to spread the word about celiac disease. Last year, the world’s tallest cake was built in Washington as members of the celiac community lobbied for gluten-free labeling laws. This year, instead of one big cake, it’s cupcakes all over the world. Gotta love it!

While technically no one in my family suffers from celiac disease (at least not officially), my son is allergic to wheat (among other things) and I am gluten-intolerant. We have been eating wheat-free and gluten-free for eleven years, hence the eleven cupcakes.

I decided to make Basic Chocolate Cupcakes from Learning to Bake Allergen-Free: A Crash Course for Busy Parents on Baking without Wheat, Gluten, Dairy, Eggs, Soy or Nuts with Cherry Vanilla Frosting. The cupcake recipe is gluten-free, vegan, and top 8 allergen-free, and can be found in the book. The frosting is super-simple:

Cherry Vanilla Frosting

3 cups confectioner’s sugar
12 tbsp Earth Balance natural shortening (softened)
2 tbsp water
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp cherry extract

Combine the sugar and shortening with a blender until crumbly. Add the water and extracts, and blend for 2-4 minutes longer until the frosting is smooth and creamy. Decorate the cupcakes!

I added some mini Enjoy Life Chocolate Chips, because – well, do I really need a reason to add chocolate chips?

Now, the question is – do we have to share? Sure, why not...

Be sure to join the American Celiac Disease Alliance Cupcakes for a Cause event page to check out all the cupcake photos and/or enter your own. While you're there, click "like" on the entries to vote for your favorites.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Brad’s Raw Foods Rock

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of interviewing Brad Gruno about his raw chip business. Brad’s transformation to a raw foods entrepreneur is fascinating and you can read about it at, but today I want to talk about the food. When Brad asked me if I wanted some sample to try I said yes, and I am so glad I did!

These chips rock!

I received two packages of crackers and one package of leafy kale. All of Brad’s Raw Foods products are indeed raw – they are dehydrated at low temperatures (rather than oven baked or fried) so that they retain all of their nutritional value.

The crackers are somewhere between a traditional cracker and a chip. They are sturdy enough to dip, and can easily be garnished with whatever you would put on a traditional cracker. They are gluten-free, vegan, egg-free, soy-free, and dairy-free. They are made from all whole foods – vegetables, seeds, and buckwheat groats. The package lists “love” as one of the ingredients, and I can see why. These are very special crackers.

The leafy kale is very much like the kale chips you would bake at home, but they are also dehydrated. Added flavors give them a taste like nothing I’ve ever had before. This product contains nuts – cashews are used to give the chips flavor.

Unlike many gluten-free and allergen-free foods, these are high in fiber, low in sugar, and low in calories. While neither product is suitable for those with tree nut allergies, these make a great alternative to popcorn for a snack.

Brad’s Raw Foods can be found in some Whole Foods, and are making their way into stores across the country. Have you had a chance to try them yet?