Thursday, May 30, 2013

Wicked Restaurant Review

It was a cold and rainy Memorial Day weekend. I was visiting my mother in my hometown of Falmouth, Massachusetts. The Cape is wonderful when it’s sunny and warm – or even sunny and cool. But there’s not much to do on Cape Cod when the weather isn’t cooperating (which happens more often than you might think). There are a couple of movie theaters, lots of shops, and lots of restaurants.

What’s a girl to do on a cold, rainy, day on the Cape? Eat, of course.

My mother had mentioned a new pizza place that serves gluten-free pizza a few times on my last few visits. With images of a classic pizza joint (and wheat and cheese flying all over the place) I had avoided eating at Wicked Restaurant in neighboring Mashpee. I am now wondering what the heck I was waiting for!

To call Wicked a pizza restaurant may be unfair. Yes, they serve pizza, and yes, they serve gluten-free pizza, but oh my gosh – there is so much more on the menu. Wicked is an upscale but casual full-blown restaurant. Each booth has a dedicated flat-screen television. A 21st century version of the personal jukeboxes we used to sometimes at booths in diners, perhaps?

But Wicked is not a diner either. The menu contains dozens of exotic pizzas (no plain old pepperoni here), all available with gluten-free crusts. Meal options that are available gluten-free are noted right on the standard menu.

Most importantly, our waiter clearly understood food allergies and took them very seriously. And so I started with my questions:
Q. How do you prepare your gluten-free crust?
A. We use a rice-based crust.

Q. Do you make it in the same oven as the wheat pizzas?
A. No. We have a special pan that is dedicated for the gluten-free crusts, and they don’t go anywhere near the wheat pizzas.
Yippee, it’s really gluten-free! I also let the waiter know that I was allergic to soy, and placed my order. He came back quickly to let me know that the spray they use in the pan contains soy.
Q. Is it just soybean oil? Or does it contain soy protein?
A. I don’t know, let me check.
At this point I asked if I could see the can – and he brought it right out. As I suspected, it was a combination of oils with no proteins. I gave him the green light to make my pizza.

This is fig and prosciutto pizza with fontina cheese, balsamic glaze, and arugula. Yum, yum, yum!

Three yums may not be enough. This food is wicked good!

The pizzas all contain cheese, but the staff assured me that they would be able to make something delicious for those allergic to dairy. I can’t wait to go back with my son later this summer!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Spring is Here, Time for Tarts!

I prefer to define the seasons by which fruits are available than by the calendar. I always know when fall has arrived when I can find pomegranates and figs at the grocery store. Cranberries means winter is near. When I find rhubarb, I know for sure that spring has arrived.

Strawberries, while not in season, are usually available at my local stores year round, but those rhubarb stalks come and go too quickly!

By now you have likely guessed that this week I’ve been baking with rhubarb. I used the Strawberry Tart recipe from Learning to Bake Allergen-Free, and made a strawberry-rhubarb filling for my tarts:

Of course, this is also a reminder that there is no reason to use the filling I suggest – make those tarts with whatever fruits you love! Pretty soon I’ll be making them with blueberries and raspberries from the CSA. There is absolutely nothing better than fresh fruit you pick yourself!

What fruit tarts will you be making this spring?

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Jerome Bettis Talks About Food Allergies

I had to laugh yesterday when my friend Keeley from Allergy-Friendly Lunch Boxes described her interview with Jerome Bettis as a “date.” I had a date with Jerome too, but mine was an “afternoon date.” Jerome is a former Pittsburgh Steelers running back, with a severe shellfish allergy.You can hear our conversation here:

Consistent with the sports theme, Jerome describes his action plan as a “playbook” – and just like the playbooks my kids had when playing sports, the plays lay out the steps for success. If you’d like to check out the entire fifteen minute interview, including questions from Sarah and Selena:


 Check out Keeley’s blog post for the questions and answers from the evening session with Jerome. Thanks to Sanofi for driving this initiative and for giving us the opportunity to talk to Jerome Bettis. Jerome, thanks for picking up the blitz and being a food allergy role model for our kids!

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Solution to Gluten-Free Hair Care?

It just might be NYR Organic.

Finally, a paraben-free, organic, shampoo and conditioner that doesn’t replace the parabens with wheat or soy proteins. Neal’s Yard Remedies, a UK company, has actually been making them since 1981, but I first ran across the brand at the Gluten-Free and Allergen-Free Expo in Chicago. I bought the Revitalizing Orange Flower shampoo and conditioner to try.

The truth is, I’m tired of organic/paraben-free/gluten-free/soy-free shampoos that leave my hair feeling like straw, and conditioners that really aren’t meant for adult hair. The NYR Organic formula that I tried really works! My hair feels clean, combs through easily, and styles well. Most importantly, I am not itchy after my shower.

Could this be the end of bad hair days? I hope so! If you’re in the mood to try some, you can find it online here.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

What Your Boss Should Know about Food Allergies

Good information never gets old, but it does get outdated. In the case of food allergies, it gets outdated very quickly. Just two years ago I shared this article on Five Things Your Boss Should Know About Food Allergies at

In the spirit of Food Allergy Awareness Week, I wanted to share it again. While all of the conclusions and suggestions still hold, the data is no longer accurate. Here are the most recent facts:

Fifteen million Americans, including 8% of children have food allergies. (Compared to the 12 million noted in the article.)

One in every thirteen children has food allergies; on average, two children in every classroom have food allergies.

The most recent CDC study (May 2013) estimates that food allergies in children have increased 46% between 1999 and 2011. Compare that to the 18% increase reported from 1997 to 2007.

While there is no data on the number of people entering the workforce with food allergies, it’s reasonable to suggest that the numbers are increasing and will continue to increase. See the original article to learn more.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Another Choice for Allergen-Free Chocolate – Pascha

You must know by now that I love chocolate. I have to resist the urge to add chocolate to all of my baked goods. And I have been known to dip my hand into the chocolate chip jar. (Chocolate is a relatively healthy treat, right?)

At the recent Gluten-Free & Allergen-Free Expo in Chicago I really lucked out when I ran into Simon near the bloggers’ booth at the end of the expo, handing out Pascha chocolate bars to sample. I am not ashamed to admit that I begged him to let me have two. He first handed me a bar that was 70% cacao (that is some serious dark chocolate), and I grilled him:
It must be gluten-free, right?
Is it dairy-free?
Soy-lecithin free?
Made in a nut-free?
“Yes, yes, yes, yes,” he assured me, “none of the top food allergens.” And that’s when I begged him to also let me take home the 85% cacao bar he still had in his hand. I even offered to trade back the 70% bar, because I wanted the nearly pure chocolate bar so badly. Simon must have sensed my enthusiasm (desperation?) because he let me take both.

Here’s why I was so excited:

First, chocolate doesn’t need to be anything more than chocolate (some combination of cocoa powder and cocoa butter), yet because so many chocolate makers make milk chocolate (really, who decided that chocolate tastes better when milk is added?) or add nuts. And, because they want to be able to form shapes and have a longer shelf life they add soy lecithin. While many of us can deal with the soy lecithin (even with my family’s soy allergies we are okay with soy lecithin), the nuts and the milk – even traces of them – are deal breakers for most who visit here.

And a little more of a lesson on chocolate: Sugar is usually added to the cocoa powder and butter in chocolate bars. The less sugar added, the higher the “% cacao” number. Anything over 55-60% cacao is considered dark/semi-sweet/bittersweet. That means that 70% is seriously dark, and 85% is very close to pure chocolate. And that is precisely why I wanted that bar so much.

Unsweetened baking chocolate is 100% cacao – but nearly impossible to find made in a dedicated facility. I have been in search of a nearly pure chocolate bar that could be used as baking chocolate in allergen-free recipes for some time now. Are you feeling the excitement?

I had to hide the bars (from myself) until I was ready to try them with the Double Chocolate Muffin recipe in Learning to Bake Allergen-Free. In that recipe I call for unsweetened baking chocolate, but allow you to use allergen-free chocolate chips, if needed to avoid allergens. This time I used the 85% cacao Pascha chocolate in place of the baking chocolate, and broke up the 70% bar to use as added chocolate chunks.

After passing the “free from allergens” test, the next most important test is taste. Despite similarities in ingredients names, chocolate tastes very different depending on where it comes from and how it was processed. All of Pascha’s ingredients are organic, and the only things added to the chocolate are organic cane sugar and vanilla. The result is one of the finest chocolates I have ever tasted. The fact that Pascha has managed to maintain that pure chocolate taste without adding any lecithin in nothing short of miraculous!

So, to everyone who has been asking me for a source for great allergen-free chocolate, Pascha chocolates can be found at, and should be available in stores in the US in the next few weeks. I strongly recommend you give them a try!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

What the Proposed Gluten Free Labeling Laws Might Mean for Families with Food Allergies

Back in 2006 when the FALCPA (Food Allergen Labeling Consumer Protection Act) was passed, there was a directive that rules be established for the use of the term “gluten free” on product labels by the end of 2008.

We’re still waiting, but we may be getting close.

After years of discussion and on-again/off-again work to define what is indeed “gluten free,” the FDA has proposed rules that have been sent to The Hill for possible legislation. It has taken a long time – in part because not everyone agreed on the definition.

From where things stand right now, it appears that that the FDA rule will allow a product to be defined as “gluten free” if it does not contain wheat, rye, or barley, (the three grains that contain gluten) or any hybrid of these grains; ingredients that have not been processed to remove gluten; or any item made up of more than 20 parts per million of gluten. Twenty parts per million is the level at which most doctors agree that a celiac can still safely consume the product.

This is all very good news. Progress is progress, and I support all initiatives that help us understand what is in our food. Nevertheless, the result could be confusion for families with wheat allergies.

The FALCPA ensures that the common name of the top food allergens be clearly listed as an ingredient on food labels. For example, “wheat” must be listed if the product indeed contains wheat. Unlike the FALCPA, the gluten free rule will not require “gluten” to be listed as an ingredient if the food contains gluten. Conversely, it will define when a product can use the words “gluten free” on the package. (Of course, gluten isn’t an ingredient per se, just like fat isn’t an ingredient.)

So if a product meets the rules to be labeled “gluten free,” will it then be safe for those with wheat allergies? Not necessarily. The product may still contain wheat that has been modified to have the gluten removed (such products exist in the UK). And since the rule is 20 parts per million, there could still be minute traces of wheat. What this means is that those with wheat allergies may find the gluten free designation helpful as a starting point, but will still need to read the entire list of ingredients to make sure that the product is safe for them.

A larger concern for the food allergy community could be the trend towards food that has been modified. How would you feel about cow’s milk that has had the casein proteins removed or modified? Or what about hypoallergenic soy? Of course, these don’t exist… yet. Would you embrace them if they did? I’m not sure I could get on board.

Another interesting consideration for families like ours could be the acceptance of a “parts per million” approach for top food allergens. While I wouldn’t be in favor of replacing the FALCPA (I still want to know if even a tiny amount of a food allergen was intended to be in the product), establishing measurements and thresholds for safety could be more helpful than the usually-less-than-clear optional advisory labels (e.g. processed in a facility that also processes…).

What do you think?

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Sneaky Chef No Nut Butter – Product Review

What if you could feed your kids a “nut” butter that wasn’t made from nuts at all, or even seeds, but from peas? Yes, I said peas. That is exactly what the Sneaky Chef uses in their No Nut Butter. Yes, again, I did say peas. The Sneaky Chef sent me a complementary jar to review.

It’s actually amazing that this product looks so much like traditional nut butter. It contains primarily peas and oils. The product is nut-free (made in a nut-free facility), gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free creamy goodness served up in a BPA-free jar.

Is it healthier than the products it competes with? Let’s take a look at No Nut Butter compared to sunflower seed butter and peanut butter.

It’s not calorie-free – there are 190 calories in a 2 tablespoon-sized serving of No Nut Butter – that’s about the same as peanut butter and a tiny bit less than sunflower seed butters. The Sneaky Chef No Nut Butter has a tiny bit more sugar, slightly less fat, and about half the protein of either peanut butter or sunflower seed butter. It also has less dietary fiber than either of the two comparisons.

One thing I like about the product is that it is very creamy – you won’t have any problem spreading this on your bread. If you tend to like creamy alternatives to peanut butter, this one could be for you.

I know you’re probably wondering if it tastes like peas. The answer is no – my taste buds could not detect the presence of peas. Yes, that chef is indeed sneaky. That said, it doesn’t taste like nuts either. While sunflower seed butters have a nutty taste, the No Nut Butter has a milder, less distinctive taste. Nevertheless, it does pair quite well with jam:

While I would not declare it healthier than the alternatives, there are some very good reasons why you may choose it. If you can’t have nuts or seeds (but can have legumes) – this is the only product I’ve seen as an alternative. If you prefer a creamy butter with a mild taste, this could be the choice for you. Or, if you need to find a way to get your child to eat some veggies, this could be for you.

Have you tried the Sneaky Chef’s No Nut Butter?
What do you think?

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Gordy and the Magic Diet – A Book Review

While at the Gluten-Free and Allergen-Free Expo in Chicago last week, I had the pleasure of signing books alongside Kim Diersen and April Runge, co-authors of the children’s book Gordy and the Magic Diet.

While we were there, I witnessed many elementary school-aged children reading the book – and when they did they didn’t want to put it down. They could relate to Gordy, a child who had “monsters” in his tummy until he went on a “magic diet.” The book is appropriate for early readers as well as to be read aloud by parents.

It’s the first book of its kind that I have seen that focuses on how the child feels – we are inside Gordy’s head throughout the story. We are also inside his tummy, where various ailments cause him to feel and behave badly. (Sound familiar?)

Gordy’s magic diet is never spelled out, nor is his particular illness – he could be a child with celiac disease, food allergies, EoE, or any variety of other autoimmune conditions or intolerances triggered by food. It’s a book that all parents of children with food restrictions and children with food restrictions will relate to.

The book itself has a magical feel with sparkling stars on the cover surrounding a food-triumphant Gordy. Carrie Hartman illustrated the book. The authors donate a portion of the proceeds to non-profits that help children navigate restrictive diets. Visit Gordy and the Magic Diet to order.