Friday, November 28, 2014


As another death rocks the food allergy community, I've been thinking about my involvement in it.  As you probably know, I'm no stranger to food allergies, nor to the fact that they can kill.  But unlike many people, when my sons were diagnosed with food allergies I didn't take to the internet to look for support and advice.  I already knew what I was doing and felt confident in my ability to do it.  I wasn't a part of the food allergy community, even though I occasionally encountered other food allergy parents on parenting forums and the like.

As a result, most food allergy deaths didn't reach me.  I've been hard-pressed to read the news since having kids anyway, and food allergy deaths are seldom in the top headlines.  I knew that people died from allergies, but I was seldom forced to think about them.

That's all changed now.  In the two months that I've been active in the food allergy community, I've heard about a teenager who died after eating trail mix while watching a movie with his mom (an older story, I've learned, but brought back into the news in conjunction with a scientific study), a young boy who died after an unidentified exposure on Halloween, and now a college student who wasn't able to get himself to the hospital fast enough after exposure at a party.  Not to mention I've  been part of a social media firestorm against a school board official who jokingly suggested shooting kids with allergies.

That's a lot.  I knew in my head that food allergy deaths were common enough, but reading about the stories of these remarkable young people, often hearing the words or seeing the faces of their grieving parents, makes the whole experience far more visceral.  I come face-to-face with their horrible losses, and am forced to think about them through the lens of my kids.  I imagine myself in the same situation, immediately regretting one "little" mistake or railing against fate that there was no mistake, frantically trying to keep them with me, worrying that everything I can do won't be enough.  Or I imagine myself having the reaction, feeling myself slip further down the hole than I've ever been, protesting that it can't possibly be that bad and what the h#!! went wrong?

It's enough to make me want to quit this venture and climb back into my shell, content with the knowledge that our lack of reactions means we're doing everything right and confident that we will continue to do so.  Instead of thinking about these very real horror stories a couple times per month (or more, as my thoughts stray down these paths for several days after each story,) I could go back to thinking about them only a couple times per year.

But I can't.

These deaths have been happening since before I was paying attention, and they will continue even if I stick my head back in the sand.  So many of these deaths are preventable, and the more voices we have for advocacy and education, the more reactions we can prevent and properly treat, and the more lives we can save.

That's part of why my husband and I are starting Allergy Superheroes.  We don't just want to protect, educate, and empower our boys, we want to spread that to all kids with food allergies.  We want all kids to develop the confidence and knowledge to advocate for themselves and grow up to lead healthy, full lives.  If I quit now, I won't be part of that.

I will grieve with each family that suffers a food-allergy-related loss, and will continue to raise my voice when awareness or advocacy is needed.  I want to protect and empower children.  I'll do my best.
ETA: I just learned of another today, a teenager died on Thanksgiving Day, weeks after eating a peanut butter cookie.  I'm saddened, and my thoughts go out to the family, as they do with all of these deaths.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thanksgiving Safety Reminders

One more day to Turkey Day!
Our family has always been really good about our food allergies during holiday meals. My side has been dealing with this for more than one generation, of course, and my husband's side caught on very quickly.  We still take precautions, and I know that a lot of people have a harder time getting family and friends to take them seriously.  With that in mind, here are a few last-minute food-allergy-safety reminders as we count down to gobble day:

If you're hosting:
No Peanuts Allowed!!!
  • Make your family allergen policy clear to anyone who intends to bring food to your gathering.  For some, it's "no foods containing X or Y may come into our house."  For others, it's "we don't completely restrict foods containing X or Y, but we expect you to know whether X or Y are in your food so we can treat it accordingly." Regardless, have a plan in mind for what you will do if someone forgets your rule, and be ready to follow through.
  • Have a special place where you will segregate any unsafe foods, and make sure you have extra serving utensils in case anyone forgets to bring one. Shared serving utensils are a no-no if unsafe foods are around!
  • Make allergic children aware that they are not to touch foods in the unsafe space.  Teach them to alert you and wash their hands immediately if they touch it by accident.
  • Help store or discard any unsafe leftovers as soon as the meal is over, and then clean the unsafe food area thoroughly.
  • Ask your guests to wash their hands as soon as they're done eating, to avoid contaminating the rest of your home.
  • Make yourself aware of the dietary restrictions of anyone else attending your gathering.  There's nothing like leading by example!
Warning:  my feathers may contain egg!
If you're going to someone else's house:

  • Know before you go.  Be sure to contact the host to make them aware of your family's allergies.  Inquire about what foods will be served, whether anything will contain your family's allergens, and how they plan to segregate foods that do from foods that don't.  Make plenty of suggestions if they don't have ready answers!
  • Offer to help in the kitchen.  Specifically offer to help with keeping safe foods and unsafe foods separate, and with other allergy-related concerns.  Tell the host that you'd like to help here because you know that handling food allergies can be a burden, especially when you're unaccustomed to doing so.
  • If the meal is potluck-style, make sure your offering is not only allergy-friendly, but is one your allergic children like, so there will be at least one food they can fill up on.
  • Bring some extra serving utensils to make sure that no two dishes will need to share.
  • Bring along a safe snack or two, just in case your child rejects the safe offerings (or if you take one look at the spread and decide that kitchen conditions are unsafe for your child.)

No matter where you'll be dining:

  • If there will be unsafe food available, have a talk with allergic kids beforehand.  Remind them to check with you before helping themselves to any food (or whatever reminder is age-appropriate.)
  • Remind children to report an allergic reaction to you immediately!  Tell them not to "tough it out" or hide it because they don't want to disrupt the holiday gathering.
  • If unsafe foods are available, arrange to serve people with allergies (or allow them to serve themselves) first, so that they can beat any accidental contamination.
  • If unsafe foods are available, ask everyone to wash their hands when finished eating to avoid contaminating surfaces or giving unsafe hugs.
  • Thank everyone for making safety a priority.
  • If the meal is fully allergen-free, and this meant a deviation from "family tradition" dishes, thank everyone for their support of your necessary lifestyle.
  • Remember to be happy, thankful, and to have fun!  Thanksgiving is one of the few remaining uncorrupted holidays--it's still about family and being thankful for our blessings, big or small!

Have a Happy Thanksgiving, and be safe!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Turkey and Rice Soup with Pumpkin Biscuits

***ETA: If you're coming over from the Corn-Free Everyday link party, you may notice that there is corn floating in this soup.  I'm including it in the linky because that is the only corn-derived ingredient.  Simply add the safe vegetables of your choosing, and you, too, can enjoy this scrumptious soup!

After you're finished with your Thanksgiving celebration, don't throw away that turkey carcass!  In fact, don't bother picking the bones completely clean.  With a little work (and a few hours, in which your home will warm up and smell divine) you can get a few more meals out of that bird with my Turkey and Rice Soup!  Free of the Big 8!

Turkey and Rice Soup

Turkey Broth Ingredients:

  • 1 leftover turkey carcass
  • 1 medium onion, quartered
  • 1 large carrot, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp. oregano
  • 1 large bay leaf
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Place the turkey carcass (breaking to fit, if necessary), onion, carrot, and garlic in a large soup pot and cover with cold water.  Bring to a boil.
  2. Add oregano, bay leaf, and salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Reduce heat to simmer and cook, covered, about 2 hours.
  4. Strain the broth.  Refrigerate for a short time and skim off the fat.
  5. Meanwhile, remove the meat from the bones and save for the soup.  Discard bones, skin, and cooked vegetables.

Turkey Soup Ingredients:
  • Freshly made turkey broth
  • 1/2 to 1 cup brown rice
  • 1-2 bags frozen mixed vegetables
  • 3 Tbsp. parsley
  1. Return skimmed broth to the soup pot with the turkey meat and bring to a boil.  Add additional water, if necessary, and additional salt and pepper if the diluted broth is too bland.  (This is an inexact science, just get the broth to the level you want.)
  2. Add rice and simmer, covered, for 25 minutes.
  3. Add frozen veggies and parsley.  Return to boiling.  Simmer another 10 minutes.
    (I forgot the parsley this time.)
This soup works just as well with chicken.  You can make this soup after roasting a chicken, or even make it with a whole, raw chicken or a few raw chicken breasts or thighs (you'd get more meat that way.)  You could also substitute your choice of chopped, fresh veggies rather than use frozen, but you'd have to cook them for longer.  And of course, make sure your bird is allergy-friendly to begin with!

I made this a few weeks ago with a leftover turkey carcass I had in the freezer.  We had a major cold snap and I was in the mood for soup week after week.  I don't make homemade soup often enough and so the boys usually spurn this soup, but Zax actually liked it this time!  He even chose to eat it over the simple "Letter Soup" I'd made for the two of them!  It warms a Mama's heart!
Can't smile.  Eating soup!
I also made Pumpkin Biscuits to eat with the soup.  I had 1/2 cup of pumpkin left in the fridge, and so I added it to 2 1/4 cups of Bisquick, and had to add about 1/4 cup of milk as well.  I also added 1/2 tsp cinnamon and 1/4 tsp nutmeg.

These were okay.  We mostly just tasted the cinnamon, and it was a mild flavor at that.  I think I would need more of each ingredient if I were to do it again.

Linking up at Allergy Free Wednesdays, Gluten Free Fridays, and Corn-free Everyday
If not soup, do you do anything special with your leftover turkey?

Friday, November 21, 2014

FABlogCon 2015

The Food Allergy Bloggers Conference is something I've only heard a little bit about so far.  It happened this year the day after I became a food allergy blogger, and so it wasn't on my radar at the time.  I've read more about it as I've been blog hopping, and it sounds like a great event and resource!

This isn't even on the official website yet, [eta - it's up on the website now!] but my husband discovered yesterday on Twitter that the 2015 conference will be in Denver!

FABlogCon 2015
November 13-15, 2015
Denver, CO

This will make it extremely easy for us to attend!  Consider the date saved!  I can't wait to be a part of this fantastic event next year!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Egg Allergies and the Flu Shot

Did you know that the flu vaccine is incubated in chicken eggs?

We learned this when Zax was 10 months old.  Even before getting to the allergist, our pediatrician told us he would need to get his flu shot directly from an allergist, if at all.  The allergist confirmed this, and that first year we learned the standard protocol.  We would go in for a visit, where they would perform a skin test with a sample of the flu vaccine.  Assuming he showed no reaction to the vaccine, he would then receive the flu shot, followed by a wait for observation.  Zax never reacted to the skin prick test for the vaccine, and he never had any adverse reactions to the vaccine itself, either.  They also told us that they test all their vials of flu vaccine for the presence of egg protein, and use the vial with the lowest levels for their egg-allergic patients.

About two years ago, the protocol changed.  Our allergist's office told us that the skin test had proven ineffective at predicting who would react to the flu vaccine, so they no longer did that.  Instead, they simply gave Zax the injection and then we waited in the office, like before.  (I don't know if this became standard for everyone, or just for people who had tolerated the vaccine without incident before.)  Two years ago, and again last year, Zax again tolerated the flu vaccine with no ill effects.  With this history in mind, I wasn't expecting anything different this year.

However, something different did happen.

Zax got his flu shot at the allergist's office on Monday.  Apart from being afraid of needles and the usual flu shot soreness, he showed no adverse effects at the office.  His skin was clear at bedtime, too.  And when I helped him get dressed Tuesday morning.  Tuesday evening, however, when Zax took his shirt off to change into his pajamas, I was shocked to see this on his arm:

The area was red, slightly raised, and warm to the touch.  It was about 3 inches across, centered around the area of his injection.  "Does it itch?" I asked, knowing the answer already from the fingernail marks I could see across its surface.  "Yes," he said.  I forgot to ask him if he remembered how long it had been itching for.

I called our allergist's office, asking what to do.  He was reporting no other symptoms, and his behavior was consistent with the crazy way he acts every day at bedtime.  Was this a Benadryl situation?  A Hydrocortisone situation?  Claritin?  What should we be doing?

The on-call doctor got back to me quickly, and on his advice I gave Zax Claritin, Ibuprofen (for the inflammation), and Hydrocortisone.  I also outlined the red spot in pen so we could see if it grew or shrank.  And then I was supposed to call our office in the morning to follow up.

This is new territory for me (and although it's scheduled to post on Wednesday at 6:00, I'm penning this late in the evening, which is the hour at which the Boogey Men come out) so my mind in running at full speed.  I honestly wasn't expecting Zax to have a reaction, and certainly not one 29 hours post-shot.  I don't know what this means for the future.  Will Zax still get flu shots, but in two half-doses?  (I vaguely remember that this was an option if he had a positive skin test to the vaccine, but that memory is five years old now.)  Is he likely to react again in the same way if he gets another flu shot, now that he's reacted to one?  Is he likely to react worse the next time he gets a flu shot?  (Food reactions often go that way, why would injecting it directly into the body be any different?)  Will Zax simply not get flu shots anymore?  That would put us at the mercy of herd immunity, which is waning these days with all the anti-vaccine sentiment going around.  And people do die from the flu.  We don't want an anaphylactic reaction to a vaccine though, either.  How do we mitigate the risks?  And does a histamine reaction to a vaccine reduce the body's ability to develop the desired immune response?

I guess I have a lot of things to discuss with the allergist tomorrow.

As I write this, it's 11:00pm.  I'll check on Zax before I go to bed, and evaluate again in the morning.  I'm still planning on sending him to school as long as he isn't worse.  These allergies keep sending me curve balls.

Same allergy.  New symptoms.  New concerns.  *sigh*

Monday, November 17, 2014

Perfect Pumpkin Puree

I fell in love with pumpkins several years ago.  I have no idea why, but I've become obsessed with growing them, decorating with them, and of course, baking with them.  I don't think I've purchased a can of pumpkin in over a decade, because I always make my own puree.

Usually I have to make puree with farmer's market pumpkins because, despite my enthusiasm, pumpkins just don't grow in my back yard.  My female flowers wither and die before opening, so they never get pollinated, and the squirrels make off with the few that beat the odds.  I finally figured out that they don't get enough sunlight in the back, and I planted them in the front yard this year.  What a difference!  I got 8 pie pumpkins, and two very large carving pumpkins!  Then someone stole our carving pumpkins right from the planter! (*sniff, *growl!)  We received 4 more as gifts from people who felt bad for us, and we still had the 8 small pumpkins to paint, so we still had a happy Halloween.

Once Halloween was over, it was time to turn those pie pumpkins into puree!

Let me tell you, I have used numerous techniques over the years, and this one is my favorite by far!  Other methods are messier or more wasteful, but this gives me a perfect puree every time!

Perfect Pumpkin Puree

  1. Rinse and dry the pumpkin.
  2. Cut the pumpkin in half.  Remove and discard the stem and innards, saving the seeds for roasting, if you like.
  3. Rub the cut surfaces with oil (I use olive oil.)  Place them, cut side down, in a roasting pan and add water to the pan.  I use my turkey roaster and bake two or three pumpkins at a time, so I have to use about 6 cups of water.  If you're using a smaller pan and for one pumpkin, you would probably only need about 3-4 cups of water.  Possibly less, just make sure you monitor that it isn't boiling dry.
  4. Bake in the oven at 350 degrees until the flesh is tender when pierced with a fork.  This takes between 90 minutes and 2 hours.  (Do it on a cool day, where the heat and humidity will warm your home.)
  5. Once cool enough to handle, scoop out the pumpkin flesh.
  6. Puree the pumpkin in a food processor, in a food mill, with a hand blender or by hand.  (One of the things that I like about this method is that if I let the pumpkin bake for 2 hours, the skin just lifts right off and the pumpkin is so tender that I can get a good puree just by using my hand mixer.  That dirties fewer dishes and is much easier to clean than a blender!)
Pumpkin can hold a lot of moisture.  If you want a really thick puree you can line a sieve or fine mesh collander with a paper towel or coffee filter and set over a bowl.  Let drain for about 2 hours and stir occasionally.  (I've never done this)

I freeze this puree in 2 cup increments, which is what most of my recipes call for.  I got 12 cups of pumpkin just from the first three pumpkins I baked this year!  With five more pumpkins to go, plus another 5 or 6 cups of puree left over from last year, I told all of my family not to purchase any pumpkin this year.  I would provide the pumpkin for all of their Thanksgiving baking needs!

Now we're set for pumpkin pies, pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, pumpkin soup, pumpkin pasta, pumpkin pancakes, etc, etc, etc!  I love eating pumpkin at this time of year!

Linking up at Allergy Free Wednesdays, Gluten Free Fridays, and Corn-free Everyday
What pumpkin dishes do you like to eat during the holidays?

Friday, November 14, 2014

Food Allergies and Gut Bacteria

A few weeks ago, my mom sent me these articles:

Gut bacteria that protect against food allergies identified
Reason Behind Increasing Food Allergies Discovered

This is an interesting concept.  If you don't feel like reading the articles, the gist is that researchers have identified a class of gut bacteria, Clostridia, which, when absent from the bodies of mice, caused the mice to develop allergies to peanut when exposed in the lab.  When the bacteria was reintroduced to the mice, they showed reduced allergen levels in their blood.  In other words, these manufactured allergies were reversible, to some extent, with the reintroduction of the missing bacteria.

This class of bacteria is common in humans, and so researchers are wondering if heavy antibiotic usage (in an individual or at the population level) is wiping out these friendly bugs and making children more likely to develop food allergies.  And more than than, they're wondering if reintroduction of Clostridia to allergic individuals could help in some way.
This jar is clean and has never been opened.
My kids' toy is safe.

I found the first article to be more helpful than the second.  The first is from a scientific source, and so focused on the actual study and its findings, whereas the second clearly hyped up the findings for a more enticing headline.

This study left me with a lot of questions, but many leave a hopeful feeling behind:
  • How does this explain children who never received antibiotics as a baby--or at least never before their diagnosis?  Is heavy antibiotic usage in the population reducing their chances of picking up this beneficial bacteria?
  • If the results prove applicable to humans, are we talking about a "cure" for those already affected, or an "immunization" of sorts to help prevent the development of food allergies in infants?
  • Does this apply to all levels of allergic reactions, or are some people (those most at risk for anaphylaxis, for example) less likely to see any therapeutic effects?  After all, the article said the bacteria helps prevent the allergens from entering the bloodstream, but some people react anaphylactically when the smallest amount of an allergen touches their mouth.  That's long before the food enters the bloodstream.
Personally, I don't feel that this is the cause of food allergies, or even of increasing food allergy rates.  I do think it is probably one of many contributing factors that make a person more prone to developing food allergies.

I've been hearing a lot lately about the "microbiome," the community of microorganisms that share our bodies with us.  An article in Scientific American a year or so ago had identified a strain of bacteria (or maybe it was a virus, can't remember) found in the lungs of healthy humans, but which is absent from those with asthma.  Every time it comes up, I've wondered if tweaking the microbiome, especially with reintroduction of its symbiotic members, might be the future of medical science.  And here is a study that aims to do just that!

What do you think?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Dreaded Phone Call

I'm going to disclaim this post by stating that Zax is fine, and was fine (in terms of allergies, anyway) in both of these cases.

I never knew my blood could run so cold at the sound of the phone until I started getting calls from the school nurse.

This happened to me twice within the first month-and-a-half of kindergarten.  The first time it happened, it was also the first day Zax had had a substitute teacher.  Our health assistant introduced herself and asked me how I was.  I answered with the usual pleasantry, all the while thinking "Is there any reason for me NOT to be okay???"

Nothing had happened, but she was checking in because the substitute had been handing out plain m&ms as incentives, and did we let Zax eat plain m&ms?

I relaxed a bit.  We do, and have never had any problems, and I appreciated her checking in with us.  But then I tensed up again.  While we allow our peanut-allergic children to eat plain m&ms, there are plenty of others who do not--whether for higher levels of sensitivity or plain old caution, it's a valid dietary choice either way.  Zax later reported that he'd asked his usual "Does this have egg or peanut or nut," and the teacher had said, "No, just chocolate."  Her ignorance of the fact that plain m&ms say "may contain peanut" on the label underscores my trepidation about how safe my child is when someone other than his classroom teacher is in the room.

That first substitute took me by surprise (Zax had known about it the day before, but didn't think to share until he saw the substitute as he was walking into the classroom.)  Since that day, I've made a habit of reminding Zax to be extra careful of any food a substitute offers him, and I also walk to the door to talk to the sub.  "I'm sure this is in your information," I tell them--I think they're more receptive when I say it this way.  "But my son has food allergies to egg, peanut, and tree nut.  I just wanted you to be aware."

The second phone call from the health assistant--a few weeks later--sent the already-familiar chills down my spine.  Again I picked up, thinking "get straight to the point!"  Zax wasn't having an allergic reaction, or at least she didn't think so, and he swore he hadn't eaten anything.  What was happening was that he had completely shut down in class, he was hot, and he said his head and stomach hurt.

Again I got the chance to calm down.  This sounded a lot like his migraines.  (He hasn't been diagnosed with migraines, but they run in the family and he's had a handful of headaches that fit the description.)  I had to pick him up early, of course, so I headed down to the school.

Upon arrival, I had plenty of reason to be impressed by the health assistant.  She had the lights low because the light bothered him, and a trash can beside his bed (because he'd thrown up several times since we'd hung up the phone--more migraine pattern), but most importantly she had her notebook of Allergy Action Plans open to his page while she bent over my son.  She was ready for action.

The moment I saw Zax, I knew he was having a migraine.  Actually, I think he had a virus that had given him a migraine (he's had fevers and migraines at the start of colds before, a pattern I'm just starting to recognize.)  The health assistant doesn't know Zax the way I do, however, so I was gratified to see that she was ready and watching for any signs that said "Allergy!"

Fortunately, I haven't gotten that dreaded phone call again since late September.  I hadn't anticipated it scaring me so much, but I'm coming to realize that I will probably panic every time I get a "your kid got sick in class" kind of call.  It's just the nature of the beast.  I try to take heart from the fact that at least they can get ahold of me anywhere.  When my mom sent me off to school, she lost all lines of communication if she left the house for any reason.  Cell phones have truly revolutionized the world!

How do you feel when the school nurse calls?

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Monday, November 10, 2014

Crockpot Chicken Burritos!

Dinner last weekend was nice and fast, thanks to my old slowcooker chicken burrito recipe!  I love the simplicity of this recipe, and it tastes so amazing that it's hard to believe it's so simple!  All you need is:

  • 1 lb (give or take) chicken breasts
  • 1 cup chicken broth (we use Better Than Bouillon)
  • 1 packet (or equivalent) taco seasoning
Place raw chicken into the bottom of a crockpot.  Mix taco seasoning into the chicken broth, and then pour the mixture over the chicken.  Cook on low all day.  (You can do it on high for just a few hours, but add at least 1/2 cup water to the broth because the liquid will boil off this way.)

The chicken comes out very tender by the time it's done cooking, so all you need to do in the evening is shred it with two forks and you're good to go!  Serve with your choice of tortillas and toppings!

Note:  Because of the broth and taco seasoning I used, my meat was free of all the main allergens except for milk and soy (we used flour tortillas too, so wheat/gluten appeared in our final meal.)  Conceivably, you could make this dish free of the top 8, depending on the contents of your broth and seasoning.  Homemade stock and seasoning would work just as well!  (And of course, if you want it dairy free, you'd have to substitute or omit the cheese and sour cream.)

The boys used to spurn all Mexican foods, but have recently taken a liking to quesadillas.  I'm glad, because this opens up a whole new category of safe restaurant dining, since many Mexican restaurants use little to no peanuts/tree nuts!

Linking up again at Allergy Free Wednesdays

These leftovers will last us through much of this week, with more to pack in the freezer.  What are you cooking this week?

Friday, November 7, 2014

Food Allergy Friendly Birthday Party - Zax turned 6!!!

Zax turned 6 at the end of October!  This year, he requested a Lego birthday.  With the help of the internet, I managed to find some easy and fun Lego games for us to play.

 We started out by decorating Lego minifigures.
Then we had a "balance Legos on a spoon" race.

Followed by "pin the head on the minifig."

We played a variation of musical chairs, in which the kids danced to "Everything is Awesome" from the Lego movie, and then had to find a Lego brick to stand on when the music stopped.

Finally, we took some time to build the party favors!

The cups were minifig heads!

The birthday boy amidst friends.

And of course, since Zax is allergic to egg and peanut (and me to tree nut,) his cake had to be free of all of those allergens.

I have a bit of a masochistic relationship with birthday cakes.  We've known about Zax's egg allergy since before he turned 1, so each and every cake I've made for him has been without egg.  Before I had kids, I was content to bake a simple cake, slap some frosting on the top, and call it good.  I made the occasional two-layer cake, but that was the extent of my decorating prowess.  But ever since having kids, I've felt the desire to make them into something creative and fun--and often very elaborate.  I consider this to be masochistic because of how easily eggless cakes fall apart, and how late I have to stay up to finish them.  But I persist, and I've learned a lot over the last six years.

Here is Zax's Lego Birthday Cake!

Free of egg, peanut, tree nut, soy, fish and shellfish (the last two are probably obvious with cake).  It would also be dairy free, if not for the frosting.

(If anybody knows of a good dairy-free frosting recipe, I'd love to see it!)

One of my friends has some kids who collectively need to be free of gluten, corn, and soy, so I made some cupcakes for them.  I made my recipe with Deby's gluten free flour, and used Private Selection organic powdered sugar (which uses tapioca starch instead of cornstarch) for the frosting.  I wanted to put fondant dots on the top to make them look like Lego bricks, but there was no way around their allergens in the fondant recipe.

We had a great day!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Ham and Bean Soup - Free of the Big 8 Allergens!

My Sunday dinner was free of the top 8 allergens this week without my even intending it!  Once I realized that, I just had to share :)

This is not a fast recipe by any means, but if you've got the time to let soup boil all day, it's well worth it.  I had a leftover ham bone in the freezer, and I've been waiting for a nice, cool day to turn it into soup.  In addition, all of us, asthma sufferers and non-asthma sufferers alike, have been dealing with residual coughs from previous colds, so making the house both warm and humid was an added bonus!

I loosely followed this recipe for the ham stock:

  • 1 ham bone*
  • 1 large onion, chopped (2 cups)
  • 2 carrots, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices
  • 2 celery ribs, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices
  • 3 large garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme, crumbled
  • 3 whole cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • water to cover
Place all ingredients in a large soup pot and cover with cold water.  Allow to boil for a few hours, replenishing liquid as necessary.  Then strain the stock and remove the meat from the bones.  Save the meat for the soup, and discard the rest.

Then for the actual soup (taken from Black Bean Soup from McCall's Cooking School)

  • 2 cups (1 lb) dried black beans
  • Cold water
  • 1 leek
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 6 cups (roughly, okay if it's less) ham stock
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar, firmly packed
  • Chopped red, yellow and green onions (optional)
  • Tortilla chips (optional, omit if you need corn-free!)
  1. Soak the beans (overnight or quick-soak.)
  2. Drain the soaked beans; discard soaking water.  Return drained beans to a large pot and add fresh cold water to cover.  Bring beans and water to boiling over high heat; reduce heat, cover and simmer for 2 hours or until beans are tender.  (I did this at the same time my stock was cooking.)
  3. Drain the cooked beans, reserving liquid.  Set beans aside.  Add reserved bean liquid and, if necessary, water to the ham stock to make 6 cups liquid.  (I actually had closer to 7 or 8 cups total.)
  4. Trim leek:  Cut off root and and green stem.  (Leek should be about 5 inches long after trimming.) Wash leek thoroughly to remove dirt and sand.  Cut on diagonal into 1/4-inch-thick slices.
  5. Heat olive oil in large soup pot over high heat.  When hot, add leek, onion and garlic.  Saute until vegetables are browned, about 5 minutes.
  6. Add salt, brown sugar, beans, and ham meat to leek mixture.  Stir in ham stock.  Bring to boiling over high heat; cover and reduce heat.  Simmer for 10 minutes.  Serve soup topped with chopped onions and tortilla chips.

Alternatively, if you soaked the beans overnight, you could just cook the beans in the same pot while making the stock.  You'd be unable to pull out all the stock veggies and whole spices, though, because the beans would be in the way.  Hubby isn't fond of cooked veggies, and he definitely would have turned up his nose at carrots and celery that had been boiling for three hours, so I made the stock separately.

The original recipe said to add butter or margarine to the broth at the end to thicken it, but I completely forgot that step and to be honest, the soup didn't need it.  This was the perfect, hearty and warm meal for the end of a chilly day.  (If only the kids had liked it.  Their loss, I'm afraid!)

Linking up at Allergy Free Wednesdays, Gluten Free Fridays, and Corn-free Everyday

*To be honest, I can't say that our soup was entirely allergen free, because we ate most of the ham when I threw the wrapper away months ago.  I understand that hams sometimes get treated with wheat, or the glazes can contain any number of allergens.  Our ham was safe for us, but you would need to make sure that your ham bone (or shanks or hocks) is safe for your family.