Monday, March 30, 2015

Chocolate "Butter"cream Frosting

Hello friends!

Let's talk about frosting.  I have turned into a frosting snob over the last few years.  For Zax's first birthday, I discovered several frosting recipes that I absolutely love, and now I can't make myself go back to canned frosting.  I didn't really make this switch because of allergies--the store-bought ones are usually pretty safe for us--I did it because of taste.

Well, actually, when Zax was turning one, I did it because I was trying to keep sugar levels low.  Canned frosting has a predetermined amount of sweetness, but a with a homemade recipe you can add as much (or as little) as you like.  Even though we typically add a full amount of sugar now, homemade frostings still have fewer ingredients (no preservatives and such) and so are probably a bit better for you--but they also taste so much nicer, which is why I continue to make them!

Up until now, all of my frosting recipes have relied heavily on dairy.  I have modified Zax and Kal's birthday cakes to accomodate all sorts of extra allergens from their friends, but I've been worried about the day that one of them makes friends with a dairy-allergic child, because that's the one allergen I haven't really figured out how to eliminate.  However, the internet has been teaching me a lot these last few months, and I thought maybe I'll practice now so I'm not scrambling when a milk-free friend comes along.

This week's recipe is pretty easy.  I have a Chocolate Buttercream Frosting that is my
go-to recipe any time I need a chocolate (or brown) frosting.  I decided to see if I could convert it to dairy-free.  And the result was good!  So I'm sharing it with you.

Chocolate "Butter"cream Frosting


  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) of dairy-free "butter" (I used Earth Balance)
  • 2/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/3 cup dairy-free milk (I used So Delicious Original Coconut Milk*)
  • 1 tsp allergy-safe vanilla
*note, I am not a fan of coconut.  I'm not even remotely allergic, but I've never liked the flavor.  I decided on this variety of milk alternative because hubby loves coconut and will happily drink the remainder.  However, I am happy to report that either the coconut milk flavor is very mild, or I'm losing my aversion to coconut, because I didn't mind it when I tried the coconut milk straight, and I didn't think it affected the flavor of the frosting at all.


Melt Earth Balance spread.

Stir in cocoa.

Alternately add sugar and coconut milk, beating to spreading consistency.  Add a small amount of additional coconut milk, if necessary.

Stir in vanilla.

Now spread it on whatever frosting-delivery-method you choose!  I anticipate making several cakes in the next few weeks so I'm saving most of this in the fridge, but I put some on the fresh batch of donuts hubby made over the weekend.

Because why not make breakfast decadent?


Linking up at Allergy Free WednesdaysGluten Free Fridays, and Corn-free Everyday.

What will you spread this allergy-friendly frosting on?

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Our Own Little Worlds

It's funny.

I didn't used to spend very much time thinking about allergies.  Safety routines had become habit, I read all the labels (and quite frankly made most of my own food anyway, mostly because it was cheaper.)  I checked food at restaurants (although I'll admit I was lax about assuming some items that never contain nuts were safe, and that bit me once or twice.)  I carried my meds around by force of habit.  Some of my old coworkers knew I had allergies, but not all of them.  I knew about some of their medical conditions, but not all of them.

Upon having kids and starting to feed them solids, allergies occupied my thoughts more often.  Especially after their diagnoses, when I had new foods to watch out for.  But it was relatively easy to add new foods to existing food-avoidance routines--definitely easier than starting from scratch.  And since my kids were entirely dependent upon me and hubby for food through the toddler years (I was a SAHM), food allergies again moved to the back of my mind.

When the boys started school, things began to change.  I had to pay attention to the school's allergen policies, get action plans filled out, provide safe, alternate snacks, and drill new safety routines into their little heads.  All of this activity got me thinking more about allergies in general.  I paid more attention to the online food allergy community and noticed the deficits in food allergy awareness.  Last fall, Zax started kindergarten, and this awareness only grew.

An effect of my (and hubby's) heightened awareness of the larger food allergy world was our decision to start Allergy Superheroes.  We saw the products that were already in the world, came up with some ideas, and decided to create our own.

Since we began that venture, my head has almost constantly been in the food allergy community.  If I'm not designing and developing our products, I'm on one social media site or another.  I'm talking with people, staying up-to-date on news and scientific breakthroughs, giving advice and asking for advice in return.  I've become hyper-aware anytime someone mentions allergies in the real world, and am quick to start up conversations about them.

Just run-of-the-mill foods for most of the population.
As a side effect of all this food-allergy-mental-energy, I'm sometimes surprised that the rest of the world is so far behind.  It's sometimes hard for me to remember that we are still in the minority.  It's strange to see children on the playground share what's left of their lunches without a second thought.  I'm unprepared for the looks of surprise and trepidation when I mention my kids' allergies to other parents.  The other day, when the preschool called to say Kal wasn't feeling well, I was halfway there before I realized I hadn't asked whether it looked like an allergic reaction--because the teacher would have immediately recognized it and told me, right?  Yeesh.  (It wasn't an allergy, thankfully.)

I was unprepared for this.  I mean, I am accustomed to being "that person," and am always willing to educate people if they have a question about allergies.  I know that our allergens are harmless food to most other people.  I still know that, so to "forget" that not everybody deals with this, even only in the emotional sense, is very strange.

This one is launched though!
Our Peanut Allergy Slap Bands are available now!!
Click here!
At the same time though, I hope I'm spreading more allergy awareness.  Our products aren't launched yet, but I've been sharing our business venture with just about everybody who asks me what I do, and by now the other parents who hang out on the playground are probably tired of me asking their opinions on our prototypes.

Have you ever forgotten how the rest of the world works because you're so focused on your own little world?

Monday, March 23, 2015

Egg-free, Vegan Meringue!

Whilst browsing Instagram a few weeks ago, I discovered a picture with the description that the poster had just removed their vegan meringues from the oven.

Wait, what?  VEGAN meringue?  Sure enough, they also had the hashtag #eggfree in there.  I was quick to ask them how, and they kindly replied.

After that, I found another half-dozen posts on vegan meringue.  Upon striking up a dialogue with these other people, I discovered that this new vegan meringue recipe had just been revealed at the beginning of the month on a vegan facebook page.  I went hunting, discovered the full process, and gave it a try.  (Here is the original post, in all its glory, along with its 484 comments.)

Lo and behold, IT WORKED!  The liquid version tastes just like meringue, and the cooked meringues melt in the mouth just the way meringue is supposed to.

Now, meringue isn't exactly something that we've felt is missing from our household diet. I'd only made regular meringue once in my adult life (although I have fond childhood memories of lemon meringue pie.)  I may even need to make a batch of regular meringue (carefully kept away from the egg-allergic kiddo, of course) just to do a side-by side comparison.  But extended family members who taste-tested for me all agreed that this recipe tastes and behaves like real meringue.

Don't forget that our Peanut Allergy Slap Bands
are available now!! Click here!
When I told hubby that I'd just found a recipe for vegan meringue that I wanted to try, his response was lukewarm.  But I'm excited. Not just about this recipe itself, but about its further implications.  If I can make meringue, something I'd assumed depended on real-life egg whites in order to function, then there are all sorts of other recipes that I might be able to make egg-free too.  But more on that if the experiments work.

For now, here is the recipe for:

Vegan Meringue


  • the liquid from one 15oz can of chickpeas (garbanzo beans).  I used no-salt-added
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Yes, this is really all you need.


Drain your can of chickpeas and keep the liquid.  I just upended the jar on a strainer balanced on a small bowl.

You will not need the chickpeas themselves, just set them aside or store them in the fridge.  You can make hummus, or use them as you wish.

Add all the ingredients to a bowl.

This kind of looks like egg--the vanilla looks like a yolk.  Rest assured, it's not.

The vanilla is not strictly necessary for this recipe to work.  But some of the other people trying this out reported a very subtle beany flavor in the meringue, so I added the vanilla to mask that.

Start beating!  It'll take 10-12 minutes on high speed to get the mixture to form stiff peaks, which is what you are going for.

This is after about one minute.  It got foamy.

When making regular meringue, I guess it's common practice to start adding the sugar a little at a time after the eggs and whatever-else-goes-into-regular-meringue gets foamy.  I didn't discover this until after I'd made mine.  Mine still whipped up fine, but I believe other people making this recipe have followed a more traditional sugar-adding approach.  Use whatever feels better to you.

After two minutes
Four minutes

Seven minutes

Nine minutes.  Getting soft peaks!

Please excuse my finger in the top of some of these photos.  It's hard to take pictures with my non-dominant hand while mixing with the other.

Eleven minutes.  Almost there!

Ta da!  Thirteen minutes of beating. My right arm was shaking as I took this picture.

With most of my meringue, I made cookies.  I spooned it into a bag, cut off the corner, and piped it in alphabet shapes onto baking trays (line with parchment paper first!!!!!!)

This is a recipe that "dries out" more than it "bakes."  You want to heat the oven to 200 degrees and bake the meringues for 1 hour.  Then you want to turn the oven off but LEAVE IT CLOSED! and keep the meringues inside for at least two hours.  (This put us into crazy hour with the kids, so I didn't come back to mine until after about 4 1/2 hours of sitting in a cool oven.)  It's important to leave the oven closed, because opening it will allow moisture from the air back in.


I'm not sure what happened with the last three teardrops.

In fact, all of the teardrops I made came out hollow, but the letters came out fine.

I don't know if it was how thick they were, or if it was just that they were the last ones I made (I did teardrops after finishing the alphabet) and maybe it was separating. Regardless, most of these came out great!

I saved a bit of the soft meringue in the fridge, figuring that we'd find another use for them.  By later that night, and definitely by the next morning, it was separating.

I re-whipped it to soft-peak stage and we used it to top our Sunday morning pancakes!

I've heard of some people adding xanthan gum or cream of tartar to their meringues (~1/2 tsp of either) and I wonder if these stabilizers would have kept it from separating in the fridge, or prevented the teardrop meringues from getting hollow.  I guess I'll have to try another batch, as soon as I finish my current batch of hummus!

Only one of my kiddos liked the meringue "raw," but both of them were wolfing them down in their baked form.  They're so insubstantial, it's easy to want to eat more and more and more!

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

What will you make with your egg-free meringue?

Friday, March 20, 2015

Why are we so upset by the LEAP study?

Not long ago, we all heard about the landmark LEAP study, which found that if we introduce peanut products to at-risk babies early, we may be able to prevent peanut allergies in the majority of them.  But far from celebrating this breakthrough, much of the response from the food allergy community has ranged from lukewarm to downright hostile towards the study.  Many cautioned that feeding peanuts to babies was far too dangerous, or even doubted the study results because it couldn't have applied to their own children.

Any time a study on food allergies gets published, the media latches on to it like a pit bull, but only onto the most sensational details.  Probiotics help OIT therapy have a higher success rate?  "News Flash!  Yogurt cures peanut allergies!"  Feeding peanuts to high-risk babies lowers their chances of developing a peanut allergy?  "Feed Peanuts to Your Infants Now and they'll Never Have Allergies!"  Or worse yet, "Eating Peanuts Cures Peanut Allergies!"

The backlash from these headlines hits the food allergy community every time.  Well-meaning (and not-so-well-meaning) friends, family members, neighbors, churchgoers, school parents, and random strangers on the playground want to share the great news with us, or just tell us how we did it wrong.  When their understanding is incomplete or skewed, that can do a lot of damage.  We worry that the parent volunteer in the classroom may give our child a peanut just to "prove" that we have nothing to worry about. We worry that we'll receive less sympathy because people think we're withholding The Cure from our kids.  We get tired of hearing about how everybody who doesn't have an allergy did things the "right" way, and we should have done it that way too.

I think this is one of the big reasons we've been so upset by the LEAP study:  everybody who saw a news story or read a headline is now an expert on peanut allergies.  They can't resist sharing their voluminous knowledge-base with us.  Dealing with food allergies is hard enough, we don't want lectures from the uninformed on how allergies work.

Even more irksome than the media backlash, though, I think is the heavy dose of guilt that came with the LEAP study.  If feeding peanuts to infants can prevent peanut allergies and we didn't try it, the implication is that we caused preventable peanut allergies in our children.  Some media outlets and blogs went farther, outright stating that parents are to blame for peanut allergies.  Our population is already vulnerable--we're always wondering if we did something wrong with our children.  (Should we have avoided peanut during pregnancy?  Eaten more peanut during pregnancy?  Avoided peanut while nursing?  Washed our peanut-contaminated hands before handling our infants?  Vacuumed better or more often?  Done all our dishes by hand?  Used less antibacterial soap?  Let our babies eat dirt?)  The implication that yes, we did do something identifiably wrong and caused our children's allergies rubs us the wrong way. And understandably so.

But how about those who did expose their infants to peanut, whether intentionally or unintentionally?  There seems to be an equal amount of malice there, and I think it may be part indignation that the system didn't work for them.  I stated before, and I will repeat it now, that nothing is ever one-size-fits-all.  Some babies were eliminated from LEAP because skin tests showed that they likely already had severe peanut allergies, and LEAP was looking for a way to prevent allergies.  What this shows is that while early introduction of peanut has now proven beneficial, it cannot work for everyone.  And it is ONLY a preventative measure and does nothing for those who already have an allergy. Unfortunately, some people are going to develop allergies no matter what.  I'm not interested in speculating about what the causes are, although I am sure they are many and varied.  As always, I see the LEAP study as one piece of a very complicated puzzle.

I think our biggest beef with the LEAP study is that it isn't a cure.  It's a groundbreaking discovery, but it doesn't benefit anybody currently in the food allergy community.  And the people who are spared won't even appreciate it.  They will never know the terror of rushing their swollen child to the ER while watching him struggle for breath, so they'll never understand what pain they've been spared.  They might say "I'm so happy that my child doesn't have any food allergies," but that's nothing compared to the relief a food allergy parent would feel if their child were magically cured.  Those who may best appreciate this are limited to the food allergy parents who are still having babies.  And those parents are naturally wary of feeding one child's poison to their new child.

And poison is how many people have come to think of peanuts.  We get offended any time the peanut industry introduces a new product.  When considering that peanuts may kill our children, we become accustomed to seeing peanuts like this:

    The peanut is our child's enemy, and so it becomes our enemy.  And anyone working in the industry becomes a minion of that enemy.  It's natural to feel this way, and to feel conflicted about our previous enjoyment of this nefarious substance.  But I encourage our community to remember that to most of the world, the peanut is just another food.  If you think back to your pre-allergy days, you didn't see anything harmful in a peanut, either.

    I've seen a lot of the sentiment "Wait!  Don't try this at home!" in regard to the LEAP study, and I think it's largely because of this image.  Everyone is advocating for how dangerous peanuts can be to babies, but let's think about that.

    First of all, peanuts and peanut butter are definitely choking hazards for infants.  So if peanuts are to be fed to babies, we need a safer delivery method.  The Bamba snack used in the study seems to fit the bill for babies ready for finger foods, and I can think of a handful of other items that could be used for the same purpose.  Those wishing to feed peanut as one of the earliest foods would have to get more creative in finding a way to incorporate it into a baby-safe puree--that is, until the peanut industry creates their own line of peanut baby food, which I'm sure they will.  I just hope that baby food companies will keep it in dedicated facilities, keeping other baby foods clear of cross contamination. Many babies will still develop allergies, after all.

    So should people start feeding peanuts to babies?

    I won't kid you, I'm not a doctor.  I am neither pediatrician nor allergist, and I will leave infant feeding guidelines in the hands of experts.  But I will mention that I discussed this study with our allergist days after it was released.  She reminded me that they've found no benefit to avoiding peanuts and other allergenic foods in babies who are not considered to be at risk for allergies, and they have not recommended avoiding in those populations for a few years.  My kids were automatically at risk because they are my kids, so they had the genetic strike against them already.  But in families with no risk factors, and where the infants have not developed eczema or other allergies, there's nothing to indicate that parents should wait.  Allergies do crop up among populations that had no risk factors, however, so it's wise for all parents to be aware of the symptoms of an allergic reaction and be prepared to act.

    As for babies in higher risk categories, our allergist seemed to think that the recommendation of early testing and possibly supervised feedings might be in the forecast.  Absolutely, everyone should consult with their individual doctors regarding feeding advice.  But I hope that people, particularly parents whose older children already have allergies and who are having more babies, won't dismiss this study.  It has huge implications for a future with fewer allergic children. J

    Monday, March 16, 2015

    Blueberry "Cheese"cake Pie

    In case you weren't aware, Saturday was the Ultimate Pi Day!


    we enjoyed this Blueberry "Cheese"cake Pie

    pi = 3.14159265358979323846264338327950288419716939937510582097494459...

    We were going out on a limb on this one.  We have a couple of recipes for cheesecake pies, and we have a ton of frozen blueberries.  That part was easy enough to figure.  But then we found out about the contest from So Delicious.  For every photo of an allergy-friendly pie uploaded to Instagram this past weekend with the tag #Pi4All, they will donate $3.14 to the Kids with Food Allergies Foundation.  They will also give one lucky winner $314.

    So we decided, "heck, let's take our already-peanut-tree-nut-and-egg-free pie and make it even more allergy friendly."  So we went out and purchased Earth Balance "butter," Daiya "cream cheese," and Enjoy Life Sugar Cookies to crumble into a homemade crust. Which meant that our pie, which was already going to be an experiment, turned into quite a big experiment because we've never baked with dairy substitutes before (nor done much gluten free, either.)

    The pre-baked pie is very pretty.  The baked pie turned into something of a disaster.  It still tasted good, but it certainly won't win any beauty contests.

    I don't know whether this pie is fit to replicate, but I'm including the recipe for what I did anyway.  There are a lot of tweaks I will make before trying it again, and I'll mention them as we go along, so that if you decide to try making our pie, you might have a leg up on making it just a little better.

    Our Peanut Allergy Slap Bands are available now!!
    Click here!
    The following recipe was free of the big 8 except for soy.  If I'd known at the time that I'd need "butter," I would have purchased the soy-free Earth Balance sticks while I had them in front of me.  I didn't know, though, and didn't feel like going all the way across town to get them, so I stuck with regular Earth Balance spread, which has soy.

    Sugar Cookie Pie Crust

    • 1 1/2 cups Enjoy Life Sugar Crisp cookies, finely ground
    • 1/3 cup white sugar
    • 7 Tbsp Earth Balance, melted

    Crush or chop the sugar cookies in a food processor, a closed plastic bag with a rolling pin, or a pampered chef chopper until you have fine crumbs.

    I had to use all but 2 of the cookies in the box in order to reach 1 1/2 cups.

    Melt your Earth Balance on the stove or in the microwave.

    Gently mix the cookie crumbs, sugar, and melted Earth Balance until well blended.

    Press mixture into a pie plate.

    Bake at 375 degrees for 7 minutes.

    7 Tbsp of Earth Balance was probably too much for this, it was pretty wet.  And after baking, it had all slid down the sides of the pan to the bottom, and was VERY greasy. I used a spoon to lift the crust up the sides of the pan again and press it into place, which I was only able to do when it was still greasy and fresh out of the oven.  It set up after a few minutes at room temperature.  After I finished reshaping it, I took a paper towel and sopped up some of the extra grease that was pooling on the top.  If I were to repeat this, I would use 6 or even 5 Tbsp of Earth Balance.  I might still have to reshape it fresh out of the oven, though.

    Blueberry "Cheese"cake Pie Filling

    • 2 Tbsp ground flax
    • 9 Tbsp water, divided
    • 4 1/2 cups of blueberries, divided
    • 1 1/2 cups of sugar, divided
    • 1 1/2 packages (8oz each) plain daiya cream cheese style spread
    • 1 tsp lemon juice
    • 1/2 tsp allergy-safe vanilla
    • 3 Tbsp cornstarch
    • 1 tsp lemon rind, grated
    • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
    • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
    • 2 Tbsp Earth Balance
    Start by mixing the ground flax with 6 Tbsp water and setting the mixture aside, allowing it to thicken.

    Combine 1 1/2 cups of blueberries and 3/4 cup sugar in a pan.  Simmer on low or medium-low heat until sugar is melted and mixture is very liquid.  This should take about 5 minutes with fresh berries; mine took longer because they were frozen.

    Place the daiya cream cheese style spread in a large bowl.  Carefully pour the blueberry mixture into a wire strainer over the bowl of daiya, a little bit at a time, allowing the blueberry syrup to pass through the strainer but keeping the blueberries out.

    Add another cup of blueberries and another 1/2 cup of sugar to the pan, and repeat the process above, allowing the blueberry mixture to dissolve and become liquidy.

    Once the blueberry mixture reaches this consistency for the second time, combine the cornstarch and remaining 3 Tbsp water in a small bowl.  Add to the pan with the blueberries, and cook over medium heat until the mixture comes to a full boil and is clear and thick.

    Meanwhile, add lemon juice, vanilla, and remaining 1/4 cup of sugar to the daiya and blueberry syrup mixture.

    Beat together until fluffy.

    Add the flax mixture and beat until just combined.

    Spread into the pie crust.  I had a little bit left over with my 9 inch pie pan, so I put the rest into my muffin tin.

    By now, the blueberry mixture should be fully cooked.  Remove it to a bowl and allow to cool somewhat.

    Fold in remaining 2 cups of blueberries, along with the lemon rind, cinnamon, nutmeg, and Earth Balance.

    Top the pie with blueberry topping.

    I also reserved a little raw crust mixture to make this pi symbol on the top.

    This is where I think I went wrong. The blueberry topping did not stay on top of the "cheese" mixture, it sank and they all mixed together (not to mention boiled over) as you can see in this oven picture.  Since the blueberry topping is already cooked, I would leave this off were I to do it again, and just add the topping to the cooked "cheese"cake pie.

    Regardless of looks, this experimental pie tasted quite good. I expect that we'll try it again sometime, with the tweaks I mentioned above, in the hopes of making a pie that is pleasing to the eye as well as pleasing to the taste buds.

    Did you celebrate Pi Day?  What kind of pie did you make?