Thursday, January 29, 2009

Banana bread/muffins

I have a lot of black bananas that I need to use (I am a sucker for the big paper bags of bananas the grocery store sells for 99 cents), so today is Banana Bread Day. Here are two recipes, both given to me by fellow food allergy moms. I usually use the first one but might try the second one today (the reviews declare it to be the "best banana bread ever" ... very intriguing).

Dairy-Free, Egg-Free, Nut-Free (Vegan) Banana Bread/Muffins

1 stick nondairy margarine (like Earth Balance or Fleischmann's unsalted)
1 1/4 cups sugar
6 tbsp applesauce (replaces 2 eggs)
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla
4 tbsp soy milk
3-4 very ripe bananas

Beat together sugar and margarine. Add other ingredients and beat some more. Pour into muffin pan/liners if making muffins. Bake at 325 for ~25 min. if making muffins, 40+ minutes if making bread. Makes 2 loaf pans, 12 muffins, or 24 mini muffins.

I have actually played around with this recipe a lot. I have tried using only 1/2 stick margarine, 1/2 cup sugar, and increasing the applesauce to 3/4 cup (to make up for the reduced sugar and margarine), and it worked well. I have also added 1/3 cup ground flaxseeds and used 1/2 whole wheat flour for added health benefit, and that tastes good too. The ground flaxseeds actually remind me of chopped nuts.

Banana Bread/Muffins -- Version 2

This recipe has gotten awesome reviews online and looks to be from the same people who did Vegan Cupcakes Take over the World. The friend who gave me the recipe uses 1/2 white and 1/2 whole wheat flour.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Sick of hearing about the "hygiene hypothesis"

I just saw another article on this and have to share my thoughts on the topic. In case you don't know, some scientists theorize that children have food allergies (and other autoimmune disorders) because our society is too clean and kids aren't exposed to the same diseases/germs/dirt/etc. that they used to be so their immune systems have started to react more to benign things like food. Now, I don't really have a problem with this theory, except that it doesn't actually apply in our situation. Ainsley had her allergies from the moment she was born -- I can easily prove this by pulling out pictures of her as a tiny infant with eczema covering her face. No amount of me rolling her in the dirt would have prevented her allergies, because they were there from the moment she was born.

The other problem I have with the hypothesis is that it causes some people to suggest that those of us with children suffering from food allergies must have caused this in our children by bathing the kids in Lysol or covered them with antibacterial gel or something. I can assure you that I did nothing of the sort and that my kids are just as dirty as the rest of them.

All that said, I do have a theory, related to the hygiene hypothesis, as to why Ainsley may have food allergies. I have read several studies that suggest that children born by c-section are much more likely than their peers to have food allergies. The theory is that exposure to beneficial bacteria during the birth process prepares a baby's digestive tract for outside life. C-section babies miss out on that and therefore their systems are more likely to overreact to harmless substances. Now, this I can buy. Of course, this theory makes me feel bad for having a c-section with Ainsley (but what was I to do? She was upside down (breech), for goodness sake.) Although I will never know for sure whether the c-section caused Ainsley's allergies, I did buy into this theory enough that I purposefully tried to avoid having a c-section with Leighton. I was successful in that endeavor, and so far so good in terms of Leighton's allergy status.

What else to do on a cold, rainy day but cook

Today has been yucky weather-wise. We only went out once, to Ainsley's ballet lesson. The rest of the time, Ainsley and I made yummy food! First, we started some challah bread. While it was rising, we made various chocolate treats. The basic chocolate recipe is from the Kid-Pleasing Cookbook, and involves baking chocolate, shortening, and powdered sugar all mixed together. We then spooned the chocolate into various molds. A while back, I bought a mold that allows you to make a chocolate-covered Oreo with an animal face on one side, so we put that to work. I had also bought a heart-shaped mold, so we made a batch of valentine chocolates and put different-colored sprinkles on top of them. Last, I crushed up some Oreos and mixed the crumbs with the remaining chocolate, rolled the mixture into little balls, and then rolled the balls in powdered sugar to make Oreo truffles. All of the treats came out pretty well, I must say. In the past, I have also used the chocolate to make chocolate-dipped ice cream cones (complete with sprinkles) and chocolate-dipped marshmallows (so good!).

Sunday, January 25, 2009

My adorable four-year-old

I must take a moment to share a couple of things Ainsley said to us yesterday. We were all in the car going somewhere, when Ainsley asks, out of the blue, "Mommy, are you going to have another baby?" I said something like, maybe when Leighton gets older. Then I asked if Ainsley would be okay with that. She replied, "Yes!" I asked why, and she responded, "We need to have at least three to play ring-around-the-rosy. You can't do it with just two. You need three."

Totally unrelated, a few minutes later, Dave and I were walking through a parking lot and Dave was pushing our double stroller, which is set up such that Ainsley faces the back and Leighton faces the front. Ainsley, who is facing Dave, pipes up as she watches Dave's feet move on the pavement, "Daddy, is that how you normally walk?" I almost died laughing.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Lot a cookin' going on

Whew, I am finally putting up my feet for a bit and taking time to write down what I've been cooking up in the kitchen. Last night I made my husband's favorite dish, chicken stir-fry (see recipe below). It is SO easy to make, and quite healthy. Then, tonight, I made pepperoni pizza for Dave and me (which can easily be converted to dairy-free -- see recipe below) and Spongebob pasta for Ainsley (see "recipe" for that below too). Then Ainsley and I made Chocolate Cherry Creme cupcakes from Vegan Cupcakes Take over the World. All in all, a very yummy couple of days.

Chicken/Tofu Stir-Fry

1/3 head cabbage, chopped into bite-size pieces
1/2 onion, diced (optional ... if you are short on time, omit)
1/3 green pepper, diced (also optional)
2 cups frozen broccoli florets
1 bag frozen peas and carrots
2-3 chicken tenders or 1-2 chicken breasts OR 1 package extra firm tofu, cut into bite-sized pieces (if short on time, use the tofu instead of the chicken because you don't have to brown it in advance)
minute rice (I always use brown rice)

Heat 1-2 tbsp olive oil in a skillet, saute pan, or wok. Brown chicken in pan or, if using tofu, saute tofu in the pan for a few minutes. Then throw in the rest of the vegetables. Cover and let simmer on medium heat for approximately 15 minutes (you'll know it's done when the broccoli is easy to cut in half with a spatula). Mix vegetables and the meat or tofu around every few minutes while cooking.

After the broccoli is tender, remove pan from heat and serve over rice with soy sauce or safe teriyaki sauce (I prefer to put a LOT of soy sauce in mine, as I love soy sauce, but I don't put that much in my four-year-old's bowl).

Makes enough for 3-4 people.

Easy Dairy-Free Pizza

1 can Pillsbury pizza dough
slices of Tofutti or Vegan brand mozzarella cheese
pizza sauce (I like Muir Glen, available at Whole Foods) or a can of tomato paste mixed with some olive oil, basil, and garlic powder
toppings: safe pepperoni, canadian bacon, ham, mushrooms, green peppers, onions, broccoli, spinach, etc.

Prepare pizza as directed on the pizza dough package. Can cut pizza dough in half (or whatever partitioning you want) and put on two separate cookie sheets so that you can prepare one part with real cheese (for those in the family not allergic to dairy) and part with the imitation cheese.

Spongebob/Scooby Doo/Dora/Spiderman/etc. Pasta

1 package Kraft macaroni & cheese with the pasta shape of your choice (Spongebob, etc.)
1 cup soy milk
1 cup water
1 chicken bouillion cube
1 tbsp margarine

Open box of pasta. Throw away cheese packet. Put pasta in a boiler with the remaining ingredients. Stir continually until the pasta is soft and most of the liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat and enjoy.

The sauce is basically the sauce used in the Creamy Noodles in the Kid-Pleasing cookbook. The noodles can be any dairy- and egg-free noodles. I got the idea to use Kraft character-shaped noodles because my four-year-old has asked for them a few times in the store. She has always been disappointed when I say I can't buy the package because it's macaroni and cheese. I looked at the ingredient list and saw that the noodles themselves are dairy- and egg-free -- it's just the sauce mix that contains milk (please always check to make sure this is true before buying your own macaroni and cheese box). So I told her we could buy a box and use the noodles. She was ecstatic. When we got the box home, I checked to make sure there was no cheese sauce powder on the dry noodles (there wasn't, but it's a good idea to always check for that). I cooked them in the way described above, and voila ... an instant hit.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration cupcakes

Okay, so the fact that I made cupcakes Sunday night really has nothing to do with the fact that today is President Obama's inauguration, except that the occasion provides a justification for me to eat the last two that are in our refrigerator. The actual reason I made the cupcakes was to give to our friends, Ainsley's godparents, and their two daughters when they came over for dinner Sunday night. Our menu was:

--fresh berry salad (strawberries, grapes, blueberries, raspberries)
--beer bread (yes, I made it! Recipe in prior post)
--chicken & rice casserole from the Kid Pleasing cookbook (see sidebar for link to the book); I omitted the onions called for in the recipe and added about 2 cups of chopped, cooked broccoli florets
--Banana Split cupcakes from Vegan Cupcakes Take over the World

I saw the cupcake cookbook on another food allergy blog and ordered it ... it is fantastic! The cupcakes are so interesting and yummy-looking. Some of the recipes contain nuts or coconut, but many of them do not. I am excited to try the Cookies N Cream cupcakes and Mint Chocolate cupcakes in the near future.

As for the beer bread, it was amazingly easy. It tasted good, but I think next time I will bake it for only 50 minutes instead of an hour -- it came out a little dry.

All in all, though, I got rave reviews for the meal, which I think tasted just as good as anything that contains milk, eggs, and peanuts/tree nuts.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Busy single mom

I have been feeling like a single mom for the last few days because Dave has been buried with work. I don't know how other moms manage to take care of everything on their own for more than a few days. I am so ready for him to be done and be available to help out again.

Anyway, Ainsley and I have had a lot of leftovers lately. Monday, we ate leftovers from Sunday's lunch and dinner. Tuesday, we grabbed Wendy's for lunch (she is addicted to those kids' crispy chicken sandwiches!) and I made turkey meatballs (recipe in a previous post) with a side of carrots for dinner. I threw a bunch of veggies into the meatballs -- green peppers, onions, carrots (matchstick carrots that I cut up into tiny pieces), plus tomato paste. They were yummy and we had a lot for leftovers, which we ate for lunch and dinner today along with strawberries.

After dinner tonight, we made rice crispy treats using dairy-free margarine (Earth Balance) and egg-free marshmallows (Kraft Jet-Puffed). We decorated them with chocolate chips (Enjoy Life) and sprinkles. Ainsley loves to help me make things like this. She calls herself the "Head Taster" and my "Little Helper."

Monday, January 12, 2009

Beer bread

My mother-in-law just sent me the easiest bread recipe, and it doesn't contain any of Ainsley's allergens. Here it is:

Beer Bread
3 cups self-rising flour*
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 (12-ounce) can of beer

Preheat oven to 375*F (190*C). Lightly grease or spray a 9 x 5 x 3-inch loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray. Combine all ingredients, mixing well. Pour into prepared loaf pan and bake for 1 hour. Makes 1 loaf.

*Or you may substitute with 3 cups all purpose flour, 3 tsp baking powder and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt.

Recent menus

As I'm sure you've noticed, I haven't posted any daily menus for Ainsley in a while. After Leighton's hospitalization, I was so overwhelmed with getting everything back on track that (a) I didn't keep up with what Ainsley was eating during that time and (b) I'm pretty sure we probably fed her almost the same thing every day just for simplicity's sake. But now we're back on track and she's eating lots of interesting things again! Here were yesterday's menus:

Lunch: My mother kindly fed us. She made her chicken & dumplings (recipe posted previously) and green beans. My mom is from Louisiana, where they do vegetables right. She prepares her green beans by frying bacon in a boiler and then taking the bacon out (but leaving the drippings) and putting the green beans (+ water) in the boiler. She then breaks the bacon into little pieces and puts that back in to cook with the green beans. Healthy? Well, not exactly. But tastey? You bet!

Dinner: My mom-in-law fed us this time. She roasted a turkey she had gotten free over Thanksgiving. It was a Butterball. Apparently -- and ironically, given the name -- Butterball is one of the only manufacturers that does not baste its turkeys in butter (check to make sure that is still the case before you buy your own Butterball). Along with that, she prepared Stove Top stuffing, steamed green beans, and steamed carrots.

For dessert, she made this super awesome sweet chex mix -- she got the recipe off of the Betty Crocker website:

Chex "School Fuel" (I prefer to call it "Sweet Chex Mix")

3/4 C packed brown sugar
6 Tbl dairy-free margarine (like Earth Balance, Smart Balance Light, Fleischmann's unsalted, etc.)
3 Tbl light corn syrup
1/4 tsp baking soda
4 C Corn Chex cereal
4 C Rice Chex cereal
1/4 C dairy-free chocolate chips (like Enjoy Life)

In large microwavable bowl, microwave brown sugar, butter, and corn syrup uncovered on high for 1-2 minutes, stirring after 1 minute, until melted and smooth. Stir in baking soda until dissolved. Stir in cereals. Microwave on high another 3 minutes, stirring each minute. Cover cookie sheet with wax paper and spread mixture on the wax paper to cool (about 10 minutes). Break into bite-size pieces.

In a microwavable bowl, microwave chocolate chips uncovered on high about 1 minute 30 seconds or until chocolate can be stirred smooth (bowl will be hot). Drizzle chocolate over snack (you can do this easily by pouring chocolate into a ziploc bag and then cutting a small hole in one of the corners of the bag). Refrigerate about 30 minutes or until chocolate is set. Store in airtight container.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Challah bread heaven

As I think I mentioned before, my kids attend a Jewish preschool. Every Friday, after Shabbat, the kids get Challah bread as their snack. Ainsley cannot eat traditional Challah bread because it sometimes contains dairy and always includes lots of eggs. (Here is a traditional challah recipe.)

In previous years, I sent Ainsley with a safe bagel on Fridays and she ate that while the other kids had the challah. However, this year, the mom of an egg-allergic child in Ainsley's class found a baker who agreed to supply the class with milk- and egg-free challah. Unfortunately, the baker just informed the school he won't be able to continue baking, so we are left in a lurch.

Since this was Ainsley's week to bring snacks for the class, yesterday I decided to make safe challah for the entire class to eat today. I have made whole wheat challah once before, using this recipe. It turned out great. For the class this week, though, I decided to be more traditional and make white-flour challah. I made it with this recipe, which is a recipe from Epicurious that I have doctored just slightly:

Dairy-Free, Egg-Free, Nut/Sesame-Free Challah Bread (makes 2 loaves)

2 Tbl yeast (= 2 packets of yeast)
1 tsp sugar
2 C warm water (add more if necessary to make the dough pliable ... I added about 1/8 a cup more yesterday)
5 C white bread flour (I used King Arthur)
1 Tbl + 1 tsp salt
1/3 C vegetable oil
1/3 C honey

Dissolve the active dry yeast along with the sugar in the water in a large glass container. Mix and let sit about 10 minutes.

In a large bowl, whisk the flour together with the salt. Add the yeast mixture, the vegetable oil, and the honey.

Work the ingredients together with your hands or a spoon; when they come together turn out on a floured board and knead with your hands until the dough becomes a smooth ball (I actually just kneaded the dough in the same large bowl that I mixed the ingredients in). Let rise on the board or in the bowl, covered, for two hours or so or until doubled.

Punch down and divide into 6 balls. Cover with a towel and let rise about an hour.

Roll each ball into a rope about 12 inches in length. To make each loaf, place 3 ropes side-by-side. Pinch together the top ends (wet the ends if necessary to help them stick together) and carefully braid the three, like you'd braid your hair. Pinch together the ends (again, wetting if necessary to help them stick together) and tuck them under the bread. Do the same with the remaining 3 ropes, so that you make 2 loaves total.

Transfer the loaves to a baking sheet and let it rise another 1/2 hour or so. Place the loaves in a preheated 375-degree oven and bake for 25-30 minutes (until they are dark brown on the top and sound hollow when tapped). Cool the loaves on a wire rack.

You can also skip the braiding and just make 2-3 regular (everyday) bread loaves using loaf pans, or you can make rolls with it. It tastes good whatever you do!

Vegan Egg Wash Substitute
Note -- the only thing about this challah bread that makes it look different from regular challah is that you can't use an egg wash to make the top of the bread shiny like a traditional challah. I have experimented with several other techniques, like spraying the bread with olive oil before baking, putting a cornstarch slurry on it before and after baking, or putting apricot jam on it after baking. None of those techniques worked for me. The one thing that did was corn syrup and water. After the bread was out of the oven, I mixed about 1 Tbl corn syrup with 1 Tbl water. I then applied the mixture on top of the bread with a pastry brush. The result? Super shiny bread!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Flu shots -- check. Younger kid not allergic to eggs -- check.

We just got back from getting our flu shots. Ainsley and Leighton were both skin-prick tested to see if they were allergic to eggs & also to the flu vaccine. Ainsley, of course, had a giant hive to eggs but no hive to the vaccine. Leighton, I am very excited to report, did not have a hive to either one ... meaning she is not allergic to eggs! I am very relieved. I am cautiously optimistic that she is not allergic to dairy either (because I eat it and breastfeed her and she has no sign of a reaction to it). We will know that for sure in March, when I take her back to have her tested for a wide variety of things.

Anyway, because neither kid had a hive to the flu vaccine, they both got the shot. I did too. I went first to show them how brave I was. It backfired and Ainsley started crying as soon as the nurse started preparing to give me the shot. That made Leighton cry, of course, so I had a chorus of crying girls for a good ten minutes (it lasted well beyond the actual shots themselves).

Even before the shots, the girls had been crying, because they both hated the scratch testing (Ainsley also hated it last August when she had it done for the first time).

Needless to say, I am happy we were all able to get the vaccine, but am so ready for my Moms' Night Out tonight! Dave, if you're reading this, you know you owe me!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The chocolate problem -- another solution!

I mentioned a couple of posts ago about how it's nearly impossible to find a dairy-free, non-nut-contaminated M&M substitute. I have now found one besides Whizzers -- it is called "Dark Chocolate Skippers" and is available through Vermont No-Nut Chocolates. Most of Vermont No-Nut's chocolates contain dairy, including their milk chocolate Skippers. However, they also make dark chocolate skippers that do not contain dairy as an ingredient -- but the ingredient list does caution that they may contain traces of milk protein, so try at your own risk. Ainsley had some because they came in the A&J Bakery Gingerbread House kit, and did not have a problem. She loved them. They come in bright colors like regular M&Ms (unlike Whizzers, which are much paler because they are colored without artificial ingredients).

You can order the dark chocolate Skippers here.

Food allergy classes for kids

Tonight I am taking Ainsley to her third food allergy class. If you live in the Dallas area and have a child between the ages of 4 & 10, you should definitely check out these classes -- they are fantastic. The class is taught by two teachers who are also moms of food-allergic children. Through fun activities, they teach the kids critical skills for managing their food allergies. Another important benefit of the class is that the kids get to spend time with other children who also have food allergies, so they don't feel so alone. The teachers will be holding a one-week camp in June and I am definitely going to sign Ainsley up for that too.

One nice thing about the evening class is that the parents hold a support group meeting next door to the kids' classroom. It has been so wonderful to talk to other food allergy parents -- it makes me realize that we are all in the same boat and are all dealing with the same types of issues.

Friday, January 2, 2009

A&J Bakery to do allergen-free Valentine's cookie kit

Just wanted to pass along this email, which I just received:

Dear Valued Customers:

We hope that all of you and your families had a wonderful holiday season and a happy new year. This New Year we are going to be expanding our product lines during the year so watch for the new and exciting products coming out of the A&J Bakery kitchen.

We have already thought up some new ideas for Valentine’s Day. It is a Valentine’s Day treat that the whole family can have fun making and eating. Why not buy a heartfelt kit of cookies to decorate for that special someone in your family. In this heartfelt treat you will get 4 large and 4 medium size cutout sugar cookies with 1 cup pink, 1 cup white icing along with red sugar and a cup of mini chocolate chips. This will give the family the availability to decorate the cookies for themselves. Why not have your little kid make their own Valentine’s for Mommy, Daddy and their siblings. These cookies are available in egg and dairy free along with nut free.

These heart shaped treats will ship nationwide just like the gingerbread houses did for Christmas. These cookies are available online through the store ( or with a quick phone call to 401-228-8696. They are already available and ready to ship to your house once the order is placed.

Heart shaped chocolate covered lolli-pop cookies, lover’s mini cheesecakes, Vermont nut free candies and much, much more. Be ready for when cupid hits your home, buy a heart kit or treat today. Stay tuned for the Easter Surprise that is coming from A&J Bakery.

Amy & Joe Hitzemann
A&J Bakery

Round-up of allergen-free foods

Someone just posted a comment about Divvies, a company that makes a large variety of allergen-free goodies. I had heard of their foods but never tried any, mostly because they are pretty pricey and I like to bake a lot myself. But I think I might have to take the plunge, just because I keep hearing how good their stuff is.

Are there any other allergen-free foods you swear by? I would love to know about any products that I haven't discussed thus far (there is a list off to the side -- "Favorite Allergen-Free Foods")? If so, let me know!

The chocolate problem

As the mom of a kid allergic to (among other things) dairy & peanuts/tree nuts, one of the hardest things for me to find is chocolate that does not contain any of these things (or traces of any of them). Even plain M&Ms are out, because they contain dairy and also have a warning that they may contain peanuts. Let me tell you, one of the hardest things about having a food-allergic kid is telling them they can't have a staple candy like M&Ms. M&Ms are so pervasive in our culture that, even though Ainsley has never eaten one, she recognizes the characters on the TV commercials (she actually loves those animated M&Ms ... one time she even told me she wished there was a movie about them).

A long time ago, my mom discovered a dairy-free, peanut/tree-nut-free M&M-type candy made in England called Whizzers. She ordered a bag and I can confirm that they do taste almost exactly like M&Ms. They look the same too, except that Whizzers are made without artificial colors so they are paler than their M&M counterparts. The only problem is that Whizzers are expensive -- it costs over $2 for a small bag of them. The cost is really more like $3 when you factor in shipping (they are not available at Whole Foods and must be ordered online).

Anyway, today I decided to use a bit of Ainsley's Christmas money to buy her a bunch of them. I figured we could do a lot of fun baking projects with them, like making sugar cookies using them as decoration. I was happy to see that Whizzers has, since I last looked at them, come out with other chocolate treats, like tiny Easter eggs and foil-wrapped soccer balls. I ordered some of all of these.

Of course, for a plain old candy bar, the Enjoy Life bars are our staple. Still, sometimes it's nice to have a variety of chocolate in the house, especially since Ainsley seems to love chocolate as much as I do!