Lets talk about allergies for a bit. I have been plagued by allergies my entire life. Growing up, anytime my brother and I were sick, my mom told us it was just allergies. She was right most of the time, and still wrong. See, when allergies affect every aspect of your life, you do accept that they are “just” allergies. You grow up living on Benadryl and alka seltzer cold tablets. To tell you how much I’ve had to rely on these over the years, I can tell you that I LIKED the taste of alka seltzer before they changed it some time in the early 90s. It was better before, but now they have the liquigels, so no one has to taste them anyway.
What do you think of when someone tells you they are allergic to something? Do you think sniffles? A little sneezing? The truth is, it’s more of a system shut down. Whole body sneezing, (side note: I was always afraid I would hit my head while sneezing and knock myself out) going through cases of Kleenex a year, holding stock in Benadryl. And these are just mild environmental allergies. When you get allergy testing done, they prick your back with several things and see how you react to them, and this gives an idea of which season your allergies are the worst, families of things your allergic to, etc. They do the test, wait 15 mins, and then come in to read the findings and mark them down on a scale of 0-4. The first time I had this done, after 10 mins, the nurse came in, saw my reactions, and went to not only get the doctor, but other nurses to show them how bad they were. What can I say, I go big.
I scored pretty high on several things, (2 is a decent reaction, three is pretty significant, four is get the epi pen ready) most trees and grasses, dust, etc, all were about a 3 or 4. Then there was cockroach which really grosses me out that they pricked me with it, that was a 5, but the big daddy of them all? Cat. That was a 7. (Again after only 10 mins) Yep, when I say I’m deathly allergic to cats, I’m not exaggerating. Incedently, my son is a 3, and that looks to be his only allergy right now.
These are environmental allergies: food allergies are the same and different. Stephanie and I have had many conversations about allergies, and things to substitute for them. I’m not going to pretend to be a doctor, (well, to other people anyway) but there are a few things you need to know. If someone tells you they have an allergy, you need to take it seriously. Like life and death seriously, because it could be. Trust me, anaphylaxis is no fun. Are all food allergies life or death? Not at all. Some food allergies don’t really cause any problem. I’m allergic to beef, but I can still eat it.
You can have an allergy to anything, but the eight most common allergens are listed as:
Tree nuts (such as almonds, cashews, walnuts)
Fish (such as bass, cod, flounder)
Shellfish (such as crab, lobster, shrimp)
Now, repeat after me, “Eggs are NOT dairy.” I am SHOCKED at the number of people who think this, and it could be dangerous. A former co-worker and I got into an argument over this very thing, until finally, I asked what part of milk you get eggs from. He thought for a min, I’m assuming about the very definition of dairy, then just said “oh”. I’ve had this conversation before, and the argument is always that they are in the dairy case at the store. So is the sweet tea and the cookie dough. By this logic, the olives and ketchup are in the same family.
This may be new info to some, but those of us who have food allergies (or any severe allergy really) we go through life with our guards up. We are constantly watching to make sure we don’t get contaminated, because we are one egg away from an Ebola-like outbreak in our own bodies. A little peanut dust away from an expensive ambulance ride and maybe a tube down your throat. A single cat hair away from your face, throat, and tongue swelling to three times it’s size. You can’t drive yourself to the hospital either, because your eyes have swollen shut. I know, I know, who DOESN’T want to do that, I’m no fun. I feel like I go through the world with those Wonder Woman cuffs, deflecting gluten, cat hair, corn, etc…. And we know we sound like a broken record, always asking you to wash your hands, telling you our allergies, blah blah blah… But it’s a big deal to us. It’s all consuming at times because we are tired of being sick, and tired of not being taken seriously, We know you forget, and that’s ok, we are willing and eager to take full responsibility for what we eat, you just have to not be upset with us for not eating something. It’s nothing personal, and all your remarks, faces, and gestures are really not going to change anything other than our opinion of you.
Take my recent graduation: my one request was to have something I could eat there. We talked about it, we all sat down, and brainstormed, and came up with some fantastic ideas. There was one student who seemed to take on more of the burden than the rest of us, and she was genuinely concerned with making sure there was safe food that I could eat, but in the end, even she had to turn things over to others and hope for the best. The director, who had been so understanding of my allergies, and even gave me tips and ideas on how I could make my pastries work better, went over all my allergies so she could make sure I could eat. She was ultimately in charge over everything. There was going to be pulled pork and lettuce so we could have lettuce wraps, potato chips that they made sure to change the oil in the fryer so they would be safe, fruit, and a few other odds and ends.
Here are some pictures of the spread:
The first picture shows the table where the fruit was, there was not a dedicated set of tongs, so the same tongs that grabbed pizza, were in the fruit. I had to get fruit from the back of the table, where no one had touched, with a fork. Not to mention there were bread products spread all over the fruit on the front of the table. The next table was the Asian table. There the lettuce wraps would be. Again, I had to pick a hopefully safe piece of lettuce from the back, with my fingers, because the steamed buns were on the same platter, and stacked on top of the lettuce. Then I asked what all was IN the meat, only to find out there was soy sauce in it. So now I had a piece of lettuce with nothing to put on it. Then the table for the Americas had the potato chips on it. They went to all the trouble to change the oil in the fryer, only to put the chips in between and on things I couldn’t eat.
Now, do I think this was done intentionally? Some elaborate scheme to keep me from enjoying any food after I’ve worked so hard? No. I think the intentions were there, but there were too many people in the kitchen, and when it came down to it, they were putting together tables and wanted to make things look pretty, which they did, but cross contamination is not something that people think about unless it affects them. Then it’s all consuming. I’m not pointing this out to place blame, or voice my disappointment, but to instead show you why we have to be at the top of our game. I know people roll their eyes when we bring the subject up. They throw their hands up in a “we know! We KNOW!!” Way. It is because we hope that one day you will get it, and the world will be a safer place for everyone to eat.
You’ve seen those things on TV with a kitchen and a black light looking for germs? That’s how we see the world. Do this. Take a piece of raw chicken out of the fridge, and put it on the counter, then back in the fridge. Now, without washing your hands, make a sandwich, and put the bread on the counter in the same place the chicken was. Would you eat it? Would you be offended if someone else tried to feed it to you? Now go back after washing your hands and the counter, and make a new sandwich. Exactly the same as before. Would you eat that? Think about everything you touched, the fridge handle, the mayo and mustard jars, the lettuce, everything you’ve touched has raw chicken on it now. A person could make themselves crazy over this, and as a former germaphobe, it never ends.
So what do you do? How do you go about feeding all these high maintenance people who require food? The first thing you do is find out what everyone’s allergies are if they have them. Then you don’t cook with that. Now I will admit that I am the queen of sneaking vegetables into food to get my family to eat better, but don’t do this unless you are SURE of everyone’s allergies. You don’t need to prove that they aren’t allergic, or that a little bit cant REALLY be that bad, you’ll show them otherwise; again, that reflects more on you than anyone.
You need to pay attention to what ingredients you are using. For instance, soy sauce has wheat in it, Worcestershire sauce has fish in it, and it can have wheat and or corn in it. Even ketchup has other ingredients in it. It can get very overwhelming, and I get that, but there are a couple things you can do here if you or someone you cook for has a food allergy. 1) educate yourself. Take the time to read labels and ask questions. (Just an added bonus, when you read labels, you start to notice all the other “non food” in your food) 2) ask the person who has allergies what they can eat, and if you have an ingredient that is questionable, ask if its safe. Remember we accept responsibly for our own diets, we’ve done the research, and if we haven’t, we will. 3) Finally, when in doubt, meat and fresh produce do not have any hidden ingredients.
I have several recipes on here that do not have any major allergens, or can be made without allergens. You can omit the dairy in the two soups I posted earlier.
I made a lot of soups on Mondays to feed my family while I was in class. I made a stew this week that is free of the major allergens (unless you are me, it has both beef and corn)
I sautéed onions and garlic like always. You could make a drinking game out of how many of my recipes start out this way. Add the meat and brown it on the sides, the deglaze the pan with some red wine. Add beef stock and a little water. About 50 ounces total. Then add diced potatoes, and whatever veggies you’d like. You want broccoli? Go for it. Parsnips? Sound great! Here I used celery, corn, and peas. I didn’t have any carrots, or else they would have been in here too.
Here is another soup (ok enough with the soups, I get it) with some of that chicken I had to cook up.
Heat some broth (what? No sautéing onions and garlic?) and add some diced red onion, diced chicken, cilantro or parsley, orange bell pepper (diced) and ladle this over Asian rice noodles. You can add whatever you like to this, avocado slices, kale, rocks, (… Just checking if you’re paying attention) whatever you want. This is why Stephanie isn’t doing food labels this time around. These are not really recipes so much ad ideas. They are too easy and too versatile; if you have leftover veggies, throw them in. Remember when I told you that boiling your vegetables takes all the nutrition out of the veg, and it goes out into the water? Well if you’re making a soup, or you are going to eat the broth, then it’s great to have all the nutrients seep out into the liquid.
How about a Mexican style pot roast and brussels sprouts.
This meal I had to cook outside partially because we lost power.
Braise your meat by seasoning with salt, cumin, garlic powder, and whatever else floats your boat, then brown on both sides. Remove from pan, and add carrots, onions, garlic, a can of diced tomatoes and a little water to just touch the bottom of the meat when you put it back in. Cover this, and cook on low heat for about four hours or so.
Next up, shred your Brussels sprouts, they are less likely to be noticed this way.
Heat up some olive oil in a large pan, over the stove, or the grill if for some reason, a warm sunny day finds your neighborhood without power. I know this pic shows butter, but that’s dairy, and olive oil works just as well….
Once the fat is heated. (About two tablespoons) season it with garlic, salt, cumin, and onion powder. Add the sprouts and toss to coat and just heat through. It will take just a minute. Then add a can of diced tomatoes, and again toss until it’s heated through.
Remove from heat and add diced avocado.
Add a piece of the roast and pour some of the sauce from the pan over it, and you’re in business.
I won’t tell anyone they are eating Brussels sprouts if you don’t!
Let’s go check out what Stephanie has to say about allergies!