Food Allergy-Friendly Birthday Cake – My Favourite Recipe

I have never been a big fan of chocolate. There, I said it. Put a chocolate cake and a bowl of chips in front of me and I’ll go for the chips every single time. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a slice of cake every now and then, but my true taste bud love lies with savory sensation, not sweet treats. But when your birthday rolls around you can’t exactly put candles on a bowl of chips or popcorn and cut of a slice for your birthday guests (or can you…). My birthday happens to fall during the tumultuous spring month of April. You never know what you’re going to get weather and seasonal allergy wise. Some years call for a delicious and refreshing ice-cream cake to help beat the surprising heat and warmth, and other years rely on a rich cake while it snows for the third week in a row. Whatever your choice birthday treat is, it can be difficult to find a substitute or safe snack for your food allergies or intolerances. Whether I’m baking a birthday surprise for someone or giving someone some helpful hints on what I like, I have a go to birthday recipe for my taste-buds’ every desire. A simple cake recipe with an extra special topping is sure to please and have your diners saying “how creative and delicious” as they go for their second piece or cupcake.

Chocolate on Chocolate:

Cake Ingredients:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
    • For substitutes: Almond, coconut, or Quinoa flour.
  • 2 cups sugar
  • ¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1½ teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup milk
    • For substitutes: Whatever your allergen is, dairy substitutes can be: Almond, coconut milk, or cashew (Note: These substitutes may make the mix a bit sweeter.)
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • 2 large eggs
    • For substitutes:  You can use apple sauce, baking soda and vinegar, tapioca, flax seed or chia seed.
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup boiling water

Instructions for Cake:

  • Preheat oven to 350º F.
  • Add flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt to a large bowl. Mix well until combined.
  • Add milk (or substitute), vegetable oil, eggs (or substitute) and vanilla to above mixture and mix together.
  • Add boiling water to the cake batter until well combined.
  • Distribute batter evenly into a cake pan (or cupcake pans, fill half way to top so they can rise).
  • Bake for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean after poking the centre.

Icing Ingredients:

  • 8 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 3 cups confectioners sugar
  • 7 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon evaporated milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Instructions for Icing:

  • Beat butter until smooth
  • Add dry ingredients to the above mix
  • Add vanilla extract
  • Beat until smooth and fluffy
  • Set aside and ensure cake is cool
  • Spread the icing on the cake using a spoon or spatula, trying to cover all sides evenly

Now, here is where my secret ingredient, my delicious proverbial cherry on top idea is added to this otherwise normal cake mix. I’m going to let you in on my secret ingredient that will appease any taste bud whether they prefer chocolaty sweetness or salty treats. After you’ve iced your cake or cupcakes with your fluffy chocolate icing, as they cool, pop some delicious popcorn (salted lightly) and place it on top of your cupcakes or cake. Distribute it evenly or add 2-3 pieces to each cupcake. If you’re feeling like your sweet tooth is winning, add a mixture of salty and caramel covered popcorn together. It adds a salty, crunchy topping for your moist and chocolaty cupcakes. Even for someone, like me, who isn’t too crazy about chocolate will love this combination of tastes.

I developed my salt tooth, as I call it as an adult, and haven’t looked back since. It seems chocolate lost its appeal for me. It’s not you, it’s me, I swear chocolate. When my birthday comes around each year I don’t want to miss out on the cake and candles. I’ve found a great merger of my favourite salty snack and an excellent cake mixture that’s sure to have you blowing out those candles as soon as “Happy Birthday” is in its final line so you can eat.

– Arianne K.

*For the original recipe, click here.

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The Miracles of Aquafaba when Cooking for an Egg Allergy

If you are like me and were diagnosed with a food allergy later in life, it can be daunting to be faced with the prospect of avoiding your allergens, especially when you don’t know all the substitutes that are available. For me, I couldn’t imagine living without eggs… and it was really hard when I had to remove them from my diet because of my new food allergy. But slowly I learned some substitution tricks, and things got easier. I started scouring vegan recipes for ideas, and that’s when I learned about aquafaba.

After you have cooked beans, aquafaba is the liquid left over. Not the liquid that you soak dry beans in- that’s not safe for consumption. But the cooking water afterwards, or for unsalted canned beans, the liquid that usually gets drained! There is an interesting mix of proteins and starches in that water, and when it’s not too diluted, it behaves similarly to egg whites.

That’s not even the best part. You can also use flax, chia, or even mushrooms and potatoes to make aquafaba. Though the different sources don’t always have the same effectiveness. I prefer chickpeas, but I’ve used all sorts of beans.

The wonderful thing is the flexibility this allows in adapting recipes without eggs. I’ve learned a lot from being a part of a vegan Facebook group that discusses all about using aquafaba in various recipes. The usual rule of thumb is 3 tablespoons of aquafaba equals one egg. I’ve made angel food cakes, too, though my results are inconsistent due to a total lack of measuring on my part… so I won’t share my recipe yet. Pavlovas work too, if you get your oven temperature just right. Marshmallows come out great without gelatin or agar! Royal icing that holds gingerbread houses together is another great end product!

My favourite recipe so far is for an allergen-friendly chocolate mousse, as it seems to work even when I don’t measure at all. Here’s the recipe I use:

  1. Whip aquafaba in a stand mixer until you get stiff peaks. This takes longer than egg whites, and you can add an acid to help keep the peaks if you like. I use rice vinegar, but others are fond of cream of tartar or lemon juice.
  2. In a small pot or water bath, melt allergen-friendly chocolate, sugar, and a bit of water together. I sometimes skip or reduce the added sugar drastically. Let the syrup cool a little.
  3. Take only a cup or two of whipped aquafaba and mix it in with the chocolate syrup. The chocolate might deflate the mousse a bit.
  4. Gently fold in the chocolate aquafaba with the rest of the whipped aquafaba.
  5. Chill everything in the fridge for a couple of hours and enjoy! I find it works decently as ice cream when I just freeze it as-is.

Of course, egg whites aren’t only found in sweet recipes, and neither is aquafaba. You can make mayonnaise with it, meringues, glaze breads, emulsifiers, etc. I even managed making Yorkshire Puddings, which are a kind of puffed up bun.

The best part is that aquafaba can be frozen or dried, and it actually seems to work better that way! If your aquafaba isn’t working very well, you can try reducing it on low heat until it is more gelled.

Anyways, if you’re avoiding egg whites for any reason, aquafaba is a wonderful substitute! Happy researching and experimenting!

– Janice H.

Exploring Colombia with Food Allergies

Travelling to a foreign country offers an exciting opportunity to immerse oneself in a new culture, to meet new people and to take on new adventures. Before one begins their trip, there is always research and planning that must be done.  This includes trying to foresee and account for any difficulties that may arise when navigating in a new destination. For anyone travelling with allergies, the added challenge is planning how to stay safe and avoid any food allergy reactions— while also not going hungry. My own experience planning for and travelling to the South American country of Colombia was no different.

To add some context to my planning and actual travels; my trip to Colombia was a two-and-a-half-week adventure trip that involved lodging in hostels tucked away in the Sierra Nevada mountains as well as trekking five days through the jungle to reach the famous site of “the Lost City”. I also spent time touring cultural hotspots including Cartagena and Medellin and finished off by exploring Colombia’s coffee plantation region. While my trip proved to be an amazing adventure that balanced hiking the great outdoors while also experiencing and learning about Colombia’s unique culture, I still had to go through certain precautions to ensure I stayed safe during my vacation!

Planning for My Trip

When preparing for a trip to any foreign location, I always extensively research the country. This includes researching the languages spoken, popular destinations and sights to see. Because of my allergies, I also always research what common food dishes are popular and what ingredients are commonly used in the country. Being allergic to wheat, eggs and peanuts, I was happy to discover when researching about Colombia that one of their popular food items is a type of corn bread called “arepas” that are naturally gluten/egg free and prepared in numerous ways. Having been to Peru last year and having fallen in love with ceviche (raw fish cooked in lime juice and spices), I was also excited to find out that Colombian styled ceviche is another very popular dish in the country. While this sort of research doesn’t eliminate the risk of encountering an allergen while travelling, I always find it helpful to be knowledgeable of a country’s food traditions before trying to navigate one of their menus.

When preparing for my five-day trek to the Lost City, I signed up with a trekking group and was able to contact the trekking company via email and ensured that they could accommodate my allergies with the food served on the trek. (I also sent two follow up emails before leaving for my trip just as an extra double check to ensure they didn’t overlook my food restrictions!)

Further preparations for my trip involved notifying the airline that I was flying with about my allergies. When travelling, I also always ensure that I have my “allergy travel cards.” These cards are the size of a business card and say in a specified language (in this case Spanish) what I am allergic to along with pictures of my allergens. I also have cards that state “I am having an allergic reaction and need to be taken to an English-speaking hospital. This is not a card I ever want to use, but crucial to have in case of emergencies! I’ve found different companies offer versions of these travel cards and can be ordered online. When planning, I also ensured that my auto-injectors were not expired and that multiple were packed.

Travelling in Colombia

When travelling in Colombia, I found that having my “allergy travel cards” was the most useful and effective way to communicate my allergies since I am not fluent in Spanish.  These cards were concise and provided a visual clue to servers about my food restrictions. It was almost amusing to see their first quizzical look on their face when I passed them my allergy card and then this look change to disbelief that I couldn’t eat all the foods listed on the card. Despite that, I found every restaurant to be quite accommodating and understanding. I also used my broken Spanish to try and order alternate food options with my usual “go-to” being some form of arepa.

For snacks on-the-go or while I was hiking, I had pre-packed granola bars that I brought from Canada or would buy bananas or avocados from local fruit stands— you would be amazed at how long an avocado stays ripe in a hiking pack!  While on my five-day trek to the Lost City, each night I stayed in hiking refuges, and having touched based with the trekking company beforehand, I had very few issues finding food that I could eat. That, combined with the size of portions that were given out, I never went hungry!

Overall, while I had to undergo some extra planning and exercise certain precautions while travelling to Colombia, I found I was still able to experience the best that this country had to offer in terms of destinations to see, activities to do and people to meet, all while staying safe and avoiding my allergens.

Feel free to comment below with your own experiences of travelling abroad and staying allergy safe as well post any questions you may have about preparing for your own travels in the future!

For more tips on travelling with food allergies, visit Food Allergy Canada’s travel section.

– Caitlyn P.

Allergy-Friendly Easter Recipes

Happy Spring! Next weekend is Easter and I’m preparing some allergy-friendly recipes to make. The holidays are an exciting time, filled with family and friend gatherings, so it is important to plan ahead when navigating get-togethers with food allergies. Here are three allergy-friendly Easter recipes to make your search easier.

Let me know in the comments below which recipe you decide to try, and how you will adapt them to be friendly to other allergens!

*Please triple check the recipes and ingredient labels for safety based on your allergens*

  1. Five-Ingredient Gluten-Free Pancakes

For a quick and healthy Easter brunch, try these five-ingredient gluten-free pancakes that are simple, yet delicious. They can be topped with maple syrup, icing sugar, fruit or anything else your taste buds desire! Of course, keep in mind your allergens and adjust the recipe accordingly.

  • Dairy-free, gluten-free, peanut-free, and tree nut-free

Full recipe at Farm Girl City Chef

  1. Top 8 Allergen Safe Carrot Cake

Need something sweet to serve your guests or need to bring an allergy-friendly dessert for Easter dinner? Look no further; this carrot cake is for you!

  • Gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, peanut-free, and tree nut-free.

Full recipe at Gimme Some Oven

  1. Vegan Creme Eggs

Looking to get into the Easter spirit with egg-shaped treats? This decadent recipe will let you get creative and make an allergen-friendly version of the popular chocolate creme eggs.

  • Gluten-free, tree nut-free, peanut-free, soy-free, egg-free, and dairy-free.

Full recipe at Friendly Pantry

Wishing you a sweet, allergy-safe, and family-filled Happy Easter!

– Michelle D.

Food Allergy Awareness at the Office

In the past calendar year, I have started two new jobs in office settings. In both cases, I tried to initiate conversations about my food allergies as early as possible without overwhelming my new co-workers. Instead of providing a number of tips, I am going to share a couple of stories from my experiences and hopefully you will be able to draw lessons from them to apply to your new job.

My first new job was a fresh, new start with new co-workers after nearly 4 years at a different company. With this fresh start, I wanted to be diligent with my food allergy awareness and education. I met with the Human Resources Manager and discussed the severity of my peanut and tree nut allergy. Rather than demand an allergen-safe environment, I shared my general management strategies with her and assured her that I will practice safe eating procedures. I quickly learned at orientation that the company provided snacks and had a pantry that was always well-stocked for the employees. After meeting with the HR Manager, I read the ingredients of all provided snacks and made a mental note of which snacks were safe for me, and which were not. I then cleaned my new office cubicle (including the keyboard and mouse) with soap and water to reduce the risk of cross-contamination from previous usage. The company itself was very accommodating of my food allergy and my manager even went so far as buying only peanut/tree nut safe snacks so that I would feel more comfortable in our work space. Pretty cool eh? This experience just goes to show how something as simple as being open about your food allergy can open so many doors.

In my second new job, I took the same approach and told my new manager about my food allergies on day one. The topic came up at lunch, which was a great time to break the ice on a topic that can make some people feel quite awkward. She was luckily also very accommodating and made sure to send an email to the rest of my new team to inform them of my food allergies. The tricky part about this job is that it revolves around teaching others about good health strategies, which includes healthy eating. For the most part, tree nuts are an easy snack suggestion as they are a great source of healthy fats and nutrients. My challenge moving forward will be to ensure I implement safe food preparation practices on my own since I cannot expect everyone to avoid these snacks just for me (especially when my team and I promote tree nuts as a healthy snack!).

One take home message that I’ve learned through these experiences is that being open with an employer can be extremely beneficial to ensuring my safety, but the onus is ultimately on me to keep myself safe at the end of the day. As long as I keep my immediate working environment clean, have my auto-injectors accessible, wash my hands before eating, and let others know about my food allergy, I can feel confident that I have done all I can do to feel comfortable and focused when I am at the office.

– Dylan B.

Travel by Map: Road Trips with Food Allergies

You’ve got the perfect playlist queued full of your favourite songs. Your car is full of friends, a full tank of gas, and your destination is loaded up into your GPS. You’re ready to hit the open road and see all that this great country has to offer. Since you have a food allergy you’ve probably packed a cooler full of food and plenty of snacks to fill those long road cravings.  Planning ahead and being cautious comes with the territory of having a food allergy regardless of your location.

But, what if your car companions (and even you) want something warm, delicious and not consumed in a moving vehicle? Where do you stop and how do you tell people you’re traveling with about your food allergies? It can be a tricky subject no matter what the circumstances. Small town diners and roadside stops can be quaint, kitschy, and you can find some really great food and drinks in these mom and pop gems. With a food allergy, it can be challenging going somewhere new without planning ahead such as having the ability to research, or call and discuss your allergy with the food preparation staff. As adults with food allergies, our goal is to always be prepared and informed but sometimes on a road trip we just can’t plan our meals ahead like that on the road. So, what do we do? Ultimately, it’s up to you and whatever you feel the most comfortable with, but I personally jump between two ideas depending on various things.

One: You can bring your own food for the whole trip. Eat before or after you stop and only have drinks you’re familiar with when stopping at a restaurant. Never feel pressured or forced to eat somewhere you don’t feel comfortable. Just because everyone else is eating doesn’t mean you have to. You can still have fun and enjoy yourself without food. It’s easy to get caught up in the moment or excitement of travelling and forget to take your allergies as seriously as you do at home. Always consider your comfort level and what makes you feel safe.

Two: What if you’re swayed to try some local cuisines?  Since you don’t always know where you’re going, you can’t always make a reservation or talk to a chef in advance, but there are still some pre-emptive measures you can take. Call ahead to a few places along your route, read their menus online, or ask other food allergy travellers for their advice. Just because you don’t have a set plan, doesn’t mean you can’t map out potential safe places to eat, locations of where to buy safe snacks, etc. Take the precautions you can, prepare safe food, pack multiple auto-injectors and see what you’re comfortable with when it comes to eating in new places.  Ask the right questions and inquire about cross-contamination or any other questions you’d normally ask at any restaurant. Just because you’re in a new city or different province/state doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take the same precautions that you always take.

On the road with the wind in your hair and adventure in front of you, you obviously don’t want your allergies to be a constant distraction, but they sometimes make us put up a guard, ask tough questions, and make sacrifices when we’re travelling. This doesn’t mean we can’t have a good time or participate in any activity, it just means we have to think and a plan a little more beforehand in order to ensure our safety.

It’s easy to feel like you’re letting your travel companions down or ruining the spontaneity of the trip by having a list of safe places to eat or having a cooler full of food. When you’re away from home and your comfort zone, it’s easy to slide into a dark place full of anxiety and worry; but you should feel confident in telling yourself and everyone around you when you don’t feel comfortable or safe. Save the spontaneous actions for a random beach visit or souvenir, not the food you’re eating. A road trip with friends is an amazing bonding experience and a wonderful way to see the small gems of the world, now get out there and explore!

– Arianne K.

Exploring What Not to Do During a Reaction

“Hey guys, can you help me figure something out?”

Four of my friends were sitting at the kitchen table and looked up from the card game to give me quizzical glances before returning their attention to the cards in their hands. Between the drinks, cigars, and fun we were having it was hard to get their attention.

“OK, let me be more clear” I said as I lifted up my t-shirt. This of course got their attention as they wondered what the heck I was going on about. “Do these look like hives on my chest?”

I’d been deliberating this very question over the past 45 minutes or so. I had a huge rash and was concerned as I’d experienced a couple anaphylactic reactions in the past.

The questioning looks from the group became concerned and sober in a flash. Suddenly everyone was deliberating like a group of experts trying to unravel a political controversy.

“Well, your skin is red but I think hives would be more raised.”

“It’s definitely hives, what else could it be?”

“It can’t be hives, we weren’t even eating!”

After a few minutes, and a clear progression of a red rash across my chest, we decided it would be prudent to act, just in case. This moment is where I think we all collectively made our biggest mistake. This is a moment I’d like to draw your attention to, because I’ve been here more than once, and I’ve messed it up more than once as well. In this moment we decided that I was probably having an allergic reaction, but we failed to act in any meaningful way.

In a panic we quickly tried to figure out who was able to drive to a hospital. This was a short conversation:

“Well, I’m drunk and I’m having the reaction, I can’t drive”

“I’m drunk too”

“Me too”

“Dammit”

And that was that. Here we decided to take a different tactic and call a nurse hotline, the kind you call to figure out if you should go to a doctor when you have a cough. The nurse seemed shocked and frustrated that I was even speaking with her.

“Take your auto-injector and get in a bloody ambulance! What the heck are you waiting for?” She even patched me through to the emergency 9-1-1 line.

By now we’d wasted close to 15 minutes on top of the 45 minutes I wasted keeping the hives to myself. This is critical time when a life-threatening reaction is upon you. This is the moment when we got the train back on track so to speak.

While one of the guys spoke to the ambulance dispatcher I took a dose from my auto-injector. My legs began to shake dramatically but it was a fair trade as my symptoms began to stabilize a little as well. This is what I should have done an hour before when I first noticed the hives. It’s also what I should have done when my friends correctly identified my hives.

We were staying at a cottage in the Muskoka area in Ontario, so the ambulance took nearly an hour to arrive. Even then the paramedics told us that they would normally have been much longer but random chance had them driving from a different district at exactly the right moment to pull onto a highway and come to us. For those keeping track this means about 2 hours passed between the appearance of my symptoms and the arrival of medical intervention.

In the end I made it to the hospital and lived to tell the story. But to be sure it is luck that allowed this, not my response.

Like many others before me, I wasted so much time deciding whether I was in danger that I, in fact, put myself in much greater danger. An important detail that I have so far left out is that this was my bachelor party! Imagine what my wife said to me when I relayed this story! You can bet it was quite the tongue lashing I received.

The moral of this story is simple: Don’t waste time.

By the time we called an ambulance I’d known about my reaction for over an hour. First, I tried to keep it to myself so that I didn’t ruin the party. Then we collectively tried to convince ourselves that everything would be just fine as it was. Finally, we made the right decision, but only after a tele-scolding from a nurse.

Like me, if you experience an allergic reaction, you are likely to experience denial. But unlike me you now have an opportunity to learn from my mistake before it happens to you. It may feel wrong at the time but the best thing you can do to save a party is come clean and deal with the reaction and ask others for help. It may feel like a bummer but imagine how your friends will feel if you wait until the reaction is much worse.

You can be smarter than I was. Prepare now for that ultimate decision, that way if it happens to you then you can act swiftly. Know the symptoms of a reaction and decide right now how you will act if you notice them.

Trust me, the party is more fun with you alive and well!

– Jason B.

By Food Allergy Canada