Tag Archives: Food and Drink

Be a Superhero! Cooking and Baking Without Allergens

Ever wanted to be a superhero? Recently, the heroes in my life include doctors, nurses, paramedics… and anyone willing to attempt to make food for me. It takes courage, contemplating cooking for someone with food allergies! First you have to clean EVERYTHING, and then you have to find the ingredients… and then you have to find a recipe. Usually, the recipe is where most people give up, and go and look for the store-bought replacement. Today, I wanted to give you a little inspiration in order to conquer allergens in recipes where you’re working from scratch. It’s usually cheaper, and gives you more flexibility. Be careful to stick to the trusted brands, though, and always double check food ingredients!

Step 1) Simplicity: Spices, herbs, flavourings, nuts, glazes and frostings are optional. If you can’t eat it, leave it out!

Step 2) Is the ingredient adding moisture to the recipe? Just substitute something wet… Depending on what you’re avoiding, eggs, fruit or vegetable purée, or sour cream can all add sticky moisture. Pure liquids like milk can be replaced with water, broth, or any of the dairy-free milks out there.

Step 3) Think about the chemistry! Is the recipe using an acid and a base to rise? If so, consider substituting either the acid or the base. You might have to adjust the amount of liquid to compensate. Baking powder is a combination of an acid and base, plus starch, but if you’re avoiding sulphites you may need to cut it out due to the cream of tartar.

Bases:

  • Baking Soda aka Sodium Bicarbonate
  • Baker’s Ammonia aka Ammonium Carbonate (smells bad in moisture-rich recipes, NOT to be confused with poisonous household ammonia!!!)
  • Pearl Ash aka Potassium Carbonate (very bitter, so use it only in spiced recipes like gingerbread)
  • Potassium Bicarbonate (1:1 for baking soda)

Acids: The amount of pH will affect how much you’ll need to react with your base.

  • Vinegar (White, Rice, Apple Cider, Wine, etc)
  • Citrus Juice, or Citric Acid
  • Buttermilk or Sour Milk
  • Yogurt
  • Molasses
  • Golden Syrup (aka Treacle)
  • Cream of Tartar

You could also add the leavening power of CO2 in other ways, too, including using yeast, carbonated water (or straight soda pop), whipped egg whites (if not allergic), whipped chickpea water (Take a can of chickpeas, remove chickpeas. Use like egg whites!), or chilled and whipped agar and water.

Step 4) What is making this recipe stick together? You might try using something else that’s sticky instead. Eggs can do this, but so can water + starch, pectin, gelatin, agar, ground flax, ground chia, puréed fruit or vegetables, rice, bread crumbs, or quick oats.

Step 5) Is there flour in the recipe? I used to use this recipe for all purpose GF flour: 1 cup corn starch, 1 cup potato starch, 1 cup rice flour, ½ cup tapioca starch, ½ cup corn flour, 4 tsp xantham gum (less if you’re making breads). You can usually play around with a mix of flours and starches to mimic the gluten found in wheat flour:

  • Rice (Very grainy texture. Use a blend of different types of rice, or soak it)
  • Oat
  • Quinoa
  • Almond, or other ground nut flours
  • Chickpea, or other bean flours
  • Seed flours, like ground chia or millet
  • Arrowroot
  • Corn
  • Potato
  • Soy
  • Coconut
  • Tapioca (starch)

Step 6) Is this recipe using an emulsifier? These blend things that would not normally mix, like oil and vinegar. Eggs do this, but so will some ground seeds like flax or chia!

Step 7) Is the ingredient being used for texture, taste, or colour? You might try substituting something else that has that texture or taste. Seeds work as replacements for peanuts or tree nuts. Sesame or peanut oil can be replaced with vegetable oil instead. Vegetables and fruits with similar textures can be substituted for each other- for example, carrot cake with sweet potato is pretty awesome! Soybeans can also be replaced with chickpeas or other beans. Cheese can be mimicked by adding nutritional yeast, or extra salt, or even the stickiness of starch. Shellfish could be replaced with finfish like salmon (if not allergic to finfish, course), or you could change the whole recipe and make it with poultry. For natural colours, Egg, Tumeric, Paprika, Mustard, and Saffron will make yellows or oranges. Red Cabbage, Beets, Hibiscus, and Blueberries will either make blue or green, and Yellow Onion Skins will make things orange/red, or brown. Experiment by using your favourite tea as a way to help colour your recipes.

So… Get into your kitchen! Substitute EVERYTHING! Fight the food allergies and become a cooking SUPERHERO!

– Janice

Cooking with Food Allergies

Creativity is my superpower. I grew up with an abundance of imagination, a keen desire for knowledge, and a deep seated love of all things colourful and bright. My passion for crafting occasionally borders on addiction… But cooking was my kryptonite. For many years I refused to deviate an inch from recipes. Adding recipes to my repertoire usually involved forgetting a key ingredient, mixing up the amounts, or burning those mini muffins until they resembled hockey pucks. Sigh……

It turns out the solution to unlocking my creative potential in the kitchen was developing a ridiculously long list of food allergies. The more I stayed with a few ingredients, the more I learned the basics, and the more I gained the confidence to make the attempt. Most of the time, those attempts worked. When they didn’t, they were usually still good enough to eat. Maybe I was just too stubborn and determined to waste the failures!

The first thing I learned about cooking was simplification. I’ve become addicted to 18th century cooking shows, and it has dawned on me that our ancestors ate a lot more simply than we do. With new undiagnosed allergies, the safest thing to eat involved the least number of ingredients. Did you know that you can just roast meat plain? It was really quite a shock for me to discover how many recipes actually fare pretty well without spices. Gingerbread without ginger, for example? It’s different, yes. But it’s still surprisingly close to the original, and makes a pretty good cookie!

Then I learned to plan ahead. I started cooking at night, after my housemates had gone to bed… cleaning thoroughly and then cooking a two week supply of meals and freezing them. For trips, I borrowed a dehydrator and made a whole bunch of shelf-stable meals. This summer I’ll be using my new pressure canner to free up my freezer space… It feels occasionally like planning for the zombie apocalypse. But it helps! The other day I had a 2 hour meeting that went 4 hours late… and I might have eaten my friends if I’d not had a quick and easy meal ready and waiting in my car!

Finally I learned to change it up. I may not be able to change my ingredients, but I can change the way I cook them! For example, I like to change the colour of my vegetables as often as possible. Did you know that carrots aren’t all orange, and that tomatoes aren’t all red? Most vegetables have a wide range of colours, and each colour tastes a bit different. My favourite is the purple sweet potato, though it does make an odd-looking soup! Next I like to change the shape of my food. Sometimes I’ll use cookie cutters, or cake pops… for shaping vegetables and meat. Maybe I’m a little crazy, but I like my “four-star” hamburgers! Then I’ll change the texture by varying whether things are raw, boiled, baked, fried, roasted or cooked sous-vide. Who knew raw beet greens are really good tasting? Roasted kiwi over a campfire? Almost better than marshmallows! Plus the longer you cook things, the better they taste. My brother swears by cooking sous-vide (vacuum sealed bag, boiled for over 24 hrs)… and I gotta say Easter dinner was pretty amazing as a result!

Do you have any other tips for cooking? I’d love to hear from you with a comment below!

Happy Cooking!

– Janice

The Best and Worst of Food Service

Everyone with an allergy knows the feeling of uncertainty. You’re halfway through a big bite of your meal when you hear someone say, “are you sure…”

Even writing about it I feel that tightness in the pit of my stomach. The tell-tale calling card of anxiety. No matter how experienced I’ve become with managing my food allergies, I still make mistakes, and those mistakes are scary.

I always try to remember that I’m not perfect when someone else is the one making the mistake. I try not to blame servers at restaurants, they’re usually very helpful. I’ve noticed one single thing that I appreciate more than any other when it comes to servers. But first a quick story.

In the middle of a meal at a banquet the server abruptly took my plate away, without explanation.

My friends at the table were confused but I knew what was happening. I had just eaten peanuts. I’m allergic to peanuts and I’ve had anaphylactic reactions in the past. Just like that I’m starting to freak out.

The server returned a moment later looking flustered and politely asking me to come to the manager’s office.

“What’s going on?”

“Just come with me.”

I’m losing it. This is the end. I’m taking a mental inventory of my symptoms. Nothing yet, but how long will it take? When will it start?

I walk into the office and I’m shocked to find it full of people.

As I sit down I’m bombarded with questions from a red faced and angry manager:

“How do you feel?
Tell us if you’re feeling bad!
You can’t sue me, you have to tell me!
How do you feel?”

This interrogation lasted ten minutes. The only response I gave was a simple,

“What did I eat?”

She never answered. For ten minutes she lectured me about lawsuits but refused to tell me what, if anything, I had eaten.

Finally a server in the corner told me that they were worried about contamination of my meal by pine nuts. I’m not even allergic to pine nuts. But they never asked me and were reluctant to answer my questions. I was fine, but my night was ruined and I’ve never been back to that restaurant.

The one thing I appreciate most in servers is direct honesty. Tell me what I’m dealing with and let me make my own decision.

Whenever you hide something from me, we risk a very serious situation.

How about another story? This one is the best experience I’ve had at a restaurant.

A big group of us went out for lunch. In the restaurant I calmly explained my food allergy to the server. His response is among the best I’ve ever had. He suggested I look through the menu and see if anything caught my eye, in the meantime he would talk to the kitchen manager and ensure that he could tell me EXACTLY what I could and could not order.

When he returned he took my order and then said:

“Thank you for joining us today. Before I place your order with the kitchen I want to explain our process so that you know we have you covered and can eat your meal in peace. When I place this order, I will announce that this table has a peanut allergy. Every staff member in the kitchen will wash their hands and until your order leaves the kitchen everyone will remain at their stations to avoid any chance of cross contamination. Our manager has assigned one cook to your order. He is working at a clean station that hasn’t been used since it was last cleaned. He’s cleaning it again to be safe. He will clean all your food and re-wash your dishes. When he’s ready to send the meal I will wash my hands and he will hand me the food, it will not touch the service counter at all. Once I pick up your meal I will not touch anything until I place it in from of you. Someone will open the doors for me, everyone will stay out of the way. Nothing will come into contact with your meal AT ALL. If anyone touches it for any reason we’ll start all over again. Is that OK with you?”

I was floored. This server just spent five minutes with me and all I ordered was a $10 lunch special!

That is the ultimate experience for me. I had no doubts, no anxiety, and I would go back in a second.

What I need from the people around me is the truth. I’ll take care of the rest!

– Jason B.

Dining out with Food Allergies – A Step by Step Guide

Those living with food allergies understand that blindly choosing a restaurant (or a dish at any given restaurant) may not be the safest option. But there are a lot of ways of enjoying a restaurant meal while still being cautious. Since allergies are becoming more common, many restaurant managers and servers know the menu like the back of their hand, and are usually quite helpful.

Group of friends enjoying an evening meal with wine at a restaurant.

I have a severe dairy allergy and still enjoy eating out. There is always a bit of anxiety over new places, but I’ve found a few methods that can make things run smoother, and make it easier on everyone.

  1. Sticking to what you know. Yes, it can get a little boring, but I’ve found a few restaurants I really like, and stick to my ‘safe’ dishes on each visit. I also remind myself to check with the manager about my food allergy every visit, even though I go there a lot. Wild food experiences will never really be a part of dining out for me, so I save my crazy ideas for cooking at home.
  2. Check the menu online if possible. Larger chain restaurants usually have an online menu, which really helps those with allergies. I like that I can browse before hand, save time finding my “potential” meals, and think of questions to ask the chef or manager.
  3. Call ahead. Small, independent bistros or restaurants may change their menu frequently. I try to speak with the manager or chef, which can be very helpful. They can provide you with ingredients and offer substitutes. When you arrive, the server will often already know how to help with your questions.
  4. Let your server know right away that you have food allergies and that you will have some questions about the menu. It’s courteous to them and gives a heads up to the kitchen that they may have to make some substitutions. I always attempt to place my order before the rest of the table. That way my order stays unique, and there’s less chance of confusion.
  5. Don’t be shy, or presume the server and kitchen understand. Always state that you need your ENTIRE meal with NO (insert your allergens). If a server isn’t used to allergies, they may not even think about what’s on the salad, if you only asked about the main course. I will often ask about every part of the meal because some things aren’t always listed in the menu. I learned this after ordering my tacos with no dairy, no cheese, and no sour cream only to have the plate show up with refried beans covered in cheddar.
  6. Check your meal very carefully. If you’re unsure about something on the plate, double check. If something is wrong, send it back, or ask for something different. I used to feel a little embarrassed about this, but now I don’t hesitate, and it doesn’t happen that often.
  7. Thank your server/ management. If all goes well let them know you appreciate everything they did. I make it a point to leave positive online reviews whenever I can.
  • If all else fails, and you really don’t feel comfortable ordering anything, just don’t. I’ve had a few experiences where I’ve just enjoyed a cocktail while everyone else eats. While it’s frustrating, it’s not a risk worth taking. Always remember to keep your allergy plan and medication with you at all times, and let people you’re dining with know as well. Hopefully these tips can become a routine to help everyone enjoy dining out and lessen the stress that goes along with it.

– Morgan G.

Top 10 Tips for Going to University/College with Food Allergies

Going away to school is a really exciting time for any student but for those at-risk for anaphylaxis, it can come along with a unique set of challenges. Since some college and university programs start in January, here are some tips to make the transition to this new part of your life as easy and as safe as possible!

Late night study, student desk in low light.

  1. Talk to food services

With the wide variety of dietary restrictions that students at university/college have, most food services have policies in place and are very accommodating to student needs. Go chat with the staff at food services at your school to discuss things such as ingredient lists, if they serve your allergen, cross-contamination risks, and how they can help you eat safely!

  1. Learn about your options for residence

For those that will be living on campus, like many students do in first year, you can get in touch with those who organize residence living. Often students with food allergies are able to get a single room more easily or even a room with a kitchen so they can cook their own meals!

  1. Tell your roommate in advance

If you chose to not live in a single room it is important to give your roommate(s) a heads up about your food allergies! You are usually given their contact information the summer before heading to school, so send them a quick email when introducing yourself to let them know about your allergies. You can discuss how you prefer to manage your allergies and come up with some friendly ground rules along with other general living guidelines for your time together.

  1. Tell your new friends

You will be making a ton of new friends when you get to university/college and none of them will know about your food allergies unless you tell them! It is easiest to just tell them right off the bat so that you don’t get stuck in any tricky situations and you can feel safe knowing you have people nearby who are aware of your situation.

  1. Talk to your residence advisor

Most schools will have a residence advisor who is an upper year student that lives on your floor and ensures everyone is safe and following residence rules. Usually during your orientation week, they will have a floor meeting for everyone to meet each other. It is a good idea to talk to your advisor prior to this meeting so they are aware of your allergies and so they can let everyone else know that someone on the floor has an allergy. This can save you some of the trouble of letting everyone know yourself! If you don’t want to be singled out as “the kid with allergies” you can even ask them not to identify you.

Shiny bright red miniature fridge

  1. Get your own snacks and a mini fridge

This is an essential for most students in residence but even more so for those with food allergies. Investing in a mini fridge is a great option to ensure that you have some safe foods as a go-to at all times! Go to the grocery store with some friends and get yourself breakfast foods, snacks, etc.

  1. Bring lots of auto-injectors

If you are going away to school somewhere that isn’t so close to your hometown it is likely that your family doctor, allergist, and pharmacy will all be inaccessible at times. Make sure that you have a good stock of auto-injectors (check the expiry date) with you so you can keep one in your backpack, one in your room, etc.

  1. Don’t be afraid to try new things

Having a food allergy may feel like it limits where you can go to eat, doing extra curricular activities, and making new friends but it shouldn’t stop you from doing anything! Going away to school is the best time to get involved, try new activities, and meet new people. There is always a way to accommodate for your allergies in whatever you are doing to make sure you are living safely.

  1. Find others with allergies

When I went away to school there just so happened to be two other girls on my floor who had food allergies. Getting to know them made it a lot easier to live with my allergies at school as we could go get food together, talk about what places were safe to eat, and share tips with each other.

  1. Become truly independent

For most people going away to school is the first time they will be living on their own and away from parents. This will test your ability to be truly independent in managing your allergies as you won’t have your friends or family from home to be there for support. Take this time to learn how to live safely with your allergies all on your own!

– Lindsay S.

Intolerance vs. Anaphylaxis: A Clarification

Having multiple severe food allergies has helped me grow a tougher skin to rude questions, dangerous misconceptions, and all around odd questions. My usual response to “What will happen if you eat a cashew or peanut?” is: “it won’t be good for my life, and I have things to do this week, so please keep it away.”

Some questions or myths make me chuckle a little before I answer or clear up some facts, but the one that makes me laugh and frown at the same time is the misconception of intolerances vs. anaphylaxis.

I was once at a cottage with friends, and in preparation for food and drinks I explained in great detail my food allergies and the dangers of cross-contamination. When we arrived and prepared lunch, one of the people there informed us they couldn’t have dairy at all. Diligently, we prepped food to ensure everyone eating would be safe and comfortable, and avoided cross-contamination at all costs. Fast forward to the next day, and iced coffee. I watched the same person put half a carton of 15% creamer into their drinks.  When I tried to warn them, they informed me they could have “cheat days” and, if I wanted to, I could as well.  The only thing I could do was laugh.

horizontal photograph of a cup of coffee with creamer being poured into it

It was funny at the time, but the more I thought about it, the misconceptions about intolerances and food allergies need to be cleared up. I certainly cannot have cheat days at all, and didn’t appreciate that kind of thinking, but instead of getting upset, I got educated. I did my best to inform myself, and anyone who was interested in the differences between intolerance and an allergy.

A food allergy can cause the immune system to react and, in turn, that affects numerous parts in the body. It has multiple symptoms and can range in severity from case to case. In some cases, an allergic reaction to a food can be severe or life-threatening. In contrast, food intolerance symptoms are generally less serious and often limited to digestive problems.

Telling me I could have a cheat day, is like telling Luke Skywalker he could go to the dark side for a bit. It just doesn’t work that way. So in order to clear up some misconceptions and to avoid future awkward situations here is some helpful information to help understand food intolerances a little better.

Some common food intolerances can include:

  • Absence of an enzyme needed to fully digest a food. Lactose intolerance is a common example.
  • Celiac disease.Celiac disease has some features of a true food allergy because it involves the immune system. However, symptoms are mostly gastrointestinal, and people with celiac disease are not at-risk of anaphylaxis. This chronic digestive condition is triggered by eating gluten, a protein found in wheat and other grains.
  • Irritable bowel syndrome.This chronic condition can cause cramping, constipation, and diarrhea.
  • Sensitivity to food additives.For example, sulfites used to preserve dried fruit, canned goods, and wine can trigger asthma attacks in sensitive people.

Source: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/food-allergy/expert-answers/food-allergy/faq-20058538

If you have a reaction after eating certain foods, it’s important to see your doctor to determine whether you have a food intolerance or a food allergy. Both may mean you have to cut certain foods from your diet, but it can open up new doors to creative and delicious recipes, as well as problem solving and substitutes in the kitchen, helping create beautiful meals that are safe.

Man with stomach pain holding a glass of milk. Dairy Intolerant person. Lactose intolerance, health care concept.

Having one or the other doesn’t mean you’re better or worse. As a community of food allergies and intolerances, we have to work together to create safe spaces where we all feel comfortable. We should also be working together to help educate and inform each other, so we can bring that knowledge with us wherever we go. No matter what, we have to do our best to accommodate, and help each other because we’re all in this together.

Have you ever gotten a weird or quirky food allergy question or comment? How did you handle it? Let me know below.

– Arianne K.

 

Travelling with Food Allergies – It’s Time for an Allergy-Friendly Get Away!

Like many of us, I have been bitten by the travel bug.  Wanderlust always leaves me searching, planning (and saving!) for another trip to a faraway destination.  My travels have taken me to four different continents outside of North America with trips ranging from a resort trip with friends to volunteer trips, along with some solo travelling. I will admit that travelling with allergies can cause some extra work in terms of planning and involves extra vigilance while travelling but can allow you to experience exciting adventures while still staying safe.

Young couple planning honeymoon vacation trip with map. Top view. Pointing to Europe Rome

Whenever I am beginning to plan a trip, I want to start with some basic research about my destination.  While part of this involves looking into the culture, history, must-see destinations, best times to go, currency, and transportation options (the list goes on and on!), I also need to do my “allergy research.” When it comes to doing allergy research I want to know about the foods commonly eaten at my destination. If this is a resort, I want to know their ability to accommodate allergies and guarantee allergy safe options. If I am travelling to a specific country or region, I want to know what their traditional cuisine consists of and what allergens might pose a potential threat to my safety. For example, when I first travelled to Costa Rica I researched what common breakfast, lunch, and dinner meals consisted of and what names common dishes went by— needless to say I was quite reassured when I found out they commonly ate beans and rice (two safe food options for me) at EVERY meal.

While you might have found out what food options will be safest while travelling, I know personally what is most intimidating is communicating your allergies with locals who do not speak English. Not only will there be a language barrier but a cultural barrier can also exist as food allergies are widely unknown in some areas of the world. For example, when I travelled to Nepal, not only were most of the people I met generally unaware of food allergies but I had to be careful not to offend locals when I had to decline food due to my food allergies.  My solution to this has been ordering “allergy cards” that are the size of a typical business card and state in any language, what my allergies are and that I cannot eat any food containing whatever specific allergens I order. I have also acquired cards that state, “I am having a medical emergency and need to be taken to the nearest medical facility.” I’ve personally used a company called “Select Wisely” and have had allergy cards ordered in: Spanish, German, Dutch, Nepalese, Swahili (you get the idea, you can order any language!). You could also try to get a native speaker to create a customized message for you. While these measures can help with staying safe while travelling with allergies, it is also necessary to use common sense and avoid risky behaviour while travelling. I also always try to pack convenient travel snacks for times when it is difficult to find allergy safe food options.

It’s also important not to forget about how you are getting to your destination and how your food allergies can come into play with this—in particular air travel. I always contact whatever airline I am using for my travels ahead of time and inform them of my food allergies.  While many cannot fully accommodate allergies it is still important to know what their allergy policy is and how best they can accommodate you. I personally tend to play it on the safe side and bring my own food as I do not trust airline food.

Airline Lunch served during long distance flight

Just as you should ensure you have all the appropriate immunizations and health checks for whatever location you are travelling to, it is also important to make sure your allergy medications are non-expired and that you have extras to bring with you. I always carry an auto-injector with me, so if I am travelling with friends or family I make sure they know how to use it, where I store it in my luggage and I also will give them an extra auto-injector in case of emergency. It’s important to know what medical services are available in the country and safe for travelers visiting the country and how to access these in an emergency. Just like any other traveler, health insurance is also a must!

Travelling is an extraordinary experience no matter the destination or length of your trip!  There is no doubt a lot to consider when planning a trip to ensure you stay safe with your allergies. Feel free to comment below and share your travelling with allergies stories and how you prepare for allergy safe travel adventures!

Helpful links:

http://foodallergycanada.ca/allergy-safety/travelling/

Allergy Translation Cards

– Caitlyn P.