Category Archives: Food Ramblings

Cooking, recipes, and living with food allergies

Inside the nutty world of food allergies

I was planning to write something a bit more uplifting today after having a serious post just the other day, but I wanted to share a little bit in light of the latest food allergy fatality.  I read about it first on The Nut-Free Mom, one of my favorite allergy blogs.

Food allergies are not a joke.  They are not a game, or an excuse people use because they don’t like a food.  They’re not a ploy for attention.  People die from food allergies.  Amarria Johnson was only 7 years old.  This is why we need a cure– and a ton more awareness.

I’m fairly certain that most fatalities occur because a person has eaten the food they’re allergic to.  But here’s a dirty little food allergy secret: Food allergies are not just about eating.

I have topical food allergies– so I’ll react to touching a food (or the table, the computer keyboard, or your hand– that’s just touched an allergenic food).  A few Christmases ago, a topical reaction to peanuts almost sent me to the ER; the itching was over my entire body and cleaning off where it may have touched did not help.  It was about a full hour until Benadryl took effect, at which point we were praying and getting ready to leave for the hospital.

Some people can react to airborne particles of a food.

The top 8 get a lot of attention (peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, milk, soy, eggs, shellfish, fish).  But these aren’t the only dangerous food allergies out there! These are just the most common. Mustard, sesame, corn, and sulfites are also topping the charts.  My mother and I both get itchy throats from strawberries.  My little niece’s eczema (an itchy, dry skin condition) acts up when she eats beef or certain meats because she’s allergic.

In addition to reading food ingredient labels, I read labels on makeup, lotions, soaps, and shampoos.  There’s often fruit and nut extracts hiding here.  If you have a liquid soap in your bathroom, I’m probably reading the label before I use it.  And if I’m allergic, I’m probably sneaking off for the wet wipes I keep in my pocketbook before returning to the party.

According to recent research, hand sanitizer is not believed to be sufficient to clean off a surface (or your hands) of allergens.  Howerver, most wet wipes are.

Cross-contamination is a huge issue.  That means if you put your knife in the peanut butter and then in the jelly (even if you wiped it off on a napkin), I can’t use your jelly.  That means if a peanut candy is produced on the same line as a non-nut-containing candy, I can’t eat either.

Companies in the U.S. are now required by law to state if a food contains one of the top 8 food allergens.  There’s less of a standard on how potential cross-contamination is listed.  Most companies have their own policies.  Some list, some don’t, some will list for some items, but not others (ie, for peanuts, but not peanut oil– which contains less of the protein and is considered “less allergic”).  And those lotions and cosmetics– they don’t have to list anything.  They’re not regulated as food and therefore are not governed by the same law.

The food allergy law states that an ingredient label state if top 8 allergens are contained in a food.  These ingredients must not only be listed, but must be listed in plain language, for instance, “peanut” or “milk.”  These ingredients must not be listed using a scientific name or hidden under labels like “natural flavoring.”

I make a lot of phone calls and visit a lot of websites to clarify how different companies label their food and what their policies are.

I always carry an EpiPen and Benadryl.  As a girl, this also means my purse must be large enough to hold the EpiPen, or I need to have a pocket to put it in– so it affects what I wear and how I accessorize at times.

Allergies affect where I go and who I let in my life.  Asian restaurants are prime cross-contamination spots.  Although I must bring my own food to all restaurants (my allergies are severe– and I have quite a few of them), I still avoid Asian restaurants for this reason.

If you can’t understand or respect my allergies, I probably won’t spend time with you.  If you’re a guy and we’re out on a date, you need to be careful of what you order if you want to kiss me later.

If you know someone with food allergies, be supportive.  And if you can do that much, you’ll be making the world a better, safer place.  For 25-year-olds in NY, 7-year-olds in VA, and everyone, all ages, everywhere.

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Food Network and “bright” lemons

Yesterday marked my 101st post.  I’ll get around to details eventually, but in the 3 months since I last posted, I’ve spent the past two living in my grandmother’s house.  Due to Grandma and Deda (what I call my grandfather)–and now Grandma since Deda passed away– needing some extra help, Mom and I have decided to stay here.

I mention this because the biggest creative longing in my heart lately– something I’ve blogged about here before– is: cooking!

Grandma loves the food network, so although we’d normally gravitate to HGTV, we watch a lot of food now.  I’ve come to love it, actually.  Food allergies and all, I’ve come to be excited about the different ingredients.  To wonder about all the tastes I’ve never experienced.

We watch “Chopped” and I’m excited to figure out what all the mystery basket ingredients are. “Is that a fruit? A meat?”  I’ve learned about geoduck and buddha’s hand.  And, slowly, I’d like to think I’m learning about things I don’t usually cook– like fish or new and different meats.

The most exciting thing so far, was last night I realized I’m gaining vocabulary.  There are words and phrases we associate with art.  We talk about light, brightness, contrast, texture.  I can use all these visual words easily to talk about music.  I can easily tell you (or sing to show you) what’s a bright sound.  It’s not really a pitch thing, but a timbre thing– and vocal brightness can often be controlled by the shape of your mouth when you pronounce your vowels.  One of the judges on “Chopped” talked about citrus fruits like lemon adding a “brightness” to the food– and suddenly, it clicked.  I understood something about it I hadn’t before.  I’m moving from fingerpainting to learning technique!

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Carrot cake-making time

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Corn, Tomatoes, and Cantaloupe… oh my!

Gardening has sparked my already-growing desire to cook!

The reviews are in on my corn and oven-fried green tomatoes.  Everyone seemed to enjoy everything- yay!  Again, there wasn’t much corn as I only had four plants– but I got to share a little of it and the feedback has been encouraging.  I hope I can find some more room next year to plant more of it.  It was so much fun watching it grow!! And I really do love corn.  Not sure if I’ll bother with the red peppers next year, and the cherry tomatoes are a definite no, but I definitely want more than one tomato plant– they were also fun to grow  🙂

My new love of cantaloupe– or rather, rekindled love of cantaloupe– has come as a result of my successful Food Challenge Test just last week.  I’ve been enjoying a slice or two every morning.  With my wisdom tooth out as of yesterday– I decided to try making a smoothie so I could enjoy the fresh, juicy taste sans chewing.

There’s room for improvement here, but it was fresh and tasty, and a good start!

Ingredients:
2 1/2 slices of cantaloupe, cubed.
1 cup (low-fat) vanilla yogurt
1/2 cup (low-fat/skim) milk
1 1/2 teaspoons dark brown sugar.

Blend until smooth– enjoy!

[I’d suggest trying to blend with another flavor or use more cantaloupe for a more concentrated flavor.  I didn’t want to add more sugar cause I was trying to keep it healthy! Suggestions also welcome!]

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From Garden to Table!

In my last post, I mentioned being stuck in all day.  This meant I spent most of the day singing, online, playing games on my new Smartphone.  (Angry Birds and Bouncy Mouse, with a little Words With Friends for good measure and to make sure the brain cells don’t die altogether… Although I might argue that both the Birds and the Mouse use a lot of math in calculating how you catapult the little guys).  It was a fairly uneventful, and unproductive day.  I was ok with this.

But sometimes, I get crazy ideas.  Like this past Valentine’s Day, when I decided– the night before Valentine’s Day– that I should make heart-shaped sugar cookies for my office, and parents, and grandparents, and my favorite boy.  It might not have been as bad if I’d decided this earlier.  But it was kind of a spur of the moment idea, which had me picking up ingredients, and cookie cutters, that same day.  The baking started after dark and I decorated until it was time to sleep.  (The plastic wrap smeared the writing a bit, unfortunately).

This, in fact, happens to me quite a bit.  I get an idea, some peak of inspiration, find the will to start the project, then half-way through the execution, decide I am crazy and why-am-I-doing-this-anyway and nothing-is-coming-out-right and I’m-not-good-at-this.  But yet, I do it again, and again.

So when Mom got home yesterday, she said, “your corn is ready and you have another ripe tomato– why don’t we pick them?”  And knowing they really needed it, pick them we did.

We didn’t have that big a harvest, as I only had 4 plants… but we did get about 6 ears so far, with two more on the stalk.  We lost a half of one to what looked like rot, and another 1 1/2 was not very well filled out, but the other halves looked very pretty.

We washed them.

And cooked them.

And there they are!

But that’s not really so crazy, after all.  The craziness occurred when I started getting hungry, and decided maybe I would return my sights to those tomatoes I told you about…

They were still sitting on my counter as I’d read that they maybe should get a little riper.  I’d read that putting them near a banana would help them ripen faster.  But then one started to really get ripe.  Knowing that not all of my tomatoes may ripen (at all), I decided to let that one continue to ripen and use any unripe ones for my green tomato curiosities.

I also must make a confession… I’ve never fried anything before.  My use of a pan consists solely of browning ground meat and recently, Grilled Cheese Sandwiches (see here and here!).   So for my first foray into the world of green tomatoes, I decided to make Oven-Fried Green Tomatoes!  Of course, by the time I got around to this it was after 9pm.  And I was already tired.  I also decided to use only the one green tomato I had.  I just wanted to try it– I didn’t know if I’d like it!

I used the recipe (link above) as a loose guide.  Truth be told, I didn’t measure anything.  I just eye-balled the measurements and used cornmeal, garlic powder, wheat germ, grated Parmesan/Romano cheese, and a pinch of salt as the breading.  I used milk instead of the water-flaxseed mixture (usually egg in most other recipes).  I did add a pinch of sugar on the tomato slices to “chase away any lingering bitterness.”  Also- make sure you peel the tomatoes! It was a pain in the neck, I’ll admit, but I tried starting to bread them without peeling since it seemed like only a suggestion and I didn’t believe them– really, the breading won’t stick to the skin at all, so just go ahead and do it!

Here’s my results:

Mom and I only had a bite each– which was delicious, honestly.  I’m saving the rest for a special dinner tomorrow as I’m having my last wisdom tooth out on Tuesday and won’t be able to chew very well for a few days.  Fresh corn is also on the menu  🙂

I’m definitely making these again, and will try them really fried as well.  I’m also definitely using this breading combination again!

And I’m going to try to start embracing my spontaneous side… insanity and all.

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Growing, Cooking, Eating.

I’m not the type of person who would normally call herself a “foodie.”  Lately, I think that’s changed.  I seem– for lack of a better word– obsessed with food.  I’ve been finding some amazing recipes that I can’t wait to try out.  My latest desire (besides the Fried Green Tomatoes)?  Homemade Italian Bread.  I’m digging on the idea of warm, crusty Italian bread, sliced the long way with some slices of mozzerella and fresh Compari tomatoes.  Also– homemade mint chocolate chip ice cream and chocolate ice cream banana split style!  And by the time you read this, I will have just completed my second “Food Challenge Test.”  My love affair with food is tempered by severe food allergies– but all good things are worth fighting for, so I’m trying to get back what I can.  Today’s challenge?  Creative Caterpillar Vs. Cantaloupe.

I enjoy my food.  I enjoy the flavors, the textures.  I enjoy both preparing and eating.  And, as anyone who’s been reading a bit knows, I’ve found out this summer that I enjoy growing my food.

So here is my most recent set of pictures, from this week.  These are probably close to my last set of update pictures this season.  That’s because the tomatoes are starting to turn color! (This by the way, I find especially rewarding as they are such a beautiful shade of orange-red.  I feel inspired).

And the peppers are getting nice and big.

And the corn is super tall!

And most of it is just about ready!

And one ear of corn was all ready when I went out the other day!  So I picked it and husked it (outside– in case there were bugs).  There were some earwigs guarding it on the stalk, but I (wo)manned up and picked the corn!  It looks so perfect and beautiful.  Another ear or two looks ready– I’ll be picking it later tonight or tomorrow.  And then I’m going to cook it up and enjoy! (And share a bit depending on how much I have!)

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Fried Green Tomatoes

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When I was growing up, one of Mom’s favorite movies (somewhat a family favorite) was Fried Green Tomatoes.  I was a tomato fanatic even then, and the possibility of eating the things in the green state fascinated me.  I hardly thought it was really possible.

Now that I’m growing my own, the thought crossed my mind a few times.  What do they taste like?  How do you make fried green tomatoes?  Is it worth picking some early?

And then a potentially fortuitous thing happened.  While pruning some of the tomato plants the other day, I pruned a bit too close to two large tomatoes.  So close that the stem began to shred right there and the tomatoes’ weight began to strip the stalk.  They were still in my hand, but I could see they were headed for the ground.  So instead of letting nature take its course, I picked them.  And there they sit on my counter to get just a little tiny bit riper before I see what I can do with them.

In the meantime, I found an interesting page at Allrecipes.com.  The page gives not only a recipe for how to fry the tomatoes, but also a whole slew of interesting things one can do with tomatoes at this stage!  I’m very excited… and can’t wait to try this!

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