Monday, February 21, 2011

Massachusetts Restaurants and Food Allergies

Massachusetts has a new law requiring restaurant managers to become better educated about food allergies. The law also includes requirements designed to make restaurants more friendly to food allergic consumers. After reading an article about it, does anyone else want to move to Massachusetts?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Stuffed Acorn Squash

I feel like I haven't had time to experiment with cooking much lately, but I made a new version of a recipe my sister gave me tonight and it turned out GREAT! In her original recipe, which I have made and liked, essentially you make chili with sausage in it and put it in the middle of baked acorn squash. The reason I wanted to experiment with the recipe is that I felt like the flavor of the sausage was lost with the chili spices and tomato sauce, which is just a shame! If you're going to stuff your acorn squash with chili, you may as well use ground beef or ground turkey in it instead of sausage.

But I knew sausage and acorn squash would go great together, so I started thinking about other things to use in the stuffing. Here's what I came up with:

Stuffed Acorn Squash a la Emily

3 medium acorn squash
12 oz. breakfast sausage
2 granny smith apples (diced)
1 14.5 oz. can great northern beans
2 garlic cloves, pressed
salt & pepper to taste

Cut 3 medium acorn squash in half. Scrape out the seeds with a metal spoon. Rinse the insides with water and place face down on a baking sheet. I used one with a Silpat on it for easy clean up later; if you don't have a Silpat you might want to grease the cookie sheet. Bake the squash at 400 F for 40 minutes or so.

In the meantime, brown 12 ounces of breakfast sausage, breaking it up into small pieces while cooking. When it is cooked through, add 2 granny smith apples (diced) and 1 can (14.5 oz.) of great northern beans, with a little water (maybe 2 tablespoons?) to keep it from scorching. Also add 2 pressed garlic cloves and salt and pepper to taste. Cook this mixture for about 5 minutes, until the apples are soft.

Take the acorn squash out of the oven and, using a fork or a spatula, flip each half over. Spoon the sausage mixture into the acorn squash and pop them back in the oven for a few minutes while you get the table set (allowing them to heat through).

Makes 6 adult-sized servings, or 12 for kids (just cut each half into half again!).

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Texas Cottage Food Bill

I don't live in Texas. I don't even live near Texas. But struggles in one state are often found in another, and I am fascinated by the Texas Cottage Food Bill, HB 1139. I think you will be, too, once you know what it is!

Nationwide, there are a variety of laws requiring food to be prepared in a specific manner if it is to be sold to the public. These laws govern everything from what type of countertops are in the prep area to (thankfully) what is printed on the ingredient label. At the same time, many people have cooked something and then sold it. Some of us have only sold homemade goods occasionally, such as at a bake sale, and others sell homemade items regularly, such as jams and jellies at a fruit stand. Homemade goods can pose a problem, such as when Sophie wants to buy a krispy treat at a bake sale, but for the most part, homemade products are great!

Back to Texas; in Texas over the past year or two, authorities have been cracking down on the jam lady at the farmer's market, the lady who bakes wedding cakes at home, and even the Church bake sale in some cases. People who sell homemade goodies aren't hurting anyone, so why are they being shut down? Is regulation necessary in ALL circumstances?

In the spirit of full disclosure, the Texas Cottage Food Bill would require that home-prepared food items have a statement on the label saying, "Made in a home kitchen that has not been inspected by a state or local health authority." As long as the information is provided, it is up to each of us to decide whether or not we would like to partake.

A number of states have already passed cottage food bills, including Michigan and Oregon. It is a boon to entrepreneurs in the cooking world, and to many in the tasting world as well. A teensy part of me wonders about the impact for those with food allergies, but who better to answer questions about the ingredients and manufacturing practices for a product than the person who actually made it? And anyway, I love homemade cookies enough to think that people in Texas and everywhere else should be able to enjoy them.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Golden Rule of Food Allergies

A life with food allergies has so many rules that regular people don't have.

Always read labels.
Always read them again.
Keep your Epipen handy.
Be careful eating things that are homemade.
Check your utensils and plates to be sure they are clean.
Watch for cross-contamination.
Don't kiss anyone unless they have just brushed their teeth.

The list could go on and on, and I'm sure you have your own set of rules. Last year I listened to a talk by Dr. S. Allan Bock. He has been involved in the collection of food allergy morbidity statistics over the years, and he shared a key piece of information: all food allergy deaths occurred when patients did not have their Epipens. Most are in the teens and early twenties, and there are other common characteristics, but in every case, there was no Epipen handy. Ever since then, we have lived by the Golden Rule of Food Allergies: Never eat without your Epipen. It's simple--if you eat, have an Epipen nearby. If you don't have the Epipen, don't eat. Even foods that are "always safe" can be contaminated sometimes. So just remember,

Never eat without your Epipen.

Friday, February 11, 2011

New Pamphlet

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has released a new pamphlet on food allergies. It's very comprehensive, so take a look and consider whether there is someone in your life that might benefit from reading this pamphlet.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Mystery Hives

Of the possible lifelong illnesses, food allergies aren't too bad. They are manageable--just avoid the foods you're allergic to and everything is fine, right? Except for mystery hives. Mystery hives are the bane of my existence. Those days when Sophie has a rash and an itch and who knows what else, but we examine her diet and there is NO cause, drive me insane. And the thing that makes me even more crazy is when a non-allergic person in our family has hives. Seriously, what is going on here? Starting in September (I remember specifically because the first one was on my birthday), my husband began a pattern of hives. He got 1 to 3 at a time. Usually they were on his hand or arm, although he had some on his abdomen too. We still don't know why. Sometimes when he got them, we'd been out to eat, but other times he hadn't eaten out in days.

A few weeks later, my oldest daughter started getting hives, too, a few at a time. It's been several months now, and my husband's hives have abated--he hasn't had any for at least 3 or 4 weeks. But my daughter's hives are getting worse. Yesterday she showed me at least 12 hives--on her back, abdomen, and shoulders. We have racked our brains to come up with causes, but to no avail. The best I can do is suggest that she use body lotion after her showers to improve the health of her skin and thereby offer it a little more protection. It probably won't make any difference.

:( Mystery hives. :(

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Eczema a.k.a. Atopic Dermatitis

Dr. John Hanifin from Oregon Health & Science University in Portland presented new research at a recent allergy conference about atopic dermatitis. His research suggests that it actually presents before children have food allergies--so eczema and food allergies are linked, but his research leads him to believe that food allergies do not cause the skin condition to appear. The current recommendation is that children with eczema be tested for food allergies, and that their parents should be aware food allergies are more likely to develop in children with eczema.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


Homemade granola is a delicious breakfast option, and is much easier to make than you might imagine. Making your own granola allows you to customize it for your own tastes and allergies--no fear of cross-contamination here!

Start by taking the syrup portion from a reliable granola recipe. Be sure to make a mental note of the total number of cups of dry ingredients (grains, seeds and nuts) called for in the recipe. Here's what I used yesterday:

3/4 cup cooking oil (I used canola)
1 1/2 cups honey (although I think the result was a little too sweet, so I'll probably use closer to a cup next time)
15 cups of dry ingredients

In a small pot, heat and stir the oil and honey until they combine. Pour over the dry ingredients and mix well with a large spatula (or maybe with your hands, lol!) Spread evenly over 2 large cookie sheets. Bake in a 325 oven for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. Granola is ready when it begins to brown. Cool completely and then store in an airtight container.

For the dry ingredients, use your imagination! You can use any combination of grains, cold cereals, puffed grains, and seeds that is safe for you.

I used 8 cups of oats, 2 cups each of Kix, Corn Flakes, Rice Krispies, and 1 cup of flaked coconut. I have tried all kinds of other things, too. My family likes different combinations, so I use whatever I have on hand. Here are some suggestions (please pick things you are sure are safe for you and your family!):

puffed rice
puffed corn
rolled oats
cold cereals
sesame seeds
sunflower seeds

Another way to spice up your granola--literally--is to add powdered spices to it. I like to mix the spices into my grain/seed mix before I add the syrup. Try adding one of these:
1 Tbsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ginger
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
Or something else you think up on your own!

After your granola is mixed, baked and cooled, you can add dried fruit--anything that sounds good to you. Dried apples and raisins are delicious with cinnamon granola. An alternative to dried fruit is to eat your granola with fresh fruit and milk or yogurt made from a source that is safe for you (cow's milk, soy, rice, etc.).