Saturday, August 6, 2016

The Perks of Living With Food Allergies

It's been pointed out to me on multiple occasions that I do an awful lot of complaining about things, and it's true.  I complain about everything.  I spend so much time being overly critical with the world around me that I forget to be thankful for all that I have, and I do have a lot to be thankful for.  Food allergies are no exception.  Yes, they are a constant struggle, and there is definitely no shortage of food allergy woes to complain about.  Sometimes it feels as if the whole world is against you, and you are standing there alone in food allergy prison while everyone else enjoys their meal with no worries and no extra effort.  Despite all of the things that make food allergies a huge pain in the ass, there are a few things about food allergies that are actually good.  So, in an effort to be more positive for a change, here are six of the best perks that have come with my life of food allergies.   

It really is better:

Food allergies are time consuming, inconvenient, and expensive as hell, but you are getting a pretty sweet deal as far as your diet goes.  Since being on this diet, I have eliminated almost all processed foods.  That means a diet that is considerably lower in calories, fat, sodium, sugar, and a multitude of other harmful toxins and chemicals.  It's also a diet that will significantly lower my risk of ever getting heart disease, cancer, diabetes, or from gaining excessive weight.  Additionally, homemade food just tastes better.  Even many of my recipes that end up being a disaster taste better than comparable foods off the shelves.  After three years, I no longer crave things like candy, soda, or fast food.  If it isn't made fresh and loaded with vegetables, I'm not interested in eating it.  Even if I had the option to go back to eating the way I had before, I don't know that I would (at least I wouldn't for most of the time).  I like the healthier lifestyle.  It's something I can believe in and depend on for the long term, and there's no such thing as too much long-term security.  

You gain a new appreciation for other diets and cultures:

Pre-food allergies, if you had told me to go vegan or paleo, I would have laughed in your face and told you to go to hell because there is no way I'm giving up cheese, ice cream, and bacon.  Now, I'm going to be that person who suggests the new vegan place down the street, and I'm not taking no for an answer because a giant pile of vegetables sounds pretty good right about now, and no other restaurant in town is going to have a vegetable dish that compares.  Many of my favorite foods in our new diet are vegan and paleo.  If I wasn't contending with so many allergy and financial restrictions, I'd eat that way all the time.

I've also gained an appreciation for food from around the world.   It seems that almost everything in the United States is either made with or cross contaminated with gluten, dairy, nuts, or some other allergen, not to mention corn. Our love affair with meals in a box has really created a difficult terrain for food allergy people to navigate.  Trying out meals from around the world has been a wonderful experience, and I've thoroughly enjoyed it.  It has actually been one of my favorite parts of this whole food allergy adventure.  I've learned so much about other cultures and have gained an admiration for the effort that they put into making their food as opposed to just pouring it out of a box.  Many countries outside of the U.S. also limit the amount of dairy and gluten in their food, which makes it really easy to fix for our food allergy needs as I don't have to modify the recipe nearly as much.  The country of Yemen (random I know) actually makes some of the most amazing food I've ever tried (Here's the link if you don't believe me).  I also love food from the Middle East in general, as well as Asian dishes (particularly stir fries), Ethiopian cuisine, and a few things from South America that I discovered (Tamarind Chicken anyone?).  Many of these foods are things I never would have even considered trying had it not been for food allergies, and now that I have, I'm glad I did.

You acquire new, beneficial habits in other areas of your life:

What started as a quest to find allergy friendly foods has turned into a whole new lifestyle that I never would have even considered had it not been for food allergies.  One thing that has come up continually as I research food and allergy alternatives is the impact that our food, and humans in general, have on the environment.  Pre-food allergies, I hadn't given this much thought.  I recycled when the option was available and ate organic when I could afford it, but I really had no vested interest in reducing my carbon footprint.  I also hated exercise, didn't care much for thrift stores, thought gardening was a waste of time, and killed every plant left in my care.

It wasn't an immediate thing, but over time, I've made so many changes in my life that I can be proud of.  I am happy to admit that I have become one of those obnoxious, hybrid driving, tree loving, hippies who brings her own bags to the grocery store, recycles almost everything, and advocates for the humane treatment of animals.  I still don't have much of a green thumb (my poor artichoke plant has suffered several near deaths before it finally gave out), but I've gotten a lot of satisfaction out of helping my mom with the garden this year.  I now love thrift stores and can't remember the last time I bought something new at the mall. Why buy new when you can buy used for a fraction of the cost and help the environment too?  I get so much satisfaction out of telling people I paid $7 for my pair of designer jeans at a thrift store. It's even better when the person asking about it is someone who wouldn't be caught dead wearing used clothing (the look on their face really is priceless).  I also love my hybrid.  I got it just by happenstance when it showed up on the dealership lot for a really good price, but I wouldn't trade back for anything.  It makes me so happy to know that I'm helping to reduce oil consumption and contributing to cleaner air in the Salt Lake Valley (something we desperately need).  I've even put in a very minimal effort to exercise more.  Let's just say we can add it to my future life and health goals.

You find really creative ways to eat the foods that you CAN have:

Pre-food allergies, I really didn't much care for beans or nuts.  Sure I liked the occasional bowl of chili or peanut butter sandwich, but I didn't eat those things on a regular basis.  Anyone who has ever been on the WIC program will tell you how tiring it gets eating beans, and how they just pile up in your pantry because they aren't anyone's favorite food.  When you suddenly find yourself unable to eat any grains, beans and nuts become the alternatives.  Although in my case, it was mostly beans because nuts can get expensive.  I went from wondering what the crap I was going to do with all the beans WIC was giving me to buying several pounds of them at a time in bulk.  If I had space in my kitchen for a 25 pound bag of beans, I might just consider buying one for each kind of bean and lentil that we use.  Veggie burgers, soups, socca, tacos, baked goods, and dips are just a few of the things I use beans or bean flour in on a regular basis.  We also eat them on baked sweet potatoes with salsa and guacamole.  I've used them to make pizza sauce, and my favorite brand of pasta mixes beans and quinoa together to make a surprisingly tasty noodle that goes good with just about anything.  I eat beans for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and I never grow tired of them because the ways in which to prepare them are endless.  Over the years I've also discovered that I can make pretty descent cheese out of nuts, ketchup out of beets, cream cheese out of coconut butter, and pudding out of avocados (Thank you pinterest).  I've even used plantain chips as a breading for chicken (It's even better than KFC).  While many of these foods will never quite replace the originals, I have found that most of them are actually quite satisfying, and that regardless of what your food restrictions are, you will always be able to make something interesting out of what you do have while everyone else is eating the same old stuff because they've never been forced to think outside of the box.

There are fun activities just for people with food allergies:

Ok, so anyone can participate in the activities, but they were created with food allergies in mind.  Here in Salt Lake, the local food allergy awareness group does an annual food free trick-or-treat and Easter egg hunt.  They also do several fun fundraisers to help raise awareness and provide outreach programs to the food allergy community.  Additionally, there are many online groups that you can join to get support and make friends with people who are going through similar struggles.  Many of these people know more than I do about allergies and have been immensely helpful in providing information, recipe ideas, or just someone to vent to when the going gets rough.  It's also reassuring to know that you aren't the only one who is facing this challenge, and that there are other people out there advocating for safe, sustainable food practices that will benefit everyone, not just those with allergies.

You find out who your friends are:

Food allergies are notorious for tearing families and friendships apart.  Unfortunately, you will always have that one person shoving your allergy in your face, telling you that it's all in your head, and that a little bit won't hurt you.  They are completely ignorant of the fact that just a little bit could make you very sick or even kill you.  However, I would like to think that the opposite is also true.  While many people will turn away and refuse to even entertain the idea of food allergies, there are also a great many people who will go out of their way to help you out.  Even if they fail miserably, the fact that they were at least willing to put in the effort to accommodate your needs is worth gold.  And while some people may cease to be a part of your life, you will create new relationships with people who truly care and will be there for you through the good times, and more importantly, the hard times too.  These are the people you need to have in your life.  Nothing says, "I love you" quite like someone who is willing to take on the inconvenience of walking through the food allergy fire with you, even when they don't have to.  I never would have survived food allergies had it not been for those people.  My life is truly better for it.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Lazy John: A New Twist on an Old Favorite

Ever since being on this diet, one of the things I miss most is being able to eat Southern food.  I know that it's incredibly unhealthy, and I'm doing myself a favor by not eating all of that fat and grease, but there's a little piece of the South in me that just refuses to be silenced by food allergies.  I can't really blame it either because Southerners make incredibly amazing food. I have yet to find a restaurant in Utah that makes descent Southern food, and even if I did, I would have to have a mommy's night out because all menu items would be off limits to my food allergy toddler.  One of my favorite Southern foods (and thankfully one that isn't food allergy banned) is collard greens, and not just any collard greens; Southern collard greens.  Try as I might,  I can't make them like Q's BBQ or the dining hall at the University of Richmond, but this recipe is my attempt to do it anyway.  I also found out that my daughter loves collard greens.  Yup, you read that right.  My three year old LOVES collard greens, so this recipe was an instant hit at our house.

My original idea for this recipe was to wrap the Hoppin' John in the collard greens like a blanket.  The very nature of collard greens made that awkward and impossible, however, so I just made them up separate and threw them in my existing recipe for Hoppin' John just to see what would happen.  And it came out even better!  I'm seriously never going back. I have been converted to Lazy John for life!

Lazy John:

For the Collard Greens


1-2 bunches collard greens
1 ham hock (optional)
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar
Broth or Water to cover (3-4 cups)

Stove Top Directions:

  1. Add water and ham hock (if using) to a large pot.  Heat until boiling.  Reduce heat, cover, and let simmer for an hour.  If not using the ham hock, start on step 2.
  2. Wash the collard greens and chop into bite-sized pieces.
  3. Add the collard greens and all remaining ingredients to the pot.  Add enough water or broth to cover.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat, cover, and let simmer for an hour or until they are tender.
  4. Drain the greens and set aside.
Crock Pot Directions:

I usually prefer this method since I can throw it in the crock pot in the morning and have it ready when I get home from work at night.  Simply just toss all the ingredients into the crock pot and cook 4-6 hours on high or 6-8 hours on low.  Drain the greens and set aside.

For the Hoppin' John

3 slices bacon
1 clove garlic
1 green pepper
1/2 cup onion
1 Tablespoon pickled jalapeño (or fresh)
3 cups black eyed peas (2 cans)
1 cup black beans (1 can)
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/2- 1 teaspoon salt or to taste*
1 1/2 teaspoons maple syrup
1 cup mushrooms sliced
salt and pepper to taste 
  1. In a large frying pan, cook the bacon until it is crispy.  Remove from the pan and set aside.
  2. Add the garlic, onion, pepper, jalapeño, oregano, thyme, salt, and maple syrup to the pan and sauté until tender.  I just use the bacon grease to sauté the veggies.  It really enhances the flavor of the whole dish.  However, if you are looking for a leaner option, you can just use a little olive oil. 
  3. Add the collard greens and mushrooms and continue sauteing until the mushrooms are soft stirring continually so as not to burn the greens.
  4. Add the beans and bacon and heat through.
*If you use canned beans, you may want to reduce the salt.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Homegrown Zucchini Lasagna

I'm finally back!  I've been meaning to post something for a while now, but between work, school, a toddler, cooking, and life, I haven't had much spare time for anything.  The great news is that the semester is over, and I passed my classes (as if not passing was ever a possibility ;)).  Hopefully, I only have one semester to go before I get my English Language Arts endorsement.  Then, I can teach full time.  Yay!!

In the midst of all the crazy stuff happening, the harvest from the garden came in.  I was super excited for it this year because my daughter was recently diagnosed with an allergy to the arsenic found in pesticides.  Additionally, because we live in Murray next to what used to be an old smelter and refinery site back in the early 1900's, the ground also has a higher arsenic content than it normally would (Thank you previous generations).  Needless to say, my daughter's eczema has been out of control all summer long with arsenic being the main culprit in a long list of other environmental culprits.  An abundant supply of pesticide-free food was just what I needed.  We got tons of carrots, zucchini, tomatoes, onions, garlic, and peppers.  My grandmother even gifted her entire vine of concord grapes to me, which I used to make grape juice.  My daughter loved the gardening experience, especially pulling the carrots right up out of the ground and eating them.  I already have a list of food to plant next year including artichokes and pomegranates in addition to more of what we planted this year.  Got to keep that no-spray produce coming!

We don't have much freezer space at our house, and although we loaded up my grandma's freezer with fresh produce, we still had a ridiculous amount of zucchini left over.  When my daughter got sick of it, I had to come up with more creative ways to use it.  I did try to hide it in a few things (muffins, bread, meatballs, etc.), but I still had a ton.  I had gotten a paleo book from the library that had a recipe for raw zucchini lasagna in it, and decided to try it.  After all, I had practically everything I needed growing in my back yard.  I had seen recipes for zucchini lasagna before, but had never even considered making it.  Pre-allergy era, I made a mean lasagna.  Several people had told me that it was the best lasagna they'd ever had.  It was one of the foods, that I actually mourned it's loss when I found out that pretty much everything in it was on the do not eat list.  I also mourned nachos and French toast, but not like I mourned lasagna.  Any descent Mexican restaurant in town serves amazing nachos, and French toast was never one of my favorite breakfast foods, so I only miss it occasionally.  It's next to impossible to find good lasagna though.  Even the best Italian restaurant falls short of making a good lasagna, and almost all of them are loaded with meat, which just doesn't appeal to me. I really wanted lasagna back, and even though I'm no longer breastfeeding and can eat anything I want, I still had all of this zucchini sitting on the kitchen table waiting to be eaten.  The paleo lasagna out of the cookbook was actually really good.  I made it a few times, and then decided to try making it using my old lasagna recipe as the baseline.  It isn't allergy friendly for my daughter, but 2/3 of the ingredients came right out of my garden.  I figure I can't be the only person with too much zucchini and not enough freezer space, so here it is, my homegrown zucchini lasagna that tastes every bit as good as my original recipe.  It's guaranteed to help you use up all of that extra zucchini.  As a bonus, I also get to show off the fine China that was gifted to me by a friend in Virginia.  It's been in a box ever since I moved back, and I was delighted for an opportunity to show it off.

Homegrown Zucchini Lasagna

For the sauce
3 garlic cloves minced
1 small onion diced
2 cups mushrooms
1-2 teaspoons olive oil or butter
4 cups of fresh tomatoes
2 tablespoons oil packed sun dried tomatoes
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon dried basil (1½ teaspoons fresh)
¼ teaspoon dried marjoram (¾ teaspoon fresh)
¼ teaspoon dried parsley (¾ teaspoon fresh)
1/8 teaspoon celery salt
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce (optional)

For the cashew "cheese"
1 ½ cups cashews or macadamia nuts soaked, rinsed, and drained
1-2 teaspoons lemon juice
½ teaspoon salt or to taste
1 clove garlic
splash non-dairy milk

To assemble the Lasagna
2 large zucchinis sliced lengthwise**

*I like roma tomatoes because they are less watery than other kinds. However, you can use whatever you have on hand.

**I used a mandolin slicer to slice the zucchini.  I like it slightly thicker so that it retains a bit of a crunch when it is done, but any thickness will work.  If you don't have a mandolin slicer, you can just slice it by hand or chunk it up and mix the whole thing together like a casserole.


To make the sauce:
  1. In a saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and garlic and sauté until tender.  Add the mushrooms and sauté 1-2 minutes more. 
  2. Lightly blend the tomatoes and sun dried tomatoes in a food processor.  You want them to be smooth, but not liquefied.
  3. Add the tomato mixture, all of the herbs and spices, and the Worcestershire sauce (if using) to the onion, garlic, and mushrooms.  Bring to a boil.
  4. Reduce the heat, cover the pan, and simmer for about 25 minutes.
To make the cheese:
  1. Toss the garlic in the food processor and process until minced
  2. Add the nuts, lemon juice, salt, and a splash of milk.  Continue to process until a paste is formed.  Add more milk as needed until you get the desired consistency.  You want it to look a bit like ricotta cheese. 
  3. Add salt to taste and set aside

To assemble the lasagna:
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees
  2. Spoon a small amount of sauce onto the bottom of a 12x12 casserole dish so that the bottom is covered.
  3. Layer the zucchini on top of the sauce so that the zucchini slightly overlaps.
  4. Spread the cheese over the zucchini and cover with sauce.  Then, top with more zucchini, cheese, and sauce.
  5. Repeat this process until all of the sauce, zucchini and cheese is gone.  You should end with the sauce on top so that your lasagna won't dry out in the oven.
  6. Bake uncovered for 40-45 minutes or until bubbly and the zucchini can be easily pierced with a fork.
The lasagna will hold its shape better if you allow it to cool down a bit. 

Saturday, July 18, 2015

PB&J Banana Tot Dots

I've been meaning to post this for almost a year now, but time has a funny way of getting away from you, especially when you are trying to focus on being a mom, a 5th grade teacher, and a college student.  This idea actually came about while my daughter was going through a particularly difficult teething stage last summer.  There are all kinds of fantastic ideas out there for teething babies, but very few of them met all of the allergen requirements we needed.  My favorite treats were the frozen yogurt dots that are floating about on many blogs and recipe sites.  Of course those were out of the question due to her allergies.  Then I discovered vegan banana soft serve.  It's basically just frozen bananas and peanut butter (optional) blended up in a food processor and served cold.  It's really tasty, and really easy to make, and my daughter really likes bananas and peanut butter so it only made sense to use this to my advantage.  I decided to spice things up a bit and add jelly to the mix, and consequently ended up with a pretty amazing teething treat.  I would imagine you could pour this into a popsicle mold and have a treat for older kids as well, or you could just eat it straight out of the food processor.  I won't judge.

PB&J Banana Tot Dots
2 frozen bananas
2 Tablespoons peanut butter or other nut or seed butter of choice (Optional)
2 Tablespoons jelly or pureed fruit of choice (I used pureed blueberries)
  1. Line a baking sheet with wax or parchment paper
  2. Place all ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth
  3. Place in a pastry bag or plastic bag with the corner cut off
  4. Dispense in small dots on the cookie sheet.  Remember that you are making them for a toddler, so you want them to be fairly small.
  5. Place the pan in the freezer. 
  6. Once the dots are completely frozen, you can move them from the pan into a separate container.  These melt VERY QUICKLY so I recommend using Tupperware lined with wax paper to separate them out in layers.  Otherwise, you will have a big gooey mess on your hands.   
*Notes: The bananas do not necessarily have to be frozen when you put them in the food processor.  However, they will be easier to work with if they are.  I found it very difficult to control the size of my dots with un-frozen bananas.  Also, because these melt so fast, you will only want to give a few at a time to your toddler.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Orange Creamsicle Smoothie

As a kid, one of my favorite summer treats was the infamous orange creamsicle; a delightful orange flavored shell with a creamy vanilla inside.  If I happened to be eating the Creamies brand of creamsicles, there was that fantasitc message written on the stick that told me to, "have another creamie," and of course I would.  I'd eat as many as my parents would allow in one sitting, which usually wasn't more than 2 (if I was lucky).  At some point, however, I lost my appetite for them.  Even before my crazy breastfeeding diet, that fake orange flavor with a whitewashed vanilla inside had stopped appealing to me.  Truth be told, frozen desserts in general had stopped appealing to me (with the exception of Ben and Jerry's).  I loved the idea of frozen orange and vanilla in a popsicle, but I preferred to have real orange and vanilla as opposed to something that had been chemically engineered to taste like it.  In fact, I forgot about orange creamsicles altogether until I was thumbing through a book by "The Blender Girl" and found her version of an orange creamsicle smoothie.  Of course I was intrigued by the idea of creating my own orange creamsicle, I just needed to create one that was allergy safe for my daughter.  I had recently used a vanilla bean to make nut milk for the first time (a truly marvelous addition to a household staple) and wanted to do something meaningful with the nut pulp (those vanilla beans are expensive).  Thus the orange creamsicle smoothie was born with real vanilla, real orange, and no cream.  While it didn't pass the 2 year old taste test of approval, it did bring back fond memories of chowing down on orange flavored Creamies and treating myself to another as per the request on the stick.  Only this time, I got to indulge guilt free with all the health benefits that real food has to offer.
Orange Creamsicle Smoothie
3/4 cup nuts soaked or nut pulp (I used macadamia)
1/2 a banana frozen
1 peach or apricot
1/2 cup mango frozen
1 Orange
1 1/4 cup orange juice
1/2 a vanilla bean (optional)
Sweetener of choice to taste (optional I didn't use any)
Place all ingredients into a blender and puree until smooth
* Note: If you are using soaked nuts instead of nut pulp, add the nuts, vanilla bean, and a portion of orange juice to the blender first and lightly blend before adding the other ingredients to ensure a smoother texture.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

A Guide to Living with a Corn Allergy FAQs

For a long time, I thought we were eating corn free, but my daughter's eczema said otherwise.  The chapped and peeling skin on her face, the scars and scratches all over her body from her constantly clawing at herself in a futile attempt to make the itching stop, and the late night screaming all pointed to dietary problems that I wasn't even aware we had.  Add in all of her other allergies, and it was a non-stop, round the clock problem that had me wishing I could become anorexic so that I wouldn't have to deal with it anymore.  While eating corn didn't physically affect me, it created a parenting nightmare in terms of taking care of my daughter that turned me off from food completely, especially corn. 
You'd think that having a corn allergy would have a simple enough solution; just stay away from corn.  While that works for other foods, it almost never works for corn.  Anyone who has to deal with a corn allergy will tell you that being allergic to corn is about the most complicated thing you will encounter in your life.  Even after all of my research and efforts I still wouldn't say that we eat corn free.  We are corn lite at best and to really be corn free would take and exuberant amount of time an money; something that I just don't have.  Thankfully we can get away with being corn lite.  I don't know what I'd do if we weren't that lucky.

FAQs About Corn Allergies
(My attempt to simplify a really complicated allergy)

What is a corn allergy?

A corn allergy is basically the same thing as any other allergy.  It is an immune response that occurs when corn or something made from corn comes in contact with the body.  Much like other allergies, the symptoms can range from bloating, itchy, watery eyes, to rash, fever, vomiting, and even anaphylactic shock.  Some corn allergic people also report symptoms such as migraines, depression, anxiety, hyperactivity, and other mental health problems as a result of being corned.

How do I know if I have a corn allergy?

A corn allergy can be identified similarly to other allergies via a blood and/or skin test.  My daughter's allergy was identified by a chiropractor who does muscle testing and laser treatments for allergies.  Some with a corn allergy report that their allergy could not be identified by medical testing, but that they tried eliminating corn and felt better as a result. 

Why is a corn allergy so difficult to manage?

The biggest reason why a corn allergy is so difficult to manage is because corn is literally in everything.  It's in almost all prepackaged foods in the form of corn derivatives and/or cross contamination.  It's fed to the livestock that provide us with meat, eggs, and dairy.  It's in the sprays and washes used on fresh produce.  It's in medical supplies and medications, including vaccines.  It's in soaps, household cleaners, plastics, latex, fabrics, toilet paper, disposable diapers,  and pretty much anything else you can think of.  It's even in the air we breathe due to the ethanol used in gasoline and the enormous amount of corn we have growing on farmland at any given location at any given time.

Another reason why a corn allergy is so hard to manage is because it's been processed and changed into dozens of different derivatives, many of which are synthetically, and chemically processed to add flavor, texture, and shelf life to food.  It's not uncommon for a person who is allergic to corn to be ok with eating one corn derivative while another one will send them to the hospital with a severe reaction.  Most corn allergic people have no idea which derivatives are safe for them to consume and which aren't so we all just make it a point to avoid them all.  The same goes for certain brands of things.  One person can consume one brand of something with no problems while another cannot.  Some people react to all corn and corn derivatives.  This makes it very hard to try new things or even eat a balanced diet at times since most people with a corn allergy also suffer from other allergies and health problems as well.

Lastly, living with a corn allergy is very costly.  The non-corn version of many foods is usually double the cost of their corn containing counterparts.  This further limits people with corn allergies because many are on a budget and cannot afford to make a lot of corn free items a staple.  In our house, we eat a lot of beans and potatoes because they are cheap.

How can I avoid corn?

Avoiding corn is not easy.  To be truly corn free is almost impossible and takes a lot of time, money, and dedication.  People who are really sensitive cannot shop at traditional grocery stores and must rely on either growing their own food or local (and sometimes not local) farmers to provide the rest.  However, there are some things you can do/ look for to help ensure that you are not getting corned.  Disclaimer: none of these suggestions ensures that your food will be corn free so be sure to read labels, do research, ask questions, and trial carefully.
  • Grow your own food:  The only way to ensure that your food comes from somewhere safe is to grow it yourself.  If you have the space and the means to do so, you can also raise your own livestock on a diet that is not corn based.  Most livestock is not biologically engineered to eat corn anyway (especially cows) so you will be doing the animals a favor.  Be wary of store bought soil, however, as some of it is corny.
  • Buy local:  Many local farmers do not use the pesticides and washes on their produce that commercial farmers do.  They also tend to raise their livestock on a corn free or corn lite diet.  Being able to talk to the farmer directly is hugely helpful since they can tell you exactly what they use on the farm and some may even be willing to work with your allergies even if they do use corn products.  Plus you will be buying local and helping the environment which is a total win.
  • Look for labeling that is organic, Non-GMO, kosher, and foods that are free of added flavors, preservatives, and colors:  While this does not guarantee that your food will be free of corn or cross-contamination with corn, it will save you a lot of label reading.  Please note that labels that say no added artificial flavors, colors or preservatives are often corny.  You want the food that has none of that.
  • Avoid food with ingredients that you don't know what they are: If it sounds like an element off of the periodic table you had to memorize in 9th grade science, it probably came from corn.  Most ingredients that you can't pronounce and have no idea what they are are chemically synthesized in a lab.  Even if they don't come from corn, they aren't the healthiest thing to be eating and you probably want to avoid it anyway.  Fake science experiment food doesn't sound appetizing after you start really looking at ingredient labels.  Trust me, you'll get it after you've been doing it a while.   
  • Be mindful of vegan and gluten free foods: Don't get me wrong.  There are tons of fantastic vegan and gluten free foods out there that are safe for corn allergic people.  However, once traditional ingredients such as meat, dairy, and wheat start coming out, the corn products start going in as a replacement.  Just be sure to carefully read the labels on these and trial with caution.
  • Look for short ingredient labels:  Ever wonder why a store bought loaf of bread has an ingredient label that's half a page long and sounds like it was written in a foreign language?  Because all those extra ingredients are corn added to enhance the flavor, shelf life, texture, and nutrient density of the bread.  When avoiding corn, the shorter the ingredient list, the better.  Look for ingredients that are similar to those that you would use if you made the item at home.  For example, a homemade loaf of bread only has a few ingredients, therefore, the loaf of bread you buy at the store should also only have a few ingredients (and you should be able to easily identify all of them).  
  • When in doubt, make your own: This is by far the most frustrating thing about this allergy.  Making your own everything is time consuming, expensive, and even with the best of intentions, you will sometimes still fail at it, especially if you are using new ingredients that you've never tried before.  However, it still remains the best way to ensure that your food is safe for you.  This also applies to soap and other household products.
Can I eat at restaurants?
As a general rule, restaurants are not a good idea.  Pretty much every chain restaurant has corn in their food and the staff will not know what they are looking for in terms of helping you find and check food labels.  That being said however, some corn lite people can occasionally eat out.  Here are some options that might work for you:
  • Salad Bars (you will want to bring your own dressing)
  • Baked potato bars
  • Farm to table restaurants
  • Small, locally owned restaurants where the food is made from scratch and the chef can make modifications for you.
  • Chain restaurants where you can order a plain salad, plain fruits and veggies, and plain meat.
Some of our favorite eat out places are Whole Foods, Sweet Tomatoes, and Sizzler.

What about traveling?

Most corn allergic people pack and freeze their food and toiletries to take with them or ship in advance.  They try to stay in condos or hotels with kitchen access, and do a lot of research before they leave to ensure that they have a safe supply of water, emergency food, and toiletries.  Some of the restaurant suggestions mentioned above may also work for someone who is traveling.

How can I get corn free medication?

Corn free medication has to be compounded.  This can be tricky in the United States because you need both a prescription and a pharmacist who knows what they are doing.  Both of those can be hard to come by.  Compounded meds are usually not covered by insurance so it can also be expensive.  Most medication can be easily compounded but some cannot, including vaccines.  Talk to your healthcare provider to find something that will work for you.  You may need to speak to multiple healthcare providers since many are unfamiliar with the ingredients in medications.  Some herbal supplements are corn free and may work for you as well.  At our house, we usually go with the herbal supplements before we try other medications, but you should always do what works best for you.

Where can I get more information?
Corn Allergy Girl: A blog containing information about traveling, emergency room and medical advice, suggestions for possible safe products, and tips on everyday living with a corn allergy.
A list of corn free products (please note that even though these products do not have corn listed as an ingredient, they still might be cross contaminated with corn.  Do your research and trial carefully)

Friday, November 14, 2014

Creamy Italian Stuffed Summer Squash

Ok, so technically summer ended a while ago, but I had this HUGE squash from my mom's garden that needed to be eaten and I also had a craving for something Italian.  Plus it's never a bad thing to reminisce about how warm and cozy the world used to be before winter came along (For those of you who don't know, there are only two seasons in Utah, winter and summer).  The only problem; how does one make something Italian with no garlic, no onion, no tomatoes, no pasta, and no dairy?  Due to my daughter's allergies, pretty much every ingredient that makes Italian food amazing was out.  I also had to make the recipe corn free as if this wasn't going to be a big enough challenge on its own. 
I was determined to overcome this challenge, however, since I really want to have more meals that both taste good to me and agree with my daughter's allergies.  Currently the list of meals that meet both those requirements is quite short.

Despite it's lack of many things that make great Italian food, this stuffed squash doesn't disappoint.  I kept the ingredient list short so as not to overcomplicate things.  I was actually surprised by how much flavor I was able to pack into this dish with just a few ingredients.  It's savory, but not overwhelming, which makes it the perfect dish for someone who is sensitive to strong flavors or who has allergies to garlic and onions.  Unfortunately my daughter didn't care much for it, but I feel like it's progress nonetheless.   I wasn't sure if I could learn to cook without garlic and onions.  To be honest, most of my garlic and onion free recipes still come out tasting not quite right, but I now know that if I put some serious thought into it, I can make good things happen.

Creamy Italian Stuffed Summer Squash
½ cup uncooked millet
1 pound ground pork or chicken
½ Tablespoon red wine vinegar
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon sugar
1 ½ teaspoons Italian Seasoning
1 large yellow squash or 2-3 small squash
1 cup mushrooms
1/3 cup non-dairy milk
1 Tablespoon Tahini
Salt to taste
Vegan Cheese (optional)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350.
  2. In a medium saucepan, roast the millet over medium heat until it begins to pop and turn golden brown.  Add 1 cup of water and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to low, cover, and let simmer for 30-40 minutes.  Try to resist the urge to lift the lid.  The millet will cook up fluffier if you leave it alone.  You can also add a little oil to the boiling water if you wish but it isn't absolutely necessary.
  3. While the millet is cooking, combine the pork, vinegar, salt, sugar, and Italian seasoning in a frying pan or skillet.  Cook over medium-high heat until the pork is cooked through.  Drain off any excess grease or liquid.
  4. Slice the squash in half lengthwise and hollow it out using a spoon or ice cream scoop.   Chop the squishy squash insides into smaller, bite-sized pieces and set aside.  Place the hollowed out squash shells on a baking sheet and set aside.
  5. Chop the mushrooms and add to the pork mixture along with the squash insides. Continue cooking until the squash and mushrooms are tender.
  6. Add the milk, tahini, and cooked millet to the pork mixture.  Cook a few more minutes until the liquid has thickened slightly.  Add salt to taste.
  7. Spoon the mixture into the hollowed out squash, lightly pack the mixture down as you go.  (I had a lot of extra filling so I piled it as high as I could without it falling all over the pan.)
  8. Sprinkle vegan cheese on top of the stuffed squash (if using).  I thought it tasted great both with and without the cheese.
  9. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until the squash is tender and the tops are slightly browned.  Serve with salad and bread if desired.