WW: Living with Food Allergies — Trust and “The Man.”

Name Tag MKFull disclosure: Denise and I both work for government. So, yes, sometimes, we’re “the man.” And, yes, we understand the jokes (we really are here to help), and we fully understand the limitations of working within institutional guidelines. I like to think we inspire trust through competence and, at least in my case, admitting that I don’t know things and will need to look them up.

There are a lot of trust issues that come with having food allergies. You have a lot to learn, and a lot to remember, and a lot to cover in your own advocacy for yourself. You have to place your trust in other people — your friends, family, and co-workers — to help keep you safe, to learn along with you, and to put themselves out to help keep you safe. You have to trust your doctors and other healthcare professionals. You have to trust waitstaff and kitchen staff every time you decide to eat out. In these situations, you are face-to-face with at least some of the people you’re placing your trust in.

But we also have to place trust in nameless, faceless corporations, who aren’t really people, and who we don’t see. We can call them or e-mail or tweet in their general directions, but the amount of faith it takes to trust that entity to be honest on their labels and not to have screwed up? Or to know anything about allergies? Or to, honestly, care? It’s epic. And there is not a lot that builds faith and trust in corporate care for our personal health.

I’m guessing that most of our readers who are also allergic (I know some of you just come for the recipes!) are already receiving FARE recall notices. This is an e-mail service that will alert you of all the voluntary recalls for mislabeled or cross-contaminated or otherwise potentially deadly food products for people who have allergies. This is a really amazing service, as there is no other central place to find out if your favorite chicken and rice soup has accidentally been replaced with chicken noodle soup, but labeled chicken and rice, so you might need an alternate plan for lunch. Great as it is to know these things, it’s also scary to see how often these glitches happen.

Why? Why do they happen? Sometimes there is a mix up with labeling machines. Sometimes certain allergens are left off the label accidentally, or a recipe is changed and the label isn’t, or a line was improperly cleaned, or an allergen was accidentally added to a product, or the product got labeled with another product’s label entirely. If you don’t have allergies, this would be, at worst, kind of annoying. When you do have allergies, it’s more than a little scary to see how often our industrial food systems fail us. All these provisions for labeling, for allergy labeling, for cross-contamination prevention best practices? They fail sometimes.

And there is the fact that what needs to be labeled isn’t as comprehensive as we’d like — a topic which we’re planning to tackle, but has involved more research than either Denise or I thought. Allergen labeling is partly mandatory, partly voluntary, and just generally inconsistent. It doesn’t cover anything involved in “processing,” doesn’t cover allergens that are considered to be denatured by the removal of the protein (e.g. soybean oil need not necessarily be called out as “soy”) and other things that, if you’re lucky enough to not have allergies, you have never needed to know.

You very likely occasionally need medication, produced by massive pharmaceutical companies who use all sorts of random and wonky “inactive” ingredients. Want to experience frustration? Try finding out what is in your drugs. Then try finding drugs that do not contain your allergens — even the pharmacists do not know. They can likely tell you what is IN your drugs, but not give you other options that do not contain your allergens. There is no database for this, and inactive ingredients can change at any time.

Other times, it’s a failure of knowledge. It’s a small place that bakes gluten-containing and gluten-free breads in the same kitchen, using the same mixers and tools and pans. It’s the local cafe that doesn’t understand that toasting the gluten-free bun in the same toaster as the gluten-containing buns in the same toaster equals cross-contamination. It’s the doughnut shop that uses the same tongs for the nut-covered doughnuts as for the plain doughnuts. Some of these things you can see happening, some you can’t, and can you remember to ask all those questions each time? As I think we’ve said before about restaurants — if you can honestly tell me you cannot safely feed me, I respect that. That’s why I’ve usually got a snack in my bag.

Maybe you think you can avoid it and just never buy any prepared foods anywhere, or any kind. You can eat entirely raw or vegetables only or become a fruititarian. And maybe those are options for a few of us. Frankly, my list of allergens makes it hard enough to feed myself without any other restrictions I’d choose to impose upon my diet; my rule is “if I can eat it, and I want to eat it, I eat it.”

And anyway, that won’t necessarily protect you. We all buy ingredients. When there was a story last year about some of Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free flours in Canada having been cross-contaminated with gluten, I was frankly terrified. If you buy gluten-free flours, you’ve bought Bob’s, as they are the only company who sells single-ingredient gluten-free flours (not just blends) at most major grocery chains. If we can’t trust them, can we trust anyone or anything?

It isn’t that these companies are bad. In fact, many of them have great, socially responsible business practices, and many of them seek to do right by their customers as well as their employees. But safety for food allergens sometimes goes far beyond basic good food safety. Finding the balance comes differently to each company.

Trust is a really difficult issue for people with allergies. It is definitely more difficult when you aren’t able to see your food produced, know the people who produce it, or trust the companies who make it and the agencies that are supposed to monitor them.

Name Tag DeniseI’m just going to be upfront and say that a combination of my life and work experiences (having experienced a fairly dysfunctional childhood and having previously spent ten years as a divorce lawyer) have resulted in me having a pretty pessimistic view of humanity as a whole. I thought I was suspicious, hardened cynic before the food allergy apocalypse hit. Now I’ve hit new heights of paranoia and contempt for corporations (especially those in the food industry), some regulatory agencies particularly those regulating food and the environment, our political institutions, and our medical institutions, that I didn’t think were possible. Yay me, way to overachieve! I’ve always been a bit Type-A. 

Trust. With what I’ve been dealing with on the corn issue, I don’t have any left. Using Bob’s Red Mill as an example since Mary Kate brought it up, their products are rife with corn cross-contamination because corn is run on the same lines. So I could be fine with one package and not fine with another package, which means I’m going to avoid Bob’s Red Mill products because it’s like playing Russian Roulette. Bob’s Red Mill isn’t doing anything wrong because corn is not a top 8 allergen so they are not required to label it, it’s just for me cross contamination can cause a major problem. There’s nothing on the label to tell me there might a problem, and without someone contacting the company, I wouldn’t have had enough information to make an informed decision about whether or not to use the product. I’m bummed about the whole thing because I really liked their products before the whole corn thing went down. 

One of the people in the Corn Allergy & Intolerance Group on Facebook tells a story about how her mom found some English muffins that didn’t have corn on the ingredient list, and when she opened them, there was corn meal all over the bottom of them. When she called to complain, she was told that was just part of the manufacturing process and they weren’t required to label it. 

The other thing that cracks me up are the companies that state their product is corn free, and then it turns out that half the ingredients are derived or grown on corn, but allegedly “all the protein” is processed out of it. I am no longer an adherent to the “protein processed out of it” theory. Because there’s a whole crap ton of corn ingredients that should be “safe” for me, and they aren’t. I’m pretty damn sure that I can’t make myself get psychosomatic blisters all over one foot from an exposure, or make my face and body blow up like a balloon, or get cystic acne. Of course, those are just the symptoms that I’m pretty sure the medical community couldn’t blame on a hysterical or emotional response, not counting the other nasty digestive and insomnia reactions. 

Now on to the FDA and labeling. Basically, I’m screwed. Even if I assume that a product has not been contaminated in the “manufacturing process”, there are currently 336 items that I have to look for to make sure I’m avoiding all my allergens. Because corn is not a top 8 allergen, that means I have to speifically look for the 185 corn derivatives. I have a spreadsheet on Google Docs that I can get to with my phone, but practically speaking this means that any food product with more than two or three ingredients doesn’t make it into my shopping cart. If I don’t recognize it and can’t search for it on my phone, I don’t buy it. Even meat and fresh fruits and vegetables are corn contaminated with the cleansers and the waxes and polishes they put on them. And if I buy organic fruits and vegetables, that just means the waxes and polishes are made with organic corn. Even if you contact some of the companies, the people that work there don’t really know how stuff is made and you have to exchange a bunch of emails to find out that you probably shouldn’t eat it anyway, or be told that they can’t give you the information because it’s “proprietary.” You know what? I think I should have a right to know what’s in my food and personal care products. Period. No matter what it is, no matter how it gets there, whether it’s just part of the “manufacturing process”, whether it’s “proprietary”, or whether it’s a GMO or not. But I’m pretty sure that the lobbyists will make sure that that doesn’t happen, because when you’re really forced to take a long hard look at what’s actually in your food, you stop buying a lot of processed stuff because you (a) can’t and/or (b) get sort of grossed out. This means that the processed food put out by really large corporations have a lot of market share to lose, and won’t make as many campaign contributions, so the system doesn’t work to help those of us eating the products. And given human nature, unless you’re really forced to deal with this because of your health, most of us take the path of least resistance and just throw stuff in our carts that looks like it tastes good. 

Although I was not terribly trusting of the medical establishment before the food allergy apocalypse hit, now I just don’t trust the system at all. If you do not fit into the mold of the “normal” patient with “normal” illnesses, you can pretty much forget having your medical professionals look for anything outside their comfort zones. I’ll go, but I have little faith now that they will actually figure out what the problem is and know how to treat it, if it’s anything outside the norm. I’m now prepared for doctors to discount or dismiss my symptoms if they can’t make it fit into what they think they know about food allergies. And if you need specially compounded medicine, your health insurer will make it really expensive and difficult to get because they don’t want to pay for it. You are pretty much on your own to do your own research because you can’t trust a poor primary care physician or nurse practitioner to find time to research patient issues when they have to see as many patients as they can to make the organization they work for as much money as possible. 

So after that thoroughly depressing elucidation of my lack of trust in everything, what’s the point of it all other than getting to whine about it in a blog post to you guys? The point is you have to take control and do your own homework and do what makes you healthy. Because you can’t trust anyone else to do it for you. I’m not sure if this is an empowerment pep talk, or just the cold hard reality. 

 

What are your experiences in contacting companies to ask questions about your personal health needs? Does anyone have good news to share? Anyone got a favorite company they deal with or buy from?

Making Bacon, Squared (i.e. two versions)

Home cured bacon

Home cured bacon

Bacon. It’s bacon, how do you live without bacon? Unfortunately, commercial bacon has dextrose, sodium erythorbate, ascorbates, and other corn ingredients. At the beginning of my corn-free life, I would cheat a bit, but then I would get a blister on my foot a couple days later, and I eventually decided that it had to go. So no bacon. For months and months. And then I started Googling how to make bacon, and looking for pins on Pinterest. It didn’t look that hard. And compared to fermenting (which I very much enjoy, so this is not a slam), it seemed much less evil scientist-bubbling concoctions, and more of a dry rub marinade in the fridge for several days longer than you would normally. What was the worst that could happen? I mean, besides making myself sick, and that was going to happen if I ate commercial bacon anyway. But I still didn’t do it because I was going to have to make a special effort to get some pork belly, and it’s not like I don’t have enough other stuff to do. But one day, Mary Kate and I were dubbing around at the Saigon Market in Nashua and we saw some pork belly all packaged up and ready to bring home. So I bought it, and I made some bacon. It was good, but I thought the recipe needed some tweaking. So I called McKinnons in Salem and ordered five pounds of pork belly. And I then played around some more.

Now that I’m done experimenting, I’ve got two versions to share with you, one that’s a more basic cure, and one that’s a bit more savory. I like them both, but I prefer the basic cure, as I tend to be a traditionalist about my bacon.

In all likelihood, you are going to special order the fresh pork belly. Some grocery stores may be cooperative, or you might have to go to a specialty butcher store.

Making Bacon (two versions)

  • 2 lbs of pork belly, skin removed
  • 3 tablespoons sea salt
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar

For a basic cure, you will add:

  • 2 teaspoons whole peppercorns

For a more savory cure, you will add:

  • 2 teaspoons whole peppercorns
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tsp rosemary
  • 1 tsp celery seed
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 2 bay leaves

Put the salt, brown sugar, and the spices for your choice of cure in a blender or food processor, with the exception of the garlic clove in the savory cure. Blend or process until the peppercorns are well ground. If you’re using the savory cure, mince the garlic clove and set it aside.

If your pork belly still has the skin on it, as shown below, you will need to remove it. (The picture below shows five pounds of pork belly. I used it to make approximately two pounds of each bacon cure and one pound of salt pork, the recipe for which will be posted in the not too distant future.)

Five pounds of boneless pork belly before the skin is removed

Five pounds of boneless pork belly before the skin is removed

Using a very sharp knife, remove the skin cutting it as thinly as you can manage. You don’t want to waste any of the pork belly.

Removing the skin from the pork belly

Removing the skin from the pork belly

Once you have trimmed off the skin, your pork belly will look like the picture below:

Pork belly with the skin removed

Pork belly with the skin removed

Rinse the pork belly in very cold water and pat it dry with a paper towel. If you are doing the savory cure, now is the time to mix your ground salt, sugar and spice mixture in a bowl with the minced garlic. Spread half your salt, sugar, and spice mixture on a large piece of parchment paper, a large casserole dish, or a sheet pan, whatever you have in your kitchen that’s large enough to accommodate your piece of pork belly. Place the pork belly into the salt, sugar and spice mixture, and pour the remaining mixture over the top of the pork belly. Rub the mixture all over the pork, making sure to get every inch covered.

Put the pork belly in a 1 gallon resealable plastic bag, and add any of the excess salt, sugar, and spice mixture from your parchment paper, casserole dish, or sheet pan to the bag. Close the bag and shake it up to evenly distribute and coat the pork belly with the mixture. After shaking, try to remove as much of the air from the resealable plastic bag as you can so that the spice mixture stays on the pork belly and reseal it.

Pork belly coated with salt, sugar, and spice mix in resealable plastic bag

Pork belly coated with salt, sugar, and spice mix in resealable plastic bag

Place the bag on a plate, tray or small sheet pan so that it can be placed in your refrigerator and stay level. Refrigerate for five to seven days, flipping the bag once a day, until the pork feels firm throughout. The longer you let the pork belly cure, the saltier it will be. I preferred a cure of five days.

When the pork belly is finished curing, remove the pork belly from the resealable plastic bag and wash off the salt, sugar and spice mixture thoroughly under cold water. Pat your pork belly dry with paper towels.

You now have a choice to make. You can slice the bacon as is and then cook it, which appears to be the closest to commercial bacon, and was often referred to as “green bacon” in recipes I saw. Or you can smoke or roast the bacon. I don’t have a smoker, so I’ve not tried smoking it. I did do one batch of the roasted bacon, but I think I prefer the green bacon.

Green bacon:

We got a meat slicer as a wedding gift because my husband really wanted one, so it went on the registry. It was really helpful in slicing the green bacon.

"Green" bacon sliced

“Green bacon” sliced

I fried some in my cast iron skillet over medium heat, as you would normally cook bacon.  The home cured bacon seems to take longer than commercial bacon to cook.

"Green" bacon frying in cast iron

“Green”bacon” frying in cast iron

Which results in yummy looking bacon:

Fried "green" bacon

Fried “green bacon”

Or you can use the oven method to cook your bacon, and you get yummy bacon too:

"Green" bacon cooked in the oven

“Green bacon” cooked in the oven

Roasting the Bacon:  When your bacon has cured, and you’ve rinsed and patted it dry with paper towels, pre-heat your oven to 200°F. Place the bacon in a 9 x 13″ roasting pan and roast until you’ve reached an internal temperature of 150°F. This will take between an hour and a half and two hours.

Bacon roasted in the oven

Bacon roasted in the oven

You don’t want to cook the meat, so once it reaches 150°F, remove the bacon from the oven. Let the bacon cool to room temperature. 

Once your bacon has been roasted or smoked and has cooled, wrap it up in parchment paper and put it in the refrigerator until it has completely chilled. Once chilled, you can slice it and fry it up or use the oven method to cook your bacon. In the picture below, I used a chef’s knife and my knife skills aren’t all that great so the slices are a bit thicker than I would have liked. Which is why I decided to drag out the meat slicer in later experiments.

Roasted bacon after chilling and slicing

Roasted bacon after chilling and slicing

We cooked the bacon two ways here too, frying it and using the oven method.

Roasted Bacon, cooked two ways, fried and using the oven method

Roasted Bacon, cooked two ways, fried and using the oven method

Smoking the Bacon: Again, I have not tried this because I don’t have a smoker, but one of the recipes I found gives the following directions. When your bacon has cured, and you’ve rinsed and patted it dry with paper towels, smoke it over hickory or apple wood at a very low temperature until bacon reaches an internal temperature of 150°F or about three hours. Let bacon cool to room temperature. Once your bacon has been roasted or smoked and has cooled, wrap it up in parchment paper and put it in the refrigerator until it has completely chilled. Once chilled, you can slice it and fry it up or use the oven method to cook your bacon.

My husband and I both preferred the oven method for cooking the bacon and we both preferred the “green bacon”, but you should experiment and see what you like best. Here’s a chart for how long your bacon will keep from the USDA. The bacon cures presented here would fall under “Bacon cured without nitrites.” I don’t want to weigh in on the nitrites being good or bad issue, it’s just that I can’t get seem to get my hands on curing salt that doesn’t also have corn (dextrose) in it.

I hope this helps those of you who can’t get commercial bacon for whatever reason. Enjoy, I did :)

2014-04-11 Fabulous Friday Finds

Only a month or two away...

Only a month or two away…

 

It’s Friday and it’s finally looking like spring a bit. 

My friend Mary, the kale whisperer and gardener extraordinaire, has very kindly agreed to grow some serious crazy bad-ass peppers (1 million scoville units+ woo-hoo!) and some “regular” hot peppers for me (Denise), and they’ve sprouted. This Green Curry Jam from Hannah Kaminsky is one I will probably try once the harvest comes in, unless spice crazy squirrels or chipmunks run off with them. 

And because spring comes with nasty black flies and mosquitoes, here’s a blog post with two versions of DIY bug spray that will be okay for peeps with coconut allergies. Keep in mind I haven’t tried either of them, but if you give them a go, please let us know. I’ll probably try the Wellness Mama’s concoction first, as I’d just have to get witch hazel.  

Given that it’s getting warm during the day, but it’s still cool at night, it’s still time for curries — and this Sri Lankan curry dhal sounds fascinatingly different — it does contain coconut milk, but if that’s an issue, I am guessing that cashew milk might work here.

And lastly, it’s Peeps season. Wilton has a line of Peeps products — pans, molds, cupcake liners — and Forks and Beans, your go-to blog for re-creating any random candy you might want, has a recipe. I bought the silicon mold, and I really want chocolate-covered marshmallow Peeps.

May all the nasty dirt covered piles of snow disappear over the weekend! Have a great one everyone!

Eat Your Veggies for Breakfast Patties

Eat Your Veggies Patties

Eat Your Veggies Patties

Everyone who knows me for a little while knows that I live for potatoes. I will eat them in almost any form, any time of day, and many meals in a row — and multiple forms in one meal, if that happens to be an option. I’ve posted other potato recipes here, but this may be one of my favorite.

See, about two years ago, I found a good hash brown patty. Cheap, no weird ingredients, and while they did not cook quickly, they could be left alone while I did the rest of the stuff that needs to get done in the mornings. But that was two years ago, and I’m still eating them. As much as I love the potatoes, I was actually (shhhhh, don’t call out the heresy) getting bored of the same hash browns every morning. I thought maybe I could work something else out, something that would keep the potato part of my breakfast ritual, but add in some additional veggies.

This is what I worked out — this is a soft potato pancake with a great texture from the zucchini and carrots, and a nice savory profile. If potatoes for breakfast aren’t your thing (heresy!), these make a great side dish, as well.

Cooking Potato Magic

Cooking Potato Magic

Eat Your Veggies for Breakfast Patties

  • 4 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed (about 1.75 lbs.)
  • 3 teaspoons salt
  • 1/3 cup non-dairy milk, warmed
  • 1 Tablespoon Earth Balance soy-free margarine (or safe-for-you substitute)
  • 1/4 cup green scallion tops, chopped (about one bunch worth)
  • 1/2 lb. carrots, shredded (organic if possible — this makes a big difference in taste)
  • 1/2 lb. zucchini, shredded
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons dill
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • freshly-ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar (beware of malt — gluten — added to cheaper versions)
  • 1 Tablespoon ground psyllium husk
  • oil of your choice, for sauteeing, less than 1/4 cup overall, but it’ll depend on the size of your pan and how many batches of potatoes you do

Place potatoes in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Add salt. Bring water to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until potatoes are tender. If you salt the water well, you may not need to add more salt to the recipe over all

Chop scallions and shred the carrots and zucchini.

Heat a skillet over medium heat, add a tablespoon or so of oil — you want enough to coat the bottom of the pan, but not deeply. Add the carrots, dill, and garlic powder, stir and sauteé over medium for a few minutes. Then add the zucchini, stir well, and when the carrots are tender but still have a bit of crunch, you’re done.

In another pan, over low, heat the non-dairy milk and margarine or fat just until warm and melted.

Drain the potatoes and mash with the non-dairy milk and margarine. Then mix in the scallions, carrots, zucchini in with the mashed potatoes, adding the turmeric, psyllium husk, and vinegar, and mixing very well. Taste and adjust the seasonings if you need to.

Form patties of about 1/4 cup each — I used a measuring cup to scoop and then formed the patties with my hands. This made about 15 patties, which is so perfect for a work week of breakfasts. The patties are all cooked, but to make them awesome, you’ll pan fry them right before eating.

Now, you can cook these immediately, if you’re a morning person and did all this in the morning, but you can also refrigerate the patties you just made (put wax paper between the layers and cover them, airtight) and pan fry them fresh and hot in the morning.

Either way, heat your skillet first, over medium, then add a skim-coat of oil. If you’re cooking them just after making them, 2-3 minutes per side should give you a nice golden brown crust on each side. If they are coming out of the fridge, it took 8 minutes for the first side, 6 for the second, using a cast iron skillet over medium heat, to get a perfect crust and thoroughly heat the patties throughout.

2014-04-04 Fabulous Friday Finds

There are birds, maybe we'll have flowers soon...

There are birds, maybe we’ll have flowers soon…

Hello, again, Friday. Weekend ahead!

Still kind of annoyingly nippy out there. So here’s a Vegan Curry Butternut Squash Soup with Kale to warm things up a bit.  I’m (Denise) kind of psyched about this recipe because there’s little I’d have to sub out. 

Also thinking forward to spring, and cookouts, here’s an idea for a Quinoa & White Bean Veggie Burger. I’d have to sub out the coconut oil, corn and flax, but I could use olive oil, peas, and chia, and I’m sure it would work fine.  Love the ideas for decking out the burgers, and I bet I could do it without a bun (still working out that bread thing) and it’s still be good. 

Just as an example of how our thinking on food and diets have changed, check out this ad from 1959 and the accompanying post on whether you’re “eating enough sugar to lose weight.” Yes, really. And no, we still do not understand all the intricacies of how our bodies use food.

This mushroom “risotto” uses three kinds of lentils instead of rice. I don’t know that I’ve had risotto, ever, but I’m drawn to dishes “inspired by” risotto, apparently, and this one sounds really good. I love lentils.

May your weekend be sunny.

WW: DIY Dishwasher Detergent if Allergic to Coconut

DIY Dishwasher Detergent - coconut free!

DIY Dishwasher Detergent – coconut free!

So I’ve been ignoring the coconut allergy with respect to my dishwasher detergent because it all rinses off right?  Except that it really doesn’t, as shown by how soapy the water left on some of my dishes that feels when I’m cleaning it off after opening the dishwasher. And it’s probably not a good thing, and Cascade Complete is freaking expensive. My younger sister pinned this recipe for dishwasher detergent one day and I looked at it, and thought, “geez, I have all the stuff, except I’ll have to make castile soap like I do for my shampoo.” (Dr. Bonner’s has coconut in it, don’t use it if you’re allergic to coconut). So I thought I’d give it a whirl with my substitute to de-coconut it, and I thought I’d share.

DIY Dishwasher Detergent if Allergic to Coconut 

  • 16 cups of water, divided
  • 1 1/2 cups of Washing Soda (not baking soda, they are totally different things)
  • 1 cup of Borax
  • 1/2 cup of liquid castile soap (1 Kiss My Face Pure Olive Oil Soap – 8 oz bar, grated in my food processor, then pulverized with the blade after grating, dissolved overnight in 4 cups of distilled water, or 1 Olivella Face and Body Soap, Fragrance Free, All-natural 100% Virgin Olive Oil From Italy, 3.52-oz Bars,  pulverized and dissolved in about 1 3/4 cups of distilled water.  Make sure you clean your food processor really well afterwards. Once dissolved, stir to make sure there are no lumps. Store the extra amount in the fridge, you’ll make more dishwasher detergent, or you can use it for the dish soap recipe I will post eventually.)

Just an FYI, if you can find the borax and the washing soda locally, buy it locally. I can get a box of each for between $3-5 dollars here, and the prices for them on Amazon are extreme. You can find them in the laundry aisle of your grocery store. In New Hampshire, I’ve had pretty good luck at Hannaford and Marketbasket. Shaw’s not so much.

Also, you will need a non-reactive pot, stainless steel or ceramic, and a whisk and some containers to store your finished dishwasher detergent in. I used 1/2 gallon mason jars to start, but then transferred the contents of one of the jars into an empty gallon vinegar plastic container so that I could pour easily and shake it up before using. An empty gallon container for water would work well too, or recycle one of your old dishwasher detergent bottles.

Bring 8 cups of water to a boil in your pot. Once the water is boiling, remove the water from the heat, and stir in the washing soda, borax, and liquid castile soap until dissolved. Stir in the remaining 8 cups of water and then allow the mixture to cool to room temperature.

Pour the dishwasher detergent into your containers. I’ve been using half of the amount in my dishwasher as my old detergent, but see what works best for you. I have noticed that if you use too much it will leave a film. Overall, I’m pretty happy with it, and if you only knew how compulsive I am about the dishes being clean. Strange how that doesn’t extend to the rest of my apartment, but what can you do.

Enjoy!

Potato and Roasted Garlic Soup

Potato and Roasted Garlic Soup

Potato and Roasted Garlic Soup

Before the food allergy apocalypse hit, I was a sucker for those huge 9 x 12 inch gorgeously photographed 200 page cookbooks that were always on sale for 5 or 6 bucks on the clearance tables at Borders (when it still existed) or Barnes & Noble. I have about six of them.  When Mary Kate and I were talking about what we should develop for the coming months, it fell to me to develop a soup from the Roasted Vegetable Stock that Mary Kate was going to post. I tend to use more beef and pork (no more chicken for me, sigh) in my every day “normal” cooking and most of my standard soups have a protein in them. So to get ideas, I went looking through my cookbook collection and found Best Ever Soups: Over 200 Brand New Recipies for Delicious Soups, Broths, Chowders, Bisques, Consommes on the shelf. I took it out and went for a spin through it. Now, about half of the recipes in the book are now off limits to me, but I can see a lot of room for modification and de-allergizing, which is a lesson in and of itself. I don’t have to look at the cookbooks as off limits because I can’t eat that stuff anymore, I can use them to get inspiration for my new way of eating. I can look at them as a way to say, “hey, I still want to eat something like that, how do you think I can tweek it?”

So using the recipe in the book and making a few minor tweeks, I give you a soup with potatoes, Mary Kate’s Roasted Vegetable Stock, and roasted garlic. Because how can that be bad? Other than roasting the garlic, the rest of the prep is relatively simple. This would make a good weeknight dinner if you threw the garlic in the oven while you read the mail, check your email and change into your pajamas (oh wait…does everyone else do that just after you walk in the door too?). Or it’d make a nice side or appetizer for a weekend dinner. I’m serving it with a mustard and maple syrup marinated pork loin and a green salad.

Potato and Roasted Garlic Soup

Serves 4

  • 2 bulbs of garlic with the tops trimmed off, but unpeeled (or 1/2 cup of already roasted garlic that you may have on hand, see below)
  • 1 Tablespoon of olive oil
  • 4 large potatoes or 5 small to medium potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 8 cups of Roasted Vegetable Stock (I’d avoid using the dill in the stock for this soup, but any of the other herbs should work fine)
  • 1 small onion or one half of a large onion, peeled and diced
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • a dash or two of hot sauce (a Tabasco style hot sauce would be lovely)
  • fresh parsley to garnish

Pre-heat your oven to 375°F. Trim the top of the garlic bulbs just so the tops of the cloves are showing.

Garlic bulb with its top trimmed

Garlic bulb with its top trimmed

Place the bulbs on a small roasting pan or sheet pan and drizzle the olive oil over the trimmed garlic bulbs.

Garlic bulbs drizzled with olive oil

Garlic bulbs drizzled with olive oil

Roast the garlic until for 45 minutes or until it’s soft in the center of the cloves. (Or if you want to make your life really easy, if you have some roasted garlic already prepared {here’s how to do it, takes an hour, do a bunch ahead of time and store it in a jar in your fridge or freeze it so you can use when you want it without the aggravation}, use half a cup and mash it up before adding to the soup.) Once your bulbs have roasted, take them out of the oven and set them aside to cool a bit.

Roasted Garlic Bulbs

Roasted Garlic Bulbs

Add your roasted vegetable stock and the peeled and diced onion to a large stock pot, and simmer on medium high.

Stock and onions in stock pot

Stock and onions in stock pot

Then peel and dice your potatoes.

Peeled and diced potatoes

Peeled and diced potatoes

Par-boil the potatoes in another pot in salted boiling water for 10 minutes.

While the potatoes are cooking, squeeze the cooked garlic out of the bulbs (I found it easiest to do it a couple of cloves at a time) into a prep bowl.

Roasted Garlic removed from bulbs

Roasted Garlic removed from bulbs

When all the cooked garlic has been separated from the bulbs, add the cooked garlic to your roasted vegetable stock, and stir it well.

Once your potatoes have finished cooking, drain them.

Par-boiled potatoes after draining

Par-boiled potatoes after draining

After draining, add them to the roasted vegetable stock. Simmer for 20 minutes and then season to taste with salt, pepper and hot sauce. Serve topped with a bit of parsley to make it look pretty, and enjoy!

Potato and Roasted Garlic Soup

Potato and Roasted Garlic Soup

2014-03-28 Fabulous Friday Finds

 

Mayan Ruins in Belize, because why not?

Mayan Ruins in Belize, because why not?

(I don’t know how Denise knew that I (Mary Kate) just finished a book about a time-traveling astroarchaeologist in Mayan ruins in December 2012, but I am loving the photo.)

Nerd alert: This is the coolest ring I’ve ever seen, and possibly the oldest “smart” jewelry on the planet.

I bought a foaming handwash container specifically so I could make my own refill for it when it ran out. This recipe uses soap nut liquid, which I’ve not tried yet — have you used it? I was just planning to use castille soap, but I do want to try soap nuts.

Marshmallow Fluff. I (Denise) miss it. Here’s a recipe for it that’s GAPS and Paleo, but it uses honey.  If you have safe honey (sometimes a problem for those of us allergic to corn) you can use it, but I’m thinking I could do it with the cane sugar syrup I make to replace corn syrup. 

I know that I post a lot of spicy stuff, but I also need to make this Sichuan Chili OilBecause it would be awesome for spicy Asian style dishes. Which I need to work on more of for the blog. So win-win for everyone.

We hope you have a great weekend and that Spring finally works on making an appearance. This fashionably late stuff is annoying. (This is beyond “fashionably late.” Now it’s just downright rude.)

WW: Living with Food Allergies – Getting Sick while Getting Well

We don't want to end up as exhibits ourselves...

We don’t want to end up as exhibits ourselves…

One of the surprising things about having food allergies is the fear of getting sick and whether the process of getting well will make you sicker. It’s much more complicated than you might imagine.

Name Tag DeniseIn January, I managed to get either bronchitis or pneumonia, which affected my asthma to the point that my nurse practitioner considered admitting me to the hospital because they couldn’t get a peak (air) flow at first. I did a nebulizer treatment in the office and then talked them out of admitting me. Why did I talk them out of admitting me? Well, yeah I hate the hospital, who doesn’t? But my first reaction, was “what would I eat? There’s no way they could serve me corn-free food, let alone deal with the other 12 allergies.” My second reaction was “I’ll get a rash from the sheets; there’s coconut in their detergent.” And although I’ve saved the Corn Allergy Girl’s Emergency Room Safety Doc to my phone, I was there by myself and wasn’t sure I had the air to self-advocate for what I would need at the hospital.

I didn’t have the money to pay for compounded medication, as our insurance doesn’t cover it and I didn’t know how long it would take to get it compounded. I ended up choosing the lesser of two evils and taking three regular medications, all of which had corn. Although it did help me breathe and get over the bronchitis or pneumonia, it also caused me to have a corn reaction the entire time I was on the medication. So I swelled up like I had gained 20 pounds, broke out in cystic acne, broke out in blisters on my foot so that the bottom of my foot had open wounds in a 2 inch square area, had terrible brain fog, and had insomnia during the whole time. And it took me weeks to get clear of the corn reaction, once my lungs had cleared and I could breathe again, and for my foot to heal. 

This raises the question of what will happen when I really have to be admitted to the hospital. I’ve known that I really need to have a plan in place, but I still haven’t gotten myself together. I would need safely-laundered sheets, pillow cases, and bed clothes; safe toiletries; a list of the foods and derivatives to which I’m allergic; and actual safe food and drink. I keep putting it off, but one of these days I’m going to need it and then I’m going to be sorry that I didn’t get around to doing it. 

One of the things I find most disturbing about seeking medical care is that the medical profession just doesn’t seem to know what’s in the stuff they prescribe. I love my nurse practitioner, but when I needed an antibiotic, she asked me which one was corn-free. I had some testing done at the time of my annual physical and I turned out to be low in Vitamin D and magnesium. The nurse called to tell me the results and to tell me to get a supplement. I laughed and said I wouldn’t be able to find one that was corn and coconut-free. The nurse, in an attempt to be helpful, called back later and left a message with several suggestions. Then I had to call her back and tell her that half of the ingredients in the ones she had suggested were corn and coconut derived. 

I went to the optometrist in December. She said my eyes looked irritated and I needed drops. I said that I was allergic to milk, corn and coconut (these are the most prevalent of my allergens in medications). She handed me three sets of drops so I could look at the ingredients. None them were safe. I tried to seek alternative care through a naturopath, and she wanted me to go on supplements, and I again laughed. And sure enough, all of the ones she wanted me to take had corn and/or coconut derivatives. I got such a bad vibe from her lack of knowledge and insistence that it was a good company making the supplements that I never went back.

Before I was diagnosed with the corn allergy, I was having a lot of trouble with brain fog to the point that I was literally concerned that I was getting a brain tumor or that I had early dementia. I was forgetting the names of people I saw every day and the names for every day objects, or saying the incorrect word for an object. Some days it happened 25-30 times by noon. I went to a neurologist, an audiologist and did a sleep study. Then, being severely unhappy with the neurologist who didn’t listen to me, went to another one, and got sent to have a dementia evaluation. During this time I was told that it was sleep debt from my insomnia and mild sleep apnea. I was prescribed 3-4 different insomnia medications, none of which had the slightest effect. So I decided to discontinue treatment. Guess what? When I went off the corn, the brain fog went away, one of my two types of my insomnia went away, and I’m willing to bet if I ever went through the excruciating process of a sleep study ever again (unlikely in the extreme) that my sleep apnea will have diminished as well. I’ve dropped about 20 pounds or so, and gone down three sizes, without trying to since going off the corn, wheat and chicken after the last round of testing. Since then, every time I’ve been exposed to corn accidentally, I get insomnia that night, and for the next couple of days I lose my words. Sounds like a causal relationship to me. 

The problem with all this, and which will be discussed in greater depth in a future post, is that I cannot depend on my medical professionals to know whether medical issues I’m having are related or not related to food allergies. If they are not related, I cannot depend on them to know how to treat the problem given my food allergies, what’s available under my insurance plan, and what pharmaceutical companies actually make. And with the amount of self-advocating and figuring it out myself I do now, what happens when I really get dementia or can’t communicate, and have to go to the nursing home?  Skydiving, cliff diving or eating fugu in my old age sounds better all the time.

Name Tag MKNow, my allergies aren’t quite as severe as Denise’s, and I’m not allergic to corn or coconut, which are in everything. In some respects, this is great, because I also have ongoing idiopathic (the technical term for “we have no idea why”) vitamin and mineral absorption issues, and the supplements I take are part of what keep me functioning. All the ones Denise and I have looked at together contain corn. ALL of them.

This past winter, one of my doctors did a full vitamin and mineral evaluation, and we discovered some really random deficiencies. It took three tries before we found a B-complex I could take — the first one that she recommended had an ingredient I was allergic to in it — and she’s the one who did that round of testing. I took the second one and got a cold. Or, at least, that’s what it felt like — one of those colds where, you feel fine, and then, sort of suddenly, your head is stuffed, your nose is running, your eyes are glassy and teary. That was a Thursday afternoon, and I called in sick the next day. Weirdly, though, around 5 pm, I started to feel fine. I guess there are 24-hour stomach viruses, so why not a 30-hour cold? Felt fine all weekend: I’d left the supplement on my desk. When I remembered taking it again, it was Tuesday. Same pattern, exactly, except this time I had to leave a meeting because my head was filling with snot. 30 hours later? Fine. To me, it was absolutely an easy call — allergy reaction — and one I had to convince my doctor of. We tried a third B supplement, and this one is fine, but you can bet I read the label about 200 times before taking it.

Our insurance company switched prescription providers this year, and of the three medicines I take, all of which are available in generic forms, this new company provides different generics, and at least one of the three contains milk or a milk-derivative, which is causing minor issues. Again, for clarity’s sake — I do not (probably) have a milk allergy, just severe lactose intolerance. I’ve been taking this drug for three months anyway, because being off of it causes more issues than being on it with milk, and I couldn’t get in to see my doctor until April anyway, to see if there is a way to ask for a generic without milk without getting a DAW (dispense as written) prescription for the non-generic drug which could cost me 70 times more. Yeah, that’s not a typo — it’s the difference between paying $1 and $70.

Milk and wheat are the basis for a lot of fillers used in pharmaceuticals, and there is no requirement that these be clearly labeled, anywhere, nor that pharmacists, prescribing doctors, or nurses have any knowledge of the allergens that may be present in the drugs they prescribe. So even if you think you are safe because your doctor is aware of your allergies, you are not. You need to ask the doctor to check potential allergens (if your doctor won’t or can’t or doesn’t know how, that’s really not great). Then ask the pharmacist again. And go online and check. If you’re on a name-brand drug, checking isn’t too bad; with generics, it can be kind of awful, and worse if the generics can be switched up any time the pharmacy company chooses.

Frankly the vigilance is tiring, and it’s tempting to castigate yourself for every slip. I try to remember how unhelpful that is, but stock it up as a reminder that no one else will advocate for my health the way that I do, partly because no one else has to deal with it when I get sick.

Roasted Vegetable Stock

Garnished Broth. Photo by Jack Andrews

Garnished Broth. Photo by Jack Andrews

I know. It’s spring. Or, rather, “spring.” The thing is? It’s still pretty cold here, and on top of that, damp. So, basically, it’s still soup weather, and rather than being cranky about it, let’s just make some good veggie stock to cook up some of the vegetables that might, in a perfect world, soon be coming out of the ground. Or, maybe, going into the ground. Man, this whole seasonal blah is really not inspiring me! But I’m hungry, and soup is good.

So. Soup stock. As with Denise’s Roasted Beef Stock, this vegetable stock gets a lot of its flavor from caramelizing the sugars in the vegetables by roasting them first. Deglazing the roasting pan with white wine or sherry adds a little extra hit of flavor, but if you don’t have or don’t want to use alcohol, water will work. Just make sure to scrape the bits up really well — there’s flavor in there.

This stock can be the base for pretty much any soup, though if you’re going for a specific flavor profile, consider that when choosing your herbs. I’ve given very specific measurements here because part of the reason we’re posting basics like stock is that we know that some people have always purchased stock, either in bouillon cubes or in boxes or cans. Allergies take away that option (damn allergies) or make it difficult, so if soup stock is part of your learning curve, we’ve got it covered. BUT. Stock is inherently flexible, so feel free to play with the recipe. You do not need exactly what I’ve used, and the measurements are overly precise (unnecessarily so) just in case you’re a newbie and want that. I weighed everything that was roasted, just for you, and since I was doing that, did metric and US weights. I don’t actually know metric measurements otherwise, so they aren’t included other than that. Sorry about that.

A note on ingredients and prep: in a stock, you’re extracting flavor. So you want the best produce you can buy, and you want to alter it as little as possible. Because of this, when possible, I buy organic vegetables to roast, and I wash them well. I don’t peel them. Chop them roughly, and remove only parts that are bad or brown, and any parts that might burn (onion skin).

Ungarnished Broth. Photo by Jack Andrews

Ungarnished Broth. Photo by Jack Andrews

Roasted Vegetable Stock

There are two sets of ingredients in this recipe. The first set get roasted. The second set go straight into the stock pot.

Roasted Ingredients

Roasted Ingredients

To go into the oven:

  • 7 carrots (9.5 oz, 269g)
  • 7 stalks of celery, plus core (15 oz, 425g)
  • 2 apples (12 oz, 345g)
  • 1 onion (8.5 oz, 237g)
  • 4 large shallots (1 lb., 453g)
  • a handful of garlic cloves, about half a head on a typical US-sized clove (2 oz, 64g)
  • 1/4 to 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 Tablespoon salt
  • 1/4 cup of white wine, red wine, sherry, or water (reserved — use this after roasting)

Preheat your oven to 400°F.

Chop the carrots and celery into about 1 inch chunks — remove any greenery from carrots, and remove and reserve all the celery leaves (see below). Quarter the apples and remove the part of the core containing the seeds. Quarter the onion and halve each quarter — remove all the papery skin. Same with the shallots (note — I used shallots here because they looked good at the store when I was buying the veg — you could just use another onion or two here, but less in weight than shallots, as shallots are milder). Remove the skin on the garlic cloves.

Place all the veg in a baking pan or roasting pan with sides, metal is preferred. Douse them with olive oil and salt, and turn everything around in the oil until it’s well-coated.

Put the pan in the oven and set the timer for 30 minutes. You’ll need an hour, possibly an hour and a half to get a good caramelized brown all over all your veg, so plan accordingly. Check every 30 minutes, and beware of sticking your head close to the oven as you open it — there’s a lot of steam in there. And yes, I forget that every.single.time.

Now, your second set of ingredients for the stock — the ones that do not get roasted.

Into the stockpot:

  • another handful of garlic cloves
  • all of the celery leaves — don’t waste them!
  • 1/2 a bunch of parsley
  • 3-4 sprigs of dill, or another fresh herb that looks good at your store and is soup-appropriate (rosemary, basil, oregano, thyme — all would be good options)(optional, but adds freshness)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 1 Tablespoon whole peppercorns (this does NOT make your stock hot — the peppercorns aren’t broken, so most of the oil stays in, but it adds a nice flavor) (if you are Denise and you’re making this, you would likely add dried chilies here instead, but those will be hot — if that’s your thing, do it!)
  • about 10 cups of water

Get all this (MINUS the water) ready in your pot while everything else roasts.

When the roasting is done, scrape the roasted veg directly into the stockpot. Deglaze your pan with your water or wine by pouring the cold liquid on the hot pan and using that to scrape up all the roasted bits stuck to the pan. Add that to the stock pot.

Then add water, enough cover all the stuff in the pan by about two inches. Bring this to a boil, then reduce and simmer for 30-45 minutes.

Strain out and discard the vegetables and herbs, and either use it to make soup right away, or store it. This should keep in the fridge for about a week, or store it in the freezer. With 10 cups of water, I got not quite 3 full quart jars of stock.

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