Allergy Shmallergy

Simplifying life for families with food allergies.

Happy Birthday! (Peanuts, Tree nuts, Milk, Eggs, Wheat/Gluten) December 31, 2010

Today is my birthday.  And, I’ve been up for hours now baking my own allergy-free birthday cake so that my son can enjoy it with me later.  The effort is totally worth it when I see him eating the frosting (and sometimes ONLY the frosting) and then walking around the house with it smeared inexplicably in his hair and other oddball locations.  My recipe is simple and delicious.  But had I planned ahead a little, I could have ordered a cake from some amazing allergy-free bakeries and slept in!

Here are my favorites:

Divvies:  Located near my parents’ house in NY, Divvies makes allergy-free popcorn, cupcakes, amazing cookies (don’t miss the ginger molasses, even if you think you don’t like that kind) and candy.  The owners are parents of a food allergic child and are extremely conscientious of allergy-related issues.  Divvies ships and has devised a clever way to package things like cupcakes to ensure they arrive looking perfect!


And, locally (DC Metro area):  Free For All Cupcakes makes outstanding milk, egg and nut-free cupcakes of all varieties in an allergy-free environment.   They also make gluten-free, vegan and organic cupcakes with all kinds of available frosting flavors and fun decorations.  Best of all, they are delicious and convenient!

Happy Birthday to me and Happy New Year to you!


Gluten-free Pizza in Connecticut December 24, 2010

If you live in Fairfield County and you can’t eat wheat or gluten, you are in LUCK!   I was just shopping in New Canaan, CT yesterday when I noticed that one of the town’s most delicious and enduring pizza shops now offers gluten-free pizza.  How I would have killed for this when my son was allergic to wheat (now outgrown).

For those of you still avoiding wheat or gluten, Pinocchio Pizza is a great option.  Located on Elm Street, it has been featured on the Today Show, Emeril Live, Rachel Ray and the Food Network to name a few.

If you know of other gluten-free pizza options, feel free to share it with others below.


Know Before You Go (Peanut) December 21, 2010

With food allergies, it’s important to be informed before you go out to eat.  This is especially true when you have kids.  All that loading and unloading and the fussiness that hunger brings…  it’s a wonder us parents don’t meltdown first!  There’s often no time to make a mistake in choosing a restaurant.


So, before you go, those with peanut allergies should know to avoid the following nice, but not particularly allergy-friendly, restaurants:


Whitlow’s on Wilson (items fried in peanut oil) – Arlington, VA

Chick Fil-A (peanut oil) – various locations

Five Guys (peanut oil) – various locations

Rockland’s BBQ (shellable peanuts strewn about restaurant) – Arlington, VA and Washington, DC



If you know of other restaurants that fit this unfortunate bill, please add a comment and let others’ know!


Wheat and Gluten-free Breakfast Option

Filed under: Grocery and Supermarkets — malawer @ 1:41 pm
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When my son was allergic to wheat, we struggled to find him easy options for breakfast.  Aside from fruit and bacon (not that they both are super delicious), all traditional breakfast foods seemed to contained something he was allergic to.


I felt awful serving him nearly the same thing morning after morning, until…  I stumbled across Nature’s Path Organic Buckwheat waffles in Wildberry.  They are gluten and wheat free, but you wouldn’t know it.  And, they taste AMAZING.


Even though he’s long outgrown his wheat allergy, our family continues to eat these, preferring them over all other brands and even the homemade variety.  A perfect and delicious option for breakfast on the go!


McLean Family Restaurant – Here or Anywhere December 20, 2010

If it’s breakfast time and a weekend, you’ll most likely find our family dining at the McLean Family Restaurant (known to locals as MFR) in McLean, VA.  We go there so often that the waitstaff no longer gives us menus and barely even takes our order.  In fact, they just bring my husband his meal without even looking at him… he’s what we call “predictable.”  It’s not just the convenient proximity, nor the friendly staff, nor the delicious food that draws us there.  It’s their flexibility and attention to detail that keeps us coming.


In this case, the details are important:  my son, my father-in-law and mother-in-law, who all have food allergies.  Who all, by the way, have DIFFERENT food allergies.  You can imagine ordering sometimes takes quite a while with all the questions and omissions.  The manager and owners are attentive and thorough about understanding our families’ specific needs.  So much so that they have actually brought me packaging from premade or other specialty items to read, approve, or be reassured by them.


Family owned restaurants are a great resources to those of us who live with food allergies.  For one,  owners are generally on-hand and managers are very familiar with the menu – often enough to know immediately whether or not an ingredients is used in any given dish.   Secondly, dishes can be altered slightly to accomdate; such as asking for something to be sauteed in oil rather than butter.  And, menus tend to be easy to mix and match.  For example, MFR can easily substitute a sesame seed hamburger bun (allergy alert!) for whole wheat toast or whip up some fruit (only on the breakfast menu) for dessert when my son’s friends all order chocolate cake.


Dim Sum – Yum! (Allergies: Sesame, Peanut, Tree Nut) December 18, 2010

Filed under: Recipes & Cooking — malawer @ 8:51 pm
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photo taken by dslrninja via flickr


I LOVE Chinese food!  I really, really love it.  But, ever since my son was diagnosed with sesame, nut and peanut allergies, we have avoided it like the plague.  Truth be told, our son stood a better chance against the plague.

They say that time heals all wounds.  Something that time doesn’t heal?  A craving for chicken in brown sauce with a side of lo mein.   Commercially available meals were out.  There was just no way to guarantee it was safe with all that sesame oil.   And, cooking it at home?!  Well, let’s just say I’ve burnt soup before.  Yes, soup!

Chinese food always seemed mysterious and complicated to me.  Any dish necessitating a wok just felt scary.   I have no clue what to do with bamboo steamers.   And don’t get me started on the ingredients!  All those unusual ingredients felt so intimidating – especially when trying to decipher, for example, whether a water chestnut is, in fact, a nut or where to buy ward long beans (nevermind what they look or taste like!).

After ignoring my body’s clear “need” for soy sauce and fortune cookies for far too long, I finally decided to try and tackle the insurmountable and try a few recipes.  With only my regular kitchen supplies and a few extra ingredients, I began.  And, you know what?!   I’m not saying I’m ready to conquer a wok, but Chinese cuisine isn’t as tough to whip up as I had thought!  Plus, even with a bunch of ingredient substitutions, the meal was not only edible (miracle) but DELICIOUS!  If I do say so myself…

So, if your family is like ours and needs to avoid commercially produced Asian food, there are a few cooking substitutions you can make to keep food allergic family members safe.

1.  Water Chestnuts are not nuts!  They are marsh inhabiting vegetables and  do not need to be avoided by tree nut allergic individuals.

2.  To maintain the right flavor, I substituted safflower oil for sesame oil.  A little trick I learned from watching the chefs at Japanese steak houses  (Thank you, Benihana!)

3.  Sometimes there’s no substitution when it comes to nuts and peanuts.  But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try the recipe!  One of my most requested meals is Kung Pao Pork, whose key ingredient is peanut (gasp!).  Even without them, the dish is so flavorful you’d never miss peanuts.

4.  Use what you have in the fridge.  Play around with meats.  My Kung Pao Pork is stellar as Kung Pao Chicken.  Sub in (or out) tofu, as you like.  Chinese sauces make their dishes fairly flexible.

5.  Once and a while I cut a few corners with frozen food.  Trader Joe’s make yummy dumplings (Trader Joes Pork Gyoza Potstickers), for example.

The best part of cooking Chinese food at home is that it’s generally healthier than if taken out.  (Bonus for your hard work!)  For us, it exposed my picky, allergic eater to a new world of flavor that he loves!

Try Cooking Light’s Asian recipes as a starting point.  Bon appetit!  Or as they’d say in China:  sihk faahn!