Thursday, December 24, 2009

Party Planning


This morning the girls were setting up a pretend birthday party in their playroom. They laid out plastic play cups and plates, Lillie donned a birthday crown, and as far as I could tell Daisie was the only guest. I overheard Rosie tell Lillie that the cupcakes were gluten and allergic for her. Lillie responded that at this party noone is allergic to anything. I thought it was bittersweet. Cute in how even in play Rosie warned Lillie to be careful of the cupcakes, yet a bit sad that my girls could only eat whatever they want in pretend play.

In reality, one who has special dietary needs must be prepared for parties and celebrations. Our holiday season just ended, and for many around the world theirs is just beginning. I have a few strategies to help manage parties with your celiac or allergic child (or even yourself). But, above all your mantra needs to be "Be Prepared!"

1. Talk to your Host: Although it may be awkward to grill your host on what they are serving, it is necessary. I don't expect the host to prepare anything special for my children, but I do try and find out if there is anything they can eat. Recently, a very nice mother sat on the phone with me and read ingredient lists from items she planned to serve at her child's birthday party. I told her it wasn't necessary, but she very much wanted to provide food for Lillie.

2. Cross Contamination Conundrum: After ascertaining from your host whether or not your children will have something to eat at their home, you now have to explain that just because the food is gluten/allergy free doesn't mean they can put it in their mouth. You must explain the dangers of cross contamination, especially at a party when the food is often buffet style, and people may stick a serving spoon from permissible food into non-permissible food and back. Ask if they can take off your child's portion before the food even leaves the kitchen. I was very proud of Lillie when the mother of the birthday girl told me that Lillie said she didn't feel comfortable eating a certain snack even though she knew it was gluten free, because the children were sticking their hands in non-permissible food at the same time. The best thing you can do is prepare your children to advocate for can't be there with them 24/7!

3. Pack a Lunch: There may not be food your children can eat at someone else's house, therefore you should pack them an appropriate meal and snack. I find it's always good to try and have your child's meal "fit in" with what the host is serving. This seems to foster a sense of inclusion. For a party last week, I spoke to the mother and found out what she was serving, then prepared a "corresponding" meal for Lillie. The other kids were having pasta, flavored potato chips and cake. So Lillie had gluten free pasta, plain potato chips and a gluten free cupcake. Her friends are used to her toting along food, and it's now basically non-issue. She came home talking excitedly about the games she played and a magic show, and not once mentioned the food.

4. Share a Dish: Ask the hostess if you can bring a main dish or dessert to the party that everyone can enjoy. This way your children will definitely have something to eat, and they won't feel "different". Gluten free lasagna is a good choice, as it is almost indiscernible from the wheat variety (I use Tinkyada brand noodles). Bring something that travels well, such as a casserole or salad. Pyrex makes a line of baking dishes that come with insulated carriers and hot/cold packs. They work beautifully and your dish can hit the table even without being heated up. The less it is "handled" the less risk you have for cross contamination. A plate of cookies or brownies is a good choice, as you avoid the need to use serving utensils. You don't have to worry about someone cutting into a glutenful cake and then using the same cake server for a gluten free cake.

Overall, you want to make the situation run as smoothly as possible for your child so they (and you) can enjoy the celebration! This means a bit of legwork on your part, but it is worthwhile in the end.

This versatile meatless recipe is from one of my favorite cookbooks, Vegetarian Pleasures by Jeanne Lemlin. It can be used either as a main course served with rice on the side or warm corn tortillas. Or, it makes a nice hot dip served with tortilla chips. The original recipe calls for dried beans and whole tomatoes, but why make your life hard, I substitute canned beans and diced tomatoes. The prep time is under 30 minutes with this simple sub.

Baked Mexican-style Beans with Sour Cream and Chilies
adapted from Vegetarian Pleasures by Jeanne Lemlin, p. 50

2 - 15 ounce cans kidney or pinto beans, rinsed and drained
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 medium sized onions, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
28- ounce can diced tomatoes
1 Tablespoon tomato paste
4 -ounce can mild green chilies, drained and diced (optional)
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 cup sour cream or non-dairy sour cream substitute
2 cups grated (8 ounces) Monterey jack or cheddar cheese or non-dairy soy cheese

1. In a large pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and saute for 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, chilies, oregano, salt and pepper, and raise the heat to high. Cook for five minutes. Add beans, lower heat and simmer for 15 minutes (at this point you can use the beans as a vegetarian chili if you wish).

2. Pre-heat oven 375 degrees. Put half of the bean mixture in a large casserole sprayed with non-stick cooking spray, cover with half of the sour cream and half of the cheese, add the remaining bean mixture, and top with sour cream and cheese.

3. Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until hot and bubbly.

Serves 4 as a main course

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Generally Speaking


I just received a great link to General Mills Live Gluten Freely site. It lists all the General Mills products (and there are many) that are gluten free. Although I realize the main motivation is sales, I still thank General Mills for providing this invaluable information. I wish more companies would jump on the bandwagon and provide clear nutritional information at the click of a mouse.

The list includes such products as Betty Crocker Gluten Free Baking Mixes, Fruit by the Foot and Chex cereals! The list is convenient and worth forwarding to friends and family who may be in a position to feed your gluten free child.

The site also includes some good recipes using General Mills products---of course.

Below is a recipe from the General Mills Live Gluten Freely website utilizing the fabulous Betty Crocker Gluten Free brownie mix

Turtle Brownies

Prep Time: 20 Minutes
Total Time: 2 Hours
Makes: 16 Servings

1 box Betty Crocker® Gluten Free brownie mix

Butter and eggs called for on brownie mix box
25 caramels, unwrapped
2 tablespoons whipping cream
1 teaspoon gluten-free vanilla
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans
1. Heat oven to 350°F (325°F for dark or nonstick pan). Grease bottom of (8- or 9-inch) square pan. In medium bowl, stir together brownie mix, butter and eggs until blended. Spread 2/3 of batter in pan. Bake 10 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, in medium microwavable bowl, microwave caramels and whipping cream uncovered on High 1 to 2 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds, until smooth. Drizzle caramel evenly over partially baked brownie. Sprinkle with half the chocolate chips and half the pecans. Drop remaining brownie batter by small spoonfuls onto caramel layer. Sprinkle with remaining chocolate chips and pecans.Meanwhile, in medium microwavable bowl, microwave caramels and whipping cream uncovered on High 1 to 2 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds, until smooth. Drizzle caramel evenly over partially baked brownie. Sprinkle with half the chocolate chips and half the pecans. Drop remaining brownie batter by small spoonfuls onto caramel layer. Sprinkle with remaining chocolate chips and pecans.
3. Bake 20 to 25 minutes longer or until top of brownie looks dry. Cool completely before cutting. Cut into squares, 4 rows by 4 rows.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Pancake Panache


Last week Rosie's teacher told me she had refused to participate in a baking project that involved eggs. When the clever teacher realized what may be the problem, she asked Rosie if tomorrow they made a cake without eggs would she help? She said yes. Then on Shabbos she started pointing out to Lillie what she could not have because it contained gluten, such as the challah the rest of the family ate. This continued through the weekend with Rosie pointing out that Lillie could not have "her" pasta, even though Lillie had her own. I recognized what was happening. Rosie was only gaining self-awareness of her own allergies. However, Lillie did not recognize the same, and got angry and even physically lashed out at her, as she interpreted Rosie's remarks as teasing and taunting. I took Lillie aside and tried to explain what "going through a stage" meant, and that Rosie wasn't trying to be mean. But even for a bright 5 year old, there is just so much they understand.

I decided for dinner Sunday night we needed something everyone could eat. I also wanted to do something easy as I had been sick the previous week and felt sapped. I had a bag of Trader Joe's Gluten Free Pancake and Waffle Mix, a newer item in their store brand gluten free line, which I was anxious to try. All their gluten free products are delineated by a "g" symbol on the packaging. This definitely makes shopping easier. Having been in the store earlier in the day, I queried the manager whether he had a vegan pancake mix, but he only directed me towards the gluten free one!? Most pancake mixes call for milk, but the Trader Joe's Gluten Free mix specifically calls for rice milk or water. It also boasts it is wheat, peanut, tree nut, milk and dairy, soy and corn free. It does require 2 eggs though, which I substituted Ener-G Egg Replacer for Rosie's sake. The results were fine, although a bit flat. I attributed this to the lack of eggs which give pancakes a fluffy lift. I think a couple of pinches of baking powder would remedy the situation in the future. I felt good about serving this pancake mix to the whole family, as the ingredients are much healthier than your average glutenful pancake mix. Trader Joe's Gluten Free Pancake Mix definitely gets a thumbs up from my family. Lillie even ate seconds, something she usually never does!

Give the kids a few chocolate chips (Trader Joe's are the best!) to make faces or free form designs on the pancakes. Rosie's masterpiece...

With Chanukah arriving tomorrow night, pancakes of the potato variety are on most people's minds. They are a boon to gluten free eaters, as they are basically naturally gluten free. Just substitute potato starch, rice flour, or any gluten free flour blend for the small amount of flour or matzo meal in most recipes. Since there are a gazillion potato latke recipes out there, I will spare you. Instead, I am providing a recipe for Thai Corn Pancakes. This is a popular street food in Thailand, and a colorful, flavorful packed addition to Chanukah celebrations.

Thai Corn Pancakes with Cilantro Mayonnaise
from Recipe Encyclopedia, Pub. Crescent Books, p. 307

2 cloves garlic
1 small red chili pepper
3/4 inch piece fresh ginger or 1/8 teaspoon ground, dried ginger
2 eggs or equivalent egg substitute
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 Tablespoons fresh cilantro leaves
fresh ground black pepper
1 Tablespoon sweet chili sauce
14 ounce can sweet corn kernels, drained
1 Tablespoon peanut or vegetable oil (more as needed for frying)

Cilantro Mayonnaise
2/3 cup mayonnaise or Nayonaise (a vegan mayonnaise substitute)
1/4 cup lime juice
1/3 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
8 scallions, finely chopped
freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Coarsely chop the garlic; chop the chili pepper and ginger. Place the eggs, cornstarch, cilantro leaves, garlic, chili, ginger, pepper, chili sauce and half the corn in a food processor. Process in short bursts for 30 seconds or until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and fold in remaining corn.

2. Heat the oil in a large frying pan. Spoon 2 Tablespoons of the corn mixture into a frying pan (repeat leaving 1 inch between pancakes) and cook over medium heat for 2-3 minutes or until golden. Turn over and cook the second side for 1-2 minutes or until the pancakes are cooked through. Repeat the process until all the mixture is used. Drain pancakes on a paper towel.

3. To make the Cilantro Mayonnaise: Combine the mayonnaise, lime juice, cilantro and scallions in a bowl. Mix well. Add pepper to taste. Serve the pancakes hot or cool with a dollop of Cilantro Mayonnaise.

Serves: 6