Sunday, November 21, 2010

Make and Take


Well another major holiday season is upon us, and that makes me nervous. Anytime I have to take the kids out for meals or any food related celebration at another's home. I run through the usual concerns in my mind: will there be items they can eat, will they be victims of cross contamination, will I hear the "no fair" blues from them? But, as I illustrated in a previous post, there are tips I can offer to make your experience more pleasant.

1) Be Pushy

I'm not one to elbow my way to the front of a buffet line, no matter how hungry I am, but in the case of food sensitivities it is important to be served first in order to lessen the chance for cross contamination. If you don't believe me, observe a buffet table and I will guarantee you will see someone serve themselves glutenny stuffing and then stick the same spoon in the carrots (otherwise permissible). Even better, ask your host if you can make up a plate for your child in the kitchen before the food even hits the table.

Discuss with older children what their options are on the table. Although you may wish that your protective wings will always be spread over your children, they won't. At some point your children will have to go out into the world and be in charge of their own illness or allergy. This is a good opportunity for them to test the waters.

If your grandmother tells you that little Susie can have "just one of her special nut crescents; it won't hurt her". You have to politely and firmly educate grandma and reiterate that one nut crescent, however delicious, is one too many.

2) Be Clear

You should definitely speak to your hosts beforehand so that they know the special dietary needs of your family members. Whether they do anything special is another story. Don't resent them if they don't. Some people are very confused when it comes to food allergies and celiac disease. They are afraid of "messing up", so they prefer that you bring your own food. This is fine, and in many cases preferable in my opinion. On the other end of the spectrum you have those that want to try really hard to accommodate special dietary needs, but fall short. For example, once I spoke to a hostess and told her I would like to bring meals for two of my children. She was adamant that she would be able to provide food for them. We discussed that in the context of her planned menu, she would leave a couple of pieces of chicken plain for the girls. When dinner was served she said, "Ooops! I totally forgot. But I made the sauce myself (that's on all the chicken), it's just honey and mustard, nothing else." That's lovely except Rosie is allergic to mustard.

For Thanksgiving you may have a situation where the host seems to understand your needs, but goes ahead and puts flour in the turkey baking bag (as is suggested by the manufacturer---sub-potato starch by the way), either forgetting about the gluten issues, or thinking that doesn't "count". Well, it does and you must be clear about everything.

3) Bring a Dish

If your hostess' husband decides to pour the gravy (thickened with flour--again sub-potato or cornstarch) over all the turkey which your very diligent hostess made otherwise gluten free, you are out of luck for a main course. So, it is a good idea to bring a dish that is filling, and everyone can enjoy. Just be careful, as above, about cross contamination once the dish hits the table. I also like to bring an extra special, showstopping dessert. I feel this makes Lillie and Rosie feel less bad about not being able to eat everything on the table. In addition, for children their ages, desserts are a big deal. At holiday time, they are often extra special offerings, so I want to ensure they feel included and satisfied.

Overall, it is not impossible to eat at others homes and enjoy the camaraderie and festivity of celebrations, but you must do your homework beforehand, and not let down your guard at the actual event.
Happy Eating!

This corn pudding is both gluten free and vegan. You may substitute one large egg for the cornstarch mixture, which will render it vegetarian, but not vegan. This is a hearty and homey side dish, and can be a filling main course for those who forgo meat on Thanksgiving.

Vegan Corn Pudding (Spoon Bread)

2 Tablespoons non-dairy margarine (such as Earth Balance Buttery Sticks)
3/4 cup gluten-free yellow cornmeal*
1/4 cup all-purpose gluten free flour blend or oat flour (gluten free certified oats only)
1 Tablespoon granulated sugar (or agave nectar)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
ground black pepper, to taste
1 Tablespoon cornstarch dissolved in 3 Tablespoons warm water
1- 15-ounce can non-dairy cream style corn (such as Green Giant brand)
1-11-ounce can whole sweet corn, drained (frozen corn, thawed or steamed, fresh may be used)
1/4 teaspoon Frank's Red Hot sauce (or any that is gluten free)
2 Tablespoons jarred or canned sliced jalapeno peppers, drained and chopped (optional)
1 1/2 cups soy or rice milk (reduce by 1/4 cup if a more cornbready texture is desired)

*Note: I didn't have gluten free cornmeal on hand, so I used gluten free dry polenta (corn grits), which I ground finer in the food processor. Cornmeal has the same contamination problem as oats, so be sure to buy one that is marked gluten free. You can also use Ener-G brand Corn Mix.

Pre-heat oven to 375F degrees. Place margarine in a 9x9 or 8x8 square pan and place in oven until melted. If you are using Pyrex, this may be done in a microwave. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together dry ingredients. Add next five ingredients until well blended. Whisk in soy milk.

Pour mixture into prepared pan and bake for one hour, or until top appears golden brown, no longer moist, and slightly cracked. Serve warm.

Yield: 8-10 servings

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Best we could do


I stared down at the finished cake on the counter in front of me. Instead of looking like the beloved image of Minnie Mouse I had known since I was a child, a slightly crazed looking cartoon mouse stared back at me. It reminded me of "Itchy and Scratchy", The Simpsons' slightly crazed version of the iconic "Tom and Jerry". I sighed and said to myself, "It's the best I could do, and I just hope it's the best cake a four year old has ever seen." It was late and I had spent an hour decorating the cake that Rosie had requested for her birthday. Not to mention the hour it took to bake, plus the time spent going to the store to buy the mold, and the time researching a vegan and gluten-free recipe which will satisfy all my children's needs. I thought back to how I once stayed up until 1:30 am, with a sinus infection, 8 months pregnant to decorate a 3-dimensional duck cake for Lillie's second birthday. If that's not love, I don't know what is!

I looked down at the kitchen floor and debated whether to mop it. I easily decided against it, as I would have nearly over a dozen four year olds tramping across it the next day. The living room was strewn with toys and Daisie's clothes, which she now changes at will for seemingly no reason several times a day. Posie slept peacefully in her swing as I debated what I could do to make the house look presentable before she woke up and demanded my attention, possibly until the wee hours of the morning. I sighed. It will just have to do, and laughingly thought I'll just try and keep the parents at the door, the kids won't care how my house looks. Finding it impossible to be a perfectionist these days, even if I wanted to, I decided it's just the best I could do. And, I think that's the most anyone should expect from any parent. When I had my first child, a friend of mine, who is a child psychologist, told me about the "Good Enough Parent" concept. Gone are the days of perfect parents imagined in the Dr. Spock era. Followed onto the trash heap are the overindulgent yuppie parents who tried to not only be perfect themselves, but also to make perfect children (all probably ending up in intensive pshycotherapy BTW). Nowadays just being good enough is enough. What a great concept! When you have a child with special needs for which you try to compensate, I think the idea of trying to do everything perfect in the act of compensation is quite prevalent. For me, my child has to have the perfect gluten free cupcake in order that she doesn't feel different from all her other classmates eating bakery cupcakes. I've been searching for the perfect gluten free bread so that Lillie can have a decent sandwich at lunchtime. It can be tough, but ultimately I think it's only as tough as we make it for ourselves. Recently I spoke with a parent who was in the process of going gluten free for her son. I ran into the woman dropping her son off at the first birthday party he was attending as a gluten free eater. She took out his permitted snacks, then told me she ran into technical difficulty trying to make a gluten free pizza for her son. It was so important to her that he could have the same thing as everyone else for lunch at the party. She had spent all morning on the endeavor only to end up empty handed. She felt slightly defeated and greatly frustrated. The mother told me she was running over to our local pizza shop to get him an order of fries in order that he would have something special for the party. "But" I said anxiously as she had one leg in her car, "they fry the breaded onion rings and mozzarella sticks in the same oil--it's not really gluten free!" She froze and looked like she might either strangle me or cry or both. I instantly felt bad. "It is good enough for now" she said. I didn't disagree.

As I watched the kids at Rosie's party chomp on their cake without any indication they knew it was gluten free or vegan, I thought that we're often harder on ourselves than we believe others are of us. We're our own "toughest customers". At the end of the day, a smile on our child's face is the biggest indicator that we are "good enough"!

I discovered a fabulous new recipe book called The Allergen-Free Baker's Handbook by Cybele Pascal. It has recipes that are gluten, wheat, dairy, egg, soy , peanut, tree nut and sesame free. It is my new baking bible. The page for chocolate cake is already batter streaked and worn. Run, don't walk, to buy this book! The author calls for using her own flour blend, but as I had difficulty finding the ingredients required, I substituted Jules All-Purpose Gluten Free Flour Blend, and it worked beautifully.

Chocolate Layer Cake
from The Allergen-Free Baker's Handbook, p.p. 106-107

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour blend (see note above)
1 1/4 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon xanthan gum (if not included in flour blend already)
2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoon double-acting baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 Tablespoon Ener-G egg replacer mixed with 1/4 cup rice milk
1 1/4 cups rice milk
1/2 cup plus 2 Tablespoons canola oil
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups warm water

1. Preheat the oven to 350F degrees. Grease two 8-inch round cake pans, line with cutout parchment paper, grease again, and dust with a little cocoa powder (or just spray with Pam).

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whisk together the flour mix, cocoa powder, xanthan gum, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt.

3. Add the egg replacer, rice milk, canola oil, vanilla, and warm water and beat on medium-low speed until smooth, about 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.

4. Divide the batter evenly between the two pans.

5. Bake in the center of the oven for about 45 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through. Bake until the cake is pulling away slightly from the sides of the pans and a skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

6. Let cool in the pans on a cooling rack for 30 minutes. Cover the cake pan with a large plate, flip, peel off the parchment paper, and flip the cake back onto the rack, right side up, to cool completely. Repeat with the other cake. Frost as desired. Store covered.