The Allergy-Free Pantry (Review and Giveaway)

One of my favorite people has a new cookbook coming out early next month and I was able to snag an advance copy!  That means the page number references are missing and certain aspects may change by the time the book goes to print but even in that form I can tell you “The Allergy-Free Pantry” by Colette Martin (amazon affiliate link), to-be-released September 9, 2014, is everything the tagline promises:

Make your own staples, snacks, and more without wheat, gluten, dairy, eggs, soy, or nuts.

Advance Review Copy
ARC could mean “Advance Review Copy” or “Already Really Creased”

I’ve baked from Colette’s prior book, “Learning to Bake Allergen-Free,” (amazon affiliate link) so I was excited to choose a recipe out of this book that leaned to the “staple” side of things.  My kids would have rather I made the toaster pastries (I may yet still!)   and I eyed the potato puffs with interest but our decision was made by recently listening to the audiobook of “Little House in the Big Woods.” (amazon affiliate link)

My daughter was fascinated by the stories of pioneer life, especially the detailed descriptions of chores like churning butter.  We’ve even watched some videos online of old fashioned butter making so Colette’s “Homemade Buttery Spread” was just the ticket.  This is dairy free and even corn free.  I remember when my daughter still would react to corn (she’s grown out of that allergy) it was hard to find corn free options of staples.  This includes as ingredients: coconut oil, grapeseed oil, canola oil, flax, water, lemon juice, and salt.   Oh, and in honor of Colette doing all her own photos, I tried to use some manual settings for these pictures!

Ingredients for Colette's Homemade Buttery Spread
Ingredients for Colette’s Homemade Buttery Spread

Colette explains everything – she even discusses at length on the subject of “flax eggs” how you can replace the flax for those that are allergic (chia seeds may be an option).  Her tips on creating a permanent emulsion were especially helpful for this recipe and are applicable to dressings and her homemade mayo recipe as well.  Thank you to my mother in law for slowly drizzling the oil in while I tried to get a good shot.

Emulsion in progress
Emulsion in progress

I used our Vitamix to blend this up but a food processor or immersion blender are listed as possibilities as well.

Heart shaped molds for vegan coconut buttery spread - 1 tablespoon apiece
Heart shaped molds for vegan coconut buttery spread – 1 tablespoon apiece

Just like Ma in “Little House in the Big Woods” (amazon affiliate link), we used molds for our buttery spread.  (Milk is now safe for us but my daughter prefers vegetable spreads for toast since she is used to them.)

I love the little flecks of flax and the coconut oil smells wonderful.  My mother in law remarked, “It’s perfect!  Not that I doubted it for a minute anyway.”  My daughter loved the finished spread, as did I.  My son was not in a taste testing mood.  The flavor does come through strongly but you can always substitute other oils as discussed in the book.  I won’t share the recipe here but I hope you’ll check out the book!  Amy Tracy at Adventures of an Allergic Foodie does have her own review as well as Colette’s homemade mayo recipe on her blog if you’d like to check it out.

Out of the molds
Out of the molds

Colette advises that you may be able to substitute this for shortening when chilled for pie crusts or cookies but doesn’t recommend using it for frosting or syrups.  The book is filled with tips and many were new to me even though I have been baking and cooking allergy friendly for over 4 years now.  At one point she mentions, for example:

I don’t recommend paper liners when baking with gluten-free grains, as they have a tendency to hold in moisture.  Instead, bake directly in the muffin pan and add the paper cups, if desired, after cooling.

Giveaway!

I am not only, courtesy of Colette’s publisher, giving away 1 copy of “The Allergy-Free Pantry” but I will also include, purchased from the affiliate link proceeds of this blog (see my disclosures), one USD $20 Amazon.com gift card to spend as you like!  I hope you’ll take Colette’s suggestion in the book to buy a scale to weigh out your flours but then I thought readers might already have one.

How to Enter:

Leave a comment letting me know something you make from scratch in your home – open to entries until August 13, 2014 at 12 p.m. Pacific Time.

I’ll assign numbers to each comment to represent their order and use a random number generator to pick the winner.  This giveaway is void where prohibited and open to residents of the United States and Canada.  I’ll need you to include your e-mail address  (it will not be shared or used for any other purpose) so I can reach you if you win.  Any winner that doesn’t respond within 24 hours of contact forfeits the prize and I’ll choose another winner.

Thank you and good luck!

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Elsewhere: If you follow my vegetarian and vegan friendly reviews at vegbooks.org, I have a few new ones to check out!  Julia’s House for Lost Creatures (I adored this one),  Sleep Tight, Anna Banana, I Love You Just Enough, The Zoo Box, The Girl and the Bicycle, and Peep and the Big Wide World

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UPDATE 8/14/14 – Our winner is comment 11 from Mary!  Thank you all for your comments – Mary, your book and gift card will be on their way soon!

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Coming Home (Film Review – Helsinki-Tehran, written and directed by Azar Saiyar)

When we were kids we would wait impatiently for my mom to come home from a night’s work in the morning.  Naturally, we swarmed her.

“Let me come home,” she would say, kicking off her clogs and removing her badge.

I always thought she meant she needed to take a shower to get the hospital smell off of her, which was probably part of it, and then years later I thought she meant she had just walked in so accosting her on the threshold wasn’t ideal.

My sister in law once told me she values her drive home from work.  If she was able to teach near her home she would miss it, the chance to unpack her thoughts from the day, to be silent after teaching elementary school children all day.  To switch from her teacher self to her self-self (my words, not hers, I promise she is much more erudite).

Mom has a “hospital voice” and I think I have a “work voice” too.  And a “court voice.”  And the voice when no one is listening.

I think I like that last one best.

When you’re always at work, there is no coming home in the classic drive home sense but instead I have moments, glimmers, of coming home and they happen randomly.  Sometimes it is late at night when I finally flick off the light in my home office/laundry room.  Sometimes it is the sound of my husband’s key in the door signalling that I can come home too.

And sometimes a song or a book or a film brings me home.

My cousin, Azar Saiyar, is a filmmaker.  She looks at things through her artistic lens and I think to myself the patience to view the world in vignettes is a gift.  Knowing she is a filmmaker but never having sought out her work (I don’t know why), I stumbled upon a film she wrote and directed featuring her father, my uncle, Aliakbar Saiyar.

Helsinki-Tehran from Azar Saiyar on Vimeo.

My Uncle Ali died about 4 years ago.  I remember getting the news and rushing to the carpet in our home that he had sent to my father, who gave it to me years later for my 18th birthday.  I touched the tassels, remembering how he would sit in our house and braid them absentmindedly on a visit, breaking only to gesture with his hands as he spoke animatedly to my father in Azari.

I moved my fingertips over the carpet and really felt the sensation of the silk beneath my fingers. My ears roared in that way they do when you have to feel something physical and not just emotionally because of the weight of it.  Thinking about how experience and memory can tie us together but here was something tangible that I could do to act as its own remembrance.

Azar made a film featuring my uncle that I watched this morning but it was made in 2009.  It is about being home, wanting to go home, perhaps taking our home with us through stories and dreams and memories.  It is the story of every immigrant who listens to the music of their childhood, who shares their stories with their children and grandchildren.

Watching it made me feel like coming home.

To know as the postscript to my Uncle Ali’s dreams of going to visit Iran again from Finland that he died there unexpectedly on a visit there is all the more heartbreaking.  Azar’s short film is beautiful and lyrical. I appreciate it so much as a parent, as a niece, and as someone that wonders about her own place in the world.

Food Find: Pascha Chocolate

I came home recently to find a box marked “perishable” on my doorstep and whisked it inside.  Those of you in Southern Nevada will know that the shipping window for perishables here is very limited and has already passed for 2014 (that is, until November or so rolls around).  I was so surprised to find I was the lucky recipient of some unsolicited chocolate!

In early 2013 I had read on my friend Colette’s blog Learning to Eat Allergy Free that there was a new allergy friendly chocolate and it was fair trade to boot.  I did not find Pascha Chocolate in stores at that point but was the lucky winner of a giveaway hosted by Alisa Fleming of Go Dairy Free at the end of last year and I loved what I received.  I wonder if I got into the system as someone that will gladly consume large quantities of chocolate and when I received the box this past week and realized I never had the chance to write about my take on Pascha Chocolate.  It was time to remedy that (see also: Disclosures).

Chocolate with Maca
Chocolate with a new to me ingredient: Maca

 

By the way, both Alisa and Colette are taking part in a new spin on ice breaking at this year’s FABlogCon – we are having a morning roundup of Saturday “breakout sessions” that will be limited mostly to groups of 10-15 per topic where you can really get some one on one insight from some brilliant folks.  Colette will be offering information on using that fancy DSLR you are scared to switch into manual mode and Alisa is going to be covering monetization across blogging, writing, and magazine platforms.  You’ll be able to register for the breakout sessions soon, I am having a hard time deciding which one I want to sit in on so I may claim planner’s privilege and hop in and out of sessions to “see how things are going.”

Beautiful packaging
Beautiful packaging

Ahem.  So, what did I receive?  Twitter recap to the rescue because most of it is already gone four days later. . .

I even found myself enjoying the coffee variety and I don’t drink or like the aftertaste of actual coffee.  The coffee flavor makes me think of my mom.  She works nightshifts as a registered nurse (labor and delivery) and has done it for many years so coffee is her mainstay.  There’s something comforting about the aroma of coffee and chocolate that says “mom” to me.  I wonder if my kids are going to smell frying onions in olive oil as adults and think of me?

The 100% cacao chocolate chips are a wonderful addition and the chips will be coming out later this year.  I am so glad to have a 100% alternative to Baker’s chocolate (which is not totally safe for milk allergic families given the “may contain” warnings on the packaging) for baking and cooking).  I tried the 100% chips in my vegan chocolate chili recipe (a lot like this recipe, just with chocolate and agave in the mix) yesterday and it was nice to not have to chop chocolate since the chips melted in perfectly.

Pasca Chocolate Chips
Chocolate Chips Coming Soon

My favorite of the bars was the 60% with Maca variety and I have to say I like the infused flavors much more than the varieties I’ve tried in the past with Goldenberries or Cacao Nibs (two of the types I received from Alisa’s giveaway, which were very good as well).

The children are not fans of darker chocolates, especially E, but I love seeing allergy friendly chocolate diversifying.  Even Pascha Chocolates suggests their 55% bars for the younger set and R did like the 60%.  These options are vegan, peanut free, tree nut free, and more with a great texture and taste.  Hope to start seeing these in stores locally, be sure to comment if you’ve seen them out and about so I can track some down.  Highly recommended.

Food Find: Enjoy Life Foods’ Dark Chocolate Regular Size Morsels

I love what Colette Martin wrote about holiday baking – it is great to see everyone firing up their ovens but baking is a year round thing in our house.  Since you may be pondering holiday -focused baking right now, I thought this review could include a roundup of some chocolate baking ideas I’ve already featured on this blog.  If you are shopping for the allergy friendly baker in your life, I must suggest books by Colette Martin (amazon affiliate link), Cybele Pascal (amazon affiliate link), and Kelly Rudnicki (amazon affiliate link – thank you to my friend Alison for my copy!).  I met all three ladies at the Food Allergy Bloggers Conference and they are just as gracious and amazing as I had hoped.  My friend Elyse snapped this picture of me with Cybele that I will always treasure:

Me (on the left) with Cybele Pascal (on the right)
Me (on the left) with Cybele Pascal (on the right)

I was able to taste Cybele’s chocolate chip cookies (amazon affiliate link) at the conference and they were great!  Very cool to see more shelf stable options for grab and go sorts of days.  As usual, I digress.

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Back to the main subject of this post – Enjoy Life Foods’ Dark Chocolate Regular Size Morsels (my free sample is pictured above between the mini chips and the mega chunks from our own stash) are just now rolling out!  I haven’t seen them on store shelves yet but I received a bag free from Enjoy Life to review and they are our new favorite.  They even have five less calories per serving compared to the mini chips (related to being a bit less sweet I am guessing).

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The posts below can feature any variety of Enjoy Life chocolate (substitute freely!).

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Chocolate Chunk Blondies

Holiday Shaped Chocolate (featuring Erewhon Cereal)

Chocolate Covered Chocolate Cupcakes

Double Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Gingerbread Boys with Chocolate Buttons (or a Gingerbread House)

Chocolate Covered Strawberries and Chocolate Covered Sunbutter Balls

Allergy Friendly Thin Mints

All of the ideas featured here are top 8 allergen free.  As full disclosure, this is actually our first holiday season with new safe foods (read more about that here).  Happy baking!

Food Find: Enjoy Life Chewy Bars (Revisited)

This is about as late as I’ve ever gotten with a product review.  I took photos of the free Chewy Bars I received in the mail from Enjoy Life Foods for review purposes on October 8th and it is already November 14th.  The good news is that during that time the Cocoa Loco bars have made it to Las Vegas store shelves and they are the bee’s knees (modern definition of course).  Which will lead me to point out that there are no photos of said variety of bars.

Enjoy Life Chewy Bars
Exhibit A: The only bar that survived for photographic purposes.

We opened the Sunbutter Crunch bars first and they were just as good as they had been previously.  The Caramel Apple and Mixed (formerly “Very”) Berry varieties had improved (more consistent) texture and a more balanced taste.  The packaging for each bar now leaves less space around the bar but they are actually the same portion they’ve always been.  As a packaging and design nerd I really love all the details in the box redesign as well.

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I tasted the Cocoa Loco bars last because I was worried that the recent recipe change (which I first blogged about in an update to my original review of this line of bars) would alter my favorite flavor.  The newer version is richer and reminiscent of those Little Debbie chocolate brownies I used to eat as a child.  Delicious!

I was bemoaning on twitter that I couldn’t find all varieties locally to Joel Warady, Enjoy Life’s CMO the funniest thing was that when I got to meet him in person at this year’s Las Vegas FARE Walk one of the first things he asked me was whether I had found the Cocoa Loco bars on shelves.  That’s the level of detail you get with the folks at Enjoy Life.  I was humbled by their post about the Food Allergy Bloggers Conference as it captured much of what Jenny and I were setting out to do with encouraging personal connections with sponsors instead of a traditional expo format.  Joel also spoke to E and asked her what her about her allergies and told her that none of those things are in any of their products.  That they wouldn’t be in their products.  Oats are a tough one to avoid in the top 8 free arena so I’ve always appreciated that there are no oats in Enjoy Life products.

At any rate, to state what must be obvious, I love this company.  So many other families feel the same way because they are not afraid to keep changing and adapting both for continued product quality and innovation.  A dear friend of mine was able to take a few hours away from her family to come to the conference and I knew I had to introduce her to Joel.  We had a great chat (he even told us what Costco will be carrying from Enjoy Life soon!) and made sure he knew that Enjoy Life was a lifesaver to so many food allergic families.  I’m sure he’s heard that before but it is true.  We leave the allergist’s office with a diagnosis and turn to other sources to figure out what to do next.  We read labels and call companies.  Enjoy Life “gets it.”

Our options have broadened since E outgrew her wheat, soy, milk, and egg allergies but we still love Enjoy Life’s bars, cookies, chips (chocolate and lentil) and stock up often.  E and her friend K are able to share snacks on playdates because they can both have Enjoy Life treats – how neat it must be to make products that are impacting childhood memories in a positive way.

By way of a teaser, my next Enjoy Life review is going to be of their new dark chocolate morsels and we can’t wait to try them!  I have a few ideas for recipes that can incorporate a darker chocolate especially as holiday baking season approaches.

Food Find: Enjoy Life Decadent Bars

Enjoy Life Decadent Bars

It is always a happy occasion when a box bearing the Enjoy Life Foods sticker arrives at our door, though I did hesitate briefly when offered these bars to review (I was not compensated in any other way) because it had been hovering at 105 degrees Fahrenheit of late.  Vegas summers don’t kid around.  Luckily, putting the entire shipping box into the fridge the minute these arrived seemed to have protected these sweet treats.

In the interest of full disclosure, this was not my first taste of the new Enjoy Life Decadent Bars.  I ordered a Gluten Free Saver special a while back and though the kids adored them from the get-go, my husband and I were disappointed because of our own high expectations.

Speaking of our high expectations, I was at work the day the initial box arrived and my husband sent me this picture with the suggestion that I hurry home:

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…followed by this picture to assure me that our children “wouldn’t suspect a thing.”  It still cracks me up with the parenthetical:

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At any rate, my husband and I weren’t planning to buy Decadent Bars again because we still preferred Chewy Bars.  I think it is like when your favorite musical artist puts out an album that is good compared to other music in general but isn’t your favorite compared to their own previous work.  I know I feel disloyal when I don’t adore a song by Morrissey but sometimes it does happen.  I love Enjoy Life because they are not only top 8 allergen free but oat free which is a specific allergy my daughter has (her allergen list is currently: oat, peanut, tree nut, and sesame).

At any rate, though these aren’t the revelation Plentils were in our household, I’m so glad I gave these another chance as I now have some tips for getting the most out of the experience.  My husband and I agreed they were much better with the following caveats:

1) Don’t expect the flavors to match the names exactly – Chocolate Sunbutter is the most accurate of the four varieties, with Cherry Cobbler coming in second.  The Chocolate Sunbutter has a drizzle of chocolate and isn’t as sweet as the other flavors but in a very good way.  It lets the Sunbutter shine through.  The Cherry Cobbler seems to have other reviewers split about the strong fruity/tart flavor but it ended up being my favorite the fist time around because of the white glaze and the cherry notes offered something unique.  That said, the S’mores and Cinnamon Bun Decadent Bars weren’t what I expected.  Still a nice treat but they both had a strong date flavor that hides any intended marshmallow-esque (that’s a word, right?) or cinnamon ingredients.

2) Refrigerate the bars before enjoying – The first time I bit into the S’mores variety it was not what I expected but on the second go-around I found that the graham cracker texture comes through much better upon refrigeration.  This may not be a problem where you live but our house is always about 80 degrees.  The drizzles on the bars are more noticeable when they are refrigerated as well.  

3) Share with a friend (these are too sweet for adults to eat in one go) – When I initially heard the new line to follow the awesome Plentils from Enjoy Life involved more snack bars I wasn’t sure why.  We love the Chewy Bars so I worried the Decadent Bars meant the Chewy Bars may be phased out, however, once we ate these I realized they are very much a candy bar and therefore in a different market niche.  Colette Martin remarked in her own review of these bars that these fall in the treat category and I agree.  It seems that kids across the board love these, while I find kids are usually split 50/50 when we share Chewy Bars with the kids’ friends.  Something to consider as you decide on the right mix of snack foods to keep on hand.

Overall, these are a great option to add to your arsenal but see how you like each flavor on its own merits and make sure they’re kept on a refrigerator shelf out of reach of certain small individuals (who will remain nameless) that have figured out how to open candy bar wrappers.

Enjoy!

Product Review: Mixes from Allergic Solution

Disclosure: I received 8 free mixes from Allergic Solutions, 4 to use and 4 to give away on the blog using whatever method I preferred.  For the giveaway I will be paying the postage out of my own pocket so I have to limit entries to the United States.  All opinions, experiences, and pictures are my own.  Please confirm that any product is safe for your family before using it.

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My friend Jenny at Multiple Food Allergy Help forwarded me a request from the Canada-based company Allergic Solution looking for bloggers to try their baking mixes, review them, and do a giveaway.  I was intrigued by their bean flour mixes because while I know classic gluten free baking used bean flours, I had heard mixed things about them and only used garbanzo bean flour early on in my attempts to make safe treats for my family.  After I discovered rice based blends I never looked back but the big selling point for bean flours is that they have a higher protein content than rice flour.  Hence my interest in trying these mixes.  I e-mailed the company’s representative and they didn’t mind that my blog is a small one and didn’t even have any specific requests regarding the giveaway.  I liked that they genuinely seemed to be interested in sharing their product in case it was a good fit for people dealing with food allergies or other special dietary needs.  The mixes are normally $6.79 for what is pretty much a single use portion customized into one of four categories: Pancake & Waffle, Vanilla Cake, Yeast Free Bread, or Carob Cake.  I mention the price because that can be a big factor when we’re already having to buy so many specialty products to accommodate food allergies.

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I started with the pancake mix.  Despite touting on the packaging that the mixes are free from common allergens such as egg, wheat, corn, soy, and nuts, the recipe included on the package involved using eggs.  While alternate recipes are on the company’s website, I would have liked to see an allergen free recipe on the package and the egg-inclusive version on the website instead (Edited to add: Scroll down to the comments to this post to read an explanation from the company’s founder regarding space limitations dictating the choice of recipe for this package).  Speaking of the allergens, Allergic Solution is open on the packaging about there being potential corn and/or soy traces in their mixes.  This goes to the heart of some of the disclosure debate going on here in the U.S. – do we want to know that a product could have the tiniest trace of an allergen so we can decide whether to use it?  I for one appreciate the company’s openness.  But I digress.

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The pancake mix was the perfect opportunity to break out Colette Martin’s Learning to Bake Allergen-Free (amazon affiliate link) because of the sections where Colette gives the reader advice on adapting store-bought mixes to be allergy friendly (I have so many recipes in her book on my “to try” list but have been swamped with work lately!).  By the way, if you haven’t checked out Colette’s website, Learning to Eat Allergy Free, I highly recommend it.

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I used tips from Colette’s recipe to adapt the package’s recipe for our purposes and the results were well received by the kids, my mother in law, and myself for breakfast.  I love that Colette’s book gives you the tools you need to make substitutions on the fly by specifically laying out ingredient equivalents.  The pancakes that resulted seemed a little soft in the middle at first but as they cooled they improved and the bean flour made them feel substantial and pliable.  Though they weren’t thin, they reminded me a little of crepes and I ate my pancakes with sugar and lemon juice.

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On another morning I decided to give the Vanilla Cake mix a try.  The package’s recipe didn’t need adapting aside from how much sugar I wanted to add (I believe I went with a third of a cup or so) and I added 1 1/2 cups of frozen blueberries to the batter before spooning portions into cupcake liners for baking.  I baked them for 24 minutes and they made for a lovely breakfast treat.  These were my personal favorite with a little Earth Balance Soy Free Spread melted on them fresh out of the oven.

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The Yeast Free Bread mix was up next.  I didn’t have ground chia seeds as recommended by the recipe on the package so I used whole chia seeds and that may account for the crumbly nature of the bread when it came time to slice it.  The texture and flavor were good but a sandwich bread this was not.  Of the four mixes it was my least favorite because my mother in law makes a garbanzo bean biscuit that I prefer but that isn’t to say we didn’t finish this loaf up in about a day.

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Last, but not least, was the Carob Cake mix.  I’ve never tried carob that I know of and it had a subtle flavor that grew on me quickly.  We put more sugar in these than we had in the blueberry muffins (half a cup) and even then they weren’t overly sweet.  R and I spooned teaspoons of raspberry jam onto the tops of the batter after filling the cupcake liners and the jam ended up sinking to the center of the cupcakes with delicious results.  I suppose it is the height of decadence to not even have to put jam on your breakfast baked goods because it is already inside but by this point the kids were starting to think that every day we were going to have something yummy to start our day aside from the usual rice cereal or rice bread toast.

We really enjoyed all the mixes and look forward to sharing some with you!  Just a few other notes for my review first – my mother in law remarked that the font size on the English/French packaging is very small.  The warning about potential soy and corn cross contamination is printed on a crease near the top of the bag and might be missed if you are not careful.  That said, along with my comment above about the chosen sample recipes on the packages, I think these are minor points.  It is obvious that Allergic Solution wants you to use their mixes as a canvas and it was fun to experiment a little bit with pre-made mixes.  Even at $6.79 I can see keeping the cake mixes especially on hand for the emergency birthday party notice.  I didn’t get to test how one of the cupcakes froze, however, which I’d hoped to do as I was thinking about birthday party possibilities.  They simply didn’t last long enough to go into the freezer.

As a result of trying these mixes, my husband asked if we could seek out some other bean flour based recipes.  I am looking forward to it!

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Thank you to Allergic Solution for sharing the mixes with me.  I’d like to pick one random commenter on this post (with a U.S. address) to receive a set of the four mixes featured in my review.  I’ll select one comment at random after entries close on April 30, 2013 at 12:00 p.m. Pacific Time.  To enter, simply comment on this post and let me know if you’ve ever tried baking with bean flours.  Please provide your e-mail address so I can contact you if you win.  The winner will have 48 hours to reply to my e-mail notification of their win with their U.S. mailing address so I can put their mixes in the post or I’ll randomly select another winner.  The winner is Amanda from Celiac and Allergy Adventures!

Good luck!  Thank you!