Thursday, October 11, 2012

Baked Dairy Goodness

If you've been here before, you may remember that we were encouraged by some promising allergy-related blood work a couple months ago that indicated some of our son's food allergies might not be as bad as they once were.   I could say:  phew!  But I'm more inclined to say:  whoa, really?

When we discovered the allergies, we had no idea the levels because he was too young to test.  Not only is it insanely cruel to stick a 3 month old full of needles carrying allergens, it's not effective.  Not until he's over two is his immune system sophisticated enough to produce accurate results... and even then it's still darned mean. 

Even blood work done on a child under two is often inconclusive, as his system may not have created an allergic response to many foods or environmental factors.   We did get blood work done when he was about a year old, and clearly reacting to foods and other things... but the report didn't show a single result.  Not even to dog saliva, and that's saying something: around that time, a dog licked his face and we ended up speeding crazily to the ER while his eyes began to swell shut and he was clawing at his face, having difficulty breathing.  We've carried an EpiPen ever since. 

Yet, after a very unpleasant set of visits to one allergist when he was very young, during which we were advised to go ahead and skin test (to which I said: hell, no!), we avoided allergists for a long time.  We were doing fine with our avoidance diet, thank-you-very-much, and wanted to wait until our son was old enough to properly test.  At his two-year checkup, the pediatrician suggested getting updated blood work. 

So when some results came back saying he didn't even have allergies to soy and wheat, I was incredulous.  What the... well, you know.  So we slowly, slowly started giving him wheat and he was fine.  Then soy, and he was fine.  Had we been incorrect about his allergies in the first place?  Not likely.  Our pediatrician advised that these allergies are often outgrown.  We weren't crazy - he just no longer needed to avoid these foods. 

And what a kaleidescope of foods were now available to him!    Packaged breads and cookies! "Normal" pasta! Soy sauce! Pizza! (with tapioca or rice cheese)   More wide ranging: eating OUT!    The biggest single concern we used to have with restaurants was soy.  Any vegetable oil was rife with it, and most restaurants use a veg oil blend.  Even our favorite place that usually accommodated us on everything else had at one point moved from corn oil to a vegetable blend so we couldn't go there any more.   But now, all bets were off!  The only things we needed to avoid were cow milk and nuts.  Far, far more possible.  Korean? Thai?  Chinese?  no problem!  Cuban?  Mexican?  No problem if we make sure they don't put cheese on his plate.  It was revelatory.  

Hence, I was absent from this page for a while... it felt like talking about allergens was in the past.  Like an artist who had only used black and white for years, having a couple colors to work with in my palette was overwhelming!   

So I got cocky.  Yeah, the bloodwork said we did have a little issue with milk protein.  A 3 out of 5.  Not a big deal, I thought... heck, he's a 2 out of 5 on eggs and he's never had a single reaction!   So we gave him a spoonful of yogurt every day for a week, thinking in our heady thrill that all allergens were conquerable and everything would go back to normal.   Every day, a spoonful of DAIRY from a COW! 

And he seemed fine, until we gave him a nice bowl of yummy yogurt.  He ate it "all up" as he likes to say.  And in 5 minutes he was sneezing so intensely, so often, he could barely breathe.  His neck was covered in little welts and his eyes were red and watering as if he'd been crying for hours.  He was clawing at his neck and whining and sneezing.  It was horrible.  Out came the cetirizine and thankfully the reaction calmed down after about a half hour, but he slept with great intensely that night as he always does after receiving meds for a breakout... a sure sign his little body is still fighting the invasion.

I figured, well, at least we got rid of soy and wheat.  And that ain't bad.  It's liveable.  Lots of people are vegan, so there are lots of dairy alternatives out there now.  We'll be fine living with just dairy and nut allergies. 

But then, I came across this Parents Magazine article.   And we went to an allergist again, now that he was over 2 years old.  The combination was amazing. 

The article talks about some recent studies showing that if dairy is baked over 350 degrees for over 30 minutes, many kids with milk allergies can tolerate the milk proteins they're normally allergic to.   And that's boon enough -- baked cakes?  yes!  -- but the studies also go on to say that once the child is exposed to the allergen in this way, they slowly begin tolerating dairy cooked for shorter times, until their body begins to tolerate the proteins in all forms, even uncooked!

So after discussing this with our allergist, we began a baking "therapy." 

- First I made a cake, with butter and sour cream. 
   350 degrees at 45 minutes.  No reaction!
- Then I made a quick bread.
   350 degrees for 30 minutes.  No reaction!
- Then I made muffins, 350 for 20 minutes.  No reaction!
- Then I made cookies, 350 for 12 minutes. No reaction!
- Then we bought frozen waffles, likely just a few minutes plus toasting at our house for a couple min.  Fine!
- Then I made pancakes, only a couple minutes on the griddle.  Great!
- Then I made pie crust with pure butter. No problem.
- Then I scrambled eggs with milk inside.  2-3 minutes in a skillet.  NO REACTION!

This process of slowly exposing him to less and less-cooked milk, we're told by the allergist, may lead him to drinking a glass of milk! in about 6 months.  It's been slow and steady for the last couple months.  (We started this process around August '12 and I'm writing in October.)    The allergist advised the more we continue to expose him, gradually, the better.  Never retreat, he said.  Just keep going. 

So we're ever so close to adding a little hard cheese to some pasta some day soon.  Then maybe a grilled cheese.  Then maybe a little more regular yogurt.  Some day soon, God willing, a glass of milk. 

So in celebration, here's the recipe for the Blueberry Muffins.  They're filled with stuff I never ever thought I'd use while baking for our son, and just that is a celebration. 

Jordan Marsh Blueberry Muffins
(These remind me of New York so much; I remember smelling these in Jordan Marsh... heavenly!)

1/2 cup butter
2 cups unsifted flour
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup milk
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups large fresh blueberries
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons sugar (for top of muffins)

Preheat oven to 375°F. In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy; add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. In a second bowl, combine all dry ingredients. (You can use an electric mixer to combine the dry ingredients thoroughly at this point so that you won't need to overmix once the wet and dry ingredients are combined. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the creamed butter and sugar mixture along with the milk and vanilla. Optionally, mash 1/2 cup of the blueberries, and stir in by hand (this will turn batter a light shade of blue and add a touch of blueberry flavor, but this step may be skipped, if you wish). Add the remaining whole berries and stir in gently by hand. Grease muffin cups with non-stick spray or oil. 
Fill greased muffin cups.
Sprinkle sugar on top of unbaked muffins (we like to use Turbinado sugar for sprinkling the tops). Bake at 375°F for 25-30 minutes. Cool in pan. Run a knife around the edge of each muffin after several minutes to free it from the pan and cool on wire racks. Muffins may be brushed with melted butter and sprinkled with sugar, if desired. At our test kitchen, we sometimes sprinkle blueberry muffin tops with cinnamon sugar or ground hazelnuts or spread with lemon or vanilla icing and top with thinly sliced almonds. Tip: If you have trouble with blueberries settling to the bottom try tossing them in flour before adding to the batter. It may just be that your batter is too thin. Another trick is to fill muffin cups 1/4 full with batter which hasn't had blueberries added to it yet; then stir the blueberries in and continue to fill the muffin cups. This way you won't start out with blueberries at the bottom!

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