Friday, June 6, 2014

Mini Egg Frittatas!

I'm having a party on Sunday, and during my Pinterest search for easy things to make, I came across the idea for mini-quiches and mini-frittatas. 

Way cuter than a full quiche, and perfectly sized for little hands (there will be a lot of kids at this party!) I tried making them and... awesome! My four year old scarfed them up.

I based the recipe on the one here, but omitted the cottage cheese and used Daiya cheddar cheese.  I also added dairy milk (though soy or rice milk would certainly work as well)

Basically:  put in your fillings, scramble the eggs with milk and what spices you like, and pour the mixture into the muffin cups.  (spray them with cooking spray first, though!)   Cook at 375 F for 30 minutes.  Yum!!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Soy Yogurt at Home

Yes, it's been forever since I added to this little page of mine.  Life has been percolating along nicely.  I will say that since our little one has been free to eat soy and gluten, I've not felt the intense need to search out allergen-free options for him, so I've been absent from here for a little while.   

Of course, it's not true that he's allergen free.  He still can't have uncooked dairy, nor can he have any tree nuts.  But since we've long been comfortable with the lifestyle of rice or soymilk vs. milk and sunflower seed butter vs. tree nuts and peanuts, life feels essentially... normal.   

Then again, I now have a 4-year old vegetarian on my hands!  He's an "animal protector," in his words.  The only exception ~ and we saw him struggle with this decision for about a week ~ is that he still eats bacon.  "It's the only animal I still eat."  You GO little man!  He has embraced tofu, miso soup, and nearly the entire frozen vegetarian section of Trader Joe's.  After his early years of homemade-only eating, he's an adventurous eater and this cornucopia of packaged options is a little overwhelming for all of us... but a home cooked meal is still thankfully the norm.    

But with the humdrum of many days, we have been starting breakfast with a very expensive item that I wondered ~ would it be possible to make it at home?  The item:  Soy Yogurt.   

Delicious, creamy, sweet, full of protein.  What's not to love?  The price tag.  Each 6 oz container ranges from $ .99 to $1.09.  If given the opportunity, this child will eat several yogurts in one sitting ~ and that becomes mighty pricey.  

So I set out to try something new, and I'm back to tell you about it!  

Homemade soy yogurt is easy.  Heat up the milk, let it cool to the right temperature, add the yogurt starter, and keep it at a stable temperature for a while for the bacteria to culture.  Refrigerate, then eat.  Really, its that simple.   When I made the batch you see here, I didn't mind so much that our little guy at 3 cups of it in a row.  In fact, I was sitting next to him, grinning.

Homemade Soy Yogurt
The basic recipe:
  • 4 cups non-dairy milk.
    In this case I used soy, but you could use rice or coconut or almond...
  • 1/2 cup non-dairy yogurt as starter
    Ideally plain and unsweetened / no fruit
  • Optional: 1 packet of gelatin -or-
    agar-agar powder (to make vegan)
  1. Heat milk on medium heat stove to just under boiling, stirring occasionally.  I used a digital thermometer to track this.  If you decide to as well, make sure you're keeping the thermometer away from touching the pan.  Perching it on a wooden spoon did the trick for me.  
  2. While the milk is heating, wash the containers well. These came with the yogurt machine, but you could also use mason jars.  
  3. When the heat reaches nearly boiling (at least 180 but better around 190-200 F), turn off the stove. 
  4. Optional:  Add 1 package of gelatin or agar agar powder to make a firmer yogurt.  If you don't this will be pretty runny - but it will still be just as delicious
  5. Let the temp slowly cool to between 100-110 F.  (~ 42 C) Any hotter, and the good bacteria you're trying to cultivate will not grow! Alternatively, you could cool the milk in the fridge a little more quickly.  
  6. At 110 F, add the half cup of starter yogurt to the mixture and stir well.  Don't stir so much that there are resulting bubbles... just make sure it's evenly distributed
From here, you have a couple options:

Option 1:  If you have a yogurt maker: 

  • Pour the mixture into sterilized yogurt cups that came with the machine.  I use a mason jar filling funnel to make the process a little less messy.  
  • Turn on the machine and set the timer for around 8-10 hours.  You could also just let it sit overnight.
  • When your time is up, turn off the machine and open one of the containers.  It should smell and look like yogurt!  Put the containers in the fridge for at least 3 hours, where the yogurt will firm up a little more.   

    Option 2:  The Oven Method
    • Heat your oven to the lowest temp you can (My oven is 140) and then turn it off.   Turn on the light inside the oven - it'll keep the interior warm all night. 
      1. Pour into sterilized mason jars and cover. (Hey, we're not canning here... just cover with screw-on lids and or rings/tops, but no need to process in a hot water bath!)  
      2. Line a large earthenware crock or dutch oven with a tea towel.  Place your mason jars inside. Cover with another tea towel, and then cover the crock with its own cover. 
      3. Put the crock inside the turned-off oven and close the door.  
      4. Leave overnight.  
      5. In the morning, open one of the containers.  It should smell and look like yogurt!  Put the mason jars in the fridge for at least 3 hours, where the yogurt will firm up a little more.   
      • Enjoy!  Add whatever flavors you enjoy:  honey, jam, fruit are all great options.    Not only is the yogurt delicious and allergen-friendly, but the cost difference is astounding!

      Here's a comparison:

      Comparison         O'Soy       Soy Milk             Milk      Organic Milk
      oz               6               32               64                      64
      cost  $           1.09  $           2.99  $           3.89  $                  5.99
      cost per ounce  $           0.18  $           0.09  $           0.06  $                  0.09

      Some useful references I've found about general yogurt making, dairy and non-dairy:
      - Granny Miller - Crock Pot Yogurt (dairy) 
      - Stephanie O'Dea's Crock Pot Yogurt (dairy)
      - There are some GREAT ideas at Waking Up Vegan about alternate milks, thickeners and flavorings! (non-dairy)

      Monday, October 15, 2012

      Soup's On!

      Friday night, we got the warning:  Freeze! 

      With the frost announcement, we jumped into action, bringing in the plants we planned to over-winter in the house and turning on the heat.  The first time this Fall, it became clear that Winter was indeed going to come.  Gone will be the warm days and slightly cool evenings.  Soon, there will be snow and ice and all those things.  

      But between now and then, we do have a space of time with bright orange and red leaves falling from the sky, landing on the sidewalks, ready to crunch under our feet.   Baking seems feasible, even delightful.   Soup seems just right. 
      I don't get a lot of time during lunch to cook, so I was thinking about making some quick pasta and sauce.  On went the pot of water, in went a box of ditalini, which are easy for our son to grab with a kid spoon (or more frequently his hands).  But as the pasta boiled, I realized I'd misjudged the amount of water.  The pasta was almost at the top as it boiled, and I realized it looked like there was a lovely noodle soup in the pot.  I changed gears, added several teaspoons of no-sodium chicken broth powder, some smoked paprika and basil, and a can of red kidney beans including its water.  I let it come back to a boil, added some chopped up greens for the last few minutes, and.... hey presto:  Pasta e Fagioli!   If you want to (and can), this is great with a little parmesean shredded overtop. 

      Quick Pasta e Fagioli

      2 Quarts water, boiling
      1/2 a 1 lb box (8 oz) Ditalini (if you're using rice pasta, try Tinkyayada elbows or mini shells)
      1 12-oz can of  red or pink kidney beans, or cannelini beans, with water
      2 T no-sodium chicken broth powder, or enough dissolved boullion cubes to make 2 Q of broth.
      1 t dried basil
      1 t smoked paprika
      Large handful of chopped greens: spinach, kale, chard, etc. 
      salt and pepper to taste 
      drizzle olive oil, optional
      1. Boil the water
      2. Add the noodles and cook until nearly tender.
      3. Add the broth powder, basil and paprika and stir until dissolved.
      4. Add the can of beans and simmer until warm, just a couple minutes.
      5. Add the handful of greens and stir until they are cooked to a bright green, again only a couple minutes.
      6. Serve in warm bowls with salt and pepper to taste, a optionally a drizzle of olive oil and/or a few shreds of parmesean
      Note: If you're using rice noodles, this is just as easy to do, but I recommend straining the pasta first.  Add to 2 Q of warm chicken broth (from bullion cubes, powder, home- or pre-made)


      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!

      Wednesday, May 30, 2012

      Pre. School.

      We’re going through the preschool selection process right now.  It's a complex, daunting task filled with equal levels of opportunity for joy and challenge.  

      Of course, it can't be just any old preschool  ~ we want to find the right sense of home away from home.  We want it to be an amazing experience for him, opening up the world in ways that we can't do just by ourselves as parents:  playing with other children, touching soft and prickly things, hearing sounds that we don't make at home, looking at books and shapes and toys we would never think to offer him.  Shauna of Gluten-Free Girl recently posted a beautiful entry about children's play at preschool.  It really resonated with me. Play, compassion, joy ~ all so important. vital.

      What an adventure it will be!  I bristle with excitement for him. 

      But at the same time, I shudder with concern over his food allergies.  What if he's nowhere near us and suddenly has a major reaction to something left out, or given to him accidentally? What if the staff are not as diligent as we are?  What if a well-meaning kid doesn't understand he can't share his cheese stick with our son?  What if he needs an epi-pen administered to him ~ do we trust the school to know what to do, and trust their judgement in doing so?  

      So often it seems to come down to the see-saw of safety vs. playfulness. I ache to imagine that we have to permanently shield him from the world. But then again, we don’t let him play in traffic. We teach him to look both ways and prepare him for the time when we can't cross the street with him.  It's called parenting.  Yet, he's still so little. 

      We’ve been deciding between a wonderful warm school that is play-based and child-centered vs. a school that is nice, but mainly considered good preparation for kindergarten. A no-brainer it seems… until we consider his food allergies: soy, gluten, dairy and nuts.

      The warm, inviting place has a wide open snack area with pretzels, milk, muffins, fruit, cheese and crackers ~ all great, but not for him. And when we asked the director about accommodating allergies, we were met with a vague “well, when we have those, we just ask the parents not to bring peanuts into the school.” A subsequent conversation with them resulted in the same level of vague willingness to help out. 

      The other school has a fantastic attitude toward re-framing allergies in non-disparaging ways… calling one child’s rice milk “Sophies special milk” for example and ensuring safe eating practices.  But it's a competitive school to get into (I heard tell that one child was accepted after their parents providing nine letters of recommendation!)  We are currently on the waiting list for next Fall. 

      So what to do?

      Stepping out into the world
      Well, I should be honest that this blog post sat in the hopper for a while.  I was so conflicted about the balance between the safety issues vs. the learning experience that I couldn't finish this post for a couple months.   However, after additional conversations about dietary restrictions with the director of the "warm, inviting place" ... and the thrilling developments that our son is now able to eat wheat ... and dairy if it's baked (!!!), we decided to go with our gut on the best educational experience we could help him have.  Heavy sigh of relief.  

      The happy epilogue to this process came when we got a chance to take him to the school for an hour while it was in session.  He was more than excited, choosing several play areas in succession.  One in particular that he loved was the music table.  He not only jumped right in, but the other children welcomed him by sharing their instruments ... and letting him get in on a parade they were having all through the classroom!  Watching his little legs fly to catch up - and the sheer joy on his face - was the best confirmation for me that we'd done the right thing!

      This could have gone so differently.  If anyone out there would like to share their experience, I'd love to hear it!  How did you choose your child's school, and how much did their food allergies play into the decision making process?

      Thursday, March 22, 2012

      A week of wheat.

      Lack of focus due to misted up mommy eyes
      "Could it be?"

      I've been saying this all week.  Is it possible?  Is he OK? 
      Yes, he is. 

      Several months ago, we went through a painstaking process trying to introduce milk to our son, which seemed so promising at first: one spoonful of yogurt a day for a week with no reaction, but when we gave him a little bowl of it, he erupted into a red-eyed sneezing fit that went on for a half hour until the ceterizine kicked in. So now, we're a little gun shy.

      But based on some promising blood work, the allergist is encouraging us to try wheat, then soy, re-try milk in baked goods after that, and then do skin testing for nuts later.

      So... this whole week I've been giving him little tiny bits of wheat. And (deep breath) he's ... uh, fine.  I can hardly believe it.

      Friday, I made some wheat-based zucchini muffins of which he ate a few bites and moved along in his day as if nothing catasprophic was going on. 

      There were blueberry pancakes on the weekend that he gobbled up ~ and the sky did not fall.  Whole wheat elbow noodles with tomato sauce and ground turkey: the world didn't come to an end. 

      We went over to a friend's house for dinner this weekend, and he could actually eat what everyone else was eating, including pasta! (the host was amazing about letting me see the ingredients of everything)

      And this morning, I gave him not one, but two little slices of baguette bought from a BAKERY (mind racing, worrying about nut and sesame and dairy and soy cross contamination, I mean who can tell with these things ... etc ad nauseum)
      and he's: fine

      After so much worry, planning, paranoia, fear, it's ingrained in my gut to avoid certain foods. Changing that feels so dangerously strange. I'm checking for spots on his torso, sores on his legs, welts on his face, watching for sneezing and red eyes and, and, and... nothing.

      When you've been protecting your child for so long from something, it's hard to let that fear go. 

      I suppose that's what we all have to do as parents, for everything.   Just like letting them go down the corkscrew slide at the playground for the first time all by themselves, it's something of a leap of faith that we've prepared them well enough to tackle the world.  

      It's a mystery to me why an allergy would disappear, though I'm sure there's medical literature that might help explain it to me one day.  And there's no guarantee any or all of his other ones will.  But for right now, wheat (simple, wheat) is a bit of a miracle to me.   

      Posted by Picasa


      Thursday, March 8, 2012

      Mac and Cheese. Please!

      So my husband and I were standing in the pasta aisle, actually buying regular old noodles for ourselves ... Not the rice kind, just cheap semolina wheat stuff.  We don't do it very often, but there you go. 

      Now, our son hasn't really been down this aisle before, for obvious reasons... but he does eat rice noodles a lot and loves them: with pasta sauce, with olive oil and basil, or chopped up hot dogs, what have you.  And if you've ever read this blog before, you know he loves cheese too.  Not the dairy kind, but rather its simulacrum, Daiya (which is primarily tapioca starch... darned yummy tapioca starch!). 

      So back to the pasta aisle.  We are deciding on farfalle vs. campanelle... and suddenly our son walks up to us with a box of good old mac and cheese.  Somehow he knows what this is.  I don't know how, or maybe he's psychic, but he says PASTA and CHEESE!  and continues to grab several boxes, taking them back to the cool car-shaped toy the supermarket has kindly strapped to the front of our shopping cart.  He loads them on the seat, then hops in.  He's ready to go. 
      This completely slays me.   On so many levels. 

      First, it's pretty funny to see a two-year-old with such determination and whimsy grabbing boxes of macaroni and cheese with the intent to abscond with them in a shopping cart  "car".

      Second, it's heartbreaking because I want so badly to share with him the simple pleasure of boxed macaroni and cheese -- the stuff childhood is made of.  

      Why can't it be this easy? Why can't I just say OK, looks like you want to try this new thing - let's get it!
      Why can't I just buy him a damn box of macaroni and cheese?

      Well, I can't.    But I can try to get a little bit of of that joy on his plate. I need to respond to his requests for new foods by getting creative. And maybe this is a good thing -- he is telling me what he wants and I don't have to make it up out of thin air any more! Posted by Picasa
      So what follows is my attempt at Macaroni and Cheese:

      1/2 cup rice milk (trust me, don't use the vanilla kind)
      1 cup cheddar-style Daiya cheese
      1 cup cooked rice noodles, macaroni style of your choice. 
         (we had curly elbows already made)
      1. Put cheese and rice milk into a microwave safe bowl. 
      2. Microwave on high for 30 seconds at a time.  Each time, bring it out and stir a little, checking for when the cheese is thoroughly melted into the milk. Stir until the cheese is melted and get a creamy consistency overall. 
      3. Add the pre-cooked noodles.  e voila!
        Add shredded cheese and start stirring. 
        Not quite ready.  Keep stirring!

      I can't say they're perfect.  But it's pretty close...  you might adjust the amount of cheese, add some spices (there was already basil on our leftover pasta, for example) salt or pepper to your taste. 

      Was it worth trying?  Heck yeah.  The last thing I want to do is squelch my son's desire to explore ~ climbing, running, new foods, life.   Maybe it was just me trying to make myself feel like it's possible (just maybe) for him to be as spontaneous with food as he is everything else.