Comfort Food for the Rest of Us

When generosity and kindness lead you to bring food to the celebrating or the grieving, it’s easy to include some comfort food for the rest of us. It’s been a tough few days. We lost my mom 3 days ago. My sister and I must travel several hours to get to her home. One of my sons lives more than 1500 miles away. Without the time to grocery shop or cook in advance of the trip, it can be comforting to know that the community will show up to make sure the basics are covered.

Unfortunately for those of us with allergies or food intolerance, an already draining occasion like a funeral can become even more tiring when the typical comfort food casseroles begin to arrive. Many are filled with pasta, topped with breadcrumbs or thickened with flour. Others contain cheese or nuts. And we can’t tell by looking whether they’re safe for us to consume. Sometimes our only option is to cook or go to the store to make sure that when we get hungry there will be something available.

If you know that your relatives or friends have some dietary restrictions, but aren’t certain of the details, it’s still easy to provide options that are helpful and comforting. Here are a few ideas:

• Don’t just bring a casserole, include a copy of the recipe on a pretty card that can be displayed on the table by the dish as well. It’s a lovely way to share your favorite recipe and allow those with restrictions to know whether it’s appropriate for them. Just remember when you add a pinch of this or that to the dish you need to add the pinch of this or that to the ingredient list. If you use any processed items in the casserole, bullion cubes or canned soup for instance, include a combined list of any noted allergens in those ingredients at the end of the recipe. (Labels in the US must note the inclusion of the 8 top allergens: Milk, eggs, fish (bass, flounder, cod), Shellfish (crab, lobster, shrimp), tree nuts (almonds, walnuts, pecans), peanuts, wheat, and soybeans.)

• Grab a big basket. Fill it with an assortment of fruit – apples, bananas, oranges, pears, grapes, cherries, strawberries, or blueberries. Add a variety of cheeses still in the package and perhaps some summer sausage. Throw in a box of regular crackers and a box of gluten-free crackers (Rice Thins are available in almost all grocery stores). Leaving the cheese, sausage, and crackers in the package allows the allergic to read the labels to determine what is safe to consume.

• Provide a deconstructed salad. Include some pre-washed greens – lettuce, spinach, arugula. Chop some carrots, celery, bell peppers. Dice some boiled eggs. Crumble some crisp bacon. Wash some blueberries. Scoop up some toasted pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, or slivered almonds. Get a jar of olives or peperoncini. Make sure to package each item separately. Provide full jars of dressing so that a label is available or include the recipe for your homemade dressing.
• Keep it simple. Prepare meat or vegetables seasoned with nothing but salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Perhaps throw in a few fresh herbs. You can cook a delicious beef roast, pork tenderloin, or roasted chicken seasoned with nothing but salt, pepper, and garlic. If you decide to use herbs, provide a list of those included. Steamed broccoli with baby carrots is a tasty combo as is a sauté of summer squash and zucchini or onion, red bell pepper, and shiitake mushrooms. Any of these veggie combinations and many other possibilities require nothing but a sprinkle of salt to deliver full flavor.

• If you happen to know a family well enough to know their favorite locally owned restaurant, call and see if there’s a favorite dish or to-go order they enjoy frequently. If so, have the restaurant prepare an order for you to pick up.

While all of us want to relieve the burden of the grieving or enhance a celebration with our contributions, sometimes food restrictions can leave us wondering if it’s better to just send a card. If you love to cook or share meals with your friends, perhaps these ideas will help you think of additional ways you can slightly adjust and provide comfort food for the rest of us.

We appreciate and applaud your efforts!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Read the Label!

Whether you’re allergic or have food intolerance, it’s always important to read the label! My kids loved to watch GI Joe when they were little. I remember hearing …”and knowing is half the battle” over and over and over again during the PSAs at the end of the show. When it comes to keeping yourself from ingesting foods or medicines that will harm you, knowing really is half the battle. Reading the ingredients on product labels is a first line of defense to keep you from harm.

NutriLabelOf course it’s tempting to skip over reading labels. It’s time consuming and sometimes difficult when the text is in 2 point type. I’m most likely to neglect this task on products that I buy frequently. If I read the label a week ago, I think, why should I do it again? That’s just silly. But it isn’t silly because products change and I won’t know that unless I’m checking.

I also know that sometimes reading labels will lead to the recognition that everything that seems to trigger my dermatitis has the ingredient povidone or things that give me indigestion all contain corn in some form. Such an insight can quickly lead to an elimination of discomfort and an acceleration of healing. That makes me feel better and how can that be bad?

Still, you may think there’s no reason to read labels on items that logic dictates will not contain anything of concern. It may be time to think again. Not sure?

Take this quiz and see how you do:

Listed below are items that could be of concern to the allergic or food intolerant. Match the ingredient that is an item of concern with the product in which we found it lurking, then take a look at the answers and see how you did.

Item of concern – POVIDONE

A)Farm Raised Atlantic Salmon
B)Morton Iodized Salt
D)Dried Cranberries
E)All of the above

Item of concern – MAGNESIUM SULPHATE (Epsom Salt)

A)Hormel® Black Label® Bacon
B)Target Market Pantry Purified Drinking Water
C)HIllshire Farm Lit’l Smokies
D)Fiber One Chewy Bars
E)None of the above

Item of concern – AUTOLYZED YEAST EXTRACT (Contains glutamates)

A)Swanson Natural Goodness Chicken Broth
B)Wonder Classic White Bread
C)Kashi® GOLEAN Crunch® Cereal
D)Van’s Gluten Free Totally Original Waffles
E)All of the above

Item of concern – CORN

A)Yoplait Light Thick & Creamy Yogurt
C)Honey Nut Cheerios
E)All of the above

Item of concern – NATURAL FLAVORS (May contain corn, gluten, or dairy)

A)Rice Krispies Cereal
B)Sara Lee All Butter Pound Cake
C)Keebler Club Crackers Original
D)Pepperidge Farm Gluten Free Goldfish Mega Cheese Puffs
E)Cap’n Crunch Cereal

Item of concern – SOY

A)Hidden Valley Ranch Salad Dressing
B)Campbell’s Cream of Potato Condensed Soup
C)Nacho Cheese Doritos
D)Manischewitz Egg Noodles
E)Schar Table Crackers

Item of concern – WHEAT

A)Kikkoman Soy Sauce
B)Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup
C)Mission Garden Spinach Wraps
D)Thai Kitchen Curry Stir Fry Rice Noodle Meal Kit
E)All of the Above

Item of concern – PEANUTS

A)Philadelphia Cream Cheese
B)Honey Nut Cheerios Cereal
C)Special K Protein Bars
D)Honey Nut Chex Cereal
E)Wonder Classic White Bread

Item of concern – DAIRY

A)Coffee-Mate® Liquid Non Dairy Creamer
B)Phillips Coastal Crab Cakes
C)Kinnikinnick Gluten Free Cinnamon Sugar Donuts
D)Land O’Lakes Margarine
E)A & D, or B & C

Item of concern – Malt

A)Equate Ibuprofen Tablets
B)Werther’s Original Caramel Coffee Candy
C)Kellogg’s Corn Flakes
D)Chick-fil-A Vanilla Milkshake
E)Nancy’s Lorraine & Florentine Petite Quiche

Now, take a moment to review the answers below. Were your instincts correct? Were there any surprises? Did you discover a possible reason you are having symptoms?

Perhaps it’s time to consistently read the label. What do you think?

Povidone – C)Found in Tylenol
Magnesium Sulphate – B)Found in Target Market Pantry Purified Drinking Water
Autolyzed Yeast Extract – A)Found in Swanson Natural Goodness Chicken Broth
Corn Starch – E)Found in All of the Above – Yoplait Yogurt, Tylenol, Cheerios and Tums
Natural Flavors – D)Found in Pepperidge Farm Gluten Free Goldfish Mega Cheese Puffs
Soy – B)Found in Campbell’s Cream of Potato Condensed Soup
Wheat – E)Found in All of the Above – Soy Sauce, Cream of Mushroom Soup, Spinach Wraps, and Curry Stir Fry Meal Kit
Peanuts – C)Found in Special K Protein Bars*
Dairy – A&D)Found in Coffee-Mate® Liquid Non Dairy Creamer and Land O’Lakes Margarine
Malt – C)Found in Kellogg’s® Corn Flakes

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

*Honey Nut Chex Cereal does not list peanuts in the ingredient list or a peanut warning, but is considered controversial by some. Consume at your own risk if you have severe allergies.–oz/1647

Corn is Everywhere!

If you have an allergy to, or intolerance for, corn, trying to avoid it can seem like wandering through a maze – there’s corn all around and it’s hard to find a good path through it because corn is everywhere!
I’m experiencing an allergic reaction. I have huge red spots on my face, an itchy rash on my neck and my lips are burning like the worst chapped lips you’ve ever had. Benadryl is making me sleepy. I know that the quickest way to feel better is to avoid the allergen.
The problem is that I don’t know what triggered my reaction. That means I’m eliminating any possible culprit from my diet and one of those possibilities is corn. In order to eliminate corn, I’m making a list of the things I need to avoid. Some of those are obvious like corn, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, corn oil, corn meal, corn chips, corn bread, corn dogs, Corn Flakes, Corn Chex, tortilla chips, corn tortillas, corn flour, popcorn, and cornstarch.

Other things containing corn may not be as obvious. Cheetos, Cheerios, Frosted Flakes, Tums, baking powder and confectioner’s sugar fall into that category. Many gluten-free pastas contain corn. Hominy, grits, and polenta are all made from corn. Most of these list corn on the label, but then there’s the ever present food starch. It may contain corn and be listed on a label as food starch, modified food starch, or pre-gelatinized starch. The word corn is never mentioned.

To make things even more confusing, familiar products contain a multitude of ingredients that may or may not contain corn and labeling requirements do not require that corn be listed on the label as an allergen. For instance, natural flavorings, xylitol, xanthan gum, citric acid, distilled white vinegar, maltodextrin, ethyl alcohol, fruit juice concentrate, maltose, and even IV dextrose may contain corn. It’s a fairly steep learning curve when I’m not even sure corn is the culprit.

Luckily, I have lots of practice reading labels and researching ingredients that will come in handy while I try to isolate the allergen that’s bothering me. I don’t plan to eat any processed food or at restaurants until I get this under control. Cooking is an easy way to know what I’m ingesting and with my lists at hand, I can leave out any questionable ingredients. I’m not the only one who follows this approach. To quote UAMS Registered Dietitian, Meghan Dixon, “These skills, cooking skills, are really life-changing. These are the skills that develop lasting lifestyle changes for people,…If you learn how to cook, you’re not outsourcing your health.” (1)

While the itching isn’t fun and I don’t love looking like I just got out of the boxing ring…as a loser…using those skills, I feel confident that I can make progress quickly.

If you have experience with corn allergies, let us know what triggers your symptoms. If you are struggling with a corn allergy or intolerance, you may want to peruse the more comprehensive lists available on these sites:

1) Storey, Celia. “Food and Medicine Meet for Dinner.” Arkansas Democrat Gazette [Little Rock] 08 Feb. 2016, Style sec.: n. pag 1. Print.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Super Bowl Snacks – Variations on a Theme

Keep your Super Bowl snacks simple by serving variations on a theme. The 50th Super Bowl is upon us and everyone I know is invited to a Super Bowl party. Of course, every Super Bowl party includes snacks. If you’re hosting, you can make it easy on yourself by limiting the variety of offerings to a few variations on a theme. Your guests will likely welcome the novel approach and you’ll minimize your prep time while still serving a little something special.

My family can’t seem to make it 4 hours on snacks alone, so I’m leaning toward a hearty chili themed party. I’ll start with my grandmother’s chili recipe and then serve it as bowls of chili, Frito® pies, and chili mac with gluten-free pasta. Once the chili is made, I only need some chips, cheese, pasta, and jalapeños to complete the menu. That’s it, make some chili, cook some pasta, and I’m pretty much done. I suppose if I get really ambitious, I may make some guacamole to serve on the side and I’ll probably pick up some Red Mango taro flavored frozen yogurt or a variety of mini Häagen-Dazs flavors.
My sister loves potatoes, so I also considered a potato themed party. My plan was to serve 3 varieties of potato salad: A favorite Cooking2Thrive version (recipe below), plus Blue Cheese & Bacon Potato Salad and Dilled Potato Salad with Feta. Also in the running to make the menu were potato soup and potato skins topped with sour cream, cheese, bacon, and chives. Of course you could include various flavors of potato chips, twice baked potatoes, scalloped potatoes, or French fries. And that’s barely scratching the surface of potato possibilities!
potato salad
Potato Salad
Serves 6 – 8

13 baby Yukon gold potatoes
Water to cover
Sprinkle of salt
1/3 cup Bulgarian yogurt
1/3 cup real mayonnaise
2 tbsp spicy hot mustard
3/4 cup sweet pickle relish
1/4 tsp salt
4 eggs, hard boiled
1 small onion, peeled and chopped

Peel potatoes and place in large pot. Cover with water and add a sprinkle of salt, then bring to a boil. Boil for 12 – 15 minutes or until just tender. Drain in colander. Place colander back over pan, cover with dish towel, and allow to steam for another 10 – 15 minutes. Place potatoes in refrigerator to cool.

In small bowl, mix yogurt, mayonnaise, mustard, relish, and salt to make a dressing. Place mixture in refrigerator.

When all items have cooled for at least 2 hours, cut potatoes into small cubes. Peel the eggs and rough chop. Place potatoes, eggs, and onion in large bowl and pour the dressing mixture over them. Lightly mix and place back in refrigerator until ready to serve.
There was some conversation about featuring cocktail wieners as our Super Bowl centerpiece – using them for pigs-in-blankets, corn dog bites, and covering them with BBQ sauce and grape jelly in the crock pot.

Another possible theme includes the most common Super Bowl food of all – chicken. You can’t go wrong with wings, tenders, chicken nachos, BBQ chicken, or chicken enchiladas.
Whether you watch for the football, commercials or halftime show, the Super Bowl will be the biggest show in town this week, so choose a theme, buy some paper plates in your favorite team’s colors, and have a great time watching the game with your guests!