Food Fails

It all started with bread. 

After the initial shock of being diagnosed with multiple food allergies, one of the first baking projects I tried was bread. The first surprise was learning that I couldn’t just substitute one kind of non-wheat flour for regular flour. 

I spent much money buying rice flour, oat flour, and several different flours just to try to make some bread. I put everything in my bread maker and pressed the start button. The machine fired up and I was excited to taste my new bread.

The result was devastating. I opened the bread maker and was greeted with a bowl full of crumbs. Further research gave me the knowledge that most bread machines punch down the bread, and in order for the punch down to work your bread needs gluten. There are newer bread machines created for gluten free breads, but I don’t have one of those.

My frustration level was extremely high, I needed to find good substitutes for the foods that I could no longer use.

My first discovery was gfJules gluten free flour. It is a one-to-one flour replacement. My first bread using this flour was a success. The key to making it work is that you weigh the flour rather than just scoop it into a measuring cup. Scooping compresses the flour and you end up using too much.

I still have a pantry full of various flours that I almost never use. I just hate to get rid of them. Hopefully I will eventually use them up.

With that first victory under my belt, I began building a foundation of food, one recipe at a time. Taking one recipe at a time, I began reinventing my favorite recipes. There were successes and failures. My first Thanksgiving cooking with allergies had both. The gluten free dressing mix (you know, the bread cubes) was awful. When I opened up the package the smell almost knocked me out with that rancid smell. I ended up using it, but it tasted as bad as it smelled. 

For subsequent turkey stuffing, I now make my own cornbread, dry it a little, and then cube it. It’s wonderful, but I’ve lost the convenience of being able to open a box and go. I need to begin at least a day – or two – ahead of time.

The second fail of that festive meal was dessert. I wanted to make a pumpkin pie. I made my own gluten free pie crust, and then followed the instructions on the side of the pumpkin pie can. To this day I’m not sure which of my substitute ingredients caused the fail.

If you closed your eyes and took a bite, it tasted like pumpkin pie. But when you looked at the pie, it didn’t resemble pumpkin. It looked like goose poop. Trust me when I say that no one wants to eat goose poop pie.

Gravy was a failure for a long time. It was something that I really missed. Every time I tried to make gravy; it was a complete fail. Then one day my husband looked at the ingredient label on the almond milk I was using and explained that I was adding water to my gravy, not milk.

That realization began my journey creating my own non-dairy milk substitute, Cheri’s HazelCream. I approached a friend who is a fourth-generation hazelnut farmer and a chef and begged for help. She suggested trying Hazelnuts as a base.  I am fortunate to be married to an engineer and over time, together we were he was able to figure out the formula for a great tasting hazelnut milk. The important part is that it is great for cooking. Today, I am able to make everything from soups to ice cream. 

So what’s left? Deviled eggs are one of my next challenges. I can make a substitute for the filling, it’s delicious. The problem is the egg white part that the yellow filling sits in.

Eggs are hard to substitute because you need to be a food chemist. The way the egg interacts in the recipe determines what you use as a substitute. If the recipe calls for more than two eggs, then you should either find a different recipe or use multiple egg substitute. I make a killer lemon cake that uses two different egg substitutes. I use a product called “Neat Egg”, combined with applesauce. But while those work well for liquid eggs, a firm egg white is out of the question, so far. 

I’ve tried finger potatoes – but they taste like potatoes. The next experiment was with button mushrooms. Still not good. My next attempt will be with firm tofu. I’m hoping to be able to shape it into something that looks like an egg.

One of these days, I will come up with something wonderful. So keep trying new ideas and one day you will make something wonderful too. 

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Over the River

Visiting family is wonderful. Well, mostly. They may be our biggest fans as well as our biggest critics. And nothing can go against the grain more than having different habits. Whether it’s a food preference or aversion, a life-style change,

religious considerations, or food allergies, visiting family can put pressures and set expectations that you don’t face in your day-to-day routine.

I remember when I decided I was eating too much salt. I was in my early twenties, and I had cut out added salt on everything. When I visited my mother on vacation, she simply wouldn’t hear of it. She had made salted nuts. They were almonds that were coated in salt. Not just a sprinkling, but a thick shell of salt. She thought they were wonderful, and simply would not accept the fact that I had not eaten salt in months. She was able to pressure me like no other person. I finally gave into her constant demands and had one. Just one. It was such a shock to my system that I promptly threw it up. My mother was not amused, and never did understand.

I’m sorry to say that her passing before my allergy diagnosis was a blessing. She would not have understood it. I don’t remember anyone having food allergies when I was growing up. The closest thing were people that were diagnosed with diabetes. My uncle was one of those, and his wife became an expert of cooking without sugar. She learned to make delicious desserts that everyone was excited to eat. Grocery stores carried several types of cookies and sweets, but for the most part they were dry and tasteless. People were so desperate and unable to learn much about diabetic cooking, that they were willing to put up with it.

That is still an issue today for people dealing with allergies. There are some wonderful products available, with more appearing all the time. But there are also many products that just don’t live up to the hype. You need to have the patience to sort through items, try different things, and listen to your friends and people like you. It’s possible to make delicious meals that are safe for your allergy sufferers that will be enjoyed by the entire family. Don’t feel the need to make separate dishes.

Which takes us back to relatives and your food allergies. The first line of defense is speaking honestly with anyone in the immediate family about not being shamed into eating. You may hear the line: “One bite won’t hurt you”. Of course, depending on the severity of your allergies, one bite may kill you. So you need to emphasis that it’s okay to say “no”.

If it’s some place that you visit often, consider storing an air-tight tote there that contains non-perishable foods and snacks. A safe, welcome treat is a wonderful thing when you first arrive, and it’s nice to know that you don’t need to stop at a grocery just before arrival. People are happy to store games and toys for nieces, nephews, and grandkids, but may feel uncomfortable doing the same with foods. Make it easy for your relatives – create and stock your personal food locker that can stay in the pantry or closet between visits.

One thing I prefer is doing the cooking. While I may be in a strange kitchen, they only way I feel safe is to either bring my own food or to prepare the meals. Most hosts are happy to have someone else take on the responsibility of cooking. Don’t be afraid that you are diminishing the hospitality of your hosts. Think of the consequences if you have an allergy reaction.

So the next time you travel over the river and through the woods, grandmother will be equipped to entertain and feed your family without the drama. And that’s a good thing.

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Come Share Our Table

I love to entertain, to feed my friends. I love the discussions that happen during mealtime,

to hear people’s stories. In my past life – prior to my allergy diagnosis – I created meals without any consideration for allergies or dietary considerations. I didn’t know anyone that had an allergy, at least that had admitted it to me, and it wasn’t even part of my thought process. My biggest concern at that time was that I enjoyed food that is spicy, some might say down right ‘hot’, and I didn’t want the food to be so hot that it wasn’t enjoyable.

Now I do my research before meal planning. There are more than allergy considerations. A person may be on a restrictive diet, whether doctor ordered or self-imposed. They may have restrictions due to religious disciplines or cultural norms. Somechoose a plant-based diet, others prefer to be vegan. They may have a food sensitivity, which is different from an allergy. Some people just don’t like certain foods. My husband had an unfortunate tuna experience as a child, and now he won’t eat fish. If there are no restrictions except for my own, then I don’t talk about the fact that the meal they are eating is gluten, dairy, egg, and pea free.

What I don’t appreciate is when someone doesn’t tell me there is a problem until they arrive. Or worse, until we are ready to eat. The last time that happened is when someone told me that they wanted to avoid refined sugar. I had made a desert to share with everyone. Fortunately, I had some fresh fruit in the fridge. It was a small and simple gesture, but my guest was very appreciative. I was just lucky that I had something so that they could enjoy desert with everyone.

Considering my past behavior, I’m not sure why I’m surprised when the tables are turned and I’m not asked about my food issues. What bothers me the most is when we’re asked to dinner, they know about my allergies, and then completely ignore what that means. It puts me on the defensive. I am forced to ask about every single food item. I ask to look at food labels, sometimes being reduced to going through the trash can. I ask what ingredients were used in a recipe.

People may know about my allergies, but what does that mean? Was mayonnaise used? What about cheese? Soy sauce contains wheat, so if soy sauce is an ingredient in the product – such as teriyaki – then I need to know that. Plus people just forget. The corn on the cob was grilled in foil, with butter. Oops. The steak has been dusted with a seasoning combination – did you look at the ingredient list? I remember the first time that someone told me that they needed to be gluten-free. They

were coming to dinner and I didn’t know what that meant. I really struggled with the menu. Looking back, I was lucky that it was just gluten. I took the safe route and prepared fresh meat and vegetables. I found a gluten-free desert mix (I kept the box to prove that) and even found some gluten-free beer.

Having experienced that, I hesitate having people cook for me. It’s just too much of a

burden for most. Please don’t think that I think that I’m better than everyone else. I just take the

opportunity to ask and then make the adjustments necessary. Of course, I’m happiest when I’m able to use my creative process to design a delicious meal. And I’m gratified when the meal is enjoyed, without thinking about the substitutions that were necessary.

And I get to enjoy their stories.

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Cheri Redgrave Extended interview with Deb Kos

As part of my allergy summit “A Convergence of Ideas for Food Allergy Sufferers” , I had the opportunity to interview Deb Kos, founder of debsdecorativelife.com, a personal organizer business. In this interview, Cheri talks to Deb about ideas for keeping kitchens organized and safe for food allergy sufferers. I hope you enjoy it.

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Cheri’s extended interview with Pearl Cicci

Pearl and Cheri

As part of my allergy summit “A Convergence of Ideas for Food Allergy Sufferers” , I had the opportunity to interview Pearl Cicci, nutritionist, health coach, and founder of pearlcicci.com. Her insights on improved heath through balanced nutrition are worth a listen. I hope you enjoy it.

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Happy Trails

Traveling with food allergies is always a challenge and it’s been made even more so with Covid restrictions. Covid or no Covid, the key to having an adventure and not a disaster is pre-planning. As an example, traveling by car offers a ton of choices and challenges. For our situation, we normally don’t travel by car more than a day’s worth. Part of that is dealing with Covid, and not wanting to find a great place to spend the night. Luckily right now, most of our business and family interests are within our state, so our travels are within a day’s worth of driving. That doesn’t mean that we don’t sometimes spend the night with friends or family, but that’s a story for another day.

Variety is key to happiness. I may not be able to have a cheeseburger or taco but having food choices is important. I select both savory and sweet options. I’m not usually a desert eater, but I do enjoy sweet options when I travel. I begin with premade items. Beef sticks and jerky are on my list. I carefully check the nutritional labels for allergy triggers, in my case wheat. Then I turn to my goodie box. Chips of some sort. I can do generic potato chips and tortilla chips. I just have to watch if they have some sort of coating. I also enjoy dried fruits, and those are generally okay for me. Then I add some other types of sweets. I can have dark chocolate – it doesn’t contain milk – so there arealways several choices in my box.

While you might think a snack box is the end of it, the bigger challenge is the drive through delight when my husband gets hungry. Yes, certain drive throughs offer salads as an option, but that has a limited appeal for me. If I have salad dressing with me, then that might be okay, but I only have a limited interest in salad – especially if my husband is eating a cheeseburger. Don’t misunderstand me, I want him to enjoy a burger. Ninety percent of the meals he eats are limited by my allergies, so I encourage him to eat something different when we are out. If I feel needy, I may get some french fries. These are usually okay, as long as they are not coated. If it looks like there is some kind of coating, my husband call tell with one bite, and then I just have to say ‘no’.

That’s where a nice hot meal comes into play. It’s time to pull out the thermos. One of my favorite travel foods is Daiya Cheezy Mac – or as I like to call it – not Mac nor Cheese. It is one of the few dairy and gluten free options available. I cook it different ways. Add taco ground beef and I have a cheese burger mac, add smoked salmon and fresh herbs, and I have an upscale meal. Other thermos options are soups, curries, and casseroles.If I plan the night before, I can make extra dinner servings that will fit into my thermos.

I always take real utensils. A sandwich sized Ziplock will hold the dirty items until we return home. Paper towels are a must. I can have coffee if I bring my own non-dairy milk, I don’t like the way most non-dairy options offered taste. Not sure why that is, but what I bring from home is just so much better. Or maybe it’s just what I’m used to. Besides my milk, I also bring butter, mayonnaise, salad dressing, and cream cheese. Also some bread, just in case. All dairy, gluten, and egg free of course.

These are some of my tricks for car travel. Being prepared allows me to focus on enjoying the views and our destination, and not the limitations of the food options along the way.

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Cheri’s extended interview with Teresa Schweitzer

As part of my allergy summit “A Convergence of Ideas for Food Allergy Sufferers” , I had the opportunity to interview Teresa Schweitzer, founder of TsTonics. She talks about the healing properties of her plant-based teas, tonics, and balms. They are safe for kids and pets, and all grown by her family.

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Cheri’s extended interview with Ruth Oesterman

As part of my allergy summit “A Convergence of Ideas for Food Allergy Sufferers” , I had the opportunity to interview Ruth Oesterman, founder of le Bonne Vie, a personal chef business. Her path through the distress of learning her husband had serious health issues to the success of her business today is inspirational. I hope you enjoy it.

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Tis the Season

My parents were born in 1916. Back then allergies were just

something you handled, as my mom would say: “Toughen up and just get over it.” Peanuts were everywhere, and milk was given out with school lunches.

Fresh Foods were local foods. I remember accompanying mom into the produce section and being thrilled that she wanted to know if I had any preference for a dinner vegetable. After thinking for a moment, I said – Squash! She gave me a very disapproving look and told that it was not the correct season for squash. We could only get that late summer or early fall, like when the pumpkins were available. I was a little confused and disappointed that squash was not on the menu.

Americans, in general, weighed less. Again, relying on my faulty memory, looking at television and media and even sports, people were smaller. They were not bulked up with muscles, and someone that was fifty pounds overweight was rare.

I’m not sure the cause – perhaps the chemicals in our foods, plastics leaking into our bodies, or foods just being raised out of season – not only are people bigger but we seem to be sicker. Now when I invite people for dinner, there always seems to be something that I need to avoid during the cooking process.

We are fortunate that we have several sources for fresh fruits and veggies. A farmer’s market is a great source for local produce. Whether organic or not, you will be better off eating foods that have just been picked and brought to market. If you don’t have a local marketplace, you can take a drive and go directly to the farms. Many have small roadside stands where you can purchase food that was picked today. Be sure to bring a cooler so you can get your produce home safely.

Do you like challenges? If you do, consider learning about old-fashioned food preservation. There are many ways to safely store these fresh items, including canning, dehydrating, and flash freezing.

My parents loved peaches. When fresh peach season arrived, they would go directly to the growers and buy fifty or sixty pounds of peaches. Fresh peaches are full of juice and explode their flavors into your mouth. Once the peaches came home, my parents would peel, cut, and can them. It took an entire day. In the winter they would open a jar of peaches and it made you think of summer.

In late summer we would pick buckets of wild blackberries and these would be made into jam. Strawberries would turn into preserves. Cucumbers were stuffed into jars and became pickles. Green beans were standing tall in their jars ready to make a delicious side dish.

My father would take raw meat and turn it into delicious jerky. I don’t go to such lengths, but I do use a Food Saver so that the foods that I freeze will have the best shelf life.

Lastly, think about your travels – where you are going and what’s available. My parents took a trip to Idaho in their camper. When they came home, I knew something was up as my father was all giggles. When I asked him if there was something unusual about this trip, he replied that he and my mom had been hunting. Hunting? My mother would never go hunting.

Then he opened the door to the camper and potatoes began pouring out. Hundreds of pounds of potatoes. While in Idaho they met a farmer who told them about growing potatoes. He used machines to pick the potatoes. But if the potatoes were too big or too small then they didn’t get picked up. My parents were able to go through the field grabbing the leftover potatoes, paying almost nothing for them.

Foods that are picked halfway around the world and shipped green to you so that you can eat them out of season are not as tasty as carefully preserved fresh foods. Take the fresh food challenge. You’ll be surprised and delighted with your efforts.

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My Brady Bunch

I was adopted at birth. This past year I sent my DNA away to be tested to help me look for my birth relatives. Wow. I went from one living relative that I knew about, to over one hundred new relatives, the majority of whom are all living in close proximity to each other. The bad news is with Covid, the in-person reunions are not yet possible. The good news is that it gives me a chance to stop and plan before heading out to meet them.

So what’s the best plan? Everyone brings food of course. Potluck picnic!

Most people can share, but I will only be eating the food that I bring. It’s the only way I can be absolutely sure that I will enjoy my food without having a reaction. I will bring extra of course, especially the deserts. I like to make labels for my serving plates so that if anyone else shares my allergies they know they can try my food. That’s the biggest difference between eating at home and eating with a group. Without exception someone will thank me for letting them know they can be allergy free, at least from the foods that I must avoid.

When attending a party I arrive as early as possible and walk through the food area. I ask questions about the ingredients, and look at nutritional labels if they are available. If something is homemade, then I ask about the recipe. When the other guests arrive I have the ability to walk those interested around the food line. They always smile as I quickly go through all the foods with a simple “yes” or “no”, pointing at the individual items as we walk the course.

Sometimes it seems hard to believe how many people have food allergies or sensitivities. When I was growing up, I didn’t know anyone that had food issues. The only accommodations were for the Catholic students who ate fish on Fridays. That meant fish-stick lunch in the school cafeteria, which made it the best lunch of the week as far as I was concerned.

One of my biggest frustrations as a guest, is to arrive at an event only to discover there is nothing for me to eat. Even if I have informed my hosts prior to the meal, they will often shrug it off saying “I didn’t know what that meant”. Really? So ask.

Another frustration is when the hosts don’t know what ingredients are in the foods they are serving. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. I ate for 60 years and didn’t care what I was putting in my mouth as long as it tasted it good. Now I won’t put an item in the shopping cart without checking the ingredient label.

So what will I bring to my highly anticipated potluck picnic? Everyone loves sweets, so I will bring some delicious goodies. I make a killer lemon cake, and as for my dark chocolate beer cake – well, let’s just say I’ve never had any complaints. As for the main course, that will depend on what facilities are available. It may be as simple as a roasted chicken from the grocery store, a salad from a drive-through, or perhaps something from the pressure cooker if I have a kitchen. Only time will tell.

The important point is that I am there to meet my wonderful new family, and not worry about the foods we will eat. Hopefully they will be open to some of my recipe substitutions, and we can break (gluten-free) bread and enjoy each other’s stories.

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