Back in November, I wrote about my son’s elimination diet. His esophagus was inflamed by white blood cells (eosinophils) that shouldn’t be there. A pediatric gastroenterologist and allergist team diagnosed him with something called eosinophilic esophagitis, a type of allergy most likely triggered by a food or foods. To start treatment, we lopped off the top four suspects: Eggs, wheat, dairy and soy. In a couple of weeks, he goes for an endoscopy to see how it’s working and what we should do next.
Well, we know something’s working. Before the diet, he would only eat three or four bites at a time of anything before he felt what he thought was "full." He was losing weight and his growth had slowed. In the past three weeks, though, I’ve been afraid to sit next to him for fear he’d stick a fork in me. He can easily eat three plates of pulled pork at a sitting, or three-quarters of an (allergen-free) pizza. If he eats an apple or two oranges and tries a bite or two of vegetable, he’s allowed to enjoy as much as he likes of chips and (allergen-free) cookies (recipe follows). He’s asking me to pack him more for lunch. I can’t put into words how oddly wonderful this is after years of fights over food and eating that we thought were behavioral issues. The word "anorexia" actually came up at one doctor visit.
The only problem with J.R.’s newfound appetite is, he still can’t have eggs, wheat, dairy or soy. If you’ve never dealt with something like this, you might not believe how many foods this excludes. I’d say it’s about three-quarters or more of what you can find at the grocery store. Seriously. It’s easier to say what he can eat: Not counting the stuff in the health food or gluten-free section, he can have any kind of meat or fish (except processed kinds that contain wheat), any kind of fruit or vegetable, frozen french fries, rice, peanut butter, about half the condiments, and That. Is. All.
Pretty much everything he eats has to be whole food cooked at home in a specially marked pan that can’t have touched any of the aforementioned allergens since its last washing (or at a well-researched restaurant.) We’ve all had our fill of chicken in any form. Ham is teetering. We have to be careful about sausage, but J.R. is wary of it even if we tell him it’s fine. We eat a lot of burgers - with forks, no buns - and Ore-Ida should have sent us a Christmas card. We have steak or pot roast about once a week. I make him bacon and an allergen-free pancakes every morning before school. I pack him baggies of turkey, fruit, chips or pretzels for lunch. We tried non-dairy yogurt, but it didn’t pass muster.
Five things I’ve learned:
1. There are 24 ways to replace an egg. Yes. And guess where I learned that. Oh, you’ll never get it. It’s on the website for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. No kidding. For the poster, go to https://www.peta.org/living/food/vegan-egg-replacer-guide/. The best one I use in my chocolate chip cookies: 2 tablespoons water, 1 tablespoon oil and 2 teaspoons baking powder. When you mix it up, it fizzes, and that’s when you want to add it: Before it stops fizzing. But the other 23 are interesting, too, and each is good for different uses. PETA explains what each one is good for.
I also have a bag of Neat Egg in my pantry, which is made from chia seeds and garbanzo beans. When you add water to that, it gets gluey and works as a binder.
2. Other good options are 2 tablespoons of arrowroot powder in stir-fries; 2 tablespoons mashed potato flakes for binding meatloaf or meatballs; mashed banana for moisture in cookies and brownies; and applesauce in cakes and muffins. There’s more. I have the poster saved in my "notes" app on my phone so I can pull it up with two clicks.
3. I’ve seen the term "xanthan gum" in ingredients lists before and always laughed at it. It sounds so weird and exotic. Well, I’m not laughing anymore.
One of the problems with gluten-free baking is that gluten, depending on how much it has been handled, holds dough together when baking. It’s what gives bread its chewiness, and what keeps cookies from falling to ash when you pick them up. I’m exaggerating. Eggs help too. But we don’t have the luxury of eggs. So I’ve learned that in almost anything that calls for gluten-free flour, add a teaspoon of xanthan gum.
What is it? According to www.webmd.com, it’s a "sugar-like compound made by mixing fermented sugars with a type of bacteria." It has a lot of uses: Making medicine, lowering blood sugar in diabetics, as a laxative, as a saliva substitute - and as a thickening and stabilizing agent in foods. It’s the last one that we care about here. When I first made my cookies for J.R. with Bob’s 1-1 flour, I didn’t use the xanthan gum and they spread out too much and fell apart and their texture was all gritty. It just took a scoop of good old xanthan gum to fix that.
4. I’ve learned that I can’t see like I used to. I learned this trying to read ingredients lists. I wound up asking for a very humbling eyeglass chain for Christmas, to put around my neck so I’d always have my drug-store readers handy to read, read, read and read ingredients lists. Luckily, the foods J.R. has to eliminate were all on the list of things manufacturers have to put in bold at the end of the list saying "Contains: XXX." They only have to do that for the top eight foods that cause allergies. And by the way, J.R.’s doctors said he actually can have soybean oil and soy lecithin. They said those ingredients are so processed that the body doesn’t recognize the protein and doesn’t react to it. Now there’s a ringing endorsement. But companies will still say "Contains: Soy" anyway, so you have to wade through the whole list to see what form of soy it is.
5. I could go on for days about everything I’ve learned, and we’re only at the beginning of this adventure, but here’s another piece of advice that nonallergic readers can use: J.R. has, perhaps obviously, become very fond of steak. Also, perhaps obviously, that gets expensive, even if we only have it once a week. I have found that he will accept an eye of round roast sliced into steak-like portions, sprinkled with McCormick’s Montreal Steak Seasoning and seared to medium - a meal that costs about half the price of buying a pre-cut top sirloin or New York strip. You’re welcome.
If you have any allergen-free cooking advice for me, feel free to email. If you have a question, you can do the same, but I’m no expert, and fair warning: I’ll probably refer you to your doctor or dietitian.
Prep time: 10 minutes; cook time: 15 minutes; total time: 25 minutes; makes 12 pancakes
- 1½ cups all-purpose, gluten-free flour
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1½ teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon Ener-G Foods Egg Replacer (or Neat Egg)
- ¼ cup warm water
- 3 tablespoons canola oil, divided
- 1-2 cups nondairy milk (Start with 1 cup and add additional to correct consistency.)
Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium-sized mixing bowl. In a small bowl, whisk the egg replacer and warm water together until fluffy. Add egg replacer and water mixture, 2 tablespoons canola oil, and nondairy milk to the flour mixture. Mix well.
Heat remaining canola oil on a griddle or skillet over medium-low heat. Pour batter onto griddle and cook until bubbles stop forming and edges become firm. Flip pancake and cook for a couple of minutes longer. Remove from griddle. Repeat until batter is gone.
Nutrition per pancake: 113 calories; 3 g fat; 0 g saturated fat; 0 mg cholesterol; 340 mg sodium; 21 g total carbohydrate; 1 g fiber; 5 g sugar; 2 g protein
Double Chocolate Banana Bread (gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, soy-free, peanut-free, tree-nut-free, top-eight-free, vegan)
- 2 medium overripe bananas, mashed until smooth
- 1/3 cup coconut oil, measured and then melted
- ¾ cup brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup vanilla or plain nondairy milk
- 1½ cups gluten-free flour
- ¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ¾ teaspoon xanthan gum (omit if your gluten-free flour includes this already)
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup nondairy chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease a 9-by-5-inch nonstick loaf pan with baking spray.
In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat together bananas, oil, sugar, vanilla and nondairy milk until smooth.
Turn the stand mixer to low and slowly add flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, xanthan gum baking soda, and salt one at a time until it’s fully incorporated. Scraping the sides as necessary. Fold in chocolate chips, then pour into prepared pan.
Bake about 45-55 minutes, or until cake has risen and is slightly cracked, and a toothpick comes out clean.
Let cool in pan 10 minutes, then run a knife around the edges to loosen and remove from pan. Transfer to a rack to cool completely before cutting for best texture results. (I like to bake mine the night before and enjoy it the following morning!)
Nutrition information per 1/12 loaf: 275 calories; 14 g fat (9.4 g saturated); 0 mg cholesterol; 214 mg sodium; 44 g carbohydrate; 3.4 g fiber; 20 g sugar; 3.1 g protein
J.R.’s Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookies
- 2¼ cups Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free 1-to-1 Baking Flour
- 1 teaspoon xanthan gum
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 1-cup package Butter-Flavored Crisco
- ¾ cup white sugar
- ¾ cup brown sugar
- ¼ cup water
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 4 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 (10-ounce) bag Enjoy Life Semi-Sweet Mini Chocolate Chips
Preheat oven to 375 F.
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, xanthan gum, salt and baking soda. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream Crisco and add sugars, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.
In a small bowl, combine water, oil and baking powder with a fork. It will start fizzing, as it fizzes, add it to mixing bowl and stir in. Add vanilla.
With the mixer on low speed, push flour mixture into the bowl, mixing just until moistened. Add chips and mix just until combined.
The batter will be sticky. Using fingers and a spoon, scrape roughly 1-inch mounds of dough roughly 2 inches apart onto ungreased, insulated baking sheets, or parchment-lined jelly-roll pans. Bake only one sheet at a time for 9 minutes per sheet.
Let cookies cool 2-3 minutes on sheets before removing to cooling racks.
Hint: Run hot baking sheets under cold water until they reach room temperature before using for a new batch of cookies. (If you put dough onto a hot sheet, it will burn on the bottom before the top is baked.)
Nutrition information per cookie: 121 calories; 6.6 g fat (2.6 g saturated); 0 mg cholesterol; 119 mg sodium; 17 g carbohydrate; 0.6 g fiber; 9.2 g sugar; 0.4 g protein
Jennie Geisler can be reached on Twitter:@ETNGeisler.