If you’re reading this, either you or someone close to you has probably already been suspected of, or diagnosed with, food allergies. And if you’re reading this, you probably already know that it’s tough finding foods you can eat. At times, it may seem difficult to eat out at restaurants, or at friends’ houses, or even at school. And cooking up meals for the food-allergic family may seem downright impossible. A severe food allergy can make you or your child feel isolated and self-conscious—just think of the peanut-free tables in school cafete rias, Medi-alert bracelets, the ever-present Epi-pens, special instructions for teachers, school nurses, babysitters, other parents, and relatives . . . and then, of course, the “special” meals at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It’s enough to take the joy out of the whole eating experience for anybody. How tragic, given that food is one of life’s greatest pleasures. But having food allergies doesn’t have to mean not enjoying food. I’m here to tell you, you don’t have to feel deprived! In fact, with a little recipe revision, you can eat just about anything you want.
You can have multiple food allergies and still enjoy wonderful meals with incredible variety—meals that really are delicious and satisfying for the whole family. So to those of you already enduring the restrictions of a hypoallergenic diet, I would like to stress that this is a real cookbook with scrumptious foods that everyone in your household will want to eat. Some are adaptations of old recipes I used to make before food allergies came into my life and others are things I’ve always made, which luckily are still okay. But all are delicious foods that I would still eat with pleasure, even if I weren’t being forced to by a little troublemaker called “allergic response.”
Though hypoallergenic cooking is relatively new to me, I am not a novice cook. This doesn’t mean I was trained at a culinary institute, or that I have my own show on the Food Network. What it does mean is that I have a lifetime of experience cooking easy home-style meals. I’ve been cooking for as long as I can remember. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of standing alongside my grandmother as we kneaded bread and flipped pancakes on the griddle. During my teens, I went to a boarding school that stressed the value of labor and was given the job of cooking the nightly vegetarian meal for the school’s fifty vegetarians. I learned then and there that simpler is better, especially when you’re thrown into the trenches. But simple does not have to mean tasteless. Simple does not mean buckwheat noodles with kelp and a few sesame seeds. Simple to me means easy to prepare which is the goal of every one of us raising families or juggling busy careers.
The recipes in this book are an eclectic mix, as my culinary influences are varied. In addition to an ancestral hodgepodge that includes Southern, Italian, and Jewish food, I have worked at many wonderful restaurants over the years, learning the cuisines of France, the West Indies, traditional New England, eclectic Nouvelle-America, and Japan.
I love food, and I have always loved to cook. So when it came time to revise my menus, I knew I could make it fun.
Sadly, the idea for this cookbook came to me out of necessity several years ago when my then four-month-old son Lennon was diagnosed with severe dairy and soy allergies. My poor baby had a stuffy nose and had been spitting up, burping, hiccupping, and having chronic bloody diarrhea for two months. He also had rashes, eczema behind his ears, and hives. I was breast-feeding—supposedly the best thing for him—but whenever he nursed, things only got worse. I tried formula, both dairy and soy, both of which resulted in projectile vomiting. His pediatrician first put him on antibiotics, “just in case,” then
stopped the treatment and suggested that maybe the baby was intolerant to the lactose in my breast milk. When I suggested that maybe Lennon was allergic to something I was eating, he said he’d never heard of such a thing.
My husband Adam and I were at our wits’ end, and little Lennon was unhappy, to say the least. After testing for bacterial infec tions and viruses, and ruling out lactose intolerance, we finally arrived at the food allergy diagnosis, first through the research we did ourselves on the inter net, and then through the expert advice of several wonderful physicians. I was put on a strict “Maternal Avoidance Diet” and, lo and behold, Lennon’s bloody diarrhea stopped. It was miraculous.
All of a sudden I realized what a normal baby diaper looked like. And this wasn’t all—the spitting up, the hiccupping, the audible stomach rumblings, the stuffy nose, the rashes—all of it stopped. I was so relieved at first, I didn’t even notice that I was subsisting on nothing but fruit and chicken. But after a couple of weeks, it suddenly dawned on me as I scanned the cupboards in hungry desperation: “What in God’s name am I supposed to eat?!” Lennon was blissfully nursing, but I was dropping dress sizes.
You see, for those of you new to this, when you have a food-allergic child whom you’re breastfeeding, the AAP recommends that you stay away from all the foods that the child is allergic to, as well as potentially dangerous allergens (as specified by your allergist and/or pediatrician) because exposure to the proteins from the trigger foods can wreak havoc on the baby’s already susceptible immune system. So, to avoid creating additional allergies, it is often suggested that the breast-feeding mother steer clear of all the major allergenic foods. This means no dairy, eggs, wheat, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish. Additionally, your little one may very well be on this diet for his or her first three to five years. On top of this, if you have a family history of allergies, especially on both sides, you may be advised to cut out several of these allergenic foods while you’re pregnant, too.
So, this potentially means many years of cooking without dairy, soy (which goes by many namesand is used as a filler everywhere), eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, fish, wheat, and then whatever other allergens you have been told to cut out of your diet. If you’re anything like I am, this sounds like living hell. I’m one who reads cookbooks in bed at night. I have subscriptions to Cook’s Illustrated and Saveur. I grew up tugging at my mother’s apron strings as we baked apple pies and discussed the merits of Chicken Marsala. And though I’m a writer, I was very happy cooking for a living after graduating from college, and sometimes secretly wish I’d followed that other path. On top of all this, I make a homemade meal (albeit often a very simple one) every single night for my husband who returns home late and likes nothing better than a steaming plate of homemade cheese manicotti. “This is going to be impossible,” I thought to myself. “What a horrible, horrible thing. . . .” Or was it? I’ll admit I found it daunting at first, but I rose to the challenge for the love of my child.
Of course there was a period of adjustment, of much trial and error. There was even a period of denial in the beginning. I thought that maybe Lennon’s system was just immature, and that it had somehow matured coincidentally at the same time I had stopped these foods—and God did I miss my morning latte. “Maybe just a quarter cup of milk won’t hurt,” I thought to myself, and against the advice of our doctors, I tried milk in my coffee. Within a couple of hours, Lennon’s stomach was in a terrible uproar. I learned my lesson and stopped experimenting. This doesn’t mean I didn’t slip up once in awhile, but it was always when I was eating out or at somebody else’s house and the waiter or cook or friend just didn’t realize that when I said, “no dairy, no soy, no . . .” I meant it. And I always knew when there was a slip-up, because Lennon suffered the consequences. Figuring out what’s happening to you or your loved one may take time. It certainly did for me. It was only after close observation, and some real digging into our family histories, that I began to put the pieces together.
First, I discovered that I had been prone to rashes and hives as a child. Then my mother revealed that she had developed horrible rashes on her handswhile working as a tomato picker on a kibbutz in Israel years ago; she was told it was an allergy. I remembered that my grand father was said to be “intolerant” to many foods, which caused him to shy away from eating any where but at home (I realized he probably had food allergies), and my brother swells up like a balloon from bee and wasp stings.
My husband Adam comes from a family where it seems just about everybody suffered from chronic diarrhea for the first year of his or her life. While his sister was pur port edly raised on iced tea and Jell-O until she was twelve months old because she couldn’t tolerate formula and her mother wasn’t breast-feeding, his cousin is allergic to eggs, nuts, dairy, and cat dander, and has had chronic intestinal problems her entire life.
After thinking about all these factors, it finally dawned on me that Adam and I, without realizing it, both had family backgrounds with a high incidence of food allergies.
Now that I know this, it’s clear that my children have a higher chance of developing allergies, and I need to take precautions, such as practicing prevention. My experience with my first child led me to eliminate shellfish, tree nuts, and peanuts while I was pregnant for the second time. But when my son Montgomery developed colic, eczema, and reflux in his first couple weeks of life, I realized it was once again time to take the plunge.Our family allergist said, “Colic, eczema, reflux? Sounds like allergy.” I was instructed to cut out dairy, soy, eggs, and fish, in addition to the shell fish, tree nuts, and peanuts I’d already omitted. The colic stopped, the reflux stopped, and the eczema is gone. Had I realized years ago that it could be so easy to provide relief for my infant by modifying my diet, I would have tried it when I first began nursing Lennon. So, I encourage you to inform yourself if you suspect that you or your children may have a predisposition to allergies. Ask family members some key questions, such as, has anyone had asthma? Is anyone seemingly intolerant to certain foods? And remember, seasonal allergies count here too. If you find a lot of affirmatives, you may wish to try this diet.
Looking on the bright side, and I promise there is one, following this diet has given us some wonderful rewards. I’m not going to lie; it’s hard to go out to dinner sometimes when all you can order is the chicken breast (“without the sauce, please”). But I’ve discovered that eating this way has been really great in many respects. First of all, I lost my thirty-five pregnancy pounds by Lennon’s sixth month. Second, my own occasional bouts of eczema disappeared, I stopped getting migraines, and the mysterious red rash that would appear on the sides of my nose on a fairly regular basis has been completely gone ever since I started this diet. I feel great! Additionally, my husband lost five unwanted pounds and lowered his cholesterol. He says he doesn’t even miss the Parmesan on his pasta anymore. In fact, the lack of cheese lets you really taste the other ingredients.
Do not be discouraged if it takes you a little while to navigate the grocery store or think up a good dessert. It takes time to adjust your eating habits. I’ve spent years figuring out what I can and can’t eat. So after all this trial and error, I’ve written down what I’ve learned in the hope that I may spare you some of the hassle. In the begin ning, I looked to cookbooks for guidance myself, but they all seemed specific to a certain food allergy—for example, how to bake without eggs or make desserts without dairy. And then I’d find books supposedly for dairy-allergic people that listed butter as an ingredient. Books purported to be allergen-free were full of recipes with nuts and fish. Additionally, most of the books were geared toward feeding your food-allergic child—a won derful thing, but what about the rest of the family? I just couldn’t find a comprehensive cook book for those of us out there (and we are many, I assure you) who can’t eat any of a long list of foods, but who want to eat together.
Over 12 million Americans have food allergies, and that number is rising rap idly. There are many questions about why this is occurring, but this book is not intended to answer those questions. Rather, this book is about all the wonderful healthy and delicious foods you can eat. After a couple of months, you’ll hardly notice that you’ve been on a special diet.
This book is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent disease, so please check with your doctor before trying this diet, and with a dietitian about balanced nutrition. However, if you suffer from food allergies, or if you are breast-feeding, and you come from a family with a history of food allergies (or any allergies), I strongly advise you to follow this plan (as personalized by your physicians). It can spare you a lot of heartache and protect your child from potential illness. I also recommend you use it for an allergic child and any other allergic mem bers of your household. Additionally, it can be used by people who are following an elimina tion diet to find out what they’re allergic to. Food-allergic or not, The Whole Foods Allergy Cookbook has been designed to be enjoyed by the entire family.