Saturday, April 28, 2007

perfection's pitfalls

Oh, my - I think we hit a blog record on the last posts. Readers came out of the woodworks to comment - how blogospheric.

Thanks, by the way, to magid who not only offered a little butt-saving on a publication that I volunteer for, but also provided this: A nice shortcut to getting a human being to talk to at a number of companies, which is pretty damned crucial when trying to interpret ingredient lists.
Note: Hain Celestial, the quiet king of processed organic foods, does not have a number listed. Which, considering their track record vis a vis customer service is, well, to be expected. I hate it that Big Organic (to quote Michael Pollan) has such an uncaring ear on the other end of the phone. Or email. But maybe it's the Big in 'Big Organic' that does it.

Okay, moving on from Michael Pollan - more about him and his book some other time.
I used to watch reruns of Everyone Loves Raymond, a funny, funny show about a guy with rather insane parents who live right across the street. And have a key. The bit that's echoing in my head right now is from an exchange with a retirement community manager and Debra, Raymond's wife. The topic? Debra's mother-in-law, whose sense of perfectionism has had some, well, impact on her fellow community members.

Debra: But what about the show?
Manager: She is the show. Everyone else quit!

Sometimes, to echo my previous post, best is the enemy of good. Or even functional. Damn, but the universe does like to rub it in a little.

I've been working on a local bleeding disorder publication as a volunteer. I took over copyediting duties (temporarily, thanks to magid), and helped organize issues. I pushed for more original content, and organized a printing schedule. I was thorough, focussed, energetic, dedicated...and possibly a wee bit scary.

Finally, one mom gave it to me straight. I had sent her an edited draft of her article, and asked her to consider doing x, y and z (and possibly also c through q), and she threw up her hands. I'm exhausted and overworked, she said, and I just can't keep up with this. I'm sorry, but this is as good as it gets.

Not wanting to 'be the show,' I backed right off, thanked her for her efforts, and sat on myself. This is allowed to be as good as it gets. It is, it is, it is. Damnit.

Something cosmic has my number, that much is clear: like the rest of my hard-headed family, I tend to be tough to budge once I get an idea in my head. Polite, demure repetitions don't work - blunt honesty and a touch of rubbing my nose in it, however, is far more effective. And unpleasant, but that's the price we type AAAs pay for our tunnel vision. So, the lessons in the joys of imprecision (imperfection?) continued ruthlessly...

The Man wrote his first article for said publication. It was an analysis of trends in the growth of wages vs the growth of medical costs, specifically health insurance. Good topic, very much of interest, and it was going fine until he wrote...

If the current trend continues, the American family will have to choose between paying for health insurance or paying for other necessities for life.

Oh, jeez. I saw the numbers - he's right. Assuming the numbers are right, of course. But could we write that, without a. sending people into a panic and b. having done lots of research to be absolutely, positively sure and c. offering some positive option as to what folks can do (why create all that anxious energy, if you aren't going to focus it somehow?). Nope. Can't. See earlier quote from stressed out volunteer mum. So the article went off to the layout guy sans the sentence, but the numbers all still in there.

Both the imprecision and the realities the Man was turning up and in equal parts saddening and irksome. Where the hell are my rose colored glasses, anyhow? What about a little soft shoe? A little smoke and mirrors? Even the Spanish Inquisition - nobody ever expects them, you know.

Seriously, though, precision and perfection seem to just be setting us up for a fall right now, at Chez Imperfect. Quitting the spandex-clad gig didn't quite seem to do it, but maybe a conceptual shift will. Rain expected tomorrow? Family hike planned? Packing the slickers here, folks, but going even in the wet. Finding the Eldest hauling the Toddles around by the hood of his sweatshirt? Teaching focus on others by making the big one feed the little one dinner. Poor kid had to stay in his seat until his little brother was done (snigger). It's imperfect, it's wickedly amusing (to me), but what the hell, it is certainly functional.
Of course, now that I've given my wee speech, I should admit that there is one place I do not find myself willing to accept imperfection: my home care company (

The grumpy couriers continue. Friday night one turned up, rang the wrong buzzer, called and left a message on the machine (for which I am grateful) to say that we weren't home, and clearly this wasn't his fault. (I take it that we have a reputation which makes him so preemptively defensive?) I raced downstairs and caught him, and he told me all about how he's an electrician with 25 yrs experience who has been out of work for a while now, thanks to the boom in foreclosures. Um, good to know, dude. Thanks.

I stood there, awkwardly. I considered trying to show him that he was doing something of value, something important to us - we really needed the kid's meds, thanks for bringing them - but it was obvious that it would only highlight the non-electrician part of his life, and tick him off even more. Agh. So I exclaimed over his bad luck, looked appropriately shocked, and accepted the package of medication.

But why, oh why was I getting a delivery on Friday night? Ah. Well, I'd ordered a month's supply of clotting factor from the, told them I'd call the HTC nurse and negotiate the details with her as to how many vials of the stuff, and how big the doses should be. I called the HTC, told the nurse how many vials of 1000 units, 5000 units and 250 units we'd used over the past month, detailing any bleeds that had lead to extra dosing. I explained that we would probably need a similar quantity this month, I was putting in an order and could she call me to review specifics? They got ahold of her first (probably beeped her, the so-and-sos) and decided to send me 4 doses. Of, by the way, the smaller dosage size.


I counted very very high, and called the HTC. All a mistake, I was told. Sigh. I'm tired of mistakes, of getting 8 butterfly needles when I asked for 50, getting 4 vials when I need closer to 25. Yes, thanks to Mister Grumpy Courier-Electrician guy we have the rest, but bah, humbug. I do not wish to cut my slack, I instead wish them to have the precision that so appropriately eludes the other aspects/personages in my life. Unfair? Ah, what the hell. Maybe once my grumpiness level drops, my ability to accept the folks as human will return, but maybe not.

Maybe I need something like the Man's formula for calculating his stress level (no, apparently he can't just do an internal query, there needs to be a model, weighted elements, and probably a macro). Maybe something like this, to measure and analyze my grumpiness:

Hmm. Doesn't look so good, does it? Maybe it is time for that hike.

I never promised perfection, let alone consistency. But recipes, well, that I did promise! This one is a new favorite, courtesy of Spring and her ever patient husband.

The Artichokes of Springtime

4-6 artichokes, halves and the choke removed
3 lemons, sliced thinly
1/2 c. white wine
1/2 c. olive oil
small sprinkling peppercorns
mint (dried or otherwise) to taste
6 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed with the side of a knife
2-4 thinly sliced onions

Mix all ingredients but the artichokes and spread over the bottom of a roasting pan. Lay artichokes on top, cut sides down. Cover with foil.

bake at 400 until done - about an hour. Test an outer leaf for tenderness (discreetly). Serve, using the lemon-onion mixture as topping and sauce.
Got this in my email. The New England Hemophilia Association is raising funds for their summer camp, which is for families with bleeding disorders. Apparently, NEHA needs some new equipment (too true, I'm told - the camp's beyond barebones), and decided to hit the guys up, right before Mother's Day. Sneaky. And because I admire sneaky, I'm helping. Here it is:

Own a unique piece of jewelry designed especially for NEHA
and help us buy some new equipment for Family Camp

These beautiful bracelets are made with red garnet beads and silver accents. The center alphabet blocks, “BB – BS”, represent our community of Blood Brothers and Blood Sisters

Bracelets cost only $20, with $8 from every sale going to NEHA

Bracelets will be available for pick up at three upcoming NEHA programs
(SpringFest is May 12th, right before Mother’s Day – hint, hint)
or, if you prefer, we would be happy to mail it to you.
(Please note: Mail orders cannot be guaranteed before Mother’s Day)
NEHA Blood Brothers-Blood Sisters Bracelet Order Form

Name: _______________________________________________________________
Amount Enclosed (checks payable to NEHA): ___________________________________

Small (6½ “) Medium (7”) Large (7½”)
Quantity: _________ _________ _________
~ additional sizes available on request ~

SpringFest (5/12) Picnic (6/10) Family Camp (7/25)
I will pick up at: _________ _________ _________

Please mail to: _________________________________________________________
Order Forms should be sent to:
Sue Dowling @ NEHA / 347 Washington St. – Suite 402 / Dedham, MA 02026

If you are coming to SpringFest, please send your order via email to and you can pay when you pick up

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

missing the point

okay, that's it - I quit the supermom gig. Admittedly, parts of that gig won't quit me, but aside from that (to quote Mary Jr), I'm done.

We were driving in New York, on our way to visit one family nodule before stopping to see another, when a relative called to inquire about the menu for a birthday party I was catering. Will there be chocolate cake, he asked, because she loves chocolate cake - she should really have chocolate cake, he pursued the matter, vehemently. I fumed for days, furious that he'd missed the point, that the goal was to compromise what was desired with what was safe, how dare he dictate at that late hour...and, anyway, yes I was bringing chocolate cake.

Not the point.

Somehow, I missed the concept again this past week, when I schlepped the kids to the library. There was David Haines, a British songwriter/composer, doing a little concert. We poked our heads in and decided to risk it. The music was great (the Eldest was disappointed by a lack of songs about blood, the composer promised to rectify the situation) and the Toddles came home itchy after an encounter with a kid and his bag of Pirate's Booty - and couldn't sleep for three nights afterwards from the flaring eczema and itchiness.

I walked around the house, muttering and furious, for the next few days until Thursday, when I got up, yanked on some clothes and clomped off to the local branch of the library, Toddles in tow. I had a firm, clear conversation with the children's librarian (who herself has allergies), and we figured out a safe-ish way for the Toddles to go to his first sing-along. He loved it and he slept fine that night, which I loved.

Okay, so yes, a triumph. But missing the point.

I want to be the mother who never yells, who gives her children love and nurturing and the environment they need. I wanted to be the mother who always responds to the teachers' emails, the room mother, the one who can shoulder anything gracefully and is always, always responsible. I have a friend like that, and frankly I'm in awe. Good for her, but too bad for me - it's just not working.

Right now, I'm a pot of angry, always at a simmer. I hate that I bitch about money to anyone who will listen, that I whine about allergies, that I seem to be unable to discuss topics unrelated to my kids, and I'm bored bored bored with talking about that. When did supermom fall apart so completely in my head? I swear she was there for a while, wearing her spandex and uber-supportive bra, and I'm pretty sure she was having creative sex, too. Lots. On her spick span shiny kitchen countertops, next to her perfectly folded laundry.

I've figured it out, though: I went off the tracks this time when I stopped focussing on my family. When I was working on trying to make our normal a happy one, a functional one (loosely defining the word 'functional,' of course), things worked. Better. But when I started trying to do everything that everyone else can do (going to parties, kid-oriented events, community activities), eating what others eat (can you tell it's gluten/nut-free? vegan? No, really! it is!), then my stress levels shot sky high.

Soooo, I quit. Won't do it, can do it, just won't. I grieve for you, and the restrictions in your life, my mother told me. Thanks, Mum. But I think this is one time when fighting those restrictions will actually cost me more than I'd gain.

But we're going to that singalong next week... and I wonder how long it will be until I write another version of this post? Doing it all is seductive, a power trip that proves that you can rise above it all. For a little while, anyway.

deep inside the toddler brain, wheels are turning. In five dimensional space.

Mama: where did the day go?
Toddles, looking thoughtful, points up the stairs: go! there! day! (pause) daddy!
Toddles, looks at highchair tray: rice! bowl! muck! more muck!
translation: The day went up there. With Daddy. I have puffed rice cereal in my bowl, but I need milk. More milk.
He's a little unclear on the concept, but very definite on the idea of exclamation points.

Monday, April 23, 2007

springing up

In case you were worried, it's okay - I found another jar of Vegemite at the back of the pantry. It is, however, my last. This is a serious matter, as Kraft stopped making kosher certified Vegemite some time ago, which means that any Vegemite I purchase will not be kosher, even though it is absolutely identical to the kosher stuff.

No rabbi in the factory, no kosher thingie on the label. What oh what will I do without my Veggie on toast to shock my mouth into wakefulness? Vegemite on toast, plus coffee in mug = reluctantly wakeful moi. Works every time. Wakes me up enough for me to be allowed to play with teensy needles, which tells you something about a. how sharp and alert I can be, given incentive or b. how desperate the bleeding disorder community/my family is to have my kid clot.

mumble, grumble, grumble.

Or, to quote joy's inner toddler, stomps. Do you realize how hard I had to work for toast? The salespeople in Sears were edging away when the crazy woman was cackling about buying a toaster, but damnit, you have to have bread to be able to toast it. And apparently, a rabbi if one's breakfasty fantasies are to be put into play. Ahh, the joys of tarry, yeasty blackness on not quite burnt toast.

It is at moments like these that I have to snort at my own religion. And wish that snopes was wrong, and that the FDA and customs had really, truly decided to do something so silly as ban Vegemite from the country - at least then I wouldn't have to look at all the nearly-kosher stuff on the shelves.

Hmm. Maybe I'll try Marmite. (ducks)

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

that which comes

Our home care company, the nice folks who send us the Eldest's clotting factor and then charge oodles skidoodles of money for it (to the insurance company, who is understandably grumpy and less nice), use a courier service. Why? Dunno.

In fact, I kind of miss the UPS guy who would deliver our factor when we had the other - friendly guy, and he always offered to carry the packages in for me. Not that I needed him to - big huge boxes, mostly filled with packing material and ice packs - but it was nice.

So, a courier service. Mostly older guys, making a little extra cash in their semi-retirement, and they are really nice to the boys. I'm a little embarrassed about the couriers, since it somehow speaks luxury and unecessary expense, so I'm a little awkward with them. But that changed one day when one of the guys noticed me telling the Eldest, your box is here! He paused, leaned down and said, oh, it's for you? Do you want to sign for it?

Grinning ear to ear, the Eldest carefully printed his name on the reciept. And so it began.

I called the pharmacy, to let them know that what was happening, and made it clear that I thought this a significant thing. This is the kid's meds, and he is taking ownership of them in this small way. I offered to sign also, if needed.

Two weeks ago, a new courier showed up with our box. I brought the boys downstairs, and we opened the door. The Eldest reached for the reciept, but the man pulled back.

I've got to have a legal signature on this, from an adult over the age of 18, he told us.
That's fine, I replied. The kid'll sign and I'll sign under him.
The man stiffened. No, I need a legal signature.
I paused, and looked at him. If you listen to me, I'll explain.
Are you refusing to give me a legal signature? he asked.
Are you going to listen to me? I responded, astonished and testy.
That's it. He turned away. I'm going to tell the office that the package was undeliverable.

Off he went, an angry man with about $6,000 of medicine in his arms. Shaking my head, I went inside and made a phone call to the horrified pharmacist. Two hours later, another courier was on my doorstep, apologetic and baffled. Apparently, after the courier had stomped off, he'd refused to answer cell, radio or home phone number.

Admittedly, I was very generous about the whole thing in the face of the's and couriers' apologies. I could afford to be: I had just shown the Eldest how to stand one's ground, and when to use firmness over fury. If only I could remember that when the Eldest himself is pushing my buttons, so I suppose I should be grateful to the angry courier for letting me put on my little advocate mama show.

Thanks, dude. Now for heaven's sake, take a valium.

unravel'd sleeves and drummers

Thanks to everyone who commented on or emailed me about the allergy 101 post. Keep the comments coming - it helps immensely to know what kinds of information you guys want. A permanent link to it is now on the Things I Look At list. And now, back to the blog:

Recently, after a long and frustratingly awake afternoon with the Toddles, Mary Jr. had a brainwave.

I sat on the bed with him and read books until I was done, she told me. Then, I looked at him and said, okay, we're going to take a nap now.
I waited for the punchline.
And he did.

Sensibly, I chalked this up to one of those magical things that children will do for grandparents and caregivers, but never for their own, loving parentals. Today, however, I was grey with tiredness, and collapsing into my third? fourth? cup of coffee. By 11.30, I was well aware that naptime was a one-shot deal: when I laid him down, I was going down with him. The possibility of a sleeping parent and a shriekingly happy (and awake) toddler was very real.

So, I tried it. I read him a couple of books, then informed him that it was time to sleep. And glory be, but he did.


Sleep is the silent price that allergy parents pay. A child reacting to foods in his dinner is going to have a long, unhappy night. A child with allergy-triggered eczema is going to wake himself up, scratching in his sleep. One allergy mom told me that she was just too tired to think: He sleeps for two hours, max. I know what he's allergic to, but I'm so tired I can't figure out what to do about it. Stomach aches and severe itchiness scoff at sir Ferber and his kin. There is no sleep training that will help a miserable child sleep, and the risk is that they will develop poor sleeping habits, reinforced with each exposure. For us, it was three years before the Eldest broke his 2 hr 45 min max, longer before he woke only once per night - a pattern that we ducked by identifying the Toddles' allergies earlier and by responding more aggressively.

Still, both boys would - and do - scratch in their sleep, waking up with bloody little tattoos and wailing. For the Toddles, a single exposure means three lousy nights of sleep - a hell of a price to pay. Individual slip-ups aside, habits are hard to break even when you remove (I hope) the cause. Nice to see that we've come so far in our efforts that a firm, practical voice can help shape sleep.

Wonder if it'll work again?
And now, a couple of cute kid stories:

The Toddles has broken new verbal ground, and discovered: the sentence! He's now talking thoughtfully, practicing with the construction and combination of words. Today's gem:

Eep. Now. (a slightly smelly pause) Boop? Eep boop?

Translation: I'm going to sleep now. (pause) I think I have poop. Can I sleep with poop/Poop while sleep/does poop sleep?
Explanation: the Toddles is unclear on the distinction between poop and gas.
A couple of weeks ago we had a rare nice day. It was so nice that a woman took herself and her drum out to the park near the Eldest's school. When the Toddles and I went to get the Eldest, we walked past her, sitting on the grass, practicing. When we returned, Eldest in tow, she was still there.

The son of a human beat-box, the Eldest was entranced. Not only was she playing a drum, she was playing a janggu or changgu drum, a strikingly different drum played with a sort of flat stick in one hand and a thick, rubber tipped drumstick in the other. She played steadily, pausing occasionally and almost seeming to rest on the drum.

Shy, the Eldest wanted to wait until she was done until he could ask questions. So, for about forty minutes he circled her carefully, keeping a respectful distance. Eventually he decided that she must be nearly finished, so he spiralled towards her, until he was simply standing a few feet away. She finished, and the Eldest asked her about the drum.

Lovely, nameless person this one, for she gave a drumstick to one child, and the flat stick to the other, and let them try them out for a bit. My thanks to you, lady - you taught my boys all sorts of little lessons about the unexpected places where one can learn, discover, and the kindness of strangers. Well, strangers with drums, at least.


For months, edamame have lurked in my freezer. Finally, erev Pesach, I decided to use them up. Here's what I tried, and my guinea pigs thanked me for it:

Edamame-Avocado Soup (9 happy servings)

  • 1.5 lb frozen, shelled edamame (green soybeans)
  • 3 c water, more as needed to achieve a smooth, pleasing consistency
  • 1/4 c scallions
  • 3 ripe, peeled avocados
  • 4 Tb lemon juice
  • handful (1/3rd cup?) fresh parsley
  • salt and black pepper to taste

Put edamame in microwave, covering beans with water. Zap for about 5-8 minutes, or until soft. Drain and set aside.

Toss scallions and avocado into food processor. Puree. Add everything else and puree. Taste and adjust seasonings, using extra lemon juice and parsley to balance out the scallions. Cover and chill.

in case you were wondering, beer is back, baby! Typically made with glutinous grains, Anhauser-Busch decided to try making a sorghum beer. According to the reviewer, the beer is a little sweet but entirely pleasant. On the other hand, he admits to not having been a beer-drinker in his gluten-containing life. So you decide.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

the allergy list (Imperfectly relevant only!)

Welcome to Imperfect Allergy 101.

I find this title to be appropriate in a number of ways, aside from the obvious. Mostly, it suits because this post will always be imperfect. Consider it a starting point, a beginning education. The suitability (and ingredients/processing) of any product mentioned here can change, so please do check in with me when you go shopping. Above all, thank you for reading this, and for undertaking to feed my family, and welcome us into your home.

We can only imperfectly express how cognizant we are of the challenge you take on, and how delighted we are that you chose to do so. Truly, if we had a choice, we wouldn't. But here we all are, so let's get to work.

The Upside
I find that when people see our list, they blanch and stop thinking. All they can manage is something along the lines of, but what do you eat? Well, let's start there. We eat:

  • cheese! lots and lots of cheese - but check for lysozyme, which can be extracted from eggs...
  • dairy of all kinds (brand specific, o' course, but did I mention DAIRY? yes? okay, then, did I mention ICE CREAM? am I grinning like an overfed idjit? I am? right we are, then.)
  • pasta (rice pasta!)
  • fish (if your fishmonger sells prepared fishes, always ask for fish from the back room to avoid cross-contamination.)
  • chicken
  • turkey
  • beef
  • lamb
  • salads. Lots and lots of salads. And homemade salsas. And fresh veggies. And fresh fruit. And - okay, stopping now.
  • root veggies
  • soups
  • rice and wild rice (gluten free)
  • spring rolls (rice wrappers, thanks!)
  • any number of tofu products (but not Tofutti because, well. yeah.)
  • homemade sushi (check your soy products for wheat!!)
  • curry (as of 2/08, with soy!)
  • bread (you might want to talk to us about specific bread-like options)
  • pizza (think lots of deeply roasted veggies, sizzled lox, AND cheese - did I mention the cheese?) 
  • fresh fruit (excepting kiwi)
  • homemade sorbet (but avoid 'tropical' flavors, since some of those flavors could be kiwi)
  • coffee, chocolate - no, wait, that might just be me.
  • peanut butter! Yes, the clever lad that is our Eldest has decided to reexamine his peanut allergy, and lo! Peanuts and other legumes have rejoined our life. But watch out for nut allergy warnings on that PB, and hunt yourself up a fresh jar of J.
  • dips (tahini-free hummus, tapenade, safe eggplant dips - and did I mention salsas?)

Specific recipes can be found by typing their name, or a main recipe ingredient into Blogger's search feature.

Allergy Rules to (literally) Live By

* don't eat anything if you don't know exactly what's in it.
* always consider cross-contamination. For example, innocent rice cakes are usually made with sesame flavored rice cakes on the same machinery. Cross-contamination ensues. Ever brush sesame seeds off the bottom of a plain bagel? Pull grains of barley out of a bag of lentils? Don't risk it.
* avoid vague labels. If the label says anything like 'spices,' 'flavors,' 'natural flavor,' or "colors' put it back on the shelf. Just because something is 'natural strawberry flavor,' doesn't mean it's ever been near a strawberry. Go buy a real strawberry, instead of the cackling mad scientist production that is a Ding-Dong. Your body, the eco-system and our boys' immune systems will thank you for it.
Note: artificial flavors and colors are okay, our allergists tell us, because they are so far removed from actual food that they don't have a risk of an allergen. Disturbing, but hey.
* read every single label, every time. Buying two cans of beans? Check each can to make sure the ingredients are safe. Manufacturers can change their ingredients without changing their packaging, so always read the label. Every label, every time.
* watch out for dried beans! We've found wheat in Goya's dried beans, and barley in many other brands...sigh.
* consider the crumble factor. A slice of bread will leave any number of traces - on the tablecloth, the carpet, a child's clothes. Crumbly food is more dangerous than non-crumbly food, so....
* If you eat it and it's got allergens, clean up after. Clean: hands, face, eating surface, countertops where food was prepared. Life happens, and when done right (according to the Man) it includes a PB&J for lunch every day at work. So, before coming home, he washes his hands and face, and tidies up. It works.
* children change everything. The ability of small children to race away from the table, hands and face unwashed, is an alarming thought when you have allergens at the table. Try a box of baby wipes by a parental chair, and wipe small hands and faces before they escape. Do a quick clothes check for residue. Got a kid who throws food? Don't serve allergens at the table. Got a polite, tidy eater? consider a non-crumble, non-smearing allergen, like beans - and have the wipes handy.
* wipes or wash - not Purell! Despite what you may hear, studies have shown that antiseptic hand-cleansers do not- do not - do not remove allergens. A wet wipe will do that, but the best cleaning method is soap and water (with a supervising adult for the small people).
The Allergy List
  • sesame
  • kiwi
  • tree nuts (including pine nuts)
  • wheat
  • eggs
  • dairy
  • pumpkin seeds

  • poppy seeds
  • rye
  • barley
  • spelt
key: anaphylactic means life-threatening allergy, the item should not be on the table, and cross-contamination should be strictly avoided.
Moderate means a systemic allergy, which has the capacity (as does any allergy) to become life-threatening. We recommend not serving foods with moderate level allergens during a meal we attend, as it's too easy for cross-contamination to happen. One of the Eldest's moderate allergens, in one dish can be fine, but the Giggles is still learning how to coexist with human food. Whichever you choose, please warn us! There's a psychological benefit to having an allergen-free meal, but there's also a developmental aspect: the Eldest can - and should - handle some degree of risk responsibly, the Gig? Russian roulette. Fun, eh?
Contact allergies are when the person will react just from touching the food/a dish containing the food. Obviously, we don't recommend this as a form of entertainment.

Suggested Alternatives
grains: rice, wild rice, quinoa, potatoes, sweet potatoes
protein: chicken, turkey, beef, lamb, fish (especially popular, Chez Imperfect), soy, dairy
beans: lentil, green beans, black beans, great northern beans, small white beans, chickpeas or, heck, any bean.
dairy: dairy offers creaminess and richness to many recipes. We're dairy friendly these days, but if you are cooking a pareve/fleishigs meal (kosher), here's what we've found. For dairy substitutes, it depends on context.  Try substituting a mixture of coconut milk and rice/soy milk for cream, rice/soy milk for skim milk (rice and soy milks are sweeter and thinner than dairy milk - be warned!), deeply sauteed onions and wine for richness in savory recipes. See warning regarding rice milk and soy milks.
broth: unless homemade, broths contain 'spices,' or other vague ingredients - and many contain the Toddles' grains. We've only found one company who would really talk to us about their products (as opposed to form letter reply). In general, broth isn't worth the risk. Make some with the ends of your carrots and onions and potato peels, stripped herb stems or whatever you have, simmered for a ruthless 2-3 hrs in lots of water. Or try sauteed onions (browned), peppercorns, bay leaves, salt, fresh pepper and a splash of cooking wine to deglaze the pan.

menus! To prove it can be done...

* try this: brown rice pilaf, apple spinach salad, lasagne. Add a veg and you have a rather starchy but yummy meal. (Note: the job of the pilaf is to act as backup in case of children digging in their heels at the sign of the lasagne.)
* the Thanksgiving menu
* this quick, if highly vegetarian dinner
* this also quick (but nonvegetarian) dinner
* this Eldest-pleasing meal
* this Shavuot menu
* the Pesach menu
* semi-scones! a quick yummy baked treat
*a one-pot vegetarian meal
*fried fish or chicken fingers - kids' delight, and quick cooking!
Note the First: not all recipes are updated as to the relevant allergies. If you leave a query in the comments section, I'll respond with a recipe tweak.

Note the Second: the above are posts that include menus, specifically. There are also lots of individual recipes. Try a search for 'recipe' in's 'search this blog' box at the top of this page. Or click on any recipe tag to get a list of recipes that we've tried. Still not hooked? Try's recipe search, using the 'exclude' feature to find safe recipes for our crowd. Also, look around for other allergy/celiac/gluten-free blogs. You may need to avoid/adapt some recipes, but they are a wealth of information. For example, take a peek at Gluten-Free by the Bay's Pesach (Passover) roundup Pesach (Passover) roundup. Wow.

products that work - today, anyway!
* Tinkyada pasta
* Soy Dream soymilk ( many soy milks have barley/wheat in them, Rice Dream has barley cross-contamination issues, other rice milks have nut cross-contamination issues)
* Trader Joe's lox/smoked salmon
* Ducktrap smoked trout, smoked roasted salmon (and hello? YUM!)
* Wildwood soy yogurt (it really is dairy free, and I'm mystified by the hechsher)
* Enjoy Life cookies (the snickerdoodles and chocolate chip cookies are especially popular)
* Trader Joe's wheat free vanilla extract
* Real Foods organic original flavor corn thins
* Trader Joes dried fruit - TJ's is good about labelling for nuts, peanuts and cross-contamination
* Trader Joe's kettle corn, some tortilla chips (check labels)
* Trader Joe's gluten free pancake/waffle mix, Van's frozen gluten-free, dairy-free waffles.
*, use their advanced search to list things you want to avoid, plus 'kosher' as a thing you want, and see what turns up!
* Cherrybrook Kitchen's gluten free mixes, most Gluten Free Pantry mixes, 1,2,3 Gluten Free! mixes
* Luigi's Italian Ices, Trader Joe's Ice Floes
* Sharon's Sorbet
* Hood's - see their website for gluten-free, and allergy friendly lists of products.
*General Mills: Kix and Rice/Corn Chex are both fine, and GM has a good history of working to track allergy safety.

Companies to avoid:

  • Hain Celestial - lousy customer service
  • Earth's Best (are they owned by Hain's? The voices sound familiar when I call with questions)
  • Gerber (cross-contamination plus lousy customer service)
  • Tofutti - unapologetically not labelling for the nuts in their ice creams, last I checked. What else are they not telling us?
  • Glutino, a gluten-free endeavor, who has sesame on site - excepting Gluten-Free Pantry, which is owned by Glutino, but seems to have a different facility.
  • 365, who has a bad cross-contamination track record.
  • Unilever, for an impressively dense form letter response. 

Products to check carefully:
- oats - most oats have wheat cross contamination. Quaker Oats are fine (but check the label), and Bob's Red Mill makes a gluten-free oat (but many non GF oats, so check). Arrowmill oat flour has also been fine in the past.
- vanilla extract (wheat/wheat derived alcohol) Trader Joe's often has a wheat/alcohol free variety, as do many other stores.
- rice. Some companies rotate their rice crops with wheat and may have wheat inadvertently mixed in. Check the labels carefully. If a bag of rice says it's "gluten-free," then you are fine.
- anything that says 'textured protein,' 'vegetable protein'
- anything that says 'fruit,' 'fruit juice,' or unspecified fruit product. Alas.
- rice, soy milk (can contain barley or other grains, or be made on the same machinery as nut milks)
- rice cakes and crackers (even if you get a plain kind, the company usually has a dairy or sesame variant, big risk for cross-contamination)
- potato chips (wheat is often used as an agent to hold on flavors)
- gluten-free baked goods (often contain nuts or egg)
- dried fruits (often processed in the same factories as nuts)
- ice creams/sorbets/juice (when they have nonspecific naturally derived flavors or vaguely described, like 'tropical fruit juices.' Most ice creams have nut variants, also, so as lovely as they seem, I'd avoid all ice creams but the 365 brand - especially Tofutti)
- olives - olives packed in oil can be packed in vegetable oils. Which begs the question: what kind of vegetable? Check!

Bottom line: go simple. Buy fresh produce, whole foods, simple foods. Roast that chicken, broil that fish, toss that salad. And then call up your doctor and boast about the healthy stuff you ate...shortly before you fled our company in search of a good doughnut.

This post was last updated on: 8/4/2011.