Thursday, February 9, 2012

Big Bowl O'Love - Dad's Special Soup

There is no denying the relationship between food and emotion.  Some foods can bring us back to childhood.  Candy Buttons always make me smile.  They taste gross but they make me smile because they remind me of the summer my cousin, John, stayed with us for the summer.  He babysat my sister and I.  I idolized John and have so many memories of that summer full of trips to the pool and riding our bikes up the road to Kenny's Market to buy candy necklaces, candy buttons and brown cow suckers.

When you have food allergies those strong emotions related to food can cause quite an internal conflict, especially when you develop an allergy to a food with ties to strong memories or emotions.  The last few years I have worked on changing my perception of food.  Looking closely at labels and ingredients helps me to shift my thinking from craving and desire to nutrition and sustenance.  It works for me, most of the time.  Sometimes though, a food holds such a strong connection that I would do just about anything to taste it again.  This is true for my Dad's special soup.  It is a recipe passed down from his mom but to me, it is my Dad's soup.  Just the smell of this soup makes me feel safe and loved, the kind of feeling a little girl gets from knowing that her Daddy is there watching out for her.

Last week was rough.  I had a wicked cold and was struggling with some personal stuff.  I was sad, frustrated, sick, tired and feeling like a lost little girl.  Every day I thought about Dad's soup.  I wanted nothing else.  Finally I called him and asked for the recipe, knowing it was full of tomatoes and potatoes but determined to see if I could make a safe version that would fill that void.  We didn't really talk about anything other than the soup recipe but just talking to him made me feel better.

I made the soup yesterday.  It wasn't the same as Dad's but it was pretty good.  I was a little disappointed until I remembered one of the secrets of the soup:  it's always best after a day or 2 in the fridge.  I tried it again today for lunch and it warmed my heart just the way a good comfort food should.  I'm also finally starting to feel like I'm getting a leg up on this cold or flu I've been fighting.  Quantities are flexible.  Put in more of what you like and less of what you don't.  It takes all day to cook so it's great for a weekend when you can enjoy the aroma filling the house but a crock pot works too.


  • Beef Soup Bone with plenty of meat on it - or a bone and some stew meat (Dad likes to use a chuck roast slow roasted in the oven and added at the end but I think that without the tomatoes you need the extra flavor from the marrow of the bone)
  • Carrots - 4
  • Yams or Sweet Potato - 2 med
  • Onion - 1 lg
  • White Cabbage - 1 med head - don't skimp on the cabbage!  This is the ingredient that makes or breaks it.
  • Garlic - 4 cloves thinly sliced
  • Beef Broth - 3 x 36oz boxes- I used Pacific Foods, all ingredients listed and no nightshades
  • Olive Oil
  • S&P

Heat some olive oil over med/high heat in a large soup/stock pot.  Add Beef to pot and sear on one side about 5 min.  While beef is searing, chop the onion.  Cut your veggies into large chunks.  Turn the beef and add onion to the pot.  Cook another 5 min.

Add Garlic, cook 3 min
Add Broth & turn to High Heat
Clean and chop remaining veggies and add to pot.
Bring to a boil.

Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer all day (6-8 hrs).  Before serving, remove the beef to a cutting board, trim fat, remove bone and pull apart.  Meat should pull apart easily.  Return meat to the pot. S&P to taste.

Cool the leftovers in the fridge.  Remember, it's better the second day.  As always, let me know how you like it and what you do to personalize it.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Asian Spiced Pork Tenderloin with Red Cabbage

There are a few bonuses to having tricky multiple food allergies.  One of the big pluses is that I have learned to be a very creative cook.  I am always looking for good recipes that I can modify to suit my Nightshade Free diet.  This one was a big hit with my husband.  He loves pork tenderloin but honestly, it's not my favorite so I usually don't make it.  I'll definitely make this one again.  I got the original recipe from Food Network and modified it to eliminate peanut oil and changed the slaw quite a bit based on another recipe I have used in the past.

Here it is.  I hope you enjoy it and I always love to hear other twists you might put on it!

1 Pork Tenderloin
1 tbsp sesame oil
2 tbsp Chinese 5 Spice Powder (traditionally nightshade free but ALWAYS double check the label!)
salt & pepper
1 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp tamari
1 tsp mirin
juice 1/2 lemon
1 tbsp finely grated fresh ginger
1 tbsp sesame oil
thinly sliced red cabbage (about 2 cups)
1 small red onion thinly sliced (about 1/2 cup)
1 red apple, washed and thinly sliced

1)  Preheat broiler to high and position oven rack 1 level below the top rack

2)  Rub tenderloin with oil, then rub with 5 spice powder and season with salt and pepper.  Place on broiler pan and roast about 10 minutes on each side or until outside browns and meat thermometer reads 150.  Let sit 5 minutes before slicing.

3) While meat is cooking heat remaining sesame oil in a skillet on med heat.  Add cabbage, red onion and apple and sauté until soft.

4) While cabbage sautes, whisk together rice wine vinegar, tamari, mirin and lemon juice.

5) When cabbage is done (some like it barely heated, some like it very wilted - it's up to you!  It could also be kept raw and tossed with the dressing) remove from heat and stir in vinegar mixture.

This recipe serves 2-3.  Serve with rice or a side of crusty french bread.

Dining Out with Food Allergies - New Orleans

Last summer I found myself in my own personal food allergy hell - New Orleans.  Beautiful city full of art, music, history, interesting people and amazing restaurants... restaurants specializing in spices, tomato sauces and seafood, especially shellfish.  Until this trip I had been managing my allergies pretty well and thought I had a good system for working with restaurants to help them accommodate my needs safely.  This town put me through the ringer.  The first night I was literally on the verge of tears as we wandered the streets of the French Quarter looking for a place to eat.  Around 10 pm a suited older gentleman, smiling, dancing and eating from a plate of italian food on the sidewalk in front of a restaurant gently took my husband's arm and turned us toward the door.  He smiled and nodded towards the door.  "Go eat,"  he said.  My husband  shook his head and explained my allergies (nightshades, shellfish, egg, nuts) and told him italian wasn't usually a good choice for me.

"You go in.  Talk to the waitress.  They'll make you whatever you want."  The relief and gratitude was overwhelming when combined with extremely low blood sugar.  My tears flooded over as we sat down on a terrace overlooking the spectacle of Bourbon Street.  After some discussion with the waitress and the cook we decided the only safe bet was grilled chicken and steamed veggies.  This was not the food I was hoping for in one of the culinary centers of the world but I was grateful for a safe meal and enjoyed the view.  

After that experience we realized it might take a little more planning than usual so I polled my FB friends, some of whom lived in Nola, and talked to the hotel staff to find out which restaurants would be most able to accommodate a special needs diet.  I specifically asked for small, chef run places where the chef was likely to be in the kitchen and food was cooked to order.  Everyone said the same thing - The Green Goddess Restaurant - and it was just a block away from the hotel.  I checked it out online and it looked amazing!  I was going to eat there every day, lunch and dinner.  That night we stopped in around 5:00pm.  It was a weeknight and they didn't open until 6.  We planned it this way knowing the chef would be likely to be in the kitchen prepping for dinner but not too busy since they hadn't opened yet.  We talked to the hostess who was setting up and she sent us on our way.  "No, we cannot accommodate you."  It was as simple as that.  I was so stunned I didn't argue, ask more questions or ask to speak to the chef.  I had never, ever been turned away from a restaurant before.

The next day I sent an email to the chef and received a nice reply that they were sorry but they just really couldn't guarantee that their food would be safe for me.  I have spent the last 20 minutes trying to put into words that I appreciate their concern for my safety and respect their decision but I can't do it.  I am a 20 year veteran of the restaurant business and have worked every position in the house, front and back, from dishwasher to manager.  I understand how a kitchen functions and I know what "can" be done and what "can't".  My understanding of the situation is not that they "could not" accommodate me safely, but rather that they chose not to.

It was still early so we continued our search for a safe meal and ended up on one of the most beautiful patios I have ever seen at Cafe Amelie.  We checked the menu which looked less traditional New Orleans and more California but very appealing and were assured by the hostess that the kitchen could accommodate special orders.  We were seated by the fountain, ordered a glass of wine and sent my list to the chef for suggestions.   My heart sank when I saw the waitress returning with a manager.  It wasn't so much that she had the manager with her, it was the look on both of their faces.  He knelt by the table and apologized sincerely for not being able to help me on this particular evening.  He explained that all of their proteins are pre seasoned or marinated early in the day to prep for dinner.  Here I am again, crying over dinner.  He suggested that I call in the morning and let him know which protein I would like and they would set something aside for me for dinner the next day.

The next day, my last in New Orleans I was wandering the French Quarter on my own while my husband attended work conferences.  I was going to go have lunch at our lunch spot where I could get a plain ham and cheese Po-Boy, boring but safe, and listen to some live Jazz while sitting outside.  I got there a little early so decided to wander a little more and came across a little place in the French Market called Meals from the Heart.  It was a food counter in the Market.  I stopped to look at the menu because it was obviously different from the other places.  The focus was on heart healthy food.  The plates in front of the diners looked and smelled delicious but it didn't look like someplace I could eat.  The lady at the counter who I later found out was one of the owners invited me to sit down and have lunch.  I explained my situation and she said, "Don't you worry.  We'll take care of you."  And she did.  The chef made me a beautiful grilled salmon on brown rice with veggies and it was seasoned so it had flavor!  After days of plain veggies, dried out chicken breasts and dry sandwiches (which are a last resort due to a mild wheat allergy) I was so very happy.

Later that night we went back to Cafe Amelie and had one of the best meals I have ever had in my life including meals eaten before my allergies.  I don't even remember what I had but I can remember the feeling of pure bliss as I savored my food on a rainy night seated in front of a fireplace.  The same manager was there and he coordinated our service with the waitress and the kitchen.  I cannot wait to go back to New Orleans and eat here again.

When relaying some of these stories and going through similar experiences the following week while vacationing with my in-laws my father in law asked, "Well, you can always just get some greens or vegetables and plain chicken can't you?"  Sure I can.  And I have.  At some places the only safe food is lettuce greens with oil and vinegar.  I have made this my lunch multiple times.  But food is connected to our culture and while traveling I have always tried to eat in local eateries vs chain restaurants.  The food of a place is part of the experience of traveling and I don't believe anyone should be condemned to boring, tasteless nutrition while those around them enjoy not only the nutritive aspects of food but the variety of flavors and textures that are unique to each culture or chef.  As someone who loves to cook, I know it can be done.  As someone who has experienced some truly amazing meals in restaurants I know it can be done in a restaurant kitchen.  It doesn't matter what is on the menu as long as there are some ingredients in that kitchen that are safe and a chef who is both creative enough to come up with something wonderful within your limitations and willing to do so.

I tip my fedora from Goorin's to those managers and chefs in New Orleans who were both.  Thanks to Cafe Amelie and Meals from the Heart for being creative, skilled and compassionate and giving me some excellent food memories from New Orleans.

Nightshade Free Foods - reviews and recommendations

This is the one word on an ingredient list that causes me the most frustration followed a close second by "natural flavorings" and "fruit and vegetable juice".  Requiring companies to list the 8 common allergens is a start but it's not enough.  There are so many of us out there with allergies that don't fall into the common category.  I've met people allergic to beans, beef, chicken, oranges, sesame and all sorts of things.  Requiring ALL ingredients to be clearly listed on labels would help those of us with allergies to make safe choices and it might also make everyone who reads labels more aware of what goes into their food.  At this point, even without the allergies, I don't think I would want to eat many of the things they are putting in our food.

I've spent a few years dealing with this and am compiling a list of companies, brands and products that provide hard to find items that are Nightshade Allergy Safe.  Please ALWAYS double check labels and trust your instincts.  This list is based on my personal experience.  I am not an authority, doctor or nutritionist.  These companies may change their formulations or recipes at any time.  Take responsibility for your health and read the label EVERY TIME!

This find made me so ecstatic!  I love Asian food but usually have to cook it myself to make it safe or stick to steamed rice and veggies at restaurants.  These are found in the frozen section.  I love making a quick soup by tossing a few in Swanson's Chicken Broth.

Other Asian Treats are:


Salad dressings:
* almost always list "spices" on the label.  Here are some that have clear labeling and are Nightshade free at the time of this blog post.

Anne's is one of my favorite companies because they clearly list the ingredients.  The 3 dressings listed above are the only 3 I've tried.  There may be more options.  Read your labels.  They also offer an Organic Dijon mustard that has no Paprika!  That is like finding gold!

Beware of boxed broths.  Many use green peppers in the chicken stock and a variety of nightshades in the veggie stock.  I haven't yet found a safe veggie broth so I usually stick with Swanson's Chicken Broth.  Pacific Foods Beef Broth is also safe at the time of this post.  

Have you discovered Nomato Pasta Sauce yet?  I found this treat at a specialty store in Woodbury, MN.  I was so happy I almost cried.  You can make pasta or pizza!  It's not the same but it is close enough to keep me from feeling sorry for myself when my kiddo and husband have pizza or pasta.  Go ahead, do your happy dance!  You know you want to!  This product does list "herbs" on the ingredients.  Normally nightshades would fall under the heading of spices rather than herbs and I haven't had any trouble with this product but if you're unsure you can always contact the company.  I emailed them about their other products; Nomato Ketchup and Nomato Barbecue Sauce and confirmed that the Ketchup does NOT contain nightshades but the barbecue sauce DOES contain cayenne pepper:(  Oh well, 2 out of 3 ain't bad and I always appreciate it when a company responds.

Another product that lists "spices" is Reed's Original Ginger Ale.  I contacted the company and they confirmed it's safety.  It has pepper, not peppers.   Bonus points to them for responding to my email within 24 hrs.

Here starts the "Boo" List - those companies that do not clearly list their ingredients and are unwilling to provide information.   Most will not give you detailed information but are willing to at least tell you if their product is safe or not.

*Early into my diagnosis I picked up a bottle of Blue Goodness.  After having a severe reaction in which my tongue swelled and I went to the ER I contacted the company to see if there was nightshade in the ingredients.  It was early into my diagnosis and we still hadn't figured out exactly what I was reacting to.  If there was no nightshade I would know that I needed to look for other possible allergies.  I explained the situation and also that I didn't need to know details - just if any of the following items were in the smoothie & listed the nightshades.  I was told they could not give me any information on the ingredients and that if I suspected I was allergic to their products I shouldn't use them.  Done.  I recommend you don't use them either.

If you have found other hard to find products or have had experiences with other companies please comment below.  I will continue to update this list as I find more resources.