Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Egg & Dairy-free Thanksgiving & Holiday Dinners

Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner are two dinners that most people look forward to once the leaves begin to change and the cool air blows in to refresh all of us after a hot summer. I can't help myself, the first time I get to break out one of my cute sweaters or colorful scarves I get all giddy inside. Before the first pumpkin is carved I have already had several conversations with my mom about the Thanksgiving menu. I love the holidays.

For those of you who have food allergies or for those of you who are cooking for your little ones who were just diagnosed with severe food allergies you may be a little less excited about the thought of planning Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. You may even have a twinge of nervousness running through your body, thinking to yourself, what am I going to feed my little boy? How do I make my little girl feel like she's not getting left out this year? Should I just steam some vegetables, make a roast and scoop out a bit of non-dairy frozen dessert? Well, this is one way and still a very good way to enjoy the holidays, but there is so much more you can do. In fact, you can make a beautiful feast for the entire family and your friends that is all egg and dairy-free and no one will even know that you have left something out. I promise.

Every year my mom has created amazing holiday menus that were entirely egg and dairy-free. This year my mom and I are going to put together a complete Thanksgiving and Christmas menu for our fans and readers to use and enjoy. We are also going to create an egg and dairy-free cookie tray to share with you. We will post the recipes and the instructional videos in a few weeks. We are so excited about sharing these recipes with all of you.

If you have any questions, please write in to us. And if you have any suggestions, we would love to hear them.

Enjoy! Have Fun! Eat well always!

Nicolle Avery

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Planning a Dinner Party for Severe Food Allergies, Celiac Disease, Vegetarians & Vegans

Nowadays when setting out to plan a dinner party it seems that we need to be somewhat familiar with our guests and their medical history before we can put pen to paper to plan our menu and make our grocery list. There are so many issues to be aware of when creating the menu for the guest list. It is a good idea to be aware of any food sensitivities, allergies, Celiac disease or food lifestyles like vegetarianism and veganism before planning the big event.

It's a lot, but it can be done with just a bit of extra thought and planning. My friend Karen is vegan and she plans dinner parties all of the time and is able to accommodate many food and health issues with ease. Her guests always walk away full and happy; even meat lovers. She serves vegan and vegetarian entrees and appetizers that could fool any omnivore into thinking they just ate something with meat in it. She knows her guests and is able to serve all of them.

This year I am planning a holiday party for December. I want it to be a feast where no matter what your food preference or health issue might be, you will be able to eat and drink and be merry! I am already planning the menu, taking into account all the dietary needs of each guest.

There are many ways to approach menu planning for parties with multiple food issues and lifestyles. You could cater the dinner towards the food lifestyle you have chosen and introduce your friends and family to new foods. And If you know there are people coming who have severe food allergies prepare a hearty appetizer that accommodates their needs so that there is something for them to eat. Also, a fun way to get conversations started about food and health is to make pretty cards to be placed in or next to each dish that lists all ingredients used and where the recipe comes from. This will allow your guests to choose what is right for them based on their dietary needs and without having to ask the host a million questions.

Another great way to plan a large dinner party is to ask a few of the vegetarians, vegans, meat lovers, specific food allergy sufferers from the guest list to prepare an appetizer and main dish to share at the party and ask them to make a card listing the ingredients and recipe they used.

I love all of my friends and family and I want them to know that I can take care of them as much as they have taken care of me all of these years.

If you have any great dinner party ideas or questions that you think I might be able to answer, please send them to us.

Enjoy! Have fun! Eat well aways!

Nicolle Avery

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Kissing with Severe Egg & Dairy Food Allergies

Those of us who are severely allergic to certain foods, where contact with these foods can result in anaphylaxis, know that kissing can be a serious thing. If we aren't careful, kissing can even be fatal.

When I was sixteen I was completely crazy about boys. I dated several boys in high school and I loved to kiss them all. The only problem is that I hated talking about my food allergies and I did not want to tell these really cute boys that if they wanted to kiss me at the end of the date, they couldn't eat a whole list of things for the entire day. How romantic is that? Not romantic at all in my opinion.

I figured I would take my chances and casually ask the boy what he had for dinner and if it did get to that crucial moment when the boy leans in for a kiss, then I would know I could kiss him instead of having to say goodnight before that awkward moment when I would have to tell him I couldn't kiss him because I might die if I do. Dating at that age was already hard and having food allergies made it ten times harder.

But it took a near death experience to realize I shouldn't play this kind of Russian roulette with myself anymore. I was on a dinner and a movie date with a boy I really liked and I was so excited because if the kissing moment occurred I knew I could do it because all he ate was a Caesar salad! After the movie he took my hand and moved in for a kiss which I completely embraced. No more than two minutes later my lips were bubbling, my chest was tight, I couldn't catch my breath and my throat started to close up. It was horrible, but thank God I did not die.

I had no idea that Caesar dressing can contain egg and this one certainly did. From that day on I never had a problem telling a date right upfront that if we decide we want to kiss he can't eat anything with egg or dairy. I made it very clear by always ending the conversation with "I could die if you do." Even today my fiance will tell me he had a tuna melt for lunch and so we will go in for a big squeeze instead of a kiss.

People have died from kissing someone who has eaten something they are severely allergic to and that is a tragedy. My heart and prayers go out to those families who have lost someone because of an allergic reaction. I learned from my experience that I needed to know more about foods and what is in them, learn the early signs of a serious allergic reaction, know how to handle a reaction and keep all of my friends and family informed about my food allergies. I am blessed to still be here and I believe it is because I take kissing and my food allergies seriously.

Nicolle Avery

Friday, August 28, 2009

Bringing Outside Food Inside a Restaurant-- Is it a Good Idea?

In 1998 I moved to New York City to attend acting school and live out my dream. To say the least, I was beaming inside and out. However, my mother was a little less excited about this move. Not only was I moving to New York City, alone, I have severe food allergies and she feared I would not eat well. Concerned about how I would deal with my food allergies in college she actually prepared dinners for me and shipped them to my apartment door on dry ice.

I quickly learned my peers lived off of cheap food and local dives around Washington Square Park. Friendships and great ideas were born bonding over quick lunches and late dinners. A few weeks into school I started to get to know a great group of people. After class one day we decided to get a bite to eat together. A friend of mine pointed to a restaurant across the way and I knew just by glancing at the name, which was in a foreign language, it was probably going to be out of the question for me. I learned long ago that if I cannot communicate with the servers or the owner, I can't eat there.

I told the group I would pop over to Wendy's to get a hamburger patty and join them in a few minutes. I decided to get the patty to-go and head over to the restaurant to eat with my friends. By the time I arrived they were being served. I sat down at the end of the table and pulled out my hamburger patty in a Wendy's potato boat. Before I took the first bite, a man came over and demanded I leave his restaurant immediately. He was irate and offended. I was mortified. I ran out of the restaurant as he followed behind me pointing and shouting.

I sat on the curb outside and nibbled on my patty while I shed a few tears.

But I learned an important lesson. It does not matter if I am going to dine at a mom and pop joint or a four star restaurant, I call ahead, around three o'clock in the afternoon, and ask to speak with the manager or chef. I explain my food allergies and politely ask if there is something he or she could make for me from the menu. Some are rude and tell me they don't have time to deal with me, but the majority are very happy to help. And a few have special ordered something for me so that I could dine with my friends and family.

If I prepare for the dining occasion in advance, I find I do not have to bring food with me to a restaurant. It's really a good rule to live by.

Nicolle Avery

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Egg & Dairy-free Italian Cooking-- Is it Possible?

I was seven and my mom and dad took my brother and I out to an upscale Italian restaurant. I remember the tables were dressed with linens, little vases with fresh flowers, and water glasses. The dining room was barely lit with candles and I just knew we were in for something special.

When it came time for the server to take our orders I had to order a meat patty and steamed vegetables. Being allergic to so many things as a child, a hamburger patty was the extent of my fine dining experience.

The food arrived and I looked around at all of the yummy pasta dishes with red sauce and white sauce. I imagined what a bite of rolled up pasta and red sauce would taste like together. I loved ketchup and it's red, so this stuff had to be good.

I enjoyed my patty, but I sat there and dreamed of the day I could try Italian cuisine.

Not too many years later, my mom started experimenting with substitutions to create egg-free and dairy-free Italian dinners for me to try. I don't want to be too dramatic, but I fell in love with Italian cuisine. This stuff is amazing. My mom learned how to make lasagna, stuffed shells, pasta and sauce, and so many other great dishes. There were new tastes and sensations in my mouth that I had never experienced before. The words creamy, rich and cheesy took on a whole new meaning for me. Some of these delicious recipes are in her cookbook, Cooking for Food Allergies Everyday & Gourmet. They had to be in there!

To this day, I prepare something from the Italian variety at least once a week.

Nicolle Avery

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Dining In v Dining Out with Severe Food Allergies to Egg & Dairy

I grew up having to say, "no, I can't have that because I am allergic, but thank you for offering" more times than I can count. When I turned 16 I learned that friends and boyfriends wanted to go out to eat to socialize. That was a frightening thing for me to realize. Benadryl and epi pens were always stashed away in my purse, strapped to my being every time.

Now I'm 30 and it's still hard. My friends and family are very aware of my food allergies and for the most part they go out of their way to think of me when planning parties and dinner outings. None of my friends have food allergies so they end up accommodating me when we meet for lunch or dinner. Sweet for me, but limited for them. There are about 5 places in Orlando that I trust to serve me.

What I mean by "trust" is that when I go to a place I look at their whole menu and take into account the size of their kitchen and how easily it would be to cross contaminate my food with something that could cause me to have an allergic reaction. If half the menu is made up of omelets and eggs galore, then I will have to keep moving along. I have come to find out that there is only so much a kitchen staff can do to make sure my food will be safe for me to eat.

Over the years however, I have grown to love dining out and being with friends and family over dinner and drinks. I love it. There is not much else in the world that can compare to a lovely table, white linens, glasses half filled, forks and knives scattered on plates, surrounded by the people I love to talk with and laugh with.

Except for me, no matter what, even if I have been to a restaurant 100 times, there is still part of me that is on guard, nervous, after every bite wondering if it's just the pepper that's making my throat tickle and itch a bit or is it an allergic reaction? And because my reaction can happen fast and be so severe, the slightest change in feeling can cause me to put my fork down, drink a few sips of water, look around at my friends and smile, hoping they don't notice the change in me. Then I take a brief step out of the conversation to check in with my body; asking all the questions. After I realize there are no other symptoms I reassure myself that I'm okay and that it's just pepper. I don't want my friends and family to recognize I'm doing this, because the fact that we're at this particular restaurant in the first place is because of my food allergies. The last thing I want to do is bring more focus to these darn food allergies.

But since it's a life or death thing, I usually look at someone if I'm in question and ask, "Can you take a look at my throat?" It's truly so embarrassing, but the people who are around me love me.

So, even though I absolutely love dining out, I prefer to dine in over a fabulous meal I have prepared by my own hands. I know I have read every label and I know every thing that is in my kitchen. When I take a bite into something scrumptious, I'm not worried about the tickle I feel in the back of my throat, I know it's the pepper.

Nicolle Avery