This morning my children were lounging on the floor, surrounded by sweets. The peanut butter and jelly cupcakes disgusted Joseph, but the extremely tall frosting on the strawberry cupcakes had his mouth watering. Pamela was excited to see chocolate chunk cookies and loved how the heart-shaped chocolates looked.
Not to worry, I was not taking my kids along on an early sugar binge, nor was I letting my severely food-allergic son near unsafe foods. We simply were perusing piles of cookbooks. I have always loved cookbooks and have a bookcase full of various genres that reflect the different stages of my life. There are books from the 1970s that my mom once consulted; recipe collections from B&Bs my husband and I visited; a Penn State University tailgating cookbook; several holiday-themed selections; a shelf full of dessert temptations; recipes for low-fat cooking; big books full of Italian recipes; and allergen-free cookbooks. So, it is no surprise that my kids also enjoy flipping through the pages, especially of the dessert books.
When Joseph, 7, was first diagnosed with life-threatening allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, milk, egg and soy, many of those cookbooks started collecting dust. At 9 months old, Joseph didn't need much food yet anyway. But it was more because my focus was on making the house a safe place for him and on finding foods he could safely eat. Looking at many of those books full of foods that could make him sick or even end his life disgusted me. I was frustrated, too, because every recipe called for at least one allergen he had to avoid.
But as I became more confident cooking for my son's allergen-free diet, I saw those books for their potential. So did Joseph. A few years ago, he collected photos of sweet treats that he had cut out from magazines, catalogs and the little cookbooks that are sold at the grocery store checkout line. It didn't bother him that he couldn't have the actual food in the photo because he knew we would find a way to make our own Joseph-safe version.
Most recipes I follow require some type of ingredient substitution — even allergy-friendly recipes often include something Joseph is allergic to or doesn't like. But that's OK. I know how to substitute and now, I relish the challenge. My family is used to my explanation that I had to "punt" because I didn't have an ingredient or that I wasn't sure what I did to make something taste so great. I love putting my creativity to work in the kitchen and I love having all those cookbooks to give me ideas. I'm especially thankful for the wonderful allergy-friendly cookbooks and websites now available to provide safe ideas.
We didn't make any of the treats Pamela and Joseph spotted today — we actually were supposed to be looking for a biscuit recipe. But I'm sure we will be turning back to at least one of those pages to make our own tasty version soon.