Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Simple meal stirs memories, appreciation

A wave of nostalgia came over me tonight as I prepared dinner. I looked over at my son and daughter playing and thought about Joseph's toddler years when his go-to meal was plain grilled chicken cutlets and applesauce paired with a fresh, steamed vegetable and a sweet potato or mashed potatoes. It was a simple, safe meal to make for my son, who is allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, milk, egg and soy. But it also was his favorite. It's no surprise that the meal quickly became a standard in our house several years ago. It is healthy for all of us and easy to whip up quickly, especially with my handy indoor George Foreman grill. We went through a lot of chicken during those years.

I hadn't made grilled chicken in a while, so tonight's meal of grilled chicken, mashed potatoes (made using Earth Balance vegan, soy-free natural buttery spread and Vance's DariFree non-dairy milk alternative) and carrot sticks brought memories of my early attempts at allergen-free cooking. I also thought about how happy I am to offer my family so many more meal choices now than I did seven years ago when we became part of the food allergy community. My toddler daughter certainly has a more diverse meal selection. We still eat a lot of chicken. But I prepare it in many different ways, such as simply roasting a whole chicken (saving the carcass for homemade chicken noodle soup), cooking chicken thighs with chopped lemons, coating chicken strips with crushed potato chips and baking them (recipe from Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN)) or making kid-friendly EZ GFCF chicken nuggets. My family also enjoys Irish beef stew with parsley dumplings (I substitute the flour in these recipes with my gluten-free flour mix), turkey meatloaf or meatballs and beef pockets. Pizza is even in our meal rotation now, thanks to King Arthur Flour gluten-free pizza crust mix and Daiya mozzarella style shreds.

Sure I've had several years to experiment with various substitutions and meals to build my recipe repertoire, but I'm especially thankful that there are so many new recipes, cookbooks and products geared toward people with food allergies and other special diets. It is so gratifying to be able to take a meal request from one of my children, such as, "Can we have macaroni and cheese?" and know that I can find a website or blog with an allergy-friendly recipe to help me fulfill that food wish.

As we plan for Joseph's quickly approaching 8th birthday, I remember the allergen-free cupcakes I made for his 1st birthday. They were pretty dry, but thankfully he enjoyed the experience. I've learned a lot about allergen-free baking since then and will be happy to bite into this year's birthday cake. For his Harry Potter-themed party this year, I will be making a snitch cake modeled after a photo I found online. He can't wait to bite into our favorite recipe from Cybele Pascal for Red velvet cake in the shape of the snitch ball and he will happily sample the rich and chocolaty base cake, thanks to the King Arthur Flour gluten-free chocolate cake mix.

Our family, as well as its meal choices, has grown since the days when grilled chicken reigned on the menu. But we still delight in simplicity, whether a simple, healthy meal or the simple pleasure of savoring a slice of tasty birthday cake.

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