Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The taste of nostalgia

“This tastes like nostalgia.” A recent dinner featuring grilled chicken carried my son back to his younger days when his favorite meal was grilled chicken with applesauce. He ate that meal a lot, as in most of his meals for lunch and dinner were grilled chicken with applesauce plus a steamed vegetable like broccoli and perhaps a sweet potato with some brown sugar on it. Some other meals such as those featuring rice pasta, bacon or grilled steak, also made the cut for Joseph’s meals, but grilled chicken was the clear favorite. His multiple food allergies certainly limited his meal choices, but not that much.

I have spent a lot of time searching for and researching foods that would be safe for my son, who is allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, milk, egg, soy, sesame, mustard, strawberry and watermelon. Every new product means I have a chance to expand his diet just a little bit more. I’m happy that there are so many more options now than when I started this journey almost 12 years
ago, and some brands have been with me all along. For example, I still use the Whole Foods 365 Organic applesauce I started using when Joseph was a toddler because it has one ingredient — organic apples. Nothing is added, thus lowering the risk that it could contain an allergen.
My determination to make Joseph’s birthdays special has always been a big part of my efforts in the kitchen. His birthday is the only time that the dessert everyone is eating is safe for him and he does not have to feel the sting of exclusion. As he turns 12 this week, it is a time for me to be nostalgic, too. I looked back at the treats I made each year for his birthdays and also for my daughter Pamela’s birthdays because I serve only treats that are safe for Joseph at her parties, as well.

I give props to my family and friends for bravely tasting each year’s creations. Some were successes, while others — especially in the early years — were fails. For Joseph’s first birthday, I made delightfully dry cupcakes whose only saving grace were the Bob the Builder cupcake wrappers. I also tried to make his 1st birthday cake look like a book to go with the story time theme we had. It made him cry. After that, I realized that cupcake toppers were an easy, allergy-friendly way to coordinate the dessert with the theme, whether I used soccer balls, little Hot Wheels cars, beachy toppers or tennis rackets. I also often make cookies decorated with melted chocolate or a sugar glaze to accompany the main dessert. Chocolate candy made using melted Enjoy Life chocolate in various shapes, such as Wii remotes or ballet slippers, is always a hit, too. I like to provide options because it is fun to try out different flavors and designs, but also because I figure if one dessert fails at least there is another sweet option.

I started to exercise my decorating muscle by the time Joseph turned 5 and we had a mini golf party. The cakes were tastier by then, thankfully, as I learned how to better bake without gluten, dairy and egg. By the time Pamela turned 4 and had a princess party, I had so much fun making a doll shape cake. Joseph says his favorite was the snitch cake I made for his Harry Potter party when he turned 8. Last year for a video-game party I made Wii remote cakes that were a big hit. Joseph is eschewing the idea of a theme this year, so flavor might outshine design. He wants a Boston cream pie for his actual birthday and a red velvet cake for his party. Both yummy family favorites are Cybele Pascal recipes. I just hope they give him big birthday smiles.

I get a double dose of nostalgia this week, as Mother’s Day always conjures memories of my mom, who died 19 years ago. She loved to bake, so it is natural that certain desserts like brownies, blondies, cherry pie and chocolate chip cookies always remind me of her. The pancakes I am making for Joseph’s birthday breakfast are an allergy-friendly version of her recipe. I make those pancakes every week and think of her every single time I’m measuring out my ingredients, wishing she were here to enjoy them, too.

Chicken also plays a role in my nostalgia. The other day I was trying to figure out what chicken dish to cook for dinner when I looked at the homemade croutons I had just made to freeze for the tomato panzanella salad I’ll be making for Joseph’s party. Those croutons reminded me of the creamy baked chicken my mom used to make using a stuffing mix for the crusty top. Then I remembered my late Aunt Marguerite’s creamy chicken divan that I always loved and thought that leftover steamed broccoli in the fridge would work for that. Thanks to Cybele Pascal’s dairy-free Alfredo sauce recipe, and Daiya mozzarella and cheddar style shreds, I was able to combine two dishes that brought back fond memories to create a new chicken dinner option that my kids loved. Now I have to make a new batch of croutons, but making my kids happy with another take on chicken was totally worth it.
Joseph still enjoys grilled chicken, but he has come a long way from his days of that being his primary meal choice. For his birthday dinner I will be making his favorite meatball Stromboli, and for his party he has chosen another favorite, chicken piccata. As new dishes make their way into our meals, I can’t help but wonder if one day my kids will say they too taste like nostalgia.   

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