NEW cheese alternatives (vegan, dairy-free, soy-free) that taste good

Posted on March 19th, 2015 by Alison | Read 1 Comment - Add Your Own »

Do you miss cheese? In my opinion, cheese is the hardest thing to replace if you are on a dairy-free or vegan diet. There are good non-dairy ice creams, yogurts, milk and butter replacements, but cheese is a challenge. I recently tried to two dairy-free and soy-free “cheeses” that I feel are worthy enough to write about.

Follow Your Heart ProvoloneFollow Your Heart

Follow Your Heart’s new soy-free vegan cheese in slices and blocks is so good that I ate a whole sandwich made with their Provolone slices at a recent Vegan Sandwichevent. (The sandwich was made with a new gluten-free and vegan brioche bread that they are coming out with also!) This cheese has a great texture, whether melted or not, and does not have a strange aftertaste that I have found in other dairy-free cheeses. In fact, it actually tasted good!

The ingredients are not yet available on the web as of this writing (I will update when I have them), but the cheese is a coconut oil base. Four flavors will be available: Provolone, American, Mozzarella and Garden Herb.

Follow Your Heart is a brand that is available nationwide, so look for this new cheese in natural foods stores soon. You can also check their Store Locator to see which stores near you carry the brand.

Miyoko’s Kitchen

Regular cheese is hard enough to replace, so who would think a dairy-free person could ever enjoy fancy cheese again? Miyoko’s Kitchen, based in Fairfax, CA is changing people’s minds about vegan cheese. Their “cultured nut product” flavors include Double Cream Garlic Sundried Tomato, Aged English Smoked Farmhouse, Mt. Vesuvius Black Ash and several more. All the cheeses have cashews as the base. The Aged English Farmhouse cheese ingredients are: Organic Cashews, Filtered Water, Organic Chickpea Miso (Organic Chickpeas, Organic Rice Koji, Sea Salt, Water, Koji Spores), Nutritional Yeast, Sea Salt, Cultures.

This cheese is pricey, and for now only available in stores in the San Francisco Bay Area or via mail-order, but remember, this is fancy cheese! I tried several flavors and each one was unique and delicious. I could imagine spreading it on a gluten-free cracker or a gluten-free baguette! These cheeses will definitely fill the void and would also make a great gift for a dairy-free or vegan friend!

Miyoko Farmhouse Cheddar

Smile, and say “Cheese!”


Tomatina Restaurant offers gluten-free options

Posted on February 22nd, 2015 by Alison | ADD A COMMENT »

TomatinaTomatina Restaurant, which describes itself as “fresh italian,” offers many gluten-free options on their regular menu (marked with GF). I recently tried this casual dining restaurant with my kids and another family. Everyone found something to eat and enjoyed their meals.

The gluten-free pizza is made on crusts from Mariposa Baking Company in Oakland. Be prepared to pay almost $6 more for a personal gluten-free pizza than a personal wheat pizza. I do wish restaurants would realize that we brought six people to eat because they offer the GF pizza, so they are making up for the cost of the gluten-free pizza in the other meals and drinks we ordered. But I’m not complaining — I was happy to have a place we could all go. The restaurant takes precautions with regards to cross-contamination by baking the gluten-free pizzas on pans rather than on the floor of the pizza oven.

The gluten-free pasta options are from Heartland and Barilla — both are a blend of corn and rice. I didn’t try any of the pasta dishes (since I had already eaten a giant bag of popcorn at the movies right before!) Gluten-free pasta can be substituted for almost all of the pastas for an extra $2 and they use separate water to cook the pasta (you’d be surprised how many places use the same water to cook regular and gluten-free pasta — always ask!)

Tomatina Trio of Sides

I did have the gnocchi, which are little dumplings served like pasta in tomato sauce. Though gnocchi is made of potato, they are almost always also made with flour and therefore not gluten-free. But at Tomatina, they are gluten-free, and they were very tasty! My friend and I ordered the gnocchi as part of “3 sides for $13” with two vegetable dishes. We really enjoyed each one. (Photo above is taken from the Tomatina website — gnocchi is in the middle.)

I will definitely be back to the San Rafael location — it is an easy and affordable place to go with kids, but nice enough to have a glass of wine with your meal. They also have restaurants in Alameda, Dublin, San Jose, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Walnut Creek and one opening in Union City.


Easy Allergen-Free Valentine Brownie Bites

Posted on February 13th, 2015 by Alison | Read 1 Comment - Add Your Own »

Gluten-Free Valentine Brownie Bites

These gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free treats are easy to make for Valentine’s Day and your kids will have fun decorating them too! Everyone will love the dark chocolate taste!

This is all you do:

  1. Use Pamela’s Chocolate Brownie Mix (or your favorite gluten-free brownie mix). I make the basic recipe using egg replacer. I like to use coconut oil where it calls for oil, which you have to melt first before you mix into the batter. (Note: Pamela’s Brownie Mix does have a warning that the chocolate chunks may contain traces of milk, so not suitable for someone with a severe dairy allergy.)
  2. Spoon into mini-muffin tins and bake until you no longer see oil top of the brownies — it took around 12 minutes for mine. You don’t want to overbake but you don’t want it to have pools of oil on the top either. Let them cool for a little while before you try to remove them from the tin.
  3. After removing them and cooling completely, use a piping bag and tips to pipe frosting in different shapes. Put the sprinkles on as you go, before the frosting hardens.

That’s it! They look pretty and are yummy too.

One bag yields about 20 brownie bites.
Happy Valentine’s Day!

Gluten-Free Valentine Brownies

First time using the Epi-Pen and the Anxiety that has followed

Posted on January 18th, 2015 by Alison | Read 9 Comments - Add Your Own »

epi pen injectionI finally used the Epi-Pen on my daughter after eight years of managing her food allergies. I used it because I had to. I used it because she asked me to.

We were in Mexico, at a place we visit every year. My daughter is extremely responsible about her food allergies, and carries her “kit” (containing two Epi-Pens, Benadryl and asthma inhaler) with her everywhere she goes, even to the pool. I also had an extra Epi-Pen with me on the trip, so we had three in our possession. The story of BJ Hom is always in the back of my mind when we travel to Mexico — it was there that this young man had an anaphylactic reaction to peanuts but the family did not have an Epi-Pen with them (he had only suffered from hives in the past so they didn’t think it could get more serious than that). We are prepared for an accident in case our vigilance about reading labels, asking questions, and avoiding uncertain foods fails.

On that afternoon at the pool, she selected a popsicle out of a popsicle cart. It had ingredients on the label, both in English and in Spanish. It was a coconut popsicle, containing coconut, cream, milk, sugar, and some additives. Nothing she hadn’t eaten before. Within minutes she came to me and told me that she didn’t feel right. As she was telling me, a large hive appeared on the skin in the lower corner of her mouth. I knew this wasn’t good. Her face had lost its color and dull, dark streaks appeared under her eyes. She said her throat felt “bumpy.” We pulled the Benadryl out of her kit and she took one, and then another. Hives popped out on her stomach, and then on her back.

That day, by our good fortune, my father was hanging out at the kid pool with us. He is a retired pediatrician and I was so glad he was right there at that moment. I showed him the hives. He suggested we head back to the room where he had prednisone in his medicine bag. Prednisone is a corticosteroid that can help reduce swelling caused by allergic reactions, but it is not an immediate treatment since it comes in pill form and takes a little while to have an effect. When we arrived at the hotel room, he gave her a dose of prednisone, but as she held on tight to her epi-pen kit, she said to me, “Mom, I want the shot.”

I looked at my dad and he and I both nodded – let’s do it.

Now, I have to admit that for all of these years I have had a fear of giving the Epi-Pen. I know my allergy mom friends have done it, I know it saves lives, my pediatrician has scolded me for not giving it in a couple of close-calls… I have no explanation for my anxiety about putting this shot in my daughter’s leg. (Perhaps I was scarred by the giant epinephrine shot scene in Pulp Fiction? But it did save Uma Thurman’s character’s life, so…)

I asked my dad to give her the shot. I sat on a bed next to my daughter, while he was on the other side of her and stuck the Epi-Pen in her leg. She was looking at me, away from the shot, and said, “That was it?” It felt like barely a pinch to her. Within minutes, the hive on her face disappeared, her color came back and she was breathing easy. She was a little worried about her rapid heart beat, but we assured her that it was the medicine taking effect and that was normal.

Normally when you give an Epi-Pen, you are advised to go to the hospital or call 911. Sometimes one Epi-Pen isn’t enough, or it is given too late to reverse the symptoms. According to the Epi-Pen website “Get emergency medical help right away. You may need further medical attention. You may need a second EpiPen Auto-Injector should symptoms persist or recur. More than two sequential doses of epinephrine for a single episode should only be administered by a healthcare provider.”

Because we were in Mexico, and we had another Epi-Pen, and my dad was there, and she already had prednisone and benadryl in her system, we monitored her at the hotel. And she was fine. And then I let myself cry.

Since then, her anxiety has risen to a new level. She abstained from eating dinner, even a bowl of rice, while our family was out at a restaurant with friends one night. She refused to go to a volleyball tournament because I was not the one driving the carpool and I wouldn’t arrive until later. Luckily, the mom driving the carpool was a trained nurse and carries an Epi-Pen, but even that almost didn’t convince her. So, this is a new chapter in our lives — the Anxiety Chapter. She strives for independence and freedom, but is weighed down by her fears. I wonder how long this chapter will last.