Handling Holidays: Serving the Meal

website serving meal

“Umm… did you just use my scoop?”

We were having a lovely gathering at our home of friends over the summer, complete with ice cream sundaes, when I realized that one of our guest’s children was using my scoop to get herself some ice cream.

For most folks, using another person’s scoop doesn’t seem like a big deal, but when you have a serious allergy to dairy and cross-contamination can potentially kill you, you tend to be a bit less friendly about “sharing”. Fortunately, I caught the “sharing” in action and was able to wash the scoop before using it for myself.

Holiday meals can be a bear when it comes to potential cross-contamination.  Even if you’ve planned ahead as I had that summer evening with a different scoop for my nondairy frozen dessert which was sitting off to the side of everyone else’s “real” ice cream, you never know when someone might accidentally upset your best laid plans.

So, what can you do?  Some suggestions:

1.  Definitely do plan ahead:  If you’re hosting, decide whether you’re going to avoid cross-contamination by simply making everything allergen friendly.  When I’m entertaining in my own home, I usually just make foods which I can eat which everyone else will enjoy, too.  Then I don’t need to worry.

If there are some foods, however, that you do want to make for your guests which you can’t eat or vice versa, then decide how many of those you’ll make and plan how you’ll separate them from the rest of the food.  Some options:

a. Put allergen free food in similar dishes and the other food in different dishes so you can point out to folks which are which.  I have round and rectangular dishes so it’s easy for folks to know which foods they should be careful to avoid contaminating.

b. Label the food.  Put little index cards in front of the food which tells folks what the dish is free of or contains.  The additional advantage to this is that if you have folks with a variety of allergies, they can see with a quick glance what they can and can’t eat.

c.  Put the food on different tables.  If you have available table space, put allergen free food on one table and the rest on another so folks can go to both tables separately to get their food.

2.  Educate:  Sometimes folks just don’t know how dangerous it can be for them to switch the serving spoons on you.  Take a minute to just explain that folks need to be careful to put the same spoon back into each dish because it would be a great service to your health for them to do so. I’ve found that folks are understanding once they know the potential consequences and take better care about how they serve themselves.

3.  If you’re going to someone else’s home for the holidays, be pro-active: Find out if the host is going to be making food you can eat, and if so, ask them if they could follow some of the above suggestions for your and the other guests’ benefit.

If you’re going to contribute a dish of your own, make sure to both label it and point out to folks at the dinner that it is a special dish made to be allergy friendly, and bring a serving utensil that is “different” to go with it. Maybe it’s an unusual color or a non-traditional size or one that matches the serving dish.  Give folks a way to recognize that that particular serving utensil needs to be used with your particular dish only.

4. Watch the children: In most cases, as with my summer gathering, it’s the little ones who don’t realize, because they are after all just little. So be sure to keep an eye on them. Enlist the help of the other adults to help serve the children and to watch the children who can serve themselves. At a certain age, the children can be told, too, about being careful, because if the food allergy is explained, children tend to be rather caring about not wanting to hurt anyone.

5. Practice avoidance in the absence of information:  Many times folks will bring a dish or purchase a dish and not know exactly what specific ingredients are, but they’ll tell you generally that it is something you can eat.  Don’t.  It’s as simple as that.   I’ve had times when folks have actually fished out an ingredient label from the trash for me and discovered that, yes, five of the six ingredients are fine, but there was that last ingredient that was deadly.

6. Be prepared:  Sometimes, because you’re in your own home or because you’re going to a trusted home which you’ve been to many times, you don’t necessarily think about keeping your Epi-Pen close by.  You just never know.  As with the little incident at my house over the summer, accidents happen.  Always be prepared and keep whatever you need, whether it’s the Epi-Pen or benadryl or the emergency phone number, close by within easy reach.  Better to be prepared than sorry.

Berry Oat Bars

These are favorite with folks I know.  I can’t make enough of them, they get eaten so quickly!

Ingredients:

2 cups gluten free whole grain oats

2 cups gluten free flour blend (I use garbanzo bean and brown rice flour)

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp salt

1/3 cup Truvia or coconut sugar

3/4 cup vegan “butter”

3 tbsp Agave divided

15 oz Polaner All Fruit with Fiber (your choice of flavor)

Baking Instructions:

1.  Line a 9 x 13 pan with parchment paper so there are “wings” hanging over the edges, and preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

2.  Mix together the oats, flour, cinnamon, salt and Truvia or coconut sugar in a large bowl.

3.  Put the “butter” into the oat mixture in pieces and use a pastry blender to cut the butter into the oat mixture until it’s crumbly and the butter is incorporated into the mixture.

4.  Remove about 1/3 of the mixture and put it aside for the topping.

5.  To the remaining 2/3 of the oat mixture, add 2 tbsp of Agave and mix it well.  Pat this into the bottom of the 9 x 13 pan to form a crust.

6.  Spread the Polaner All Fruit carefully over the crust.  (We’ve made raspberry, strawberry, apricot, blueberry, etc….) 

7.  Add the remaining 1 tbsp of Agave to the remaining 1/3 oat mixture and mix it up until the mixture is moist but still crumbly.  Evenly distribute the mixture over the top of the all fruit.  You will have open spots of jam showing.  This is fine.

8.  Bake in the preheated oven for about 30-40 minutes.  The oats will be golden brown and the jam bubbly.

9.  Remove from the oven and put the pan onto a wire cooling rack.  It’s very important that you allow the bars to completely cool.

10.  Once the bars are completely cooled, you can carefully remove them from the pan using the parchment paper and cut them into the desired size, or you can cut them directly in the pan and remove them one by one.

Handling Holidays: Truffles and Fudge

website fudge

“You’re a chink!”

I was sitting by myself at recess on my first day at a school in the United States when a older middle school, Caucasian boy welcomed me with those words. It was the aftermath of the the Vietnam War, and though the gene pool had actually given me more of my father’s Caucasian features than my mother’s Asian ones, folks back then were more cognizant of facial differences than today. (Today, no one believes me when I say I’m Korean. I have to show them pictures of my mom. So, times do change!)

Unfortunately for that gentleman, though I was  younger than he, I wasn’t so easily intimidated, and he didn’t expect my response. “Shows how much you know,” I said. “Chink is a derogatory term for Chinese people, not Korean. I believe you meant to call me a ‘Gook’, but instead you’ve only revealed just how ignorant you are. So, please just go away and leave me alone.” To his credit, he walked away as the crowd around him snickered.

My victory didn’t make me feel any better, though, about such a “welcome” to my “home” country and new school, and at the end of recess my new teacher, Mrs. Petruska found me sitting in the corner of the yard, crying. She didn’t ask me what was wrong, so I presumed she must have heard from one of the other students. Instead, she handed me a small piece of chocolate (this was long before the day of food allergy awareness), patted my back, and said,”Take your time eating this, and when you’re done, I’ll see you back at class.”

Now, some may wonder what sort of teacher would handle such a situation by giving a child a piece of chocolate, but whether you agree or disagree with her actions, I have to say that I learned that day that if savoring a piece of chocolate can make you feel better, than life is not going to end from whatever situation you feel devastated by.

And strangely enough, as I’ve grown into adulthood, the only time I even eat a piece of chocolate (allergen free variety, of course!) is when I need a reminder that I will survive whatever “mess” I’m currently dealing with in life, and the only time I make chocolate truffles and fudge is for the holidays – and it’s always for giving away.

Chocolate, though, is one of those ingredients that can be deadly if you’re severely allergic to dairy or nuts. Fortunately for me, however, Enjoy Life makes wonderful chips, chunks, and bars which are everything free, so I can continue to make, give away and enjoy chocolate truffles and fudge when I want – and so can you.

Chocolate Truffles

Ingredients:
1 cup Enjoy Life mini chocolate chips
2 tbsp Polaner’s all fruit of choice*
Cocoa powder/coconut flakes/chopped nuts/crushed candies/dried chopped fruit

Cooking Instructions:

1.  Melt the chocolate with the all-fruit over a double boiler, stirring constantly. (I put a small pan filled with water halfway on the burner and then stack a larger pan on top.)

2.  Pour the melted mixture into a shallow pan and cool in the fridge until the chocolate is solid enough to shape. (It needs to be a rollable, fudgy consistency, not hard.)

3.  Use a teaspoon sized amount of chocolate and roll into a ball. Roll the chocolate ball in cocoa or flaked coconut or chopped nuts (if you’re not allergic) or crushed candies or dried fruit and stored in a covered container in fridge.

4.  Serve at room temperature.

*Note: You can omit the all-fruit flavoring and just make the chocolate plain. You can also substitute flavoring like mint extract (use a small amount like 1/8 tsp first and taste; add in increments to the strength of flavor you want).

Chocolate Marshmallow Fudge

Ingredients:

3 cups Enjoy Life mini chocolate chips

Equivalent to 14 oz can of sweetened condensed milk*

1/8 tsp salt

2 tsp vanilla

3 cups mini marshmallows

2 tbsp melted vegan “butter”

Cooking Instructions:

1. Line a pan with aluminium foil or parchment paper or wax paper, leaving flaps overhanging on all four sides so you can pull out the fudge.

2.  Mix the chocolate chips with the sweetened condensed milk and the salt. Melt slowly over low heat, stirring constantly, until all the chips are melted.

3.  Stir in the melted “butter” and one cup of the marshmallows.  Stir until those have melted into the chocolate.

4.  Remove from the heat and add the vanilla and the remaining two cups of marshmallows.  Stir just until the marshmallows are incorporated but still firm.

5.  Scrape the fudge into the prepared pan with a rubber scraper and smooth the top of the fudge flat.

6.  Cool in the fridge for several hours until hardened.

7.  Use the flaps to remove the fudge from the pan, turn it over onto a cutting board, and peel away the foil or parchment paper or wax paper.

8. Cut the fudge into size and shape wanted and store in a container or individually wrapped in the fridge.

*If you don’t have milk allergies, use the canned sweetened condensed milk, but if you do:  You can also try making homemade sweetened condensed milk by mixing about 2 1/2 cups of your type of “milk” (rice, nut, coconut, soy) with 8 tbsp sugar or agave.  Stir well and simmer over low heat until the “milk” has reduced and thickened.  This will take a couple of hours.  Keep the heat low and stir frequently.  When it’s thickened, you can add 1/8 tsp of salt and/or 1/2 tsp vanilla, if you’d like. Put a clear plastic wrap up against the mixture before cooling in the fridge to prevent a “skin” from forming. When you need it, use the sweetened condensed milk to substitute for a 14 oz can.