Excerpt from 'Pure Delicious'

Chocolate brownie mud cake

Food blogger and author Heather Christo was once "openly skeptical about the very existence" of food allergies, but when her young daughter had repeated unexplained illnesses, she reluctantly came to the conclusion that food allergies could be the problem. After extensive testing, she learned that not only did her daughter, Pia, have many food allergies, but so did she and her other daughter, Coco. Heather made it a point to transform their diet and the results were astonishing. She explains what happened in her new cookbook, Pure Delicious. (You can enter our contest for your chance to win a copy of the book.) Heather has graciously provided EYB with an excerpt from the introduction of Pure Delicious, plus a bonus recipe!

So right before Christmas 2013, the three of us went through the extensive and specific blood-3 antibody ELISA testing (see page 15) that assessed our reactions to 160 foods, spices, and herbs. And then, doing what any normal person facing the knowledge that she might never be able to eat certain foods again would do, we gorged over the holidays.

January found us all sick and exhausted, not just from our holiday binge but from the shocking test results. Among my allergens:

  • cow and goat dairy
  • eggs
  • pineapple, bananas, passion fruit, kiwi (highly, triggering, bordering on anaphylaxis)
  • coffee beans, vanilla beans (there go the lattes)
  • whole wheat, gluten, flaxseed
  • black pepper, bean sprouts, lima beans, navy beans
  • clams, scallops

Pia tested positive for these:

  • cane sugar, eggs, cow and goat dairy, ginger, curry, and garlic
  • oranges, grapefruit, pineapple, cranberries
  • gluten, whole wheat, rye, flax, spelt, barley, Kamut (a variety of wheat)
  • psyllium (think of all those fiber supplements)
  • hazelnuts, peanuts
  • string beans, lima beans, navy beans, coffee beans, soy

And Coco had her own list:

  • gluten, whole wheat, spelt, Kamut
  • eggs, cow and goat dairy
  • oranges and cranberries

With so many foods to avoid, how was I possibly going to feed my family? Even garlic was on the verboten list, along with virtually all of my Greek Husband's traditional family foods! And what about my blog readers? Some of my most popular posts that year were recipes for Cheese-and-Cream Baked Potatoes, Skillet-Baked Stuffed Rigatoni, cheese-dripping Caprese Soup, and Slutty Halloween Brownies. 

As upsetting as the prospect of living without all those foods was, I knew I had to find out what would happen if we did. Having been openly skeptical about the very existence of food allergies - I had been known to smirk at those who went on about what I privately dubbed their "New Age" allergies - I knew I may have to eat crow. I had to put our health before my ego. Drawing on my skills as a chef as well as the true grit and determination of a mother who loves her children, I vowed to dismantle our routines, habits, and social lives, and then rebuild them on a new, sturdier, healthier foundation, piece by piece.

That January, we went cold turkey on all of the items on our ELISA test. The whole family went gluten, dairy, egg, soy, and cane sugar free, and then we had various other ingredients that we individually avoided based on our results. Differences between and definitions of allergies, sensitivities, intolerances, and inflammation are in flux and sometimes hotly debated. The Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) website is a good place to get an overview, but much is still unknown. The one thing that everyone seems to agree on at this point is this: If you have a life-threatening allergy to, say, peanuts or shellfish or strawberries, you already know to avoid those foods at all cost. For those with more subtle or more chronic reactions, the avoid-and-reintroduce approach is inexpensive and pretty reliable: take suspect foods out of your diet for a while, and then add them back in one at time and see what happens. For me, the ELISA was helpful because it motivated me to get serious about eliminating suspect foods and gave me a starting point. (And I should note that the test was expensive, and insurance paid only for my girls' testing, not mine.) My real conviction came from the drastic improvements I saw as the result of my own experimentation and tracking.

Within three days, Pia's stomachaches stopped. Within a week, her skin rashes had cleared up and she had no more headaches. Within two weeks, her eyes were no longer puffy and their dark circles had faded, normal healthy bathroom habits resumed, and her nasal congestion and constant throat clearing began to wane. I also noticed that her wild emotional swings, which I had chalked up to "being a little girl," seemed to even out. While she would normally cry every afternoon and be drooping with exhaustion after school, she started coming home in a great mood and full of energy. She was a different girl!

Sound hard to believe? All I can say is, I began this journey as a nonbeliever who considered food allergy nuts fussy, demanding, and self-absorbed, whereas I was all about cooking with abandon and eating with passion and loving life through all the senses! Little did I know I was dulling our senses by chronically stressing our systems.

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PIA'S FAMOUS CHOCOLATE BROWNIE MUG CAKE (pictured above)
PREPARATION: 5 MINUTES   COOK TIME: 2 MINUTES SERVINGS: 2

These jaunty mug cakes are the first dessert I came up with post-allergy diagnosis to satisfy Pia's chocolate cravings, and they are so easy that my little girls can make and microwave them all on their own. The result is a fudgy mix between a cake and a pudding, a perfect hot chocolaty dessert that takes seven minutes, max, from start to finish. Add a generous dollop of coconut whipped cream to really put this over the top. If you like, make a double batch of the batter and fill mini mason jars so you can pull one out of the fridge and microwave to order throughout the week.

1⁄2 cup all-purpose gluten-free flour
1⁄2 cup granulated beet sugar
1⁄4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
Pinch of kosher salt
1⁄2 cup unsweetened coconut milk
1⁄4 cup vegetable oil

In a blender or food processor, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, salt, coconut milk, and oil and purée until the mixture is smooth and free of lumps. Divide the batter between two microwave-safe mugs.

Microwave on high until the mixture is cooked through, 1 minute 40 seconds to 2 minutes. It should still be moist in the center, not dry.

Let cool for a minute and serve hot.

Reprinted from Pure Delicious by arrangement with Pam Krauss Books/Avery, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright © 2016, Heather Christo LLC

 



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