In the first office visit we had after Max’s food allergy diagnosis (see Our Journey), one of the last things the pediatrician said to us was “Oh, and you are going to need some cookbooks.” I remember it well because it was kind of a throw away line for her, but we were a young couple with a new house and a new baby and a lot of new baby gear and another new baby on the way and money was tight. Here was another thing (on top of these new unexpected medical bills) that was going to be a struggle to afford. I knew though that she was right. Then the idea of the library occurred to me. I stopped by and it turned out they had more cookbooks devoted to food allergies than you would have thought. At first, I was psyched. Then I read them. I was a lot less psyched.
Books specializing in allergy friendly cooking tend to take an all or nothing approach. That is terrific if you are on an elimination diet trying to figure out what is causing your digestive problems and wanting to cut all the top-eight allergens. If you are cutting out eggs and soy and dairy though, you actually want to have recipes that embrace corn and fish and sugar. OK maybe not embrace sugar, but I wasn’t interested in subbing for maple sugar or agave or honey when I was still new to specialty shopping. Picking out rice milk still felt strange. Really I’ve never been clear why so many allergy books shy away from sugar in the first place, but it just makes an already overwhelming process more overwhelming. Vegan books are a good alternative for dealing with eggs and dairy allergies, but they often rely heavily on tofu and soy. Sometimes you just want meat. Still I dutifully checked out some of these books. Between them and the even then plentiful recipe sites on the Internet, I picked up enough tips to get by without spending a fortune on new cookbooks.
The bad first impression must have stuck with me. After I got the hang of it, I never really sought out many cookbooks. If a favorite blogger had a new one (Food Allergy Mama was a good example), I would consider buying it. but I hadn’t been back to the food allergy cooking section of the library in several year until this fall. My kids were picking out books for the week from the children’s section, and I was already in the middle of a novel I knew I couldn’t finish before our next library check. I went to the cookbook section and did some browsing, and much to my delight amid my old favorite “regular” cookbooks there were now all kinds of new food-allergy friendly choices. Some of them focused just on dairy and others included sections devoted to different allergens. My favorite, Allergy Friendly Foods for Families, has an index card list on the outside of the page that lets the reader know immediately which recipe is free of which allergen and then had instruction inside on how to adapt some of the recipes to suit your particular concerns be they just dairy or dairy, eggs and soy or wheat and eggs. So brilliant. I wished I had thought of it myself about 10 years ago.
One old frustration that still seems to crop up in some books, particularly books devoted to just dairy avoidance, is a half-in approach. I know they are thinking of people with lactose intolerance and those folks don’t need to be as strict, but recipes that rely on cheese or butter used in the baking don’t qualify as dairy free to me. There are any number of other cookbooks where a reader can find that information. Please don’t litter my dairy free book with them. Ha! For whatever reason, these books also seem to have the worst prose and are prone to confuse allergy with intolerance which just makes it harder for people with allergies to get taken seriously. Luckily you can usually tell in a sentence or two which ones these are. If I ever need to raise my blood pressure quickly, I’ll know just what to read.
Still the bottom line is we have a lot more good cookbook choices today. While not all of them I have picked up have lived up to my new hopes, I have found some keepers. Even some of the ones I have been reluctant to try, have gotten me feeling more inspired and hopeful.I think one thing you can say about cookbook writers who cater to those with food allergies is that they are creative. Pasta with hummus instead of red sauce. Really? Who thinks to try that the first time? Egg benedict with poached vegetables instead of the eggs. OK. Actualy it sounds a little more healthful and kind of yum even if vegetables for breakfast is still a kind of weird notion to me. We’re still working our way through my latest pile of books, but I will share a few of my favorites: The Food Allergy Mama’s Easy, Fast Family Meals, Allergy-Friendly Food for Families, Cooking Free: 200 Flavorful Recipes for People with Food Allergies and Multiple Sensitivities and The Everyday Dairy Free Cookbook.