Sunday, March 31, 2013

I am an Allergic Girl

This month I want to talk about food and my food allergies. If you don't want to read the story just have a quick look at the photos and captions. I took the photos while I made Jamaican Beef Patties, which I will also talk a bit about in this story. You can find the recipe for Jamaican Patties over at Baltic Maid  if you're interested in making them too. I've even put a copy of the recipe from her site at the very end of this post.

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the beautiful golden color is from curry powder
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I grew up in New York and remember eating Jamaican Patties fairly often and loving them. But we moved to the mid-west and since then I'd not eaten anything like them. I don't think anyone in my family even spoke of them after the move. Mid-western restaurants didn't have them on their menus so it's no surprise that about two decades later that I nearly forgot they existed! A few weeks ago I sort of remembered them and was trying to tell my husband, Bill, about them but the only description I could come up with was they were these "meat pies" kind of like a Pasty only not. Pasties, in my opinion, don't really have much flavor. They do make a rather hearty meal on the go and I do like them. But what I was really missing and craving was this "mystery food" from my childhood. Unfortunately I couldn't remember for sure how they looked or what flavor it was. So, how could I describe a thing I could not really remember to someone I grew up with so they'd remember too...? I didn't give up but just set the thought aside for a while.

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dividing the dough prior to rolling out
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Fast forward to a couple of weeks later and I was looking at food pins on Pinterest and saw a familiar shape in a photo that said Jamaican Patties I was like *DING* that's the food! When I followed the link to a working website I couldn't believe my luck! I was pretty sure this was the meat pie I was looking for. I do have a friend still living in NY that I grew up with, she is my sister's BFF, so I wrote her with the link and asked her if she could confirm the authenticity of the food as being similar to what we ate growing up and she said 'yes they looked very authentic' ~ wow! First Second try! Follow this link to wiki for more about Jamaican Beef Patties.

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ground beef, onion and curry
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In the next couple of days I made sure to have all of the ingredients on hand (or substitutions) because I intended to make these right away! I must tell you that the cooking and baking skills I have are what I learned from a couple Home Economics classes I took in school and a whole lot of self taught! At first my desire to cook was just because I wanted to learn to bake simple things like cookies. Then sometime during my 20's I found out I was lactose intolerant and I also got married. Then I wanted to learn to make breads, pies, roasts, soups and as budgets were tight cooking at home was very practical. However I had a whole new learning curve due to my lactose intolerance. I read a bunch of traditional cook books trying to discover how ingredients were used with what meals and which complimented each other. My goal was to look at a recipe and make a meal on a budget with what I had on hand. Then I had to figure out how to make foods dairy free or I'd be making his and hers dinners which after years of practicing this it's a cinch!

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once the filling is cooked & placing into the rolled out dough
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OMG you guys lactose and milk proteins are in so many things it is ridiculous and shopping became such a big chore at first. My shopping time nearly doubled because I was having to read every label of food that I was interested in buying to see if had milk in it and then having to put it back on the shelf because there was milk, dry milk powder or casseien in it. But as I became more familiar with different brands shopping time was greatly reduced. And we discovered a few soy substitutes as well as lactose free milk so I am now able to make a lot of foods I love: specifically pizza! I still read labels but now, for most foods, you can skip to the end and see if it contains milk or nuts because it will be in bold. It's the hidden milk proteins that I have to look for like sodium cassineate and such.

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the dough is moistened with water, folded over & pressed with a fork

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A few years after I discovered my lactose intolerance I discovered a new allergy. This time it was to tree nuts. Cooking at home rather than eating out became life and death for me. There have been a few restaurant chains that were totally clueless about the seriousness of nut allergies when it came to food prep and cross contamination.

Here's how a few treated me: they will either give me a book filled with their products to read the ingredients lists myself. "Oh geee thanks that's helpful and caring how about I go somewhere else" I would think...

Or they steer me towards dishes I do not want but that are (probably) dairy free selections like "how about some cream of mushroom soup" wait WHAT?

And my favorite "sorry but these are pre-made so we can't alter the ingredients" so then I would question the freshness of the food.

One restaurant even went so far as to hand pick out almonds from my spinach salad and send me the dish back... I know this because I found some of the almonds they missed at the bottom of my meal. It was a good thing I didn't have an allergic reaction to that. I'm going to use strong language here and say that was a crappy and dangerous thing to do and really show's ignorance and / or complete disregard for the seriousness of a food allergy in a patron. They will not see my business ever again.

Dare I say I 'learned my lesson' not to order a dish that has nuts in it and try to ask for it nut free. "It shouldn't be that way" I kept telling myself. So, then home cooked meals became a life and death necessity for me because I was afraid that an incompetent chef was going to kill me. Not to mention all the questionable pre-fab foods and how unhealthy those are in their own right. What I discovered was that a lot of restaurants, especially chains, are serving no better than TV dinners.

If you didn't already know they are getting their food from SYSCO or Reinheart. These are the these same pre-fab food stuffs that are served at nursing homes, hospitals and schools. Not necessarily all bad but not really all that good either. So it's a good thing I had a lot of practice with altering recipes at home so for me to accommodate this new allergy AT HOME was not as difficult as the lactose intolerance. But out there it seemed hopeless for many years until I also discovered this wonderful resource Allergic Girl by Sloan Miller. Sloan Miller is an allergy expert living with allergies! She's also got a blog called Please Don't Pass the Nuts a web page called Allergic Girl and a FB page. Her wisdom and insights have helped me re-integrate back into occasional dining out but, unfortunately, still unable to enjoy a decent pizza around here - if you're from New York you know what I mean. Good thing I can make it at home.

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all done and ready to eat!
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Back to the Jamaican Patties.... I was super happy that all the steps to make them were familiar to me and that I could pull off making them in no time.  Let me tell you they are spicy and delicious! I have a lot of gratitude for Baltic Maid for posting this recipe for it has allowed me to enjoy a dish I am quite fond of and can easily make in my own kitchen.... move over pizza you've got a contender! I suggest eating these alone or with rice or even a baked potato!

Here are a few sauces you can eat with these patties, many of which I just whipped up on the spot:
1. ketchup
2. ketchup mixed with curry powder
3. Patak's Vindaloo Paste mixed into ketchup
4. Patak's Vindaloo Paste  mixed with ketch up and mayo
5. Patak's Vindaloo Paste  or Pataks Eggplant Brinjal mixed with (soy) cream cheese
5. Patak's Vindaloo Paste or Pataks Eggplant Brinjal mixed with (soy) sour cream
6. Patak's Vindaloo Paste  mixed with plain yogurt
7. Any Patak's Chutney!
8. My husband eats his with plain yogurt.
9... get creative and mix your own special sauce!

If your local grocery store doesn't carry Patak's products you could always try asking them or you an order it online direct from the company or even through


Below is a list that I have written on a card and use when I go to a restaurant. Feel free to copy it, change it to your needs, print it out and hand it to whomever waits on your table next time you dine out. You can either call ahead before you dine out to ask if they can accommodate food allergies or just show up and ask the staff to hand the list to the chef and see what happens.

butter, butter fat, ghee, cream, custard, milk, milk solids, dry milk powder, whey, whey products, rennet, brine, cheese, lactose, sodium lactate, lactoglobulin, lactoferrin, lactulose, caseinate, casein, sodium caseinate, lactalbumin, lactic acid starter culture, lactalbumin phosphate, potassium lactate, hydrolysates, maltitol, xylitol, lactitol

I also have these on my list not because I'm allergic but because I do not want these in my food and because I do experience unpleasant side effects from: MSG, phenylaline, aspartame, saccharin, sucralose & sorbitol

If the restaurant can accommodate you on the spot without steering you away from your first choice dish then you know they're most likely making their food fresh. If the chef personally appears at your table to discuss what you would like from the menu so they can make you a special dish. I'd call that a high level of competence, attentiveness and this type of chef most likely has been schooled in the seriousness of food allergies and cross contamination!

If they can't accommodate your needs or think they can and you experience side effects then no, they're probably not too savvy. It's probably not safe to eat there. Take note not to say you have a "dairy" allergy when / if you really have a "lactose intolerance" or "lactose allergy" as the most remembered version of the the food pyramid has eggs are included in the dairy category even though the current ones puts eggs in the correct meat category - or you may get people asking you if you can eat eggs. And, for some reason when I mention my lactose intolerance, I keep getting people asking me if I can eat pasta or wheat... even people who've just seen me eat a whole bowl of pasta.

For years now I've not been able to eat / buy popular popcorn brands but Sloan Miller just posted about Angie's Popcorn and I think there may be some hope for a dairy free popcorn after all these years! And she also suggested making some popcorn toppings at home!

I wish you all luck, if you suffer from a new or old food allergy! I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts, stories, recipe links and tips if you'd like to share them with me.

Thanks for stopping by!

All the best, 

Jamaican Beef Patties
Pastry Dough
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (I used 1 1/4 cups whole spelt flour & 1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tbsp curry powder
  • 1/2 cup / 1 stick / 113 g unsalted butter, softened but not melted
  • 3/4 cup ice-cold water
Meat Filling
  • olive oil
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 3 spring onions, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, grated
  • 2 Scotch bonnet chili peppers (any colour), seeded and minced
  • 1-2 tsp dried thyme
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper, or  to taste
  • 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 cups water
  • 2 slices whole grain bread, processed into crumbs in a food processor
Egg Wash
  • 1 egg, beaten with 1 tsp water
In a bowl, combine the flour with the salt, baking powder and the curry. Add the butter and mix it in with your hands until it resembles a very coarse meal. At this point add the water. Squeeze the mixture until it just forms a ball. Knead once or twice to combine fully (the less kneading, the better).
Divide the dough into two pieces, shaping each into a thick pancake. Wrap the pieces in plastic wrap and place them in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. The dough will keep in the refrigerator for several days.  Take it out 30 minutes before using it.
For the filling, heat a little olive oil in a large frying pan and add the beef, onion, spring onions, garlic, peppers, and thyme. Fry the meat until it turns brown and the moisture has evaporated. Add the curry, salt, and pepper, and constantly stir. A crust will form on the bottom of the pan.
Add 1 1/2 cups of water. Stir and scrap the bottom of the pan to incorporate the brown goodness on the bottom of the pan. Add the breadcrumbs and more water if necessary. Cover and let everything simmer for about 15 minutes. Stir the mix occasionally.
Preheat the oven to 400°F / 200°C. Divide each dough pieces into 8 pieces. Divide the meat in the pan into 16 portions. On a lightly floured surface, roll one of the dough pieces into a rectangular shape with rounded edges. Place one of the meat portions on one side of the rolled-out dough leaving a free border of about 1 cm. With your finger, apply a little water around the edge. Fold the one side over the dough over the meat and seal the edge. Lightly press a fork around the edge to make a pattern. Repeat with the remaining dough.
Place the pastries on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush them with the egg wash and bake them for about 20 minutes or until the pastries turn golden.
Guten Appetit!

Friday, March 8, 2013

a busy February

So yeah, my February was short and sweet. So short in fact I forgot to do a blog post during it so I'm making up for it now. Gosh it was quite a busy month for me as I spent the last week or so of January and the first couple of weeks of February working on three different Valentines Day art projects and I even managed to get a few other things created as well.

One big project I wanted to create were some hand draw and watercolor Valentine cards for fun and then give them all away! It was a great way to get lots of drawing and painting practice. My favorite is the cupcake girl. I just love all the sprinkles! If you'd like to print them from home you can purchase a PDF file from my Etsy shop.

I also cut out and hand embroidered a super long Valentine Bunting, available at my Etsy shop.

And I had a lot of fun choosing fabrics, cutting, sewing, stamping and stuffing these super adorable door hangers. I even hand carved a "LOVE" stamp for this project. Available in sets of 2 at my Etsy shop.

I took a poll on my FB to see which was my most popular painting from 2012. The Blueberry Blonde Goddess painting was the most popular by far. So now there are Blueberry Blonde themed pocket mirrors in the Etsy shop. They come with matching drawstring bag, that I made. They're decorated with several of my hand carved stamp images and I even made one stamp to look like the Goddess in the painting. 

Somehow I even found time to make these two mixed media collage paintings; available in the Original Art section at my Etsy shop

It was a short month but when I think back and now look back on all that I made in February I'm quite happy to see how much I was able to CREATE! As it is my word for 2013 I feel like I'm living it! Thanks for stopping by my blog. Leave me a comment, question or just encourage me to get my March blog post up sometime while March is still happening. LOL.