Surprised by Child’s First Allergist Visit? Lessons Learned

Allergic Child Diet Cartoon from

This cartoon says it all about my experience as a mom nursing a daughter with multiple food allergies, who I recently took to the allergist for the first time.

My husband and I love our pediatrician and trust his judgment, but I went “rogue” and made an allergist appointment for my daughter without consulting him (although I did inform him the day before the appointment). I had been nerved by some scary knowledge that another mom at my daughter’s daycare shared with me after her 1½-year old’s last allergist visit. If a food triggers more than one allergic symptom (e.g., hives with vomiting) the combination of the double organ allergic suggests an anaphylactic response! This totally freaked me out, considering my daughter has been experiencing vomiting more with her allergic hives, and her first allergic reaction at 3-weeks of age was an eczema, hives, swollen eyes, vomiting combo!

So I found a highly regarded allergist who several parents recommended and made an appoinment. While my daughter’s new allergist is amazing, especially her bedside manner, the first visit was a learning experience.

Top 4 Lessons From My Daughter’s First Allergist Visit:

1.  An infant under 1-year is not too young for the allergy skin prick test.

I had heard rumors (mostly from other parents and online sources) that, at 7-months of age, my daughter was too young for the typical allergy skin prick test. That, combined with my pediatrician’s decision to not yet refer us to an allergist, had me believe that the only testing an allergist could do for my daughter at this point was a blood test.

This is a myth! Soon after the allergist took my daughter’s medical history, my baby’s back was covered with rows of markered dots, to be followed by rows of needle pricks. It was painful to watch and hold her while she squirmed and cried – but not at all as bad as learning . . .

2.  The allergy blood test is even more painful than the skin prick test (both physically and emotionally)!

When I originally believed that the only testing my daughter would have at her first allergist visit was a blood test, I was relieved. This is why I was so caught off guard and confused when, during the medical history, the allergist expressed disappointment that some of the potential allergy triggers I listed could only be tested with a blood test. It wasn’t until the blood test was underway that I understood why the allergist was hoping to avoid it.

It’s like when an adult gives blood but exponentially worse! Picture a squirming infant, already worked up and in tears from multiple needle pricks in her back, having a thick rubber band tightened around her arm to limit circulation so a nurse can find a large enough vein to stick an adult-sized needle and withdraw an adult-sized vial of blood. Then, try to imagine having to restrain your squirming baby, who is looking at you with complete disbelief that you are not putting an end to the misery, to keep her still enough to prevent the the needle sticking in her arm from being yanked anymore than it already has. (Her skin around the injection site already has expanded into a large bubble because she’s fighting and squirming so much.) And just when the vial is full and you think it can’t get any worse, the nurse comes with a second large test tube to fill! Weeks later, and I still can’t shake that image of my daughter or the sound of her wailing.

3.  My 3-year old’s cup of milk with dinner does (not) do the body good.

Almost immediately after my daughter was pricked, one of the sites grew from a large mosquito bite-like bubble to a huge spider-bite size surrounded by a red rash.  I learned that my daughter is extremely sensitive to milk, and that her vomitting episodes were likely caused by her milk allergy.

Me: “But I have been avoiding milk since my daughter was 3-weeks old?!” Allergist: “Do you have milk in your house?” Me: (In confusion, because doesn’t everyone, especially those with a toddler, have some form of dairy in the house?!) “Yes.” Allergist: (Matter of fact-like.) “Well, that’s enough.”

My daughter is so sensitive to dairy that my son simply touching the table during dinner, and then my daughter touching the same spot before putting her hands in her mouth (like infants do) could lead to an anaphylactic reaction. All I could think about was the cup of milk that we encourage my son to drink every night with dinner, and how I was going to explain gently to my son why he would have to curb some of the adorable hugs and kisses he showers on his baby sister.

4.  Neither an elimination diet nor allergy testing is 100% foolproof or conclusive.

Many believe that an elimination diet is the best way to test for food allergies. Even the allergist explained that the skin prick and blood tests were not entirely conclusive. However, I’ve learned, even an elimination diet has faults.

At our pediatrician’s advice, I used an elimination diet to self-determine that my daughter was allergic to all but two of the 8 most common food allergens.  I had concluded that she was allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, dairy, soy, fish, and shellfish (in addition to other legumes and coconut); however, she could tolerate eggs and gluten.

The Bad News: BIG oops! My daughter is allergic to eggs!! I started to suspect this after my daughter’s second flu shot. She had high fevers (at times over 103°), vomiting, and diarrhea that she didn’t shake for 4 days. When we called our pediatrician, we were told that these were common side effects to the flu shot.  My egg allergy suspicion increased when we were given the okay to expand our daughter’s diet to incorporate a few table foods, including egg yolk. After she had a bit of yolk that I mixed into her baby food one sitting, my daughter broke out into serious hives and suffered bad vomiting and diarrhea all evening. The skin prick confirmed my fears!

The Good News: My daughter is not allergic to soy, which I had found to be one of the hardest food allergies to accommodate, and pending the blood test results may not be allergic to some other allergens. Because soy seems such an overly used additive in foods these days, leaving few options for those with soy allergies, the recipes I share will continue to be soy-free!

I learned that I may have been attributing my daughter’s reactions to her actual allergies to the soy. The allergist also explained that I may have missed the egg allergy because my daughter’s allergy may not be sensitive enough for her to experience a reaction when she receives the protein through my breast milk. I have yet to try out this theory.

Ways To Determine Whether Your Child Has Had an Anaphylactic Reaction:

1.  Your child has skin symptoms or swollen lips and either:

  • Difficult breathing, or
  • Reduced blood pressure (pale, weak pulse, confused, loses consciousness)

2.  Your child was exposed to a suspected allergen and has 2 or more of the following:

  • Skin symptoms or swollen lips
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Reduced blood pressure
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms (i.e., vomiting, diarrhea, or cramping)

3.  Your child was exposed to a known allergen and has

  • Reduced blood pressure

For more information about anaphylactic symptoms and reactions, visit The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis website.

This post was featured in the July 2012 Living With Food Allergies Blog Carnival courtesy of Food Allergy Buzz via Oh Mah Deehness!

Getting Picky Eaters to Eat Veggies: Vegan Baked Macaroni & Cheese Casserole


Creamy Macaroni & Cheese

Baked Macaroni & Cheese (with Rice Vegan cheese, peas, and vegan Field Roast Italian Sausage)


Winning Recipe!!

This recipe was the winner of the Allergy and Asthma Care Centers 2012 “Key Ingredient” recipe contest.



The first time I decided to make this dish was on New Year’s Day 2012.  I was tired of being unable to enjoy YUMmy foods, having eliminated many foods from my diet to accommodate my nursing daughter’s allergic needs.  And I realized that if I was going to nurse my daughter for a year, I was going to have to survive on something other than rice cereal with rice milk alone.  Having abstained from all the tasty Thanksgiving and Christmas food that surrounded me in 2011, I was not going to partake in another holiday without baked macaroni and cheese.  So, on New Year’s Day, I made a decision (not a resolution) to start enjoying food again!  (I’m not a fan of New Year’s resolutions because I think they just are made to be broken – what I believe most gyms bank on by offering annual memberships deals in January.)  I was hungry – who knew mac & cheese would be the beginning of my allergy-friendly culinary creativity?

The key to a good macaroni and cheese casserole is the creamy, thick white cheese sauce.  This recipe should really be called “Vegan White Cheese Sauce,” because if you have a YUMmy sauce, the rest of the ingredients are flexible  (e.g., type of cheese or noodles) and their taste follows suit of the sauce.  To make my dairy-free, soy-free cheese sauce, I modified the white sauce recipe (handed down to me from my mother, who got it from her mother, who probably got it from her mother . . . you get the idea).  Everyone I know who has tried my family’s white sauce raves about its taste, creaminess, and cheesiness.  Hopefully, my grandmother’s side of the family (also the source of my allergy-stricken daughter’s middle name) won’t be bothered that I’m sharing this recipe.

FREE Ingredients

Now that we’ve switched my three-year old to a “big boy school,” where we have to pack his lunch, I’m always looking for good meals that he will actually eat and will keep well in his thermos.  Because this is one of his most requested dishes, I like to secretly add as many other foods (especially vegetables) as I can to create a filling well-rounded one-dish meal.

White Cheese Sauce: (double recipe for a large casserole dish)

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup vanilla rice milk
  • pepper (to taste)
  • 1 tbsp spicy mustard
  • sea salt – ground fine (to taste)
  • ¼ tsp granulated garlic (or garlic powder)
  • dairy-free, soy-free cheeses – shredded or cut small (like Rice Vegan)


  • 1 box of cooked noodles (my husband prefers penne, but I also like rotini)
  • frozen vegetables (optional but recommended)
  • faux (or turkey for non-vegan) meat (like Field Roast Italian Sausage) (optional)

Be creative with ingredients.  Again, the best part about this recipe is it’s flexibility!  There’s room to use different noodles (including fun shapes for kids – like rotini), different vegetables (a magical way to get kids to eat lima beans), and various proteins (sausage, lunch meat, bacon). You can also try mixing cheeses (I usually use cheddar but this time went with Rice Vegan pepper jack and American).

And although the add-ins are optional, I highly recommend at least some frozen vegetables for households with small picky eaters (i.e., my 3-year old).  I, seriously, got him to eat lima beans that I secretly added to this recipe more than once.  Unfortunately, I have to avoid lima beans now because I’ve seen packages warning that they contain soy.

Method (or Mistakes)

It’s easiest to start preparing your casserole before making your white sauce.

Casserole prep:  Preheat oven to 350°.  In a large casserole dish, combine noodles, vegetables, and meats.  Stir to evenly distribute ingredients.  Set aside.

macaroni and cheese

White Cheese Sauce for Macaroni & Cheese Casserole

White Cheese Sauce:  Heat oil in a saucepan.  Briskly whisk in flour.  Continue whisking while mixture cooks for about 1 minute, being careful not to burn.  Add milk while whisking.  Stir in pepper, mustard, and garlic.  Cook until thickens (about 5 minutes) – stirring constantly.  Add cheese (amount to your liking), and continue cooking and stirring until cheese has melted almost completely.

Casserole:  Pour cheese sauce over casserole ingredients, and stir to distribute evenly.  Sprinkle shredded (or finely cut) cheese on top of casserole.  Bake for approximately 35 – 40 minutes.  (For creamier macaroni and cheese, bake covered for 15-20 minutes, and then remove cover before cooking for remaining time.)

Note:  This dish can be made ahead.  After adding white cheese sauce, simply refrigerate or freeze.  When ready to prepare, thaw or let come to room temperature before baking.


This meal is a repeated success with my family.  And, as I mentioned, my son’s favorite dish.  Most recently, I used it to encourage (a.k.a. bribe) him to listen to mommy’s and daddy’s words.  He was so excited when I told him that I had prepared some macaroni and cheese (I prepared the casserole a night ahead and refrigerated until baking) that he kept asking all day when I was going to put it in the oven.  When he finally got to enjoy some for dinner he exclaimed “Mommy, this is delicious,” before finishing off his entire plate.

Mac & cheese with daiya before realizing coconut oil was rash culprit

My recent casserole also allowed me to put to rest the question whether it was the sweet peas or the tiniest bit of coconut oil in the daiya cheese that was causing my daughter to break out in allergic hives.  Knowing that she reacted when I nursed her after eating other legumes, I had assumed it was the sweet peas.  Moreover, I understood that coconut allergies were rare – even The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network notes that coconut typically is not restricted in the diets of people with tree nut allergies.  But when my nursing daughter broke out again after I ate macaroni and cheese with nothing but broccoli and cauliflower, I realized she was part of the minority.  I should have known, after she had had a similar reaction after I enjoyed my YUMmy key lime coconut cupcakes.   I know many fault the FDA for having classified coconut as a tree nut, but I’m thankful for such, as it will make it possible for me to identify on labels whether to avoid a food item for my daughter’s sake.

Update – my daughter can tolerate coconut oil and best of all daiya again – now we have a range of great allergy friendly cheeses to choose from!

Linked to Allergy Friendly Friday Memorial Day BBQ

Not my Favorite Cupcake: Chocolate Chip Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Frosting

I had already eaten 1/2 when I remembered to add the sea salt - oops!


Although I LOVE sweets, I have never been a big chocolate fan.  Whenever I share this with people, they look at me like I just told them that I enjoy eating chalk.  When I was a kid, I would refuse to even eat from the same plate if it had an item of chocolate on it.  Now, I might occasionally enjoy a bit of chocolate.

My 3-year old, however, is like I used to be – but for good reason.  As an infant he would break out in an allergic rash and eczema if I nursed him after eating chocolate or “potent” soy (e.g., edamame or tofu).  (A lot less extreme than his baby sister who is über-sensitive to almost all of the most common food allergens.)  Until he recently gave us an allergy scare after eating a tofu nugget (symptoms were an extremely sore throat – to the point of tears – and swelling on one side of his neck) we thought my son had outgrown his soy allergy.  Curious whether he might still be sensitive to chocolate, I thought he could try some (otherwise) allergy-friendly Enjoy Life chocolate chips.  After a lifetime of learning to avoid chocolate, however, his immediate answer was “I don’t like chocolate.”

I came across this Butterscotch Cupcake Recipe with Caramel Frosting on  Because my hunt for dairy-free, soy-free butterscotch chips led me to a dead end (similar to my white chocolate search – see key lime coconut cupcakes), I decided to substitute the Enjoy Life chocolate chips for the butterscotch.

FREE Ingredients


  • 1 ⅓ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 ¼ tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ½ cup dairy-free, soy-free buttery spread (like Earth Balance)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • ⅔ cup vanilla rice milk
  • 1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • ½ cup dairy-free, soy-free chocolate chips (like Enjoy Life)


  • ½ cup dairy-free, soy-free buttery spread (like Earth Balance)
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • ¼ cup vanilla rice milk
  • 3 ½ cups powdered sugar
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • ¼ – ½ tsp sea salt (ground coarse) for garnishing

Method (or Mistakes)

Cupcakes:  Line a 12-muffin pan with paper cupcake liners.  Preheat oven at 350°.  In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, and then set aside.  In a large bowl, use a hand or electric mixer to beat the butter a few seconds until soft.  With the mixer on medium speed, gradually add sugar ¼ cup at a time, beating well after eat addition.  Beat 2 minutes longer. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Add vanilla, and then beat.  On low speed, add flour mixture in 3 parts, alternating with the milk and vanilla in 2 parts (beginning and ending with the flour).  Beat just until incorporated.  Stir in chocolate chips.  Use an ice-cream scoop to fill muffin cups.  Bake for 20-25 minutes or until toothpick entered in center comes out clean.  Cool cupcakes in pans for 5-10 minutes, then remove from pans to cool completely on a cooling rack.

First batch of "cupcakes" (missing parts of ingredients)

The way the ingredients were listed in the original recipe were nonsensical.  If an ingredient was to be added in parts, rather than listing the full ingredient amount and explaining in the directions to add it in parts, the recipe listed the ingredient multiple times.  For example, instead of listing 3 tsp of vanilla extract, the recipe listed 1 tsp of vanilla and then several ingredients later another 2 tsp of vanilla.  Unfortunately, I didn’t notice the additional ingredient parts until too late.  My first batch made for okay breakfast muffins but were too bland and dense to be called cupcakes.

Frosting:  Melt buttery spread over medium heat.  Whisk in brown sugar.  Heat until boiling, stirring constantly.  Stir in rice milk.  Return to boiling.  Add vanilla.  Remove from heat and cool until lukewarm, about 30 minutes.  Gradually stir in powdered sugar.  Frost completely cooled cupcakes.  Sprinkle each cupcake with sea salt. (Yields enough for 24 cupcakes – so you may want to try making half.  But when I tried halving, it came out too dry.)

I recommend adding less powdered sugar to the frosting. I was worried that it wouldn’t harden without the full amount, so I continued adding until I could barely stir. My result seemed more like candy than frosting.


Of course, my son didn’t touch a cupcake.  But, I don’t think he missed much.  Although my friends enjoyed these, I found them nothing to get overly excited about (and not just because they had chocolate).  Even after getting the measurements “right,” the cake part still seemed a bit dense.  Perhaps I mistakenly over-beat my ingredients?  Or perhaps the recipe’s ingredient measurements were wrong?  Whatever it was, these cupcakes were neither the rich, cake-like texture of my strawberry cupcakes nor did they have the light and airy consistency of the YUMmy vanilla vanilla cupcakes I made a few days later.  (I will post the light & airy vanilla vanilla cupcakes recipe – one of my favorite cupcake recipes – soon.)

I ate half of this cupcake before I remembered the salt. The salt adds a lot - so don't make my mistake!

Despite it being extremely thick, I liked the taste of the caramel frosting.  Maybe this was because it reminded me a bit of the Vermont maple sugar candy that I love so much.  And the sea salt added a nice contrast to the frosting’s sweetness.  Although my husband liked the salt paired with it, he found the frosting to be a bit too sweet for his liking.  I, on the other hand, found myself eating the excess like candy before I threw it away to eliminate temptation.

Vegan Salty Oat Cranberry Chocolate Chip Cookies

Although these cupcakes were not my favorite, their salty-sweet combination helped inspire my YUMmy vegan salty oat cranberry chocolate chip cookies, which I found irresistible despite having chocolate in every bite.

A Protein Packed Treat: Vegan Salty Oat Cranberry Chocolate Chip Cookies

Oatmeal Craisin Chocolate Chip Cookie


After making some allergy-friendly baked macaroni and cheese with sweet peas (a favorite of my three-year old), I learned that my daughter may be sensitive to a number of legumes in addition to peanuts.  I already had stopped eating beans when she broke out in hives after I had eaten sauce poi (a Haitian dish that my mother-in-law taught me how to make).  Realizing that I was about to eliminate a major source of protein from my diet, I started looking for good soy-free, nut-free, legume-free protein sources.  When I learned that rolled oats were packed with protein and other important nutrients, I bought a large bag without a recipe in mind.

It didn’t take long for me to figure out what I was going to do with my oats.  Oatmeal raisin cookies are my husband’s favorite, but I thought it would be more exciting to make cookies with dried cranberries (which I like more than raisins anyhow).  Having Enjoy(ed) some Enjoy Life chocolate chips in my Salted Caramel Chocolate Chip Cupcakes (the second cupcake flavor that I took with my Strawberry Cupcakes with Raspberry-Lemon Champagne Buttercream to New York), I decided to add the yummy chips to these cookies for a little chocolate covered fruit appeal.  (Next week, I will post the Salted Caramel Chocolate Chip Cupcakes recipe.)

There are so many recipes out there for oatmeal cookies with dried cranberries; in fact, even the side of the Ocean Spray Craisins® bag had a recipe.  A fan of the Joy of Baking website, my favorite source for ingredient substitutions, I decided to go with their Oatmeal Cookies recipe.  However, instead of using dried cranberries or chocolate chips, I would use both.  Also, having enjoyed the coarse salt sprinkled on top of my Salted Caramel Chocolate Chip Cupcakes and having realized how much I like the combination of salty and sweet chocolate after participating in a brownie taste-off (before I was worried about allergies) hosted by my office’s baking legend and author of the Ipso Fatto blog, I thought it would be nice to counter the sweetness of the Enjoy Life chocolate chips with extra salt.

FREE Ingredients

Recently, food allergy author Linda Coss tweeted an interesting substitute for an egg – 1 ½ tbsp of oil, 1 ½ tbsp of water, and 1 tsp of baking powder.  I figured this would be a great recipe to try out her recommendation.

  • ¾ cup dairy-free, soy-free buttery spread (like Earth Balance)
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 ½ tbsp canola oil
  • 1 ½ tbsp water
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp sea salt (ground somewhat fine)
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • 3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats (like Bob’s Red Mill)
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • ¾ cup dairy-free, soy-free semi-sweet chocolate chips (like Enjoy Life)

This is a quick and easy recipe (that can even be done with a baby strapped to your chest).

Method (or Mistakes)

Preheat oven to 350º and line 2-3 baking sheets with parchment paper. In a large bowl, using a hand or electric mixer, beat together the buttery spread and sugar until creamy and smooth (about 2-3 minutes).  In a separate, small bowl whisk together canola oil, water, and baking powder, and then add to sugar mixture.  Add extract to mixture, and then beat with mixer to combine.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.  Add the flour mixture to the sugar mixture, and then beat until incorporated.  Stir in the oats, dried cranberries, and chocolate chips.

Use a large cookie scoop to place the cookies on the baking sheets about 2 inches apart.  Shape and flatten the cookies slightly with your fingers, placing together any dough that may have separated when scooping.  Bake the cookies for 12-15 minutes, or until light golden brown around the edges but still soft and a bit wet in the centers.  Remove cookies from oven and let cool a few minutes on baking sheets before transferring to a wire rack to cool.

oatmeal craisin cookie

Uncooked “granola-like” cookie dough

When I placed the dough on the cookie sheet, I was a bit worried that its consistency was more like granola than the smooth cohesive cookie dough to which I was accustomed.  My guess is that this was due to the oats and elimination of the egg.  I tried forming them back together a bit with my fingers, but it didn’t matter because the cookies easily melted together when baking.


All of the flavors really came out in these cookies.  It was almost like a different cookie in every bite.  One bite it was a salty oat chocolate chip cookie, the next bite it was a chocolate covered cranberry cookie.  My taste buds enjoyed the party!  The cookies also had perfectly chewy centers but buttery, crispy edges.  And the dried cranberries delightfully increased the cookies’ chewiness.  I think the key to the texture of these cookies was taking them out of the oven as early as possible and not overcooking.

I decided to take these cookies into my office, having just returned to work from maternity leave on a temporary part-time basis.  All of the reviews shared with me were positive.  My favorite reaction was how surprised everyone was that vegan and allergy-friendly could taste so YUMmy!  Like me, most commented on how enjoyable it was to have so many different flavors packed into one cookie.  People also were surprised by how soft and chewy these were despite their lack of egg.  One office buddy even came to my office shortly after I had put these out dissapointed that they were all gone because she was hoping for a second.  Luckily, I had set aside a couple that I was able to share.

Featured on Allergy-Friendly Friday Mother’s Day

Linked to Allergy-Friendly Friday


CNN Blogs: Experimental Treatment May Help Children with Food Allergies Blogs: Experimental treatment may help food allergies

Food allergies are on the rise in the United States, especially in children.

Some children – like my allergy-stricken infant daughter – are allergic to many foods.  Unfortunately, it’s impossible to know, even with preventive testing, whether a child will have a mild or severe reaction. Health Writer/Producer, Elizabeth Landau, blogged:

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University and Duke University are working on a treatment that may one day allow kids with allergies to safely eat the foods that cause them life-threatening reactions. It’s still in the early stages, but Dr. Robert Wood of Johns Hopkins, who has been on the forefront of food allergy research, estimates the treatment could be brought to the public within six to eight years. . . .

Wood and colleagues found promising results from this small experiment with 30 children ages 6 to 18. . . . Wood presented the study, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, at the 2012 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology this weekend.

The results suggested that children who went through a year of sublingual therapy followed by one to two years of oral immunotherapy were less likely to have significant allergic reactions when undergoing the oral immunotherapy. Still, it did not eliminate all symptoms.

For more information, visit:

How YOU Can Take Action NOW:  Consider making a tax-deductible donation to an organization dedicated to helping children with food allergies (see “Charities” link on my homepage).

To Be or Not to Be a Tree Nut: Dairy-free, Soy-free Key Lime Coconut Cupcakes

Dairy-free, Soy-free Key Lime Coconut Cupcake without White Chocolate


The food theme for my mommies book club meeting the other month was finger foods.  So, to little surprise, my choice was cupcakes!  My mom knows that I have loved coconut since she used it to cover my first birthday cake (see picture in carrot cake cupcake post).  Close friends know key lime cupcakes are my favorite.  And most know (yet don’t believe) I will pick a piece of white chocolate over “real” chocolate any day.  So, naturally, my mouth watered when I came across a recipe for “Key Lime Coconut Cupcakes with White Chocolate Frosting” (courtesy of Jamie Nondorf) on

Because my baked ziti with pine nut “ricotta cheese” didn’t entirely resolve the issue of whether or not my daughter was allergic to tree nuts, I thought to give coconut a try.  Plus, there seems to be debate whether coconut should be excluded from the tree nut category.  Some say it may not have the same allergen qualities as other tree nuts.

Those who read the picture caption might be wondering why I had cupcakes without white chocolate?  I came across vegan (dairy-free) white chocolates for sale online, but (a recurring disappointment) they all contained soy.  And the recipes I found for homemade non-dairy white chocolate all called for soy lecithin or dried soy powder.  I considered substituting in dried rice powder but couldn’t find such a thing.  So I was heartbroken – no white chocolate icing. 

FREE Ingredients


  • ½ cup dairy-free, soy-free butter (like Earth Balance)
  • 1 ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs – at room temperature
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 larger than overflowing tsp grated lime zest
  • 1 ½ tbsp key lime juice (bottled or fresh)
  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt – ground fine
  • ½ cup vanilla rice milk
  • 1 ½ tsp lemon juice (to make “buttermilk”)
  • 1 1/3 unsweetened organic coconut flakes

Although the original recipe called for zest from key limes, I found regular limes worked fine. I also used more than the recommended  “heaping” teaspoon.

Key Lime Glaze:

  • 3 egg whites
  • ¾ cups granulated sugar
  • 2 cups dairy-free, soy-free butter spread (like Earth Balance)
  • 2 tsp key lime juice
  • a few drops lemon extract
  • ½ cup powdered (confectioner’s) sugar
  • lime zest for sprinkling

This recipe was based on a “Swiss Meringue Buttercream” (by Toba Garrett) on  My scaling down and other modifications may be why I ended up with a glaze not a meringue.

Method (or Mistakes)

Cupcakes:  Preheat oven to 325° and place 12 paper cupcake liners in a muffin pan.  Make the “buttermilk” by adding lemon juice to rice milk, then let sit for 5 minutes.  In a large bowl, use an electric mixer on high speed to cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  On low speed, add eggs, 1 at a time, scraping down the bowl with a spatula after each addition.  Add the extract, lime zest**, and juice.  Mix well.  In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  While mixing egg mixture on low speed, add the dry ingredients in 5 parts, alternating with the “buttermilk” in 4 parts (beginning and ending with the dry ingredients).  Mix just until combined.  Fold coconut into the batter.  Fill each cupcake liner until almost full.  Bake for 25 minutes or until the tops of the cupcakes are golden and a toothpick comes out clean.  Let cupcakes cool in pan for 10 minutes, then remove from pan and cool completely on a cooling rack.

**For other novices like me, here’s how you zest a lime: using the smallest grating size on a box grater, grate the green peel of the lime.  Avoid grating the white (bitter) lime rind into your zest.  You will be left with a few naked limes, but the good news is they keep well in an airtight bag in the fridge.  I know because I ended up with a gallon size bag of naked limes due to clumsiness and over-ambition.  My first batch of lime zest fell all over the floor when I knocked it off the table trying to nurse my daughter.  The second time around, I made extra zest for use in other recipes.  That too hit the ground a couple days later when I tried to reach for something else in the fridge.  At least our naked limes made for good limeade.   

Glaze:  Lightly whisk together egg whites and sugar over simmering water until mixture reads 140° on candy thermometer or is hot to the touch.  Pour mixture into a room temperature bowl and whip with a wire whisk on medium-high speed until double in volume.  Mixture should not move around when the mixer stops.  Remove the whisk from the mixer and attach the paddle.  Add ½ the butter spread into the bowl immediately and pulsate the mixer (turn mixture on and off in jerks) until the butter is completely covered.  Add remainder of the butter spread and pulsate again.  Slowly increase mixer’s speed by starting at lowest setting and moving up a speed every 10 seconds until reaching medium-high speed.  Continue beating until the mixture begins to look light and fluffy.  Stop mixer, scrape the bowl, and return to low speed.  Add lime juice and extract (note: this was when my meringue became a glaze).  On medium speed, add powdered sugar.  Spoon glaze over completely cooled cupcakes and then sprinkle with lime zest.


These cupcakes were a YUMmy hit with my family and book club, plus they were pleasing to the eye.  The tops of the cupcakes baked to a beautiful golden color, and the sprinkled lime zest gave them that added (I’m pretending to be a real baker) touch.  The texture of the cupcake tops were my idea of perfect – somewhat candied with a bit of a soft cookie crunch.  And the tartness of the key lime was nicely mellowed by the softness of the coconut flavor, which was not at all overwhelming.  Perhaps my choice to use unsweetened coconut with a slight increase to the amount of sugar added to the softness? 

The major negative: my daughter appears to be allergic to coconut.  A day and a-half later, she broke out in a rash and eczema that could only be attributed to nursing after I enjoyed these cupcakes. There goes my support for the “coconut is a mild allergen” theory. 

And while I got my intended effect of not having my glaze overpower the cupcake flavor, it was supposed to be a meringue.  My error may have been when I accidentally added more than a teaspoon (rather than a few drops) of lemon extract, because my hand slipped when I was supporting my daughter on my chest in her baby carrier.  Next time, I may stick with the revamped version of my mom’s buttercream icing (which I will share in next week’s strawberry cupcakes recipe post).  Until then, happy allergy-friendly eating!

Challenging the Dairy and Soy Allergy Combo: Dairy-free, Soy-free Baked Ziti with Pignoli Ricotta Cheese


Flipping through an old 1998 Good Housekeeping – Best Recipes cookbook for dinner inspiration, I came across a recipe for “Sunday Baked Ziti & Meatball Casserole.” 

My first step to create a dairy-free, soy-free baked ziti was to find an allergy-friendly alternative for ricotta cheese.  After a couple web searches, I had quite a few dairy-free ideas but they all relied on tofu or some other soy-containing ingredient.  Even the vegan cream cheese substitute was out when I learned, on a visit to my local grocery store, that they too are soy based. 

Then, I came across a recipe posted in the Book of Yum blog for a dairy-free spinach lasagna.  Their lasagna used a natural, raw food “ricotta cheese” recipe that Sarma Melngailis – co-owner of one of New York City’s first upscale raw food restaurants – provided during an interview by the RawGuru raw food blog.  The recipe uses pine nuts (that I’ve learned true chefs call by the fancier name – pignoli) as its base. 

Was it irony or fate that I had just mentioned to my daughter’s pediatrician that the only common food allergen that I hadn’t tried reintroducing into my “elimination” nursing diet was tree nuts?

 FREE Ingredients

“Ricotta Cheese” Layer:

  • 2 (3 oz) packages raw pine nuts – soaked in water for at least 1 hour
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp nutritional yeast
  • 1 tsp sea salt – ground fine
  • 6 tbsp water
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tbsp daiya mozzarella cheese
  • 1 additional tbsp nutritional yeast
  • 2 tbsp dried parsley
  • ¼ tsp coarsely ground black pepper

Tomato Sauce – Noodle Layer:

  • Approx. 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 onions – sliced into small 1” chucks (about the size of a fingernail)
  • 4 tbsp (or less) minced garlic
  • 3 tbsp dried basil
  • 1 large bay leaf
  • 1 (28 oz) can organic whole tomatoes
  • 1 (10 ¾ oz) can organic tomato puree
  • 1 (6 oz) can organic tomato paste
  • fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 (1 lb) box penne pasta – cooked per box directions

This is a modified version of my mom’s “homemade” tomato sauce from her YUMmy eggplant Parmesan recipe.

 (Optional) Meat Layer:

  • 1 ½ – 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 lb ground turkey meat (or veggie alternative if allergies permit)
  • 3 tbsp tomato puree
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 2 tsp dried parsley
  • ½ – 1 tsp garlic powder

 1 (8 oz) package daiya mozzarella cheese – for spreading

Method (or Mistakes)

While my pine nuts were soaking, I prepared my tomato sauce and meat layers.

Tomato sauce – noodle layer:  Heat large saucepan on medium heat.  Pour in enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the saucepan.  Add onion, basil, and garlic (my family LOVES garlic, so feel free to decrease amount).  Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and stir frequently.  When onions are translucent (color of cellophane noodles), add all remaining sauce ingredients except pepper.  Bring to a boil on high heat, then reduce to a simmer.  Cook sauce for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.  Add pepper to taste.  Set aside 1 cup of sauce for top of casserole, then stir cooked pasta in remaining sauce. 

Meat layer:  Heat large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add olive oil, then add turkey meat.  Cook until meat is brown.  Add tomato puree, basil, and parsley.  Continue cooking for 1 – 2 minutes, then remove from heat.

The Good Housekeeping recipe calls for meatballs prepared at least a day ahead.  Wanting ziti the same day I craved it – I quickly threw together this alternative. 

Ricotta cheese layer:  Place soaked pine nuts, lemon juice, nutritional yeast, and salt in blender or food processor.  Pulse mixture a few times, until thoroughly combined.  Gradually add water, and pulse until texture becomes fluffy like ricotta.  Place mixture in a medium-large bowl.   Stir in egg, additional nutritional yeast, parsley, salt and pepper.

Although the original recipe calls for 2 cups of pine nuts, I didn’t want to open a third package, so I planned to decrease the rest of my ingredients.  However, I hadn’t anticipated that when it was time to add my ingredients to the blender, I’d have some added stress factors.  My daughter was crying at the top of her lungs in my husband’s arms, while he paced through the kitchen giving me an annoyed “seriously, you’re still cooking?” look.  Add to that my son, and his blender issue (mentioned in my carrot cake cupcakes post), who kept asking: “Mom, are you done yet?” because he wanted to reopen the door to the playroom.  It wasn’t until I was pouring the final drops of water into the blender that I remembered I was supposed to decrease my ingredients.  Without the time or patience to soak more pine nuts for an hour, I used what I had.

The Ziti:  Preheat the oven to 400°.  In a 13” x 9” glass baking dish, layer the casserole as follows:  1) ½ the pasta mix; 2) meat; 3) ricotta cheese; 4) remaining ½ pasta mix; 5) reserved 1 cup of tomato sauce; 6) cover with daiya mozzarella cheese.  Bake for 30 – 35 minutes.


I had a lot of fun making this dish, as it required more creativity than I had exerted in a long time.  And the best part of this recipe was that the entire family approved!  Soon after I went back for seconds, my son who (surprisingly) had a “Happy Plate” took the remaining ziti off my husband’s plate.  Following suit, my husband disappeared to return from the kitchen with another plate full of ziti.  And despite my ricotta cheese mishap, my ziti was neither runny nor lemony!

The only drawback to the meal was when, less than two days later, my daughter broke out in hives.  (In response to the question I get a lot – if I eat a food one night, it usually takes about 1 ½ days before my daughter breaks out.  However, if it’s a more severe allergic reaction, she may display abdominal discomfort and/or eye swelling as early as a few moments after our first post-meal nursing session.) 

Sadly, after everything, I still don’t know for sure if my daughter is allergic to tree nuts.  I later realized that my nutritional yeast was manufactured in a plant that processes, among other things, milk and soy!  How could an item that is so heavily relied upon by vegans possibly contain milk?!  Never having been fond of true Parmesan cheese but having liked the taste of nutritional yeast, I was bummed by this discovery.  If you happen to know of a nutritional yeast manufactured in an allergen-friendly plant, I would love to know.  Thanks!