Weddings & Maple Baked Beans

The best part of weddings is the free food. Except for families with allergies.

My brother had his wedding reception this past weekend and they ended up having a potluck dinner, which made it easier to ensure there was food we could eat as we just brought our own, but there are always risks with food around others when you have allergies.

It has become second nature to always bring food to events that we can eat, because if I can’t eat, I will get hangry, which is not what anyone wants.

We made my family’s maple baked beans recipe which we almost ran out of (we made 70 servings). It is so good, and easy to make allergy friendly, especially if you have made my ketchup recipe.

Maple Baked Beans

  • Servings: 10-12
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

1 lb dry navy beans *
4 quarts water, divided
6 slices bacon, cut up
1 medium onion, chopped
1 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup ketchup
1/4 cup barbeque sauce (I used my ketchup)
5 tsp apple cider vinegar
1 tsp prepared mustard**
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground pepper

Directions

  1. Rinse beans and put in large pot with 2 quarts of water
  2. Bring to a boil, reduce and simmer for 2 min. Remove from heat, cover and let stand for 1 hour
  3. Drain and rinse, put back in pot and cover with remaining water.
  4. Boil, reduce heat and simmer for 40 min or until almost tender.
  5. Drain and reserve water.
  6. For oven: Place beans in casserole dish and add all remaining ingredients. Bake, covered, at 300 degrees F for 2.5 hrs or until tender, stirring occasionally and adding reserved bean liquid as needed. For Crock-Pot: Place beans in Crock-Pot, add remaining ingredients and cook on low for 8 hrs

*I use a mix of black eyed peas, navy beans, black beans, and kidney beans

**If corn free, make sure your mustard doesn’t use white vinegar. The one I use has apple cider vinegar

So what makes weddings difficult for this with allergies? What’s the big deal?

First, who is making the food?

a) Is it a potluck, where everyone brings their own food; usually people have no concept of cross contamination or even fully understanding what is in their dish. Never ever trust someone’s word that it is free of certain ingredients. Do you know how many times I have had kitchen staff in restaurants try to convince me that butter isn’t dairy? Too many to count. No one knows your allergies like you do.

b) Is it a catered meal? If so, don’t just ask for what is (dairy, soy gluten etc.) free, because they don’t always make everything nor do they take additional training in understanding allergies. I always have to ask about each individual dish and it’s ingredients. Too many times do they forget that they put butter in the vegetables or milk in the mash potatoes until specifically asked about it.

Second, are your allergies anaphylactic?

What many people, even those with allergies, don’t understand is that any allergy can become anaphylactic at any time. Previous reactions are not indicative of what future allergic reactions will look like.

So if you are very concerned, or know for sure you have a serious allergy, check how they are preparing everything. Do they have your allergens anywhere near the food you are eating during prep in the back? Do they have a designated area they can prep your meals. Is there a way that they notify staff that your plate is separate or different (a coloured toothpick for example).

Third, how is the meal served?

a) Is it family style so you will serve your own food at your individual table? If that’s the case, make sure everyone at your table understands your allergies, that they can’t use anything other than the serving spoon in that specific dish, also ensure that said spoon doesn’t touch anything on their plate when they are serving yourself. Or maybe you need to go first and not have any seconds.

b) Is it buffet? Maybe you could check with staff and go through first, as everything will be cross contaminated by the time you go through the line. Or you could check with the servers about if they can dish you up a separate plate so you know that it is safe.

Lastly, do you trust people to wash their hands after they have eaten? Usually this isn’t a big deal for adults as those with allergies know to always wash their own hands prior to eating. This is a big deal if you have a toddler or newborn that still sucks on their hands. I have to watch to make sure people don’t touch my daughter V if they haven’t washed their hands, and kissing, even if it isn’t on the face, is forbidden unless you have washed your mouth.

Many may think this is ridiculous but we have had V break out in hives locally where J has kissed her after eating an allergen of hers.

Have you or any of your loved ones ever had difficulties at weddings or eating out? Please share! And if you have any new ideas or tips on what to look out for with food allergies, please comment.

All of this to say, we had such a great time at the wedding, but as an allergy mom I never truly relax.

To my husband

I feel so incredibly blessed to have my husband as my helper and support through this crazy walk called life.

He supported me through nursing school, and while I was working shift work. He never complained with all the crazy stories I brought home from work working as a nurse (sorry, I know some of them aren’t meant for the dinner table, whoops).

Yes, we have had our ups and downs, but I recently I have tried to really look at everything he does for our family, and the sacrifices he has made for us.

He may not know a tonne about medical things or understand everything our daughter V is going through health wise, but he has done so much to learn and support us in this crazy journey.

When V was born we were stuck in a windowless isolation room in the NICU for 7 days. Instead of going home, he slept on those pull out couch loungers in the hospital with me, forsaking good sleep to be at our side. He couldn’t truly take time off work, so he was on the phone and answering emails, doing his very best to be present at all times so he could help.

He has never shied away from messes she makes or smelly diapers she fills.

He has tried to understand the medical jargon, and though he doesn’t have the time to do the research like I have had, he listens and learns as much as he can so he can help.

He has been a shoulder to cry on and a smile to laugh with.

I love watching the love and awe in his eyes when he sees our daughter.

Is he a baby sitter? No. And he would be incredibly offended if I referred to him that way. He is V’s dad. Just like I watch and parent her during the day, he often watches and parents for her when I need something done.

When I feel done and drained, he asks what he can do, and does it. It may not always be the way I do things but it helps, and I don’t think I tell him that enough.

This isn’t to say he is perfect. Nobody is. And of course I have had moments when I feel frustrated, I feel alone. I’m doing all this work for V, making sacrifices dietary wise and sometimes it feels like, sanity wise. I often get blinders. I don’t see the work he is doing, the countless overtime hours so that he is caught up and due to this can’t spend time with us at home as a family.

I was feeling burnt out and that V wasn’t seeing him enough, and so he now comes home for supper and then goes back to work as needed, sometimes until early morning. Some days he is as drained as me, but he will get up if V wakes up crying if I am too tired to.

It’s when I have felt most alone, without his support, that I have realized that he is there as much as he can be. He is struggling through this journey called parenting right along with me, our journey filled with specialist appointments and allergies.

Everyone always says that you will fall more in love with your husband when you watch him with your child. I didn’t understand until this past year.

My heart feels close to bursting at times.

All of this to say, take the time to really look at your significant other. Step into their shoes. Try to understand from their perspective. If you are frustrated or feel alone, try to look at all the things they do for you or your family.

Don’t tally your frustrations and their failings, look at where they have stepped up, the moments where your heart is full, the little things they do.

By looking at the positive moments more, everything feels a little clearer, things don’t seem so difficult, and I personally feel more at peace.

So tell them how you feel, thank them for their support. Thank them for being your partner, your teammate, the person struggling through life with you together, holding you up when needed.

I’m not saying it shouldn’t be expected that dad’s do these things, but I truly love having a partner who does these things because he wants to be a part of our parenting journey. Someone to shoulder the burden. Someone who steps up when needed, loves our family and truly would do anything for us.

So thank you to dad’s out there, but a special thank you to my hubby, for everything you do. I love you and feel blessed to call you mine.

Homemade Ketchup and Why We Make Our Own

When I told others that I found a way to easily make my own ketchup, everyone was begging for the recipe.

This recipe is simple, however it also takes all day. I cooked mine overnight, so I didn’t stir it as much as I probably should have, but it still turned out fabulously.

In addition, I will strive to put the recipe at the top of a post, because I hate scrolling through someones thoughts if all I want is the recipe. Enjoy!

Ketchup

  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

This is a simple, easy ketchup that tastes quite similar to store bought ketchup. My husband James has even agreed to use this ketchup instead of Heinz ketchup (which is huge as he is very particular about what he eats).


Ingredients

2 (28 oz) cans peeled ground tomatoes*
1/2 cup water
2/3 cup white sugar
3/4 cup vinegar**
1 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 3/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp celery salt
1/8 tsp mustard powder
1/4 tsp finely ground black pepper
1 dash cayenne pepper (more if prefer it to be spicy)
1 whole clove

Directions

  1. Pour ground tomatoes into slow cooker. Add water, sugar, vinegar, onion powder, garlic powder, celery salt, mustard powder, black pepper, cayenne pepper, and whole clove; whisk to combine
  2. Cook on high, uncovered, until mixture is reduced by half and very thick (10-12 hr). Stir every hour or so.
  3. Smooth the texture of the ketchup using an immersion blender for about 20 seconds. (I just used my food processor, immersion blender will make it smoother)
  4. Ladle the ketchup into a fine strainer and press mixture with the back of a ladle or spoon to strain out any skin and seeds.
  5. Transfer the strained ketchup to a bowl. Cool completely before tasting to adjust salt, black pepper, or cayenne pepper.

*Ensure that the cans of tomatoes that you are buying are free of citric acid if you are corn free. I have only found one brand that “may contain citric acid”, so for now we are using that, but are transitioning to just using fresh tomatoes, peeled and cooking those down.

**For those that have a corn allergy it is important to avoid white vinegar; any safe vinegar will work including rice vinegar, apple cider vinegar, or coconut vinegar.

This should keep for one year in the fridge.

When we first found out about V’s corn allergy, which was through trial and error, I had no idea about how vast of an allergy it is. At first we thought she was only reacting directly to the corn itself; if something said “corn” specifically.

For those who don’t know, V not only reacts if she eats an item, but she also reacts if I eat that item and breastfeed her. I had no idea this was possible for the allergen to pass through breast milk, but it can, and it’s scary how sensitive V is to allergens that I have eaten (reacts after eating a tsp of something that says “may contain” of an allergen she is allergic to).

Not long after we “got it under control” we noticed she seemed to be getting worse after I had ketchup several days in a row. I researched, and all ketchup in Canada is free of corn syrup, so I was confused, until I discovered that white vinegar is made from corn. It was only after removing almost all corn derivatives that V has been doing much better (follow the link for the list, and try not to feel overwhelmed).

I can’t tell you enough how important it is to read the ingredients on anything that you buy in the store. Depending on how serious of an allergy, you may also be required to contact the company to discover if it is truly safe for you to eat.

Pro Tip:
If you are cooking for a friend or family with allergies, don’t get frustrated if they refuse to eat something after you spent all this time ensuring it was safe for them. Instead, before you make food, inquire to them if there is specific brands that are safe for ingredients you are cooking with.
If you are removing something from its packaging or using it in something that will stay in your kitchen for a while to come, don’t throw out said packaging until you have documented somewhere the brand and the ingredients. I have made this mistake several times and have had to donate to family or throw out the food as I don’t remember if it is safe or not, especially if new allergies or sensitivities arise.

This has been such a difficult journey, and I will continue to share more about what we have gone through and where we are going. It has gotten easier as time has moved on and we have created a new normal for our family. We don’t eat out anymore. If we do, I need to call ahead and talk to the chef directly about absolutely everything, not really sure if it is worth it. I am trying to switch to a whole foods diet. I am no where near there yet, but in time, I’m sure we will be making almost everything ourselves.

For those that are just starting on this journey, it is ok to cry, it is ok to grieve.
I have bawled over the fact I can’t just grab something to eat while I’m out.
Meals take work, everything is made from scratch or close to it.
Trial and error with allergies is so exhausting and the unknown is terrifying.

I felt like I was failing my daughter. Every time I made a mistake V would scream in pain for days, how is that fair? Am I a terrible mother? Should I just give up and switch to formula? Is the formula actually safe? What if it makes it worse?

There are days I just feel drained, exhausted, wondering what normal life looks like.

It’s not easy, but we are getting there. I now have many safe foods I can buy, I have found local farmers I can buy meats and produce from. I have my own flour mixes, homemade condiments, etc that I make.

So let me just say this. You aren’t a terrible parent for making mistakes. I have to keep telling myself this. You learn, you document, and you move forwards, knowing that you are making the life of you and/or your child better.

I invite you all to join me on this journey of learning. What should we be eating, why are allergies more prevalent, what does it mean to make something from “scratch”?

A Start… of something

I once had a blog that I started when I was 18 to just have a place to keep track of recipes. I had several years before discovered I had allergies to gluten and dairy and I wanted a place to share. As is very common, I stopped after a year because life was busy, and no one really read it except for me.

So when some friends told me recently I should start my own blog, sell my own cookbook, actually sell my own flour mixes, my gut reaction was, NO, that’s a lot of work. You may be thinking, what changed my mind?

My daughter did. My daughter changed my mind completely. We have had many struggles, as any new parent has, however, our situation has been a bit more unique. We had a textbook perfect pregnancy, so when did things start to change? 2 days after our daughter was born we got sent to the NICU (a story for another time) and later got diagnosed with a congenital condition called Incontinentia Pigmenti.

Our journey didn’t just end there. At 3 weeks she started having some blood in her bowels, by 3 months it was concerning and the doctors finally diagnosed her with Cows Milk Protein Allergy (CMPA) and Soy protein allergy. Since then there have been additional allergies discovered including corn and egg.

So. Why a blog? I have always enjoyed making my own food, mostly because allergy friendly pre-made food is ridiculously expensive. Everyone keeps asking me for my recipes, how I make my food taste so good. I even had one friend tell me she doesn’t like desserts, but she will gladly eat anything I make. So I wanted to share with you what I do, the recipes I have, and the tricks I have learned.

It isn’t just this though. On this journey I have come to the realization that I have so much more to learn about allergies, and what better way to go about this than to share as I learn. I want our friends and family to understand the struggles of an allergen free home, of what to expect when we are out in public, and how to ensure that you and your kids are creating an environment safe for others with allergies.

Did you know that babies can react to allergens through their mothers breastmilk? I sure didn’t. Anything I eat that V (my daughter) is allergic to passes through my milk and she has a reaction. Usually little ones can’t have an anaphylactic response from this exposure, but it makes it no less serious.

Did you know that labeling on packages isn’t always accurate in the “allergen” section? For example, “caramel coloring or flavoring” usually contains dairy or wheat, but companies aren’t required to state that on the package. I learned this the hard way when balsamic vinegar in a greek salad that I was eating was causing V to be in excruciating pain for over a week, all because it had caramel coloring in the ingredients.

I wish that there weren’t others out there like our family, who have had to struggle with finding information on food allergies or other medical conditions. There are varying opinions, everyone’s situation is different, packaging and labeling is in no way accurate or always reliable. I often have to contact companies myself to discover whether their food is safe for our family.

It’s also not easy deciding as a family when someone is diagnosed with an allergy how far you take it. Do you eliminate those allergens from your home completely or do you try to create safe zones, and what that may look like for each family is different as well.

So, I invite you to journey with us, to learn as we learn, and to grow in ways you never expected. My life has changed dramatically since I became a mom and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

If you have any specific requests on what you want to learn, or specific recipes, feel free to contact me and I’ll see what I can do. I’m hoping that we can all come together and make the world a safer, more inclusive place for everyone, but especially for our little ones.