Saturday, October 29, 2011

Navigating the Holidays with a Peanut Allergy

My cousin asked me if I would tell her about my peanut allergy, so she could share my tips with an online magazine. I thought I'd post it all in case any peanut-allergic readers of mine might find it helpful.

1. Be aware of your allergy, and try to help other people be aware. Let your guests know if you're hosting a party that you can't have peanuts in your house, so if you bring anything, steer clear of them. Don't worry, they won't be offended or put out. People understand the seriousness of allergies. If you're a guest at someone else's party, you could let your host know, so they don't serve Thai noodles with peanut sauce, but chances are, someone might bring a platter of peanut butter bars or cookies, and you'll just have to watch out for the desserts.
If you have a peanut allergy, don't worry. Most holiday foods don't incorporate a lot of peanut products. If you are SEVERELY allergic, you already know what to watch out for. You know what peanut butter cookies look like (they have the fork pressed # symbol in the middle), you know what color the nuts are, and you know what they smell like and feel like. You also know the instant feeling of itchiness and burning that your lips, gums, tongue, and throat get when you've accidentally ingested some.

2. If you aren't sure about a certain food item, ask the hostess or person who brought them. If that is too difficult, you can simply smell it. If you even have a reaction to smelling peanuts, have your husband check it. If he's still unsure, like my husband often is, you might just have to move on to the brownies.

3. I'm oddly only allergic to peanuts, and no other nuts. People seem shocked when they learn this. The thing about peanuts is, they are not actually a nut, they are a legume, which means if you're allergic to other nuts as well, you're actually dealing with 2 totally separate allergies. If you are like me, and only allergic to peanuts, but fine with almonds, walnuts, pecans, etc., then obviously pecan pie is safe.
And this is a tricky one: brownies. Sometimes they have nuts or peanut butter do I know if it's safe? Again, you'll have to employ your sniffer. If a chef adds nuts to a batch of brownies, they're usually walnuts. In fact, peanuts should never be added. It's just one of those things. However, lots of people like a PB ribbon in theirs. Sometimes, if you're unsure, its just safer to steer clear.

4. If you are overcome with holiday cheer this season and find yourself baking and cooking meals for friends, it is good to find out their allergies. I'm sure they'd be grateful for anything you bring, but it's always nice when you don't have to immediately throw away a fresh plate of whatever. If you need to use a substitution for PB, you can always use almond or cashew butter. Cashew has the most similar texture and taste, but can be significantly more expensive. Same goes for using chopped nuts in a recipe. If you are making spicy Thai noodles that call for crushed peanuts as garnish, crushed cashews will get the job done. Honestly, though, there are so many nut-free recipes that are delicious. If the recipient is allergic to all nuts, you should easily be able to find something yummy.

5. Sometimes, nuts can be snuck into a recipe, and you won't know until you're coming out of anaphylactic shock with a handsome EMT by your side. Anything with a crust (i.e. pies, tarts, etc.) can sometimes have ground almonds or pecans in them to give extra crunchy-crumble delight. Sometimes people will twist an old classic by adding PB to it, such as Banana Cream Pie, or just plain old Chocolate Pie. Always ask before digging in. Like I said before, you won't be annoying. People will understand that you are trying to be careful.

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