The conversation went something like this...
Me: "Thanks so much for inviting us to your son's graduation party. Can we bring something? Maybe a dessert?"
My friend: "Well, I plan to make a special dairy & nut free cake for him tomorrow with his sister, given his allergies."
Me: "I can make safe brownies, dairy and nut free for him, too. Would that help out?"
My friend: "That would be great! Are you sure?"
I replied, "Yes. I'm sure."
Though I wasn't entirely certain if she meant "was I sure it wasn't too much of a bother?" Or, "was I sure I could make the brownies safe for her son?"
Here's what happened...
I ended the call, thinking about the celebration ahead and my offer to bring allergen-free brownies.
It was definitely not a bother. Plus, I was absolutely sure I could make great brownies without dairy, since I have a foolproof 'no cow' brownie recipe.** I also know my way around the kitchen after spending decades adapting recipes for my own family's food allergic life.
But, for some reason, taking on this small baking project felt different to me. Somehow, the weight of responsibility to get it right, make it safe for a friend's son with different food allergies than my own son's allergies, felt heavy on my shoulders.
I think the reason it felt different was because:
Our home is not dairy and tree nut free, while it has been peanut and egg free (my son's ANA allergens) for more than two decades, and
I am hyper-aware of the 'human cost' of the slightest ingredient or process mistake after managing through mistakes made by my family when they brought food to our own family gatherings. People outside your immediate family just don't know what they don't know about your food allergies when they aren't immersed in them every day.
Here's what I did to make the allergen-free brownies for the celebration:
Brand new ingredients: Baking supplies in my pantry were at an all time low so I used this as an opportunity to replenish — cane sugar, low glycemic apple syrup, agave syrup, organic wheat flour, baking soda, vanilla, cocoa powder, white vinegar, powdered sugar, and Enjoy Life dark chocolate morsels. All of the ingredients I used for the brownies were newly purchased, labels read for dairy and tree nuts before buying them.
Sanitized work space: I wiped down the counter where I would work — a part of the counter we don't typically use for food prep or eating — with Clorox 2 and paper towels. I scoured the sink with Bar Keeper's Friend, doused it with Clorox 2 and hot water.
Clean utensils, bowls & hands: I washed every utensil I would use to prepare the brownies with hot water and dish soap — measuring spoons, measuring cups, mixing bowl, mixing spoon, baking pan — with a brand new scrub brush. I dried everything with a freshly laundered dish towel, laying it all out on another freshly laundered dish towel.
Finally, the fun part: Cleaning and sanitizing done, the kitchen chemistry began in earnest as I measured and stirred and then scraped the thick, sticky brownie batter into a greased pan for baking.
Success: Once the brownies were baked and cooled, I cut them into squares, arranged them on a freshly washed plate and dusted them with powdered sugar. Mission accomplished. Ready to share.
I think the dairy free-nut free brownies were a welcome addition to the party menu, though I am not sure the guest of honor even sampled one. And that's ok. I know I'd taken every precaution possible to deliver a safe, allergen-free dessert option for my friend's son, in honor of his graduation, and if he had sampled one, he would have been in for a SAFE taste treat.
Sharing here a couple lessons from this recent experience that I've taken to heart:
Knowing my limits: I don't assume anymore that, because I'm expert at managing my own family's food allergies, I will be equally expert at making safe food for someone with different food allergies. While I am practiced at navigating my own family's allergy profile — I know where allergens hide on ingredients labels, I understand cross contact, my kitchen's free of our ANA allergens — it doesn't mean I'll be equally adept at navigating a different set of food allergies.
Being understanding of other's choices: I don't take it personally if the allergen-friendly food I've made isn't eaten by the person it was intended for. It's never wrong to go an extra mile to be inclusive. That's kindness. That's caring.
About the Author: Gayle Rigione is CEO of Allergy Force, the food allergy app. She’s also an allergy mom. She’s lived the heart stopping moments when her son ate the wrong thing, second guessed reactions and raced to the ER. These experiences inspire her to create tech tools for people with food allergies. Whatever you do, do it with a full heart. Audentes Fortuna Iuvat
**No Cow Brownie Recipe
(Recipe adapted from long-time favorite cookbook for baking from scratch — Rosemarie Emro's 'Bakin' Without Eggs') Notes: quick to make in (1) bowl, not too many ingredients or steps, tolerant of substitutions.
1 3/4 cups flour (can be your favorite 1:1 gluten free blend)
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 cup vegetable oil (I use canola oil)
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup light corn syrup (agave or apple syrup can be substituted)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp white vinegar
3/4 cup Enjoy Life dark chocolate morsels (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly grease 8x8-inch pan with canola oil or safe vegetable spray.
In medium bowl, combine flour, cocoa, sugar, baking soda, and blend. Then add oil, water, syrup, vanilla, vinegar. Stir with a large spoon. Batter will be very thick. Fold in chocolate chips if using.
Spoon evenly into prepared pan and bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Baking time will depend on oven and type of pan (ceramic vs. metal vs. glass). Brownies will pull away from the sides of the pan when done.
Cool completely on wire rack before cutting.