A big ole’ bowl full of love

bowlfullTo say our first exchange student had a few food allergies is to say the Titanic had a glacier problem.

Wheat, rye, oats, soy, nuts or chocolate gave her a terrible stomach ache.

Citrus, kiwis, plums, apricots, raw apples, carrots, potatoes and onions weren’t as big a problem, but were also allergens.

Fish would put her in the hospital. Even the smell of fish would make her throat swell.

She was also lactose intolerant.

I got her paperwork shortly before she moved in with us and thought how did this girl’s parents ever let her leave home?

But I love a good food challenge. Good thing, too. We’ve had a few of those since the months Saara lived with us. A year later, we discovered Jack has an intolerance for wheat. Last year we found out Mike is allergic to a bunch of foods, as well as dogs and pretty much the entire out of doors.

We can’t eliminate the outdoors, but we’ve changed our diet dramatically. So much processed food has stuff added for preservation, taste, consistency, color or volume that have unintended consequences for our family.

We learned with Saara that allergies make the food prep process longer. At the same time, our grocery bill – with the list changed to include mostly fresh produce and meats – went up about 30 percent. My willingness to tolerate picky eating plummeted.

The things my kids used to eat to fill them up (cereal, granola bars, yogurt, cheese sticks) were off limits to Saara. She ate more fruit than a troupe of African primates every day and was still hungry.

eat_smartWe have a great sports nutrition book, Eat Smart Play Hard, by Liz Applegate, Ph.D, and I thumbed through it to find recipes that could satiate poor Saara without unintentionally hospitalizing her. Being the cause of hospitalization of an exchange student would earn us black marks with the US State Department.

Dr. Applegate’s recipe for minestrone turned out to be a hit with the whole family; made with beef, pasta, beans, and a whole mess of veggies. I’d make a big pot on a Sunday and it’d be leftovers for lunches that week and maybe one more family dinner.

When we found out about Jack’s wheat issues, we changed the pasta to rice pasta. We could also use quinoa or plain rice.

Then Mike found out he had a gagillion allergies causing his asthma. His inhaler wasn’t working and the doctor prescribed steroids.

We remember steroids from when we discovered Colin’s allergy to wasps. One sting made his hand swell up like a football. Steroids reduced the swelling. They also made Colin a biter. He was still little, so we called him Chucky, which was only funny until he bit you.

Mike didn’t want to become a biter, or deal with any of the other side effects of steroids. And, then we thought: why not look at eliminating the cause of the allergic reaction instead of this whole better living through chemicals approach?

That’s when we got a new dog. Because we’re into avoidance. And because we weren’t sure Mike was really allergic to dogs, so let’s pick one out and get the kids good and attached while we find out?

… Which is when we put HEPA filters in every room in the house and Mike started getting weekly allergy shots and we began spending more on dander-reducing dog and salmon oil food than my entire college grocery budget.

Anyway … Mike tested different beans, nuts and legumes to see which caused a reaction, and eliminated those from his diet. Things like soy, peanuts, almonds and beans were in some of Mike’s favorite foods. Chinese was out, so was Mexican. Lots of his favorite protein bars were too. Comfort foods like chili and minestrone were history.

But maybe not. Recently, I changed up our minestrone recipe to conform to crazy allergy-boy’s needs and the result is a new family favorite.

On one night, I’ll roast a whole chicken (I found a great slow cooker chicken recipe I’ll share some other time), and serve it with some roast cauliflower or other veggies, a creamy butternut squash risotto recipe from Weight Watchers, and kale chips.

After dinner, I’ll throw the chicken carcass in the crockpot and cook it with about six cups of water on high for a couple hours until the chicken falls off the bone. After draining the chicken (keeping the broth), I’ll pull out the bones, and stick the chicken and broth in the fridge (or freezer) until I’m ready to use it.

photo (22)The next day I’ll stick the broth and meat back in the crockpot, on low with cubed butternut squash, left over from the risotto recipe, and cut up carrots (maybe a cup in all).

After about three hours, I’ll mash the whole thing with a potato masher until the cubed veggies aren’t recognizable as veggies anymore (Colin hates squash, so I trick him into eating it). Then I’ll throw in some diced cauliflower (maybe a cup), a can of sweet corn, a can of diced tomatoes, a small can of tomato paste, and some cut up kale.

This whole thing cooks for another hour or two on low until the cauliflower is tender enough (I like it kind of firm, still). Depending upon the seasonings I used on the chicken, and whether the canned tomatoes include italian seasonings, I may only need a little salt and pepper.

I’ll boil some rice pasta, and serve the whole thing with a little sprinkled parmesan.

soupMy mom says it’s not really minestrone anymore if it doesn’t have beef. I tell her I made SOUP and that means I can call it flappy-flim-flam if I want to and then I give her my crazy eye look and she mostly shuts up.

I kind of feel like Tom Hanks in Castaway after he made fire on the beach.

Oh, and I also taught myself how to make a gif for you people. Next, I’m going to get the kids to do their homework without my having to yell. I’m kind of on a roll.


I’m sorry about the stupid gif. But I gave you the real recipe (see below), so a vote would be nice. Thanks.




Appetite-Control Minestrone Soup (original recipe from Eat Smart, Play Hard, by Liz Applegate, Ph.D.)
Serves a family of four for a week (no kidding)

2 beef shanks (about 2 pounds), optional
1 Tbs Canola oil (optional)
10 c. water
1 bay leaf
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
5 ribs celery, minced
1 can (15 oz.) tomato sauce
1 can (15 oz.) each: kidney Beans, lima beans, chickpeas (rinsed and drained)
3/4 c. each: chopped carrots, chopped green beans, corn, okra
2 c. small, shaped pasta
1-3 Tbs pesto
Salt and pepper
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for sprinkling

In a large soup pot, sear the meat in the canola oil for 5 minutes (if using). Add the water and bay leaf to the pot and boil. Simmer for 1.5 hours. Add onion, garlic, celery, and tomato sauce. Simmer another hour. Add the kidney and lima beans, chickpeas, carrots, green beans, corn, and okra. Simmer another 15 minutes. Ad the pasta and simmer another 10 minutes or until the pasta is tender (if you’re using rice pasta, consider just leaving it out and adding as you serve the soup – it’ll get mushy otherwise). Season to taste with the pesto, salt and pepper. Remove and discard the bay leaf. Ladle soup into bowls and sprinkle with cheese.

Per 2 cup serving: 238 calories, 17g protein, 29g carbohydrate, 6g total fat, 2g saturated fat, 20mg cholesterol, 5.5g fiber, 194mg sodium

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    1. I\’m so glad you like it! It would probably work just as well without the tomato sauce, just the chicken broth. Even less of a minestrone, but still yummy.

  1. I was chuckling as I read along but when I got to the video, I had to laugh out loud. Especially nice to have a laugh after sitting through a 3 hour meeting that included a 90 minute powerpoint presentation on risk assessment and the advantages and disadvantages of the deterministic and the probabilistic risk assessment methods.

    1. That made my head hurt just reading it, mom. Glad I could provide some distraction.