Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Life Without Eggs (part two)

Last week I wrote about my egg allergy, the revealing incident, and the things I learned in the wake of that fateful hospital visit. This week I want to focus on how I've learned to completely bypass eggs in my life, but still enjoy most of the foods that I used to love. Even wine! I'll be talking about eggs in particular, but if you or someone you know has a different food allergy, you can take similar steps to continue living more or less like a normal person. Obviously, I spent a lot of time researching my allergy. I learned to identify eggs in ingredient lists by other names: globulin, lecithin, albumin and so on.

Once I had isolated the foods of concern, I went about finding brands that lacked egg  ingredients. One shortcut for me is to look for vegetarian or vegan brands. Most of these don't use any animal products, including eggs (Always check the ingredients, or ask the manufacturer if you're unsure). Similarly, I found that wines listed on Barnivore as vegan friendly do not use eggs as a fining ingredient and can generally be considered safe. Do note however, that Barnivore's database is updated irregularly and many of the updates are submitted by users. It's an imperfect system, so be careful. Again, it's always a good idea to contact the manufacturer if you're in doubt. 

And if you are exposed to eggs or another allergen in a food that does not label the ingredients (like wine and other alcoholic beverages) be sure to let the manufacturer know. Until they hear from us, they won't change a thing. At the very least, it would be nice to have a small warning on the label! I know at least two people who have shellfish allergies, both of whom occasionally break out in hives after drinking wine. Until I explained about the fining process, they had no idea what caused this unusual reaction. Unfortunately, no business is going to change anything they do out of the goodness of their hearts. If their products make us sick, we have to let them know. We don't necessarily have to threaten lawsuits, but if we let them know we were sickened, they'll take the hint.

Okay, so I had determined which foods I could eat, but what about the ones I couldn't? Like cake, and cookies, and eggnog? I didn't want my snacking life to end just because I couldn't have eggs anymore! Well, there are ways around the traditional use of eggs. I've learned for example, that most ready-mix cakes will do just fine with 2 or 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil instead of eggs. Of course, that was after going several years without cake. Eventually, my cravings overwhelmed my laziness and I hit the internet in search of recipes.

Here are a few of my old favorites that I had to rediscover/reinvent:

  • Eggnog: 1 package of vanilla instant pudding with 5 or 6 cups of milk (add or subtract to taste) and some sprinkles of nutmeg is almost indistinguishable from the store-bought stuff. Warning: modern thickeners in this stuff will eventually thicken no matter how thin you make it, so just make enough for the evening! If you thin it too much trying to get a consistent thickness, you'll just water down the flavor.
  • French Toast (!): A flour paste consisting of water, flour, salt, sugar, and cinammon is a great replacement for eggs. Mix it to a thin gravy-like consistency and then dip and fry the bread like usual. Wheat flour works great, but plain white flour works, too! This one really surprised me with how convincing it was. Does it taste like eggs? Not so much. But the consistency is close, and with your favorite toppings you'll hardly notice the difference.
  • Pasta/ Egg Rolls: A simple homemade pasta can be used to replace traditional egg roll wrappers. Flour, water, and a pinch of salt make a great wrapper (also use this recipe to make your own raviolis!) You will need a pasta roller to get the thickness right, or be prepared for a lot of rolling by hand. (Eggroll filling is easy. Stir fry some chopped cabbage with diced onions, garlic, bamboo shoots and water chestnuts. Sausage is a standard meat filler but many meats will suffice - or you can go vegetarian. Season with a bit of soy sauce and ginger. Fill the wrappers, roll them, and deep fry.)
  • Bread: In breads, egg is used mostly as a glaze on the crust. It's not needed for baked (yeast) breads. If you really want a glaze, try butter instead! Better yet, season the butter. Try some garlic and oregano. Or for a sweet bread, cinnamon and honey. Use your imagination. Perhaps someday I'll post my own personal bread recipes...
  • Meatballs and/or Meatloaf: A touch of olive oil is all you need. Maybe not even that.  Crackers or dried bread crusts are common fillers. Mix these with your ground beef, some onions, garlic, ketchup or tomato sauce, and a dash of Worcestershire. Don't use too much filler, and you can make a nice firm meatloaf without any egg replacement whatsoever.
  • Cakes: As mentioned above, skip the eggs in instant cake batter and add a little olive oil. If you're baking from scratch you can try adding a bit of corn starch as well (just a teaspoon or so).
  • Cookies: A little extra olive oil or butter will improve the consistency. The lift comes from the baking powder, so the eggs aren't really necessary in many cases. In some recipes eggs are hard to replace, others work great. It's all about trial and error with cookies.
  • Omelets: Seriously, it is possible, but it's not the same. A light flour paste much like the one used in French Toast above can be fried on a griddle (like a pancake). Toss in some mushrooms, onions, cheese, or whatever else you like. When it's ready, flip it over just like a regular omelet. It's not a perfect replacement but you can't really ask flour to replace a dish that's 99% egg, right? Even so, it's not bad if done right and it can fill that void if you really miss your omelets.
  • Eggs Benedict: Skip the eggs. Mix up a thick gravy made with chicken bullion/base and lemon pepper or benedict powdered mix. Grill some ham and English muffins. Slap it all together. It's good enough that you won't miss the eggs too much.

And so on. Obviously, kitchens do vary, as do altitudes. You will have to experiment a little to replace your favorite foods. The good news is that in many cases, it is possible. The important thing is not giving up. Food is one of life's greatest pleasures, so don't automatically assume a food allergy is some sort of prison sentence.

EgglessCooking.com is a site dedicated to this subject. I haven't spent much time there yet, but they seem to have a good selection of recipes, so it's worth a look! I know my wife and I will be perusing the site regularly in search of new ideas.

For more information on food allergies in general, WebMD has a good article.


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