Saturday, December 20, 2014

Vegan pumpkin pie filling minus most of the gloopy starch (egg-free, milk-free, nut-free)

This may not be a cooking blog, but occasionally a little science can help solve a very real problem - a better vegan pumpkin pie filling! The starchy, gloopy, blobby pumpkin pie filling found in most vegan pumpkin pie recipes has much to be desired. In fact, I like to joke that I can chuck a scoop across the room and watch it slowly bleb down the wall. We deal with many allergies that won't allow using certain egg-replacing binders (e.g. flax seed gel, corn starch, tofu, etc.), so after coming up null with internet searches for workable recipes given our allergen set, necessity became the mother of invention! Welcome to my test kitchen!

Could I use chia seed, some combination of chia seed and tapioca starch, or a combination of chia seed and course oat flour to improve the texture of the existing gloopy pumpkin pie filling (tapioca starch-based)?

I predicted that either the combination of chia seed and oat flour or the combination of chia seeds and tapioca starch would significantly improve the texture of the gloopy pumpkin pie filling. I predicted that the chia seed alone would not provide enough binding to make an adequate filling.

Chia is often touted as an egg substitute. Soaking 1 Tbsp of chia seeds in 3 Tbsp water for ~20 minutes makes a mucilaginous gel resembling the texture of raw egg in quantity. While the texture seems on par with raw egg, the real magic of egg binding in recipes doesn't happen until after it is cooked (think of a hard-boiled egg. The uncooked "white" is primarily protein, whose structure changes to the opaque, hard but slightly pliable white after cooking. Now imagine that same structure distributed throughout your pie filling!). Chia has a combination of polysaccharides (complex sugar chains - aka carbohydrates, some protein, and some fat). I reasoned that chia alone wouldn't have the same protein binding "magic" as an egg based on its protein content (1 large egg = 6.3 g of protein; 1 Tbsp chia seed = 3 g protein). Although it is possible that chia may compensate for a lack of protein a bit by providing more carbohydrates that can "gel" (1 large egg = 0.4 carbohydrates; 1 Tbsp chia seed = 5 g carbohydrates). Oats have a good deal of both protein and carbohydrates, though! So I figured grinding rolled oats into a coarse flour with a food processor may expose more of the protein/carbs contained within to serve a really good "binding" function (1/2 cup of rolled oats = 5 g protein, 27 g carbohydrates, 3 g fat).

Making chia seed gel. 1 egg substitute = 1 Tbsp chia seeds + 3 Tbsp water. Let sit ~20 minutes before using.
Materials and methods:
In order to waste as little food as possible, I mixed a large pumpkin pie base whose ingredients were common to all conditions and added 3/4 cup of the "base ingredients" to each of four tempered glass cups. 

Base ingredients common to all conditions
2 cups pureed pumpkin
1 cup light coconut milk
1/4 c. packed light brown sugar
1/4 c. maple syrup
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg

I then scaled down the unique ingredients I wanted to add to each of the four separate conditions, fully mixed, and baked in the oven at 375 deg. F for 45 minutes. Note, I would have loved to test additional conditions, but I didn't have enough ingredients to test them all! In theory, I should have included a proper "negative control" that would have baked the "base ingredients" with no additions. I would have also included an "egg based" version for good measure, but hey, we deal with an egg allergy in our house - it just didn't seem right. After baking and cooling, my husband and I taste-tested each condition to obtain results based on our personal texture preferences.

Chia seed + oat flour was the clear winner for binding and texture. Both the tapioca starch alone and the chia seed + tapioca starch had the gloopy starch binding texture instead of the soft texture associated with traditional egg-based pumpkin pie filling. Chia seed alone was quite delicious, but did did not have enough binding for pie filling. It makes a fabulous pudding, however! (Yes, two recipes in one!!!).

Pumpkin pie recipe:
Use your favorite crust recipe and line a 9 in. pie pan with crust. Mine happens to be Claire's quick and easy pie crust using spectrum organic shortening. You could easily substitute a different recipe to make this gluten-free.

Pumpkin pie filling ingredients:
2 c. pureed pumpkin (I used a can of Trader Joe's)
1/2 c. of coarsely ground oat flour (I used a food processor to grind rolled oats)
1 c. coconut milk light (I used canned from Trader Joe's)
Chia seed gel (1 Tbsp chia seed + 3 Tbsp water, sit for ~20 minutes before use)
1/4 c. light brown sugar, firmly packed
1/4 c. maple syrup
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
Pumpkin pie filling thoroughly mixed.

1. Pre-heat oven to 375 deg. F. 
2. Combine all pumpkin pie filling ingredients and thoroughly mix.
2. Pour filling into pie shell (I covered my crust edges with aluminum foil for the first 30 minutes of baking and removed foil for the remainder of the bake time).
3. Bake for ~60 minutes (ovens may vary, so please check your pie sooner!).
4. Cool on rack and enjoy!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Why YOU should participate in a food allergy research study (Northwestern University currently seeking participants)

Research scientists must continually pitch their ideas.  Scientists “pitch” a funding agency when they write a grant – an elaborate document of their proposed studies, often including significant preliminary data to convince grant reviewers that their ideas are “going to work.” Writing grants is an essential part of a scientist’s job because without the money supplied by grants, research grinds to a halt (even for a university researcher!). And if that isn’t challenging enough, the scientists performing studies with human subjects must “pitch” their ideas to recruit a sufficient number of study participants to acquire enough data to draw trustworthy conclusions. It is true – the job of a scientist is part salesperson!

So here’s my pitch to all of you.

Share this post with as many people as you know because:
  1. It will help a great group of food allergy researchers at Northwestern University recruit participants to better understand a concerning problem for food allergies – what makes adolescents/young adults (14-22 year olds) more at risk from their food allergic reactions.
  2. Participating is easy – it is a short survey that can be accessed by internet (i.e. you don’t have to drive to Chicago to participate!).
  3. Answering the study questions will undoubtedly spin off many more questions that will help fund future grants, thus driving our understanding of this problem forward and ultimately improving the lives of those affected by food allergies.

I am including the details of the study with appropriate links below. If you’re already “sold” on sharing this widely or even participating, great! Scroll down to the section - STUDY OVERVIEW - to read the details provided directly by Dr. Ruchi Gupta’s team at Northwestern. If you need a little more “evidence,” I’ve got that, too. Read on.

Dr. Ruchi Gupta and her team with Illinois state Attorney General Lisa Madigan this past July. Dr. Gupta and her team helped advocate for a new law to expand Illinois' existing stock epinephrine for schools law.

Why I strongly support Dr. Gupta’s research group:

Any food allergy researcher who “pitches” their work to a funding agency, whether it is the federal government, a non-profit organization, or private investors must convince reviewers that food allergies are in fact a significant problem. Dr. Gupta’s group is behind many very solid studies that other researchers cite in their grant proposals to do just that – convince reviewers that yes, food allergies are in fact a large problem. Her group recently defined how prevalent food allergies are among U.S. children (1 in 13 children under 18 years of age)1 and just how enormous the economic burden of food allergies truly is on the U.S. economy (estimated at nearly $25 billion annually).2

I have no doubt that the outcome of the current study will serve as a research catalyst for herself and other researchers - a prominent citation in a grant proposal to justify further research funding to define why adolescents/young adults are more at risk of fatal anaphylaxis from their allergic reactions.3,4,5 While this is tragically a recognized problem, researchers still don’t fully understand why. Is it part psychology (e.g. teenagers/young adults tend to take more risks in general)?  Is it part biology (e.g. something about the biology of this age group drives stronger reactions)? Or is it some combination of both? Her work just may start to tease out the evidence to address those very questions in the future. If we understand the problem, we can design strategies to mitigate them.

Dr. Gupta “gets it.” As a mother to a child with food allergies herself, her work is not only driven by her scientific integrity, but also a very personal drive to make a difference in the lives of all who are touched by food allergies. The scientific questions she asks truly come from a deep understanding of food allergies. In addition to her busy job, Dr. Gupta lends her voice as a prominent researcher to advocate for and support the larger allergy community as a whole. She has written a book, The Food Allergy Experience, and regularly updates her blog, chronicling the many events where she has given back to the allergy community in very powerful ways.

Please help Dr. Gupta’s research group help all of us! Participate. Make a difference.


Researchers at Northwestern Medicine are conducting a research study entitled “Risk Taking Behavior among Adolescents with Food Allergy," which is currently enrolling participants.  The goal of this study is to learn more about the risk taking behaviors of food allergic adolescents – both in regard to general risk taking and risk taking as it relates to food allergy.  In order to participate in the study, adolescents between the ages of 14 and 22 years who currently have a food allergy are being asked to complete an entirely anonymous and confidential electronic survey.  No protected health or identifying information is being collected.  No compensation is being offered in exchange for study participation. All aspects of this research study have been approved by the Northwestern Institutional Review Board, IRB STU00097291.

If you are between the ages of 18 and 22 and are interested in participating in this study, please click on this secure link to access the anonymous and confidential survey [].

If you are a parent with a food allergic child between the ages of 14 and 17 and have no objections to your adolescent child participating in this study, please forward him/her this link [].  The link will take him/her to the completely anonymous and confidential survey.

If you would prefer for your child not to participate, no further action is required.

If you have any questions prior to making your decision, please feel free to contact me directly at, or Dr. Gupta at


1.           Gupta RS, Springston EE, Warrier MR, et al. The prevalence, severity, and distribution of childhood food allergy in the United States. Pediatrics. 2011;128(1):e9-e17. doi:10.1542/peds.2011-0204.
2.           Gupta R, Holdford D, Bilaver L, Dyer A, Holl JL, Meltzer D. The economic impact of childhood food allergy in the United States. JAMA Pediatr. 2013;167(11):1026-1031. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2013.2376.
3.           Bock SA, Muñoz-Furlong A, Sampson HA. Fatalities due to anaphylactic reactions to foods. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2001;107(1):191-193. doi:10.1067/mai.2001.112031.
4.           Pumphrey R. Anaphylaxis: can we tell who is at risk of a fatal reaction? Curr Opin Allergy Clin Immunol. 2004;4(4):285-290. doi:10.1097/01.all.0000136762.89313.0b.
5.           Sampson HA, Mendelson L, Rosen JP. Fatal and near-fatal anaphylactic reactions to food in children and adolescents. N Engl J Med. 1992;327(6):380-384. doi:10.1056/NEJM199208063270603.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Food Allergy Blogger's Conference 2014!

I'm thrilled to attend the Food Allergy Blogger's Conference (#FABlogCon) for the 2nd year in a row! Last year was truly a life-changing event for me, catalyzing many lasting, meaningful relationships across our food allergy community. The mutual understanding, support, and camaraderie of virtual friends meeting face-to-face was overwhelming in the best way possible for an introvert like me!

Look for me on Saturday morning at the break-out session on evidence-based blogging with Veronica LaFemina and Anna Luke from Food Allergy Research and Education (aka, FARE) and Henry Ehrlich, editor of Asthma Allergies Children and author of Food Allergies: Traditional Chinese Medicine, Western Science, and a Search for a Cure.

We hope to give lots of great advice and useful tips on blogging with integrity about food allergy science and discovery! I'll be leading the discussion on honest headlines and examining your personal bias. After all, how many times have you been frustrated by a misleading headline when it comes to food allergy research?!

If you can't make it, then please, please, please find me later and introduce yourself. I'm looking forward to meeting friends new and old (I'll be sure to give you one of my "business" post cards straight from Oregon!).

AND, if you can't make it to the conference, please follow along virtually on Twitter using the hashtag #FABlogCon. Selena at Amazing and Atopic did a wonderful job of explaining and providing a view of the Twitter feed, no Twitter account required!

See you soon!

My post on FABlogCon 2013

Friday, September 12, 2014

You're prepared for an allergy emergency, but is your child?

Be prepared. It’s a mantra in our house. I thought I was prepared, I thought my 6 year old son was prepared. He was not, and therefore, I was not. Let me explain…

There are “2 pillars” to managing food allergies – prevent reactions and prepare to respond to the emergency (see AllergyHome’s great educational materials). We’ve had a few years to “prepare” ourselves to respond to a food allergy emergency should it arise. I thought I was “prepared” for when to use the epinephrine autoinjector (e.g. EpiPen, Auvi-Q), and I would not hesitate to use it. As an allergy parent, you go through all the scenarios, you have nightmares about scenarios, you hear of other family’s scenarios, and every time, you think about how you would respond in that scenario.

Image used with permission by

Saturday, September 6, 2014

My "hot" new asthma piece at Asthma Allergies Children!

I'm no stranger to my enthusiasm for Asthma Allergies Children as a source of great information and thought-provoking original pieces on allergic disorders. 

You'll just have to go read the piece to find out why it's so "hot!"

"Large Cayenne" by André Karwath aka Aka - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons -

Friday, August 22, 2014

Eosinophilic Esophagitis - Scientific Excitement - Part 2 of 2


This is the exciting conclusion to parsing the findings in Kottyan, et al., 2014 (1).  Just in case you missed it or need a refresher, here is a link to PART 1 – BACKGROUND TO UNDERSTAND EoE AND THE RESEARCH FINDINGS.

Brief summary of Part 1
After the researchers compared over 1.5 million regions of the genome between EoE and control subjects, they identified 4 different regions that were strongly associated with EoE.  Going back to the analogy used in Part 1 – the researchers identified the flutes among the cacophony of the warming up orchestra.  Now, they needed to analyze the melodies those flutes were playing – stated biologically, they needed to figure out if any of those flutes (i.e. – regions of DNA identified in the GWAS) played faulty melodies (i.e. – errors in genes getting expressed that may lead to EoE). Just because there is a difference in DNA between EoE patients and those without EoE (controls) doesn’t necessarily mean that it is important biologically – a flute could play the wrong note, but it may harmonize with the intended note (e.g. make no difference to EoE). They were looking for a clear, dissonant “wrong note.” Lead author and researcher on the paper, Dr. Leah Kottyan relayed to me that in this line of work, identifying the differences in DNA is the “easy” part. Now came the “hard” part.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Eosinophilic Esophagitis - Scientific Excitement - Part 1 of 2

The allergy world was abuzz this past week that a major research breakthrough for Eosinophilic Esophagitis (EoE) was published in Nature Genetics (1), spear-headed by Dr. Marc Rothenberg’s lab at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital (follow the lab on FaceBook). For anyone dealing with this devastating allergic disorder, the news was welcome, but what does it all mean? And what could the future hold for people dealing with EoE or allergic disorders more generally?

My hope is to distill some pretty intense science in this two part series – the paper is scientifically very cool, yet very dense! Tackling this paper is not for the faint of heart (myself included)!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Pets are people, too? Allergy edition.

Most of us are familiar with allergies to dogs and cats. But what about our dogs and cats who suffer from allergies?  Here is a question I have about the allergy epidemic - if environmental factors contribute to the allergy epidemic in people, wouldn't we expect our fellow mammalian pets who share our same environment (dogs, cats, etc!) to be increasingly allergic? This little thought was inspired by discovering that a new animal clinic specializing in allergy and ears recently opened in my neck of the woods. Who would've thunk - a specialty clinic for allergies in our pets?! Basic economics dictates that supply and demand strive to be in equilibrium. Clearly there must be a great enough demand...

I honestly do not know the answer, but I hope to explore this idea further. Thoughts? Any vets out there willing to weigh in with knowledge/observations/peer-reviewed evidence? Feel free to comment below or send me a direct email (see contact) Stay tuned...

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Too good to be true science - creating mistrust or assurance?

While science is our greatest sense of hope, it can also be a source of immense frustration. Today I'm reminded that the products of science are influenced by imperfect people, and at least for me, feeling "frustrated" understates things a bit.
Creative commons license:

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Meet Me in Chicago - FARE-bound!

The bags are mostly packed. The itinerary set and in less than 24 hours I can't wait to descend upon that most spectacular city skyline - Chicago!

The biggest non-profit for food allergies, Food Allergy Research and Education (aka - FARE), is hosting their annual conference this weekend. It promises to be a highly educational and inspirational event. If you happen to be there, don't be a stranger. I'm excited to meet a few old friends and a lot of new friends who are all part of this food allergy journey. If you happen to live in and around Chicago, it's still not too late to attend. You can buy tickets at the door.
If you're there from 3pm-4pm on Saturday, please stop by to hear me speak about Making Sense of the Science Behind Food Allergies (although if you miss it, I completely understand. There are so many great options to choose from at the same time!).

Hope to meet you soon! I'll be the science geek wearing the DNA double helix earrings!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

State advocacy - On the Oregon trail

Advocacy feels a bit like slogging the Oregon Trail, tracking slowly across the Great Plains by horse-drawn covered wagon.  A good day measures progress in double digit miles.  Long, slow haul is an apt description. Ironically, winning the Oregon Trail means you make it to the Willamette River Valley, which is technically where we are. Hrrumph.  

This post is a follow-up to last year’s post on advocacy for Oregon SB611 and HB2749. I hope this serves as a call to action for Oregonians, but also provides a glimpse into the advocacy process at the state level for people in other states.  I am happy to report that these bills unanimously passed state legislature last year, but it was clear more work needed to be done. Oregon SB611 established that schools in Oregon are permitted (not required) to carry unassigned life-saving epinephrine. The rules and guidelines surrounding epinephrine and more generally allergy management in schools were saved for another day for the State Board of Education to decide.

Oregon state capitol building - Salem, OR. Blooming cherry trees everywhere!
Another day is now.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Book Review - Food Allergies: Traditional Chinese Medicine, Western Science, and the Search for a Cure

Early last year, I put a query out to my fledgling Facebook fan base, “What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a scientist?”  Only one person responded, but that one response absolutely nailed it. “I'm not a scientist but I follow science and believe that at its best, science tells the best stories.”  That golden insight came from none other than, Henry Ehrlich, co-author of Asthma Allergies Children:  A Parent’s Guide, editor of the corresponding website, and now author of the book Food Allergies: Traditional Chinese Medicine, Western Science, and the Search for a Cure. And boy, did he not only follow the science, but he tells its gripping story to an entire food allergy community.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

My new article at Slate - egg allergies and flu vaccines ARE compatible

I'm really proud to have authored the following piece on Slate.  Vaccines are tried and true at preventing a multitude of potentially deadly infectious diseases and have a long history of safety.  Are there adverse events?  Of course, but they are rare.  The benefits far outweigh the risks (see the infographic below).  While the flu vaccine varies in efficacy every year (some years are better than others), it is the best means we have to prevent flu, which can and does kill thousands every year and puts many more in the hospital.  It is especially important for those with asthma. 

Please know that I want to present everyone with facts so that they, along with healthcare providers, make informed decisions.  People can and do rarely have anaphylaxis to vaccines, which may have nothing to do with the miniscule amounts of egg proteins.  In controlled clinical trials, over 4,000 individuals with egg allergies have received the flu vaccine without anaphylaxis.  On top of this, the MMR vaccine is also made using eggs and is routinely given without issue.  It is important that as many of us who can receive vaccines do, in order to protect not only ourselves, but those who can't receive it (e.g. - those who have had anaphylactic reactions to vaccines more generally).

Vaccines are often suggested as a cause behind allergies, autism, etc.  There has been no direct causal evidence to support this.  A lot has changed in our modern world (maybe some not for the better), but I fear going back to the pre-vaccine era.  Keep the discussion going!  This is an important one to have.

vaccine infographic created by Leon Farrant, as appeared in Forbes -

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Costco Perspective

Sometimes I like to take a step back from the daily grind and focus on the "big picture."  It only seems appropriate that my trip to an uber-sized warehouse store could help with this "big picture" endeavor.  As the New Year has come and gone, it's good to periodically put things in perspective and reflect - how far we have come, where we are now, what may lie ahead in this allergy journey.

The start of the allergy journey was a bit like my arrival at Costco -

I make sure I've got my shopping bags, hop out of the car, turn to press the button on the remote to lock the doors, and begin my stroll to the store entrance.  I clear the back end of my car, and... holy bleepety, bleep, bleep, bleep.  I almost get bowled over by the white Suburban with fancy silver rims on a mission to get that coveted parking spot next to the store entrance.  Geesh.  I didn't see that one coming.  An inocuous day like every other can completely change things (thankfully I didn't get run over).  The day that my son had his first anaphylactic reaction certainly changed life in ways I couldn't have imagined.

As the rush of adrenaline subsides, I show my membership card to the petite, smiling gray-haired lady only to be greeted by this: