#momlife (and bakerlife): knowing and understanding ingredients

Over the years, I’ve made it my business to know and understand food and ingredients. This is not just about being a professional with a small business and caring a lot about the end result of my products for my customers. This concern is about keeping my family (especially my son whom is severely allergic to peanuts and tree nuts) safe from harm.

I think it’s important to average-joe moms like myself, or anyone for that matter, to  understand what it entails to be vegan, soy free, nut free, gluten free, sugar free, organic, etc. Many people are confused about what some of those ideals mean. I plan on writing a break down of them and even paleo, which seems to be the trend that is becoming as popular/trendy as gluten free once was, in a future post. I just find it incredibly important to know about the food I’m putting into my body. I want to know about everything real and everything fake. I’m not passive about ingredients because I can’t be.

Ten years ago, it was not mandatory to label processed products with all ingredients or the main allergens, so it was a scarier world when it came to food. It’s easier and much better now when I  go grocery shopping for my family or for ingredients for my custom dessert recipes. However, since my son’s major allergic reaction all those years ago, I still prefer to make most all of our meals and keep a very short list of trusty snacks. It’s honestly the local restaurant/dessert shop level, that I have found myself most concerned. I’m just not sure that we’re at the optimum level of education just yet for those serving at the counter, or even behind the counter – those making the food.

I wanted to share a couple of my mom-experiences and even give some notes about what these foods mean, so that I can put it out there and maybe we can all be best-educated about the food we are consuming – whether it be because we want to try a new health trend, or because we truly need to avoid certain foods to survive. I’m sure that many, many parents can relate to this, especially now a days when I’m finding food allergies and food intolerances more and more common. It’s good to not feel totally isolated and alone in this, as I did when my son was just a baby.

I do find it incredibly frustrating when I go into any food restaurant/shop and find that there is confusion about the significance of the ingredients used. This typically happens at the counter, with the check-out employee. They are just doing their job and aren’t paid to really know how everything is made or what is in it. I’m not mad at them. However, I do think that there needs to be more transparency. For example, I want to see an ingredients list, not just the nutritional values. If I’m not feeling it, I’ll just decide not to purchase anything. It’s no big deal. I’m happy to ask, and if my basic questions cannot be answered, then I don’t feel like it’s a good purchase-decision for my child and therefore, not me either. It’s common sense that I’m not about to experiment with my son’s health.

One thing about me is that is a blessing and a curse, is I’m totally fearless. I’m not easily scared or intimidated, and I can’t be embarrassed too easily, especially when it comes to my kids. I’m relentless and it’s a matter of fact thing. (My kids know this all too well and sometimes I have to apologize for it.) So, it’s not a problem for me to ask basic questions about the foods I’m considering to consume, and I think anyone who needs to know, should definitely ask. There are many times when parents with specific concerns about ordering my desserts, want to know about the products I’m using and different details about my process. I’m more than happy to schedule the time to answer these questions and explain, because I want them to be at ease. I know where they are coming from, because I live this life too. I get it.

My family and I do love to go out and try new restaurants and dessert places. I’m not a hater at all about enjoying any and all dessert places! I love dessert. I want to support dessert places! I’m obviously overly passionate about it and I get it, that even if I don’t like a place (because I’m a snob when it comes to processed or pre-mixed/boxed ingredients) I do appreciate and understand that these are businesses too, that have families behind them and employees that they support. We all need to make a living and I support any company just trying to make it. It’s not about that and we all can have our own taste-opinions. I would never ever call out any business for a bad experience I have had. I’m not that person.

And when we do go out, I don’t want to have anxiety about it. I’m not going to pick a place that has peanuts thrown on the floor (do places still do this?!) or anywhere that my kid has had the slightest reaction in the past, or anywhere where there is obvious mess or food-crossed all over the place. And places have gotten smarter! I noticed that Souplantation, for example, got rid of the peanut topping for their soft serve. I’d have my boy stay away from it anyway, and he’s not interested, but this is a very good thing, since people can’t possibly keep them out of the other toppings when it’s open, buffet style like that. Good job and thank you! (He still can’t, however, eat any of the baked goods at this restaurant, like muffins or breads, but it has not been hard to avoid.)

We also find ways to work around the peanuts and tree nuts, because we have to live and not seclude ourselves from the world. For goodness sake, someone could forget to wash their hands and touch a public doorknob and my son would get a reaction. It is what it is and the best any of us can do, is be prepared and just keep at it.

For example, we like to go to Baskin Robbins. They have nut-ice cream and plenty of non-nut ice cream. We give a heads up that we need an extra cleaned scooper and it’s no big deal. We have gone way too many times to count over the years, and there never being an issue. I do, however, have an issue with their labeling. When there is a coconut flavor, they label it as a tree nut. Sorry friends, coconut is most definitely not a nut. It’s a seed. It grows from a tree – yes. Someone used the word “nut” when naming it, but it’s not a nut. Period. I mention it and the sweethearts behind the counter couldn’t care less. I have even reached out to Baskin Robbins and they never replied  to my note/question. I guess it’s just OK to just know better, right?

It’s something I truly appreciate about MiaBella (where my current baking facility is located) is that they make sure that their open toppings are free of any major allergens like peanuts or tree nuts, so that there can be no harmful cross-contamination. They also keep their peanut and tree nut toppings closed and separate and they keep the area clean. It’s wonderful too, that I can produce food there with no worries since everything is separated and I use all of my own tools, surfaces and even cleaning materials. And when we go for frozen yogurt, it’s a relief and MiaBella is the only yogurt shop we have ever been to, that my son has never had any sort of allergic reaction. I’m grateful because these are our friends and they truly care about my son and about their customers!

Today, my son and I went into Frost Gelato for the first time. It basically sparked my desire to write this little post. I asked some questions and the counter and was told that in the flavors we were questioning, use peanut oil to produce. Now, I’m just wondering how or why any oil would be used in the process of producing gelato/ice cream at all, so it was a no for me. It got to the point, where I was ready to walk out and just be done with asking more questions about different flavors. I get it that it gets annoying (maybe?) to the people working there and I do wish that it wasn’t. I asked my son if he wanted to leave, but he said no, that he wanted to try. We did find one and my son went with the water-based blackberry. (It was good, but nothing can compare to the real-deal gelato in Italy.) I went home and googled for their ingredients listings for their flavors since the oil in ice cream just seemed so strange, but there was none to be found, only nutritional values. It’s a bummer too. I just don’t think it’s that hard, to provide a list, even if you have 70+ flavors. Communication is key for the savvy, food-loving customer and/or for one who just wants to be safe.

But there’s one thing about peanut oil I do want to bring up. People allergic to peanuts in any way, shape or form, are allergic to the protein. The typical, all fat, cheap-processed peanut oil contains absolutely no protein at all, so it should not be a problem. Many places like Chick-fil-A and most fair-food and restaurants who deep fry items use peanut oil. I think it’s because of the burn temperature and how it keeps. However, I won’t and don’t ever use it. It’s just something to be aware of, so that you don’t totally freak out if you come to find out you have eaten this fast-type of fried food. Besides, if you do have a reaction, it will begin within seconds and you should be prepared for yourself or your child. It’s the higher-end peanut oil that is the potential-killer. These refined oils can and do contain peanut protein, and they need to be kept away from use for anyone who has even the slightest allergy. It’s why when you go into nicer restaurants, the server will ask if there are any allergies at the table, so that you and they can be aware. This is a great practice. However, please know, that years ago we were at a Chinese food restaurant out of state and were told that there would be absolutely no cross contamination, and yet, our son still suffered from a major allergic reaction. I thank God he didn’t need an epi-pen. It’s my opinion that if a restaurant uses peanut proteins to cook any meals at all, it’s your best bet to avoid these places.  It may not be about the cook. It may be a poorly cleaned pan and/or a sponge or cloth used to clean it that was contaminated. You never know and I like to be extra cautious. My son simply won’t eat any Chinese food and that’s ok.  Whatever your personal decision, we can all agree that communication and knowledge can equal progress.

In the end, I think it’s only fair for all of us to know what we’re eating and to not be afraid to ask/be educated about it. I do keep an ingredient book at the counter of either MiaBella shop, but since I stopped being at retail every day, almost two years ago, it’s now a non-issue. I give my customers whatever they need at any time, especially since I do so much custom-recipe development and can make changes to fit the needs and desires of my customers.

My kids know especially, that l do to stay away from things I don’t like the taste of – especially synthetic ingredients or syrups since I love the real taste and texture of real food (again, I’m overly passionate and my stretchy jeans are proof). But do I occasionally eat foods that are “boxed” or contain shortening? Yes. Do I tell my kids to never eat these foods? No. But I try to be smart about it and feel like educating them on knowing what they are eating, and never being afraid to ask what is in their food, is a very good way to keep them healthy and safe.

So there you have it! Thanks for being here and for letting me share my little mom-life notes. If you have comments or questions, please reach out to me anytime!

Love, Mili

This was the cake I made for my son’s birthday last month. Notice the Oreos and Oreo-cones. Sometimes I do incorporate processed food, but I’m totally educated about them. xox


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