Allergen-Free AND Delicious?! Advice from Blogger Elisabeth Veltman of "The Tender Palate"
Last week, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Elisabeth Veltman, a fellow foodie and blogger, at a local restaurant. Elisabeth is the owner and creator of Tender Foodie, a blog focused on her love of foods and allergy-free cooking. She also owns Blue Pearl Customer Strategies, a marketing strategy and creative agency in Western Michigan, and is working on various other projects including The Tender Palate, a website for The Tender Foodie. The Tender Palate is the larger vision developing in the background, it will provide tools to help shorten the learning curve for people with food allergies.
Elisabeth began her blog after discovering that she had several food allergies that prevented her from enjoying some of her favorite foods. At the time of her diagnosis, she lived in New York City, where different foods and flavors are abundant. Naturally, a love and curiosity for all things culinary evolved. Elisabeth said: “Being in New York you had to know about food. It’s where real chefs are trained and chefs from all over the world prepare your foods.”
This sentiment spawned her love of food, cooking, and entertaining. Having also traveled to Europe for extensive periods of time, Elisabeth has experienced firsthand all the wonderful foods that those cultures offer. After her trips, she always noticed significant changes in her weight and wellness:
“In the States, my weight would swing from being very under weight to gaining unwanted and mysterious pounds. But I would lose that extra 15 or so pounds every time I went to Europe, my weight would balance and I would feel much, much better. I started to realize there was a difference in how food was raised. It made me curious.”
These curiosities and symptoms lead her to seek the advice of a Chinese Herbalist and Medical Doctor. A what? I had never heard of such a thing. As Elisabeth put it, “It’s a rare, but beautiful combination of practice”.
According to Elisabeth, this doctor, while attending medical school, also studied with the best cancer herbalist in the world and earned her degree in both vocations. The first time this Doctor met with Elisabeth, she said she could tell without even testing Elisabeth that she was reacting negatively to dairy and gluten. Elisabeth soon discovered that she was reacting to a number of foods.
Food Allergies: The Physical Toll
“I cried the first time the Doctor told me what I couldn’t eat anymore,” confessed Elisabeth.
“Food was a central part of my life, and I realized that it affects more than your taste buds – it affects every social circle you belong to, and allergens are in the most unexpected places. If I eat something I’m allergic to, I get very, very sick, and have a series of quite frightening reactions, so giving up a particular food (or six) wasn’t the hard part.
Facing the loss of freedom, new experiences, and the gift of sharing that great food gives you – now that has been tough. Millions of people today have reactions so severe that they could end up in the hospital, or even die from anaphylactic shock. Millions more have more insidious reactions that cause short or long-term harm. That which nourishes one, harms another. It doesn’t make logical sense, and can be quite an adjustment for the Tender Foodie and everyone around them.”
Food Allergies: The Emotional Toll
In fact, the doctor even told her, “You will probably have an emotional reaction when you crave certain foods, especially dairy, because it is a comfort food for you.” In other words, “expect both a physical and an emotional withdrawal.”
This was soon proven true when Elisabeth picked up the phone, like she did every Thursday, to order her favorite pizza down the street from her home in NYC, and then burst into unexplained tears:
“I used to call them every Thursday as sort of my little indulgence. They knew me by my number and would answer the phone,’Hello pineapple, ham, and cheese or Pepperoni mushroom?’"
After years of dialing “her pizza guys”, she realized that she couldn’t call them anymore; she couldn’t meet friends there any more.
Dining with Food Allergies
With a dairy and gluten allergy, Elisabeth could no longer enjoy some of her favorite foods, like pizza. I asked her, ”How difficult is it to dine out when you are so limited to the foods you can eat?”
She admitted it was challenging, but said, “I can eat at restaurants that have standardized their kitchen & service practices to accommodate allergies and have chefs who are willing to work with me. In downtown Grand Rapids, I found any of the Essence Group restaurants to be very good.”
As if on cue, the server arrived at our table and seemed unfazed by Elisabeth’s list of requests.
It was eye opening to see how someone with food allergies has to protect themselves and how limited they are. As a chef, I can only imagine what it would be like to be restricted to such a narrow set of ingredients It would be like an artist limited to using only blue, red, and green. Blah!
“I encourage people to roll up their sleeves and confront it as a creative challenge. Food allergies are serious, but cooking can bring such joy if you find the right ingredients for you. Let go of that solemn fear as you stare at the organic quinoa and let yourself experiment. Laugh when the gluten-free cake falls, and celebrate when you taste and say, 'yum!'”
Our conversation was cut short due to a time commitment, but I felt there was so much more to discuss. I could have sat there all day asking questions and learning about Elisabeth and her change. I’m left wondering how and why there are so many food allergies today. How do people cook and eat on such limited diets, and what are the best resources for people with food allergies?
Wonder no more! A visit to The Tender Foodie blog provides all of these answers and more. The Tender Foodie is a place where people with all sorts of food allergies can go to get all sorts of chef-inspired recipes, and many from Elisabeth’s own collection. You can get expert advice and read other personal stories, such as Elisabeth’s. You can find the latest news, rate restaurants, and place food requests from local purveyors. It is a veritable cornucopia of information and ideas, for people with or without food allergies.
Check it out for yourself and let us know what you think!
In the mean time, here are a few recipes from the Tender Foodie you're going to love!
Dutch Cinnamon Bread Roasted Chicken with Figs and Garlic
Brownie Tart Grown Up Chili