Let me be hopefully not the first person to tell you that you don't have to utterly eliminate every trace of every food allergen out there to have an allergy-friendly kitchen. If you or someone you love in anaphylactic (deathly allergic) to something, it is nice to limit the presence of that specific food (safety first!). But you can absolutely find a balance between recklessness, and losing your sanity trying to fully eradicate a specific food from your house. Life is all about balance, right? ;)
(yeah, this is a stock image - neither I nor my kitchen look this photogenic when I cook)
The point is, yes - you can scoop peanut butter right out of the jar with your fingers and still have a kitchen your food-allergic loved ones feel comfortable eating out of. If you're just starting out, here are some quick tips to keep your kitchen allergy-friendly:
1) Store severe allergens up & away. If you have an allergy and are still keeping that food in your house for others to consume, or are expecting a guest with a food allergy, making sure allergens are tucked up and away prevents a lot of possible unintentional contact and cross-contamination. People can have the best intentions, but if someone grabbed a handful of salted almonds from a bowl on the table right before heading to the bathroom, everything they mindlessly touched with that hand on the way to and inside that bathroom would become a hazard zone for those with a severe tree nut allergy.
It's also a visual signal of safety for yourself and your guests. How can you relax in your own home if something you're trying to avoid is always out on the counter? And if I'm going to someone's home for the first time and they've taken the time to tuck away anything that could cause me to have an anaphylactic reaction, I feel comfortable, safe, and valued. If nothing else, it's just plain uncomfortable having something that can kill you sitting out in front of you.
2) Have designated 'free-from' items. This isn't to say you need doubles of everything! Just that if you have a common severe allergen in your kitchen that you like to cook and/or bake with, it's nice to have kitchen items that you know are 100% free from any possible contact with it. If you like to make peanut butter cookies, for example, then having a designated peanut-butter-mixing-bowl and peanut-butter-cookie-sheet would minimize the possibility of any cross-contamination with other flavours of cookies. Another more-thorough example: my mom is a Celiac and still has regular flour and other items in the house because my dad is not gluten-free, so she has a whole designated kitchen drawer of cooking utensils that are only used with gluten-free recipes.
This can also extend to common-use food items in your fridge - if people like to spread peanut butter and then jam on their toast, then it is very easy for traces of peanut butter to get in the jam, even if the knife is rinsed in between spreads. Having a designated 'nut-free' jar of jam, for example, provides that extra level of protection and separation.
Psst - if you're reading this and going "wow, this already seems like A LOT" - yes, it is a lot. But I'll tell you why it's worth it; sometimes cleaning isn't enough. I tend to use the example of flours and nut butters when I talk about cross-contamination because it is actually very difficult to get rid of every single trace of those items. I know when I bake, flour gets EVERYWHERE - and even the tiniest amount of gluten-full flour accidentally mixed in with gluten-free flour could make a Celiac very ill. And nut butters, because of their texture, tend to 'stick' around - and the amount of nut protein that can fit on the head of a pin is enough to cause an anaphylactic reaction. I know I'm not that confident in my cleaning abilities, and sometimes my kitchen is a mess, especially while I'm baking. Keeping things separate from the get-go can alleviate a lot of stress, and prevent unfortunate accidents.
3) Clean any allergen contact points ASAP. This is another move to prevent possible cross-contamination through your kitchen. If a kitchen utensil or item does come into contact with an allergen, wash that thing as soon as you're done with it - especially if it's made of wood or soft plastic. We've seen what happens when a tupperware container is used to store some chili or tomato sauce - it starts to turn orange. This is because soft plastics (and unvarnished wood) are porous - they can take on a little of what they come into contact with - so tomato juice can slowly plastic containers. It's also just a best-practice to make sure anything that touches an allergen doesn't touch anything else before it's cleaned - this again reduces the chance of cross-contamination, *and* limits the number of times & items you need to sanitize. If a spoon that's been used to scoop peanut butter is left on a counter by the cabinet, then moved to beside the sink, then put in the sink with a few other dirty dishes, and *then* washed, suddenly you need to make sure the counters, all the other dishes the peanut butter touched, and the sink itself are all cleaned really, really thoroughly.
4) Know which foods are safe to serve and sit in the kitchen driver's seat (so to speak). Really, just do your best to be *confident* about what is in your kitchen. Take the time to read ingredients, clean while you're preparing food, and confidently know which delicious treats are a no-go, and which ones you've done your best to keep safe & separate from any allergens. Taking control over your kitchen and the food will empower you and help others with allergies feel much more comfortable in your home.
While someone with a severe allergy like myself sometimes likes to read ingredients to double check, I've also been handed a bunch of packages and told to read the ingredients to see if there's anything I can eat there. And more than a couple of times, there's been nothing I can eat because the host didn't actually read the ingredients at all, and doesn't know what else is in the kitchen. Not only does that put me in an unfortunate (and hungry) position, it also shows me a lack of care - and you bet your butts that means I'm not eating anything that comes out of their kitchen. Putting in that little bit of extra work in advance will make your kitchen a safer place to be, show yourself and others you care about food allergies and their wellbeing, and you'll feel a lot more in control of your own space - and the food in it.
5) ASK QUESTIONS. Of course, all of this isn't to say you need to do everything yourself, or suddenly have all the answers! Absolutely ask questions, lean on people that know more than you, and look to allergy experts for guidance. There are lots of resources for people who are encountering food allergies for the first time, and lots of people to turn to who have been dealing with allergies most of their lives. A bunch even write blogs about it. ;)
There is genuinely no such thing as a stupid question when it comes to protecting someone's wellbeing - and that's exactly what you're doing when you learn about food allergies. If you have an allergy yourself, you're ensuring your own health, and if you're learning about all this for someone you love, you're making big moves to make sure they are safe with you. And all of that is awesome, and very valid, work.
In the end, allergy-friendly kitchens are run by people who take the time do what they can, and practice agency over own space. <3
Ready to put that allergy-friendly kitchen to work? Here's a fan-favourite recipe from mine - Lemon Crinkle Cookies!
LEMON CRINKLE COOKIES
(vegan, gluten-free, nut-free, soy-free)
Yield: approx 24 cookies (depending on how big or small your scoops are!)
**all at room temperature for best results**
- 2 cups GF Flour (mine is equal parts cassava flour, coconut flour, and tapioca starch with 1/4 tsp of xanthan gum per cup of flour)
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1/4 tsp salt
- zest of 1 lemon
- 1/3 cup lemon juice
- 3/4 cup cane sugar (plus more for rolling dough in before baking)
- 1/4 cup maple syrup
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/3 cup melted coconut oil
1) Preheat your oven to 350°F and pop some parchment paper on two cookie sheets.
2) In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt, and then set that bowl aside. Then, in a separate large mixing bowl, mix together the rest of the ingredients (lemon zest, lemon juice, sugar, maple syrup, vanilla extract, and coconut oil).
3) Take the medium bowl and pour the dry mixture into the large bowl on top of the wet mixture. Stir everything together until a smooth and light dough has formed, being careful not to over-mix (I suggest using a metal spoon for this instead of a whisk or electric mixer).
4) Let the dough sit for at least 10 minutes to stiffen up. While you're waiting, grab a small bowl and put a little bit of cane sugar (usually less than 1/4 cup) in it.
5) Once the dough has sat for bit, scoop out a tablespoon-sized amount of dough and roll it into a ball with your hands. Take that ball and gently roll it in the cane sugar you've set aside in the small bowl. Flatten that sugar-coated ball slightly into more of a thick coin shape, and place it on the parchment paper.
6) Repeat until all the cookies are on the cookies sheets, leaving about 1-2 inches between them.
7) Place in the oven and bake for 11 minutes. When 11 mins is up, check the bottom of one cookie - if it is only slightly brown in just the center of the bottom, put them all back in to bake for another minute. You'll know the cookies are done when the tops have cracked *and* the bottoms are a full light golden brown.
8) Place on a wire cooling rack and let cool completely.
*Interesting fact - these cookies still taste great warm out of the oven, but will taste more lemon-y as they cool (chilled and room-temp cookies will have a stronger lemon flavour). How cool is that?