Recipe: Swiss Stollen for Christmas

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For Christmas this year, I’ve started making Stollen. This rich yeasted cake originated in Germany, but you can find it in our Suisse romande bakeries and grocery stores (and I assume it’s even more readily available in German-speaking Switzerland).

I adapted a recipe from Croqu’menus—the Swiss cookbook students use in public school classrooms—so it’s dairy-free for my son. The dough is studded with raisins, flaked almonds and candied lemon and orange peel. My favorite part is the log of almond paste that spans the length of the cake.

store window stollen

Swiss Stollen at a local bakery

Dating back centuries, the Stollen’s oval shape supposedly resembles the baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes. In particular, Dresden, Germany seems to be the international epicenter for this special Christmas cake. For more information about the history of the Stollen, the Food Network has compiled a quick summary.


Marzipan vs. Almond Paste

Stollen recipes vary, but from what I’ve seen, they often contain marzipan. For the first one I made, I used marzipan. Soon after, I came across a very helpful post from The Kitchn comparing marzipan and another similar product, almond paste. Before, I thought these products were the same thing, but when I visited our Swiss grocery stores, I noticed two different products to choose from: marzipan and pâte d’amandes.

My Swiss recipe calls for pâte d’amandes, which I used in my second batch of Stollen, and I thought the consistency was better than marzipan. The pâte d’amandes seemed a little softer and less sweet. I think you can certainly use marzipan, but I prefer the almond paste—even though they only have a slight difference both in taste and appearance.


Stollen de Noël

Recipe adapted from Croqu’menus (9th edition, 2005, p. 268).

Makes two loaves

Dough:
150 ml milk substitute (I used soy milk)
20 grams fresh yeast
4 tablespoons sugar
1 egg
60 grams dairy-free margarine, softened
300 grams all-purpose flour (and about an extra 1/4-1/2 cup for kneading)
1 teaspoon salt

Dried fruit and nut mixture:
5 tablespoons raisins (I used golden raisins)
5 tablespoons flaked almonds
1 tablespoon candied lemon peel, chopped
1 tablespoon candied orange peel, chopped
2 drops of almond extract (essence d’amandes amères)

Filling:
100 grams almond paste (pâte d’amandes; marzipan works too if you can’t find almond paste)

Topping:
50 grams dairy-free margarine
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla sugar (optional)

Instructions:

1. Add the fresh yeast to the soy milk and sugar. Let is set for a few minutes and then stir until completely dissolved. Set aside.

2. Whisk the flour and salt together in a large bowl. Make a well in the center. Pour in the yeast mixture, along with the egg and spoonfuls of the softened dairy-free margarine. Stir together until a soft dough forms.

3. Knead the dough for about 10 minutes until the dough becomes smooth and elastic. Please note: The dough is very soft and sticky to start, but be patient. Add some flour to prevent sticking, but only a little at a time. Try not to add too much so it stays nice and soft. I even use Paul Hollywood’s dough-throwing method for this recipe, because the dough is difficult to handle at first.

4. When the dough is ready, quick knead in the fruit and nut mixture, along with the almond extract, just until well incorporated throughout the dough. Please note: I find it easier to do this final knead back in the bowl, rather than on a flat surface.

5. Place the dough in a bowl covered with plastic wrap or a towel and let it rise until doubled, about 1-2 hours.

6. Punch down the dough. Divide the dough in half. Roll each of the two pieces of dough out and make two ovals about 1-inch (3 cm) thick.

7. Divide the almond paste in half, so that each piece weighs about 50 grams. Using your hands, roll the paste into 2 logs measuring a little less than the length of the two ovals. Place them in the center of the ovals. Fold the dough in half, covering the log of almond paste.

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8. Cover the loaves in plastic and let rise for another hour or so.

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9. Melt the margarine and brush some over the loaves, saving about 2/3 of the margarine for two additional coatings—the second about halfway through the baking process, and the third and final coating brushed on after the loaves are out of the oven, but still warm.

10. After the first coating of margarine is brushed on, bake the loaves at 200°C/400°F for about 20-30 minutes, until the loaves have developed a deep brown color. About halfway through the baking process, give them another coating of margarine.

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11. Take the loaves out of the oven, and while still warm, brush the rest of the margarine over them. Let them cool on a wire rack.

12. After the loaves have cooled, mix together the powdered sugar and vanilla sugar and coat the loaves generously with this mixture. Store them tightly wrapped in plastic. Tie them with a ribbon for a perfect holiday gift! Best eaten the first day or two after baking.

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I hope you have a wonderful holiday season and a happy and healthy 2015! Please check back the week of January 5th for my next post. Joyeuses fêtes, et bonne année!

Save the date: January 27, 2015 – Benefizkonzert der stiftung aha! Centre d’Allergie Suisse in Bern

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Recipe: Magenbrot – Chocolate Gingerbread

‘Tis the season for Christmas markets in Switzerland, and I hope to visit one soon! To date, I’ve strolled through these festive markets in Montreux, Neuchâtel and Zurich. With a steaming mug of vin chaud in my hands, I have to always stop and admire all the sweet Swiss treats. I still have many to try, but one of my favorites is Magenbrot—small cocoa gingerbreads coated with dark chocolate icing.

Christmas market stall - Zurich

Zurich Christmas Market, December 2013

magenbrot - onion festival

Onion Market in Bern, November 2013

Magenbrot means “stomach bread” in German. According to Patrimoine Culinaire Suisse, the name developed because the spices and sugar contained in the bread were supposed to aid digestion. Instead of wheat flour, recipes for Magenbrot call for rye flour, which gives the gingerbread a little more texture. You can typically find these at fall festivals in Switzerland, like the Bern Onion Market, and at Christmas markets. Bakeries that make Magenbrot traditionally sell them wrapped in pink paper.


Magenbrot

(dairy-free, egg-free and nut-free)

Recipe adapted from Betty Bossi.

Dry ingredients:
300 grams rye flour
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon salt

Wet ingredients:
125 grams sugar
150 ml rice milk
1 tablespoon kirsch

1. Whisk together the dry ingredients in a large bowl until well-blended.

2. In a separate container, whisk together the wet ingredients and then pour into the large bowl with the flour mixture. Stir until a dough forms.

3. Turn the dough on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Roll with a floured rolling pin until you have a rectangle, about 2 cm thick. Cut the rectangle into about 5 strips of dough with a sharp knife. Please note: The dough will be a bit sticky, so use a little extra flour to help shape it.

Magenbrot dough

4. Bake at 180°C/350°F for about 20 minutes. Let cool slightly on a wire rack. When still warm, cut into pieces, approximately 2 x 4 cm. Let the pieces continue to cool while you prepare the glaze.


Magenbrot Glaze

100 grams allergy-friendly dark chocolate
20 grams dairy-free margarine
100 ml water
250 grams powdered sugar
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon cloves
a pinch of nutmeg
a pinch of salt

1. In a small saucepan over medium heat, mix the first three ingredients together, just until the chocolate is melted and well-blended. Remove from the heat and whisk in the remaining ingredients.

2. Put the cooled Magenbrot in a large bowl and pour the warm glaze over them. Toss them gently in the glaze until well-coated.

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3. Place the Magenbrot on a wire rack to cool and for the glaze to harden. Store in an airtight container.

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I just froze some homemade Magenbrot so my son can have an allergy-friendly treat during our next visit to a Swiss Christmas market. They’re easy to make and highly addictive!

Grandma’s Fudge for Christmas

For every Christmas I can remember as a child, my grandmother would make chocolate-walnut fudge. When it came time to pass out presents, we could always find her neatly-wrapped boxes filled with the rich chocolate squares. I had never tried making her fudge recipe before, but I really wanted to share it with my boys this year—even if I can’t use milk and butter and walnuts like she normally would.

With some coconut milk, dairy-free margarine and a small reserve of Enjoy Life chocolate chunks, I whipped together a batch of her Never-Fail Fudge. Since my husband is allergic to walnuts, I used ground hazelnuts and raisins instead. Even though the fudge turned out a little soft, storing it in the freezer seems to solve the problem. With a few more batches, I’ll hopefully have the consistency issues worked out.

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In the meantime, I’m enjoying the chance to eat allergy-friendly fudge with my boys, just like I did when my grandmother made it at Christmas. It’s important for me to share past holiday memories with them, while creating new ones here in Switzerland—many of them connected to food! Even though we can’t be with most of our family and friends at Christmastime (again) this year, as I’ve mentioned before, making recipes like this makes me feel more connected to them. For this recipe in particular, I cherish the memories of my family gathered around the living room to open small packages of delicious homemade fudge.

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The holiday season is such a wonderful time of year, but for people living with food allergies, it can require additional preparation for all the food-centered gatherings. For some practical advice, check out FARE‘s quick list of 6 Tips for Celebrating the Holiday Season. My husband and I certainly use FARE’s recommended “tag-team” method when we’re at holiday parties with our 2-year old! He’s learning about his food allergies and has even begun to ask sometimes, “Can I eat it?” Even so, we still keep a close eye on him, just in case.

Thanks so much for reading Dairy-Free Switzerland. I really appreciate your advice and support. Bon week-end, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year!

P.S. – January 2, 2014: After a second batch, I’m ready to share an updated version of my grandmother’s recipe. I hope you like it!

 

Coconut Milk Fudge

(dairy/nut-free)

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup coconut milk
1 cup allergy-friendly chocolate chips (this time I used some from Divvies)
1/4 cup corn syrup, light or dark
1 tablespoon dairy-free margarine
1 teaspoon vanilla sugar (or vanilla)
1/2 cup grated coconut or finely chopped dried fruit, pumpkin seeds, etc.

1. In a small saucepan, stir together the sugar and coconut milk. Bring to a boil, and then stir constantly over low heat for about 10 minutes.

2. Remove from heat and mix in the remaining ingredients until smooth and creamy. Then, stir in the grated coconut (and/or other dried fruit, etc.).

3. Pour mixture into a pie plate or 8-9 inch round or square pan greased with dairy-free margarine. Optional: sprinkle some extra coconut on top while the fudge is still soft. Let cool at room temperature for about 30 minutes. Then, refrigerate the fudge until completely cooled and firm.

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Storage: Keep this fudge in the refrigerator so it stays firm. Our latest batch of fudge is in the freezer, for when we need a quick and allergy-friendly treat for my son. I’m trying to be good and not eat it all myself!

 

Swiss Christmas Cookies: Milanais/Mailänderli

A very typical Christmas cookie in Switzerland is the “Milanais,” in French, or “Mailänderli,” in German. At Coop yesterday, I found at least three different kinds of Milanais among all the baked goodies for Christmas. Dating back to the 18th century, these cookies come in a variety of small shapes. Apparently they did not come from Milan, despite what the name suggests.

milanais

I tried making Milanais sans milk and eggs in my home kitchen yesterday. These lemon-flavored cookies get their golden top from an egg yolk and sugar mixture brushed on top before baking. Even though my son can safely eat baked egg, I was concerned that 10-15 minutes of baking wouldn’t change the egg proteins enough to prevent an allergic reaction. My son probably would’ve been fine, but he’s had a few reactions with my baked egg experiments before, so I decided to make some changes.

Milanais recipes commonly call for equal amounts of butter and sugar, which I’ve maintained in my version belowexcept with dairy-free margarine. Also, I’ve replaced the egg in the dough with a flax meal mixture. Finally, instead of the egg yolk wash, I used a tart lemon icing sprinkled with some chopped dried cranberries, inspired by Swiss Milk’s recipe.

 

Petits Biscuits de Milan

Adapted from the recipe in Croqu’menus and also inspired by Swiss Milk’s version.

(dairy/egg/nut-free)

Dough:
125 grams dairy-free margarine, softened
1 tablespoon flax meal mixed with 3 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon vanilla sugar or vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
1-2 tablespoons of lemon zest
250 grams all-purpose flour

Icing:
200 grams powdered sugar
5-6 teaspoons of lemon juice

Topping:
Dried cranberries, roughly chopped

1. Beat together the wet ingredients in a large bowl: margarine, flax meal mixture, vanilla sugar, salt and lemon zest. Then, mix in the flour until dough forms.

2. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface with a flour-dusted rolling pin to about 1/4 inch (6mm) thick. Cut out into desired shapes with your favorite cookie cutters. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake in a preheated oven at 200°C/400°F for about 10-15 minutes.

3. Place cookies on a wire rack to cool. Whisk together the icing ingredients and spread on the cooled cookies. Sprinkle dried cranberries, roughly chopped, on top of the icing.

DSC02348It’s hard finding good daylight for photos these days; our foggy Swiss winter has begun!

 

We’ll be visiting our neighborhood Marchés de Noël this weekend and searching for new Swiss street foods. Bon week-end!

Homemade Biscômes and Noisette Stars

Christmas baking continues… One recipe to share (Biscômes), and one I’m still working on (Etoiles á la cannelle).

Swiss Gingerbread

Since I wrote about Swiss gingerbread or “biscômes” last week, I’ve cleaned up the recipe so it’s ready to share. My third batch more closely resembles the store-bought gingerbread we’ve seen around town—a little thinner, a little browner. I just ate one for breakfast! Biscômes date back to the 16th century in Switzerland, and I’m loving the smell of homemade gingerbread in my kitchen at Christmastime.

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Pains d’épice biscômes

Adapted from the recipe in Croqu’menus (2005).
(Dairy/egg/nut-free)

425 grams all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons “pain d’épice” spice mix (i.e., gingerbread spice mix with cinnamon, coriander, anise, cloves and mace; if you can’t find a pre-mixed version like this, here’s a do-it-yourself recipe).
3 teaspoons baking powder
100 grams dairy-free margarine
125 grams honey
3 tablespoons sugar
200 ml rice milk

Glaze:
100 ml warm water
50 grams powdered sugar

Icing:
2-3 teaspoons rice milk
75 grams powdered sugar

1. In a large bowl, whisk together all the dry ingredients: flour, spices, baking powder and salt until well-blended. In a separate bowl, beat together the margarine, sugar and honey.

2. Stir together the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients in 2-3 batches, alternating with the rice milk, just until blended; do not overbeat. Place in a covered bowl in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

3. Roll out the dough on a floured surface to about 1/3 inches (8-9 mm) thick; you may need some flour on the rolling pin too. Cut out desired shapes, such as rectangles, hearts or gingerbread men. Place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Bake for 20 minutes at 200°C/400°F until browned, but not burned.

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4. Place on a wire rack to cool. Once cooled, whisk together the glaze mixture and brush over the biscômes. Let them set for another hour or two at room temperature until the glaze has soaked in and dried.

5. Whisk together the icing ingredients until smooth. Use a pastry bag (or a plastic bag with a small corner cut off) to decorate the biscômes.

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Etoiles á la Cannelle

I see “Etoiles á la cannelle” (cinnamon stars) everywhere this time of year. This popular Swiss cookie usually contains almonds, one of my son’s allergens we’re currently avoiding. I noticed these cookies last year, and decided to finally tackle them in my home kitchen over the weekend.

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In my copy of Croqu’menus, the recipe for “Etoiles á la cannelle” says you can use almonds or “noisettes” (hazelnuts). Last year at this time, we were avoiding hazelnuts for my son. This year, I’m free to use them in holiday recipes, and it’s opened up some new options, like these little cinnamon cookies.

From what I’ve seen, recipes for “Etoiles á la cannelle” typically call for eggs in both the cookie and the glaze. I made a few modifications, and my 2-year old loves my homemade version, but my recipe still needs perfecting (see the photo below for proof). My appreciation for the professionals who do this kind of baking grows with each failed attempt! Maybe next year…

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I’ll be trying out some other Swiss Christmas cookies, at least one of which I hope to share later this week! What allergy-friendly treats are you making for the holiday season?

Gingerbread for Saint Nicholas Day

Happy St. Nicholas Day! Today is December 6th, when Swiss children receive treats from Saint Nicholas—the patron saint of children. He typically hands out peanuts, chocolates, mandarin oranges and rectangular Swiss gingerbread (“biscômes” in French and “lebkuchen” in German). When my son arrived at school this morning, Saint Nicholas had left a bag of goodies in his slippers that he wears for class.

At this time of year, our local boulangeries, grocery stores and farmers’ markets are filled with different kinds of gingerbread for Saint Nicholas Day. I typically see biscômes in rectangular shapes, decorated with white icing or with a paper drawing of Saint Nicholas.

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Biscômes for sale at the farmers’ market

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Bear-decorated, Bernese-style biscômes (and a grand bonhomme de pâte!)

I made two batches of biscômes this week—sans dairy, eggs and nuts—using a recipe I modified from my copy of Croqu’menus. We ate them for breakfast this morning to celebrate Saint Nicholas Day. They’re good with a strong cup of coffee!

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At the moment, I am baking a large bonhomme de pâte for dinner, as a final reminder of Saint Nicholas Day. Bon week-end, everyone!

Swiss Bread: Grittibänz/Bonhomme de Pâte

With Bundt Day and Thanksgiving behind us, I’ll be focusing on Swiss Christmas treats from now until the end of 2013. To kick off the holiday baking bonanza, I’m starting with yet another Swiss bread: Grittibänz (German) or Bonshommes de Pâte (French). These little bread men are made primarily for Saint Nicholas Day, and likely date back to the 16th century, according to Patrimoine Culinaire Suisse. Very loosely translated, “Grittibänz” apparently means something like “old frail man walking with his legs spread apart.”

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From what I’ve heard, the celebration of Saint Nicholas on December 6th occurs more in the German-speaking and Catholic-leaning cantons of Switzerland. However, I’ve been learning about celebrations happening here in French-speaking Suisse-Romande as well, particularly in the canton of Fribourg.

My 6-year old has been helping to teach me about this Swiss holiday, as he and his classmates were singing about Saint Nicholas and his donkey yesterday. Today, he came home and told me how Saint Nicholas travels with a sidekick, le Père Fouettard (or “Schmutzli” in German), who hits badly-behaved children with a broom (!). He also heard that Saint Nicholas hands out Bonshommes de Pâte, so it looks like I’ll be making these again this week…

 

Bonshommes de Pâte (Grittibänz)

Adapted from the recipe in Croqu’menus (2005).

(dairy/nut-free; can be made without egg)

350 ml rice milk, room temperature
7 grams (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
60 grams of dairy-free margarine
500 grams bread flour
1 teaspoon salt
canola oil, for greasing the bowl

1 egg, beaten (or melted dairy-free margarine)
Toppings: pumpkin seeds (almonds are more traditional, but we’re avoiding them), dried raisins or cranberries, coarse grains of sugar

1. Add the rice milk, yeast and sugar to a large bowl. Let the yeast dissolve for a few minutes on its own and then whisk together. Add flour, margarine and salt to the yeast mixture and stir together until dough forms.

2. Knead the dough for about 5-10 minutes. The dough will be sticky, but be patient. Add a little flour, if necessary. Once the dough is smooth and elastic (when you press the dough with your finger, it bounces back), place in a greased bowl and turn greased side up. Let it rise until doubled, about 1 hour.

3. Shape the dough into about 1-4 bread men. Here’s a quick video (in German) from Swiss Milk that gives an overview of how to shape the dough (it also features other small bread shapes for Christmas; skip to 2:50 for the section on Grittibänz).

4. Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F. Let the bread rise while the oven preheats. Just before placing in the oven, brush the top of the bread with some of the beaten egg (or melted margarine). Decorate with pumpkin seeds (or almonds) and other dried fruit and coarse grains of sugar.

5. Bake for 30 minutes until the bread is nicely browned and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.

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Finally, a big “thank you” to the Food Librarian for including my Vegan Chocolate Bundt Cake with Speculoos Glaze in her National Bundt Day 2013 Round-Up.

Sugar Cookies and Cautious Optimism for 2013

We just wrapped up our first holiday season free of dairy, eggs and nuts. I’m also happy to report that we met with our Swiss allergist for the first time and got some encouraging news. With my family visiting from the United States, I even got the chance to check out some local restaurants. This allowed me the opportunity to enjoy foods we typically avoid at the dinner table because of my son’s allergies, such as cheese fondue, pizza and delicious Swiss pastries.

Cappuccino and carac, a Suisse-Romande pastryCappuccino and a carac, a Suisse-Romande pastry

 

Holiday Baking

Our family celebrates Christmas, and each year when I was growing up my mother would make her famous sugar cookies. Ever since I moved away from Minnesota, I’ve continued to bake these delicious cookies every Christmas for friends and family. This year, I wondered if I could make an allergy-friendly version for my son, without having to sacrifice taste or texture.

Luckily, and with only a few slight modifications, I was able share my mom’s sugar cookies with the kids. While it’s a small thing, I’m so happy that these cookies will be part of my children’s Christmas memories, just like mine. Here’s the recipe, which I only make during the holidays, although they can be enjoyed year-round.

 

White Sugar Cookies

(dairy/egg/nut-free)

1 1/2 cups dairy-free margarine
2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons flax meal mixed with 6 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon vanilla (or vanilla sugar)
4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cream of tartar

1. Cream margarine, sugar, eggs and vanilla. Whisk together dry ingredients. Add to wet ingredients and mix well.

2. Roll into balls and dip in sugar or sprinkles. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet and flatten the cookies a little with a flat-bottomed glass (or another smooth, flat surface).

3. Bake at 350°F/180°C for about 10-12 minutes.

Mom's White Sugar Cookies

 

Food Allergy Testing

Before the holidays, my son had a skin prick test during his first Swiss allergist appointment, and the preliminary news was good. He’s had this done before in the United States, but only for milk, soy and eggs. For this test, the doctor tested him again for his known allergens, along with peanuts, almonds and a few others. She drew a cat on his arm with a ballpoint pen, which he thoroughly enjoyed watching, and then dropped the different solutions onto different parts of her cat drawing (e.g., on the ears and the mouth, etc.)

Skin prick test for food allergiesSkin prick test for food allergies

While his reaction to milk was still very severe, his reaction to eggs was less severe than when he was tested six months ago. In addition, he had no reaction to peanuts. He did have a slight reaction to almonds, which may be a tree nut we’ll continue to avoid. Even though he’s never had a reaction to peanuts, tree nuts or sesame (that we’re aware of anyway), our allergist in the United States had advised us to avoid these foods because egg and milk allergies have been linked to peanut allergies, in particular.

Based on these results, our son’s blood was drawn about a week ago for more testing. He’s had one blood test before in the United States. However, this initial blood test was done by our pediatrician’s office and relied on non-CAP studies. Both our allergists in the United States and in Switzerland recommend CAP testing. Therefore, these new results, which we’ll receive any day now, should be more accurate. I’m not a medical professional, so I’m trying to learn about this stuff as we go along. WebMD has some good information about blood testing that I thought was particularly helpful.

Generally, it seems that a negative skin test, like my son had for peanuts, is a very good sign. So, as the new year begins, our family is cautiously optimistic that this most recent blood test will provide more good news—possibly for peanuts, and maybe even eggs, as well.

Here’s hoping we all get some good news about food allergies in 2013, including new research, successful food challenges, etc. Happy New Year!

Montreux Noël and Managing Risk

Last weekend, we took our children to visit Santa Claus during our visit to Montreux Noël, one of the many Swiss Christmas markets. In the United States, we chatted with the jolly old fellow at our local shopping mall. Since we’re celebrating Christmas in Switzerland this year, we went to see Père Noël (a.k.a., Father Christmas) at his grotto on the summit of Rochers de Naye. To prepare for the trip, I did lots of baking beforehand and packed extra snacks for my food-allergic son. While we had a great time, our little trip made me think more about managing risk when traveling with food allergies.

Vendors at the Montreux Christmas market

Vendors at the Montreux Christmas market

To reach Santa at an altitude of 2000+ meters, we took a cog railway up the mountain. The trip took about 45 minutes, and they packed lots of eager families into train cars like sardines. Initially, we had four seats—one for each of us (two pairs of seats facing each other). As the train car filled up, I ended up sitting next to my husband with the boys seated on our laps. There was another family opposite us with their boys also on their laps.

View from the train on our way up to see Santa

View from the train on our way up to see Santa

Meeting Santa at on the summit

Meeting Santa on the summit

No big deal, right? Except the two boys seated opposite from us were munching on big, buttery croissants—one of which appeared to be full of chocolate and nuts. The allergen-filled treats, which were dropping flakes all over these boys, made my heart race. What if a small piece landed on my son? What if he ate it, since he’s 18-months old and teething and constantly has his hands in his mouth?

I was ready to say something or move, and my husband was thinking the same thing, but we decided to stay put. We both kept a close eye on our little guy, and there was no issue whatsoever. The kids had no idea that their parents were on alert the entire ride.

In some ways, it may seem like we took an unnecessary risk by riding a train up a steep Swiss mountain and sitting so close to other passengers (and their food). Yet, we had all the food allergy accoutrements on hand—hand wipes, multiple EpiPens and Benadryl. We watched our son very carefully and made sure he was safe the entire time. It was a bit nerve-wracking, but not impossible.

So, do we stay at home all the time to reduce our risk? Well, it turns out that home isn’t always safe either. I’ve read two terrifying stories lately about families with food-allergic children who had anaphylactic reactions at home. In one case, an older sister mistakenly poured cow’s milk into her brother’s cereal bowl during a busy morning. In another story, a family bought a different flavor of their usually safe cereal, but it ended up having one of their son’s allergens. My heart breaks for these families, and I certainly can imagine how easily these scenarios could happen.

Eating homemade sandwiches on the train ride down the mountain

Eating homemade sandwiches on the train ride down the mountain

Thankfully, my son has never had an anaphylactic reaction, but it’s something I often think about and fear. We’ll keep traveling and seeking out new adventures in Switzerland and beyond, but not without being extremely cautious, carefully managing any risks and always having a plan in place to deal with an emergency, should it ever occur.

We visited our son’s Swiss allergist today for this first time and heard some potentially good news. More to come, and our fingers are crossed…

The Holiday Season with Food Allergies

My husband’s Buche de Noël attempt, 2011 (it was delicious).

Now with Halloween finished, we’re heading toward the holiday season. No Thanksgiving here in Switzerland, so Christmas (Noël) is the next big event. Stores have already begun stocking their shelves with Christmas decorations, presents and sweet treats.

Last year at this time, our little guy was about 6 months old. I never imagined he could have food allergies. He was barely eating solid food at the time. We celebrated Thanksgiving and Christmas in the typical American way—lots of milk, butter and nut-filled dishes. We gave little thought to what ingredients were used. Our focus was just on what tasted good, including a dairy and egg-heavy Buche de Noël that my husband made (we’re actually contemplating an allergy-friendly version this year—to be determined).

This year, we have a totally different perspective. It will be our first holiday season since our son was diagnosed with multiple food allergies. At nearly 17 months, while he’s not aware of his allergies, it can also make it harder. If someone at a party offers him a cookie, he doesn’t understand it could potentially cause a severe allergic reaction.

Over the weekend, I attended a child’s birthday party with my oldest son. I ended up leaving my food-allergic son at home—in part, because it would allow me to enjoy a conversation without having to chase him around. Honestly, I was also concerned about keeping him away from all the delicious Swiss foods and desserts I knew would be there. It’s strange that something as benign and satisfying as birthday cake has turned into something to fear now that we have food allergies to constantly think about.

Free Online Meeting about Holidays and Food Allergies

Tomorrow night (or in the afternoon, if you’re connecting from the United States), I’ll be attending a free online meeting sponsored by the Kids with Food Allergies Foundation: Navigating the Holidays with Food Allergies. The meeting will feature Dr. Michael Pistiner (AllergyHome.org) and Dr. Sarah Boudreau-Romano (TheAllergistMom.com). This one-hour session will allow participants to ask questions about how to manage food allergies during the holiday season, a particularly food-centered time of year. Here are the details:

Navigating the Holidays with Food Allergies:
Live Q&A Session with Leading Experts

Tuesday, November 6 at 2:00 pm EST (11:00 am PST) or 8:00 PM in Switzerland
Register to save a spot in for the webinar; the number of participants is limited.

I’ll be sure to share any advice or insight I gain from this event, as well as any other resources mentioned. If you have any recommendations or lessons learned about food allergies and the holidays, please leave a comment below or send an email to dairyfreeswitzerland@gmail.com. We can learn a lot from each other.

The countdown continues… 10 days until National Bundt Day!