Oral Food Challenge for Milk: Passed (My Final Blog Post)

Milk food challenge
Last month, Swissinfo.ch published an op-ed I wrote about living with food allergies. Here’s an update to that piece and my final post on this blog:

I have good news! My 3-year old son recently had his seventh oral food challenge—this time for cold cow’s milk. According to his pediatric allergist, he “passed” the test. Going forward, he must consume no more than 150 ml of milk every day for the next 3 months.


Evaluating the Results

Similar to the results for my son’s food challenge for raw egg, the little guy broke out in hives around his mouth almost immediately after the first dose of cold milk. After each subsequent dose (five in all), I made sure to wash his face with cold water. Thankfully, the hives lessened, but midway through the test, my son’s demeanor seemed to change a bit. He started to look tired, laying down on the bed. I was sure the test would be a failure.

Then another food allergy parent, who was also at the hospital monitoring a food challenge, pulled out an iPad. My little guy perked up, and we seemed to be back on track. All other symptoms seemed normal—blood pressure, heart rate, etc. We continued with the test.

For the last dose, the nurse kindly mixed the milk with Caotina (a popular Swiss chocolate powder for making hot cocoa). My son used a straw and slurped it up in record time. He was happy and back to his normal rambunctious self.

When it was all over, my son’s pediatric allergist declared the test a success, describing his current condition as atopic dermatitis (i.e., eczema) with a contact reaction to milk. Apparently, he no longer has a true food allergy to milk. Even though he can safely consume milk (at least in small doses, to start), his skin can still react when it comes into contact with milk.


Next steps…

At this point, my son doesn’t have any food allergies. The allergist told me it’s no longer necessary to carry along two epinephrine auto-injectors, everywhere we go. He needs to maintain his daily dose of milk, to avoid recurrence of the allergy. It’s what we’ve been waiting and hoping for since we first learned of his milk allergy in 2012. I still can hardly believe it.

Given these latest developments, I will no longer maintain this blog. Our son’s food allergy journey has ended (fingers crossed!), but I know it continues for so many others. If you ever have questions about living with food allergies, please don’t hesitate to send me an email. I’m happy to try and help.

I want to say a huge thank you to everyone who has been reading Dairy-Free Switzerland and sharing your advice and kind words. I started this blog as a virtual support group because I didn’t know anyone with food allergies in Switzerland when we moved here nearly 3 years ago.

It’s been such a pleasure connecting with you all and learning from your experiences. I’ve heard from so many wonderful people living with food allergies both here in Switzerland and around the world. Also, I have to mention all the other food allergy bloggers out there who’ve helped me along the way. Your support has been invaluable.

As always, I hope you get some good news about food allergies too—whether it be outgrowing them, participating in a clinical trial or hopefully, one day there will be a cure!

Finally, if you’re looking to reach out to others living with food allergies in Switzerland, please contact the aha! Swiss Allergy Center or check out my recent blog post on Swiss support groups.

Many thanks, and best wishes to you all!

-Heddi

P.S. I will still be running the Royal Parks Foundation Half-Marathon in London this fall to raise money for Allergy UK. For more information and to make an online donation, please check out my JustGiving page. Thank you so much!

P.P.S. If you’re interested in continuing to follow my cooking and baking adventures in Switzerland, I’ve started a new Swiss food blog: Cuisine Helvetica.

Recipe: Swiss Rice Tart for Easter

Discover a dairy-free version of a typically Swiss tart made for Easter with rice, vanilla, lemon zest and a thin layer of apricot jam.

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For our first Easter in Switzerland, I attempted a few dairy-free and egg-free Gâteau de Pâques. My experiments always looked bad, and the texture was never right. Honestly, I think some of it ended up in the trash. (Please note: For those of you still avoiding eggs AND dairy, I found an Easter tart recipe from aha! Centre d’Allergie Suisse).

According to Patrimoine Culinaire Suisse, the first tarts in Switzerland resembling today’s Gâteau de Pâques (in French) or Osterfladen (in German) may have started as early as the 16th century, and several sources pinpoint Basel as the birthplace. These tarts typically contain either rice or semolina. At our local Suisse Romande bakery, the Gâteau de Pâques has semolina and a thin layer of apricot jam. One of the bakers I spoke with there said he preferred using semolina over rice because it makes a lighter cake.

I tend to prefer the semolina-based tarts, but for this year’s Gâteau de Pâques (which I can now make with eggs), I really wanted to tackle a rice-based tart—especially since my past attempts were so unsuccessful. My dairy-free recipe uses the apricot jam layer instead of the more traditional raisins (the thought of moist raisins mixed with sweet rice just isn’t appealing to me). Both of my sons loved this tart, so I’m finally ready to share my recipe below.


Gâteau de Pâques

Recipe adapted from cuisine de saison.
(dairy-free, nut-free)

Tools:
Tart pan, 24 cm (9-10 inches) diameter

Ingredients:
500 ml soy milk
60 grams sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla paste or vanilla extract
zest of 1 lemon
120 grams rice (e.g., Camolino rice or risotto)
30 grams dairy-free margarine, melted
2 eggs, separated
about 320 grams prepared allergy-friendly pâte brisée (i.e., shortcrust pastry or pie crust)
100 grams apricot jam
powdered sugar for dusting

Instructions:

1. Stir together the soy milk, sugar and vanilla paste in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, and then add the lemon zest. Stir in the rice. Simmer for about 25-30 minutes until the rice becomes tender. Set aside to cool.

2. Add parchment paper to a greased tart pan (using dairy-free margarine), and then place in the prepared pâte brisée. Trim the sides, if necessary. Prick the bottom with a fork in several places. Spread the apricot jam evenly on the prepared crust.

3. Melt the margarine, and stir it into the cooled rice mixture. Separately, beat together the two egg yolks, and then stir them in as well, until well-combined.

4. Separately, beat together the 2 egg whites with an electric mixture (it will take forever to do this by hand) until they form stiff peaks. Gently fold them into the rice mixture. Take the rice mixture and spread it evenly over the apricot jam in the prepared crust.

5. Bake the tart for 40-45 minutes at 180°C/350°F until it’s set (it doesn’t wobble when you take it out) and lightly browned.

6. Once the tart has cooled, sprinkle with powdered sugar (I made a quick bunny stencil with a sheet of paper, which I held down against the cake with some dried beans).

School vacation starts tomorrow, so I’ll be offline for the next two weeks. Happy Easter! Joyeuses Pâques! Fröhliche Ostern! Buona Pasqua!

Swiss National Day of Allergy 2015

Thursday, March 26, 2015 – Today marks the seventh National Day of Allergy in Switzerland. Organized by aha! Centre d’Allergie Suisse, this year’s event focuses on the relationship between allergies and skin, particularly during times of leisure, such as traveling or participating in sports activities. To increase awareness of allergies, aha! will be presenting images related to this year’s theme and sharing informational materials at seven train stations across Switzerland: Basel, Bern, Geneva, Lausanne, Locarno, Lucerne and Zurich.

Image source: aha! Centre d’Allergie Suisse

As part of its focus on skin, allergies and leisure in 2015, aha! is promoting several of its programs and activities related to this theme, such as its allergy-friendly camps for children and translation cards for traveling. Also, aha! offers training courses for parents of children with atopic eczema. At least two of these courses are planned for Suisse Romande this fall. Finally, aha! has lots of materials on allergies available via its website to help further this year’s message: “une bonne information et prévention pour une meilleure qualité de vie” (i.e., good information and prevention for a better quality of life).

For more information:

Food Allergy Support Groups in Switzerland

Outside of the doctor’s office, when you’re in need of some additional food allergy support and advice from people who can relate to your situation, there are several patient groups in Switzerland that can help. I’m highlighting three of them below—and each represents a different language—French, English or German.

Group’s name: Founded in: Primary language: How to find them:
Allergissima
2014 French
Switzerland Food Allergy Network 2015 English
  • Facebook
    (closed group)*
Verein Erdnussallergie und Anaphylaxie 2011 German
  • Website (in German and English)
  • Facebook (closed group, “Forum  Erdnussallergie und Anaphylaxie”)*

*For Facebook’s closed groups, you can search for the group name while logged into Facebook and request permission to join the group.


Allergissima

Allergissima was started by Anita Fossaluzza Schopfer, who you may already know from the allergy-friendly cookbook she published in 2012: Recettes pour faire la nique aux allergies. Her son was originally diagnosed with 13 different food allergies. This organization is working to improve the quality of life for people living with food allergies and intolerances. Some example activities include organizing or participating in conferences and preparing articles or other written materials on food allergies.

You can learn more about Allergissima by visiting its website, Facebook page or sending an email to info@allergissima.ch.


Switzerland Food Allergy Network

Of these three support groups, Switzerland Food Allergy Network is the newest one. Using a closed group on Facebook, it allows members to join and share information privately about current research, allergy-friendly restaurants and allergist recommendations, for example. Ali, an American who lives in the canton of Vaud, started the group to help connect with other English-speakers living with food allergies in Switzerland. She has a 4-year old son who was diagnosed with 18 different food allergies at 10 months of age.

To request membership to the Switzerland Food Allergy Network, you can do so by searching for the group’s name via Facebook.


Verein Erdnussallergie und Anaphylaxie

I’ve written about Verein Erdnussallergie und Anaphylaxie (i.e., “Peanut allergy and anaphylaxis club“) before, as this group’s founder, Angelica Dünner earned an aha! award in October 2014 from the Centre d’Allergie Suisse. Like the other group’s founders mentioned above, she is also the mother of a child with food allergies. This group provides information for and about food allergy sufferersprimarily individuals with peanut allergy and those who experience anaphylaxisand for parents of children with such allergies.

For more information about this group, you can visit their website, request membership to their closed group via Facebook (“Forum Erdnussallergie und Anaphylaxie”) or contact them directly with your questions.


Additional resources
:

  • In Switzerland, if you would like to start your own food allergy support group or locate existing groups, you can contact La Fondation Info-Entraide Suisse, which helps people who want to start self-help groups for a variety of health-related topics.
  • In the United Kingdom, Allergy UK maintains a support contact network of individuals who can provide support and advice to people living with food allergies.
  • In the United States, Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) has information to help people start their own support groups or you can use its online search tool to identify existing support groups in your area.

If you know of any other food allergy support groups in Switzerland, please let us know by leaving a comment below.

Finally, you may have seen that I’m raising funds for Allergy UK by running in the Royal Parks Foundation Half-Marathon in October 2015. Is there any chance you would consider sponsoring me? If so, I would really appreciate it if you would make an online donation via my JustGiving page. Thanks in advance for your help!

JustGiving - Sponsor me now!

Swiss Retro Recipe: Riz Casimir

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An easy meal for kids, I’ve created a dairy-free version of a popular Swiss dish from the 1950s: Riz Casimir.

I first discovered Riz Casimir at Zurich’s Hiltl Restaurant in December 2013. When I saw it on the menu, I didn’t realize this curry dish was actually over a half-century old and known throughout Switzerland. Only after trying Hiltl’s vegetarian version did I start noticing this dish in other restaurants and among the prepared meals from Coop and Migros. Finally, after I came across a simple recipe for Riz Casimir in my Swiss cookbook for public schools, Croqu’menus, I decided to try making it myself.

Riz Casimir Coop 2951x2045.11

According to Betty Bossi, Riz Casimir is often mentioned as a favorite dish by people of all ages in Switzerland. The founder of the Mövenpick restaurants, Ueli Prager, developed this recipe in 1952 with ingredients considered exotic for the time: curry, pineapple and banana. Ultimately, it seems Riz Casimir is the Swiss interpretation of Kashmiri Rice, a northern Indian dish.

Instead of using cream, I’ve been making Riz Casimir with coconut milk. I also added a few other ingredients, like fresh garlic and ginger, and some optional toppings, like chopped cashews and cilantro, to give it a little more flavor and texture. My 3-year old isn’t a huge fan of curry, but this is a very mild recipe.

In terms of presentation, I modeled my version after the photo in my Swiss cookbook of a wreath of rice decorated with banana, pineapple and cherries, and the curry nestled in the center. Honestly, it feels a little ridiculous arranging the fruit like this on the platter, but if it helps my finicky kids find it more appealing, I’ll continue to do it!


Riz Casimir

Recipe adapted from Croqu’menus (9th edition, 2005, p. 91).
(dairy-free, egg-free)
Serves 4-5 people

Ingredients:

1-2 teaspoons sunflower or canola oil
2 shallots, finely chopped
1-2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 thumb-sized knob of fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated or chopped
4 chicken breasts, sliced into thin and bite-size pieces
100 ml white wine or allergy-friendly chicken/vegetable broth
250 ml coconut milk
1 tablespoon curry powder
1-2 teaspoons cornstarch
salt, to taste

Optional toppings: chopped cilantro and cashews, pineapple rings and apple slices

Serve with hot basmati rice

Instructions:

1. Heat the oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Saute the shallots, ginger and garlic for a few minutes until tender and fragrant.

2. Cook the chicken for about 5-10 minutes, stirring frequently, until its nearly done. Remove from the pan and set-aside. Add the wine (or chicken/vegetable broth) and simmer for a few minutes.

3. Add the coconut milk and curry powder to the wine in the pan, and whisk it together until well-incorporated.

4. Whisk in the cornstarch and return the chicken to the pan. Simmer for about 5 minutes more until the sauces thickens slightly.

5. Serve immediately with basmati rice and optional toppings.


Food Allergy Clinical Trials in Switzerland

Peanut allergy was in the news again recently, due to a study out of Australia using a treatment that combined probiotics with oral immunotherapy. The study offers some promising results, as 80 percent of the enrolled children could tolerate eating peanut by the end of the clinical trial. At the same time, 45 percent experienced an allergic reaction, which according to Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) is similar to other studies using oral immunotherapy. If you didn’t see all the media coverage, here are a few links to get you up to speed:

Nuts

When I posted an article about this Australian study on Facebook, someone asked if I knew of any similar clinical trials being conducted in Switzerland. To address this question, I contacted a pediatric allergist working in Geneva via email. He wrote to confirm that no such study is currently being conducted here.

This inquiry made me curious about other food allergy clinical trials in Switzerland, and the pediatric allergist I contacted recommended an online database that’s maintained by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH): ClinicalTrials.gov. When I searched the database, I found three relevant studies that are currently open and recruiting participants. You can click the links in the table below for more information about each individual study.


Food Allergy Clinical Trials Currently Recruiting Participants in Switzerland
Study title Sponsor Types of allergens Estimated completion date Eligible ages
Molecular Analysis of IgE Antibodies in Walnut Allergic Patients University of Zurich Walnut November
2015
1 year to 70 years
Integrated Approaches to Food Allergen and Allergy Risk Management University of Zurich Peanut, hazelnut, walnut or celeriac February
2017
5 years and older
Tree Nuts Allergies: Does a Single Nut Allergy Necessitate the Dietary Eviction of Other Tree Nuts? University Hospital, Geneva Peanut and tree nuts January
2016
12 months to 16 years

Source: Search results obtained on February 16, 2015 from ClinicalTrials.gov for Switzerland when the condition entered was “food allergy.”


Additional resources:

  • For some helpful background information on clinical trials, check out the Frequently Asked Questions prepared by FARE.
  • In the United States, Vanderbilt University maintains ResearchMatch, an online patient registry. FARE and NIH worked together and used ResearchMatch to create a special food allergy sub-registry for patients interested in volunteering for clinical trials.

 

Have you ever participated in a food allergy clinical trial? If you have any experience or advice to share, please leave a comment below. Many thanks!

Special bites: A Zürich “Sweet Studio” with Delicious Gluten-free and Dairy-free Treats

Special Bites Sweet Studio 2560x3153

Elegantly decorated cupcakes, rich double chocolate cookies and cake citron garnished with candied lemon—all made without dairy and gluten by Special bites in Zürich. I had the chance to meet the baker who creates these delicious treats over the weekend, and my family and I are now her biggest fans.

Hungarian-born Timea Megyeri opened Special bites in October 2013 because she wanted to make sure that people avoiding dairy and gluten could still enjoy delicious sweet treats. Her goal is to make high-quality baked goods that taste just as good, if not better, than those made with milk, butter and wheat, for example. With offerings like Bakewell Cake and Victoria Sandwich Cake, Timea has a strong British influence in her baking, as she received her formal training at University College Birmingham.

After admiring her stunning photos of cupcakes and other treats on Facebook for months, I finally placed an order for pick up in Zürich. When I arrived at her commercial kitchen, her brightly lit workspace was immaculate and absolutely free of products containing dairy or gluten. Timea had set out a platter heaped with freshly baked cookies and bars. There was a layered sponge cake with berry filling and some lightly sweetened breakfast cookies, including one with grated carrots, gluten-free oats, agave syrup and raisins. I also had the chance to meet Timea’s boyfriend, Malcom Hett, who serves as her taste-tester and marketing advisera fitting role given his day job working as a global marketing manager.

Special Bites Tea Time

Photo courtesy of Special bites

For my 3-year old son with a milk allergy, it’s not often he gets to eat something that I haven’t made for him—which is why I was so excited to discover Special bites. He can safely eat gluten, so I don’t normally buy gluten-free products, but from my experience in Switzerland, its more common that dairy-free products are also made without gluten. Unfortunately, the few prepackaged cookies like this we’ve bought for him haven’t been very good. However, the photos I kept seeing from Timea made it seem that gluten-free ingredients weren’t holding her back from making really delicious baked goods, so I had to give it a try.

I had such a lovely time chatting with Timea about her baking, it wasn’t long before I realized an hour had passed! My usual snack time routines involve cleaning up spilled soy milk and reading children’s stories, so I enjoyed the opportunity to just sit and talk with someone who really understands how to bake exceptionally well, including for people with food allergies and intolerances. When it was time for me to leave, she bagged up my order of chocolate cookies and lemon cakes in a Special bites tote bag, and I could haven’t been more pleased.

Back at home, both of my sons were thrilled with everything from Special bites. The lemon cake had a great flavor and light icing, without being too sweet (she admitted to actually liking salty things more than sweets, and it’s reflected in her baking). I was especially impressed with the double chocolate cookies—so rich and with a texture almost like a brownie. I had to remind myself they were for my son, so I wouldn’t eat them all!

Double Chocolate Cookies

Double Chocolate Cookies

If you’re living or traveling in Zürich with special dietary needs, I highly recommend Special bites for delicious and elegant dairy-free and gluten-free, as well as vegan and gluten-free, baked goods. We plan on placing another order the next time we’re nearby. You can order products online that can be picked up in Zürich or you can find them at the following:

Eva’s Apples
Weinbergstrasse 168, 8006 Zürich
Phone: 044 363 56 54

Mr. and Mrs. Glutenfree
Forchstrasse 28, 8008 Zürich
Phone: 076 548 43 23

Simply Soup
Hallwylstrasse 24, 8004 Zürich
Phone: 044 554 66 71

Pelikanstrasse 19, 8001 Zürich
Phone: 043 497 22 32

FELFEL (no retail shop; food items delivered to enrolled workplaces)
Grubenstrasse 11, 8045 Zurich
Phone: 043 536 74 51

A big thanks again to Timea Megyeri of Special bites for hosting me and for creating quality products that taste great while catering to the needs of people avoiding dairy and gluten in Switzerland.

Swiss Allergy Center: Summer and Fall Camp Programs for Children and Teens

aha! summer camp 2014

Site of the aha! camp program in Davos Klosters (Photo courtesy of aha!)

Are you looking for a summer or fall camp for your child with food allergies? If so, aha! Centre d’Allergie Suisse is once again hosting several camp programs for children ages 8 to 12 years and 13 to 16 years.

For several years, I attended a weekly summer camp in Minnesota, and I think programs like this create memories for a lifetime. Kids get the opportunity to make new friends and enjoy the outdoors, while learning how to be independent from their parents for a week (and now I see how it’s a nice break for parents too!). It’s great that aha! is sponsoring programs to make camp accessible for children and teens with allergic diseases, such as asthma, atopic dermatitis and food allergies.

Located in the Swiss Alps, these camps have staff trained to deal with food allergies, such as responding to severe reactions like anaphylaxis. Also, there’s a dietician to help plan safe and nutritious meals for those with food allergies and intolerances. With this support system in place, children and teens with allergic diseases get to have a wonderful camp experience, and parents have the comfort of knowing their children’s medical and dietary needs are being met.

Please see the table below for a quick overview of aha!’s various camps this summer and fall. For the first time this year, aha! will be offering a camp for French-speakers.

Camp d’enfants aha!

aha!kinderlager

aha!jugendcamp

Eligible ages 8-12 years 8-12 years 13-16 years
Language spoken French German German
Date Fall: Sunday, October 11 to Saturday, October 17, 2015 Summer: Sunday, July 19 to Saturday, July 25, 2015

Fall
: Sunday, October 4 to Saturday, October 10, 2015.
Summer: Sunday, July 26 to Saturday, August 1, 2015
Location Crans-Montana (Valais), elevation of 1500 meters Davos Klosters (Graubünden), elevation of 1100 meters Davos Klosters (Graubünden), elevation of 1100 meters
Cost* CHF 240 CHF 240 CHF 290

*For children and teens residing abroad, the cost will be CHF 350, if the individual is not covered by insurance in Switzerland.

For all of the camps listed above, the deadline for enrollment is four weeks prior to the start of the program. You can find the online registration form for each of these camps by clicking on the links provided above. If you have any questions, please contact aha! directly at 031 359 90 50 or info@aha.ch.

Tonight, my husband and I will attend aha!’s Benefizkonzert in Bern, which will raise funds for these camp programs. A big thank you to aha! for inviting me to this event. I’ll report back soon on this evening’s festivities, for a worthy cause!

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

BBC’s Horizon Explores Potential Causes of Allergic Diseases

New research suggests that changes to the bacteria inside our bodies may be linked to the growth in allergic diseases. Horizon, a BBC Two science program, covered this topic during a recent episode entitled, “Allergies: Modern Life and Me.” By profiling the experiences of two UK families living with various allergies and asthma, this program tests the hypothesis that bacteria living inside the gut, or a lack thereof, are affecting the development of allergies. (Click here to view the full program, if you’re interested).

Researchers think environmental factors have played a role in the growth of allergic diseases in the last few decades, and daily practices of modern life may be the culprit. High bacterial diversity in the gut has been associated with lower levels of allergic disease, according to several recent studies. For example, researchers have found connections between lower levels of allergies and things like having plants in your house, living on a farm or spending time outside, as these can increase bacterial diversity. Furthermore, the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center reported last month that an estimated one in 10 inner-city children in the United States has an egg, milk or peanut allergy (and researchers contend the actual number could be higher)—a finding that seems to lend support to the bacterial diversity theory.


A Swiss Connection

As I watched the Horizon program on allergies, I was pleased to see Switzerland mentioned, as there’s a prominent researcher here who’s leading some work examining the relationship between bacterial diversity and allergic diseases. Dr. Ben Marsland, an Associate Professor at the University of Lausanne, was interviewed about his work with “germ-free mice.”

While these mice are normal in their appearance, they are free of bacteria, fungi or viruses. Dr. Marsland and his colleagues found that when these mice were exposed to dust mites, they were more prone to an allergic reaction. (Similar results were found recently by a team of researchers led by Dr. Cathryn Nagler at the University of Chicago that exposed germ-free mice to peanut.)

I sent Dr. Marsland an email following the program, to thank him for his research and inquire about current and future work. He passed along three recent publications from his team’s research this year. The citations appear below, if you’re interested in a more detailed description of his findings:

Dr. Marsland added that his current work includes fundraising for a birth cohort study in Norway involving some basic interventions, such as introducing certain foods at an earlier age. In the future, he hopes his basic research can be translated into effective clinical practices to treat allergic diseases.


Living a Modern Life

During the program, I couldn’t help but think about our own family. How would we fare in a similar experiment like the one conducted with the two families for Horizon? How often do we spend time outside? How many plants do we have in our house? I didn’t have a c-section when either of my sons were born (a vaginal birth results in higher exposure to bacteria). Neither had antibiotics during their first year of life.

I’ve certainly wondered at times if there’s something I could have done to cause my son’s allergies, and this episode of Horizon definitely raised those concerns again. While it may not be possible to determine one specific thing as the root cause, it made me question our current practices. What are some practical ways we can increase bacterial diversity in our lives? I’m already planning to take the boys hiking more often on one of my favorite routes—through the forest and alongside an organic farm with goats, pigs, donkeys and chickens!

Swiss hike

Hiking with the boys on one of my favorite local trails last fall

For further reading on this topic, check out “Horizon on Allergies,” an excellent post from Michelle’s Blog, written by UK food allergy and intolerance blogger, Michelle Berriedale-Johnson.

Did you watch this episode of Horizon? What did you think? If you have any thoughts or questions to share, please leave a comment below.

Updated: January 24, 2014