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  1. Ingredient Spotlight: Laura Soybeans

    May 1, 2016 by Dan

    Today’s spotlight is on Laura Soybeans, grown and sold by the Chambers Family Farm in Iowa.


    We consume a lot of soy. It’s provides a complete protein, is a healthy substitute for meat, and is very versatile as an ingredient. Most importantly for us, soy was one of the first things we cleared in Sprout’s diet seven years ago. Although he reacted a bit through the skin prick and IgE blood tests, the reactions were relatively small compared to other allergens, and his food challenge was negative. Not that it wasn’t already in our diet before his allergy diagnoses, but it has become much more important since then.

    In our experience it’s difficult to come by beans (and other legumes) that aren’t cross-contaminated with gluten. The same equipment is generally used to process and store legumes and grains up and down the production and distribution chain. Based on past experience washing in water doesn’t remove all gluten, though we’ve tried at various times. This requires us to buy directly from growers, such as Chambers Family Farm, or smaller distributors that have a reputation as not having gluten cross-contamination, or (usually) larger companies that certify their products gluten-free.

    At first we bought a lot of soy milk in boxes (please note that we had to clear that soy milk when first giving to Sprout). In fact we’d buy a case of plain, organic soy milk every week or two from Whole Foods (10% off when you buy a case). Eventually, Brett stumbled across the Chambers Family Farm website for Laura Soybeans. Their legumes are non-GMO and don’t share facilities with gluten. As their website says, Laura  Soybeans “are grown, harvested, processed and packaged right here on our 5th generation family farm.”


    We generally use about twenty pounds of dried soy beans per year. Most goes into soy milk but we sometimes add the dried beans into soups or stews. I also adding them to the slow cooker with caramelized onions to use as a side dish. One day we’ll try making our own tofu. We also use the okara – the bits of solid left behind after making soy milk – in place of breadcrumbs when dried, or as a filler or base for a snack when wet.  

    Soy milk can be used in place of dairy milk in most recipes. For example, we use fresh soy milk in mashed potatoes, pancakes, bread, non-dairy ice cream, and many more things.   

    Where to buy

    Buy from directly from the grower, Chambers Family Farm at


  2. Update – Thanks for your patience!

    September 17, 2012 by brett

    Hey all. Just wanted to post an update. Sorry — I’ve been busy w/other things for the last couple of months. I was busy moving back from Saipan, a small rural island in the Asia/Pacific region, to California. It has been pretty stressful selling all our stuff, packing, dealing w/all the insects, all the while maintaining an steady, allergen-free supply of food for my son. Traveling w/allergen-free food and all the emergency medications on a plane can be frustrating, to say the least — LOTS of scrutiny from TSA, USDA ag inspectors, and whatnot. Yes, we were the ones slowing you down w/the boxes and boxes of medication and food we had to remove and get inspected by the TSA people. We were the ones required to get patted down because we dared to travel w/unopened boxes of soy milk for our allergenic-son. And no, I could care less if I’m “slowing” you down. LOL

    I haven’t really been keeping up to date w/Giant Hippo in recent months, so my apologies to those who have written to me. I promise I will write back as soon as possible. Right now, we are living amid cardboard boxes, sleeping on the floor, etc. I am extremely thankful we are back home, as we now have access to a greater variety of produce, fresh meat, and allergen-free supplies. Plus, I no longer have to cook on camp stoves and bake in a crazy, wildly unpredictable oven! YAY!

    In addition to getting over jet leg, getting set up, and getting settled in, I’ve been busy setting up the kitchen and getting it stocked w/the basics. I’ve been working on a bunch of recipes, some of which I find really exciting and interesting, but I want to test them out before posting them. I generally don’t like to post recipes till after I’ve tested them multiple times.

    Oh — one more thing — I had a few posts that recently published, but they were not supposed to be published. I scheduled them but in the midst of this crazy move, forgot to update them before they automatically posted. I’ve since removed them so I can review and get them polished. I’ll post them as soon as I can get some time to work on the blog.

    Thanks for your patience. I promise I’ll get back to blog, but right now, I’ve got to focus on getting food on the table for my family. My plan is to get a few days ahead (by baking and freezing bread, making stuff in big batches, etc.) so I can get some time to work on answering emails/comments and posting new recipes I’ve been working on.

    And if you want to know what’s on the menu today in my sunny southern California home, it’s farmers market day today, so that means:

    lemon grass chicken jook (rice porridge)

    fresh peaches and pears
    bruschetta w/balsamic vinegar and olive oil

    southern red rice casserole

    Tomorrow, will be making pico de gallo, a fresh, light salsa, with the Cherokee and Kellogg heirloom tomatoes we bought at the farmers market. The pico de gallo will go over some carnitas wedged in corn tortillas made from Maseca (still looking for a gluten-free source of fresh masa).

    OK. heading out to the markets to buy a few more ingredients. I hope everyone is enjoying their food, family, and friends. Much love to everyone who has risen to the challenge of cooking gluten- and allergen-free.

  3. An unexplained rash

    August 18, 2012 by Dan

    Every Trip has a Beginning

    Our trip in Allergy Land began when Sprout was just a few weeks old. His face was a constant red with some little raised bumps that would come and go. The first signs of real trouble came when I’d pick him up and he’d immediately bury his face in my shoulder and begin rubbing. The first few times, I thought maybe his nose was a bit stuffy, that I’d disturbed his sleep, or that he did not like the feel of my shirt. To compensate, I’d wear my softest shirt or put a clean pre-fold on my shoulder. Nothing I did worked. And, as we learned later, his nose was not stuffy.


    Cas sitting down with mouth gaping open. A red rash covers the left side of his face and body

    This photo showing a red and splotchy rash is representative of the first couple months.

    So we talked with the pediatrician. At first, she told us all babies have that rash. According to her, it is the same stuff as cradle cap. It just shows up everywhere on some kids. She gave a few suggestions to clear the cradle cap. But none of her suggestions worked. Then she suggested that it might be some form of yeast. So to combat it, we mixed a probiotic with breast milk and fed it to him.


  4. Cha Gio / Nem Ran / Vietnamese Fried Rolls

    August 1, 2012 by brett

    Cha Gio
    Of all the various Asian fried rolls I’ve ever eaten, cha gio is the best in terms of taste and texture, hands down. There is just something serendipitous about the interplay between the flavors of the filling ingredients: the taro, the freshly ground pepper, the fish sauce, and of course, the pork and shrimp. Texture-wise, the wood-ear mushrooms, bean thread, and rice paper wrappers enhance the roll greatly, making each bite stimulating and fun.

    The chewy-crisp exterior of these rolls pairs well with the fresh green, raw lettuce leaf and herbs commonly used to wrap these rolls. Typically, folks will dip the raw veggie/herb enveloped roll into a small bowl of nuoc cham, a Vietnamese fish sauce-based dipping sauce, just before taking a bite. The contrasts between hot fried and cool/crisp raw, between hearty and refreshingly light, cannot help but delight the senses and inspire second (eh, why stop at second?) helpings. (more…)

  5. Nuoc Cham (Vietnamese Basic Dipping Sauce)

    August 1, 2012 by brett

    Nuoc Cham (Vietnamese Basic Dipping Sauce)
    This ubiquitous, must-have sauce unifies the different flavors in many a Vietnamese dish and makes the entire composition come together and “pop.” Nuoc cham can effortlessly pull together a dish, making it a godsend for anyone looking to get breakfast/lunch/dinner on the table ASAP. I have a small airtight container of this stuff in my fridge at all times.

    I generally serve this alongside cha gio (Vietnamese fried rolls) and drizzled over a haphazardly put together bun bowl – cooked rice vermicelli, raw, shredded lettuce, raw, julienned cucumbers, slices of pan-seared tofu or any cooked chicken/pork/beef/shrimp/fish, plus a sprinkling of fresh mint and Thai/Asian basil leaves.

    Nuoc cham is also a wonderful accompaniment to non-Viet-style dishes as well. I’ve drizzled it on corn tortillas filled with grilled fish, Viet-style pickles, julienned cucumbers, and a few springs of cilantro, and the result was tasty. Nation borders are but lines on a map; in the mouth and stomach, they don’t exist. (more…)

  6. Ingredient Spotlight: Pagoda Bean Thread Noodles

    June 25, 2012 by brett

    Pagoda Bean Thread

    I sometimes forget that not everyone grew up eating this kind of yummy food. For the record, “Lung Kow” is not a brand name. This term, like “vermicelli,” describes this type of fine, yet resilient, noodle. Bean thread noodles, lung kow noodles, cellophane noodles, glass noodles, and vermicelli are often used interchangeably when describing this kind of food product. It’s primarily made of starch.

    The package of Pagoda brand bean thread noodles pictured above has the following ingredients listed on the package: pea(mung bean) starch, corn starch, water. As far as allergens go, my son has eaten these noodles many times for more than a year, and he has never had a reaction to them. He is extremely allergic to wheat and all forms of gluten (wheat, rye, barley, oats), dairy, egg, tree nuts (except for coconut), peanuts, and sesame. (YMMV.)

    Bean thread noodles are wonderful in stir fries. They’re also nice in soupy/stewy dishes, and they make a great filler ingredient for dumplings and fried rolls. Bean thread noodles, which can soak up a lot of liquid (commonly vegetable or chicken stock when added to stir fries), adopt and intensify the flavors of the dish easily, making the bean thread noodles quite tasty.

    Made correctly, these fine noodles can be addictive. They have a wonderful mouth feel: chewy, bouncy, happy-go-lucky. They soak up flavorful broth like mad and add substance to a dish without weighing down the dish. Even though they’re made primarily of starch, they don’t feel starchy at all, and you’re definitely not feeling weighed down by carb overload after a meal of these noodles. Go figure, eh? (more…)

  7. Hippo Flatbread

    June 21, 2012 by brett


    Flatbread plays an extremely important role in the cuisine’s of most cultures around the world. It is the building block, the basis, of many a meal worldwide. Flatbread fills the belly, nourishes the body, and feels good in mouth and hand in all its soft/chewy/crispy/crunchy glory. It can be eaten alone (it’s so convenient on the go — a great stroller snack), or it can accompany stews, curries, meats, veggies — whatever you like. Flatbread is like rice, the perfect white shirt, and the name Michael*: It goes with everything.

  8. Chocolate Craze Spider Cake

    June 14, 2012 by brett


    This was my son’s birthday cake this year. I was so happy he loved it!!! 🙂

    An old-fashioned term, “spider” refers to a cast iron skillet, which I use to make this cake; spiders are not an ingredient. 🙂 Pineapple Upside Down Cake is probably one of the best known spider cakes baked today.

    The use of vinegar and baking soda to provide the acid/basic-inspired rise of the cake, and the oddball directions to add liquid ingredients into three “troughs” or indentations in the dry mixture, followed by pouring water all over the top, provide unmistakable clues to the ancestry of this cake. This cake is a gluten- and allergen-free descendent of an American classic known by many names: Crazy Cake, Wacky Cake, Oil and Vinegar Cake.

    Typically, Crazy Cake is made in an 8″ or 9″ square pan, though I’ve seen it doubled into a 9″ x 13″ sheet cake creation as well. In the past, I’ve made my own gluten- and allergen-free version in a 5″x7″ Pyrex baking dish. (To see a lemon version, check out Lemon Craze.)


  9. Jun Jiu Kao (Pearl Balls)

    May 10, 2012 by brett

    Pearl Balls

    Some days are meant for sitting on the sofa and eating bon bons. While I admit bon bons are incredibly tasty (I had them just once and even made it a point to sit on the sofa while eating them), more often than not, I’ll make jun jiu kao when I’m in need of a comfort food fix.

    Jun jiu kao, or pearl balls, are savory steamed pork meatballs coated with a layer of glutinous rice (rest assured, it’s gluten-free) that is chewy and satisfying. These tasty mouthfuls are also a nice dumpling-type alternative when I want a dumpling but don’t feel like rolling out wrappers. Jun jiu kao are easy to make, easy to make ahead, and easy to reheat. They are great eaten hot, warm, or at room temperature. They’re not too shabby straight out of the fridge, too! Pearl balls make a great snack but can also be served as part of a larger meal. They make for popular party finger food as well. (more…)

  10. Chicken Tofu Gumbo Ya Ya

    May 3, 2012 by brett

    Chicken Gumbo Ya Ya
    Yup, you read right — gumbo with tofu. Now before ya’ll get started with me, let me start off by saying that if you’re allergic to soy, if tofu isn’t your thing, or if you believe in all that crazy hype about soy being bad for you, please, by all means, leave out the tofu. The gumbo will be just as tasty, though it will miss the added textural dimension and surprising “pops” of flavor provided by the deep-fried tofu, which soaks up the savory broth like nobody’s business.

    OK. Who’s still with me? (more…)