This month’s SoL Sister Colette Martin is a food allergy mom, an expert on how to bake allergen-free, and author of “Learning to Bake Allergen-Free: A Crash Course for Busy Parents on Baking without Wheat, Gluten, Dairy, Eggs, Soy or Nuts.” Colette is also Vice-Chairperson of the Board of Kids With Food Allergies Foundation.
When Colette’s son was diagnosed with eosinophilic esophagitis in 2001, which was triggered by allergies to wheat, milk, eggs, soy and peanuts, she had to reinvent how her family ate. Having first learned to bake in her grandmother’s kitchen with wheat, butter, milk, and eggs, Colette understands first-hand what it means to transform her kitchen to accommodate multiple food allergies. As she modified her recipes to eliminate the top eight food allergens and gluten, she discovered her own intolerances to wheat and soy.
What inspired your interest in allergen-free baking?
I’ve always loved to bake. I was the Mom who always made the birthday cakes herself and the guest who always brought dessert. When my son was diagnosed with multiple food allergies, I suddenly didn’t have my go-to meals and treats to rely on. To make matters worse, while many off-the-shelf gluten-free baked goods are also dairy-free, most still contain eggs. So I started experimenting, and as I did I learned a lot about ingredients and how they behave when combined together. Over the past decade I have learned so much, and now my mission is to share that with other families with food allergies and restrictions.
In the past few years, there has been an explosion of food allergy friendly products and ingredients in the marketplace.
Has this helped make it easier for you to shop for foods that meet your son’s dietary needs?
Yes! I am thrilled that so many companies are stepping up to the plate to meet the needs of families with food restrictions. Food allergies are on the rise, and the market for these products is growing accordingly. Other things that have helped are the Food Allergy Labeling Laws (which require food manufacturers to list the top 8 food allergens in clear language) as well as availability and access to products over the internet. If I can’t find something I need at my local market, I can almost always find it online.
How do you handle educating other people about your son’s food allergies? Do you have any suggestions or resources for other parents facing similar challenges?
This is such a great question, but one that’s hard to answer because every situation is different. The severity of allergies, the types of allergies, the procedures that a school will have in place, how a restaurant handles an allergy… can all vary dramatically. Staying safe starts with awareness — the more caregivers and family understand about your food allergies, the better off we all are. As a parent, the goal is to communicate, ask questions, check (and check again), and follow your doctor’s advice.
In addition to writing about food allergies and authoring recipes and a cookbook, you also blog about workplace topics. Do you find it easy as a writer to shift gears from writing about food to writing about work?
It’s getting harder and harder every day to wear those two hats! As I spend more time focusing on advocating for those with food allergies and restrictions and working on even more recipes, I find my interest in the workplace shifting to topics such as food allergies in the workplace. This is an area not yet fully explored, but as more young adults with food restrictions enter the workforce they will be faced with issues such as what do at office celebrations, missing out on water cooler discussions, or simply how to eat with colleagues in the cafeteria.
How do you take care of yourself and your own health?
I do my best to eat healthy. Most of my recipes (while they do contain sugar — sugar is the one common baking ingredient I don’t have to substitute for) are relatively low in sugar. I am making more and more at home, and we’ve recently joined a CSA so we can enjoy fresh locally-grown veggies from spring through fall. I’m also a bit of a gym-rat. I go to the gym at least 4 or 5 times a week. Forcing myself to take the fitness classes gives me an event that I feel I can’t miss.
What do you love most and least about being a writer?
The great thing about being a cookbook author is that it’s not just about the writing. Most days I am creating recipes, baking, and taking photos, in addition to writing. And lately my job allows me to get out more and educate families with food allergies. The variety makes it a lot of fun!
I can’t say there is anything I truly dislike about my job, but the thing I find most stressful is when I run across a family where instead of listing the 4-5 foods they are allergic to, they list only the 9 or 10 foods they can eat. This happens more than you might expect, and I always try to help them with recipe adaptations that work for them. But this is just one of the many reasons why now — especially during holiday giving season — it makes sense to consider adding a food allergy charity to your charitable donation plan.