April Peveteaux is the author of Gluten Is My Bitch. With the publication of her new cookbook, Bake Sales Are My B*tch: Win the Food Allergy Wars with 60+ Recipes to Keep Kids Safe and Parents Sane, April is guest blogging for the Jewish Book Council all week as part of Visiting Scribe series here on The ProsenPeople.
I am a woman who loves to eat. I consider feasting upon great foods one of my greatest passions and an intimate, yet universal, way to connect with other like-minded people who enjoy stimulating all of their senses. In other words: If you wanna be my lover, you gotta get with my blended spinach and ricotta dip.
It was no accident that my husband and I fell in love over every ethnic meal we could indulge in while dating in New York City, and some that we were not sure qualified as any ethnicity. Where do those sugar-roasted nuts come from, anyway? His appreciation for my Southern and Cajun cooking and our many arguments over what makes a taco, based on his California experience and my Oklahoma and Texas knowledge, meant we were able to fulfill each other while remaining hungry.
After we brought our two beautiful, and voracious, children into the world it probably won’t surprise you to know that one of my most satisfying responsibilities as a mother and wife became the preparation of special birthday cakes for each member of my household. Pursuant to their personality and their preference, I make a unique birthday dessert for everyone, and insist they indulge in a piece for breakfast on the day they were brought into this earthly existence. Is there a better way to celebrate the day you were born than by smothering your gob with sugar? My husband goes for a honeybun cake made to resemble, well, a honeybun, covered in cinnamon, toasted pecans and a still-warm glaze. My son loves a rainbow cake with thick white buttercream frosting between each layer to accentuate the bright colors of the confection. And my daughter enjoys a cookie-crusted ice cream cake covered in fudge and whipped cream — the same ice cream cake my own mother made for me every year on my birthday.
Feeding my people is serious business, and I am filled with pleasure as they enjoy the culinary delights I share with them on special, and everyday occasions. Which is why raising kids as they attend a Jewish day school and start to get serious about Judaism has become a challenge to me — in the dietary sense.
As a cook who likes to expand her repertoire and broaden her children’s palates, preparing kosher meals on demand was not my (strawberry preferred) jam. I’m an add-on kind of gal who just walked into a restricted space and was not happy about having to ditch my bacon. I also like to make sure no one begins a meal hungry, so appetizers are a big part of my meal planning. When working under a traditional six-hour separation of the meat and dairy, there was no way I was bringing out my favorite roast chicken if I’d presented the epic cheese platter less than two hours prior. Something had to give. And it wasn’t going to be the cheese platter.
While doing some reconnaissance with other kosher parents, I realized that many chose the path of least resistance: going vegetarian or vegan. I am not that mom. I have celiac disease and can’t have gluten, and quite frankly I think that’s enough deprivation for one household. Also, being gluten-free means that bagels for every meal are also not an option. This is in fact, the worst.
Rather than risk offending everyone at my kid’s lunch tables, and also risk being a big old jerk, I decided my family would have to compromise. After all, if my kids were going to be raised Jewish, they were all ready to question everything. Why not lunch?
When packing a lunch I did decide that going vegetarian was the best way to respect the school guidelines and their observant classmates. Removing meat from their midday meal was going to be much easier on all of us. Especially me, since I don’t eat lunch at school and can shove all the leftover brisket into my mouth only minutes after indulging in nachos. But for my children’s sake, we pack a vegetarian lunch 99% of the time, and they can totally work with the lack of meat protein through the magic of bean and cheese burritos.
Dinnertime and the weekends are much more challenging, especially since the adults in the family do not keep kosher. Still, in support of our children’s commitment we make it work. Our daughter (the most stringent observer) has agreed to be “Dutch kosher” when at home or on vacation, meaning she can enjoy some dairy and only wait one hour to dig into the fried chicken. I compromise by experimenting with vegan and vegetarian meals that keep us kosher-style. Luckily the popularity of Paleo-style eating goes well with both kosher style (no dairy to mix with meat, just skip the pork and the shellfish recipes) and my own celiac disease, since the Paleo diet eschews all grains.
We are probably one of the few families who dine either Paleo or vegan depending on the evening, but mixing religions and food requires creativity and dedication to eating really well. I’m certainly willing to try new, delicious options — see recipe for Rice Chex chicken fingers below — to keep everyone in our house well fed and responsible to their beliefs. As long as I can keep deep-frying anything that falls in line with these dietary restrictions, it’s kosher.
Rice Chex Chicken Fingers
Kids love chicken fingers, but finding breadcrumbs that are both gluten‑, egg‑, and dairy-free is a huge challenge. Rice Chex (and other Chex products) are seven main allergen-free (no gluten, dairy, peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, fish or shellfish), so you can use them to crunch up your salads, or coat your fried chicken. Keep it dairy- and nut-free by using rice milk in this recipe.
Prep time: 20 minutes Cook time: 15 minutes
Makes: 12 servings
2 lbs. chicken tenders
4 cups Rice Chex
1 cup rice milk
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon paprika
3 cups vegetable oil
Sauces for dipping (check allergen info on label)
1. If not already cut into fingers; slice your chicken into 6” strips, approximately 2” wide. Set aside.
2. In a food processor or blender, combine Rice Chex, salt, pepper and paprika. Pulse until texture resembles breadcrumbs. Transfer to a large plate.
3. Pour rice milk into a medium bowl and set up assembly line with chicken tenders, milk and Rice Chex mixture. Place chicken tenders in bowl with rice milk as you heat your oil.
4. Heat vegetable oil on medium-high in large skillet or use a deep fat fryer and heat on medium-high. Once water sprinkles “dance” on the surface the oil is ready. Turn heat down to medium.
5. Dredge (rice) milk soaked chicken tenders in Rice Chex crumbs, coating completely.
6. Transfer to hot oil and cook until browned, 5 – 7 minutes per side. Allow chicken tenders to drain on paper towel-covered plate.
7. Serve chicken tenders alone, or with desired sauces.
Recipe excerpt used by permission from Bake Sales Are My B*tch: Win the Food Allergy Wars with 60+ Recipes to Keep Kids Safe and Parents Sane.