What to pack, how to prep when you're a food-allergic traveler

The thrill of travel is my siren song. I used to dream of filling a passport before it expired. Never happened, but I did manage to get to many great places. Machu Picchu, Xi'an, Tulum. Life can throw you one curveball after another, some good, some not so good. Layoffs, pink slips, food allergies. My high-flying life came to a decidedly more earthbound home. For several years I had time to travel but not the money.

The bitter and the sweet

As we get older, we begin to appreciate that one is enhanced by the other. Fast-forward several years and I am slowly building an entrepreneur's life. This means we swing from one trapeze landing to another, sometimes the grip is so tenuous, the next check so long in coming. But we learn to live with the anxiety that would have done us in before and push on, move forward. Grab and let go. Let go, grab.

This week I'm preparing for my first trip to Europe since my flight through de Gaulle to go to Mali but the last visit when I stayed and explored was a media trip to Valencia, Spain. That was wonderful, too. Both trips like evanescent dreams. Wonderful memories.

New opportunities, new challenges

I'm getting on a plane again 48 hours from this moment. I'm off to Brussels to work with the fabulous Nathan Fong on behalf of sustainable, delicious British Columbia seafood. After our success at  Seafood Expo North America (#sena2014) - stir-frying with the Trade Minister! We're bringing the dynamic duo to the largest seafood expo in the world, Brussels! Now I'm dealing with multiple food allergies. Looking at the food there, dairy is definitely going to be a problem. I won't have time to shop all over and my Flemish is pretty weak. I think I've got this one down though: "Aangenamen Kennismaking" (Nice to meet you) it's just plain fun to say, isn't it?

It's hard to explain to someone who doesn't have food allergies. But imagine you're somewhere unfamiliar, and you literally cannot risk eating food because you may end up in anaphylactic shock. And traveling in a professional capacity, you don't want to make every group meal a tiresome litany of your issue and allergies. "Who knows Flemish for 'allergy'?"

Moules Frites? Waffles? (butter, dairy) Carbonnade? Waterzooi? (butter, cream) Food, glorious food. It's what I live for, what I organize my life around, what I share with friends, family and clients. But the prospect of being unable to find anything to eat made me realize I now have an extra list of travel prep tasks: researching, prepping, baking, planning. Even the flight to Belgium is a problem. Special diet meals include vegetarian (with cheese, nuts) Asian Vegetarian (may include dairy); Vegetarian (dairy). So what can I eat during the flight? Grab and go in the airport? Can you trust the labels on pre-packed foods? The fast food training? Erm, no. Basically, there was not one option that I could choose that was both free of dairy and free of tree nuts. Swiss International Airlines announced an "allergy friendly" service but to me it sounds like only a baby step further than what other airlines do.

Chips? (made in a facility that also processes nuts) etc. It's impossible!

Luckily, I'm a good cook. And I have good friends. And a very caring husband. He has turned into the best food sleuth!

My goal was to find things easy to pack and dense with protein to keep me going in the worst case scenario.


1. Research, research, research. What are the typical foods in your destination? What capacity does your hotel have to accommodate your allergies? (Or even, to speak English?) Check with TSA and your airlines.

2. Pack pouches. Really good tuna, quinoa cereal, and terrific peanut butter all come in these easy-to-pack pouches. Thanks Doc!


3. Bake ahead. Energy Bites; Crackers, Apple-Quinoa Cake.

choco chunks, fruit

rye crackers

travel snack

4. Try to order Allergy warning cards in the destination language. I ordered cards from Allergic Traveler - hope they'll arrive in time!



The energy bites are great pre/post workout snacks. I love that they're not overly sweet and they're super easy to customize. This is based on Kim O'Donnel's original recipe from her Washington Post days. Her Lulu's Cookies became my Choco-fruit Energy Bites.

Choco-fruit Energy Bites


  • 1 1/2 C of a combo of: sunflower seeds, pepitas (pumpkin seeds) and sesame seeds (I omitted sesame and used a combo of peanuts, bran, amaranth for the third 1/2 C.)
  • 2 tablespoons flax seeds.
  • 3 C flour [I used 1 C Irish Wholemeal flour +1 C White Whole Wheat + 1 C AP flour]
  • 2 cups rolled oats [I used rolled instant] + 1/3 C brown rice crispies + 1/4 flaked coconut
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup dried fruit - cherries, prunes, apricots
  • 1 cup hot water
  • 3/4 C coconut + canola oil
  • 3/4 C honey + golden syrup
  • 1/2 - 3/4 C cup Enjoy Life chocolate chunks (free of 8 major allergens and made in an allergen free facility)


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toast seeds on a baking sheet about 8 minutes, or until the seeds turn a golden color. Be careful not to burn seeds.
  2.  Remove from oven and allow to cool thoroughly.
  3.  In a large bowl, combine flour, oats, baking powder and salt.
  4.  Soak dried fruit in hot water for about 15 minutes. Drain, but reserve soaking water.
  5.  Add dried fruit soaking water to dry mixture, plus oil and honey. With a rubber spatula, stir until combined. Add cooled seeds and stir to combine, then add fruit and chocolate chips. Don't over-mix.
  6.  Form teaspoon-sized patties onto a cookie sheet, preferably lined with parchment paper.
  7.  Bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes. Don't over-bake; the cookies will turn into rocks.

Makes about 50 cookies.

I love that these are like two bite energy bars without all the overly sweet, highly processed ingredients. These are like bites of shortbread chunks of sweet dried fruits and chocolate.


What are your tips for traveling with food allergies or intolerances?

Next up, the apple quinoa cake!

Dead Easy Chocolate Snack Cake - Spiked with Chile

When I was freshly diagnosed with my dairy allergy, I was lamenting to a friend that my days of cake were behind me. Not so fast, she said. You've gotta try this recipe for "Amazon Cake." No dairy needed. Well, I've no idea what part of the "Amazon" this thing hails from, but tongue firmly planted in cheek, I gave it a whirl and added some geographic flair.


Chocolate-chile Spiked Snack Cake

If you recall the boxed "Snakin' Cake" of the '70s this is something like that. Needs no frosting. A dusting of confectioner's sugar if you like. Or ice it, you could even make a double batch and frost it. Here, I've added a hint of heat, a bit of Kahlua, and some espresso. You may easily omit all three - using a full 1C of water.  Ancho chile is a mild chile with chocolatey undertones, it pairs well with chocolate.

Making with or for kids, simply omit the chile and Kahlua. You could pretend that dusting it with confectioner's sugar is making it snow!


  • 1 ½ cups sifted flour (I use 1 C AP and 1/2 whole wheat pastry flour)
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 tsp espresso powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp ancho chile powder
  • 1 C cold water minus 1 TBSP
  • 1 TBSP Kahlua
  • 5 tablespoons corn oil
  • 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • Confectioners’ sugar (optional)


  1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, sugar and salt.  If using, include espresso powder, chile here.
  3. In a large liquid measuring cup, measure 1C of cold water, replace 1 TBSP of it with 1 TBSP of Kahlua, if using.
  4. Whisk together the oil, vanilla and vinegar with the water.
  5. Whisk into the dry ingredients, blending until completely lump-free.
  6. Pour into a greased 9-inch round cake pan.
  7. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the top springs back when pressed gently.  Cool before removing from pan (yes this matters)  and dusting with confectioners’ sugar, or frosting if desired.


Yield: 6 to 8 servings.


Margarita Bundt Cake

Margarita Olive Oil Bundt Cake

I used to work at a wine shop/liquor store in college. The couple who owned it were original characters out of central casting. Nick was a cigar chomping dead-panning, tall, quiet Greek man. Pearl was a very short, very busty, very combustible Polish woman.

When offered grapes Nick was known to say "I don't take my wine in pill form!" He was very proud of that one. I swear he smoked cigars just to wheedle Pearl. They had a daily routine: Nick would stroll casually up and down the aisles chomping and puffing. He'd take just as long as it took for Pearl to notice. Out would come the Glade, Pearl would be exasperated (as if she'd never seen him do this and had no way to expect it). There goes Pearl, armed with air freshener flailing, spraying, trying to eliminate the odor, chasing Nick to the back of the store. "You're stinking up the store!"

Nick would crack the smallest of grins. Just like the day before, she took the bait.

This cake might be seen as a "Margarita in cake form." Wonder how Nick would like it.


I had some Pasolivo Lime Oil that I’ve enjoyed different ways, try it in guacamole or drizzled on fish en papillote. I also had some Tequila bought for Superbowl Sunday (yes, I left some in the bottle) which reminded me that lime and tequila might be a nice combination in this cake. I give you:

Margarita Olive Oil Bundt Cake



(adopted Food & Wine Magazine) The original recipe used Pasolivo's Citrus olive oil.


  • 5 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar (combination of raw sugar and about 1-2 TBSP lemon-lime simple syrup)
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest
  • 1 cup Pasolivo Citrus olive oil (subbed 1/4 C Pasolivo lime olive oil, 1/4 bergamot olive oil; 1/2 C first cold-pressed organic olive oil)
  • 2 cups cake flour (out of cake flour, oops. I used substitution of 2 cups All Purpose flour. Replace 6 TBSP flour with 6 TBSP cornstarch)
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt


  1. Preheat the oven to 325° and butter and flour a 10-cup bundt pan. In a bowl, using a handheld electric mixer, beat the eggs with the sugar and orange zest at medium-high speed until smooth.
  2. (If you sub AP flour/cornstarch for cake flour, separate the eggs and beat the whites to lighten the batter. Keep the frothy egg whites separate and incorporate after the olive oil has been incorporated.)
  3. Gradually beat in the olive oil until creamy, about 2 minutes.
  4. In a small bowl, whisk the cake flour with the baking powder and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the egg mixture in 3 batches, beating on medium speed between additions.
  5. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake in the center of the oven for about 1 hour, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.
  6. Let cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then invert onto a rack. (see below)
  7. Let the cake cool completely before cutting into slices and serving.

    The olive oil cake can be kept in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 4 days.

Tequila Simple Syrup - an optional but highly recommended step!

  1. Mix simple syrup, Herradura Tequila, agave syrup. Warm to combine.
  2. As cake is cooling in pan, poke all over with a skewer and drizzle Tequila syrup.
  3. Then you flip cake onto cake plate, poke again on the top and drizzle remaining Tequila syrup.
  4. Dust with confectioners sugar.


Can you see the places where I poked this with a skewer?


Remember the Jello Cakes that were all the rage in the 70's? I remember these large sheet cakes with neon jello

Ode to a Hand Mixer

  It’s not very often that you grow attached to a beat up old appliance. But this Black and Decker hand mixer has been with me so long, I think it’s taken on some greater significance.

black and decker hand mixer









Never mind that the cord has some live wires exposed in one spot where I apparently let it rest too long on something pretty hot. Never mind it only cost me $12.99 some 20 plus years ago. This little guy represents lots of what I love, what I’ve lost and what I’ve gained.

I distinctly remember when I bought this, and where. You see, I’d moved to Boston with the hopes of getting into law school and living on my own, in my very own apartment. I was Mary Tyler Moore, minus the beret. Only girls that came of age in the same general time period as I will know what that means, but suffice to say we had very few images of single women on their own. Even though she called her boss “Mr. Grant” and he called her “Mary” and she cried at the drop of a hat (or beret), she gave us some sort of idea that we could live on our own, have good job and nutty friends.

So I moved to Boston to become a lawyer and change the world. Or at least make a life. I’d found my first apartment with roommates in Chelsea. This was before Chelsea was cool. It was crazy and scary and at the very end of the subway line and then some. There was a bus from the subway line ("Maverick Station", appropriately enough) that dropped me off right in front of the beat down, walk-up where I rented a room.

The apartment was an old floor-through with two cheating, lying roommates (Christian Scientist lesbians whose family believed they shared the apartment and nothing more). Throw in some mice, an abusive family upstairs, and absentee yuppie landlords who refused to fix the smoke alarm that inexplicably, but regularly, jolted us out of bed at at 3 or 4 AM; and you can see I was thrilled to find my own place, in town, no mice.

It was an “alcove studio” which is real estate-speak for “large closet with kitchen”. Essentially, I had real kitchen (tiny, yet functional); and a single room with an alcove for the “office”. This consisted of a door placed over two file cabinets for a fine, large desk. The futon couch made the one room easy to convert from a living room to a bedroom and back again.

Furnishing the apartment was tough on the budget I had - but luckily there was a Tru Value hardware store around the corner. I love hardware stores. The promise of finding the right tool or practical solution to any household problem is so enticing. This one was the college town variety which was perfect for my needs. We were close enough to Boston College that when students were poised to invade, the Tru Value stocked up on cheap student-apartment types of things. Laundry baskets, bathroom organizers, hand mixers and irons. I think I was the only one to buy the latter two.

shockingly durable

Shockingly Durable








My insistence on a “real” kitchen was anchored in the fact that I cook. No matter there was no place to sit and eat (the steamer trunk coffee table in front of the folded up futon worked fine) - I was going to cook, even if I was starting law school. So the $12.99 price point of the Black and Decker hand mixer was just perfect. The mixer represented a “real” kitchen to me and meant I was really making a home for myself.  Some inexpensive dishes at the Crate and Barrel outlet store rounded out the ensemble as I recall.

To this day, I can’t for the life of me figure out how Black and Decker can survive if it makes such cheap mixers that last this long. Haven’t they heard of planned obsolescence ? Don’t they want me to need a new mixer sometime in this century?

This little guy is lightweight, stores easily and has three speeds: Slow, Mix, and Whip, I think. Only mine has the late addition of “shock” mode, though. It has survived several boyfriends, law school, two bar exams, more jobs than I care to count over three distinct careers (or is it four?), and Thanksgivings each year since 1985.

It’s helped me whip egg whites for Pavlovas and cream for pumpkin pies (no Cool Whip has ever entered my kitchen.) I’ve mixed cake and cookie batters and who knows what else over the years. Every time I take it out, I make a mental note to watch the bare part of the cord, then I say a little prayer that it will work one more time. And it always does.

I’m not ready to buy a Kitchen Aid and have no room or budget for that, nor a Vitamix. Hell, I don’t even have budget to buy another hand mixer.

Mostly, I’m not ready to let go of the last vestige of my new independent life in Boston. I’m just not ready to relinquish that wonderful little hand mixer that seems to say to me each time I take it out, “You’re gonna make it, after all.”

[Cue beret toss.]

[And fade.]

MTM Strawberry Buttermilk Cake









(adapted from Gourmet June 2009)


  • 3/4 C all purpose flour
  • 1/4 C whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 stick unsalted butter softened
  • 2/3 C plus 1 1/2 TBSP sugar + grated orange zest, divided (turbinado is great for the topping sugar)
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp orange flower water (optional but really makes it sing)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 C well-shaken lowfat buttermilk
  • 1 C fresh strawberries (if early like mine, add a little dusting of confectioner's sugar to sweeten)











  1. Preheat oven to 400, rack in middle. Butter and flour one 9" round cake pan.
  2. Whisk together flour, baking soda, powder, salt.
  3. Cream butter and sugar till light and fluffy. (I used "mix" setting on the shockingly durable B&D hand mixer.)
  4. Add vanilla, egg and orange flower water.
  5. At low speed, mix in flour mixture and buttermilk in alternating thirds. Just till combined.
  6. Spoon batter into prepared pan. Smooth top, add berries and sprinkle with remaining sugar.
  7. Bake until golden and tester comes out clean, about 25 minutes.
  8. Cool in pan 10 minutes, turn onto rack, cool to warm turn onto plate.

sb cake closeup