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Shortcuts to allergen-friendly summer treats 

The 100-degree days have left me exhausted. Between the hot weather, chores and running the kids around to lessons and play dates, I'm worn out by the end of the day.

With two food-allergic kids and a husband to feed, it's stretches like these that make me hungry for shortcuts in the kitchen.

Here are some allergen-friendly reliables that are making a comeback in my home.

Taco Tuesdays (and Mondays, Thursdays and any other day of the week). When I'm feeling lazy or in a time crunch, nothing hits the spot like tacos. I simply fry some seasoned ground beef and fill a six-cup muffin tin with toppings such as shredded lettuce, tomatoes, salsa, (dairy-free) sour cream, cheese and guacamole. My kids love lining up to customize their tacos at the "taco bar," and I only have one extra pan to wash instead of multiple bowls. (This also works great as a topping bar for baked potatoes, nachos or chili.)

As a bonus, tacos and their toppings pack a protein, veggies and dairy all into one. I usually add a side of refried beans or black beans and rice to round out the meal.

If you have gluten sensitivities, you can easily use corn shells or tortillas and use a gluten-free taco seasoning or make your own.

The grocery stores and farmers markets are brimming with fresh berries and melons this time of year. We subscribe to a CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture), meaning we get a weekly delivery of produce. It can sometimes be hard to use up all of the goodies.

To prolong the life of strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, etc. by up to two weeks, I soak them for a few minutes in a solution of five cups water to a 1/2-cup of vinegar. Drain them in a colander and pat completely dry. The vinegar does not affect the taste. Store in an open bowl in the fridge.

Who needs ice cream? Another allergen-friendly way to make use of summer fruits is to make sorbets or popsicles. I like to use frozen berries to jump-start the chilling process. I pour one bag of frozen berries into my blender or food processor and pulse with a gentle stream of orange juice or fruit punch (approximately 2 to 3 tablespoons juice to one cup of fruit) until smooth. Packaged frozen fruit has some sugar added to it already, so it's best to taste before adding more. Eat immediately or freeze.

My kids also love to make freshly squeezed lemonade into popsicles. Juice 7 to 8 large lemons to make 1 1/2 cups of juice. In a small saucepan, bring 1 1/2–1 3/4 cup sugar and 1 cup of water to a boil and stir to form a simple syrup. Refrigerate and chill syrup.

Stir chilled syrup, and combine 7 cups of water and lemon juice together. Serve over ice or pour in a cup, put in a popsicle stick or spoon and freeze for 4 hours.

Let them eat cake. With dairy, nuts and eggs all on my daughter's no-no list, I have struggled for years to find a cake recipe that replicates the taste and texture of traditional cakes. I recently came across a website full of testimonials for a soda cake. Take any flavor of a safe boxed cake mix and add one can of diet or regular soda to combine. Spray a baking pan and bake per the box's instructions. The soda replaces any egg and oil and enables the cake to rise.

Use any combination of cake and soda flavors to achieve the flavor you want. I use 7UP to keep the original flavor of any cake. Others have suggested adding Coke, Cherry Coke or root beer to a chocolate cake mix; orange soda to white cake mix for an orange-flavored cake; cream soda to yellow or spice cake mix; etc.

Pillsbury makes a dairy-free Creamy Supreme Chocolate Fudge Frosting that tastes great. If your kids can have dairy, try topping the cake with Cool Whip. Shake red and blue sprinkles over it for a festive Fourth of July look.

Alternatively, make a cobbler by pouring a bag of frozen peaches in a 9-by-13 inch pan, sprinkling a box of white or yellow cake mix over the peaches and pouring 24 ounces of Diet Sprite or 7UP over it. Do not stir. Bake, covered with foil, for about 45 minutes (according to temperature listed on the box) and bake 15 minutes more. Optional: Top with Cool Whip.

And last, but not least, put a fun spin on fruit kabobs for your Fourth of July celebrations by threading fruits such as strawberries, cherries and red seedless grapes with star-shaped, puffy marshmallows and blueberries. It's a quick, healthy, allergen-friendly treat pleasing to kid and adult palates.

Joyce Clark Hicks can be reached at

This article appeared in print with the headline "No sweat."


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