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Eat with caution: Recipes for an allergy

Thursday, April 01, 1999

By Kathleen Ganster

Imagine being a teen-ager who can't drink milkshakes with her fries, eat cheese on her pizza or have ice cream with her birthday cake.

That's the dilemma of 18-year-old Nicole Rosaci, who suffers from a severe milk allergy. But instead of bemoaning the fact, the Elwood City teen has turned the allergy into a plus and made it the focus of her senior project at Lincoln Senior High School. For this required project, Rosaci is creating a milkless recipe collection and testing the recipes, along with her mom, Cindy. "I've learned a lot," said Rosaci.

According to Cindy Rosaci, Nicole has always had a milk allergy, but in the last six years it has gotten much more severe. Nicole, who also suffers from asthma, will have an asthma-like reaction when she eats food made with any type of milk product. "My throat starts to close up and it's hard to breathe," said Nicole.

Because of her allergy and asthma, she always carries an inhaler.

"If I pick up a jug of milk, my skin will break out in hives," said Nicole.

Over the last few years, Nicole and Cindy have become label experts. "I've read a lot of labels. You wouldn't believe the foods that have milk of some sort or another in them," said Nicole.

Besides the obvious milk or milk-related products such as butter, cheeses, yogurt, ice cream, whipped cream and chocolate, the Rosacis have been surprised to find milk in things like pretzels and ice tea mix. "We have to watch everything," said Cindy.

Nicole is cautious about what foods she does eat. She usually takes her lunch to school and when ordering in a restaurant is extremely specific. "My husband and I have to be very firm in a restaurant. Sometimes it gets very frustrating because they don't take us seriously. It isn't just a matter of taste, she will become very ill," said Cindy.

Nicole has also learned what foods can be used as milk substitutes. She often uses rice milk to drink and in recipes. "My friends can't tell the difference between chocolate milk and the carob rice milk. I use the vanilla rice milk on my cereal and to drink," said Nicole.

She also worries about getting enough calcium in her diet, which is so important to teen-age girls. "I take calcium pills and try to eat foods high in calcium. The milk substitutes have calcium, too," said Nicole.

All seniors at Elwood City's Lincoln High must complete a senior project. Nicole decided to put her research and label reading to good use - a collection of milkless recipes. She estimates that she has collected and tested between 30 and 50 recipes. Her mentor for her senior project is also her Family and Consumer Science teacher, Cindy Cirelli.

Cirelli has more than just a teacher-student interest in Nicole's project. She too is allergic to milk. "There are many people who are lactose intolerant. Nicole and I are not intolerant, we are actually allergic. I'm not just uncomfortable or don't feel well. I get hives, itching, that sort of reaction," said Cirelli, "Mine became worse three years ago."

While Rosaci has researched and experimented with substitutes for milk, Cirelli prefers to just avoid dairy products. "We have two different routes. I tend to be more conservative and eliminate the foods. Nicole uses health foods and alternatives," she said.

In addition to collecting and tasting recipes for her project, Nicole will make a presentation to a panel of community members and write a research paper. She also has a portfolio, including a video of a speech she made in one of her classes, where she made a milk-free pumpkin pie for her classmates.

It has been difficult for both Rosaci and Cirelli to adapt to their milkless lives. "I've always loved cheese," said Cirelli. "And at Halloween and Easter when everyone else gets chocolate, I feel sorry for myself."

For a teen, there are other pressures. "I hate standing out in a crowd. I went for pizza with my friends. They would order a pizza with cheese and I stuck out," said Rosaci, "but now they order either a pizza without cheese or half without cheese. My friends have been really great."

As Rosaci visited potential colleges for next year, one of the things she and her family did was interview the cafeteria staff and nutritionists at the colleges. "One college sort of ignored the seriousness of the allergy," said Cindy Rosaci. "They said, 'Well, can't she eat salads?' That made me angry. Nicole will attend California University of Pennsylvania in the fall, in part for the support they will give her with her allergy.

"They were great," said Nicole.

It is an allergy that she will have the rest of her life, so Nicole feels that she may as well make the best of it. "I've just adapted. It could be a lot worse," she said.

Kathleen Ganster is a Hampton-based free-lance writer. She kitchen tested the accompanying recipes.


1 (10-oince) box frozen spinach
2 eggs
1 pound medium firm tofu
Parsley (we used approximately 2 teaspoons, fresh chopped)
Lasagna noodles (we used nine)
Tomato sauce of your choice (we used 15 ounces)

Thaw, cook, cool and drain a box of spinach.

In a bowl, beat eggs. Add tofu, parsley and the spinach. In a 13-by-9-by-2-inch baking dish, put some sauce in the dish, then a layer of uncooked lasagna noodles on top, then layer with half of the tofu mixture. Cover with sauce, add another layer of noodles, a layer of the remaining tofu mixture, add final layer of noodles, and cover with sauce. Cover the pan with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour. Let set 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

Nicole Rosaci

Nicole's Kitchen Sink Cupcakes

2/3 cup Parkay spread
3 eggs
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk substitute (we used vanilla rice milk)
1 teaspoon vanilla
11/2 cups sugar
21/2 cups flour
31/2 teaspoons double-acting baking powder
Sprinkles, food coloring

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Blend together Parkay and sugar. Add eggs and blend mixture. Combine flour, salt, and baking powder. Add alternately with mixture of milk substitute and vanilla. At this point, you can also add shredded coconut, tofu and/or honey to the mixture. Nicole has made the recipe with ALL of the ingredients. Add as many sprinkles as you wish and mix. While mixing, also add food coloring of any color. Pour into cupcake papers and cook approximately 8 to 15 minutes at 350 degrees. Makes 6 to 9 cupcakes.

Nicole Rosaci

Pizza Majestic

3 cups flour
1 package yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup oil
Italian seasoning
Pizza Sauce (we used 11/2 cups)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Put flour in large bowl. Make a well in center of flour.

Dissolve yeast in warm water, then pour into well. Add sugar and salt outside of well. Mix with a fork. When dough begins to stick together, add the oil. Knead together. Add oil to hands to keep dough from sticking to hands. (You may need to add more warm water depending on dryness.) Place a dishtowel over bowl and let rise for 5 to 10 minutes in a warm place. When dough is ready, spread onto an oiled pizza pan. After you begin to spread dough out, flip dough over. Spread onto pan, and sprinkle with Italian seasoning. Spread with pizza sauce and any milkless toppings you desire. Bake 18 to 20 minutes.

Nicole Rosaci

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