Not quite understanding the question, I asked Anxious Mom to repeat herself, which she did emphasizing the word sunflower. “Do you use sunflowers in the bakery?”
Frantically combing my brain, attempting to visualize what might be peppered with sunflowers- blooms or seeds, my immediate response was, “I don’t believe so.” To avoid confusion, I added my traditional disclaimer; “If we’re talking about an allergy, we are an open kitchen, using shared equipment and we do use nuts, but no peanuts. We are peanut free.” I took a breath, debating whether or not to hand the phone off to an unsuspecting barista.
It is early in the morning and caught off guard, I’m trying to envision our giant Hobart mixers, bowls fitted with paddle attachments, filled to the brim with sunflowers. Seeds and petals are gloriously strewn across the checkerboard linoleum, a perfect color palate of brown and yellow underfoot.
“I’m new to this, “Anxious Mom interrupts my daydream. Taking a long sip of lukewarm latte I’m dying to say, “I’m new to this one, too” but I don’t.
“What is it exactly you are allergic to?" I ask. “Sunflower seeds? Vitamin D? I’m not quite following…”
Mom interrupts me, in a not-so-subtle, not-quite-but-almost-patronizing tone. “Sunflower lecithin” she states. “Possibly. It’s not definitive, but very possibly.”
“I see.” I’m lying. “Is there something I can help you with? Something specific?”
“If I wanted to order a cake…” Anxious Mom trails off. Hating to do it, I cut to the chase.
“Would you like to order a cake?”
“Do you use sunflower lecithin?”
“Not to my knowledge.” It is quite possible I missed the Know Your Sunflower Lecithin Ingredients lecture, but I needn’t worry. There’s an opportunity here to learn more than I ever wanted to know.
Anxious Mom continues her spiel. “Soy lecithin doesn’t taste good; have you ever tasted it? Apparently some places use sunflower lecithin instead of soy. And if my daughter has a sensitivity to sunflower lecithin…” I’m pondering both the taste appeal of one lecithin over another and the use of the phrase ‘some places.’ I’m mildly offended but primarily losing interest.
The mention of lecithin propels me back to the early 1970s and a book written by nutritionist Adelle Davis, Let’s Eat Right to Keep Fit. Somewhere in that book is the mention of lecithin. I know this because my mother had a copy of Adelle’s reference guide within easy reach above her desk in the kitchen. Soon after that book arrived, my mother began toting home mysterious looking vitamin bottles in brown paper bags from what we called, the Health Food Store. Lecithin was among these, along with twist-tied bags of wheat germ and Tiger’s Milk Peanut Butter Carob bars. My nose twitches just thinking about the musty smell of that store and the macramé planters hanging in the smoky windows. My memories are of no use to Anxious Mom.
We agree that if a birthday cake is on the horizon for daughter with potential but non-definitive Sunflower Lecithin Compromise Syndrome, we will revisit the options. By the way, according to the calendar staring me in the face we are booked for this weekend. I ring off hoping someone else answers the phone when Mom calls back.
This weekend, festivities kick off in celebration of Chinese New Year, the Year of the Rooster. From a pie perspective, this holiday is more about rice flour cakes, almond cookies, egg custard tarts and eight treasure puddings. There have been various dessert recipes encouraging creative use of wonton wrappers, but the idea of apple pie masquerading as a wonton or a spring roll simply doesn’t call to me. A feeble attempt to locate kumquats (a personal favorite) from the local Whole Foods proves futile. What I really want to do is find a dessert that incorporates the huge wedge of marble halvah that I recently smuggled home from Toronto.
Later that afternoon, seeking yet not finding inspiration, I peer into my home freezer hoping for a sign. On first glance there is none. From behind a bag of frozen corn, a previously opened half-filled box of phyllo dough is eyeing me. The phyllo is probably best served as a savory component, but these are desperate dessert times and I don’t want to go out again. Setting the box of phyllo on the kitchen counter, I wait for it to come to room temperature. This gives me plenty of time to scan the list of ingredients. Good news in the Year of the Rooster! This box of phyllo dough is Sunflower Lecithin free.