Sisters Ginger and Frances Park are co-owners of Chocolate Chocolate, the nearly 30-year-old confectionary shop near Farragut North. They’re also mom and aunt, respectively, of Justin Young, a 15-year-old high school student.
But there’s a problem for this kid in a candy store: He’s allergic to practically everything in it.
“The first time we brought him here, he broke out in hives,” says Ginger, 50, who was shocked to learn that although she’d followed all of her doctor’s orders about what to eat during her pregnancy and how to introduce her baby to solid foods, Justin — then 1 — tested allergic to a lengthy list of items, including dairy, nuts, eggs and sesame.
That meant that not only were his mom’s truffles trouble, but so was Korean food, which frequently uses sesame oil. (The family is Korean-American.)
“Emotionally, I was a wreck,” Ginger says. At the time, she didn’t really understand food allergies. She didn’t know where to turn for comfort. And she didn’t have a clue of what to cook.
That feeling of helplessness led the sisters, who have co-authored a memoir as well as several children’s books, to create a treat for parents and relatives in the same position. “Allergies, Away!” ($15, St. Martin’s) is based on their experiences over the past decade striving to keep Justin growing rather than swelling up. The cookbook comes peppered with tales of visits to the allergist, family anecdotes and, of course, recipes.
“There’s so much fear and anxiety out there,” says Frances, 58. “When they read about our journey, it’s calming and directive.”
And it’s often funny. It was dessert desperation that really got Ginger experimenting in the kitchen. Justin had been content eating whatever Mom put in front of him until the day friends came over and Ginger presented them with a plate of cookies made from an allergen-free mix. “That’s the worst cookie in the world,” was the review from a fellow first-grader.
Ginger vowed to make a better baked good, so she combed through various recipes looking for potential egg substitutions. She found a winner when she combined cornstarch with water and applesauce.
That experience convinced Ginger that she could come up with swaps for nearly anything she wanted to cook, even though she had no formal culinary training.
“I felt like a mad scientist,” Ginger says. The task was daunting at times — and there were flops, particularly while developing a dairy-free cheesecake — but she enjoyed finding ways for the whole family to eat what they liked together, whether it was bulgogi, pizza or cornbread muffins.
One upside to cutting out dairy is that many of the meal makeovers in the book are much lower in fat than the traditional dishes. The lasagna oozes vegan cheese and tofu, the potato salad clings together with vegan mayonnaise, and even the truffles are made with soy creamer and soy butter, making for a less sinful snack.
Health is critical to their family, Frances says, because they lost their father suddenly at 56 to hypertension. That’s why very few of the recipes call for salt.
The sisters expect to stick around for a long time and see Justin “grow out” of his allergies.
“He’s still never had a single bonbon from our shop,” Ginger says, but these days, he can visit Chocolate Chocolate without breaking into hives. He also recently got his doctor’s OK to eat cooked milk and egg.
He’s so happy with Mom’s cooking, however, that he doesn’t see a reason for her to change any recipes.
“There are times I forget I have allergies,” Justin says.
Party Party: Try some goodies from “Allergies, Away!” at Ginger and Frances Park’s book-launch party on Thursday. The bash will run from 5 to 7 p.m. at Chocolate Chocolate (1130 Connecticut Ave. NW). While waiting to get books signed, revelers can enjoy sparkling wine and Ginger’s homemade dairy-free truffles.
Recipe from “Allergies, Away!”
Panko Chicken Tenders
3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
¼ cup soy butter, melted
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon soy sauce
¼ cup Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon vegan mayonnaise
½ cup dairy-free panko bread crumbs
½ cup shredded vegan mozzarella cheese
1 tablespoon dried parsley flakes
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 9X11-inch pan with nonstick cooking spray.
Slice the chicken breasts into 3-inch strips about ½ inch thick. Set aside.
In a large bowl, mix the melted soy butter, garlic, soy sauce, mustard and vegan mayo. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, mix the panko bread crumbs, vegan mozzarella cheese, parsley and pepper. Set aside.
Coat the chicken pieces in the mustard sauce on both sides and roll in the panko mixture. Place in the prepared pan. Bake for 45 minutes.
Yields 4 servings.