Yes, World. There Are Spices That Aren’t Onion and Garlic.

If you’re a vampire, you might have to stay away from garlic.  This post would most certainly apply to you.

Me?  Well, I’m not a vampire, but for a while you may have thought I was Buffy or something because I threw garlic in EVERYTHING.  It was my go-to.  I probably ate more garlic than I drank water.  I put it on meat, on potatoes, on veggies, on rice, on pasta, on anything.  So you can imagine my disbelief when garlic was added to my “allergen list.”

[Before you say, “if you ate it all the time how are you not dead?” let me remind you that just because I tested positive for it doesn’t mean I always have an averse reaction, and when I’m done with this cleanse – only ten more days of stage 1! – I may very well find that my reaction to garlic is tolerable].

Onions were added, too, and while I don’t always cook with fresh onions, I’d throw on onion powder roughly 70% of the time I’d do garlic.  So a lot of times.

I’ve obviously totally reformed my cooking habits and I’m here to say you can cook without onion and garlic.  There is an answer!  Vampires unite!  Ahoy! Exclamation!

Check out my dinner tonight, an amalgam of leftovers from the past couple of days.

Rosemary/thyme chicken, Spicy green beans, Millet and Pinto Beans

In the back, we have millet and pinto beans in wine sauce.  Next up, green and wax beans with cumin, turmeric, salt, and pepper (simply buy the packaged beans, stir fry in an oil of your choosing with the above spices until the beans are tender) and chicken with rosemary, thyme, and paprika (Add an oil of your choosing, rosemary, thyme, paprika, salt, and pepper to chicken, cook for about 30 minutes or until the juices flow clear [minus the paprika] on 400).

Delicious.  Savory and spicy.  Flavorful.  And totally, 100% vampire-safe.

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Recipe: Millet, Beans, and Wine Sauce

The benefit of not being able to eat tomatoes or mustard or onion or garlic means I have to get creative with my spicing and sauces.  And honestly, it’s not any more difficult to use interesting spices than it is to use the go-tos.  This recipe I made tonight tasted pretty awesome, and while the jury is still out as to whether I ate it successfully (I had minor ear itching and my throat doesn’t feel exactly normal, but it’s also pouring and my 37/40 environmental allergens might be acting up as they tend to in the rain), it’s good enough to share.

(I was too hungry to take pictures…maybe tomorrow if I eat the leftovers for lunch/dinner.

Millet (1 cup uncooked, yields 4 servings)

Pinto Beans

Red wine sauce

Salt

Pepper

Oregano

Thyme

Cook the millet – for those unfamiliar, millet is a grain (gluten free!) that’s not unlike couscous.  It’s pretty delicious.  You basically toast the millet in a sauce pan with some oil until it’s slightly crispy and a little tanner (5 minutes, give or take, I don’t think you can overtoast it).  Then, you boil 2 cups of water and some salt and oil, add 1 cup of millet, and simmer covered for 25-30 minutes (or follow the directions on the package).  It’s cooking rice, essentially, plus some toasting.

When the millet is all cooked aka the water is absorbed, toss it into another pan and throw in a 15oz can of pinto beans.  I’m guessing any bean would work, and I imagine adding cooked lentils would be good too.  Stir.  Add in wine sauce, to taste – I gauge this by the millet turning a gold tinted red color, where the sauce spreads evenly.  Add in the spices.  If you can eat onion and garlic, by all means, throw them in there.  Basil, sage, and rosemary probably work too.  I just chose oregano and thyme for the hell of it.  Stir.  Eat.

Easy, right?  And yet…wine sauce makes it sound so gourmet.  Especially when you serve it with grilled lamb riblets spiced with dry mint and rosemary.

Sometimes, Everything is Poison

The experience of social dining is totally strange for someone with severe food allergies.  I mean, I guess I don’t quite know what the average dining experience is like, though in the years my allergies were less severe, I think I got a bit of a taste for it.  Sure, I kept my plate separate from that of my friends, and I was always wary of leafy greens, but now that so many foods are possible cross contaminators, I’m even more aware of the strangeness of the social dining experience.

People tend to bond over mealtimes.  I don’t know if this a thousand percent true in all cultures, but in Jewish culture and American culture and Hollywood culture, it’s totally the norm to have meals or meet for dinner or grab lunch/drinks.  On a typical Saturday, I tend to observe the Sabbath by attending a feast with a group of friends or family. And as you can imagine, very rarely if ever (unless I host) am I able to eat all the foods on the table.  And it occurred to me this past Saturday how utterly terrifying it is to be at a meal with multiple poisons.

The meal I attended had perfectly normal food.  A traditional stew called “cholent” comprised of buckwheat, potatoes, sweet potatoes, tomato sauce, beef, and spices.  Bread.  Hummus.  Cashews.  Tri-color pasta salad.  All totally normal foods.  All foods with components to which I tested over a “3” on my skin test, meaning that I should do my best to avoid contact with them altogether.

I brought my own food, of course.  Chicken drumsticks with rosemary, oregano, thyme, salt, pepper, and grapeseed oil.  Quinoa.  Roasted eggplant with salt and pepper.  Green beans stir fried in cumin and turmeric.  Delicious, really.  But as I ate my food on the corner of the table delicately balanced so that it wasn’t touching any of the nearby poisons, I was terrified that something would accidentally fall in.  In fact, the previous night at Shabbat dinner, a leaf of lettuce fell onto my plate as my friend served herself some salad.  Totally normal, totally okay, and totally terrifying.  Because if my food touched that food, it would be contaminated and I’d likely get sick.  Not die, not even lose my breath (though it’s possible), but get sick, and given that I can’t really eat packaged foods, go hungry.

Dining with others is like walking on a minefield.  There are dangers everywhere, and you’re aware of them, aware enough to do your best to avoid them, but one misstep and KABOOM.  And it’s a weird minefield, because everyone else on it is totally immune to mines.  Like they have special boots or something that allow them to walk carelessly over a giant mine and JUST KEEP GOING, no harm no foul, not even flinching.  And you know that if you take one step to the right, one small tap of your toe, the bomb will go off.  And they don’t see it.  They don’t notice.  So you navigate alone.

Another friends with food allergies and I once shared some tips and tricks for communal eating with a non-allergic friend, and he found the below pretty interesting, which I found interesting because it’s completely rote for me.  And, I thought, really noticeable, so I was surprised he’d never noticed.  But I was glad to see I wasn’t the only with the below rules.

  • If you’re feeling brave enough to eat from a buffet, always take food from the center of the plate.  And preferable with a new utensil, because people are more likely to have taken from the outside and touched that food and the utensil may have touched someone’s plate.
  • Always hit the buffet before anyone else.  Discreetly, but be the first one at each item and take enough so that you don’t have to return for seconds.
  • Keep a watchful eye on everyone around you and don’t trust anyone when they say, “But I didn’t touch X.”  They didn’t consciously touch it.  But if you keep close tabs on them, you’ll notice they touch their food even if they’re using a fork and knife.  Maybe a small graze only, but a touch.
  • Look at each piece of cutlery before you use it.  Scan for dirt, dried food, etc.  People don’t always clean dishes perfectly, caterers certainly don’t, and things can fall into plasticware.  Similarly, take plates from the middle of the stack.  You don’t know what’s touched the top one.
  • When pouring a drink, try to find an unopened bottle.  An opened bottle implies someone else touched the cap.  That person also likely ate something you can’y have, and they likely touched that food.  You touch the bottle, your hands touch your food, and boom, sick.

It’s unreasonable to expect that other people are aware of what they’re touching or eating.  They see food.  People with allergies see tiny little mines ready to explode.  When the average person handles food, he or she is handling something normal and not scary and isn’t paying much attention.  The average person has no idea that there’s poison around.  The allergic person isn’t aware of anything else.

Hunger Games Inspired Lentil Curry

I’m getting a little sick of chicken, quinoa, corn, and, millet.  That weariness combined with my newfound Pinterest account inspired me to be a little more inventive with my dinner tonight.  Of course, I can’t really find a recipe that meets my exact specifications, so I combined two recipes and threw in some other ideas from my palate’s instincts to come up with the following recipe for lentil curry.  Please be aware that I don’t measure anything when I cook – a trick I learned from my aunt who is an incredible cook and answers the question, “What’s in this?” with “Things I found in the cupboard that I don’t remember.”  So I use my eyes to see if it looks appetizing, feel how the food stirs, and smell things.  It also means fewer dishes, because you don’t have to be busy washing teaspoons for every spice.

1 cup red lentils

1-3 sweet potatoes, depending on size (should fill a large sauce pan when cut into circles)

~1/4 of a 29oz (large) Libby’s canned pumpkin

1 medium can black beans

oil

cumin

salt

pepper

cayenne pepper

Cook the lentils as you normally would (follow directions on package, usually boil 2 cups of water & 1 cup lentils, simmer for 30 minutes once it hits the boil, optional salt)

In a separate sauce pan, saute sweet potatoes (cut into thin circles)  in an oil of your choosing (necessity made me choose grapeseed oil, but I think olive oil would have been nicer).  Add spices.  When they’re just turning soft, add in the black beans and pumpkin.  Stir.  Try to time it so that the lentils will be nearly done when you’ve got a throughly mixed sweet potato/bean/pumpkin combo.  Add the lentils.  Stir.  You’ll probably want to add more salt and pepper now that the there’s more food in the pan.  When it looks thick and curry-like (aka you’re ready to eat it based on how it looks), you’re done.

I guess you could serve it over rice, but I can’t eat rice, so I didn’t do that. But a few weeks ago, I would’ve eaten it with rice, fo’ sho’.

For people who aren’t allergic to the same foods I am, or for people who want to learn how to transform existing recipes into a doable food, the recipes that inspired me are:

Quick Lentil Curry

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 clovegarlic, crushed
  • 300g pumpkin, cut into 3cm chunks
  • 4-6 baby potatoes, quartered
  • 400g can chopped tomatoes, undrained
  • 400g can brown lentils, drained
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander leaves

And this recipe from THE HUNGER GAMES cookbook (yes, such a thing exists, and yes, it’s awesome, and yes, I did eat this with a side of lamb chops just like Katniss would have):

Greasy Sae’s Black Bean Pumpkin Soup

4 tbs olive oil

2 medium yellow onions, finely chopped

4 cups vegetable stock (when I could eat this, I made my own by boiling carrots and garlic in water)

2 cans black beans

2 cans pumpkin puree

1 cup heavy cream (I omitted this when I made the soup back in the day, because I was eating it with a meat meal and you can’t have cream and meat in the world of kosher)

1 tbs curry powder

1 tbs garlic salt

1 1/2 tsp cumin

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

1/2 tsp hot sauce (I omitted this originally too because I hate hot sauce)

Sea salt, to taste

1/2 cup green onion, chopped for garnish.

Heat a large stockpot over medium-high heat.  Add olive oil.  When oil is hot, add yellow onions.  Saute onions for 7 minutes,  Stir in stock, beans, and pumpkin puree until ingredients are fully mixed.  Bring soup to a boil and reduce heat to medium low.  Add cream, curry powder, garlic, salt, cumin, cayenne pepper, and hot sauce.  Add salt to taste.  Simmer for 7 minutes.  Serve garnished with chopped green onions.

 

Camp.

I spent the weekend as a counselor on a weekend retreat for Jewish high school students.  It was basically camp for a weekend – living in bunks, communal meals, grass, lots of activities and not as much sleep, etc. (Well, more sleep than I’ve been getting, because those steroids from a few days ago came with a side effect of 48 hours of ENERGY that even extra doses of benedryl with my zyrtec couldn’t stop.  But yeah, not so much sleep if you are a normal person).

I hated camp growing up.  I always convinced myself I didn’t, and went back to the same camp for 7 summers, but I spent most of the time wishing I was home or sleeping through activities.  But this isn’t about traumatic camp memories.  It’s about going back to a childhood experience and reliving it as an adult.

That’s basically been my life these last couple of weeks.  It’s becoming clearer to me that I’ve done this whole “allergic to a ton of foods instead of just 20” thing before.  I did it for 12 years, as most of my allergies went away when I was around 12.  But for about 12 years, the only fruits I could eat were apples, pears, and grapes, the only veggies carrots and tomatoes maybe zuchinni but I don’t remember, and then a bunch of starches – pasta, rice, potatoes – and meat and cheese.  Things gradually crept in over the years but primarily, until 12, I ate cereal for breakfast, pasta with cheese or sauce for lunch, and meat and some side of starch for dinner.  And it was hard, but it was also the only thing I knew how to do.  I remember seeing a 3 year old order olive pizza in a restaurant one time when I was a teenager, and I was blown away because I didn’t know children could eat olives.  I couldn’t, I don’t even know that I knew what an olive was until way later (I still couldn’t pick a nectarine out of a pile of fruits, consequence of staying away from things as a child), but I always thought toppings on pizzas were for adults because I couldn’t eat them, but my parents and siblings could (well, my dad could if he were able to eat cheese, but I suppose on cheeseless pizza…).  I learned that most kids just eat food and when they can chew and swallow without causing a scene, they can eat whatever.

I still don’t get the concept of “eat whatever” without reading ingredient labels, but I’d grown accustomed to eating a wider variety of foods these last 12 years.  And now that I’m back to a super strict diet, I’m remembering that I did this before…and it’s both harder and easier than the last time.

Things that are harder:

1. Chocolate isn’t a fantasy.  It was my greatest fantasy (specifically, chocolate covered lox because bagels and lox were culturally important and chocolate is just important in general, especially to kids).  I now know what chocolate tastes like, and it is heaven, and it cures all ailments, and is the greatest.  And so watching kids eat brownies for snack was excruciating in a way it hadn’t been back when I was in camp and Jewishbrand Oreo-style cookies were the afternoon snack and I could only participate on the days when they had the vanilla ones, too.  I’d watch my peers eat cookies and drink orange juice for about half an hour every day in camp and I’d be bored and jealous of the activity, but at least I didn’t know that I loved chocolate.

2. The wheat thing is new, and having to experiment with yeastless, yolkless, wheatless challah recipes every week so I can make the traditional blessing over bread for Shabbat is both a waste of time, messy, and not easy.  I’ve tried two recipes and both times was sorely disappointed.  The rye bread I tried was like thicker melba toast and not quite bread, and the millet bread I tried was too cakey to call bread until I added enough flour and then it was too floury to call food.

3. As a kid, my mom was amazing and cooked food for me, so even though I couldn’t eat certain things, I didn’t have to think about it much.  Did my mom approve it?  Then I could eat it.  If not, no.  Now, I live across the country, and I’m sure she’d help me if she were here (and she does by phone on a constant basis), but thinking of recipes and shopping for ingredients all over the city while working a full time job, and then cooking – it’s time consuming and I’d kind of rather eat Captain Crunch all day.

Things that are easier:

1. People seem to know more about food allergies.  When I went to camp, the “camp mother” checked in with me at every meal time, but she sometimes didn’t seem to really know what was up and I remember the cook had a legal pad sized page of my allergies in the kitchen and I’d have to go back and verify it sometimes and I wasn’t ever made to feel like I wasn’t being super complicated.  This weekend, the cook was a little aggressive and didn’t let me talk so I felt out of control, but she knew what was up.  “You think this is the first time I have heard of food allergies, I cook for 800 people every summer shh, give me the food, I put it in the tin, in the oven, you come back when you’re hungry, and you eat.”  Easy.  No questions.  And the kids didn’t ask questions too much, either.  If they did, it was “Are you gluten free?” instead of “Why do you have special food?” which is a hell of a lot nicer.  And honestly, the kids asked me fewer mealtime questions than my peers still do, which makes me think allergies are either more common or we’ve raised awareness with a younger generation, but either way, it’s comforting.  It’s nice to not be “weird.”  Sure, I’m “weirder” and yes, there were kids with mild allergies in my summer camp (ketchup was one that I remember), but when a camper asked “do these brownies have nuts?” and no one asked him a zillion questions, when we were called up to the Torah to recite the blessing in groups that pointed out something interesting but pretty common among us and I joined the “nut allergy” group because the portion was about almond trees, and it was a big group, it felt nice.

By the way – sidenote about my personal camp experience with food – I remember on one day trip, we prepared sandwiches for lunch and they got us hoagies for dinner.  I prepared my usual bread and butter sandwich (I could eat peanut butter at the time but it was never good at camp), and asked my counselors if I’d be ok for dinner, and they said sure.  And of course I wasn’t.  The hoagies all had lettuce on them and there was no other food except cole slaw.  And I remember everyone eating in the parking lot of the bowling alley where we’d stopped and a friend coming with me to find a vending machine that maybe had something kosher that I wasn’t allergic to in it (a friend, not a counselor), and I ate a bag of chips or something for dinner, maybe chocolate because by that point I could eat chocolate, and called it a day.  And no one gave a shit.

2. I’m less shy about my food issues.  I unabashedly walk into kitchens like I own the place, something my mom used to do, and I was terrified of doing.  But it’s not scary.  And food service workers are nice, sometimes.  This time, it afforded me the opportunity to ask the chef what was in a camper’s favorite sauce so that he can recreate it because it’s his last retreat and it’s the food he looks forward to most.  Bonus points for helping others.  Booya.

3. I’m able to see how much I’ve grown since I was 12.  Being surrounded by kids at a moment where I’ve been feeling like the 12 year old version of myself (a little whiny, a little unsure, a little lonely), I realized that I’m actually pretty ok.  I survived the trials of childhood and preteendom, including my food issues, and came out a pretty strong, hardworking person who’s pretty relatable.  And if I could make it through all that without a strong sense of self and without as big a support network, I can survive eating millet and sweet potatoes and chicken all the time as the woman I am now.

I did this for 12 years.  Then I spent 12 years not doing it.  It’s kind of even, and I can roll both ways.  And I will.

Plus, millet is delicious, and I’m pretty glad I discovered it.  That, and lamb bacon.  Because OMG.  Lamb bacon is orgasmic.  But that’s another story.

Thanks a lot, Xanthan Gum.

Last night, I was exactly one week into my new 48-food free diet.  And it’s been interesting, lots of corn, lots of quinoa, lots of chicken.  And only a couple of allergic reactions, and they were pretty minor.  (Now on the list to self-test: goat cheese, basil, and thyme).

They were pretty minor, that is, until last night. When I decided to try a gluten free corn bread mix.  And one that made me really excited, because it’s free of every popular allergen and dedicated to raising funds for allergy research, and that sounded like the perfect mix of sensitivity and cross-contamination-free product and love that I really needed.  The mix, in case you’re interested, is by Micah’s Favourite, a gluten free baking mixes company.  And for all I know, it’s the most delicious stuff ever, so I’m not slamming Micah’s.  But did it the mix send me into a tizzy?  In a word – yes.

I had made myself a light dinner – baked sweet potato with salt, pepper, paprika, and grapeseed oil; polenta  lightly fried in grapeseed oil and flavored with salt and pepper – and was baking the corn bread for a little additional starch.  Because until last week, I ate pasta at least three times a week for dinner and/or lunch, plus a bagel a couple of morning a week, and a week without wheat was like the worst Passover experience possible.  A girl needs her starches.

So I’m fine with my sweet potato.  Fine with my polenta.  Corn bread finishes, I cut a square, and take off that gorgeous little extra cripsy piece on the corner that got just a little browner than the rest of the bread, and put it in my mouth as I settle in to catch up on some Grey’s Anatomy.

BOOM.

It’s like the craziest migraine ever.  I think my sinuses are going to explode.  I reread the corn bread box.  Same ingredients as the polenta, save for some sugar I’d added, some oil I’d added (oh but I’d just eaten that same oil), water, and xanthan gum.  But I don’t know what xanthan gum is.  So I do what I always do.  I believe it’s psychosomatic and that I’ve gone crazy.

Note: I may be crazy, but not when it comes to food allergies.  The doctor took the picture to prove it.  Because I didn’t believe him.  Because so many people have failed to believe me throughout my life.  Thanks, guys.  Super appreciate it.

I decide to take a shower to calm myself down, plus the steam tends to help with breathing.  And the super hot water cleans the allergens out, sometimes.  It’s my go-to when I’m not in the mood to take benedryl yet again, and for minor reactions, it’s worked.  On the way to my bathroom, I feel this thump in my chest.  Like someone has hit  me with a baseball bat.  This has happened once before, in August, the one time I went to the hospital for this whole thing, and the moment I realized I’d developed some new allergy.  I ignore it.  And run to the bathroom to shower, and suddenty my stomach is displeased.  And here I notice I’ve gotten bloated from LA to NY, and have developed a hive on my stomach and two blotchy rashes on my neck/chest/clavicle area.

You’re probably hoping I decided it wasn’t psychosomatic and took benedryl or used my epipen.

Yeah, we don’t know each other very well yet.

I shower.  Try hard as I can to remember the lyrics to Nicki Minaj songs, because in my spare time, I’m learning to rap like her.  I know the words to Nicki Minaj songs in general.  But not then.  I couldn’t even get the tune.  I had no clue what was going on, but I knew I liked the water.

Finally decided to get out of the shower because I had to sit down.  Standing wasn’t ok.  I thought I might need help, and since I live alone, I called a friend.  He didn’t pick up.  I called again, which is my family’s code for “someone is dying, pick up the phone.”  He didn’t pick up. Called another friend.  No dice.  Sat on my floor some more.  Mustered the strength for benedryl.

My first friend, M, called back almost immediately.  And so I told him what’s going on.  But here’s the thing.  I believe in subtext and I don’t know how to ask for help.  So instead of saying, “Hey.  I need you to come over and help me go to the hospital because I think I need extra help and I’m scared,” I said, “I’m feeling weird, I’m in pajamas, I’m tired, I ate something bad, maybe I have a super saturation quota of corn and ate so much of it this past week my body is all like ‘eff you corn’ and now it’s hard to breathe and I don’t want to use my epipen because I’m in pajamas and I’m so tired and I took benedryl and plus if I was going to die, I’d have died but what if I die but I guess I won’t so I’m not going to the hospital because of the pajamas.”  If you’re reading this to support a friend or loved one with allergies: we don’t always know how to communicate what we need.  It’s hard to admit, especially if enough people have told you you’re crazy.  Especially if there’s not enough oxygen going to your brain.  Having a severe allergic reaction is like being stoned, and stoned people can’t communicate well or make good decisions.  So don’t let them make decisions.  Not that M was at fault.  At all.  In fact, staying on the phone with him curbed the panic attack that was starting and I felt loved and that’s important.  But I learned I need to communicate better.  Saying, “I can’t talk and breathe at the same time” isn’t convincing to someone on the phone.  Saying, “Talking to you is extremely painful and I need medical attention, can you come over and help me seek it” is helpful.  But hey, hindsight and enough oxygen is 20/20.

So on the phone with M, I took some hits from my inhaler, which is a silly thing to have because I have great non-asthmatic breathing, but it was once prescribed to me and the hospital people gave me some inhaler stuff and it was nice so I figured I’d do it, too.  I drank water.  I started laughing uncontrollably and no, nothing was funny but I had so little oxygen I couldn’t think straight.  Took tylenol for the migraine.  Was jonesing for a heating pad, but mine is filled with rice and I’m not supposed to touch rice.  Rubbed on a ton of vaporub.  That’s a trick I taught myself.  When my breathing is compromised but not fully stopped, when I feel so congested I can’t get the air out (this is for congestion blocking your breathing, NOT airwaves closing from allergies, and I’m the farthest thing from an MD so take what I say with a grain of salt) I slather on vaporub on my neck, chest, and back, and it soothes the pain and tightness and gives me some relief.

I was terrified to go to sleep.  I spent about an hour feeling like I couldn’t breathe and like someone was sitting on my throat, just chilling, paying no heed to the fact that their chilling was impeding my breathing.  The other friend, E, had called back, and we video chatted.  I told her what was going on and she said, “Xanthan gum? My aunt thinks that stuff is basically poison.”

Her aunt runs this amazing bakery called Breakaway Bakery that specializes in gluten free and popular allergen free foods.  Notice I say popular allergen free.  Because NOTHING IS ALLERGEN FREE. There are no foods that absolutely no one is allergic to.  So let’s not be misleading, or make people feel bad, or tell the public there are 7 allergens and everything else is fake.  Because you know what happens when we do?  People like me get pretty sick but are too scared that they’re crazy to seek medical attention.  But the point is, Breakaway Bakery is awesome, my friend’s aunt is really caring and knowledgeable, and their baked goods are delicious.  If you can eat them.

So I googled xanthan gum.  And sure enough, a number of people have written about xanthan gum allergies.  And Wikipedia explains that it’s made from the same bacteria that causes black rotting on broccoli, cauliflower, and leafy greens.  If there’s every been anything I’m sure of it’s that Wikipedia is never wrong (once I believed an article that said quinoa is a spinach seed, even though I knew that was preposterous…and no, I don’t really believe Wikipedia is never wrong.).  The thing I’m sure of is that I’m pretty damn allergic to broccoli, cauliflower, and especially leafy greens.  And that maybe I was allergic to xanthan gum, too.  This article brought me a ton of comfort – other people had a similar reaction!

E debunked my super saturation of corn theory.  Which I appreciate, because without corn, potatoes, rice, and wheat, I’m a little bit screwed.  A girl cannot live on oats and rye alone. (And I mean alone.  Without yeast or any other agents of utility).

At 2am, I finally felt like I could go to sleep without fear of dying. My breath was controlled, my swelling minor, my migraine  only a seven on a scale of one to ten.  Hives were gone, and bloating is just a fact of life sometimes.  And I did wake up this morning.  Feeling like crap, but alive.

Halfway through the day, it came back.  I ate for the first time (Kix) and it was throat tightness, lightheadedness, bloating, itching.  So I called my mom, emailed my sister, and finally relented and called my doctor who said that this was all normal.

ALL NORMAL.  Let’s let that sink in.  The power of someone saying, “This happens.  You are not alone.  I have heard this before and can help you” is immense.  That’s why I’m letting this post get so long, by the way.  In case you’re googling xanthan gum and allergy and wondering if you are normal.  You are.  Seek medical attention because you deserve it and it’s ok.

My doctor told me to use my epipen.  I told him I was scared.  I was standing in the hallway of my gorgeous office space outside of a major production company’s office – in a hallway where days before, Bradley Cooper was roaming – I was standing whining and crying and clutching my throat saying I was too scared to use my epipen and “didn’t wanna.”  He told me to come to his office and he’d give me epi and steroids.  And it would be ok.  I asked what would happen if I ignored it.  He said I’d stay sick.  And that’s maybe a little bit silly but I’m entitled to make my own decision.  I told him I wanted to think about it (I am a genius sometimes), called my mom, who said I needed to go.

I want to take this opportunity to thank my boss who has let me leave work for allergic reactions more times than I bet he ever bargained for.

By the time I beat LA rush hour traffic (Thanks for teaching me how to drive, Brooklyn.  I totally New York Cityed Beverly Hills traffic today and I’m not apologizing. Oh, and Bruno Mars was driving next to me which is super baller), my throat tightness was subsiding.  The nurse injected steroids into my “just above the butt area” and it hurt but she talked me through it and we did breathing stuff. The doctor and I chatted, he examined my airways and determined I was totally swollen in my glands and sinuses and had an overproduction of mucus, but my airways were clear.

“So I’m good?!”

“No. You’re just breathing, but you’re all swollen.  You’re hypersensitive, and you will be for a few days.  But we learned something.  No xanthan gum.  At all.”

“Guar gum?”

“Same thing.  No.”

“Isn’t it hilarious that xanthan gum is that bacteria on the foods I can’t eat? I googled things, and it made sense.”

“It does make sense, and while xanthan gum isn’t a popular allergen so we don’t test for it, it is an allergen for some people, and you are fine with corn, and you learned something.”

And he told me to take benedryl every night for a few days in addition to my routine morning Zyrtec, and to call him if this happens again.  I asked if I needed my epipen last night.  He said probably just steroids, and that’s why I call.

So I skipped back to work (or fought traffic, whatever), and when the steroids kicked in…

MAN ALIVE!

It was like energy I never had before.  I totally get baseball players now.  I was energized after a day of eating a handful of kicks and a little bit of soda and having an allergic reaction.  Still haven’t stopped moving.  This is way better than the last steroid which made me an emotional mess that just yelled and cried and yelled and cried for two days.  No, I’m not advocating steroids.  They’re probably not good for you.  But I feel unswollen and so energized and I learned two really important lessons:

1. There’s nothing to fear from going to a doctor.

2. I’m allergic to xanthan gum.

Hey, I’m Cindy, and I have food allergies.

“Hi, Cindy.”

I’d tell you my whole bio and how it got to be that on a Wednesday night I decided to sit down and write a blog after 25 years of living with severe food allergies (and environmental, what what!).  But the thing is, I’m a TV writer (aspiring, fine.), and one of the first rules of writing for television is that you get in to the scene quickly, say what’s relevant to move the story along, and get out as quickly as you got in.  Leave exposition and backstory to subtext, and if you create the story correctly, it’ll be obvious on it’s own.  And while I recognize that this isn’t a script, I do believe the same rules apply.  You’ll come to know me pretty well as you continue to read this blog, so I figure I’d just say hey, give you some handy dandy bullet points of what the point of this whole endeavor is, and mosey along to the good stuff.

1. I’ve always had allergies.  To a lot of different foods at different times.  I finally found a good allergist in my city who can help me.  Yeah, I’m 25 and first started going to an allergist now – my allergies had always been so obvious there seemed to be no point.  But they got less obvious.  So I got tested, and tested positive (and severely so, on a scale of 1-4, I was mostly 3s, and on A-D, I was pretty evenly B/C with some Ds) to 48 out of the 75 testable foods.  And in a different test, 37 out of the 40 testable environmental allergens (bring it on, mold and dogs).

2. I am allergic to (in order of severity according to test results, this is all subject to change as I embark on food challenges in the coming months):

  • Lettuce (though in real life, this is a pretty severe one, goes to show you test results aren’t perfect)
  • Barley
  • Cacao Bean aka Chocolate
  • Orange
  • Green Peppers
  • Cinnamon
  • Coffee
  • Cow’s Milk
  • Grapefruit
  • Malt
  • Olives
  • Peas
  • Plums
  • Soy
  • Tomato
  • Wheat
  • Baker’s Yeast
  • Walnut
  • Almond
  • Avocado
  • Beef
  • Blueberry
  • Buckwheat
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage (this one, tests aside, is usually airborne for me.  Makes grocery shopping hella fun).
  • Cantaloupe
  • Cottonseed
  • Egg Yolk
  • Flaxseed
  • Hazelnut
  • Mushroom
  • Peanut
  • Psitachio
  • Pork
  • Potato
  • Rice
  • Sesame
  • Cashew
  • Onion
  • Tuna
  • Codfish (welcome to the 4D fatal territory).
  • Salmon
  • Things I’m allergic to that they don’t have tests for, but after a while of reactions, you kinda know…Artichokes, Hearts of palm, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, papaya, dates, figs, bouillon cubes, spinach, xanthan gum, guar gum, horseradish/wasabi (can’t even be in the same floor of my house when this is being freshly grated)

3. I keep strictly kosher, so if/when I post recipes, feel free to modify them with non kosher ingredients.  And yes, it does add to the complexity of living with allergies, and also allergies add to the ease of keeping kosher, because staying away from food is not really a big deal at all and never has been.

4. I’m terrified of using my epipen, and I’m not sure why.  So I haven’t used it.  Ever.  And there have been times I maybe should have.  But we’ll get to those.