Food Challenge Round 6: Cindy vs. Coffee

“Can I get an iced grande decaf nonfat no whip white mocha?”

Those words felt so good coming out of my mouth yesterday. The last time I’d said them was the day after Christmas, in Treasure Island. in Las Vegas, Nevada. And that time, moment later, my chest and neck erupted in hives.

And while I was still able to tolerate the coffee at Urth cafe in January and February (the few times I was able to make it over there), I hadn’t touched coffee of any kind — much less my beloved Starbucks drink — until yesterday.

I know, I said the next food challenge would be tahina, but I didn’t have time to make it or the wherewithal to try a food as difficult as sesame by Tuesday, as I’d gone back and forth from LA to New York in the span of 6 days. You know what’s easier than making your own tahine? Drinking coffee. I also needed the caffeine, and was kind of in the mood for a normal 7:30am food, as opposed to beer or chicken soup.

This challenge really started on Monday night, though. Because in order to challenge the drink, I first needed to get the ingredients, and just in case there were traces of nuts or something, I wanted to know before I was already en route to my appointment.

I stopped in at Starbucks moments before closing on Monday night. I bought an Ethos water, because one of the rules of Starbucks is that you can use their facility if you purchase something — I figured that was the case for using their knowledge, too. Plus, who doesn’t like donating 5 cents to Africa? And as the barista rang up my tab, I asked him if he could read me the syrup ingredients for the white mocha.

Deliciousness.

He did me one better. He wrote them down. (and while my allergist has the list, the only particularly interesting factoid is that there’s coconut oil in the syrup). I then asked him about cross contamination, and he was so helpful. The nutty drinks are all prepared totally separately from the syrup drinks, on different equipment in a different part of the bar. But, there is likely cross contamination with soy from the soy milk, because they don’t try to keep those separate. In Canada, they also serve almond milk, so there is cross contamination with almonds at the Starbucks there. He offered to give me the ingredients in their whipped cream, since it’s homemade (who knew?), but since I’m a no-whip girl, I declined.

He was so forthcoming and so at ease, it was almost as though he’d heard of food challenges. For Starbucks coffee. Who knows, maybe he had. Either way, I was reassured.

This was probably the easiest food challenge yet. I downed the coffee — literally drank the whole grande in about ten minutes (it was so delicious, I couldn’t help it. It was like a party in my mouth, but an exclusive one with a red carpet, a swag bag, and great music — not the kind with a bunch of cookies, bad small talk, and a whole host full of obligations). I felt fine, energized, maybe a little overwhelmed by the caffeine, but nothing to write home (blog?) about. I was out of the office by 8:15. These challenges are getting faster as my doctor and I realize how long it takes for me to react.

I bounced home, and bounced throughout my severely jetlagged day.

Coffee really is an energizer. It’s insane. one cup of coffee, and I could do a 14 hour day, no problem. And the calories! Do you know what adding 400+ calories to your day feels like? It’s like energy or something…

I finally feel like myself again. It’s amazing. Now the trick is keeping it down to three times a week…or fewer, since the milk counts as a whole dairy, and in the debate between coffee and cheese, I’m not sure who wins.

Food Challenge Tally

Cindy – 4*

Allergens – 2

Up Next: Tahina (I think)

*Please note that my “failing every other challenge” rule has been disproven.

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Flying with Food Allergies

Delta’s safety instruction video announces “safety is our number priority.”

I call bullshit.

Sure, air safety is a big priority, but is safety — as a whole, people being safe — really the airline’s number one priority? No. Because if it was, they wouldn’t serve free peanuts and peanut M&Ms on the flight.

How necessary are peanuts on flights?

Flying is hard for a food allergic person. And there’s really nothing that can be done about it, nor am I advocating flights where there’s absolutely no food allowed. I get hungry on planes, too. Plus, the whole ear popping at takeoff thing — you need to chew. So I’m about to get into a problem for which there really is no solution. But there are mitigators, and I am advocating for those.

The air on a plane is stale and recycled. So if an airborne allergen is introduced into the plane, there is no fresh air cycling in that can diffuse the situation. The food allergic person will continue to breathe in the contaminant. Hopefully, said person always carries Benadryl on them. Not even a bad thing, considering sleeping on a plane isn’t super easy. That said, continuing to breathe in the cause of the allergic reaction is unpleasant and in some instances, can result in an anaphylactic reaction that only an Epipen can stop.

You tell me – would you prefer your flight be landed so someone can go to the hospital if it meant you could eat peanuts, or would you rather eat something else?

It’s not just the air. On my flight last night, my tray table was COVERED in crumbs. Not only is that disgusting for the average passenger, because ew, other people’s crumbs, but it’s really dangerous for someone like me. I don’t know what food those crumbs came from. Thank God I was just looking to use my tray table for my laptop – had I put food on it, I wouldn’t be able to eat. Luckily, I just put my laptop on my lap and went about my business. But I couldn’t put it on the tray table because I can’t afford my laptop getting the allergens of the crumbs. It’s more than tray tables, too. Seats aren’t cleaned, arm rests aren’t disinfected. People touch everything, and with an allergen — that could be more than just a cold. If someone eats a salad, touches my armrest, I touch my armrest, and I pop a pineapple slice into my mouth, I’ve just ingested their xanthomonas campestris-covered lettuce allergen. 

Since I’m part of the solution, and not the problem (or at least I strive to be) let me offer some ways I think airlines can make safety actually their first priority — regardless of whether the seat cushions can be used as flotation devices.

Number 1:

Have a clear allergy policy. Virgin America has no allergy policy, but they also have no free food, so one is less likely to run into a problem, given that people aren’t necessarily eating, and if they are, it’s not airline-mandated peanuts. Delta, on the other hand, has a policy, but you’d be hard pressed to find someone who knows what it is. One time, the policy was that they wouldn’t serve peanuts to anyone within 3 rows of the allergic person. This is dumb, because as I mentioned above, air circulates and people touch things. And when the person next to you orders peanuts because he sees everyone else eating them, and the flight attendant says “Someone within three rows of you has an allergy, sorry,” the person can get pretty ticked off, and who knows what they will do when they find out it’s you. (Luckily for me, when that situation arose, the person in question had a son who had previously hit me in the face with a remote-control helicopter, so we were even). On my recent flight to NY, the policy was, per the gate attendant, “Call in advance or tell the flight attendant.” On my return flight, the policy was — and rudely stated, I might add — “Did you tell the gate attendant?”

You know how there’s a space when you make a reservation for travel with infants or a wheelchair? How hard is it to add an option to the click-down menu that allows for food allergies? This way, everyone knows in advance, the traveller is responsible for any and all information, and the airline can change what it is serving accordingly. Food allergies are a disability. They ought to be treated as such.

Number 2:

Have water readily available. If you’re going to have sick people on your flight, at least let them hydrate themselves, take medicine, and flush the allergen out of their system. On my beloved Virgin America — on which I’ve gotten sick multiple times — there’s bottled water at the bathrooms, you can press a button and order as much bottled water as you’d like, and the flight attendants even give it to you before takeoff if you finish it before the runway (gotta love FAA regulations). On Delta, and I presume other airlines, you have to ask for water. Which means waiting for the flight attendant to pass you by, because they don’t listen to the button things above the seats. That gets you one cup of water. Not necessarily as much as you ask for. And not a cup that you can be assured wasn’t handled by someone who just ate and touched the rim. Buy fucking bottles of water, and give them out. It’s a basic human need, whether you are allergic or not.

Number 3:

Don’t be rude. If a passenger mentions a food allergy, be accommodating. Do not scoff, do not belittle them, do not roll your eyes. Do not mutter under your breath to your coworker how inconvenient this all is. Do not tell other passengers how ridiculous it is. If you’re going to be a glorified waitress, at least have half as much dignity as an ordinary waitress. It’s nice to be nice. I don’t give a flying fuck if you’re tired and being a flight attendant sucks. It does suck. I have a a friend who was a flight attendant and hated it. But it’s your job, and you don’t have to like it, you just have to do it, and if you can’t do it well, do something else. Life is short, so don’t be an asshole.

Number 4:

Maybe airports and airlines can sell fewer or no peanut and nut-ridden snacks. Avoiding the top 8 allergens totally would be nice. Just sell other foods. They exist! I promise. And hungry passengers will eat anything. Sell potato chips and dried fruit. I get that wheat and dairy are hard because bread and milk are life staples. But sell enough alternatives without them so that if a situation arises where someone can’t be around those foods, you can accomodate. Or just let the wheat-free people have a food option. My Delta flight offered pretzels, cookies, and peanut M&Ms (though the latter was not offered on my flight, thanks to me, even though it was displayed on the carts). Is one wheat free option that hard? Chips? It’s crazy, in this world where everyone and their mother is gluten-free. Airlines seem to be stuck in 1991. That’s not that reassuring.

Most of these rules won’t help me. I can’t see outlawing lettuce or horseradish on a plane, not to mention the 30 other foods I’m allergic to. I get it. I can only hope for people as nice as the woman who sat next to me on my flight last night who, when she noticed her sandwich was bothering me after overhearing my conversation with the flight attendant re: peanuts, asked if her food was an issue. I said it was, because of the lettuce (though I thought it was tuna, whatever, I have hazy eyesight when I react), but that she shouldn’t worry, I had medicine. She offered to eat it quickly, and then asked the flight attendant to dispose of it elsewhere so I wouldn’t get sick. She is a lovely person, and I owe her a lot. I fly often, I’ve taken Benadryl on planes often, and she was the first person to notice and be kind.

The flight attendant’s response, “What, she’s allergic to lettuce, too? Ugh, fiiiiiine.” She later proceeded to eat a salad only one row in front of me (but I thought you had to wait 3 rows for allergies).

I’m allergic to lettuce. Doesn’t mean I don’t have ears and eyes. Ears and eyes which I also use to listen to/watch your safety instructions, which assure me you will do everything to make sure I have an enjoyable flight, and my safety is your number one priority.

Might want to update that demonstration…

Food Challenge Round 5: Cindy vs. Onion

It’s hard to believe that I’m already up to my fifth food challenge. Considering I have what feels like a billion more to go, it’s actually kind of seeming like time flies. Wheat still feels new, I’ve still only had the one beer, and I already figured out how to compensate for the lack of pasta. And with my 7:30am doctor’s appointments, I haven’t even been late to work these last few times. You know how some people miraculously find time in their week to go to the gym, and they keep that routine for the foreseeable future? That’s how my food challenges are. Once a week, I wake up early to dedicate an hour or so to my health. Only, instead of working out, I eat while my doctor watches me.

That’s the same, right?

Anyway, on to the topic at hand. Onions. Or, should I say, a sweet yellow onion cooked in a soup or stew or the like (ie: boiled). Because that’s what I challenged today. The results are only applicable to sweet yellow onions cooked in soups or stews (yes, that includes cholent) or the like (ie: boiled).

The good news is, the results are positive! I can now eat sweet yellow onions cooked in soups or stews or the like (ie: boiled).

Just barely, though.

As my mother said when I made my weekly, “post challenge debriefing call,” — “You can’t barely pass a food challenge. It’s not like a math test where you get a 65, not a 64, so the teacher lets you pass. You’re either sick or you’re not.”

Well, I guess foods are more like math than I thought (maybe that’s why I’m so bad with them!). See, I was fine. I was “perfect” as the doctor joked. Except, while eating my chicken soup, I got a crazy sinus headache and felt all funny but not bad funny, just not normal funny. I wasn’t sick enough to give up onions for good, but I also wasn’t interested in finishing the whole bowl of soup (though, I did finish the half of the onion. Like a certain person I know at the Brandeis Chabad. Though, J, you can have the onion, every time. Not interested).

The doctor said it was not enough of a reaction for a Benadryl, but an Allegra, Zyrtec, or Claritin might do me well, if I had one on hand. I didn’t. He said next time, bring one (Claritin, because I already take Allegra and Zyrtec daily). This time, just move on with my life.

It’s also totally possible my reaction was due to the pasta reaction followed by an airborne horseradish reaction, followed by a feverish virus, accompanied by jetlag. My body might just be rebelling. In any case, I did learn that I have to be a little careful, as in avoiding leafy greens and other occasional airborne allergens when I eat sweet yellow onions cooked in soups or stews or the like (ie: boiled).

So it was an iffy, pass which is why I think I only passed onions in this very specific form, but hey. It’s something. Onions in soups are kind of a big deal. And I hate sauteed onions anyway. And onion powder – not something I miss in my own cooking but at all. Sure, it would be nice to eat it in other forms, but whatever. Next time. Like lifting the heavier weights at the gym…sometimes you just tackle that hurdle the next time.

Food Challenge Tally

Cindy – 3

Allergens – 2

Up Next: Tahina

Anyone who has awesome, simple homemade tahina recipes, please let me know!

An Ode to Cheese (and a wheat-free recipe!)

Cheese is something I can totally live without. I barely missed it over the last few months. But man, now that I can live with it again…wow.

I think I just invented food heaven. And it took five minutes…

overrated.

I’ve been making rye, oat and rye/oat crackers for a while now as a bread substitute/starchy snack. And I stopped once bread came back to my diet, because, you know, rye/oat crackers are only just okay, not to die for. But I have been craving cheez-its for a few days now, and I can’t eat them yet, and I can’t bake my own because I’m running low on wheats (have to have challah twice this weekend, plus I had that mean pasta and some bread on Sunday). But it occurred to me – what if I baked cheez-it rye/oat crackers?

BEST. IDEA. EVER.

Make this. Every day. It will be the best thing that’s happened to your tongue.

This recipe yields 10 small crackers.

1/2 cup rye flour

1/2 cup oat flour

1/3 cup oil (canola?)

some water — look

a few shakes of garlic

shredded mozarella cheese, to taste.

Mix the ingredients, roll the dough with your fingers into small circles, stab with a fork, and bake at 400 for about 5-10 minutes.

EAT.

Thank me later.

Food Challenge Round 4: Cindy vs Pasta

Apparently, I have an “every other food” thing going on, because I failed pasta.

PASTA.

Pasta, as in the food I’ve eaten my entire life. I cannot remember a time I didn’t eat pasta (except these last few months). When all the other kids brought sandwiches to school, I brought pasta. I used to do this disgusting thing as a three year old where I’d pour my pasta in my thermos cap filled with milk. Every day. Because I ate pasta every day.

But apparently, I ate too much of it in this last year. Totally overdosed. Probably because as a kid my body was adapted to a one-food regimen, but at 25, when I could eat a ton more, too much pasta was a bad thing. When this whole thing started, I was eating pasta so regularly – I had it for lunch a few times a week (the other days, I ate bagels), and on days I didn’t have pasta for lunch, I had it for dinner. I was just so stressed and so tired and so not interested in cooking or putting in effort into anything that I guess I OD’ed on pasta. [this is maybe why people shouldn’t work for companies run by “shrill narcissists.”]

Anyway…

I self-challenged pasta yesterday. I had an errand to run in Beverly Hills at lunchtime, and since I promised my doctor I’d try the pasta during office hours not too far away, it seemed perfect to try it yesterday.

Caption 1: Since my last name is derived from Capellini, you’d think I’d be able to eat it…guess Juliet was right when she asked what was in a name.
Caption 2: Eff you, semolina and durum. We will meet again.

I had about four, maybe five, forkfuls. And then all of a sudden I got EXHAUSTED. Like all the wind was knocked out of me. I couldn’t think straight. Nothing swelled, I was breathing, but I just couldn’t move. I couldn’t open my mouth for the next forkful. I got extremely nauseated and just stopped. Took some Benadryl, drank a bunch of water, and drove back to work — at which point I sort of half vomited/half coughed while driving. You know what’s awesome? Vomiting into an old raisins bag in the trash pile of your car while stopped at a red light on Melrose. At least I hadn’t taken the trash out yet…

I left work early and slept the entire rest of the afternoon/evening. And today, after each meal (except breakfast which I had at the same time as Benadryl), I experienced crazy stomach pains, the usual throat swelling, and loss of voice.

The good news? This was the first stomach-oriented allergic reaction I’ve had! I’ve had almost every single kind of anaphylaxis now! Let’s keep it at this level, k? Because the only one left is blocked airwaves and that is sooooo not my thing.

I can’t believe I failed pasta. I also can’t believe I’m not as distressed about it as I expected. I can have corn quinoa pasta, brown rice quinoa pasta, rice noodles, homemade pasta…anyone have a good homemade pasta recipe? I think my lack of distress is related to denial, because as soon as I finish tournament one of food challenges, I want to test pasta again. I mean, 24 years of health has to count for something, right? Maybe it was cross-contamination of flax…or something.

It’s either denial, or I’ve gotten incredibly strong.

I’m guessing some kind of combination.

Bottom line — this probably means I can have onions when I try them on Tuesday! Because allergy testing totally works in patterns, right?

Food Challenge Tally

Cindy – 2

Allergens – 2

Up next: Onions.

Food Challenge Round 3: Cindy vs. Beer

I can no longer say I haven’t had beer at 7:30am. If this were a game of “Never Have I Ever,” my finger would go down, and I guess I could take a swig of my Heineken.

It’s not just me who thought the idea of having beer at a doctor’s office at 7:30am was kind of awesome and kind of weird and kind of ridiculous. My doctor did, too. His son was at the office today to help out with some filing (ah, college), and my doctor called him in to the appointment (with my permission, of course) to show him that his job was cool.

Not sure why I was hating on Brandeis parties, considering the unofficial Modfest I threw as a statement…inspired, of course, by the previous year’s Purple Rain where I insisted on free Heineken…

Dr: Do you see what Cindy is doing?

Son: Uhhh…

Dr: She’s drinking a beer. At 7:30 in the morning. To see if she’s allergic to malt. This is how we have to test her.

Son: That’s kind of fratty.

Me: I know, which is weird because I went to Brandeis.

Dr: They’re not known for that over there.

Me: Where do you go?

Son: I went to UC Santa Barbara, but I’m transferring to USC.

Me: Oh, so this probably isn’t as weird for you.

As I continued to drink, after not having had alcohol since the beginning of April and beer since late February, I started to get tipsy. Obviously. A handful of Rice Chex isn’t really going to do much in terms of sobriety.

It was kind of weird to experience tipsiness while gauging to see if I felt totally fine, since the symptoms of an allergy aren’t that different from the symptoms of drunkeness (hazy vision, dizziness, feeling out of it) but the doctor and I talked through what I was feeling and as I was rambling we both kind of figured out it was a buzz. It felt nice. Awkward, but nice. I got giddy and did what any girl would — drunk text. I caught my friend J on the way to work and told him I felt like spinning around in his coworker’s chair. Because I really did. Still kinda do…they have a toasty and inviting office.

By 8:30, the doctor determined I was ready to leave. That is, until I sobered up to drive. Not that I was actually drunk, but you know, it’s bad to drink even one beer and get behind the wheel without waiting it out (Thank you, years of teaching alcohol education. End PSA). I hung out in the waiting room totally reliving my college experience by reading an essay in “Religion and Popular Culture in America.” Because once I get a Heineken and some free time, I morph back into an American Studies major.

Bottom line: I can now drink one Heineken, and that counts as about 1/2 a wheat in my weekly count. I can also eat malted barley, which means I can have basically every enriched flour. Which, in turn, means I can eat more breads from bakers I speak to, cakes, cookies, etc. Homebaked good! I dont’t have to bug people to read the ingredients on their flour. Kinda cool. However, I cannot have any other kinds of beer (they all have different ingredients — including FISH BLADDER! In researching which beer to drink, I found that many beers, especially those from the UK, are made with isinglass which is code for fish bladder which is code for possible anaphylaxis — explains why I never understood the deliciousness of Guinness but rather could barely swallow a sip), and I can’t have more than one beer without a possible overdose without testing it, which my doctor thinks is unnecessary and probably problematic.. But hey. It’s a win. Because I’m tiny and prefer Heineken anyway.

Food Challenge Tally

Cindy – 2

Allergens – 1

Up next: Onions

 

It’s Hard to Believe…

It’s hard to believe that just last week, I couldn’t eat most of what I ate today.

I started my day with a bite of pretzel challah, then rice and cheese for lunch, a coke, dried pineapple, bison and corn/quinoa pasta for dinner, and chocolate chip cookies/chocolate for dessert.

A week ago, all I could eat on that list was dried pineapple, bison, and corn/quinoa pasta.

I had approximately 1400 calories today.

It’s Wednesday and I haven’t had a member of the squash family yet this week. In fact, I may go all week without squash.

I know there are bigger accomplishments in the world — for instance, Michael Phelps and his 19 Olympic medals — but I still feel like this is huge.

I kind of can’t believe it.