Cross Contamination Can Happen to Anyone

On Thursday night, I cooked what should have been a delightful Shabbat meal. I made turkey cutlets with safflower oil, paprika, cayenne pepper, and pepper, sweet potatoes with safflower oil, paprika, garlic, cayenne pepper, salt, and pepper, butternut squash kugel/pie, quinoa with safflower oil, salt, and pepper, and a grilled chicken with cumin and oregano.

I was just about done at 9:30pm when I decided to start on dessert – a gluten-free oat apple/pear crisp/crumble/pie. While mixing the pie crust ingredients together, I wandered over to my oil counter to see which oil I wanted to use as a substitute for vegetable. Canola? Safflower? Grapeseed?

As I looked at the bottle of safflower, my night began to derail before me.

It was a bottle of sunflower oil.

Sunflower oil, otherwise known as one of my allergies.

Can you tell the difference?

I threw a package of ribs on the counter to defrost. The chicken might be fine, but I’d had chicken twice that week already and I needed it for dinner Friday and lunch on Sunday — which would leave me at four times a week, a serious no-no. Whole Foods only has turkey sometimes. The trip I’d made to the kosher grocery store at lunch earlier that day seemed futile — especially since I’d held two package of turkey in my hand, and thought, “why cram two packages into the minifridge at work, when I clearly don’t need a backup? What could possibly happen?”

Halfway to Whole Foods (which luckily is a mile away), I realized I’d used the same knife for the turkey and the chicken. I’d thought, “It’s my own kitchen; it’s not like anything can get cross contaminated.”)

Except, I guess, that I was too tired to read when I’d bought the oil. Too tired to read before I used it (like I ordinarily do). So my trip to Whole Foods now expanded to chicken, turkey if possible, and sweet potatoes. Luckily, I still had some quinoa. And even better – Whole Foods had ground turkey!

I came home, ate my delicious soup quickly, and got back to work. Finished the pie crust, which had been sitting nearly ready while I was out, and threw together the same sweet potatoes (using sweet potatoes instead of Japanese yams, though), tri-colored quinoa (because colors make me happy), baked chicken with cumin and oregano, and turkey burgers. Thank goodness the squash kugel, the hardest dish to prepare, didn’t require oil.

It was a rude awakening – an allergic accident and cross contamination incident in my own home. Lessons learned:

1. READ EVERYTHING. Not just when I buy it, but when I cook it, and before each dish I use it for.

2. DON’T SHOP/COOK WHILE EXHAUSTED. I’m not sure how to get around that one, but I’ll figure it out.

3. EVERYONE MAKES MISTAKES. I obviously have more invested in my allergies than anyone else, and I have to remember that I am human and can make mistakes. I will probably make more mistakes in the future. I know anyone else around me is capable of the same mistakes. That’s why I carry an epi-pen and benadryl, even at my own meals. Because you never know. I can try my best, and that’s all I can expect from myself and others. I just have to be cautious, vigilant, and prepared. Avoidance is the only way to prevent allergic reactions, but the only way to practice 100% avoidance is to stop eating altogether, and so I have to settle for less. Luckily, my elementary school teachers used to say, “100 is reserved for God, 99 for the teacher, so the highest grade you can get is a 98.” So too with my allergies, though I don’t know who the teacher is in this case. Whatever. It’s a close enough analogy.

Anyway, one really good thing did come from this: I know what I’m going to challenge on Wednesday. Sunflower oil. And if I pass, I can not only eat a ton more processed foods (which I’m actually not that excited about, I like having no choice but to be healthy), but I have 4 meals worth of food cooked. TIME SAVER. To counter the exhaustion, I’d hope.

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Food Challenge Round 8: Cindy Vs. Cinnamon

“C-c-c-cinnamon lips and candy kisses on your tongue…yum.”

So sing OK Go in their song, “Cinnamon Lips,” on their first album.

Yum is right. Cinnamon is delicious. And it’s very seasonal, so it seemed like a good idea for me to challenge that as my first post-holiday challenge. Plus, I wanted to start with something I was confident about so that I’d be sure to get to work, as there’s too much going on for me to miss a day for anaphylaxis.

It was kind of nice to be back at the doctor’s office after my 7 week break. They were in full swing for Halloween, which was fun. And the doctor and I had some time to catch up while I ate my Cinnamon Toast Crunch – because if you’re going to try cinnamon, you may as well eat it in the best possible form. I’ve been replacing cinnamon with nutmeg for the past 6+ months) and it’s worked well, but somehow I don’t think Nutmeg Toast Crunch would be so great. Plus, eating a breakfast food at 7:30am is kind of nice after the whole tahine, chicken soup, beer challenges.

Anyway, it was DELICIOUS. Sweet as hell, overly processed, but still delicious.

The only thing is, it wasn’t great for my vision. The diplomas on the office wall started to blur and the doctor tried to keep my nerves calm so we’d be able to isolate any reaction. That worked some, but still I felt pretty bad. Not bad enough to call it a food I have to stay away from, but as the doctor put it, “It’s your choice. If you feel bad enough don’t eat it, but you can eat it without concern.” So another one of these half-passed tests. I’m not at risk of dying — YAY — but I probably won’t feel awesome if I eat too much. And I have to be very mindful of overdosing.

Anyone remember this cereal? Totally been craving it, which is weird because a) it’s gross and b) I hate French toast in general…

I can live with that. Like I said, nutmeg is a good replacement for cinnamon, and I can easily remove it from my cooking. But I can eat it in others’ cooking which makes dining out and shared meals just a smidgen easier. And the more I challenge, the more I realize that’s a large part of why I’m doing this. I believe I’ve gotten my list to a manageable size for me. I eat about the same variety as most other people do, only, mine isn’t a choice or a force of habit. It’s a force of body, and that’s fine. Except when it comes to social dining or dining on the go with packaged foods — there, I need some leeway, and I’m glad that cinnamon can be a part of that leeway.

I’m still deciding what to do next. It’ll likely depend on work, though, I can’t really predict what my reactions will be. I thought cinnamon would be a slam dunk — as I did pasta and olive oil — and I thought for sure I’d fail beer. So who knows? I’ve been craving peanuts, which happens almost never, so I think that might be a sign that that’s next. Gotta love some extra protein.

Whatever I choose next, I know the appointment will be fun. It’s on Halloween, and the whole doctor’s office is super pumped about the holiday. I kind of can’t wait to add to the absurdity of these food challenges with a costumed doctor. The only catch? I probably should wear a costume, too, and I have no ideas…So, I challenge you:

1. What to test next?

2. What do I dress up as?

Food Challenge Tally

Cindy – 6

Allergens – 2

Up Next: TBD

My First Post-Hypersensitivity Dining Out Experience — Got Kosher

Today was a day of firsts. My first professionally produced piece of writing premiered on Youtube’s Loud Channel (check it out here, but warning: it’s not super safe for work) and I dined out for the first time since I went all hypersensitive in April.

It was my boyfriend’s birthday today, and he loves eating out, so I figured it was a big enough occasion to see if I could eat out, too. In the 9ish (we’re bad at counting) months we’ve been together, we’ve never eaten together at a restaurant. I was pretty nervous, but I’m still here, so *spoiler alert* it was fine. Fun, even!

We went to Got Kosher, a delicious restaurant/take out store on Pico. It was the last place I’d eaten out before hypersensitive April; my friends S and T accompanied me there one Sunday when they just wanted some kosher BBQ, and even though I was already on superstrict diet #1, I was able to eat there. The servers were so great, and I knew I’d be back if I was ever allowed to eat out again. And,they were super helpful when I called to find out what’s in their challah – and it’s the challah I get every week now. It also happens to be my boyfriend’s favorite restaurant, so we figured it was the right place to go (even though it’s not as fancy as a typical birthday destination).

I called the restaurant in advance and spoke to a helpful server named Bennett. He assured me that if I came to the restaurant with my allergies, they’d be able to answer any questions I had and they’d make sure I could eat safely.

I knew there was a reason I collected all those Got Milk ads as a kid!

I couldn’t believe how true that was! The waiter we got (Ben, not Bennett) pulled up a chair as soon as I said I had “about a hundred allergies” — though yes, allergy embellishment bothers me. I could have said 50 and still had true, dramatic flair. He took out a notepad and walked me through my questions. I knew to only ask about simple dishes like grilled chicken and steak — their menu has a lot of cooler, more complicated dishes, and I’m sure they would have been accommodating, but I wanted to be safe. They told me the grilled meats were literally just grilled plain. Sometimes with salt and pepper, but they could hold that if need be (need didn’t be). The only oil they use, if any, on the grilled food is canola. It’s the main oil in their kitchen (take that, olive oil!!!). I asked about the french fries, and I technically could eat them, but they’re fried in the same deep fryer as the avocado egg roll, which, while they could give me the ingredients of the filling, the dough itself remained a question and while it was homemade and probably fine, they couldn’t assure me of that. By the way, shoutout to my mom for making sure I asked what else was fried in the fryer. I guess she has some experience with this sort of thing…wink, wink.

Anyway, Ben, who by that point was also joined by Bennett, said they could make me roasted potatoes, but we decided those might have herbs and be a hassle if I didn’t want basil (I’m still not sure I didn’t overdose on basil). Then, he offered to grill me some potatoes. They do that on the lunch menu as part of another dish, and he said there was no reason they couldn’t do it at night, too. So I ate the grilled potatoes, which were delicious. They assured me everything would be kept separate and clean.

I ended up ordering a thinly cut rib steak (Entrecote?) and the grilled potatoes. It was delicious. Who knew grilled potatoes tasted just like karpas? It was like Pesach, only better. There was some random parsley on the plate, which would have sucked if I’m allergic to parsley, but I’m not, so it was good. And I’m sure they would have sent me a new, cleaner one if I had complained.

It felt so good to eat out! I was home and had eaten by 8:30pm. Usually, I’m just about finishing cooking at 8:30, and then starting to eat, and dishes, and cleaning, etc. Who knew there was all this time in the day when you don’t have to cook? It’s a miracle. I feel like I went on vacation. Like I have this whole night where I can clear out my DVR, blog, check email, and not even have to stay up too late! It’s an incredible feeling.

All I cooked today was 2 turkey breasts for lunch. And I’ll make some rice pasta and lamb for tomorrow’s lunch when I wake up. I can’t remember the last time I cooked so little! I might even make it 5 days without going to Whole Foods.

Who said eating had to be hard?

Spreading the Iceland Water Gospel

It finally happened last Sunday. A moment I’ve been waiting for since 2006.

A stranger bought Iceland water, based on my recommendation.

Some backstory:

As an infant, I wasn’t great at digesting water. The minerals or whatever it is that enhances water was just too much for baby Cindy, I guess. The only solution was distilled water or Iceland spring water, as the latter has the fewest minerals of any natural water and a high pH. At the time, Iceland water came in this handy little boxes, like juice boxes but for water. It was so cool and refreshing, and the water even made me feel more normal as I grew up to preschool age, because I, too, had a drink in a box. Maybe I didn’t have a tuna sandwich like the other kids (plain macaroni and a thermos of milk, and yes, I ate them combined as if the pasta were cereal), but when snack time came around, I whipped out a boxed drink like the best of them.

But Iceland water went out of business. The way legend has it, my parents freaked out that I’d dehydrate or something and called the company to see what they could do. We got the entire remaining wares shipped to our house, and I got to drink Iceland water for a little while longer.

And in 2006, the product was reintroduced to the market. It was hard to find — basically, Walgreens and specialty stores were the only distributors — but I would stock up. And I started spreading the gospel of Iceland water. I figured if I could convince my friends to drink it, the company wouldn’t go out of business, and in the maybe sorta likely event that I or my future children couldn’t drink standard water, we’d be able to rely on Iceland water.

It became a bit of a joke in my family, because we’d have it all the time and talk to our guests about it. My sister especially remains committed to only drinking Iceland water – she was a water snob to begin with (as she should be!) and preaching Iceland above all else only made sense. Plus, Iceland’s a cool place with a Brandeis grad former Prime Minister, a belief in elves,  and cool horses. So supporting their economy is just smart.

Cut to 2012. Iceland water is a bit more popular, showing up in most stores that carry varieties of water. The bottles look different depending on the store – Walgreen has smaller bottles with pink flowers, Whole Foods has rippled bottles with blue labels, and there’s even a second company called Icelandic Glacial that bottles its water in glacier-shaped bottles.

On Sunday, I was stocking up on Iceland water for the holiday, since tap water has been making me feel less than pleasant since April. The elderly gentleman behind me in line remarked, “What, is Iceland water special or something? Hope you don’t plan on drinking all that yourself!”

I mean, I did. 8 bottles for 3 days isn’t terribly much, is it?

I told him why I’d chosen Iceland water (minus the allergies, just the mineral/pH stuff) and he turned to the cashier. “Can you get me a bottle of that? It must be good if this young lady is buying so much of it. Gotta try this Iceland water, see if it’s the real deal.”

I have no doubt he was converted. How could you not be, after drinking it?

Sometimes, the communal nature of shopping at Whole Foods, the obsession about what everyone else is buying…sometimes it can just make your dreams come true.