Wearing a Scarf in the Grocery Store

I’m taking a writing class, and wrote a rant last week when I had to deal with the drama of paying out of pocket for my Epi-pen to replace my Auvi-Q. The rant kind of broke me, and maybe some day I’ll post a version of it here, but for now, I want to keep it tucked away in that spot in my mind where the realities of anaphylaxis live.

In the rant, though, I referenced having to wear scarves at the grocery store, and this caught the attention of my workshop peers. They wanted to know more about that experience, and their curiosity piqued my interest, because I’m not really sure what there is to say. You know when you do something that you find to be virtually mundane and someone says, “wow, that’s interesting?” and then you think about it, and you think, “oh, I guess it is interesting.” Like when someone is friends with a celebrity, and to them the celebrity is just their buddy but to the rest of the world, it’s Brad Pitt. (No, I don’t know any of Brad Pitt’s friends).

Me, in one of my scarves.

Me, in one of my scarves.

So, “Wearing Scarves in the Grocery Store: a decidedly curious exploration of what having airborne allergies is like” 

When I was younger, only one of my allergies was airborne, but I don’t think I ever used that word. The allergen was, of course, horseradish. My experience of its airborne-ness was that the one time a year we ate it, on Passover, I would leave the house when my mother would grate it. I was fine with it out and grated, but during the grating, no matter where I was in the house, I would get sick. It was the perfect time to do errands before the Passover Seder. It never once bothered me to the leave the house; I actually looked forward to it as my special break to go do errands and report back on what I saw in the ruckus outside.

When I was 15, I began to experience more airborne allergies. Specifically, to cabbage. I surmise, though there’s no way to verify it, that it was the stench of September 11 that affected my body. There were all sorts of FEMA indications that people with asthma and allergies would have worsened symptoms, so it was unsurprising to me that constant exposure to cole slaw that summer on my teen tour of the West Coast led to mild reactions. Mild meaning headaches, dizziness. Nothing too crazy by my standards, but my standards are, well, not typical.

In college, over exposure in the dining halls made my allergens worsen significantly. My list of airborne allergens grew to include all leafy greens. That was fun. When I went to the grocery store, I would simply avoid the section with the lettuce, and stay on the other side of vegetable aisle. If I was lucky — and I often was, as I tended to grocery shop in college with friends or at home with my mom — I stayed outside of the vegetable aisle all together and hung out in the adjacent aisle reading boxes of things. I didn’t always want to read boxes, and often insisted on trying my luck with the vegetables (“oh, I’ll just stand near the tomatoes…”there’s this thing called denial that’s really important) but my friends and family were really good at protecting me from myself.

And then I moved to LA, and lived alone, and had to grocery shop alone. Which was fine for a while. I could run through the aisles quickly, I could cover my nose and mouth if I ever had to pass the lettuce section. And then, it was 2012, and I started this blog because my allergies got crazy worse, and also kale and horseradish got more en vogue, and grocery shopping became harder.

I would go to the vegetable aisle and break out in hives, or have my throat swell. I would pop Benadryl in the supermarket, but then be all woozy while I shopped. It was totally unproductive. I was incredibly fortunate to have a friend offer to go shopping for me — really, N, you saved my life and my sanity a lot, and I am forever indebted — but sometimes I would forget I needed an ingredient and have to go myself. If it was between February and May, and horseradish was in season, all bets were off. I talked to my doctor about options. He suggested I wear a surgical mask. But since I don’t live in Singapore, I really didn’t want to. I have pride, you know? What was I going to do, go to the Whole Foods in Beverly Hills looking like I was scared of SARS?

But then I thought of scarves. Really, scarves are a genius invention. I often wore scarves to work because it was an easy way to dress up a T-shirt for the office, and I’d be damned if I was going to sit at a desk for 10+ hours in a fancy shirt. But scarves can also double as face masks. So, I would put on a scarf if I was planning to go grocery shopping, and in the vegetable aisle, I would lift the scarf to cover my mouth and nose. Not the chicest look, but less awkward than a surgical mask!

Sometimes, though, if I forgot a scarf, or had a last minute trip, I’d run into trouble. I broke down in tears a few times when I realized I wasn’t wearing a scarf and was really hungry and needed food and couldn’t decide what was a better option: eating less or worse food for dinner or braving the grocery store. How fast could I run in and out of the aisle? Six seconds? You should see me shop, by the way. I’m like the Flash. Lightning fast. In and out and don’t linger.

Now, though, I don’t need the scarf. That’s the biggest thing Xolair has brought to my life. Sure, it’s nice to eat spinach salad (usually I pick out the spinach), and it’s really nice to sit in restaurants, but it’s SO NICE TO GROCERY SHOP WITHOUT A SCARF. It’s nice to be able to go to this tiny little produce market with no windows or non-produce aisles and examine my fruits and vegetables before plopping them in my basket. Even with the scarf, I used to just take from the middle (less likely to cross contaminate) and run. I would still avoid shelves too crowded with allergens — like if eggplants, which are absorbent, were next to broccoli, I wouldn’t buy eggplant. Which was hard, because I can’t really eat that much to begin with, and my diet has to stay varied, and eggplant is really important structurally to my meal plans. That’s past Cindy’s problem, though. With Xolair, and its mitigation of my allergies, I can pop by a store on a scarfless whim and buy an eggplant no matter where its staged on the shelf.

In fact, I haven’t worn most of my scarves in a while. Except on airplanes. I don’t want to be caught with stale air on a flight where someone decides to eat wasabi snacks (now sold in LAX!) and tempt fate. But my grocery scarves are now travel scarves, and who knows…some day they might just be scarves…

And side note: the writing group is a Muslim/Jewish writing group, and it’s really interesting to me that I’ve found ways to incorporate scarves into my wardrobe for a totally non-fashion related reason, and many of my Muslim friends do the same to cover their heads for prayer. While I was thinking, “I can’t leave my house without a scarf today” I’m glad to know I had friends-to-be-made that were doing the same, creating a kind of retroactive kinship.

Advertisements

It’s That Season Again…Not Holidays, But Horseradish

First of all, sorry for the TERRIBLY LONG OVERDUE post. Seriously. So much has changed since I’ve last blogged, and I’m sorry I’ve been too busy to keep you all updated. The food challenges are going well (yes, I will recap them, no I haven’t any failures as of late!), and life is generally good.

But I’m inspired to blog tonight because I’m frustrated with my body, and blog and body share two of the same letters, so I figured this was the answer.

I’ve decided I’m entitled to a handful of “woe is me” posts a year, so consider this the (hopefully) cap of 2013’s.

It’s horseradish season again. I remember this starting last year in February, and I was all mentally prepared for that — the halting of grocery shopping, the need to rely on others, not really eating half the foods I can eat because they’re too close to horseradish in the supermarket, the fear of impending death every time I went into Whole Foods. That was February Cindy’s problem…or so I thought.

On Thursday night, I went to Whole Foods to buy an eggplant, and they were next to mushrooms and on top of lettuce, and I called my mom asking how to navigate the situation when I noticed that diagonally under the eggplants was my enemy: HORSERADISH. Like, a ton of it. Where it usually isn’t, at least not in that abundance.

So I ran. I ran away from the offending root toward the fruit section where I saw pomegranates that I’m mildly airborne allergic to and ran farther and started to cry.

I didn’t leave the store with an eggplant. I figured out how to make eggplant/zuchinni parmigiana, though, so WIN! (I’m trying so hard to be peppy and positive. Probably helps that I just slayed Superbass in my totally sane “rap to see if you’re breathing well” diagnosis).

Anyway, I cried about the horseradish and its early resurgence into my world for a while. Not just horseradish, but this reminder that the littlest things can be so hard for me, for all of the people who have food allergies, especially airborne allergies. That going to regular places is a life-risk. It’s not like, “Oh let me grab some groceries.” It’s “Oh, I need to grab some groceries, hope I make it out okay and can spend the rest of my day as planned and not in bed, or worse.” Plus, sometimes I just want to eat. And when my airborne allergies make it harder to eat the things I can eat because of their proximity or my getting sick, it’s just horrible. I feel helpless and hungry.

Tonight, I wanted to spend time with a friend who was hungry, and I accompanied her to a restaurant. I was fine staving off my own hunger to join her where I couldn’t eat. That’s par for the course, and I’m fucking Tiger Woods of this restaurant golf metaphor. But then I wasn’t fine. I could feel the avocado and lettuce of her salad on my tongue. I’m usually okay around those if the space is big enough, but those allergies are the kind that you don’t know until you know, and I knew. We moved outside where I could get more air and less avocado. But to no avail. My tongue was prickly, my throat was hurting, my thoughts slowing down. I felt like I had at the moment before my doctor stopped me at my avocado challenge way back when.

So I came home. In tears. Because I wanted to hang out with her. I wanted to then come home and eat dinner. But I have to wait for the Benedryl to kick in first so whatever I eat next doesn’t get conflated with the previous poisons. Because my body does that. It loves to have allergic reactions all the livelong day to foods that are generally fine because it lives on the tipping point. If my body were a Lady Gaga song it would be “The Edge of Allergy.”

I should be able to be around my friends when they eat without dictating their diets (and making them feel guilty for something they didn’t do wrong — J, you are TOTALLY entitled to your dinner, and if you feel bad for even a second I will feel worse). I should be able to have normal social interactions. I should be able to eat dinner when I damn please and grocery shop, too, and get along just fine. And 99% of the time, I do.

But it’s horseradish season.

And I’m the one who has to hibernate.*

*I may be overdramatizing. But hey. It’s a good closer.

Things I Learned Tonight While On Benedryl

1. Don’t touch people in grocery stores.

2. Don’t go to the checkout aisle with gefilte fish on the conveyor belt

(one of the above might actually be ok. There’s no telling which, and there’s no telling if it’s the combo)

3. Try to always bring a new bottle of water in the car when driving in case you need to pop some Benedryl on location, and the water that sat in your car all day is burning hot from the 90 degree sun.

4. Singing/rapping is a good test to see if your throat is closing. But also, singing “Hopelessly Devoted To You” and “As Long as He Needs Me” for the better part of an hour is not great for your throat. If you get hoarse, scratchy or generally irritated it might be because you’re NOT a Broadway star.

5. It is possible to cook 95% of a shabbat dinner plus tonights dinner while on Benedryl. And also random turkey burgers because it’s hard to remember that freezers exist while you’re cooking on Benedryl. And also that you can’t eat 4 turkey burgers in one day.

6. The above cooking is tiring. Sitting down feels much better.

7. Sitting down is important.

8. Like, super important.

9. Stopping to sing is also important.

10. Lists should always have ten things.

THE JOYS OF AIRBORNE ALLERGIES!

Food Challenges Rounds 25 & 26: Cindy vs. Peanut Butter (2tsp) and Rum

This week, I completed one year of food challenges! When I started this process a year ago, I thought for sure it’d be quick, that I’d do a few food challenges, and get a nice amount of food back into my life pretty quickly. When my doctor told me he thought it’d be a good year before that happened, I was totally sidelined and confused. Now that it’s been a year, I am grateful for all the foods that are back in my life, but also still running through the list. Fine, so I didn’t do a challenge every. single. week of the year — had to take breaks for holidays, anaphylaxis, and important work events — but 26/52 is a lot. I imagine I have another year left to go. And honestly, it’s not so bad. Keeps my weeks interesting, it’s good to check in with the doctor and get my questions answered regularly, and when I succeed, it’s great. There are some foods I’ve incorporated less than others (I really should eat more barley…but I imagine I will come the winter, something about barley in the summer seems weird even though the weather doesn’t change here), and some that have become staples again (wheat, sunflower oil, lentils). I’ve learned a lot about my body in the last year, about food in general, and about courage. I still get scared every week, but I keep going back. And when it’s fine, it’s really fine. And when it’s anaphylaxis, I just shake a lot and get really cold and feel out of it for a week. That’s what blankets are for, right?

Anyway, so my last two food challenges went really well. So well that the blogging need wasn’t that immediate. I can now have two teaspoons of peanut butter, which is awesome. It’s still not enough for me to actually eat – I can’t seem to figure out the proper occasion for two teaspoons of peanut butter, and am scared I’ll start eating it and want more and get sad, plus I can’t eat crackers that I don’t make myself and that’s not worth two teaspoons – but I will try more soon. I have to take a break to make sure I don’t overdose, so those challenges will come down the road.

After the two teaspoons of peanut butter, I was going to try wine vinegar. But I couldn’t really settle on a recipe with wine vinegar that a) would be normal at 7:30am and b) I’d actually make often. People often get annoyed when I can’t eat wine vinegar, but I never liked the taste and never cook with it myself. Still, I was going to try it to succumb to the peer pressure.  But I couldn’t get to the kosher grocery store in time, and Ralph’s didn’t have any kosher brands. PS, I hadn’t been in Ralph’s in forever, and can I just say, that place is SUPER BRIGHT. Like, I don’t know how people can even see properly after shopping there. I have become a Whole Foods/Farmer’s Market Snob. Penn and Teller would hate me. That makes me question a lot of things. I don’t want Penn and Teller to hate me. I don’t want the version of myself who used to traipse around the Whole Foods in Union Square angrily and bitterly to hate me, either. But that girl could eat more, so what does she know?

Anyway…

I couldn’t find the wine vinegar in the brightly lit supermarket. I decided to wander around trying to find something else to try. This is maybe the most depressing thing a person with my allergy list (aka me, I’m unique that way) can do. If you can’t have processed food and you can’t have lots of unprocessed food, a supermarket is just miserable. I looked at all the aisles, all filled with things I couldn’t have, and got overwhelmed by how much there was to try. Did I try another cereal? No, aren’t Honeycomb, Kix, Chex, and Captain Crunch enough? What kind of person needs Frosted Flakes (omg, me). Did I try Entenmann’s donuts? Almost, but I could just picture my doctor’s face when I brought those in, my mother’s reaction to that phone call, and just the general public’s “what’s wrong with you, who needs donuts?” collective sigh. And also I was scared to read the ingredients and see cottonseed oil and know I could never try them again. (Just googled the ingredients for glazed pop ’ems which would be the kind I’d try, and they have xanthan gum in them. So fuck Entenmann’s. They are not on team Xanthan Gum is evil).

I thought about trying other sauces. Maybe a mustard with “spices?” Maybe a different kind of pickle? But all of those foods seemed useless to me in my life. And it was close to 11pm and I was getting tired. So I decided to try white wine. I headed over to the alcohol section, but I couldn’t decide which wine to try. Pinot Grigio? Chardonnay? It’s been so long since I had white wine, and the last one I had was Moscato (which I couldn’t find) that I just got overwhelmed. Plus, if I can have red wine, then is it that important that I have white wine? And then I realized — RUM!

This year on Cindystock, we gonna sip Bacardi like it's my birthday.

This year on Cindystock, we gonna sip Bacardi like it’s my birthday.

The last few times I’ve been at bars, I’d had too much wheat for Heineken and the bars didn’t have corn or potato vodka. Not that I’m the biggest drinker, but I do get “drinks” for work, and it’s frustrating when I do go out to have to look through the menu and not drink. Especially when I make someone else be the designated driver, or pay for a cab. That’s just rude to someone else’s night. But rum…rum is on every menu. And I didn’t think I’d be allergic to it. So I grabbed a bottle of Bacardi for myself and one for the doctor and nurses as a thank you for a year of food challenges gift, and 8 and a half hours later, had a rum and coke in the doctor’s office.

I passed! Not surprised, but very happy.

Also, after the overwhelmed feeling the night before and the stress of a food challenge, it was sort of nice to have a shot and a half of rum first thing in the morning. Not to become an alcoholic or anything, but after the panic and fear before every food challenge, getting a little relaxer in is sort of nice.

I celebrated that night at karaoke, where I rapped like nobody’s business. I’m getting better at that, now that it’s my go-to check to see if I’m breathing. I’ll be Nicki Minaj yet!

On Monday, I’m going to re-challenge some foods I stubbornly believe I can have but just overdosed on at my last challenge of them. Olive oil is Monday (scared), onion powder the week after (scared), and pasta after that (petrified, mostly because I’ll be so mad if it doesn’t work).

FOOD CHALLENGE TALLY:

Cindy: 18

Allergens: 7

Undecided: 1

Up Next: Olive Oil, take two.

Food Challenge Round 17: Cindy vs. Roasted Garlic Hummus

I was terrified before my challenge this morning. The last time I had sesame, I just barely passed, and since Sabra Roasted Garlic Hummus has some tahine in it, I was nervous. But I miss hummus, it’s a great and popular food, and I know I’ve eaten it successfully on may an occasion. So it was worth a try.

I used to eat these every Friday for lunch. Good to know I can know eat this on occasion.

I used to eat these every Friday for lunch. Good to know I can know eat this on occasion.

And in fact, I am not allergic to it! Hooray! That part of my doctor’s visit was uneventful. I ate half the tub of the snack size hummus, and was fine. Until about an hour when I got a sesame migraine, but that’s nothing a little chocolate, caffeine, and tylenol can’t handle. I probably won’t eat hummus often, but on occasion? A hummus migraine is better than a hunger migraine, right?

Plus, the snack pack came with pretzels. Which I have been DYING to try but the doctor has said it’s a bit of a waste of  challenge because I can already have “so much” wheat. But, he let me eat these pretzels. I “accidentally” ate all of them, which was a badish idea, but hey. I feel okay, I ate pretzels, and I am renewed.

What did terrify me, however, were the following insights:

1. There’s no solution to my horseradish problem, except getting someone to shop for me (as the doctor put it, “Don’t you work with a lot of men? Shouldn’t they be chivalrous and help you?”); asking someone who works in the store to get me an item from the back while sating far away from the horseradish, and trusting that they will not touch anything bad in that process which he said he wouldn’t trust them about; buying the items that are too close to the horseradish in a non-organic store that wouldn’t sell horseradish, but that’s a bad option because I need organic foods. Hi, rock. Hi hard place. Nice to be between you both.

2. The other solution he presented was eating more vegetables, so that the ones I can eat aren’t in the horseradish section. But to do that, I have to try vegetables. With which I have a bad history. But he said he wants me to try everything I have had reactions to in the past (with some obvious exceptions, like fish and horseradish). That’s why we’re doing this, he explained. He wants to do a double blind test, where he blindfolds me, feeds me the food and a placebo, and we spend all day making sure I don’t die. Because there’s a teeny chance I’m not allergic to the foods themselves and just think I am, or outgrew them, or something. That’s why we do food challenges in the first place, he explained. So here’s the thing. I’ll have to take off like a month from work all tolled, and potentially die. Like, “Hey, I can’t come in today, because I’ve decided to out myself in a precarious near-death situation, but dont worry, there are epipens, so I’ll be decently okay, but probably out of it for a week, but in the end there’s a small chance I can eat lettuce?” How does that work? I can;t imagine waking up in the morning and knowingly feeding myself cauliflower. That’s like waking up and saying “Today, I’ve decided to drive with my eyes closed. But it’s cool, I have airbags and bandages and a paramedic in the car, so if I’m almost dying, someone will fix me.” Bad idea. And yet, so is not eating. Slow death vs. death challenge in a controlled environment? This is like the real Fear Factor, people.

3. He also wants to test antibiotics when we’re done with foods. That’s also a full day, because those last in your system for a full day. Basically, I’d come to the office, take biaxin that has no additives, made by his pharmacist with special care, and see what happens. Last time I had biaxin, I blacked out in Mrs. Agassi’s 10th grade English class. But this time, I’d be sinus-infection free and in a doctor’s office, so…cool? I wonder if it makes more sense to do those challenges when I’m already sick. So a) I miss fewer work days and b) I’m not on unnecessary meds.

In good news — because amid all my fear, I have to stay sunny and appreciate this ridiculousness — there’s a new epipen on the market. It’s actually not an epipen because that’s a brand name. It’s an Auvi-Q and it’s badass. Thanks, T, for sending me the info from the NY Times. The doctor showed it to me today and I’m obsessed (what has my life come to?!). It’s the size of a nano and the thickness of a cell phone/two chocolate bars, and it TALKS TO YOU. Like it says, “remove the red cap. Place against your thigh. [it clicks to inject] 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. Inejction complete.” It’s so slick and small and easy to carry and not pencil-case shaped and an idiot can use it and feel comfortable. It’s like a GPS epipen. It’s genius and I want one.

I don't know why I'm so excited about a medical tool but I really am. Look how sexy this is!

I don’t know why I’m so excited about a medical tool but I really am. Look how sexy this is!

In other good news, the world is starting to hate xanthan gum. Ten points to the anti-xanthan gum crusade! And thanks, E, for sending along this brilliant article.

I have the best friends, and I love the NY Times. That’s the moral of this story. Despite all the fear, all the anxiety, all the unclarity about how to proceed, I know I have support, I know the world is listening in its own way, and I can sort of kind of eat hummus and pretzels. So this is a win. Just a “tread carefully as we move forward but never stop moving forward” kind of win.

FOOD CHALLENGE TALLY

Cindy: 13 (including the sabra pretzels)

Allergens: 5

Next Up: Buckwheat (can someone tell me what the hell buckwheat is? It’s on my list of not terrifying things to try but I don’t know what to do with it. The doctor said “make pancakes” but that seems unnecessary).

Oh, It’s Horseradish Season Again.

I haven’t had a horseradish reaction since early September. But I guess four months was all I got, because today, I ran into some horseradish in Whole Foods. Oh, airborne allergies, how I love thee.

I was looking at some eggplants and found myself a little off, but I was mulitasking on the phone. I look down, see horseradish, gasp (smart — intake the breath, Cinds) and run out of the vegetable aisle. Well, jog-ish to the peppers, look to see if the yellow ones are organic, and jog away.

And then the tongue tingling started. Like I had just burned my mouth with hot soup. Burning and itching (delightful, right?). No swelling of the throat so that was cool, but I ran through the rest of my grocery order, started feeling like I was going to pass out, and drove home.

Seriously, this ugly random food is my kryptonite. Can I at least get a cape?

Seriously, this ugly random food is my kryptonite. Can I at least get a cape?

Took some Benadryl as soon as I got in, and glanced in the mirror. There were so many hives on my chest and neck. Like, 10? Maybe more?  And then one appeared on my left wrist, which is where my horseradish hives have tended to appear — why, I have no clue. All I know is, thank God for steroid cream!

But seriously. Does this mean I’m not going to be able to grocery shop properly? Do enough people even eat fresh horseradish root to make it a good item for sale? It’s a bitter herb, folks. It’s supposed to symbolize torture and slavery. It’s the Zero Dark Thirty of foods. Not that I’ve ever tasted it — never been close enough to try — but I can’t imagine it’s that good (I know my family members may disagree, but I still don’t get it).

I don’t really know what to do. Last time it was in season, I just ran out of the Santa Monica co-op all the time. But I was at a job where sensitivity to my allergies was abundant, and if I was off my game from a reaction one day, the world went on turning. Now, notsomuch. Which is fine. But worries me, because if every time I grocery shop, I’ll have to take Benadryl, I’m bound to be a little woozy.

Anyone want to be my personal grocery shopper during horseradish season? Like Fonzworth Bentley, P.Diddy’s umbrella carrier? I’ll cook you dinner every Sunday if you go to Whole Foods for me…

Goodbye, Squash Aversion (and a recipe, too boot!)

There’s a difference between a food overdose that makes you sick and a food overdose that makes you just averse to the food. The first is something reserved for those among us with serious allergies and escalated food sensitivities, and the second is, well, pretty normal.

But I gotta say, it’s terribly inconvenient to experience a food aversion when you’ve got a billion food allergies. So it hasn’t been great that I’ve been distancing myself from squash these last few months.

Over the spring/summer, when I could eat basically squash, zucchini  beans, eggplant, sweet potatoes, green beans, carrots, non-green peppers, corn, quinoa, millet, pumpkin, oats, lamb, chicken, turkey, and bison, and all of the above only three times a week, I ate a ton of squash. Like squash at every meal, because every squash counted as a different food. But once my diet opened up, I just couldn’t bring myself to eat squash that regularly. Sure it was in season. And I did buy it a lot, just in case. But I could never bring myself to cook it. Maybe some bottleneck or zucchini here and there, but acorn? Dumpling? Kabocha? Not so often.

This shabbat, I decided it was time. Mostly because I’d bought the cutest little kabocha squash and didn’t feel like going to the grocery store. Oh. My. God. Can we say DELICIOUS? I felt like I’d travelled back in time. Friday night dinner, complete with reading and sleeping and resting, mixed with a challah and a matzah (didn’t want to buy two when I can only eat a handful of bread anyway), chicken, green beans, and kabocha squash. And pumpkin oat muffins (that had flour and eggs, but let’s not unnecessarily torture ourselves, esp. when baking ten minutes before Shabbat starts).

It was like being transported back in time. It was lovely. I realized how far I’ve come, how many new foods I can eat, and how I don’t need to eat literally everything I am not allergic to, even if I don’t like it. I thought about how lucky I am that I get to have more foods and say things like “sometimes I don’t like squash.” I thought about eating kitniyot on Pesach and whether I really have to this year (the answer is yes, because a potato and tomato don’t replace millet, beans, green beans, lentils and corn). But I thought about how I WILL get to eat karpas (the ritual potato). How I had wine. And real wheat matzah. And how much has changed since last March. And how it’s all so good.

And tonight, as I dogsit for my quasi-aunt and uncle’s dog Roxie, I think about how I used to spend every Shabbat here in 2008 when I was at USC for the summer. How I live in LA for real now. How then, they didn’t have a dog, and now their dog is a family member. How I spent those Saturday nights watching movies on their couch, and how now I go to the theater with friends.

How a year ago, I didn’t know why I was getting sick every day when I ate lunch. How I gchatted T every day saying “tell me to take benedryl bc I’m sick but I don’t want to be.” How I had finally got test results back that said I was allergic to nuts, sort of, and fish sort of, and cabbage not at all, and how I thought that was it, but still got sick. How now, I get sick randomly once a week max (usually less), or when I have a bad challenge. Which has happened exactly 5 times. My list is getting “back to normal” every day. Soon I can say “I’m allergic to leafy greens, mushrooms, broccoli, cauliflower, nuts, fish, horseradish, some onions, avocado, artichokes, hearts of palm, and pasta.” Which isn’t a big deal at all.

So bring it on, squash. We’re not averse anymore.

We're back, baby.

We’re back, baby.

The recipe, in case you’re curious:

One Kabocha squash, cut into manageable pieces (depends on size of squash), with the seeds and guts removed

Some kind of oil. I use safflower, grapeseed, or canola, but use whatever. Oil is oil. It works.

A sprinkling of salt and pepper

Some ginger

Some nutmeg

Coat the pan in oil. Season the squash. Drizzle a little more oil on if desired. Roast in the oven for 30-50 minutes at around 400 (or 350, just check it), depending on the size of the piece. When it’s soft and smells good it’s done.

Introducing Christy-Made, a New (Allergy-Friendly, Vegan, Gluten-Free) Baked Good Catering Service

It’s really hard to find quality baked goods that meet all of your allergy needs and still taste like baked goods. For instance, I can have gluten but I can’t have nuts, and you’d be hard pressed to find a bakery that’s nut free but not gluten free or vegan or both. Like, maybe I want an egg and butter filled brownie made of wheat that just doesn’t have traces of nuts. And is baked by someone competent who I can literally trust with my life.

Enter Christy-Made. Christy is an incredible baker (though, moment of truth, her baked goods aren’t kosher so I’m going based on smell and heresay from dozens and dozens of people who I’ve witnessed eat her baked goods) who just started a new catering business where she handmakes baked goods for any occasion and delivers them straight to your home or office or wherever! While her baked goods aren’t necessary specialty (meaning gluten-free, vegan, allergy-friendly, etc.) they can be. She’s really knowledgeable about food allergies and intolerances, and she’s very eco-conscious, too — all the ingredients are local and organic.

Christy was instrumental in helping me understand my bevy of new allergies back in March. Even though she is not an allergy sufferer herself, she knows how to adjust and tweak her recipes to cater to people with special dietary restrictions. She walked me through baking once gluten, eggs, dairy, and xanthan gum were all out of the question. So if you’ve liked my pumpkin oat muffins or anything in that variety, know that I built those recipes using tips and tricks and inspiration from Christy. She helped me figure out foods I could use to replace old staples in my diet, and taught me how to tweak old recipes. So while I haven’t had the joy of actually eating her food, because technically her kitchen/equipment isn’t up to my standards of kosher, I know it’s good, and I know it’s made with care.

So check out Christy-Made. And next time you’re in LA and need a nice dessert, call on Christy. Whether or not you need her to go the extra mile and adjust the recipe to your restricted diet

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.

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.