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 24: Cindy Vs. Peanut Butter (1 tsp)

Let’s get the easy stuff out of the way — I’m alive!

I was really scared I wouldn’t be. I’m a little bit scared every time I do one of these challenges, because when you think about it, I’m basically testing myself to see what foods might kill me and that means I have a 50% chance of getting a life-threatening reaction once a week, but this week I was particularly scared. Though the strongest reaction I’ve ever had to peanuts was mildly itchy ears during my most hypersensitive state (the same time I decided I needed to seek medical attention), the commonness of the allergy scared me. So did dying like an idiot. Like, if I’d god forbid died with the cottonseed incident*, at least my obituary would be interesting. But eating peanuts on purpose in an experiment? That would just read “Cindy Kaplan is a moron, and well, duh.” Like, how dumb do you have to be to an allergic person and eat frikkin peanuts to see what happens? So most of my day yesterday was spent panicking, crying, praying, and seeking support as I worked through the fear.

Decided not to go with Jif...they don't sell it in Whole Foods and I'm too lazy to shop elsewhere, and come on, rapeseed? Over it.

Decided not to go with Jif…they don’t sell it in Whole Foods and I’m too lazy to shop elsewhere, and come on, rapeseed? Over it.

Turns out, there was nothing to be scared of! I had a teaspoon of peanut butter this morning – the crunchy kind – and it was DELICIOUS. And I’m fine. It just felt like I was a person eating delicious food. Not like a hesitant person, not a twinge of a headache, just, oh, here’s a spoon with peanut butter on it, here’s my mouth, ok cool. I’d forgotten how awesome peanut butter tasted, and how funny it is when it sticks to your mouth. It’s the food that just keeps giving!

After half an hour of chitchat/observation — not the 2 hours I’d planned on — I was sent home. Next week, I’ll try 2 teaspoons of peanut butter, and I’ll keep increasing my peanut butter threshold until either I get sick or I reach my own personal quota. I’m thinking about 6 teaspoons. I never liked much more than that. In case you’re wondering why this challenge is so different, it’s because peanuts are so prevalent so they take every precaution. Personally, I’m more scared of cottonseed oil, but my threshold for that is basically nonexistant.

Anyway, now I can eat things that have traces of peanuts (assuming the other ingredients are fine…I had been so excited about having Crunch, Kit Kat, and M&Ms again but there are other questionable ingredients in those chocolates so that’ll have to wait…but Scharffenberger is not a bad consolation prize), and I can eat 1 tsp of peanut butter (the fancy organic kind I bought) 3 times a week.

So basically, my life changed today. I couldn’t be happier or feel more blessed.

FOOD CHALLENGE TALLY:

Cindy: 16

Allergens: 7

Undecided: 1

Next Up: More Peanut Butter!

*random halachic (jewish law) thought: do I have to say birkat hagomel (the blessing for surviving a life-threatening situation) after anaphylaxis? What about after successful food challenges? How different is the risk of trying peanuts from the risk of airplane travel or prolonged illness or a car accident?

Food Challenge 23: Cindy vs. Barley

I went into my barley challenge this morning with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I knew I could eat barley in its malted form in Heineken and flour. On the other hand, even though I can have wheat, the processing of wheat in pasta made me vomit while driving a car and subsequently pass out for a few hours. So, you know. You never can tell.

Luckily, though, pasta stays its own unique experience. I ate barley this morning – just plain boiled barley with a touch of salt – and did not get sick at all. And, even better, loved the taste of it. Who knew barley was delicious? I can’t wait to explore interesting barley soup and risotto recipes. Totally open to recommendations, too, but none with mushrooms, please (what is it with those two? Seriously, can someone who eats both please explain why they taste good together? I’m so curious and I’ll never find out).

And, now that I can eat barley, I can have one more of the seven species of Israel. These are foods that were brought as a tithe to the temple and are still traditionally eaten on Rosh Hashana and other holidays. They’re like the holiest foods, I think, and it bothers me that I’m allergic to so many of them.  They are wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates. And now, I’m only allergic to figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates. As soon as I get olives back — someday, right??? — I’ll be back to where I started, with the majority on my side. I didn’t realize how happy it would make me to get barley back, but it really, really does.

Can't wait to make this! Well, after I adapt it to exclude the chicken broth (waste of time/chicken), onion, white wine, and replace the olive oil. So basically, I want to make barley with thyme, pepper, parmesan cheese, carrots, and maybe I'll be creative and throw in a pepper for creativity. Or nix the cheese and use red wine and garlic. It's a pretty picture, screw the actual recipe!

Can’t wait to make this! Well, after I adapt it to exclude the chicken broth (waste of time/chicken), onion, white wine, and replace the olive oil. So basically, I want to make barley with thyme, pepper, parmesan cheese, carrots, and maybe I’ll be creative and throw in a pepper for added flavor. Or nix the cheese and use red wine and garlic. It’s a pretty picture, screw the actual recipe! (or don’t: http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2008/12/healthy-delicious-barley-risotto-recipe.html)

In other good news, I’m going to FINALLY be trying peanuts next time. Originally, my doctor had recommended we do a full day double blind challenge for peanuts. That was simply never going to happen, since I can’t take a whole day off of work just for the ability to eat peanuts three times a week, maybe. Loss of a day’s pay plus high risk of anaphylaxis? No thank you. Refilling my epipen prescription is more than my salary, so not worth it. But, I’ve been craving peanuts lately. I’ve been trying to smell it, I’ve been totally jealous of the office dog when she licks her jar of Skippy. I mean, all I want to do is just eat peanut butter from the jar and maybe sneak a few honey roasted peanuts and Butterfingers and Reese’s cups. Yum. So I asked the doctor again if peanuts were something we could do. Now that I’ve been getting better and since he’s seen how quickly my anaphylaxis actually comes on, he said we can knock the peanuts out in a regular challenge in 2 hours instead of the usual 20 or so minutes. It’s not going to be a double blind, because unlike most patients, I believe I am not allergic to peanuts. I’d probably convince myself I was fine with the peanuts in the double blind, I want them that badly.

So next time I food challenge — date TBD, depending on how my scratch test goes on Monday — I’ll be eating peanuts. And I better succeed, because I want them so so so badly. Plus, how baller would it be to be allergic to as many things as I am allergic to, and NOT be allergic to peanuts, the most popular allergen? I’d only be allergic to 3 of the top 8 (thought shellfish is iffy since I have no way of challenging it and keeping kosher). Fish and nuts. But I don’t want to get my hopes up either. Peanut anaphylaxis seems like the sort of thing you don’t want to induce upon yourself. It just seems socially awkward.

The only thing is, I want to eat Skippy crunchy peanut butter because it’s the best. But, it turns out, they use cottonseed oil (and something called “rapeseed oil” which is an antiquated name for canola oil, but I guess Skippy didn’t get the memo that people don’t like to eat things that are called rape). So no Skippy for me. Because cottonseed oil can kill me. Not because I don’t support poor verbage (which I don’t). All peanut butters use rapeseed, so that’s a non-starter. But I will, like a choosy mom, choose Jif. Because it’s the only name-brand peanut butter that doesn’t use cottonseed oil. Though, interesting fact, now that I’ve spent my night researching peanut butter — they make peanut butter with fish in it to increase omega 3s, and the reduced fat peanut butter is only 60% peanuts and 40% chemicals that sound like they can kill you. Who knew peanut butter was so darn complicated?

FOOD CHALLENGE TALLY

Cindy: 15

Allergens: 7

Undecided: 1

Next Up: PEANUT BUTTER!

Food Challenge 22: Cindy vs. Green Peppers

This was perhaps the silliest food challenge yet. I expected it to be uneventful because I wanted to start slow on this new post-anaphylaxis round of challenges. (In case you’re wondering why it’s been so long, I had to take a break after the cottonseed oil anaphylaxis and subsequent overreactions, and then Passover got in the way, and then work was too busy for me to take risks).

Anyway. I decided to try green peppers because they are around a lot, in spices and in general. And I used to love them more than any other pepper. And I can eat all the other colors. So I thought, “shoe in!”

Nope.

I mean, maybe nope.

The first time I ever had a green pepper, I said it tasted like spoons. Specifically, the dairy spoons from my parents’ house. This grilled green pepper, of which I had one bite, tasted like old metal pipes in dishwashing liquid.

Green peppers or dishwashing liquid? You decide because my taste buds simply don't know.

Green peppers or dishwashing liquid? You decide because my taste buds simply don’t know.

As I chewed the bite, I started making a horrible face. The doctor took one look at me, said “Oh, the pleasant face,” and handed me a trash can to spit it out before I got sick. The last time I made a face even half as horrible was avocado and we all know how that turned out. (If you don’t, read about it here).

So no green peppers for me. Not a confirmed allergen, but a confirmed disgusting food. For now, at least.

The good news, though, is that when I first started going to this allergist, he told me we’d talk about allergy shots when he thought I was in a better place. We talked about allergy shots, so I must be in a better place! I’m getting scratch-tested on Monday for environmental allergies (anyone have a good playlist to distract me from the horrible pain of that test? Or something fun to read? I read Mindy Kaling’s pilot last time, so I’ll take another pilot recommendation). Depending on how that goes, I’ll start getting shots.

So essentially, I’ll be at the office once a week for shots and once a week for challenges. 2 out of the 4 days its open.

Does that mean I qualify as a Beverly Hills resident?

FOOD CHALLENGE TALLY

Cindy: 14

Allergens: 7

Undecided: 1

Next Up: I’m taking suggestions.

Food Challenge Rounds 20 & 21: Cindy vs. Apricot and Cottonseed Oil

I didn’t get a chance to write about last week’s food challenge – dried apricots – but that’s pretty ok, considering how uneventful it was. Basically, I ate a bunch of apricots, talked to the doctor for ten minutes, went home, and went on with my life. You know, the way normal people eat food. They just eat it. It was cool to experience that with a food I’ve been terrified of for basically my whole life for no other reason than I can’t tell the difference between an apricot, a peach, and a nectarine and that unsettles me.

So woohoo! I can eat apricots! Celebrate good times, come on. Or something.

I'd rather eat an apricot than cottonseed oil anyway.

I’d rather eat an apricot than cottonseed oil anyway.

Today’s cottonseed oil challenge was a whole ‘nother story. One that starts with two bites of an omelet fried in cottonseed oil and two baby bites of a sweet potato drizzled with cottonseed oil and ends with anaphylaxis.

This was the quickest and most severe reaction I’ve ever had. I started coughing at the second bit of the sweet potato, but figured that sometimes people cough, and took a second bite of the egg (I was alternating sweet potato, egg, sweet potato, egg to make sure I didn’t eat too quickly). After that second bite, I pushed the tupperware away and started panting. The doctor looked at me and kneeled down to be eye level to my sitting in the office chair and asked what was happening.

“Help” was all I could say.

He ran to tell the nurse to prep the epi injection, and came back and said “Tell me what you feel.” Through gulps of air, I explained that I felt like I was running a marathon but I didn’t run marathon and the air was not coming out and I was scared.

The nurse shot me with the epi and then took me to a room for a Benedryl injection. I stayed there shaking for a little while and then poked my head out because my throat started feeling tighter and tighter. They switched my room because the patient occupying the closest room to the doctor’s actual office had finally left (ok, so it was 20 minutes and that person is entitled to be a patient, too, I guess) and gave me more epi. So that meant more shaking but some major relief.

I just sat on the exam table without moving for a really long time, staring off into space, unable to lie down or close my eyes because I was too out of it. Finally, I mustered the strength to take a nap. I woke up periodically for more medicine – some inhaled steroids, more Benedryl – but essentially just lay there sleeping. I’d say “dead to the world” because that’s the accurate idiom, but considering I could have actually died that doesn’t seem so cool anymore).  The nurse brought me some extra sweaters and jackets because I was freezing — it was about 80 degrees in the office and I could hear all the patients complaining about the heat and the nurses on the phone with the building to fix the thermostat, but I was freezing in my t-shirt, sweater, and shearling jacket.

Finally, at around 1pm, I woke up and had enough strength to stand up. I’d been at the doctor since 7:30am. I started eating at about 7:40, and got sick at 7:45. That’s a long time to be at the doctor. They joked that I worked there, and never one to miss moment, I suggested they pay me for my time. They responded they charge by the hour, and we all had a good laugh.

I had enough strength to drive the mile home, which was good, even though the valet guy who is the best in the world offered to drive me home, and  told me he would drive me home at any point if I was this sick. Such a good hearted man.

I got home, called my mom, and slept on and off for the next 5 and a half hours. I’d be perfectly awake one minute, just lying down, and the next minute, I’d look at the time on my tv and realize I’d been asleep for 40 minutes. I guess 100mg of Benadryl, 2-ish doses of epi, and not breathing will do that to you. Kind of knocked the wind out of my sails, but hey. I learned something.

Actually, I learned a few things:

1. I can never have Pringles again (until the food industry realizes cottonseed oil is so unhealthy and they switch to canola)

2. A hello kitty bandaid makes everything better. I’ll totally take Benadryl injections into my hip if it means getting some hello kitty fun.

3. Passover is my favorite holiday even though it’s really not accommodating of my allergies. Like, seriously? Maror and cottonseed oil? Come on.

4. Epinephrine really does work and it’s not scary. Not breathing is scary. Breathing is great.

5. Rapping Nicki Minaj is a good test to see if I can breathe. Because I tried it quietly at the doctor’s office, and only got to the line “he ill, he real, he might got a deal” before I started panting — and that’s only the 5th line.

FOOD CHALLENGE TALLY

Cindy: 14

Allergens: 7

Next Up: Grape Juice (for sulfites and passover. and bc I’m 99.9% sure it’s fine since I have other wine and grapes and raisins and there’s no way I can do a rough challenge while I recover from this lovely bout of anaphylaxis).

Food Challenge Round 19: Cindy vs. Buckwheat

First, I want to say how proud I am that I’ve actually tried the foods I’ve said I would for the last few weeks. No more last minute changes. But I do sort of wish that I’d made a last minute swap for apricots this week, as I’m 99% sure I’ve eaten apricots and been fine (I never actually tested positive for them, or tested for them at all, but for some reason they terrify me and I feel like I need to eat them where I know I’m safe to overcome this totally irrational fear). I wish I’d made the switch, because buckwheat went…mediocrely.

Hey look! It's two foods I can't eat for the price of one!

Hey look! It’s two foods I can’t eat for the price of one!

I cooked buckwheat pancakes in the morning and they smelled FOUL. But when I tasted them at the doctor’s office, they were delicious. So right away I knew something was up, but I can’t really get my head straight before 9am most days and I was operating on almost no sleep and two consecutive 12+ hour workdays at my 8am challenge, so I let it be. After one pancake though, I got this weird airy feeling in my throat and chest. I’ve had this feeling before, and I usually ignore it and keep eating, and then get sick. It’s the impending doom feeling. It happened with pickles, it happens all the time with watermelon, and it used to happen with blueberries and walnuts when I still ate those. So this time, I trusted my gut and asked the doctor if I could stop eating. (I’m learning how to be safe, yay!). He said sure, and we just chatted about his latest Now That’s What I Call Music 45 CD.

And then the tingling started. No big deal, but like, my lips and chin and jaw started feeling…off. Not swollen. Not painful. Just, annoying. And hyperaware. And tingly. Like my whole body had become centralized in my face and I couldn’t balance out. This did not concern the doctor, who said I had no visible signs of sickness. Twenty minutes later, when the tingling persisted but didn’t get worse, he released me, with no medicine. We called it a “slight positive.” Meaning, I can have exactly that amount of buckwheat on rare occasions if I need to. Sort of like onion powder. But, unlike onion powder, I don’t think I’m going to be coming across buckwheat that often. And considering I’ve avoided onion powder successfully since that challenge a few months ago, I think the point is moot.

Anyone 3/4 of a bag of buckwheat flour? Because for $5.99 (for like 4 cups, mind you), that flour needs a good home.

Oh, and ps. Now that I can’t have buckwheat, I feel like I will get more incensed the next time someone suggests I eat gluten-free. Nope. I can eat real wheat (sort of) and I cannot have one of the standard gluten-free wheats, so world, stop asking if your gluten free cookies or cakes or what-have-yous are helpful to me. They aren’t. /endrant

FOOD CHALLENGE TALLY

Cindy: 13

Allergens: 6

Next Up: Apricots

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).

Food Challenge Round 16: Cindy Vs. Basil

I finally tried basil! After a failed test where the basil was spoiled, I was a little apprehensive. What if the basil wasn’t actually spoiled that time, and really I was just so allergic to it that it tasted bad, like avocados or nuts do? Sure, I used to eat basil all the time, but with overdoses being what they are, I was scared.

Luckily, my friend M was generous enough to eat a leaf in my apartment the night before. And he assured me it was not spoiled basil. So I knew that if it tasted weird the next morning, it would be me.

Sure enough, the basil was not spoiled. And I am not allergic to it. Fresh basil made my lips slightly tingly, so the doctor limited it to twice a week, but hey. That’s twice more than I’ve been having it, and as it’s an ingredient in so many foods, there are so many new doors that will open for me. (Here’s looking at you, tomato sauce).

So hopefully last time’s avocado was a one-off. I much prefer successful challenges.

In other news, the doctor finally told me I could go out to eat “no problem.” Not in any restaurant, obviously, but he did say that it would be better for me to go on dates in a restaurant where I can custom order than resolve to cooking for random men in my home. So that’s a win!

I also learned that the peanut challenge is a full day affair, half day if I’m lucky. Since it’s so common, that challenge involves a double blind test with a placebo food. So peanuts are a ways away, as I can’t really take a day off work for a nut. I guess the question is: how much money is a peanut worth? A day’s pay + doctor copay? How much would you pay to be able to maybe eat peanuts and all the items that contain traces of peanuts?

FOOD CHALLENGE TALLY

Cindy: 11

Allergens: 5

Up Next: Hummus

Food Challenge 15: Cindy vs. Avocado

Spoiler alert/disclaimer

I am writing this post while on 100mg of Benadryl (normal dose is 50) and a shot of epi. So forgive me if it’s not entirely coherent.

I tried an avocado today. I thought it would go well because it didn’t show up as an allergy on my blood test, but I’d had reactions in the past (I haven’t eaten an avocado in about 7 years, maybe more) so we decided to challenge it anyway. But I figured I’d be eating guacamole all week! (Well, three times, anyway).

Avocados don’t taste as good as I remember, first of all. I was grimacing the entire time I was eating it, and finally started to feel sick about 3/4 of the way through. The doctor stopped me and told me to take Benadryl, as he could see I was not responding well.

“But the blood tests were negative!” I told him.

He told me it’s a different kind of reaction – an oral allergy, not a food allergy – wherein I’m not allergic to avocado the food, but the pollen of the birch tree that’s found in avocado. It’s just as real, just as painful, but not technically a “food” allergy and also cannot result in anaphylaxis. But it can result in crazy swelling, which it did. Throat, tongue, eyes, ears, lips. I didn’t puff up bc I took the Benadryl fast enough but my eyes were so crazy it was impossible to keep them open. They gave me a  half dose of epi with the 5o mg of Benadryl to see how that was.

My first epi ever, by the way. 26 years of dozens of food allergies and I just lost my epinephrine virginity today. Not bad. It’s not as scary as I thought, though the nurse administered a shot to my shoulder, not a pen through my jeans. The epi made me shake so the nurse had to hold my legs down, but it was ok. Shaking meant it was working.

Well, sort of. I was getting worse and more swollen and my mouth was burning and I felt like I had bronchitis, my throat was so inflamed. They gave me more Benadryl – a shot in my hip, this time – and when that didn’t do the full trick, the rest of the dose of epi. I fell asleep for a little while (2o minutes) and woke up feeling less swollen and, while still shitty, out of the woods. I was at the doctor for a total of 3 hours. I wasn’t allowed to drive, but luckily I got a ride (thanks, M!) and I’ve been ordered to stay in bed all day and check in first thing tomorrow morning with the doctor.

So how does it feel to have an allergic reaction? It feels cloudy and overwhelming and exhausting and like there is a beast inside of you that is eating you from the inside and it can’t come out. But the epi shoots the beast in the head and all is well except you’re dizzy, disoriented, and still exhausted. I can barely walk without holding on to something, and I’m out of it in a way I haven’t been in a while, but hey. I survived the food, learned more about allergies, and learned that epipens are, as advertised, a good thing. Oh, and having an allergist take care of you instead of an ER doctor is a dream come true. Well, sort of. I mean, it’s better to not need any care, but that’s not a reality I’m aware of.

So the unofficial fruit of California and I are not going to be friends unless I get environmental allergy shots for the birch tree and try this again. But at least avocados are green and easily found, right?

FOOD CHALLENGE TALLY

Cindy: 10

Allergens: 5

Up Next: TBD, since the doctor’s office is closed for the holidays!

Food Challenge Round 14: Cindy vs. Wine (Sulfites)

It’s fitting that on the day I drink wine at my doctor’s office at 7:30am, I also spend the rest of the day at the Cougartown set*. While I drank out of a plastic purple Solo cup and not Big Joe or Big Carl, I know Jules Cobb would have traded places with me any day. In fact, if she or any of the Cul de Sac crew had my list of allergies, I’d bet the first — and not fourteenth — challenge would be with wine.

*I was not actually shooting Cougartown, we were just shooting an upcoming webseries basically in their space. But yes, I saw almost the whole crew (minus Andy and Travis) as well as the writers, and damn, those are some fantastically talented people. 

What would my doctor have said if I brought Big Joe to his office?

What would my doctor have said if I brought Big Joe to his office?

Anyway.

I challenged wine this morning because in early April, towards the end of my original 30-day elimination diet, I had some grape juice and had a pretty bad reaction. White wine had less of a reaction but still an evident one. On the eve Passover (the holiday where, like, you know, you drink 4 cups of wine, but whatever) the doctor told me I was no longer allowed to drink wine that had added sulfites, as sulfites commonly cause a chemical reaction that’s similar to an allergic reaction (but NOT an allergic reaction. You can’t be allergic to sulfites. Just intolerant). So I’ve been drinking Elima wine, which is kosher no added sulfites wine that costs an exorbitant amount and while it’s decent, is not worth a weekly purchase for kiddush, the Sabbath blessing over wine. Especially because it doesn’t hold overnight. It’s missing the preservatives so it doesn’t quite preserve.

After calling the Herzog winery to find out if they use isinglass (ie fish bladder) in their wine, like many wineries do, I found that isinglass isn’t kosher for Passover, so they don’t use it, and therefore, I can safely test their wine. I can’t get anywhere near fish, of course. Side story: a few of weeks ago, someone in my office ate fish and I broke out in hives and had throat tightness for 2 days. That was fun. It also knocked fish bladder clear off the list.

So this morning, I brought a bottle of Jeunesse, a cabernet sauvignon to the doctor’s office, poured a Solo cup, and drank wine while everyone in the office — doctor, nurse, patients — all commented on how funny it was to be challenging such a thing. “I could never be allergic to wine, how hard.” “I could never drink wine at 7:30am.” “Why try a red, chardonnay is so much better?” “Are you kidding? Chardonnay is gross. If you can only have one wine, please say it’s a cab.” “You really can’t drive home after one glass? You’re such a lightweight!”

The challenge went well, I started the morning after what was a pretty stressful week with a glass of wine and a nice buzz, and chilled at the doctor’s office until I DUI tested myself by leaning my head back, standing on one foot, and touching the tip of my nose with both pointer fingers and determined I was safe to drive. The mile back to my house, anyway. I needed some more water, Rice Chex, and couch time before I could head to work. But gotta say — there’s nothing that a good solid glass of wine in the morning can’t fix.

Well, maybe some things. But it’s a start.

AND, allow me this Jewish pride moment, if you will: I can officially do both blessings on Shabbat (wine and bread) without too much trouble! It’s been such a pleasure this Chanukah to have latkes and not miss out on the traditional food, and to know I can have that back week after week is reassuring and calming. While I’ll never be able to eat all the Passover foods (bitter herbs are deathly herbs to me), and cheesecake is sort of out of the question since most cream cheeses are made with gums so Shavuot is shot, and I can’t have new fruits on Rosh Hashana (unless I invite my doctor over…) I’m grateful to have the ritual foods of some Jewish holidays. And of Thanksgiving. Because there’s not a single Thanksgiving food I’m allergic to at all, nothing to even challenge.

FOOD CHALLENGE TALLY

Cindy – 10

Allergens – 4

Up Next – (Why do I even bother, I never listen to my plan!) But let’s go with avocado.