Celebratory Shabbat: Lots of Recipes!

This past Shabbat, I celebrated my one year anniversary of my scratch test by serving some of the foods that have been returned to my life since they were taken away in that test. It was delicious, so why not share the recipes?

It was all pretty simple — the menu was London Broil, tri-colored carrots with rosemary, pepper steak and baby corn stir fry, majadra (made by friend N who has a delicious blog of her own!), roasted tomato/pear/apples, and roasted potatoes. At the last minute I also threw in some eggplant and zucchini but that’s old news in my diet. Then, chocolate chip cookies for dessert, from my friend’s delicious home bakery. So here are the seriously easy recipes for the foods I cooked.

Majadra -- for great Syrian recipes, visit http://twistongrandmasrecipes.blogspot.com/p/recipes.html

Majadra — for great Syrian recipes, visit http://twistongrandmasrecipes.blogspot.com/p/recipes.html

London Broil:

spice a london broil with a pinch of garlic, pepper, and salt, and cook at about 400 for like 30 minutes, less if you like the meat rare (but I’m a well done sort of a girl).

Carrots:

buy a bunch of purple, white, and orange carrots. peel and chop. drizzle on or spray oil. Toss on salt, pepper, and rosemary. Cook at 350 or 400 (depends how fast you want them done) for 20-30 minutes

Pepper Steak:

stir fry pepper steak and cut up baby corn. Add in garlic and salt

Tomato/Pear/Apples

Cut up a few tomatoes, pears, and apples (2 of each for 8 people)? throw on tarragon, ginger, and basil. drizzle on or spray oil. Cook for 20 minutes at like 375ish.

Potatoes:

Cut up potatoes. Sprinkle on cayenne pepper, paprika, salt, pepper, garlic. Drizzle on oil. Roast at 400is for 30 minutes.

Simple and delicious. And quite the celebration of garlic, beef, tomatoes, basil, rice, lentils, wheat, and chocolate, which were all out of my diet this time last year. Plus, a shoutout to pears, apples, and carrots, three foods I ate as a kid that I rediscovered when my diet went all wonky.

Enjoy!

London Broil and Carrots

London Broil and Carrots

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).

Allergies and Bullying

My friend M (I’ve got so many of those, get new initials, people) alerted me to an interesting link this morning: ABC News published an article detailing a study about the correlation between bullying and food allergies. Apparently, bullying is pretty common among kids with food allergies — 32% of kids with food allergies have been bullied because of their food allergies, according to the study.

The most common forms of bullying, according to the article, were straight-up teasing and waving the food in front of the child. Also included were instances where the kids were forced to touch the dangerous food, and where the food was thrown at them.

M asked me if I was surprised by the article.

I was surprised that there was an article, but by the bullying? Not particularly.

I don’t think of myself as having been bullied. I’m not sure if there were real bullies in the nice little bubble I grew up in. When I think of bullies I think of Hey Arnold’s Harold or Rugrats’ Angelica or Boy Meets World’s Harley. That didn’t happen to me. I sort of think bullying as a labelled thing is a very new term from this decade. But, that said, can I say I haven’t experienced the forms of bullying as labeled in the study?

No. I can’t say that. I was definitely teased about my food allergies. Not all the time, but definitely enough to make a mark. Check out this essay I wrote as a fourth grader after a classmate made fun of me. As for waving the foods? See the previous link. It talks specifically about that, and yes I remember it vividly. A classmate, let’s call her Moesha, waved a Twix bar in front of me and said “You don’t get to share snack with us because I have a Twix bar and you’re allergic so the whole class is going to trade snacks but you don’t get to because you don’t have the right foods.” But to be fair, I can’t say I didn’t do the same thing to another food-allergic kid in my class — let’s call him Jackson. I remember finishing a bag of Herr’s potato chips and showing it to him and saying, “I finished this bag of chips, but you can’t eat them, because you’re allergic to them. And isn’t it funny that I’m not? I ate food you can’t eat.” It was bitchy and mean and Jackson, wherever you are, I am sorry. I’m sure I did it just because I wanted to do what everyone else was doing, but that’s not an excuse, and I’m sorry I learned a bad behavior, and mostly, for hurting your feelings.

As for touching the dangerous foods, thankfully no one ever forced me to do that. But throwing them? Um, yes. This was probably a turning point for me in some aspect of my life:

When I was 15, I was on a west coast trip with a youth group. My allergies had gotten worse that year for reasons I’d later learn were attributed to September 11. But I was still figuring out why I couldn’t see well around cole slaw. I remember one night being super frustrated because I kept accidentally touching salad with cabbage so I kept having to leave dinner to scrub my hands. I was sharing a table with a bunch of friends, one of whom was the closest thing you could get to a bully in my world, but really, we were friends. When I returned to the table, this guy, let’s call him Ross, asked, “Are you really that allergic to cabbage that if it touches you you’ll get sick?” I responded yes. He said, “So if I threw it at you, you’d get sick?” I responded yes. The next thing I knew, a leaf of cabbage was headed my way. I freaked out. Went to the bathroom to check for hives and scrub up. By the time I got there and lifted my shirt, a series of hives in the exact shape of the lead had formed. I ran back to the table, and said, “Ross, you tried to kill me. You basically did the equivalent of pointing a gun to my head and shooting to see if I would die. You deserve to burn in a fiery pit filled with snakes.”

Then I grabbed another friend, told her to tell the counselors I needed Benadryl (because in those days, a mere ten years ago, kids didn’t carry Benadryl or epi on them regularly…and no, the counselor didn’t have any in her first aid kit, either, she had to send someone to the store), and marched off to my hotel room to shower and calm down.

Luckily, the reaction didn’t get farther than the hives. I mean, it was one leaf through a shirt, so there was no direct contact. But that moment changed me. Because a) I learned how allergic to cabbage (I’m sorry, the bacteria that grows on cabbage) I am, and b) I learned how people don’t understand that allergies are life-threatening. And they don’t care.

Now, the counselors debated sending Ross home for the summer, and he was so sad, and I know he was just being a 15 year old boy, so I told them that if he apologized, I’d move on. They made him publicly apologize. And he did, and he thanked me for letting him stay. I don’t know how I feel about any of that. Do kids deserve to be sent home when they endanger another kid’s life? Yes. But do I really think my analogy of cabbage to guns holds? In the wake of Newtown, I don’t know that I can say that. I think in a general way, yes, it holds — both are deathly tools — but I don’t think people are educated enough about allergies to know that they really are deadly, even non-peanut ones, even in people who aren’t under the age of 8 and at school. So if you don’t know that you are yielding a weapon, you can’t be held accountable.

I think this all really boils down to education and awareness. Because we can’t expect kids to know that food allergies are real, uncontrollable, deadly, and hard until adults start believing in them. Like they’re Santa or something.

Because I have to say, the bullying or harassment I face as an adult is far worse than any I encountered as a child. Children are stronger than we like to think. They might cry when someone waves a Twix bar at them, but ultimately, they can shake it off. Adults hit harder and deeper, and there are some things that are bigger than a Twix bar being waved in your face or a piece of cabbage being thrown at you.

Things like being told you’re crazy. Like that there must be something mentally wrong with you that you cause yourself to be sick when you eat foods, because it’s all in your head. That’s happened more times and from more people than you can probably fathom. And then there’s the idea that you have to divulge your medical history with everyone who you eat near. I had to tell a former boss the details of my entire testing and diet before she believed my doctor’s note that I was sick. She said, “Sounds worse than Passover! Can’t believe you’re allergic to rice! That makes no sense! Haha!” as if that were appropriate. I recently met someone who said, “Oh, you’re Cindy, you can’t eat gluten!” and I wanted to say, “Actually, I’m Cindy, and I can eat gluten, but what other misinformation have you heard about me?” (Yes, I’m blogging about my allergies, but mostly so that someone else won’t have to. It doesn’t mean I like to be defined by this one thing). Other forms of adult bullying? People questioning your parents’ habits, did they raise you with antibacterial (no, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen my mom with a bottle of Purell). Bosses and coworkers not understanding that it’s not your choice to take a sick day when you have a reaction, and still holding it against you when it comes time for raises/promotions/reviews.

All of that is a form of bullying and harassment. So can we be surprised when our kids — who are raised in a world when adults behave in the ways described above — tease kids with food allergies? Kids will tease no matter what, I think the way they learn about difference is to point it out and laugh — but when there aren’t enough adults showing them the right way, when there aren’t enough adults saying, “Hey, let me actually explain this difference to you, and why it might be hurtful, and why little Sally is sick,” can we really fault them?

And adults — we know better, right? We don’t laugh at people in wheelchairs, we don’t harass people with diabetes, we don’t bully people because they get recurring UTIs. So why do we do it with people with food allergies?

For me, the bottom line is: no, M. I was not surprised. And I want to be able to say to those kids, “It gets better,” but I can’t yet. Because from where I’m standing, it doesn’t get better. I just get stronger. But I’d like to be proven wrong. And I think I can be, if those of us who do know better raise awareness among our peers and let that trickle down to our children.

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.

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?

Emmys! (and some hives)

It’s the superbowl of TV…the Emmy Awards! Only, there’s no typical food for this major American holiday, which is a shame. It’s my turn to host the Emmy’s “party” this year (read: a few friends in sweatpants sitting on a couch watching the show), and I decided to cook what will maybe become an Emmy’s staple menu.

Main Dish:

Homemade pizza — for recipe, see here.

Side:

Fried zucchini — essentially, zucchinni fried with garlic, salt, and pepper.

Dessert:

Strawberry chocolate oat muffins – a twist on my pumpkin oat muffins (vegan! gluten free! nut-free! woo-hoo!) only with pureed strawberry and some chocolate powder instead of pumpkin…or cherries

It all would have been an absolutely SUPERB dinner to accompany a really incredible Emmy show (Homeland! Homeland! Homeland!) but I erupted into hives for a reason I simply can’t understand.

Or maybe I can understand it. Last Monday, on the second night of Rosh Hashana, we had the traditional new fruits to make a blessing for the new year. I am allergic to most fruits, certainly exotic fruits, so I didn’t eat them. No one anticipated an airborne reaction, because there was no horseradish involved. And yet, I broke out into hives for a few days following that meal. My guess right now is that I had an apple that was right next to the fruits, and as with the horseradish incident of Passover, I think the apple absorbed some of the other fruits’ essences. Apples are pretty absorbent — they’re known to absorb most of the pesticides sprayed on them, for instance — and since I had definitely not overdosed on apples and that’s what I was eating when the hives began, I can only imagine they are the culprit. It’s been under a week, and I haven’t been strict about my Benadryl usage, but these sorts of hives can reappear for days. So I’m betting it’s that. Or I overdosed on wheat, with it being in the pizza, and having challah pretty regularly as part of all the ritual meals. Not that I’ve been eating a ton of challah, but I’ve had less wheat over more time than in most weeks (most weeks I eat wheat only on the weekends, in huge amounts. This week, I’ve had bread at many meals, but in small amounts).

Either way, my traditional Emmys meal was slightly marred, but very delicious, so here’s to hoping that next year:

a) I’m closer to winning an Emmy

b) my allergies are in check enough to eat the above foods totally 100% safely

Food Challenge Round 6: Cindy vs. Coffee

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deliciousness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Food Challenge Tally

Cindy – 4*

Allergens – 2

Up Next: Tahina (I think)

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

Flying with Food Allergies

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

I call bullshit.

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

How necessary are peanuts on flights?

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

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

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

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

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

Number 1:

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

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

Number 2:

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

Number 3:

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

Number 4:

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

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

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

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

Might want to update that demonstration…

It’s Hard to Believe…

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

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

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

I had approximately 1400 calories today.

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

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

I kind of can’t believe it.

Food Challenge Round 2: Cindy vs. Olive Oil

You know how the American men’s swim team was supposed to win the 4×100 relay in the Olympics yesterday, and there was this huge upset and France won instead? And how Jordyn Wieber was slated to place in all-around but Aly Raisman beat her to it?

That’s how I feel about what happened today with olive oil.

I thought it was a sure thing. I’ve cooked exclusively with olive oil for years and I had been fine. How could I be allergic to it? This morning’s challenge — rye crackers baked with olive oil — was supposed to be more of a formality than anything else.

But, there are always upsets, and that’s what makes life — or the Olympics — interesting, right? It’s precisely because I cooked exclusively with olive oil that I can no longer have it. (Me, to my boss: “I od’ed on olive oil.” Boss: “Oh god.” Me: “Hey, at least it’s not heroin, that’s a win, right?”)

I noticed something was wrong about three bites into the rye cracker. My mouth just didn’t want any more. I figured it’s because rye crackers aren’t so delicious, and these were made really haphazardly in the middle of the night. I was determined not to be allergic to olive oil. So I kept plugging away at the cracker.

One day’s worth of olive oil lasted for eight nights back in the days of the Maccabees. One rye cracker’s worth of olive oil should last me 72 hours, in these days of the Maccabeats. (Yes, I know it’s a bad joke). Reverse Chanukah miracle, anyone?

Nothing was swelling, nothing was itching, the doctor was with another patient. I wanted to power through. “It’s in your head,” I thought. “You feel fine. Keep going. Chewing isn’t hard.” Except it felt so hard. My mouth just didn’t want to comply with my brain.

As I forced the cracker down, I started noticing that I couldn’t really read the book spines on the doctor’s shelf so well anymore. My vision was going and I was exhausted. Sitting was hard. Chewing was hard. Keeping my eyes open was hard.

The doctor returned as I started cracker two.

“You look happy,” he said half-sarcastically.

“I think I’m going to pass out.”

“Yeah, I think so, too. I think we call this one a “no.” This isn’t working.”

“Ok.”

I still had cracker in my mouth.

“You might want to stop eating.”

“That’s a good idea. Can I get water?”

“I think you should.”

So I drank a lot of water, got complimented on my green pants, and then got too tired to stand.

“Was that enough or do you need a pill?”

“I want Benedryl.”

“Looks like we got a positive result.”

“Depends on your definition of positive.” I don’t know why I have to make Chandler-y jokes when I’m uncomfortable.

I took my Benedryl, sat for a bit, and the doctor determined that I was not going to go into anaphylactic shock. Just discomfort. So I was free to go. But not before we discussed next week’s malt challenge.

I asked him which to do: pretzels or cereal. He said cereal, and I said, “Really? Even though I can eat a few kinds of cereal as it is?” And he said, “What about beer? That’s how you should really test malt.”

So, one week from today, I will drink a beer at 7:30am. And I better not fail the challenge.

Excuse me — not fail — “have a positive outcome,” which is my doctor’s optimistic way of speaking. I’m a little too competitive for that. Plus, going to work high on Benedryl, with a trace of a cold that’s exacerbated by allergies (totally see why they didn’t let me try new foods when I had a cold as a child), and having half a voice, a runny noise, and only 85% coherency all day doesn’t feel like a positive outcome. Having a throat that swells every time the Benedryl runs out but not quite enough to warrant the steroids I so desperately want doesn’t feel like a positive outcome.

But I got answers, I guess. My constant reactions to food I cooked myself makes a ton more sense now. So when I feel better, I know I’ll think about this, and simply think, “yay.”

Food Challenge Tally

Cindy – 1

Allergens – 1

Up next: beer. Any suggestions for which beer I try? I’m debating between Stella and Corona. It’ll be the only beer I can drink until I challenge more, so let’s say a year or so…