Food Challenge Round 40: Cindy vs. Lox

When I was a child, one of the things I wanted most in the world was to grow up and eat chocolate covered lox. Now, before you gag, understand: my friends/peers would only make me feel bad about being allergic to two foods — chocolate, because what kids don’t like chocolate; and lox, because it’s a staple of the American Jewish diet. I hadn’t ever tasted either, so I assumed if everyone loved both, eating them together would be stupendous. I’d tell my family and my doctor that when I grew up, I’d eat chocolate covered lox.

Today, I learned that dreams do come true — just not how you’d expect.

I challenged lox today in my second post-Xolair challenge. It started off like spinach — touched it, rubbed it on my fingers, freaked out about my lack of hives. Did ya’ll know fish is super slimy? Gross.

Then it stopped being like spinach.

I took a bit of the lox — like a sliver the size of my thumb — and put it in my mouth. Spit it out on the doctor’s desk almost immediately and shouted “WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT?” Fish, it seems, is an acquired taste.

I didn’t want to eat more. It was vile. And slimy. And gross. But I want to be able to eat fish. So, after whining overdramatically and having the nurse come in to soothe me, I took a bite. I swallowed. I SWALLOWED FISH. LIKE A SEA LION. I haven’t swallowed fish in years — maybe since I was a toddler. Never swallowed lox. It never got that far.

I then asked the nurse if I could take a bite of chocolate to fulfill my dream. She said sure. With the taste of lox fresh on my tongue, I ate a piece of chocolate. And you know what I have to say to all you naysayers out there who gagged in the beginning of this post? The tastes sort of blended. Like chocolate covered pretzels. Bittersweet chocolate with a salty smoky edge. If Gwyneth Paltrow “Goop’ed” it the whole world would be on that like it was a kale chip.

My dream of opening a lox and chocolate factory was soon dismantled. I got extremely nauseous. The doctor tossed me his trash bin. I didn’t use it. But I started feeling off. Ear burning, throat scratchy (though that was solved with water). My vision was intact and there was no sign of hives — both the typical symptoms I’ve gotten from touching fish — but I was lethargic, cranky, and groggy. Also typical symptoms of close encounters with the sea kind.

I stayed for monitoring and just kept getting more nauseous. The doctor gave me Claritin, which helped. We assessed that I can’t eat lox, though if I want to, I can challenge other fish and other cooked salmons (I may not want to). We also assessed that my threshold had significantly changed — I could now swallow fish without a severe reaction. A reaction not even worthy of Benedryl! This means I can touch it, I can be near it, and most importantly — I can now go to restaurants, not just in LA, but anywhere careful.

Am I disappointed that I can’t eat fish? Sort of. Am I cranky because I still don’t feel great? Sure am. But, I’m also really happy, and here’s why:

1. I grew up to eat chocolate and lox, and even though I’d given up on that dream long ago, it still feels great to have achieved it, even for a moment. The world is never how we expect it to be, but it sometimes surprises you and lets you have a taste of something you really really really wanted. I’m feeling very empowered.

2. I can now get closer to fish than ever before. I can feed a sea lion. I can go to the New York Aquarium and touch the starfish. As a kid, when we’d go there on class trips, I’d sit in the hallway by this fountain thing and wait until my whole class had touched the fish and soaped their hands. No chaperone ever stayed with me (seriously, the 90s were cool) and while my friends joined me once they were done, I was alone for most of the time and bored to tears — and also sad. Like, really left out sad. But now, I can touch the fish like the rest of them. Also, zoos and aquariums aside, I can be around fish eaters. Cooking just got so much easier for large family gatherings. I can clear off a plate that had lox on it and help my dad out after he’s done eating. That’s big.

3. It’s confirmed that the food challenges I’m set to do to keep assessing the Xolair aren’t for naught — each allergen will have a different threshold, and it’s important to find out what they are. But they’ll all be better. BETTER. That’s pretty damn good.

A keeper at my old stomping ground, the Prospect Park Zoo. I could be her!

A keeper at my old stomping ground, the Prospect Park Zoo. I could be her!

FOOD CHALLENGE TALLY

Cindy: 28

Allergens: 5

Next Up: Vote?

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Food Challenge 28: Cindy vs. Maple Syrup

The food challenge was the least interesting part of my appointment this morning. First of all, I apparently cancelled my appointment on Friday when I called the doctor with emergency throat swelling, but I was not 100% on my game during that call and may not have actually said, “I want to not challenge food but I want to keep the appointment.” In any event, I brought food to challenge anyway, because when I woke up this morning, it seemed silly to go there just to say hi. So I settled on maple syrup, since I was pretty sure I could eat it (spoiler alert: I can) and just hadn’t been because a) I like pancakes better with sugar and b)trees have scared me since the pollen shots.

Anyway.

The reason this challenge is interesting, is because the doctor tried to set me up with another patient who was in for skin testing. It was like something out of a sitcom. Suddenly, the whole office turned into a bunch of yentas – “you’d be such a good match, both allergic to fish!” and “tell him what happens when you’re near horseradish at a bar mitzvah!” Allergist, allergist, make me a match…find me a find…

I rolled with the punches, of course. My suggested beau was way more tolerant of the skin test pain than I’d ever been, barely flinching. My fish test made me cry. Of course, I awkwardly told him that. And when his accompanying mother (apparently, she’s the usual patient) asked me if I could have lox (no) I decided to tell them how as a kid, all I wanted was chocolate covered lox, since I didn’t know what either tasted like but my friends all liked both. We got a good laugh. Which was nice, since the story was preceded by, “Did Cindy tell you she writes comedy videos? Come on, tell them about the videos! They’re funny!” So I guess I proved that?

There’s no wedding date set, but hey. They say it’s best to meet men by sharing a hobby/common interest; maybe an allergist and a shared fish allergy is the same thing?

“What do you do for fun?”

“I build model airplanes. And you?”

“I’m allergic to fish.”

Plus, I bet we can both have maple syrup.

Oh, and ps. I had no reason to be scared of maple syrup. It doesn’t have pollen in it. Neither does honey. Just an FYI. I love how much I learn every time I do a challenge. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t look forward to these appointments. If you’re going to risk your life challenging a food, it may as well be with one of the best doctors around who also happens to be super fun.

FOOD CHALLENGE TALLY

Cindy: 20

Allergens: 6

Up Next: Onion powder

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?

Chocolate is Probably My Favorite New Food

I had chocolate earlier today. It was AMAZING. I’d say to die for, but considering I didn’t eat chocolate when death was potentially on the table, that’d be inaccurate.

Anyway, I found an essay I wrote in 1995 (the beginning of fourth grade, I was 8 years old) about almost trying chocolate. And I feel quite similarly now, 17 years later.

Oh, and [sic] in advance.

Y.of F.
Cindy Kaplan
Sept. 19, 1995
Tuesday

The Best Day of My Life

The best day of my life was today. Why? Well I’ll tell you. It may seem weird to you, but it’s awfully normal to me and to people who know me. Here I go…..

Today when I came home from school I took a snack and then my mother wanted me to go shopping with her. So I went. We went to Glatt Mart to buy dinner. We didn’t buy only that, we bought half of the store to. We were buying so much, it seemed that we were like pigs. (We really aren’t.) Well, then we came to a rack of chocolate. My mother said that I could look for white chocolate. So I did. I found one with hazelnuts. Then I found plain white chocolate. Finally! I gave it to my mother and she bought it. Yipeeeeeee! Yipeeeee! I am finally going to try chocolate. I am so happy. That was the best day of my life.

This drawing accompanied my essay. I’m not much of an artist, but I’m so glad I drew myself in a long skirt, long sleeves, and with giant teeth. Good self image, 8-year-old Cindy.

***

I remember that day so vividly. And even more vividly, the day (months or even a year later, I think) when I finally was able to try the chocolate (as I’m relearning, getting your body to a place where you can introduce a new food is tough, especially when you’re not under the supervision of a doctor. Because when I was a kid, allergists weren’t really the same as they are now).

I was sitting at my dining room table after a Shabbat lunch. Everyone had had dessert, and it was my chance to try chocolate. My mom and sister sat at the table with me as I took a bite of that white chocolate bar (white, because there’s less cacao). I let it sit for a minute and then I said, “Oh, it tastes like chocolate! It doesn’t take like carob at all!”

I knew my life had changed. When I didn’t react to that small square, I knew at the very least, I’d be able to have white chocolate and live like a kid.

And then soon after, my family went to dinner at Tevere 84, I think to celebrate my parents’ anniversary. It was a fancy, delicious, Italian kosher meat restaurant on the Upper East Side that had just opened up. and for dessert, I ordered chocolate cake. It was dark chocolate. I was so excited because since it was a meat restaurant, their cake would be more pure than the dairy one (milk chocolate is a little harder to try) and I’d get to participate in the celebratory dessert. That cake was one of the greatest foods I have ever tasted. Both because it was objectively good, and also because I learned that I loved dark chocolate, that I could eat it, and that I would be able to eat chocolate for real. M&Ms! KitKats! Hershey’s Kisses! Milky Ways!

Today’s chocolate reminded me so much of that cake. I had only a tiny bite, at the end of the work day, but it filled my mouth with an incredible taste. I felt stress pouring away and happiness setting in. Hours later, I feel whole again. Chocolate is the greatest food known to man (or woman, let’s be real), and I have it back in my life.

Today, June 24, 2012, is the second best day of my life.

Success!

How Long Is this Allergic Diet Sustainable? Thoughts on the Diets and Willpower.

It’s now July 19, and I have yet to try a new food or a processed food or anything that my 30 days would have allowed. The nurse at my allergist’s office suggested holding out until my wheat challenge on Thursday (ONE WEEK!), and then with the whole nuts-in-my-raisins incident, it seems best to just wait at least a few more days.

BUT I AM DONE.

Part of me feel silly complaining when I had great meals today. Ivory teff for breakfast, turkey leg and delicata squash for lunch (oh, how my office dog — yes, my new job comes with a puppy — was jealous!), and lamb and japanese yam for dinner (a rhyming dinner? so money). If I wasn’t on this diet, I imagine my day would have been no breakfast, Starbucks white mocha, a few cherry cokes, leftover pasta with sauce and cheese for lunch, a bag of potato chips as a snack, and a baked potato with melted cheese for dinner, or maybe like rice and chicken. (~1600 calories)

Obviously, my current diet kicked pre-allergic-craziness diet’s ass.

But still, I am done. I’ve reached my limit on how many times I can eat lamb, teff, sweet potatoes, squash, quinoa, green beans, corn, zucchini, chicken, turkey, bison, and millet. And the fruit. My god. I am done with raisins, pineapple, cherries. When I type it all out, it seems insane. How have I lived 4 1/2 months like this?  For perspective: I have had three different employers since this diet began. (I know people have it worse. But this is America in 2012, so I’m spoiled).

Soon by me.

I wonder if I’m cranky about it because it was supposed to be over and it’s not, or if it’s because it’s been over a 1/3 of a year, or what. Probably a little bit of both. But honestly, what gets me is that the diet was easier when death was on the line.

The doctor assured me that any of the foods I tested negative to could not set me into anaphylactic shock. I might get sick, I might screw up the challenges, but I will not die.

The immediacy of death made the diet easier to deal with. Is cheese worth your life? Chocolate? No. On some days, I debated those questions, but I always quickly realized I should just eat what I can and not be tempted. Those particular foods were not food to me, and there are some things I stopped even seeing as food – like chips. The other day, I saw some bags of Lays, and I could not fathom eating them. Previously, I would eat a bag of chips every day or so.

I understand now why diets are hard to keep. Non-allergic ones, I mean. Sure, you know the food is bad for you. You know it will interfere with your health down the line. But right now, it won’t hurt too badly. So why not just eat it?

That’s how I felt tonight about chocolate. I want chocolate so badly. I know it will not kill me. It will potentially ruin the challenge (but do I want wheat or chocolate more?), and it might make woozy and itchy and swollen if the nuts aren’t gone yet (that could take 72 hours, maybe a week), but I won’t die. So how bad is it?

Luckily, a conversation with my mom convinced me to stay true to the diet. But I understood diets in a way I previously hadn’t. I understood willpower. It’s not easy to stick to a diet. It hurts. It involves breakdowns in Whole Foods (2 in a week, woohoo!). It involves bitterness. It involves hunger, and hunger leads to anger. My body is so pissed at me for giving it too few calories (1046 today!!!), so it wants more.

And yet. It doesn’t, really. It will reject those foods, and be unhappier for longer. Immediacy is not the ideal here. If I can hold out just a little longer, if I can keep this willpower for just a few more days…maybe even a week…I’ll be healthier in the long run.

So for now, it’s about creative problem solving. I want chocolate because it’s sweet and fun. What else is sweet and fun? Soda. What soda do I have in my house, 4 1/2 months later? Sprite. What’s in Sprite? Lemon/lime flavor.

Excuse me while I go try homemade lemon/lime ices. If they’re good, I’ll post the recipe. If not — well, at least nothing’s swollen. And if it does swell, ice reduces swelling right?*

*disclaimer: do not use ice to reduce allergic swelling. use benedryl and/or consult a doctor.