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.

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.


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.