Food Challenges Round 31- 35: Cindy vs. Peanut Butter and Pretzels, Sauteed Onions, Special K, White Wine, and Almonds

Lots of food challenges to catch up on. Things have been hectic with a ton of weddings, switching jobs, and holidays. But here’s the deal:

Most of the challenges went swimmingly. I can now have 3 tsps of peanut butter, Utz Halloween pretzels (in case the factory processes the regular pretzels differently), ALL ONIONS (the third challenge of onions opened all those doors up — and shallots and leeks, too!), Special K cereal (and cereals with similarly low trace amounts of wheat, though I should still avoid them if I can), and sauvignon blanc.

I can’t have almonds, as I learned today. Today, I bit into the top of an almond, chewed it, paused, and put the rest on the allergist’s desk. “No more. I want medicine.”

My lip was tingling and my ears were starting to burn. I’ve gotten really good at sensing the beginning of a reaction. The other foods just felt like foods when I tried them, but this almond tip felt like poison and anger. But now I know: I avoid traces of nuts for a reason.

Thank God I didn’t need epi – just benedryl, steroids, and sleep (why is it that steroid injections don’t make me as weird as the pills?). My throat is aching, my face is mildly swollen (I can feel it and I can tell, but unless someone’s used to my face, they wouldn’t know that my right cheek is over-puffing and throbbing). But I’m ok. I caught myself before I got too far. Now I know — no nuts.

Maybe when I’m off the meds I’ll console myself with a nice bottle of wine, because I CAN.

Sidenote: tonight is the Jewish New Year for trees, and it’s traditional to try new fruits and to eat almonds. Good timing, right, Cind? Guess I’ll just find a bonsai tree or something to celebrate.

The tip of one of these had me sleeping all day.

The tip of one of these had me sleeping all day.

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!