An Allergic Foodie Is Back!

My life story has recently been rewritten.

About sixteen months ago I learned I was adopted. My elderly mother with dementia could no longer keep the secret she kept for 50-plus years. Sadly, I learned the truth the very same week my only sibling, my older brother Eric, passed away.

Not a day goes by when I don’t look into the mirror and wonder who I am. DNA has helped me track both maternal and paternal sides, but unfortunately my biological mother died in her forties. She never revealed who my father is in my adoption papers. I only know he is one of four brothers. I have very few photos. So I don’t know if I resemble my mother or father and I can’t ask them for their medical histories.

I have found dozens of cousins on both sides with various autoimmune diseases, including celiac disease and food allergies. I remember my adoptive mother acting like my illnesses were “all in my head.”  She often said, “No one in our family has such food issues as you.”  She didn’t understand why I couldn’t eat at McDonald’s.

Ha! Perhaps that should have been a red flag.

I’ll write more about genetics later.  Today I just wanted to share a little about why I disappeared.  I’ve missed blogging and the support of all of you who share a food-restricted life.

And now for some exciting news. This week I will be traveling to Scotland with my family to see where my biological mum and grandparents came from. I thought this adventure will be the perfect opportunity for me to resume Adventures of an Allergic Foodie. I hope you’ll join me.

Christmas Vegetable Tree

Appetizers for an Allergic Foodie

Flashback Monday: A post from two years ago. The allergy-friendly appetizers from my friend’s party were a hit. Enjoy! And Happy Holidays to you and your family.

It took another Amy–my friend Amy Brown–to teach me it’s okay to serve your nonallergic guests allergy-friendly foods.

Maybe it comes from having a husband who has yet to embrace gluten-free, dairy-free foods (to be fair, he doesn’t have to) that makes me think everyone else will feel the same way he does: Not going to try it if  I don’t have to.

So I often go to the trouble of serving “regular” food at our social gatherings. A few years ago when we moved into our new home, I hosted a potluck open house where everyone brought an appetizer.  As you might guess, there was very little for me to eat.

Then last year I hosted a holiday cookie exchange. I figured this was a fun way for my kids and my husband to get treats without me having to touch a stick of butter or sift flour. Ironically, it was over Christmas break last year that my younger son realized gluten was making him sick and my oldest son gave up everything dairy.

So when this holiday season came around,  I decided to skip hosting a party. With our sons home, I just didn’t want to have foods around that they couldn’t enjoy.  And frankly, I didn’t want to do all the work of preparing both allergy-free and regular foods.

Then I went to Amy Brown’s party.  Take a look at this table of yummy appetizers:

Delicious appetizers for an allergic foodie

Photo by Amy Brown

 

The food was incredible!  Amy and her husband, Brandon, follow a “Whole30” diet, eliminating grains, dairy, sugar, and legumes. This made many of the appetizers free of  gluten, soy, and dairy!  They did include some macaroni and cheese the kids devoured and deviled eggs that my husband devoured.

My favorite appetizer was incredibly simple: A BLT on a toothpick!

Bacon, Lettuce, Tomatoe Appetizer

Photo by Amy Brown

 

Then there were these adorable olive penguins.

Gluten-free treats

And the zucchini wrapped around sausage with pesto and olive oil were fabulous.

Delicious sausage/zuchinnin wraps

Photo by Amy Brown

 

Amy also made several types of dips, including one with eggplant and red peppers that she found at She Cooks . . . He Cleans  (recipe follows). I’m not a big fan of eggplant, but I’ll be making this dip soon.  I eat a lot of veggies and hummus, so–cover your ears, Amy–I wasn’t that excited to try the black bean hummus. But I did, and it was delish!

And who wouldn’t want to eat their veggies when presented this way?

Christmas Vegetable Tree

Amy also served the gluten-free crackers on a separate plate and labeled them!

None of the guests seemed to notice the appetizers were “different” or “allergy-free” or “gluten-free.”  The food was just good . . . actually, better than good.  And oh so cute.

Roasted Egg Plant and Red Pepper Dip

(Note this recipe includes sesame seeds)

  • 1 large eggplant
  • 2 red bell peppers, seeded
  • 4 garlic cloves, whole, peeled
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (to start with…)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt; freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons tahini paste
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • cayenne pepper, to taste
  • juice of one lemon
  • lots more good extra-virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 400F.

Cut the eggplant up into 1-inch square pieces.  (Before cutting, I like to take off some of the skin in stripes around the eggplant.  Up to you.)   Cut the red bell peppers into 1 inch strips.  Toss the eggplant, peppers, and garlic in a large bowl with olive oil, salt, and several grindings of pepper.

Spread the vegetables on a parchment-lined baking sheet in a single layer.  Roast for 35-45 minutes, tossing once during cooking, until the vegetables are soft and lightly browned.  Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly.

Place the vegetables in a food processor; add the tahini, cumin, cayenne, lemon juice, and another glug (or two) of olive oil.  Process in pulses until blended.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  (Try to avoid over-processing or it will become paste-like in texture.)

Drizzle with more olive oil on top, and serve warm or at room temperature.

Appetizers for an Allergic Foodie originally appeared at Adventures of an Allergic FoodieRoasted Eggplant and Red Pepper Dip originally appeared at She Cooks . . . He Cleans.  Thank you to Amy Brown for sharing these treats and photos.

Food Allergy Awareness Week

Food Allergy Research & Education Partners with Empire State Building on First Night of 20th Annual Food Allergy Awareness Week Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) is thrilled to announce that the iconic Empire State Building will once again shine in teal, the color of food allergy awareness, on May 14, the first night…

via Empire State Building’s Teal Lights Kick Off 20th Anniversary of Food Allergy Awareness Week —

To Eat or Not to Eat

My  husband, He Who Eats Everything, and I searched the aisles of Harris Teeter for something easy to eat before catching a plane. So many options for him: a pre-made sandwich from the deli, prepackaged tuna and crackers, fried chicken and chips (okay, I didn’t say healthful options). I wanted more than a coconut-milk yogurt or slices of gluten-free lunch meat. I wanted to be full and not tempted to eat the fattening potato chips on the plane.

This chicken curry stared at me from the prepared food section in the refrigerated  deli section:
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I flipped the package over to read the ingredients. Surely there’d be at least one allergen likely more. Soy lecithin? Wheat? Corn (unidentified maltodextrin)? Milk slipped into the coconut milk?

Nothing. I couldn’t find one of my allergens! And there was no warning of contamination either.

There was no “certified gluten-free” label either.

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The curry and rice looked so good–and filling. I put it into my cart.

As we looked for something for Eater of Everything (he was having trouble making a decision!), I kept hearing a voice in my head: “Don’t eat anything that isn’t labeled certified gluten-free.” How many times have I told my celiac son the same thing?

I also kept thinking about that plane ride–and those tiny airplane bathrooms. Anyone who’s ever experienced a GI reaction on a plane–especially during takeoff and landing–never forgets it.

Damn voice. I put the chicken curry back. I bought ingredients for a salad and Applegate lunch meat and a So Delicious yogurt.

Better to be safe than sorry.

For more info on labeling, see What the FDA says .

To Eat or Not to Eat” originally appeared at Adventures of an Allergic Foodie.

Eating Out: An Allergic Foodie’s Strategies

I’ve been eating out a lot since arriving on Hilton Head Island about a month ago and I haven’t had any bad reactions–just a few mild GI symptoms. I consider this a victory. After all, with over 20 food allergies as well as celiac disease it’s pretty tough  finding gluten-free and allergy-free entrees on a menu. During past trips to the island, I spent many days curled up in a ball with stomach pain while my family was on the golf course or riding bikes on the beach. So what’s making this stay different?

For one, I’m picking safer restaurants and avoiding the “bad ones.” I read online what other allergic foodies say about a prospective restaurant and check out the celiac and allergy apps. I also review the online menus.  People in the south fry everything from octopus to tomatoes, so I look for menus featuring lots of local fish and salads. If I’m still not sure if I’ll be able to order safely, I call the restaurant and ask to speak to a manager or chef. By the time the hostess greets us, I usually know what I’ll be ordering.

Sadly, I’m finding more and more restaurants are cooking with vegetable oil because it’s cheap. Many waiters aren’t aware that vegetable oil is soy oil or a combination of soy and another oil.  I react horribly to both soy and corn oil.  One of the first questions I ask a restaurant–even ones I’ve been to in the recent past–is what oil they use for cooking. I also ask about any “fake butter” they may use. I make it clear that I cannot have a drop of vegetable oil.  While many celiacs avoid Italian restaurants because of the flour used in pasta and pizza, I’ve actually had some of my best meals in Italian restaurants. One of my favorites on the island is OMBRA Cucina Rustica. The chefs cook with olive oil and the menu offers lots of delicious gluten-free and dairy-free options.

Another reason I’m not getting sick as often is because I’ve started taking my own dressings and sauces. My go-to meal for lunch is a salad with shrimp or salmon or grilled chicken. I’ve gotten sick so many times from the salad dressing–even homemade dressings from upscale restaurants–that I just don’t want to take a chance anymore.  I carry a small container of dressing with me. If I’ve forgotten, I ask for olive oil and balsamic or red wine vinegar. As a last resort, I’ll use fresh lemon on my salad.

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I eat a lot of salads so I’m thrilled when one looks like this one!

Last night we tried One Hot Mamma’s American Grille for the first time because I knew they offered gluten-free ribs. (I also was a fan of Orchid Paulmeier when she was on Season 7 of Food Network Star.) I asked for my ribs dry as I’d brought along some Bone Suckin’ Sauce with me. Our server was well-informed about allergies and took my request for no dairy, soy, or gluten seriously. However, when my ribs arrived, they were covered in barbecue sauce (no dairy, gluten or soy). I’d neglected to tell him I was also allergic to corn, which was likely in the catsup they used. While my husband and son immensely enjoyed the saucy ribs, I waited for a rack without sauce (also delish!).  In the south, restaurants cook with a lot of corn starch–I’ve learned this the hard way.  Cornbread and corn on the cob are often featured on menus. This is great for my younger son who has celiac, but not for me.

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Jamaican Jerk Bowl from PURE Natural Market in Hilton Head.

I also have better luck sitting at the bar and ordering from bartenders who are typically full-time professionals and not summertime staff.  We always tip well for good allergy-free service. After coming here for so many years, many of the bartenders know me and my allergies by name.

When I’m in new places, I look for ethnic, farm-to-table and vegetarian/vegan restaurants. There weren’t a lot of options on the island back in 2008 when I was first diagnosed, but there sure are now. One of my recent discoveries is a vegetarian/vegan restaurant called Delisheeeyo. I order the “Happy Wrap”–veggies wrapped in rice paper with an apple cider vinaigrette.

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The Happy Wrap with gluten-free rice paper at Delisheeeyo.

Pure Natural Market offers lots of Jamaican-influenced allergy-friendly options. I saw a new place called Healthy Habit out by the airport, which I hope to go to before we head back to Colorado Springs. We also now have a Kroger (42 Shelter Cove Lane) with a huge “health-food department” as well as a Whole Foods (50 Shelter Cove Lane). This makes it easy to pick up quick and safe meals for beach picnics.

It’s taken me many years–and many good and not-so-good experiences –to learn how to dine out safely.  If you have a tip for safe restaurant eating, or want to share a good or bad restaurant experience, please comment below.

“Eating Out: An Allergic Foodie Shares Strategies” first appeared at “Adventures of an Allergic Foodie.”

A Hurricane Hit Home

I was a hurricane neophyte. That’s why last Tuesday I was shopping at Home Goods on Hilton Head Island, oblivious to the reports that Hurricane Matthew was heading our way. When I called a friend from the parking lot to see if she wanted to take a walk on the beach later, the tone of her voice told me I needed to take this category-four hurricane seriously. Trying to remember what I’d read about hurricane preparations, I headed to Whole Foods for food. After all, I am a foodie.

Try to think of allergy-friendly foods you can eat that don’t need an oven, a stovetop, or a microwave. Now think of some that don’t require refrigeration. Not easy, huh? I came home with a bunch of perishables and canned goods. I forgot the water. I would have been really hungry and thirsty after a few days.

By the time I unpacked my canned tuna and apples, the South Carolina governor was ordering mandatory evacuation My husband was away on business so it was up to me to secure our outside furniture, pack our clothes and our dog Zoe’s food and toys, load up the car with our computers and important papers, and turn off the gas and water. Wanting to avoid traffic, Zoe and I left at 5 a.m. on Wednesday (evacuation was 3 p.m.). My heart raced a little when I saw how many cars were waiting in long lines at gas stations. This was the real thing.

During the five and a half hour drive to Atlanta I thought of all the things I should have packed and questioned whether I’d locked all the doors. Should I have unplugged all the appliances? I kept thinking about the rotisserie chicken I’d forgotten in the refrigerator that would spoil and smell should the power go off.  But I told myself not to worry: I was certain I’d only be gone a few days.  Hurricane Matthew  would stay off the coast and pass by our beloved island  as so many other hurricanes had over the years.

I was a hurricane neophyte.

My husband met me at a hotel in Atlanta (we couldn’t get reservations any closer). Ever the optimist, he reserved three nights.

Thinking this was an opportunity to review some Atlanta restaurants, I messaged a fellow foodie from Atlanta for some recommendations (reviews to come). Truthfully, after watching the Weather Channel 24/7 and seeing the devastation Hurricane Matthew was causing to Florida coasts, we weren’t all that hungry. I bought some peanut butter and bananas for my hotel breakfast and Zoe and I nibbled on turkey and ham throughout the day.

Our vacation home is in Sea Pines, the oldest of the Hilton Head communities founded in 1957.  Our children learned to ride bikes on the packed sand of the five-mile beach and to swim in the pools of the houses we rented. After many years of summer vacations there, we took the plunge and bought a house.  Over a year ago, with our children now adults and retirement approaching, we sold the first and bought another closer to the beach. We’d just finished remodeling and decorating and were looking forward to Colorado friends arriving on October 12 for our member-guest golf tournament. They anxiously watched the Weather Channel, too. “Hilton Head has been lucky so far,” I told them.

Sea Pines Beach: Before Hurricane Matthew

Sea Pines Beach: Before Hurricane Matthew

Our security system notified us we lost power at 4:05 a.m. on Saturday, October 8.  We learned later that morning that Hurricane Matthew, downgraded to hurricane-2, hovered over Hilton Head from about 2  a.m. to 5 a.m.  While the Weather Channel reported on Savannah and Charleston, no reporters shared news about our inaccessible island. By Saturday afternoon, folks who’d stayed hunkered down during the storm shared photos on social media of massive pines, palmettos, and live oaks crossing roadways like a child’s game of pickup sticks. Soon we’d learn Sea Pines had been hit the hardest. The worst had really happened.

Of course we were concerned about our house, but ours was newer and built to withstand a hurricane’s wrath. Ours was a second home and didn’t contain our cherished belongings or irreplaceable keepsakes (except for the preserved and mounted shark my husband and children had caught). What we did worry about was our older neighbor who had stayed in a ground-level house without a cell phone. We worried about our beloved landmarks, including the “Liberty Oak” in Harbour Town where our children heard Greg Russell sing and where the founder of Sea Pines Charles E. Fraser is buried.  The golf courses and the piers could be rebuilt, but not that tree. We worried about our friends who had to stay evacuated while we returned to our primary residence.

Live Oaks line the roads in Sea Pines

Live Oaks lining a Sea Pines road before the storm

On Saturday evening we took a direct flight back to Colorado Springs. Not knowing if it would be two days or two weeks for cleanup, we didn’t want to stay in a hotel room watching the Weather Channel any longer.

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I’m posting this on Tuesday, October 11. It’s amazing what the first responders, the cleanup crews, law enforcement, the community organizations, utilities, and others have accomplished in three days. Evacuees have returned to the island. While not encouraged to go back to Sea Pines because of the safety risks, residents are now allowed back on. According to our security system texts, our power has gone on and then off again several times.  We still don’t know if we have water, nor do we  know anything about our home’s condition. What we do know is our neighbor is safe, and the Liberty Oak is standing strong among massive amounts of debris. We’ve seen heart-wrenching photos of enormous trees on roofs, of golf courses and parking lots under water, and we’ve seen the worried faces of distraught people, including a boat captain whose boat was destroyed. How will he make a living now?

We’ve been told had Hurricane Matthew stayed a category-4 our beloved island would be gone. So while we incurred massive destruction, we are fortunate to have an island to return to. My husband and I along with Zoe will return as soon as it’s safe (I’m particularly worried about the alligators and the snakes who were displaced!). While we are sometimes referred to as “part-timers” by the locals and the full-timers who have retired on Sea Pines, I have a feeling we’ll come together to restore the island we all love.

And I’ll tell you this: I’ll always pay attention during hurricane season. I am no longer a hurricane neophyte.

You may also enjoy a previous post about Hilton Head.

A Hurricane Hit Home” originally appeared on Adventures of an Allergic Foodie.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not All Celiacs Are Skinny

When the doctor confirmed I had celiac disease AND allergies to dairy, corn, eggs, soy, and a bunch of other foods, the first thing I thought was What would I eat?  The second thing that popped into my mind was At least I’ll lose weight! Trying to shed pounds for decades, I figured all those food restrictions would surely make that horrid digital scale go down.

That was eight years ago and I’m still overweight. This embarrasses me. I’m the person who orders grilled salmon or chicken and a salad with olive oil and lemon, yet I’m the fattest one at the table.

IMG_4321My weight also makes me angry and a little depressed. I mean if I can’t eat cheesecake and lasagna for the rest of my life, let me at least look good in a pair of skinny jeans.

Before diagnosis and for a long time afterwards–while I was learning how to eat sans gluten, dairy, eggs, soy, and corn–food didn’t last long in my body, if you know what I mean. So one would naturally assume, I’d lose weight. Nope. Didn’t happen.

So I went to see a nutritionist. After much testing, she said I was malnourished. This seemed funny considering my pant size was creeping up. She put me on a nutrient-rich diet with much more protein than I’d been consuming and I felt great for the first time in years.

But I didn’t lose weight.

Okay, time to come clean. During these early years of food-restricted eating, I did test the gluten-free products. I mean I was feeling pretty sorry for myself that I’d never eat pizza or a croissant or an omelet ever again. So when I came across a processed gluten-free product that was also dairy-free and soy-free, I had to give it a try. Prime example: Amy’s Rice Macaroni with Non-Dairy Cheeze  Plus companies kept sending me free food in hopes of a blog review. I had to eat them–it was part of my job.

IMG_3129 2Turns out a lot of those allergy-friendly treats are high in calories, fat, carbs, and sugar. That Amy’s Mac & Cheeze? 400 calories, 16 grams fat, 10 grams saturated fat, 47 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams sugar. Sure my metabolism was out of whack,  but those gluten-free/soy-free/diary-free chocolate chips I popped into my mouth weren’t helping either.

Also turns out I’m not the only fat celiac. A 2008 study from Northern Ireland found weight gain is common in patients following a strict gluten-free diet. The University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center summarized three possible explanations for weight gain based on this study as well as some other European studies (Impact, Spring 2008, Vol. 8, Issue 2).

First, when the small intestine heals after eliminating gluten, nutrients are absorbed more normally. Dietary  carbohydrates, proteins and fats then contribute calories to the body. For many celiacs who lose too much weight, this is a desirable outcome. For those of us struggling with too many pounds, not so much.

Another possibility for packing on the pounds is gluten-free substitutes often contain higher amounts of fats and sugars than the wheat/gluten versions. So many of us food-restricted folks are so busy reading the labels for gluten and allergens that we forget to check for calories, fat, carbohydrates, and sugar. I have also noticed potion sizes for gluten-free foods are often smaller than foods with gluten, and I eat two servings instead of one. Oops.

Finally, adults with malabsorption from undiagnosed and active celiac disease may consume more food and not gain weight. Once on the gluten-free diet, they may find they must eat less to maintain a healthy diet. Before I knew what was wrong with me, I was often hungry–food never stayed in me long–and I even craved the very foods that I later learned were making me ill. After diagnosis of celiac and food allergies, I felt so restricted I didn’t really look at how much I was eating. Sometimes, especially when I travelled, I overate because I never knew when my next meal might come. Sure, I often ordered the salad or the plain burger without a bun, but I also grabbed that bag of gluten-free potato chips in case I got hungry later.

IMG_4307I’ve come to realize I can’t keep blaming my tight pants on a broken metabolism. Starting WeightWatchers last summer–Is this my third time?–was a game changer. I began to start paying attention to the portions of the allergy-free food I put on my plate. Rather than just examining labels for caramel coloring and maltodextrin, I paid attention to the nutritional labels as well. With WeightWatchers allotting me 30 points to eat each day, whole foods are much better choices than processed foods such as Amy’s Rice Mac and Non-Dairy Cheeze (16 points!). I now know the dairy-free yogurt, the agave nectar I added to my morning coffee, even the Ruby Red Grapefruit in juice I ate as a “healthy snack” are all loaded with sugar.

I’m losing around two pounds a week and feeling better than I have in years. The WeightWatchers program encourages me to track everything I put in my mouth and it’s been easier pinpointing what foods contain an ingredient I react to. For example, I thought I could eat a little corn but every time I eat citric acid derived from corn I feel sick. No more citric acid for me.

I’m not endorsing WeightWatchers here, but I am suggesting if you’re food-restricted yet struggling with unwanted pounds, you may want to take a closer look at those allergy-friendly food labels and the amount of food you’re consuming.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Not All Celiacs Are Skinny” first appeared in Adventures of an Allergic Foodie.