Aside

A Rash Decision

Yesterday I decided to take care of this annoying rash on my face and neck that’s been plaguing me for quite some time.  Why now?  Well, I’ll be attending the Food Allergy Bloggers Conference this weekend and I didn’t want to look like I’d forgotten to take off my Halloween mask.

The ironic thing is this conference is full of people with ALLERGIES.  A rash looks perfectly normal to them.  But you know, a girl likes to look good.

Went to the doctor’s and got a prescription. First pharmacy didn’t have the ointment in stock so had to drive across town to another pharmacy and wait an hour.

Then the lady at the counter looked me in the eye and said, “Did your doctor tell you how much this was going to cost?”  Never a good sign.

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Yep, you’re reading that right.  $166 for that tiny little tube that’s the size of cement glue!  By the way, I have “good” health insurance;  makes you wonder what I’d pay if I had “bad” health insurance.

Next I headed off to Walgreens to replace some old makeup that might be irritating my skin and to take a look at some recommended sensitive skin products. Anna at Walgreens was incredibly knowledgeable.  $100 later I was back in my car.

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Good news is my face is already looking better. Bad news is I spent more than the airline ticket to Las Vegas cost.

If you’ll be at the conference, please introduce yourself!  If you’re not going, I’ll be live blogging during and after the sessions … after all, I have no money left for gambling.

Related Post from An Allergic Foodie

A Tribute to Food Allergy Bloggers

“A Rash Decision” originally appeared in Adventures of an Allergic Foodie.

 

An Appetite for Life

I just finished reading Kate Christensen’s Blue Plate Special: An Autobiography of My Appetites

Blue Plate Special: An Autobiography of My Appetites by Kate Christensen

I hardly ever buy a hardcover book these days, but the title caught my eye, and then the first line of the book jacket lured me and my wallet in.

To taste fully is to live fully.

Think about these words.

To taste fully is to live fully.

Five years ago I learned the food I was putting in my mouth was making me horribly ill. I thought I’d never enjoy food again, which was a real slap in the face because I’d just started appreciating food, good food, after spending way too many youthful years eating Lean Cuisines and way too many parental years eating chicken nuggets.

Also, following my many cooking disasters and being known as the sorority sister who put garlic butter in the brownies, I was just getting the hang of cooking. Grilled halibut topped with olive oil, tomatoes and capers. Crabcakes with homemade tartar sauce. Pasta with plenty of shaved parmesan. Roasted asparagus and grilled corn.

Being ordered to stop eating–or at least that’s what I heard the doctor say–was like telling me to stop breathing.  What do you mean no more buttered croissants, cheese and crackers, yogurt, ice cream, cake, corn, asparagus, or pineapple?

How was I going to live? 

Kate Christensen’s memoir reminded me that food–what we eat, how we prepare it, who we share it with–is a reflection of ourselves and the way we live.  Food is a part of our life story.  In the prologue, she writes:

To taste fully is to live fully. And to live fully is to be awake and responsive to complexities and truths–good and terrible, overwhelming and miniscule. To eat passionately is to allow the world in; there can be no hiding or sublimation when you’re chewing a mouthful of food so good it makes you swoon.

I love this.

When I was diagnosed with celiac disease and multiple food allergies and a painful allergic esophagus, I didn’t think I’d ever enjoy eating in a restaurant with my family, or cooking with my sons, or preparing a Thanksgiving meal, or snacking with my husband while watching a movie.  But I do all of these things now.

Eating for me, and for my family, has changed, of course. New foods have entered our meals–quinoa, jicama, parsnips, pomegranates, buffalo, lamb, quail, snapper–and I’ve learned a new healthful way of cooking sans dairy, gluten, soy and so on. To my chagrin, I haven’t lost the weight I was sure would come off when I eliminated so much food from my diet five years ago.

That’s because I taste fully and live fully.

The other day I laughed when my twenty-year-old son started bouncing up and down in his chair because his food tasted so good. He’s done this for as long as I can remember, and being gluten-free as a young man hasn’t stopped him from appreciating a good meal. He tastes fully and lives fully.

Thanks, Kate, for sharing your story and your passion for food.

P.S.  As an adult, Kate discovers she’s gluten intolerant, yet her excitement for food and eating continues. Go Kate!

Read Kate Christensen’s blog that inspired her memoir and stop by her Facebook page.

An Appetite for Life first appeared at Adventures of an Allergic Foodie.

Food Allergies and Celiac Disease: Sharing My Story

A few weeks ago I received an email from Stefanie over at PeanutAllergy.com. She said she liked my positive attitude on living with multiple food allergies and celiac disease—thank you, Stefanie!–and asked if I would share my story for their website. While flattered, I found this invitation a bit odd since I don’t have a nut allergy.

Then I took a look at the website.  All I have to say is WOW.

PeanutAllergy.com is the ultimate resource for anyone living with a nut allergy, but it offers tons of info and support for those of us coping with other food allergies. Every time I click over there, I learn something new.  Today I read about dogs with food allergies, which of course I had to tweet!

Desk-writing

Putting years of poor health, medical procedures, and doctor visits into a few paragraphs–and without sounding like a big fat whiner–proved difficult.  Eventually, I decided to write my story as if it was a synopsis for a book.

This exercise turned out to be quite therapeutic; a few tears may have been shed. You may want to try it.

I also asked myself,  What could I share that might help someone out there struggling with strange unexplainable symptoms and looking for answers?  Click here to read my story.

Already I’ve received a few grateful emails.  What more can an allergic foodie ask for?

Get Rid of Tipping? Those with food allergies will suffer

When restaurant waitstaff answer my myriad questions and do everything in their power to ensure my food is allergy free and gluten safe, I always reward them with a handsome tip. The better the service, the higher the gratuity. So this morning’s Today Show’s discussion about whether restaurants should start paying waiters a living wage and stop the practice of tipping alarms me. Evidently, some high-end restaurants are already including service fees in menu prices and paying their staff higher wages.

gratuity

My concern is this: Will waitstaff provide quality service to an allergic foodie like me if they aren’t relying on tips?

Based on my experience of dining in gratuity-free Italy, I don’t think they will. While I certainly had some superb meals in Italy and met some gregarious waiters, the service wasn’t all that great. In fact, more often than not, the service was bad.

Take my dinner in a small hotel in beautiful Positano for example.

Here we are on the beach of Positano

Here we are on the beach of Positano

Sitting down at the bistro table, I handed over my laminated translation card with highlighted food allergies (dairy, gluten, soy, corn, asparagus, capers, etc.). The gray-haired waiter with a pleasant smile barely glanced at it–yet he insisted he understood my special needs. Concerned, my husband reiterated my litany of allergies and went over every ingredient in the dish I ordered—a simple plate of vegetables and a plain piece of meat (at least that’s what I thought I was ordering).

Halfway through the meal, while the waiter filled our wine glasses, I gushed over the delicious food.

“It’s the cream that makes–” Stopping midsentence, the waiter turned as red as the tomato on my fork. He obviously knew cream was dairy and I couldn’t eat dairy–yet he served it to me!

This pretty dish made me sick!

This pretty dish made me sick!

We spent the next day walking up and down the steep cobblestone streets looking for the Italian version of Imodium. (By the way, anti-diarrhea medicine isn’t sold over-the-counter in Italy. You have to ask the pharmacist for it. How embarrassing.)

Of course, the system of tipping in America does not guarantee good service. We’ve all experienced difficult waitstaff. Still, I can’t help but think if I generously tip a waiter who took my allergies seriously, he or she will give me–and the next allergic foodie after me–good service again. Tipping is a reward system. Without a reward, there is little incentive for waitstaff to make sure my food won’t make me sick tomorrow.

A side note: My husband and I couldn’t get used to not tipping in Italy and we often added an extra 20 percent. We suspect that’s why waitstaff kept refilling our after-dinner Lemoncellos!

Help an Allergic Foodie Learn to Cook–please!

One of my goals this summer was to learn some new recipes that my husband might like.

My husband, George, is the one person in our family who does not have food allergies.

Here he is concentrating on some crab legs in a restaurant in Rome (I know he’ll really appreciate me including this flattering photo).

George Eating in Italy

Unlike George, I have a laundry list of foods that can’t pass through my lips. And, if you’ve been following this blog for a while, you know our oldest son gets ill from dairy and eggs, our youngest from gluten. Even our Lhaso Apso Lucy can’t eat grains without breaking out in hives!

Here’s a picture of Lucy (I can’t pass up the opportunity to show you how cute she is).

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So why then, you may be asking yourself, am I trying to cook for the one person who can eat everything?

It’s simple really. If George likes what I serve, he’ll be more receptive to eating at home–less time in restaurants means less chance of cross-contamination. If George enjoys my gluten-free, egg-free pasta, he’ll forget all about that old wheat pasta his mother used to serve (by the way, George is Italian and loves his pasta!). Keeping wheat out of the kitchen helps me keep a clean–free of contaminants–kitchen.

Most importantly, if I can change my husband’s mindset–anything gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, corn-free must taste like cardboard–then I’ll only have to prepare one meal for the four of us!

You’ve been there, haven’t you? One (or more) of your family members is newly diagnosed and you’re cooking two (or more) meals–every mealtime! The wheat pasta and the rice pasta. The GF burger buns and the regular ones. The salad with Croutons and cheese, a salad sans Croutons, one with only Croutons, another without either Croutons or cheese.

Ugh! No wonder I drank a lot of wine in those days!

crazy-woman-drinking-wine

(This really isn’t me.)

Well, sad to say, I did not meet my goal. I ended up making allergy-friendly foods during the week, while my husband was travelling for work, then by the time he got home, I was tired of cooking! On the weekends I often opted for grilling a steak or piece of fish and serving a veggie and a salad. Not bad, but kind of gets boring. I even found myself agreeing to eat out (who doesn’t want an evening without dishes!?).  Of course, I more often than not found myself sick the next day, and the third day and the fourth . . .

But it’s the season of going back to school!  So today I publicly announce my goal of educating myself on allergy-free recipes and learning to cook better!

This IS me--in the 1950s.

This IS me–in the 1950s.

I vow to study every one of the wonderful allergy-friendly cookbooks out there, to read as many of marvelous blogger-chef websites I can find, and to create a smorgasbord of recipes all of us can–and want–to eat.

Now I’m not talking baking GF cookies and breads. I am not a baker, never have been. I much prefer to leave the baking to our local GF bakeries (we have two in Colorado Springs!) or purchase the yummy breads at the health food stores. (Bless you, allergy-free bakers, everywhere!)

What I want to learn to make is home cooking. A tasty meatloaf with a side of mashed potatoes. Shrimp Pad Thai that’s better than the one I can have at Noodles and Company. Oh yes, and Asian chicken lettuce wraps because I sooooo crave the ones I used to eat from P.F. Chang’s. Also, dairy-free, gluten-free mac and cheese that doesn’t come out of a box. Fried chicken for my husband. Pizza for my son who studied in Rome and misses “real” pizza. And easy dishes that my celiac college boy can fix himself.

It’s a tall order.

My first step is to treat myself to a pile of cookbooks. I happen to have a $100 gift card to help me get started–an investment in healthful eating seems like a great idea!

I need your help!  What allergy-friendly cookbooks can you, my fellow allergic foodies, not live without?

Tell me! Tell me!

P.S. If you visit Colorado Springs, don’t miss our gluten-free and allergy-friendly bakeries: Outside the Breadbox and Tabor Mountain Bakehouse.

I’m Obsessed with Food!

I’m always thinking about food.

In fact, you could say I’m obsessed with food.

For a woman who’s struggled with weight issues all her life, this doesn’t seem like a good thing. But when your body reacts negatively to wheat and soy and corn and dairy products, you can’t help but think about every morsel that passes through your lips.

My health depends on it.

A recent week-long trip alerted me to how food obsessed I’ve become.  Before I could even step through the airport doors, I planned what to pack in my lunchbox that would pass TSA inspection. (Last trip, they confiscated my almond yogurt and peanut butter!)  Then, the entire time I was away from home, I had to constantly think about what the host was serving and how she was preparing the food.

No, I can’t eat a croissant with butter or that sausage that isn’t labeled gluten free.  And by the way, could you not serve the fruit on the same plate as the rolls?

I didn't look this happy when I was grocery shopping for food allergy food!

I didn’t look this happy when I was grocery shopping for food allergy food!

Before I finished breakfast, I was already planning lunch and dinner. If we were eating out, I jumped online and researched the restaurants through apps like AllergyEats. I followed up with a call to the staff to review my allergies. Sometimes plans were changed. If eating in, I had to negotiate a meal that included something allergy free for me to eat.

Of course, it isn’t just when I’m travelling that I’m thinking about food.  My desk is covered with books and magazines and articles related to food and health and cooking.

Books about celiac disease and food allergies

I can never just read one book at a time.

Every morning I read blogs and tweets about celiac disease and food allergies. I belong to multiple support groups and organizations.  I try to stay up on the latest news about CD, leaky gut, and eosinophilic esophagitis. I keep this blog and associated Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest accounts. I write reviews of cookbooks and restaurants and test food and products designed for allergic foodies like me.

I guess you could say food has become my passion as well as obsession.

I love meeting other allergic foodies! Please “friend” me on Facebook and Pinterest and Twitter–I’ll reciprocate!

I’m a Picky Eater! And Proud of It!

There I was at a pizza party grazing off the veggie platter when a friend–for the sake of my future social life let’s call her Deborah–leaned across the table and announced loudly that her daughter who has celiac disease doesn’t need to be nearly as careful as I do.

“Well she kind of does,” I explained good-naturedly while the other guests rolled out homemade pizza dough.

“But her symptoms aren’t nearly as bad as yours,” Deborah said. (Oh, and did I mention Deborah is a nurse?) “At our house, we use the same toaster, the same utensils, the same cutting board, and my daughter is just fine.”

Maybe I was just being overly sensitive that night, but it felt like Deborah was announcing to all the other guests, as well as the lovely hosts, that I was just being a picky eater.

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Guess what?  I am a picky eater! I have to be. Otherwise, I’ll end up spending the evening in the restroom and the following day in the fetal position on the sofa.

Yes Deborah, I really can’t eat the gluten-free pizza dough that’s been rolled out with a rolling pin covered in flour. Nor can I cook the gluten-free pizza in the really cool pizza oven because it’s also been contaminated with flour.

My husband doesn't have CD enjoyed the pizza!

My husband doesn’t have CD enjoyed the pizza!

There was no convincing this woman that her daughter with mild symptoms should follow strict contamination guidelines. She didn’t want to change her cooking habits or reorganize her kitchen. I went to bed that evening worrying about her young daughter who could possibly develop serious complications from uncontrolled celiac disease later in life.

According to Peter Green, MD, author of Celiac Disease: A Hidden Epidemic, “Many patients who do not have diarrhea think that there is no need for treatment. But the longer individuals have celiac disease, the more like they are to get other autoimmune diseases. Even without symptoms, patients need to be treated to prevent further damage.”

As those of us with CD know, “treatment” involves removing all gluten out of our diet and avoiding cross contamination. For those newly diagnosed or who are cooking for a loved one with CD or gluten sensitivity, learning to avoid cross contamination takes patience and practice. Following are some basic guidelines; even if you are an experienced gluten-free eater, it’s a good idea to review these.

  • Always wash cooking utensils with dish soap and water before using—you never know where that fork has been!
  • Maintain designated non-wheat cutting boards, strainers, and toasters. Color code if possible; at my house, gluten-free cookware is apple green. I also label items with a Sharpie and keep a gluten-free cupboard for my supplies. In our vacation home, I label everything I cook with, and when I think guests won’t follow the rules, I lock my cookware in an owner’s closet.
  • Never double dip. If a contaminated spoon has been dipped into the peanut butter, don’t eat the PB. If the flour tortilla has been sunk into the salsa, don’t eat the salsa. If it looks like the crouton spoon at the salad bar has been swapped with the cucumber spoon, pass on the cucumbers.
  • Clearly label the jars that you eat out of (for example, “Amy’s Jam”). I especially find this helpful since I have lots of food allergies and my food is expensive. My husband can eat the cheaper brands. 🙂
  • When eating food that’s typically cooked in oil, such a French Fries, ask if breaded items are cooked in the same oil. Some restaurants, such as Red Robin, are now cooking gluten-free fries in separate oil.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask the server or chef lots of questions—whether eating at a restaurant, at a wedding, or at a friend’s house. Be specific about your needs. Can you cook my salmon on foil to avoid contamination? Can you leave the pasta out of my minestrone?
  • If you are still getting sick even after taking cross-contamination steps, keep a food diary and consult a nutritionist/dietician. Gluten hides in so many products and can easily contaminate foods–don’t be afraid to ask for help!

As for Deborah’s daughter, I hope she learns to be a picky eater. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.