Food Allergy Counseling

Food Allergy Counseling
Sloane Miller, Food Allergy Counselor (Picture © Noel Malcolm 2013)

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Divvies Tasting

Have you heard of DIVVIES yet? If you haven’t, you soon will. Inspired by the Sandler’s son Benjamin and his allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, milk and eggs, Divvies manufactures cookies, cupcakes, flavored popcorns and candies in an allergen-free facility. Yay!

Lucky me, they sent me some goodies to taste test. They use wheat and soy products so I couldn't indulge as I’m off those things lately. But it proved a great excuse to gather a panel of some former vegans and some “regular” eaters to test drive the yummies.

My panel included in alpha order:
Bo-former vegan who has some food allergies but not to nuts.
Casey-meat eater extraordinaire who doesn’t eat veggies EVER and loves those cookies from IKEA.
Dani-mindful eater who does raw/juice fast every now and then and eats vegan desserts.
Phil-meat and potatoes man who loves his hostess cupcakes.
Stephanie-allergic to eggs, keeps kosher and was vegetarian for a short while.

Divvies sent me these items to try:
Kettle Corn , Carmel Corn, Jelly Beans, Rock Candy, Chocolate Chips, Chocolate chip cookies, Molasses Ginger Cookies and Oatmeal Raisin cookies.

Here are the results of our tasting:
The Divvies packaging is outstanding. The candy came in light blue stripped paper baggies; the cookies came in a beautiful gift box. It was like getting presents from a high-end dept store. This alone makes Divvies an easy choice for gift giving this season to your favorite vegan, kosher-keeping person or allergic girl or guy.

Candy:
-The jellybeans and rock candy were an easy thumbs up. I just got an email from an offsite taster, who after receiving leftover jellybeans asked if there were any more left. A good sign.

Popcorns:
-The kettle corn was the biggest hit out of everything and with all tasters. Salty and sweet with a hint of vanilla, it’s an easy choice for gifting or snacking and was quickly snapped up.
-The caramel corn was also a hit but with a caveat. The taste, sweetness level and carmelosity varied noticeably between the two bags. However, tasters noted they wouldn’t have noticed the discrepancy if they hadn’t had the two bags side by side. In fact one taster said that she “LOVED the caramel corn. It was addictive. I finished my [leftover] baggie in one day.”

Cookies:
-The regular eaters noticed the lack of butter. They missed its mouth feel, taste and texture once cooked.
-Vegan eaters didn’t mind it not being there.
-The kosher eater said that the cookies and chocolate chips tasted like high-quality kosher items, which is a good however very specific thing.
-The far and away favorite was the Molasses Ginger. Tasters said the soft chewy consistency was best; the flavor complex and it would be great for any cookie lover, especially vegans.
-The next favorite was the Oatmeal Raisin, which were generally liked. One taster said they were a bit undercooked/floury; another liked the undercookedness.
-The Chocolate Chip came in dead last in this group. Tasters said the cookies were dry, mealy and had an unpleasant aftertaste. Perhaps it was a bad batch.

The overall verdict: if you need a great-looking foodie gift for an allergic, vegan or kosher loved one or love high quality dairy-free/nut-free goodies, Divvies is a great option. The packaging is high end, the popcorn is super yummy, the cookies great and the candy delicious.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Interview on Foodcandy.com

It's up, my interview on Foodcandy.com! So exciting. Have a look and let me know what you think!

Keep Your Enemies Closer

You know what they say: keep your friends close, keep your enemies closer. Why not apply that axiom to food?

For example, I'm allergic to nuts so this article makes sense for me to study. Where are the new places people are even thinking of putting nuts? I need to be like a Nut ninja, stealthfully cutting danger off at the pass.

What are you allergic to? What are the new food trends? Where are the new places they are considering putting gluten or dairy or eggs or whatever gives you hives? It behooves you to find out, to become your own food detective, food historian or foodie.

Keep your friends close; keep your enemies closer. Good stuff.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Organic Fish Question

Just because I'm allergic to fish, doesn't mean the rest of you are. Fish is good for you but there are many questions about the "best" kind. The NYT today investigates organic fish farming--have a read.

Asthma in the NYT

An interessing opinion piece about asthma in the Tuesday Health section.

Bob's Red Mill

Gluten-free but not nut-free; nut-free but not gluten-free. This has become the challenge for me of late.

For example, Bob's Red Mill--they mill all kinds of great stuff: flours, seeds, grains and organics and they have tons of products and recipes. This thrills the GF Gal in me. However, I see they also use and process nuts and nut flours. So I sent in a friendly “what’s the deal?” email. I love product help lines, I use them all the time.

(allergicgirl@gmail.com) on Monday, November 20, 2006 at 17:13:44

Q: are you tree-nut free or can tell me more about your products as they relate to tree nuts? id love to use your GF line but am concerned about cross contamination. thank you.


Here was their reply and those of you who are Nut-Free the news isn’t good:

Hello,

Thank you for your email. Our Products are manufactured in a facility that also uses tree nuts and soy. We no longer manufacture peanuts in our facility at all, but there is a chance of cross contact. We do clean the mills thoroughly between grinding. I hope this helps and thank you for your interest in Bob's Red Mill products.

Happy Holidays,

Janelle
Customer Service
Bob's Red Mill


The above email vague and confusing, so I sent a follow-up that received no reply at all. Sigh. So I shan’t be using Bob’s great stuff anytime soon unless this policy changes or a clarification is made.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Allergizer.com

Ruth at Allergizer brought this recent article to my attention. And this: more allergies than ever in kids and they still don't know why.

A Christmas Story

Have you seen those ads? The NYT explains how they came about. I think they're kind of freaky--they way they take the movie shot for shot and recreate it for a Cingular wireless ad.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The House on East 17th street

It used to be the office for Fletcher & Parry, a literary agency; before that I believe it was a residence. "It" is a lovely carriage house on 17th street, just off of Irving, but something has drastically changed of late. Yesterday, when Danielle and I passed by after strolling through the Greenmarket, it seemed to be under very new management.

"The House" has a large black sign above the picture windows on 17th street and there’s a winterized front door for future customers. We poked our heads in, why not, and saw that it's now a restaurant, albeit one that looks like someone is playing dress-up whilst the grown-ups are away.

My impressions of the physical space: the main floor, where the office was and before that probably the living room, is now filled with high chairs and high tables, a new bar with a flat screen TV and crown moldings on the ceiling around a chandelier. The kitchen is in the basement and I was told that the second floor has a smaller dining room and a second bar. How they fit that in there I don't know; there were two tiny offices up there before. I had the sense that they were going for a mini-coach house look. [Coach House is now Babbo, and was another rare NYC townhouse space]. I got the feeling that it was all for show somehow, all too new and not particularly comfortable. Personally, those high chairs and tables make me feel even smaller, my feet don’t reach the ground; just call me Baby Snooks.

Beyond the space and onto the food. Conversationally, I asked "JP" who was standing behind the new bar what I thought were some routine and benign questions: when are you opening [soon], what kind of food [comfort food], who’s cooking [can’t tell you], who’s the owner [really, can’t tell you], do you do events [we’re already booked up through next summer, thank you very much]—all of which were all met with an unusual iciness. Harrumph.

I thought I understood that it was a tight resto market out there, but I was a little surprised that two potential neighborhood customers and cute girls to boot were so summarily dismissed; that didn't strike me as particularly neighborly nor friendly. Hence, they rate an initial harrumph. I will have to see when it opens but it seemed awkward and forced as a restaurant. Single family home, yes! High end literary agency, maybe. Cozy neighborhood resto, eh maybe, maybe not.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Allergy Cards

Chef Becker suggested it. Many a boyfriend has asked for it: "Maybe you could make me a card with all of your allergies written on it?" I think it's time I buckled down and made one of these. They're free. And maybe it could eliminate The Talk and any ensuing confusion.

The question is, whilst being completely honest with myself and you, am I brave enough to be that much of a dork? And the answer is: I believe so. I'm a huge advocate for asserting your needs, esp. when it comes to food allergies, so yes. Yes, I will try this out and report back.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Post-Turkey

How did it go? Did you have a good time? Were you able to navigate the culinary mine fields of Thanksgiving? Did you get allergic to anything? Did your tummy go kaflooey? I hope the answers were all yeses and nos respectively.

I avoided nuts and gluten successfully and still had a colorful plate: THREE helpings of white and dark meat turkey [provided by Stew Leonard’s], canned cranberry sauce [yes, with high fructose corn syrup; I needed something wet for the turkey], herb roasted fingerling potatoes and steamed broccoli. Banana for dessert. All was yummy, no upsets and I brought some turkey home.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Peking Your Poultry

Peking duck is one of my favorite childhood memories of food. Chinese banquet, Chinese New Year or just a family dinner out it didn't matter. That crispy skin, sweet sauce, crunchy onion and warm pancake; what's not to love.

As a vegetarian, I hadn't indulged in Peking duck in years; but no longer, I can have duck anytime I want! This week, actually in these last two days, there have been two articles to remind me what I've been missing. Here's the other artitcle.

And apparently a resto in NYC is making Peking turkey! Now that would be fun. Of course no pancake and maybe no hoisin sauce, have to look into those ingredients but really it's all about the duck. Or the turkey.

Have a great Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Thanksgiving And Allergies/Intolerances

The NYT printed 20 tips given by three well-known hostesses on being a gracious host and guest at Thanksgiving. However, the women who gave their tips must not have read the others’ tips [most likely]; the managing editor didn’t reconcile any conflicting advice [possibly]; or worst case, the NYT didn’t care that number two and number 16 conflict [who knows].

Contrasting opinions are fine, a debate is great, but in this case the list is neither: the conflict occurs at the intersection between the health of those of us with food allergies and food intolerances and a host’s menu choices.

Here’s the partial list, the rest is here:

#2. Ask about dietary restrictions when you make the invitation. If it’s a small gathering, you will have to provide a dish for vegans or vegetarians. At larger parties with more food, they should be able to find enough food to make a meal. Ignoring nut or shellfish allergies is poor form.

#16. If you have a special dietary need, delicately let the host know, but immediately offer to contribute a dish that you can eat. Never dictate to the host, though. If the offer is declined, respect it and hope for the best.


Here’s my advice: never “hope for the best” when it comes to your “special dietary needs”--NEVER. Let your host know exactly what you can and cannot eat and absolutely offer to bring a dish or two that you, and everyone else, can eat. But never respect someone else's dietary choices for YOU. That's crazy talk.

There has been many a year, as a vegetarian with nut and fish allergies that I brought an entire meal to Thanksgiving that I knew was safe. One year I brought a whole dinner from Zen Palate. One year I had pasta whilst everyone else had my Aunt Robin’s green jell-o nut mold. If you’re worried you’d never live that down, trust me, most people are more concerned with how much sweet potato pie with marshmallows is left versus the allergen-free whatever on your plate. And I’m certain I’m the only one who remembers that I did that, except maybe my mother.

Be a great guest, bring a dessert, a savory dish, flowers in a vase. Chat with newcomers, help with dishes, compliment the decor: YES!

But also: have no qualms about bringing a meal with you if you need to.

Family and friends are people who love you and don’t want you to get sick. Communicate with them.

Don’t be shy. Hurt feelings are nothing compared to feeling sick at the table or worse, a trip to the hospital.

And shame on the NYT for letting this one slip.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Did You Notice?

Yup--now you can see me.

dB from foodcandy.com and I had a nice chat about Allergic Girl—it will show up as an interview on that site soon, keep an eye out. And he asked for a few pics. Yay! However, I didn’t really have any great picture lying around, certainly not any that would make sense for this site. So, I called upon an old friend, Kenneth Chen.

You might have seen Kenneth’s work in New York Magazine; he’s done many, many food pics for them. When I first met him, he was building his portfolio and doing a lot of portraits: he took my mother’s author photo. Very interested in photography, I worked as his assistant for a summer: being the schlepper, bookkeeper and plugger-in of the strobe connections, all in the right order so the light didn’t explode when turned on. When I told my friend Isabel that he was taking some pictures for me, she mentioned he had done a family album for her about 10 years ago. And then a woman I sat next to at a brunch Sunday [more on that later], Lesley Dormen, said he took her picture, also ages ago, for a contributing editor gig at a woman’s mag. All this is to say he’s done a lot of portraits; I knew I was in fantastic hands.

The morning of the shoot, Michael hooked me up with Wilbert at the Paula Dorff make-up counter at Bendel’s—thank you Wilbert and Michael. Paula’s makeup is nut-free and hypoallergenic and not expensive for a department store brand. The makeup color palette was very natural, soft-looking and not fragrant [e.g. Chanel is great but has a very definite Chanel smell]. I bought my first blush; I might actually use it on a regular basis. Sigh, this is what happens when you mature; you buy blush.

Once made up with wardrobe, Kenneth and I spent the afternoon playing with Jordan almonds, pistachios and a huge bag of Brazil nuts and cashews (which made me a little nervous but I never touched any). And giggling. We ended up with gorgeous shots. So interesting: all digi, no strobe, no fill lights and no film! I still can’t get over that; that no one uses FILM anymore. Did anyone else notice this? Sigh. I liked film. Anyway...

Kenneth is a consummate professional and a lovely person, I hope we can work together again in the near future--Thank you Kenneth! And I hope you like the picture as much as I do.

Puppet Up

Did anyone else catch this last night on TBS? It's adult improv with puppets--Like if the characters from Whose Line Is It Anyway? and Avenue Q got together, drank a little too much and started playing parlor games. Honestly, it didn't even seem like an American TV show, because it was smart and funny and unusual. I hope they make it a regular feature; it would be refreshing to have some quality TV.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Burger Love

I've been having a love affair with burgers these past few months. I swore off meat for two weeks pre-birthday, you know, a meat gut is not so cute, kinda cute but not really, really cute. And one wants to look really, really cute for one's birthday. Well, I do anyway.

Since my birthday passed, the meat furlough has ended. This past weekend I had two burgers in 12 hours: I don’t play around.

So this news item, if one can call it “news”, is great on a few levels.
1.I love when restaurants are accommodating.
2.Love The Meyer.
3.Love burgers.
4.Good to know that Blue Smoke is being that accommodating so next time I’m visiting a publishing friend or seeing Jazz, I’ll consider going there. Actually this news might warrant another visit.

Tini-Time

The bacon martini as a concept tickled me too much not to post this article and share.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

An Intimate Allergy

I caught a cold--too much birthday fun this week for sure --and thus no post yesterday.

Too stuffed up to go see Casino Royale's opening weekend, we stayed in and watched SNL. During the fake news segment there was a mention of sperm allergies on the rise [that's my pun not theirs; please excuse it]. The joke was something like, "If you're allergic to peanuts, don't sleep with this guy", they then showed a picture of Mr. Peanut, with a censored strip over his crotch. Yeah kinda lame--reminds me of the stupid Jimmy Carter/peanut jokes in the 70s. Did I just date myself?

Anyway, latex allergies I've heard of, Bo mentions her severe reactions in her blog, but sperm allergies? That's new and scary. And the joke was silly to be sure, but it's so intriguing how and when allergies make it into mainstream news, moreso mainstream late night comedy shows.

Friday, November 17, 2006

My Foodie Fantasy--Ghetto Gourmet

These things have gotten so popular in the last few years; they even had a version of it in the movie Hitch, remember? The scene where the Will Smith character, whilst on a date at an underground cooking class, finds out he’s allergic to shellfish? That is a nightmare scenario. And one of the many many reasons that I didn’t sign up for Ghet.

And I’m not pining to go, really I’m not—especially after my soapbox post of “I’m Okay, You’re Okay Without”. But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that the foodie in me really wants to go to a food rave—a free for all food fest, a symphony, or cacophony depending, of tastes, textures, ingredients etc..

Is it a little Schadenfreude of me to be a little happy that it wasn’t a total success here in NYC, according to this reviewer? Yeah but we can't all be perfect.

Wait, wait! What if we all got together at some point and had a Nut-free, Gluten-free and anything-else-free we decided food rave! That would be so great! Anyone in?

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Hello Helio

Michael kindly invited me to a Helio event at Bendels last night. The phones were quite cool looking with lots of extras I'll never need and some I might. The deal they were offering seemed quite reasonable too--all which made me think of investiagting them further.

The party was strictly a wine, cheese and chat affair. Or in this case martinis, olive bar, skewered shrimp and lots of posing affair. Add in extra gorgeous model-waiter-whatevers at the helm and a great DJ--big shout out to you talented DJ-man and a decent time was had. Oksana Baiul was there in leopard leggings, a fake fur and bright red lipstick, I think, looking not cute. I'm not hating, but still, she was not cute. And the actress who plays Sloan on Entourage, Emanuelle Chimmichurri or something like that.

But I was barely paying attention to them because I was discovering a singular, kindred allergic spirit in a crowded room.

It was when asked what I do, and I mentioned this site, that we discovered our many alergic similarities including asthma! It was like an allergy-off! Or like that scene, you know the one, from that Woody Allen play, then movie, “Play It Again Sam”? When the Woody character meets a girl and their entire conversation is about what pills to take with what drink?

Allan: You want a Fresca with a Darvon?
Linda: Unless you have apple juice.
Allan: Apple juice and Darvon is fantastic together!
Linda: Have you ever had Librium and tomato juice?
Allan: No, I haven't personally, but another neurotic tells me they're unbelievable.


Our convo turned into that, but with no drugs nor soda but alot of "can you drink milk?" and "can you eat peanuts?"

As a child I felt like I was the only one with allergies and back then I was: in my class, my grade, practically in the whole school. There wasn’t the explosion there is now with allergies and allergy-free foods and allergy products and awareness and non-profit organizations and benefits to support those charities and FDA regulations on labels. Whew! Hallelujah to all that.

But amen to also meeting a guy at a party who, when you say “I can’t eat the hors d’oeuvres” and he asks “why?” and you say “because I have no idea what’s in them and I’m allergic to everything” and his face lights up and he says “me too”.

That “me too” is huge.

Amen to all of the me too's out there. Welcome!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Tree's Up



This huge tree in Rockerfeller Plaza, although very beautful, signifies that time of year: holiday traffic. I won't say I'm allergic to traffic, as much as I want to (note to self: must not water down the phrase "I'm Allergic"), but I will say I really, really dislike traffic.

Sigh. Well, enjoy the view; it will be lit right after thanksgiving, so here is the nude preview.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Acupuncture, Allergies And Asthma

Below is a brief chat with my wonderful acupuncturist Aimee Raupp. We've been working together for the last year and a half. Whilst under her care, I started an elimination diet [which TOTALLY helped], I've continued my Anusara yoga studies and she been boosting my immune system through acupuncture. One of the things I like about her is she’s about my age. She’s a cool chick who can relate to the stressors of a thirty-something living in NYC, dating, juggling their career and NOT eating pizza or ice cream.

What is acupuncture and how does it work?

Acupuncture is just one facet of the broad-based medicine known as, Traditional Oriental Medicine. Traditional Oriental Medicine includes Acupuncture, Chinese herbology, dietary therapy and exercise, all of which are based on over 2000 years of clinical application. These therapies work with the natural vital energy inherent within all living things to promote the body’s ability to heal itself. Acupuncture is a method of encouraging the body to promote natural healing and improve function. I often tell patients that acupuncture is a means of aggravating the body so that it functions better. This is done by inserting sterilized, stainless-steel, disposable needles (that are as fine as a human hair) into specific points located near or on the surface of the skin which have the ability to alter various biochemical and physiological conditions in order to treat a wide variety of illnesses.

What kind of alternatives or co-treatments to traditional western medicine can acupuncture provide for people with allergies?

Mainly lifestyle and nutritional awareness.

Often we are creating or making our allergies worse, whether it’s a function of our internal or external environment, or both. Patients can become less dependent on medications while gaining more control over their lifestyle choices that are most likely exacerbating their condition. Acupuncture enhances immune function by means of initiating an immune ‘cascade’ when needles are inserted into the body. I always say to patients, “I am sticking a foreign object into your body. Your body is smart enough to know it doesn’t belong there, so the first thing it does it try to defend itself against this foreign invader. It does this by initiating an immune response. It is in this way that acupuncture enhances immune function”. If your immune function is enhanced, your allergies will be less injurious.

For asthma? Again, I go after asthma, not only through enhancing immune function, but also through cleaning up the diet: avoiding heavy, phlegm creating, hard to digest substances like added sugars and dairy products. Often these substances hamper lung function; if the lungs are filled with phlegm, of course it’s going to be difficult to breathe.

Additionally, asthma is often accompanied by an anxiety factor. Whether the anxiety or asthma came first, it doesn’t really matter, by calming the patient’s anxiety, they’re less likely to have stress induced breathing issues.

Just what I was going to say: panicky reactions often coincide with allergic and asthmatic reactions. So tell me more about how can acupuncture help?

Well, in addition to the immune cascade that acupuncture induces, it also causes a large dumping of endorphins, the body’s natural pain mediators. This occurs because the body thinks it’s under attack when those acupuncture needles are inserted. So, in defense of itself, the body will dump endorphins to protect itself against possible harm. These endorphins cause us to feel a sense of deep relaxation. By instigating this deep sense of relaxation, acupuncture calms patients.

Panicky patients respond well when they are relaxed. I often look at it like I am retraining the patient’s body to remember what relaxation feels like. If I can remind the body enough times what relaxation feels like, it often can get there by itself in the future. I give patients tools to calm themselves out of anxious/allergic situations.


Do you have any suggestions for the general health and well being of people who have food allergies or food sensitivities?

I always urge patients with sensitivities or allergies to note how their diet affects them (using a food diary, noting what foods they ate and how they felt after eating them, as well, any body reactions, i.e. diarrhea, heartburn, itchy skin, etc). We are very much what we eat. Chances are if a patient is allergic or sensitive they can mitigate those issues with simple dietary changes or complete elimination of the more allergic food groups (such as dairy, wheat, soy, processed foods).

As well, Traditional Oriental Medicine always takes the emotional perspective into account when treating any disease state. Individuals with allergies, typically have a weakened immune system (in western medical terms) or weak or deficient Qi (in Traditional Oriental Medicine terms). To boost the Qi, we recommend acupuncture (obviously), a clean and clear diet (foods that are lightly steamed, without added sauces or preservatives), and foods that are as close to their natural state as possible… and always organic.

Other suggestions would include, yoga, meditation, exercise, deep breathing, internal awareness (i.e. how emotions or food affect us), air purifiers and certain vitamin supplements such as acidophilus.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Pancakes

So it’s been over a year since I’ve had pancakes. At least.

This morning after a late night of dinning and dancing and flirting and kissing and hugging and mugging for the camera, in pre-celebration of my birthday tomorrow, I woke up at 9am. I can’t sleep late anymore, I just can’t. After realizing I wasn’t going out to brunch, my terry robe suited me just fine, I was determined to make something yummy at home. But what? Roasted potatoes for eggs would take another hour in the oven. Too long as it was nearing noon by the time I got really hungry!

I remembered I had the Gluten-free Pantry "Buttermilk Brown Rice Pancake Mix" mix in my pantry, waiting to be tried. Huh. Could I make GF pancakes? Yes, yes I thought so! The mix had dried buttermilk so I popped a lactaid chewable as I whipped up the ingredients.

I was afraid I had forgotten exactly how to make them. How to preheat the pan on high, turn it to medium heat, add the fat, and add three, four inch dollops in each corner of the round pan, let them be until they bubbled and browned at the edges. Then, give them a jaunty flip, remembering that the second side is always quicker than the first and really in minutes, you have perfectly golden, Gluten-free pancakes. I barely chewed they were so good. In minutes, I was eating a plateful of delicious real pancakes with maple syrup. Standing up. In my kitchen. Happiness and satiety.

However, as soon as I ate them, and they were terrific, I realized I hadn’t really missed them. You know how sometimes you miss the idea of a thing more than the thing itself? And when you finally get the thing you’re like yeah that was great but…it was a bit sweeter in memory. That’s one of those memory tricks, better in the heart than on the lips, many times anyway. Sometimes the real thing exceeds your expectations and memories and that is great too. But with this morning, with these GF pancakes, as a concept and as a short stack on my plate, I realized I hadn’t REALLY missed them. I’m glad they’re back in some form but I really hadn’t noticed they were gone.

That might surpise some people, not missing pancakes; especially people who can't imagine what it's like to give up wheat and sugar. Many people without food allergies and intolerances believe that we who are so blessed are extremely deprived. The inability to eat an Oreo cookie can’t be called real deprivation. Not in the same league. Not on the same planet. I know here in our western world, our first world, the thought of not being able to eat a favorite and cherished food is thought as living a life "less than". But really it's not.

I see it this way: I’m truly lucky, seriously lucky, lucky duck lucky to lead the life I do. So I can’t have nuts [or salmon, or melon, or eggplant etc., etc., etc.]. Big deal. When something makes you feel unwell or worse, trust me, you don’t want it. I can eat a lot of other things. I never feel deprived or lacking or like I’m missing out on that special pecan pie. Growing up with these allergies it just didn’t occur to me that that was something I needed to long for: world peace yes, pecan pie no.

Which doesn't mean that I don't think it’s great that there are companies like Gluten-Free pantry and more that cater to people with allergies or sensitivities or intolerances to certain foods. I’m grateful to them. I can’t wait to try more of them. I can’t wait to see more of them come to market in the coming years as allergies and celiac disease are on the rise.

I’m simply saying if one is unable to eat a treasured food like ice cream or pizza, it’s just not the end. One adjusts, amends or forgets: one adapts. Substitutes are terrific! And doing without is terrific too.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Organic Chocolate

The choco-flaks must be hard at work as the chocolate show is in town and this story showed up on the wires: organic choco.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Pipa

Tried to go to Boqueria last night. Sigh. Should have known that the recent great review in the Times could have made Thursday night a madhouse.

So still in the mood for something tapas-y, we ambled over to Pipa in the ABC store. The place was packed but there we two seats at the bar that had our names on it.

I hadn’t been back to Pipa in at least a year. Last time was with my dear friend Alonso and his family who were visiting from Mexico. There was live music and a table of shared food, all except me of course. I remember that this troubled Alonso’s father greatly; that I wasn’t eating enough or couldn’t have the seafood paella, or pretty much anything else fishy they ordered. I just kept getting plates of tortilla espanola. Allergies seemed to be a difficult concept that didn’t translate so well in Spanish; of course, sometimes I doesn’t translate so well in English either.

So fast forward a year later, and I figured that since the tortilla hadn’t killed me that time, I’d be okay last night with one exception: the place was loud and I was eating at the bar, which means no intimate conversation with the waitstaff to tell them how not to kill me.

So I was forced to do a sexy leaning thing over the great stone expanse of the bar. I’m sure that’s what got me a free glass of wine. I whispered sweet allergen-free nothings to our incredibly sexy bartender and over the din he seemed to get the point: no nuts, no fish or I will get very sick.

The dishes that arrived were yummy: a very simple organic potato soup and a freshly made tortilla. Upon reflection, i.e. once my two dishes arrived, I realized I over potatoe-d. But everything was tasty, the bar was hopping and the wall streeters next to us were buying us bottles of Dom Perignon so I can’t complain.

If I wanted a full, fabulous completely allergen-free meal, I wouldn’t run to any tapas joint—fish is a heavy component of that area’s cuisine. However, for a really fun evening, I’d head back to Pipa.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Acetaminophen Recalled

I hate these kinds of recalls as it reminds me of the horrible 1982 Tylenol murders. I still think about that every time I open a new bottle of the stuff. No poison this time but still, 11m recalled for metal bits. Yuck.

Acupuncture, Allergies And Asthma

Keep an eye on this space as soon I will be posting an interview with an acupuncturist about asthma, allergies and acupuncture.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Wine And Tree-Nut Question

A reader posted this question:

"Hi! I stumbled on this site and was really excited to find it. I love red wine. Love it. My question is, I have developed over the past few couple of years severe tree nut, shellfish, NutraSweet and real maple flavoring allergies. I thought I heard somewhere that people with nut allergies shouldn't drink red wine. I haven't had a glass in over a year and I'm missing it! Do you have any information on if it is true or not that people with tree nut allergies shouldn't drink red wine?"

Anyone have any thoughts? My thoughts are that sulfites are highly allergic anyway so best to stay away [unless maybe having a low sulfite organic wine] but I don’t know of a particular connection between the nuts and wine allergies.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Voting Is Allergy-Free

Voted a few hours ago, feeling very good for doing my civic duty. Go vote it's allergy-free!

Village

The good news is that the chef came out and checked on our table and apologized. The bad news is that the chef came out and checked on our table and apologized.

First, I fully admit that last night I was in a mood. Couldn’t figure out a place to eat, didn’t know what I wanted to eat once I got there.

Our little threesome settled on a neighborhood favorite Village: cozy, boothy, french-y, bistro-y, easy menu. I went through my routine and our first waitress seemed a bit overwhelmed. We changed tables and I repeated my spiel to our next waiter. He was humorless, which never helps, but seemed to get the overall point. I ended up splitting a hamburger sans fries as the waiter pointed out that they made be fried in a combo of veggie/peanut oil. Now you all know I’m not allergic to peanut oil but still I wasn’t having the fries.

The burger was split in the kitchen, as was the order of fries which means we each had half of everything on our plate [not what I ordered]. We also split a side salad without dressing, part of which came dressed [also wrong]. The prosecco I had ordered came flatter than a flat thing so that was sent back [sigh]. Overall, I just wasn’t having a good time. The burger was tasty though and the place cheery even if I couldn’t be cheered.

The waiter came to check on us and looked at my plate with fries and tsked, “I told them no fries, sorry for the miscommunication.”

Then the Chef, who had come out for a general survey of the room, walked over and said, “Sorry about the fries, there was a miscommunication in the kitchen.”

So this leaves me a bit on the fence about Village and allergies. If I had been allergic to peanut oil, I would have sent the whole dish back and probably not eaten anything. As I wasn’t, I left them on the plate uneaten and made a mental note that communication is an issue in the kitchen. Neither is a great option. I liked that both the waiter and Chef followed-up. This *might* warrant another shot if I’m in that area and need a place to have a bite and I want some meat, the lamb looked very good. But I won't be rushing back.

The Standard Miami

Just made a reservation to stay at The Standard in South Beach Thanksgiving weekend. I love that they have in their files on me: allergic to animals, no rooms where dogs have stayed and no feather pillows. All true.

I was there last April and had a great time: yoga on site, an amazing hamam, warm pools and a chef who TOTALLY got me, Matt Boudrow. Matt’s mother has shellfish allergies so he was very attuned to my dinning needs and made the most delicious allergen-free food. Well, I see that he has moved on so it will be interesting to meet the Chef that has taken over. More on this in a few weeks.

Monday, November 06, 2006

The Conversation Continues

Amazing, the dialogue continues over at the Bruni blog about allergies—fascinating stuff.

Allergies 5 years Ago

An interesting article that provides a snapshot of allergies in the media five years ago. What has changed? Has it gotten worse or better? What has been the consumer response since the new allergen labeling has taken effect: are we getting less sick or less allergic?

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Leonia NJ

A great time last night: Dinner in Leonia, NJ. Steve, a family friend for over 30 years and his lovely bride Aleda, hosted us. We were joined by Shaleen, Steve’s business partner, Mike, her husband, and Maya, Shaleen’s mother as well as Phil and my mother. The house was warm and inviting, the conversation flowed easily with a lot of laughter and the food was delish!

Pre-dinner, actually upon invitation, I inquired if the Chef, AKA the lovely bride, could/would accommodate my allergies/intolerances. I was told, “No problem.” On the surface no problem seems great, easy peasy. However, no problem can also be code for “a little bread won’t hurt her”, or “I threw a few almonds in the salad; she can pick them out if she’s allergic.” Hence, potential disaster.

So, without stepping on any chefy toes, I hope, I asked to be taken on a tour of the dinner menu—after the house tour and about an hour of general chat. The Chef walked me through her dishes: she pointed out the bruschetta that was not for me and or the stuffed potatoes with cheese; she delineated the components of the salad and gave me the ingredients of the dressing. I was satisfied that she had absolutely taken care of me and that I could dine well. And I did. I even took some chicken home!

One of the reasons I’m so so so careful is that in my world, extended family members haven’t always remembered that I have allergies: to their pets, to nuts, etc. [Except you Gregg, you’re great!] This is after over 30 years of allergies. I don’t expect them to know the intricacies of my diet but allergies to animals and nuts since the 70s isn’t too much to ask for your only cousin.

So, I’m always amazed when strangers [read: Chefs] and new friends [read: anyone else] are more attentive than family. Which given the above is not that hard if you pay the slightest bit of attention. And this kind of care makes me feel loved. Who said food is love? Well for someone with food allergies and intolerances, safe food preparation is love. Truly.

So thank you again Steve and Aleda for being such wonderful and caring hosts. Much love!

Here was the menu:
White and red wine.
There were bread-y and fish-y and ham-y and bread-y starters.
A salad of pears in wine, baby lettuces and craisins in a light vinagrette.
Mixed steamed veggies.
Yellow bell peppers stuffed with a mix of sausage, cheese and mayonnaise.
Broiled chicken with balsamic, lemon juice and olive oil.
Potatoes stuffed with mashed potatoes and cheese.
Banana crepes, macerated papaya, pears poached in wine, with raspberry sauce.
Almond cake.
Apple pie.
Fresh berries.
Candleight.
A fire in the fireplace that got too smoky.
Laughter.
Family.
Friendship.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Drew's Back

From Eater.com yesterday. Proof that some restaurateurs are on the right page:

"Mai House: In the three-hole today, because too much Nierporent is barely enough, we'd be remiss not to mention that Mai House opened last night. An operative who was on the scene last night had this to say: "Drew, dressed in his trademark sweater vest, was lecturing the FOH staff on the finer points of service --- "You're here to serve the customer, not the kitchen." It may not be the most startling insight, but I've been to a few restaurants where the staff needed that lecture. If I'd been able to dream up an excuse, I'd have liked to hear more of it." 186 Franklin Street, Tribeca; (212) 431-0606. [EaterWire]"

First Spinach, Now Tomatoes

Yup, there's something wrong with the tomatoes. Ok, so we're supposed to eat our veggies yet they are loaded with bacteria that make people sick? C'mon conspiracy theorists, doesn't this smack of a meat agenda: "poison the veggies, they'll eat more meat".

Seriously, this does not bode well.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Tuna? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Tuna!

So you tell the world you’re in a slump, it sends you to a new resto.The resto wasn’t exactly new to the city or me; I had been once before, last year pre-watching Capote with Isabel and her beau. However what happened there yesterday underscored why I’m writing Allergic Girl in the first place.

I arrived a bit early on purpose: to have a discussion with the chef/waitstaff about whether they would be able to accommodate my allergies. The chef was unavailable, making a delivery they said. So the general manager came over. I told him “I’m allergic to fish and to nuts and no wheat. Is that something you can accommodate?”

He scanned the menu and said, “What about a salad nicoise?

“That has tuna.”

“It’s only canned tuna. You can eat canned tuna.”

I will stop this bad movie right here to point out two things that are already problems: he did not listen and his statement implies that he knows my body, my allergies, better than I do. Completely unacceptable.

At this point I should have left. Really. But in this circumstance I didn’t. I was meeting my dear friend and literary agent Stephanie for a social/work meeting and finding another place might have cut into our meeting time. So I felt I needed to make do for the moment but this will be one of the reasons I NEVER go back and recommend you do never go either. Ok, restart the movie.

“Tuna? I just told you I’m allergic to fish, I can’t have tuna.”

“You can’t have tuna?” Look of disbelief and incredulity crosses his face. “Everyone can have tuna.” He digs the hole even deeper.

“Listen, I am allergic to fish. Which means if I eat it, I might have to go to the hospital. I am not saying I don’t like fish nor am I telling you that I have allergies because I just don’t want it. This is an allergy not a preference.”

That he seemed to get. Or not. He recommended the skate. And then the escargot. This is where I realized he’s not mean; he’s just a complete boob. We finally settled on the gazpacho, completely vegetarian. And a side salad. This was after he asked, in a mocking tone, if I was allergic to olive oil too. Jerk.

Whilst I usually don’t encounter someone this thick, or rather I hadn’t in a while, it perfectly illustrated to me the dining issues people with food allergies and intolerances face on a daily basis. We have to constantly deal with people who: do not listen to the diner’s needs as clearly articulated; outrageous presumptions and wrong assumptions about the diner, in this case some old fashioned “I’m a man and I know better what you need than you know woman” attitude; a poor and unhelpful attitude toward the diner; and some overall, generalized anti-allergies bias.

This kind of conversation happens all the time. As Allergic Girls and Boys and Women and Men it is up to us to educate those around us to be better partners, co-workers, waiters, flight attendants, better everythings. And we need to do it one person at a time. Or in this case with Mr. Le Singe Verte: educate, communicate and then eliminate.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Slump

I’m in a resto slump. Have you noticed? I feel like I haven’t been out to DINE in ages. It’s probably not true but I’m not counting diners or regular spots. I’m talking about finding that new spot where they treat you like a superstar, the food is delicious and I can eat a large portion of the menu, the place has a great vibe and you’re happy to be there. Where is that place? I have a few of them in my back pocket but I haven’t found that new love, that new one that is solidly good.

And reading Eater or Grub or the NYT or any of the other well-written, well-intended NYC foodie sites doesn’t help. Places are having soft openings every minute, firing chefs, losing their lease or having splashy re-openings. It’s all very interesting. Really. I can spend an entire morning reading, scanning, trolling, and dreaming.

But what I really need to know is: where am I going to dinner tonight?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

"Peanuh, Peanuh Butter [Jelly]"

I’ve eaten peanut butter all of my life without problems. In the early years there was Jif or Skippy or the freshly ground one made at the health food store in East Hampton. There were fluffernutter sandwiches and Nutterbutter cookies.I was a lucky girl with the peanut love.

Whilst in college overseas, I fell in love with Neal’s Yard’s freshly ground peanut butter [the company has since become quite fractured into dairy, bread and home remedies so no great link to send you to] introducing the PB&J concept to any Englishman who would listen. Post-college and wanting to maintain the naturalness, I found a wonderful substitutewhose name I've completely forgot, it might have been one by Arrowmills.

Then, somewhere in the late 1990s, my PB world changed: “Peanut butter may contain trace amounts of cashews, almonds, and/or other tree nuts.” Oh the horror! I stopped eating it completely, not necessarily believing anything had changed from the day before [when there was no label] but I wasn’t going to take any chances. Little did I know that this was a serious labeling trend and thus a natural source for peanut butter has been difficult to come by.

Monday night standing in line at Fairway, I espied a pile of impulse purchase items near the counter and one was Smuckers All Natural Peanut Butter. I saw my chance and I seized it. Calling the Smuckers customer help line I was informed by “Becky” that they process their peanuts in a peanut-dedicated facility; they do process other nuts but literally in another factory in another state. Ok, so it’s not organic. And yes, it’s made by a big company i.e. Da Man. And no, I can’t have a peanut butter sandwich these days and no fluff for me but I can have PB on an apple or a rice cake and I’d really really like that. So Smuckers you get a gold star from Allergic Girl today.