Food Allergy Counseling

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

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Rice Chex is Gluten-Free

Was out with Catherine of AGluten-FreeGuide.com last night at Otto Enoteca.

She's just crazy for crazy for their “Escarole & Sunchoke” salad (it has almonds so I can’t indulge). I had the gluten-free pasta (they use Tinkyada) with a meat sauce that is not on the menu (yeah, that’s how I roll--at least in my dreams. This is one of the few places where I can order at least one dish off-menu and I do every chance I get!)

During the course of conversation, Catherine told me the most interesting news she had heard on the celiac forum boards. Rice Chex is going gluten-free; General mills has taken the plunge. Here a picture of the new Rice Chex box.

Which mainstream company will be next? Bigger question, which mainstream company will put out a gluten-free, organic product without added vitamins (makes me shudder to think what they took and how they took it out in order to replace it but that’s a different post).

Regardless, Gluten-free Rice Chex eaters, rejoice!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Allergies to Laundry Detergent

I have laundry facilities in the basement of my high rise apt building: 6 washers, 2 of which never work or only run cold, and 8 dryers, 2 of which are always broken, all for almost 300 units in my building. Not great odds.

After years of battling with housekeepers and other tenants for the working machines, just to find my clothing littered with animal hair or pock-marked with someone’s leftover bleach, I said to hell with it, I’m sending it out. Oh and they raised the prices to $2.00 per, for machines that calling them unreliable would be a compliment.

So, I’ve been sending my laundry out.

Yes, this Allergic Girl was concerned: what kind of laundry detergent would they use? Would I be allergic? But I took a chance and surprisingly the first few years were trouble free. My cleaners used a non-scented detergent and all was well.

Until a few months back.

I don’t know what happened, what executive decision was made to go from no smell to extra smelly/fragrant but my clean “wash and fold” arrived completely contaminated. I mean, so fragrant my clothes were unwearable.

I called Alex, the manager of the small dry cleaners who send it out, he said he would send it back to be washed in water and go through the cycle with “nothing”. Take three guesses what came back? Yup, they rewashed it in the same smelly detergent claiming they hadn’t changed a thing, that this was the process they had been using for years.

I really dislike it when people lie to cover their mistakes. Why? Why not just say we changed detergents, or vendors? What’s the big deal.

When I called Alex to tell him not only had they not run through the laundry with just water, but they washed it in the same detergent and made it twice as bad, he apologized profusely.

I said, “I have allergies that’s why I asked them to re-do this. I cannot wear clothing smelling like this not to mention what it might do to my skin.”

Alex said, as if it was simplest thing in the world, “You can give us your own laundry detergent. We have a lot of customers with allergies who give us their detergent to use.”

How cool that others had not only paved the way but created an easy solution! Yay! I had a large Costco-sized Tide from the days when I was still trudging down to the basement, I wrote my name and apartment number on there and easy peasy, all done.

I love it when something is simple in our collective allergic world.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Allergic Girl Eats Out!

No news there, it’s what this whole Allergic Girl blog is about, me eating out and telling you where I didn’t get allergic.

However, I get many emails from readers asking about my “allergic GI symptoms” and my “wheat allergies” or my “celiac disease” and I’m hoping this will clarify a few things.

I have food allergies.

When I have the misfortune of eating certain foods, my immune system believes it’s being invaded. I can experience itchy ears, an itchy mouth, itchy lips, an itchy throat, hives or on the rare occasion asthma.

Food allergies and allergen-friendly restaurants for adults with allergies are my focus when I dine out and are my guideposts/criteria for this website.


Food intolerance is something new to me. In the summer of 2004, my tummy decided dairy, wheat, sugar and soy were no longer its friend. I have been free of those foods since May of 2005, after doing an elimination diet.

But these are NOT food allergies, nor do I have celiac disease. The worse that will happen if I eat sugar or diary or soy is a bloated stomach, gurgles, and other unpleasant GI symptoms for a day or two or three. Unpleasant yes; life threatening no.

I'm so grateful for all of you gluten-free readers out there and I'm thrilled that you find my site helpful. And I hope it continues to be that way for you for a long time.

However, I must make this clear: my recent intolerance to wheat is NOT an exquisite allergy NOR a highly sensitive celiac disease symptom.


Thus, my restaurant reviews should be read with this advisement:

These posts are based SOLEY upon my personal and very subjective dining experiences. My focus is food allergies: how to enjoy the social aspect of dining out whilst remaining as free as possible from any itching, swelling, hives and asthma as a direct cause of eating certain foods.

Food sensitivities are highly personal, as are possible adverse reactions. I encourage anyone reading this blog who may have food allergies or food intolerances or have loved ones that do to discuss their conditions with their family doctor, a GI specialist and/or allergist/immunologist before dining out or before taking any of my recommendations.

This Allergic Girl blog is the journey I have chosen to undergo after years and years of being afraid of eating out or trying new places or trying new foods and being too intimidated to ask for what I want and need.

You are reading a result of a lifetime of work.

So folks, please go gently into those good restaurants.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

OCD and Dining out

Did you see this article last month in the New York Times about obsessive-compulsive disorder and dining out?

I think it actually relates to those of us with special dietary needs who dine out, I know I can feel a bit OCD when I ask the server after every course, "Are there any nuts in that?"

For further discussion, have a look at our sister site, Worry- Free Dinners.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Spring Allergies and WFUV

Spring allergies are on the horizon as the first day of spring is March 20th. (Actually spring allergies have been kicking my butt, er, nose for at least two weeks now. How about you?)

If you are a WFUV listener, you can hear talking about spring allergies and what to do about them, March 19th at 745am at 90.7 on your FM dial If you are in the New York metro area, you can hear live WFUV streaming tomorrow morning.

Are you suffering from spring allergies already like me and millions of others? Tell me, how to do you survive the season?

Sunday, March 16, 2008

2008 AAAAI Annual Meeting in Philadelphia

Veeeery interesting here in Philadelphia with all of these allergists. I've attended a few sessions and dozed through a few others--when doctors aka scientists get all technical frankly I can't follow them that far.

But as with all things are there has been a range of speakers and speaker styles, sizes of seminars/workshops and press briefings. On the whole, it's been stimulating to hear more about allergies and asthma from many different and highly specialized perspectives.

Three pictures from this mornings stroll through the poster and vendor section.



The first two are just to give you a sense of the pharma presence here.

The second are my strolling buddies this morning.

To the left is Scott, Director of Marketing at Achoo Allergy and Air Products. I did an interview with Achoo last month. To the right is my producer and conference companion, Joy from Health Central.

Friday, March 14, 2008

“Lord I was born a traveling man”

OK, clearly that is not true, I was born in New York City and I’m certainly NOT a man. But I am traveling this weekend and after a lifetime of being an Allergic Girl I have got it down.

Today, as I write this I’m on an Amtrak train bound for Philly. I have my canvas satchel filled with the essentials: laptop, DVDs (I always carry some “I Love Lucy” with me, it has a calming/hysterical laugh out loud effect especially during turbulence); Oprah and Lucky mags (now you know all of my secrets), and yes, snacks.

I’m sure growing up with a mother who always packed little goodies for me to eat when we traveled (she likes her snacks as well) helped normalize this behavior, packing snacks that is. And growing up shuttling between two parents’ homes made me an expert packer. Although the early years were rough: my good comic books were always at the wrong apartment, not to mention my math textbook was never where it was supposed to be. Not that I minded as I really disliked math.

Today I brought a light lunch-y type snack. In a large Ziploc with a cold pack I have: Edward and sons cheddar rice snaps, juicy red grapes, Horizon Colby cheese sticks. I can just tell my seatmate is a bit envious, I saw her eyeing my grapes. They are perfect right now, red grapes.

And yes I have more snacks packed away in my rollie bag, about a third of the weight of my bag is in snacks. Enjoy Life Chocolate Chip cookies are in there: after dinner a girl has to have a little treat and sometimes a piece of fruit just won’t do it. Actually I’m more of an afternoon 4pm tea and biccies kind of girl. More rice crackers, you can never have too many, organic dried fruit, and rice milk. For such a short weekend, I didn’t go too crazy and I’m hoping to fill in with fresh fruit either at the hotel or at a local farmer’s market.


Which I did as soon as I arrived. I trotted right over to the Reading Market picked up some fruits ($1 red grape grab bag! Wow!) and took a stroll with the camera. And no I didn’t take any pictures of the Pennsylvania Dutch in their white and perfectly starched “Witness” hats.



My desk:


Veggies in Iovine's Market:


Flowers:


Some local ice cream brand?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Lilli and Loo and Worry-Free Dinners™

So wait, did I tell you call yet that we are doing our first Worry-free Dinner at Lilli and Loo, April 1st? I love it there, I've been back VERY often since I did the first review and I keep bumping into Kelly of Celiac Chicks, lucky me!

So, come join me and your fellow allergic diners for our inaugural Worry-Free Dinners event!

WHERE: LILLI and LOO
792 Lexington Avenue (Between 61st/62nd streets)
New York, NY 10021
Tel: 212-421-7800

WHEN: TUESDAY, APRIL 1ST, 2008 6:30PM-8:30PM

WHO: This meal is gluten-free. So dinners with a GLUTEN/WHEAT intolerance/allergy/issue will be accommodated. (Food allergies or other concerns can possibly be accommodated with prior notice).

WHAT YOU'LL GET:
• Coaching around issues of food allergies/food intolerances by Allergic Girl, MFA, MSW, LMSW

• Group discussion tailored to your concerns

• Networking with people who understand your issues

• Chat time with Vanessa Tayler-Phillips, consultant to LILLI and LOO on their gluten-free menu and owner of Food Matters, Ltd

• A delicious worry-free dinner at a great NYC restaurant

• A goodie-bag filled with fantastic allergen-free treats

***

More information can be found here at the Worry-Free Dinners site or email me worryfreedinners@gmail.com for an application and/or more information.

I'm so excited to meet many of you and to have a fun evening out!

Zagat and Allergies

No no, not *that* exciting, yet.

But did you see this new guide, something about environmental allergies and where to go to do outdoorsy activities in individual cities?

It's a product of the marriage between (soon-to-be-sold) Zagat and GlaxoSmithKline?

Dare I ask it? Could a guide to cities and allergen-friendly restaurants be far behind?

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Allergic Girl and Philadelphia

I will be attending the AAAAI conference next weekend at the Philadelphia Convention Center--can you say “Arlen Specter”?

I haven’t been to Philly in a while, and that last time was in North Philly for a shiva call. Needless to say, dining wasn’t on my mind.

So are there any Allergic Girl Philly readers out there who have a recommendation or two on what spots to check out? I have a few free evenings and any thoughts would be welcomed.

Tell me about your city!

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Martha Beck in Oprah Magazine

I’m always looking for way to relax and release because frankly I can be a nervous nelly, see previous snippy post. Dining out can be stressful, I mean, it’s fun but those moments before the first bite...well, they're always harrowing. That doesn’t go away, ever. Frankly, vigilance is good: it keeps me allergic-response free! But relaxing, going with the flow, I’d like to get more into that zone.

So I was reading my Oprah Magazine last month (yes, I love Oprah especially her makeover shows and her health/food ones) and the Martha Beck article, life coach extraordinaire, struck a chord, a few chords actually. But what has really excited me was the concept that she talked about in her article “The Five Best Pieces of Advice” so much so that I’ve written it on a hot pink stickie and it’s now on my computer as a daily reminder:

“Every obstacle is just an opportunity to relax.”

Doing something scary? Trying something new? Meeting a challenge head on? Overcoming a particularly difficult life/love or work obstacle?

Instead of tensing or clenching or tightening: relax.

Doesn’t that sound like a great idea?!

Here’s what Martha Beck says: “Cole [one of her dogs] is chasing a Frisbee, leaping into the air to make his catches more spectacular. I notice that when he's getting ready to run, his body doesn't tighten—it loosens. At full speed, his muscles seem as fluid as running water." Fantastic visual image, I'd like to be that dog.

Martha continues: "Here's one of the very few generalizations I believe unconditionally: There is not one useful thing we can do that we don't do better when we're relaxed. The harder, scarier, and more important the task you're undertaking, the more you'll benefit from relaxation. Are you speaking before a crowd of thousands? Relax! Sitting in a job interview? Relax! Being physically attacked? Any black belt will tell you that the first thing you should do, against all instinct, is relax, relax, relax!”

My new goal: relax in the face of fear, real or imagined. Relax when that's the last thing I want to do, instinctively and with my whole heart. Relax when fear is gripping me. Relax and maybe the world might relax around me, maybe just a little.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Funny? Not So Much.

Next week, I’m heading to a new spot with Fab Foodie Four and I called ahead to make sure all would be Allergic Girl friendly. My thinking was that it because this is the new outpost of a famous French chef’s New York empire (any guesses?) it should be better than your average spot.

This is how the conversation went down with the General Manager. You tell me: how would you feel?

“Hi. I’m going to be dining at your fine establishment next week and I have some food allergies and wanted to make sure that the kitchen felt comfortable handling these issues before we came in.”

“OK, sure, what are they”

“Nuts and fish equal death.” (Yes, I really said that, no time to mince words).

“OK. Your server should be able to handle that. They are very well versed on the ingredients of all of the dishes here. Just let them know what you need and they can direct you. Have you looked at our menu?”

“Yes, I'm looking at it right now and I see that some of the Charcuterie on your menu has nuts? The kitchen feels OK handling a nut allergy?”

“Yes. It shouldn’t a problem. I mean, I don’t eat pork or beef and I have no problems eating here.”

“Are you allergic to pork or beef?”

“Uh...no.”

“So, you choose not to eat those things?

“Uh...right.”

"But you won’t have an allergic reaction if you eat them correct?”

“Uh...right.”

“I see. OK. Thank you.”

Hmmm.

If you read between the lines, you may get that this conversation did not inspire confidence. In fact the latter half of this conversation made me nervous which in turn made me a bit of a snippy (read: bitchy) Allergic Girl (not her most effective incarnation).

Why would this manager equate choosing not to eat a certain food with an allergy to a food? What did this say about the staff's training on food allergies? Should I trust that the servers would know what I meant if the manager seemed confused or at the very least made a poor choice of analogy: not eating pork = allergy to nuts.

Oy.

We shall see. It may end up being a liquid dinner for this Allergic Girl.

UPDATE: March 14, 2008

So before I met my Fab Four counterparts, I had a business meeting with a very well-known New York-based chef who's acquainted with the Allergic Girl sitch. I've been to his restaurant many, many times and eaten safely and he has allergic kids. So he REALLY gets it.

Upon hearing where I was headed for dinner he said, "Don't eat. There are nuts everywhere in the kitchen and in the food, there are too many chefs back there so the possibility of cross contamination is certain, and the corporate chef has probably already moved on so you don't know who's cooking. Don't chance it. Don't do it."

When a chef tells you it's not safe to eat, listen.

So my dinner ended up being all vino, which was delicious, and three of us stumbled (well, I stumbled) to a burger joint afterwards for an AG safe burger.

Thanks again to the Chef for the heads up and to my Fab Four friends who are food allergic supportive and totally understanding.

Monday, March 03, 2008

La Lanterna Caffé, NYC

As my date perused the dessert menu he softly mumbled, “I don’t really want to eat dessert if you can’t have anything. I feel bad.”

I said equally softly, “Please don’t. I really can’t eat desserts out. But it would give me pleasure if you enjoyed some.”

That seems to do the trick and he settled on an allergen-friendly Key Lime gelato. We were at La Lanterna Caffe, tucked into the heart of the former Greenwich Village, now NYU-land, and a cozy mainstay for jazz, sweets, and conversation.

When our waiter/host/GM/tea buyer came around I inquired after the peppermint tea.

He said, “We have two kinds, organic mint and a mint 'mélange'.”

“Hmmm a mix you say? It’s just mint? No almond flavors or something else nutty in that mix? I only ask because I’m allergic to nuts.”

Nut allergies? Then you should leave right now. No, no I’m only joking. Seriously, don’t eat any of the desserts here. I always tell people when they have allergies that they shouldn’t eat dessert here. You have your Epi-Pen? ("I'm carrying two") Well, you know the story--we can’t control what we didn’t make.”

He then launched into a harrowing Tale of Two Lasagnas. Suffice it to say a nut-pesto contaminated spatula was used with his nut-allergic best friend’s dinner. Facial edema ensued and then an ER visit but his friend was okay. The episode made a lasting and indelible impression upon our waiter/host/tea buyer, which meant now he “gets it.”

After his story, I thought it was perfect time to explain to my date the Allergic Girl protocol in case anything did happen whilst eating out. I didn’t do it earlier because we were going to Shorty’s.32 and I felt confident that I wouldn’t have an allergic issue. But truth be told I should have said something before I ate anything. I’ll admit it: I got a little lazy. But I rectified that at La Lanterna, going through the whole AG med kit, reassuring my date that the likelihood of a hospital trip was very low and giving him the “what to do if…” scenarios. He seemed to roll with it.

**

I get a lot of questions from readers, or maybe it’s just Catherine of Gluten-Free Guide who’s asked me a bunch of times, how do I handle dating, and dining out with food allergies/intolerances? Or dining out and then kissing someone new with said food issues?

Would you be surprised to hear that it hasn’t been a major issue for me?

With boys that have become boyfriends, they’ve made it very clear early on that they understood the seriousness of the Allergic Girl situation and would do what they needed to in order to be kissable: refraining from certain foods altogether if need be. No drama, no deal: all cool.

Unlike some of the couples in the New York Times, “I Love You, but You Love Meat” article, food allergies and exquisite food sensitivities aren’t about a choice a la vegetarianism. (However, when I was a vegetarian, which was for 17 years, boyfriends were always trying to get me to make an exception and “compromise” and eat meat. Get your mind out of the gutters--I’m talking chicken or steak or duck. But I never cheated on my vegetarian ideals.) Anything where potential cross contamination can cause distress or illness is non-negotiable. This is not to say that there aren’t compromises to be made along the way in any relationship but eating nuts and then wanting to kiss me aren’t one of those compromises.

The last time I said, “To hell with it! Kiss me, dammit!” was two Decembers ago. A guy I was dating at the time had eaten salmon earlier in the evening. We kissed HOURS later. After said major makeout session goodnight, I felt my face tingling and my lips buzzing. When I got upstairs I noticed a saliva trail of hives everywhere his salmon-mouth had kissed me: checks, jaw, neck, ears, mouth. I was a hivey mess! Needless to say, that confirmed I'm still allergic to salmon and I should never kiss someone who has eaten something to which I'm allergic, even hours later.

However what about talking about your food allergy needs with someone new? How to broach the topic delicately, without assuming too much? I find that dining with new friends or colleagues, the subject of allergies comes up rather quickly, especially if one overhears the conversation I inevitably have with managers and waiters and chefs about the Allergic Girl sitch. I've also found that more often than not, in a new date situation, we're both paying close attention to each other on all fronts. So a date will hear me taking about “allergies to nuts and fish” to the waiter and very often that will prompt the food allergy discussion. He’ll ask me if he shouldn’t eat those things either or if they shouldn’t be at present at the table. It lets me know he's thinking about a kiss later which is great and gives me an opening to elaborate on my needs in a gentle way.

The bottom line is there are many ways to go about having the conversation, the important part is that you have it and that you get some serious allergen-free kissing done!