Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Dear client,
No matter how many times you write it, "forth" is not a number. Please take my word for it.
Your irritated editor

Monday, May 24, 2010

Are you dead?

When someone asks you, "Are you choking?" the cardinal rule is that if you can answer with words, you're not choking. Right?
This past Saturday, NAH and I went out to dinner with friends, to a local Italian restaurant that has great food. It had an enormous menu, and having done my research ahead of time, I was certain that it would be an easy, safe meal.

I ordered one of their special entree salads without the cheese, dressing on the side, and specifically asked the waitress if there would be tomato on the salad, as it was not listed. She said no, that all ingredients for each salad were listed on the menu. "Great!" I said, "because I'm severely allergic." NAH and our NAFriends ordered their meals, and we sat around gabbing before they arrived. When the food arrived, the tomato sauce on everyone's plates smelled incredible, and my salad looked really nice, EXCEPT FOR THE LITTLE RED SLICES OF EVIL ON THE LETTUCE, AND UNDER THE CRAB MEAT...
"Wait a second. Do you see this?" I asked the waitress, somewhat incredulous. Her eyes grew really wide.
"Oh my god, I'm so sorry, he must've thought that he should replace the cheese with something."
"OK, Here's the new problem. You have to ensure that all of this is thrown out. I cannot eat anything on this plate once it's touched the sliced tomatoes. Please, NOTHING can be rinsed off."
Off she went. I looked at our friends and NAH and insisted that they start without me, as theirs were piping hot. It took about 10 minutes, and we didn't see our waitress at all in those 10 minutes. When she returned, it was the perfect salad, exactly as I'd ordered it, and then she said those magic words. "Sorry I've been neglecting you guys, but I wanted to stand back there with the chef to make sure that no part of her salad was reused."

Trust issues gone, and it looked incredible. I started eating. About three minutes later I caught her peering around the corner of our booth. "Are you dead?" she asked.
"Nope. Still good," and I found the comment as sweet and hilarious as it was tactless. When she brought our check, she shared with us that she suffers from an anaphylaxis to something, and is scared to death to eat in restaurants because of it, so she wanted to make sure I would be alright (having previously glanced at the offending tomato? I'm still not sure, but it was sweet).

Thankfully, our friends were both content and kind enough to let me sit and eat long after they'd finished (a 10 minute head start is sizable in a restaurant setting). To be fair, this friend and her husband once sent MY food back three separate times when it wasn't up to my allergy standards (I am often done and too nervous to eat after one failed attempt). They're keepers :).

Dinner was wonderful, and the waitress completely earned my trust. We'll be back!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

vacation confessions...

My good friend K. and I are trying to plan our joint birthday trip this year. We've been planning this since we graduated college, putting away money a little bit at a time, hoping that when we hit the next big milestone birthday, we'd be at a place in our lives where we could pick up and escape for a weekend without too many concerns.

Well, the summer of our birthdays has arrived, and we have begun the planning (or at least the thinking). I wrote to a dude ranch last week at which we were interested in vacationing (because nothing says girls' weekend and birthdays like boots and a cowgirl hat), and asked if they could accommodate my allergies. Then, I held my breath. I've gotten a wide variety of responses with these sorts of inquiries, so I never know what to expect.

I received this...
Dear XXXX,
We'd love to have you and your friends come and stay with us at the XXXX Ranch. Since I don't know the extent of your food allergies, it's hard for me to answer your question. We usually are able to accommodate some food allergies. But if you can't have food, for instance, that is prepared in the same kitchen that we may prepare tomatoes or have bananas, then there would be a problem. If it's just a matter of avoiding those foods, it would be a good idea to contact our cook, through our manager, in advance to discuss your allergies.Please let me know if you need anything else.

Now, to be fair, that's a perfectly reasonable and responsible answer, which is why I've crossed out their name. I harbor no animosity toward this ranch, nor would I want to encourage my allergy friends not to visit. My concern, and the reason for this posting, is that I have no clue what to make of this letter. Does this mean they will cook for me in separate dishes? Does it mean that I have to have my food sliced on the same cutting board as a previously sliced tomato? Will I have the cranky chef who sneakily rubs a banana on my plate in an effort to send me to the great beyond?

Again, they were timely, and polite, and offered their assistance, but I think we'll go elsewhere. I look for certain confidence-inspiring words in correspondence, and they were not here. Before you suggest that I contact them for further questions, I'm too much of a skeptic. Even if I could get them to agree, if I have to instruct them in allergy-safe procedures, I'd be too nervous to eat any of the food that they prepared. On the flip side, maybe a dude ranch vacation where I can lose 10 lbs. is just the ticket....

Your adventure vacation experiences/suggestions welcome...
Your Allergic Diner

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

holiday wishes and food test results (belated)

The past few weeks have been a marathon. I got back from my visit to Atlantic City and hit the ground at a dead run. Ten hour days (minimum) for almost 12 days straight. Don't forget to throw in Passover and Easter! Now that I've cleared the finish line, I wanted to share my Passover experience with you.

We had a lovely Seder here on the first night of Passover, complete with matzo ball soup and potato kugel. I've never understood the Passover dessert spectacle (who the heck has room left in their stomach after the Seder, the soup, and the enormous meal?), and yet at every Passover I've ever attended, at the end of the evening everyone sits down to a table laden with Passover cakes, cookies, ice cream, syrup, fruit, and candy. For my non-Jewish readers, let me explain something key: nobody who sits down to this is actually happy about it. It's more of a ritual than it is a treat, and this is because of a well-kept Jewish secret: Passover desserts are AWFUL. The reason for the ice cream fixings on the table? TO DROWN THE CAKE/COOKIES. Anyone will tell you that it's the equivalent of eating a brick (or a sponge, depending on whether it was made fresh). It's just simply not edible, and it's overload on your stomach.
This year was my non-allergic in-laws first time joining us for Seder (thank you non-allergic sous chef Mom and Dad!), and while I wanted to cook traditional foods, I didn't want to have to sit and stomach the things I don't like, especially when it came time for dessert.
Selfish? You betcha. But hey, I'm the cook. Them's the breaks.

For dessert we had fruit salad, ice cream, and macaroons. See, I found the loophole. I introduced a traditional Jewish Passover dessert that actually tastes good! Unfortunately, trying to convince your guests that something is good that they don't(and won't - coconut allergy) see you eating is not usually an easy task. Fortunately, they trust me :), and the Seder was lovely and quite delicious, and the macaroons went over very well!

The other day I got to thinking, though I've known about my coconut allergy for almost eight years, I can remember stealing macaroons from the cookie jar during Passover when I was a child. I also have a few memories of sneaking the Mounds bars out of my Halloween stash (allergic mom is a big fan, and they seemed to always disappear). So, at some point in time, coconut and I got along.

How am I going to tie up this post, you ask? Well, the marathon is over, but I still have plenty of work to do. Ergo, I'm in the house for the next few days, and the macaroons are still here. I tried one yesterday, figuring that it was processed, and about an ounce, and if I got sick I was here and it wasn't a big deal. Except....I didn't get sick. I tried another one today, and no reaction again. Apparently I'm no longer allergic to coconut! I'm not sure that I was really missing anything, as this isn't an ingredient common to a lot of food that I eat, but it's sure nice to have something back on my food list.
So with that successful food test, I have logged in to wish you all a belated Happy Passover and Happy Easter. I hope this year is finding you well!
Your Allergic Diner

Sunday, March 28, 2010


Several days ago, I received this comment from a reader. I think it is worthwhile to post here for everyone to read. This was left on an old post I had written about the allergy-friendliness of the menu at P.F. Chang's.

Careful! We went there last night and found out that they have changed the recipes and that the oyster free sauce is no longer available. EVERY dish we ordered was unsafe for a shellfish allergy. The manager came out and let us know that we could not order the lettuce wraps, the kung pao chicken, the sweet and sour chicken, the orange peel beef (or chicken for that matter), and the egg drop soup. She said that corporate wide they have stopped allowing the substitute sauce.

Please, friends, ASK questions when you go to a restaurant. A good friend likes to tease me b/c we meet for lunch at the same restaurant, where without fail, I order the same dish. Each time, before I place my order, I review how it's made with the waitress.
Remember the cardinal rule of allergic dining:
Thank you to the commenter who sent the P.F. Chang's warning!
Allergic Diner

Friday, March 26, 2010

The evening was only missing the banana walnut cookies of death...otherwise known as allergic adventures in cooking class, part 1.

Howdy, bloggy friends!
It's been awhile. I'm barely keeping my head above water with my freelance work, and I'm loving every minute of it. I managed to escape to visit my allergic mom on Tuesday, and we had an allergic adventure that I felt I should share with you.
Allergic mom is retired, and working her way through a "bucket list" of sorts. It's great. One of the items on her list was to take a cooking class to expand her repertoire. I offered to join her, figuring it would be a good time had by all. I like spending time with allergic mom, and I like cooking. We signed up for a Chinese cooking class. Yum. How could this not be a win-win? Oh, brother...
Tuesday evening I drove to Atlantic City Community College where the class was held. When we entered the class, we received our recipe packets. My internal alarm was sounding as I noted that every chef was wearing latex gloves. Strike one.
We opened the recipe packets, and it was not the typical Chinese food that we were expecting. This was Southeast Asian cooking, as in Thai food, as in every recipe contained either shrimp (allergic mom's one and only MASSIVE allergy), lemongrass (allergic diner no-no), coconut (allergic diner no-no), fish sauce (allergic diner no-no), chili paste (allergic diner no-no), and well, you get the picture. Strikes two, three, four, and five. Yikes!
I couldn't help it. I dissolved into a fit of giggles while the chef was lecturing. Out of close to 10 ingredients, only two were allergic-diner friendly (mung beans and mint, mmmmm....). This had all the makings of a hospital visit, and as I was extremely overtired to begin with, I found it simply hilarious. All I could think was "Where are the death cookies?"
As I'm snickering behind my packet, I looked at allergic mom, who was very nonchalantly starting to scratch her arms, and then her wrists, and then her palms. The shrimp was at every station, and I'm guessing the scent of all that shrimp was too much for her. I couldn't help myself, I cracked up. We couldn't have chosen a more inappropriate class for ourselves short of signing up for "Inject yourself with a tomato 101!"
We walked over to one of the sous chefs and explained our predicament. She even noted my med-alert bracelet (two points for her!). They were extremely kind, and offered to refund our money on the spot (after insisting we move the conversation to the hallway so my mom didn't scratch herself to death). We didn't want that! We've rolled our tuition into a "to be determined" course for May/June. Perhaps we'll bake some bread, or learn some knife skills. This was simply not meant to be.
Our cooking adventure lasted all of 10 minutes, and we went out to dinner for the Chinese food we thought we'd be making (thereby still giving allergic dad a night to himself). Adventures in cooking class, part two, will be forthcoming.
Ah well, the best laid plans...
Yours in attempting to live life on occasion,
Allergic Diner

Sunday, March 07, 2010

A whole day off?

Recently, I was afforded something that has become unusually rare since I began contract work: an entire day off, without any work that needed my attention. Certainly, I have time off. However, I have found that when I'm at home and on multiple deadlines, I might as well be working to make my deadlines. Happy clients keep the work flowing. Therefore, even if I have a Saturday off, I will often spend part of the day working on a project. Not this week! I was OFF on Wednesday, and decided to make the most of my day.
The highlight of my day was stopping by Wegman's to pick up lunch on my way home to watch an entire season's worth of DVRed shows (I tape them, but I can never get to them!). I was craving one of their delicious Caesar salads that I only indulge in sparingly because they are not good for you. Anything that tastes that good just can't be good for you. After waiting in line, I noticed that the salad preparer had used her tongs to touch a corn/tomato salsa for the woman who had been in line ahead of me. I very politely (and very nervously, as there were about 25 people in line) said, "I'm really sorry, but I'm allergic to what you just touched with your tongs, would you mind using a clean pair to make my salad?"
Not only did she change tongs (and salad bowls), but she put on brand new gloves as well. Color me impressed! The salad was fantastic.
Thanks you, Wegmans!
Your Allergic Diner

Monday, February 22, 2010

On Daily Calcium

I love yogurt. I always have. With the recent discovery that I can eat yogurt with no Lactaid pills, I've been trying all of the flavors in the Yoplait light line. I'm a big fan of their Boston cream pie flavor, because it tastes like Boston cream pie. If I can't eat the pie, well, the yogurt allows me to pretend for a little bit. About a week ago I saw an ad for Yoplait that introduced their new flavor, red velvet cake. I bought when I was at the grocery store, and it is phenomenal! You have to get past the pepto bismol color, but it actually tastes like red velvet cake. Thank you, Yoplait :)!
Yours in the pursuit of new foods,
Allergic Diner

Sunday, February 21, 2010


You must be 21 to secure a credit card without a co-signer, but at 18 you can fight and die for this country....? Anyone?

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Fun with Food Math

1 chocolate-covered pretzel + 0 Lactaid pills = NO PROBLEMS!!!!!

Your Allergic Diner

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Allergic Mecca and New Year Food Test #1

That's right, I'm talking about none other than the Trader Joe's supermarket chain. A friend introduced me to this place a few years back in Chicago. It's small, it's kitschy, and definitely a hang-out of the suburbanite who wants to shop at the "in" store. I was determined to dislike it, just on principle. I walked in, and immediately started reading labels. Labels after labels in aisle after aisle, and in most cases, I could eat 75% of the food in an aisle. Ah, the options. I've found delicious rice snacks that are sweet and spicy and salty and are fat free (and oh so much better for you than Doritos). A multitude of lactose-free and soy options, and sodium-free dried fruit for my homemade trail mix. I'm not allergic to sodium, I simply hate store-bought trail mix. To me it always tastes like what I imagine a salt lick would. Allergic Diner rule: the only salt in trail mix belongs on the pretzels.

A TJ's opened near me this year, and the predictable crowd flocked to the store in the first few months. I waited out the rush, and went in and bought 8 bags of the rice snacks, a host of salt-free dried fruit (mmm), lactose-free swiss cheese, and something else that caught my eye: frozen, gluten-free, DAIRY-FREE, pancakes.

As an allergic child, pancakes were something I loved, but that hated me. I thought IHOP was the greatest place on the planet (much to my foodie parent's dismay), but was always sick to my stomach for hours afterwards. When I was diagnosed with lactose intolerance (not just diagnosed, I made the doc's Lactose Wall of Fame, mind you) one of the things they tell you never to eat is pancakes. Why? Buttermilk. That wonderful flavor-giving dairy was the source of all of my upset stomachs. I stopped going to IHOP, changed over to Eggos (could always stomach these), and never looked back. On the rare occasion I wanted pancakes, I would make them homemade (and though the edges crisped nicely in the dairy-free margarine, they were never as good). I had high hopes for the TJ pancakes.

This morning I figured it would be a nice start to an absolutely raw day. I opened the box, and saw that the portions were individually vacuum-sealed (portion control, a plus!). I made them and topped them with preserves. They were...well...pancake-ish? They weren't bad, by any means. It was more like eating flavorless warm mush. Not unappetizing, but not something I will voluntarily eat again. Here's the kick - this wasn't an unsuccessful food test. This is just something I tried and didn't love!

Hey, it's a new year, which means trying a multitude of new things, right?
My New Year's resolution is twofold: I will return to regular blogging, and I will continue food testing. Read all about my restaurant visits, products, trials and tribulations here, and Happy New Year!

Yours in 2010,
Allergic Diner