Summer Stories – Allergy Accidents in Nola

Po-boys. Fried catfish. Bread pudding. Beignets.

I love New Orleans food. I dream of New Orleans food. I also can’t eat most New Orleans food any more.

A series of (day job) work meetings had me in New Orleans for several days in a row recently. I adore every visit to New Orleans, no matter how brief — unless of course I get stuck on I-10 all afternoon in traffic. This trip was no exception to that rule. After a day of meetings and work from the hotel lobby, I escaped with the help of the valet guys and made it to Sean Johnson’s Flow class at Wild Lotus on Perrier Street Uptown. There was singing, chanting, breathing exercises and plenty of arm balancing. I was a happy, happy girl.

After yoga class (and after my arms stopped shaking long enough to hold onto the steering wheel in my car), I drove down Magazine Street looking for respite, something with delicious allergy-friendly food and a good glass of wine. I ended up at Salu.

After reading some rather discouraging articles about how chefs are getting tired of trying to accommodate food allergies from picky patrons, I approached the hostess desk and asking if gluten-free, rice-free, dairy-free would be a problem. No, no, no, the waitress consoled me, they were very allergy friendly. In fact, they had a gluten-free menu! Finally, I thought, a city more options.

My waitress brought out the regular menu, instead of the gluten-free menu and wasn’t really up-to-speed on what items were okay to eat. I explained my allergies and she went back to the kitchen to check. When she returned, she listed off a series of items that would be appropriate. Salu is a tapas restaurant that I attended many times in my pre-EoE days.

My order:

  • Coriander-seared tuna served with mango verde without the lime sour cream
  • Seared duck breast with sweet potatoes, cranberries and walnuts
  • BBQ pulled pork on corn fritter cakes and cilantro-red onion salad

Dinner started out with a thoughtful plate of cucumber and oranges instead of bread. Props to the kitchen for sending that out. Next came the tuna which was, well, salty to say the least. Sauteed tomatoes and asparagus helped off-set the salt, but I definitely reached for my water more than my wine.

Next came the duck — one of my all-time favorite proteins. I was amazed that it was cooked without butter — usually butter is a key component in helping duck taste rich without being gamy. I should have listened to my instincts on that one. Two bites into the duck and my chest tightened up and the food got stuck in my throat. I’m still not used to this feeling now that it isn’t a constant. I guess being symptom-free for nearly several months makes the occasional encounter that much more surprising and frightening. I starting downing water and pulled out my steroid inhaler.

Puff, puff, drink water.

All I wanted to do was lay down and push my hand onto my chest so it would feel like I were causing the tightness and pressure voluntarily rather than having to experience it without any control over whether or not it would stop. I stared at the plate, not wanting to say anything.

Then the waitress came back out. “What’s wrong?” she asked. “I can’t eat this, I am sorry,” I said, “there’s a butter sauce under the duck.”

“Okay,” she said. My concerns were falling on deaf ears.

“I can’t eat butter,” I continued.

“Oh,” she said. “You didn’t say that.”

“I can’t eat dairy,” I continued, completely baffled.

“Oh,” the light bulb turned on in her head, “I didn’t know butter was a dairy.”

**Brief pause for you to consider the state of public education in Louisiana.**

Needless to say, it was a long night. It was not without lessons for me, lessons that I’ll share with you here:

  1. If your food allergy is sever, you should mention that.
  2. Do not assume your server knows what ingredients go into a dish.
  3. Do not assume your server knows anything about food in general.
  4. Always try to speak with the person preparing your food.
  5. The nicer you are, even when things go horribly wrong, the better a night everyone has.

That’s all for now.

 

When music gets social – 225 Magazine

One epically slow Friday afternoon at my day job, I sat typing a horrendously long report—the kind that requires its own table of contents. Fridays are quiet around my office building. Rather than fall asleep at my desk, I broke through the silence with a song from Ingrid Michaelson. Then another and another. I listened to just about every song she’s ever released. Her music kept my toes tapping under my desk and my head from nodding forward in a lunch-induced coma. “If you are chilly, here, take my sweater,” she sang to me.

I don’t have Ingrid Michaelson’s entire library on my computer, but I do have Spotify, and this little desktop app lets me stream music straight to my computer. Calling itself the “lean, green music machine,” Spotify certainly has a lot going for it.

Released in 2008 in Sweden, Spotify has grown massively in just a few years. By the time it was released in the United States last summer, it was already available in seven other countries. With 1.6 million subscribers to paid “unlimited” or “premium” versions, Spotify makes music legally accessible online and on-demand for $4.99 for computer access or $9.99 for mobile capability and syncing with your home computer. The promise is that you have all of your music and all of Spotify’s wherever you go and whenever you want.

“It just made sense,” audiophile Micah Nickens told me recently in his cozy studio. Spotify was playing music in the background, and I immediately started asking about the artists, making mental notes to try to find Nickens, who’s also the owner of the Garden District salon Gaudet Brothers, on Spotify when I got home. “I signed up for the free version for three days—but I did the premium right after that,” he said.

What he wasn’t expecting was the full social integration with Facebook that would happen weeks later. Nickens signed up using his personal email address rather than his Facebook account, but this fall, Spotify made it mandatory for new users to sign up through the social networking giant.

Read the rest of the story here. 

 

Wedding Cakes + EoE = A Very Sad Girl

Last week I posted about my recent diagnosis with of a disorder called Eosinophilic Esophagitis (EE), which means I have an allergy to some kind of food. Although I’m still not entirely sure which foods make me sick, I have discovered that cutting out gluten makes me feel immensely better. But cutting out gluten isn’t just about bread, it means eliminating nearly everything processed and anything that might have come into contact with wheat at some point in time. Farewell to pizza, pasta, oatmeal, naan, cookies, cake, granola bars, trail mix, cereal, cupcakes, crackers … the list goes on for much longer than I’d like.

Cutting gluten out of my diet has been relatively simple at home. I just don’t eat things with wheat. If I’m making something with a sauce, I can check the label.

But eating out with friends or grabbing a quick bite on the road can spell danger quickly. Not only does nearly everything have obvious gluten components — think sandwiches and fried shrimp — but little things like sauces and “corn” tortillas may still contain wheat flour.

Even worse are the things that I know that I can’t eat, but want to so badly, like the absolutely amazing groom’s cake (pictured here) at our friends’ wedding this weekend. It was moist and springy. I imagined that it had just the right amount of chocolate and balanced with a little bit of vanilla. It looked like the kind of cake that you could let sit on your tongue for a minute before chewing. I love wedding cake. I almost love it more than dancing with friends (maybe) during the reception. And this time, not being able to eat it made me so sad.

I feel a little pathetic typing this out, but not being able to eat cake almost made me cry.

Tomorrow the pity party will end as it is my first appointment with an allergist where I’m told there might be a scratch test or I may be put on an elimination diet. Whatever they figure out, part of me hopes that it doesn’t have anything to do with wheat. Either way, I know that I’m going to have to get over it. I’ll have to move on and learn to live without the bread.

In the meantime, dark chocolate squares are fare game and I’m ready to play!

For Rebecca: Relationships that Make Us

****NOTE****

I wrote this post in September, but waited to publish it. Since today is Rebecca’s birthday, I thought it would be appropriate.

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People will forget what you said, People will forget what you did, But people will never forget how you made them feel. – Maya Angelou

Recently, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about relationships — both the good and the bad ones. There’s something to the way a person makes you feel, physically feel, that says something about both that individual and your relationship with them. There are the bad ones that give you the sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach, as if you’ll lose your breakfast in the waste bin the moment you see them. There are also the ones that make your stomach do flips, but in an exciting, romantic kind of way.

Even still, there are the often-forgot relationships that are constant, calming, reassuring. Those are the friendships we often take for granted. There are no giant, dramatic fights over who said something to someone else — often a she-said-she-said kind of ordeal. Rather, you are there for one another through trials and tribulations.

So when something threatens to take away one of these warm, comforting relationships it can often be entirely earth-shaking. Life no longer seems to make sense. Each breath feels forced. And through this, you begin to question why things happen the way they do. Why this? Why now?

I realize that I’m being a little vague in this post and I hope that you’ll forgive me. What I will say is that I have been moved by a truly spectacular individual — someone who helped shape who I am at a time when my life was on very unsteady grounds. She saw through the layers of feigned happiness in me and let me know that it was okay to be upset. It was okay to grasp for straws and ask friends for help. It was okay to walk away from relationships that hurt me because another, more inspiring one would be just around the corner.

There is a chance that I may lose this friend and I can’t say that my world will ever feel as bright and as engaging afterwards as it does with her in it.

Maya was right. It isn’t what my friend has done or even the things she still may do that I will always remember. It is how she makes me feel, how she alters my world that is what really matters. And for that, I will forever be grateful.

Allergic to Food?

Food makes me sick — a lot. I never really knew why, though. I’ve been poked and prodded with scopes. I’ve been biopsied and even found myself in the emergency room once with abdominal pain so intense that I couldn’t stand.

Through all of this, I never really had a primary care physician. Who has time for things like building a relationship with a doctor when you are working 60-70 hour weeks (or more), responding to the largest manmade environmental disaster in North American history? The few doctors I’d seen over the years just wanted to hand me a prescription for everything. Got a neck pain? Here are muscle relaxers and pain killers, they’d say. Got an upset stomach all the time? Take this medicine every day twice a day for the rest of your life, they’d advise. You’ll be fine.

It’s amazing the difference a good doctor can make, though. A few exams and questions into a relationship with my primary care doctor and I had a GI specialist. A quick conversation with him and I was signed up to check my small intestine for Celiac Disease.

But what they discovered was nothing like what they’d expected.

I was diagnosed with eosinophilic esophagitis, which is likely caused by a food allergy. How, I wondered, have I lived this long without knowing about this? Here’s the thing: for most of my life I have lived with but ignored the following symptoms:

  • Chronic upset stomach,
  • Acid reflux,
  • Food getting stuck in my throat, and
  • Stabbing pains in my chest — the kind that make you feel like you’re having a heart attack.

I just always thought these things were normal because I’ve lived with them for so long. These symptoms are normal, right?

Having the doctor tell me that it’s not supposed to be that way, that there is another, better way to live, was pretty dramatic.

So now I still don’t know what I’m allergic to (although I will soon once I see my new allergist), but I at least know that this is something that I can fix. I feel so relieved and liberated, but at the same time terrified … of food.

I’ve never encountered anyone else with this disorder before, although I’m sure there are folks out there because there’s a whole non-profit dedicated to EoE, in addition to countless other blogs and websites.

But here’s the thing, I love, love, love food. I love to cook it. I love to eat it. I’m a “foodie,” by definition, but I really hate that term. I just like good, healthy, delicious food. So as I learn more about this and as I learn what I can and cannot eat, I’m going to share it here. After all, someone else may be living with the same symptoms and, like me, has been ignoring them.