Food Allergy Counseling

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

Friday, September 29, 2006

Candle Cafe

When I was growing up there was a funny corner health food store on Lexington on the Upper East Side. It was near school and it was called the Healthy Candle. It was owned/run by a tall guy with a long neck; he made fresh squeezed juices. No one in the store was under the age of 50, to wit, I once saw the actress who played Mary Hartman buying a juice looking, well, way past the braids stage.

Just what I was doing in there in High School I couldn't tell you; maybe I was getting a fresh squeezed carrot juice. Given that it's all the rage now to eat well and yogacize, it's funny to remember that it wasn't like a mere 15 years ago. Back in the day, none of the cute girls were doing yoga religiously nor eating that healthfully. None except Amy Ippoliti who was cute and both vegan and yoga-ing--in High School, in the 80s! Take that kind of dedication and forward thinking, add 15 years and Amy is now one of the top yogis in the country. If you ever get a chance take a class with her, do; she’s wonderful.

Back to the tall guy: he closed that store over a decade ago and re-opened on 3rd avenue as a full-fledged veggie restaurant called Candle Café. I went there a few times in the early 90s but didn’t love it. They then opened Candle 79 in the old Trois Jean space [I think]—a higher end veggie resto. I’ve been there once or twice, found the food a little too nutty for me and haven’t been a regular. [although they do have a gluten-free menu for those celiacs out there].

But recently, I’ve rediscovered Candle Café. On those rare occasions when I’m on the Upper East Side I need a healthy alternative to the Mezzaluna's, Megu's and Googies, this is it. And the rediscovery had led to some serious liking. I usually order the mix four platter.


My four are: sautéed sweet onions, the bean of the day, a sweet potato and mixed greens as seen in the picture. It's all so delicious I can’t help but practically lick my plate! There are used to dietary restrictions so that’s not a problem and they label nut items appropriately.

Danielle and I went on Thursday night, after a visit to the American Comics exhibit at the Jewish Musuem. We liked the combo so much we decided to make a thing out of it—museum first, dinner after—fun fun fun!

Candle Cafe
Various locations in NYC

Peanuts To Be Genetically Altered

No, not those Peanuts; the ones that grow in the ground. Seems to be Gene-week in the news, especially concerning nut allergies.

My dear buddy Steve sent me a WSJ article about a peanut-allergy vaccine [SEE BELOW]. "If you take out all those proteins that cause allergic reactions to the peanut, then you no longer have a peanut."—This is by far the most amusing quote.

This week's gene posts have stimulated a question--what would I rather: genetic deletion of the nut proteins, thus creating a potential allergy-free existence for me and millions others? Or for geneticists to leave well enough alone and for the rest of us to have to be as careful as we already are and take the risks we do every day when we eat something we didn’t make ourselves.

Here’s the thing, a non-allergic life is one I can barely imagine; rather, I don’t allow myself that particular daydream. And I have very strong feelings about not messing about with Mother Nature, genes included. I think that even extends toward something that could potentially kill me. So which side does that put me on--pro-gene alteration or pro-leave it alone? Clearly, I have to think about this question further.




Taming Peanut Allergy
Takes Researchers
Down Uncertain Road
By JANE ZHANG
September 29, 2006; Page B1
In a world of wheat-free cookies and dairy-free ice cream, the peanut industry is helping fund the quest for a "nut-free" peanut.

Peanuts aren't nuts at all, of course, but legumes, or seeds, as are beans and lentils. An estimated 1.5 million Americans, including some 600,000 children, experience allergic reactions to peanuts, ranging from hives to nausea to sometimes-fatal anaphylactic shock. With most of the annual 150 food-allergy deaths blamed on peanuts, many schools have created peanut-free zones or gone totally "peanut free."
The number of children with peanut allergies has skyrocketed, doubling from 1997 to 2002, according to a study in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. And it's a mystery why peanut allergies are causing more problems. One explanation is that physicians are more adept at detecting them. Another is that the modern environment may be, in a sense, too clean: If the human immune system were exposed to more allergens, a peanut might not send it into overdrive.

An approved asthma drug, Xolair, may be useful in treating peanut and other food allergies; injected into patients, it would reduce certain antibodies that are thought to cause anaphylactic food allergy. Last year, though, clinical trials came to a halt after two children, who had been given peanut protein in a screening to gauge the severity of their allergy, experienced anaphylactic reactions. The drug's makers -- Genentech, Novartis and Tanox -- are working with the Food and Drug Administration to design a new trial, Genentech says.

Determined scientists, in some cases with peanut-industry funding, are trying to develop other therapies, or a vaccine, to prevent or reduce the severity of peanut reactions. A nut-free peanut would be genetically altered so that it is less likely to set off an immune response. Peanut farmers and food processors have given $5.6 million over the past decade to eight scientists, mainly for peanut-allergy work, says Howard Valentine, of the American Peanut Council.

Two researchers -- Wesley Burks, chief of pediatric allergy and immunology at Duke University Medical Center, and Hugh Sampson, his counterpart at New York's Mount Sinai School of Medicine -- are trying to create a vaccine. They have slightly modified the three peanut proteins responsible for most reactions so they don't trigger such strong reactions from human mast cells. By administering the modified proteins to subjects in slowly increasing doses, they hope to condition their immune systems to tolerate more. They have tested the therapy on mice and plan to start on humans in a year or so.

Another experimental therapy aims to reduce the severity of reactions. Dr. Burks's team administers powdered or liquid peanut proteins to patients in incrementally increasing doses, starting with 0.001 peanut the first day, to one whole peanut six months later. They hope one day to develop a drug or a physician-administered therapy. In a trial completed on eight patients, Dr. Burks says the subjects tolerated 13 peanuts before experiencing a reaction -- enough, in theory, to save an allergic child's life in case of accidental ingestion.

Peanut interests have helped to fund the work of Peggy Ozias-Akins, a horticulture professor at the University of Georgia, Tifton. She wants to develop a plant whose peanuts are free of the three major protein allergens.

Screening the genetic structure of peanuts harvested on an experimental farm, Dr. Ozias-Akins is searching for ones with a defunct Ara h 2 gene, which is responsible for a protein that causes reactions in about 90% of patients with peanut allergy. When she finds plants with the defunct gene, she'll use them in a traditional breeding program to produce less-allergenic plants. She expects it will take at least three years to breed the plants and test them in animals.

Dr. Ozias-Akins's team also is trying to disable the Ara h 2 gene by modifying the peanut plant's genetic structure. She shoots cloned copies of the gene into a peanut, which can create a disabled gene that suppresses the function of the original one. Her team is growing plants with a disabled Ara h 2 gene in the greenhouse and testing whether the peanuts contain the allergy-causing protein.
Success is a long way off. Without the protein, other genes may compensate for its loss, making the new plants more, not less, allergenic than regular peanuts. As a result, any new genetically modified food product would have to go through animal testing and human clinical trials.

And even if Dr. Ozias-Akins gets there, it isn't clear that the world will embrace the results of her work. Says Duke's Dr. Burks, "If you take out all those proteins that cause allergic reactions to the peanut, then you no longer have a peanut."
Consumers may reject a genetically modified nut-free peanut. Dr. Ozias-Akins is aware of the skeptics but hopes the benefits will outweigh concerns. "Nothing -- or very little -- we eat today is natural or hasn't been exposed to artificial selection," she says.

"It's the best solution on the horizon right now," says Don Koehler, executive director of Georgia Peanut Commission. "We may never have an allergen-free peanut, but you've got to try. You've got to dream a little."

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Let Them Eat Cake

Why trans fats? Why now? The DOH is likening this ban to one they placed on Lead Paint back in 1960. Yes, there is no doubt that trans fat are bad, especially given the huge portions doled out at many American fast food and chain restaurants coupled with the generally poor diet of many families. But honestly I think it’s outrageous to pass this kind of legislation whilst how many children are starving every day?

Since when are we as a society banning free choice?

Since when has the focus become not feeding hungry children and adults but policing the fat used to make a grilled cheese?

I feel a rant boiling up but I'm too upset to even rant about it in a clear and concise manner. Suffice it to say I think the emphasis here is just ALL WRONG.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

What's New Pussycat?

As you might have guessed, aside from food allergies, I also have a lot of just regular allergies, like to animals--specifically to their skin and saliva. I know--Ewww. To that end, I've never officially had a furry pet. Unofficially, my grandfather bought “me” a puppy. I put me in quotes because she was really for him: he housed her, her fed her and ultimately, her returned her. My grandfather bought a German Shorthaired Pointer that wouldn't point and she was afraid of guns, thus terminating my short lived pet ownership/non-ownership. And I couldn’t pet her or touch her or love her up-close regardless.

Now, according to a BBC report (I’m all over the BBC today), my kitty cat dreams finally may be fulfilled. Well, I’ve never had kitty cat dreams but if I had, I might be closer to them through a new genetic innovation: hypo-allergenic pets. Isn't it fascinating what drives the marketplace? As cats are such big business, a company is now creating “lifestyle pets” i.e animals for those who can’t have animals. This is like marketing sugar to a diabetic. Amazing.

'HYPOALLERGENIC CATS' GO ON SALE

What are claimed to be the world's first specially bred hypoallergenic cats have gone on sale in the US.

US biotech firm Allerca says it has managed to selectively breed them by reducing a certain type of protein that triggers allergic reactions.

The company says the animals will not cause the red eyes, sneezing and even asthma triggered by cat allergy, except in the most acute cases.

Despite costing $3,950 (£2,104), there is already a waiting list to get one.

Allerca first started taking orders for hypoallergenic cats back in 2004.

No genetic modification

It tested huge numbers of cats trying to find the tiny fraction that do not carry the glycoprotein Fel d1 - contained in an animal's saliva, fur and skin - which often prompts an allergic reaction in humans.

Those cats were then selectively bred to produce the hypoallergenic kittens now on sale, the company says.

The company's Steve May told the BBC that it was a natural, if time consuming, method.

"This is a natural gene divergence within the cat DNA - one out of 50,000 cats will have this natural divergence," he said.

"So candidates - natural divergent cats - were found and then bred so there is really no modification of the gene."

The BBC's Pascale Harter says there could soon be a global market for the kittens - in the US alone 38 million households own a cat, and around the world an estimated 35% of humans suffer from allergies.

Story from BBC NEWS:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/health/5375900.stm

Promises, Promises

As happy as it would make me, thrilled actually--not to have to worry what I eat so much so that I could attend events like the Spain 10 in NYC next week and eat with impunity, I also wonder about this kind of genetic testing on proteins.

From the BBC news desk--FOOD ALLERGIES 'GONE IN 10 YEARS'

Food allergies could be virtually eradicated in 10 years, according to scientists at a major conference.

Experts at the BA Festival of Science, in Norwich, heard that vaccines could be created against the molecules which trigger allergies.

The scientist leading the research - Dr Ronald van Ree, from Amsterdam University - said a vaccine with no side effects was in sight.

About one in 70 people have an allergy to foods such as peanuts or shellfish.
New genetic engineering techniques are being tested to reduce the effect of the proteins in food that cause adverse - sometimes fatal - reactions.

It is hoped that scientists will be able to make the molecules safe enough to use in drugs that fight food allergies via the immune system.

These would be used in conjunction with compounds designed to reduce inflammation - one of the most dangerous effects of allergic reactions.

Speaking about the research, Dr van Ree told festival delegates: "Taken together, these new developments provide good opportunities to develop strategies for the treatment of food allergies, both preventive and curative."

He said it was now possible to produce altered versions of food allergy molecules in the laboratory.

"Importantly, this allows scientists to develop hypo-allergenic variants of these molecules for application in safer immunotherapy that will induce little or no side effects," the scientist told the meeting at the University of East Anglia.

"Effective treatment will end the fear that food-allergic patients have for unwanted exposure to food allergens."

Foods which carry a high allergy risk include milk, eggs, wheat, peanuts, shellfish, fish, soya, and tree nuts such as brazils or cashews.

Despite possibly fatal effects, deaths from food allergy are rare.

Only eight children in the UK died from food allergy reactions between 1990 and 2000.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Principal Skinner Has Peanut Allergies!

It's official--food allergies, specifically nuts, specifically PEANUTS, have entered into the zeitgeist.

I was watching tonight's newest ep of The Simpsons--I don't think I've watched it for about ten years--but I'm in Jersey with Phil who likes watching it.

Imagine my surprise when the B storyline revolves around Principal Skinner's kryptonite--his deathly peanut allergies! Upon this discovery, Bart makes mincemeat of out Skinner. That is, until Skinner discovers Bart's foil: a shrimp allergy! With pieces of the offending allergen attached to long sticks, they battle it out in the style of the Star Wars battle between Yoda and Darth Maul. They end up in a Thai food factory, fighting over a vat of "Peanut Shrimp sauce" and into the vat they tumble. Flash forward to the hospital where they have both been treated and continue the battle.

If I needed any proof here it is: food allergies are now omnipresent--enough to warrant a national televsion show to make fun of them!

I think this is a silly but big step forward for the food allergy fight.

Another Rosh

My mother and I attended a second Rosh dinner at Stephanie’s mother-in-law Erin’s house. It was delightful and delicious. Thank you Erin and Stephanie!

The menu [It’s from memory, so please forgive me if I missed something]

We started with a flute of Perrier Jouet champagne. Then Stephanie led a mini-Seder, walking us through traditional symbolic foods one eats during this time:
--Challah in honey—sweetness for the New Year
--Apples in honey-- sweetness for the New Year
--Dates—I don’t remember, but they were still on the vine and delicious!
--Pomegranate seeds—symbolizing the many mitzvot or good deeds one does in a day [613 mitzvot/seeds!]
--Leek pie—something about smiting our enemies
--Beet salad—also something about beating our enemies
--Smoked fish—Something about the head of the year I think, which as I know now is the literal translation of Rosh Hashanah.
--Ram’s head—which we didn’t have, but discussed.
--Candied Quince jelly—I don’t know why but it was delicious!

Main course:
Brisket with potatoes and carrots
Chu-chuka [a tomato and pepper dish that I’m certain I spelled incorrectly]
Potato kugel
Sweet potato tsimmes

Dessert:
Fruit salad
Honey walnut cake
Candied Quince jellies

And here’s the thing—I’ve never had Quince. I totally had a moment of “what if I’m allergic?” However, Stephanie, whom I love and trust and who knows my allergies, assured me it was like an apple, and I’m not allergic to apples so I had a bite. And then another. And then another whole square. And then two more after dinner, even though my tummy was saying no sugar, I just loved the taste and the sugar and was thrilled to find a new thing I can enjoy!

Again, I can’t help but think that doing this blog is like my own cognitive-behavioral experiment. The more I write about my life with allergies, the more I push myself to experiment more and panic less. It also helped that I had benedryl with me and Michael, Stephanie’s husband, is a doctor!

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Rosh Hashanah

Last night was a celebration of the beginning of the New Year. We were fortunate enough to have dear friends and family to celebrate with us.

Thursday, mom and I cooked most our Rosh dinner from scratch; the chicken was Murray's was from Fairway. Shhh, don't tell.

And most of it I could eat except of course the Challah or the Noodle Kugel or any of the desserts. But the meat was mighty fine and I can't wait to attack the leftovers! However, leftovers will have to wait as we are invited to spend another Rosh at my dear friend Stephanie's mother-in-law's house tonight. Oy, the eating this weekend! How lucky am I?

First the good stuff, the dinner menu.

Starters:
Chopped liver
Franks in Blanks
Apples in honey
Round Challah

Main:
Roasted Chickens
Brisket with onions, carrots and potatoes
Noodle Kugel with raisins and without
Buttered Green Beans
Tsimmes

Dessert:
Tegelach
Chocolate Babka
Cheesecake strudel
Fruit

Second, more good stuff, the conversation.

Arthur attempted to raise the issue of resolution: what each of us thinks we might do in the New Year differently or better or with more effort or focus. This is part of the Days of Awe concept:

“One of the ongoing themes of the Days of Awe is the concept that God has "books" that he writes our names in, writing down who will live and who will die, who will have a good life and who will have a bad life, for the next year. These books are written in on Rosh Hashanah, but our actions during the Days of Awe can alter God's decree. The actions that change the decree are "teshuvah, tefilah and tzedakah," repentance, prayer, good deeds (usually, charity). These "books" are sealed on Yom Kippur. This concept of writing in books is the source of the common greeting during this time is “May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year”.” [definitions care of http://www.jewfaq.org/index.htm]


And then Casey brought up a very fine question: “What does Rosh Hashanah actually mean?” which silenced the boisterous table. Like cricket-time. Not one of us knew.

So Casey, after synagogue today, I ran home and looked it up: Rosh Hashanah occurs on the first and second days of Tishri. In Hebrew, Rosh Hashanah means, literally, "head of the year" or "first of the year."

I'm looking forward to another evening of friends and family and food and to the next ten Days of Awe, to contemplate the year past and the year ahead.

Shana Tova!

Friday, September 22, 2006

What's In A New Yorker's Cupboard

Sara, a co-worker at my old job who worked out of the San Diego office, once asked me where I could possibly do my food shopping. Having never been to New York, she just couldn't envision that we actually had regular grocery stores here. I assured her that there were plenty of grocery stores with basically the same stuff she had in San Diego. Basically being the operative word.

A brief article in the Times made a small reference to the generally dismal state of a New Yorker's grocery store. The article focuses on how to sort through the usual offerings with an eye to selecting the most wholesome foods: i.e. those without many ingredients, made from products you can pronounce, etc.. And the pickings were slim.

The thing about NYC is that even though the grocery stores may be culinarily dispiriting, the choice is endless: there are raw milk collectives and farmers markets [just look at Nina's list]; there are upscale exclusive marts and down-home bodegas; there are ethnic stores of every variety; and now there is both Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s [to which I have yet to go].

Although New Yorkers do have to contend with the good, the bad and the grimy on multiple planes, we have the luxury of choice; one never has to feel stuck buying processed, overpriced or undelcious foodstuff at any price point.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Funky Mouth

For years, I've experienced Funky Mouth.

Funky mouth is an oral allergic reaction to a food which produces a feeling like one has eaten sharpened razor blades; the insides of the cheeks, the palate and the tongue feel ripped up, sensitive and itchy.

Generally, I have a sliding scale of funky reactions to the nightshade family of vegetables: cooked or raw eggplant is immediate funky throat, close cousin to funky mouth but lower and a bit scarier; raw tomato is funky mouth sometimes; raw peppers are funky mouth occasionally but not usually; and potatoes are generally OK.

Now, I’ve read an official confirmation of some form of funky mouth.

According to this press release, during ragweed season, the allergens in the air mixes with food in your mouth and produces oral allergies…now that’s something even I have never heard of but I’ve experienced it. For example, melon often gives me funky mouth so I don’t eat it, but I haven’t tracked if it was during ragweed season. Something to consider.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Organic-Rush

--Spinach-Gate: The growers being implicated in Spinach-Gate are widening. Yet another reason to go local.
UPDATE: All spinach whether packaged or loose is being recalled. Check out the cut-out of the guy holding Earthbound produce. Odd.

--Kellog’s has joined the Organic-Rush and it looks like even took out processed white sugar—is this possible? Now I could have their rice krispies?

--Here's a cool chart for who owns what in the Corporate organic world.

--And I can't believe I'm going to plug a book from my previous employer, but I'm going to get my hands on a copy of Organic, Inc and read it, finally.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Bacterio-what?

There was a small item in the Times on Wednesday;I thought it was nothing serious. However, this morning I see Yahoo news picked it up and are running with it, so here it is: essentially ADDING spray-on bacteria to deli meats to induce a mini-bacteria warfare on your Rueben.

I think I'm gonna be a little sick.

Ham and Virus on Rye, Please [from the www.nytimes.com]

Add a stew of bacteria-killing viruses to the already complicated safety protocols for food produced on an industrial scale.

The Food and Drug Administration recently announced that it is safe to spray a mix of six viruses on deli meats like bologna, liverwurst and ham. These foods are generally not cooked after they are purchased, and so they are particularly vulnerable to listeria, bacteria that can cause listeriosis, especially dangerous for pregnant women, fetuses and newborns.

For years the agency wanted manufacturers of such products to clean up their plants so that listeria could not survive. But it turned out to be easier to spray the mix of viruses, called bacteriophages, on the meat to kill the listeria, than to get the plants to clean up.

The agency says the virus mixture is safe. Does that mean children can eat hot dogs right out of the refrigerator?

If a bacteriophage that kills E. coli bacteria is approved, some will say it won’t be necessary to clean up the slaughterhouses.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

The Trip To Bountiful

As Heather mentioned last week, the market is at its most glorious—below are some shots that speak for themselves.

Flowers:



More flowers:


Nectarines:



As for myself, I felt overwhelmed by the bounty and had a hard time visualizing a meal in mind other than a late summer pesto. Sadly, my Hamilton Beach blender wasn’t as it once was—the base is cracked and thus no pesto until the part is fixed/replaced and I don’t think the basil will wait.

A Lactose Movement

Driving down Broadway past 14th, I spied an odd sight: a LactoseTolerance.org sign in an empty storefront looking very much like a fake political party or a publicity stunt.


I checked it out, they were giving away free Nestle Quik and even though I’m dairy-free Phil likes Strawberry milk so I’d thought I’d get some for him and check out who or what is promoting Lactose.

The short story is these two guys want to make June 1st, 2007 Lactose Tolerance Day. They had petitions, voting booths for favorite flavors, [although no vanilla--the horror], magnets and bumper stickers; the "campaign" is there all week on Broadway and 12th street. It was almost like an Apprentice episode because clearly there was money behind it.

I'm sure it's meant to be a cute marketing tool; however, at it's heart I smell some backlash. Milk doesn't need help with branding. Milk is milk. But somehow these smart guys convinced one of the majors, Nestle, to back their movement and great for them. However, I can't help feeling that the last thing we need is backlash, even if it's in good fun. Really, we need more understanding and compassion about food intolerences.

Nestle, if you're listening, there are plenty of us that would love to see and support a NesQuik that was organic and Lactose-free. Doesn't every campaign need a worthy opponent?

Friday, September 15, 2006

Better Burger But Not Best

Last night, I went to Better Burger with my excellent friend and Anusara-yoga-inspired teacher, Bo. I had been once before this past summer and I went ‘urp, ‘urp, ‘urp all the way home. No good. Why did I try it again? Well, they are organic, we live in the neighborhood and it was easy. I was hoping the ‘urp was a one time deal.

I ordered some of their non-fried fries to share and The Big One, no bun, extra fixings. It came with a huge long hair that was decidedly NOT mine. I sent it back and they remade it. Bo ordered a cheeseburger that had still not arrived when I was halfway through my second order of burger.


They said they lost the order and quickly created a new one and brought us a free order of fries that I suggested might ease the pain of the lost burger.

Overall the chat was more important than the meal, which is just as well as the meal was okay not fantastic. I’m glad they were organic burgers and not-fried fries for ease of mind--and there was nothing nutty going on--but even as a fast food joint they need work in many areas.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Enjoy Life Foods

Since I discovered them in March, I cannot get enough of their products. It’s like I’d never seen a cookie before. And during this past year, I literally hadn’t.

Since I’ve gone gluten/wheat-free, sugar-free, dairy-free and soy-free [and I’m always nut-free], I’ve been virtually dessert-free. Or was until I discovered the gluten-free section at Whole Foods and Fairway wherein I thought, Ah, dessert can re-enter my life. However, many of these products' manufacturing plants, like Glutino, are not nut-free. Or oftentimes gluten-free isn't soy-free, or yeast-free, or dairy-free, etc.

So, imagine my surprise, and glee frankly, when I stumbled upon a company whose motto called to my very heart of hearts. Eat freely, it said. And they made cookies in a gluten-free and nut-free facility! I was in-love. The first hurdle was investigating what exactly sorghum flour was and how I might react to it, if at all. After one tatse and no reaction, there's been no stopping me. I’ve been going through these dumpling-like cookies like water. I think I may have an Enjoy Life cookie gut. They even make chocolate chips I can eat as they are produced at a nut-free dedicated part of Blommer’s in Chicago.

However, no love affair is perfect. Enjoy Life Foods is a new company and they have some quality control issues: I have bought Chocolate Chip cookies to find Snickerdoodles inside instead [they replaced them]; the texture is rarely the same from one box of cookies to the next [I eat them anyway]; and I found a spiral-shaped metal filament in my mouth after eating some chocolate chips [They said they didn't know where it came from and sent me some free chips as compensation].

Sigh. Like any love affair, there are growing pains. But I am staying the course with my new love—giving them some time to work out the kinks whilst I eat the chocolate. Hmmm, nut-free chocolate.

"Out Damned Spot"

I’m definitely a girl who washes her hands well and often. So, it’s heartening to read reports that frequent hand-washing is great at halting the spread of colds and the dreaded flu.

I’m definitely a girl who doesn’t hesitate to ask my man to brush his teeth after eating any of the things I’m allergic to, like after eating a salmon steak or a chocolate turtle; trust me there will be no soul kissing after that for me.

I’m definitely a girl who wipes down the surfaces in her home regularly—TV remotes are the dirtiest thing in your house, or rather the least washed. Not in my home though.


And I definitely make all attempts to wash green where I can; I love Dr. Bronner’s for shampooing my hair and cleaning my chrome kitchen sink. Really.

But I couldn’t help but chuckle at a study reported on in yesterday's NYT . Those who feel compelled to wash repeatedly may not just be reading the news avidly and taking heed, like me, but may be trying to wash away their sins, literally. Welcome the Macbeth effect.

Now, I don’t doubt that there is a kernel of truth in this, what is baptism for if not to wash away sin? [Actually, I don’t know if that’s correct. Christians? Please let me know how off-base I am]. But it just seems to be another amusing instance of media not being very helpful at all. Eat meat; don’t eat meat. Drink milk; milk is worthless. Hussein is an evil dictator; Hussein is a nice guy.

Monday, September 11, 2006

A Sit-Down With Chef Franklin Becker

A few blogs ago, I mentioned my yummy allergen-free dinner at Brasserie. I had been there many times before without serious incident. However, as of December 2005, Restaurant Associates brought in a new Executive Chef, and the difference is major.

Chef Franklin Becker graciously sat down with me for a chat about what he does and how he takes care of diners like me.

What does an Executive Chef do?
An Executive Chef is responsible for conceptualizing and creating the menu, handling the budget and being the face of the establishment. An Executive Chef is also part air traffic controller, part fireman, part policeman--essentially the person is in charge of making sure that every guest that comes into the restaurant is satisfied.

Is an Executive Chef also in the kitchen cooking?
Yes, they can be. In some restaurants the chef is a working chef, knee-deep with his cooks. In a restaurant of this magnitude however, the chef is more like an orchestra leader; calling the shots, making sure everything is happening, coordinating the meal tickets. Here at Brasserie, I cook but not nearly as much as I used to.

You were diagnosed with diabetes in 1997. How does that affect the way you cook?
Being a diabetic shapes what I cook: my food is lighter. Also, I’m much more conscious about the amount of carbohydrates I put on any one plate or that I give to a diner at any given time. It makes my food more balanced.

How do you feel about special needs diners?
You have to take care of them; you have to accommodate them.

Whether diners have special needs or not, they're coming to your restaurant and they trust you to prepare food for them. They trust you with their lives because they can get sick from a bad clam, for example.

But for a special needs diner, you have to take their allergies very, very seriously. You have to make sure the diner is well cared for and then you have that diner for life. They’re going to come back over and over and over again because they know that when they come to your restaurant, like Brasserie, they’re safe.


What advice would you give to a special needs diner?
I think special needs diners should make business cards that have their allergies listed on them, as well as any food products that generally have those allergens in them that may not be so commonly known.

For example, a diner comes in with a seafood allergy but says they’re OK with traditional Thai fish sauce made with anchovies--so they order an Asian dish, thinking it’s safe. Meanwhile, the Chef genuinely doesn’t know the scope of the allergy and uses his favorite brand of Thai fish sauce made NOT from fermented anchovies but from fermented squid. As the Chef wasn’t alerted to the diner’s specific allergies, including specific products, there is simply no way of knowing how to keep the guest safe and serious complications could ensue.

You wouldn’t be offended if someone came in with a card like that?
No I think it’s extremely intelligent. Who cares if the chef’s offended? At the end of the day, it’s your life and you’ve got to protect it because nobody else is going to protect it.

What’s worse is when a diner who’s already halfway through the meal tells the Chef that they’re allergic to something. There’s a possibility that the cutting board came into contact with the lobster and it’s washed in the same sink as the lettuce and all of a sudden this person is dying of an allergic reaction. Wake up—tell the Chef before the meal starts!

If a diner had communicated to the Chef at the get-go, chances are the Chef would have said, “Listen, I can’t serve you that”, or would have put on a pair of gloves himself and ensured that the diner’s food was handled safely. So, maybe it would have taken the diner an extra five or 10 or 15 minutes to dine but at least they’d be safe.

There are too many instances of people not communicating their needs and then the restaurant winds up getting sued. The liability, the onus and all of the responsibility to communicate special needs lie on the diner.

Sometimes, when I communicate my food allergies/intolerances, I get a “why did you bother even leaving the house” attitude from my server. What should I do?
If you go to a restaurant and that’s the feeling they give you, you should get up and go someplace else because they don’t deserve your business.

If that’s their reaction to you, odds are your needs are not being communicated to the Chef correctly and there’s a good chance you are playing Russian roulette with your health at that restaurant.

One final question, tell me about your charity work?
I do a lot of charity work for diabetes and autism. I am Chairman of an event that’s taking place October 30th, it’s called “For the Kids”. It’s a chef’s feast, benefiting Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy Center and Autism Speaks. Bob Wright, the Chairman of NBC is the Honorary Co-Chair. It’s going to be an annual event and a lot of fun.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Gluten-Free Ecstasy?

Someone in upper management at Risotteria either is smart about marketing or has Celiac disease or both. In its relatively short history of existence, Risotteria has gone from a spot that creates individualized risottos made-to-order in less then 30 minutes into part of the blossoming GF-friendly network of restos in NYC. This is a list sure to grow in the coming years as 1 in 200 Americans are diagnosed with Celiac. I went there when it first opened a few years back, before they jumped on the GF bandwagon, but wasn’t impressed enough to return; I don’t even recall what I ate. But now that I’m Gluten/Wheat free, I thought I’d try it again.

Situated on a sliver of Bleecker Street at Morton, it has maybe 25 seats, tops. Phil, Ben and I waited outside for about 30 minutes. Once we got inside, it was cozy enough that I felt compelled to warn the guy next to me that I might be sitting on his lap. He and his group of two friends not only didn’t seem to mind but after some further chat, he offered us a taste of his Saturday Night special: saffron risotto with shrimp. Phil had a bite and said it was good; Ben ordered it and enjoyed it. My risotto was Italian parsley and truffle oil. For $12, it was like a fast food version of its well-known cousin, Truffle Risotto, which costs easily $80-90 at any Italian restaurant worth its salt. This quickie version was filling, on the troppo al-dente side for me and could have used some more gout/taste. Here's a pic of our three bowls of rice.


The waiter, although not chatty, heeded my no-nuts plea. When I questioned the ingredients of the GF breadsticks another server brought over a laminated printout of the ingredients: now THAT I liked. However since the breadsticks contained both milk and sugar, I begged off.

Would I run back? Probably not. However, if on a nice Sunday afternoon like this one, I were strolling through the West village, I might stop in and try their GF pizza. Hmmm rice flour.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Marseille, NYC

Does blogging make one bolder?

Since I started this blog less than a month ago, and putting into words my daily forays in dining out with food allergies and intolerances, I have noticed a slight internal shift. I still give my server-spiel: “no nuts, no fish –that’d kill me”. However, I have noticed that I’ve been pushing myself to try more and to punk out less. It seems the mere act of verbalizing my fears, concerns and eating triumphs is like a self-feeding cycle of karmic eating goodness.

Take last night for example. I had been to Marseille a few times before for a drink or to hang at Kemia, the downstairs bar. The food, a Southern French/Moroccan inspired menu, never tempted me: too much fish, nuts in the chicken and a lack of familiarity with the spicing/condiments possibilities equaled too complicated.

However whilst reading the Celiac Chicks blog last week, I saw they went to Marseille and a helpful woman named Kaylyn, bartender and chef, walked them through the menu, illuminating gluten-free items. I left a comment that we should all be so lucky to have a Kaylyn and next thing I know Kaylyn is inviting me come to Marseille and she would do the same for me.

So last night, Danielle and I checked it out. We met Kaylyn, who indeed pointed out the GF items as well as explained that the kitchen used nuts only as a garnish so it would be no prob to eliminate. We split the chickpea fritters and the mini lamb sausages, two items I would normally shy away from. However, they were truly delicious and I had no discernable allergic reaction to anything.

Placing my food allergies in a new spotlight has helped to push the boundaries of my eating options and extend the borders of my gastronomic comfort zone. My very excellent and uber-Mensch Career Coach Jonathan would love knowing that I'm extending my comfort zone. And frankly, I’m loving it, too!

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Babycakes NYC

I have a specific goal in mind with all of this coconut eating, aside from the health benefits that Aimee, my lovely acu, extols: I want to go to BabycakesNYC.

I think they opened about a year ago. I recall reading about them around the time I began this new way of eating--no dairy, gluten/wheat, sugar nor soy since September 2005. I know, radical. But now there is an added incentive. My dear friend Danielle made a new friend, Noel, whose roommate started Babycakes. Coincidence? I think not. Merely more incentive to try coconut oil and Agave as they use both in their sugar-free, gluten/wheat-free, vegan sweet things.

Wish me luck!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Dos Caminos For Lunch

There are a few restaurant empires in NYC. The union sq/gramercy tav group and the batali/bastinach group are of one type: seemingly sprung from a chef’s passion for creating great food and followed through with an organic expansion. The food is paramount, customer service a priority, the management is awake, and did I mention the food? The food is the key.

Then there’s more corporate approach: born from a real estate deal coupled with a high concept of dining. In corporate world, the food is decent enough but there doesn’t seem to be a distinct chef nor personality behind the machine. In truth, there’s not much to pull you back other than convenient location, really.

BRGuest is one of these groups. This is actually my least favorite group of the corporate variety. I had a very bad dinner and a prima donna chef experience at Fiamma when they opened and I never returned.

However, I have been to Dos Caminos many, many times. It was one of the few restos near my old job that I would take agents to consistently because I could eat the beans and rice [this when I was still a lacto-ovo vegetarian]. The food isn’t stellar. What they do have in their favor, despite that corporate smell about the joint, is that everyone from hostess to server to manager is consistently helpful and appropriately concerned about food allergies. Which puts them in the applaud column for me. I wouldn’t go out of my way to eat there but if I happen to be in the neighborhood seeing a client as I was today I would stop in and know that they would do a decent job of taking care of my allergies and food intolerances.

Sarabeth's For Breakfast

A somewhat precious, overpriced, over-hyped upper east side brunch spot staple, with outposts at the Whitney Museum (in the basement with great floor to street level windows), and on the upper west side, they do a very decent bfast and brunch, are attentive to food allergies and are especially good if someone is else is footing the bill.

I was there for a small belated birthday get-together this morning at 845am. On a weekday you can get a table and maybe spot a red-headed upper east resident having a meeting with her TV news producer about her comeback. But at 11am on a Saturday the line is annoyingly long and really not worth it.

I had their Papa Bear—porridge with cream, raisins, honey, strawberries and bananas. The porridge was high quality oatmeal made without dairy and when asked, she said they only have nuts in one salad for lunch and their lunch items hadn’t been brought into the kitchen yet so I was safe. Good to know. It was fine for 6 dollars plus. They are known for their bread products and their jams neither of which I can have at this point but bfast I can do, eggs, potatoes, oatmeal, all decent enough.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

September

Change. It’s in the air. A breeze blew in the window this morning and it smelled like school. New outfits, composition books, the perfect pen for notes, the last scramble to finish book reports from the summer reading lists.

Since I’m not in school anymore, thank god, I decided to take the opportunity to make a small change. I tried coconut.

It's not like I've never had coconut before. I grew up eating coconut -- I have many memories of my father taking hammer to shell and cutting out the best piece for me [such a daddy's girl]. However, somewhere along the way I got shy about eating it, or rather, I became afraid that I had grown allergic to it and thus, completely eliminated it from my diet.

A few months back, in a brave moment, I bought some Baker's Shredded Sweetened Coconut, in preparation for this type of experiment. And I had a pinchful back then and nothing, no reaction other than remembering how good coconut is in cakes, macaroons, pina colodas. Yum. But I haven't touched the bag since.

Which brings me back to today, and my acupuncture session wherein Aimee reminded me that I should really try coconut again. As I like to try a new thing a week, even if it's an old thing, I had a few pinches of the Baker's shredded coconut. And then I ate a few pinches more. And then I dipped a spoon in the bag.

Even though the Baker's coconut is covered with visible sugar and salt, [Aimee likes this kind of coconut], it was still pretty darn good. And no ill effects, although the sugar might get my stomach later.

So, I'm feeling like I've handed in one book report and received a check plus.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Zona Rosa

Had a working lunch yesterday with Michael, Director of Client and Studio Services at Bendel's and all around Mensch. There's an action shot of his hand reaching for a tortilla chip.



This is one of those restaurants where customer service isn't high on their list of priorities. The server wasn't overly concerned about making sure nothing in my lunch would kill me; basically, he could barely be bothered.

The food didn't kill me but was mediocre at best, a bit like Dos Caminos in style. At least at Dos they make the guac table-side and the servers are very nice at the 27th street locataion.

No reason to go back nor waste blogspace talking about Zona No-Go-A.