Food Allergy Counseling

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

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Bruni on Allergies!

Bruni talks about dining with allergies! And I sent in a resposne. I'd love to see this issue get more coverage.

Here's my reply:
Thank you for shedding light on this issue! For those of us who dine out regularly with serious food allergies [and who blog about it] an Epi-Pen and Benadryl are par for the course as well as a very thorough discussion with the waitstaff and the kitchen. I had a wonderful allergy-free meal at Mas when they first opened. The Chef's reaction to my litany of allergies, "I love a challenge." He created an entire multi-course meal that I ate with impunity. That is the exception, more often my meal starts much like your friend’s, with at least three reassurances: “This dish doesn’t have anything that could kill me, right?” In the future, I hope more restaurants and culinary schools educate themselves about the seriousness of food allergies and the need for clear vertical communication. Ultimately though, the responsibility lies with the diner to communicate their needs. If they feel those needs aren’t being heard then, as Chef Franklin Becker at Brasserie told me, leave.

Star Wars/Organic Wars

This tickles me in all kinds of ways--watch it with sound.

Invasion Of The Nose Snatchers

Two recent trends have got my nose up in arms: dogs in the workplace and hotels with perfumed lobbies. It’s difficult enough contending with ragweed season outside but now an indoor invasion too?

First, animals. There’s a growing movement to bring one’s pets to the workplace. This is outrageous unless you work in a pet store or a Vet’s office. I’m completely allergic to animals [with an asthma sidecar] and this kind of movement would disallow me to work in those workplaces. What if I interviewed but lost the job because of this? What if it was my dream job? What if I was the perfect candidate? Hmmm, I wonder. Not that I’m overly litigious but could I sue a potential employer for discrimination if they couldn’t hire me because of their pet-friendly policies?

I understand people think their pets are their children and what they do in their home is their business. However, in communal spaces like work, where one WORKS, pets are the last thing that should be allowed. Ok, if a worker petitions for doggie day-care then that’s one thing, I can understand that; but the proponents say that pets help worker productivity. It wouldn’t help my productivity. There are many other tactics aside from living fur balls under one's desk that really increase output: respectful, collaborative team players who are paid what they’re worth; having an HR department that's actually helpful and knowledgeable; having four walls and a door to your office so you can take a mid-afternoon nap.

Do I need to start an anti-pet campaign for allergy sufferers out there? If so, then tack on this cause as well. Hotels creating scented lobbies. Sure, I want a hotel to smell clean and fresh, as if it were clean and fresh but a hotel lobby flooded with “scent” is like a nightmare. Who thought this up? I read about it in a hospitality magazine and then the NYT picked up on it. Outdoor pollution in many cities is difficult to manage for everyone, not just allergy sufferers, so why bring a different kind of pollution indoors?

I think this movement has a better chance of being squashed. Hotels are in the business of pleasing their customers and one too many complaints about the weird lobby smells to upper management and I think this concept will quietly go away. Whereas animals in the workplace? Sadly this idea will please many workers who loooove their pets and the minority, allergic girls like me, won’t have enough of a collective voice to stop it.

P.S. To Saturday's Post

First, I stand corrected, upstate NY doesn’t count as New England apparently. Fine.

Second, a small clarification on the “I can’t decide if I’m delighted or skeptical: I think I’m a bit of both” statement. I’m delighted because theoretically I can shop at my local grocer and find foods that I feel good about buying. However, I’m skeptical because the whole point of organic is buying food from small local farmers who farm in way that doesn’t destroy the soil or environment. How can I trust the MAN i.e. huge conglomerates like Kellogg’s or Swanson’s that they are producing true organic products?

Saturday, October 28, 2006

More Organic Bandwagon News

After some wild weather, I ventured out, slowly, on slick roads paved with yellow leaves. Autumn has come in with full gale force today. And now that’s it’s no longer treacherous out, it’s really splendid.

After last night’s post I was doubly determined to have veggies today and cut down on the chick-chick. So I went to the local store Key Food to get some apples for baked apples and some black beans for rice and beans.

Firstly, they had organic Gala apples. I snapped those up. Then, poking about the pancake and syrup aisle, I came upon Camp, the best Maple syrup around, back in the day. And now, yes you guessed it, they have an organic version. Hmmm.



Then, I had half a thought to make some quick chicken soup with the chicken. So ambling over to the soup aisle, what has Swanson done but made an organic chicken stock, in that box.

And finally we needed some eggs and Key Food has their own brand of organic eggs!

Intriguing. Here I am in generic New England town, in a Key Food, not a high end, gourmet grocery but a nice normal little grocery store and they are stocking organic. And the big companies are making organics to stock.

I can’t decide if I’m delighted or skeptical: I think I’m a bit of both.

Friday, October 27, 2006

How Quickly I Forgot

I know, I know, I just complained about too much meat. And I really did think I could keep it veggie for a few days straight, especially as my bday is coming up and I want to look extra fabulous for the celebrations. But here’s the thing: when one has food allergies and intolerances--and is away from home--what takes little prep and is easy? Meat. It’s also easier to order in restos. Yes, anything can come pistachio encrusted, but most places have a plain grilled chicken or steak on the menu and when in doubt, being a newly-minted-meat-eater has made eating out much, much easier.

I’m upstate. Again. Because of work, I’ve been traveling between NYC and what feels like another world away in upstate NY. I’m near Storm King Mountain, an amazing 400 acres that houses huge outdoor installations. Worth checking out if you haven’t been.

However, I’m here to work, not tour. And when I’m not working, I need to eat. So although it picturesque up here, the air is clean and brisk, the deer bold and unafraid and the trees in peak fall foliage, the question about what to eat is on my mind. Especially as I eat every three or so hours. Especially as I have food allergies and intolerances. Especially as I’m far from my natural route for food gathering i.e. whole foods, fairway, greenmarket or a nice dinner out somewhere new and chic.

Eating meat has made the eating-away-from-home-endeavor much easier. And I'm totally capable of cooking veggies in all kinds of ways. And there's a cool organic farm about 20 minutes away and farm stands all around up here: really nature's bounty, thy name is upstate NY. However, if you want a quick bite that's not fast food, Chinese or pizza in upstate NY you are out of luck; since I’m gluten, dairy, soy and sugar free, my luck exists even less in that one regard.

Without much thought but looking for something "fast", I stopped into the local Key Food and picked up the best basic I could find: a Bell & Evans chicken. I remember buying these chickens back when I first started making dinners for my family in my young teen years. I made great chicken soup, chicken fingers and pineapple chicken stir-fry [my own recipe] with those antibiotic-free chickens. They were the only ones available that we knew of and they made every chicken dish so much better; worlds above and beyond any Purdue.

But now at 10pm I’m kind of kicking myself a little for not getting more creative and going for easy and meaty. I’ve had chicken twice today and I’m already over it. Maybe tomorrow I will cook up a storm. But then again a big storm is headed this way, so it may be chicken and rice for bfast, snack, lunch and dinner if we lose power.

And then I’m back where I started. Chicken with a side of chicken. Yuck. Over meated.

PS: I had it in mind that this blog was going to be about how to buy good basics even when one is far from the known. Hmm I think I got sidetracked. I blame the chicken.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Leftovers Leftover

Don’t you hate it when someone reads your culinary mind? Take this article for example. I had just this very thought last night as I came home completely meat laden from another dinner, this time with the Florida Sales force, at Brasserie.

Danny, Cuban sales guy from Miami, was strong-armed into ordering the 32-ounce rib eye by the Big Boss. He ordered it “black and blue—Pittsburgh style”. I’m so out of the meat world loop, or rather had been for the last 17 years, that I had never heard of this expression. It sounded quite ugh but was in fact tastier than I imagined.

Danny loved his steak it but as he’s only visiting there was no place for the leftovers to go, except on my plate and to my home. He gently and lovingly, for this was an incredible steak, placed the center cut on my plate and said “Here, for your lunch tomorrow”. I already had half of my 12-ounce sirloin laying quite demurely on my plate waiting for Brasserie’s green-insulated doggie bag. As generous as Danny was I couldn’t help but think, “Oy! Meat with a side of meat. Now what am I going to do with it?”

My meat eating these last few months has been a world wind of goodness. I have definitely formed a little sirloin gut, which I’m certain the finest of men will find as adorable as I. But this state of fridge affairs doesn't help:I have buffalo meat spoiling in my freezer, caching all kinds of freezer burn as it’s been there longer than 3 months [my freezer only has a three month waiting period. After that all hope is lost and food must be tossed]; I have a 10-ounce sirloin from Omaha steaks, a small present to myself over the summer; I have about three portions of a brisket I made about two months ago also in the freezer; I have two lamb chops in my freezer, cryovac-ed from a great dinner two Sundays ago; AND I have TWO 6 to 8-ounce pieces of prime meet sitting in a doggie bag in my fridge.

What to do, this will all only last so long. Should I have a meat-ho-down Sunday night at my house? Should I squirrel it all away for January and have a meat-a-thon then? Food only lasts so long. And since I got food poisoning when I was 12 from reheated three-day-old pork fried rice and was in the hospital all night long wretching, I’m loathe to keep food very long in the fridge for fear of a repeat. I mean it is a luxury of meaty-riches, but a girl can only eat so much meat!

Bandwagon Alert

Kellogg’s was on last month’s alert for jumping on that increasingly lucrative Organic bandwagon.

This month I’ve stumbled upon another suspect. Shopping in a Stop and Shop in upstate NY, they have a decent organic/whole foods section, I stumbled upon a new product from Domino. Yes, they have leapt into the fray offering not merely organic sugar but Demerara as well. Fancy that.

Pix of the sugar:





And perhaps, if I were still using store-bought refined sugar, I might consider this as an option. However, over a year ago I completely eliminated refined processed sugars. Sugar was making my tummy very unhappy and with its deletion, my body is much happier.

However, the machine behind SUGAR is an insidious and wily adversary. Have you noticed how many organic and whole foods items are now made not with “sugar” but evaporated cane juice? What is sugar but cane juice processed to hell? How do they keep slipping it in there? Is the sugar lobby as large as the NRA?

Monday, October 23, 2006

Veselka

Last Friday night, Casey and I had a quick bite before the 8:30pm showing of Marie Antoinette on 12th street. I read the first para of the review, which was a nice rave and didn’t even finish. I didn’t want to spoil the fun. I needn’t have bothered saving it; I don't think the movie was up to the para I read. Casey hated it and was bored to tears. It prompted some haunting dreams for me that night but I don’t think it was an instant film classic. To top it off, we saw the preview for Mel’s next project and both thought, “Oh dear. Who is going to see this film?”

We went to Veselka for the pre-flick bite. You know Veselka--that corner Ukrainian joint that had cleaned up and expanded its sliver of an act 10 years ago? The new, expanded, space; the big, clean windows; the wall murals depicting life in the east village; and the large menu with Ukrainian specialties are all looking a bit tired now. I wish I could say the food is great despite it all but that’s not the case.

After their renovation in 1996, I was there very weekend, practically. Veselka’s buckwheat pancakes with raspberry sauce, sweet cheese perogies and the non-Jewish challah with butter and marmalade all made me very happy. By the early 00s, I had moved on brunch-wise; every time I went back, it was a bit more disappointing.

My final brunch was a few months back when my scrambled eggs arrived with some salmon bits in the latter half of the scramble. To some this might be an added bonus—free lox! To me, it was like potential death on a plate. I actually haven’t had scrambled eggs in any diner since--that cross contamination was too close for comfort.

Even though I’ve nixed brunch at Veselka, I've been back a few times recently out of necessity [like Friday night] for a quick vegetarian lentil soup without incident. As I can’t indulge in the majority of their menu these days and don’t really want to given my last experience there, I feel I must put the big V on the list of places to avoid for allergies or GF or lactose-intolerant folks.

Slow Down Girl

This is a lot of expansion and exposure for one girl and fast. Mazel tov, of course, to Rachel. But all this success, poo, poo, poo, and she doesn’t even do complimentary flavors?

Here’s a perfect example: I’m watching tonight’s 30 minute meals and she’s making sloppy deviled chicken with chipotle. And here's what rubs me: all three of her dishes have chipotle as the main spice/flavoring/kick. Chipotle chicken, chipotle cheese fondue and chipotle popcorn? Yuck.

She does this for every spice she highlights in these shows. Has no one told her that meals won’t turn out yummy if everything tastes the same? Someone needs to tell her that she can mix and match. Sigh.

I’m not quite in the “I really dislike RR” camp quite yet but c’mon, all chipotle?

Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Whole Whole Foods Question

I’ve been skimming Organic, Inc by Fromartz; he was inspired to investigate the organics movement in part by the whole Whole Foods Market ascendancy. Like Fromartz, I’ve been seduced, fully and happily, by the clean aisles, the piled high conventional and organic produce and the prettily packaged fair-trade parcels. And like many other New Yorkers, I’ve watched as Whole Foods gobbles up precious real estate faster than you can say Benetton. How did this happen? How did we get here? How did WF become the only grocery store where I want to shop?

My first visit to a WF was in Owings Mills, Maryland whilst visiting a college girlfriend and her soon-to-be husband back in 1995ish. I was a lacto-ovo vegetarian and the selection of fresh produce and cool, new veggie products floored me. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, any grocery store outside of NYC is a revelation of what shopping could and should be.

The next time I visited one was in 2004 in LA. I was shopping with my then boyfriend, on a Saturday night in WeHo. It was packed. I mean, packed like the hottest spot in town. Blissful couples languidly strolled the aisles, healthy-looking singletons checked each other out and Michael Rapaport tried to keep his two kids in check. I loved it and thought what a shame that it would never work in NYC. [I also thought Chelsea Piers would flop. Don’t ask me to pick your winning horse, I guess.]

Luckily, my hunch was totally wrong. The old Mays spot on 14th street, which hadn’t been able to keep a large tenant, had announced WF was coming to town. And since the she-devil has arrived I can’t stop going; I miss it when I’m somewhere else, like Jersey. That is until I found the gorgeous one in Edgewater across the street from the home of the corporate offices.

Ok, ok. Beautiful produce is one thing and WF really doesn’t have the market cornered on that; the produce prices are much better at Fairway. But here’s what it sells, and you all know it: food shopping as virtue. I actually feel like I’m doing something good by shopping at WF. No, I swear they didn’t pay me to write this. They’ve done the work for of collecting the best local stuff, fair-trade stuff, and wrapped it an accessible red bow of goodness. Their marketing works and I’ve totally bought it.

Which makes this article even more interesting. Actually the most interesting thing in it to me--aside from the fact that I JUST realized that I completely ripped off shopping as virtue comment, oopsy—is the response by Mackey, corp head guy, that he will do better to deal with more local farmers. What CEO says he will do better? I’m even more sucked in to the WF love.

I’m certain after the honeymoon glow fades I will see more of the Oz behind the curtain but for now, I’m kicking myself I didn’t buy stock in 1995.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Morning Bites

Brasserie--Went there for steak frites two nights ago with the fam. That steak, like buddah! And Chef kindly informed me kitchen is completely PEANUT-FREE! No oil anywhere. Great to know for those peanut-allergic out there. If only more restos would follow suit.

Sophisticated late-night dining options from the NYT and not a diner in sight.

Disney takes some responsibility and vows to curtail marketing/selling junky food to children.

Everyone’s a comedian.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Eisenberg's Sandwich Shop

Scummy little diners aren’t what they used to be. Take Eisenberg’s for example.

Situated in the heart of the Flatiron district, actually across the street from the Flatiron building, it now occupies prime real estate. Case in point, Andrew’s Coffee Shop, a larger diner cousin, and a classic, was driven out last year after a long run.

I hadn’t been to E’s since I left publishing last spring. As I was with an agent and had a grilled cheese, it must have been over a year ago--where coincidently I bumped into Heather, who was there with another editor. E’s has become a pub hang out for a quick lunch as it’s across from SMP. But if you’re not in the ‘hood or in publishing, there’s no reason to go in, especially for anyone whose diet has become intolerant to dairy, wheat, sugar, soy or incompetence.

Yesterday, when Michael suggested it, I was having one of those moments where I didn’t feel like making a deal out if it. I figured I could probably get breakfast, eggs and home fries, or a soup and all would be well. And one could argue that since Eisenberg’s has retained its Olde New York charm, read it’s still scummy, and is a charming piece of culinary history, one should support it.

Well, lunch was disaster, culinarily speaking. Everything was a sandwich, everything. Fried egg sandwich, tuna salad sandwich, cottage cheese sandwich. I would have had some meat and a side salad but none of the meat was ho-made. My egg idea went out the window as they only serve french fries, no home fries, after 11am, and in a joint like this, I wouldn’t trust the frying oil to grease my car. The vegetable soup and the chicken soup had pasta already mixed in, so no good for a wheat-free gal.

After some deep soul and menu searching, I opted for the pea soup. This was only after the waitress, poor thing, first told me it was creamy and had cream, only to double check and be told no cream, just pureed. I don’t know what they did to those poor peas but something terrible happened to them on the way to my table. The soup was an odd Kermit green, thin and oily and had an odd, almost metallic taste. Could they have possibly pureed canned peas and warmed them up?

Now I know there are those of you who will defend dear old Eisenberg’s to the death—it’s still cheap, kinda; it’s convenient, sorta; and it’s has lunchy type things—not really. And please don’t think I’m such a food snob that I think diners are beneath me. Far from it. I love diners precisely because you can get everything; if you go in twice, they already know you; usually it is home-made; and for a thousand other reasons.

I think my rant is about the destruction of the sort of places that John Belushi paid homage to when he yelled “chee-burger, chee-burger, chee-burger” [although Viand on Madison and 61st does them some justice]. My grade school was steps away from Neil’s, the best diner in the world as far as we were concerned—we all wanted a toasted blue with butter.

But it's also a rant about Eisenberg’s itself. The food was just bad, the place dirty and the menu limited and a shadow of what it could be. There’s no reason for it or to ever go back. So it’s going on the list of restos to avoid. The great NYC diners may be a dying breed [impossible rents, changing tastes] but that’s no reason to patronize one that's a shell of what it could be and what it should be.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Amuse Bouches

--GF Peanut Butter Cookies – now if I could just find a natural peanut butter that is made in a tree-nut facility I'd try it with unprocessed sugar.

--Possibly the worst food substitution list ever. Shame on you chef2chef, this list simply subs one problem for another.

--Can you say “je suis allergique?”

--Et encore

--More response about Spinach-Gate.

-New take on edible underwear

--NOT food related but a huge change for New Yorkers and further evidence that the middle class will soon be run out of town.

Dinner Detox

Even after a solid year of meat eating, after 17 years of not, I still consider myself a newly minted meat-eater. So, after Sunday night’s dinner of lamb with a side of steak I felt it was time for a tummy rest. I will stick to a nice veggie-ful diet for the next week—even though the leftover lamb chops are singing a chilly siren song in my freezer, ready to be defrosted and reheated, damn them!

So, last night I threw together a veggie plate for one. Actually, I unconsciously recreated what a friend of the family, the infamous Harriet, once made: the Jackie O plate.

Harriet claimed that She ate this every day for lunch: avocado, mozzarella slices, bean salad, fresh steamed beets and fresh steamed corn. Where Harriet received this particular information nugget no one thought to ask: it’s a yummy plate, so we didn’t really care.

But coincidentally, I was at Sarabeth’s a few years ago and Mama Sarabeth, that is Sarabeth’s actual mother, who was hostess-ing that morning, came over to our table told me that Jackie O used to come in often and that I very strongly resembled a young Jackie O. Ha. Very nice compliment indeed.

So really it’s all about Jackie O. And the veggie plate, without the mozzey this time. And it was delish.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Foodcandy.com

Freaky? Or fabulous? Who knows, it just started. I'm strapped in; let's start the ride...

Dinner With Friends

Last night I attended a lovely dinner party on the Upper East Side. The Chef and host carefully prepared a menu I could eat. Thank you again, Bill! It was a totally delicious and decadent spread.

The Menu:

There were some cheeses and rolls of meats laid out upon our arrival to keep up entertained as our Chef prepared the salad course. [I don’t know which since I didn’t get that close to the platter].

Once we sat, we all started with some Veuve Clicquot and a toast to our host.

The salad was a very delicate yet manly: watercress, Asian pear and pomegranate seeds in a basic vinaigrette dressing. I don’t usually eat vinaigrettes outside of the home because restos use the same bowls to mix e.g. if there is a salad with walnuts mixed before mine, it’s a potential problem. But this was fine. No nuts anywhere.

The entree was a platter of double lamb chops, marinated in paprika, salt, pepper, olive oil, garlic and fresh rosemary sprigs. The Chef seared them, and by seared I mean there were shooting flames from the indoor grill--spectacular--and then into a hot oven to finish. They were made to order; mine was perfectly medium well and tender. I couldn’t help but bring the double bone to my lips to get every lamb-y charred bit.

The sidekick entree was prime strip steak, marinated in olive oil, salt and pepper. One steak was medium, one was medium rare and both sliced against the grain. Such a flavorful cut of meat, I helped myself to a few slices and then to a few slices more.

There were some grilled skinny asparagus in garlic and olive oil—looking green and tender.

There was more vino rosso.

And then thankfully there was a mini-break, as dishes were cleared and washed and the chocolate was discovered to have gone on walkabout.

A guest, Kenny, kindly went to the store for replacement chocolate which was melted over a double boiler and left warming as fresh fruits [strawberries, mango, pineapple, pear, and banana] were dipped, scooped, scraped, dredged and otherwise coated by happy chocolate-finger-licking guests.

We finished with some prosecco that I brought—the only thing I bought at Trader Joe’s that day. [For $6.99 it was very decent—dry and light, not as complex as a champagne but refreshing--just what it should be.]

And I was treated to a brief belly dancing lesson from Stephanie, which if my belly weren’t full of meat, might have gone a bit more smoothly.

As you might suspect, dinner parties can be hazardous for an allergic person. As clearly as I spell out what I can or cannot have, sometimes a cook just thinks oh, a little won’t hurt. Or doesn’t realize that not washing one’s hands after touching an allergen can make all the difference. Or a thousand of other little things like the host serves something store bought, throws away the container, says it’s pesto without nuts and actually it’s filled with walnuts [hasn’t happened to me but it could, easily].

Educating one friends and lovers about one’s allergies is a long process but an important one. Sometimes friends can be well meaning but not as careful; in those instances you simply eat before you go. Many times friends are very careful and considerate once given the parameters of what one can and cannot eat. But mostly it’s up to you, to speak up and to be wary. And bring Benedryl and your Epi-Pens.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Mulling It Over

With fall weather comes some seriously yummy foods. And now that I’m eating meat again, I cannot wait to tuck in and enjoy. There is a braised beef at Craft that had my name on it three years ago. That might be my first stop when it’s time to hunker down.

But given that these final lovely days of Indian summer have been of the 70 degree variety, I’m not quite ready to indulge in those heavy, braised meats and wine-y stews, not yet. However, I am ready for some hot mulled cider.

The other day, I was flipping through the channels and stumbled upon a great idea. Well, ok, you caught me--I turned on the TV expressly to catch the two "30 Minute Meals with Rachel Ray" shows that are on back to back at 6pm.

I don’t always love her concoctions as many times that’s just what her recipes are: odd mish-moshes. But her show oftentimes serves as a reminder to make something yummy like hamburgers with a side salad of orange, fennel and radicchio or in this case brew up some hot mulled cider. Rachel’s was spiked and topped with whipped cream—no booze or dairy for Allergic Girl.

I realized I had bought some cider at the greenmarket on Saturday. I had whole cloves from Kalustyan’s in the spice cupboard [one of the best places to get a small amount of any herb or spice you could dream of. But beware, lots of nuts sold there. ] I had cinnamon. And I had a fresh novel orange to zest. I had all the makings of some yummy fall goodness right in my kitchen. Love when that happens.

Then there’s that warming apple cider cinnamon smell, like pumpkin pie: sweet, wholesome and luscious all at once. So good. I'm glad I'm not allergic to apples!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

It's Official: No Nut-Free Love From TJs

From:
Date: Wed, 11 Oct 2006 20:43:32
Subject: Feedback About Your Local Trader Joe's Form
Email Address: allergicgirl@gmail.com
State:
RegionEmail: ne2001@traderjoes.com

Comments: I have tree nut allergies [as well as soy, dairy and wheat sensitivities]. And every single thing I picked up to put into my basket in the NYC store said, "Made in a facility that also processes tree nuts." That even included a vanilla bean from Madagascar! There was not one thing I could buy with impunity.

TJs has a gluten-free program--How about a NUT-FREE section or program on your website?

Best,
Allergic Girl


-----------------------------------------------------------------
Hello:

Thanks for taking the time to drop us a line. At this time, we are not able to provide a list of this nature regarding "nut-free" products. We understand the need that you've expressed and your request is being forwarded on for consideration. We'll see what we can do in the future.

Regards,

Kerry
Trader Joe's Customer Relations

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Trader Nos

Oh, I tried, I really did. I wanted to LOVE Trader Joe's but here's the thing--every single thing I picked up to put into my basket said, "Made in a facility that also processes tree nuts." That even included a vanilla bean from Madagascar!

There was not one thing I could buy with impunity. And I wanted to. Really. The prices were so great, $2.99 for organic strawberries which were $4.99 at Whole Foods.

Is it because they work directly with producers and don't manufacture products themselves so they can't say exactly how a product was handled or produced and need to cover their bases by placing the "made in a nutty facility" label? Maybe. But a disclaimer on every product?

I'd love to hear from them about this. I know they have a gluten-free program, why no nut-free section?

Welcome Affiliates!

You may notice two clickable banners on the right.

One is for the Gluten Free Mall which sells the Enjoy Life Foods cookies that I love and that won't kill me.

And the other is for Annie's Homegrown, makers of Mac-n-Cheese in those cute Bunnie boxes you always see on the shelves; they make a yummy gluten-free [but not dairy-free] version as well.

So, please, click away toward buying some of your fave Gluten-Free products or discover some things to try. Go ahead, you know you want to.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The New Gramercy Park Hotel

Sunday, before Tom’s BBQ, Casey and I stopped in to check out the Schrager redo of the Gramercy Park Hotel. The last time I was there was for Eric’s 30th birthday, two years back, and the whole thing was a bit on the Miss Havisham side. And not on purpose.

However, the new lobby of the new Gramercy Hotel washes away—no, erases--the sad memories of the Gramercy Hotel’s lobby’s past. And it certainly helped that Isabella Rossellini was in the lobby whilst we were. Whether she staying at the hotel or meeting friends for drinks we couldn’t tell, but she looked stunning.

The Jade bar to the right is tiny and was packed. I was hoping for a fresh ginger drink, along the lines of something I had at Double Seven, when it opened. The drink they made there was freshly pressed ginger juice, lemon juice, a honey simple syrup and fizzy water. Really delish.

As there were some fresh ginger slices on the bar, I got all excited.

“What do you guys do with fresh ginger?”

The bartender replied dully, “Ask the other guy. I have no idea.”

So much for a nice fresh ginger drink.

As there were no seats available and clearly no clue among the staff, they did *just* open, we sauntered into the empty lobby where a fire was flickering, hot-looking hotel staff were milling and the red plush banquettes were still firm enough not to sink and totally ruin your back.

All in all it felt like the calm before the trendy storm. Give it another month, it will be so packed in there, our intimate moment shared with Ms. Blue Velvet will be a dim, quiet memory.

Monday, October 09, 2006

City grill

Where to go with out-of-town guests before a party at Tavern on the Green for a new energy drink? Add in to the mix that there’s one in your party who has food allergies, me, and doesn’t eat fish or want to go somewhere fishy because of cross contamination. Add to that everyone more or less is on a budget but especially the out-of-town guests as this is their last night in town. And finally, add-in that the out-of-town guests are Italian, so Italian food seems redundant. Quite a challenge.

I sent a few thoughts to the group, including Café Luxembourg, still decent after all these years but expensive. Then I floated the idea of City Grill. I had been once, years before, had some kind of grilled veggie sammy with fresh mozzey that was perfectly respectable; the group choose that one.

I arrived first. The room was exactly as I remembered but seeing it live I remember why I hadn’t returned since the 90s. The name City Grill is as generic as the décor, the menu, the service and as I would rediscover, the food. This is a restaurant that you could relocate to a suburb in Boston or Virginia, anywhere on the eastern seaboard really, and it would do just fine. Two televisions at either end of the bar show channel 28 [ESPN], there are two-er booths at the bar and larger ones in the main dinning room--dark wood, maroon pleather banquettes. There are tables in the enclosed sidewalk portion, and the noise level was high. The clientele? Mostly out-of-towners, or those that look like them, and neighborhoodies but everyone seemed happy and chatty.

I was determined to score a decent table for our group of five. The maitre d’ was actually quite nice, it probably didn’t hurt that I was all dressed up to go to a party. I requested a booth and he sat me, alone, as I waited for four guests.

Upon the complete group’s arrival, we perused the large diner-like menu: buffalo wings to cobb salad; penne vodka to meatloaf. We asked the waiter what the house specialty was, he replied, “What do you mean?” Not good.

Our orders were thus: two penne vodkas for the Italians because they don’t have that at home, one meatloaf for French Isabelle, lobster rav for Casey and for me, well, it got a little bit tricky. I decided on a lemon-grilled chicken; however, they marinate all their chicken in soybean oil and wouldn't make me a fresh piece just plain. Hmm, another not good sign. [Soy is better than peanut oil but not the best option; I’m not allergic to soy, it just upsets my stomach.]

I went for it and I paid for that decision. First, the food was just average, not even neighborhood old-reliable average, but really sub-average. Second, my chicken was marinated in garlic that tasted old and I kept on tasting it all night long, ‘urping garlic at this party no less. Not cute. Thirdly, Saturday I was saddled with an upset stomach from the soybean oil. My dinner companions were too polite to say anything during dinner but I could see it in their faces, their food was really not good either.

I'm permanently scratching City Grill off any list for multiple reasons. However, I suspect it will remain a neighborhood favorite if citysearch’s reviews are consistently that good.

Lettuce Recall Out West

Here are the vitals: "It covers green leaf lettuce under the Foxy brand that was purchased in grocery stores Oct. 3-6 in Arizona, California, Nevada, Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana. It was also sold to distributors in those states who may have sold it to restaurants or institutions."

Friday, October 06, 2006

What's Newer Pussycat

The NYT has picked up Allerca's Hypo-kitty story. I thought the quote below says it all, a typical potential client’s emotional response and Allerca’s perfect target buyer.

“Mr. Cullen and his girlfriend, Cheryl Burley, have fought a losing two-year battle to engineer a tolerable co-existence with Cimbi, because Ms. Burley, a devoted cat lover, has had cat allergies since childhood…The couple never put down carpets. They installed HEPA filters and vacuumed incessantly. But Ms. Burley’s symptoms worsened in recent months and that fragile equilibrium fell apart two weeks ago when the couple took in a second cat, Marley. Ms. Burley could not work, could not breathe and had a seizure. They took Marley to an animal shelter. ‘Our whole life has gone downhill,’ Ms. Burley said. ‘I missed four days of work. I’m back on inhalers, eyedrops and creams. This hypoallergenic cat would be a perfect solution for me. I’m determined to have a kitty'."

Never having had a kitty or a furry pet, and being so allergic and asthmatic, I REALLY don’t understand why there are so many people willing to be so sick for a pet? I mean person+ kitty = seizure? To me that does not mean buy new kitty! But she says it; she is determined to have a cat.

We had a family acquaintance, who was a regular on Santa Barbara, who had allergies and asthma and had multiple cats and was sick all day long! And if I recall correctly, she took shots and was still sick!

This would be my nightmare. Actually it was just two nights ago: I was at a friend’s house in Mexico; he had a caged animal in every room for luck, and wouldn’t even put them away. My asthma had flared up, I couldn’t breathe and there were no hotels where he lived. I woke up gasping for air and pissed at my friend.

Cranberry Beans Solved

Maybe not quite solved but certainly tried and enjoyed.

I blanched the beans, which transformed them from marbled pearls to bruised ovals.

When I tasted them at the halfway mark [about 20 mins total in salted boiling water] they had a very lima essence about them which inspired me to stray from the suggestion on this link, and keep it even homier with organic butter, sea salt and pepper.

They were totally delicious: simple, fresh and good, as in I felt like I was eating good food. I would definitely make them again, maybe as part of a fresh veggie soup. They seem like they would stand up to some long cooking times.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Chinatown My Chinatown

Like many New Yorkers, I have a long-standing, intimate relationship with Chinese food.

As a child, my family ate Chinese food regularly. I grew up near a HSF, which was known for its excellent Chinese-American cuisine. I remember a lot of egg rolls, spare ribs, lemon chicken, egg drop and wonton soups with those deep fried crispy strips—standard Chinese-American fare.

My father loved the foods of a traditional Chinese New Year. A few times, during Chinese New Year we went to a different Chinese restaurant on Madison avenue to celebrate and enjoy Peking duck. Oh yummy yum yum, what I wouldn’t do for that classic combo now.

My mother organized Chinese food theme birthday parties. One was in the party room of HSF with Chinese food, decorations and a clown. A few years later, in fourth grade, she organized a party at the original Silver Palace in Chinatown, since shuttered. We had the most outrageous dim sum with a table full of greasy plates, girls and giggles. It was the first time any of us had heard of intestine soup or fried chicken feet: we passed, thank you very much.

In high school, my dad and our neighbor Rob Roth discovered the most delectable pork product: cha-shu. It’s slices of tender roasted pork, drenched in a dark brown, soy/sugar sauce. Really, it's candied pork and perfect for a teenager’s palate.

I recall eating Shrimp in Lobster sauce, where the lobster was decidedly absent, over ten ingredient fried rice; or deep fried lemon chicken; or chicken and broccoli or any numbers of other eatables that didn’t make me allergic.

Then in my teen years, and for about 15 years, I stopped going to Chinese food restaurants altogether. I had become a vegetarian, I had stopped eating shrimp thinking it might make me allergic as I have some other isolated seafood allergies, the possibility of cross contamination seemed higher in a wok especially as a few times I found a claw in my Country style Tofu and really, anything that touched chicken and cashew could kill me.

And then, a few years ago, I began a tentative return to the Land of the Wok; only, really, to Ollie’s because it’s one of the easier, affordable options close to Lincoln Center. (I haven’t been to Chinatown to eat a meal in maybe 20 years.) I figured how badly could steamed veggies in a self-cntained bamboo steamer be mixed up with something allergic? To date, I have never found a nut or a claw in my steamed mixed veggie platter.

So here’s my question. As a child I ate Chinese food without fear: shrimp, deep-fried anything, egg custards with lard in the crusts [oh boy, oh boy] and didn’t have reaction that I can recall, nothing hospital worthy anyway. [There are a whole range of allergic response between itchy throat and something that is hospital worthy--so just because I don’t remember doesn’t mean that they didn’t happen].

Was it that my parents ordered well and didn’t get anything they thought would make me sick? Perhaps 30 years ago Chinese food was prepared differently than now? Certainly, cross contamination was always a possibility--but who really thought of those issues in 1978? And here’s the even bigger question: am I allergic to less than I think I am? And/or did my allergies change?

Fast forward to last night. I was heading to the opening night of the South Asian International Film Festival to see Hope and a Little Sugar. A big shout out each to the three guys who made the long wait, for a movie premiere that never premiered, go alot quicker: Nicoye Banks, one of the actors from the film, The Manager and Photographer Phil, who took our pix on the red carpet.

Before the red carpet, I stopped in at the Ollie’s on the Upper West Side and had my usual [my new usual]: sautéed bok choy with fresh garlic and ginger, dumpling sauce on the side and rice.

The sautéing is what make this dish potentially dicey for me—that cross contamination factor is high. Also, the dumpling sauce is all soy, sugar and wheat! Three things I don’t eat but have every once in a while hoping that a tablespoon will not make too much of an issue. And overall, luckily, I've had no issues with the sauce or the sauté. Yay!

So I’m left wondering if these visits to Ollie’s are a beginning, a slow trickle of the return of Chinese food in my life--like ten ingredient fried rice? I think the answer has to be no. There are TOO many cross contamination possibility points and I'm too aware of them. Hmm is this a Schrodinger's cat issue here? Additionally, there is too much wheat flour, sugar and nut useage.

However, the question of how I could eat shrimp then and why I don’t eat it now [kind of like the coconut issue] is one I will need to investigate further.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Beans On The Bone

Buying fresh beans in the pod instead of beans in the can is a bit like buying a whole chicken, neck and gizzards included. Whilst I know exactly what to do with canned beans or dried beans [or for that matter, chicken breast filets], beans on the bone are a different matter.

For the last two weeks, I’ve seen Cranberry beans, also known as Borlotti beans, hanging out at my local green market. They’re overflowing in plastic milk crates; sometimes next to green pods that frankly don’t look nearly as inviting or as mysterious. I think these beans have a subtle siren call because of that amazing pod.

The cranberry pod is long and naturally decorated in a white and red swirl pattern, like Florentine marbled paper.


It looks at once festive and foreboding. Crack open the husky pod and a white bean with a red swirl is revealed, waiting to be magically transformed into something delicious.

And that is my task as I finally heeded the call of the cranberry and brought some home.

Typing in fresh cranberry beans in my trusty google this link came up. That is what I will try first, keeping it simple. Stay tuned.

Break On Through

Eater, one of my favorite go-to sites, mentioned me today and a review I did last week of Candle Cafe. I'm totally thrilled. So, welcome all you Eater fans--and thanks Eater guys!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Scuffle Over At Celiac Chicks

There’s a very interesting dialogue going on over at Celiac Chicks about Marseille.

In short—The Chicks went to Marseille to dine. Kaylyn, a Celiac bartender guided them through the menu, helping them order gluten-free and they loved it! The Chicks wrote an encouraging post; subsequently a few other celiac dinners went and had horrible experiences. Incidentally, due to that very post, I also went to the resto, met with Kaylyn, ate well and safely. So I was extra interested to read that that hadn't been the case with many others.

One responder in particular said he had worked in many resto in NYC and gave some general rules which, if true, are horrifying.

Here is his post:

First off, it's a shame these comments are buried under an old story. I hope readers are taking note and not getting their hopes up.

Sadly, I agree with Dr. Annie. I worked my way through college in all sorts of delis, greasy spoons, and rated joints in Manhattan. While my experience is New York-centric, the some of the lessons I learned are universal.

Here's some things to remember about any restaurant:
1. The staff usually, if not always, hates the customer.
2. When you make a special request, no matter how politely you ask, you identify yourself as a problem. This allows the staff to focus their general hatred of customers onto you, "Mr/Mrs Special Needs".
3. If you send something back, you're going to have the same thing returned to you with some crude modification done to it as to meet your requirements in the shortest amount of time. Just like the salad entry from above... they will remove the croutons, curse you, and send the salad back. The urban myth of spitting on returned food (or worse) really does happen, but usually the fastest thing to do is re-arrange your food and send it right back.
4. Running a kitchen is all about "point-of-sale" and "food cost percent" (Read Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential, its a bible for current and former food slaves). The fact that you get sick and won't come back is better for them than altering their menu, replacing already cooked food with new food, or wasting time in a busy kitchen dealing with our issue. Profit margins are slim enough without time and food being "wasted" dealing with a special needs customer.
6. Waiters do not want to be educated about our condition. The time you spend explaining that your cilia is harmed by even the slightest amount of gluten found in barley, wheat, oats, soy sauce, etc, takes away time from their smoke break. They will nod, smile, listen intently, and not give a damn about whatever it is you’re talking about. They are trying desperately to remember what table four asked about, and how the chef wanted them to describe the specials. They want you to sit down, order, shut up and leave a nice tip. That's it...and if you don't come back, good, one less "problem customer".

Go out with your friends, enjoy yourself, but never trust a waiter or a chef. Use your restaurant time to scout new food ideas. If I see something on a friend's plate that looks interesting, try to make it yourself at home with ingredients you trust. One of the blessings of being diagnosed a Celiac is that you're forced to become your own chef.

Thanks again for the great blog, even as a celiacguy I find it informative and entertaining :)


And here is my response:

I feel compelled to respond to JG comments above.

As an allergic diner, who has both fatal allergies and intolerances and who eats out at least 5 nights week, I think JG must have worked in the worst joints in town. And in that respect, yes that is true--don't trust your waiter and order as simply as possible, almost as if you were in a foreign country.

But really the more upscale you go that should never be the case. Case in point, I interviewed Chef Franklin Becker from Brasserie and asked him that very question. Excuse the plug; here's that exchange and I think it’s VERY helpful to hear it from a Chef’s mouth.

Q: "How do you feel about special needs diners?"

A: 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.

Q: "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?"

A: 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.

Yum Yom

Last night was the final night of the ten-day celebration of the Jewish New Year. My mother and I hosted a select group of friends who feel like family. And really, what better way to celebrate than with the people you have *chosen* to be part of your extended family? I can’t think of anything more joyous. It was a wonderful evening, filled with laughter and very filled tummies.

The traditional Ashkenazi Yom Kippur breakfast menu is diary and breakfast-y even though it’s held at sundown: orange juice, bagels, cream cheese, lox, egg salad and tuna salad. Our break fast was catered by the very exclusive Fresh Direct. We added some fill-ins for the vegetarians from Fairway, mainly Israeli salads from Sabra.

[Sadly I discovered Sabra, my favorite hummus company, also makes hummus with pine nuts mixed-in. An email to them last March proved very unsatisfactory.

"ZDiaz@sabra.com--HI, SOME OF THE RAW MATERIAL THAT WE USE CAN CONTAIN TRASES OF NUTS". [SIC]

I don’t know about pine nuts—I had them at least once that I can recall: in an artichoke-in-pesto dish about 25 years ago and I had no reaction. Pine nuts are one of those foods that I avoid because basically I just don’t know if I'm allergic to it.

Here's an interetsing breakdown of nuts, seeds and drupes and which is what. I think I may need to make a study of that list, because as it stands now, no more excellent Sabra foods for me. However, there was an unopened container left after dinner was cleared; I decided to take it home and try it again. We shall see.]

These days, with the dairy-wheat-sugar-soy-free lifestyle of mine, a Yom Kippur breakfast includes all the delicious things I cannot eat. My break fast consisted of egg salad with rice crackers and some fruit for dessert; no babka [although it usually has nuts anyway so I’ve never had one], no teacakes, no macaroons even, too much sugar. Don't cry for me as I really don’t long for a bagel with cream cheese, but the memory of breaking the fast at my Omah’s in Brooklyn, with fresh juice and bagels and lox is the one to which I hold fast and compare all against. So despite a lack of the usual suspects on my break fast plate, the warmth of our intimate gathering more than made up for any sesame with a schmear.