I haven’t posted a new blog entry since the summer. I have been dealing with some life-altering medical conditions: namely, food allergies. This is all very new to me. The only food allergy I thought I had was to shellfish, which is fairly easy to avoid being a landlubber with other options like pork, beef, fish, and poultry. As an omnivore and adventurous eater, I didn’t feel deprived when I thought I was allergic to shellfish! I never missed it.
And then everything changed…
Since 2010, I’ve had some “mystery” digestive ailment. After visiting all kinds of specialists, I was diagnosed with IBS, handed some pills, and told “Good luck! We don’t have a good treatment or cure. We don’t even know what causes it!” So, I plodded along, never knowing if what I ate was going to bring the debilitating abdominal pain and other horrendous side effects, and I was never quite able to pin down exactly what “triggered” the IBS. Then, last September, I woke up in the throes of full-blown anaphylaxis at 1:00am after my husband’s birthday dinner at a fabulous Pan-Asian restaurant. We spent the rest of the evening in the ER.
I immediately booked an appointment with an allergist. Upon listening to my medical history and asking me what I had consumed, he asked if I had been bitten by a tick in the past 2 years. I live in the woods; of course I have been bitten by ticks – several times! He said, “I bet you have the alpha-gal allergy! We’ll run comprehensive tests for all kinds of food, but the fact that you had a 6-hour delayed anaphylactic reaction makes me almost certain that’s your problem.”
And just like that, my life was turned upside down. This thing forever changed the way I eat:
All it takes is one bite from a Lone Star Tick, and you can be suddenly allergic to all mammalian meat and associated byproducts like dairy, gelatin, etc. This little bastard can cause you to develop an allergic reaction to a carbohydrate called galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose, abbreviated to alpha-gal.
This is the first known allergy to a sugar (or carbohydrate), and it’s also the first known allergy to produce a delayed allergic reaction. In my case, the anaphylaxis appears anywhere from 4-6 hours after consuming a mammalian food product: 3-4 for dairy and 6+ hours for actual meat. This allergy was only discovered a few years ago by a scientist at the University of Virginia, so at least I’m on the cutting edge of allergies.
And, boy, does this change the way I live. I am a Southern girl; I grew up on a farm! I’m accustomed to eating bacon, pork, beef, lamb, and lots of milk and butter and cheese. I can’t have any of those things ever again! I have to carry an epipen with me at all times, and dining out is now a challenge. You cannot imagine the strange looks I get when I tell people I’m deathly allergic to those things. I usually get a raised eyebrow and, “You mean you just don’t eat them, right? You’re a vegetarian.” No, that is not what I mean. I mean I could possibly die if I eat them, so please find out if this chicken/duck/seafood/vegetable dish I’m eating is made with any mammalian product at all: butter, milk, cream, pork/beef broth or stock, rabbit, squirrel, gelatin etc! Basically, I can only consume things with feathers, scales, or shells.
Which brings me back to that shellfish allergy I thought I had. The tests for a shellfish allergy were negative, so HOORAY! On the other hand, my allergist said I am likely one of the people who are extremely sensitive to the toxins in shellfish, which is why I became violently ill when eating it as a child. If it came from a dirty environment, I’m likely to get sick. Also, I have a hard time eating shellfish now, anyway, because of the extremely negative food memories I have associated with it…
So, this is why I haven’t posted much. I’m still trying to get a grip on this. I have to learn a bazillion ways to cook chicken and turkey. I have to learn how to cook without butter and dairy. I have to retrain my palate to actually like fucking soy milk (gag) and other dairy alternatives. I also to have watch out for hidden things and, apparently, be aware that new allergies could crop up at any moment! In the past few months, I’ve had anaphylaxis to the following:
- a vitamin for skin, hair, and nails (gelatin)
- trail mix (it had milk powder in it)
- Advil (new tests now confirm I’m allergic to NSAIDs and can only take Tylenol)
- the adhesive on the sticky pads that put on you to monitor your heart rate in the ER
- cats (also new – never been allergic to any animal until now)
- Beano (I now eat a lot of beans, and, well – Beano is an alpha-galactosidase enzyme)
They are starting to get tired of seeing my swollen face in the ER, but probably not as tired as I am of the whole not-breathing thing. And I’m so tired of eating chicken and turkey, y’all. I just know that I’m going to find an egg in my chair one of these days. I’m going to start growing feathers, clucking, and laying eggs.
It’s supposed to be 100° and then some this weekend. Summer just wants to let us know she’s here, kicking ass, and taking names. We’ve had absolutely stellar weather until the solstice: only a few hot days. Thus, I can’t complain too much. However, I need something to keep cool and get a coffee fix at the same time. Even iced coffee isn’t refreshing enough in that kind of heat!
I was thrilled to run across a recipe for a Vietnamese Coffee Sundae. Ice cream, coffee, peanut brittle – what’s not to like? As a bonus, I finally found something interesting to do with those Starbuck’s Via Instant Coffee packets someone gave me last December. They certainly aren’t drinkable as regular coffee!
* 1 cup(s) sugar
* 1 tablespoon(s) sugar
* 1/2 cup(s) water
* 1 cup(s) unsalted roasted peanuts
* 1/2 teaspoon(s) cinnamon
* 1 teaspoon(s) kosher salt
* 3/4 cup(s) sweetened condensed milk
* 2 tablespoon(s) instant coffee mixed with 1 1/2 teaspoons of hot water
* 1/2 cup(s) heavy cream
* 2 pint(s) vanilla ice cream (homemade is the best, but store-bought will work)
1.Lightly grease a baking sheet. In a small saucepan, combine 1 cup of the sugar with the water and bring to a boil. Cook over moderately high heat, undisturbed, until an amber caramel forms, about 12 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the roasted peanuts, cinnamon, and salt until the peanuts are evenly coated. Scrape the caramel mixture onto the prepared baking sheet and spread in an even layer. Let stand until the brittle is hardened, about 20 minutes.
2.Break off 4 medium-size pieces of peanut brittle. Place the remaining brittle in a resealable plastic bag and roll with a rolling pin to crush the brittle into small pieces.
3.In a medium bowl, whisk the sweetened condensed milk with the dissolved instant coffee. In another medium bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the heavy cream with the remaining 1 tablespoon of sugar at high speed until softly whipped.
4.Scoop the ice cream into 4 bowls and drizzle with the milky coffee. Sprinkle with the crushed peanut brittle and top with a generous dollop of whipped cream. Garnish with the reserved pieces of peanut brittle and serve at once.