Monthly Archives: May 2014

The Game-Changer

When we were kids, and we would play games like Go Fish, Ghost in the Graveyard, or Hide-and-Seek, it was of utmost importance that everyone know the rules, and that everyone shared the same interpretation of those rules.  If someone disagreed, generally we referred to “house rules” or “neighborhood rules,” or in the worst-case scenario, we’d run to the nearest mom to complain that “Johnny won’t play by the rules” and have her set the poor little guy straight.

Well, when it comes to allergies and foods, it feels a bit like playing one of those games in some other kid’s neighborhood where you don’t know the rules.  Or, more aptly, like you move to a different neighborhood every so often, but you don’t realize you’ve moved until you try to play by the wrong set of rules.

One day, you are able to eat a snack that has been a favorite all your life.  The next day, you have an allergic reaction and learn that you have developed a food allergy to an ingredient in the snack.  Or, you have an established food allergy and discover unexpectedly that you’ve developed another.  Or your trusted “safe” food goes through an unexpected change in recipe, or the company decided to produce another snack on the same production line and subsequently contaminated your snack with an allergen…  There are a lot of “or”‘s.

This is how food allergies feel, especially when first diagnosing and learning to avoid the allergen.  It’s also how Oral Allergy Syndrome can feel.  Oral Allergy Syndrome (OAS) occurs in individuals who have seasonal or environmental allergies.  When the trees, grasses and flowers bloom, some individuals develop unfortunate reactions (localized tingling and swelling in the mouth, tongue and throat) to fresh fruits and vegetables.  In the past, for me, these always occurred on my lips – a big ‘ole hive, like a collagen shot to my lower left lip – when I ate things like melons, plums or fresh apples in the summertime.  These can be concerning and difficult to discern when food allergies are also a part of the picture.

This year is supposed to be a terrible year for allergies, based on the headlines I’ve seen lately.  When most people see blooming flowers and sunshine, they think of fresh produce, warm summer days, kids playing outside.  For some people, though, along with vacations and summer fun, the blooming world also means that the rules of what to eat may be changing with OAS.

With food allergies in general, and OAS, and other medical conditions that restrict our diets, it can feel like the rules regarding food are always changing.  But we adapt and we adjust to the rules as we have to, whether it’s for survival or to get along with the other kids in the neighborhood, and we do our best to have a good time even if we’d prefer the rules from our own neighborhood to those in Johnny’s neighborhood.

 

Spring in Bloom

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Ugly Ravioli

I’ve talked about “starting the conversation.”  I recently experienced family joining in the conversation without even being asked, with a real sense of grace.

My aunt and uncle invited A (my boyfriend) and I for a meal.  After several times going back and forth about what to cook, and what I could eat, they took the awkward and uncomfortable right out of the conversation and invited us to make a meal with them.

(When I am invited to eat at someone’s house, I often will invite them to mine instead.  It’s easier to host when you have life-threatening food restrictions, to avoid the questioning and ingredient-label-reading. Making a meal together though – this was a new idea for me!).

Together we set out to cook a safe meal. I would be able to see all the ingredients and collaborate in the meal, reducing my anxiety (and some of theirs, too) and creating something safe and delicious.

We made ugly ravioli.

 

Beautiful on the inside!

Beautiful on the inside!

As it turns out, Aunt H and Uncle J love cooking and finding fresh, healthy meals to make from scratch.  They have since taught me that making cheese is easy and that cornbread is delicious.  On that night, they taught us that making ravioli can be safe, yummy and also unintentionally comical.

“Welcome, come on in, you guys!” Aunt H greeted us at the door.

“Thank you so much for having us,” I answered as we all exchanged hugs.

Before we knew it, Aunt H was at the stove stirring a fresh batch of tomato sauce and telling me about the fresh ingredients while Uncle J, A and myself took turns holding the sheets of fresh pasta we were handing off through the pasta roller.  We used more and more hands as we counted and the pasta grew longer and longer.  We learned that it is very easy to lose count when you are chatting while rolling pasta out 25 times, and our conversation was interspersed with “15 – is it 15?” – “yes, wait – no that’s 16 times”.

Uncle J pulled out some snacks, handing each can and bag over to me to read over the ingredients before diving in.  I happily shared which snacks I needed to check, and which foods were generally ok, relaxing as I settled into the care they were putting into my meal.

And we decided to add spinach, farmer’s cheese, and feta to our ravioli.  I had a moment of panic when I realized we were using frozen spinach.

“Aunt H – um – do you mind if I – do you still have the spinach package?…  Could I check the ingredients?” I asked, the dreaded awkward questioning coming up.  “Frozen vegetables sometimes have ‘spices’…”

“Oh, sure, honey!  It’s right here.  I think it’s ok, but go ahead and look.”

I took the package, relieved that she was not offended – in fact, it felt like the opposite, she wanted me to feel comfortable and stated she would prefer I check the labels if it would make me feel better.  It was such a gift to be treated not with defensiveness but with welcome!

We rolled out the pasta until it looked to be the right thickness, having lost count somewhere along the way.  We placed down the long strips of pasta on the clean kitchen counter to begin stuffing, piecing together and cutting out our ravioli.  As we brushed the pasta with egg, it dawned on us that perhaps we should have done something else as well…

“Oh, no!” we laughed as the pasta came apart, gently tugging at the edges.  Without flour underneath the pasta strips, the ravioli had become glued to the counter.  We chiseled the ravioli, firmly adhered to the counter, piecing together the unsealed, misshapen edges as best we could.

A and I decided to get creative, wrapping loose ends of pasta around the ugliest ones to hold them together.  Aunt H and Uncle J knew better, and laughed at our naïveté as we convinced them to boil the ugly ones anyway.

They came apart in the water, bits of unstrung pasta floating to the surface.

“You’re eating this one, A!” I laughed as the biggest ball of ravioli (if you could call it that) bounced in the boiling water, bits of spinach drifting out of the ravioli and into the water.

“Mmm, looks deeelicious,” he replied with a cheeky grin.

“I promise, Aunt H, we will eat the ugly ones!” I claimed as she ladled them out.

“You’d better!” she answered, laughing.

She and Uncle J arranged them on a plate, and they were beautiful to our stomachs if not to our eyes.  We hashed out the ravioli process, figuring out where we had gone wrong and how to do it better next time.  Not only did we have a delicious meal, we had a fun experience cooking together and found a new way to share the conversation – without my food restrictions being a burden on the meal!

Ugly Ravioli dinner

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Filed under Cooking, Social issues