The In’s And Outs of Eating In or Out

Did you know that I like food?

Three tall wine glasses with a pour of red wine in each, yellow glowing candle in front of wine glasses casts a reflective glow off each glass. Photo by Imei.
Wine flight at a local Eastside restaurant on Christmas Eve. Wine is Imei-safe; apparently, the smoked olives were not, even though we asked a lot of questions.

I enjoy food enough that even when I tell myself that I’m just stepping out for a drink, no food, I’ll glance at the fancy-pants menu and carefully read the ingredients of the appetizers, hoping against hope for a tasty morsel. In this respect, my cat and I are the same: whether hungry or not, we’d prefer something to be in the food bowl at all times, especially if that something is BACON!

It’s taken me awhile to get to a place where I like food, since most food has been making me feel sick most of my life, but bit by bit, I’ve created unconventional strategies for eating delicious foods that don’t make me sick. It’s been a long learning curve, but I’ve dedicated this fun blog to helping others learn from my journey, mistakes, and successes so that they too can say that they like food again.

Two arms, palms up, showing from wrist to elbow, with pen marks indicating allergens tested, such as peanut, garlic, onion, and pistachio.
The “before” picture of my arms just moments after being scratched with allergens. Ten minutes later, arms were red as Rudolf’s nose in a snowstorm. Picture in allergist’s office taken with permission.

Recently, I had a RAST food allergy test run on about a dozen foods at my allergy clinic. As suspected, I’ll be following up this scratch test with an ELISA panel on some food groups to see where I land with a few foods that have been causing me digestive problems but don’t show up as food allergies. These are known as intolerances — that Grumpy Tummy feeling ( such as bloating, gas, cramping, nausea, diarrhea) that can last for hours or days. For now, the RAST test confirmed the ones I suspected: nuts (almonds, pistachios, pine nuts), and alliums (onions, garlic). The ELISA test should pick up the rest.

During my time there, I had a chance to talk with the allergist who was writing down my recommended plan of action: 1) Carry an Epi pen (for bee stings, during camping and bike rides and runs), 2) Run ELISA testing on list of foods and get the results back, and 3) Avoid all those foods if they show positive.

There was no plan or education on eating out, which is generally given to all new clients with food allergies. Why? Because after she saw that I have Celiac Disease and so many food allergies and intolerances, she quickly concluded what I knew long ago: there is no way for a restaurant to guarantee their food will not make me sick.

There is nothing like the frustration of trying to make socially-oriented New Year’s Eve plans when you have food allergies and intolerances. Many of the party packages have a built-in food and beverage package built into the ticket price. Buffets are simply too dangerous for me to partake, and plated meals out at a fancy hotel or high-end restaurant are still made in the same kitchen with the allergens I need to avoid. It ends up being a Food Allergy Roulette.

So what is a Sensible Celiac and Food Allergic and Intolerant person supposed to do? Let’s talk about the In’s and Out of Eating In and Eating Out, shall we?

And then, you’ll find out what we’re planning for New Year’s Eve and the weekend to help me socialize AND eat safely. Hopefully it’ll inspire you to do the same for yourself or a food allergic/sensitive/intolerant loved one.

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Happy Holidays and Whatever You Celebrate

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Dairy-free salted caramels made Celiac safe (and Imei safe!) in my kitchen. Photo by M.L. 2015.

I have some amazing things planned for 2016, especially for the MyAllergyAdvocate website and the resources I plan to give the food sensitive, food allergic, and autoimmune disease community, as well as anyone who wants to learn to eat healthy, go farther, and feel better.

So I’ll be taking a break from the blog here for about a week in order to plan, write content, and create some great things. I hope you’ll see that like the salted caramels I made in my kitchen today (pictured above), made vegan, corn free and soy free, and completely safe for people with Celiac Disease, this is a bookmark for next year.

Happy Eating and Happy Holiday (or whatever you celebrate)!

Your Allergy Advocate,

Imei (aka The Sensible Celiac)

P.S. These caramels are tasty, and even more so when you add essential oils. I’ll post the recipe as soon as I have codified all the differences in making candy without butter or cream, because it does change the consistency dramatically.

Ginger Carrot and Sweet Potato Soup

Soup Ginger Carrot Sweet Potato

Low profile white china bowl with a deep orange soup and small dollop of white goat yoghurt in the center, silver spoon on the side, centered on a brown fabric background.
Craving something sweet and satisfying, without the revenge moment caused by sugary treats? Look no further than this classic soup with a sharp twist.

With holiday cooking in full swing, I have watched my Social Media streams fill up with pictures of sugar cookies, gingerbread lattes, sweet cupcakes, and pies.

Um, no. The Sensible Celiac cannot have any of these if they contain the most common gluten-free flour substitutes and emulsifiers. Plus, the sugar by itself often makes my tummy hurt, or makes me feel “off” for a few days because my diet is very clean. I am an endurance athlete, and cheating isn’t an option (unless imminent death is the option I want. Which it isn’t!)

If you’re more like me, however, you are looking for ways to have just a little sweetness in your mouth without the backlash of highly refined sugar. Both of those seem to invite Grumpy Tummy to visit for a couple of days, which in my opinion is so not worth the sweetness.

So, what is a hungry Celiac and food-allergic eater supposed to do?

Oh, and did I mention how cold it is outside in December in Seattle? Brr! Sometimes when I”m running in the morning, I feel a little crazy. Only runners run when it’s close to 35F and raining outside. So how do I have something sweet to eat, dodge the gluten, skip the emulsifiers, and enjoy something warm and yummy after a cold and rainy run?

Only my new Ginger Carrot Sweet Potato soup will do! I guarantee it will help with your sweet tooth if you have one, and you will not feel deprived.  It is also satiating and super gentle on the tummy.

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Five Must-Have’s For Your Kitchen

The Five Must-Have’s For Your Kitchen

Hand holds one baking tray of food as it is slid into an oven. Three other large baking trays filled with vegetables take up two shelves of a small oven.
When batch cooking, use all the available space in your oven that you can. Dedicated pans make batch cooking a snap!

Batch cooking days at my house feel like a mini tornado swept through the kitchen and dropped giant containers of food once a week. As much work as it may seem from the outside, it’s my secret weapon in staying healthy and strong. Limiting my eating-out options has made my life better, not worse.

Like many people who find out they have Celiac Disease, two years ago I jumped on the Internet and tried to study up on what everyone else seemed to know about how to eat gluten free and allergen free.

So much of the literature and the food blogger universe shouted assurances of how easy this was going to be. Why, there were thousands of new gluten-free products waiting for me, like Udi’s bread, and Glutino’s Pretzels. I could have my ‘ GF sammich and my GF pretzels! Everything was going to be OK. Or so I thought.

But three months after going gluten free, I was still having tummy trouble, although the worst of the gluten effects were well behind me. Even in the first month of eradicating gluten from my diet, my health had started to improve. I just couldn’t understand why I continued to have a Grumpy Tummy. As the months marched on and I contended with Leaky Gut Syndrome, it became clearer that I had additional food intolerances and sensitivities to deal with, along with the understanding that many of the substitute flours used in commercial gluten-free foods were not my friends. Nor was the emulsifiers and excess sugars found in those foods.

“Just avoid all the grains, and don’t even eat the gluten-free processed foods,” my friend Amalia suggested. “Then see if you feel better.”

Realizing I had very little to lose by trying, I removed every processed gluten free food out of my diet. And I felt better. After a time, I tried a gluten-free treat with gluten free flour and xanthan gum in it. Nope. And again. Nope. And later, again. Nope.

I could repeat this same testing phase with just about everything you can imagine: gluten free oats, arrowroot flour, gluten free buckwheat, etc. Nope. I could write a song, and the lyrics would be, “No-oh-oh-oh, oh-oh-ohope”.

Over the course of year, I began eating out less and less, and cooking naturally gluten free foods from single ingredients more and more, until my diet was composed of about 98% of foods coming out of my own kitchen. And my health dramatically improved. People stopped asking if I had cancer because of weight loss. Color came back to my cheeks, because I wasn’t starving from small intestinal damage.

Looking back, I see that the challenge to shifting my mindset from relying on my own cooking versus buying pre-made gluten free processed foods was a matter of trusting that I could make tasty foods quickly in my own kitchen. I was a busy professional with an active life. Could I actually do this? After getting my kitchen cleaned, gluten food from my husband contained and controlled, and cross contamination eliminated, there was only one thing left to do.

It was time to collect the best food preparation appliances and tools in my kitchen.

Want to know what they are?

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Easy Bone Broth InstantPot Recipe

Easy Bone Broth InstantPot Recipe

White ceramic mug with one cup of bone broth inside, small Space Needle Christmas ornament near left hand corner of the mug
Bone Broth is easy to make, nutritious, and is often used to heal the gut. How stories of my great grandmother’s bone broth during wartime influenced this Celiac to cook bone broth today.

Some years ago, my mother told me a story from her early childhood in China. On December 8, 1949 the Chinese Nationalists departed to Taiwan and moved their capitol there as Mao Zedong’s army chased the Nationalists to the coast. Prior to that perilous journey by train to the port and by small boat to the island of Taiwan, my mother described traumatic scenes of war and starvation in the Second Japan-Sino war,  stories which in and of themselves speak loudly as to why she rarely spoke of them.

One of those stories is, of course, about food. My mother’s grandmother managed to purchase and cook simple food for her four grandchildren, including soup bones. My mother described how Grandmother would cook the bones in water for hours, carefully suck out all the marrow, extracting as many nutrients as possible, and feed all of it to the grandchildren. To this day, my mother remains firmly convinced that her Grandmother is in part responsible for keeping them physically alive; without that bone broth, they might have suffered and starved.

While I never met my great grandmother, her story of sacrifice and wisdom lives on with me. In my kitchen, there is a large pot of bone broth which I have slow cooked for over 24 hours. This simple process of making bone broth kept my mother alive, and there is no coincidence that bone broth is doing the same thing for me as a person with Celiac Disease.

I experienced damage to my small intestine over the years before the disease was diagnosed and learned to removed gluten and other food allergens from my diet. To heal my gut, however, I needed to learn to seek foods that were nutrient dense, digestible, free from my multiple food allergies and intolerances, and could actually heal the gut permeability that kept me in a vicious cycle of “Grumpy Tummy” — a complaining, cramping, prone to diarrhea, weak intestinal lining.

Last year after an accidental gluten exposure left me weak and unable to eat food for a few days, I sought bone broth as that “first food” to test whether or not my guts were ready for anything more than water and weak tea. My husband purchased several boxes of a name brand of broth and soup stock, and I greedily slurped down a cup, only to surprise myself with yet more diarrhea, cramping, nausea, and fatigue. Only one of them was a pure bone broth. Too weak to cook for myself,  I just stopped eating, and focused on hydration.

Looking back, the reason why my guts rejected those cartons of  bone broth  is because they had added alliums to the stock. I didn’t know that I was reactive to alliums. I have since learned that the best and safest bone broth you can eat to heal your guts is the one that you make at home. And it’s never been easier.

Here’s how.

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What I Wish I Knew Then

Before you can "eat all the things", there are some things you might want to think about. Read this post to find out what you might want to consider.
Before you can “eat all the things”, there are some things you might want to think about. Read this post to find out what you might want to consider. Photo by Imei Hsu Nov 2015.

Having just come from the doctor’s office, what I had already known but took over a year to confirm was formalized in an update on my medical chart. In the blink of an eye, in a single data field, my health status changed.

I left the office, relieved, yet overwhelmed and definitely unsatisfied. Now what? I didn’t have a clue.

Over a year’s worth of standard advice to follow the gluten free diet, my health had been trashed by a single accidental “gluten” incident in a restaurant: low blood pressure, loss of appetite, anemia, severe weight loss, nausea and vomiting, fatigue, weakness, poor sleep, and a horribly grumpy tummy.

On top of these symptoms, I experienced “brain fog”, that symptom I had only read about but never really understood. What was there to understand about something that makes you feel like you are unable to communicate clearly, put three sensible words together, remember simple processes or tasks, or even slur your speech?

I thought I was losing my mind.

It’s been over a year since that incident, and I’ve had time to think about what it is that I want to do with what I’ve experienced and learned from Celiac Disease and 300+ food allergies and intolerances. There is so much here, I have committed myself to getting it all down in a way I can share it for the biggest positive impact on those who are about to embark on the same journey.

Here’s seven things I wish I knew then.

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