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Allergies Giveth (Seldomly), and Allergies Taketh Away. Mostly They Just Taketh Away.

Over the past couple of months I’ve been doing another dietary test where I eliminate all potential allergens from what I eat and then slowly reintroduce them to see if I can pinpoint problematic foods. I decided to go through this again in September after feeling miserable for several weeks.

After nearly a month of relatively clean eating, however, I was still experiencing the itchy rashes that I’d hoped would go away after eating only meat and vegetables (I avoided fruit for a time too to cut my sugar intake as much as possible. Sugar can exacerbate allergy symptoms.).

Then, two things happened:

1) I forgot to buy celery one week at the farmer’s market.

2) I tried unpasteurized cider. Because fresh-pressed cider is just too tempting in the fall. At an orchard. On a hot day.

Here’s how the celery factors in. I’ve been making green smoothies almost every morning, using a variety of ingredients, but the core ones are kale, cucumber, parsley and celery, with some source of natural sweetness mixed in (up until recently, just local honey). I even started adding hemp protein powder to make a more substantial snack.

But then I accidentally left a bunch of celery behind at the market one day. I forged ahead that week and simply omitted celery from my smoothies. The following Saturday, I picked up a bunch of celery at the market and added it back in the next morning.

Boom. Skin reaction.

I didn’t want it to be true though. Certain friends and family members of mine will probably disown me after learning of this new allergy (read on to find out why). I hadn’t meant to test celery — maybe it was something else that spurred the reaction? I decided to do a more scientific trial. I studiously paid more attention to everything I was eating and especially¬† whether the items contained celery. Today I reintroduced a food with celery in it. Itchiness set in within minutes. Crap.

Come to find out, almost everything has celery in it. And it comes in many forms — whole celery, celery juice, celery seed and celery salt. Also? Fennel and anise are related to celery. Turns out whatever doesn’t have celery in it probably has fennel or anise instead.

That’s not really true, but fennel and anise are very useful herbs/ingredients and I’d hate to have to omit them too.

But back to plain ol’ celery. Nearly all stocks have celery in them. Okay, I can face having to make my own. Actually, I was pleased to find at least one brand doesn’t have celery in its aseptic container of chicken stock. I found that out this evening while purging my cabinets of everything else that has celery in it. The local food pantry’s about to receive a lot of chicken and veggie broth/stock.

Many natural sausages and bacon (gulp) are treated with celery juice instead of sodium nitrite as a preservative. Actually, sodium nitrite is naturally occurring in celery juice, which is why they add it in. Luckily, the local farm from whence most of my meat comes doesn’t use celery juice. Okay, bacon supply is still in tact.

Here’s where I’ll take the biggest hit though. Guess what popular seasoning blend (especially here on the Shore) has celery (salt) as its main ingredient?

Old Bay.

I put Old Bay on everything. Crabs (duh), any seafood really, potatoes, tuna salad (wait, that’s more seafood), I even used to put it on eggs before I realized I was allergic to eggs. Anyhow, the list goes on. I fear I may not be able to get steamed crabs at a restaurant again. I’ll have to steam them myself.

One friend pointed out that many restaurants make their own seasoning blends for crabs and there’s a chance they don’t all use celery salt. Fingers crossed, but I’m bracing myself for the worst in the meantime. I do plan to contrive a recipe for my own version of Old Bay without celery salt.

So that’s the bad news. The worst news, actually, that I’ve had in this whole allergy discovery process.

But let’s not end this post on a bad note. Remember that cider? That unpasteurized goodness I tried at a local orchard? Well, all that amounts to is mushed up fresh apples, right?

Right. And up until now, for the past 20 years, I haven’t been able to eat fresh apples, or pears, or peaches, or plums, or… you get the idea. Turns out there’s a protein in fresh tree-borne fruit that many people, especially those with tree allergies, are allergic to. The only consolation was that the protein cooks off.

But I really wanted to try that cider! So I had a few sips. And then the best thing happened.

Absolutely nothing happened! My lips didn’t go numb. My gums didn’t start to ache. The back of my throat didn’t itch.

I had bought several apples with which to cook (I could eat those tree-borne fruits once they were cooked, after all). I took a bite out of one. Nothing but pure bliss happened.

You can’t imagine how good a fresh apple tastes after not being able to eat one for 20 years.

Since then, I’ve been eating about 3 apples a day to make up for lost time. The cider goes into my smoothies.

It’s almost consolation for losing Old Bay (at least for the time being). After all, if my fresh fruit allergy could go away, maybe I’ll be able to enjoy Old Bay again.

Let’s hope.

Fall Garden Update (and, Here We Go Again)

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Part of today’s harvest.

A little late to the party, I finally planted some carrot, kale and lettuce seeds today. What took so long? I had to clear out the dead and dying summer plants first and amend the soil in the beds. Between recent hot weather, travel and laziness, today’s 70-degree weather was my first opportunity to garden in a while. I did get some peas planted a few weeks ago and those are coming along.

So how did my summer garden grow? Wild. I had pumpkins everywhere, and there are still some long-neck canning pumpkins on the vine in my compost pile, waiting to be picked. I got one usable baby pie pumpkin — pests got the other two that had ripened. Phooey.

My tomatoes are still producing, so I haven’t cut those down yet. I finally pulled up the cucumber plants, but found a few cucumbers buried among the detritus that are hopefully still edible. I accidentally grew a cantaloupe plant (also a compost volunteer), but the solitary fruit it bore fell victim to pests in recent days. I was able to harvest some coriander (cilantro) seeds, which I’ll probably save for planting next year, rather than consuming.

Lessons learned for next year?

  • Put in more beds
  • Give the squash plants even more room than I did this year
  • Plant more of everything
  • Plant strawberries and melons (on purpose)

I still have a fair bit to do in the garden before wrapping things up for the cold season. I need to clean out around the beds and better prep them for next year. The landscape fabric alone didn’t do enough to keep the weeds down. I’m going to pull that up, remove the weeds and dig out still more hostas in the sunny corner of my garden. Next year, the area will get at least a good mulching, if not another covering of fabric before the mulch goes down.

I’ve turned one large bed along my garage into a new compost pile that I want to separate into three caged areas for more efficient composting. I’m also composting a bed outside my kitchen (no food scraps though, since it’s so close to the house) that gets a lot of shade and has only grown weeds. I’m hoping to try lettuce, possibly in containers, there next year.

I also need to clean up the fruit bushes I planted. The blackberry plants became very leggy and I didn’t do a very good job of training them onto the supports I set up. I need to tend to them and the only raspberry plant that pulled through. Not sure if I’ll try more of those next year.

Here We Go Again

Some of you may remember that last summer I went on an allergen-free diet for a month before slowly re-introducing foods to discover what food allergies I have (eggs and a wheat intolerance revealed themselves). Well, I need to do it again. I’m having a reaction to something and it’s been a miserable couple of weeks recently. The suspects are dairy and processed sugar, the latter of which has only slipped into my diet on occasion. I’ve also been eating grains other than wheat, so those may be a culprit as well.

So Monday’s the day I go back to eating only meat, veggies and a little bit of fruit. No dairy, alcohol, legumes or grains for a whole month. Honey will be my only sweetener. I plan on making lots of homemade, oven-baked sweet potato fries to help me pull through.

I’ve been treating myself in the meantime. I splurged at the gluten-free bakery today and feasted on Chipotle’s chips and guac last night. Not sure what my beverage of choice will be tonight, but last night’s was red wine.

I’ve already started stocking up on things to tide me over for the next month. I found myself eating way more protein than I normally would last time I did this. I bought a ton of chicken and ground bison today. I found beef sticks from Cedar Run Farm at the farmer’s market today and they have no preservatives or chemicals in them. Score! Perfect for snacking. I bought a bunch of kale and green beans, frying peppers and acorn squash to cook this week too. Bananas (not from the farmer’s market, of course), figs and raspberries will be my fruit splurges.

Wish me luck! Deciding to pursue this diet is often harder than the diet itself. I know I’ll feel so much better a month from now. And I’ll be done before the holidays hit. Hopefully by then, I’ll have figured out whatever it is that’s causing problems so I can avoid it. Fingers crossed it’s not alcohol or cheese!

Elimination Round

Scrambled eggs with arugula and Old Bay.

This blog’s going to be taking a bit of a different tack over the next few weeks. I’ve been advised to try an elimination diet to rule out any food allergies that may be causing me problems. I am already aware of several allergies that I have to some tree nuts and fruits. I’m going to start out this diet eating only meat, veggies and a little fruit (no grains, no caffeine, no alcohol). I’ll have to stick to it for a few weeks before I can gradually start adding things back in.

Earlier this weekend, I lived it up, eating pizza, drinking beer and sangria. I gradually weaned myself off of my daily green tea and so far, so good. I haven’t had a headache yet today. I did allow myself two glasses of decaf iced tea.

Herbed grilled chicken.

Breakfast was three scrambled eggs with arugula and chives and a sprinkling of Old Bay (above). Lunch was an Italian tuna salad salad from Piazza Italian Market. I picked up some raw pumpkin seeds and roasted them for an afternoon snack. Dinner was herbed grilled chicken and grilled veggies. I nursed a lemonade throughout the day (yep, I’m counting that as fruit).

Herbed grilled veggies.

All told, it was pretty easy to follow the diet today. I’m concerned about sticking with it at work. I cooked enough chicken and veggies to take some with me for lunch tomorrow. I hard-boiled eggs for breakfast, which I’ll have with some strawberries on the side. I picked up some green grapes and carrots to snack on, along with the pumpkin seeds. Here’s hoping I can resist the temptation of all the processed foods at the downstairs cafe of my building.

Garden Update

My squash plants are gigantic and there’s already several buds on both. The zucchini plants are doing much better. Three of my tomato plants are thriving. The fourth is the runt of the litter, but I hope it will still do well. I scored a pumpkin plant from friends over the weekend, though I’m not sure it’s going to make it. The large leaves wilted on the drive home. I planted it and watered it right away, but only the baby leaves appear to be surviving. Fingers crossed. It would be so cool to grow pumpkins. I planted it in front of my tomato planter, dislodging several spring bulbs in the process. Ah well…

The Haul: Sweet and Sour Edition

I didn’t make it to the markets this weekend because I was visiting friends, but they happened to have a sour cherry tree that was ripe for picking in their backyard. I scored enough cherries to make a pie or crisp at a later date. It was a lot of fun picking the cherries with their fam (pitting them, a little less so). We probably picked enough cherries for 10 pies and the tree was still laden.