Saturday, August 6, 2016

The Perks of Living With Food Allergies

It's been pointed out to me on multiple occasions that I do an awful lot of complaining about things, and it's true.  I complain about everything.  I spend so much time being overly critical with the world around me that I forget to be thankful for all that I have, and I do have a lot to be thankful for.  Food allergies are no exception.  Yes, they are a constant struggle, and there is definitely no shortage of food allergy woes to complain about.  Sometimes it feels as if the whole world is against you, and you are standing there alone in food allergy prison while everyone else enjoys their meal with no worries and no extra effort.  Despite all of the things that make food allergies a huge pain in the ass, there are a few things about food allergies that are actually good.  So, in an effort to be more positive for a change, here are six of the best perks that have come with my life of food allergies.   

It really is better:

Food allergies are time consuming, inconvenient, and expensive as hell, but you are getting a pretty sweet deal as far as your diet goes.  Since being on this diet, I have eliminated almost all processed foods.  That means a diet that is considerably lower in calories, fat, sodium, sugar, and a multitude of other harmful toxins and chemicals.  It's also a diet that will significantly lower my risk of ever getting heart disease, cancer, diabetes, or from gaining excessive weight.  Additionally, homemade food just tastes better.  Even many of my recipes that end up being a disaster taste better than comparable foods off the shelves.  After three years, I no longer crave things like candy, soda, or fast food.  If it isn't made fresh and loaded with vegetables, I'm not interested in eating it.  Even if I had the option to go back to eating the way I had before, I don't know that I would (at least I wouldn't for most of the time).  I like the healthier lifestyle.  It's something I can believe in and depend on for the long term, and there's no such thing as too much long-term security.  

You gain a new appreciation for other diets and cultures:

Pre-food allergies, if you had told me to go vegan or paleo, I would have laughed in your face and told you to go to hell because there is no way I'm giving up cheese, ice cream, and bacon.  Now, I'm going to be that person who suggests the new vegan place down the street, and I'm not taking no for an answer because a giant pile of vegetables sounds pretty good right about now, and no other restaurant in town is going to have a vegetable dish that compares.  Many of my favorite foods in our new diet are vegan and paleo.  If I wasn't contending with so many allergy and financial restrictions, I'd eat that way all the time.

I've also gained an appreciation for food from around the world.   It seems that almost everything in the United States is either made with or cross contaminated with gluten, dairy, nuts, or some other allergen, not to mention corn. Our love affair with meals in a box has really created a difficult terrain for food allergy people to navigate.  Trying out meals from around the world has been a wonderful experience, and I've thoroughly enjoyed it.  It has actually been one of my favorite parts of this whole food allergy adventure.  I've learned so much about other cultures and have gained an admiration for the effort that they put into making their food as opposed to just pouring it out of a box.  Many countries outside of the U.S. also limit the amount of dairy and gluten in their food, which makes it really easy to fix for our food allergy needs as I don't have to modify the recipe nearly as much.  The country of Yemen (random I know) actually makes some of the most amazing food I've ever tried (Here's the link if you don't believe me).  I also love food from the Middle East in general, as well as Asian dishes (particularly stir fries), Ethiopian cuisine, and a few things from South America that I discovered (Tamarind Chicken anyone?).  Many of these foods are things I never would have even considered trying had it not been for food allergies, and now that I have, I'm glad I did.

You acquire new, beneficial habits in other areas of your life:

What started as a quest to find allergy friendly foods has turned into a whole new lifestyle that I never would have even considered had it not been for food allergies.  One thing that has come up continually as I research food and allergy alternatives is the impact that our food, and humans in general, have on the environment.  Pre-food allergies, I hadn't given this much thought.  I recycled when the option was available and ate organic when I could afford it, but I really had no vested interest in reducing my carbon footprint.  I also hated exercise, didn't care much for thrift stores, thought gardening was a waste of time, and killed every plant left in my care.

It wasn't an immediate thing, but over time, I've made so many changes in my life that I can be proud of.  I am happy to admit that I have become one of those obnoxious, hybrid driving, tree loving, hippies who brings her own bags to the grocery store, recycles almost everything, and advocates for the humane treatment of animals.  I still don't have much of a green thumb (my poor artichoke plant has suffered several near deaths before it finally gave out), but I've gotten a lot of satisfaction out of helping my mom with the garden this year.  I now love thrift stores and can't remember the last time I bought something new at the mall. Why buy new when you can buy used for a fraction of the cost and help the environment too?  I get so much satisfaction out of telling people I paid $7 for my pair of designer jeans at a thrift store. It's even better when the person asking about it is someone who wouldn't be caught dead wearing used clothing (the look on their face really is priceless).  I also love my hybrid.  I got it just by happenstance when it showed up on the dealership lot for a really good price, but I wouldn't trade back for anything.  It makes me so happy to know that I'm helping to reduce oil consumption and contributing to cleaner air in the Salt Lake Valley (something we desperately need).  I've even put in a very minimal effort to exercise more.  Let's just say we can add it to my future life and health goals.

You find really creative ways to eat the foods that you CAN have:

Pre-food allergies, I really didn't much care for beans or nuts.  Sure I liked the occasional bowl of chili or peanut butter sandwich, but I didn't eat those things on a regular basis.  Anyone who has ever been on the WIC program will tell you how tiring it gets eating beans, and how they just pile up in your pantry because they aren't anyone's favorite food.  When you suddenly find yourself unable to eat any grains, beans and nuts become the alternatives.  Although in my case, it was mostly beans because nuts can get expensive.  I went from wondering what the crap I was going to do with all the beans WIC was giving me to buying several pounds of them at a time in bulk.  If I had space in my kitchen for a 25 pound bag of beans, I might just consider buying one for each kind of bean and lentil that we use.  Veggie burgers, soups, socca, tacos, baked goods, and dips are just a few of the things I use beans or bean flour in on a regular basis.  We also eat them on baked sweet potatoes with salsa and guacamole.  I've used them to make pizza sauce, and my favorite brand of pasta mixes beans and quinoa together to make a surprisingly tasty noodle that goes good with just about anything.  I eat beans for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and I never grow tired of them because the ways in which to prepare them are endless.  Over the years I've also discovered that I can make pretty descent cheese out of nuts, ketchup out of beets, cream cheese out of coconut butter, and pudding out of avocados (Thank you pinterest).  I've even used plantain chips as a breading for chicken (It's even better than KFC).  While many of these foods will never quite replace the originals, I have found that most of them are actually quite satisfying, and that regardless of what your food restrictions are, you will always be able to make something interesting out of what you do have while everyone else is eating the same old stuff because they've never been forced to think outside of the box.

There are fun activities just for people with food allergies:

Ok, so anyone can participate in the activities, but they were created with food allergies in mind.  Here in Salt Lake, the local food allergy awareness group does an annual food free trick-or-treat and Easter egg hunt.  They also do several fun fundraisers to help raise awareness and provide outreach programs to the food allergy community.  Additionally, there are many online groups that you can join to get support and make friends with people who are going through similar struggles.  Many of these people know more than I do about allergies and have been immensely helpful in providing information, recipe ideas, or just someone to vent to when the going gets rough.  It's also reassuring to know that you aren't the only one who is facing this challenge, and that there are other people out there advocating for safe, sustainable food practices that will benefit everyone, not just those with allergies.

You find out who your friends are:

Food allergies are notorious for tearing families and friendships apart.  Unfortunately, you will always have that one person shoving your allergy in your face, telling you that it's all in your head, and that a little bit won't hurt you.  They are completely ignorant of the fact that just a little bit could make you very sick or even kill you.  However, I would like to think that the opposite is also true.  While many people will turn away and refuse to even entertain the idea of food allergies, there are also a great many people who will go out of their way to help you out.  Even if they fail miserably, the fact that they were at least willing to put in the effort to accommodate your needs is worth gold.  And while some people may cease to be a part of your life, you will create new relationships with people who truly care and will be there for you through the good times, and more importantly, the hard times too.  These are the people you need to have in your life.  Nothing says, "I love you" quite like someone who is willing to take on the inconvenience of walking through the food allergy fire with you, even when they don't have to.  I never would have survived food allergies had it not been for those people.  My life is truly better for it.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Lazy John: A New Twist on an Old Favorite

Ever since being on this diet, one of the things I miss most is being able to eat Southern food.  I know that it's incredibly unhealthy, and I'm doing myself a favor by not eating all of that fat and grease, but there's a little piece of the South in me that just refuses to be silenced by food allergies.  I can't really blame it either because Southerners make incredibly amazing food. I have yet to find a restaurant in Utah that makes descent Southern food, and even if I did, I would have to have a mommy's night out because all menu items would be off limits to my food allergy toddler.  One of my favorite Southern foods (and thankfully one that isn't food allergy banned) is collard greens, and not just any collard greens; Southern collard greens.  Try as I might,  I can't make them like Q's BBQ or the dining hall at the University of Richmond, but this recipe is my attempt to do it anyway.  I also found out that my daughter loves collard greens.  Yup, you read that right.  My three year old LOVES collard greens, so this recipe was an instant hit at our house.

My original idea for this recipe was to wrap the Hoppin' John in the collard greens like a blanket.  The very nature of collard greens made that awkward and impossible, however, so I just made them up separate and threw them in my existing recipe for Hoppin' John just to see what would happen.  And it came out even better!  I'm seriously never going back. I have been converted to Lazy John for life!

Lazy John:

For the Collard Greens


1-2 bunches collard greens
1 ham hock (optional)
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar
Broth or Water to cover (3-4 cups)

Stove Top Directions:

  1. Add water and ham hock (if using) to a large pot.  Heat until boiling.  Reduce heat, cover, and let simmer for an hour.  If not using the ham hock, start on step 2.
  2. Wash the collard greens and chop into bite-sized pieces.
  3. Add the collard greens and all remaining ingredients to the pot.  Add enough water or broth to cover.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat, cover, and let simmer for an hour or until they are tender.
  4. Drain the greens and set aside.
Crock Pot Directions:

I usually prefer this method since I can throw it in the crock pot in the morning and have it ready when I get home from work at night.  Simply just toss all the ingredients into the crock pot and cook 4-6 hours on high or 6-8 hours on low.  Drain the greens and set aside.

For the Hoppin' John

3 slices bacon
1 clove garlic
1 green pepper
1/2 cup onion
1 Tablespoon pickled jalapeño (or fresh)
3 cups black eyed peas (2 cans)
1 cup black beans (1 can)
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/2- 1 teaspoon salt or to taste*
1 1/2 teaspoons maple syrup
1 cup mushrooms sliced
salt and pepper to taste 
  1. In a large frying pan, cook the bacon until it is crispy.  Remove from the pan and set aside.
  2. Add the garlic, onion, pepper, jalapeño, oregano, thyme, salt, and maple syrup to the pan and sauté until tender.  I just use the bacon grease to sauté the veggies.  It really enhances the flavor of the whole dish.  However, if you are looking for a leaner option, you can just use a little olive oil. 
  3. Add the collard greens and mushrooms and continue sauteing until the mushrooms are soft stirring continually so as not to burn the greens.
  4. Add the beans and bacon and heat through.
*If you use canned beans, you may want to reduce the salt.