Lessons Learned: Round 1

The past two weekends have not gone the way we thought or wanted them to. So we chalk them up to lessons learned-lessons I’ll share with you.

Memorial Day weekend, our engagement anniversary, we decided to get a couples massage and go out to dinner. We found a massage place through groupon in the Pittsford area near Rochester. The massage was great, it was afterward things went down hill.

I had taken a two year break from Indian food after a bad cashew curry reaction. To learn more about my tree nut allergy go to why I am tree-nut free. But we had another groupon for a Henrietta based Indian restaurant and I thought it was time I finally try again. We were extra cautious with our meal choice we also asked what oils they use to cook with and they reassured us no nut oils were used.

Still I had a few bites of rice, chicken, then I ate a green pepper and my lip started to blister and swell. I know I am not allergic to green peppers, I eat them almost every week. So I knew it was cross-contamination of cashew oil, possibly something was cooked in the same pan etc.

Lesson Learned: No Restaurant Indian food, especially for date night.

The date ended with my husband at Target getting me benadryl and ginger ale.  I will from now on learn to make curries etc. in my tree-nut free home kitchen.

Why I am Tree-nut Free: Part 2

So I left off Why I am tree-nut free: Part 1  with saying that my experiences with my tree-nut allergy are different as an adult then as child.  As I have traveled to other countries and discovered more foods and languages, I have come across new and different challenges.


During college I had the privilege of traveling out of the country several times. On my first trip out of the states (beyond a brief bit in Canada) I didn’t have too many problems with my allergies.  But my choir trip to Italy on the other hand was a whole different story. If you  know anything about Italian dessert and baked goods then you’ll know they enjoy their pistachios, hazelnuts, and walnuts.

Italy choir tour 08 267
lemon gelato on the Island of Capri


My first encounter was a gelato stand in Venice in which they did not use separate scoopers for each flavor. I got pistachio and hazelnut oil in my nut-free gleato. From then on if we wanted a frozen treat I was cautious to only go to vendors with separate scoopers for each flavor. Since tree-nuts are such a large portion of desserts there is no one easily translated generic name for them as in English. Each tree-but has a different unqiue name.  Although English was widely spoken in Italy some places we visited I was not able to clearly ask about the more traditional baked goods many of which were coated, rolled, covered, or filled with tree-nuts. One night after celebrating with a local Italian choir  I found what I thought was a safe chocolate wafer cookie. It didn’t take long for me to realize it was nutella rather than chocolate. My mouth broke out into welts/sores. Of course I had benadryl with me but it was still not a fun experience.

baked goods from Lucca Italy


Like Italy, on my semester-abroad I discovered tree-nuts were common in many foods in the Middle East. In fact we went often to a store-front around the corner from our flat in Cairo to get candied, salted, or chocolate covered nuts ( of course I got peanuts). But these types of store-fronts are found all over the Middle East alongside bulk spices and candies in bazaars or souks.


When we visited Syria we went to what is supposedly the oldest ice cream stand in old Damascus. Here you order ice cream then it is carried down an assembly line being las of all dipped in fresh chopped nuts. I wanted the ice cream but was unsure how to communicate I didn’t want the tree-nuts. I knew some arabic but was limited. I knew that generally “mish” was meant “without” so I tried to communicated “mish” while shaking my hands and head. The man laughed but some how got my gestures and I got nut-free ice cream.  At the same time I also laughed because I remembered that “mish-mish” actually means “apricot”. I am glad he was able to determine by context I wasn’t asking for apricots.

26932_1304714657948_1232940436_30952911_3694630_nimages-2 damascus14

For some people allergies go away with adulthood or start up like my allergy to Barley (for more see Why I am barley-free Part One ).  What I have found with my tree-nut allergy is that I can now detect how my body reacts differently to each type of tree-nut. In a very limited amount (such as heath bar/toffee, or oil) I can ingest almond or coconut with little to no reaction. But hazelnuts, as I mentioned earlier, will give me welts on the inside of my mount. Walnuts will make my stomach cramp and if I eat too many can give me hives. Whereas cashews are the one tree-nut my body is unwilling to digest-once it hits my stomach it forces itself right up again.


I found this out the hard way several times. Most recently was at an Indian restaurant when visiting Corning NY a year ago. We were looking for a place to live and decided to eat at a Indian restaurant in town, our meals were good but I took a sample of one of Luke’s dishes only to find out, not long after, it had cashews in it.


So what does that look like for me now? I am cautious, read labels, ask questions, and I am more than use to refusing delicious looking food. It doesn’t bother me usually as much as it bothers the one who made the food. As we approach the holidays I will probably have to turn down desserts, stuffing or other sides dishes, some salads, and possibly green beans if they are topped with almond slivers. My solution ,when I am not eating with family, is to volunteer to bring a dish I know normally would have tree-nuts in so I get to eat it.

Do you have any allergies, food restrictions, or strong food preferences?

How do you get around not eating what you can’t/don’t want to during the holidays?

How do you handle your allergies or food restrictions when traveling especially out of the country?

Good to know: 2013’s Gluten and Tree-nut free Candy Lists


Some of you have probably already bought (and eaten) bags of Halloween candy to give away or use for your harvest season festivities. But with Halloween approaching it is good to be aware of what candies are allergy-free and which could be harmful or deadly.


Growing up, this time of the year I knew what candies generally had tree-nuts in them and which did not (for more on this see Why I am tree-nut free). Plus when we came home we would sort out the candy and those I couldn’t eat were thrown  away.


Now as I think about bite-sized chocolatey snacks to both give-out to kids and to sneak a few for myself, I look at a new list of ingredients including: barley, malt extract/flavoring, or contains wheat (for more on this see Why I am barley-free Part One). It amazes me what candy items have flour or similar in them to give the candy the right texture. For example: a regular shaped reese’s peanut butter cup is safe but any fun-shaped butter cups are not. They are flour in them!


So whether you have children with gluten/nut allergies, you want to be a conscientious giver of treats, or have allergies yourself and are wanting to enjoy some sugary snacks. I hope you find this information helpful:


1. Here’s a blog-site called :The Nut-Free Mom Blog where she lists nut-free candy

2. Here’s another blog-site for gluten free halloween candy list from stockpilingmoms.com

3. Click on this link from Celiac Disease Foundation to see their 2013 Halloween Gluten-free candy list

4. Last of all a page from a PDF guide from safe-snack updated earlier this month with candy information that is free of tree-nuts, eggs, and peanuts.

a page from the snacksafely.com PDF on halloween candy

I hope this all helps you have a happy and safe candy-filled day.


Special Wedding Guests: how to care for kids, grandparents, and those with allergies.

We all want to ensure those who come to our wedding, especially close friends and family are well cared for and can enjoy the experience. I thought I’d share a few details from my wedding and some additional ideas to show you care for those special wedding guests.


I did not have many children at my wedding, and all of those who came were toddlers or older. But for those that came I chose to provide coloring books and crayons from the 99 cent store placing them in mason jars on their dinning tables. During the celebration, one boy came up to me and politely asked if he could keep his dinosaur themed coloring book. Another family with three children colored pages which they tore from their books and gave to Luke and I as gifts.


Other options: If you are anticipate a large number of children, consider hosting a children’s table which can have butcher paper or a paper table cloth that the children can draw on, paper place mats would work well too. This way the children can still participate and enjoy themselves while their parents get a chance to have a grown-up discussion.

coloring at my bridal shower


my grandmother’s
Luke's grandmother and friend
Luke’s grandmother and friend

Grandparents of the Bride and Groom are honored guests that should be considered in the wedding venue. And knowing the venue’s staff’s friendliness toward your guests and their needs is important. It was pouring down rain at my wedding rehearsal so one of my grandmothers , Luke’s grandmother and their friends decided to spend the rehearsal in the bridal room that the coordinator willingly offered to open.

My rainy wedding rehearsal and the golf-cart used to transport guests

My wedding was outdoors at a three level venue, bottom for ceremony, terrace for hors d’oeuvre, and top level for dinner with two paths: a set of stairs and a concrete walkway. Fortunately the venue offered golf-cart rides for guest who needed assistance on these paths for the rehearsal and wedding. In addition to this, we also had ushers who were available to help people down the path and/or across the grass to their seats both of which I know the grandparents appreciated.



Those with Allergies 

my cousin and her husband at the front of the serving line

I am more than sympathetic with those who suffer from food allergies, considering I have my good share of them.  My cousin,  grandmother, and my mother-in-law are all gluten-free. The dinner was BBQed chicken and or steak, salad, rice, and bread. Fortunately each piece of the meal was in its own container and dished up by servers using separate serving utensils for each dish.  So my grandmother and cousin were able to specify to the food servers not to put bread on their plates. Still the venue made it clear they could not set up a gluten-free zone in their kitchen. And my mother-in-law ,who for health reasons only eats organic and gluten free, was allowed to bring her own meal.


I was able to have my wedding cake because cake flour does not contain barley, but for those who were gluten-free I also chose to have a dessert bar. The venue offered vintage candy store glass jars for free use. All I needed to provide were the goodies, labels, and serving utensils.


Since this was a fall wedding in apple country, we had a container for carmel apple pops.We also chose one favorite old fashion candy of the Groom’s (Luke) root beer barrels and the bride’s (me) soft peppermints. Last of all we made gluten-free shortbread cookies and organic and gluten free peanut butter cookies. We bought small goody-bags and set up a sign instructing guests to fill up a bag to take home. So this was both a way to take care of those who weren’t fans or couldn’t eat cake and an edible favor! I had Stina (my soon to be sister-in-law) set up and monitor the candy bar making sure it stayed stocked.


It is in the these small ways I showed those guests who needed a little special attention that they are appreciated and welcomed.

Why I am Barley-free: Part One

Everyone has their own stories on how they discovered a health issue or allergy. To me it is like a puzzle; some issues are short and quickly resolved like children’s puzzles. But for most people discovering a health issue or allergy it is like an advance jigsaw requiring many doctor’s visits and patient time.


This was true for discovering my Barley-allergy.

My puzzle began summer 2007. I went on an intensive 7-week global internship in which I lived out of a backpack. Although I faced many bug bites while in Guatemala I didn’t deal with skin problems until I went to the Philippines.  Almost over-night my legs were covered in bug bites.  These bites were more painful and itchy then any mosquito bite I had encountered. It was near impossible to get enough band-aids to cover them all-and I had no long pants with me.  I tried to avoid scratching them but would find myself tearing at them in my sleep.

Coral beach in the Philippines
Coral beach in the Philippines

The bites kept me from focusing, made me easily frustrated, and irritated. It wasn’t long before my legs began to feel warm and swollen. By the time we arrived a week later in Hong Kong my left foot had swollen to an unusual size and both ankles had become stiff. Movement such as the vibration of an escalator would cause shooting pain up my legs. The places where the bug bites had been became red and inflamed. Those on the team with medical experience did what they could to provide me with advice, some basic pain meds., and hydrogen peroxide.

Hong Kong skyline
Hong Kong skyline

On the trip back to the states I struggled to not limp, my legs were warm, and circulation was bad. On top of this I was running a fever.  I called my mom when we landed in Chicago and calmly told her she needed to schedule a Doctors appointment ASAP. I got the rest of my luggage and was bandaged up again before heading to Las Vegas where my parent’s would picked me up.

After a drive back home we went to the doctors. I was unsure what they would do considering I had been in a foreign country with different medical issues than most American Doctors see. He said I had a staff infection which was secondary to the bites. I was put on a 3 day steroid and then on antibiotics. The swelling went away and the bites marks became scars which eventually faded.

I thought that was the end of my health issues but it in reality it was just the beginning. . . .

To be continued-sorry for the suspense but this is a three parter.

Anyone else have fun-bug encounters while traveling?