What’s in YOUR Keurig?

The Reclining Gentleman tagged me with this quiz, although his post-title was “Fancy a Brew?” so I thought it was going to be about beer. I was relieved to find out it wasn’t, since I can’t drink beer (gluten allergy), but then dismayed to find out it was really about coffee, which I don’t drink either (because yuck). Fortunately, TRG has his own anti-coffee stance (a hilarious read!), and changed all of the questions to be about tea. Which I love. I’ve left all of his tea-altered questions and inserted my own answers:

1) How many cups of coffee tea per day? Always one. Sometimes two. Always green!

2) What is your favorite caffeine delivery system? If caffeine is the goal, it’s Diet Dr. Pepper. Then Diet Coke. (Green tea is for the health-benefits. And to drink something warm.)

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A few of my favo-flaves….

3) What was your best cup of  coffee  tea?  Maybe it was the one I was drinking at the end of the Writers’ Digest Conference in New York, last January. It was probably my current, standard, Honey-Lemon-Ginseng blend, but I can’t remember. I was dog-tired, brain-fried, my nerves were shot. I’d brought my favorite brown and white travel mug and had made tea in it from the hotel room’s coffee maker each morning. But this was the last day, and the previous afternoon I’d managed to successfully pitch my query to seven out of eight agents, so I was in a cautiously-optimistic happy-place that morning.

4) What was your worst cup of coffee tea? There is one kind on the shelf in my pantry: Double Green Matcha Tea, by Tea Republic. It’s too bitter. Not a fan. But my worst tea experience was when I was very little, maybe three or four, at a nice luncheon with my mom, and I accidentally plopped my elbow down into someone’s freshly-poured cup of tea. That didn’t tickle, though I do remember being somewhat fascinated by the resulting HUGE blister on my arm. (Where had all of that filler-liquid come from?) We had to leave the luncheon. (Sorry, Mom.)

5) What does your favorite mug say? Nothing. It’s just a blank, pea-green, boring-as-rocks, plain-ol’ mug. On-clearance from Kmart’s Martha Stewart collection, back in the… late ’90s? …early ’00s? Got about eight of them; only two still left.

6) How do you take your coffee tea? Just the hot water and the tea bag. No milk, sugar, honey. Nothing else! First punch the button on the Keurig, without a K-cup, so that just hot water comes through. Then stick in a bag that suits my needs that day:

  • Normal = Honey Lemon Ginseng
  • Feeling a cold/illness coming on = Echinacea Complete Care
  • Upset stomach or feeling Christmas-y = Peppermint (*this is the one exception to my always-green rule)
  • Before bed = Sleepytime Green.

7) When was your first cup? Hmmm…? I’ve been drinking tea since I can remember. (Though it used to be black tea with milk and sugar. Green tea has only been the past ten years or so.)

8) Have you ever gone on a coffee tea date? Tea date? Umm… does meeting your girlfriend at Starbucks before you go shopping together count?

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Okay, and now to ping-it-forward: I’d like to know more about the beveragings of: WeaklyShortStories, Chris Martin, and Patrick Latter. The first two are talented writers, the third is an exceptional photographer. I don’t know if any of these busy-busy guys will have time to do this quiz-post, but even if they don’t, their sites are worth my unbelievably cool readers’ time to check out. 🙂

Thoughts on food-allergy-friendly restaurants

There are two kinds of restaurants: the kind I can eat at and the kind that I can’t. The problem is that in most cases I have to find out by trial and error. This is a real issue for everyone living with food allergies—especially people with multiple food allergies, like me.

Sometimes it’s obvious. At pizza joints, I know they’re going to serve gluten discs with tomato and dairy on top (see, pizza. Duh!). Fast-food/fried everything places (McWendy King) are kind of a no-brainer, too. And then there are Italian joints with names like Macaroni Grill (hell-o!), and ice cream parlors (could Dairy Queen be a more appropriate moniker?). I don’t even try to walk in those doors, and I appreciate the honesty of the titles for these establishments. Saves me time.

Then there are the places that try to get it right. Many restaurants have gluten-free menus, but I’ve found that most of those items are not also dairy-free. Some places have multiple, individual food-allergy menus, but sometimes, if you order something that matches on both the gluten-free and dairy-free pages, they screw up and give you a side item that is dripping in butter (such as has happened to me at both Applebee’s and Bonefish Grill). P.F. Chang’s goes further, by having the ability to cross-reference food allergies and print out a customized menu for individual patrons, but when I try to combine my gluten and dairy allergies, my menu options shrink to pretty much chicken and lettuce. (Fortunately, they serve delicious cocktails.)

When I order something at many of these places, it usually winds up just being (another!) salad—without cheese, croutons, or dressing—and then I trust them to get it right. (I mean, how hard is a freaking salad?). But when I find out they’ve screwed up, it’s usually after a tiny sliver of cheese has just hit my tongue, burning the inside of my mouth as it goes. (I don’t go to the Claddagh Irish Pub anymore.)

Then there’s the fear-factor. Half the time, when I walk into someplace new, they freak out when I tell them I have food allergies. (Gasp!) I have been at a steak-chain, Buckhead Mountain Grill, where, when I ordered a gluten-free chicken salad, sans cheese, I was served a plate containing only iceberg lettuce and chicken because they were afraid to give me the peanuts, mandarin oranges, tomatoes, and other vegetables (none of which were sautéed) that should have come with it. I have also literally had a waiter at Abuelos, a Mexican-chain restaurant, tell me that he didn’t want to “let” me order enchiladas, sans queso, because he was “afraid that cheese might fall down from a storage bin and accidentally land on” my order. (Really? Cheese will fall from the ceiling in the kitchen? What is this building constructed out of, again?)

Sigh!

It’s still search-and-find, but the places at which I tend to do best are the ones that use fresh ingredients (not prepackaged food, like many of the above-mentioned establishments do). Restaurants with actual chefs, not just line-cooks. Subway and Chipotle are great fast-food options for me. Yes, I’m still eating salads, but they’re not pre-made; I can easily control what’s in it. Sushi places and authentic Mexican, Chinese, and Indian restaurants tend to work for me, too. I still have to be careful, but I’m usually not limited to just salads. And then there is the one, true gem I’ve discovered, the Mellow Mushroom. It’s a pizza chain that has a menu option of (drum roll, please) gluten-free crust and dairy-free cheese! (Cue angel choir.) I gain about three pounds when I go there, so I have to limit myself, but… hallelujah!

I’ll still explore new restaurants, and I’m open to suggestions. In the meantime, I’m eating a lot of dry salad. Thank God for cocktails….

Listen to Your Body: How I Self-Diagnosed My Food Allergies

Depending on your source, the number of Americans with some type of food allergy ranges from 3 million1 to 15 million2. The FDA’s estimates are 2 percent of adults and 4-8 percent of children. Regardless of the real number, I am one of them. Here’s how I found out:

It was early 2009. Despite ongoing efforts to exercise and diet (or at least eat in moderation), I couldn’t lose weight. I was running 3.25 miles a day, and the scale was still perma-stuck in the mid-180s (as it had been for years—my peak was 192 pounds.) In addition to being overweight, I was bloated, exhausted, and my digestive tract was…, well…, not digesting so well. The more whole grains and fibers I added to my diet (i.e. the “healthier” I tried to eat), the worse I felt.

Doctors I saw all told me I’d feel better if I just lost weight.

Aaaahhh! That’s the problem! I can’t lose weight! Something’s wrong with me!

Not receiving any direction from the medical community, fed up with the crappy insurance company, and thoroughly confused by all of the conflicting diet advice out there, I cracked. I was so sick and tired of being sick and tired that I decided, “Screw the health industry. They’re not helping me; I’ve got to help me.”

I stopped working out, stopped trying to “eat right,” and threw everything I’d ever heard or read about food, diet, and exercise out the window. I focused on one thing: listening to my body.

The first major clue came with cheese. When I listened to my body, I realized my mouth burned when I ate cheese. That was my body telling me, “Don’t eat that!” I cut out dairy.

Two weeks later, I figured out that when I ate wheat it made my stomach hurt—the more whole-grain, the worse. Another clue. I cut out gluten.

(Does this ring-true to anyone else out there…?)

It was difficult and frustrating at first, having to figure out new menus for myself, but I started feeling better so quickly that I wanted to continue. My mouth healed. My digestive system started getting back to normal. I focused on simple, one-ingredient foods (“spinach,” “ham,” “almonds”) so I could maximize control over what I was ingesting. I started getting my energy back. And I lost thirty pounds in four months, despite not working out.

I’ve continued to eat this way and to listen to my body for over three and a half years. I did go back to exercising, though gradually, listening to my body. And while I’d still like to lose ten more pounds, the scale now reads 130.

Going gluten/dairy-free eliminates ninety percent of junk food, but I don’t recommend adopting a radical diet like this just to lose weight. Gluten and dairy are important things to have in your system, if you can. (Besides, chances are you’ll be setting yourself up for failure if you cut out entire, major food groups for no reason.) For me, though, the reminder of how much it used to hurt when I ate gluten or dairy is a huge incentive to keep going. I also don’t have anything against doctors (my dad is one), and I still see them for other things.

Listening to my body is an ongoing process. There are a few other foods I’ve been interested to discover that my body doesn’t like. Some of these are broccoli, apples, and cashews. Surprising, I know.

But who am I to argue with my body?

 

Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America

Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network