Allergies

Allergy Fakers

Fascinating article about the havoc raised in restaurants by allergy fakers. I would never think to say I was “allergic” to something I simply didn’t like, or was slightly sensitive to. It includes a look at the history of allergy and celiac recognition and diagnosis, and at the backlash starting to grow in response to people who use the A word to bludgeon restaurants into providing special treatment they don’t actually need.

Allergy Update

Allergies became part of the focus of this site because my son, now eight, turned out to have multiple allergies. Even before we knew that, he had sensitivity to salicylates, which he outgrew. Until he did outgrow them, it border on being “allergic to food.” Not good. He still tends to prefer the things he could always eat, like potato, beans, corn and peas. Worse, he was also sensitive to azo dyes, the degree varying depending on the color. Since he could not drink fruit juice, and could not drink things like Kool-Aid that were colored, we relied heavily on clear Kool-Aid, the watermelon kiwi flavor.

Ultimately he tested allergic to tree nuts, peanuts, bananas, egg (whits and yolks), and dairy. Peanut was the only one for which we never saw evidence outside of testing. Bananas were particularly bad, but as much in a digestive way as anything.

He ultimately outgrew everything but the tree nuts, which are just as clear cut as ever…

In June this year, last day of school, we had to use an epi-pen for the first time in all these years. On the way to school, the crossing guard was giving out Munchkins, and he ate a chocolate one. I am not sure of the veracity of this, but he says his mouth itched during school. After coming home, he had mint chocolate chip ice cream. That;s his favorite, which he has had many times. Later still, he had a fudgesicle from a local supermarket chain, store brand. Following that, he got red faced, hives, had trouble swallowing, and may have had a little trouble breathing. It took two of us to overcome his objection to being injected. Then we had an ambulance ride, somewhat greater treatment than normal, and a rapid recovery and return home. I hadn’t known before then that ranitidine is an antihistimine and is used for allergy treatment. He hated it. Also had trouble with the nebulizer.

Anyway, that was kind of weird, since it appeared he’d reacted to the fudgesicles, which were a new thing, but which weren’t even co-processed in a facility where they could have been exposed to allergens. That was a Friday.

The next Monday, he had more mint chocolate chip ice cream and got covered in hives, but nothing some Benadryl couldn’t handle. Still, that was one of the same foods, all three of which had contained chocolate. Smaller amount of chocoalte… smaller reaction?

We took him for allergy testing for chocolate. In practice this included the entire standard panel of sixty tests, so there were some he’d never been tested for before.

He remained allergic to tree nuts, reacting to three of those, rather than merely two as happened the previous three tests. He was back to reacting to peanut and banana. We’d avoided both of those, just because (actually, he refused to try them, but not a bad idea). He did not react to chocolate/cocoa, but he did test positive for peas and soy. That’s funny, as he eats peas regularly and loves them, and he still uses soy milk, soy butter, and soy margarine. The only time he has ever reacted to soy, long past, was from consuming spoiled soy milk. Fascinating, given the test result, but these are two positives we can ignore.

Since he didn’t test positive to chocolate but we wanted to be sure, he then got the blood test. That was fun. His veins are even harder to find than mine, and he screamed a lot. It took three trips to try getting blood drawn before it actually happened.

Chocolate was negative. Yay! This left a mystery, though. The most logical thing, given the clues and that the prime, overwhelming allergy that remains unambiguously is to tree nuts, is that the mint chocolate chip was contaminated. Perhaps it was worse the first day because so was the Munchkin. Or perhaps because the contamination was fresh. In retrospect, I can picture ice cream with nuts getting scooped, then the same scoop getting reused in the other flavor without being fully cleaned. Kitchen things are the gift of choice for Dad, so for my birthday the kids got me the superlative ice cream scoop of their dreams. One, which takes it rapidly out of service. However, it can be rinsed and used in a second container right afterward. And that’s what must have happened.

There have been no further scares. We’re being more careful about cross-contamination. It’s never been that much of a problem before.

Banana and Peanut Butter

Second daughter has become fond of peanut butter and banana sandwiches. Thought they sounded good when I described eating them as a kid. Most people are horrified. I don’t really eat those now, but I love PB and banana together… small gob of PB on each bite of banana. The flavors are completely natural together, in my opinion.

Sadly, peanut butter can give me severe indigestion. Sadly, bananas can give me severe indigestion, only more so. Which makes me wonder if my son gets his banana allergy from me, since the way he reacted to banana was mainly digestive, but over the top. I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s essentially a minor allergic reaction on my part.

Anyway, anyone else out there love peanut butter and banana? How about other unusual combos with peanut butter, on bread or not?

More Allergies?

As is well known, Henry has allergies to bananas, dairy, eggs, peanuts and tree nuts, and when he was very young was sensitive to salicylates, azo dyes, and some aspect of screen printed ink on many of my T-shirts. He is gradually easing on the egg and milk fronts, in that he can eat foods into which those have been baked or cooked thoroughly, and can eat foods which have been fried in butter, or that contain butter or sour cream cooked into them.

The girls never had evidence worth noting tht they might have allergies. Until now.

Valerie had classic allergy symptoms after eating a peach, skin included, and getting the juice on her skin. She had also drank “peach punch,” a favorite juice we sometimes buy the kids when it’s on sale for a dollar per half gallon, but I discount that as a direct factor, with reason. Turns out that onset of peach allergy can be a symptom of the onset of birch pollen allergy, naturally manifesting in the spring, and common in our neck of the woods. Processed, peaches or peach juice might not trigger that the same way a raw peach, skin and all, could be expected to, or so I gather.

It has been several months since we needed Benadryl for Henry – approaching a year, perhaps. It took a solid dose of it – initially I gave her a lighter dose based on what I remembered giving Henry when he was younger – but that and washing thoroughly cleared it up. A bit slowly. She had hives all over her belly, was extremely itchy, was red around her mouth, and had one eye get red and puff up almost closed.

I called the doctor’s office and they lined up a prompt appointment with the allergist. Early next week will be busy! Sunday there’s a beach get-together the kids and I are going to, centered around a friend visiting from Oregon. Monday Valerie has two sessions of evaluations at the kindergarten, seeing just what help she may need with school and how she should be placed. Then we have a brief get-together with someone I haven’t seen since 1976, visiting from Minnesota.

On Tuesday afternoon it’s Valerie’s allergy testing. Should be interesting, since she’ll get a battery of them, and they are notorious for showing allergies that have never been seen to exist in actual practice. Like my grandniece with the peanut allergy that isn’t. Which I suspect may be true with Henry, since that’s the one thing he never showed signs of at all. In his case we won’t take chances, though.

Henry’s Dairy Allergy Was Partially Eczema

I found this milk elimination to fight eczema to be interesting after our experience with Henry, and how we figured out what his glaringly obvious allergic reactions were from. He reacts to dairy on contact with his skin, and he can get both hives and simply a red, eczema-like reaction from ingesting it.

I can’t speak for eggs, since we’ve been more careful about those. The worst reaction to bananas was digestive though he did get red from them too. That was a good one, when bananas were first or near the first food he ever had and I was immediately suspicious, yet who ever heard of a baby not being able to eat bananas? Then again, Henry was very nearly allergic to food that wasn’t breat milk, until he grew out of sensitivity to azo dyes and salicylates. But that’s another post that needs to be written sometime.

In any event, I’m not surprised, though I am surprised that we don’t see more of this, or have more doctors savvy or imaginitive enough to help with it.

Coconut Milk

With Henry’s allergies to dairy and all nuts, he has to use soy milk. It’s a good thing he likes all things soy! To him, soy butter is as yummy and natural as peanut butter is to most of us. And he hates sunflower butter, which is vastly better. We tried rice milk along the way, but that seems to be little more than water.

Yesterday I noticed for the first time coconut milk in Walmart, in the same case with soy, nut, rice and organic milks. It was a buck more (speaking of which, at the rate milk has gone up, the differential with soy seems less onerous), but I decided it might be worth a try, and could picture it being better in something like cake. When I make a cake free of eggs and dairy, instead of all water, I generally use half soy milk and half water. Not that it matters, since he has developed tolerance enough to eat cake with eggs and/or milk baked into it, just as the allergist suggested. Yet we’ve come to like the special recipe cake better. Though ironically I cannot make it taste good in chocolate, despite chocolate being the original recipe I adapted. But I digress.

I bought one, and this morning it was time to open a fresh milk, as his old soy milk is expired. Presumably, since it’s hard to tell, besides just throwing it away after the recommended 7-10 days. The only way I seem to be able to tell, since it doesn’t develop an odor, is to taste it. If I feel like retching within the next moment or so, it’s definitely bad. My body knows what my nose and taste buds can’t discern.

I offered Henry the choice of coconut milk or soy on his cereal. He picked coconut and there was much excitement. Then as soon as I’d opened it, he said no, he didn’t want it, didn’t like it. He refused to taste it to be sure. If I’d never told him and just opened it, he’d have had no clue it was different, and might have loved it. Duh! I thought he’d be happy to try it, but he’s busily being 3, and some. Most stubborn person I know, too.

I poured a small glass so I could taste it. Man, what an improvement over soy milk! You can taste the coconut flavor, in fact it tastes much like the liquid from the hollow of a coconut, which when I was a kid we got all excited to have, despite it not, in reality, being that good. We called it “coconut milk,” but apparently that’s not the correct term.

Sadie wouldn’t taste it, after championing the new milk to Henry. Maybe that would have helped. He refused, simply declaring he didn’t like it. Valerie drank the whole thing and declared it awesome. When offered more, she opted to try it as chocolate milk. I flavored it heavily, since the coconut flavor came through. She hated it as chocolate milk. I drank it. It was good, but different. Might be better as strawberry. No word on how it would be with lime.

So… I guess I’ll be baking! Or doing something with it, even if I’m the only one who eats it. And I probably won’t buy it again, or if I do, won’t tell Henry what it is before serving it. Why fight to serve him something that costs more?

Good Allergy News?

Last week we went to my grandmother’s house on her 94th birthday. Usually if there’s going to be cake, I make an eggless, dairyless version so Henry can have some and not feel left out. I didn’t, and my mother’s plan turned out to be to give him frosting on crackers.

Ultimately he helped himself to a not insignificant serving of cake. I let it pass, because there’s Benadryl and because of what the allergy doctor said when he was retested this year.

The doctor suggested that he might be fine eating things in which egg or dairy had been sufficiently well cooked to have altered the proteins. I’d had that in mind ever since, but not tried it.

He didn’t react at all to the cake. Nothing. Not that I could tell.

So whether this is progress toward growing out of the allergies he is most likely to outgrow, or evidence that the doctor was correct, it’s a Good Thing.

Eggless Tempura-Style Chicken

My brother recently mentioned having made tempura-style orange chicken, which led me to look online to find out what exactly tempura was, since I’d not to my knowledge had it before.

I learned that tempura is Portuguese-inspired Japanese, foods fried in a very thin batter coating. I recently tried a batter coating for strips of chicken and ended up replicating, except for having seasoned the batter, Chinese restaurant chicken fingers. The kids loved it, and I figured the batter was a way to stretch the limited amount of chicken.

Usually tempura is made with eggs, flour and cold water. The cold matters to the chemistry, much the way hot presumably mattered in my recent test of a faster flour tortilla recipe. The egg apparently doesn’t, because I found it is possible to make tempura without it.

I’ve learned that the best way to arrive at recipes or adaptable inspirations for dishes that contain no dairy and no eggs is to include “vegan” in the search. It seemed kind of odd to search for vegan tempura, but in addition to its most common use in seafood, tempura is also used for vegetables, which I look forward to trying. I’ve had that kind of thing in a restaurant, if not by that name, with cauliflower, squash and broccoli.

Here is what I did…

2 Cups flour (Too much, for 3 chicken breasts, could halve it or use more chicken, or whatever you’re using this on.)

2 Cups cold water (I put ice cubes in it ahead of time.)

2 Heaping teaspoons baking powder

1 Teaspoon or so of salt

A little oil – maybe a tablespoon or so.

Season as desired or not at all. I used a bit of red pepper, a dash or so of garlic powder, and a bit of black pepper.

I deiviated from strictly tempura by crumbling some Ritz crackers fairly fine and dipping one side of most of the pieces of chicken in it. I also considered using oatmeal similarly.

No deep fryer here. Enough oil in a frying pan, nice and hot, to be able to cook one side then turn it over.

I cut the chicken into very small strips and chunks, the better to cook fast and go with the lightness of the batter.

I put the dry ingredients in a bowl and mixed them together with a whisk. Then I poured in the water and oil. Started with half the water and mixed, then the rest. You might watch how it seems and back off or add to the amount of water. Stirred it thoroughly. It bubbled a little and looked a lot like pancake batter. I ended up just drowning all the pieces of chicken in the batter, pulling each one out and putting them in the pan one at a time in two batches. I ended up frying a small patty of batter and crumbs from the batter that was left on the crumb plate. That was yummy and suggests possibilities.

This is very much a keeper. We inhaled it. On one of the recipes I saw for vegetable tempura, it said serve and eat immediately lest the batter get soggy. With the chicken I’d also say eat it sooner than later, because it isn’t as good in texture after it sits a while. Tastes good though. The vegetable tempura recipe also said dredge in flour before dipping in batter. I can see that being useful for veggies. Chicken worked without. Would it have worked better with? Not sure.

Since I have never had tempura in a restaurant, and in fact the only Japanese restaurant food I’ve had is noodles, I can’t compare. Even if it’s not “real tempura,” it’s so good I can’t wait ti try it again.

A Real SNAP

Over the past few years we’ve been, shall we say, financially challenged. We were never really flush. In the couple years before I married, I was barely able to support myself, but had room for more frugality and had coasted business-wise. Marriage would have helped, but circumstances meant I had to squeeze out more money without substantial career change, in order to support more of us. It would have been a bear to apply because I was self-employed via a partnership, but my income seldom strayed far above the numbers that would just qualify for assistance. Food Stamps, now called SNAP. Just never would have thought to do it, even if I’d made less – or not juggled things to appear to make more than cash flow justified, as the case may be. I spent the first few years of marriage and kids worrying beyond worry about money and what could eventually happen, but trying not to worry my spouse. Beyond what implicit awareness there was of the smoke and mirrors juggling involved. There’s a frugality move for you: Breast feeding to save the insane cost of formula.

I digress somewhat.

Eventually, well after I should have, I applied for what is now SNAP. We qualified at the time not merely handily, but for emergency alacrity. That was suddenly almost $500 a month for groceries! Out of what they computed was at least $600 a month for a family of our size.

I was amazed that the official amount was so high! I mean, I’m old enough to think of $600 a month as practically an entire income. Which would also explain why I think a grand a month in rent is the far side of insane.

We went from, well, I think I was spending on the order of $20 a week and getting random handouts of food from relatives, to all that money. (I could be misremembering, because a lot of people online donated us a lot of cash and that is where some of it went, but I was still being beyond frugal, because there were other things it had to cover.) That opened the door to losing some of the biggest and most time consuming frugality measures. Which is another post; the sheer time and energy cost of being poor/frugal. That opened the door to convenience foods being in the house more routinely. Which is another other post, how much extra it costs if you want to be able to let the kids graze conveniently.

Eventually circumstances changed enough that we’d have qualified for considerably less in SNAP, but the agency basically jerked us around to the point where I gave up on obtaining the maybe $200 a month it would have entailed. We could manage. Of course, our income has ebbed since then, overall, and it’s been tough at times.

What’s made it tougher is having gotten used to what was more money than I might have spent on groceries when I “had money” back when, it’s harder to go back. I mean, besides the kids having become locusts. Now I can see the $470 or whatever being too little, or barely enough. I reliably would end each month with at least a month’s balance left on the card. That sure made weaning off of it easier.

I still tried to be as frugal as possible, obviously, but really felt like I was cheating. When I really miss it is when I am forced to buy things like soy milk and soy butter, and when it might help in branching into some of the other allergy options like non-dairy cheese.

I expect to be on it again at some point, with only four of us in the house and my income plus whatever child support figures in being the factors. It will help tremendously, much as I’d like to remain off or move back off of it as soon as possible. [I was a little confused, reading this after all this time, but this must have been the point when Deb was going to move out, but didn’t.]

Did I have a point here? I mean, besides that for me the SNAP benefits felt like we were rich grocery-wise and that changed habits in a way that can be hard to change back? Don’t think so. Outside factors and what is customary for you can change your perception of what is or isn’t frugal, and your adaptability. I know many people would look at that $600 figure for a family of five and be surprised anyone can do it on only that much. I suspect there are people on SNAP who wouldn’t begin to know how to save massively, which was part of the formative inspiration for a blog of this focus. Other are in the trap of too little income, but also too little time. Which is why I’d want to convey as much as I can ways around both circumstances.

Enough rambling. Speaking of being too busy. If I weren’t treating writing here as a job, trying to build something, it might not be getting done. That and the kids have become easier to work around.

Update as of September 6, 2015

What actually happened with SNAP back then, near as I can tell, was that I angered the people at the local office and they blacklisted me. I tried again over the course of as much as two years, culminating with the final time I applied, turning in needed documentation on time, in person, in the presence of the person handling my case, with the stuff I turned in stamped as to when they were received. I got turned down with a notice that was probably all ready to go by that time, and was sent out to me before they would even have had time to review what I’d provided. I gave up and we did nothing else with SNAP until Deb applied in her name while waiting for long-term disability to be approved, with no income because short-term disability had expired. They fell all over themselves to give us about $500 a month. This helped hugely. They actually bumped the amount up a tiny bit when she started getting disability. Ultimately I was spending that plus maybe $300, and that left bills all being paid comfortably, and the hope of things like dentistry.

Then at renewal time in February, they checked my pay for one of the weeks after the four they ask for stubs from. It was an anomalous $150 higher than normal, due to a two week burst of volume that happens twice each year and factors into my average pay. Rather, their newly automated system checked. It bizarrely cut us to zero but left us an active account. This kind of thing had become rampant starting in 2014, with Massachusetts using an automated system of data mining to do checks on people. Someone disabled and far more reliant than we are on SNAP would work one day as a poll worker, for instance. The system would extrapolate that to a full year’s income and shut them off. The latest thing I saw indicated that Massachusetts has a participation rate of around 1% for SNAP, down from over 6% a couple years ago, without an employment change to match. Nationally the participation is in the ballpark of what Massachusetts had been. That’s clearly not right. At the same time, they have eliminated case workers from have assigned cases, so you don’t get a person who is already familiar with your situation. The poor workers are harried and can’t be happy with the changes. They were buried in work in the first place, given the economy. They never did review our case. It had to wait for the six month renewal. We clearly qualified for something, even if the prior amount had been overkill. We’ve been spending the tax refund on groceries for months! Apart from fixing cars, that’s where most of it went, and it was down to what we needed for a car emergency and ensuring a normal Christmas. So it was time to have the help again. Of course, I am philosophically opposed to programs like it, in an ideal world, but this is the world we have. I’d be happier to have a pumped economy with a free market and adequate opportunity.

So here we are, about $1200 a month below the income cutoff for SNAP, and we again get a “benefit” of $0. But they still have us on their roles, considered eligible for benefits, so anything else that uses the same metric, like free school lunch, remains available. Say what? We’re confused. This time it is supposed to be based on information provided by Equifax. Yes, a notoriously inaccurate credit reporting agency also is in the business of qualifying you, or not, for SNAP benefits. First thought was they clearly had something wrong. Or first thought after “why did we give you all that data if something else tells you what to do?” I have started to wonder if it is the savings I maintained and gradually doled out for food and car repairs and such that triggered it. They don’t seem to ask about savings when you apply, though I could swear I remember it back when I originally did. The internet says they take it into account, though, and that you have two months to spend your tax refund (made large through EIC) before it can get you shut off. That seems counterproductive, even as I can see some logic to it. If you are responsible and don’t blow it on a vacation to Disney, but use it gradually, you are penalized. At the same time, if you were that poor, you’d probably spend it fast. Some people can spend a lump sum like that breathtakingly fast. I try to put the brakes on it, because I never again want to be unable to pay a heating and electric bill, fix a car, or cope with a moderate emergency.

So as I revive this blog, it seems we face going particularly frugal again. Most of my business income for the year, as it stands, falls during a six month or so period that’s drawing to a close. We’re in a slow time of year at work, until late November, except for a couple weeks around the first half of October. It’ll be tight. But hey, that’s part of the impetus for renewing the blogging, organizing it better, and making that a big part of each day. It’s a resource that already exists and has income potential if I put some effort into it.

Accidental Chinese-Style Chicken Fingers

Last night I had some newly bought boneless chicken breasts from a $1.99/lb sale at Hannaford, wanted to use them, make it fast, be different and please the kids, and wanted to stretch them as far as possible. I sometimes make fried chicken with a dry coating based on flour and/or oatmeal, but for some reason – perhaps recent talk of making allergy-free pancakes sometime (after I get syrup for them) – I thought of making fried chicken strips in a batter coating. Hadn’t done that before.

I searched and found this recipe for eggless Chinese shrimp batter, which seemed like just the thing to adapt for chicken.

It looked like too little, so I doubled it. I also used soy milk instead of water, initially, then mainly water to thin it. It was way too thick. We’re talking a lot of extra liquid, perhaps almost a cup on a recipe that when doubled called for half a cup. I cut up two boneless breasts into thin strips, picturing relatively short chicken fingers. Dipped them in the batter and fried them in oil deep enough to cook one side, flip them and the other side. Deep fryer would presumably be better.

They came out nearly perfect, except I seasoned the batter and it came out a bit odd. To me. The kids loved them. It may have come out odd because I grabbed the poultry seasoning and poured some in, then found the poultry seasoning toward the back of the cabinet and realized I’d used the nearly identical container of ginger. At that point I’d have been better off leaving it the ginger, salt, pepper, garlic powder and pinch of red pepper, not adding poutry seasoning and rosemary. Oh well.

The other problem? No dipping sauce! I love dipping my Chinese chicken fingers, which they looked identical to, in duck/plum sauce. Kids didn’t care, but I decided to try whipping up something fast. Used a little red plum jam, less grape (would have used more plum and no grape but that is a closeout item and a favorite of the kids we may not find again any time soon), some water, lemon juice, soy sauce, brown sugar and ginger, heated briefly in the microwave and stirred into a thinner liquid than I might have preferred. It worked, except for being too strong on the grape flavor. If I plan these ahead sometime, I’ll make or buy something better.

The batter made me think I could do something similar to make fritters. I could also see adding oatmeal for a crunchy fried chicken batter, taking it away from the Chinese style.

Stay tuned for further experiments, and perhaps pictures, which are still on the camera.