allergy

What to pack, how to prep when you're a food-allergic traveler

The thrill of travel is my siren song. I used to dream of filling a passport before it expired. Never happened, but I did manage to get to many great places. Machu Picchu, Xi'an, Tulum. Life can throw you one curveball after another, some good, some not so good. Layoffs, pink slips, food allergies. My high-flying life came to a decidedly more earthbound home. For several years I had time to travel but not the money.

The bitter and the sweet

As we get older, we begin to appreciate that one is enhanced by the other. Fast-forward several years and I am slowly building an entrepreneur's life. This means we swing from one trapeze landing to another, sometimes the grip is so tenuous, the next check so long in coming. But we learn to live with the anxiety that would have done us in before and push on, move forward. Grab and let go. Let go, grab.

This week I'm preparing for my first trip to Europe since my flight through de Gaulle to go to Mali but the last visit when I stayed and explored was a media trip to Valencia, Spain. That was wonderful, too. Both trips like evanescent dreams. Wonderful memories.

New opportunities, new challenges

I'm getting on a plane again 48 hours from this moment. I'm off to Brussels to work with the fabulous Nathan Fong on behalf of sustainable, delicious British Columbia seafood. After our success at  Seafood Expo North America (#sena2014) - stir-frying with the Trade Minister! We're bringing the dynamic duo to the largest seafood expo in the world, Brussels! Now I'm dealing with multiple food allergies. Looking at the food there, dairy is definitely going to be a problem. I won't have time to shop all over and my Flemish is pretty weak. I think I've got this one down though: "Aangenamen Kennismaking" (Nice to meet you) it's just plain fun to say, isn't it?

It's hard to explain to someone who doesn't have food allergies. But imagine you're somewhere unfamiliar, and you literally cannot risk eating food because you may end up in anaphylactic shock. And traveling in a professional capacity, you don't want to make every group meal a tiresome litany of your issue and allergies. "Who knows Flemish for 'allergy'?"

Moules Frites? Waffles? (butter, dairy) Carbonnade? Waterzooi? (butter, cream) Food, glorious food. It's what I live for, what I organize my life around, what I share with friends, family and clients. But the prospect of being unable to find anything to eat made me realize I now have an extra list of travel prep tasks: researching, prepping, baking, planning. Even the flight to Belgium is a problem. Special diet meals include vegetarian (with cheese, nuts) Asian Vegetarian (may include dairy); Vegetarian (dairy). So what can I eat during the flight? Grab and go in the airport? Can you trust the labels on pre-packed foods? The fast food training? Erm, no. Basically, there was not one option that I could choose that was both free of dairy and free of tree nuts. Swiss International Airlines announced an "allergy friendly" service but to me it sounds like only a baby step further than what other airlines do.

Chips? (made in a facility that also processes nuts) etc. It's impossible!

Luckily, I'm a good cook. And I have good friends. And a very caring husband. He has turned into the best food sleuth!

My goal was to find things easy to pack and dense with protein to keep me going in the worst case scenario.

Tips:

1. Research, research, research. What are the typical foods in your destination? What capacity does your hotel have to accommodate your allergies? (Or even, to speak English?) Check with TSA and your airlines.

2. Pack pouches. Really good tuna, quinoa cereal, and terrific peanut butter all come in these easy-to-pack pouches. Thanks Doc!

pouches

3. Bake ahead. Energy Bites; Crackers, Apple-Quinoa Cake.

choco chunks, fruit

rye crackers

travel snack

4. Try to order Allergy warning cards in the destination language. I ordered cards from Allergic Traveler - hope they'll arrive in time!

 

Recipes:

The energy bites are great pre/post workout snacks. I love that they're not overly sweet and they're super easy to customize. This is based on Kim O'Donnel's original recipe from her Washington Post days. Her Lulu's Cookies became my Choco-fruit Energy Bites.

Choco-fruit Energy Bites

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 C of a combo of: sunflower seeds, pepitas (pumpkin seeds) and sesame seeds (I omitted sesame and used a combo of peanuts, bran, amaranth for the third 1/2 C.)
  • 2 tablespoons flax seeds.
  • 3 C flour [I used 1 C Irish Wholemeal flour +1 C White Whole Wheat + 1 C AP flour]
  • 2 cups rolled oats [I used rolled instant] + 1/3 C brown rice crispies + 1/4 flaked coconut
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup dried fruit - cherries, prunes, apricots
  • 1 cup hot water
  • 3/4 C coconut + canola oil
  • 3/4 C honey + golden syrup
  • 1/2 - 3/4 C cup Enjoy Life chocolate chunks (free of 8 major allergens and made in an allergen free facility)

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toast seeds on a baking sheet about 8 minutes, or until the seeds turn a golden color. Be careful not to burn seeds.
  2.  Remove from oven and allow to cool thoroughly.
  3.  In a large bowl, combine flour, oats, baking powder and salt.
  4.  Soak dried fruit in hot water for about 15 minutes. Drain, but reserve soaking water.
  5.  Add dried fruit soaking water to dry mixture, plus oil and honey. With a rubber spatula, stir until combined. Add cooled seeds and stir to combine, then add fruit and chocolate chips. Don't over-mix.
  6.  Form teaspoon-sized patties onto a cookie sheet, preferably lined with parchment paper.
  7.  Bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes. Don't over-bake; the cookies will turn into rocks.

Makes about 50 cookies.

I love that these are like two bite energy bars without all the overly sweet, highly processed ingredients. These are like bites of shortbread chunks of sweet dried fruits and chocolate.

 

What are your tips for traveling with food allergies or intolerances?

Next up, the apple quinoa cake!

Top Ten Tips to Ease Allergy Symptoms During Pollen Season - AKA Spring

As we enter pollen season, it's a good time to "empty the bucket" and get as cleaned out as we can. It's also a good time to recall the healthy allergic-living habits we may have gotten complacent about over the winter. Especially for those of us with both pollen allergies and food allergies - here are some things that can help as the pollen begins to envelope our worlds. Stack the deck in your favor! This is my nemesis: Birch Pollen. Magnified a bazillion (okay, not sure how many, but a lot) of times.

Boo! Hiss!

Birch Pollen

Some things that have helped me:

  1. Renew the ritual of sanitizing sheets and pillows. I do this weekly. This keeps me from beginning a reaction to dust mites, which helps me be less reactive to foods and pollen.
  2. Change air filters - use a HEPA filter if you can. Yes, they're expensive but even if you only use one during your peak season, you'll be giving your body a boost in the fight.
  3. Vacuum with a HEPA filtered vacuum. Do I need to remind you to minimize rugs, drapes, books on your night stand?
  4. Get on a regimen of Zyrtec or similar meds - take daily to ensure preventing histamine reactions vs trying to combat it once it's begun.
  5. Put saline eye drops in the fridge for cooling relief when coming inside from outdoors. I also keep Pataday in there and use one drop each day, each eye.
  6. Ask your doctor about nasal sprays like Veramyst that help prevent the histamine reaction. This is not an addictive decongestant type like you see in commercials.
  7. Remember to rinse or wash hair rather than carry the pollen to bed with you. Even wiping with a damp towel will help.
  8. If you flush your eyes, use cool or cold water, not warm. Do not rub! Rubbing and heat stimulate histamine production.
  9. Avoid things you are mildly allergic to (for me, I have to remember not to pet the cute dogs that always run to me on my walks. So hard!)

One of these things is not like the other

But my system totally thinks it is! If you have oral allergy syndrome, your body can confuse the thing that you're allergic to (like Birch pollen) with things you're not typically allergic to, like stone fruit, apples, fennel. The proteins in these groups of items look to an allergic person's system, so similar to the thing they are actually allergic to, your immune system reacts as if you consumed the very thing you were carefully avoiding.

My tenth tip:

You can reduce your chance of triggering cross-reaction during "your" chief pollen season. Remember to avoid, peel or cook those fruits that are triggers. (e.g. For me - birch pollen means I peel apples whose skins I can eat in the winter, have more vigilance about carrots - an independent allergy as well as an OAS trigger for birch family.) In winter I can eat an apple raw, out of hand, peel and all. In Birch pollen season - doing so could trigger bad reactions. I peel the fruit (most of the problem seems to come from the peel) or cook it. With fruit -- unlike nuts, or milk -- cooking it actually does change the structure of the protein so your body is less likely to react to it. So that fresh juicy nectarine or peach could be trouble. Peel it or make a cobbler.

Finally, I want to share that I've had good relief from Florasone cream which is an OTC homeopathic topical cream that helps calm hives/eczema.

Good luck!

 

birch-tree1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Those lovely trees they plant in urban areas to green things up? They're usually male (prettier) and the worst pollen offenders! So living in a city doesn't necessarily confer any benefits to seasonal allergy sufferers.

Now -  What other tips or advice or resources do you have to share?

 

[Update: happy to report two things helping me this horrible "worst in 27 years in the Northeast"  according to Weather Underground report I just read. First, acupuncture. Next year I'm going to start a regimen before the season starts, for even better results. Secondly, chrysanthemum tea. I drink it with local honey, but save the tea bag/sachet and let it cool and use it as a compress.]

Salty Snacks, my Downfall. Until Now. Hello DIY Cheezits Recipe.

I could walk right past buckets of candies and sweets if there were the teensiest pile of potato chips at the end of the line. Yessiree, the salty crunchy thing is what gets me. Between my dairy allergy and having been forced by a cracked tooth to swear off my beloved popcorn, I was adrift. And I was drifting in the wrong direction. If you make it right and don't eat it by the boatload, or covered in butter, popcorn actually qualifies as a whole grain. I'd call it a healthy snack.

But you know, once you see the cost of a cracked tooth, "cheating" on your dentist and ignoring her advice loses a lot of its appeal. So I started on potato chips. Saturated fat and salt and oh, so, delicious. Hep me jeezus, it was a slippery slope. I had to do an intervention when an ENTIRE bag of (not single serve) of Chili-flavored Kettle chips evaporated in my hands.

I have seen the devil and he looks like a never-ending bag of chips.

Back from the Precipice

So it is with much fanfare that I bring you my new favorite snack discovery. [cue heralds and horns, waving of banners, and such] Salvation looks like a crappy processed snack food, but it's not!

Nacho Daddy's Cheezits

Dairy-free Cheez-its

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What's a good snack without a pun? A lost opportunity, I say.

So I named these guys the punny name to indicate their dairy-free status. Get it? "Nacho" Not Yo"....okay. Now that I've gotten that out of my system...here's the ÜBER-simple, fast and delicious snack. But first, let's review these additional benefits:

  1. they're salty
  2. they're crunchy
  3. they're spicy (or you can make them not so)
  4. they're dairy-free (you could probably use cheddar if you're not true vegan or allergic)
  5. they're cheesy
  6. I've included whole grains (grainiacs rejoice!)
  7. and they're easy-peasy to make at home

You know you want some, come on.

Nacho Daddy's Cheez-its, Dairy-free

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nacho Daddy's Cheezits

Modified from a couple vegan blogs, but don't let that dissuade you.

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 C Earth Balance butter (cold)
  • 3/4 C Daiya cheddar shreds
  • 1/4 C organic spelt flour
  • 1/2 C organic whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne
  • 1/2 tsp paprika or pimenton
  • +1 TBSP cold water
  • Maldon sea salt flakes for topping, or good sea salt

Directions:

  1. Place all ingredients but water in food processor; pulse, until you get large crumbles.
  2. Add water by teaspoon till dough comes together in a ball, usually you'll use about 1 TBSP. Depends on moisture in the air and your flour.
  3. Knead for a few minutes, let rest half an hour in fridge. (I have also skipped the rest, with little noticeable result. The dough comes together so quickly, I don't think there's a lot of gluten developed.
  4. Preheat 350 degrees.
  5. Roll out half of dough between waxed paper or on silpat silicone sheet. Leave other half in fridge to stay cool.
  6. Dust with flour to prevent sticking - see tea ball trick.
  7. Roll to 1/8" thick cut with fun smallish cutter (I have a little star cutter that was part of a set.) Or, use pizza cutter to make into squares or diamonds.
  8. Bake 10-15 mins checking often -- remove at the perfect crisp but not burnt stage.

 

teaball trick

Remember the teaball trick, works for flour and for confectioner's sugar.

Offset spatula may be helpful to transfer to cookie sheets but it's not necessary.

These are so good to nibble and munch. I think they'd be terrific floating on a mug of hot tomato soup. Mixed into my Remixed Chex Mix they could take the place of the Goldfish crackers. Great with a cocktail.

Next batch, I'm going try flax or my pimped up flaxy gomashio. Stay tuned salty-crunchy fanatics!