I can't remember a time that I wasn't allergic to something. Trees, grass, pollen, mold, cats-the list goes on and on. I was a sneezing itching watery eyes mess growing up-my friends used to count my sneezes as an Olympic Sport OR I was sleeping off the allergy medicine. The person who invented Claritin-my hero. In my teens I developed a few more allergies-these ever so fun-bananas, avocado and almonds. The banana and avocado allergy has manifested itself as something that feels like hives inside my stomach. Joy. I haven't eaten either of these since I was 14 or so. Of course, these was the accidental ingestion-a sour apple martini-which, by the way, is made with banana liquor at certain locations. Live and Learn. Almond has been my worst allergy. The last time I had an almond was when I was 15 and I ate a chocolate and almond bar. My face got really swollen. Thankfully, I was very unaware that I could have died. I just sat at home and waited for the swelling to go down. In allergy tests I am, on a scale of 1-4 a 4+.
Dining out, pot luck dinners and grocery shopping are oh so fun with these 3 food allergies. Bananas and avocado are pretty easy. I know what foods they lurk in-it is pretty obvious I don't eat banana bread or guacamole. (Except smoothies-so many smoothies have banana as a secret ingredient!) Almonds, however, lurk in the strangest places. Cereal Bars is the best example. Ever heard of Almond paste? It is the most popular filler in cereal bars-even ones that don't have any nut in the title. I picked up a bag of popcorn at Walmart the other day and had to put it back. Why? The lone ingredient was popcorn but the allergy statement plainly says "contains trace amounts of almonds" Seriously.
I am very diligent about checking the allergy warning labels. I am that annoying person at pot lucks and restaurants asking about ingredients (twice servers have insisted their food was almond free and I have been served green beans with almonds and pie with them baked into the crust). I have also learned that "familiar" dishes are not always safe (who puts almonds in oatmeal raisin cookies? At least they were clices to when I bit into one the almond popped out to say hello!) My coworkers are diligent as well to not bring any dishes with almonds or to warn me-setting the offending item on a different table even so I will remember.
So imagine my surprise the other day when, after we ate out pot-luck salad bar lunch, one turned to me and said, "you didn't eat the fired onions did you? they have almonds." My reaction: instant panic attack because, yes-I ate some. Instantly, everyone panicked with me. "Do I have an Epi-Pen?" (No, doc won't prescribe). How do I feel? (I can't breathe but that is because of the panic). After a couple minutes I just went to my office. I was in tears. I was shaking. Let's face it-I was scared. My friends sister died of a food allergy reaction not to long ago. Eventually, someone came to tell me that the Onions says "may contain because manufactured on a facility that processes almond". That calmed me down-not that that isn't bad--but it is a hell of a lot better than the fried onion almond salad mix they first thought it was where almonds are actually part of the ingredients. Eventually I declared myself OK-and went about my day.
Did I mention I am extremely diligent about checking ingredients?
Well, last night I stopped at Giant Eagle and bought a last minute birthday cake for my husband. We went out to eat at a place where we don't eat dessert. He wanted a white cake. I grabbed the only white cake they had. I looked at the ingredients listed on the top-no problem. Around 10:30 last night he wanted his cake. I noticed that the ingredient list on top was really only for the sprinkles-so, diligent me-looked at the allergy warning for the cake-wheat, soy, eggs and milk. No problem. I pulled off this label in pieces because it was stuck on with of the stickiest glue ever-ate the cake and that was it...Right? Wrong!
About 15 minutes after I finished the cake my husband noticed I had a piece of the label stuck to me. I playfully put it on him. He pulled it off and went to throw it away-except he looked at it first. The pretty white cake I bought? It was WHITE ALMOND CAKE. Eff. Instant panic attack. Hubby wants to drive toward the ER (30 minutes) and I am thinking we should just drive over to the ambulance station a couple blocks away if I have a reaction. It would be faster than even calling 911.
Then I remembered the allergy warning didn't include nuts. We pieced together the label and (except in the big title I didn't even look at) there is no mention of almonds, almond oil or anything nut related. Thank you, Artificial Sweeteners! Still, I stayed up until 2am (the arbitrary time my husband set to monitor me) thinking every single twitch, itch, feeling in my face was the beginning of the swelling. It wasn't and I thanked the artificial sweetener gods and went to bed with one thought:
I am not eating any more of that cake!