Saturday, July 31, 2010

Enjoy Life

In the world of food allergies, there are certain companies that stand out.
And in the world of Corn Allergies, company loyalty seems to reach an all-new high.  We thoroughly read every label, looking for minute additives...and then catch the hopeful words "No Corn".  Of course, we know that these two little words simply mean whatever the company has decided that they mean.  Perhaps that there is no unprocessed corn product.  Or that there is no high fructose corn syrup (Post declared it's Raisin Bran corn free because they use regular corn syrup)  Or maybe it means that they actually, *gasp*, know the origins of all of their products...and not one are derived from corn.
As a corn allergy sufferer, I'm always holding my breath for the latter.
Then there are companies who try, really hard, to understand the dynamics of corn allergy.  Who contact FAAN and work with them.  Continually proclaiming their product to be corn free while the supersensitive of us shiver, shake and break out in hives.  "Well, you see, that's very unusual," is the usual response.
But we asked in advance because we knew this was a potential problem.
You can almost hear the shrugging on the other end of the line.

Fortunately, there is one brand that doesn't shrug it off.  Enjoy Life foods does claim their food to be corn free, as per FAAN's standards.  But they will be upfront and admit in letters and email that if you are very sensitive to corn, the only products truly safe are the Cinnamon Crunch Granola, the Semi Sweet Chocolate Chips and the Boom Choco Boom Dark Chocolate Bar.  (Note:  Only the varieties above are safe to my knowledge.  Always read labels, and contact the company directly about any questions.)  Other products have minute amounts of maltodextrin or xanthan or other corn derivatives. 
While some of my fellow Uncornies scorn Enjoy Life for claiming corn free when they use some corn derivatives, I have to give them credit for patiently walking the middle ground.  They are honest and upfront.  As far as the general public goes, these products are corn free.  And for the majority of corn allergy sufferers muddling through the grocery store, the purer derivatives are safe enough.  It's only for a few of us that there is a problem.
And Enjoy Life is kind enough to answer our questions, offer advice, and encourage us to check with a medical professional before taking any risks.
After 7 years (or so) of experience contacting companies and requesting information, I have to say that Enjoy Life is one of the best companies to deal with.  They are responsive, and seem open.  They are encouraging and do their best to really understand, or at least sympathize with what the food allergy patient deals with daily.
Thanks Enjoy Life!!!

Monday, July 19, 2010


My husband is on the floor, with an open box and a variety of parts and pieces carefully spread out around him. 
"Can I help?" Bumblebee asks.
"Sure," he says, while carefully looking at a packet of screws. 
"I found a paper!  Hey, these are the directions!"
"Awesome, but we don't need the directions." 
She looks at him suspiciously and he defends himself by claiming he's a boy and boys don't usually need directions. 
She perks up and grins.  "I'm a girl!  I could read them for you!" 

Problem solved. 

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Dear Company Spokesperson,
Thank you so much for your response to the inquiry as to whether or not the ingredients in your product contain corn. 
I have to point out, however, that you were not being asked to comment on the safety of corn derivatives for individuals with corn allergies.   Nor are you being asked to replace the role of medical advisor.  And if I took your advice to discuss every product I was considering placing across my lips with my medical provider, my medical provider would not have time to attend to any other patients.  That's why they suggest I do my own research.  As they advise every patient to do. 
Which is why you received a letter inquiring as to the origination of your ingredients. 
I'm pleased to hear that you know of no documented reactions to caramel color/citric acid/microcrystalline cellulose etc.  Unfortunately, I have experienced reactions under blind trial conditions.  These reactions were identified through the use of food diaries and helpful companies who were willing to share the source of their ingredients.  How else would I know why ascorbic from batch A made me sick and ascorbic acid from batch B didn't? 
I believe my doctor's response was "Huh, that's weird.  There are no documented cases of allergic reactions to these derivatives.  But if they affect you like this, I think you should definitely avoid them." 
Which brings me full circle to the problem at hand. 
Where were your ingredients derived?  I am asking for my health, not for the heck of it. I'm not asking for proprietary information.  I'm asking for sources of ingredients listed in your product.
If you don't want my business, simply respond that you don't serve people with unique allergies.  Don't quote the FDA's impressive quality control measures.  I presume, since you are still in business, that you adhere to their policies.  I don't really care about FAAN's policies since the top 8 allergens, as identified by the FDA, don't really pertain to corn.  But I do think that as a consumer, I have the right to know where products come from.  What country.  What plant.  And whether the plant originated as a seedling or a science fiction worthy science experiment.  

Thank you.

This letter was inspired by THIS post at Delphi forums.  

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Living the Mixed Kitchen Life

Tonight, I ,anaged to get dinner on the table somewhere around the time that 3 of us were hungry.  It was nothing fancy.  Simply rice pasta (courtesy of Trader Joe's), and a scramble of eggs with carmelized onion and a few greens of varying kinds for those who wanted and could eat them. 
Bumblebee ate early, and was requested next door, where I offered to walk her. 
"Don't poison my dinner," I teasingly warned Penguin and my dear husband. 
Amidst their protests that they love me, would never poison me, did I even have to remind them? I headed out the door with Bumblebee, gave her a kiss, told her when to return and to be good, and returned home. 

Writing the prior paragraph took longer than the entire process. 
However, when I stepped into the kitchen, Penguin was staring at her plate and my husband was at the sink.  My place was empty. 
"What happened?" I queried, trying to see the joke in the matter and thinking that it really looked like my dish in the sink that was being furiously scrubbed. 
Dh turned and gave me the look that I deserved to give him. 
"One thing.  You asked me to do one little thing.  And I couldn't do it!"
"I was only gone two minutes!" I exclaimed, more confused than upset.
"I know!" 
At this point Penguin couldn't help bursting into laughter at the ridiculousness of the situation (and probably scared that her parents were going to start a full fledged fight at the dinner table)  And confessed that they'd poisoned my plate accidentally. 
Apparently he reached across the table to help Penguin pour some sauce, and a small amount splashed onto my plate. 
If we were a normal household, I'd have had a sprinkle of undesired flavoring, and ignored it. 
But with food allergies?  It meant an extra plate and eating tomorrow's leftovers. 
Dh was really upset with himself, but like I told him...better to acknowledge the error and not make me sick (I might have suspected eggs!  Or onion!  Or the cheaper TJ pasta!  Or heaven forbid the handful of chocolate chips I treated myself to after dinner) 
It disturbs us because neither of us like the message we send our kids when a crumb, or a drop, of something unintentional happens to land in an unexpected area.  But, the kids aren't satisfied on a corn free diet, and my husband doesn't really want to restrict his diet that far.  And asking makes me feel bad. 
So, we'll continue to be supervigilant.  I'll try not to lose my temper when accidents happen (I try...And this time there was plenty to eat so I really wasn't upset!)  And he'll have to forgive himself when things do.  The real point is that we need to continue to be aware and avert disaster. 

Monday, July 12, 2010

Baking free

No gluten.  No dairy.  No corn. 
After 4-5 years, you'd think I had this down.  But no, I still manage to burn a batch of cookies by doing something dumb, like not thinking. 

So here are a few of my lessons learned the hard way: 

Turn the oven down.  This is the one I get caught on most frequently.  I go into autopilot and turn the oven up to 350*.  Casseroles still cook at 350*.  Cookies and cake go in at 325*. 

Cream the sugar with the eggs, not the fat.  Something about gluten free foods reduces the structural stability of the finished product.  Beating the eggs with sugar helps to build the framework that gluten would otherwise offer. 

To help things rise, beat the eggs in a liquid.  I have no idea why this works.  But if I measure out the liquid first, then beat in the eggs, then fold the dry mix in, I get nice floofy pancakes instead of creamy crepes. No baking soda required (which, in turn, means no sugar is necessary.  The batter isn't sweet, but it isn't bitter either.) 

Use a smaller container.  There just isn't the same stability in gluten free cooking.  Especially when you don't have butter.  (or margarine)  Smaller containers offer the batter something to climb up against, to cling to, to push on.  Whatever the mechanism, they are less likely to come out of the oven with a dense, flat cake. 

Extra grease or parchment paper is a must.  GF goodies stick, and crumble.  Loosen them ASAP, too.

Chill the dough.  Cookies spread less and really are easier to work with if you take the time to toss the dough into the fridge for half of an hour.  (Yes, I still skip this step a lot.  And I get a lot of well-done cookies to show for it.)

Use spices for flavor.  Nutmeg and cinnamon add a nice touch to just about anything sweet, especially when you don't have vanilla.  Using brown sugar instead of white addsd more depth of flavor, too.

Don't expect your creations to mimic Mrs. Field's famous cookies.  Just be happy that they are sweet and satisfying, especially if you can't handle the gums.  

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Kernel of Fear

For about a year now, we've had a leaky bathtub faucet.  I've been assailed by guilt whenever the radio reminds me to turn off the tap while flossing, reprimanded by my kids for wasting water while waiting for it to heat and lain awake listening to the drip-drip-drip.
It's not that I didn't want to repair it.  As soon as I realized it couldn't flip all the way off, I got on the phone and the landlord sent a plumber out.
Unfortunately...he couldn't twist the faucet off the wall because it had rusted together with the pipes behind the wall.  "No problem," I was assured, "We just go in from behind.  It'll take a day, two at the most." 
Well...behind that wall was a massive china cabinet, with every piece of china and breakable knick-knack that I had any desire of keeping intact.  In the interest of protecting those breakables, the whole thing had been tightly bolted to the wall.  Which would take a day or two to reposition by itself.
I'll admit, I hid behind this feat for much longer than necessary.


The fear of corn.
You see, in order to get to the pipes, they needed to slice through the wall.  When they were through, they needed to replaster the wall, patching up the drywall.  And there's corn in that. 
Cornstarch makes a handy adhesive that doesn't appeal to bugs.  (Hm, I wonder why?  Maybe they instinctively suspect that it's dangerous?)  Interestingly enough, I've heard that there's wheat starch in some drywall compounds, too.  Of course, gypsum is the main ingredient.  But there's corn, too.
And where there's corn, there's pain.
They'd be filling my house with cornstarch, turning off my water, and taking over the bathroom.  While I hung out, smiling politely and asking if there was anything I could do to help besides stay out of the way. 

Knowing my reactions to corn, this just built the dread.  And the longer it's gone on, the bigger the tower of dread.  I huddled in the shadow of it, thinking.  I hate missing events.  I was too sick to go to the science fair last year.  I was miserable through at least one concert, and passed out on my husband's shoulder when a woman wearing too much ethyl-based perfume sat down next to me at a concert.  I bloat up to a 5 month pregnant belly just walking past the kettle corn booth.  And let's not talk about what happens when food hits the irritated areas of my intestines.  We'll leave it at, I want to be home alone for that.  I was home alone for that the first time the landlord called to schedule things.  I leaned my forehead against the cool ceramic side of the bathtub, listened to the "drip, drip, drip" of the faucet, and immediately decided I didn't care.  I pleaded stomach flu, and put off rescheduling for um...well...yes, a whole year. 

Home is my refuge.  My safe space.  My bubble.
I let certain things in, take calculated risks.  But...we make sure they aren't airborne risks.
Sawing through drywall would create airborne corn.  To settle on the counters.  The table.  The pots and pans hanging on the wall. 

Now, I try not to let corn dictate my life any more than it already needs to by virtue of it's presence.  But...this...This was different.  It meant a lot more invasion.  It meant nowhere to hide for an indeterminable amount of time.

I'm glad to say that we finally dealt with it.  Our kind landlord found a lovely, no frills gentleman who looked at the job that I was assured would take nothing less than a full days work, assuming nothing went wrong once they got into the wall, simply nodded and said he could do it.  He didn't elaborate.  He arrived at noon.  I hid in my room as I heard the sawing commence immediately.  Not long afterward, the faucet clanged into the bathtub (Which is just outside the door to my room).  After about 3 hours, he was spackling up the patch on the wall.  And we opted not to paint, since that area is generally covered by a piece of furniture anyways.

I've been corned.  But not as badly as it could have been.  Not nearly as badly as my nightmares warned me.  The worst part is actually the discomfiture I feel inside.  The massive emotional reaction I've had to the whole incident.  The dread, the memories of whispering responses through cramps as I try to smile politely.  The fear of being mid-reaction when he showed up. (It would just be embarrassing.  I know, I know.  Grow up and deal with it.  But...) I lived through similar experiences just fine.  So why do they haunt rather than reassure?  How could I have let this go on for a year because of a simple fear?  (There were plenty of other things to focus on, so it's not like the tub was the only thing on my mind for the past 365 days, but still.  You'd think I'd have acted sooner.) 

I can't really justify, only acknowledge that corn in particular can wreak havoc with your emotions.  It makes a person feel paranoid.  Seeking bananas or eggs from a "safe" source can make you feel like you have OCD.  Taking great pains to keep the corn free dishes isolated from a few drips of citric acid enhanced tomato sauce or even a few crumbs of enriched flour, doesn't improve that image much.  And I don't know about others, but when I take a step back, my precautions always seem ludicrous.  But when I let go and try to act normal...I get sick.
Not just "Ugh, that didn't sit right.  Hopefully I'll be in for lunch" kind of sick, but an ongoing, slow recovery, frequent backsliding kind of sick. 
After a few brushes with trust and food, or just breathing, it seems relatively fair to be paranoid.  
It's enough to make you crazy.  But, as this incident has reminded me, even when grounded in cold hard truth...fear can't dictate your life.