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The Continued Adventures in Stupidity!

There is gluten in my food. I just know it. Recently I have not been feeling one-hundred percent. I have a few theories at what might be the problem. Most of the problem stems from things I cannot fix, but I certainly can work to fix one major contributor: stupidity.

I make dumb choices. But really, who doesn’t? Generally I learn from my mistakes, but every once in a while, I just can’t help myself — I make the same dumb choice over and over. Often, these choices have no, or very minor, consequences, and then there are the times when those choices have pretty major consequences. Those mistakes have never landed me in  the hospital, but they have landed me in a world of discomfort.

One of my reoccurring dumb choices has to do with ignoring warning signs. Warning number one — there is a warning  on the allergens section of the website that none of the food at Taco Bell can be guaranteed to be gluten free. Did that stop me? Nope, not a chance; I really wanted a taco. I decided that, although they have flour tortillas that probably touch all the same surfaces as the corn tortilla, the corn tortillas tacos would be fine. Luckily, I was right, but that wasn’t always the case.

I used to have the same misguided belief that the fries at Pepperdine were fine to eat. Even though the fries and the breaded chicken nuggets are cooked in the same oil, I decided that the contamination really couldn’t be that bad. For the most part, I was fine after eating the Pepperdine fries, but small amounts of gluten seeped into me from this contamination.

Taco Bell and the fries at Pepperdine were honest mistakes. Dumb choices I continued to make because nothing bad had happened, yet. But other times I make REALLY dumb choices. Really really dumb choices that I fully knew would come back and get me. One of those stupid choices came about when I accidentally bought a peanut snack mix that had honey-roasted peanuts, peanut brittle, yogurt covered raisins, and pretzels. I hadn’t noticed that there were pretzels in the mix when I bought it, but I did notice before I ate some. And yes, I did indeed eat some. I didn’t eat any of the pretzels themselves, but their mere presence contaminated the entire mix, making all of it unsafe to eat. It all started with just one little bit of the peanut brittle, then one yogurt covered raisin, then a honey-roasted nut. With each little piece that I ate, I opened the can, ate one thing, closed the can, and put it away. Soon I was digging through the can, searching out the little bits of brittle. I finally made myself stop, and left a note on the lid saying: “Not Gluten free, whoops. Eat me!”

A couple of hours later I was really regretting my dumb choice. The little bits of delicious food covered in even smaller bits of poison had made it through my body and into my intestine, where my immune system goes crazy, and starts attacking me. Woo! How fun! Not.

Another time, I was at Jack in the Box. They have delicious milkshakes, and I went to get one. I walked in, and ordered my shake, then noticed that they do not change or clean the mixer between shakes. That means that the Oreo shake made right before mine had left little bits of gluten on the mixer, and that they had migrated into my milkshake. Did that knowledge stop me from drinking the shake? Of course not, but boy did I regret my choice later.

I may make dumb choices like assuming the tortilla chips at a restaurant are fine because they look like corn rather than flour chips (I was right both times, thank goodness), but once I learn that something isn’t as gluten-free as I once thought, I stop eating that food. No more Pepperdine fries or Jack in the Box milkshakes for me.


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My Village Called…

My village called. They miss their idiot. They want me to come home.

Who hasn’t had that moment — the moment when they know what they are about to do is stupid and idiotic, but you go ahead and do it anyway. Or even the moment when you think that what you are about to do is well reasoned and planned out, but then (usually when someone else comes running in asking what the heck do you think you’re doing) you realize after the fact that you made a very stupid choice.

For example, one day I was home alone, and I wanted to light a candle. I was smart enough to not leave it in an unoccupied room. However, I reasoned that it would be safer to keep it on the little fold down section of the couch because plastic isn’t as flammable as the wooden slightly-wobbly spinning table. What a dumb idea. The couch is made of entirely flammable fabric. Luckily, I only got yelled at for 30 minutes for what might have happened rather than for catching the couch on fire.

When you have food allergies the consequences of dumb decisions are usually not as dire as causing a fire, but the possibility for making those dumb choices increases exponentially.

The Gatherer and I were hosting a Harry Potter themed party. We made all sorts of awesome snacks for our guests: licorice wands, pumpkin pasties, a rice-crispy treat Hogwarts Castle, a gluten free cake in the shape of the Durmstrang ship, non-alcoholic Butter Beer, cockroach clusters, and much much more (all recipes where found by searching on Google). We both made sure that there was something each of us could eat, but somehow, neither of us had checked the ingredients of the Twizzlers Pull ‘N’ Peels.

Not checking ingredients is a practically unheard of event in the world of the Hunter and the Gatherer, but (as I am sure you have figured out by now this post is about being the village idiot) we did a dumb thing. We both thought that the other had checked, and so we ate the Twizzlers. We ate a lot of Twizzlers. There were leftovers too, one entire bag plus half of another. We ate them all in one day.

We were wildly wrong in thinking that they are safe for the two of us to eat. The first few ingredients just so happen to be Corn Syrup, Corn Starch, and Wheat starch. Whoops.

About three fourths of a package each later, the Gatherer and I finally looked at the ingredients. I don’t remember what prompted us to check. Food takes a long time to be processed by the body, and so neither of us felt the effects of our respective poisons.

A few hours later that was no longer the case. Corn makes the Gatherer tired. No, tired is an understatement. She will suddenly just be asleep, like a narcoleptic. Not even caffeine could keep the Gatherer from passing out on my floor. I was a slightly different story. I will not go into the particulars about the effects of gluten on me, but I will tell you that I spent a few miserable hours curled in the fetal position.

I have learned from my mistakes, but that doesn’t mean that I have lost my position as Village Idiot. Tune in next week to see the continued adventures in stupidity of the Hunter and the Gatherer.

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Sometimes, the Hunter and the Gatherer go places without the other. Shocking. I know. This particular post will take you on a trip back through time, to August 2009. Both the Gatherer and I have been very busy and unable to eat out recently (not to mention that I have been just a little bit broke, thanks to Disneyland…), so time-travel it is.

My Mother and I took a road trip at the end of August to deliver me (and my car) down to school. This was very shortly after I had learned I had Celiac, and I was not confident in my ability to know what was and was not safe to eat. I was absolutely petrified of eating out at restaurants. Somehow, over the summer, I had managed to eat almost entirely at home, or, if forced to go out, only at places that had specifically gluten free menu options.

But there was no way to avoid eating out on a 2 day road trip, and there was no way to avoid the road trip itself, so I had to gather my courage and get in the car.We did a little bit of prelininary research, and found the few things that I can (and will) eat on the go:

1. McDonald’s French Fries (as previously mentioned in my Oregon Museum of  Science and Industry post)

2. Arby’s Chicken Salad (which is normally a sandwich, and must be ordered “in a bowl”)

3. Eggs

Eggs. Not exactly a fast food item, but they are readily available. Whenever we couldn’t stand driving anymore, and wanted to get a real meal, we went to Denny’s. We went to Denny’s a lot. I ate ham and cheese omelets, and nothing else. I didn’t like the other things I could have eaten (veggie omelets, possibly hash browns), and so it was ham and cheese omelets all around. I had them for breakfast at the hotel, I had them for both lunches on the road at Denny’s, and I had it for dinner at the hotel.  Needless to say, I was sick of eggs by the end of the trip.

I think my Mom was tired of watching me order eggs as well. We went to P F Changs the night we arrived at school.

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Wholefoods is a shining beacon of hope for those of us with food allergies. Many of their products contain no preservatives or fortifying ingredients; the additives are usually the ingredients that make a food dangerous.

Not only are the products generally less perilous, but Wholefoods labels very effectively. Certain areas are specifically Gluten free, vegetarian, vegan or dairy free. Also, within the aisles, labels are placed on the shelves to let you know which sections of the aisles are gluten-free, etc.

However, not all Whole Foods Markets are created equal!

My personal favorite Whole Foods is in Tigard, Oregon (surprise surprise, who would have thought that Oregon would have the best Whole Foods, I mean, it isn’t like the area is full of health-conscious, vegetarian, vegan, raw, organic, shower-avoiding, hippies. Oh wait, it is.). They have a very obvious color coded labeling system that not only tells you what is gluten-free, but also what is vegan, dairy free, raw, vegetarian, or a combination of those. This particular Whole Foods has all of my favorite Gluten Free (GF) products: scones, microwave pad thai, cookies, noodles, etc. On top of all that, this Whole Foods is staffed by the most exuberantly happy and helpful people I have ever encountered. Perhaps it is an Oregonian thing; perhaps it is an Organic/Hippie thing; or maybe it is some strange combination of happy-go-lucky organic-hippie-Oregonian thing. Their almost annoying cheery-helpfulness really did help when I first learned I had Celiac. This happy environment mixed with the super organization and well-stocking of the Tigard Whole Foods makes it my very favorite place to shop for food.

However, as I live in Malibu for 9 months out of the year, I had to find a new Whole Foods. I started at the one in Canoga Park. It was pretty sketchy. It wasn’t as clean and bright as you would expect a store to be, and it was not labeled at all. I was very frustrated, and resolved to find a new one. Luckily the Gatherer knew of two in Santa Monica. The closer one near the  3rd street Promenade is tiny. Everyone told me it just wasn’t worth going to, so I didn’t. The other one is much farther away. It was a very nice Whole Foods, but still not as great as the one in Oregon. So the Gatherer and I tried the one off Moorpark in Thousand Oaks.

The Moorpark Whole Foods had everything labeled, was well-lit, and was almost as well stocked as the one in Tigard. On top of that, this Whole Foods had an entire GF section right near the front of the store — one stop shopping! It was pretty easy for me to find (nearly) everything I wanted. The Gatherer on the other hand, was having some difficulty. She wanted crackers, and really, who doesn’t? The problem was that most crackers either have soy, are processed on equipment that also processes soy, or had corn or rice mix in. We spent literally half an hour looking at every single ingredient on every single box of crackers. We probably sounded something like this:

“Oh! Look, no rice, no corn, no soy… oh man, I was wrong. Processed with soy. Never mind.”

“Yes, yes, this one just might… dang. Never mind.”

“I think… no, I was wrong.”

“Please please please… yes, yes, yes… no.”

“Someday, we will find you crackers!”

“Have we checked those?”

“I FOUND ONE!” Celebration dance.

We finally found one, and literally did a victory dance in the aisle. People were walking by, giving us strange looks, but it was worth it.

Our Whole Foods runs do not take nearly as long now, as we have memorized basically every ingredient of every product in the store.

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Disneyland — The Happiest Place on Earth — is a place that usually fills those who plan to go there with joy. But, for those of us with food allergies, a twinge of fear comes along with that normally undiluted excitement. The Gatherer and I — having learned from our food court excursion at the mall — brought our own food to the park. However, we decided we were going to try to eat a real meal at Disneyland (mainly because I needed the information for this blog).

Note: All dialog said by the Gatherer will be in Italics, all said by me (the Hunter) will be in normal font.

We got there, parked, jumped through all the hoops to get in and bought an Annual Pass for me (Yeah, I really love Disneyland). We hit the Bathroom, a very important part of the process, and then went on to the most important part of our day: buying Tiaras to wear all day.

Then it was time to start in on the Disneyland Experience by getting on the Indiana Jones Ride! A 30 minute wait later in which I helped the Gatherer study for Marketing, and we were officially on our way.

Our next stop was to get a snack and ride the Jungle Cruise. This could have been the first stumbling block. However, Disneyland was prepared for us allergy kids. “Is it weird that I want a pickle?” “No Gatherer, it isn’t weird. If it was weird they wouldn’t sell them… LOOK! They have the allergens and ingredients listed on the trail mix!” It’s true — they had everything labeled. And I did think eating a pickle is weird, but then again, I don’t like pickles.

From there it was onto the Jungle Cruise. I munched away on my snack, and the Gatherer stole some (well, I guess stole is the wrong word, as I did offer her some: “Would you like a dried Banana?” “Sure. Do you not like bananas?” “I do, but I thought you looked like you needed a banana.”).

From there it was time for another jolly trip to the bathroom followed by lunch at the little food court by Space Mountain; another possible stumbling block in our plan for the day. This particular food court’s main type of food is Italian. If any of you recall from the Buca di Bepo post a few weeks back, Italian food is very dangerous for the Gatherer and I. The butter often has soy in it, and much of the food has tomatoes in it or has tomato sauce on it, making Italian food dangerous for the Gatherer. The wheat in all the bread and crutons is dangerous for me. This was a risky choice.

We walked into the food court confidently. Our snack had turned out very well, and we were hungry — it was 4 pm. Right away, we saw pizza (definitely not going to happen, bread and tomatoes). Then we saw sandwiches (Bread, and meat). Finally we spotted the salads (which were right in front of our noses, of course). Salads were perfect. They made much of their own dressing (which means no nasty preservatives that contain soy), and had all of their ingredients separate (no nasty contamination).

So we got Salads. The Gatherer had them make the pizza salad to her specifications (no tomatoes, crutons please , more cheese, no olives). I got the much cheaper side salad with ranch dressing. We both fed our caffeine addiction with diet coke, and I grabbed a frosted rice crispy for later. Lunch was DELICIOUS! Fabulous. Right after the Gatherer got a churro (one of my former Disneyland Traditions, but no longer an option for me). As she ate that, I ate the rice crispy, each of us eating what the other cannot.

The best thing about lunch was that all the ingredients were listed (for the food they created on the spot) or labeled (for the food created earlier and packaged by Disneyland). Disney really cares about its visitors.

After lunch it was time for Space Mountain! One awesome ride and a fantastic picture later it was time for Big Thunder Mountain, and, you guessed it, the bathroom. Then it was on to Pirates of the Caribbean where we planned out how we want to be proposed to… at Disneyland…on this ride…

We snapped out of our wedding plan session, and tried to get a Mint Julep (“Do those have corn syrup in them?”), but it took too long (we never did find out if Mint Juleps have corn syrup in them), and so we went to (and danced in) the Haunted Mansion instead. After the ride we were still in a dancing mood, and so we joined the Parade down Main Street. We soon tired of dancing, and got some ice cream. There were no big problems there; I avoid the waffle cones and the ice cream with cookies and such in it, and the Gatherer can eat anything without chocolate.

Finally, we went to Space Mountain one more time, and then headed home.

Disneyland is awesome. There is no question about that. But not only is Disneyland the Happiest Place on Earth, but it is also the most Accommodating Place on Earth. Food allergies at Disneyland? No problem, they take care of you.

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Topanga Mall, Woodland Hills

We were out on the town. Did we have any food? Of course not. Why? Because we are idiots. As two people with extensive food allergies, going anywhere without food we know we can eat is just plain stupid. But we did it anyway. Whoops.

You may be wondering where we went; we went to the Topanga Mall in Woodland Hills, California. But Malls have food courts with tons of options for food, why was not bringing any of our own a problem, you might ask. Well, that was what had thought too, and so we brought no food.

The Gatherer and I figured, ‘Hey, let’s go shopping; let’s make a day of it; let’s get lunch at the mall!’ So we went. We go to food court and they had Asian (rice, soy, and wheat), Italian (wheat, soy), Pretzels (not exactly good lunch food, and wheat and soy), corn dogs (corn, wheat), cookies (again, terrible choice for lunch, and wheat and chocolate), and Frozen yogurt (nothing).

Frozen Yogurt was the only viable option for the Gatherer and I. Well, it is healthier than ice cream. But fro-yo, for lunch? Yes. Yes indeed. We had fro-yo for lunch. I had Strawberry and banana yogurt with jellybeans on top (that’s right, I make healthy choices), and the Gatherer had Vanilla and Coffee yogurt with yogurt chips on top. Healthy? No. Delicious? Yes. Dumb choice? Yes. Worth it? definitely.

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Oregon Museum of Science and Industry

A T-Rex, an exhibit on fear, or cafeteria food: Which do you think is the most terrifying? Most people would probably be the most afraid of the fear exhibit, I mean, they had a guillotine for people to stick their heads in, and there was a mirror in the bottom of the basket so you had to watch as the blade fell. Others would probably say the T-Rex, I don’t know why, but some people tend to be afraid of huge bones with big pointy teeth. For me and the Gatherer, however, the most terrifying part of our trip to the museum was the Cafeteria.

The Gatherer came up to visit me in Oregon over Christmas break. While she was there, we had to go to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI), because it is the most amazing thing Oregon has to offer two nerds like us. So we drove up to Portland, got our entrance tickets, and realized we had no food. Of course, during the hour-long drive we had stopped at McDonald’s. I got fries and a diet coke, and the Gatherer got ice cream and coffee, also known as the only-safe-things-on-the-menu for either of us. The no food business was a bit of a problem because we were going to stay the night in Portland, and thus we HAD to eat out. There were no other options. So we put on our brave pants and ventured into the OMSI cafeteria.

Once there, we saw all that OMSI had to offer in the way of food. They had sandwiches, soups, fruit, veggies, chips, and ice cream. The Gatherer and I grabbed a raw veggie platter, some honey mustard and ranch dressing, fruit, and a Dibs ice cream (that last one just for me). Normally, dips and dressings are a big danger for the Gatherer because soy is a main ingredient, used to “prolong freshness.” However, OMSI, being the cool place that it is, makes their own dressings, so we could eat them all. They also labeled EVERYTHING: the ingredients we listed on every package of food. The Gatherer and I’d had no reason to be afraid! It seems going to places that cater to children have more options for those of us with food allergies!

After our delicious meal, we went and saw Samson, one of the most complete T-Rex skeletons ever found! If you are ever in Oregon go visit OMSI; it is cheap, fun, and the food is safe for all to eat (as long as you are careful)!

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