Sunday, July 26, 2009

Nutty Travel Adventures Part 1--Pine Nut Pizza

I'm back from my Wisconsin vacation and I have stories to tell about our family travels with nut allergies. Most of the stories are good--in fact, most are really good--so I'm going to get the "bad" one out of the way in the hopes that we can all be a little wiser for the experience my family had.

One of the places we visited in Wisconsin was Madison which is the state capitol, home of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a beautiful, totally cool and fun city in its own right. I attended the UW and it's always fun to go back there with the family.

We stayed in a hotel with a great view of one of the town's two major lakes. Connected to the hotel is a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed, 6-story structure that houses, among other things, a stunning terrace that looks over the lake and also the capitol. We were so swept away by the view and the general vibe of the place (it hosted a free reggae concert on Wednesday night) that we decided to try the newly opened cafe that is located on the rooftop terrace.

The restaurant had a printed menu that I read carefully. It had basic stuff like Chicago-style hot dogs, individual pizzas, sandwiches and salads. My oldest daughter (the one with the nut allergy) really wanted to eat there. The views are amazing, so I didn't blame her. It looked like the menu was nut-free, so my husband walked down there to speak with the staff. He even got to talk to the chef, always a good thing. However, in this case, that wasn't the end of the story.

My husband asked about nut oils, nuts in the foods, etc. He was assured that they used only "canola oil" and that there should not be a problem with nuts in the food.

We felt pretty good so we ordered our daughters small pizzas--the menu said they contained tomatoes, basil and cheese.

Except, when my daughter was served the pizza, she took a bite and got a funny look on her face. "Something's wrong with this, Mom" she said. She dug into her pizza and handed me an object. "Mom, what's this?"

It was a pine nut. Turns out, the pizza was loaded with 'em. And yes, she had taken a bite, which she then spit out. And then she got upset. Tears, worries. "Will I be OK?" she kept asking me.

This is how it is with food allergies. One minute you're looking at a lake in the sun, the next minute you're checking your child for signs of anaphylaxis. Did I feel like a total jerk having not visually inspected the pizza before my child took a bite? Yes! I'm usually extremely careful and I probably felt pretty confident after all of the questions we'd asked. So this pine nut situation was a big, ugly surprise.

I figured I would have plenty of time to beat myself up later about how I should or shouldn't have handled the food order, so I focused on my daughter. She asked to go to the bathroom because she had spit her food out in front of the other diners and was embarrassed.

I took her aside and assured her I'd take care of her no matter what happened. Let me tell you, that was the five to ten longest minutes of my life. I had no idea if she had swallowed a pine nut or not. She wasn't sure if she'd swallowed any of her pizza before she realized what was in it. From past experience, I knew she'd react pretty much immediately if she was going to react at all, but I wanted to make sure I kept a close eye on her. Also, I had no clue if pine nuts would do anything to her. They're on her list of foods to avoid that our doctor gave us and they are officially a nut, so they had the potential of causing a reaction. Pine nuts are not in her "top 5" list of nuts that can cause her most severe reactions, but sometimes the body can confuse one type of tree nut with another and boom, there you go. Reaction.

Pretty soon it became clear that my daughter wasn't going to have a reaction. No hives, no swelling, no trouble breathing, no vomiting. I took her back to the table (my husband had already given the pizza back to the staff explaining why she couldn't eat it) and we got the heck out of there. The waitstaff did not seem like the ones to accuse and the chef was nowhere to be seen. Since the "pine nut incident" as we're calling it around here, I wrote to the restaurant and told them the story. I also asked them to be very careful about what they put into their menu. And I told them that pine nuts are indeed a nut. My husband's theory is that some people don't think that they are and that could be what happened here.

We learned that the terms you use when describing any type of food allergy or intolerance are crucial. Make sure you list all the things to avoid--maybe someone doesn't know what tree nuts are or what gluten is or the different terms for milk protein. Spell it out for them. Also, please be suspicious of "gourmet pizzas." They are bound to include pesto or pine nuts--stick with the simple stuff.

All's well that ended well here, and my darling daughter and I ended the evening dancing at the free reggae concert. I was so grateful she had been able to bounce back from the bad experience and I was also grateful that I wasn't sitting next to her in a hospital bed or worse. I was really, really rattled, though I tried not to show it. My husband felt awful, too. My daughter picked up on it and assured him that she didn't blame him and that she knew we had both tried to get the info on the food. Yep, she's that sweet. And I think that she was relieved as well.

Since she didn't have a reaction, I think this was probably a good experience for her in the sense that she learned to trust her instincts on a food. She told me later that the pizza didn't "smell right" to her and the first taste was just wrong. I told her to always honor that instinct in her life--even if she has to spit out the food, order a completely new meal or leave the restaurant. She promised that she would.

It just goes to show you that no matter how aware you are as parents or caregivers--others are probably barely aware or moderately aware. You've got to be polite but firm and very, very communicative. You'll be so glad that you were.

With that said, my next dining out/travel story is a great one--a Lake Geneva, Wisconsin restaurant dealt with our child's dietary restrictions like pros. They blew us away with their concern for our child's safety and their overall professionalism--not to mention the delicious meal. I'll save that story for later in the week.

It's good to be back home with both kids happy, healthy and safe. My daughter wonders why I keep giving her all the extra hugs--but you all know why, right?


Anonymous said...

Welcome back! My daughter and I are sitting in the kitchen counter eating dinner while I am reading this new post (guilty guilty, dinner and computer, I promise, it's not often I do this...) And if there is a way I can explain this story to a 4- year-old, I would. I would love for my little girl growing up just like yours, so responsible, or mature and yes, always, trust that first instinct!
I can, also relate to your feeling, a mom without a child with food allergy will tell you that you have done everything right, do not blame yourself; for me, I will tell you, yes, you have done everything right , and yes, as a mom, you DO feeling guilty to a certain degree. Regardless, we are trying our very best to live a "normal" life. I have found the offensive food themselves is not the major problem, it's people, the ignorant ones like that chef.
Cannot wait for your posts on the fun trip with all the positive experience in the restaurants.
P.S we also just return from walmart tonight. We use lots of their (cake) "sprinkles." The new jars now have a new label with warning, those sweet little sprinkles are now made on the same equipments with nuts.

Allergic Girl® said...

what a story. thank you for sharing jenny.

Unknown said...

Oh Jenny, scary! So glad to hear there was no reaction but I bet it made your heart stop for a moment. Never thought of pine nuts on pizza...

Anonymous said...

wow, can't believe this glad she is ok...

Jane Anne said...

Oh, I know why. Yes, yes, I do.

I am so glad that story had a happy ending. I can imagine your fear as you waited. I am glad you shared the story.
I loved this: "It just goes to show you that no matter how aware you are as parents or caregivers--others are probably barely aware or moderately aware. You've got to be polite but firm and very, very communicative." That's the kind of reminder I cannot hear too much.

Pam said...

Thanks for sharing your story! I look forward to reading your good experience too.

Mommy X said...

Thanks for sharing the "pine-nut incident" alleric son (peanuts, treenuts, milk, eggs and soy) always visually inspects all of his food before eating...we think it's a sixth sense...or as we fondly call it now his "spidey food sense."

Mary Beth said...

Just had to share that we had a similar incident with gourmet pizza covered in a pine nut pesto spread. This happened at a cafe owned by my own parents (!!!) and my stepmother, who generates all the recipes served there, told me after the fact that she did not make the connection between a pine nut and a peanut allergy. Fortunately, my daughter too was fine, but it was an eye opener. I now know to keep an eye out for pine nuts, which for some reason foodie type people just don't seem to think of as part of the nut family. In general, we steer clear of anything that has a sauce or a topping that I can not read the label of.
Looking forward to hearing about the better parts of your travels! Thanks for sharing!

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Anonymous said...

I find that when I tell people my daughter is allergic to Peanuts and nuts, they say you mean peanuts and I say no all the other ones and I list each, pistachio, cashew, etc.

So I carry a list around with me listing all the different types of nuts and nut products.

Glad it ended okay..


Alison said...

(a bit late in the day!)

That sounds very scary.

One thing I've noticed is how some people love to have 'but X is not a nut' arguments about allergies (for things like peanuts and pine nuts).

I have no idea why they do it; I always point out that my daughter's allergies are not espeically logical.

Kelsey said...

I'm sorry for your scare and glad everyone is okay... I would have been a nervous wreck!

Anonymous said...

You all do realize that pine "nuts" are not, in fact, botanical nuts (despite the common name).

Jenny said...


You do realize that people with tree nuts are advised to avoid pine nuts. Pine nuts are on a list given to me by my doctor. They are considered a tree nut for purposes of those with nut allergies.

Now that we've got that settled. Hope you feel better!


Jenny said...

Here's a link discussing the relation between pine nuts and nut allergies for those of you who need more "proof":