Monday, March 31, 2008

First Worry-Free Dinners™ Event TONIGHT!

We are looking forward to meeting all of you this evening for our first Worry-Free Dinners event at LILLI and LOO for a GLUTEN-FREE meal!

792 Lexington Avenue (Between 61st/62nd streets)
New York, NY 10021
Tel: 212-421-7800

WHEN: TUESDAY, APRIL 1ST, 2008 6:30PM-8:30PM

See you there!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

"When Anxiety Is At the Table"

When you have food allergies you can seem a bit obsessive compulsive to the uninitiated. I know I’m a little compulsive sometimes about making sure my food is allergen-free, because I have to be. If you hear me repeat after each course, "there are no nuts in that" it can sound a bit over the top.

As anyone with food allergies knows, even the most compulsive grilling of the chef or server doesn’t mean that there won’t be mistakes. Which of course feeds into the next experience with the next restaurant and the next compulsive questioning of the restaurant staff.

So I was particularly struck reading this article in the New York Times about obsessive-compulsive disorder and dining out. It seemed to me that someone with OCD faces very similar challenges dining out as someone with food allergies does.

“Sometimes the trouble is the element of public theater in the dining room, meaning we have to indulge in our often-embarrassing rituals under the eyes of so many strangers ...”

Have you ever felt this way when you are going through your food needs in front of a new friend, a work colleague or gasp! a new date? Going to a restaurant for someone with food allergies or intolerances or any special dietary need is a very public declaration of one’s needs. Some people feel embarrassed about asking the kitchen for so many “special favors” or “substitutions”. And then add to that the whole table’s conversation seems to stop when you’re going through your list.

The article continues. “Sometimes the trouble … might be worrying about the safety of the food and the people who serve it.”

Now someone with OCD and no food allergies would have a different take on this sentence but still, food safety is a food allergic diner’s number one concern. I can do without restaurant theater, hot model-type waitstaff, or gorgeously plated masterpieces. I really want Allergic Girl safe food. As Suzzy Roche said in “Crossing Delancy”: “…just give me scrupulously clean.”

The article continues: “To many of us with obsessive-compulsive disorder… We walk into a calm and civilized dining room and see things we won’t be able to control. This feeds directly into one of the unifying themes of the disorder: an often crushing inability to handle the unknown.”

Who with food allergies or food intolerances hasn’t felt that way?

What do you think?

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Worry-Free Dinners™ Concept

What’s the story behind the Worry-Free Dinners concept?

I know you want to know.

I’m going to be very honest with you.

I have “food rave” envy.

I do.

I’ve written about it at least once on my Allergic Girl blog. However it wouldn’t take too close a reading of my other posts and oft-written audible sighs to feel my foodie rave pain.

I hear about events like 4Foodies, the Greens events at the Beard House, the Ghetto Gourmet, even the Supper Club (although snooty and uber-trendy is not my style per se) and the adventurer in me wants to go, go go!

I want that prix fixe dinner, where delicious course after sumptuous course shows up, prepared beautifully and with care. I suppose I could go. I could pay $100 or $150 for a dinner, call the management ahead of time, tell them everything that I can’t eat, show up and have the burger (see the Waldorf, which again was incredibly careful and gracious with my meal. Thank you again, Waldorf). But really, a bun-less burger, a pat on the back and a shrug by management is not really what I want.

The reality is: I have food allergies. Supper clubs, foodie groups, secret food party groups are just not for me.

So that's one thought I’d been having.

Then there was another thought.

I receive so many kind and supportive emails from people about my blog (thank you all again, by the way!) asking: “How do you do it?” or “Are you always so upbeat?” or “What’s your secret?” or, very often, “Where can I go to eat like you do?”

I’m a naturally community-minded person. I love sharing resources, making connections between people and groups and resources. I’m a people person, which is why I went into psychotherapeutic social work. It was also the inspiration for my original blog, to share resources with others like me who wanted to eat out and eat safely.

It was at an allergen-free brunch at Five Points in November with a family friend who said, “Why not combine the three? Your relationships with restaurants, your ability to eat allergen-free AND your ability to impart that knowledge to inspire others and to connect people and resources. It’s a natural match!"

Thus, “Worry-Free Dinners” was born. At a brunch of all things.

I haven’t seen anything like this out there. It's an idea we cooked up and now we are going live.

From the initial positive responses and the flurry of requests for applications it seems there are a lot of you like me who want to dine out with fewer worries and be with people without the “eye-roll”. I’m so excited to create that safe space where we can share a meal, have fun and also talk about our food concerns, discuss our fears about handling these very serious food-related issues and explore some real solutions about how to move forward living happy, healthy, well-adjusted lives.

That is the Worry-Free Dinners story in a nut-shell. Pardon my obvious pun.

I’m looking forward to this journey together!

Happy eating!