Right around the time of my wedding shower, there was my bachelorette weekend. If you've been following our series about planning an allergy-friendly wedding, you'll know that I learned a lot about how to conquer my fears and challenge my allergy anxiety. The bachelorette weekend was one of the biggest social events leading up to the big day, and it was the one I simultaneously dreaded and was most excited about. Originally we had thought of going on an overnight spa retreat, but when that wasn't going to pan out for everyone in the group we decided to spend a weekend at my AirBnB in Prince Edward County, called Sage House. My pal Joella took care to plan the festivities for the weekend and we had a packed schedule.
The plans for the weekend were kept mostly a secret until I couldn't bear to be kept in the dark any longer, and pried the details out of Jo about two weeks before the event. The 12 of us would be heading up on the Friday evening and having dinner at the Drake Devonshire hotel. On Saturday we'd go on a tour of four wineries, stop for lunch in between, and then make a meal at home that night. On Sunday morning we'd have brunch before making the drive back to Toronto. It was a fantastic plan for a ladies' weekend but of course my anxiety kicked in.
What was I so worried about?
There were a few things on my mind. First, I was worried about dining in restaurants. There would be three restaurant meals to conquer this weekend. Being the "special guest" meant I could not sit off in the corner seat and pick at a salad the whole time. There would be attention on me and we'd be having leisurely meals together.
Secondly, I was worried about the wineries. I had been off alcohol for a while for different reasons. I had been getting bad acid reflux that was causing me to choke in my sleep and spontaneously vomit (sorry, gross), and wine had been giving me major hives (Sulphites? Casein? I still don't know). I was also worried about the combination of my medication and alcohol in the event that a reaction might happen.
And finally, I was worried about being in a house with 11 other people and having to manage the food situation, keeping surfaces clean, and what snacks they would bring. I wouldn't have a private room to mentally unwind in later, nor would I have Brandon there to silently and seamlessly help me. Jo did tell everyone to keep the house Mandy-friendly all weekend, but it's not uncommon for people to innocently bring something they think is safe.
A week before the party I was telling these fears to Brandon when I couldn't sleep and had a semi-breakdown. I've always tried to blend in with everyone else when it comes to food, but suddenly I felt very much at risk of being on display in a way that I can't quite explain. I had friends I trusted planning the event, everyone invited was a close friend, they all know the allergy situation, but it's like I was transported back to seventh grade when the class suddenly and unanimously decided my allergies were weird. I was embarrassed at myself for the potentiality of a severe reaction happening in front of people I cared about. I was embarrassed that I might not be able to drink the wine despite the fact that I really wanted to participate. I felt frustrated with my body for not functioning like a "normal" person.
As the weekend quickly approached, I made sure a few things were in place to make me feel comfortable. First, I told myself to relax because we were going to my house and I wasn't just a guest in a far away place. Second, I headed up early with my sister-in law, and my two besties; Jo and Karrie. We did groceries on the way up and planned what we'd make for each meal that weekend. This was a huge relief! On Saturday night while everyone was in the living room watching a movie and taking a nap, Shaheen and I snuck away to the kitchen and prepared a massive dinner. Similary, I woke up early enough to start on breakfast on Saturday morning and as others woke up a few of the more proficient cooks joined me. We had coconut milk instead of dairy milk for coffee, and there was no butter or anything else that could contaminate the meal. I was also able to wash down the kitchen and other surfaces beforehand. Because it's a rental property, we did a big load of dishes before cooking anything to ensure it was all squeaky clean.
At the wineries, I inquired with each one about whether they are vegan or use casein in any of their products. Fortunately none of them used casein, and several were incidentally vegan. I had a little sip of a few wines but passed on refills or seconds, and the mingling atmosphere of most of the tours allowed it to pass unnoticed. There was one winery that had a table laid out for us but it was near the end of the day and by then I was comfortable just saying no thanks. Several of the girls even started asking about casein for me, which made me feel pretty loved. I took a minute to remind myself that these were all my friends, I didn't need to be so self conscious.
At the Drake Devonshire on Friday night I ended up going with a really simple meal and playing it safe. I find their food has a lot of components and ingredients, and there are a lot of things I can't have like lentils, nuts, and various forms of dairy. That being said, they are always very willing to accommodate. I settled on a plate of oysters with a side of fruit. I got the feeling they were relieved by my order. They brought a really plentiful fruit plate over with a whole bowl of blueberries and several sliced plums. It was just what I wanted. We had brunch in their private room on Sunday morning and I enjoyed a mound of home fries, soft boiled eggs, and fruit salad with honey.
There was a blip, however, with the restaurant on Saturday where we had lunch. Jo had worked with an outside company to plan the day and we were scheduled to have lunch not far from Sage House. When we arrived the restaurant was very quiet and they had a nice large table set out for us. And then I saw the table full of food that had already been prepared. I introduced myself to the chef who seemed friendly at first, and explained that I was the one with allergies that she had been informed of. She told me she had read through my allergies and prepared a set menu picnic lunch for us, and that all the food was safe for me.
I glanced over at the table and saw salami (contains lactose), hummus (chick peas), chocolate covered strawberries (dairy, possibly nut cross contact), and feta cheese among the other dishes. Then I asked her what she thought my allergies were. She said yes I know, peanuts, nuts, dairy, soy, legumes. My son has a cashew allergy so I totally understand. But I knew that she clearly didn't understand, or she wouldn't have made that meal. I asked her if she knew chickpeas were legumes, and that cheese was dairy, etc. She replied yes to everything, and that the chocolate she used was "of the highest quality".
Instead of realizing the mistake and offering to make me something else, she got annoyed and tried to blame it on the event company not communicating properly, which we knew was false. She picked up her phone and called them, and while it was ringing she made a big show of saying well I can redo everything if you want me to, and complaining about the situation in front of our whole table. It was basically my biggest social fear realized; unsafe food, and being publicly belittled because of my allergies. I excused myself for a minute and went to the washroom. At that moment, honestly, I was tempted to hitch a ride home and have a good cry. Instead, I messaged my mom and told her what happened. She told me to not shy away and to write a blog post about it (lol).
I walked back out into the dining room and once again, was reminded that I have good friends. They all immediately told me not to worry, one of them called the chef a name while she was within earshot, several said don't worry it's not that great (again, within earshot). It felt really good know that they didn't think less of me, or make any pitying remarks about feeling bad for me. I went over to the chef and asked her for a plate of plain berries, and when she asked if I wanted an actual meal I told her honestly that I didn't trust her to make it safe for me.
And then we shuffled off to the next winery, and took this awesome photo.