Home Cooking In the Kitchen Tiny tick bite causes a sea change in cooking and eating habits

Tiny tick bite causes a sea change in cooking and eating habits

Come and listen to my story about a man named Len
A poor retiree, just lookin’ for some Zen,
And then one day he was picking up some sticks
And up his shoulder came a coupla ticks

Lone Stars, that is, fast movin’, and out for a meal.

Well, the first thing you know ol’ Len’s got an allergy,
Can’t eat any red meat, makes it hard to breathe,
Said, “Californy is the place I ought to be”
So he loaded up the truck and he moved to Beverly

Hills, that is. Swimmin’ pools, movie stars.

(to the tune of “The Beverly Hillbillies” theme song…)

Hi folks! Chef Dad here, giving Chef Kay a break this week. The last part of that song isn’t true — I got tired of rhyming.

But, I did get bit. Big time. I’d like to share my experience with the Alpha-Gal allergy, also called the Mammalian Meat Allergy, because of that bite by a Lone Star tick. I was bitten, (probably several times) this past spring, and now have very high levels of the galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose (alpha-gal) molecule in my blood. Stick with me, I know this is technical stuff, but there may be a happy ending.

Alpha-gal allergies develop after a person has been bitten by the Lone Star tick. Alpha-gal is not naturally present in apes and humans but is in all other mammals. If a tick feeds on another mammal, the alpha-gal will remain in its alimentary tract. The tick will then inject the alpha-gal into a person’s skin, (me, in this case), which in turn will cause the immune system to release a flood of IgE antibodies to fight off the foreign carbohydrate.

Alpha-gal allergies are the first food allergies to come with the possibility of delayed anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxic reactions are not pretty. They are the ones that cause people who are allergic to seafood or peanuts all that dangerous trouble. It is also the first food-related allergy to be associated with a carbohydrate, rather than a protein.

After I was bitten, I feasted on a meal of marinated steak made by Chef Kay for her food blog, and six hours later, I had a delayed anaphylaxis reaction, which caused my throat to swell, making it difficult to breathe. I was able to take some allergy medicine, which reduced the reaction, and in the morning I went to see my allergist. He suggested that I had the “red meat” allergy, to my great disbelief.

After my blood tests came back, I had no choice but to give up any form of red meat. That meant no Ragu Bolognese during my recent trip to Italy, no Prosciutto, no bacon(!!!), no sausage, no French onion soup. Any ingestion of a meat product will result in a delayed allergic reaction, and possible death. I now carry an epi-pen and Benadryl with me at all times. It is hard to eat out, as one can never be sure if there was any meat contamination on my food.

Yes, I can eat seafood, and any poultry products, thank goodness! And so, I now am a connoisseur of turkey bacon, turkey burgers, and chicken sausage. Did you know that most chicken and turkey sausages are encased in a beef or pork casing? Yeah, that’s tricky. The most delicious turkey burgers are served at Love Lane Kitchen in Mattituck, but they are made with bacon, No more for me. Gotta watch those salads, quite a few have some bacon or ham involved somehow. Certain medications are made with a beef byproduct. One has to read labels thoroughly before taking them.

So is it forever? No, there is hope. The medical community right now says that it can last anywhere from six months to two years, although I have seen those times extended to five years. This is kinda new to us.  The data are still coming in. It started in May with me, my next test will be in February, so we will see then. And I can get bitten again — which increases the levels and the time served!

So what do I eat? Like I said, I can still eat poultry, and all forms of seafood (which I love). I can eat dairy products, as long as I don’t overdo it — the beef collagen used in making cheese can set off a reaction if I eat too much, but so far, so good! I have learned to love hummus, and baba ganoush and I can eat most of my favorite pasta dishes, (No spaghetti carbonara, though. That bacon again.) I’ve been eating a lot of salads, and I also adjusted my diet to eat fewer carbs (aka-bread!) I’ve lost 35 pounds since May, and that’s a good thing. I have discovered new foods and new flavors during my red-meatless existence. I’ve found lots of easy spreads with flavors derived from spices. For example, this ricotta spread. Easy to make, and it’s great on crackers or sliced baguettes. I adapted this recipe from one I found on the net. It’s quite easy and delicious!!

Herbed Ricotta Spread

1 15-16 oz container whole milk ricotta
1 garlic clove, minced fine
¼ cup olive oil, plus more for drizzling on bread
1 cup of finely chopped herbs, such as chives, mint, tarragon, parsley, or any combination you like. If you use dried herbs, you should cut back the amount from 1 cup to a lesser amount, to taste. You can also substitute any other herbs you like.


Combine the ricotta, garlic and olive oil in the work bowl of a food processor, and puree until smooth. Scrape into a bowl, add the herbs and mix well. Let chill for an hour, or overnight, and serve on toasted baguette slices, drizzling a little olive oil over the spread. Enjoy! And no bacon!