Shakshuka | Eggs Poached in Spiced Tomato Sauce {recipe} – Feel the Fear

feel the fear. shakshuka anyway.[photo from instagram. follow: TheDelicious]

Right around the beginning of the end, I had some sort of allergic reaction.

Not “some sort.” It was an actual, very real, allergic reaction, the very real kind that freaks you the fuck out if you’ve had a history of allergic reactions that land you in the emergency room, sometimes with hallucinatory-level antihistamines shot directly into your bloodstream with deep space-sized needles, sometimes with your “waking up” with your way-back-then-boyfriend and two other strangers standing next to your arm with an IV drip of something they say should “clear it up,” sometimes with a compounded dose of relief and shame when you look at the bottom copy of a release form in triplicate and make out the single phrase scrawled on the bottom line: “panic attack.”

I was sitting at the computer late at night, after a very late dinner, working on an extremely late next installment of whoknowswhatIwasactuallydoing, when I noticed my upper lip tingling on the driver’s side, the unmistakeable terminology for “left side” as my Dad always taught me when I was four years old about clear communication.

I touched my lip lightly with my finger. I pressed my lips together, the way you do when you’re putting on lip gloss. I could feel it. My lip was starting to swell.

“Oh no,” I thought.

“Oh god, no,” I instinctively prayed to no one in particular except maybe the omniscient, omnipresent deity aka webMD. “Please let this be a stress- and anger-at-boyfriend-induced panic attack.”

I tip-toed up the hallway to the guest bathroom, the closest one to the office where I was working, the furthest one away from my sleeping boyfriend, and examined my lip in the mirror. Closeup, the fine lines on and around my upper lip had disappeared, the skin pulled taut by the bloating from almost instantaneous cult-like gathering of too many horrifying histamines in a tiny temple aka my lip, now rounded off, hard, smooth, the same kind of effect, I guess, that women pay thousands of dollars to achieve in a plastic surgeon’s office.

Does panic look like a real housewife of Beverly Hills adjacent? I hoped for the breast best.

I stood back from the mirror to look at my whole face. They say to do that, you know, to sit back from that magnifying mirror when you’re doing makeup to one teeny tiny part of your face, because what might look good (or bad) up close, looks totally different when you see it in the context of everything else around it. Except I wasn’t plucking my brows or painting a cat’s eye. I was examining a near medical emergency. Maybe I was overreacting. Maybe I needed perspective. Maybe I needed to get myself to Cedars in the next few minutes.

What could have caused this reaction, if it was, indeed, an allergic reaction?

Standing in the sick, creepy, after-midnight light of the bathroom, I played out dinner over in my head, as far back as cooking and even prepping because who knows what I could have put into my mouth unconsciously popping, tasting, sipping. Quinoa. Spinach. Lemon. Lime. Chickpeas. Garlic. Cauliflower. Fish sauce? People can be allergic to fish, but I’ve never been, and had eaten fish sauce many times before, as recent as the two days before in homemade Chicken Pho. Nothing was new, nothing stood out as something that had caused problems before. Chicken. Rubbed with salt.

Wait. Was I…? Could I…?

Am I allergic to salt?!

My god! I had opened a new box of salt…maybe I’m allergic to salt…Holy fuck, I’m allergic to salt! I’m allergic to salt, people! I am a medical mystery!

My brain was on overdrive, my imagination sending my sanity into a violent downward spiral as I waited, hoping that the antihistamine I had just popped would kick in faster than my body would. It was obvious now that it was an allergic reaction. The swelling had spread across my philtrum from the driver’s side to the passenger side. Yes, I looked up philtrum. I wanted to know the exact term in case I had to use it to explain to the paramedics what was happening.

I crept further up the hallway to the bedroom.

“Babe?” I whispered, standing over him. There was no way he would have heard me through his snoring.

“Hey, babe, I think I’m having an allergic reaction.” I said a little louder, poking his shoulder. He didn’t move.

“I MIGHT BE DYING SHOULD I GO TO THE ER?!” I practically screamed. He awoke, totally startled and confused. Sitting on the edge of the bed, I fake-calmly pointed out my lip, which had swollen to more than double its size. He rolled his eyes, asked me if I really needed to go to the ER this time (yes) because do I know how long we’d be waiting (three hours at least) if we went right now, told me to take a Zyrtec (I already did), told me I’d be fine in 15 minutes, then fell back into bed, asleep again within 10 seconds.

I stormed back down the hallway to the office. I was going to die all alone, even though my boyfriend was in the house.

shakshuka in bowls

Allergies are a scary thing not only because the reactions can be life-threatening, but because the allergies themselves are unpredictable and unexplainable.

I’ve had reactions to everything from common allergens like shrimp when I was a child, to not-as-common blueberries, neither of which cause reactions now, but could in the future again, and if/when they do, will likely, and very frighteningly, result in reactions that are more intense than the one before (also the nature of allergies). I’ve been to different allergists, all of whom charge a lot of money for nothing more than a series of tests that can tell you only what you’re allergic to right now, like dust mites (which is everyone anyway) and cats (which I don’t eat), but never predict that your lips would suddenly swell up after eating a slice of Toffee Bar Coffee Cake riddled with hazelnuts, or that your entire body would break out in hives the morning after eating tomatoes at dinner the night before.

When violent reactions occur after eating something you’ve eaten without concern countless times before, every meal that you haven’t cooked yourself is a sick (literally) game of chance, every dish on the table a round that could possibly take you out in a single shot of histamines. Does it contain shrimp? Does it contain hazelnuts? What about the increasingly trendy hazelnut oil? Has it touched hazelnuts? Does it contain something else to which I might be allergic that I don’t even know about yet but will tomorrow when I die of anaphylaxis? (I am not anaphylactic. Yet.) Does this dish contain food? Because guess what, I might be allergic to food! The constant questioning fuses into an underlying doubt and the underlying doubt eventually turns into…fear.

Oh, there is is again.

Recently I have been struggling with fear. The fear itself is not recent, as I’m pretty sure that some version of fear has been plaguing my subconscious since childhood spankings with a heavy, metal spatula (which certainly explains a few things). However, it wasn’t until some time in the last few months that I realized that in the previous two or three years, I had let normal levels of the normal fears that usually keep you from doing stupid, harmful and illegal things, balloon in both scale and scope into a paralyzing array of utterly irrational, utterly inexplicable fears. Fear of failure isn’t so abnormal but I’ve let it completely take hold of my ability to write anything from blog posts to the subject line of an email. Fear of cooking is less common, but still keeps me from some certain normal things like, you know, cooking. Fear of spiders is its own thing.

But fear of eating?

Fear of food?


Right around the beginning of the end, I had some sort of allergic reaction, that kicked off the whole of it boiling out on control. I wouldn’t leave the house, let alone go out to a restaurant to eat something that didn’t have a detailed label or recipe attached to it. I stopped drinking wine. I stopped eating kimchi (shrimp). Stopped eating Thai (also shrimp). No more Vietnamese, sushi and pretty much all of my favorite foods including anchovies and canned sardines because though I had never shown any type of reaction to fin fish, you never know. Ramen isn’t going to kill you, Sarah, he said. But after a few bites, I started to feel faint, and had trouble breathing. It was made from a mushroom stock. I swore off mushrooms. I swore off ramen just to be safe. I was eating nothing but organic bananas, avocados, steamed brown rice and quinoa, hard boiled eggs, raw tofu, and green juice that I pressed at home from vegetables that I washed to the point that all the nutrients were probably vaporized. Even then, I’d look sideways at a tiny bunch of broccoli with suspicion.

All of my fears were feeding off each other, but I wasn’t feeding myself. But worse than losing weight faster than any detox diet could ever promise, I was losing my mind.

Then it got to a breaking (up) point, and that was the end of the end.


A couple of weeks ago, I cooked Shakshuka, a dish that very prominently features tomatoes. I ate it. I’m no longer allergic to tomatoes, which, incidentally, was his favorite food of all time.

I am, however, still allergic to hazelnuts.
shakshuka, plated in bowls

Shakshuka | Eggs Poached in Spiced Tomato Sauce {recipe}

serves 4


2 tablespoons light cooking oil like grapeseed or canola oil
1 onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup chopped)
3-4 large cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 roasted red pepper, chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes
salt and pepper (to taste)
4-6 eggs
½ cup feta cheese, crumbled
chopped Italian parsley
serve alongside: additional crumbled feta cheese and chopped parsley, hot chili sauce, herbed yogurt, olives


Heat oven to 350°F.

Heat oil in a skillet with high sides over medium-high heat. Add onions and garlic and cook until soft and very lightly golden brown. Add roasted red pepper, cumin, and paprika, and cook, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes.

Pour tomatoes and their liquid into the pan. Using a wooden spoon, carefully crush the tomatoes against the bottom and sides of the pan. Cook until heated through (and all the tomatoes are crushed), about 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Crack eggs into sauce. You may need to use a spoon to gently push eggs into the sauce, taking care not to break the yolks. Sprinkle crumbled feta cheese over the top, pushing some of the feta cheese into the sauce. Transfer pan to oven and bake until eggs are set, about 5-7 minutes. Remove pan from oven, sprinkle with chopped parsley. Serve alongside hot chili sauce, herbed yogurt, and olives.

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  • H.C.

    LOL @ WebMD reference, for me, it seems every symptom will somehow steer me towards a cancer diagnosis. Bummers to hear about your hazelnut allergy though — everyone (not deathly allergic to them) needs a little nutella/gianduja in their lives.

    And your sultry shakshuka makes my egg in a purgatory seem so plain jane (that you’d half expect to see on the likes of Maury or Jerry Springer).

  • DHo

    I swear, I will never bake you a hazelnut cake ever again. And I would totally go to the ER with you if you needed it!

    • DHo

      Or, you know, didn’t need it, but still wanted to go because, well, reassurance.

      • TheDelicious

        ^ this comment = you totally know me.

  • Doggfather

    It’s Murphy’s Law that medical emergencies strike past midnight. It’s some kinda Cinderella inverse law but how disappointing it is when Prince Charmin snores through the fear! The anxiety! The loneliness! But you made it & you’re eating out again & eating love apples how very fitting or should I say fatting lol

  • Ricky

    I can feel for you. My mom is heavily allergic to parsley, try to avoid that in a restaurant.

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