Revisiting Old Favorites

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There is so much excitement around trying all the new dairy-laden foods, but it comes at a price. Knowing what real cheese tastes like compromises my love of all things vegan. My nondairy pizza club came to a crashing halt as soon as I tried cheese. “You’re just not going to like the fake stuff anymore,” my pizza club pal told me.

It’s true, faux cheese often doesn’t stand up. I now understand when people have told me in the past, “it’s good, it’s just not cheese,” especially about nut-based cheeses. Even BC (before cheese, © my girlfriend Andrea) I knew many of my dairy replacements were only tolerable because I didn’t know what I was missing. The shredded cheese that proudly proclaims its melting and stretching capabilities was always a little sticky, but after tasting the real deal, going back to the shreds is pretty weird.

I have been slow to return to my BC haunts. I recently took a trip to one of my favorites, ByChloe, to see if the mac and (fake) cheese could hold up. The mac and cheese has an orange sweet potato based sauce and is topped with mushroom “bacon.” The dish is still delicious, but it is not like any dairy mac and cheese I have had so far. It doesn’t taste quite like cheese either. It remains a good alternative because it tastes delicious, but it’s not quite what it’s trying to be.

I still really enjoy vegan food, and it’s interesting to come at it from this new angle. Before, I had something to compare fake meat to, and now the same is true of fake cheese. I had a lot of preconceived notions about what cheese would taste like because of all the replacements. It did not taste like I had expected. Often fake cheese overcompensates for the sharp taste (an adjective I am still trying to grasp) with extra flavor. Real cheese actually has less taste than I was anticipating. That said I still have about a million more kinds of cheese to try.

 

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Some Dairy Updates

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Eating all the dairy: grilled cheese, rugelach, cider donut, cheddar chips.

I’ve been so busy eating cheese for the past month, I haven’t stopped to write about it. Here’s a run down of some of the journey so far.

After that first night of pizza I was very eager to try more. My goal was to strike a balance between trying a lot of things and waiting to try some of the really exciting stuff. I haven’t tried mozzarella sticks yet so I’m looking forward to that. I tried to hold out on grilled cheese but the opportunity for free grilled cheese presented itself at work one day. I’m not one to pass on free food.

Two days after pizza number one, I tried a fancy pizza. I had a few days for my new reality to settle, so I was in a more receptive headspace. I could appreciate what I was eating. We went to Emily, a pizza place in Brooklyn. I’ve been there and asked for cheeseless pizza before, and even that was delicious. I knew I needed to go back and try a cheesy one. The pizza I ordered was a white pizza with pistachios, honey, and truffle oil. It was so good. I love how creamy and mild mozzarella is. The texture of melty mozzarella is incredibly satisfying. I get the hype.

I’m still working my way through my dairy to-do list. Here are a few things I’ve tried so far with reactions:

Sour cream- yum! Tofu sour cream isn’t that far off but real is definitely better.

Saag paneer- paneer is like tofu but better. I was so into it, I kept repeating how much I was enjoying it. I haven’t explored Indian food that much yet but this is a good tip of the iceberg.

Hershey Kisses- not that special, sorry!

Ranch dressing- I know people hate on it but I am in. This stuff is good.

Latte- like a soy latte, but with a milder taste. Sometimes I forget how much of a taste soymilk has because I am so used to it.

Bagel with cream cheese- I’ve had this twice so far, but the second time was when I really noticed how creamy real cream cheese is. I never had a problem with tofu cream cheese, but I’ve got to admit, the real stuff is better. Plus there are so many more flavor options!

M&ms- chocolate but crunchy? Yes. Definitely yes.

Hot chocolate with whipped cream- I went on a mission with my friend Lindsey and my girlfriend Andrea for Lindsey’s “best hot chocolate in Brooklyn.” After a couple sips, she still wasn’t sure if it was the right place. I wasn’t fussed, it was a damn good hot chocolate. Whipped cream is way more decadent than any faux alternatives I’ve had. I had more the next week.

Rugelach- omg. This blew my mind. I grew up on these rolled cookies, but the nondairy version. Turns out using real cream cheese in your dough is a game changer. They melted in my mouth. I can’t even believe how good this cookie was, and it’s probably not the best one that exists in the world, it just came from a random cafe. I will eat exclusively rugelach from now on.

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Mac and cheese- a standout as one of the best things I’ve tried so far, you can’t beat the cheesy, melty, salty, carby deliciousness. I knew I would love it, but I can’t stop thinking about it. I need to try some more!

I’ve also encountered some moments where I felt like an alien in this new dairy world. I’m not sure how much cream you’re supposed to put in coffee, because it’s significantly less than soy/dairy milk, and that’s brand new to me. At a breakfast place, I accidentally double-buttered my toast because I didn’t realize they faced the two pieces into each other like a sandwich to keep the butter contained. I thought Milano cookies would be soft. They’re not! I’m discovering all these little weird assumptions I had about foods I always saw but never ate. I just keep saying “I’m new!” when people notice my strange reactions. Everything is so new.

The First Day of The Rest of My Life…

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Something really, truly life changing happened a little over a week ago. Not to get too hyperbolic.

My girlfriend and I had a joke going that in September I would suddenly be able to eat dairy. For her it may have been serious, but for me it didn’t seem likely. It had been a couple years since my last allergist appointment, though, and in the interim I had a couple dairy run ins: a wrap with hidden goat cheese (I immediately took Benadryl), a sip of milky coffee (I waited for a reaction, nothing came). So in August I scheduled my allergy test appointment.

The test is in three phases. First, they dot your arm with weird “essence of whatever allergen oil” and prick you with a tiny needle. Then you wait for 30 mins for itchy mosquito bite looking bumps to form. This time, barely any bumps showed up (other than cats and dust mites, my constant sneeze pals). I rationalized this in that maybe there was still antihistamines in my system, who even knew how accurate the results were?

Next was a blood test. My least favorite activity, I was sent to a second lab when I told them I might faint. Miraculously, I did not faint and celebrated my victory with a bubble tea. I waited a few days, called the allergist a couple times, and finally the results came in. Negative. My blood test was negative for every component of cow’s milk as well as goat’s milk. I held out on cow’s milk until phase three, but I did dabble in some goat cheese after that result came in. Yum!

The final test is called a “food challenge.” I’ve done it before with shellfish, but it’s a pretty weird concept. You BYOAllergen. Meaning I brought my own shrimp to the allergist and ate it while they watched and monitored to make sure I didn’t react. This time, they told me to bring some regular milk as well as some milk that I boiled for 10 minutes to reduce the allergen. Boiled milk smells kind of weird (actually kind of like cheese), and has the tendency to boil over. It took two tries to get the necessary amount of boiled milk. I showed up at the allergist with boiled and regular, and proceeded to drink.

I told everyone in the office how nervous I was (being chatty is a coping mechanism I guess?). Imagine living your whole life being told this thing is poison, it’ll close your throat. Suddenly the doctor says drink? Scary. She told me that I should be fine, that I had negative test results and that my blood test was nearly negative last time, two years ago. She said skin tests can sometimes produce false positives. Growing out of my allergy wasn’t the remarkable part, carrying it from childhood into adulthood was actually more notable. Many kids have dairy allergies but they usually grow out of them at a fairly young age.

I chugged the boiled milk, quarter cup, half cup, full cup, waiting 20 minutes between each for a reaction. Nothing! The doctor said she was more interested in how I’d fare with regular milk. Interested? Yikes. She poured me a cup, and I sipped it. Not as strong a flavor as boiled milk. Pretty subtle, especially compared to my usual soy. We waited, and… nothing! Oh my gosh, I thought, this could actually be happening. I know I had all those negative tests to suggest that yes, it’s real, but it didn’t feel real until that first sip of milk.

All that said, before that final food challenge I had started compiling a list of dairy items I needed to try. I was straddling the line between not letting myself get carried away and getting super carried away. Pre- and post-test I’ve shared the list with many friends, and accepted additions, letting it grow to over 100 items. There’s a lot of dairy out there!

After ingesting a full cup of milk, I squatted by my charging phone (it had been dying due to over-snapchatting) and settled on a place to meet my girlfriend for dairy item number one: PIZZA. Choosing a pizza place took some thought. I wanted something better than ok, but not the best. You can’t start with the best! Recommendation acquired, I headed down to Soho.

I left the allergist telling everyone I was going to get pizza. “Enjoy your new life!” They understood how much of a game changer this was in my life. I was in a daze. I CAN EAT EVERYTHING?! Everything on a menu, no special requests, no weird questions or clarifying that mayo isn’t dairy. My mind was blown, I was having trouble processing.

I walked into the pizza place and there was a line out the door. “Will this place be too good?” We both wondered. Unsure of what to order, she ordered me a plain slice and a margarita slice, and dressed them both with all the pizza fixins. I took my first bite of the plain slice, and it was good. I was still so out of my mind about the situation that I was barely tasting it. A little like boiled milk (which I guess is just pre-cheese), it was a taste I had never experienced before. “Do you like it?” she asked. “Yes, I think I do!”

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I munched through the first slice and headed for my second, the margarita. I liked this one better. This time I could definitively say, “yes, this tastes really good, and unlike anything I have ever tasted.” Still, the whole first dairy evening I was living in a little cloud of exhilaration, unable to fully process anything.

The pizza was over so quickly, I wasn’t ready to be done. On the way home, I stopped at Doughnut Plant to finally try my first dairy donut. I had a vanilla bean doughnut filled with jam. It was delicious, but if I’m being honest there is a vegan donut shop that does them just as well. The question a lot of people have been asking me is, “what have you had a good dairy-free version of, and what have they not gotten right?” So let me tell you, they have gotten donuts very right.Still, a donut is delicious no matter how you slice it, so I happily enjoyed dessert.

*** A little note: I changed the name of the blog to reflect my new dairy-filled life! More changes coming soon, including a new URL and a new design. Rolling it out in phases, because I’m lazy.

[I’ll update you on all I’ve been trying through a few posts, since this one about day 1 grew so long.]

Delicious Meals: Dill Restaurant

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I just got back from a wonderful trip to Iceland! We spent two days in Reykjavik and three days driving the Southern coast. It was a beautiful, magical, vast country and we saw some crazy scenery.

Our first night, we had a meal at Dill, one of the nicest restaurants in Reykjavik. It was certainly the fanciest meal I’ve ever had. Even though I didn’t cook it, I thought it could have a place on this blog (I obsessively took pictures of each course and tried to take notes as best I could). I’m going to use this post to start a series called “Delicious Meals,” a space to post about restaurants I’ve been to that have been particularly notable and kind to my allergy.

Dill was extremely accommodating to our dietary needs. They made sure each of my plates was completely dairy-free, while making different augmentations for my friend Misha, who is a vegetarian. Kari, our third friend, was able to eat the original dishes with no substitutions. Part of the fun was comparing and contrasting our dishes to each other. It made it even more special!

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Scallion Pancakes

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I haven’t blogged in a while, so that was my plan for today. Well, first I went to a craft fair and got some vegan ice cream, but then it was cooking or bust! I was feeling completely uninspired until a Facebook post changed all that. From my friend Steve: “Does anyone want some (potentially strong) scallions? We’re harvesting what we have in our terrace garden in order to make room for basil & tomato plants, and there’s more than what we can possibly use. Let us know if you want some!” Continue reading

Chocolate Pudding Cake

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Happy moving weekend! Ok, I didn’t move. But with one roommate moving out and another one coming in to take her place, there’s been a lot of excitement and heavy lifting. Now that the dust has settled, we’re watching the Jinx and eating pudding cake.

My mom used to make chocolate pudding cake a lot, and now I know why. It’s so easy! You make a simple cake batter and put it in an 8 x 8 pan. Then you sprinkle on a mixture of cocoa powder, white sugar, and brown sugar. Then you pour on cold water, don’t mix, and throw it in the oven. Something magical happens: the cake rises to the top while the water and cocoa sugar mixture forms a pudding on the bottom. Delicious chocolate magic! Top with faux ice cream (doesn’t that make soy ice cream sound exotic?). Continue reading

Jacqui and Shira’s Epic Baked Apples

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IMG_0325-0.JPG A few weekends ago I went away with some friends. We just traveled a few hours from the city and rented a house for the weekend (I’m going through an Airbnb obsession right now). My favorite thing to do on a weekend away, which should come as no surprise, is to cook big fun meals and get everyone involved. All my friends were on board, but this group came with lots of baggage. I’m dairy-free, someone else is gluten-free, and someone else is vegetarian. Oof! Daunting, right? It’s a good thing we’re up for a challenge.

Gluten-free desserts are often a hit-or-miss game for me. I have a few go-to recipes (see chewy chocolate brownie cookies), but baked apples might be my favorite. These babies are so much better than what probably comes to mind when I say “baked apples.” My friends in college would sometimes make these for us on long nights of baking. They are cored, plugged with peanut butter, stuffed with oats and chocolate chips, and plugged back up with more peanut butter. Pro tip: they make an excellent breakfast. They are so easy and SO good. Thank you Jacqui and Shira for this deeeelish recipe! The only negative is that they take about an hour to bake and the smell can really try my patience. By the time they were done in the oven during our girls weekend, almost everyone was asleep! We ended up with baked apples for breakfast and no regrets. Continue reading