Exciting new find!

There’s a reason I love bookstores: you can walk in without a book in mind and leave with exactly what you need.

One of the biggest pluses of living outside Portland is easy access to Powell’s City of Books. If you’ve never been, it’s a building that takes up a whole city block, filled to bursting with used and new books. Nirvana.

Yesterday, I spent a few hours there with my friend Jason and found this amazing book:

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The Cheesy Vegan, by John Schlimm.

It has recipes for how to make fifteen different cheeses! Plus recipes for using the cheeses you make. I may be on a budget, but after checking out some of the recipes, it became a must-buy.

Now, since it’s a brand new book for me, I haven’t tried out any of its contents. I have faith, though, that things will work out.

Anybody had any success whipping up their own dairy free/vegan cheeses? Any tips you know? Any would be much appreciated.

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Experiment: Dairy free cheesecake

I think I’ve written previously that the one food I’ve missed most since going dairy free is cheesecake. That topped with fruit is the perfect dessert. In fact, it was a contender to replace traditional cake when I get married. But that is not to be.

In my quest to find substitutes for dairy, I came across this recipe from Daiya.

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I used an organic graham cracker crust, 9 inches, from Whole Foods instead of rummaging around for my spring form pan. Aside from that minor alteration, I followed the recipe to the tee.

After letting it set for five hours, I cut in. The texture was spot on. As expected, the crust was great. But the taste of the filling…I don’t really know what to think. The recipe uses Daiya’s dairy free cream cheese style spread, which I’ve used on bagels before and like well enough. In the cheesecake, the predominant flavor is of the spread. I expected that, but I was hoping that the lemon juice, vanilla, and sugar would mellow it. They didn’t.

I read through the comments on the site of the recipe and a few people suggest adding sugar to help cut the spread taste. I haven’t decided whether I want to go through all of the work again to make it if it doesn’t make it significantly better. Mixing it all wasn’t hard, but getting the coconut butter the right consistency was frustrating. Perhaps it not being in the right state affected the taste, but I can’t imagine it would be too strong a factor.

Has anybody else made a dairy free cheesecake? Any tips?

The girl allergic to crab

Yesterday I posted about my first time at Red Lobster and promised to share an interesting tidbit about our waitress that she shared with us.

As is not uncommon at a seafood restaurant, a couple of our dinner party ordered crab. What we didn’t know, though, was that our waitress is allergic to crab. Like break out in hives and get really itchy allergic. We found out when she told us she was going to have to put on gloves to box up some of someone’s crab.

She told us it started about four or five years ago. She used to not be allergic, but when Red Lobster would have their Endless Crab promotion, she would eat a lot of crab, and after a while, she started reacting to it. What’s annoying for her is that it’s a progressive allergy, so each new exposure ups the reaction she has, which is why she has to wear gloves or wash her hands as soon after touching something as possible.

What I find fascinating about all of this is that she still works at the restaurant. From what I gathered, she’s been there for around ten years, but only been affected for about half her time there. I can’t imagine it’s been easy though, constantly being exposed to an allergen, and having to explain to your customers that you’ll have to put on gloves to handle their food. I don’t know if I could do it for as long as she has.

Originally I was going to title this post “Why food allergies suck.” I think you can understand why now. Really, my hat goes off to her for sticking it out and doing such a great job.

The Mecca of GF, Diary-free bakeries

Back to Eden in Portland, OR, I bow to you.

Admittedly, I have only been to one dairy-free, GF bakery. But I may never have to go to another as long as I live within driving distance of Back to Eden. Holy nondairy cow.

I don’t know how many of you have to live dairy-free or GF, but let me tell you, walking into a place where you can get ANYTHING you want without worrying what’s in it…there are no words. It’s overwhelming really. Last week my friend Kelly took me for my first visit, warning me that it could be a bit shocking. I didn’t take her seriously, though, to my own detriment. Really, I thought, how mind-bending could it be? Very. If you don’t live with some kind of dietary restrictions, I don’t know that I can do it adequate justice, but imagine that you have not had some of your favorite foods for a very long time because every time (EVERY time) you do, they make you wish for a quick death just to end the pain in your gut. Now imagine some kind of magical, divine goddesses (i.e. the beautiful staff at Back to Eden) have made delicious, amazing, awesome in the literal sense recreations of your favorite foods that will not make you sick in the slightest (unless you eat ALL the chocolate coconut cream pies). You bow down to these people.

The only draw back, which is a totally foreseeable one, is that it’s a bit pricey, as is all dairy-free or GF food. But it’s soooo worth it. For my first trip I got:

  • pumpkin coconut cream pie
  • herb and garlic savory roll
  • cranberry cashew cheesecake (there was another flavor but my mind is drawing a blank)
  • mushroom and spinach cashew tart

And I mooched a little chocolate coconut cream pie off of Kelly.

Cranberry cashew cheesecake and pumpkin pie after tasting

Cranberry cashew cheesecake and pumpkin pie after tasting

Mushroom spinach cashew tart

Mushroom spinach cashew tart

Pumpkin pie and savory roll

Pumpkin pie and savory roll

I ate the tart at the bakery while Kelly and I chatted. The roll was gone a little while after I got home. The pumpkin pie actually lasted four or five days with me painfully pacing myself. And I think I actually have some of the cheesecake still.

I think my favorite was the pumpkin pie. It’s something that I miss a lot around this time of year. It’s always been tied with cheesecake as my favorite dessert, so it’s been hard finding workarounds for the dairy in it. None of the other dairy-free versions I’ve tried up until now have been very good. This one made me want to eat the whole thing in one go.

The mushroom tart was a very close second. It tasted exactly like a mushroom spinach quiche, with cashew product (milk or cheese, I don’t know) as the dairy step-in. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

The cheesecake was really good, but cranberry isn’t one of my favorite flavors and it’s strong in this one. What’s a true testament to its great flavor is even my mom said it tasted like “real” cheesecake. The woman working the night we went was really nice and gave me a frozen one just before we left so it didn’t melt while we hung out. I’m looking forward to trying out their other flavors.

The roll was really good too. It’s a very dense pastry. I really shouldn’t have eaten it in one night, but it was just so tasty! I think if I get it again I will break it out over a couple of days.

It’s been a little over a week since we were there, and even though my bank account wouldn’t be too happy with me, I’m itching to go back.

Fucking Walnuts, Man

Food allergies and sensitivities are everywhere. This is not the end of the world. As someone who suffers from sever lactose intolerance, I can attest that it is not a fun affliction. It makes eating out stressful and sometimes/most times very, very limiting. You never realize how much dairy is in the world until you can’t have any. From my friends who have other allergies/intolerances, this is a fairly universal feeling. You end up scouring food labels (4 and 5 times, just to be sure) looking for anything that could trigger a reaction. Sometimes it feels like a job just finding something to eat.

What makes it very difficult to live with a food allergy is when people don’t label things. Such an instance is where the title of this blog post comes from. In June, I worked as the lead intern for my university’s MFA program’s residency. At the residency, lunch is provided for everyone, in this instance, catered by the university (a contracted company that provides dining services). One of the people attending the residency had an allergy to walnuts. Those responsible for catering were made aware of this, but nonetheless, walnuts showed up in lunch for the first 2-3 days. The first day, there wasn’t even a label on the food so diners could avoid problem food. The second day, two dishes with walnuts sandwiched the one main dish made without. Because people are dumb sometimes. By the third time it came up, and because of other crazy things going on, my boss just looked at me and sighed, “Fucking walnuts, man.” We were both so deliriously tired from all the crazy that we just burst out laughing. It became the phrase of the week for whenever something else went wrong.

The attendant with the allergy did end up ingesting a very small amount, but luckily did not have a serious reaction. Regardless, it is times like these that should remind us that for many, gluten, dairy and other food allergies are not “lifestyle choices,” or “fad diets.” I do not avoid dairy because I think it’s going to make me look better or help me lose weight (which it has, incidentally). I avoid it because if I don’t, it feels like a swarm of lobsters is waging war in my lower abdomen. And this is a mild reaction compared to some of my friends.

What still seems to happen is that I am labeled a “picky eater.” I am. Plain and simple. But I have to be. And trying to belittle me and others with such adjectives is hurtful and ignorant. Researchers estimate that up to 15 million Americans have food allergies. And from 2004 to 2006, there were approximately 9,500 hospital discharges per year with a diagnosis related to food allergy among children under age 18 years. This is not nothing. Food allergies are a real thing that need to be handled properly and with compassion.

What also helps in trivializing food allergies is when they become fad diets, co-opted by people who don’t suffer from the allergy. If you want to live dairy/wheat/gluten/nut/whatever else free, be my guest. But know what you’re talking about when people ask why you’re not eating it. There was a segment on Jimmy Kimmel weeks back where he stopped people on the street and asked those who swore off gluten if they knew what it was. 9 times out of 10, the people had no idea what gluten really was. Besides making the people look silly and ill-informed, it puts a whole cloud over the allergy. It becomes fodder for jokes and people begin to not take it seriously.

What I want to really get at with this post, and I hope I’ve done that, is food allergies are real and are serious. They are not fads or phases or bandwagons to jump on. Having a food allergy doesn’t mean anything about my taste in food. Trust me. If I could bite into a piece of pizza without scraping off the cheese first, I would be all over it. (Though, if I’m honest, my real weakness is cheesecake. I miss that like The Doctor missed Rose. More even.) So please, understand that those of us suffering wish we could change it, and what we need most is support and compassion.

Now, this post has been rather serious, so I thought I’d end on a humorous note. It’s important, I think, to sometimes joke about the serious stuff.

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