Is there anything more American than apple pie? Well, I’m sorry to say that I think the French may outdo the Americans on this point.
About 1 in 133 people in the US has celiac’s disease in the US, which is about 1% of the population (http://www.celiaccentral.org/celiac-disease/facts-and-figures/). About 65% of the world’s population has some level of lactose intolerance (http://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/condition/lactose-intolerance), and many have a milk protein intolerance. So why do restaurants have symbols to identify gluten in their menu items but not dairy? Why are there countless gluten free items for sale in grocery stores and few dairy free ones?
I always found it extremely difficult to cook for my mother-in-law: she’s milk protein intolerant, which allows her to have real butter but no other dairy. If I wanted to cook eggplant Parmesan, not only did I have to leave the cheese off for her, but I also had to leave off the breadcrumbs as they contain whey. And how exciting is egg parm without cheese and breading? What about lasagne without cheese? Or mashed potatoes without milk? Or trying to make creme brûlée without cream? But the good news is it gave me an introduction to living dairy free, which was very helpful when I developed sensitivities myself.
In 2012 I started having major digestive issues with bloating, cramping, and loose stools. While in the process of determining the cause, I was diagnosed with a rare form of ovarian cancer. Though the cancer was unrelated to my stomach troubles, I can’t help but wonder if my body tried to fight the tumor by changing the way I process foods. Regardless, my stomach troubles persisted through surgery and subsequent chemotherapy, and it was not until about six months later that I felt I had the energy to tackle my stomach woes.
A chance comment by my mother-in-law made me decide to cut out dairy for a week, and the cramping and bloating lessened. My biggest challenge became determining what caused the problems: was it lactose, milk protein, or something else? Through a series of self testing, I found that it was lactic acid. I have yet to find or hear of anyone with this specific trouble, but it allows me to be in a perfect position to test out recipes for almost every milk intolerance type there is as lactic acid is in just about everything. The only dairy that seems to work for me is Parmesan or Asiago cheese as long as it’s aged a minimum 18 months (the lactic acid disappears during the aging process) and I don’t eat too much in one sitting, so I do “cheat” on my non dairy diet by using this.
In addition to dairy, though, mushrooms, carbonated drinks, iceberg lettuce, and onions all cause some trouble for me, so I don’t use many of these ingredients, as well as other ingredients that typically contain lactic acid such as ham, salami, many sausages and hotdogs, and most pickled items (lactic acid is often added to aid with the pickling, but the process of pickling in itself causes lactic acid to form).
I always enjoyed making elegant meals, many of which are French inspired, but what is French cooking if not butter, cream, and more butter? The few dairy free cook books I’ve been able to find (notice how Barnes and Noble will have a full shelf of gluten free cooking and only one book, if that, of dairy free despite the prevalence of dairy intolerance) have been of limited benefit to me: either they only have dairy- AND gluten free meals (I would still like to enjoy gluten, so no thanks), they tell me how to make my own yogurt or other time consuming things, or they are a pure cookbook with a select few recipes and not what I was looking for, which was a “how to take just about any recipe from any recipe book and ‘dedairyfy’ it.”
I was at a point of giving up trying to cook, but giving up was no real solution as eating out can be even harder! Instead, I resolved to enjoy cooking–and eating–again by experimenting and finding substitutes myself.
So if you’re ready to try out some ways to enjoy food, let’s get cookin’!