I've known that I am allergic to milk since I was seven years old. Since then, I've been examining labels, questioning waiters, and explaining myself to practically anyone who is with me when I eat.
The first question that I am usually asked is, "Oh, you're lactose intolerant?" I (usually) patiently explain that no, I am not, in fact, lactose intolerant. The lactose intolerant folks cannot digest milk sugar (lactose) and are usually helped by lactaid, because it enables them to digest the sugars. On the other hand, those of us with actual milk allergies can often digest milk properly...we are just allergic to it. I am allergic to all three components of milk -- the fat, the sugar, and the protein. That means that even those products that are lactose free are still a problem for me (because they still contain the milk fat and protein).
I also have to beware of the shifty ways milk is slipped into innocuous foods -- did you know that "sodium casinate" is milk? All words with "casin" or "lact" in them also signify milk product. And, somehow, food manufacturers are allowed to label items as milk free, even of they aren't. Case in point, "milk free" soy cheese often still contains whey. "Dairy free" creamers, often contain lecithin.
Milk shows up in almost *everything* -- even some foods you'd never dream contained dairy. To name a few examples: brown sugar flavoring, processed meats, caramel coloring, high protein energy bars, and canned soups -- there is even a brand of potato chips that uses a milk by-product to help the BBQ flavor stick to the chip. I have to watch out for all prepackaged foods, all spice mixtures, salad dressings, baked goods, etc. I must read the ingredients or question the cook for every morsel of food that I eat.
Sounds exhausting, huh?
Thankfully, it really isn't. Like I said, I've known since I was a child. It is a way of life for me -- I can't imagine would it would be like not to question what is in my food. On the plus side, I love to cook, so making things from scratch is not a problem for me. Plus, not being able to have butter, cheese, cream, etc. has helped me stay trim and healthy. And, desserts aren't really a downfall for me, because I can't have most of them. A chunk of dark chocolate with some port or a scoop of sorbet is about the only dessert I ever have or want.
On the downside, I have to take calcium pills and constantly worry that I'm not getting enough to keep my bones strong. I also have to speak with the host of any party I attend to explain my allergy and bring food with me on trips to ensure that there will be something I can have. The past few years have made my life much easier -- coffee shops now stock soy milk, stores like Trader Joes and Whole Foods have entire sections of their stores dedicated to dairy-free foods, and labels now must state whether the product contains milk. When I was a kid, my poor parents couldn't find dairy-free alternatives anywhere -- now 7-11 carries soy creamer.
Another question that I get asked all the time is, "what do you miss the most?" I honestly have no answer for that. I haven't had dairy foods since I was seven --- I don't miss mac and cheese because I don't remember what it tastes like. Besides, I have dairy-free versions of ice cream, butter, cream cheese, sour cream, chocolate, and milk that I eat and cook with all the time. I don't really feel like I'm missing out on anything.
Okay, maybe cheese. I'm such a foodie -- I love to read about recipes and restaurants, and knowing that I'll never experience the glories of a cheese plate or the thrill of sneaking some unpasteurized, smelly block of cheese into the country to enjoy at a later date is rather disappointing. All who know me are convinced that I'd love cheese if I could have it, but alas, I can't. (Soy cheese, even to my uneducated-about-cheese-palate, is not very good).
Oh, and cream sauce, I'm jealous of people who can have genuine cream sauce. It just looks so decadent and delicious.
While I know that soy cheese is a wan, pale imitation of real cheese, and my dream of being able to eat the real stuff will never be fulfilled, I have become convinced that a delicious dairy-free cream sauce is possible. Why have I come to this realization, you ask? Well, I made some. And it was fantastic.
So, from my dairy-free house to you ... I present.....a non-dairy cream sauce that actually tastes *good*!
Shrimp and Asparagus Pasta, in Cream Sauce (serves 4)
--1 1lb pasta (I used whole wheat penne, but linguine or spaghetti noodles would also be great)
--3oz Canadian bacon, diced into 1 centimeter cubes
--splash of olive oil
--1 lb raw shrimp (large), peeled, tails removed, and de-veined if necessary
--salt and pepper, to taste
-- 2 -3 tablespoons grainy dijon mustard
--3 tablespoons water/ white wine
--1 tablespoon cornstarch
--1 teaspoon hot sauce
--1 garlic clove, diced and then mashed into a paste with a pinch of salt (or a cube of frozen garlic from Trader Joes)
--1/2 cup soy sour cream
--splash of soy milk
--salt and pepper to taste
--2 bunches asparagus, washed, trimmed, and cut into 1 inch pieces
1) Put on a large pot of water to boil, when you are ready for it, it will be happily boiling away.
2) Saute the cubed Canadian bacon in a splash of olive oil on low heat in a frying pan until it begins to brown (15 minutes or so)
3) Drop the pasta, with a pinch of salt, into the boiling water. Cook according to directions. Hopefully, the pasta will be finishing right as the sauce finishes .(My pasta had to cook for 12 minutes and it worked out perfectly for me.)
4) Add the shrimp to the frying pan with salt and pepper to taste. Cook on medium high, stirring occasionally, until shrimp turn pink (about 3 minutes).
5) With a slotted spoon, take out the shrimp, leaving the oil and bacon behind (it is okay if a few bits of bacon come along). Place the shrimp on a clean bowl or plate. This step ensure that your shrimp don't get overcooked or chewy. Yay!
6) Make a slurry of the mustard, water, cornstarch, hot sauce, and garlic. Stir vigorously or shake in a container (with a tight lid) until cornstarch is dissolved. Add slowly to frying pan, stirring continuously.
7) As the sauce cooks it will thicken. Continue stirring for about a minute, then add the soy sour cream and soy milk. Stir.
8) Add the asparagus pieces to the pan. Cook, stirring continuously, for about 3 minutes. If the sauce appears too thick, add more soy milk to thin it out.
9) Turn off the heat and add the shrimp back to the pan, stir a few times to make sure the sauce is distributed evenly. Taste and adjust seasonings.
10) Drain the cooked pasta, and put back into the pot. Pour the sauce over top and stir to combine.
Serve in a shallow bowl or plate. A fresh green salad goes nicely as an accompaniment.
Obviously, you can use dairy sour cream and milk instead. However, I encourage you to try to soy variation. When M tasted it, she looked up at me in surprise and said, "this doesn't have milk in it?!?!" Then, proceeded to lick her plate clean. This meal was a real treat for me, because I so rarely can have any creamy foods, and a treat for D and M because it was just plain good. The tang of the soy sour cream, with the sweet shrimp, crunchy asparagus, salty bits of ham, and earthy mustard combined to form something truly luscious. Try it and see!
The sauce, just waiting for the pasta to join the party. See the little mustard seeds? Yum!