Tag Archives: dairy free cooking challenge

The Dairy Free Cooking Challenge: Changes

I have been struggling with this challenge a lot.  I’m going to change it.  I am re-naming it “The Dairy Free Dinner Challenge” as my friend Angela was calling it from the beginning.  Why?  What’s up?  What kind of loser am I?  I was afraid you might ask that.

I have to lose 100 lbs.  I can’t do it not cooking with dairy.  I know that sounds all wrong.  I should find it easier to do because no dairy means a lower fat diet.  Right?  RIGHT?  Yeah, well, going from eating a crap-ton WAY TOO MUCH dairy to not cooking with any dairy is a huge shift and the biggest problem is that I am not satisfied with most of the food I’m cooking.  I have only had pasta once or twice in the past couple of months because I don’t like pasta without Parmesan cheese on it.  I tried a vegan version of Parm cheese and didn’t like it.  (It tasted good to me by itself but I didn’t like it on the pasta).  The only thing that makes my food remotely good is a lot of avocado.  But I can’t have avocado with every meal.

Basically – I don’t want to cook.  I cook and I don’t feel excited about the food I’m eating.  So then I binge on take out food with cheese.  I’m eating cheese enchiladas two times a week to satisfy my desire for tasty and satisfying food.  In case you don’t know it – cheese enchiladas with beans and rice and salsa and guacamole and tortilla chips is pretty much my favorite meal on earth and I could eat it every day and that meal is over 1,000 calories.

I need to not eat out so often for financial and health reasons.  Going out to eat is the only food I look forward to eating anymore.  Normally I go out to eat mostly for the fun of hanging out with my family in a festive environment but my home cooking is better than I can get at most restaurants.  At least – when I’m cooking the food I know how to cook which includes dairy.  I started this challenge because I want to eat a lot less dairy than I am used to eating for health, for sustainability, and ethical reasons.  That goal has not changed.  This challenge was about building a repertoire of dairy free meals that I can be excited about – to learn to cook excellent dairy free meals.

But losing weight is way more important to me right now than anything else.  I’m obese and I know what I need to do to lose it and I keep tripping up and sabotaging my efforts because I don’t feel satisfied.  I want yogurt and fruit for breakfast and I don’t want substitute yogurts made from soy or coconuts or almonds.  Instead I get super hungry because nothing sounds good for breakfast and I make an enormous portion of tofu and toast with tomato and avocado and then I slather that with a cup of ketchup to satisfy that – whatever the hell it is that dairy satisfies – and it’s too much food.  Then I eat a delicious dairy free salad for lunch.  But then I’m hungry again and I don’t know what the fuck to eat.  No pasta… I’m not a rice girl… I could make couscous again I guess… but then I just give in and go get a big combo plate of enchiladas.  Spending money I need to not spend and then, since I’ve already ruined my calorie count for the day I may as well forget about it and do whatever I want and drink as much beer as I feel like.  This is not good.  These are not healthy behaviors.

So I’ve decided to keep learning to make dairy free dinners and build my repertoire and my ultimate goal is unchanged.  I do feel that a diet with a lot less dairy is the healthiest thing to do for myself.  The difference is that I need to give myself a lot longer to reach that goal.  I thought that simply diving in and not cooking with any dairy at all would be the best way to learn to cook without it.  I was wrong.  This is not the best approach for me.  I know what I can cook and eat and be satisfied with while still losing weight.  I did it before.  I lost 40 lbs while still eating cheese and everything I like to eat – I leaned things up a little and developed the self discipline to not have seconds and not have huge portions but I still loved the food I was eating and felt satisfied.

So I’m going to bring dairy back into the house but I’m going to keep developing dairy free meals so that I can build a repertoire of vegan food that satisfies.  One of my best resources is my friend Chelsea who is an excellent cook and who is lactose intolerant so though she eats meat – when we cook together it’s vegan.  She’s got so many meal ideas that sound amazing that don’t involve dairy – so I look forward to learning from her.

And now – it’s almost noon and I haven’t eaten anything yet and I don’t know what to eat because I’ve got no avocado, no bread, and nothing sounds good.  I guess I’ll fry up some potatoes.  That will have to do for lunch.

Dairy Free Dinner Challenge: Best Meal of the Week

I have been doing so much food preserving that I haven’t been doing a whole lot of regular cooking.  It’s typical – you are working on preserving bulk foods that are components to future meals but in themselves aren’t all that useful when you’re hungry right now.  I’ve been eating quite a few cheesy meals out from my favorite Mexican food place El Patio.  However – yesterday I made one of the best vegan meals I’ve ever tasted (pictured above).

Grilled summer squash on a bed of polenta and dressed with a kalamata olive dressing (chopped kalamata olives, julienned basil, olive oil, red wine vinegar, juice of one lemon, salt and pepper).  It was so simple and yet so satisfying!  I’m making it again tonight for vegan friends to try.

My pickles are busy fermenting.  They get cloudy after several days.  I’ve got them covered with the clamp lids and they’re sitting in my closet hopefully working their magic.  This photo was taken last week.  I think I should pull them out and check them today.

Well, I’m feeling horribly oppressed by my unopened stack of mail that has been accumulating while I’ve had all my attention directed at tomatoes and corn and peaches.  I’m scared of the potential doom within them.  So I’m going to go and open it all and file stuff and then I’m going to clean my kitchen, fold some laundry, organize a shelf or two and then I’m going to COOK.

Hope you’re all having a productive and awesome Friday!

The Dairy Free Cooking Challenge: 9/9/2012

I truly want to report that I’m loving not cooking with dairy.  But I can’t.  The truth is that I love cheese and dairy so much that I am eating it out at every opportunity.  Burritos with sour cream and cheese.  Enchiladas.  Nachos.  Grilled cheese.  During canning season I tend to order out more food than normal because my  kitchen is such a chaos of big cooking projects that I don’t have the space or time to make regular meals.  And I make sure that every meal I eat out is full of dairy.

I resent my challenge sometimes.  I have been tempted to chuck it in and just buy some yogurt and cheese.  I have been eating these huge breakfasts of eggs and tomato and avocado and buckets of ketchup – and I want to have a lighter breakfast routine.  I could have one egg on one piece of toast, obviously, but when making eggs I seem to need to go all the way.  When I eat cereal for breakfast I can just eat a bowl and be done.  Or a bowl of yogurt with fruit – this is a light breakfast I love to eat.  Soy yogurt?  No way.  Soy or almond or coconut or oat or rice milk on my cereal?  No thank you!

When I was a kid we sometimes ate granola with apple juice instead of milk and I might try doing that.

I’ve also been wanting to bake some kind of breakfast bar and even have the ingredients on hand.  The truth is – I don’t love baking.  I have to drag my feet to bake things so relying on home baked breakfast bars for breakfast doesn’t seem like a great plan.

I like oatmeal but I like it with some milk.

The food I’ve been making at home that’s dairy free is good, there’s no question about it.  The point of the challenge was to come up with a strong repertoire of dairy free meals that I could easily make and get excited about.  When cheese and milk and yogurt are in the house I will nearly always turn to those ingredients in some way.  Not having them around forces me to be more creative.  But even when I’m making good dairy free meals I never stop wishing I had dairy around.  I never stop wanting dairy.  Now I understand how meat eaters feel when they give up meat and they can like vegetarian meals but never stop wanting meat.

The best dairy free dishes so far:

The navy bean, green bean, mushroom, zucchini salad with thinly sliced red onion and dressed in balsamic vinegar dressing – the raw onions weren’t good for my mom but Philip and I loved this bean salad.    I made it so it could be eaten by itself or over a bed of lettuce.  The mushrooms and beans and zuchs were caramelized which I believe added depth of flavor and made them prettier.

Navy bean and sundried tomato spread – I didn’t have any of this on bread (I only tasted it with a spoon) but my mom and Philip devoured it and declared it a great success.  I will be posting a recipe for this when I have the time to make it again.  It had in it: navy beans, sun dried tomatoes, lemon juice, thyme, salt, pepper.

But the very best thing I’ve made I made the other evening and my people ate it ALL so fast.  I was lucky I got even one little bowl of it myself.

Mexican style pasta salad – sauteed onions, Hungarian wax peppers, zucchini, green beans, and fresh corn with wheat rotini pasta dressed with a cilantro/lime dressing (olive oil, lime juice, red wine vinegar, salt pepper, garlic, and cilantro – blended until thick).  It was amazing.  I plan to get a recipe for this up as well.  Because I really want you to try it.

I know this challenge is good for me.  In spite of eating cheese out more often than I normally would – there are a few days every week when I eat no dairy.  That hasn’t happened for years.  Not having it in the house means I’m not eating it for every snack.  Though I’ve lost zero weight from eating less cheese, I know it’s good for my body to ease the dairy intake.  I’ve considered ending this challenge because it’s just too hard and I love dairy too much, but I’m going to keep going.  It’s only been a month.  One month.  The fact that I’m finding this so hard is indication that there’s a lot more to learn from continuing to do it.

A few of my friends said that when they stopped eating dairy it eventually didn’t even taste good to them.  A long time ago I gave up all dairy for one month.  I made it the entire month and I have to say that cheese tasted better than ever when I had it again.  I think my DNA is made of cheese.


Dairy Free Cooking Challenge: the first report

At the Santa Rosa Wednesday Market (which also has some produce stands) it’s all about the BBQ.  People just can’t get enough of meat on a grill.  The whole down town was a haze of meaty smoke.  I suppose this is really primal.  I guess the reason commercial BBQ stands don’t ever grill vegetables is because people don’t understand how to make an amazing grilled vegetable sandwich.  I could teach them a thing or two.

Years ago the Wednesday Market was the farmer’s market with some restaurant and craft stalls.  Then it became equal parts restaurant/craft stalls and produce stalls.  Now it’s almost all restaurant and craft stalls with just a few produce stalls.  This makes me sad.  However – what’s cool is that the farmers that are still showing up at the Wednesday market are the same ones that have been there since the first time I went.  All familiar faces to me and though they didn’t recognize me – it gave me pleasure and a sense of continuity to see them there – to buy from them again.  They are also at the actual farmer’s markets that run all year long – but I have yet to get to those because I am still waking up too late every day to get to them in time.

August is here and with it is the beginning of my challenge to cook without cheese.  I haven’t been 100% cheese free because I am still eating it out but since I can’t afford to go out much I haven’t eaten much cheese in a week.  (The first few days of August I still had cheese left over.)  Wanna know how I feel about it?

Mostly okay.  Definitely not excited about food much.  Thank god for avocados and hummus!  The best thing I’ve eaten since cooking without dairy is the mushroom and polenta dish I posted a couple of days ago.  That was so good I didn’t think about how much better it might be with some cheese.

I’m suddenly craving much saltier food.

I can’t hold my liquor as well.

I feel the need to eat more frequently.  This is not such a bad thing.  Typically I eat two really big meals a day and then a major snack late at night if I stay up.  Now I seem to be hungry all the time.

But really I don’t think I’m actually hungry all the time – I’m just craving cheese.

I do feel cleaner inside and I don’t know how to explain what I mean by that.  Animal products, even ones I love like cheese and eggs, have a sort of icky aspect to them.  They taste fantastic but they don’t always FEEL fantastic in my body.  I really don’t know how to describe it – eating the flesh of or foods made from the body parts of animals makes people smell a little like -


There, I said it.  I’m not trying to be obnoxious or mean or make any judgements about meat or dairy eating (because I LOVE eating cheese and eggs).  I’m simply saying that people do smell like the food they eat.  People who consume large amounts of vitamins (of the naturally made kind) often smell of vitamin.  People who eat a lot of garlic often smell of garlic (not in the classic garlic-breath kind of way – but more subtly – through their pores).

I admit that I’m especially sensitive to smells.

But my point was that I am feeling cleaner inside.  I imagine that if I quit eating eggs this feeling would be heightened.

It totally annoys me when people talk about eating “clean” because it definitely sounds like a judgement but I just can’t find a better word for it and I know what is meant by that word.

Anyway – I’m not really happy to be without cheese.  We went out to a mediocre restaurant (that’s putting it really nicely) this week that Max likes for the waffle fries and I ordered a sandwich called “The Caprese” which was a hamburger bun, fresh mozzarella cheese, onions cooked in balsamic, tomato, and pesto-mayonnaise.

I should not have ordered a cheese item featuring fresh mozzarella because this is one of the few cheeses that I find has zero flavor and whose texture is unpleasing.  I like the less fresh version of mozzarella or this one kind I bought from a farmer’s market that was freshly made mozzarella curds.  SO GOOD.  Anyway – the cheese was flavorless and terrible, the onions didn’t taste at all of balsamic vinegar, the mayonnaise had pesto in it?, and the tomato… also lacking in flavor.  Such a mad disappointment.

The good thing is that it didn’t remind me why I’m so grumpy that I don’t have cheese in my house.  All I could wonder is how any chef could achieve such a singularly flavorless sandwich with so many promising ingredients?  I want to go into the kitchen and teach that chef a few things about making flavorful food.

Over all I think I’m going to be much healthier with so little dairy in my diet but I’m not feeling happy about it yet.  I need to make more food like the mushroom saute – things that are so good without cheese naturally that I start craving those dishes all the time.

Eating a lot of hummus is helping.  Avocados are really wonderful on everything – I’m not sure I could go cheese-less without them.  I have this idea for making a tzatziki sauce without dairy – using a blend of silken tofu and vegan mayo thinned with lemon juice and flavored with garlic and fresh dill.  I think I’ll make that today.  I have another idea for a similar spread using the tofu and mayo but using sun dried tomatoes, garlic, and thyme for flavoring.  I need really amazing spreads and sauces to brighten up my meals.

That’s my cheese report for now.

Defining My Dairy-Free Cooking Challenge

On August 1st, 2012, I plan to stop cooking with dairy for a year.

All meals I make at home for me and Philip (and my mom) will be dairy free for one year.  Philip and I aren’t going dairy free, just our meals at home.  He’s still going to put half and half in his coffee.  We’ll still eat dairy at freinds’ houses and out at restaurants.  We’re still going to eat eggs (which are not dairy).  I’m still baking with dairy.  I don’t intend to become vegan and I don’t intend to ever give dairy up completely.  What I want (and won’t do unless I make a real commitment to myself) is to reduce my dairy consumption by 75%.

I want to learn to cook and enjoy eating food that does not have cheese, butter, or milk in it.  It’s that simple.

I eat “too much” cheese.  I am very fond of saying that there is no such thing as too much cheese but that’s a lie.  I know that for my best health I need to eat a lot less cheese.  Cheese needs to become an occasional treat.  Something I eat with reverence rather than a favorite food I eat at nearly every meal.

I refuse to disclose how much cheese I currently eat a week.

It’s not just about my figure and my arteries either.  In thinking about this whole cooking challenge I talked with a vegan friend and did some online reading about the carbon footprint of dairy products.  Of meat.  Of poultry.  I thought that by eating local dairy I was doing really well as far as sustainable eating was concerned.  I was incorrect.  I was concerned that not eating dairy would result in a less sustainable diet because I know that for me I would need to increase the tropical fruits and nuts in my diet to be satisfied.  (To replace the deliciousness of cheese and yogurt and butter.  Not because it is necessary for nutrition.  It’s not.)

I have often said that a life without cheese is not worth living.

I’ve said the exact same thing about beer.

But I wouldn’t miss cheese half so much if I could make a lot of coconut milk curries.  If I could eat even more avocados than I do.  If I could buy bananas and fresh pineapples.  If I could make sauces using cashews.  Avocados are my only constant tropical splurge.  I only allow myself to buy coconut milk once in a while.  Pineapples and bananas and cashews – never.  I haven’t bought a cashew in many years.  And I LOVE them!  Oh!  And dates.  I haven’t bought dates in years.  I love those too!

I read a lot of vegan food blogs and I’ve got to tell you that the vegan sites that don’t use tropicals do not entice me.  The most enticing vegan recipes feature avocados or coconut milk or cashew sauces.  I could give up cheese for a while for those things.  But then the food I eat will all have traveled more than I ever will and that’s kind of galling.

It turns out that all dairy (local or not) has a substantially higher carbon footprint than any imported produce does.  Did you know that?  It’s a question of how much energy it takes to raise the animals (to feed them, house them, pasture them – if they’re lucky enough to get any pasture time) and then how much more energy it takes to process them and store them.  Animals that are as big or bigger than human beings eat a shit-ton of grain.  That grain has to be grown for them.  There are often lots of pesticides involved.  It’s difficult to measure and compare the carbon footprints of different foods so there are definitely varying reported numbers but one thing is consistent among all the estimates: meat and dairy have a considerably higher carbon footprint than any imported or domestic produce.  Period.

So what I’m beginning to discover is that eating sustainably isn’t just a question of where it was grown or how much poison was used to grow it or how many miles it had to travel but also how much energy it takes to feed your food and then process it in factories.  It’s complicated.

Here’s my new model of sustainable eating practices prioritized:

  • Non-GMO foods – these are just as devastating for the earth’s diversity as directly poisoning ourselves and the soil is.  This is bad-ass evil shit.  If you don’t care about anything else, you should care about this.
  • Major reduction in meat and dairy consumption (including eggs) – because having to grow food for your food takes an extravagant amount of energy.  Produce crops need water, light, and compost but compost is naturally produced by the scraps of other produce.  It’s also free if people (farmers and individuals) are doing it right.  Plus there’s the whole animal treatment issue.  If you are a person who really needs to eat meat then just consider eating smaller portions of it at meals and maybe eating a few more meat free meals a week and buy your meat/eggs/dairy from local and sustainably raised sources.  It really does matter.  Every little bit matters.  You’ll make a difference just within these parameters.  If you can afford organically and sustainably and ethically raised meat then you’re probably rich but you’ve got my automatic admiration for making such awesome choices.
  • Local – this is still important but more flexible than I realized in comparison with the dairy/meat/eggs group.  Every one of us needs to support our local farmers as much as possible so that when China decides to declare war on us we are still capable of feeding ourselves.  Support local SMALL organic farms first, then local small non-organic, then support the big local organic farms, but never support the corporate non-organic ones.  There’s nothing in it for anyone.  Do this: locate all your local farmer’s markets, before you plan your weekly menus or shop anywhere else, go to your weekly farmer’s market every single week it’s open and base as many meals a week as you can on what is available there.  Buy all the produce and other locally produced foods you can from your local farmer’s markets.  That means you’re supporting your local economy FIRST and helping local farmers and food producers to thrive in a tough economy and that means they’ll consider selling to you (a familiar weekly face) before strangers in a post apocalyptic event.
  • Organic – because poison is just killing everything and everyone and everyone’s fertility.  Except for the Duggars.  Yes, organic can sometimes be cost prohibitive.  So pay attention to the dirty dozen list when you can’t buy all organic.  I’m not going to judge you.  I can’t buy all organic either.
  • Cheapness – we spend a larger proportion of our income on our grocery budget than we do on transportation.  We don’t have much money and we have a lot less because we choose to eat good quality food and support local farmers and food producers and we also don’t buy a lot of processed food (except for Max’s stuff).  It is our belief that the most important thing you can spend money on is the food you put into your body.  Food and water are the most necessary resources humans consume.  Without them we die.  Without a car?  You only think you’d die without a car.  But since we’re pretty broke most of the time we try to buy things in bulk, we grow some of our own food, we pick large quantities of produce at u-pick farms to preserve.

 I will include links to some of the reading I’ve been doing.  I will be doing some more reading.  I’m not starting this challenge to myself right away because I’m maximally stressed out trying to find Max a new doctor on his new lousy insurance so I can get him tested before the end of the school year.  I also need to research vegan cookbooks and find a couple that will be inspiring to me (must have tons of delicious inspiring photographs – why are so may vegan cookbooks skimpy on the photos or have depressing looking photos?) and I need to get my house in better order.

I’m looking forward to expanding my cooking skills and broadening my repertoire.

Maybe in my next post I’ll talk about all the jerks out there who are sick and tired of everyone getting all worried about the earth.  But only if you’re in the mood for a fight.

The Carbon Footprint of Food (Graphic)

A Vegetarian Diet Reduces the Diner’s Carbon Footprint

Food’s Carbon Footprint

The Most Harmful Foods for the Environment

And if you’re interested here’s a link to my previous post on this subject:

Vegan Versus Local and Spring Cleaning