How a Pandemic Helped Me Love Being Dairy-Free

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dairy-freeSo one of my least favorite first-world problems of getting older has been how my metabolism has changed and how I have developed allergies over the years (sadly, I now have allergies to latex, avocados, and most recently milk). My latex allergy was easy to manage, but getting an avocado allergy meant no more tableside guacamole for me, which was a real gut punch.

I recently developed an allergy to milk (and I have wished time and again it was lactose intolerance because of the amazing variety of lactose-free products available).

Thanks to all of the people on the planet that have gone vegan and all the amazing chefs that saw this as an opportunity to make great food for this consumer base, it has been pretty manageable. However, sometimes things seem out of reach, like breakfast pastries, because seriously, butter makes everything better.

So in this new stage of my life, I had basically resigned myself to having to do my own baking. I have always loved baking, and I am teaching my kids all the family recipes, sometimes now with a dairy-free twist. My grandmother’s Crepe recipe works great when using either dairy or almond milk. However, both my family’s Challah and hearty German raisin bread recipes were not so forgiving. Using oat milk and adding potatoes to my chicken pot pie recipe gives me all the thick magical filling of my typical cream-based recipe. So we have winners and losers. None-the-less, the experimentation is ongoing.

The thing is that when this pandemic hit, I learned the magic of curbside grocery pick up (this is a new thing I will definitely keep doing after the pandemic). I also learned another magical thing – dairy-free foods are hiding in plain sight that I never knew existed.

While looking for new flavors of milk alternative ice creams (I may even like cashew milk salted caramel ice cream more than the original), I fell down a rabbit hole into discovering all kinds of other great dairy-free foods. I have fallen in love with Kite Hill’s ravioli and their ricotta alternative, which I can serve my husband and my kids without them having a clue that it is dairy-free. I’ve fallen in love with the Tofutti Sour Cream, Forager Yogurt, and Miyoko’s cheeses make me think I am actually eating cheese again.

Speaking of cheese, I have always thought the point of pizza was the gooey cheese, and alternative cheese pizza isn’t my thing. Then my husband brought home the Amy’s no cheese roasted vegetable pizza. I am suddenly a convert – who knew that a magical layer of caramelized onions would make me not even miss the cheese.

After all these finds, I thought I was living a pretty great life, and then I discovered that a bunch of the store brand products at Whole Foods are stealthfully dairy-free, and I got even more excited. Take a look at their webpage, and you will find croissants and apple turnovers! You will find pumpkin muffins, blueberry pound cake, and pumpkin pie! There are even both chocolate chip and peanut butter cookies!

You don’t understand. When I saw this, I almost burst into tears (2020 has been crazy, so finding all these awesome substitutes was a big win compared with everything that has gone not quite to plan this year). And so far, each of these treats that I’ve fed to my family have been a hit; and when they see me go for a bite, they are like, “What?! This can’t be dairy-free.” And I smile at them. 

So while I reflect on the upside of the pandemic – not commuting, having lunch with my husband each day, learning that sometimes a meeting can be replaced with an email, that we are all enjoying each other’s company, and that my family is cooking together more – I now can add all these food discoveries to my list of things that I don’t know I would’ve found as quickly, if I wasn’t trying to grocery shop from my phone.

Life is certainly a bit different these days, but in some ways, it is better than before.

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Erika is a professor of Chemistry and Environmental Studies and mom to two kids (2010 and 2013) plus two cats (2005 and 2019). A Midwestern transplant who has lived in 32 places, she has happily called Fairfield her home for the past 12 years. At work, she directs a program to support first-generation and underrepresented student success in science. In town, she can often be found driving her kids back and forth to their respective sporting events and teams or sitting in a coffee shop using the wifi to get a little work done before pick up. Erika loves spending time enjoying the water, cooking, theater, reading, and hanging out with her husband.

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