Going dairy free during the holidays

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alisa

Alisa

The dairy-free guru – well, that’s how I think of Alisa Fleming, founder of the website Go Dairy Free. I learned about her website years ago when I first began blogging and it has been my go-to resource for dairy-free information ever since. I am always amazed at how much information is packed into the site, from recipes to product reviews to health information to dairy-free living advice. Alisa is also a friend to the gluten-free community with many gluten-free recipes on Go Dairy Free and her other blog Alisa Cooks. I had the pleasure of meeting Alisa at a conference in San Francisco and quickly found her to be down-to-earth, passionate about what she does, and really really nice. I recently interviewed her about how she gets along dairy-free during the holidays and what advice she has for others…

How long have you been dairy-free and what led you to begin a dairy-free diet?

This is tough to define. I was born allergic to milk, so my parents kept me pretty much dairy-free for the first year of my life. But that was the 70′s, back when “milk allergies are outgrown in one year” (or so they thought). I hated all dairy growing up, for obvious reasons, but it was insisted that I consume it by family and doctors. Needless to say, I had many health issues through those years. It wasn’t until my mid- to late- twenties, after some serious medical issues, that I was diagnosed with a persisted milk allergy. The medical emergencies (which were later identified as anaphylaxis – yes, adults can have it too!), ceased within three days of cutting out dairy.

Wow – people don’t realize that dairy can cause such serious medical problems. What do you think is the food that people miss the most when switching to a dairy-free diet? Is there a good alternative for that food, or do you just learn to live without?

That is an easy one. Cheese. This is the hardest part of my job, telling people that they need to simply cut out cheese and avoid seeking an alternative for at least a few months. No matter what any company says, there is no vegan product that is identical to milk-based cheese available. Some are pretty good, but switching straight from your melty cheddar to cheddar-style cheese alternative will lead to not only disappointment for most, but also a potential dairy relapse. And unfortunately, cheating will perpetuate the cravings. Taking a cheese break allows people to overcome the addiction (not always easy at first, but it does get better!), and “reset” their taste buds. Once they are no longer craving cheese, some cheese alternatives often taste better. Not exactly like cheese, but pretty good in their own right.

Ah yes, cheese. That really is the hardest thing to replace. Good advice to take a “cheese break”!

As the holidays near, people with dietary restrictions get anxious. What do people have to watch out for most when it comes to dairy in holiday and party foods?

This can be difficult, as most traditional holiday foods contain dairy in some form … sour cream in the mashed potatoes, butter in the rolls and stuffing, cream in the casserole, etc. I always bring a couple of dishes to share that are dairy-free, and communicate dietary needs to the host/hostess ahead of time. They often go the extra mile, using olive oil instead of butter in the vegetables, and keeping the stuffing separate from the meat. Little things like this help to make the party atmosphere more relaxing. But, to avoid any stress at all, I always pack some food along in the car that I can pull out, just in case there isn’t any food that I’m comfortable eating. The holidays are really about the people, not the food, so I focus on that.

Do you have any good go-to holiday recipes for those looking for inspiration?

I’m all about creating recipes that everyone will love, dairy-free or not. These are some of my go-to recipes that everyone loves, and have helped see me through many holidays:

Dairy-Free, Soy-Free Pumpkin Pie (always gets ‘best pumpkin pie ever’ raves) – http://www.alisacooks.com/2009/11/05/dairy-free-soy-free-pumpkin-pie/

Tender Squash Dinner Rolls (amazing, bakery soft rolls) – Recipe in Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook

Grandma’s Easy Apple Crisp (sugary, easy, and I prefer crisp to pie) – http://www.alisacooks.com/2009/12/19/for-the-love-of-apple-crisp/

Condensed Crème of Mushroom Soup (spot on recipe for using in casseroles) – Recipe in Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook

Thyme Roasted Sweet Potatoes (I make these and the oven-roasted potatoes from Go Dairy Free, no one misses the mashed potatoes and so much healthier!) – http://www.alisacooks.com/2008/11/28/thyme-for-sweet-potatoes/

You have been dairy-free for a long time, and have so many resources for dairy-free living – what advice would you give to someone thinking about cutting dairy out of his/her diet?

Learn about dairy in advance – what it is, what it includes, why you want to avoid it, etc. – and create a menu plan. I find that new diets are so much easier to stick with if I have a menu plan (including snacks) and a well-stocked fridge and pantry. This ensures that I always have some food ready, and there aren’t any hunger gaps where old cravings can sneak in!

Thank you Alisa! And Happy (dairy-free?) Holidays!

 

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