Tuesday, June 21, 2011


I've been thinking about this a bit lately. When I first discovered non-dairy products, I went a little crazy on the soy. While soy still makes up part of my diet, I've definitely worked hard to find alternatives.

Part of the reason is that I'm always a bit worried that I'll develop a new allergy and I want to make sure that I do as much as possible to prevent that. So, I switch up my meals and try new things whenever I can. That can be tricky, but I've found little ways of getting around some of my allergies and sensitivities.

One thing that I've recently discovered is that while I can't eat instant oatmeal or even oatmeal cooked for a few minutes on the stove, I can eat baked oatmeal. It takes about 40 minutes at about 425 F, but it is totally worth it. I add about 10 ml of maple syrup (the real, pure stuff), 10 ml of brown sugar to about 125 ml of oatmeal and one cup of soy milk or almond milk. I've used rice milk and the consistency didn't quite do it for me, but if that's what you can use, it was still good. I'd probably cut the amount back though. I've also put a bit of agave syrup and cut back on the other sugars as well. Not as amazing, but still good. It makes the real stuff a treat. (I think you can see why I can never run a food allergy recipe site!)

And a quick explanation, I do have a nut allergy, but not to all of them. Almonds and I get along fine.

Essentially, trial and error are my friends in the kitchen. I have a good awareness of my allergies/sensitivities and I'm able to work around those safely. I experiment mostly with whole foods since there are generally no hidden ingredients.

However, this comes easily to me. I've grown up in a Indian household in Canada. My parents immigrated here decades ago and integrated well into society. So, my mother is just as likely to cook curries as she is an awesome Thanksgiving feast or lasagna. I've watched both of my parents experiment with new foods and tastes in the kitchen and I recognize that not everyone "knows" how to do this.

I think there are some great options out there.

1. Cookbooks. While I'm not vegan (I just prefer vegetables), some of the books I love the most are the Veganomicon (Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero) and the series of cookbooks from Fresh Restaurants in Toronto. If nothing else, they will inspire you and I think that's one of the most important qualities in a cookbook. If the recipe calls for nuts and you can't have them, experiment! I once came up with an odd but yummy replacement when a recipe called for feta in a salad. You should definitely take notes, since I've never been able to recreate what on earth I did.

2. Look for a good nutritionist, especially if you've been newly diagnosed or your allergies have changed. This field has grown and changed since I went to one a couple of decades ago and a good nutritionist can really help you out of a food variety slump. You may not take all of their advice, but like a cookbook, they can be inspiring and help you think about your abilities, not your disabilities.

3. Pretty grocery stores and markets. There is nothing I love more than walking around a Whole Foods Market or a great weekend farmer's market with some cash to spare and not a clue in the world what I want to do for dinner. But, then I see some gorgeous corn or a beautiful cut of fish and I start putting things together. Even better, I see a vegetable that I've always wanted to try (but never have) and start working around that. I've no idea how it will work, and sometimes it doesn't, but either way I've got something to work on and improve.

4. Have flavour on hand! I can't stress this enough. I have friends (who will remain nameless) who own nothing beyond pre-ground pepper and salt! To a Canadian-Indian girl this is unthinkable! Don't buy the cheap stuff that's included with the spice rack from WalMart or wherever. If you want the containers, fine, but toss the stuff when you get home - it's old and bland. Try growing fresh herbs. They're pretty easy and you can buy them (already grown) from grocery and home gardening stores. Or, buy the ones in the grocery store that look pretty. They often cost more, but you can actually tell the difference. Keep them in a cool, dark place. They may look pretty on the shelf, but oxygen and light are not their friends. And, of course, experiment!! Flavour applies to a lot of herbs, spices, sauces, etc. Soy sauce, balsamic vinegar with a bit of lemon to brighten things up (in just the right mix) are amazing on some sauteed vegetables and spaghettini.

In conclusion, I can't say that I eat beautifully and wonderfully all the time. I'm definitely the girl who'll eat lime & salt popcorn for dinner if she's exhausted enough. But, I love food and having food allergies has really made me appreciate all the lovely things I can eat in the world. So, I'm determined to keep on changing it up and looking for more things that I've never tried before!

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