The Guide to Diary Free Comfort in Chicago

Comfort food can mean different things to different people. Sometimes the most comforting thing is mac and cheese and mashed potatoes. When you’re feeling under the weather the most comforting thing is hot soup and fresh bread.

Changing your diet changes options you have for different moods. I used to not think about food in the same way I do now because anything on the menu and everything in the store was an option. Some people will ‘cheat’ and just have dairy when they really feel they need it, and more power to you. Food and our relationship with it is extremely important in our lives. I believe having a healthy relationship with our food and bodies should be a priority. However, because I get a really undesirable reaction from eating dairy, I don’t have cheat days.

This means when I’m feeling ill or blue or celebratory, I still stick to my dairy free diet. If you’re wondering what I believe the best comfort is for these kinds of moments, look no further. This is my guide to my top comfort foods in Chicago (that I’ve discover so far).

Chicago is a city of comfort food, so I feel this is perfect.

  • Kitchen 17’s Deep Dish Pizza – Lakeview
Mediterranean Deep Dish

It might be a mistake to start with one of the best first, but I really couldn’t help myself. Obviously, Deep Dish is a Chicago signature. My personal favorite in the normcore world of pizza is Malnati’s. This is the only valid choice unless you’re a Giordano’s fan and then I guess I can understand.

I still eat Lou Malnati’s . I order it without cheese, and I know you might think I’m crazy. But I really only find it acceptable with this pizza, because the crust and the sauce are that good. They make up for it. The flavors (minus creamy mozzarella) are all there.

That said, a fully vegan deep dish that tastes just like the real thing is nothing short of a miracle. Kitchen 17 has a nice ambience especially in the summer, where their windows are open, your friends bring beer, and you can play their board games or chill out while you wait for your food.

I feel like their cheese must be home made because I’ve personally never had anything like it from a store, and they have options such as pepperoni, sausage, Mediterranean, and even cheeseburger pizza (if that’s your kinda thing).

But they almost always have a cookie dough pizza (different flavors all the time) to finish. Enough said.

  • Sultan’s Market – Wicker Park & Lincoln Park
Vegetarian Combination Plate

Sultan’s Market is fantastic Middle Eastern food, great prices, and generous portions. What I ate this day was the vegetarian combination plate. I swear I could probably eat this single $7 dish for three meals. It’s filling and they give you a lot. The falafel is hands down the best I’ve ever had, and the rest is amazing as well. Here I asked for half & half for both my rice option and my salad option. The best of all worlds. It also includes hummus and pita bread. What more could you want? To me this is definitely comfort.

Their chicken shawarma is also delicious. For a different kind of comfort, you have to try the Mama Masada Chicken Soup and order a side of Baked Spinach Pie. This winter, overrun, cold, and very very sick, I ordered this exact meal on grubhub. It was like having a big bowl of your mom’s homemade soup that she cooked just for you, and the spinach pie went perfectly. There is no better meal for when you’re truly ill. It’s my go to now.

  • Furious Spoon Ramen – Numerous Locations
Vegetable Ramen with Chicken & Pork Dumplings

If you’re looking for a different version of comfort-in-a-bowl, we all know its Ramen. I can’t claim to be any kind of ramen expert. It’s something I’ve dipped my toes into only since moving to Chicago last year. They don’t have ramen joints in small town Indiana. Shocking right?

That said, I chose Furious Spoon because it’s good and there are a few locations around Chicago – six whole locations. If you live in the city, you won’t be too far from one of them. There’s also a seventh location in Evanston.

Here I’ve ordered the vegetable ramen, but added pork & chicken dumplings. I can’t not get dumplings.

Look at the roasted garlic cloves. They’re beautiful.

  • Chicago Diner – Boystown & Logan Square
Poutine (I added the Jalapeno), and a cookie dough milkshake

Ah, Chicago Diner. A blessing to us all. Chicago Diner is – of course – a diner. Its claim to fame is that it is a fully vegetarian diner dating back to the early eighties. Now, everything is also available vegan, and many things are vegan as is.

Here is the poutine (which you can order different ways including with bacon). Some of the ingredients are hiding. But this is so good. Yes, that was my dinner. I do as I want when I want. It seems my friend was eating their buffalo wings and fries as well. They have tons of diner favorites, like Rueben, breakfast all day (love their biscuits and gravy), and meatloaf. You know every diner has meatloaf for some reason.

We shared a Cookie Dough Milkshake. Vegan. One of the best milkshakes I’ve had, dairy or non dairy, period. A must. I don’t even need to write any more about it because it will speak for itself when you go. Oh, and if you love cheese fries (or loved past tense), this is the absolute closest thing to og cheese fries cheese.

As a side note, you can get entire made-to order vegan birthday cakes, made by Chicago Diner, through Whole foods or from their Logan Square location. You can also get slices in the restaurant or at most Whole Food’s locations. My personal favorite is the Cocoa Mousse chocolate cake. If you love chocolate you’ll love this, you would be crazy not to.

I could go on for awhile longer. But these are what come to mind first when I think comfort. I hope to find more options in the future, because there’s always a reason to go for comfort food.

Are we even meant to have milk?

I drank milk from when I was a baby, all the way through high school. I’m not talking dairy versus dairy free life. I’m talking, straight up drank milk at meals. And obviously, this is the norm in many ways. I drank milk in high school because that was one of the only options at lunch time. This is a classic school cafeteria offering. Classic milk carton, questionable food.

After I got out of high school I simply phased out of drinking milk. I still would make chocolate milk once and awhile, and I still ate dairy in general. Growing up I never would have guessed that it was not the ‘natural’ thing to do. Yet lactose intolerance was always quite common around me.

It wasn’t until I started my own ‘journey’ (that’s cheesy) going dairy free that I learned most of the world is lactose intolerant. About 65% of adults are. The rest are generally of European dissent, or African dissent, as well as Middle Eastern. It’s not because of something that’s always been in our genes. In fact, it’s because of evolution.

As NPR states, they estimate it took about 20,000 years for this particular trait to evolve. And it’s existence proves there was quite a big need for it to occur in the humans it did. It’s believed that being able to drink cow’s milk helped many through famine, so natural selection took place.

Yet so many humans still cannot tolerate it. These are cultures that simply still don’t have much dairy in their cuisine, they never had to evolve to tolerate it. Naturally, humans would lose their ability to digest lactose by losing the enzyme babies are born with – lactase. Nature simply decides that after the period of time a woman would be breast feeding her young, there would also be no reason for the young to digest milk.

This loss of tolerance for it occurs in all other species. It’s an interesting idea to wonder what would happen to human evolution if we stopped drinking milk/consuming dairy far into adulthood. Would this evolution reverse? Or would it be like wisdom teeth? There but not in use. As more and more people turn to dairy alternatives, we may already be in the process of finding out.

America Needs to Add Allergens to All Menus

Ever since giving up dairy products I’ve become a master of looking up allergen menus. If there’s no menu then I know which sites will have investigated it themselves. I’m lucky if I’m going to a health conscious or vegan/vegetarian restaurant, I know there will be specified options.

When planning a trip to Europe at the end of summer, I looked up the dairy-allergy-friendliness of different destinations. Then a theme came about. People with recent experience in those countries said that all menus listed their allergens next to the food.

This was amazing. So I wouldn’t have to do research before hand? I wouldn’t have to have an internal battle about whether to order something that seems like it would be okay or directly ask the waiter?

I realized how nice this would be, not just for people like me who have self diagnosed a problem with a food, but for people like my uncle who have a life-threatening allergy. Up until now it has seemed like the responsibility has been placed on those with allergies to navigate restaurant eating. And I don’t disagree with that. An establishment can’t be responsible for each individual. We have to take responsibility for ourselves.

However, in this time when people are allergic, sensitive, or just trying to avoid certain things, it would be really nice if we had the same system in the US.

When the EU created these regulations in 2014 they cited these reasons as being a part of the decision:

In the UK alone:
 around 10 people die from allergic reactions to food every year due to undeclared
allergenic ingredients
 an estimated 1-2% of adults and 5-8% of children have a food allergy (around 2
million people within the population)
 in addition to those with allergies, there are many people with food intolerances (eg.
1 in 100 people who suffer from coeliac disease)

While I’m sure there were people who were not happy about having to change their menus, I feel many more people can benefit from this. It also creates the need for restaurants to stick to the recipes they have used to determine the allergens. For instance, my uncle is allergic to peanuts. He could die from an extremely small amount. He was affected when his kids, my cousins, had peanut butter in the pantry growing up. He recently found a fairly expensive device called Nima, that can test whether there are peanuts present in the food. It runs over $200. While this is amazing technology, it is not practical for most people.

Upon using the device, he discovered that while eating the same meal at the same place tested negative for peanuts the first time, the second time there were nuts in the dish. The device saved him from consuming something that would have at the very least sent him straight to the emergency room.

While listing allergens on a menu wouldn’t have saved him in this case, I do believe having the allergens on the menu would make restaurants more conscious of how they cook.

At first it would seem strange, but we would quickly get used to it. It’s something that could help many people while eating out. If you’re wondering what this looks like, the allergens have a key that is across the EU, so you’d know what is in the meal based on some small letters on the menu.

We are all getting more conscious of what we eat and the affects they have. I believe all restaurants taking part in this practice would benefit us all.

To Add Comments or Not To Add

I understand the idea that comment sections aren’t worth it anymore. Not when there is so much spam and we all have active social media profiles.

However there was never a question in my mind of whether or not I’d allow comments. I enjoy reading the feedback an author gets, and it does often seem useful for the author. People should be free to ask questions on the post itself. Who would go to someone’s Instagram just to detail a question on a post and have to explain what post they mean?

I also believe it’s the author’s responsibility to moderate comments.

It seems to validate posts when there is feedback and make the blog feel more like an open conversation.

So I will be having them on my blog.

Not All Vegan Cheese Is Good Cheese

The one thing everyone says to me when I say I don’t eat dairy is “ugh, I could never do that. I love cheese too much”. And I get it. I loved cheese too. It’s not as if I stopped eating dairy because I was one of the few people in America who don’t like cheese.

The good news is that the craving for cheese goes away a lot quicker than you’d think. I do think of it as an addiction, and when you don’t have it, you don’t really think much about it.

Yet our culture is one filled with cheese. So you’re going to think about it. Reason being that it will be on TV, in photographs of food on the street, on Instagram, on your friend’s plate at lunch. So while my life doesn’t center around cheesy meals the way it used to, it’s always good to have substitutes.

When you’re dairy free, this is of course, vegan cheese. Vegan cheese gets a bad name because some of them really aren’t that good. That said, most of them (even the most prevalent – Daiya) are passable when treated right. Linked is a Daiya cheese sauce that you can put on anything you want. Since their vegan mac & cheese is a fan favorite and delicious, this has to be good.

Some vegan cheeses are great, namely Follow Your Heart’s line of vegan cheese. All of them that I have tried have been very good. The secret, I think, is that they have a good texture, they melt well, and they are mild. I’m focusing on cheese I already really enjoy rather than talking about the ones I don’t like, because I think that’s the easiest way to help someone else. We all have different taste buds and you could like some that I didn’t like. But you’re almost guaranteed to like the ones I do, because I have great taste ;).

Unfortunately, most vegan cheese has to be mild to taste good. I loved sharp cheeses in my prior life, but the sourness of dairy is really not appealing when it’s not dairy. This is a hard thing to describe. It’s like without the addicting properties of cheese, it’s tang is just weird. So it’s best when vegan cheese stays on the subtle, creamy side. Or smoky (smoked gouda), or spicy (pepper jack).

Kite Hill makes great vegan cream cheese, which I recommend if you love bagels and cream cheese. The plain variety can also be used to make cheesecake or cream cheese frosting for carrot cake (which my grandma does every holiday for me and my sister).

If you love queso, you have to try Siete’s line of cashew queso! They’re available at Whole Foods and so delicious. They have spicy blanco and regular nacho cheese. This is a must do when you want to have taco night with friends. I’m not kidding.

One of my favorites for mozzarella on pizza (besides the always accessible Daiya), is Violife. In Europe it is easily found, but to find it in America you’ll need to go to a Whole Foods or other health food store. Violife also has parmesan which is really good, as well as feta which I have not been able to try yet!

That’s another note. Despite the fact that I love Follow Your Heart cheese, I wouldn’t sit and eat it plain. This is something I would have done with real cheese, but in my opinion that’s just not what vegan cheese is for. It’s best in a sandwich or melted on pizza, as a grilled cheese, or in a taco. It pairs well with other flavors. It doesn’t make you want to eat an entire block of it alone, in one sitting. Which is probably a good thing. That said, there is fancy nut cheese. Some of it has been aged. There are varieties to serve at parties on crackers like fancy cheese spread. I’d love to try it but haven’t yet had the chance.

Daiya is often offered at pizza restaurants, most notably Blaze Pizza, these days. Which is amazing! Again, when you live dairy free you have to learn to jazz things up. I wouldn’t go for a cheese pizza. I’d go for a pizza with all of the toppings I love. That’s key.

There are so many other good ones, including Miyokos (which offers cheese wheels), and Chao (which are slices that aren’t trying to be anything other than their own unique flavors).

So don’t just try the first vegan cheese you find and then give up. I can promise there are flavors out there that you’ll love and enjoy eating. It’s fun to try new ones and see what you like best! Good luck on the hunt.

My Favorite Smoothie Recipe

Back to Basics duh

My Roommates last year probably hated me. And it’s not because I never did the dishes or walked around nude. It was probably because I woke up early even on the weekends and made smoothies. I did try to wait until eight am on the weekends, but I figured it was my right to make my breakfast. Anyway, any sound before noon on a Saturday would have been early for them. So I just went ahead and lived my life (I’m sorry).

Smoothies are like a healthy milkshake. Debatably, when you actually use milk, it might be much more like a milkshake. But this smoothie is a simple favorite. A smoothie for the ages. A smoothie to convince those who don’t love smoothies that – huh, it’s not bad. Can you make me one?

I’ve made different varieties that may have been more unique. One such smoothie was an orange dreamsicle flavor. Another was a green smoothie that I mixed up to save me from a hangover I thought I might die from. It had the power combo of coconut water and ginger and it was actually delicious just trust me.

It’s not difficult to figure out how to dairy free-ify a smoothie, but knowing where to start if you’re not familiar can be the trick. Obviously you’ll need to figure out what liquid to use. I say liquid because you could easily use water and I have done this many times. Otherwise you’ll need to choose a milk. I prefer either unsweetened coconut milk or an almond/coconut hybrid (that I buy from Silk). These seem to pair the best with the flavors.

I like adding peanut butter for protein and healthy fat. I used to use peanut butter powder but the butter itself gives a better texture.

Cacoa powder can be found relatively cheap in Trader Joe’s, however most grocery stores will carry it, most likely in their health food section. Not only does it give a nice hint of chocolate flavor, it also is a superfood that will make you feel energetic and ready for your day.

You may notice I don’t use protein powder (besides peanut butter powder at times). I find these protein powders sometimes give me stomach aches and unfortunately a lot of them contain whey. Whey is one of those sneaky dairy ingredients that plagues my life. More on that in a future post.

Then of course you can alter anything you want in the recipe. Smoothies are one of the best foods to experiment with. However, I did promise my recipe so here it is in all of it’s imprecise glory. Any blender will work, however I use a Nutribullet. A Magic Bullet also works but takes a bit more mixing then shaking moments if you know what I mean.

1 ripe banana peeled

1 small handfull of strawberries

1 handful of blueberries

1-2 tablespoon of natural peanut butter

2 teaspoons of cacoa powder

Fill with choice of water/non-dairy milk to about halfway of ingredients. You may need to add more depending on the texture you want and in the blending process.

Enjoy! It’s a simple one but from here you can experiment and see what flavors you like most. Like avocado toast, everyone does it slightly different but sometimes the simplest recipes are the best.

The Best Non Dairy Milks

Going dairy free, and then your dairy free life, requires you to get accustomed to a lot of options in a place where there would typically only be one: milk.

Credit: Hot Tea Travel and Thyme

The first non-dairy milk I was introduced to was coconut milk. Coconuts have become an ‘it’ ingredient in recent years, so that’s not really any surprise. All the varieties also offer choice of sweetened or unsweetened, and some are flavored with chocolate or vanilla. You can choose what you need for different needs.

There are also creamers for your coffee. My favorite is soy creamer by a mile. If you want to make Starbucks-like soy Lattes at home, you can get the exact same flavor from Silk’s Vanilla Soy Creamer.

Coconut milk would be my choice for breakfast. It’s good with cereal, smoothies, and oatmeal. When cooked it gives much more of a coconut flavor, which can contradict with savory foods. That said, coconut milk is the choice for so much Thai cooking. If you’re going for a Thai Curry that night, coconut milk is perfect. I personally don’t use coconut milk in my coffee because of it’s thin texture, but that could go with most of these milks on the list.

Almond milk is an easy favorite. The remaining almond flavor is subtle and blends well even with savory cooking. While still on the thin side, it’s a better choice for cooking….

Not as good as soy milk, which is the thickest and therefore creamiest of the popular milks. I enjoy soy milk the best, personally, but it’s not always the best for every meal. I prefer Silk’s Almond & Coconut blend for cereal and smoothies. The flavors seem to counteract each other and give no distinct almond or coconut flavor.

Soy ice cream or creamer will be the most creamy of all. A local favorite, the Chicago Diner, makes amazing vegan milkshakes with soy ice cream that you have to try to understand just how amazing soy can be.

Oat milk is a new favorite. It is said to have the most ‘milk-like’ flavor for many people. Though I’ve also been told it is much better in hot drinks or meals rather than cold. It’s consistency is somewhere between thin like almond and thick like soy.

Personally I find Cashew and Hazelnut to be less easily accessible. They tend to be more expensive while I don’t believe they have anything special over the aforementioned milks, but it’s always worth a try in case one of them is your new favorite.

If at first you try something you don’t like, don’t give up! It’s all about finding what works for you and where it works. I keep canned coconut milk in my pantry, Silk’s almond/coconut combo in my fridge, I’ve got soy creamer for my coffee and Ben & Jerry’s almond milk ice cream in my freezer.

One of the ways taking dairy out of my diet actually broadened my choices. Actually, speaking of Thai curry… Think I’ve figured out my dinner for tonight.

Accidentally Vegan (VIDEO)

Snacks you didn’t know you could have on a dairy free diet.

The thing about going dairy free is that there’s very few people making content just for those living dairy free. I use ‘few’ as a relative term, because there’s probably thousands upon thousands, but compared to other content out there, it can be hard to find.

That’s why when I made the switch, I had to rely on the vegan community to educate myself on what I could have. I was willing to search because I wanted to make it as easy on myself as it could be.

While there are things those of us that are only dairy free can have that vegans can not, this is a great starting place.

Videos like the above inform us of the wonderful junk food we can still have when we choose this diet that you may not have thought you could. On one hand, eating this way often could make your skin (and overall health) worse, however we all like to indulge sometimes. It’s important to know what snacks you can grab in a snack emergency. Besides that, if you or someone you know is allergic (like my sister) it’s great to have options.

While watching this video the first time I couldn’t help but be excited. Chocolate! Taco Bell! Doritos! The world is yours.

Life is short. Have a fricken’ Oreo for God’s sakes.

Does Going Dairy Free Cure Acne?

I’ve struggled with acne for over twelve years now, and I have tried many methods to get rid of it. Name a topical treatment from the dermatologist, and I’ve probably tried it. Name an antibiotic that can aid acne, and I’ve probably taken it. I had blue light therapy, where I sat under blue light for twenty minutes at a time. I had steroid shots injected to my face. I got ulcers from my medication at one point, and it took my own investigation to find out that my medicine is what caused it.

So it’s not surprising I eventually turned to other investigations to find ways to cure my acne. I ended up finally facing a potential solution I had avoided; taking dairy (oh lovely dairy!) out of my diet. It wasn’t as daunting as it would have previously been. My sister had an allergy develop years prior and so our house had vegan ice creams, butter, and cheese in stock. It didn’t seem that bad. I could at least try it.

Well it worked, but it didn’t cure my acne. Since then I’ve heard of many people cutting out dairy to help their skin. Science hasn’t come out with a verdict on this, but has said “dairy doesn’t flat-out cause acne in everyone who drinks it. It generally just seems to make acne worse for people already prone to it”.

But why? No one knows for sure. However, it is mainly agreed upon that it’s the hormones to blame. When asked this question, Kimberly Yap Tan (an esthetician at Skin Salvation), this was her reply: “It would first cause inflammation, she said, followed by the actual acne cyst that would pop up four weeks later.”

This aligns with my experience, mostly. When I eat dairy I swear the large cyst that develops only days later must be directly caused by those bites of carrot cake, but experts agree it needs to be in your system for a few weeks. Given the positive environmental impacts cutting out dairy can have –  “Researchers who compared the units of fossil-fuel energy required to produce milk and soybeans found that it takes 14 kilo-calories (kcal) of fossil fuels to produce a single kcal of dairy milk, whereas just 1 kcal of fossil fuels can produce 3.2 kcal of soybeans“. While it is important to note that things like almond milk can have a negative impact as well, every bit does help.

There are not many sources in your life that will want you to have this knowledge. As more and more people cut out dairy, I’ve seen more and more ads trying to promote dairy! But if you suffer (and suffer is definitely the correct word), it can be a good option to cut out some milk and cheese and see how your skin reacts. Cheese is an addiction that can be overcome, I promise.