When Cheating on Your Diet Is Worth It

I stopped eating dairy four and a half years ago, and it was the most beneficial thing I’ve ever done for my digestive health. Having been lactose-intolerant for most of my life, I still managed to eat dairy often — sometimes up to three meals a day — by taking lactase enzyme supplements, otherwise known as Lactaid.

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Generic version of Lactaid.

Yet even with the help of these pills, I frequently felt bloated and gassy, and suffered from stomachaches, indigestion, constipation, and diarrhea. Fun, right? One day, when I was doubled over in pain after sucking down a root beer float, I finally said, “Enough.” Now that I no longer eat dairy, my digestive system is so much happier.

That said, every so often I come across a dairy-laden food product that is worth cheating on my diet for, something extraordinary and rare…

Like the peanut butter pie at Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab in Las Vegas.

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A year ago my husband and I went to this fancy restaurant in Vegas, and I ordered a piece of the peanut butter pie, partly because, of all the desserts on the menu, this one sounded the least dairy-heavy.

The peanut butter filling was so smooth and velvety, it was like eating silk, almost like a cheesecake but not as dense. I’m no pastry chef, but it seemed to me that there was simply no way to create such a texture without a lot of dairy. I quickly popped a couple of Lactaid pills (which I still keep on me at all times, just in case).

Thankfully, the pills did the trick and I didn’t have any problems with the peanut butter pie. It became my favorite dessert, and one that I fortunately can’t get too often! But when we went back to Vegas last week, the first thing on my to-do list was to head to Joe’s and get that pie again.

It lived up to the memory.

Besides being unbelievably smooth, the filling is also not too sweet. It’s actually pretty salty, as peanut butter should be. The crust is like a graham cracker crust, but made of chocolate cookies instead, like super-fresh Oreos. The hot fudge topping is delicious as well, but almost unnecessary.

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The aftermath.

There’s a Chinese saying about eighty percent being perfection. Meaning, if you eat healthfully eighty percent of the time, you’ll be fine. It’s human nature to need a treat every now and then, and by “treat” I don’t mean the salted rice cakes. We have to be bad sometimes or we’ll crack like an egg.

So this summer, treat yourself. For God’s sake, don’t eat dairy if you have an allergy to it; we don’t want anyone ending up in the hospital. But if you’re just lactose-intolerant, pop a Lactaid pill and eat that dessert you adore and can only find once a year. Then get back on the wagon and feel good about your commitment to a healthy lifestyle.

You can have your cake — or in this case, peanut butter pie — and eat it, too.

JOE’S SEAFOOD, PRIME STEAK & STONE CRAB, Located at The Forum Shops at Caesars, 3500 Las Vegas Blvd. South, Las Vegas, NV 89109

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Dairy-Free Eloté (Grilled Mexican Corn)

Summer’s here and you know what that means: street fairs. There are few things I love more than food that can be eaten while walking. The late author David Foster Wallace wrote a hilarious essay about the Illinois State Fair, which he describes as a “peripatetic feeding frenzy.” (You can find the essay in his book A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, the title of which does not refer to the state fair, but rather, a luxury cruise. Just read it and thank me later.)

At Southern California street fairs, you will often find corn on the cob, grilled and seasoned in a Mexican fashion. It’s called eloté, and it usually comes smothered in butter, mayo, chili powder, and cotija cheese.

Just one look at all that dairy and my stomach starts to scream in revolt.

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When I was looking online for a photo of eloté, I found this one from the LA County Fair, which doesn’t really show eloté (except if you look at the sign on the far left), but does show a ridiculous concoction from Chicken Charlie. Chicken Charlie is the county fair vendor known for deep-frying everything, including Oreo cookies, Lucky Charms, watermelon, even butter. But an ice cream chicken sandwich??? Have they gone too far? I think the answer is a resounding yes.

Eloté is definitely one of the healthier options compared to most street foods. But if you’re lactose-intolerant, even this dish can pose a problem.

That’s why I decided to make my own version of eloté without all that cheese. I also cut the kernels off the corn cobs because I just had some dental work done. This makes my version of eloté harder to eat peripatetically, but easier on the choppers.

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I always grill corn cobs in their husks because if you grill them directly over the coals, they tend to get overcooked. An hour before cooking, start soaking the corn cobs in cold water. The pre-soaked husks will steam the corn inside. You’ll end up with juicy kernels that have a nice charred flavor.

The key ingredients in eloté besides corn are butter, chili powder, and lime juice. I like to use real butter (the amount of lactose in it is not enough to bother me), but feel free to use vegan butter. Make sure you use fresh-squeezed lime juice; if it sits for too long, it gets bitter. You can play with the ingredients until you find the balance of spicy and sour that you like.

I guarantee you won’t even miss the cheese!

DAIRY-FREE ELOTE (MEXICAN CORN) RECIPE

2 corn cobs, in their husks
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon ancho chile powder
2 teaspoons butter or vegan butter
1 tablespoon lime juice (about half a lime)
sea salt and ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

Soak the corn cobs in cold water, fully immersed, for one hour before grilling. When the coals are ready, remove the corn cobs from the water and shake off the excess. Grill the corn cobs over direct medium heat, turning every 5 minutes. Total cooking time: 20 minutes.

Remove the corn cobs from the grill. When cool enough to handle, peel off the husks and silk. Holding the corn cobs upright, cut the kernels off with a sharp knife and scoop them into a serving bowl.

Add the garlic, chili powder, butter, lime juice, salt, pepper, and cilantro. Mix well. Garnish with more cilantro, if desired. Makes 2 servings.

Avocado Toast: Why All the Fuss?

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If you’ve been wondering, “What’s the big deal with this avocado toast thing?” you are not alone. Avocado toast is everywhere these days, and this hot trend, like jumpsuits, can be a bit confounding. What is it, other than mashed-up avocado on a piece of toast?

The short answer is: nothing. Avocado toast is exactly that. And there is no reason why you should pay $8 or more for this simple dish. Especially in Southern California, where avocados are plentiful and relatively cheap, the raw ingredients of avocado toast would probably total no more than $1 a serving.

Is it the labor, you may ask? Is avocado toast hard to master, like a soufflé? I couldn’t imagine that it would be. Just to test my theory, I made avocado toast this morning. Here’s how:

(1) I cut a slice of sourdough bread and popped it in the toaster oven.

(2) I sliced an avocado in two, then scraped its contents into a bowl. Then I mashed it up using my (clean) hand. One avocado will usually yield enough for two slices of toast.

(3) I added a little lemon juice, salt and pepper, and a dash of garlic powder (the garlic powder is optional).

(4) I stirred up the avocado mixture (which is now essentially guacamole), spread it on the toast, and topped it with chopped cilantro. You can also use parsley or chives.

Done. Actually, I also fried an egg to put on top of it, but that’s optional, too. Here’s a photo of my avocado toast with egg.

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Really, that’s all there is to it. Don’t get me wrong, avocado toast is tasty, and certainly more nutritious than plain toast or toast with butter and jam. And it’s dairy-free, which is a plus for those of us who are lactose-intolerant. But rest assured, you’re not crazy for thinking this avocado toast trend is much ado about nothing.

Honestly, it probably all started when a restaurant had some leftover guacamole and one of the line cooks put it on a piece of toast and said, “Hm, this is pretty good. I bet we could charge people a lot of money for this.”

The one time I actually ordered avocado toast was at my favorite boba tea shop in downtown L.A., Toastea. I only did it because I was starving and needed some protein along with my tea. At $6.25, it was still overpriced, but it was good.

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Avocado toast from Toastea.

Given how basic avocado toast is, I can pretty much guarantee you’ll never have one that is so amazing it changes your life. That said, if you do, I would love to hear about it. Let me know in the comments below!

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A Royal Wedding Cream-Free Tea

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This Saturday, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are getting married in a royal wedding that we Angelenos are very excited about. Not only is Meghan Markle an American, she is also from Los Angeles.

Many people are planning viewing parties, and what better way to celebrate the royal nuptials than with a traditional English tea? I adore afternoon tea… the girlier and more twee the better. It’s the only circumstance under which I tolerate doilies.

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Do it for the royals. And by the way, that white outfit is so chic, it’s killing me.

The problem is that a traditional afternoon tea is loaded with dairy. In fact, it’s often called a “cream tea.” There’s the milk you put in your tea, the cream cheese in the finger sandwiches, the clotted cream for the scones, the pastries filled or topped with cream… The list goes on.

Being lactose-intolerant, I’ve had to forego my beloved cream tea. That’s why, on this special occasion, I set out to make a “cream-free tea.” Here’s the menu:

ROYAL WEDDING CREAM-FREE TEA

Madras Curry Chicken Sandwiches

Cucumber with Lemon-Mint Butter Sandwiches

Tart Cherry Scone with Clotted Coconut Cream and Boysenberry Preserves

Chocolate-Covered Strawberry

Earl Grey Tea

I should make it clear that I do use butter in my recipes, as the amount of lactose in it doesn’t bother me. But if butter is a problem for you, you can use a vegan alternative such as Earth Balance.

As for the tea itself, you can either drink it straight or use any non-dairy milk you like: almond, coconut, soy, etc. For a richer experience, I recommend using a heavier creamer like Califia Farms Better Half, a mixture of coconut cream and almond milk.

Final note: You don’t have to make everything from scratch. I bought the chocolate-covered strawberry at Gelson’s rather than dipping it myself. For the scones, I used a prepackaged mix called Sticky Fingers and spooned the batter into a Nordic Ware mini scone pan.

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It’s okay to take a few shortcuts, especially when you’re making such an elaborate meal. Besides, as Carl Sagan once said, “If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, first you must invent the universe.” Too late for that.

Below you’ll find my recipes for the sandwiches and the clotted coconut cream. Enjoy the royal wedding and your dairy-free royal tea!

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MADRAS CURRY CHICKEN SANDWICHES RECIPE
Chicken salad recipe adapted from Nom Nom Paleo

1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 teaspoon curry powder
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 lime, juiced
1/2 pound cooked chicken, shredded
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
1 scallion, thinly sliced
2 slices wheat bread

In a small bowl, combine mayo, curry powder, salt and pepper. Add chicken, cilantro, and scallions. Mix well.

Spread an even layer of curry chicken on a slice of bread; top with another slice.

Using a sharp knife, cut off and discard the crusts. Cut the sandwich diagonally into quarters, making 4 triangles. (You’ll have leftover chicken.)

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CUCUMBER WITH LEMON-MINT BUTTER SANDWICHES RECIPE

2 tablespoons fresh mint, minced
2 tablespoons butter or vegan butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 english cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced
2 slices white bread

In a small bowl combine the mint, butter, and lemon juice. Stir the mixture until well combined.

Spread a thin layer of butter mixture on each bread slice. Top one bread slice with cucumber, distributing the cucumber evenly. (Don’t pile it on too thick or the sandwich will fall apart.) Top the cucumber with the other bread slice.

With a sharp knife, cut off and discard the crusts. Cut the sandwich diagonally into quarters, making 4 triangles.

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CLOTTED COCONUT CREAM RECIPE

4 tablespoons butter or vegan butter, softened
2 tablespoons sugar
4 tablespoons canned coconut cream or milk

Using an electric mixer, beat together butter and sugar in a mixing bowl until well combined and smooth, about 2 minutes.

Add coconut cream and continue beating until the cream is light and fluffy.

Transfer cream to a small serving dish or ramekin. Serve with scones and preserves. If you’re not using the cream right away, cover it tightly with plastic wrap and keep refrigerated for up to 2 days.

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Easy Dairy-Free Huevos Rancheros

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I’m a big fan of breakfast. It’s my favorite meal of the day. But breakfast can get boring if you tend to eat the same thing every morning. It can also be daunting if you’re trying to go dairy-free and you’re used to eating things like cereal with cow’s milk or bagels with cream cheese.

So for all of you breakfast eaters who need some dairy-free inspiration, I welcome you to the first post of my Dairy-Free Breakfast Series!

Just to clarify, I don’t consider eggs to be dairy, since my dietary restriction is lactose. I love eggs and they are the staple of my breakfasts. They’re a great source of protein, and if I don’t have protein at the start of my day, I can barely function.

Today I’d like to share a ridiculously easy recipe for huevos rancheros that can be whipped up with stuff I usually have on hand. The photo above shows one I made using leftover homemade black bean chili, but you can use canned beans. I promise you won’t miss the cheese. There are enough strong flavors in this dish to make up for the lack of queso.

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Cholula: Mexican food’s best friend. If you don’t have it, get some.

EASY DAIRY-FREE HUEVOS RANCHEROS RECIPE

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 eggs
1/4 cup refried black beans (canned is fine)
1/4 cup salsa
Cholula or other hot sauce, to taste
2 teaspoons minced cilantro
tortilla chips
guacamole or sliced avocado (optional)

Heat the oil in a non-stick skillet over medium heat. Crack the eggs into the pan, cover and cook for approximately 2 minutes, or until the whites cook through.

Meanwhile, heat the refried black beans in the microwave until hot.

Spread the warmed beans on a plate. Top with the fried eggs. While the pan is still hot, warm the salsa, seasoning it with Cholula to taste. Garnish the eggs with the salsa and minced cilantro. Serve with tortilla chips and, if you have it, guacamole or sliced avocado.

Makes one serving.

Why I Hate Starbucks and Will Never Drink a Pumpkin Spice Latte

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If you’ve been following my blog, you know I hate Starbucks. Well, today I’m going to explain why. First, let me just say that I’m not one of those people who hates things just because they’re popular. For example, I love Star Wars. I’m a huge fan of The Beatles. I am unapologetically a dog person.

But Starbucks, like the worst popular stuff, appeals to the lowest common denominator. Simply put, their coffee sucks. That’s the number one reason I hate them. You can’t make good coffee drinks if your base is bad. If you haven’t noticed the mediocrity of their beans, it’s probably because the drinks you’re getting are so heavily flavored with syrups and other bells and whistles. Try this experiment: Get a cup of Starbucks’ regular old drip coffee. You’ll see that it’s bitter and burnt-tasting.

Here’s another reason I hate Starbucks: False advertising. I wrote a blog post about this recently when I got suckered into trying their masterfully marketed Toasted Coconut Cold Brew. Starbucks is constantly rolling out new concoctions that sound appealing but are nothing but the same bad coffee with a shot of sickly-sweet syrup. Which brings me to my next point.

Starbucks is all about sugar.

This is especially obvious now that it’s autumn and Starbucks has brought back its famous Pumpkin Spice Latte. The fanfare around the Pumpkin Spice Latte, or “PSL” as it’s known among rabid fans, is absurd. (It’s like the McRib. People go nuts over that nasty thing, simply because it’s not available all the time.) Comedian John Oliver aired a hilarious segment about the PSL craziness on his HBO show “Last Week Tonight.” (Warning: This clip contains profanity. Very funny profanity.)

So what’s a Pumpkin Spice Latte? According to Wikipedia, it’s “a coffee drink made with a mix of traditional fall spice flavors (cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove), steamed milk, and espresso, topped with whipped cream and pumpkin pie spice. Since 2015, it has also contained a small amount of pumpkin puree.”

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Now available in instant, which contains no pumpkin at all.

That’s right, only in the last two years has the PSL contained any real pumpkin. Before that, all the “pumpkin” flavor came from artificial flavorings. But people drink all sorts of unnatural stuff if it’s yummy enough, and last fall I decided to see what all the fuss was about, since Starbucks now offers almond milk and coconut milk as dairy-free alternatives.

I asked the barista if he could make a PSL with coconut milk. “Sure,” he said. But here’s the problem: I asked for no sugar. And he couldn’t do it — because the syrup that makes the drink taste like pumpkin is already sweetened. This is the same thing that happened with the Toasted Coconut Cold Brew, and it’s the case for every flavored coffee drink at Starbucks.

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The latest Starbucks fall offering.

Americans are hooked on sugar. And Starbucks, though not solely responsible for this problem, is definitely not helping. Starbucks drinks are nothing but milkshakes with caffeine in them. In fact, Starbucks is alarmingly popular with kids and teenagers. Have you heard of the Cotton Candy Frappuccino? No? That’s because it’s on the secret menu that only kids seem to know about. Even if they get their drinks non-caffeinated, there’s so much sugar in these Fraps that the kids will be bouncing off the wall in minutes.

Do yourself and your loved ones a favor. Don’t fall for this Pumpkin Spice Latte bullshit. You don’t need a diabetic coma to embrace the festive fall season. Just… carve a pumpkin or something.

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Califia Farms Better Half Coconut Cream & Almond Milk

It’s been over three years since I stopped eating dairy, and I honestly don’t miss it that much. But every so often I get a deep pang of longing when I see some blast from my dairy-eating past. One of those moments happened when I was sorting through my mom’s old stuff and found an old issue of House Beautiful, a magazine subscription I’d given her as a gift. The cover showed a classic white ceramic cow creamer. It was one of the first things Chuck Williams bought for the Williams-Sonoma store.

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I actually have one of these creamers myself. I bought it many years ago when I was preparing to serve brunch to guests. Sure, you can put a carton of half-and-half on the table and no one’s going to be horrified (except maybe Martha Stewart). But little details like serving cream in a cow-shaped creamer are what make life fun.

So when I saw that magazine, I was inspired to dig out my old cow creamer, give it a thorough washing, and fill it with a non-dairy milk I can enjoy. Fortunately, I just happened to have some Califia Farms Unsweetened Better Half on hand.

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I’ve been experimenting with Califia Farms products ever since I tried the heavenly almond milk latte at Outpost Kitchen in Costa Mesa. For some reason, Califia Farms straight-up almond milk gives me gas. But Better Half, their blend of coconut cream and almond milk, doesn’t. And it has that same silky-smooth mouthfeel that made the latte so fantastic. It’s thicker than Trader Joe’s Coconut Creamer, but not as thick as Kara Coconut Milk (my two favorite dairy-free milks to put in coffee). And Better Half doesn’t have a strong coconutty flavor, either.

The only thing it lacks is the pure white color of real milk. Let’s face it, color is important. The appearance of our food has a lot to do with our experience of it. Califia Farms Better Half is slightly off-white. It doesn’t turn my coffee that beautiful tan shade I like. That said, it’s pretty good. And when I poured it into my ceramic cow creamer, the sight of it made me happy.

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