Those of you who know me are probably aware that I can’t eat dairy. No milk, no cheese, not even any items like Cheez-its where you have to question whether that food has ever encountered a legitimate dairy substance anyway. As near as I can figure out, the culprit is a milk protein called casein, and it causes me migraine headaches. As a disclaimer here, I’ve never had a doctor confirm this. But through rigorous scientific research involving stuffing ice cream, yogurt, cheese, milk chocolate, and packaged desserts into my face (and then not stuffing them into my face), it’s become very clear that dairy = headaches and no dairy = no headaches. I don’t have the symptoms described for lactose intolerance, and Dr. Internet leads me to believe casein is to blame.
As you can imagine, this is a tremendously distressing trait to discover in oneself, and it seems pretty unfair. I’m of European descent. We are the dairy people. We are the people anecdotally causing conflicts with other races throughout history by poisoning them with well-intentioned milk (prior to giving them smallpox). Milk is my heritage, and it’s spectacularly upsetting that all its enchanting permutations are off the menu.
Josh has been very supportive throughout my troubled relationship with casein. Because he is concerned with healthy eating, except where healthy eating requires giving up pancakes or his addiction to questionable Mexican candy, Josh too has given up dairy consumption at TTH. Together, we are beginning an exciting journey into the world of dairylike substitutes! Take off your shoes and sweater, and join us in the land of milky make-believe.
Fake Dairy #1: Tofutti “Better than Cream Cheese” Spread
As far as I’ve been able to determine so far, all imitation dairy products are made of vegetable oil and sorcery. Tofutti’s “Better than Cream Cheese,” thusly named because they’ll probably get sued by the dairy industry if they use the term ‘cheese’ in unapproved formats, does it better than most. And for this they receive a very high rating, 4.5 Tiny Houses out of a possible 5!
Before the Dark Ages of no milk, I would not actually have figured that cream cheese ranks very highly among the foods I’d miss. I never thought about it much one way or the other, not until I started having one of the more critical first-world problems a girl can have: I had nothing to put on my bagels. This was a startling and depressing realization. Josh prefers sweet bagels which play nicely with jam or honey or peanut butter, such as raisin, apple cinnamon, or abominable pumpkin spice bagels. My favorite bagels are everything bagels, which I see as Everything delicious and Josh sees as Everything you can possibly do to ruin a bagel. Needless to say, everything bagels require a savory accessory, and other than (fake) butter, I had nothing. The bagels were stark, forlorn, like a dry onion-y desert with no oasis in sight.
Fake cream cheese to the rescue! I knew they would sell it at Whole Foods, though Josh and my sister had to pinpoint it because it was on a shelf too high for me to reach or see and the unattractive package had too many small words and not enough pictures for me to process. The very next morning, I tried it out. The texture was pleasingly similar to real cream cheese, as was the smell. It spread well, with easy bagel application. As for the taste, while it’s not quite cream cheese, it’s very close, and good enough for me. I was sold, but I wanted a second opinion. “Josh!” I called. “You need to make a bagel!”
Josh was busy getting ready for work and giggling at hip hop lyrics which he later tried to explain involved both Obama and llamas. “Right now?”
The morning hip hop laughter is one of my favorite daily Josh routines, but sacrifices had to be made. “Right now!” I confirmed. “You need to try the cream cheese.”
“Right now?” Josh tried one more time to just be left alone with the pleasures of Tech N9ne.
“I am writing a blog post,” I informed him, importantly.
By now, Josh recognizes his dual role in the TTH blog as comic relief and domestic hero, so he relented, came into the kitchen, and made a disgusting pumpkin spice bagel which he tried to tell me was “just like pumpkin bread.” It’s not. It’s an affront to God and man. But it was apparently pretty good with fake cream cheese, and the spread got his thumbs-up as well.
So if you’re looking for something non-dairy to add to the bagels your significant other hates, two out of two TTH residents agree, Tofutti “Better than Cream Cheese” is the (fake) cream of the crop.
Fake Dairy #2: Go Veggie Cheddar Flavor Shreds
Empowered by the resounding success of the Better Than Cream Cheese, Josh and I decided to branch out to other cheeselike substances during a recent mission to acquire taco supplies. Maybe the first mistake was trying to buy fake cheese at Vons, which is a normal supermarket, instead of Whole Foods, which is a supermarket for people who know what chia seeds are and have at some point identified themselves as pescetarian. But it all looked very promising, these bags of Go Veggie Cheddar Flavor Shreds, parked reassuringly next to rows and rows of tofu in varying degrees of firmness.
“Do you want to try this fake cheese?” Josh pondered aloud, mulling over our options.
“Yeah!” I cried, enthused at the prospect. I’d had fake cream cheese and by god, now I was unstoppable. “We can have tacos with cheese!” You don’t even know how exciting this is unless tacos with cheese have been a source of distress for the last 14 months.
Josh grabbed the cheddar shreds, but I didn’t quit there, no sir. There were so many different kinds of fake cheese! I snapped up Go Veggie’s Smoked Provolone variety as well. Never mind that I’d never even seen real provolone marketed as ‘smoked’, it looked cheesy and I wanted it. “Sandwiches!” I declared, starry eyed. “I wonder if it melts!”
When we got home, I have to hand it to Go Veggie — the Cheddar Flavor Shreds were pretty good. The Flavor Shreds were buried under cabbage, perfectly seasoned ground turkey that you know I didn’t cook, and local tomatoes from Oxnard, but in taco context I couldn’t really tell that it wasn’t real cheese. I was pleased with the results. Another victory for the cheese impersonators! “This is so good,” I mumbled around mouthfuls of taco, because I have no manners when the kids aren’t there to force me to be a good role model. “If you weren’t told ahead of time, you’d never know the difference!”
“How do they do this?” Josh wondered. “What is this made of?” Overwhelmed by curiosity, he got up and wandered toward the fridge, where he inspected the package. “Oh,” Josh remarked, in tones of ‘oops’ that made my heart sink. “The second ingredient is casein.”
“WHAT,” I squawked.
Josh hates to be the bearer of bad news, but there was no denying it. Casein! Of course that’s why it was so good and cheeselike — it was cheating! My cheesy dreams crumbled like unmelted Flavor Shreds, and this is how we discovered that Lactose Free is not the same as Dairy Free. For this treachery, the Go Veggie Cheddar Flavor Shreds receive only one out of 5 possible Tiny Houses.
“What are we going to do with all this damn cheese, now?” I asked later, as I sulkily picked Cheddar Flavor Shreds out of my second turkey taco.
“We’ll feed it to the kids,” Josh readily replied. “They’ll never know the difference.”
Stay tuned until next the next food review episode, in which we’ll make pizza with Daiya Mozzarella Shreds, contemplate whether shreds is an industry-mandated fake cheese descriptor, and force helpless, innocent children to try out Fake Smoked Provolone! After all, how else am I going to review it now?