Are you in need of an easy, refined sugar/dairy/wheat free hipster cookie biscuit that you and yours can easily make and devour? The sort of thing to gift to breastfeeding friends, share over a baby cino with a toddler, or pack up as a portable breakfast? If so, I think I can help. Skip down to the matching photo at the bottom for the recipe.
If you have the time or appetite for some prattle and endorsements, read on.
This week I’m going to prattle a little bit about what I’ve learned in a year of living #dairyfree. Let’s make something clear. If there is someone in your social circle who has gone dairy free, I promise they are not doing it to make your life difficult. Nobody chooses to omit d’affinois, mozzarella, toasties, pizza, hazelnut gelato, BUTTER and regular lattes for larks. They’ve almost certainly done it for a health reason. In my case, the wellbeing of my then 2 week old daughter. I was so resistant to the initial diagnosis of Evie’s cow’s milk protein intolerance by the pediatrician that I got a second opinion. I may have also shed a hormonal tear or two. My relationship with cheese is pretty personal.
Because of the way lactation works, what I was eating was finding its way into her milk. I knew this, but I kept testing the limits of what we could safely consume. Perhaps yoghurt would be ok, I thought one day. After two consecutive squalling nights when she slept for 35 minutes in total I had to knock on my spouse’s door an hour before he flew to Singapore. I handed him our baby and decreed ‘You have to take her for an hour. I am no longer safe around the children’. Sleep deprivation will do that to you. I then realised that there definitely are worse things than a life without cheese. But these are lessons you have to learn for yourself.
So here are seven things which made cooking and living dairy free much easier.
1) If you’re anything like me the first thing you’ll need to do is find an alternative for your coffee and tea. When I’m on maternity leave, coffee is life. It gives a social anchor point for my day (we have to get dressed and up and out of the house). Tea is a sippable hug. And they’re both caffeine, which, if you’re existing on minimal sleep, then that’s somewhat essential. My problem is I don’t like long blacks. They taste like steely ambition and flinty distrust. I don’t like espresso, unless it’s at the close of a 14 course meal. I like the ritual of nursing a latte in the morning. I don’t like the way almond milk curdles in hot beverages, leaving a residue of snowy flotsam over the top of your drink. I don’t like the flavour combination of coconut and coffee or even worse- coconut and Earl Grey. So the closest I’ve found to the simple pleasure of milk in coffee and tea is soy milk- particularly Bonsoy. It’s definitely the nicest. I don’t use that much other soy, but here, it works for me.
2) Make friends with cauliflower. Steamed cauliflower, blended until smooth makes a novel cream alternative in savoury dishes. I’ve used it before in Beef Stroganoff and Cauliflower Mac and Cheese. I’ve come to make a batch of it on a Monday to last the week. It gets stretched with a little chicken broth to make a cream of chicken soup, with shredded chicken, sauteed onion, celery, carrots and peas. It works as a base for a silky mushroom sauce to have with steak or chicken. It also works as a lovely gilding for crepes with smoked trout, celery and almonds.
3) Get cosy with mayo. Unlike what some people may assume, mayonnaise is dairy free. It’s simply an emulsion of oil and egg yolk. Without dairy to add richness to sandwiches or salads, I’ll turn to mayonnaise. A glossing of it with a tin of tuna, some diced apple, mint, almonds and spring onions makes a great filling for Tuscan kale wraps at lunch time. And it turns out that with enough mustard and mayo, you won’t really notice your burger is missing the cheese.
4) Find alternatives. Don’t try and make a pizza with cashew cheese. That is a cruel joke being played on you by the internet. It will not taste like pizza. Instead, if something crispy on a base is what you’re craving, insert lahmacun into your rotation. Just press a flatbread or pizza base with some koftas you’ve bought and grill until the base is crispy and meat is cooked through, then top it with a riot of fresh coriander, mint, parsley, lightly pickled onion, fresh diced tomato and a drizzling of tahini.
5) Love tahini. This golden sesame paste is glorious for lots of reasons. Firstly, it’ll give you a hefty thwack of calcium in your diet, which is something to be conscious of in a dairy-free life. Secondly, when thinned with a little olive oil or water, it makes a lush dressing for salads and stews. If you really want to you can blend some cashews into a paste and meld that with it for extra richness- but let’s be honest. This is not ‘cream’. It’s blended cashews.
6) Get cosy with coconut. Despite earlier besmirching their presence in coffee, coconut products are a beneficial crutch in the dairy free life. Evie and I both eat a lot of coconut yoghurt. She has hers with chia seeds through it every night for pudding (which also helps on the calcium front). I do the same and also use natural coconut yoghurt as a replacement for Greek yoghurt in raita with coconut to have with curries. I have it on pancakes and with fruit salad. What I won’t do is put it in places where coconut doesn’t seem like a natural food-friend (i.e. a Greek tzatziki, or over Moroccan tagines. That just feels wrong).
7) Make these cookies. Finding snacks and treats while out and about has been one of the trickiest adjustments in a dairy free life (and most surprising blows to morale in the early days). It’s often hard to find a dairy free treat at a cafe that isn’t made by blending 37 dates with half a hat of almonds and cashews and pretending it’s a ‘banoffee pie’ and charging you $9.50 for the privilege (sorry guys, it’s really not). A stash of oat based cookies made with coconut oil, dried fruits of your choice, almonds and coconut are a very happy snack for me and also a favourite for Evie.
The thing is, I”m currently weaning Evie (well, attempting to. It’s not going as well as I’d hoped.) So while my year of dairy free has an expiration date, we don’t know if hers ever will- so it looks like we’ll be cooking like this for a while yet.
Here are a few other things that are going on.
Loving: Manly Spirits. Who knew that around the corner from us in Brookvale there was a hipster distillery? One that uses Indigenous northern beaches botanicals like sea parsley and kelp in the mix? Manly Spirits makes both boutique Australian vodkas and gins and has a very sweet little tasting room/bar attached. The Hungry One and I spent a delightful portion of date-afernoon in there sipping on tall G&T’s and talking in full, uninterrupted sentences. All of which are luxuries. (Also, if you’re currently mired in parental duties, I fully endorse the ‘afternoon date’. If you’re investing in a babysitter, best do it at the time of day you find most challenging. For me, that’s the dinner/bath rigmarole. Outsourcing that once a week so I can either work, or spend some time with the spouse has been the best investment in my mental health I’ve made).
Listening: Hey guys, guess what! It’s 2016 calling! Turns out there’s this musical called Hamilton and it’s really fantastic. (Insert eye roll here. Welcome to 2018 Tori). I’ve discovered that my real treadmill and traffic happy-making-jam is the soundtrack to musicals. With that in mind in the wake of burning through ‘The Greatest Showman’ more times than I’m happy to publicly admit, the soundtrack to ‘Hamilton’ is my latest obsession. Sure, I’d love to fly to NYC and see it in person. But the reality of that happening anytime soon is slim, so listening to the soundtrack is not a bad consolation prize. Next time you’ve got a long car trip or walk, if you haven’t indulged yet, cue it and allow yourself to be swept away.
Watching: Molly’s Game. I’m a sucker for Sorkin. I love Jessica Chastain. Idris Elba can do no wrong. Yet, this didn’t tick all the boxes for me. It was missing the emotional core that I crave in a soaring Aaron Sorkin (perhaps because the soundtrack wasn’t all that much to write home about? What would The Social Network be without Trent Reznor? The West Wing without Dire Straits?) Or maybe (maybe) because Sorkin doesn’t write female protagonists as well as he does men. Discuss.
Thankful: Gosh bless Apple Wallet. The SHEER MAGIC of having my credit cards stored in my phone and able to paywave with them means a flustered morning of leaving my wallet in my ‘date night’ hand bag, rather than my frumpy ‘also stores 4 nappies, wipes, toys, rusks, snacks and a half emptied sippy cup etc etc satchel’ meant I was still able to caffeinate and do a grocery shop all without scuttling the day’s schedule, or having to pack up two kids back into a car and trudge back home. Win.
Reading: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Sometimes you just want to read a nice story. If that’s the mood you’re in, plus you’ve only got room in your beach bag for one slim volume and some half hearted aspirations that you might get 10 minutes to read while someone else wrangles the children in and out of rash vests/sunscreen/swimming nappies etc, then this is a good solution. But seriously, it’s morale-boostingly lovely and has made me very nostalgic for life in the UK (Yes, it was published in 2009. Sometimes it takes me a while to clock onto a good thing).
Losing time in the middle of the night: Planning hypothetical holidays is one of my ‘good for morale’ activities. I don’t actually need to go on them, I just like the planning; weighing up the options, making the purchasing decision, fantasizing about heading off somewhere without having to actually pay for it, or wrangle children on a flight. With that in mind, if anyone fancies a two week itinerary throughout Oahu, I’ve got you sorted. Similarly, seven days in Singapore is also on the slate.
Making: Each week I’ve got into the batch cooking habit of cooking a chicken. I then shred the meat for sandwiches/ salads/quick meals and collect the bones and make broth in my pressure cooker. On Saturday it was a stinking steamy night in Sydney, so a cooling salad was needed. This was a quick throw together that won a big thumbs up from The Hungry One. It was a meld between a Bang Bang Chicken salad and Smacked Cucumbers. Blitz together, or bash in a mortar and pestle 2 tsp of Szechuan peppercorns, 2 star anise and 2 tsp of sea salt flakes. Set aside. Dress 2 shredded chicken breasts, 1/2 a diced Lebanese cucumber, 1 finely diced spring onion and one steamed and blanched bunch of broccolini with 1 grated garlic clove, 3 tbsp soy sauce and 1 tbsp sesame oil. Then top with the Szechuan peppercorn salt and extra chilli to taste.
Oat, Dried Fruit and Coconut Cookies (Dairy Free)
These cookies are easily mash and mix. They’re indestructible enough to withstand multiple substitutions and the assistance of children and or the significantly sleep deprived. You can choose whatever dried fruit you like (or substitute for chocolate chips). My preferred combination is dried apricots and pitted prunes. Please make sure the prunes are pitted, otherwise your blender will squeal and you’ll end up gnashing your teeth on bits of prune pit ( I speak from experience). You can use mild olive oil or melted butter instead of coconut oil (though the butter will prevent them from being dairy free). You can substitute the dried coconut for ground almonds and the chia seeds for ground flaxseed. If you prefer a squidgier/cakier cookie then make remove them from the oven straight from baking. If you prefer something a little crunchier, turn the oven off and allow them to cool inside. Just be sure to take them out before you preheat the oven for dinner (also speaking from experience). These will keep for a week in the fridge.
Makes 18 cookies
3 ripe bananas (approx 300 g of banana flesh)
50 g/1/4 cup of melted coconut oil (or mild olive oil or melted butter)
150 g/ 1 1/2 cups of oats
50 g/ 1/2 cup desiccated coconut
50 g/ 1/3 cup chia seeds
100 g of dried fruit (I like a 50/50 mix of dried pitted prunes and apricots)
1. Preheat the oven to 180c/350 F and line a large baking sheet (or two) with baking paper.
2. Mash the bananas.
3. Muddle together the bananas with the egg and melted coconut oil.
4. Using a small food processor blitz together the dried fruit until it is finely chopped. (You can also do this with scissors, but a food processor is much more efficient).
5. Fold the dried fruit rubble into the wet ingredients.
6. Add the dry ingredients to the bowl.
7. Mix it all together until you have a cohesive mass.
8. Use an ice cream scoop or a tablespoon to portion the cookies out.
9. Flatten the cookies with your fingers.
10. Bake for 25 minutes, until firm to touch. For crunchier cookies, turn the oven off and leave the cookies in the oven to cool.