The response to my Washington Post
article, When the Menu is a Minefield
, has been huge and overwhelmingly positive.** Thank you to all who wrote and called with comments, suggestions, and further questions.
So many of you contacted me that I thought I'd post some of the great input that readers have provided, in the hope that it will help more people who struggle to find ways to enjoy dining out, without the unpleasant consequences.
I heard from people with much worse restrictions than my own, people who can't eat dairy, people who keep Kosher and also can't eat dairy, people who can't eat soy, people who are gluten-intolerant or have Celiac disease, people with allergies to onions and garlic, people with IBS or other GI ailments, people with multiple food sensitivities, and people with dietary restrictions that change over time. All of them told me they appreciated finally seeing this topic addressed in the newspaper.
If your primary problem is with dairy, a number of readers suggested trying lactase enzyme supplements of one kind or another, which can make lactose digestible (Lactaid chewable tablets, taken with dairy meals, and Digestive Advantage, which is taken once a day, are both popular options). This will only work if lactose is your problem--and even then, it doesn't work for all. None of the supplements work for me, but then again, my problem is unlikely to be lactose intolerance, since even completely lactose-free dairy products are off-limits.
In answer to some reader queries:
I've been asked what I substitute for milk. In cereal, I use rice milk. In cooking, I use soy milk. The latter is normally a one-for-one substitution. In baking, I use transfat-free vegetable shortening instead of butter. Or, if butter must be used, I watch everyone else eat what I baked. They're happy, I'm happy.
I have not found any palatable substitute for real dairy cheese. If you have, I would like to know about it. I've tried everything, and it all tastes like Glue Stick. So now, when I have a desire for cheese, I pour a cup of tea, and spread a little Glue Stick on my (nondairy) cracker. Then I throw the cracker in the garbage and drink the tea.
Do not assume that margarine is nondairy. To avoid dairy in spreads, either buy vegan, or Kosher-pareve/parve products. In my experience, the vegan version tastes better. Some of this can be used in baking to sub for butter; some cannot. Watch especially for salt content if you do that--you don't necessarily want salty baked desserts. YMMV.
The most difficult meal for me to eat out is breakfast. If I'm traveling, it's especially rare to have numerous options. Try going to a B&B or an inn and telling them you can't have dairy or eggs. You'll get half a grapefruit, and bacon. Oh, and I can't eat the grapefruit. And, gee, I'd rather not have bacon... Just coffee will be fine. Yes, black.
Readers recommend, and I agree:
A good way to ensure you are avoiding all dairy when dining out--if you have a choice as to where you dine--try a Kosher restaurant that serves meat. Meals served at certified Kosher meat restaurants will not contain any dairy products. It's challenging, for instance, to find a burger bun that doesn't contain dairy, unless you're at a Kosher restaurant. In our area, try Max's Deli in Wheaton, Md., Eli's in DC, and Pomegranate Bistro in Potomac, Md. You aren't limited to meat dishes at these places, but you are guaranteed a dairy-free meal. Max's has a great falafel bar.
Asian cuisine is also usually a reliable dairy-free option, but watch out for "fusion" restaurants--I have been hit with hidden dairy at such places.
The other way to go is vegan, especially if you want to avoid meat along with dairy. Great Sage, in Clarksville, Md., is a vegan restaurant that was mentioned to me by several readers. I look forward to giving it a try. Many nonvegan restaurants also offer vegan options, but as with any dietary restriction, the onus will be on the diner to ensure you're getting what you think you're getting.
A few people wrote touting their businesses, which offer vegan products. Here are two that look interesting--I haven't yet tried them myself, so this is not an endorsement, just information.
in Portland, OR, produces a line of vegan, gluten-free sauces, which they will mail nationwide, and they offer a weekly allergen-free dinner at their Portland location. I wish the latter were available here.
My Vegan Baker
is located in Fairfax, Virginia, and offers just what it sounds like--home-baked vegan (but not gluten-free!) desserts (dairy-free tarte tatin, someday?).
And here's a blog that focuses on eating out with food allergies in the New York area: Allergic Girl Recommends
And finally, why I can't eat pears, sweet potatoes, garbanzo beans, spinach...
In the Post article, I alluded to other dietary restrictions that I deal with. A number of readers were curious about that, and the simplest explanation is that I can't tolerate specific fruits, vegetables, and beans, because of another diagnosed disorder. This is probably a good topic for a health column on medical mysteries...since it was rather complicated to discover. When I was able to eat dairy, I ate a lot less meat, but with my other restrictions, it's almost impossible for me to get enough protein without eating meat. So that's one reason why I'm not attempting a vegan diet.
The other reason is, I like meat.
[**Except for a select few angry vegans (not representative of most people choosing to follow vegan diets, I might add), who apparently need a lesson in the difference between dietary choices based on philosophy and/or food aversions, and dietary restrictions that are based on medical need.]
With all those flames, there must be a burger, right? ;)
(joke!! it's a joke!!)