Tuesday, September 21, 2010

High Maintenance - Low Tolerance

One of my favourite movies of all time is “When Harry Met Sally”, not only because it’s one of the funniest movies ever made, but because here and there, its got great food related scenes and references. One of my favourite scenes occurs when they are both watching another all time best movie, “Casablanca.” Harry comments to Sally that Ingrid Bergman is “low maintenance” and Sally wants to know what Harry thinks she is. Harry replies that Sally is the worst kind; high maintenance who thinks she’s low maintenance. Sally asks why she is high maintenance and Harry demonstrates by giving her an example of how she orders in a restaurant: ““I’d like the salad, but with the dressing on the side.” “On the Side” is a very big thing for you.” And Sally says; “I want it how I want it.” Harry replies; “I know. High maintenance.”

I can relate to the way Sally orders in restaurants. When I’m ordering in a restaurant it can go something like this:
Waiter: “…and today our special is served with our own chef’s specially made coleslaw.”
Me: “Could you please tell me if there is any cream or milk in the coleslaw? Or is made just with mayonnaise?”
Waiter: “Uh, I don’t know. You can’t have milk or cream?”
Me: “I’m lactose intolerant.”
Waiter: “Oh, you’re allergic to milk.”

I used to try to explain the difference between lactose intolerance and a milk allergy, but after about 10 seconds, I would see the waiter’s eyes start to glaze over. Luckily for all waiters everywhere, I’ve given up on explaining lactose intolerance. What’s that you say? You’d like to know what lactose intolerance is? Well, alright then, I’ll try to make it brief.

The sugars in food can be either simple or more complex. The components in complex sugar are joined together like links in a chain. The linked or chained sugar is lactose. The human body requires a specific enzyme to break down the chained sugar for digestion. Some people are born without the necessary enzyme, and are lactose intolerant from birth. Others are born with the enzyme, but with time and maturity, the enzyme gradually dissipates, for some people more so than in others. This is why there are varying degrees of lactose intolerance. Some people are much more intolerant than others. When lactose is consumed in people who are lactose intolerant, they can suffer from nausea or pain and abdominal bloating, or from all of the symptoms. Not pretty.  

Now getting back to the restaurant scenario, the waiter checks about the dressing in the coleslaw and comes back to the table.
Waiter: “Well, the chef who makes the coleslaw isn’t here right now, and the chef who is here doesn’t know what’s in the dressing. Sorry.”

In all fairness, this type of scenario doesn’t happen in all restaurants. Some chefs are very obliging. They often know what the ingredients in their dishes are and some are very gracious and happy to make me a milk-free alternative. Not always wanting to be the pain-in-the-neck customer with “special needs” I often simply choose something that I’m sure will be completely milk/cream free. I’m not including butter in this because I can tolerate small amounts of butter. (Try explaining that to a waiter and they really think you’re just being a pain.) However, ice cream and whipped cream are totally out of the question.

For someone whose passion is baking and cooking, especially pastry, being lactose intolerant can be a pain in the neck for me, too. Baking and cooking for others is a joy. I can make anything and not have to be concerned about the dairy content. Small tastes to ensure that everything is as it should be are tolerable. Baking and cooking food for me to indulge in is another story, but I have found many ways to work around the problem. Most of the time. Cream is still out, of course, but I have found lots of lactose free products that I can use as substitutes. Lactose free milk is one of my biggest saviours. Buttermilk can be substituted by adding vinegar to lactose free milk. Lactose free sour cream is now available as well.

I have also learned that certain cheeses are naturally lactose free, such as Muenster, a flavourful cheese that is excellent on its own and that melts beautifully. Another lactose free cheese is Lappi, which is a good substitute for mozzarella. Hard cheeses that have been aged such as Parmigiano Reggiano and Grana Pandano are also naturally lactose free. Good quality dark chocolate, such as Guanaja and Manjari along with many other varieties made by Valrhona, are lactose free. Of course, Valrhona’s excellent cocoa is lactose free. (Whew. I mean, who could live without chocolate? Not me.) Fortunately for me, Valrhona makes some of the world’s best chocolate if not the best.

Another saviour is “cultured” butter. Cultured butter is widely used throughout Europe. It is butter that has had an active culture introduced to it that naturally eliminates the lactose. This butter has a slightly tangier taste than regular butter. Being able to have butter again has opened up tremendous, endless possibilities in all forms of food preparation.

Chèvre, or goat’s cheese, is not lactose free but I have learned that goat’s milk has a protein in it that is much more easily digestible than the protein in cow’s milk. Goat’s milk also contains a smaller percentage of lactose than cow’s milk. As a result, many people who are lactose intolerant can tolerate chèvre, I being one of them. This is something I’m still experimenting with, and I have only had chèvre in small quantities to date. So far, so good.

Dulce de leche  (Sweet Milk) or as the French say, Confiture de Lait (Milk Jam) has become incredibly popular as an ingredient  in baking. Typically made with sweetened condensed milk, I grew curious. Could Dulce de Leche be made with lactose free milk? After much research and experimenting, I have made a suitable substitute for this delectable treat. Mine is more liquid than “jammy” in substance, but it’s as close to the real deal as I can get.

Lactose Free Dulce de Leche in the making

My being lactose intolerant is a very real physical limitation, not a lifestyle choice. Regardless of that I think it does make me, although reluctantly, “high maintenance”. On the other hand, I think it’s helped me to become a better cook. It’s often our limitations that inspire us to push harder to find ways to work around those limitations, whatever they may be. More often than not, in the end we discover new things for ourselves that we would otherwise have never found. Yes, of course I still do miss whipped cream and ice cream and always will, especially when watching others enjoying these treats. To help me “tolerate” my loss, I just try to think about all those calories that I’m saving, and smile. 

A small amount of Dulce de Leche goes a long way

1 comment:

  1. Love the title! Great Post. You have inspired me to write a food post of my own. I have already created an edible work of art and taken pictures. Just need to write the post now...