Got a Suggestion or Submission?

Got a Suggestion or Submission?
Send me an email to Niki at HoldingOntoTheMagic dot com!

Monday, December 19, 2011

[Sassy For the Win]

Hey, everyone! Vote for Sassy for Subaru Spokesdog!

She's entrant number 14 (and, let's face it, the cutest of all...). 

Biased? Me?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

[Fantabulous Whole-Wheat Pancakes]

Note: this recipe is lactose-free, but it is NOT gluten-free or dairy-free if you use the same topping I use.

I love me some carbs, and when it comes to breakfast, I want to eat a breakfast that's going to tide me over until lunchtime--and believe it or not, that's a pretty tough job with me.  One recipe that does do the trick for me, however, is whole-wheat pancakes.

Here's what I use:

2 and 1/3 cups of whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp salt
4 tsp baking powder
4 tbs carob or cocoa powder
2 cups fat-free lactose-free milk, soy milk, almond milk, rice milk, or coconut milk
2 tbs lemon juice
6 tbs vegetable oil
4 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1-2 tbs ground cinnamon

Optional: chocolate chips, fruit, etc.

Combine dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl, followed by the liquid ingredients. Mix well. Ladle onto griddle or into pan. Makes approximately one-week's worth of breakfast for one individual. Refrigerate leftover batter for the rest of the week.

As for toppings, you can go the traditional route, but I like to use either Nutella (note: Nutella and off-brands of hazelnut-chocolate spread DO have trace amounts of milk, but their amounts are low enough that I don't have a reaction, so use your own judgment), fresh fruit, or soy yogurt.

Oh, and another recommendation: If you're like me and can't tolerate eggs (I'm not talking about an allergy like hives, but stomach reactions), you might try befriending a local farmer who raises his or her chickens without the use of hormones or antibiotics. I could never tolerate eggs growing up, myself. I'd get these ridiculous stomachaches, often throwing up the breakfast I'd just eaten right before school. Sometimes the pain would last for two days. We wondered if I had a medical condition, but it just turns out my body was rejecting non-organic eggs. So if you've been in a similar boat, help support your local farmers and buy direct. Ask them what kind of feed they give their chickens, and if they feed them organic chicken feed, sans additives, see if you don't have better luck.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

[Short Hiatus]

Good afternoon, readers! I just wanted to let you know I haven't forgotten about this blog or stopped thinking of things to write about. However, it's the final stretch of the semester, and since I teach four community college writing courses, I have a stack of portfolios to grade that are taller than I am (okay, that's not saying much, but...). After that, I'll be putting in other miscellaneous points, dealing with standard end-of-the-semester drama and panicking.

Needless to say, I probably won't be posting anything between now and next Sunday unless I need a writing distraction.

In the meantime, I'd like to hear from you. The blog now has a [small] presence on Facebook, and it's a great opportunity to have some kind of community. Head on over to "like" the page and get in on the updates. If you have suggestions, send me an email or leave a comment or post on the Facebook page wall.

Stay warm (or cool, if you live in the southern hemisphere or a tropical region), everyone! Try not to get run over while doing your holiday shopping over the next two weeks. :)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

[Restaurant Spotlight: Bambu Vietnamese Restaurant]

Springfield, Missouri, is fairly well known for its distinct style of "Chinese" food--specifically of the cashew chicken and sweet-and-sour chicken variety. As such, one doesn't really expect to find much in the way of authentic Asian foods--mostly Americanized versions that, while tasty, are loaded with MSG and fried fat. However, that's changed in recent years.

For one thing, sushi has really taken off as popular local cuisine, and several restaurants dot the landscape, including Sakura, Nakato, Kyoto, and Wayo. All I've eaten so far, have been quite tasty, but like sushi in general (particularly here in the U.S.), eating it out can get expensive very quickly. While those little rolls are surprisingly filling, on my budget, I can't justify spending seven-to-fifteen dollars for one roll except on very rare occasions.

It's sad, too, because I love the Jurassic roll at Sakura's. Oh, lordy...

There are a few others popping up, covering cuisines from Thailand, India, Korea, Vietnam, and more.

But, still, no true dim sum, and I love me some dim sum. I guess that's what I get for living in the Midwest....

Home  I have found a tasty little restaurant on Battlefield Road, however: Bambu Vietnamese restaurant. A quick look at the menu reveals a largely lactose-safe menu, and their website even shares a list of menu items that are also gluten-free. Score! Ratings online reveal that, while not completely on par with Vietnamese restaurants in some of the coastal cities, most patrons consider the food to be authentic, healthy, filling, and delicious.

I have no previous experience with Vietnamese cuisine, but I can vouch for the other three factors. First off, within a three day period, I ate from the restaurant twice--once with carryout, once eating in with my mother.  Both times, mostly because I craved the meal after eating it the first time, I ate the:


Charbroiled Shrimp & BBQ Pork on Vermicelli
Charbroiled Shrimp and sliced BBQ pork on the top of vermicelli, shredded lettuce, carrots, sliced cucumber, mints, bean sprouts, and roasted peanuts. Served with fish sauce on the side

Holy moly.

Crazy-fresh vegetables, filling vermicelli, and no sign of preservatives... so no funky feeling afterward.

Without even trying, I made three full meals out of the dish. The pork is succulently sweet and moist, and the shrimp, well... it's shrimp! And I'm a lifelong shrimp connoisseur. It was charbroiled without being spicy, and if spicy is your thing, have no fear--Bambu gives you plenty of spicy condiments to choose from at your table. I nearly died laughing as my mom made the same rookie mistake I did by trying one of the chili sauces...

"Oh, now that's not too bad." She figured she'd pour some on her meal when it came.

"Hang on, Mom, it takes about thirty seconds to--"

Suddenly, her eyes bulged. "Right on cue, Mom."

Good times.

I haven't tried any of the other meals yet, since I don't get paid next month and therefore have to make every penny stretch, but the Pho noodle soups come highly recommended from Yelp patrons, and most of the items on the menu seemed to be largely dairy-free and beneficial for those of us watching our weight.

Now, it may surprise you since you know I have a bit of a spice aversion, but I'm a pretty adventurous eater. I made a vow early on in life that I would try everything at least once (with only a few exceptions, and none due to a food's exotic or weird nature), and most things, if I didn't like them, I would try them again a year or two later. So it's not a challenge for me to try out new foods, and it doesn't intimidate me much. If you are a little nervous to try Vietnamese, let me reassure you--there are a lot of similarities to some of the fresher Chinese dishes. It has its own distinct flavor, but you can easily taste the fact that both nation's cuisines come from the same area of the world.

Springfield restaurant patrons, whether visitors or residents, have you eaten there? What did you think? What menu items do you recommend for the uninitiated?

And non-Springfieldians... can you recommend similar restaurants in your area?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

[Cheesy Potato Soup Report]

The verdict:

It's spot on.

Any odd or off taste I noticed I was able to immediately attribute to the choice to use Thanksgiving turkey instead of ham. Nothing milk-substitute-related changed the flavor, except maybe to enhance the buttery, cheesy goodness.

One tip, though... don't make the rookie mistake Mom made and buy firm tofu. Buy soft tofu, so it melts in better. It's still great, but it will help thicken the soup up a bit to use the soft tofu.

My half-eaten bowl of soup. Yes, I had to dig in before taking a picture. Don't judge my artistic skills by my voracious appetite.

And now, for seconds.

If you try it out, tell us how YOU liked it!

[Stay Tuned for... Cheesy Potato Soup!]

Our family has a truly killer recipe for potato soup. Oh, yes, it's chock full of fat and cholesterol, but dear God in heaven is it ever fabulous. My college roommates and I (in the pre-lactose-free days) used to eat healthy all week so we could make ourselves sick on a full stock pot of that gloriousness. Oh, yes... *reminisces*

Ahem. Anyway, obviously the exact recipe is not going to work so well these days. It breaks my heart, yes, buuuuuuut... Mom's visiting this week while their friend is working on my house, so she's attempting to adjust the recipe for my stomach to handle, and substituting turkey meat for ham to get rid of the rest of our turkey.  I'll definitely post the adjusted recipe this evening with the verdict.

For my still-able-to-consume-dairy reading folks, here's the original recipe (it goes back at least two generations):

4 medium-sized russet potatoes chopped
3 large carrots, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 onion, chopped (I usually don't use the onion, but it works either way)
2 cans of cream of ______ soup (choose whichever you like)
1 stick of butter
1 can of evaporated milk
Garlic, salt to taste
Chopped pre-cooked/baked ham, roughly a large handful or two
1 large package of shredded cheese, usually cheddar, amount to taste, or half of a block of cheddar

Boil the potatoes, carrots, celery, and onion in water until tender. Drain. Return veggies to stock pot and add liquid ingredients with butter until it just starts to boil. Decrease heat to low or medium-low so it doesn't boil over, then add cheese and seasonings gradually until the cheese melts and the milky broth is a soft yellow color--not vivid yellow, but more yellow than off-white.  You may wish to add more milk to thin the recipe or more cheese to make it taste sharper. Most of the ingredients here are of the "add a pinch or a handful of...." variety, so adjust to suit your tastes.

Our adjusted recipe, made mostly the same way, will include not draining the veggies, using Lactaid milk (if you have a full dairy allergy, using non-sweetened soy, rice, or almond milk should be fine--but do NOT use a sweetened variety... I made that mistake when I wrote the recipe down wrong the first time and used condensed instead of evaporated milk. It was horrible!). Instead of canned cream-of-____ soup, we're using a non-dairy recipe from (, and we're going to use standard salted butter--it usually doesn't bother me. If it does bother you, use a non-dairy margarine or shortening like the linked cream of mushroom soup calls for. We're also using the Almond cheddar "cheese" from yesterday's photo instead of standard cheddar, and we're thickening the recipe by adding tofu (about half a package) with the milk, so it behaves more like evaporated milk.

Pictures and review coming tonight!

Monday, November 28, 2011

[Amy's Kitchen, Part Two: Burrito]

On my way home from work/the ear doctor, I stopped over at MaMa Jean's. I'm a little turkeyed out right now, so I thought I'd pick up some "cheeze" and another Amy's meal to sample.

For tonight's dinner, I heated up the burrito and a little of the Daiya Mozzarella in case the burrito came out spicy. I confess, I have a very low spice tolerance, hence my need for cheese! As it turns out, the burrito was delightfully mild with the right type of flavor for a spice-lover to sprinkle with tabasco sauce or cayenne pepper.

Yes, I eat in bed sometimes. Don't judge.

Overall, I enjoyed the meal. It filled me up nicely, and the cheese melted like, well, cheese. Was it a spot-on comparison? No, not really, but it was close enough I wouldn't have withdrawals. :) And the first few bits of the burrito were, oh, fantabulous. No hard corners, like my El Monterrey chimichangas and burritos tend to get, and it had an excellent balance of authentic (or "authentic"? Hey, I live in Missouri...) Mexican tastes without being, well, Tex-Mex. It was big enough (about the size of one-and-a-half El Monterreys) for my appetite.

However, the meal did have a couple of minuses. Like many other gluten-free wheat alternatives, after a few bites and as it cooled down, the tortilla's texture was a bit... off--almost like it was made of potatoes (could be, actually... I didn't check the ingredients before chucking the package). For some people, that's great... they love potatoes; however, I have a strong gag reflex, especially since I've had soft palate surgery, so a potato texture had a tendency to trigger that reflex. The other was price. At over $3.50 per burrito (I get eight with El Monterrey for the same price at WalMart), it was hard for me to justify buying them on a regular basis for a quick lunch.

Now, you can buy direct from Amy's for a lower price ($2.84 unit price), and if your budget allows for you to, say, eat out on a regular basis or buy "gourmet" meals from the store ($3-5+ range), then it may work for you. I'd just suggest you sample one for yourself at a local store before buying in bulk from Amy's. Additionally, entrees are still over $5.00 apiece for the most part, so they're the sort of meals you want to get as an indulgence when you have a craving for, say, Indian food or lasagna and you don't want to pay the gastrointestinal price.

Still, it's nice to know we have edible and fairly comparable options.

I'm planning to sample one of the Indian foods soon. I haven't had much (okay, any...) Indian food other than a brief sample on a youth group trip to London in 2001 (plus, there's the spice factor for me), so it'll be a new experience in more ways than one. Still, judging by how both meals I've had so far have compared to their milk-induced counterparts, I think I'll be getting a pretty accurate taste for that particular dish. I'll be sure to fill you in on the details as they unfold.

If you'd like to contribute to my culinary adventures (or my art business for that matter--I'm in the market for a pen tablet so I can do some web art for the first time and open my options up... but they're still a little steep for me with fewer classes to teach next semester, even at under $100), feel free to use the Google checkout to the right on this page (or my Amazon Wishlist, also to the right, for art-related needs).

Until next time, readers! Don't forget to check out my other two blogs, in the meantime, if you'd like to read more of my writing or sample some of my artwork.

After-note: Amy's does have a standard non-dairy (but not non-gluten) burrito that I couldn't find today, so when I sample that one, I'll let you know my reaction. I have a feeling it will be more positive.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Company Spotlight of the Day: Amy's Kitchen

Amy's Kitchen

According to their website:

Amy’s is sensitive to the dietary needs and concerns of our consumers. At Amy’s Kitchen we understand that 1 in 25 people in the United States suffer from a food allergy.While some common food allergies include: dairy, soy and tree nuts, several other allergies once thought to be uncommon are on the rise, especially among young infants and children In addition, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is estimated that 65% of US adults are either overweight or obese, which can lead to other serious chronic illnesses 
Amy’s understands that many of our customers follow special diets, whether for an allergy related illness or just simply to live a healthier lifestyle and avoid chronic illnesses.

I've not had the opportunity to try many of their products, mostly because their frozen dinners retail at about $5 around this area if you buy from the store, and I'm on a $1-$3-per-meal budget these days, and I confess I like me some frozen dinners, but I have had the pleasure of sampling Amy's Vegetable Lasagna. Speaking as a lifelong pastaholic (I used to go to the Pasta House once a week growing up, and I'd still ask for spaghetti at home and usually get it), I was really impressed with the flavor. It tasted exactly like ricotta and spinach lasagna that I would make myself or even order in a restaurant (in smaller portions). As a bonus, it's not only dairy-free, it's great for those who are gluten-free and who are vegan! I'm rather fond of meat, myself, but I do enjoy some vegan options, and this one definitely tops my list. It's also low-fat, kosher, tree-nut-free, and only 300 calories for the entire meal. It filled me up nicely, so I felt no need to, say, make whole-wheat garlic bread to tide me over a bit more. Pretty nice for those of us who want to lose weight.

Additionally, when you're researching the products on their website, they have a very convenient checklist for special dietary needs. So if you're someone who's not just lactose intolerant, but also has a gluten allergy (I'm wondering if that's one of my other issues as well right now, but I haven't been diagnosed), is vegan, etc., you can easily narrow the product list down without having to read through all the ingredients one-by-one. By narrowing it down to lactose-intolerant and dairy free, the product list that appeared still had 160 products. Nice.

For my local readers, I've found Amy's meals at MaMa Jean's Market, Akin's Natural Foods, Dillon's, and HyVee. I haven't looked for it in WalMart yet, mostly because WalMart is not always on top of the special diet needs market, and I don't even bother to look generally. Amy's does have vendor directory, and if it's not available in your area, Amy's has a list of online vendors, including (bonus for those of us who are Prime members!), which sells the non-perishable varieties. Amazon's prices are pretty good--you can get, for example, the Lentil and Minestrone variety pack with Subscribe and Save for only $15.57, and you get eight soups. Price-wise, that's pretty much on-par with brand name soups like Progresso and Healthy Choice, and this way you know it's not going to set you off if you have sensitive levels of lactose intolerance.

Definitely recommended!

Which Amy's Kitchen products have you sampled? What did you think? Which ones do you recommend most?

Correction: I used the wrong product image for the meal I ate. The meal I actually sampled was the Tofu Dairy-free Lasagna: 

Tofu Vegetable Lasagna

And it was fabulous. If I get a chance to sample the other and it's different than what I've claimed here, I'll let you know. For now, I have the same basic expectation of excellence. 

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Why the Blog?!

It's the holiday season here in the United States, and a condition that I've had in the past for, at the most, six months at a time, has become completely chronic.

I'm now lactose intolerant.

In the past, when my system's been out of whack, I've had to avoid richer milk products to avoid spending way too much time sitting on the porcelain throne. But eventually, I usually was able to return to my regularly scheduled cheese, ice cream, and miscellaneous products. So when it hit me about nine months ago, at the age of 27, I thought if I simply waited it out, I'd be back to normal.

Well, not this time. Nine months later, I can't even have a spoonful of green bean casserole unless I want to be homebound for about 48 hours--even if I take a dose of Lactaid at just the right moment. And it's taken my well-intentioned mother nearly this entire time to start reading labels before donating food to my personal pantry (and even then... oy!), and this month has been the first one in over a year when I haven't had to use copious amounts of air freshener in the bathroom.

Now, I love me some milk products, so this has been a rather difficult transition. But some research and experimentation has led me to conclude that, with a little extra effort, there can be life after lactose. More and more companies are producing products that remove the lactose from the milk or making products that use real alternatives to milk without sacrificing taste and that don't cost significantly more than normal lactose-laced products (because I don't know about you, but I barely make ends meet as it is without having to consider a specialized diet!)

This past week was Thanksgiving, and for once, Mom thought ahead and looked up a recipe online for pumpkin pie that did not use milk, and much to her and my surprise--it tasted the same! I'll be sharing that recipe in the near future.

Now, I'm just starting to be proactive about finding lactose alternatives, and living in a smaller city (Springfield, Missouri), there aren't always some of the products available that are more easily found in St. Louis, Kansas City, and some of the coastal area. So, I'm going to be sharing my newfound recipes and products, reviewing them here, and passing the information along to you. There may be other food-related posts as well.  But I can't do this alone...

So what can you do? If you encounter a well-priced store, product, a recipe, or a milk alternative technique that is truly comparable to the real thing, send it to me! Tell me where you found it, the price (or price to make), and tell me about your experience. I'll share it here, and eventually, I hope we'll have a splendid little Life After Lactose community and the comfort in knowing that we're not alone!

So send your submissions to Niki at HoldingOntoTheMagic dot com. Tell me your name and your website/blog, so I can give you credit, and any other helpful information.  Photos, links, and other media can help readers get a better idea what we're talking about, so don't be shy about sending those along.

Check back soon for recipes, products, store reviews, and more!