The Easiest DIY Non-Dairy Milk

Shortly after we all went into lockdown a few weeks ago, my running team had a group call with Sally Bergeson, owner/founder of the women’s running apparel company, Oiselle. Sally spoke about doing the work of Pulling Out Poisoned Roots, and since I’d just received the team journal for this year, and knowing that Sally is an activist and visionary on what are often the most controversial topics and particularly women’s rights and sport, one could surmise exactly the poisoned roots she was referring to.

I had recently re-begun examining my own poisoned roots, and thus have spent most of the spring working through old programming, stories about my own limited potential and unable-to’s that stem from their foundations in early childhood and youth. As I have been working though the next layer of this ‘brain training’ this spring—for beginning this process many years ago was one of the most important steps in healing my autoimmune condition—I’ve been daily reminded about how difficult it is to rewire the brain, to heal old wounds and stories we’ve been told or have told ourselves. And every single day, I’ve been reminded of my privilege.

For I’m in a place right now where I have the ability to prioritize this type of self-work. My basic needs are met. I’m in a place of relative health. I don’t have unconscious or blatant systemic biases working against me. And I’ve thought about those that come from experiences of more extreme trauma—for a refresher on the impact of childhood trauma has also been part of my spring quarantine for my part-time public health role. How for individuals who’ve experienced extreme trauma, if they ever get to a point in life where they have the resources to undergo this type of psychological training, how much more difficult, how much more healing, they need.

For as much as it’s a nice thought that we’re all simply different shades in a crayon box—a saying I’ve seen a few times the past couple weeks—the circumstances we each are given make that a phrase that is naïve to the reality of our lives.

Today I’ll share a little story about that as it relates to dairy foods, who is supposed to consume them (everyone) as opposed to who can actually digest and absorb them (mostly white, non-minorities without other health problems). This is a mostly nutritional but also partly political post, but the end result is an incredibly easy DIY non-dairy ‘milk’ recipe with just a couple ingredients (nut or seed butter, water, pinch of salt). Since I’ve spent more than a decade immersed in public health and the politics of food systems before going into clinical nutrition, this is my way of combining and educating through a lens that speaks to all of them – if you’d rather just get the recipe, feel free to simply skip to the end.

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Whenever I have both the blender and the nut butter jar out, William tends to ask me if it’s time to milk my nuts. It’s a slightly humorous household joke, but without fail it reminds me of long-ago days in childhood when I watched my mom do a similar yet more complicated process of filtering the cream from fresh milk from our milk cow, Betsy. I was always fascinated and yet disgusted at the same time because for whatever reason, I did outgrow my early childhood dairy allergy for a while, but the smell and taste still repulsed me, leading to routine sessions of sitting extra-long at the kitchen table until my stubbornness gave way and I figured out a way to make myself gag the milk down.

Nowadays, I’m routinely reminded how times are a little different. In my parent’s era, making their children drink their milk portions every day was a necessity. How else was I to grow strong bones? Also, dairy farming is in my family history. I say things are different because there are a plethora of non-dairy milks available nowadays, so much so that dairy farmers in our country are struggling as never before. We now know that many individuals really struggle to digest dairy, whether because of lactose intolerance or a dairy protein allergy, as I have.

Lactose, the sugar in milk, requires the enzyme lactase to digest and absorb it properly, and it’s now well known that many populations worldwide, particularly individuals of East Asian and West African descent, are less likely to have the lactase enzyme. Additionally, this enzyme can become faultier as one ages, so lactose intolerance can arise in adulthood, making certain milk products challenging. All in all, approximately 65 percent of the population worldwide has a reduced ability to digest lactose after infancy, yet only about five percent of individuals of Northern European descent are lactose intolerant.

On the dairy protein sensitivity/allergy side of the equation, the reasons for its increasing prevalence are fairly widespread. We can develop an immune response to virtually any food, and the overload of disruptive environmental contaminants (toxic air, water, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, etc.), as well as high stress and imbalanced lifestyles (think lots of work, not enough sleep and nutritionally balanced meals), can wreak havoc on our digestive systems and over time the body begins to build antibodies to everyday foods that we could handle before. For individuals with seasonal environmental allergies, as well as those that generally tend to have excess mucous and feel ‘puffy,’ they often feel quite a bit better after removing dairy—since it’s protein structure can be tough to digest and therefore increases inflammation throughout the body.

So in our current global circumstances, there are a lot of individuals who are intolerant to dairy for varying reasons, or for environmental or other personal reasons are choosing to avoid it. And yet in the USDA’s MyPlate, the official dietary recommendation put out by the US Government, dairy is a food group that all individuals are recommended to consume daily, since one’s daily calcium needs are easily met with 3-4 servings of milk or similar dairy products. I still teach nutrition classes part time in a USDA-funded public health role in my local community, and it has frustrated me time and again to have to teach a model of nutrition that only ‘fits’ the needs of a certain (ahem, mostly white) population. This is an example of systemic bias at work – and also showcases the lobbying role of the dairy industry in making our federal government’s nutritional guidelines.

While recognizing that calcium is an important nutrient to consume in adequate amounts lifelong–adults need approximately 1000-1200 mg per day depending on gender, age, and activity level–there are other ways to consume it, like ample calcium-rich leafy greens. Those are often my first recommendation, because they have a calcium bioavailability similar and perhaps even better than dairy milk. We also need the many other nutrients that make up balanced bone metabolism including Vitamins A, C, D, K, B-vitamins, other minerals such as magnesium, zinc, copper, phosphorus, boron, manganese, potassium, iron, vanadium, and more. Eating lots of leafy greens as part of a balanced whole-food diet happens to also include many of that plethora of nutrients also.

There are several more foods on my bone support and maintenance list, and one of those categories is rotating through many different nuts and seeds. Sesame seeds and tahini, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, almonds and cashews particularly. None of these on their own will supply your daily calcium needs – if avoiding dairy, you need to eat diverse and greens-heavy meals for that – they do provide a range of many other bone supporting nutrients.


Today, let’s focus on the alternative to milk when one is looking for the texture and mouthfeel of using milk, such as in an extra-creamy porridge, cooked grains, to top your evening cereal fix, or to round out a smoothie. That’s when I’ve been reaching for my blender, nut butter jar, and the time to milk nuts scenario. Bonus points for no longer adding to the overflowing milk-carton collection in my laundry room that is supposedly recyclable during certain days of the year, but will more likely end up in the trash.

As a little aside, if it wasn’t clear from the above, I’m not overtly anti-dairy or a proponent that all of us should follow a dairy-free lifestyle, but I strongly believe in individual nutrition and not one-size-fits-all viewpoints that are already biased towards certain groups in power and with privilege.  

The Easiest DIY Non-Dairy Milk, makes 3 cups
For this, I recommend starting with raw nut/seed butter with zero other ingredients. Currently, I prefer Artisana Organics brand, which also happens to source from local California farms when possible and commits to sustainable and fair-trade ingredients. There are other brands that are similar, so do your research and learn where your food comes from. For nutritional diversity, I recommend rotating through a different type of nut or seed each jar or batch you use.

1-2 Tbs. raw nut/seed butter (raw cashew, almond, sunflower, or pumpkin butter, or raw tahini)
3 cups water
pinch of salt

  • In a high speed blender, combine 1 to 2 tablespoons of your raw nut/seed butter of choice with 1 cup water. I prefer using 1 Tbs. for each batch, but doubling the amount will make for a creamier milk. Blend for about 1 minute until the nut butter is completely worked into the water.
  • Then add 2 more cups of water, a pinch of salt, and pour out into a glass container. That’s it. You’re done and ready to use!
  • Store extra in the fridge and remember to shake/stir before each use as particulates will settle in the bottom.

This information does not intend to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease. 

References:
National Institute of Health (NIH). Genetics Home Reference. U.S. Library of Medicine. (2020). Lactose Intolerance.

Sweet + Tangy Quick Pickled-Radishes

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Currently, I’m smack in the middle of a sweet and tangy quick-pickle phase and thin slices of vinegary vegetables have been going on everything. Seriously, everything. Falafel, rainbow salad, beet and lentil flatbreads, as a taco topping, in lieu of salad dressing, on quick grain and lentil leftover jumbles, and even at a super fancy restaurant meal last week for my birthday.

 

I began this phase by pickling a batch of onions but have had radishes in the vegetable bin non-stop since March. Radishes are one of the quickest, easiest, and earliest of spring vegetables to grow and their vibrant parade of reds, pinks, and neon purples have had me purchasing a bunch each week when waiting for my own to grow. I had been tossing them into just about everything and threw a few thin slices into the quick-pickle jar one day. If I ever had enough beets around for long enough, I’d quick-pickle them as well and am planning to hop on over to pickling creamy spring turnips next because all the spring root vegetables and a jar of slightly sweetly spiced vinegar is a quick and definite thing!

 

Have I convinced you yet?  If not, come on over and I’ll hand you a jar and fork and change your mind forever. But please, don’t even think about smelling my breath–It’s vinegary!

 

The Recipe Redux challenged us to a DIY recipe this month and I’m especilly excited about these quick-pickles because William has gotten on board and he is was not a pickled-anything fan. They are super easy to make and can liven up almost any sort of dish (I’m making fava burgers next–you better believe these are going all up on them!) If you’ve got a few minutes, some sort of vegetable (of the root variety preferred) and vinegar, you’ve got yourself quick-pickles.

 

Okay, I’ll stop chattering now. But only because I’ve got another batch of these to make.

 

For a whole host of other DIY recipes like pizza/pasta sauce version I or version II, an assortment of flavorful dressings, infused oil, vinegar (!), and a must-try pot of creamy black beans, etc., check out the recipe page–I’ve updated it.

 

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Quick-Pickled Radishes

1 1/2 cups apple cider or rice vinegar

3 Tbs. sugar

2 tsp. salt

1-2 bay leaves

3 whole cloves

4 black peppercorns

1 bunch radishes, thinly sliced

  • Pour  all the ingredients save the radishes into a medium-size pot and stir to dissolve salt and sugar while bringing to a boil.
  • Once the liquid boils, remove from heat and toss in the radish slices.
  • Allow to cool slightly and then transfer to a jar and chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes or until you are ready to eat. They should last for up to a week, if not used right away.

 

Blackberry Mascarpone Tart–An Ode to Summer’s End

When W and I first began dating, the blackberries were just coming into season.   Now, already two years later, it’s blackberry season again. I know because, as we’ve been running in the park these last few weeks, we’ve been bombarded with the scent of sweet, ripe, bursting berries.  Tempted by the size, color, and the glorious smell, we decided to go picking.  Armed with only a bowl from the kitchen, and taking a quick five-minute walk out the door, we soon found our bowl was full, even as I ate as many as I saved for later!  One lady who drove to the park to go running entertained us as she literally jumped out of her car and dived in the bushes.  Clearly she needed some fuel for her run!

Earlier this summer I made a mascarpone tart with berries from the farmers market.  It was one of those dishes where I realized I had cream that was in desperate need of use, and not knowing what else to do, pulled out my wonderful Forgotten Skills cookbook.  I soon learned how simple it is to make mascarpone!  When I shared the finished product with family and friends on the Fourth of July, I realized I was onto something with this simple tart.  Now, as we enjoy the last few weeks of heat and sun that summer has to offer, this tart will certainly please–especially as we are laden with the freshest berries the season has to offer.  It can also be adapted later for other seasons, as the berries are easily interchangeable with other fruits, and surely will be savored again in the months to come!

Blackberry Mascarpone Tart
Mascarpone cheese recipe
Oatmeal pastry recipe
1/3 cup plain, nonfat yogurt
1 Tbs. lemon zest
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup sugar
1-2 cups fresh blackberries
  • Mix the mascarpone, yogurt, lemon zest, vanilla, and sugar in a large bowl. Spread evenly in prepared oatmeal pastry crust.  Cover loosely and chill for several hours and up to a day.
  • Prior to serving, wash berries and arrange on top of filling as desired.
For crust, (from Celebrate the Rain)
1/3 cup rolled oats
2 Tbs. sugar
1 1/4 cups flour
1/8 tsp. salt
1/2 cup butter, unsalted and cut into small pieces
About 4 Tbs. ice water
  • Combine oats and sugar in a food processor and pulse until finely ground.  Add the flour and salt and mix evenly.  Add the butter, and pulse until the mixture resembles a coarse meal.  Add the ice water, one splash at a time, until the mixture just comes together.
  • Remove from food processor, and pat into a flat circle.  Wrap in plastic and chill for an hour or more.
  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Roll out pastry into large circle, big enough to fit in bottom of tart pan with removable bottom.
  • Gently press into pan, and form rippled edges.  With a fork, evenly prick the pastry several times.
  • Cover the pastry with parchment paper and fill with either pie weights or dry beans.
  • Bake for 15 minutes.  At this point, remove the beans and parchment paper, and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes or until golden brown.
  • Cool to room temperature prior to preparing the tart.
For Mascarpone, (from the Forgotten Skills of Cooking)
1 quart heavy cream
2 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • Heat the cream in a clean, stainless-steel saucepan, stirring constantly.
  • Once the temperature reaches 185 degrees F, turn off the heat, and remove from stove.
  • Add the lemon juice, stir for an additional minute, and then let cool to room temperature.
  • Once cool, cover tightly, and place saucepan in fridge to chill overnight.  It will thicken as it cools.
  • The next day, place a sieve or small colander, lined with a couple of coffee filter papers, over the saucepan to drain out the whey.
  • Rewrap this entire mixture, and place back in the fridge for an additional 8-12 hours.
  • At this point, the cheese is ready for use, but can also be tightly wrapped and left for several days to be used later.