I find a lot of satisfaction in feeding people and take great pride in serving mouth-watering meals at my table. Cook and hostess are 2 parts of my identity that I've cherished since I was a little girl. So when my dairy allergy and gluten intolerance became undeniable a few years ago (your body has a funny way of telling you it cannot be ignored any longer,) I was presented with a bit of a challenge. I wanted to continue to entertain with my usual flare but I also didn't want to have to prepare and struggle through a bevy of temptation every single time we entertained. I felt a little selfish removing dairy, wheat and gluten from everything I served – and I assumed that meant no one would show up for dinner anymore. It was quite an adjustment to learn to eat a diet (mostly) free of many of the common allergens; I didn't even know where to start when it came to cooking clean food for discerning guests.
No one likes putting effort into meals that turn our bland and boring and there are few things worse after hours of cooking than unsatisfied family and friends. I can’t enjoy myself if my guests don’t have happy tummies, so I needed to answer this question: how do I protect my own health and please others without compromising the cook/hostess part of my identity?
It took me a few years to figure out, but I made it my mission to discover cuisines and cooking methods that allow me to nourish myself properly and continue to feed my loved ones delicious, fulfilling food. I now proudly serve 100% completely dairy, gluten and refined sugar –free meals in my home. And no, my husband is not miserable or deprived. And yes, people still love coming to dinner at our house.
My Secrets to Success:
- There are some cuisines (French) that don’t fare well with substitutions and omissions. Embrace the ones that do (Asian, Indian, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern) and dine out for a splurge when you feel you must have the others (Italian).
- Use generous doses of herbs and spices (I use sometimes as much as double what the recipe calls for).
- Leverage plenty of healthy fats to make your meals rich and fulfilling. Avocado and coconut oils are my favorite cooking oils. Coconut milk makes things wonderfully creamy. Chopped nuts add great texture to salads or atop a platter of roasted vegetables.
- Make things colorful: lots of bright, beautiful fruits and vegetables make eyes and tummies very happy.
- Use the freshest, cleanest ingredients available within your budget. In-season produce and high-quality meats will always taste noticeably better.
- Call a spade a spade. Don’t try to present a raw coconut macaroon to guests as dinner and call it an Almond Joy. It pisses people off and leaves them wanting a real Almond Joy.
- Be reasonable. Don’t invite a pizza lover over for cauliflower crust pizza with cashew cheese and expect him to love it. Instead, try introducing him to something exotic and different!
- Time and patience. This is a tough one, because we live our lives in a way that most of us don’t have a surplus of either. Just give yourself a little time to visit the farmers market even once (because you’ll want to go back,) find new spices you love and try new things. Be patient with yourself when you can’t get a recipe right or mess something up. You’ll never stick with anything new if you punish yourself for trying.
- Variety. A grilled piece of fish with no accoutrements and 1 steamed vegetable will seem excruciatingly boring to most people. Make sure your meals feature a variety of colors, textures and smells. Use different cooking methods – grill the fish, roast one vegetable, sauté another. The more senses you appeal to the more people will enjoy what you put in front of them!
- Set yourself up for success. Test new recipes and experiential ingredients out on willing spouses or friends before you cook them for 14 people on Thanksgiving. Disappointment feels like disaster when the stakes are high and you’ll be less likely to keep trying if you suffer missteps that feel unnecessarily discouraging.
- MOST IMPORTANTLY, REMEMBER THIS: After a lot of trial and error and unnecessary apologizing, I've come to realize that if you’re committed to a path that you truly believe is best for you, then it’s best for your loved ones too. Being kind to yourself and doing what you need to do to stay well makes you the best possible version of yourself. And the people around you will without a doubt enjoy that more than any chocolate cake.