January 30, 2007 – By Douglas Brown, Denver Post Staff Writer – Legume products are healthy, if bland, milk stand-ins. This story about not eating stuff containing milk quite unexpectedly became a story about eating things made out of soybeans. I'd committed to a five- week journalistic (or maybe just masochistic) exercise: I'd deny myself a new category of food each week, and I'd build on the list of shunned nourishments each week. So after my first week, in which I eschewed the glories of sugar, I added pizza, whipped cream and hollandaise sauce (among all other dairy pleasures) to the list of denials.
The point? First, to find how difficult it would be to slog through weeks without things like chocolate-chip cookies and enchiladas. I also was curious: How would my body react to a sudden absence of entire categories of edibles? Would my troubled sinuses clear? Would I lose weight? Would I feel more energy? Maybe, instead, I'd be sunk in perpetual lethargy.
Until I rejected dairy products, I hadn't understood that such an endeavor would come freighted with a zero-sum game: the less dairy, the more soy.
I can't say it's a game I'd want to play for long.
I ate cheeses made from soy. I spread soy cream cheese on crackers and dabbed a plate of soy-cheese-topped enchiladas with soy sour cream. Soy creamer? But of course. Soy chocolate pudding, too, as well as soy alfredo sauce for fettucine.
Oy, am I tired of soy.
I'd gulped down plenty of soy milk over the years. And because my wife, Annie, is both a vegetarian and an outstanding cook, I'd grazed upon entire hillocks of tofu since we started dating 15 years ago.
I considered myself soy- iendly, but the week I spent trying to approximate a life with ruminant milk by leveraging a bean's liquid convinced me that, in fact, I'm prejudiced against the soybean.
I also exaggerate. Some of my best friends are soy.
Like the soy milk creamer I use in my morning tea. We're pals! Do I like cubes of silken tofu floating in a soupy Thai curry? Yes indeedy! Very much!
I shouldn't rush to judge myself. I'm not a misoygynist.
I just spent too much time with the little bean's byproducts during the first week of my dairy fast. It's not the poor legume's fault. I should have given it some space.
We need to spend some time apart.
Life without dairy, I discovered, isn't so bad unless you constantly try to pretend you are eating cubed Gouda and Roquefort flan. Maybe if my milk-free experiment was instead a lifelong commitment, I'd learn to appreciate soy "cheddar cheese."
But by the conclusion of my first week without dairy, knowing I had only three weeks to go before I could again inhale a slice of chocolate cheesecake, I decided things needed to change. I had to stop using counterfeit goods for the sake of cheap-delusional, really-dairy thrills.
I missed, for example, the texture of something melted inside a tortilla, or oozing warmly over a piece of meat and pinned between bread.
Soy cheese (as well as rice cheese and almond cheese, for example) can be grated or sliced, and melted. So I thought, "Hey, all I've got to do is melt this stuff and, voilà! Melted cheese craving will be over."
Unfortunately, the texture of the melt was more like plastic than cheese.
And of course there's the flavor. While none of the cheeses I tried was outrageously repugnant, they didn't exactly dance on my tongue, either.
I'd hoped for some sort of satisfaction, but I was left craving the real stuff even more.
Few things are more dairy- overboard than an alfredo sauce. I considered maybe a soy-dense alfredo might at least offer some of the glossy, fat textures to my tongue that are prevalent in a genuine alfredo sauce.
I threw a block of tofu, a bunch of soy milk and spices in a blender. I heated it all. I added an entire can of soy parmesan cheese to the pot of faux-alfredo, as instructed in the recipe. I poured it over fettucine noodles, freckled it with pepper, spun a ball of pasta around a fork, and ate.
I didn't clean my plate. It tasted like a sauce made out of flavored tofu and soy milk, which is exactly what it was.
Not everything failed. The tofu sour cream, for example, seemed very close to authentic, and it pleased me when schmeared on a warm corn tortilla or piled on a cracker. Annie used tofu and sugar-free chocolate chips to make a "pudding" that didn't exactly rival the genuine article but nevertheless tasted luscious.
Little bursts of soy posed no problem. It was only my overboard approach that soured me on soy.
By the end of the week – a stretch of seven days without a drop of milk and, like the week before, lacking even a grain of sugar cane – I'd grown accustomed to passing, for example, on the array of fine cheeses my visiting inlaws arranged on a plate for snacking; to turning down the ecstatic-smelling celery-root-
gratin my father-in-law made; to ordering a pork burrito without the usual tangle of Monterey jack.
My digestion seemed steadier, too. Oddly, though, I'd also gained a pound.
Must have been the tofu.
Staff writer Douglas Brown can be reached at 303-954-1395 or firstname.lastname@example.org.