It’s been the oddest winter in so many ways, with the insane snow and ice here in RI among the least of my concerns.  It seems like everywhere I turn these days, there’s bad news or strange news or just plain “meh” kind of news…globally, locally, and personally.  There aren’t too many great, positive things happening out there, it seems, or maybe that’s just the nature of a long, frosty, slushy midwinter period, and I’ve never really noticed it before.

But seriously.  So many people we know are struggling; so many are sick, or have kids who are sick; so many strange and horrible and cataclysmic things are happening around the world.  It’s enough to make me want to hibernate.  (And things in the RRG house have been, blessedly, pretty good lately, so I can only imagine how everybody else is dealing!)  Among the things that I keep hearing about and thinking about are the remarkable number of people I know, all of a sudden, who are mysteriously ill…or their kids are mysteriously ill…and their doctors suspect that food may be the cause.

Gluten free.  Dairy free.  Nut free.  Everybody I know, it seems, is cutting something out of their diets these days.  We four RRG family members are so lucky to have avoided, at least so far, the challenges that come with food allergies and intolerances; but I’m starting to think that we are rapidly becoming the minority.  Every once in a while, I sit back and think about what would happen if we suddenly had to eliminate a food — or a whole group of foods, like gluten or dairy — from our diets.  And I end up shaking my head.  I don’t think we could do it.

Oh, sure I know in theory that if we were confronted with that challenge, we would manage it somehow.  Years ago, my grandfather was finally diagnosed with celiac disease after many years of illness and misdiagnosis.  At that point in time, he and my grandmother had to adjust the way they’d been eating for decades, and they managed it just fine.  But yikes, the things you don’t think about until you have to.  And yikes, how many things we eat in our house that contain gluten!

And DAIRY.  My Lord.  I currently have two good friends who are going dairy-free for the first time in their lives — in adulthood.  And that’s just the newbies.  There are a ton of people I know, both adults and children, who have been dairy-free for quite a while.  In our house, milk, yogurt, and cheese are staples.  I honestly don’t know how P. would get through a day without them.  Or, frankly, how I’d get through a day without them.

It makes me think about feeding families and looking at recipes in a whole new way.  I was just messaging with one of my newly dairy-free friends, who is trying to work full-time, deal with her medical issues, and raise twin toddlers all at once, and she mentioned that she’s just happy that she and her husband have been able to mainly stick to homemade foods for everybody while they’ve made the switch to dairy-free.  How much more important it is, I thought, to make your food yourself when you have a possible allergy or intolerance to something….but then again, how much more difficult! When you’re busy, and you’re trying to juggle all the pieces of your life AND cook fresh foods all the time for your family, the easiest thing to do is to fall back on recipes and foods you are really familiar with.  There’s nothing wrong with that; in fact, that’s the way it should be.  But if you’ve got to eliminate something like dairy, that must knock so many of those old standbys out of the equation.

So I started perusing the recipes that are here on the blog; the ones I post are not even a fraction of all the things I make, of course, but it’s a place to start.  28 out of 44 recipes, at a quick count, contain some sort of dairy.  Yes, many of them are really easily adaptable, but if I’m being fair, I have to look at them as written.  Now obviously this is not a blog devoted to hypoallergenic recipes…but my two friends have both told me before that they use some of my recipes, and one of them told me recently that this blog really helps her figure out new things to try under her new lifestyle, so I feel a tiny bit bad that so many of the things I’m telling people to try are not going to work for my friends.

But last night’s dinner, in our house, was completely dairy-free — and, as a bonus, it was made in the slow cooker and was delicious.  So as an olive branch, or a peace offering, or at least sort of an “I understand this is hard” kind of offering, I’m posting the recipe today for all of you out there who are dealing with the dairy issue.  Or who want a new slow cooker recipe.  Or who just like cool new recipes.  Dear Dairy-Free friends, please try these Asian Barbecued Pork Lettuce Wraps, and know that I’m thinking of you.

Asian Barbecued Pork Lettuce Wraps (Slow cooker recipe)
2-3 lbs. bone-in pork shoulder (I actually found bone-in pork shoulder steaks on sale at Whole Foods and used those – worked great)
2 cups water
3/4 cup low sodium soy sauce (use tamari if you’re gluten-free)
1/3 cup molasses
1/2 cup ketchup — no HFCS, preferably
2 tablespoons sesame oil
3 tablespoons rice wine
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
pinch of red pepper flakes

Whisk together the water, soy sauce, ketchup, molasses, sesame oil, and rice wine.  Place the pork in the bottom of your slow cooker and pour the marinade over the top.  Add the garlic, ginger, and crushed red pepper flakes to the mixture.  Cover and let marinate in the refrigerator overnight.  The next day, place the slow cooker on Low and cook for 8 hours.  Remove the bones and shred the pork, then return it to the sauce in the slow cooker and mix.
To serve, spoon a couple of tablespoons of pork and sauce onto a leaf of butter or bibb lettuce.  Top with shredded carrots, julienned red bell peppers, thinly sliced scallions, and sliced toasted almonds.  Roll up and eat like miniature tacos.  We also served steamed snow peas and sliced apples and oranges with this meal.