Diagnosed seven years ago with allergies to wheat and dairy, Lauren Hoover was thrilled. Finally, she had a reason for the stomachaches and congestion that had plagued her for decades. All she had to do was cut every last bit of wheat and dairy out of her diet. How hard could it be, especially for a smart foodie and trained chef?
“I didn’t think I ate a lot of processed food, but the first time I went to the supermarket after my diagnosis, I stood outside in the parking lot and cried,” Hoover relates. Everything, it seemed, had some sneaky remnant of wheat or dairy in it. “I thought, what am going to eat, besides chicken, fish, fruit and vegetables? I decided right then that I wasn’t going to live the rest of my life without the foods I love.”
As a professional pastry chef trained at the California Culinary Academy, Hoover was better equipped than most to start tinkering with her favorite recipes. Having worked at numerous high-end hotels, resorts, and restaurants including San Francisco’s La Folie, she didn’t want to ditch her pot pies and chocolate cakes for quinoa and sprouts. Instead, she wanted her meals to be healthy but normal– the sort of thing anyone would be happy to eat, whether or not they had food sensitivities.
What began out of necessity turned into a mission. Returning to college to pursue a psychology degree, she had dreams of becoming a child-advocacy lawyer. In between classes, though, she kept baking, bringing wheat, dairy, and soon sugar-free treats to her study buddies. Friends clamored for her cupcakes and other goodies, and finally an enthusiastic friend insisted that she share her recipes in a cookbook.
“This has become my legacy, the way I can help people who are suffering,” says Hoover. The 150 sweet and savory recipes in her new book No Wheat, No Dairy, No Problem are the result of seven years’ worth of experimenting, testing, and teaching. She’ll be celebrating with a launch party on Saturday, July 18 at 3pm at Noe Valley’s Omnivore Books.
So, what are the must-haves for the wheat- and/or dairy-free kitchen? Since Hoover doesn’t cook with refined sugar, agave nectar is high on her list, although she also likes date sugar, sucanat, and maple syrup for sweetening. “Along with agave nectar, I’d say oat flour, olive or grapeseed oil, and some kind of milk substitute– I like coconut and almond milks, but you can use rice or soy milk, too,” she notes.
Making her book accessible, even to novice cooks outside the well-stocked environs of the Bay Area, was very important to Hoover. “I’m not interested in using a lot of weird ingredients; I think people should be able to make these recipes whether or not they have a Rainbow Grocery down the street.”
Accordingly, her recipes offer plenty of suggestions for substitutions, along with instructions for whipping up homemade basics like raw almond milk.
The back of the book also offers a crash course in supermarket label-reading, including a 4-page list of often-overlooked wheat and dairy derivatives, from whey protein to modified food starch.
Having seen too many food-sensitive friends give in to momentary brownie or pizza cravings only to suffer the consequences for days on end, Hoover promises that “with this book, you can have everything you love without having to suffer.” The hardest thing for her to leave behind? “Triple-creme cheese, and yogurt,” she sighs. “But I know, for me, it’s just not worth it.”