Today’s contributor, Lillian Medville, makes grain-free, dairy-free, cane sugar-free, and soy-free recipes for the very first time on camera at Lillian’s Test Kitchen. She calls it an “online comedy cooking show” but I think it’s more of a dramedy, because it’s both hilarious to watch her commentary on each recipe but also thought-provoking to see how complex and challenging—and, yes, delicious—life with food allergies can be. Here, Lillian shares her story.
I’m allergic to gluten, dairy, cane sugar, and soy. I struggled with these four food allergies for years. It took me more or less seven years to figure out that I had them, and then another 10 years to figure them all out.
I didn’t know that food allergies were “a thing.” All the people I knew could eat whatever they wanted and so while I felt very alone, it never occurred to me that I needed to be more proactive about my food. I resented the fact that I was different, so I tried to pretend that I wasn’t. I didn’t want to draw attention to myself, so I would go out to eat with my friends, and just hope for the best. As a consequence, I often got sick and increasingly found that, for all my pretense of nonchalance, I just couldn’t relax around food. It was like I was always waiting for a food allergy attack. Because I was.
The problem was that I didn’t bake for myself, and I rarely cooked for myself, so I ate out a lot. But eating out was like playing Russian Roulette with my health—where the bullets in the gun are gluten, dairy, cane sugar, and soy, but they don’t kill you, they just result in nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, brain fog, bloating, and the rapid swelling of the throat.
Rather than a source of comfort and a social glue, food became something that kept me apart from friends and family. I always needed to have a special meal. And even with a special meal, I didn’t feel comfortable eating with everyone else, partially because it made my difference so apparent, and partially because I had so much anxiety around food that the experience was rarely enjoyable anyway.
And so I started cooking.
I discovered Elana Amsterdam‘s The Gluten-Free Almond Flour Cookbook and realized there was a whole community of people out there like me who couldn’t eat the food that I couldn’t eat. Just knowing that was liberating. Here was proof: I am not alone and I am not crazy! It’s not all in my head. This is a real thing. There is a large community of gluten-free people who, like me, can’t digest the mixture of grains used in all the gluten-free flour mixes.
But starting to cook was scary. I had to bulk order almond flour and coconut flour sight unseen. And find grapeseed oil, agave nectar, and chocolate with no dairy or soy or sugar in it. And all of these other very specific ingredients that I, of course, could never get all in one place. Following recipes for the first time can be dicey even without restrictions, and I looked around for people who were doing a cooking show with my kind of ingredients, but it just didn’t exist. The gluten-free people all use flours that I can’t use. The vegans use tons of soy and gluten. The raw people don’t use ovens.
I had gone to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts for acting, and I had been auditioning here and there and working in small independent films, but was tired of waiting for someone else to choose me. I wanted to do something of my own. And I was getting more and more interested in learning how to feed myself in a way that actually felt good for the first time. So I bought a camera, read the manual obsessively for a month, asked a friend to shoot with me, and started my own show. And this is it. Hope you like it.
In this episode, I make raspberry thumprint mini-cakes and just a heads up, they are delicious.