By Bonnie Fishman / San Francisco Bay Area
“Would you like a little milk?” Now there’s a loaded question! When I was in kindergarten in the ‘50s, my mom would put a nickel in my red leather single coin purse to buy milk at lunch. Chocolate or white. Today, you practically need a menu of types of milk. Let’s talk about cow’s milk first: skim, 1/2%, 1%, 2%, whole, and lactose-free, in both 2% and whole. Don’t get me started with the rest of the “menu”: almond, almond with vanilla, rice, oat, soy, cashew, coconut, and goat. Did someone say camel or yak?! Not common in the USA…yet.
You can tell what part of the country you are in by frequenting different Starbucks, as I have been driving 2,500 miles back and forth along I-40 or I-80 from Michigan to California for eight years. Starbucks has been a beacon of friendliness, familiarity, and strong coffee. I always get just coffee, nothing fancy. In California, the condiment station has half-and-half, milk, low-fat milk, soy, and almond milk. In Missouri, in the middle of less-populated areas, you get half-and-half, period.
When did all the milk varieties become available and why? According to Practical Gastroenterology Journal at the University of Virginia, “The increasing popularity of nondairy milks can be attributed to many factors. More and more people are consuming nondairy alternatives, whether due to an allergy, lactose intolerance or adherence to a vegan/plant-based diet.”
I remember in the ‘90s when there was a big push away from cow’s milk for several years. They said it made your sinuses stuffy, among other side effects. I’d had stuffy sinuses for years. “I think I’ll try it!” For six months, I completely eliminated milk products from my diet. The result? Besides permanently getting used to drinking my coffee black, there was no change in my health. But that’s me. You’ll have to decide for yourselves. With the call for dairy alternatives came all of the plant-based milk substitutes to meet consumer demands. Have you been in a grocery store or specifically a Whole Foods Market and just stared at the milk aisle? Your head will spin with options.
Most cow’s milk sold in this country is either pasteurized or ultra-pasteurized. Not every state allows the sale of raw milk straight from the cow. Here in California, we have several of these dairies scattered throughout the state. San Martin Milk Company, here in Santa Clara County, is certified by the state to sell raw milk right from the farm. These facilities are immaculately clean and frequently inspected.
Raw milk has the benefits of natural protein, enzymes, and nutrients. It is great for making your own cheese and butter. The downside is that it can carry bacteria such as Salmonella or E. coli. Infants, pregnant women, older adults, and people with compromised immune systems should probably not take the chance. As a matter of fact, the CDC cautions consumers about drinking it. This is a personal choice and I would only get the milk from a certified, inspected farm.
If you don’t have access to raw milk, seek out pasteurized instead. Ultra-pasteurized milk lasts for months unopened; pasteurized milk for about 10 days; and raw milk has to be sold within 48 hours of milking and has a shorter shelf life. A side note: you will not be able to make your own cheese (or whipped heavy cream, for that matter) if you use ultra-pasteurized milk products.
When I lived in London in 1975 while attending cooking school, I lived in a flat with six people, all from the British Commonwealth. We would get milk deliveries a couple of times a week. Since the milk was unpasteurized, the fatty cream would rise to the top of the bottle. The first people out of bed each morning would scrape off that top layer for their tea. We’d end up with a bunch of “headless” bottles of milk. It made me chuckle at how silly it seemed at the time. This was a case of first come, first served. I often thought about share and share alike. I stayed out of the fray as tea wasn’t important to me.
I think the best part of having milk substitutes is that we can now cook and bake dishes that we didn’t have the ability to create before because of dietary issues and philosophical ideologies. My husband Bob, who has been lactose-intolerant most of his life, is thrilled to be able to eat milk-based pastas and desserts. This week, I’m offering a very creamy dessert, rice pudding, which Bob thought he would never have again. What I love about this recipe is its immense versatility, both as to milk choices and flavorings. Choose the milk of your choice and switch up the spices, dried fruits, and nuts to whatever feels right. Sometimes, I even use leftover plain rice from the Chinese restaurant and it works great!
Let us know here at The Insider what combination you come up with. And keep in mind what Ogden Nash wrote: “The cow is of the bovine ilk; one end is moo, the other milk.”
Creamy Rice Pudding with Cardamom
Yield: 4-6 servings
1 1/2 c. water
3/4 c. Arborio or other short grain rice
2 c. milk of your choice, divided
1/3 c. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
4 cardamom pods or 1/4 tsp. ground
1/8 tsp. fresh grated nutmeg
1 lg. egg, beaten
1/2 tsp. vanilla
2/3 c. golden raisins
1/3 c. toasted unsalted pistachios or slivered almonds
cinnamon for dusting
Bring the water to a boil in a saucepan. Add the rice. Bring to a boil; turn down to a simmer and cover. Cook for 20 minutes.
Add 1 1/2c. milk, sugar, salt, cardamom, and nutmeg to the rice. Bring to a boil; turn down to a gentle boil. Stir often and cook until the mixture is creamy, about 15-20 minutes.
Scramble the egg, 1/2 c. remaining milk, and vanilla together in a bowl. Add about one cup of hot rice mixture to the bowl, so as to temper the egg. Slowly stir the bowl contents into the saucepan. Add the raisins and nuts. Continue cooking over moderate heat, stirring the whole time for 2 minutes.
Pour the rice pudding into a serving dish or individual portions. Dust with pure cinnamon. Serve at room temperature or chilled.
Bonnie Fishman attended the Cordon Bleu Cookery School in London. Later, she owned and operated Bonnie’s Patisserie in Southfield, Mich. and Bonnie’s Kitchen and Catering in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. She has taught cooking for over 35 years and created hundreds of recipes. She is now living in Northern California.