As I sit here on the front porch with my coffee, typing this out, there is a distinct chill in the air which means that the dog days of summer are dwindling to an end even though I swear it was June last week. I can now join in the chorus of women everywhere rejoicing in hymns of sweaters, boots, and pumpkin spice everything.  This time of year is always bittersweet – September and October are my absolute favorite months, but of course, they are followed by 4 months of cold and darkness that make me want to book a one-way ticket to hell to escape winter’s icy grasp.

Last month my mom and I took a trip down to Emerald Isle to visit my aunt, who has the great fortune of living a block from the beach 365 days a year. The weather was great, the beach was uncrowded, and the ocean was as warm as bath water. I almost never go into the ocean, save for the occasional pee break, if I can’t see to the bottom. I’m a terrible swimmer with a penchant for ear infections. Add in frigid water, riptides, and a general aversion to any environment in which fish are present, and I am more than content to stay landlocked with a book and a beer. I did plenty of reading and drinking, but I surprised myself with how often I was in the water as well.

I think the real highlight of the trip, however, was finally getting to the bottom of my skin issues. We had barely left the 412 area code and I was venting to my mom about my skin – after nearly a month on oral antibiotics and 2 prescription creams, nothing was changing. She pondered whether it was a food allergy, which I was beginning to suspect myself. I drove while she Google sleuthed, and we came to find out that the cause of my acne could very well be related to dairy consumption. I’ve never been a milk drinker. Ice cream sends me into gastrointestinal distress (I’ve always been midly lactose intolerant). Yogurt I could take or leave. I knew that there could only be one culprit: cheese.

I’ve been a vegetarian for almost 5 years; I was never a big carnivore to begin with, and I always told myself that if one day I absolutely had to have a burger, I would eat it. That day never came, and to be honest, it was never really a struggle to avoid meat. But cheese? CHEESE!? I daresay a meal is not completely unless it involves cheese. My breakfast used to consist of an omelet with melted cheddar. Lunch, a salad topped with goat cheese. Throw in few slices of provolone snacked on throughout the day for good measure. I am not at all exaggerating when I say that Brendan and I eat ate grilled cheese for dinner at least twice a week. To say that I love cheese would be an understatement of epic proportions.

I really didn’t want to believe that one of my favorite foods could really be waging a war on my skin, but in my heart, I knew that there had to be some truth to it. I suspected my acne was hormonal, and after having a litany of hormone tests done in July, everything came back completely normal. So it totally made sense to me that eating food derived from hormonal, lactating cows (pumped full of bovine growth hormones, no less) could very well be the culprit.

I decided that if I was going to try a dairy free existence, it might as well start while I was away at the beach and somewhat distracted.  It seemed like a great idea until the first time I opened my Aunt’s refrigerator, only to be taunted by 20 different varieties of cheesy goodness. Aged parmesan. Mozzarella balls bathing in a pool of olive oil. Goat cheese dressed in blueberry compote. Provolone slices as far as the eye could see. Pungent, olfactory blue cheese crumbles. The struggle was never more real.

During the first 48 hours I felt like a recovering alcoholic who had waywardly wandered into a liquor store – temptation lurked at every corner. But after 2 days of waking up in the morning without a single new breakout, I couldn’t ignore the fact that my face didn’t throb anymore. I also discovered that the antibiotic I had been prescribed gave me a really bad phototoxic reaction- my hands felt like they were covered in bee stings, and I started getting blisters in the sun. No bueno. So, I made the executive decision to quit the antibiotic altogether and keep up with dairy-free diet since avoiding dairy is slightly easier than avoiding sunlight.

Almost a month later, I am reluctant to say that it has made a HUGE difference. I was of mixed emotions when I first decided to give it a try – part of me really wanted the cure to be as simple as eliminating dairy, the other part of me was really hoping that I was having an adverse reaction to say, kale. On more than one occasion I said that I was willing to do anything to fix my skin; God was listening and He has a wicked sense of humor. At this point, I’m not even sure what I would call my diet. Dairy-free vegetarian? Reluctant vegan who occasionally eats eggs?

The silver lining here (aside from blemish-free skin) is that I’ve dropped a few pounds and I have been eating better overall. I’ve had to get more creative in the kitchen since most of my go-to recipes are no longer kosher. I’ve also reignited my love of banana ice cream. Maybe I have a calling to be a food blogger?

And now- some pics from the past month or so!

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