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Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Eat Local

eat local II

One of our favorite places in Seattle is a tiny storefront next to a dry cleaners, on the top of Queen Anne hill.

Eat Local sources its ingredients from some of our favorite local farmers, ranchers, and producers. "Eat Local is an artisan food store offering prepared meals made with seasonal, organic ingredients bought directly from local farms." It sounds good, right?

Their meals taste even better than the ethos sounds. Eat Local uses traditional home cooking methods, rather than mass production, to create frozen meals anyone can enjoy. Have you ever had a pork and apple tagine in a tv dinner? Made with ingredients you recognize and nothing else?

I also love the fact that the meals are packaged with the environment in mind. Much of the food comes in glass dishes that you bring back to the store. It's like a neighbor made you dinner, and then you return the favor. It's a bonus that all the labels and illustrations for the store are created by Nikki McClure, one of my favorite artists, as well.

Not all the food at Eat Local is gluten-free, but much of it is. Greg Conner, the driving force behind Eat Local, has a good friend with celiac, and thus an interest in feeding people safely. (Businesses built on personal connections are always my favorite.) We've eaten their food quite a number of times now, always with great enjoyment, and safely for me.

The lavender creme caramel is particularly stunning.

Eat Local
2400 Queen Anne Avenue North
Seattle, WA 98109


Kinnikinnick hamburger buns

Kinnikinnick hamburger buns

Skagit River Ranch ground beef burgers (a little trick: mix in one egg to firm up the burger), cheddar cheese, grilled Walla Walla sweet onion and caper relish. And Kinnikinnick Foods Gluten-Free hamburger buns.

Summer's here.

French Meadow Bakery "flour" tortillas

"flour" tortillas

Like I said, everyone sends us brownies. (Here's a secret: it's really not that hard to make good gluten-free brownies.) They're all quite good, but they start to taste the same. When I open the latest box, I long for something new.

How about "flour" tortillas?

We love corn tortillas around here, particularly the ones we make by hand. And white wheat flour tortillas are a gringo invention anyway, right? But sense memory says that sometimes a quesadilla should be made with flour tortillas. These white tortillas are newly made by French Meadow Bakery in Minnesota. This organic bakery makes all kinds of glutenous goods, but their gluten-free production is certified by the Gluten-Free Certification Organization. Their chocolate chip cookies, brownies, and macaroons are quite good.

But these tortillas are something else.

Danny ate nearly all of them himself, making quesadillas, one after the other.

French Meadow Bakery
1000 Apollo Road
Eagan, MN 55121


Blackbird Bakery

blackbird bakery

The FedEx man and UPS woman know the way to our house now. Nearly every day we find a package of gluten-free foods on our porch when we return home.

We're happy that so many small businesses are trying to make it by creating gluten-free baked goods. However, I can't tell you about all of them. Some of them are wretched — dry as dust, overly sweet, a wreck in a plastic package. So when good ones land in our laps, I'm happy to share.

The baked goods at Blackbird Bakery are lovely. So is the website. Karen Morgan, who began the bakery, is an artist with a husband who was trained in classic French cuisine. For years, before turning to commercial baking, Karen kept the website The Art of Gluten-Free Cooking. Now, her bakery in Austin is turning out beautiful baked goods.

We liked everything we tasted, including the scones and biscotti. But I particularly liked these millet power bars, in part because no other bakery seems to be making them. (Everyone sends us brownies.) A little like a rice krispie bar, without all that sweetness, and millet mixed in.

I'd like to keep some of these in the car for those in-between times, when there's nothing gluten-free to be found in public places.

Blackbird Bakery


Gluten-Free Oats

gluten-free oats

The first year after I was diagnosed, I bemoaned the fact I could no longer eat oats. After years of eating steel-cut oats every day, I had to cut myself off. Strangely, I missed my morning bowl of oatmeal more than baguettes. I resigned myself to never eating them.

Again, how much things have changed.

Now, not only does Bob's Red Mill make gluten-free oats, but commercial baked goods made with oat flour and oat flakes are starting to show up on shelves around here. There are so many varieties of gluten-free oats available that we have our choice.

Lately, we've been enjoying Gluten-Free Oats around here. The oats taste great. The story is sweeter.

The son of the family who grows and manufactures these oats was diagnosed with celiac at the age of two. His parents didn't let him wheat, of course, but he ate the oats they grew in another field. Sometimes he grew sick. No one could figure out why. Later, when he was doing his Future Farmers of America project on no-bake cookies, he realized that oats are contaminated by growing in fields next to fields of wheat. (Those plants like to mix and mingle, apparently.) He searched for a source of oats he could eat. After finding one, he rolled the oats and packaged them himself, so that other local celiacs could eat oats. (Future farmer indeed!) This small endeavor grew into a family business, pushed forward further when his father was diagnosed with celiac too.

I met both father and son this weekend, at the GIG conference in Seattle, and they were utterly charming. And healthy.

Their oats are pretty darned tasty, too.

Gluten-Free Oats
578 Lane 9 • Powell, WY 82435
(307) 754-2058 • Fax (516) 723-0924


Great Harvest Bread in West Seattle

gluten-free in West Seattle

Have you noticed it lately? Whenever we're walking, we spot the phrase, on packages and advertisements and even in the windows of bakeries: gluten-free.

How did we become the cool kids?

Gluten-free is everywhere. Well, not everywhere. Not in hospital cafeterias, airports, school lunchrooms, or places where we need something to eat and nothing exists for us. But still, it's a start. When I was diagnosed with celiac, four years ago, I had to drive around to several different stores to find what I needed to make a cookie recipe. These days, I have my pick of places I want to be.

Or, when I'm in West Seattle, I just go into the Great Harvest Bread Company.

I know. With a name like that, it has to be gluten, right? Except, this particular location of the bread company has gluten-free pizza crusts, breads, scones, hamburger buns, and cupcakes. And they're good.

After I took photographs, in astonishment, I asked the young woman behind the counter how this came to be. The owner and her daughter cannot eat gluten. So they have set out to conquer gluten-free baking, for the sake of everyone else.

Oh yeah.

Great Harvest Bread Co.
4709 California Ave. S.W.
Seattle, WA 98116
(206) 935-6882


Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The G-Free Diet and Babycakes

gfree babycakes

If you have to live gluten-free, you've probably already heard of both of these books.

Elisabeth Hasselbeck's The G-Free Diet: A Gluten-Free Survival Guide and BabyCakes: Vegan, Gluten-Free, and (Mostly) Sugar-Free Recipes from New York's Most Talked-About Bakery both came out in May. (Not really a surprise, since it was National Celiac Awareness Month.) Both were published by major publishers, or given a major campaign push reserved for non-celiac books.

And both have been excoriated by people who are gluten-free.

I'm going to step lightly in recommending these books, because I'm certain this will open up a firestorm of comments, some of them excoriating me. But that's why I am recommending these books — because they start conversations.

For decades, those with celiac suffered in obscurity. No one talked about celiac or living gluten-free in the press. I have met dozens of people in the past three years who have been gluten-free for the past 25 years, and they all say the same thing: it was like living in the dark ages. Sorghum flour, teff, sweet rice flour, quinoa — they weren't readily available. Heck, even in the four years I have been gluten-free (four years this week), the awareness of living gluten-free has expanded, exponentially.

We need to spread even more awareness. Of the estimated 1 out of 133 people (and some scientists say it's actually more) with celiac disease, only 3 to 5% of us have been diagnosed.

Wouldn't you think that two huge, mainstream books dedicated to living gluten-free, and joyfully, would receive big hurrahs from those of us who are lucky enough to have been diagnosed and eaten our way to health already?

There are loud voices shouting that Elisabeth Hasselbeck's book is full of inaccuracies, because she called celiac a food allergy in her television interviews. But the book clearly delineates that celiac is an auto-immune disorder. I think there are two things going on here.

1. Hasselbeck calls celiac an allergy in the context of ordering in restaurants or explaining herself at parties. This I understand. Most of the time, when I am at restaurants, I'll say allergy too. Why? Because it has an effect. Waiters have been, marginally, trained in food allergies. If I say I have an auto-immune disorder, they are going to look at me far more blankly than if I say I have a food allergy. They're more willing to help an allergy. Not fair, but pragmatic.

2. It's clear from reading The G-Free Diet that Hasselbeck had a writer help her with the book, perhaps even write the bulk of it. (She's thanked in the acknowledgments but not credited.) I've been a ghost writer before, for a book that was never published. I did almost all the research, structuring, and heavy lifting. The other person comes in for the more personal stories. In interviews, Hasselbeck may have gotten her words wrong because she doesn't have the depth of understanding that someone who lives this stuff would, right off the cuff.

But here's what moved me. She suffered with celiac, like the rest of us. Famous or not, if you have undiagnosed celiac, you suffer for years. The book's opening chapters, detailing her symptoms and the struggle to discover what ailed her, sounded deeply familiar. There are thousands of people suffering with stomach pains and joint aches and anemia and any of the hundreds of symptoms that celiac can trigger. Someone with a huge media following telling her story is going to reach thousands of people who have never read a gluten-free blog, heard of celiac support groups, or even understand what gluten is when they hear it. That's going to potentially save the lives of a lot of people.

Let's face it. This isn't a literary book. It isn't meant to be. I sat down to read it when the baby took a nap and finished it later in the afternoon. I think calling it "gfree" is a little too cute for my terms. And the chapter urging everyone to try this diet because it helps you lose weight is simply poppycock. That hasn't worked for many of us.

But anyone who tries to go gluten-free as a trendy way of being is going to stop soon anyway. It requires too much commitment for a flippant decision.

What the book does well is lay out the important parts of living gluten-free: how to keep your kitchen; how to deal with restaurants; how to ask your partner for help; how to deal with families and holidays and social situations. Hasselbeck eats more processed food and packaged meals than I prefer to do, so her lists of products and places to eat may not appeal to me. But they will appeal to a large swath of America, particularly when they are first diagnosed.

This is clearly a book for folks who have just been diagnosed, or who are starting to wonder if they have celiac. I expected this to be a frivolous work (I mean, look at that ridiculous cover.). However, I found it to be a plainspoken, clear guide, mostly well-researched and entirely earnest. (Dr. Peter Green, one of the most respected celiac scientists in this country, wrote the forward for the book and read through it for the publishers.) Hasselbeck advocates that people advocate for themselves and do this right. Clearly, she intends for this book to help people. And it will.

I know that thousands of people will be diagnosed with celiac this summer because this book has been published. And I'm thrilled.

Now, BabyCakes.

I'm often asked why I don't have more dairy-free recipes on my site. The answer? I can eat dairy. This site is a personal record of the food we have eaten and loved, the meals that spawned stories we'll be telling for years. Sometimes they are dairy free. Sometimes we eat ice cream. Now that Babycakes has come along, I'm thrilled that I have a baking book I trust to recommend to those folks who wish I wouldn't eat dairy.

I love Babycakes, the bakery. I went there in February of 2006, a joyous trip just before I met Danny for the first time. At the time, I wrote: "Babycakes is simply the best little bakery I have ever stood inside." I still stand by that.

Here's what part of what I wrote:

"The morning I was in Babycakes was magic. After a brittle cold winter week, we had a warm Saturday morning. Everyone who walked into the bakery began smiling. I have to say, though, I'm sure that the enveloping smell of warm chocolate cake and tart lemon cupcakes mingling in the air enticed the smiles to emerge. Everything smelled wholesome and decadent at the same time.

We ordered a chocolate chip cookie and two cupcakes. Somehow, we resisted the gooey chocolate cake resting on the top of the counter. I had to take a photograph and let that take the place of throwing my mouth down and gobbling it all up in one bite. I restrained myself. But it smelled that good.

My friends and I walked out of the store, and into the sunlight. We took photographs on the sidewalk and laughed at ourselves. We bit down into our treats and murmured about their goodness. The cookie was crisp and thin, filled with oozing chocolate. And the cupcakes? Well, since I had already been to another gluten-free bakery that morning with my friends, and I was headed for a plane that afternoon, I let Monica take them home instead of eating them on the spot.

She reported joy upon eating them.

I ate well and gluten-free in a number of places in New York during my whirlwind eating tour. But in the end, I like Babycakes best. I only wish that I lived in the neighborhood, so I could visit its warmth more often."

Now, how could you not want a cookbook that could produce goodies that make you feel like that? Especially when it makes being gluten-free, dairy-free, and sugar-free look so sexy and free?

Well, here's the rub. The book is labeled gluten-free. However, about 1/3 of the recipes call for spelt flour. Spelt contains gluten. Erin McKenna, the bakery's founder and author of the book, does not have celiac. She can eat spelt, without issue. The book is fairly clear, in the opening, about explaining the difference, and laying out (sadly) that those who have celiac simply cannot make these scones and pie crusts recipes.

For this, some gluten-free folks are calling for a boycott of the book.

Oh come on. Really?

Look, I wish that McKenna had done the work to create those recipes gluten-free. We make pie in this house all the time. It's not hard, gluten-free. But it's her book. And there are plenty of gluten-free delicacies in the cookbook that you will want to make, like the brownie gems.

It would have been better if the "mostly" in the sub-title had been placed in front of the gluten-free. But I can tell you this, having written a book: authors have almost no control over the subtitles of their books. (I would never have chosen mine.) That's the marketing department. They're the ones who pulled the switch here.

Look, this book is beautiful, luscious, and fun. And imagine if you had to be gluten-free, dairy-free, and sugar-free? Wouldn't you be thrilled if finally a baking book was published for you? One that makes that life seem so delicious?

We all live and eat in different ways, even all of us with celiac. None of us owns gluten-free. These books are best-sellers. Certainly, they have sold far more copies than my book has, or ever will. You'd think I'd try to dissuade you from buying them, and point out mine instead. (And I wouldn't mind if you bought my book.) But that isn't the point. The point is for everyone to be diagnosed, to live without the pain and suffering of celiac (or gluten intolerance) while eating gluten.

And if there are cupcakes along the way? All the better.

I'm giving away copies of both books. Let me know why you might like to read The G-Free Diet or the Babycakes book, and I'll choose a winner at random. These books were sent to me by the publisher, and I'd like to share them with you.