Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Best-Laid Plans

Storm King above the Hudson River
Has gluten ever sabotaged your plans? Has cross-contamination ever turned a pleasant evening into a night (or days) of distress? Have you ever been at someone else's house, or at a restaurant, and your "probable gluten cross-contamination" warning bells went off, but you ate the food anyway, only to later tell yourself, "Well, that was stupid!"?

At the moment, I feel like I've done the trail running equivalent, and I'm none too happy about it. Every athlete, no matter what your level of fitness or competition, from pro right down to the genuine novice, at some point faces injury. There's really no good time to get injured, but some times are definitely worse than others. Case in point: a decently serious foot and ankle injury less than three and a half weeks out from your most important ultra of the season.

It's been a good year. I've had a number of strong races, and my training in preparation for the upcoming Virgil Crest ultramarathon has been marching along according to plan. Last weekend I logged a superb 5-hour trail run, from Beacon, New York to Cold Spring and back to Beacon, through and over the Hudson Highlands (the photos in this blog post are from that run). It's a 21-mile roundtrip, with a very strenuous 12,400 vertical feet of elevation change. Scaled up to 50 miles, that equates to 30,000' of elevation change, 50% more than the 10,000' of ascent and 20,000' of change I'll do for the 50-mile Virgil Crest.

Then came last night.

Rocky Breakneck Ridge in profile
Tuesday night I'd been up late catching up on emails that had been filling my inbox. When it came time to wake before dawn Wednesday morning for my planned run, I turned off my alarm and went back to sleep. I was just too tired to run. Instead, I planned to run Wednesday night, after we'd put the girls to bed. I decided to run some familiar nearby trails by headlamp. I've run those trails, without exaggeration, more than 100 times. I could probably run them with my eyes closed. I know every turn, every root and rock. I reasoned that running by headlamp would be good training for the upcoming Virgil Crest, the first hour of which takes place by power of headlamp in the pre-dawn darkness.

All was well until I turned a corner in the trail and was confronted with two very large downed trees. They'd clearly been felled by a recent storm, and they blocked the trail in a major way. The brush to either side was thick enough that trying to go around wasn't practical. Instead, I decided to climb over the trees. I was probably four feet off the ground, standing on the larger tree, when I leapt down to the trail ahead.

Immediately upon landing I felt sharp pain in my foot and ankle. I landed wrong. Very wrong. Had the girls not already been asleep in bed, I would have called Kelli for a pickup in the car. Instead, I immediately turned for home and hobbled two miles to get there—a combination of walking and a limping jog. The rest of the evening was spent with my leg elevated on the couch, with ice, and a hefty dose of ibuprofen.

This is probably my worst lower leg injury in the years since I've been running ultras. I'm arguably in the best shape of my life right now ... and I'm injured, weeks out from the focus of my season. Talk about panic. Instead of logging a few more major trail runs and a few weeks of solid training, I've abandoned all training. I'm now focused on resting and rehabbing my foot and ankle, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it can heal in time to run strong at Virgil Crest.

Robert Burns wasn't kidding in his 18th century poem when he wrote, "the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry." This time the culprit wasn't gluten, but I'm facing the consequences nonetheless.

–Pete

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Recipe: Ice Cream Sandwiches


Labor Day Weekend, the unofficial end of summer (sigh) is looming. So is September 21, the fall equinox and official end of "those lazy-hazy-crazy days" (sang Nat King Cole). That doesn't mean that you can't keep summer going strong. And what better way than with a delicious, gluten-free ice cream sandwich?

If you're like us, you have childhood memories of unwrapping the white paper, peeling it back, and taking a satisfying bite of vanilla ice cream sandwiched between a chocolate cake-cookie. They're actually pretty easy to make. The trick to making a successful ice cream sandwich is for your unleavened cake-cookie to not turn into a brittle, rock-hard "crisp" once frozen.

Fortunately, we've figured that part out for you.


Ice Cream Sandwiches
Makes 10 sandwiches

Ingredients
1/2 cup (96g) sugar
1/4 cup (20g) unsweetened cocoa
1 stick (1/2 cup) melted butter
1 egg
1 tsp GF pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup (63g) Artisan Gluten-Free Flour Blend
1/2 tsp xanthan gum
1/4 tsp salt

*1 quart natural vanilla ice cream (homemade or store-bought)

Steps
1. Preheat your oven to 350 deg F.
2. In a bowl, mix together the sugar, cocoa, and melted butter.
3. Add the egg and vanilla, and mix until combined and smooth.
4. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, xanthan gum, and salt. Then add to the main bowl and mix to incorporate.
5. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
6. Evenly spread the cake batter (using an offset spatula) into a rectangle about 10 x 15 inches.
7. Pull your ice cream out of freezer to allow it to partially soften. Meanwhile, bake the cake for 10 minutes, until it is set and dry to the touch.
8. Immediately place on a wire rack and let cool completely.
9. Cut the cake in half (so that you have two equal pieces, each 10 x 7.5 inches).
10. Place one piece, top down, onto large piece of plastic wrap. Be careful not to break the sheet.
11. Spoon ice cream onto the cake and make it even, but work quickly. Don't let the ice cream get too soft or melt.
12. Place the other cake half on top. Firmly wrap with plastic wrap to hold it all together.
13. Slide the mega-ice cream sandwich onto a pan. Place it in the freezer until set, at least 3 hours.
14. Remove from the freezer, cut off any uneven edges, then cut into 10 equally-sized rectangles to make your ice cream sandwiches.
15. Wrap the sandwiches individually, or store them together in an airtight container in the freezer.

Degrees of Free-dom
This recipe is: gluten-free, peanut-free, tree-nut-free, fish-free, shellfish-free, soy-free, vegetarian.

To make this recipe dairy/lactose/casein-free, use your favorite DF ice cream and preferred DF butter substitute.

Notes
You can alter the thickness of the cake and the ratio of cake to ice cream to suit your own preferences.

Enjoy!

–Pete

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Product Review: Celia Saison Beer, Alchemist Brewery


More than two years ago, we reviewed The Alchemist, a microbrewery in Waterbury, Vermont. Here's the quick recap: two award-winning, seriously tasty, gluten-free beers on tap ... a saison and a framboise. Tragically, devastating floods from hurricane/tropical storm Irene destroyed the brewery, and The Alchemist was no more. The only thing that survived was an off-site cannery for Heady Topper, one of the brewery's traditional barley-based beers and the first beer the brewery started selling beyond the confines of its taps and pub.

Walking into our local beer distributor in the Hudson Valley recently, I did a literal double take when I spotted four-packs of a gluten-free Celia Saison beer. I knew Celia Saison, and I knew it came from only one place: The Alchemist. Without hesitation I grabbed two four-packs (at about $10 each), went to the car, and drove home to learn more.

It seems that ever since The Alchemist shut its doors, demand for brewer John Kimmich's gluten-free beers has remained high. And so he answered customer demand by preparing to release Celia Saison. But with the brewery gone, where would he do it? Answer: Mercury Brewing in Ipswich, Massachusetts, where Kimmich began brewing 70 barrels a month of his gluten-free Celia Saison.

The beer weighs in at 6.5% ABV, and is brewed from sorghum, water, Celia hops, Curacao orange peel, and Belgian yeast. It pours a nice white head of foam that slowly fades, and the beer is a beautiful hazy orange, courtesy of its unfiltered character.

The flavor surprised both Kelli and me with how reminiscent it was of our own Sisters Saison homebrew. Then again, perhaps we shouldn't have been surprised, since our Sisters Saison was in fact inspired by my first tastes of The Alchemist's Celia Saison back in 2010. We similarly brewed our Saison with water, sorghum, hops, orange peel, and Belgian yeast (plus a touch of coriander).

Celia Saison is floral and hoppy, without the super-hoppy, bitter taste of an IPA. It's subtly sweet, not too bitter, and quite distinct from other sorghum beers such as Redbridge, Bard's, and New Planet. The Celia, in our opinion, has a deeper, more complex flavor than many of the lighter, straightforward sorghum-based ales and lagers.

This is—we think—as it should be. Gluten-free beer drinkers are slowly but surely finding increasing variety in their options. More than ever before, you can find a gluten-free beer to suit your particular tastes as a beer drinker. Whether it's a lager like Bard's, a pale ale like New Planet's Off Grid, or a Belgian-style Saison like Celia from The Alchemist, once again we're happy to say, bottom's up!

–Pete

Monday, August 27, 2012

Embracing Your Gluten-Free Life

From time to time, someone will ask me if I have a hard time sticking to a gluten-free diet. They ask it cautiously, almost apologetically. Usually, they're newly gluten-free and—I assume—having a tough time managing the transition to a gluten-free lifestyle.

The switch was never a difficult one for me. I embraced gluten-free fully. It's been 5.5 solid years since I've intentionally ingested any gluten-ous foods. I can go out to a restaurant with friends, a basket of warm, fresh bread can come out to the table, and it doesn't bother me in the least. There's zero temptation to cross over to the "dark side."

Why? One simple reason: I'm healthy now, and I remember how sick I once was ... and how sick eating a piece of that bread would make me.

But our older daughter, Marin—who turns 4 later this year—has taught us lessons of her own about embracing a gluten-free life. She's basically been gluten-free her entire life. Other than a handful of times when she and I have gotten sick from the same cross-contaminated meals, she knows no other way. For her, gluten is a great unknown that other people can eat but she can't. And for her, gluten-free is life.

As parents, Kelli and I wonder how she'll embrace her gluten-free life as she grows older, makes friends, and enters social situations in school, clubs, sports, etc. But for now, at least, she's embraced her gluten-free life as well as anyone I know.

She has invented a role playing game, entirely of her own imagination, that's now become a favorite for us to play. It's called "The Gluten and Gluten-Free Game," and it goes something like this: We take turns pretending to be a piece of food—a cookie, a pretzel, a piece of bread, whatever—on the supermarket shelf. The other person is a shopper, who happens upon the food and asks, "Are you gluten or gluten-free?"

If you are gluten, you get left on the shelf, and the shopper comes back later to ask again. (Or, if you take an accidental nibble, you get sick and your stomach hurts.) But if you're gluten-free, you get gobbled up immediately! Then we switch roles. To my delight (and to hers), the game involves much roaring laughter.

Marin has never questioned her need to be gluten-free. She has committed to it, and is surprisingly vigilant with it, especially given her young age. We could all—myself included—learn a thing or to about embracing the life we're given, and doing so with passion and joy.

–Pete

Friday, August 24, 2012

Restaurant Review: The Lite Choice, Babylon, NY

The Lite Choice in Babylon village, New York
On a recent weekend, we were strolling through Babylon village on the south shore of New York's Long Island. It was around midday, the sun was glaring down, and all of us were hot. We needed to cool off. We wanted ice cream.

Fortunately, Babylon's vibrant main drag boasts no fewer than three ice cream parlors. Two had been around for a while. One was the new kid on the block: The Lite Choice. We popped inside, the immediate blast of cool air was unbelievably refreshing.

Eating gluten-free at an ice cream shop—especially one that focuses on soft serve—is usually no big deal. You watch out for flavors such as cookie dough and Oreo, which would have gluten, and otherwise you're usually in the clear. But The Lite Choice makes a point of specifically saying that all their flavors are gluten-free. Why? Because they offer some 40 flavors of all-natural ice cream.

How? All of their flavors are based on the same 6 or 8 "standard" soft serve flavors, to which they add syrup. You see those bright, colored dots in the back left of the photo above, just below the lit white sign? Those are some of the many flavors.

As we stood contemplating our options, we must have been discussing the gluten-free status of the flavors with our girls, because the young girl behind the counter chimed in and offered: "We do have gluten-free cones, as well. Both wafer and sugar." Really?

By default, we just assume that we'll order our ice cream in a cup. It didn't even occur to us to see if they had GF cones. And then something else occurred to us: our girls had never experienced eating ice cream from a cone. Decision made.

We ordered a mix of vanilla and chocolate ice creams on both sugar and wafer cones. All were delicious. Kelli branched out and tried one of the exotic flavors, which she thought tasted a bit artificial, even though it's in theory all natural.

That's also when we discovered one point of attention should you find yourself in one of The Lite Choice's many NY metro area locations. If you're ordering one of the exotic flavors that requires a syrup, they blend/mix the ice cream and syrup. This location had two blenders: one was a dedicated peanut-free blender; the other was used for everything else. Which means that it is also used to blend shakes and smoothies and cups of ice cream that may have non-gluten-free toppings. If you're sensitive, be wary. Stick to the stock flavors that come straight out of the soft serve machine and into a cup or onto a gluten-free cone.

To the store's credit, the young girl working the counter shared this info with us, and I can only hope that other workers at this and other locations are as attentive as she was.

In the end, The Lite Choice was the right choice for us. To walk into an ice cream parlor on a hot, sunny, summer day and order gluten-free ice cream cones was a real treat.

–Pete

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Countdown Begins

Storm King and Crow's Nest mountains from Sugarloaf Mountain
For most people, I expect that today will be most like any average weekday. It's Wednesday, August 22. Not a notable date on the calendar by any means (my apologies if it's your birthday!). But for me, today is a major turning point: an important countdown begins. The Virgil Crest Ultramarathon—the focus of my 3rd Annual Gluten-Free Ultramarathon Challenge—is one month from today! The race is on Saturday, September 22.

The Virgil Crest will be the 5th major race, and 7th total to date, of my 2012 season. In many ways, it's the peak of my season—not just because I make it a fundraiser for the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness—but also because it promises to be the hardest race of the year. This ultra is 50 miles, almost exclusively off-road, frequently on singletrack trails, and involving 10,000 vertical feet of elevation gain and 20,000 vertical feet of elevation change. As I've said many times over the past three years, that's roughly the equivalent of running back-to-back marathons, off-road, while climbing up and down the Empire State Building eight times.

Early light on a descent of East Mountain, Fahnestock SP
I have a tremendous amount of respect for the race, which is why I've been hitting my training hard in the weeks since the Escarpment Trail Run at the end of July. In just the last three weeks, I've logged about 100 miles of trail running (which brings my year-to-date total to about 900 miles). Much of that training has focused on the mountains, where I've tallied 12,000 vertical feet of gain and 24,000 feet of change. Though my runs have been as short as 4.3 miles (a quick recovery jog one day after a big workout), I've also been working in one major run each weekend. This past weekend, it was a 29-miler that I cranked out in about five hours.

Looking ahead, there's not much time left to prepare for Virgil Crest. The race is five Saturdays from today. That means that I have four weeks left of training, and only three long runs (each of about 30 miles or so) before I start my taper. Other than that, I'll be relying on the base of endurance I've built over the course of this season.

Cold Spring Harbor through the trees on the N-S Greenbelt
I have bold ambition for this year's race. After a Top 10 finish in 2010, I had a rough go of it last year, thanks to a series of illnesses that undermined my health and training through much of the 2011 season. This year, I'd like to recapture a Top 10 finish. I'd also like to finish in under 10 hours, which would be a new personal record. Keep in mind that I've never run the Virgil Crest faster than 11:43, so going sub-10 would be a major improvement. However, I ran 10:17 at the North Face Endurance Challenge at Bear Mountain earlier this year on a similarly difficult course, so I think sub-10 is entirely possible for me on a course such as this.

We'll see!

–Pete

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Product Review: Rudi's Tortilla Wraps

If you're gluten-free then you've almost certainly faced a familiar conundrum: What to make for an easy lunch, and especially a lunch on the go? One traditional answer is a lunch item ubiquitous in grab-n-go refrigerators at places such as airports: the sandwich wrap. Alas, those sandwich wraps are almost never gluten-free, thanks to the wheat-based tortilla. But with these wraps from Rudi's Gluten-Free Bakery, you can make your own. (Note: Rudi's provided comp samples for this review, and they're a three-time supporter of the Gluten-Free Ultramarathon Challenge, which raises money for the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness.)

Rudi's recently launched a trio of tortilla wraps: plain, fiesta, and spinach. The tortillas are dairy-free, nut-free, and GFCO-certified gluten-free. They're all built on a common base that includes an impressive blend of gluten-free flours (sorghum, brown rice, corn, amaranth, quinoa, millet, and teff). Add to that corn starch, tapioca flour, rice flour, water, oil, xanthan gum, evaporated cane juice, baking power, active dry yeast, apple cider vinegar, guar gum, salt, and cultured dextrose and maltodextrin (simple and complex carbs, respectively, that are often corn-based and used in all sorts of foods, including homebrewing).

The spinach flavor also adds spinach powder, garlic powder, and dried cilantro leaves. The fiesta flavor opts for red bell pepper powder, jalapeno powder, garlic powder, onion powder, carrot granules, and parsley flakes.
Each pack comes with 8 good-size tortillas. They have nice flexibility—they easily make a tight wrap without breaking. And they have good chewiness. Each one is packed with fiber, some healthy fat, and modest carbs and protein.

And what about taste? Here's our assessment:

The plain flavor was just that: plain. We might even call it bland, but I don't know that your standard tortilla is exactly known for flavor. It's a delivery mechanism. A blank canvas in which you wrap all the good, flavorful stuff you want to eat. And, we found the plain flavor made great quesadillas for our girls (not to mention that they'd make great enchiladas and just about anything else for which you'd otherwise use wheat-flour tortillas).

The spinach flavor had a green, leafy, veggie quality to it, without being overpowering with spinach.

The fiesta flavor was by far the most flavorful. Its blend of vegetables gave it a complexity lacking in the plain. This one is my top pick.
If you want to try these puppies for yourself, why not try and win some? Rudi's is giving away samples in its Facebook-based What's Under Wraps? Giveaways, which run for four more days. Each day you have a chance to win!

When you're looking for an alternative to a sandwich on GF bread, these wraps are definitely worth a look.

–Pete

Images courtesy Rudi's Gluten-Free Bakery

Friday, August 17, 2012

Recipe: Zucchini Bread


Gardening, at times, can be a feast or famine enterprise. I'm thinking specifically of zucchini. When zucchini plants are producing, it can be hard to eat them quickly enough to keep up with the prodigious supply. At least not without either a) getting tired of eating zucchini, or b) desperately trying to think of yet another way to prepare zucchini you haven't already tried that week.

But true to their feast or famine nature, zucchini are surprisingly delicate, susceptible to the attacks of both bugs and disease. A zucchini plant can go from robust to six feet under in a startlingly short period of time. When we found plentiful numbers of striped cucumber beetles in our organic garden plot, we knew it was just a matter of time for our zucchini plants. We hoped for a stay of execution, but it was not to be. Earlier this week we ripped out the pitiful remains of what were once five beautiful plants.

It was good while they lasted, though, and late last week we baked a loaf of delectable bread using our largest zucchini. The result was modestly sweet, moist, with a balanced blend of spices (cinnamon and nutmeg). Hopefully, zucchini are still going strong in your garden, or at your market. And if they are, you really ought to give this recipe a try!

Zucchini Bread
Makes 1 loaf

Ingredients
3 cups (375g) Artisan Gluten-Free Flour Blend
2 tsp xanthan gum
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp GF baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 cups finely grated zucchini
1/2 cup melted butter
2 eggs

Steps
1. Preheat your oven to 350 deg F.
2. In a bowl, combine the flour through the salt and mix.
3. In a separate mixing bowl, combine the brown sugar, zucchini, butter, and eggs and mix.
4. Combine the two bowls of ingredients and mix to incorporate.
5. Grease a standard 9x5 loaf pan (or similar size). Add the batter. Baked for 50 to 55 minutes, until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.
6. Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Then flip out onto a wire rack to let cool completely.

Degrees of Free-dom
This recipe is: gluten-free, peanut-free, tree-nut-free, fish-free, shellfish-free, vegetarian.

Notes
If you're looking for more zucchini recipes, you might also try:


Enjoy!

–Pete

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Restaurant Review: Frasca Food & Wine, Boulder, CO

Our little ladies, sporting their very own chef hats, after a tour of Frasca's incredible kitchen
We lived in Boulder, Colorado for more than six years. We moved there in 2004, right about the time a new restaurant opened on Boulder's bustling Pearl Street: Frasca Food and Wine.

From the restaurant's earliest days, it garnered rave reviews. After all, its founders—master sommelier Bobby Stuckey and chef Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson—boast an impressive pedigree. Both have a long line of top-tier restaurant experiences under their belt, including working at Thomas Keller's The French Laundry. Since launching Frasca, they've since added a number of James Beard Foundation nominations and awards to their belts.

Frasca's food is based on the cuisine of Friuli, Italy. But while the inspiration may be Italian, the food is decidedly local: Frasca heavily features the harvest of regional farms in a menu that changes weekly. Their signature menu is the Quattro Piatti, a four-course prix fixe meal that features antipasti, primi, secondi, and dolci (antipasta, first course, main course, and dessert).

For those wonderful years that we lived in Boulder, we kept saying "We're going to go to Frasca at least once." And then, on quite short notice, we moved to New York ... having never eaten at Frasca.

When we returned to Boulder earlier this summer to close on the bittersweet sale of our house—our first home—we resolved to celebrate the surprisingly melancholy occasion with a long-overdue dinner at Frasca.

We knew ahead of time that they were well-versed in handling gluten-free dietary needs, but I went ahead and let them know about our family's dietary restrictions when making our reservation. When the appointed evening arrived, we were excited but also, in some sense, nervous. After many years of building up expectations in our minds, could Frasca possibly live up to its billing?

Before I go on, a disclaimer-cum-apology: save for the one photo of "the ladies" up above, this is a restaurant review without a single photo of the restaurant or its food. Sometimes, it's nice to leave the camera in the booth next to you and just be in the moment with good company and a good meal. You know? At any rate...

Frasca is without doubt a fine-dining restaurant, but they catered to our young girls without batting an eyelash. Since we couldn't have the standard bread sticks, they sent out a small bowl of freshly fried (no cross contamination) potato chips for the girls, and a cauliflower amuse bouche for Kelli and me. The servers were well-versed in the menu, knowledgeably guiding us through the gluten-free (and the "can be modified to be made gluten-free") menu items that week.

For the week of our visit, Frasca was doing a "celebration of the beet."

Kelli's antipasti was a vibrant deconstructed beet salad. It featured a variety of roasted beets as well as beet purees, plus a small serving of cheese. It was beautiful to look at—art on a plate. But while delicious, the serving size was tiny, akin to a small plates experience. My beet soup was like a Frasca take on borscht: eye-catching pink-purple in color, with rich flavors and a touch of licorice flavor from fennel. Overall, an excellent start to the meal.

Unfortunately, our second course left us wanting. We each ordered a different pasta dish, for which Frasca used a corn-based fusilli gluten-free pasta. The trout that topped my dish was superb, but for both us, the pasta was mediocre at best. I suppose everyone has a favorite style of gluten-free pasta, and for us, corn is not it. We'll take a brown rice or quinoa pasta over corn-based pasta any day. Frasca's corn fusilli was bland and undercooked, with poor texture. Our server explained that Frasca had extensively tested a variety of gluten-free pastas before settling on this particular one. Knowing what other options exist, we were surprised that this one won out.

On the plus side, our dinner quickly rebounded with the main course. We both ordered a beef entree that was rich, flavorful, and succulent. It was everything a good steak dish should be. It featured a beet chutney, as well as a divine beet sauce that I can only describe as "what a red wine and beef stock reduction would taste like if it were made with beets instead." Heavenly.

To conclude, Kelli enjoyed (correction: was over the moon for) a plate of cheeses, each paired with "sauces" such as whipped honey and marmalade. I opted for a trio of flavorful gelatos: chocolate, raspberry, and passionfruit. They were equally good.

In the end, we walked away from Frasca with a very good, but not great, experience. Service was excellent, and the meal featured several highlights. But the lackluster gluten-free pasta was disappointing. When you factor in the prix fixe cost, plus a nice bottle of wine and tax and tip, it turned out to be one of the more expensive meals we've had in recent years. As a gluten-free customer, I'm not sure you get full value for the cost. But if your thing is fresh, local ingredients artfully prepared in the kitchen, and paired with a wine to match, Frasca in Boulder is certainly worth a visit as a special occasion spot.

–Pete

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Product Review: The Better Chip


Two weeks ago we reviewed Way Better Snacks. (Short version: we're fans.) This week, we're focusing our lens on The Better Chip (they provided some comp samples for this review). There was Way Better. Now there's Better. Are you sensing a trend? These new corn tortilla chip companies are trying to differentiate themselves from the plethora of corn chips that have preceded them, and they're doing it by offering up a product they claim is ... um, better ... than their predecessors in both taste and ingredients/nutrition. By our measure, Way Better Snacks succeeded. Did The Better Chip? Read on.

The Better Chip makes its chips on a common base of corn masa flour, sunflower and/or corn oil, and sea salt. Its entire line of four flavors is both gluten-free and non-GMO. Their claim to tortilla chip fame is that every flavor contains 40% fresh vegetables. For example, the Fresh Corn flavor has extra straight up corn. The Jalapeno flavor has jalapeno peppers and onions. The Red Pepper and Salsa Fresca flavor has—you guessed it—red bell pepper and onions. You can see the veggies right in the chip.

For the most part, the ingredients on each flavor are delightfully simple, though two flavors do use yeast extract or autolyzed yeast extract (flavor enhancers), which we're not particularly fond of.


And what about the flavors?

First, these are undeniably corn chips. You can taste their inherent corn-ness.

In the Red Pepper and Salsa Fresca flavor, the red bell pepper was definitely perceptible. The aroma from the bag had genuine hints of salsa, though on the tongue the flavor became more a Doritos-esque blend of spices and spiciness. Overall, a nice chip.

The Jalapeno and Sea Salt flavor, like the other chips, sometimes tasted ever so slightly greasy. Some bites, depending on how much jalapeno the chip had, gave some very legitimate kick. Again, a very good chip.

Like Way Better, we'd give The Better Chip generally high marks. It's a high quality corn chip packed with actual veggies you can see and taste.

–Pete

Images courtesy The Better Chip

Friday, August 10, 2012

Running on Empty

Sunrise from atop Fishkill Ridge (Tuesday)
It's hard to believe, but after a long season of training and racing the Virgil Crest Ultra—a major focus of my ultra-running each year—is only six weeks away! Needless to say, I'm excited. For one, it's the focus of the Gluten-Free Ultramarathon Challenge, which raises money for the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness. For another, it's quite simply an awesome race: very challenging, on beautiful trails, with great volunteers.

After taking one week off to let my legs recover from the Escarpment Trail Run, I've resumed my training with a vengeance. I'm focusing on two things: a) building strong mountain legs by clocking lots of vertical, and b) putting in long distances on the trails to further build my endurance and get my legs used to running through fatigue. I've been waking at 5:00am on weekdays, and depending on the trailhead, I'm on the trails running between 5:30 and 6:00am.

The Hudson Highlands have, thus far, been my main training ground. West of the Hudson River, they serve as the venue for the North Face Endurance Challenge at Bear Mountain, where I set a 50-mile personal record earlier this year. My training, however, has been focused on the Highlands east of the river. There three contiguous and large parcels—Hudson Highlands State Park, the Beacon Incline, and Fiskill Ridge—provide exceptional trail running opportunities with lots of serious vertical. To gain the tops of the ridges typically requires a climb of at least 1,000 vertical feet, and in many places—such as at the Beacon Incline—you gain that 1,000 feet in just one mile. For those unfamiliar with trail running, one word summarizes that scenario: steep.

In the span of three days this week (Tuesday through Thursday) I logged 9,500 feet of elevation change on the trails, with runs ranging from 6 to 12 miles. Tomorrow (Saturday) will be my longer run of the week, somewhere in the 20- to 25-mile range. Over the course of the next few weeks, that long run will push into the mid-30s for mileage.

Sugarloaf Mountain from Breakneck Ridge (Wednesday)
When people—and especially other gluten-free athletes—find out that I'm a runner, one of their first questions is often something along the lines of, "What do you eat?" In fact, it just happened to me earlier this week, when I was "introduced" to another gluten-free runner on Twitter. The person's first tweet to me was, "What's your favorite pre-race meal?"

My answer to that question varies depending on a number of factors: Are you talking about what I eat the morning of? Or the night before? Are you talking about for a specific race? Or generally while training?

For example, my pre-training meals for this week's runs may surprise some people. I ate nothing. No breakfast. No gels. I basically rolled out of bed and hit the trails, running on empty. I carried a single 20-ounce bottle of water with one scoop of First Endurance Electrolyte Fuel System, which provides about 100 calories during the run. Immediately afterward, I downed an 18-ounce bottle of water with two scoops of First Endurance Ultragen for recovery, which provides a targeted 300 calories. Then, I ate my breakfast. But nearly all of those calories were consumed after the workout. Why? There's a method to my madness...

Crossing the Vanderbilt Estate on the Hyde Park trails (Thursday)
Endurance athletes get their energy from two basic sources: carbs and fat, either in your food or in your body. The harder that you're training (approaching your VO2 max and approaching or surpassing your aerobic/anaerobic threshold), the more that your body depends on the carbohydrate part of the equation (converting glycogen stored in your muscles into glucose for energy). There's just one problem: you only have so much glycogen stored in your muscles and liver. Once it runs out, you "hit the wall" or "bonk." You can try to replenish it, by consuming simple and/or complex carbs during your workout, but you have to keep the calories going in, which can be harder and harder to do over the course of a long ultra when you lose the desire to eat.

Fat, on the other hand, is an excellent source of energy. Gram for gram, and pound for pound, it provides more than twice as much caloric energy as carbohydrates. Unlike the limited supply of glycogen you have stored in your body, even elite athletes with little perceptible body fat have enough fat calories in their body to keep them going like an Energizer bunny. As you might guess, though, there's no free lunch. It's harder and slower for your body to recruit energy from fat, and if you're pushing too hard, your body will preferentially go for the glycogen and carbs.

Ultramarathoners are a unique breed, however. Running super long distances may be extremely difficult, but at any given point in a race or training run, you're not running all that fast. You're pacing, so that you can go the distance. Well, since you're performing at a fraction of your limit, your body is able to start to recruit fat for energy. And if your body is doing that, you a) are tapping into a great source of long-lasting, slow-burning energy, and b) taking some of the burden off your muscle glycogen and the need to replenish it constantly.

Here's the really cool part: in the same way that you train your muscles to build endurance, you can also train your body to burn fat better. How? By running on empty. When you wake up first thing in the morning, your muscles have naturally lower levels of glycogen (since, unless you grabbed a midnight snack, you haven't eaten in a good long while to replenish glycogen levels). Then, by going out for a training run before you have anything to eat, you deplete those glycogen levels even further. This forces your body to start burning fat, and over time, your body learns to do that better and better. (Just don't go crazy with carbs in your diet, because overdoing it in the carb department can offset the fat-burning mode you've taught your body to employ...)

If a run is long enough and challenging enough, such as tomorrow's planned 20- to 25-miler, I'll of course have to pay close attention to my nutrition and fuel my body accordingly. But for weekday morning training runs that are easier—for me right now, anything pretty much half marathon distance or less—I'll worry about eating after I'm done.

Sometimes, it turns out, appropriate gluten-free nutrition comes down to eating nothing at all.

–Pete

For much more detail on this topic, including the science behind it, check out The Gluten-Free Edge: A Nutrition and Training Guide for Peak Athletic Performance and an Active Gluten-Free Life.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Product Review: Omission Beer


There's a new beer in town, and its name is Omission. It's been around for a few months now, starting in Oregon and spreading in distribution since, but we've just managed to (finally) get our hands on some here in our corner of New York.

Omission is a line of beers marketed to the gluten-free community from the folks at Portland's popular Widmer Brothers brewery. Note that I said it's beer marketed to the gluten-free community, and not that it's gluten-free beer. This is an important distinction. Why? Because thanks to a recent TTB ruling, Omission isn't allowed to say that the beer is gluten-free.

That's because Omission is brewed with barley. This is a first for U.S. brewery. While such beers have been around in Europe for some time, American brewers making beer for the GF community have previously brewed only using gluten-free ingredients such as sorghum. Until now.

Omission starts with low-protein barley, and then employs a proprietary process—including the addition of Brewers Clarex, an enzyme originally cultivated for addressing chill haze, but which also has the convenient property of gobbling barley hordein—to further reduce the gluten levels in the beer.

The intention was to give gluten-free beer drinkers a brew that was effectively gluten-free, but which retained the classic taste of malted barley.

Two key questions come to the fore: Where they successful in making a tasty beer? Where they successful in making that beer effectively gluten-free despite using barley (plus water, hops, and yeast) as an ingredient?

I'll tackle the latter question first. As you may recall from late last year and early this year, the media, beer, and gluten-free communities were abuzz with disturbing information. Researchers had published the results of a study that showed that some beers—previously thought to be gluten-free or very low in gluten, and marketed as such—actually contained much higher levels of gluten than once thought. The offending beers were all so-called GF beers brewed from barley. Yikes.

Part of the problem came down to testing. When you brew beer, the gluten gets hydrolized (broken down into smaller protein fragments). And traditional tests for gluten, it turned out, were pretty poor at detecting those fragments, which still might be large enough to cause a reaction in sensitive people.

Fortunately, however, a new test method—the competitive R5 ELISA—has been developed, expressly for the purpose of detecting hydrolized gluten fragments. It's a huge step in the right direction, but the test is not without its limitations, and it still needs to be more rigorously evaluated. In the meantime, though, it's the best we have for the task at hand.

To Omission's credit, that's the test they're using to check every batch of beer they brew. And here's the really cool thing: you can go to their website, input the date code from the bottle of beer you're holding in your hand, and see the very test results for that batch. How awesome is that? I tried it. It works. It's one more way that the folks at Omission are a) showing gluten-free consumers they're serious about what they do, and b) delivering transparency that will ultimately foster consumer trust and confidence. Omission knows that selling a barley-based beer to a gluten-free beer drinking might be, well, a tough sell. So they say, Here. View the test results for yourself. Don't take our word for it. Maybe this will put your concerns to rest.

So is the beer effectively gluten-free? For now, we can't say with 100% certainty. But I can say this: I've read a lot of reports of celiacs and others in the GF community drinking the beer with no problems. I consider myself to be fairly sensitive, and after a pair of brews, I felt fine. However, I'm a sample size of one, so exercise your own best judgment.

And what about taste?

On that measure, I have to consider this only a partial review. Omission offers two beers: a lager and a pale ale. Our local market was all out of the pale ale, so for the moment I've only had a chance to try the lager.

Boy, was it a disappointment. I know some have praised it, but I'm not in that group. My immediate gut reaction was to compare it to Beast (aka Milwaukee's Best, a cheap, arguably lousy, beer). The beer had fabulous, foamy head retention ... as good as you'll see on a beer for someone who's gluten-free. But the flavor left much to be desired, malted barley or not. I also shared the beer with some gluten-ous beer drinkers who like brews such as Amstel and Heineken, light lagers like Omission. They were similarly displeased with it.

Maybe my tastes in beer have changed over time. I know I like hoppy beers, and dark beers, and such. And when I finally have a chance to sample the pale ale, in all its Cascade hops glory, I may love it. But if my choice was between an Omission lager and something such as New Planet's Off Grid Pale Ale or Bard's or a homebrew, I'll take any of the later over Omission.

Have you tried it? What's your take on it?

Bottoms up!

–Pete

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Clams Oreganata: A Story

Clamming on the south shore of Long Island, NY
During our recent hiatus from blogging at the beginning of July, we spent some of our time on vacation on Long Island. For me and my family, life on the island frequently revolves around the water. Each season has its own character: the desolate, wind-swept beaches of winter; the frigid water and good waves of spring; the crowds of summer; the approach of late summer / early fall hurricane season and more good waves.

Within the seasons there are also micro-seasons, each timed by the ocean and her annual evolution. Snapper season. Bluefish season. When the striped bass are running. Crabbing season. And clamming season.

Each has its own appeal. Clamming, for instance, is a visceral, tactile, intimate experience. Whereas with fishing or crabbing you might use a rod and reel, or net, or trap, with clamming—at least as my family practices it—it's just you and the clams.

We take a boat to an unnamed cove on the south shore of the island, where a narrow strip of barrier beaches protect the bay from the harsher waters of the open Atlantic. In this sandy-bottomed cove, lined with saltwater marsh grasses, the bottom is soft. You walk through the water methodically, wriggling your feet into the sand, feeling for the unmistakeable edge of a clam shell.

The harvest
Sometimes, instead of the smooth edge of a clam shell, you feel something sharp. As my Uncle Joe says, when that happens, withdraw your foot and move on. Rarely does further exploration end well. As I can personally attest, doing so may result in an unpleasant encounter with a crab, who will do one of two things: swim away or draw blood.

Finding a clam is moment of uncertainty and promise. Will it be a keeper? One to return to the sand? Some are too small. Some are too big. (Hard shell clams—also known as quahogs—are classified by their size, from little necks on the smaller end, to cherry stones, to chowder clams on the larger end.) And frankly, some just aren't good enough to make the cut. Some have shells that are clearly compromised ... whether through calcification, or damage, or whatever. Often, a rough-looking shell on the outside holds less-than-pristine meat on the inside. The best clams, I've learned, are ones with what Uncle Joe calls the "white smile," a lip of bright shell around the outer edge opposite the hinge. They tend to hold beautiful meat, with a shell interior of pearly white with a patch of beautiful deep purple at the back near the hinge.

This is a subtle understanding of clamming gleaned—not through years or even decades—but through a lifetime spent on and in the water. It is insight and knowledge inherited and passed on, first to my generation (to me and my cousins and brother and our significant others), and eventually, to my daughters' generation.

But the knowledge starts with my Uncle. Sometimes explicitly, and sometimes in subtler ways, he is present in many of the recipes and blog posts we write ... particularly ones that have to do with the ocean and seafood. Witness our foil packet blackfish. Whether he would accept the title or not, he is a patriarch of the family. And at the very least, he's an important influence on my—and our—love of the ocean and seafood.

It doesn't get any fresher than this
This way of connecting generations of family through food remains as important to me as ever. It's a theme I've returned to many times, whether in this post or in our recipe for speculaas cookies, passed down from the 19th century through present day from the Belgian side of my family. This theme is also at the core of Artisanal Gluten-Free Cooking, which is now out in its second edition.

I have always sought family permission before sharing recipes and stories such as these. Part of me has at times felt conflicted about doing so. Am I giving away a part of my heritage? Am I compromising privileged information for the sake of a blog post or a cookbook recipe? To their credit, our family has supported the decision to share such recipes.

I think that's because heritage is as important to them as it is to me, and they see the value in sharing that message with readers. Dietary restrictions can threaten to sever you from your food heritage and your family. I hope, though, that you are inspired to maintain the connection, or to reconnect. Even if you approach old foods and old recipes with new ingredients or a new perspective (say, to make a healthier version of a beloved treat), the point is to stay connected to those foods. They feed the body, but they also feed the soul.

But back to the clams...

The added time and effort to separate the best meat is well worth it
With my Uncle's strict quality-control clam standards (and believe me, the exceptional results later more than justified those standards), it seemed like we kept only 1 out of every 3 clams we found. Even so, we had more than enough to feed all who were there for the clam bake. With our harvest complete, we retired to his friend's house on a nearby canal. Then the real work began.

We placed the clams on ice for a while. This relaxes their muscles, making the job of shucking much easier. (Some websites suggest popping them in a hot oven briefly to get them to start to open, but this prematurely begins to cook the clams, which will get chewy). Then Uncle Joe masterfully went about the work of shucking our harvest: using a clam knife to cut each of two adductor muscles that keep the clam closed, opening the shell, reserving the clam juice, and separating the meat from the shell. I can tell that I have many years of clam shucking ahead of me before I reach his level of proficiency... This time around I simply watched and learned from a master.

Then he did something that few people do, in my experience. Though you can eat the entire clam, he took extra time to cut away the digestive tract, reserving only the choicest parts of the clam meat. He also separated all that choice meat from their respective shells. (The reason why will soon be revealed...)

At last, it was time to make what we had all been looking forward to: clams oreganata, an Italian dish where clams on the half shell are lightly covered with seasoned bread crumbs and baked in the oven. They are sometimes served with a wedge of lemon to squeeze over the clams, though as my family prepares them I've seldom found the lemon necessary.

The finished product
We combined Italian-seasoned gluten-free bread crumbs, some minced garlic, and a bit of olive oil. Meanwhile, we laid out shells on a baking sheet while an oven preheated to 350 deg F or so. Then, from his stash of choice clam meat, Uncle Joe portioned an equal quantity of clam into each shell. (This circumvents the problem of larger and smaller clams cooking at different rates, resulting in some that are overcooked and others that aren't cooked enough.) Each clam gets a small splash of clam juice, gets topped with some bread crumbs, then another light splash of clam juice.

Next, the recipe gets "intuitive." Place the clams on the middle rack of the oven, and after a few minutes, begin to monitor them closely. Crack the oven door and listen for a faint hissing. That's the sound of the clam juice boiling and steaming the meat. I can't give you a hard and fast time. You just need to learn through practice, as I'm still doing. When you do hear that noise, though, switch your oven to broil and continue to watch the clams closely. When the bread crumbs are golden brown, the clams are done. It's time to enjoy the fruits of your labor. (And believe me, it does involve labor if you undertake this entire process on your own. Better to have a team share the effort, or best, to have an Uncle Joe.)

The product,  finished
We sat in the backyard with glasses of white wine, a light breeze, and a late-day sun. We dined on some of the best clams oreganata—gluten-free or not—I've ever had. This wasn't just my own nostalgia  for the food kicking in. By the reaction from Kelli—who doesn't have the same memories or childhood experiences I did of a day and a dish such as this—the clams were objectively exceptional.

It was the kind of meal that was deeply satisfying. It nourished body and soul. It was born of a day of "labor" under a summer sun. It was a communal experience, the result of shared effort. And it was gluten-free.

Whether you make this dish one day or not—and I recognize that few people will go to the length of harvesting their own clams—do me this favor: write your own real-life clams oreganata story. Collect a harvest from your garden, or carefully select fresh ingredients at your local market. Get together with your significant other, or friends, or family. Work together to make a special meal that everyone can enjoy. Share that meal; share conversation. Connect it back to your heritage, no matter if that heritage is regional, or cultural, or spiritual. Nourish your body and your soul.

That, in a way, is a kind of recipe, too. It's one that translates across cultures, across foods, across dietary restrictions.

–Pete

Monday, August 6, 2012

Recipe: Lemon-Peach Barbeque Sauce

Robert Moses State Park, south shore of Long Island, NY
It's August, which means it's National Peach Month! Last week, we featured a brown sugar peach angel food cake for the latest Gluten-Free Ratio Rally. This week, we're offering up a lemon-peach barbeque sauce. (No promise that we'll do even more peaches next week, though...)

Like our Island BBQ Sauce, which features pineapple and guava, our lemon-peach barbeque sauce features a blend of acidic and fruity ingredients (lemon and peach, respectively, in this case) to create a seasonal, bright, well-balanced bbq sauce that's very versatile.

Nothing says "summer" like grilling/barbeque and peaches. Even better when they come as a combo package.

Lemon-Peach Barbeque Sauce

Ingredients
1/2 cup peach juice (such as Ceres)
1/3 cup ketchup
1 1/2 tbsp molasses
1 1/2 tbsp light brown sugar
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
juice of 1 lemon
splash tamari wheat-free soy sauce (or gluten-free soy sauce)
dash black pepper
dash paprika

Steps
1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl and whisk to mix well.
2. Use about 2/3 of the sauce to marinade your chosen protein and brush while grilling.
3. With the remaining 1/3 sauce, bring to a boil and reduce until thickened to desired consistency. Serve the sauce on the side or over your cooked protein.

Degrees of Free-dom
This recipe is: gluten-free, dairy/lactose/casein-free, peanut-free, tree-nut-free, fish-free*, shellfish-free, vegetarian*.

Notes
To make this recipe refined-sugar-free, substitute additional molasses or an alternative sweetener (such as honey or agave nectar) for the light brown sugar. Also be sure to check that your ketchup and/or Worcestershire sauce contain no added refined sugar.

* To ensure that this recipe is truly fish-free and vegetarian, check the ingredients on your Worcestershire sauce and confirm whether or not it contains anchovies.

Enjoy!

–Pete

Friday, August 3, 2012

Product Review: Way Better Snacks


Take a stroll down the snacks and chips aisle of your favorite supermarket and it will become immediately evident how many choices you have these days. From potato chips to tortilla chips (to Fritos and Doritos and much, much more) you could argue that it's a saturated market. If you're going to come out with something new, it had better be something pretty special.

When Way Better Snacks (which sent us gratis samples to review) launched a line of gluten-free chips made with organic, non-GMO corn and a variety of sprouted grains and seeds, they did just that. This was not your average chip.

For starters, the chips are based on organic, non-GMO corn, a big plus in today's era, when consumers (ourselves included) are more concerned than ever about pesticides and GMOs in our food.

Second, these babies are packed with things you don't normally find in chips: sprouted grains and seeds. We're talking organic sprouted quinoa, flax, chia, daikon radish, and broccoli. Sprouted seeds have all sorts of positive nutritional qualities (I won't belabor the details here, but that may be a good topic for a future blog post). You can see all the different seeds in the chips, and if you look closely, you can even see the (very small) sprouts on some of them.

Thirdly, any additional ingredients in a particular flavor are similarly simple and familiar: black beans, sweet potato, pure sea salt, you get the idea. And, the the chips are GFCO-certified.


So what did we think of their six flavors? Here's our assessment:

Simply So Sweet Chili
A touch spicy. Tastes similar to a Dorito (in a good way). Bold flavor with a good kick. A little tang from vinegar.

No Salt Naked Blues
An organic blue corn chip with no salt whatsoever. For folks watching their sodium intake, a great choice. For us, needs a touch of salt to brighten it up.

Simply Unbeatable Blues
Basically the No Salt Naked Blues, but with salt. Just what the taste buds ordered.

Simply Sweeet Potato
Sweet potato flavor clearly comes through. Very nice.

Simply Beyond Black Bean
Subtle black bean flavor. Good.

Simply Sunny Multi-grain
Your standard yellow corn chip. Well done.

Overall, it's a winning lineup.


We give Way Better Snacks high marks for their line of chips. We love the flavors, love the ingredients. A sure sign of approval of a product is if a reviewer would spend his or her money on a product. With Way Better Snacks, we would (and do). To co-opt the "Most Interesting Man in the World" meme, we don't always have chips in our pantry, but when we do, there's a good chance they're Way Better chips. Our only regret is that our local supermarket doesn't carry the full line of flavors.

Pete

Images courtesy Way Better Snacks.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Restaurant Review: Pizza Bistro, Massapequa, NY


Through the years, this blog has continually returned to a food near and dear to America's heart (and our stomachs)—pizza. We've reviewed or blogged about national chain pizzerias that "do gluten-free" the right way (such as Z Pizza) and the wrong way (witness the Domino's debacle). We've similarly focused our lens on your local mom-and-pop pizza joints, from Beau Jo's in Colorado (which is now using the fabulous Gluten-Free Bistro crust!) to Gappy's in upstate New York.

All of these pizzerias have one thing in common, however: they start with a pre-made, par-baked gluten-free crust, usually pulled out of a freezer. On the one hand, this is practical—they may lack the facilities, knowledge, or resources to safely prepare from-scratch gluten-free pizza dough in-house, and pre-made crusts are a great way to offer something to gluten-free customers (If you've ever had the GF Bistro crust, you know how good they can be... In the same breath, if you've ever had a bland, white, starchy GF crust, you know how blah they can be as well...)

On the other hand, there's something to be said for a pizza place that really makes your pizza, from the dough that forms the crust to the sauce that tops it.


Imagine a scenario such as this: You walk into a local pizza joint, knowing ahead of time that they offer a gluten-free pizza. As per standard protocol, you start quizzing the poor soul behind the counter (in this case, a young twenty-something) about how they make their pizza and how they handle concerns about cross-contamination. To your surprise, he answers every question in great detail, not batting an eyelash. He tells you that they have a dedicated gluten-free kitchen in back where they prepare the dough. Wait, what? Fresh pizza dough? He continues to explain how they use dedicated pans to prevent contact with oven surfaces, and how when they're preparing a conventional wheat pizza dough, they "slap" the dough with gluten-free flour, so that any airborne particles are likely to be gluten-free ones.

"Great!" you say. You order two pizzas—one with pepperoni, one with plain cheese. Then watch in amazement as he dons a fresh pair of plastic gloves, produces two balls of gorgeous dough, and presses them into oiled pans, tops them, and pops them in the oven. As you prepare to take your seat with your older daughter, who's three and a half, a woman seated nearby approaches. She couldn't help overhearing, she says. She's celiac and gluten-free, too, and makes it very clear that this pizzeria is something of a place of pilgrimage.

As you walk to a table nearby to wait for the pizzas, you notice the Celiac Sprue Association signs, and the GIG Gluten-Free Restaurant Awareness Program logos, and the local gluten-free awards. You sit down at the table, and open the gluten-free menu. It easily has 60 items on it: appetizers, salads, hero sandwiches, pasta, pizzas, entrees. You push the menu across the table to your daughter. Her eyes grow wide. "I can order any of this?!" she says with a combination of disbelief and excitement. "Yes," you tell her. "It's all gluten-free." You don't normally get emotional about food (it's easy being gluten-free), but this one time, you do.

As you've certainly guessed, this is no make-believe scenario. It's real life. Welcome to Pizza Bistro Cafe in Massapequa, New York. This gem was a real find, and I was even more shocked to discover it since it's literally located one town over from my hometown, where my mother still lives. How had I not known about it sooner?

And how did the pizzas taste?

In a word (actually, two) they were very good. The crust had nice chewiness and texture. (Still a little toward the white, starchy side, but I'll give them a pass...) The red sauce was, for lack of a more descriptive term, yummy. Pizza Bistro uses a blend of cheese that Kelli loved. I wasn't so enamored (I'm more of a pure mozzarella kind of guy...). The pizzas, as you can probably see in the pics, could have used a touch less cheese as well!

While I still retain an ultimate fondness for the pizzas we make ourselves at home, Pizza Bistro's offerings were real winners.


Oh, and then there's the freezer case near the front of the store. You can take much of their menu home with you. Their gluten-free menu has apparently been so popular that they've launched a side business, Chef Luca's Italian Gluten-Free Foods, which I believe also does mail order.


Pizza Bistro is a fabulous little spot in an unassuming location. I can't (yet) vouch for the rest of the menu, but the way they handled their pizza was impressive. This is an Italian-American pizza-and-pasta joint where your entire gluten-free crew can find a seat at the table, and order from a menu with an astounding array of options.

Other pizzerias could take a few notes about how to do it well, even if they don't cater to the gluten-free community to the degree that Pizza Bistro has.

–Pete

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Gluten-Free Ratio Rally: Angel Food Cake


Happy Ratio Rally Day, everyone! It's that time of the month again ... when gluten-free bloggers tackle a common theme and come up with all sorts of versions of delectable baked goodies. This time around, we're focusing our energies on angel food cake, a sweet, light, airy, egg-white-based cake.

I know we're biased, but we think we have a pretty awesome traditional (albeit gluten-free) angel food cake in our cookbook, Artisanal Gluten-Free Cooking. For the Ratio Rally, we wanted to think outside the box (or at least outside the angel food cake pan). It's summer, and peaches are in season, so that was a natural fit for our style. We also opted to forgo white sugar in favor of brown sugar for more of a "caramel" look and taste to the cake.

Dare I say, we were successful!


Admittedly, we didn't pay particularly close attention to the ratio this time around. We were more focused on having the brown sugar and the moisture from the peaches not sabotage our whipped egg whites and their cake batter.

But in the end, we got a decent ratio nonetheless. Our ratio of brown sugar : egg whites : flour turned out somewhere in the vicinity of 3.5 : 3: 1. We'll take it!

And for more angel food cake goodness, be sure to head over to Gluten Free[k], where Caleigh is hosting this month's Rally! Happy baking!


"Caramel" Peach Angel Food Cake
Makes 1 cake

Ingredients
376g (1 1/2 cups) egg whites
2 tsp GF vanilla extract
1/2 tsp GF almond extract
1 1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1/4 tsp salt
460g (2 cups) packed brown sugar, divided
125g (1 cup) Artisan Gluten-Free Flour Blend
1 1/2 tsp xanthan gum
1 peach, pitted, peeled, and diced

Steps
1. Preheat your oven to 350 deg F. Remove the top rack, leaving the lowest rack.
2. In a mixer with the whisk attachment, whip your egg whites, vanilla, almond, cream of tartar, and salt until you get soft peaks.
3. While the egg whites continue to whip, add 173g (3/4 cup ) brown sugar, a little at a time, until stiff peaks form. Take the bowl off the mixer.
4. In a separate bowl, combine the remaining 287g (1 1/4 cups) brown sugar, plus the flour and xanthan gum, until the mixture looks like sand.
5. Sift the mixture into your into egg whites a little at a time. After each addition, fold the mixture into the egg whites, taking care not to collapse the egg whites.
6. Fold in the diced peaches.
7. Spread the cake batter into a 10-inch angel food cake pan.
8. Put it on the lowest rack of the oven and bake for 40 minutes, until cracks in the top are dry and a toothpick inserted into a crack comes out clean.
9. Remove from the oven, invert, and let cool completely upside down.
10. Serve with peach sauce (recipe follows) and whipped cream.

Degrees of Free-dom
This recipe is: gluten-free, dairy/lactose/casein-free, peanut-free, fish-free, shellfish-free, soy-free, vegetarian.

Notes
To make this recipe nut-free, omit the almond extract.

Caramel Peach Sauce

Ingredients
115g (1/2 cup) packed brown sugar
57g (1/4 cup) butter
2 tbsp peach schnapps
3 peaches, sliced

Steps
1. Heat the sugar, butter, and schnapps over medium heat while stirring, and let simmer one minute.
2. Add the peaches, bring to a boil, then turn down to medium, and simmer for 4 minutes, until the peaches are very soft.
3. Use an immersion blender to partially puree the sauce.
4. Return to the heat, and simmer over medium 5 more minutes, until it achieves a syrup consistency.

Degrees of Free-dom
This recipe is: gluten-free, peanut-free, tree-nut-free, fish-free, shellfish-free, soy-free, vegetarian.

Notes
To make this recipe dairy/lactose/casein-free, use a non-dairy substitute for the butter.

Enjoy!


–Pete