Friday, December 24, 2010

Twas The Night Before Gluten Free Christmas

Twas the night before Christmas…well, actually it was four o’clock in the morning, but technically by the calendar, the night before Christmas. Not a creature was stirring… except Marty and his computer mouse. The children were not all snuggled in their beds; rather, Marty was wide awake talking online to his “Sleepless in Spokane” friend. I woke up, and the lights downstairs were all ablaze, so I sprang from my bed to turn the lamps off. The moon cast long, lavender shadows in the yard below. Tom was wide awake, so I commented on the beauty of the night. With a wink of his eye and a twist of his head, he said, “Let’s go for a walk!” Hearing the word “walk,” Chester sprang to his feet, and down the driveway he flew like the down of a thistle. He would have liked nothing more than to have scared up some reindeer.

Down Ames Hill Road we sauntered in the 16-degree cold, under the light of the moon and crunching snow. Chester barreled ahead, and every so often we gave him a whistle so as not to awaken the neighbors, sound asleep with thoughts of sugar plums and credit card debt in their heads. We turned around at Fox Road and walked back to the top of the porch, through the stone wall. Back inside, we stoked up the fire and had a marvelous early morning breakfast of Against The Grain Dairy Free bagels and eggs. By 9AM, Tom climbed back into bed and shuttered the sash. Although it was Christmas Eve, I’m still a slave to gender stereotypes, so I went down to the basement to put in a new load of wash. In the quiet of the half-sleeping household, I accidentally snapped the dryer door shut with a “pop.” Much to my astonishment,

Up in the living room, I heard such a clatter.
I sprang upstairs to see what was the matter.
When, what horror to my wondering eyes should appear,
But Chester crouched, quivering on the stairs with fear

Strewn across the carpet was the eight-foot tree
The lights all askew, the ornaments thrown free
His eyes how they rounded, his hackles so hairy.
His tail between his legs, and countenance so scarry.
His droll little mouth was as wide as could go,
The color of his nose, blanched like the snow.

Best I could deduce was that the dryer door startled Chester, asleep by the tree. He must have jumped up, entangled himself in a dangling LED strand, panicked, and took the tree with him. Alex was upstairs, so I called out to him for help. He came down the stairs and viewed the wreckage.

“I need some help,” I said, mopping up the tree stand water with multiple dish towels.

“Let’s just throw it back in the woods!” Alex said indignantly, referring to the fact that it has been a family tradition since moving to Vermont, to cut our Christmas tree off our land.

As far as he was concerned, the tree was now “damaged goods,” but he reluctantly held it up for me, as I readjusted it in the stand, and wired it to the wall with some floral wire (no way that puppy is going to fall again, I thought, as the crashing tree was already on the verge of ruining Alex’s Christmas.) I picked up the remarkably intact glass ornaments that skidded to a stop across the room, and in no time at all, had the chaos restored to normal. Chester wouldn’t even enter the room for hours, and still won’t venture within five feet of the tree.

Somehow, when we drift off to sleep tonight with visions of dairy free bagels dancing in our heads, it will seem anticlimactic. Christmas Eve 2010 will be the year we took an invigorating walk in the moonlight, and the tree took an invigorating spill, all before the day got started. Okay, so I have a psychotic dog and a lop-sided Charlie Brown tree, but we have so much more to be thankful for.


Happy Holidays from Against The Grain!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Gluten Free-Dairy Free Cinnamon Raisin Bagel Pudding

It is trying to snow outside this morning, but it is rapidly turning to rain. It is kind of odd that it is mid-December in Vermont, and the ground here in the southern part of the state is bare. What better thing to do on a damp, rainy day than to bake a traditional favorite that will warm the house with the smells of times past: bread pudding. Bread pudding is an old-fashioned dish that was developed mainly to use up the stale ends of bread, back when bread used to be all-natural and not loaded with anti-molding agents and preservatives.

This bread pudding recipe has a few twists, though. It is gluten free, dairy free, and made from our new gluten and dairy free cinnamon raisin bagels. They’ve been on the market only a few weeks, but boy will you want to seek them out. In our household, where we can choose among all of our bread flavors for breakfast, the cinnamon raisin bagels have risen to the top. For me, a toasted bagel with my homemade rose petal jelly is simply a divine way to begin the day. But I am digressing. For all of you out there who cannot eat dairy, this Cinnamon Raisin Bagel Pudding is the ultimate bread pudding treat.

The following recipe includes an optional ingredient: bourbon. It adds a richness and complexity to the dessert if you want to wow your guests, but it is excellent without it. If you choose to include the bourbon, reduce the coconut milk by ½ C. Move over Paula Deen!

Gluten Free/Dairy Free Cinnamon-Raisin Bagel Pudding

Ingredients:
1 Bag Against The Grain Gourmet GF/DF Cinnamon Raisin Bagels (6)
1 C raisins, pre-softened in boiling water (or soaked overnight in 1 C of bourbon)
3 C unsweetened coconut milk
¾ C brown sugar
2 Tbsp pure VT maple syrup
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp vanilla
6 eggs
1 cup toasted coconut (optional)

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 325.
2. Slice bagels into ½ to ¾ inch cubes. Toss with raisins and cinnamon and cover the bottom of a greased 9 x 13 baking dish.
3. Heat coconut milk, water, and sugar in saucepan until it begins to foam.
4. Remove from heat and stir in maple syrup and vanilla.
5. Wisk eggs into mixture, beating constantly until uniformly blended.
6. Pour mixture over bagels and top with toasted coconut (optional)
7. Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes.
(To toast coconut, spread in large skillet and cook over medium heat, stirring often until coconut is evenly browned.)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

GF Pecan Pie, a Southern Tradition

Despite the fact that pies have become the new bakery front fad, replacing all sorts of gourmet cupcake concoctions, I have to admit that I have never been a real fan of pie…except pecan pie. Now that, in my opinion, is PIE. I didn’t even know what pecan pie was until I went away to college in New Orleans, where authentic pecan pie making is considered an art. It didn’t take me long to place pecan pie right up there with boiled crayfish and Oysters Bienville.

There are essentially two kinds of pecan pies: those that use corn syrup and those that use brown sugar. The former comes out a little custardy or gooey, and the latter is more like a praline pie. Once I tasted great pecan pie—the praline kind--I knew I had to find a fool-proof recipe. I found it in the Houston Junior League Cook Book from 1968, given to me by my late mother-in-law over forty years ago. The cook book makes me chuckle for a number of reasons, but it is the pecan pie recipe page that I love. The top billing is for “Southern Pecan Pie” and underneath is a recipe for “Yummy Yankee Pecan Pie.” Guess which one includes white corn syrup as an ingredient? I can only imagine the two recipe authors (probably a native Texan and a “transplanted” Yankee) having a tiff over which was the best pie, so readers are given a choice. The “Yankee” recipe includes maple syrup; I can’t imagine how a) maple syrup could be desecrated by corn syrup, and b) it would taste anything like a real pecan pie. I can just hear my mother-in-law grumbling from her grave about those “damn Yankees thinking they can come down here and improve things.”

We have a Thanksgiving tradition in our household that everyone can pick one food for the dinner, aside from the main course. And yes, we went through a few years when the kids were younger and pizza was on the menu (although I always managed to relegate it to the appetizer category.) I never have to ask Tom his choice. It is always pecan pie, and that hasn’t changed in the six years we have been gluten free. I simply make my no-fail pie crust recipe  http://tinyurl.com/2ffxcyy and fill it with my favorite pecan pie recipe. No gluten free compromises here. And what were the four menu choices for 2010, aside from the pecan pie? Potato, bacon and kale (from our garden) casserole, pumpkin pie, and garlic bread made from Against The Grain Gourmet baguettes. Happy Thanksgiving to your family from ours. An d now you know what I do while the turkey is cooking—catch up on my blogging!

Southern Pecan Pie

Ingredients:
1 unbaked pie shell
1 C light brown sugar
½ C white sugar
1 Tbsp GF flour
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
½ C butter (softened)
2 C pecans (1 C chopped and 1C whole for topping)

Directions:
1. Beat brown sugar, white sugar, and flour with softened butter until creamy.
2. Add eggs and vanilla and beat 2 more minutes on high.
3. Fold in chopped pecans.
4. Pour into unbaked shell.
5. Bake at 375 degrees for 50-55 minutes (until center of pie is set.)
6. Top with whipped cream or serve with ice cream, if desired.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Vermont Country Rolls, Where the Roll is Greater Than the Sum of it's Parts

For several years now, we have traveled far and wide to celiac support groups and gluten free fairs. We never tire of the enthusiastic support that our products generate. It has always been troubling, though, to see a person’s face light up when they see our products, and then get so disappointed when they realize that they contain dairy. We never wanted to produce a product that was a compromise in any way from the real thing; the impetus to create a line of dairy-free products was always there but relegated to the back burner.

We’re pleased to announce that we have just introduced our first dairy free offerings, and we owe a lot of that to Emily, a wonderful young woman who has worked for us for two and a half years. Emily is both gluten and dairy free and could never taste the products we produce. Over the years, Emily and I have had conversations about how she might go about making a dairy free version of our products at home. We are a soy free, yeast free, corn free, and peanut and tree nut free facility, so our gluten free palate of wet and dry ingredients was always limited. It was Emily that got me thinking that coconut milk just might be the answer for creating a tasty bread with the same look and texture of our other products.

Coconut milk is a very interesting food indeed. A number of health claims have been made for coconut milk, and some have been substantiated by medical research. Some refer to it as a “miracle food,” but I’m not sure I would go so far as to say that. Although it contains a saturated fat, the fatty acids in coconut milk are medium chain triglycerides, unlike the long chain triglycerides in other fats and oils. As a result, they are more easily metabolized by the body instead of stored as fat. Coconut milk also contains a significant amount of lauric acid, which is thought to have immune-boosting properties.

So, when the time comes to chow down on left-over turkey, you can have a sandwich that will make your non-gluten free friends and family drool. It doesn’t get much better than Turkey with Lettuce and Tomato on a Vermont Country Roll. Pure simple ingredients. No industrial additives, no binders, no enzymes--just delicious ingredients where the roll is greater than the sum of its parts!

Ingredients: Tapioca starch, organic coconut milk, whole eggs, non-GMO canola oil, water, molasses, sesame seeds, flax seeds, salt, cocoa, poppy seeds.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Unintended Consequences of a Gluten Free Diet

It was almost exactly six years ago that our family of four made the switch to a gluten free diet. For three years Tom’s had a “possibly celiac” diagnosis and had tried to restrict the amount of gluten he ingested. But it wasn’t until our younger son, then 13, was diagnosed with celiac disease, that we made the decision for the whole family to go gluten free. With two of the four of us requiring a gluten free diet, two teenagers, and the risk of contamination, we decided to make our entire household gluten free.

That first Thanksgiving in 2004 was a different one for us. Our younger son wrote up the menu, as he had done every year since he learned to write. The 2004 menu says it all: “Now Gluten Free.” That year, we made a wild-rice and pecan-based stuffing (our menu author didn’t even know what that was!,) since we hadn’t found any gluten free bread we liked. By the next year, we were making stuffing with our Rosemary Baguettes, and what a difference that made. Even our non-gluten free guests always begged for more, and rosemary baguette stuffing has become a tradition. (We also make a tiny slit in the top of each side of the turkey breast and insert a sprig of fresh rosemary. There is nothing like rosemary flavor flowing through with the juices.)

In those six years, some amazing things have happened. We ended up starting Against The Grain Gourmet one year after our son’s diagnosis. And what a ride it has been. With absolutely no experience in the food manufacturing business, I can honestly say that we have built a company that lives up to its name: Against The Grain. Not encumbered by preconceived notions of how to mass produce food at the lowest possible cost, we have created artisan products and sought out the highest quality ingredients. Along the way, we have supported a lot of family farms and independent producers. Since our inception, we’ve been on a mission to make high quality, tasty products that are naturally gluten free.

The other amazing thing that happened is that our older, non-celiac son, who has lived with a life-threatening seizure disorder since 18 months of age, stopped having seizures once on a gluten free diet. He has now been seizure-free for six years. Before going gluten free, he never went for more than six months without having a seizure. I know that critics like to bash Elisabeth Hasselebeck for suggesting that everyone should try a gluten free diet (http://tinyurl.com/33d859c,) but honestly, we never would have figured out how to control our son’s seizure disorder had we not placed him on a gluten free diet.

I get pretty exasperated with those who believe that non-celiacs on a gluten free diet are compromising their nutrition or that it is “bad” for them. Statements like "cutting gluten out can be dangerous " puzzle me. When celiac expert, Dr. Peter Green is asked, "Are there benefits to adopting a gluten free diet?" He answers, "Not that I'm aware of." Tell that to my seizure-free son. Tell that to the 60% of children on the autism spectrum that studies have shown have a "leaky gut."

A gluten free diet is not entirely healthy??  I mean, how hard is it to figure out how to supplement the vitamins, and sprayed on or "fortified" vitamins in many wheat-based products? Fiber concerns? If people are relying on their bread, pasta, and cereal to meet their fiber needs, they don’t have a very balanced diet. One thing that is clear to me is that we know a miniscule amount about the effects of eating highly processed/modified foods on our health. Heck, We don’t even know definitively how our health is related to what we eat. If a gluten free diet makes you feel better or even think you feel better, why not? Your choice is not in any way taking away from the seriousness of the celiac disease that afflicts my husband and son.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

GF: Pass The Monocalcium Phosphate Please

As gluten free consumers we have a lot of choices these days when it comes to baked goods, pastas, mixes, and prepared dinner entrees. That is quite an improvement over just five years ago—new products are entering the marketplace nearly every day, produced by both small suppliers and mainstream food giants. And every day, these new products are reviewed by hundreds of celiac sites and food bloggers. Of course, there is no accounting for differences in taste, but the most useful reviews I’ve seen lately are blind taste tests. A great example is “Gluten Free Pancake Mixes: A Blind Review,” on the Breaking Bread Blog http://www.breakingbreadblog.com/2010/10/gluten-free-pancake-mixes-blind-taste.html

This is not some sort of paid review, inside deal, or infomercial. This is a thorough and thoughtful review of nine different mixes (plus a homemade version.) I wouldn’t call it a scientific study, but it was comprehensive with a taster panel of eight adults and ten kids ranging from ages 3-8. Sad thing is, I pretty much knew what the results would be before I read it. I don’t know if anyone else has noticed it, but when it comes to these types of line-ups, products made by the industrial food giants always seem to win (Bisquick was the winner, in case you were wondering.) That makes me wonder whether we, as consumers of prepackaged and processed goods, have developed a taste for industrialized food, and the “real” thing now tastes less authentic or tasty to us. Compare, for instance, the ingredients of Bisquick and Pamela’s Ultimate Baking and Pancake Mix:

Bisquick: Rice Flour, Sugar, Baking Soda, Sodium Aluminum Phosphate, Monocalcium Phosphate, Modified Potato Starch, Salt, Xanthan Gum.

Pamela’s: Brown Rice Flour, White Rice Flour, Cultured Buttermilk, Natural Almond Meal, Tapioca Starch, Sweet Rice Flour, Potato Starch, Grainless and Aluminum-free Baking Powder, Baking Soda, Sea Salt, Xanthan Gum.

Not only does the Bisquick contain modified flours, sugar is the second ingredient. Want to know where the fluffiness in the pancakes comes from? It is the monocalcium phosphate, and one of the major users of this chemical is McDonald’s for their Big Mac hamburger buns. Sodium aluminum phosphate is a chemical leavener and acts as a buffering agent in flour mixes. Similarly, in some mass-produced gluten free sandwich breads these days, enzymes and “natural” mold inhibitors are used to the same effect. The result in all these cases is better texture, and according to a myriad of taste-testers, better taste. Make no mistake, though, these are industrialized ingredients that you won’t find in your health food store or coop’s bulk ingredient bins.

Another case in point: Recently, a reviewer of our new gluten free Three-Cheese Pizza commented that the sauce tasted too sweet to her. That blew me away and really got me wondering what we have inadvertently trained our taste buds to expect. Our tomato sauce is nothing but vine-ripened fresh tomatoes and naturally-derived citric acid. To some, the sauce may seem “sweet” because there is no added salt, no added sugar, no calcium chloride, no chemical citric acid, and no spices. We don’t use inferior tomatoes, and we went to great lengths to find the cleanest, premium, full-bodied flavored tomatoes.

There is no question that taste is just about as individual as fingerprints. One of the hardest things when first going gluten free is that non-wheat-based food just doesn’t seem to taste as good. Or is it that it tastes different? Kind of like natural peanut butter is an acquired taste. After years or a life-time of eating wheat (and often processed foods,) your palate has come to expect certain taste sensations. Industrialized food giants know all about this, and food chemists have developed an arsenal of ingredients to tickle every pallet. Now they are adding them to gluten free foods. They’ve even created taste sensations not found in nature. In the words of one of my co-workers when discussing Halloween candy, “My favorite flavor is purple.” For many on a gluten free diet, changing habits means conscious eating and eating healthier foods. For many, it means getting used to the taste of “real” food again.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Halloween at Against The Grain Gourmet

Did you know that your favorite gluten free products are made by the neatest, most caring, and intelligent staff one could assemble? It is absolutely a joy to come into work everyday and bag, bake, or mix alongside such an interesting group of people. Every year at Halloween, we let our silly sides hang out.

The challenge is to come to work in a costume that is still production-floor legal, meaning we have to wear head covering, no jewelry or bangles are allowed, and we still have to wear protective clothing. Well, in truth sometimes some of us have to jettison part of our costumes to work on the production floor all day. This is our third costume Halloween, and it is still as entertaining as ever.

This morning, a cowboy was already on the floor when one guy came in wearing a black satin slip over his apron, with a black skullcap, carrying a fake cigar. Deadpan, he says:

“Guess what I’m sexed, I mean dressed, as?
“I’m a Freudian dick, I mean slip.”

It was only after I got over the shock of his costume and was practically falling on the floor in laughter that I noticed the name-tag affixed to his slip, which said “Sigmund.” And he thought we wouldn’t “get” it when he delivered that monologue? What a hoot! Over the years, we’ve had some pretty funny costumes, including Santa Claus, a pumpkin, a graduate, Michael Jackson, the Witch of the West, a winged monkey, a golfer, a yachty, a surfer dude, and a safari adventurer. No one yet has attempted to be a bagel, a baguette, a roll, or a pizza. I’m sure that day will come, though.

Work is work, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be fun. Happy Halloween from all the ghouls, goblins, and assorted miscreants from Against The Grain Gourmet!


Some of the brave ones at Against The Grain

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Sonnet For the Gluten Free

Some GF breads even contain lupin flour. These were blooming last summer
at Exit 3 of I-91 in Brattleboro

Okay, since National Celiac Awareness month is almost over, I've decided it is the right time for a silly-yak post. So, here's my sonnet for the gluten free.

Oh chewy, crusty, yeasty loaf of bread
Kneaded flour, webbed proteins, sheared off villi
Glutenous fingers that clasp, rise up high
How could they destroy colons, scramble heads?

The smell of comfort, grandma’s apron... dread?
A world without wheat, barley, oats, and rye.
For celiacs, new and ancient grains to try
Hearty loaves of buckwheat and millet bread.

Nut flours and root flours, and even sunflowers
Bloom in baguettes baked with wheat-free grains.
Ingredients for baking gluten free
Include courage, vision, and extra hours,
A sprinkling of madness, some honesty--
To heal bloated bellies and foggy brains.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Peas Let Me Carry on My Gluten Free Food

October is an important month in the gluten free food business. Not only does it herald the beginning of “food season,” which lasts from about October 1 through January, but it is also National Celiac Awareness Month. Our business goes crazy, and at the same time we find ourselves traveling to lots of vendor fairs, as well as sampling our products at many in-store gluten free tasting events.

Over the past couple of years, more and more local support groups have been organizing gluten free vendor fairs, and the number of attendees is skyrocketing. For us, it has become increasingly more challenging to take enough frozen product with us on a plane to sample for crowds of 800-1000 attendees or more. You know the airline checked bag regulations—a 50-pound limit, two bags, and the length, width, and height must measure 62 inches or less. Pack in 12-18 of our new 24-ounce pizzas, and there is not a lot of room left over.

A couple of weeks ago, I was planning my trip to the Wisconsin Gluten Free Vendor Fair, and I was shopping for a plane-worthy wheeled cooler ( past experience told me that I had better get another one before the winter set in—here in New England, coolers in the winter are about as scarce as batteries in a power outage.) I spied a squarish, wheeled cooler that looked like it would pass the size requirements of a carry-on. Even better, it was the perfect size to fit a dozen pizzas (minus the box) on their side.

So now I had a plan. I would check through a 50-pound cooler of bread, and carry-on a dozen pizzas. The only problem I had was that it would take me over seven hours of travel time to get to the Central Wisconsin Airport, assuming no delays or missed connections. If I put ice packs in the cooler, they would bust me at the Hartford Airport security screening gates, and I would be ice-less for the remainder of the trip. Asking for a soda with ten pounds of ice just wasn’t going to work, and besides it would melt and get very messy.

And then it occurred to me: frozen peas. Ice packs are potential explosives, but food is food. I bought five packages of frozen peas (petite ones in case I ended up eating some of them,) packed my carry-on, cued up to the screening gates, and held my breath. The peas didn’t even get a side-ways glance or a pause at the x-ray machine. The pizzas and I traveled together in the cabin, and I checked through the bread. So, the next time you need to travel with some have-to-have frozen gluten free goodies (e.g., Against The Grain’s awesome Rosemary baguettes,) pack them with frozen peas. And the next time you get impatient with the lady in front of you on the plane struggling to get her overhead baggage down, have heart. It just may be me with a dozen of the world’s best gluten free pizzas.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Yummy GF Crystallized Ginger Carrot Cupcakes

A relaxed mind is a creative mind
-Yogi Tea bag

I don’t know about anyone else, but sometimes when I wake up in the middle of the night and can’t sleep, I start creating new baked goods in my head. It was wakefulness that had me up at 5AM a recent Sunday morning to try out a carrot cupcake recipe I had been mulling over. Several weeks ago, we harvested the carrots—an entire row of them—which yielded over 30 pounds of carrots (as an aside, don’t listen to them when they tell you to thin the rows since we didn’t, and our carrots were massive.) Ever since then, I have been mining carrot recipes. We’ve had roasted carrots, steamed carrots with rosemary, carrots and summer squash, and sherried carrot sauce. Chester, our Golden, has eaten his share of them, and Alex has taken them to horseback riding lessons for his pal, Norfy. I still have about 20 pounds left!
Something sweet and carrot-y was in order, and I decided to work on a muffin-like variation on a carrot cake. Carrot cake seems to me like it has the potential for the perfect marriage of sweet and healthy. I even remember the first carrot cake I ever ate. It was sent to me for my first birthday away from home in college by my sister, who was also in college. Although it was scrumptious, I think she was more interested in mailing a cake using a newfound packing method—the cake was sitting in a box totally surrounded by popping corn (popped, of course!) I remember opening the package to what looked like a massive popcorn ball. But was easy to brush the popcorn from the cream cheese icing, and by that time, my room mate was drooling and oohing and awwing “Oh, yummy, a carrot cake!” It was then that I had my first bite of carrot cake, and it has been a favorite ever since.

So here is the product of my early-morning musings, and it is actually reasonably healthy as baked goods go. The recipe produces 24 standard-size cupcakes. The recipe contains far less fat than most carrot cakes, with the fat coming from only ½ C canola oil and 4 large eggs. Of course, frosting changes all that, but you certainly don’t need to frost them. The twist in this recipe is the use of crystallized ginger and orange juice, which results in kind of taste bursts of ginger against a carrot-orange backdrop. I’ve been doing my best these days to avoid corn, so I used a gluten free flour base of 1/3 rice flour, 1/3 tapioca flour, and 1/3 arrowroot starch, as well as tapioca-based powdered sugar (by Wholesome Sweetener.)

Crystallized Ginger Carrot Cupcakes (makes 24)

Ingredients:
3 C GF flour blend (I used 1 C rice flour, 1 C tapioca starch, 1 C arrowroot starch)
¾ C sugar
¾ C powdered sugar
1 C finely shredded carrots (about 4 medium ones)
1/3 C finely chopped crystallized ginger
½ C canola oil
¾ C orange juice
4 large eggs (room temperature)
1-1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp fresh nutmeg

Directions:
1.Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Blend all dry ingredients together, except baking soda.
3. Add in wet ingredients, as well as carrots, and mix on high for 2 minutes.
4. Mix in baking soda, and spoon/ladle into cupcake pans.
5. Bake approximately 28 min @350 degrees.

Ice with vanilla or cream cheese icing (I used vanilla icing with crushed pineapple.)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

A No-Fail Gluten Free Pie (Part II, The Apple Pie)

Preschool apple-picking circa 1995
Alex has always found great delight in the story of Johnny Appleseed. As the Vermont nights turn cooler, and apples begin appearing at road side stands and the Brattleboro Farmer’s Market, it triggers Alex’s preschool memories of apple-picking for the Annual Cider Sale. First he tells and retells to almost anyone who will listen, the story of Johnny Appleseed. Then, I know what is coming next, “Mom, can we bake an apple pie?”

Two years ago, Alex had accumulated a little money from birthdays, recycling cans, and doing household chores. One day, when discussing what he might want to buy with his money, I suggested that maybe he would like to buy an apple tree. He jumped right on that one, and pretty soon, we had two fledgling apple trees (a Paula Red and an Empire for pollination reasons.) We planted them side by side in the backyard, not far from the garden. The first year, the Empire tree had barely any blossoms and zero apples. The Paula Red was a bit more successful. It blossomed out, bees pollinated it, and while a dozen or so nascent apples began to form, only three made it to adulthood. Alex would go out and delight at the sight of the growing and reddening apples on his tree. Actually, the apples almost made it to adulthood because, although we enclosed the tree in the electric fence, it was a tad too close to the edge. We neglected to take into account that deer necks can extend a long ways, and that people sometimes forget to turn back on the electric fence. Not only did Bambi pluck the forbidden apples, but he or she ate half of the upper tree, trunk, branches, leaves and all.

Our entire 2010 crop!
This past year, we moved the electric fence back (and lowered Alex’s expectations) given that we now had an amputee tree. Both trees blossomed out, and again, the Empire’s apples fizzled. But the Paula Red formed four promising apples. Alex was delighted and announced that we were going to make those apples into a pie. One day while checking the progress of his apples, he reached up to look closer at an apple. Plop, it detached and fell to the ground. With it went 25% of our apple crop. I’m happy to say that the remaining three apples made it to picking time, and guess what was on the Alex’s docket today? Making an apple pie.

Peeling with precision
It turns out that making the apple pie is only the side show to using that “clever device” (in Alex words) the apple peeler. My brother Geoff gave it to us for Christmas just after we moved to Vermont, and Alex considers it among the family’s crown jewels. Three apples didn’t quite make a pie, so we added to it a few wild apples we picked on the side of the road and a few from an orchard. The pie has just come out of the oven, and I wish there were a scent-equivalent of a web-cam. It smells just like Fall in here. Thanks, Alex.

Gluten Free Apple Pie


Ingredients:
2 Never-Fail GF Pie Crusts http://tinyurl.com/2ffxcyy
About 8-9 medium size crisp apples
2 Tbsp sugar+ sugar to sprinkle on baked crust
1 tsp cinnamon
2 Tbsp GF flour
1Tbsp cider vinegar
2 Tbsp milk (optional, to brush on crust)

Directions:
1. Preheat Oven to 450 degrees.
2. Peel, core, and slice apples, and then toss with sugar, cinnamon, and apple cider vinegar.
3. Prepare and roll out two gluten free pie crusts.
4. Peel the top layer of plastic wrap off the rolled-out GF pie crusts.
5. Line pie plate with GF crust, peeling off the plastic wrap. Trim the shell edges.
6. Fill pie shell with apples, and moisten the rim with water (this makes the upper crust bond with the lower crust.)
7. Drape second CF crust over top, peeling off the plastic wrap. Flute edges by hand, trim excess, and cut vents in the top. (Alex is always partial to an “A” because it not only signifies “apple” but “Alex.”)
8. Bake pie on medium rack for 10 minutes.
9. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake approximately 1 hour. Brush lightly with milk and sprinkle with sugar midway through bake time.
Yum!!!

A No-Fail Gluten Free Pie (Part I, The Crust)

Perhaps the question that I am most asked at Fall gluten free vendor fairs, apart from questions about our products, is “How do you make a pie crust?” Yesterday was no exception at the Amherst, MA Atkins Farm Country Market’s Food Allergy and Awareness Sampling Fair. As always, I found myself saying “I only wish tasty gluten free breads were as easy as pie crust.” Before I knew it, the customer had pulled out a pen and a tiny spiral notebook and had me repeating the steps.

Truth be told, I have a LONG history with pie crust. I remember coming home in 2nd grade and telling my dad (he was the principal baker and cook in my family) that I needed to bring a cherry pie for a PTA Cake Walk fundraiser the next day. (I guess I’m dating myself here since I haven’t heard of one of those in over 50 years.)

“Sure, you can bring a cherry pie, and I’ll tell you how to make it.” I was stunned. Me, make a pie? I was eight years old, and that was they very first thing I ever baked. I was one proud 2nd grader when I took the pie to school the next day and announced that I had made it all by myself.

So, you think I’d be an expert at pie crust after starting out so young? Well, believe me, I was not a prodigy. Fast forward to our first winter in Vermont in 1992. We had just moved to Vermont from New York City, and we had enrolled Alex in a wonderful country preschool in Marlboro, VT. Very quickly, I learned that fundraising is an important part of country preschools, and we had a very small window in the Fall to attempt to unload the pockets of leaf-peepers travelling through our beautiful state. The Annual Columbus Day Cider Sale was a Meetinghouse School Tradition. It was a family event where we set up tents and pressed cider the old-fashioned way on the side of Route 9 (the major easy-west highway in southern Vermont.) We sold the cider and as many baked goods as the dozen or so parents could possibly bake.

It was because of the Cider Sale that I found myself at Andrea’s house with a half-dozen of so other moms in a marathon baking session in which our goal was to produce 55 apple pies during the three hours our kids were in school. Our directives were to show up and bring a rolling pin and a pastry cutter, if we had one. Hey, I’m on top of this, I thought. At least know what a pastry cutter is, since I had inherited a pastry cutter from my dad (and it probably was the same one I used for my first cherry pie.) Andrea, as accomplished a task master as one could imagine, demonstrated how to mix the dough and roll out the crust. In seconds she had whipped up the dough, rolled out a perfect crust, and filled the shell with apple slices. That looked really easy so I rolled up my sleeves and went to work. Actually, it wasn’t so easy. I rolled the dough, it sprang back like a rubber band. I mashed it down again, and it coated my rolling pin like a “pig-in-a-blanket.” I scraped it off and started again. At that point, Andrea came over and took over my crust saying, “You can’t keep rolling it; it will make it tough.” I was given the task of filling the pie shells with apple slices. Man did I feel like a “flatlander.” I had failed at the most basic task of making a country apple pie.

Then one day, someone told me how to make a fool-proof pie crust. The directions were so simple, I could actually remember them:
1 C flour
1/3 C salted butter
Up to 1/3 C cold water, as needed.

With that recipe, I started making pecan pies that became legendary among my friends and family. When we gave up gluten, we weren’t about to give up holiday pecan pies, so I decided to see how fool-proof the pie crust recipe was, and I was amazed at how I could make it with most any gluten free flour blend. And, it didn’t require the use of xanthan gum, which I really dislike. Made only with brown rice flour, it makes a tasty, delicate crust. Made with a blend of 1/3 rice, 1/3 cornstarch, and 1/3 tapioca flours, it is a bit more flexible for topped pies, like fruit-based pies.

There is one secret to this recipe, and it is an important one: although your mom (or in my case, my dad) may have taught you to roll out pie crust between two sheets of wax paper, USE PLASTIC WRAP INSTEAD. Gluten free pie dough is tender, and the plastic wrap gives you the flexibility to carefully peel it away.

Gluten free or not, my pecan pie is in high demand, just as always.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Early Bird Gluten Free Thanksgiving Planning

We spent Labor Day on the St. Lawrence River with friends. Since the weather looked iffy from the start, perhaps an indirect effect of Hurricane Earl, we decided to embrace the shift in temperature and plan a Thanksgiving-like Labor Day meal. After all, we still had a wonderful Stonewood Farms antibiotic- and hormone-free Vermont Turkey in our freezer, and Thanksgiving 2010 was just around the corner. We planned a simple meal based around the turkey, stuffed with Rosemary Baguette stuffing… and tomatoes. Lots of tomatoes. Our garden back in Vermont was bursting with tomatoes, as was our friend’s. Thus, tomatoes had to be on the menu in some way as well.

The weather turned out far better than we expected, but it was a weekend of violent fronts moving in across the River, white caps, and some of the most spectacular sunsets.

 At times, it seemed as though we went through three seasons in an hour. In the end, it was perfect roasted turkey weather, complete with a fire in the woodstove. So, in time for early-bird Thanksgiving planning, here is our recipe for awesome turkey stuffing—guaranteed to please the most gluten-free hostile relatives.



Gluten Free Rosemary Stuffing


Note: This recipe is based on the 13.5 pound turkey I happened to have. Stuffing amounts needed to be adjusted according to the size of your bird. This amount of stuffing was perfect for a turkey of this size; however, the next time I will double the recipe and bake some more stuffing separately. It disappeared on our table in nanoseconds!.

Ingredients:

2 Against The Gain Rosemary Baguettes, sliced and lightly toasted
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 ribs celery, finely chopped
½ stick butter
1 large egg
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:
1. Toast rosemary baguette slices for approx 15-20 min @ 250-300, and dice in approx ½ inch cubes.
2. Melt butter in frying pan; add chopped celery, onion, salt, and pepper and sauté for approximately five minutes.
3. Toss butter and vegetable mix with bread crumbs; add raw egg until evenly moistened.
4. Stuff turkey cavity and place in preheated oven (I cook my turkey at 325, but follow directions on turkey packaging.)
5. Bake uncovered for 1 hour. After one hour, cover breast with a small piece of muslin, and baste as needed until done, pouring off juices as necessary. You don’t need to cover the exposed stuffing if you like the surface to be slightly crispy.

Original Rolls or Original Baguettes will work just as well for the stuffing recipe. If you specifically want rosemary stuffing, add a Tbsp of fresh chopped rosemary to your sautéed vegetables. Rosemary rolls may be substituted for rosemary baguettes.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Bad Eggs: Not in this Gluten Free Bakery


Long ago, long before our celiac diagnoses, and long before we ever imagined we would be running a gluten free bakery, we developed a distrust of the food supply. It was almost exactly 17 years ago that our oldest son lay in the pediatric ICU of Boston Children's Hospital, barely hanging on to life. He had contracted an E.coli 0157 bacterial infection, and of the 13 children also with E.coli infections, he was the only one that lived. We never definitely determined the source of his infection, but it was most likely a nasty hamburger from a diner in Maine that left me doubled over in abdominal pain for two days before he fell sick.

I must admit that every time I read about an E.coli outbreak or a food safety recall, I get flashbacks to the Pediatric ICU and the horror of being told that our four year-old son would most likely die. You’d think after 17 years, things would be a lot better, that citizens would have far greater food safety regulations. We don’t.

The most recent recall of 550 million eggs, potentially tainted with salmonella bacteria really got my attention. We use a lot of eggs, and believe me, I am so glad we buy fresh eggs, and we buy local. We could be buying our eggs for half the price if we got them from a place like Hillandale Farms in Iowa with 2,000,000 hens. I don’t know about you, but even the thought of a 2,000,000 hen operation makes me shudder. We know and understand our local ingredient suppliers, and it is well worth the additional cost to ensure the safety of the products we produce.

I’m also really glad we use whole eggs after reading that the potentially tainted eggs (every day 2,000,000 more eggs roll out of the Hillandale plant alone) are being redirected to “breaking plants,” where they will be pasteurized and turned into liquid eggs to be used in ice cream, mayonnaise, cookies, cakes, breads, pet food, food services and restaurants. Commercial bakeries (but NOT OURS,) are one of the biggest users of liquid eggs. According to the USDA, pasteurization will undeniably kill the bacteria. But I still find it horrifying that knowingly tainted eggs are being sold into the food supply. It also doesn’t make me feel much better to know that the suspect eggs will be segregated from other eggs and subjected to a second inspection to make sure they are salmonella free. If pasteurization is 100% effective, why do we need a second inspection?

According to MSNBC chief medical editor, Dr, Nancy Snyderman, the FDA cannot mandate that the farms get rid of the tainted eggs. She also suggests that the USDA and FDA need to get together to protect our food supply. I couldn’t agree more. Getting food safely from farms to table is one more reason to BUY LOCAL

Friday, August 20, 2010

Gluten Free and The Man

Before founding Against The Grain, we'd done a number of different things: we’d worked in academia, big business and small business, and sold our souls on Wall Street. Despite over three decades of work experience, nothing much had prepared us for the kinds of issues we deal with as a wholesale gluten free food manufacturer. Fundamentally, we jumped into this business for two reasons: 1) we developed a premium bread product that we thought should be available to all who wanted it; and 2) we didn’t want to work for “The Man” ever again—we wanted to build a business with a conscience and provide a positive, growth-oriented work environment.

The other day I read a story in The New York Times about the striking workers at Dr Pepper Snapple Group Mott’s apple juice plant near Rochester, NY. Talk about “The Man!” Despite reporting record profits (net income of $555 million in 2009,) management is attempting to cut its labor costs by reducing workers’ annual salaries by $3,000, freezing pensions, eliminating pensions for new hires, reducing retirement
contributions, and making employees pay more for health benefits. The real corker, however, was a union bargainer who said of the plant manager, “He said we’re a commodity like soybeans and oil, and the price of commodities go up and down. He said there are thousands of people in this area out of jobs, and they could hire any one of them for $14 an hour.” Boy, I can’t wait to drink apple juice made by people treated like soybeans.

Sometimes I wonder whether customers really care (or even think) about the people behind the products they eat. A lot of attention has been given to fair trade, and the market has shown that consumers are interested in buying imported foods for which the workers are fairly compensated. But, does anyone think about production workers in an apple juice plant or production bakers in gluten free bakeries? Do consumers care if their food is made by workers who don’t make livable wages and work without any
benefits? Is cheap gluten free food more important than food made and handled by caring workers? I sincerely believe that there is a certain energy, a sense of mission that goes into every product we produce. We’re not cutting corners on any of our ingredients, and believe me, in a GF bakery, caring workers are very much one of the ingredients.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Journey Into The World of Gluten Eaters

From time-to-time, I believe it is a good idea to serve gluten free fare to gluten-eaters. That is what happened last night at the Taste of Vermont reception in the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, DC, hosted by Senator Patrick Leahy. A group of Vermont specialty food producers journeyed to the nation’s capital to sample their products, and others sent their products for inclusion in the menu. About 400-500 guests ate, drank, and were quite merry.

We weren’t the only gluten free bakery—West Meadow Farms Bakery from Essex Junction (westmeadowfarmbakery.com) sent samples of yummy granola, and other companies with gluten free fair like Cabot Cheese, Maple Grove, Dakin Farm, and Bove’s of Vermont were represented as well. At our table, we gave out samples of our two new pizza flavors: pesto and cheese. The wheat-eaters raved about both flavors, and many declared it the best pizza in the place, but people were most effusive about our new 12-inch nut-free pesto pizza. A number of tree-nut sensitive guests were thrilled to be able to eat pesto pizza as well.

At another table, our baguettes were served as bruschetta, topped with Maple Grove Balsamic Vinaigrette (maplegrove.com, ) fresh mozzarella from Maplebrook Farm (mountainmozzarella.com) of Bennington, Vermont Hydroponic tomatoes ( http://vermonthydroponic.com/ ) and a leaf of fresh basil. Those tomatoes, folks, were the most unbelievably “real” hydroponic tomatoes I’ve ever tasted. The bruschetta were gorgeous and disappeared almost instantly; we sent 24 baguettes to the caterer! In that huge crowd, I think I talked to less than ½ dozen who were gluten free. Everyone else ate and effusively complimented our baguettes, no small feat for a gluten free bread. We’ve always prided ourselves on our bread with “the look, taste, and texture” of real bread, but it is always a good idea to do a reality-check with gluten-eaters.

Our pizza station was located right next to Rock Art Brewery beer (that’s the brewer of Vermonster beer, which caused such a flap,) but alas, it was not gluten free. But, I did discover that the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, which has brand new micro-brewed beer, Trapp Lager, is working on a gluten free beer. It can’t get much better than a gluten free Vermont micro-brewed beer. The folks from the Trapp Family Lodge assured me that they would keep me posted on its development. Think of it: gluten free Vermont pizza and gluten free Vermont micro-brewed beer. I assured them that Against the Grain would be willing to do some joint marketing events in the celiac community.

Surprises of the Garden: GF Sherried Carrot and Kale Lasagna With Rosemary Garlic Bread

Dinner last night used four items from the garden: carrots, kale, garlic, and rosemary. We were making rosemary rolls at work yesterday, which got me thinking about how good rosemary tastes with carrots, and before I knew it, I had planned a dinner based upon the two. It didn’t hurt matters that the carrots in the garden were maturing, and it was time to pick. Actually, this is the first time in over 15 years gardening in Vermont that we have grown decent carrots.

 Of course there are the funky carrots that mange to grow around rocks in the soil (lots of rocks,) but we’ve never grown decent sized carrots before the first frost until this summer. Maybe it was the hotter than normal weather or the quality of the seeds (High Mowing Seeds from, you guessed it, Vermont,) but boy are we getting the loveliest, tastiest carrots. (Chester, our Golden, also loves carrots. He lurks in the drop zone, and is happy to snack on the peels, so no need for a compost bin with him.)

To build the lasagna, I used a sherried carrot sauce instead of tomato sauce, and added chopped kale to a blend of ricotta, egg, and parmesan cheese. When I went to prepare the sauce, I got a big surprise. Perfectly camouflaged on the carrot greens was a beautiful green and black striped caterpillar on the move.

The vertical striping, much like that of a zebra, has the effect of visually breaking up the image for any predators (or cooks.) Of course, Alex was delighted by the caterpillar surprise, so we immediately had to go online and find out what kind of butterfly it would become. It turned out to be a black swallowtail butterfly—how cool!

Gluten Free Sherried Carrot and Kale Lasagna
The sauce:
3 large carrots, peeled and chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1/3 stick butter
½ C cooking sherry
1-1/2 C water
1 tsp freshly ground pepper

The ricotta filling (blended:)
1 15-oz container of ricotta
1 cup shredded Parmesan
1 large egg
2 C chopped raw kale

Additional lasagna ingredients:
1 12-oz package Tinkyada lasagna noodles
2 C shredded mozzarella cheese
½ C kalamata olives (chopped)
1 tsp freshly chopped rosemary

Directions:
1. Saute onion in melted butter until transparent.
2. Add chopped carrots, sherry, pepper, and half the water. Bring to a boil and let simmer adding the balance of the water and the sauce reduces. Simmer until carrots are tender (about 20-25 min.)
3. Remove mixture from the heat and puree in a food processor or blender until smooth. Set aside for building lasagna.
4. Spread approximately ¼ of the sauce in the bottom of a 9x12 baking dish, then place a layer of uncooked lasagna noodles on top of it.
5. Spread approximately ¼ of ricotta mixture on noodles, and top with ¼ of shredded mozzarella.
6. Repeat process, building layers. End with a layer of shredded mozzarella. Sprnkle kalamata olives and fresh rosemary on top.
7. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes at 400 degrees.
8. Uncover and bake 30 additional minutes. Allow to cool 5-10 minutes before slicing.

Gluten Free Garlic Rosemary Bread
1. Slice Against The Grain Rosemary Rolls into cross sections approximately ½ to ¾ inch thick.
2. Finely chop one garlic clove and add to several tablespoons of butter.
3. Brush butter and garlic on tops of slices.
4. Bake on sheet pan for approximately 10 minutes at 400 degrees (until lightly toasted.)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

All Natural Liars

Vermont is home to a lot of great entrepreneurs, particularly food entrepreneurs. Perhaps it is the inspiring natural environment, or the quality of life, or even the disproportionate amount of smart folks with Yankee (often acquired) ingenuity, but some really great and original products have come out of this tiny state.

No food company has been more visibly the “face” of Vermont than Ben&Jerry’s. Ben&Jerry’s story is now legendary—childhood friends move to Vermont, build a premium brand ice cream empire on original flavors, funky names, and a commitment to social conscience. And then the rest of the story unfolds. The company is bought by Unilever (which also owns brands like Dove, Lipton, Axe deodorant, and Hellman’s) in 2000. The sellout path is not an unusual one for a number of other original Vermont food companies like Green Mountain Gringo, Putney Pasta, Annie’s Naturals, and most recently Magic Hat Brewing Company. Most conglomerates (usually public,), and venture capital- backed companies are motivated by money and increasing shareholder value. Making the world better for customers and/or celiac sufferers is typically way down on their list of priorities.

When we started out in business, we modeled a lot of our core values on Ben&Jerry’s sense of social and product mission. From their website:

Product Mission: To make, distribute, and sell the finest quality all natural ice cream and euphoric concoctions with a continued commitment to incorporating wholesome, natural ingredients and promoting business practices that respect the Earth and the Environment.

So, it was quite a shock to read the most recent report from the Center for Science in the Public interest (http://www.cspinet.org/new/201008121.html) publicly calling on Ben&Jerry’s to drop their prominent “All Natural” claim from their label. It turns out that 48 of their 53 flavors contain substances not found in nature at all. While acknowledging that the ingredients they used were certainly safe, the CSIP stated that “these ingredients come from the factory, not a farm.” Good line, I’d say. In particular, the CSIP took issue with Dutch processed cocoa (processed being the operative word here), partially hydrogenated soybean oil, and corn syrup being listed as natural ingredients. On top of all that, the CSIP first alerted the company and the FDA in 2002 to “the deceptive use of the ‘all natural” claim.”

Which begs the question: Who is monitoring food labeling, anyway? I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen some questionable labels. For example, I once saw a company advertise that its crusts were lightly dusted with cornmeal, yet corn was no where to be found in the ingredients (I’m sensitive to corn, and always look for it on labels.) The proliferation of engineered GF flours, enzymes, and miracle formulations that are hidden behind a “clean label” are troubling as well. What constitutes “clean” and how is “natural” defined? Can we trust companies to label products honestly? I’m not so sure.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Gluten Free Baked Goods: Want a Cleaner Label?

So, I was leafing through a baking journal and came upon an ad for “Squeaky Clean Labels” by a company named Watson Inc:

Let us help you to change existing ingredient labels and remove chemical dough conditioners, such as Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, Mono and Diglycerides, Azodicarbonamide or DATEM with Softn’Mighty (proprietary enzyme technology.) Watson can also replace Calcium Proprionate with our No Mold (cultured wheat) and Potassium Bromate with our Natural Oven Spring 910 (proprietary enzyme technology.) Most importantly, it can be done without compromising product quality!

The global market for industrial enzymes is estimated to be $2.9 billion, larger than the entire gluten free market. Oddly enough, no one seems to be questioning their use in either traditional or gluten free baking…not in this country anyway. In the UK, however, an organization called the Real Bread Campaign (www.sustainweb.org/realbread/) calls enzymes “baking’s dirty secret” and asserts that the industry is reluctant to tell consumers that they use them.

The latest buzz word in baking ingredients, and surely a sign of industrialized food manufacturing, is “enzymes.” Enzymes are potent biomolecules derived from protein that act as catalysts for the chemical reactions involved in the baking process. The right combination of enzymes produces springiness in both wheat-based and gluten free breads. Enzymes also keep baked bread from going stale, eliminating the problem of starch in the dough crystallizing and becoming dry, certainly an asset for gluten free breads. From the bread manufacturer’s perspective, though, the greatest benefit is that they leave a squeaky-clean label.

Don’t think that the “clean” label you’re reading means that the baked goods were made with the same natural ingredients in your grandmother’s kitchen. You won’t find "enzymes" on the spice shelf, slotted nicely between dill and fennel. These are big business ingredients. Genetic engineering is used in the development and manufacture of most commercially available enzymes used by the food and beverage industry. The reason for genetic engineering is mostly economic--without genetic engineering, naturally occurring enzymes in microorganisms cannot be fermented in a cost effective manner.

Both traditional and gluten free baked goods consumers are insisting on clean labels and are becoming increasingly weary of chemical additives and dough conditioners. This demand is driving ingredient makers to engineer products that increase the springiness, improve the texture, and extend the shelf-life of baked goods. Gluten free consumers can certainly benefit from these improvements, but at what cost? Innovation doesn’t have to mean the industrialization of food, serious food processing, and ingredient engineering. At Against The Grain, we have one of the cleanest labels in the gluten free baked goods category, and we do it it old-fashinoed way.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Gluten Free in College

There are pregnancy books and parenting books and books on how to pick the right college, but no books that really prepare you for the moment when you pack your teenage child in a car and leave him or her off at college. Last fall, our son headed off to college, and I must admit that it was one of the most emotionally charged moments I have experienced as a parent…and I wasn’t even the one who dropped him off! Add celiac disease to the fledging drama, and it produces a whole new layer of anxiety.

Actually preparing for my celiac son in college began over a year before. We visited a half-dozen or so colleges in his decision process, and he got used to me asking about special dietary needs. Luckily, he didn’t have to make his decision based upon his dietary needs. He found a school that felt just right, applied for early decision, and was done with the college application process by December 15. When we visited the school for admitted students’ day, we asked for gluten free lunches, which to their credit they were able to provide. Then we toured the main dining hall with a staff member and noted that there was no dedicated toaster, no stash of gluten free breads on the line, and no separate condiments. Clearly, I had my work cut out for me—I needed to impart in my son the importance of advocating for himself, and I had to take the initiative in opening the dialogue for him.

About a month before he was to begin his first semester, I e-mailed the dietician listed on his school’s dining hall website and addressed my concerns after visiting the dining hall. She responded to my concerns, and informed me that her organization, Bon Appetite Management Company, was in the process of beginning a celiac training initiative company-wide. The dietician also put us in touch with the college’s executive chef. By the time my son arrived on campus, a lot had changed, including the debut of a dedicated GF toaster. At orientation, my son and I met with the executive chef and discussed how to manage my son’s dietary requirements. This had the effect of opening up a student/chef dialogue. The chef asked my son to set up a time for coffee, and they walked through and discussed all campus dining halls. The executive chef was very student-friendly and offered to have his staff make anything my son wanted and to prepare gluten free versions of meals ahead of the other meals they were making. I am happy to report that my son was not once glutened in the campus dining halls.

Despite a tremendous working relationship with the chef, gluten free dining in college for my son was not without its challenges. Getting him to advocate for himself took time. For example, my son sometimes found himself in the position of holding up the service line of hungry students and stressed out servers, so he just ate yogurt and salad instead. And meals are social times at college; the offer for made-to-order gluten free meals was great in principle, but when my son was dining with friends, they were often finished eating by the time he got his meal.

I had another conversation with the dietician after school was over for the summer, and we reviewed my son’s dining hall experience. I shared a number of my son’s observations, like “Why does barley have to be sitting in the middle of the salad bar where students can accidentally drop it into other offerings?” By the time he starts school again in several weeks, the salad bar will be organized to minimize contamination, and the staff will make an attempt to bake some extra gluten free meals, “fast food,” that can be micro-waved or minimally heated in a pinch. We couldn’t have asked for a much better gluten free college dining service.

The dining halls of the following schools are managed by Bon Appetite:
American University
Biola University
Case Western Reserve University
Dominican University of California
Emmanuel College
Goucher College
Hamilton College
Lesley University
Lewis & Clark College
Macalester College
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Mount St. Mary's College
Northwestern College
Oberlin College
Reed College
Seattle University
St. Olaf College
University of Pennsylvania
University of Redlands
University of San Francisco
Washington University in St. Louis
Whitman College
Woodbury University

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Running a Gluten Free Business

A few Sundays ago was the 30th Annual Tibbetts Point Lighthouse 5K/10K Run in Cape Vincent, NY. Since I was in the Thousand Islands for the weekend, I decided on a whim to run the 5K leg of the race. It is a small, scenic, family-oriented race that runs through a residential portion of the town and along the St. Lawrence River.

Over the years, I have run the race a number of times in all kinds of weather conditions. What was different this year was that I hadn’t run a race in over two years. Actually, since starting the business, I have found it harder and harder to find enough hours in the day to do all the things I want.

Although I told myself that I was just running the race for the camaraderie and to enjoy the optimal weather conditions, I felt some of my competitive spirit kicking in at the line-up. The woman next to me struck up a conversation, and I learned that she was almost exactly my age, and she, too, was running her first race in several years. Her name was Gail, and she told me she just hoped to break 30 minutes

“Well, don’t follow me,” I laughed as we took off with me following her. I was feeling pretty good-- not beating any land speed record-- but we hadn’t even gone a quarter of a mile before I passed her by. All went well for about ¾ of the race until I hit a long, unshaded stretch. It was HOT!

“I don’t have to do this,” I said to myself. “I don’t need to prove anything,” and I stopped running and started walking. Physically I was fine, but mentally I just wasn’t there. Just after I started walking, another silver-haired woman, ran by. I had been walking only a minute or so when I heard footsteps, and a voice called out,

“You can’t stop now. I’ve been pacing on you the whole race. Come on we’ll run together.” It was Gail, and she and I vowed to cross the finish line together. It was a scene demonstrating just why I love the friendliness of this race. Right after crossing the finish line, the grey-haired woman who passed me walked up and said ,

“Good race. I was so surprised when you stopped-- I was following you the whole way.”Gayle and I barely missed her 30 minute goal, and in that half-hour, I learned several life lessons that are particularly appropriate to my role as an owner of a gluten free business:

1. PEOPLE YOU DON”T EVEN KNOW RELY ON YOU. In that small race, I had no idea that not one, but two runners my age were relying on me for pacing. I would never have stopped and walked had I known. Every day we get calls and e-mails from fans of our bread, but at least once a week, we get an impassioned plea to “never stop making your bread.” People all over the eastern part of the US have come to rely on us for the taste, quality, and purity of our gluten free bread. That is a lot of responsibility, and we take it very seriously.

2. MENTAL STRENGTH IS JUST AS IMPORTANT AS BEING STRONG. There was absolutely no reason physically why I stopped and walked towards the end of the race—my head just wasn’t into it at the moment. In fact, Gayle jokingly admonished me for not even breathing hard. In fact if I hadn’t stopped and walked, I would have finished third in my age group. Instead, I literally let someone pass me by. In the gluten free business, we need to be agile. It just isn’t enough to be out front, operating from a position of strength. As a gluten free manufacturer, we need to constantly strive to improve our products without compromising the quality and integrity of our ingredients. We need to look at baking new and innovative, naturally gluten free products without relying on ingredient science to trick the palate and extend shelf life. At Against The Grain, we are always looking 12-18 months out at new product development (our new Nut-free Pesto Pizza, for example, was several years in the planning.) Stay tuned for some really innovative gluten free products!

Post Script: Last weekend I bumped into Gail again at The Save The River 5K in Clayton, NY. The humidity was a killer, but I beat the 30 minute mark by 30 seconds. Gail, on the other hand, came in third in our age category with a terrific 28:06. Way to go Gail!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Tour de Gluten Free


This past weekend, Alex and I decided to go out tandem bike riding. Although Alex will be 21 this month, he has never had the balance to be able to ride a two-wheel bike by himself. But that doesn’t stop him when it comes to tandem bike riding.

Starting out from Against The Grain's parking lot
He’s a real trooper, and both of us are suckers for what we call “river rides.” Those are looping bike trips that cross over a river, and then cross back at another point. By far, our most ambitious ride has been 70 miles, with two international crossings of the St. Lawrence River into Canada and back. Locally, we have a neat Connecticut River ride that takes us into New Hampshire, across a lower ridge of Mt. Wantastiquet, and back into town. This past weekend, we tried a new one—the West River ride.

The first bridge crossing

...and the second

The Dummerston Covered bridge was easily Alex's favorite part of the ride

The challenge in this ride was crossing up between Black Mountain and Prospect Hill on the East West highway in Dummerston, VT. The elevation gain was 400-plus feet over one mile, and it took a lot of team work in the 90 degree heat for us to keep moving forward and up. About 1/4 mile from the top, I had to resort to reminding Alex of the story of The Little Engine That Could. He started pedaling to the cadence of “I think I can, I think I can” and we made it to the top in style.

It occurred to me that our biking, and the teamwork involved, have a lot in common with Against The Grain. My favorite metaphor for starting our business was a trip we made to NYC with the then pre-teen boys for the Five Borough Bike Tour. At my brother’s suggestion, who had done the ride the year before, we didn’t start in Lower Manhattan; rather, we pedaled over from our hotel to join the tour just below Central Park. When we got to Sixth Avenue, there were barricades and people pedaling along the Avenue. We squeezed between two barriers, hopped on our bikes, and joined the crowd…or so we thought.

Within minutes of pedaling, we were startled by the sound of a bull horn announcing the arrival of the fast-moving, lead peloton. With barricades on both sides, it was either pedal as fast as we could and hope they could dodge us or get run over, a situation not at all unlike the current gluten free marketplace. Yep, initially we pedaled leisurely right into the front of the gluten free peloton. As a small, artisan manufacturer, we’ve been pedaling the bike really hard ever since. And there is a lot of creative problem-solving and team work involved in making our products a success. We work in small batches that require close coordination and timing between our bake team members. Baking with farm-fresh ingredients means we also work closely with our suppliers to make sure we have fresh ingredients on hand just when we need them. John,” the egg man” from Maple Meadow Farms, for example, monitors our supply and adjusts his deliveries with a certain degree of wizardry that always works.

Using team work to power a bike to the top of a steep hill feels really good. So does building a business from scratch with highly committed employees and crafting a premium product with team work, ingenuity, and clean ingredients.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Gluten Free Eating From The Garden: Rainbow Chard and Kalamata Olive Pizza

It has been the hottest I ever remember in Vermont this past week. For three days, the temperature hovered in the three digits…and it was humid, like New Orleans humid! Never has going to work every morning seemed so appealing—leaving a hot, humid, home in the hills for an air-conditioned baking floor. Warmer weather has come earlier and hotter by Vermont standards, and our garden has been the major beneficiary. For several years now, we haven’t seen ripe tomatoes until September, just before the first frost. Not this year.

New to our garden this year is rainbow chard, a mix of red, orange, pink, yellow, and white with bold and streaked leaves (organic seeds by High Mowing, one of Vermont’s finest organic farms.) The chard is both visually appealing and abundant. For dinner the other night, we made a rainbow chard and kalamata olive pizza on an Against The Grain Gourmet pizza shell. We all agreed that it was one of our best veggie pizza combinations yet.

Instead of using a tomato base, I sautéed fresh small white onions with rainbow chard and topped the pizza with a one-to-one mixture of low fat mozzarella and parmesan cheese.

And while I can’t claim that the veggies were entirely local because I can’t grow kalamata olives here in Vermont (well, maybe I will someday if the trend toward hotter and hotter weather continues in Vermont,) my brother is growing a bumper crop of them in South Carolina.

Photo by Geoff Woodard

Rainbow Chard and Kalamata Olive Pizza
 Serves 4 with two ample slices each

A good handful of rainbow chard (approximately 30 leaves with stalks)
Six small white onions
2 Tablespoons canola oil
1 C cheese mixture of low-fat mozzarella and freshly grated parmesan cheese
½ C chopped kalamata olives
1 Against The Grain Gourmet Pizza Shell (defrosted)

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Sautee onions and chard in canola oil until the stems are barely tender (approximately 10 minutes.)
3. Spread sautéed mixture evenly on pizza shell.
4. Sprinkle cheese to taste and top with chopped olives.
5. Bake directly on middle oven rack for 25 minutes.
6. Go outside and sit on the porch while it is baking ‘cause the kitchen gets HOT.
7. Allow to cool for several minutes, slice, and enjoy!