Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Baked Apple Torte With a Pizza Twist

What do you get when you combine the cheesy crust of an Against The Grain Gourmet Pizza Shell with baked apples? You get the most amazing gluten free dessert—an apple pie with cheddar cheese taste in a pizza slice. This recipe comes from Kathi Thiboutot, the owner of Healthy Haven, an all gluten free store in Tiverton, Rhode Island. In addition to coming up with a tasty recipe to demo our product in her store, Kathi is a true optimist who opened the first exclusively gluten free store on the east coast and also started a celiac support group. She will be featured in a nationally broadcast television segment called “Smart Woman,” and if you try her recipe, you’ll know why. What a clever (and gourmet) use of our pizza shell.

1 Against The Grain Gourmet Pizza Shell
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 large Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/8-inch-thick slices
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into bits

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Place thawed pizza in a round pizza pan.

Arrange the apples in rows on top of the pizza overlapping them. Sprinkle all over with the cinnamon sugar. Dot the apples with the bits of butter. Bake until the apples are soft, about 15 minutes. Cut into 6 wedges and serve warm.

Serve with ice cream on the side (optional).

Serves 6 people

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Who Eats a Gluten Free Diet?

2002 6th and 7th grade Vermont Maple Essay Contest Winners
Can you find the celiac?

The obvious answer to this question is people with celiac disease. In our family of four, it is my husband and my teenage son. Although Tom was first diagnosed with what doctors termed a “bleeding ulcer” at age 15, and had a lifetime of symptoms, it wasn’t until he was 50 that he was finally given his diagnosis. Marty was diagnosed at 13 after he stopped growing. In hindsight, his pediatrician determined that he had fallen off his growth chart between 18 and 20 months of age. In all probability, that is when his celiac disease began. Between contamination issues and teenage sibling rivalry, we decided it would be better for all concerned if our kitchen was gluten free.

And then a funny thing happened (besides starting a gluten free bread company.) Our oldest son, despite being on medication, had suffered from status seizures all his life. One year into the gluten free diet, we realized that his seizures had vanished. Now, four year later, he’s still seizure-free. Recently, genetic testing for celiac disease revealed that he carried the markers, but he’s never tested positive for celiac disease. I, too, realized that I felt much better on a gluten free diet. As a runner, it had become harder and harder for me to run more than several times a week without experiencing significant joint pain. About six months into a gluten free diet, the joint pain that plagued me went away.  For me, eating a gluten free diet seemed to have an anti-inflammatory effect, an effect also reported by many others. Now I can run as much as I like, and my only problem is finding the time to do so!

It turns out that a lot of non-celiacs eat gluten free. In addition to the celiac population, it is thought that up to 10% of the population suffers from some form of gluten intolerance, reports Lu Ann Williams of Innova Market Insight Research. And, according to Cynthia Kupper, executive director of the Gluten Intolerance Group, surveys show that 15 to 25 percent of consumers seek out gluten free products.

Is eating a gluten free diet harmful to your health? I’m not sure why some believe a diet that is appropriate for a celiac is unhealthy for everyone else. Makes you wonder whether the grain folks are getting nervous about their shrinking market. Like celiacs, those that simply eat gluten free can take the necessary supplements (e.g., B-12, calcium, etc.) –we do. Some say a gluten free diet lacks fiber, as if bread, beer, and pasta give a gluten-eater all the fiber they need for digestion. Um, what about vegetables? Don’t people cook vegetables and make salads any more? Eating gluten free also means eating a lot less processed food, being very careful when eating out, and virtually eliminating fast food in your diet. What could be wrong with that? Recently the New York Daily News ran an alarming article with the screaming headline: “Following a Gluten Free Diet Can Be Harmful to Health.” Really? Tell that to my seizure-free son. We never would have made the connection between gluten and his seizures had we not followed that “dangerous diet.”

Friday, May 21, 2010

Food Transparency in the Gluten Free World

It used to be that when you talked about food transparency you might be referring to a cooking technique, as in “Sauté the onions until they are transparent.” Today “transparent” has a whole different meaning when it comes to food. Consumers are now far more educated about issues like nutrition, food safety, sustainability, fair trade, genetically modified foods, engineered ingredients, chemical additives, and animal rights. It is a very positive movement as far as we’re concerned. Consumers are demanding transparency, and the result is not only better labeling, but a number of manufacturers have reformulated their products to have (or appear to have) a “clean” list of ingredients.

Over the last six months or so, we have fielded a number of questions from educated customers. One, for example, wanted to know whether the source of rennet in the cheese we use was from an animal source (the answer was “no.”) Another wanted to know whether cellulose was used as an anti-caking agent in our pizza cheese (the answer was “no, we do not use any anti-caking agents.”) It is not only consumers who are becoming more educated—coops, health food stores, and chains are as well, and they are watching out for the interests of their customers. That’s a good thing.

The other day, I had to sign a statement for a retailer guaranteeing that no cloned animals or the offspring of cloned animals are used in any of our ingredients, including milk. Sitting here in Vermont, knowing not only the source of my dairy and egg ingredients, but also the farm families behind them, I wondered why I would be asked such a question. And, I must confess that when I called my suppliers to verify that no cloned animals were used, my egg supplier and I got a big laugh out of it. She said she had been asked a number of questions over the years, but that was truly a first! But it is actually no laughing matter when I think about it. I know my fresh ingredient suppliers, but what if I were buying my eggs from some 5 million hen farm or my milk from some big industrialized conglomerate? Worse yet, what if I were using boxed eggs or powdered egg whites with an extended shelf life or some milk protein isolate? I wouldn’t have a clue about the animals behind my ingredients.

Take our Original Rolls. They are made of six ingredients: tapioca, milk, non-GMO canola oil, mozzarella cheese, whole eggs, and salt. No mystery what any of those are. Then look at some of the competing gluten free bread products/rolls. What you will find is that most other brands have 17 to 20 ingredients. Nice things like tapioca maltodextrin, which gives a product fat-like and stabilizing properties. I’m in the gluten free baking business, and even I have no idea what some of the ingredients are! One of the benefits of eating a gluten free diet is that it has made me a compulsive label reader, and sometimes what I read is disturbing, indeed.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Taking a Day Off for Yourself

One of my favorite books as a kid was Ferdinand the Bull. Ferdinand was the original “against the grainer.” Rather than fight like all the other young bulls, he was more interested in smelling the flowers. That is what I did the other day. I took Friday off work and drove up to one of my favorite of all places: Thousand Island Park, a Victorian summer cottage community on an island in the St. Lawrence River. It was preseason, so I had the place pretty much to myself…and an explosion of daffodils. Perhaps it was because of the mild winter and the relatively chilly spring, but I have never seen daffodils quite like these.

It was a pretty gray, overcast day when I arrived at the River, and against that backdrop the daffodils practically sang out to me as I passed. It felt really good to get away. Spring on the production floor often can be challenging. Sure, the weather improves and the incredible hues of Vermont spring green beckon us outside. But, the weather also beckons the cows back outside, and the corresponding dietary shift from hay and silage to grass can wreak havoc on the chemistry of milk…and cheese. And since we use milk and cheese in our products, you get the idea. At the River, the worries of the production floor fade away. The only frustration is that the days aren’t longer.

Two days later at the River, the temperature soared into the mid-eighties. Between the temperature and the abundant sun, the daffodils first dulled, and then began shriveling by day’s end. I felt fortunate to have participated in the flowering of spring bulbs in all their glory. As hard as it is when you are running a rapidly expanding business, it is important to take a break from time to time to recharge your batteries and smell the flowers…literally. I’m glad I did.