Our server arrived. This is one of those rare guys who exudes passion for his job, and his job is your satisfaction. We repeated our Gluten Free message after a good look at Violino’s full menu – and when he told us that everything but two items on the menu could and would be made without gluten, our celiacs were rendered speechless. When he went on to ask if they would like some Gluten Free bread to start – which would take about 12 minutes, as it is fresh-baked to order (!) – they actually teared up. Much, much later, after lobster risotto, black and white linguine with shrimp, chicken breast with crab and goat cheese stuffing, and veal and pork meatballs with herbed goat cheese on fusilli, we fell silent. This food monopolized any conversation. And we eavesdropped on other tables – that one with the socialite ladies out from their own Glenora mansions for the evening, with a celiac among them too…and this one, with the East Indian couple whose meal left them totally relaxed, totally full, and totally happy.
Canada is full of wonderful places to visit, and what’s especially cool about this is, they’re all very different. You’ve got Anne of Green Gables style cottages, midday lobster dinners and accents that resemble the Irish on one coast. You’ve got architecture and French culture somewhere in the middle. There are great camping spots through the prairies; and snowboarding and hiking in the mountains. And in interior BC, you can find a little slice of heaven known as the Okanagan Lake. There is the big-ish city of Kelowna (where you’d likely fly into if you were visiting) that has everything you need -it sits right on the lake which is surrounded by campgrounds, golf courses, beaches, boat rentals and of course, wineries. Everything (at least just outside of Kelowna) has a very small-town charm to it—a wine country charm. People are friendly. Locals know one another and often grew up here, or have relocated here for retirement. It’s the friendliest little place, and oh my goodness, is it ever beautiful. You may find your mood change the moment you land here. I know mine does. I’m calmer. I breathe deeper. I marvel a little more. It’s one of my most favourite places in the world to relax. Read More
Sweet Surprise Gluten Free Bakery and Cafe – Everything that Heidi Lochmatter and Alex Lochmatter do out of an impossibly small kitchen and quaint little bistro out front at the corner of Cliffe Avenue and 5th Street in Courtenay, BC, is not only completely gluten free – it’s so indescribably delicious and imaginative and memory-making that after a mere 24 months in business, these ladies are planting the flag: Celiacs deserve destination vacations, and Courtenay’s ready to play host.
Tex-Mex Chicken-Mango Salad
School’s out, the kids have already switched to holiday mode, and with the weather shifting to muggy tornado season, there’s ample reason not to want to spend a whole lot of time in the kitchen. There are plenty of one-dish meals you can make for this time of year, but Tex-Mex Chicken-Mango Salad is a great option for mixing up plenty of excellent Southwestern flavours on one plate. There are a couple of ingredients to make ahead on this one – but they take so little time that you can easily fit them in between lounging on the deck, getting up to fetch some iced tea, and folding the laundry. And this protein-packed recipe lets you maximize a little bit of chicken over several servings. It also keeps well overnight in the fridge, if you wanted to serve the leftovers tomorrow. Read More
Pasta is one of those dishes I sadly thought I had to go without, after my Celiac diagnoses. Would I ever enjoy a delicious Italian favorite again? Or would I have to watch, drooling, as others lapped it up, and I had my gluten-less, hardly equals, rice, quinoa and potatoes? Well, after trying many other brands and realizing that just might be true, enter: Barilla. Now we’re talking!
Product Review – Robin Hood GF Flour
Ahhh, baking. As the world gradually moves towards providing celiacs with acceptable and eventually delicious alternatives to the foods missed the most (pasta and real sandwich bread topping this list), there’s the final frontier – how to find a good GF flour that comes as close as possible to behaving, and tasting, like the muffins, cakes and pies you used to know and love, even if they didn’t love you. Unfortunately, the key to almost all delicious baked goods appears to be gluten, that sticky, stretchy protein that makes bread springy, cakes moist, and celiacs sick. Is there a GF flour that can step up to this plate?
I’ve written in previous recipes (including an early banana chocolate chip muffin recipe available earlier on this page) about my undying love of Cup4cup brand all-purpose GF flour. After starting the celiac way in our house with what we thought was the obligatory and budget-busting 14 kinds of starches and flours needed to make an array of recipes for homemade baking mixes that “taste just like the real thing”, it was a massive relief to discover this amazing product. It really does perform like it’s supposed to, in all kinds of baking, and because of its remarkable ability to do that without the annoying aftertaste of xanthan gum – Cup4cup is still the standard against which all GF flour gets measured, at least in our kitchen.
Problem is, it ain’t cheap. Yeah, you can get it on sale occasionally at Save-On Foods in Calgary, where they have an impressive array of GF options, even in the flour section, but in general, the price for a 1-kilo bag of this magic powder is a hefty $22-$26, depending on where you find it – and it isn’t available at Safeway or Co-op or Superstore yet. So – when I ran out of the last bag we had in the pantry, and I found myself at Safeway for all my other grocery needs, not really wanting to drive way the heck out to Save-On for one thing – I took a good, hard look at a new bag of Robin Hood GF Flour nestled on the shelf among the decidedly paltry selection of GF offerings.
You see – Robin Hood was one of the early bandwagon-jumpers among the major flour producers to get into the market with their GF blend of flour. We bought a bag, because it was reasonably priced. But the taste and texture left way too much to be desired – gritty, metallic and heavy, to put it kindly. We didn’t finish that bag. So -what was different about this one? Well – Robin Hood apparently decided that a HUGE selling point was to proudly proclaim in big letters that this was a New Formulation With XANTHAN GUM. (Perhaps nobody there yet knows that xanthan gum is nothing more than a necessary and expensive evil, not a seductive lure). But what you couldn’t argue with was the price. Safeway was offering this 2-lb. (907 gram) bag for a mere $6.59. OK – fine. We’ll give it a try. If it tastes lousy, not too much harm done.
Since banana chocolate chip muffins are a staple in our house, and have been made with everything from old Robin Hood to XO Bakeries to Cup4cup and a range of homemade flour recipes, we had a pretty good benchmark against which we could test this stuff.
Test number one – mixability. OK, this passed easily. Stirred right in, no talcum-like clouds of starch billowing forth. Test number two – how does it rise? Again, peering in through the oven door, everything puffed up very uniformly, with a smooth texture between the chocolate chips and oatmeal and craisins, and finally, right at the end, cracked open fetchingly just like a perfectly-baked muffin should. Test number three – how’s the crumb? (That’s the springiness and airiness of the finished product). This passed, too – no leaden mass here. Nice and springy. But then there’s the ultimate test – how does it taste? And I confess – I jadedly thought the first three tests were that way just because of the much touted xanthan gum.
So I took a bite. Actually, I ate the whole muffin immediately. The very pleasant surprise here is that Robin Hood has gotten it right. I have to say that there was the faintest – and I mean very faintest – aftertaste of xanthan, but there’s no more grit or artificial metallic tang. In short – this GF flour is really very good indeed – and maybe heralds a new beachhead in the battle to get GF products at a much more affordable price. You can get away with making muffins with this, not only for yourself, but for the gluten-eaters you know and love, without them making a face.
I wonder if it would make good bread. The nice thing is, you can now afford to experiment wildly.
Mixed Grill with Pineapple
There’s a (very) short time between the last chill rains of May and the hatching of the mosquitoes in Calgary where it’s possible to sit out on the back deck for hours at a time, drinking in the late Spring sunshine without being worried about flying insects and excessive heat. That time of year is also perfect for cleaning out the firepit and putting in some well-seasoned wood for that most timeless of ancient rituals – grilling meats over an open flame. Any combination of meats will do for a Mixed Grill with Pineapple dinner – especially if you let them marinate in some kind of savory, sweet or spicy sauce for a few hours while you’re out there reading or dozing. And the pineapple – skewered, dusted with sugar for a nice caramel crunch – makes a perfect, sunny dessert. Here’s how ours turned out:
- 6-8 pork rib-end chops (these have a nice marbling of fat in them, which always lends to delicious tenderness when you grill)
- 4 souvlaki chicken sausages (Spolumbos makes amazing sausages, of several different flavors, right here in Calgary – and they’re all Gluten Free – but use whatever you have on hand)
- 3-4 cups of fresh pineapple, cut into bite-sized chunks, and skewered.
- 2-4 tsp white granulated sugar
Marinade for the Pork Chops:
- 2 tbsp Thai red chili paste (Thai Kitchen makes a nice GF version)
- 4 tbsp rice vinegar
- 2 tbsp sesame seed oil
- 2 tbsp nuoc mam or Thai fish sauce
Marinade for the Sausage:
- Half a bottle of Kraft Calorie-wise Balsamic Salad Dressing
- Earlier in the day, blend the ingredients for the Pork Chop marinade in a glass bowl that can be covered. Put the pork chops in there, turning them over and pressing them into the marinade so that they are well-covered. Cover the bowl and put in the fridge for as many hours as you can before grilling.
- Put the balsamic dressing into a glass, coverable bowl. Make diagonal slices in the skins of the sausage, and put them into the marinade, turning them and pressing them down to get maximum coverage. Cover and put into the fridge with the pork chops.
- Light a fire in the fire pit, and allow it to burn down to hot coals.
- Cover a grill with heavy-duty foil. You could do this over an open flame, but if you prefer a less charred supper, do it this way.
- Place the grill over top of the coals (when you’re ready to grill)
- While the fire is burning down to coals, skewer the pineapple onto long skewers. Place on a long piece of foil, and sprinkle with sugar. Fold the foil to cover the skewers.
- When the fire is ready, place the meat and pineapple skewers on the foil-covered grill. Grill both sides of the meat and pineapple until done and golden brown – approximately 6-8 minutes per side.
Serve with steamed rice, or a baked potato. Mixed Grill with Pineapple works with just about any combination of meat and sausage, with any marinade you can imagine. Enjoy insect-free summer while it lasts…
Deluxe BLT Salad
Severe Thunderstorm Watch – three little words all Calgarians know, and which signal an important truth: It’s finally summer, and probably too hot to cook! One could break out the traditional suppertime cereal (again), but why not make something which hits all the flavour buttons, and calls to mind that quintessentially summery sandwich – the BLT. Make up a Deluxe BLT Salad – by which I mean add other ingredients that may not be as sandwich-friendly (like hardboiled eggs and fresh avocado), and you’ve got a cool, delicious, filling summer dinner, while waiting for the crashing and flashing to approach from the west.
Let me tell you about Big T’s BBQ and Smokehouse’s brisket – not even the merest hint of dryness about this notoriously lean and obstinate cut of beef. Whoever smoked this knew what they were doing (look at that pink smoke ring!). Every bite was juicy, tender, and with such a complex layer of flavors running over your tongue – that subtle, unmistakable smoke signature (sweet, because they use applewood from the Okanagan here), and the signature rub that sinks its roots deep into the meat over the 6-hour journey in their onsite smoker.
Now that the world is finally waking up to the fact that gluten is dangerous for a significant portion of the population, noodle makers have come around. There’s a lot of choice out there for celiacs, when it comes to pasta – but since we can afford to be picky, let’s just say it had better stand on its own merits – it HAS to be as close as possible to what you remember from your pre-celiac childhood days. Barilla Pasta thinks they have that challenge licked – let’s try a Lemon-Dijon Chicken Pasta to see if they’re right.
Yams or sweet potatoes as they are sometimes known, are one of my favorite produce items to have on hand because they’re yummy, can be made sweet or savory, inexpensive and have quite a long shelve life uncooked. They are also the perfect snack, mini meal, or post workout nosh. They can be eaten in gluten-free, vegetarian, or paleo diets. This recipe is naturally gluten-free, so no specialty ingredients are required, which is always a bonus.
Did you know – Calgary has its very own Jewish delicatessen – and apparently, according to the reviews, one that is every bit as authentic to Bubby’s recipes as the most famous of any of them in New York City are. But is Grumans Catering and Delicatessen really celiac-friendly? You bet – everything on the menu (except the potato salad and regular bread) can be made GF – so imagine our delight in getting our hands on some real Montreal Smoked Meat!
As the saying goes, breakfast is the most important meal of the day…and I don’t disagree. One of the most common excuses people have not to eat breakfast is that they simply don’t have time, and as a celiac, or someone eating gluten-free, grabbing a quick bowl of cereal or having a piece of toast, makes it even harder. This healthy, baked casserole, can be prepared the night before, and can be stored in the fridge or freezer in handy individual portions for a quick reheat. This casserole is packed full of veggies, and guarantees to start your day off right. No excuses.
Gluten Free Calgary has been around now for three and a half years—can you believe that? It’s hard for me to wrap my brain around sometimes, that’s for sure. I remember dreaming this up, sitting at a patio in late summer of 2012, and now we have a beautiful website, a blog full of great content, a local restaurant map, a team of dedicated volunteers and a huge community of people to support! We work closely with the Calgary Chapter of the Canadian Celiac Association and partner with local nutritionist, Amber Romaniuk of Amber Approved—also contributing regularly to her health magazine. We sponsor and exhibit at various events throughout the year, including various gluten-free markets and of course, the wildly successful GF Oktoberfest that we kicked off last October.
Let’s take a second to celebrate the success we’ve had thus far! (Raise a GF beer…) Cheers, everyone, and a big thank you to everyone who’s been on this journey with us so far.
Building all of this has required a lot of time, energy and dedication, and a personal investment on my part as well. While we do everything we can to keep our expenses low, operating something like this does require some minimal funding. It’s grown big enough that I can no longer handle it all on my own, so I’ve recruited the help of our Ambassador, Rae Lemke Sprung. And we want to keep supporting you in even more ways! We recently conducted a survey to hear from you, our #GFcommunity, about what you love and what you want to see more of. We have lots of ideas, thanks to all of you who participated, including more events, restaurant and product reviews. There is so much on the horizon still to come!
I call this a community-powered organization because the only way we are able to run successfully is with the dedication and support of our team, our volunteers and our community. I’m not looking to get rich from this venture, but I do need some help to keep this momentum going.
How can you help?
Well, we have added a Donate button to our website. If you’re able to contribute at all, we would be hugely appreciative. It will only help us do more to support you.
Can’t help financially? That’s okay!
We’re also currently recruiting for another blogger—someone to focus on pastries, baking and sweets in general (how fun does that sound)? Interested? Email us!
Thank you again, #GFCommunity. Here’s to three and a half more years – and beyond!