Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A gluten-free Camelot -- still a fantasy

In an earlier post I lauded King Arthur Flour for finally introducing gluten-free products. My enthusiasm has been slightly dampened with the arrival of the first catalog highlighting their new product line. Let me tell you why.

I think of King Arthur Flour as the Frederick's of Hollywood of flour. They provide fairly vanilla forms of flour -- although at crazy prices -- but also carry flours and related products you don't recognize, don't know how to use and fear, a little. A brief journey through the recent catalog uncovers Italian-style flour (Italians have special flour?), dried buttermilk powder, cake enhancer, french lames (you use them to score bread because, as you know, a knife is useless in those critical situations) and some kind of liquid that you add to cookies to make them taste like cookies. See? Just like adding garter belts as complicated as suspension bridges to already undressed people makes them sexier.

In other words, King Arthur Flour, already credible in the exotic baking products racket, should carry gluten-free products. I was very excited when the catalog arrived today.

And I'm disappointed. Oh, sure -- the catalog lists all of the standard flours and mixes, from tapioca starch to chocolate cake mix. That's the problem! In terms of standard gluten-free products, Bob's Red Mill has that market wrapped up. I don't need a vendor for standard stuff. I expect a company that sells lilac sugar pearls (you use them to decorate cupcakes, in case that wasn't self-evident in the description) to move beyond gluten-free pancake mix.

KAF deepened my disappointment on page 6. And 7. And 8. In the two-page gluten-free spread, there's a recipe for white sandwich bread (the very food used to illustrate ubiquity). There's a sweet column by the product development manager, and a promise that everyone -- gluten-free diet or no -- will enjoy the products. But when you turn the page, it's as if the gluten-free section never existed. The very next recipe in the catalog calls for hi-gluten flours, in fact, and none of the other recipes or columns suggest ways to substitute gluten-free flour in your baking.

Pages 4 and 5. The gluten-free ghetto. Nice try, King Arthur. I expect more, and I think you're missing a market -- gluten-free bakers (especially those that have already demonstrated their willingness to purchase expensive baking supplies) are childishly excited to be able to use conventional baking recipes. They're willing to experiment and try new products. And yet there's nothing in your catalog I can't find at the local health food store. Why pay $6.50 (that's minimum, by the way) in shipping for the same supplies?

My final assessment? I appreciate the effort, KAF, but I need a better reason to weed through the elephant-face underwear and fuzzy handcuffs when I can shop at Target for less money and in broad daylight.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Happy Celiac Awareness month!

Apparently Celiac Awareness month had to fight it out with Sandwich month, or Toenail Awareness month, or Grass Seed month, or something along those lines. However, it is now official. Hug your local celiac patient (gently).

And to celebrate, here's a wonderful recipe for a flourless cake from the Oregonian, passed to me by a compassionate colleague. It's the kind of cake that is so dense that, if you bake it in a round pan, it's a cake. Bake it in a square pan, it's brownies. Either way, fantastic with gluten-free ice cream. And it doesn't require any crazy ingredients. I had everything at home already.

I would have included a picture, but it barely made it out of the springform pan before it was consumed. Yum.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Magic Card

We recently took a vacation in Istanbul. And despite the stunning mosques, the ancient town wall, the beautiful minarets, and deafening call to prayer (which seemed to initiate very little prayer and woke us up at 5:30 am) the most spell-binding thing we saw happened at dinner each night, when JFG would hand the waiter a small piece of paper, after which the waiter would produce gluten-free food.

It wasn't money he was handing over -- it was a document we began to refer to as the Magic Card. It was a print-out from Celiac Travel, a blog that provides information on safe traveling for people with celiac disease, and explained in detail (and in Turkish!) what foods JFG could and could not eat. Even better, the card was emphatic -- perhaps slightly hyperbolicly -- about the implications if safe food was not served.

At each restaurant, the waiter would carefully read the card, nod his head slowly, and lean over JFG to scan the menu. He'd point to items, turn to JFG, and say, "This? Not for you. This? Not for you. This? For you." Every single restaurant, every single time. Occasionally the waiter would take the card to the chef and come out with recommendations. But perhaps the most amazing moment was when we handed a card to a restaurant owner who said, "Oh! You're the second person today to come in with this card! Other lady -- we fix her vegetables and meat and rice, she love it." And JFG did too. And he made it seven days in Turkey without once, to our knowledge, being glutenized. We certainly don't have that track record in the U.S.

Celiac Travel makes these cards available for free on its website in 49 different languages, including Estonian, Urdu and Basque. You can buy similar laminated cards from Triumph Dining, but in limited languages. If you're traveling, especially to some where exotic, printing cards from Celiac Travel gets the job done.