April 23, 2012

Going Gluten-Free in Toronto (pronounced ‘torranna’)

In February I was getting pretty bored. I didn’t have many students (or an,y depending on the week) and I was running out of things to do. There’s only so much you can do when it’s cold outside and I didn’t really want to venture outside. Then an email arrived. Porter Airlines was having a sale. Hmmm. After some pricing I decided to take a trip to Mississauga to visit my sister. Flights have gotten ridiculously expensive, especially for that 45 min flight, but with the price of gas at the time, it balanced out.

Luckily she got some time off as well. In fact, the people in HR had been after her boss to allow her to take some time off to use up the appalling amount of vacation she had built up. I flew into City Centre Airport without a problem and met my little sister in the parking lot. We had planned very little for the week and decided to take it day by day.

We walked a lot, visited our other sister and her family and walked some more. My little sister loves walking their dog and finds it therapeutic. Angus is a big guy and we often wondered who was walking who since she was letting him choose our route. We also ate quite a bit and did some shopping. It seemed like a nice holiday that wasn’t.

Living really close to Square One, we ventured for a few shopping trips. Not normally exciting except she’s near a Whole Foods. There were so many delicious goodies.

GlutenFreeda’s instant oatmeal was on sale and I had to get a box. I was having trouble finding a good gf instant oatmeal (yes I know it’s almost sacrilege, but I’m realistic – I’m not going to make the real stuff). I really like it and it doesn’t get mushy like some others I’ve tried. It’s great for these chilly mornings when it’s hard to get going.

My Nature’s Path cereal was also on sale (big time) and I stocked up (literally). With my mom making another visit she was more than happy to bring them up so I wouldn't have to check them on the airplane. Another cereal caught my eye: Erewhorn. The freeze-dried strawberries were a nice bonus and the cereal tasted really good. The price was perfect too (on sale!) so it was worth at least a try. The flakes don’t go mushy like many gf flaked cereals do and with the strawberries, there was a nice taste to it. It’s also a nice change from my usual Nature’s Path.

At the bakery counter I asked about more gluten-free goodies hoping for something ‘fresh’, but was denied. Instead, the wonderful employee took us on a quick tour of the store showing us where the gf items were and some of the brands they carry. There was a lot. There was a small freezer section, the cereal and pasta, and in the bakery section some cookies and bread. We were told the Aidan’s buns were good sellers and I can understand why. They were a great substantial bun that tasted like a bun should.

And the Mackies were also popular although he didn’t know much about them. I had seen them before and always hesitated; the price always deterred me. I picked them up anyway throwing caution to the wind. The coconut chocolate cookies were amazing. Were they worth the steep price? I don’t know, but if you try any cookie, this is one.

Our mom was meeting us for an afternoon together and dinner afterwards. I had copied down a bunch of gluten-free shops from a few Toronto websites and after the second disappointment (they no longer existed) I talked my sister into taking us to The Big Carrot along the Danforth. She did reluctantly and the only reason she did was because the Honey and I were friends of friends (sort of) of a pair that got it up and running. Every time we met them I felt bad saying I still hadn’t gone (it was in Toronto after all so I felt I had a bit of an excuse).

It’s a great place that seems to have something for everyone. Their gluten-free section is a great size and has such a variety. The lemon vanilla biscuits by Messa Bites were so tasty.

A walnut brownie from Sweets from the Earth was so rich and after checking the ingredients I realized it contained tofu (I always forget the soy!!). My sister was more than happy to finish it off.

Some cinnamon raisin bagels smelled wonderful through the bag and I couldn’t wait to try one when I returned home. Organic Oven makes a bagel that tastes like a bagel.

The raspberry coconut muffin made by The Big Carrot was really nice too. It was moist and full of raspberries.

It was quite busy and the little sister was beginning to lose her patience with people who couldn’t stop bumping into her so it was obviously time for dinner. We had decided to try a fish and chip place that supposedly served gf fish and chips and wasn’t too far away.

Off the Hook is a small place located at 749 Broadview, just off the Danforth. I had my hopes set high, but I was also slightly skeptical. Then I saw two pink words on their chalkboard ‘gluten-free’. Jackpot! We quickly found a table and began scouring the chalkboard. One of the cooks brought us some menus and took our drink order. They had Nicklebrook gluten-free beer! Woohooo! With his help we decided on what fish (a few to choose from) and the accompanying sauce (so many). The three of us chose different sauces and they were all delicious. Apparently I couldn’t stop smiling. The cook told us that I wasn’t the first and they’ve seen so many like me. He told us of one woman who began crying as she ate because it had been 20 years since she’d had true fish and chips. I totally know how she felt.

Lemongrass is a Thai restaurant with locations throughout Toronto. I had also read that they had gluten-free options. After a morning of some shopping we went there for lunch. The little sister had been there many times since it was so close and always enjoyed her meal. We started with some veggie rolls that we expected to be cold fresh ones, but came fried. We were assured by two others staff members that they were gluten-free. I was hesitant because they looked like regular fried wheat wrappers. Our waitress came by and told us that they use a rice wrapper that can be deep fried. That seems really cool and gives people like me more options. We also had the spicy black bean chicken and Singapore vermicelli with veggies, both were excellent. Our only disappointment was they were tagged as spicy, but they didn’t pack much heat.

After some more afternoon shopping we drove to Oakville to Voila Gluten-FreeBakeree. John and Julie opened their GF bakery to supply the growing demand and they have some loyal clientele. One trip there and you can understand why. Everything looked delicious and it was easy dropping $30 on goodies. And trust me, they don’t disappoint. A big brownie and nanaimo bar were devoured in the car. John didn’t think my sister could devour the brownie on her own, but she did and was proud of it.

A raspberry scone was a perfect morning bite. And their English muffins and bagels are what they should taste like. There’s isn’t any overpowering flavour from the flours. What you remember them to taste like is what you get at Voila. Absolutely to die for!


After some more shopping time got away from us and we were too late to return to Off the Hook. My sister felt so badly. As a result, we picked up a friend of hers and we all went to the Green Eggplant in the Beaches. While it isn’t a gluten-free restaurant, every meal has been exceptional and the staff is understanding and patient. I usually get the salmon dish and it is wonderful with feta cheese and great vegetables. One of these days I’ll have to go when I can spend more time there and not leave right after eating.

My quasi-holiday seemed too short even though I had done a pile of shopping and scoping out of gluten-free venues. As I was checking my bags for my return flight the attendant noticed my bag of goodies. Thinking it was a snack or my dinner he was quite surprised when I told him it was full of gluten-free baked goods for my week ahead. It was well stocked and I was ready to be spoiled.

April 21, 2012

Gluten-Free Sausages

It had been a long time since I had a sausage. I was a vegetarian for 15 years, a long time before I had to give in due to this last round of food sensitivities. Even when I was a ‘meat-eater’ my sausage consumption was limited to the odd one eaten at the St Jacob’s market and usually around Oktoberfest. And that also depended on if I had a Saturday morning off to go along with my mom. I was lucky if I had one a year.

But with a gluten issue, having sausages can get even trickier. The vendors in the market or on the downtown corner don’t usually have their packages with them and who really wants one without the bun (so messy). But last fall I got a hankering for one, actually, I think I had a craving for sauerkraut and the only thing I ever had with sauerkraut was a sausage (or the odd time straight out of the jar). I knew that Metro’s line of sausages were gluten-free so I thought I’d pick some up and give them a try.

While Metro normally has a variety of types (different Italian ones, Bratwurst, etc), my little Metro often only has one or two. On my first try I picked up mild Italian for a pasta dish. I fried them whole in a frying pan, let them cool a bit, then sliced them up while my pasta was boiling away. I warmed up the sauce and tossed the sliced sausage in. For me it was different as I had never ever had sausages with pasta before (but had seen it on menus), and it was quite good. I was surprised I enjoyed it.

On my second attempt I thought I’d use some of the sauerkraut that was sitting in my fridge for some reason (seriously, I have no idea what it was doing in my fridge). I was quick when my Metro finally got some of the Bratwurst in and picked up a package. My mom was in town again and I fried them up in a frying pan over low heat, making sure they didn’t burst or crack. 

As they were almost done I put some sauerkraut in the pan with it so it could warm up a bit. Mustard was all we needed to add and we just enjoyed these German-style sausages.

While I have enjoyed Metro’s line of sausages, I have also noticed that more and more shops are carrying gluten-free sausages (Farm Boy, some butcher shops, and some places that carry other gluten-free items). With options growing I’m able to spread my wings a bit more and try them. I know there is no way I’ll be eating sausages all the time like I remember my babcia doing (I didn’t even do that growing up), I do know that I enjoy a good quality sausage and can have it without the side effects.

April 17, 2012


A terrible thing has happened – I contaminated myself. And it wasn’t just once. I did it on a daily basis for almost a month. It seems almost ridiculous that it happened. I’m always so careful and as a result, I feel like a ding-bat for allowing it to happen. The culprit: vitamins.

Since I was a teenager vitamins have been a part of my daily life and I have always read the label. As a lactose intolerant vegetarian it was fairly easy to avoid gelatin and lactose in my vitamins. It was another story when it came to medication. With medicine I would deal with the gelatin and take some lactase enzymes whenever or if it was required. As my wheat and gluten issues developed I found it easy to avoid them in my vitamins – they were rarely present. In fact I had never, ever seen wheat and gluten on a label. That is until recently.

There I was at the kitchen counter with my glass of oj and pile of vitamins. I still happened to have my iron tablet bottle in my hand and something caught my eye. I read the ingredients, then the non-medicinal ingredients, then ‘Contain: preservatives, wheat, gluten, lactose or soy’. Ahhhh s&%t! Back in the bottle went the little tablet. Not one allergen, not two, but four!! What luck!?!

After feeling pretty crummy most of the winter (due to a whole bunch of stuff), I was beginning to feel pretty good in February, but then in March I started to feel off again. I just attributed it to my job as I recently agreed to do another full-time contract after I had decided to look for something new. I just thought it was frustration and exhaustion once again. Then I realized that I hadn’t bought this bottle of iron tablets too long ago. Could it be the culprit? I dumped out the remaining tablets and counted them. Including the ones I had already taken, I began the bottle near the beginning of March. Bingo! Sadly the only reason I bought this particular bottle was because the pharmacy was out of my usual brand.

Later that day I was recounting my experience to a friend who was as surprised as I was. One would think that vitamin producers would have more insight than to contain major allergens in their so-called health product. I cannot blame Wampole since it is clearly written on their label and I know from experience that my purchases and my health is my responsibility. Another lesson re-learnt: always, always check the label.

Thankfully the brain fog is finally lifting.

April 15, 2012

Sautéed Broccoli with Garlic and Tomatoes

Last night I returned home exhausted. Once or twice a month I do language exams and after listening to people speak and assessing them, I was beat. Yesterday was draining as most of the candidates were at a fairly low level, were very soft spoken and it was like pulling teeth in getting them to speak. It was one thing in just assessing their language, but also strain to hear them and figure out ways to make them talk (without deviating from the script). It was too much. My mind kept wandering and I had trouble concentrating. The chocolate bar I brought for a quick energy boost disappeared as the afternoon wore on. The bus ride home just seemed to go on forever; and it’s only 10 mins! All I could do was hold my head up and rest against the window. By the time I got home I just wanted to sit down with a glass of wine. My head felt so heavy.

Dinner was a requirement and I needed something that wouldn’t take much effort and be healthy. I needed something that felt clean and wouldn’t weigh me down. There was broccoli in the fridge and it seemed to be calling my name. I had some nice garlic and sundried tomatoes and that would do it.

This is really easy and in summer it’s perfect with fresh produce. But in April, I have to do with what’s at the grocery store. Simply cut off the florets of broccoli (you could slice some of the stems too) and wash them. In a large pan, heat some olive oil and then toss in the broccoli and cover. The water left of the broccoli creates a little steam and the pan sautés them a bit (but be careful, the oil can get a little angry because of the water). After a minute of two add a few cloves of sliced garlic, a handful of sundried tomatoes, ground pepper and some dried oregano. Stir and cover for another minute or two. Serve with some grated parmesan cheese.

With my glass of wine, it really hit the spot. With something healthy in my tummy, I just let my mind become numb with silly Sat night tv.

April 8, 2012

Baked Mustard Lime Chicken

Not too long ago while I was crusin’ the blogs I follow I saw a tasty recipe by Elana Amsterdam of Elana’s Pantry. She often has great recipes on her blog and while I don’t try many of them, they do sound delicious. One sounded particularly tempting and so I tried it out and it was as wonderful as I thought it would be. The Honey even commented on it and was happy to know that there were leftovers for the following evening.

This Baked Mustard Lime Chicken recipe is different than the one Elana had originally posted because a reader wrote to her and told her how she had adjusted it and loved it (the original was done on a BBQ). This chicken dish is full of flavours that complement one another and is so pleasant. I’m sure it would be hard not saying ‘Mmmm’ after that first bite.

Baked Mustard Lime Chicken
  • 1 pound skinless boneless chicken breast
  • ½ cup fresh lime juice
  • ½ cup fresh cilantro, chopped
  • ¼ cup dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon olive oilDescription: http://www.assoc-amazon.com/e/ir?t=elanaspantryc-20&l=as2&o=1&a=B0015MHA50
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • ½ teaspoon celtic sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  1. Combine lime juice, cilantro, mustard, olive oil, chili, salt and pepper in a food processorDescription: http://www.assoc-amazon.com/e/ir?t=&l=as2&o=1&a=B002I5DMTQ
  2. Pulse until ingredients are well combined
  3. Rinse chicken breasts, pat dry and place in a 7x11 inch Pyrex baking dishDescription: http://www.assoc-amazon.com/e/ir?t=&l=as2&o=1&a=B000MFBXOK&camp=217153&creative=399349
  4. Pour marinade over chicken, cover and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes or up to 6 hours
  5. Bake at 350° for 18-20 minutes uncovered, or until an instant read thermometer reads 165°
  6. Serve with extra sauce spooned over top
Serves 4

April 6, 2012

Summer’s Here!?!

Last week I was thinking how nice it was that the temperatures were getting warmer and the days getting longer. I was sitting here at the computer listening to a robin singing outside the window. He sounded so happy. I saw another one on my way to work so I think spring is officially here when the robins return.

Then the weekend came along with 20+ temperatures. The Honey laughed as the weather forecasters had been talking about a windchill on Friday and then on Saturday they were talking about the humidex. We opened up all the windows and let the nice warm air in. Our munchkin even enjoyed the fresh air.

We took a walk along the river and so many people had the same idea. The sun was so warm that shorts and t-shirts were ideal clothing. The river was still frozen in many spots and you could feel the cold air coming off the ice. Once home I whipped up some buttercream icing and iced a spiced-gf beer cake I made to take to my in-laws. 

Unfortunately, this past week has been cool and damp, and just plain horrible compared to the loveliness we experienced. I know it’s spring and it’s what we should expect, but now it seems like Mother Nature is taunting us. Even the munchkin is waiting by the door every morning. Just like us, she’ll have to wait just a bit longer for the real deal.