Tag Archives: whole foods

Tell me a sprue story about…grocery shopping

In the wake of the FDA finally announcing gluten-free labeling rules (read about it here, here, and pretty much everywhere), I’ve been thinking about grocery shopping even more than usual, if that’s possible.

In the spirit of celebration, I’d love if you would share YOUR stories about gluten-free grocery shopping—make them sad, funny, infuriating, short, long, general, specific, anything you want…as long as they’re “sprue.”

Gluten-free aisle

Photo © Memphis CVB | Flickr

Here’s mine.

For me, shopping with celiac in tow is only slightly more stressful than it used to be (and still likely not as stressful as having, say, a toddler in tow—or with both, a plight with which some of you are familiar).

That’s because even before I went gluten-free, my grocery shopping trips were already interminable processes of pausing, considering, picking up, rejecting, and repeating. I blame this on:

a) calorie consciousness, which adds time spent reading labels and doing little calculations like, “X calories times Y servings per equals WTF HOW CAN THERE BE THAT MANY IN THIS TINY BAG?,” followed by hunting for more reasonable choices;

b) money consciousness, which adds time spent chewing over this option versus that option and more little calculations like, “X dollars divided by Y servings equals WTF HOW CAN IT COST THAT MUCH FOR THIS TINY BAG?,” followed by hunting for sale items (something that now takes less time, because it’s simple: the gluten-free items are NEVER on sale);

c) lack of spatial awareness or visual memory (I can’t see images in my mind, perhaps due to mild dyscalculia, which would also explain why the aforementioned calculations always take me so long), which adds time spent wandering slooooowly down aisles looking at each item and hoping that one of them will magically turn out to be the thing I came in for, which I sort of thought I’d seen before somewhere, but in which aisle or store I couldn’t say;

d) vegetarianism, which adds time spent scanning ingredients lists for gelatin and trying to remember which cheese brands use microbial rennet (and trying to nail down once and for all my viewpoint on animal-derived rennet—a philosophical dilemma that also, incidentally, adds time to my shopping trips);

and I could go on.

In other words, with or without gluten, I suck at shopping. With so many hem- and haw-worthy items in mind, I dawdle my way through the aisles. When I finally emerge from a Whole Foods or a Fairway or a TJ’s, I feel a bit like a mortal departing the fairy underworld, leaving behind halls bursting with enticing and enchanting food, and having no idea how much time has passed in the outside world.

I lug my bags home in a daze and often find, as I sort through the treasure, that in a sudden panic after too much time spent deliberating I managed to buy several items I do not need, will never use, or cannot use (such as, recently, those two boxes of granola bars whose first ingredient—oats, even gluten-free—is one I do not eat). Perhaps I do this unconsciously to form a link between myself and those magical realms; I must return, you see, to make the return.

Despite all this, and even though nobody likes a slow shopper during the afterwork rush hour, I always make it through with my sanity intact. And even after a rough trip when nothing is certified and everything is overpriced, I don’t feel discouraged for long.

Because…I must admit…I like grocery shopping. I like discovering interesting new ingredients, I appreciate marketing slogans and packaging strategies, I enjoy checking items off the shopping list, I indulge in people- and cart-watching, I sniff the bottoms of pineapples like a pro, I savor the sudden chill of the freezer aisle and thrill to the sight of a good bargain, and, above all, I know it’s all in service of a great cause: delicious gluten-free, vegetarian, (mostly) thrifty, nutritious, home-cooked meals.

Worth every second.

Don’t forget to share your story about gluten-free grocery shopping for you or others. Alternatively, tell me how you feel about the new labeling rules. Are they everything you hoped they’d be? (Links to your own blog posts on the subject are, of course, welcome.)

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Meda ase, Ghana Cafe! (Gluten-free in DC)

I’m not going to make a habit of reviewing restaurants on this blog, partly because I almost never go to them. I swore them off on January 29th until I’m feeling better, per standard recommendations. However, I admit that I’ve “cheated” and gone out to eat three times since then, at three different restaurants.

One was Sacred Chow near NYU (where I was sad to learn they’d changed their menu from the previous small plates format). I was dining with a gluten-free companion who swore up and down that they were good about cross-contamination, and our waiter made similar assurances. Lack of tapas aside, the meal was tasty as always, but I still didn’t feel right about it. After that I renewed my vow to pass on restaurants that weren’t strictly gluten-free until the time is right.

The two restaurants I’ve made exceptions for since then both claim entirely gluten-free menus: the newish Hu Kitchen near Union Square (paleo and veg-friendly, not so easy to pull off) and Ghana Cafe in Washington, DC, while I was visiting my brother Patrick (warning: their website plays drums at you).

I was excited to learn that the cuisine of Ghana traditionally uses cornmeal and rice rather than wheat (or other gluten-containing grains) as staples, meaning the food is naturally gluten-free. When I called in advance, the staff member assured me that everything was gluten-free. In person, our waiter (who I believe was in fact the owner, though he didn’t introduce himself as such) reassured us that everything was gluten-free, and also volunteered that it was dairy-free and GMO-free. Fine by me!


This sauce (which we didn’t get to try on its own, though I think it was in Pat’s dish) is available for sale on their website in terrifying bulk quantities.

He also let us know that select products of theirs are available at their local Whole Foods (so far, only their hot sauce, but they’d just dropped off samples of other dishes, including the peanut soup that I had, and were hoping they’d get picked up—good luck!).

I had a rice and black-eyed pea pilaf-style dish (wakye, I think) with peanut soup, and Pat and I split a dish called banku, made of fermented corn, which was a slightly sour polenta-bready thing. I liked it plain; though it was quite bland, it struck me as great comfort food. It became magical when dunked in the peanut soup or spread with the incredible spice mixture that came out with it. This mix was their housemade shito, which is normally based on seafood but which they make vegan. They didn’t want to give away their recipe, but I got confirmation that it was “just spices.” Have you had it?

Me with my new favorite condiment, shito. ("Pull up your shirt!," says my Mom.)

Me with my new favorite condiment, shito. (I know, I know: “Pull up your shirt!,” says Mom.)

Big brother Pat ordered the jollof (tomatoey, spiced) rice with snapper. I think he was a bit surprised when his entrée came out as an entire fish, head and all . . .

HTC PI86100_000094

. . . but that didn’t stop him from eating it. I didn’t stop him either, despite staring at it with perturbed fascination and commenting, “You can still see its little teeth!” and “It’s frowning at me!”

Yeah, I’m that vegetarian.

Anyway, it was a wonderful meal, and the restaurant, I think, is an underappreciated gem, which is why I wanted to be sure to write a review. Atmosphere-wise, it was fine—brightly colored tables, not-too-loud music, and large windows to the street that we sat by. Our waiter and busboy were friendly and forthcoming. Somewhat pricey, but very good food.

I was sort of nervous to go, though, because so few gluten-freers were talking about it online. I found one Yelper who spoke (yelped?) highly of it (others didn’t even mention the gluten-free menu, and many complained about slow service, which, to be fair, we also experienced—Pat and I agreed to term it “relaxed,” but we could’ve gone for a water refill or two, especially with the smallish glasses). A DC Celiac Support Group member also wrote a favorable review, but the restaurant didn’t make it into the most recently updated version of their GF-friendly restaurants list.

Where’s the love, DCers?

Here it is:

HTC PI86100_000096

Another reason I can’t do restaurant reviews: I don’t think to take pictures until the food is gone, and then I beg my dining companions to take them with low-quality cell phone cameras.

Given that my “stuff” isn’t under control, I suppose I shouldn’t have eaten out yet, even with all the reassurances, but I’m not beating myself up over it. I was on vacation, the world didn’t end, and I enjoyed my food. It was also nice to have three different dishes without having to do any dishes after. Best of all, my meal was free. (Thanks, Pat!)

Of course, if you don’t have your big brother there to pick up the tab, your food won’t be free, but it will be gluten-free (and dairy-free, and GMO-free) and tasty. If you’re ever in the neighborhood, I definitely recommend Ghana Cafe. And if you get your hands on a decent banku or vegetarian shito recipe, let me know, because I’ll be all over that shito.

Tell me: What’s your favorite underappreciated/hole-in-the-wall/under-blogged-about restaurant?

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For the record

You know when keeping a food log sucks? When you get to the end of a day and realize it looks like this:

Breakfast: Sugary cereal

Snack: ~1/3 jar of Dark Chocolate Dreams peanut butter

Lunch: Half a bag of tortilla chips with salsa and hummus

Snack #2: Gluten-free cookies

Dinner: Frozen premade Indian dinner, peanut brittle

Exercise: Skipped


You know when it sucks worse? When you’ve had a week of days that look like this:

Breakfast: Unsweetened whole-grain hot cereal with flax and almond milk

Lunch: Sweet potatoes, pinto beans, carrot sticks

Snacks: Reasonable portions of nuts, fruit and vegetables

Dinner: Tempeh, apple, and onion stir fry with brown rice and spinach

Exercise: Lots of walking, plus 45 minutes on the elliptical

. . . but you still feel like crap.

Photo © Ben Haley | Flickr

Photo © Ben Haley | Flickr

Amirite? I know my paleo friends are just waiting to pounce on that second entry, much as their ancestors descended upon prey in the savanna. There are at least as many different definitions of an ideal diet as there are calories in a third of a jar of peanut butter. My own sense that a whole-foods, plant-based diet should make me feel healthy is shored up largely by dogma and selective reading. Still, at the end of most days, I feel I’ve made pretty good food choices. But does it make a difference? My answer is in black (or blue, depending on pen color) and white.

When other people go on and on about how great their unprocessed veg*n diets make them feel, I often struggle with the urge to hurl butternut squash at their heads. I know intestinal healing comes first, and I’m sure an overall healthy diet is probably working invisible heart-protective magic, yadda yadda, but I can’t help but wonder: What’s the point of eating well if an unhealthy gluten-free diet and a healthy gluten-free diet leave me feeling exactly the same? For that matter, what’s the point of eating a healthy or unhealthy gluten-free diet if I feel worse on average than I felt when I was eating gluten? Why bother doing it right if I’ll still feel wrong?

When I start asking myself this kind of question, that’s when I know it’s time to call in the big dogma. Six months to two years to feel better on a gluten-free diet, I remind myself, mantralike.

Six months to two years. That’s a lot of days worth of food logs. Might as well make them good ones . . . well, most of them, anyway.

Photo © Tyler Dawson | Flickr

Photo © Tyler Dawson | Flickr

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