Within a week of the May 2021 launch of nutmeg & grace launched I received a message from my friend Katherine in Seattle that read:
I read it twice to quell the disbelief that within a week of sharing our celiac story, already someone newly diagnosed was benefitting. My mind was blown!
I responded immediately and we scheduled a time to talk. I heard her story, similar to so many celiacs – depleted of energy, gut pain, inexplicable weight loss, etc. I shared some immediate changes she could make. We looked at the calendar to find a time for me to visit, roll up my sleeves, set the pantry and household with practices to keep gluten exposure to a minimum, mindful of the members of the family for whom gluten sensitivity isn’t an issue.
In preparation for our visit, I researched gluten-free restaurants, bakeries and markets in the Seattle area. A fantastic baker, and true Seattleite, celiac had Katherine and lamenting the loss of the pastry that sometimes accompanied her morning coffee. Thus, I encouraged her to reserve some favorite GF cookbooks to serve as inspiration for cooking and baking adventures ahead.
Upon arrival, we grabbed lunch (delicious GF Salads from Heart Beet Organic Superfoods Cafe) and headed back to her house to plot and plan our time together. We set priorities that included grocery shopping, kitchen/pantry organization, some housewares shopping, cooking and fun GF outings.
Grocery Shopping: Armed with our readers to scour the fine print, we set out on a grocery adventure that over two days, we combed the aisles of Sprouts Market, Whole Foods and the Grocery Outlet, where looked at labels (an inconsistent and ever-shifting challenge), identified some favorite products to try and returned to her home with a broad array of gluten-free items to broaden her choices and prepare satisfying meals without gluten.
Kitchen & Pantry Organization: Already a go-getter, Katherine’s GF home transformation was already underway when I arrived and she had begun the task of reading labels, sorting their larder and identifying safe places for GF goods. She was ready for me to work my magic once I got there.
Task #1 was her baker’s cupboard. I emptied, scrubbed and reset this cabinet assuring that any gluten-full ingredients were set away from the day-to-day items. In this process, there were things that had to be pitched – open containers sprinkles, loose cupcake liners, and other potentially cross-contaminated items – but most were safely sorted and reset.
TIP: Sorting through this area of a kitchen is something that someone newly diagnosed with celiac should not do. Flours often scatter inside of cabinets and when scrubbing, particulate matter disperses into the air.
Next on the list was the pantry. Since storage is a challenge in my own kitchen, the idea of a pantry is the stuff of dreams for me, a dream Katherine lives every day. Heeding a recommendation from an earlier blog post, Katherine claimed the uppermost shelf as her GF space. I still believe that if pressed for storage, honoring gravity by keeping GF items up high is the right call. For one with significant lateral storage, perhaps another option is better than one that employs tippy-toes, jumping to grab things, or dragging out the stepstool as I find myself doing pretty much daily.
For the pantry reset, I checked all labels and began separating goods by category (snacks, breakfast, canned goods, etc.) and set all gluten-free items running down the left side of the pantry shelves, the non-GF items on the right side and those items that were safely self-contained in the middle. Where possible I used bins to gather loose items and provide additional barriers between sections.
Following the reset, I provided a little tour of what was done so that the family could understand the changes and know where to find items that had been relocated.
Wares: Katherine’s husband Jeff is a top-notch griller, so finding a way to safely grill for the family is a top priority. This said, one of the first items we purchased was a barbecue grill mat. A grill mat serves as a barrier between previously contaminated grates and the food being prepared. Quasi-skeptical at first, I assured Jeff that cooking on the mat was similar to cooking on a cedar plank, a favorite Northwest cooking method that Jeff mastered long ago. I furthered that this simple silicone sheet is something that we have used consistently in our home for the past two years and that the griller in my home is a believer. He dove right in, and prepared a delectable dinner! Other wares we purchased were a small skillet, cutting boards and color-coded spatulas and utensils.
Mindful of the overwhelm and expense that can set in during this time of post-diagnosis upheaval, I left with a few suggestions to consider should she feel the need to lay in additional measures.
Cooking: Already a good cook, the adjustment to gluten-free cooking should be a smooth one for Katherine and her household. To that end, we took to the kitchen with a sense of adventure and made some great dishes from scratch including a summer berry crisp, lemony orzo pasta salad topped with everyday shrimp, green salad with balsamic vinaigrette. We even snuck in a boxed cookie mix which turned out great too!
While cooking together, we talked about best practices and the challenge of breaking long-standing habits (ex. Leaving a bread knife or towel on the counter and using it again on a gf surface) I confessed my reliance on barrier methods in food prep – parchment paper, coffee filters and prep bowls as well as a curious dedication to heavy duty aluminum foil.
GF Fun, Seattle style: As luck would have it, Katherine and I have a mutual friend, Susan, who has been gluten-free for more than a decade and, most conveniently, resides in Seattle. When we assembled, it felt a bit like a “Welcome to Gluten Free” party as Susan led us on an afternoon of her favorite Seattle GF spots. Per its website, “Cafe Flora has been a Seattle institution for nearly 30 years, capturing the hearts of all our guests with a light-filled atrium and cozy dining room.” Though not 100% gluten-free, this vegetarian restaurant and its servers are well versed in the practices needed to assure that gluten-free food is prepared safely, and employs extra measures for diners with celiac or gluten intolerance. While their desserts tempted, Susan had another plan for us. Off to Capitol Hill for a visit to Nuflours. This 100% gluten-free bakery proudly bears the Certified Gluten Free logo and delivers an array of treats that would appeal to all palates. We sampled several and left quite satisfied!
Without even planning, we saved the best for last! On our last day together we set out to cross the bridge from Seattle into Bellevue, and we were so glad we did! Located a few minutes from tony downtown Bellevue, Wildflour has solidly landed in my top 3 gf bakeries to date. We were greeted by owner Jay Gordon who warmly welcomed Katherine to the gluten-free Seattle community. He fielded questions, shared the story of the bakery’s origin, and allowed us as much time as we needed to poke around. At one point, he excused himself, went to the back and returned with two freshly warmed samples of the Wildflour French baguette; a baguette that rivals all others I have sampled including those I have had in France and Italy! Needless to say, we purchased them. The steady stream of customers served as testament to this little gem and one patron even stopped to recommend her family’s favorites including a honey quinoa sandwich bread and the shortcake biscuits. Offering a promise of “No Gluten – No compromise!” Wildflour offers peace of mind paired with a perfectly pleased palate. Wildflour delivers not only on flavor, but also, they deliver to the greater Seattle area overnight for a reasonable fee! If only I lived in Seattle!
In our time together, we only scratched the surface of the many gluten-free options in Seattle. Perhaps a second trip is in order. For now, my work is done. Katherine has a grasp on how to move forward safely in the glutosphere and knows where to find a delectable gluten-free pastries to accompany her morning coffee.
Thank you, Katherine. Here’s to Living Life Fully. . . Gluten-Free!