Gluten-Free in the City
How to go GF in TO
When our daughter was diagnosed with celiac disease at age four, I panicked. Thoughts of bagels, banana bread and donuts danced ’round my brain…and down the drain. I felt badly for Lily, but secretly almost worse for us. No more family brunches at Bagel World?!
What was this celiac disease? And what on earth was gluten? I soon learned that Lily was lucky to have been diagnosed at such a young age, before too much damage was done. She didn’t have to suffer the brutal symptoms of celiac for long, nor did her disease require a lifetime on meds. But the more my husband and I read about the gluten-free diet, the more overwhelmed we felt. Finally, we decided to turn our house into a full-on gluten-free zone so that eating could still be a positive, safe and joyful experience for Lily.
Then we went and drowned our sorrows in cookie dough and mourned the gluten-filled life we took for granted.
Fast-forward four years. Gluten-free is now so in vogue that it’s gracing the cover of Vogue! We’re still learning how to navigate our gluten-free life and, admittedly, there’s been a lot of trial and error. For every melt-in-your-mouth chocolate brownie there’s been a sawdust cousin relegated to the bin. Still, we continue our search-and-discover missions throughout our fair city and have been surprised in the best possible ways. We shop, cook, bake and dine out gluten-free—and we’re all the better for it, especially Lily. With local indie grocer Fiesta Farms down the street, we’re never at a loss for gluten-free options. In fact, there is so much local gluten-free goodness going on that I feel grateful to be raising our GF girl in TO.
So how does one go gluten- free in the city? Here are a few tips to help you find your way:
1. Visit farmers’ markets. Toronto boasts some fantastic farmers’ markets! Odds are there’s one in your ’hood. (We’re blessed with The Stop Farmers’ Market at the Wychwood Barns—home of the Gluten- Free Garage!) Be sure to venture further afield as well. Not only will you be inspired by the most gorgeous, often-organic seasonal fruits and veggies, you’re also likely to come across healthy, delicious, fresh gluten-free food and even get a chance to speak to the people who make it.
2. Go to foodie events. There’s basically one every weekend! And now that gluten-free is the new black, you can bet there will be gluten-free fare at many of them. We love to trawl the Vegetarian Food Festival, Soupalicious and the Toronto Underground Market for cutting-edge gluten-free finds.
3. Take a gluten-free cooking class. Always in search of ways to keep my family happy and healthy on our gluten-free diet, I’m a sucker for a hands-on cooking class. They’re worth the price of admission: You’ll pick up some useful tips, take home a slew of new recipes and enjoy the GF meal you cooked!
4. Make a reservation. Toronto’s got gluten-free and GF-friendly restaurants aplenty! Luckily for us, some are dedicated gluten-free and therefore completely worry free. Others may not have a gluten-free kitchen but go out of their way to ensure the food is safe. Be warned: Some restos boast “gluten free!” on their menus but have no business doing so. Claiming the food is gluten-free when it’s cooked in the same pot or fryer as everything else is a recipe for cross-contamination.
5. Join the Toronto chapter of the Canadian Celiac Association. No longer just for people with celiac disease, the CCA has broadened its mandate to be the voice for all “people who are adversely affected by gluten.” And membership has its privileges: You get a copy of the Pocket Dictionary: Acceptability of Foods & Food Ingredients for the Gluten-Free Diet—my gluten-free bible.
6. Come to the Gluten-Free Garage on November 17 at the Artscape Wychwood Barns! We’re excited to be hosting 60 vendors—an eclectic, hand-picked mix of GFG alumni and newbies—who will be sampling and selling their awesome gluten-free food and lifestyle products at our 3rd event! For more info, go to glutenfreegarage.ca.
6 gluten-free pros serve up ONE BRILLIANT TIP for how to go gluten-free…no matter where you live
Find a good gluten-free bread. Many breads on the market are lacking flavour, nutrients and substance. You have to do a little research in order to find the best gluten-free bread for you. The smaller gluten-free bakeries seem to be the ones that are finding creative ways to make tasty (and healthy) gluten-free breads. If you have your toast, gluten-free living seems rosier!
—Maggie Savage, sheletthemeatcake.com
Choose whole foods instead of gluten-free junk food. While there are many gluten-free products available in grocery stores nowadays, be cautious of the dreaded sugar found in many packaged foods. Just because you’re gluten-free doesn’t mean it’s a one-way ticket to eating anything and everything you want. To stay on track health-wise and feel your best, eat more naturally gluten-free foods and try to avoid sugar and chemical ingredients. Be an avid label reader to know what’s in your food.
—Joy McCarthy, Holistic nutritionist, joyoushealth.ca
Ask lots of questions when dining out or eating at someone else’s home. Just because a dish is made from gluten-free ingredients doesn’t mean it’s free from gluten. Some restaurants may not be aware of cross-contamination issues, so ask how they prepare the food and what measures they take to prevent it. Verifying the safety status of your food will put your tummy in check and will (more often than not) educate someone else, so it’s a win-win situation!
—Lisa Cantkier, glutenfreefind.com
Experiment with different all-purpose gluten-free flour mixes. Most gluten-free recipes recommend combining several different flours, but there’s no need to jump in this way! Once you figure out which mixes work best for you, you’ll have a better idea how the various flours operate together—and then you might want to design your own blend. Although I’ve been baking my whole life, I waited two years before developing an all-purpose GF mix; I wanted to be sure it would work in all situations and that I loved the flavour and texture it produced. Now I use it for 95% of my baking (find the recipe at RickiHeller.com).
—Ricki Heller, author of Naturally Sweet and Gluten Free
Find support. It’s difficult to embrace a whole new lifestyle on your own. The best thing I did after diagnosis was create an online resource to attract other people who could empathize, where we could discuss local products, events, stores, restaurants and more. It’s comforting to be surrounded by people who have been in your shoes and get what you’re going through. Best of all, I learned that being gluten-free can be fun.
—Jax Wilkinson, glutenfreeontario.ca
Don’t eat wheat.
—Lily E., Gluten Free Garage muse
RonniLyn Pustil is the founder of the Gluten-Free Garage – a celebration of all things deliciously gluten-free that's taking place at the Artscape Wychwood Barns on November 17th.