Turning over a New Leaf on a Gluten Free Picnic

redbridgehappiness.jpg Some time back I heard about the release of a new gluten free beer from the mainstream company Anheuser-busch, Redbridge. I found myself lingering in the Beer Section at Whole Foods, a previously uninteresting section, and making random stops at Bev Mo on the off chance that they would suddenly bring out a case so that I could try it. I must admit, my gluten free beer experiences in the past had been fairly negative. The honey mead beer at the Stanford Celiac Conference tasted like the bees had been spitting into the cup. Ramapo Passover Honey Beer had such a strong aftertaste (and during-taste, I might add) that I was done after one tentative sip. And while Bard’s Beer was attractively packaged and a serious improvement on the others, it still took me about an hour to drink half of a bottle, due to that seemingly universally bitter aftertaste. I had heard such good things about Redbridge I was quite rabid to try it, even though I’m not much of a drinker. (Honest.) I heard rumors here, there, everywhere about this San Francisco shop that carried it, or that one- but none anywhere near Mountain View. Quite unexpectedly, I stumbled across it this afternoon, and was guilty of doing a half jig/clap of joy in the middle of a supermarket isle. Hopefully no one (except for DH) noticed it. Luckily he’s used to my, um… little eccentricities.

newleaf1.jpgBut how did this miracle of miracles occur? This morning I decided rather than squandering my entire spring break, we should go on a local adventure. I searched online and found that apparently the nearby Santa Cruz area is the home of local heirloom tomato farms, hiking opportunities, and some wonderful wineries, including one of the few organic wineries around- Hallcrest Vineyards’ Organic Wine Works. We decided to pick up a few tomato plants to grow on our balcony, go hiking, and maybe finish up the day with a picnic and (free) wine tasting at Hallcrest Vineyards. Everything went according to plan. Then we stopped at a local market in Felton called New Leaf Community Market in order to get picnic supplies. My Weekend Adventures guidebook just said “Everything needed for a delicious, healthy picnic- and more- is found in this popular local grocery.” What they somehow neglected to mention was that this popular local grocery is paradise for vegan and gluten intolerant shoppers, and one of the best health food stores I’ve been to in ages. Their deli was small, and most items contained wheat, but we did pick up a beet salad and the cutest, room temperature safe sealed containers of Wild Garden brand hummus I’ve ever seen. As I kept walking around the store, though, I kept finding more treasures that I’ve never found anywhere else. They actually carried the GOOD Glutino products; not just the cardboard-like bread and high calorie bagels, but also products with a good reputation, like their crackers rumored to taste like Ritz crackers, their chocolate wafers, and their small pizza crusts. They also had an astounding selection of gluten free snack bars by companies I’d never heard of like Kind, Smart Monkey, Raw Organic and more. I found yummy fresh spring rolls in their refrigerator case that used wheat free soy sauce and tahini rather than peanut in the accompanying sauce. Then there were the indian sweets clearly labeled gluten free, the fresh packaged Indian meals, the lovely cheeses. It was when I discovered Redbridge in the aisles though, that I had my above mentioned spasm of joy. It was even on sale, which made the moment truly perfect. We staggered out of the store with *ahem* more than two people could ever possibly eat for one picnic, and wandered across the street to a coffeeshop, the White Raven, which proclaimed itself to be the home of “Larry’s Famous Chai.”

glutinocrackers.jpgNext, it was off to the winery, where we sampled both organic and their non organic wines before settling in for a picnic. I can safely say, I’ve never had beer at a picnic before, and the Redbridge was the best beer I’ve had. Given my lack of enthusiasm for other gluten free beers I’ve tried in the past, this is not quite the rousing endorsement it could be. However, although it still had a slight bitter note at the end, the flavor of the beer itself was good, and it was quite drinkable. I could see myself enjoying it at a barbecue with some grilled tofu. Although the organic wine was a little more to my taste, sitting on their deck enjoying some delicious Glutino crackers with some local dill goat cheese, a summer roll and some fresh beet salad with a cold bottle of beer gave me quite a thrill. And when we topped it off with some chocolate wafers, a bite of Indian sweets, and a square of dark, dark organic chocolate, the meal could only be called… yummy.

While I haven’t tried all of my new products yet, let me briefly review the Glutino crackers and wafers.

Glutino Gluten Free Crackers: DH gave them a 9/10, saying they tasted just like the wheat equivalent, although NOT quite a ritz cracker, and I would have to agree, maybe giving them an 8.5/10 myself. I would give them a 9, but I am just not used to rich crackers like that, and they are a bit high in calorie. Amazon used to sell them by the case, but they don’t seem to offer them at the moment. When they do, I just may have to order some, because my local Mountain View Nob Hill Grocery store just can’t seem to keep them in stock. (And for good reason- they are actually GOOD!)

Glutino Gluten Free Wafer Cookies in Chocolate: I was expecting these to be the kind of sugary, creamy wafer that melts in the mouth that is/was sold by Ener-g foods, but they have a bit more substance to the wafer. I didn’t like them at first, but by the second one I warmed to them, and by the third, I realized how addicting they were. I’m not sure how the lemon flavor will compare, as it is largely the chocolate coating that I find seductive. I would give them an 8/10, and DH would give them a 5 or 6/10.

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2 Responses to “Turning over a New Leaf on a Gluten Free Picnic”

  1. [...] Bard’s Tale’s Dragon’s Gold Sorghum Lager, Ramapo Valley Brewery’s Passover Honey Beer, and Anheuser Busch’s Redbridge all joined the fray and competed for the Gluten Free beer market. I say the more competition the better- it might result in a halfway drinkable brew! I have to admit, my first experiences with the gluten free beers was somewhat painful. I had Ramapo Honey Beer at a Stanford Celiac Conference, and hated the bitter aftertaste that lingered for what seemed like hours after drinking it. I liked the idea, but not the reality of the beverage. And honey beer sounded so appetizing… Next I tried Bard’s Tale Dragon’s Gold. I took it with me to a party and swigged my way through… an entire 1/10 the of the bottle, I swear. Swig might be an overstatement. Sip, grimace, put beer down. Five minutes later, another sip, and by sip, I mean barely dampening my mouth with the stuff, then closing my mouth tightly and setting the bottle down again. I really wanted to like the beer with its cool name (dragons, come on, how much better can it get) and even cooler label insignia. This drink gives me wings, baby. But I’d probably have to drink more than a tablespoon a night to get any magical dragon effects, and that is just more than I was willing to do. These gluten free beers were really getting me down. It made me long for a simpler time, where my only option was sweet, delicious hard apple cider. But I was determined, and so when I heard that Anheuser-Busch had jumped into the fray with their own commercial Redbridge Sorghum beer, I steeled myself for another disappointment and resolved to try it immediately. I was a bit stymied by the fact that none of my local health food stores (all two of them) decided to stock it. I found myself in the unlikely situation of haunting beer refrigerator aisles and scanning for MY beer, but with the exception of a discovery of a section of chilled champagne (ooh, goodie!) I seemed to be out of luck. Then, just when I was least expecting it, DH and I found an unexpected surplus of Redbridge while exploring the New Leaf Market and found ourselves the proud owners of not one but two six packs of the stuff! (It was on sale, and we just couldn’t resist.) We brought it home… chilled it… poured it into a glass, just for the occasion… and I took a sip. It wasn’t half bad! A slight bitter aftertaste, but nothing like the caterpillar that curled up and died in my mouth that I experienced with the other gluten free beers. It was actually drinkable, and even tasty, with the right accompaniment. But let’s be honest here. With all my years of sweet, sweet hard cider, sparkly champagne as my celebration drink of choice, and crisp white wine, I’m just not set up to become a real live beer drinker. Oh, I’ll drink it occasionally, to show willing and to exorcise my demons. But the fact is, it will probably take me three years to drink those two six packs, and I had several bottles of despised gluten free beers taking up valuable space in my cupboards. Desperate times were calling for desperate measures, which is why when I stumbled across a 13 year old Bon Appetit magazine (back when they were more gourmet- oh how I miss those days…) and found a recipe for “Stout and Orange Glazed Brussels Sprouts,” I jumped on it. Of course it needed some serious modification to be gluten free and vegetarian, but I was up to the challenge. I changed the recipe (especially cooking method) rather heavily, and came up with the recipe below. While at first I was skeptical that anything yummy could be made with my “medicinal bitters” AKA Ramapo, I was delighted with the complexity that the beer brought to the recipe, and combined with the sugar and diverse flavors of the recipe, I ended up with a lip smacking, gobble fest worthy side dish. I also had one less gluten free beer haunting my cupboards and taking up valuable shelf space, so it was a success all around. If you’ve got something undrinkable in YOUR pantry (gluten free, of course), why not try it in a recipe? It may have all kinds of potential just waiting to be realized in the right recipe… And this one is a great place to start! [...]

  2. [...] Growing your own Organic Heirloom Tomatoes I told you all in a previous post in March that we went on a foodie adventure in the Santa Cruz Mountains and had a wonderful time. On that visit we stopped at the local heirloom tomato farm, Love Apple Farm, which sells heirloom tomato plants in the spring and grows and sells an amazing variety of tomatoes in the summer to local clients and a foofie restaurant in Los Gatos, Manresa Restaurant. In March I bought four heirloom tomato plants from the amazing tomato lady at LAF, and signed myself up for her newsletter with tomato growing tips and farm news. All summer I’ve been feeding and watering my plants, and I’ve had the fun of watching them grow from about 5 inches or so to six or seven feet tall. I’ve shown you a few photos of tomatoes from my balcony garden- notably, the Costoluto Florentino pumpkin shaped tomato that I nicknamed “Tall Joe” because the plant kept growing and growing, and a Japanese Oxheart with pepper or heart shaped tomatoes. I’m also waiting for Tall Joe’s friend, a Purple Calabash, AKA “Wide Joe” who is determined to grow over and out of the balcony entirely, to come into season. When their days of glory have passed and the balcony is empty again *sniff*, I guess I’ll have to start daydreaming of the season next year, when I can try my favorites again (Tall Joe Jr?), and maybe try growing a few new varieties. [...]

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