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If You're Gluten-Free Like Me, Options Are Looking Up

by on November 21, 2017 5:00 AM

This past weekend I received an unexpected bonus of a half-day. My son and I were in Lancaster for a youth soccer tournament when the cold, wet, ugly weather on Saturday made many of the fields unplayable. This caused the organizers to cancel all the games on Sunday. So instead of arriving back home around 7 p.m.  Sunday night as originally planned, we were home before noon. This was after enjoying our drive which included the neverending line of RVs going the other direction on US 322.

And I know what you’re thinking: who schedules a soccer tournament outside in mid-November in Pennsylvania anyway?

But an unexpected half-day was a nice bonus.

It gave me the opportunity to sit back, reflect and relax. Relax, that is, right up until I realized this is Thanksgiving week, which means we’re about to be knee-deep in the holiday season and… oh boy, we’re not ready for that yet.

Sufficiently startled by the realization we haven’t taken action on what few holiday plans we’ve already made, I decided instead of using this newfound free time to correct that, I would take my mind off those thoughts by focusing on the basic human need that accompanies Thanksgiving: food. And more specifically, what could I eat now? Since we had not made our normal Sunday morning Trader Joe’s shopping excursion, the cupboards and refrigerator weren’t bare, but they were missing some staples. And in this no-grain, no-starch, no-sugar, no-dairy household, that means the pickin’s can be slim.

Yes, you read that correctly. Several members of our household eat only foods that are free of grain, starch, sugar and dairy. Which leaves fruits, vegetables and meats. Things that, unless they are frozen, have a short shelf life. This creates a need for regular shopping trips to keep our home stocked.

If we had restricted our eating in this manner 20 years ago, it would have cut out a lot of foods. Burgers, sandwiches, french fries, cake, cookies, ice cream, soda… you get the idea. Even condiments such as ketchup – which often contains sugar – are forbidden.

But some of these items are again becoming a reality. The recognition by food manufacturers that there are many people with restrictive diets has led to a small explosion in alternative foods – especially gluten-free products. Although gluten-free is only one of a number of dietary restrictions in our household and doesn’t meet everyone’s needs, I’ve found my body appreciates it. Not to mention that’s about as restrictive as I can get.

It also makes it easy on me because it’s now common to walk into any grocery store, ask where the gluten-free section is, and be directed to a display containing an ever-growing selection. Twenty years ago asking for the gluten-free section would have resulted in a blank stare from grocery employees.

Why, it’s gotten so common it’s now possible to be a gluten-free connoisseur. Just a few short years ago you were thrilled that ANY gluten-free food existed, and would happily buy and eat it regardless of how it might taste. Nowadays there are choices. Different brands of bread, bagels, and rolls, each made differently than the others, with varying tastes, and more importantly, consistencies.

Because if you don’t use grain to make a normal bread-like product, what do you use? Manufacturers have found all manner of replacement flours or ingredients that mimic the taste and consistency of grain-based foods. This includes one of my favorite gluten products – pizza.

In the frozen food section of the grocery store you can now find several brands of gluten-free pizzas – as well as plain pizza crusts ready for personalization. Made with ingredients such as rice flour, tapioca flour, almond flour, and cheese blends, they are all created to provide the most pizza-like experience possible. You can even buy pre-mixed gluten-free pizza flour to which you add water, eggs and oil, let rise, and roll out into a pizza crust on your own.

But the greatest pizza advancement as this gluten-free groundswell takes hold is that you can now order a gluten-free pizza from many of your favorite pizza places. And I have.  

Three places in town make gluten-free pizza that is not only acceptable, it’s darn good.

Home D Pizzeria makes a flavorful gluten-free pizza, and the presence of the on-site brewery means if you are going out for a sit-down meal with friends and family and want to share an adult beverage or two, this is the place to go.

Surprisingly, Domino’s, a chain franchise, has entered the gluten-free pizza business with a really respectable pie. It’s a thinner and crunchier than their normal pizza, but offers a different experience that I’ve grown to prefer to their standard pizza.

However, the place with the best gluten-free pizza in Happy Valley is really no surprise. Margaret and Juan at Margarita’s Pizza make the best pizza in town, so it would only follow that they would do an outstanding job catering to the specialized needs of the gluten-free crowd. Using their signature sauce and Juan’s baking expertise they craft a gluten-free pizza that rivals their original – and surpasses the regular pizza at most other shops.

Unfortunately, Margaret and Juan need a day off every now and again and they were closed on Sunday when my thoughts led me to pizza, so I ended up trying a new dough mix and making my own. I ended up eating the toppings off the second half of the pizza and throwing the crust away. Oh well, you live and learn. But having any gluten-free pizza options at all is a huge advancement over the “old days.”

Now if only someone can come up with a first-rate gluten-free stuffing by Thursday.



John Hook is the president of The Hook Group, a local management consulting firm, and active in several nonprofit organizations. Previously John spent 25 years in executive, management and marketing positions with regional and national firms. John lives in Ferguson Township with his wife Jackie and their two children.
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