What about gluten?

What is gluten? It’s hard to read nutritional information online or packages in a food store without thinking that gluten is another word for “arsenic.” Avoiding gluten is the newest big food fad, with some claiming that such a diet can cure autism or allergies or asthma or any of a wide variety of conditions. Is gluten something you should avoid? What is it, what’s it used for, and what’s it doing to us?

Someone has probably written a book about the history of bread and its importance to human culture (if not, I’m on it). Long before Superman lunchboxes and Wonderbread, bread made out of crushed corn or plant roots made it possible for people to carry their nourishment with them for long trips. But these early breads were crumbly and fell apart easily and likely tasted like packing peanuts.

Once we evolved to Farmer-man, we figured out that cultivated grains, like wheat, were much better out of the oven. These grains contain the protein gluten, which is a long, tough molecule that gives modern bread dough its bounciness and elasticity. These loaves didn’t fall apart, and could be transported great distances. It’s not a stretch the say that gluten, like salt or cod or gummy bears, played a vital role in the very development of our culture.

These days gluten is used in many other foods as well. It’s useful as a protein supplement, and as an all-natural way to add sponginess to foods. Products like ketchup and ice cream are commonly thickened with gluten. Almost all imitation meats and cheeses prized by vegetarians are based on wheat gluten. And gluten is not just limited to food. Its a key ingredient in some of the new bio-plastic materials as an alternative to petrochemicals, and is commonly used in cosmetics such as lipstick to add firmness or body.

But for mysterious reasons, there’s been a growing trend in recent years to view gluten in a negative light. It is true that a small number of people are born with gluten sensitivities that reduce their ability to tolerate it to varying degrees. Perhaps the thought is that if some people can’t tolerate it, it therefore must be generally bad for everyone? As a result, some promoters of fad diets and various health schemes are now advocating gluten free diets, and shady characters and certain food manufacturers are cashing in.

Gluten free diets actually are necessary for some people, and advisable for others. These situations are quite rare, but they are real. The first is celiac disease (CD), or gluten-sensitive enteropathy. This is an autoimmune disease of the small intestine that occurs in people with a genetic predisposition. It’s not caused by gluten and you can’t develop it by eating gluten, but if you’re one of the unlucky few born with the gene, and you go on to develop CD, eating gluten will cause an adverse reaction. The immune system inside the bowel tissue reacts to the gluten proteins, causing inflammation of the bowel tissue, and this interferes with your body’s ability to absorb nutrients from food. There’s no cure for CD, and the only way to live with it is to adopt a gluten free diet for the rest of your life. Somewhere between 1 and 8 in 1,000 Americans have this, give or take (the exact frequency is not well known).

A wheat allergy is very different, and can be harder to track down since there are many different components of wheats and other grains that it’s possible to be allergic to. A wheat allergy is not a single condition; it is any of a great number of possible allergies. The symptoms are similar to what we expect from most allergies: hay fever type symptoms, hives, asthma, and swelling. More serious effects in the worst cases can include anaphylaxis, palpitations, swollen throat, diarrhea, and even arthritis. Unlike CD patients, sufferers of wheat allergies need not necessarily avoid all wheat products. The allergy is usually pretty specific and only some foods may need to be avoided. Standard allergy treatment with drugs such as antihistamines may prove effective enough to allow the patient to live with a normal diet. You need not eat wheat to have an allergic reaction; some may react by simply coming in contact with wheat. It’s very difficult to attach a number to how many people have some level of allergy to some type of wheat related protein, but it’s probably somewhere in the single digit percentage points.

There’s also a third type of gluten sensitivity, and that’s gluten sensitive idiopathic neuropathy. Idiopathic means the exact cause is not known, and a neuropathy is a disease of the nerves. Symptoms can include numbness or tingling in the extremities, or problems with muscular coordination often evidenced when walking, or even spasticity resembling epilepsy. Diagnosing this neuropathy is difficult. The blood test frequently produces false positives. And sometimes, sufferers may actually have a mild case of celiac disease instead. The number of people with a gluten sensitivity neuropathy is not well-known, but it’s very small.

That’s it for the poor souls that need to or may want to avoid gluten. But some people would have us believe that many more of us should avoid it. Of course, these people are generally the people who sell gluten-free products. For example, GlutenFree.com claims their products help people with autism or ADHD, which is completely untrue according to all the science we have. The autism claim in particular is broadly repeated across the autism activist community. The treatment of autism with a gluten free diet has been studied a number of times with varying results, but so far no well designed studies have shown any plausible benefit. A 2006 double blinded study published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders tested children with and without autism, on gluten-free and placebo controlled diets, and found no significant differences in any group.

In addition to those that seek profit from the fad, many well-intentioned naturopaths routinely list gluten as a potential cause of disease. This is a bizarre and unfortunate claim. Proteins are essential for nutrition, and there is certainly no evidence that disease has increased worldwide since wheat grain became a staple. Indeed, prior to this, life expectancy was probably something like 16.5 months, give or take. It’s true that bread itself is a rich source of carbohydrates, which are not essential and can be safely minimized in the diet, but this is true of gluten-free breads as well. By no logic should the strategy of avoiding carbohydrates be misconstrued as avoiding gluten.

Given this fad, I have heard from many people that a gluten-free diet has helped them recover from various maladies. In my own observations, it is not uncommon for people to say they feel better since going gluten-free. Is this all placebo? And if it is, isn’t that okay? I mean, if someone is paying closer attention to their diet, and they feel better, is there reason to encourage such actions?

I think there is a good reason why the science and these perceptions are not contradictory. When you try to cut out gluten what are you cutting out? Let’s look at food that are high in gluten, foods like processed cheese, chocolate milk, ice cream, baked goods, cereals, pastas, breaded meats, lunch meats, gravy, jams, fruit-filled pastries, French fries, and flavored potato chips.

I propose that anyone that cuts the above foods from their diet will feel better! This is not because these foods contain gluten, even high levels of gluten. It is because these foods are also loaded with simple sugars and fats.

So think of gluten sensitivities in the same way you’d think of bee stings or peanut allergies: of great and very real concern to a small number of people, of some concern for a few more, and of no concern to most of us. Don’t let anyone tell you that gluten is harming you in some way that’s so far not supported by science. And yet, look at your diet with the vigilance of those that are aggressively cutting out gluten and find ways to balance your diet with complex carbs like fruits and veggies, healthy proteins, be they from animal, soy or even gluten sources, and fats. Eat food. Not processed imitations. Eat local whenever possible. But eat less overall. And you will indeed treat and prevent disease and just plain feel better!

Survey: Grocery Shopping on Nantucket.

The barriers and motivators for shopping for food downtown.


Caffeinated, Inc., an advertising and branding firm based on Nantucket recently conducted a survey of 466 individuals regarding the habits and attitudes around grocery shopping on the island. This report represents a broad executive summary of the data and findings. More detailed data is available upon request.

The situation.

Choice has never been a watchword for grocery shoppers on Nantucket. The standards at the current Stop & Shop are low compared to offerings off island, and the quality and selection at the former Grand Union had been universally viewed as worse than the Stop & Shop. There are some high quality offerings on island in Annye’s and Bartlett Farm, but neither of these stores provides a complete “supermarket” offering, so they are viewed largely as specialty grocery retailers.

About our respondents.

466 unique individuals took the survey online over a three week period in late November and early december. Measures were taken to ensure that individuals could not take the survey more than once. Over one quarter of the respondents were seasonal residents or visitors. Half of the respondents live close to town, largely in the mid-island area, close to the existing Stop & Shop. 43% of those who responded have an income in excess of $75,000, with 29% over $100,000 annually.

About the survey.

The survey itself can be viewed here: http://caffeinated.wufoo.com/forms/nantucket-grocery-shopping-survey/. This survey came in the wake of an overwhelming public sentiment that a CVS was not right for the downtown Nantucket. Once the community had explained what it did not want, it was time to understand what it did want and would support. This survey provides some insight into those questions.

Some key findings include:

Quality trumps price for year-round shoppers.

While the majority of year-rounders strike a balance between quality and price, well over one third put quality first. This represents a potential opportunity for a higher-end grocery downtown.

(Year round residents)

There is room for higher quality and price in the marketplace.

Roughly a third of respondents would pay a 10% premium for better quality over Stop & Shop (which is already estimated to cost 15% more than the mainland. And one quarter would pay over 15%.

In fact, over 70% of those surveyed said they would be likely to shop downtown in the Summer if the grocer there had better quality than Stop & Shop. 85% were likely or highly likely to shop downtown in the face of better quality in the winter, which represents a large portion of Stop & Shop’s core business.  Only 8.8% of respondents said they would continue to shop in the mid-island under such circumstances.

Fresh produce, meats would be a welcome addition for year-round shoppers.

Among 86% of year-round residents, superior produce is seen as a major motivator to shop downtown, with superior quality meats begin second at 80.6%

(Year round residents only)

The parking situation is complicated.

80% of respondents said that ample free parking would get them to drive into the downtown area to shop there, but very few of them felt that way about ample paid parking (25%). When asked how much they would be willing to pay for parking over half said they would not be willing at all.

Year-round residents were against a parking garage on the site by a ratio of two to one, with 20% of respondents neutral on the subject. Seasonal residents were even more adamantly opposed:

(Seasonal residents)

Additional information and comparative data is available from this survey. Please contact Grant Sanders of Caffeinated, Inc (grant@caffeinated.com) for information.

© Copyright 2012 Caffeinated, Inc. All rights reserved.


First attempt at making paella. It was a fun challenge. Best part, is the social aspect of eating it. The process encourages everyone to participate on the preparations, and then, traditionally, you put the pan in the middle of the table and everyone eats from the pan, working towards the center.

This post is mostly about the pics. You don’t really need a recipe. But at the end of the pics, I’ll give you some pointers.


You can get the pans here: La Paella.

Get Bomba rice and real Spanish pimenton peppers, if possible. If not, roasted red peppers and a short grain rice will do.

Figure 1/2 cup rice per diner, and 4 cups of stock per cup of rice.

Cook over a hardwood fire if possible.

After browning the chicken, softening the veggies, you add the rice, stirring it to toast it a bit and spread it out in the pan. Then you add most of the stock all at once. No more stirring. Leave it. Just move the pan around to make sure the pan is evenly heated. Place shellfish on top of the rice.

You then adjust the heat to keep a steady simmer, aiming to have the rice become tender, absorb all the liquid and then just begin to crisp up on the bottom of the pan.

Remove from heat, cover with a towel for about 15 minutes. Then eat!


Captain Culinarian

We’re upgrading our kitchen and, as many of you know, have been planning to or doing so for over a year now.

The new Ikea cabinets are in, including a giant rainforest green granite-topped island in the middle of the room. We have a new Samsung refrigerator, a new shiny stainless hood, and a white subway tile backsplash.

But what we’ve been waiting for, planning for, shopping for, researching, and longing for since two Thanksgivings ago (when I killed our old, tiny, electric wall oven) is a new range.

It arrived this week, and you all will now pay the price of having to watch me post food pics for awhile, instead of landscapes.

The new range is a Capital Culinarian, a 36″ propane range with 4 x 23,000 btu open gas burners and a chargrill on the cooktop.

I will post pics of the kitchen when it is finished. Still some lighting, painting and floor refinishing to be done…

In the meantime, if you’re shopping for a range, I highly recommend this one, as well as the Boston area dealer called Eurostoves. Read more about it here: capital-culinarian.com

But what I will show you is FOOD.

The Culinarian has a rotisserie in the oven. Perfectly crispy skin and moist meat.

The super powerful burners and the extra wok grate makes stir-frying in a round bottom seasoned steel wok a game changer for me. I will be doing a lot this. Beef and broccoli above, lamb and shredded scallions below.

And, not having an oven for a while, what I have missed the most is baking. This is a loaf of bread from the book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. I strongly recommend this book, as well as the companion volume for healthy varieties of same bread. See links below.

The Third Annual Bartlett’s Farm Grilled Cheese Invitational

Buffalo Bills no more!

Saturday was the Grilled Cheese Smack Talk Showdown at Bartlett’s Farm.

The first two years of this competition, I deservedly finished in second place. This resulted in a year’s worth of smack talk, focus groups, recipe trials, and more than a few superfluous calories.

This year’s competition was amazing. It has grown to the point of needing to move to their greenhouse. We would not have fit in the Hayloft, where it was held the past two years.

There were three categories of competition, all of which had unique funny names that I cannot remember but essentially boiled down to Plain & Simple (bread, butter, cheese only), Fancy-Enthusiast, and Fancy-Professional.

The results are in.

Renee Bistany and I teamed up to form Team Smack and won the Plain & Simple category, on the strength of an amazing James Beard bread recipe that Renee baked. The bread is tender but also has an open crumb. So as the sandwich cooks and the cheese melts the bread absorbs the cheese. This brings a new element to a grilled cheese sandwich because it isn’t two pieces of bread containing melted cheese, instead it is a single thick slice of bread suffused with cheese.


James Beard’s Sour-Cream Bread

1 package active dry yeast
3 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/4 cup warm water (100F to 115F)
2 cups sour cream, at room temperature
1 tablespoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
4 1/2 to 5 cups all-purpose flour

Combine the yeast, sugar, and water, and allow to proof for 5 minutes.

Put the sour cream, salt, and soda in a mixing bowl. Add the yeast mixture and combine.

Add 4 cups of the flour, cup by cup, to make a very wet, sticky dough, beating hard with a wooden spoon after each addition. Scrape out onto a lightly floured board.

Using a baker’s scraper or a spackling knife, lift the flour and the dough, and fold the dough over. Turn it clockwise slightly and repeat the lifting and folding process until the dough is less sticky and can be worked with your hands. Add only enough flour to prevent sticking. (This entire kneading should take about 10 minutes, possibly longer if you are inexperienced). Shape the dough into a ball, place in a buttered bowl, and turn to coat it with the butter. Cover with plastic and let sit in a warm spot to double in bulk.

Punch the dough down. Turn onto a lightly floured board and knead for a minute, then divide into two equal pieces. Butter two 9 x 5 x 3-inch loaf tins. Shape the dough into loaves and fit into the tins. Cover loosely and let rise again until doubled. Bake in a preheated 375° oven for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the loaves sound hollow when tapped on top and bottom. Cool thoroughly before slicing.

In the final Fancy-Professional level of the competition, I went head to head against Renee (last year’s winner), Chef Neil Hudson (last year’s Pro winner), Barbara Gookin (local foodie and previous winner), amongst others.

And, with a complete lack of humility, THIS was the winning sandwich…

The Sweet Cheesus!

From the bottom up, what you see is…

Cinnabon Cinnamon Bread, cut in to rounds and grilled in homemade butter
Homemade Dulce de Leche
Homemade Mascarpone cheese, blended with vanilla bean
Homemade blackberry jam (Thanks Grandpa Weikle!)
Topped with drizzles of dulce de leche thinned with cognac and blackberry coulis and a sprinkle of Maldon sea salt flakes (thanks Natasha!)
Served with whipped cream, fresh blackberries and garnished with a mint leaf

Here are the recipe cards I gave out that show how to simply make these wonderful ingredients:


It was a blast to make, and I am very happy to have a ton of leftover ingredients that are going to have to be used up in the week!

Renee’s Sandwich deserves mentioning here, because it was an amazing bite as well and, as seen above, won the People’s Choice Award!

Un sandwich de queso cocido

Freshly baked, homemade cheddar and onion bread (it was still warm from the oven even!)
…filled with farm made chorizo sausage
cheddar, manchego, and mexican melting cheese
spread with a compound butter made from homemade butter, salt, pepper, cumin, and chili powder

And served with a Mario Batali inspired cream of tomatillo dipping sauce, made from tomatillos, Serrano chili peppers, garlic, lime, cilantro, chicken broth, and Mexican crema.

Cider Day

So pleased to be the guests of Laura Simon and Jim Gross, at their garden/orchard for Cider Day. Nothing beats the taste of apple cider, right out of the press!

As Fall As It Gets-8

Salmon Ceviche and Green Chili KrackED Sauce

Forgive me for licking my fingers too much to make it safe for me to take pictures of this recipe, but I have to write it down quick before I forget it. Being slightly addicted to Corazon del Mar’s aptly named Green Chili Krack sauce, I decided this weekend I would try and crack the recipe. I think I got it. Tonight’s dinner is an appetizer of Duxbury oysters*, followed by a ceviche of Wild Sockeye Salmon, fresh from Glidden’s.

Here’s the recipes.

Green Chili KrackED Sauce

2 bunches of cilantro
4 serrano peppers (with or without seeds)
4 cloves of garlic
4 tblsp of Agave Nectar
Juice of 4 limes
Fish Sauce to taste
Sea salt


Place the cilantro, peppers and garlic in the food processor and process to paste. Add the lime juice and agave nectar, adjusting the amount of lime juice up or down to achieve the proper thick liquid texture. Then add fish sauce, tasting until you find just the right amount of umami. I added about a tablespoon, but your tastes might vary. Lastly add salt and process until smooth. Save in a squeeze bottle in the fridge.

Salmon Ceviche

1 lb fresh salmon filet, with skin
1 shallot, diced
1 serrano (or 2 jalapeno peppers), diced (with or without seeds, depending on desired heat)
1/4 cup of lime juice
zest of 1 lemon (go ahead and use the juice too)
1 tblsp of olive oil
salt and pepper to taste


Mix all of the ingredients save the salmon. Using a sharp filet knife, slice the salmon as thinly as possible on the diagonal (like you would smoked salmon), removing the flesh from the skin. Lay the slices in a thin baking dish, cover the first layer with some of the sauce. Layer salmon until all prepped, covering with the citrus mixture. Refrigerate for at least 2.5 hours (and up to 12 hours) before eating. Serve with the Green Chili KrackED Sauce, with toasted baguettes if desired.


*I’ve yet to do the oysters, and have never shucked oysters. I’m trusting this video to help me pull this off.

Bartlett Photo Safari

2nd Annual Bartlett’s Farm Grilled Cheese Invitational

Second place. Two years in a row.

I’ll take it. There was some incredible competition this year.

This was my recipe.

Queso a la Plancha del Diablo

Something Natural Portuguese bread
olive oil
salt, pepper
tomato paste
chipotles in adobo sauce
agave nectar
Manchego cheese
Gruyere cheese
sharp cheddar cheese
parmesan cheese
eggs, beaten
red onions, sliced thin

Cut the tomatillos a little less than a half inch slices, salt them, and put them in between paper towels to sit and dry out for about 15 minutes. Make the spread. 6 oz can of tomato paste, 3 tblsp of chopped chipotles, with some of the sauce, and 1 tbslp agave nectar, processed until smooth in the food processor. Dip the tomatillo slices into milk, into flour, into the egg, and then in to a mix of cornmeal, parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper. Fry them just until brown and crispy in about 1/4″ of peanut oil at medium heat. Set up to drain on paper. Pre-warm a cast iron skillet to a low-medium heat. Assemble the sandwich as such: olive oil on one side, and the tomato-pepper spread on the inside, place a piece oil-side down in the skillet; then working quickly, add a handful of the above cheeses (less the parmesan, grated and mixed), two slices of tomatillo, a few slivers of onions and chopped cilantro leaves, more cheese, then another piece of bread, similarly coated on the inside with the spread, and oiled on the outside. Cover (because it helps the cheese to melt more quickly) and cook until the bottom side is browned as you like. Carefully flip and do the same for the other side. Cut in half and serve with a sweet or bread-and-butter pickle.

Here are some pictures from today’s event:

Renee Bistany won the Wicked Fancy category, and People’s Choice with a grilled asiago cheese, with oven-roasted tomatoes, pancetta chips, & baby arugula on portuguese bread crusted with truffle butter, parmesan cheese and fresh rosemary. Served with a balsamic roasted-tomato soup for dipping! Yep. It was good.

The Winners:

Plain & Simple:
1: Dave Berry
2: Liliana Dugan

Wicked Fancy:
1: Renee Bistany
2:Greg Hinson
3:Dave Berry

1: Neil Hudson
2: Barbara Gookin
3: Liliana Dugan

People’s Choice: Renee Bistany

Special Category: “Spirit Award”
Bob and Donna (Don’t have their last name yet)

Ridiculous food ads lampooned

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