Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Eating Friendly at the Portland Farmer's Market, PSU

Most people think of produce when they think of the Portland Farmer's Market. So do I, unless I happen to be going early in the morning. Then I think of coffee and pastries. But for years, there's been one little problem with that second thought: I can't eat gluten or cow's dairy.

For years after I discovered I had food allergies, I found myself avoiding the Farmer's Market. My reason was simple: it wasn't fun for me anymore. I could easily pick my produce up from New Seasons or the local Co-op, and since none of the purveyors were producing anything for sensitive eaters at the time, I felt alienated. With helplessness and jealousy, I would watch my husband savor whatever gooey, crispy, savory or sweet thing he could get his hands on, and I would feel my heart sink into my belly like a brick. The Farmer's Market experience was no longer mine. So I stopped going.

That was eight years ago. Things have come a long way since then. Now an allergic eater can go to the PSU Farmer's Market and expect to find all kinds of goodies, especially pastries, scones, and pies. And now that there are several options, the issue isn't feeling left out, it's knowing which products are worth your money and time. 

The following vendors are the highlights of my findings, but I'm sure you can find more if you go digging. 

New Cascadia Traditional
Petunia's Pies & Pastries
Divine Pie
Eatin' Alive (Most noteworthy!)
Nonna's Noodles (not a dedicated vendor)
The Smokery
Anthem and Wandering Aengus Ciderworks
Verde Cocina (not a dedicated vendor)

 If you think I've missed an obvious vendor, feel free to make note of it in the comments box below.

New Cascadia Traditional's case of gluten-free cookies, cupcakes, pastries, and breads. Some are vegan, but many of their items contain butter, dairy, sugar, and eggs. 
New Cascadia Traditional is an artisan style, dedicated gluten-free bakery, which pioneered the gluten-free movement in 2007 by showcasing its breads and pastries at the Portland Farmer's Market. They were needed so badly by the gluten-free community that they could barely keep up with the demand. Their star rose so fast, it nearly launched out of the atmosphere, leaving a glowing mist of crumbs and sprinkles trailing behind them.

Cupcakes by New Cascadia Traditional.
When New Cascadia started, it was novel, the first of its kind. Then other gluten-free bakers came along, and it was shelved by the media in favor of the sexy new kids on the block. But New Cascadia Traditional remains a quality producer of gluten-free baked goods. I've been eating there since they first opened, and I have consistently enjoyed their products, especially their vegan cupcakes: vanilla, chocolate, and carrot. They are always soft, spongy, sweet, and well-balanced. You would never know that their creamy, melt-in-your-mouth frostings were vegan. Their vegan chocolate chip cookies are crunchy, chewy, sweet, with hints of salt and large chunks of chocolateMy only complaint about New Cascadia's pastries is that they've shrunk their vegan options to a minimum, which used to be more abundant.

New Cascadia Traditional's bread case. 

New Cascadia still corners the gluten-free bread market, baking all kinds of artisan style hard and soft loaves. I've tried their seeded bread, baguette, teff loaf, hamburger buns, bagels, and cranberry walnut bread. All were delicious, but the baguette was a little difficult to cut. The important thing to note about the breads is that they have a short shelf life. They are best if bought and eaten right away. They can be frozen and reheated, but there is no comparison to fresh baked. Some say the cost of New Cascadia's breads can be a little hard to swallow, but when you're sitting down to break bread with friends who have access to artisan baked loaves, what better way to show off your savvy than to have a loaf of your own?

Check out New Cascadia Traditional at the PSU Farmer's Market, or you can visit their bakery at the corner of SE Market and 6th. For a list of locations that sell New Cascadia Traditional's products, click here.

Petunia's case was filled with gluten-free whoopy pies, cupcakes, doughnuts, cinnamon rolls, and pies.
I first met Lisa Clark, owner of Petunia's Pies & Pastries, at the Saturday Farmer's Market a few years ago. She was just getting started. At the time, she had a simple table that featured a hand full of her gluten-free, vegan, sugar-free pies and pastries. I bought a hazelnut pie with a nut crust...for a lot of money, I might add. Regardless of the price, I had to try one of her baked goods. Baking gluten-, dairy-, and sugar-free is really hard to get right. I wanted to see if she had pulled it off. In short: her hazelnut pie was awesome and worth every penny.

Since then, I have watched Petunia's grow into a full-fledged bakery. Now Lisa's pastries can be purchased at several grocery stores and coffee shops around town, and at Portland Farmer's Markets. Lisa also teams up with local chefs and presents her pastries at restaurants and private dinners.

Petunia's from afar. The crowd was so big, and constantly growing, that I couldn't snap a picture of the case until it was my turn to order. 
I love Petunia's, but I have often shied away because of the sticker shock. That's why I was surprised to see a huge crowd standing around the kiosk at last Saturday's Farmer's Market. That is until I approached the case and saw how reasonably priced her pastries were. Still the same good-for-you confections, but at a manageable price. Most items were between $3.00 and $4.00.

I bought a cinnamon roll for $3.50. The dough was soft, yet a little dense, which is expected of gluten-free. The gooey cinnamon filling stretched and broke apart with every bite. It was so delicious that I forgot to snap a photo before I devoured it, and people walking by kept staring at my pastry as I ate it.

The lower cost is good news. It means that Petunia's is available to everybody, not just to people who can afford boutique prices. And because every item is gluten-free and vegan, and some are sugar-free, there's something for every allergic eater. I was standing next to a man whose wife had so many allergies he couldn't remember them all. He named the usual suspects--gluten, dairy, white sugar, and then he mentioned peanuts. Unfazed, the guy behind the counter guided the man toward their most allergy friendly products. You've got to love it when the counter service is as good as the product.

It's hard to tell you which kiosk you should visit, but if you're not interested in sugar, and you want all the benefits of eating gluten-free and vegan, I highly recommend Petunia's. And judging from the crowd around her kiosk, I would say I'm not the only one who thinks so.

To find a list of places that sell Petunia's Pies & Pastries, click here.

Divine Pie. Gluten-free, vegan, sugar-free, and LIVE!
Since we're on the subject of desserts, let's talk about Divine Pie--rich, decadently creamy pies made from living ingredients, such as dates, nuts, and berries. For example, Alissa Martucci, creator of Divine Pie, uses cashews to make some of her cream fillings and hazelnuts for some of her crusts. According to the documentary made available on her website, Alissa got the inspiration to make her pies when she was on a raw food cleanse. Now she makes them available to everyone. At the kiosk, she sets her pies out on display, and shares yummy little scoops of them on wooden popsicle sticks. From the few I've tasted, I can tell you that the creamy texture is quite surprising--silky, smooth goodness, my friends.

Not everyone can afford to shell out $7.00 for a single-serving pie. Divine Pies are beautiful, absolutely delicious, and good for you, but they are expensive. Of course, it's important to remember how expensive the ingredients are in the first place, and just how much energy goes into making each one. So they're worth it if you can afford them. It's just that, for many people like myself, purchases will be limited to special occasions.

For a list of locations that sell Divine Pie, click here.

Eatin' Alive 

(Most Noteworthy!)

Eatin' Alive, offering gluten-free, vegan, and LIVE sweets and savory foods. Paige Common, owner and creator, shares samples of goodies, so don't be too shy to ask. 
This kiosk is by far my favorite. Why? Because every single item is vegan, live, and gluten-free. The best part is that Eatin' Alive offers an assortment of savory and sweet treats. You can buy a falafel or collard wrap right there, unwrap it, and eat a very healthy lunch! If you want something crunchy, you can purchase a bag of live krisps, like kale or pizza flavored, and eat them by the handful. Eatin' Alive also offers several jars of sauces, such as pesto, or "ranch" for dipping your krisps. The most interesting item on the menu is a raw, vegan, zucchini lasagna. 

For dessert, you can either buy a jar of live, vegan strawberry rhubarb or razzle dazzle (vegan cheesecakes in jars), or you can enjoy a live peanut butter cup or chocolate truffle. I had the peanut butter cup, or PB Loves, as it was called. The top chocolate layer was creamy and rich, almost like a mousse but without the air. The center was filled with real peanut butter, not peanut butter mixed with oil or margarine. The bottom layer was a blend of crunchy nut pieces and chocolate. It was a sweet and salty confection with textures of crunchy, chewy, soft, and smooth. For $2.00, it was a bargain!

PB Loves from Eatin' Alive.
The coolest thing about Eatin' Alive (if you could classify one thing over the other) is the kiosk. It's a bike! Well, it's more like a tricycle than a bike, and on the bottom is a tray that stores all the boxes and totes that hold the goodies. The table top is actually attached to the bike! Paige Common, owner and operator of Eatin' Alive, actually rides her entire business to the Farmer's Market, sets everything up on the table top, and sells goodies from her bike! The entire operation contributes a rather small carbon footprint compared to other purveyors, and that is what makes Eatin' Alive so impressive. Paige's business is smart and conscientious. Her treats are smart and delicious. They will please your palate and nourish your body, and best of all, they're not expensive

Also, when it comes to eating gluten-free at the Farmer's Market, eater's are mainly forced to choose between sweet items from one bakery or another, but Eatin' Alive is selling an entire meal for alternative eaters from start to finish. Not only will your tummy love you, but so will your pancreas. 

Notice, the kiosk is also a bike!
Eatin' Alive may be new to the Farmer's Market, but it has already won over a dedicated crowd. When I was there, people were enthusiastically buying up products by the handful. If you're curious about Eatin' Alive's products, you should look for the bike kiosk located in the center of the PSU Farmer's Market. 

If you're curious about Eatin' Alive, you can read more about it here, and you can find a list of places that sell their products here. If you're looking for a healthy catering company, Eatin' Alive provides that service as well. Here's a link to the menu.

Sarah-Beth (very friendly owner/operator of Nonna's Noodles) holds the last bag of gluten-free pasta she had that day. It was still morning.
I just happened to be scanning the different kiosks for allergy friendly products when I noticed the words gluten-free written on a plaque in the background of a pasta stand. So I stopped and asked Sarah-Beth, owner and maker of Nonna's Noodles, about her gluten-free options. She directed me toward her last bag of gluten-free pasta, made from Bob's Red Mill gluten-free flour mix, flax seed, and local free-pasturized eggs.

Nonna's Noodles is not a dedicated gluten-free facility, so very sensitive eaters should probably avoid this pasta, but Sarah-Beth assured me that she takes food allergies seriously. She carefully scrubs everything down before she makes her gluten-free noodles and she keeps them separate from gluten containing products. 

For those of you who are looking for homemade gluten-free noodles, a recipe inspired by Sarah-Beth's Italian Grandma (or Nonna), then you should stop by and pick up a package at her kiosk, or you can search her website for more locations here

The Smokery kiosk. The sign in the back says "Your local source for wild smoked salmon. No preservatives, no additives, all natural."
I decided to add The Smokery to my article because many people are allergic to additives and preservatives. I can't eat salmon because I'm deathly allergic to it, and now I'm afraid to eat seafood, so I can't speak for the products, but I did hear people talking as they were shopping at the kiosk. It seems The Smokery has regular customers who shop there weekly. And if salmon doesn't do it for you, how about smoked, canned tuna?

Anthem and Wandering Aengus are owned by the same company, but they are a little different. Wandering Aengus leans more toward traditional flavors, with a variety of ciders ranging from dry to semi-sweet. My favorite was the smooth, dry oaked cider with oak and apple competing on the palate. 

Anthem is younger and more flamboyant, expressing itself in a number of combinations: cherry, pear, and my favorite, hops. The cherry is dark and deep and slightly sweet. The pear is light and crisp. The hops is rich, yet light and herbaceous. I could get into trouble with the hops cider, if left alone with a few bottles.

If you're not familiar with ciders, they are sort of like beer, but they're made from apples and pears, so they're gluten-free. People often expect ciders to be sweet, but many are dry and sometimes nutty. Think of cider as an alcoholic beverage with a texture landing somewhere between a light lager and a dry sparkling wine, only with the essence of apples instead of grains or grapes.

These ciders are made from real pressed apples, not syrups, so there's quality and care in every drop. The apples are only sourced from Oregon and Washington, which keeps the money local and supports our neighbors. Anthem and Wandering Aengus will purchase organic apples whenever they are available. Learn more about Anthem and Wandering Aengus by clicking on the links.

Eating Savory

Eating Friendly at the Portland Farmer's Market proved to be disappointing in one major category: savory foods. Other than Eatin' Alive, there were no dedicated, allergy friendly savory food kiosks. With the abundance of sweet, gluten-free, vegan goodies laying around, I was hard-pressed to find a savory food cart that could balance out the sugar rush and offer more sustenance to allergic eaters. I did find a food cart that served rice and curry, but I didn't snap a photo of it because the crowd obscured the view. Frankly, I get tired of having to settle for rice dishes "when in Rome," so I passed it by without much interest. 

However, Verde Cocina, whose slogan reads "Northwest Farm-To-Fork Ingredients with a Mexican flair," caught my attention. The aromas wafting from their kitchen smelled amazing, and their food looked fresh and well prepared. I was full from eating pastries, so I skipped out on lunch. But out of the two semi-Friendly vendors selling hot food that day, Verde Cocina would have been my first choice. Neither of these vendors was dedicated gluten-free, so extremely sensitive eaters beware.

As I left the Farmer's Market, I noticed a kiosk selling sausages in buns and one selling pizza. There is potential for gluten-free bakers to work together with these vendors to make gluten-free buns and pizza crusts available to allergic eaters, but they would be sharing the grill and the oven with gluten containing products. But for the not-so-sensitive, wouldn't that be nice! Until then, your choices for savory foods are limited, but things are looking up for sensitive diners who love to shop local. As time goes by, I'm sure we'll see more of a balance between savory and sweet Friendly food alternatives.

These are the highlights of my adventure. I encourage you to take a Saturday and explore the Friendly edibles at the PSU Portland Farmer's Market, or at a Farmer's Market in your neighborhood. You will be keeping it local, personal, and you will be Eating Friendly. 

And who knows? Maybe I will see you picnicking in the park Eating Friendly-style this summer!