Wednesday 13 August 2014

Parthenon Greek Supermarket, Vancouver & a GF rant

Spanakopita (Spinach Pie)
Spanakopita (Spinach pie) 
The best part of living in Vancouver is my proximity to good authentic eats if I'm craving it.  I live within 10 minutes of excellent foods from India, Greece, China, Japan, the Middle East, Italy, France and practically every other major country you can think of.  I'm so lucky. Today, the crave of the day was Greek.  The Parthenon is a Greek supermarket that's been around for ages.  It's always been there on W. Broadway as long as I can remember and I was born and raised in Vancouver.  Let me google it for you and see if I can find out.  Oh! Over 45 years!  that's pretty close to my age (which I shall stay mum about).

Parthenon Supermarket on Urbanspoon
Tzatziki (gf)
I think the best thing about The Parthenon Supermarket is the Deli.  It has all manner of delicious dips and spreads as well as baklava & spanakopita.  I spotted cabbage rolls, eggplant rolls and many other goodies.  Today I was here to snag some Gluten Free things for a get-together with a few GF friends. So I scored a lot of GF loot.  As well, I bought some non-GF foods for my family and one thing in particular that my kiddo loves:  spanakopita (her fave Greek dish in the whole-wide world). I was so lucky to grab the last pie because I would never hear the end of it if I came back empty-handed.
Homous (gf)
The dips that I purchased had the ingredients listed in the display case.  The only one that wasn't GF was a guilty indulgence that I couldn't really help:  taramosalata.  It has bread as an ingredient.  But it's SO good and The Parthenon's version is on spot...creamy, briny and awesome.

The gluten free foods I bought were:  Homous, Tzatziki and Feta Spread, Dolmades from the deli; gf pasta, gf noodles, cane sugar and Greek spices
Regular non-GF foods I bought were: spanakopita & bicycle-shaped coloured pasta and alphabet pasta for the kids
Dolmades (gf)
Dolmades are delicious little grape leaf parcels stuffed with rice.  They're lemony and can have a vegetarian or meat filling.  The ones in the Parthenon deli were gf and vegetarian and I bought a whole container of them!  yummo!  They're definitely an acquired taste for my kids, as the 7 year old was intrigued and asked for a taste but didn't like the chewiness of the leaves nor the lemony hit either.  But that's okay...more for me!  

Feta Spread
Feta Spread
The feta spread is quite salty as you can imagine with the good amount of feta in it.  I don't know if I'll buy this again because now that I think of it I'm not too sure how I'm going to eat the whole container.  I should have just purchased feta on its own.
The guilty pleasure:  taramosalata (with its non-gf ingredient, bread) is made of cod roe, bread, lemon juice and tastes divine! It's rich, briny, creamy smooth and light pinkish-orange in colour.  I fell in love with this dip in university and never could find more than one restaurant that made it well (Athene's on Broadway).  The Parthenon's taramosalata is fantastic and I could hoover down a whole container (but never did for fear of the sodium high).   I bought only a small container today for my friends who are non-gf.

Greek spices for salad
Greek Spices for my Salad!
Mini Baking Cups & Chestnut Puree!
Whee! baking finds:  mini baking cups and Chestnut Puree!
What wonderful baking finds there are at the Parthenon too!  The Chestnut Puree and unbleached baking cups were unexpected.  I knew I'd find quality olive oils and vinegars too.  I even found a whole baking supplies section with spices, sugars, flours, gf foods and decorations.  Score! I picked up some creme of tartar for my next chiffon cake.
Gluten Free noodles: Buckwheat & Sweet Potato/Buckwheat
Gluten Free Noodles:  Sweet Potato/Buckwheat & Buckwheat
There was a whole aisle (both sides) of pasta & noodles.  I was overwhelmed in a wonderful way.  I sought out the cute shapes for the kiddies.  No one else in my family is GF and though they sometimes eat my GF foods, I don't demand that they always eat GF.   For myself, I found a pretty decent selection of GF pastas in different shapes.  I grabbed a few to try out.
Gluten Free Pasta
GF Pasta
What is heartening is that many of these pastas are made in Italy.  And they taste GOOD!  Initially, I thought that GF foods would not be predominant in a country well-known for their traditionally made breads and pastas.  However,  after reading up, I found that Italy leads the way in providing healthy pastas for their Celiac population.  They even sell GF pastas and breads in their pharmacies to ensure their population's health! How forward thinking is that?  Celiacs and gluten intolerant people are not ridiculed or accused of faking their disease but are pitied for their inability to eat wonderful foods.  Thus you can find gluten free options in most restaurants and there is no stigma associated with being Celiac or gluten intolerant.   

Okay. Stop reading now if you don't want to read my GF rant:
Interestingly, in North America there is a weird sort of backlash with many people making light of the desire of some people to eat gluten free.  I watched in dismay a youtube video where a series of people were interviewed about why they eat a gluten free diet.  None of them could respond intelligently as to why they were doing it other than to say it was healthier.  As well, they had no idea what gluten was.  The thing is, I don't think this video earns points for those ridiculing the people wanting to eat a gluten-free lifestyle even if they're not Celiac.  This skeptical crowd is merely poking fun at people's inability to regurgitate the scientific terms explaining what gluten is and what it does to Celiacs and some people with auto-immune diseases.   Yes, hipsters and health-freaks may be doing it, but so what?  What is the problem with people wanting to do something perceived to be healthy anyway?  We should be ridiculing people wanting to do things unhealthy like doing crack cocaine and smoking cigarettes.  But guess what? we don't.  We feel pity because they are addicted.  

We should be encouraging people to eat healthy and if they choose to eat gluten free or vegetarian or paleo or whatever based on the googling they've done on the internet or advice from friends, relatives, doctors or homeopaths, then let them be.  At least these individuals are seeking health and well-being and not self-destruction.  If you want to eat a Costco-sized bag of Doritos, you're going to do it, right?  So don't make fun of the person who sometimes eats gluten free and sometimes doesn' a whim perhaps? who knows?  It's their choice and not yours.  Their body. Not yours.  I figure it's better to try to be healthy sometimes then totally throw out the notion of trying at all. 

Why is it worthy of ridicule when someone can't go 100% all the time? or can't respond that it's the gliadin in the wheat products and other cereals that is causing stomach and health distress?  If I wasn't a baker for these many years and familiar with gluten development, perhaps I wouldn't know that the elastic texture of dough in breads (that makes it so chewy and delicious!) was the cause of my stomach upset.  Through many years and lots of experience and sometimes discomfort, I've learned that I react to baked goods with gluten on a scale that pretty much correlates to the amount of elasticticity and gluten in the baked good.  For example, here is a list of baked goods and how much I can tolerate them, from the most discomfort to the least:  bagels, pizza, bread, croissants, cake, pie, tarts, cookies.  So, the more crumbly, the better for me. For sure, there is variation, but if there is bread flour in there, there is more gluten; thus more of a reaction.  If there is cake or pastry flour, there is less gluten and therefore less of a reaction.  Because I'm not Celiac; but gluten intolerant, I have to watch the total amount of gluten I ingest over the course of a week.  So, yes, a cookie has less gluten than a bagel.  However, that doesn't mean I can eat 20 cookies.  Ideally, for health I wouldn't have any gluten.  But I am weak.  One time, I had a cinnamon twist pastry in the morning at a workshop at a school in North Van because that's all the school cafeteria had: baked goods.   There were no other options.  I hadn't eaten breakfast either.  By the time I had to drive across the Lions Gate Bridge after school I was doubled up in pain in my car in slow-moving traffic crossing the bridge back to Vancouver.  From that time onwards, I swore that I would never eat gluten during a morning workshop again because I had such a stomach ache it was not funny.  I also do not eat any gluten (zero tolerance!) when travelling on a plane or long road trip.  Voodoo doughnuts.  I hated you on the I5 back from Portland.

I work part-time in an industry that is mostly male (I'm a learning technologies mentor. One more year in my contract. ah me! what to do afterwards?)  Whenever there is a big tech meeting, practically all the guys are really happy that the lunch is pizza or pastries.  You would be lucky if there were fruit anywhere.  Rather than be rude and just peel off and eat the toppings on my pizza, and dependent on how hungry I am, if I haven't eaten much gluten that week, I might have a slice of pizza for lunch.  Generally it takes about 3 or 4 hours for my body to react.  I figure I'd be home by then.  Then when I go home I may pay a price (or not, depending on the amount of gluten I have in my body) and sometimes I water-fast from 16-24 hrs to help my digestive system get back to working order again.  I do this just to fit in socially and with the idea in the back of my mind that people will think I'm a pansy or "special" if I don't eat what they're eating. So if I'm going to indulge, and I admit I do, I have a clean-up protocol if I do.  I know it's not ideal, but it's a compromise I'm making for now until my environment changes or society changes.

Interestingly, I do have a legitimate excuse for avoiding gluten which I suppose I could tell people about when I eat out. First, I have Hashimoto's, an auto-immune disease closely linked to Celiac. Also, my GP told me to.  After complaining to him about my bouts of stomach problems, bloating and weight gain despite exercise, he said he had done some reading and research about gluten intolerance and said it was legitimate.  He said that even though he tested me once for Celiac disease and the test results indicated that I wasn't, this doesn't really mean that much.  He said that what is more important are my symptoms:  if I feel better eating non-gluten, then do it.  If I feel ill or sick or gain weight eating gluten, stop it.  Geez, how intelligent is that?  He also advised me to curtail the baking of cakes (oops), to eat sweet potatoes, less white stuff, to avoid stress and exercise more and all that jazz.   I am trying...which explains the great big tracts of time between my blog posts.  Generally, I don't bake non-gf anymore and don't eat more than one serving of gf baked goods when I do (I give the rest away or my family eats it).  I may be heading towards a GF Small Batch Baking sort of a stage in my blog eventually.  Baby steps.  Working on it.  

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