Category Archives: Kosher

Fancypants Baking Co.

Fancypants chocolate chip cookies

I’m forever bitter that I can’t (well, shouldn’t) eat Tate’s, so I’m forever searching for an allergy-friendly alternative. Store-bought cookies suck, though, and the ones that don’t are almost always made in facilities that handle nuts. (For some reason, nearly every bakery worth its sugar is filled to the brim with nuts. Life’s bad, I tell you. Bad.)

But Fancypants, stupid name aside, is one of those rare bakeries that’s both (a) decent and (b) totally, 100% nut-free. Their cookies taste way too good to be free from cross-contamination, but they most definitely are—and deliberately so, at that. According to their packaging (and website), both their crunch cookies and their hand-decorated cookies are made in a dedicated peanut-and tree nut–free facility. Nice.

I can’t speak to their hand-decorated cookies (I’ve never tried them, and I probably never will, as $4+ is not a price I’m willing to pay for a single frosted sugar cookie), but I can say that their crunch cookies (sorry, their Non-GMO Project Verified Crunch Cookies) are straight-up delicious. They come in a bunch of varieties—chocolate chip, double chocolate, brown sugar oatmeal, vanilla bean, and gingersnap—and so far, every one I’ve tried has been great.

I’m particularly into the brown sugar oatmeal—I’m a sucker for most oatmeal cookies, really—but the chocolate chip (pictured above) is good, too. Both are crisp and buttery, and neither is too sweet, which is a welcome relief in the world of allergy-friendly cookies. (Imagine the polar opposite of Lofthouse‘s gummy-ass sugar cookies; that’s sort of what Fancypants’s crunch cookies are like.)

There isn’t much more to say (a tasty cookie’s a tasty cookie), other than this: It’s not often I find a brand that’s only nut-free, so when I do, I tend to get pretty excited. I’m allergic to nuts, not gluten, dairy, or eggs—so it’s not as if my cookies have to suffer. They just…tend to. But with Fancypants, there’s no suffering involved. That’s why I’m a fan.

Find Fancypants products at Whole Foods, Stop & Shop, Fairway, Union Market, Gourmet Garage, and probably a whole bunch of other stores, too.

[By the way: My semester’s officially started, so I’m finding myself with far less time on my hands to find foods and, you know, photograph/write about them. My posts are going to slow accordingly—only by a bit, though. Bear with me.]

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Koffee Kup Bakery

A lemon zest donut from Koffee Kup Bakery

A few weeks ago, I was wandering around Staten Island (don’t ask) when I happened upon a Top Tomato, a supermarket chain that…exists, apparently. I spent a few minutes exploring its aisles, underwhelmed as could be—until I spotted a familiar anthropomorphic cruller, one of which I’d often seen photos in a few of the six trillion godforsaken food allergy forums I frequent.

That thick-eyebrowed, boot-donning cruller is the logo for Koffee Kup, an allergy-friendly bakery based in Vermont. According to Koffee Kup’s allergen statement, none of their products contain any tree nuts or peanuts, which means they should be produced in a nut-free environment. To be sure, though, I sent them an email, to which I received the following response: “While we do not have tree nuts in the plant, we have not yet a full nut free policy for the entire building, so we may have some employee in the breakroom or the like with some.”

Standard, really—and good enough for me. Onwards, then.

Koffee Kup’s donuts come in a whole bunch of flavors: buttermilk, jelly, glazed, powdered, apple cider, devil’s food chocolate, bran and honey, lemon zest, orange, plain…and probably a bunch more, too, because a few of the ones I just mentioned aren’t even mentioned on Koffee Kup’s website. The day I came across them, I picked up a box of the lemon zest donuts (sue me—it was that or orange), and to my surprise, they were actually all right.

A box of Koffee Kup's lemon zest donuts

I have poor self-control, so I dug in right then and there—in the parking lot of Top Goddamn Tomato—and for the first third of my first donut, I was in love. They’re cakey, but not dry (in fact, the texture’s near-perfect), and the flavor’s nice and lemony (though a little too reminiscent of a bowl of Fruit Loops). Two bites later, though, all the sugar in that thing must’ve caught up to me, and I couldn’t go on. That’s one sweet donut…and I say that as someone who’s usually into absurd amounts of sugar. Maybe it was the sun, but yeesh. I wanted to throw up.

I’ve never once learned a lesson, though, so 10 minutes later, there I was, eating another stupid-ass lemon zest donut in the oppressive Staten Island heat. Honestly, though, I feel like these donuts would actually be pretty good in the hands of someone more responsible (read: someone who (a) actually maintains control of his or her portion size, (b) keeps a drink on hand, and (c) knows to avoid the ever-cloying lemon zest flavor).

In any case: a few days later, I found a box of Koffee Kup’s devil’s food chocolate donuts at Stop & Shop, and as I suspected, they’re a lot better than the lemon zest version. They’re incredibly sweet, too, but they’re not Fruit Loopy in the slightest, nor did they leave me wanting to vomit—in fact, I genuinely liked them. Score. (I did eat them indoors, though. In my air-conditioned apartment, with water nearby. Important variables, probably—and ones I’ll need to report to the scientific community, no doubt. Bullshit aside, though: these are some tasty store-bought donuts.)

Variables aside, I took the devil’s food donuts as a good sign, and I’m now in the process of tracking down a few of Koffee Kup’s other flavors. If you, too, are interested, consider heading over to Stop & Shop…or Top Tomato, of course. Other than those two, though, I have no idea where to find these donuts. Good luck.

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Touring a Nut-Free Chocolate Factory

"Happiness is Unroasted"—outside Raaka's factory

Back in March, I published a post about Raaka, a Brooklyn-based craft chocolate company that’s entirely nut-free. In that post, I noted that Raaka offers 45-minute tours of their factory in Red Hook to anyone who’s willing to part with $10 and don a hair net. It’s taken me a few months, but I finally got around to going—so I figured I’d share some photos.

Some important information first, though. None of Raaka’s products contain any gluten, dairy, soy, or nuts. Their FAQ states that no nuts are allowed in their factory, but that their chocolates aren’t certified nut-free, as they cannot guarantee that their vendors’ facilities are equally safe. Everything they sell is vegan, non-GMO, and organic—and most (if not all) of their bars are kosher, too.

(In spite of the whole vendors’-facilities thing, I’ve still categorized Raaka as truly nut-free, as their own plant is nut-free, and that’s about as much as I can ask for. Plus, I kind of like the fact that Raaka isn’t defined by its allergy-friendliness; it’s just a normal chocolate company that also happens to not use a few ingredients.)

Raaka is really big on their whole virgin chocolate thing, which refers to the fact that they use unroasted cacao beans in their chocolate-making process. As the folks at Raaka frame it, many lesser companies buy low-quality beans and then roast them to hide their flavor, which leads to a one-size, homogenous sort of product. Raaka, in an attempt to “bring you true cacao flavor,” does no such thing; instead, they buy high-quality beans and are thus unafraid to showcase those beans’ natural (unroasted) flavors. As long as it tastes good, right?

Onto the photos, though. Enjoy.

Free chocolate samples at Raaka's factory

When Sam and I walked in, we were immediately hit with the unmistakable smell of dark chocolate. We were 10 minutes early, and the woman who took our names encouraged us to help ourselves to some free samples. Of course, we did—we both tried every flavor, even though we’ve had most in bar form before—and all of them were delicious.

I found myself enjoying the sample discs way more than I’d ever enjoyed Raaka’s bars, and that’s not just because the discs were free. They’re comparatively small and soft, so they’re way less overwhelming than the bars, flavor-wise—especially if you (like me) struggle with the bitterness of dark chocolate. Seriously, though: All the flavors were great, and come tour time, Sam and I both had trouble stepping away from the chocolate, even though we knew there’d be plenty more to come.

Dominican cacao beans

Soon enough, our tour-mates arrived. After a quick rundown on the difference between roasted and unroasted cacao beans, our guide led us to the bean room, where we’d soon learn more than we’d ever wanted to know about cacao. I can’t relate all that much information, because I got…um, lost in my thoughts (super-pressing questions like where are all the Oompa Loompas? and how many Willy Wonka jokes do these employees have to fake-laugh at per week?) but I swear our tour guide taught us a whole lot of stuff.

First, he taught us how to eat a cacao bean. Apparently, he’s spent a lot of time working farmers’ markets, where he’s met his fair share of that super-effete Whole Foods type who tend to just walk up to his stand, grab a cacao bean, say something to the effect of “mmm, antioxidants” or “ooh, a superfood,” and then pop the whole thing into his or her mouth, husk included. That, our guide warned, is not the way to go. Cacao husks are about as tasty as peanut shells—and after we’d been warned not to eat the beans whole, it was sampling time.

As we gathered around for our rations, our guide explained to us that cacao beans grown in different regions tend to pick up different flavors. He gave us each two nibs (a nib is a bean-chunk that’s had its husk removed), one from the Dominican Republic and one from…somewhere else, at which point we all realized that he wasn’t kidding. Though both beans were shockingly bitter, their flavors did have different undertones; one had distinct notes of earthy dirt, while the other was more of a dirty earth. (Sorry. They both tasted terrible to me. But they did have totally different flavors.) Nearly everyone made a sour face, and one of my tour-mates declared that he didn’t like chocolate—and then it was time to move on.

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Still in the bean room, our guide went on to explain the winnowing process (by which the beans’ nibs and husks are separated). Again, I had trouble focusing—why would you pay $10 to tour a chocolate factory if you don’t like chocolate, Red Shoes?—but the process involves three rounds of running cacao beans through a machine that removes and then sucks away their husks and only their husks. Neat.

The folks at Raaka used to have to spend all day removing husks by hand, so they were all rather thrilled when they were finally able to purchase a machine to do the job for them. They also recently picked up an optical sorter, which (I think) they use to make absolutely sure that there’s nothing but pure, unadulterated cacao nib going into their grinders—no husks, no rocks, no nothing—which is, of course, another job that used to call for human attention.

A vat of

After a long, long talk about husks and winnowing and optical sorting, we moved onto the the grinding room, where the nibs are ground (for three days!) into silky-smooth chocolate. That day, the Maple & Nibs vat was the furthest along, so that was the one we got to try.

At the prospect of getting to sample something sweet, our tour-mates finally started to look excited—and legitimately so, because that shit was good. Warm, smooth, and sweet, it was very dissimilar to the nibs we’d eaten in the previous room, and I was finally starting to have some fun. (Sugar. That’s all it takes, people. Also, dairy. But that one’s a lost cause at Raaka.)

After the chocolate comes out of the grinders, it’s still a little gritty, so it gets fed through a machine that looks a lot like a set of rolling pins for further smoothing. Then, it’s scraped into buckets and brought over to the tempering machine, which is in the factory’s main room.

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The tempering machine repeatedly heats and cools the chocolate to encourage it to crystallize properly, which makes sure the product comes out looking nice and shiny, gives it that satisfying chocolate-bar snap, and keeps the bars’ surfaces from going gray (for a while, at least). Then, after it’s tempered, the chocolate is poured into rectangular molds. If that day’s flavor calls for the addition of nibs or fruit or whatever, they’re added to the chocolate while it’s still wet, and then everything goes into a big ol’ fridge for half an hour or so to cool.

Raaka's labeling machine

Finally, the chocolate is wrapped and labeled. The wrapping machine, which is straight out of, like, City of Ember or something, can wrap around 400 bars per hour—way more than Raaka’s employees had been able to wrap by hand before they discovered this weird-ass machine in “the back of a warehouse in the Bronx.”

The labeling machine—way less steam-punk—applies labels (shocking!) to wrapped chocolate bars that glide by on a conveyor belt…and that’s it, really. That’s Raaka’s signature bean-to-bar process, of which they’re (understandably) rather proud.

(I know nothing and it’s showing—sorry. I’m here to talk about food allergies and share a few highly-compressed photos, not to pretend to be a chocolate expert. It wasn’t as if I was standing there taking notes, nor was I able to focus on nib-talk for long. I was hungry, and my thoughts were doing a lot of wandering. How many blocks do you think I’d have to walk to get a bottle of milk?, etc.)

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And then—then—it was chocolate-sampling time. While we’d been on our tour, the woman who’d welcome us had laid out five plates of samples for my tour-mates and me. On the menu that day was Bourbon Cask Aged (82% cacao), Maple & Nibs (75% cacao), Pink Sea Salt (71%), Piña Colada (60%), and Coconut Milk (60%). We sampled from darkest to lightest, as that’s apparently how it’s done, and each and every flavor was absolutely delightful.

The Bourbon Cask Aged was a little too dark for my 20-year-old, sugar-loving palate, but it wasn’t bad by any means. Maple & Nibs was refreshingly sweet, by contrast, and Pink Sea Salt was salty and satisfying, as expected. My favorites were the last two, though: Piña Colada was very sweet, with chewy bits of pineapple throughout, and Coconut Milk was creamy and soft. Perfect, really.

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After we’d all sampled each of the five flavors, the tour was over, and my tour-mates and I were set free…to the area with the rest of the samples. No one insisted we leave; no one pressured us to buy anything; no one sneered at us for taking too many little chocolate disks. We were under strict instructions to eat as much as we wanted—it was lunchtime, and our guide actually encouraged us to fill up on chocolate—and so we did.

Still, I couldn’t leave without making a purchase. I figured I’d go with the 3-bars-for-$15 deal—Piña Colada (my favorite), Raspberry Lemonade (of which there were no samples), and Sunflower Seed Butter (same deal as Raspberry Lemonade). But when I found out Piña Colada wouldn’t be for sale until the following month, I decided to just go with Sunflower Seed Butter ($8).

Anywho. I’m a shithead with the attention span (and palate!) of a toddler, but I had a wonderful time at Raaka’s factory (…when I wasn’t being shoved out of the way by one of my eldest tour-mates, that is). Our guide was super friendly, and he knew a hell of a lot about chocolate—and the folks at Raaka are very generous with their samples, which was a pleasant surprise.

In all, it was a great experience, and I’d recommend it to anyone who has even the slightest interest in chocolate. Plus, Raaka’s factory is a 15-minute walk from Carla Hall’s Southern Kitchen, which is totally nut-free, save for a packaged dessert or two. Make a day of it, if you’re into that sort of thing.

(Also, in the interest of accruing some bragging rights, I’d like to mention that I walked home—to Lower Manhattan—from Raaka’s factory. It was 90° and raining. I had boots, chocolate, and company, but I did not have an umbrella. Talk about making a day of things.)

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Halfpops

halfpops

Apparently, some people have a thing for the half-popped popcorn that’s usually at the bottom of the bag. And while I’m definitely not one of those people—who are they, and what’s wrong with them?—I have to admit that Halfpops are actually all right.

Allergy information first, though. Halfpops’ exceedingly irritating FAQ clearly states that each and every one of their products is nut- and gluten-free, so that’s that, I suppose. (Seriously, though. Their FAQ is annoying as hell, as is the rest of their website. Why they insist on harping on how portable their snacks are, I have no idea. Halfpops are exactly as portable as regular popcorn—but I digress.)

Online pandering aside, Halfpops do taste okay. (Imagine a softer Corn Nut, and that’s basically a Halfpop.) As of right now, they come in seven flavors: Aged White Cheddar, Angry Kettle Corn, Caramel & Sea Salt, Butter & Sea Salt, Brooklyn Dill Pickle, Black Truffle & Sea Salt, and Chipotle BBQ. My favorite, by far, is the Black Truffle & Sea Salt—in fact, it’s the only one I’ve tried that I actually like. Unlike so many inexpensive “truffled”products, these actually have a noticeable truffle element to them—and a pleasant one, at that. I’m definitely a fan.

The worst flavor I’ve tried is probably the Caramel & Sea Salt. As soon as I opened the bag and got a whiff of those things, I knew they wouldn’t be for me—and they weren’t. “Cloying” is probably the least offensive adjective I can use to describe them—they’re way, way, way too sweet, without anywhere near enough salt to balance out the sugar, and I can say with confidence that I do not like these. Not one bit.

Somewhere toward the middle of the Halfpops spectrum are the Aged White Cheddar—which (to its credit) tastes a whole lot like Smartfood, but without all the popcorn fluff that the folks behind Halfpops insists is so undesirable—and the Butter & Sea Salt, which is a little heavy on the butter flavoring. Brooklyn Dill Pickle is okay, too, if you want to be overwhelmed with vinegar, but I…don’t, so that one’s probably another flavor I’ll have to avoid.

The problem with most of Halfpops’ flavors is simple, though: the seasoning is way too strong. Perhaps if they’d tone it down a smidge, I’d be on board—but for now, I think I’ll stick with the Black Truffle & Sea Salt. (Or, you know, regular popcorn, despite its terribly unportable nature.)

Find Halfpops at Stop & Shop, REI, and ShopRite.

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The Good Bean Chickpea Snacks

The Good Bean chickpea snacks

I can’t say I’ve ever found myself craving a handful of roasted chickpeas, but if I ever did…well, these would do the trick. They’re a little weird, but they aren’t bad—and they’re a whole lot better for you than, like, Funyuns (or whatever it is that you can’t stop shoveling into your mouth).

Two of The Good Bean’s three products—their chickpea snacks and their bean chips—are made in a dedicated nut-free facility. Their fruit & no-nut bars, while themselves nut-free, are made in a facility that does handle both tree nuts and peanuts (though The Good Bean uses Good Manufacturing Practices to reduce the risk of cross-contamination), so they’re perhaps a bit less safe than the chickpea snacks and the bean chips. Still, they’re a viable option for many with nut allergies, and if I could find them, I’d give them a try.

I haven’t come across the bean chips or the fruit & no-nut bars, but I have eaten my fair share of the roasted chickpeas, and as usual, I have some opinions. First off, let me be clear about one thing: These things are extremely dry. Get more than three or four of them in your mouth at once and it’s like trying to revitalize sawdust with your tongue. In small bites, though, they’re manageable—and I actually kind of like them.

The sea salt flavor is the best one I’ve tried. It’s simple and to-the-point, and it’s actually pretty addictive, once you get used to the texture. My least favorite was definitely sweet cinnamon; I couldn’t even get through the portion I used for the photograph above. It’s just so wishy-washy—too sweet to be savory and too savory to be sweet, and not at all pleasant to eat in any quantity. So when the urge hits, I guess I’ll just stick with the sea salt for now. (A lot of the other flavors have proven hard to find, but I think I’m all right with that.)

Anyway, if roasted chickpeas have been calling you—or if my glowing review has won you over—you can find The Good Bean’s products at Stop & Shop, Duane Reade, Zabar’s, and various health food–oriented markets across the city. (Perhaps you’ll even be able to find all the flavors and products I couldn’t. Good luck.)

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Essen New York Deli, Part I

A pastrami sandwich from Essen NY Deli

Man, Jewish delis are the best.

I’ve had a lot of luck with kosher food, but until now, that luck has been reserved for baked goods. I’d never been able to find a nut-free delicatessen—that is, until I heard about Essen, a glatt kosher deli in Midwood, Brooklyn that happens not to have any nuts in house.

It sounded too good to be true, so I sent Essen an email to double-check. The response I received, in its entirety, was as follows: “Hi, we do not cook with any nuts but we are not a 100% nut free environment. Any questions please call us.” That response could have meant a whole lot of different things, so I did end up calling with a few further questions.

After being transferred a few times, I ended up on the phone with someone who really seemed to know what he was talking about. He explained to me that, while they don’t cook with any nuts at Essen, they don’t like to call their food “nut-free,” as they have no means of controlling what their customers (or employees) bring in with them. They prefer to say that they make food without nuts so as not to mislead anyone with severe allergies. So far, so fair.

Bread’s trouble, though, and I wasn’t about to make a trip to Midwood without the promise of a sandwich, so I was sure to double-check on that, too. With me still on the line, the man on the phone called up his bread supplier, put him on speakerphone, and asked him whether there might be any nut traces in their rye or club breads. The answer was “no,” and that was that. Within 30 minutes, I was riding the Q to Avenue J.

[Before I move on, I’d like to emphasize just how competent and knowledgeable this guy was. I asked what “we are not a 100% nut free environment” meant, and without a second’s hesitation, he jumped into an explanation that demonstrated a degree of allergy awareness that was really refreshing—especially at the tail end of a few hours of restaurant-calling. He was patient, clear, and actually helpful, and I was incredibly grateful. Serious props to the folks at Essen for that one.]

The restaurant’s bigger than I expected it to be, with a few different rooms full of tables. There’s counter service at the front, and it’s easy enough to get food to-go, but Sam and I opted to eat in (mostly because I’m absolutely hopeless when it comes photographing food without a table to help me out). Ourselves excluded, all the patrons were Jewish—and most seemed to know one another, too. We got a lot of funny looks, but such is life in an Orthodox neighborhood for even the most modestly dressed of goyim. In all, everyone was friendly enough.

Essen has two menus: one Chinese and one with traditional deli food. Before I’d even sat down, I knew I’d be ordering the hot pastrami on rye. (How could I have considered anything else? Pastrami’s at the base of my need-hierarchy pyramid.) Sam got the Yitzy’s Favorite Deluxe (fried skirt steak with gravy on a club roll), which came with french fries and onion rings—and as we tend to, we split both sandwiches.

First came the cole slaw and pickles, though. The cole slaw was good, if a bit sweet—though it was much, much better after a few too many bites of pastrami. There were two types of pickles: half-sours, which were all right, and full-sours, which I much preferred. The full-sours tasted inexplicably like salami, but we didn’t care much. We ate them quickly, and our sandwiches arrived soon after.

The pastrami on rye (pictured above) cost $14.95, and it was worth every last penny. Fatty, tender, and juicy, the pastrami itself was really tasty, if a bit thin-cut—and the bread wasn’t half bad, either. It held its integrity, at least. (I tend to hate rye, but how can you hate anything that’s acting as a vehicle for a few inches of freshly-carved meat? You can’t.) As a whole, the sandwich was simple and delicious, and I’d already begun to crave another within an hour of finishing my first. (Unfortunately—or fortunately, perhaps—I was back in Manhattan by then. Oh well.)

The Yitzy’s Favorite ($22.95) wasn’t my favorite, though I didn’t actually dislike it in the slightest. It wasn’t at all bad, but the fried steak just wasn’t anywhere near as good as the pastrami, and the club bread was worse than the rye, too. I loved the gravy, but the sandwich was a little boring overall—and it’d cost $8 more than the pastrami, which just made me feel like I was paying more to miss out. Nothing was wrong, but I’m not exactly in a rush to order the Yitzy’s Favorite again.

The fries it came with were pretty terrible, by the way. (Like, inedibly bad. Neither Sam nor I could get through them, which is sort of saying a lot.) And the onion rings were not onion rings; they were strands of hot onion adorned every few inches with clusters of fried batter. Regardless, they were delicious, though certainly a little strange.

With tax and tip, the meal was on the expensive side, but I maintain that it was absolutely worth its price. Fortunately, Essen is far enough away that I can’t stop by every day, which should go a long way in keeping me from going broke. Their menu’s pretty big, and I’ve only eaten two of its offerings, but you know what? I’m ready to say with confidence that I love this place.

Perhaps one day I’ll let go of the pastrami (yeah, right) and try out the rest of the menu. I’d like to try their knishes, or their matzah ball soup, or maybe some of their other sandwiches, at least. Perhaps I’ll even get around to trying a few things off their Chinese menu—though I think that’ll probably deserve a post of its own. (That’ll be part II—stay tuned.) But for now, it’s pastrami for me.

Find Essen New York Deli at 1359 Coney Island Avenue, between Avenue J and Avenue K. (It’s not that far away, really. From Manhattan, it’s 40 minutes on the Q, tops—way less if you’re starting off downtown.) Beware, though: They are Jewish, so they won’t be open on Shabbat. They close at 2pm on Fridays, and they don’t reopen till 11am Sunday mornings.

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Peanut Butter & Co.

A jar of White Chocolate Wonderful peanut butter

I spent last Friday on Roosevelt Island. Please don’t ask why; I really have no idea. Around the third hour, though, I ended up at Gristedes, the island’s only real supermarket. (There’s also a deli, a Duane Reade, and a natural market of sorts. For anything else, you have to travel.) None of this is relevant, of course—but Roosevelt Island is Twilight Zone–weird, so…I guess I wanted to mention where I was.

It was there, at that overpriced and poorly reviewed Gristedes, that I finally decided it was time to pick up a jar of this expensive-ass peanut butter.

I hated this stuff as a kid. I really did. I always thought it was gritty, bland, and generally unpleasant—though that didn’t quite stop me from trying every flavor I could find. I’m not sure whether it’s changed or I have, but…something‘s different, because I absolutely love this peanut butter.

A lot of tree nut–allergic people—especially those with a history of reacting to traces—express frustration with finding peanut butter made in a peanut-only facility. I usually eat Skippy (which, as far as I know, isn’t made in a peanut-only facility), but I know plenty of nut-allergic people for whom brands like Skippy aren’t an option, so I figured it was probably worth looking into some other companies.

One of the companies on my list was Peanut Butter & Co. Prior to my Roosevelt Island adventure, I’d sent them an email, and their reply was as follows:

Our peanut butter is manufactured in a facility that only processes peanuts. While many of our other products like jams, jellies, and peanut snacks may not contain tree nuts or seeds in the ingredient list, some are processed in facilities that also process tree nuts and seeds. Please check the label of the individual product you are inquiring about for more information.

Really, that was the answer I was looking for. But given how much I’d hated their peanut butter as a kid—and given that I’ve never seen a jar of it on sale for less than $5—it wasn’t as if I was ready to sprint to the supermarket and pick some up. It comes as no real surprise, then, that I had to be so hungry on such a strange island for this stuff to even begin to appeal to me.

Anyway…I bought some. I chose White Chocolate Wonderful, because white chocolate and I tend to get along pretty well. The jar cost $5.99, which made me sort of angry—but once I got my spoon (okay, finger) in there, all my anger dissolved. It wasn’t gritty or bland like I remembered; instead, it was smooth and flavorful—though not unpleasantly sweet, which I’d expected it to be.

Honestly, it’s really fucking good, and I feel a little bad for spending the last 10 years hating on this stuff. What’s done is done, though. I’ll guess I’ll have to right my wrong by overspending on Peanut Butter & Co.’s peanut butter till I’m sick of the stuff.

Find Peanut Butter & Co. everywhere: Gristedes, Whole Foods, Stop & Shop, Duane Reade, Food Emporium, Citerella…and a whole bunch of other places, too.

[Edit: After some further consideration, I’ve decided that Peanut Butter & Co.’s is probably my favorite all-purpose peanut butter. White Chocolate Wonderful, which tastes nothing like white chocolate, but rather which tastes like a standard sweetened peanut butter, is like an upgraded Skippy, and Dark Chocolate Dreams, which is ridiculously rich—like brownie batter, honestly—is perfect for finger-licking.]

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Stern’s Bakery

A few slices of a Stern's seven-layer cake

In the time I’ve spent on this blog, I’ve had a lot of luck finding nut-free kosher bakeries. For some reason, there’s a (relative) abundance of them in and around the city, so I wasn’t exactly surprised when I found out about Stern’s. There’s no such thing as too many when it comes to nut-free bakeries (or nut-free anythings, for that matter)—so of course, I had to give Stern’s a try.

There isn’t much information about Stern’s to be found online. Their factory, located in the very Orthodox neighborhood of Borough Park, is wholesale-only, but their Yelp page led me to believe they had a retail storefront, too. When I went, though, it was nowhere to be found, no matter how many people I asked for directions. Maybe I’m crazy, or maybe it doesn’t exist; either way, though, pretty much every market in the area had a wide array of Stern’s products, so I still managed to make it home with a sizable haul of baked goods—all with the words “made in a nut-free facility” on the packaging.

The first thing I tried (on my train ride home, of course) was a single-serving Confetti Brownie, which looks a whole lot like a Little Debbie’s Cosmic Brownie. At first bite, I didn’t really like it—it was too sweet, and the chocolate tasted too artificial—but the texture won me over, and by the end, I was wishing I had more. The chocolate danish, though, was worlds better. It was moist and thick, with plenty of far-less-artificial-tasting chocolate, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Finally: the black and white seven layer cake (pictured above). Somehow, I actually managed to wait until I got home before digging into this one. Honestly, though, it wasn’t very good. It smelled exactly like a Hostess CupCake, and it didn’t taste much better. It was far too sweet, though I think there’s a good chance the regular seven layer cake would have been better, as it doesn’t seem to have as many layers of frosting (or whatever that stuff is—I’m not sure).

Still, Stern’s is a solid option for (nut-free!) packaged baked goods. Their products are better (and probably safer) than anything made by Hostess, Drake’s, or Little Debbie—and though I like Green’s better, Stern’s is certainly a company I’m willing to throw my very inconsequential weight behind.

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Gerbs Allergen Friendly Foods

Gerbs

I’ll just come right out and say it: Gerbs is a pretty awesome company. Everything they sell is entirely free from the top 8 allergens (plus sesame and mustard, too). It’s all vegan, kosher, and non-GMO, and it’s all free from sulphur dioxide, potassium sorbate, sodium benzoate, nitrates/nitrites, MSG, and trans fats. Truthfully, I couldn’t possibly care less about any of that—but I do care a whole lot about nut-free seeds, granolas, and dried fruits. As many people seem to be incapable of understanding, seeds are not nuts; they’re seeds, and I can eat them, as can everyone else who’s (just) allergic to nuts. Often, though, seeds come cross-contaminated—especially if they’re shelled—so it can be a real pain to find safe ones.

The same goes for dried fruits. For some reason, they’re almost always made by companies that handle lots of nuts. I tend to really like dried fruits, though, so I’ve been searching—really, really searching—for a safe and reliable source for a while now. Trader Joe’s has some options that work for me, sure…but they don’t have my personal favorite: pineapple rings (the sweetened kind, because I am a child).

Enter Gerbs, the solution to all (well, some) of my problems.

gerbs2

Gerbs carries chocolate products, coffee beans, dried fruits, seeds, grains, granolas, rice, oats, and various snack mixes, all free from the junk (and allergens) mentioned above—so basically, they sell a whole bunch of stuff that’s tough to find. And though their products aren’t available in stores, they are available online, and at (somewhat) reasonable prices, too. [That first link is to Amazon, where a whole bunch of Gerbs products are Prime-eligible. Game-changing, really, for those of us who straight-up refuse to (a) order in bulk or (b) pay for shipping.]

It wasn’t until last week that I finally got around to ordering some of this stuff. I got a pound of lightly salted sunflower kernels ($3.99), and—of course—a pound of sweetened pineapple slices ($7.99). And since my order only weighed 2 lbs, I only had to pay $5.99 for shipping, which would’ve otherwise gone up to $12.99. (Only. As if. Obviously, I placed this order before finding out about the whole Gerbs-is-Prime-eligible thing. Live and learn, I guess.)

To my surprise, the box arrived within two days—and fortunately, I have very little to say, other than that products I received were perfectly fine. The sunflower kernels taste like sunflower kernels—though I’m not sure I’d have labeled them as lightly salted—and the pineapple rings are just what I’ve been wanting. My only (cliché) complaint is that they disappeared far too quickly. I think I’m good on sunflower seeds for a while, though. Apparently, a pound is quite a few servings. (Just in: My eyes are way bigger than my stomach. Who knew? Guess I have some sunflower-seed pesto in my near future.)

Anyway, Gerbs is most definitely a company worth supporting—and their products are definitely worth eating, too. Find them, as I’ve said, on both Amazon (Prime!) and the Gerbs website.

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Fruit Slices

SweetGourmet fruit slices

I used to eat these jelly-based fruit slices all the time as a kid. Who knew they’d be so hard to come by for those who can’t eat nuts? Lots of supermarkets buy them in bulk and repackage them for sale—but they do the same with nuts, so more often than not, the fruit slices you’ll find at Fairway et al. come with “may contain” warnings. Shame. But I’ve really been craving these, so I had to make it happen.

Now, SweetGourmet definitely sells nuts; in fact, they have a whole category on their site devoted to nuts and seeds. But fruit slices aren’t all that easy to find, and I was pretty desperate to get my hands on some—and (for some reason!) I didn’t want to order them from nuts.com, so I decided to give these a try. Their ingredients are as follows:

Sugar, glucose, agar, citric acid, cottonseed oil, egg albumen, natural and artificial flavors, artificial colors (red 40, blue 1, yellow 5 & 6). **Contains: Egg Ingredients. Product information/materials may change.

Not the ideal company for someone with a nut allergy, but hey, fruit slices. So far, I’m around 75% of the way through my box, and I’ve had no issues. I got them off of Amazon, but they’re available straight from SweetGourmet, too. I ordered the middle size (20 oz.), and they arrived within a few days, packaged in a large box with sheets of wax paper separating the layers of fruit slices.

Anyway, they’re pretty good, if you’re into fruit slices (is anybody?). My only complaint is that the assortment is a little lacking. (I’m told it’s very inconsistent and varies a lot by box.) My box had mostly greens, reds, oranges, and yellows—which is unfortunate, because the watermelons and the blue raspberries are the real stars.

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