What’s Up? 

A few words about Fresh Chef Café, Mary’s Gluten-Free Goods, and Holiday Fork Fundraiser.

A little over a year after opening on Union Avenue, the Farmer's Market Midtown has added the Fresh Chef Café, which serves lunch from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Saturday. Soups, salads, and sandwiches are the bill of fare, from a roast rib-eye and brie panini to turkey breast on cheddar loaf with cranberry relish and arugula. If you're looking to warm up, choose from gumbo and a soup of the day. Or try the portobello mushroom, arugula, and smoked Swiss on a Hawaiian roll with chipotle mayonnaise if you're hankering for a vegetarian lunch. The café also offers meats and cheeses by the pound and custom catering. And of course, you can still pick up some organic and locally sourced market items, as well as prepared meals by No Time 2 Cook to take home. Fresh Chef Café, 1632 Union (726-1031)

It wasn't so long ago that eating a gluten-free diet was relatively unheard of and finding gluten-free goods was nearly impossible. Now things are looking up. Not only are gluten-free products in the grocery store, but independent bakers like Mary Durham of Mary's Gluten-Free Goods are working to bring fresh, homemade breads and desserts to your home and local restaurants.

"I've visited other parts of the country where there are gluten-free bakeries, and it's a joy to go somewhere that caters to your diet," Durham says. "So I thought it was perfect timing, that Memphis could use somebody making good, homemade gluten-free items."

You can find some of her gluten-free cookies and dessert breads at Otherlands. Just For Lunch serves her pumpkin raisin cake and is slated to add a sandwich with gluten-free bread to the menu.

"I think there will be other places that will want to add that to their menu," Durham says. "People who have to eat gluten-free would be delighted to be in a restaurant with bread and sandwiches."

Durham works out of her certified home kitchen, doing custom orders for her signature "Memphis Crunch" almond toffee, cupcakes, birthday cakes, breads, rolls, and English muffins. Working without wheat flour has been a fulfilling but challenging process.

"I've been cooking gluten-free for 27 years, but I can't say I've been anywhere near proficient for 27 years," she says, laughing. "I've been exploring and discovering. Certainly, the whole field of gluten-free cooking has evolved over the years to give people raised breads and to combine new flours that perhaps are not typically used in American culture. But you find them in Indian cooking — bean flours and tapioca flours and such. There's been a whole lot of discovery of new things to make better products."

What's one of the hardest things to make without wheat flour? Durham says it's a simple loaf of bread. "That is the hardest to do because bread is just flour, water, milk, and eggs. To produce a tasty gluten-free product is a little harder."

All of Durham's products are available for order, and she asks only that you allow 48 hours to fill each order. A loaf of bread sells for $6.50; a dozen cookies for $6; four sandwich rolls for $6.50; and four English muffins for $6. Photos and order forms are available on her website.

Mary's Gluten-Free Goods (276-3947)

marysglutenfreegoods.com

Project Green Fork, the nonprofit organization dedicated to making Memphis restaurants greener, is holding a Holiday Fork Fundraiser as part of a challenge grant from the Assisi Foundation. Buy a silver-plated recycled green fork for $15 and your purchase will go toward a new recycling trailer for the nonprofit.

So what exactly do you do with a green fork? Margot McNeely, Project Green Fork president, suggests using it as an ornament, a business card holder, or just a symbol of your support for the cause. Sounds good to us.

For more information or to purchase a green fork, visit projectgreenfork.org.

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