Don't Call Judy Nichols Names; She Knows Where to Find the Tastiest Gluten-Free Cupcakes and Whoopie Pies in Phoenix

What, you say? You're gluten-free? Well, come sit by Judy Nichols, author of Chow Bella's newest weekly column, "Gluten for Punishment." If you have suggestions or questions, leave them for her in our comments section. Enjoy.

Don't hate me because I'm gluten-free. It's not by choice; it's by diagnosis.

About 1 percent of Americans are diagnosed with celiac disease, an allergy to gluten, and a whole lot more say they feel better when it's reduced or eliminated from their diet.

But you don't have to look too far to find people who think that those who are gluten-free are attention-seeking, self-diagnosed, pains in the ass who totally mess up your well-designed dinner menu.

See also: - - Beer Stew and Gluten-Free Love

A whoopie pie from Gluten Free Creations Bakery.
A whoopie pie from Gluten Free Creations Bakery.
Judy Nichols

"Like a lot of chefs, I'm convinced that these diets are not always the results of the compromised immune systems of American diners, but their growing infantilism and narcissism," chef Josh Ozersky, the founder of Meatopia, told the New York Times last June in an article titled "The Picky Eater Who Came to Dinner."

Ozersky was talking about vegans, vegetarians, and people who don't want to eat sugar, soy, or lactose, among other food types. But at the top of the list was gluten-free.

The picky eater. Oh, yeah.

It's just because I want to be difficult that I will never again crunch a really crusty, flaky piece of bread. I want to give every waiter the third degree about whether the sweet-potato fries are cooked in the same oil used to cook breaded items and send him back to the kitchen to read the ingredients on the salad dressing container. Because I'm infantile. I want to drive cross-country without being able to get a hamburger or fly from Phoenix to Chicago without being able to buy anything to eat for the long hours in the airport and on the plane. Because I'm narcissistic.

When the gastroenterologist diagnosed me with celiac disease, he was practically giddy.   "I think I know what's wrong with you," he said, grinning. He then proceeded to tell me that the lining of my small intestine was flat, that the tiny villa that normally absorb nutrients were literally beaten into submission by my own immune system, attacked because of the gluten that stuck to them, gluten from wheat, rye or barley, gluten that my body rejected and attacked. Celiac disease, an allergy to gluten, was why I had anemia, no vitamin D, bone loss and a host of other issues.

No problem. Just don't eat gluten for the rest of your life, he told me, ushering me out the door and telling me to look celiac up on WebMD.

I guess the doctor can be excused for his enthusiasm. Finding someone with celiac disease is like solving a bizarre puzzle of odd, often ignored or discounted symptoms: either diarrhea or constipation, dry, itchy skin or rash, anemia, bone loss, irritability, gas, bloating, depression, joint pain, arthritis, tingling in the hands or feet, infertility, hair loss and dental problems. Many of the symptoms are due to malnutrition, even though you're eating, because your body can no longer absorb the nutrients. For every person diagnosed, it is estimated that 30 people with the allergy go undiagnosed.

It certainly was more fun to deliver the celiac diagnosis than if he had to tell me I had cancer, which is what my family practitioner suspected.

I was pretty nonchalant about the news, being relieved about the no-cancer thing and all. I did have a quick gut-check, driving home, when I realized that beer is made with barley, and that Ted's Charcoal Broiled Hot Dogs are served on wheat-filled buns.

But I happened to be leaving on a trip to Mexico, where nearly everything is made from corn, and for three weeks, I happily chowed down on tacos, tamales and posole.

Then I came home.   The following couple of years have been a mix of discovery (finding flours made of rice, potato, and fava beans), frustration (having to skip anything made with regular soy sauce, which, I am sad to tell you, contains wheat), elation (finding out that La Grande Orange Grocery has a gluten-free crust for my favorite goat cheese and roasted corn pizza and that the chocolaty, walnuty MJ Cookie from Tammie Coe Cakes is gluten free, and oh, oh, finding a gluten-free whoopie pie in the airport in Portland, like finding a truffle in the woods in France), fatigue (at having to reveal and explain my broken intestines in order to order), gratefulness (for all the accommodating chefs and establishments out there) and humble acceptance (knowing this will be the way I eat forever).

So, don't hate me or call me names. Love me. Feed me something that won't kill me.

A friend invited me to dinner this week and dessert for the eight others at the table was fruit tart, off limits for me because of the lovely, wheaty crust. But in front of me, she set a beautiful gluten-free cupcake from Gigi's Cupcakes at 40th Street and Camelback Road. She had purchased it the day before and scrawled "Do not eat" on the box to protect it from foraging children and spouses. As I reveled in the chocolate cake and cloud of frosting, I felt loved.

Turns out Gigi's, one of three locations in Arizona, has at least one gluten-free offering each day, and three flavors on Fridays. On Tuesday, it was peanut butter, with a tiny peanut butter cup perched on top. And just down the road, at Gluten Free Creations Bakery, 2940 East Thomas Road (behind Midas Muffler), I found a whoopie pie that reminds me of the one in Portland. It can be done.

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Related Locations

Gigi's Cupcakes
Ted's Charcoal Broiled Hot Dog

1755 E. Broadway
Tempe, AZ 85282


La Grande Orange Grocery

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