December 11, 2013

Natural Foodie: Order merrily from Portland-area chefs for special diet needs

Several local businesses make it easier to find meals and treats to suit varied food requirements.

If you’re looking for prepared Christmas food that is gluten-free or vegan or meets other dietary needs, you’re in luck. It’s never been easier to find these eats in Greater Portland. But for the people running the food businesses, it can be hard to keep up with demand.

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Vegan cupcakes by Clothespin Baking Co.

Contributed photo

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The staff at Pepperclub makes stuffed delicata squash for the Modern Vegan meal delivery service.

Contributed photo

Related headlines

Help UMaine test a wheat alternative

A campaign is underway to raise funds to help the University of Maine Cooperative Extension continue field trials of spelt, a nutritious grain often used as a wheat alternative. The campaign, hosted on the crowdfunding site RocketHub, runs until Dec. 17 and aims to raise $12,500. The campaign is being promoted by Spelt Right Bakery, which was founded in Maine and recently moved to New York.

Last year the University of Maine conducted an early stage trial using four varieties of winter spelt and organic growing techniques. The resulting grain was milled at the Somerset Grist Mill in Skowhegan. Spelt Right tested the flour in its bakery and reported favorable results. Spelt Right uses spelt flour because some people who are sensitive to wheat flour can eat spelt flour without problems, even though spelt contains gluten.

Some suspect that because today’s commodity wheat varieties have been bred to work with industrial harvesters and produce very white bread, they contain significantly more gluten than traditional wheat varieties. According to this theory, the increased gluten may be triggering allergic reactions in a growing number of people. In contrast, the ancient grain spelt has been largely ignored by industrial agriculture and therefore it has not been manipulated in the same way.

Those who help fund the Maine campaign will receive discounts on Spelt Right products, a book titled “Behavior, Learning & Health, the Dietary Connection” and T-shirts. For more information about the campaign or to support it, visit

A prime example is Chris McClay, who runs Modern Vegan. Her company offers private cooking lessons, public cooking classes and personal chef services. In April, she launched a meal delivery service, thinking it would be a decent sideline to her main business.

With three customers, she only needed to make 15 meals each week and it was all very manageable.

“Then all of sudden one week it went up to 15 clients and 45 meals,” said McClay, whose company is based in Westbrook. “Then it went to 70 meals and 112 meals. It was word of mouth and it totally took off.”

By August, McClay was in a tough spot. The orders were more than she could keep up with in her home kitchen.

She considered discontinuing the service, but ultimately decided to partner with Mary Ledue Paine, who owns the vegan-friendly Pepperclub.

Now the Portland restaurant cooks and boxes an average of 250 vegan meals each week for 50 clients. McClay delivers the meals on Tuesday mornings.

“There’s a huge demand,” McClay said. “Every week I get six to 10 new people on the email distribution list. Six weeks ago we were doing 125 meals, so we’ve doubled in six weeks. I think we’ll be at 500 meals by March.”

McClay and Paine are putting together a special Christmas week menu that will feature an entree with three side dishes and a dessert. Like all the dishes offered through the meal delivery, the holiday menu is vegan, gluten-free and free of added oil.

Modern Vegan will accept orders through Dec. 20.

Over in South Portland, Alexandra Gildart also is taking holiday orders. Gildart started a business in June specializing in baked goods that are vegan, gluten-free or meet other diet needs.

Called Clothespin Baking Co., the business only does custom orders and has no storefront. Gildart hasn’t done any advertising, meaning all her customers have found her through family or friends.

“Orders are going really well, really steady,” Gildart said. “It’s enough to keep me busy but not enough to overwhelm me.”

She will take holiday orders through Dec. 18.

Gildart, the mother of two, started the business because her 7-year-old son has a wide range of food allergies and can’t eat eggs, milk, nuts or sesame seeds.

“I was having a hard time finding kids’ cakes, so I started doing them myself,” Gildart said.

Soon others were requesting her colorful creations and she saw a business opportunity.

“My biggest specialty is the vegan part of it, but I also do gluten-free, soy-free and dairy-free,” Gildart said. “Because I understand the importance of the safety aspect of food allergies, people come to me because they know I get it.”


Where to buy prepared Christmas food for special diets

Bam Bam Bakery, 267 Congress St., Portland

Menu: Holiday-themed cupcakes, coffee cakes, sticky buns, cookies and cakes. Everything is gluten-free and some items are dairy-free as well. Call or visit the website for the full holiday menu.

Ordering deadline: Saturday, with the exception of cookie platters, which can be ordered with 48 hours notice.

How to order: Call 899-4100 or visit the bakery.

More info:


Bomb Diggity Bakery, 200 Anderson St., Bay 1, Portland

Menu: Vegan and gluten-free cakes, cookies and other sweet treats. Email or visit the website for the full menu.

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