Bread…. soft, crunchy, chewy, dense, light, airy, buttery, salty, nutty, yeasty…. bread. It’s just so damn good.
“Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; and good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of feasts.”― James Beard
Did I ever tell you that I seriously considered being a pastry chef? I’m sure that everyone that knew me growing up wasn’t the least bit surprised. When my mother taught me how to cook as a child, the first thing she taught me was how to bake. We would make sugar cookies from scratch, chill the dough, roll it out carefully then use different cookie cutters for each season to make festive iced cookies for Christmas, Easter, Halloween, and other fun times in between.
She taught me how to make royal icing, and how to pipe an outline carefully on the cookie, then fill in the middle carefully with a tiny offset spatula.
She taught me how to bake cakes for birthdays and special parties, and even indulged me when I wanted to try and make the crazy complicated cakes on the cover of Southern Living Magazine. Then she let me try making other desserts, even if she thought they would be too difficult or have too many specialty ingredients. At fourteen I attempted her favorite dessert, Creme Brulee, and made it perfectly, to all of our surprise and delight.
After that, I went into a serious custard phase and taught myself how to make flan, cheesecake, french pastry cream, boiled custard, and I even invented a banana pudding so good. My dad declared it was better than his grandmother’s (high praise from an extremely picky guy!).
I even won my husband’s heart with a pound cake fresh from the oven. I really make the best pound cake ever. There are many southern women who would say this, but mine is far above the rest. When Ian and I were first getting to know each other after I decided I really liked him I brought him dinner – a home-cooked meal completely from scratch. I made a hearty, homemade beef stew, a salad with real homemade dressing, and my pound cake.
My grandmother always called it “Husband Catchin’ Pound Cake” – no lie. I brought this feast over to his house, and he asked if he could help carry anything inside, and I told him to get the cake in the back seat…. He picked it up and as he was walking in the house he softly said, “It’s still warm….” Yup. That night he called me his girlfriend. Didn’t ask me, but stated it as a fact. You might say that I wasn’t messing around when I made him that cake. And sure enough, my grandmother was right – I caught myself the best husband ever.
I was never much of a bread baker – that was my mom’s specialty. She loved to make homemade bread, and especially sourdough. Her sourdough is something really special. There are truly few things better in this world than a hot slice of her sourdough slathered with butter.
After I went off to college to be a music teacher, it became clear to me that food was my real passion.
Instead of studying as much as I should have, I spent my days cooking meals for my friends because I longed for home-cooked meals from my mother’s kitchen.
I watched cooking shows non-stop, and after I left college, I went to work in the restaurant industry. After a while, I made up my mind and went to culinary school.
I could either get a Baking and Pastry Certificate that took 6 months or I could get a degree for the full Culinary program which included some pastry courses, so I chose the latter. But my favorite classes by far were baking and pastry, even though I secretly thought that my own baking recipes were far superior to some I learned in school.
I really enjoyed learning how to make REAL French Croissants and buttery layered puff pastry, plus all the different variations of pastries that can be made with that particular, tricky dough.
It really is a special art that I have a profound amount of respect for, and I particularly really enjoy seeing it done in real bakeries and expert dessert menus, rather than the fake stuff so often distributed across the states through Sysco and other mass food producers.
But here’s the thing. Even though I have not been diagnosed with Celiac, I make the very hard choice to stay away from foods containing gluten most of the time. And when I say ‘very hard choice’ I truly mean it. You see, for me, bread and baked goods based on wheat flour have been a huge part of my life. I have deep emotional ties to it and the experiences I have had with those baked goods that are hard to separate from the cold hard facts.
The cold hard fact is that I feel so much better when I am not eating wheat-based foods on a regular basis.
I have far fewer headaches, which has been a problem for me my whole life.
I think occasions of the completely awful, sleep-depriving heartburn that used to wake me up choking on acid in my throat.
I have fewer cramps during my monthly cycle, I have no acne, and typically, my weight is lower.
My joints don’t hurt as much and let’s be frank, I don’t have to deal with countless trips to the bathroom like I used to when I was eating wheat every day.
Do I want this to be the reality? Absolutely not. I often think that I wish that I could go back in time before I found out about the evils of gluten and just be normal and eat and enjoy all the wheat-based foods that I used to without a second thought. I miss real pizza, and cookies, and brownies, and real bread. While there are some good substitutes out there, if I am being honest I will say that they will never be the same. I even hate the word “gluten” because people seem to instantly take me less seriously when I use it.
And sometimes I break down and have the real thing. These instances are far and few between, and I try to save it for times that are really special. This past summer my husband and I shared a wonderful meal at Bouchon Bakery and Bistro in Las Vegas with our cousins, and we did not hold back.
I know they make the real stuff there, and fully indulged in their perfectly chewy french bread, their light, and flaky chocolate croissants, and the incredibly mind-blowing Roasted Chicken with Bacon Chive Waffles served with Tahitian Vanilla Bean Whipped Butter and real Maple Syrup. What they do at Bouchon is art, and we paid it the respect it so wonderfully deserved.
But after? We paid for it. I had a headache for the rest of the day, and I spent a lot of it in the hotel room napping on and off with no desire to do anything but lounge in my carb coma. Do I regret the meal? Nope. It was exquisite, and since I don’t have a life-threatening condition I let myself enjoy it.
But I did take note of how I felt afterward and I let that be a reminder of why I don’t eat the bread I love on a regular basis. I let the good meal give me a taste of something truly special that I miss, but I also let it strengthen my resolve.
I understand why, seemingly more than any other food trend, that the general public is so against and so threatened by the gluten-free “trend.” It threatens something that is an ingrained (pun intended) part of our society, and at the heart of it…. we all just really love bread.
I’m not saying that love isn’t well deserved.
I’m not saying that bread isn’t good.
I’m not saying that the gluten-free lifestyle is easy.
I’m saying that for those of us who make that choice, it is a very deliberate one that should not be taken lightly and disrespected.
It’s really hard. It tastes and feels so good right when you eat it, but then somehow we seem to disassociate that bread from the effects it can have on our body later.
So when I ask for a gluten-free menu at a restaurant and I see the server or hostess give me the “Oh great” eye roll, believe me, I get it.
Most of the time I’m thinking, “I know, right? This sucks!” But I tell myself over and over that it is worth it and that it is a choice and a good one that I make for my future because I know that it is true.
UPDATE: Based on the reaction that I got from this article, I decided to clarify some issues that were brought up concerning Allergies vs. Food Intolerance and also on the Social Tolerance of these issues in another post.
If you feel I haven’t adequately articulated the severity of Celiac disease in this post and how for some, just one bite is never ok, you might want to read that one to understand my position more thoroughly.