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04 June 2005

making gluten-free bread

4 June 2005

I’m only starting to walk down this path, but I already feel as though I have done a lifetime’s learning. I feel thankful to everyone on the forums on celiac.com, the delphi forums on celiac, and the braintalk community. Without commenting, I’ve been reading and learning from these disparate people, spread throughout North America, asking about particular brands and sharing their stories.

Stories are the best of us. We put our efforts into tangible goals, faster cars, bigger houses, or even better ways of being. But in the end, I believe, all we have to give is ourselves. That’s why I love hearing people’s stories, and telling my own. Because there’s an open vulnerability to this, and a wonderful confidence at the same time.

So here are some more stories, this time of trying out gluten-free products.

When I was first diagnosed, my mind jumped to two places: oh thank god; and “But I’ll never have bread again?” Life without bread is just fine, but in that moment, I tried to take scope of my entire life, imagining myself at eighty, having endured over forty years without a baguette. Fairly quickly, I was able to rein in my thoughts, because trying to look through the prism of anything forty years ago gives me the heebie-jeebies. Life changes so enormously, in ways that I can never predict, that I’ve pretty much stopped trying to think about the future. (Years of meditation and a near-death experience in a car accident will do that to you.) But when this bread issue arose, there arose the old demon “...the rest of my life.”

I know what to do when my brain goes into to spin cycle: do something my hands. So I started making bread.

I hadn’t made bread in years. In my mid-20s to late 20s, I lived on rural Vashon Island and imagined myself a country girl. I bought a battered copy of Laurel’s Kitchen at a garage sale and started making dishes with lentils. I became a vegetarian, carefully combining my proteins. And I made bread by hand nearly every week. It was never especially good, but it was heartfelt. I loved the work of kneading and pushing that dough around, really working my muscles into it. That was my meditation then.

But the move to New York City knocked the Berkeley-hippie-girl ways out of me. Not the ethos, but the actions. Everything gleamed bright there, and there was just no time for homemade bread. Sadly, it’s hard to find truly great bread in New York City (I know, I was surprised as well), so I learned to eat other things. Like meat. I dreamt of chicken every night for a week, and I gave into the craving for Tandoori chicken at my favorite Indian restaurant. And never looked back. Of course, I gorged on bagels every Sunday, and somewhere in between as well. I never lacked for bread products. (I shudder to think of it now, how long I’ve been feeding my body gluten, without ever knowing that it was hurting me.) But I stopped making my own.

And then I moved back to Seattle. And here, we don’t lack for truly great bread. When I lived in Capitol Hill, I walked down to Pike Place Market often for long, crusty baguettes, freshly baked, from Le Panier, the gorgeous little French bakery just down from the original Starbucks. And when I moved to Queen Anne, I started visiting Macrina Bakery--forty yards from my front door--on a nearly daily basis. Oh, the whole-wheat cider bread is enough to make anyone stop talking. One of my best friends insists that I bring her a loaf whenever I visit her. And the olivetta, a soft, flat loaf studded with green olives? Give me a break. It’s so damn good. Why would I ever need to make my own bread?

Well, now I do. And writing all this, I realize that I will miss these experiences, the taste of them on my tongue. There’s a certain amount of sadness in my stomach. But it passes. This is one of the quiet magic passes to life: feel what you feel. And then watch it dissipate as soon as you fully acknowledge its presence. Besides, I’d never willingly eat those delicacies again, knowing in my body what damage they would do to me. It’s like looking back at a bad relationship: there were some passionate moments, some sweetnesses you’d like to savor, but you know you have to go.

And writing about bread is almost as good as eating it.

When I finally received my diagnosis, I felt elated. My naturopath doctor looked surprised. She had never seen someone so happy to hear she had celiac. But I knew in my body that this was it. (And I was jubilant to finally know what the hell was wrong with me.) And just after that appointment, I drove to the PCC in Fremont and bought every gluten-free product I could find.

It amazed me to see how many there are.

Clearly, the word was out there, long before I started writing. It felt good to know that other people spoke my language.

I ordered a bread machine off Amazon the day I stopped eating gluten, somehow knowing this was it. I felt vaguely guilty for giving in to a machine, but I didn’t have the strength then to knead dough. I could hardly stand up without swaying. Wonderfully, it arrived a few days after my diagnosis. So I read all the instructions, set everything up, and opened my package of Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free bread mix.

I love Bob’s Red Mill. If you don’t know about them, you should. They’re made in Oregon, and they make the best steel-cut oats I have ever eaten. Of course, that’s gone now too (at least for awhile). I adore their simple packaging and their ethos about the world. And mostly, I love supporting local businesses who are trying to break free from the monolithic corporate structure of food. So their bread mix was the only one I wanted.

I mixed everything together, carefully. I love to cook, and I rarely use a recipe anymore. But now, I’m back to basics. Besides, I had never used a bread machine before. So I poured and mixed and dutifully made a well in the dry mix to pour the yeast, and plugged it all in. I loved watching the machine twirl and chug, kneading the dough. And quickly, the dough began to rise. Because it was late in the evening, I used the quick-bake cycle, so I could see the bread before I went to bed. The loaf rose, a little lumpy on the top. But who needs perfection? This was bread! I wasn’t going to miss bread anymore!

After an hour, the timer beeped. I ran to the machine, and was surprised to see a blowsy top of the loaf, like a cauliflower on speed. Oh well. I opened the top . My nose recoiled at the smell. That didn’t smell like bread. Oh well. Maybe I’m just not used to the machine smell. I lugged the loaf pan out, dumping the monstrosity onto a wire rack. Except it wouldn’t come out. I had to nudge it, then kick it, with a knife, before it finally emerged, misshapen and sagging, onto my counter. Steam rose, and the strange smell with it. Still, it kind of looked like a loaf of bread. I let it set for ten minutes, and then I hovered over it with my bread knife. Finally, the first slice. I took one bite, and.....


It was awful. Oh god, I thought, am I going to spend the rest of my life eating this?

With all due respect to my dear Bob’s Red Mill, this bread sucks. I looked at the package again, and noticed that they use garbanzo bean flour and fava bean flour, along with the six other kinds of flours. Um, okay. So that’s why my bread tasted like beans. I really don’t want my bread to taste like beans. Or to congeal at the roof of my mouth when I eat it. For the first time since I stopped eating gluten, I started feeling depressed. Is this what eating would be like for the rest of my life?

Well, no. Because I had, of course, forgotten how much I love foods that never have gluten in them: copper-river salmon with garlic and meyer lemon oil; omelettes with fresh basil and goat cheese; enormous salads with twelve crunchy greens and lemon-tahini dressing; homemade hummus with sun-dried tomatoes and kalamata olives; that one fresh peach in July that dribbles juice down your chin as you sit grinning in the summer light. There is more to life than bread.

Still, I wasn’t ready to give up. (I did throw that beany loaf away the next morning, however.) The next week, my first online order from the Gluten-Free Pantry arrived in the mail. Later, I realized that every one of the products were sitting on the shelves of the PCC or Fred Meyer, but no problem. On Sunday, I made their Sandwich Bread. This time, I gave the machine the full cycle. This time, I used a mix that didn’t include beans. And at the end of the three hours, the kitchen smelled like bread this time. And when I tapped the loaf pan, the bread fell out without a struggle. And when I took my first bite?

Not bad. It doesn’t taste like real bread. But it doesn’t taste bad. I ate an entire slice with peanut butter. And I had one with jam on it the next day. It kept for a couple of days, and then the rest of the loaf hardened into an impenetrable mass, which I had to throw away. From now on, I’ll give half of it away to friends immediately.

More to the point, I feel like this is just the beginning. Now that I have my strength back, partly, I can start kneading the bread myself. I’m determined to find my own recipe, instead of buying mixes. (There are lots of them out there, including some on the forums I talked about before.) Before my diagnosis, I would have NEVER made something from a mix. I’m a cook, not a mixer. This summer, when school is done, I’ll be experimenting wildly, and sharing the results. And mostly, this is an ever-expanding adventure. I’m grateful for the length of the path.

9 Comments:

At 2:24 PM, Blogger Jenni said...

Hi Shauna,
I read about your blog on the Delphi forums. I had to laugh about your description of Bob's Red Mill... ah yes, the bean-y taste. My advice? Give it some time, then try it again. (I've never made it in a bread machine, just in the oven. Maybe that makes a difference?) I do think the taste is something you'll get used to, especially as you get further away from your memories of "real" bread. The bean flours are in a lot of GF stuff (as you're no doubt discovering) and maybe it's an acquired taste. For me, 1.5 years GF, I can't tell the difference. Either way, Bob's GF pancake mix is a must. We make them a tad thinner than regular pancakes -- it takes some experimenting, but well worth it. My non-GF friends can't tell the difference. Good luck, and thanks for posting!
Jenni, Minneapolis

 
At 12:29 PM, Blogger chubbiegirl said...

you should try the tapioca cheese bread at http://www.kinnikinnick.com/

it's pricey, but it's the closest to real bread that you can get with gluten free stuff. even my husband loves it, and he's not gluten free.

 
At 5:46 AM, Anonymous Guy Pearce said...

Hello there, your article is very interesting indeed...

I have just been diagnosed with Coeliac too and I am finding it very hard indeed to make some edible tasting bread using my newly bought bread machine...

I do not have time in my life to make bread without the machine so I am trying to find a recipe so that I can make GF bread without it tasting crappy!

If you have any can you please, please mail me @ guy_pearce@ntlworld.com, as any help in this desperate time would be much appeciated..

Kind Regards,

Guy

 
At 9:43 PM, Anonymous Aaron in Seatte too said...

Bob's mixes with garbanzo beans are absolutely dreadful. Early in my GF days, we tried Bob's GF flour (with the beans) in a dish my girlfriend calls "German Pancakes." Well, it was aweful. It was something like a thick glue in consistency and tasted not unlike how I might imagine epoxy would taste. We threw it out...

It's more than a year later and my girlfriend bought Bob's GF chocolate chip cookie mix. She and I have made GF cookies from scratch many times with something like success. And honestly I don't remember what wheat cookies taste like anyway.

Now, I had seen this mix in the store and noted that it included those dreadful beans. She bought it without me and started making it tonight. Before cooking I gave the dough a try--what the f--k is wrong with these people? It tastes like noxious beans. I think it is noxious beans. I think this is some sort of intolerance for the gluten intolerant. Bob is trying to kill us!

My girlfriend sent them an email complaining--I called 911.

 
At 6:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree about Bob's Red Mill GF flour...it makes everything taste a little funny. I have not yet tried to make bread, but for every other thing I make I now use Authentic Foods Multi Blend Flour. It goes (seriously) cup for cup in all recipes using flour. I even make homemade pasta with it and my whole family loves it (they are not GF)! I make everything from cookies to cake...everthing and I NEVER use a GF recipe...just me and Betty Crocker and all my "old favorite" recipes! More expensive, but well worth it! I order it online since few places carry it in the store.

 
At 11:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Shauna,
Good Afternoon! I love your website! I am definitely buying your book for my grandmother; your last blog entry was humorous and interesting. She will love your work. I was wondering if you could help me. I am trying to help my 82year old grandmother find the best bread maker with a gluten free cycle. Any suggestions? Thank you for your time in advance!
Shara, Greenville, SC

 
At 11:57 AM, Blogger Shauna said...

Hey Shara,

This is such an old post! it's amazing you even found it.

I have the Breadman bread machine, with a gluten-free cycle. I'm quite fond of it, and others have reported success too. But I still think that handmade bread is the best.

Good luck to your grandmother!

 
At 6:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you so much! I did not realize that this was such an old post, but I appreciate that you check it.
Thanks again!
Shara

 
At 6:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I actually really like the Bob's Red Mill GF bread - BUT... I add flaxseed, flaxmeal and sesame seeds to it as well as a dash of unsulfered local honey.

My husband (who is intolerable if he eats wheat) doesn't even know he's not eating regular homemade bread.

 

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