When I tell people that I can’t eat gluten (because I’m waving off slices of pizza or tastes of homemade treats), they look at me, confused. When I explain why, and that I’ll never be able to eat it again, people always exclaim about three foodstuffs I’m missing: bread, beer, and baked goods. And my response?
1. Bread. Well, I can make my own now, and it’s not bad. There are plenty of amiable substitutes at stores, and there’s always the crunchy cinnamon toast from Kaili’s. Besides, when I know just how sick the pernicious gluten makes me, I no longer look at bread lovingly. I have lost my taste for baguettes. C’est la vie.
2. Beer. Whatever. It’s true that a cold beer on a hot day, especially on the back deck of my friend Julie’s house, usually hit the spot I didn’t know was gaping. And when I’m in Sitka, I normally drink enough glasses of Alaskan Amber to fill me for the year. But you know what? Beer always made me really, really sleepy, and a little bit sick. I thought everyone had that reaction to beer until I started asking around this spring. And besides, I prefer a deep-bodied Merlot or Shiraz from my favorite wine store anyway. No loss.
3. Baked goods. Um.…yeah. Sigh.
I’ve always been a baking girl. I was famous for my chocolate chip cookies long before I could spell chocolate correctly. When I lived in New York, several friends called me Pie, because I made apple pies for fun and called people to come over for slices of it along with glasses of milk. “You didn’t make the crust,” they’d say in wonderment, to which I’d laugh at their astonishment. Of course I made the crust. My mother came from a Pennsylvania Dutch background, and she taught me how to crimp a pie crust when my hands were still growing. And there were dozens of loaves of pumpkin bread, Christmas cookies laced with nutmeg and a haunting sugar frosting, cakes for friends’ birthdays, and a new recipe on the next page. I love to bake. I have multiple rolling pins, more cookie sheets than I can count, and an avid interest in whether I should use baking powder or baking soda.
That doesn’t just die.
Besides, I live just down the street from Macrina Bakery, and everything in there is ineffably good.
So yes, I’ll admit it. I do miss scrumptious baked goods. It’s not like I should be eating them all the time anyway, but I have to be honest. I miss a warm chocolate chip cookie, warm from the oven.
And besides, some of the gluten-free commercial baked goods just don’t do it for me. There are quinoa macaraoons, kosher meringues, and mixes that contain no foods that could possibly be an allergen. And I know that people who can’t eat sugar or dairy or corn or soy or nuts of any kind are daily grateful for the presence of these companies. Still, I can eat nuts and dairy (now), and I want a real cookie. Sorry.
Pamela’s cookies are famous in the gluten-free community, and I’ve already eaten more than my fair share. They’re dense as shortbread, more sticky than regular cookies, and taste distinctive. They just taste a little too healthy to me, a little too earnest. Still, I tip my hat to their ubiquitous presence in almost every grocery store.
You may be thinking what is natural: make your own. I’m trying. I’m experimenting with gluten-free recipes. A couple of weeks ago, I made my first batch of GF chocolate chip cookies. They didn’t taste bad. A little too much baking soda. But the taste felt familiar in my mouth. However, they spread like a puddle fed by rainwater. The finished cookies were the size of my head.
I’m not done yet. Maybe by next year, I’ll be the master of GF baking.
But in the meantime, there are some pretty good substitutes.
Everything made by the Gluten-free Pantryrocks. As I’ve mentioned before, their Country French Bread and Pizza Mix is my daily flour. I’m not kidding–your life is going to be so much easier if you simply buy a 5-pound bag, put it in your flour canister, and pretend you’re using that stuff you used to mix without thinking before you stopped eating gluten. All their mixes are good too, and there are so many left to try. I’d just give up and use these for all baking in the future, if a) gluten-free food in a bag weren’t more expensive than homemade, and b) if I didn’t love to experiment with baking so much. Try them.
WOW Baking, a new company in Seattle, makes GF cookies so damned good you wouldn’t believe they’re store bought. They’re great cookies, not great GF cookies. Especially the ginger molasses one. They insist on using real butter, sugar, and all the good, gooey stuff that makes baking what it is. The fact that each cookie costs $2.19 is a real drawback, however. An occasional splurge, and no more.
Every one of the mixes by The Cravings Place have made me squeal with delight when I tastes the finished project. And, they’re dairy and nut free! Last week, I made a cinnamon coffee cake that made everyone stop talking and eat with delight instead. And several times, I have made the muffin mix, once with pumpkin and golden raisins, and once with zucchini. Moist, dense and light at the same time, and damned fine muffins. But once again, the price tag–$5.89 for a bag big enough to make nine muffins–yikes.
At the moment, my winner is The Flying Apron Bakery, which made the cardamom chai cupcake you see pictured here. A small, local bakery in Seattle, it is run by a father and daughter team. A few years ago, they started making vegan treats, most of them gluten-free, out of a little space underneath Cedars restaurant. Lines started to form. Even before I had given up gluten, I used to stop for their tahini cookies after my stroll around the University Farmers’ Market on Saturday mornings. Now, they make baked goods at their much larger retail store downtown, in Pioneer Square. And some of the best coffee shops in town carry their cookies and bars, which is a wonderful surprise when I wander in for a soy chai. I found this cupcake at the Food Co-Op in Port Townsend, earlier this week. I recommend them, entirely. Well, they could probably use a tad more xantham gum, as the goods grow too dry and flaky pretty quickly. But, if you buy it the day they make it, there’s no mistaking it for anything other than what it is: a damned fine baked good treat.
So there is hope. As with everything else in my life, I know how to walk this path: feel what I feel with no restraints, then move into the next movement clear. So yeah, it really stinks that I’ll never eat a Macrina treat again. But now, there’s Flying Apron. And so much new left to discover.
For example, next Saturday (the 6th) is my birthday, so I have to figure out something for my own cake. If anyone has any surefire suggestions, let me know!