A Radical Notion (or, Stop with the Cake)

As I walked this morning, I started thinking about gluten-free bread. And cake. And dumplings. And all the other gluten-free foods that people spend a lot of time trying to make taste “just like the real thing”.

These foods will never taste like the real thing, and I think it’s time we stopped pretending they will (or can). In fact, I think it’s time we stopped trying to recreate a past that, for most of us, is gone forever. Frankly, I don’t think that’s such a bad thing.

Recently, I was craving a cheeseburger — bun and all — in a “I must have this because I’m becoming obsessed” sort of way. I built an entire weekend around that cheeseburger. I picked my restaurant, one that stocks gluten-free buns, and I dreamed about that cheeseburger.

It was good. The meat was perfect. The cheese was awesome. And the bun? It, like so many gluten-free buns, fell apart. Instead of enhancing my (much fantasized about) experience, it became an annoyance. Eventually, I dumped the bun and dove into the burger. Then, and only, then was I truly happy with my cheeseburger.

Seriously, the amount of effort, time, and money that goes into recreating foods I (and we) formerly ate is much better spent on the amazing, and naturally, gluten-free options available all around us. Sure, it’s fun to have coffee cake or a sandwich, but if you’re comparing those experiences to the past, it’s easy to become resentful of what you can’t have.

I can’t have a hoagie — not without spending way too much time and money making a GF bread that simply isn’t robust enough to stand up to the fillings. I can’t have take-out pizza — not without conceding that just about every commercial gluten-free pizza crust is lacking in flavor and texture. I can’t have cinnamon buns from an airport vendor — not without spending weeks recovering from the experience.

I don’t really care that I can’t eat these foods because I have so many other choices. Yes, I keep a loaf of gluten-free bread in my freezer because there are times when you simply need something in your stomach fast. But I rarely think about that bread; that’s because I rarely think about sandwiches.

Frankly, since I am perpetually on a diet, the empty calories and lack of decent nutrition that goes hand-in-hand with so many gluten-free baked goods is another reason to just say no.

I’m not suggesting you give up everything. There are many amazing commercial gluten-free pastas, and making your own isn’t all that hard (though, it does take time and costs more). Gluten-free flours such as rice and chickpea are the basis of ethnic foods around the world. There are tons of cookie and cracker recipes that are naturally gluten free and incredibly delicious.

Trying to recreate the texture and flavor of wheat-based foods will, likely, always be an exercise in frustration. You’ll get close, you’ll get pretty darn good, and you’ll grow accustomed to the gluten-free alternative. Heck, you might even create something better.

But I believe one thing that scares the newly gluten free is what they are giving up, not what they’re gaining. If the community is focusing on recreating the past, then we’re sending a negative message to those who follow us. Why not tell them how many possibilities a gluten-free life brings, rather than continually focusing on the loss of, and let’s be honest, a relatively small number of foods?

Tip of the Week

Explore naturally gluten-free recipes from other cultures on a regular basis. As you expand your cooking repertoire, you’ll discover healthier, more satisfying meals. And don’t be afraid to mix and match cuisines — there are, for example, a lot of flavors that overlap between Mexican and Indian dishes.

Menu of the Week

Speaking of exploring foods from other cultures, Chinese food is a cuisine that is hard to order in restaurants. There are some exceptions, like PF Chang’s and Mama Fu’s in Austin, but generally, Chinese food is off the table for gluten-free diners.

Luckily, once you obtain a stable of standard ingredients, cooking Chinese dishes at home (and gluten free!) can be fairly simple. And delicious. I love weeknight stir fries, such as the chicken and broccoli dish below. Served with steamed rice, millet, or buckwheat. Serve with fruit for dessert.

  • Chicken and Broccoli Stir Fry
  • Steamed grains (Rice, Millet, or Buckwheat)
  • Fresh Fruit
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