Gluten-Free or Common-Sense Free?

Got into a discussion this week on one of my professional listserves regarding the whole gluten-free fad, and whether or not it actually encouraged healthier eating and so is worthwhile even if not evidence-based. I beg to differ, quite frankly.

My local high-end grocery chain (Roth’s) sells gluten-free hot dog/hamburger buns, cinnamon rolls, breads, cookies (many kinds), and yes, donuts. The selection seems to be bigger every time I shop.

Such goodies are justifiable, I think, as occasional treats for children with celiac disease. The hot dog/burger buns, especially, enable a celiac child to participate in a cookout with family or friends and not feel too different. But I get the feeling that adults without celiac disease are snapping these things up as ‘healthy’.

I listened with horror as one of my husband’s fencing students described her mom’s attempts to bake GF ‘french bread’ by making up an evil-smelling runny dough that included things like guar gum and vinegar and egg whites and a zillion other ingredients. I can’t help but compare this to the honest loaf that I bake, with nothing but King Arthur unbleached bread flour, yeast, salt, and olive oil. Fads like this start out as well-intentioned attempts by the really capable home cooks but then quickly morph into fake food. Low-fat eating in the 1990’s was at least partly based on the fact that on a whole-food sort of fat-free diet (brown rice, fruit, vegetables, leanest fish or meat possible) it was really hard not to lose weight. Then the food manufacturers got on the band-wagon and made atrocities like Snackwells, and the whole thing imploded. Same thing with low-carb diets later… we ended up with all sorts of low-carb fake substitutes for pizza crust and tortillas.

My best friend’s daughter has honest-to-God biopsy-confirmed celiac disease, so I’ve learned the basics of GF cooking to accommodate her when our families get together. I’m more than happy to get creative with alternative flours and such to make a dessert treat that includes her (made a GREAT, authentically-English GF trifle last winter). She’s a sweet kid who never complains about her diet, doesn’t draw attention to it, and didn’t choose to have to eat like this. But I hate having dinner with the self-proclaimed GF crowd, especially when they are the same people I’ve watched fall for every dietary fad over the last 20 years.

Eat real food, as Michael Pollan says, and not too much of it, and mostly plants. I love his ‘food rules’!

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Summer of Pie

We were invited to a 4th of July potluck this year at the house of our good friends Ken and Deb. I brought a big ol’ tub of jalapeno shrimp dip and then for some reason felt compelled to make a berry pie as well. Cooking compulsions MUST be listened to, so I did what was necessary and produced a berry pie … of sorts.

Problem was, while I’m no stranger to pastry and have enjoyed making savory pot pies, I had no prior experience with the classic American fruit pie. And because I am frugally using the complete P.O.S range that came with our house 17 years ago, I have an oven with a crappy thermostat. My pie had burnt edges, a pale top crust, a puckery-tart filling and leaked all over the (prudently placed) cookie sheet. Of course, it was still better than no pie at all, and we enjoyed it.

The whole experience left me with a determination to Make the Perfect Pie. With Mike very enthusiastic about playing the role of Pie Judge, I set about answering the challenge. The result? A series of gradually more successful pies, and a growing tradition of a weekly pie (at least when the weather is less than 90 degrees). I’ll post some pics here, and maybe some future pie recipes, but this really isn’t a cooking blog so much as a running commentary about food, friends, writing, cats, horses, and whatever else floats my boat.