When you can eat anything, food often seems like a cheap show of affection. Before I got sick, my mom sent cookies for Christmas, my birthday and Valentine’s Day. It was nice, but not particularly moving, not when cookies were a regular treat easily made and easily indulged in. Then, a year and a half ago, I discovered that my body had developed an intolerance to wheat. Now making cookies for me involves buying unfamiliar expensive ingredients and trying out new unpredictable recipes. My mother hasn’t tried it. She still bakes for me, but she tends to select familiar recipes, opting for flourless chocolate cake over rice flour cookies. Her hesitancy to venture too far into the unknown is reasonable; wheat free baking often goes wrong. It’s part of what keeps people so tied to the same old wheat-based recipes even as more and more of us find ourselves no longer able to enjoy them.
With a restricted diet, food gifts take on new layers of meaning. When a friend made coconut flour pancakes for brunch I couldn’t stop thanking him. I almost cried when my friend Shannon presented me with half a dozen chocolate chip cookies to celebrate the completion of my thesis. I felt deeply loved when my mother baked my favorite spelt bread recipe when I visited this summer, allowing me to eat lunch with the rest of the family. The fact that it was overmixed and slightly burnt, barely registered; I was too delighted to be eating a sandwich.
it’s hard to imagine these days, but there was a time when gifts of food were the epitome of extravagance. Queen Elizabeth’s suitors were as likely to win her affections with marzipan as with jewels. Sugar and spices were once luxuries, things truly valued. Now, for most of us, a cake is easier to acquire than a carrot. But when I stopped eating wheat, I once again began to appreciate baked goods as treats, rare and decadent things. I know exactly how much time and effort goes into a loaf of bread, a pie crust, a cracker. To eat these things, I have to make them.
Most of the baked goods in my life now come from me. I make my own bread and cookies. It’s a time consuming hobby, but one I enjoy more than I would have imagined. On the weekends, instead of binge-watching TV, I press corn tortillas and bake sheets of homemade granola. I’ve gotten to know the different types of flour, discovered favorite new recipes. It’s taken time to learn how to work with spelt, einkorn, and gluten free flours. I often share the things I make, but there’s no denying that the baking is for me, that I do it mostly for my own pleasure.
My enjoyment of cooking used to come only from the product, my joy in the results of my labor. But wheat free baking is often unsuccessful, and through my tests and failures I’ve learned to love the process itself, to enjoy making food, to understand that doing so is a gift.