“In Memory of Bread: A Memoir” by Paul Graham (Book Review)

image1 (5)I just finished reading Paul Graham’s book chronicling his diagnosis of celiac disease, followed by 2 years of coming to terms with the elimination of all things gluten, from his world. He is an accomplished cook and was brewer of his own beer (but he gave that up with much regret after his diagnosis).

I found his story to be poignant. He, like most of us, loves good bread – the homemade kind, the kind that fills the home with the unmistakeable aroma of yeast and the promise of a treat to come. His wife had started baking bread at home, making many loaves (and he was eating many loaves) until his doctor finally diagnosed celiac disease after several months of severe illness, weight loss, and multiple gastrointestinal symptoms.

In a remarkable show of affection and solidarity, his wife Becky decided to go gluten-free along with him. The book is a testament to the drive to find high quality gluten-free replacements; his many attempts at baking gluten-free bread, pizza, crepes. He credits his quick recovery to his eating plan. He and his wife are locavores in upstate New York – they eat fresh, real food from local farmers and they cook much of their own food. He ate lots of nutrient-dense, real foods, both before and since his diagnosis.

After many failed attempts at gluten free bread, he started exploring ethnic food. Rice tians, risotto, Ethiopian injera bread (from teff), other flatbreads, and many more. “It would occur to me, much later but with a shock of understanding, that this was what gluten-free cooking really meant: not paying attention to wheat – or trying to imitate it – at all.” I applaud the way he and his wife rose to the challenge of eliminating gluten by becoming more innovative in the kitchen.

One of the concepts that really intrigued me was his discovery that to make good gluten-free bread, you have to not treat the dough like traditional bread dough. It requires a lot of time in the mixing process, and this is best done in a stand-up mixer, not with the hands. Powdered psyllium was a welcome addition to the mix, helping to create the little air bubbles that we so prize in a good hunk of bread. He had good success with recipes from The How Can It Be Gluten Free Cookbook by America’s Test Kitchen.

His travels include a search for gluten-free restaurants and bakeries, and he names several excellent options around the country. It seems that there are many roads to an end, and many ways to make a high quality loaf of gluten-free bread.

In addition to his personal story, he includes a lot of the science behind wheat, wheat growing, celiac disease and other reactions to gluten.

I recommend this book to anyone struggling with going gluten-free. You are not alone! There is growing support for those with food intolerances and dietary restrictions. An increasing number of local restaurants have gluten-free menus, and some even have dedicated gluten-free fryers.

A bit of internet searching led me to this website called Find Me Gluten Free. I searched for a local zip code and found a nice, but incomplete, listing, even mentioning whether or not they have dedicated fryers. I can also recommend The Corner at Rivermont, 2496 Rivermont Ave, Lynchburg, VA. They do have a dedicated fryer, and you can ask for their gluten-free menu.

A bit of calling ahead can often relieve anxiety about a particular restaurant’s menu. Restaurant staff are used to food allergies and sensitivities, and are becoming much more accommodating.

To Your Health,

Patty Powers MD