The Bread of Kings by Teresa Lust

Fake Pies and Pig Thighs by Rachel Komich

An Essay in Which Pam Greer Oozes Out of Her Clothes by Richard LeBlond

On Pierogi(s) by Mark Lewandowski

Vegetexting by Jennifer Bal

The Benefits of Eating Too Much in the Desert by E. M. Eastick

A Question of Taste by Meredith Escudier

The Beauty of Pizza by Austin Rogers

Marmalade: The Melomeli of Modern America by Michael Pennell

Three Elizabeths, One George, Hot Cross Buns, and Hampstead Heath by Paula Panich

Duck by Eileen Shields

Food for Thought by Kathryn Jenkins

Playing Mass by Catherine Scherer

My Big Fat Orthodox Thanksgiving by Ruth Carmel

The Astrophysics of a Sandwich by Raychelle Heath

Tantric Chicken by Mara A. Cohen Marks

Full by Kelly Ferguson

Monkey Eve by Carolyn Phillips

Capon by Natasha Sajé

The Paella Perplex by Jeannette Ferrary

The Right to Eat by JT Torres

This Isn't Supposed to Happen in the Morning by Heather Hartley

Recipe for Winter by Khristopher Flack

Step One by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich

Flour Fool Meets Great Poet and Pie Instructor by Amy Halloran

Everett by Jason Bell

The Intrigue of Aaron Barthel by Kristy Leissle

Personal Sugar Defense Kit by Sari M. Boren

Kitchen Tirade by Eric LeMay

Eat Dessert First by Iris Graville

Parsley by Natasha Sajé

American Zen Breakfast by Dick Allen

This May Make You [Sic] by Paul Graham

Prisoner's Thai Noodles by Byron Case

Lavender Fields by Susan Goodwin

Ménage à Fongo by Kathryn Miles

All That She Could Make with Flour by Katherine Jameison

Weasel by John Gutekanst

Into the Deep Freeze by Jason Anthony

Defining Gluten by Ann Lightcap Bruno

The Text(ure) of Pleasure by Tara Deal

On the Perils of Food-Buying in a Foreign Land by Tony Eprile

Defining Gluten

by Ann Lightcap Bruno

September 2012    

  1. Gluten was the suppleness of a ball of pizza dough. Cookbook pages stained with olive oil, the spills yellow countries on a map. I’d fill a bowl with water, dip my finger like testing a child’s bath. Sprinkled across the water’s surface, the yeast blossomed into beige foam. This was not gluten, though it might make the word come to mind. Gluten was what came next, three cups of flour, a well in the center where I poured the yeast, then worked it in, pressing with unyielding arms. After the dough turned springy, I greased the plastic bowl with oil, turned the dough until it was coated, covered it with tight plastic, waited the hour, then delivered a punch straight down, collapsing the bubble. I divided it with a butter knife. I dusted the board and rolled it, tossed it, stretched it onto the cornmeal surface of the wooden peel. I rubbed garlic, brushed oil. I filled it with what they wanted, slid it onto the blackened stone. And then another, more, until my family called to me, come, sit, eat.
  2. In geology it is a tenacious mass, like clay, a pudding stone of fragments.

    It is viscid animal secretion.

    It is muscle, the fleshy part.

    Gluten is the endosperm of wheat, barley and rye. It is the composite of two proteins: gliadin and glutenin conjoined with starch. It offers elasticity, allows leavening. Without it a baker needs to make substitutions.

    It is sticky, like gum or glue, a substance that adheres, a human bond.

  3. The fall my son turned six, he complained of fatigue and headaches, and then came stomach pain, dark eye circles, weight loss. At first we thought he hated karate. Just tell us, we’d say, or maybe not so nice. We might have said, Toughen up. When his doctor delivered the diagnosis I was grateful ours was not leukemia like a classmate of my son. Still, on the way home, we stopped at the supermarket, and I felt I could not breathe, even when a young woman with tattooed arms showed us all the options. I piled my cart with things I would never have bought otherwise: gluten-free donuts, chocolate cereal, cheese doodles. Despite this indulgence, no one was cheered.

  4. Celiac disease is caused by an abnormal immune reaction to gluten. The damage is internal: blunted, ill-functioning villi in the small intestines; malabsorption; failure to thrive. Other manifestations can include anemia, osteoporosis, fatigue, infertility, poor liver function, diarrhea, delayed puberty, lymphoma, Aden carcinoma. Celiac tends to strike individuals of northern European descent, though it does not discriminate. The only cure is a gluten free diet. In addition to avoiding eating food made with even the smallest amount of gluten, it is important to avoid cross contamination. Crumbs in a tub of cream cheese can bring on an ugly reaction.

  5. Living on my own in the years after college, I would buy a puffy loaf of Portuguese sweet bread on a Monday from the hairnet ladies at the bakery that’s now a gallery. The loaf might last as my sole sustenance until Thursday if I supplemented with cookies and cream mint ice cream. I knew how to cook and liked it, but only for a crowd of friends I kept at bay. In 1994 I met a man who refused to be my boyfriend until I learned how to share cramped galley kitchen countertops, to chop and peel and stir side by side. Eventually we were cooking proper dinners every night, then married three years in. We did a solid job of splitting the work, but pizza was all mine. This, I insisted.

  6. Because celiac disease is hereditary, we all were tested. On the antibody test, 20 was the high end of normal. My daughter’s was 40, my son’s 200. Mine came in at 250 plus. Soon after the diagnosis, I went for coffee with some of the other kindergarten moms and let it spill. Later that week, the mother of the boy with leukemia brought to school a flourless cake for me and a bag of cookies for my son. I cried at the kindness.

  7. In advance of my brother’s fourth birthday, my mother asked him what he wanted. Baked Alaska, he said. No one knew where he had heard of such a thing. For reasons that I can only partially fathom, my mother acquiesced. When she put the flaming mountain of cake and ice cream and meringue in front of him he said with neither blink nor beat, I want a Twinkie. It’s hilarious to us now, this famous story from our family lore. But I think of her, thirty-two years old, two days in the kitchen for the sake of her last baby. How she separated eggs, made stiff peaks of the whites, coddled the yolks, inverted each layer, poured the meringue over the entire assembly then swirled a design into its surface. I think of how delicate it must have been, the operation of setting a half eggshell of liqueur into the center and drizzling it down before lighting the volcano and pushing open the swinging door into the dining room where he sat like a king. After this, she ordered them from the grocery store. This is my true birthday memory: clean white confections with billowing borders and roses in our favorite colors. The homemade other is just a story we tell.

  8. When my son made his first communion we chose the Paulist Center an hour away in Boston because of its maverick reputation. Unlike our local parish, they did not abide the Vatican ruling that in order to count, the Eucharist must contain gluten. My husband, the only Catholic of the two of us, said of the dictate, Well that clears up the transubstantiation question. Permitted to lead a special session of bread making the day before, I assembled the second graders in the basement kitchen and substituted garbanzo flour for wheat, heaped in cups of honey, and let the children criss-cross the center of the flat loaf with a dull knife. The next day the priest blessed diced cubes of the bread, then tipped it from a glass dish into his cupped hands, careful not to contaminate. Years later, another priest would scold my son and me, there on the altar, for our confusion over how to extract it when he neglected to tip the dish. I tried to hide the stinging shame of this from my children but failed.

  9. My boy and girl have inherited from my brother and me our rivalry. If pressed, he might argue that her celiac diagnosis was nothing more than a way to take away his thunder. Throughout our childhood my brother and I sang the familiar song of despair over who was the favorite child. Don’t worry, my mother was fond of saying. I love the dogs more than either of you. When I went off to college, I imagined the three of them at the table, a trio I had only experienced in the dim onset of my life. I pictured them sitting down to my mother’s dense lasagna, their forks scraping against the plates, plenty left over cold the next day, and then still more to toss down the garbage disposal when there was a need to clear room in the fridge. Then again with macaroni casserole. How was your day? And no voice interrupting.

  10. They say that celiac disease, like resentment of one’s sibling, can lie dormant for years. Many of us are asymptomatic until we experience something like undue stress or infectious disease or pregnancy. We think Lyme disease kicked off my son’s. Mine I trace back my junior year of college when a failing grade in neuroscience resulted as well in synapses firing nausea signals, rendering me capable of little more than playing Brick Out for hours on my Mac Plus. I tried to quell my gurgling stomach with slices of cheap white bread from the cafeteria. The college infirmary tested me for pregnancy and sent me to a gastroenterologist who scoped me for ulcers and sent me to an asshole psychologist who made me storm out and try reflexology. Eventually, I felt a little better and when it returned, off and on over the next fifteen years, I always chalked my bad stomach up to unresolved issues with my family. The celiac diagnosis, when it came, felt like vindication.

  11. In the winter of 1944, the dearth of supplies caused by World War II resulted in, among other travesties, a severe famine in the Netherlands; the Dutch called it hongerwinter. Citizens resorted to the consumption of tulip bulbs and sugar beets; houses were dismantled for firewood. In the end, 18,000 died, but strangely, a sick ward of Dutch children grew healthier as the wheat supply dwindled. Legend has it that celiac disease was discovered in this way. It was only in the thick of privation and mind numbing hunger that healing first began.

  12. Gluten comes down to a family scene. Someone becomes unglued, and then another, and soon your-forty-year-old younger brother is shouting at you, his words viscid in the July air across the fire pit where the startled children (yours, his) char marshmallows on sticks. You have refused to take a plate of chocolate into which specks of graham cracker crumbs have melted. He is angry that you insulted his wife who had only extended the chocolate as a kindness. All of this is bullshit, this crazy diet, something you read on the internet, he says. A crumb can make you sick. Please. So you walk away, taking with you the discarded chocolate so the dog doesn’t eat it and die. You go into the house and apologize to his wife; you hug. But for the rest of the night, the fireworks, the long car ride back to your own life, for the rest of the summer and on into now, you cannot shake the stomach pain. It gnaws at your gut and bloats your belly and flattens your villi. Something is lost. You know you need to make a substitution, but your skin, your muscle, your innards, all of it has limited elasticity. This happens with age. In certain time, it will again be Thanksgiving, then Christmas, time to see one another around your parents’ table, or perhaps your own, and break bread, raise a glass. You will smile, of course, as you ask if anyone wants another slice of pie.

  13. Last week it sweltered, but this week it is suddenly fall, cool enough for pizza. I buy the dough in a frozen ball and leave it overnight in the refrigerator to thaw. Gluten free pizza dough is impossible to stretch or toss. It’s more like pie dough. And to that end, I dust my board with rice flour, press the ball flat until it is thin enough to roll from the center out. I have learned a trick, but it took me some doing, some disasters, to get it right. I call my husband. Or neighbor. Or child. Do you have a second? I say, and I hand over the wooden peel. On the count of three, I say, and I roll the dough upon the pin, just like with a pie, and my child or neighbor or husband or brother, let’s say, slides the peel beneath, and then I unroll, quickly, surely, right on top. Sometime the timing is off and the dough breaks. But I can usually fix the holes by pinching. And I have grown familiar with the way people hum around me as I assemble and fire each pizza for the party. I even let them help me brush on oil or arrange pepperoni or slice it into even eighths. They tell me it tastes like the real thing. Aren’t you ever going to sit and eat? Soon, I say. After just this one.

  Ann Lightcap Bruno, an English teacher at the Wheeler School in Providence, lives in Cranston, Rhode Island, with her husband and children. Her essays and stories have appeared in such publications as Memoir (and), Painted Bride Quarterly, Mississippi Review Online, and Talking Writing.

Photo used under Creative Commons.