”America is a confirmed sandwich nation. Everywhere you go you find sandwich stands, sandwich shops, and nine out of ten people seem to stick to the sandwich-and-glass-of-milk or cup-of-coffee luncheon.”
(James Beard, The Essential James Beard Cookbook)
“I don’t need music, lobster, or wine
Whenever your eyes look into mine;
The things I long for are simple and few
A cup of coffee, a sandwich, and you!”
(Billy Rose and Al Durbin, “A Cup of Coffee, A Sandwich, and You”)
One’s diagnosis of Celiac brings about many changes in her life. I admit that when I first found out that I must live without gluten the rest of my life, I thought I had received somewhat of a death sentence: no more Krispe Kreme donuts and no more malted milk balls.I always viewed these two gastronomic delicacies (ok, an exaggerated description, perhaps) as a kind of fringe benefit to life.These treats are certainly not necessary for survival, but they do enhance life’s flavor, just as salt, pepper, butter, and cream enhance mashed potatoes.For people who live in a gluten-dependent culture such as ours (for many cultures have traditional diets that are naturally more gluten-free), one’s inability to tolerate gluten does bring about a finality akin to death. At family gatherings held in homes other than my own, I provide my own gluten-free fare, yet I still has to field comments and suggestions made by concerned relatives who are clueless about Celiac disease and what eating gluten-free actually entails: “Can’t you eat a piece of pecan pie, Teresa? Just eat the pie filling and leave the crust,” or “I put the corn tortillas you brought for your fajitas on the plate, underneath the flour tortillas, Teresa.” One Christmas shortly after my diagnosis, a close relative actually gave me a Starbucks gift set that included various types of Starbucks cookies. I once attended a post-marathon party at the Longhorn Café, a restaurant at which the concept of gluten-free is as unfamiliar as the Theory of Relativity is to most people. Noting that I was eating nothing – no bacon cheeseburger, no onion rings, and no fries – my fellow runners felt free to complement me on what must be my dedication to “healthy” eating. They couldn’t figure out why I would abstain from eating burgers and fries unless I thought the foods unhealthy. None of these runner acquaintances of mine knew how badly I wanted to be licking burger grease off my chin and sucking onion ring grease off my fingers. Lunch meetings at work usually consisted of pizza by delivery or sandwiches prepared by caterers. No longer able to eat pizza from most pizzarias or sandwiches from delis, I would sit in the corner during lunch meetings, sipping Coke and eating cheddar cheese cubes with thin, flatly flavored gluten-free crackers while watching my co-workers scarf down pieces of pizza loaded with pepperoni and sausage piled upon a sea of luscious, melted mozzarella cheese. Sadly, the Celiac in such social situations becomes unintentionally “othered,” and hence suffers in a certain type of food-related social netherworld existence between total belonging and total estrangement. I often indulge in bouts of self-pity after such eating experiences.
Another change my diagnosis brought, and one that surprised me, is my change in perspective concerning certain foods. Before I had to go gluten-free, I disrespected sandwiches. I viewed them as the default meal of convenience, served at meetings or eaten after a busy day left too little time and energy for cooking. Oh, sure: the occasional deli sandwich such as a muffaletta or a meaty, cheesy sub from a decent sandwich shop or deli was a treat. Mostly, though, sandwiches were the poor stepchild of our meal choices. Once I could no longer have a sandwich, however, this particular food rose in my estimation. I began to appreciate, as well as to crave, sandwiches. The sandwich, like an unrequited love, became the center of my longing. The more distant it seemed, the more I wanted it. Krispe Kreme donuts and malted balls are not likely to be ever again within my reach. I could mourn the loss of those self-indulgent luxuries forever and move on (sadly, but determinedly). The same was not true for sandwiches. A delicious, fulfilling sandwich built with large soft, flavorable slices of bread and filled thick with meat and cheese, was just beyond my grasp, and as such as all the more maddening. The satiation of my desire was achievable if only I could discover the right place to buy the perfect gluten-free bread, or the right manufacturer of the best gluten-free bread, or identify the recipe for the epitome of home-baked gluten-free bread. If only I could find or make a gluten-free bread with the perfect slice size, texture and flavor! At that point, and only then, would my desire to once again eat a delicious, satisfying sandwich be gratified.
Quality gluten-free bread became my holy grail. I searched far and wide, in San Antonio as well as in Austin, for new brands of gluten-free bread to try. I read scores of blogs and other gluten-free sources for the perfect recipe for perfect home-baked gluten-free yeast bread. I was consistently disappointed in my search. Store-bought gluten-free bread, especially during the first years of my diagnosis, was not worth the money to buy or the effort to eat. The bread slices didn’t hold themselves together, much less hold together whatever sandwich fillings I placed between two slices. Every gluten-free brand I tried, no matter the gluten-free grain with which it was made, had slices that were too small, too easily crumbled (sometimes while being sliced apart from the frozen loaf just out of the freezer), too flavorless, and too quickly hardened. I was repeatedly disappointed in the bread recipes I tried. Although the home-baked bread had better flavor and texture than commercial gluten-free breads, it still had slices too small; therefore they failed to hold together as necessary for a sandwich piled high with meat, cheese, lettuce, and tomato, etc. Moreover, baking yeast bread takes time that my schedule doesn’t always allow. I became creative in my quest for a decent sandwich. I sometimes made sandwiches using gluten-free waffles for bread; waffles at least hold together well enough to be filled with meat, cheese, and other sandwich fillings. Often, my “sandwiches” merely became un-sandwiches, in which I just rolled slices of meat and cheese together and ate without condiments or bread.
Thankfully, times have changed since those days following my diagnosis. With more doctors testing for Celiac and heightened awareness of gluten-intolerance in the United States, the selection and quality of commercially prepared gluten-free food items continues to expand to meet the increasing demand. More options for gluten-free bread products are available in grocery stores, and many of these newer options are better in quality than those available when I first began eating gluten-free. I now regularly enjoy eating sandwiches. I no longer take for granted the value of a sandwich as a meal choice. Of the gluten-free breads more commonly available in grocery stores, my favorite bread by far is Udi’s gluten-free bagels, the whole grain as well as the white. When my nearest grocery store began selling Udi’s bagels, I read the packaging with skepticism. “Soft and chewy,” reads the description on the front label. I had tried gluten-free bagels in the past, and was disappointed to find that the bagels hardened before one finished eating the first half of the first bagel half! Soft and chewy are adjectives that promised a satisfying bagel encounter, and by using such adjectives to describe its bagels, I felt that the Udi company was issuing a challenge! I accepted the challenge! I toasted my first Udi’s bagel, to enjoy with a smear of Philadelphia brand cinnamon cream cheese. I could hardly contain my joy when my first bite confirmed Udi’s truth in labeling. The bagel was indeed soft and chewy. But would it remain so as I made my way through the rest of the first half, and then the entire second half? I was excited to find that the bagel upheld its pleasing texture and flavor until I had eaten my last bite. At that point, I had an epiphany. This bagel would make a perfect sandwich bread. It’s larger than the slices of gluten-free loaf bread; it holds its form after it’s thawed or toasted; and it doesn’t fall apart when removed from its freezer package. Furthermore, it has a nice, doughy flavor and mouth-feel. Since that moment of recognition, I have used Udi’s gluten-free bagels nearly exclusively for making my sandwiches. I also found that it works better as a hamburger bun than all the other gluten-free hamburger buns I’ve tried. Although gluten-free hamburger buns tend to be better in quality than many brands of gluten-free loaf bread, they’re still too small to make decent deli sandwiches, or to hold all the fixings on a hamburger.The larger size and fluffier texture of Udi’s gluten-free bagels makes the bagels more desirable as a hamburger bun or sandwich bread than the breads made specifically for those purposes. Perhaps the most pleasing aspect of Udi’s gluten-free bagels is that they pass muster with Phillip. He’ll eat a sandwich made with an Udi’s bagel, rather than have me buy a loaf of wheat bread that we’ll only end up throwing way when it goes bad because he doesn’t eat it fast enough.
Note: Not all brands of deli meat are gluten-free. Nearly all Boars Head meats, however, are gluten-free, and many of the deli brands available at Costco are gluten-free.
1 Udi’s gluten-free bagel (whole grain or white)
Deli mustard to taste
Kraft or other gluten-free mayonnaise to taste
4 oz of thinly sliced Boars Head or other gluten-free pastrami
3 slices of baby Swiss or Havarti cheese
½ cup Dole’s Classic Cole Slaw
½ tsp gluten-free Kraft or other gluten-free mayonnaise
½ tsp apple cider vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
½ tsp sugar (optional)
Warm the Udi’s bagel in the microwave on high, about 30 seconds. In a small bowl, mix the coleslaw, salt and pepper to taste, ½ tsp of mayonnaise, ½ tsp of apple cider vinegar, and sugar (if desired – I prefer a sweeter coleslaw but others may not). Slice the bagel. On one half, spread deli mustard to taste. On the other half, spread mayonnaise to taste. Pile the pastrami slices on the bottom half of the bagel. Place the cheese slices on top of the pastrami, then pile the coleslaw mixture on top of the cheese. Top the coleslaw with pickle and tomato slices, as desired.
Roasted Turkey With Cranberry
Spread gluten-free mayonnaise on the thawed Udi’s gluten-free bagel halves. On the bottom half of the bagel, places slices of brie cheese. Place slices of gluten-free roasted turkey on top of the cheese. Spread a couple of spoonsful of whole berry cranberry sauce on top of the turkey. Add lettuce and tomato, salt and pepper to taste. Top with the other half of the bagel.
Pork Loin With Cranberry-Orange Chutney
Spread gluten-free mayonnaise on the bottom half of a thawed Udi’s gluten-free bagel. Pile slices of gluten-free roasted pork loin on the bagel, and add slices of smoked gouda cheese on top of the pork. Spread a couple of spoons full of store-bought prepared cranberry (or apple) chutney, then top with the remaining bagel half.
Rosemary Ham With Pesto
Pile slices of gluten-free rosemary ham on the bottom half of a thawed Udi’s bagel. Pile slices of mozzarella or provolone cheese on top of the ham. Add lettuce and tomato, salt and pepper to taste. Spread the top half of the bagel with basil pesto, then place on top of the lettuce and tomato.
Spread the bottom half of a thawed Udi’s gluten-free bagel with Philadelphia cream cheese and chives, or garden vegetable cream cheese. Place thin slices of cucumber on top of the cheese. Add lettuce and tomato. Sprinkle shaved carrots on the lettuce and tomato. Spread gluten-free mayonnaise on the top half of the bagel, then place on top of the shaved carrots.