I don’t remember bread featuring much in my childhood meals, at least not in main meals. I do remember half a slice of fried bread (oh dear god, my arteries…) at breakfast but if we didn’t have a cooked breakfast it would be cereal, and not toast.
Bread would never appear at for lunch or dinner. Potatoes were our staple carbohydrate; it was my father’s carb of choice in fact. Our desires – those of the children – were irrelevant. We had rice occasionally – Uncle Ben’s long grain rice. I remember my sister’s scorn, years later, that it wasn’t Basmati rice. Oh dear, you see what sending your child away to university can do?
Bread made an appearance on school days when we had ‘tea.’ (The words used to describe meals in the UK were/are fraught with regional and class distinctions.) In this instance, I mean 4pm teatime. When my sister and I got home from school, Granny would make us jam sandwiches and a cup of tea to tide us over until we had our evening meal with our parents.
Then I met Not Yet Husband. You may remember the trauma of the white bread balancing of recent weeks… bread played a bigger role in his childhood. As a student it was a snack (toast) and wrapping (for meat, always meat inside Not Yet Husband’s slice of bread.) It was cheap and convenient. In his student room in B Block I learned to love Marmite instead of the Bovril I was raised on. We met after classes and ate crappy white sliced toast, slathered with margarine - oh the daring… it was butter only in my childhood. (Let’s leave the other things I learned in that room there… I told you, university is a dangerous place.)
I remember our first holiday together, camping in the Lake District: doorstops of fresh white toast and poached eggs served to us after a climb up and back down a peak. I can still conjure the bliss of that meal.
Bread had become part of my daily life. I don’t remember how I discovered that brown seedy bread was more my kind of thing but I did. When I last lived in the UK – in a village in South Bucks – the local bakers made a loaf that I loved. It was three or four seeded loaf made predominantly with rye flour. It was ‘treacle-y’ brown, moist and ohhhh. When I went back to the UK from Bangkok I’d go to the bakers and purchase four loaves to freeze and eat while I was in the UK. Last summer, the bakers had changed hands and the new folk no longer made my bread.
Despite my love affair with bread – even wholesome, good for you brown bread – about nine years ago I was persuaded to give up wheat. I can’t recall why… but miraculously my migraines and mouth ulcers disappeared and I lost weight. It was hard being that careful about wheat though; it’s in everything, hiding in places you’d never guess, so when I cheated and consumed it and nothing dramatic seemed to happen I slipped back to eating it again. The truth is… I didn’t actually believe wheat was responsible. My doctor Dad poo pooed it until I told him last summer that I had always been anaemic, despite iron supplements, and suddenly I found myself having a coeliac test. It came back negative. Phew.
Before I started my gym habit a few months ago, I was going to a nutritionist with a group of other women. There are no weight watchers type classes here and J’s class helped me to be more mindful about food. During the class my wheat thing came up again. I stopped eating wheat again and slowly felt my energy levels rising. I heard my father scoffing at the preponderance of people to having fashionable food ‘allergies.’ I pointed to my new gym habit, knowing that it would be most likely the reason for extra energy. I learned more about coeliac disease. I had thought that people with undiagnosed coeliac disease were really, seriously ill. I had no idea of the prevalence of false negative test results but it must be diagnosed if you’ve got it.
And I had more than a few of the symptoms. If I wanted to be tested again (to check the false negative result) I had to be eating wheat in order for the antibodies to be present. So I did. I continued my gym habit and this time I felt the decline… as the weeks passed I felt worse and worse. My symptoms reappeared. Instead of waiting to be tested in the UK I went to a gastroenterologist here who has a special interest in the condition. On Saturday morning he phoned me with the results: negative again and he says it's 95% accurate.
It’s a huge relief. I finally believe it affects the way I feel so in spite of the result I’ve given it up again. And that’s the end of the story of my love affair with bread and pasta and untold number of foods where wheat is a filler…