Tag Archives: food humor

Caviar: Nothing But New Eggs to Bear

I should think of cakes when I think of birthdays. Naturally, I should. Chocolate cakes, yellow rum cakes or red velvet cakes with chocolate or white frosting and candles sticking out of them. But tonight, upon this sleepy hour, I somehow think of caviar. Black caviar harvested from a really old female sturgeon fish tightly packed inside a golden tin with an enormous rubber band around it.

Caviar Tin
I don’t know why I should associate caviar with birthdays because I certainly can’t afford it on my birthday and probably won’t be buying anybody a tin of these tiny black pearls for anyone. But the idea that they are eggs, perhaps, is why I associate them with birthdays. The egg is where life begins after all. When an egg hatches, a chic hops out. When an egg is fertilized, something new is formed from it. A baby, perhaps. The birth of something new.

These eggs, this caviar amazes me at first encounter. It’s one of those ingredients that harbors some form of celebrity status in the kitchen alongside Italian truffles, Kobe beef and Blue Fin tuna shipped all the way from Japan. And when one comes across one of these rare ingredients in the kitchen, from what we’ve read or witnessed through the media, somehow all the knowledge we have gathered over the years rise to the surface and arrive at a confluence, conjuring awe. I might not say it out loud, but I can feel my eyes widening in a conversation with its self muttering an elongated “Wwwwoooooooowwwww” audible only to myself. Because there must be thousands of eggs crowding inside the can and I can’t help wonder how much does a dollop, on this nonreactive bamboo I’m scooping it with, costs?

What drives up the cost anyway? Appearance for one. Large, light gray pearls of caviar are prized more than the dark ones. Grayish caviar means the eggs are old (and probably not dyed) as opposed to newer eggs that are vibrantly black in color. Where the caviar is derived from influences price. Caviar from the Caspian Sea, either from Russia or Iran, where most naturally existing sturgeons in the world flourish, typically sell for thousands of dollars. Beluga caviar for example, with a reputation for being one of the most expensive foods in the world, is gathered from sturgeons that are at least 20 years old. Sturgeons from the Caspian sea can be considered “OG” or original since these fish have roots dating back to the time of dinosaurs. Caspian sturgeons are considered authentic caviar, caviar enjoyed by kings and tsars throughout the ages, which add to their value compared to farm-grown sturgeons. Because some species of sturgeons have become endangered, either because they’ve been hunted for hundreds of years or must learn to survive in increasingly polluted sections of the Caspian Sea, the sturgeons become few and far between which can only enhance their selling price throughout the world.

True, price is one of the wow factors to caviar. Beluga and Sevruga caviar can run for thousands of dollars while the Osetra caviar run in the hundreds. Is it that good that these caviar are priced so high in the market? Some say it isn’t the first bite, but the second, third and fourth bite which makes it all worthwhile. Honestly, I’m indifferent to it. It’s like boba, but really tiny with a fishy afterthought to them. Does it make any difference combined with potatoes and sour cream? It tastes pretty good, but I know I won’t get full from it. Too darn expensive! But I also didn’t grow up eating caviar nor do I have any fond memories to tie caviar for me to keep eating it. I’m happy to taste it when it is there, but I won’t be placing my pockets in a deficit to get a tin of it. Perhaps, on one special occasion I may purchase a humble container for family to taste, but that would require winning the lottery which is probably the only time I’ll consider spending on Beluga caviar all the way from the Caspian Sea.

[p.s. Happy Birthday SJP!]

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Ciabatta: The Irony Yields A Bit Of Laughter

Part of my daily routine at work is receiving breads for my sandwiches. There are all kinds: mini baguettes, pull-apart potato rolls, squaw bread rolls, pretzel bread rolls and a medley of ciabattas… some are grain-specked, some have caramelized onions and others are just plain ciabatta bread rolls. I provide slider size sandwiches all around that are alternately filled with the classic turkey slices, tuna salad, roast beef, salami or mortadella for variety. The latter is my favorite paired with ciabatta bread.

Nothing extraordinary really happens. I slice the bread, slather some type of flavored Mayo in it and fill it with lettuce, tomato, cheese and respective “meats.” Making sandwiches can be equated to pushing paper at the office. The kitchen is my office and trying to create the perfect combination of sandwiches to offer up our special high-end clientele is the goal everyday. So once in a while, I’ll slip in some brie cheese or leftover prosciutto from another banquet party, if allowed. And only if allowed because there’s such a thing as food cost and ,in the kitchen, a wheel of brie cheese and a slice of prosciutto, to put plainly, ain’t cheap. So if allowed, I’ll compliment this with whole grain mustard mayo, arugula leaves and a slice of tomato.

20151211_091027However, before this whole process of sandwich making even begins, sometimes, there exists a moment where an anomaly reveals itself. Today, whether it’s an anomaly or irony awaiting discovery among the pile of breads received each morning, there was one piece of bread that caught my attention. As I was slicing through each caramelized onion ciabatta, one kicked me wi th a case of the giggles. It was a ciabatta roll shaped like a child’s foot. I picked it up, held it in the air for a while and thought how the size of it looked like my niece’s foot. And then the irony clicked… ciabatta is also known as the slipper bread because it resembles a slipper as it is usually flat and caved in the middle when it bakes up. Ciabatta is Italy’s answer to the French baguette.

Finding this peculiar ciabatta among dozens worth of bread, I can’t help wonder whether this is similar to those other sightings like finding a donut made in the image and likeness of Christ or one’s that looked like Mother Teresa or Princess Leah from the early Star Wars? Well, no, not exactly. But a ciabatta looking like a child’s foot, perhaps the irony that ciabatta is known as the slipper bread is a foodie thing, but it was also enough to break that particular ennui of a day filled with the same processes and actions, flanked with seemingly endless repetition of the mundane. No, it’s not a donut, but it came close to a miracle gifting me early with laughter right around the holiday season.

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Goat Cheese: The Quickening Snow Upon Some Winter Wonder Salads

Every morning is a race. I have to prepare sandwiches. I have to prepare salads. A salad under thirty minutes is the goal… I feel like Rachel Ray sometimes. And I don’t mean just a green salad with tomatoes and croutons, but a well composed salad… with grains, a handful of herbs and sometimes some grilled vegetables. A sensible medley that are cut and tossed altogether with a flavored vinaigrette to complete the salad. This is the challenge every morning. One of the humps I must go through in order for the entire day to go smoothly. A salad in thirty minutes or less. Otherwise, I’ll be behind on time.

Mediterranean Salad with Couscous, Chickpeas and Goat Cheese

Mediterranean Salad with Couscous, Chickpeas and Goat Cheese

One thing I learned over the years in making a salad is that goat cheese is a life saver. Goat cheese crumbles by MontChevre is the brand I encounter and use at work all the time. If it wasn’t for this goat cheese, I don’t know what I would do. Honestly, goat cheese is not something I gravitate towards when I think of eating cheese. It’s not something I eagerly perk up my head and say, “oh yes, please do give me another slice of goat cheese!” If I can help it, I’d like all my cheese to be made from cow milk, not from goat.

Golden Beets and Pear Salad with Goat Cheese

Golden Beets and Pear Salad with Goat Cheese and Pecans

However, to appreciate goat cheese, one must understand its characteristics. Goat cheese is usually packaged in clear plastic as a log. It is a clean, white cheese that is neutral tasting up until the pungent aftertaste kicks in. After the swallow, it registers in the head in this way, “ah, this wasn’t cream cheese after all, it was goat cheese.” Perhaps, unappealing at first, but then because the goat cheese may have complimented the cracker a bit, one keeps eating more. And this is how the goat cheese is introduced into our palate. From here on, it becomes part of our taste repertoire that we learn to include it in our arsenal of must shop for cheeses, even for the holidays.

Couscous Salad with Kale and Goat Cheese

Couscous Salad with Kale, Cranberries and Goat Cheese

Part of being a food enthusiast is understanding the characteristics of the ingredients we encounter. Even if they aren’t our favorites, we must still strive to learn and figure out how their certain characteristics can harmoniously play into a dish. With goat cheese, I often can sprinkle the crumbles over a composed salad, what I refer to as a quickening snow effect. That pungent creaminess associated with goat cheese nicely compliments sweetness, from cranberries to strawberries; in addition, goat cheese can tame down the unctuousness derived from the oils usually added to moisten salad. Nowadays, I look forward to goat cheese as crumbles which can be readily sprinkled onto any salad because the I believe that quickening snow effect elevates the salad into a thing of beauty.

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Remembering My First Taco

The taco is probably the single most relatable Mexican food there is. If we were on Family Feud and we were told to name the most popular item on a Mexican restaurant, we’d probably say “taco.” The word taco has become universal along with the term sushi and hamburger. These terms are so common worldwide that they don’t need to be translated into another language. They are what they are, perfect in their syllables… taco.

Taco 1Tacos abound. It’s a warm tortilla with meat and salsa, a spray of lime and some chopped up onions and cilantro. At least that’s one way to have it. If not, then ground beef with pico de gallo and salsa… done. Two of those and it’s a satisfying meal, along with a bottle of beer or a cold Pepsi. Nothing beats a taco when you’re up to your ears with sandwiches.

Nowadays, the combinations are endless and even the flavor profiles give the taco a bit of a twist these days. Make it with duck confit and it lends a nuance to the taco that segues from our usual choices of chicken, beef or pork. Make it with Kobe beef and it elevates the taco just a little bit more. And if one marinated the beef with Korean flavors, it might just mimic what the Kogi truck has been feeding its loyal followers all these years.

There are many varieties of tacos out there, too many to single out as the best one because a taco is what it is to the consumer. It is either delicious or it is either the worst one that they’ve ever tasted. I don’t think I’ve tasted one quite so awful, and I’ve bought them from some questionable locations. But this isn’t really about that.

taco 2
This is about honoring the memory, that connection with someone when I found myself for the first time overwhelmed with the selections offered at a taco bar. I don’t have much tacos and frankly, at the time, I never really got the taco. I came from a country where people ate rice predominantly. What’s with a taco? Fortunately, there was one individual so proud of their culture who allowed me to observe one way to layer a taco by first warming up the corn tortilla and then spreading a small amount of beans on top followed by a sprinkling of queso fresco. It was then topped with some meat and pico de gallo, a meager drizzling of salsa along with a squeeze of lemon. It was that moment, that day that cancelled out all other tacos I consumed previously for that day became the guideline, the pattern for how a taco would be for me. All of it together, for the first time, seemed to make sense to me and how this taco formed this medley in my mouth. A song was born in my tongue and I couldn’t get enough. Surely, there are many ways and freedom goes a long way with a taco. But that act of a taco, in my memory, shall always be my very first taco.

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Gluten Free Peanut Butter Banana Finger Tea Breads: My Favorite Mistake

What’s with a mistake? I hate making mistakes. It’s the only thing I really hate and I don’t hate much of anything in this world. But the word is inevitable. We are imperfect beings after all and most of our lives are riddled with mistakes. It is the other educator that prods us and shapes our very character depending on whether we learn from them or not. Especially in the kitchen, our very mistakes and how we react to them can possibly determine what kind of cooks we will turn out to be.

Weekends now are devoted to refining the craft of baking. I was a baker for two years and enjoyed it thoroughly. However, because of my inability to adapt to the baker’s schedule and its sometime unmerciful solitary hours, I bowed out. Three years have passed and the act of it is something that my body misses, from the motion of kneading to shaping breads. I miss the touch of flour against my skin, its accidental dusting across my navy blue apron. I miss the smell of yeast awakening inside a bowl of warm water, the scent of dough coming out of the proof box and the buttery perfume croissants emit when I pull them out of the oven.

These smells now permeate my kitchen on my days off, except, nowadays, they lean more towards gluten free. Muffins, sandwich bread and, of course, the favorite and everyone’s request… the gluten free banana bread. My niece loves this bread and so does my 20 month old nephew who will dare climb a chair up towards the dining table to help himself to piece of this bread. (This, perhaps, is the greatest compliment I could receive about my baking.)

Banana Brick Loaf
5 sandwich loaves and 4 banana breads to be baked off during the weekend. That was the plan when I came off my six day work week last week. My goal was to replenish my whittling stock of gluten free bread along with some banana breads for the family. Everything was going well up until my second batch of banana breads, which somehow wouldn’t get color in the oven. I’ve been baking all afternoon and this final batch of banana breads were taking unusually longer inside the oven. Immediately, I had that feeling… I’ve made a mistake. It was too firm to the touch and way too pale. When I unmolded it from the pan and dropped it onto the cooling rack, they resembled bars more so than bread. It reminded me of brick bars. I wondered what ingredients I left out.

Picking up a slice, the bread seemed moist so it couldn’t be bad, but it was dense, which means that I probably omitted the baking soda which kept it from rising. Upon taste, it was mostly sweet and that meant that I also skipped the salt. Darn it! All that labor to come up with a mistake!

Working in a professional kitchen, I carry with me the trauma of mistakes. It wouldn’t be so bad, but my novice years in a pastry kitchen were spent training under a French chef whose blood boiled at the drop of inefficiencies, discrepancies and mistakes. Mistakes meant redoing and that meant more time spent on hourly wages not to mention the sometimes detrimental feedback from a waiting customer. Mistakes meant wasted products which can be costly so he would never allow me to forget my mistakes. Incorrectly measured ingredients sometimes meant getting yelled at and falling under harsh scrutiny for the rest of the day. Mistakes sometimes became too dramatic and wasn’t all that fun. Because of this, I hated making mistakes in the kitchen.

3 slices banana dense
Over the years, I’ve also grown. It took this weekend’s mistake to realize that I can shift my perspective and actually look at this banana brick bar and view it as a gold bar. I was fond of the bar shape and I was fond of the banana taste to it. Because it is dense and firm, these might even be its positive aspects to the bread. My mind was suddenly turning one light bulb after another suggesting different uses for the bread. If I sliced the bread about a centimeter thick, I can dip it in egg and turn it into finger french toasts; slip it into the oven and turn it into biscottis. It’s amazing when you remove defeat from your mind… this mistake, I happily turned it into peanut butter banana finger tea breads.

I took the same centimeter size slices and toasted them on the pan until both sides were golden. I removed them from the pan and cooled them a bit before spreading a healthy amount of peanut butter and sprinkling atop with cranberries, shredded coconut and sunflower seeds. There are endless possibilities for toppings. And if I had Nutella, for sure this would have been on top of that. But for this, I went with the classic peanut butter and banana combination and it is surely a mistake, placing trauma aside, I certainly want to repeat again and again as I look forward to enjoying it with a cup of tea or coffee in the future.

Beautiful Mistakes

Gluten Free Banana Bars

100 g Garbanzo FLour
60 g Tapioca Starch
40 g Arrowroot Starch

1/2 C olive oil
3/4 C sugar

3 ea medium bananas, mashed
1/2 C sour cream
1 t vanilla
2 ea eggs

Preheat oven to 350*. Grease 2 one pound loaf pans and set aside. Mix flours and starch and set aside.

Whisk olive oil and sugar together until emulsified. Add mashed bananas, sour cream, vanilla and eggs and whisk until fairly mixed. Fold in flours.

Divide between the loaf pans and bake between 25-30 minutes or until firm to the touch. Remove from the oven and slice to accomodate either finger tea bread, finger french toast or biscotti. Enjoy!

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Bread of Life? My Bread for Life!

Food has something magical in it when put together right. Even a mere sandwich, given the right touches of smoke and fat can be transformed into something enormously satisfying and out of this world. Take your pulled pork sandwiches and smoked swordfish salad with minced jalapeno… as though someone has taken a wand and dotted it with a spell so it would taste splendid with each bite. Ahhh, the beauty of a sandwich.

These days, however, before I even arrive at that ahhh moment with a sandwich, I have to have the right kind of bread. Gluten free preferably because I’ve converted and I’m sold. I’ve said it before, being gluten free is quite challenging at times. Temptations abound at work especially when the scent of bread from the pastry kitchen tries to yank me from my bowl and dish gathering each morning. When the baker asks if I want a just-baked, out of the oven type of morning bun, it takes all my energy to repress the hectic swooning inside of me. When I have uttered a firm “no,” I wonder sometimes whether I have let slip from my eyes how much I truly wanted one. Still gooey with melted cream cheese, you said? My stomach tugs at me, reluctantly, I say no again as though the gluten prisoner concealed inside of me has no say in these matters anymore.

Instead, I focus all my energy on making bread at home. More than bread, a bread for life. To finally arrive at a recipe that tastes close to the kind of bread I’ve been eating most of my life, it feels as though I arrived close to where I want to be. I can breathe again. The search is over and I’m sticking to this one for the long haul. I followed the recipe on One Good Thing by Jillee. The pictures convinced me, her labeled “Gluten-Free Bread That Doesn’t Suck” looked like a brioche bread to me. I looked at that bread, imagined having it for breakfast with runny eggs, and I took a chance.

bread for life

I followed Jillee’s recipe but made my own substitutions. I used garbanzo flour instead of brown rice flour, arrowroot starch instead of cornstarch. Olive oil for the butter (I ran out of butter). Had I known that egg replacer could easily be replaced with baking powder, I wouldn’t have spent $6 bucks on it. That and I took the recipe and just dealt with it like a baker. I was uneasy about it at first because I’m not used to bread that can’t be kneaded. I used a paddle to mix this bread, not even a dough hook. My hands remained clean throughout the whole time, which is unlikely when I knead dough.

This recipe is wet and calls for the dough to rise close to the top of the pan. The rise took closer to two hours rather than its estimated 50-60 minutes. The 45 to 55 minute bake time in a 375 degree oven might be too long, so depending on the oven, whether the temperature is calibrated correctly, one might aim for 30 minutes and drop down the temperature to 300 degrees if one wanted to reach the 45 minute mark. My bread was already done and golden brown at 25 minutes. I suppose if I wanted the bread to have a substantial crust all around, I could have baked longer. Even with the substitutions I made, I’m really quite pleased with this bread.

Yummy Bread for Life

I have to say that this bread, apart from being delicious, is quite inspiring. Making it felt satisfying. Having access to it, for the first time, I feel not quite deprived as I have been. I rejoice and I want to share it with my family. I looked forward to making breakfast this morning because I had this bread to offer. Though the bread is cold, having been baked the night before, it tasted even better after it popped out of the toaster. The bread is substantial and grain free which is really what I require most foods to be these days. And it is just lovely, slathered with peanut butter and jelly inside. Bread of life? My bread for life!

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Chocolate… A Tale of Two Cakes

Was I dreaming this? Is this for real? I’m fast asleep on the airbed in the extra room when my niece came in and woke me briefly. She said hello and I acknowledged her with eyes barely opened, trying to make sense of time and place and where the hell I was. Oh yes, I was waiting for her to come home. After work, I stopped by her house to visit, but she had gone to a party. She was about to exit the room, and my head ready to fall back on the pillow, when she suddenly backtracked and asked, “Where’s my chocolate cake?” It must have been ten o’clock at night already.

I am the aunt who went to culinary school and spent 6 years in a pastry kitchen. Therefore, I became the go-to person for cakes. Cheesecakes, cupcakes… chocolate cakes. My niece eats a modicum amount of food, but she has fixations when it comes to sweets. They arrive in waves depending on what she’s remembered or learned. It could be a week of pining for, or rather whining for, cookies, brownies or banana breads. I don’t really know whether her list of cartoons actually elicits these cravings, but this week it was chocolate cake. The reminders passes from random voicemail to her own mother calling me about how her daughter, my niece, had been asking for chocolate cake. “Fine, fine,” I said, “I’ll make it on my weekend.”

It’s been a long time since I baked a cake. Since my focus lately had been on gluten free bread, cakes were far from my mind. But since my niece reigns supreme in my heart, gladly I take this on. The simple chocolate cake. But I want to enjoy the cake too and I want my sister to enjoy it too. It can only be gluten free.

The sponge would be the challenge, but a minor one because I already know that I would only need to substitute the A.P. flour with a gluten free alternative. For this, I used a combination of garbanzo and almond flour along with tapioca starch and applied it to a chocolate cake recipe. The result was a success. I baked it on a half sheet pan and decided I would just split the sponge in three equal parts and layer it. I explained this to my sister, upon which she texted me promptly back and asked if I could make two cakes instead of one. I have a nephew now after all and if I make it for one, it meant, I have to make one for the other. “No problem,” I texted, “I got you.”

chocolate cakesIt was one of the hottest days that week… a heatwave fell upon the day when I had to ice the cake. Seeing that my sponge turned out well and the chocolate icing was just right, I had forgotten about temperature playing a crucial part in making cakes. If I was melting in this horrid weather, the cake would surely do too. Thank goodness for my pastry smarts kicking in when they did. Placing the cake back and forth inside the refrigerator seemed to stave off the icing from turning into liquid butter. My poor refrigerator though… it worked double time to keep the cool in. The rewards though… priceless. A tale of two cakes… one for my niece and one for my nephew… gluten free at that… was absolutely enjoyable! Another gluten free success.

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To Bread or Not To Bread… That is The Question

There’s no doubt about it, I’ve got the gluten-free blues. Since tasting that scrumptious pandesal from last week, lately, bread is all I can think about. Sandwiches, paninis, wraps… it’s all I can think about from the time I wake up to the time I fall asleep. Temptations abound everywhere I go and though I know to stay away from it, for the good of my own digestive system, that yeast and gluten together conspire and beckon me close even if I am trying very hard not to think about it.

tofu sandwichesGetting on the gluten-free bandwagon was a choice I recently made. Having witnessed my sister’s weight loss from following the Wheat Belly guidelines, the goal was to become gluten-free and grain-free. That meant staying away from foods with gluten or wheat in it, i.e. bread, beer, soy sauce, etc…, as well as grains like rice and corn. Except for beer, all the latter mentioned were staples to my diet. Heck, I’m Filipino after all and this body of mine was built from rice, mamon and pandesal. When we came to live in the U.S., it then became about the sausage and pineapple pizzas, In-N-Out hamburgers, carne asada tacos and pastrami sandwiches that were ordered occasionally as takeout meals during the week. Not to mention unlimited access to countless chocolate croissants and fleur de sel cookies met during my stint in a pastry kitchen. Aahhhh, the days of gluten, I call them. Such wild and carefree moments with flour not long ago….

Going gluten-free was far from what I considered for myself. I love(d) bread. I was a baker for two years and I absolutely enjoyed the process of yeast and flour coming together to form beautiful gluten strands when kneaded with my bare hands. I loved that encounter of tacky dough against my skin and its eventual release from the heels of my palms. Best of all, of course, is the end product itself that has risen well in the oven and is baked to golden brown; every time, a deliciousness accompanied by a symphonic aroma of sweet, warm and goodness. You just can’t help pick up a roll or two to taste and devour.

pizza crustI didn’t want to go gluten-free let alone grain free. Around the time I was contemplating the decision, I had just figured out how to make good pizza dough. I’ve been laboring over it for weeks, I was so proud of it. I hesitated the gluten-free route because I didn’t want to give up on making and eating pizza. However, after perusing through a borrowed Wheat Belly book from the library, what convinced me to transition is the explanation for wheat and how it isn’t what it used to be. It’s been genetically altered so many times over that the resulting wheat, the modern wheat, may be the source of many health problems, obesity being one of them. All my life, I’ve had weight issues, but any diet or exercise regiment was often short-lived. I equate diets with deprivation and I really don’t like being deprived of a lot of things. But being able to have most of everything but the wheat and the grain… why not give it a try.

It’s a difficult road to take, gluten-free and grain-free. Though the goal is to be both, I am neither a full convert at this point. For two months, I have eliminated many gluten products from my diet (the soy sauce and countless bread tastings for this blog still creeps in though), and limited most of my grain intake. What I can honestly say about myself is that I am predominantly gluten-free. I was never a fan of diets, but becoming gluten-free empowered me to make a simple choice of whether to have or not have bread. Finding myself before trays and trays of day-old croissants, danishes and morning buns at work, I hearken back to Hamlet when I ask, “to bread or to not to bread? That is the question.” I pick up that piece of chocolate croissant, hold it up in the air, and bust out with my own soliloquy, “whether to endure the pangs and sorrows of outrageous hunger.” In other words, I am so hungry, should I have this piece of bread? And as I imagine having this with a fresh cup of coffee (cream and sugar please), I then think of my own small accomplishment which is the weight I’ve lost since staying away from many gluten products. I abandon the bread and walk away.

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