I'll tell you a little secret: back in 2006, when my dismal state of semi-employment was pointing, uncomfortably, to the necessity of going to graduate school, I briefly fantasized about going to cooking school. I'd been baking a lot at the time, and not in a cutesy, housewife-y kind of way. I was the weekend warrior baker equivalent of those heavyset dudes that build whole houses in their spare time. I sneered at pre-flattened sheets of butter sold for folding into croissant dough, and went to work doing it the old-school way with a knife, a block of butter, waxed paper, and a rolling pin. I obsessed over the crumb of my various sourdough loaves, and remember the day I nailed down that distinctive, gel-like interior. Dry yeast lost its sparkle after I discovered its sponge-y, fleshy, fresh counterpart. I was like Edward Scissorhands, but with flour-covered dough-cutters.
But since stable employment seemed like something I should be looking into, I went to law school instead [yes, LOL]. While my career might not currently be amounting to 400 hours of billables per month, I'm sort of glad the whole professional baker thing didn't work out. Because around the time I developed a peanut allergy a year or so ago [I was pretty sure my gastronomic world ended that day], wheat started to make me sick, too. R.I.P. PB&Js.
By “sick,” I mostly mean “looking like I’m 6 months pregnant” [hence taking some risks while in Paris, because, hi, Paris]. I don’t have celiac disease, but the discomfort can be incapacitating, to the point where I’ve turned back from rides in pain. Corn started to do the same thing, except it felt like I’d swallowed razor blades as well [R.I.P. Mexican food]. Did I mention I’m lactose intolerant, too? [My Mom: do you want to get pizza with us today? Me: …What am I going to do? Lick the sauce?]
With the lack of gluten-free alternatives here in Japan, I kissed everything resembling bread, goodbye. I’m mostly powered by rice, now; it works, but it can get boring. I mean, sometimes a girl just needs a fucking brownie. Like, one that won’t make her completely sick.
Which is my long-winded way of explaining why I ended up at Tu-Lu’s Gluten-Free Bakery while in NYC. And by “ended up,” I mean I went there three times in less than five days and completely did not care if I was recognized by the guy behind the counter who sold me some phenomenal sunflower seed bread [it’s pricey, but you get a huge loaf], cupcakes, brownies, muffins, and coffee cake. I wanted to buy the entire case and take it back with me to Tokyo. The stuff there is seriously so good, I got creeped out and scared.
“It tastes…real,” I said to Brett, my dairy-based-frosting-consuming, non-gluten-intolerant, gastronomic partner in crime, after my first tentative forkful of an adorable red velvet cupcake. “What if it makes me sick?” I tried to whisper, with my mouth full.
I killed the rest of that cupcake, but braced myself for the bloating and grossness. I waited and waited and waited…and then forgot all about it. Nothing happened. I’d eaten a cupcake – one that was really fricking good, and didn't feel like a stupid compromise – and I didn’t have to spend the next 24 hours bundled up in blankets and sequestered in pain, moaning like a maimed moose.
A couple of days later, there was coffee with a warmed-up hunk of Tu-Lu’s bundt cake and a carrot morning muffin [for the record, as much as I would have liked to, those were shared and not solely consumed by yours truly]. They were amazing. There was none of that dry, grittiness or the dense, heaviness of some gluten-free baked goods. I had toast – toast that didn’t taste like a slab of dry starch! – with my eggs for breakfast. I savored forkfuls of soft, pliant coffee cake while cradling hot coffee. “I’m totally getting fat,” I said to Brett, “wanna go to Tu-Lu’s?”
On the plane back to Tokyo, I realized how much I’d taken for granted when I made the mistake of trying to bite into a prepackaged gluten-free cookie. It shattered into a million crumbs in my hand and all over the front of my shirt. It was a friendly reminder that when Tu-Lu’s isn’t involved, explaining the optimal way of eating a gluten-free cookie can sound like instructions on deepthroating: “try to shove this entire thing into your mouth before it explodes into cookie dust, and if by chance you succeed, then have fun trying to swallow.” Except, you know, if we’re talking cookies, you don’t even get slut points for the, um, consumption.
Apparently, you can, however, earn some fat kid points. My pants have been feeling a touch tighter since leaving New York [and no, I’m not referring to my perma-boner for Tu-Lu’s…], evidence that I totally did it right. I could say the clichéd “I’m so glad I don’t live in New York because I’ll be here all the time and I’ll get fat” thing that seems to be included in every positive Yelp review. I’m not sure if I could ever possibly believe, that; don't tell my coach, but I'd consider trading a few watts for Tu-Lu's.
Tu-Lu’s Gluten-Free Bakery 338 East 11th Street (Between 1st and 2nd)