Gluten-Free Easter Candy

By Rachel Sircy 

Well, another candy-filled holiday is upon us and we know what that means… Everyone who needs to avoid gluten has to Google each and every one of the pastel colored confections that you come across. This Easter, however, I’m not going to just give a list of manufactured candies that are gluten free (if you would like a list of those candies, check out verywellfit.com‘s Gluten Free Easter Candy list, but remember to ALWAYS take lists you find on the internet with a grain of salt. Be safe, not sorry!). I’m going to make the focus of this post my alternative way of dealing with this Easter: I decided to make my own candy.

Okay, so I understand that making candy isn’t rocket science, and there are probably many of you who are real candy-making mavens. However, I thought I would share this post particularly because I am NOT a candy-making superstar. I wanted to show that even if you’re not experienced, you can make delicious candy that your family will enjoy, and if your family happens to be gluten free, this is by far the safest option for you.

Pinterest is overflowing with recipes for Easter candy specialties. At first, I thought I’d try to recreate one of my all-time favorites, the Cadbury Creme Egg. This candy’s gluten-free status has been hotly debated for a long time. I used to just take the risk and eat it, but that really isn’t smart, and I certainly won’t recommend it to anyone reading this blog who needs to be gluten free. I didn’t end up making it though because it turns out that there are a lot of steps to making fake Cadbury eggs, so I thought I’d better start with something much easier. Also, I have no idea what invertase is or where to find it, and it appears to be a crucial ingredient to liquefy the candy center of the eggs. I needed something totally amateur. My inspiration came one day at work when I went to the communal candy jar and realized that all that was left in it were Hershey’s Cookies ’n’ Cream Eggs. I used to absolutely love Hershey’s Cookies ’n’ Cream candy bars, and I have made a gluten free version of this candy bar, which actually may be better than the real thing. The best part of it is, there are two ingredients: white chocolate and gluten free chocolate sandwich cookies. All you do is mix the two together and, voila! Cookies ’n’ Cream bark.

However, I wanted to make something a bit more festive, to put in my daughter’s Easter basket. Here are my first attempts:

These colorful looking candies are basically the result of about an hour (including all the stops and starts) in the kitchen with two bags of Nestle white chocolate baking chips (they list that they’re gluten free on the package), one package of Glutino chocolate sandwich cookies and some leftover gluten free food coloring I had forgotten about in my kitchen cabinets. I only had three colors: blue, yellow and green, but they still turned out some pretty cute candies if I do say so myself. I purchased the flower and egg candy molds at Hobby Lobby and Michaels, respectively. They were less than $6 together and they’re silicone so the candy just pops right out once it’s been in the fridge or the freezer long enough to harden.

Here are your instructions to make these candies (I’m giving general instructions and not a real recipe since I’m not a chef and frankly, you don’t need a recipe for this):

  1. Melt your white chocolate – I used a glass bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, but you can melt your chocolate in the microwave as well.
  2. Portion out some of the chocolate into smaller bowls – I took about 1/3 of the white chocolate and divided it between three smaller bowls. I used a couple of drops of food coloring per bowl to make the three different colors. If you want to make more colors, I would really recommend purchasing a third package of white chocolate chips to have enough to divide up.

Candy 3

  1. Crush the cookies and mix with the larger portion of the melted chocolate

Candy 4

  1. Work in steps – To make colored eggs, paint the inside of the egg molds with the dyed chocolate (my daughter’s old baby food spoons worked really well for this actually). Freeze or refrigerate until set. Fill the mold with the chocolate/cookie mixture and freeze or refrigerate again until set. Top with more of the colored mixture and again freeze or refrigerate until set. You see the pattern? This is pretty much it.

Candy 5

I did do it a bit differently with the flowers to get the yellow in the middle, but you can probably guess how I did that. Just freeze the dollop of yellow before adding the blue. It takes about 5 minutes.

Candy 6

And this is what the inside of those eggs look like:

Candy 2

(Don’t tell me that doesn’t look better than a candy bar. Look at how big the cookie chunks are!)

So, if you’re tired of trying to scan everything in the grocery store into your Shopwell app to see if it’s gluten free, just try your hand at a simple candy recipe. I guarantee you can find something simple and delicious, even if you’re a beginner like me!

Happy Easter!

IMG_2183

Someone Else’s Burnt Toast

By Rachel Sircy

So does anyone else remember the version of the Pollyanna movie with Hayley Mills in it? That was one of my favorite movies as a kid. They played it all the time on the Disney Channel, and I watched it almost every time it was on. Of course, the part that everyone remembers is when Pollyanna is explaining the “Glad Game” to her aunt. The Glad Game is one that Pollyanna’s poor, missionary father taught her to play when all of her dreams of getting a single doll — something other than the rocks and sticks that are her only playthings — is cruelly dashed by an idiotic person with a cushy, workaday warehouse job. The idiot in the warehouse mistakenly sends a pair of crutches (how does this even happen??) instead of a doll. There is apparently no return policy with whatever company it was that sent the crutches and since Pollyanna’s poor, missionary father spent all their money just trying to get this kid one measly toy, there is nothing for her to do but be glad that she doesn’t have to use the crutches. You play the Glad Game by choosing to find a reason to be glad about all of the horrible mistakes that make your life just a little bit worse.

bread-breakfast-eat-33309.jpgWell, I failed at this game on Saturday. I loved Pollyanna, but I didn’t seem to absorb a single lesson from it. You see, HRH (her royal highness), my four-year-old daughter, woke me up on Saturday much earlier than I’d intended to wake up. Half-asleep, I went to the kitchen to make her some peanut butter toast for breakfast. I grab a toaster – we have two: one that is gluten-free and one that isn’t – and I stick two pieces of whole wheat bread in the slots and press down the lever. Each piece of toast comes out slightly burnt on one side. I think to myself, “that toaster doesn’t usually burn toast.” It wasn’t until I pulled the second piece of toast out of the toaster and began to smear peanut butter across it that I realized my mistake. I had used MY toaster, the gluten-free one. This may not seem like a big deal, but celiacs cannot share toasters with people who eat gluten. I had completely ruined my toaster just by putting two pieces of wheat bread into it. I let out some bear-like growl which must have frightened HRH because she yelled out from the kitchen table, “Mommy, what is wrong with you?!” To which I replied, “Oh, nothing, sugar. Mommy is just in the kitchen destroying her appliances.” It was all a bit melodramatic.

motivation-1402852_1920

What was the point of telling you this story? Well, just this: life is hard, and even though I think that blind optimists should be pelted with lemons, it really does make a difference to look on the bright side. I’ve pretty much been a sour troll of a woman for most of my life, but I am slowly learning a lesson that my pastor touched on in his sermon last Sunday: those with chronic illnesses cannot afford a single, negative thought. Really, none of us can. Life is hard for everyone. It’s harder in different ways for different people, but it can be especially difficult for those who have chronic health conditions. So after my little pity party over the ruined toaster, I decided to play the Glad Game. I’m really glad that I didn’t have to eat that burnt toast.

Nailed it.

 

 

 

 

Gluten-Free Banoffee Pie

By Rachel Sircy 

St. Patrick’s Day will soon be upon us and to tell the truth, there has only been one time in my adult (or really, semi-adult) life that I have celebrated this holiday. I was lucky enough to spend my sophomore year of college studying abroad in Belfast, Northern Ireland. It was there that I found out that Lucky Charms is a purely American novelty (no big surprise there, but sometimes you don’t realize the obvious until you’re faced with it) as is the whole idea of Irish Cream. I tried to explain what Irish Cream flavoring was to my friend Debbie, who is a native Northern Irish woman, and she just looked puzzled and said, “I don’t get it. What makes cream Irish in the first place?” I said that I think it was supposed to taste like Bailey’s, but she said, “Why not just call it Bailey’s Cream?” Good question, Debs.

Anyway, my family isn’t Catholic, so to me St. Patrick’s Day has always been just a hokey klee-773946_1920day when people drink shamrock milkshakes from McDonald’s and dye beer green. Last year, my mother-in-law made corned beef and cabbage. It was the first time that anyone in our family circle had eaten corned beef and cabbage (which, believe it or not, is also an American novelty, not an Irish staple). Many people may enjoy this dish, but no one in our family has clamored for any since last St. Patrick’s Day.

Here’s my point in writing all of this: this St. Patrick’s Day, you could make gluten free cupcakes with gluten free buttercream frosting colored green by food coloring, and you could make corned beef and cabbage (I wouldn’t advise it, though).

Banoffeepie

However, if you choose to make those things, you probably won’t get the chance to make Banoffee pie. Banoffee pie is what I used to get as dessert whenever my friends and I went to this little pub in Belfast for Sunday lunch that year that I studied abroad. It’s a pie with a cookie crumb crust and thick caramel (or toffee) covered with sliced bananas and whipped cream. It is delicious, and it takes me back to Sunday afternoons in that little pub in Belfast. Unfortunately, after all that bad-mouthing I just did about American St. Patrick’s Day rituals, I have to admit, that the recipe that I’ll be sharing is something that I adapted from an American blog, saltandbaker.com. I seriously tried to make this as authentic as possible. I even pulled up a great gluten-free recipe for Banoffee Pie from Tesco, the grocery store chain I used to shop at when I was in Belfast. However, when I looked at the recipe, I remembered that I would have to convert all the measurements and oven temperatures from the metric system to (ironically) the English system that we use here in America. Also, I have no idea what “gluten free oat cakes” are. Anyway, here’s the recipe that I adapted from saltandbaker.com:

For the Crust:

  • 1 1/2 cups crushed GF graham cracker crumbs (Schar is my favorite brand of GF graham crackers)
  • 6 TBS unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 1/2 TBS granulated sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon

For the Filling:

  • 1/2 c. butter
  • 1/2 c. dark brown sugar
  • 1 14oz can sweetened condensed milk
  • 3 bananas sliced
  • 1 1/2 c. heavy cream
  • 2 TBS powdered sugar
  • Chocolate shavings or cocoa powder for the topping
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place oven rack in middle of the oven.
  2. In a medium sized bowl combine graham cracker crumbs, melted butter, sugar and cinnamon
  3. Spread crumbs in a 9-inch pie pan or tart dish. Press the crumbs evenly up the sides of the pan and along bottom of the dish. Bake crust for 7-8 minutes.
  4. To make filling: combine butter and brown sugar in a saucepan. Stir over medium-low heat until melted. Add the sweetened condensed milk and stir continuously. Bring to a boil and boil for 3-4 minutes or until the mixture darkens in color and thickens. Remove from heat and pour over the crust.
  5. Chill the crust and toffee for 2 hours until firm.
  6. Whip the heavy cream and powdered sugar until stiff peaks form.
  7. Place the sliced bananas over the cooled toffee and spread the cream over the bananas. Top with chocolate shavings or cocoa powder.
  8. Store pie in fridge, it will keep 2-3 days.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Enjoy!

 

Foods That Mean Love

By Rachel Sircy 

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I never try to blend together my own flour mixtures. I am a working mother of a four-year-old, and I simply don’t have the money or the time to hunt down and combine all those little bags of flour to make a baking mix that might make perfect doughnuts but can’t be used to dredge a pork chop. Actually, I don’t make doughnuts or porkchops, but that’s beside the point. What I use instead are gluten free all-purpose flour blends. There are quite a few of these on the market these days, but I recommend purchasing those that can be used as a cup for cup substitute for regular wheat-based flours. Normally, these all-purpose flour blends will advertise somewhere on the package that they are cup for cup substitutes. Pamela’s Artisan Blend happens to be my favorite at the moment (You can see the little yellow dot on the front of the package advertises a 1:1 substitution with regular flour):

IMG_2090

The real value of these 1:1 substitutions is that you can pull out old recipes and use them again without having to have an advanced degree in food science to figure out how to make them gluten free. Some recipes are really worth making time and time again. This is my grandmother’s recipe for shortbread cookies. The title of the recipe is “Holiday Cookies” because without fail, these cookies were a part of every single holiday on the yearly calendar. My grandmother had a cookie cutter with a shape to match each holiday in question: a pumpkin for the fall holidays, Christmas Trees, hearts for Valentine’s, eggs for Easter and so on.

FullSizeRender (4)

 

My daughter and I made these cookies with my grandmother over Christmas just the way that I used to make them with her when I was little. Just the other day, HRH (my daughter) and I made some for Valentine’s day.

 

They turned out to be beautifully imperfect. HRH was really excited about the sprinkles, so she added most of them to the first four cookies. With all the cookies together, it makes a nice ombre effect.

IMG_2097 (1)

The best part is being able to pull out this old recipe and reminiscing about learning to make these cookies as a child while teaching my daughter how to make them. Someday, I hope she makes these cookies with her children. Sometimes love looks like a cookie…

IMG_2099

And it tastes like one too…

FullSizeRender (3)

Sweet Valentine

candy-3936989_1920By Rachel Sircy

Well, just like Halloween, Valentine’s Day presents a special challenge to the gluten-free eater. For those of you out there with children with celiac or who may have classmates or friends with food allergies, this can be an especially challenging time of year. Valentine’s Day can be fun, but being left out of the celebration can be heartbreaking for school children. There are metric tons of candy on virtually every store shelf in the country but figuring out which ones are actually safe for celiacs to eat is so difficult that it’s almost depressing.

Many major brands (like Hershey’s and Nestle, etc.) have certain candies and chocolate bars which are only gluten free in certain seasons and in certain shapes and sizes. For instance, Hershey’s milk chocolate bars are gluten free ONLY in the 1.55 oz size – all other sizes, shapes and varieties of the Hershey’s plain milk chocolate are NOT gluten free. The same applies with Nestle’s Butterfingers. The regular and fun size bars proudly proclaim that they’re gluten free, but all other sizes, shapes, and varieties are not gluten free. Hershey’s and Nestle aren’t alone. Jelly Belly Jellybeans are all technically gluten free, HOWEVER, they are sometimes packaged by different companies, and the Jelly Belly corporation cannot vouch for these other companies. They tell you that you must look closely at each individual package of Jelly Bellys and call the packaging facility on the back to find out if this particular package is gluten free or not. Honestly, I feel like I need a flow chart, a food scale, a calculator, and possibly a Ph.D. to keep up with some of these candy companies.

valentines-day-1955232_1920

It’s really important in light of all of the confusion to teach your celiac (or allergic) children to resist temptation. Easier said than done, right? Temptation often gets the better of adults, let alone kids. The best way to ensure that your child stays safe while unsafe candy and wheat-based cupcakes are free-flowing is to make sure that they have their own safe-to-eat treats. I wrote in the summer about the Be a PAL program. PAL stands for Protect A Life. This program teaches children how to be a safe friend for others with food allergies by helping to make sure that these other children stay safe from dangerous foods and also from food-allergy bullying. Even if your child doesn’t have food allergies, you can help protect and reach out to other children who do have potentially dangerous allergies by being intentional when purchasing candy and treats for school parties.

I’ve said all that to say this: I am going to provide a list of companies who strive to make products that are safe for everyone:

  • Enjoy Life Foods: Hands down, this is the absolute best company for food allergy sufferers. ALL of the products made by this company are allergy friendly. They are free from all of the 8 major allergens (including gluten of course), and they are delicious. I have been a loyal customer since the early days of my diagnosis. They are expanding their repertoire lately, and they have Valentine’s candy packs which would be perfect for parties at your child’s school. They also have baking mixes,
    snack bars, cookies, you name it.

https://enjoylifefoods.com/our-foods/valentine-chocolate-minis/

  • Yum Earth: The gummy candies and lollipops from this company are organic, free from nuts, chemical dyes, high fructose corn syrup, and are vegan. They also come in fun heart-shapes for Valentine’s Day.

https://shop.yumearth.com/Organic-Valentines-Day-Gummy-Hearts/p/YUM-018334&c=YumEarth@Valentines

  • Glutino: One of my primary go-to gluten free brands. I love their pre-packaged cookies AND their cake mixes AND their crackers AND their chocolate covered pretzels…the list could go on for a while. If you’re thinking of making gluten free cupcakes for your kid’s school, I would suggest you use the mix from this brand. The downside of Glutino products is that they are not necessarily free of the 8 major allergens. HOWEVER, their website does state that the ingredients label on the package that you’re purchasing should have all possible allergy contaminants listed in the ingredients section.

http://www.glutino.com/products/

  • Schar: Okay, so as far as gluten free convenience food goes, I’ve saved the company with the tastiest stuff for last. I have actually eaten myself sick on both their Chocolate Dipped Cookies and their Honeygrams. Actually, their Honeygrams are so delicious that whenever we have a family cookout with s’mores, even the non-gluten-sensitive people ask for them. If you get put in charge of bringing the graham crackers to your kid’s school, try this brand. You can find them at Walmart, and even though they’re a bit pricier than regular graham crackers, they’re totally worth it. They also have a very intensely specific FAQ section on their website. FYI: this company focuses on celiac disease, not necessarily other allergens.

https://www.schaer.com/

Well, I hope this list of gluten-free (and some allergen free) candy, etc. helps out with your child’s Valentine’s Day! Happy February!

Three New Year’s Resolutions for Celiacs

By Rachel Sircy

Well, the New Year has come and it’s the time of year to make lists of resolutions for the coming 12 months. For celiac patients, we have a long list of resolutions that are often hard to keep. A couple of weeks ago, I was having a conversation with my new primary care physician about how difficult it can be to really live gluten free. It seems to me that every time I think that I’ve got the gluten free lifestyle mastered, I find something that I’ve been doing wrong, or that a company that I trusted has changed their manufacturing practices or that I’ve made a bad choice when faced with hunger and eaten something that I knew I shouldn’t.

I also told my new doctor that it’s enough to make me cry sometimes that I cannot find a physician who knows a good deal about celiac disease. Ever since the first day of my diagnosis, I have longed for someone who could guide me through this tangled minefield of gluten intolerance. My doctor suggested, of course, that I try the myriad websites dedicated to the gluten free diet. Of course, I do often consult internet sources for the latest research on celiac disease and gluten intolerance. I pointed out to my doctor that sometimes the information that you look for online can lead to conflicting answers and contradictory advice. What one person says is safe is condemned by another person. Who is right? Most of the time, I try going by my own gut and common sense and hoping for the best.

After thinking these things over, I’ve come up with some ideas that I want to follow through with in 2019. I say that I want to follow through with them because, if I’m being honest with myself and with you, I have to admit I have a real problem with follow-through. Maybe you’ve noticed that if you follow my blog posts. Oops. But, I hope this year to be better than I was both physically and mentally than last year and I think these three resolutions will help me to do that.

  1. Actually keep a food/symptom diary. (Again, I’m using the word “actually” because I’ve started about a thousand food diaries and just ended up letting them go.) My doctor told me how important this is when I was describing some of my current symptoms to him. He said that it’s impossible to find out if the new symptoms I seem to be having an issue with are truly new without a diary of what I’m eating and what I’m feeling both physically and mentally. He said that illnesses often build on one another and that he cannot get to the root of my issue without seeing the patterns behind what I’m eating, thinking and feeling.

 If you are like me, you may want to try writing everything down by hand (I’m pretty old school myself). However, if you browse in your phone’s app store, there are a ton of apps that provide a place for you to log what you’ve eaten, the medications you’ve taken and how you’ve felt throughout each day. Some of them, like Symple, can actually take the data that you put in and create a report that you can give to your doctor.

  1. Use reliable sources. My second resolution is to make sure that any information that I get on celiac disease – and especially any that I give to you – is from a reliable source. Of course, I really try to do this anyway, but I intend to be extra careful this year. I tend to trust articles from The Celiac Disease Foundation, the Mayo Clinic, The Cleveland Clinic, Harvard Health Publishing and other articles published by trusted medical clinics. I vow to try never to put anything into this blog that has not been put out there by a source that we can all trust. Suzy Q. Blogger’s opinion on the safety of a new brand of potato chip is something that I will try not to put on this website without thoroughly researching it first. My doctor also pointed out to me a website that I was previously unfamiliar with called UpToDate.com. He said that it is a website with research-based articles that can be used by patients, but that is also a favorite place that medical practitioners go for the latest information on a number of subjects, including celiac disease. So, I will probably be using information from this website as well.
  2. Share knowledge. My last resolution is to push ahead and make more information available for everyone with celiac disease everywhere in the world. Think about it. If all the celiacs across the globe decided that they were really tired of being sick and of not being taken seriously by their doctors (if that is the case for them), we could create a huge demand for more research. Wouldn’t it be great to have answers to all of our questions? Perhaps we will not have all the answers in our lifetime, but more research now ensures a better quality of life for future generations of celiacs.

So, how do we do this? Well, the place that I’m starting is with my choice of a personal care physician. My old PCP was a very nice man, but he knew next to nothing about celiac disease and he really didn’t seem very interested in learning much about it or helping me get better. I’ve already taken the first step to fix this situation and that is that I have a new doctor. I believe this doctor is a better listener and is willing to actually help me figure out how to manage my condition and get well. (Isn’t that funny? When I was a kid, the only thing that came to my mind when I thought of being well was that I was definitely not going to get out of going to school. But now, the idea of being well haunts my dreams. I long to feel better. Don’t you?)

celiacThe second step that I’ve already begun to take is joining the iCureCeliac patient registry. This is a huge database of celiac patients that is being created by the Celiac Foundation. Once you create your patient profile, you take a long, long series of questionnaires about your disease, how you were diagnosed, your desired outcomes (like do you want celiac to be cured? Would you take medicine if it would mean you could eat whatever you want?). The purpose of this database to give researchers ideas on how to direct their research. Per their website: “Sharing your personal experience living with celiac disease helps researchers better understand the diverse and complex ways this disease impacts the lives of patients like you and your loved ones.”

You can join this data base at: https://celiac.org/icureceliac/

I truly believe that if we all push together by firstly taking charge of our health by managing our diets to the best of our ability, staying on top of the latest medical research and pushing our healthcare providers and the medical research community for answers they seem to be unable to give us at present, we can change life with gluten intolerance for ourselves and for our children for the better.

Happy New Year!

A Celiac Friendly Christmas Craft

By Rachel Sircy

I think I mentioned last year that I make Christmas ornaments for our friends and family every year. I have wanted to make homemade clay ornaments for some time, but I haven’t done it because most homemade clay recipes use wheat flour as a base for the clay. I try to keep my home and especially my kitchen as free as possible from contaminants and so I don’t bring wheat flour into my house at all. Once, I had the idea that I could use gluten free all-purpose flour to do the same job, but let’s face it, at more than $4 a pound, it would be cheaper to go out and buy ornaments than to make them out of gluten free flour.

But, I’ve found more and more lately that Pinterest has the answers to most of life’s problems. It was there that I came across pictures of lovely white ornaments made from cornstarch clay. In cornstarch clay, cornstarch and baking soda take the place of flour as the base of the clay. So, I had the answer to my homemade clay problem. Here is the recipe that I followed from a blog called, Kleinworth & Co.:

1 Cup Cornstarch

2 Cups Baking Soda

1 ½ cups Water

Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan and heat over medium heat, stirring constantly. It takes a while, but the ingredients will eventually start to resemble mashed potatoes. Once you get to the mashed potato phase, scrape the mixture out into a glass bowl and cover with a damp kitchen towel and leave to cool for 30 minutes.

This is what it looks like cooking:

pic 1

And this is what it looks like in its mashed potatoes phase:

pic 2

At this point, you can roll out the clay and cut out shapes with a cookie or biscuit cutter. I also used a clay stamp and a metal button, to stamp the image of a crown and the words “Peace” and “Joy” into each ornament. Now, the point where I differ with Kleinworth & Co. is after the ornaments are made. Their recipe calls for the ornaments to be baked at 175 degrees for 30 minutes and then air-dried for another 24 hours. I found that this baking process actually dried out my ornaments too quickly and they ended up cracking. So, I actually threw out the first batch of ornaments that I had made and made a second batch, which I allowed to air-dry overnight on the plastic table cloth where I’d rolled them out, After that, I transferred them to cookie cooling racks and allowed them to dry out for about a week. This seems like a long time, but it kept my ornaments from cracking. If you need them to dry out sooner, I might recommend drying them for a shorter time in the oven and then allowing them to air-dry overnight.

Here is the finished product:

pic-3-1.jpg

And my daughter even got in on the ornament making fun.

pic 4

If your children are celiac, this is the perfect clay to allow them to make hand prints. There’s no risk of contamination with this clay. Although, of course, I wouldn’t exactly recommend letting them eat any!

Have fun and have a Merry Gluten Free Christmas!