It's that time of year again. Christmas is nearly upon us, and the majority of us are madly trying to cram holiday cheer into the cracks of our lives that we're counting as "free time" for the next month. Gift shopping, meal planning, obligatory baking... it has all arrived. And along with it, for those of us who are allergic to common foods, a wholly different kind of frustration and guilt. Frustration because we don't have time to prepare appropriate meals, and it shouldn't take 30 minutes to select one edible can of soup in the grocery store. Guilt because we often have to pass up items on the table which, although lovingly prepared for us, would still make us violently ill.
5 dozen kringle, 3 dozen cinnamon rolls...
With recent studies indicating that as many as 1 in every 133 Americans may suffer specifically from gluten-related illness (not to mention all the other potential food allergies floating around out there), the chances are good that you have at least one loved one on your shopping list who will not be partaking in dinner rolls and Christmas cookies this year. Assuming this loved one is not yourself, there is a chance you may be at a loss for how best to show your support as they trudge through December.
Never fear, gluten-eating reader! Here are five gift idea guidelines for that gluten-free somebody in your life.
1. The "classic and classy" approach. - Chocolate for Christmas? Yes, please!
If there's one thing the holiday season is best known for, it's that post-holiday realization that you've just gained 15 lbs. But how can you expect to take part in this timeless tradition if you can't eat Christmas cookies? Two words: Theo Chocolate. Located in Fremont, this chocolate-lover's heaven has exquisite gift packages, as well as chocolate tours you can sign up to take. Most importantly, it makes a point of making sure the staff all know what's in each chocolate, and whether or not you can eat it. Particularly suggested: The Story of Origin gift set. Particularly to be avoided: The Chocolate and Beer pairing kit. Fact: Beer and all malt beverages are absolutely off limits for gluten free diets. (Happily, wine and most distilled beverages are fine.)
2. The "I put a lot of thought into this" approach. - Gift certificates for loved ones with food allergies require a little effort.
Unless you want to gift something non-edible (like a sweater), you need to do your research. Fortunately, there are dozens of great resources for finding gluten free shopping and dining in the area, and a very little sleuthing will take you a long way. Personally, I am quite fond of Manna Mills for shopping (possibly one of the best specialty food groceries in the States, and it's only as far away as Mountlake Terrace), and of Wild Ginger for special occasion, allergy-friendly dining.
3. The "helpful" approach. - Don't be afraid to get involved.
There is an excellent recipe listed here for an all-purpose gluten free flour. If you know somebody recently diagnosed with Celiac Disease, or new to attempting a gluten free diet, be brave for them: mix up a batch exactly to specifications, buy a pretty, airtight container, and present it to them (along with the recipe) as a gift that will make their gluten free baking infinitely easier.
Alternatively, two things every gluten free kitchen desperately needs are 1.) an assortment of flours (such as those listed in the recipe), and 2.) an assortment of containers to keep those flours in. Providing someone with either or both of those things can be far more reassuring than you might imagine.
Please note that, when selecting a cookbook to give to a gluten free friend, there are a few things it's good to keep in mind. The most important is that, while going gluten free does necessitate a lifestyle change, it almost never results in an actual personality change. So choose a cookbook for a gluten free friend just as you would choose one for a friend with no dietary restrictions at all: "gluten free" isn't enough. In other words, choose something that acknowledges the person as a person, not a disorder. My bookshelf has several wonderful gluten free cookbooks on it and many of them were gifts. But rather than list them, let me point you instead to the next one I want to add to the collection. Local writer Shauna James Ahern (better known as The Gluten Free Girl) appeared on the New York Times list of The Year's Best Cookbooks for her new book, "The Gluten Free Girl and the Chef." The all-purpose flour recipe listed above came from her blog, which is a delight. The cookbook is currently on sale at Amazon.com, too.
5. And finally, there is the "courageous" approach. - Bake something.
Yes, I mean you. Homemade treats are a staple of holiday tradition, and all you need in order to successfully pull off delivering one of the most appreciated gifts you've ever given to anyone is to find out if the person on your mind has any additional allergies (this is commonly the case), so that you can avoid those items as well, and then to go buy a good mix. If you have never baked sans gluten before, Cherrybrook Kitchen has a great, seasonally appropriate, nearly fool-proof gluten free sugar cookie mix. It is available at Manna Mills, as well as from PCC in Fremont.