Saturday, August 1, 2009

Who said there's no such thing as a "free" lunch?

As I've mentioned a few times before, my seven-month-old son, Jack, has a sensitivity to wheat, soy and dairy. It's likely that he'll grow out of it, and we're hopeful that he will. But, in the meantime, Jack's sensitivities mean that my wife, who is nursing, has a very limited diet. No wheat, soy and dairy for Jack means no bagels, tofu or ice cream for my wife. But, as anyone with food allergies is well aware, it's not that easy. Today's grocery stores are minefields of hidden allergens. Once you start reading labels, you'll be amazed at how many soy-, wheat-, and dairy-based ingredients are present in even minimally processed foods.

But, it's not hopeless. I don't even think I knew what Celiac Disease was a few months ago, now, it seems like gluten-free is everywhere. Every week, my local mega-mart adds new gluten-free, soy-free and dairy-free items to its shelves. Now, there's gluten-free rice flour bread, corn-based pizza crusts, rice pasta, coconut milk yogurt, and even gluten-free donuts! Elizabeth Hasselbeck, from Survivor (and some little show that my wife and mother-in-law are always kibitzing about ... I think it's called "The View" or something like that), has come out with a new book billed as a "Gluten-Free Survival Guide."

I've also learned that food allergies and sensitivities don't mean that you need to say goodbye to good food, you just need to be a little more resourceful. As I've mentioned, my wife and son's food limitations haven't prevented me from continuing to work on The Project. There are tons of recipes in The Book that are wheat-, soy- and dairy-free. Even Carol, from Alinea at Home, is a newly-diagnosed Celiac Disease sufferer. But, she's still cooking through Grant Achatz's amazing cookbook with a few slight modifications. Even restaurants aren't off limits. There's a local pizzeria that makes gluten free pizza. And my wife and I had a great anniversary dinner at Blue Ginger in Wellesley, Massachusetts. The chef, Ming Tsai, whose son has serious food allergies, is passionate about the issue, and the staff at the restaurant went out of their way to make my wife a delicious and special dinner that accommodated all of her dietary needs.

Well, it was my wife's birthday on Wednesday, and I wanted to make her a cake. With all of the butter and flour, all of birthday cake recipes in The Book were out. But, I knew that a gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free cake had to be possible. I'd heard great things about a gluten-free bakery in Manhattan called Babycakes. I tried to borrow their cookbook from my local library, but there's a waiting list (a testament to the prevalence of gluten-free diets). Next, I turned to Google for help, and I landed at the website for Living Without magazine and their excellent recipe section.

I decided to make their Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, Egg-Free Vanilla Cake with Gluten-Free Lemon Filling, and Gluten-Free "Buttercream" Frosting. The differences between these recipes and a "regular" cake is that they call for gluten-free baking mix instead of wheat flour, palm or coconut oil shortening instead of regular vegetable shortening, margerine instead of butter, and some xantham gum and extra baking powder to make up for the lack of leavening. The preparation time and difficulty was the same as just about any other cake I've made, and the taste was really amazing. My wife really enjoyed her birthday cake, and I was glad to be able to make her something special.

This has been a real learning experience for me. So, while it may be true that there's no such thing as a free lunch, with a little bit of tenacity, there just might be a gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free lunch.

1 comment:

Kiki said...

And not only was this a thoughtful gesture for my birthday, it was a truly delicious cake. I am devouring the leftovers!