you can’t have your cake and eat it, too

‘Tis the season of baking and gift-giving.

‘Tis also the hardest season to have a food sensitivity.

I’m kind of known for baking hundreds if not a thousand cookies every year. Don’t believe me? Here’s last year’s list.

Oh, and a picture from a couple of years ago.

i have a problem

I have a problem.

So what’s a girl to do when her holiday obsession is the one thing she can’t have?

Basically, there are two options.

The first–make everything I can’t have and stare jealously as people dig into them Christmas Eve. Spend hours and hours in my kitchen without even a bowl to lick. Fun.

The second–make a fraction of cookies with expensive flours and hope they turn out almost as good as last year’s. Also, bake them all at the last minute because gluten-free goodies don’t keep as long.

I guess there’s option three, which is to say ‘screw it, I’m not baking this year’ but haha yeah right like that’s ever gonna happen.

What I’m actually doing is a hybrid. I’ve been pinning lots of candy recipes (many of which happen to be gluten-free) and I’ve stocked up on melting chocolate and a couple of new molds to play with. I bought a bag of all-purpose flour which felt really weird, and immediately quarantined it in its own plastic container. I’ll miss not eating my own sugar cookies, but I’ve been making them for years. I can handle that–the fun for me is in decorating them, anyway.

There are cookies I really make because they are someone’s special favorite. Peanut butter blossoms for my sister. Coconut macaroons for the in-laws (hey, look, no gluten!). Ginger molasses crinkles for my mother-in-law. Super buttery pecan cookies for my other in-laws. Chocolate stars for my husband. And let’s be honest–everything was my son’s favorite. A year after my Christmas bonanza, I turn on the oven and still gets excited asking if we’re going to make cookies.

And seriously, I just want to make some cake pops. I don’t even enjoy eating them by the time they’re made. I just want to make them.

I can live without these Christmas cookies… maybe not forever, but for this year. I’ve accepted my limitations. I can make them for other people and give them freely, without jealousy or even a bit of drool.

But there are my favorites, the ones that mean Christmas to me… and those I’m going to have to make gluten-free somehow. Cake batter sugar cookies. Brandied eggnog sandwiches. Russian tea cakes. I’m feeling up to the challenge. I will accept nothing less than delicious.

But what’s it like to actually bake stuff you can’t have?

In short: it’s weird.

The longer answer: there are a lot of feels that demand attention. I still can’t understand that this simple thing, this very common ingredient, can make anyone so sick. I can’t believe I was sick for years without realizing what ‘being sick’ really was.

It’s even stranger because gluten-free flour blends smell a lot different than wheat flour, but their texture is so similar. They’re both flour, they’re both innocent… right?

Nope.

The nostalgia is strange. I’ve made gluten-free sugar cookies but the recipe is fundamentally different and the doughs are, too. After decades of ‘regular’ baking, working with wheat-based doughs just feels right. It’s the right color. Consistency. Texture. It’s comfort. It’s what I know.

Avoiding cross-contamination is hard. I took it for granted before I had an allergy–sure I’ve baked nut-free before and cleaned my kitchen up and down before I baked, but intentionally bringing something into my house that could hurt me is… kinda like playing with fire. I never thought about how far flour can spread when you open the bag (let alone when you sift it and start the mixer). It’s a mess. It’s everywhere. It’s in the air and should I really be breathing this gluten miasma? This is a terrible idea.

Then there’s the little things I never thought about until I’m up to my elbows in allergens. Keeping your hands ridiculously clean because a thoughtless lick can break your gluten-free streak. Using utensils that can’t hold food bits, and taking them apart to get in between the handle and the scoop. Not using my cookie scoop because I can’t risk it getting contaminated. Deliberately timing these glutenous baking sprees a day or more away from my regular baking, so that any runaway flour has plenty of time to settle and get mopped away. Mopping even though I just did that a couple of days ago. Scrubbing, scrubbing, scrubbing all the surfaces.

Not to mention the labeling nightmare once my cookie spree really gets going.

And maybe these measures are a bit extreme–in my experience, I have a higher tolerance for accidental glutening than others. I’ve eaten tofu marinaded in a soy sauce base and not felt symptoms. The same with small amounts of foods with malt extracts. Did you know that a food can have barley malt in it, but as long as the food stays under 20 ppm gluten, it can legally be labeled gluten-free?

However, lately I’ve been fortunate enough to run into some other gluten-intolerant folks in the wild (fortunate for community’s sake, unfortunate for how much being gluten-sensitive sucks), and I want to confidently bake for them, too. After all, we’re in the same boat. I’m just on the living-dangerously side of the boat.

I made a very stupid mistake of ‘I’ll just taste-test this cookie dough for QA, and spit it out right away’. This is a bad idea because cookie dough doesn’t stay dough in your mouth. It immediately melted, so I’m bent over my sink scraping at my tongue and coughing like that makes any difference.

Not my best moment.

After my Christmas baking spree, we’ll go back to being a gluten-free household. I enjoy baking, knowing the joy it brings to my loved ones. It’s worth it. But I have a feeling that by December 23rd, I’ll be 100% done with the extra work.

But this season, I can’t wait to experiment and make some new gluten-free favorites. Onward to delicious!

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