October 01, 2007

A Martini goes gluten-free

Adrienne Martini, author of Hillbilly Gothic: A Memoir of Madness and Motherhood and mother of a child with a gluten-free diet is back, and this time she's guest blogging at Scrambled CAKE. She agreed to do this even before she knew I was going to send her some of the organic gluten-free lollipops I snagged at the Candy Expo. Check out Adrienne's regular musings at Martininimade.

The old adage about surprises is doubly true when it comes to kids. Expected joys and challenges seem to follow the small set like puppies follow peanut butter.

My husband and I didn’t expect to have a kid with Celiac disease, which means that any form of gluten will destroy the villi lining her small intestine. Her diagnoses came quickly. It took six short weeks, a blood test and a biopsy to figure out why she’d stopped growing, had a host of bowel issues and was generally lethargic.

In six short weeks, her entire diet had to change. Wheat, barley and rye had to be eliminated.

At the time, it was monumental. Finding the gluten turned out to be a larger problem than eliminating the gluten. Wheat is pretty easy to ferret out, thanks to the FDA’s new labeling laws but it and barley extract can sneak past you in things like tomato soup or butterscotch chips.

You learn to get on top of it – and describing that process is worth its own very long essay. To sum up, our little Diva –who is almost five now and growing like a weed – eats rice pasta like she chowed on the wheat kind. We focus on what she can eat, like apples and blueberries and cheese. She knows how to protect her own tummy and will give you an earful about her needs in that special way that a preschooler can.

Still, one obstacle remained. We had no idea what to do about birthday parties. Whether they were at her preschool or at someone’s house, kids’ parties always have cake. Always. It’s a rule of childhood. So what could we serve her when all of the kids were snacking on their iced confections?

For a few months, I simply let her eat as much ice cream as she could hold. If I were feeling daring, I’d scrape off some frosting that hadn’t touched any of the cake beneath. (This is fraught with cross-contamination hazards and I wouldn’t recommend it unless you are truly desperate.) Then I was flipping through our newspaper and discovered the recipe that changed everything: magical cream cheese cupcakes.

Essentially, these are mini-cheesecakes without any crust. What’s fabulous is that you can make a huge batch (with your kid, if he or she is interested) and freeze them. When a party arrives, you pop one in your bag and go. What’s even more fabulous is that you can dress them up in any gluten-free way that you like. Smear ‘em with frosting. Sprinkle them with colored sugars. Top with nuts and/or jam. The options are limited only by your kid’s imagination.

The magical cream cheese cupcakes

3 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened (I recommend using name brand cream cheese. My experiments with the store brands have been less than satisfying. Edible, certainly, but lumpy.)
1 cup sugar
5 eggs
1.25 tsp vanilla extract
jam, sprinkles, fruit, frosting, nuts

Preheat oven to 325. Line two 12-cup muffin tins with cupcake liners.

Beat (by hand or with a mixer) cream cheese, sugar and eggs. Add vanilla. Pour batter into muffin tins and bake 40 minutes.

These will settle a bit in the middle as they cool. Fill the resulting divot with whatever topping moves you and your kids. Enjoy!

Next up in the food allergy series: gluten-free dining in Chicago.

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