There is nothing so soul satisfying and a delight to the senses as a freshly baked pastry or dessert from a specialty bakery. You know the ones I mean. It’s not the supermarket bakery, but the ones that take extra care with every step of their creation all the way to their presentation in their display case. Even before you enter, you’re imagining what delectables are awaiting you. Waiting to tempt you and then fulfill your wish as if it were custom made for your tastebuds. Chocolate. Lemon. Whipping cream. Caramel. Mellow or tart. Crispy or smooth. You know you’ll find something to match your mood. There’s only one thing standing in your way: you have celiac disease and can’t even have a crumb of anything in that beautiful display case without doing damage to your own body.
That’s me. Me and thousands of others as 1 in 133 people live with Celiac disease in Canada. Having celiac disease means your body has an autoimmune reaction when gluten is ingested. It doesn’t matter how much, so there is no room for error. It is not an allergy where the reaction subsides and the body returns to normal after the event. With celiac disease, ingesting gluten causes damage to the villi, the small finger like structures that absorb nutrients in the small intestine. If the damage has been undetected for years, it can also take years for healing. Some don’t even know they are causing harm to their body because they have no symptoms. That was me 4 years ago this summer.
I was diagnosed by a smart endocrinologist who was treating me for the onset of my Graves’ disease which had caused me to have hyperthyroidism. Graves’ disease is also an autoimmune disease , and since autoimmune diseases tend to hang out together, he suspected there might be other conditions hindering my recovery. My results were off the charts positive for celiac, both by blood work and biopsy. I had no idea as I’d not had outward symptoms. Apparently about 20% of celiacs are asymptomatic. My husband and I affectionately named my endocrinologist Dr. Doogie because he looked like a grown up version of the teen doctor character from the tv show Doogie Howser. Thank God for smart, young doctors!! Whether I wanted to or not, I now had to make different food choices in my life.
We take eating far too much for granted. All of a sudden my choices were limited, and choosing carefree from the buffet of delectables was not for me. Not just in the bakery, because gluten isn’t just in baked goods. Anywhere they use wheat, barley or rye, gluten is present. It felt like my life became a refrain of ‘No, that’s not for you.’ Sorry, not for you’. Not safe for celiacs. No, nothing for you here. When we are talking about what’s for dinner or planning an outing, my sweet almost 13 year old son always asks ‘What’s mom going to eat? He’s witnessed the pain of my hunger and exclusion. I’ve cried in the grocery store aisles, tired of reading labels to find something safe to eat that didn’t cost a fortune compared to its glutinous counterpart. I’ve walked out of restaurants in humiliation and indignation after they failed to take me seriously.
And because of the fad popularity of being gluten free, even when gluten free food is specifically prepared at a function, Ive been faced with an empty platter because others who think it’s just healthier but don’t have a medical reason got there before me and gobbled it up. So if you live with a celiac or know one, you’d better be prepared for the inevitable wrath that follows if you eat their food and leave them with an empty belly!! Now that’s truly being hangry!!
That’s the dark side of living with celiac disease. It’s one of those invisible conditions that permeates every nuance of our lives. It affects our bodies, our minds, our emotions, and our relationships. So when something comes along that lifts your spirits so high that tears of joy freely flow, you feel compelled to share it wherever you go.
On June 27 I found my joy. Joy in a new, local bakery with a whole display case just for celiacs. It’s the same kind of feeling I get when someone goes out of their way to truly understand celiac disease and presents me with a certified gluten free treat, knowing that anything less makes me feel unsafe. They get it, and they care. My family has been wonderful about this at our get togethers. The beautiful raspberry cake in the photo was especially purchased by my sister at her local gluten free bakery so we could all enjoy celebrating her birthday together. I’m the only celiac in the family. That’s love.
But out there in the world, it’s a different story.
And so I walked into this place expecting to have the usual experience of finding nothing safe for a celiac. And so I trudged the length of the display case, got up the courage to say to the clerk’ I don’t suppose you have anything gluten free here, do you?’
And his face brightened right up, proud to show me what they’d done for people like me. ‘All this’, as he waved his arm down the long row of delicious looking delectables. Shut the front door!!! Tears started leaking out the corners of my eyes.
‘And we bake it all right here, in that separate kitchen behind me’, he said.
A separate kitchen!!! No way!! Not just the usual line of ‘ we take care to make sure no cross contact occurs, but we can’t guarantee’. No gluten in that kitchen. None. I could see into the kitchen!! And more importantly, they wanted me to see.
All this is for me. Behold, the riches laid before me. For me.
And so I placed my order, barely able to get the words out for my tears of joy. I’ve been back at least 3 times already, revisiting the comfort and safety it brings to my life. My husband and son soak up the relief of having found a safe place we can all enjoy together. Our family is once again united in the love of all things sweet.
Thank you to the owners and staff of The Sprouted Oven for taking care of those with celiac disease in our community.