When my daughter was diagnosed with celiac disease last year, we expected that the landscape of our family’s relationship with food would shift. Celiac, an autoimmune disease that causes damage to the small intestine when gluten is consumed, is a genetic condition, and it runs along my husband’s side of the family. When my daughter’s intestinal biopsy results came back positive, none of us were terribly surprised. We were already a nut-free household, because of an allergy that my husband has, and we were prepared to go gluten-free as well. We were perhaps less prepared for the developments that followed.
About a month after our household made the transition to gluten-free eating, we welcomed a new member. Our baby boy was born, and after just a few months (and more than a few trips to the allergist), it was clear that our family’s way of eating was going to have to change even more. I found myself needing to eliminate a number of foods from my diet, and among them were those most precious of baking staples: dairy and eggs. Having considered myself a relatively serious baker for the better part of a decade, it would not be overstating the situation to say that I was horrified by the sudden and stringent limitations imposed upon my craft.
One of the things that we learned from our daughter’s experience of going gluten-free, is that the ability to still enjoy special treats, in the company of both friends and family, is meaningful to her during such a big transition. But there is an added reality to our current situation: my time for complex baking projects is limited, and using up scarce baby nap times on making treats that only some family members can enjoy simply doesn’t make sense. Yet, in spite of the challenges presented by preparing vegan, gluten-free, and nut-free desserts, giving up on the project doesn’t seem to be my best course of action either. I don’t want my daughter to associate the adoption of the diet that her body needs for long-term health with an era of deprivation that only encourages her to rebel against her own best interests later. I want to approach our allergen-free living gently, and with a focus on realistic outcomes. In other words: sometimes we all need a treat, so I will continue to patiently explore our options.
The recipe that follows is a simple and satisfying approach to creating an allergen-free dessert for the whole family. And, in the spirit of autumn, it makes good use of the abundance of apples that so many of us will enjoy this season.
Coconut Caramel Sauce
1 cup brown sugar
1/8 cup water
½ cup full fat coconut milk (make sure to shake the can well before pouring to measure)
2 teaspoons alcohol-free vanilla extract
½ teaspoon sea salt
Begin by combining the water and brown sugar in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil and then add in the coconut milk and vanilla, whisking to combine. Bring the mixture back to a boil, and then lower the heat to medium-low. Continue to stir the mixture while it simmers, making sure to reincorporate any sauce that begins to stick to the sides of the pan as you go. Continue this way until the mixture begins to visibly thicken and reduces in volume by about a third, around fifteen minutes or so. Remove from heat, stir in the sea salt and pour into a clean glass jar or bowl to cool. Serve warm. Makes about one cup of sauce.
This will keep in the refrigerator for a week or so, but will harden somewhat when cold. Simply reheat when you would like to use it again.
Annie Riechmann is an educator, blogger and mama to two small people who lives in the Burlington, Vermont area. Annie is also the creator and publisher of Alphabet Glue, a literacy themed e-magazine for families. A lover of knee-high striped socks, collecting acorns and surprise snow days, Annie is also an associate editor here at Rhythm of the Home. You can visit her at her own online home, Bird and Little Bird, where she writes about everything from books and babies to laundering snowpants and the enumerable joys of putting a husband through medical school.