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All We Want for Christmas…

You’ve made it to December 23rd and if you’re anything like the people I saw swarming Target last night, you’re still wrapping up that last-minute shopping. Or just taking advantage of the 10% discount…I certainly did. And I paid with cash so no hacking worries for me 🙂
Over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that gift-giving is an art. A fine one at that. Some gift exchanges are simple: they follow a tradition. Each year I give you a different themed rubber duck, you give me a new Chia pet, we excitedly hug and that’s that. Others are predetermined and thus also simple: you buy tickets to this event, I’ll make reservations and cover dinner beforehand, we both add it to our calendars and look at us: we’ve gifted ourselves time together (which I’d argue is the most valuable gift of all). Others however can be more complicated. What do you get for the crotchety man down the street who seems unimpressed by life, let alone gifts? How about that overwhelmingly perky colleague who seems to have anything one could ever want or need in her possession? And of course, worst of all, what do you get for that friend who has food allergies? You can’t just pick up a box of chocolates or even a seasonal lip gloss without knowing whether it will end up in her trash can. Or worse…that she’ll trust you and end up in the ER. How’s that for a Christmas gift to remember?
Well, fear not you last-minute shoppers. I’m here to help you. And if you’re much more organized and on top of life so you’ve long since finished your shopping and neatly wrapped every gift….well, you can always refer back to this when a food-intolerant friend’s birthday rolls around. (Hint, hint: mine is in less than 20 days!! Just kidding…you reading this is gift enough for me!)
As mentioned in a previous post, I am a self-proclaimed coupon-lover, thrift-store-shopper, bargain-hunter, whatever term you want to apply, I’m sure I fit the bill. I attribute this partially to my upbringing with a very frugal father (who was nothing compared to my grandfather’s skill at stretching a dime), partially to the fact that it becomes a bit of a fun game, and mostly to the fact that I’m a Catholic School teacher. Let’s just say the payscale certainly does not match the amount of work we do on a daily basis. Thus, you learn to be cheap. For that reason, I am a huge proponent of useful gifts. Is a glass ornament beautiful? Sure. 12 scented candles? Absolutely. Do I NEED any of those things? Not really. Would I have purchased them for myself? Not unless they were marked 80% off somewhere. Now, yes, on occasion it is nice to receive a gift you would not buy yourself. However, for me, the best gifts are the ones I will use day in and day out AND would otherwise have had to purchase on my own. This way it frees up a little spending money for outings I would like to treat myself to later…dinner with a friend, a new pair of running shoes, a delicious Katie-safe cupcake from One Dish Cuisine, etc. I started this form of gift-giving when I was still in high school. I remember sending my sister a survey regarding shampoo she used, face washes she preferred, lotions she found most effective, etc. under the guise of some sociology project for school. Then I used her responses to create a basket of her favorite brands…something I knew she would use, and might be able to add a little cushion to the flimsy budget one faces as a work-study student athlete at a private university which doesn’t grant athletic scholarships.
So below is a sample of items I would recommend for the food-intolerant friends on your gift list. And if they’re anything like me, prepare for an enthusiastic hug in return:
1. aluminum foil: It seems cheesy but I’m telling you, the good stuff is expensive! And when you go through foil like we do, it adds up.

2. Pyrex: What a staple to our existence. It enables us to carry safe foods wherever we need to go…and to stockpile safe foods in the fridge or freezer. Quite frankly, this is a great gift for ANYONE on your list. I read recently about the cancer-causing substances that seep into your foods when you reheat them in plastic Tupperware. Whether it’s true or not, I’m staying away from that stuff…it’s glass only for me!
3. coconut oil: I go through these suckers like you would not believe! And it carries a hefty price tag…especially compared to regular PAM or vegetable oil. It’s in almost every Katie-safe recipe, it makes a great base to fry or saute anything in, and if you’ve never scrambled your eggs in it, well prepare to be amazed. Granted I can’t eat those anymore, but alas…
4. Glass Jars (w/ lids!): With the wide array of flours, fillers, xanthan gum, guar gum, sugar alternatives, etc. that some of us have to use, tightly-sealed glass jars are key to our existence. Without them, there would either be critters turning up in our flours OR just as bad, we’d constantly be throwing them out because they’ve gone bad. And considering the cost of each of these alternative products, we’d be in the poorhouse in no time. And if you want to throw in a set of new, fun measuring cups, that’s always a treat!
5. Frontier Vanilla: For the corn-averse among us, nothing is as painful as shelling over $10 or more for our vanilla extract. That’s right, it’s in almost every recipe and the other brands just don’t cut it as far as corn derivatives are concerned. Granted I have plans after Christmas to ferment my own (apparently it’s as easy as soaking vanilla beans in vodka for 30 days) but until then, this is my reality…
6. Earth Balance: For the dairy-averse, any form of Earth Balance will do. For those of us with soy issues, it has to be the orange one below. And for those blessed with the addition of corn issues, Earth Balance JUST came out with a new soy-free, corn-free, and dairy-free version. God bless their souls…
7. Nut butter: Now my question for the nut butter makers of the world is WHY? Why is almost every brand off-limits to me because of that fine print: “Manufactured on shared equipment with wheat, soy, and peanut products”. Why must you share your equipment? Think of all the peanut-allergic customers you lose, let alone all of us wheat and soy-free consumers? Be careful on this one…check the back before you hand it off as a gift. It is highly appreciated though. I want to cry every time I walk to the peanut butter section in most major grocery stores and find just one brand of almond butter, often off-limits to me, and notice the price discrepancy. I know nuts are more expensive…but really, the legume-free are suffering here. This is also on my to-do list for after Christmas…make my own 🙂
8. Bread : Imagine you live in a world where bread will cost you $4.50 a loaf…and that’s on a good day! Yep, that’s the reality facing your allergy friends on a daily basis. $5 on bread. The good news is it can freeze for a long time so buy them a frozen loaf and they won’t be disappointed. Though be sure to read the label to make sure it is free of ALL their allergens.
9. Enjoy Life chocolate chips:  I swear I go through these things like candy. Seriously, some days I eat a spoonful out of the jar just because it’s the only form of candy or chocolate I can have. Needless to say, I go through these in baking rather quickly and at $4 per bag (ON SALE!) and rarely a coupon in the Sunday paper, these little guys get pretty pricey. The chocolate chunks are my favorite…though I read they came out with a new DARK chocolate version I have yet to locate. Keep your eyes open for me!!
10. Alternative Flours: Next time you’re in Whole Foods or a natural food store, take a moment to peruse the flour aisle. The ones consumed most often by those of us with gluten issues include almond flour, coconut flour, tapioca flour, potato flour, and brown rice flour. Note the price of each one. That’s right coconut flour alone is about $11 for a small bag. Now compare that to the $.99 bags of white unbleached flour in the baking aisle…yes I know life just isn’t fair. Buy just 1 bag of any of these…and maybe wrap it in an airtight container…you just made a gluten-free friend’s day!
11. Communion hosts: Now I know what you’re thinking: Katie, really, no one wants those but you. And to that I would say: false. Granted you know the person on your list and whether they’d need or appreciate such a gift. But think about it: you go to mass at least once a week, without factoring in holy days, weddings, funerals, Confirmations, etc.  That’s a lot of communion. The cost of 1 bag (containing 30 wafers) is $5.25. Compare that to the cost of a regular bag of hosts (containing 500 wafers) is just a dime more at $5.35. Crazy but true. Also, I should point out that every Catholic church I know of covers the cost of regular communion wafers.  I am fortunate enough to belong to a parish which also provides gluten-free hosts…but not everyone is so lucky. Thus, it could be a meaningful gift…especially for a gluten-free child’s 1st Communion.
 12. Scope: I know, I know…laugh all you want. But this would make the perfect stocking stuffer, particularly if you happen to be in a relationship with a food-allergy sufferer…or to send a message if you’d like to be 😉 
These last seemingly forever…and I just finished reading my Sunday coupons…Buy 1, Get 1 50% off for the compact, easy-to-slip-in-a-purse trial size at Walgreens this week. 
You’re welcome.
‘Tis the season for mistletoe after all. And New Year’s Eve…

 13. Last but not least, let’s not forget the thing you won’t find on any store shelf, website, or catalog. Find a way to show your food-allergy friend that you LOVE him or her. Regardless of the fact that you have to plan social outings around allergy-safe dining establishments, that you hold your breath for hours after they leave your home for fear you’ll get a phone call they ended up in the ER from something served at your house, that they sometimes cancel on you at the last-minute with vague “I’m not feeling so great- I think I ate something” reasons, you still care enough about this person to see past their overactive immune system and love them for who they are. I mean really, isn’t that what all gifts are supposed to convey anyway?

The best gift of all…

The outpouring of love I received this week….

So, in conclusion, as you head out there today to confront the crowd of fellow procrastinators, or as you settle into the sofa with your hot cocoa and stare at your pile of long-ago purchased and carefully wrapped Christmas gifts, just remember it truly is the thought that counts. Unless of course you can come up with a cure for autoimmune disorders…in which case you win the prize for best gift of all-time 🙂

Merry Christmas Week!!

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