A preconceived idea that some people have is that gluten free food is bland, gritty, and/or just plain unappetizing. Tina Darr can definitely prove that conception wrong! Tina shared gingersnaps, chocolate chip cookies, brownies, banana bread, lemon bars, rolled out sugar cookies, cheese cake, and coconut custard pie with me and all of them were absolutely fabulous!
Tina first started baking gluten-free 12 years ago when her daughter had issues with asthma and pneumonia. The move away from gluten seemed to help. As more children came along, it was even more necessary to make the switch away from all gluten. One of her sons would get a rash whenever he ate gluten; another would get a rash if he nursed after Tina had eaten food containing gluten. The family has had no wheat flour for the past 10 years. Tina says she herself feels much better gluten-free. Tina’s husband Bruce chose to eat the same diet as the rest of the family, lost weight, and feels healthier.
Tina loves to bake and enjoys sharing treats with friends. What does she use instead of wheat flour? Brown rice flour. Tina purchases the brown rice flour in bulk in Lime Springs, Iowa; Christmastime finds Tina buying even more flour for all her holiday baking. Not only does Tina give baked goods to friends, she loves to host friends and family at her house.
Another essential ingredient is xanthan gum, a corn-based ingredient to add elasticity. Tina uses this in crusts and cookies, but says it’s not necessary in bars. When pushed, Tina said she uses approximately a teaspoon of xanthan gum for each cup of rice flour, noting that she usually doesn’t measure it. This gives the baked goods ta smoother, less gritty texture. According to Tina, you usually can’t tell the difference in baked goods except in cakes, which are a heavier consistency.
A very appreciated appliance that Tina makes good use of is a KitchenAid stand mixer. Tina touts the mixer as the best gift ever from a couple of good friends. The mixer incorporates ingredients much easier and more thoroughly than hand mixing.
While there are recipes for gluten-free food on the internet, Tina simply adjusts recipes. “I can take any recipe and make it gluten-free!” Tina declared. The wheat flour doesn’t really give a flavor to food. Tina has made gluten-free pretzels, eclairs, cream puffs and dumplings for chicken soup using brown rice flour. She shared that there are other gluten-free recipes that don’t require special flour, such as meringue cookies and cherry berry on a cloud. Crushed cornflakes can be used for breading chicken.
Tina shared several tips for gluten-free baking. When she makes pie crusts, she puts the dough in the pie plate and rolls it out using a mini roller. Rolled out cookies are done on a dusting of powdered sugar rather than flour. If she’s making dairy-free goods, she uses coconut oil to replace butter at room temperature. Cookie fails become ice cream cake bases; gluten-free cereals can be mixed with butter to make pie crusts.
Tina cautions that it’s important to read labels if you are trying to eat gluten-free, commenting that her kids are better at it than she is! If a product has malt listed as an ingredient, it’s a no-no; malt comes from barley, which is gluten.
The Darr family uses very little bread; to make homemade bread would require a special cycle on a bread machine. Burgers are usually eaten without a bun. When they want bread, they purchase it from Rushford Foods. Tina noted that Rushford Foods has a good stock of gluten-free products. She recommends their honey oat bars and gluten-free noodles. Woodman’s in La Crosse is their source for soy chips for a snack.
Quality meats are important for the family; Tina’s mom provides much of the family’s meat from her farm. The Darrs also buy from Liten Dal Farm owned by the Zoellners.
Vacation prepping for the Darrs is tough. The usual continental breakfasts offered by most hotels is full of glutens. Condos are usually the housing choice and food is brought along after preparing it at home. Eating out is a challenge as well; Tina gave a shout out to Steve at Burdey’s Cafe in Peterson. Steve has a list of foods the family can eat and always prepares a special meal for them.
The entire family has gotten involved in gluten-free cooking. While Tina likes baking, Bruce loves to cook and make homemade jerky. Daisy enjoys baking and sharing it with friends as well as gardening and canning the produce. As a component of their homeschooling, all the kids learn to cook and run the house. Even Tina’s sister Tricia gets in on the action, with gluten-free food always available.
COVID has put a damper on hosting for the Darrs, but excursions to state parks on Mondays with other homeschoolers gave them a chance to socialize. Son Beatty is a Scout and is working on his Eagle project at Sherwood Cemetery; beautification of the flagpole area using pavers. While the family band lost gigs due to the pandemic, they are still involved with praise team groups and youth nights at their church. After learning gluten-free treats were being purchased for the kids at such gatherings, Tina of course offered to provide the treats.
Tina often hosts other homeschool parents as they plan lessons, of course providing some of her baking and cooking. She enjoys making her gluten-free baked goods and shares them to cheer up friends and other people including Bruce’s co-workers at the Houston Post Office.
While Tina’s gluten-free baking was originally a necessity for her family, it truly is a hobby for Tina. She enjoys the challenge of creating her awesome treats and sharing them with others!