MOUNT VERNON — Baking has been a big part of Rachelle Himmelman’s life since she was small, and she wasn’t going to let her recently diagnosed Celiac disease stop her.
As a kid, Himmelman would get angry when her mom would teach her to cook dinner and bake, saying she was never going to use those skills in her life, ever. She was wrong.
Now, Himmelman finds baking to be relaxing, whether it’s a lemon loaf or cobbler or cupcakes — it’s her stress relief.
But all her baking stopped in 2009 when she was diagnosed with Celiac disease, a condition in which eating gluten can damage the small intestine. Gluten is found in wheat, barley and rye.
The diagnosis was a relief to Himmelman, who had been inexplicably sick for years — her hair was falling out, she was fatigued and her stomach hurt all the time.
She didn’t even know what gluten was when she received the diagnosis, but she would learn to make the huge transition from her normal way of eating to a new way entirely.
Getting answers and changing to a gluten-free diet made all the difference.
“When I got better, I never knew how sick I was,” she said.
She took some time off from baking after the diagnosis, which she suggests to anyone with Celiac disease, to talk to people who have the disease and do research about her new diet.
Then she learned how to bake with different types of flours, through a lot of trial and error. The textures are different, making the process a completely new activity, she said.
People are always pleasantly surprised by how great the gluten-free desserts taste, she said.
“They never know the difference,” she said.
So many people were asking Himmelman for her recipes that she finally started a blog, Gluten Free Baking by Rachelle, where she posts recipes and photos of her creations. The blog combines two of her talents, baking and photography.
Often, taking the photo with the right light to showcase the dessert and its details can be every bit as challenging as baking it, she said.
“If I’m looking at something, I want to see the crinkles in the frosting,” she said.
She bakes about three times a week, usually something different each time. Her most recent design is a gluten-free chocolate peanut butter chip cupcake, complete with a cookie on top.
But it’s not all for stress relief. Himmelman said she enjoys sharing her recipes with others in the same boat. It’s easy to get discouraged when diagnosed with Celiac or gluten intolerance, she said, but everyone can find their way in time.
Restaurants and stores are becoming more aware of the problem, and Himmelman said it keeps getting easier to find gluten-free menu items and flour.
And finding the right gluten-free flour is important. She suggests an all-purpose cup-for-cup flour, and encourages others to take the time to find the one that works best for them.
Visit Himmelman’s blog at glutenfreebakingbyrachelle.com.