njoying Valentine’s Day Gluten-Free Style
When holidays involving food roll around, people with food allergies and intolerances can get a bit anxious about what might be safe for them to consume. Valentine’s Day is one of those days – it’s about flowers which thankfully are usually not eaten (except in outrageously fancy restaurants). But it’s also about candy and for some, a romantic dinner out. The first time I ever ate out after my diagnosis was on Valentine’s Day. I was determined to not let having celiac keep me from enjoying life, but looking back I don’t recommend this idea to other “newbies” to the diet.
For three years, I vowed that I would not stay home on Valentine’s night just because I could not eat gluten. Each year our experiences when dining out were less than optimal. The good news is that I never got served gluten but I also encountered overstressed servers at all three places we tried on Valentine’s Day. Finally last year, we stayed in and had a gloriously gluten-free gourmet meal without the stress that had accompanied the previous three years on the holiday. Since Valentine’s Day is on a Sunday this year, we are going out again, but at an absurdly “early bird dinner” time. It’s doubtful that when we arrive anyone else will be at the place and that’s just fine by us. If you go out, it’s helpful to the staff if you go early or late so they can spend the time needed to prepare your meal safely. Our Restaurant Guide lists tons of places that are happy to accomodate gluten-free diners, but on any busy night (Friday, Saturday) or  special holidays like Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, the best of intentions at a restaurant can go horribly wrong.
Now let’s talk about candy. There is so much good news raining down on us these days – tons of food products are being reformulated to be gluten-free and more restaurants are providing great gluten-free options to their customers. There is one place where I don’t notice much of an improvement from four years ago, when I first investigated the issue. Candy companies seem to be lagging behind some of the other companies in terms of gluten-free allergen information. Since candies are generally processed on the same lines that many allergens are, candy companies often just tell us not to eat their products, period. But with more and more of the U.S, population going gluten-free (for various reasons) each month, one might assume that the candy companies would rethink their positions on what market they want to shut out.
Russell Stover Candies have actually improved their website information regarding allergens and this is much appreciated. At least potential consumers can read their statement and make an informed decision about the products from the company. They also own Whittman’s, maker of the famous Whitman’s Sampler box. The Ghiradelli website has no allergen information on thier website so I called the company to see what, if anything, in their line-up was gluten-free. I was referred to the corporate office xxxx. I’d noticed a lovely heart shaped box of candy from their line at Target, along with heart shaped boxes of Kisses and Reeses Peanut Butter Cups. At least the latter two items are gluten-free and each is quite inexpensive at Target.
Ordering gift baskets from gluten-free companies is an option. I Can Have That, Carriage House Gifts an Well Baskets are just a few of the companies that offer nice gluten-free themed gift baskets. Edible Arrangements is a nationwide company that offers fresh fruit bouquets that can also be dipped in chocolate. When I spoke to someone from the company’s corporate office, they said they didn’t “think” there was any gluten in the chocolate since the word gluten wasn’t listed. The person referred me to my local Edible Arrangement where I found a more assured business owner. She quickly told me she’d investigated to make sure the chocolate they are using is gluten-free. It’s probably best not to assume all locations have safe chocolate. We found some nice online ordering candy options including Raising the Candy Bar and The Natural Candy Store.
For those who prefer to make their own gluten-free goodies for Valentine’s Day, check out the lovely recipes we found:

russtoveWhen holidays involving food roll around, people with food allergies and intolerances can get a bit anxious about what might be safe for them to consume. Valentine’s Day is one of those days. True, the holiday is also about flowers which thankfully are usually not eaten (except in fancy restaurants). But it’s also about candy and for some, a romantic dinner out. The first time I ever ate out after my diagnosis was on Valentine’s Day. I was determined to not let having celiac keep me from enjoying life, but looking back I don’t recommend this idea to other “newbies” to the diet.

For three years, I vowed that I would not stay home on Valentine’s night just because I could not eat gluten. We eat out all the time but do avoid dining at peak times whenever possible. Each year our experiences when dining out on Valentine’s Day were less than optimal. The good news is that I never got served gluten but I also encountered overstressed servers at all three places we tried on February 14th. Finally last year, we stayed in and had a gloriously gluten-free gourmet meal without the stress that had accompanied the previous three years. Since Valentine’s Day is on a Sunday this year, we are going out again, but at an absurdly “early bird dinner” time. The Triumph Dining Restaurant Guide lists tons of places that are happy to accommodate gluten-free diners, but on any busy night (Friday, Saturday) or  special holidays like Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, the best of intentions at a restaurant can go horribly wrong.

Now let’s talk about candy. There is so much good news raining down on us these days – tons of food products are being reformulated to be gluten-free and more and more restaurants are providing great gluten-free options to their customers. There is one area where I don’t notice a huge improvement from four years ago, when I first investigated the issue. Candy companies seem to be lagging behind some of the other companies in terms of gluten-free allergen information. Since candies are generally processed on the same lines that many allergen ingredients are, candy companies often just tell us not to eat their products. Even though the candy listings in the Triumph Dining Grocery Guide have grown substantially in the last couple of years, some pretty big names won’t be found there still.

hersheytRussell Stover Candies have actually improved their website information regarding allergens and this is much appreciated. At least potential consumers can read their statement and make an informed decision about the products. Recently I noticed heart shaped boxes of both Hershey’s Kisses and Reeses Peanut Butter Cups at Super Target. At least those are two items are gluten-free and each is quite inexpensive. Many items from Necco’s are gluten-free, including Haviland Thin Mints, which are only $1 at Everything’s a Dollar! The iconic Necco Sweethearts Conversation Hearts are gluten-free as well. With any candy not marked gluten-free, always read the ingredients, of course.

Ordering gift baskets from gluten-free companies is an option. I Can Have That, Carriage House Gifts and Well Baskets are just a few of the companies that offer nice gluten-free themed gift baskets. Edible Arrangements is a nationwide company that offers fresh fruit bouquets that can also be dipped in chocolate. When I spoke to someone from the company’s corporate office, they said they didn’t “think” there was any gluten in the chocolate since the word gluten wasn’t listed in the ingredients. That person referred me to my local Edible Arrangement store, where I found a more assured business owner. She quickly told me she’d investigated to make sure the chocolate they are using is gluten-free. You might want to verify the safety of chocolate at other Edible Arrangements before ordering.

Photo courtesy of Cybele Pascal

Photo courtesy of Cybele Pascal

We found some nice online ordering candy options including Raising the Candy Bar and The Natural Candy Store. Also, this helpful post from Celiac Family can guide those with more than just gluten to worry about. If you want to make youre own gluten-free candy, check out the chocolate heart recipe from Jens Gluten-Free. If Red Velvet Cake is something you’ve been craving, check out Cybele Pascal’s gluten, dairy, soy, egg and nut free recipe from The Allergen-Free Baker’s Handbook!

Whatever you do for the holiday, remember to enjoy yourself and eat fabulous gluten-free food!