“Pssssst: I’m gluten-free!”

While some might think that everything is being commercialized these days, (which I agree is not always the best thing) the mass marketing of products can sometimes be good!

Case in point: my local Target (what? it’s not like I said Walmart – that’s gross) is in the process of converting to a fresh-market store, and has greatly expanded their food section; basically it’s like a regular grocery store now. I was today very happy to see that, in their baking aisle, they now carry more specialized products, specifically Gluten and Dairy-free baking mixes! So with only ingredients from Target I can actually make Easter cupcakes that my mom and I can, you know, eat. And since I didn’t have to make it all from scratch, it was quite quick and easy.

These may be the cutest cupcakes I have ever made by the way (though I stole the idea from my aunt, who makes them every year, only with carrot cake. Sorry for the not so great photo.)

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So, for all you gluten-and-dairy-avoiding folks out there, here’s the recipe I used.  (to make 12 cupcakes)

For the cake:

Betty Crocker Gluten Free yellow cake mix. Now you might be thinking that since this is a regular supermarket brand that it might be less tasty and healthy than the organic or health-store versions. Not so. So far this is the best (for consistency, taste, and texture) that I’ve come across; Bob’s vanilla mix, for example, was not good – it had a very strange taste and a too-airy texture. The ingredient list is very short for BC, and there’s nothing that you won’t find it any other gluten-free mix.

To prepare the mix, you simply need eggs, gluten-free vanilla (available in many stores these days), and butter. Of course, I used Earth Balance spread, which is everything-free and works great in baking, to make it without dairy. And as I’m always looking for a way to cut fat out of recipes, I used half-butter and half-applesauce (organic, Trader Joe’s with no added sugar; it has an amazing apple smell). I also added a handful or so of sweetened coconut.

– For the icing, I used Betty Crocker whipped Butter-cream, which, surprisingly has no dairy and is labeled gluten-free. (of course, it’s not the healthiest, but it’s better than many of the other icings out there. Though Target does carry a brand of natural vanilla icing I’ve also seen at Whole Foods if that’s more your style.)

– The decoration is made using coconut (dyed green with a couple drops of food coloring) to make the “nest/grass” and jelly beans (with spots) to make the “eggs.” I also threw in a couple marshmallow bunnies, cause they’re darn cute!

The result? The best gluten-free dessert I’ve made yet! Usually I can always tell the difference but these are just as good as any wheaty-milky thing.  The applesauce and coconut don’t stand out as strong flavors, but they kept the cake moist and chewy – it didn’t have the weird-light texture of normal cake mixes.

So, to everyone out there with dietary restrictions, don’t lose hope; just because you can’t eat the original, doesn’t mean you can’t still have some version of your favorite holiday food! (Maybe one day scientists will find out that gluten is actually really bad for people, and we’ll be saved because we already don’t eat it…or something like that.) And it even Target can provide options for those with limitations, who knows what will happen!

Therefore, since Easter is a time of rebirth and renewal; have faith in whatever seems fitting, and Happy Easter! 

P.S. Go for the ears.

While perusing the isles of Borders last Saturday night – I know, party animal, right? – I came across a new printing of The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes, one of my favorite books from my childhood. It follows the little country bunny, who is a lady, and grows up dreaming to join the all male, aristocratic Easter bunny force. These snobby bunnies attempt to crush her dream, telling her she will never make it, but she never loses hope.

She then grows up, has 21 or so children (no husband is specifically mentioned, but then she is rabbit…) and a household to run. By and By, she catches the eye of Grandfather bunny, who decides to pick her to be an Easter bunny. She is given the hardest task of all, to deliver a beautiful egg to a sick child on top of a hill. She nearly fails, but is brave and courageous, and is thus made the most important Easter bunny of all (above the boys) and Grandfather gives her a little pair of golden shoes, which allow her to fly above the mountains up to the child. When she returns home she finds that her children are in bed, all the chores are done, and everything is lovely.

Moral of the story? If your heart and mind are strong and compassionate and you are willing to work hard, all your dreams will come true, no matter who you are or where you came from. It seems this touching little book, with beautiful illustrations, is more than just a bedtime story, in fact one Amazon reader calls it “the most powerful book I have ever read.” It’s very simple, but apparently very effective.

But back to my story; as I looked at the book in the store, I was immediately struck by the only blurb on the back of the book;

“It is difficult to believe that this very modern feminist tale was originally written in 1939.”

What exactly are the publishers trying to push here? Apparently, parents aren’t just looking to read any old book to the kids, it has to have a good ‘message.’ But wait, this isn’t new! Remember the fable, the parable, the cautionary tales that kept people in line? However there is an important change here, because the book doesn’t just emphasize the moral message its selling, but the idea of female power and agency. And let me add that this book was written not only in 1939, but by a man. Fantastic.

Publishers are constantly printing new editions of old books, sometimes bringing out aspects of the book which are currently ‘in vogue.’ In this case though, this one little blurb really shows how our culture is finally becoming comfortable with accurately labeling these kinds of narratives, which I love.

And I have to wonder; the first line of the book points out that although we only hear about ONE Easter bunny, there are really many more. And while we always think the bunny is a boy, here that is also not true! Maybe this will lead younger readers to think about other traditionally male characters and wonder if our depiction is correct, if society is always giving us the complete picture – because they almost never are.