By Jessica Marking
I was outbid time and time again on a beautiful platter of Thanksgiving cookies during our WPS United Way Silent Auction. Overall, I am happy they went to a special home even if it wasn't my home. What makes these cookies doubly special is they are made with love and not gluten.
Cindy Hoffman, Design Specialist, has worked at WPS for 30 years. In 1994, she was diagnosed with celiac disease. Celiac disease makes the small intestine hypersensitive to gluten. This was at a time when most people did not know what celiac disease was and eating gluten-free was not as mainstream as it is today. The Atkins Diet didn't quite hit its peak popularity until the late 1990s, and The Ketogenic Diet certainly wasn't a thing yet.
As many of us can agree, the holiday season is often synonymous with cookie season. In the first few years following her diagnosis, when the holidays rolled around, she would not eat any of the delicious holiday cookies because they contained flour. She was missing out on what used to be her favorites.
Cindy's love of cookies can be attributed to the great memories with her grandma around the holidays. Cindy has always had a love for baking. She worked in a bakery through high school and always loved cake decorating.
After her grandmother passed away, Cindy's aunt compiled a recipe book of all her grandma's recipes, including the holiday cookies. Cindy started to experiment with baking the cookies, but with gluten-free flour.
“At that time, nothing was out there for gluten-free products. They were dry, hard, and expensive. The gluten-free flour that I first started experimenting with was grainy and not very good," said Cindy. “I first tried my grandma's Norwegian krumkake recipe, which turned out awful because it couldn't get crispy. Over time, I discovered that gluten-free cookies turned out better in smaller bites, so I started with mini cookies."
She continued, “I was a part of a gluten-free support group, and we had a cookie exchange. And so, in preparation, I started playing with paints and glitter to get them ready for the exchange. It was fun and, at first, I thought that I could start a gluten-free cookie bouquet business. I try new designs every year."
“When I started to bring cookies to our holidays, my dad shocked me when he said, “You brought my favorite cookies, more than any other cookie!" And my brother would rave about them, and people started asking if I could sell them to them, so I started selling them to friends and family members. That's what I continue to do. I still haven't started a business; I usually just make them for the cost of ingredients for friends and family."
Cindy's mission is to make something special for those that must eat gluten-free. “It is nice to have a treat, something that is good and pretty, and you can eat it. Although I don't have a business; if I did, I would call it the Cindy Lou Cookie Co. with the tagline 'Baked with love, not gluten' (trademark pending)," she said.
What also makes her cookies special is that her entire kitchen is gluten-free. Cindy warned to be careful about solely cooking with gluten-free flour. It isn't enough for folks diagnosed with Celiac disease. The kitchen and baking supplies also must be gluten-free so there is no cross-contamination.
In 1994 when Cindy was diagnosed, 1 in 2,500 Americans had celiac disease; today, 1 in 133 people are impacted by this disease—nearly 1% of the population. The good news is that there are many more gluten-free products on the market today. That means people who need to eat gluten-free can still enjoy amazing holiday cookies.