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Conversations: Gluten-Free Baker Maya Noren

Who doesn’t LOVE butter + sugar?

I first found Maya Noren while I was scrolling through Facebook. A VERY happy customer of hers had posted about Maya's gluten-free baking skills. As someone with celiac disease, I was  immediately interested in Maya and her company, butter + sugar, because she makes a gluten-free sourdough bread – something I was never able to find. I tried it. It was dense and delicious. I was officially hooked. Everything I have tried since (all gluten free) has been tasty, reminding me of many of my favorites that contained gluten. She also has a corn cookie (yes, you read that right) that is to die for!

There’s more to what Maya does, though. She has begun to create a hyper-local niche for moms who need more than what the average gluten-free grocery store offers to feed their family. As the mother of a celiac child, Maya is a tremendous resource of knowledge for local families dealing with allergen restrictions.

She is also kind and caring. Admirably, Maya has been working on a charitable basis to cook for local CT families and has donated all proceeds from her work to support World Central Kitchen (WCK). Specifically, she is supporting people affected by the war in Ukraine. (At Starling we are also supporting this charity with proceeds from every sale.)

For these reasons and because it's National Celiac Awareness Month, we wanted to feature Maya for this Conversations interview with Starling. I hope you enjoy learning about her incredible knowledge and journey. I have found so much of it helpful in my own daily celiac life.

–Lisa Larson Murphy

LLM: Hi Maya. Thanks so much for taking the time to meet with me. Can you tell the audience about your gluten-free journey?

MN: I am a self-taught gluten-free baker. I began trying to figure out GF baking after my son was diagnosed with Celiac Disease in 2010. Cyrus is our first child and he had just turned 2 when he was diagnosed. His symptoms took awhile to ramp up, but by the time he was diagnosed, he had completely fallen off his growth chart, was taking extremely long naps, and could barely manage the 4 flights of stairs up to our walk-up. Looking back at pictures of him, it seems so obvious ... but at the time, our pediatrician could always provide other reasons for Cy's symptoms. The week he was diagnosed, I knew something wasn't right and took him in for a sick visit and asked them to test him for everything. The very last test to come back was for celiac and the poor kid was off-the-charts positive. After an endoscopy to confirm the blood test also came back positive, we began our GF journey and haven't looked back since.

LLM: What did the transformation look like when Cy began eating gluten-free?

MN: It was amazing to see Cy really eat – to actually enjoy eating – and to act like a normal, energetic 2-yr old. He gained 1 pound per week for the first four weeks of being GF! From there, it didn't take long for me to dive headfirst into the world of gf baking. After trying a few mixes and not really being satisfied with the flavor and texture, I began baking GF from scratch. I found a few GF bloggers I liked and went from there ... discovering that there is way more to GF baking than just subbing glutinous flours for gluten-free ones. 

I've definitely had my share of flops in the kitchen, but what always keeps me going is wanting to be sure that my son (and now all the other GF folks I've met) never has to miss out on an opportunity or a kind of food. When he was younger, my focus was cupcakes and cake. I never wanted Cy to feel left out at a birthday party. Now, I focus on breads and am trying to figure out hot dog buns. I'm sure in a few years, I'll be focusing on the best GF dining halls at colleges across the country.

LLM: Do you have any tips for parents of GF kids to help make their children's school life a bit easier? Have you found a way to help your son feel just like the other kids on celebration days, field trips, etc.? 

MN: I really do enjoy being able to help parents who are navigating it for the first time because I remember how overwhelming it can be.

Figuring it all out was a MUCH bigger deal for me when my son was younger couldn't advocate for himself. At this point, he's about to graduate 8th grade and he's much better at speaking up on his own. If your child is younger, my biggest advice is to get as involved with the school as possible. Make friends with your child's teacher. If you have time, volunteer to be a room parent. The more you know what's going on in the classroom, the easier it will be for you to stay on top of class celebrations, field trips, etc. If you're able, be the parent that brings in treats for a holiday that way you know the treat is safe for your child and that your child will have the experience of enjoying the same treats as the rest of the class. 

I recommend a parent of a celiac child set up a 504 Plan for their kid. If your child attends a public school that receives support from the federal gov't for free or reduced meal plans, then you can file a 504 plan for your kid. A 504 plan is designed to help parents of students with physical or mental impairments in public schools, or publicly funded private schools, work with educators to design customized educational plans. These 504 plans legally ensure that students will be treated fairly at school; and celiac falls under the umbrella of conditions that must be recognized. There are loads of online resources to help you draft your plan, but the basic gist of it is that it puts the school on notice every year and with every teacher and every substitute that your child has celiac and can not eat or be exposed to gluten. In some school districts, the food service program will even provide GF meal options. Usually your gastroenterologist will help you draft your plan. (We've included a link here of a sample 504 plan that can help guide you from Celiac Disease Foundation, if you are doing it yourself.)

Make sure your child knows that he or she is not the only person with Celiac (or any dietary restriction) in the world. There are chapters of Raising Our Celiac Kids (ROCK) throughout the country and they can be a great resource as you search out other families with kids with Celiac. We also spent a lot of time letting our son know that although he can't eat gluten, he CAN eat dairy, he CAN eat eggs, he CAN eat nuts, etc. We took the time to point out to him that there are other kids who can't eat nuts, or can't eat eggs, etc. Everyone has something they can’t eat these days.

Oh, one more thing – you need to lose that feeling of being the annoying parent. Your kid deserves to enjoy him or herself as much as possible and experience as much as possible. Advocate, speak up, send emails, be annoying. It's the way to make things better for your kid and for kids that come through the school later. When we started at our local elementary, no one but the nurse seemed to know what celiac was. When we left, GF meal options were available in the lunchroom, teachers were reaching out to me with questions on how all students could be included in a celebration, and our 5th grade party had an entire section of GF food options available, and I didn’t even have to ask for them!

LLM: Do you have dinner-time tips for families who have both gluten-free and non-gluten free eaters ... to make life easier for the cook?

MN: I highly recommend making your kitchen 100% GF. Enjoy gluten food when dining out or with take-out, but do not cook two versions of meals. First of all, who has the time?! Second of all, there are just so many opportunities for mistakes – using the wrong cutting board, the wrong jar of mayo, the wrong toaster, etc. If you do choose to have a kitchen that contains both gluten and gluten-free foods, label everything very clearly and be sure that all guests who come into your kitchen know the rules about what pans/utensils/ etc are for what.

LLM: Any food-safety tips for someone who is new to gluten-free cooking? 

MN: Gluten likes to cling to certain surfaces like non-stick pans, wooden cutting boards, and colanders. You are best off getting rid of those entirely when you switch to a GF kitchen and buying new ones. Also, pay attention to cross-contamination. If you have a jar of jam, scoop into it and spread it on gluten bread, then dip back in for another scoop... that entire jar of jam is no longer safe for someone with celiac.

Also, pay attention to cross-contamination in the manufacturing process and read your labels!

And finally, remember that lots of foods are naturally GF. Fresh fruits and vegetables, cheeses, etc. 

LLM: One last question: What is your favorite gluten-free recipe? And why do you love it so much? Also, would you be willing to share it with us? 

MN: One of my favorite GF recipes is one I adapted from a gluten recipe... it's for a Dutch Baby. It's really just a fancy pancake, but a sweet treat on birthday mornings and so easy to make. I attached the recipe to this email and a few photos of it:


* 3 eggs 

* 3/4 cup gluten-free flour 

* 3/4 cup milk 

* 3/4 tsp vanilla extract
* 3 Tbsp unsalted butter

Place a 9" ovenproof saute pan in a cold oven. Preheat the oven (with the pan in it) to 450 degrees. While the oven & pan are heating, add the eggs, flour, milk & vanilla extract to a blender and blend on high for about 30 seconds. You want the mixture totally combined and even frothy, so scrape down the sides of the pitcher if you need to. 

Once the oven has come to temperature, remove the HOT pan from the oven. VERY IMPORTANT: USE A HOT PAD!!! Place your butter in the pan and watch it melt away. I sometimes even stick the pan back in the oven for a quick second to get the butter to brown a bit. 

While the butter is finishing melting, give your batter one more quick spin around the blender and then pour it all into the pan. Return the pan to the heated oven for 10 minutes. Give the pan a spin in the oven and bake for another 5-6 minutes more. It's really cool to see how the Dutch Baby puffs up as it bakes. You'll know it's done if it is nice and puffed up, is definitely browning on the edges, and is pulling away from the sides of your pan. 

Remove the pan from the oven (with the hot pad!) and let cool just slightly before sliding the Dutch Baby out of the pan to your serving plate. If there is any pooled up butter left in the pan, drizzle it over your Dutch Baby and serve.

MN: The Dutch Baby will deflate which always makes me sad, but it tastes so good that I just drown my sadness in Dutch Baby goodness. It is best straight out of the oven with a little jam, powdered sugar, or syrup. And, if you're feeling fancy, throw a dollop of fresh whipped cream on top. Enjoy!

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