Holiday Traditions: Revamping Candy Cane Cookies

When life hands you lemons, make cookies.

Last week was difficult for our family. We attended our second funeral in three weeks. This time it was a classmate of my daughter’s whom we’ve known since Kindergarten and who just graduated with my daughter in June from high school. It was heartbreaking because she was a friend and so young, but it also brought out other emotions in my daughter who was hit two months ago today by a car and survived.

As I’ve wrestled with my own emotions, I wondered, “What do you do when the lemons you’re being handed are just too tart for making lemonade?” There isn’t enough sweetener in the world to turn such an event into anything other than what it is — a tragedy.

In the midst of our sad week, one of my sister-in-laws emailed me, asking about cookies which I used to make years ago — peppermint candy cane cookies. I hadn’t made them in a long time because I had found that substituting for the powdered sugar and cutting back on the butter really did affect the cookies.

This week, however, I decided that sometimes you just have to relax the standards a bit, because when people say, “Life is short,” it may be shorter than we anticipate. So, I adapted the recipe to be dairy and gluten free but still with sugar and fat. My thinking now is that sometimes we are given lemons, not so we can learn how to make lemonade when life is tough, but so we will be reminded to stop and make cookies with our children.

Peppermint Candy Cane Cookies


1 1/2 cup powdered sugar*

1 1/4 cup Earth Balance soy and dairy free butter**

1 egg at room temperature

1 tsp peppermint extract

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 cups gluten free flour blend (use a brown rice version like King Arthur’s or Authentic Foods)

3/4 cup sorghum flour

1/4 tsp salt

red gel food color

Baking Instructions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line flat cookie sheets with parchment paper.

2. In a mixer, mix powdered sugar, butter, egg, and the peppermint and vanilla extracts, beating just until well mixed and creamy.

3. Mix the gluten free flour blend and the sorghum flour and salt. Add to the wet mixture and mix just until well blended.

4. Divide the dough in half and add a drop or two of the red gel food color to one of the halves.

5. To make the cookies, roll one tsp of each color, white and red, into straight strands. Then twist the two strands together and curve the top to look like a candy cane.

6. Place the cookies on the lined cookie sheets with enough room for some spreading, and bake for 8 to 12 minutes until they are puffed and beginning to harden. (Time will vary depending on your oven and the size of the cookies, which inevitably will get bigger as your children continue to make the cookies!)

7. Cool the cookies on the cookie sheet on a wire rack for a couple of minutes before removing them to the wire cooling rack to completely cool.

8. Store cookies in a container lined with waxed or parchment paper or a paper towel.

* If you want to avoid using sugar, you can make your own powdered sugar out of Truvia or coconut sugar. You simply process either in a food processor until it’s powdery like powdered sugar and then substitute your version into the recipe. I have found, though, that this does affect the taste and texture of these cookies, though.

** You can cut the butter in half for this recipe if you really do need to watch your fat intake. The cookies just won’t be as buttery or puffed.




Handling Holidays: Serving the Meal

website serving meal

“Umm… did you just use my scoop?”

We were having a lovely gathering at our home of friends over the summer, complete with ice cream sundaes, when I realized that one of our guest’s children was using my scoop to get herself some ice cream.

For most folks, using another person’s scoop doesn’t seem like a big deal, but when you have a serious allergy to dairy and cross-contamination can potentially kill you, you tend to be a bit less friendly about “sharing”. Fortunately, I caught the “sharing” in action and was able to wash the scoop before using it for myself.

Holiday meals can be a bear when it comes to potential cross-contamination.  Even if you’ve planned ahead as I had that summer evening with a different scoop for my nondairy frozen dessert which was sitting off to the side of everyone else’s “real” ice cream, you never know when someone might accidentally upset your best laid plans.

So, what can you do?  Some suggestions:

1.  Definitely do plan ahead:  If you’re hosting, decide whether you’re going to avoid cross-contamination by simply making everything allergen friendly.  When I’m entertaining in my own home, I usually just make foods which I can eat which everyone else will enjoy, too.  Then I don’t need to worry.

If there are some foods, however, that you do want to make for your guests which you can’t eat or vice versa, then decide how many of those you’ll make and plan how you’ll separate them from the rest of the food.  Some options:

a. Put allergen free food in similar dishes and the other food in different dishes so you can point out to folks which are which.  I have round and rectangular dishes so it’s easy for folks to know which foods they should be careful to avoid contaminating.

b. Label the food.  Put little index cards in front of the food which tells folks what the dish is free of or contains.  The additional advantage to this is that if you have folks with a variety of allergies, they can see with a quick glance what they can and can’t eat.

c.  Put the food on different tables.  If you have available table space, put allergen free food on one table and the rest on another so folks can go to both tables separately to get their food.

2.  Educate:  Sometimes folks just don’t know how dangerous it can be for them to switch the serving spoons on you.  Take a minute to just explain that folks need to be careful to put the same spoon back into each dish because it would be a great service to your health for them to do so. I’ve found that folks are understanding once they know the potential consequences and take better care about how they serve themselves.

3.  If you’re going to someone else’s home for the holidays, be pro-active: Find out if the host is going to be making food you can eat, and if so, ask them if they could follow some of the above suggestions for your and the other guests’ benefit.

If you’re going to contribute a dish of your own, make sure to both label it and point out to folks at the dinner that it is a special dish made to be allergy friendly, and bring a serving utensil that is “different” to go with it. Maybe it’s an unusual color or a non-traditional size or one that matches the serving dish.  Give folks a way to recognize that that particular serving utensil needs to be used with your particular dish only.

4. Watch the children: In most cases, as with my summer gathering, it’s the little ones who don’t realize, because they are after all just little. So be sure to keep an eye on them. Enlist the help of the other adults to help serve the children and to watch the children who can serve themselves. At a certain age, the children can be told, too, about being careful, because if the food allergy is explained, children tend to be rather caring about not wanting to hurt anyone.

5. Practice avoidance in the absence of information:  Many times folks will bring a dish or purchase a dish and not know exactly what specific ingredients are, but they’ll tell you generally that it is something you can eat.  Don’t.  It’s as simple as that.   I’ve had times when folks have actually fished out an ingredient label from the trash for me and discovered that, yes, five of the six ingredients are fine, but there was that last ingredient that was deadly.

6. Be prepared:  Sometimes, because you’re in your own home or because you’re going to a trusted home which you’ve been to many times, you don’t necessarily think about keeping your Epi-Pen close by.  You just never know.  As with the little incident at my house over the summer, accidents happen.  Always be prepared and keep whatever you need, whether it’s the Epi-Pen or benadryl or the emergency phone number, close by within easy reach.  Better to be prepared than sorry.

Berry Oat Bars

These are favorite with folks I know.  I can’t make enough of them, they get eaten so quickly!


2 cups gluten free whole grain oats

2 cups gluten free flour blend (I use garbanzo bean and brown rice flour)

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp salt

1/3 cup Truvia or coconut sugar

3/4 cup vegan “butter”

3 tbsp Agave divided

15 oz Polaner All Fruit with Fiber (your choice of flavor)

Baking Instructions:

1.  Line a 9 x 13 pan with parchment paper so there are “wings” hanging over the edges, and preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

2.  Mix together the oats, flour, cinnamon, salt and Truvia or coconut sugar in a large bowl.

3.  Put the “butter” into the oat mixture in pieces and use a pastry blender to cut the butter into the oat mixture until it’s crumbly and the butter is incorporated into the mixture.

4.  Remove about 1/3 of the mixture and put it aside for the topping.

5.  To the remaining 2/3 of the oat mixture, add 2 tbsp of Agave and mix it well.  Pat this into the bottom of the 9 x 13 pan to form a crust.

6.  Spread the Polaner All Fruit carefully over the crust.  (We’ve made raspberry, strawberry, apricot, blueberry, etc….) 

7.  Add the remaining 1 tbsp of Agave to the remaining 1/3 oat mixture and mix it up until the mixture is moist but still crumbly.  Evenly distribute the mixture over the top of the all fruit.  You will have open spots of jam showing.  This is fine.

8.  Bake in the preheated oven for about 30-40 minutes.  The oats will be golden brown and the jam bubbly.

9.  Remove from the oven and put the pan onto a wire cooling rack.  It’s very important that you allow the bars to completely cool.

10.  Once the bars are completely cooled, you can carefully remove them from the pan using the parchment paper and cut them into the desired size, or you can cut them directly in the pan and remove them one by one.