Humming to herself behind a mound of chocolate chip cookies, Louise Dutton flattens the gluten-free batter for her miniature Key Lime pie crusts. Cocking her head towards the door as it opens, the baker/chef smiles and pokes her reading glasses higher up her nose. Her hands are gloved in dried dough.
"Are you hungry?" Dutton asks enthusiastically. "Because I'll feed you."
Affectionately nicknamed Weezie by her mother, Dutton opened the doors to Weezie's Kitchen in August and is eager to nourish people at her gluten-free bakery.
Giving up the wheat protein four years ago after being diagnosed with a gluten allergy, she understands the responsibility of declaring her cooking gluten-free. Lives depend on it, hers included.
Gluten is a protein that occurs naturally in grains like wheat, barley, and rye. For those like Dutton or who suffer from celiac disease, even the slightest amount of gluten can provoke life-threatening reactions. There is currently no cure and dietary aversion is the only known treatment.
From cheerios to cheesecake, gluten is found on almost every pantry shelf, which deems any dining experience a potential hazard for those with gluten allergies. Highly sensitive to gluten (she's had reactions to traces so minute they aren't recognized by the FDA), Dutton has to closely read all nutritional fine print. She's often surprised by the foods she finds that do contain gluten.
"I come across foods all the time [that contain gluten]," Dutton points out. "Recently I stumbled upon dried beans that said on the package 'may contain wheat.' I'm assuming it's just the equipment or [the brand] is trying to cover themselves. But hair care products, lipsticks, face creams, and toothpaste [can] even contain gluten -- you really do have to read every single label."
New to the gluten-free scene, Dutton only noticed her reaction to gluten four years ago when she got ill each time she came in contact with the protein. After losing an unhealthy amount of weight, Dutton went on an elimination diet to try to find the culprit. It was gluten.
"I cut the wheat out of my diet and I suddenly felt better. The doctors wanted me to go back on the wheat so they could get a diagnosis, but I refused. I'm never ever going back on it," Dutton says adamantly.