Gluten-free? Not me!

This morning we gave you a taste of what Chelsea Clinton’s wedding cake looked like. The 500-pound confectionery colossus got its own headlines when it was revealed that it was gluten-free. If pastry were political, Chelsea’s bakers could have worn T-shirts that read: No wheat plants were harmed in the baking process.

Since I don’t know anyone who went to the wedding, I can’t say how Chelsea’s cake tasted. But if it was anything like my parents’ 50th-anniversary cake, pass me the Sara Lee.

I have a pretty good idea about gluten-free eating, because my mom has celiac disease. To put it simply, her body can’t handle the gluten from wheat products. She’s had to cut out everything from wheat-based breads and pastas to vitamins and soy sauce. But, most tragically, her beloved Mallomars had to bite the dust. For the Mallomar-uninitiated, they are chocolate-covered marshmallow cookies, easy to dismantle. Think Oreos on steroids.

To keep from being contaminated by a single crumb from my voracious appetite for loaves of anything with complex (or even easy-to-understand) carbohydrates, my mom has her own jars of peanut butter and jelly. And like in a clean room at NASA, she has own special, segregated toaster.

When Mom was first diagnosed with celiac, there were almost no baked goods safe for her to eat. Now even the local pizza joint has gone gluten-free.

Which brings me to my parents’ 50th-anniversary soiree: Dad went whole hog. OK, that’s a metaphor. No hog: chicken gumbo and some very highly sauced veggies instead.

Dad unearthed the pink silk-embossed menu from my parents’ wedding at New York’s Tavern on the Green in 1960. It was the height of the Tavern’s somewhat tacky swankiness: The final course was the vanilla/vanilla wedding cake — chock-full, no doubt, with very refined wheat gluten. Dad says he can’t even remember if food was served. Mom carefully preserved the cake topper for half a century. She remembers all.


The updated 2010 version of the cake had to take in account not only Mom's celiac, but my sister’s allergies to dairy and my nephew’s and brother-in-law’s type 1 diabetes. No wheat, no milk, no sugar. And no taste.

The icing had the consistency of chewing gum that had hardened on the underside of a grade-school desk for a few generations. The cake part was as dry as a Russian grain field. It was a cake in name only.

Nonetheless, I plan on honoring my parents and their cake: My thought is to make it the first donation to the Museum of Food Intolerance. Perhaps Chelsea Clinton will give us a slice of her cake for the collection too.

Stephanie Becker is a TODAY producer in Burbank, Calif.