When cooking is your life and your husband is suddenly diagnosed with coeliac disease, what do you do? Tauranga author Sally Holland shares her journey from consummate cook to gluten-free gourmand, and the birth of her soon-to-be released gluten-free cookbook Goodbye Gluten.
In Sally and Bill Holland's 1930s central Tauranga house the kitchen is very much the heart of the home.
For as long as she can remember, Sally has loved to cook.
"My favourite toy when I was a little girl was a toy cake mixer. I used to make cakes out of flour, water and pink food colouring to share with my dolls," she laughs, leaning against the gleaming white countertop.
It was a sign of things to come.
After completing a Home Science Degree at Otago University, Sally's first job after graduating was in the New Zealand Woman's Weekly's Test Kitchen, working under iconic food editor Tui Flower.
She then travelled to the UK, cooking privately for wealthy families and at a finishing school for foreign students before returning to New Zealand where she took up a marketing role with the then Pork Marketing Board, helping to launch the 'trim pork' brand.
After moving to Tauranga to get married and start a family, she became a stay-at-home mum to Anna and Stephanie, running cooking classes at home in the evenings while Bill, ironically, took the girls out to McDonald's for dinner.
As the years passed and the girls grew up and left home, Sally continued to experiment with new recipes, sharing them with those lucky enough to be seated at their table.
However, eight years ago Bill was faced with a diagnosis that would challenge much of the knowledge she had gained about cooking over the years.
"At my annual medical check my iron level was found to be dangerously low. I had been feeling pretty tired but I put it down to getting older and just drove myself harder," says Bill, a prominent Tauranga lawyer and community stalwart.
Referred to a specialist, he was told that there were two possible explanations - cancer or coeliac disease.
"I thought at the time, I don't know what coeliac disease is but I sure hope I've got it!" he quips
Testing revealed Bill did in fact have coeliac disease, a diagnosis that was met by Sally with both relief and trepidation.
The good news was that coeliac disease was completely treatable, but the bad news was that treatment was a lifelong gluten-free diet.
"Gluten is what gives flour its elasticity and its ability to hold together," Sally explains.
"Gluten-free cooking, especially baking, can be very challenging and has a reputation for being dry, crumbly and unpalatable."
Not wanting to give up her love of cooking and entertaining, Sally enthusiastically took up the challenge of creating delicious gluten-free food that everyone would want to eat.
Wanting to share her knowledge with others sentenced to a life of gluten-free eating, a vision grew to write a cookbook that would combine both gourmet dishes and everyday favourites, also catering for special occasions such as Christmas and children's birthday parties.
Gluten-free cooking, especially baking, can be very challenging and has a reputation for being dry, crumbly and unpalatable.
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Drawing on her Test Kitchen experience, through trial and error she tested and re-tested 90 recipes to perfection, until they tasted as good, if not better, than their gluten counterparts, and Goodbye Gluten was born.Goodbye Gluten was a collaboration with Tauranga photographer Tracy Stamatakos and Tauranga designer Laura Willoughby, to create a book that is as beautiful as it is delicious. The aim was to achieve a French farmhouse aesthetic.
Central to the success and ease of Sally's fail-safe recipes is the development of her own gluten-free flour mix, which is made from four easily accessible ingredients that can be found in most supermarket bulk bins.
"Not all gluten-free flours are created equal," says Sally, effortlessly whipping up a batch of herb and cheese muffins.
"They can be a mix of a dozen or so different flours, with a host of additives. There is no guarantee that one flour will work across the board. All my recipes have been perfected using the same flour mix, so that you get consistent, tasty results every time."
This is something that Bill is happy to vouch for, describing his role as chief taster as "a gift".
"When I was first diagnosed, not many people were aware of gluten and there were very few gluten-free options available. Most of the early gluten-free products, like bread, were absolutely dreadful. I was really lucky being married to a wonderful cook.
"Sally has always had an absolute passion for food and from the time we found out about my problem she has always made me the most delicious gluten-free food," he says.
"Before I was diagnosed, my favourite dish was a French dessert called clafoutis, which consists of fruit, such as cherries or feijoas, covered in a delicious sweet batter and then baked. Sally experimented with different flours and now her gluten-free clafoutis is just as good as before," he smiles.
It could be said that Sally's love of cooking has come full circle.
Her father, Rudd Aitchison, who sadly passed away while she was writing Goodbye Gluten, and to whom she has dedicated its pages, was also passionate about food.
He was one of the first foodies. He used to bring home treats, like crayfish and gourmet cheeses, and cook dinner for us all.
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It was his influence that ignited her passion for cooking, which has now been shaped by the other significant man in her life.
"I am so proud of Sally. All our friends know she has always been a most wonderful cook and a wonderful host. She has such an interest in food and recipe books - of which she has dozens - are her favourite reading. Having to eat gluten-free can be a real nuisance but Sally has made things so much easier for me. She really does produce the most superb dishes and she was keen for others to enjoy them too," says Bill.
"Writing this book has been a huge challenge for her. Deciding which recipes to include, testing the recipes to make sure that they all worked and then the mechanics of actually producing the book has been a huge exercise.
"This book is of such quality that it would sit very comfortably as a coffee table book.
"Sally is just so clever and I am her biggest fan."
* Goodbye Gluten retails for $55 and will be launched in early December. Pre-orders can be made by emailing: email@example.com