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Cookbook shares holiday recipes geared toward those with an autoimmune disease

"I love the holidays, and I'm a real foodie in general," says the LIC-based author, who has rheumatoid arthritis.

Gingerbread squares, featured in the new cookbook "Enjoy!"

Gingerbread squares, featured in the new cookbook "Enjoy!" Photo Credit: Annika Schimmer

Annika Schimmer knows firsthand how hard the holidays can be for people with restrictive diets.

The Long Island City health coach and dance instructor has an autoimmune disease (rheumatoid arthritis) and for over three years has eliminated a laundry list of foods from her diet to live symptom-free (including grains, gluten, legumes, dairy, nightshades and refined sugar).

In her new cookbook, “Enjoy!: Healthy Festive Meals for You and Your Loved Ones” ($29.95 at enjoycookbook.com), she shares more than 50 recipes plus tips for getting through special events without feeling deprived.

“I love the holidays, and I’m a real foodie in general,” says Schimmer, 34, who graduated last year from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, an online nutrition school based in New York. “It was really important always for me to recreate dishes that I love because I just didn’t want to give up delicious foods even though I had food restrictions.”

Schimmer knew there were others like herself who might seek out grain- and gluten-free bread or biscuits, dairy-free soups or paleo desserts. When working on the cookbook, she had in mind people who also have an autoimmune disease and follow the autoimmune protocol, or AIP. That naturally means a lot of recipes that are gluten-, dairy-, soy, egg- and nut-free, covering a swath of common food intolerances and allergies.

“I meet a lot of people with food restrictions — I naturally attract them,” she says with a laugh. “I want to show them that there’s so much more out there, and you really don’t have to suffer and feel deprived.”

Day-to-day, a restrictive diet can be easy to follow. But the holidays pose challenges. Schimmer finds that people either stick to their diets and are “miserable watching everybody else eat your favorite childhood foods and meanwhile you have to nibble on a carrot,” or cave and eat it anyway “and have to suffer the consequences.”

For those who are new to a restrictive diet, Schimmer recommends advance planning. That might mean calling ahead of a friend’s potluck to see what kinds of mains and sides will be served to see what you can eat, and bringing a dish you can eat as well based on the menu “so at least you know you have something to eat.” If it’s unclear what will be served, “my best tip is to eat before you go,” she says. “The worst thing you can do is go somewhere and be hungry and then there’s only celery and carrots for you. That’s happened to me many times.” Of course, you can also host your own party so you’re in complete control of the menu, she adds.

Even those who don’t have a restrictive diet due to an intolerance or illness might find use out of “Enjoy!,” Schimmer says.

“It’s kind of a time where people tend to overeat and gain weight, not feel good, feel bloated,” she says. “And it really doesn’t have to be like that.”

Gingerbread squares recipe 

One of Schimmer’s most popular recipes is for gingerbread squares. “When I bring it to a party, it’s the first dish to always go,” she says. Schimmer ran a version of the recipe on her blog, 50 Shades of Avocado, and includes an updated version that substitutes eggs in her cookbook.

  • 1/2 cup canned coconut milk, full fat
  • 1 banana
  • 2 tbsp. coconut oil
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 eggs, pasture-raised (1/2 cup apple sauce without added sugar on AIP, and egg free)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract (alcohol-free)
  • 1 cup tapioca flour
  • 1/3 cup coconut flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 3 tsp. cinnamon
  • 2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1 tsp. cardamom (omit on AIP)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Combine the liquid ingredients (coconut milk, banana, coconut oil, honey, eggs and vanilla) in a blender and mix until smooth.

3. In a separate medium size bowl combine all the remaining dry ingredients using a whisk.

4. Add the flour/spice mix into the liquid mix and blend until you have a smooth batter.

5. Pour into a small square cake or brownie pan and bake for 30 minutes in the middle of the oven.

6. Let it cool off, cut into squares and enjoy!

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