Sully resident turns medical hardship into a sweet success

A complete dietary overhaul seven years in the making has led Sully resident Molly Foster to pursue a dream of owning her own business and helping others. Gluten Free For Me, Sully’s newest in-home bakery, specializes in gluten-free baked goods geared to meet the sweet-tooth needs of a special audience whose tastebuds yearn for a treat that is not only delicious but also easy on their bodies.

Operating a bakery from her home was never on the radar for Molly, whose work experience has mainly been in the dental field. Rather, it’s a dream that has evolved following a frightening time for the Foster family and the discovery of a need among a special niche of people.

Nearly seven years ago, Molly and her husband Josh were desperate for answers as their daughter Clara, then 16 months old, was very ill with bloating, constipation, vomiting, and weight loss. Clara was admitted to Blank Children’s Hospital where doctors ran tests to discover what was causing her little body such trouble. Two days of inpatient care led to the diagnosis of Celiac Disease. At the time, Molly and Josh knew nothing about the disease. They quickly found out it was an autoimmune disease that caused Clara’s body to react and fight when she ate gluten and in turn, damage her small intestine. If left untreated, Celiac Disease may lead to malnutrition, damage to the gut, and hundreds of other symptoms including cancer. The diagnosis brought some relief as the parents finally knew what was causing havoc on Clara’s system, but it also brought plenty of uncertainty and frustration as they realized their entire lifestyle needed to change.

 

The Foster family of Sully, clockwise from far left - Josh, Preston, Molly, and Clara.

Molly first started Clara’s road to recovery by completely revamping her family’s diet.

The Fosters were told the only treatment for Celiac Disease is to maintain a very strict gluten-free diet, and that is exactly what they set out to do. They learned even cross-contamination can cause damage if a person is not careful with how food is prepared. The Fosters replaced all of their kitchen dishes, bakeware, and utensils and were advised to eat out only at establishments where food could be safely prepared for someone with Celiac Disease. A simple trip to the grocery store was anything but simple as Molly had to buy only ingredients which her daughter’s body could handle. “I remember the first time going grocery shopping and breaking down into tears because I was so unsure of what to buy for her to eat,” said Molly. She has since found Hy-Vee offers a great selection of gluten-free foods.

Once the Fosters changed their personal eating habits, they immediately saw change within Clara. “She started to thrive and within one year, her bloodwork was normal and her body was not attacking any longer,” Molly said.

It turns out the dietary change wasn’t only benefitting Clara, but Molly as well. Clara isn’t the only one battling Celiac Disease in the Foster household. Doctors said Celiac Disease is genetic and recommended that Molly and Josh both get tested. Molly’s bloodwork and biopsy came back positive, putting her in the same camp as Clara. Since her testing, it’s also been discovered that Molly’s two sisters, maternal grandmother, and a niece have all tested positive for Celiac Disease. “I was relieved because I knew that my daughter wasn’t alone with this any longer,” said Molly.

Molly's first month of official business started off very busy with many orders placed.

With Molly right alongside Clara every step of the way, both as her protective mother and a fellow Celiac Disease fighter, she was on a mission to completely eliminate gluten from the Foster home. The family tried product after product of gluten-free items only to be disappointed by the texture or taste. Finding very little on the market that satisfied their tastebuds, Molly started experimenting in her kitchen. She’s always loved baking and cooking so it wasn’t a stretch to spend time in the kitchen. Her time in the kitchen turned into a more meaningful mission given she was now tasked with feeding her family food they would not only tolerate, but enjoy. Molly relied on her own trial and error as well as recipes from friends and those she found through research to determine what worked and what did not. Soon, Molly was able to perfect her gluten-free recipes and often shared her goodies with friends and family.

“I started giving some of my baked goods to friends who regularly eat gluten, and they could not tell a difference between my goodies and the gluten-filled ones!” said Molly. With that kind of compliment, Molly looked for ways to share her talent, acknowledging that living a gluten-free lifestyle isn’t always easy.

Gluten-free for a young child like Clara means having to pass on classroom treats and parties. Even playing with play-dough or paper mache can put a child suffering from Celiac Dis-ease at risk due to the chance of cross-contamination. To help Clara, Molly has baked cupcakes to keep in the freezer at school so the young girl can enjoy treats on special occasions, just like her classmates.

As an adult, Molly has found Celiac Disease difficult to navigate as well. Passing on breakroom treats, the lack of safe foods at concession stands, or the difficulties of finding a gluten-free restaurant for a night off from the kitchen are just a few of the frustrations adults with Celiac Disease face. “When we do find a place with gluten-free options, we have to pay extra money for smaller portions and trust that the person preparing your food understands the risk,” explained Molly. “If a Celiac is contaminated, it can cause severe sickness lasting weeks. Also, it can cause months of healing in your gut and throw off blood work levels showing exposure.”

Molly’s experience with Celiac herself, both as an adult and for her young child, really prompted her to pursue the dream of opening a bakery featuring products that are safe for those suffering from the disease. At the start, Molly started sharing her baked goods with her gluten-free loved ones and friends. “It blessed my heart to be able to provide for these people who normally have to go without. These people were so grateful, and it was almost an emotional reaction in which they wanted to share their stories with me. There is a connection there because they feel safe in knowing my goodies are safe,” said Molly.

When the pandemic hit, Molly really started pursuing her dream. “While other people could pick up food at drop-off locations or have a meal delivered to the doorsteps, there were no safe options around our area,” said Molly. She spent hours researching what she needed to do that would allow her home kitchen to pass inspection to become a licensed bakery. Her efforts paid off, and she passed the inspection with no problem. The timing also coincided well with Molly’s new position as a dental assistant at Red Rock Endodontics in Pella. Working part-time in Pella allowed her the time she needed to start the bakery.

  

Gluten Free For Me officially opened this fall on Oct. 6. With a passed inspection and license in hand, Molly started offering a wide range of gluten-free baked goods, such as cinnamon rolls, frosted cupcakes, pumpkin bars, and cookies. By far, the cinnamon rolls have been a number-one seller, but you cannot go wrong with any of the treats produced in Molly’s gluten-free kitchen. “My first month was extremely busy,” said Molly. “The reviews I have gotten from customers who ordered the cinnamon rolls have been awesome!”

Delivery of Molly’s gluten-free baked goods is available for an additional cost. She’s received orders locally and from satisfied customers who live in Pella, Grinnell, and West Des Moines. For more information and to view prices, visit the Facebook page Gluten Free For Me by Molly. Orders can be placed (two weeks in advance of date needed) on her Facebook page, by calling Molly at 319-404-5055, or send an email to glutenfreeformebymolly@gmail.com. Her baked goods can also be purchased at Esther & Company, LLC, a modern-day mercantile featuring local goods located on the north side of the Newton square.

Molly specializes in gluten-free baked goods, and she notes expanding to include dairy-free products may be on the horizon.

When Molly is not in the kitchen, she enjoys spending time with her family: Josh, 14-year-old son Preston, and Clara, who is now eight years old. Molly and Josh both love the little town of Sully they have called home since moving from Newton three years ago. Josh is a member of Sully City Council and can be found playing live music at Van Wijk Winery on occasion. Living a gluten-free lifestyle isn’t always easy, but Molly has learned so much over the years and has found and developed delicious recipes to nourish and satisfy her family. Her new business allows her to share her talents with others who have special dietary needs, and it’s a cause she puts her whole heart into. Contact Molly today and get your holiday orders in for delicious baked goods the whole family can enjoy!

Featured image: Sugar cookie decorating kits and pumpkin bars are just a few of the tasty baked goods Molly Foster makes in her dedicated gluten-free kitchen.

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