Gift-giving flourishes in this season of Mother’s and Father’s Days. But ever get a gift that reflected the giver’s personality more than yours, – such as a hot wheels car from your son, a stuffed animal from your daughter, or a CD that just happens to be by your spouse’s new favorite band? It’s not that they don’t love you, it’s just that thoughtful gift-giving requires just that – thought. Coming up with ideas for gifts that the recipient actually needs and desires can be difficult. It takes seeing the world through the recipient’s eyes. And this usually requires actively investigating someone else’s interest or need of which you currently know very little. Thoughtful investigation is the story behind Holly Beach’s gifts of gluten-free breads to people suffering from celiac disease.

Celiac disease is a genetic digestive disorder that affects approximately 1 out of every 133 Americans. It is classified as an auto-immune disease because ingestion of the protein, gluten, causes the body’s immune cells to attack and damage the villi of the small intestine. Villi are the millions of microscopic, finger-like projections that line the small intestine and absorb newly-digested nutrients into the blood stream. Without villi, a well-fed person literally starves to death because food in the intestine never reaches the rest of the body. The only cure for celiac disease is a gluten-free diet. And this diet’s difficulty is where all the trouble lay.

You see, most of the breads, cereals, pastas, beer, and processed foods that comprise the average American’s diet contain gluten. Bakers love gluten because this protein makes baked goods rise and gives them elasticity and chewiness. It’s a textured taste we all love. Baking foods without gluten that people actually want to eat is a real challenge.

This challenge was dropped on Holly Beach’s door of her Rochester, MN bakery. Holly’s bakery was frequented by staff and patients at the Mayo Clinic. A surprising number of bakery visitors asked Holly for gluten-free bread. They told Holly what gluten did to them, describing their symptoms such as stomach cramps, diarrhea, chronic fatigue, rashes, depression, irritability, and joint pain. Rather than turn them away, Holly set herself to creating bread recipes that used alternative flours, – flours such as amaranth, rice, and montina, – flours not easily amenable to fluffy, chewy bread. Batch after batch Holly fiddled with ingredients and proportions. Finally her effort paid off in a variety of gluten-free, delicious breads and baked goods which she then sold in her bakery and directly to the Mayo Clinic.

Most Mayo clinic patients live outside Minnesota, and when they returned home they’d call Holly and ask her to send them her bread. That’s when Holly entered the bakery mail-order business. She now sells her baked goods through the web distributor, sells only artisanal products made in Wisconsin.

So how did Holly get to Wisconsin? In 2004, she agreed to split a truck-load of wheat with the owners of Madison’s Bread Barn Bakery located at 7866 Mineral Point Rd. About a year later, she bought the Bread Barn, moved to Madison, and now, under Holly and her husband, Miguel’s, management, her Silly Yak (for celi ac) Bakery and the Bread Barn share bakers, oven-space, and customers.

But man does not live by bread alone. Sufferers of celiac disease need more than just gluten-free bread. So Holly and Miguel also offer gluten-free pastas, cereals, and beer. YES! – BEER! After all, the Silly Yak Bakery is in WISCONSIN. And among the varieties of gluten-free beers in the bakery’s cooler is Wisconsin’s own, Lakefront Brewery’s Grist Beer – a gold medal winner at the 2006 Great American Beer Festival!

But when I met Holly and Miguel, they weren’t relaxing with brewskies. They were busy selling breads – with and without gluten – at the Middleton Farmer’s Market. It was Thursday. On Saturday, they’ll be at the Dane County Farmers’ Market on the Square.


As I talked with them, my son, Dave, was eying their Italian pull-apart bread topped with melted cheese. I asked Holly about her best sellers. She said the pull-apart bread goes fast, as well as the jalapeno. “People love the cinnamon swirl because it makes great French toast,” she added. But her personal favorite is the Dakota bread – it’s a multi-grain bread loaded with nuts and seeds. That’s my favorite too.

This month, however, the gluten-free hamburger, brat and hot dog buns and rolls are in demand for graduation parties. They’ll be a regular purchase for summer barbecue lovers.

We said good-bye to Holly and Miguel and took our loaves of Italian pull-apart bread and cinnamon swirl to the car. The pull-apart bread didn’t make it home intact; – Dave and I consumed 1/4 of it before we even started the car. It could have become a new car snack, but no one was willing to leave it in the car. Lauren devoured pieces of it for after-school snack, dessert after dinner, and this morning’s breakfast. It was a big loaf; there’s still some left. But if Lauren dawdles on the way home from school…well, there will always be a granola bar for her somewhere.


If the Silly Yak Bakery isn’t in your neighborhood, you can order Holly’s baked goods through

ter this offer code: FBLOG with any order and you’ll receive $5.00 off. Offer expires May 31, 2008.

Here are some more Silly Yak Bakery/Bread Barn pics: