Monday, November 26, 2007

Tis the season for gluten....

I hope you all not only survived, but thoroughly enjoyed the Thanksgiving holiday - and that you were able to stay healthy in the process. I ate too much fabulous gluten free food and made my favorite pie crust ever! I decided to try the Breads by Anna pie crust and it was out of this world. You need to cover it with foil 20 minutes into the baking time but besides that, it's very similar to a gluten crust. Even though it's a dairy free mix and does not call for butter - it was flaky! Not sure how that happened but I won't ever try another gluten free pie crust, besides this one, again.

So now that the holiday season is in full swing, I've been thinking about the many little things that happen during this time, that can make the life of someone who is living gluten free, pretty annoyed and/or depressed. Things like there are cookies in the breakroom at work every other day that are not gluten free, and work lunch celebrations at places that don't offer gluten free menus or any gluten free food besides a bland salad. Here is what I suggest you do, to keep from feeling left out of all the holiday cheer and gluten filled gluttony. Think about what treats you enjoy and then make several things to keep in the freezer, to be plucked out on your way to work when you know there will be something going there - for which no food will be provided for you. This could be brownies, fudge, a cake, cookies - whatever you like! If you don't bake, then get some ready made gluten free things like Whole Foods GF Bakehouse chocolate chip cookies or even one of their pies. My husband who can eat gluten if he wants to, is addicted to their gingersnap cookies! I don't even like this type of cookie but I think the gluten free version is fabulous. The important thing is you need to have something tasty ready to grab, in case you feel left out in any given social situation, this holiday season.

If you're going shopping with friends, remember to pack snacks in your purse. When they want to stop for coffee and grab a cinnamon bun, you'll be able to enjoy right along with them. Of course, this is a rule I follow all year long - not just during the holidays. I wouldn't dream of meeting my gluten eating friends for coffee without packing a scrumptious treat in my bag. I actually rarely even eat what I bring - but it's knowing that it's there, in case I want it, that's important.

I was at a holiday business lunch today and had a little homemade fudge with some hot tea after the meal. I never order dessert at lunch but my fudge was left over from Thanksgiving weekend and it was the perfect end to my meal. Some people are too timid to take food into restaurants, worrying that the staff or Chef will be offended. Here is what I have to say about that - when they start offering me more than ice cream or sorbet for dessert, and gluten free bread or crackers - then and only then will I stop taking food into their establishments.

Did you know that in many restaurants in Ireland have you two types of bread? Yes - they offer you gluten free or regular bread....just like servers here offer you water in a restaurant. Also, in Sweeden, some places have separate pastry cases for their gluten free goodies. When we had Afternoon Tea at The Dorchester Hotel in London last year, the sandwiches were made with homemade gluten free bread that I've yet to find anything like in the states. The bread was so good that we were sure it wasn't gluten free - but it was. This is just simply not okay with me and the other several million gluten free people in the US. Until things change over here, our community is not going to stop pushing for change.

Okay - back to the holidays and navigating them safely gluten free. When you're invited to parties, ask the hosts in advance what is being served. If there isn't going to be much, or anything for you to eat, let them know you'll be bringing your own food. Then share your food with others unless you have way more than you need to get full on yourself. Remember most of the other guests will have plenty to nibble on. And don't put your dish on the main table or others will get crumbs in it, rendering it unsafe for you to eat from again. I usually find there is a cheese tray so if I take my own crackers - if the gluten crackers are in a separate basket of course. If you are worried about offending your hosts with your specials requests, all I can say is don't be. If people really want me at their party, they will do a little something to accomodate me or I won't go - it's that simple. I would do it for them and if they don't feel the same way - I probably shouldn't be spending time with them in the first place. Life is too short to hang out with people who aren't considerate of your needs....way too short.

Attending the company holiday party....oh how stressful this can be. Last year was my first gluten free holiday season so I had to ask HR at my husband's work if any of the food served at the holiday party was gluten free. Luckily Wolfgang Puck Catering does the party food at the GA Aquarium and they had plenty of great food for me to eat. I had to skip the pasta bar and rolls, but I had chicken, beef, shrimp, rice, salad a few other things. They didn't have much in the way of gluten free desserts (only ice cream or sorbet) so I snuck in a little chocolate pecan bark I'd made the night before. My husband was thought the chocolate was going to be confiscated but apparently the metal detector didn't have a chocolate x-ray coponent to!

In the end, I thoroughly enjoyed the party including the food, and I must say that seeing the Aquarium at night without a zillion kids running around was THE WAY to see it! I have to admit that I found it quite hilarious that with about 2200 people at the party, I was the only one who inquired about the gluten status of the food. I felt really lucky since about 22 of those other attendees have Celiac and just don't know it yet. And that's not counting the gluten intolerant set. If you add them in, you might be looking at almost 50 people....all eating gluten at a party and some of them going home and not feeling well and not knowing why. And many others are 'silent' Celiacs. They have no outwward symptoms - they are the ones I really feel sorry for. They have no way of knowing what damage they are doing to their bodies every day, unless they get an intestinal cancer that their Celiac caused. Hopefully one day routine Celiac testing will be the norm here, like it is in many countries.

I'll admit that this is the season of a lot of gluten, but if you take the time to plan accordingly, you can enjoy yourself and a lot of gluten free treats as well. And sometimes it's nice to eat something decadent and not share it with others. Let someone else see how it feels to do without for a change. Heck - it might even do them good. Most people don't mean to be inconsiderate - they just don't go around thinking about our food intolerances, just like we didn't do that when we ate gluten. But if you're lucky like me, and have friends that go out of their way to accomodate your dietary needs - well those are the friends you want to keep close to your heart. Those friends are 'keepers'!

Happy holidays everyone - and good luck staying gluten free in this gluten filled world of ours!

Friday, November 2, 2007

Surviving your first gluten free Thanksgiving

I'm going to share a secret that I'm not proud of with you - I moved my biopsy (looking for evidence of Celiac) out a month, just so I could have one last holiday season without having to figure out how to make the food gluten free. The thought of having to learn what gluten free meant, and survive the holidays all at the same time was just too overwhelming. My only outward symptom of Celiac was anemia - hence I had no energy so I wanted to start anew in January, and that is exactly what I did. By the time my first gluten free Thanksgiving rolled around, I was a bit of a gluten free pro, and I not only enjoyed the entire holiday season - I enjoyed it more than I had in years, since I felt better than I had in years.

The first thing I checked on was the turkey. Though you might think that's silly - how could there be gluten in turkey, right? Well, I don't know, but gluten hides in so many things, it's better to be safe than sorry. And when a Butterball customer service person told me there was corn gluten in their frozen turkeys, so I should stick to their fresh ones, it was fairly unsettling. Yes, corn contains a certain gluten, but not the kind people with Celiac have to avoid. You can see how daunting one's first gluten free Thanksgiving can be, when you can't get correct information from the Butterball hot line - they are after all the turkey experts. Well, apparently not as it pertains to gluten. Of course, you have to throw out the gravy packet that comes with the turkey, but the turkey itself is gluten free, as are most other turkeys (but not all) you'll find on the market today.

Okay - now we've got our meat pinned down as safe, but what about my favorite of all holiday dishes - the cornbread dressing? Without that delectably savory dish, the holidays just would not be the same - for me anyway. As far back as I can remember, I've been eating almost the same cornbread dressings (both recipes of two Grandmothers) for both Thanksgiving and Christmas. Yes, in the South we are strange - we have basically the same meal for both holidays and everyone who is not from the South makes fun of us for it. When I learned to make one of my Grandmother's dressing recipes, I found out she actually used the Aunt Jemima cornbread mix. Yes - you guessed it - it contains wheat, as most such mixes do unless they are specifically marked gluten free. No worries though - I now make homemade buttermilk cornbread as the base for my dressing. None of the other ingredients contain gluten and no one can tell the dressing is gluten free - they just know it's delicious, which is all that matters.

The other dishes we generally have are either naturally gluten free, or can be easily modified to be so. You can use a gluten free flour blend (not one that contains bean flours) in your sweet potato casserole topping and no one will be the wiser. I never liked gravy when I ate gluten, so I didn't bother to try any of the gluten free gravy mixes available on the market. Personally, I don't think you can modify the classic green bean casserole to taste good gluten free, so I prefer to do without it these days. If you know something I don't about making this recipe great, and gluten free, please share it with me. I did learn how to make awesome fried onion rings but that was the only part I perfected. The only time I ever used canned cream of mushroom soup was for this casserole, so trying to recreate a recipe for a dish I made twice a year seemed a bit obsessive.

By far, the toughest challenge for me was making a gluten free pie crust. I made a heavenly gluten free pie crust for the Thanksgiving Potluck last year sponsored by our local support group. I made and took mini pecan pies to the event, and before I could turn around they were all gone. Had I not saved two pies at home, I would not have gotten to enjoy the fruit of my labor. If you think it's a lot of work to make a pie crust from scratch, or even a mix, like I do, try making 24 mini crusts. I won't be doing that again anytime soon...even though a member came up and hugged me when she found out who made the pecan pies. She thought they were fabulous, as did most everyone else who was able to swipe one before they vanished. The pie recipe also came from one of my Grandmothers. When I was old enough, she handed me a bottle of Karo Syrup and showed me the recipe on the! Years later, my husbands Grandmother told me her secret of cutting the sweetness of this pie, just a bit, with a half teaspoon of lemon juice. It really works but this pie has a candied pecan pie taste. If you want something with more butter and less sugar, use another recipe.

This year I'll be adding a new dessert to our Thanksgiving meal menu - a spice cake that is the best spice cake I've ever tasted, let alone made. Okay, it's the only spice cake I've ever made, and it is of course a mix. In a previous post I mentioned my first attempt at making a gluten free cake - a nasty vanilla cake that we threw out as it was not edible. The maker of that product, Namaste, also makes a spice cake mix that everyone is always raving about it. I finally took the plunge and bought their spice cake mix, but when my husband saw the bag he reminded me of the cake 'incident' from over 20 months ago. I promised him if he hated it, I'd never buy it again. Well, he ate more of the cake than I did and he can eat gluten! I love to find out how gluten free kids like something, so I gave some to my friend Kerry's kids to try. It didn't even have icing on it so I told them it was like a breakfast bread or snack. They both enjoyed it thoroughly even without icing - they are 7 and 9 years old. That convinved me - this is the best spice cake mix on the market - including those than contain gluten. I prepared the mix as stated, then added a half cup of unsweetened applesauce and the same amount of raisins. Next time I'll add nuts as well. The cake tasted great for a full five days - that is unheard of for gluten free baked goods as most of you know. Another variation I've read about it is to add canned pumpkin so I'm trying that next week. I'll let you know how it turns out with my homemade cream cheese frosting.

Last but not least, I was raised eating canned cranberry sauce and I still eat, and serve it, during the holidays. Both of Ocean Spray's sauces are gluten free, as are most other brands. So go forth and bravely enjoy your first gluten free Thanksgiving dinner, with all (or most all) the trimmings. And if there are going to be two dressings where you're eating and one contains gluten, don't put them next to each other. The spoons can be swapped by mistake too easily. I can't think of a worse time to be glutened, than the holidays. It will take a little extra planning on your part, and possibly some nagging of your in-laws about what goes in their dishes. But if you take the time, you can have at least as good a Thanksgiving dinner as you've ever had, if not a better one. After all, you are probably feeling better than you have in a while as well!

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