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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