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15 November 2006

a few ideas for a gluten-free Thanksiving

My creationWhen the Chef and I were listening to the radio this morning, as we were preparing breakfast, some moron announcer said, “Only 31 shopping days until Christmas!” Before I could even say it, the Chef said, “Oh shut up, Bob.”

I love him.

Every year, it drives me crazy, how the holidays in this country have become an inexorable march toward consumption and gaudiness. How many presents can you buy in one fell swoop? Quick — put the lights up on the house! We must make dozens of cookies, right now. Never mind that this consumerism has nothing to do with the spirit of any of the holidays around this time of the year. This is America. This is what we do. We celebrate the holidays, dammit.

That compulsion to make everything the same as the year before, and the need to have it be as perfect as a Martha Stewart magazine layout, sweeps up all of us, in one way or another. But for those of us who have celiac — and must eat gluten-free in this gluten-saturated time of the year — this time of the year can be a minefield. (I am certain this must be true for anyone with food allergies, as well as vegetarians and vegans, so this is quite a large number of us.) I don’t miss gluten. But I do miss the sugar cut-out cookies I made every year for over a decade. I miss gingerbread men and my mother’s cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning. I’ll never have them again. It’s okay to feel a little bit of mourning.

Lately, I have been receiving far more emails than I can answer in a day. Most of them, these days, seem to revolve around the holidays. One young woman told me that she had volunteered to make Christmas dinner for everyone in her family. Could I create gluten-free versions of all the treats the family wanted to eat? I’ve had requests for cinnamon rolls, mincemeat pie, stuffing, and gluten-free gravy. Everyone, it seems, wants to eat exactly what he or she ate as a child — before the celiac diagnosis — and have it taste exactly the same.

The thing is, everyone, it will never taste the same. No matter how good your pumpkin pie recipe with a gluten-free crust, it will never taste like the pie you ate as a child. It could taste even better. But it won’t taste the same.

Early on in this gluten-free journey, I decided that longing for the same old foods with gluten-free ingredients was like longing for a boyfriend I had broken up with, and so finding a rebound replacement as fast as I could, one who reminded me exactly of the old one. It never works. It’s the same with food.

The thing is Thanksgiving could use some shaking up. As food writer Julia Moskin wrote in the New York Times today:

“The traditional Thanksgiving meal has become monotonous, overloaded with soft textures and rich, bland flavors. Instead of choosing between buttery mashed potatoes and buttery sweet potatoes, many families serve both. Vegetables like green beans and onions are muffled with cream sauces; brussels sprouts are enriched with bacon, and green beans with almonds. The sudden compulsion to cook parsnips and squash quickly leads to root vegetables overload. Once the gravy and stuffing are served the table is covered with dishes that are mushy in texture and almost entirely brown.”

Absolutely. There is no reason that we have to have rolls, stuffing, and pie, if we eat gluten-free. Why not create new traditions instead?

Well, there is something comforting about tradition. I like rituals as much as the next person. (These days, my life is wonderfully routine, in order to finish my manuscript in time for the deadline.) So, over the next week or so, I’ll be posting some recipes that the Chef and I have come up with for pumpkin pie with a gluten-free crust, a simple stuffing with celery and onions, gluten-free gravy, cranberry relish, and something green to add to the table. I hope that these recipes will help.

But in the meantime, I’d like to offer some suggestions for what might work for this holiday, and the ones to follow:

Offer to cook dinner yourself. I know this might feel like a lot of work, but it will make everyone in the family happy, and you will be assured of eating gluten-free. My brother, dear man that he is, put a tablespoon of flour in the poultry bag when he made the turkey last year. I didn’t have any, of course. But I did get sick from the cross-contamintion between the regular stuffing and gluten-free stuffing. This year, I’m lucky. The Chef and I will be making Thanksgiving dinner for everyone, and it will be entirely gluten-free. Sure, it means a few hours of work for the both of us, but we both adore the simple joy of feeding people we love. (Besides, the Chef is meticulous about the gluten-free thing, and he’ll make sure I can eat everything on the table.) If you cannot cook the entire dinner, then offer to make the parts of the meal that usually involve gluten. Make pies and rolls and a loaf of gluten-free bread for stuffing.

Advocate with your family. So many of you have written, in the comments section here and to me in emails, that you are embarrassed to make a fuss when it comes to food. I have one word for you: nonsense! This is your health, your body, your life. As kind as it is for someone to make you food, it is not kind to feed you gluten. Sit down with everyone now, long before the big day, and explain all the ways that gluten can hide. Teach them about cross-contamination. This is supposed to be a holiday of gratitude, not a way to make you sick. Your family can express their gratitude that you have found out what ails you by double-checking with you before they cook something. I am sure that you will feel enormous gratitude toward everyone there if you can eat an entire meal without growing sick. Remember the spirit of the day.

Mix up the traditions. Years ago, when I was a teenager, my father told us about a class he had taught the day before Thanksgiving. He asked his students their families’ traditions of food, which led to a spirited discussion of the merits of different kinds of students. One of his students had a different story, however. She said that her parents were Italian immigrants, and they made an enormous Italian feast for Thanksgiving: pastas, roasted meats, antipasti platters, fresh mozzarella. My father said that her description made it sound like the best meal he could ever eat. He wondered aloud if we would want to try that. As one, my brother and I shouted, “No!” We wanted our traditions, and that was that.
But you know what? I’d be more than willing to try it now, as long as the pasta was gluten-free. Isn’t this holiday just a chance to celebrate life with family and friends with food? Who says that it has to be a glossy roasted turkey with bread stuffing spilling out of its cavity? Why not butternut squash soup? Brussels sprouts hash? Black cod? Roasted duck? Seared tofu? Why not make it a menu of all the foods you have come to love since you went gluten-free? Have a table full of twenty dishes, and then ask everyone to dig in. Would anyone feel a lack of gratitude at this?

Finally, just say no to gluten. ‘Tis the season when people are tempted to cheat. That spoonful of stuffing isn’t worth three days of feeling sick. Those cinnamon rolls will never be worth the price you’ll pay in your gut. Make a new tradition of staying well throughout the holidays. You owe it to yourself.

I hope that helps. As with everything else about living gluten-free, I really believe that this is about more than the recipes. This is about attitude. I’m going to say yes to my life, to food, to the people I love. And I’m going to do it gluten-free.

You can too.


At 9:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

thank you for this post! your words always make me feel better about being gf, and i can always use a little positive thinking about food around the holidays. i'll look forward to the recipes. i hope you all have a great time!

At 9:18 PM, Blogger shuna fish lydon said...

This is lovely and also powerful Shauna. Brava!! (As you would say.)

I think that cooking for oneself is the best defense. In this way we can introduce others to OUR tasty food, AND we can eat it too!!

At 3:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shauna, yet another post to make us think. You are absolutely correct - I am doing our Thanksgiving and also volunteered to host Christmas. I am already working out my recipes (with some assistance from a few blogs and cookbooks).

A suggestion to all for cranberries - I make cranberry relish, which is one bag of cranberries and a quarter to a half of a fresh pineapple; blend the berries until 'smooth' (you may need to add water to get it to go), drink in a fine-mesh sieve; then add the pineapple (chopped up to pretty small pieces). Mix well and put in the fridge overnight to meld flavors. On Thanksgiving morning, pull it out and taste for sweetness. Add sugar as needed. I used to put mini-marshmallows in it; I need to find out if they are GF. If not, I found a Martha recipe to make my own! I may just do that anyway for the experience :-)

At 4:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shauna, Thanks so much!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
My husband is GF, and I have been cooking gf for about 9 years, we've been married 16. I just wanted to tell you that you are just an inspiration to me! I have been reading your blog now for a couple of months, started out as agoogle search and wound up enrobed in your enthusiasim. I am so glad you have The Chef!, to have someone you love and loves you back in support is the bestest thing in the world. We have a two-fold situation which leads me to my question for your Chef. I am low sodium,Menier's syndrom, and I would love to know the secret to making non sodium stocks. Would you share your beloved Chef for this small request? I don't have a time limit, as I have some standby things I use. When you wrote about the veal stock several months back it really set me to wonder if it was possible for me to experience depth of flavor with out salt added. It has taken me this long to get up the courage to even ask. I am almost computer challanged. Could you e-mail me? think.leonardo at verizon dot net. Thanks for listening, thanks for being the bold personality that you are, thanks for writing you blog, thanks for saying yes, thanks for sharing things, thanks for the encouragement in the everyday part of life. Wendy

At 6:26 AM, Blogger C said...

Thanks, Shauna. This is my first Gluten Free Thanksgiving, and I'm hosting my family for the second year. They are willing to eat all gluten free foods and are thrilled to try new things. This year we're having a local, organic turkey, which I'll brine and roast with onions and celery and carrots. I'm making gluten free stuffing with Foods by George gluten free English muffins. I did a test run the other day, and my husband loved it. Then of course we'll have mashed potatoes and sauteed green beans with carmelized shallots. I'm still trying to figure out the perfect way to cook the sweet potatoes. I'm thinking of roasting them with olive oil, thyme, Old Bay (I know it sounds crazy, but I learned the idea to use it as a seasoning from Gluten Free Goddess) and onions. Or maybe I'll make a gratin with enchillada sauce and cheddar cheese (a recipe from Bon Appetit).

At 7:09 AM, Blogger Gina said...

For many years, I went out for Thanksgiving dinner with a friend who enjoyed living outside of the standard traditions of turkey, etc. Every year, we selected an interesting cuisine of the world (Thai, Morroccan, etc.) and ate that for Thanksgiving. The time spent with a good friend was the tradition. The food was a medium to do that.

At 7:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a celiac friend, and when I made Thanksgiving a few years ago and invited her I made a traditional Chinese sticky rice dish from one of Bruce Costs's cookbooks as stuffing - laden with black mushrooms and other wonderful flavors. It was even better than traditional stuffing!

At 7:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great ideas like always! I would be up for the non-traditional food too, but we are going to try to do some substituting this year. GF pretzels for a jello salad, and GF corn flakes for the typical green bean casserole. Top it all off with a GF pie and I am set. Looking forward to the stuffing recipe. I am in need of one!

At 8:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That attitude is what will make the difference every day.

Understanding the origin of the holidays and different peoples views on them helps me to put them into perspective. Thanksgiving is not new in the sense that most cultures have had harvest festivals for centuries. In America Thanksgiving has combined this with patriotism and religious thanks. I find it interesting that few people know that Thomas Jefferson condemned Thanksgiving as an improper mixture of church and state. Tradition is nice, but we all might ask ourselves if we are doing it because we like it and agree with it's true meanings,or are we doing it thoughtlessly because everyone else expects us to do it. I thought your ideas about creating something totally new and not being confined by the tradition were empowering. Especially when you consider how commercialism may be motivating most of our actions.

At 9:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I've enjoyed reading your blog for the last, oh, six months. I've been celiac all my life!

Here's my super-secret Thanksgiving tip I'd like to share. Our family has always used a mashed potato stuffing for turkey. Use all the regular stuff: giblets, livers (save the heart for your own private snacking), spices -- just substitute mashed taters for the bread. Use 20 lbs. of potatoes, because it's so delicious you'll need extra for the next day.


At 9:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great Post as always Shauna. And I wanted to add one last suggestion. If all else fails, and you have an unsupportive family like mine, you have a few options. Tell them you can't make it for dinner, make your own and invite understanding and loving friends over to share it. When your family asks why, tell them you need to take care of your health. You can stop by after dinner, or forego it at all and see if next year they learn to be more supportive. Or, you can eat a small meal beforehand, bring your own favorite item, and have that while avoiding the others. Just had to add this as I've heard too many stories if unsupportive families making us sick because we don't put our foot down.

At 9:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sheri, my freind made those marshmellows (and she's not gluten free) and said that they were the best.

I love my Thanksgiving tradition, but since I am VERY new to gluten free, I will have to research what I can eat from my traditions.

Like your freind I am Italian American, and we always have antipasto, with delicious meats, cheeses, yummy crusty Italian bread (sigh)and my Mom's pickled peppers, then we do the traditonal American one.

It will still be fabulous, and fun. I will be trying a new gluten free pie crust for the pumpkin pie, and my Mom is checking everything over for me.

I am looking very forward to the recipes you will be sharing...


At 10:36 AM, Blogger Calli said...

The Thanksgiving tradition at my house is belly whomping. Seriously. We get the grass wet, and go ... whomping. Pretty much, you throw yourself on the ground (thus making a WHOMP) and you slide. They started this when I was in the military, and I have yet to do it.

So, proof that traditions can start when the kids are all grown and the adults are just a bit off their rockers.

Also, this post made me want to call my Gma, so I did, and we chatted while she took a break at work. Turns out she's making a SEPERATE turkey. She's barbequing it. 0__o So I can have turkey. How awesome is that?

Can I just be grateful for a changing family dynamic?

- Callista

At 12:53 PM, Blogger David said...

The best stuffing I ever had was one made with Chinese sticky rice. It was the best! Lots of little pieces of Chinese sausage and chopped dried mushrooms. Maybe I'll make it this year.

What time did you say you were coming?

At 2:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We inadvertantly started our own food tradition by eating prime rib instead of turkey. I have recently found a local organic meat shop, so while it will cost me an arm and a leg, perhaps my youngest child, it will be fresh and worth it!!
I too am experimenting with wheat free crusts and recipes so that my son will be able to enjoy our Thanksgiving dinner with us.
We don't have any traditions in my family, so we make it how we want it, and I like it that way!!

At 8:33 AM, Blogger Ruth said...

*Cheering you on from Texas... can you hear me???* :o)

At 10:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Shauna,

I recently discovered your blog and I just love it; your writing is so inspiring. I actually copied off this post to share with the celiac support group that I direct. We will be talking about coping with the Holidays and I really enjoyed what you have to say. It's so important to have a positive attitude with this disease and I try to impart that message to the group at every meeting. Thanks so much for your beautiful prose, fabulous recipes and inspiring messages.

At 1:12 PM, Blogger Hapamama said...

Thanks so much for this! My in-laws are finally accustomed to the fact that I always bring tofu and sweet potatoes w/only butter on them (rather than tons of sugar and marshmellows)(why are so afraid of a beautiful sweet potato glistening in its own juices w/a little butter?). It is a challenge at first, but it feels so good to walk through the holidays in a way that is authentic. For me, that authenticity is the only way that I can experience the holiness and mystery of this time of year. Thank you for this!

At 11:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Shauna,
A recipe I just love is to either use canned sweet potatoes or fresh. Mix sweet potatoes with a can of whole berry cranberry sauce and butter or margarine and bake. It's amazingly wonderful and simple. Enjoy and keep up the great work!

At 11:54 AM, Blogger Bowl of Soul Gal said...

I really enjoyed your Thanksgiving tips and stories - I have enjoyed the challenge of creating a gluten-free Thanksgiving since being diagnosed in 2000 - every year there are more and more products to try and incorporate into the holiday meals. I consider myself one of the GF pioneers...being sick throughou the 90's and finally diagnosed 10 years later...I can't even remember WHAT I ate back in 2000 - the times have definitely changed for all of us, for the better!
Happy Thanksgiving!

At 10:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for your inspirational writing! My son and I are newly diagnosed, and we're grateful for this pep talk!

At 12:04 PM, Blogger Frannie said...

This is my first thanksgiving gluten, dairy and cane sugar free (last year I cheated) so I'm really grateful for all of the help that I get from this blog and from everyone's tips and comments.

It's always a challenge to get other people to understand why you're not eating something. I once had a girl who was upset that I couldn't go to dinner with her say to me "why can't you just take a pill or something?" It's no shock that we're not really friends any more...

At 3:17 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

I'm very excited that this year, finally, my sister is coming for T-day. The only problem for me is figuring out what I can cook for her. See, about a year ago she suddenly became allergic to all but a 2 page list of foods. No gluten. No peanuts. No etc, etc, etc.

So you can imagine my sigh of relief, stumbling upon your fabulous blog. While I'll still have to change a couple things because of her other food allergies, it'll be much easier than figuring it out from a gluten recipe.



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