Thanksgiving Dible

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Tips for a Gluten Free and Allergen Friendly Thanksgiving

Tips for a Gluten Free and Allergen Friendly Thanksgiving

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It's that time of year. It's the end of November, the snow is starting to fly here in Michigan, and visions of pumpkin pies are dancing in people’s heads. It is time to start planning Thanksgiving dinner! But it's also a time of anxiety for those of us who have diseases where certain foods are our enemy. I've already seen the anxious comments on message boards, people afraid their families will not understand about cross-contact, or have friends who say that "a little wheat" won't hurt. It's a time of year when many can feel alienated and alone.

My favorite part of Thanksgiving is the idea that everyone comes to the table, that we are all together, and that "family" is more than just those united by blood, but family are those people united by love. While some people (rightly) may still not feel safe eating at another person's house due to dietary concerns, I wanted to share some options that can make things easier for those who are newly diagnosed or those that have friends and family that need to steer clear of certain foods during the holidays.

Here's my list of ways to let everyone come to the table, from Appetizers to deZZert. (A-Z, get it?)

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These appetizers are not only easy, but they're relatively healthy as well. Here are my top 3 ideas.

1)  Hummus and vegetables- I LOVE hummus. Seriously, what's not to love?! Full of fiber and heart healthy fats, it should be at every dinner party. While I usually make my own from scratch, it is okay to buy store bought if you're under the gun. Sabra and Tribe brands are gluten-free, and most brands of hummus are naturally gluten-free. Served with fresh veggies, this is a great way to snack before the meal without filling up on junk.

(Sesame allergy? - Hummus is made with tahini, which is ground up sesame seeds. If you have a sesame allergy, I suggest trying to make your own hummus with unsweetened Sunbutter.)

2) Cheese and Crackers -  BYOC. As someone with Celiac Disease, we always know to bring our own crackers. My favorite crackers are Crunchmaster, as they're loaded with healthy stuff and they are gluten and dairy-free. You can even find them in large boxes at Sam's.
(Dairy-Free: Daiya makes a non-dairy cream cheese spread and non-dairy cheddar shreds which could be used to make a stellar cheese ball!)

3) Chex Mix - It happens every time. A well meaning friend or family member knows from the TV ads that Chex is gluten-free, so they buy a bag of premade Chex Mix and offer it to you. Sadly, that contains Wheat Chex and a myriad of other non-gf entities. Thank you, but no.

But don’t despair. Chex has a PLETHORA of fun gluten-free Chex mix recipes on their website! I'm super intrigued by this Cranberry Nut Cinnamon Chex Mix. If nut allergies will also be present at the dinner table, you can try subbing pumpkin seeds or Soy Nuts.

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The Old Bird and her accoutrements 

1) Turkey - On message boards every year, it's the same question. "Which turkeys are gluten-free?" You'd think the answer would be "all of the above," but not necessarily. Because turkeys can be injected with flavorings and marinated in brines, some are these birds are on the "No-fly list." Luckily, Butterball brand proudly proclaims that not only are their birds gluten free, but the gravy pack that's included is also gluten-free! (And there was much rejoicing....)

Honeysuckle White whole turkeys are also GF, as are Jennie-O, but their gravy packets are not!

2) Gravy- Truth- Homemade gravy is not that hard to make. Take the drippings from the bird, transfer them to a pot, and cook it with a slurry made of cornstarch and water. (If you prefer using flour, I suggest Bob's Red Mill Rice Flour.)

But if the thought of making gravy from scratch leaves you feeling week in the wings, you can make Full Flavor Foods Turkey Gravy in just a few moments. This Michigan-Made product is made in a gluten-free, nut-free facility, and this particular gravy is dairy-free as well.

3) Cranberries - When I was a kid, I abhorred cranberry sauce. I think it's because I've only had it from a can. Homemade cranberry sauce is a cinch to make and just tastes better. If you prefer dishes that are refined sugar free, you'll love this recipe from The Pioneer Woman. Just remember it's made with REAL maple syrup, not pancake (a.k.a HFCS) syrup.

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The Side Show

1) Stuffing - That's right, I'm putting Stuffing as a side. The quickest way to break a Celiac's heart at Thanksgiving is to put regular stuffing inside the bird when you cook it. Not only is the stuffing off limits, but now the bird is too, because of cross-contact.

If you're nervous about making stuffing from scratch, there are many companies that are coming to your Turkey Day rescue. The big excitement this year is that Aldi has their own Chicken and Turkey boxed stuffing mixes. Just melt butter (or Earth Balance Buttery Sticks if you're dairy-free), add water and bring to a boil. Next, dump in the box contents into the pot and wait for the crusty bits to soak up that beautiful liquid. Less than 15 minutes from box to table! If you want to punch up the flavor a little bit, add a cube of Massel chicken bouillon. (Massel bouillon is not only gluten free but also vegetarian!)

2) Green Bean Casserole - For so many years I thought I would never enjoy this dish again. And once more, Aldi has come to my rescue. With their new LiveGfree French Fried Onions, we can again savor every creamy and crunchy bite. But this dish would NOT be possible without Pacific Organic Cream of Mushroom Condensed Soup. It is the Holy Grail of cream soups, the same texture (and better taste!) as Campbell’s but without any flour.

So one could make Pacific’s delicious version of Green Bean Casserole, or just use your favorite recipe and sub the soup. Spoiler alert- keep in mind that if your recipe calls for soy sauce, make sure that it is gluten-free! Regular Kikkoman is our nemesis......

3) Mashed Potatoes - I think mashed potatoes were my first love after being diagnosed with Celiac Disease. I could eat them plain, drizzled with butter, and often covered in ketchup. (I know, my weirdness level is off the charts...) The great thing is that mashed potatoes, unadulterated, are safely gluten free. I love to make mine from scratch, with bits of skin still on the potatoes, whipped with butter and plain Greek yogurt. A splash of milk for added creaminess, with dashes of salt, pepper & garlic powder.

This dish is pretty allergy friendly until you start adding dairy. For dairy free folks, I again suggest using Earth Balance buttery sticks. No one will know it's not butter, trust me.

Photo credit- ME! I actually took this picture.

Our Daily Bread

Oh that awkward look when we say, "I can't eat bread." It's like we're speaking a foreign language or we must be from a different planet. And there's the ever comforting comment, "Oh my, I'd die if I couldn't eat bread." Well lucky for us all, there are many delicious gluten-free bread varieties. Here are some suggestions that everyone will love.

1) Cornbread- While Jiffy mix cornbread is NOT gluten free, there are plenty of delicious and easy gluten free mixes out there on the market. I've long loved Bob's Red Mill's GF Cornbread Mix, but I've recently stared to enjoy Pamela's Cornbread Mix. And cornbread muffins baked in liners are great for those with food allergies, because the liner provides another barrier of cross-contact fom crumbs of muffins past.

But my favorite way to make cornbread is in my waffle maker. Seriously, folks it's fast and easy and doesn't take up room in your oven. The Pamela's mix is much better for this. And remember, if your'e goign to waffle your cornbread, it NEEDS to be done in a dedicated gluten free waffle maker. You have NO idea how stealthy gluten containing grains are and how much they love ot hang out in your baking appliances.

If you need cornbread that's never even seen the ghost of nuts or soy, I suggest making Gluten Free on a Shoestring's "Jiffy Mix" cornbread recipe using the new Enjoy Life All-Purpose Flour and, again, use the Earth Balance Buttery Sticks.

2) Chebe - While this Brazilian Cheese bread is not a traditional flavor at a harvest feast, it is ridiculously easy to make and the mix is free of the most 8 common allergens. Truth be told, I've worked with the leaders personally, and they're just great people. You can use this dinner roll recipe on their website, or just follow the basic recipe on the back of the box.

3) Homemade bread - My husband's family traditionally eats homemade bread for basically every meal. Thanksgiving is no exception. If you’re new to making glute-free bread. there are lots of great mixes on the market. Bob's Red Mill Homemade Wonderful Gluten Free Bread mix has been my standby for years.

A word of guidance and caution in making homemade gluten-free bread: If you don't have a dedicated GF kitchen, I'd highly suggest making bread in the disposable aluminum foil tins. No chance of cross-contact that way, and I usually my bread doesn’t stick to the side. And NEVER make GF bread in a bread maker that's been used for non-gf items. Just don't. Ever.

Photo credit- Me again!

Life's Short, Eat Dessert First

1) All things pie- If you are having someone over for dinner that has a food allergy, just a quick helpful note - we cannot just eat the pie filling and leave the crust. The cross-contact possibilities here are huge. Luckily, making pie with a gluten-free and allergen-free crust is really doable and, daresay, easy.

Not only does Chebe make great dinner rolls, you can their all purpose mix to make a really easy-to-work with crust. Truth be told, last year Chebe challenged me to make a pie with their crust. It took a few tries, but I'm proud to say that my recipe has received great reviews. Once you have the recipe for the crust down, you can make a homemade pumpkin, pecan or apple pie in a snap. (All traditional versions of these fillings are gluten free, to the best of my knowledge. If a recipe calls for flour as a thickener, I again suggest Bob’s Red Mill Rice flour.)

And if regardless of food allergies, the idea of making a homemade pie crust terrifies you and keeps you up at night, Wholly Wholesome GLUTEN FREE pie crust is free of dairy, egg, soy and nuts. And don't let those omissions make you hesitant. This crust is seriously delicious. Also, if you want to forego the crust, my family often makes the pumpkin pie filling by itself in a pie dish, and we call it pumpkin pudding.

If you need a dairy free Pumpkin Pie, check out this recipe on the Silk website.

2) Pumpkin Roll- Years ago my friend Linda Fedewa introduced me to this marriage of pumpkin, cake and cream cheese. Pumpkin rolls are delicious and beautiful, and at first daunting. Trust me, if I can manage to pull this culinary feat off, so can you. You can use Linda's Bake It Best Blend, or another gluten free flour blend you have on hand. If you don’t’ already have parchment paper, you’re going to want to purchase some. It makes baking this SO much easier. Also, whatever towels you use with this recipe must be 100% clean and have not touched anything else gluten containing ingredients that day. (See #2 below.)

3) Cookies and 'Cream- Regardless of the time of year, I'm always up for ice cream. Enjoy Life Foods makes many different allergen free cookies, both crunchy and soft baked. They make soft gingerbread cookies that would be perfect for the holiday season! Those cookies, paired with Husdonville Naturals Vanilla Bean ice cream are a winner. And if you're dairy free, Coconut Bliss makes some of the best and most readily available dairy-free "ice cream." All of their flavors are gluten free, including their Ginger Cookie Caramel, which is made with Pamela's gingersnap cookies. Drizzle it with Hershey's Caramel Syrup and I'd eat that any day of the week. **Pamela's products are made in a facility with nuts.

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1) Cross-contact is a VERY serious issue. It only takes a crumb of gluten to make someone with Celiac Disease sick, or a hint of an allergen to send someone to the hospital. Make sure all pans are cleaned well, NEVER swap serving utensils during dinner, and don't cook allergen free items in the same location as allergen containing foods. Have a separate butter dish for those the person with allergens, as crumbs from non-gf breads will inevitably hitch ride back to the dish.

2) Timing is everything. Make allergen free items before making allergen "full" items. Do your allergen free baking and food prep a full day before everything else. Gluten containing flours can remain free floating in the air for 24 hours or more.

3) Communication is key. Discuss your proposed menu with those with food allergies in advance (and not just the day before.) Fully disclose what you're making and where allergens may be hiding. (Soy Sauce and Worcestershire Sauce are the sneakiest!) Don’t hesitate to ask those with allergens to bring a dish to pass. We're eager to help out and love to wow our friends and family with our allergen-free dishes! And in the end if someone chooses not to eat, don't take it personally. We are the only ones that can truly safeguard our health.

On the flip side, my food allergy friends, remember that this time is about togetherness. Find ways to focus on those you’re with and not the foods you’re without. Plan ahead- eat beforehand if necessary or bring safe snacks with you. And remember to laugh and have fun. 'Tis the Season.

**Disclaimer- I am NOT paid in any way to mention the brands listed within this article. Chebe has sent me product to "play" with from time to time, and many of these brands have been generous donors for our Celiac Disease camp or for the Food Allergy Bloggers Conference. I am in no way paid for any of these comments or views. **

*I stink as a photographer. Many of these images were taken from the 'net. 

Website locations are in captions below each picture.*

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