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Archive for November 12th, 2012

‘Tis the season to gaze longingly at cans of French’s Fried Onions and cream of mushroom soup, remembering the “good ole’ days” when holiday meals were still work, but at least you had lots of help from convenience foods.  Sound familiar?  Welcome to the holiday season for gluten free cooks.

We’ve been a mostly gluten free family – I’m the only one in our family of 4 who still can eat wheat – for almost 4 years.  I can honestly say that for most of the year it doesn’t bother me.  But in the 6 weeks leading up to Christmas, every grocery ad I look through with pictures of easy-to-make holiday foods that used to be part of our family’s traditions, tortures me with memories of a life we will never have again.

But wait, wasn’t the title of this post about a “happy” gluten free Thanksgiving?  We’ll get to that in a moment.  But for now, I want to speak to the heart of the one who is reading this in tears because she is so overwhelmed at the thought of trying to recreate a traditional Thanksgiving (or Christmas) meal using gluten free substitutes.  From scratch.  To you, dear one, I just want to say that I know.  It’s hard.  I grieve all over again every holiday season and it is what it is.  If you feel guilty about dreading the holidays when everyone around you is looking forward to them, I understand.  You’re not alone.

There are many different ways you can approach a gluten free holiday season.  I know – I’ve tried them all.  Our first gluten free Thanksgiving, I hosted our extended family and was not about to experiment with gluten free substitutes with a large group.  So that year, my family got to eat those things that are naturally gluten free: turkey and gravy made with cornstarch, mashed potatoes, yams and apples, and jello.  As you can imagine, that did not go over very well.  My only experiment was with our favorite Pumpkin Pie Crunch dessert, which turned out a little different but oh so good!  (If you’re looking for a delicious recipe that will feed a large group – or a small one with lots of leftovers – check out my Pumpkin Pie Crunch recipe I posted last year.)

For our second Thanksgiving, I was determined to do it “right.”  My sister hosted that year, so she provided the turkey and mashed potatoes, but I made gluten free versions of everything for my family and brought them all with us: stuffing, green bean casserole, rolls, cranberry sauce, our traditional yams and apples recipe (which I always brought anyway), and dessert for my family.  I spent hours in the kitchen that year, with less than stellar results on the stuffing and green bean casserole.  Everything was made from scratch, and it felt like a ton of work for one meal that merely tasted okay.

I won’t go into the details of what caused me to have a total meltdown last year, but when I realized that I had trained my extended family to expect me to do all the gluten free cooking for family gatherings for the rest of our lives, I lost it.  I finally did what I should have done from the beginning, asked for help!  I confessed to my parents that I didn’t want to be responsible for every bite my family ate, and I needed their help.  I had realized that my attempts to spare my family from the burden of gluten free cooking had given them the impression that I didn’t need or want their help.  But I needed their support.  Of course, they immediately responded with, “What can we do to help?”  My mom offered to make gluten free stuffing.  All she needed was to know what kind of bread to use.  (I like Ener-G brand Light Tapioca Bread for stuffing, but I’ve also used the heels from homemade bread that I save in the freezer.)  I supplied flour to the hostess for the bag in which the turkey was cooked.  Someone brought a gluten free hot vegetable, and I brought rolls and yams.  Thanksgiving was not a big deal last year because I finally asked for help!

This year, I’m hoping to tackle green bean casserole and stuffing again because my family has asked for them.  However, I’ve recognized that if I’m going to spend hours in the kitchen for Thanksgiving – and not have a bitter meltdown – I need to give myself a break from cooking in the days/weeks leading up to it.  To that end, I’ve been stocking up on whatever gluten free convenience foods I can find on sale, and have given myself permission to actually use them.  (I’m part squirrel, so I have a tendency to stockpile and never use things because I’m always saving them for an “emergency.”  But breaking down in tears over a Stove Top Stuffing ad should qualify as an emergency.)  I’ve also explained to my family that I’m not going to be baking goodies or spending time making special meals in the kitchen until Thanksgiving.  I’m betting that after a week of not baking, I’ll be dying to get in the kitchen again.  The kids still have Halloween candy to munch on, and they like GF spaghetti with a jar of pasta sauce as much as my homemade sauce.  This week cans will be our friends, as will tater tots, frozen turkey burgers, and rice from a pouch.  They’re okay with it because they want me to make special treats for Thanksgiving and are willing to forgo gourmet meals for awhile so they can get them.

So what’s my “recipe” for a happy gluten free Thanksgiving?  Based on my experience, it’s a happy holiday when the cook (i.e. mom) is happy.  So moms, give yourselves a break!  Unless you’re making holiday food in advance (like freezing extra mashed potatoes or rolls to reheat on Thanksgiving), take a break from cooking from scratch and baking this week so you’ll have energy for the big day.  (Want to know what’s on our menu?  Ask me in the comments section and I’d be happy to share with you!)

If you’re getting together with extended family, ask them to bring all the naturally gluten free food so you can focus on one or two GF substitutions that are meaningful to your gluten free family members.  Be honest with non-GF family members and ask for their support.  They may surprise you by offering to make a gluten free side dish.  Let them.  Yes, it may turn out badly, but they need the opportunity to experiment and be shown grace the same way you do.  And remember, if it will be funny later, let it be funny now.  Laugh at the disastrous experiments because they are the stuff of family legends.

If you’re not sharing the meal prep with extended family, talk to your gluten free family members and find out what foods matter most to them – and be prepared for it to change from year to year.  Some years my family wants rolls, and other times they want stuffing.  I let them choose one or the other.  Another way to take some pressure off without giving up any favorites is to spread out the side dishes and enjoy some on Thanksgiving and some with leftover turkey on another day.  For instance, we have mashed potatoes all the time, so my family is content to just have yams on Thanksgiving.  But I’ll make potatoes later in the week to go with leftover turkey, so we still get to have a “traditional” meal.  The same can be done with my easy rolls recipe and stuffing.  Who needs a ton of carbs in one meal anyway!

Of course, after talking with your family, you may decide to drop some traditions and start new ones.  If I can’t replicate those canned fried onions to my satisfaction, who says I have to?  My kids love roasted veggies like broccoli and brussels sprouts (don’t knock ’em until you’ve tried them roasted – heavenly!), so they would certainly be content with a different vegetable than the casserole of my youth.

This year, I’m determined to not let the Pillsbury Dough Boy get me down.  I hope you will be, too.  Have a HAPPY Gluten Free Thanksgiving! 🙂

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