Learning how to enjoy a gluten-free holiday

Posted Dec. 20, 2010, at 7:12 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 11:41 a.m.

One night last week my husband and I joined some special friends for our annual holiday dinner. We enjoyed swapping stories and gifts, and sharing memories of holidays past.

Conversations at these gatherings, as I am sure is true with you, often revolve around the usual topics.

For the snowbirds, there’s the discussion of “our weather versus your weather.”

For those who’ve just flown in, how was your flight?

For those who traveled here by car, how was the drive and what time do you leave tomorrow?

There are the questions about holiday plans.

Which children or grandchildren will be with you, or is this their turn with the in-laws?

But, this year, there was another conversation floating around this party that quite took me by surprise. Not that it hasn’t been discussed before, because it has.

But it was the Santa Claus group leading the way on this topic, with some input from the Mrs. Claus contingent.

The subject?

Gluten!

Apparently, more of us are discovering we have a wheat sensitivity, which needs our attention.

Many of the men in our group, along with some of the women, are now either on, or contemplating, a gluten-free diet or more closely monitoring their gluten intake. It really was quite the topic of conversation.

Recalling that party, I called my “local expert” on the subject, Ann Delaware of Bradley, for some advice on enjoying a gluten-free holiday.

Ann heads the local Celiac Sprue Support Group that meets, with the exception of December, at 7 p.m. the third Tuesday of the month in the St. Francis boardroom in the old firehouse across from St. Joseph Hospital on Center Street in Bangor.

“I’ve been doing this for 20 years,” Delaware said of living gluten-free, “and the thing that I always say is there is always a way around whatever ‘normal’ people eat.

“One of the things that my granddaughter and I do, every year, is make candy.”

One recipe includes Heath bars and crackers.

“In her case, she uses saltine crackers. I use corn chips,” Delaware said. “She does her pan with the regular ones. I put mine in another one.”

Times have changed and life has improved, greatly, for people who need to be gluten-free.

“They now have some very nice crackers, for example,” Delaware said citing the Glutino brand as an example.

“And some of the new bread mixes are the best I’ve seen.”

Delaware recalls what it was like when she first was diagnosed.

“There was nothing to eat” that she could purchase at the grocery store, she said.

“The good thing, nowadays, is you go to a Hannaford’s or a Shaw’s and you cannot believe what is available.”

Delaware recognizes it can be tricky for young adults, with spouses and children, to have to cook twice, once for themselves and once for their families, and that it can be expensive.

But, healthwise, for many, eating a gluten-free diet can be a lifesaver.

When Delaware attends parties this holiday season, she will do what she always does. She sticks with salsas and makes sure any cheeses are not processed.

“You look at the table full of food, all the hors d’oeuvres, and you pick and choose or bring something for yourself.

“You need to be prepared,” she said, “and, if you’re not, then you have to stand back and not eat.

“The thing you have to remember is to not be afraid to ask, because more and more people are aware” of the need for many to be gluten-free.

Ann was pleased when she went to the Olive Garden, recently, and obtained its gluten-free menu.

“It’s very short, but they even have pasta,” she said. “I’m getting to eat a lot more things than I could before. Life is getting better for a gluten-free person.”

For Thanksgiving and Christmas, Delaware has an old family recipe for stuffing that is not made with bread.

She uses 1 pound of hamburger, some salt pork or a half-stick of butter, six pealed potatoes and one onion, ground together with salt and pepper and then mixed with the hamburger.

“You mix it all up and bake it in a covered casserole at 350 degrees for about two hours,” she said.

“It is absolutely the best. Whenever I go to a party and have to bring a dish, everyone always asks for my stuffing. It has a crusty edge to it, which is like kind of burnt, but people like that. And, if you want gravy, make sure you make it with cornstarch and not flour. That way you’ll have no lumps in your gravy.”

Delaware encourages anyone who needs to live a gluten-free life to come to the support group where information can be shared and you will meet the group’s nutritionist, Katherine Musgrave.

Delaware told me she loves talking to people about living gluten-free, and that you are welcome to call her at 827-2733.

Joni Averill, Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402; javerill@bangordailynews.com; 990-8288.

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