5 GF Tips to Navigate the Holiday Minefield

By Rachel Sircy

Anyone with a gluten-related disorder knows that the most difficult time of the year is upon us. I mean, it’s a day that is nominally dedicated to thanking God for our blessings, but if we’re being honest, it’s an all day Eat-A-Thon. And, unfortunately for the celiacs in the world, most of the items on the menu for this day are covered in gravy or made of wheat flour. And throughout the holidays – no matter what particular holidays you celebrate – the menu remains heavy on the bread and soggy with gravy. So, below are the top ten things that help to get me through the holidays. Hopefully, they will make your gluten free minefield a little easier to navigate this holiday season.

  1. Cook Stuff: I know, there are myriad readers out there who don’t like to cook or who swear that they are genetically programmed to be unable to cook food. Well, I have been in those shoes before, too, and the only thing I can tell you, is to give it your best shot. If you have celiac disease or gluten intolerance, you have to take charge of your health – which means taking charge of the food that you put into your mouth. Don’t rely on others to feed you. I’m sure that if this isn’t your first holiday as a celiac, you’ve had the experience of a well-meaning relative who says, “Yes, this dish is 100% gluten free” and then after you’ve swallowed a big mouthful of whatever it was, says “because there’s no gluten in barley flour, right?” As with almost anything in life, if you want it done right, you’ll have to do it yourself.
  2. Insist on Bringing What You’ve Cooked: This may seem like a no-brainer, especially given what I’ve said above about cooking for yourself. You might think, “Of course I’m going to bring what I’ve cooked.” However, those not afflicted with gluten intolerance can tend to think of gluten free food as gross or inferior or totally inedible or poisonous. Don’t be backed into a corner. If you are not hosting the meal yourself (hosting the meal yourself may be the best route to controlling the gluten level at the table), then insist on participating in the meal by bringing something. I usually choose to bring the dishes that I like best that are the least likely to be gluten free, like dressing and dessert. To avoid coming off as rude and distrustful, let the host know that you are simply trying to take on some of the responsibility for making the dinner safe for you. Most people hosting a holiday meal feel overwhelmed as it is and will appreciate the fact that you are lightening their load.
  3. Avoid Bouquets of Flours: Okay, so for years I avoided baking because when I was first diagnosed with celiac disease I went down the natural foods aisle at the local Kroger’s and was scared stupid by the incredible number of tiny little bags of flour: almond, rice, potato, amaranth, tapioca, etc. To this day I’ve never mastered mixing all those little bags of flour together to make something useful. It’s expensive and frustrating. My advice? Forget it! Don’t try making flour blends. Unless you’re really into masochistic torture. There are now plenty of really good flour blends on the market that can be substituted cup for cup with regular wheat flour. Some of the best brands I’ve tried are: Pamela’s Artisan Blend Flour, Cup4Cup (they have a regular and a multigrain blend, both of which can be used to substitute for wheat flour in almost any recipe), King Arthur Gluten Free All-purpose Flour and – believe it or not –Walmart’s Great Value Gluten Free All-purpose Flour Blend. I have baked or have eaten baked goods made with all of these flours and they really are delicious. You may forget that you’re eating gluten free. So, get rid of all those highly specialized recipes which require all those little bags of flours. Grab one bag of flour and you can break out your grandmother’s heirloom recipes and go to town.
  4. food-791640_1920Don’t Eat Just Anything: Potlucks are popular around the holidays, it’s a great way to get together with others and share the things that we love to eat. However, experienced celiacs wince at the mention of a potluck supper. It can be a nightmare for us. But remember that you can navigate these dinners successfully. The best thing to do in these cases is to talk to the host ahead of time and make him aware of your food sensitivity. Again, bring something if you can. At the party, eat simply. Raw fruit and vegetable and cheese trays are a great place to start. Next, go to anything that is in a package with an ingredients label and read it. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, either. If a dish appeals to you, find out who made it and ask them what they put into it. Remember, if you don’t know what’s in a dish, you shouldn’t eat it.
  5. Be Prepared and Treat Yourself: Eating can be an emotional as well as a physical act. If you have to be gluten free, then you are going to have to prepare yourself for the holidays physically and emotionally. The best personal advice that I can give (gained through some painful experiences) is firstly: NEVER go to a party hungry. I know a few people who do go to parties hungry so that they can stuff themselves when they get there. This is a very bad idea for people who may not be able to eat anything but the raw vegetables. So, I recommend eating before you go. You’ll have to gauge this with where you’re going. For instance, I don’t eat a whole lot before going to my mother in law’s house because she is familiar with what I can and can’t eat and will always have a dinner that is safe for me. Office parties, church socials and large get-togethers where there will be a potluck are places where I try not to go unprepared. I eat beforehand so that I’m not dying of hunger while I watch everyone else eat. It’s also a good idea to bring a treat with you to enjoy at the party. It can be downright depressing to watch everyone enjoying things that you used to love (Grandma’s chocolate pie or Aunt Whatsherface’s Red Velvet Cake). It’s best, of course, when the party includes something for you, but this isn’t always the case. When you’re not able to take part in the festivities, you might feel cut off from the joy of the season. I have found that it truly does help, in these cases, to reserve something special for yourself that you can indulge in while everyone else is pounding down cookies and eggnog. Bring your favorite candy, cookie or snack and eat it while everyone else is having their dessert (because, let’s be honest, dessert is the most emotional part of the meal) have yours as well. What really matters is the sense of togetherness. If you’re not dying of hunger and you have a little treat help you celebrate with others, you won’t feel alone in the crowd.

Get out – now!

By Jeanne Reynolds

A couple years ago, my husband hosted an awards trip for people from his department at work and their spouses. If you’ve read many of my previous posts, you know we’ve built our someday-retirement home in Beaufort and have fallen in love with the area, so he decided to hold the conference there. The group stayed at a charming bed-and-breakfast inn in the historic area, dined one night in a wonderful waterfront restaurant and another in the moss-draped backyard of a century-plus-year-old home. Throw in some carriage rides, art galleries and strolls along the river walk, and a great time was had by all.

No, I’m not working for the chamber of commerce or visitors’ bureau on the side, so why am I telling you this? Because of the three dozen people on the trip, my husband and I were the only ones who had ever been to Beaufort before.

Big deal, you say, but wait: His company is based in South Carolina, with headquarters in Columbia. In fact, nearly everyone on the trip has lived in this state their whole lives. Yet they had never ventured the relatively short distance to check out a town Southern Living magazine and who knows how many other lifestyle publications can’t stop gushing over.

Admittedly, Beaufort isn’t exactly on the way to anywhere (except maybe Parris Island, and I doubt many Marines are reading this anyway). You pretty much have to mean to go there. But this is my point: South Carolina is full of wonderful places you have to mean to go to – beautiful, quirky, unexpected places you’ll never see unless you get up and go. And it’s so worth it.

Let’s take Yemassee, for example (it’s near Beaufort, by the way – giving you a two-fer here). Population 966, it’s home to:

  • A company that makes incredible (and expensive) granite-type countertops with oyster shells embedded in them.
  • The hauntingly beautiful ruins of the mid-1700s Old Sheldon Church, burned down in both the Revolutionary and Civil wars.
  • A golf club so private it makes August National look like a neighborhood open house.
  • A dive bar that serves weekly standing-room only steak dinners.
  • A farm that raises monkeys for pharmaceutical research.
  • An antique store that doubles as a deli and catering company.

 

Show of hands: How many of you have been to Yemassee? Or even heard of it? Yeah, that’s what I thought.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I’m guilty, too. I’ve lived in this state for almost 30 years and I’ve yet to hear a performance at the Newberry Opera House or eat at Yoder’s Dutch Kitchen in Abbeville. And until just a few years ago, I’d never stepped inside the State House.avenue of oaks

Yes, I’ve seen homes decorated for Christmas in Camden, trod the trails at Historic Brattonsville and Congaree National Park, kayaked to Shell Island near Edisto and bought boiled peanuts at Snider’s Crossroads – but that’s barely scratching the surface of the oh-so-many places to see in our state.

Need ideas? (After all, you don’t know what you don’t know.) Find inspiration on the S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism website, or Google “places to visit in South Carolina.” Or just get in the car and head to the next town over – the one you never go to because, well, it’s really not on the way to anywhere. Be sure to take the back roads, and stop anywhere that looks interesting.

Take a couple hours on a Sunday afternoon or a long weekend. Whatever you do, just get out and go. There’s so much more out there than you – or I – can imagine.

The Best Thanksgiving

By Kate Morrow

Thanksgiving has always been my most favorite holiday. A time for cooking, wearing comfortable clothes and lounging, catching up with family, playing games, watching football. It’s just such a cozy holiday that truly kicks off the entire holiday season.

Last year, Thanksgiving took on a whole new meaning. Our babies came home.IMG_6781

In the NICU, they never really tell you when your baby will discharge because things could literally change in the next moment. But on the Friday morning before Thanksgiving, our nurse practitioner excitingly told us the babies would discharge that Sunday and they would be home for Thanksgiving.

We were beyond thrilled! My husband, our families, and I came together like an Army— finishing the nursery, washing all the sheets and blankets, and getting all of the last-minute items. Cam and I went on a date night Saturday to celebrate and have one last “date” before we knew life as we knew it would get a little crazier with newborn twins at home.

I was like a kid on Christmas Eve and could not sleep at all on Saturday night. When the alarm finally went off, I sprung out of bed. The car seats were packed. Their coming home outfits were finally packed. This was truly going to be the best day ever.

It took a good while to pack up our 76 day adventure in the NICU and get everyone loaded in the car. We arrived home to all of the grandparents standing on the porch, complete with balloons, storks announcing their homecoming in the front yard, and an excited dog anxious to meet his brother and sister.

I dreamed of this day. I longed for this day. I wanted this day so badly and it was here. We were finally basking in the beauty and joy we so desperately dreamt of for those 76 days and during my favorite and the most wonderful time of year.

IMG_6834On Thursday, we celebrated Thanksgiving. Because we were technically in medical isolation, only our selected caregivers could be there. We all sat down at the table—Cam, me, Yaya, Pops, Gigi, Poppy, and Jack and Lilly in their bassinets. We held hands and we prayed. We ate. We shared stories. We tended to the babies. We snuggled.

I can distinctly remember looking around the room and thinking there was no absolute way I could ever possibly get any happier. Everything and everyone I loved most in the world was finally together.

This year, their Poppy— my dad— will be missing from the table. I find so much peace and comfort in knowing that our last Thanksgiving with him was the best Thanksgiving of my life. This is our first big holiday without him and my heart hurts. My heart hurts for the cranberry dressing he won’t fix this year. My heart hurts that he won’t scold me for picking at the trimmings as he carves the turkey. My heart hurts that we wont sneak a few midnight snacks of leftover macaroni and pecan pie.

fullsizeoutput_f6But just like the changing leaves and cold air that are upon us—I know this, too, is just a season of life. I can remember some of the very best Thanksgivings I have ever had. I can remember some of the ones that weren’t as easy. But, I am thankful for them all. And I know easier and better Thanksgivings are in my future.

Wherever you are, whatever you are going through, Happy Thanksgiving!

Poppy’s Cranberry Dressing:

Ingredients: 

  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1 package of fresh or frozen cranberries
  • 2 tablespoons of orange zest

Method: 

Add sugar, a half of cup of water and orange juice to a sauce pan. Bring to boil and then add cranberries. Allow to boil. Reduce heat and boil for 9-10 minutes. Stir occasionally. Add orange zest. Allow to cool. Refrigerate.

Phone Calls

By Lisa Baker

Fall has arrived!  Cooler weather and beautiful colors as the leaves change.  The stores are all decorated for Christmas.

Hold on, my phone is ringing.

Me: Hello

Dad: Lisa this is Daddy.  How are you doing?

Me: Good Dad.  How are you?

Dad:  I’m in a mess.

Me: Why?  What’s wrong?

Dad:  I need to get out of here.  I don’t have anywhere to put my stuff.

Me: Dad you have plenty of room in your closet.

Dad: No!  I need to get these things home.

Me: You need your clothes there, Dad.

Dad: When are you coming to get me?

Me: Dad, I have to work.  I can’t do anything until after I get off.

Dad: You can leave work now!  I want you here now!  You hear me?!?

Me: Yes, Dad I hear you.  I can’t just leave work every time you call.  I’ll get fired.

Dad: You don’t worry about that.  I need you here now!! Hurry up and get down here.  I’ll be waiting.

*dial tone, he hung up on me*

I know he is fine or the staff would have called me, and I can tell from the phone number he is at his facility.  So, I know he is safe.

Back to work.  I love the fall.  It’s a beautiful time of year.  People are shopping for Thanksgiving and Christmas.  The time changes, we fall back one hour.

Excuse me, my phone is ringing again.

Me: Hello?

Dad: Lisa, this is Daddy.  How are you doing?

Me: Dad, I am good.  Trying to get my work done.

Dad: Lisa, listen.  I am at Allied and I need you to come pick me up.

Me: Dad, you’re at Allied?

Dad: Yes, Lisa.  I need you to hurry up and get down here to pick me up!

Me: Dad, I’m still at work.  I’m not sure how much longer I’ll be here.

Dad: Lisa, I’ve done told you I need you to get here now! RIGHT NOW!  To pick me up.  Don’t make me wait!

*dial tone, he hung up again*

I see that he called me from his facility, so I know he is not at Allied.  Also, Allied has been gone for years now.  That building is now Honeywell if I’m not mistaken.

Ok now, where was I?  Talking about fall.

It is such a beautiful time of year.  Not too hot, not too cold.  Just perfect.  Christmas trees and Christmas lights start being put up.

prayer

Yes think we could all use a little prayer now and then.  Especially this one.

So, let’s see now, my phone has rung twice in about fifteen to twenty minutes.  Just while I’m getting my blog post together.

On a regular work day, I put my phone on silent.  Hard to scrub and have your phone ringing.  I check my messages during lunch.  While Dad won’t leave a message, he will continue to call me.  By lunch I could have as many as ten missed calls from him.

I also check my voice mail.  If the staff at his facility are really trying to get me they will leave a message.  If it is urgent and they can’t get me they will then call my sister in law.

By the time I get off work and get home there may be as many as 22 missed calls from Dad.

He has told me anything from, “I’ve got all this corn that I’ve got to get home.  You got to come help me get it home,” to, “they are kicking us out, Lisa I need you to come get me.”

I never know just what the story will be from one call to the next.  I try to deal with each one the best I can.  And I go to see Dad as much as I can.

pretty place

WOW! This child is amazing!

By June Headley-Greenlaw

I was watching the news this weekend, and a story came on about a child that was honoring veterans.  Of course, being a military family, it got my full attention.  This was a story about a child in 7th grade that has been working for three years to honor veterans.  As I listened to his story, I completely went into the ugly cry!  As Carrie Underwood says, “you can’t cry pretty.”

The story on the news was a follow-up with a child they had featured last year.  They didn’t dig a lot into the backstory so, of course, I went looking for it and found it on the web.  This young boy, his heart and his actions, astound me!

He went to visit his Grandfather’s grave to place a flag and some flowers on Veteran’s Day and noticed that many of the graves didn’t have any flags or flowers.  Disturbed by this, he vowed to do something about it.  He started raising money by vacuuming floors, and he set a goal to place a flag and flower on the graves of each of the veterans resting in the cemetery where his Grandfather was buried.

His mission grew from there, and he has now honored over 180,000 veterans by placing a flag and red carnation on their graves.  He doesn’t stop there.  You can read the rest of his story at www.prestonsharp.net.

The story touched me so deeply because I remember the first Christmas after we lost our Marine, Jared Greenlaw.  He was only 25 years old when he died in April of 2017.  That Christmas, my husband and I donated to an organization called Wreaths Across America.  The organization was started in Maine, which is where Jared’s gravesite is located in a Veteran’s cemetery, and their mission is to place wreaths on the graves of veterans across this country.  However, we didn’t know if they would specifically get to his grave.Capture

We were devastated that we couldn’t be there to do something ourselves that year because we were in South Carolina, so we ended up calling Jared’s uncle Mark and asking him to do it for us.  Without hesitation, he did.  We were blessed to have family members close to the cemetery, but the sting of thinking that our son’s grave might be bare for Christmas was overwhelming.  It might not seem like a big deal to some, but when the only way you have left to take care of your child is to dress up their grave, believe me, it’s important!

I was touched by the actions of this child so deeply partly because of his age and partly because of his dogged determination.  Not many kids his age understand what it means to be a veteran and certainly kids his age have things more fun to do than visiting cemeteries.  Yet Preston seems to truly understand the importance of what he is doing.   I’m certain that the veterans he is honoring in the cemeteries are just as grateful to Preston as those veterans he’s visiting with that we are blessed to still have among us.

I am proud of this young man and his cause, and I’m hoping that you will be too.  If you’d like to help him carry out his mission, read more about him, purchase a t-shirt or a challenge coin, or donate funds for him to purchase more flags and flowers for our veterans by visiting his website at www.prestonsharp.net.

Treasured Traditions…Fire It Up & Pass The Biscuits!

By Marianna Boyce

It’s that time of the year when many of us may experience feelings of nostalgia.  I love reminiscing about holidays past.  pic 2On Thanksgiving Day, rest assured, my Daddy will be outside raking and burning leaves in his brick fire pit.  (He will probably also be sporting a tie!)  I adore watching him stand there stoically with his hands propped up on the rake while he watches the leaves burn.  It always sparks great conversation when my son and I smell a fire off in the distance in crisp autumn air.  I’m thankful God has blessed us with another year for Daddy to light his traditional Thanksgiving bonfire.

I also need to introduce you to my maternal grandmother (Maw).  She was the only one of my grandparents that I remember.  She was no bigger than a minute but she owned a large personality.  She passed away many years ago at the tender age of ninety.  One thing I always loved watching her do when I was a child was make homemade buttermilk biscuits.  She would scoop out a handful of lard and circle it around the huge mound of flour in her “magical” wooden bowl.  She would “squish” flour and lard as she slowly poured buttermilk into the bowl with her arthritic hands.  She would incorporate and knead it until it possessed the consistency of perfection. That small handful of lard “magically” transformed into a large ball of dough.  Maw would then pinch off a bit and roll it in her tiny hands.  As she placed that ball of dough on her baking pan, she would gently place her knuckle prints across the top of each biscuit.  This was a must!  She often remarked without the knuckle prints, they just wouldn’t taste as good!

pic 3My precious Mama has continued making these biscuits after Maw passed away.  I had always wanted to learn but it just looked so daunting.  Every Thanksgiving at Mama’s house, I watch her in action.  She always makes it look so easy!  Last Thanksgiving (2017), she just wasn’t herself.  She was experiencing a great deal of pain in her back and could hardly stand, but she just HAD to make those biscuits.  I told her to sit next to me in the kitchen and teach me to make them instead.  It was time to pass the torch!  Mama didn’t realize I was also experiencing an excess of pain in my body related to RA, especially in my hands; however, I was willing to suffer through the pain for my sweet Mama!

pic 1I grimaced when I started pouring cold buttermilk into the bowl incorporating it with the lard and flour.  After a minute or two, a Thanksgiving miracle happened!  It turned out, this was VERY therapeutic for my hands.  Once I finished, I felt fantastic!  The smell of freshly baked biscuits wafting through the air was enough to make anyone’s day!  I could hardly wait for both of us to taste one piping hot from the oven!  My oldest brother Tommy was certain we would be using them for weapons, but I’m happy to report that my first batch of biscuits turned out quite good.  I had a great teacher, but of course Maw AND Mama’s biscuits remain unmatched!  Maybe this year she will teach me to make her homemade giblet gravy.  I’ll be making the biscuits!

We truly need to pass on precious memories and treasured traditions to our future generations.  I’m wondering if we should even revive some that we’ve “forgotten.”  So much seems to get lost along the way.  When did we get in a big hurry to do everything?  The answer is…just one moment at a time!  Let’s just slow down this holiday season and simply enjoy the journey.  God bless you and your family!  Happy Thanksgiving y’all!

  •  I have lost one additional pound since my last post (for a total loss of 5 pounds). I hoped to be further along by now, but you know…Halloween candy and all.  I have a fondness for Reese’s cups!  (Who knew?)  Only 15 more pounds to lose!