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.

Thankful and Blessed

By Rhonda Woods

Hello everyone!

Cooler weather is moving in and Thanksgiving is a few days away.  Our family celebrates this gathering a little differently than most do.  Thanksgiving is generally held a week earlier, at my home or my sister’s. Somewhere to host the crowd. Most of the family travel to their extended families on Turkey Day or spend the long weekend camping.  This year, we celebrated even earlier, on Sunday, November 4 for both Thanksgiving and to honor my mama’s birthday.  All the counter tops in my kitchen were full of traditional and favorite dishes brought by the “designated” family members.  The birthday girl had requested a 6-Layer Coconut Raspberry Cake, which was topped by a large number of candles!  The Happy Birthday song was sung by close to thirty relatives and three of her great-granddaughters sitting on “Granny’s” lap anxiously awaiting the end of the song.  This is followed by the children plucking the candles from the cake to suck the frosting off the bottom of each one!  What a sight!  As I looked around the room, I could not help but be amazed at the growth of our family.  I joke and say, I was the one that started the whole mess, as the firstborn. Mama is pictured here with my children who are the parents of her five great grandchildren.  As her health deteriorates, it was important to celebrate her birthday with many of her favorite foods, laughter and lots of love.

The memories of my sweet husband and other family members who were not there with us brought back the “rain”.  The sting of reality. For a brief time, all was good as I buzzed around doing what I do best, cooking in my kitchen, my comfort zone.  Dressing, Herb Turkey Breasts, Southern Seasoned Butter Beans  Pistachio Salad, Butterscotch Haystacks, Sweet Tea, Cranberry Sauce and the birthday cake were my contributions to the feast.

My Mother-in-law and my Sweet HusbandSo, I am adding my often-requested Dressing, also called Stuffing, recipe which was adapted from my mother-in-law’s recipe (pictured with my husband).  I am also adding some casserole favorites that I hope you will enjoy on your Thanksgiving table… or counter tops, as is tradition in our family. Some people ask what is the difference between Dressing and Stuffing.  Well, Dressing is baked in a pan and Stuffing is cooked inside the turkey as it bakes.  I could just hear my sweet husband asking about leftovers as we would get ready to “make a plate” to reheat for supper.

May God bless you and your family as He has blessed ours,

Chef Woods

 

Thanksgiving Recipes

Classic Green Bean Casserole

Corn Casserole

Macaroni and cheese with crumb topping

Pineapple Casserole

Praline Sweet Potato Casserole

Stuffing

 

One thing at a time: Happy Halloween!

By Jeanne Reynolds

I was in a large national discount chain store that shall not be named but whose name rhymes with Stall-Wart a couple weeks ago. This was September, mind you – and what to my wondering eyes should appear but … well, not quite a miniature sleigh with eight tiny reindeer, but most of what goes along with that. Yes, Christmas decorations. Lots of them. In September.

C’mon, people. We haven’t even had Halloween, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving or even the end of Daylight Savings Time (or is it the beginning? Whichever one is “fall back”) yet. Can’t we reign in our reindeer just a tad?

So I’m focusing on Halloween today. One of my favorite Halloween memories was when I was nine years old and my grandmother made me a genie costume. The TV show “I Dream of Jeannie” was all the rage in those days, and my name is Jeanne, so I just had to have that costume.

I Dream of JeannieAnd boy, did I think I looked good in it. Picture Barbara Eden (eek, I just saw online that she’s 86 now – my mother’s age) … except as a chubby nine-year-old … and plain brown hair instead of blonde … and a sweatshirt on top of the whole thing because it was cooold that Halloween night, even in our northern California neighborhood. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it) no photo evidence remains to show you what a great costume it was.

And it would probably be a great costume even today (although a tad tight and short on my current adult frame). Halloween is an incredibly popular adult holiday these days. Travel & Leisure magazine even has an article on the best Halloween events and festivals of the year. (Spoiler alert: Greenwich Village, New York and West Hollywood, California top the list. Won’t be making either of those.)

Franz & HansMaybe you yourself are one of those people who can’t wait to dress up as a sexy French maid or sexy vampire or sexy anything (do you sense a theme here?). Apparently you have plenty of company. Personally, I’ve always favored creative homemade costumes, like the time my husband I donned gray sweatsuits and stuffed the thighs and arms with newspaper ala Hans and Franz of Saturday Night Live fame. Didn’t cost a dime, plus it was a lot more comfortable than a sexy costume. The only thing I had to worry about falling out was some crumpled newspaper.

And then there’s the candy. There are two camps here: Those who buy just enough for the expected number of trick-or-treaters, and those who buy extra … you know, so there’ll be leftovers. Since I tend to buy cheap candy or varieties I wouldn’t eat (because I will), I fall in the first camp. So consider this fair warning: If you want those miniature Hershey’s bars or SweetTarts, head next door.

At least it’s better than my former neighbors, the retired Army dentists. Yep, toothbrushes and dental floss.

Happy Halloween, y’all!

 

 

Toast the Season with Christmosas

By Mary Pat Baldauf

I have always enjoyed a good mimosa, the classic mix of champagne and orange juice, so I was intrigued when I saw a recipe for “Christmas Mimosas” on Pinterest.

Aside from a shot of Bailey’s in my morning coffee, Christmas day is generally pretty quiet for my family. My sister and I, both single without children, spend the night with my mother. We eat, sleep, put together puzzles, take a ride to see lights and exchange gifts – mostly relax and spend time with one another. But something about those “Christmosas” caught my eye, so I added them to my to–do list.

The ingredients are pretty simple; I picked up the grape juice and champagne during one of my many shopping trips and asked Sister to get the rest during hers.  I chilled the juice and prosecco and used frozen pomegranate seeds. I pre-chopped the grapes and bought sliced green apples and chilled those, too. I also popped the bag of cranberries, which are so plentiful during the holidays, in the freezer.

Come Christmas morning, I just tiptoed into the kitchen and put everything in a pitcher. (I did make a couple of adjustments. I didn’t have time to chop the apples finer, so didn’t add them. The cranberries were lovely, but not so good to eat, so I’ll probably add fewer next time.) Once Sister and Mom were up, we made a toast to my father, who passed away six years ago, and mark the passage of another year of fun and antics as the “Baldauf Chicks.”

This could definitely be the start of a new tradition. They were as pretty as they were delish, Sister and I sipped on them all day. (Mom was dizzy from a holiday illness, so we limited her to one.) So whether you save this to your holiday folder or make a batch for your next winter event, you can’t go wrong with these Christmosas.

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Christmas Mimosas (aka Christmosas)

Ingredients

  • 2 Granny Smith apples, chopped
  • 1 c. whole fresh cranberries
  • 1 c. green grapes, halved
  • 1 c. pomegranate seeds (also known as arils)
  • 1 c. sparkling grape juice
  • 1 bottle champagne, prosecco or cava

Directions

  1. In a large pitcher or punch bowl, add apples, cranberries, grapes and pomegranate seeds. Pour over sparkling grape juice and champagne just before serving.

 

 

 

 

The Best Gift

By Chaunte McClure

I love giving Christmas gifts. To see the sweet faces of my little people light up when they open packages is heartwarming and, in some ways, rewarding. And let’s face it, it’s a joy to receive gifts too, especially when you’re not expecting one.

I was surprised with a few nice gifts the first weekend in December. I wanted to wait until the night of Christmas Eve or Christmas morning to see what was tucked in the decorative gift bags, but my friend begged me to open one of them in her presence and asked me not to consider what might have been spent on the gift or try to give her a gift based on the fact that she bought gifts for me. After removing the present from the gift bag, she explained that the gift was more of a way to show her appreciation for my influence on her life. (Pass the Kleenex, please.) Her sentiments alone were a gift and they make my heart glad.pexels-photo-257855

I’m nearly a decade into the ministry and I am at a point where I don’t care to hear how well I’ve preached because my interest is in whether the preached word of God has changed the life of the listener. No matter how often I stand behind a podium to preach the great Gospel of Jesus Christ, I must live the life of a believer. I realize that my life is a sermon and as difficult as it is at times to live it out in a way that is pleasing to God, it is good to know that I’ve impacted my friend’s life and prayerfully many others. I hold fast to the mantra “if I can help someone along the way, then my living won’t be in vain.”

In my weakest and most vulnerable moments, I think of young ladies like my friend who look up to me and to God who gave his best to me.

While we’re decking the halls, shopping for gifts, planning dinner, and sharing with family and friends, remember why there is such a day reserved for Christmas. “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given. . .” God gave us His best, Jesus Christ, and that is what gives us hope for the days to come.

Have a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year!

Shop Late, If You Must, But Don’t Forget to Shop Sustainable

By Mary Pat Baldauf

There are still a few days left for holiday gift shopping, and if you’re like me, you’ll be using every last hour. A shopper at heart, I love buying gifts for the special people in my life. As a “green girl,” I shop with sustainability in mind and wanted to share some tips so you, too, can be a more sustainable holiday shopper on the last few days of this holiday season.

Think local. Studies show that every dollar spent generates twice as much income for the local economy, and who doesn’t like that? Because locally produced products are created here – not shipped in from across the country or even across the world – the footprint of your gift will be smaller and result in a cleaner, healthier environment.  Working for the City of Columbia, I do a lot of shopping in the Main Street District. My favorites for local goods include Soda City, Columbia’s Main Street market, and Uptown on Main, who also wraps gifts for free.

Consider consumables. Having issues with clutter myself, I refuse to create more for the holidays, for me or for others. My standard gift is usually a recycled-content ornament, but this year I’m only buying gifts that can be eaten or experienced. The Cotton Mill Exchange at the SC State Museum has a great selection of Palmetto State gifts, including gourmet foods produced within our borders. Or select a gift card to a local restaurant, bakery or micro-brewery. Personally, I’ll be asking Santa for a gift certificate to Spotted Salamander, a downtown Columbia café featuring inventive Southern cuisine with fresh, high quality local ingredients. And don’t forget Blue Flour Bakery’s fat and fabulous sugar cookies; with locations in Columbia and Irmo, they’re always a convenient treat.

Another favorite consideration? Think experiential. In the Midlands, it’s easy to find Nickelodeon Marquissomething for everyone on your list to enjoy, like tickets to a play or attraction you know they like. A donation in the name of your recipient will go a long way, too. At the top of my list is a membership to The Nickelodeon, Columbia’s art house theatre on Main Street. Experience gifts are true memory makers, and they don’t take up space on a shelf or need wrapping, either.

 

When you buy gifts, do you consider its impact on the environment and/or local community? Where is your favorite place to buy sustainable holiday gifts? And what is it you recommend there?