Saturday, November 9, 2013

Staying Safely Gluten Free at Family Events

The holiday's are rapidly approaching...  Okay Carol, take a deep breath, it will be okay.

I don't know about you, but the holidays always stress me out.  My favorite part of the holidays was the food, and with the coming into my life of celiac disease, that suddenly became complicated.

Every family with a celiac person has come up with their own strategies to dealing with gluten free at family events, and it seems to range from the whole extended family eating gluten free to the person on the diet being excluded, with many shades of gluten free in between.

My first gluten free Thanksgiving, I hosted and was able to make everything in my own kitchen.  It was exhausting, and a little kid dropped their gluteny roll into my gravy.  If I'm completely honest, I will have to admit that I went into my bedroom and cried at that point.

The next year, I went to my family, and got cross contaminated.  Someone put the wrong spoon in the wrong pot.  I was sick for a week.

The year after that, I told everyone I was going out of town and stayed home and ate all my favorites safely, and kept eating them for a month, because left overs are pretty ridiculous when you only have 1 person at Thanksgiving.  I didn't get sick, but really, while the food is my favorite part, there isn't much point in Thanksgiving without the people who you are thankful for (and some that you pretend to be thankful for because they are family).

After several years, I think I'm finding a balance.  I do still cook all my favorites in small portions for myself, I have worked to educate family members on what is okay and what isn't, and they understand better.  But still, there is the fear.  No one wants to spend Black Friday dealing with a glutening, it's only slightly less painful than Black Friday shopping at Walmart (though nothing is worse than both at the same time).

For me, I have learned to let go of the foods I don't absolutely love, and to make all the foods I do.  When I bring the foods to Mom's house, I no longer set them out with all the others, and I leave things covered to prevent crumbs making their way in.  After that, I rearrange the buffet, so that the gluten items are set after all of the  shared items that I want to eat too.  Turkey, gravy, potatoes, veggies all come first and then rolls and stuffing are spaced further down the way.  I go through a spiel reminding people that while I am happy to share anything I have brought I need them to be mindful of cross contamination.

There are a few places I think we are more likely to overlook possible gluten at family events:
  • Butter:  I either bring my own or slice some off the new cube and set it aside, I just have to make sure no one sneaks some of my butter.
  • The turkey:  Not all turkeys are gluten free, I check with the host and make sure they have a turkey I can eat.  Additionally, if the turkey is roasted in a turkey bag, the directions say to toss in a couple tablespoons of flour.  I offer to provide rice flour for the bag.  This takes some checking and planning ahead.  Don't be afraid to ask, if they love you enough to have you to Thanksgiving, this is a small accommodation to make.
  • Gravy:  Many people like gravy on their stuffing, and it's easy to drag the dipper across the stuffing and stick it back in the pot without realizing you could make someone sick.  I often set some gravy aside for myself before serving begins to avoid this.
  • Serving spoons:  People often accidentally set the wrong spoon in the wrong pan, I try to keep a physical space between gluten and gluten free items to avoid this, as well as keeping things covered as much as possible.
  • Cutting boards:  A cutting board is often used to slice gluten bread, but on Thanksgiving it may be used to cut turkey.  If there are crumbs in the cuts on the board, the turkey will become contaminated.  I try to be in charge of slicing the turkey so I can make sure it is sliced on a surface that will not contaminate it.

What are things that work for you and your family?