The other day, the Chef and I were standing in the baking section of the PCC in Issaquah. I was about to teach a holiday baking class, and I needed lots of little bags of gluten-free flours. The Chef held Little Bean — the two of them had tagged along for the afternoon.
As we talked, I noticed a young woman standing on the other side of the aisle, chewing on the side of her mouth, standing still. She picked up a box of baking powder, studied it, and put it down. And then she picked it back up again, her eyes wide with fear. I glanced over at her cart. Two gluten-free bread mixes, a box of chocolate cake mix, a few vegetables, and some bags of various flours.
I knew it right away. A newbie.
Her face was a scrim of frozen choices. She studied every box, but she didn’t look as though she knew what she was seeing. There might have been tears in her eyes.
I leaned toward her, gently. “New to gluten-free?” I asked her.
She laughed, but not with joy. “That obvious?”
I remember my first foray into the grocery store after realizing I had to eat gluten-free. Every box of food required reading. I lingered in every aisle. After three hours, I left with a cart three-quarters filled and more questions. It felt as though every shopping trip would last that long.
I rarely think about it anymore. Within a few months, shopping for food became a joy again, instead of a harrowing thrashing through rocks and cold water. It has been a long time since I have felt afraid.
But I know the look. I gave her a few tips. So did the Chef. We wished her well and walked away.
However, I have been thinking about her ever since.
Next week is Thanksgiving. No other holiday is so focused on food in this country, and such glutenous food at that. Starches, breads, stuffings, and sauces — we believe that it just won’t feel like the third Thursday in November unless we’re eating gluten.
If this is your first Thanksgiving gluten-free, we’d like to make you feel better. It’s much easier than you might fear.
Here are a few hints the Chef and I would like to share.
Focus on the foods you can eat.
Ideally, you would cook the meal yourself. That way, you can be in control of all the cooking surfaces and cross-contamination issues. But you might be feeling overwhelmed. Cooking the meal might feel more daunting than picking food you can eat from the platters on the table. Fair enough.
Next best? Your family understands all this and advocates for you. They want you well. They have figured out how to make every family favorite gluten-free, and good. (Check out my recent round-up of recipes for a gluten-free Thanksgiving to nudge them in that direction.) Or they have decided that feeding you and making you feel included is more important than the traditional dishes you have eaten for 30 years. Maybe you could all bring your absolute favorite food in the world. Wake up from the sleepiness that has brought Aunt Edna’s green cabbage jello salad to the table, even though no one eats it. Open your eyes, together, and simply eat well.
If none of these options is available? Find the gluten-free food on the table for which you feel grateful. Scoop up the cranberry compote with orange zest. Pop green olives onto every finger and eat them off, one by one. Compliment your mother on the juicy turkey. Say a little grateful prayer that mashed potatoes don’t ever need flour.
Hey, everyone reading. What is the one dish at Thanksgiving that you simply must have, the one that’s naturally gluten-free. Make us hungry with your choices.
Perhaps you agree to bring one gluten-free dish to the family feast. You decide you’ll make your grandmother’s cornbread dressing. Dutifully, you buy everything gluten-free. And cornmeal. That’s always gluten-free, right?
You eat only what you know is safe. It’s not much. But you feel grateful for that cornbread dressing. Except, just after the meal, you feel bloated and beleaguered with a headache. Soon, you have to lie down on the couch.
What happened? How did you get gluten?
Perhaps you bought Bob’s Red Mill cornmeal. The folks at Bob’s are so wonderful. How would you live without them and all their little bags of flour? What could be wrong with the cornmeal?
Well, Bob’s has two parts of their factories — one where they produce exclusively gluten-free flours and the other one. Corn is gluten-free. However, due to lack of space (I believe), the cornmeal, masa harina, and corn flour are processed in the other factory. The cross-contamination made you sick on Thanksgiving Day.
Remember to remind your family about cross-contamination.
If they are cooking for you, they have to be careful.
Stick the stuffing someplace away from your plate. Use cornstarch or arrowroot powder to make the gravy instead of white enriched flour. Clean off every surface. And make sure they don’t use any wooden spoons, wooden rolling pins, or wooden cutting boards.
You could grow sick from the flour left in that cutting board.
Seriously, it’s probably easier to make your own dinner.
Go ahead and use mixes. There are some good ones.
In the coming years, you will have cooking and baking gluten-free so fully a part of your body memory that you really won’t think about this much. But if this is your first gluten-free Thanksgiving, make it easy on yourself. Use some mixes.
Find a bread mix you like to make the stuffing. I like the Whole Foods sandwich bread. I know that the Chef’s mom has bought a few bags of the Bob’s Red Mill bread mix for me in Tucson next week, so I can have sandwiches with everyone else.
There are pumpkin pies you can buy online, gluten-free gravy mixes (but please make the gravy from scratch; it’s so easy), and scones you can have for Thanksgiving morning with your in-laws. If you just need to fill in the glutenous spaces, and you’re feeling overwhelmed, there are solutions.
(For anyone who has been at this for awhile, what mixes would you recommend?)
We’re a cook-everything-from-scratch family around here. But on my first Thanksgiving, I used a lot of mixes to help me through. There’s nothing wrong with that.
And if you’re really feeling deprived, there are fabulous gluten-free cupcakes for the holiday weekend. (see below)
I know it’s hard, at first. Maybe your family just doesn’t get it, and they frown when you turn down the pie. Hold your head up high. You’re going to feel better than you ever have before. Within a few weeks, or months, you’ll lost most of the cravings for those glutenous treats. You’ll raise your hands to the sky and feel energy in your bones, perhaps for the first time.
Your health — both physical and mental — is worth so much more than the dream of a Thanksgiving dinner.
And if we’re honest, most of the time it’s a disappointment. All those expectations, all those hours of cooking, and then everyone is done eating in 45 minutes. Some of the family repairs to the den to watch football, the rest are sprawled out on the couch in exhaustion. No one wants to eat turkey again for a year.
We can do better. You can lead the way. Eat up. Enjoy your gluten-free dinner. Have a cupcake.
And Happy Thanksgiving. It’s really about the giving of thanks, not the pumpkin pie.
Hey, all you readers who have been at this for awhile. If you have any suggestions, I’m sure that all the newbies would be grateful.
Thank you for reading. We would gladly have you all over for Thanksgiving dinner, if we could.
THE BEST CHOCOLATE CUPCAKES I’VE EVER EATEN
My friend Becky Selengut is incredible. She’s a brilliant chef, runs one of our favorite food websites (Seasonal Cornucopia), and is a whiz-bang Scrabble player. Seriously, we’re lucky to have her in our lives.
This year, however, Becky faced a real challenge as a chef. She found out she’s allergic to garlic. Can you imagine? Well, the reaction was so intense that she sought out the help of a doctor, who put her on an elimination diet, to clean out her body so garlic could come back in. Believe me, Becky’s about the last person I would have expected to do this. But for three months, she left over 20 ingredients out of her diet, including gluten, to heal herself.
It wasn’t all bad. At least she started writing again because of this. You can read all about it at her new blog, Chef Reinvented. Becky’s a hell of a writer. I’m glad to see her back.
The other day, Becky exclaimed to me, “I made the best cupcakes I’ve ever eaten.” What? Where?
“Take the Bob’s Red Mill chocolate cake mix, and add applesauce in place of some of the milk. Seriously, I’ll never make another cupcake with regular flour again.”
That’s a recommendation I take seriously. What else could I do but make cupcakes?
The Chef and I had to resist eating three cupcakes each for breakfast this morning, if only to have some left over to take these photographs.
I ate cupcakes at Magnolia Bakery in Manhattan long before I had to go gluten-free. In Seattle, I ate at Cupcake Royale and Macrina, regularly, before April 2005. These cupcakes are better than any of those. Seriously.
Dark as lava, as moist as the ground in Seattle in November, and rich in chocolate goodness, these cupcakes are addictive. Add some coffee ganache frosting, and you’re pretty much in heaven.
Who needs to feel deprived this holiday?
1/2 cup butter, softened (1 stick)
1 package Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free chocolate cake mix
2/3 cup applesauce (you can make you own, if you wish)
1/3 cup milk (this works with soy or rice milk too)
1 tablespoon lemon juice (however, we were out, and used apple cider vinegar)
2 large eggs
1/3 cup hot water (110°)
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
Preparing for baking. Preheat the oven to 350°. Bring all the ingredients to room temperature. Line a muffin tin with muffin liners.
Making the batter. In the bowl of the stand mixer, start beating the butter until it is creamy. Add the cake mix, the applesauce, the milk, the lemon juice, and the eggs. Beat at low speed for 30 seconds, scraping down the sides when necessary. Raise the speed to low-medium and let it run for another moment. Add the hot water and the vanilla extract. Run the mixer for one more minute, scraping down the sides.
Baking the cupcakes. Carefully spoon the cupcake batter into the prepared muffin tins. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, depending on the size of the cupcakes. (In our oven, the regular-sized cupcakes took 17 minutes, the jumbo ones 20 minutes.) Allow them to cool in the cupcake tin for 10 minutes. Transfer the cupcakes to a cooling rack and let them sit for another 20 minutes before eating. (I know. That’s hard. But trust me.)
Frosting the cupcakes.
coffee chocolate ganache
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon strong coffee grounds
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
8 ounces good dark chocolate
Bring the cream, coffee grounds, and vanilla extract to a boil. Take them off the heat as soon as they boil. Allow them to steep for half an hour. Strain.
Break the chocolate into pieces and put into a bowl. Bring the cream back to a boil. Pour over the chocolate pieces. This will melt the chocolate. Stir until it is smooth.
Lavish the cupcake as fully as you wish with the ganache.
Oh darn, you’ll have some ganache left over. You’ll have to figure out something to do with that.
Makes 16 cupcakes.