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Redmond: Gluten-free Thanksgiving

11/11/11 5:55PM By Marybeth Redmond
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(Host) Holiday meals can spark anxiety and even alarm in those with gluten sensitivities. But writer, journalist and commentator Marybeth Redmond, who is gluten-intolerant herself, has a pro-active strategy this holiday season.

( Redmond ) Last year's Thanksgiving feast was a bit of a bust. Don't get me wrong. I hosted a delectable spread at my home in Essex . But, it was the first Thanksgiving I was officially gluten-free, and I was still grappling with the ramifications of that.

My festively-set dining table overflowed with the traditional comfort foods of Thanksgiving. A fresh turkey from nearby Westford, and potatoes and carrots harvested in Jericho adorned my tabletop. But as I lit the tapers and poured the chardonnay, I suddenly realized that half the meal (and the best parts of it) would be off-limits to me. Recently discovered to be gluten-intolerant, I was still deciphering ingredient labels and learning what grains were safe. The stuffing, it dawned on me, contained that most toxic ingredient for the gluten-averse-wheat.

I scoured my menu scribbled on a torn envelope. My mind raced again to the turkey, the innards of which held the simmering stuffing. Cross-contamination is a common concern for those who are food-allergic. Would I be okay ingesting good ‘ole Tom? Next on my list: sage-encrusted rolls that I purchased from a Burlington bakery. Definitely, off-limits. I was now too overwhelmed to contemplate loss of the scrumptious finale-homemade pumpkin pie. I should assume that the crust had been kneaded with wheat, barley or rye-based flour - and indeed it had.

For those diagnosed with gluten-sensitivity or the more severe celiac disease, cheating on your diet can spell disaster in subsequent minutes and hours. Gluten is a protein composite that one's gastro-intestinal tract can react to like a foreign invader. Its presence activates a host of symptoms, including intense abdominal pain, not to mention the longer-term impacts of not absorbing nutrients properly.

So, this year my friend Claire, also gluten-intolerant, proposed another option for us at holiday-time. She suggested that our families gather the weekend before at her home in New Hampshire to cook-up a gluten-free Thanksgiving feast.

Thanksgiving, we agree, is about abundance and breaking bread with loved ones in a spirit of community. She adds that to have to monitor and decline foods, feel deprived, and be well-behaved about it all, removes the joy of eating with abandon. I agree completely.

So we're currently brainstorming our G-F menu. One of us will prepare fresh cranberry sauce, as some store brands contain gluten for thickening. We'll sauté gravy using the turkey drippings, giblets and a few spoonfuls of white rice flour. I'm responsible for the bread cubes and multi-grain rolls, which I'll purchase from a gluten-free bakery in my own hometown! As for the dessert table, I'm anticipating a myriad of choices, including my own beloved pumpkin pie - this year made with tapioca flour.
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