Staring out the window at this dreary November morning, I have to admit: I am not at all sure what happened to the rest of 2011. It seems unrealistic to say that this year was actually more busy than previous years. It seems unscientific to say that time actually passed more quickly this year. And I'm fairly certain I haven't actually lost my mind. But whatever happened, here we are: November. Thanksgiving is next week. Navigation of holiday meals, parties, and events with all these food allergies begins... now.
So, beginning to reflect on recipes and menus for family gatherings, and mentally dusting off lists of "safe" and "unsafe" common holiday food items, today seemed like an excellent opportunity to discuss the gluten-free Thanksgiving meal. Because of all the things I am thankful for -- and there are a great many -- some of the things I am most thankful for are the ability to get out of bed in the morning, to walk all the way across a room without needing to rest half way, and to eat without eating in mortal fear of the consequences. And it would be a shame if Thanksgiving dinner were to threaten so many points for thankful reflection.
For nearly all of my non-vegetarian friends, Thanksgiving's meal mainstay is turkey. So this is, primarily, a post about eating turkey. I happen to have a family with friends who do things like raise turkeys, so concern about "injected" or "deep-basted" (etc., pick your eyebrow-raising term) turkey has never been a particular issue in our house. For the majority of Seattleites, however, being able to sit down over coffee and chat with the guy who grew your dinner isn't necessarily an option. You're stuck reading labels.
Over the years, various theories have been popularized about the safety of commercially grown and processed meats, particularly poultry, and particularly for those with Celiac disease. A bit of basic web-browsing will, at this time, lay most of the concerns about gluten to rest. The general consensus now seems to be that most commercial turkeys (unless stuffed or otherwise dressed or seasoned) are as safe for Celiacs as for anyone. Unlike deli meats, which are occasionally injected with Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein (a grain derivative), the solution with which turkey is injected (a practice that is sounding less and less appetizing, the longer I write about it) is typically gluten-free friendly. That said, read the labels. Make use of company customer service websites if you have any doubts. And forget about making use of those "convenient" gravy packets.
On the topic of gravy: do not fall into the trap of believing that a good gravy must contain gluten. Absolute myth. A good gravy needs good stock to begin with, and then simply needs thickening. Gluten-free thickeners include things like cornstarch, or sweet rice flour. Shauna James Ahern, the Gluten Free Girl, has a fabulous post on making gluten-free gravy here. In fact, she has a fabulous post on Thanksgiving food in general here. See both!
Stuffing is another topic for consideration. Once you've stuffed a turkey with breadcrumbs, it is no longer gluten-free. Fact. Personally, I don't understand bread-based stuffing. I find it somewhat disgusting. But if you must have it, and are feeding someone who is gluten-free, prepare it in a separate dish, away from the turkey. Do not stuff the turkey with bread when nobody is looking, then remove said wheat before anyone catches you, and assume that the lack of witnesses make the meat gluten-free. You can, however, find fabulous recipes for stuffing using wild rice, or quinoa, or any number of other lovely, less strange things than soggy croutons. (You can also find gluten-free recipes for the classic bread stuffing, should you so desire.)
Thankful, this year, that every year produces more articles, more resources, and more amazing people who put time and energy toward not only educating and raising awareness about food allergies, but also cooking up brilliant recipes for those of us who used to be stuck with eating one or two side-dishes at a big dinner, or unseasoned foods because "gluten-free" was such a mystery to so many.