I loved the holidays growing up. And I mean I LOVED the holidays…everything about them.
I loved the anticipation.
I loved not having to go to school.
I loved watching tons of football.
I loved spending time with my family.
I loved the presents under the tree (and hopefully loved them just as much when opened).
And oh…how I loved the food.
As I grew up and matured (well…grew up anyway), some of that LOVE got lost. I realized how much work my parents put in to make the holidays so awesome for my three brothers and I. They made it seem pretty darn effortless when I now know how much behind-the-scenes work goes into everything.
But you know what? I still strongly like the holidays. I get some much needed time off from work. I spend more time with my amazing family. My life, which normally moves at breathtaking speed, just seems to slow down a bit and I revel in every single second of it.
As Ferris Bueller says: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
So I truly try to “look around once in a while” during the holidays.
Let’s circle back to something that most everyone seems to enjoy most about the holidays…the food. When I think of the holidays, I think of one main staple in our household and that is STUFFING.
Turkey? There’s a reason we only have it once a year.
Mashed potatoes? Nothing too exciting.
Veggies? Yeah right.
But the stuffing?? The “stuff” that dreams were made of.
My parents made a very basic stuffing: bread, celery, butter, broth, onion and some spices. Nothing crazy but my oh my, I would have it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. As I entered my teen years, I would volunteer to make the stuffing. I’d set my alarm because I needed to stuff the bird before it went into the oven in the morning because for some reason, even though we always ate dinner at around 6:30, Thanksgiving dinner would start at 4. Don’t ask me why.
Anyway, I have such fond memories of making, smelling and then of course eating the stuffing. And those memories continued into my adulthood as we would always host Thanksgiving. I loved the tradition. Absolutely loved it.
Then celiac struck. Not only did it strike, but it struck in October, right before the holidays kicked in. There were four things that I knew immediately that I’d miss. Beer, pizza, bagels and my stuffing.
But then I had a thought. “They make gluten-free bread. The rest of the ingredients are all gluten-free. I’m totally good!!”
So Thanksgiving rolls around. Mrs. Dude makes sure we have all of the necessary ingredients to make my kick-booty stuffing. I don’t remember the actual brand of gluten-free bread we used, but remember in 2007, the options were limited. Pre-celiac when I made stuffing, we’d use bread that was slightly stale. When I made stuffing in 2007, even though I used fresh gluten-free bread, it still had that same stale, dry feel to it. I know…kind of gross but I figured I was golden.
So I make my stuffing. I stuff the heck out of the bird. I put it in the oven and all day long I’m salivating. Everyone is going to LOVE my gluten-free stuffing.
Pop…the turkey is ready. I get a big spoon and excitedly start digging the stuffing out. Hmmm…not the same texture but I’m sure it will taste just great.
Wrong! It sucked. And I don’t mean just “not the same”. It was truly disgusting. Can the bread make that much of a difference? Apparently so.
So that’s my stuffing story. I’m sure you’ve got your own “now I’m gluten-free” horror stories too.
But what else do we celiacs need to be careful of during the gluten free holidays? Here is some free advice. It comes from the heart.
- Cross-contamination: Holidays usually means lots of people. And lots of people means lots of food. And lots of food means lots of hands digging into that food. Do yourself a favor. Keep your food separate. Having a bunch of appetizers? Make a plate for yourself and keep them away from everyone else. All it takes is one slip up and your toast…no pun intended.
- Eating at someone else’s house: We almost always host Thanksgiving but then do Christmas at my brother’s house. And I must say I am blessed. My sister-in-law totally gets what gluten-free means, from preparation all the way down to the food itself. I’ve eaten there dozens of times over the years since my celiac diagnosis and I’ve never gotten hit once. But I know others out there aren’t as fortunate. So what do you do if you are going to someone’s house who may have the best intentions but is still not educated enough to prepare a completely safe meal? Well, if I were in your shoes, I’d bring my own food. Yeah…I know…total drag. But at the end of the day, it’s only food. Put the focus on the people and all the sudden the food doesn’t seem as important.
- Overeating: I don’t care if you have celiac, allergies, diabetes, gout, crabs or amnesia. STOP eating before you get too full. Your entire being will thank you for it. Load up on water and raw veggies and then just dabble in the sweet stuff.
- Getting caught up in the festivities: All it takes is one infraction and you can be down for the count. With all of the excitement and all of the food, there may be some opportunities to let your guard down and cheat “just this once”. Don’t do it. Nothing tastes as good as healthy feels.
My last piece of holiday advice is simple. Be thankful.
I know it’s hokey. But the older I get, the more thankful I am every single day for who and what I have in my life. If you go around the table saying your thanks, don’t say what everyone else will say (my family, my health, my iPhone). Dig deep. I’m sure you’ve got a lot to be thankful for, even if you’ve got celiac disease.
Happy Holidays from the Gluten Dude family to yours.