For years, Jolie Kerr's family in Boston has entertained a family of friends for Thanksgiving dinner.
One guest, the father, has a severe intolerance to wheat gluten, so the Kerrs take great care when hosting dinner to not include anything that might trigger his body to react.
Gluten is the elastic protein found in cereal grains, such as wheat. When combined with water to make dough, it is responsible for the flexibility of the mixture as the yeast creates gasses to expand the mixture.
Not everyone digests gluten well. For those who do not absorb it efficiently, the physical effects can be debilitating.
Even the smallest amount of gluten can ruin the father's meal. His mood changes as the body tries unsuccessfully to absorb it, bringing on depressionlike emotional symptoms as well as the intestinal discomfort.
Gluten was once believed to affect one out of every 5,000 people in the U.S. Now the National Institutes of Health says the number is closer to 1 in 130.
Frequently, those with the problem go undiagnosed because of confusing symptoms or differing levels of severity. A University of Chicago study determined that the number of celiac sufferers in the U.S. could fill 57 Yankee Stadiums. Of those, only two stadiums full of people would be accurately diagnosed cases.
With the incidence increasing, a growing number of hosts at holiday dinners are grappling to adjust to their friends and family at the table who have special needs.
To accommodate their family friend, the Kerrs resist the tradition of stuffing their turkey with bread. Starch products are examined closely. Pie crusts are substituted for mixes that are gluten-free — usually abbreviated GF by those who suffer from celiac disease.
Even condiments, such as soy sauce or Worcestershire sauce, can hide gluten ingredients.
"He was diagnosed 15 to 20 years ago, back before it became a 'thing,' " said Kerr, who writes a popular baking column for the pop culture blog "The Awl."
A few years ago, Kerr made the pastries for the dinner, buying a special GF pastry mix for a pie crust. As a matter of routine, she sprinkled it with flour to keep it from sticking to the pie pan. She caught herself in time and remade the dessert. She told her celiac friend about the near mishap. The story has become part of holiday lore.
"Because we like him and choose to have him in our home, we are happy to go out of our way to make sure the meal is OK for him."
Diagnosis of celiac
disease is growing rapidly as doctors who once attributed the symptoms to other intestinal irritations more accurately hone in on the syndrome's root cause.
That growth shows up during the holidays in the tripling of traffic to Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef, a recipe website run by Shauna Ahern and her husband, Danny.
"It's funny. All through the year, people seem to accept their gluten-free situation with grace and even a sense of humor," she said. "This time of year, I can feel the anxiety. Behind it lies one big question: 'How do I make sure that I can create a Thanksgiving meal that will satisfy everyone?' "
Last week, Ahern posted an entire menu of recipes for making a gluten-free Thanksgiving feast, complete with GF gravy and GF stuffing.
"It isn't just that it's great food," she said. "It's the same thing, really. Only without gluten."
Even the most benign kitchen actions during the holiday can have consequences. Cross contamination from serving spoons is one of the easiest mistakes to make.
Ahern's brother, who likes to experiment at Thanksgiving, tried cooking turkey in a bag to keep the moisture in the bird. To keep the bag from sticking, he sprinkled flour on top.
"My brother is sweet, but there was no turkey for me that year," she said.
What Ahern suggests is for celiac sufferers to host their own holiday meals. That way they can ensure the safety of their foods.
For them, that includes using plastic cutting boards instead of wooden ones, which can hide traces of gluten no matter how much they are cleaned.
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the eating holidays, author Jennifer Katzinger wrote the new book "Gluten-Free and Vegan Holidays: Celebrating the Year with Simple, Satisfying Recipes and Menus" (Sasquatch Books, $24.95).
The book offers 70 recipes for Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, Passover, Easter, Fourth of July, Halloween and birthdays.
Katzinger suggests that those hosting gluten-free guests encourage them to bring their own contributions to the Thanksgiving table to give themselves confidence about the purity of their food.
Recipes for that day include Acorn Squash with Porcini Mushrooms, Herbed Fresh Bread Stuffing with Golden Raisins and Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Red Onions
Many Thanksgiving dishes already are gluten-free, she said, but that doesn't mean they have to be bland. Fresh ingredients add flavor naturally.
"Your meal will take on an even more fulfilling quality," she said. "And the food may taste even more delectable when made together."
Not every host
is accommodating in social situations. Natasha Kettleson, author of the blog Glutenista (glutenista.com), said she routinely hears stories of families shunning celiac relatives.
"They'll still make a full GF meal and put gravy on everything," Kettleson said. "I realize how fortunate I am to have a supportive family."
She began eating gluten-free eight years ago and noticed an immediate change in her health. She created Glutenista in 2010, she said, because so many sites "were fairly miserable."
She offers tips for celiac diners, including taking care to watch for "double-dippers" at the hors d'oeuvre table.
"A lot of resources weren't uplifting," Kettleson said. "I wanted to make sure something was out there for people newly diagnosed that would be empowering, especially for women and girls."
The number of visitors to the site soars as much as 500 percent around Thanksgiving. Glutenista was created for celebrating the diagnosis with style, she said. That includes holiday time.
"I want them to know they can not only eat well, but eat great," Kettleson said. "The beautiful thing is that after the diagnosis, you immediately feel like a million bucks."
Late Winter Apple Tarte
For the crust:
1¼ cups almond meal, divided
1 cup teff flour
¾ cup coconut oil
¼ teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon For the filling:
2 medium apples, peeled, cored and very thinly sliced
½ cup canned unsweetened coconut milk
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
To make the tart crust, in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine 1 cup almond meal, teff flour, coconut oil, salt and cinnamon. Mix on low speed until a soft, pielike dough forms. Reserve ¼ cup of dough for the top of the tart and press the rest of the dough into a 9-inch tart pan. Bake for 15 minutes, or until barely golden.
While the bottom crust is baking, prepare the filling. In a medium bowl, combine the apples, coconut milk and cinnamon. Spread the filling evenly in the prebaked tart crust, arranging the apples in concentric circles. Sprinkle with bits of the reserved tart dough and the remaining ¼ cup almond meal. Bake for an additional 45 minutes, or until golden.
"Gluten-Free and Vegan Holidays" by Jennifer Katzinger