Most people must be thinking about Thanksgiving (and maybe even Christmas) dinners by now. Those of us who have the (mis)fortune to be food-lovers (I don't like the snob connotations of "foodie" but you can call me one if you want) with multiple food allergies have already been thinking about it for some time. I swing back and forth between enthusiasm for all the new things I could try and despair about the effort and risk involved.
We're going to have Christmas with my family this year, which provokes mostly enthusiasm regarding food. Several of my younger sisters have recently turned up with gluten/dairy/egg/etc allergies, too. When Christmas comes around, we'll be all in it together, coming up with new traditions. Fortunately, my family is full of good and adventurous cooks, and I think we can concoct some lovely things.
Two Christmases ago Brooks and I stayed home and his parents and brother came to visit. I planned and cooked the whole meal gluten-free (My mother in law washed all the dishes as I went along :) ) and, if I may say so myself, it was amazing. We had avocado-grapefruit salad with hazelnut oil, red pepper and fennel soup, prime rib, roasted red potatoes, kale and green beans braised in white wine, and rosemary dinner rolls. It was one of those meals where hardly anyone talks for the first few minutes of each course because the deliciousness takes up all one's attention.
Thanksgiving is another scenario entirely. My in-laws regularly host 30 to 50 people on the big day. The logistics are complex and the dishes are highly traditional. They cook two turkeys and a ham at the house, one aunt makes huge vats of cheesy mashed potatoes, another aunt makes huge vats of sweet potatoes with marshmallows, etc. The dessert bringers try to outdo themselves with decadence every year. As you can imagine, this system doesn't bend well to accomodate one lone individual with multiple allergies.
Sometimes I try to find individual cooks and ask for slight modifications: Can you make the gravy with cornstarch instead of flour? Can you cook one batch of the raisin rice with oil instead of butter? And then I hope they remember because it's usually too hectic (as well as annoying for them) for me to hover and remind them. I could have hugged my sister in law last year when she decided, of her own accord, that instead of traditional green bean casserole, she was going to roast the beans with olive oil and almonds.
I usually end up cooking my own little meal on the side. This is fine and probably the simplest for everyone, but I end up feeling a little bit disconnected because I'm not really sharing the meal even though I'm eating at the same table. As much as I like to cook, I get tired of having to do it myself all the time if I want to eat anything good. And even more to the point, I don't really like cooking just for myself. I like to share. I like to feed people. I like coming up with allergy-friendly things that even omnivores can enjoy. So every year I look for something I can contribute to the main buffet without competing with the established dishes.
I haven't been totally happy yet with any of my vegetable or dessert attempts (except for some superb chocolate cupcakes from a Bob's Red Mill mix with applesauce). I still haven't decided what to try this year. There are lots of things I could try baking but they would require transporting half my pantry out of state, (or buying six or so kinds of flour when there) for an uncertain result, since I don't have time to experiment in advance.
I have made myself a place at the buffet table, though. Last year I remembered my family's traditional cranberry sauce, which needs no alteration and made a great hit. I think it comes from a Cuisenart magazine back in the early 90s, if not earlier.
Cranberry Pear Conserve
2 lbs. pears
2/3 peel of orange
2 cups sugar
4 Tblsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 cup golden raisins
24 oz cranberries
Peel, quarter, and core pears. Use metal blade to finely chop orange peel with sugar, about 45 seconds. Add pears, lemon juice, and spices and pulse-chop to a medium chop about 4 times. Add raisins and cranberries and pulse twice just to combine. (Without a food processor, pulse the orange peel and sugar in a spice grinder, chop the pears with a knife and add the remaining ingredients directly to the pot.)
Transfer mixture to a large saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until thickened, 30 to 40 minutes. Transfer to a serving bowl and cool. Refrigerate at least one day to blend flavors, or up to 10 days.
So, dear readers, however few you are, I hope these cranberries will make you as happy as they do me, and I hope for a thankful and low-stress holiday for us all.
(See Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef for inspiration.)
(Do I overuse parentheses?)