Lorette C. Luzajic

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Snap Out of It: Baby's First Gluten-Free Christmas

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By Lorette C. Luzajic

Every year, the best gift of all comes from my brother-in-law Jurgen. He bakes a huge batch of gingersnaps and wraps them up in a nice tin for me. I love getting money, clothes, and bling under the tree, but nothing beats the annual cookie gorge. They are perfectly round, crisp, and chewy, not too sweet, and very spicy. They are heavenly dipped into coffee. I do not need to indulge in sampling many of the other cookies, because Jurgen’s gingersnap is the world’s most perfect cookie.

Now before Jurgie came on the scene, the tradition was already in place. My grandmother always knew what to give me for Christmas. Her gingersnap was pretty much the exact science of my bro’s. When Grandma got too tired to stay up baking Christmas goodies, Jurgen took over. I have not had a snap-less celebration: ever.

Well, there’s a first time for everything and this year is my first gluten-free Christmas. Yes, it will be difficult to navigate, but I rise to the challenge with a positive frame of mind. Maybe I won’t sleep through January this year- I always thought it was the turkey that made me so tired, despite the alleged debunking of the turkey/tryptophan sleeping pill! Perhaps it was the gingersnaps all along….the best part of discovering my gluten allergy has been the instant disappearance of lifelong chronic fatigue. I recall being exhausted in kindergarten, literally propping my eyes open to try to stay awake. I can’t say I suddenly have the energy I should have had when I was twenty, but I’m thankful that I’m not insanely fatigued by ten in the morning anymore. It’s nice to be normal.

Still, how can you be normal over Christmas without wheat? The cover of every magazine celebrates all the wonderful cookies you can make and bake and decorate. The stuffing was always the best part of the turkey! And my annual gingersnap extravaganza is now a dead tradition. What’s a girl to do?

Snap out of it, friends. Just because it’s my first snapless holiday doesn’t mean I’ll be crying over spilt milk and cookies. No, no, this is Joy to the World, this is As With Gladness Girls of Olde. There is more festivity and feasting in this girl than ever before!

So how will we do it? Easy. First think about all the things you aren’t giving up. I know how much it’s going to hurt you to thank Aunt Edna politely for that 64-year old regifted fruitcake and then hand it back to her. So it helps to have a list of yeses to show you what you’ve got.

Big Bird isn’t going anywhere. I’ll ask my sis to make the stuffing separately and I won’t have any. If you can’t live with that, you can call my friend John and thank him for thinking up buckwheat bread stuffing. (Buckwheat is not wheat, despite the name!)We had it over Thanksgiving and it was spectacular! Just use your mom’s favourite recipe but choose gluten-free buckwheat bread loaves. It’s heavy and satisfying, so your family won’t suffer an icky substitute just for you. The reason I’m opting out is because the stuffing ended up costing more than the bird. And that might be fine because you’ll be saving on baking overall.

The rest is gravy. Aww, shucks, gravy.

Maybe you didn’t know that the very best gravy in the world is gluten free. Your mother’s! I had no idea and was skipping the gravy for the first few months of my new diet. That’s when Mom told me that ‘real’ gravy is not made with wheat flour, but with the meat juice and cornstarch. I discovered that THAT is why her gravy is way better than anything in fast food or dump diners. I always loved gravy at home but never liked it at the Golden Griddle. So always ask your Uncle Buck how he makes his gravy, but chances are, it’s already a green light. If it’s not, make your own and bring it along. There are videos on youtube to take you step by step through gravy making- who knew?

Eggnog, we’ve still got you, too!

Every family has a favourite tradition and mine was the “December Excuse.’ That was when my sugar-free ideals went out the window and I felt perfectly justified in eating 31 and a half Christmas gingersnaps in one sitting. But the other is the Christmas Eve fondue. This ends up being even more feasting than the main dinner on Christmas. We fondue seafood, chicken, pork, and beef and dip them into dozens of sauces. This part is by far the nephews’ favourite Christmas ritual, even better than the presents. Coming to Grandma’s and gathering around the table as everyone gets in. We fondue gluttonous amounts of food late into the night, talking and telling jokes, with a blazing fire behind us and a couple of Rudolph renditions from the kids and Grandpa, complete with cherry nose. Matthew loves shrimp and each year tries to outdo last year’s total. Mom makes so many sauces that each morsel has a completely different dip- horseradish, hot sauce, mustards, Creole, BBQ, all kinds of wondrous flavours.  We have a massive Caesar salad in the big wooden bowl used just for this annual occasion. So what will be different this year? Nothing, except that I’ll be passing on the  croutons.

We always loved Grandma’s pancakes on Christmas morning, to tide us over until the big dinner. The nephews camp out in sleeping bags on Grandma’s floor after the fondue, and the next morning we continue the feast with pancakes and the adults have black coffee with nutmeg and cinnamon. I’m not skipping the pancake pandemonium this year- now we make pancakes with tapioca flour. Mom makes them like that now even if I’m not home, because they taste better than ever! Too often gluten-freers substitute rice flour but there are all kinds of wonderful flours to try out. Rice flour is very heavy and dense. But tapioca flour meant my Oma’s crepe recipe, a perfect way to use the extra eggs from the chicken coop, got even more delicious.

See- there’s nothing much to miss out on except the baked goods. Yes, it will hurt a bit to avoid the church bake sale with all those delicious and festive seasonal treasures, all made with tremendous love. I’m going to try my hand at making gluten-free pumpkin pie- but I was never all that good at making pie regardless. Sure, I’ll have to explain myself a few times when skipping cookies and hors d’oeuvres at colleagues’ celebrations. But I’m prepared for those visits, too: I have some funky nut bowls and a nutcracker, and I’ll take assorted nuts wherever I go.

And on that note, I’ll be pulling out the holiday cinema staple: Mixed Nuts, a totally offbeat, wacky  holiday movie with Steve Martin working a Santa hat at a crisis line. Crises, hilarity, and Jon Stewart on rollerblades ensue.

So this year, just ask Santa for a little more imagination this Christmas. Forget about ‘surviving the holidays’ and think about ‘thriving’ them. It’ll be a snap!


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