Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Gluten Free For All!

I first heard of celiac disease several years ago, upon learning that a co-worker's daughter had it. Apparently, it's an autoimmune disorder that wreaks havoc upon the small intestine when that person consumes gluten.

Gluten is the stuff that makes bread dough so pleasantly pliable, and muffins and cakes tender of crumb. Gluten isn't just found in wheat, but in many of its cousins: rye, barley, spelt, kamut, graham, semolina and triticale are all sources as well.

Living a gluten-free life isn't simple as 'just giving up' pasta or bread. Gluten is found in a great number of processed products- you know, what many folk eat on a daily basis. Even those that don't contain gluten can be at risk from cross-contamination.

At any rate, I began seeing more coverage of celiac disease, from health advocates spreading the word, to bloggers documenting their daily trials and tribulations. Along the way, it got me thinking: how would I handle a gluten-free guest? Not for just any meal, mind you, what if said guest came over for a big deal meal- say, Thanksgiving dinner?

The turkey, as long as it's not put into one of those self-basting bags, wouldn't be a problem. Sweet potatoes, roasted and pureed with a touch of cream; cranberry relish, tart and assertive; green bean casserole? That could pose a problem, so I'd just stick with the last beans o' the season blanched and salted.

Then there are the other traditional components of the meal to contemplate. Gravy. Rolls. Stuffing/dressing. Pumpkin pie. All of which, sadly, contain gluten, indigestible to sensitive individuals.

Luckily, folk with food allergies are usually more than willing to contribute 'safe' foods to the host's meal. If you've managed to keep your community foods free from cross-contamination (even a few tiny bread crumbs can have a very unpleasant impact), all should be happy. But this is Thanksgiving, so I'm making a special dessert that everyone can enjoy. One that is tasty, and totally gluten-free.

Now, I'm not about to wuss out and dish out some warmed fruit or the like. These are the holidays, so I'm serving up a cranberry-walnut pie, complete with crust.

While it is possible to make one's own gluten-free crust from scratch, it can be a bit of a chore to the uninitiated (and unstocked!) pantry. I turned to one of the many gluten-free baking mixes available. In a thoroughly cleaned kitchen, I chopped the walnuts, rinsed the cranberries, and set about forming the crust. It rolled out easily, and after combining the rest of the pie ingredients, into the oven it went. The scent was soon beckoning from the kitchen, full of dark sugar, vanilla and warming nuts.

As soon as the pie had a few minutes to set up, I dove in for a taste. The pie crust wasn't exactly typical. In fact, it made me think more of a sweet biscuit, or even a shortbread, crust. The sweet, sugary filling was perfectly offset by the tart, jewel-like cranberries, with the pecans adding an addictively nutty edge. A sweet treat, indeed, for all to enjoy- just don't slice it with the bread knife!!

Walnut-Cranberry Pie

1 unbaked pie shell (I used The Gluten-Free Pantry Perfect Pie Crust Mix)
3 eggs
2/3 cup dark corn syrup
3/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick), butter or margarine, melted
1 teaspoon brandy or gluten-free vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups cranberries, fresh or frozen
1 1/2 cups walnuts, chopped coarsely

Preheat oven to the 350-degrees.
In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs slightly. Add the corn syrup, sugar, butter, and brandy/extract and mix well. Fold in the cranberries and nuts. Pour in the prepared pie crust.
Bake for 50 to 55 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool before serving.
If desired, top with whipped cream.

Makes 6 servings.
from the "More From the Gluten-Free Gourmet" by Bette Hagman

ADDITIONAL INFO: --Once deemed an extremely rare disorder, celiac disease is now known to affect 1 in 133 people. If gluten is not avoided, the intestinal villi become gravely damaged, resulting in the inability to absorb nutrients from food. Untreated celiacs often find themselves susceptible to a variety of other major health issues. There is no cure, except to rigorously avoid gluten.

--Supermarkets: Trader Joe's make a list of all their gluten-free products available in-store, as well as clearly marking the items through shelf-talkers. Some Farm Fresh Markets also have a variety of gluten-free products available in the health/natural foods section. Health food stores were among the first to make gluten-free products widely available for the public.

--Restaurants have recently begun to offer options to the gluten-free individual, and include: Carrabba's Italian Grill, Bonefish Grill, Outback Steakhouse, The Melting Pot and P.F. Chang's. While many smaller restaurateurs may not be familiar with celiac disease, many are willing to try to accommodate. In this case, it's best to call ahead, and then dine early/late to avoid the crowds.
---Gluten-free support group: 6:30 p.m. fourth Wednesday of each month, in the meeting room behind the pharmacy department of Ukrop's, Monticello Marketplace, 4660 Monticello Ave., Williamsburg. Meetings focus on those with gluten intolerance to share information, tips and recipes. Information: 565-0455 or e-mail

from The Daily Press


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