Sunday, November 22, 2009


Even with my currently muted sense of smell, I can tell good things are happening in our kitchen right now. The plague of November 2009 continues to lay siege to my lungs and my productivity, which could spell trouble for the Thanksgiving dinner we are hosting. (And no, it is not H1N1; I was able to get my vaccine at a recent lung appointment.)

Luckily, my husband loves to cook and knows the value of early preparation when we’re in the midst of an infection. Gluten-free corn bread is cooking, sweet potatoes are roasting for a bourbon-walnut sweet potato mash, and other assorted casseroles and desserts are in various stages of completion.

Like so many others, I find it impossible to avoid reflecting on the things for which I am grateful this time of year. I can’t help noticing that these annual November posts invariably include food, like this one on the evolution of a gluten-free Thanksgiving.

Holidays are largely defined by the traditions we have, and particular foods and recipes form part of those traditions. I am grateful that over the years we’ve been able to blend long-held traditions with gluten-free ones. I love that my parents are excited to make a side pan of gluten-free stuffing to go along with their famous dish. I love that I addition to the usual pies, we will have a gluten-free almond cake with homemade cinnamon ice cream that tastes a lot like eggnog. (I also love that my husband made said ice cream in between days of running errands, cleaning, and ferrying my nebulizer from room to room.)

And I love that being gluten-free on Thanksgiving isn’t a big deal. In our group we have celiac, lactose-intolerance, allergies to peppers, onions, nightshades, cheddar cheese, and chocolate, as well as the challenges of type 2 diabetes. We all have some safe foods and some foods we know to avoid, and we will all be satisfied by the end of the meal.

It has been a long year, one filled with exciting developments but just as many challenges and setbacks. It has been a long year for so many people around me: illness, loss, economic stress, uncertainty.

I was thinking about all of this the other day when I skimmed some of the e-mails I get from an online disease community for celiacs. I don’t participate much, but I appreciate the advice and recipes many group members offer the newly-diagnosed. Usually people are pretty upbeat, but there’s one voice that is consistently negative. Work dinners, picnics, holidays, restaurant trips, etc—the focus is always on what this person cannot have.

I know sticking to a gluten-free diet can be expensive and difficult, and I know it is a huge adjustment. I know that adjustment is a lot more challenging around the holidays, especially if you’re newly diagnosed. Six years ago, I was diagnosed days before Christmas. Try being gluten-free for a mere four days when you’re not sure what is safe and trying to eat at an Italian Christmas Eve, where six of ten entrees contain pasta and the other four have flour of some kind.

Nothing says bountiful Christmas dinner like a plate of olives and peppers from the antipasto. So I get it. I really do.

I only wish I had the grace and eloquence to reply to the negative posts along these lines: While I am not grateful I have celiac, I am grateful I know I do and can do something to feel better.

That was the essence of the reply someone posted last week, and it is a sentiment that looms large in my thoughts these days.

I am grateful that in light of other medical problems that do not have such an immediate and definitive treatment plan, I have something I can manage with my diet. I am grateful that I know what’s going on (especially since I never presented with GI symptoms) and that I am no longer throwing my autoimmune system into a frenzy by eating foods I cannot process. I have control over something, I have choices and options I can make every day to help improve my health.

As many of you with chronic illness can attest to, that does not usually come easy.

With viral plagues and flu fears and feeling like no matter how hard I try to get air it will not come, having that kind of knowledge and control is even more important to me. And knowing people around me are dealing with far more right now, emotionally and physically, I realize how precious this is.

As many of you know, I’ve spent many holidays in the hospital. Usually, just being present and accounted for at the Thanksgiving table is enough for me. This year, knowing the people who matter to me will be there, despite a lot of serious challenges and stress in their lives, is what counts.

We might not be able to eat everything there, and we might not all feel too wonderful. But we’ll all be at the table, and that’s enough for me.


Rachel said...

One of the challenges I face when jumping on the type 2 diabetes message boards this time of year is much of what you've mentioned.

"How dare they make food I can't eat?" "Don't they know I'm watching my carbs?" "If I can't eat it, I'm not making it."

I take a totally different approach. Yes, this Thanksgiving will find three people with diabetes out of six at the dinner table. That leaves three without. They shouldn't be deprived of tradition, just as we shouldn't be deprived of food we can eat. We're smart enough to go light on the carbs as we choose based on diet plans. (Me being T2, diet/exercise alone; husband T1; another family member T2 on insulin.)

I find pleasure in making sweet potatoes for the crowd, but I don't eat a whole bunch of it. I appreciate diabetes-friendly desserts, but not if splenda has been substituted - I don't handle it well.

I don't focus on me during the holidays - I focus on us. And I think that's the most important thing when challenged by various food requirements.

Laurie said...

Exactly! Wonderfully stated, Rachel. It's not about the food, it's about the people.

Unknown said...

LOL! Laurie, I think we're on the same celiac board:-)
I appreciate you blogging on this, especially as we get to a season of food based delight for many. It sounds like you and i are in the same celiac boat (no GI symptoms ever, wonderfully supportive and culinary curious family/friends), but i think the past few years since my diagnosis 2 weeks before thanksgiving 2007, I have become grateful for this disease. Going from a practical death sentence to "don't eat wheat/barley/rye" has really changed my perspective on what we can be, should be, and what I can actively be grateful for. It's given me endless opportunity, a timeline of probably another 40 years of life, not to mention a new body and mind. i am grateful my willingness to speak up about my condition has made my friends more comfortable asking for help in our circle of friends/family, and that I can be helpful to them on their own health journeys, some of which are INSANELY more challenging than mine. That process has helped me get out of the "how dare they make glutenous food!" mindset, and into the "that could really be important to someone else" mindset. It's made me less selfish, more of a public advocate, and shown me that i can use my own experiences to help others, rather than just glorify, martyr, or benefit myself. and for that, I'm grateful :-)

Nancy said...

Hey, if you want some other great recipe ideas. I found this woman by the name Rose Cole, she's a certified nutrition coach and she has awesome Holiday Recipes that are gluten free. Her site is I highly recommend checking it out!

Rosalind Joffe said...

Your thoughts are always so lucid and clear when you describe loss and hope.Life is a mixed experience for everyone but even more so for those of us who struggle with health. I hope you get to enjoy hosting your meal (I'm doing it as well!) and stay "healthy" through this period.

Tough Cookie said...

I am a total vegan, and I usually receive ignorant comments about what I eat. Not from my immediate family, though, who support me 100 percent. My father was a vegan way back in the 70s. All you can do is educate people when they make un-educated comments. Think of yourself as a vehicle through which knowledge about your particluar condition is dispersed. That is what I do.

Did you catch my guest blogger post on about overcoming chronic pain?

Enjoy the holiday!

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