Holiday food memories are like a family photo album with scratch and sniff pages. Ask anyone about their earliest Thanksgiving memories and chances are it is a combination of the Macy’s parade and the smell of yams with toasted marshmallows or pumpkin pie. Then again, some of us might only remember Uncle Zeke’s shiny flask filled with something that added a certain charm to the boring punch bowl filled with preseason eggnog.
My brother reports that we always had a Thanksgiving dinner growing up; that the Ad Man recited the same typed poem/prayer of thanks each year. But I cannot muster up one solitary memory from childhood about the holiday. There aren’t even any family photos from Thanksgiving to use as a memory crutch. I’m puzzled that the guy- the Ad Man- who photographed anything and everyone would skip a major holiday opportunity. I suspect that we actually ate liver and onions for Thanksgiving and that is why I’ve blocked out those early years.
My Thanksgiving memories actually begin when I was a 17-year-old bride attending the famous holiday feast with combined families at the newly minted in-laws. Just because it was Thanksgiving and the new lemon loving in-laws were hosting my father and stepmother, assorted siblings and guests meant there was something nothing to be nervous about. The gathering would take place in their beautiful colonial on a wooded lane where the neighbor parks his helicopter. Perfectly Norman Rockwell – in theory. Spending most of that memorable holiday with a “nervous” stomach ailment was mortifying. The Ad Man even rustled up the family doctor by phone who diagnosed “stomach ache”. It would still be years before the gluten intolerance diagnosis, but I was suffering all the way back then.
Since that Thursday 30 something years ago, we’ve spent some happy and almost pain-free Thanksgivings with the in-laws. We came to enjoy the time together and I prepared in advance for the onslaught of not feeling well by keeping a giant assortment of stomach remedies in my bag. It also helps that we avoided mingling the two entire families ever again after that first crazy year.
That first memorable in-law Thanksgiving Day is where the early hints that gluten was not my friend were apparent. Those “stomach aches” that everyone assumed were merely stress related were pain inflicted by the invasion of wheat, barley and rye making me sick. And Thanksgiving dinner is nothing without a pile of stuffing, freshly baked rolls, pies and even those awful green beans drowning in mushroom soup and topped with fried onions; lots of wheat.
These days we prefer a small holiday dinner. Neither of us enjoys turkey so we feast on a chicken or duck and after the gluten diagnosis we avoided stuffing, but now that we have access to some great gluten free breads, we indulge this one time of year. Loading up on fresh veggies, lightly sautéed and seasoned along with the chicken makes for a wonderful feast and none of the stress, physical or mental.
My favorite stuffing is Stove Top (quit snickering). It was a sad day when I realized I couldn’t eat it any longer. And there are those that subscribe to more is better, loading up the savory bread with chestnuts, apples, nuts, sausage and other little goodies. I like the old original version with a little sautéed celery and onion, seasonings like sage, thyme, (poultry seasoning), salt and pepper and moistened with chicken broth and butter. Tossed lightly and either served from the pot or a casserole that bakes to make the top a bit crunchy.
I worked on this version until it tasted quite similar to the old Stove Top and nothing makes me happier.
On this holiday, I salute the long gone Ad Man, the long gone family doctor who meant well more than he was accurate, and the fabulous house that was on the lane with the helicopter pad. We raise our glasses in a toast to our younger selves – and say a small hallelujah that we got this far in one piece to enjoy our gluten free holiday feast.
- Ends of old loaves of gluten free bread (variety is good), cubed into ½ inch pieces
- Olive oil
- Herbs and spices: thyme, chopped sage, poultry seasoning, a pinch of rosemary, salt, pepper
- Chicken broth
Cube up the bread into ½ inch pieces. If you have the opportunity, leave it out overnight uncovered to dry out a bit. Otherwise just proceed after cubing. The prep and recipe are very flexible and resilient. In a large bowl combine a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and enough herbs/spices to make your nose tickle. Add the cubes of bread and fold gently (don’t break up the bread) to coat. If you need more just drizzle and fold.
On a lightly oiled baking pan (I use a half sheet pan size) lay out the cubes about one layer high (you will have a small pile). If there is too much use a second sheet.
Place in a preheated 350 oven for about 15 minutes. Turn the oven to 300 degrees and bake for about 35 minutes. You want the cubes to toast and dry, but not burn. Turn the oven off and don’t open it. Leave the pans in there for as long as you are able – overnight is great. You want them as dry as possible.
When completely cooled store in a double zip-lock bag or container and refrigerate. Because they have so much oil in them, you don’t want it to get rancid before you use them all.
Gluten Free Stuffing
- 6 -8 cups of stuffing cubes
- 2 ribs celery chopped to a medium fine dice
- ½ onion chopped to a medium fine dice
- ½ stick butter
- Poultry seasoning to taste
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Parsley (until it looks pretty)
- ½ cup gluten free chicken broth (and more if needed)
Sautée celery and onion in butter and oil mixture over medium low heat. When very soft add the spices and stir. Take stuffing cubes and place in a bowl. Drizzle the softened mixture over the cubes and fold in being careful to not break up the cubes. Add broth until just moistened. Place in a buttered casserole dish and cover with foil. Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes and uncover for an additional five to ten minutes.
Just remember that the whole thing is adjustable to your own tastes – add more or less spicing, veggies or broth.
- One gluten free pie crust: Whole Foods or your favorite recipe
- One 15 oz. can of organic pumpkin
- 1 cup of half/half
- ½ cup of milk
- 4- 5 tablespoons of really good whiskey
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- ½ cup of superfine sugar
- ¼ cup of maple syrup (the real stuff)
- 3 eggs
- Ground ginger, a pinch of ground clove, a bit of cinnamon and a large twist of the black pepper
- A ton of whipped cream
Preheat oven to 325. Bake pie shell (9”) for about 20-25 minutes or until lightly brown.
Place the other ingredients (except the whipped cream) in a large bowl and whisk together until fully incorporated. Add as much or as little of the spices as you like – they mellow with time so more is actually better. The black pepper is an old trick (not mine) that seems to provide a happy back note to the whole thing.
Pour through a mesh sieve into the pie crust and bake for about 55 minutes, checking at 45 minutes. The center should be slightly wiggly. Do not fret if cracks form (although they should not) because you can cover them with whipped cream when serving.
If you have the time, leave the mixture to sit for about 30 minutes to mingle before pouring into the shell. Even better – bake the pie the night before because it tastes best the 2nd day after the flavorings and whiskey have a chance to hang out together. Store in the refrigerator but take it out about 30 minutes before serving for best flavor. Pile on the whipped cream and enjoy.
Happy Gluten Free Thanksgiving!