16 Nov 2011
I met Alison St. Sure for the first time about a year ago at a food blogger conference. I had followed her blog, Sure Foods Living, for quite some time, but was still surprised by how vibrant she was in person. In the past, I associated Celiac disease purely with sickness, but the woman standing before me seemed anything but sick. Alison was energetic, friendly, beautiful, and down-right healthy-looking. I realized at that moment that Celiac disease may make people sick, but gluten-free living truly can be their cure. Alison is obviously living proof of this, but even so, I wondered, how in the world does she do it around the holidays? Rolls, cookies, and oh that stuffing!
Fortunately, Alison agreed to a little interview sharing her own holiday challenges and how she has learned to not only cope, but enjoy this special season …
Let’s start with a little background. Where did your gluten-free adventures begin?
Nine years ago I was diagnosed with celiac disease after a lifetime of symptoms that nobody ever connected. Finally, I was so anemic that a doctor was concerned about me going on my honeymoon to India – he didn’t know how I was even walking around, let alone how I could manage a major trip like that. So he referred me to more doctors to find the cause of my anemia. I had been anemic for many years and been on iron pills at times, and this was the first time a doctor was ever interested in finding out why. At the same time I was having terrible stomach aches and bloating, which was very upsetting since it was getting more and more frequent. Despite seeing doctors, it was my mom who really diagnosed me. She was worried about me and went on her own Internet search and came up with celiac disease, which neither she nor I had ever heard of. Sure enough, I had the testing and it was confirmed. I was so relieved to have an answer and happy to begin the gluten-free diet because I just wanted to feel better.
Wow, nine years! Awareness of Celiac disease seemed almost non-existent until just a few years ago. That must have created some huge issues around this time of year, when gatherings revolve mostly around food. What were your biggest holiday obstacles during that first year or two of gluten-free living?
The first couple of years during the holidays were challenging, mainly because no one I associated with knew anything about gluten-free. Everyone has at least heard of it now! But back then, I was the only gluten-free person in my world. Holiday parties with coworkers or friends were the most difficult because there would be little I could eat and I generally didn’t ask people to make special accommodations. I would just eat what I could and sometimes felt self-conscious because I was only eating salad and I wondered what people were thinking – that I was watching my weight or had strange eating habits or that I was picky!
Thank goodness more people are aware of gluten-free living now. How have you learned to navigate holiday gatherings over the years? Do you bring food for just yourself and family, or try to get more involved in the food for the event?
Family gatherings in the beginning were difficult because there was definitely reluctance on the part of extended family members to being open to gluten-free food. If they heard “gluten-free” then they automatically would say it didn’t taste good or they wouldn’t eat it. Now more of the family has adopted a gluten-free diet, and gluten-free foods really can be delicious. We have gotten really good at making gluten-free stuffing, gravy and desserts, and no one misses a thing. Now that gluten-free is “in,” friends are much more aware and accommodating. I am still happily surprised and grateful when someone thinks to buy gluten-free crackers or make gluten-free dishes to serve when we come over!
Truthfully, was it ever difficult for you to pass on the cookies, rolls, and other traditional gluten-filled holiday cookies?
I can understand how people feel deprived and that the holiday treats are tempting, but I am just so grateful for my health and how much better I feel, and I remind myself of that when looking at something that I remember tasting so good. There’s no cookie that’s worth feeling sick over! Plus, there are so many things that can be made gluten-free, if I really want something I can still find a way to have the gluten-free version of it – well, most things anyway.
Are there any special gluten-free recipes that you now make just for the holidays?
I’m in charge of the stuffing every year! I use a recipe called Harvest Stuffing and make my own gluten-free bread ahead of time to use in it. You would never know the stuffing is gluten-free. Also, two years ago I decided to make a recipe that my grandmother used to make around the holidays, a rolled pastry called Butterhorns. I had never made them before, and now I was going to make Gluten-Free Butterhorns! But they turned out great and evoked the memory of my grandmother’s cookies. I gave them to my dad for a present and he was so happy. I would like to make them again this year because my sister will be here for the holidays and she also remembers them fondly.
Here are the links to those two recipes:
Any last words of advice to people trying to navigate the holiday season gluten-free?
You know, I wrote an article on my blog back in 2009 called Holiday Food Allergy Blues. It happens to all of us, but the important thing is to focus on what you CAN eat, and on the other things besides food that the holidays represent. I am grateful for my health, my friends, my family, so I make sure to reflect on that. And hopefully the food will be yummy too!
AlisaCheck out my latest posts here