Christmas / Coeliac / Eating in / Eating out / Family / Friends / Gluten free / Sheffield / Treats

A Coeliac Christmas survival guide

Christmas can be hard for coeliacs, especially when you are newly diagnosed. And of course, it isn’t just the one day – there’s a whole month to get through when it feels like you’re surrounded by stuff you can’t have. Plus, there are so many social minefields to navigate, from work parties to big family celebrations. It feels like it’s really designed for ‘advanced’ level coeliacs, so it’s a bit unfair on beginners, but it’s something you have to get through and adapt as best you can.

I was diagnosed in February, and having gone through the general ups and downs that go along with a restricted diet for over eight months, I felt I knew what was what. I had started to move on from the newly off limits treats and started to come up with new favourites, I was becoming confident with eating out, and I knew which of my friends were happy to have me round for nibbles or food; it was all good.

But then Christmas came, and it was a big shock! From the first of December, a massive, unexpected second wave of treats and goodies I couldn’t eat, that I’d forgotten all about because they only put in an appearance in December. Panettone, Lebkuchen stars, festive sandwiches, and of course, everywhere you turn there are mince pies being offered. Food is a massive part of the festive season.

I have been thinking about those early days recently, and I thought I’d put together a few ideas to help, particularly for people who are about to experience their first gluten free Christmas.

The work Christmas do

  • If you’re going for a meal and are presented with a set menu, talk to the person who’s organising it, and if they aren’t confident to order you a gluten free meal, take it in hand yourself. Ask for the number of the venue and contact them in advance to talk about what your options will be.
  • You might need to lower your expectations slightly as to what you’re offered, because the party venue is unlikely to be one of your designated easy places to eat out. For example, you might be able expect the pleasure of a Christmas dinner without the stuffing, the pig in blanket and the gravy. I recently went to a do where I was given an ace main course, but the starter was pate without the bread! You can only try to laugh in this situation – you know that better gluten offerings are available when you go to the right places.
  • On the plus side, if you do get served up a particularly disappointing pudding, you may find yourself eligible to enter the now annual #Fruitisnotapudding competition, hosted by gluten free blogger Carly Talbot aka @gfreeb.

The open house drop in party

  • The likely scenario here is usually that your friend or family member has gone to a fair amount of effort to include a bit of something gluten free for you. But there are twenty other guests who aren’t gluten free and don’t know you are, so the majority will have no idea about the gluten free ‘section’ or have no idea about cross contamination. Of course, somebody is bound to dip a big piece of crusty bread into the melty Camembert, or unknowingly snaffle the gluten free items. It’s the classic buffet scenario, and the only solution really, is to dive in to the food the minute it’s offered. Fill your plate before anybody else does and don’t be ashamed of it!
  • It might be a bring and share, where all the guests contribute a bit of something and it’s not obvious what you can and can’t have.  I have been known to rifle through the bin looking for packets to read the ingredients – oh, the shame! But at least you can bring something you know is safe to eat. As with most parties, my advice would be don’t turn up starving. Eat something before you go, even if it’s just a bit of a snack. The good news is the wine and fizz are perfectly gluten free, so you’ll need something to soak it all up! 🙂

The Christmas dinner

  • I suppose it depends how much you’re into your Christmas dinner, but I think the best advice for your first gluten free one is probably to cook it yourself at home. (Unless, of course, you’re lucky enough to have a host who’s already used to gluten free cooking – in which case you might be confident to be cooked for.)
  • If you like cooking, you’ll probably be able to adapt your old recipes (especially savoury ones) to gluten free versions by swapping out a few ingredients. Gluten free flour to make the gravy, for example, and free from crackers with your pate. Devils on horseback (dates wrapped in parma ham, baked in the oven) are a big winner in our house, and are served as well as pigs in blankets. It’s probably simplest to make the whole meal gluten free, so you don’t even need to worry about cross contamination.
  • If you’re not a big cook, or if, like me, you are happy to cut a few corners to save time on Christmas day, the supermarkets this year seem to be bursting with Christmas free from products. M&S has a particularly good selection of GF pre-prepared food including stuffing and sausages, and party food like pork belly squares, yakitori chicken kebabs and sticky Asian style chicken lollipops.
  • Try something new for pudding. Our family favourite is Christmas ice cream. I have no idea where the recipe comes from as it’s a handwritten one, but it’s made by soaking fruits in booze, and mixing them into a chocolate ‘custard’, then stirring every now and then as it freezes. It’s the perfect pud because you can make it in advance so it’s no hassle on the day. I will post this recipe up mid December, when I make it.

Mince pies

  • I’d recommend carrying an emergency mince pie in your pocket/bag at all times throughout December to avoid feeling left out at any impromptu social occasion, like people bringing treats into work, or when you go to buy your Christmas tree and they’re offering a mulled wine and mince pie. (You can, of course, still have the mulled wine.)
  • Most shops with a free from section have launched their own brand mince pies. These have been selflessly tested by a number of magazines and bloggers. There’s a fairly comprehensive review here by The Independent, and there are hundreds of taste tests and reviews by bloggers posted all over Twitter. You could read the reviews, or of course sample as many as you can, in the interests of research.
  • Or you can make your own. If it’s your first experience with gluten free pastry, you’ll probably find it’s not as easy to work with as regular pastry, but nothing beats a home made mince pie, does it? My recipe, with a crunchy macaroon top, can be found here.

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Cakes and other treats… Sheffield style

  • Sheffield has some rather excellent free from offerings in the way of treats. If you have a sweet tooth, try Joni’s macarons, available from the Christmas market at Fargate or from her shop in Walkley. Honestly, click on the link just to see the photo on the website and you’ll see why they are really quite special. These make a great gift or an excellent self indulgent treat.

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  • Sheffield-based free from company Delicious Alchemy have re-launched their super easy to make Christmas cake mix. It’s probably stocked in some supermarkets, but definitely available from their online shop for £5. It doesn’t really need to be made in advance, and doesn’t take long. I will definitely be getting one of these, as I can’t be bothered to try making a gluten free Christmas cake, even though I love cooking. 🙂

So there you have it. Coeliac Christmas 101. I really hope this is helpful to a few people who are about to experience their first gluten free festive season. I’d love to hear how you get on or any other tips people have to share. Good luck!

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