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Happy Gluten-Free, Soy-Free, Dairy-Free Thanksgiving

By Nicole Bode | November 23, 2010 2:42pm

By Nicole Bode

DNAinfo Senior Editor

MANHATTAN — I'm looking forward to a traditional Thanksgiving menu on Thursday, but this year there’s a difference: my husband and I will prepare a meal entirely devoid of gluten, soy, and dairy.

For those keeping score at home, that means no bread, no wheat, no milk, no butter, no cream, and no Tofurky.

We want to be sensitive to our guests, two of whom can’t handle gluten, the allergy-triggering ingredient that’s essentially the protein husk on wheat, rye and barley. One of them also can’t have dairy, and the other is allergic to soy, as I am. And, as if that wasn't enough, one's a vegetarian.

Ours is an increasingly common Thanksgiving dilemma: how to feed people with food allergies. An estimated 12 million people in the US are diagnosed with some form of food allergy (one in every 25 people), according to the nonprofit advocacy group the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network.

As my husband and I pored over ingredients, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that most of our favorite dishes will remain unscathed, or be only slightly altered.

The turkey remains essentially the same.

The stuffing’s manageable, too. We picked a recipe with a cauliflower base instead of potatoes, which includes mushrooms, leeks, celery, lemons, garlic and seasonings and is sautéed in olive oil instead of butter.

Our cranberry sauce recipe didn't need a single change: fresh cranberries boiled in a stew of oranges, cinnamon sticks, cherries and raisins until the cranberries "pop" open in the sauce.

And there’s nothing to worry about in the salad, or with whatever roasted veggie that our guests will bring.

The changes start in the sweet potatoes, which will forego the traditional douse of milk or cream, melted marshmallows and butter in lieu of a Thai-themed can of coconut milk, ginger and a half-teaspoon of curry powder.

Which brings us to dessert: the stumbling block in our otherwise allergen-free meal.

My original plan was to make Tiramisu. It passes the gluten and soy ban with ingredients like ladyfinger cookies (made of eggs, cornstarch, sugar and rice flour) and a sauce of eggs, sugar, and rum. But the marscapone cheese base knocks it out for our dairy-sensitive guests.

"Make it anyway," my husband argued, "We’re going to need something for us at the end."

I considered using a dairy substitute, but the thought of laying espresso-and-rum soaked ladyfingers into mounds of Cool Whip made me want to toss my cookies.

I know there are plenty of other dessert choices I could make, like pumpkin pie in a gluten-free crust, flourless chocolate cake, or meringue cookies.

But the idea of experimenting with a new dessert one day before Thanksgiving sent me into a panic.

I found myself thinking what no allergy sufferer wants to hear from their dinner host: "Can’t they just eat it this one time?"

No, says Shauna James Ahearn who writes about her struggles with celiac disease, a severe gluten allergy, on her blog "Gluten Free Girl and the Chef." Her food blog was named one of the 50 best in the world by the London Times and has been praised by Gourmet.

"Why is any of this important?" Ahern asked in one recent post, "Because for those of us who have celiac, one speck of crumbs really can make us sick for days... With a little care and mindfulness, we can all have a fabulous Thanksgiving. If you are mourning the loss of traditional dishes, please remember this: there is more at stake here than your grandmother’s stuffing."

Ahern said that relegating guests with allergies to just one dish, like salad, or making them bring their own dish, sends the wrong message.

"Let this holiday be a true day of gratitude," she wrote. "Let’s eat well and celebrate."

Tackling that new gluten-free pumpkin pie recipe is looking better already.